8.08am, Thursday 17th November, Viale Italia, La Spezia, Liguria, Italia
Morning folks – the weather fairies are working overtime for me, and yet another clear sky day, even though the temperature has droped to around 9 or 10 degrees C. Yesterday we went “over the border” from Liguria into the next province of Tuscany. Why? Because about 30 km (14 miles) up into the hills is a town called Carrara that’s famous all over the world for what they chisel out of the mountainside in big chunks – marble or “marmi”. The open cut “mines” are called Cave di Marmi, and the river that runs down through Carrara has a bone china white bed of fine marble dust, accumulated after hundreds of years of marble cutting and shaping. Not surprising that the whole town is built of marble – all colours and styles – and literally littered with marble carvings and statues.
So today’s Italian sentence is “viaggio nella capitale del marmo Carrara” or “visiting Carrara – marble central!” I wish I could get a video onto the blog of my first experience of driving into an area prohibited for non-residents! I accidently ended up in what is loosely referred to as a street, but is really a “slot” in between buildings that you can bearely get a letter through, let alone a car! I got the “one way” sign – “sensa unico” – but not the non-residents bit. Until I got deeper into the dark centre of the town and realised my error. And then there’s only one option, because you can’t back up, so you have to forge forward and hope that the laneway closing down like you’re driving into a funnel – also opens up again!
But we made it through the maze, landed in a small car park for the local supermarket, and wandered from there into the bloodstream of tiny laneways that link up all the piazzas. Buried in a corner near the river we came across the largest church in town – the Duomo di San Andrea, and in its shadow amongst the fruit and vegetable stalls in the piazza – the famous marble man and his dolphins water sculpture – Fontana dell Gigante. So the whole thing was more than worth it, as we polished off more excellent coffee out of thimble-sized cups in the main Piazza Alberica – with one of the local ‘bomboloni’. Yep, we found the little doughnut holes filled with chocolate custard and dusted with fine sugar … and polished them off in the sunshine watching the piazza come to life for the lunchtime (mezzo journo) trade. Plus there was the the ever-present, very spirited discussion about the political situation currently going on over here in Italy.
Because the government has just changed hands, there’s major conversation happening on every street corner, in all the bars, cafes, pizzerias and public places – and it looks like confidence is taking a big turn for the better for now. Big tables of dock workers in the ristorante pizzeria near where we’re staying were even ignoring the soccer on the TV to discuss politics and what should happen for Italy and Europe in general down the track. It’s a really interesting time to be here as Prime Minister Mario Monti takes over from Silvio Berlusconi – his first address to the nation was last night – and I only wish I could keep up better with the language.
But for the record I made it out of Carrara without buying any marble columns for the house at home – and today is set for a tour around La Spezia and the medeival city of Sarzana just down the road. And I suspect that whilst we’re in Sarzana, we may very well wander into one of the most famous pasticcerias in the region – Gemmi – located in an old palazzo since 1934. Yep, that’s a definite planned stop on the tour!
See ya when it’s Friday, and we’re back to Pisa for the plane ride back to London.