twelfth night

January 6, 2014 christmas, diario/journal, italy

on the twelfth day of christmas, my true lovelast entry – christmas 2013
prologue-1 – italy 2014

MagiThe impetus for this entry is the magical word twelfth. I can’t spell it, because I have no understanding of how you combine a t, a w, an e, an l, an f, another t and an h into a word. What were them Middle Englishers thinking? And yet I love the contortions the tongue has to perform in order to make the sound. It comes out like an incantation.

Not to be outdone by them 14th century peoples, I’ve assembled my own contradictions from highfalutin Shakespeare (the post title), and Giotto (the image), to the low-brow Twelve Days of Christmas (the entry title). While using the Catholic feast of the Epiphany to tie them all together.

The pic is Giotto’s Adoration of the Magi. (Giotto’s frescoes remind me of American primitive paintings.) With camels and gifts the three kings have followed the comet – the brown ball at the top of the image – to the stable at Bethlehem. In the fresco, this stable seem to be the end of the road. The oldest king has taken off his crown and kneels before the child. All present watch except for the camel driver who prefers to attend to his animals. (He’s my favorite character in this Medieval pageant.)

The 2013 Christmas season is done. And good riddance. I am so glad to be nowhere near northern Michigan; to not hear anymore carols, holiday greetings, birthday wishes or questions about retirement.

Yesterday, I went over to Rick-and-Sarah’s and we booked our flights to Italy for August.


January 24, 2014 diario/journal, italy, reflections

moore, barlow, serra, scaife and cathedralprologue-2 – italy 2014

InterN 004A(moore) Reclining Figure, (barlow) Tip, (serra) Carnegie, (left) Scaife Wing, (right) Cathedral of Learning – University of Pittsburgh.

Weather talk is always so cliché, but this has been an incredibly cold month. Frigid temperatures and snowfall have interrupted 25% of our school-days and it looks line next week will get chewed up again by the descent of the Polar Vortex below the 49th parallel.

I used the image on the left more because inside of it is a sense of spring. Barlow’s sculpture suggests growing things. This morning I was thinking about all the snowdrops that I planted in the blueberry beds in the back of the yard. I’m hoping to see some evidence of green in the next 3 or 4 weeks.

The other topic to keep me hopeful through this miserable January is the trip to Italy. This year I’ll be there 3 weeks and for the first time ever, I am not traveling in early August. Three of us are going and we’ll begin in Sicily the first week, travel through Calabria, Basilicata and Campania the second week and then onto Rome for our third week. This will be my first time in Sicily. (I’m not counting the one-day trip to the Aeolian Island of Panarea in 2009.)


January 26, 2014 diario/journal, italy, reflections

copper dragonfly covered in january snowprologue-3 – italy 2014

DSC_7884After my experience with doing a bank transfer for a down-payment on the apartment we are renting in Siracusa, I’ve decided to chronicle the planning of the trip to Italy.

The bank transfer done, means that I can concentrate on housing for the other two weeks. (The third leg of the trip is Rome and because we’re there for a week, lodging will be easier.) I’m now trying to figure out the middle week and how to divide the time. Rick-and-Sarah want to go to Aprigliano, so we’ll be in southern Calabria for at least 3 days.

The first week, we’re staying in south-eastern Sicily on the peninsula of Ortigia – the ancient city-center of Siracusa. Cicero claimed Siracusa was one of the most important and most beautiful cities of the Greek world. Its grandeur rivaled Athens.


June 16, 2014 diario/journal, italy

autostrada del soleprologue-4 – italy 2014

autostradaLet me put up a tentative itinerary.

We arrive in Palermo on Saturday, August 30 and drive the three hours to Modica on the A18. We’re in Sicily for one week. We’ll go to Agrigento, Siracusa, Ragusa and the amazing Scala dei Turchi beach.

On Saturday, September 6 we’ll find our way onto the A15 and head up to Messina to get the ferry to cross over to Villa San Giovanni on the Reggio Calabria side. Autobahnsymbol2I’m hoping we can spend a couple of hours in Reggio; the lungomare is phenomenal. The second week, we’re in Belmonte Calabro for the first half and Naples for the second. We’re driving the A3 between Reggio and Calabro. We will visit with my relatives in Aprigliano and Pietrafitta and go to Pompeii when in Naples.

The third week we’ll be in Rome. Half-way between Naples and Rome, off the A1, is Cassino. Here the Axis and Allied forces fought the Battle for Rome. I want to see the WWII cemetery at the bottom of the mountain and Monte Cassino – the Benedictine monastery – at the top. (It was the Allies that bombed the monastery.)

Traveling the Autostrada, I don’t hear the electronic jazz Kraftwerk created all those years ago.
Wir fahr’n fahr’n fahr’n auf der Autobahn  (Like the rest of us, the boys have gotten old.)
But let’s not dither, there is no fusion, no syncopation, no elegance to the Italian autostrada. The pastoral lassitude of the German landscape is replaced by the spikes and tunnels of the Aspromonte.


June 29, 2014 diario/journal, italy

making zucchini flowers into frittersprologue-5 – italy 2014

I knew it was summer, because my mom would make pittuli and even though the term in Italian is generic, to me it always meant zucchini flower fritters. Later, I learned that in Calabria they also made puttuli with cauliflower, dandelion and field greens.

pittuliGrowing up, I always associated the pittuli with the contadini traditions that we brought with us from Calabria. Traditions grounded in eating vegetables from my dad’s garden, in making wine in the fall, in making sausage, prosciutto and capicola. Today, the markets in Italy are full of zucchini flowers and trendy restaurants both here and there serve the blossoms dipped in batter. (I’ve never eaten the dipped zucchini flowers. This summer whether in Sicily, Calabria, Naples or Rome, I want to make sure to try them.) Today, the salumi my parents make are high-end items at the organic, up-scale markets across the country.

The batter is simple – flour, grated cheese, a couple of eggs and the zucchini flowers. (I use San Pellegrino instead of tap water; the fizz make for a lighter batter.) As a kid, I was given the job of cleaning the zucchini blossoms that my dad picked. He would pick the flowers in the morning when they first open. They are freshest then, and an open blossom tends to have no cucumber beetle in it. By late afternoon the blossoms close and begin to wither trapping any bug in a yellow-orange cocoon. Also, when it comes to zucchini-flower cooking, you can tell who the johnny-came-late are; these late bloomers do not remove the pointy green things at the bottom of the flower before cooking. My mother just shakes her head. She has no understanding why someone who is supposed to know their way around a vegetable can do such a stupid thing.

Also, I don’t put salt in the batter for the pittuli. The cheese has enough salt for this delicate recipe.


July 3, 2014 diario/journal, italy

      the turkish steps outside of agrigentoprologue-6 – italy 2014

t-stepsDLa Scala dei Turchi literally The Ladder of the Turks is a rocky cliff off the southwestern coast of Sicily. The steps, looking south, face Tripoli. La Scala gets its name from the geographical formations – step-like indentations on the white rock-face – and the historical fact that the Turks conducted many raids on the island from this entry point. It’ll be one of our side-trips while in Modica. I just hope that access to the steps is easy and convenient. Not necessarily a concern at most Italian beaches and landmarks. (I will say that signage on Italian roads is way better than signage on roads in France.)

From online images, in the summer the steps teem with sun-worshipers. Such an Italian approach to sun bathing; no one in America would think of slathering themselves in suntan oil and lying on a mountain side facing the afternoon sun. In 2009, we were in Panarea; the island has no beach, but hundreds of sun-bathers were sitting on the volcanic rocks that make up the island’s cliffs.


July 3, 2014 diario/journal, italy

          the old town – fotografia del 1913prologue-7 – italy 2014

modica1913AI’ve never written this much before a trip and I’m not sure why I’m doing it this time. The only reason I can suggest is that I’ve never been to Sicily and am trying to get my head around the place before I actually set foot on the island. My only other experience with Sicily was Panarea and I was amazed. The cannoli were beyond good.

I wonder if I’m dealing with my prejudices about Sicily. After all, I am from that generation that will forever associate the island with organized crime. (Coppola’s Godfather movies defined the island.) Also as Calabresi, we thought of ourselves as better than them Sicilians; we were better than them Sicilians that had immigrated earlier. My parents had an education; they lived in town; they brought over an intact family; they weren’t fugitives; they didn’t have ties to the Mafia; they weren’t starving; they came to Canada; they believed they were forging a new path not following in the wake of those that had left years earlier.

We ended up in Modica after our first rental in Siracusa became unavailable. And yesterday, I read a great blog posting by Rick Zullo a blogger who write for expats. He wrote about Modica’s two city-centers, its good restaurants, and its Baroque architecture. The two city-centers are quite typical of areas damage by earthquakes. The rebuilding happens away from the earthquake area, but then the devastated area slowly gets rehabbed and a city ends up with a new and an old downtown.


July 17, 2014 diario/journal, italy, reflections

    my uncle in romeprologue-8 – italy 2014

Zinga 127My Zinga grandparents came over from Aprigliano in the early 50’s and settled in Toronto. My grandfather Annunziato married his brother’s widow – Concetta Capisciolto – my dad’s mom. Concetta died three years later and my grandfather remarried. He married Raffaella De Francesca and they had five natural children and one from my grandfather’s first marriage. (Annunziato was his formal name; in dialect, everyone called him Nunziatu.)

I got to know my grandparents in high-school; my dad had a car and we would make the trip south for weddings – my aunts, uncles and cousins were all young. Also, in senior year, I traveled back and forth to Toronto as part of the application process into the Brothers. Later in college, because I had to go through Toronto on my way home to Sault Ste Marie, I always planned the trips with an over-night visit with my grandparents.

The guest-room, was next to my grandparents’ bedroom and every night before they got ready for bed, they would pray the rosary and remember Mario in their prayers. Mario was their oldest child and they had left him behind in an institution in Rome. He is mentally disabled. (The above image is Mario back in the early 50’s.)

Back in the 1950’s, Canadian Immigration would not let children with disabilities into the country. And rather than risk being denied entry, my grandparents left Mario behind in an institution. He is still alive and still institutionalized. I’m hoping to visit with him when I’m in Rome in September.

Zinga 097AI believe that on the Zinga side of the family there is a genetic abnormality that has resulted in number of children with disabilities. My grandfather Nunziatu and my uncle Luigi, his older brother, both had mentally retarded children. My uncle Luigi’s son made it through immigration. He grew up in Canada; was never able to live on his own, but he was an active member of the family attending all Zinga family events. I don’t know enough about my uncle Mario to know how severe his disability is. However, it’s also true that other Zinga parents had very bright children; both ends of the spectrum are represented in the extended family.

Today, I met a family that has two boys – the older boy is very bright and the younger is borderline MR. The younger child was visiting the school; he is a perspective 9th grader. What prompted this post is a wonderful exchange with the young man. He is in our office waiting for a tour and he begins asking all these questions and in one exchange he says, “I heard this school was founded by teachers.” One of the admins in the office – Mrs. Welch – points to me. I raised my hand to acknowledging both the question and the pointing. The young man says, “Wow! and you’re still alive.” It made my day. There’s obviously nothing wrong with his sequencing patterns.


July 24, 2014 diario/journal, italy

  AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-EDprologue-9 – italy 2014

hosta-AThe image on the left is the result of shooting a Hosta flower at close range with a tripod. The soft brown background is the wooded fence. And all I did to the image is crop it into a square; no other Photoshop tweaks. I really like the images from this lens. The stamens are almost impossible to see with the naked eye and yet with the micro lens their black caps center the focus. (Most of the images in the slide-show, in the header, were shot with this same lens.)

This post began because of a photo-shoot with a micro lens, but morphed into an account of a medieval king and southern Italy. I added it to Italy 2014, because it’s another piece that has me thinking differently about Sicily.

I just read that the High Renaissance shift in literature normally attributed to Dante and the other Florentines really began with Frederick II in Sicily. Federico II proved an important patron of the arts throughout his entire reign. A poet himself, he prized southern French poetry and welcomed troubadour poets from the region to his court. Through the influence of these writers, a new poetry began to be composed in the Sicilian vernacular. The poetry that emanated from the group had a significant influence on literature and on what was to become the modern Italian language.

Federico was born in Le Marche, in the small town of Jesi. (The original name was spelled Iesi with an i. Many Italian towns have switched and adopted the J. And yet, the letter J is not in the Italian alphabet.)
Jesi is where I found the  amazing doors  by sculptor Paolo Annibali.

Map-Sicily-CFederico was one of the most powerful Holy Roman Emperors of the Middle Ages. His political and cultural ambitions, based in Sicily, stretched through Italy to Germany and even to Jerusalem. His brilliant court which blended Norman, Arabic and Jewish elements was housed in Palermo. Also, in 1234, Federico founded the University of Naples, the first state university in western Europe.

Historian Donald Detwiler wrote: Federico was a man of extraordinary culture, energy, and ability – called by a contemporary chronicler stupor mundi – the wonder of the world – by Nietzsche the first European, and by many historians the first modern ruler – Federico established in Sicily and southern Italy something very much like a modern, centrally governed kingdom with an efficient bureaucracy.

Federico, in Italy, ruled over the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. The kingdom was formed from the union of the Kingdom of Sicily and the Kingdom of Naples. Because of political manoeuvrings, the capital of the unified kingdom fluctuated between Palermo and Naples.

Federico II is buried in the Palermo Cathedral in a sarcophagus of red porphyry mounted on four carved lions.


July 25, 2014 diario/journal, italy

      a window to the soulprologue-10 – italy 2014

windowStained glass windows are not a feature of most of the small churches in southern Italy. In Aprigliano, none of the churches I’ve been in have stained glass. (I associated stained glass with the mausoleums in the cemetery across the valley from Santo Stefano.) The churches have small windows near the ceiling, but these serve to release the heat trapped up high. There are several that have only one window on the wall opposite the altar. I guess with the intense heat the thick stone walls would be compromised if they had large window openings.

In moderate climates, windows were part of the architectural design. They were the eyes lifting to the heavens, they were the pages of Holy Scripture – the Old Testament, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection; they were The Virgin in glory. Think France, Germany and the UK; think Chartres, Cologne, Canterbury. (The Vatican has the magnificent Bernini window of the Holy Spirit over the throne of Peter. But it’s way up there on the altar wall. Is there any other stained glass in the basilica?)

The image on the left is one of the renovated windows of St. Peter’s Church here on the North Side. The building is undergoing a much needed restoration. The stone has been cleaned and the windows brought back to life.

I have two items to dig for during this summer’s trip – evidence of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and examples of stained glass windows in the churches of Calabria. Because of the last post and the research on Federico II, I am determined to understand how Sicily and Calabria are similar. I grew up believing that Sicily was a vast, backward province and now I’m discovering that it was and is a center of culture, art, music, philosophy and learning. I grew up believing that there were few similarities between the Calabresi and the Siciliani. I am suspect of that belief.

Nearly half of the world’s Italians – in Italy and its diaspora – trace their roots to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. I am one of the diaspora; my ancestors lived in the Two Sicilies.


July 29, 2014 diario/journal, italy

il tevereprologue-11 – italy 2014

sun-wallI’ve been listening to Claudio Villa’s  Carozzella romana   and marvel at the lyrical names of the Roman landmarks. (It’s interesting that in Italian the adjective Roman loses its proper noun status and is written with a lower-case  r .)

Tevere rolls off the tongue. Tiber requires a walk through the harsh syllables. The original name for the river resembles the English more than the Italian. Tiber-sculpture(In the image on the left, the face reminds me of the relief of the Tiber god on the Campidoglio steps – above image. According to legend, the god’s hair represents the river.)

TiberThe river begins in the Apennines in Emilia-Romagna, flows south for 252 miles and empties into the Mediterranean south-west of Rome. In the 1930s, Mussolini placed an antique marble column at its source. The inscription reads QUI NASCE IL FIUME SACRO AI DESTINI DI ROMA – Here is born the river sacred to the destinies of Rome. (One sick Italian with illusions of grandeur wrapping himself up in Roman revisionism. And getting hung upside down in a piazza in Milan was a fitting end for this male diva.)

My last two times in Rome were short stays. Dropped the rental at the airport, checked into the Hilton and then got on the bus into town. We’d have about three hours before we had to get back on the bus. The bus stop was at the bottom of the Campidoglio. In 2011, we went walking in Trastevere and on our walk back discovered the development down on the banks of the Tiber –  Lungo il Tevere . The name plays off the Italian word for seashore –  longomare  – which is on directional signs everywhere in the country.


August 1, 2014 diario/journal, italy

il sorriso dei colli, del pincio di villa borgheseprologue-12 – italy 2014

il-pincio1For the longest time, I had no idea what the term del pincio – from the pincio – in the song Carozzella romana referred to. So I hit Wikipedia and found that Il Pincio is the short name for the Pincian Hill in the northeast quadrant of Rome. At the bottom of the hill is Piazza del Popolo and there are steps from the Piazza up to the top of the Pincian Hill to the belvedere and La Villa Borghese. The belvedere serves as a great overlook to the ancient city. The image on the left is of a painting of spectators on the Grand Tour on the belvedere atop the Pincian Hill. (The post title, with its great alliteration, translates to: from the top of the Pincio, which is also the entrance into the Villa Borghese, one can see the Roman hills smiling.)

What is today the Piazza del Popolo was the starting point of the Via Flaminia, the road to Ariminum – modern-day Rimini – and the most important route to the north. The Via Flaminia is the road we followed through Le Marche. I always wanted to know where it ended up in Rome.

With each of these posts that I’ve put into the prologue, I am slowly planning the week in Sicily and the week in Rome. I now have a list of traditional tourists sites and things somewhat-off-the-beaten-track. On the tradition list are things like: the Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, the Colosseum, the Vatican, the Pantheon, the Campidoglio, Piazza Venezia. On the somewhat-off-the-beaten-track list are places like: Tivoli, San Pietro in Vincoli (Michelangelo’s statue of Moses, the chains of St. Peter), Piazza del Popolo, Campo di Fiori and the Jewish Ghetto, Il Lungo Tevere, Il Museo dell’Ara Pacis, Trastevere, the Monti neighborhood, the Basilica di S. Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri. (At least now I feel like I’ve over-planned and can pick and choose from my two lists. I have not done this level of planning for our week in Calabria and Naples.)


August 24, 2014 diario/journal, italy

smiles of a summer nightprologue-13 – italy 2014

late-augThis morning, Rick, Sarah and I sat down for our last planning session before we leave for Italy on Friday. I’m amazed how well we’ve set things up over the last 7 or 8 months. This morning was more of a summation than a decision making breakfast.

I mentioned that the middle week is the time that is not quite set in my mind. We will be three-and-a-half days in Belmonte and two-and-a-half days in Naples. In Calabria we will visit Aprigliano and Cosenza, so I’m thinking we will make the 40 minute trip twice. The other time we can explore the coast and Belmonte. The Naples stay is easier, because it’s shorter and for one day we’re doing to Pompeii. The other time will be taken up with the two museums and the city itself.

We made a decision about how to get to the airport, we decided that we would not buy a tour for Pompeii. (My comment was that with Pompeii all we see are ruins and more ruins. And I don’t know enough Roman history to appreciate the details that a tour-guide would provide.)

On an unrelated topic, today the changes that Dan and I have been talking about are functional on the webpage. There are now buttons for both recent gallery and recent photo-essay. (I need to fix the Photo Essays, the new webpage dimensions have altered the Photo Essay page symmetry. But given that I do photo essays after my trips, this fix will wait until I come back.) And he created a grouping in the gallery listing so that I can organize the various titles into a chronological order.


August 26, 2014 diario/journal, italy

will sicily be brownprologue-14 – italy 2014

brownsI’ve been cleaning up the brick in the back-yard and as I was working, noticed the amazing shadows and all the shades of brown streaking the bricks. I love the gradations of reds and browns. (I am shooting east, the setting sun is behind me. The sun streams through the fence slats. In the center is Wright’s sprite; behind it is the garage wall with its reliefs and ornaments; on the left is the shadow of the California Cyprus; and on the right the Japanese lilac leans over the water-spirit.) Also, between beginning this post and now, I’ve cut off the bottom most branch of the Japanese lilac. I’m going for a wind-swept look and need to remove all the verticals.

The colors remind me of our time in Pellaro and where the accommodations were not very good, but the terrace, Mount Etna in the distance, the sun-dried Calabrian hills, the Straits of Messina in front of us, the Tahiti Cafe, the small grocery store across the street and the frutta e verdura opposite us were amazing. Every evening we would set up on the terrace, by then the heat had died down, and we would eat with Etna on our left, the tankers trolling the Straits and behind us the brown hills silent in twilight.

There are two parts of the upcoming trip that are new to me and I don’t know anything about. One is Sicily and the other is Naples. (I wonder if we can go down to the Naples boat-yards. My family left Italy from Naples back in 1957.)

While in Sicily, we will go to Agrigento, the Turkish Steps, Siracusa, and the Baroque towns of the Val di Noto. Modica, where we’re staying, is a decent size city and we will walk through it looking for the places the tourists avoid.


August 28, 2014 diario/journal, italy

having a mentor is invaluableprologue-15 – italy 2014

stepsThis post ends the Prologue. (I had to do it on an odd number – prologue-15.)

This past week, I’ve been writing to my cousin Rose and talking about all the detail work she does when planning our trips. For the past 10 years, she has managed all the trip planning. I’m good at suggesting places to stay and visit, but she turns those suggestions into actual trips. She researches accommodations, she finds out when the local food markets happen, she even knows the specialty foods of each area we will be in. Last year when we had a horrendous experience with our airline reservations, she went as far as re-routing my ticket so that we could all travel together. This time we are not traveling together and I’ve taken on a lot of the planning she has done. So in our emails, we’ve been about trip details. It amazes me how time consuming the planning process is and I’m glad I had the opportunity to go through it with her as a mentor. This year we are staying in 4 different locations and each house/B&B requires its own set of details and planning steps.

I decided to use the above pic of the steps in my back-yard to both represent the steps of the planning process, but also to write about the work I’ve been doing to clean the bricks. Every 5 years the bricks need cleaned, because they get covered with weeds that grow flat on their surfaces or in the crevices between each. (The bricks behind the gloves show the green plants and the moss.) And removing the lateral plants or the moss in the crevices is really hard; the plants have this amazing root system that grows under the brick making pulling the roots impossible. I can remove the flat, green leaves, but in a week the plant has regenerated. The only solution is to pick up each brick and tear out the root systems.


August 30, 2014 diario/journal, italy

driving through the middle of sicily1st entry – italy 2014

Aug-30 023Our various flights from Pittsburgh to Sicily were very different than any others I’ve been on. In Pittsburgh, we got to ticketing and the agent signed Sarah up for an AE card with 50,000 ai-rmiles. Afterwards, she walked us through the priority line and we had no wait-time. JFK was a bit more work, but we got through the lines and to our gate. The plane was delayed an hour. (The Alitalia agent told that we would still make our connection, because the Palermo flight was also delayed.) When we get to Rome, there was an agent at the gate who collected the Palermo passengers and walked us through the airport and put us on a fast line through immigration. But even with that, we still missed the 7:40 connection. She got us new boarding passes and made sure our luggage also go on the later flight.

We got to Palermo and our luggage was there. The Palermo airport is very nice. There was even someone with a broom and pan, cleaning the debris the travelers were leaving behind. (Fiumicino has gone through a massive renovation and the new space is comfortable and clean.) We got our rental and we left for Modica.

The drive along the northern coast was a visual contrast. One the left was the very blue Mediterranean on the right these tall brown mountains. (We actually drove the section where Giovanni Falcone’s car and the accompanying security cars all got blown up by the mafia. There is a marker on the auto-strada commemorating this event.) We then took a right and headed inland. The majority of the inland highway is a super-structure built on pylons and concrete support pillars. Inland Sicily is all farmland the northern area dedicated to wheat and the central and southern area gives way to vineyards and fruit orchards.

The image on the left is a riverbed under the super-structure and over an ancient road with 5 arches over the riverbed. (The super-structure was a huge post-war, put-everyone-to-work project. And I’m sure no one understood or was aware of the amazing environmental significance of this design. The super-structure leaves the land un-scared.)


August 31, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the amazing house in modica2nd entry – italy 2014

Aug-31 048We are staying in a very old house that has been beautifully restored and renovated. The street floor has vaulted ceilings that have been sandblasted clean Half the area makes up the entrance to the house and the other half at one time probably contained a cellar or an animal holding area. The holding area is now a large bedroom, a kitchen, a dining/living room area and an amazing bathroom carved out of the ancient rock and made modern. The piano nobile is very pretty. A porch, overlooking the western half of the valley, has been carved out of the front part of the floor and a kitchen, bedroom, bathroom and living area make up the rest of the floor.

In the image on the left, I am standing on the small living room balcony. The street-light design and placement are standard throughout the old town. Modica is one of the 8 small towns that was totally rebuilt after the 1613 and 1693 earthquakes. And all 8 towns were rebuilt in the Baroque style. (Baroque describes the grand, overstated, dynamic late-European art between 1650 and 1700. St. Peter’s in Rome is grand Baroque.)

The wires show how electrical and cable get to homes in these ancient towns. All outside wires run along the walls of the houses and because all housing is contiguous there is no problem with gaps.

The cactus plants are everywhere in Sicily and their fruit the prickly-pears or as the Italians call them ficodindia are eaten and used to flavor liquors and pasties. The plants were originally used as boundary markers between properties. One farmer got angry with his neighbor and decided to strip the fruit off the plants. The plant re-bloomed and produced even larger fruit the second time around – a new crop yield method was discovered.


September 1, 2014 diario/journal, italy

sicilian landscapes3rd entry – italy 2014

Sept-1 153South-eastern Sicily has been a total surprise. The drive through the middle was through rugged, brown landscapes; through fields planted with citrus, pomegranates and corn; Modica is this wonderful place off-the-beaten-track, it’s full of people at night, the shops are open and the is a great home-base; also there are very few tourists. The roads in the area are limited by the terrain so they’re easier for foreigners like us.

Today we drove north to Caltagirone another of the 8 towns in the Val di Noto that was destroyed in the 1613 earthquake and rebuilt in the Baroque style. Calatgirone is also a ceramic center in Sicily. The drive north took us through some beautiful country. We had to stop and just look at the landscape and I went down into the field to shoot the bridge on the white road. (White roads in Italy are paved with a white gravel; they’re country roads in good condition; but they take you off-the-beaten-track; there are no gas stations, no traffic light and no crazy people trying to pass by pulling into the on-coming lane.) The landscape is nothing like the rest of Italy. (The modern building all look the same regardless of where you are, but the ever-present Baroque is unique, the fields are perimetered by dry-stone walls and many of the roads are all elevated providing amazing vistas.)

Piazza Armerina helped me understand why the people left and went to America. The town was a hovel of small streets and alleys, but the Spanish conquers lived in lavish palaces. The fields around the town still have remnants of the feudal system that the people lived under. It was a great example of Spanish power and the indentured people that they exploited.


September 2, 2014 diario/journal, italy

archimedes, apollo and the gorgon4th entry – italy 2014

Sept-2 082

Siracusa or specifically the island of Ortigia is the home of Archimedes, (The above image is attributed to Archimedes. And tell me it isn’t a quote that’s right up my alley.) the gorgon and Caravaggio’s Santa Lucia al Sepolcro – the Burial of Santa Lucia.

We get there around 10:00 and walk through the food-market full of fruit-and-vegetables and fish. There was tuna, there was sword fish, there were eels, sardines, anchovies and squid. And across the street is the Temple of Apollo. From the market we walked up to the cathedral an amazing structure that retains its Greek, Romanesque, Muslim and Catholic architectural influences.

From the cathedral we went into the Jewish quarter looking for the last remaining ritual bath still in existence here in Sicily. We found the bath, but were not able to take the tour because we were too late. Our next stop was the church and St. Lucy and the famous Caravaggio.

And lunch, OMG! We went to a restaurant recommended by the woman from the agency that I had worked with early in our planning process. (Originally we were going to stay in Ortigia, but that fell through.) We began with antipasti one all vegetable and one all fish and from there we went to the pasta. Let me just say that each year I bring home a food idea, last year it was the caffè shakerato, this year it will be bread-crumbs. The Sicilians put bread-crumbs on fried peppers, on spaghetti. On the fried peppers the bread absorbs the olive oil, on the spaghetti it absorbs some of the tomato sauce. The bread-crumbs give both dishes a texture that I love.


September 2, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the funeral procession on its way out5th entry – italy 2014

Sept-2 121We arrive in Noto, the most famous of the 8 Baroque towns rebuild after the 1613 earthquake and coming down the cathedral steps is a funeral. (Naturally, I had to shoot it.) We found out later that the funeral mass was held at a different church, because the cathedral had been reserved for a late afternoon wedding – death and life and in this instance life had a reservation and decorators waiting in the wings.

I have to say that the Nikon captured the true color of the amazing cathedral. The stone here is more orange than in the other parts of the Val di Noto and with the late afternoon sun bathing the facade the Baroque grandeur glows. Also, the cathedral has been totally restored. In the late 90’s the dome collapsed and in the rebuild, the town also restored the outside of the structure.

Early in the planning, I had wanted for us to stay in Noto, but am glad there was nothing available. The small town was crowded with tourists and outside the main town square and the main street we did not see much commercial development. Instead here in Modica, we can walk down the hill and hit the stores, the gelaterias, the chocolate shops, the cheese shop and all the restaurants.


September 3, 2014 diario/journal, italy

from the other side of the valley6th entry – italy 2014

Sept-3 037Today we decided to not travel, relax and explore the other side of the valley from where we are staying. In the image on the left, I am shooting from the west. In the middle, in the middle row of houses is one with a lower roof and with greenery on the second floor. That is the house we are renting. Above the house and one street behind us is a red car. That is the Fiat QUO that we are driving.

The western slope is probably the oldest part of the town. There are no wide streets, no Baroque churches and no palaces. It’s the medieval city. We walked through narrow alley, and hundreds of steps to get to the top. But the vistas from this side are amazing, because you are looking at the rebuilt, Baroque.
There seems to be a lot of renovation on this side of the valley. We passed many homes being rebuilt and many of the building permits listed British names as the owners. Modica is known to Europeans and not know to American tourists which is fine by me.

At the bottom of the hill, we went looking for the pastry shop that had the cookies that the agency left for us and after that find, we sat and had a granita. He was out of coffee, so we had lemon and almond ones.


September 3, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the duomo at twilight7th entry – italy 2014

Sept-3 058We’re walking back to the house after our trek up the opposite valley and down to the stores for cookies, pasta and granita and I’m looking up from the alley and see the setting sun bathing the spire of the cathedral. The light turns the stone a honey hue. (In Noto, the evening light and the golden stone make for a spectacular backdrop.) Well there was that same golden hue on the Cathedral of San Giorgio.

The churches here have not undergone any cleaning or renovations. St. Peter’s the other large Baroque is slowly falling into disrepair. The statues on its outside steps are deteriorating, the inside walls and plaster are crumbling; the place needs a good vacuuming. I don’t know if there is a conservation society that will keep Modica’s patrimony from being destroyed by modern pollution. Modica is real and alive with people going about their day-to-day lives. Noto was much more touristy and artificial at least the part we saw. Also, I’m glad we’re staying in Modica; Noto is much too small and the rental was in the middle of all the tourists. Modica allows us to rub elbows with the locals, buy locally produced products and the house is amazing.

Let me add that the weather has been great. The mornings and evenings are cool to the point of needing long sleeves. (I’ve never been here this late in the season and it seems the best time to travel.)


September 4, 2014 diario/journal, italy

catacombs, ruins, a mikvah and a parking-ticket8th entry – italy 2014

Sept-4 007Siracusa so much that we decided to go back again today. We drove and parked in Ortigia and went walking.

We began in the Catacombs of San Giovanni an amazing necropolis. The Greeks had carved an aqueduct with cisterns into the rock-base that the city sits on and later the Romans and Christians carved catacombs out of the aqueduct creating a vast network of tunnels. The necropolis is laid out like a Roman army settlement. It’s so large, you take a tour with a guide.

Our next stop was the Greek Archeological Park. (Greeks from the city-state of Corinth established Siracusa around 729 BCE.) At the site, we saw the Greek Theater and Archimedes tomb. The theater is carved into the mountain creating an amazing sound amplifier.

From the top of the hill that was the new city at the time of the Greeks, we walked back to Ortigia and the market where I bought the things needed for supper. I made pasta with a tomato and tuna dressing. (This is Rose’s recipe.) We also bought prickly-pears and Rick-and-Sarah got to try them for the first time. (We bought them because they were already skinned avoiding the dreaded spine-needles.) Done with out shopping, we headed out to get some lunch,

At 3:00, we got back to the Jewish Quarter to take the tour of the Mikvah. The ritual-bath is under a palazzo that has been re-purposed as a hotel. The bath was discovered when the hotel began its renovation of the site. The volume was filled with earth. In the renovation they removed over 200 truck load of dirt before they had they had uncovered the original ritual baths. (In 1492, after an edict from Ferdinand and Isabelle of Spain that demanded all Jews in Siracusa to either convert or leave the city, the majority left. Before the exodus, the owners of the Mikvah filled it in with earth and stone.) The ritual bath is an amazing legacy from ancient time.

We return to the car, tired and ready for the drive back to Modica and there on the windshield was a parking ticked. In Italy, if you pay within 5 days there is a 30% reduction. Tomorrow, we will go to the post office to pay the ticket. (Yes, you pay parking violations at the post office, go figure. And I bet you’re wondering how I know this – let me just say this isn’t the first ticket I ever got here in the land of bureaucracy and sunshine.)


September 4, 2014 diario/journal, italy

ortigia and tuna covered pasta9th entry – italy 2014

Sept-4 035The above image is the lungomare in Ortigia. The original rental for Siracusa was on this street. (It fell through, because the owner of the house sold it and therefore not available to the rental agency.) On Tuesday, we met the rental agent I had been working with at a caffè in the piazza of the Temple of Apollo and she refunded the down-payment.

There is a difference in the colors here and I can’t seem to put my finger on. For example, what makes for the very blue sky; what makes for the golden light in the late afternoon? I keep thinking it’s the near-desert latitude and mountainous terrain, but have no evidence for this conclusion.

Supper was great. I began by sauteing minced garlic and scallions in olive oil; to that I added cut fresh tomato, and after letting that cook for a while, I added small pieces of sun-dried tomato. (The fresh tomatoes are for liquid, the sun-dried are for flavor.) The last ingredient was the tuna in olive oil. (I would have preferred fresh tuna in olive oil, but there was none. The market in Ortigia is more like the Stip District than a farmers’ market. The vendors are permanent, local farmers do not bring their produce to sell.)


September 5, 2014 diario/journal, italy

wanting to talk bad to a nun10th entry – italy 2014

DSC_9395Today we hit two more UNESCO towns – Scicli and Ragusa. One more amazing than the other, but in each we interacted with various guides and one nun. (I’ll have to write more about Scicli, because it wonderful and because we learned so much about the time when the whole of Sicily was under crisis because of the 1693 earthquake.)

The Nun – We’re in Ragusa, the old town with all the palaces, the Duomo and Baroque architecture. We’re almost done and heading back to the car, when at the Church of St. Joseph, I see a sign for a Benedictine Convent museum. I go in to ask and in the small entrance is the receptionist and a little old nun. I say, Bongiourno and if they are open and the cost. The nun answers, Sei Italiano, ma si e vestito come turista. – You’re Italian, but you’re dressed like a tourist. in a condescending, I’m-your-mother tone. The receptionist tells me that it’s an offering – no fixed cost. The nun pipes up again in her I’m-your-mother tone telling me that we better not leave less than 2 euros each, because it takes money to run the museum. I ask if they will give the tour in English, because my friends don’t speak Italian, the nun turns to the receptionists and tells her that she will have to do it. (She spoke Italian with no problem, she berated the turista with the orange hat with no problem, but as soon as I told her we needed an English tour she leaves and goes back into the church to join the other nuns in praying the Rosary. (Why didn’t she do that when I walked in?)


September 6, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the cataniesi need to move11th entry – italy 2014

Sept-6 024We left Modica this morning and headed to the Autostrada. We’re going north towards Catania and then on to Messina to get on the ferry that will take us across the Straits and onto the mainland.

We had driven the Autostrada each time we went to Siracusa, so we knew how to get to the entrance east of Modica. What have amazed me about this long entrance onto the highway are the dry-rock walls. The Sicilian contadini, cleared the fields of rock and used the rock to make walls/fences between the various properties. (In the US, we find the same things in New England. Here in Sicily the contadini used volcanic rock, in New England the farmers used flat shale.

Etna and Catania blew me away. The volcano is gigantic and the modern city of Catania spreads at the foot of mountain. Shouldn’t someone tell the Cataniesi to move? They live in the shadow of an active volcano.

We get to Messina and signage to the ferry is very good. We make it onto the 11:10 ferry and get to Villa San Giovanni on the Calabrian side by noon. My plan was to drive to a suburb of Reggio, have a granita at my favorite café, do some grocery shopping at my favorite little store and then walk the lungomare in Reggio before heading north to Belmonte. (It’s hard to like Reggio. The lungomare is its only asset.)


September 6, 2014 diario/journal, italy

at the top of the mountain12th entry – italy 2014

Sept-6 028If my mother saw the house that we are in and the ancient hilltop town she would be convinced that I had lost my mind. The town is everything they left behind for the modernity, convenience and hope of the new world. (The image on the left is outside our kitchen window.)

We are staying in an Albergo Diffuso. This is an organization and a cooperative throughout Italy that works to renovate medieval house that have been abandoned into a dispersed hotel. In other words, the hotel is throughout the town and each renovated house is like a hotel room. A wonderful idea. The one we are staying in is the only Albergo Diffuso in Calabria. The husband and wife who run it have an interesting history. He was born in Belmonte, in one of the renovated houses, she is Venezuelan from Italian parents. They both moved back to Calabria and are making a go of a new enterprise.

Because we didn’t get a chance to shop, we decided to have dinner at the Albergo Diffuso. The meal was a phenomena. We began with a plate of antipasti – capicollo, prosciutto, olive paste on good Calabrese bread, roasted eggplant, marinated zucchini, olives, and pecorino. The primo piatto was a thick spaghetti in a light tomato sauce flavored with chunks of fresh lamb. The secondo piatto was brazed lamb with oven baked potatoes, rapini flavored with fennel, eggplant and potato and a tomato salad with sweet red onions and capers. We finished with a plate of white figs and prickly-pear, home-made yogurt flavored with lemon rind and salva, and wild fennel liquor. Rick-and-Sarah were teasing me, because I kept making all these wonderful sounds as I was eating my favorite dishes.


September 7, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the setting sun and concrete13th entry – italy 2014

Sept-6 056We went walking through the medieval town and the alleys create a warren carved from the mountain. The houses are all stone, faced with plaster; the small, narrow walk-ways are carved out of the mountain. In modern times, the flat walk-ways have been paved with brick, the verticals steps have been finished with concrete. (The image is me following one of the sets of stairs down the mountain. On the right is the setting sun, in the middle is the WWI memorial and on the left is the Mediterranean.)

Gabriella said that the last residents of medieval Belmonte left in the 60’s when the Italians began rebuilding the country using cement. All new construction uses a cement frame, hollow terra-cotta bricks between the framing and then everything is faced with plaster and painted. The new towns were all built near the medieval footprints. Modern day Belmonte spilled down the mountain to the flat plain in front of the Mediterranean. Gabriella said that the residents wanted the convenience of a garage, a place to park near their house but mostly they wanted out of the medieval warren.

This phenomenon – leaving the old city-centers for the modern suburb – is true throughout modern Italy. (Let’s not forget that post war America began life in Levittown.) It’s the Italy the tourists and foreigners avoid, know nothing about, criticize, and use as proof when they say Italy is going the way of Greece, Portugal and Spain. For tourists and foreigners Italy is the Renaissance – the Vatican, Rome, Florence and Venice. It is a still life. Modern Italy is of no interest. (Suburban America is of no interest.)

As we walked the UNESCO sites of La Val di Noto what we were looking at were the palaces and churches of the Spanish nobility. These are grand. Where the real people lived looked much like the warren that is historical Belmonte. The tour-guide in Scicli explained that the servants didn’t live in the palaces, but in the small houses surrounding the massive structures. Housing that had none of the conveniences – heat, running water, a bathroom – of the palaces they cleaned.

I am sitting in this little piazza outside our albergo diffuso house, in my sleeping clothes, reading email and blogging. There is WIFI throughout the historic center, but the best access is outside, because the house walls are a meter thick.


September 7, 2014 diario/journal, italy

nel commune di belmonte14th entry – italy 2014

Sept-6 053The whole of the medieval center has free WIFI, but the best access is outside. Last night after our amazing dinner, I went up the steps and sat on the stoop of one of the albergo dissuso houses and read email and wrote posts. It was such a contrast that I had to repeat it again this morning. The difference is that this morning, I went out in the clothes I had slept in.

The image is Rick-and-Sarah, yesterday afternoon, sitting on the bench in the small piazza where I’ve been accessing the Internet. (I’m temped to ask Sarah to take a pic of me on the stoop, with my laptop and sleeping clothes, blogging.)

So far, I’ve talked to our next door neighbor who is a local. She’s and older woman, my parent’s age. (What must she think seeing me in my T-shirt, Nike-shorts, Croq slippers and Cartier glasses sitting on an old stoop with my laptop and coffee cup? No, I don’t wear pajamas. (My mother would say, ciuti americani – crazy Americans. Also, I would never do this in Aprigliano, because someone would call her and tell her that her crazy son was sitting outside dressed badly, drinking coffee and carrying around a machine. And then she would call me and ask why I was embarrassing her.)

The second couple, I talked to, was from Rome. She was born here in Belmonte and like us is amazed by what Gabriella and her husband have created. I love talking to the Italians; I tell them I’m American, but somewhere in the conversation they want to know why I speak Italian and if I was born in Italy. And then I get to ask similar personal questions. With the couple from Rome, we traded Internet access info – best outside – and where they live in Rome – the suburbs. Conversation with the Italians is a sparring match and you give and you take, but always done with great trepidation and hesitancy. You never want to appear forward of nosy. Mining for information has to be done slowly and with grace. (Americans are way too direct for Italians and Italians then conclude that all Americans are rude and uncultured.)


September 7, 2014 diario/journal, italy

gulio, gabriele, mario e corrado15th entry – italy 2014

corradoWe went up to Aprigliano and we’re walking towards Santo Stefano and we see a bunch of tourists and it turns out to be Gabriele, Corrado, and Corrado’s brother Gulio. Gabriele, Corrado and I were best friends. We were the group from La Vinella – the little street in Santo Stefano before you hit the fields. It was wonderful to see them. I saw Gabriele in Toronto years ago when he first came to Canada, but it’s been 57 years since I saw Corrado. (I remember Gulio less, because he was younger than us.)

Talk about serendipity, we’re walking towards my family’s house and there they are. Gabriele is visiting with his wife and his wife’s brother and his wife. They met up with Gulio and Corrado who both live in Cosenza. They had just come back from the house that Gabriele had grown up in and we were heading in that direction. Gabriele’s grandfather house and our house were next to each other. As kids all three of us were in and out of each other’s houses.

Now I have to figure out a way of keeping in contact with Corrado.

I’ve put together a gallery of images from the time in Aprigliano.


September 7, 2014 diario/journal, italy

our old house made new16th entry – italy 2014

DSC_9507After all the reminiscence with the old friends, we made our way to the old house. Gabriele said that the people who own it are there and that he had just visited.

Some background – Gabriele’s grandfather and his sister – Za Peppina – lived next to our house. The current owner – Licia, the woman that I’m sitting with, bought both houses and renovated the space into a beautiful modern living area. The space is painted all white and all the cabinetry is built in. We are sitting in what was Gabriele’s grandfather’s kitchen. The entrance behind me leads into what was Ciccio-and-Mafalda’s house. The room that was my parents’ kitchen is now the kitchen in the new house. The outside stairs that led to my parents’ bedroom is gone, so it was difficult to show Rick-and-Sarah where the pig-under-the-porch lived.

An aside – I’m sitting here in the little piazza, and the couple from Rome brought their tablet over, so that I could help them get online.

Licia, the woman that now own Gabriele’s grandfather’s house and Ciccio-and-Mafalda’s house, is related to my father through his mother. My grandmother was a Capisciolto and Licia’s maiden name is a Capisciolto. Also, she and my aunt Egilia went to school together. Aprigliano is a small, but wonderful place to have grown up in.


September 8, 2014 diario/journal, italy

 on the stoop in my pajamas17th entry – italy 2014

pajamasEach morning, I’ve been going out to the little piazza around the corner from the house in my pajamas and reading email, writing posts and putting up images. Rick-and-Sarah tease me about going out in my pajamas. My comment, “I’m in a medieval, hilltop town in the middle of Calabria. And no one here in Belmonte knows my mother. (If I behaved like this in Aprigliano, my 88 year old mother would be getting phone calls.) There have been threats of sending the image on the left to Welch, so I’m preempting the threat and posting it. (Welch, remember we’re friends and go way back.)

I’ve been trying to explain that when you live in medieval warrens, with tiny houses, (our house in Aprigliano had two rooms and there was my mom and dad and me as a child), most of your activities happen outside. My mom would sit with her friends and get supper ready, going back in the house to cook the food. All the food prep was done on the stoop between your house and your neighbor’s or in a communal space. If you were sewing, then you sat in the shade together with your neighbors and you talked and sewed. There was no TV to keep anyone indoors. Also, throughout the day, houses are shut tight against the Southern Italian sun; the house was pitch black inside. Life was lived in the shade, in social groups. (I can just hear all my city-high people going on about Zinga interacting in a social group.)

While the women socialized, my friends and I would run around all day. We’d meet early in the morning and roam the town. We went into the woods around the town; we went to the other parishes/neighborhoods; we went down to the stream at the bottom of our mountain; we went up to the church-yard to kick a soccer ball. The town was our house. Gabriele told Rick that when we were all in Aprigliano, the 4 of us – Gulio, Gabriele, Mario e Corrado, – owned the neighborhood. We must have been obnoxious.)


September 9, 2014 diario/journal, italy

reggio, catanzaro and cosenza18th entry – italy 2014

Sept-8 008I have to admit that I do not like any Calabrian city. Reggio, Catanzaro and Consenza are all dirty, not very well designed and full of ugly, modern concrete apartment buildings. None of the three have elegance of a Noto or the geometry of Modica the largos of Scicli. Yes, the towns of La Val di Noto were all rebuilt after the 1693 earthquake and the Spanish king, the nobility and the Church all cooperated in giving architect Giuseppe Lanza, duca di Camastra carte blanche in the rebuilding. The cities of Calabria grew randomly, municipal leadership, city planning, over-sight were missing ingredients. And the result is a hodgepodge environment.

The Calabrese have fully participated in the migration from their medieval, hilltop towns and settled in the newly built concrete structures sprouting along the perimeters of the ancient towns or in the cities of Southern Ontario. In Italy, they, more than most other Italians, have embraced English as the lingua franca, the lingua of commerce. (Is that because their legacy is more of the soil and the mountains than of cathedrals and frescoes? The image on the left is a Calabrese woman – a simple person in her peasant dress.)

The foods, especially the fruits-and-vegetables, the sopressata and the breads are among the freshest and tastiest of anywhere in Italy. The tomatoes of Belmonte with their tear-drop shapes, the eggplant in olive oil at the co-op at the bottom of the mountain, the pastries from Cosenza are worth every calorie.

The message from Calabria is: avoid the large cities, travel the secondary roads, visit family, and eat as much local food as you can get your hands on. (Last night I made a simple pasta e faggioli, but in the Calabrese style. We bought the Barlotti beans at an open market that was part of a festa – a community celebration of a Marian feast-day. I went up to a street vendor who was selling crates of tomatoes for sauce and asked him for 5 ripe one that I could use for supper and I stole basil from one of the pots around the corner. Sarah and I shelled the beans, I sautéed the tomatoes in olive oil flavored with garlic, cooked the past in the water that I had cooked the beans and then mixed everything. We drizzled olive oil with pepperoncino on top of the pasta. It was wonderful.)


September 9, 2014 diario/journal, italy

a hermit and a good fascist19th entry – italy 2014

bianchiToday was a down day, Sarah and I did laundry, Rick went down to the Mar Tirreno to swim in the Mediterranean.

For an outing we drove the half-hour to Paola and visited the famous pilgrimage site of San Francisco di Paola the patron saint of Calabria. San Francisco was a mendicant friar who lived a very simple life. He and his early followers hollowed out caves in the mountain above Paola and lived in them. (The people of Calabria saw in this man a person most like themselves – simple, honest, hard-working.) He was the founder of the Roman Catholic Order of Minims. (The name Minims comes from the Italian word minimo, meaning the smallest or the least.) Unlike the majority of founders of men’s religious orders, but like Francis of Assisi he was never ordained a priest. The Minims abstinence from all meat and dairy products. And the friars do not wear shoes, only sandals are allowed. (Any wonder the poor people of Calabria saw in this man someone who was most like them.)

Today, the Santuario di San Francesco is a favorite pilgrimage site for all Calabrians. People throughout the province come to Paola and the Santuario to get married. Busloads of pilgrims are driven up to the top of the mountain to visit the site.

The old church, the cloister and the gardens are beautifully preserved. To accommodate the hordes that ascend, there is a new church. This too is a beautiful space and a great example of modern Catholic design.

After leaving Paola, we drove back and stopped to visit the mausoleum of Michele Bianchi a Fascist. The monument is at the bottom of the mountain on a promontory. The pillar is Belmonte’s signature logo. Under Mussolini, he was the minister of Labor and brought to Calabria much needed money for road construction, water treatment plants and railroad development. The monument is a great example of Fascist architecture – imposing verticals that speak to power.


September 10, 2014 diario/journal, italy

driving the coastal-road through basilicata 20th entry – italy 2014

Sept-10 001In planning the best way to get to Naples, we decided to use the beach road or La Strada Superiore – SS18. These were the highways, before the Autostrada. (To reach the Autostrada we would have had to travel south, even though Naples was north and secondly the Autostrada would have shown us nothing new. The SS18 went up the coast and since it was past beach season, we should not hit traffic.)

The SS18 through norther Calabria was one beach-town after another. What was interesting was to see places that had direct access to the beach. In most of Calabria, the railroad prevents direct access. You have to find the tunnels under the railroad in order to reach the beach. Once out of Calabria, we came to Basilicata and the road is on the side of the mountains. It is a ledge and on the side of the mountain drops down to the sea. Basilicata has no coastal plain, but the small towns we went through were well maintained.

In the above image, the view is from a stop on the coastal-road looking back at the landscape we just drove through. (It reminds me of the Napali coast on Kaua’i.)


September 11, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the poor clares and majolica tiles21st entry – italy 2014

Sept-11 025We began the day by walking the street that divides the old center – spaccanapoli. The street has a name – Via Benedetto Croce, but the Neapolitans refer to it as the street that splits Naples. It is a pedestrian thoroughfare and free of the hurlyburly of the old city.

We began at the Gesù Nuovo a Jesuit church built in the late 1500’s. The church was originally a palace and it retains the original facade of rustic ashlar diamond projections. However, with the expulsions of the Jesuits from Naples, the church moved into Franciscan hands. It is a massive structure and an active church. While we were there several people were going to confession and mass was being celebrated in one of the smaller chapels.

Our next stop, in the same square, was the Church of Santa Chiara a Gothic style church-convent built between 1310 and 1328 for the wife of Robert, King of Naples. The complex retains the citadel-like walls setting it apart from the outside world. The walls contained a vast religious community, and today contain the more modest convent of the Poor Clares and a community of the Grey Friars. It was almost entirely destroyed by WW II bombing and was restored to its original Gothic form in 1953.

The above image is of the monastic courtyard which was renovated in the 1730s, for Maria Amalia of Saxony, wife of Charles III of Bourbon, King of Naples. The majolica tile-work is characteristic of Neapolitan ceramics from that time.

There is more on the church of the Poor Clares in an epilogue post.


September 12, 2014 diario/journal, italy

two naples – indoor and outdoor22nd entry – italy 2014

Our three days almost over, and I come away thinking that there are many Naples – the city of the Farnese and the Caravaggios and the city of the graffiti and the beggars.


Yesterday we found the first Caravaggio in a palazzo build by a group of noblemen to house a chapel and the administrative offices of a charitable organization. From that palazzo, I shot the woman picking through the garbage bins. (Notice the camera above her. There are cameras everywhere in the old center.) Afterwards we walked through the palace that houses the Archeological Museum with its treasures from antiquity.

Today we went up to the top of the mountain and made our way through the Capodimonte Museum and the Farnese collection with its Caravaggio. The palace and the art were amazing. (The image on the left is The Flagellation by Caravaggio.) In the afternoon we walked Via Toledo, one of the main arteries of the city, the outside shop-walls are covered in graffiti. All buildings in the historic center are covered in graffiti.


September 12, 2014 diario/journal, italy

funereal naples23rd entry – italy 2014

Sept-12 001All the Baroque building are either built out of a black rock or trimmed out in it. (It’s like black bunting at a dignatary’s funeral.) Also the streets in the old city are all paved in a back rock. After some research, I come to find out that it is a volcanic Piperno stone. It creates a funereal environment. And to top it all off, the main cathedral –Cattedrale di San Gennaro – is all about the worship of the dead – there are over 40 reliquaries in one chapel alone each is a silver bust of some saint and it contains a bone fragment, a piece of cloth or some other object that the saint had handled in his/her life. And let’s not forget the blood of San Gennaro and his bones in the crypt under the altar. (Sarah and I walked down to the crypt in the Cattedrale and 30 some women were kneeling in front of an altar that contained the bones of San Gennario praying the rosary.)

Naples was the only place we saw people go up to coffins and reliquaries and touch them, kiss them, pray in front of them. None of this behavior is seen as strange or in need of corrections.


September 13, 2014 diario/journal, italy

    montecassino – splendor24th entry – italy 2014

Sept-13 026We drove from Naples and stopped at Cassino to see the WWII cemetery and the monastery at the top of the mountain. St. Benedict of Nursia established his first monastery here around 529. He remained the rest of his life here on the mountain. It was at Montecassino that he wrote his Rule, a set of guidelines for laymen wishing to live a spiritual. The Rule of St. Benedict would become the pattern for monastic rules across medieval Europe.

In World War II, the hill of Monte Cassino was part of a German defensive line guarding the approaches to Rome. Montecassino became the target of assault after assault by Allied troops, and was finally destroyed by air bombardment. The hill was captured at dreadful loss of life by the Polish Army and Italian refugees. After the war, the abbey was rebuilt based on the original plans.

The entire monastery complex was rebuilt in all its splendor. (The image on the left is the ceiling in one of the side isles in the basilica. The cupolas are not frescoed.) While southern Italy was being emptied, because of the post war poverty, the Benedictines here on the Roman plain were rebuilding the bombed monastery. Talk about the mess that was Italy. My family and millions of other Calabrians had to leave their homeland and head to foreign shores in order to put food in the mouth of their children and give hope to their families. All the while, the Benedictines at Montecassino were paying for gold-leaf on the ceilings of the rebuilt abbey.

Throughout the trip from Palermo to the Val di Noto to the Naples to Cassino, we saw the wealth of the 1% that owned Italy. (In the museum at Montecassino, there are old maps of the land/territory that the monastery controlled and managed. For miles around the hilltop structure the land and all its environs belonged to the Benedictines.)


September 14, 2014 diario/journal, italy

mussolini, the synagogue, and a church steeple25th entry – italy 2014

DSC_9864Our first full day in Rome. (Yesterday, late afternoon, we walked along the Tevere up to Castel Sant’Angelo and down the grand boulevard that leads into St. Peter’s Square. The square wasn’t as over whelming as it is in full daylight.) I got up this morning and made my way down; I met one of the people who lives in the building and asked about where I could get some dolci for breakfast; he pointed me to a pasticceria around the corner.

After coffee and dolci, we began by again walking along the Tevere, this time going south to a huge bazaar of cheap clothes, cheap jewelry, cheap purses, cheap furs, cheap scarves, cheap this, cheap that. (I remember my mother and grandmother taking me to the bazaar down in Cosenza with all its bancarelle. When the bazaar is full of clothing vendors their stands in dialect are called bancarelle. This is to distinguish the bazaar from a farmers’ market or from an antique market.) We walked through the southern section of Trastevere making our way to the Piazza di Santa Maria in Trestevere. This is a Borghese church. (The noble families of Italy always had one son in the Papal court and he lived in a palace close to the Vatican. The son, by virtue of nobility, was always a cardinal. And these cardinals built churches throughout the city and became patrons for the areas/neighborhods where the commissioned church was built.)

The above image is of the horizon showing, from left to right, the winged angels atop of Mussolini’s famous building in Piazza Venezia, the Jewish Synagogue in the Campo di Fiori district and a steeple of a Catholic church in the next neighborhood down.


September 15, 2014 diario/journal, italy

a turn-of-the-century elevator26th entry – italy 2014

Below Trastevere, the river meanders; it’s not banked by concrete and stone sidings; it’s shores are crowded with vegetation; and the Romans use the paths for jogging and bike-riding.

elevator2I thought I’d write about the great apartment we in. (The image on the left is one of two elevators in the building. An Otis turn-of-the-century treasure that runs perfectly well.) When I made the four reservations for the accommodations, the one I had the least information about was the apartment in Rome. The original reservation was for a wonderful three-floor apartment in the Jewish quarter, but the owner – Rodolfo – had to cancel, because they were going to repair the roof and drain-spouts in his apartment building. I asked him to recommend something and he sent me to his niece who managed an apartment in Trastevere. Transtevere is across the river from Campo di Fiori – the old Jewish Quarter. (The Trastevere/Campo di Fiori districts are the sections of Rome I know best and I wanted to be here. Also, all the other places were either too expensive, too tiny or too far from the main attractions.)

I began an email correspondence with Rodolfo’s niece and after seeing images of the apartment and realizing the price was the best I had seen, I sent her a down-payment. I still wasn’t sure what to expect and I had made up my mind that the accommodations were probably going to be fair-to-poor, but it was our last week and we had stayed in wonderful places in Modica and Belmonte. (The B&B in Naples was in the middle of everything, but like everything else in Naples it was an example of faded glory. It had been a palazzo that had been converted to apartments. The vaulted ceilings were all in tack, but the bathrooms were just added to the room. You walked in, saw the faded glory and then saw a cube that had been added to the room. Also, no renovations had been done in years. All fixtures were easily 30 years old.) To be honest, I had expected a similar set of rooms in Rome.

Well, let me tell you the apartment is nothing like the one in Naples. It is a beautiful spacious apartment. We have a dining-room, a living-room, a beautiful spacious foyer and all overlooking the Tevere and minutes from all the main attractions. OMG, it’s the kind of place I would love to live in if I had to be in Rome for any length of time. The icing is that the Internet is reliable, works fast and can be accessed in every room. (Have found that reliability nowhere else in Italy.)


September 16, 2014 diario/journal, italy

campo di fiori and the coliseum27th entry – italy 2014

Sept-15 015Campo di Fiori is the square in the old Jewish ghetto that has always been the place where the farmers of Rome have brought their produce to sell to the locals. And after all these years, I got to go and shop for fruits-and-vegetables. In the past, I was too rushed to think about cooking dinner or the places I was staying had no kitchen.

We bought new potatoes, artichokes, basil, rosemary and porchetta. And Rick made oven-baked potatoes and Roman style artichoke.

After our food shopping trip, we headed to Piazza Venezia, the Mussolini balcony and the over-exaggerated Victorio II building. (The Altare della Patria also known as the Monumento Nazionale a Vittorio Emanuele II or Il Vittoriano is a controversial monument built in honor of Victor Emmanuel, the first king of a unified Italy. The Italians refer to it sarcastically as the wedding cake.)

We then headed over to the Roman Forum and finally the Coliseum. I have never been to this famous landmark and I have to say, the Romans have done an amazing job restoring the structure and making it very tourist friendly.


September 16, 2014 diario/journal, italy

villa d’este – tivoli28th entry – italy 2014

Sept-16 096BWe kept the rental until today, so we could drive out to Tivoli and visit the Villa d’Este – the famous country house of Cardinal Ippolito II d’Este. The villa is best known for its terraced gardens and fountains. (The country-side east of the city was a favorite retreat for the nobility during the hot Roman summers. Castel Gandolfo, the Papal summer residence, is in this area.)

Because we had to drive through the middle of the city to get to the Autostrada, we got to see the camps for the University of Rome – Sapienza. And like the university district in Naples, it too is full of graffiti.

Once we got to Tivoli, it took us almost 45 minutes to figure out how to get to the villa. No guide-book tells you to park in the center of town and walk the five minutes down the hill. (After driving in endless circles looking for the road that would take us to the house, we pulled over and I went and asked someone for directions. That’s how we found out that the house was around the corner and we just had to park and walk.)

The garden is a set of terraces on the hillside and it’s designed like a group of stage-sets. Each set has a fountain at its center. There is a stage-set with Athena presiding over cascades and spouting fountains. There is a stage-set with a relief of Artemus Ephesus the fertility goddess and each of her breasts is a fountain spout. There are three large reflecting pools all fed by the largest fountain in the garden. The above image shows the pools and the jets of the largest and most spectacular fountain.


September 17, 2014 diario/journal, italy

crossing the tiber29th entry – italy 2014

DSC_9997We began our trek crossing the Tiber at Ponte Garibaldi. (I’m shooting up-river at one of the ancient bridges. The larger image has St. Peter’s above the tree-line, but the dome got cropped in creating the narrow slice for the post.) The streets were empty of tourists at least until we got to the Pantheon. Rick is great with a map and he got us to the Pantheon using the opposite side of the circle than I would have used. (Using the distance from where we’re staying to the Pantheon as a diameter, he took us right where I know the route going left.)

The Pantheon, similar to the Coliseum, was full of tourist groups, but we were there early enough that the mob wasn’t overwhelming. The Roman structure with its magnificent oculus deserves all the visitors. (The last time I was here was the summer of 1971. I had forgotten that Rafael is buried here, but I hadn’t forgotten the oculus.) The Roman temple has been turned into a Catholic church and on the Feast of Pentecost, workmen drop thousands of rose-petals through the oculus during mass. The marble floor is covered in rose-petals.

From there we wound our way back to Piazza Navona another of my favorite places. The last time I was here it was mid-August and the place was wall-to-wall tourist. Traveling is September has been great. The weather has decent and the mobs manageable.


September 18, 2014 diario/journal, italy

musei vaticani30th entry – italy 2014

Sept-18 003This morning we went to the Vatican for a guided tour. As part of the package, we got in before the mobs and were able to be in the Sistine Chapel with a smaller group.

The guide first brought us out to a huge balcony and she was willing to take pics. (The pic is altered. There were several people behind us, but after dealing with the mob in the galleries, I wanted to pretend that there was a minute when we were on our own, so I Photoshopped the other tourists out. Also, we are wearing the ubiquitous head-sets that tourist-groups wear around their necks. All over the city, tourist groups are led around by a guide that talks to them through the head-sets.)

I don’t think anyone will understand the vast number of people that are allowed into the Vatican Museum at any given point. There were times throughout the tour when the long hall in front of us and the long hall behind us were filled with tourists. As far as you could see in front of you and and far back as you could see was all tourists. At one point we got to look out onto Bernini’s colonnaded square just to see the line waiting to go into the Basilica. It circled the entire square. These were people in line just to get into the church and the tour-guide said it would be a 4 hour wait to reach the front of the line and get into the church.

Because of the mobs, the tour-guide concentrated on the Michelangelo works, the Rafael frescoes and the Basilica. We raced by Dali and Chagall paintings; we ran through a room full of Matisse drawings and tapestries. I never got to shoot the Laocoön. I saw it as we rushed to get ahead of the mob.


September 18, 2014 diario/journal, italy

the terminus of la via flaminia31st entry – italy 2014

The whole time we were in Le Marche, we traveled the Via Flaminia. The modern Strada Provinciale 3 paralleled the old Roman road. And near Fossombrone, we went to the hand-carved tunnels through the mountains – left image. Yesterday, we made our way to Piazza del Popolo – right image – the southern terminus of the Via Flaminia. (The modern Italian name for the square is a corruption of the Latin. The original name was The Square of the Poplars. In modern Italian is has a very democratic name The Square of the People. The Latin for poplar – populus – is very similar to the the Italian word for people.)

Sunday5E-139 Sept-18 062

Today the same route, still called by the same name for much of its distance, is paralleled or overlain by Strada Statale (SS) 3 in Lazio and Umbria, and Strada Provinciale (SP) 3 in Marche. Once through the mountains, it descends the eastern Apennines and splits, one branch going to Fano on the coast and the other going north to Rimini.


September 18, 2014 diario/journal, italy

la fontana di trevi32nd entry – italy 2014

3A-coinsAfter the morning and the mob at the Vatican, we went back to Trastevere, rested and made plans for the afternoon. The goal was to head north to the La Piazza del Popolo and then walk back downhill to our apartment. We took the subway up to Piazza del Popolo and then began our walk back. Via del Babuino the straightest path to the Spanish Steps, is the modern Via Veneto.

In the 1970’s the Via Veneto was the most famous street in the city. It was the place to see and be seen. There’s a plaque to Fellini on the street.Fellini_plaque,_Via_VenetoIt reads To Federico Fellini who made the Via Veneto that stage for La Dolce Vita But today it’s a memory of its former self and it has been replaced by the Via del Babuino. The Babuino is being repaved and made into a pedestrian road.

After the street with all the high-end designers and the Spanish Steps we walked down to La Fontana di Trevi. The fountain is being rehabbed and the work is being paid by Fendi. There’s no water in the basin or spouting from its statues, but there is a walkway over the basin and a small pool to throw your coins into. Sarah and I threw our coins.

This was my first experience with a potential pick-pocketer/crook. Sarah and I were standing there getting ready to throw our coins in and he suggested that he could take our pic. Now he had a camera, but all my senses were in hyper alert. He was perfect – his own camera in hand, Asian, soft spoken. I could be mistaken, but it felt creepy and the area is famous for pick-pocketers and crooks. (He was in the original pic, standing right behind Sarah; I cropped him out.)


September 19, 2014 diario/journal, italy

a one-percenter33rd entry – italy 2014

Sept-19 015This being our last day in Rome, we wanted to do an easy walk. We decided to go to the two museums down the street from where we’re staying.

The Villa Farnesina, located in Trastevere, is considered one of the noblest and most harmonious creations of Italian Renaissance. Cardinale Alessandro Farnese bought it 1579 and named it Farnesina, a diminutive form of the family name, to distinguish it from Palazzo Farnese on the other side of the Tiber. In the art world, the Farnesina’s claim to fame is Rafael’s fresco the Triumph of Galatea. Raphael did not paint any of the main events of the story. He chose only the scene of the nymph’s glorification. Galatea appears surrounded by other sea creatures whose forms are somewhat inspired by Michelangelo figures in the Sistine.

I am less interested in the one fresco, but more interested in the fact that a cardinal who already had a super-sized villa on the other side of the Tiber needed to buy a smaller house with a large garden, something more country-style. Was the cardinal a predecessor of the billionaires who are crowding out the millionaires in Vale?

It took generations for Italy to die under the weight and greed of the 1%, but it did. World War II was the end of Italian political and financial influence on the continent. It was was 400 years between the time that Cardinal Farnese bought the villa and the end of WW II. (The above image is the coat-of-arms for the Chigi family who had the villa built and from whom the Cardinal bought it.) How long will it take American corporate society to bankrupt the country? Both empires were and are being built on the backs of the 99%.


September 21, 2014 diario/journal, italy

     the nobles and the churchepilogue-1 – italy 2014

Sept-18 010AI’ve been thinking about all the churches and palazzi we went into and my conclusion is that the churches were the lesser of the two evils. The churches, even in the time of the one-percenters, were always open to the public where the palazzi were off limits. The high, brick wall that surrounded the formal gardens of the Villa Farnesina is still intact. There was no access to this country-home.

The image on the left was taken in The Vatican. We were walking down a hall full of tall cupboards, the filing system before the modern age, and there was an open window. For me, it suggests the nobles, in their gilded palazzi, looking out.

Throughout the 3 weeks, we went in and out of churches and palazzi in order to see the art and the architecture. The palazzi blew me away. The fact that the one-percenters could live in such splendor, had access to master craftsmen was information I had never applied to my understanding of Italy. It became most evident at Montecassino, the monastery that was re-built in all its splendor, in four years after having been destroyed in WW II. And during the rebuilding, southern Italy was being emptied, because of poverty. Carlo Levi’s Cristo si è fermato a Eboli became the metaphor for the poverty of Il Mezzogiorno – the region south of Naples. As an expression it means the opposite of its literal meaning – Christ stopped at Eboli. As an expression it suggests that the people of Il Mezzogiorno feel they have been bypassed by Christianity, by morality, by history itself; that the people of the south have been excluded from the full human experience.


September 26, 2014 diario/journal, italy

      in the church of the poor claresepilogue-2 – italy 2014

window-naplesThe huge campus that is the church, monastery and cloister of the Poor Clares was an amazing complex and then there were the majolica tiles and columns throughout the garden cloister. We saw the chapel after visiting the Gesù Nuovo, the over-the-top Jesuit church in the square – Piazza del Gesù Nuovo – of the same name. The chapel was in stark contrast to the Baroque Gesù.
(Only the Jesuits have the coglioni to call their church The Jesus.)

I’m doing this post more because I wanted the work with the image on the left; it’s the round window on the back wall in the chapel of the Poor Clares. I shot the image with a zoom and I got a black background with this circle of light. I had to figure out how to isolate the circle and create a tondo-like photograph.

Sept-11 017The chapel and the whole complex was a great example of an inside-naples and an outside-naples. The chapel was this amazing minimalist space, but step outside into the courtyard and the whole wall is littered with graffiti. Naples is full of graffiti especially the area around the university. It seems that throughout Italy, university students have decided to decorate their environments with wall scrawl. (Very different than here where graffiti is the domain of the middle and high-school students.) A while back the graffiti throughout Italy was political, this time all I kept seeing were announcements of who loved who. Pathetic! University students reduced to scrawling ti amo and on a wall that already is crowded with lettering. Maybe if they spent more time hitting the books, Italy’s test scores wouldn’t be scraping bottom.


September 28, 2014 caravaggio, diario/journal, italy

searching for caravaggiosearching for caravaggio – 1st entry
epilogue-3 – italy 2014

Sept-17 053AIn Ortigia, a neighborhood of Siracusa, we saw our first Caravaggio – Seppellimento di Santa Lucia – The Burial of St. Lucy.

And this began our search.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio supposedly painted 4 large images in Sicily – Burial of Saint Lucy, Syracuse; Raising of Lazarus and Adoration of the Shepherds, Messina; Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence, Palermo. For centuries the Nativity was displayed in the Oratory of San Lorenzo, but on October 18, 1969 it was stolen from the church and has not been seen since. The most popular rumor suggests that it was taken by members of the local mafia.

We saw two more in Naples.

We saw the Sette Opere di Misericordia – the Seven Works of Mercy and La Flagellazione di Cristo – The Flagellation of Christ. The Flagellation is in the Museo di Capodimonte and the floor it’s on is being reorganized, but they opened it for 15 minutes so patrons could see the famous painting. We all made a bee-line to the last room on the floor. The painting is at the end of a long hallway in a dark room illuminated by Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro.

In Rome, we say five more.

We were walking back to the apartment and Sarah, who was reading the guide-book, discovered that we were in front of the church of San Luigi dei Francesi, and that it had Caravaggio’s triptych of St. Matthew: Vocazione di san Matteo – Calling of St. Matthew, L’ispirazione di san Matteo – The Inspiration of St. Matthew (the above image), and the Martirio di san Matteo – Martyrdom of St. Matthew.

The next day, we took the subway north to Piazza del Popolo and there in the church of Santa Maria del Popolo we saw the Conversione di san Paolo – Conversion on the Way to Damascus and the Crocifissione di san Pietro – Crucifixion of Saint Peter.


October 4, 2014 caravaggio, diario/journal, italy

the XIV station – jesus is laid in the tombsearching for caravaggio – 2nd entry
epilogue-4 – italy 2014

roberto-ferriWe drove into Noto and parked. Walking the narrow streets towards the piazza and the cathedral, we had no idea where we’d come out. We ended up on a platform that gave us an amazing view of the steps, the cathedral and the piazza. And coming down the grand staircase, was a funeral cortege. We waited for the procession and the hearse to pull away before we made our way to the duomo. Once inside the Cattedrale di Noto – La Chiesa Madre di San Nicolò, we noticed that a crew was getting ready to set up for a wedding. What a strange juxtaposition; what strange scheduling.

On March 13, 1996, a large part of the cathedral collapsed. The reconstruction was a complex process, made all the more onerous by the importance and high visibility of the cathedral and the city, the so-called capital of Sicilian Baroque architecture.

Inside we found a bright, beautiful modern building. What were most surprising were the Stations of the Cross. First they were paintings instead of the standard reliefs that line the walls of most churches and second they were very modern. But the biggest surprise was the composition – the male characters were almost nude and had very modern bodies. I had never seen such a rendition of the traditional fourteen Stations. The image on the left is the XIV Station – Jesus is Laid in the Tomb. The artist is Roberto Ferri. He was born in Taranto, but lives in Rome. He works in the style of Caravaggio. (Another juxtaposition – in an ancient Baroque church, the works of a modern painter using baroque techniques.)