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An Honor Indeed!

10 Sep

Two weeks ago, and most unexpectedly, we received an invitation to attend the 76th Venice International Film Festival, guests of Prof. Dr. Massimo Lucidi, economic journalist, author, and founder of numerous international events such as the Premio Eccellenza or Italian Excellence Award.

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The festival is held on Venice Lido and our meeting was at the Hotel Excelsior. Per their website: “This extraordinary creation opened to great acclaim on 21st July 1908, with a lavish ocean-front party for over 3,000 guests. It rapidly became a haven for the elite, film stars and royalty.”

In 1932, Hotel Excelsior Venice Lido Resort welcomed the first ever Venice Film Festival and is now the official venue of this world-famous event.

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We took a moment to enjoy a cappuccino in good company.

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The meeting we participated in was titled “Cinema and Web.” It focused on the relationship between the emotion and seduction of cinema and today’s digital opportunities to preserve and share history and culture.

But why us? A bit of history required here…

Len and I, both with Italian origins, always had a dream and goal to spend significant time in Italy. Since 2001, with our trip to Calabria to find Len’s grandparents’ records, we’ve continued the research of our ancestral homes and visited most. Once we retired, and wanting to truly experience the country of our ancestors, we chose the ancient and beautiful town of Cortona in Tuscany.

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For us, it was the perfect size and setting to give us a central base from which to travel, to truly interact with locals, and to absorb the culture of our ancestors as we became immersed in daily Italian living. Little could we have imagined the great friendships we would make.

Growing up, Len and I were both very fortunate to be surrounded by large extended Italian families. Each of our lives was filled with fun Italian traditions, large family gatherings and love.

In my family, there were 10 grandchildren on each side. And while we knew of our grandparents’ accomplishments, it wasn’t as if they talked about themselves. For us, they were typical and fun grandparents who worked hard and loved their grandchildren dearly.

As a result, my ancestral fascination truly began many years later when I started researching my paternal grandfather, Alex Capraro.

©blogginginitaly.com   Alex Capraro and wife Maude

He left Pietrabbondante in Abruzzo at age four and emigrated with his young parents to America where he eventually became the first licensed Italian-American architect in Illinois. In the early 1930’s, he was appointed chief architect by the Italian Government for the Italian Pavilion at the 1933 Century of Progress Fair in Chicago. Although he passed away when I was five, my grandmother kept many of his letters and documents.  Eventually, these were passed on to me. In due time, I was able to piece together so much of who he was and what he had accomplished in his life, as documented in my blog series: Through His Words: Reflections From and About My Grandfather.

Alex’s story generated interest, not only with my family members, but also with many Italian friends.

This led me to research and share more about my maternal grandfather, Salvatore Ferrara, who opened a retail pastry and candy shop in the Little Italy section of Chicago in the early 1900s.

Salvatore Ferrara (r) C.1908

The bakery produced Italian pastries, large wedding cakes, and the sugarcoated almonds, or confetti, that Salvatore had learned to make in Italy. When candy sales surpassed pastries, he left his wife to run the bakery and eventually launched the Ferrara Pan Candy Company. In 2017, the Ferrero Group, maker of Nutella and the second largest chocolate producer and confectionery company in the world, purchased the Ferrara Candy Company.

Not to be outdone by the men, my maternal grandmother, Serafina Ferrara, became a dynamic business personality and philanthropist.

Serafina Ferrara and brother

Unlike my grandfathers, I had the good fortune to know her into my 20s. In addition to running the bakery, she opened two of Chicago’s first banquet halls, the Chateau Royale and Ferrara Manor. She also devoted significant time to charitable and civic causes. She was known as “The Angel of Halsted Street” for her unending generosity to those less fortunate. In 1956, she was named national grandmother of the year along with Ed Sullivan as grandfather of the year. The same year, she was decorated by the Italian government for helping to cement Italo-American relations. Her many life accomplishments were entered into the U.S. House of Representatives Congressional record by the Honorable Frank Annunzio in 1972.

Over time, I could see the gears turning in our good friend Carlo’s head. He was intrigued, not only about the story of these Italian immigrants who accomplished so much in America, but that the two families were united though the marriage of my mother, Benita Ferrara, and my dad, Bill Capraro. Carlo was also struck by Len’s and my decision to fully immerse ourselves in the history and culture of our ancestors, as well as research and share our stories. I knew he had begun talking to others, but never quite to what extent.

Fast forward to last week, and the invitation.

At dinner Wednesday night, we met Massimo Lucidi (across from me) for the first time, although he had been well briefed. Before the evening was over, he had invited me to join a panel the next morning.

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The Tropicana Conference Room at Hotel Excelsior housed the Italian Pavilion where the meeting would be held.

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Suddenly, I was on stage with a parliamentary member, a carabinieri colonel, the president of Rai Cinema, and Massimo Lucidi, all who play significant and varied roles in the promotion of film and the arts related to the history and culture of Italy on an international stage.

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My role was to share a brief history (in Italian, of course!) of my grandparents, all Italian immigrants, and the contributions they made in America. And why so much interest? As was pointed out during the panel, there are so many wonderful stories of Italian immigrants that are never heard, and never told, and it is the challenge of those involved in all types of media to seek out such stories.

In the room were producers, directors, actors, writers and journalists, and several were recognized for their work.

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And then, at the conclusion of the panel, came our incredible surprise and amazing honor – Len and I were recognized by the Executive Committee of Premio Eccellenza as follows:

For the history of extraordinary commitment, passion and style,
we are pleased to award
Judy and Leonard Gingerella
Ambassadors of the Italian History of Emigration

©blogginginitaly.com     Colonel Anania, Len , Judy, Massimo Lucidi

The actual award ceremony will be held in Washington DC in October, but since we won’t be available, we were given our award in advance. And that is why we were invited to Venice.

After the event, Massimo conducted an interview with Carlo and me which is available on YouTube. https://youtu.be/Ikif5iup2mY

https://youtu.be/Ikif5iup2mY

We presented Massimo with a book from Luciano Meoni, the Mayor of Cortona.

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And Colonel Anania presented a book to Honorable Nicola Acunzo from Francesco Attesti, the Cortona Cultural Councilor. 

Len and I will be forever grateful to Massimo, Orazio, Carlo and all those who see value in sharing the past and are committed to keeping the stories alive. Grazie mille, thank you! Our time spent together at the 76th Venice International Film Festival will be something we’ll cherish forever.

Most of all, my heartfelt gratitude to my grandparents and great grandparents for having the courage to leave the known behind, seek opportunity in America, and create extraordinary legacies. I will always be in awe and also inspired by their accomplishments. As their granddaughter, I am so proud to be able to share their stories.

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On a prophetic footnote… in late July, our extended family gathered in Chicago for a week. One night around a large round table, we were each asked to complete the following sentence:

“I am a 10 at _________.”

I pondered, not sure of my response, and then at my turn, the word just popped out – RESEARCHING.

Little could I have ever imagined that my research would take me on this incredible journey.

Stay tuned – there just might be more to come.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Weekend in Review

26 Aug

So much happening in Cortona over the weekend…

Since 1963, Cortona has been the host city of the national antique market knows as Cortonantiquaria, held in the rooms and hallways of the beautiful 18th century Palazzo Vagnotti.

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You couldn’t help but know that the exhibit was coming as a giant slide show lights up the Municipio each night.

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For two weeks beginning August 24, exhibitors throughout Italy display a variety of certified antiques including paintings, china, jewelry, statuary and furniture.

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A very special exhibit this year is Catrosse Ceramiche. I had no idea that from 1796-1910,  the noble Venuti family was responsible for bringing techniques learned in other parts of Italy to a new porcelain production facility near Cortona.


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Did you ever wonder how some of the very large pieces are hoisted up to the top floor of the Palazzo? Well, wonder no more…

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Weekend strolls brought the usual delightful sights, including this “watch cat”,

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nature blooming through stone ledges,

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and artifacts attached to the old city walls.

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The last Sunday of each month brings the traveling antique market to Cortona. Unlike the one in the Palazzo, this one is held in the piazzas or parterre (park) and is filled with a lot of old (lovely and not), interesting and/or odd things. As I wander the stalls, I am reminded of the saying: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, or so the vendors hope. But it’s always fun to wander.

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Sunday is also a great day for strolling, as everyone seems to be smiling and saying Buona Domenica, or Good Sunday, as you pass. And it’s easy to feel good when listening to a talented violinist,

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people watching,

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enjoying a prosecco,

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or a great cappuccino!

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As my friend’s shirt says,

Make Days Good Days!

And so we do.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

Re-entry…

18 Aug

And it feels so good!

In Italy, August 15 is both a national holiday, Ferragosto, as well as a religious one, Feast of the Assumption. For many Italians, it is also the unofficial beginning of the summer holiday season. Parts of Italy effectively shut down until September, as people head to the lakes, countryside or a coast, or to towns like Cortona which are filled with events.

Since I can’t say this very often, I need to share that our trip over was incredibly smooth.  Flying time was only 8.11 hours and touch down to gate took less than five minutes.

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We arrived to the welcome arms of Carlo and Fernanda and to a delicious homemade lunch.

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Afterward, Carlo accompanied us to check the orto (garden) progress, but lunch and the basket on the counter were a positive telltale sign.

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Although May was cold and rainy, warm sun and sufficient rain since then have made for vibrant green colors, strong vegetables and very huge and happy sunflowers.

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And then on to our house and the familiarity of the view.

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The next night, we were ready to roll and attended the Ferragosto Sagra Della Bistecca, or steak festival, in the parterre with some friends.

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Before:

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During:

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Our table:

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The food… and yes, we did split them!

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The fountain was flowing and the Ol’ Boogies Rockabilly Band was playing,

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so we decided to start dancing,

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while everyone else was in the food queue. Good we came early!

After a lot of dancing and good laughs, and nearing 11 PM, the two guys on the left headed to town to get some Tuscanos, or small Italian cigars,

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while the rest of us stopped by the DJ station. The dance area was empty, so we moved right in.

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Before long, we attracted a large crowd and were soon doing the Macarena!

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I even bought one of the flashing balloons.

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Once the dance area got too crowded, we headed back into town to find the guys. Naturally, we found them at Tuscher with Massimo!

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We joined right in.

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It was 2 AM before our heads hit the pillows.

The next night, Fernanda had us over for dinner. We tried hard to convince her we should go out, but she insisted and treated us to a delicious aperitivo spread including her homemade liver pate. This was followed by roasted pepper risotto, and then stuffed zucchini from the garden and meatballs. Dessert was gelato topped with her homemade cherry sauce. We ate al fresco and my phone was inside, so no photos except one group selfie.

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When we got back to town, a big band was still playing in the piazza.

The next day, Len and I had a Tuscher Sunday, although it was only Saturday. After a long walk, we stopped by for a mid day vino. A bit later, a first old friend stopped by, then another, and so on, until eventually a few of us went to dinner.

And that’s how it goes in Cortona… Food, Friends and Fun. Repeat.

Should you miss one sagra, there’s another right behind. Out with the bistecca on Friday and in with the Porcini on Saturday, although we opted out. Enough sagras for one weekend.

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But as for friends and fun, there’s never too much. In the words of Cyndi Lauper:

Oh girls, they wanna have fun…

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

Andrea Camilleri

17 Jul

Accolades and condolences are abundant in Italy as the famed Commissario Montalbano author, Andrea Calogero Camilleri, director and author, passed away today at age 93.

Wikipedia, Andrea Camilleri c 2010

You may recall that last year in Sicily, Len and I spent a 10-hour day touring many famous Montalbano filming sites throughout Sicily. We have read many of the books and seen all of the movies, in Italian with English subtitles. Until today, I had always wondered why it was fairly easy for me to understand them, given what I’ve always heard about the Sicilian dialect. But now I know. According to John Hooper’s Obituary in The Guardian, “they are written in a language of the author’s creation: a blend of standard Italian with Sicilian dialect.” https://www.theguardian.com/books/2019/jul/17/andrea-camilleri-obituary-inspector-montalbano?CMP=share_btn_link

And although he had been a successful theatre director, TV producer, playwright and novelist, Camilleri didn’t start publishing his detective series until nearly 70 years of age. Amazingly, he sold more than 10 million books which were translated into 30+ languages, with the adapted tv series running in over 20 countries. 

According to Mark Lawson of The Guardian: “[Camilleri] considered it his duty to speak out against the dark politics by which his country was often seduced, regularly appearing as a pundit on Italian TV shows where he was torrentially opinionated, intelligent and witty.”

Also, according to Lawson, (a spoiler alert): “There will be at least one more novel. In our interview, he told me that – as Agatha Christie did with Hercule Poirot in Curtain – he had deposited with his publisher Riccardino, a final novel in which Montalbano is “finished off” that was to only be published posthumously. It should be a fitting epitaph to one of the latest, but greatest, careers in crime writing.”
https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2019/jul/17/andrea-camilleri-late-but-great-career-in-writing-inspector-montalbano

Finally, some thoughts from Luca Zingaretti, the actor who brought Commissario Montalbano to the screen, on his working with Andrea Camilleri:

I learned that the value of people has nothing to do with what they earn, with the positions they hold, with titles that adorn their surname: they are evaluated for what they are.”

“Now you leave and leave me with an unbridgeable sense of emptiness, but I know that every time I say, even alone, in my head, “Montalbano I am!”, wherever you have gone you smile slyly, perhaps smoking your cigarette and winking at me as a sign of understanding, like the last time we met in Syracuse. Goodbye master and friend, let the earth be light to you!
Your Luca

And so Camilleri leaves us, but not without a legacy that will last long beyond his years.

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If interested, my blog about our Montalbano tour:
https://blogginginitaly.com/2018/12/18/our-montalbano-tour/

Ciao,
Judy

 

Cortona Medieval Marriage and Joust

24 Jun

Our last weekend in Cortona was filled with traditional Medieval customs, celebrated annually by the locals.

Saturday evening, the town reenacted the 1397 marriage of Francesco Casali, Lord of Cortona, to Antonia Salimbeni, a noble woman of Siena, complete with flag-throwers, musicians, and a drawing for the shooting order for Sunday’s crossbow competition.

But let’s step back for a moment. Our great friend, Ivan, (Il Pozzo Galleria) has acted in the role of Francesco for as long as anyone can remember, along with his daughter, Marta, who annually serves as the lovely Antonia. We stopped in to see Ivan midday and were fortunate enough to experience not only the intricate detail of their costumes but also the weight.

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And then this… gym shoes and all!

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It’s hard to describe the beautiful detail, complexity and weight of these costumes, and true to form, the evening would be the hottest of the year! I was sweating just thinking about it. But on to the evening…

Drum roll, please!

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This year, the bride-to-be arrived in a chianina drawn carriage, much to the delight of the patrons.

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After being helped out of her coach by her lord in waiting,

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she was introduced to the appreciative crowds.

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As is customary for all important Cortona events, traditional flag throwers accompanied the ceremony.

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but as if on cue, in came the flame throwers, so it was a perfect ending to a wonderfully entertaining evening.

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As the people dispersed, we bumped into a very hot, tired, but always happy to greet people with a smile, Ivan. 

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Sunday was another hot day, both weather and competition wise for the Archidado. Peccioverardi won after 4 playoffs, 24-23 over S. Andrea.

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Afterward, they paraded around town for their well-fought victory march, carrying the near bulls-eye arrow.

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One final thought about the weekend…

Each year, Ivan tells us it’s his last, yet for those of us who know him, it’s hard to imagine that anyone else could fill his shoes!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medieval Market Cortona

4 Jun

June arrived in Cortona and brought along not only warm sunny weather but also the first of several annual summer festivals. Last weekend was the Medieval Market filled with games, costumes, food, shops and entertainment. Here’a a sampling…

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And of course, great sunsets,

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and great friends!

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Ciao,
Judy

 

Friends and Sunshine: A Perfect Remedy

16 May

For the last four days, Len and I have been housebound. Seems as though we succumbed to the Italian “colpo d’aria” or a “hit of air” to our eyes, nose, or ears. In simple terms, we each got a very bad combination of cold, bronchitis, and cough. The other culprit, as the Italians would say, is the weather, and I’d agree. Hard to believe it is May and on some days, we are still wearing down jackets or vests and heavy scarves. But enough already as there is always a bright side.

Each of the last four days, we have received calls and messages from friends checking in to see how we are doing, offering to shop or cook for us, or dropping things at our front door. Seriously, the kindness is almost overwhelming. And today, since the sun was finally shining brightly, Fernanda insisted we go to her house in the country so she could cook for us as we sat in the sun. How could we resist?

The sun was shining brightly, lunch was delicious, and the vistas were spectacular,  

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including the spectacle of her roses in full bloom fronted by a row of lavender.

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The Italians have a phrase for all of this as well…

L’aria di campagna, la salute ci guadagna…  country air equals health benefits.

The day was just what a doctor might have ordered.  Even as we were leaving, I couldn’t believe the view in my rear view mirror. And yes, tonight we are definitely feeling better. 

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Friends and sunshine, a perfect remedy for all that ails!

Ciao,
Judy

 

Productive Relaxation, Italian Style

24 Apr

In Italy, there is a sight commonly found in smaller towns – men sitting on benches, or standing in small groups, discussing everything from local politics to international sports events. Meanwhile, their wives are shopping, visiting, cooking, cleaning, etc.  What they all have in common is the phrase: Siamo in pensione, or, we are retired. 

We, too, take this retirement thing seriously. Take productive relaxation for example, not an oxymoron but instead an art.

Fernanda had today off, so our day began in her garden where she prepared breakfast – her delicious yogurt cake and cappuccino.

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After enjoying the sunshine and planning for our vegetable garden, we drove to Panicale, one of our favorite little borgos about 45 minutes from Cortona, and a first visit for Fernanda.

In 2018, Panicale, in Umbria, was listed as one of Italy’s most beautiful villages.

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Although it is small and easy to walk around, it is not the easiest of villages to find. But GPS has gotten us there every time.

The medieval hill town overlooks Lago Trasimeno, a site where in 217 BC, Hannibal and his legions ambushed Roman legions along the banks.

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As you can see from the map below, the streets are narrow and form concentric ovals.

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Panicale still retains its medieval castle, which was once surrounded by a moat,

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as well as other well-preserved charming buildings.

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It also has a few unique door bells!

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No matter which way you walk, all streets seem to lead to the historical center’s Piazza Umberto I,

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where there is a travertine fountain, (formerly an ancient cistern), dating back to 1473.

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The piazza is surrounded by a few eateries and shops, including our favorite – Bar del Gallo, (lower right).

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The staff is always friendly,

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and the melanzana (eggplant) is always delicious.

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Of course, there are other menu items, but for us, it’s too good to pass up. And Fernanda agreed it was one of the best she has ever eaten.

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Perhaps best of all at Bar del Gallo is the owner, Aldo Gallo, a man whose warm smile and genuine hospitality keeps one coming back for more.

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Today we learned that Bar del Gallo earned a gold cup award in a coffee competition, an award well-deserved. Complimenti Aldo!

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We said our goodbyes and drove the long way home, stopping at a nursery to select our plants: 10 tomato (three varieties), and nine zucchini.

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Why nine zucchini, you might ask? Well, last year, we had an ever-lasting supply of zucchini flowers, (actually too much of a good thing!) and very few zucchini, so Len did some research. Apparently, zucchini should be planted in “hills” of three plants, close together. This is because when the plants flower, they produce both masculine and feminine flowers, and apparently, they need to do their thing “nature-ly” (cross-pollinate) to produce zucchini! Who knew???

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Well, we’ll see what happens. Updates, and hopefully zucchini, to follow in a few months.

Grazie, Aldo, for another lovely afternoon in Panicale. See you again soon. 

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And that’s how we spend a very productive day in a most relaxing way, Italian style.

Ciao,
Judy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Re-entry!

11 Apr

We returned to Cortona over two weeks ago, and we’ve been busy.  While sometimes it seems as though we have the town to ourselves, 

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the weekends remind us that Cortona is a “happening” place.

Occasionally, however, there are “happenings” we’d rather avoid.

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We managed to get “fined” on a 10 minute bus ride from Camucia to Cortona. Longer story shortened, our to-and-from rides were all on one ticket, which we validated each way. However, we didn’t realize, or frankly just forgot, that we had to validate the single ticket twice each way, and consequently, we were fined by the very occasional inspectors who boarded our bus one stop from Piazza Garibaldi, our final destination. Yes, we paid for both of us, and yes, we thought we had correctly validated the ticket, but none of that mattered. Word to the wise: validate, validate, validate, or pay 60 euros!!!

But as always, our days and nights are filled with great friends and great food, some  shown here.

During our second week, we spent several days in Lucca. Although it rained each day, we were able to walk the wall, do some sight seeing, visit with a friend, and find some great restaurants.

On the way back, we stopped in Firenze as we had been invited to visit the Carabinieri Training School. Len just couldn’t resist.

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A few days ago, we drove with friends to a medieval town in Umbria called Narni. There are hundreds of towns like this in Italy, each with its own history and legends, and usually an interesting fact for which they are known. For Narni, it is being very close to the geographic center of Italy.

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On Monday of this week, we picked up our car, this time a Fiat Panda.

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The weather has not been great, but mostly I feel like her… I’m here and I’m happy!

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And today, before the rains fell, we drove through the Tuscan countryside, as if driving through a painting, and witnessed, once again, the stunning landscape and the ever-spectacular views that always bring a smile to my face. 

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Ciao,
Judy

2018 in Review

31 Dec

A great way to look back at 2018 is through my photos. For me, they paint a picture of wonderful times spent with family and friends. Each picture brings a smile to my face and each memory reminds me of how lucky I am to have these people in my life.

A look back at 2018…

Florida in winter

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Summer in Chicago

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Thanksgiving

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Key West Destination Wedding

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Christmastime

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Cortona and all around Italy

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©blogginginitaly.com

©blogginginitaly.com

As we end another year, many thanks to family and friends, pictured here and not, who continue to enrich our lives as we create the future together.

©blogginginitaly.com

From Chicago to Cortona, from our hearts to yours,
our very best wishes
for a healthy and happy 2019!

©blogginginitaly.com

Happy New Year! Buon Anno!!

Ciao,
Judy

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