Micah and a marble worker

Would Magritte say that Micah was with a marble worker?

We just finished our Easter (Pasqua) break; the kids were off 10 days from school, and Alan and Barbara were visiting. We took a tour of coastal Tuscany, from Lucca in the north to Cerveteri in the south, accompanied by lovely spring weather.

One day, we took the A11 north to Carrara, location of the great marble quarries that the Romans first exploited in bulk beginning in the second century BC. Above the town, the peaks are white — not from snow, but from being cut down for the bright stone that makes up the mountains.

We visited the Civic Marble Museum in Carrara, had a fantastic pranzo at a Calabrian restaurant next to a working marble yard, and then toured one of the underground quarries before finishing the day at Forte dei Marmi, now a posh holiday beach town.

Micah was keen on the adventure; all day (and after) he talked about the ‘marvel quarries’. Our first visit was to the Civic Marble Museum at Carrara, which from the road seems an unassuming place, but in fact is a huge complex that covers the archaeological, technological, and artistic aspects of the fine stone trade.

Model of ancient marble saw apparatus

Model of ancient marble saw apparatus, from the museum.

Amidst the videos, models and diagrams of marble extraction, transport, and carving was an extensive gallery of marble samples — mostly from Italy — which overshadowed any kitchen showroom we’ve ever seen. Micah of course chose as his favorite marble an example (from Verona) that mostly closely resembled orange:

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The museum staff, though technically about to close for lunch, nevertheless let us stay as long as we wanted during their break. Outside the museum were piles of marble blocks and partially worked architectural fragments, lined up and stacked in such a way that they were impossible to resist for kids who love to climb and hop around.

We then found a restaurant next to the company who currently owns the concession for the quarry where Michelangelo got his marble, and as we sat down beneath the bower, we heard the diamond-belt saw start to slice a block in half, continually watered to keep both the cutting chain and the marble from overheating.

Marble works behind La Rustica

Marble works behind La Rustica

The name of the taverna was La Rustica, owned by a family from Calabria who had come north when their daughter was at university, when she told them there was a market for southern food.

They brought a ridiculously extensive spread of antipasti, silky red wine from their own vineyards, and then hung out with us while we ate, as we were the only ones in the restaurant (because the day before was Pasquetta, and it was a quiet day-after). The names of a few dishes were scrawled in chalk near the entrance, and Micah quickly made friends with the servers, who were trying to figure out why an American kid spoke so much better Italian than his tourist parents. The food was among the best we’ve had our entire time here; this place is fantastic. They even brought out their own limoncello at the end, distinctive for its milky texture and color. The owner explained that his daughter, an engineer, came up with the recipe, and she doesn’t even tell him how she makes it.

At table at La Rustica

At table at La Rustica

Afterwards we climbed the mountain in our van trying to reach the Fantiscritti quarries, where we had arranged a tour with Marmo Tour.

The Fantiscritti Quarries

The Fantiscritti Quarries

The company still works these quarries — cutting stone in the morning, and running tours in the afternoon. Their entrance must be the result of a class of fourth-graders armed with a case of Crayola fluorescent spray paint. Micah headed eagerly towards the pile of broken-down trucks.

Marmotour -- you can't miss it.

Marmo Tour — you can’t miss it.

Once inside, we learned we were at the heart of the mountain — 400+ meters in from either outside face, and 400+ meters below the top. As another company was also extracting stone from above us, they have to leave massive rectangular pillars to keep the whole thing from caving in.

In the heart of marble mountain

At the heart of marble mountain

They distributed plastic hard-hats, which was ludicrous (for us to pretend they cared about our safety), given that they would not have done us any good. But as a stylish workingman’s accessory, they looked great:

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Workers at these quarries have historically been highly independent; it was here that the International of Anarchist Federations was founded. (Yes, the irony of an anarchist organization…)

If the quarrymen wanted to run their own show in the mountains, down the coast the nouveaux riches feast on fine food and luxury leathers. The town has two Prada stores (one is not enough, apparently).

Evening at Forte dei Marmi

Evening at Forte dei Marmi

There is actually a fort in Forte dei Marmi; it is quite small — ‘cute’, perhaps? It largely served as a customs post.

The Forte in Forte dei Marmi

The Forte in Forte dei Marmi

The town and beach are known to host famous footballers on the summer break; Simon and I have been reading Andrea Pirlo’s autobiography (“I Think Therefore I Play” just out in English), but we didn’t see him on the beach.

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