14 Jan

The first time I remember seeing a Leopoldina was in 2014. It was a warm summer morning and we were headed to Rome from Cortona for our flight home. The driver took a different route than we had been accustomed to – one that avoided the interstate as long as possible and instead wove past a beautiful field of sunflowers and a fascinating abandoned structure. I was intrigued by the structure, and at the time, knew neither its name nor its history. I soon learned that this farm-house is called a Leopoldina.

The following year, Len and I set out to find that same field of sunflowers (girasole) and that Leopoldina. With no place to be but there, we parked the car and took in the sights. Thousands of sunflowers, with faces open to the sun, spread out before us.


And at the end of a curve in the road, still standing proudly albeit tired and worn, stood the enchanting Leopoldina.


To me, the abandoned structure looked much more like a lovely watercolor subject needing to be loved and preserved than an abandoned structure needing to be forgotten and demolished.

In the weeks that followed, I discovered that Leopoldine (plural) could be found in many areas around  Cortona as well as in northern Umbria.


As I photographed many of them, I wondered… Who had lived in these houses? How long ago? And why did they all look the same?

While learning the name of the structure was easy, finding the history not so much so. Although I spent hours searching the internet, I mostly came up empty-handed. So I turned to my friend Ray, a history buff, for assistance. Happy to have a history project, he provided most of the following explanation.

Some of the most iconic sites in Tuscany and northern Umbria are the rows of abandoned farmhouses, with their distinctive dovecotes, spread throughout the countryside.


Called Leopoldine, they look ancient but they are of relatively recent origin, at least by Italian standards, dating from the late 1700’s until the middle 1800’s.


Much of what we know as modern Tuscany, including the Valdichiana, Maremma, and lower Valdarno, was swamp for most of its history. The hill towns that we love were built there not only for defense but also for health reasons to avoid malaria (mal aria: bad air, marsh fever) from the mosquitoes.


Plans to drain the swamps (clearly no connection intended) had been proposed since Etruscan times. Probably the most famous map depicting the swamps was the map of the Valdichiana done by Leonardo da Vinci in 1502, (supposedly at the request of Cesare Borgia), which shows the water extending right up to the hills in the area of Montecchio Vesponi.

Valdichiana by Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], Wikimedia Commons

Major efforts to drain the area began in the mid 1600’s and continued through the next century. A significant impetus came with the ascension of  Pietro Leopoldo as Grand Duke of Tuscany in 1765. A  younger son of the Austrian Empress Maria-Theresa, he started a series of public improvements designed to strengthen agriculture and improve the position of the peasantry.


The drainage projects produced huge amounts of rich reclaimed farmland (bonifica) which was distributed to peasant families under a share-cropping system (mezzadria) similar to that in the American South. On an inspection tour of these properties in 1769, he commented on the poor quality and condition of the peasant houses. He commissioned a study by an institute in Florence to design an ideal structure for the peasant families. The farmhouses, named after him, are the Leopoldine we see today.


The design was for a structure of three levels. The ground floor had space for the animals as well as storage and the oven. The upper floor included a kitchen, living space and the bedrooms and the upper floor was the distinctive dovecote. Every part of the building was planned including the size and positioning of the windows. The external staircase and loggia were designed on the south side to protect the farmer from the tramontana (cold north wind) when he went to check on the animals.


The bedrooms were designed to accommodate two beds each for the large families. Even the positioning of the different stalls for horses, pigs, sheep and mules was designed around the peculiarities of each animal. 


While originally designed only for the grand-ducal properties, the obvious value of the structure led private landowners to copy the design. The project continued under Leopoldo’s successors and the last Leopoldine were probably built in the middle of the 19th century just before Italian unification.


After the World War II, with the movement of Italians to the cities and the increased mechanization of agriculture, the Leopoldine gradually became abandoned and fell into the ruins that we see today. 


Currently, there is a movement underway within the Regione Toscana and some of the communes to save the Leopoldine. Let’s hope.

And thanks to Ray, we now know both the name and the history of the intriguing Leopoldina.





Happy New Year 2018! Buon Anno!

31 Dec

Each year at this time, I think about what one thing I’d like to share. My inspiration can come from a multitude of sources, and this year, it came from an email from friends.

They had just returned home from a fun yet hectic Christmas with their children and young grandchildren and penned the following:

… “we’re feeling so privileged that after a pretty busy life of our own we’re finally properly old, with few responsibilities other than to each other!…Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Let me put “properly old” in context – these are people in their 70’s whose daily short walk is 4+ miles and their hikes can be hours on end.

And while our long walks can’t measure up to that of our dear friends, we too have embraced this “properly old” period in our own terms. In 2011, blogginginitaly.com was born with this ABOUT:

Judy and Len

too young to be old and too old to be young,

but just the right age

to be traveling, exploring and sharing our adventures with you.

Little did we know then the places we’d go, the things we’d see, and the people – oh, the great people we’d meet, and continue to meet, as we continue our adventure. “Properly old” can indeed be a great time of life.


My sincere hope for all, as we head into 2018,

is for Health and Happiness,

and that no matter your age,

you embrace life –

Damn those torpedoes, full speed ahead!


Merry Christmas and Happy Birthday!

25 Dec

Enjoying a delicious Christmas Eve family dinner
filled with love, laughs and surprises!
(and no dishes!!!)


Missing those who couldn’t join us…


Sending warmest wishes from our home to yours…


And wishing our beautiful daughter Benita
a very Happy Golden Birthday – 

25 on the 25th!



Merry Christmas, Buon Natale!



Pesto for All Seasons

13 Dec

In Italy, you won’t find broccoli or cauliflower in summer markets, and conversely, you generally won’t find large bunches of basil in winter markets. One of the reasons we love the food in Italy is that it is always seasonal.

In the U.S., we too have wonderful seasonal food, however, we often can get “out of season” food nearly all year long. Like those bunches of basil. Hence, I can make fresh pesto on December 13 when the outside temperature is 34°.


Yesterday, I bought three packs of fresh basil from Trader Joe’s. For me, the worst part of making pesto is the prep – carefully washing and drying the leaves and removing the stems.


Although ingredients and directions vary widely, mine are as follows and amounts are suggestions:


To the food processor, add and process until chunky:

  • 5-7 peeled cloves of garlic*
  • 8 ounces of pine and/or walnuts


  • Pack the bowl with 3-4 cups of fresh basil leaves and process quickly until mixed
  • Slowly stream in 1/2 cup olive oil, mix
  • Add 8 ounces of pecorino cheese, mix
  • Add additional olive oil for consistency
  • Salt and pepper to taste.


*I learned something interesting about garlic today. When I peeled the first clove, I noticed it had sprouted.


I had never seen this before, so I did a bit of research. Apparently, sprouted garlic isn’t harmful, it’s just more bitter, so I opted for another garlic head.

When the pesto is ready, and Len and I have completed our taste tests,


I separate the pesto into small containers with tight lids that can be kept in the fridge or freezer. Covering the top of the pesto with olive oil helps maintain the freshness and color. To defrost, I simply leave in the fridge overnight or on the counter for a few hours.


There you have it, pesto tonight, next week, or in a few months, ready whenever our taste buds are yearning, no matter the season. And we don’t limit pesto to pasta – we use it with appetizers or as a marinade on beef, poultry and even fish.







Andrea Bocelli in Chicago

7 Dec

Last night, Andrea Bocelli performed in Chicago,


and last night, I witnessed the best “concert” I have ever seen. I put the word “concert” in quotes as I am actually unaware of a word that captures the breadth of the performances.

 Andrea Bocelli returns to the U.S. for seven concerts only of repertoire from his Grammy-nominated album Cinema, special selections from his groundbreaking release Romanza, and a selection of beloved arias, love songs, and crossover hits. The concerts will be led by Maestro Eugene Kohn and will also feature soprano Larisa Martinez and Broadway sensation and Chicago native, Heather Headley. Our own Lyric Opera Orchestra and Chorus will join him for his concert at Chicago’s United Center. (2017 © Lyric Opera of Chicago)


Maestro Eugene Kohn conducting Chicago Lyric Orchestra and Chorus

Our daughter Benita had surprised us with these tickets for our anniversary. In 1999, we took her to see Luciano Pavarotti in Austin, and now she was taking us to see Andrea Bocelli in Chicago. How fortunate we are to have seen both!

Each artist was exceptional  – captivating the audience with finely-tuned skills. Although there were thousands in attendance, one could hear a pin drop. Stupendous was the word that kept coming to mind.

In addition to the incredible pitch-perfect performances, the large multi-dimensional projection screens behind the chorus provided a visual extravaganza. The audience was transported, as if we were at times sitting inside a grand European cathedral; attending an opera at La Scala in Milan; walking through falling snow at the Eiffel Tower; strolling ancient streets of an Italian town; enjoying a gondola ride through canals in Venice; or taking in any number of breathtaking vistas.


Andrea Bocelli was born with poor eyesight and became completely blind at the age of 12, following a soccer accident. Yet nothing was going to stop his great passion for music, developed as a young child. Today, his musical accomplishments include fifteen solo albums, of both pop and classical music, three greatest hits albums, and nine complete operas, selling over 80 million records worldwide. In addition, over the years, he has performed in many charity benefits, and in 2011, the Andrea Bocelli Foundation was launched, focusing on medical research and fighting poverty.


About two months ago, Len and I were in Portofino, a now very famous, picturesque and tourist-filled Italian fishing village where Bocelli performed under the stars in 2013. We had seen the performance on PBS, and as we lunched along the water, we talked about how fun it would be to attend a Bocelli concert.  Little did we know that just a few weeks later, Benita would surprise us with tickets. And since our concert was in December, we were happy to be inside where it was warm.

Kudos to the sound team at the United Center, a space more often used for sports enthusiasts than tenors and sopranos. Even with a packed house, acoustics were perfect.  And if you are a Bocelli fan, check his website as the tour has a few more east coast US dates this year and then returns next year to the west coast.


We are so very grateful to Benita, not only for the tickets but that we were able to see this magnificent performance together.

Bravo, Andrea, Bravissimo! Thank you for coming to Chicago!



Remembering a year ago…

5 Dec

Last year, I sadly published this post and can hardly believe a year has passed. There is so much I keep learning about my grandfather Alex’s life, so much more I want to discuss with my Aunt Marion, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. Instead, I’ll try to remember how lucky we were to have her till almost 90. In memory of Aunt Marion, one year later…

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Yesterday was Aunt Marion’s 90th birthday and she was throwing a party. How lucky to approach 90, still active and in full command. She had shopped the day after Thanksgiving and found just what she wanted to wear – a red wool jacket and black pants.

What birthday gift would I give Aunt Marion? The answer came easily. In October, 2013, I began writing a series of posts that traced a European trip my grandfather, Alex, her father, took in 1938. I titled the series Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather. From Alex’s letters, postcards, etc., that Aunt Marion had saved, I was able to document every step of his incredible journey. 76 years, 10 months and 10 days after Alex returned to his birthplace, so too did Len and I, being the first and only, we think, descendants to step foot in the town of Pietrabbondante, Italy.

With each post, Aunt Marion would call me or I her. How I loved those conversations. Along with several members of my extended family, I learned much about a man I hardly knew, and even Aunt Marion learned a great deal more about her father. Who could have guessed that a blog could bring so much joy?


©Blogginginitaly.com Sharing info with Aunt Marion, my sibs & some cousins.

“I just wish I could print these all out,” she had said to me on more than one occasion.

As her 90th birthday approached , I found blog2print.com, a company that could make a book of my blogs. With guidance from a very helpful customer service, I created the front and back covers, wrote the dedication, and selected the contents. It was the perfect gift.





©Blogginginitaly.com Dedication Page

©Blogginginitaly.com Dedication Page

Of particular note is the dedication to Aunt Marion: …my guiding light, collaborator and friend, who guarded “the bag” that made this all possible. The bag, of course, contained my grandfather’s letters and so much more that she had kept all these years.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

On Saturday, instead of celebrating her 90th birthday, we celebrated her wonderful life. Sadly and very unexpectedly, she left us just 5 days short of her 90th birthday.

I will miss her and our talks. But like the other strong Italian women in our family who proceeded her – my grandmothers, my mother and my aunts, I will remember her always and the traditions she passed on.

If only I could have given her the book.



Sleep well, Aunt Marion. Love you.







Ricotta, Biscotti, Twice-Baked Potato

25 Nov

What do these delicious items have in common? It’s simple, they are all cooked twice. The wonderful creamy ricotta cheese we love is literally made from whey left over in the production of cheese,  then “re-cooked”, hence the name ri cotta. Biscotti, the crisp, rectangular-shaped Italian cookies, often dipped in coffee or vin santo, are twice baked. And then, of course, there is the American twice-baked potato, cooked, then dug out and refilled with just about anything one likes.

So it got me to wondering, “What does one call turkey in a second cooked form?” Since I couldn’t find anything in the dictionary or even in the Wikis, I tired to make up a word. The Latin word “bis” means twice, so I tried that – Bisturkey.  Not very catchy. Other options included TurkeyTwice, Turkeyx2, but not any better. Finally I settled on the simple and obvious – Turkey Soup.

Thursday, first cooking produced this…



Friday, second cooking produced this…



So, if you’ve had enough leftovers for a while, simmer that turkey bone for hours in water or broth, then remove the bones carefully and add leftover turkey, veggies, potatoes, etc. Best of all, it freezes well for a cold winter night when your tasty memories of that delicious turkey have begun to fade.

And should you come up with a great recooked turkey name, please let me know!



Happy Thanksgiving!

23 Nov

On this day for giving thanks,
I am most grateful for the love of family and friends,
both near and far.

May your day be filled with whatever makes you happy,
and a little bit of rest at the end of the day!

Version 2


Happy Thanksgiving!


Life Photos in Black and White

12 Nov

Let me begin by saying that I am not an avid user of Facebook. (When I was in college, people still used typewriters for term papers!) Some years ago, however, I realized that FB was a simple way to keep up with or reconnect with relatives/friends, especially those who live in different cities and time zones around the world.

Recently, I noticed a thing on FB called the Black and White Photo Challenge. Simply said, people would post a B/W photo of their everyday life, for seven consecutive days, and challenge a friend each day to do the same. No people. No explanations.

For someone who has always loved photography, this challenge struck me as interesting. And then a dear friend from the UK challenged me. 

The word “Challenge” was thought-provoking. I took it not as a contest or competition, but rather as a self-reflection. Which of my photos represent my life? 

I have always loved photography and have taken thousands of photos over the years. Before I posted my first photo, I took time rolling through years of them. It was soon clear to me that not all color photos express their meaning well in black and white, while some black and white photos lose their impact in color.

After some time, I created a file with more photos than I needed, then chose one for each of the seven days.

Rarely do I leave home knowing what I might photograph, yet I’ve always felt that I see the world through pictures. We stop frequently on our walks and thankfully, Len is very patient, only to share later, “Wow, I didn’t see that at all.”

Photos of my life. No people….and then I remembered something Ansel Adams, American photographer and environmentalist, said:

There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer.

Photos of my life. No explanations…and then something else Ansel Adams said:

“A true photograph need not be explained,
nor can it be contained in words.” 

And so I share a few more photos with you. No people. No explanations.



And now my challenge to you – If you have a phone, camera or computer full of photos, and a bit of time, try it yourself. Look through some of your photos and select seven that represent your life. If in color, adjust them to B/W. And remember…No people. No explanation needed. 



Still Saying “I Do!”

30 Oct

Wednesday was the last night in Cortona of our 9th stay, and also happened to be our 30th anniversary. 

We began the day with a wonderful walk through the parterre, bathed in sunshine and enjoying the magnificent October weather and views.





We ended the evening, surrounded by friends, at our favorite Tuscher Caffè.

We had told Massimo and Daniela we wanted to host a Brindisi D’Anniversario, or Anniversary Toast, with simple finger food…but of course, they always do so much more than expected. 

We arrived a bit early to find Dani and Edoardo making the final touches on the buffet…



and Massimo ready to open the Prosecco.



The food was not only delicious, but so creative! 

As we waited for our guests, Len rehearsed his toast. When all had assembled, we took our first group photo. Well done, Francesco!



After more toasts and eating, Len asked for attention. He began by apologizing for his Italian, but was quickly reassured by the group that his effort was well appreciated. Toasting our friends in his best Italian, he thanked them for their sincere friendship and for making us truly feel that Cortona is our second home.

And then he turned to me, with these words, also in Italian… “You are the butter on my bread and the fire in my heart.” Melted.

While the food was being cleared, we made some attempts at gender photos…

And then we were doubly surprised by the dessert…



First, that it was a gift from dear friends from Toronto, Carrol and Larry, and second, that all this time I thought I was married to LEN! (Technology can be great as we were able to FaceTime them in Toronto while cutting the cake!)

Such a wonderful evening, full of laughter, smiles, stories, and most of all dear friends. 

30 years ago, 



And today…

As I reflect on the the past 30 years, what comes to mind most is how blessed we have been and how thankful we are for our loving family, our dear friends, and our ongoing adventures. 

Hoping to get just one more group photo before we departed, we stopped a person walking by outside and asked him to take a photo. It was quickly evident this was not something he was used to doing… with his finger half over the lens and quite shaky!



But alas, with pure luck, he took this. A little finger shadow top left, but all in all, a great memory of a wonderful evening!



Many thanks to Daniela and Massimo for their hard work…we so love having parties at Tuscher. And our heartfelt love and thanks to family and friends, whether with us at Tuscher or from far away, for the wonderful anniversary wishes. I hope they all do come true and that we have many more years to celebrate.

And yes, after 30 years, I am still saying “I Do!”


%d bloggers like this: