rushthatspeaks: (Default)
[personal profile] rushthatspeaks
The day after, I went to the science museum, the Museum of the History of Science, or, as they call it now, the Museo Galileo, half-hidden in a spot ambiguously either behind or in front of a corner of the Uffizi-- the Uffizi's official front is to the Arno, but no one ever goes into the building except from the Piazza della Signoria, so it's hard to say whether the science museum is in an out-of-the-way, off-the-beaten-track spot or in one which is prime real estate and as good as any view. Both, really, a combination of new and old, the medieval tower renovated and reopened in 2010 with an astrological sun-clock embedded in the pavement in front of it to tell you both the hour and the year, if it is light out.

The first floor of the Museo Galileo is the Medici collection of scientific instruments and artifacts. The second is the collection of the Medici's successors, the House of Lorraine. I did the second floor first as I find the Medici more interesting, and I think this is the correct way to do it. The Lorraines had a lot of the then newfangled electrical gadgets, generators and gizmos. The museum has put up silent graphical videos to explain some of the more esoteric objects, which is helpful; you can find there an explanation of the thunder house, for instance, the party trick or insurance salesman's assistant which is a little house built of wood, all its walls hinged to open outward. Inside is a metal dish containing a small quantity of gunpowder, and down the exterior of one wall runs a miniature lightning rod which has a removable portion. Touch the wand of an electrostatic generator to the lightning rod when it is all in one piece, and nothing happens; remove the piece, touch the wand again, and the gunpowder ignites in a flash of fire, blowing the walls outward with a slam. They had more than one of these little thunder houses. Electricity, says the museum wall, was more popular suddenly than the schottische. Other ladies' toys, also, florally chased and painted telescopes, a pair of magnetic ducks to float paired in the lily-pond.

And blown-glass instruments, the descendants of the alchemical alembics; larger telescopes, surveying devices, portable pharmacopiae in their little picnic baskets. The Lorraines had an odd match of utility with luxury-- witness the porphyry tablet on the Duke's experiment table, a lozenge of the imperial purple here designed as a handy place to grind powder for pills (sensible, even-- the stone is so hard). This would be the eighteenth century. A sign on that table says that its owner personally conducted the distillation of the urine of the soldiers of his army to collect his specimen jar of phosphorus, so devoted to progress was this Duke, Leopold I of Lorraine and Tuscany. Under his patronage men learnt the use of the voltaic pistol, early forerunner of the taser too fragile to be widely adopted.

As I mentioned the first floor is the Medici, and science and natural philosophy were among their great playgrounds. Rooms of finely chased astrolabes, sextants and quadrants and octants, in gold and silver, ivory and platinum; celestial and terrestrial globes, of sizes from the miniature to two meters in diameter, and the rest of the universe traced in armillary spheres (next to one solitary Copernican cosmos-sphere, for the sake of comparison). The largest armillary sphere, in gold and enamel, has a room pretty much to itself, which it needs because it is at least twenty feet tall. A lovely breathtaking thing, which desperately wants to be clockwork, to be set in motion so the spectator can feel like God, the unmoved mover, peering down from the highest of Platonic heavens.

Then there is a room of Galileo, of the things he invented and designed, and his notebooks. His jovilabe, the mechanism to tell you exactly where the moons of Jupiter are, right now, at this moment, in case you have to know and don't have time to work out the calculations. His original telescopes, his weights and his measures, his devices to prove various points in readily demonstrable fashions. Here is the devotional art in his honor, also, portraits and busts and for some reason a painting of him sitting and talking with of all people Milton, several drawings of his daughter in her nunnery. Here are, honest in their appearances as to exactly what they are, his reliquaries, which are as notable as any reliquaries and better than some, for people preserve the remembrances of their saints and Galileo's fingers are the pride and center of the whole museum. They are as you would expect jeweled, encased with rock crystal and all things precious. Take that, Inquisition.

On the way out you pass by the only thing in the whole place which is running, the planetary clock made by an Italian for the French court. It tells you with perfect accuracy the astrological chart of the month, day, hour, and moment, and also makes a pretty little chiming noise. It told me the Sun was in Virgo, which made it theoretically an auspicious day for me unless that was being counterbalanced by one of the other influences I didn't really bother to look into heavily-- I mean this is the only clock in the world where you will stand in front of it going oh what the hell is a Grand Trine I could do this in college. (Astrology is one of the most perfectly useless and therefore pleasant of the arts, and one of my college courses taught us, for sound academic reasons, to cast a horoscope in Babylonian, Neo-Platonic, and modern Western styles. Most of this has, alas, gone, though I have the notes somewhere.)

Then home to cook Thanksgiving dinner, for although it was the day before Thanksgiving, Thrud would be going to the big do at her job on the day of, and I had no desire for that formal an occasion. I had gone to the Mercato Centrale early in the morning, before the science museum, and returned almost entirely triumphant-- there was no hope of cranberries and we knew it, but last week there had still been a few straggling redcurrants. But by this time they were over.

Thrud and I are proud and mighty, for in a kitchen with no oven, four rickety and antiquated gas burners, no microwave or other subsidiary heat source, and three or four communal pots we produced, without recipes: pot-roast of turkey, mashed Peruvian sweet potatoes with peperoncini, garlic mashed potatoes of the more ordinary sort, and sausage-dried fruit-shallot stuffing made with wine. I had bought a couple of apple pastries at the market. The sweet potatoes were perfect (the market lady said Peruvian sweet potatoes were better than the other sort and is entirely correct), and the stuffing had golden raisins, chopped prunes and chopped dried apricots and is a palatable use for Tuscan bread. The bread in Tuscany is the worst in Europe and worse than much in the U.S. I thought for years that this was because otherwise the place would be too nice and nobody would ever leave, but it is because there was a siege of the region by the French which cut off the supply lines for a while-- this would be, I don't know, the sixteenth century or something like that-- and in solidarity no Tuscan baker now puts salt in the bread because if you do The French Have Already Won. Which they have. They have won at bread. You can kind of eat Tuscan bread if you use it as a vehicle for very, very good olive oil, or if you fry it in butter with a lot of salt. But otherwise it is horrible and I would rather build a house with it than eat it. Soup, and, it turns out, stuffing, are valid ways around this. Oh, and we had salad, with good oil and good balsamic vinegar and a little parmigiano and the last of those golden raisins.

The mashed potatoes were kind of interesting. Garlic mashed is one of the things we make for Household Thanksgiving every year and it has become something of a rhythm, peel and chop about a head-and-a-half of garlic and let it scent some melting butter, mash the boiled potatoes with milk or, in luxurious years, cream, and then add the garlic butter and beat like hell... which would all have been fine and dandy if it weren't that we usually make this for six to twenty people, and proceeded to do it exactly the same way except with only enough potatoes for the two of us. Which means that as much cream as usual went in, while I was mashing, and I started to look at it skeptically, and Thrud said, well, we could pour some out again, but I wasn't sure because I wasn't done mashing, and then she poured in the butter... It tasted lovely. Only I am not certain we can call it mashed potatoes. It was not, quite, cream of potato soup. Flan, said Thrud. Potato garlic flan. Or custard. It had the wobbly nature of good jelly. (It's making beautiful fried potato cakes as leftovers. Fried in its own fat.)

The turkey was also an interesting proposition. Having no oven, we could not do it the traditional way, and especially not our traditional way, which involves brining it for days ahead of time. I asked at the market for turkey legs to pan-roast, and they did have them; but after I ordered the man chopped the legs into semi-detached rounds with a cleaver before wrapping them for me, which I had not been expecting. So we had the choice of trying to separate the rounds and doing them as 'steaks', or roasting the whole leg at a time as we'd planned. There were two legs so we did one each way, with wine and water and a whole lot of Tuscan herb seasoning which involves thyme and juniper and what-have-you. It turns out he was right to chop it. The steaks were easy, ten minutes a side and flip. The other way produced gorgeous caramelized juices which turned the outside a lovely golden brown, and then we kept cutting into it and discovering we'd produced tacchino alla Fiorentina, turkey as one would cook the steak Florentine, with the outside well done and the middle not even started. This is not a healthy way to eat turkey. Fortunately the outside consented not to be inedible when the interior became edible, though we had to add more basting liquid more frequently than has ever been the case with a bird I've done before.

And that was our Italian Thanksgiving.

Date: 2011-12-13 02:13 am (UTC)
tesserae: white poppies in the sun (Default)
From: [personal profile] tesserae
When I lived in Vicenza a bunch of us ex-pats decided to do an American Thanksgiving for the Italian spouses and a few stray English folk - I was put in charge of sourcing the turkey (senza testa, senza piedi) from a local butcher, who was greatly amused by the idea of roasting the whole thing in one piece, and appeared to have invited all his friends to the shop to prove to them I was doing this.

The other hurdle we had, of course, was our (barbaric) insistence in serving all the food at once on single plates, rather than dividing it into courses and then serving veg and meat on separate plates like proper Italians. It was an entertaining meal for all concerned, and changed nobody's minds about the proper way to do these things... I stuck to making pumpkin cake for my students last year, which they quite enjoyed.

Date: 2011-12-13 03:28 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore
That dinner sounds amazing.

Date: 2011-12-13 03:34 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
The food sounds lovely.

Peruvian sweet potatoes were better than the other sort

Which are "the other sort," for you? (What color outside and inside? Orange?) Around here I can get three distinct kinds, and I'm fairly sure none of them is Peruvian kumar per se, hence the curiosity.

Date: 2011-12-13 08:38 am (UTC)
starlady: a circular well of books (well of books)
From: [personal profile] starlady
This entry was wonderful.

The one time I had American Thanksgiving in Japan, it was a true adventure. We nearly set the house on fire, but I did learn the useful tip that the best place to brine the turkey may be the crisper drawer.

Date: 2011-12-13 06:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
A lovely breathtaking thing, which desperately wants to be clockwork, to be set in motion so the spectator can feel like God, the unmoved mover, peering down from the highest of Platonic heavens.

O my! How utterly lovely!

All of it: the jovilabe, the potato flan...


Date: 2011-12-13 05:12 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
because if you do The French Have Already Won. Which they have. They have won at bread.


Also, yay Galileo.


Date: 2011-12-13 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Also loving "They have won at bread." Turkey steaks sound like a very interesting idea.

Date: 2011-12-14 06:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
and for some reason a painting of him sitting and talking with of all people Milton,

I believe that Milton did actually visit Galileo, while the former was a young man doing the Grand Tour and the latter very elderly indeed. I've always suspected some connection between that datum and how extremely carefully and well "Paradise Lost" remains ambiguous on the geocentric/heliocentric cosmos issue; this was on the list of things not to mention to Mike Ford until he finished Aspects for fear of him being diverted into spending some months writing it as a play.


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