This and that, my away message

July 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

I’m in the process of booking a whirl-wind of complicated flight-train combo trips, overnight stops in random hostels, and 12+ hour-long days of travel. As much, my last day in Barcelona is being spent in the hotel lobby, having already walked to a food market this morning (which was, of course, closed), walked to a donut shop (which was, of course, closing in ten minutes, but I just managed to squeeze in), and locked myself out of my hotel room. So while I pull together a real post on Barcelona, I thought I’d leave you with a couple of snippets of travels that have previously gone unmentioned.

After my research in Maroilles went sort of awry, ending in a rather fruitless trip, we switched from the dingy, grimy motel room in the equally gray Maubeuge, to a small agritourisme in the area. While the rooms were huge, including both bath and shower, and refreshingly decorated, the highlight for me was the cute breakfast setup — all white napkins, crusty bread, flakey croissants, and several types of jam, served in little white ceramic pots. The tiny butter-dish even had a top, with equally tiny handle!

Later on, at a more upscale agritourismo outside of Modena, where the pool dropped off into the vineyards and hours could be spent dining on the patio overlooking the hills and valleys of the northern Italian countryside, we enjoyed tortelloni stuffed with spinach and local ricotta, an interesting pasta made with breadcrumbs and drenched with parmesan fondu before being topped with assertive black truffled shavings, stuffed omelettes and eggy, baked flan, and to finish, multiple rifts on vanilla-cream gelato, eaten with spoons of the house basalmico and tiny cups of espresso.

So there you go, some of the more beautiful moments of a trip that has often involved trudging through cow stalls, taking pictures of baby black pigs, and waking up at 6 a.m. in order to observe the entire cheese-making process (and that’s still hours later than the cheesemaker wakes up!). Ciao until next time!

Modena and the surrounding countryside

June 22, 2012 § 3 Comments

After a pretty stark experience in the countryside of the département du nord of France — dreary, wet weather and everywhere shuttered windows and closed storefronts, restaurants utterly abandoned, with only the lonely bar where one could down a petit café in the company of young boys and aging men playing fussball —, I have arrived in Italy. The greetings, the smiles, the helpful advice, all a breath of fresh air. The woman standing by the side of the road selling cartons of cherries and apricots who didn’t buy my “just smile and nod” approach to communication, but was happy to chatter away to me in Italian anyway. The girls who looked up how to say shoemaker on google translate in order to answer my questions about shoe sizes in their shop. The numerous cheesemakers who opened their doors and answered incessant questions about milk temperatures and their childhoods. The family of vinegar makers who took turns giving the full tour of their facilities, all the way up to the attic, where the young children’s “dowries” of vinegar kegs are kept. Everywhere smiles, even though my most commonly used phrase is “ho non capito,” I don’t understand. Everywhere, an earnest wine recommendation, a singing praise of the local ricotta, served in tortelli that night. Never a grumpy look, except perhaps from the strange guy who invited me for a pizza while I was out shopping one morning.

The last few days have been filled with pizza, shoe shopping, and tours and interviews at local cheese, prosciutto and balsamico producers. Each one is a slightly different facility, each with its quirks, but all with quality products, clearly cared for by the passion of the workers, sometimes only 2 or 3 in number. We’ve twirled and twisted on old country roads, never going through a day without asking for directions; wandered through an all-night festival outside our hotel that we somehow never knew was taking place until we were walking right through it; suffered through the scorching heat, without a gelateria in sight. But now, sitting in a roadside motel room in Spilamberto, with its incredible, natural and organic gelateria within walking distance, prepping to take-on la notte bianca, we are slowly reaching the end of Modena. Just a few days left to go.

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