If it’s Monday, this must be Ravenna…

If this is Monday, then I must be in Ravenna

I have been in three countries since Friday.  I left Athens Friday afternoon and it was 40*C.  I landed at London Heathrow a couple of hours later and it was 18*C.  Last night I flew from London to Bologna and it was still 28*C at 11PM when I arrived at Marconi Airport.  This morning I took the train to Ravenna and it is currently a balmy 30*C here on the Adriatic coast of Italy at 9PM. As much as I loved seeing friends in London over the weekend it feels good to be back in the southern half of the continent.  Please forgive my jet-setting.  It is only my itinerary.  I am here for three days and then I take the train to Pistoia, in Tuscany, where I meet up with my fellow artists of the Aegean Center.

Ravenna is a lovely little town and as I sit in a cafe on the street, James Brown and his band emanate from the speakers, enhancing the long, short bricks that are the common foundation.  At the risk of sounding pedestrian, the bricks are important.  This style of brick-making has been utilized throughout this part of Italy for thousands of years and many of the Byzantine-era basilica are constructed with this material.  Ravenna is the home to some of the most lovely Byzantine mosaics dating from the late 2nd century ACE until the end of the 5th century and was the capital of the Byzantine West even after the Council of Nicea had made such thinking heretical in 325.  The history of the city pre-dates this time by a couple of millennia and there are reports from the Greek historian Dionysius of Halicarnassus claiming that the city was founded several generations before the Trojan War.  This cannot be confirmed but the geographer Strabo professes that the city was founded by Greeks from Thessaly.  It makes sense to me.  I’ll let everyone discover the rich and varied history for themselves but do not be surprised when you look at the Basilica of San Vitale and notice that it bears a striking resemblance to both the Agia Sofia in Istanbul and the Ekatontapiliani on the Greek island of Paros.  The large, broad dome, connected apses, the hexagonal structure and the vibrant interior urge the visitor to consider his or her spiritual position here on Earth rather than a pending afterlife common in the heaven-grasping spires of later, post-Byzantine designs.  And did I mention the mosaics?  Boffo…good ones.  “Colorful” is not the word to describe them.  I visited some today and have only two or three to cross off my list.  This means I will have time this week to re-visit them all and get some pictures.

My hotel is very nice–clean, convenient and not too expensive.  I am staying at the Hotel Centrale Byron just inside the pedestrian/bicycle zone in the old city.  I have to investigate Lord Byron’s influence in Ravenna.  He lived in Pisa and Genoa before he joined the fight for Greek independence in the 1820s.  I am suddenly thinking of Byron’s statue in the city park of Athens…many strong threads for me to hold on to here.

Dinner tonight was at a family-run restaurant off the tourist trail.  ‘Vecchia Ravenna da Mario’  was recommended by the hotelier and it did not disappoint.  The only unfortunate aspect (minor at best) is that there is some street paving being done by the city on Via Giuseppe Pasolini where the restaurant is located.  This did not affect my meal, however, as the workers had quit for the day hours before.  As I ate my ‘gnocchi ai quattro formaggio’ and ‘arrosto misto’  the place began to fill up with Italian families. It was a good sign and I was pleased with the meal.  Italian home-cooking to be sure-nothing fancy, just home-cookin’–my kind of grub.  Regarding food, the hotelier mentioned that one of the local specialties is a plate of fried, whole sardines, i.e. ‘sarde fritte‘. Hmm…it sounds a bit like gavros.  Where the heck am I?  I swear the signpost said ‘Italia’ when I ambled into town…



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