Sunday, November 26, 2017

Thanksgiving at Tuscania's 12th century San Giusto Abbey

Whether you have been in Italy for  a few weeks or  for fifty years,   old traditions and seasonal treats are never forgotten. 

Thanksgiving   is perhaps the best loved American tradition for it means  getting together with family and friends, relaxing and enjoying  good food and music.   

 Refectory, Abbazia di San Giusto, Tuscania 
tower  and cloister,  San Giusto Abbey 

 A few years ago  the culinaryconcierge team of Mark and Ginger Medina-Rios  brought  the  traditional Thanksgiving  meal  to Tuscania   and now  it is a consolidated  “happening” loved by both expats, visiting Americans  and local  Italians. 

This year both lunch and dinner sittings  were offered along with  a few special twists and  additions.  

The rectory of the  magnificent 12th century  Abbey of San Giusto, hidden in the Marta river  valley  near Tuscania  was the setting for the  Thanksgiving meal  and entertainment. 

 Recently restored after centuries of abandonment, the Abbey is now  a splendid example of  medieval religious  architecture  where the church, cloister, refectory, and abbey rooms have been  returned to their simple, original splendor.
Ginger  with some of the guests 

guests from Tuscania, Vetralla, Castel Cellesi 
 After  admiring  the  Abbey and its  resident cats and donkeys, the guests who arrived from as far away as  USA, UK, Rome, Orvieto, Orte   and towns in-between, were lured into the Refectory by the sound of music  and the perfumes  emanating  from Mark’s kitchen. 
Some of the Orvieto group 

musicians from Montefiascone 
serving mulled wine 

Under  the  high ceilings of the refectory   appetizers, mulled wine and  aperitivi  were enjoyed along with ethnic and   folk music   by  instrumentalists of  Minima Mysticanza  from Montefiascone.

Mark and  Ginger, along with  a small   team of helpers,  orchestrated  the  luncheon and evening meals  to perfection.
Mark carves the turkey 
 The location, the history behind the monastic complex, the music and good will  all added  to the special atmosphere. 

As plates of delicious food  and bottles of wine from the Sergio Mottura vineyards  were passed back and forth along the long  tables, strangers  became friends,  connections were made and consolidated . 
 The  monks who inhabited these halls  hundreds of years ago  had never tasted most of the foods  offered: pumpkins, turkey and sweet potatoes  had still to arrive from the New World.

mini pumpkin pies 

and then the dancing began 
The afternoon evolved with guests enjoying  mini pumpkin  pies and some even added to  the  entertainment   dancing  the tango, jigs and reels .

More about the history of the  San Giusto abbey    at this link and in  the book
see chapter "Mysterious Sites of N. Lazio"

 Signed copies can be ordered directly from the website .

Monday, October 30, 2017

Special Women of Castello Ruspoli

    Yesterday  I was honored to be among the music loving guests gathered at Castello Ruspoli in Vignanello for  luncheon and concert of the 9th international  prize for Baroque singing  and musical studies. 
I have often written about this  castle,  one of central Italy’s  most  significant historical properties, that has been in the same family since 1531.
Donna Giada and  Manola at castle entance
brick floors  spina di pesce16th century

imposing facade of Castello Ruspoli, Vignanello 

It was the first visit  since my  discovery in a local church of the only portrait of  an infamous ancestor of the Marescotti-Ruspoli family, Ortensia Farnese. The story of Ortensia’s  nefarious deeds   is narrated in my recently published  “The Painted Palazzo/Il Palazzo Dipinto” , the 7th publication dedicated to the  Tuscia/Etruria  area here in central Italy.  
Ortensia, Madonna del Riscatto, Vetralla

Ortensia Farnese  fresco discovered in Vetralla

The contest for Baroque singers and musicians is named for  Prince Francesco Maria Ruspoli  (1672-1731) a patron of Handel . It  is a unique experience for scholars  and performers offering  a monetary award and solo concerts at the castle and later in Copenhagen and Havana. Singers and instrumentalists specialized  in Baroque music compete in alternate years .

Guests for the luncheon and concert were greeted in  the castle entrance hall by Donna Giada Ruspoli and shown into a cozy room where  aperitivi were served . 

the gardens created by Ottavia Orsini 
Other  guests  took a stroll in the magnificent  gardens designed in 1610 by Ottavia Orsini Marescotti, daughter of the creator of  Bomarzo’s  Sacro Bosco. The gardens  retain  the original   design and parterres which are lovingly  maintained by the castle’s  gardener, Santino.
Gardener Santino greets  Prince Stash    and Tan 

As well as  great patrons of the arts and benefactors,  the historical Marescotti-Ruspoli family also  included  saints  and sinners. 
In  the family chapel on the ground floor  mementos of the family saint, St. Giacinta, are kept. 
in the chapel 

dress of Saint Giacinta Marescotti 
papal shoes and robes 

 Upstairs in the many rooms of the piano nobile, numerous family portraits  line the walls and vintage photos show other  Marescotti –Ruspoli ancestors.  A memento  of Ortensia, and her  three  unlucky husbands, can be seen on the fireplace mantle – a half erased coat of arms.
fireplace with  coat of arms
buffet  in front of the fireplace 
castle rooms 

still life  

setting up for the luncheon 

Luncheon was  held in several salons  of the piano nobile, next to the main hall  where the concert  was held . 
program of the  concert 

The  audience of music  connoisseurs  was enthralled by the voice  of this year’s  winner of the Ruspoli prize,   Hungarian contralto Dalma Krajnyak, accompanied   by Luigi Trivisano at the clavicembalo.  
named after his ancestor, Francesco Maria Ruspoli 

Surely Handel and his Ruspoli benefactor, Prince Francesco Maria, were  smiling  down on the castle yesterday as history repeated itself with beautiful music, good company and interesting encounters .

Saturday, September 30, 2017

Where the locals eat-Da Mondino, Tarquinia


After a month at sea on Azamara Quest this summer, dining on the  wonderful food  cooked by the only other Italian on board, Chef Fabio from Sicily,  we were  completely spoiled and  not       interested in venturing out to any local restaurants. 
spaghetti con le vongole 

Symbol of Tarquinia, the  Winged Horses 

But  a work day organizing book sales at museums and tourist offices in  the seaside town of Tarquinia  was a good excuse to  take a walk on the beach.

The magnificent  early autumn days  were another reason  to escape work mode and stop in Tarquinia for  lunch . 
entrance area, just beside the Tarquinia railway station 

The numerous seafront restaurants at Tarquinia Lido  were  all closed up tight, for it was a Thursday, and this late  in the season they open  only on weekends when the Romani descend on surrounding seaside towns and restaurants, most of them yearning for a  plate of fritto misto or spaghetti alle vongole.
fritto misto  calamari, gamberi, roasted potatoes, local Cerveteri wine 

main dining area - we are the first to arrive 

Luckily Fulvio knows the area well, having worked for many years as administrator in the local hospital. 

He remembered that the locals often went to a place called Da Mondino, hidden inbetween the railway  station  and an overpass, not a very  elegant location but very popular  with local business owners for lunch break. 
view of the overpass, from Da Mondino

hungry  firefighters start to gather 

A large,  kitsch fountain could be seen from atop the overpass, and after a few minutes trying to  find the entrance, we pulled into a parking space under the overpass, next to  a fire truck. 

Passing near the kitchen a whiff of delicious fish told me it was open for business and along with the fire fighters we were the first to arrive.
 In a few minutes  an elderly curved gentleman sauntered in and headed to his  corner table, greeted warmly by everyone.  

vintage details  

The official  name of the restaurant is Al Passo del Cacciatore, but everyone  knows it as  Mondino's, from the name of the owner, originally from Sardegna: Edomondo, shortened to Mondino. 

trees,  fountains and entrance to Da Mondino  

The place quickly filled up and by 1 p.m. most tables were full and the waiter and kitchen staff  bustled around, doing what they have done for decades, cooking and serving  hearty local dishes.     
It was a business crowd  on lunch break but they were also interested in eating well, like all Italians.  
the tables start filling up
fireplace and door to the kitchen

Mondino's  photo hangs over the kitchen door  and a battery of  well used aluminum cooking pots line the kitchen wall.

 His sons, helped by a very professional waiter, run the place and  they have spruced up the unassuming building over the years, adding an  events hall at the rear along with a children's play area and fountains. 

green gardens, playground, fountains and  magnolia trees 

Great day out, excellent price/quality ratio.  We spent  33 euro for an excellent lunch with wine, mineral water and a sorbetto al limone. 

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Top Tourist Spots along the Adriatic

During  a  series of cruises along the  Adriatic  coast  I was struck by  the beauty and booming tourism in towns of  former  Yugoslavia,  previously part of the great Venetian marine empire in the 12-18th centuries. 

"living room" of Hvar-the main piazza 

just like Italy..... pizza break in lively Koper 
The  fortified ports of  Zadar, Koper, Dubrovnik, Kotor and  Hvar strung out along the  Adriatic  coast are now some of the hottest spots for  summer tourism.
 Each has its  unique  character, history and structure  but they also  share  lifestyles  and  traditions  similar to those found here, in  central Italy. For example,  the  use of the main piazza  as  the town’s  elegant living room for the  afternoon  passeggiata.  
artisans in Zadar  offer  their wares  on the street
costumed locals  in Koper/Capodistria

By studying  what our neighbors on the Adriatic are doing -and have done-  in the tourism field, we can  discover which mistakes to avoid  and which of their best practices to  follow. Here are some personal  observations and ideas  to help  increase tourism  while protecting   the  quality of life for  residents and visitors.  

shiny stone pavements of Zadar
I noticed  that public spaces in all these lively port towns  were decorated with  street furniture and  flowers and,  most importantly, there were  no graffiti   nor  rubbish  to  be seen.  This  pride in their  spotless  main piazzas  and  streets- such as  Dubrovnik’s  Stradun- is expected also from  visitors. 

The tourism industry  must  protect this quality of life which is  one of the area’s main attractions, a quality that  the Tuscia Viterbese  has  in common with these colorful  Adriatic ports.
Too much popularity and tourist hoards  can be a strain on ancient historic centers.  Hvar town, a very popular party destination for young British tourists, has had to impose  rules of conduct  and stiff  fines (up to 700 euro)  to control  unruly behavior .
enjoy your stay and obey the rules

On the positive side, thanks to the silent electric  vehicles used   for  rubbish pick up and  deliveries in the pedestrian zones  the only noise is  the hum of  human voices and  instrumental music being played  at  many a street corner. The piazzas of Dubrovnik ,  Koper  and Zadar  resound with classical music played by  street performers  and buskers  often dressed in local costume.  

musician  and salt shop, Koper
Whether  it is  a violinist, a   guitar trio  or  Mozart being  played on musical glasses, a crowd  of people and  a pleasant mood are  always created.
The  huge crowds of rock concerts  are relegated to stadiums outside the delicate historic  centers where amplifiers  would be  a danger and  unnecessary. 
 In the port of Zadar even the sea has been harnessed to make music with the  recently created  sea organ which  plays tunes using the  lapping  waves of the sea .
sea organ, Zadar port 

 This human scale   combined  with beautiful architecture  gives a  sense of peace and  wellbeing that immediately strikes visitors coming from  foreign cities.  This  slower pace and  quality of life  are valuable  elements which no longer exist in giant cities and  suburban sprawl but are still fortunately  alive and well in most  towns of central Italy. 

 What answers  can you give to these  questions about your  town?
Is the main public piazza and/or main street  still an  elegant  public space used for  socialization  or is it   clogged with cars, speeding motorini  or  used primarily for parking?
Are the ancient, medieval and   Renaissance architectural gems  of the  historic   center given pride of place? 
tower in Zadar similar to those of Viterbo 
Are there green areas  and  parks  close to the historic center which are well cared for and used by the residents and visitors?   
SYA  students relax in Valle Faul, Viterbo 

Instead of the  Venetian lion seen  in all the Adriatic  ports, the  area of Tuscia boasts  other symbols on  palaces and castles:  Viterbo’s   lion and palm, the   heraldic  crests  that remind us of past Papal domination  and the local noble families -Farnese, Odescalchi, Monaldeschi -who once ruled the area.  
The construction materials   also differ: our local buildings are constructed of  grey  tufa and peperino  and we walk on cobblestone streets  instead of shiny  Istrian stone. 
Although less spectacular  than the majestic  city walls  surrounding  Dubrovnik and Kotor  those  of Viterbo, Tarquinia  and other local fortified  towns  have  yet to be given the attention they deserve .