Zen and the Art of the Gelato Drip

by JT Ellison

UPDATE: From the Baltimore Sun… Sarah Weinman has reviewed some excellent novels set in Italy. Click here to read the article.

Italy, Part Two

How to explain this title??? I’m going to play at being a Taoist. Suffice it to say we were in the Circus Maximus and there was a long line at the roach coach. The Italians have a true talent for gelato, both the making of and the subsequent eating.

We left Rome by car, driving north into the Tuscan countryside. Within ten minutes, the stress, hubbub and mess of the city gave way to green fields and rolling foothills. I could feel the tension bleeding out of my shoulders as each mile ticked off the odometer. We were en route to Assisi, one of our favorite places in all of Italy. Of course, there was a detour off the A1, so we were forced to go the back roads to Perugia. What a treat! We got off the highway at Trevi, went through Spoleto, Monte Falco, Foligno and Spello — all intricate hill towns with so much character and charm I was disappointed that we couldn’t stop in them all, even for a moment, to see what they were about.

We pushed through to get to Assisi though because we wanted to spend a leisurely afternoon soaking up the atmosphere in this tiny, spiritual town.

Assisis_basilica
Basilica_in_assisi

We climbed the hill into town, found our wonderful hotel, (our room was two-stories, the bed upstairs in the loft, which was too cool until I needed to go to the bathroom in the dark in the middle of the night. The bruise has faded, thanks for asking) and immediately took up residence in the piazza with some munchies and wine. Unfortunately, they were putting up scaffolding in preparation for a festival the following week, but hey, it’s Assisi. Even with the crowds and the noise, it’s hard to spoil the piazza. (Here’s some shots from another site — the camera with the pics is in France today, about to wing its way home with my parents.)

Countryside_below_assisi
Assisi

Forgive me a moment. I’m going to babble.

What’s important here was more than touring the basilica and standing vigil at St. Francis’s tomb, more than communing with my spiritual side, more than absorbing the spectacular views of the Umbrian countryside. There’s something about the whole purpose of Assisi now, a city responsible for one of the most important travel destinations in all of Christendom. Pilgrims of all shapes, sizes, colors and creeds come to pay homage to a saint who told the church hey, you’ve got to get back to the simpler things in life, stop taking all this money for the indulgences, the vulgarities, the flashy shows of wealth. You need to appreciate what God gave in a more natural way. Appreciate that less is more. St. Francis was the original hippie. One can imagine him scoffing at our attempts to be green, flat out saying hey man, quit lying to yourself. You aren’t pure, so quit pretending you are and do something real about it.

I’ve always felt a special affinity with St. Francis. He was a no-nonsense kind of guy. After the amazing hustle and bustle of Rome, the trip to Assisi made me think back to those times when a young patrician’s daughter named Clare decided to eschew her upbringing and become the first female Franciscan. Assisi was in an uproar, but Clare stuck to her guns and joined the order. I love the story. My main character does something of the kind, deciding she doesn’t want to be the precious debutante that her very wealthy parents have raised, instead wants a simpler life as a cop. Taylor would like Clare too.               

Sorry, waxing poetic over here. What I’m trying to say is there’s something very special about Assisi. One can easily imagine tossing aside the material wealth we strive to accumulate and focus instead on existing. In a world obsessed with Paris and Brittany, with Manolos and Laboutin, where People magazine has a massive market share, Assisi is a breath of fresh air, a reminder that these things are just that, things. What car we drive, what jeans we wear, how much collarbone Posh is showing this week, ummm, yeah. I resolved to clear out my closet, at the very least.

The next day we went to a little town on the top of a hill overlooking Lago Trasimeno. The hotel is in a medieval fortress, the town is small and simple, with lots of fun signs of the Knights Templar engraved over the lintels, and out of respect for the fact that hubby and I would like to spend some quality time there, I’m going to forgo the name.

Lago_trasimeno_2

We stared at the lake, breathed in the mountain air, and just were.

The next day we were off to Cortona for a whirlwind tour to buy my birthday present, a lovely painting by Bruno Tinucci in our favorite gallery, Nocchia. Middle, center, bottom. The picture can’t do the colors justice, nor the vivid palette knife strokes that make up the poppies. It’s fabulous. (Thanks, honey!) We scooted out of town and went to the vineyard that shares my family name, Tenute Silvio Nardi.

This is a serious vineyard dedicated to making wine from the grapes and the soil, not from the process in the vaults. Their Brunello is the best I have ever tasted, I’ve recommended it here before. Our friend Joerg gave us another wonderful tour, and we went a little wild during the tasting, breaking out the bread and olive oil, telling stories and getting very happy. There’s just nothing better in Italy than spending some time breaking bread and drinking wine, in the literal sense. You get to know a wine this way, and that’s why we’re so enamored with this particular vineyard. There’s something magical in the soil, I think; a mouthful of these liquid grapes always transports me to another, simpler time. We did the Rosso and the Brunello, and purchased some olive oil, which was truly spectacular.

We went to Florence that afternoon, and that’s where I’ll leave this travelogue. Florence is the greatest town, full of amazing restaurants and cool sights. Florence just plain makes me happy.Florence_7

Thank you for indulging me. Now I have a record for myself, to make up for my lackadaisical journaling skills. And I’ll tell you, getting back in the groove hasn’t been the easiest thing, so at least I’m getting some blog entries written.

Wine of the Week: From the first part of the trip, at Ristorante Amanda in St. Vincent. From the Vallee D’Aoste region, NUS by Le Triolet (Sorry, I can’t find a link to the bottle itself.)

Florence_2 Florence_3

Florence_5 Florence_6

Two housekeeping notes:

CHECK THIS OUT!!! ITW gets down and dirty with this kick-ass video.

And if you haven’t already, drop by the brand new Flash Pan Alley, brainchild of our own Bryon Quertermous and a significant nod to the now defunct Flashing in the Gutters, may it forever rest in peace. FPA is rapidly filling with some cool shorts. I was thrilled to see another venue like the Gutter. It’s the perfect place for whacked out stuff like this. Hope to see you there!

4 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of the Gelato Drip

  1. Mike MacLean

    Again, seething with jealousy over here. It sounds like you had a terrific time. I’m curious as to how long it’ll take to end up into your fiction.

    Reply
  2. billie

    JT, it sounds so wonderful. Thanks for letting me live vicariously. 🙂

    For awhile I was dead set on buying a little villa in Italy – sat up nights searching online for potential properties.

    At some point I became infatuated with Scotland, and am now on a “castle-for-sale” list. You can’t imagine how excited I get when links to castles for sale come in via email. My favorite ad copy so far: “ramparts in excellent condition.” Ha! The pleasure of window-shopping castles is just as good as actually owning one. (probably better, since I don’t have to actually do upkeep on those ramparts…:)

    Reply
  3. pari

    I wannnaaaaa goooooooo!!!!!!

    Funny thing, J.T., when you were writing about “Paris and Brittany” . . . I immediately thought of France rather than our pop culture bad girls.

    Reply
  4. J.B. Thompson

    Hi, all –

    JT asked me to pop on and say hello and thanks for the comments. She’s out and about without Internet today – she does, however, have a cell phone. 😉

    Reply

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