The Italian legal kerfuffle over “Fake Centurions” abruptly came to make sense on my recent visit to Bologna, when I discovered the Legio I Italica camped out in the cathedral square.
Legio I Italica is a group of top quality, professional Roman Legionary reenactors, who travel around Italy by invitation, making camp in various towns and cities in order to educate Italians, young and old, about the real life of the legions and the ancient world. Their gear is superb, none of the plastic or anachronistic ornament of those who strut around Rome’s monuments. Real steel, real bronze, real leather, but more than that. These soldiers are bruised and bandaged, rough, crude, their sandals worn, their armor dented, their tunics sweat-stained.
They also include the parts of Roman gear we don’t tend to identify as Roman: a sweat-catching handkerchief around the neck, an anti-sun bandanna, broad straw sun-hats only subtly different from the hundreds for sale at street stalls a block away. Parts that reinforce the continuity between history’s dirty work and today’s, and decrease, rather than augmenting, the feeling of antiquity. Parts that should be there.
Their demeanor is perfect too, a lazy, languid casualness in interacting, both with people, and with gear, so they really feel like soldiers on their day off. “Hey, kid, wanna pull this string?” (Hands small child trigger rope for massive crossbow). “Naah, your Mom doesn’t need to help, here, just pull that.” They often just sit, doing their own thing, until curious bystanders approach them, rather than accosting.
The juxtaposition of Roman Legion with Bologna’s main square’s elaborate cathedral, Renaissance facades, medieval fortress-palaces, and the statues of popes and allegorical figures watching is, of course, fantastic.
The most outstanding element may be their variety. They don’t only include soldiers and support but all kinds of camp staff and hangers-on, everyone that might travel with a legion, including my favorite: the camp layabout who won’t do anything helpful. Here he is refusing to come help this legionary answer questions for the nice lady. Shortly he will move on to refusing to help the shoemaker, then refusing to help the cook…
They do have a cook, complete with samples of all sorts of noxious Roman spices and ingredients. For those not familiar, if there is one branch of human achievement whose progress has been unilaterally and consistently positive through all of human history, that branch is cooking. Excluding current perversions of too-artificial ingredients and flavor-free, chemical-plumped out-of-season vegetables (which are issues of farming and distribution rather than cuisine) food has gotten better, better, better as new combinations, techniques and ingredients have expanded the possibilities, and made it possible to leave the stopgaps of the past behind. Crude early grains became cooked grains, then flour, flat bread, bread which rose and was soft and scrumptious, eventually to such masterpieces as the cake and the croissant.
There are some left-behind recipes and ingredients that are certainly worth revisiting, but as Florentine dishes like tripe and boiled pig’s knuckles teach us, many “old-fashioned” or “rustic” dishes are code for “What we used to eat when we were under siege.” Many ingredients have faded from the world of cooking because we found better ingredients, and two-thousand-year-old Roman cooking is one step above the random plants and dead animals one would eat if trapped on a desert island. This camp cook wisely did not offer to let us taste Rue, or the infamous Garum, rotten fermented salty fish paste which the Romans slathered like ketchup on everything, even deserts. But he did have enough to smell.
Their doctor is also superb. He’s a Greek doctor, and will happily explain that he does not want to be here with these idiotic , ignorant Romans. He studied in Athens, and in Egypt, and he has read the writings of Hippocrates, and he wants to use real medicine and perform real surgery, but nooo… all these superstitious soldiers want are charms and prayers. He prescribes sensible things like liver-based ointments and asparagus extracts, but they won’t listen to him unless he also has a shrine filled with irrelevant idols, and a winged phallus hanging from the rafters of the hospital tent. By the time you’ve listened to his rant, you realize you know what every instrument on the desk is for.
Everyone in the world should learn about Rome, but there is a unique import to teaching Italian children about the empire which was, in fact, their own. This duty the Legio I Italica takes very seriously.
All over the camp, inviting tables of Roman materials were left practically unsupervised, inviting tiny kids to begin as tiny kids do, by simply touching and exploring new objects, learning at their own pace about weight and texture, before asking Mom or Dad or a nearby captain what the heavy metal vest is for, or what the big red things are called. Adults too were invited to explore the random detritus of the camp and discover for ourselves the tools of a Roman sandal maker, or the different items necessary for the good maintenance of a shield and armor. Exploration rather than lecture was both more memorable, and more authentic-feeling as one wandered the camp receiving silent half-glares from centurions who were obviously just too lazy to shoo out these curious provincials.
Tools laid out on a table for hands-on exploration.
Camp fix-it guy, always running out of leather.
The greatest change, from Rome and Florence, is that all this was in service of Italians. These legionaries are not a tourist attraction, nor interested, and nothing whatsoever is in English: conversations and banner announcements in Italian, all else in Latin.
Bologna was a perfect venue for them, a lively square, with a trickle of foreigners making the Tuscany tour, but alive with natives, families out for Sunday lunch, and visitors from other parts of Italy in town to taste Bologna’s famous tortellini, or its treasured Mortadella (Mortadella is to humble America sandwich bologna as a butter-soft mouth-watering Prosciutto is to the contents of a 7-11 ham sandwich).
A guide who works in Sicily recently described that he was taking an American around who really wanted a photo of a native old lady in traditional Sicilian dress. They ran across just such an old lady in a tiny mountain village outside Taormina, wearing a traditional black dress with headdress, and even leading a little black lamb. They stopped to ask her for a photo. Smiling, she rubbed her fingers together, asking for cash.
Italy’s dependence on tourist cash cannot be overstated. Economic discussions these days are monotonously discouraging, but it is still interesting to compare the recession woes of home to the recession woes of other lands. I chatted yesterday with a man who retired from the exhaustion of chef-dom hoping to set up business on his own in a small way.
Taxes made a restaurant prohibitive, since the taxes on electricity, gas, water, sewage, phone and property rental would, he said, have required millions in overhead, and translated to a cost of more than 300 euros per day for taxes alone for every day a small shop or restaurant was open. The more modest goal of becoming a guide still involved 200,000 euros’ investment in government licenses. With enterprise so challenging to undertake (he waxed wistfully about how miraculous it is that other countries, hint, hint, have government subsidies to help launch small businesses), it is no surprise that someone might try to make a living camping by the Colosseum in a plastic helmet, or coax what one can from passing visitors. This makes the Legio I Italica that much more admirable, as they work far from international tourist centers. They receive money from the towns that hire them, but while working they solicit and accept no tips, and work away, with the beating sun, uncomfortable armor and no pants, to make sure little Italians grow up with a dose of the real mixed among their fantasies of their glorious ancestry.
Since a friend I recently visited wanted something more challenging in our saint spotting, I’m starting in on some of my favorites, the monk saints, very easy to separate from non-monastic saints, but sometimes a real challenge to separate from each other.
I’m going to start with the Dominicans, who, as the most scholarly order (unless we want to argue about Jesuits) are near and dear to my heart. There are also Dominican nuns, but the monks are enough to start.
First-off, there are a lot of orders of monks. There aren’t as many orders of monks as there are of nuns; in fact, in chat around the Vatican, “How many orders of nuns are there?” is often held up as an example of an unanswerable question, since new unknown orders, often from the far east, are even today constantly showing up on pilgrimages with unfamiliar habits, novel origin stories and astounding enthusiasm. But there are still a lot of orders of monks. I spent a month once studying the differences between different mendicant orders beginning with the letter C, and after a month I was still shaky. There are, though, a few orders who, especially in art, far dominate the monastic landscape: Benedictines, Augustinians, Carmelites, Franciscans, Dominicans, and, later, Jesuits. (Carthusians not so much, since living in isolated hermetic cells, they don’t generally go out in public enough do things like work flashy miracles, become pope, or pose for altarpieces).
The Dominican and Franciscan orders were both founded at the beginning of the 1200s (in our mental chronology of Florence , Guelphs are fighting Ghibellines, universities have only existed for about a century, Dante and Giotto won’t be born for another half century, and the majority of historians will still say this is medieval, not yet Renaissance). Both orders, Franciscan and Dominican, began as movements away from the opulence, corruption and politicization of the church, toward a greater focus on austerity, poverty, and reaching out to the people.
These were, at their inception, orders one joined when one wanted to become a monk in order to actually have a religious life, as opposed to older, more established orders which were a standard worldly career choice for a younger son. This didn’t stop both orders from becoming lucrative career options as they gained power and prestige over the next centuries, but one can’t help but respect the desire of Francis, Dominic and their early supporters to create an order for monks who wanted to be monks.
As for spotting Dominicans in art, there is no way around the simple characterization: Dominicans are the monks that look like penguins. They wear white robes with black cloaks and chaplets over them, producing a white underbelly with black around the top and sides. Dominican nuns look the same, only with headdresses. Confusingly, sometimes Dominicans (especially in summer) don’t wear the black overcape, so you do occasionally see them (in art and in real life) wearing all white, and thus practically indistinguishable from when Benedictines also sometimes wear all white, but happily, since the artists want us to be able to tell which saint is which, you can generally rely on them to paint the major Dominicans in their full penguinesque glory.
Saint Dominic (San Domenico) 1170-1221
Common attributes: Dominican habit, lily, star above head
Occasional attributes: book, dog, rosary
Patron saint of: The Dominican order, astronomy/ers
Patron of places: Dominican Republic, to some extent Bologna, Calaruega (Spain)
Feast days: August 8th (or 4th)
Most often depicted: Preaching, receiving the rosary from Mary, standing around with other saints
Relics: Bologna, Basilica di San Domenico
Dominic of Osma, as he’s sometimes called, must be differentiated from the earlier Benedictine bishop St. Dominic of Silos, but in general if someone says “Saint Dominic” they mean the Dominican. Founder of the Dominican order, Dominic was born in Calaruega Spain, but traveled extensively, and spent a lot of time in Italy, eventually dying in the university town of Bologna. He is often depicted with a star above his head, usually inside his halo, because before his birth his mother is supposed to have seen a miraculous star which foretold the coming baby’s coming greatness. This, and not any actual personal astronomical activity, is why he is the patron of Astronomers, but his general scholarly bent, and the even stronger thirst for knowledge which would characterize his order, make it a good fit. He was a bright young man, and attended university, but during a famine he sold all his possessions including his (expensive!) books in order to help the starving.
Arriving in Rome, he criticized the pomp and sparkly decor, and created his new order to reach people through direct preaching and good personal example, demanding inward and outward simplicity and austerity in order to provide the public a model of pure and pious living. The lily branch he carries represents his lifelong virginity, and is not specific to him, since technically any virgin saint can hold a lily branch, but usually it’s reserved for figures for whom virginity was an extra-big deal, like maidens who were martyred for refusing pagan husbands, or Gabriel, who makes the annunciation to the Virgin. If you see a Dominican with a lily, it’s Dominic.
He also focused on intellectual rigor and the fierce pursuit of truth, since he believed truth of all kinds would lead one to better understand and therefore approach God, so he encouraged his followers to enthusiastic academic study. The dog which sometimes accompanies Dominic is a a pun, and a venerable one. The Dominicans are named after Dominic, but in Latin the plural “Dominicani” separates into Domini (of God) and cani (dogs), i.e. hounds of God, who sniff out truth. This was why he held major meetings in Bologna, home of the oldest university (founded ~1088). This thirst to sniff-out truth is also why the Dominicans, once they grew in power and numbers, were trusted by the papacy to be in charge of the Inquisition.
Dominic often holds a book in art, both because of his general scholastic interest and because he left some writings; generally any saint who wrote a book is entitled to hold one if the artist so chooses. The Dominicans are largely responsible for the spread of the rosary as a Catholic devotional tool. The Virgin Mary visited Dominic in 1214 and personally gave him the first rosary (archaeological evidence to the contrary not withstanding). You can still see the divine rosary in the Rosary Chapel in San Domenico in Bologna, just opposite the chapel where Dominic himself is buried in a stunningly-sculped tomb which everysculptor who was anysculptor at the time worked on (yes, even Michelangelo), and in the back of which you can see his skull (removed and set in an elaborate gold and crystal reliquary), and, posted on the wall behind, an X-ray of the tomb, so you can see the black & white outline of his skeleton within.
Dominic remains the most respected and important Dominican, so if you see a painting with just one Dominincan in it, and he doesn’t have anything distinctive enough to tell you who it is, it’s probably Dominic.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274
Common attributes: Dominican habit, chubby, sun or star shaped burst of divine radiance in the middle of his chest (representing his brilliant scholarship), book (often glowing with divine radiance)
Occasional attributes: Accompanied by angels carrying his books, and often whacking heathens over the head with said books. Don’t mess with Thomas Aquinas.
Patron saint of: Universities, scholarship, students, scholasticism, exams
Patron of places: Toulouse, Aquino, all universities
Feast days: Jan 28th
Most often depicted: Triumphing over Averroes and other “heathen” scholars, standing around with other saints
Relics: Toulouse, all over the place
Son of the Count of Aquino and related to Holy Roman Emperors, young Tomas was earmarked in his youth to become a Benedictine monk, and likely take over for his uncle who was abbot of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, preserving a valuable political and economic seat for the family. Unfortunately, young Thomas was too pious and excited by theology to want to do anything so worldly as become a Benedictine abbot (Church reform; we needz it!) and determined instead to join this upstart, totally unimportant new order of Dominicans, who were all preaching to people and studying stuff, and had no money, and no cardinals and no lucrative landholdings, and only one saint, and even he (Dominic) had only been a saint for, like, a decade. Parents did not approve.
Thomas’s official hagiography describes many attempts by his parents to break his spirit and get him to become a Benedictine, including locking him in a remote tower and saying they wouldn’t let him out until he agreed. But even that didn’t do it, so his mother and/or brothers took the extreme step of sending a prostitute into the tower with him, because obviously if he broke down and slept with a prostitute that meant he would become a Benedictine?… Medieval parent logic is not the best… Nonetheless, Thomas was miraculously liberated from the tower by a well-timed lightning bolt, which broke open the tower wall and let him escape, and as implausible as it sounds, I’ve been to that hilltop and seen that tower and the scorch-marks and lightning damage are clearly visible, so it’s an undeniable fact that God/Zeus/Thor/Entropy was quite determined that Thomas Aquinas must become a Dominican.
His family gave up at that point, and sent him to Naples, then Rome, to meet what Dominicans there were, since the order was very popular and charismatic and much-discussed (Monks who act like monks?!), and he was sent thence to Paris, to the Great University, where it was quickly discovered that he was very, very, very, very smart. The floodgates opened and the crowning masterpieces of scholasticism poured forth for the rest of his career.
In one sentence: Thomas Aquinas’ importance in the history of philosophy lay in his taking the works of Aristotle, which were at the time the only comprehensive set of textbooks on philosophical and scientific topics, and whose Organon(logical works) outlined clear, teachable methods for the organization of thought and logical proof, and reconciling them with Christian theology, thereby both making Aristotle’s textbooks usable in Chrisitan classrooms, and simultaneously providing scientific and technical answers to an enormous array of theological questions which had been hitherto unclear.
An example of the sort of question he took on was the question of Heaven and Judgment Day, i.e. if people who are dead now are in Heaven why do they need to be resurrected later on Judgment Day, or if they aren’t in Heaven now where are they? His special focus was the detailed mechanics of the soul, and its interface with body, emotion, thought, memory, sensation, pain, Heaven, Hell, knowledge and God. I cannot overstate the degree to which Aquinas’ application of Aristotle to these questions is dense, and meticulous, and dense, and erudite, and dense, and enlightening, and dense, and geometrically strict, and dense, and rigorous, and, did I mention, dense enough that I can assign two pages, count them, two pages of the Summa Theologica to my students and they come back the next day red-eyed and desperate.
Even more desperate, however, was 13th century Europe’s thirst for a functional, systematic theology which could answer the accumulation of detailed questions that Christianity had picked up over the centuries, and Aquinas accomplished this so spectacularly that, despite the odd condemnation of specific comments here and there, he became the core of education, and through him the Dominicans skyrocketed in influence and fame. At the debate over his canonization, posthumous miracles were declared unnecessary since every article in his Summa was a miracle, and soon, just as one could call Aristotle simply “The Philosopher,” and Averroes “The Commentator,” Aquinas was, “The Theologian”. So synonymous was Aquinas with theology that in Dante’s Paradiso, it is Thomas Aquinas who comes and administers the oral masters’ exam in theology which one must pass in order to enter the higher levels of Heaven (Study up, folks!), and in 1568 when the decision was made to supplement the original Four Doctors of the Church (Augustine, Ambrose, Gregory and Jerome) with four more great theologians who made Christianity what it became, Aquinas was the youngest nominee by almost a millennium and the only one post-Charlemagne (his peers were Gregory Nazianus, Basil, & John Chrysostom). It was Aquinas who cemented the Dominicans’ position as the order of scholars, theologians, truth-seekers, and the appropriate group to lead the Inquisition.
In art, Thomas Aquinas’ overwhelming brilliance is depicted as an overwhelming brilliance, radiating in a sun-like burst of gold from the middle of his chest (which is apparently where divine brilliance lives.) He is also usually chubby, one of these rare moments of physical honesty, indicating a saint who lived late enough that when he’s painted there’s somebody around who knew somebody who knew him and could tell the artist that Thomas Aquinas was, in point of fact, incredibly, credibly fat. So fat was he that the story I heard (and I heard it from a member of the Papal Curia so am inclined to accept it) is that when he died, upstairs in a little monastery at Fossanova outside Rome, they couldn’t get his body down the stairs. They had to break the window open and lower it with a pully, and then they didn’t have the means to carry it to town, so they employed mos teutonicus, a technique popularized during the second crusade, in which natural decomposition made it impractical to transport the bodies of crusader martyrs back from the holy land, so they would boil the corpse (with great ceremony) in a vat of vinegar to remove the flesh and separate the clean bones for transport. Only Thomas died at a little tiny monastery which didn’t have a good supply of vinegar, so they boiled him in red wine, so his bones are, to this day, rather purple, making fake relics easy to spot.
Other than standing symmetrically next to St. Dominic, Thomas Aquinas’ favorite activity in art is to sit on a throne surrounded by divine glory while he, or angels at his behest, clonk unbelievers over the head with his collected works.
There’s a lovely fresco of this in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, and a charming one in the Louvre (to the right) about 2 rooms away from the Mona Lisa. Averroes, the great Islamic commentator on Aristotle, is his most commonly-depicted enemy in these panels, since, while Averroes’ commentaries were indispensable reading for all students of Aristotle across Europe, certain details of his interpretations, and European interpretations of his interpretations, led Averroism to be so disproportionately demonized as a pernicious and contagious plague on scholars and universities, that in a lecture on Pomponazzi, I once heard a great professor attribute the general pessimism of Pomponazzi’s philosophy to, “Well, but he was down there in Minas Morgul in Padua which was full of Averroism.” Clearly, it is the most natural of human desires to want see Sam squash Shelob with the Summa Contra Gentiles.
Before moving on, let me share a few more photos from the lovely, and peculiarly Gothic, Cistercian (more Cs!) monastery at Fossanova where Thomas Aquinas died, or, to be more accurate, where the substantial form of his existence terminated material contact in order for its Intellect to participate directly in the Divine essence, which will serve as an immaterial but completely perfected substitute for the material Passive Intellect until Judgment Day:
But, wait, there’s more!
After all, when you have Dominic in the middle of a painting, you need TWO other major Dominicans to stand on either side and be symmetrical:
Saint Peter Martyr (Pietro Martire) aka. Peter of Verona, 1206-1252
Common attributes: Dominican habit, big knife sticking out of his head, lots of blood streaming down his head
Occasional attributes: Knives sticking out of his shoulders or back, martyr’s palm, book, more blood!
Patron saint of: Inquisitors, midwives
Patron of places: Puerto Rico, Verona, Milan
Feast days: April 6th
Most often depicted: Standing around with other saints, especially Dominicans, being murdered
“Peter Martyr is a martyr! Did we mention he’s a martyr! Because he’s totally a martyr! Look, he has blood and knives coming out of him and everything! Because we Dominicans totally have a martyr, and that totally makes us as good as all the older monastic orders! So people like Thomas Aquinas’ parents can totally stop picking on us now! Also, we totally got a martyr before the Franciscans did! Because Francis totally failed to get martyred that one time he went to the Holy Land and met with the Sultan and was gonna throw himself in fire to prove his faith, and the Sultan was like, ‘No, no, you’re a sweet boy, I believe you, now go home’. Because we’re totally better than the Franciscans if we got a martyr first!”
I wish this were more of an exaggeration than it was, but there was a lot of politics and competition in the first decades of these new orders, and one really did have to get a martyr to be taken seriously. There was a genuine race. The friendly rivalry between the Franciscans and Dominicans did have a legitimate doctrinal crux, the Dominicans believing that the best road to heaven is through truth, knowledge and study, i.e. the mental organ of the intellect, and the Franciscans believing the best road to heaven was through love, emotion and passionate faith, i.e. the mental organ of the will. But they were also two new growing powers in the Church, exercising influence, and through which the ambitious could aim to exercise influence, and there was a power race as they established themselves. They needed Saint Cred, as one might call it.
Peter Martyr was knifed (or axed) in the head by a Milanese Cathar, a blow which cut off the top of his skull, and after writing “Credo in unum deum” in his own blood, was stabbed some more, then taken home by friends, where it took him five days to die. The fact that he still gets to have blood dripping down the sides of his head to remind us of this is not unreasonable. What may be unreasonable are some questions about the motives for the murder. Peter had been appointed Inquisitor General for northern Italy, where his main job was to weed out the Cathar heresy, yet another version of the old Manichean heresy (belief, not in one all-powerful God but in the semi-independence of an Evil Force opposing God’s Good Force) which plagued great men from Augustine to Voltaire. The heresy was rampant in northern Italy, especially around Milan and ever-impregnable and equally-incomprehensible Venice, and there is some debate over whether the assassins went after Peter over theology and his assaults on Cathars, or whether it was because he’d been violently badmouthing Milan and Venice in his sermons, damaging the cities with his political influence, and generally making worldly enemies.
Either way, the Dominicans knew how to lobby, and after dying April 6th 1252, Peter Martyr was declared a martyr and canonized March 9th 1253, a record-breaking seven-month turnaround, still the fastest canonization on record, which proves both that the current administration actually are taking a sensible amount of time with John Paul II, and that the Dominicans were really, really ready to to publicize their martyr.
Peter Martyr was also the one who expelled the possessed/demonic horse that molested a crowd he was preaching, one of few accredited miracles (apart from St. Zenobius’ posthumus resurrection of an elm tree) to have actually taken place in good old Florence.
And now, Spot the Saint quiz time.
You know everyone here except the figure in armor all the way on the left, and there you can probably guess.
I made a day trip to Bologna, our neighbor to the north, home of one of the greatest old universities, world-renowned in the Renaissance for its medical school. A friend who studied professors’ families and households had invited me to join her on a boat tour of the medieval underground canals which were constructed to allow for easy transportation of goods throughout the city. The tour, alas, was canceled due to insufficient water for the boats to move, but being stranded in Bologna for an afternoon with an expert on its history is no large hardship.
We visited a complex of seven small medieval churches, built successively at different times and gradually connected together into a chimerical complex in which one steps out of a long Gothic nave only to step into an octagonal Byzantine one, then on into a colorful brick cloister that might have been built in Venice, and so on, style by style room by room. The cathedral is entirely baroque, and since Bologna was never quite so affluent as Florence, especially in the Baroque period, a masterpiece in painted fake marble, painted fake architecture, even painted fake porphyry, but with a few remnants of its displaced Medieval predecessor lurking in corners here and there.
We also visited some exceptionally expressive wooden and terracotta sculptures – both media underrepresented in Florence’s great galleries of stone and bronze, and took a meandering walking tour of the city’s long medieval streets and Renaissance facades (much to the chagrin of my friend’s daughter whose panino we were commissioned to deliver at 1 and didn’t place in her hands until around 4). Many of the raised porches survive on massive dark medieval wooden beams, something almost absent in Florence which neoclassicized everything it could touch. Again terracotta is a great component of these old facades, which families constructed to impress on passers-by their wealth and distinction, and not only saints but grotesques and even character portraits are common accents between arches and columns. Again the touch of the great northern neighbor Venice is conspicuous in the rich pinks and peaches of these narrow roads, and in the window trimmings, elaborate and white like wedding cakes, as well as in the occasional winged lion.
I was delighted to be reminded that Saint Dominic is buried in Bologna, the founder of the Dominican order with its great tradition of scholarship and pursuing truth, for which I have particular affection. Bad timing relative to evening mass kept my pilgrimage brief this time, but I must return, both to examine the great saint’s tomb, which dozens of famous hands contributed to making a true masterpiece of Renaissance sculpture, and to enjoy leisurely contemplation of the life of monastic scholarship he pioneered. Also gelato. Knowing I answer to “gelato snob” my guide took me to two exceptional establishments, one tucked inconspicuously in a portico which offered extraordinary seasonal real fruit flavors including Pear with Cinnamon and Spiced Apple, both of which were stunning, and a second, large and clearly famous place (delightfully close to Dominic’s resting place) which offered Ricotta with Sicilian Lemon, pear, and a Granita di Pompelmo Rosa (pink grapefruit granita) which packed the full, intensified ferocity of the most aggressive natural citrus.
“Medici balls!” I cried as we reached the university, and there they were, bulbous and grandiose over a gateway. My companion, mainly a social historian, had apparently taken little notice of pope Clement’s marble signature, and correctly observed that the building must have been renovated during his papacy, but to me it was a more striking moment. The Medici crest, with its collection of five or six balls, representing medicinal pills (Medici <= Medico <= doctor) is on virtually every decoratable surface in Florence, a universal reminder of the great patrons, their many projects, and their eventual victory, so when I leave Medici country I always enjoy the telling contrast of their absence, and the presence of some other local symbol, the Venetian Lion of St. Mark, or the…
Oh good grief.. excuse me, I hear trumpets …
(half an hour later) Right. Not a big thing, just a parade and concert by the brass band of the Florentine civic militia corps of something something that have amazing hats.
Where were we? Medici balls in Bologna. It hit me just as it was intended to, a shocking, unexpectedly long reach by the neighbors who were certainly never lords in Bologna, but still had their fingers in the university which was Bologna’s pride and fame. I was impressed; centuries later I was still impressed.
There was also a Roman legionary cohort camped in the main square. But since the trumpeters have slowed me, the Legio I Italica Novae Moesia (67-425 DC) must wait for another day.
Hopefully next time the canals will have enough water for me to tour the underbelly.