Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Almost Wordless Wednesday: Between Here And There

I took this shot during the Pelleginaggio Artusiano in the spring of 2011. The mirror is somewhere between Castrocaro Terme and Portico di Romagna (on the road from Forli to Florence), and I would never have noticed it if I hadn't been walking -- driving or otherwise riding is fine for vistas, but is much too fast for details like this, which was tucked away where only people emerging from the driveway across the street would normally see it.

Leonardo has organized another Pellegrinaggio this fall that I won't be doing. It'll be from Modena to Florence going through the quake-struck parts of Emilia, and though it does beckon the distances are more than I can cope with: 42 km, a marathon, one day, 39 the next, and so on. Also, wife Elisabetta, who has been dealing with health problems since April, is still not well. I will go -- hesitantly -- to food or wine events, but going to walk my feet off doesn't seem right.

Next, we're still working on how to set up the revised Cosa Bolle in Pentola, so no new recipes quite yet, though I do have an interesting Halloween idea. In the meantime, I have posted notes for Michele Chastellani's wines, pleasant Valpolicella wines in a rather modern key.

Finally, some sad news: Angelo Rocca, the man behind Rocca Albino, one of the more innovative (and critical) winemakers in Barbaresco, died this week when his ultralight crashed in the fog. I didn't know him well, but did like him, and will miss him.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

San Galgano: Of Swords and Stones

SAN GALGANO WAS BORN GALGANO GUIDOTTI IN 1148, son of Gaetano, the illiterate feudal lord of Chiusdino (a town south of Siena), and his lady, Dionisia. He grew up wild, and even the official accounts of his life say he was overbearing in his youth. This probably means he was a hot-headed and arrogant, quick to blows and quite willing to remind his peasants and burghers that he was boss, be it with their wives or daughters, or with their property. He was also quite personable with his peers, because he had many friends and a beautiful fiancée. In any case, one day Archangel Michael appeared to him, showed him the way to salvation, and even told him where he should go. Michael must have been very convincing, because the next morning Galgano announced he was becoming a hermit and took up residence in a cave.

His family was not pleased by this sudden turn of events. Friends and relatives shuttled back and forth before the mouth of the cave, ridiculing him, while Dionisia used every wile she could think of to convince him to renounce his vows and marry his beloved. She finally got him to don his noble robes and at least pay a last visit to her. Somewhere along the way, IT HAPPENED:

His horse reared and threw him. Stunned, he felt himself lifted to his feet while a seraphic voice guided him to Monte Siepi, a rugged hill under Chiusdino. The voice bade him stand still and look up; at the top of the hill there was a round temple with Jesus and Mary surrounded by the Apostles. The voice told him to climb the hill, and as he did the vision faded. When he reached the top the voice spoke again, inviting him to renounce worldly pleasures. Galgano objected that though giving up worldly pleasures sounded good, doing so would be as easy as using his sword to split rocks. To prove his point, he drew his weapon and thrust at a stone, fully expecting the blade to snap. It sank in to the hilt, and Galgano never left the hill again.

Contemporary accounts say that though he lived in poverty, he didn't renounce the world: Wild animals were frequent companions, as were the local farmers, who came to talk and ask his blessing. The good Galgano was doing in this little corner of the world soon irked Satan, who sent an evil man disguised as a monk; the wolves who lived with Galgano killed the would-be assassin and gnawed at his bones.

Just a year later, Galgano was gone, summoned home to the Heavenly Host. The funeral was a major happening, attended by bishops and three Cistercian abbots, including one who had gotten lost while trying to go to Rome. Or had he been led? The next year the Bishop of Volterra gave Monte Siepi to the Monks of the Cistercian Order, with the understanding that they would build a shrine to Galgano's memory. They began building in 1185, the year Galgano was canonized, erecting an oddly beautiful round temple, somehow reminiscent of the tomb of Cecilia Matella on the Appian Way outside Rome, with an unforgettable light-and-dark ringed ceiling, and an opening in the floor for the stone Galgano had thrust his sword into. His head, which continued to grow blond curls long after his death, was placed in one side chapel, and the gnawed bones of the arms of the evil man in another.

Chiusdino was a strategically important area, and Galgano proved a popular saint. The crush of visitors was such that the Cistercians were authorized to build another monastery named after the Saint a short distance away, in the valley below. Setting aside the Romanesque architecture of the round temple they built one of the most beautiful Gothic buildings in all of Italy, a masterpiece of Cistercian sobriety and functionality. The monastery rapidly became powerful, and, what's more important, respected: Monks from San Galgano were appointed to high offices throughout Tuscany, and one even became treasurer of Siena. Then the unthinkable happened. San Galgano was assigned to a succession of commendatarii, absentee abbots of noble lineage who viewed the property as something to be exploited. Exploit it they did, some more and some less, until Giovanni Andrea Vitelli removed and sold the leading from the roofs of both the round temple and the abbey in 1548. The temple survived, but the roof of the abbey collapsed. When a local noble stopped to visit a century later, he found grass in the nave, and just one monk, huddling in an outbuilding and dressed in rags so pitiful the noble was outraged. The Pope suppressed the abbey in the early 1700s and declared the round temple a parish church.

This would be just a curious legend, except for the fact that the Cistercians built to last. The round temple is still standing, and still has both the sword in the stone and the gnawed forearms (Galgano's head is now in Chiusdino). The walls of the abbey are also still standing, and it is hauntingly beautiful, a field of green with the walls reaching up to the sky, especially as dusk falls and a hint of mist rises from the valley floor.

Getting there:
San Galgano is in the Val di Merse, about 30 km southwest of Siena. To reach it from Siena, take State Highways 73 and 441, towards Massa Marittima (San Galgano is about half way between Siena and Massa Marittima). It's a very pretty drive, and the grass makes the abbey a perfect spot for picnicking. The round temple is, like most Italian churches, open in the morning. The abbey is open all the time, and during the summer months is also used for concerts and other events.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Almost Wordless... Thursday: Villa Adriana

Folks, I know this blog has been inactive for quite some time.

However, About.Com and I cam to a parting of ways this week -- it's a long story -- and since I am no longer writing about Italian food for them I intend to do so seriously here, and also about travel since this blog/newsletter has always covered Italian food, wine, and travel (wine will instead be on the Italian Wine Review).

I'm not sure if I will continue the forays into politics -- Italian politicians have scraped through the bottom of the barrel and are digging into the ground underneath -- though we shall see.

In the meantime, to start things off, a picture that is as usual not wordless, and I am sorry that it's a day late. I discovered my termination at About when I went to do the Almost Wordless Wednesday post yesterday and couldn't access the administrative pages.

Since Cosa Bolle has always discussed travel as well as food, I thought I'd start with a travel image, one I took many years ago at Villa Adriana, outside Rome.

Last thing: I will take me a while to get an archive/regular site structure going, but there will be one. In the meantime, check out the latest things on the Cosa Bolle Facebook page!