ITALIA: June 21, 2007


Imagine, if you will, a strange land full of trickery and delight. Delight, that is, if you were reading about it or watching some fetching cartoon about it. Today we went down the rabbit hole, we went through the looking glass, people. And I’m here to tell you, messiah-like, that living it is not nearly as enjoyable as witnessing it happen to other people.

Given all the good fortune we’ve experienced in Italy thus far, it seems only apt that there’d be one day of payback, and we have only ourselves to blame. Babel-like, we set our sights too high. Looking back, we have named it il Giorno del Circolo, because we simply could not escape circles--directional, mental and traffic. The day started with trying to drive a memorized local route to Firenze. After about an hour of confusing signage and increasingly rural roads, we found ourselves on what had to have been one of the highest mountain cities in Umbria, Allarona. We stopped to take in an amazing expanse and ask for directions. Turns out we had driven a good hour around a gigantic, rural circle, to find ourselves only 20 klicks from Orvieto once again. So we returned to Orvieto (with some further difficulty, I might add) to get our bearings and decided to head out to Firenze on the autostrada (uninitiated Americani, read: “interstate”). Of course, we had planned to stop in an intermediate town for lunch, but the hour was late and after a little under an hour on the autostrada David suggested we stop at one of the pull-off stations for eats. It’s tough to get lost when you go nowhere, after all.

And boy, are the service stations off the autostrada nowhere. It was bizarrely uplifting cum depressing to see this side of Italy, or perhaps greater Europe. It told me that the pervasive (invasive) culture of convenience is not limited to America’s purple-mountained majesty. The whole establishment was hoisted above the autostrada, so you could be rocked to dreamy consumption by the coastal sounds of cars topping out at 100 mph. It was the most expensive and least satisfying meal I’ve ever had in Italy, though it still beat anything I could have gotten in such an establishment in my native land. So there’s hope yet for Italia. After this strange meal, it was back on the road.

But now for a town called Arrezzo, which none of us had been to before. We decided we were so behind, and perhaps we didn’t have the courage and stamina at that point to take on Firenze. Arrezzo is one of the towns we looked into as having theatre festivals when we were applying for grants to travel here, so it seemed logical that we might find an interesting environment there. Off we went, little aware of what we were in for.

Arrezzo is a town I think I might enjoy under other circumstances. It’s fairly small, but big enough to hold a lot of history and contemporary entertainments. It felt a bit like a university town, with some 3,000 years of history behind it. We dove in and visited the largest park and a giant cathedral, but quickly had to get back to the car as we could only pay for a couple of hours of parking at a time (circles). On our second trip we wound our way around until we finally found an exhibit of Piero della Francesca in a local museum. A famous renaissance artist, he lived in the town for some time. Oddly enough, most of his extant work is in frescoes…the which you can’t exactly export to museums. So, though it was very well done, the exhibit was something of a tease. Thereafter David suggested we find dinner in Fiesole, a neighboring town of Firenze. (I think he was generally disappointed with Arrezzo.) Feeling at least somewhat successful with having found the exhibit, we agreed, hoping it would fulfill some of our Firenze jones. The bells of the church whose lot we parked in heralded us out of town as we headed out in the car…once again.

Fiesole was quite easy to find, in spite of some anxiety owing to signage on the way. I bought a road map of all of Italy at the service station (How’s that for an investment in the future?), so we at least had some perspective on where we were headed this time. It is a town on a high hill (mountain?) to the northeast of Firenze, with a beautiful view of the city. We had a very lavish dinner—with complementary champagne, of all things—at an outdoor restaurant with a view of the city below, a place David had had dinner at ten years prior. The dinner rejuvenated us so that we felt empowered to seek out a great gelato place David remembered from the same era, in Firenze.

Mistake.

We had ourselves quite a little drive around the city, ensnared continually by traffic circles with little-to-no indication of where we wished to end up. I suppose we spent the better part of an hour trying to locate the general area we hoped to inhabit, with no success. We just couldn’t catch a break, so we eventually just tried to find the autostrada again, which led us to some very interesting parts of town. Heather: “Is she for sale?” Jeff: “I think so.” Two blocks later eliminated all doubt, as a bevy of scantily (or non) clad roadside stress-relievers dotted our periphery. In case your needs should ever lay in such a direction whilst in Florence, head to where the buses park between routes. It’s like a supermarket over there.

I took over the driving once we got going on some local roads out of town. It was nearing 1:00 AM at this point, and eventually I found the autostrada near Siena, and eventually we coursed our way into our driveway, at just about 3:00 AM. Where did we go wrong (apart from, directionally, ever which way)? That’s a tale for another time. For now, we’ll just put this day to rest.

 
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