The Road to the Land of Red Onions

 

Rain.How long has it been since it rained the last time? Oh, dear, more than three
months ago. Since that timid, delicate drizzle of May the 19th, we have been
haunted by an incessant, suffocating, dehydrating, I-am-about-to-faint heat. Hence;
it should have been quite natural to choose as destination for the upcoming holidays
some refreshing places such as the Dolomites, Iceland, the Norwegian fjords etc. .
Anybody would have acted that wise, anybody but me. As this year it was my turn to
spot the location and being, honestly, quite fed up with going to the Dolomites, I
deliberately ignored my husband’s imploring eyes and since I am no Heidi, I was
determined, it would have been South, and deep South this time: Tropea, Calabria,

Can you guess, which is mine?

Light luggage and off we went. It is quite a long way, since Tropea is 700 kilometers far from Rome, yet we were particularly looking forward to being finally driving along the famous motorway A3 Salerno – Reggio Calabria. That fame had been earned by the world record waste of money and the prodigious length of time to have it completed: more than 40 years. For such a brilliant record we are mostly indebted to the Calabrian mafia, called N’Drangheta, of course. By the way; I cannot but rejoice by writing that I belong to that lucky generation that may say to have witnessed the end of it, as the motorway was declared eventually terminated only few months ago. After such an effort at the cost of 5.6 million euros per kilometer, what would you have expected it to be like?

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Well, at that cost I would have supposed to see it supplied with any possible modern
device, Wi-Fi , service stations with jacuzzi and well-trained staff ready to massage your stiff neck after long driving hours and, why not, brass bands with singing festive children throwing rose petals at you at the moment of your departure as sign of gratitude for all the money given away in taxes all these years. That I would have expected. At least. On the contrary, we discovered it to be quite a narrow, neglected motorway. Still. After the first 53 km the three lanes become two and after a while, the emergency lane suddenly disappears never to be seen again, or at least we lost the sight of it. And for what concerns technology, I guess when long
time ago Italian novelist Carlo Levi  entitled his book “Christ stopped at
Eboli“, this choice must have been justified by the fact that right at Eboli, all the radio signals suddenly die out to be picked only intermittently every now and then. As for the service areas, there are just few of them and, as you can imagine, crowed by multitudes of thirsty, hungry people and tired, yelling kids. Nevertheless, after almost 500 km we had to stop, so we resolved to make our way to the bar for a little refreshment, which we did exactly with the same attitude Mr Darcy and Caroline Bingley attended the ball at Longbourn.We quitted as soon as possible, of course. After one hour’s driving when we started to notice stalls with piles of red onions along the way, we understood that our destination was now close.

The crystal clear water of Tropea

I guess you may have understood that Calabria is one of the poorest Italian region with little industrial development . The local control of the Mafia, and the ineffective policies in the course of the past decades have kept this land backward. Even if it is blessed by amazing rocky and sandy costs touched by a clean, blue sea, still tourism is having difficulty in taking off for the lack of adequate tourist facilities but Tropea is one of the few exceptions. At the end of the motorway we truly found our treasure.

The coastal cliff of Tropea

 

 

 

 

 

One of the many charming restaurants in Tropea

 

 

The little town sits on top dramatic coastal cliffs in the gulf of St. Euphemia and the legend says that it was Hercules who, returning from Spain stood on the Coast of Gods and made Tropea one of his ports.    We walked through the charming old town through an incredible maze of lovely lanes, restaurants and cafes till we reached a place where we could experience the most stunning and breathtaking views of the sea and beaches. Here are some pics of the sea:

And at sunset you could also see the island of Stromboli :

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And if you feel like having an ice-cream:

We were so glad to see such beauty and organization that we often used many words of deserved praise with the locals and what I loved the most was to hear them proudly say, particularly from young people, that much more can, must be done. It’s the dawn of a new,  substantial change, I’m sure. I heartily wish them so.

A picture of me.

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The Twin Globe

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glo8In the heart of the Villa Borghese park, hidden among the trees and surrounded by a lavish vegetation, you may find one of the most unexpected sights, for sure: the Globe theatre. Yes, that Globe: a full-scale reproduction of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, copied from the original designs, and almost identical to the one that now stands on London’s South Bank. Rome’s version of the Globe was built over the course of three months and inaugurated in 2003 to celebrate the centenary of Villa Borghese. The theatre is designed in a circular shape with a stage that juts out into the middle of the audience, and an open roof (that’s why the theatre is open in the summer and early autumn seasons). It’s built of oak and has a capacity of 1250, including the standing space in front of the stage, which are, of course the cheapest places.The entire project was financed by the Silvano Toti foundation – the late Silvano Toti was a builder and patron of the arts.

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20150924_104215Gigi Proietti, one of the most outstanding Italian actors, has been the artistic director of the Silvano Toti Globe Theatre since 2003, but he has never acted in any of the plays. Of course, Elizabethan comedies and tragedies are mostly represented, in fact the special architectural features and the essentiality of the scenes allow a cathartic relationship with the works of the English Renaissance drama. I can say that for sure, as,  only few days ago I went to the Globe with some of my students and colleagues to see the morning representation of Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” directed by Chris Pickels.

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When the old Bard wrote “All world is a stage“, he had not considered one little detail: in the world many languages are spoken. This edition of “The Comedy of Errors”, in fact, was the first English-speaking production at the beautiful Globe theatre in Rome, only, the public was not exactly made of native English speakers and the plot of this play not so easy to follow. The story of two pairs of twins  – masters and servants –  who not only had the same features but also the same names, Antophilus and Dromio, led to many misunderstandings not only on stage but also among the public. Tell me, who is he? Antipholus of Syracuse or Ephesus?Mah?? However, the language of art won eventually, so that everybody was able to enjoy the many very funny moments of the show. The Bard is always right, after all. 20150924_11225620150924_131812

I did love the company of actors, all of them. The Bedouin Shakespeare Company, is a touring company founded in 2012 by two enthusiastic young actors, Edward Andrews and Mark Brewer, with the patronage of the Royal Family of Abu Dhabi. Their main aim is to bring the universal themes and language of Shakespeare in the countries around the world, that’s why they were not at all uncomfortable with a non native English-speaking public. Their “Comedy of Errors”  premiered at the Silvano Toti Globe in Rome to fly out to the UAE and then finishing in London at the Arcola Theatre, November 1st. Therefore, you are still in time to enjoy a great show and don’t forget to visit the Globe, next time you come to Rome!!! 🙂

Italian Dandyism: Gabriele D’Annunzio

da9Dandyism spread in Italy as well at the end of the nineteenth century and  Gabriele D’annunzio was its most outstanding exponent, for sure.  Aesthete, politician, journalist, playwright, poet, lover: D’Annunzio was a man of many passions, but above all the architect of himself. He studied and created his own image carefully, a mixture of exquisite taste and love for heroic actions.He was associated with the elite Arditi storm troops of the Italian Army and took part in actions such as the Flight over Vienna in 1918. Some of the ideas and aesthetics seem to have influenced Italian fascism and also the style of Benito Mussolini. However he was the Vate, the Bard, of the Italian literature during the 19th and 20th centuries.

Gabriele D’Annunzio  moved to Rome, when he was but nineteen and was soon fascinated by the swirling atmosphere of the capital. He managed to open his way to that evanescent and ephemeral society that charmed him so much, working as a reporter of custom and society for La Tribuna, under the pseudonym of “Duca Minimo” (The Duke), just to make clear which ambitions he nursed, demonstrating technical competence and an uncommon style for a provincial boy.

da10The accuracy he displayed in describing a dress for a lady or giving tips on hair styles or fashion showed not only his will to fight against the mediocrity of every day life but his belief that art is only merchandise whose rules cannot be ignored by an artist. Hence, D’Annunzio  understood pretty soon that the language of fashion was absolutely innovative and powerful, that’s why, like a modern Petronius, he made himself a model of taste, the “arbiter elegantiarum” of the Roman and Italian society under King Umberto I.

D’Annunzio will define himself, in fact, a “valuable animal”  whose aesthetic education of his spirit drags him irresistibly to desire and purchase  beautiful things“, particularly high fashion clothes. You can have an idea of his expensive wardrobe only making a simple guided tour at  Il Vittoriale degli Italiani, a sort of museum which he planned and developed, adjacent to his villa at Gardone Riviera on the southwest bank of Lake Garda, between 1923 and his death. In a new space, below the Amphitheater, called  “D’Annunzio secret” there are some pieces of clothing that belonged to the Italian “Bard”.  Here we find many many shoes and boots as you may admire in the following pics; d4d6 d5

he had countless outfits,of course, and  linen . It seems he had 365 dressing gowns, one for each day.

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Examining his wardrobes his elegant taste emerged: English fabrics, hats. D ‘Annunzio dressed as the high society of his time required. French intellectuals were right when they said that he acted himself and that behaved as an impresario who was looking for buyers. His only transgression was his excessive love for details. He had thousands of identical underpants and thousands of ties all equal. He was also a fashion designer, in fact in the following pic you may see one of his most  famous creations. It is called the nightgown with a porthole and I guess it is quite explicative about the character of the Bard . 😉 d7

The poet donated the Vittoriale to the Italians because he wanted to be remember not only his literary work and his exploits of war, but also his daily life at his home. The Italian Vittoriale is not a mausoleum, but as he wanted Gabriele D’Annunzio a “House of living stones“.

Valentine’s lovebirds

 

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Saint Valentine ‘s day is the sweetest feast of the year, as we celebrate love on this day, or sort of. Valentine, actually, was a bishop and martyr of the Christianity, so, how could he be associated to love? As far as we know, Saint Valentine came from a patrician family and was consecrated bishop of Terni ( a town of Umbria, in central Italy) in 197 a.d. when he was only 21. In the year 270 Valentinus (his latin name) was invited by the orator Cratone to come to Rome, to preach the Gospel and convert the pagans. Valentinus was arrested and was sent to the prefect of Rome, to the emperor Claudius II himself. Not at all intimidated, Valentinus tried to convince Claudius to embrace Christianity, whereupon Claudius not only refused, but condemned Valentinus to death. However, Claudius eventually pardoned him and entrusted him to the family of Judge Asterius. Valentinus was arrested a second time under Aurelian, who had succeeded Claudius II. The empire continued to persecute the Christians, and as the popularity of Valentinus was growing, the Roman soldiers captured him and took him out of town along the Via Flaminia to scourge him, fearing that the population could rise to his defense. He  was beheaded on the 14th of February 273, at the good age of 97, by the hand of a Roman soldier: Furius Placidus.

val4So, where is love? If we want to find a connection to love, we have to narrate some episodes of his life, which are surrounded by an aura of mystery and legend. One of them refers to the period when Valentine was under house arrest of Judge Asterius. There he performed for the first time the miracle of restoring sight to his blind adopted daughter. When Valentino was about to be beheaded, he performed this miracle a second time. Through his prayers, he succeeded in healing the jailer’s daughter who was suffering from blindness. On the day of his execution he left her a note that was signed “Your Valentine”.

According to another story, Valentine, former bishop of Terni, united in marriage the young Christian Serapio and the Roman centurion Sabino: the union was hampered by her parents, but once overcome their resistance, it was soon discovered that the young woman was seriously ill . The centurion called Valentino to the bedside of the dying woman and asked him never to be separated from his beloved: the holy bishop baptized him and then joined him in marriage to Serapio, after which, they both died.

val2Another legend tells that one day the bishop  saw a young couple, who were fighting. He went towards them holding a rose and invited them to hold it together in their hands: the couple departed reconciled. In another version of this story, the saint was able to inspire love in the two young people by making several pairs of pigeons fly around them. Those birds were so sweet as they seemed to exchange tender signs of affection; the word “lovebirds” has its origin from this episode. “Lovebirds“, in fact, is translated in Italian with the word “piccioncini” (little pigeons) and if we see somebody showing affection in public, we commonly say that they “tubano” (coo).

Therefore, “lovebirds” from all over the world, how are you going to spend your Saint Valentine’s day? .

Christmas Devils

 

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It’s almost Christmas time, but if you are looking forward to enjoying that magical atmosphere and you don’t feel like waiting a couple of weeks more, well, there is a place in Italy which has already put on the festive attire of the most enchanting celebration of the year: Trentino Alto Adige. My last experience in Trentino Alto Adige last summer had not actually been the most enjoyable one, I know, but I think anybody must be given a second chance, therefore my husband and I took advantage of a four-day holiday to visit the famous Christmas markets in Bressanone, Bolzano and Merano.

imageChristmas markets are very renowned here and are a major touristic attraction. We arrived in Bressanone at sunset and the town was all a glow of lights, Christmas trees and ornaments. Once arrived at the cathedral square, I could see the classical stands which displayed the typical products of the land, hand-made decorations, cribs, carved wooden figures, candles etc. I was looking for one stand in particular, the “strauben”stand. Strauben is a typical sweet fritter, coiled and twisted, flavored with grappa, served with ice sugar on top, plus cranberry sauce or chocolate.

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I devoured it in few secs without even blotting my winter coat. My white winter coat. By the way, I noticed that the lady who had served me the strauben was looking at me with a certain concern. She informed me, in fact, that in short, hundreds of young boys would have reached the square, dressed up as devils with the intent of frightening with their whips, rusty chains and bells the people they would meet and smear them with black grease. Whaaaat??? I had the unfittest outfit on, for sure. In few minutes the fairy place turned out into one of Dante’s circles of hell. When I saw “Caron dimonio ” and his fellow devils rush into the square, I immediately ran away to seek shelter in one of the shops around, while I sent my husband to take some pictures for the sake of the post. But what was all that mess about?

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imageThose beast-like creatures are called Krampus and belong to the folklore of Alpine countries. It was thought that they appeared during Christmas season to punish those naughty children who misbehaved to carry them away to their lairs. Traditionally men dress up as Krampus during the first week of December, particularly on the evening of the fifth of December, the eve of Saint Nicholas day. This tradition is, in fact, linked to the figure of Saint Nicholas. It seems that long, long time ago, in times of famine, the young men little mountain villages used to wear furs made up with feathers, animal skins and horns. In this way nobody could recognize them and they were free to terrify, rob and sack the inhabitants of nearby villages. After a while the young men realized that there was an impostor among them as his feet seemed to be goat hooves: he was the devil himself.

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The bishop Nicholas was called to exorcise that disturbing presence and once the devil was beaten, from then on, young men from those valleys parade along the streets of the villages dressed up like devils, following the image of the bishop who had succeded in defeating evil. They no longer frighten the villagers, but bring gifts (they usually throw nuts or sweets) or hit naughty boys. But as soon as the sun sets, Saint Nicholas disappears from the scene, so without the control of the Saint, the Krampus are once again free to spread terror hitting whoever crosses their way.
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And in case you met one of them, this is what might happen to you .image
My hero !!!! 😀

Spello’s Gold

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The quaint alleys of Spello

 

What I really miss of my husband’s (short) running career are those fantastic week-ends, when his races took us to visit many picturesque towns and villages. We used to choose the competition according to what the place had to offer for what concerns artistic beauties and, why not, food tradition. First you run and then you eat, it was a great combination after all, even for me that I didn’t run and the only task I had to accomplish was to welcome him at the finish line. So, as there are no races in sight, what did we have left? Well, the answer is simple: food.

Yes, food. After all, Italy is the land of food, and this is so true that we celebrate food every weekend, in every corner of the country. I’m talking about “sagre“, annual country festivals in honour of the typical products of the land: strawberries, cherries, chestnuts, pasta, mushrooms, bread, even flowers, only to mention the most famous ones just around Rome. These festivals are major attractions and a fantastic reason to quit the big city, take a breath of the fresh country air and taste juicy traditional food. Last week’s destination was Spello, an ancient town built of stone and enclosed in a circuit of medieval walls on Roman foundations in the province of Perugia (east central Umbria). Spello also boasts about two dozen small churches, most of them medieval, but the reason why we were there, was gold, Spello’s liquid gold: olive oil.

spello4Certainly this hasn’t been the best year for olive oil. A combination of bad weather (very mild winter 2013/14 followed by a rainy summer) has led to Italy’s most disastrous olive harvest of the century. Furthermore an insect called tignola plus some fungi belonging to the Anthracnose family have plagued what had remained, completing the disaster. Despite the adverse fate, the annual festival hadn’t been  cancelled and hundreds of local people put on their traditional costumes to welcome tourists and make the celebrations start.

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street dance

Even the children were happy actors of the ceremonials.

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lovely little girls following the procession

Everywhere you could see people playing, dancing and having a good time. The city streets were filled with stalls offering “bruschetta” ( grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper), and extra-virgin olive oil, skewers, sausages etc..

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tasty skewers

All of a sudden the most amazing pagan procession started. Rather than the usual religious statues of saints or the Virgin Mary, dancing and singing people started to follow their local gods: olive trees adorned with food carried by old tractors.

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“bardascitti” means young boys in the local dialect.

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the festive procession

In this genuine, joyous atmosphere, made of the little, simple things typical of the past rural tradition, I couldn’t help but wonder: even if those people didn’t have all the comforts of modern, technological societies, weren’t they happier after all?

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the future of tradition

 

Grand Tour

grand 1Year after year always more and more many students of my school decide to experience a student exchange programme in order to improve their knowledge of a foreign language. The destinations may range from the English-speaking countries like the U.S.A., Ireland, England, Australia  to the more exotic ones like Japan, China or Taiwan. At first they are convinced it will be only a matter of studying in a new school, changing habits for a while and why not, enjoying the exciting flavour of independence, to understand very soon that they have been involved in something more complex than simply learning a language. I want to use the words of one of my students to explain it, who, once invited to report about her one year experience in Taiwan, was happy to say with such eager eyes that she felt like having lived a whole life in that year and even more.

grand 3Sterne would have called it a “Sentimental Journey“, where sentimental refers to those emotions that arise from both the vision of a new landscape and the confrontation with completely different habits and cultures. The belief that travelling was a fundamental step for the “Bildung” of an adolescent is not something new, but it was rooted more or less in the seventeenth century, when it became fashionable among the young offspring of European aristocracy, artists and cultivated men to undertake a travel to Italy or better a “Tour“. The term “tour” replaced “travel” or “journey” as it marked the peculiar nature of this kind of voyaging, which was particularly long and broad, with start and finish in the same place. Many countries were visited but the dream destination was Italy.

grand 4In 1670, Richard Lassels coined in his “Italian Voyage” the expression “Grand Tour” a neologism that would have been universally adopted since then. For the “grandtourists” Italy was a mythical place, an open-air museum where the climate was always sunny and bright and nature wild, uncontaminated. The wealth of its archaeological sites, the legacy of Renaissance, the extraordinary musical vein were powerful appeals, but that was the myth as the reality these travelers found was very often quite disappointing.Impoverished countryisde, lifeless ports  and towns, dusty cultural activities and political institutions that seemed so rusted if compared to the more advanced European models, especially those in England. Goethe, who  had toured Italy for a couple of years, marked the contradictions of the country in his “Italianishe Reisen”  and in a second trip to Italy 1790 he sentenced: “Italy is still as I left it, still dust on the roads, still cheating habit. If you look for German honesty, you will look in vain.There is liveliness here, but no order and discipline. everybody thinks only of itself,  politicians included…..” uhmmm, if he could see Italy today, I think he would use more or less the same words. However, despite some bad reviews, the Italian seduction still worked.

grand 5The phenomenon, in fact, became wider and rich travelers had the habit of touring in the company of valets, doctors, musicians, painters. The Earl of Burlington , Richard Boyle, arrived in Italy with fifteen people besides his  gardener and accountant, Lady Marguerite Blessington used to travel on double spring carriages provided with mattresses and pillows and William Beckford, the son of a wealthy London merchant, was accompanied in his second trip to Italy by the artist JR Cozens, the Rev. John Lettice, his guardian and factotum, the doctor  Projectus Errhardt, the harpsichordist John Burton and by such a large party of friends that once in  Augusta he was mistaken for the Emperor of Austria. An anonymous traveler wrote: “this travel mania is so widespread, that there is not one wealthy citizen that doesn’t  wish to enjoy the beauties of Germany, France and Italy”. Furthermore the new extraordinary archaeological discoveries of Herculaneum (1738) and Pompei (1748) had enriched the itineraries of the “grandtourists”.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, with the modernization of society (new roads and railways, industrialization) the new generations of “grandtourists” seemed to have less time and money at their disposal. The length of the “tours” started to shorten and the new travelling rhythms  were signs of  the impoverishment of those cultural aspirations which had characterized them for more than a century. Travelling became less “sentimental” and more diversion, a sequence of organized information rather than a personal discovery. Hence these students, who have had the chance to experience the world just like the “grand tourists” used to do, are the last, fortunate “romantics”.

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