Saturday, January 11, 2014

Florence 19.12.2013 (3): Witch Candy and Cathedral Parades

Parade at Duomo, Evening of 19 December 2013

After the Uffizi, a walk to the Central Market, where we found a promising-looking trattoria, Trattoria Katti, in Via Faenza, a side street without any of the restaurants clearly intent on pulling in tourist trade. They had a nice-looking daily menu chalked on a blackboard outside, with reasonable prices, so we took a leap and went in, and were glad we did.

A small place with attractive stone walls and stenciling to produce a faded-mural look. We noticed we were the only non-Italians there, another promising sign. Steve had osso buco and potatoes al forno, and I took the two-course €14 daily special, choosing ribollita as the first course and pork scallops al funghi as the second.

Everything was delicious. Both the mushrooms we had last night on our pizza and those with the scallopini today were so flavorful that we wondered why porcini mushrooms in the U.S. never taste like this.

On to the market--a cacophony, especially in the section selling seafood, where men standing next to each other nevertheless carried on a conversation in stentorian booms that would easily have crossed a football field. Signs on the doors: No smoking. People everywhere inside lighting cigarettes right and left.

We find a series of display cases selling prepared dishes, where one of the men behind the counter commands us to try his olives, to eat some prosciutto. I eat an olive, pronounce it delicious, and am then commanded to take the prosciutto I had previously refused . . . having just eaten.

For our evening meal back in our rooms, we buy some zucchini stewed with peppers, marinated porcinis, grilled eggplant slices, the delicious olives we had just tasted, and we endure (or, in Steve's case, enjoy) the patter of the two men and woman behind the counter. One of the men tells us he knows Bill Clinton (our line when we're asked where we're from: Little Rock, Bill Clinton) and once ate a meal with him.

Two Frenchwomen at the counter buying sandwiches tell us they're teachers who have brought 200 French teens to the Uffizi. I tell them I think we encountered those teens when we were just at the Uffizi, and better them than me, looking after those young people with their wild energy.

Duomo, 19 December 2013
Then back to our rooms to put our feet up awhile, and out again later as dark approaches to go inside the Duomo, whose outside we'd appreciated earlier, and then to walk to the celebrated perfumery near Santa Maria Novella, the Farmacia di Santa Maria Novella.

That place is, as guidebooks say, elegant. The rosewater is unlike any I've ever smelled, with its intense rose fragrance. But the prices are out of our league, so we look, smell, and then walk on, noticing a nice sweet shop, DolceForte, nearby that sells wonderful-looking candies, biscotti, panforte elegantly wrapped and in all sizes.

We buy some biscotti to nibble as we travel, and a small panforte for Mary. I spot a candy marked Magie di Strega and ask the woman (one of two) behind the counter, "Witch candy?"

She smiles and says yes, and I say, "Ah, for bad children." Her younger colleague appreciates my attempt at humor and laughs, but the older woman misses the joke and solemnly explains it's chocolate filled with liqueur.

The most eye-catching thing in the store is eye-catching candy in bright garish lacquered colors, formed into designs like flower petals, and marked Confetti.

Santa Maria Novella with Christmas Market, 19 Dec. 2013
We then walk back past Maria Novella, and see thousands of starlings swooping in a kaleidoscope of ever-shifting patterns over its roof, a beautiful sight as the sun sets. 

After this, a shared cup of hot chocolate and a panna cotta topped with chocolate sauce at a very nice little café on the corner of Via dei Banchi and Via del Giglio, where the sweet, solicitous waitress speaks not a word of English. I'm proud of our ability to order in our baby Italian, down to acqua frizzante.

As we walk home and reach the Duomo, a small parade is in progress--thrum, thrum, thrum go the drums, as men in uniforms similar to what you'd see in illustrations of Columbus and the Conquistadors march with crossbows and halberds. Some have on those peaked metal hats with feathers sticking out of them, and are clad in bright costumes slashed with complementary bright colors.

Parade at Duomo, 19 Dec. 2013
Oh. As we set our on our afternoon walk, we passed a tiny art studio with beautiful tiny lacquered and gilded paintings--churches, fish, landscapes--in the window. We walked in, and the artist, Daniela Meza Sigala, was there.

We talked awhile. I quite liked her. Steve bought for me a tiny journal with handmade rice paper and on its front a small acrylic of hers, a tiny impressionistic Tuscan landscape with the title "In Toscana," which I thought I'd frame as a remembrance of this trip and a day that began with prancing shouting little martinets and ended with starlings wheeling against a winter's evening sky over the church of Maria Novella. Madonna buona!

(But because it's more blessed to give than to receive, I think I'll bring it back as a Christmas present for my brother Philip, instead.)

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