Saturday, November 30, 2019

For the birds

A crow goes to the airport because sometimes, don't you know, it's too much to fly all the way by yourself. He has a ticket. He goes through security. I mean, he's behaving properly even for a crow at an airport. He has, though, brought with him a squished, dead rabbit he found on the side of the road on the way to the airport for maybe a little snack later.

Boarding begins on the flight. The crow gets to the attendant and shows his ticket. But the agent only has eyes for the oozing dead rabbit. "You can't bring that thing onto the plane!" The agent cries.

The crow is confused. "What do you mean," He says. "I thought everyone was entitled to one item of carrion."

Friday, November 29, 2019

Floor comedy

I've had a cold. It's okay. No need to fuss, I mean, beyond a little fussing. Surely a little fussing is okay. Also, it's a vacation weekend. So what I'm saying is there's a lot of lazing about sniffling and sneezing and blowing my nose. More industrious things like keeping up with my blogposts at the highest possible level, or keeping the house clean, feel the strain.

So imagine my relief when, while blowing my nose, my lovely wife got out a broom to give our floor a quick once over. Not only was there stuff all over our floor, but every single time anyone around here takes out the old broom and dustpan to clean our floor I invariably seem to come up with a blog post idea.

Although to be honest I think that might be a bit of a sweeping generalization.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

200 Reviews of Rome: The Barberini

One of the curious misadventures of this blog is that I might tell the same story twice, or thrice, or even 50 times. I don't know. I have decided not to fuss with it, feeling that each time I tell the same story it says something new. Let the Doctoral candidates sort it all out in their dissertations a thousand years hence. 

Or, more realistically, let the sweet vast tides of the Universe wash it all away. I have plenty of self-regard here, but incalculable constellations of more beautiful articulations than this have been broken back down into meaningless atoms. But let's keep a chin up. Everything that has ever been beautiful is written down somewhere. And who on earth has time to go through all that?

Which is to say that I am pretty sure I have already written a review of The Barberini in Rome. I know there is this review of the second best painting in The Barberini. And I have also tracked down in my archives this review of the cafe in The Barberini. But as to whether there is a 



I found it.

For the original, this.

I didn't mean to find it. But I do have an addendum:

Should you go?

The Barberini is now officially the most forgotten great museum in Rome. While we were there my wife and I wanted to go to it yet again. We looked it up in an up to date guide book in our room, written by Rick Steeves, and we couldn't even find mention of the place. I am pretty sure it is disappearing before our eyes. We went there and it took us hours to track it down even though it's ten minutes from The Spanish Steps. It's slowly being taken over entirely by cats. It was nearly empty. They keep closing more and more of it.

The Barberini is being washed away.

Don't go.

Isn't it enough already all the beautiful things you do know and that will soon be gone? 

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Tacos in a jar, a recipe!

In the library breakroom there is much notice for our upcoming holiday potluck. And on the table where one is to sign up and indicate the dish one is bringing, someone thoughtfully placed a copy of Emeril's Potluck, presumably to spark ideas for what to bring. I promptly opened it up... 

and was horrified! 

This was for reasons I feel I can best express by providing my own recipe below.

This recipe is for my super popular, and very handy, and perfect for potlucks, Clerkmanifesto's Tacos in a Jar. Festive, portable, tasty, and charmingly packed, Clerkmanifesto's Tacos in a Jar will enliven any party or picnic!

Clerkmanifesto's Tacos in a Jar


3 cans Clerkmanifesto brand tomato paste
2 pounds ground beef
2 onions
2 packets of Clerkmanifesto Tacos in a Jar! Seasoning Packet available online or at your local grocery
2 cans Clerkmanifesto Style Special Italian Pitted Black Olives (generic substitute is okay if you don't care whether anyone likes the food you cook)
4 ears shucked F1 Hybrid Feldenstein Variety Corn on the Cob
1 lb. extra sharp white cheddar, as aged as you can afford.
24 corn tortillas cut into inch sized pieces

12 Clerkmanifesto's Tacos in a Jar Taco Jars!


Carmelize the onions, set aside in a Clerkmanifesto Fiesta Bowl.

Salt and brown meat, drain, stir in tomato paste, and Clerkmanifesto's Tacos in a Jar Seasoning, set on low heat.

After awhile add onions, Clerkmanifesto Style olives, and shucked Feldenstein Hybrid Corn (non gmo).

In an oversized Tacos in a Jar, a Recipe!, the Blogpost Skillet, cook the tortilla pieces in salt, lime juice, and olive oil until they are crispy as many places as you can get them. Add the meat mixture and cheese. Stir.

Using a Clerkmanifesto Taco Scoop, fill your 12 Clerkmanifesto's Tacos in a Jar Taco Jars!

You're ready to go!

Don't forget to mention where you got the recipe every few seconds while people try to avoid you at the potluck.

And remember: Don't eat any of that other potluck food, that stuff is not wholesome. It may be full of Emeril products!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Standin' on the corner

One of what is probably a hundred different recurring tropes on clerkmanifesto is the perfidy of traffic signals. Wouldn't you think that a blog that periodically addresses the perfidy of traffic signals would be considerably more popular?

I know, me too! 

While I have discussed the evils of traffic lights at intersections for cars, particularly as related to busy intersections that experience long periods of time with no vehicles passing through them, the main focus of my barely contained rage has historically had to do with pedestrian crossings. I am occasionally so outraged at the sheer lack of effect one gets from pushing a crosswalk button that I've had to do the most extreme thing humanely possible regarding it: Write a short, sarcastic essay.

Well all this happened to me again today in my journey up the river on my way to work. I was getting really worked up as the crosswalk robot voice kept telling me to wait no matter how many hundreds of times I pushed the button. But then I had an epiphany:

Pedestrians are so low down in the traffic design order that the default scenario at any cross signal is that pedestrians get no turn at all. The button is merely there to tell the traffic signal that a pedestrian would actually like a turn, eventually, in the least urgent way, if it's not too much trouble. Just because I want it to mean something else, just because we should live in a world better than that, where people walking are treated like gods by the city planners, doesn't mean we do live in that world.

Which is why I like to pick up a nearby rock or brick and whack the crosswalk button repeatedly. I've got all the time in the world.

Monday, November 25, 2019

Library supplies

Dear Library Staff:

As you know I am the supply procurer for our library. If you don't know this I am frankly alarmed at how little you pay attention to the important details of your workplace. It is not too late for you to be a better employee! And to start with you could memorize the following fact:

I am the supply procurer for our library. That is, I order our supplies.

Now that that's out of the way allow me to provide some useful information about not only what I can and will do, but also about what you can do to make the process run a lot better!

Ordering supplies for a large, busy library such as our own is not an easy task. I am dealing with upwards of 40 different people, many of whom need things, although, honestly, four or five of them seem to need very particular things a little too often and most of everyone else just gets upset when exactly what they want isn't readily available without asking. There are often specific rules for what I can order and who I can order it from. Sometimes I have to get dedicated lines of funding or permission for particular purchases. Sometimes I have to justify purchases. And a lot of the time I am mysteriously allowed to order all kinds of weird crap, no questions asked.

Another thing you should know is that I don't and can't actually order directly from anywhere! I have no money. I have no access to a credit card or a line of credit. I can't go to the local Target and just get something we desperately need. I have to order everything through another orderer and then rely on that person ordering what I ordered. I liken this to hand stitching an elaborate and complicated quilt while wearing heavy rubber gloves. Did you know that you can still easily stab yourself through heavy rubber gloves? You can! That's what makes the system so difficult and absurd. Why, you might ask, don't I stitch the quilt while wearing more protective thick leather gloves? I would, but that's not the analogy.

Which, if you're half the co-worker I think you are, will lead you to ask: What can I do to help you as the supply orderer for our library?

Thank you for asking!

Two simple things:

1. If we are out of something, like pens, or paper, or kleenex, or newspaper ties, or green dots, or scissors, paper, or staples, or library guides, cards, or sharpie fine point clickables, or dry erase markers, 2-inch tape, or whatever, please stop asking me about it! Don't you think I've ordered it by now? I have! I don't need everyone to be all like "Are there any more blue slips?" twenty times a day. No, there aren't any. I ordered them ages ago. I can't control when they come in. I'm not hiding them! Stop asking me! Just leave me alone. I'm doing the best I can!


2.  If we are out of something let me know. As a large and extremely busy library we have hundreds, yes hundreds of different items of supplies. I can't just magically know when we're out of one of them! I need staff to let me know when they need something and when we're out of something. And who knows, I might even have some spares shoved in a back up box somewhere. You'll never know if you don't ask, and I might never know either.

Thank you so much for your attention to this matter. I know it's a lot to take in, especially if you've been walking around our library, working in a fog, and every single aspect of this letter is completely new to you. Although if that's the case, you've probably already forgotten or misunderstood everything I've said in this message already.

To everyone else though, thank you again, and I hope I have ordered what you need, and if I haven't, I hope it's not my fault,

F. Calypso

Library Supplies

Sunday, November 24, 2019

200 Reviews of Rome: Bar del Fico


5 Stars!

Bar del Fico, where have you been all our lives!

Okay, well, not all our lives. We've only been to Rome five times over the many years, and I'm not sure Bar del Fico would have been quite what we were looking for the first couple of times we were there. But located as it is in the general heart of our (and most travelers) stomping grounds, just outside of Piazza Navona in the twisty warren of streets a skootch towards the Tiber, it seems both sad and happy that we missed it over our last few trips. Sad because it would have rescued a few wandering nights of not quite being able to settle on where to go, but happy for the obvious reason of finding it and the slightly less obvious reason of giving the sense that in every way Rome has its endless layers, willing to reveal more things to one the longer one pours over those same streets.

Bar del Fico is the perfect sort of evening, drink and a snack, shabby chic (it even says so on the google map!), find a seat in Rome and soak it all in kind of place. We got a nice couple seats in the loungey bar area and had (probably) a Negroni and wine, but I might be wrong because I vaguely remember mint in my drink. We got nuts with it all, as is proper. We ordered some nice cheese and I had a fried pizza aperitif thing that I liked an awful lot. The price was reasonable. Everyone was nice to us. And that's about it, except for the context, which follows:

In thinking I would dash off a review of Bar del Fico, almost a month after going there just one time, I figured I should do some basic research, so I looked up Bar del Fico and got an eyeful of the reviews. It was chaos, just like Rome! To start with Bar del Fico is, as is common in Rome, kind of three or four things at once, consisting of several different rooms. It seems to be a cafe, something converting to a lounge, a cocktail bar, and also partly a more straight up restaurant. The pictures all look like they're from seven different places (though there are a couple of cocktails with fresh mint which supports the theory I had one of those). The reviews also encompass this diversity with people enraptured over the friendliness and wonderful food to the point where they moved into a local hotel and went to Bar del Fico twice a day, all the way to a minority who are still wounded by the staff's cruelty and the possibility they were cheated. I am not here to dispute any of these sorts of takes on the place. Rome can be like this. We have but our singular experience. There is no place with so many stars that you don't take your chances. 

We took ours at Bar del Fico.

It worked out.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Stephen Jay Gould is dead

A man came up to the front desk of my library to collect an interlibrary loan, that is, a book that we borrowed from another library system on his behalf. In the process of checking it out to him I gave it a look. It was an interesting illustrated volume by the science writer Stephen Jay Gould. There were lots of fossil pictures inside.

"This looks pretty interesting." I said. "And I don't say that lightly." Though admittedly it's not like I say it rarely either.

He leafed through it a trifle tiredly. "It's my last, no, my second to last Stephen Jay Gould book." He said. "Then I'll have read them all."

I said something neutral before he continued. 

"Thankfully he's dead." He added. "So there won't be anymore."

No matter how dark the cloud I guess there's always some kind of silver lining.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Unusual tastes

This is a funny time of year here in Minnesota. It is not embraced by many. Grey nearly all the time, sometimes the temperatures drop into the bottom of the teens and snow falls from the sky. Ice forms on the roads. Bitter winds blow. And the rakish fops say:

"How do you like this? It's still a month before Winter even starts. Ha!"

But you wonder: How can this be Fall?

It can't possibly be Fall.

And then the cold relents. It gets so misty out that one can't even see down into the Mississippi River Gorge. The scattered inch or two of snow and ice vanishes into a great dampness everywhere, and one realizes it really is still Autumn, in it's peculiar, late way. There genuinely is a steady progression from Summer to Winter, secreted between the blizzards, and this is what it looks like. Strange fruits hang from out of bare and dead-leafed trees, rotting. Gouts of ravaged, soaked leaves are piled up in the underbrush turning to slime, the wild places tucked into the city are a tattered tableau as the very world around us breaks down.

And then there's the smell. 

Above all it's the smell.

It's not everywhere, but it's not hard to find. I don't know how to describe it. I suppose it is made of all the ragged matter, all the leaves and branches and cold fruits long past their expiration, rotting, battered by the brutal, altering freezes and thaws, the incessant wetness, all being packed together and forgotten. It is a smell that rises out of the riverway valley, out of the gutters, the collapsed flowerbeds, and the treed borderlands lining the bike and walking paths of my city. It is a rotten smell, of death and decay. It is the smell of things turning, of funk, and of mold. I don't think the smell has any name to know it by. I can't quite conjure this smell to mind, it is strangely unimaginable. But it is full of adjectives and description: putrid, rotted, festering, corrupt, spoiled, decomposing. It is a heady smell, oddly fresh in its rancid way, wine gone too far, dark mushrooms, the secrets of the earth. Death.

I quite like it, and seek its heart, like an appealing pain of which I want to see how much I can take; An exquisite and repulsive morbidity, and yet, the last living breath of a doomed thing before real death, and Winter.


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Impeachment fun

I am really enjoying these impeachment hearings. I thought maybe I'd find them dry, or unambitious, or far too limited, and I suppose they are, but that doesn't mean they aren't compelling. I rarely get to see or hear more than a half hour or an hour of them before I have to leave for work, or arrive at work, or go back to work, but every time that I do have to leave them it's a wrench. I am forced to tear myself away. I am hanging on every word and every moment.

The Impeachment hearings are like watching The Harlem Globetrotters. Team Democrat, in this case, is like the Harlem Globetrotters. Team Trump is like The Washington Generals. There's the Democrats being all clever like, making fabulous points, running circles around the plodding, villainous Republicans. Then the Republicans make some argument at great length. It seems absurd, irritating, disingenuous, and illogical, but before one has even worked out all that's wrong with this ridiculous Republican point, some articulate Democrat comes along and slam dunks on all its irrational, unsound, and flawed reasoning. 

I'm just saying it's good sport. With one side that is vastly better at it, and on the side of good, showing off their skill and virtuosity, throwing down the hoops in a lopsided tour de force. It's not competitive, but it does turn out to be a fun display.

The only part that gets me a little down is that when it's over for the day and all the referees come on to say:

"Let's just call that one a tie."

Wednesday, November 20, 2019


When meeting people I am generally anxious and on time, maybe even a little early. It is more familiar to me to be waiting a bit, nervously, for a short time, or sometimes even for a little longer.

But today I made the mistake of trying to make a minor adjustment on our new espresso machine's grinder, which was not quite as minor as I imagined. And so I was ten minutes late in meeting a friend.

There he was, sitting patiently. And as I arrived he sprang up, ready to go. The party began with me.

Suddenly, I could see the appeal.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

All the talented birds

I was walking along the Mississippi River and I came upon a raptor, a great bird. His head was all white, but the white did not end at the shoulder, rather it bled into tan and then into something almost cappuccino colored as it flowed down his body.

"You're not an eagle." I said to him in mild surprise.

"I get that all the time." He replied, and then he flew out over the river.

He was unusually good at it.

Monday, November 18, 2019

On library time

Black holes are well known for their strange effect on time. If one has heard about gravitational time dilation once, one has heard about it a thousand times. But having had a quarter century of my life swallowed up into the irresistible maw of a public library I am aware that it is not only black holes that have a unique effect on time.

In short, time acts with extreme peculiarity in and around libraries. And it doesn't take a deeply invested library professional like myself to see it. You yourself have undoubtedly at some point checked out a book at a library only to find out a couple of days later that the book is now fourteen days late.

"How is this possible?" You wonder.

"I must have made a mistake." You rationalize.

You didn't make a mistake.

Oh, you will never catch time in the act of mischief at a library. Time always has an alibi. But alibis are not the same thing as innocence.

I'm just saying that here at my library I'm skipping around in its curious time like it's Slaughterhouse Five. And I am not alone.

Today at the front desk a regular came up to me and greeted me with real warmth.

"Hey, it's great to see you. I haven't been here for ages! Do I still have a card in this system?"

I was slightly worried his mind was slipping. "I'm pretty sure it's only been a few weeks since I last saw you."

"No, I don't think I've been here since the new building." That would put it at maybe ten years since his last visit.

Ten years, three weeks? We regarded each other curiously for a moment. Then we moved on and caught up on things. What was to argue? We were both right.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Italy, a conversation

"Italy." My co-worker says. "You've been to Italy, haven't you?"

"Yes. I was there just two weeks ago." I reply, tactfully not mentioning the small gift of a wrapped chocolate from Italy that I had recently given this person.

"Is it nice?"

"It is very beautiful." I replied. Then, growing thoughtful I added "Though I suppose it all depends on where you are."

"Oh, and where is it beautiful?"

"In Italy!"

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Who wins Florence

As much traveled visitors to Rome, the great Baroque city if ever there was one, my wife and I received many hints there of the Renaissance. They seemed increasingly appealing the more we looked. So we thought we'd go to Florence. We thought we'd see a little bit of the footsteps that led to the flourishing of Rome, the best city we've ever seen.

There is a lot of great art in Florence. After all, 600 years ago Europe woke up there; The Renaissance, don't ya know, with all the burning energy of a thousand year sleep. With so much amazing art to see I wondered who, above all, would blow through my soul. So we made the rounds.

Filippo Lippi, of whom we had seen precisely one intensely captivating painting in Rome, all angels, grace, and gold, was every bit as good as the promise of what we had seen in The Doria Pamphilj. Botticelli was like a refinement of that grace, and his paintings, well known to us, and to most people on the planet, were a whole other world of loveliness, one that was never apparent exactly in the reproductions, which were all I'd ever seen of him before. The Da Vincis were fascinating, but no real match for what hangs in the Louvre. Raphael seems to oscillate in a tiny fraction of an inch between sheer genius and mundanity, mostly wonderful, nothing better than what is in the Barberini in Rome, but plenty remarkable. Giambologna was ridiculously good, with statues more baroque than I dared hope or imagine, every one a thrill to see. Donatello was fascinating. Pontormo's Deposition was a painting I've always longed to look at in person. It is a mad and ridiculous painting, an absolute joy that sums up everything anyone might ever need to know about Mannerism in a single work of art, all graceful and nearly purposeless poses, lurid, wonderful Sistine Chapel colors, and skill almost just for the sake of skill. There is our bizarre bridge from the Renaissance to the Baroque.

And of course there's Michelangelo, towering over it all. Influencing everything with his touch and magnificence. 

And yet...

The amazing David is exquisite and almost unbelievably monumental in a way that nevertheless feels a little emotionally flat to me after the excruciatingly moving Pieta. Maybe if they put it outside where it belongs? All the masterpieces of the Medici Chapel are better, but renovations there, and obscuring scaffolding, may have hampered my enjoyment along with his weird version of breasts and a sense that he didn't quite finish his plan for it all the way he wanted to. His early work kind of... sucks, up to Bacchus, which is more proof of talent than an epiphany.

Which, maybe I should have known all along, left us with three Caravaggios, of all things. 

The Sacrifice of Isaac, a story I've always found a touch ridiculous, made me tear up. The Medusa, a demonstration of gloss and perfection like I've never seen before, and sleeping cupid, a painting I'd only barely looked forward to, which is a picture of love sleeping by an artist at the height of his magical powers in full, shuddering expressive force.

Sleeping Cupid. No pretty child. Apparently Caravaggio used a dead child as a model. Yellow light. Flesh. Love lies sleeping. A picture is worth an entire language.

I suppose there are best current artists.

And there are artists of their generation.

And there is the greatest artist of their age.

And then there is the most brilliant artist of an entire era.

And then there's Caravaggio.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The gelato diet

A bit less than a year ago I restructured the way I eat. This was for a variety of household and health reasons, and to make a little more room for my hobbies of cocktails and coffee. One thing about the restructuring meant that I eat less. Sometimes it seems like a lot less. I don't use sweeteners. I don't eat or drink after seven. I have very particular meals and mealtimes, and not that many of them. And I can't complain. All of this has largely done the job. I still have my middle age issues, but I feel pretty much healthier and less inclined towards physical breakdowns, back injuries, colds, and some other miscellaneous ailments, than I had before. Plus I look dashing in my vests.

But when I went to Italy I decided, for my two weeks there, to set all that carefully to the side. As my wife and I tramped all over Florence and Rome I ate and drank whatever, and whenever. I had as much coffee as I could manage. I drank regularly- a bottle of wine, Fernet Branca at night, cocktails on piazzas, afternoon Spritzes like it was a religion. I consumed great quantities of cheeses, finding our first great cheese plate at Pitti e Gola where I had three glasses of sparkling wine and one of something called Orange Wine. I ate plates of raw meat. I had pastry every morning stuffed with creams and chocolate. I bought porcini mushrooms and swordfish and fried them in olive oil. I ate all the potato chips they brought me with my Spritz.

And I had gelato.

I had gelato every day. I had gelato in the morning. I had gelato in the evening. I had gelato in the afternoon. I would get gelato, eat it, and go back to order more gelato. I ate gelato walking along. And I ate gelato sitting down. I ate planned gelato and I ate spur of the moment gelato. I had whipped cream on my gelato and I had gelato plain in a cup. Sometimes I had espresso over my gelato. I ate a lot of gelato.

Outside of one unpleasant night early in the trip which I blame on an injudicious nightcap of Fernet Branca and possibly a questionable panini, my health was excellent in Italy. I felt good. A few weird home ailments ceased to bother me in Italy. I came home well and whole and I might have even lost a pound or two while I was there, or so it was suggested to me.

Now surely one could say that our near constant walking in Italy wiped away all the other sins. Or that for all I ate it turned out we were too busy for me to actually eat all that much. One could argue that the joy of Italy helped me out, the lack of stress, the complete cessation of anything remotely comparable to a sedentary lifestyle.

And those would be good arguments. Very sensible.

But wrong.

It was the gelato.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Home to the birds

The biking season should perhaps have officially ended last week. But I went out and biked to the University anyway. The wind cut through my wool mittens like a circular saw going through a piece of cheese.

"Hey," I said to the cold. "You do know that you don't need a circular saw to cut cheese, you can even just break off a piece of cheese?"

"Yes," Replied the cold "That's what we're planning on doing when your fingers sufficiently... stiffen."

So when it was 14 degrees out this morning I understood that I like my fingers. I'm using them right now to tell you all about how much I like them! I put away all biking things and prepared my feet for walking.

The down side of walking is it takes longer.

The upside of walking is it takes longer. 

While walking one sees everything. Cardinals, bald eagles, blue jays, geese, turkeys. Well, maybe one doesn't see everything, but one definitely sees birds. Riding a bike it is not very safe to be gazing over one's head, watching an eagle circle in the clear and bitter morning light. Walking it's almost safe to look all one might want. I mean, it's probably safe enough.

Furthermore, biking, this, that happened today, has never happened before:

Coming to the point where I leave the river and head into the University, I was writing my usual dark blog posts in my head. For no reason that I understand I looked up and saw three huge turkeys perched high in a tree. They were enormous, four foot tall, 50 pound turkeys. The biggest one was at the very top of the tree, like an absurd Christmas ornament.

Of course, I've never seen that not on a bike either.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

My favorite gelato

In my endless quest to understand, evaluate, and eat the gelato of Italy I generally avoid ever ordering any flavor of chocolate. One can probably manage to tell the difference between good and bad gelato through the flavor of chocolate, but one is unlikely to be able to discern between the various levels of good gelato with the flavor of chocolate. 

It's too easy. Chocolate tastes like chocolate. It is not a flavor to be delicately coaxed out and balanced in the general recipe of great gelato. It is pretty hard to mess up a chocolate gelato.

So I don't order chocolate.

Except, of course, I did, just once on this trip. 

I ordered chocolate once only, at Fatamorgana, in Rome. The thing was, I wasn't working. I wasn't studying. I wasn't comparing.

 I was just there admiring.

I wasn't searching out the best gelateria. I'd already found it. They were it.

I was eating gelato for pleasure.

So I got their chocolate.

Only, it was the great Fatamorgana, brightest star in the Italian firmament of gelato. So it wasn't chocolate, it was Lapsang Souchong Chocolate.

Of the roughly 45 gelato flavors and varieties I had in Italy over two weeks, it was the single best one.

Chocolate, not too sweet, a nod to the bitter, then the smokey coming through like a stroke of inspired genius, and finally the bare hint of black tea underneath.

I'm sorry, I can't go on anymore. I'm getting a bit... emotional.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Gelato of Florence

We've spent a couple days leading up to this survey of the gelato of Florence. The cat's already out of the bag as regards to the best gelateria in Florence; Dei Neri. And as much as one might like to be the great gelato sleuth of Florence, ferreting out some miraculous hidden gem, the fact is that if, from my research, I had to guess what would have been the best gelateria in Florence I would have guessed Dei Neri.

This is not bad news! Dei Neri is centrally located, easy to get to, and never, as far as I can tell, besieged by any serious lines. If you want just one gelato in Florence, go to Dei Neri, and if you want to experiment, start with Dei Neri. Simple.

But the other good news is that all these runner up finishers to Dei Neri are so close in quality to Dei Neri that it's just not that big a deal, unless you're an absolute gelato fanatic, to miss Dei Neri and instead end up at them, mostly. Especially towards the top of my list.

Which brings me to my ranked list of Florentine gelaterias:

1. Dei Neri

The best flavor I had was coffee, which, unlike any coffee gelato or ice cream I've ever had, both tasted exactly like coffee and tasted better than coffee, both true to coffee, and the ideal of coffee. They had one of the best pistachios I've had here too, matching Come il Latte's remarkable version in Rome.  Once I got a four flavor cup all of fruit flavors, raspberry, passion fruit, mango, maybe clementine? All the flavors were reliably pure and straight from the fruit, the gelato fresh and impeccably smooth, and the sweetness quietly pitched.

2. Della Passera (tied)

A sweet little place in the Oltrarno (but not the far away Oltrarno like the one it's tied with, more just across the river from the main parts of Florence). I had a two-flavor cup of clementine and vanilla and the clementine was an eye opener, fresh, sparkling like a really good clementine, and the vanilla was a smooth perfect foil. I wish I could have tried more from here, but this was so nice and felt so right!

2. Pintucci (tied)

Here, alas, is the wonderful gelateria pitched maybe a bit too far from the center of town and from where most travelers will be to be worth the extra trip. As a reader of gelateria reviews and blog posts I find these kinds of places particularly irksome as they're immensely interesting to me, but usually, in the end, not quite worth the very specific journey. So for you I'm glad this wasn't the very best of all gelato, per se, even if it was fantastic. That it was fantastic was great because my lovely wife, who so kindly indulged my frequent gelato diversions, and I just so happened to be staying out here for part of our trip, just beyond the Porta Romana. I had a lot of gelato here! The flavors were very pure and only the slightest step off of Dei Neri. The high water mark for them was the best hazelnut I've ever had. It was brilliant. It tasted like, get this, hazelnuts! They had a really good passion fruit here too.

4. Strega Nocciola

They have a couple locations here, one practically on the river in Oltrarno, and another just off the Duomo. They also have one of these in Rome, in the Spanish Steps neighborhood, which is where I first encountered them and the utter glory of their lavender gelato. I tried their bright, brilliant strawberry this time around too. This is my fourth best in Florence and I'm still splitting hairs really. If you only had gelato here and nowhere else you won't really have missed anything. This is amazing gelato.

5. Perche No, Eduardo, and Sbrino (a three way tie for fifth)

Any city would be proud to host any of these gelaterias and there would be awfully few of those cities wherein any one of the above wouldn't be the absolute best ice cream of any kind in the city. 

Perche No is maybe the most famous of the Florence gelaterias and I found their chestnut fascinating, hazelnut extremely close to Pintucci's above, and their caramel delicious but short of amazing. As with any singular visit to a place as good as this I can only wonder if, in a different mood, or having chosen different flavors, I might be ranking them even higher than my already high regard.

Sbrino I don't have to wonder about all that with Sbrino as it was small, charming, and also (maybe unfortunately for you) out across the street from Pintucci, in the distant Oltrarno, so I did a more thorough survey of their gelato. Their quality was unmistakable, most compellingly in a rather amazing Fior Di Capra, which was a plain goat milk gelato. Don't knock it til you try it. Grape with all the skin bits in didn't quite work, and a signature flavor with maybe hazelnut and white chocolate was good but not as good as it sounds. Nevertheless I kept pulling for the place, and when they got it they really got it.

Eduardo, right on the Duomo, was, well, my notes fail me! Sorry. I loved it but cannot for the life of me remember anything about it. There goes the curse of eating too much fantastic gelato!

Monday, November 11, 2019

The best gelato of Florence

Dei Neri.

The best gelato of Florence is at Dei Neri.

There. That wasn't so hard was it?

Every study you might find on the Internet of the best gelato of Florence, or Rome for that matter, will include two things, one useless and one useful.

The useless thing is lots of pictures of prepared gelato from the gelateria in question, which will be all pretty and enticing, giving life and appeal to the Internet page, but offering absolutely nothing extra in the evaluation of gelato.

The useful thing will be a warning description of commercial gelato so that one can avoid it. The warning signs are bright colors not natural to the flavor in question, fluffy piles towering magically in their refrigerated counters, and pretty, sugary drama, often all glossily located in a heavily touristed part of town. Well, fair enough, I'm down with that warning cry, though it's maybe not always quite as easy as they make it sound. There is certainly commercial gelato that is more quietly presented, and what after all is the real color of pistachio gelato, or strawberries, or clementines? At my favorite gelateria in the world, Fatamorgana (sorry, in Rome not Florence) I had a bright green mint chip gelato a mere week ago. Nothing like the mint chip ice cream of my youth, it was full of a pure, intense spearmint flavor, the chocolate firm, gentle, and unsweetened, and when I got to the bottom of the cup I only then noticed all the tiny bits of ground up mint leaves flavoring and coloring my exquisite gelato.

So as we go forth here are some extra tips for spotting this real gelato, in an honorable gelateria, without any one of these necessarily being a guarantee, but a couple of them should be enough to do you. Remember, these are the good signs:

1. Nothing rising above the surface of the bin.

2. Covered metal bins where you can't even see the gelato.

3. Claims like "Organic" or "Artigianale".

4. Strange flavors, but of real things, like avocado lime, or fig ricotta.

5. More chocolate flavor varieties than strictly seem necessary (not necessarily my thing, but still...)

6. Lines (the public isn't always right, but it often is enough so in this case).

7. And yes, slightly more muted colors.

If that sounds still a bit tricky here's the easy part: The gelato standard in Florence is supremely high. If you can eliminate, through the above tips, the slightly or very dodgy bad half, you're home free. The good half of gelato in Florence is uniquely wonderful and of a standard higher even than Rome. So dig in.

On the other hand, Florence is not exactly a teeming metropolis. One could just write down my list of gelaterias, and only go to ones on it, not worrying much about which, and all should be well. Walk around a bit and you'll hit a few.

So now that the gelaterias worth considering have been separated out from those to avoid, what are the good ones, I mean, after Dei Neri, the best of them?

Let's save that for tomorrow. I need to rest up. There are quite a few, all of them almost as good.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

The preamble to the best gelato of Florence

Am I the greatest gelato reviewer on the Internet?

That's a problematic question. Without humbleness my immediate reaction is... no, of course not. 

But as a person who has long poured over the reviews and blogger accounts of gelato on the Internet, concerning the gelato of both Rome and Florence, I am less disinclined to proclaim myself "The Greatest Gelato Blogger on the Entire Internet".

This is because the systematic, deep, and thorough investigation of gelato in Italy and Europe that one would hope for, and even expect, does not happen. Or, if it does, because the Internet is really terrible, we can't find it. A case in point is that even though my work on the gelato of Florence is easily in the top echelon of thoughtful, informed analysis, you probably won't find it.

Which is weird, because you are reading this now.

But this only means one of three things:

1. Somehow you know me, and fell into reading this, a gelato post. Your interest in gelato is idle, at best. You're actually probably lactose intolerant to be honest. Thanks for bearing with me.

2. This post isn't really about Florence gelato, that's tomorrow's post, which you're currently not reading.

3. You are not actually reading this now, which, trust me, thousands and thousands of people who have searched "best gelato Florence" are also now not doing, at any give time.

The best gelato reviewer in the world would be a systematic obsessive, probably living in Italy somewhere, focused completely on the thankless evaluation (well, the gelato would be some reward) of gelaterias, wherever they are. The fantasy is that the Internet is full of weird stuff like this. The reality is that unrenumerated obsessive geniuses are the amazingly rare exception that proves the rule of the Internet.

Oh, what is the rule of the Internet?

The rule is:

Everything good on the Internet is an accident.

But that's okay. We here at clerkmanifesto like to make as many accidents on the Internet as possible. If we're lucky maybe the right people can get hurt. If we're lucky we will accurately describe the best gelato of Florence. It may even end up being one of the all time great guides ever written about Italian gelato!

You'll never find it.

Saturday, November 9, 2019


As you most likely know, my wife and I went on a trip to Florence, then Rome. We have been to Rome many, many times, once for a month even, but we have never been to Florence. So there we were. And it was lovely. First staying on the outskirts of the Oltrarno neighborhood we learned how good all the food can be there, how beautiful the countryside is, hedging in, how glorious are the vistas of the fabled city. We saw astonishing art in the Pitti Palace. I got the lay of the land on their extraordinarily high level of gelato.

Then we moved in, deep into the heart of the city, across the street from the Duomo. The thronging life of the place, its soul and essence! More beauty, more art, more food and markets.

This is lovely, isn't it? We said.

Yes, we had to answer. 

We compared. This thing is better here than there. This market is easier to use. I like how there is less traffic and big streets. I like how you can walk to every single thing.

This is lovely, isn't it? We asked again.

Yes, we had to answer.

Could we live here? 

Yes, if we could afford it this would be great, a thrilling place to live. We would live here in a second. Maybe we should live here. It's lovely, isn't it?

Yes, it's lovely, we had to answer.

It is lovely.

We had a lot of fun.

We saw extraordinary things. It was great. We ate delightful things. We shopped in charming shops. We saw miraculous art and architecture. We saw history. What a town this Florence is!

It is lovely, isn't it?

Yes, we had to answer.

Very lovely.

And then we got our train and went to Rome. And we stepped out into Rome. And we said:


Friday, November 8, 2019


If you are ever so inclined to travel to a world famous tourist destination you will have to answer the question of lines.

What is the question of lines?

It is myriad questions in one:

1. How much of your vacation do you want to stand in line for?

2. Is the length of a line any indication of the quality of that which is at the end of it?

3. What commitments and reservations are you willing to make to avoid or lessen lines?

4. Are you willing to chance leaving and coming back in hopes of a shorter line?

5. Is exhaustive preparation worth it to learn secret end runs to avoid lines?

6. How much will you pay to avoid a line?

The answers to these question can define a great deal of one's trip to a place like Florence, but they are personal answers. What is right for one person is wrong for another. Nevertheless I believe there are some general truths to be found in the answers to the question of lines. And so in that spirit, fresh from a lovely trip with my wife to Florence and Rome, I will take my stab at answering the above, blurring the personal with what is generally true. It's a specialty of mine.

1. How much of your vacation do you want to stand in line for?

As little as possible, as much as necessary.

Lines are inevitable, starting with the very process of flying to Europe and all that the cruelties of modern airport travel bureaucracy entail. And these Disneylandish destinations (meaning no offense, though some offense is inevitable), like Florence, Paris, Rome or Venice, have an awful lot of things that an awful lot of people want to see or do or eat, all at once.

2. Is the length of a line any indication of the quality of that which is at the end of it?

Yes! And no. One might have to take one's lumps to stand in front of Botticelli's Primavera or The Mona Lisa, but really, if you open your eyes, they are beautiful, extraordinary pieces of art. However no one on earth is making a 6 euro sandwich in Florence that is worth an hour wait in a clogged street (Vinaio at lunchtime), especially when there are roughly four equally excellent panini shops in Florence that only rarely have lines (and ones easily avoided). In short, lines in great European cities almost always mean something really good, but they may or may not mean something inimitable. My Italian travel specialty is gelato and the biggest lines are not at the best gelaterias, even if they are at good gelaterias.

3. What commitments and reservations are you willing to make to avoid or lessen lines?

Us? Almost none. We don't like to be fenced in. And some of those reservations aren't as line-free as one hopes. But if one doesn't mind a bit of structure it can be worth it for something dramatic or essential to one.

4. Are you willing to chance leaving and coming back in hopes of a shorter line?

Yes. The great secret we learned for ourselves is to go to places for as long a time as possible, always better one city than three, advice no one I have ever advised has ever listened to. Oddly it turns out the more time you have to waste the less time you have to waste.

5. Is exhaustive preparation worth it to learn secret line end runs?

Yes, though it can take a lot of research. Ferreting out the secret of being able to buy an annual pass to the combined Uffizi and Pitti Palace and Boboli Gardens, something mentioned in no guide book I have read, produced serious joy and convenience and added some serious linelessness into our trip.

6. How much will you pay to avoid a line?

Not much. I like to squander all our money on swanky rooftop bars and exotic apartment rentals.