17th November 2007
In my previous life I would have liked to have been present at the illustrious gathering in Rome in 1546 during which Cardinal Farnese asked his bearded bumptious friend Giorgio Vasari to assemble a " catalogue of artists...". Perhaps I could have been the slightly faded courtesan in the shadows, dressed in second-hand silk with a whisper of ermine. I would have leaned in with naked curiosity as the conversation took its turn and Vasari paused to draw the breath that would exhale his magnus opus, 'The lives of the most excellent painters, sculptors and architects' - more comonly known as 'Vasari's Lives'.
Born in Arezzo, Vasari initially trained as an artist and was very successful, but he obviously became so much more than that - in fact he became what Malcolm Gladwell calls a 'connector' with his finger on the very pulse of his day - a kind of impresario, remembered for his rather pedestrian painting and his innovative architecture, but most of all for his unique insight into the art history of the Renaissance.
His biographies are full of juicy snippets of gossip and, although many of his anecdotes have the ring of truth to them, I wouldn't be surprised if he'd made them up either and, frankly, I don't care. He is hugely opinionated and biased, but that's what makes him so readable. Love him or hate him, in the world of the Renaissance, it's hard to ignore him.
Vasari mada a fortune and bought himself a small palazzo in Arezzo "with enough space to make some beautiful vegetable gardens". We went there to have a look. The house is lovely; frescoes by his own hand, a visual ode to himself, and why not?
I'm glad he's not around to see the rather sorry state of his vegetable patch, though...
The best thing I ate today;
Coniglio alla porchetta (rabbit - don't tell the girls!)
Controversial I know, but I like a bit of rabbit. Growing up in the Norfolk countryside, it was something we ate quite a lot. I remember the excitement of my grandparents arriving on Christmas Eve, their car loaded with presents, and a seasonal Rabbit Pie for supper.
Fluff and cuteness aside, rabbit is, surely, a healthy and a free-range (or wild) ethical choice. Its mild, slightly gamey flavour is flattered by the oily aromatics of shrubby Mediterranean herbs as well as the aniseed flavour of fennel.
For lunch in Arezzo today, I chose 'Coniglio alla Porchetta' (roasted with fennel and squashed cloves of garlic). No veg, just a dish of spikey rucola which, with its peppery twang, creates a perfect pairing.
Where to get it;
Osteria Saraceno, Arezzo
Tip - It's called 'alla porchetta' only because the fennel is usually used to flavour pork - there's no pork in this dish.