Sunday, May 8, 2011

Precious time with friends, too many hours in transit, and tonnes of pizza

Greetings, dear friends,

It’s been a while since I last posted, though I’d intended on providing an update exactly two weeks ago. I just got back from a walk in the tranquil greenery by the monastery, following a steep descent into the valley, smiling all the way down while keeping in mind that I’d have to climb every step back up. I’d done this hike exactly two weeks with @graemegiskhan when he visited me here in Labro (more on that below), so I knew what I was in for.








The walk back up is a great workout, and if you time it correctly, you can easily devote forty-five minutes to the hike. I hope to keep up with this every day.

Hikes aside, what follows was composed on Easter Sunday, to sum up my sojourn thus far:
I was taken to Rome to serve as a linguistic aide, when needed, at a meeting. The trek there and back from Labro took about four hours total, but it was worth it. After the meeting, we visited a Chinese grocery store to purchase some ingredients that are unheard of or impossible to find even in large grocery stores. Thanks to that shopping trip, my housemates put together a fabulous vegan phở with large rice noodles, greens picked from the field by the monastery, and other fabulous goodies. It was wonderfully spicy and temporarily cured my ailing, coughing throat.

Speaking of this horrendous cough of mine that has been the source of some worry over the past few weeks, I finally grew concerned and tired enough (from lack of sleep and from sheer annoyance at its preventing me from carrying conversations without erupting into a coughing fit) to go to the doctor. The only issue was getting to the doctor, as Labro is located so far in the hills that it takes a half-hour drive into Terni to get to the hospital. Arranging to get to the hospital would be a task in itself, but I knew it was necessary. In a very serendipitous manner, while chatting with some locals, a few of my housemates were provided with the knowledge that a doctor comes into Labro twice a week and offers consultations on a walk-in basis. They discovered this the very day before he was to be in Labro--on Good Friday, so of course there was the chance that he would not come at all. Sure enough, he did come. The consultation, the verdict of which was that I had inflammation in my throat and a possible infection in my bronchioles, was completely free of charge. The doctor had asked, too, if I had travel insurance to cover the cost of the antibiotics that he was to prescribe me. I responded that I did, but decided against making the claim when the drugs rang up to the grand total of 5.63 Euros. How is that even possible? I was blown away and extremely grateful. Yay for the medical system in Italy!
By now my cough is completely gone and I can carry full conversations and laugh without coughing. My housemates have finally heard my full loud, perhaps obnoxious laugh. Since my visit to the doctor, many other adventures have taken place. On the Saturday before Easter, merely eight days into my stay here, I trekked--all by myself. Look, Ma, I’m a big kid now!--to Rome to spend the day with my dear friend Emanuela. Her boyfriend cooked me an entirely vegan meal, consisting of stir-fried vegetables and farfalle pasta and a side of fried potatoes. It was absolutely divine, and I was beyond grateful for the effort and thoughtfulness. He and Emanuela even presented me with a gift of Valsoia “Nutella.” I’ve yet to crack it open, but I will dig in soon enough...


Emanuela and her charming, wonderful cook of a boyfriend




Though I will hang out with Emanuela as often as I can while I’m here in such close proximity to her, the main reason for which I’d headed to Rome that day was to pick up another darling friend, one whom I’ve mentioned a few times here on my blog, who’s been living in Mongolia since August 2010. I hadn’t seen him since then and I was spoiled enough to be regaled with a visit from him here at the monastery for a week.

We hung out at the monastery, where he befriended my terrific housemates; I showed him around to the best of my ability, considering I’d been here for under two weeks at that point; we dined at the local osteria-enoteca Boccondivino (“boccone” means “mouthful” and “divino” means “divine”... and the meal was indeed divine--all four courses of it.




Artichoke and eggplant

Italian crispy flatbreads and olive oil

Divine black rice with wild asparagus (if you're going to go to Italy for one thing, and one thing only, let it be wild asparagus. Holy cow) and flower petals (I can't recall the name of the flower)

Graeme's gnocchi with pesto (sadly not vegan, but how tasty does it look?!)

Fennel, tomato, and red cabbage salad


The vegan dessert they graciously put together for me, sans panna with which it is normally served
Though I am known to drink very little alcohol, or, when I do drink, it’s for the sake of being polite (a sip of wine in order to give a proper toast, for example) or I’ll drink stereotypical girly drinks, like amaretto sour, at Boccondivino, we drank the best wine I had ever tasted--ever. It was a Sicilian Merlot, recommended by the waiter and chosen by Graeme. We finished the bottle and let’s say that the walk back to the hotel--almost 15 minutes away--was a lot more interesting than the walk to the restaurant. What was especially delightful about the restaurant, bacchanal indulgences aside, was that they even accommodated my vegan self on the spot, though they said that they’d’ve been better equipped had I called in advance to tell them about my dietary habits.

Best wine ever

This photo is appropriately blurry...


And then we ventured off for three days. It was a hectic half-week, but well worth it, despite the frustrations and exhaustion from various methods and hours of transit: we took the train from Terni (a half hour’s drive from Labro) to Florence, where our hotel “Il Grifone” was located, about twenty minutes by public transit (I shake my fist at the sky, because half the amount of times we travelled to the hotel, we took a taxi, because the bus stop in the direction of the hotel was impossible to find) from the city centre. The following day, we grabbed a train at the ridiculous hour of 6:30 a.m. (which meant we left the hotel at a quarter to six, thus forsaking our free continental breakfast. Sacrilege!) to head to Rome for the day--well, we stayed in Rome ’til 6 p.m., since the last low-cost train back to Florence was at 6:43 p.m.

Me, I'm small compared to the Coliseum

Trevi Fountain geeks with ice cream

The Spanish Steps

By the time we got back to the hotel, it was close to midnight, but we hadn’t had dinner and were desperate for pizza. Solution? Pizza Taxi! Yes, there is a pizza-delivery establishment in Florence going by that name, and they delivered pizza to our hotel room at just after midnight. 

Oh, and might I add that pizza was the theme of these three days? Yes, my friends, Graeme and I had pizza for every meal except breakfast for these three days. 


Super bland focaccia. Apparently I wasn't thinking straight when I ordered. I ate it anyway.

As our trip progressed, the pizzas kept getting better. This is the first pizza meal we had in Florence.

Bruschetta entrée at a restaurant in Rome. From left to right: mushroom spread (I think), cherry tomatoes (we noticed a lack of garlic on the tomato bruschetta. How odd--or is garlic on bruschetta not the norm in Italy, or we were dining at the anomaly restaurants?), and olive spread.

Cicooooooooria--my favourite

Mmmmmmmushrooms

"Eyy. Me, I have a pizza, me." (That's my caption, Graeme, because I can't remember was you were making that face. Hahaha.)

I'm happy because I have friggin vegan gelato; this guy on my left is sad because a bird decided his right shoulder was a good spot to use as a toilet. Hey, apparently getting crapped on by a bird is good luck!

Pizza number three in Florence. I used to be weirded out by potatoes on pizza, and now I'm a believer: potatoes can always squeeze onto my pizza.


Calzone at Il Grifone restaurant, for our last meal in Florence

Baked potatoes to accompany our meal. I was craving potatoes for some reason.

My last pizza in Florence, and it was, by far, the best one

Okay, okay--gelato will share the spotlight, too: on our last day in Florence, we had gelato twice in one day (and three times total on our jaunt away from Labro). We did do a lot of walking, and visited three museums (the Uffizi, whose line we got to skip because we whipped out five Euros in addition to the cost of entry to the Uffizi to join some association whose name and mandate escape me, and the museums of Natural History and “La Specola,” both of which we entered for free because it was Notte bianca in Florence (“notte bianca” means “all nighter”; Montreal’s equivalent is Nuit blanche, when museums are open into the wee hours of the morning) in maybe twice as many hours, so we worked for it.
Part of the Duomo at night

Bella Firenze

Palazza Vecchio, with a copy of Michelangelo's David in the Piazza della Signoria

Me, on the Ponte Vecchio

Santa Croce Basilica
Then, on the Sunday, we begrudgingly grabbed that 6:30 a.m. train back to Rome, a train so packed with pilgrims venturing to The Vatican for the beatification of Pope John Paul II that we were forced to seat ourselves in the train vestibule by the train’s doors. We were really counting on the three-hour trip to Rome to sleep, but instead we spent the rest of the day--Graeme more so than myself, I am sure, since he had two flights ahead of him back to Mongolia--as veritable zombies.

At that point I went back to hang out with Emanuela before returning to Labro to resume my duties there. Since then I’ve been translating, teaching, and trying to make peace with the bugs that insist on cohabiting with me and the artists. The Daddy-Long-Legs here have abdomens that I don’t care to see from metres away but that they flaunt because they’ve got it; my roomie found a scorpion in her room the other day; a 638543589043-legged creature appeared as I washed dishes, and to my dismay was nowhere to be found after I had turned away for a minute. I’m trying to remind myself that none of these creatures--even the tiny scorpion, whose bite, I have been told, is not poisonous and whose effect is equivalent to that of a bee or wasp--are life-threatening, but it’s hard to shake off my North American tendencies of being squeamish. My latest approach, especially at night? Close the light and throw the covers over your head: if you can’t see them, they’re not really there. (I type this as a bug crawls across my computer screen.)

A presto, cari amici.

Vegan in Italia

P.S. It's Mother's Day, so I'm sending a giant hug and an even bigger kiss to my dear Mommacakes. I love you, Momma! Have a wonderful day! May the sun shine brightly and warmly on you, as it should all days of the year. Jess, make sure she's spoiled! And to all the mothers out there: may you also be spoiled by your children and may you have a splendid Mother's Day.