It’s Sunday so that can only mean one thing – a visit to the Monterchi market for porchetta for breakfast. I can’t tell you how good these things are. They make you want to cry. The pork is everything you want it to be – juicy, tender, crispy – all in one delicious sandwich. And the bread is perfect – a nice crust on the outside but tender on the inside and not too thick. I wish I could bring some back with me. I’ll just have to settle for bringing some back in me (and on me – I’m pretty sure this one landed on my right hip).
You have to love a country where you can get your porchetta for breakfast, pick up a few pairs of underwear, and get your chickens all within 50 feet of each other. I’ve been to a lot of markets in my time in Italy but I have never seen live chickens being sold before. Yes, each one of those boxes holds a live chicken. I guess it makes sense – most of the yards here have at least a couple of chickens and they have to get them somewhere.
On the way back home from the market, we stopped in one of our favorite little towns, Citerna. It’s the most precious place and has incredible views. But there’s really not much there. Only a couple of restaurants and a shop or two. But it’s kept immaculately clean and has flowers everywhere and makes a wonderful place to walk your porchetta off. They have a Donatello sculpture there that we’ve seen advertised and heard about, but have never seen. Well, all that changed today.
We bought our tickets and got a private tour with the sweetest woman whose only English was “Do you understand?”. Before we went on our private tour, we worked out that if she spoke very slowly we might understand every fourth word or so. And she honored her word and spoke very slowly. She took us all through the church where the Donatello is housed and explained every piece of art on the wall. And I had to listen so carefully to her to try and understand what she was saying that I got really tired. Sometimes during a break in the conversation I would wander over to the painting she was describing and look at it very intently, just to take a break from the intensive listening. It made me realize how much my mind typically wanders when I listen to English speakers. Because I easily understand the words, my mind can keep up with the conversation but also think about what I need to do when I get home, how long before lunch, should I stop on the way home for nail polish remover or wait until Saturday to get it, wonder if this person knows they have really bad breath, and other things like that. Things I shouldn’t be thinking when I’m listening to people. But when I’m trying to make my mind recognize words, translate them into English, and fill in the gaps of the words I don’t know, I have no time to think about anything else. I watched her facial expressions, her body language, and followed her gaze to help me understand what she was saying. I was listening with my whole being – ascoltare in Italian. When we were done with the tour, I was a little exhausted and exhilarated at the same time. I was also very proud of what I was able to understand.
The Madonna and Child was made by Donatello around 1415 in Florence. It’s made of terracotta and was perched on a small ledge behind the altar of the Chiesa di San Francesco for years. I’m not exactly sure how it came to be in this little church in Citerna (although I’m sure the sweet little Italian lady told me). No one thought anything of it until one day in 2001 a doctoral student researching Umbrian folk art saw it. She thought maybe it was a little more important than just a piece of folk art and arranged to have it sent to Florence for testing and research. Sure enough, it turned out to be an original Donatello. After a significant restoration, it was returned to Citerna. However, it no longer sits on the ledge behind the altar. Now it has its own room off to the side of the altar and you can only see it by requesting a tour and paying an admission fee. FYI – if you’re over 65 you get a discount. Fascinating story.
The rest of the day was spent eating. I’m not kidding. After the porchetta for breakfast (it’s not as bad as it sounds – we shared one sandwich) we decided we needed some pasta for lunch. So we drove over to Tavernelle, a little town very near here. We really like a little restaurant there called La Pergola. I had paccheri pasta with a ragu of goose. Yes, that’s right, goose. It was very, very good. Steve had tagliatelle with regular old meat ragu, and then he had a meat course of rabbit. We waddled out of there and back to our apartment for a little rest.
Then someone decided we needed a gelato. Well, we didn’t have any at all the day before so we owed it to the universe to set things right. We took a nice little passeggiata around town, then got ready for dinner. If left to our own devices, we would have foregone dinner, but we were going to Michelangelo’s and Rossella’s. We had a lovely meal of risotto with asparagus and a squid and green pea stew kind of thing with a salad. My body welcomed the salad but really questioned the other things I consumed. Then cake, a torcolo, for dessert. You have to eat everything or Rossella will think you don’t like it. It doesn’t matter how much you say that you’re just full beyond the point of comfort. So I cleaned my plate and had a small piece of cake and sat there the rest of the evening with my once perfect fitting pants straining to hold in my ever widening girth. I’m going to have to switch to stretchy pants for dinners and leave the kind with buttons for the days. Then I must fast for a week when I get back!
I guess I need to ascoltare to my body instead of throwing everything I see into it. The food here is so incredible that it’s very hard to say no. It’s easy to think you can just have a taste of this and a taste of that, but that’s not how it works. The tastes are plates and pretty soon you’re over the top, like me. Ascoltare – that’s my new mantra. To myself and to others.