LA SERENISSIMA – October 15th

We are back on line at the Van Gogh exhibition, intent on following the audio guide this time. The real benefit of the guide is that it slows me down and I rest on each selection. Some of the explanations add to the enjoyment, some are just stem-winders, but seeing this a second time adds immeasurably to the thrill of being in Vincent’s company. Some of the paintings are now imprinted, though perhaps temporarily, in my old memory bank.

Palladio’s Teatro Olympico is not far. It is the oldest extant indoor theater in Europe, planned by him and completed after his death. The first performance took place in 1585. The Globe Theater in London was built in 1599. The onstage scenery, designed by another, depicts a full-height Roman-style screen of statuary, columns, and niches of painted wood and stucco, with three open arches that give the appearance of long streets receding into the distance. We sit in the amphitheater of wooden tiers and gape at the stage. I can imagine Medea killing her kids right here.

This is followed by the aimless search for fucking lunch. When your dogs are barking and the breakfast croissant and coffee are but fumes, what better time to try to make a well-considered decision where to sit and have a midday meal. Meandering is hopeless, then I spot a spot that looked attractive yesterday and still does. Osteria Monelli. It’s dimly lit. They miraculously have a table (this is Sunday after-church / brunch hour). The food is slow to arrive, but my gnocchi in squash purée and Joss’ piece of perfect tuna would set the tone for the rest of the day.

But. A stop back at Campo Marzio reveals that housekeeping has staged a fragrance assault on Joss’ room. She demands and gets new bed linen, but the ever-expiring insect on her windowsill remains extant. We rest the puppies.

In the late afternoon, we take the car and drive to Palladio’s most iconic building, Villa Rotonda. This is his most copied, adapted, and historically important work. Basically, it’s a four-story domed cube with pedimented porticos and grand staircases off each of the four sides. The perfect symmetry and luminous golden stone in the slanting sunlight create an ambience of classic serenity. The interior is closed to us, but wandering the grounds is eminently satisfying. An adaptation of Don Giovanni was filmed there in the late ‘70s.

Several hundred meters from La Rotonda lies Villa Valmarana ai Nani. The three buildings that comprise this ‘villa’ were lavishly frescoed in the 17the century by Giandomenico Tiepolo and his son, Giambattista. The motifs range from rustics at play to exotic Asian tableaux to mythological dramas. Hundreds of putti. The Valmarana family still owns the complex as evidenced by the hoard of family snapshots. FYI: the ‘Nani’ are sculpted dwarves. A cockamamie ‘legend’ involving an ugly princess ignorant of her looks recounts the petrifying of her dwarvish retinue. Walking back to the car, I am struck by the autumn colors of the trees and vines, having completely internalized the morning’s Vincent exhibit.

Once again, we take our chances finding a place to eat. I’ve written down a couple choices on a scrap of paper. Our first try nets us a table. Fuori Modena is its name. I can’t remember what our main courses were, but for an appetizer Joss ordered Culatello di Zibello, a thinly-sliced, aged pork of exquisite flavor. It has an apple scent and melts in your mouth. I’ve never tasted anything like it. It’s not available in the US.

It’s such a perfect day. I’m glad I spent it with you.

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