The trip we took to Italy, Sicily and Malta turned into what I will forever refer to as the Mosaic Tour. Everywhere we went we discovered outstanding examples of mosaic art. The first time I went into St Peter’s in the Vatican, I had marveled at the brilliance of the paintings, wondering how they had managed to look so fresh after all the intervening centuries. When I took a closer look and realized that they were actually mosaics, made from small tiles of colored glass, I was hooked on this art form and impressed by its use in churches whose artwork needed to last for generations. Upon entering St Mark’s in Venice and noticing the very small windows, it occurred to me for the first time that all the gold mosaics served a dual purpose, to present biblical stories and to bounce and reflect candlelight around the cathedral. Brilliant!
While you can find mosaics in many churches, you would be hard pressed to find so many fine examples in one place, unless you went to Ravenna in Emilia Romagna, Italy. It made for a short daytrip from Bologna. Let’s take a short walk through the town.
How very civilized! As you walk toward the main piazza, through the town from the train station, you are guided by a white brick path. It wasn’t really set up for tourists, but for bicycles. The tourists don’t seem to know it yet, and the townspeople trying to ride their bikes are forced to zigzag through the crowd. My impression was one of surprise at how lovely and tidy the city was, with well maintained buildings and sidewalks.
The Piazza del Popolo was charming and it was easy to find the tourist office where we were handed a helpful map with the main mosaic sites easily identifiable. Off we went to Basilica di San Vitale, the largest yet not the oldest of the mosaic sites, but not before we made a stop at Mercato Coperto, the traditional food market of Ravenna.
A right turn onto Via IV Novembre from the piazza brought us directly to the covered market where we did a bit of exploring. They have a small restaurant inside with inexpensive food to eat there or take out. There were plenty of produce vendors, fish mongers, and butchers, but I believe it was too late in the day to see any real activity.
After politely inquiring for permission to photograph, simply saying “Permesso?” and holding up my camera, I was given the go ahead by every single vendor. It’s surprising how far a little courtesy will get you. Some camera shy vendors asked not to be photographed which was very easy for me to comply with, as I was primarily interested in the food. That seems to confuse many people, especially waiters who often offer to take a photograph of me when they see my camera on the dining table.
On the way we passed Sorbetteria Degli Esarchi, which we later returned to for a quick gelato and another lesson in courtesy. The young woman was trying to help an English speaker who made no effort to speak any Italian at all, not even “grazie” . The customer didn’t attempt the often most successful trick of pointing to the item you wish to purchase, that many foreigners employ when they have little to no language skills. It was easy to see the clerk was frustrated as the woman spoke louder and ignored the question about whether or not she wanted a cup or a cone.
It pleased me to be able to ask for 2 cups of gelati in Italian, and the clerk was quite effusive in her response, all in English I might add. One small polite word would have worked wonders for the other customer. I walked away with not only the gelati, but a postcard of the store, a small courtesy from the clerk. Their gelati were quite different than the usual suspects which they carried, but they seemed to have more original recipes. I had to try the creamy lemon gelato. I like lemon sorbetto, but the cream made a big difference in taste, also making the lemon sweeter and less acidic in the process.
In the photo above, from top to bottom you see chestnut; ricotta caramel fig, cassata, pistachio, berry, and creamy lemon gelati. I needed to try the fig, since it seemed the most unique. It was an excellent choice and I was looking for more of it throughout the trip, but there was none to be found. I can see that experimenting with a ricotta base will be on my list of ideas to try with my ice cream machine. But barring that, it would be simple enough to add some chopped, dried figs to a simple syrup and cook it until the sugar started to turn color, which is exactly what I believe was done by Esarchi for this flavor. It was a success.
Mercato Coperto, Piazza A. Costa, Ravenna
Sorbetteria Estarchi, Via IV Novembre, 11, Ravenna Italy