Friday, September 28, 2012

Day 9: A Florence Morning & Food Market

I have one more morning in Florence before we leave. At 7:30am there is a morning mass with the small handful of monks at San Miniato, the monastery/church nearby. We get up early and head over to hear the echoing chants. It is so peaceful and I spend the time studying the altar piece and the art work in the church.
As we come out into the morning we are created by the city of Florence.
 We arrive in the streets of the city centre just as the rain begins.
 Ponte Vecchio is stunning even in the wet.
We scurry through streets and when the rain really pelts it down we nip into a coffee shop and get a pastry, cappuccino and hot chocolate. I am still loving the city.
 Thankfully our next activity is to climb the Duomo which will keep us out of the rain for a short while. At the bottom the sign reads a warning of the 436 steps ahead.
 The first part of the church consist of a winding staircase going straight up. Once at the bottom of the dome itself you take a further staircase between two layers of the dome that curves around to the top (pictured above).
"The dome was built between 1420 and 1436 to a design by Filippo Brunelleschi. Taking his inspiration from Rome's Pantheon, Brunelleschi arrived at an innovative engineering solution of a distinctive octagonal shape of inner and outer concentric domes resting on the drum of the cathedral rather than the roof itself, allowing artist to build from the ground up without needing a wooden support frame. Over 4 million bricks were used in the construction, all of them laid in consecutive rings in horizontal courses using a vertical herringbone pattern. The final product is 91m high and 45.5m wide." (Lonely Planet's, Florence & Tuscany)
 From the top the view is amazing with Florence's red tiled roofs. I can see the San Lorenzo dome which is at the end of the street where I lived.

 From this direction you can see Piazza della Republica.
If you look on the hill at the white church to the right of the towering Palazzo Vecchio you can see San Miniato where we began our morning.
What an amazing view.
But a lot of graffiti.
We begin our long descent down the dome and then onto the regular stairs.
 We get up so close to the painted dome that from far away looks full of minute detail. From up close it is extremely loose, but well executed.  
We make it down and look back up to the white little pinnacle at the top that where we stood. 
 We are off again as I want to reach the Mercato Centrale before it closes for the day at 2pm. It was also a block away from where I lived and as a student.
 But first a quick look at the Baptistry.
The gilded bronze bas-relief covering the doors on the eastern entrance of the Baptistry were designed by Lorenzo Ghiberti who jointly won a 1401 competition involving the greatest artists of the day for the honour of undertaking the task. His co-winner was Filippo Brunelleschi, who was so annoyed at not winning outright that he withdrew from the project. Both entries can be viewed at the a museum in Florence (sorry, forgot which one).
The doors are cast in a single piece. I think this panel is depicting Joseph being sold into slavery.
we pass by the front of the Duomo.
 The rain is starting up again.
 We walk quickly through the wet streets.
 And in through the doors of the Mercato Centrale (Central Market).  
 There are a few places that I remember and specifically want to go in the market. First we head to the fresh pasta place where we watch the pasta being made. Marni, another student used to get us fresh pasta for lunch here and I would bake fresh corn bread.
It surprises me to see produce stalls on the lower floor. The last time I was here the large ground level was reserved exclusively for pastas, cheeses, meats, oils, and all your dry ingredients. The upper floor was all produce.
 I ask the vegetable vendor if it is just the low season. He tells me the upper floor has been closed for 3 years now. That means the market has shrunk to half the size it once was. I ask him if it is because of the large trend in Supermarkets. I am not sure he understands the question. Above is a dried fruit, wine and oil stall.
 I am sad that I won't be able to go upstairs to the older man that I went to every other day to get my produce. There are other changes I notice in Italy as well. The currency is no longer the Lira (but instead the Euro) and I wonder at how our globalisation effects the uniqueness of cultures.
Around the corner and beside the fresh pasta stall is where I always bought my bread. It was normal for the Italians to not speak English to foreigners and if they did they didn't let on until you tried to speak quite a bit of Italian first. Sometimes this could take months to strike up a camaraderie. This was the case with my baker. After at least half a year he finally asked me where I was from as I was now a regular. When I said I came from Vancouver he got excited and said he had been there and had a cousin who lived there. But his stall today is low in stock and no one is there. I take this picture and keep wandering.
 What I notice about Italy now is that people won't even bother trying to speak Italian to you even if you start out speaking it. They just revert right to English. I notice supermarkets throughout Europe more and more stocking the same generic global brands. I notice little things slipping that would have been such a trademark of cultures. The Florentines were proud when I lived here they wouldn't swerve on the sidewalk to let you pass. Nor would anyone think to pick up their dog shit.
 It just seems easier to get around and do everything abroad as a foreigner now, which I don't think is necessarily a good thing. I think we should be made to work a bit to get into a culture, to understand another view point.
(Above is Pasta Fresca, Produzione Propria, Interno Mercato Centrale, Firenze, Tel: 2302408). 
 So what has changed? When I was here before it was pre-internet, pre-mobile phone, pre-emails. To call home I went to the end of my street and dialled collect to Canada. We didn't even have a house phone. With the combination of internet and extreme budget European flights, are we quickly losing the uniqueness of our individual countries? Or is it a good thing that more people can move about globally with less hassle?
 I feel sad when I see the changes in Florence. I am sad that it probably won't be long before the market is no longer selling food and will only sell what a lot of markets now sell; cheaply made goods in factories with substandard human rights. Nothing unique. Nothing regional. Just generic stuff…garbage really. Or maybe the market will just close.
Well, while I am here I am going to really enjoy this one level of the market.
 I head over to the cheese counter. I remember coming to Italy having only ever eaten that sprinkle Kraft cheese called parmesan. 
 I went to the market and bought a very small wedge of a Parmigiano wheel and the flavour shocked me. That experience repeated itself with a lot of food I was soon to discover. We buy part of a wedge of that cheese pictured above.
 Then we discovered this baker in the middle of the market. I remember buying chewy Tuscan bread (unsalted to go with a salty meal). My Italian/Canadian roommate, Ross, showed us how the Italians pour olive oil on a plate and a little pile of salt and dip the bread in each. Delicious! This stall also has the best tasting biscotti I have ever eaten. There are samples of all the flavours set out on the counter.
 All kinds of dried funghi.
 I am looking for a particular dried pasta this time as I remember having a laugh discovering it as a student. Yes, it is still here!
 Okay, back out into the rain. Nigel, come on…one more look at my street.
 And the butcher with the dead pigs dressed up and posing is still there.
 Are they taxidermy?
 Via del Melaranchio.
 My old door.
 I am sure I have the right house. I remember our landlord was something like Pagliai.
 We head back up the hill to the campground.
 This is a shot of Camping Michelangelo from Piazzale Michelangelo. Truly an olive grove that hides everything from above. In the camp it is a bit gravely and well used.
 We break open our market haul for Nigel's birthday: Tuscan bread, olive oil, biscotti, parmesan cheese, grapes, fresh pasta, peppers, tomatoes, basil and pastry.
 When can we eat it????
 A view from the campsite.
 We are off on our trail to reach the Cinque Terre region near the border of the south of France.
 The directions to the next campsite we are looking for are vague and we wonder where on earth we are going after a long stretch on an unpaved road.
 We arrive at Camping Lago Le Tamerici near Pisa which bills itself as an agri-tourism site. It is really hyped up to be amazing in our catalogue and although there were some pluses, we weighed the cons heavily against them.
 Pros: it had a nice little lake it is situated on.
 There are paddle boats that we can use for free.
 Con: other than the one kayak the paddle boats have holes that filled with water and soaked your bottom.
 The site is still yet to grow into itself. There are a lot of young trees and plants that will be beautiful in about 10 years, but right now it is a bit like being in the middle of farms. In fact we are surrounded by farms.

Cons: being in the middle of a farm means that the flies are horrendous and you can't sit outside for long. That large electrical wire and tower you see behind our van is extremely close and we can hear it buzzing and crackling all night long sending its cancer rays our way. The toilet block is made of the cheapest prefabricated particle board and completely falling apart despite the site being billed as new. Some of it smells like sewage. The site has what is advertised as a lovely organic restaurant which is why we chose it to celebrate Nigel's birthday. When we arrived we learned it is only open 3 days a week. The shop is also closed and doesn't have much of the basics (basics that we could have picked up elsewhere had we been told we were driving miles down rubble roads). Also, there is no one there! We drive up to an office that is empty and just parked. Someone eventually came along briefly and says they are off again and any problems just ring the number on the window. With what phone? We all had foreign number plates at the site, so we don't have local mobiles.

Pros: It had a lot of nice free amenities that are extra like a lake and boats to use, lawn chairs, and an awning for most pitches.

Comparing the pros and cons we decide it is the most overrated campsite and our most disappointing experience. Did I mention it is right near the Pisa airport? Okay, that doesn't really bother us that much. Nigel just makes a verbal list of all the cheap airlines that will bring us to Pisa as all the planes fly in for landing.