Sunday, October 7, 2007

Day 6: Cortona

Despite a lot of noise from the street during the night, we sleep pretty well. The weather has definitely changed–it is sunny this morning but much cooler than it has been. Breakfast at the hotel is quite good; the cornetti are especially nice.

After breakfast, we walk through the piazza to the Duomo for a quick look around and then go to see the paintings in the Museo Diocesano across the way. We first admire the spectacular view over the valley and back into the heavily forested hillsides. Cortona being in the far southeast corner of Tuscany, the countryside has a definite Umbrian look.
We play hide and seek in the museum with a large Italian tour group….at one point, they are asked to move from in front the “piece de resistance” of the collection–Fra Angelico’s Annunciation. We remember being blown away by the painting when we first saw it….however this time, it makes less of an impact on us - don’t know why. The museum has a number of paintings by Signorelli, da Cortona and other local artists, but for me, the highlight this time are the very striking frescoes in the chapel–mostly of Old Testament scenes and an ornate ceiling fresco of the Apostles. On the staircase, there are reproductions of the Stations of the Cross, a series of mosaics done by the local Futurist artist Gino Sevirini that line the street that leads to the Sanctuario of Santa Margherita at the top of the town. They were commissioned by the citizens of Cortona to give thanks because the town wasn’t destroyed during the Second World War.
After the museum, we stop at Il Girasole, the shop owned by Alessandra Federici whom we “know” through the internet (the Slow Travel message board) but have never met in person. We have a nice get together over a cup of coffee; she is a vivacious person and her English is excellent–very idiomatic which she attributes to her hanging out with the American students who studied Italian at the language program run by the University of Georgia in Cortona. We make plans to have dinner together on Tuesday.
We go down the steep hill to the parking lot and head off to meet Maureen and Franco for lunch in the country near the Umbrian border. The weather has turned overcast as we drive through spectacular scenery–green forested hillsides punctuated with stunning views. We find the restaurant–part of the Agriturismo Acquaviva–and wait for a few minutes until Maureen, Franco and their friends Bob, Bonnie and Nancy arrive. Nancy Harmon Jenkins is food journalist and lives nearby; she knows the family that run the restaurant and we get a warm welcome.

The lunch is another quintessential Italian dining experience….a long, leisurely Sunday afternoon meal…course after course of delicious things to eat, good local wine and good conversation. We start off with a local flat bread–warm from the stove–called ‘caccia that accompanies platters of prosciutto and salumi–all delicious. Pastas include fettucine with fresh porcini or a meat ragu and a wonderful lasagne–thin sheets of pasta and a great meat sauce. This is followed by a bistecca fiorentina and an arrosto of maiale (pork roast) and various vegetables–sauteed cabbage and greens, cardoons (a celery like vegetable) parmigiano (a meat sauce) and wonderful fried porcini that Nancy had brought and Maria (the cook) had prepared.
[Franco with the “remains” of the fiorentina] [Nancy and Maureen–after lunch]
[Maria, the cook]
After three hours of non-stop eating and talking, we say our goodbyes. Nancy tells us that she is planning to be in Bologna later in the week to do some research for a story and invites us to have dinner with her. We exchange phone numbers so that we can make the arrangements.
When we get back, I take a short walk around the town with my computer, looking for a wireless signal that I can use (I am getting a little impatient with the dialup connection) but the quest is unsuccessful. But I do take some pictures of the Cortona “centro storico” with the Cortonese hanging out in the square.
It is hard to believe that we will want to eat dinner but, at 8:30, after a rest, we decide to head out for a light supper of pizza. The pizza that they we are served seems to be very much in the Roman tradition–very light and crispy crust, but it is just what we are looking for. The toppings–prosciutto, tomatoes and arugula for me, spicy salami and cheese for Diana—are tasty and–as long as we didn’t think of it as pizza–it was fine.
By 10 pm, we are pretty tired so we walk back to the hotel with no detours.
Tomorrow we plan to explore some of the towns on the west side of the Val di Chiana.


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