We rent a car tomorrow and drive to Asti. We’ve neglected the sights here, distracted by food. On our last day, we plan to amend this.
Our alarm sounds at 6am. After quick showers and coffee, we emerge on the street. The traffic is quiet, pedestrians few. We walk along the Via Saragozza to the edge of town, our aim, the Sanctuary of the Madonna of San Luca. It stands at the end of Portico di San Luca, the world’s longest, free standing, covered walkway – 666 porticoes, and a bit over 2 miles long.
We arrive and Keith dubs it, “The church of the dripping patrons.” No disrespect.
Near noon, we return to the historical center. The city is awake; exhaust and cigarette smoke fill our lungs. We thread, single file, along the bustling, freshly scrubbed sidewalk. Many walls are splattered with graffiti. We spot an ebb in the roaring tide, of buses, cars, and Vespas and scurry across.
This cities’ energy is vibrant; we feel neither frenzy nor threat. As tourists, we are a minority, but somehow, feel more accessory than spectacle.
We pass by Neptune into the Piazza Maggiore and enter a shop. With a few Italian words and a series of mimes, we ask questions that are answered; we leave with two gifts. All week we have honed our charade playing skills.
Out of the shop, we cross the square past armed guards to the steps of San Petronio Basilica. This church is the world’s 5th largest, able to accommodate 28,000 people. The floor stretches more that 400 feet long and 200 feet wide. It’s arches ascend nearly 150 feet.
Inside the church, we marvel at a fresco, painted by Giovanni da Modena. It depicts a scene from Dante Alighieri’s Inferno where a demon in Hell devours Muhammad. In 2002 and 2006, Italian police thwarted terrorist plans to destroy the Basilica.
An elderly man approaches us and begins to speak in Italian. “Non parlo Italiano”, we say. He thinks for a moment, points at the painting, then grimaces his face, clenches his fists, and shakes them toward the sky. Again, he grimaces, clenches, and shakes. He lowers his eyes, lightly touches my shoulder and says, “Mi dispiace, mi dispiace.” I’m sorry, I’m sorry.
Our last mission, ingredients for Bolognese Ragù; we’re cooking at home tonight. We stop at a salumeria and say to the shopkeeper, “Ragù per due?” His eyes ignite, “Si, si, si”, he says. He turns and chooses one of the three pancettas he has for sale. He meets my eyes and makes a cutting motion with his knife. “Si”, I answer, I would love to have him dice it for me. Next we go to the butcher. “Ragù per due?”, we say. His eyes ignite, “Si, si, si”, he says. He scoops just enough beef for two. Now down a small alley we choose a produce stand. “Ragù per due?”, we say. Her eyes ignite, “Si, si, si”, she says. She turns and fills a small paper bag with one small onion, one carrot, one rib of celery.
We leave the square to walk the few blocks to our little apartment. A couple strolls just ahead. Perhaps she is tired, he carries her purse.