June 15th, 2012
En route to Budapest for the book fair, we flew first to Vienna. Because we had an early flight out of Rome, we spent our first night out near the airport. On many trips, we’ve stayed at Rome airport hotels, generally generic places with mediocre food. This time, we drew a 30-minute ring around the airport and came up with La Posta Vecchia, which turns out to be one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever stayed. A 16th Century building, formerly owned by J. Paul Getty, the hotel is IN the sea. I suppose the beach has eroded over the years and now the building’s terrace is lapped by waves. When Getty restored it, the ruins of an ample and refined Roman villa were found, excavated, and restored. All the discoveries are on display. You see the whole floor plan, remains of African and Greek marble walls, mosaic floors, tableware, amphorae, and personal items such as little balm jars and make-up implements. It’s an intimate look at an actual Roman home.
Maybe the sea and those layers of deep history give La Posta Vecchia such a serene and contemplative feeling. The place manifests what is so profound about Italy, that coexistence of the past and present. We took a long walk around the park, visiting the large vegetable garden, an ancient cistern, and other mysterious ruins around the grounds. If you’re traveling out of Rome, I highly recommend a stop here. It’s expensive but what a grand finale to a trip to Italia. We stayed in the tower room at a last-minute rate. I’d love to stay in a sea-front room on the second floor–they look divine and sure to give anyone delusions of grandeur. Our room was lovely and the side windows had ocean views. All night we heard the waves–my favorite way to sleep. The restaurant has a Michelin star, which means that if in France it would be three star. They’re ridiculously hard on Italian restaurants, compared to what they give stars to in France. Huge arched doors open to the sea, the walls are the color of washed peaches, and the service is lovely. We had an absolutely delicious dinner, thanks to chef Michele Gioia, and felt amazingly relaxed. That ginger citrus soufflé! Here’s a hint of the amazing interior, a hymn to old world textures and shapes. I especially loved the waxy, honeyed floors:
That’s Ed, having a Campari Soda and living the good life! See much better photos than mine on the hotel website: http://www.lapostavecchia.com
We flew out on Air Berlin. Pass the test of what you’re allowed to take on board or check, and you’re fine. We were in Vienna shortly. That’s the joy of a base in Tuscany–so much of Europe is close. Vienna! I’d never been. Driving via taxi into the city, we passed industrial smoke chimneys and I had a spooky flash of Nazi death camps, ash floating over the countryside. Entering the clean, clean city of monumental buildings, with a swath of the Danube flowing felicitously through, I pushed such morbid thoughts away. We checked into Parliament Levant, our very contemporary, hip hotel, and immediately set out to walk, try Viennese coffee, and get a feel for the place. Vienna is something of a shock if you’re coming from Italy. The people we encountered were cordial but so different from the genuinely friendly Italians. In the comfy, somewhat fusty –in a nice way–coffee shops, people sat around at little tables visiting and reading. How nice to see that instead of single people hunched over laptops. We stopped in at the famous Demel pastry shop and watched the chefs through big glass walls as they decorated fancy cakes and rolled out dough.
Apple strudel and sacher torte–why not? Mit schlag was the order of the day–with cream. In fact, mit schlag became our phrase of praise in Vienna. A cobbled street, the outdoor market, a stupendous rose garden, a deco facade–we thought they were all mit schlag!
The highlight of Vienna for me was the exhibit “VIENNA 1900″ at the Leopold Museum, which is in a complex of several museums. There’s more to Gustav Klimt than that claustrophobic “The Kiss.” Much more. As I learned about him, I was able to see his work in a new way. I hadn’t known that he was influenced by the tesselated mosaics of Ravenna, but once I saw that, his paintings took on another dimension. And the influence of Japanese prints–that flat aspect and the use of outline–I was able to make many more connections with him. The exhibit covers not just Klimt but the whole group working in what’s loosely known as the international arts and crafts movement, a period I find fascinating in all its manifestations. I really enjoyed the furniture and household objects created by Weiner Werkstätte, Vienna Workshop group. What a shock that cool furniture must have been to the late Victorians! The curators tried and succeeded in integrating the arts and intellectual movements of the period, including Freud. Poems, quotes, and ephemera are displayed with the artwork. There’s a place to sit down and listen to Mahler. Too bad they couldn’t conjure Alma, his fascinating wife. We loved the mosaic worlds outside the Sucessionist Museum.
At Zum Schwarzen Kameel (The Black Camel–in the same family since 1618), of course we had to try wiener schnitzel! And vinegary potato salad. Tasty! We just happened upon the old-fashioned restaurant but it was a good choice–lively bar and diners who seemed to be having fun. One long table of attractive older people seemed especially jolly and I had another of those flashes: their parents probably were Nazis. That era is hard to fathom and has left a long indelible smear. Our other night we dropped into a neighborhood place, Fromme Helene, also full of warmth and atmosphere. Mit schlag! I think in the two days we had six desserts. Good! Not good!
If only we had trains in the USA like European trains. We were quickly in Budapest, after a fast ride on a luxurious train with attendants who brought coffee and croissants.
Budapest–more chaotic than orderly Vienna. We had the afternoon to wander leafy streets lined with outdoor cafés. What a pleasure to meet Anna Pavlov, publisher of Tericum. She has been such a great supporter of my work from the beginning. She’s bright, quick-humored, and fun. She studied first in Budapest, then in Perugia, Italy, then at Columbia. Not only does she run Tericum, she owns Café Zsivágó, a charming retro cafe in the lovely area of Budapest that is full of new restaurants, bookstores, and very upscale shops.When we walked in Zsivágó, I thought of Josephine Carson, a novelist and close friend who died about eight years ago. I miss her. She always talked about starting “a place to get together,” and what she envisioned was remarkably similar to Anna’s Zsivágó. We could all go, Jo thought, in the afternoons and read aloud what we’d written that morning. There should be cucumber sandwiches, shortbread, and a samovar. At Zsivágó, Anna pointed out the big samovar. In fact, she reminds me of Jo–a young Hungarian version.
Anna and her smart assistant Zsuzsu had much planned for us. We enjoyed meeting magazine and newspaper writers, visiting book stores for signings, and the enormous, crowded book fair. Hungarians must read! I loved hearing Hungarian. So many people brought gifts, which always is very touching to me, that someone takes the time to bring a gift to a stranger. An apron with BRAMASOLE embroidered on it, a jar of green walnuts, jam, a book of poetry, several letters–and the great gift of bright eyes communicating in spite of language differences.
In our off moments, we discovered a new Budapest of cuisine-conscious restaurants, tempting antique shops, walks along the broad Danube, and just very humane and lively street life. So many contemporary statues of poets and writers. We found interesting places to dine. At Rivalda, an 18th century courtyard, the violinist discovered we lived in Italy and stood by us all during dinner playing Lucio Dalla favorites. We especially loved the up-to-the-minute restaurant Baldaszti, where I developed a passion for radish and frisée salad. We stayed just under the castle at the Lánchíd Hotel, part of the same Design Hotel group as the Levant in Vienna. On our last night, we ate at Rézkakas Bistro and I tasted a Tokaji that was as gold as a melted ingot and contained about tens layers of taste. Astonishing! Budapest bursts with life. No doubt, an interesting place to live. We got up at four and it was light.
We flew to Rome, retrieved our car, and were back at Bramasole in time to visit with my nephew Clay and his wife Elspeth on the last day of their vacation here. We celebrated with a finale dinner at Locanda del Molino. Owned by our friends Silvia and Riccardo Baracchi, who also own Il Falconiere, the inn and restaurant are like a second home to us. Many Tuscan restaurants are atmospheric but Locanda has Silvia’s genius touch with interiors. It’s welcoming, romantic, and, of course, just stupendously good. We tried many fantastic pastas, osso bucco, and toasted our travels with Riccardo’s Ardito, a favorite super Tuscan. Then it was Clay and Elspeth’s turn to get up at four and zoom to the airport.
I have some wonderful Budapest photos and have been trying to load them for eons. Will try later, when the internet zombies are not feeling balky. Meanwhile, will post this as is. My computer here has taken a big dislike to iPhoto. It’s is six years old and Ed says it’s overburdened by all I need for it to accomplish. After an hour, 17% of a photo has loaded, so if I want to bake that tart today, I must abandon the little homunculus who is loading my photo of Zsivágó pixel by pixel inside the machine. Meanwhile, please stay tuned to my Tuscan saga, and visit me on much simpler Twitter and Facebook, which I can deal with via my iPhone!
We are happy to be back in Italia, where it’s finally summer! Our garden is beginning to yield its bounty and this year the birds, for once. have left us some cherries! Hence the tart!