Monday, November 30, 2015

Thanksgiving in Italy

We have just celebrated our third Thanksgiving here in Italy. There are many ways that Thanksgiving is different here. Because it is not a national holiday, the whole meal just seems like a special time, with special friend and special food. There is no pressure or frenzy at the market. It is ever so much more relaxed. It is also fun to share this meal with Italians, who mainly have only seen the meal on TV. Thanksgiving in Italy is great, particularly if you have friends who bring cranberries over to you!

We chose to celebrate it on Saturday rather than Thursday so our Italian friends can come. This year there were 14 of us at the table. We all had a good time. It turns out the Italians love Thanksgiving. Who wouldn't really. Each year I think about asking people what they are most grateful for and each year it just seems too contrived, so I don't do it, so I thought I would do it here.

I am most thankful for my friends here in Italy and my friends who came to visit from the US. We are so lucky to live in a place that people love and want to come and visit.
I am grateful for Ely at Calagrana who prepares our turkey and antipasti for our dinner.

She has been a stalwart supporter and friend and I appreciate her immensely. For a Brit, she makes a very mean turkey as well.
The Stoic One looks a little stunned at the size of the turkey, even though it is a bit smaller than last year. The turkey was covered with pancetta and stuffed with citrus fruits. It was as delicious as you can imagine.

I am also very grateful for all of the men in our lives here. Joseph and Paul, Fabio, Simone, Luther, Jim, Gary, Manuele, Paolo.  Here are some of them trying to repair our Sonos speaker.

Although unsuccessful, we really appreciated the attempt!

I really appreciated Nancy, who brought the cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and made the gravy once she got here. Oh yes, she also carved the turkey! She is wonder girl. I appreciate my dear friend Simona, who I hope to see more of this year, and Denise, who I also hope makes a choice in our favor so that we can see more of her too!

I appreciate all of you readers as well.  Tutti a tavola!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Peace in Umbertide

There is a lot going on in our life right now. We have had many visitors for the past two months and have enjoyed travelling with all of them. I started a new beginner's English class with the nuns who live across the piazza. I am half way through a major work project for the US which is always fun. Next we are getting ready for Thanksgiving, which we will celebrate on Saturday, in order to include our working Italian friends, and will host 14 of us. Happily Ely, from Calagrana is doing the turkey again this year, as none of us has an oven that would accomodate an American style turkey roast. A lot on our plates, no pun intended.

In the local news, I am so very proud of Umbertide. Last night they had a special presentation in the church across the piazza. It was called "Pace KM0" or Peace at kilometre zero meaning bringing peace here. First the town asked foreign people to be videoed saying where they were born, their name and where they live. Gary and I of course participated. It was fantastic to see this short film of all of the different faces and places of people who live in this small town in Umbertide.

The poster says, Memory walks with us. There are 62 nationalities represented in Umbertide. It was amazing to see everyone. The theme of the evening was not to be afraid of foreigners, particularly in light of the Paris bombings. We were encouraged to get to know each other, welcome each other and speak to each other. They talked about the importance not just of liberty, justice, equality, but also of fraternity.

We walked over to the presentation to be supportive. We were asked to bring a dessert that represented our country so The Stoic One and I worked together (!) and made an apple crisp. I knew I had to leave early, because my English class was meeting in 45 minutes. Of course, nothing begins on time, and so I was late coming back home to class. The major thing was that the moderator asked me to speak in front of the group as to why we chose to come to Umbertide and how our experience had been here. Easy enough, except I had to ad lib in Italian. I apologized for my poor language skills but told them we had chosen Umbertide because of its beauty, accessibility and friendliness. All true. A very eventful day for all of us.

Wherever you are I hope that you are in a place of love of friends or family and are able to reflect upon all of the blessings of the season. Gary and I are so happy to be living our dream of life in this rambunctious, beautiful, and crazy country.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Stoic One

I do still need him, but I might not feed him, but I will buy him wine to drink.
Happy 64th to the Stoic One. My beloved life companion.

One more year and he will be eligible to retire!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Lecce, Florence of the South

Lecce is a city that will seduce, beguile and ever so gently, educate you, but like all beautiful women, she requires your undivided attention. What makes Lecce so special? Why have the Stoic One and I made 4 trips here in the last 2 years? Let me begin my telling you a little story about the people. Several years ago Lecce was in competition for the 2019 European Cultural Capital award.

The city of Lecce lost to the city of Matera, also in the south and definitely worth seeing. (see my post on Matera... The prize for this competition was 40 million Euros! Everyone I talked to in Lecce said that they were happy Matera won because that city needed the money more than Lecce. Matera has no railroad or airport, they said, and we have a very good train station and an airport close by in Brindisi, so it was good that Matera got the money. This was said without sarcasm, jealousy or resentment. Remarkable. In my experience, the people in Lecce are humble, kind and appreciative for what they have in life. They are also extremely welcoming to visitors and do all they can to make the tourist experience a good one. I wish more Americans would go to visit as they all love the US and welcome Americans with open arms.

The main thing that makes Lecce special and unique is the Baroque architecture. The period of high Baroque style was from 1625 to 1675. Historians believe that it was developed in response to the protestant reformation and was considered a primary component of the Catholic counter-reformation movement. Whereas the protestants threw out the madonna, the saints and all decoration both inside and outside of the church, the catholics went the other way and doubled down on adornments, florishes, and decorations. As you look at the facades of the building or inside the churches, is a panopoly of sculptures; fruit, angles, saints, trees, women, animals. The architecture is meant to inspire you with the power and artistry of the catholic church. Visiting Italy is nothing if not about the cultural experience and Lecce is a town that displays culture in an accessible way for most Americans.

Baroque is also defined by dynamism, or a sense of movement. Notice the carvings of these two women above a doorway at a palazzo in Lecce. Their garments are sculpted to show the movement of the wind as it blows through their dresses. 

Besides movement, Baroque is also about decoration. The three elements that are decorated in the Baroque style are the doorways, the windows and the balconies. Remember the goal of Baroque is to elicit an emotional respose in the viewer. If you have been awe-struck by the architecture of St. Peters, you have experienced the emotional theater of the Baroque style.

The Lecce stone, "pietra leccese" which is mined only in the enviorns of Lecce, makes Lecce unique in the world of Baroque architecture. It turns out that this stone is porous and soft when it first comes from the earth, which makes it ideal for sculpting, but then hardens, like cement after only a few years exposed to the atmosphere. This durability gives it the capacity to survive for 400 years. With time, it turns into a creamy yellow that makes the city look as if it is bathed in moonlight.

As a matter of fact, the city is particularly beautiful at night.

There are 56 churches in the historical center of Lecce. Each one can teach you something about the architecture of the era, the people and the way of life of a bygone time.

The next thing that makes Lecce great is the artisanship of its current population. Papier-mache, or cartapesta, is a true art form in Lecce. As the French say, "need is the mother of invention" cartapesta began as a craft about the same time as Baroque. It was used because the population did not have enough wood to make the statues that the church required, so they came up with the idea of using papermache. It is light to carry, easy to mold and paint and the components were readily available.  As you go into the churches and see the statues, take time and look carefully to see if you can tell that they are made of paper.

It is also important to comment on Lecce's long and complicated history. It was founded about 200 BC by the Messapi (a people whose origens are still debated.) It was conquered by Rome in the third century BC and there are remaining Roman amphitheater and theater that one can visit today. It was sacked in the Gothic Wars and remained part of the Eastern Roman Empire for 500 years.

This is the Roman Theater

The Roman Amphitheater in the middle of town.

There is much more, as you can imagine. The important thing is that with each invasion, and there were many, the people from Lecce absorbed the newcomers culture, sometimes food and sometimes language, which made them the interesting mix that you find today.

The food, wine and olive oil are also noteworthy. The bread and the sweets are fantastic, and fish is plentiful. The prices are low and the quality is high. What more can I say?

Lecce has not always been a great city for the tourists. Before the mid-nineties Lecce was riddled with crime, grafitti on the walls and a laissez-faire attitude toward the few tourists who straggled into town. That all changed when a woman, signora Andriana Polibortone became mayor in 1995. She saw that her city was going to die if changes were not made. She got the city cleaned up, repaired the streets, erased the graffitti and gave business owners 2 years of no taxes if they started a business aimed at tourists. She explained to the townspeople that tourism was their only economy, and they needed to take care of their treasures if they were to survive. The changes in the town, according to those who live there, have been remarkable. The town is very grateful to Sig. Polibortone, as you will be too as you walk around a clean, safe, beautiful city.

Both times we have stayed over night here we have stayed at a lovely B&B, Mantatelure'.  Marta provides excellent service, the breakfast is complete and the rooms and surrounding are beautifully designed.

As you can see, I am a big supporter of this city. I hope that American toursits will branch out and take a chance on Lecce. It is about a 5 hour train ride from Rome. Once in Lecce, you don't need a car. Just walking around the old town is enough to entertain and inform you of the history of this beautiful city.

While we were there we tour with an excellent guide, Silvia Mazzotta...I highly recommend her.

Guide: Silvia Mazzotta :
Places to stay: Mantatelure
Things to see: The Duomo Square, Bishop's Palace, Chiesa del Rosario, Church of Sant'Irene, Basilica of Santa Croce, Roman Theater, Roman Amphitheater. In May look for the Cortile Aperti...where privately owned palazzi are opened to the public for tours.
Places to shop: Jewellery, Tonda Design Beautiful Italian made linens
society store lecce
Places to eat: Pesceria con Cottura (a fresh fish restaurant where you choose your fish and cooking style. Excellent.)