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Germans and Italians

Germans and Italians have a history.  Well, Germans and a lot of people have histories, but the one with Italy is complicated.  They’re neighbors, but completely different in their worldview.  They’re both European, but with very different sensibilities.  They both flirted with Fascism, then took very different path forward.  As an American, I tend to think of Europe as this compact continent where everything kind of melts together.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  There’s really not a cohesive feeling about being European.  Which makes it interesting since they almost all share a currency.  And don’t get me started on the food.

We were invited by our friend Michelangelo to a preview of a photographic exhibit and presentation of a new book written by an Italian about Angela Merkel.  We really didn’t know what to expect; in fact we really weren’t sure what it was we’d been invited to.  This happens a lot with us.  We just go and hope for the best.

It started with a photography exhibition by Daniel Biskup, a German photojournalist.  The photos on display were all of Angela Merkel, who was apparently the star of the day, even though she was not there.  They had two books for sale, one by Daniel Biskup of his photographs, and the other a biography of Angela Merkel by Massimo Nava.  I still don’t know the connection between the photographer and the author, but somehow they were together at this event.  The mayor was there with his Italian-flag colored sash and he said some welcoming words and cut an Italian-flag colored ribbon and the exhibit was officially open.  Now, I don’t know that much about Angela Merkel – probably about as much as most Americans – but one of the things that struck me about this exhibit was that her hairstyle has been unchanged for 30 years.  Maybe a few more layers and a different color here and there, but the same basic style.  This is not a woman who is given to adventure.  She knows what she likes and sticks with it.  Can I tell all that from looking at hairstyles?  Probably not, but don’t you think that’s a fairly accurate statement?

From the exhibit we moved on to the City Hall where there was a discussion about the books in German (with an Italian interpreter) and Italian.  It lasted two hours.  I tried really hard to pay attention and understand the dialogue, but Italians are a long-winded bunch.  I would start off pretty good, getting the gist of the statements, then the answer would go on and on and on.  My brain simply got tired of doing all that work.  Now that probably says something very telling about me, but we’re not talking about me here.  Let’s stick to Angela.  So there we sat for two hours in the most beautiful, but uncomfortable, chairs on the planet pushing our brains to process this complex discussion.  What we did learn was that the German photojournalist was more long-winded than the Italian author (but maybe it just seemed that way because we had to hear his comments in German and Italian), but that the Italian author was a fascinating person.  He had headed the Corriere dell Sera, the oldest newspaper in Italy, for many years.  He’s covered stories from all over the world – all the major international events in the last 20 years – and has written a slew of books, both on these weighty topics and historical fiction.  And he had a wonderfully casual attitude about it all.  The essence of sprezzatura – studied nonchalance.

In typical Italian fashion, we adjourned just at 1:00, or in time for Sunday lunch.  Because we had been through quite a workout trying to process all that information, we rewarded ourselves with a lunch out.  We tried to go to a nearby town, Tavernelle, to a little trattoria there that we haven’t been to since we’ve been here.  The parking lot was suspiciously empty and the note on the door told us that they were closed until the 28th.  We decided to try a place up the mountain that I’ve always been curious about.  It’s about halfway between Anghiari and Arezzo on the old road, Via Libbia, that snakes over the mountain.  This was a real chance because if they were closed or full, we were sunk.  We got there and there were cars everywhere.  Sure sign they were open, but they looked quite full.  I went in and asked if they had a table for two and she said, “Just two?” and I said yes and we got the very last table.  She later told me that we were very lucky because after we were seated she had to turn away several couples.  Most people here do Sunday lunch with their extended family.  Tables are six, eight, ten people.  So squeezing in two can be easier.  We were so glad fortune was smiling on us because we were rewarded with one of the best meals we’ve had.

Antico Posto di Ristoro is set on a sharp curve on a very curvy road with absolutely nothing around it.  No houses, no villages, nothing but forest and mountains.  I’ve always thought it must be good because getting to it is a real commitment.  If you put that much effort into going to a restaurant, it better be good.  It was a very welcoming place, with room after room of tables.  Our room had a nice fireplace that really added to the coziness.  The meal was fantastic.  We started with buschettine, an assortment of toasted bread topped with various meats, cheese, and veggies, The one with the lightly grilled prosciutto and some kind of wonderfully gooey cheese was one the best things I’ve put in my mouth lately.  Steve had a zuppa di chianina, which they said was an ancient recipe.  This reminded us of a beef stew, but lighter.  I’ve never seen this on a menu here, but it should be on all of them.  He also had a tagliatelle with white boar sauce – a standard on most every menu and always good.  I had the tagliata of beef – the sliced steak that I always order when I want some meat.  This was one of the best I’ve had.  I was a little concerned because it looked very rare, but it was perfect.  The most flavorful, tender meat you can imagine.  All with a nice glass or two of the house red wine.  We were happy people.

I know one of the questions that was asked of the Massimo Nava, the Italian author, was why he picked Angela Merkel.  I was very curious about the answer to that question, but sadly I couldn’t quite follow it.  I’m pretty sure it didn’t have anything to do with the consistency of her hairdo.  But whatever the reason, we were treated to a special occasion made was made even more special by our wonderful lunch.  Another perfect Sunday, although a very different one.

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