foo’s post reminds me that i’ve been slagging on the food front lately.

i spent the past weekend in mantova (“mantua” to the anglicized world). though this town is in lombardia (where milano is located), it’s also quite close to the veneto (venice, etc.), and the cuisine reflects this, i’m told. i’m endeavoring to hit up at least one osteria listed in slow food’s osterie guide (highly recommended if you spend any time in italy) in every city/village/hamlet i manage to visit. while in mantova, i had lunch at il portichetto, a friendly, airy sort of place, owned by a former politico. i started with tortelli di zucca, a typical regional dish of pasta pillows stuffed with pumpkin in a butter and sage sauce. i’d assumed they would be savory — wrongly, as they turned out to be sugary and tasted of amaretti cookies. unexpected, and perhaps not a dish i’d order again (but i wouldn’t send it away either, if it appeared before me, accompanied by a fork). i had luccio con salsa e polenta as a secondo (main dish), which is cold smoked fish (pike, apparently) on a bed of delicious warm polenta, garnished with some pickled veg. i liked this dish less even than the tortelli. it was a textural issue i think: cold, gummy fish, mushy polenta, and squishy vegetables. the dessert specialty of the region is sbrisolona, a crumbly sort of almond cookie thing whose taste is reminiscent of something i’ve had in the states.

the one major landmark i visited, the palazzo te, was actually quite eye-opening. a palace built for federico II gonzaga, each and every room is tricked out with murals of roman myths and battles and beautifully intricate molding. my favorite room by far depicts the fall of the giants of myth. the muralist, whatever his name is, created a sort of trompe l’oeil effect with perspective, painting these outsized doomed giants at eye-level, but guiding the eye upwards with the roman gods spiralling upwards towards heaven (ie., the ceiling). the effect is breath-taking. best of all: the brochure explains that the restorers left the graffiti they’d found on the walls in this room because it dated as far back as the 16th century! (immediately, i imagine: SEPTIMVS WVS HERE.)

i’m still burning through the books here. read peter carey’s wonderful and tragic oscar and lucinda on the trains to/from mantova, and just finished don’t lets go to the dogs, a memoir by alexandra something-or-other who grew up in africa, and last night, finished zadie smith’s the autograph man. i much prefer her first one, which i remember being as thrilling as a good theme-park ride, but this one is quite good, despite getting bogged down by kabbalah details. all recommended.


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