Parmesan or Parmigiano, we find out more in Modena

Parmesan cheese roundWe went to find out more about the famous Parmesan cheese or officially Parmigiano-Reggiano on the organic farm of Hombre just outside of Modena. It has to be the all time favourite of cheeses in Italy, sprinkled on innumerable dishes,  an essential to Italian cuisine.

Unfortunately outside of Italy many cheeses are mislabelled as ‘Parmesan’ but are far from the real thing, and even within Italy the Gran Padano cheese, a cheaper alternative is often confused as a ‘Parmesan’.

Hombre milk cowsAn early morning tour led us past the cattle sheds where contented looking cows gazed at us curiously, while chewing the cud and farm cats sprawled across the pavement or rubbed up against visitors legs for attention. We had come to one of the few organic producers of Parmesan, thanks to the foresight of Umberto Panini, a local entrepreneur and auto enthusiast.Hombre cows

Our guide, Veronica, beamed enthusiasm as she talked of the 300 hectares of fields producing crops for their 250 cows and a number of sweet calves raised their heads on hearing her familiar voice.

We would see the production process from behind glass in an upstairs gallery while listening to an explanation of the process.  The evenings milk already skimmed was combined with the morning milk and poured into the copper lined pots, 14 of which lined the floor in front of the cheese moulds and brine vats where the cheese wheels would be immersed later.

500 Litres of milk goes into each cheese and Hombre produces 14 cheese wheels a day plus ricotta. The husband and wife team of cheese makers are seen here extracting the cheese mass from the base of the vast pot. A natural rennet had been used for the curdling process and the pots heated to around 50 degrees, and later switched off for an hour to let the enzymes do the rest.Parmesan cheese making 3

After 3 weeks immersed in the brine of salt and water the cheese is moved to the aging storage where it will spend up to 2 years for the ‘Stagionato’ (seasoned) or over 30 months for the ‘Stravecchio’ (extra old).

Parmesan cheeses

 

Hombre’s storage area can house up to 8000  cheese wheels  which are cleaned and turned regularly by a robot as the cheese sweats creating humidity and the last thing you would want is for any bacteria to get into the cheese. The cheese initially weighs 50 kilos, after a year of ageing 35 kilos and in 2-3 years 30 kilos.

Testers come from the Cheese Consortium to ‘tap’ the cheese listening for an homogenous sound before giving it the ‘green stamp’ of approval.

Testing parmesan cheese

 

And of course parmesan cannot be produce outside of a designated geographical area which runs between Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena and Bologna in the region of Emilia Romagna. Hence the cheese is proudly stamped  Parmigiano – Reggiano.Parmesan cheese production

 

 

The only thing left to do on our visit then was to taste this magnificent cheese and buy some to take home!Tasting parmesan cheese

 

 

 

So check the labels when you buy to ensure you are getting authentic parmesan, and remember to only grate it on demand.

 

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Cinque Terre sustainable tourism

Cinque Terre trail -PrevoSustainable tourism” seems to be on everyone’s mind, and particularly at the Cinque Terre, the words are raised at every meeting and in reports that come out of the Cinque Terre National Park. The idea being to visit a place and make a positive impact or at least a low impact on the environment and local culture ensuring the development of a positive experience for local people, tourist companies and tourists themselves.

In the age of mass tourism I have my doubts as to wether it is in the mind of most tourists when they visit, and I fear there is a conflict of interests and economical issues that hold sway and slow the process to Sustainable tourism in the Cinque Terre.

Still some slow progress is being made, a few steps forward and one step backwards. Cinque Terre Quality LabelFor hikers the new developments for 2018 include a discount voucher if they stay more than 2 days in accommodation that has a Cinque Terre Park Quality label. (Seen in foto)

The only trail that has to be paid for is the coastal trail or Blue trail between Corniglia, Vernazza, and Monterosso. From April 1st instead of the €7.50 daily fee, it will be €5.00 with a voucher . Instead of €29 for a 2 day pass – Blue trail plus train, hikers will pay €26. There will be NO DISCOUNT on the day trail and train pass which costs €16. In my humble opinion the discount demonstrates only how ‘tight’ Ligurians can be and are famous for!!

Late last year a Cinque Terre newslocal newspaper was over enthusiastic in saying the daily tree would be reduced to €1.00 with the hope that it would also include a discount on the rather scandalous Cinque Terre Express train which costs €4 for a 5 -10 min ride between villages. But it was only fake news?! Trenitalia is too mean to even offer a discount on a 1 day pass. I am at a loss for words…otherwise I may be offensive!

At this time late 2016 a new App was to limit the number of tourists, unfortunately aimed at hikers. It was to assign a ‘red light’ if there was an overload of hikers on the trail or in the next village. The news appeared in  headlines worldwide…..but the App never eventuated! I breathed a sigh of relief as while the Cinque Terre seriously needs to impose a limited number access, it’s not the hikers it needs to limit but the mass tourists who flow from the cruise ships and day trippers on Tourist crowds Vernazzacoaches. Admittedly some limit has been placed on day coach passes, requiring an advanced booking on the day but they are a drop in the ocean in comparison to the thousands of cruise passengers. A fact which had CNN recently put the Cinque Terre together with Venice on a blacklist of places to AVOID! There has been embarrassment locally but neither Regional President or the Minister of the Environment seem to recognise the need for a ‘closed number’ on tourist access. While the current (acting) President of the National Park and Mayor of Vernazza declared that a place “can die from too much tourism(Il Secolo XIX newspaper)Cinque Terre coastal trail

Still if you are coming to stay, check out the Quality Label to see if you may be entitled to a discount voucher. The Quality label is being given to enterprises that respect regulations associated with energy, water, trash, toxic substances, air and noise. So as I said, 2 steps forward and 1 step backwards as the discount is really stingy!

The second new approach is how to deal with the plastic trash problem. That is definitely not unique to the Cinque Terre, but a worldwide issue which is getting a lot of airplay at the moment. Officially, as from the Cinque Terre National park site, the Park will install machines (solar powered) at the entrance to and along the Blue trail which will squash plastic bottles and take any plastic rubbish. And tourists ‘may’ be offered a discount on products from the Park, ie the Cinque Terre Card if they make use of the deposit machines, as well as being encouraged to buy the Park’s one litre re usable flask.

In grand enthusiasm this initiative was also widely publicised in international news – ex The Telegraph headlined with “Italy bans the plastic water bottle along heritage coastline“. The article reported that the president of the Cinque Terre national park said “We are going to update the existing water fountains and install new ones: they will provide people with still or sparkling filtrated water. By the start of next Spring, we hope to have liberated ourselves from this nightmare.”   He said local shopkeepers were likely to be unhappy with a ban on selling bottled water but should realise that it would be in their long-term interests.”

The statement rings of resolution of the problem in an exceptionally short period, when I fear in reality it will be a lengthy process. As with the App proposed last year that never eventuated, it will be interesting to see if the Park can fulfil their promise. Unfortunately the same International newspapers never follow up on the promises made, and the world thinks the problem has been solved. We will see if the CNN blacklist gives the relevant authorities a shake up!

We would like to seriously see sustainable tourism in action and a limit placed on the hordes that invade during the Summer months that have little time or inclination to walk a trail, as well as a drastic improvement in the plastic rubbish (and non) amassed as a consequence. The Cinque Terre is too special to be trampled to death.

Cinque Terre trail

On that pessimistic note I encourage any of you visiting to think about being a responsible tourist, by refilling at water fountains, avoiding take-away packaging and refusing straws in your aperitifs. Small steps can make a difference in this fragile territory and I highly encourage  longer stay hikers to check out any of the possible discounts at the various Cinque Terre park offices, you deserve it!


 

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Treasures from the Unbelievable Wreck – Damien Hirst

Welcome back! I hope 2018 has begun well for you all. I start my posts this year with an exhibition from last year, but one not to be missed if it travels your way…

Damien Hirst Demon with bowlDamien Hirst had me believing in the unbelievable at his exhibition in Venice – ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. Knowing little about the artist and virtually nothing about the exhibition beforehand made it easy for me to think I had stepped through the looking glass into Alice in Wonderland!Hermaphrodite Damien Hirst

 

 

 

 

Hirst had on display 189 sunken treasures retrieved off the seabed of the Indian Ocean, together with collections of flints, ingots and remnants of artefacts. The treasures were supposedly part of the hoard of the Apistos, a ship of a freed slave turned art collector, that apparently sank back in the first or second century AD and was rediscovered in 2008.

Mixed reactions from the art world described the exhibition as ‘An Unbelievable Journey to the Depths of Bling‘, ‘One Man’s Trash is Damien Hirst’s Treasure’ , as ‘once you’re in the joke it grows stale very quickly’! I think I cruised the entire time in awe,  believing every word and stunned at every work presented. It was fabulous!

Just getting past the gigantic 18m+ Demon with a Bowl in the courtyard of Palazzo Grassi was a feat, and at each of the 3 floors of exhibits above he could be admired from every angle. Absolutely incredible, convincingly bronze, yet only painted resin, and assembled in stages as I found out later. From the Demon I became engrossed in the videos where a team of scuba divers worked hard to strap up the treasures found on the sea bed bringing them to safety above…..from the most delicate ancient jewellery to the monstrous sun disc and calendar stone together with Mickey Mouse and Goofy covered in barnacles and seaweed! What’s going on??

In fact the exhibition presents like an archaeological museum with various collections of coins, rare jewellery, precious minerals, weapons, and helmets alongside ‘recovered’ treasures, ‘restored’ treasures and ‘copies’ of treasures……

Bust of the collector Damien Hirstand the Collector himself, Damien Hirst.

The sheer scale of the exhibits and relative authenticity, especially at the Punta della Dogana, continued to impress, even if I was I being taken for a ride, or on a journey in a time machine. Whatever, I was enjoying the unexpected, the audacity, the joke.  As my friend said “you may not like the Art work but whatever it is it must be done well” and these treasures were certainly done well.The Diver

 

 

 

Hirst Warrior and the Bear

 

 

 

 

 

 

As the legend goes ‘the slave accumulated an immense fortune on the acquisition of his freedom. Bloated with excess wealth, he proceeded to build a lavish collection of artefacts…..commissions, copies, fakes, purchases and plunder, which lay submerged for some two thousand years.’Calendar stone and Warrior and the Bear

Damien Hirst when asked is it Myth or Fact replied “whatever you choose to believe!”

 

Still stunned by what we had seen we left the exhibition, passed through the ‘looking glass’ out to the real wonders of Venice…..Venice Punto della Dogana

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Season’s Greetings

It’s that time of year again and before I disappear into hibernation for the winter here in Italy, I’d like to wish you all:Christmas greetings

In a rather controversial move a town near Bologna, Castenaso, created the Nativity Scene in a rubber dinghy, so often seen as the means for migrants to cross the sea to safety in Europe…..thought provoking for us all in this difficult world of today.

On a lighter note for any Melbourne followers still looking for a unique Xmas gift check out Gourmet Kitchen Cooking school offering cooking class vouchers – Thai, Spanish, Japanese, Patisserie and more!    Gourmet Kitchen Cooking School

 

 

 

 

 

As well as Kitchen and food goodies from the shop. 20 Margaret St, Moonee Ponds Tel: 03 93757000                                                                                                          Now does that look scrumptious? Go for it! Laura Jane has rave reviews for her classes as a fabulous and patient teacher …….as well as being my lovely niece!

Gourmet Kitchen Cooking Classes

 

 

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From rags to riches – Matera

Matera cave dwellingWho would have believed that the squalid damp cave dwellings of the past would make Matera a major tourist attraction, a Unesco World Heritage site (1993) and even more than that, the European Capital of Culture in 2019.

Major restoration work is underway and as the EU indicates “the experience is an excellent opportunity to regenerate the city and breathe new life into the city’s culture and boost tourism.

Matera is tucked away in the corner of the little known region of Basilicata next to Puglia, so for us it was an easy 2hr drive across from our ‘trullo’ in Puglia. I had heard about these cave dwellings for years and the extraordinary beauty of the place through the Women’s Fiction Festival held for the past 12 years and from my artist friend Enrico Paolucci after his exhibition there in 2006.

Eager to understand more about the history of this amazing place I booked a Matera view of cave dwellingsfantastic local guide, Marta, who lead us through the Baroque Upper town to the panoramic site overlooking ‘i sassi’. The view was spectacular, an expanse of buildings crammed on top of each other in a maze of little alleyways and we were yet to appreciate that they were in fact built into the rocks.

Marta explained the ancient beginnings, from the 6th century BC through the middle ages when each civilisation, and monastic orders from Benedictine to Byzantine built on the past using the natural rock caves as early lodgings, stables, cellars later carving out churches, chapels and convents. By the 1800’s most of the cave areas were only used as stables or deposits and better accommodation was built above ground. In that period Matera held a certain prestige, being the Capital of the Province from the late 1600’s till 1806.

But with the removal of the Capital to Potenza  and recurrent agricultural crisis the city slid into a long period of decay. The degradation was so serious that the poorest of the population were forced to use the caves as dwellings, accommodating both families and their animals until 1952. On our tour with Marta we were taken into one of these dank dark cave houses, hardly able to imagine the sufferance these families had experienced in such cramped unhygienic conditions.

Life was hard and depended on communal living as testify the communal oven that baked the enormous weekly loaf that is still baked to this day.

It was not until the 1950’s that the Government decided to move the 15,000 families to new residential quarters, not an easy task and despite associated criticisms and delays over the new housing the families were relocated. The area of ‘i sassi’ remained abandoned until the 1980’s when new funds were made available for the recuperation of this ancient site. Now the properties can be leased for 99years and the city has seen a boom in tourism ever since. Some of the ancient cave dwellings are even available for rent on Airbnb with a decidedly improved look, although they still retain the physical aspects of the past, with  rarely more than one window and/or entrance so definitely not appropriate for anyone with claustrophobia!

Wandering the alleyways and hearing the history and developments of the place was fascinating, visiting the ancient Rupestrian church had me spellbound. The squalor of the past was now an inviting stone paved road to alleyways lined with creamy architecture cut into and over the rock. The Stone Age’ restaurant tempts us with “panzarotti fritti’ (typical half moon pasta fried and filled with delicious mozzarella) and fresh pomegranate juice but we continue the tour

The upper town is beautifully Baroque in style, reminiscent of our time in Lecce.

Concave churches, and as many cherubs and menacing skeletons decorating the Matera city cisternfacades, together with mega cisterns still visitable below street level. There was hardly time to explore it all, an absolutely fascinating city that will merit its title of European Capital of Culture.

How could we go past lunching in one of the cave dwellings – the ‘Soul Kitchen’,  highly entertained by the waiters, and delicious local dishes. The pistachio semifreddo was out of this world!Pisatchio semifreddo - Soul KitchenMatera cave restaurant

 

 

 

 

With tummies full and the threat of rain we headed back to our trullo, knowing full well that I will be back again, sooner or later, to explore in depth ‘i sassi’ of Matera, as well as the extensive list of places that Marta had suggested to visit next time in the Basilicata region.Matra Rupestrian church


 

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In the heel of Italy – Puglia

Lecce entrance to cathedral squarePuglia -Travelling in the ‘heel’ of Italy, amidst countless olive groves, cruising the coastline through picturesque beach resorts, an explosion of white and blue light ending with a mellow glow of our graceful Baroque base in Lecce.

Polignano a Mare

Quite a Greek feel to so many places which is not unexpected since Greeks settled along the Ionian coast as early as the 8th Century BC.

 

 

Our first step into paradise is at Polignano a Mare, caressed to the sounds of “Volare oh oh, cantare oh oh oh oh” playing from a restaurant as we wandered the shimmering limestone pathways. The village perched precariously on the cliffs protects a beautiful cove with only a handful of swimmers considering the time of year. On Domenico Modugno statuethe opposite side a very appropriate statue to Domenico Modugno, author of “Volare” since it was his hometown.

 

Our first taste of delicious seafood and vegetarian specialities – puree of broad beans with chicory. The beauty of the place enticed us back for a second visit and swim and local buskers entertained us with a different rhythm of drum and violoncello.

Ostuni, known as ‘the white city’, for its whitewashed medieval centre, a practice begunOstuni main square to disinfect the poorer residential area during the period of the plague as well as a means to lightening the labyrinth of alleyways and stepped passages. The only buildings not white are the palatial dwellings now government buildings or churches. Blue skies enhance the contrast.

The view from Ostuni across 19million!! monumental olives to the coast is outstanding and we secular Olives Pugliacannot resist the temptation to see them close-up. Puglia has 60 million olives planted centuries ago and still going strong, 14 times the population of the region. Producing a range of  eating olives and extra virgin oil.

Villanova Puglia

 

Our day ends at the sleepy port and fishing village of Villanova with its XVI century Castle still guarding the entrance.

 

 

Lecce, ‘the Florence of the South’, left us spellbound as we rounded the corner into the Cathedral square after dark and met this splendour.

The city is a riot of cherubs, ornate balconies of strange beasts and decorative facades, a Baroque masterpiece in local stone to rival Noto in Sicily.

A couple of days exploring Lecce‘s parade of ‘putti’ (cherubs) and savouring it’s local delicacies of tarallini, burrata mozzarella and orecchiette pasta with turnip tops finishing with the most fabulous gelati from the famous Gelateria Natale. With over 45 flavours it’s a difficult choice!

We head towards the very tip of the heel at Santa Maria  di Leuca with a stop at Otranto, yet another paradise coastal resort, winding it’s way down from the Aragonese castle, laneways lined with tourist shops, and tempting restaurants and bars.

But we are not to be dissuaded from our project of arriving at the furthest point of Italy, and drive through endless fields of olive groves bordered by miles of dry stone walls, to the picturesque coastal road. On arrival hardly a tourist in sight and for the few that are about the owner of the ‘Sea Wolf’ restaurant commandeers us all with the promise of “if you are unhappy with what you eat, you don’t have to pay!” This would seem unlikely as he proudly boasts he has been in the business for 50 years! And we are not disappointed as we feed on the local fish of the day with a chilled glass of wine.

The day ends with a quick swim near Gallipoli in crystal clear water with a view of the city from the bay. The old town centre sits on a tiny island connected to the mainland by a 17th century bridge that ends at the fish market.

A robust fortress dominates, confirming the city’s strategic importance from the past Gallipoli seafronthaving been sacked by just about everyone – Vandals, Goths, Byzantines, Normans to Bourbons! A pleasant stroll around its walls and a wander in the main street again past Baroque churches and aristocratic palaces.

It’s time to head home and while there are still so many places to discover in Puglia, this first trip has certainly been a delight and I will definitely be back….sooner or later!Martina Franca

Puglia map

 

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Trulli amazing Puglia!

Trulli PugliaNothing like the excuse of having my Aussie family over on a visit to explore a new region of Italy – Puglia….and it was ‘trulli’ amazing! The grey tiled cones dot the landscape, in the Itria valley, amidst fields of monumental olive groves and farm plantations just like the gilded Buddhist temples dot the countryside in Myanmar.

Our trullo in PugliaI had been dreaming for years of staying in one of these quaint conical roofed houses, and my choice of trullo turned out to be ideal!

Our 2 domed trullo sat in a cluster of trulli, under renovation and still to be renovated, next to historic olive trees, vegetable gardens, and a pig family of three.Our neighbours

 

 

 

 

The owner Gianvito, a super hospitable local with an enormous smile and a twinkle in his eye, proudly introduced us to his family’s trullo where his grandfather used to keep farming equipment and which he had renovated into a charming 2 bedroom residence. Every detail reflected his passion for his local culture – old stable doors as bedroom doors, together with a unique architectural panache – old pieces of ceramics decorated the shower recess like ancient mosaics and a pasta colander as a light shade!

 

He told us the original conical rooms were from the 1500’s and the square addition, that now housed the second bedroom and kitchen, was built a century later. With the continuing Indian Summer weather we could not have chosen a better time to savour our trullo experience. The thick stone walls act as a natural insulation against the cold or heat outside and strengthen the structure to hold the domes.

View of AlberobelloTo get an overdose of trulli we drove to the nearby town of Alberobello where thousands of trulli make up almost the entire town. The history of the town, now a UNESCO World Heritage site, is as curious as its picturesque trulli since they were originally built as a tax dodge!

The land had been given to Count Conversano for his services in the crusades so he moved his entire settlement, cultivating the land and clearing the woodlands. However the King of Naples had imposed taxes on new settlements so simple dwellings of dry stone walls with conical roofs were constructed, as they could be dismantled in a hurry! It was not until 1797 that Alberobello was given a permanent town status.

Considering the thousands of trulli present in Alberobello, I hate to think of the enormous mountain of rubble it would have created if dismantled, let alone the chore of reconstruction! For us it was a magic exploration of a village, hobbit like in size and nature, attractive and proud with its whitewashed houses and glistening limestone pathways that wind and bend around souvenir shops, enticing local food delicatessens and buzzing restaurants.

Each spire on the dome a status symbol, demonstrating the builder’s skill and the spending power of the owner. Many of the roofs have painted symbols which may have linked to superstitions of the past, although the whitewashed heart featured in many postcards suggests a more touristy symbol.Alberobello Cathedral, Puglia

The major attraction is obviously the trulli although Alberobello‘s baroque Cathedral also warrants consideration.

And if you can’t stay in a trullo you can always buy one to take home!Puglia trulli souvenirs

 

 

 

 

But Puglia is not just about trulli and as we toured from Bari to the tip of the heel and back we discovered more splendours….to appear in another post


 

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What’s cooking with Capers

CapersCapers, I love them! I spent years pointing them out to my tour groups as the plant hung from every medieval wall we passed and most people never recognised the plant.

They are very much a part of the Mediterranean diet, although I have to admit I often forget to toss them into a dish or salad to give it that extra zest.

I was also surprised to discover them as I indulged in an aperitif and was served cheese and caper berries. I confused the berries for funny green olives as I was totally ignorant of their existence.Caper berries

So I thought some of you may like to learn more about them and see if you can spot the plant……that is if you have an ancient wall nearby as they thrive on the heat from the wall!Capers at Doria Castel Vernazza

 

 

Fortress capers

 

 

 

 

 

Florentine capers

 

 

Capers are the flower buds of a perennial bush that can reach up to 1-2 m and many caper bushes grow wild, in profusion in fact, on rocky grounds, in walls, and old ruins in hot Mediterranean countries. The stems carry thick glossy leaves, prickly in the wild variety; pretty white flowers on stalks are followed by pear shaped fruits.Caper flowers

The small caper buds are picked, dried, and then pickled in wine vinegar brine. Their white flowers, not unlike wild roses, have the shortest lifespan, as they open in the morning and are dead by noon.

Capers must be picked by hand, as the buds have to be picked every morning, just as they reach the proper size. I found this gentleman picking along the roadside wall near home.Caper pickerCaper, berry

 

 

 

 

The larger, coarser buds are also harvested; those are the ones that can be seen packed in salt where capers are abundant. They can taste good, but are often of an inferior quality and can turn rancid quickly. The flower bud of the caper plant has been used as food since ancient times, and even as a medicine or a cosmetic.

The Sicilian capers from the Island of Pantelleria (Southern side) are considered the best quality, both for their aroma and vitamin content. Together with those from the Island of SalinaSicily map (Northern side) these islands produce 95% of the entire Italian production.

How the caper is handled after being picked is critical in ensuring the high quality of the product. Once picked, it is carefully cleaned from leaves, earth, stalks, and divided according to the different sizes.

After picking there are two phases. The first is on the farm when the capers are placed in special brick containers and covered with coarse sea salt. The salt dissolves because of the water in the capers and so it forms a kind of pickle, in which it is immersed for 7 – 10 days. The capers are then drained from the pickled water and salted again. The process is repeated several times. The second phase is at the farmers’ co-operative, where the capers are divided according to sizes by special machines and then preserved under sea-salt.Capers

During the next 8-10 days the salted capers are transferred from one container to another; stirred every day for the first eight days and then stirred once a week for the next 3 weeks. After about a month the capers are ready to be packaged. As the harvesting is done by hand, most farms are small family businesses being involved in the entire production cycle of the plant from its cultivation, harvesting, to processing and preservation.

Capers at Bagno Vignoni

 

So check your jars and see where your capers come from since most Sicilian capers are exported to the USA and Australia.

 

 

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An unbelievable gem -Civita di Bagnoregio

On the walkway to Civita di BagnoregioJust over the border of Tuscany and close to Orvieto in the region of Lazio is the delightful gem of Civita di Bagnoregio. Sitting on a peak in the midst of a vast canyon connected  to the town of Bagnoregio by an alluring footbridge on concrete pylons. The old donkey path leading up to the village has eroded away and the ticket office entry already signifies an access into a timeless world.

Even though busloads of tourists have discovered this gem, there is a quiet awe as we make our way closer to the ancient arch entrance where millions have passed through over the centuriesEntrance to Civita di Bagnoregio.

Only 6 permanent residents enjoy their isolation all year long, keeping company with the tourists who come to stay over. Every corner, laneway, and footpath is a picture postcard. Capers ooze from the medieval walls, basking in the sun together with potted geraniums and creeping ivy that cover many abandoned buildings. Restaurants, deli’s and souvenir shops hide discreetly in every nook and cranny to not disturb the charm, and the locals are proud to talk about the heritage.

Inhabited since Etruscan times the porous rock on which it stands is home to ancient cellars, one now turned into a Museum and used as a bomb shelter during WW11. The main square boasts a lovely church with a simple façade and bell tower now strapped up after the earthquake of October 2016,  a place to sit and watch the flow of people traffic. A local confides that the pillars in front are from the ancient Roman temple and that I should come back for the  ‘wild donkey race’ which is a great laugh as the stubborn animals often baulk and resist and take their time to complete the piazza circuit.

Civita di BagnoregioA Renaissance palace at the entrance is deceiving and needs a second look,  as two thirds of the building remain intact while the rest has crumbled away leaving a window and door entrance into nowhere. Landslides remain a constant threat. Some ‘For Sale’ signs are visible while abandoned ruins have been tidied up and enclosed to not diminish the attractiveness of this quaint place. The yellowish brown tufo blocks of the buildings remind me of Pienza since it is made from the same material although it would be half the size of Pienza.  A cheeky play on words advertises a local B&B – ‘Libera Mente’ meaning Free your mind or at your own discretion,  and with rooms facing the valley that will be assured.

valley viewThe views of the surrounding clay filled gully seen are breathtaking, with olives, vineyards and Mediterranean bushland clinging to the dramatic slopes. Every corner a photographers dream, when able to ‘photoshop‘ the tourists out!

 

Still Civita di Bagnoregio feels well-fortified against change, described by a local poet as ‘an island bravely poised in the middle of the air, on the top of a truncated cone above the immense abyss”.    How true!View of Civita di Bagnoregio

 

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No bones about it – Florence exhibition

View of FlorenceThe Humans of 2015 are now just a skeleton this year in the ‘Ytalia’ Art Exhibition at Forte di Belvedere, Florence! No bones about it Florence never fails to surprise me!

As I wandered up to the Fort  I thought of the other exhibitions that had fired my passion or uninspired me, yet I always return to this fantastic location and never Spritual Guard jan Fabreget tired of the fabulous panorama.

Last year’s Jan Fabre Spiritual Guards’ had an overdose of beetles and crosses for my taste. Although I did like the gold turtle in the main square of Florence. While the Zhang Huan‘s exhibition of Buddhas ‘Soul and Matter’ had been a startling reopening to the fortress in 2013.

This year we are treated to polystyrene fiberglass bones covered in gypsum which precariously sway in the breeze and for safety and security reasons have to be tied down!

The Ytalia exhibition – presented 100 Contemporary Italian works of Art about Energy, Thoughts and Beauty to demonstrate, as the pamphlet blurb read: “how Italian Art has strongly influenced the international artistic community and has been a model to admire the perfect balance between classicism and anticlassicality, eclecticism and purism, invention and citation, immanence and transcendence.” 

Forte Belvedere entranceI have my doubts that the exhibition lived up to its promise but it was still well worth the visit.Art Exhibit Florence

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of beautiful marble alongside rusty iron and the geometric nature of the exhibits  lures the eye into labyrinths and techno prints reflecting Fibonacci’s sequence.

A splash of colour inside the building seems totally unconnected….

and other weird to the absurd exhibits leave me pretty flat!

Skeleton Florence

 

I am constantly drawn back to the panorama of Brunelleschi’s dome seen between oscillating bleached ribs and lassoed toes, or about to be blow-dried…..

 

Art Exhibit Florence

 

And the typical Tuscan view of cypress trees, olive groves and a stray castle tower at the back of the fortress, while stumbling through marble blocks much to the disdain of the Fort custodian!

So just in case you are in Florence, there is still time to see the  ‘Ytalia’ exhibition as it remains open until the 1st Oct and there are more exhibits dotted about town – the Basilica of Santa Croce, Palazzo Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti.  I would suggest Forte Belvedere any year you may be over for the view, the relaxing alfresco wine and café bar and the cheap entrance fee!

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