Tag Archives: Italy

Fighting a Cold (raffreddore)

9 Oct

In October, when the night air turns cooler but the days are still warm, Tuscan colds are a plenty. The locals blame it on the change in weather and I’m becoming a believer. But when the sky is bright blue and the weather is in the 70’s, it’s hard to nurse a cold in bed. 

Still, not wanting to spread my germs, we headed to Lago Trasimeno for a walk and lunch. We were also curious about the lake level due to both the summer drought and more recent rains.

What we found didn’t surprise us as Umbria and Tuscany sustained spring and summer months with virtually no rain and intense heat. The lake had not only receded, it actually uncovered sandy beach areas we had never seen before.





After our walk, we stopped at a caffé for a light lunch, but more so to sit in the warm sun and be mesmerized by the clouds dancing on the ripples across the lake.



Walking back to the car, I couldn’t help but stop at this structure for a few more photos.





Tonight for dinner, we made a red and yellow pepper risotto that turned out quite well. 



All in all, a perfect way to not have a cold ruin a beautiful day! 


Festa della Liberazione

25 Apr

In Italy, April 25th is a national holiday celebrating the country’s liberation from Nazi occupation in 1945.

Although it is quite chilly in Cortona, the band marched through the streets and placed a wreath  at the statue dedicated to those who fought and died for freedom.



An important day to remember, especially for those of us who love being in Italy.


Lucignano Tuscany

10 Apr

Yesterday, Len and I took a ride to the lovely town of Lucignano with friends. It was a nice spring day and I think we were the only visitors in town. In fact, it seemed as though we were the only people in town.



When we parked the car, I realized we had briefly visited here 5 years ago. This post includes some of the research from my original post, with some updates and some new photos.

Lucignano, a remarkably preserved medieval walled village, is laid out in elliptical rings.



This beautiful town sits 414 metres above sea level and offers its visitors a trip back in time.




Although Lucignano sits between Siena and Arezzo, it came under Florentine control in the 1500s, when a great deal of construction ensued. Today, one can still see the Puccini’s Fortress; Vasari’s 1568 sanctuary of Madonna della Querca; the Cappucini convent, c.1580; and several churches including Piazza S. Francesco with the church of S. Francesco in the background, and



Chiesa della Collegiata, c.1594.







In addition, the Museo Civico, left, offers many artistic treasures including the L’albero della vita, or tree of life, a gilded and jeweled tree holding a crucified figure.





On the village’s website, http://www.comune.lucignano.ar.it,  Lucignano is described as “a pearl of the valdichiana, a small village that represents one of the more extraordinary examples of medieval urban planning for its system of elliptic rings…” Today, the village continues its agricultural and artisan traditions and produces products ranging from olive oil and honey to ceramics and gold jewelry. In addition, should you wish to purchase inlaid furniture or have a piece in need of repair, the skilled artists of Lucignano are ready to oblige.




Five years ago, we saw this written on the window of a wine shop, and I was happy to see it again.


Wine is the poetry of the earth

And five years ago, we found this sign, but not the restaurant.


This time, we found the restaurant, and although it was closed, we found the nice people.





A wonderful way to spend the afternoon, strolling with friends through a beautiful ancient city, rich with history and culture…



making new friends,



and not even needing to close the door on our way out.




Feast of the Italian Liberation

24 Apr

Festa della Liberazione – April 25th – a day dedicated to celebrating Italy’s liberation from Nazi occupation during World War II.

If you happen to be in Italy and hear a great deal of noise overhead, it is probably the Frecce Tricolori or the Three Color Arrows. Or if you hear a lot of music and cheer, you may just find yourself in the middle of a parade! In either case, a great cause for celebration.


Rivolto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Italiano: Frecce Tricolori all'Air Show di Fal...

Italiano: Frecce Tricolori all’Air Show di Falconara Marittima, Ancona, Italy. (Wikipedia)

I migliori auguri – my very best wishes – to my Italian friends…we raise a toast to you and your freedom!



More Rome

18 Feb

My last two days in Rome brought some incredible experiences. I spent Tuesday with Roman locals, the parents of a friend from Austin. Giovanna picked me up Tuesday morning and we did a whirlwind tour around Rome. We began the day at The Church of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill in Rome, the oldest surviving Roman basilica.



It is famous for its cypress doors, which may date to the early 5th century when the church was built, and are said to contain the first depiction of the crucifixion of Jesus.


From there we drove to the Villa del Priorato di Malta, home to the Grand Priory in Rome of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which remains a sovereign entity. IMG_1528

The Villa may be best known for a keyhole in the door


through which you can clearly see Saint Peter’s Basilica, far across the city. The first photo is from my phone; the second shows exactly what you see through the keyhole.



wiki photo

From there, we saw part of the original Roman Wall called the Servian Wall, sections of which are still visible in various locations around Rome. The Servian Wall was a defensive barrier constructed around the city of Rome  in the early 4th century BC.


Next on to lunch at my “guide’s” home. What a thrill it is for me to be invited into the home of local Romans and share in their passion for all things Italian. I was introduced to Giovanna’s husband and together we shared wonderful conversation and the most delicious lunch, beginning with Champaign in the drawing-room.


From there, we moved to the dining room and were treated to Spaghetti con vongole



Sicilian artichokes and a rolled meat and cheese dish (sorry I don’t know the name!)


IMG_1542A beautiful vegetable terrine


Fennel saladIMG_1544

and homemade apple torta!



We conversed easily in both Italian and English and spent a great deal of time talking about places and treasures to visit in Italy.

After lunch, more of my tour. First up was a ride along Appia Antica, or as you may know it, the Appian Way. IMG_1550


From there we drove to the Pyramid of Cestius, built around 18BC-12BC as a tomb for magistrate Gaius Cestius. At the time it was built, it lay in the open countryside as tombs were not permitted within the city walls.

IMG_1557The pyramid was incorporated into the Aurelian Walls, close to Porta San Paolo.


Up next, La Bocca della Verità, aka The Mouth of Truth. This ancient Roman marble disc displays a carving of a man-like face and is thought to have been part of a first century fountain or even a manhole cover. Legend has it that if you tell a lie, and put your hand in the mouth, it will be bitten off. So be warned! During the 17th century, it was placed in the portico of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, the church which is home to relics of St. Valentine.


And finally, on to ancient temples before heading home.IMG_1563


What an amazing day I had, with my ever hospitable and knowledgeable private tour guide and now new friend.

And to think we did all that in this:


Giovanna, grazie per una giornata meravigliosa e una ricorderò sempre!

That was Tuesday, and I still had one day left in Rome. What better thing to do than attend a Papal audience.  So that I did, Wednesday morning, along with about 12,000 others, but who’s counting!





Arrivederci Roma once again. You never fail to amaze. Till next time.



Through His Words: Day Six

28 Jan

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Six:

Thursday, July 21, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 6

Hello Darling,

This was a very busy day. Got up at 5:00 a.m. to see the sunrise. What a beautiful sight to behold, a great big ball of fire suddenly coming up out of nowhere with its rays reflected in the shimmering silver on the ocean. There is something fascinating about the ocean, what it is I do not know, but it brings a feeling of regret that soon we will be on land while at the same time wishing to get away from it (the ocean). 

I met Fr. Peoria on deck and we took a real workout together walking about two miles, then turned in, took a shower, and had breakfast later. Soon we were to see what is known as St. Vincent’s Light, a light house on the south tip of Portugal…

The 79 foot lighthouse was built in 1846 over the ruins of a 16th-century Franciscan convent. It is one of the most powerful lighthouses in Europe overlooking one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. Its lamps can be seen up to 37 miles away.


Photo: Wiki commons

then see the south coast of Portugal and Spain and the north coast of Africa.



The town of Tangier could be seen on the tip of Africa, then follows the African coast and by 9:00 p.m., looms the Rock of Gibraltar.  It is dark now and millions of lights from the city play on the water off the Straights of Gibraltar.

If you study the map, you can follow the ship’s course, heading east past Tangier (Tanger) through the Straights of Gibraltar en route to Naples; and if you close your eyes, you can just imagine the spectacle of lights dancing on the water that dark and beautiful night.

Powerful searchlights guide us to our location where we anchor and then a tender, another boat much smaller, comes up to ours to take off passengers getting off at Gibraltar. Battleships and submarines all around us – English, French, Italian and American. 

His last line, so calm, is amazing when you think of what was happening in the world in 1938. Tension between Germany and Czechoslovakia was growing; hostilities between China and Japan were raging; Hitler had sent his armed forces into Austria; and Italy, under Mussolini, had joined Germany and Japan in the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Small boats come up to our boat selling all kinds of junk to the passengers. These vendors throw up to our deck a rope with a basket tied to the end. This basket contains the articles they are selling. You ask, “How much?” They say, “$2.00.” You offer .50c and you settle for a dollar or less.

Soon the ship is ready to move. The small boats row away and we continue on between the coasts of Spain and Africa, a beautiful sight. We go on following the African coast, avoiding the Spanish coast.

When I first saw my grandfather’s passport, one page was puzzling to me. On page 5, Limitations, the following was stamped in red:

This passport is not valid for travel in Spain.

photoWith a little research,  I learned that Americans were not permitted in Spain in 1936 as it was consumed by  war, The Spanish Civil War, which would end in 1939 with General Franco prevailing. Franco would go on to rule Spain for 36 years until his death in 1975.

It is starting to get warmer as we are going farther south. We now start to see other ships for the first time since we left NY; every type of boat. We are in the Mediterranean, blue waters, large fish in schools jumping out of the water. For the first time, I actually saw “flying fish” – they fly about 10-20 ft out of the water and keep on until their “wings” dry out and they fall in the water again.


According to the BBC – 2014, “Flying fish actually glide rather than truly fly. They launch themselves into the air by beating the tail very fast and spreading their pectoral fins to use as wings. There are 52 different species of flying fish which are found in the Indian, Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.”

We are now on our way to Naples, 1000 miles away, and will arrive about 1:30 p.m. Maude, I just can’t believe all this is an actuality; the whole thing seems like a dream. Last thing on the ship activities was in the swimming pool. They called it “A Night at the Lido.” Everybody came dressed in bathing suits or pajamas. There was dancing, races, and water sports with prizes for the winners. There was also a delicious buffet lunch, with wines and Champaign served, all for free.

The letters were dear to Maude. She missed her Al, but was happy for him. And as for the final onboard ship activity, A Night at the Lido, while Maude would have never attended in a bathing suit, or even pajamas, she would have never left the dance floor until the music stopped. Oh how she loved to dance!


At our wedding in 1987, Len, Maude, me, my Mom and Dad (Alex and Maude’s son) 
Maude, at 92, still loved to dance!

2:00 A.M. to bed.

 Always Al

To be continued.


Through His Words: Day Five

8 Jan

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Five:

Wednesday, July 20, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 5

Darling Toots,

There is certainly a lot of water between us now. It seems there is no end to this ocean – water, water, sky and ocean.

Just how much water in distance? Approximately 7094 kilometers or 4408 miles or 3831 nautical miles.

Had breakfast and lunch today, and if I don’t gain weight on this trip, it won’t be the ship’s fault. I am being careful but the ocean air makes you eat almost anything and everything and especially tonight because they had a “Gala” night – the big night on the boat. Champaign was served and everyone had on their best clothes, paper hats, horns, and all kinds of favors. 


Gala Night, Conte di Savoia; Alex 2nd from right

Interestingly, I had found this picture in my grandfather’s papers and wondered why he and three other grown men chose to wear hats with flowers at what appeared to be a semi-formal event. Fortunately, Alex took the time to write on the back of the photo:


Thanks, Grandpa, for another piece of the puzzle. Love those white shoes!

The Gala night is put on by the Captain because tomorrow we will reach Gibraltar and a few of the passengers are getting off there, which makes it the last night for them on board ship.

The Rock of Gibraltar. Of course, doesn’t everyone stop there on their way to Italy?

From its website: https://www.gibraltar.gov.gi/about-gibraltar:

In the ancient times, right through the age of empires and in the global conflicts of our own century, Gibraltar has stood guard over the western Mediterranean, its unique position making it the focus of a continuous struggle for power. This spectacular rock monolith, covering a land area of about six square kilometres, is situated at the southern tip of Spain overlooking the strait to Africa. It is known as the Meeting Place of Continents.


“Gibraltar – Roch From Spanish Shores”

In March, 1937, a year before Alex’s trip, Maude received this postcard from their dear friends who had visited Gibraltar on their way to Naples, just like some passengers traveling with Alex would do the next day. 

“Most beautiful place. We went to the top of the mountain and came down in a basket sled. Lots of fun. Flowers grow everywhere here. Lovely calla lilies.” (From back of postcard)

In 1713, the Treaty of Utrecht gave Britain sovereignty over the island. Today, while there are only about 30,000 inhabitants, Gibraltar is visited by over 10 million tourists per year.


I spent most of the afternoon in the engine room and a well spent afternoon it was. You can’t imagine the immensity of the engines, motors, turbines etc. that are necessary to operate this oil burning ship.

The engineering side of Alex was curious. Unlike most who were more than content to admire the ship’s external beauty, Alex was equally interested in what made the ship run. How many others would be so pleased to spend most of an afternoon in the engine room? (Well, besides my husband…)

For Alex, being on Conte di Savoia was a dream come true. Its magnificent design details appealed to his architectural creativity while the ship’s inner workings coaxed his inquisitive thinking. But no wonder. Alex had been in the profession for 20 years and had built a solid reputation. 20 years earlier, after WWI, he was engaged by the Illinois Central Railroad as Chief of the Real Estate Division.



A few years later, in 1921, Alex entered into active practice of his profession. Then in 1926, he formed a partnership with Morris Komar, another noted architect, and founded Capraro & Komar, Architects, with offices on Washington Street in Chicago.

Well, honey, tomorrow I expect to see land again, Gibraltar, and believe me, it will be a pleasure to see what terra firma looks like after 5 days of nothing but water. I am going to walk around the deck now for a while and will write again to tell you all about Gibraltar tomorrow.

Again love and kisses to my gang.

 Always Al

To be continued.


Zampognari…Italian Bagpipers!

23 Dec

Zampognari Keep Alive the Tradition of Festive Bagpipe Playing

Although we often associate bagpipers with the English and Scots, did you know that bagpipers are an important part of Christmastime tradition in Italy? Read on to discover the history.

Article reprinted from Italy Magazine, Barry Lillie | Monday, December 23, 2013 – 10:00

No Italian Christmas would be complete without the sound of bagpipes. Everywhere from the piazzas of Rome to remote hillside villages, the Zampognari (pipers) continue the tradition of festive bagpipe playing that dates back to ancient Roman times.

Traditionally, the pipers were shepherds who, in a bid to earn an extra income, would travel down from their mountain homes at Christmas time to perform for the townsfolk in their markets squares. The regions where you’re most likely to see a piper are Abruzzo, Basilicata, Campania, Calabria, Molise, Puglia and Lazio.

The traditional dress of the piper is made of short breeches with criss-crossed leather leggings, sheepskin vests with a woollen cloak and peaked cap; there are regional changes such as velvet jackets or neckerchiefs, but the look of the piper remains mostly the same it has for centuries.

Legend tells us that of the shepherds who visited the Virgin Mary in Bethlehem, after gazing upon the baby Jesus, some took out their bagpipes and played. In keeping with the legend, the pipers will stop at public Nativity scenes for a few minutes of quiet contemplation.

Historically, the piper is accompanied by a shawm, a medieval woodwind instrument; however, today’s pipers are usually accompanied by an oboe player. They play traditional music, with a popular song being the Christmas hymn, Tu scendi dalle stelle (You come down from the stars), written by Saint Alphonsus Maria de ‘ Liguori, the bishop of Sant’Agata de’ Goti.

Watch the zampognari play “Tu scendi dalle stelle”:


Makes me wonder if my paternal grandfather’s ancestors played the bagpipes as Alex’s family was from Abruzzo. Perhaps someday I’ll find a photo.



Through His Words: Day Four

5 Dec

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Four:

Tuesday, July 19, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 4

Darling Maude,

I got up rather late this morning due to a nasty sunburn on my legs, especially my shins. The sun is different on the ocean, much more intense and the salt water seems to add to its power.

Apparently, Alex and his new friends were all a bit sunburned and decided to sit in their deck chairs fully clothed for a day.

Aboard Conte di Savoia

Aboard Conte di Savoia, Alex (right) and friends

Alex loved being near water, whether it was spending time at Wilson Avenue Beach (Lake Michigan) in Chicago with Maude and friends,


Maude, Alex, Margaret


Alex (front center)

or heading to Paw Paw Lake in neighboring Michigan.

Paw Paw Lake: "Throw out the Life Line

Paw Paw Lake: “Throw out the Life Line” 1912

Ironically, my brother Bill bought a home on Paw Paw Lake 93 years later. Now we know what led him to that location!

This afternoon I made an inspection of the first class quarters and believe me, there is a lot of difference between 1st class and tourist class.

Alex was not extravagant, but he was very classy and did appreciate beautiful things. Sometime after they were married, he designed and built three three-flat buildings in Chicago and kept the third one for his family. It was beautiful with a sunken living room, a large dining room, three bedrooms, two baths, a butler’s pantry and a very large kitchen. Unfortunately, when the depression hit, his tenants could no longer pay rent, and he lost the buildings to the tune of more than one million dollars.

The lounges, bars, decks, swimming pool, etc., are simply gorgeous, but there are only 200 1st class passengers on board.


The Grand Colonna Hall, (Steven Ujifusa)


Conte Di Savoia First Class passengers in dinner dress visiting the stabilizer system – a first for trans-Atlantic liners in the 1930s.
(Cruiselinehistory.com,  Scott McBee’s New York Social Diary )


First Class Lounge, (From Scott McBee’s New York Social Diary)

I also went down to see how the other class lives (3rd class). Well, there is also quite a difference between there and tourist.

If you’ve seen the movie Titanic, you get the picture.

There was a fine time in the main lounge tonight with orchestra, dancing, and finally a great show put on by home talent, that is, the passengers. They sang, told stories, or played instruments. I did not sing “O Sole Mio” as it was murdered plenty throughout the evening by others.

O Sole Mio, translated as My Sunshine, is a globally known song written in Napoli in 1898, with lyrics by Giovanni Capurro and melody by Eduardo di Capua. It has been performed by a number of famous artists including  Enrico Caruso, Mario Lanza, Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, The Three Tenors, and Il Volo.

Caruso alongside his piano

Caruso alongside his piano (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The movie tonight was “The Bad Man of Brimstone” with Wallace Barry, so I still have yet to see a new picture. 


We passed through the Azores today but it was so cloudy over the islands it was almost impossible to see anything. I was quite disappointed because I could not take a picture of it for you.


Azores, (Google Photo)

The Archipelago of the Azores is composed of nine volcanic islands situated in the North Atlantic Ocean and is located about 1,500 km west of Lisbon. Quite a spectacular site – no wonder Alex was disappointed.

Tomorrow I expect to make an inspection of the engine room through permission of the offices.

Being a registered professional engineer and architect, he was certainly interested in the many parts of the ship, including the massive engine room and the stabilizers.


Love to the children and of course you. 


To be continued.


To see The Three Tenors having fun with O Sole Mio, click on the link.


Through His Words: Day Three

24 Nov

Reflections From and About My Grandfather
Alexander Capraro, Architect

Day Three:

Monday, July 18, 1938 
On board ship        
Chapter 3


Today has been a little more active. Got up at 10:00 as a bunch of us sat on deck till 2:00 A.M. I missed breakfast so I got into my bathing suit and went into the pool (salt water) and then out in the sun on a deck chair and got pretty well sun burned. Went to lunch and then came to the sport deck and played shuffle board. It’s a lot of fun and was thinking that you would enjoy this as the sea is as calm as Lake Michigan on a nice day.

Alex missed Maude. They had spent time apart before, but only because of his work. She would later say that her one regret was not going with him on this trip. They were married in 1919 at Guardian Angels in Chicago. In a bulletin dated February 19, 1919, the editor wrote:

In our years at Guardian Angels, we have never seen so touchingly impressive a wedding service in the little church as that celebrated on a recent Saturday morning. The sweet simplicity of it all; the quiet wedding group in the Sanctuary, (Alex and Maude kneeling on white draped prie-deus)… When they came down the aisle, Maude was so attractive in her dainty wedding gown and filmy veil, and Alex so thoroughly justified the pride we have felt in him these many years….


1948, wearing a Georgiana Jordan gown at daughter Marion’s wedding

They have various games to kill time on board as well as concerts, dancing and movies. I have met some interesting people, some from Chicago, and some like me traveling for the first time. One fellow I met from Indianapolis has travelled all over the world and is now going to Turkey, Egypt and Persia. There are 14 nuns on board, all Italians going to Italy to complete their studies, and about 7 or 8 priests, among which is Father Peoria, whom I know. We spend quite a bit of time together.

Alex was not a man used to a lot of leisure time. In 1918, at the age of 24, he enlisted with the U.S. Naval Engineers and was assigned to the construction division of the Bureau of Yards and Docks in the Navy Department in Washington D.C. He was instrumental in the design and erection of various Naval buildings including the huge Navy and Munitions  buildings which, at the time, were the largest buildings in the world in terms of floor space.




Tonight they are showing another movie with Tyrone Power and Loretta Young, which I saw before. I am getting cheated as far as the movies go as I have seen all of the ones so far. But it gives me extra time to write to you. 

Funny thing is, shortly after Alex met Maude, she brought him home to meet her parents. When her mother saw him, she told Maude not to go out with him because he was too skinny! Lucky for Alex, Maude ignored the advice.

When I think of my grandmother Maude, words that come to mind include demure, modest, quiet, ladylike, respectable, and decent. Here’s a photo from her early childhood, perhaps at Confirmation.


Although she hated having her picture taken, she was very social and especially loved her ladies clubs, dancing and going out to dinner.


1915, both 21, before they knew each other

With friends, Maude, (upper middle), with a little mischief in her eyes

With friends, Maude, (upper middle), with a little mischief in her eyes

Unlike Alex, Maude Pacelli was born in America. So was her mother and her grandmother. Little did I know that my great, great, great, grandmother was born in the U.S. Her father worked for Rheingold Brewery from the young age of 16, and was head brewmaster when he retired at the age of 86, a 70 year – one company career. Her brother Bill was a Chicago alderman. 


Maude was a devoted wife and mother and a great cook. Growing up, I remember homemade ravioli spread out on beds when we would go to her house for holiday dinners. Her sausage stuffing was my dad’s favorite. She loved to sit at the kitchen or dining room table surrounded by family and tell stories. And most of all, she loved to laugh.


Mackinac Island, MI: Maude (middle) with Alex and his cousin, date unknown

At 4:00 P.M., they serve tea and cake and dance and generally keep things humming so that there are few dull moments. There was a beautiful sunset on the ocean and I took a movie of it hoping it will come out so I may show it to you when I return.

Regards to all. Love to you, the boys, my little girl, and Ruth and Pa.  

Love, Al

To be continued.


For more information on the Naval buildings, click on the link. http://www.history.navy.mil/library/online/main_navy_bldg.htm

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