I Go to Pieces — An Italy Trip Report

Old Mar 27th, 2014, 09:54 PM
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DAY 3: Saturday, 1 March 2014 — Bologna

I can never get myself moving on a gray day. I eventually left the hotel on a church-and-shopping expedition that would take me to the other side of Piazza Maggiore. As I crossed the piazza to Nettuno, I noticed a steady stream of families entering a building to the right. I decided to follow and was introduced to a magnificent repurposing of a portion of city hall as a library and multimedia center, the Salaborsa. It was wonderful to see so many people actively using and enjoying the facilities. If nothing else, visit here to see the covered courtyard in the center of the building with art nouveau details and a glass floor showcasing ruins below.

My friend P (also known as Mr. Dessert) could not join me on this trip, but in his honor I had to find good chocolate. Research suggested that Majani on Via de’ Carbonesi was the place. In the best tradition of the elegant chocolate shops I’ve visited in Torino, Majani had a beautiful array of chocolates in a classic setting of antique display cabinetry—it’s been in business since 1796, in this location since 1830. Weighing the size and expense of the products against my ability to keep them safe and unmelted for 10 more days of travel, I chose some small bars of milk chocolate with hazelnuts. I also could not resist these little packets of incredibly overpriced tortellini-shaped chocolates. They came in milk, dark, and white chocolate versions and supposedly the “pasta” would be a different flavor from the “stuffing.” Then I had the joy of watching the clerk package my choices in the good old-fashioned Italian way. Without my asking, she placed all my choices in a beautiful cellophane bag printed with a decorative pattern and then carefully tied and primped the top with curly ribbon.

Wandering under the portici of Via de’ Carbonesi and then Via Farini, the shops become progressively more and more upscale. Even the sidewalks and ceilings of each section of portico are fancier. I came upon what seemed like a shopping mall—Galleria Cavour—though a very posh mall. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, Tiffany’s . . . plenty of shoppers, but I going to church.

My first church, or should I say churches, was the complex of Santo Stefano. The piazza in front is pretty and quirky, wedged-shaped and cobbled and angled and grassy. The seven churches in the complex huddle together, shoulder to shoulder. Visitors enter through the main door of one of the churches, and then just go through any other door they see. The 8th century church connects to the 5th century church connects to a 12th century church. Cloisters connect to other smaller chapels. The atmosphere is like that of a maze, with people popping in and out of small rooms, looking for the next. In this rain, the interiors were darkened. I was particularly struck by the patterns in the brick façades in one courtyard.

There is little interior decoration remaining, so I was surprised to walk along a hallway, turn a corner, and step into a chapel full of photos, the walls covered from chair height to just short of the ceiling with formal framed portraits that might sit on Grandma’s bookcase. A placard noted this was the National Association of Families of Fallen and Wounded of Aviation. Black-and-white portraits of men in uniform—the majority dated between 1920 and 1950—spoke to me across the years. Most were formal portraits in uniform with serious faces. The occasional smiling portrait gave a hint of a personality that his family could not resist sharing with posterity. The labels varied from just a name with dates to details of a particular battle. This room felt more holy than any of the others in the complex.

The next church was not on my radar, but I was passing by so I climbed the little hill and went inside San Giovanni in Monte. Aside from the stained glass, most of the art that would have interested me has been removed to the Pinacoteca of Bologna. So I pressed on to the Basilica of San Domenico. Unfortunately, I had only five minutes to step inside before it closed for lunch, so I got a glimpse of THE San Domenico’s tomb and also the crucifix of Giunta Pisano. Then the Dominican friar who had been explaining the crucifix to a large group herded us all out.

Still pretending I might actually enter a museum, I walked toward the Pinacoteca Nazionale of Bologna, stopping along the way for lunch at Ristoro del Meridione, this odd little place that might be food shop as well but it’s difficult to tell. In reviewing my notes, I’m surprised to see that I had four courses: an antipasto of involtini of eggplant and ricotta, which were just okay; for primo, potato ravioli in onion-tomatoey sauce, again just okay; my secondo of little grilled lamb chops and a lot of parsley pleased me very much. The portions had been human rather than gargantuan, so I had a slice of torta di riso for dessert. With a glass of wine and bottle of water, the total was 29 euro.

Wandering the university area, I finally reach the pinacoteca, stare at it, stare at the poster, and turn away. I have no checklist, so I have no need to go in. I’m enjoying just wandering, finding little corners of oddity or beauty. Eventually I passed through the large open market of cheap stuff at Piazza Dell’ Otto Agosto. This is a large market with many booths, all new and cheap and uninteresting to me, but I enjoy watching the sales people hawking their goods.

Noise from outside drew me out my hotel after a brief rest. Via dell’ Indipendenza was packed with people of all ages, genders, and ethnicities, demonstrating in support of citizenship for migrant workers and illegals. Music, signs, drums, chanting—and a huge police presence at the end of the march.

I was in relax mode, so I grabbed a table at a café, and had a spritz with Aperol. I settled in with my book, and read and watched the people passing. The sun set and the rhythm of the sidewalks changed to Saturday night with friends.

I couldn’t pass up a final dinner in Bologna. I’d heard whispers about Trattoria di via Serra di Tommaso & Flavio and decided to see if they had room for me on a Saturday night. I arrived soon after 7:00 pm and was mystified by how to get into the place. Finally I followed the directions on the little sign and rang the bell. Someone opened the automatic sliding door, remarking that he knows the door is difficult. I learned this is Flavio, who is in charge the dining room. He offered me a table, if I can be out by 8:30. Perfect. The room feels modern yet countrified, crisp and simple, all at once, the menu posted on a blackboard high on the wall. Tommaso, the chef, passed through the room and offered a greeting as well.

Flavio was still prepping a bit, but as he passed he mentioned different things on the menu. My breadbasket arrived, except that it was a little paper bag of bread, a nice touch. As I sipped my wine, he explained that their goal is to prepare food that is both traditional and innovative and to use the best local products. So I followed his lead and chose some of the most traditional items. First, I chose the classic food of Ravenna, the piadina (flat bread) with prosciutto crudo, soft cheese, and arugula. The piadina was warm from the pan, and I made a delicious mess as I created dribbly sandwiches with the ingredients.

Next, my tortelloni were as fresh and fat as can be, with ricotta and parsley stuffing that was almost foamy, dressed with butter and sage. These were a real contrast to the same dish from last night. I can’t say I preferred one over the other. The dining room was beginning to fill and Flavio gave the same close attention and explanation of the menu for each group that arrived.

Finally, I chose “bocconcini di coniglio fritti nella pancetta,” though it would tough to fit one in the mouth without cutting. The rabbit was rolled into balls and wrapped in pancetta that has been crisped. With each bite one tastes the salty crispness and the moist, mellow rabbit. I’d eaten my fill and time is short, so I skipped dessert, but Flavio presented me with walnut liqueur—very delicious. Now the place was packed, so I paid the bill (38 euro) and bid Flavio farewell.

During dinner, I was thinking about tomorrow, about traveling to Ravenna and beginning my workshop. My few days in Bologna have been more of a recovery from work. Tomorrow the real adventure begins.
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Old Mar 27th, 2014, 11:47 PM
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“bocconcini di coniglio fritti nella pancetta,” though it would tough to fit one in the mouth without cutting. The rabbit was rolled into balls and wrapped in pancetta that has been crisped. With each bite one tastes the salty crispness and the moist, mellow rabbit.>>

yum!
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 01:50 AM
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Loving your report...as usual your descriptions are spot on.
waiting for more....
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 03:07 AM
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Loving this - we are there last summer and it was delightful!!!
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Old Mar 28th, 2014, 07:56 AM
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I love your writing ellenem! Not only do I feel like I am walking beside you through the streets of Bologna, but I feel as if I'm dining with you too! Looking forward to reading about the mosaic workshop and Ravenna!
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 08:07 AM
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Thanks to all for the nice comments. Working away on the next episodes , but on the road today, so Ravenna and the mosaic workshop will begin appearing tomorrow.

sarge56 had advised me on the Kindle Fire purchase which was new to me and worked extremely well for my purposes, which were few. Thanks for the advice.
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 08:34 AM
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I just found this Ellenem, and so glad I did. I loved Bologna, though we had some interesting mishaps, it was wonderful, and I'd go back in a minute,

Will follow you for now.
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Old Mar 29th, 2014, 02:08 PM
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I can't wait to get to the mosaic workshop!
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Old Mar 30th, 2014, 11:53 AM
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I love your writing and this report. Looking forward to more!
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Old Mar 30th, 2014, 08:30 PM
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DAY 4: Sunday, 2 March 2014 — Bologna to Ravenna

The pouring rain encouraged me to pack and prep for my travel day at a leisurely pace, my ideas of one last stroll around Bologna washed away. I had a late breakfast, figuring I’d be on the train at midday and would miss lunch. I’d confirmed my arrival time with Daniela at my Ravenna B&B. She kindly emailed me a train schedule for the early afternoon and offered to meet me at the station. I said I could arrive on my own, so then she sent me a google map of how to walk from the station.

I walked under the portici as much as possible on the way to Bologna Centrale station, and then found my way to the correct departure track. My Regionale train was waiting, so I settled in to wait for departure. The ride between Bologna and Ravenna is not particularly interesting—flat fields and the occasional town. Perhaps a dozen people were in my train car, and most seemed to be dozing. I did notice that we’d left the rain behind.

The walk from Ravenna station to B&B Al Teatro is very simple: Walk straight; Turn left at Via Roma; Turn right at Via Guaccimanni; B&B at number 38. As I walked, I noticed a family parking a car and donning costumes. They were all dressed as trees, with their smallest child dressed as a flower. I surmised they were heading to a Carnevale party. When I turned onto Via Roma, I began to hear an announcer’s voice over a PA system. Up ahead I could see something happening. At the corner of Via Guaccimanni, I ran into the Carnevale dei Ragazzi, the children’s Carnevale parade. The parade route makes a turn at this corner, so it’s a good spot to stop and enjoy the view. Dani was expecting me, so I decided to check in and return.

B&B Al Teatro was recommended by the mosaic school, and is located right around the corner from the school’s in-town location. Dani greeted me and showed me around. The small four-storey building surrounds a courtyard. I think Dani and her family live somewhere in the building. I have to say that even though there are three rooms and an apartment for rent, I only ran into any other guests on my departure day, perhaps because I was keeping school hours. The entrance hall is generous with a library through a door to one side and an entrance to the courtyard. The second floor has a series of connected rooms: meeting room, parlor, breakfast room, kitchen. The third floor has three bedrooms for rent with private baths. The fourth floor is really the attic and has a small lounge and kitchenette for guests, and an apartment for rent. All floors are served by a small elevator.

Dani showed me my room, Rossini on the third floor, which usually rents for 65 euro single use, but as a mosaic school student I had a 10% discount. She also pointed to the WiFi password on the room documents and answered my question about the places she would recommend for dinner, carefully marking them on a map. Here’s a link to the room and it was indeed as nice as it looks.
http://www.bbalteatroravenna.com/rossini/?lang=en

The sun was now actually shining, so I walked back to the corner to see what I could see of the parade. Floats on the backs of trucks each had a theme, with scenery and people in costume waving down to the people watching from the sidewalk, but mostly throwing a blizzard of confetti onto the crowd. After each float, people (adults and children) in costumes on the same theme followed. Some themes included Little Red Riding Hood with lots of girls and women dressed as Cappuccetto Rosso and men as hunters and wolves (though I also saw my tree family), the Hunchback of Notre Dame with French peasants galore, Alice in Wonderland with living playing cards and many Mad Hatters, South Pole featuring a waddle of penguins, and a real band followed by people with both real and cardboard instruments. The crowd was full of children in costume, the older ones running around with bags of confetti pelting one another.

I decided to have a walk through town along the main route I recall from my previous visits, through the center of Ravenna from the station straight west to the city wall, about a mile. This route through the center is pedestrian-only, which makes for pleasant walking and browsing. It is perfectly flat, and most of the buildings are not dramatic architectural statements, so it may seem a plain, boring town to those looking for Tuscan hilltowns or Venetian pallazzi. The fire is indoors: Ravenna is the home of eight UNESCO World Heritage properties because of the amazing mosaics. From the UNESCO website:

“Ravenna was the seat of the Roman Empire in the 5th century and then of Byzantine Italy until the 8th century. It has a unique collection of early Christian mosaics and monuments. All eight buildings – the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Arian Baptistery, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, the Mausoleum of Theodoric, the Church of San Vitale and the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe – were constructed in the 5th and 6th centuries. They show great artistic skill, including a wonderful blend of Graeco-Roman tradition, Christian iconography and oriental and Western styles.”

I loved the simplicity and slowness, the real life of this town on previous visits. It seemed as if most bus tours came through in the morning, so the afternoons were less crowded at the major sights. It was the perfect place to stop for two days when traveling with my disabled friend. Walkable, no rushing about, beautiful art that is easily visited in a compact area, good food, less tourists. I also loved the very high percentage of bicycles in use—they are everywhere—and the fact that there were free bikes for visitors to use.

The street that runs straight west from the train station leads to Piazza de Popolo, the main piazza of the town. This street is paved for pedestrians with smoother stones in the middle where the bicycles try to ride if pedestrians aren’t in the way. This main route takes a dogleg right, then left, and eventually meets the city wall at Porta Adriana. The majority of the shops and places of interest in town are concentrated in this area.

It was Sunday afternoon and the street was filling with families who were at the parade. In a little piazzetta off Piazza del Popolo, a carousel was full of children in costume. I checked the shops and restaurants along the way, knowing I would have six nights here and time to explore the possibilities. At Porta Adriana, I turned back and decided to explore one particular shop in more detail: Milk, Il Gelato al Naturale. A sign in the window made it clear that they use no hydrogenated oils, mono glycerides, artificial colors or scents, or preservatives. What I noticed most was the array of 25 intriguing flavors. While I usually pick two flavors, I couldn’t decide so I chose three: gianduia fondente, pistacchio Sicilia, and crema croccante. As I paid, the cashier asked, “Would you like one of these?” and handed me a frequent buyer’s card. BMake a €2,00 (2 scoop) purchase 10 times and the 11th is free. The Earth moved under my feet. My mind reeled with the mathematical possibilities. 25 minus 3 equals 22 divided by 6 equals . . . The gianduia fondente was hazelnutty chocolatey richness with the added bonus of being chock-full of whole hazelnuts. I always test a gelateria by trying the pistacchio. This one tasted truly like the real nuts, including a hint of salt. The croccante in the crema was bits of almond.

I sat on a bench outside the shop, enjoying the day, enjoying the golden light of late afternoon. My workshop would begin tomorrow and I knew on Friday we would have a tour of the heritage sights with an historian. But I knew I didn’t want to wait five days to see them nor would I mind seeing them more than once, so I decided to visit the Basilica of San Vitale nearby.

The ticket office is down the block from the entrance to the basilica complex. I noticed two types of seven-day combined: one type included the Neonian Baptistery, the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare Nuovo, the Archiepiscopal Chapel, and the Church of San Vitale for €9,50 and the other had those four PLUS the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia for €11,50. Apparently, from March 1 to June 15, an additional charge of €2,00 applies to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia. The Mausoleum is a magnificent jewel box of mosaics and is part of the San Vitale complex. I can’t imagine going all the way to Ravenna and NOT seeing it. Don’t make that mistake of choosing a ticket that doesn’t include it.

My last trip to Ravenna had been a dozen years ago, and we had a magical musical moment in an almost empty San Vitale at the end of a long travel day. Similarly the basilica was mostly empty, with the occasional group moving through. The basilica is octagonal with the apse covered floor to ceiling with magnificent 6th-century mosaics. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Em..._tango7174.jpg) There are the usual biblical scenes climbing the walls to soaring heights, plus the regal panels of Justinian and Theodora. Mixed in to many areas are animals and birds and fruits and patterns. And gold everywhere. I brought compact binoculars for all the ceiling-staring I would be doing in Ravenna and kept changing position to get the best angle to see each detail.

I stepped outside and along the walk to the Mausoleum of Galla Placidia, a much smaller and intimate space. The ceiling is low and closer so the viewer can see the details more easily. It is easier to see the charming details like the starry ceiling and doves drinking at a birdbath. Unfortunately, one of the four bays was covered by scaffolding and under restoration. I was joined by a group who were chatting in accented English about what they saw. I added a comment and a conversation began. They were all university students studying in Bologna from various different countries—Spain, Portugal, France, and more—with English as their common language. We continued our conversation outside, them intrigued that I am from New York City and encouraging me to visit each of their countries, me assuring them that they will find Torino (where the next part of their course will take place) just as interesting as they have found Bologna.

My room at the B&B overlooks the street that is also a bus route. I wondered if it would be noisy, but as I relaxed before dinner I found that there is little traffic in the evening. Also the windows have three layers: the original French doors, an added set of glass doors for sound-proofing, and the louvred shutters.

For dinner, I chose Ristorante La Gardela, a popular place filled with families on this Sunday night. I began with Tagliere del Buongustaio, which was a variation on the piadina of the night before, with squacquerone cheese, arugula, and salume. As before, the cheese was soft and runny and I made a delicious mess. A gardela is a grill, but I concentrate of pasta next: pappardelle con leper (hare), a tomatoey meaty sauce on fresh wide ribbons of pasta. I blindly picked Dolce di Ravenna for dessert, which turned out to be a thick flan served here with candied orange slices. With water and a glass of wine, the bill was €24,00. I noticed that customers went to the cash register to pay rather than call for the bill, so I did the same. This seemed to be the habit in Ravenna.

Back at the B&B I set my alarm clock for the first time since arriving in Italy. Class begins tomorrow at 9:00 AM!
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Old Mar 30th, 2014, 09:21 PM
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Thanks for the detailed report Ellenem, makes great reference material.

As a self confessed mosaic tragic, I can't wait for the next post !

Keep up the good work.
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Old Mar 30th, 2014, 09:53 PM
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Thanks so much for an enticing, enchanting & entertaining report, ellenem.

You had me at the memory of the colonnades of Bologna & searching the QF website at those rabbit tortellini & runny cheeses in Ravena.

I've just tagged 256,000 FF's for next March's return trip to northern Italy.

Looking forward to the rest of your trip. Thank you again. You've made my day.
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 01:16 AM
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The mosaics of Ravenna are among the most under-rated treasures of Italy.

In much of Italy, you pay at the cash register, even if they bring the check to your table. When we eat alone, we usually go to the cash register when we're ready to go, without asking for the check. When eating with friends, and dividing the check, we usually ask for the check, and then one of us collects the money and goes to the cash register to pay. (If you're eating with friends, you wouldn't want to divvy up the cost at the cash register.)

I've never heard of a grill called a gardela. It must be a local dialect. It's not even in my big dictionary, though, and they have the more commonly used dialectical words.
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 04:13 AM
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Does it make any difference to know the spelling is La Gardèla with the accent? I'm assuming it means some kind of grill because of this:

http://www.ristorantelagardela.com/
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 05:01 AM
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ellenem - I'm in love with Ravenna and not even been there yet.

oh dear - every time i read a new trip report about Italy, that place goes to the top of my list. At this rate I'll need a whole year to get round everywhere i want to see,
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 07:50 AM
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Very enjoyable, ellenem. Your Ravenna room is so lovely.

DH and I made Ravenna a day trip from our Bologna base and we loved it also. Because there were no porticos, it felt more open and brighter by comparison.
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 11:31 AM
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I looked at a page about Romagnolo dialects and found it, with three different variations: gardêla, gardèla, and gardela. I didn't find a definition, but from the context, it must be Romagnolo for "graticola", which is a grate:

[[Piê in t'la gardela (usanza contadina della bassa Romagna: quasi stesso impasto della piadina tenuta alta di spessore e cotta in graticola con braci vere da legno.]]

So you guessed right!
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 11:32 AM
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So lovely - and I am enjoying it immensely.
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 11:43 AM
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Jumping on board!
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Old Mar 31st, 2014, 08:12 PM
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DAY 5: Monday, 3 March 2014 — Ravenna

A week before my mosaic workshop began, I received an email from the school with some instructions including: “The typical time of the class is 9am–4pm, with a little break for lunch. PLEASE DON'T COME TO THE SCHOOL BEFORE 9:00, because our teachers need a little time to prepare tools and materials for lessons.” OK, so don’t arrive early, but I plan to arrive on time.

My only complaint about the B&B is that it took a few minutes for the water to get hot, but then this is my complaint in many places I’ve stayed in Italy. It is a small complaint, but I don’t want someone later to say, “That Ellenem said this B&B was so great and never mentioned the hot water.” Full disclosure.

After my morning shower, I went to the breakfast room. Dani had set out an extensive array of food considering the few people staying there. Pastries, multiple cakes, biscotti, cheeses, meats, cereals, fruits, yogurts, juices . . . and when she appeared from the kitchen, she asked if I wanted eggs. No thank you, just a cappuccino. I studied the buffet and found myself hesitant to disturb the food. It was all arranged so perfectly, with even the two different cake knives perfectly aligned with other elements on the buffet. I chose one knife, cut a slice of cake, and replaced the knife. The now cake-smeared knife disturbed the unity of the display. I wondered if I should wipe it, but then embraced the imperfection.

When I registered in December, I was the third to register for one of the eight spots. The workshop is offered in Italian or in English on alternating weeks. As I walked around the corner to the school, I wondered how many people would be in the class, where they would be from, if we would become friends or have dinners together. I knew we’d be making two mosaics, one a classical copy, and one an original design, and I thought about all the possibilities.

Scuola Arte del Mosaico on Via Negri is really the town-center shop of the maestra of the school, Luciana Notturni. Inside the shop, I met Luciana, Gabriella, and another student I’ll call NJ. We each took a turn telling a bit about ourselves.

Luciana has reasonable English, but for the technical discussions, she speaks in Italian and Gabriella translates. She teaches at a number of local schools and universities and her mosaic work can be seen around Ravenna and in local museums. She has worked for 40 years in mosaics with conservation and restoration as a specialty. She chose to study “art” in high school, which when you grow up in Ravenna means choosing mosaics, and she was hooked.

While Gabriella is a Canadian who began as just a translator for Luciana, she’s been part of the school for more than 10 years and now also helps with instruction. She also teaches English at a local school and does written translation work.

NJ was from New Jersey and was returning to complete a course begun in November. The day before NJ’s previous class began, NJ’s traveling companion fell and broke an arm. On the way back to the hotel after the first day of the workshop, NJ fell and broke an ankle. Luciana related a very funny moment when she received the phone call that NJ could not return to class because of the ankle. Luciana said, “I couldn’t understand why NJ could not return to class at all since the uncle would not visit all week.”

Finally, Luciana remarked, “Well, I guess the other student isn’t coming. He’s from Egypt and there was a question if he would be able to get the proper paperwork in time.” So our class would be two people.

I mentioned that I had my payment ready and received look of surprise from both Gabriella and Luciana, as if it’s unusual to pay up front. Luciana accepted my payment and we settled in to begin our instruction.

Luciana began with a history of mosaics, with Gabriella quickly translating each point. The first mosaics were floors, simply pebbles pressed into dirt to make the floors less muddy. Pebbles are uncomfortable to stand on, so the stones were cut in half and placed round side down, and over time cut into cubes for a tighter fit. A mosaic cube or piece is called a tessera, from the Greek for “four.” As time went on, the purpose as a practical consideration (floor) morphed to became a method of communication (floors and walls). The techniques stayed relatively constant, but the materials changed.

Gabriella took over to instruct us in materials and techniques. We learned about the benefits and deficits of using various materials, such as marble, stone (don’t bother with granite—too hard to cut), glass (don’t use on floors because it hurts feet and cracks when you drop something on it), gold (expensive), silver (tarnishes), mother of pearl (difficult), and brick (fun). We learned the particulars about the manufacturing processes for glass smalti, how the glass is formed into “pizzas” and tempered for easier cutting. We saw a variety of examples of gold and silver, which are actually leaf imbedded in a glass sandwich. Gabriella mentioned that in modern mosaics, anything goes. Think creatively and put together the materials that intrigue you. Pick up a stone on the beach and try to cut it.

There were a dozen or so color photocopies on display, each showing a detail of some classic mosaic in Ravenna. Each student would copy a classic mosaic in order to learn the ancient process and get plenty of practice cutting tesserae. We would have two days to set all the tesserae, so I’m sure the photocopies were provided to meet this schedule. The actual mosaic making would take place at Luciana’s studio about a 10-minute walk from the shop, just outside Porta Nuova. Luciana asked us to pick our copies so she could prepare our materials for the afternoon session and then she left.

Next Gabriella taught us the tools of the trade, demonstrating how to cut stone with a mosaic hammer and hardie (a chisel embedded in a block of wood). After she showed us how easy it was, we each had a turn cutting the same piece of stone in half, in half again, in half again, in half again . . . Hold the piece to cut between your fingers aligned and resting on the hardie, then hit with the hammer aligned with the hardie. If you hold the hammer at just the right angle, the stone cuts without much force, amazingly easily actually. But getting the angle just right is the trick. Held at the wrong angle, I could whack away with the hammer and the stone would seem impenetrable. Shift the angle slightly and the stone cut like butter.

Then Gabriella explained the two different mosaic techniques, the Direct method and the Reverse method. Direct means the tesserae are placed into a binder, with the image facing out. Reverse is used to achieve a flat surface like a floor or table, so the tesserae are placed face down to keep the surface flat. Both our mosaics would be direct method.

We finished our morning instructions with the “rules” of the Antique Byzantine Method we would be copying. While no instruction book exists from those who created the ancient mosaics, certain principles and habits can be inferred from the mosaics. Much of this had to do with the way the backgrounds are completed, such as organization into lines, the size of the tesserae, varying the color of the tesserae in an area of a solid color (for variety and so the work doesn’t look patchy when you run out of a color), and contouring.

We broke for a long lunch with instructions to come to the studio at 2:00 pm. Our other class days would take place at the studio, 9:00 am to 4:00 pm, with each student deciding how much time to break for lunch, leaving time after 4:00 pm to visit some of the sights of Ravenna.

I made a brief stop at the B&B and then went for lunch at Self Service S. Apollonaire Nuovo. Right next to the gift shop for this famous church is a very good self service (cafeteria in U.S. terms). I think I had some ravioli and a side dish of sauteed vegetables with bread and a bottle of water for about €8,00. It was a pleasant space and was filled with locals on their lunch breaks.

The walk to Porta Nuovo passes MAR, the Museum of Art of the City of Ravenna, where Gabriella mentioned there is a must-see and free exhibit of modern mosaics. I plan to stop by one afternoon after class. Luciana’s studio is the ground floor of an apartment building on a side street. One enters through the carport/yard, which is set up as an outdoor work area—especially useful for a messy part of our process later in the week. Three workrooms branch off from the main foyer, though we spent most of our time in the main workroom that features a long table down the center with room for 20 to work. The walls are lined with shelves containing bags and bins of beautiful glass smalti arranged by colors, as well as other materials.

We were introduced to Luca, who will be our main helper and instructor in the studio since Luciana must be in and out for other teaching commitments. Our first step will be to make a tracing of our mosaic onto glassine paper using a water-soluble pen. We must trace every tessera. NJ and I set to tracing and Luciana and Luca explain the process we will use to make our classic mosaic, the Ravenna method: a direct method on a temporary binder.

Historically, mosaics were set in a bed of lime putty on a prepared base. Lime putty has the advantage of taking a very long time to dry, so the mosaicist could work over a long period of time. Once dry, the lime binder was very strong. However, the lime might not dry for 10 years, which is not that practical these days, especially if you plan to carry the mosaic on an airplane in a few days. Therefore, after we have completed our mosaics, we will use a special process to lift the mosaic out of the lime putty and place it in a permanent binder of quick-drying cement. For each of the varying steps to dry, we must be finished placing tesserae by the end of Day 3.

Tracing, tracing, tracing, tracing, tracing. When we finished tracing our design, we flipped over the glassine, and traced our tracing. Tracing, tracing, tracing, tracing, tracing. As part of the tracing, we marked certain important areas with dots, such as the outlines of figures, so we can find our position more easily as we work. Finally finished, we moved to the messy-project workroom where Luca had prepared some lime putty and was spreading it on some temporary wooden bases. He explained how he mixed it and suggested alternate products to lime that might be available where we live. Lime is cheap in Italy and expensive in the U.S. He spread about an inch thick layer of lime and gave us a chance to smooth the surface of our own bases. The lime was very moist. Then he helped us carefully position our tracing on the center of the lime and let the tracing settle on the lime. We waited about 30 seconds and carefully peeled off the tracing. Because we used water-soluble pen and the lime was so wet, our tracing transferred perfectly to the lime. We will begin cutting tesserae tomorrow.

On a table in the messy room, I had spotted a small mosaic that Dani mentioned to me this morning. She had commissioned the school to make the B&B a sign for the door and was excited that it might be done. I asked if I could snap a photo to show her and am equally excited as I walk back to the B&B that I can show her the results. Dani liked it a lot and will stop by to get it in a few days.

After a stroll through the center of town, I decide to try a place for dinner that Dani highly recommended. I looked on Tripadvisor and they show the restaurant in the wrong location, but Google maps places it correctly. Trattoria “la Rustica” is a few blocks off the main routes, so the street is pretty quiet. I checked the menu and peered through the window, noting the warm antique furnishings, and decide that this is indeed the place for me. I was shown to a table by a pleasant waiter (I suspect owner). He had just enough English and I have just enough Italian to get through the menu and make my choices.

I began with Prosciutto di Parma con Squaquerone e Fichi Caramellati. OK, so basically it’s the same thing I had the night before, because it also comes with a fresh piadina to make my usual sloppy mess. However, the fig jam was a real treat and added another depth to the mess. I’m sure if I had a few more weeks practice I would be less messy about this.

With the idea in my mind that I am traveling in the region that created tortelloni, it’s difficult for me to resist. I pick Tortelli Verdi di Patate con Salsa alla Noci di Romagna. Imagine if you will the tortellini we all know and love: cute little rings of stuffed pasta. Imagine tortellini’s bigger brother, tortelloni, same thing only bigger. Now imagine tortelli, the grown-up sibling so big and fat they don’t even bother to try to form it into a ring, so large in size, you get only five in one serving and that is plenty and you have to cut them into four pieces in order to eat them. These were green pasta stuffed with potato with a delicious creamy walnut sauce. As I ate I plotted how soon I could return . . . today is Monday . . . they are closed Tuesday . . . Wednesday seems correct.

For dessert I made a blind choice, lured in by the amaretti. Latteruolo agli amaretti turns out to be the same thick flan as was named the “dessert of Ravenna” at La Gardela, but with amaretti crumbled on top and fig syrup dotted on the plate. I prefer this rendition. Add to that a glass of wine and a bottle of water for a total bill of €24,00.

I left happy and vowing to return. The B&B was about a 10-minute walk away through very empty quiet streets. As I settled into my comfy bed, I planned for tomorrow: I need to get moving slightly earlier since it’s a longer walk to the studio; I need to overcome my fear of holding glass between my bare fingers and hitting it with a hammer.
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