People keep asking me if I’m jetlagged, but I’m pretty sure I’m not, at least not in the sense that my body thinks it’s 3 pm in the middle of the night. However it does seem like it’s reverted to some kind of Central Standard Tired As All Hell time zone, so who knows what it’s thinking right now. Spring forward, fall back, stumble around after being in flight for twelve hours. That’s how it goes, I guess.
I had a great time in Italy, even though the language barrier turned me into a bashful nitwit who responded to retail transactions by silently handing over the largest denomination of Euros currently available in my wallet. Kind of like a wealthy, awkward, gigantic Hello Kitty. It was a very good thing that my cousin Meg, who speaks Italian and lived there for years, was around to help me out, because even with a phrasebook I am really useless. I was stricken with this hideous shyness that made me want to just inconspicuously mutter all the grazies and buongiornos, only to discover that it’s actually exceedingly hard to mumble in Italian.Â So I went around with my purse full of change and only very occasionally sputtering something out loud, and I survived, and clearly I am not going to be writing the next Eat, Pray, Love anytime soon now, am I? Right!
I spent the first part of the week in Bologna attending the Children’s Book Fair for work and seeing how the rest of the world publishes kids’ books. The fair attracts hundreds of international illustrators who exhibit their work and show off their portfolios, and it was deeply mind-blowing to see it all, because European children’s books often look wildly different from American and British ones. In a nutshell: British and U.S. children’s picture books tend to show cuddly bunnies having birthday parties, whereas in European picture books you get to see dwarf clowns in bird masks playing mumblety-peg. (This is of course a broad generalization! I do not mean to favor one style over another! Though I can’t help but wonder if my childhood would have been maybe a little more awesome if I’d gotten to read a few more picture books about dream symphonies conducted by marionette puppets with insect heads. I’m just saying. And again, totally generalizing.) One of my favorite parts of the fair was seeing the walls on the illustrators’ posting room starting to fill up with tearsheets and samples and business cards on the first day of the fair; then coming back the second day to see that every inch of wall and some of the floor had been covered.Â Eveyone loves to talk about these fairs and expos just in terms of how the book business is doing and about how many companies showed up this year, and all that, but one look at that illustrators posting room makes you remember that no matter what happens, the art keeps coming; it can fill up all the space if you let it.
The photo at the top of this entry is from the wonderfully dystopian BolognaFiere complex where the fair was held.Â I loved this place. I sort of wish it had been in Florence because then I could have just gone there and looked at to cure my Stendhal Syndrome after spending all of Thursday morning staring at Renaissance cathedrals. The latter part of the week was in Florence, where I stayed at this Hotel Orchidea place where my cousin used to work (and you have to read this page about the history of the place, about how it’s in a tower where Dante’s wife lived, and how in the courtyard there’s a statue of a girl crying at the feet of a Sphinx while it gazes off and ignores her suffering! I’ve seen it and it really does just that!), and ate a lot of gelato, and little sandwiches, and fried olives. (Really, a surprising number of fried things, including some rice-and-meat balls that were delicious clods of cheesy, starchy joy, and if anyone knows what they’re called, please tell me.)
I’m glad I took so many photos. After the train from Florence back to Bologna and the two flights home, and a whole snowy weekend of napping and unpacking, I had to look everything up on Wikipediaâ€”all the basilicas and piazzas and palazzos and piazzales, all the saints and the sculptorsâ€”just so I could label my pictures on Flickr. But it was worth it to go back and carefully assemble it all again. After I’d hurtled there and back, it was good to catch up with it allâ€”with everything, and with myself, too.
Hi Wendy! I think those fried cheese balls are arancini. I could be wrong. But now I am totes excited to go to Florence.
The rice balls are called arancini, and they are indeed divine provenance.
Because I am a cultureless thug, arincini are my favorite bit of Italian “cuisine.” I have a theory that I could market them here in the US under a non-foreign-y name and make a mint. Because I think Americans have shown that they’re pretty open to eating fried starch/cheese things.
Speaking of cultureless thugs, I was in Rome some years ago and sitting at an outdoor cafe when this gaggle of 21-year-old girls touring Italy on their parents’ money plopped down at the table next to me and complained hilariously for quite a while. Best quote: “Florence is like whatever. There is nothing there.”
They are arancini, and they are a traditional Sicilian thing! And fried olives (olive ascolane) are from Abruzzo. There’s actually very little fried stuff in Tuscany’s traditional cuisine
I was raised on German children’s stories, which are the worst ones in my opinion, where women cut their toes off in order to secure a wealthy husband, or little girls get electrocuted for not combing their hair, or scads of children drown in a river of honey, and I’ve got to say…it’s not cool. It explains a lot about Germans though.
“..like a wealthy, awkward, gigantic Hello Kitty.” – so funny!
Your pictures are great – you all look so happy and relaxed, and Italy just so Italian. Have you read Ross King’s ace wee book, Brunelleschi’s Dome, about the building of the Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral? (I may be getting that spelling all sorts of wrong). I read it earlier this year, and it’s an excellent capsule guide to the Florentine renaissance.
Wendy – not only are the arincini (which you already knew from the comments) but you can buy them at Pasta Fresh on Harlem Ave. Pasta Fresh is located in the Plaza Italia mini-strip-mall – I think it’s around Irving Pk. or Addison. Pasta Fresh also sells divine ready made lasagna, stuffed artichokes, eggplant parmesan, and as the name might imply, fresh pasta of all shapes and sizes (and the sauces to top them with). It’s definitely worth a trip – just make sure to stop at Nottoli just south of Foster on the way there and pick up a bunch of the Italian lemon cookies and a have them make a sub for you. Great – now I’m so hungry I could die.
Holy cow, POPPY FTW!!!!
Fried sweet rice balls are popular in Tuscany around Easter time and are called fritelle di riso – not sure if I made you try any of those but they’re awesome. And there’s a traditional meat-and-veg fry-up called L’aia which is also quite popular in Tuscany and tends to involve bits of chicken or veal along with zucchini, artichokes and onions. So actually fried food does factor into Tuscan cuisine tho nowhere near as prominent as in the south. And the arancini are called suppli’ if they’re from Rome; those tend to be smaller and without meat, just mozzarella. Certain towns really get into the arancini in the south- when I was in Catania in Sicily for the feast of S. Agatha (the one who got her boobs cut off: nice) I had a prosciutto arancino, a tomato-and-anchovy arancino and my favorite: eggplant and bechamel arancino. While the olives (which you and I had in Bologna I think) originate in Ascoli they are widely available in Italy, sort of like the beer nuts of the aperitivo set, if you will. Mmmm- shall we go back next week, cuz?