Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Food for body, soul and mind

One of the real joys of spending more than a few days in Florence is the luxury of changing your mind.

Today we were walking to the Accademia to see David when we stopped to pick up a few maps at the  Tourist Information Center.  While there, we found out we could get a pass tomorrow that gives entry to a host of museums. The price was right, but even better was the thought of going to a museum for just an hour or so, then coming back later.

So go to Plan B, which is look around and head to the nearest thing that interests you.

With our stomachs rumbling for lunch, what interested us was the San Lorenzo Central Market.

I love these markets. Every European and Asian city has them, but in the U.S. we have a precious handful -- Pikes Place in Seattle and Boston's Haymarket come to mind. Maybe our small town farmers markets, like Columbia's, will help us recall our roots. Maybe.

What I especially like about European markets is the eclectic fare and the eclectic shoppers you find.  These are permanent stalls, so ordinary folks stop by for incredibly fresh fruits, fish, meat, cheese, bread and almost anything else edible. Chefs have their favorite stalls. Then there are the tourists looking aghast at the skinned sheep's head or piles of octopus tentacles.

I was in a photographer's daze of bright colors, sculptured faces and perfect lighting -- but Cecile kept her head and pointed us to a fish stand that had five stools out front.  And fresh calamari on the menu.

We shared a €10 combo plate of little squid rings, chunks of fried white fish and two prawns that could be mistaken for lobsters. Washed down with a cold Birra Moretti (at least for me).

There is food, then there is that with no adequate name that makes your mind reel around your tastebuds. I reeled and would have been happy to sit there munching calamari until I exploded.

But there was a whole market to explore.  Fruit stands, butcher shops (featuring huge Florentine steaks), a wonderful pasta shop, and a bakery with fresh treats for our dessert. And with body sated, it was time to feed the mind.

Nearby was the Basilica of Santa Maria Novella, the oldest great basilica in Florence.  The crowds are sparse, admission is cheap, but the views are wonderful. The exterior is a bold geometric puzzle -- a theme that follows inside. The whole church is an eye-teaser. Inside, the columns get closer together as they approach the altar.  That makes the nave, viewed from the back, seem far longer than it really is.

It was also something of a test kitchen for  Renaissance artists trying to develop techniques to provide perspective. Masaccio, Giotto, Filippino Lippi, Ducchio di Buoninsegna, Ghirlandaio, Brunelleschi ... it was like an art history book in stone. The cool interior and subdued lighting even gave it the comfort of a good book.

So our change in plans left us with a good day.  A very good day. A day even better when Cecile cooked fresh pasta with pesto glazed chicken thighs at our appartment to a toast of great Tuscan red wine.

Can't top that, so I vote to sleep in tomorrow.

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