giovedì 25 luglio 2013

MJP 2.0: Napoli Take 2: Grace Through Grime?

MJP 2.0: Napoli Take 2: Grace Through Grime?: It's as gritty, grimy, and greasy as they say.  It makes Roma look as elegant as the most beautiful parts of Paris or Vienna.  I can see...

mercoledì 16 novembre 2011


Welcome to Torino, land of statistics and records:
first capital of Italy - biggest Egyptian museum outside of Egypt - tallest brick building in Europe (the Mole Antonelliana) - first Italian capital of cinema, fashion and many other things. Just ask a person from Torino and you will see how many more of these stats they can list. Some funny ones are: the biggest square in Italy without a monument (last picture) and the biggest roofless market in Europe. I think these alone are enough to arouse your curiosity about Torino, also known as Turin, as it's called both by its most traditional inhabitants and by foreigners like the guy just below.

So, the Mole, which you see here below, was meant to be a synagogue but then Antonelli, the architect, kept making it higher and higher until it became too expensive and the Jewish community abandoned the project. Imagine that on top of the very top there was even a 7 mt long angel, which fell down several years ago, with posthumous disappointment by Antonelli (who was indeed a strange fellow). Now the Mole hosts a very contemporary, and very visited, Museum of Cinema. If you go to Torino, also consider going to the nearby Cinema Massimo, which features non dubbed movies of the greatest quality.

Torino is the city of baroque, bourgeoisie, business (not as much as in Milan but don't remind Turin people of this) and.. drums rolling.. Italy. Italy was "invented" under these alleys, as noblemen, literary people, politicians and a king (of the Savoy family) decided to embark on the strange adventure of uniting the peninsula. In Torino you can find lots of information about this and also a very interesting, recently renewed Museum of Risorgimento, as that era is called.

Good place for a tram ride, or maybe just stopping at some garden, bike and watch the fountains go up and down. Torino is a very entertaining city, far from the metropolitan vibe of Milan or Rome, but rather an elegant, outgoing yet formal town. I was there for 5 years to study, so I know what I'm talking about right?

I have been sitting on these benches long enough, though, so I decided to leave and I was quite happy of doing so. However, what I miss most of Torino is crossing the square below on the way to the hills, across the river and up in the green, among villas, moroccan drug dealers and couples strolling through. Definitely an elite town seen from the perspective of a tourist, but quite a mess once you get in it. So now, I don't know what you're in for most.

domenica 2 ottobre 2011


I bet all visitors in La Verna sometime will go back there. It happened to me longtime ago, after I went there for the first time with a high school trip. I was maybe 14 and I didnt care about traveling.. yes, it did happen! Later on during summer vacation, my mother, as she had relatives in the area and wanted to go visit, asked me if I would join the trip. I was really, really difficult to convince, but in the end I accepted. Oh mamma mia! Anyway, during our stay in Arezzo with the relatives, we found the time for a day out in La Verna, a place that was given to San Francesco by a local nobleman, where a monastery was built in the middle of woods.

The picture above maybe will not tell you so much, but if you notice that little person there, you will see also a door. If you open that door, I bet you will be speechless, with tears on your eyes, both for the beauty of the place, and for the sudden surprise of finding the forest upon opening the door.

I am sure not everybody in here is religious, let alone catholic. Myself I cannot consider possible the idea that man was unsaveable before the arrival of Jesus Christ. This said, the example of San Francesco who, some 800 years ago gave up everything to lead a poor life with his fellow humans and animals.. and the fact that San Francesco was indeed one of the very first writing, and very finely, in italian, well San Francesco for me is a must. Thanks maybe to the lack of gossip and informal records about so long ago, I have no reason to doubt even for a second the greatness of this man, who really sang a hymn to life and truth all his life. So whoever you are, whatever you believe or dont believe in, dont come tell me that La Verna didnt move you.

So, La Verna is spectacular but its not just the monastery, but the whole area itself. Near Emilia Romagna, Marche and bordering with Umbria, La Verna is definitely not the typical tuscan location, but more like the typical wonderworld that the Appennines provide us with all around Italy. You have to know that the Appennine mountains go from as north as Liguria all the way down to Calabria, so we can say that the spine of Italy is made of rocks, woods and grass which divides east and west, the warm Tirrenium in front of the Mediterranean and the cooler Adriatic facing the Balkans. The Appennines divide Italy, yet everywhere you will go in the Appennines, you will always find a particular atmosphere common to all of Italy.

Obviously, the right time to go there is in the middle seasons, especially spring. But many people go to La Verna in summer time to escape the heat of cities. Personally, I prefer less crowded months such as april, may, june or september. A good suggestion would be going when your favorite crop is growing.. its all about colors when nature is concerned, and the predominant one in winter time is white as the snow, so its probably not the best time to drive around these places. So, do visit when colors are sparkling. 

Like I said, La Verna itself is a religious location, so for a convinced, hardcore atheist it might be a good location for a long discussion about the existence_non existence of the divine etc. Funny enough, this area is very popular among bikers, who love the breath taking roads with endless curves and valleys opening up the view. I guess bikers also like the place because of their heavy clothing which makes summer unbearable.. not enough of a reason to become christian tho, I guess..

sabato 24 settembre 2011



So, finally.. ECCE ROMA! Here we are in the Capital, Roma "caput mundi", meaning the "head", the "centre" of the world. After the Egyptians and the long lasting Greeks, who by the way also colonised Italy first, a new people is born, the Romans.

Some say, especially this 150th anniversary of Italy, that Italy was never quite created, however everybody knows that if Italy does exist then its capital is certainly Rome. From the Empire to the Dolce Vita, Rome has been the ultimate red carpet for all ruling classes and for ever growing numbers of so called "normal people".

Funny enough, a "normal person" in Rome will still know more than any counterpart in other places of Italy. Not just the names of the Popes (the Vatican is veeery near), but also all the political intrigues, complots and conspiracies which have been at the heart of Rome and therefore of Italy.

Certainly politics has never been an easy matter, and even in Roman times some crazy characters have indeed made the history through their bizarre acts, like Caligula or Nero. However, with the Empire only a memory in ruins and storybooks, Rome has survived its reputation simply by adhering to it. I mean, imperial Rome is still Rome today. Only, it's been surrounded, not by the barbarians this time, but by local rural people and immigrants from anywhere in Italy, and say, the world.

Despite being an ex-imperial city though, Rome is still somewhat of a provincial town, with its dialect and traditions, except for one detail: the Catholic Church. As the longest serving institution in the world, the Church has dominated these lands for centuries with its Vatican State including Rome and most of central Italy, ending in 1870 with the "Breccia of Porta Pia".

It's not exactly fair to skip Rome and only talk about the Vatican, but it is indeed the biggest peculiarity of Rome, which is the only city in the world hosting two embassies for each country, as two countries are in the same city: Italy, and the absolute monarchy aka Roman Catholic Church. This means we will have two foreign ambassadors in Rome for the same country, as one will be representing his country in Italy, and the other in the Vatican.

Now, there's not enough land in today's Vatican state to actually represent their power - which I personally believe to be much higher than that of Italy - but if you think you're going to Rome but skipping the Vatican Museums you must be crazy.

This said, there is so much more to see in Rome than what tourists actually see, as the proverb goes "One lifettime is not enough to see all the churches of Rome", and that accounts also for the squares, statues, botteghe, restaurants or pickpocketers. Also, one another thing which you will find in great abundance in Italy is the so-called "auto blu", a car especially designed for politicians and other high serving officials, which seem not to have money to buy their own cars. Anyway, Rome, with all its despisable privileges and political intrigues is what I call a city worth visiting 100 times at least.

One last thing: when you go to Campo de' Fiori, which everybody will suggest you as the ultimate place for the night movida (sic!) please do remember that statue in the middle of the square is dedicated to the amazing thinker Giordano Bruno, who was killed precisely there in 1600 by the very same Catholic Church I was mentioning before. As we say in Italian: "Il diavolo fa le pentole, ma non i coperchi", "the devil makes the pots but not the covers". Now, when you understand this proverb you will definitely feel more italian.

martedì 20 settembre 2011


 Ok, we're approaching autumn and I thought of one of the most unlucky places in Italy: Molise. Famous for the massive migration, the pasta (no wonder) and as the birth place of political figure Antonio Di Pietro, who has been asking pretty much everyday in the last 3 years for Berlusconi to quit his role as prime minister. This said, Molise is one of the most isolated, marginalised areas of Italy.
 It's very unlikely you will even have a chance to go to this town, which is named Pietracatella. I happen to know it just because I have some relatives there. Basically Molise is made of mountains, and the towns are either in the valley, like Molise's capital Campobasso ("Kamp bash", as said in the local dialect) or on the moutains. Meaning: more isolation in an already isolated region. All the old houses of the so-called "nobles" though are still there untouched, as Pietracatella has known little war to destroy it, little tourism to restore it. It's there, like many other towns in Italy (outside of Tuscany), abandoned to itself but with a certain charme due to its sporadic history. In fact, I think the charme of towns like this is their being in between a "favela" and a small (unknown) medieval kingdom.
 The most interesting fact to think about when it comes to southern Italy, is the fact that most of it wasn't Italy until the unification in the second half of the 19th century. Borbonic kingdom, local noble families turned into rural dynasties, and cyclical migrations are just as home in Pietracatella as in many other southern places. The buildings are gray'ing, the cement based restoring of the '60s led the way to a mix between past and present, in a typical italian fashion: never build a new idea, always fix the old one.
 Like this, tradition is the richness of this and other places where you can find an unfinished wall forever to stay that way. On the other hand, folklore does manifest itself in particular moments, like Christmas, or weddings, where the locals strive to give the best party ever. All the local youths are involved in music, dance and the fiesta which has been the trait d'union between greek and roman and so on..
 Anyway, it would be unfair to say that Molise has nothing to offer except for melancholia and Sturm und Drang, but this don't seem so bad if you come to think of it. If you go to Molise it's very likely you can be the only tourist in town for the last months, years, even decades, and in some cases, centuries. If you add to this that Molise is on the way to Campania across the Appennines from the Adriatic side to the Tirrenium, then yes, you might find interesting to think of actually exploring a bit Molise.
One thing you should remember is that regions are a relatively new "invention" in Italy, as they were created only in 1971. Which for Italy, it goes without saying, is pretty much more than contemporary, postmodernist. Anyway, the real area which you might be interested to think about is "Il Sannio", which actually includes parts of neighbouring Campania, especially the province of Benevento (where my parents come from, by the way). So I might be partial, and I surely am, but the "Sanniti" people did leave some pretty cool legends, ruins, and.. facial features. However, farmers in Molise and most of Sannio are a bit suspicious of cameras (at least the modern ones) so I had to settle for a picture of the ennnormous windmills in the area. Enjoy..
If you really liked the windmills and feel like some more Sturm und Drang, don't forget to waste your time with this atopic (unlikely) video below:

venerdì 16 settembre 2011


It doesn't happen everywhere to go to the beach at the end of October. Yet, I suppose that's why Italy is so amazing. As in continental Italy you get prepared to receive snow and endless rain for a couple of months, Sicily welcomes you off season with its most precious hospitality.

I actually started this blog writing about San Vito lo Capo and the Cous Cous house of Enzo Battaglia, great chef and storyteller of fishing traditions. However, I think I should add something in english for those of you who might be on the way to Sicily and have no idea of what kind of paradise San Vito lo Capo is.

 Less than half an hour away from Trapani and not so far from the regional capital Palermo, San Vito lo Capo to me appeared as a small version of Rio de Janeiro (ok, very very small!) due to its wonderful Peak ('morro' in portuguese) just in front of the sea. Also, one thing that amazed me is the proximity to green areas with virtually no trash - that's not so common in southern Italy I'm afraid.

 The view from the top woods is really something worth trying, especially off season. We went in late october, when you would find a crappy weather basically anywhere in Italy except for here and few other places.

 But yes, let's face it, the real "must" in San Vito lo Capo is cous cous, which we tried once and fell in love with forever. Honestly, in many years traveling around Italy I don't think I've ever tasted something quite as delicious. Obviously, the cous cous has to be made by hand and served with fresh fish and local vegetables. It's an art that shouldn't be mistaken with pre-cooked cous cous of sorts.
 San Vito is also home to a very reknowned Cous Cous Festival which attracts several thousands people, so I guess if you like it crowded that's the time for you, but I'm afraid no festival can beat Enzo's home made dishes.

 Anyway, once you're done stuffing your belly with this rare, amazing delicacy, you'd better burn some calories by exploring the surrounding areas, especially on the way to the unique Riserva dello Zingaro. Inhabited since Neolithic times, this natural park will provide for more surprising sights and sighs. Enough to make you hungry again as you run back to San Vito.

Hey, it's quite a few km's from San Vito to the Riserva, but I think if you're good biking it wouldn't take more than one hour, otherwise just rent a car downtown in San Vito (and also avoid the most touristic restaurants, if I may.. stick to Enzo's casa del Cous Cous, and tell him we sent you there.. that's the way to do it in Sicily!)