LeMarche: Catch-up Post #2

Saturday, September 19, 2009 – A visit to a tiny country

LeMarche is an Italian province, similar to Tuscany, but wilder, less traveled, more varied in terrain. It is just south of Veneto, the province in which Venice and Ravenna are situated. LeMarche runs long, along the northeast coast of Italy and the Adriatic Sea.

And nestled into the LeMarche hills, just south of Veneto province, is a tiny country, third only in size to the Vatican as the smallest country in Europe (Monaco is second) and the fifth smallest country in the world. From About.com: Geography: ” San Marino – 24 square miles – Located on Mt. Titano in north central Italy, San Marino has 29,000 residents. The country claims to be the oldest state in Europe, having been founded in the fourth century.”

Described as “shamelessly touristy” (and that is quite accurate!), the town of San Marino sits as a medieval hilltown at the top of the country of San Marino, and once we got going on the A-road (the super toll road), we made it from our villa to San Marino in less than two hours. We parked in a designated lot and walked to the entrance to the FuniVia, a funicular (sort of a cable-car/goldola ala ski areas) that took us to the town at the top.

Beautifully situated, with wall-to-wall shops, mostly horrid souvenir shops, and some lovely stores sprinkled in to encourage those of us who wanted to wander without being assaulted by tacky pinocchio dolls and soccer flags, medieval guns and plastic toys at almost every turn. I know, it sounds horrid, but it’s like going to the circus, and whenever we got a glimpse of what was beyond those medieval walls, we stopped to appreciate the decidedly lovely views.

One of the gimmicks is that since San Marino is its own country, it makes its own postage stamps and has its own passport office. We decided to play along (when might we ever get there again?) so we marched into the Ufficio Communale, paid our 5 Euro each, and had our passports stamped, not only with the typical rubber passport stamp, but also with an official San Marino postage-type stamp, though I don’t think I could have used it to send a card back to my family. We chatted with the woman behind the plexiglass window and asked her if she had fun doing her job. She smiled. Of course she would . . . collecting 5 Euro from all manner of people, just so they could collect a stamp of her country in their passports!

We had a lovely lunch at a restaurant whose card is in the pile of receipts I have waiting for me, found a wonderful Lladros ceramic statue for Rebecca, and after a few photos of the area and a sculpture garden we discovered on the way down to the FuniVia station, we headed back to the villa. An adventurous day in yet another “country”! (I know, the photo is sideways, but I can’t yet figure out how to switch it when it does this . . . I’m waiting for my daughter to return my call. She’s the blog-whiz!)

Sunday, September 20: A lazy day at the villa, at least until mid-afternoon, because we have carefully checked to see when some of our “wish list things-to-see” are open. One has to remember we are in Italy, one of those civilized countries that take a break in the middle of the day. Today we are headed to The Rooms of Suspended Time Museum of Monastic Arts. In Italian, that’s Le Stanze del Tempo Sospeso. They are rooms in the Convent of Santa Maria Maddalena, full of objects on display that were part of the manual activities of the Sisters, which have survived since the late 1500’s. The display is set up in rooms with themses such as the pharmacy, the pantry, and the “workroom”, with spinning embroidery, tinting equipment among other things.

This is a museum that sounded intriguing to all of us, but it is closed from noon-3:30 p.m., and is located in Serra de Conti, a town we estimate is an hour’s drive from our villa. So by about 2:30, we are on our way, we arrive in a sleepy town and find an approved parking spot, just outside another of Italy’s medieval walls, and begin our walk up to the “Centro”, the old center, where most of these historical museums and churches are located. The entrance sign for Museo Monastiche leads us to a quiet, tree-lined patio before we walk through the doors of the quietest museum setting I’ve ever experienced. Of course, it’s a monastic setting, and we are the only people in the place, which suits me just fine.

The rooms have simple displays, as though one had dropped into a Quaker or Shaker setting. The old implements – spools of thread, embroidery hoops, apothecary bottles, copper pans, etc. – are nested in their display cases or on tables, in what I can only describe as a spiritual setting. This is the kind of place to which one might like to bring a small suitcase, old and black leather in construction, sit with a candle or oil lamp and write in one’s journal for days. There is a quietude here I never find at home. Maybe I’m headed for a monastery myself! I wish I could point readers to a website, but of course there is no such thing. Here are a few photos for you, and I hope they help capture your imagination.

See what I mean? Lovely old representation of life 500 years ago. When we finished in the museum, we wandered the streets for awhile, found a bar (these aren’t just alcohol bars . . . more like a cafe, with coffee, drinks, and sandwiches) and sat outside with cappucchino, small sandwiches and dessert goodies. Next to us was a group of perhaps eight men, all speaking in some sort of Arabic tongue. Each time another man joined the group, several of the seated men rose up, kissed the newcomer on both cheeks, and they all sat down again.

The church bells clanged loudly across the piazza, every fifteen minutes, in two tones. On the hour, the lower toned bell would ring the number of the hour (in our case, five, then six o’clock). Then every fifteen minutes, the deep bell would ring again, the five or six tolls, and then a higher pitched bell would come in for one ring (5:15), two (5:30), or three (5:45). Since we sat for more than 90 minutes, we had lots of time to learn the bell code of Serra de Conti. By 6:45, we were ready to wend our way down the cobblestoned streets, looking for our parked car beyond the old walls. Then it was back to the Casa Frances for another night of reading, writing, and eating before settling into bed.

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