Saturday, December 29, 2012

Christmas concert Giardino Segreto, Vetralla

Susanna presents Arcadia  Clarinet Ensemble 
Living in a small town in central Italy  has some unexpected  advantages. Where else could you hear world class music  just a few steps away from your home?

 Instead of  standing in line to purchase  expensive tickets to a concert in a big city auditorium  we are able to  celebrate  the holidays by participating  in an old style Salotto Musicale  offered by the Opera Extravaganza  group.

Yesterday evening we were delighted to be  part of  the  end of the year  Salotto Musicale in the Giardino Segreto here in Vetralla for a  concert offered by OperaExtravaganza  to celebrate the holiday season.

Riccardo Bigini   presents the  program
The concert, organized  by Opera Extravaganza’s founder, Finnish soprano  Susanna Ohtonen, was given by  the Arcadia Clarinet Ensemble,  a group of   five bravissimi  Italian musicians presented  by  Riccardo Bigini with  Giampiero Allegro, Daniele Fabbrini, Silvia Cerquaglia  and Giacomo Poggiani. 

These  gifted  musicians enthralled the select  international audience  with their  rich repertoire of clarinet  music by Strauss, Rossini, Mozart, Gounod, Brahms and Shostakovich.

Martti Wallen and wife applaud the clarinet ensemble 
The evening   was full of surprises including  an  unexpected   rendition in the true spirit of  the Musical Salon when bass singer  Martti Wallén of the Stockholm Opera  and Finnish National Opera came out of the audience to  sing a couple of Christmas songs.   
 Wallén  happened  to be  staying in nearby Castel Cellesi, a tiny village populated  by foreigners, many of whom were present at the concert. 
Riccardo Bigini and Giacomo Poggiani of Arcadia Clarinet Ensemble 

The musicians were happy to participate in this  Musical Salon, since  their usual stage performances  lack  the  intimate contact with the public they were able to  enjoy here. 

singing along with Susanna, Morena, Ruud 

getting close to the musicians  at Salotto Musicale 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Taking the back roads to Barbarano Romano

Barbarano Romano surrounded  by medieval walls

 While  the  pre-Christmas crowds and traffic  besiege  the cities and shopping centers and most of  the Western world is  in a frenzy of commercialism, its time to make a visit to one of the many  tiny walled town set deep in the Viterbo countryside we call Etruria.

Only entrance and exit to the town  

This weekend we drove the winding back roads from Vetralla to Barbarano Romano,  through a landscape dotted with green pastures where lazy Maremma cattle grazed.

fountain with town's coat of arms 
 Located only 50 miles from the capital of Rome, the town of Barbarano Romano is  ignored by most tourists with the  exception of  those who love eco friendly walking  or biking tours and delving into Etruscan sites. See  this site for more information about walking tours in the area.
details on a facade

terracotta animals decorate a window
Sleepy at most times, the town comes alive whenever  there is the slightest hint of a festival. 

This weekend  the  festival  combined a  conference dedicated to tourism in the  rock hewn (rupestre) necropolis and ecomuseum of the area with a few tables dedicated to locally produced handicrafts and food products.
two black cats beneath the loom
Patrizia, artisan in soft wool
Patrizia Gaiba's handwoven  shawls 

The town  is set on tufa spur and surrounded  by gorges, the Marturanum park and eco-museum and exudes that other-century  feeling  that city dwellers crave.
hand turned wooden candlesticks 

pottery and ceramics 
A visit at any time of year will restore  one’s   postcard image of old Italy  that enamored D.H. Lawrence and other early English visitors.    

The solid  character of its intact walls, the fireplace glowing in  Trattoria  La Pacchiona, (country bumpkin) welcome visitors to explore the town's narrow lanes where cane bottomed chairs are set in each patch of noon day sun by elderly residents. 
ancient  forms of transport  used in Barbarano

Unspoilt   surroundings  hide  Etruscan rupestre  sites such as San Giuliano where Swedish king Gustaf once  played archeologist.

medieval garage for a 1950s  wagon

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Zagreb's Weekly Flea Market

even on a cloudy day the red umbrellas cast a rosy light on the market

  50yearsinItaly hosts  a guest writer for the first time this week. 

 Douglas Ambrose  takes us to visit  Zagreb's weekly flea market.

On weekends, the market at Britanski Trg in Zagreb becomes a giant flea market/antique fair/social event.  The enormous snowstorm last weekend disrupted business, but the vendors were back this weekend, offering Christmas shoppers a dazzling array of goods.  

There is lots of loose silverware for sale.  The nice woman, who, like many of the vendors, is older and does not speak much English, offered the set  to me for $35.
silver plate 

 This tempted me. It's from the old socialist days and was awarded to firemen after ten years of service. The vendor had a few more, one of which was for a 20-year veteran . He wanted 50 kuna (about $9).

a tailor's iron used  to  press overcoats  
 My mother would have enjoyed this. She had a small collection of old irons, but she didn't have one like this. Note the little door on the large end; you open it up and put coals in it. It weighed a ton. One of those items that, if I were rich, would have been coming home with me.

This vendor was engaged in a typically animated discussion with a customer. Somehow, his leaning on the slot machine while haggling seemed apt.

 Lots of military stuff. It's sometimes difficult to determine if the material is genuine or not, but I think the helmets are the real deal. Note the irons on the right--my mom would have loved these.

Nazi ring (?) 

A vendor takes advantage of a lull in business to catch up with the Sunday paper

Another great collection--I loved the "arrangement" of items

 Oh, how I would have loved to have purchased this, although I knew better than to ask the price (which probably would have tempted me even more). 
The artwork reminded me of our daughter Augusta's style, but I was also charmed by the Christmas eve fish dinner and the family portrait on the wall.  Sretan Bozic  means  "Merry Christmas".
 I will have our landlord or a colleague at the University translate the poem/song.

 This potato "ricer" caught my eye. It was in excellent condition, and the ceramic bowl and plunger gave the item character. I actally asked how much this was: $62.

 This vendor was selling some nice silverware. Here he is checking the purity of the silver. It was stamped "800," or 80% pure, a standard quality for tableware.

Many tables feature pins from the old Yugoslavia. These two feature the date "29 November 1943." The vendor reminded me that Democratic Federal Yugoslavia, which soon became the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, was established on that date. The "JNA" is the Yugoslav National Army.

military pins  "snatcki"
 A parting shot of the square from the southeast corner. I can't wait to return next week with my children to discover new treasures and hear more stories about this country, its people, and their stuff.

Douglas Ambrose, a native of New Jersey, teaches American history at Hamilton College in upstate New York. As recipient of a Fulbright,  Douglas is teaching   American Studies at the University of Zagreb,Croatia this year .  Along with wife Sheila and their children, they are enjoying the discovery of this city and  Croatian lifestyle.

  Have  you visited this city?  What other special places  are there to see? 
 Please leave a comment  at the  end of this page and share with your friends. 

Driving  in Croatia?  Check out the rates of our partner  first . 

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Garden of Bitter Oranges

We all know the citrus fruits oranges, lemons, clementine and  mandarini.    
But how many of us have  ever heard of  Portogalli? 

This is just one of the names for bitter oranges (arance amare) which some call melangoli or merangoli.

Italy has been   home to special citrus fruits since the 12th century when bitter oranges  were  planted  in gardens of monasteries  such as Rome’s  Santa Sabina  and San Filippo Neri.

   These centuries-old trees are still giving fruit while newer trees  are flourishing  in  the Villa Borghese and Villa Doria Pamphili gardens.
gardens of Palazzo Pieri Piatti, Vetralla

Bitter oranges, arance amare, are also known as  melangoli or Portogalli, since it was the Portuguese sailors  who introduced them to Italy from the Orient.

Highly prized  for  their medicinal qualities,  portogalli  or arance amare  were  a permanent feature of monastery and convent gardens where they were employed  for their curative  powers. 

arance amare in the garden below my terrace 
The  bitter tasting Portogalli on this tree beneath my terrace  will be turned into  marmalade or, for a vitamin packed winter dish,  roasted before  the fire, then spooned out on to bruschetta and  doused  with extra virgin olive oil.

In Vetralla  this recipe is known as arance al cappone and is featured in Fulvio Ferri's  book of local recipes "Olio e Ricordi in Cucina". Order now for Christmas. 

Fulvio's grandmother, Agnesina, used the arance amare from the south facing gardens of Palazzo Pieri Piatti  for an inexpensive and healthy winter  food for her brood of grandchildren. 

If you missed  the TV interview with Fulvio describing his grandmother Agnesina's  recipes, check it out here.

both bitter or sweet oranges  can be roasted

then  scooped  on to bruschetta doused with extra virgin olive oil

a page from  Fulvio's recipe book....English translation at the end of the book
The "E" means  "economical" 

Another  writer  who recalls with affection  the harvesting of bitter oranges  and subsequent  marmelade making  is Patrizia Chen, originally from Livorno and now based in New York. 

Here is the cover  of her  autobiographical "Rosemary and Bitter Oranges" 

 Patrizia's recipe for  bitter orange marmelade calls for  2 lbs. of thoroughly scrubbed bitter oranges -called  Seville oranges in Livorno- and 4 cups of sugar. 
The process involves  several days of soaking and preparation. 

This exotic fruit was a well known feature in Renaissance gardens and depicted in several famous paintings including Botticelli's  Primavera  which is set  in a garden  of bitter orange trees.  

The mysterious  Double Portrait  by Giorgione  also features  an arancia amara  to symbolize  the  sweet and bitter  sides of love.

Giorgione's Double Portrait with bitter orange

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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Money Saving Christmas Shopping in Italy

Fighting off the commercialism  of Christmas is easy  in small town Italy where the buzz words have always been  handmade, local and  thrifty. 
We are mailing out signed copies of our books  daily  to be sure they arrive in time for the holidays. You can save on postage costs to USA by  ordering  a copy of Etruria-travel, history and itineraries  together with a copy of Olio e Ricordi in Cucina.  Order directly through my website.  

Here in the hill towns of Etruria,  an hour north of Rome along the Via Cassia,  the atmosphere is light years away from the frenzy of  commercial malls and big city mega stories.

With the olive harvest just finished, these first weeks of  December  are dedicated  to celebrating the new  extra virgin olive oil. 
In restaurants and homes, bruschetta doused with the new oil is offered and  in former churches, cantinas, piazzas and tiny artisans’ workshops  there are  markets and exhibits of  objects created by local artisans.  

Anna Meloni crafts  macrame jewlery 
elegant pieces  by Marisa 
Diana Biscaioli 's  designer objects in felt
In the past 24 hours we visited the first of  these  artisans’ shows. As Christmas nears several others will be happening on weekends  in Viterbo and surrounding towns.   felt vase covers 
 If you know of other Christmas fairs and artisans'  exhibits  in  other  parts of Italy, please tell us about them in a  comment at the end of this article

Yesterday we drove to the next town,Capranica, just as the Christmas lights were being  turned on, creating  a holiday atmosphere for  the craft show in the ancient church of San Francesco. 
view of Capranica  historic center
Overlooked  by the 15th century double Anguillara funerary monument, were  tables  full of   locally produced crafts in wool,  felt, ceramic, wood and sculpted  stone.

Anguillara  double funerary monument 

elegant  cradle and table 
Daniela Andreotti's ceramics 
Roberto Ceccarini of Artepetra 
The excellent prices are a further  benefit of buying locally and directly from the artisans themselves. 

With little or no overhead, the crafts people can offer hand painted cushions at 10-20 euro, ceramics and paintings at 5 to 20 euro, hand fashioned jewelery  and key chains  starting from  5 euros.   

Besides  olive oil, the area is also famous  for  hazelnuts and derived products, samples of which were offered  at the stands of    local farmers' cooperatives.   Christmas baskets  of  gourmet food   are an intelligent gift to suit anyone on your gift list.
hard to find apples

From Caprarola, crafts and edibles

crafted leather  earrings and pendants 

fashion accessories by Laura 

Antiques  and vintage objects  are  often  found in these pre-Christmas  markets.

 I found a vintage straw-work box from Russia (10  euro) to add to my collection of boxes. 

Fiorella  came from Canino  with antique boxes  and knick knacks  
Copper, glass and  other  knick knacks  as well as  decorated furniture, vintage clothing, bags, books and jewelery beckon  from various shop fronts along the main street of Vetralla. Next weekend (Dec 8-9)  the fair  will be repeated. 
Daniela Carnevali's floral compositions 

Cristina's vintage  clothing

There are always surprises during these weekend festivals: a group of parents had set up a bake sale  in the town hall to benefit their kids'  school. We happily purchased a crostata, biscotti and  cakes  wrapped in cellophane. 

Piazza S. Egidio, Vetralla 

Copper  pieces, La Fenice of Fiorella Tassoni

Simona & Simona crafting Christmas ornaments
Another  unexpected  vision was this vintage fridge topped by an antique map of New England. 

What better way to  keep warm than hand knitted wool and mohair  caps, gloves and  scarves like these found next to   wood and ceramic crafts made by members of the same family.  

Iria's wool caps 

wooden owls