Of Breezes and Mona Lisas
Posted On August 1, 2021
I am befuddled by this language. I know that English is a hard language to learn and we have many words that are the same but mean very different things (like “mean” – can be an adjective or a verb, pronounced the same, spelled the same, but completely different definitions. What do you mean? Why are you so mean?) But one thing I love about English is to make things plural, you slap an “s” on the end (for the most part). We also don’t have masculine and feminine words – we’re a gender-neutral, anti-discriminatory language for the people. But Italian – the only rule is there are no rules.
We had lunch with our good friends Michelangelo and Livio and two business associates of theirs from Florence on Friday. Everyone spoke very good English, fortunately for us, but they would all lapse into their native tongue occasionally, especially when they were particularly passionate about something. The conversation turned, as it always does, to the weather. It’s hot here – in the mid to high 90s most days. However, there’s an ever present breeze that really helps keep things tolerable. That and there’s very low humidity. They were complaining about the heat and I said at least there’s this lovely breeze. Then I asked what the word for breeze is in Italian. What ensued was nothing short of a comedy sketch. La breeza, Livio said. No, no Michelangleo said, it’s venticello. Then the four of them launched into a passionate discussion, in Italian, about what the best word is for a breeze. Lots of hand gestures and all talking at the same time. Steve and I looked at each other and started laughing. This is why this language has me befuddled. But here’s what I love – Micheangelo explained that la breeza is absolutely correct to use. However, venticello conveys more of an emotion, a feeling that the breeze is not quite a wind but something that caresses you and gently cools your body. Wow. And that’s why we love it here.
Saturday was Arezzo market day. For those of you who don’t know, the town of Arezzo has an antique market once a month and as luck would have it, it occurred on our first weekend here. We set off with Michelangelo and his wife Rossella for the market at about 11:00 in the morning. I mentioned it’s hot here. Well, Saturday was the king of hot days. It was broiling and the sun was bright and beating down. And very little venticello. Michelangelo called before they picked us up and said that we were going to meet Rossella’s sister and brother-in-law later and go to dinner. Dinner. Hmm. This presented a challenge for us because that meant we probably wouldn’t be home until 10:00 or so and we couldn’t leave Millie without food or potty breaks that long. Bring her along, Michelangelo said. So we did and the poor dog almost had a heat stroke. She did great and trooped along with us until about mid-afternoon, when she clearly wanted to get the hell out of there.
Before her crash, we had lunch at a little street food kind of place. They had tables you could eat at, but you ordered at a counter and they brought your food to you. Their menu was very simple – schiacciata (stuffed flatbread sandwiches) and suppli (fried rice balls). Rossella and Steve had a schiacciata and Michelangelo and I had a couple of suppli. Should have taken a picture, but I’m out of practice. It was very good and even better to sit down and have a rest.
We got to Rossella’s sister’s house at about 4:00 and she had an array of refreshments for us, which we dutifully sampled. All kinds of brightly colored drinks that we’d never heard of but quite liked. And she has AC in her house! What a treat for us all, especially the poor, fatigued Millie. We had what I’m sure was nice visit with Mariella, her husband Mario, their daughter Cristina, and her daughter Lavinia. The only person in the group who spoke English was Michelangelo and he simply couldn’t translate everything for everyone. So they all spoke Italian and Steve and I smiled and tried to ride along as best we could. It was a little difficult because they usually spoke Italian all at the same time and very loudly.
We went to dinner at a pizzeria that I never got the name of. It’s only open on weekends and is some kind of community effort. Everyone who works there lives in the area and volunteers their time. It’s a big place with only outdoor seating and a huge play area for kids. There are many places like this in Italy and I’m sure there’s a name for them but I don’t know it. It’s great – the whole family comes and the kids play, the adults talk, and everyone eats. This place was very special because of the setting. It’s near the Ponte Buriano, a bridge built in 1277 that crosses the Arno as it leave Florence. It’s an idyllic spot on the river with views that are just spectacular. I imagine the views are largely the same as they were in 1277 when the bridge was built. Here’s another thing we love about Italy. If this setting were in the US, there would be a Ponte Buriano hotel, a Ponte Buriano office park, and a Ponte Buriano freeway. Here it’s just the Ponte Buriano and this restaurant that was built at a docking point. Nothing else as far as you can see.
We had a delightful meal of pizza, which was very good. Paper thin crust with great toppings. We all gobbled every morsel and felt very deserving because of our trek through the hot Arezzo market. Oh – and the setting is rumored to be the landscape behind the Mona Lisa so there’s a marble statue of Leonardo next to the river. I don’t know if it’s true – I don’t think anyone does. But it makes for a great story and it makes you feel like you are part of something bigger. Something that just keeps on going.