Orvieto is famous for many things: its iconic cathedral, Orvieto Classico wine, Etruscan pottery, and its funicular. Dig just a little deeper, though, and you’ll find a city at war. It’s a sweet and creamy war.
It’s a gelato war.
In the beginning, there was Pasqualletti’s. They had a little shop on the Corso (main shopping street), just at the corner of Via del Duomo (the pathway that leads to the duomo). As far as I was concerned, Pasquelletti’s was synonymous with gelato in Orvieto.
Then I noticed battle lines being drawn in the form of a couple of bars proudly serving Sarchioni’s. I confess to having a soft spot in my heart for Sarchioni’s, having been to the “Mother Church” — their bar in Torre Alfina. In fact, I’ve been there often enough to become recognizable to its owners. I like everything about Sarchioni’s — the gelato, friendly people, gelato cakes (yes, I’ve had a couple), and the village of Torre Alfina.
But back to Orvieto …. when a Sicilian couple opened a tiny shop practically across the Corso from Pasquelletti’s original shop, I decided neutrality was the only answer. Call me Switzerland. Their sweet stuff hails from Sicily, where gelato was invented, and is just as good as (better than? I have to re-check that) the others.
But let’s be fair to the good people of Orvieto. They aren’t uniquely warlike, gelato-wise. The entire region is entrenched in this sweet war. A mere 30 minutes away, for example, in the small town of Bolsena, there’s yet another battle-worthy warrior: Santa Cristina’s.
Would that war were always so harmless.
We followed our friends to our rental car at the beginning our short vacation together, feeling a palpable sense of freedom and relaxation. The source of our contentment was easy to pinpoint: we weren’t in charge. While we had all chosen the destination and lodging together, another couple had rented the car and they would be doing the driving and navigating. As Paul and I climbed into the far back seats of the rented van, we felt as much like privileged children under the care of doting parents as any middle-aged people possibly could. We were so unburdened by responsibility that we were practically giddy.
All of which leads me to tell you about Francis Surman.
At home in Ohio, my life can be a hot mess — I run too fast without ever catching up, desperately chasing efficiency and accomplishment. In precious moments of clarity, I know that this freneticism is mostly manufactured, born of the American tendency to equate one’s busy schedule with productivity.
I also know that efficiency isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Take, for example, being summoned by one’s Italian bank to come into any branch office and sign a piece of paper. Such was the gist of a letter we received.