Marble Quarries and Not Much Else

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First, a statistical note: we have been on the road 50 days now, and today is 10-10-10.

In the morning Andrew, Zeke, and I walked through a silent La Spezia to the camper and then we all rode back to Sarzana. Jed, Andrew, and I headed off for our day’s walk a little after 9. We said our morning prayers as usual, with the Sunday bonus we’ve been having of each person offering a one-minute homily on the Scripture verse of the day, especially appreciated now in a place where we can derive neither linguistic nor sacramental benefit from public worship.

The scenery was as dull as the past week’s had been thrilling. (The problem with high points is that you inevitably have to come down—which reminds me of the Transfiguration hymn that concludes: “How good, Lord, to be here, but we may not remain; So since you bid us leave the mount, come with us to the plain.”) It was semi-continuous villages of no great charm, one blending into the next with no distinguishing borders, along secondary roads and weedy verges. The sky was mostly overcast and the weather was neither hot nor cold. After awhile we turned off the main route for the alternate one along the beach; but once we got there we discovered the path was actually along the miracle-mile main drag, just out of sight of the sea, through even uglier beach towns—though I’ll give it this much credit, there was a sidewalk the whole way.

The one sight of any interest was the ravaged mountainside. This region of Carrara is home to the biggest marble quarries in Italy, and you can see the evidence in what at first appears to be snow but is actually the scars of quarrying on the rock faces of the Apuan Apennines. The permanence of these scars was particularly striking to me. And the leftovers of marble quarrying are apparently so plentiful that the curbs of the sidewalks are lined with marble! Chunks of marble litter the shore. On the plus side, it is from here that Michelangelo selected his stones for his sculptures. So does my friend Sarah Hempel Irani, a brilliant sculptor herself.

And that’s pretty much it for the day. We found our hostel and checked it, met with the others in the camper, found a campground for them, had some dinner and retired early to get things done.

Since there isn’t much to say about today, I thought I’d throw in a bonus recipe. I came up with this way back in Germany when we were still cooking on a butane stove and needed something healthy, filling, and easy to find in the discount grocery stores that pepper the European countryside, and when we had to carry our food awhile before cooking it so raw meat wasn’t an option. We’ve had it a number of times in the past 7 weeks. It seems most fitting to call it

Pilgrims’ Vegetable Stew

1 onion, diced
1 large eggplant, chopped in small cubes
2 large tomatoes, cubed
1 large yellow pepper, chopped in small cubes
6 oz feta
basil or other fresh herbs
½ lb. short pasta, like penne or macaroni

Heat 1 Tbsp. of olive oil in a pot. Add the onions and eggplant and cook over medium heat till they start to sizzle, sprinkle with a little salt, then cover and cook 7-10 minutes or so till the eggplant is quite soft. (When it has reached this point is a good time to put the pasta water on to boil.) Add the peppers and cook about 10 minutes more with the lid on until everything is quite soft; meanwhile cook the pasta. When the pasta’s done, drain it and serve with scoops of the stew on top, garnished with generous quantities of feta and herbs. Serves 2 hungry pilgrims, but probably 4 people under normal circumstances.

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