Jul 28, 2009

Business on an IOU...part of Italian life

A first in my lifetime and only in a place where the "people factor" is still one of the most important things in the community, can it occur. What is it?

Purchasing items on an IOU.

I didn't have the cash for 3 yards of the pretty material you see above and the roll of bias binding. I am also notorious for forgetting my pin numbers for my ATM cards. Knowing all this beforehand, the lovely and very amicable owner of the little corner material store still went ahead and cut the material insisting I take the items with me.

I laugh when I think of her telling me I have a very honest face and she trusts me. Not because I don't think I'm honest, but because I know this will never happen in the America I lived in. I'd like to think perhaps in the small towns scattered across the States life might be like this. Does anyone know?

One thing for sure, she just won herself one more regular customer.

Jul 25, 2009

A Night of Tango in Novara Italy

Berti and Federica (Milongueando Accademia di Tango)

With the summer festivals in full swing all around Italy, it is not hard to find evening entertainment for just about every interest. Stages have been set up and remain in place for the parade of musicians performing on their scheduled night. Exhibitions of well-known local or Italian artists are not uncommon. And schools put on dance performances for entertainment and promotional purposes.

For this reason, I had reservations about going to see the tango show in Novara. On previous occasions I've been disappointed by the performance tango shows as they were diluted with ballet. But last night's show was the pure, unadulterated version of the dance and I happily absorbed the music and the movement.

Milongueando Accademia di Tango hosted the event and are performing in several Piemonte locations; Milan, Biella, Vercelli and Novara. Their last performance (free entrance) for this festival will be in Vercelli on Sunday the 26, 2009 at the Livorno Ferraris Piazza. If you plan to go, the guest artists, Silvana and Eduardo will wow you with their unity, passion and obvious joy dancing.

I was an idiot for leaving my camera at home (not a_GAIN!!!) so I searched for a clip of them for you to enjoy.


Jul 24, 2009

Using "Tuscan-style" to Increase Viewers

The word "Tuscany"usually illicits good feelings for just about every one. It tugs on the memory strings of a previous trip or creates the yearning to go and have a taste of the good life. I ran across an article in a Bay Area (California USA) paper featuring a rental home in the Napa Valley as a Tuscan retreat and was eager for a visual treat.

This perhaps has the feel of a Roman pool, but that dark wood siding is distracting me.

Aah, vineyards...but that is not the type of metalwork I have in mind for Italian patio furniture. And as my friend Anne well knows, there is an infestation of plastic chairs that have taken over every Italian home (lol).

Wall to wall french doors, smooth white walls, cleanly cut wood beams and a wreath. Really a lovely scent of California to me.

More clean lines.....

Well, there is the idea of having a tower...

Perhaps I'm a little biased, but I don't know that I would ever find anything like this in Tuscany.

What I do know is that Americans will be disappointed at not seeing the color and artistry that we have come to expect with the word "Tuscan".

I feel manipulated and I object to this free use of the word "Tuscan".

Photos from SF Gate.com

Jul 23, 2009

Home-grown and Home-made

Every Tuesday morning a little old truck makes its way up the winding road that leads towards our village. It stops at the house a short distance below ours and the driver lifts the tarp on the side exposing an assortment of fresh produce and fruit. Bruna is usually waiting for him with her basket, ready to buy what she doesn't grow herself.

Families for generations have managed their own little plot of land for home-grown vegetables. If they are not fortunate to have a plot of land with their home, they have a plot in the country... and they make the daily journey to tend it. A's parents live in an old medieval town and have their plot of land in the outskirts of the city to which they walked before they had transport.

Here in Borgosesia, I frequently pass garden upon garden that seems unattached to any home, but I realize now they are an extension of a family or families probably living in the center.

Home-grown vegies is just one tradition passed on through generations. There are also families who have produced their own cheese and still do today. These are not usually made for sale but when friends hear that there is a batch, many swing by with an offer to buy.

Livio lives up the road from us and stopped briefly to chat with A. He mentioned that he had just seen one of their mutual friends who makes cheese and had bought 3 of them. When he continued home, he carried only two and the other one came to sit happily on our chopping block.

This is something I like about old Italy and what you frequently encounter in the villages... things are home-made or home-grown and shared whether sold or given as gifts (zuchinni seems to go around frequently in summer).

Life continues the "hard" way in terms of labor but it is a rewarding thing to be self supporting.
Perhaps because of the labor involved in everyday village life, people are more inclined to help each other because they know first-hand what 'work' is like and they are ready to give just as much as they are willing to receive.

Bruna does not drive and it is in keeping with the old tradition that the vegetable truck makes the trip to her home.

I love Italy.

Jul 18, 2009

Varallo Festival Alpaa July 2009

One of the highlights of the Valsesia summer is the Alpaa Festival in Varallo which began in 1977. It gets its name from a time gone by when the shepherds came down from the mountains to sell their products at the village markets. The festival runs from July 10 through the 19th, tomorrow being the last day.

It promotes the work of local artists in music, art, culture and tradition, folklore, sport and of course local food. There is something to interest everyone and more than 100,000 people visit during the 10 day program.

I went for the food and to check out the merchandise from the many booths that lined the streets.

Local restaurants such as La Barrique from Guardabosone participated, preparing dishes that are typical of Piemonte. Two restaurants paired up on an alloted evening to serve their specialties.

Street vendors

Parco d'Adda was filled with booths preparing simple dishes such as polenta and donkey, miacce, which is a thin crepe-like bread that is served with toma (local cheese) and choices of meat and trout. This is the place to go if you want to dance; a band plays every evening with polkas, tangos and waltzes. Too bad A doesn't like to dance.

Various musicians, such as Marco Carta from San Remo fame, woo the crowd each night. The very popular Pino Daniele gets to end the festival with a bang on Sunday evening. I expect there will be a very large crowd. We might even go....well, still thinking about that one.

Setting up for the night's concert

Wood carving is a tradition that goes a long way in the Alpine life and many artists displayed their intricate work. A museum was set up showing the work of Italian artist Lino Tosi and works from Gaudenzio Ferrari (who also contributed to the art work at Varallo's Sacro Monte).

One of the many booths that lined the streets

Merchants from all avenues had a booth and even Ducati took over one square displaying the model Stoner rides in the MotoGP.

A quiet street in the historic medieval center

Summer means Festivals, Foreigners and Helicopters?

Signs of summertime: Scalding heat, foreign faces, festivals galore, scanty clothing and.... helicopters?

A walk through the Saturday open market in Borgosesia now has a different feel. The space is humming with activity: people greeting one another with a warmth and exuberance that comes readily with the warm morning sunshine, outdone only by the joyous song from overhead blackbirds and finches.

Ears accustomed to the "white noise" of Italian chatter quickly pick up the foreign sounds of another language and reality hits. Vacationers from all over are slowly filling the empty rental apartments, or returning to throw open the shutters of their summer homes.

The mercury continues to rise, striving to reach unchartered areas. We feel it here in the foothills and I can only imagine the blistering heat that is felt in lowland Milan, Florence and Rome. I am once again glad for the unpredictable and refreshing weather that comes with living in or near mountains. Longtime residents have a different opinion of the thunderstorms that frequent our area.

Brian Auger and his band more than likely cursed the weather yesterday. Varallo hosts the 10 day Alpaa festival every year with local artists and businesses setting up booths to sell their food, services and products. Free outdoor concerts draw spectators every evening to stand shoulder to shoulder in the main Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele.
Photo: www.laghi.tv

Gusts of wind blowing the driving rain in every direction does not bode well for an outdoor concert. Even bass and drums can't compete with the rolls of thunder.

Today the storm has passed and the earth is once again kissed with sunshine. I am sure at some point I will hear the rapid, repetitive 'vooomf' of helicopter blades as they pass overhead.

Bright yellow means someone is having a very bad day and will arrive soon at Borgosesia's hospital. The others transport goods to the 'refugios' that dot the mountainside. These are high altitude restaurants and/or lodging that need supplies for their hiking visitors.

Summer is definitely here.

Jul 13, 2009

The Meaning of the Tolling Bells

The bells don't just mark the passage of time, they convey different messages. In the Borgosesia area, there are 13 churches but the one I hear the best, the closest of the country villages, brought my attention to the different meanings of the toll.

I'm used to the bells tolling on the hour and am tickled by the fact that the churches are not synchronized, so I hear their bells counting down the hour one after the other...thirteen different tones, near and far.

On Sunday, I hear the bells that call the village to church. They play a lovely melody but at 7:30am, I am not inclined to join them and the church is far enough for it to still be a "lovely" tune. The bells also ring out in song when the service is over and people spill out from behind the large, ancient doors to return home and celebrate the day over food.

We are probably more used to hearing joyful bells celebrating a wedding but they are also used to announce a death. Here in Borgosesia, I've heard them ring at odd times and assumed they were for a funeral. In Bivongi in the south, the bells have a certain ring to inform the village of a death.

Four bells with different tones are involved:
  • One bell is used to give notice of a death
  • Another tone is used to indicate the sex of the deceased (thus one bell for a male and another bell for a female)
  • The last bell signifies that the person died in town. Silence after the tone indicating if it was a man or woman says that they died elsewhere.
Word of mouth is still the best method as it tells you WHO passed away. It's always a sad time when someone dies, but I have to admit I am curious to actually hear what the bells sound like...probably more so from the fact it is like a code and I want to decifer it.

The chimes on the hour are now automated, but the others (naturally) are rung manually. I also seem to hear the bells when I don't need to know the time. One hot mid morning, I was outside cutting weeds and decided to stop when the one o'clock hour arrived. Of the thirteen church bells that were to bring my relief, I heard NONE.

Jul 10, 2009

Traditional Italy and Japanese Food

Last evening we went out to dinner at Asia Ristorante, a Chinese/Japanese restaurant in Borgosesia. I noticed that the other patrons were basically youngsters, probably not more than 22, if that.

"Mostly young people seem to come here, how strange" I commented.

An emphatic "yes" came my way and I realized that I'd forgotten I was in Italy. In the States we find more of the older generation eating at a Japanese restaurant thanks to the pricing of the exotic food.

A explained that in Italy it would be an incredible surprise to see any of their older generations in a restaurant that wasn't Italian. Only the young are open to the new foods that are popping up around the country and breaking with tradition.

Ah, Italy and its tradition. It also explains why two of the waiters came up to ask if it was our first time eating Japanese food. That might be another way of saying we are old!

Jul 8, 2009

Worth 1,000: Lavender Fields -- Finally

Another Motorbike trip to see fields of lavender in Provence. This is for you Mary.

On the road to Valensole

My favorite photo

Jul 3, 2009

Italian TV - La Scelta di Laura just like Grey's Anatomy

Grey's Anatomy has spawned a copy-cat show here in Italy. "La Scelta di Laura" (Laura's choice) is the same story...following the personal and professional lives of new surgical interns. There is a McDreamy that has a slight resemblence to the character Derek Shepherd and Laura of course is Meredith Grey. I just haven't figured out who is supposed to be Izzy. I doubt there will be another Christina Yang though. She is unique.

Jul 2, 2009

If You're Happy and You Know it....

I walked outside to hang the laundry and heard the whoosh of the swiftly moving swallows. They flew low and silent, except for the rush of wind, just a few feet above my head and their circling gave me the sensation that my world was at a standstill in the midst of their allegrissimo tempo.

It's nice to feel a part of nature even if I am only a spectator. I've watched Tit families raise their little hatchlings, watched them learn to fly together and eat together on my balcony. This is a treat.

But what really made me walk back inside to write this post was the voice I heard emerging from the woods. It was lifted in song, belted out with force and hitting every wrong note. But even from this distance, I knew one thing for sure...there was JOY spilling forth. And I felt it too.