DAY 1: ARRIVING IN PARIS TUESDAY MAY 9 The problem with the overnight flight from washington to Paris is commuting into the city after. You arrive just in time to hit morning rush hour. And we did. Air France's shuttle rocketed us from the airport but quickly became bogged down in traffic. From now on, we'll take a day' flight, or maybe linger at the airport over a cup of coffee and croissant while flipping through fashion magazines until the morning rush hour ends. Checked into the Hotel Saint-Romaine on the rue st. Roch, a half block from the Tuileries Gardens next to the Louvre. Getting ourselves and our luggage into the phone-booth size elevator required careful planning, which we were far too bleary-eyed to do. So the ride was tight and uncomfortable. More room in the chambre, thanks be to God. Niels, a young London-based radio reporter I'd become close friends with in Haiti, called shortly after our arrival and came by. Paris was in a festive mood; a happening place, he reported. A couple of days earlier, Niels had made the three-hour train trip through the Chunnel. Paris' mayor, Jacques Chirac, had just been elected president. Also, the city was the scene of one of many celebrations staged in world capitals to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II. Paris festivities were somewhat subdued due to a degree of national sheepishness, owing to the Vichy's collaboration with the Nazis, said Niels. The three of us strolled through the Louvre grounds and over to the Left Bank, where Niels was staying with friends near st. Sulpice Church. Took an impromptu tour of the church and, feeling quite pious and reflective afterward, sipped some wine and ate a relaxed lunch of croque monsieur sandwiches on the sidewalk tables in front of Le Mabillon. The cafe provided us with the quintessential American fauxFrench experience on our first day in Paris. We parted ways with him for the afternoon and headed back by foot to the hotel, as Lee was feeling tuckered from the all-night flight. But it soon dawned on her that I hadn't the foggiest idea where I was leading her. We ended up taking a tour-a-pied of most of western Europe, or so it must have seemed to her. Finally, we made it back to the hotel and she napped while I walked for another couple of hours. I spent the time asking myself how the city's acclaimed food lovers could be so fashionably gaunt altogether unlike me. Later, we went out to dinner with Niels in the revitalized Marais section of Paris. Before dinner, we stopped for a drink at a Frenchy-Iooking dive packed with dissipated oddballs sporting bizarre tattoos, haircuts, and jewelry, some with rings in the most remarkable places. Lee was the only woman there. Ummmm. Afterward, ate at Les Philosophes (28 rue Vieille-duTemple). Food for thought; wine for the soul. Niels' steak tartare was memorable. Tried to let him eat his E. C6li platter in peace. But it was good and tempting and within
fork's reach. Wandered, lost for the most part, back to the hotel some time after midnight. Dropped off Lee. I walked Niels back to the Left Bank, where we had a night cap (Niels, three) while discussing Europe and the U.N. 's horrid mishandling of Bosnia. Niels tried half-heartedly to defend the U.N.'s failure to protect the safe-areas under its control. So understanding. Sometime after the bells struck twice, I headed home. Ta-ta to Niels. NOTES: Sunny in morning, cloudy in afternoon, and cool, but comfortable. Hotel Saint-Romain, 5 et 7, rue Saint-Roch, 75001 Paris, tel 42 60 31 70
WEDNESDAY MAY 10th DAY 2: TOURING PARIS Breakfast at a little place on the rue st. Honore. Lee had a sensible and nourishing meal designed to serve as a suitable foundation for a long day of sightseeing. I had hot chocolate and chocolate crepes. Off by foot to the Eiffel Tower. Armies of blue- and gold-clad Zaragoza fanatics. Didn't have a clue what they were about, but they were everywhere, in groups large and small, always exuberant, singing, jumping, chanting, waving their banners and scarves at passing, cars, buses and even boats on the Seine. And what a fuss of joy they made when running into each other. Looking for serenity if not sanity, we took to the water. We hopped aboard a bateau for an hour-and-a-half sightseeing cruise up and down the Seine. A chance to see many of the grand old buildings of Paris. More importantly, we were moving under something other than our own steam. Afterward, we picked up a bottle of Heures Esquises perfume for Lee at a Left Bank perfumery (Advertising slogan: "Turn His Knees to Jelly, His Heart to Jello, His Wallet Will Follow). Then trundled off to Les Deux Magots for some well-deserved afternoon wine and cheese. A heady experience, This particular cafe has been a meeting place for the French literati since opening its doors in 1875. Any delusions of kinship to past illustrious patrons, such as Jean Paul Sartre or Simone de Beauvoir, were quickly dashed. It wasn't that we're unversed in French existentialist thought. It was lesser things -- like not even being able to read the menu. Upon leaving, I looked on either side of the doors for the deux magots for which the place supposedly was named. Nothing. 'Nary a cockroach. Had dinner at Restaurant Julien, 16 Faubourg st. Denis. Just what you'd expect in a bustling, noisy Paris bistro. Eclectic crowd. Extra-large ornately framed'wall mirrors, high stained glass ceilings, murals, handsome wood trim, and charming, attentive waiters. Les garcons were absolutely marvelous. They had lightning foot speed and great sliding technique. Got to see ours perform every time I reached for the bottle of Pouilly-Fuisse chilling on the table near my left elbow. At the slightest movement in the direction of the ice bucket, the waiter stopped dead in his tracks and sprinted across the room, arriving tables ide with a graceful, gliding finish. Smiling warmly, he gently pried the bottle from my fingers and poured. I wondered if there were rules against customers pouring their own wine. Also, whether he was wearing bowling shoes. For dessert, the best creme brulee ever. Not the usual hard caramelized shell. Obviously, it"was pulled from under the broiler a little early so that there was still a little loose brown sugar on top. A sweet, soft shell. And underneath ...rapture. NOTES:
windy and chilly all day.
DAY 3: PARIS TO GIGONDAS THURSDAY MAY 11 Picked up a four-door, five-speed# six-cylinder Fiat Croma from Europcar. It would serve us well. Headed south, past manicured farms. Very fast. No speed limit. Arrived in Provence early afternoon. Began looking for Gigondas. Got directions in a town by the unlikely name of Orange (there are none, never have been, and probably never will be, at least not a home-grown variety) . At one point, a poorly dressed decrepit, near toothless, stuble-faced, mumbling old Frenchman approached me. I couldn't understand a word he was saying -- and not just because I don't speak French. Even a fellow-Frenchman would have trouble making out his words, I'm sure. Nonetheless, I was a little taken back when he began unbuttoning his threadbare shirt with trembling hands. Of all the conjecture that passed rapidly through my mind during those seconds, I was unprepared for what followed. Nestled inside his shirt, pressed against a tangle of white body hair, was a very young and obviously quite diseased kitten. Words failed me. "Non, merci," I finally mumbled politely, apologetically. After getting directions at the tourist office in the square, we headed for Gigondas. Lee's excellent research paid off with an inn called Les Florets. Visually stunned as we approached the stone village. Patchwork quilt of vineyards and medieval Rhone Valley dwellings. Wound our way into the mountains toward massive rock outcroppings known locally as the Dentelles. Granite teeth nipping at clouds flying by on a brisk wind. Halfway up is Les Florets, an auberge hidden within a canopy of trees. A flagstone and gravel courtyard pivots around a long-armed sycamore. It looks like a graceful undulating octopus when. the wind blows. One arm reaches up to our bedroom window. Terrace a medley of color. Decorated with roses, geraniums, begonias and more, including even an hybiscus. And an old well, too. Patio looks out over a narrow vista of a steeply forested mountainside supporting an occasional sloping, rolling vineyard. Above loom the Dentelles. The dining room had the perfect ambiance for a rustic inn in Provence. Provided a grand meal for the occasion. Roast duck with a killer wine sauce and bulghur. Creme brulee for dessert. Local red wine a product of the Gigondas commune. (For both of us, our best meal ever.) Greatly fatigued and full, we stumbled up a flight of stairs to bed. NOTES: Partly cloudy in morning, cloudy in p.m. Started raining in evening. Hotel: Les Florets, 84190 Gigondas, tel 90 65 85 01 and 90 65 86 76
DAY 5: GIGONDAS TO MONTE CARLO SATURDAY MAY 13 We checked out of Les Florets with a sense of sadness at our leave-taking. One final glimpse from the floral courtyard. Drawing in the morning's moist air, we gazed one last time at the forested hillside and vineyards surrounding Les Florets. Then up to the Dentelles. By nightfall we should be in Italy. But first we paused briefly to do laundry in Carpentras, not far from Gigondas. It's famous for its black market in truffles, but unremarkable otherwise. We weren't able to score any of the pungent black wrinkled buttons. But at least our clothes were clean by the time we left. While they were sudsing, Lee wandered off to a place called the Van Gogh Cafe to, use the bathroom. Cleverly, she stayed to sip coffee and nibble on chocky. Meanwhile, I remained dutifully at the coin-op, my nose pressed hard against the window of the side-loading washing machine watching the clothes slosh in the suds. Then on to Avignon, to pick up a credit card that Monsieur Clothead himself had left behind yesterday after eating his potato, lamb and mushroom concoction -- and drinking too much wine. The weather cleared up as we drove south and east toward the Italian border. We stopped in Aix-en-Provence for lunch. We're definitely back in the 20th century. An artsy, college town. Pastel colors. A pronounced Mediterranean influence. Lee had a delightful and modest but tasty salad with fried goat cheese. I made my usual sensible birdlike choice: filet of steak, hash browns, bread and butter, ratatouille, wine, coffee and tarte tartin (smothered in creme fraiche). My best meal ever. And, finally, I'm learning moderation. We drove into Cannes for a quick look and ended up driving round and round for 20 minutes, trying to find our way back to the autostrada. Decided to bypass Nice to avoid a similar mishap. Running out of francs and sunlight, we stopped for the night just shy of our goal of Italy. Stayed in a French town called La Turbie, sort of a blue-collar tourist town. But, perched on a bluff overlooking Monte Carlo, even the wretched saggy bed offered us a sense of false luxury. Beautiful evening. We changed and drove down a steep winding road with magnificent views for dinner in Monte Carlo. Gawked at the casino, yachts and Bentleys. Ate at a restaurant next to the casino. Lee had mushroom risotto. I had cream of vegetable soup. No, I wasn't sick. Mostly, it was an error in ordering from the French menu. But for once, I didn't declare exuberantly afterward that I'd just eaten the best meal of my life. Then for a post-prandial walkabout that, much to Lee's frustration, led farther and farther from the car. Up endless, useless flights of stone steps to nowhere, certainly not the car. But the view of the harbor was sensational and we did eventually wind around back to our starting place.
We didn't go into the casino because it was guarded by stuffy Mafioso-looking thugs wanting us to surrender our coats, camera and 50 francs each to get inside. Boff to that. NOTES: Cloudy and chilly, cleared in p.m. Evening in Monte Carlo clear & nice. Hotel Le Napoleon, 7, av de la victoiro, 06320 La Turbie, tel 93 41 00 54
DAY 6: MONTE CARLO TO PORTOFINO SUNDAY MAY 14 The day began in Monte Carlo and ended in Portofino; in between we snaked our way along the French and Italian rivieras, trying to recall the movies for which it had been the setting. Through Menton. Across the border and finally into Italy, a couple of days behind schedule. Stopped for lunch in Porto Maurizio. The restaurant, Chicco, was an intimate, cool little cave-like place with white curved walls and low ceilings. Faced the sea. It wasn't by accident that we stopped for lunch in Porto Maurizio. It's the home town of my closest friend from UCLA, an Italian exchange student named Ivar Massabo who spoke almost no English when he arrived. I taught him everything I know about the language. We were soulmates back then. When the other kids in the dorm would head off to classes, we'd stay behind smoking Gaulois, drinking coffee and grousing about the banalities of life. But we haven't had any contact in the 21 years since his return to Italy. A reunion would be nice. Looked in the phone book for his or his parents' names, but they weren't there. Jotted down a couple of possible leads, but it looks like a reunion with Ivar is out. So we headed off after taking a snapshot of the Porto Maurizio train station, just so I could content myself with the fact that I'd been there. Drove along the Ligurian coast through Genova to Portofino. Traffic along the one road into and out of town was totally backed up. A beautiful Sunday and everyone wanted to be there. Lee scored again with her excellent research. We got a room in a hotel called The Eden. True to its name, it had a lovely, lush garden in front. Just a short one-block walk through a laundry-hung alleyway to a waterfront lined with small, wooden fishing boats. The horseshoe-shaped cove was rimmed with a single row of four- or five-story buildings decked in trompe l'oeil and curving seamlessly along the waterfront. San Giorgio church and fort (16th century) are on the hillsides overlooking. st. George is still a big man here. Dinner at II pitosforo. Dining room like a nautical aerie from which to watch night descend over Portofino. with the sun setting in the west behind us, we watched the verdant mountains to the east along the curving peninsula darken gradually into a silhouette, and then blackness. In the distance, a thin spray of lights emerged on the mainland proper. As we ate, a full moon rose over the seaside mountain. We both had different scampi dishes. Mine was the best meal I'd ever had. It featured a curious cross between shrimp and lobster. Nearby and in full view from our table, some lucky souls on a gigantic white yacht were being served dinner. So that's how the other half lives. Not that we were feeling sorry for ourselves; not in the least. Walking back to the hotel, we turned and paused. The
moon, luminous and full, was high in the sky over the cove, sending a lunar shimmer across the inky waters toward us. It cast a silver halo 'round a gray-black cumulus suspended above the steeple of the San Giorgio Church, which was lit up like a Christmas tree. At our feet, the water's edge and small wooden fishing boats, their red and blue hulls facing the moon as they rested upside down on land for the night. without a tripod there was no way to photograph the scene. So we stood there quietly for a moment hoping to burn the image into our minds' eye. NOTES: Alternating sun and clouds all day. Nice in evening in Portofino. Hotel Eden, vi co Dritto 18, 16034 Portofino, 01885 26 90 91
DAY 7: TOURING CINQUE TERRE MONDAY MAY 15 The middle-aged Italian innkeeper at the Eden seemed to take special pride in the coffee he produced from his espresso machine at breakfast. In the dining room, each table was set with a basket of croissants, sweet rolls and large selection of jams. Through the windows we could see Eden's garden. We ate heartily, wondering if American coffee could ever satisfy us again. Afterward, strolled up to San Giorgio Church. Chapel doors were made of ancient green steel and provided relief renderings of great moments in Christiandom, including st. George's slaying of the dragon. From outside the chapel, halfway up the mountain, we looked across the Mediterranean's aquamarine waters and wondered about far-off ports. Turning to the north, we could see the horseshoe-shaped waterfront of Portofino, with its trompe l'oeil facades in burnt oranges and mustardy yellows; to the east, we saw the Ligurian seacoast snaking southward at a great distance. With the weather finally clear, we jumped into the Fiat and headed off at a great clip for Cinque Terre, a string of five fishing villages built into the craggy coastline. We used up most of the morning trying to get there by all the wrong routes. Once there, found that the trains weren't running between the five villages because of a strike. So we settled in for a nice lunch at the first terra, Monterosso. It's the largest and therefore probably the least charming. Getting there required a harrowing drive snaking along a narrow road through the mountains and down to the village. My deft helmsmanship saved the day. Also, a fortuitous absence of cars coming the other way. After a safe arrival in Monterosso, we learned about the train strike from a rather pathetic, sickly, overly lonely and extraordinarily homely (but greatly good-hearted) woman from Aberdeen, Scotland. She was trapped there. We met her toward the end of lunch under a sun umbrella outside II Gabbiano, a seaside cafe. Recently divorced, she was making her maiden foray on holiday alone, and she was miserable. Fowl weather. And the Italians, who tend to resent all tourists even though they're an economic lifeblood, were especially cool to her. The entire time we were there the waitress ignored our patient friend from Aberdeen. It was only after we summoned the waitress on her behalf that she even got a menu. Anyway, immediately after the lady from Aberdeen had decided a day or two earlier to end her disappointing vacation and return home, the train operators went on strike. Her stranded loneliness and misery in the midst of such sweeping natural beauty was a solemn reminder to us about the value of companionship, as if we needed one. Throughout our trip we've both reflected on the importance of having someone with whom to share these kinds of extraordinary experiences. The woman from Aberdeen found us good company, largely
because we spoke English. She probably had pegged us as charitable, approachable people after watching us give much of our lunch of scampi and mussels to Monterosso's population of diseased feral kitties, who had quickly convened a family reunion at our feet when we began dropping tidbits from the table. with the trains not running between the villages, we decided to attempt the treacherous, serpentine auto route through the mountains to the next village, Vernazza. A picturesque seaside village, but gelato was our real reward for the perilous journey. Back up into the mountains. After reaching the summit, we bumped our way along the ridgetop on a wonderous Haitianstyle road (mud-filled holes and a zillion tiny ripples -speed bumps by Mother Nature). Far below us, the frothy sea. More beautiful than California and maybe even Hawaii. But Lee was less than thrilled with the condition of the road, which was capable of breaking one of the Fiat's axles or simply petering out altogether, leaving us stranded. Or so she feared. And in such a magical, breath-taking place, no less. Oh my. People cursed with common sense do have such strange fears. Regardless, we were shortly back on the autostrada zooming north toward our temporary home in Portofino at a wonderous clip, whizzing past BMWs at more than 110 mph. We were so swept up in the exhilaration of all the speed that we missed our exit by 15 miles or more. Pulled an illegal u-turn on the autostrada. It seemed the Italian thing to do. Once safely back in Portofino, I pestered the kindly innkeeper to make some calls for me to help me track down Ivar. A number from the phone book in Porto Maurizio turned out to be Ivar's parents. Pretty soon Ivar and I were on the phone. In our first contact in 21 years, I learned that he is a professsor of mathematics, president of a large software consortium and lives in the city of Cosenza in Calabria -mafia country. He was so surprised and pleased by the call that at some points he just said my name and laughed with joy. (Or maybe he remembers me differently than I imagine.) At any rate, he had named his first of three children after me, he said. Marco. The happiness was mutual. We scheduled a lunchtime reunion in Rome Friday. Lee called Lynsay to make sure we weren't missed. Righteo. Actually, Lynsay purposefully avoided dampening our vacation joy by not telling us that she had had to put her beloved cat, Billy, to sleep the day after we left Washington. Sudden and unexpected, Billy's death left her broken-hearted and kittiless. Unaware of Lynsay's sad loss, we headed out to dinner at the Delfino restaurant. I had pesto and scampi, which was good, but not quite comparable to what I had at II Pitisforo the night before. Lee had penne ai fruiti di mare. I tried to leave her in peace with her meal, but I couldn't entirely help myself. Her dish was the best I ever had. Lots of wine. Feeling good allover. NOTES: Our first beautiful
day. Sunny and warm.
DAY 8: ARRIVING IN SAN GIMIGNANO TUESDAY MAY 16 We bid a fond farewell to lovely Portofino this morning. Drizzled on us as an expression of contempt for our departure. Telling us with its cool droplets and grey sky what fools we were for leaving Eden. But we're slaves to our schedule. By lunchtime we were slurping down pizza in Pisa. And damned good pizza it was. The best meal I ever had. Sat at tables outside La Buca, a quaint little trattoria set right in the glide path of the famous leaning bell tower, should it happen to fall. It loomed precariously above us as we ate, perhaps hurrying our consumption; which is normally quicker than lightening anyway. But Lee's tomato and prosciutto pizza truly was extraordinary and may have been part of the reason our food disappeared so fast. My calzone was excellent, also. Wine was light, refreshing. Hiccup. Afterward, the leaning twin towers of Pisa no longer seemed so slanty. I guess we were. On to San Gimignano, a medieval town that began as two separate villages around the 700s. Became a unified walled city sometime around 1000. Anyway, we'll call it an 11th century walled city. Today, it's entirely brick and stone and crawling with German tourists. They thronged from the stone work and flooded the foreground of every picture I attempted. Of the 72 original bell towers that made the place famous, only 14 have survived. On the bright side, that means there's less danger of some tourist-bashing Quasimodo heaving boiling oil onto you from 150 feet up. Pigeons are still a threat, though. Tried to get overnight accommodations at the Casanova Pescille, a quaint farm house hotel a few kilometers outside San Gimignano's walls. But it was "completo" (full). So were most of the hotels inside the city (all those Germans). Finally, Lee, relying on her Italian, which proved . excellent, got us a room in Bel Soggiornio, which turned out to be delightful. Room done in glorious peach colors. Quaint little tub with a seat in it. outside, magnificant stonework. Great shuttered windows looking down onto the main footpath into the city. And the cost was less than lunch in Portofino. (still a small fortune.) Dinner at La Griglia. Incredibly well restored brick and stone interior with marble floors and high ceilings. Seated in front of a picture window. The stunning view made us forget Porto fino for the moment. Red-tiled roofs of the village in the foreground. Alternating vineyards and olive tree orchards create an undulating checkered quilt of pale yellow-green hillstops. The classic pleated Tuscan tableau. We felt eerily as if we had been thrust somehow into the landscape depicted on the label of a giant Chianti bottle. Consumed the contents of one during the coarse of dinner. I had spaghetti with white truffles (the best I'd ever had) and Lee had Salade Nicoise. Also, dessert. It was all so grand and we were feeling so good allover that we even
forgot for the moment about the 54,000 lire parking we got upon arriving in town (about $35).
NOTES: A bit chilly. Alternating clouds and sunshine all day. Drizzling in evening. Hotel: Bel Soggiorno, 91 via San Giovanni, 53037 San Gimignano, Tuscany, tel 05 77/940.375.
DAY 9: VISITING FLORENCE WEDNESDAY MAY 17 Today we ventured to Florence in the pouring rain to experience the best in Renaissance art. But it will be long remembered by us as The Infamous Day of Bad Food in Italy. Bad food experiences in Italy? It started on the most inauspicious of notes: with horribly diluted hotel coffee that was nothing more than opaque water. Thin even by American standards. It would have given Sanka a bad name. The first bad coffee we'd had since arriving in Europe. Then we drove through the rain to Florence. By the time we parked at the train station the weather was already clearing. We immediately lit out on foot for some exceptional coffee and pastries. Purely medicinal. Restored our faith in Italy. On to see the grand Duomo of Florence, including baptistery, towers, ancient cathdrals and, last but certainly not least, all of its great leather shops. Then to the Galleria Dell'Academia to see Michelangelo's David. It looked shockingly like the life-size replicas you see elsewhere in Florence. Afterward, we ordered pizza at a touristy cafe. What we got were slices of cardboard drenched in olive oil. Actually, the crust wasn't bad. However, the pizza was floating in olive oil. Two thumbs down. After the abominable lunch, we snuck past the great Uffizi museum hoping the culture police wouldn't notice. Crossed the river on the Ponte Vecchio, the city's oldest bridge (14th century), now laden with jewelry shops. Climbed the steep hillside on the far side of the river to the perch known as piazzale Michelangelo, a perfect vantage for looking out over the rooftops of the city and hills beyond. Enough parking to accommodate any number of tour buses, sadly. Back to San Gimmy for our second and final night there. Dinner at the cisterna restaraunt was marred by incompetent service provided by a waitress who didn't realize her own ineptitude, or simply was too proud to acknowledge it. My primo piato of egg noodles and white truffles was the best I'd ever had. But Lee had ordered asparagus-filled tortelloni with truffle sauce and got tortellini in chicken broth instead. Not bad, but no substitute for what she ordered. waitress waived us off when we questioned the order. Stupid Americans. Oh well. We can put up with anything. But then she presented us with a bill that listed the more expensive order of asparagus tortelloni that Lee never got rather than the bowl of soup she was served. When we pointed this out to the waitress, she muttered something about the kitchen having made a mistake. What about her? The Twit. No mention by her of our earlier effort to set her straight when there was still time to make things right. Ah well. Off she goes to correct the bill. Comes back with the asparagus tortelloni still on it, expecting us not
to notice, I guess. After I made a fuss, she headed off again. By this point, some other diners in the restaurant were looking on, quite amused. Eventually things got squared away, but by then the waitress was barely civil in her dealings with us. No thanks or good night, for sure. And all this warm Italian hospitality didn't come cheap. Surly service in Italy came as no great surprise. But we're still marveling over the watery coffee in the morning. Was it a bad dream or a long overdue culinary come-uppance? NOTES: Alternating
clouds and sunshine.
DAY 10: VISITING MONTERIGGIO, SIENNA AND ARRIVING IN TOOl THURSDAY MAY 18 Our last morning in San Gimignano. We collected our laundry and did a little shopping. Lee's Italian is still getting us around. Paid off the 54,000 lire parking ticket and departed for Monteriggio, Siena and Todi. Monteriggio is smaller and quieter than San Gimignano. Sort of a one-horse medieval town. Gently rolling poppy fields lie beyond its stone walls. We had excellent coffee and pan forte at a small cafe surrounded by German art students trying to draw the village's stone church. The centuries-old church had extraordinary color, including some lovely pale orange blocks. From my vantage, I could see the art students' mixed results. Some were good renderings. others were bollixed horribly. In defense of the students, consumption of beer could have been a factor for some. It's also possible that not even Italy's glorious scenery can inspire artistry in Germans. Ought to stick to building luxury sedans and Zeppelins. On to Siena with its brilliant orange-gold roof tiles and world famous piazza del Campo. An immense fan-shaped plaza that slopes gently upwards as it moves away from its base. It's like an outdoor amphitheater without chairs. Made of brick and stone. Ringed by shops and cafes. Students, tourists and others sit Indian style on the brick and stone, eating lunch, people-watching or simply zoning out on the medieval beauty of the immense cathedral overlooking the Campo. On a note completely unrelated to beauty of any- description, we saw Congressman Howard Berman and his wife, Janis. Although I've known them for ages, we didn't say hello. We were in hot pursuit of lunch. Lee had a panino caldo. She ate it sitting on the Campo, shielding the toasted-ham-and-cheese delight from my grubby fingers. Not to worry. I did get a block of stale bread from another tourist family that took pity on me. (Actually, I had two slices of mushroom pizza. Excellent.) Ciao, Siena. Andiamo, Todi. Ah, breathtaking. And I'm just talking about our hotel bathroom. Checked into the Fonte Cesia, a four-star with all the trimmings. Lifestyles of the rich and famous for us for one night. Staff lovely. Hotel grand. setting magnificent. Very reasonably priced. And we're off for dinner at a restaurant noted for its tartufo dishes. While I was terribly exhausted and cranky driving into town, now I'm fully revived and positively floating. Before dinner, we went for a walk and saw a splendid sight. Todi at sunset. Perched atop one of Umbria's higher mountains, the picturesque medieval town towers over the surrounding countryside. Gazing out at the panorama, we seemed almost eye level with the setting sun. Clouds split its golden rays into giant spider legs that illuminated patches of the receding landscape. A perfect prelude to a truffle dinner. The town is famous
for its black truffles. For me, this is as close as it gets to a real pilgrimage. And we have the perfect restaurant in mind. Ristorante Cavour's tables aren't set with starched napkins, a welcome change of pace for us. It's atmosphere is pleasantly informal. And the truffle dishes are to die for. At the risk of turning our waitress' stomach, we ordered tartufo bruschetta (toasted bread with black truffle spread) followed by tartufo tortellini. Truffles on the dessert menu, too! Ecstasy. Naturally, I ordered some. But the waitress brought me some stupid little pieces of chocolate by mistake. (Just kidding. This is what passes for humor among truffle-lovers.) Ah, good sleep followed. NOTES: Pretty day, alternating clouds and sunshine. Hotel Fonte Cesia, 3 Via Lorenzo Leonj, 06059 Todi, Umbria, tel 075 89 43 737
DAY 11: ARRIVING IN ROME FRIDAY MAY 19 Toodled around Todi in the morning. Awesome natural and manmade beauty. Some of the most beautiful stone work we've seen. Every time we think we have no more breath left to lose, we turn a corner and lose a little more. It was a day we would finally arrive in the eternal city of Rome with its 2,000-year-old ruins and renaissance splendor. And a day I would be reunited with my best friend in college after 21 years. But its most electric moment actually occurred earlier, while we were gassing up at a service station outside Rome. It was there that we discovered one of Italy's truly marvelous achievements. It was an ordinary-looking vending machine. But it spit out good thick espresso and cappuccino for a mere 500 lire per Dixie cup. After loading up on gas, espresso and cappuccino, we headed on to Rome. Got lost finding our way into the city and squabbled like brats. But we eventually got there and found a good illegal parking spot at the base of the Spanish Steps. We were to meet Ivar and his girlfriend, Rosanna, at the top. While Ivar was sure we'd recognize each other, it was a good thing we took the precaution of exchanging descriptions or we never would have spotted each other. Neither of us look anything like what we did when we were 21. Ah, the ravages of middle age. But it was a joyous reunion. Ivar and Rosanna took us for a glorious lunch at Ristorante delIa Rampa, just off to the side of the Spanish Steps. Incredible antipasta bar and afterward I had the best dessert of my life: semi-freddo. It was a rich mocha-flavored ice cream imbedded with bits of orange and nuts. Sweet warm chocolate poured over the top. Rosanna had two. And such a little thing she is. But she has her priorities set right. And she even claims to be a competent finder of white truffles. Uses her bare eyes. I also learned an important life lesson from Ivar and Rosanna. I got a withering look of bemusement from her after ordering cappuccino to go with my dessert. Apparently, only witless American geeks order cappuccino after breakfast. In Italy, milk is a morning thing, Ivar explained. They are modern Italians. As a nation, they've given up their paint brushes and chisels for cellular phones. Ivar and Rosanna each carried one in their briefcases. It wasn't long before their phones were resting on the table, at the ready. And ringing constantly, it seemed. Throughout lunch, they were yelling "Pronto" and "Ciao" into their phones. Rosanna even took notes in her pocket organizer during one call. When I explained to Ivar that I!ve been writing about immigration for the last couple of years, his eyes lit up and he explained that Rosanna was an immigrant. Her family had crossed the narrow Adriatic Sea from Albania. I was reminded of the ship that crossed the Adriatic on a hot summer day a few years ago with 17,000 Albanian immigrants. In a remarkable scene, they waded ashore onto an Italian
beach, stunning the Italian beach-goers and setting off an effort to halt the massive uncontrolled immigration from Albania. It was a galvanizing moment for the anti-immigrant forces in Italy and led to more restrictive policies. "Oh, when did your family come to Italy?" I asked. "In the 14th century," she said. Seriously. What does that make the Daughters of the American Revolution? We took some hurried photos after lunch and Ivar and Rosanna headed off for the airport for their return flight to Calabria. When Lee and I got back to the car we discovered that someone had broken into the trunk and taken two pieces of luggage. Fortunately for us, they took the wrong two bags. They grabbed my suitcase with only my clothes and Lee's overnight bag, which had cosmetics and toiletries. A nuisance, but of relatively little value and easily replaced. After checking into the Tiziano Hotel, we headed off to return the rental car, which didn't prove so easy. We scrambled frantically through Rome's afternoon rushhour traffic, trying to get from Point A to Point B, a distance of a mere half mile or so. But we were constantly blocked by one-way streets and impassible mazes of piazzas with small streets that gradually became too narrow for our car and had no way out. We spent more time trying to traverse the half mile or so than some convicted murderers spend behind bars. Afterward, we walked to the foreigners office of the police station to report the theft from our trunk. Italian bureaucrats. A lady had us sit down next to the photocopy machine and fill out the form twice so there'd be two copies. Meanwhile, she chatted amiably with another officer sitting idly at her side. After studying the two completed forms, she handed them back to me and told me to give them to the (very bored looking) officer sitting an arms length from her leafing through a newspaper. He suddenly made a big show of looking preoccupied with official business. Eventually, he looked up, took the forms from me, stamped them and gave one back to me for our insurance company. Off we went. Lee noted that her impression of Rome was rapidly going downhill. No such thing as a one-stop American-style drug store here. We had to go to a profumeria to get some of Lee's items, a pharmacia for others, an optica for yet others. It gave Lee plenty of oppportunity to practice her Italian and she finally got what she needed to get through the remainder of the trip. I decided I could make do with the clothes I was wearing plus a few articles of mine that were in Lee's suitcase. We went to dinner in a cafe in the piazza housing the 2,000-year-old Pantheon. But Lee was feeling nauseous and tired and no doubt a little demoralized. So she didn't eat much. Certainly wasn't enjoying herself. So we headed back to the Tiziano for bed, hoping tomorrow would be better. NOTES: Mostly clear all day, nice and comfortable. Hotel Tiziano, 110 Corso Vittorio Emanuele II, 00186 Rome, tel 68 65 019
DAY 12: TOURING ROME SATURDAY MAY 20 I got up for an early walkabout, spending most of the time on a bridge over the Tiber hoping to get a shot of the vatican dome in good early-morning light. After about 40 minutes, it finally dawned on me that I had missed the good early-morning light by at least two hours. Back to collect Lee. She made a remarkable recovery of spirit overnight, largely due to the fine weather in the morning. Showing her resilience and grit. A true trooper. We had a breakfast of coffee and croissants at a sidewalk cafe off piazza Navona en route to st. Peter's square and the basilica. Inside, we saw Michelangelo's Pieta. It's something Lee in particular was looking forward to seing in person. Unfortunately, it's protected behind hardened glass after being attacked by a mad hammer-wielding pilgrim a few years ago. The Basilica is gilded and filled with sculptures and murals throughout. Sunlight shone in slanted rays through glass atop the main dome. In one corner, people queued up to touch the toes of an ebony sculpture of st. Peter. His tootsies were rubbed to a nub. A strange ritual of luck for the pilgrims, I suppose. Maybe they all rushed out afterward and bought lottery tickets. In another corner, other pilgrims and Japanese tourists lined up to Baptise themselves from a small fountain protected (poorly) by two cupids. Later in the day, we visited the Colosseum. Also saw the remains of Trajan's market and forum. We bought two pictures from an artist committing vagrancy on the Palatine Hill, where we also played with a feral kitty. Stopped for an afternoon cocktail at the Hotel Forum. We were attracted to it by the rooftop dining area, which we spotted from the street. But it wasn't open for drinks, only at lunch and dinner, alas. Nonetheless, it was nice wetting our whistle in the hotel bar and resting our tired feet. In the evening, we went to a restaurant in piazza del Paradiso, only a stone's throw from the hotel, thank God. Costanza, made of stone and timbers with low ceilings, has a feel of great antiquity. And no wonder. It's in the catacombs of the 2,000-year-old theater of Pompey, where Brutus bushwhacked his good friend Julius Ceasar a few years back. Lee had insalata mista followed by artichoke ravioli and amused herself by watching a gorgeous young Italian man utterly ignore the entreating touches of a woman seated at his table. I was facing Lee and a stone wall and amused myself with splendid tartufo crepes and lots of Chianti. Molto bene. Creme brulee and tiramisu for dessert. The waiter was witty, spirited and charming; the food sublime; and the ambiance unique and historical. Because of inclement evening weather, a long day of touring, a delicous meal and Chianti-induced fatigue, we headed directly back to the hotel after dinner for wellearned slumber. NOTES:
sunny day, warm and comfortable.
DAY 13: A RAINY DAY IN ROME SUNDAY MAY 21 A day of heavy rain. Would have been a fine day for touring Noah's Ark. We grabbed our umbrellas, determined not to waste a day in Rome. Few others were out. Even the pigeons. But we were out splashing through empty piazzas, past closed shops, over slippery cobblestone, beneath soggy umbrellas. We finally struck a compromise with the weather, having our lunch inside the plastic sidewalk enclosure at Cafe de Paris on busy Via Veneto. The waiter bilked us shamelessly after serving us omelets, gelati, wine and coffee. But it was relaxing, pleasant and we were able to stay dry while eating outdoors. Finally, we returned to the hotel for what the weather really intended all along, a leisurely daytime nap. Later, we got up refreshed and headed off to Le Streghe, an intimate family-run restaurant amid antique shops on vicolo del Curato, off piazza Navona. It was another memorable tartufo night. Lee had fettucine tartufo. I had a tartufo three-dish combination -- fettucine, tortellini and ravioli. NOTES: Rainy and chilly all day. Cleared
DAY 14: THE CISTINE CHAPEL AND CAPUCHIN CRYPT: MONDAY MAY 22 The rain has lifted. Not a cloud in the sky for our last full day in Rome and the last full day of our vacation. We had a late breakfast in piazza Navona and then headed off to the vatican to see the Cistine Chapel. The chapel adjoins the basilica, but we had to wait 20 minutes for a bus, then ride for 10 minutes through the Vatican grounds, and walk for 20 more minutes through Vatican hallways packed with fellow pilgrims. Lucky for Renaissance art lovers like ourselves, the hallways' walls and ceilings were adorned with antiquities, frescoes and other masterpieces. Lee spent quite a while studying the huge, ancient wall maps in the aptly named Gallery of Maps, which showed all the provinces of the oncevast Holy Roman Empire. She retraced our steps of the past two weeks on the maps. The frescoes depicted virtually every magic moment of Christiandom's history. But mostly the positive moments, like people being beatified. I looked carefully but never saw any of your odd beheading or burning at the stake or lesser tortures. Not even an itty bitty persecution. Those frescoes must be in hallways on the more expensive tour. Getting into the cistine Chapel was a lot like getting into the lady's room at RFK stadium during halftime of a Redskins game. But we finally got there and it was every bit as gratifying, I'm sure. Mind you, it's not a place for those who are afraid of large crowds in dark, confined places with no obvious exits; or for those who suffer from vertigo when staring straight up at high places; nor is it for sinners like myself prone to spasms of guilt-induced fear when staring at a larger-than-life depiction of Christ sitting in judgment over like-minded damned souls of yesteryear. Also, I wouldn't recommend it for those with serious back problems who therefore couldn't enjoy themselves being jostled while limboing to view ceiling frescoes. Fortunately, neither Lee nor I suffer from any of the aforementioned deficiencies and we enjoyed ourselves immensely. But even great bladders have their limits and ours were being sorely tested after the remarkable Odyssey just to get inside the chapel. So we were forced to leave sooner than we would have liked, given the historical scope of the artwork. We hopped into a cab and headed straight for the Spanish Steps, where sinners like ourselves can enjoy lunch in their own element. At a busy sidewalk cafe, I ordered a bitter orange to wash down my food. I didn't have the foggiest idea what it was. But the menu said it was only 1,600 lire, about $1. What's the worst that could happen? Right? Well, it was orange juice, grenadine, tonic and vodka, judging by the taste. And it went down smoothly. But I must have misread the menu. It wasn't 1,600 lire, it was 16,000 (about $10). Those Italian zeros are bloody hard to keep track of. Hiccup. Then, on to the last sightseeing stop of our trip. In all
candor, it was at my insistence that we visited the capuchin Crypt. Lee had expressed her doubts. And she may have been right. But I just had to see it anyway. We were greeted at the door by a dour and goulish-Iooking but honest-to-God Capuchin monk with his hand out. He made it clear with a gesture that the phrase "donations requested" over the door meant, loosely interpreted, "Hand over all your loot." Fearful of his mortician's countenance and mindful of what lay beyond, I stuffed in a 10,000 lire note and hoped it was enough to avoid offending him. Afterall, it was less than what I had paid for the bitter orange, but he didn't know that. He peered at my offering and paused for an eternal second. Was it enough? My mind flashed back to the great wall of the cistine Chapel and the depiction of the damned. Much to my relief, when the monk looked up, he was smiling. Dropped his hand to let us pass. We entered quickly, eager to find what we had come to see. It was all there. Crypt chambers decorated entirely with the skulls, pelvic bones, femurs, clavicals and other boney remains of the monk's Capuchin predecessors. One day soon, perhaps, the skull of the Capuchin monk playing troll at the door would be added to the macabre display. The featured item in one of the chambers was a child's intact skeleton nailed to the ceiling. Another featured mummified arms, crossed nonchalantly. In another room, skulls were piled high. There's absolutely nothing more awe inspiring than an attractive, thoughtful arrangement of human bones. Exiting, the monk at the door flashed me a sardonic smile that would have delighted Alfred Hitchcock. Perhaps he recognized in my face the mixture of repulsion and curiosity that he no doubt sees all the time on the faces of other departing pilgrims. I couldn't bring myself to ask, but I wanted to know: Did they let time separate flesh from bone naturally? Or do they have some late-night, candle-lit ritual performed to organ music in which they accelerate the process. Perhaps by parboiling the remains in huge black kettles. And if so, how much of a "donation" would we have to cough up to see that? Anyway, later we had a dinner of spinach and spaghetti (Lee) and brandy-soaked beef (me) at Roma Vecchio in the piazza di Campitelli. We were seated in a little two-table (four-person) alcove, which we had to ourselves. Very private and romantic with flowers and candles. Dinner well prepared and graciously served. The only tartufo on the menu was for dessert. Tired again, we headed back to the hotel and packed for our early-morning cab ride to the airport and return home. We're ready. We have begun to really miss our house and animals and other loved ones. And the Capuchin monks have given me some excellent homedecorating ideas. NOTES: Another
lovely sunny d y.