Thursday, January 29, 2009
The Restaurant And The Duomo
4:15PM January 24
As the week came to a close, my roommates and I decided to go out to dinner with the girls Thursday night at a fairly nice restaurant. We’d been cooking for each other all week, and every meal seemed to be based around pasta. Even Wednesday night, when I took the lead in cooking French onion soup and mashed potatoes, we ended up having eggplant parmesan as a side dish.
It has surprised me how much my diet in Italy has changed to reflect the culture, even when I am cooking the meal. A lot of this has to do with what is available at the grocery stores. They simply do not have the multi-ethnic American variety of products. Whereas in America we often distinguish meals by their cultural heritage—eating Chinese food one night and Mexican the next—each meal here is defined by the ingredients that go into to the meal. We may eat pasta every night, but one night it has a tomato pepper sauce, and the next it may have a tomato cream sauce.
There is meat here, but it is not as abundant in the diet. Specifically, the sandwiches do not revolve around various deli meats as they do in America, but rather around eggplants, peppers, artichokes, and if any meat, prosciutto. As we were going out though, it was nice to get a change of pace and have some real meat for dinner. Everyone got some sort of steak, veal, or chicken for as their main dish. The pasta remained though, coming this time in the form of appetizers. I got fusilli with porcini mushrooms in a tomato-mascarpone sauce as an appetizer. In America, I probably would have raved about this dish, but the standards for any pasta dish here are so high that feel it was only average. It was really excellent, but nothing too gaudy or spectacular. For an entrée, I had veal in a creamy lemon-caper sauce. Usually I am not a fan of lemon-caper sauces, and I ordered it quite accidently. Feeling the need to fit in, we chose an authentic Italian restaurant, and none of us completely understood the menu, which had no English. My “lombatina con pepe verde” I had interpreted to be some sort of meat (I asked the server to find out it was veal) in a green, possibly pesto sauce, and I was trusting enough that I would enjoy whatever came out of the kitchen. I was not disappointed, and my veal was extremely succulent and flavorful. I never thought I’d enjoy capers, but I soon got over that. It was probably one of the best meat dishes I’ve ever had.
Friday we did have our regular Monday classes, which we needed in order to make up for the coming Easter holiday, but that did not include any of the Italian courses. As my one class did not begin until 1:30, John and I decided to go with Alex and Jen—two of the girls we’ve been spending time with—to tour the Duomo. We had all been here for a week and a half, passing the Duomo—a large church at the center of the city which soars over the short skyline—countless times.
It was surprisingly empty inside, as there were no pews built into the floor. The floors were in no way bare though, as the large tiled area is as artful as any other part of the church. It was huge inside, not divided into small rooms or floors, and the dome at one end has an amazing fresco at the top depicting the many layers of earth, from hell to heaven. Another interesting facet of the church was the analog twenty-four-hour clock. In Italy, most of the clocks use twenty-four hours, but this was the first analog clock that I had seen to represent this. It not only used roman numerals, which had four “I’s” to depict the number four, but the “one” sat at the bottom of the clock instead of the top.
While the church itself is free to enter, it does cost 8 Euros to walk the 463 stairs to the top of the dome. The Duomo towers over the city though and assured an excellent view of Firenze, not to mention a chance to see the fresco at the top of the dome up close. The climb to the top was a bit daunting, and became distressing in the long spiral staircases, lit only by artificial light, which would end abruptly after showing no signs of an exit. Every once in a while there would be windows, which had to reach some two feet through the outer wall of the church to the various inner passageways. Through them, we got a few fixed glimpses of the city on the way up. As we reached the top, the stairs became more angled to fit along the perimeter of the dome. The 8 Euros and 400 stairs were all worth it though, as the view was truly spectacular. At the top, we picked out our apartments and the various places we’d walked to since we arrived, including the fortress on the on the opposite side of the river. It was a bit cloudy, as it has been nearly every day since I’ve gotten here, and the views might have been grander at other times, but I believe the clouds added to the look of the landscape, covering all but the peaks of many of the surrounding tree-covered mountains. It was quite a sight.
On the way back to the apartment, we passed by a mysterious courtyard full of statues and an orange orchard. I just can’t imagine ever seeing quite a sight in America. It was such a tranquil garden set at the center of this bustling city. (note: all pictures in this post are of or from the Duomo, except this one on the right.)
That night the girls asked us to go dancing with them, so we obliged. We got dressed up a bit and showed up at this club called “Twice” around 10:00 to find it quite empty. As we’ve found out time and again, the Italian day is more relaxed and often runs later. As more people began to show up though, it became quickly evident that Italian guys don’t dance. I felt quite a few eyes on me from the Italian men sitting around on the sides of the floor, wondering why I bothered to dance. It is not in their style, which is particularly interesting because the Italian men are also more flirtatious. At the dance club though, the Italian men watch and then make an abrupt move for a girl, often by grabbing them, especially with American women, whom they know they have a better chance with. I know my friends were a bit put off, and I was asked to step in as their boyfriend a few times in order to keep some of the more feisty Italians away. Everybody returned home safely though, and overall it was another good night. I know I was surprised by how much fun I had myself. And to put a sweet cap on the night, I got to have one of the truffles which the girls had picked up at the chocolate fair earlier in the day at Santa Croce (the biggish white building pictured towards the center of the picture below). It was a delicious end to an eventful day.
My apartment is in the slightly taller building just in front of the big one with the green roof. That is the Mercato Centrale which my apartment's plaza is named for. We enter from the plaza on the right side.