Monday, December 03, 2007
I've made a few, very good purchases in 2007: mini speakers for my iPod (that work fabulously), an elliptical machine (so I have no excuse not to exercise as it stands a meter from my bed), a funky wrought iron lamp (that I have yet to use as we have not yet refurbished our "much in need of refurbishing" home), a new bed (thank god as the old one was swallowing me up!), etc...
BUT quite possibly my favorite purchase was our Severin Bread Maker (retail 89,99 Euros). Who knew making bread would be so easy?! All you have to do is put the ingredients inside, choose the bread you are making and set the time and "ta-da", fresh bread!
And for the "purists" out there, you cannot tell me by not kneading the dough with my own two hands makes it an less homemade than yours or grandmas. Take a look...
Friday, November 23, 2007
Do you ever have those encounters that just tick you off so badly that you can’t get it out of your head? I had ones of those a few days ago and now it’s time to let it go. I am hoping a little venting here will do just that…
I met a friend for caffè at one of my favorite places in Sarzana (which also happens to be a favorite village of mine here in Liguria). Even as we were chatting, I couldn’t help but notice how nice Piazza Matteotti looked just beyond my friend’s head. How nice to enjoy a bell caffè, enjoy the view and a friend, all in Bella Italia. And then it started.
I know this friend has never been happy here in Italy and did not move here by her own choice. Well yes, because everyone has a choice, but hers was based on her husband being in the Italian military. So I understand it can be even more challenging for her than me who made the choice on my own. But there is a point when you either need to accept things the way they are or jump ship. In our conversation which was about them possibly moving back to Alabama where she is from, this friend made the most absurd and disturbing comment to me:
“Italy is the armpit of Europe.”
Yes, you read right and I imagine most of your reactions are as mine, a bit in shock and speechless. When I was finally able to get something out of my mouth I said, “But it’s beautiful here”.
“And that’s it.” The fastest, snappiest response I could have had.
I wish I could have been more eloquent from there but my only response was, “Then it’s probably a good idea that you do move (back the to the states).”
I continued to sit there for another half-hour listening to her bitch and complain about everything and anything Italian. This friend talks A LOT and it is hard to get a word in edgewise anyway, but my shock, or maybe disgust, left me without words to defend my Bella Italia. I left our little get together feeling as if this friend had just told me she’d seen Luigi cheating on me. Ok, drastic thought, but I am trying to make a point of just how much it hit me. And so I have spent days mulling this episode and now have some thoughts of the whole scenario…
When you live here, actually immerse yourself into the culture, it is very different, even difficult at times, especially when you are used to the organization and precision of the States (in my case). It is no longer about “sitting on the terrace with a glass of Chianti and watching the sunset over the Tuscan hills”. The beauty of Italy can actually become a beast!
When it takes you 7 trips to the questura, 3 to the communist club (that’s another story in itself) and 9 months to get your permesso di soggiorno based on marriage, that can be frustrating. When you wait in what you think is a line for the bathroom only to have 5 people cut in front of you, that’s annoying. When you know most people work half in black (cash) so that they can hide money from the government’s ever growing greedy tax hands, that’s just sad. And I can go on. There is an endless list of things in Italy that can make one disillusioned and disappointed in living here…at times.
BUT for every one of those, there is the gorgeously rewarding flipside. So I am going to start a list here of my reasons for why Italy is NOT the armpit of Europe. I am sure I will add to it as time goes on and please do feel free to add on your own in my comments area:
1. 2500 years of history (good, bad, scandalous, heroic, but always interesting) that shaped western civilization
2. The fact that most kids have read some of Dante by the time they are 14
3. The marriage between food, wine and life - you can’t have one without the others
4. Importance of family and actually meaning it
5. The rumble and glistening of olive trees when you can’t decide if they are green silver or lavender
6. Donatello, the master of near every medium of art including wood, bronze, gold, marble & paper
7. The passagiata, the afternoon stroll is the prefect way to start your evening and work off a big pasta lunch!
8. The crystal clear, pristine sea water in the bay between Portovenere and Palmaria
9. Dogs being allowed in dressing rooms in department stores
10. Hot, fresh Focaccia - sorry but it just cannot be duplicated in the states like it is here
11. Isola Bella near Taormina, Sicily
12. How a caffè latte can brighten up your whole day (not with that friend though)
13. “Pianeta Mare”, “Linea Blue” & “SuperQuark” - these informative shows on history and the sea put Mutual of Omaha & National Geographic to shame!
14. The smell of jasmine and wisteria EVERYWHERE in spring
15. Learning when what produce is in season
16. Turning the corner and finding another 1000 year old street or chapel
17. Looking up and realizing that’s not snow, it’s marble!
18. The milk, it just tastes way better, fresher here
19. Learning when what fish is in season and what fish are better “surgelato” (frozen)
20. Seeing the Pantheon for the first or 100th time, it never seizes to amaze me
21. Mastering walking in stilettos on 500 year old cobblestones
22. Chocolate from Modica or Lucca
23. Discothèques opening till sunrise
24. HEBA Morellino di Scansano - one glass is never, never, never enough
25. The voices of Pavarotti, Francesco Renga & Zucchero
26. Being able to jump in the car and drive to no where and still have seen a lot
27. Trains, even when they are not on time, it’s still such a convenient way to get around
28. Weekly markets: whether it’s food, clothes or junk, nowhere does the saying “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” means so much
29. La Twingo, best damn car I have ever owned!
30. Italians can do wonders with little space – it is amazing what you can fit into a 600 square foot home!
31. Nonnapappera, Grom, Vestri, La Piazza and Antica Delizia: gelatos from these grand establishments cannot be duplicated
32. My husband (ok that one is really biased)
33. The novelty of Variety Shows - ok, they may be cheesy, but even with the half dresses dancers there is something almost “old fashion” about them
34. Morning swims in Grotto Byron
35. Alessandro del Piero - the man who can still bring “class” to the game of soccer
36. The amazing variety of fantastic reading glasses by top designers
37. The bidet - once you know what it’s for and how to use it, you’ll never want to be without one
38. All the great stuff you can get at the “Farmacia” with or without a prescription
39. A strong respect for elders and their stories
40. The marble lavandina - chopping counter, sink and place to dry your dishes all in one
41. The smell of roasted chestnuts on the city streets during the fall
Thursday, November 22, 2007
A big GRAZIE to the Thanksgiving group!
On the ride home I started coming up with a list (always a list with me, you know) of what I am grateful for. But it’s so long, it would be impossible to write in a blog. So let’s just say, I am thankful I am who I am, with whom I am with, with the life I live and the fact that I have learned to wake up every morning grateful for that day ahead of me. HAPPY TURKEY DAY TO ALL!
Friday, October 26, 2007
Today is my husband's birthday. He is turning the ripe old age of 29 (ha!). Obviously age has mattered little to us (if you know my age you'll know why!), but mostly because Luigi, as my brother Michael once said, "is so comfortable in his own skin". This is the part where I get to gush about him (it is my blog, right?!).
Top 10 Things about Luigi (and not necessarily in this order):
1) He wakes up every morning with a smile on his face and a positive attitude. I don't know anyone who does that, not one person.
2) He's super duper clean. Ok, annoying when he spends what seems like hours in the bathroom, but he really smells good.
3) He is respectful. He treats every conversation with interest and looks you in the eyes while you speak. I also learned to use the whole "lei", unfamiliar, be kind to your elders grammar thing thanks to him.
4)He has GREAT hair. It was half way down his back until 1 1/2 years ago. He'd wash it, put a comb through it once while it was wet and then never touch it again all day. And it looked like black silk. I was jealous. Now it's much shorter but still looks fabulous everyday. I am still jealous.
5) He has personality. It is not always easy to translate one's sense of humor or true feelings into another language, but Luigi has that "common sense" talent (which believe many do not) to figure it out a way to get his point across and often with a hint of sarcasm. It's charming to me.
6) He eats everything & anything. Thank God, because I cannot be creative 6-7 nights a week. He is always open to new foods, loves when I "go Mexican" and the spicier the better. On the flip side, he is a black hole and knows this and therefore never complains about the grocery bill.
7) He's "ItalCalifornian". Loves to surf, would live in flip flops and board shorts if he could, and gets the whole SoCal way of life. He too is a "beach person" and would have trouble moving away from the sea. I love that he is so Italian is so many ways, but that little California thing really makes things easier for both of us.
8) He loves Lucy. From day one he treated Lulu like his own. When he comes home in the evening she runs to greet him, wraps her body into his legs and sighs. I think she's saying "Poppy's home"!
9) He has wonderful parents who love him, and now me, with all their hearts. Even when they drive me crazy (is the cultural differences thing), I cannot forget what good people they are.
10) He is more beautiful inside than outside. An achievement few can claim in my book.
Auguri amore...Sei il mio cuore...
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Rain, rain, rain go away...It's cold, it's windy, it's ugly. So much for a fabulous fall, winter has arrived. Brrrhhhhh....All Lucy wants is to go for a walk, but it's pouring. Exercise is going to have to wait. She's not happy about that...
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
We are having the most amazing fall. Sunny days, mild evenings, and despite the Italian fashion faux-pas it might be, still wearing flip flops. This weekend we decided to ring in the fall by leaving our little seaside villages and heading up, up, up to Campocecina.
Campocecina is a hiking refuge about 3000 feet above sea level. In fact, it's so high up that you actually look down on the marble mountains of Carrara (the Versilian coast, Portovenere and Mediterranean Sea as well!). You can choose from about 10 different hiking trails here, one that actually saddles the mountain so to one side you have the sea and to the other side you have the Apuane Alps and Lunigiana below. There is also a nice little restaurant called Il Belvedere that serves delicious fresh dishes including testaroli with pesto sauce, cinghale with polenta and one of the best cheese cakes I have ever eaten in my life. Oh, and their wine isn't bad either. You can eat outside in the summer months with panoramic views. They even have some pretty horses to pet and feed.
After a big lunch and little hike (had to at least feel like we were working off some of that cheesecake!), we headed down to the Fantiscritti Quarry, the only one that allows the public into it's cave. For 6 Euros, you get to go 650 meters into the mountain which is literally ALL MARBLE, and have a 30 minute tour (Italian & English). They show you just how hard the work is there, no sunlight for 8 hours, it's cold, damp and dangerous. Still it is fascinating to think what these people do for a living and to see just how much marble exists after 2000+ years of excavating it!
It was a lovely way to welcome in the new season and just another easy adventure to do from our little piece of paradise on the hill above the Med...
Saturday, September 22, 2007
In all due respect to the actual monument, the significance of Ara Pacis played an formidable role in Roman history, having been built in 13 B.C. in honor of Augustus Caesar’s triumph over the Gauls and Spain, and is truly lovely. This “Altar of Peace” was used to sacrifice animals and wine to the gods in gratefulness to the Golden Era experienced under Augustus’ rule. The Altar was originally built on Via Flamina (now the east bank of Via Corso) but over time and deterioration of the soil and interest in Roman ruins, it was naturally buried below the newer streets of Rome for over 1000 years. It was excavated in XXXX and placed near the Tiber River Banks.
In 1999 architect Richard Meier was chosen to create a museum complex around the monument keeping it protected from further deterioration. What stands today is a sleek, modern cube of glass, concrete and marble. Some may find its clearly contrary appearance to the ruins to be severe, even insulting. But in my opinion it is just what Rome is, a dichotomy of very old and very new, always clashing and ever fascinating.
Ok, now on to Vali…
Saturday, September 15, 2007
In a zip lock bag (ah, one of those things people bring me from the states), add the following:Olive oil, Soy Sauce (if you can), minced garlic, a little white wine, salt and a teaspoon of Dijon mustard.
Add chicken breast (de-boned) and let it marinate in the frig for a minimum 2 hours.
Heat the oven at 375 degrees (190 Celsius) for 15 minutes.
Place the marinated chicken on wax paper (carta al forno here in Italy) in a cookie sheet or thin pan. Use the extra marinate on top of the chicken then add a sliced red onion (tropea are my favorite) and sliced cherry tomatoes.
Cook for 22 minutes.
Monday, August 27, 2007
P.S. A gratuitous plug (because it's my blog and birthday anyway!), that is the view from my garden on the photo!
Monday, August 13, 2007
It was another beautiful Sunday to take advantage of and with guests in town, we decided to rent a sail boat for the day. Our adventure began in Bocca di Magra where we met our captain, Valerio, and skipper, Alessandro, and our 39 foot, gorgeous and sleek sail boat called “Blue Freedom”. The sailboat has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchen/dining area and can sleep 8 people. On deck there was a nice dining area and to the front of the boat, plenty of space to sun bath and enjoy the scenery.
The Magra river pours into the Mediterranean, hence the name Bocca (or “mouth”) di Magra which itself is a nice little village on the east facing tip of Southern Liguria, with incredible views of the Carrara marble mountains and Apuane Alps. Many spectacular boats are housed here.
We entered into the Med and headed north hugging the craggily coastline of the Ligurian promontory known as Montemarcello National Park and into the Bay of La Spezia. You have incredible views all around you: Montemarcello to the east, Versilia and Livorno to the south, the Gulf of Poets to the north and Portovenere and the 3 islands to the west.
The water was a bit “mossi” (wavy) so we decided to head toward the calmer waters of Portovenere. Our captain parked the boat in the bay (with views I never get sick of!) and our skipper escorted us by dinghy to the village where we took a passagiata and our friends could do some shopping. Afterwards, we headed back to the boat for a dip in the sea (fresh and clear water as usual in Portovenere!) and then for lunch on deck. To our pleasant surprise, Valerio and Alessandro had prepared a feast perfect for our outing including marinated anchovies and sardines (indigenous to the area), a cold rice salad with tuna, egg and tomatoes and a wonderful zucchini pie. A local vermentino was served to wash our palettes. With our tummies filled and the sun deck awaiting us, we napped in the sun (easily to do with the light roll of the sea).
Late afternoon we headed out to sea. We had barely left the bay of Portovenere when we were surrounded by a group of dolphins playing (my camera of course at this point decided not to work so well and so you can barely see the dolphins!). It was the first time I had seen dolphins in Italy and strangely enough the first time for Luigi. We followed them for a bit until we spotted another interesting creature of the sea, the moon fish! Pesce Luna has got to be one of the ugliest fish in the sea. I first saw one in the aquarium in Genova. It is literally shaped like the moon but flat. He was pretty big, about 5 feet around and flapping away on the brim of the sea looking more like a shark than fish. The kids were amazed by this exotic creature. Two good spottings in one day!
Our crew continued to spoil us with fresh cantaloupe and watermelon, chocolate cake and 30 year old rum that made us all sing pirate songs (or attempt a few!). As we made our way back to Bocca di Magra, we had great views of the Carrara marble mountains and Versilian coast. What a day!
Tuesday, August 07, 2007
I love Sundays. It is the only day of the week that Luigi and I have together so I turn off the computer and do whatever we can to make the most of it. This summer it has been our weekly pilgrimage to Palmaria Island just off of Portovenere. This past Sunday was extra special. The water could not have been more clean, clear and beautiful, not to mention about 78 degrees! For the first weekend in August, the crowds were light. We even manage to snag lounge chairs right at the water’s edge at our favourite beach club, Il Gabbiano, what luck!
After a full day of sun and fun, we headed to La Spezia for the annual “Palio del Golfo” which is a crew regatta dating back nearly 100 years. It is quite the spectacle as the entire port is packed with onlookers and boats surrounding the “racetrack” at sea. Our friend Mauro and his team from Cadimare were the victors of this prized event which just added to an already special day.
I think the following pictures do a good job of summing up the day!
Friday, July 06, 2007
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
Lui and I finally had our mini, overdue honeymoon in Sicily earlier this month. We stayed in Taormina (2nd time for me) and Modica. It was 5 perfect days of relaxation and recharging and has left a lasting impression on both of us and a HUGE desire to return soon...
We stayed at Bel Soggiorno in Taormina which is an old villa converted into a 3 star hotel. The hotel is a little out dated and sometimes noisey (our creaking bed - and not from us on our honeymoon! - was finally fixed by putting a pair of flip flops under it!) but the room was nice and clean and our terrace overlooking the sea could not be more fabulous. We had wonderful breakfasts each morning there overlooking the Ionian Sea. Paradise...
Taormina itself is Sicily's #1 resort (and one of the most popular in all of Italy). It has a slight familiarity to Positano, but in my opinion has more to offer. The village is set on a hill about 500 feet up from the sea. The main "boulevard" is the pedestrian only Corso Umberto I whic is filled with good restaurants, cafes, bars, shops, etc. It provides great people watching as well. For history buffs, the ancient Greco Teatro overlooking the sea and Mt. Etna. For the sea lovers, you have manny nice beaches to choose from. My favorite is Isola Bella (with lunch at Mendolia Beach club - yum!). From Taormina you can easily visit Mt. Etna, Catania (best with a guide), Siracusa, the Aeolian Islands, Savoca (where they filmed part of the Godfather movies) and more.
Our next stop was Modica and what a delight it is! The city was supposed founded a good 1400 BC, but was almost completely rebuilt in Baroque style in the early 1700's after a devastating earthquake. Many people abandoned Modcia in the 70's and now it is having a revival of rebuilding (in a good way). Many people from Northern Italy are settline there and starting business. Such is the case with the owners of our B&B, Casa Talia. Two architects from Milan fell in love with the city and decided to move there 5 years ago and open a funky little B&B overlooking the city. We also met a nice couple from Torino who had just opened a great wine bar in town called Modi and another group of people from Milan who opened a great restaurant called Le Torre d'Orientale. The town is filled with little alley ways and tons of stairs where you can explore chamring old buildings, many of which are for sale or are being restored. It's a real "up and coming" place. You are also less than 1/2 hour to some nice beaches including Marina di Modica and Sampieri. There is also Val di Noto nearby which is Sicily's answer to the Chianti region with less pomp and circumstance.
What really surprised me about Sicily this trip was how open minded and friendly the people were. I felt as if they were much more advanced socially and business wise than in our own Liguria. Although not a new desintation by any means, I have to say Sicily felt like it's the "next best thing" for visitors to Italy. In fact, I would go so far as to say, make it a separate trip all in its own. I have not spent time on the east coast (except Palermo) but I hear and know it has lots to offer as well. We're heading that way in the fall!
From here I'll let me pictures do the talking...