Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Pasqua Fiorentina

2:30AM April 14

Yet again, I decided to spend my weekend in Florence, having already accomplished my major traveling goals. It also gave me the opportunity to get a bit ahead on my work, put in a few extra hours practicing both jazz and classical guitar, and save some money in the process.

Friday I slept in, a nice change after the previous week when I stayed up late after the gig Tuesday, traveled again that morning, and still made it back in time for Italian at 10:30. I then accompanied John up to campus so I could use the internet, catch up on the blog, and get a little work done.

By 5:30 I left, feeling like I’d had a productive day, and I headed off to our regular aperitivo (seen here at our former host site, Caffe Degli Artigiani) at La Cite Libreria Café. I played okay, but nowhere near my best. It was a pleasant surprise to be joined by a few local guitarists who wanted to sit in this week. They gave me a break from having to produce as the lead instrument for two hours. Without any horn players here, I end up taking the melody on nearly every tune, which is great, as a horn player usually prevents me from ever interpreting the melody myself. The consequence is that I have to be more or less the leader for the night, and we can’t play tunes that I haven’t previously worked on or can’t sight-read. Having the other guitarist there allowed me to relax and focus more on a few tunes, while bringing more diversity to the jam session.

Saturday I got up and felt inspired. I’d been wanting to make pizza for a while, and recently I determined that Easter weekend would be a great to do it, as I had some extra time off. When I woke up that morning, it just felt right, so I confirmed with John, and we decided to throw a pizza party that night.

Before John took off for school to practice, I convinced him and Dallas—our other roommate who was around: Sean and Adam were in Scotland and Germany—to join me for lunch at one of my new favorite spots: Il Caffeteria David. It is so named because it sits around the corner from the Academia Galleria, where Michelangelo’s David is housed. Adam found out about it initially as one of the few places that still made “lampredotti,” a traditional Florentine pork stomach sandwich, complemented by a pepper and vegetable sauce. It is quite a sandwich. I was already back for my fourth in about five or six weeks, and my roommates were not at all disappointed.

Afterwards I went off to buy ingredients for pizza. The one wild card was yeast, which did not come in little packets as I’m used to, but rather as little block of a clay-like substance about the size of two sugar cubes. It was hard to tell how much I was getting and how it would work into the dough. For the first two batches I tried to break it into little piece before stirring in, but I think I got the idea right by dissolving it in water first for the third dough.

For toppings I sautéed some bell pepper, cooked up some mushrooms in a balsamic vinegar sauce, and slow roasted some onion and garlic. I also bought some prosciutto and ricotta to put on the pizze, which came out pretty well, but it took much longer to cook than I would usually find. I believe the humidity had a lot to do with that. Everybody seemed to really enjoy it though.

My work station for cranking out the dough

Toppings ready to be laid out over the first rolled doughs. Unfortunately, I didn't take any pictures of the finished pizze.

Most of our friends were out of town or hosting family, so we just had a small crowd over for pizza, consisting of Kate, Brittney, Alex’s friend from back home, Lauren, who is studying at another school in Florence this semester, and Lauren’s two roommates. I realized early on that I’d made up more dough than was necessary, so I went out and bought two apples to chop up and make into an apple pie. To accompany this dessert, I whipped up the container of mascarpone I had sitting in the refrigerator along with a little cinnamon and sugar. The pizza was a mild success, but the dessert pie was a real hit, and most of our guests were baffled by the idea of apples on pizza dough, let alone mascarpone, which they really loved. We ended relatively early in the evening, planning to get up for Easter festivities the next morning.

I was out the door before 9:00 on Sunday, walking down the street towards the Duomo. There I met up with Kate and Brittney, and there we stood, outside the steps to the grand church, waiting, for almost two hours before the festivities began. At that point, a large procession of Florentines paraded around the piazza in medieval costumes toting period weapons, twirling flags, and playing various period instruments, ending up in front of the church, where they stood for the remainder of the show. The procession culminated with four large bulls pulling a tall carriage into the center of the piazza. Over the next thirty minutes or so, we waited more as extra fireworks were attached to the already dangerous carriage. Two men in a cherry-picker hoisted two missing parts onto the top, nearly dropping the second one several times as they tried to cantilever the heavy object out in order to place it on top.

The first procession of drummers

The paraders all standing on the steps of the Duomo, waiting for the fireworks.

Bulls draw out the large carriage into the center of the piazza

The first of two items placed on top of the carriage goes fairly easily

In the meantime, a clergyman walked out and proceeded to bless everything in sight, including us, by flinging oil from a large brush, much like Jackson Pollock. He finished by blessing a large stock of flowers, olive branches, and eggs, which were piled in a cart near the center of the piazza. After he’d left, many of the kids participating in the parade raced to the cart to snatch up some of the eggs. Adult parade-goers then grabbed a few olive branches for themselves to compliment their outfits, and some grabbed the remaining eggs to distribute to kids in the front row behind the barricade. Next, a group of peasant-like women snatched up the remaining flowers and olive branches, handing them out to the front rows, and then later throwing them to others further back. From my spot in the fourth row, it wasn’t to hard to snatch a blessed olive branch.

Finally, the fireworks commenced when a plastic dove was sent down a guy-wire from the church into the center of the carriage. This was followed by many unnecessarily loud bangs and flashes of light, which went in a ring around the bottom of the carriage. After the ring was complete, a set of small fireworks was shot into the air. I’d say there were about eight rings around the carriage, and after each one was set off, moving progressively further up towards the top of the carriage, another small display was triggered of aerial fireworks or sparks being fired off the carriage in various creative ways. The show ended with a burst of red, white (the colors of the municipal coat of arms) and purple (Fiorentina soccer’s color) smoke being emitted from a few spots on the piazza around the carriage. Flags of the province were then released and twirled about by the device hoisted up on top of the carriage earlier. It was definitely a different take on fireworks than I’m used to at our American Independence Day celebrations, especially the idea of shooting them off in the morning, but it was a nice change. I enjoyed, yet again, observing the differences between American and Italian culture. (You can watch the fireworks part of the celebration here.)

Sparks being twirled about as they are shot off the carriage

Dripping sparks

Fireworks sent off towards the heights of the Duomo

One of the final displays of sparks

The Duomo, basking in the smoke and sunlight, following the festivities.

After the show, I went back to school to work more and start to figure out what classes I’m going to take next semester. John had his own plans Sunday night, so I returned home to practice and get to be on the early side, making sure to get some extra sleep before my big gig in Ferrara the following night.

On Sunday, after studying, I took the opportunity afforded me by the beautiful day to snap a few more pictures of our gorgeous campus on the La Pietra estate.

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