Archive | July, 2013


29 Jul

Often the word “marvel” is used to describe huge skyscrapers…modern marvels built with the latest in technological advancements, built to withstand nature’s strongest elements and built to stand the test of time. This being the case, then what word aptly describes the truest technological marvels that have more than survived nature’s strongest elements and survived for centuries? What word can we possibly use to describe places like Pitigliano, a stunning medieval town dramatically perched atop a tufa ridge?


While Len and I love traveling by train and bus in Italy, one of the benefits of occasionally renting a car is the opportunity to explore the more remote areas. Situated between Roma and Firenze, and east of Grosseto, the Hills of Maremma in Tuscany is one of those areas. The Hills are filled with non-traditional Tuscan landscapes and amazing surprises around each bend.




There are several towns in the area, but the most stunning to me is Pitigliano, a medieval town built on tufa or volcanic rock. When you hear medieval, think 500-1500 time frame. Houses and buildings in town are built on sheer cliffs that appear suspended over the valley, and sit above a network of caves and tunnels said to have been inhabited in prehistoric times. Fortunately, there are places to pull over as this is a photo-op must.




In the 16th century, Pitigliano became a haven for Jews escaping enclosed ghettos in neighboring cities. Today, visitors can still see parts of the ancient Jewish Quarter; a 16th century aqueduct; a few beautiful churches; a 14th century fortress which houses a museum and medieval torture chamber; and sometimes even tour the underground tunnels and caves.

Pitigliano, Italy, at night

Pitigliano, Italy, at night (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While only about 300 people still live in Pitigliano in southeastern Tuscany,

English: The Municipality of Pitigliano within...

The Municipality of Pitigliano within the Province of Grosseto, Tuscany, Italy (Wikipedia)

this ancient structure still stands and functions – deeming it not just a marvel, but truly marvelous!

MARVELOUS…A word befitting!




BBQ – Italian Style

20 Jul

In the States, the word BBQ often conjures up hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and ribs. Not so in Italy, however, where a BBQ is a multi course, typical Italian dinner, but all cooked on the grill. Lucky for us, Ivan and Loriana invited us to experience a backyard BBQ at their home.

To begin…pop the Prosecco!


Next, understand a bit about traditional Italian families. Three generations live in this house, which was built by Loriana’s parents Nello and Rina some 40 years ago. Not just a house, mind you, but also pristine fruit, vegetable and herb gardens, grapes, olive trees, a truffle-finding dog, rabbits, and just about anything needed to be self-sufficient.




To this day, every inch of the garden is planted and lovingly cared for by grandfather Nello.IMG_0014

After the garden tour, and some toasts all around, time to light the grill…


In Italy, “carbon” is used and burns more quickly than charcoal so it needs to be replenished several times.


First on the menu: antipasti – grill the Italian bread…


lightly rub with fresh garlic…


top with fresh tomatoes and basil from the garden…


add a slice of cheese, and serve. So simple, so fresh, so perfect!


Next, sauté porcini mushrooms, add some parmesan, and serve bubbling hot… Delicious!


As the plates were being cleared, the primo, or first course was being prepared.

Start with fresh Italian sausage…


Separate and butterfly, (of course!), then grill…ahhh, the aroma….


Next grill the ribs, no BBQ sauce required!


Serve with sautéed onions and peppers…my kind of BBQ!


We ate, drank, talked, laughed and toasted some more, and thought we were done until the hosts began to prep for the secondo, or main course of the evening.

Grill the zucchini…

IMG_0008Toss with olive oil…


Cut some fresh prosciutto while waiting…


Grill the steak…sprinkle with fresh rosemary…


Add some final touches and serve…

And turn this…


Into this…Incredible!


Throughout the evening, new acquaintances became friends as conversations flowed easily in Italian and English. For dessert, a variety of homemade liquors were spread across the table and accompanied by a choice of gelato. Smiles were abundant and the meal was incredible. But even more special for Len and me was the opportunity once again to experience local culture and norms, and to be included in the warmth and traditions of a local Italian family. Being at a dinner like this, it is easy for me to recognize and appreciate the roots of many of my own family traditions, often centered around sharing a meal with multiple generations of extended family members. A toast to traditions – may each generation keep them strong!

Our heartfelt thanks to Nello, Rina, Ivan and Loriana for sharing your home, your food, your talents and your friendship with us. It was a night we will always remember. Salute!



Unexpected Friendship Organization

9 Jul

Each summer, when we leave Italy, I try to reflect on the experiences we had and what we will miss most. Of course, we miss just about everything, but each year, certain things stand out. This year, what we will miss most is the people we met and the friendships we made, both local and non.

This was our third and longest stay in Cortona. Although we rented a car and drove about 800 kilometers to other cities and towns, we also spent more time getting to know Cortona locals and meeting Cortona repeaters, some who have been returning for more than 20 years.

Our local friend Massimo asked why so many of us return annually, although he truly knows the answer. Cortona is the kind of town where people can feel at home and experience a sense of belonging. The town is big enough, yet not too big. Busy enough, yet not always crowded. Faces become familiar; smiles are abundant; and the welcome mat is warm and genuine.

When I reflected on all the friendships we made, I decided to create a group called “unexpected friendship organization” and ran the idea by some Italian friends. Hence, UFO, (pronounced oo fo). This post is dedicated to all its members because each of you made our trip extra special this year. Salute!






















Jim Henson said, “There’s not a word yet for old friends who’ve just met.” I think he’s right. One just needs to look at the smiles to recognize who they are.

Till next we meet…arrivederci – and a heartfelt thanks for the wonderful memories!



Judy and Len

ps…I still have much to write about and so many more photos to share, so please come back for more.

Happy 4th from Cortona!

4 Jul

I can always find an American flag flying proudly in Cortona…American flag

Even this little girl was in on the act last night in the piazza


Happy Birthday, America!

Jocelyn Italy photos 416



Cortona: Then and Now

3 Jul

Cortona – 3 July 1944,  liberation.

IMG_0764 - Version 2

Then (photo by G. Lamentini)IMG_0003

Now. (Photo by yours truly.) Same place, same day, 69 years later.

IMG_0026 - Version 2

Lest we forget. Cortona war memorial.





Italian Seaport: American History

1 Jul

One day, we decided to take a trip to the sea. After all, it’s what Italians do in the summer whenever they can. We headed west to a seaport town, destination Porto Santo Stefano, with an overnight bag in the trunk. Every town has a story, as did this one.

As we walked along the sea wall, we saw a number of large sailing vessels. It turns out there was an international regatta that weekend, and the yachts were arriving that day. I saw one with an American flag and took this picture.


During lunch, we began talking to a couple at the next table and learned that they owned one of the yachts. Although they live in Switzerland, they dock their boat in Barcelona and had sailed from Barcelona themselves. Each boat, we learned, was built before 1950 and all were over 50 feet long.



For the regatta, each yacht requires a fairly large crew for racing and the crew members were beginning to fill the town.



Porto Santo Stefano is what I would call a salty seaport, more rugged than lovely. We found a small B&B for the night, and although the ceiling in our room was quite low, we were on the top floor and had the roof top deck to ourselves, giving me a great vantage point for evening photos.





IMG_0016_2And now for the rest of the story…

The name of the yacht with the American flag is Manitou, registered in Newport, RI. It turns out that this yawl once belonged to none other than…

John F. Kennedy Material released by the National Archives in Washington


(The photos and following are taken from the article cited below, well worth a click.)

Manitou was launched in 1937 and promptly won the 1938 Chicago Mac Race in the cruising division (on corrected time), beating all previous records. After these successes, she was donated to the US Coast Guard in 1955 to be used as a training vessel. It was while she was at Annapolis that Manitou was first spotted by a young Senator Kennedy. After elected, and being a keen sailor, President Kennedy sent naval aide Captain Tazewell Shepard Jr. to search out a suitable sailing yacht that could accommodate the equipment needed for him to keep in touch with the White House, and even the Kremlin.

The yacht is now owned by a syndicate of keen Med racers. ( Photo below by Nigel Pert.)


The people we met told us that supposedly on the boat, there is a picture of Marilyn Monroe in a bath tub, but they had not seen it. Then, when I did a little research on the yacht history, the article cited below includes this info:

During his (JFK) time he not only used her as a presidential yacht, but also invited a bevy of stars and starlets aboard as guests, due to his fascination with Hollywood. The bathtub in the aft cabin, sunken under the cabin sole, is said to have been host to, among others, Marilyn Monroe.

So there you have it. A bit of American history in a colorful Italian seaport. Very colorful in all respects!



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