From Foreign Language to Lingua Franca: Italian Immersion Programs in Italy

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.

Continue reading From Foreign Language to Lingua Franca: Italian Immersion Programs in Italy

Five Favorite Flavors From Ferrara and Modena

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

The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Saint Valentine of Terni

Not many tourists make it to Terni. But many of those who do come to Umbria’s second largest town come specifically to see the church of Saint Valentine. Continue reading The Man, the Myth, the Legend: Saint Valentine of Terni

Five Lessons Learned While Living and Traveling in Italy

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:

Continue reading Five Lessons Learned While Living and Traveling in Italy

In Rome, Communing Over Coffee

Cappuccino

In the mornings after I’ve sent the kids off to school and tidied up the house I go down and have my morning cappuccino.

Continue reading In Rome, Communing Over Coffee

Visions of Veronese Green in Venice

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.

Giotto tempera paint in Veronese Green

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.

Continue reading Visions of Veronese Green in Venice

Everything is Authentic

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Trying to decide if a travel experience is authentic or not is like trying to separate “travelers” from “tourists.” That debate separates those who travel along class and age lines, with travelers proclaiming their experiences better, richer, more true than those of the tourists. There’s even a famous quote by G.K. Chesterton that delineates these two types of travelers: “The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.” Labeling travel experiences as “authentic” works in the same way.

A quick Googling of “authentic Italy” returns 90,400,000 results as of this writing (that’s almost twice the entire current population of Italy) and ranges from recipes (lots of recipes) to group package holidays to farmhouse retreats. I could even find a few bus tours that peddled in the words “real Italy.” The point is that “authentic” and “real” are buzzwords, especially in these days of online trip advising, when the right words will bring more visitors to your website. (I would say that we writers of the Roundtable are guilty of this with this month’s topic. The term authentic Italy comes up too often for us to ignore it.)

So what does make a trip to Italy authentic? How can you make sure that you are living your best travel life, making all the right moves, and doing as the Romans do? I don’t think you can — and that’s ok!

I’ve traveled through Italy in all sorts of combinations: alone, with American girlfriends, with my boyfriend, with my mother, with Italian friends, with my husband and two kids. I’ve lived here twice, first as an au pair with an Italian family and now with my own Italian-American family. Along the way, I’ve explored the “hidden” villages and backstreets, dined at holes-in-the-wall, and immersed myself in the local culture. I’ve also made a lot of mistakes and eaten at plenty of crappy restaurants. Those things happen even when I’m stateside.

While I haven’t, like a few of my Roundtable colleagues, married an Italian and/or started and inn, I have felt that each of my experiences here have been both touristy and authentic. Recently I’ve even turned the concept of authentic on its head, as I’ve become a regular at a very touristy pub that’s near where my son takes weekly music lessons. The bartenders – a young Bangladeshi guy who moved to Rome at age six and speaks flawless Italian and two twenty-something Italian guys who run beers and glasses of wine to British, American, Australian, and German tourists all day – seem delighted to see a familiar face each week. Those three are as hospitable and as “authentic” a representation of Rome’s modern demographics as anywhere else in the city. I’m not saying that you’ll have the same experience. But I am saying that authenticity can encompass a lot.

I think one of the problems of expecting authenticity when we travel is that we are wrapping it into a fantasy of what our trip should be. Rows of Tuscan cypresses, singing Venetian gondoliers, and picture-perfect Amalfi Coast sunsets all figure into our Italian travel dreams or they do at some point. For those who want to delve a little further, there are the Agriturismo (farmhouses) and Airbnb contacts that allow you to live a little bit more among the locals. But make no mistake: you are in Italy to see things and to feel things that you can’t at home. There is a fantasy. While fantasies can become realities, they dwell in a space that is the opposite of authentic. Like the Chesterton quote above, we are, like tourists, coming to see what we planned to see. “Authentic Italy” is all of that but more.

As Robert Reid wrote recently, “No one agrees what’s truly ‘authentic’ about a place. But if you’re near fudge or taffy, you’re probably not where it’s at.” While I do believe authenticity is everywhere in Italy, there are definitely ways that you can travel here and miss it. Try as they might, huge coach tours that whisk visitors around from place to place to show them what they came to see are not where to find authentic Italy. You have to get down on the ground and do some of the seeing for yourself. Seeing what you see, not just what you came to see. That also means stepping back from the camera viewfinder or iPhone to soak in the atmosphere. Look up, look down, look across the horizon. Try to chat with people, even if you can only muster a “buongiorno” or a “ciao.”

I recently stood in a spot that overlooked the Forum, in the Tabularium that connects the Palazzo dei Conservatori and the Palazzo Nuovo of the Capitoline Museums. It was quiet there until a young tourist walked up next to me and aimed her camera. Click click click click click click click. She did a machine gun burst of photos of the panorama that lay before us then walked away. She’s going to see what she came to see when she gets home and edits all of her photos. I just hoped she took the time to enjoy herself and Rome before she edited out the parts that didn’t fit into the narrative of her trip.


Italy Blogging Roundtable

This month the Italy Roundtable is publishing posts on authenticity in conjunction with COSI, another group of Italy-focused writers. If you’ve ever wanted to read a lot of takes on “authentic Italy,” here’s your chance!

Jessica – Where is this “authentic Italy” everyone’s looking for?
Gloria – The odd woman out’s view on “authentic Italy”
Rebecca – Italy Roundtable: Finocchi Rifatti al Pomodoro
Alexandra – Art and Travel: the authenticity of seeing art in person
Kate – On being authenticated
Michelle – Living Authentically: How Italy Forced the Issue

COSI
By Georgette of Girl in Florence
By Pete of Englishman in Italy – How Authentic an Italian are you?
By Rick of Rick’s Rome: The Authentic Italian Culture Debate
By Andrea of Sex, Lies and Nutella: How to be an authentic Italian (in 9 simple steps)
From Married to Italy, The fear of the fake: What “authenticity” means to a foreigner in a strange land
Misty – Surviving in Italy
Gina – The Florence Diaries

Lost in Translation: Ancient Stories in Art

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Statue of Giordano Bruno in Campo de’ Fiori

The first time I realized that my obscure knowledge of Rome had really sunk in was in the early to mid-aughts. Friends of mine had returned from a family wedding in the Italian capital. Specifically, the ceremony had been held at San Silvestro in Capite.

“That’s where they keep the reliquary of the head of John the Baptist,” I said, gleefully. I had most certainly been drinking but I was still impressed with my recall. My friends and I had a chuckle over my delight as we talked more about Rome and its macabre monuments.

For as long as I’ve been attracted to Rome and Italy, I’ve been interested in some of the more gruesome aspects of its history: its slaughter of animals during Colosseum spectacles, the chapels that contain body parts and whole bodies of saints. When you walk into Rome’s churches, you are literally walking on graves. And when you stroll through any part of this ancient city, you are stepping on top of sites where many people, from gladiators to Christians to non-believers, met their ends. Images and reminders of death are everywhere here, which is probably one of the reasons Rome’s citizens have developed a coping mechanism – a zest for life – over the years.

These are heavy things to think about. But Rome’s past is especially fresh in my mind these days when it is hard to turn on the television or open the paper (or browser tab) without learning about the latest horrible way that a human has died at the hands of another human or group of humans. There is no need for me to provide a link to any of these news stories; everyone knows what I’m talking about. But still it has been hard to square my interest in the minutiae of Rome’s destructive past with the horrors of today.

Just a visit to some of well-known tourist stops in Rome remind me of current events. San Silvestro in Capite has the head of John the Baptist in a silver filigreed reliquary. Santa Maria del Popolo has an exquisite and well-known Caravaggio that depicts Saint Peter being crucified upside down. Saint Agnese in Agone, the large church fronting Piazza Navona, has a side chapel with the head of Saint Agnes. She was 12 when a Roman prefect sent her to a brothel (for refusing to marry his son); she was eventually burned at the stake then beheaded. In the upper church of San Clemente one finds the chapel of St. Catherine, which contains beautiful Masolino frescoes of the life of St. Catherine of Alexandria and the life of St. Ambrose. Catherine’s beheading is depicted on the left side, a calm, colorful, 2-D rendering of a heinous act.

I could go on and on with the lovely art that depicts Christian martyrs and their horrible deaths. The crucifixions. The beheadings. The eventual saints who were drawn and quartered or buried alive or stoned to death. Of course we don’t have as many works of art showing the torture that the Christians, once they came into power, inflicted on the non-Christians. But there are a few. The solemn statue of Giordano Bruno in the center of Campo de’ Fiori is a powerful reminder that there were men (and women and children) killed for putting forward ideas that were not in line with the church doctrine. Bruno was burned alive for suggesting that the universe is infinite, that stars are distant suns.

Likewise, the Stolpersteiner, those tiny bronze pavements embedded in the ground outside homes of those Jewish citizens who were deported by the Nazis on October 16, 1943, memorialize those who were rounded up, tortured, and killed for being Other, for being powerless in the face of those whose power made them forget their own humanity.

I believe art and memorials are important. But the more that I see them around Rome – a city that has thousands of years of history painting on its church walls, engraved in its ancient buildings, and chiseled into statues – the more I am reminded of how torture and death are lost in translation from the stories we tell and the images we create of those stories.

Many of us up until this past year have been able to live with a sense of detachment from death. This is not to say that we have all had it easy and that we have not experienced the wrenching sadness of knowing death on a personal level. But death of the nature that is often depicted in art and enshrined in memorials around Italy has always felt like something that only happened long ago.

I still look at religious relics – the arms and doubting fingers and disembodied heads – with a sort of fascination. But while my thoughts used to be, “Look how barbaric humans once were,” I now think about how much further we – as a society, as humans – need to go.

A final note: as a quasi-agnostic, non-practicing, non-denominational Christian, I wish it were as simple as eliminating all religions. Humans get too exercised over beliefs that other humans have codified, no matter how absurd they may be. But I didn’t want to write this piece as an assault on religion. I’ve lived in majority Christian, Hindu, and Muslim countries and have known most people to be smart and kind and loving, in spite of or because of their religions.


Italy Blogging Roundtable

Please read these other posts on “Lost in Translation” from the ladies of the Italy Blogging Roundtable. Note that we have a new lady, Michelle from Bleeding Espresso. Welcome!

Jessica – False Friends & A False Sense of Security
Gloria – Senza parole…
Rebecca – Lost in Translation
Alexandra – The alphabet of impossible Italian translations
Kate – Things my Sicilian Boyfriend and I fight about
Michelle – Lost in Translation: Adventures in Sola-tude

Rome Revisited: What Has and Hasn’t Changed

Rome in one photo
Rome in one photo © Melanie Renzulli / Instagram

Rome is changing. Rome has changed.

You hear those phrases around Rome all the time these days. Crime, corruption, unemployment, immigration, unreliable public transit, trash collection, the euro – Italy is in crisis and the prevailing mood among its citizens is one of resignation and exhaustion. This was most recently expressed cinematically with La Grande Belleza, which plays like a more mature sequel to La Dolce Vita. Romans are no doubt still enamoured with what Rome represents. Today, however, when Romans hold up a mirror to the city, they are more likely to see Jep Gambardella’s malaise than Marcello Rubini’s confident swagger.

As part of the renewed writing initiative of the Italy Roundtable, I wanted to write about the mood of Rome and Italy and how it has changed since I last lived here. But I realized as I waded into my commentary that I was not qualified to talk on such complex socioeconomic issues. This month’s unifying topic is “change” and, well, I changed my mind.

While I am neither an economist nor a historian, I am a travel writer who has been lucky enough both to visit Italy on numerous occasions and to live in Rome – twice, during two very different life stages. So I want to discuss some things that have changed in Rome but also how my approach to seeing Rome has changed.

I’ve seen Rome change, for the better and for the worse, in numerous ways since I first began writing about it more than 15 years ago. In those first years, it was free to wander inside the Forum and up onto the Palatine Hill. The site has charged admission since 2008. The Ara Pacis, the ancient Augustan altar to peace, was once exposed to the air and practically abandoned; I remember a friend and I walking right up and into it in 1999. Work on the swanky, controversial Richard Meier building that now surrounds the altar had yet to begin.

Rome has become even more popular and crowds seem more numerous than ever. I have been inside St. Peter’s only once since I arrived six months ago as the line to get inside, even on wintry days, extends from the entrance and curves around to at least the top of St. Peter’s Square. In some ways this is heartening, as I lamented many years ago that the security process to get inside such an important landmark was too lax. But still, I groan when I think of travelers who only have a few days in Rome wasting time standing in that line, especially when the rain is heavy or the sun is strong.

Two other sites, the Pantheon and the Bocca della Verità, are more popular with travelers today than they were 15 years ago. Going inside the Pantheon, one of the few remaining ancient sites in Rome that doesn’t charge an admission, can be stifling because of all the touristic milling about and the loud speaker repeating on loop in several different languages that visitors be quiet. Nevertheless, I still recommend a visit if you’re never been inside of it; such ancient architectural mastery, particulary a glimpse at the coffered ceiling and oculus, is astonishing up close.

I am not sure why the Mouth of Truth has surged in popularity, as it has been there, free of charge, for years. Has there been a renewed interest in the film Roman Holiday? Oh, I know what it is – camera phones and selfies. At any rate, the recent line for a photo op with the Bocca drove me inside the church of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, which I had never fully explored.

It is not lost on me that my job as a travel writer has contributed to this mess. I am sorry.

Meanwhile, the Colosseum and the Trevi Fountain, two of Rome’s most popular attractions, are undergoing needed changes. Both are under scaffolding and are both undergoing privately-funded restorations. The Colosseum renovation has meant little to zero inconvenience for those who want to tour it. And its cleaning has also led to new discoveries at the ancient site. On the other hand, the Trevi Fountain area is going to be unappealing for the next few years, as it has been drained of its water (and grandeur) and scaffolding obscures most of it. There is a walkway that allows visitors to get near the marble statues in the fountain – who knows when you’ll get to do that again? – but there is also a designated spot to toss in your coins like a good tourist is supposed to do.

My approach to seeing Rome has also changed over the years. When I first started writing about the city, I saw it as no challenge to walk from Trastevere to the Spanish Steps, for example, or to see site after site with no time for rest or reflection. I was in my mid–20s and knew little about what it meant to travel as a parent or as a person with finite stores of energy or low thresholds for noise or crowds. Sitting in Piazza Navona recently, it occurred to me that my favorite places in Rome had changed, either because I have learned more about their history (see the Turtle Fountain) or have grown weary of the hordes.

Rome has changed. But so have I.

Luigi Barzini noted in his 1964 book The Italians: “The Italian way of life cannot be considered a success except by temporary visitors.” Rome puts on a beautiful show for its guests. And the longer one lives here, the more one learns about the façade and how it’s held up with equal parts of pride and necessity – as well as a few dashes of contempt.

One of the reasons I wanted to shift gears on the direction of this piece is because I rediscovered this Barzini quote and realized that even though as a current resident I can understand the modern challenges that Romans are facing, I still have the mindset of a temporary visitor. Having the opportunity to see Rome evolve – ever so slightly – over multiple visits and stays is a privilege I am grateful for every day. However, I often feel I need to conceal my naive optimism about the city for I know that I am experiencing a far different Rome than most Romans.

But maybe Rome thrives on the wide-eyed optimism of its tourists? I often hear complaints that Rome neglects the needs of its citizenry in favor of maintaining the parts of the city that only travelers see. Tourists are disruptive, sure, and a burden on infrastructure. But what would Rome be without its visitors? Beyond the monetary reasons and the impetus for maintaining its ancient structures, tourism helps Romans remember what is beautiful and special about their city. As a writer specializing in Rome and Italy, I want to continue to hold up that mirror and hope the city (and my readers) see what I see. It is all I can do.

So, yes. Rome is changing. Rome has changed. But it has always been in flux. Rome will weather this storm as it has countless others. Change is eternal and so is Rome.


 

Italy Blogging Roundtable

Read More from the Italy Blogging Roundtable

  1. Jessica – The Beautiful Mess
  2. Gloria – Changing climate, changing tourism in Tuscany
  3. Rebecca – The Hardest Thing 
  4. Alexandra – Florence is changing
  5. Kate – Getting residency in Catania – a story

The Roman Spring of Tennessee Williams

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In the late winter/early spring of 1948, American playwright Tennessee Williams arrived in Rome in need of a change of scenery. Williams, of course, is known for his writing set in the American South, including “A Streetcar Named Desire” (written in 1947) and “Cat On A Hot Tin Roof” (1955), both of which earned him Pulitzer Prizes for Drama. But few people know – or, perhaps, they have forgotten – that Tennessee Williams was also inspired by his short stay in the Eternal City.

“As soon as I crossed the Italian border, my health and life seemed to be magically restored. There was the sun and there were the smiling Italians,” Williams wrote in his Memoirs.

Continue reading The Roman Spring of Tennessee Williams

The Seven Hills of Rome: What Are They and What Can You See?

The Seven Hills of Rome mark the traditional boundaries of the city. It was on these seven hills – Aventine, Caelian, Capitoline, Esquiline, Palatine, Quirinal, and Viminal – that the first settlements of Rome began and these seven hills were the ones protected within the Servian Walls.

The foundations, gates, and ruins of these 4th century-BC walls can still be seen in some parts of the city. Subsequent builds of fortifications in Rome, such as the Aurelian Walls (3rd century AD) and the Leonine City (9th century AD) included other hills (Janiculum, Vatican, Pincian), but the original Seven Hills are the ones in bold above and included within the red border in the map to the right.

Now that you’ve had a short history lesson, you may be wondering what you can see today on Rome’s Seven Hills. Rather than tell you, I thought I would use the power of Google’s Street View to show you.

Continue reading The Seven Hills of Rome: What Are They and What Can You See?

Anniversaries in Italian History: Dates Every Curious Traveler to Italy Should Know

Via XX Settembre in Genova
Via XX Settembre in Genova

 

Walking down a street in Rome or Genova or Trieste, you may notice that the street sign is named after the date XX Settembre (the 20th of September). Likewise, the date IV Novembre, November 4th, pops up as the name of piazze in Ancona (Le Marche), Todi (Umbria), and numerous other cities and villages across Italy. What’s the deal with these dates? Continue reading Anniversaries in Italian History: Dates Every Curious Traveler to Italy Should Know

Milan Invites Visitors to Discover the Art of Nobel Winner Dario Fo

Dario Fo "Earthquake in L'Aquila"
Dario Fo’s “The Earthquake in L’Aquila”

Next month, the Italy Blogging Roundtable will celebrate our first anniversary. Jessica, Alexandra, Gloria, Rebecca, and I have enjoyed tackling a new topic each month, and we’ve especially enjoyed hearing from readers. In fact, we were so pleased with how our last invitation went for bloggers to join us at the Roundtable that we thought we’d extend another! This month, not only is the Italy Roundtable topic INVITATIONS, we’re inviting anyone who wants to participate to blog about one of the past year’s Roundtable topics. Our invitation details are at the bottom of this post. Now on to the post…

Continue reading Milan Invites Visitors to Discover the Art of Nobel Winner Dario Fo

Rooted in Italy: The World’s First Botanical Gardens

It has been said (too many times) that all roads lead to Rome. But did you know that you could trace botanical medicine and even the environmental movement to 16th century Italy? It was here in the city of Pisa (1544) then Padua (1545) that the world’s first botanical gardens were set up.

This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable topic is “roots” – a nod to spring. And what better nod to spring than to go straight to the garden? I’ve covered gardens in this blog before, from a mention of the reissue of Edith Wharton’s book Italian Villas and Their Gardens to Cortili Aperti, the “open courtyards” initiative that each year gives visitors a chance to check out gardens and courtyards at private estates. But I’ve yet to touch on Italy’s many botanical gardens, which are almost always historically linked with their cities’ universities.

The Orto Botanico di Padova is the world’s oldest academic garden still in its original location and it has been a model for all subsequent botanical gardens around the world. From the beginning, the mission of the Orto Botanico di Padova has been to collect local and unique plant life, maintain an herbarium for the study of plants for use in medicine, and educate the public on botany, horticulture, and the need for plant conservation. The Orto Botanico di Padova is one of Italy’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites, having been inscribed in 1997. The most famous plant specimen at the Padua Botanic Gardens is a Mediterranean Palm, the “Goethe Palm,” which dates from 1585 and was written about by Goethe. Additionally, the gardens have a library and a museum. The Orto Botanico di Padova is open daily from April to October; from October to April, it is open mornings Monday through Saturday. The current admission price is €4, subject to change.

An Italian visitor to the Orto Botanico di Padova took a comprehensive tour of the gardens and created this video:

While Padova can claim to have the world’s oldest botanical gardens still in their original location, the city of Pisa was were the first academic gardens were founded. The botanist Luca Ghini, at the behest of Cosimo de’ Medici, set up the University of Pisa’s botanical gardens in 1544. However, the garden moved twice, in 1563 and 1591, before settling at its current location. My Italy Blogging Roundtable colleague Gloria has a beautiful post about the Orto Botanico di Pisa, complete with photos.

Italy’s botanical gardens don’t often make it on the tourist itinerary. But they are actually quite ideal, as most are located near the city center and often a quiet respite from sightseeing. Other Italian cities with well-positioned botanical gardens include Rome (near Trastevere), Bologna, Milan (it has three), and Palermo, to name just a few.


Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.

Photo Flickr/Ned Raggett

Braving the Elements: A Rare Snowfall in Rome

Piazza San Pietro
Over the past weekend, Rome got pelted with eight inches of snow, the largest single snowfall in the capital since 1986. The rare snowfall prompted the closure of the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Palatine Hill, and other tourist attractions.  Many businesses had to close because workers were unable to access public transportation or get their cars or scooters on the road, and restaurants were unable to procure fresh milk and produce. As of Monday, residents were still digging out with the 2,000 shovels provided to them by civil protection authorities. Heating restrictions also prevented many Romans from getting cozy in their homes: “heating in homes is only legally allowed for 10 to 12 hours a day, to cut down on pollution.”

No doubt, the wintry weather comes at a bad time for Rome, and Italy in general, as it deals with austerity measures in the wake of the European debt crisis and contends with the fact that an enormous cruise ship wrecked just off the Tuscan coast.

And, yet…the snow seemed to be a welcome relief for many Romans. As the snow fell Friday and Saturday, I kept an eye out on social media (Twitter, Facebook), apps (Instagram), and Flickr as beautiful photos of Rome in the snow came flooding in. And I thought that this sort of thing would work well for this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable subject – the elements – as well as bring a smile to readers’ faces. Not to mention – the ruin porn! What’s better than ruin porn than ruin porn with snow on it? That is indeed the icing on the proverbial torta.

Below, check out a gallery I curated from photos on Flickr and click on the links to a few of the photos I found on Instagram (creative commons usage for Instagram photos is questionable, so providing links rather than photos). You’ll see Romans reveling in Piazza del Popolo, sledding in Circo Massimo, snow dusting the Colosseum and ruins of the Forum. The Vittoriano looks lovely with a light blanket of snow as does Piazza San Pietro. Perhaps my favorite photo comes from Instagram – instead of building a snowman from the fresh accumulation, one Roman built a replica St. Peter’s Square! You can really get a sense of the giddiness in these photos, a respite from the bad news of 2011-2012. Enjoy!

Instagram Photos

Flickr Gallery: Snowy Rome

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Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.

 

Photo by Flickr user msako23

 

Marble Run: Shopping for Traditional Marbled Products in Italy

Murano Glass ShopIf there is one particular word that can be used to define some of Italy’s major handicrafts, it’s marble. Marble, either as a substance or a style, runs through three different artisan crafts that are famous in Italy: some of the world’s finest marble is found in the hills around the province of Massa-Carrara in Tuscany; marbled paper, which is one of Florence’s distinctive crafts; and marbleized glass, a Venetian specialty, especially on the island of Murano.

This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable is focused on crafts and I am spotlighting marble or marbled handicrafts that travelers should look out for in Tuscany (including Florence) and Venice.

Carrara Marble

Carrara marble, the same stone that Michelangelo used to carve his famous statues and busts, is renowned throughout the world. Professional and would-be sculptors visit the marble hills in western Tuscany to learn the Italian craft of marble work and you, too, can participate in such classes. The Marble and Art Workshops in Pietrasanta give participants lessons in sculpting, trips to marble studios and foundries, and lessons in mosaic and stone inlays.

Florentine Marbled Paper

One of the most popular souvenirs from Central Italy is Florence’s marbled paper. Artisans have been designing marbled paper since the 17th century, using it largely for bookbinding (another craft) but also for stationary. Alberto Cozzi (Via del Parione 35/r, by Santa Maria Novella) is the most renowned store for purchasing Florentine marbled paper but also where customers can watch artisans restoring book and making marbled papers.

Murano Glass

Watching the Murano glass artisans blow, fire, and shape vases, goblets, figurines, and pendants, among other things, is a time-honored tourist favorite when visiting Venice. Murano glass is defined by its vibrant colors and glass crafters often employ marbling techniques to their wares. The Murano Glass Factory (Castello 4623, Venice) is one place where travelers can watch artisans and pick up glassware and trinkets

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Read the posts, leave comments, share them with your friends – and tune in next month for another Italy Blogging Roundtable topic.

Give the Gift of Italian Culture

Flickr/mysza

When my colleagues in the Italy Blogging Roundtable and I decided to write on the topic “gifts” for our December post, I knew exactly what I wanted to write about. I knew straight away that I didn’t want to write about Italian gifts you can buy in a store, though there are many I desire or would recommend. Similarly, I knew that I didn’t want to write about the intangible gift that Italy has given me. No, I wanted to write about so-called “gifts that keep on giving,” presents that will serve to enhance others’ understanding or appreciation of Italian culture.

The two “gifts” that I am highlighting below are 1) a documentary film project about a very famous town in Tuscany and 2) a charity devoted to restoring a town in Cinque Terre. I would love it if you, my readers, would consider contributing to one or both of these very worthy causes. To do so, you will be giving yourself and all others who appreciate Italy’s history and heritage the chance to enjoy it for years to come.

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1) The Genius of a Place

Photo of a piazza in Cortona by Flickr user wyzik

Sarah Marder, an American who has been living in Italy since 1988 and has been visiting Cortona, Italy, since 1986, has been working for more than two years with Italian production company OLO Creative Farm on a documentary about the Tuscan town made famous by Frances Mayes’ book Under the Tuscan Sun. The book and its subsequent film starring Diane Lane were a rousing success, but the publicity has started to have a detrimental effect on Cortona, drawing in more tourists than the village can handle. Ironically, the hill town that so many tourists are coming to experience risks losing its look and atmosphere. The Genius of a Place takes an honest look at Ms. Marder’s beloved Cortona and its potential spoiling at the hands of too much tourism.

The Genius of a Place project is listed on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, and it seeks to raise $20,000 by December 31, 2011. As of this post, they are almost half-way to their goal. Donating to The Genius of a Place will help Sarah and her crew finish the massive editing process in time to submit their documentary into consideration for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and can net you “grazie gifts” ranging from chocolate to a set of Tuscan watercolor paintings, not to mention the knowledge of having assisted in raising awareness about Cortona’s potential plight.

Take a look at the project video for The Genius of a Place to see if it’s something you’d like to donate to:

 

2) Save Vernazza

Photo of Vernazza by Flickr user pizzodisevo

You may or may not be aware that the region of Liguria, which includes the capital Genoa and the famous tourist area of Cinque Terre, suffered record flooding this past fall. On October 25, 2011, heavy rain buried city centers under feet of water and caused massive mudslides. The flooding led to emergency evacuations, and many residents have yet to return to the once-picturesque area to begin the process of rebuilding and restoration.

Hit particularly hard during the flooding was the town of Vernazza, one of those perfect, pastel villages that the Cinque Terre subregion is famous for. Vernazza, which was buried under more than 13 feet of mud, suffered more than 100 million in damages. In order to get Vernazza back to working order, three American expat women living in Vernazza created Save Vernazza, an Italian nonprofit to raise funds for construction projects and cultural preservation. Included in the mission statement of Save Vernazza is the commitment to rebuild the Muri a Secco, the terracing walls that are part of the heritage that merited Vernazza its UNESCO World Heritage Site status.

If you’re interested in joining Ruth Manfredi, Michele Lilley, and Michele Sherman, the three women behind Save Vernazza, in preserving this iconic village, visit the Save Vernazza website to learn about its projects and how to donate. Watch this video to see the Vernazza flood in action (warning: heart-wrenching):

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This month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable topic was “Gifts.” Find out what the other members of the Italy Blogging Roundtable conjured up when they thought about “gifts” together with Italy. Click the links below to read their contributions to the Roundtable, and leave comments to join in the conversation. Tune in next month for another Roundtable round-up.

Also this month, we opened up the Italy Blogging Roundtable to other bloggers interested in telling us a story about gifts in the context of Italy. Below are five posts that I enjoyed reading. And, I’ve also added a Twitter widget to the bottom of this post so you can find links to even more #ItalyRoundtable posts on Twitter. Thank you so much for tuning in!
  • No Onions Extra Pickles: What to Get the Italian Futurist Who Has Everything – I loved this whimsical post. Extra points (pickles?) for the art nerdiness.
  • Cross Pollinate: Made in Italy – Hand Made Gifts by Florentine Artisans – See the painstaking work it takes to create some of the beautiful products that are still made in Italy, from etchings to bespoke shoes. Great photos here.
  • A Sense of PlaceThe Gift of Learning Something New – Erin teaches me something new about a church in Rome whose marbled floor I’ve walked on countless times. Her explanation and photos were exquisite and made me want to get on the very next flight to Rome.
  • Sicily SceneGifts – Italy may be on the road to austerity this Christmas, but that doesn’t mean the season will be less joyous. I appreciate how Pat wove in her observations of how Italians confront Christmastime with her memories from the past 20 years of being an expat in Sicily.
  • Life…Italian StyleThe Gift of Becoming Italian – Becoming Italian, if that is at all possible, takes more than just marrying a person from Italy and/or moving there. It takes an attitude adjustment, especially with regards to time, food, and chiacchiere (talking), as Jennifer explains so nicely in her post.
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An Invitation to Bloggers: A “Gift” From the Italy Blogging Roundtable

Gifts
Many of you will know that, since May 2011, five of us have been writing a monthly post on a given topic and we call it the Italy Blogging Roundtable. Each month we decide the topic in advance and the only rule is that it has to be connected to Italy; the posts are published on the same day, and cross-linked so that readers can enjoy our diverse experiences. You can see posts by the other four participating writers here:

My posts for the Italy Blogging Roundtable

Normally we don’t tell anyone the topic in advance, but our post for December 14 is an exception. Why? Because we want you to participate! The topic is “Gifts” (or presents). It’s inspired by the holiday season, but does not have to be limited to “Christmas gifts.” For this month, we’re inviting bloggers to expand upon the topic of “gifts,” somehow connected to Italy, on their blogs.

Here is how to participate:

1) From December 1 to 13, 2011, post on your blog about “Gifts” (and Italy).

2) Include in your post a reference to the fact that this is part of the Italy Blogging Roundtable’s invitation to post on this topic.

3) Include, at the end of your post, links to the roundtable blogs:

4) Let us know by tweeting it with the hashtag #italyroundtable. If by chance you don’t use twitter, email it to one of us (my email address is info@……). We’ll each read them all, and retweet some too!

5) On December 14, 2011, we’ll post on the same topic and include links to our favorite posts by the larger community. We’re aiming to link to five posts submitted by others, but that depends on how many people participate!

Photo by stevendepolo

Comfort Me With Potatoes: A Tale of Two Tuber Dishes in Italy

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Pity the poor American who can only find comfort in the familiar flavors and food textures of home. Pity me for not taking kindly to the coniglio (rabbit) or swooning at the sight of chicken liver crostini or the tripe truck in Florence. It’s not that I don’t have an adventurous palate. I’ve happily chewed on chunks of guanciale (boar’s cheek), the fatty meat that gives bucatini all’amatriciana its savory lusciousness, and I’ve even snacked on lumache (snails), all garlicky and buttery and served with a hunk of bread to sop up the juices.

When I travel, I try to have an open mind when it comes to trying new foods. But meats have never really been my thing. I’m more interested in seeing what different cultures do with their vegetables – how they saute them, roast them, steam them, sauce them, dice and shred them for salads, or bake them in casseroles. The world is keenly aware of what the Italians did with the tomato, a vegetable (or fruit, if you’re being technical) that didn’t even arrive in Europe until the 1500s but is now the cornerstone of dozens of dishes found in every region of Italy. Making its arrival in Italy at the same time as the tomato was the potato, which, like the tomato and other edible products from the New World, “stimulated the native genius [of Italy] by giving it new materials to work with.” (See Waverley Root’s The Food of Italy.)

The potato is a vegetable that no one really associates with Italy but that features in two dishes that either make me feel at home when I’m Italy or give me a fit of nostalgia if I try them here stateside. In this month’s Italy Blogging Roundtable, we look at comfort foods in the context of Italy. Here are two of mine.

Continue reading Comfort Me With Potatoes: A Tale of Two Tuber Dishes in Italy

Falling For Italy: Three Fun Activities to Put on Your Radar

 

Cascatemarmore

This month for the Italy Blogging Roundtable, my colleagues and I decided we would write about “fall.” Not autumn, but fall. So that left me a little bit of room for interpretation. Without doubt, Italy is a wondrous place to be in the fall: leaves are changing, fall fashion is beckoning from store windows and on the perfectly trim bodies of Italian males and females, and truffles are appearing on menus throughout the country. But I decided to write about “fall” in a different way by highlighting a few interesting activities that take you away from the art and the shopping and the endless indulging of food and wine – all fabulous things but not the end-all-and-be-all of what Italy has to offer for active travelers. The following three activities are focused on “fall” but are not strictly reserved for autumn.

Continue reading Falling For Italy: Three Fun Activities to Put on Your Radar