Okay, class, here’s your Italian vocabulary word for the day:
Girovagare – v. to wander aimlessly; meander; to take a trip with no goal in mind; to get your ego out of the way and let the universe reveal itself to you;
Last night, we took my brother Ed and his wife, Barbara, to Spoleto, where the yearly Festival of Two Worlds is in full swing. We’d already seen a play at the Festival two nights before, but last night we wanted to … well, girovagare, wander Spoleto’s twisty cobblestone streets, check out the shops, take a walk around La Rocca, the gigantic fort that has guarded the city since the Middle Ages, and catch the view from the Roman aqueduct that connects the city to Monteluco, the sacred mountain across the way. The only plan we had was to end up for dinner at Tric Trac, the wonderful – and only – restaurant in the piazza del Duomo, Spoleto’s cathedral square.
A great piazza, according to a knowledgeable friend of ours, has three requirements: no through traffic, a nice church and a place where you can sit outside and have a drink or a meal. ThePiazza Duomo in Spoleto has all three – in spades. And every summer, it’s also one of the Festival’s performance venues. They set up chairs in the square and all the way up the wide steps that lead down to it. A stage is set up with the cathedral as a background and various orchestras and dance companies present programs.
But last night, there was no scheduled performance in the piazza and after our girovagare around Spoleto, we met up with our friends, Jim and Joanne and headed for our 8:30 reservation at Tric Trac. We thought we’d sit at our table on a terrace overlooking the square, sip some pre-dinner prosecco and watch the setting sun dapple the brilliant façade of the cathedral, turning it to copper and gold. Not a bad start to dinner.
But when we arrived there was, indeed, a performance in progress. About half the chairs had been set up in the piazza and a dance company was in the middle of a very intense rehearsal. It was the Hamburg Ballet, doing an evening called the World of John Neumeier – he’s an American-born dancer who has been the artistic director and choreographer for the Hamburg company since 1973. The dancers were in street clothes, loose fitting shorts or tights, so that they could do the moves, and of course they all had their proper dance shoes on. Various technicians were finishing up the construction of the stage, hanging and focusing the lights, while the dancers went through the program to recorded music. It was as if we were getting a peek backstage, our own private viewing of the program. The dancers stopped at times, when something wasn’t quite right; the sound man re-wound the music, the dancers went back to their starting positions and they tried it again. It was spellbinding.
We spotted Spartaco Albertarelli, who is the owner/impresario of Tric Trac, standing on his terrace greeting the customers.
“Are they performing tonight?” we asked him.
“No, not until Friday. But this is their only chance to rehearse on the stage.”
“And we just happened to stumble onto it,” I said, smiling.
Spartaco shrugged with a sly grin, as if to say, ‘Sometimes life gives you a gift.’
Gift, indeed. Spartaco showed us to our table, which had a clear view of the proceedings. It was like we were in the Royal Box. Our waiter, an irrepressibly adorable young Italian, was intent on showing off his English.
“Would any of you prefer to start with a cocktail? A Martini Cocktail, perhaps? Ladies?” He definitely paid more attention to the ladies.
When the various drinks arrived – some of us went for the cocktails, some for prosecco – our waiter also brought a large tray of bruschetta, covered variously with liver paté, diced tomatoes and basil, or just rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil. It went down nicely with the booze as we stared at the stage, enrapt. The dancers were so exquisitely beautiful – their bodies, of course, were unbelievable — so much grace with so much strength. How do they do that? They seemed so much more tangible, so available to us, without the fancy costumes and makeup. It was an intimate experience.
‘My god,’ I thought as I watched the cathedral birds – the rondini — in the sky above, dancing and darting to the music, the sun sinking lower and lower in the sky, painting the piazza a new shade of golden red at every stage of its descent. In the failing natural light, the spotlights from the scaffolding took over and gave us a hint of what the full, dressed production was going to look like on Friday night.
‘If I could watch ballet like this,’ I thought, munching on garlicky, olive-oiled toast, knocking down my glass of prosecco, sure in the knowledge that my pasta – chitarra with eggplant, tomato and smoked ricotta cheese – was being stirred up in the kitchen as we speak – ‘I’d go to the ballet more often.’
‘I’d be a fucking subscriber.’
‘I’d be a fucking subscriber.’