Saturday, June 17, 2006

Brown County Story

A perk of working for statewide organizations is the chance to travel. It's mostly within Indiana and mostly between small county seats, but I like that historical organizations and museums pepper these back roads and give me the excuse to explore.

Earlier this week, with two consecutive meetings in Southern Indiana, I decided to stick around that part of the state rather than climb all the way back to Indy just to turn around and return again.

Just about every cultural or nonprofit organization in the state is having their June meetings in Brown County. After my Monday meeting there, I can understand why: rolling hills, old shady trees, cool breezes, and secret attractions along the side roads. Meandering through those roads, I stumbled upon the Story Inn. Unfortunately it was closed on Monday, but I'll be back to try this restaurant and inn that features local produce in a modern twist on back roads style.

Further down the road and higher up in the hills, I found the Twin Oaks Lodge. They had an empty room, a long porch of rockers, and not even the whisper of traffic. "There's no tv or telephone, but breakfast is hot and served at 8:30," the host told me. "Perfect, I'll take it," I smiled.

On my dad's family's summer trips to the Adirondacks, my Taid used to say that he'd sit himself down in a rocking chair the first day and maybe start to rock a bit by about the third day. Eager to enjoy this family tradition, I grabbed the bread, cheese, strawberries, and wine from the grocery in town and plopped myself down in a rocker with a long view of the woods and the sun behind the hills. It didn't take three days for me to start rocking, but between dying my fingers strawberry-juice red and at least a couple cat naps, I think Taid would have approved.

Breakfast was served hot at 8:30 and I never heard a phone ring, just as promised. Too soon I had to be on the road again, headed toward the next meeting and then back to the city. It was a sweet break and a lovely little separation; I won't let too much time pass before another Brown County story.



Fabriano's city center

The first Sunday in June had originally been set aside for a caving excursion with the Alpinismo Giovanile kids from CAI: Macerata, the local mountain club. This was something that Antonello had been planning for months--that first Sunday in June and a trip to the Cinque Laghi cave near Urbino. It was at the last minute when we found out that, in fact, the event had been postponed: only one kid had signed up to go, so we decided we'd go the weekend after (which we did). In the meantime, Antonello and I were left with a free Sunday on our hands: a rarity these days. We immediately made up our minds: the Gentile da Fabriano exhibit in the city of Fabriano was a perfect day trip. The next morning, we got up relatively early, got ready, and headed out.

This Gentile da Fabriano exhibit was supposed to be quite a big deal. Its opening day was inaugurated by the president of Italy, and people were supposedly coming from miles around to see the exhibit dedicated to local favorite son Gentile. With good reason: Gentile, in his day, was considered the most important, most famous painter in all of Italy, and his international gothic style is filled with gold embellishments and fancy brushstroke. While I was only familiar with some of his more famous works (namely The Adoration of the Magi found in Florence's Uffizi Gallery), I was interested in finding out what all of the fuss was about.

Antonello and I had never really been to Fabriano before. We had passed through several times, and Antonello had even attended an evening play at the Fabriano theatre years back, but it had never been on our list of places to visit. Fabriano is a main train hub in these parts, connecting Macerata to Ancona and Rome, and I remember many times leafing through postcards at the station while waiting for a train, always finding the same photo of the same stark, empty piazza that, surely, wasn't worth the long walk into town to see.

A sideways view of the main square

So, this early June day, Antonello and I were blessed two-fold with both the city and the exhibit happily surprising us. Fabriano's one "stark empty piazza" ended up being a medieval dream with an elaborate fountain in the center surrounded by charming and elegant palaces of pink stone, as full of life and sunshine as could be (no more judging cities by their postcards for me...). We stopped there for a moment to marvel at the city center and then headed a little way uphill to find the exhibit, neatly housed in a rennovated medieval hospital. Undaunted by the steep ticket price, we got our audio guides, glanced in the gift shop, and began our tour.

I walked away from that exhibit with a real sense of who this great artist was--definitely worth the ticket price. Gentile da Fabriano was an intricate craftsman and an expert painter, using goldsmith techniques to perfect his work, adding detail after detail until the paintings seemed about to brim over with light. I had never looked so closely at his works before. Having them here in front of me--so many of them, side by side--was like paging through someone's family album, each image giving away hints and clues about Gentile's own life. There were paintings that I recognized but many that I didn't. Antonello and I went through the five rooms of his life's work and studied the different pieces, fascinated by his attention to the the most minute details: soft petals on flowers, saints dressed in elaborate gowns, renaissance arches paying tribute to Brunelleschi's Florence situated right beside Venetian-style windows, showing Gentile's love for La Serenissima, where he lived for many years.

As we stepped through the last door, looked at the last painting, our eyes adjusting to the light, I sighed. I felt like I had just seen a whole, intense, lifetime of artwork pass before my eyes, like taking in all of those years at once, one full collection of deeply-loved, carefully decided work. As we left, happy to have seen so much beauty in one afternoon, I bought some postcards. Some were postcards of Gentile da Fabriano's work scaled down to nice, neat, framable sizes. The other postcards, however, were 30 cent snapshots, the best I could find of Fabriano--still looking stark and empty, a fountain and piazza caught in space.

Luckily, this time I knew to look a little further.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006


From this weekend: a young spelunker gets help adjusting his helmet

These past two weeks have meant little blogging, but it isn't for lack of things to say: we've actually been quite busy over here in Macerata. Obviously that means I have a lot of blog catching up to do, and I hope to get some more detailed posts online soon (accompanied by pictures!) about our recent adventures. We've had quite a few of them: from a visit to the nearby city of Fabriano to see the Gentile da Fabriano exhibit (and, in the meantime, discovering the charming little city center as well), to my visit to Emilia Romagna where my friends Cyndi and Danilo live, to this past weekend and a full Sunday of caving in Le Marche mountains.

In the meantime, though, work has finally begun to settle down as the middle school closed for the summer, and I have more time on my hands during the weekdays. It has been a blessing and a curse: I long to sleep in, but too many days of waking up at 10 make the days go by too quickly, and I'm left getting nothing done. Also, summer means, for Antonello, a new take on lunchtime cuisine ("no pasta!" he tells me. "It's too heavy." What?!?), so I'm slowly trying to re-invent our lunch menu. Any recipe ideas for a vegetarian with a non-pasta-eating husband?

As a result of all of this lunchtime reorganization, on Saturday we went to one of my favorite supermarkets: Lidl. Not an Italian name, as you might guess--Lidl is actually a German chain, and a very low cost one too. As I've lived here longer, my interests have gone from day tripping to various cultural wonders and charming towns to daytripping to new grocery stores, as it seems each grocery store here in Italy differs drastically from the next. I remember spending a whole afternoon journeying from grocery store to grocery store in search of flour tortillas, a trip that took us as far as Civitanova to their one and only Coop market. Who cares about their beachside attractions and crumbling hill town nearby: I want my Mexican food!

So, Lidl was one of the highlights of our weekend as we came across things we hadn't guessed we'd ever find here in Italy: namely jalapeno peppers! Jars of them lined the mexican food corner, and I grabbed them, and as many tortilla chips, as I could. We also found strange new fish items for Antonello to try (has anyone ever heard of Brathering Filets in feinwurziger Marinade?), japanese rice cracker snacks, and tasty muesli energy bars to take on our caving excursions. So, as we discover more and more little grocery stores and supermarket chains, the food items that I'm missing from the states show up, one by one. Today it's jalapeno peppers and japanese rice crackers--tomorrow, maybe it will be cheddar? Ah, one can dream!

More blogging soon!


update: I just discovered that Brathering is actually herring!