Archive | April, 2017

Remembering Ted

25 Apr

Sometimes, people land in a place by chance, yet leave a lasting imprint. Such was the case with Ted Walker.

In late 2013, Ted discovered Cortona. Like so many others, after reading or seeing Under the Tuscan Sun, he found a rental online, booked it, and set his course – never imagining the impact on his life or others.

Over the next several years, Ted became a familiar face to many, and even an important extended family member to some. He also learned to speak Italian quite well.

Ted had hoped to put several health problems behind him and return to Cortona this spring, but it was not to be. His absence has left quite a void in the hearts of his Cortona “family” and friends, who placed a tribute in the local paper L’ETRURIA, dated April 15:

Gli Amici di Cortona ti Salutano

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With apologies for a non-exact translation, it reads in part:

“To our great friend Ted, who arrived in Cortona like many, filled with curiosity to discover what brings people here from all over the world.  

“We are convinced he discovered it right away because he never got away from us until the last moment when his watch stopped.”

The article pays tribute to Ted for reminding locals of what a privilege it is to live in a place like Cortona, and describes him as a generous and kind man. It ends with this wonderful thought:

“If there is life after death, we will meet again to laugh and joke like we started here in this world you loved so much.”

The following are of some of my favorite memories shared with Ted in Cortona.

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Rest in peace, Ted. Riposare in Pace.

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And yes, we raise a Prosecco to you!

Ciao,
Judy

Pasqua and Pasquetta

17 Apr

Yesterday throughout Italy, families and friends gathered after mass for warm hugs, long Easter lunches and lively conversation. Intermittent rain showers didn’t dampen any spirits, although we were happy we ate inside.

We joined some friends at their beautiful home just past Pergo, a short ride from Cortona. We’ve been before, but it is always a pleasure to return as the setting is incredible.

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Len, of course, needed to check out the 1975 Fiat 500 parked in the drive.

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The house, built in the late 1700’s, was originally a farm-house, but is now a beautifully restored/renovated home with guest house, covered pool, garage and incredible 360° views, (and it is on the market as grandchildren live too far away!)*

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We began on the terrace with a Prosecco toast.

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Then lunch was served in the dining room.

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Unfortunately, I missed taking photos of the delicious chicken with gorgonzola lunch, but desserts included a traditional Easter colombo – a dove shaped cake…

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as well as fresh strawberries and cream on sponge cake.

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After a few attempts, we even managed to take a timed selfie.

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Afterward, some of us took a leisurely stroll around the property, admiring the views…

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while others retired to the terrace.

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Many thanks to our gracious hosts, shown in a photo I took of them on our last visit.

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Pasqua and Pasquetta, Easter and Easter Monday, two holidays in Italy, the first religious, the second not. Once again today, Cortona was packed with people. In fact, both yesterday and today, there were traffic jams.

But today, Pasquetta, is a day set aside for relaxation. All the solemnity and preparation of Easter are over, and it is a day to relax, except, of course, for restaurants and retail shops who serve the masses of people enjoying a day off.

Strolling is the norm, so strolling we did. The park was filled with people,

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taking in the views.

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Others were enjoying entertainment in the piazzas, including the Old Florence Dixie Band,

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and just appreciating the beautiful day.

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Between the park and the piazza, we found an empty park bench and literally put our feet up as we took in the view.

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Late afternoon, we headed home for a brief riposo (rest) before meeting friends for dinner.

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And that’s what one does in Cortona for Pasqua and Pasquetta, a perfectly lovely few days.

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Ciao,
Judy

*Note: Many have asked me what the inside of an Italian house looks like. If interested, you can see more photos via the listing link below.

http://www.abodeitaly.com/property/68c/tuscany/casa-giordano-piazzano/arezzo/farmhouses-and-count/4-bedrooms

 

 

Easter in Cortona

15 Apr

In cities and towns all over Italy, religious processions are held during Easter week. Many churches have large statues and crosses that are carried on the shoulders of locals in Holy Week processions through city streets.

Last night, Good Friday, Cortona held its annual Procession of the Stations of the Cross. Signs in English were all over town to remind visitors that this is a solemn event.

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The procession began at 9 PM at the Church of Spirito Santo, a 17th-century church built just outside the medieval walls of Cortona. For those of you familiar with Cortona, picture the church beyond the bottom of steep Via Guelfa and out the wall’s entrance. Noting this is important because the route the procession takes is pretty amazing…either steeply uphill or down, and very rarely flat. (*See below for more of route.)

We waited for the procession at the Church of Saint Francis with others who had lined the steps.

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The Stations of the Cross were being read over a loud-speaker as the procession moved through parts of town.

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Local children were as involved as their parents.

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A group of strong women carried the statue of the Blessed Mother.

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After reaching its highest point, the procession came down Via S. Margherita toward Via Nazionale.

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The final destination was Piazza Republicca, where the statues were placed on platforms.

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At about 10:30 PM, religious dignitaries gathered at the top of the Municipio and a local bishop led all in prayer before the choir sang.

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A year ago, Len and I were in Trapani, Sicily, for their incredible Misteri di Trapani, a 24 hour procession. It was large and dramatic, with musicians and choirs accompanying each heavy statue carried on the shoulders of dozens of men. But Trapani is flat, and Cortona is anything but. So, while Cortona’s procession was smaller, with less music and drama, it was nonetheless incredible to see the procession maneuver through the ancient town. Whether elaborate or small, dramatic or simple, it is each town’s commitment to carrying out tradition that matters.

Today, Saturday, Cortona is bustling with people, here to participate in the Easter weekend. I’m told there is a midnight mass tonight at the Duomo, and masses at various times and churches tomorrow.

The smells of special Easter breads and pastries fill the spring air, and tomorrow most Italians will gather around large lunches with their families and friends to celebrate Easter, as will we.

In Italy, the Monday after Easter is also a holiday called Pasquetta. Though not a religious holiday, Pasquetta is another day for family and friends to gather and also spend some relaxing time outdoors. It was introduced by the government after World War II.

Wherever your plans may take you, a gathering big or small,
I wish you a very Happy Easter – Buona Pasqua to all!

Ciao,
Judy

*Note: for those wanting more on the route,  I believe it was up Via Guelfa, connecting to Via Ghini, up the very steep Via Maffei to San Francesco Church, on past the old hospital to Via S. Margherita, down through Piazza Garibaldi to Via Nazionale and finally ending in Piazza Republicca.

 

Ferrara

8 Apr

The first thing I saw when I exited the train was my mother’s maiden name: Ferrara.

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Her ancestors, or at least the ones I know of, were from southern Italy, not here from Emilia-Romagna, so our visit to Ferrara was not a search for ancestral connections. With a bit of research, we knew to purchase a two-day pass that would give us entry to most of the important sites.

Ferrara is very flat, so walking or biking are the preferred modes of transportation. We logged over 16 miles on foot in 48 hours.

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About 30 miles north of Bologna, Ferrara is situated on the Po di Volano, a channel of the Po River, and has a population of about 135,000.

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It is a colorful city with wide streets that support modern commerce as well as 14th and 15th century palaces from the House of Este.

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It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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The typical bread, called coppia ferrarese, has been awarded IGP status, but for me, (sorry), it’s more pretty than tasty.

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Among the most important sites we saw were:

Palazzo Dei Diamonte, a Renaissance palace which houses the National Painting Gallery of Art. The exterior of the building consists of some 8500 white blocks carved to look like diamonds, hence the name.

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Museo Archeologico Nazionale, also known as Palazzo Ludovico il Moro. The museum houses a large collection of archaeological history from the province, and in particular, from Spina, an Etruscan port that flourished between the 6th and 3rd centuries BC.

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Museo del Risorgimento e della Resistenza. The museum houses uniforms, weapons, newspaper articles, posters, photos, letters, etc., from the time Italy began its quest for independence (Risorgimento) to the end of WWII.

Cattedrale San Giorgio Martire. The Romanesque Cathedral of Ferrara, consecrated in 1135 and 118 meters in length (387 feet), is #20 among the world’s biggest churches per Sacred Floor. St. Peter’s Basilica in Roma is #1 at 610 feet; the Duomo of Firenze is #3 at 518 feet; and St. Patrick’s in NY is #26 at 360 feet.

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And our favorite site…
Castello Estense. By order of Marquis Nicolo II D’Este, the enormous castello was begun in 1385 as a fortress, complete with stables, armories, workshops, accommodations for military troops, and prisons.

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The entire fortress is surrounded by a wide moat with drawbridges.

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At the end of the 15th century, the fortress slowly began a transformation into an elaborate residence for dukes and duchesses. Some of the greatest artists of the time were commissioned for works inside and out.

Today, the castle is a museum that provides history about the building, the powers that used it, and the city of Ferrara. A visit to one of the three prisons is eerie,

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while a stroll though art filled rooms is pretty incredible.

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Unfortunately, the 2012 earthquake did considerable damage, so washi paper has been applied to seal numerous cracks in ceiling and wall frescoes. Damage repair is progress.

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Interestingly, there are several “pleasure palaces” that were built by the Este Family in Ferrara to “avoid or escape boredom.”  One such place is Palazzo Schifanoia, the name thought to have come from schivar la noia, or literally to escape boredom.

Palazzo Schifanoia, therefore, was a place for the court to relax and enjoy art and music away from but in close proximity to Castello Estense. The walls of the grand room are decorated with allegorical frescoes depicting the months of the year.

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Upon reflection, I think my paternal grandmother belonged to a ladies club in Chicago called Schifanoia. I grew up hearing the name but never thought to ask what it meant. So even when I’m not looking for ancestral information, I guess it’s waiting to be uncovered everywhere my Italian travels take me.

And as for escaping boredom from the castello, one merely needed to gaze out a window at the sun-painted reflections dancing on the moat. A great artist indeed!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

Risotto Made Easy

3 Apr

Although my mother was a great Italian cook,  risotto was not something I grew up eating. My ancestors were from southern Italy, so pasta with red sauce was the norm.  When I finally learned about risotto, it always seemed like something that required too much patience and time to cook.

Lucky for me, my native Italian friends have taken the mystery out of risotto.

Tonight I made risotto con cipolle e piselli – risotto with onions and peas. Perhaps the most important tip I have learned is to use Carnaroli rice. It seems foolproof and makes a wonderfully creamy risotto. A second tip is to flavor the water or broth with what I am adding to the risotto.

Obviously, you can make risotto many different ways, but I thought I’d share my simple recipe for others who are hesitant to make it. And, Len said it was really good!

Tonight’s Simple Recipe: (measurements are suggestions!)

Ingredients:
Carnaroli rice, onion, garlic, water or broth, peas, olive oil, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste.

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Directions:
Start with two pots: one for the liquid and another for the risotto. Use a ratio of about 3;1, liquid to rice.

  1. Add 3 cups of water (or broth)  to the small pot and 1/2 cup frozen peas; heat to boil, then lower to keep simmering.
  2. In the larger pot, sauté one medium onion and one garlic clove in olive oil for a few minutes, then add one cup of risotto, and sauté a few more minutes. Don’t burn the rice!
  3. Begin to add the hot liquid to the risotto, one ladle at a time. Stir a bit and when the liquid is almost absorbed, add another ladle and stir, and continue in this process until the risotto is done, about 15-20 minutes. Note: I used all of the liquid, but did not stir constantly.
  4. Turn off heat, add parmesan cheese and stir. Salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Ladle into bowls, drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with parmesan cheese, and enjoy.

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Ciao,
Judy

Note: Broth and white wine are great liquid substitutes or additions (when you have them!), but water works fine, as do any number of vegetables, e.g., roasted red peppers, mushrooms, asparagus.  Be creative and let me know what you come up with!

 

 

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