I Go to Pieces — An Italy Trip Report

Old Apr 5th, 2014, 05:41 PM
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DAY 7: Wednesday, 5 March 2014 — Ravenna

Every morning the tables in the breakfast room were set in a different configuration, a signal for me of how many other people were staying at the B&B. The amount of food on the buffet varied as well, but still offered many choices considering only two tables were set this morning. I still didn’t seen any other guests, though Dani and I had a nice chat over my cappuccino. Now that she has had a taste of purchasing a mosaic — which she found expensive but a perfect choice for a Ravenna B&B — she is dreaming of a series of three mosaics in the empty niches on the rear façade of the building.

“Dani, that would be even more expensive than your little mosaic.”

“Yes, but perhaps some artists will do it for a lower price because it faces a public parking lot and people will see their names. Or the Comune will pay, since it will beautify the parking lot.”

Meanwhile, I had to quit chatting and head to the studio since I felt I needed as much time as possible. The tempestuous weather of yesterday has blown through and the walk to Via Arno is sunny and clear.

Class Day 3

I had new determination as I sat to begin work. NJ expressed the same feeling. We must be done this afternoon, so we must work decisively. I began filling in the background, which was three different greens with some white and gold accents. Luca sat with me a few minutes and cut a bunch of green pieces to help speed me along. The background moved much more quickly since there was not much to fine tune, just pop in each piece one after another making sure to mix the solid areas of color as mentioned before, and also to vary the size. Just like laying brick or installing a wood floor, the gaps between the tesserae should stagger.

By the way, we did not used nippers to cut the smalti or stone — only hardie and hammer. We were warned off ever using nippers on the very first day, saying it was bad practice. Nippers may be used for a material that just does not work with hammer. My mosaic needed a few pieces of gold and I was given a thin piece to use, almost like a piece of mirror. For this, I was given nippers to make the cuts.

Luciana sat with us to discuss different materials, showing sample cards from various smalti producers. She also showed us examples of the different types of gold smalti available, and discussed the manufacturing process to sandwich the gold leaf between layers of glass.

NJ asked about how to price mosaics for sale, and Luciana listed many considerations, such as cost of materials, labor, studio costs, and so forth. She mentioned that it’s the same with setting the cost for the workshop — how many days, how much staff needed, studio costs, materials — and concluded that obviously for a week it is the same amount of staff labor whether it is 12 students or two students, so she won’t cover her costs on a week like this one.

I said, “In the U.S. in such a situation, we would have received an email that the class was cancelled since so few had registered.”

Luciana continued, “Yes, but I would not do that because I know people have made special plans to be here. Over the year, the cost will balance when we have classes of 12 or more.”

I said, “Thank you.” Luciana nodded.

We stood at the intersection trying to spot someplace new for lunch, but could not really see anything close by, and we don’t want to waste too much time over lunch. We opted for better panini at the nicer café at the Conad market at Via Cesarea. I did not worry about packing myself a lunch, though it might have been a good idea considering the options in the neighborhood. I knew I’d be treating myself to a good dinner each night.

Daniella, a mosaic artist who works at the studio, helped Luca with teaching this afternoon since Luciana had a class at the government school. All week during our class, Daniella sat at the far end of the table and worked on reproductions to sell in the shop as well as some commissioned pieces. We’d been astounded by how quick and precise her work was compared to our fumbling attempts.

I could see the end in sight! My background was filling quickly, except for the medium green areas. No matter how I hit this green, it turned to dust between my fingers. I began to laugh and explained my dilemma. Daniella remarked that she liked my attitude, that I was laughing rather than getting angry.

The final tessera! You’d think that so momentous an occasion would be indelibly printed on my brain, that I could point to the final tessera and say, “That’s the last one.” Nope. Niente. I know it was a green piece, but can’t even recall what area of the mosaic. My 24 cm by 24 cm mosaic was complete. NJ finished at about the same time, so we could begin the next phase together.

We had to prepare our mosaics so we can lift them from the temporary lime base to place them in a permanent base tomorrow. (This part really seemed like magic to me because it was so simply done, but more about that tomorrow.) Luca had prepared some rabbit-skin glue, dissolving the pellets in water over heat. Once dried, this glue is very strong, unless it becomes wet, making it perfect for our task.

We each placed a piece of 100% cotton cheesecloth across the face of our mosaics and hanging over the edges. Then we painted glue across the cheesecloth and mosaic. (Because the glue is hot, it is important for the cheesecloth to be natural rather than synthetic.) We brushed and twisted and pressed to try to get the cheesecloth to adhere to the uneven surface of all the tesserae. Luca told us to be light-handed with the glue, to get the cheesecloth to adhere everywhere with as little glue as possible. We also glued cheesecloth down the four sides. Tomorrow this glue would play a key role in transferring our mosaics.

The weather was nice, so I plotted a few adventures for the late afternoon. First I stopped at MAR to see the free exhibit of modern and contemporary mosaics. Included in the exhibit was an interesting collection of mosaics based on paintings by famous modern artists that were created for an exhibition in 1959, the paintings exhibited in the wall opposite the mosaic. Also in the exhibit were a number of contemporary pieces — I noticed Luciana’s name on a few.
http://www.mar.ra.it/ita/Collezioni/...-contemporanei

Next I used my combined ticket to visit the Basilica of Sant’Apollinaire Nuovo. The side walls of the nave are decorated with some of the more astounding mosaics of the 6th century. There are scenes from Jesus’ life and lots of saints and prophets, but the sections that catch the imagination of most visitors are the procession of martyrs on one side and virgins on the other. Sunlight filtered in the windows and glistened on the gold tesserae as I walked the length of the room. With so few chairs, I stepped from column to column, leaning against them for balance as I used my binoculars to check each scene showing Jesus, and the face of each virgin. I knew I would return here Friday on our class tour.

Then I joined the passegiata through the center of town, strolling along with families — kids on bikes, moms on bikes, grandpas on bikes. I noticed that the carousel by Piazza del Popolo was gone. When I reach Milk, I felt compelled to get another stamp on my card, so I had two scoops: nocciola e cioccolato (this is the flavor that had whole hazelnuts, not the gianduia the other day) and mandorle tostata (great almond flavor). With my cup of gelato, I strolled to Porta Adriana to take a closer look at a mosaic there. In a small garden to one side of the arch, there is a mosaic bench. On the bench, a mosaic coat is draped as if someone just left it there. Luciana and her students created this memorial to a former mayor of Ravenna. How does one make a mosaic coat? You dip a real coat in quick-drying cement, drape it on the bench, let it dry, and then build the mosaic on the real coat and the real bench.

After a long walk and some downtime at the B&B, I decided to return to Trattoria La Rustica for dinner. One other table was occupied when I arrived just after 7 pm. The same gentleman greeted me with a smile and “welcome back.” I vow to have no messy cheese and piadina, but couldn’t resist tortelli, opting for the classic Tortelli di Zucca Mantovana con Burro e Salvia. I love this dish so much that I sometimes make it at home. There’s a fresh pasta store around the corner where I can get reasonably good pumpkin tortelloni and add fresh sage to the melted butter for the sauce. But these tortelli are why I travel to Italy every year—fresh, plump, simple, and simply delicious.

The restaurant filled around me as I waited for my next course. For my secondo, I chose Filettini di Maiale alle Erbe Aromatiche con Cicoria Saltata. The meat was simply cooked and seemed more flavorful than pork at home, but perhaps it was just the buzz of a good meal in my brain. The pork filets came with the sautéed chicory, not as a separate contorno. I opted to drink my dessert — a glass of passita. When I went to pay at the bar, I introduced myself, learned my server is Michele, and we shook hands. The total bill (with water, wine, and passita) was €29,00.

I was glad for the walk to the B&B to get some air after the meal. In my room I spent some time organizing the accumulated paper — brochures, receipts, tickets — and put the two receipts for La Rustica together and noticed that tonight my bill had a sconto of –2,50. Michele gave me a discount!

I could not make myself watch “La donna perfetta” on RAI in Italian. I couldn’t make myself watch it in English either (“The Stepford Wives” 2004). Instead I checked email, read a few posts on Fodors, and settled in with Valerie Lawson’s truth-is-stranger-than-fiction biography of P. L. Travers.
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 06:38 PM
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lurking here!
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Old Apr 5th, 2014, 07:25 PM
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Brilliant idea for the coat and bench. Wow! Hope we get to see a picture of that!

Mouth watering...
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Old Apr 6th, 2014, 06:42 AM
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I will eventually post some photographs, but am concentrating on typing the story. I'm reliving my vacation as I type, really enjoying the experience.

In general I do not photograph my food on vacation, but I admit to taking a few photos this time.

Here's a blog I found that shows the bench. Unfortunately, the mosaic book was miss from the bench when I was there.
http://willyorwonthe.blogspot.com/20...rn-mosaic.html
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Old Apr 7th, 2014, 08:20 AM
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Wow, that is crazy. Some work! Thanks Ellen!
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Old Apr 7th, 2014, 10:25 AM
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Love the bench/coat mosaic - thank you for posting the photo link.
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Old Apr 19th, 2014, 05:17 AM
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Update I have every intention of completing this report but am again entrenched in a buy season at work. More to come in a few days. Thanks again for your interest and nice comments.
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Old Apr 19th, 2014, 07:34 AM
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it's ok, ellenem, we're very patient!
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Old Apr 19th, 2014, 07:47 AM
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Typing on Kindle . . . I'm in a buSy season. Thanks for your patience.
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Old Apr 19th, 2014, 10:11 AM
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Worth waiting for!
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Old Apr 20th, 2014, 05:14 AM
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Looking in from Madrid (!)and so glad to be reading your report, ellenem.
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Old Apr 20th, 2014, 10:30 AM
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Speak for yourself Annhig. To misquote from an old movie, "Patience? Patience! We don' have no patience. We don' have to show you no stinking patience!".

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Old May 9th, 2014, 10:07 AM
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DAY 8: Thursday, 6 March 2014 — Ravenna

Continuing with my B&B breakfast count, only one table in the breakfast room was set this morning. Dani still set out an array of choices, just for me, and, as she did every day, offered me eggs, even as I declined every day.

Class Day 4

Just two days of class remaining. Today includes finishing the classic mosaic and creating an original mosaic. Tomorrow, the final day, the morning includes final mosaic finishes and instruction about techniques and materials that we’d not had time to cover on previous days, a trip to the hardware store if desired to buy a hammer and hardie, and then in the afternoon a three-hour tour of the heritage mosaics of Ravenna with an historian.

As we began class this morning, NJ announced that they have to leave Ravenna after today and asked if Luciana could offer the Friday-morning technical instruction today. I could tell Luciana seemed a bit put off by this (doubling her work) though she said nothing, especially since translator Gabriella would not be available to help with the instruction, but she quickly affirmed that this afternoon she could present the instruction to NJ. This meant NJ would have less time to work on the original mosaic since the information to be shared took place in different rooms in the studio. I would spend all my time working on my mosaics.

We began our work by transferring our classic mosaics. In the messy room, Luca demonstrated how to slide a putty knife between the wooden base and lime putty to pry the mosaic and putty off the board. We each completed this process with our mosaics, completely loosening the connection. Then we placed another board on top of the mosaic creating a board-mosaic-board sandwich, flipped over the sandwich, and removed the base board — like upending a cake out of a pan onto a serving dish. (The front of the mosaic with the glued cheesecloth was now facedown.) We pulled off all the lime putty, leaving the underside of the tesserae exposed, the glued-on cheesecloth keeping the tesserae in position. We used fine picks and dental tools to remove chunks of putty between the tesserae. It was interesting the see the uneven levels of the various tesserae, like a cityscape of buildings of varying heights.

Luca prepared quick-drying cement for the next step. He buttered the exposed “cityscape” of the mosaic with cement and also spread a layer of the cement on a prepared wooden frame that would be the final base for the finished mosaic. Then he flipped the mosaic over onto the base, pressing the cemented sides together and shifting the mosaic slightly to get the best position in the frame. The mosaics will dry until the following morning.

Now we began work on our original mosaics. We sketched our ideas on glassine, not every single tesserae, but general shapes and perhaps some lines to show the arrangement and flow of the tesserae. (Those piece-by-piece tracings from Day 1 were to help us understand the process.) This mosaic would be smaller and set directly into quick-drying cement, which gives you three hours to work. We would do half of the work in the morning, and then add new cement and do the rest in the afternoon. Contemplating this class at home, I had an idea to depict a fishbowl and explore how to imply transparency of water as I had seen in some Ravenna mosaics. Luciana commented that this was the most difficult thing to do, and I answered that now I understood this to be true. Unlike my at-home visions of magnificence, for me this smaller mosaic would be more about trying out different materials and cutting techniques in the time allotted.

Luca studied my sketch and set and smoothed some cement on my frame based on an area of the sketch we thought I could finish in the morning. My sketch transferred to the cement just as it did on the lime, and I set to work. The trick when setting directly into cement is to place tesserae in such a way so that the joins between the different three-hour stages are not apparent.

After we had worked for some time, we were called to the messy room to watch Luca do the next stage of his indirect-method mosaic. Similar to what we had just done, his completed mosaic was now facedown, stuck to the contact paper. He buttered the back with quick-drying cement and also spread cement in a metal frame that would be the manhole cover base, and then flipped the mosaic onto the base and pressed in place.

After a quick lunch at the Conad bar, I continued work on my mosaic while Luciana presented the Friday instruction to NJ. I heard some of it, and participated a bit as I worked. As I worked, I also contemplated the class in general. Was it fun and interesting enough to return? Time was running out, the cement was drying, but eventually I finished my fishbowl enough to feel it was complete. NJ’s two mosaics were wrapped in bubble wrap and placed in a tote bag with the school insignia. NJ would have to remove the cheesecloth from the mosaic at home.

Luciana asked me if I still wanted the tour of Ravenna tomorrow afternoon. I said I would love the tour, but felt bad about the expense because it would be only me. She insisted that she wanted me to have the full experience and should not worry about it.

The weather was delightful, so after class I wandered to TAM to see the free mosaic exhibit which shows the ancient mosaic-making process. Afterward I ducked into Pasticceria Ferrari on Via Gordini. This is one of those very elegant looking places, all wood paneling, marble-topped bars, and waiters in vests and ties. I’ve found that even at the fanciest of cafes in Italy, an espresso at the bar will be pretty cheap. I ordered a caffe macchiato at the bar and was given one of the most beautiful coffees I have ever seen for €1,10. (I will post photos eventually and this will be well labeled.)

I also stopped at the Church of San Francesco, right around the corner from my B&B. I saw others walking down steps below the altar so I followed to see what I could see. A railing barred the way into the actual crypt, which was in the complete darkness except for the area the light from the church could reach. I could see that the crypt was filled with water. Then, a goldfish swam into the lighted area. I pulled out my camera and snapped a few photos into the gloom, the flash illuminating briefly the crypt of columns and ancient mosaics submerged, and even more goldfish. I got a better view of the situation by studying my photos. The water must be four feet deep. My guide the next day explained that there’s nothing they can do to keep out the water, but there is little concern because it is fresh water. If salt water begins to come in, the building could be in real danger. The goldfish are the alarm system — they will die if salt water begins to seep in.

I wandered the center of Ravenna, thinking about where to have dinner. I knew I’d return to Trattoria La Rustica for my final dinner tomorrow, so I decided for a change of pace at a fish restaurant Dani had recommended.

Osteria L’Acciuga was on a busy traffic street that even at 7:30pm seem dark and desolate of walkers. I had no idea what to expect, but was interested to see a very short menu of choices in the vitrine at the top of the alley where the restaurant was located. When I reached the actual restaurant door, I was surprised to walk across a short wooden dock and discover the osteria was outfitted similar to a theme restaurant to look like the inside of a ship, with metal walls, portholes, and other maritime details. On one hand, the menu looked promising. On the other hand, the walls had rivets and ladders. I decided to follow the promise of the menu.

Here I provide the complete menu of choices:

Tartare di Palimita con Burrata Acciughe del Cantabrico e Pomodorini Passiti – €13,00

Alici Beccafico con Cime di Rapa Lime Candito e Ricotta Salata – €11,00

Seppioline Nostrane su Passatina di Borlotti – €12,00

Mezze Maniche con Polpa d’Astice – €15,00

Scaloppa di Ombrina con Broccoletto Viola di Sicilia e Cremoso al Baccala – €15,00

MENU COMPLETO – €39,00

On inquiry, I was told the Menu Completo included small servings of all five choices, so I chose the Menu Completo. When the tartare arrived, I knew I’d made a good decision. The beautiful composition of tartare topped with a dollop of creamy burrata, a swirl of anchovy, tomato, and greens was a feast for the eyes and palate. Equally beautiful was the next course: rolls of sardine arranged neatly over a bed of greens, topped with shredded candied lime zest and grated ricotta salata.

The next course did not look as pretty — seppioline impeccably cooked, sitting in a puddle of puree — but what a puree! Borlotti translates as cranberries, but this puree was glorious, creamy, and difficult to decide exactly what it was aside from delicious. The pasta with lobster and broth was also delicious. I recall I used the last of my bread to mop up that broth. The ombrina was simply cooked, perfect for this delicate fish, and enhanced by the smear of cod cream. I can still taste in my mind the smoky snap of the broccoletto.

Dumbfounding to me as I write, after this meal I was not feeling overfed, so I finished the meal with a zuppa inglese I saw others enjoying. With wine, water, and coperto, my bill came to €50,00. I thought the meal was well worth the expense. Unlike me, I actually took photos of each course, so you, too, will get a peek at this meal.

I walked back to the B&B, happy for the slightly longer walk after such a meal, thinking about the final day of class to come.
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Old May 9th, 2014, 11:11 AM
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So looking forward to the pictures!
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Old May 9th, 2014, 11:15 AM
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The goldfish are the alarm system — they will die if salt water begins to seep in.>>

lol, I've heard of canaries being used as alarm systems underground, but never goldfish!

looking forward very much to seeing your photos, ellenem.
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Old May 9th, 2014, 12:03 PM
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Enjoying your report!
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Old May 10th, 2014, 05:28 AM
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Thanks for the nice comments. I'll try to post the next day this weekend. Plus photos.
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Old May 10th, 2014, 05:34 AM
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That meal at Osteria L'Acciuga sounds amazing - and how fun that it was totally unplanned and unexpected.
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Old May 10th, 2014, 05:41 AM
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I am really enjoying your report . I would love to see photos of your completed mosaics too!
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Old May 21st, 2014, 08:33 PM
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Great read. Would it be safe to travel solo there? I would like to 'borrow' some of your suggestions. Thank you.
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