Italian matters

Postcard from Milan #2

Two of life’s mysteries. Why is it more or less impossible to get a decent cappuccino in England when any Autogrill stop on an Italian motorway can do a brilliant one? And just why is tagliatelle in butter with white  truffle shaved over it to die for?

Postcard from Milan #1

I’m taking an overdue weekend away from the delights of Cambridge and from thinking/teaching about matters logical. Milan isn’t at all my favourite Italian city (too big, too flat, too nineteenth century, too North European): but The Daughter is here, and the place has its moments. The front of the Duomo is almost revealed again after restoration and looks amazing. The shops in their way look equally wonderful (though it is mostly quite mad of course). L’Artigiano in Fiera is on at the moment, a huge fair, much of it showing off local products from all over Italy, including — inevitably — unending stalls of hams and sausages and salami and lardo and other delights of more variety than could last a lifetime. We were bowled over by the pride of the producers. Four people came back laden with porcine goodies.

And then there are the restaurants. Last night to La Riscacca Blu for the best sea food meal ever. Carpaccio of tuna and yellowtail and swordfish and anchovies. A salad of scampi and onions and tomatoes awash in oil. Then a very light fritto misto of scampi and octopus and squid and strips of courgettes. A pause. Pasta with red mullet. Then a whole turbot between four, simply baked but wonderful. Fine chardonnay from Alto Adige. Like many good Italian restaurants, the place looks nothing special. But it seems just impossible to eat like this in England even if you spend an absolute fortune and we didn’t. (Our neighbours at the next table were a tough looking quartet of heavy-set guys, tucking in with great relish to a distinctly adventurous menu. It dawned on us that they must have been bodyguards for the minister of defence a couple of tables down.) So, when you are next in Milan …

Remembrance of photos past, #2

Putting a tracker here has certainly been very good for deflating any fantasies about the number of people who might read this blog or about why they arrive here. You dream that are oodles of logic enthusiasts out in the world. But ah no, people arrive having googled for “Tesco discrimination”, “cheap universities”, “donkey philosophy”, “JK Rowling eat your heart out” … and now “photos of Monica Vitti”. Heaven knows what you all make of it!

But so as not to disappoint at least the last contingent of surfers, here is Vitti again, with Alain Delon in L’Eclisse. An earlier time-slice of me used to think they were the epitome of cool; and in fact, I rather think I still do …

Remembrance of photos past, #1

Idling through the net — as one does — I just chanced on this photo of Monica Vitti. A blast from the past indeed, as I had a copy of that very shot on my wall as a student for a couple of years.

I fairly recently saw L’Avventura again after a gap of many, many years. I’m not sure why, but I wasn’t really expecting the film to stand up after four decades, and predicted that it would seem too mannered and pretentious. But I was bowled over anew: bleak but stunning still. And Monica Vitti so beautiful and touching …

While I couldn’t possibly condone downloading it, I notice that — in the absence of a DVD for the UK — a torrent of L’Avventura is indexed at [Revised: The photo now links to a somewhat larger version. For a few more photos, search this blog for “Monica Vitti”! ]

Eat your heart out again

As a bit of a break from absolute generality, I’ve just started reading Melvin Fitting’s short book Incompleteness in the Land of Sets. I’ll write some comments here when I’ve finished it (which shouldn’t take long, as there are just 134 pages before the endmatter): but the book so far promises to be absolutely excellent.

Meanwhile, for anyone passing by Siena this summer (and to make Tim Crane even more envious), a couple more recommendations. An old favourite is Bottega di Lornano (though be warned, locals out for a special meal seem expected to have huge appetites): the pici with a pork ragu with fennel seeds and pine nuts is amazing. While twenty yards from our door, La Porta del Chianti is less hardcore, seems to have more of a tourist clientele in the summer, but is still pretty good and they care a lot about their wines.

It will have to be marmite on toast for a fortnight to recover …


Normal philosophical service will be resumed soon. Too soon … But meanwhile, if you get a chance to sample Dievole’s “Novecento” Chianto Classico riserva 2003, then you really should splurge out on a bottle! (Recommended after an excellent afternoon’s wine-tasting at their stunningly situated estate: their other wines are excellent too.)

Eat your heart out …

The temperature is well into the 90s in Tuscany; rather too hot to do very much. So maybe there will be time for a little cooling philosophy. We’ll see.

Meanwhile, to the next village and our favourite restaurant, La Bottega del 30, for a late evening meal. Helene the cook in great form. We were greeted by a little plate of a perfect small bruschetta, a mouthful of pecorino fresco with truffle-infused honey, and a tiny carpaccio of salt beef. Then another starter — a corgette flower stuffed with porcini (amazing) with figs stuffed with goats cheese and baked wrapped in a sort of pancetta (ditto). Next, quite wonderful ravioli stuffed with pigeon. Then very slow cooked duck (an agonizing choice to make). Then deserts to die for. A 2001 Brunello, surprisingly light, perfect for a summer evening; followed by a terrific 2000 Barolo. All, quite, quite absurdly, for the same price as a pretty second-rate chain restaurant meal in Cambridge. So if you are ever near Castelnuovo Berardenga …

Gödel at long last

Back from Tuscany, with — at long last — a complete draft of my book on Gödel’s Theorems; if you are interested, do download a copy of the PDF, for all comments/suggestions will be very, very gratefully welcomed (I’d rather hear about gruesome mistakes now while there is a chance to change things!). I’ve just sent the PDF off to the publishers for a final review: it is late and over the originally contracted length, so fingers crossed. But I’ve already cut out an amount of stuff, and I don’t see how to cut out more without spoiling things.

I was staying at my daughter’s house at Certano near Siena. Sadly that was last time I’ll be there as they are moving. I’ll greatly miss the view from the kitchen table where I often wrote.

It’s a strange feeling ‘finishing’ a book — scare quotes, because I’ll have to do an index and tidy some of the typography and read for typos and thinkos and respond to comments: it won’t be finally gone for weeks. But there comes a point with any book where, although you know you must be able to improve it, you basically have to let it go. Which is both a relief and an anxiety.

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