I have a confession. Despite having lived in Italy for nearly three years and having studied Italian off and on for a number of years, I have a long way to go before I can consider myself fully fluent in the language.
There has been one time, however, when I felt really confident about my Italian skills. That was the time I took an Italian immersion course.
To ring in the New Year, my family and I rented a farmhouse for a few days on the outskirts of Ferrara. Thinking back to the trip, the timing wasn’t ideal. Ferrara was freezing and on New Year’s Eve, the fog was so thick on our drive into town to watch the fireworks over Castello Estense that we wondered if we should even go out at all. Continue reading Five Favorite Flavors From Ferrara and Modena
You can visit Torino without tasting a Bicerin, but then you’d be going against the advice of noted gastronome Alexandre Dumas.
The writer who was best known for his novels The Three Musketeers and The Count of Monte Cristo was also publisher of L’Indipendente, a Neapolitan newspaper that supported Italian Unification, as well as the compiler of Le Grand Dictionnaire De Cuisine, an exhaustive compendium of recipes, ingredient definitions, and food anecdotes published posthumously in 1873.
Dumas, who visited Torino during the Risorgimento (early 1860s), said:
“I will never forget Bicerin, an excellent drink consisting of coffee, milk and chocolate that is served in all the coffee shops.”
The grey felt cap adorned with a black raven feather worn by old northern Italian men and some modern-day camouflaged troops is known as the Cappello Alpino. This recognizable cap signifies that the wearer is or was a member of the Alpini, an elite corps of the Italian army that is most closely associated with World War I and is the oldest mountain infantry in the world. Continue reading Italy’s Alpini Corps: The Traditions Beyond the Feathered Cap
Reflection is part of the prescription for moving from one year into the next. So while I wanted to write a year-end round-up a month ago, I realized that such an article would not fully capture the joys, sorrows, and idiosyncrasies of being an expat resident and traveler in Italy.
Five is an arbitrary number, of course. I’ve learned far more than five lessons learned while living in Rome and traveling throughout Italy. But here are a few of the important ones:
If you tell a Roman that you are going Paestum for the weekend, invariably he or she will tell you: “Make sure you pick up some mozzarella di bufala.”
Paestum is a sight to see without the culinary pit stop. A city known as “Poseidonia” when it was part of Magna Grecia, Paestum is home to three extraordinarily preserved Greek (Doric) temples that date from 600 to 450BC. The two temples to Hera and the temple to Athena sit on a wide, grassy plot of land that is much easier to navigate than the not-too-distant Pompeii, the more famous ruins an hour north of here. Continue reading A Little Greek / Yogurt in Paestum
The calendar shows that Ferragosto takes place on August 15. The mid-August break coincides with the Assumption of Mary, in the way that Christmas conveniently takes place around the Winter Solstice.
The further south from Rome that you go, the more you’ll find towns that celebrate the Assumption. Romans typically use the old pagan name as well as adopt a libertine attitude towards the holiday, taking long breaks on either side of the fifteenth or even taking the whole month of August off.
As you approach the town of San Leo in Emilia-Romagna, its role as an impenetrable, menacing fortress town comes into view. San Leo’s massive stone fortress, which also served as a palace and prison, was designed by Sienese architect and military engineer Francesco di Giorgio Martini, whose early Renaissance fortifications dot the landscape of this area of central-eastern Italy known as Montefeltro. Continue reading The Fortress of San Leo and Its Torture Chamber
Italy’s bigger cities, especially Rome, have plenty of churches to please those with morbid fascinations for skulls, skeletons, and saintly relics. Taken together, these churches and their contents provide a sort-of museum feel — creepy but not altogether isolating.
Since ancient times, man has been interested in anatomy — how muscles and bones function and fit together and how the body works. But it wasn’t until the Renaissance that the study of anatomy really took off, thanks in large part to the printing press, which helped anatomists, illustrators, scientists, and physicians get on the same page (pun intended). Continue reading A Special Harvest: Anatomical Theaters in Italy
Over the weekend, I finally got the chance to check out Milan’s famed Duomo, that jagged, Gothic behemoth that defines the city’s traditional skyline. Also known as Santa Maria Nascente (Saint Mary of the Nativity), the Duomo is the second largest church in Italy (second only to Saint Peter’s in size) and it took more than 500 years to complete, with more than 78 architects and engineers heading the project from its groundbreaking in 1386 to its completion in 1965. Continue reading The Milano Duomo, Inside and Out
Living in a new place, especially for an extended period of time, fills me with a sense of duty that I have to write everything down, commit every moment to memory, take a photo every day if not every hour. But eventually, that initial motivation turns to dread and an overwhelming feeling that I should be more mindful of my surroundings rather than living behind a lens or a computer screen.
The latter reason is why I have not written as much as I should have over this past year in Italy. Plus, I’ve just done so much in these 12 months! I’ve traveled all over Rome and its region Lazio, from the beaches to the lakes to hill towns in between, and have visited six other regions (with a goal of getting to all 20 before my time here comes to and end). Over the past year, I have also taken more than 7,000 photos — so much for not living behind a lens!
Despite that photo stat, I have been paying attention with my other senses: smelling the roasting chestnuts in winter, the jasmine bushes in spring, and the cool, damp aroma of underground spaces; listening to the rumble of trams, the clinking of cups and saucers, the fleeting bits of Italian conversations overheard in the markets and shops; and tasting the foods of each season. Touch has been more elusive, as Italy is full of things you want to touch but cannot — smooth marbles and mosaics and frescoes, tufts of moss growing out of crevices high on a Roman wall.
Of course, readers visit this blog to see Italy as much as learn about it. So, I wanted to share 12 photos over this past year, one for each month, to mark my transition from year one to year two. These are simple photos — most taken with an iPhone 5 — but they are special reminders for me. Read below for details.
It’s the conundrum that many travelers face: how to be a tourist but avoid other tourists. In a place like Venice, that’s pretty hard to do. The canal city on the Adriatic has less than 300,000 permanent residents* but welcomes approximately 30 million tourists each year.
Numbers like that make it nearly impossible not to trip over your fellow Venice visitors. But there are some ways to make the experience of seeing Venice–one of the most remarkable cities in the world–slightly more pleasant.
When you are the parent of young kids, you often find unusual things in your pockets. After a while, you get used to sticking your hand in your coat and finding a toy car or an action figure. For the past several months, I’ve been carrying around an unopened tube of Veronese Green* paint.
Back in the fall, I bought a tube like the one above for my six-year-old son, who draws (mostly animals and Marvel superheroes) first thing in the morning and first thing when he gets home from school. Leo usually uses markers or crayons and has only used paint a few times. Still, I bought him the Veronese Green because it was such a complex shade to be included among the simple reds, yellows, and blues.
For some reason, I never took the tube of paint out of my pocket. Rather, on walks during the grey days of winter, I would pull out the tube from my pocket to spot-check things that appeared to be the same color.