Sunday, April 29, 2012

Florence International Handicrafts Fair

Foreboding fortress  near Florence's railway station 

 Fortezza da Basso  is a  Renaissance fortress  complex  built by the Medici in the 1530s on a design of Sangallo il Giovane. Inside the massive   walls that once protected the city,  enormous  hangar like exhibition spaces  were bursting with bargains and   beautiful objects, traditional foods,  and stalls for the Artisans’ Fair which closes today .

ceramics resembling ivory 

The Fair,  first set up   76 years ago, gives  pride of place to both traditional   artisans and contemporary design.
 Scattered throughout  eight days in April  are  25  collateral happenings plus  special  areas  pulsating with creative  people.

wooden toys, 

The scope  of the Fair is enormous making it necessary to prioritize, choosing  only certain sectors  and  interests  in order not to  wander aimlessly  among the hundreds of exhibits.

delightful cat  ceramics 
The main exhibit hall, Spadolini, has areas set aside for  the  guest country-this year Thailand, restaurants and unique handmade objects  in classic, modern, ethnic, contemporary and futuristic styles .  

I noted young people trying on  Japanese  kimonos  in the  Cavaniglia  hall next to Italian handicrafts  in  textiles, wood,  silver and  ceramics.  

The Fair is  an  international   mix of cultures. Where else will you find  jewelery  made from coins in  Argentina  or hear the  haunting sounds of  aboriginal  didgeridoo  while sipping red wine from  Tuscany’s Maremma? 

 Where else could you watch Cretan icon artist  Nektaria  painting while  women tried on   summery frocks made in India?  

 The  traditional artifacts on show and for purchase  range from tiny  toys  in olive wood   up to  heavy travertine sinks and  fireplaces, unique  chests  from Umbria alongside traditional  Tuscan-style furniture

With Italian artisans still producing such magnificent furniture, built to last for generations,  who needs  Ikea ? 

Legno & Colore  from Città di Castello, Umbria 
traditional Tuscan furniture 
Most of Italy’s provinces were represented : from the province of Bari  we admired   beautiful   cushions and magical lamps  and the  ice-colored bracelets of almost pure silver fashioned in northern Umbia.

lamps by Giuseppe Campanella, Polignano a Mare

From Monopoli, cushions by Giovanni Giotta 

Bottega Orafa Bartoccioni, Città di Castello (PG) 
There were  many irresistible tastes and perfumes in the air. The sellers entice by offering tiny tastes  and dabs of their wares. The strategy works and a jar of hand cream, one of the  perfumed cosmetics  made with  donkey milk, came home with me, as did a flacon of Modena's delicious vinegar. 
Laura Rovida's hand loomed textiles -the only artisan  from Lazio 

Florence  is also Fashion and the leather sector is one of the few in Italy's present crisis not undergoing a recession. In fact  there is  need for hundreds of   trained technicians and  artisans to turn out belts, bags and shoes for international markets.

Bochicchio belts  and bags  from Leonardo da Vinci's hometown   

Colorful bags  of Gioia Chiara's   
 I picked out a soft blue leather bag that doubles as a backpack from Gioia Chiara whose family has been producing and selling  on Via della Scala in Florence since the 1940s. 

Bargain prices from Pistoia factory 
Sweaters and shirts in bright spring colors  were presented by Cashmerissimi, a  Pistoia factory.    

The food sector  was amply represented. There were  huge loaves of  bread and  biscotti from Puglia,  truffles and mushrooms,  pates, mozzarella,  gelato,  chocolate and  beers.  
Bread man of Puglia

Mark your calendar  for next  year’s  event and if you missed this fair, perhaps you can make it to  Florence on the May 12-13  weekend for the  smaller fair happening in the gardens of Palazzo Corsini.

Tips for Florence: take the train, leave the car at home. 
Beato Angelico frescoed the monks' cells - San Marco Monastery 

Where to stay?  I keep going back to  Hotel Orto dei Medici, a 3 star hotel with 5 star feel.   
cloister of San Marco's  near the Hotel Orto dei Medici

Library of San Marco, where Savonarola was captured

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

Outings for April: peonies, pyramids and a potter's cave

water fountain, Vitorchiano 

Rome residents  and visitors  have traditionally used a series of “free days “  in April  (April 21-Birthday of Rome,  April 25th - Liberation Day and  May 1st –Workers’ Day) to  create mini-vacations known as  ponti.  

The cloud-laden skies  and  sudden showers of  the past weeks have made  it difficult, however, to travel without an umbrella.  

Rain or shine, grab an umbrella, your walking shoes and take a day trip to  one of these special places near  Viterbo and Rome. 

The first and easiest outing,  is  to Centro Botanico Moutan, a  private  garden open to the public in April and May. 
Acres of  magnificent  Chinese peonies extend over the hillsides,  delighting  the senses .

Lorenza, Fabio, Letizia, Fulvio  & Carla 

The Centro Botanico offers free entry and  guided tours plus  a colorful, relaxing café and bookshop .  
It is a perfect place to relax, drink in the beauty and perfumes of thousands of flowering shrubs and find inspiration for  garden design. 
The owners produce a line of garden furniture as well as an array of beauty products  and perfumes made from the peony flowers.

The colorful  cafe at the peony gardens 

If you can find a place to park near  Vitorchiano’s  centro storico, take advantage and  plunge into the Middle Ages with a walk among  the  12th century buildings  of  the intact medieval town, historically  allied to  Rome and enemies of nearby Viterbo.

charming medieval  streets of Vitorchiano 

bell tower of the City Hall 

Orsini Palace now the Town Hall 
The next exit on the highway is Bomarzo where  you can visit the iconic Sacro Bosco/Park of the Monsters  and the hilltop town.   
Be sure you take the new elevator to the upper part of town and visit  the  Orsini Palace.
the urban elevator of Bomarzo 

For intrepid explorers there is even an  Etruscan pyramid. 

This itinerary has an Indiana Jones   level of difficulty- more arduous  than  the  Etruscan sites of Grotta Porcina and  Norchia in nearby Vetralla. 

Salvatore our guide to the pyramid 
A local guide who knows the intricate paths in the  thick woods is a must. 
We were lucky to be accompanied by  Salvatore, who helped archeologists recuperate the sacred  Etruscan site. 
It had been used as shelter by generations of local farmers but was unknown to scholars until recently

Pro loco office in  Bomarzo 
A further reason to visit Bomarzo is the Festival dedicated to Sant’Anselmo, the town’s  patron, on April 25th . 
Festivities include a palio horse race, and distribution of the traditional sweet bread, Biscotto di Sant Anselmo. 

rock formations  

For in town exploration,  you can  follow in the footsteps of  the group of young law students  from 17 different countries who visited Vetralla this week for an end-of-course outing . 

Bill and students  in Checco Lallo's workshop-cave

Entrance to potter's cave , wearing the ancient  apron 

students from Liberia and other countries
Besides learning about the city’s  English connections, they visited the  cave-like  pottery workshop  of Checco Lallo, which has remained untouched  over the centuries. 

Christian  gets a lesson from Francesco 
Francesco, the last of the Vetralla potters' dynasty  known as Checco Lallo,  showed them the  traditional craft of  pottery. 

They celebrated the end of their  course of studies with an evening dedicated to  good food, music and the hospitality of a town with a long, intricate  history. 

International law students visiting in Vetralla

Friday, April 13, 2012

Artichoke Festival near Rome

Preparing carciofi alla Vetrallese 
original article  “The armored artichoke honored at Ladispoli “
International Daily News, Rome,  April 28, 1979

The years go by  but thankfully somethings stay the same: 
like the Festa del Carciofo in Ladispoli.
To celebrate this annual Festival dedicated to local artichokes
 I scoured 50yearsinItaly's archives and found this vintage article full of historical carciofi trivia.  

artichoke dishes   at  the Sagra of Ladispoli 

This weekend the annual Artichoke Festival will be held in Ladispoli, 40 kilometres north of Rome along the Via Aurelia.  Why should a common vegetable rate a festival complete with music, marching bands and free cooked carciofi to all-comers?

Castello di Palo Laziale, now La Posta Vecchia hotel
Ladispoli, which is named after Prince Ladislao Odescalchi, owes its existence to the artichoke and the fields you see extending down to the sea are completely cultivated with this vegetable-the green flowers of carciofi.
 The prince’s castle can be seen in the neighboring village of Palo Laziale and it once housed the wealthy Paul Getty who installed a pay  phone to keep his guests long-distance calls to a minimum.

Today (ed. note 1979) millionaires and princes have given way to new residents: a colony of about 3,000 Russian refugees make their temporary homes in Ladispoli while awaiting their visas from the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

Throughout history, the delicate artichoke has been connected  with illustrious men and women. Catherine de’Medici brought them from her native Florence when she went to France as queen and at the wedding feast of her friends the Marquis of Loménie and Mlle. De Marigue in 1576 she almost died of an indigestion having gorged herself on her favorite dish-artichoke hearts cooked with roosters’ combs and livers in Marsala wine sauce.
Jefferson's  notes about crop rotation  at Monticello 

Thomas Jefferson discovered this flower-like green during his diplomatic missions to Paris and  had them planted in his gardens at Monticello upon return to the new United States. It was an Italian, Philip Mazzei, his friend, confidant and neighbor  who supplied him with the seeds.

gardens of Monticello 
Menus of banquets and special dinners throughout history mention the artichoke as an important entreé. At a luncheon honoring the Czar Nicholas II of Russia at the Eliseo Palace in 1896 the French offered, “artichoke hearts creole style”  along with venison and pine nuts, chicken supreme with truffles, lobster, pheasant, foie-gras,  truffles in champagne, the lot washed down with six different wines.

The artichoke has had many admirers among the popes of past years. Monsignor Mastai Ferretti, the future Pope Pius IX, enjoyed many lunches at Piperno’s in the Ghetto in the 1830s. 

a young  Pius IX
So much did he like the carciofi alla giudia (Jewish style artichokes) that he nicknamed Piperno  “Michelangelo of the Artichoke”.    While a guest at the Franciscan monastery in Jerusalem in 1964 Pope Paul VI was served "artichoke hearts Venetian style". 

                 Fulvio's book is available with paypal directly from  my website 
terracotta  is used for some  carciofi dishes
according to Fulvio's recipe book

Copies of the book are also available at the Anglo American bookshop in Rome, Via della Vite, near the Spanish Steps.