Monday, October 16, 2006

Death by Chocolate, Holy Sunday

This weekend Chris and I went on a pilgrimage. It involved my getting up at 5 in the morning on Saturday, it involved crowds of the devout, it involved an evening banished from the city limits and it involved simple peaceful colours. No, we were not exiled from Italy (not that we could ever be exiled from a country of which we are not citizens). Instead we headed to the Chocolate festival in Perugia and stayed the night in Arezzo and repented for our decadent sins in sacred spaces before heading home.

Somehow I hadn’t foreseen the hoards of people that would also be at the chocolate festival with me and Chris. We succeeded with our rendez-vous at the Perugia train station and headed with the masses up to the city centre. There we were accosted by the thick scent of chocolate, a smell that tickles the nose and lurches your body into shock. The streets were lined with vendors selling every type of chocolate possible: chocolate liquor, thick hot chocolate, chili chocolate, grapefruit chocolate, pear chocolate, milk chocolate, dark chocolate… It went on forever. Crowds assembled at booths where there were free samples, ravenous hoards with arms outstretched for the taste. People were on the hunt for chocolate.

At one point Chris and I found ourselves in the National Gallery waiting to see the exhibit organized by Perugia-based chocolate company Perugina. They had organized an exhibit called Nero: il nero e sempre alla moda (Black: black is always in fashion). What it turned out to be was a design exhibit, showing different pop-culture objects that have the commonality of colour: Adidas soccer shoes, black coffee pot, motorcycle, etc etc. Unfortunately it was lost, the people just wanted the sample at the end, a thin orange-flavoured slice of dark chocolate. People just wanted the chocolate.

At a certain point we couldn’t take it, and wandered down a side street to see the beautiful views of Perugia, check out Rafael’s first fresco under the tutelage of Perugino, and just get a feel for the hilltop town that is Perugia. It might be really nice to wander the city without the masses, without the insanity. We plunged back in and tried out a sentence for a new advertisement for Perugina Baci, receiving a free Baci chocolate and a possible chance at national fame. We wandered some more and soaked it all up before hitting the road and escaping the streets full of chocolate vendors. It is a shame that there wasn’t more artistry involved, more creative process behind the chocolate, a quiet sidestreet dedicated to the wonders of chocolate and not to its commercial value. All that said, Chris and I left with our fair share of the dark and tasty gold.

Since we hadn’t planned in advance, we obviously couldn’t find a hotel in Perugia but instead went to Arezzo for the night. The hotel I had found, I had found online. Upon calling to ask for directions the woman on the other end let me know that the hotel was located 10 minutes outside of Arezzo by car and she would send her husband to pick us up in a macchina fuori strada grigia (a grey off-road vehicle). We were whisked away by a chatty Tuscan man to what must have been his home and his farm beyond Arezzo and the neighbouring town of La Pace.

We arrived in the dark and were tremendously thankful for the lift (we would have never made it, being destroyed by the Perugian festival). The man simply responded that he considered us figlioli (as dear as his own children). The man’s wife asked if we were hungry and knowing we wouldn’t make it back into town alone offered to make us a meal. We ate like kings: pasta, salad, chickpeas, bread, wine, and pie. The couple wanted to know all about us and where we were studying. The woman kept insisting that Florence was the best place to study art history and introduced us to her daughter who would be choosing a university for the next year. Although we felt as if we had entered the twilight zone, Chris and I were immensely thankful for the clean comfortable room. We woke up early to get a ride back into Arezzo after a breakfast of espresso and cappuccino made by yours truly, homemade marmelade and fruit.

Arezzo proved to be a quiet town full of beautiful churches. Being Sunday we tiptoed into a couple of masses, saw a cross by Cimabue, visited Giorgio Vasari’s egotistically self-frescoed home, and witnessed Piero della Francesca’s famous Legend of the True Cross. The early Renaissance painter managed to communicate a complicated story clearly using simple colours to flesh out weighty and present people. The hill-town was definitely a hidden treasure, surpassing anything my guidebook expressed, instilling a new peace of mind and a new appreciation for Italia.

So it’s back home in Ferrara for another week. Hopefully my literature class will begin tomorrow, I am hoping so dearly that tomorrow is the tomorrow I have been waiting for. If not I will plunge whole-heartedly into academia finally and try to devour the texts I need to read for my classes. I’ve decided to dedicate myself wholeheartedly to my studies during the week (with a pause to perhaps party on Wednesday) and wander Italy on weekends. After all, who knows when I’ll have the chance to return to Italy and know her so intimately again?

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