Uh-oh. Our Italian adventure turned a little serious Saturday. All our guides are gone. Jim and Julie Sluss went over to the ocean for the weekend. Theresa Marks and the Bulls left Arezzo in the afternoon on the train for Rome, headed home. The Dish and I are without adult supervision.
I think we’ll be OK, but we wouldn’t have been without someone to shepherd us this far. Maybe some people can thrive by jumping into Europe without a life vest. But I don’t recommend it. Traveling with good people who know the lay of the land is the way to go.
It’s like you’re traveling with a tour group, only it’s not impersonal. You can sort of forge your own way, but you’ve also got the security of people who have been there before. People who know where to go, what to do and how to get there.
Trust. That’s what it’s all about. I recommend a maiden European adventure with people you can trust.
Theresa was a fantastic tour guide. That’s not her job description, necessarily; she coordinates the study abroad program for OU’s College of Engineering. So she was part travel agent and part tour guide and part Italian sage. She made the trip easy for everyone else. But now she’s gone. We’ll see how well she taught us.
Here’s what we did on a Saturday in Arezzo:
ANTIQUES IN ANTIQUITY
Arezzo hosted an antique fair on Saturday. Which doesn’t come close to describing what happened on the ancient streets.
Historic Arezzo was filled with booth after booth of antiques. Hundreds and hundreds of antique dealers flooded the steep streets and plazas of Arezzo. Old cameras and typewriters, photographs and phonographs, furniture and statues, books and documents, silver and glass. And a thousand other kind of things.
The antique fair had its share of flea market, too. Lots of not-so-old and not-so-cool stuff. But the majority was antiques. And something about antiques in an antique setting — a city more than 2,000 years old, on streets that were laid in the Middle Ages — made the event even more surreal.
If I had lots of money and wasn’t 5,400 miles from home, maybe I would have bought some stuff. As it was, all we bought was an Arezzo typesetting stamp for 20 Euro and an old water pitcher for 10 Euro.
But you could find about anything. The most novel piece? A six-hole latrine that was made out of ornate wood.
We had a farewell lunch with Theresa and the Bulls. We went to a place on a side street in Arezzo that Theresa knew about. I had an antipasto plate appetizer, with a bunch of different dishes. Mostly all good, although I passed on what appeared to be liver pate’. The Dish had a chicken dish with a thick balsamic glaze that almost was like gravy. I’m big on gravy. She gave a good portion of it to me. Mitchell Bull had roasted duck, which looked good. Solid place.
But dinner was a little bit of a problem. The Dish and I were walking around and started looking for some place around 7:30 p.m. or so. We went to this burger joint, supposed to be the best burgers in Arezzo. We had stopped there for lunch but they weren’t open yet. We went back for dinner, and they had set up tables in the street. So I don’t know, probably had room for 200 people to eat, inside and outside, with maybe eight people eating at the time. And we were told they had nothing available until 9:30.
We walked down the street, went into another basically-empty place and were told the same thing.
We realized something funky was going on.
We finally made it back to the area of the San Francesco Basilica, and right across the street is a below-ground restaurant called Buca di San Francesco. Theresa had told us it was David Boren’s favorite restaurant in Arezzo. We stuck our head in and they were glad to take us.
Deep Italian place. No one spoke English. The menu had very few English clues. We were totally lost. But we finally managed to order basic spaghetti for the Dish and mushroom fettuccini for me. There was an empty pitcher on the table, and our waitress grabbed it and returned it full of water. We had not ordered water. And here was a big supply. I drank to my heart’s content. Now I know why it’s David Boren’s favorite joint.
When our food arrived, the proprietor — who looked a lot like Mr. Pitt from Seinfeld — sprinkled red pepper flakes on the Dish’s spaghetti. Turns out, a little too much. The spaghetti was a little hot for her, so we swapped. She ate the fettuccini and I ate the spaghetti.
We left the restaurant about dusk, and back on the street every restaurant, every table on the street, was full. Something was going on in town. A whole city full of 8 p.m. reservations. I don’t know what it was all about. Theresa probably would have known.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Most websites you log into — google.com, nba.com, yahoo.com, lots of them — pop up in Italian. It’s a little disconcerting to know that someone you don’t know knows where you are. Most of the sites will translate into English with a keystroke. Not take you to the site you want to reach; translate.
Here’s an example. I flipped through nba.com and tried to read about Orlando’s Arron Afflalo trade to Denver. Here’s a paragraph, under the heading “THE RETURN,” meaning Afflalo going back to the franchise that traded him two years ago: “Afflalo in Colorado there has already been three seasons, traveling at 11.9 points per game in 219 games. There regenerated back on a personal level by the brackets in Florida, as in two seasons with the Magic traveled to 17.4 points per game. Denver was chasing a guard and soon found that Afflalo was available did not think twice: the former UCLA is under contract through 2016 to 15.6 million, but the 2015-16 is at his discretion. The sacrifice is Fournier, 21-year old Frenchman who last season to the Nuggets has traveled 8.4-point average is 1.5 million contract for next season with Orlando that will now have to decide whether to confirm for the next year.”
I know what they’re trying to say. But it makes for some hard reading.
* Well, I bought the green leather shoes. The cobbler and his shop could not be more charming.
* Siestas are alive and well in Italy. Lots of shops open around 10 a.m., then close early afternoon for a couple of hours. The leather shop was closed from 1-3:30 p.m., then opened back up until 7:30 p.m.
* Not nearly as many American tourists in Arezzo as we saw in other places. Not nearly as many people speak English, either.
* Arezzo has a city-wide retail sale in July, and it kicked off Saturday. In Rogers, Ark., they call such thing “Crazy Days.” I don’t know what they call it in Arezzo, but all kinds of stuff was marked down from 30 to 50 percent. Alas, the leather shop did not participate. Of course, when you make something with your own hands, the value is not something on a ledger.
* Some guy moved all over the city with a small harp, playing beautiful music. The harp probably has a more technical name, but that’s what it looked like to me. I saw him three different places. I tossed a Euro into his cap.
* The hawkers have descended on Arezzo. Over here, they’re selling napkins and tissue. And flowers again. During dinner, the guy walks in and puts a rose right in our face, wanting us to buy it. And the people running the restaurants don’t bat an eye. Must be some law that you can just walk in off the streets and solicit someone else’s customers. In America, they’d be out on their can in a mini-second.
* Mostly, this was a relaxing day in a great place to relax.