Springtime in Italy – Or Why It’s Easy to Love Italy

May 21, 2009 at 10:08 | Posted in Amore di Italia, Bits and Pieces, Fun Reminders of Italy, genealogy, Italy, Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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gerber daisies

gerber daisies

cana lilies
cana lilies
grapeleaf

grapeleaf

Fields

Fields

There are too many reasons to even begin an attempted list of why it is easy to love Italy – but this post is one sure reason it is hard to not love Italy in the spring. There are no words that can state it better than these photos will show it.

 

It doesn’t matter if it is someone’s backyard, or the wildflowers of the fields, or a balcony.

windowsill

windowsill

strawberries

strawberries

pinks100_1873

The colors and smells carry one away, overtaking one’s senses, in brilliant displays of beauty amidst the ruins of bombed or crumbling buildings.

white wisteria

white wisteria

 

 

 

 

Trees in San Cristoforo

Trees in San Cristoforo

It is no wonder that flowers and romance go hand in hand because in this land of romance, Italians make use of every spot possible to include flowers. They are unashamed of their love affair with flowers!
apple blossoms with tractor

apple blossoms with tractor

Food! Mangi! Solamente Verdure!

May 9, 2009 at 09:15 | Posted in Italian Cooking, Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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Only greens!

Only greens!

 One of the things we hear constantly over and over is “Mangi! È solamente verdure!!” It’s only greens! Yeah! Let me assure you that this is the understatement of the ages! There is not, never has been, and I guarantee never will be anything approximating only greens never ever in Italy!!!! Now I am perfectly willing to admit I have several pounds to lose. And I know in my head that vegetables are good for you. A nice healthy dish not top heavy in calories, bad carbs, or fat content. I can even accept that Italians tend not to over-salt or drown in heavy creamed or buttery sauces laden with grease. But nothing that tastes as wonderful as their fresh picked salads and vegetables will convince me that is impossible not to overeat myself to 500 lbs.

    We foolish Americans look at huge artichokes in the supermarket and willingly pay $2.99 each to take them home and peel apart and discard half before we find the edible parts. Then we stuff the remainder full of breadcrumbs, butter, salt, spices, and even meats. And then we proceed to drown it in some form of greasy gravy or hollandaise sauce. But Italians will tell you that is the worst possible artichoke – one that they would toss as garbage and use to feed the animals! How can one be sure it is an artichoke anyway?  

Tender Artichokes

Tender Artichokes

Artichokes in Italy cost somewhere in the vicinity of $3.00 for eight to ten small to medium sized artichokes. I will grant the size is smaller but that is because they were picked sooner before they spread out empty and dried out. Instead one eats almost all of the smaller tender artichoke. No heavy sauces or greasy goo for these artichokes! They are stewed lightly on top of the stove or baked in the oven with a small amount of olive oil and an easy hand on any of the seasonings. Occasionally they are dipped in light flour and fried in a skillet. That means one appreciates the wondrous flavor of the artichoke itself. Yes. An artichoke actually has a flavor all its own!!!  

Fresh Fava Beans

Fresh Fava Beans

  And so it is with most greens in Italy. Great care is taken to allow the diner to taste whatever it is they are eating – not the sauces or gravies or seasonings but the main food item itself. Even the wine is chosen to complement, not over power the food. Even in the poorest homes, dishes are changed between courses so that one flavor does not remain in a dish to over-power the next course. “Mangi! È solamente Verdure!”

Stuffed Mushrooms

Stuffed Mushrooms

     

Olives!Olives!Olives!

Olives!Olives!Olives!

Then and Now

May 8, 2009 at 18:19 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | 1 Comment
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View Then

View Then

Two views taken about 31 years apart yet both so similar in their difference. The first is old and faded – barely saved snapshot thanks to photo editing of that misty day in 1977. The newer taken just a year ago of Gaeta from almost the same spot. Now there are lovely old street lamps and beautiful walkways to encourage the strollers along the shoreline. The boats still line the shoreline after a long morning of fishing. And the church still sits proudly on that hill at the center of town beckoning one to its silent beauty. But it is the harbor itself that calls one to the edge: the same water gently lapping the shoreline. How many fishermen set sail each day in the wee hours to find a catch to feed their families or sell to those who came down to meet the boats.  

Walkway

Walkway

 I have a brother-in-law who would go each morning to buy fresh fish – but if the fish was still not moving, it was not fresh enough to please him. How many of those men would sit each day seeming to while away the hours but in reality were sitting repairing nets making ready for the next day’s excursion? What conversations did they have – where were the fish, what was the weather to be tomorrow, who did not come home from the sea? Were the younger ones too foolish to listen and learn or did they know their lives depended on the wisdom of the older ones? Has life changed that much in thirty years or is that still the lesson we are trying to learn?

Gaeta Boats

Gaeta Boats

La Valle del Re

May 4, 2009 at 10:07 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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La Valle del Re II

La Valle del Re II

 

The Valley of the King – forgive me but this is a shameless plug for one of the most special places in Itri to visit … a restaurant opened by a good friend of ours, Mario Petrillo.

Gioielleria Petrillo

Gioielleria Petrillo

Already a well-respected business owner and talented jeweler, Mario has added the title of restaurateur to his list of accomplishments. Located on Via C. Farnese between the route to the Sanctuario and Itri proper, this is classic dining in the true elegant Italian style. It includes views of the beautiful Italian countryside making the atmosphere complete. We Americans so foolishly believe Italian food means pizza or just canned tomato sauce on pasta without ever knowing the many varied and tasteful delights of Italian cuisine. Mario proves it is much more than just this while offering you an Italian dining experience in gorgeous surroundings. It will be well worth the short drive … and tell Mario that Valentinoswife sent you!…”

La Valle del Re

La Valle del Re

 “On the 10th of February 1849, the august Monarch Fernando II with his Royal family and the Highest Pious Pontiff IX, after the ardent supplication of the mayor of Itri, they went to the Sanctuario to revere the Virgin Saint of the Civita. The hearts of the canters were filled with joy and the merry trip changed faces in devoted pilgrimage, when it had reached the strata of the mountain. This valley that from the first echo of hurrah, resounds again of then those sacred hymns…”

Update on Trip

May 2, 2009 at 17:01 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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The trip is wonderful – perfect t! Only a couple minor problems that will not ruin our time here – a car that will not allow me to charge cell phones or laptop, and a frustrating lack of an Internet café handy in Itri! Seems the ones we knew about are gone — and any others are well hidden because no one seems to know about them if they exist! Internet connections here are slow slow dial ups so I am not going to worry about it! This may end up not being a bad thing as it means I will spend time relaxing instead of writing blogs daily and being tied to a schedule. It means I can relax with no obligations to the world back home for now – something I have needed. I am enjoying being free avoiding the usual exhausting tourist routines and just taking whatever comes as it comes.

It is drizzling but our plan is to drive to Latina to visit another sister today and her family. Again I get to be lazy in the backseat and doze! I am so enjoying this!

Lunch is again a complete family affair and sisters share more recipes for me for the cookbook! Soon cooking and recipes leads to more family stories and we are all laughing and crying as stories are shared. All too soon it is time to return to Itri – we have an evening appointment with the priest at Chiesa del Annunziata to try to find Valentino’s grandfather (whom he was named for).

Next morning: We met with Father Giorgi last evening and he was more than happy to help us with our quest. To see old church registers with hundreds of years of history of all the important life events of the town’s residents was awe-inspiring. We have narrowed down the birth and death dates now due to the sisters all sharing bits and pieces of information. He died as a result of an auto accident – a speeding car (a wealthy individual from Rome) hit him as this vital 85 year old walked home from the farm. It was a very traumatic accident in the area for everyone, not just family. We hoped therefore that information might appear. We also suspect he was one of five or six brothers or siblings so we want to track as much as possible. There are a few points everyone did agree on – he was a very strict parent/grandparent. He would warn the little ones to not trample new seedlings – they were his work! He was renowned for his skills as farmer/gardener. And he absolutely loved and adored his tiny wife Cristina. In our one photograph, he towers over this tiny little woman and holds her hand protectively. They tell the stories of how he treated her like a little china doll. This was quite a remarkable fact given that most men of that era treated their wives as property and mere slaves, not friends and lovers. This man made no attempt to hide his feelings for her – what a legacy to leave his heirs! In the photo he wears a black arm band as a symbol of mourning for a son who died in another tragic accident at work in a sand quarry. One strange fact – he normally wore Roman style sandals and this was the first time in a long time he wore shoes – and the photo was taken only fifteen days before his death! At eighty-five he still walked several kilometers each day back and forth to work his farm. Hardy stock like most of the folks of Campodimele.

Next Few Days

May 1, 2009 at 09:17 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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Lesson I

Lesson I

Monday: I was treated to a personal pasta-making session. My sister-in-law makes the best handmade pasta – pasta that reaps the benefit of the love she puts into everything she does for family! Soon I will be adding many more pages to the family cookbook that were given to me by all my sisters-in-laws. Leaving Tarquinia is never easy even when we are this eager to travel down to Itri to see more family.

After my crazy work schedule before I left, I have been ready for rest. I have not slept more than a couple hours here and there so I am at the exhaustion stage. While Val and sister gab on the drive to Itri, I opted for the backseat to grab some much needed rest. Once again it bears mention that the backseat of this car is NOT meant for comfort – the seat is like being on a rock bench so I have rearranged baggage to have some cushioning! It has been rainy so it is a good day to drive and not miss precious time. Family is waiting and we are all anxious to be there!

Grazing Cows in Itri

Grazing Cows in Itri

Tuesday: We are ready for our first full day in Itri. We have gotten up earlier to enjoy a leisurely breakfast enjoying the view and the sounds – song birds are doing their best to sing a welcome and we can hear the bells clanging around the necks of the white cows we see walking on the not too distant mountaintop. The view to the ocean in Formia is beautiful – almost too beautiful to pull ourselves away from but we already have a full day of plans to accomplish. First on the list is a trip to City Hall to make a request for family information. We arrive and can only interrupt our friend for a few moments of his busy schedule. Our marriage is registered properly and we are given an Atta di Matrimonio – not sure why the Consulate does not have it after thirty-two years? Seems we are still being tracked in Boston even though our Florida address relates to Miami. We leave with a promise that our friend will try to locate information on Val’s maternal family line.

While at the Commune, we visit the Information Center and again old friendships are renewed. They are only too happy to share a wealth of information with us and literature as well as posters and old photographs. Their help as well as generosity is astonishing and I am extraordinarily grateful to them. All that was asked in return is for me to give credit back to the Commune of Itri, something I am more than willing to do! No matter how many times I hear others criticize Italians for being rude or not helpful, I know this does not relate to anyone in the Commune of Itri – everyone has always given freely and generously of their time. It reinforces my dream to make Itri our second home.

Pasqua Procession in Tarquinia

April 29, 2009 at 22:58 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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Procession I

Procession I

4/12/2009 Today we arrived in time to spend Easter with family in Tarquinia. Last time we visited we were shown a special video of the Pasqua Procession held in Tarquinia. A beautiful old crucifixion is carried about the town – Tarquinia is a quaint town set outside Roma – a mountainous town with steep hills but rich in charm and character. I was able to video almost all of the Procession, a real treat and a special way to celebrate!

Procession

Procession

 

 

Men of Tarquinia

Men of Tarquinia

As you can see from the photo of the main square, everyone who could possibly fit into the town’s main piazza was there to watch the Procession. Men shot off their rifles with loud bangs, showering the crowds in confetti and smoke. The bells rang out frequently. It was all very exciting and moving to behold!

Later we sat down to dinner enjoying the homemade pasta, stuffed artichokes, cooked finnocchi, salad, cheeses, and wine. Then everyone read through the family history book, adding more names of course of those new babies along with a marriage that took place not long ago. They are very enthusiastic also and want me to continue to research!

Carpi and Area

April 29, 2009 at 22:12 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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4/11/2009 We have not been able to connect to the internet so I might have to save my blog posts and publish when I return to a connection. We have always rented cars through AutoEurope in the past without issue. This trip we again rented from them. However, this time the little Fiat we have rented is the most extremely uncomfortable car we have ever rented! Granted it is an economy car and small but the back seat is like a rock! Now to boot we find the cigarette lighter is not functioning properly. That means no charging cell phones or laptop! The transformer sparked when I plugged it in the electric plug in the house which made me considerably nervous about attempting to charge the laptop so I will wait a bit. Having a working cigarette lighter would have meant the laptop could be charged more easily. And that does not include the frustrations of the cell phones!

Today we went to TIM to see about my SIM card for the cell phone. Found out that AT&T will not let me use another SIM card for some odd reason – never had that issue before so not sure if it is an Italian thing or AT&T – but it was easier to ignore the remaining few Euros on the card and buy new card along with new little phone – it will be good for two years – a great bargain to have the convenience of a local phone to use!

So far everyone is very enthusiastic about the family history book I made – they are fascinated with the family history and want more! They are also excited about my intended project so will aid in all photography efforts and research with me! That was the best news because I was not sure if they would support the efforts or not! Tomorrow we will be in Tarquinia for Easter – Pasqua!

Arrival in Milano

April 29, 2009 at 19:04 | Posted in Trip to Italy 2009 | Leave a comment
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Maria's pizza

Maria's pizza

We arrived in Milano mid-morning. SwissAir was a very smooth flight but they have the tightest seats I have ever had the displeasure of occupying! Their service and their food made up for the seats – the staff were delightful. They served everyone with smiles!

After a quick cappuccino at the airport to refresh ourselves, we drove to our sister\’s apartment in Milano. After hugs and kisses all around, Maria served us an incredible meal. There were all of our favorites in one sitting! The artichokes and grilled vegetables were wonderful! Along with pasta we were treated to a family recipe of a mixed meat pie, cheeses, fruits, salad, fresh tomato pizza, and spinach pie. Enough food for an army! Naturally our plans to stay only a short while before leaving for Carpi were forgotten as we talked and talked. They enjoyed reading through the genealogy book we had brought and more family stories were shared. One interesting fact we learned explained some of the confusion about dates of marriages and births – seems we had a few minor errors that we knew had to be wrong but were never able to find correct information. Now we have it! The only problem we have encountered so far is not having enough time!

Stuffed Bread

Stuffed Bread

 

Chocolate Stuffed Torte

Chocolate Stuffed Torte

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