A Handmaidens Tale at Mantua


Mantua, Piazza Erbe
How could I go past seeing Margaret Atwood at the Mantua Literary Festival? She was such a drawcard that I booked her event early and lucky I did as on the day there were no extra tickets available. It had been a few years since I had been back to the Festival although each year I was tempted as the list of writers from all over the world is exciting and Mantua is a such a picturesque Renaissance city, with fluted merlins on many of its historic Palaces. Besides it’s so lovely just to wander or bike as the locals do under the warm sunshine as Summer comes to an end.

As the Organisation  says: “The Festival plays host to world-famous writers and poets, some of the most interesting voices from emerging literatures, essayists, musicians, artists and scientists who foster a more complex and unusual notion of literature that includes unconventional literary domains and languages.” The choice of events was awesome – Margaret Atwood, Elif Shafak, Joshua Cohen, Nadeem Aslam, Ali Smith, Valeria Luiselli  together with economists and political writers like – Domenico Quirico,  Felwine Starr from Senegal, Gilles Kepel,  Mariana Mazzucato, Amin Maalouf and Donald Sassoon. Only some of whom I managed to see.

I bounced between meetings on the European Union  Crisis,  Civil wars and Immigration, Economic Alternatives to the current Inequality and how to put value before profit, Words we use and abuse, Post Colonialism and the new developments in Africa, Antidotes to our current Dilemmas and more. It was easy to become totally engrossed in arguments, enlightened by some positive prospects, challenged by the global issues knowing we are all in the same boat….if only we all paddled in the same direction.

Margaret AtwoodMargaret Atwood rather than discuss her new book talked mostly of how relevant ‘The Handmaidens’ Tale’ relates to today, the regression we have seen in women’s rights, the challenge we face to restore what we have lost and move forward. To her delight the audience greeted her wearing handmaiden’s caps which the organisation had supplied and which we clumsily put together and clung on to on her entrance. Margaret Atwood haindmaiden audienceAnd at the end of the event a flash mob of ‘handmaidens’ appeared with placards regarding female homicides and women’s rights as ‘Everything is political when you’re a woman‘ and the queue for signing her book wound right around the courtyard.

In between events the piazzas overflowed with book stands, poetry readings, quiet courtyards to relax in and shady parks for time out. An open air ‘free’ event caught my attention as the audience was spellbound, like babes listening to a fairytale, as Antonello Vanoli recounted a sentimental voyage on the roads that made our history – the Nile, the Mediterranean, the Silk Road, the Orient Express to Route 66. An hour’s journey through the centuries with this fascinating storyteller. We were all on board and loving it!

This year I had a bike on loan which was especially handy since I stayed across the causeway and discovered the most beautiful bike path that cruised alongside the lake.

A delightful start to every day

The Historic centre is charming with its majestic buildings, beautiful parks and courtyards and an impressive Cathedral and of an evening the place glowed and flowed with wine and aperitif spritzs!

Mantua Liteary Festival

 

The Mantua Literary festival is truly a magic experience. The only drawback maybe – How do the locals manage to walk on the pavement stones every day…..even in heels??Mantua Pavement

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Basta Pasta for a quick meal


Fresh pastaItalian pasta – thinking of what to cook for dinner, I had a craving for spaghetti! It crossed my mind how Italian I have become, as being an avid pasta eater my stomach was being selective about which pasta it was to be tonight.

Amazing how much there is to learn about such a simple fast food product, and I am certainly not an expert…..but love the stuff! I have my favorites and my special combo’s, trying to be faithful to the subtle rules about which pasta goes best with which sauce.  ie. short pasta with ridges holds the sauce better, smooth pasta is ideal for seafood sauces as the sauce wraps around it and concave, shell types hold nice chunkier sauces be it vegetable, meat or seafood.

Fresh, dry or filled pasta are a mainstay of an Italian diet, and please don’t blame the pasta if you are putting on weight, it’s more likely to be the sauce, if the volume of pasta is not overabundant. (The general principle suggests 80-100gm per person)

It was already in existence in Ancient Greek and Etruscan civilizations and first historical references to it are made by an Arab geographer in 1154 writing about “food of flour in the form of threads” he found in Sicily, well before Marco Polo returned from China (1294) with the Chinese version!

The Arabs initiated the treatment of drying the pasta, since their Nomad style of life did not allow for constant water supplies so they pierced the small dough cylinders in the middle to allow for rapid drying.

Later in Italy, the dry and windy climate of Liguria, Sicily and Campania favored the production of pasta, which for centuries was left to dry by simple exposure to air. And each region developed it’s own special pasta shapes best suited to the region’s food specialities, culture and traditions.Typical Tuscan pasta - Pici

Pici – large hand rolled spaghetti typical in Siena and Southern Tuscany. Commonly served ‘cacio e pepe’ – pecorino cheese and pepper  or ‘all’aglione’ – garlic tomato sauce.

Casarecce – short twisted rolls from Sicily that go well with Sicilian pesto, meat sauces or ‘alla Norma’ with eggplant, tomato and ricotta

Orecchiette PuglieseOrecchiette – concave little ears from Puglia and the Basilicata. Typically served with turnip tops ‘cime di rape’

Bucatini – big thick hollow spaghetti typical in the  Central regions of  Lazio, Umbria, and Le Marche. ‘All’ Amatriciana’ is tomato sauce with a touch of hot pepper, and made in abundance as the fund raising dish for the earthquake victims of 2016  in Amatrice, Norcia, Cascia and surrounding areas.

Strozzapreti  typical in Emilia Romagna or known as Strangozzi in Umbria translates as ‘choke or strangle priests’!? As legends go ‘strozzapreti’ were prepared by housewives mainly as a gift for the village priest. They did it for their husbands of anti-clerical beliefs, who hoped the priest would choke themselves! A sweeter legend  says the pasta owes its name to its form, so particular, that it could strangle even the clergy, notorious for their over indulgences at the table!

Artisan dry pastaThese are only some of the lesser known shapes as most of the pasta sold is either, spaghetti, penne, fusilli or rigatoni. Whatever the shape, (I hear they are customizing and producing designer shape pasta with 3D printers now!) it is the major product associated with Italy, together with pizza.

More than half of the production is exported and has grown significantly – 1914 70,000 tons were exported mostly to USA, and figures in 2018 show export reaching 1.9m tons. Bear in mind that not all of that pasta is produced with Italian flour and if you check the label you will find a mix of Australian, Canadian, USA and some EU wheat in most pastas. They say the quality of imported wheat is higher than the Italian one and for this reason costs more. But if you want to support the Italian economy you can choose labels like Agnese or Voiello as they are using 100% Italian flour.

For what I had intended as a light blog on pasta has highlighted more information than I can account for here as I haven’t even touched on the fresh pastas, and the regional differences of the filled pastas. Next time….

Just remember to boil the water well, before you drop in the pasta and cook it till it is ‘al dente’ as that makes it easier to digest, apart from tasting better! And please no spoon and fork to eat those spaghetti strands, cover yourself well with a napkin and eat it with a fork only. It takes practice and be reassured that even the best of us spaghetti eaters rarely gets away without a flick or two on that special tie or dress!Tourist pasta

And please try to avoid buying the multi colored tourist pastas!

Buon appetito!

 

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Wine tourism in Victoria

Baileys wineryIt’s always such a delight for me to visit the various wineries on my travels around Victoria, from those along the Mornington peninsula like Red Hill Estate, Wolseley winery near Torquay, Gapsted wines on our way home from Falls Creek and Seppelt at the end of our Silo tour. I admit I am not a great wine connoisseur, as I only drink bubbles or white wine yet adore the lay back atmosphere over a light food platter or even get my dancing shoes when there’s music. Wine tourism is the norm at most Australian wineries, offering tastings, cellar tours, delicious lunches and special cultural events. In Italy unfortunately this is not the case, and only the big,important wineries offer such attractions and others by appointment only. So I was ready to take up every opportunity on my travels around. These are just a few examples.

On the way to Falls Creek we ventured into Ned Kelly territory at Glenrowan to stop for lunch at a little family run winery known as Baileys. While specialising in fortified wines, they still had a great selection of light refreshing white and red wines to compliment great dips, cheeses and pizza, in a pretty courtyard garden  setting with a view across the vineyards.

On the way back from Falls Creek we travelled through the old Tobacco growing area with the curing kilns still dotting the countryside, but in disuse as wine production has now taken over. Since I live not from a tobacco growing area on the Tuscan/Umbrian border I was interested in learning of its historical development here in the Wangaratta King Valley area.tobacco kilns

Production began in the 1850’s by Chinese, Americans and Europeans lured to the area by the Gold Rush. In 1917 the introduction of the ‘modern’ kiln for curing the tobacco leaf in an enclosed structure contributed significantly to the boom of tobacco production. Soon after the Italians arrived in the area and by the 1960’s were the major growers – 793 of 1025 growers. Various dramatic climatic conditions – heavy frosts and floods seriously decreased production over the years and it eventually it became too expensive in comparison to other producers like Brazil, China, India and East Africa.
Wineries began to take shape in the area in the 1980’s and ‘90’s as the area was recognized for its ideal cool climate, high rainfall, abundant fresh clean water and ‘buffalo breeze’ that provides natures air conditioning in the hot Summer months.

Gapsted winery entrance1996 Gapsted winery was founded by 7 families, two of whom are Italian, producing aromatic white wines, elegant, complex reds and lovely sparkling wines….how could I go past their Tobacco Road prosecco!? Gapste Tobacco Road prosecco

The winery is very enticing both inside and out, offering special events with live music, theatre and even guest chef appearance of Italian Stefano Manfredi. You just can’t get away from Italians!
We were there at the Big Shed sale and I can only say I have never seen a Shed so HUGE and bulging at the seams with wine bargains. The parking area expects sophisticated clients as they have two Tesla charging connectors!?Gapsted winery

Instead on our return from the silo visit we explored the historic winery of Seppelt. We have all grown up with, and am sure celebrated special occasions with many a bottle of Seppelt Great Western. On our tour of this historic winery we were almost shocked to discover it is no longer producing, having changed management and mergers, although our guide was hopeful about its return to production on site in the near future.

The Great Western winery was founded by Joseph Best in 1865. He commissioned local gold miners to tunnel the underground cellars that became known as ‘The Drives’ (over 3 kms, making them the longest in the Southern hemisphere). The winery was later purchased by Ballarat businessman Hans Irvine, who began the tradition of Seppelt Sparkling wines in 1890 when he employed Frenchman Charles Pierlot from Champagne to commence Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in Australia, that became legendary.”

Above ground boasts manicured gardens and historic Cottages, including the original cottage of founder John Best, all currently available to rent. Our guide was passionate about the winery, having worked there for over 40 years, and the tour full of fascinating information as well as many anecdotal stories.

Back closer to Melbourne, Wolseley winery near Torquay is always a favourite for me, as Will, the owner, organises live music on Sunday afternoons through the Spring/Summer months. A mix of rockabilly, jazz, blues and foot tapping stuff. Very lay back and no sophistication in front of the tin shed housing the band, yet good pizza and wine flows all afternoon. Check the website to get a feel of the ambience.

And while visiting friends on the Mornington peninsula, there is an embarrassing number of wineries in the Red Hill area that need little presentation. We were driving on one of those scorching hot days where even I dreamed of air conditioning in a beautiful setting. How could we go past the view of the bay at the Red Hill Estate winery, exquisite food and delicious wines.Red Hill Estate

Wine tourism is a great way to see the Australian countryside as well as pass some very relaxing hours over a glass or two. I miss the good life that Australia has to offer but know I will be back to explore new Decor Red Hillwineries and new places next time.                    In the meantime I will drown my sorrows with a lustrous spritz and/or bubbly prosecco as I pour over my thousand photos!

 

 

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The Silent tales on silos

Silos in VicWhile I am back to the cold Winter of Italy now, and welcomed back with a dose of flu, my memories of a superb Aussie trip remain vivid. I have been submersed in the endless Australian outback for most of January; experiencing its wildness, drooping under its heat, forever stimulated by its quirky elements, blown away by its beauty and entranced by the monotonous countryside that make it so typically “Aussie”.

Having read about the relatively new development of painted silos we were on a mission to explore these unique artistic sites along the Art Silo trail. We drove more than four hours from Melbourne through miles and miles of dry wheat lands, dotted sparsely with gum trees that offered little shade to the occasional herds of sheep seeking shelter from the harsh sun. We had come all this way, lured by the tales of the  wheat silos now boasting magnificent murales spread over 200 kms in 6 locations by 6 different artists. We were on the lookout for silos looming 30m tall mostly built around the 1930’s and now no longer used for storage for transport by rail. Lured also by such fanciful Aussie place names with Aboriginal heritage like Patchewollock,  – ‘putje’ meaning plenty and ‘wallah‘ meaning porcupine grass, Rupanyup meaning ‘branch hanging over water’, Brim signifying ‘spring of water’Patchewollock General Store

Patchewollock was to be the start of our Silo trail and having seen the relative remoteness of the town and its limited services we opted for the charm of an old weatherboard church converted into a B&B at the nearby town of Sea Lake – probably taking its name from the salty Lake Tyrrell, a desolate mirage of a Lake!

Patchewollock Art SiloOur first silo was painted by a Brisbane artist Fintan Magee in Oct 2016 and depicted a local farmer ‘Noodle Hulland‘ seemingly chosen for his slim build appropriate to the narrow silo and with such a classic farmer look. The striking blue of his shirt and jeans sitting so comfortably against the crystal blue sky.Preparation Patchewollock

 

 

 

 

Our next meeting with local characters – Geoff and Merrilyn Horman, was at Lascelles silo. The faces of the couple appear like enormous photographs, homage to a proud couple whose families have farmed the area for four generations. Painted by Melbourne artist Rone.

While these grain silos are now closed, in the past they were a place for the farming communities to come together during harvest, exchange news and stories and re-connect with old friends while the grain was loaded. Strengthening community ties just like Italians do at grape or olive harvests. To now see these people captured for real for all the world to see, must be a point of enormous pride, a great tribute to the farming community.

Rosebery SiloAnd we were still only at the beginning, our next Silo was at Rosebery by artist Kaff-eine. Highlighting the young female sheep farmers now so much a part of the local farming scene alongside the more traditional stockman image. Look closely and you will see me  propped between the silos to give an idea of the scale of these monsters. The video clip below shows the small community of Rosebery and what this Wimmera Mallee region is all about.

 

 

Moving on to Brim where the whole movement began in 2016 with the first mural by Guido Van Helten. A quartet of multi generational male and female farmers.Brim Silo

As the blazing sunshine  and cloudless sky continued we ventured on to the Sheep Hills silo depicting Aboriginals from the Barengi Gadjin Land Council, painted by local Mebourne artist Adnate.

And finally our last Silo at Rupanyup painted by Russian artist Julia Volchkova. This time featuring two local teenagers dressed in their sports gear – Ebony Baker and Jordan Weidmann. They will certainly have something to show their children when they grow up!

In between these Silos we found many still waiting on their murals, so there are sure to be more in the future as well as across the other States which have already taken on Mallee Fowl sculpturesboard the same idea. The experience for us has been  awesome and a real eye opener on life in this wheat farming area, where hearts and souls are as big and hard working as the Silos themselves. And it’s not only the Silos that are enormous, even the Mallee fowl get pretty huge!

It’s time for us to drive into our evening stay at the Horsham caravan park to relax after the gruelling heat of the day.The sunset over the river a perfect end to a superb day on the Art Silo Trail.


Silo map with Sea Lake


 

 

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Happy Festive Season

Christmas lights FlorenceHow time flies, it’s almost Christmas again!

May this festive season sparkle and shine, may your wishes come true, and may the joy of it all continue throughout 2019. Merry Christmas from Florence …..which has been sparkling already for the past few weeks and delighting us as we wander amongst the Christmas lights and festive shop windows.

I think Via Tornabuoni, filled with designer shops takes the cake for its Xmas lights; long delicate strands interlaced with baubles creating a fairly like scene which the photos hardly do justice.

 

And while I dislike the cold, a freezing -4 degrees this morning….brrrr, I love the Christmas atmosphere, time for hot chocolates, Xmas bootspanettone or my favorite – pandoro, lightly dusted with icing sugar.

And who could go past these Xmas boots?!

Or refuse an aperitif immersed inside this Xmas lit café?Florence Xmas lights

 

 

 

I will be back in Oz for the Summer, catching up with family and friends, and  finding some good Aussie stories to blog about next year.

Xmas David

So thank you all for following my blog and enjoy yourselves!

Buon Natale e Felice Anno Nuovo!

 

 

 

 

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It goes without saying-Italian proverbs

It goes without saying that Italians are creative and very expressive, and over the years I have delighted in the various ‘sayings’ and proverbs that are still commonly used in the language. Also in translating some common English proverbs found the references used quite different. After all “a proverb is a short pithy saying that expresses a traditionally held truth or piece of advice, based on common sense or experience” (www.phrases.org.uk)*

wet bride‘Una sposa bagnata, una sposa fortunata’ – ‘A wet bride is a lucky bride’, is the first thing that springs to mind when any friend is to marry and the weather forecast predicts rain. It sounds like a comforting thought for what could be a disaster on the day, although it does relate to the old farming culture – rain guarantees abundance, and hence the wish for fertility to the wet bride.

Italians always have a comforting word for other small disasters – like when hit by a pigeon plop they say that’s lucky too. Which is reassuring when you are trying to clean the mess off a jacket or out of your hair! Since the tales of Boccacio’s ‘The Decameron’ Italians have known how to get out of tricky situations with creative flair and more often than not a cheeky smile.

Montalcino wineryAnd then there are the constant references to Italian staples – Bread and WineYou can’t have your cake and eat it too in Italian is translated to You can’t have the wine barrel full and your wife drunk! “Non si può avere la botte piena e la moglie ubriaca“!

“Nella botte piccola c’è il vino buono” – Translated reads as good wine comes from the small barrel – Good things come in small packages.

Il vino rende lieti e fa svelare i segreti” – Wine makes you happy and likely to reveal hidden secrets. Or as a response to a revelation some ask if it came out over a glass of wine – “vino veritas” a Latin phrase meaning ‘in wine, is truth’

The classic English proverb ‘call a spade a spade’ in Italian translates as call bread as bread and wine as wine “di pane al pane e vino a vino“. Or another common one is “chi ha i denti non ha pane e chi ha pane non ha i denti“, those who have teeth don’t have bread and vice versa, meaning those who have the means but not the know-how.

Other translations clearly reflect the farming background when times were tough as Tuscan Countrysidenothing defines a culture as distinctly as its language and the element of language that best encapsulates a society’s values and beliefs is its proverbs.* A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush translates as It’s better to have an egg today than a chicken tomorrow  ” Meglio un uovo oggi che una gallina domani”                                              You can’t get blood out of a stone is interpreted in Italian as You can’t get blood out of a turnip, “Non si può cavar sangue da una rapa”

Another rather curious saying that I often use in response to Italians noting my Florentine accent in Italian – “chi va con lo zoppo impara a zoppicare” If you frequent one who limps you will learn to limp too, meaning you will pick up their good/bad habits. And I must say I am proud of my Anglo Florentine accent!

Andrea della Robbia Museum of InnocentsHowever while the expression probably relates to ancient crippling diseases no longer present, it brought to mind the old tradition during the times of the ‘mezzadro‘ or sharecropping farm system, of swaddling babies from the armpits down to straighten their legs and keep them safe in the house while the women went out to work the fields. Unfortunately a practice that left many Tuscans hobbling, as the practice used in the first 18months of their existence frequently distorted their hips.

On the other side Italians would never say ‘when in Rome do as the Romans do’, they are far too parochial, so instead say “paese che vai, usanza che trovi” meaning in ‘whichever place you go, do as the locals do’.

And are still traditional enough to follow the common expression of “A Natale con i tuoi, a Pasqua con chi vuoi”  – Christmas stay with family, at Easter go with whoever you like. Traditions die hard in Italy so if you have ever been invited to a traditional Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas lunch be prepared…….it will fill you up for days!.

Understandably many proverbs translate in the same way and have the same links to a pre industrialized time. And some appear to reflect more the current situation than to the past “chi ruba poco va in galera, chi ruba tanto fa carriera” Who steals a little goes to jail, who steals a lot makes a career!

Language is such a beautiful thing, solid in its persistence yet fluid in its adaption to change and a constant joy to bilinguals who flirt, flaunt, joke and stumble between the two…..eliciting great laughs along the way.

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Revolutija in Bologna

Exhibition 'RevolutijaA day in Bologna to see masterpieces never before exhibited outside of the Russian State Museum of St Petersburg on the centenary of the Russian revolution . Entitled Revolutija‘  – it relates those tumultuous days through the eyes of famous artists such as Kandinsky, Malevich, Chagall, and stars of the avant-garde….displaying the extraordinary modernity of the cultural movements of Russia at that time from Primitivism to Cubo-Futurism up to Suprematism, Expressionism and pure abstract art’ Wow!

We were just in time as the exhibition closed on the weekend, and was definitely not to be missed! Information boards recounted Russian history and important events leading up to the Revolutions of 1905 and 1917 and photographs, old film footage highlighted the harsh reality of the period. It was rich with atmosphere and drama, strengths and fragilities, joy and sadness. An overwhelming mix of superb works of art.

Such a plethora of information on the audio guide that I needed to circle the exhibition more than once to have time and head space to just savour the artworks and let them do their own talking as well as watch the old film screening. Political and social unrest Massacre at July Demonstration 1917with workers striking about their dismal conditions, peasants protesting about their miserable earnings, student unrest, and reactions against the Tsar and the repressive measures that occurred during demonstrations often ending in massacres. Disturbing and turbulent times indeed.

I instantly fell in love with Malevich, a new artist discovery for me, as I could not take my eyes of his beautiful symbolic geometric representations, intriguing secrets hidden in the abstractness, evoking compassion, making statements, strong and bold. But then I am passionate about futurist painters which Malevich was initially a part and later became the father of  ‘Suprematism – the belief that Suprematist art would be superior to all art of the past, and that it would lead to the supremacy of pure feeling or perception in the pictorial arts…. a search for the ‘zero degree’ of painting, the point beyond which the medium could not go without ceasing to be art.’  His famous paintings of bold black squares, circles or crosses on white became the symbol of his ‘zero degree’ art.

From strong and bold to the delicate and rather joyful depiction of Chagall in a self 'The Stroll' Marc Chagall 1917portrait with his wife Bella, and ‘the colourful even fun ‘On White’ by Wassily Kandinsky. 'On White' Kandinsky 1920

 

 

 

 

 

The exhibition ends with a celebration of the International Communist Party congress in 1920 alongside various artists work on the industrial period of the late 1920’s rendering tribute to the workers, ‘the heroes’, in the factories.

So much to take in and complemented by a comprehensive catalogue, that I could not resist, containing even more photos of the period and historic details of the harsh conditions and the creativeness of local artists, not always in line with the political regimes. So if I never get to Russia at least I have seen some of the splendid treasures they house at their State Museum.

Of course after feeding the intellect it was time to feed the stomach….and Bologna‘s famous tortellini spilled out of every corner alongside chunks of well matured Parmesan cheese. Tempting delicacies for everyone’s taste buds.Tortellini e Parmesan Bologna

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From under the Ashes of Pompeii

I have been lucky enough to visit Pompeii about 10 times and each time has fascinated me as much as my first visit, discovering something new every time. Buried under the ash erupting from Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD it provides us with amazing details of  Archaeological Museum Napleseveryday life and customs of the ancient world. Many of you may have been with me as we toured the massive Archaeological site with a guide. I regret now never having squeezed in a visit to the National Archaeological Museum of Naples as it has the most fabulous collection of Mosaics, Frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii and nearby Herculaneum. But then it’s not always possible to do everything on tours.

For those of you who have never been to Pompeii or to refresh your memory this video will walk you through this incredible Archaeological site – the Forum, Villas and bath houses. And to think there is at least a third of the city still to be excavated!

I spent a morning in the Archaeological Museum spellbound by the quantity and quality of the collection. Intricate mosaics discovered in the first excavation of Pompeii begun in 1749, a glorious mix of everyday life, exotic animals and theatrical scenes.

 

These are but a few that were on display together with an assortment of frescoes takenFrescoes Pompeii from various Villas in Pompeii, saved for eternity from deterioration on site. Cupids and ladies dancing to the seasons and many with the famous Pompeii red featuring as background to mythological figures. Entire rooms covered with elaborate frescoes demonstrating the wealth of the villa owners,  a true feast for the eyes.

And then special rooms dedicated to the erotic side of Pompeii where a school group was huddled embarrassed, giggling and quickly snapping a shot with their smartphones. I wondered if they had read why the phallic symbol was such a part of life then as ‘the male organ was regarded as a talisman of fecundity and prosperity which could also ward off evil influences’. So it was found everywhere; on walls, pavement stones, in front of shops and at home.

And for those families wealthy enough there was an entire range of tableware to keep Pompeii erotic tablewareguests entertained ‘providing an instance of the close association between eros and banqueting…..in crass burlesque spirit’ .

But these were not the only sassy artefacts on display as I came across my old game of  knuckles. Who could believe they were playing knuckles in the 1stC and I was still playing the same game in the 1960’s! (Not sure if it has turned into an App these days?!) And ancient dice and gladiators passes to enter the Arena. Unbelievable!

The sophistication of the articles on display was mindboggling considering their age. From the highly decorated kitchen utensils, jewellery boxes, modern alabaster and crystal vases to glass funerary urns dating between 3rd-5thC AD. It was stunningly overwhelming.

The elegance of the jewellery box with its bronze mirror, needle, silver jewellery gold plated, delicate bone comb and mermaid decorations….and the beauty of the cameo glass amphora with cupids grape harvesting left me speechless.

And to end the tour at Villa Papyri of Ancient Herculaneum where the owner could delight his guests lounging around the pool with a selection of glamorous statues.

And while this beautiful collection remains safely protected inside the Naples Archaeological Museum it is even more awesome to see what remains on site at Pompeii. The frescoes we found at the Villa of Mysteries in 2012 bowled us all over!

While my photos hardly do justice to the collection and cover a small portion of what is to be seen I can only suggest next time you are over to visit Pompeii, Herculaneum and the Naples Archaeological Museum.

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Colour, chaos, eclectic, eccentric Naples

On a surprise visit to Naples for only a couple of days I managed to squeeze in the essentials of the city and savour its chaotic atmosphere and its fabulous pizza. I guess pizza comes first to mind whenever Naples is mentioned, alongside Vesuvius and nearby Pompeii. All of which rate highly and in fact I will have to write a separate blog on the National Archeological of Naples that houses the most incredible collection of mosaics, frescoes and artefacts from Pompeii.

So on a wet night we ventured out early to find Sorbillo – the historic pizzeria in the centre of town. Early to grab the last table before a queue formed outside with lots of locals. The puffy Neapolitan style pizza was scrumptiously light and tasty. In fact Sorbillo had been the main instigator and successful in promoting the wood fire baked Neapolitan pizza to the Unesco list as an ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity’ in December 2017. Italy had argued that the practice was part of a unique cultural and gastronomic tradition and in respect of its Unesco Heritage listing, toppings considered unseemly like pineapple, minced beef and beans are ‘OUT’!

Naples centreThe streets were chaotic, colourful and electric. Being Italy’s third largest city with a population of over 3 million the mix is not surprising. It’s cosmopolitan history of Greek, French and Spanish conquerors has left a glorious heritage that hides amongst some areas of decay and squalor. But how could it not retain its exotic character when the legend says Naples was built where the Siren Parthenhope was washed ashore after being rejected by Ulysses!

Legend also envelopes the Castel dell’Ovo (Egg Castle) the oldest Castle in Naples that sits in the Bay of Naples keeping a watchful eye on Vesuvius. It is said Virgil the Latin poet who had super natural powers planted a magic egg inside the Castle, which as long as the egg remains intact the city will be protected from catastrophes……and the egg is still intact?!

Naples souvenirsLegends and superstition are part of life still and the typical red ‘Corno‘ charm against the ‘Evil eye’ hangs everywhere, together with the ever popular ‘Pulcinella’ a scallywag figure from the 16thC, in white trousers and blousy white Pulcinella statueshirt that covers his hump and a half mask that covers his ugly cheeky face. But going beyond his appearance and awkward gait  he represents metaphorically the conditions of Naples’ lower classes, rebelling against the aristocracy with irony and a wily grin.

And then there’s Via San Gregorio Armeno home to the famous artisans who produce the thousands of Nativity scene figurines, both ancient and modern, including Popes, politicians ( Berlusconi a favourite!) singers and soccer players.

Church of the New JesusRound a corner or two and the street opens onto a splendid square – Piazza del Gesù with a magnificent 15thC palace turned into a church by the Jesuits late 1500’s, with geometric rustications in front of an elaborate spire devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Naples social centreThe contrast of elegance amidst turmoil, and mad traffic where pedestrians seem to challenge drivers, and if you’re lucky a policeman may help you cross the road!

Neapolitans live up to their name of being experts at the art of managing to get along – ‘arrangiarsi‘ with a smile on their faces. Layback blues music drifts fromVinarte 52 wine bar Naples

 

the wine bar in another square full of restaurants and greenery as we try L’Etto,  a self serve buffet where you pay by the 100g serving a range of tempting local delicacies.

 

And if things are tough for Neapolitans, dining out may mean standing on the street eating at a favourite ‘friggitoria’ fried food and shopping at the local markets where a pair of shoes cost me a meagre €3 having soaked my regular shoes in the downpour the night before. I don’t envy them but I did enjoy seeing them relax in the first sign of sunshine with a classic stunning view and delicious local pastry in hand.


 

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Time for the snow- Little Alps and Dolomites

Snow shoesAfter such a long hot Summer in Italy the predictions were for a freezing Winter of the likes of 1985, which was the freeze of the Century; pipes broken, olive trees burnt and snow on the ground for a month, even in Florence! I was dreading the thought since I had decided to stay home this Winter.

So far the predictions have proved false apart from this weeks polar temperatures ( -8 degrees) and snow for a couple of days at home, we have had only minor snow falls in the mountains.In snow shoes Still it was my opportunity to test my skills in snow shoes on Monte Falco and Monte Falterona near the Tuscan, Emilia Romagna border at a height of 1564m. A fabulous experience, since I am not a skier, or snow border and rarely set foot on the snow. An Italian friend said he could understand that since I am Australian!? As if to say there is no snow in Australia!??

After an explanation on how to put on the snow shoes and their various variations for uphill and downhill – blocks and heels, we set off. A cold but sunny day with magic images of fairy tale trees dripping in icicles, shadow contrasts in untouched snow throughout the forest and a breathtaking view at the summit. High enough to see as far as the Northern Alps. Unbelievable!

Especially since I was to be in the Dolomites shortly after, at 2000m hiking amongst skiers and snow borders, enjoying even more breathtaking views, spectacular scenery and idyllic weather. The home to Otzi the Iceman  the 53000 year old mummy, found in the glacier in 1991!

Home base was at Merano, above Bolzano in the South Tyrol area, close to the Austrian border. German, or should I say Southern Tyrol dialect spoken, and hardly a word of Italian overheard. A pretty village of art nouveau buildings, Tyrolese traditional dress and famous Sacher chocolate cake. And constant references to the Austrian Empress, affectionally known as Sissi, who spent her vacations at  Trauttmansdorff Castle.

 

We headed for the Merano 2000  cable car to the summit, together with hoards of local and tourist skiers sounding like a herd of elephants with their heavy snow boots. It’s a family ski resort with over 40kms of slopes for all ages and levels of competence as well as a great trail for hikers, intermittently crossing the ski slopes without too much risk.

Incredibly beautiful, wherever you looked, and as hikers it’s easy to have the time to take in the views at leisure.

Apple Orchards Venosta valleyThe next day we were in for another treat on the ice and snow of Lake Resia in the Venosta Valley, land of our apple orchards. Infinite rows of trees line the valley and the slopes, leaders in the production of organic apples for both the Italian and European market.

It’s the biggest lake in the area, in reality an artificial reservoir created in theBell tower immersed in Lake Resia 1950’s flooding the towns of Curon and Resia so only the steeple remains uncannily visible above the water level. An historic landmark surrounded by romantic legends of its bells still being heard in the depths of the water. An area sort after by ski surfers and windsurfers in season as it blows an outright gale through the valley.

We walked the Lake into the sun with the icy wind at our backs, past the jetty laden with ice and packed snow that serves as the boat tie up in the warmer months. Onto San Valentina alla Muta submerged in metres of snow, a picture postcard.

While I am not totally converted to a snow experience, as I still hate the cold, I have to say it was a beautiful experience and better than I had expected. Now I understand why people go!

My moment of relax on the Dolomites and a farewell to the steeple on Lake Resia

Lake Resia steepleMoment of relax in the Dolomites

 

 

 

 

 

Trentino Alto Adige map


 

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