Sunday, November 27, 2011
The Alto Jonio Dance Company from the town of Villapiana, Calabria, is coming to NYC looking for emerging choreographic talent. On December 26 and 27, 2011, a competition will be held at New York City Center Studios, 130 West 56th Street in Manhattan for the best of the best.
The competition will consist of 2 separate pieces for each contestant: a solo and a trio or duet. Performances will take place on December 26 with callbacks on December 27.
The winner will be flown to Villapiana during its annual dance Festival in July, 2012 and be awarded the title of Alto Jonio Dance – Emerging Choreographer, as well as free room, board and tuition to study and perform during the Festival. Visit altojonicodance.com for full details and registration information.
The jury panel for the New York competition will include Antonio Fini, Michael Mao, founder and Artistic Director of Michael Mao Dance Company, Kevin Alpert and Nicola Iervasi, respectively the Executive Director and Artistic Director of Mare Nostrum Elements Movement Theater, Virginie Maecenas, former first dancer of the Martha Graham Dance Company and now Director of the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance and Noa Guy, internationally renowned musician and composer.
The Alto Jonio Dance Company is the latest endeavor by its artistic director, Antonio Fini, and is already making a name for itself. Its premier festival held in Villapiana last summer featured dance luminaries such as Donatello Iacobellis, choreographer with the MOMIX dance company, one of the world’s most famous companies.
“You must visit Nonna. She lives in the village and seldom has visitors, but she absolutely makes the best dolci!” An enthusiastic endorsement like this prompted many journeys for Francine Segan, food historian, author and speaker, in her search for the very best Italian sweets. These treasured recipes are now in her latest book, Dolci, Italy’s Sweets.
Ms. Segan wanted to collect not only the recipes from generations past but also the ones served today in contemporary Italian kitchens. She met with famous chefs, contacted infamous Italian bloggers and visited the kitchens of Italian grandmothers. Her book guides us through Italy’s hills and valleys, nooks and crannies, as she cooks, tastes and records these luscious desserts.
Ms. Segan celebrated the launch of the book at The National Arts Club in the Gramercy Park section of Manhattan on November 10, 2011. Always an engaging speaker, she recounted stories of her latest trips to Italy and her search for divine desserts. She told of one Nonna who kept Francine in her kitchen for 6 hours until she “got the recipes right”. Still, I can think of worse ways to spend a day than in a warm cucina filled with aromas of chocolate and fruit.
The book is beautifully illustrated and the recipes are taken from all over Italy. Chapters are devoted to after-dinner liqueurs and special coffees. Ms. Segan includes a smattering of history and folklore among the dolci, as well as some of her favorite Italian food proverbs. For example, instead of an apple a day keeps the doctor away, due dita di vino e’ una pedata al medico (two fingers of wine is a kick in the butt to the doctor). And my personal favorite: a tavola non s’invecchia (while at the table no one grows old).
You can purchase Dolci: Italy’s Sweets at amazon.com. To learn more about Francine Segan, visit francinesegan.com.
Sunday, October 16, 2011
A famous face turns and smiles broadly. A camera clicks. A bulb flashes. A moment in time is preserved forever. This ritual occurred countless times in 1950’s Italy. The paparazzi, who would not be so named until Fellini’s La Dolce Vita film in 1960, chronicled every celebrity arrival, shopping spree, bacchanal, stolen private moment and eventual departure. The Italian public, still recovering and psychologically escaping from the ravages of WWII, seemed to have an insatiable appetite for the celebrities in their midst. Celebrities symbolized an Italy moving forward, progressing toward a better future. Not only did Italy send its famous to Hollywood, but Hollywood also came to Italy, specifically to film at Cinecitta’.
La Dolce Vita – 1950 – 1960; Stars and Celebrities in the Italian Fifties is a photographic exhibition celebrating this unique period. Italy was reveling in the peace of the mid-20th century. It had time to be frivolous and a strong desire to distance itself from the horrors of war. It feasted on the wild and wealthy lives of the famous. This hunger was fed by a steady diet of movie magazines, fattened by gossip columnists and photojournalists.
Photographs are tricks of light. They capture the image in front of the camera, but that’s only the beginning. Photographs also reveal something about the person behind the camera and the society in which they both exist. At the Dolce Vita exhibition, all of these elements are in play. At first glance, the images are captivating because of the celebrities they showcase. But with closer inspection the images reveal what is around the celebrity: the fans, the looks of adoration, the autograph books offered in hope of capturing in writing what the camera captured in light.
The women’s dresses, jewelry, shoes, gloves and purses and the men’s shirts, ties, suits and sweaters tell a story. And not only of the celebrity but more interestingly, of who surrounds them. They perch on vespas, sit at café tables, dance in nightclubs. They look happy, surprised and a little uncomfortable. This is Italy at a unique moment, on the cusp of an era that would move faster and faster toward an unknown future. Fascinated by images and stories of celebrity decadence, what scandalized Italians then feels almost quaint now. This is an Italy that existed for a time and is no more.
The exhibition is curated by Marco Panella, promoted by Ministro del Turismo, Cinecitta’ and Artix. Consisting of 84 black and white images, most have never been seen in public before. They are on display throughout Eataly, 200 5th Avenue in Manhattan, hanging from the ceiling rafters throughout the store. The exhibition lasts until November 14.
After you’ve been beguiled by the Italy of the ‘50’s, delight your stomach with dinner at nearby SD26 located at 19 East 26th Street. This is the latest restaurant run by Tony and Marisa May, the same father/daughter team who served New York at San Domenico’s Restaurant on Central Park South since 1988. SD26 serves contemporary Italian cuisine with a 750 labels Wine List. When I dined there I met Matt Dillon. Maybe I brought some of that celebrity-vibe with me from the Dolce Vita exhibition.
Sunday, October 9, 2011
Naples – what can I say that you haven’t already heard? It’s crowded, noisy, hectic, colorful. It has the Bay, Vesuvius and the world’s best pizza. Here’s something you may not have heard: Naples is a destination. Yes, you read that right. Not just a place to travel through on your way to Capri or Sorrento. Naples is an almost unbelievable combination of high and low, sweet and sour, rough and smooth. Naples has to be experienced, and not just for a few hours. Spend some time in this one of a kind city and I’ll bet you’ll be smitten.
I stayed at the Grand Hotel Santa Lucia on the breathtaking Via Partenope. It’s elegantly appointed in an old world style and the staff really goes the extra mile for its guests. The rooms are spacious and quiet. At night I turned off the air conditioner and threw open the French doors to allow the sounds of Naples to wash over me while I slept. In the morning, I opened the curtains to see the sun’s rays over the Bay of Naples, Mount Vesuvius, the islands of Capri and Ischia, the Comencini marina with its brightly colored fishing boats and the Castel dell’Ovo (more about that later). Room price includes full breakfast served in a sunlit room off the lobby.
You can always grab a late-morning cappuccino at Gran Caffe Gambrinus on Via Chiaia. Perhaps Naples’ most storied café, it was a hub of elite literary life in the early 20th century. The surroundings are opulent, complete with chandeliers and a grand piano. Imagine yourself swapping stories with Ernest Hemingway (a frequent patron) while you indulge in gelato, pastry and specialty chocolate creations.
Naples is a truly urban multi-cultural Italian environment. Narrow streets, graffiti, fast cars, buzzing vespas. This isn’t Tuscany, baby. It’s something else - more challenging, more surprising, maybe more frustrating. As a tourist in any big city, you have to keep your eyes and ears open. But you should be doing that anyway, to take in what Naples offers the intrepid traveler. Storefronts line Spaccanapoli in the historic district, offering treasures of artisanal craftsmanship alongside tourist chatskis. You have to learn the difference. Trattorias, gellaterias, pizzerias; it doesn’t stop. There’s plenty to do, whether it’s out on the street, inside a centuries-old structure, on the waves, underwater or underground.
Here’s just a summary:
The Capodimonte Museum. Built during the reign of Charles VII of Naples and Sicily, this Bourbon palazzo is home to a vast collection of artistic treasures. Paintings from the 13th – 18th centuries include stunning works by major names like El Greco, Caravaggio, Titian and Raphael. Part of the Farnese collection of sculpture is housed here, as well as furniture, porcelain and majolica gathered from royal residences.
Naples National Archeological Museum. This is considered by many to be Italy’s most important archeological museum, and in Italy, that’s saying a lot. Its holdings include marbles, bronzes and mosaics from Greek and Roman antiquity. It houses Italy’s third largest Egyptian art collection and an impressive collection of Roman erotic art.
Cappella Sansevero. Also known as the Chapel of Santa Maria della Pieta, this small space in Naples’ historic district is bursting with work from some of Italy’s best 18th century artists. Here you can be mesmerized by the quiet, mournful beauty of Sanmartino’s Veiled Christ, while being surrounded by majestic Baroque sculpture. www.museosansevero.it
Castel dell’Ovo. The Castle is named for the legend that the poet Virgil placed an egg in its foundation and, as long as the egg is unbroken, the Castle will survive. The spaces within the Castle are marked with stone archways and afford beautiful views of the Bay of Naples on one side and the charming marina on the other. The Castle hosts art exhibitions, conferences and weddings. The long, bricked causeway leading to the Castle is a popular spot for wedding pictures.
Agnano Spa. This beautiful spa is located just outside of Naples and easily reached by train. Located in a volcanic crater, the area’s hot springs soothed the aching muscles of ancient Greeks and Romans alike. The spa includes natural tuft stone formations that create 5 separate dry heat sauna experiences, progressing from mild to OMG it’s hot! But don’t worry, it’s nothing a dip in one of the indoor or outdoor pools can’t cure. Or perhaps a mud treatment. Or perhaps a meal in the delectable restaurant.
Cuma. Located northwest of Naples, this was the first Greek settlement on Italy’s mainland when it was considered Magna Grecia (Greater Greece). Dating back to probably the 8th century B.C., it was the seat of the Cumaean Sibyl, the prophetess presiding over the Oracle of Apollo. A large crater lake nearby was a mythological entrance to the underworld. Today Cuma is a fascinating archeological site open to the public.
Pompei. About 40 minutes outside of Naples, Pompei is a must see. No matter how jaded a tourist you might think you are, Pompei will amaze you. It’s larger than you expect and the sheer number of details illustrating ancient daily living invite you to consider your place in civilization’s continuum. Buy your water/souvenirs before you reach the site.
What to do underground:
Subterranean Naples. Visit the city below the city. Remnants of ancient Greece and Rome survive in the form of aquaducts, cisterns and winding tunnels emptying into large cavities. During the bombardment of WWII, many Neapolitans moved here to protect themselves. These days, the stone labyrinth hosts daily tours and classical musical concerts.
San Gennaro Catacombs. This is an underground Pagan and Christian burial site dating back to the 3rd century. Unlike the Roman catacombs, these are spacious and (believe it or not) airy, allowing you to stand up straight as you walk among some of the oldest and most evocative frescos in Italy. The Catacombs were consecrated to San Gennaro in the 5th century, when his remains found a home here. The Catacombs house a church, a baptismal font and of course, graves. The complete cycle of life and death was commemorated here. Take a tour with one of their impressively knowledgeable guides and emerge into the sunlight a little wiser.
What to do on the water:
Take one of the entertainment boats docked in the Bay of Naples marina and sail gracefully onto the water for an unforgettable evening. Appetizers and cool breezes above deck, followed by a full course dinner below. After dinner, return above deck for dancing to a live band and delighting in the glow of the full moon (when I was there). This is a popular date spot for the locals; why shouldn’t it be for you, too?
What to do underwater:
Go snorkeling or scuba diving in ancient waters and peek into Roman villas from centuries past. Statutes, pillars, pottery, even tile floors remain in the depths to be enjoyed. You can explore the underwater cities of Baia and Portus Julius in a glass-bottom boat at Baia Underwater Park, if getting wet isn’t your thing.
How to get there:
Meridiana Eurofly has frequent, conveniently scheduled flights direct to Naples Airport from JFK.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
The Italian roots of Tango. I confess; I never know there were any. I’ve always thought of Tango as a supremely Argentine creation, practiced in dark dance halls with low-ceilings filled with cigarette smoke and perspiration. It turns out this image isn’t far from the truth, but I forgot one vital component: the effect of Italian immigration to Buenos Aires, the birthplace of Tango.
I had the pleasure of discussing this phenomenon with Eduardo Tami, master flautist and star of the international Tango scene (eduardotami.com.ar). He has recorded numerous Tango CD’s and regularly tours the world with his own band or as a featured performer with other world-class musicians. Tami is a native of Buenos Aires, born of Italian immigrant parents. He has first-hand knowledge of Italian musical influences on Tango melodies and dance.
Large numbers of Italian immigrants reached South American shores in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Notes Tami, “Immigration was encouraged by South American countries who offered land to new arrivals. They wanted to attract professionals, artists and business people, but these people were comfortable in their own countries. Instead, the poor and undereducated answered the call.” These immigrants arrived mainly in the ports of Buenos Aires and soon learned that the promises of land were empty. Too poor or hopeless to return home, they remained in city. Says Tami, “By 1905, there were about 3 million Italian immigrants in Buenos Aires.”
This infusion of Italians, mostly from Naples and nearby areas, greatly impacted the development of Argentine Tango. Neapolitans brought their lyrical style of violin and dancing across the ocean with them. They settled in the same poverty-stricken neighborhoods where Tango was already the music of heartache and longing. They sang and played, danced and blended their traditions with the local population and in so doing, altered the direction of an art form. Speaking of the Italian influence on Tango, iconic musician Jose Libertella observed, “Tango started in brothels and the poorest sections of town. It’s the music of immigrants. It’s of emotional people going through emotional times.”
Libertella arrived in Buenos Aires from Italy in 1934 and became a maestro on the bandeneon, sometimes called the Argentine accordion. Legend says the first bandeneon was abandoned by a German sailor in an Argentine pawn shop. “The first time I heard it played it seemed magical to me.” Libertella spun this magic on the Tango, and together with his Sexteto Mayor Orchestra, is credited with “breathing life into the Tango Argentino.”
But Libertella in turn credits many Italian artists with giving the definitive form to Tango. Ernesto Sabato, actress Tita Merello, lyricist Homero Manzi (changed from Manzioni) and the father of Tango, Carlos Gardel. Musicians like Carlos di Sarli, Alfredo DiAngelis and Rodolfo Biagi. Since Libertella’s time, the magnificent composer and musician Astor Piazzola continues to celebrate the tradition of Tango and evolve it into the future with musical experimentation.
Monday, May 30, 2011
“Fashion is fashion and art is art. You create one work of art and it goes down in history. It is not a product that has to sell millions. But fashion is.” So spoke Franca Sozzani, Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia. It is this kind of thinking that allowed Sozzani to transform the magazine from a predictable catalogue into one of the world’s premier fashion publications.
It was standing room only at NYU’s Casa Italiana as Vogue Italia took center stage. Sozzani spoke candidly of her triumphs and missteps in her 23 years at the helm of Vogue Italia. Joining her in the discussion were Grazia d'Annunzio, US Special Projects Editor, Vogue Italia, Eugenia Paulicelli, Professor of Italian and Comparative Literature, co-Director of The Concentration in Fashion Studies at the Graduate Center, CUNY and Dr. Stefano Albertini, Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimo’.
Sozzani described the state of Vogue Italia when she took the reins in 1988, “It was a fashion catalogue. The same designers were presented every month, page after page, always in the same order.” Sozzani shook things up and created something very different. “It was hard for the first 2 years. The designers weren’t happy because they weren’t getting the same level of attention and stories as before. The advertisers who liked the catalogue format left the magazine altogether.” It wasn’t until the February, 1990 issue that featured Madonna as a modern Marilyn Monroe that Sozzani’s vision was vindicated. The cover created much needed positive buzz for Vogue Italia and its new style began to catch on.
One of Sozzani’s priorities is to present the magazine in a way that attracts attention. She explained, “To me, all fashion magazines look alike, especially with digital cameras and Photoshop. Everyone thinks they’re a fashion photographer. But there is more to it than that. We all use the same models and the same clothes. Fashion magazines look good, but flat.”
To make Vogue Italia stand out, she collaborated with renowned photographer Steven Meisel. “Steven appreciates women and knows fashion. He carries the history of fashion in his head. He gives an identity to the magazine.” Since his arrival in 1988, Meisel shoots 12 covers a year for Vogue Italia, a rare honor in the capricious fashion industry.
Sozzani deliberately emphasizes images in the magazine because it is a form of universal communication, not dependent upon whether a reader understands Italian. “At the same time,” she declares, “the magazine is not a photographer’s portfolio.” She keeps her eye on the delicate balance between artistic freedom and product marketing. She describes fashion as “artsy” rather than as art. “Fashion is fashion and art is art. You create one work of art and it goes down in history. It is not a product that has to sell millions. But fashion is.”
Sozzani has never been shy about presenting her point of view in Vogue Italia. This has placed the magazine at the forefront of social issues. One of these is race. Sozzani told the story of watching a runway show where she found the models indistinguishable from one another; all of them tall, blonde, wispy, long-haired and White. “The only one who impressed me was Kedebe from Ethiopia, so beautiful and alive.” Sozzani decided to dedicate an issue to celebrating Black beauty, using all Black models. “The biggest problem I had was convincing those around me that it was a good idea.” The July 2008 issue took 6 months to complete and was published with 4 different covers, each featuring a different model. “This was the first time we had to reprint an issue. Usually there are always some left over that you have to throw away. But this one had to be reprinted to keep up with demand.” Since then, Sozzani has seen an increase in the use of Black models by agencies and in runway shows.
Certain aspects of the fashion industry clearly disturb Sozzani. She admires past Super Models who exhibited a healthy body, like Cindy Crawford and Naomi Campbell. The ever-decreasing ages of current models presents a different image. “These girls are 14, 15 years old. They are not women. They can’t wear women’s clothes or move like women. They move like kids, teenagers.” Nevertheless, these underdeveloped bodies are dressed, made up and photographed like grown women and presented as the way grown women should look. This came to a head when Sozzani discovered that hundreds of pro-anorexia websites and blogs encourage young people to engage in anorexia as a lifestyle choice. To combat this, Sozzani established Vogue Italia’s Anti-Anorexia Campaign. The Campaign supports various organizations that help victims of this condition to regain their healthy bodies and perspectives. There is a petition on Vogue Italia’s website to close pro-anorexia sites and blogs.
Vogue Italia’s website, vogue.it, launched in February, 2010 and currently draws 1,000,000 unique visitors a month. Rather than competing with the magazine, both formats seem to be growing together. Magazine sales increased 27% since September, 2010 and 21% since January 2011. One reason for this is probably Sozzani’s “Editor’s Notes” blog. Her frequent posts allow people to connect with her and get to know her. She has recently compiled her blog posts (in Italian) in a book called “I Capprici della Moda” (“The Whims of Fashion”).
Recently the site launched PhotoVogue, a place for young, aspiring fashion photographers to show their work. Currently, over 1600 photographs can be accessed in these online portfolios. This allows an otherwise unattainable level of connection with gallery owners and agents. Vogue Italia is planning to host an exhibition of the best 100 photographs.
Six years ago the magazine held its first young designer contest, which has since become an industry highlight. Hopeful contestants must already be selling at least a small amount of pieces in 1 or 2 stores. Finalists are judged in Rome, but the judges are from all over the world. Winners need not be Italian, but they are expected to keep production in Italy. Sozzani is very proud of the fact that all of the finalists over the past 6 years are currently employed in the fashion industry.
Franca Sozzani’s point of view is strong, clear and courageous. She brings depth to an industry often skewered for its superficiality. She’s a breath of fresh air.
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
The Marche region is located in central Italy, its eastern coastline bathed in the Adriatic Sea. Moving inland from the beaches, rolling hills play host to half-hidden castles and hamlets surrounded by winding roads that open to endless vistas. It is less touristed than neighboring Tuscany and Umbria and is celebrated for its high quality of life. It’s no wonder that, according to a recent study, residents of Le Marche enjoy a longer life expectancy than anywhere else in Italy.
Le Marche is interested in attracting tourists, however, and to that end Riccardo Strano, Director of Italian Government Tourist Board North America, hosted an informational event in NYC. Amerigo Varotti, Director of the Le Marche’s Trade and Commerce Federation focused the presentation on the region’s northern province of Pesaro and Urbino. According to Mr. Varotti, “This event is an opportunity to present American travel professionals with the best of our region; particularly its history and culture, fashion, food and wine. The New York Times has recently named Le Marche ‘The New Tuscany.’ Here, the American tourist will find peace and harmony, as well as high quality tourist services.” Other members of the delegation included Pietro Marcolini, Le Marche Minister of Culture and Alberto Drudi, President of Pesaro Urbino Chamber of Commerce.
From left: Pietro Marcolini, Riccardo Strano, Amerigo Varotti.
The city of Pesaro boasts beautiful beachfront and a fishing port along with its cultural offerings. It’s the birthplace of the great composer Rossini and hosts the annual Rossini Opera Festival (August 10-23, 2011). The Palazzo Ducale, a recently restored 15th century Renaissance palace, is a jewel hosting public art exhibition space. Not far from the Palazzo, the Cattedrale contains mosaics from the 6th and 4th centuries.
The city of Urbino is a treasure of art and architecture. Here you will fine the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, housing artworks by Raphael (who was born here) and Piero della Francesca. For architecture, the towers and turrets of Urbino’s many palaces, as well as their intricate interiors, are stunningly preserved. Mr. Varotti noted, “Urbino is the birthplace of the Renaissance painter and architect, Raffaello Sanzio, as well as the cradle of humanistic science.”
Le Marche has a rich musical history beside from being Rossini’s birthplace. The region gave the world opera luminaries like Renata Tibaldi, Beniamino Gigli and Franco Corelli. Although the Rossini Opera Festival is an international stand-out, Le Marche celebrates other types of entertainment as well. From blues and jazz to klezmer, dance productions including ballet, concerts, plays and even a comedy festival, the arts have a home in Le Marche.
And speaking of art, the province of Pesaro and Urbino is home to ancient, hand-crafted traditions. Ceramics flourish in Pesaro, Urbania and Vado. Terracotta figures are made in Fratterosa and Pesaro is famous for handmade pipes. Hand-woven carpets can be found at Piobbico and Novilara, and the working wrought iron is a generations-old practice in Cagli. Stone cutters and stone masons of Sant'Ippolito continue to create detailed figures and motifs, while goldsmiths fashion beauty in Fano.
To see a wonderful Italian commercial for the Le Marche region starring Dustin Hoffman, click here.
To learn more about this intriguing region, click here.
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Eataly is a delightful combination of food market, cooking school and restaurant. It continues to expand into various Italian cities as well as Japan and Manhattan. But before it completely conquers the world, I wanted to return to where it all began: Turin, Italy.
Eataly (eataly.it) was founded by Oscar Farinetti and opened its doors in Turin in 2007. Oscar Farinetti had previously founded two very successful Italian appliance stores, UniEuro and Trony. But he wanted to return to his first love - food - so he sold the appliance companies and created Eataly.
Rather than just another food store, Eataly is a food experience. It combines professional restaurants, high-quality products and extensive, accessible education. Clear information is posted throughout the store explaining the origins and use of the products. Customers can attend an array of cooking classes given by the store’s expert staff or guest chefs. I attended a class given by the head of the seafood department. His taught the class how to feed 8 people for 8 euro (about $10) by choosing the freshest fish and then cooking and seasoning it in the simplest and most flavorful way.
My favorite aspect of Turin’s Eataly is the cellar: cool, climate controlled spaces are dedicated to wine, cheese and meat. What makes this special is that anyone can rent space in these cellars to age their food or wine. Alberto Peroglio Longhin, the president of Liberi Tutti, a company associated with Eataly, explains it this way, “Even if someone lives here in Torino, they still want to live like they have the advantages of a farm. So for example, they can buy a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and age it in our cellars until it’s ready. Then they can take it home and enjoy it.” You can enjoy photos of the cellar (and the rest of Eataly) in the slideshow below.
Consistent with Eataly’s philosophy that education should be fun, you can pick up an Eatinerario, which is an itinerary in a box, while you’re shopping. This is a special travel adventure designed to bring you to the places in Italy where some of Eataly’s delectable food is produced. Eatinerari are available in different price ranges and last from several hours to 2 days. The shortest itinerary sends you for an afternoon drive in your car to various locations of Eataly growers and farmers. One of your destinations will serve you a delicious lunch from “a rich menu of local flavors.” Other itineraries provide a guide and gourmet dinners. Whichever one you choose, everything you need for your Eatinerario (maps, reservations, etc.) are packed in a small, handy box with handles.
It’s no mystery that Eataly was created in Turin, because it is also the birthplace of the Slow Food movement. Slow Food is an organization founded in 1989 in response to the concept of fast food and all it brings with it: fast life, disconnection from the origins of our food supply and disappearance of local food traditions. Instead, Slow Food protects the heritage of food and culture by strengthening the connections between plate and planet. It believes that farmers, producers, cooks and consumers must work together to protect the world’s food heritage.
The Slow Food organization is a consultant for Eataly. Among other things, its members inspect Eataly’s producers and farmers to ensure that the quality of their products is not compromised to satisfy growing demand. Slow Food helps Eataly showcase sustainable agriculture and artisanal food production. To learn more, visit slowfood.com.
Enjoy the slideshow of just some of the offerings of Turin’s Eataly!
Friday, April 22, 2011
Glide, loop, swoosh. Repeat. Taste, indulge, refine, relax. Breathe, savor, smile, dream. Do it all at the Alpine ski resorts of Sestriere in Piedmont, Italy. Perched among the Italian Alps, Sestriere is one of Europe’s highest resorts and is about 8 miles from the French-Italian border. It features over 275 miles of ski runs, 66 lifts and even offers night skiing. The ski season goes from early December to late April and the nearest airport is Turin (Torino). As the center of the Via Lattea or Milky Way, Sestriere links to the nearby villages of Sauze d'Oulx, Sansicario, Cesana and the border-village of Claviere and Montgenèvre in France.
Sestriere was built by the Agnelli family, owners of the Fiat car company. They believed in creating a snow-sure resort and pioneered snowmaking in the 1970’s, decades before most other European resorts understood its value. Sestriere hosted alpine events in the 2006 Winter Olympics and the World Alpine Ski Championships in 1997.
Elsewhere in the town of Sestriere is Bardonecchia, a ski resort with amazing views, downhill and cross-country skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing and 4 ski schools. The unexpectedly named Camp Smith at Bardonecchia is actually named for Harald and Trigwe Smith, two Norwegian brothers who set ski jump world records there in 1909. Bardonecchia has hosted the 2006 Winter Olympics, the Universiadi 2007, World Cup snowboard competitions and FIS Carving cup competitions. Italian, Spanish and American teams train there as well as athletes of Rossignol. It is one of Italy’s top ten ski resorts.
Bardonecchia has over 60 miles of ski runs (many with snow cannons) and 21 lifts. The lift ride to the mid-mountain La Grangia restaurant is breathtaking. Tranquil and stunning, the ride over the treetops glistening with snow was a highlight. Once off the lift, you can go inside the restaurant or enjoy the sun and fresh air by eating at one of the many picnic tables provided. I spent some time at a picnic table, basking in the sun and watching the skiers come down the mountain. Since it was Fat Tuesday, some of them glided down in costume with capes flying!
The area cuisine is hearty, befitting a mountain village in winter: local meat, risotto and agnolotti pasta (similar to ravioli). But don’t forget the truffles or gorgonzola and toma cheeses. And then there’s the wine. The Nebbiolo grape creates complex Barolo and Barbaresco. On the lighter side, Piedmont is the land of Asti Spumante. And for heaven’s sake, don’t forget the chocolate. Piedmont is home to some of the world’s finest chocolate makers: Venchi, Caffarel and Ferraro (makers of Nutella), to name a few.
I was fortunate enough to experience this Winter Wonderland on a trip sponsored by the Italian Government Tourist Board (italiantourism.com), The Region of Piedmont (regione.piemonte.it) and CEIP, the Piedmont agency for Investments, Export and Tourism (centroestero.org).
A note on Alitalia: when the airline was government-owned, I was not a fan of this operation. I objected to indifferent customer service and its habit of going on strike and stranding its customers in the middle of high tourist season. But according to Lisa del Percio, Marketing Coordinator for Alitalia, “Now that it is 100% privately owned, those days are gone. That kind of behavior is no longer tolerated.”
The airline is working hard to rehabilitate its image and I was impressed with my flight experience. Economy class is now “Classica”, but it’s not just the name that’s changed. The blankets are warm, soft and designed by Frette. The in-flight entertainment is the best I’ve seen yet, offering a surprising variety of general release and independent films in English and Italian, along with TV shows and games. In addition, Alitalia has introduced Classica Plus, which is Premium Economy. With 20% more leg room than Economy, you can also enjoy wine and noise-reducing headphones. Business Class (Magnifica) offers an amenity kit designed by Bulgari as well as cutlery and glasses designed by Richard Ginori. It should be noted that Alitalia won Global Traveler’s award for Best Airline Cuisine.
If you’d like to book a ski vacation in Piedmont, I recommend www.worldonskis.com. They are ski specialists with years of experience in the Italian ski market.
It would be hard to find a better guide than Carol Bazzani (carolbazzani.it). Raised in Canada and Piedmont, Italy, Carol guided our diverse and crazy group through the best of Sestriere. She can do the same for you, throughout Piedmont. Carol is fluent in English and Italian.
Du Grand Pere
Via Forte Seguin, 14, 10058 Sestriere
Telephone: (+39) 0122755970
A cozy stone chalet in Sestriere, family run and lovingly serving hearty local specialties with a good wine list. It currently does not have a website.
Belvedere Hotel & Restaurant.
Via Cesana 18 - 10058 Sestriere
Telephone: (+39) 0122750698
Ask for La Pierrade: you can grill a variety of meats and vegetables on a hot Ardesia Stone, all at your table. It’s a genuine local experience!
Via Assietta 4, Sauze d’Oulx
Telephone: (+39) 0122850329
Located in the old town section of charming Sauze d’Oulx, it’s a casual eatery with a varied, high quality local menu. Great desserts.
Hotel Shackelton Mountain Resort
Via Assietta, 1/B - 10058 Sestriere (To)
Tel. +39 0122/750773 - Fax +39 0122/76683
Colorful, quirky and beautifully appointed, they’ve thought of everything, including a telescope in the top floor lounge for stargazing.
Grand Hotel Sestriere
Via Assietta, 1 – Sestriere
Tel. +39 0122/76476 - Fax +39 0122/76700
When the crew of NBC-TV needed a place to stay for coverage of the 2006 Olympics, this was their choice. A spacious and luxurious alpine experience.
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Noto is a small, picturesque village in the hills of southeastern Sicily that is defying the odds. Many of its young people remain in the town and open small businesses rather than move to bigger cities. Its birth rate is on the upswing, while in the rest of Sicily the rate is below zero. In 2009, Noto’s population grew by 3,000.
What is causing this? Look no further than, of all places, Noto City Hall. In a country where positive things often occur in spite of those in government, Noto is governed by courageous visionaries. Its present Mayor, Corrado Valvo, has a distinct plan in mind:
focus on a particular type of traveler rather than create a mass tourist destination. This deliberate and courageous decision is serving Noto well. The city has become a favorite of cultural voyagers and a haven for painters and artists of all types. Hotels and fattorie operate year round, not just in tourist season. It’s one of the few Italian cities where museums stay open until midnight. Museum staff speak five languages, including Chinese and will soon add Japanese. Noto’s atmosphere is creative and forward-thinking while keenly preserving its past.
As it happens, this is not the first time Noto has been reborn. Mentioned in works by Cicero and Pliny, legend holds that Dedalus stopped here after his flight over the Ionian Sea and Hercules rested in its arms after his seventh task. In the following centuries Noto birthed artists, composers, intellectuals and architects. In 1503, King Ferdinand III dubbed it “the ingenious city”.
This ingenuity would be sorely tested in 1693 when Noto was leveled by a devastating earthquake. It was impossible to rebuild in the same location (now referred to as Noto Antica), so its surviving inhabitants moved about 4 miles south and settled on the left bank of the Asinaro River. Here, a reimagined Noto took shape and is now considered a jewel of Sicilian Baroque architecture. Some of the most famous architects, masons and sculptors of the time joined together to resurrect the city. Its meticulously carved historic buildings are made of local yellowish, honey-colored stone. Now a UNESCO world heritage site, the organization bestowed this distinction because Noto “represent(s) the culmination and final flowering of Baroque art in Europe… successfully carried out at a high level of architectural and artistic achievement…(and) depict(s) distinctive innovations in town planning and urban building.”
Another earthquake hit Noto in 1990, destroying public and private buildings and causing serious structural damage to the cathedral. In 1996, the duomo roof collapsed entirely. Recently restored, the cathedral is just another example of a town that refuses to give up.
I visited Noto recently with the Italian Government Tourist Board (italiantourism.com) and Sicilia Natura, an organization dedicated to preserving Sicily’s environmental heritage. Noto is located close to the spectacular Vendicari Nature Reserve and Marine protected area. The city recognizes the value of the natural beauty of its surroundings and is willing to fight to keep it. Sometimes, it opposes powerful economic interests. For example, Noto recently fought a plan to build a factory in its midst, despite the jobs it would have created. The factory was considered incompatible with the quality of life and aesthetic the city is working to enhance.
Annually, on the third Sunday of May, Noto is transformed during the manifestazione dell’infiorata, or the Festival of Flowers. The city is carpeted with stunning works of art painstakingly created with petals, seeds and unfettered imaginations. By its nature, this colorful blossoming lasts for only a few days before it disappears, awaiting the next festival to be invited to bloom again. Somehow, this seems to be the perfect festival for Noto, a city whose destiny seems so closely tied to destruction and rebirth.
To learn more about Noto and plan a trip, click here.
Sunday, February 20, 2011
The island of Sicily is actively promoting its environmental assets by attracting eco-friendly tourism. A newly formed association, SiciliaNatura (sicilianatura.org), is an organizing point for this initiative. It was through them and the Italian Government Tourist Board that I found myself in a remote mountaintop hideaway, chilly in September, nibbling on Sicilian specialties and listening to a live band play some of the best folk music of the island.
Allow me to back up a little. The Nebrodi mountains are in northeastern Sicily and are part of the Sicilian Apennines. Parco dei Nebrodi (Nebrodi Park) was created in 1993 and is Sicily’s largest protected reserve. The Park is home to a stunning array of wildlife, including the San Fratellani horses. They are perhaps Sicily’s most wild species of horse, and here “wild” is a relative term. They are cared for, sheltered and fed and I saw a few wearing a bell around their necks. But none of this detracts from their singular nobility. There are less than 800 San Fratellani horses in the world and only a few hundred live in Nebrodi. It was a rare privilege to see them up close.
It was also a rare privilege to see Nebrodi Park, which is a part of Sicily not many travelers experience. The views are open and vast, the air crisp and clean. Mountains rise and fall gracefully into untouched green valleys. Lakes shimmer and reflect the white clouds as they move overhead. And it’s quiet. No vespas whirring or radios playing. It’s a place to appreciate, ponder and enjoy.
We spent the night at the Rifugio del Parco (rifugiodelparco.com), sitting high in the mountains, in a setting as remote as it was beautiful. The Rifugio serves as a rustic retreat for hikers making their way across portions of the Nebrodi mountains, or for anyone who wants to get away from it all and revel in mountainside Nature. The rooms are clean and small with most of the space taken up by beds (including bunk beds). The bathrooms are modern and well-designed for the space. Each room has a shower, hair dryer, TV and telephone. The communal dining room is on the first floor and serves wonderful, hearty food to satisfy a mountaineer’s appetite. Prices are very reasonable.
Rifugio del Parco offers a variety of hiking and trekking routes for its guests, categorized by level of difficulty and suitability for children. These treks bring you along pristine wetlands, towering forests and magnificent rock formations that are nesting sites for raptors and other wildlife. A few of these trails will even bring you to small, picturesque villages.
But back to my chilly September evening. On this particular night, we were entertained by Antichi Suoni, a rather famous Sicilian musical group (antichisuoni.it). The seven-man group has spent years researching and performing the centuries-old folk music of Sicily. They often play at festivals throughout Europe and have several CDs to their credit.
Antichi Suoni translates to Ancient Sounds, and the group keeps their sound as true to Sicily’s ancient roots as possible. They play the traditional instruments associated with this music, including guitar, mandolin, accordion, recorder, tamburello and tammorra. Their music evokes images of shepherds and minstrels whose melodies graced the countryside for centuries.
Nebrodi Park is designed for the intrepid traveler seeking an alternative to the expected tourist experience.
Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Torino (Turin) is the capital of the Piemonte (Piedmont) region in the northwest corner of Italy. Internationally famous as the home of the Shroud of Turin, which is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, the city has many other reasons to make a visit.
1. Celebration of the 150th Anniversary of Italy’s unification. From March 17 to November 20th, Torino will greet you with Esperienza Italia, a showcase of extraordinary exhibitions and programs rich with culture, food and entertainment.
2. Art and Culture. Torino is overflowing with artistic and historical wealth. 40 museums present the best in ancient and contemporary art. Add film and music festivals and stir.
3. A Wealth of Royal Residences. The castles and palaces of the House of Savoy are transformed into museums, concert halls and exhibit spaces. 15 of the royal residences are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
4. Nature. Torino boasts miles and miles of greenery and tree-lined avenues. There are 17 city parks and a botanical garden. The Royal Gardens were designed by the same architect who designed the Versailles Gardens in France. All this against the backdrop of the Alps and the meandering Po River.
5. Sports. Torino was home to the 2006 Winter Olympics, 2009 World Air Games and 2010 World Figure Skating Championships. It is also home base for Juventus and Torino soccer teams.
6. Go dancing and stay out late. The old town district of Qadrilatero Romano offers art galleries, wine cellars, restaurants and boutiques that stay open late.
7. Wine. It’s the home of Barolo, Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Dolcetto and Spumante. Need I say more?
8. Food. Torino is famous for its white truffles, special coffees and chocolates, agnolotti ravioli and grissini breadsticks. It’s also home to Eataly, Europe’s largest food and wine emporium. The Piedmont region gave birth to Slow Food, a now global organization dedicated to the enjoyment and preservation of local food traditions, heritage and culture.
Torino is always full of art, natural beauty, food and fun. But in 2011 it’s really something special. Learn more about what Torino has to offer by clicking here.
Tuesday, January 18, 2011
Much of the fascination that Italy holds for me doesn’t come from its big cities, but its smaller villages that populate the hills and valleys. They somehow manage to be isolated despite internet connections and satellite TV. It was a small village that welcomed me on my first trip to Italy, and the more villages I see, the stronger this connection grows. These places embody the everyday culture of Italy, rather than the world class art and music, hustle and bustle that is found in the bigger cities. Not that I have anything against those things. But it’s only in a small village where I can hear the clang of bells dangling from the necks of sheep as they climb down the steep hillside paths at the end of a long day. Or enjoy the sound of children singing from inside a school as I meander past, savoring a cup of gelato. This is not an experience of the fast and furious, but for what I like to call the slow and curious.
Generally speaking, these villages are not on most tourist itineraries. Yet, it is precisely these unique places, cut off from the constant ebb and flow of outside visitors, that incubate the Italy that so many tourists dream about. Lest all of this sound too idyllic, it is important to remember that these villages are not museums frozen in time, but places where people actually live; communities with economic, social, cultural and political concerns.
The National Association of Italian Municipalities created an organization to identify, encourage and safeguard the multi-faceted legacy of the small Italian village, I Borghi Piu Belli d’Italia (The Most Beautiful Villages of Italy). Formed in 2001, it is a surprisingly recent organization dedicated to the protection and promulgation of the history, art, culture, traditions and environment found in these special places. Villages are evaluated for membership based on various criteria, including the citizen’s quality of life (such as types of available activities and services) and architectural and historical consistency. Approximately 200 villages throughout Italy are current members, and membership is regularly re-evaluated to keep standards high. As a group, I Borghi allows its member villages to take advantage of an accessible tourist platform that, up to this point, villages have not been able to access individually.
If you are intrigued by experiencing this special side of Italy, keep in mind that traveling to villages like these present certain challenges. They may be time-consuming to reach, since they are not on the usual tourist train and highway routes. Communication may be a problem; how much English, if any, is spoken there? Fiorello Primi, the President of the Club of I Borghi Più Belli d'Italia puts it this way, “We are not offering heaven on earth, but we do want that the increasing numbers of people who return to live in these small historic villages and the visitors who are interested in learning about them may find the atmosphere, the fragrances and flavors that make local customs, products and traditions a way of life that is worth savoring with all five senses.” In short, though it may not be for everyone, the rewards are great.
I Borghi più belli d'Italia was featured by the Italian Government Tourist Board North America at a recent event in New York City. Hosted by the lively and engaging Board Director, Riccardo Strano, we learned the results of the latest polls on Italian tourism: Italy is number one on the list of Americans’ desired vacation destinations.
But which villages to choose? How can I get there? Where should I stay? Answers to these and other important questions can be found at I Borghi’s well-designed website, www.borghitalia.it. There are links to information on every member village, including hotels, restaurants, images, events and shopping. You can make reservations through the website and just count the days until your departure for la bell’italia.