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SPQ Orna, or, The Million Madonna March

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Ciao Ann,
I’ve been away. In a merely physical sense, I was off on a Jubilee Year Junket to Rome and Florence. But actually I was a stranger in a land much stranger than Italy could ever be. I was in Orna Land. (Longtime readers may recall my friend Orna, who was depicted in scrupulously fair and accurate fashion in this report.
In Orna Land, the following are not allowed, and may be considered danger signs of decaffeination:
Sitting (except in the pew of a church that has a Caravaggio).
Refusing to enter any church, palace, museum or coffee bar.
Pretending not to understand Italian (everyone understands Italian).
Not saying, “Yes! That is amazing!” when asked, “Isn’t that AMAZING?!!”
Asking for a break.
Taking a break without authorization.
Asking to go home. (There’s no crying in Orna Land!)
Going to bed before 2 a.m. local time.
In Orna Land, the following are mandatory:
Drinking coffee.
Talking to strangers.
Speaking Italian. (“Doo-ay caffay macchiati con doo-ay beeky-airy de aqua, per favoray!”) (Other useful phrases: “What? No raw sugar? We’re leaving!”)
Stopping in every profumeria and erboristeria, smelling at least 10 concoctions, and making a good-faith effort to decide which one smells best on Orna.
Daily gelato therapy.
In other words, I had a fabulous time. Orna has been to Rome and Florence many times, and has lived in both cities, which is why I begged to tag along with her on this trip. She was, to use an Orna-ism, an AMAZING guide. The girl can hone in on the fried artichoke di tutti fried artichokes in the Jewish ghetto with laser-like accuracy. With Orna, you get only the most tipico, classico of all delicacies. The greatest of which, in Orna Land, is coffee.
Although I just returned, it’s all a blur. To identify my photos I have had to get out all my admission stubs, my picture postcards, and my Lonely Planet Rome City Guide, to try to remember where the heck I was. So please indulge me in a random photo show, and if I misidentify some masterpiece or piazza, chime right in with your corrections. I feel a little like Odysseus. He was probably glad to sit down and get back on his laptop, too.
Rise and Shine and Andiamo, Already
In Rome, we were staying near the Campo de’ Fiori. Our top priority each “morning” (in Orna Land, the period between 11:45 a.m. and noon) was to go to the coffee bar that was a 1-minute walk away, so that we would have the strength to make it to the coffee bar that was a 2-minute walk.
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The 1-minute coffee bar was Sant’ Eustachio.
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In Rome, one must get used to walking on old works of art, such as this mosaic on the floor of Sant’ Eustachio. There are just too dang many works of art; some of them have to get walked on.
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The 2-minute coffee bar was Tazza d’Oro. My all-time fave.
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Tazza d’Oro’s speciality is its coffee granita with obligatory whipped cream. The granita is so sweet that it curls your teeth, and the coffee is strong enough to knock you down. The whipped cream is not sweetened, which is the secret of the whole recipe, I think. In the dozen or more times that we stopped in Tazza d’Oro, I saw everybody from Japanese tourists to elderly locals sighing in bliss upon receiving their granita di caffe.
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The best part of waking up. (Note: In Orna Land, there is no sitting involved in drinking coffee.)
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We spent a lot of time in Trastevere. (Mainly in churches, of course.)
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We had the Corsini palace and its masterpieces to ourselves. No guards, no nothing. Just a guy to sell you a ticket at the door. Of course, they have a Caravaggio. Doesn’t everybody?
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Here and there, we saw doors hung with these little pink rosettes. We speculated that the family inside had a new baby girl, but we never saw any blue ones so we weren’t sure. Romans, please advise.
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Neither of us was brave enough to snap a photo of the napping driver of this parked flower truck.
The Museum of Awesome Ideas for Knitting and Quilting
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We spent two afternoons in the Villa Borghese gardens (so many benches, so little sitting), including the Villa Giulia’s Etruscan antiquities museum and Rome’s museum of modern art. (The painting in the photo is Poetry Reading Tour by Gastone Novelli, 1961).
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A highlight was passing by Fellini’s house with its affectionate plaque.
Call Me Miss Honeychurch
I knew that Orna knew Florence well, but I was not prepared for people running up to her, shouting, hugging her, and standing in the middle of the street catching up with her for half an hour. Quite startling at first, but I got used to it, especially when approaching the coffee establishments.
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Firenze is known for its bluegrass music in the streets. (Not really.) You will be proud of me, Ann. I did not sing along, or even call out a request for “I’ll Fly Away”.
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Every palazzo should have a Buddha (he’s so lucky to be sitting) and a chandelier made out of a couple thousand compact fluorescent bulbs. I think this is at the Palazzo Strozzi. The palazzi fairly whizz by in Orna Land.
Eatin’ Buon in the Neighborhood
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Da Mario is a local lunch spot. You are seated at large tables with other customers (many of whom know Orna, needless to say). You are told what they have to eat that day, and you pick something, and it is very good.
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Il Latini. Do not under any circumstances miss this restaurant if you are in Florence. To be avoided by persons sensitive to the sight of many, many prosciutti hanging from the ceiling. Every bite is the best you’ve ever eaten of whatever it is.
Look Ann! Scribble Lace!
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Just something decorating a shop window, but every time I passed it I wanted to log cabin the thing.
I Saw Something Nasty in the Arno
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While taking our obligatory Ponte Vecchio pix, we were mesmerized by the giant fish and baby ducks we could see in the shallows. Until we saw a rat the size of a pig try to eat one. It had a long hairy tail and icky gray and black fur floating in the current. It was a rat I tell you! A giant rat! It about put me off my daily gelato! We kept asking people about the giant Arno rats and finally somebody suggested it was a nutria. Ick. Ick. Ick. Moving ON.
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We had some lovely hanging-out moments with Orna’s pals. (Note standing position.)
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Despite the rigors of Orna Land and the Giant Arno Rat, I would do it again very happily, and hope I get the chance to.
Love,
Kay
PS The Madonnas! I almost forgot the Madonnas! Here’s a sampling of the streetcorner Madonnas I managed to snap along the way. I grew to love seeing one as I passed, and I’m sure that for the locals they are beloved landmarks.
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(This one was not on a streetcorner, but in the master bedroom of the Palazzo Davanzati, right where a TV might be today. It’s my favorite.)

69 Comments

69 Comments

  1. Sono gelosa.

  2. W-O-W.
    Welcome back!

  3. Ciao bella. You jammy git! Looks like you and Orna had a FAB time. Must try and tag along next time you do this…. x x x

  4. I lived in northern Italy for six years… yes, the pink ribbon on the door is for the new baby girl!

  5. Odysseus! I am enchanted, envious, embarking for Italy in my mind…
    Welcome home, too.
    A

  6. Welcome home, Kay! Sounds like a most AMAZING trip.

  7. I am prostrate with jealousy, envy, and covetousness.
    But I am wondering at the lack of knitting content, particularly of socks being shown a good time. Hello, knitting blogger?

  8. Wow! I wish I was there, too…
    Orna is right, of course, about the daily gelato, but I tended toward the vino rather than the caffe.
    I’m betting there was vino, but it just wasn’t as picturesque as the caffe.
    Of course, with vino, one does tend to sit down, and maybe even have a wee nap from time to time…

  9. I’m going to Rome in a few weeks, and I’d love any recommendations you have for where to shop for yarn!

  10. I too am prostrate with jealousy. I know I should write something like ‘thank you for the wonderful pics’- but I’m just plain jealous and hungry and under-caffeinated!

  11. We have nutria in Oregon. The first time I saw one in person, I thought I had accidentally walked into a showing of “The Princess Bride”. Rodents Of Unusual Size, indeed!

  12. Wow! That sounds like an amazing trip. I keep telling myself that someday I’ll get out of the country (for something longer than a short trip to Toronto). Until then, I will live vicariously through all of photos!

  13. Great trip! Thanks for sharing all the pictures. I’m particularly delighted by the use of “log cabin” as a verb – fantastic.

  14. Kay – thank you for the wonderful pictures! I think I have pix of a couple of the same Madonnas. The church in Trastevere, if I remember, is Santa Cecilia. She was trapped in a sauna for several dies and did not die – I imagine she emerged with the most FABULOUS skin evah!
    The Arno beasties aren’t nutria – an Italian acquaintance told me that they’re some kind of South American something. Ugly, aren’t they?

  15. I think it was an andrei codrescu (?) piece on npr in which he described wolf spiders as having the ability to grow to the size of small nutria. note to self: when discussing something overly large and freaky, always use larger freakier something for contrast.

  16. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU!

  17. Wow, what a cool trip! Thanks for sharing all the pics! I especially love the “Poetry Reading Tour” (it totally reminds me of the album cover for Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief”), and now both of them are feeling like they might inspire something creative in me, so thanks for the inspiration!

  18. I’ve been to Il Latini! So has Rachel Ray!

  19. Ick. A hairy tailed Rat? Rats don’t have hairy tails so something that looks like one, with that hairy, will be even grosser…especially all wet eating _things_. Ick.
    Oh, and I think I have the same sandals as you! I just got them…..

  20. Oh! I lived in Rome for a semester in college…and we’re going back to Rome and Florence this October! So I enjoyed a nice review/preview of Italy. I studied all those icons for ever so long and I still don’t know how you keep all those photos straight. After a few hundred churches, they all start looking alike to me.

  21. I Saw Something Nasty in the Arno
    Hee! Awesome. (The obligatory response being, “Yes, but did it see you?”)

  22. Please please tell me you had some Ribolitta in Firenze in the restaurant with the flood lines form the great flood? Please?
    Florence – the most delightful small large town in the world.

  23. That sounds exactly like my December trip to Italy with my 2 kids, no sitting, enter every church, museum, etc you can find (just in case you never return but this was our 2nd trip and DD spent the semester in Rome)and lots of walking everywhere. Sort of a good thing because even with the daily doses of gelato no weight gain!

  24. That sounds exactly like my December trip to Italy with my 2 kids, no sitting, enter every church, museum, etc you can find (just in case you never return but this was our 2nd trip and DD spent the semester in Rome)and lots of walking everywhere. Sort of a good thing because even with the daily doses of gelato no weight gain!

  25. Wonderful trip; wonderful pictures. Thanks for sharing! Did you knit while walking, or *gasp* not knit at all?

  26. to be jaded by beauty is a wonderful thing….trastevere …best kept secret..envy envy envy

  27. ok, more disturbing than the nutria? the fact that the wikipedia site says they are raised to harvest their FUR. WOULD YOU WEAR THAT???!! EW! P.S.-Now I want to visit Italy!

  28. Oh, Kay, the master bedroom of the Palazzo Davanzati! The Most Beautiful Bed In The World, no? I dream about that room….
    Glad you had a fab jubilee junket. (But did you get a tiara? I did. Ann was there.)

  29. Nutria does sound a lot healthier than rat, you gotta admit. Like, more protein or something. I think it’s just a rebranded rat.
    I really like the storefronts that are stuck into really old buildings. That’s just a very cool thing that you don’t see so much.
    And as long as we’re all plugging faves, the San Marco convent in Florence is my most favoritest place: each monk got his own Fra Angelico fresco in his little cell. Sigh.
    Glad you’re back. I meant to tell you that I had a little Fair Isle breakdown while you were gone. I’m getting better, but not really.
    And it’s true: Mary Neal got a tiara for her big birthday. She was really and truly Queen for a Day.

  30. Wow. Just…wow.
    (and SERIOUSLY WITH THE SCRIBBLE LACE?)

  31. Wow, I want a trip in Orna land!!! It sounds absolutely FABULOUS!!!
    Although I will agree you look a bit tired in the last photo (so I probably wouldn’t have had a chance).
    By the way, despite embarassing mistaking you and Ann, I was really happy to meet you in Knitty City. And I promise that I have now firmly sorted you two from each other.
    Karen

  32. What a trip. I love your photos.
    tp

  33. Oh you made me miss my beloved Italy. I have had the fortune to live there 2 different times.. 4 years total. I was in northern Italy for 3 years and half way between Rome and Naples (right on the ocean baby) for 1 year.
    I do not have a drop of Italian blood in me… but, I felt so ‘at home there’… and kept hoping that one of the older Italian ladies all dressed in black… would want to adopt an American so I could at least “PRETEND” that I was Italian.
    Yes, the ribbons are to announce the birth of boys or girls in the household.
    I don’t drink coffee at all… and all of the coffee talk reminded me of the many, many comments that I’d get when I said that I didn’t want coffee… “Are you sure madam? It is just the thing for you.” me.. “No, I actually don’t drink coffee.”
    EVERYONE would respond in SHOCK… “YOU DO NOT DRINK COFFEE?” No matter where I was… I got the shocked response (if they spoke English) and if they didn’t… I got my fair share of arched eyebrows.
    Before I left, I was sure that the customs form that I had signed when I entered the country stated in Italian: “I, ______ promise to drink coffee daily and purchase a leather purse or coat before I depart Italy.”
    I’m so glad that you enjoyed you visit to my favorite country (other than America, of course)… I used to take photos of all the different bell towers that stand apart from the churches in northern Italy… (most are attached in southern Italy) and I also took my fair share of Madonna photos too.

  34. Ooooh, lucky you! I love Italy. Florence is completely, gloriously overwhelming. Actually I think all of Italy is overwhelming. And the coffee and gelato – sigh….(sniff, sniff) Glad you had such a wonderful time.

  35. Aaaaaiiiiiieeeee! Wowza. I cannot stop myself from telling you the story I was recently reading in David Kirby, who was a professor for occasional semesters in Italy. Two American University students:
    “Why are all the babies boy babies?”
    “It’s JESUS!”
    “Oh. I’m Jewish, I don’t know anything about that stuff.”
    “I’m Jewish, too, but I’ve heard of JESUS.”

  36. When we were in Florence, we passed a madonna on the way to the best ever gelateria which we visited EVERY DAY. We fondly referred to her as Santa Maria Gelateria. Musical, no? No blasphemy intended, but like the mosaic on the floor, this lovely fresco was partially obscured by the gelateria sign. Only in Florence.

  37. Italia a Orna sounds like the only way…masses of exquiste caffine and gelato…sign me up! Thanks for the wonderful snaps, especially the flower truck, it’s a rolling riot of color.

  38. It seems Italy was the place to be. Scout (Scout’s Swag) just got back. And my SIL & BIL were there May 1-10. When is it my turn?

  39. Oh, I am so jealous! I lived in Florence for a year (many years ago). Our neighbors went to Lucca yesterday, and their trip has made me start dreaming of a trip back. sigh.

  40. you are too funny. love the pics.

  41. Oh. Wow! You look blissful! (and longing for a seat…)
    (((hugs)))

  42. Believe me when I say I could write this in Italiano. When we hung out in Tuscany for two weeks in 1999, the Madonna on the corner of the village school had a neon halo! Gad, I can’t stand that it’s been nine years. Must. Get. Back!

  43. Jealous. That is all I have to say about that.

  44. Thank you SO much for sharing these lovely pictures! Armchair traveling is about it for me right now and this was lovely. I’m glad you had such a good time and I hope you are seated while reading this!

  45. Wow, beautiful, and nice touch ending with the Madonna pics. I need one of those!

  46. Wonderful travel pics and descriptions! As another armchair traveler – thanks so much!
    But sorry – I think nutria are herbivores – so whatever was trying to consume other critters in the Arno must have been something else. Yipes!

  47. Nutria, River Rat. All the same, got them here in Turners Falls on the canal…blech, ick.
    I keep scrolling thru your pictures. Your trip is my idea of “seeing Italy”. No commercial tours for me. No yarn shops near the coffee shops?

  48. We were just there in March. Did you go to the yarn shop just on the other side of the Ponte Vechico? It is run by a very sweet lady. I had my picture taken with her and everything! Did you climb to the top of the Duomo? That is a killa!

  49. We are off to Florence and Rome in September…. loved the photos and the chat, makes me want to get there quicker! Love your blog too.

  50. ah….Italy…my number one place to go hopefully someday-if our money is ever worth anything again! Where is the knitting???? no yarn shops???? seriously I enjoyed all your fabulous pics and the commentary. I could definitely get into the coffee, and the gelato and the vino…..?

  51. Did you make it to the yarn store on the Arno? My goodness, the yarn! I still have some of my cashmere from 6 years ago…

  52. Oh, I forgot to say that while my sister and I were at the yarn store, the owner and her husband closed shop and took us out for coffee. But we sat down.

  53. Thanks, Kay. I was combing your Firenze photos for my son, who is “studying” there at the moment. I only get the bills.
    That was lovely. I feel all caffeinated just thinking about it.

  54. Speaking about Odyessus, wasn’t it his wife Penelope who knit (or did she weave–or both) while waiting for him to return home? Perhaps she used yarn spun from nutria fur…
    Anyway, thanks for the great pix! My favorite being the whipped cream. Welcome back to Bloomberg Land, Kay, we missed you!
    LoveDiane

  55. What a fun vicarious trip to Italy! Thank you!

  56. Ai ai ai! My modem is broken for one week, and when I sneak onto a “work” computer to check the state of the Mason and the Dixon, I am transported to Italy! What a treat. And here I’ve been daydreaming about Portugal all day long. Thanks for the vicarious journey! I feel those cobbled, hilly streets beneath my boots even as I type, and feel the need to SIT!
    Obrigada, Kay!

  57. Great travel story! I’m reassured, because even though I don’t travel with an Orna, I always return from a trip exhausted and blurry around the edges. BTW, my dad once told me that nutria were becoming a problem back home in Fort Worth, and I thought he was making up an animal, like the jackalope. Nope, not a Texas tall-tale after all, although I had no idea they were so widely traveled!

  58. NO WAY!! I am in Italy right now, we have been to Rome and Florence in the past week and we are in Milan right now..I bet we were there at the same time; what if we had run into each other..weird!

  59. Did you find the knitting shop just off the Via del Corso on the way to the Campo dei Fiori from the Pantheon? I almost wept at the picture of the granita al caffe. That’s my old neighborhood, where my DH and I met and fell in love, and I learned to knit, 25 years ago this fall.

  60. So funny. So very funny.

  61. I’ve seen that Rat in Florence too. It’s huge. I wondered what it was, and now you’ve answered my questions. Thank you! Sorry I didn’t know you were in Rome …. I’m here on for a family crisis but I’ve had time to seek out the wool shops :-) Could have shown you one or two. But they don’t have seat either.

  62. No wonder you took Birkenstocks.
    Hope you are now sitting comfortably while you go cold turkey.

  63. No wonder you took Birkenstocks.
    Hope you are now sitting comfortably while you go cold turkey.

  64. No wonder you took Birkenstocks.
    Hope you are now sitting comfortably while you go cold turkey.

  65. No wonder you took Birkenstocks.
    Hope you are now sitting comfortably while you go cold turkey.

  66. No wonder you took Birkenstocks.
    Hope you are now sitting comfortably while you go cold turkey.

  67. All these fab pictures of the mother country and all I can say re: the one with your foot in it is: NICE pedi!! AND, aren’t those birkies comfy and chic?
    I want the coffee with the sugary base that makes your teeth curl. After all, I do have curly hair and curly teeth would only be appropriate.
    Gldd you had such a great jubilee treat!

  68. Oh, how I love Italy! And yes, I had my daily gelato fix as well.

  69. Sounds like you had a fabulous trip (apart from the not sitting). Really makes me want to skive off work for the afternoon and just fly away!