Saturday, May 29, 2010

Report on Tolfa, Round 2

(Last year's post is here.)

It was cold the whole time, except for maybe 2 days when it was pleasant during the day. The heat wasn't on in my room for all but 3 days, but with 3 blankets it was OK. It rained almost every day and was always windy. The cook said the weather was abnormal for May. I got more eggs for dinner than cheese this year, which was an improvement, however we had cheese (and bread and tomatoes) almost every day for lunch. We were more prepared for the lack of things to do this year, since we all brought our computers to do school work. So we had lots of movies to choose from in the evenings, as opposed to last year when only one person had a computer and we had only 2 movies. Even with internet keys that work through cell phone lines, however, there was little or no internet connection. I also brought motion-sickness medicine this year for the 30-40 minutes of twisty road between Civitavecchia and Tolfa, which the bus drivers like to traverse as fast as possible. The showers consistently alternated between scalding and cool water. Also this year we were there for 3 weeks, instead of 2 like last year.

On the plus side, the work wasn't bad. I did 3 objects: a Roman-era cooking pot, a bucchero Etruscan pitcher, and a marble piece from a Roman sarcophagus, and I got to use a micro-abrasive sandblaster. Also, we saw the donkeys again, and there were 5 or 6 this year, up from 3 last year. There weren't any geckos, lizards, or lightning bugs this year, though, but there was a lot of wisteria on a wooden structure outside the hostel (old monastery) for a week or two, which was pretty. And I got to eat at the Subway in Civitavecchia again.

Two other groups stayed at the hostel while we were there: a group of archaeology students from Sicily who were only there for a weekend and a group of Norwegian high school students who were very loud and were there for several days.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Polbo á feira

Here's a recipe of a specialty of Galicia, that I tasted while I was there. It's pretty fast and easy to make, as long as you're not squeamish about preparing and eating octopus. I used frozen octopus, which makes it easy to keep and apparently tenderizes meat somewhat.

  • 1 large octopus (figure about 500 g/1 lb. per person for a main course)
  • coarse sea salt
  • paprika/pimentón
  • olive oil
  • potatoes

In a large pot, place enough water to cover the octopus completely, and bring to a boil. Wash the thoroughly under running water, paying special attention to the suckers on the tentacles. With a pair of scissors or a knife, remove the beak, located at the center of the tentacles.
Holding the octopus by the head, dip the tentacles three times into the boiling water, allowing it to come back to the boil between dips. This curls the fine ends and makes them more attractive once cooked. Now place head down in the water and simmer until you feel no resistence to piercing. A rule of thumb is to cook for about 20 minutes, then leave it in the water for another 20 minutes while it cools down slightly. At the same time, peel and roughly cut up some potatoes and add to the boiling water.
When everything is cooked through, remove the octopus and cut each tentacle up into slices with scissors or a knife. You might want to discard the head, but if not, cut this up, too. Spread the pieces evenly on a - preferably wooden - platter, distribute the potatoes, and sprinkle with the salt. Holding a teaspoon full of paprika or pimentón in one hand, tap it lightly with the other over the platter to colour it evenly. Finish off with a generous trickle of olive oil, give a fork to each person and dip in!

(based on Jamie Oliver's recipe)

Some Signs

"I know those words, but that sign makes no sense."

It says, "This store will remain closed the whole month of May." No comment.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Kristen is doing a "stage" again with her school in the region of Lazio, south of Tuscany, so this weekend I rented a car and went to visit her. Unfortunately, the weather wasn't very good (it rained most of Saturday and some of Sunday), but we nevertheless had a good time. Saturday, we went to Tarquinia, where we first visited the Etruscan necropolis. In contrast to the one we visited near Sovana, this one is famous for its painted underground tombs. While most were simply decorated or had feast or hunting scenes, some others had ... ahem ... expressions of different standards, shall we say.
Afterward, we went into the town, where a medieval festival was supposed to be taking place. The expected equestrian events and battle didn't take place though -- I'm guessing due to the weather. So we headed towards Viterbo and picked out an agriturismo in which to spend the night. For dinner, we went to nearby Tuscania, a pleasant little medieval town. We ate at the ristorante "Kyathos", where we had a good dinner, and probably the best value meal we've had in Italy (25 Euros for two people, multiple courses, wine and cover).
The next day, we went to visit Viterbo, which was also pleasant enough. The highlights were the frescoes in the town hall, as well as the well-preserved medieval quarter. We only saw the papal palace from the outside, where several popes were elected. We then went to the hot springs, again opting for the free variant at Bullicame. Here we bathed in the waters that Dante had already described in the Divine Comedy.
Tacendo divenimmo là 've spiccia
fuor de la selva un picciol fiumicello,
lo cui rossore ancor mi raccapriccia.
Quale del Bulicame esce ruscello
che parton poi tra lor le peccatrici,
tal per la rena giù sen giva quello.

Speaking no word, we came to where there gushes
Forth from the wood a little rivulet,
Whose redness makes my hair still stand on end.
As from the Bulicame springs the brooklet,
The sinful women later share among them,
So downward through the sand it went its way.
Not many people were around, and we almost had the springs to ourselves. Finally, after a decent lunch, I dropped Kristen off again in Tolfa, and drove back to Florence.


Last week, I had an encounter with another Italian stereotype: break-ins. When I came home Friday, the neighbors were outside and told me (in Italian, so I understood maybe 80%) that there had been thieves and that their door was blocked and ours broken. I went upstairs and indeed the outside door was open, though the inside door was intact. Our other neighbors (with whom we share the outside door) came out and told me that they had found the lock on the first door tampered with, but were able to somehow open it. The lock was broken, though. Our other neighbors (the ones I had met downstairs) were not so lucky and were not able to open their door anymore, so they called the fire department, who came and climbed over our balcony to theirs to break the balcony door and then let them in their apartment. Since I was gone Saturday and Sunday (see an upcoming post about that), my neighbors offered to buy a new lock and install it, and I got the new key when I came back Sunday.
I'm happy that the crooks were apparently incompetent enough not to make it even through the first door. However, this wasn't my first encounter with theft in Italy: last summer, some DVDs were stolen out of a package that I got from Amazon. Amazingly, they were anonymously returned after I posted a note about it in the building lobby (which meant the thief lives in the same building). Since then I have packages sent to my work address.