Dec 25, 2009

The Italian Nativity Scene

Merry Christmas to YOU!!

My Italian day is almost spent. It has been a full day of family and food with lots of wine, coffee and more wine and after dinner drinks. One of the best gifts we can give our friends and family is the gift of our time; I think with the exception of one young man, A’s nephew, who was eager to get out on the town with his friends, the rest of us were content to linger for one more drink, one more serving of the canoli.

If the Christmas tree is a common feature in an American Christmas, the Nativity Scene is common in Italy. This photo is not the best presentation of the manger scene, but it was taken on Christmas Eve and there was not much time to go in search of some of the incredibly beautiful and complex models that end up on display.

What is missing?

And then on Christmas Day….

I didn’t know.

Dec 21, 2009

Weather in Piemonte

The skies were bright and clear in the town of Borgosesia, and about 4pm I decided to go to visit my friend who lives near Novara, a town about an hour south from us in Piemonte. As I headed down the autostrada, I kept looking for a place to stop for a photo of a magnificent, florescent orange sun that was sinking below the tree line.

I stopped at the first break in the trees but was too late for the sunset though you can see a small bit of it peeking through the branches. I then turned and noticed ...

...the photos I took of the right side of the road...

 ...were nothing like those on the left side.

Then two minutes further down the road, I ran across that thin line that separates good weather from bad and everything became ghostly shapes looming up along the side of the road.

When I left her house later that night, just as I was reaching the same parking spot as before, I emerged from my thin cotton wool cover to see a slice of a moon along with his starry pals, winking at me from above.

Dec 19, 2009

Short, freezing walk in Borgosesia, Dec 2009

Chiesa di Sant'AntonioShort walk around Borgosesia

It's the day after Borgosesia's first snow fall with a temperature maxing out at 0C. Yet I still wanted to see what the town looked like in its winter clothes.

If you can believe it, after two years here, today is the first time I've walked around town other than the center. There is soooo much I've missed from driving around.

I was enchanted by this gate, its lines highlighted by the layer of snow. The gray and white was so pleasing combined, right along with that etching on the post. Aren't gates related to doors in some way? :-)

Right next to the gate stands this square house, that just happens to be for sale. I keep noticing "For Sale" signs because you can't imagine how much I'd love to have an old home over here.

The public garden, sitting opposite the St. Anthony's Church, and adorned with the somber WW2 memorial (commonly seen all over Italy), was recently transformed into a playground for children, complete with blowup slides and Santa's house.

Tomorrow the squares will again be filled with typical Valsesian crafts and also those made the "old way".

Dec 18, 2009

Details in Old Italian Buildings

I never fail to be amazed at the artistry I see here, sometimes it is showcased in stone, sometimes metal and also pottery and ceramics. It's when this artistry pops up in mundane places like a gutter that I have even more of an appreciation for it.

Very old method of roofing with curved tiles. Long slabs of brick with rounded edges were laid over the wall, with each successive layer over hanging the previous, building out to form a small, sturdy eave.

More architectural details. I think all entrances should have welcoming features like this.

Once again, my fetish with old doorways. These weathered doors are just begging to be refinished and wouldn't I love to do them.


Dec 11, 2009

Dressed In White

Once again the naked trees have decided to don the very pristine look of white. Even the midday sun can't coax them to shed their new look. It's only near the end of the day, ready for dark evening wear that they slowly refresh themselves, allowing their crystalline clothes to fall into a damp mass at their feet. What will they wear tomorrow?

Alpe Raclette Restaurant, Valduggia

The day was bleak and the surrounding forest was bare of its leaves. They now adorned the rolling countryside in a brown and yellow carpet that invites one to frollick and play as children.

Our destination was the Alpe Raclette, a restaurant set deep in the woods. We didn't expect so many cars but there is a reason. The food is excellent.

Even in this out of the way place, A ran into a group he knew and we stood together waiting for the dining room to be opened.

The table was set with bread, different types of dry salami, antipasti and cheese. Instead of a menu, the server brought each dish to our tables for us to choose if we wanted a taste or not. We were so engrossed in conversation that we didn't notice that what seemed to be the 10th plate was still the primi piatti. We had no room for the meat course, which was a shame. At least we had dessert.

As I walked out, I turned to take a photo of the restaurant, something of a sad building, in a rather dull if not depressing setting.

Once again the saying of not judging a book by its cover came to mind. One would never have guessed, without giving them a try that such a well of delicacies and would emerge from their kitchen.

Ristorante Alpe Raclette
Valduggia Loc. Valpiana
Tel: 347/4738664

Milan Artisans Fair Dec 5 - 13

How convenient to have the world at your feet. Well, the world of artisans in all different crafts. The enormous FieroMilano, the same building that hosted the Motor Show, opened its many doors to reveal the work of artists and vendors from around the world.

Two halls were dedicated to the craftsmen from Italy, another to those from other countries in Europe and yet another to the Orient (or "non European" as the US got thrown in there as well.)

Eco Living - House, Home, Recreation

Gives new meaning to sofabed
Modern solution for antique walls.
Eco-friendly boats
More "green" living included baths, doors, windows, insulation, everything a girl could want in a home.

Baubles and Beads, Xmas decor and...

Hundreds of booths were covered with all kinds of jewelry, most more organized than this one, but it is fun to look at and get a feeling of baudy extravagance.
There was a time I hunted for a clock with a European feel.
Winter Prep
The French piano that plays by itself. That's cheating!

International Food!!!! and...

Last three: Names written in Tibetian
Etching on Slate

...My pocketbook leaked and at the end of the day it was difficult navigating the crowded passageways without bumping bags with someone else. Next year I will shamelessly go with a suitcase in tow.

I bought the one on the left and afterwards saw the little red roof. Pity I didn't get both.

Left: I made the cushion on the right of the photo, which only meant I HAD to buy the tablecloth I found in "France".
Right: Spread from India.

Info also in English on the Artisans Fair in Milan


Dec 10, 2009

Days of Celebration

Since coming back from Calabria, the weeks have been laden with holiday festivities. I tried unsuccessfully to instill an appreciation for Thanksgiving but I think I might have to write that off as a flop. Which means next year should be better.

Christmas, being universal if even celebrated in different manners, never fails to find a place in someone's heart, especially if it is a child; all the color, the lights, the buzz that either separates one into Scrooges or Little Tims.

We have another reason to celebrate this year. A's little nephew made his debut a few days ago, the tiniest little bundle I've ever seen and a foot long magnet for grandparents. I think there will be a lot of "oohing" and "aahing" from many households this year.

Dec 5, 2009

Aussie Bar's Humor in Advertising

On my flight to Calabria, I looked through the in-flight magazine and ran across this ad.

I hope their sense of humor tickles you the same way it did me.

Dec 2, 2009

Little Villages that house the Dead

The incredible cemeteries of Italy.

On more than one occasion I've driven past little villages, surrounded by their protective walls, and imposing iron gates. Depending on the moment, I've had thoughts of cold drinks, or steaming hot food placed in front of me; thoughts quickly dispelled as upon closer inspection, those little villages turn out to be ... cemeteries.
(Photo: Cemetery at Siderno Superiore)

Interestingly, the final resting place for Italians is not near or on the village church grounds, and many times not even near the town itself. There is a plot of land set aside for tombs and the like. My recent visit to the cemetery in Roccapietra took place around 5pm, which at this time of year, is right at dusk.

The Roccapietra cemetery stood out in the middle of nowhere, the quiet disturbed only by the screams from a game in progress drifting in spurts on the wind. That didn't bother me, but the last thing I wanted to hear as I stood alone in the failing light, was the muffled and insistent knocking coming from I don't know where!

That didn't deter me, I again visited another two villages of the dead.

This cliff-side promontory, and what I consider prime property, has been set aside to house Gerace's dead in southern Italy.

Caulonia's little villageLittle villages of the dead
Caulonia Cemetery These three are photos of the house like homes for the families of Caulonia, also in southern Italy. The only thing missing are street names.

Nov 29, 2009

Milan Antique Market

Today was to be the big day...going to the Milan Antique Market. I dragged myself out of bed at the ungodly hour of 6am on a Sunday morning and got ready for the hour drive to meet my friends and that is BEFORE getting on the train for another hour to Milan.

It was raining.

The four of them at the Novara station were laughing at me when they saw my umbrella, because it was dry, dry, dry in Novara. They weren't laughing anymore when we reached Milan and the sky was leaking...badly. They gave their business to the illegal vendors standing just inside the exits with an assortment of cheap umbrellas.

After a couple of hours walking in rain, avoiding puddles but realizing I was wearing the wrong type of boots and my feet were slowly draining white from the wet and cold, even I was no longer laughing. My consolation was that I was going to catch my death of a cold born from walking along the 12th century Naviglio Grande, the oldest canal in Milan.

All in all, it was a pleasant trip, with good conversation, excellent food, jokes and the discovery of a new place that I will definitely have to visit again.

The market sets up every last Sunday of the month along the streets just outside of the Pt. Genova FS Metro station. It usually runs from about 9am through until 2:30pm. There is a bit of everything, not just antiques and furniture but I'll admit my enthusiasm was substantially dulled by the weather. By 11am many of the vendors were already packing up for home. Can't blame them.

Venue: On the banks of the Naviglio Grande between Viale Gorizia and Via Valenza
Date: Last Sunday of every month (except July)
Website: www.navigliogrande.mi.it


Nov 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving 2009

My friends back home are celebrating a four-day holiday in honor of Thanksgiving. You need four days to digest the amount of food that ends up on the table. I loved the combination of food that is typically seen at this time, the stuffing, the cranberry sauce and pumpkin pies.

I've never been fond of turkey but it was part and parcel of the whole celebration and it was always fun to watch people try to stuff a large turkey into a small pan to cook in the oven. (Except my vegetarian friends of course).

Well, well, well, since there are not an abundance of turkeys in the local market that I can whizz home to make, I thought I'd "settle" for quail or cornish hen. I didn't really think of what they ate in the Pilgrims time, but guess what....turkey was not on the menu.

According to the History website, wild fowl and venison was on the table which makes a lot of sense. So my little substitution will be just fine. I will still miss that cranberry sauce which is just not found here. (On a side note, neither does sour cream exist in Italy). But I intend to fill the table with a LOT of good stuff which will be my equivalent of saying "Thank you for all the good things life is offering me every single day"


Nov 23, 2009

Encounters with Italians of the Best Kind

I pointed the car towards the mountains and let it go where it wanted. It's true I had a destination in mind, but my theory is that in Italy, the roads all snake back and forth to every village...it's just that one road will take longer than another.

First stop was Siderno Superiore, the medieval village in the hills. I somehow never get tired of these types of towns with their dull, multi-toned grey stone facades and terra cotta tiled roofs. Southern hospitality kicked in again as an old gentleman offered up his balcony that had an awesome view of the valley below and the medieval city nearby. He was full of information, directions, stories about the the town, but adamant against having his photo taken.

Traveling alone has always been rewarding for me. I am more open and people are always curious. The first question is almost always "where are you from?" And with the general love affair most Italians have with America, mostly Hollywood America, the questions continue.

As a result, I've benefited from free tours, free drinks, discounted meals and lots of attention. It's great for a woman's ego. The one encounter that stands out for me, because it took a slightly different bend, is that of an old woman in Gerace, Borgo Maggiore.

I rounded a corner and stopped to admire a particularly attractive piece of real estate when a small woman, with a green head-kerchief pulled across her mouth, approached me. I watched her coming, not realizing that she would stop with her face a mere 3 or 4 inches from mine. Then she dropped her kerchief as she spoke, revealing at least 4 very grey teeth at intervals in her mouth.

It was her eyes that were incredibly young, full of mischief and life. Yes, she asked me the same question followed by the popular, "What are you doing HERE?" She must have loved my answer because she caressed my face. I didn't mind even though I usually have a very large personal bubble. No Hollywood blither for her. She came straight to the point. Do I have religion?

Again she wasn't disappointed with my answer. We believe in the same God, the Son and Spirit but we take different roads on the topic of Mary. Her parting comment, served with a big smile, was that we will see each other on the other side. Somehow I have a feeling she's going to be there.

Nov 20, 2009

Visit to the Olive Mill, Bivongi

Yesterday was my second day picking olives and after all the hot weather that greeted me on my arrival, the temperature dropped as the fog settled in. This is a view of the lowland (at 6:48am when I really should be in a warm bed)

The Picking
The upper portion of the property already had nets spread and we took to beating, combing, picking, whatever was necessary, to get the olives off the branches. I soon found my own rhythm, where I'd vigorously comb the branches, separating clumps like a stylist does hair so as to not miss any. I was allowed to pull and snag its "hair" just as long as it got to slap my face every once in a while!

My third day, today, found me standing out in the early morning hours in a damp grove. the trees and tall grasses were covered in droplets of water due to high humidity from that darn fog and it was, well... cold. I took this photo as we hiked back up to the car...seems unfair that we let her take the bag, but I swear, she insisted!

The Olive Mill
I took a very hurried tour of the facility that turns those dark beauties into delicious oil. (It was just before lunch ... enough said I'm sure).

Customers leave their pickings in these crates, along with their contact info AND the containers that the oil is to be placed in. (No containers means you miss your turn). A lift transports the crate to the bin (on the right) where they pass up a conveyor, through something like a small waterfall and then dunked for a good wash (below left). Leaves get separated and removed in the process.

Clean olives are sucked over to a vat where a blade continually grinds and mashes them into a profumatic mush.

Then the mush gets digested by another machine that separates the oil from whatever water is in it.

The dehydrated mush is still very useful and gets carted off to another factory where another batch of oil is extracted before the remnant is used in the making of bricks.

Absolutely nothing gets wasted!