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!)

mercoledì 7 settembre 2011


 After Venice and Florence you would expect Rome.. we went to Sardinia already, where you can find the best sea, then to Abruzzo where the most amazing Appennines are waiting (so to speak..) to be explored. Here we are now in the valleys that face to the Alps, in the city of Brescia, Lombardia region.
 Yeah right Lombardia is where George Clooney has the villa (in Como, north of Milan), the place of Caravaggio (from the town of Caravaggio.. his real name is Michelangelo Merisi). Now this said, Lombardia is the most crowded, by far richest region of Italy. Does that explain why you will never know enough about Lombardia? It's huge, big variety, ranging from small scale jewel Mantova (town of Virgil.. the poet) to Bergamo or Milan, town of mr Berlusconi.. argh.
 Anyway, Brescia is often misunderstood and underestimated, as it was a very very important roman city, in fact the biggest roman city in northern Italy. However, Brescia is famous in italian proverb-size culture as "La Leonessa", the female lion, for its stern pride in battle, especially in the sake of uniting Italy 150 years ago against the Austrians, which dominated this part of Italy (Lombardia, Veneto, Trentino Alto Adige and Friuli Venezia Giulia).
 Brescia is home to some of the richest, most notable families in Italy, and despite being a small city of only about 200.000 inhabitants is home to one of the biggest, longest present immigrant communities (33.000 residents in the city). The province of Brescia alone counts as much as almost 2 million people, which is more than the whole population of Marche. Anyway, it's a much more important place than it seems to the eye of a tourist (even an italian tourist).
 Mille Miglia race starts from Brescia, famous italian writer Aldo Busi (one of the few openly gay successfull intellectuals in Italy) and host to some year long amazing exhibition like last year's Museo Santa Giulia's exhibit dedicated to the Inca. Also, Brescia is famous for pope Paolo VI and for its mundane liberal catholic milieu. It's a place to buy shoes and eat nice food, enjoy the prettiness and then head on to the next step with a full belly and a nice smile on your face. Brescia, the lioness of Lombardia.
 Brescia and Bergamo, which are known to literally "detest" each other in typical italian style (all neighbours complain about each other no?) were both taken under domination of Venice in the 15th century, but in the long run I guess it did help to make them a bit more romantic and renaissance style. Anyway, Brescia is not the most amazing place you will ever see, but it's definitely not the industrial city some will portray. Try to ask them: "But have you ever been to Brescia anyway? Did you know it was the biggest roman colony in the north?" And you will receive as many "no" as your questions about Brescia. Few people know Brescia, those who do, like it.

lunedì 5 settembre 2011


 Ok, I have to say I have some issues with Tuscany: obviously, as you will guess, I hate the fact that all tourists passing by Italy always follow the same route (Venice, Florence, Rome) without giving much importance to the rest.
 So basically whatever Florence does (or sells) it's always successful, because hey, it's Florence, the land of the Renaissance and Medici. That's how this ancient "erboristeria" manages to keep its shop intact after 500 years. Thanks to the tourists which have been pouring gold into the city for so long.
Anyway, it's true, Florence is Florence and, alas, there is no one like Florence. Michelangelo, but also Machiavelli, Dante and Brunelleschi made it so that it will be immortal as long as the world continues. By the way, I was born in Florence so don't you think I'm just jealous because I don't live there myself.
 Italian language was born in Florence, they say, it's not quite true, but it indeed shows how Florence has managed to be the cultural capital of Italy while Rome was still under the Vatican rule (some say it still is..). Florence was the place where foreigners arrived before reaching south.
 The road from France to the Borbonic Kingdom (Naples being its capital), also known as "via francigena" was the main path for intellectuals since (and before) Saint Thomas' times. The reason why Florence is so famous then actually lies in its strategical position between so many important centres such Pisa, Bologna, but also its proximity to Rome, even Liguria or the central Appennines. However, it's not as easy to move there as moving to Calascio (see previous posts), because you will certainly be not the only one..
 Did I manage to convince you it's best to skip Florence as your destination?? Ahah, too bad, because you'd really be missing something. For example this view from Piazzale Michelangelo, at the very top of town. Hills and countryside surrounds the city with the most charming narrow streets reaching out into the woods. So yes, Florence is always worth visiting, even though I would recommend doing so in early autumn or spring, because otherwise it's really too crowded.

venerdì 2 settembre 2011


 Honestly, sometimes escaping is not enough. Especially if you like swimming. And if you like swimming, there is no other place for you but Sardinia. Put it into account, sometime you will have to go, because truly you won't find a paradise like this anywhere else in the Mediterranean.

 This said, these pictures were taken within 5 km's of Golfo Aranci, which is on the north part of the island. Sardinia is huge and a whole album of pictures wouldn't give it justice. First of all: this island has ruins dating back as old as 6000 years ago. Why? Because there are no earthquakes here. You leave a rock in one position, and it will stay like that for centuries at least. Try and let me know. Look up for "Nuraghe" and you'll see what I'm talking about.

 Second: they always say Sardinians don't know how to fish, and they're not really sea people, as they were originally mountaineers. True, but this place you see here is fairly different. Golfo Aranci in fact is inhabited since less than a century, and it was founded by coral fishermen who came here from the island of Ponza, in "Continental Italy". Yes, you heard well, Sardinians call Italians "Continentals".

 The smell in the air, the amazing landscapes, the simple life, the mountains and the sea make Sardinia one of the places I love the most. You literally have everything: history, nature, civilization (not so much of that one.. at least the recent one) and a flight to go anywhere in Europe in one hour.
 So, that's where we're going next week, because Sardinia in september is still much warmer than France in July =) and there will be no tourists left..

Last thing: no, Golfo Aranci is not Golfo degli Aranci, and no, there is no orange tree here. It seems the name "aranci" comes from a particular kind of seaweeds in the area. But don't get afraid, even seaweeds look great in Sardinia.