Sunday, October 4, 2015

Finding Italy in New England

typical New England lunch: clam chowder & lobster roll at Fishbones, Chelmsford
Every once in a while during my  50 years in Italy I get a chance to  return to  USA . This  time  my trip coincided  with that of Papa Francesco and while he was having  meetings with VIPs and  prisoners  I  visited New England  relatives and attended  my 50th college reunion in Buffalo, N.Y.  



Roberta Witts at her  art and framing gallery, Chelmsford, MA
  With  my brother and sister-in-law  I visited  numerous small towns  in the rolling hills  between Massachusetts and New Hampshire where they live.
We  stopped  at  farm stalls and antique shops,  ate in local Italian (and non) restaurants and  enjoyed   the first  signs of fall foliage, when the trees turn  bright red and gold.
their first visit to neighboring vineyard

Since my brother and his wife have no intention of coming to visit me in Italy,  one of the things I wanted to do was find some Italian style food and places for them to enjoy  right in their own backyard. I must say that my mission turned out quite successfully. 

Al Fuchino's winery   offers  dinners and opera as well as wine
Things have changed  since I was growing up in New England, now   Italian wine and handmade pasta  are readily  available  as we discovered during our day trips around   the  picturesque countryside which  resembles  Tuscany and my local area -Tuscia, 60 kms north of Rome.
Within  10 miles  of their home we found the  Fulchino vineyard   in Hollis , N.H. and tasted some of their wonderful wines  along with excellent Wisconsin cheeses. 

This lovely Tuscan style villa houses the Fulchino Vineyard

 Owner Al Fulchino told us about the  special dinners with opera singers that are held at the Winery  which are a great way  to  enjoy Italian lifestyle without flying over to Italy. The next one is October  17th so check their website and book your table.

For those who live in central Italy  Opera Extravaganza’s  house concerts and musical events can be enjoyed here in Vetralla . Next one  is   on October  11th.  ( )

pasta and wine now available in New England small towns

Valicenti organic pasta sauces

cheeses from all over the world including  fresh mozzarella
Young owner at Valicenti Pasta Farm
Also in Hollis, N.H. we found  the Valicenti  Pasta Farm where an  Italian-Irish couple produce  wonderful pasta, ravioli  and pasta sauces  in many different varieties. Valicenti Pasta Farm sell from their big yellow barn where the perfumes  of pasta sauces  fill the air.  They sell their wares at numerous  farmers markets and deliver to the top restaurants in the  area and in Boston.   Check their website

chrysanthemums are a seasonal flower in both US and Italy

 beautiful tomatoes at Kimball and Lull farms near Pepperell, MA
Other  farm stands  along the road  sell huge varieties of tomatoes and  pumpkins  as well as  mums which are used to  decorate cemeteries  in Italy  in November.    

Since   the Carrabba's restaurant group had  filmed a  commercial in Vetralla  about a  year ago,  I was curious to see what their  food  and restaurants were  like so one evening we drove over there for dinner.   At  7p.m. on a Monday  the parking lot was full, lots of people at the bar and getting “takeaway” and  people waiting to be seated  but when we left  at 8:30 pm  the place was empty! 
8:30 p.m.  and the place is empty

When I went up to the kitchen area  to  take a few photos of the chefs preparing salads (as shown in their TV commercials) the manager   told me  that company policy  forbade photo taking except  of the clients who might be celebrating at their table. 
sideways dipping  at fake marble table  
fettuccine Carrabba


 A few cultural differences that annoyed me after a lifetime here in Italy :  waiting in line to be seated, being stuffed into a narrow booth (we changed for a  round table), a fakey/ friendly loud waitress, a bowl of generic olive oil and bread  for dipping before the meal, the price of wine and the  tipping.  The food was good  and since  portions  are so large, doggy bags are a necessity. 
Does anyone else  get reverse culture shock when returning to their home country?
Coming soon: antiques and collectibles in New England.
Hope  you will  share with friends and leave comments.
Check  the website Presentations page  for my next  conferences and  presentations. 

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Latest Discoveries: Etruscan tombs and Renaissance Frescoes

The area of Northern Lazio  continues to  surprise with the  recovery  of  treasures lost for  hundreds  and even  thousands  of years. Thanks to the determination, generosity  and professionalism  of local art historians, archeologists and  private groups who  give financial  and technical support,  many ancient sites and lost works of art have been  recently recuperated adding to  Italy's wealth of  art. 

entrance  dromos  Etruscan tomb Norchia

excavating  Norchia
   This week   Norchia (Vetralla)  and Soriano nel Cimino  are in  the spotlight. 
At the ancient Etruscan  necropolis of Norchia, in Vetralla,  an  equipe  of archeologists    and volunteers with financial support from Trust Sostratos   of  Lorenzo  Benini  completed a second  campaign of  excavations  bringing  to light  about   11 pieces  of funerary art including  painted vases and bucchero ware  datable from  the 4th to the 3rd centuries BC. 

one of the vases found in Norchia
That these treasures have escaped the pick axes  of tomb robbers  for two thousand years  is incredible in itself. The  area on which the necropolis of Norchia  sits  is privately owned (a certain Signor Stelliferi) and  will probably   become a future archeological park similar  to the nearby  privately owned Sacro Bosco of Bomarzo.    

These ceramic treasures are now being  cleaned and   restored  before   being  presented   to the public  on September  13th in the Sala Regia of Viterbo’s  Palazzo dei Priori.
Simona Sterpa  at the Soriano presentation

Simona Sterpa  is one of the  archeologists   coordinating   the  group  of  volunteers, including Luciano Proietti, Rudolfo Neri  and Mario Sanna of  Archeotuscia   who were on site  digging  by  6 a.m.  before the August sun and heat  made work impossible.

Francesca Ceci and Emanuele Ioppolo
 In Soriano nel Cimino’s historic  center   another equipe of local  art historians and  restorers  have brought back  to light part of a 16th century fresco  which had  been hidden under layers  of  white paint  in the tiny  Misericordia  church  located  in  the shadow of the imposing  Orsini Castle. A word of warning for Soriano: arrival and parking  are   difficult  due to  numerous narrow one-way streets  and hidden parking lots.   
 explaining  the newly found fresco
unveiling the fresco
crammed in to the tiny chapel

fresco fragment  of Last Judgement

sitting on the  altar

The presentation  took place yesterday in  a nearby church, then  the crowd moved over to the tiny Misericordia  chapel to watch the unveiling of the  long lost fresco.
spindle fountain where tyrant DiVico was decapitated

16th century organ still needs repair

view from Soriano over the Tiber valley

peeking inside  the Misericordia chapel

The fresco is  a represtation of the Last Judgement
 Noisy fireworks   announced the unveiling  and causing a  bit of panic (one woman  threw herself on the ground) but the rest of late afternoon  went on seamlessly with a delicious   buffet offered  to  guests  in a series of ancient  rooms with   low  beams  reminiscent of  a Venetian sottoportego
rich buffet

low ceiling with  ancient beams


For more information  about  Northern Lazio and its pleasures and happenings check out my award winning website.
 Copies  of my books about the area are available  in most museums and bookshops in the area. I mail out signed copies worldwide  every week.
Check the books page on the website  for  reviews .

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Coming up:
In September - series of Enrichment lectures for  passengers  sailing on Silverseas luxury cruise  from Venice to Dubronik and return
Visits in  USA- Buffalo, NY  and Boston areas

In October-  "I nostri castelli-veri gioelli"  illustrated presentation about the castles of N. Lazio  for Archeotuscia in Viterbo's Prefecture.
Date to be announced.   Copies  of my books will be available  at all these  happenings.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Italy's August Food Festivals and Concerts

Posters announce local food festivals in August
Sagra  in the piazza, Monte Romano
Italy, the land of great food and great music,  really earns this  reputation  during August. For the entire month  small towns and large  put on  food festivals / sagre  where trestle tables  are set up  in the main piazza and everyone enjoys  traditional food under the stars. 

The triangle   where   N. Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria   meet  is  one of the best areas  to pass  the month of August ; each town has a rich calendar of sagre  dedicated to local  dishes  and neighboring towns vie with one another to  attract tourists and  locals.
The Sagre are favored by vacationing city dwellers who delight at  the  quality/price ratio. Abundant  and genuine food  is offered at a fraction of what  it would cost to eat out in  a  big city like Rome.

Posters announcing  each town’s  sagra  are visible  on bulletin boards and walls towards the end of June, throughout July and reach the peak  for  the mid August Ferragosto holiday . 
 Check Move magazine for  complete  and up to date listings.

When you have had your fill of   grilled sausages and pasta with truffles   then you can enjoy one of the  numerous  concerts  held  in churches and castles  throughout  the  summer.  

At  the magnificent Roman amphitheatres  of  Ferento (Viterbo) and Vulci (near Montalto di Castro ) one can  sit on the original stone steps (cushions are available )  that have been in use for 2,000 years and enjoy  a concert or theatre performance.   
fresco, S.Maria Nuova, Viterbo
Ensemble Ottaviano Alberti

Evangelina Mascardi directing 
Concerts and cultural  happenings  are also held in  medieval churches and Renaissance castles which abound in  Northern Lazio.  We recently attended a magnificent concert "L'Idillio amoroso " love songs and music from the 15-16th century  in S. Maria Nuova  Church which  dates  from the year 1008!
The  castles of Vignanello, Vasanello and  Proceno  are  just a few privately owned castles where one can enjoy  candle lit concerts throughout the summer . 
The magnificent  Palazzo Farnese in Caprarola is another venue for music and concerts year round.
Use the search bar above to find more articles on these  historic  palazzi and castles. 
hosts at  Castello di Campogiordano
After a lengthy restoration the  Castello di Campogiordano  in Vetralla has now joined the list of "castello di musica"    where cultural events are held.
pre-theatre aperitivo

readings  by candlelight in the castle courtyard

Do you have a favorite sagra  or concert venue in Italy ?  Tell us about it in the comments. Feel free to share with friends by clicking on the  icons below.
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Check out  my newest project: Vintage and Books , an online shop window  hosted by ETSY.  Here you can find and choose a little piece of Italy.



Sunday, July 26, 2015

Mysterious Museum Graffiti

Museum courtyard. the  graffiti are located on the upper loggia 
During a recent visit to the newly reopened  Civic Museum in Viterbo a series of  graffiti  caught my attention:  they include  designs and phrases scratched into the plaster  by a prisoner, one Nicolo, son of Francesco Bartoli, from the  town of Barchi, near  Fano in  the Marche.   
Etruscan heads welcome visitors to the Museo Civico 

 When the outside wall enclosing the  cloister’s upper level  was removed and the roof level raised sometime in the past  200 years, these graffiti were re-discovered but the area was closed off to the public until the most recent update a few months ago. 

See the photos of my recent presentation at the Museum. 

Etruscan sarcophaghi and bucchero ware 
The convent and adjoining church S. Maria della Verità have undergone many changes over the centuries: they were damaged  during the bombings of  World War II, and only a  short time ago, the Museum was closed down for  several years when a section of the ancient walls collapsed on to the street. 

Finding  graffiti in old Italian prisons is common,  for  the incarcerated had nothing  to do to  pass the  time and used the walls of their cells as a  canvas or diary.  Visitors to  the Doge’s Palace in Venice and  Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome can visit  graffiti filled cells and even my small city of  Vetralla counts  scores of graffiti  in abandoned churches, historic sites and the building used as a prison, many of which have been  studied by local paleographer, Carlo Tedeschi.

Viterbo’s  Museo Civico  graffiti are particularly interesting for the astronomical scenes depicting the  planets:  the moon is in the center and  Mars, Mercury and Saturn in outer circles. There are  Biblical scenes of  David with  his sling,  sheep and holding Goliath’s head in a bag. There are other probable  religious scenes  too:  an Annunciation with  a bird (Holy Spirit)  hovering over the  Madonna.  

the Museum's explanation of the graffiti 

Davidd (sic)  holding head of Goliath ? 
While awaiting further research on the graffiti, we can only wonder what crime the  young  Nicolo committed to  be imprisoned in Viterbo and why he created this fanciful  world  full of strange characters  such as the  enthroned  figure in baggy bloomers  (King/Pope?) flanked by angels.

Your clues, transcriptions and suggestions are welcome. Please share with friends who  work in this sector. 
a smaller piece of plaster  contains further designs and text

part of text
Visit  the Museum's website  here.

More stories and  information about
  central Italy on  my website  
For books about the  area and its history.