Secrets of the Eternal City Unveiled…hopefully!

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ancient_rome[1]There are some huge projects underway in Rome to unveil ancient sites never before seen and which have been recently discovered.   The thought of seeing these never before seen treasures (except when they existed in their heyday) is SO exciting!  Can you imagine seeing frescoes and mosaics dating back thousands of years?  According to Rome’s mayor, Ignazio Marino, there are over 100,000 archaeological treasures in “storage” and hundreds of sites yet to be excavated!

Mayor Marino visited the Italian Consulate in San Francisco recently and showed the audience present several until-now unseen ancient Roman archaeological treasures.  One of these hidden wonders was the Cryptoporticus beneath Trajan’s Baths.  This buried gallery, which predates the baths, is covered in frescoes that depict a walled port city of the ancient world.  Whether the city is real or just a project design, is up for discussion and being studied, I’m sure!   Definitely an archaeologist’s dream!

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Another hidden gem are the gladiator barracks next to the Colosseum where modern day visitors can walk the same steps taken by those brave men so long ago.  The mayor has already done much in Rome to bring back the layout of Ancient Rome (like banning car traffic from the Spanish Steps and the Colosseum),  but he wants to do more to return the archaeological fabric to the Eternal City.  Among these are to remodel the Via dei Fori Imperiali (constructed by Mussolini in the 1930″s and which divides the Roman Forum from the Forum of Augustus) and the ancient Via Alessandrina.  These two renovations would help to make the area around the Forum the largest archaeological park in the world!

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Lastly presented, but definitely not the last of the excavations, is the retrofitting of the largest round tomb in the world – the Mausoleum of Augustus.  The vision would be to allow visitors to be able to walk into this giant structure to view it’s massive construction and marbled beauty.

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“We must not only work so next generations can see what we see today, but also so they can see what we cannot see today.” 

Digging up the Past

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A few weeks ago, after watching “Who Do You Think You Are?”, I was inspired to try, once more, to find out about my Italian ancestors.  You see, I tried awhile back, but found it almost impossible to trace anyone back in Italy.  The only way I could do it was to write to the churches or the town halls – but there was one little problem – I didn’t know where anyone was born, married, or even died.   I knew that they were from Lombardy and the Veneto regions, but that was about it.   I know all about my parents, but nothing about anyone before them except for my grandparents’ names and birth years!  I felt like I was trying to find a needle in an extremely large haystack (more like in a barn full of haystacks).

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When I had tried doing research a few years back, I had signed up for Ancestry.com only to find out that they had very limited records from Italy.  At that time, they only had a handful of provinces online, and none of them were anywhere close to the part of Italy I knew my family was from.  But much to my surprise, when I went back to the Ancestry website, I found that they had added some more provinces – and some in the Veneto region!  So, I readily subscribed – only this time, I joined the Italian site – Ancestry.it.  It only cost me $9.95 a year, and it seems like I have access to many of the online records.

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Slowly I started doing a search of the towns in the province of Padua, since I figured that was a good starting point since my mom was born in Cittadella in the province of Padua.  My mom was actually born in a hospital because her mother suffered from asthma, so even though I knew that she was born in Cittadella, I knew that they didn’t live there.  So searching those records wouldn’t help much.  But, because of my super-sleuthing abilities, I pulled out my googlemaps and began searching for towns nearby.  Then I looked at the records for those towns to see if I could find my grandparents!  Lo and behold, I hit the jackpot with Campo San Martino where I found my grandmother’s birth record (and also my grandfather’s!).   In Italy (and maybe here, too, I don’t know), they try to link up other major life events and include them on the civil records.  So, on my grandmother’s birth record, I was able to find her marriage date and location, and her death date and location!  I felt like I hit the jackpot!  Her birth record also included her parents’ names, their ages, and their occupations!  This little paper held so much information – and with my luck, so many of the ancestors came from the same place that I was able to trace the family back about 4 generations!  At times, though, deciphering the fancy script was a challenge…but I think I got most of the information.

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Sadly, no one from my family – I don’t have any old pics of my own :(

It has been so interesting exploring my family’s roots and discovering some of the secrets that these records hold.  My imagination starts to wander when I think about their lives and the hardships that they endured.  One sad story that I discovered was that my grandfather lost his mother, father, and baby brother all in the same year – and he was only 11 years old and had a slough of younger siblings, too.  Who ended raising him and the rest of his brothers?  What did his parents and brother die from?  What could have been going through his parents’ heads when they knew that they were going to die?  These are all questions that I will probably never know the answer to, but I feel like, at least, I have more than I had before.

I look forward to learning more and more as more records are added to the Ancestry.it site.  What other secrets will I uncover?

If anyone out there has had luck in doing genealogy research in Italy and can share how they did it, please send me a comment!  I’d love to get more suggestions to see what else I can unearth!

Help Me Get to Italy Quicker!!

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I was so excited to see this petition floating around the internet to bring back the direct flight from San Francisco to Italy!

Petition for SFO – Italy Non-Stop Flights (click to sign)

It used to be so convenient, but after the disaster called 9/11, this flight was discontinued. I’m not really sure why this tragedy affected this particular flight, but, sadly, it did and we, in Northern California, now have to make pit stops along the way to get to Italy. This results in us arriving tired and cranky in Il Bel Paese!
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Now, no one really wants to see that, right? So help me, and all the rest of us Northern California weary travelers, get to Italy fresh and ready to go! FYI – this also goes for those Italians traveling to see us here in San Francisco! Our beautiful City by the Bay is waiting for you!

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Welcome to my Gnocchi Making Party

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Last Saturday, when my daughter was visiting from Portland where she’s going to grad school, she asked me if we could make some gnocchi!  “Um, sure”, I replied, a bit hesitantly.  You see, my mom is the gnocchi queen and I’ve always been a bit scared to tackle the job myself without her help and expertise.  Memories of the one other time I made them without her help, and the disaster that ensued, kept haunting me.  That time they had turned into mushy doughy logs that fell apart while boiling.  Yuck! Certainly not how my mom made them!  But how could I resist my lovely daughter’s humble request to make these delicious soft pillows (which, I’m sure, were her memories of Nonna’s delicious gnocchi!)?

Armed with my mom’s verbal instructions, I held my breath (not literally) and began the process.  I boiled 4 large russet potatoes until they were nice and soft.  Working with only 2 at a time, since my mom instructed me that the gnocchi dough needs to be worked while the potato is still calda (hot) and which was stressing me out to work in fretta (swiftly), I left the other two in the hot water for the next go round of gnocchi dough making.  I placed some flour on my counter before peeling the potatoes and putting them through a ricer.

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I then made a well in the riced potatoes and added about a cup of flour, an egg, a touch of oil, and some salt.

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I then began working it all into a dough ball.  I kept adding flour a little at a time and working it all until it formed a nice doughy ball (not too sticky).  I then pinched off a bit and rolled it into a log about 1 inch thick.   Always working quickly (that’s the key, I guess), I quickly cut little pieces that were about 3/4 to an inch thick.

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My daughter took a fork and rolled the dough pieces on the tines to create some ridges (this helps to hold the sauce better).  We placed the finished gnocchi on a floured platter and put them in the refrigerator to cook later.  We continued this process until all the dough was used up.  I then proceeded to do the exact same thing with the 2 other potatoes that I had left in the hot water (and they were still hot – luckily!)

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Side note:   If you decide to freeze the gnocchi, instead of eating them in a few hours, place the platter in the freezer until the gnocchi have frozen completely and then you can put them into a ziplock bag to use whenever you want.

After cleaning up the big mess (and believe me, it was quite a disaster), we were ready to cook them.  Gnocchi have to be cooked in small quantities otherwise you will end up with a giant potato clump at the bottom of your boiling water.  So, boil some water in a pot, add some salt, and place no more than 10 gnocchi into the boiling water at a time.  Give them a little stir and wait for them to rise to the surface.  Once they have risen, scoop them out with a perforated ladle or spoon.  Place them in a bowl and add your favorite sauce (and grated cheese, if desired).  Cover the bowl with aluminum foil to keep them warm while you proceed with another batch of 10 gnocchi in the boiling water.  Keep doing this until you have cooked all the desired gnocchi.  Once you have finished and your bowl is full, stir the gnocchi gently to coat them all with the sauce and cheese.  Ta da – all done and ready to eat!

This time, my gnocchi were beautiful and fluffy – they looked perfect and they were delicious!  I used 3 different sauces – tomato, pesto and alfredo and called them  “Gnocchi Tre Colori” – red, green, and white – just like the Italian flag!  My daughter’s boyfriend wanted to make sure she took good notes because she will have to make them for him once she gets back to Portland!  And the most rewarding stamp of approval came from my mom, when I brought her some left overs thE day after, and she said they were PERFETTI!!

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Book Review and Giveaway: The Supreme Macaroni Company

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I am honored in having been chosen by Laura Fabiani from Italy Book Tours to review the newest book by the bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani – The Supreme Macaroni Company.

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Adriana has a way of writing that is both natural and funny at the same time, and she keeps you glued to her stories.

This story revolves around Valentine, an Italian-American young woman who creates beautiful shoes – how very Italian of her :)  The shoe company has been in her family since her grandparents brought the craft over from Italy when they immigrated.  She has big dreams for her shoe company and she brings to it lots of love and creativity.  Of course, she also falls head over heels (haha) for a beautiful Italian man and the book tells their love story.  They jet set between the East Coast and beautiful Italy and the description of their home in Santa Margarita Ligure makes you feel like you are there, breathing in the warm sea air and revelling in the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean Sea.  Aaahh…it reminds me of my time in the Cinque Terre and makes me smile every time I think of it.

Valentine is part of a crazy Italian family, complete with loud explosive arguments coupled with the love and warmth of a close family.  Everyone is part of everyone else’s business and there is no hiding!  But when push comes to shove, they are there for each other in all regards!   There’s even a crazy aunt who is opinionated, stubborn, and down right rude (isn’t there always one in every family?)

On the whole, this book is very good – I read almost all of it during a plane ride back from Italy and it kept me entertained (at least, I wasn’t falling asleep every few seconds – that came on the second leg of the trip when I’d already finished the book!) But in comparison to her other book, The Shoemaker’s Wife (you can read my review here), I think I liked that one better.  Adriana has a great way to bring everyday life to the forefront, but in a couple of instances, it was a bit too much normal life ( for instance, when she was going on and on about a typical evening at home eating dinner and conversing – I felt like I was eavesdropping on a normal family conversation – there was nothing exciting going on, just the mundane chatter of everyday life).  I think I know why she was describing this very normal evening because of subsequent events that were about to occur, but even still, it was a little boring.  The other criticism I have is that I think the title of the book (being the name of company she built) is disconnected.  It doesn’t seem to fit…again, it’s my opinion, but I think something a bit more creative could have been chosen.  Despite these few stabs of criticism, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it for an easy and entertaining read!

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If you would like a chance to have your very own copy of this book, autographed by Adriana herself, here are a few ways to win it: leave a comment below, become a follower of my blog, or share this review on your blog or Facebook page!  I will randomly choose a winner on August 25th and the publisher will send out the book to the lucky recipient (once I get all the pertinent info through a private email)!

Buona Fortuna!

 

 

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Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Times bestseller The Shoemaker’s Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don’t Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She wrote the screenplay for Big Stone Gap, which she also directed. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Adriana here: adrianatrigiani.com
Twitter: @adrianatrigiani
Facebook: facebook.com/adrianatrigiani

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The Small Joys of Summer

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While strolling through the local farmer’s market this past weekend, I came across a bag of these beautiful zucchini flowers.

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Immediately, I was transported back to my summers in Italy as a little girl when my grandmother used to make these for me from the few little zucchini plants she had in her tiny garden.  They were such a treat then – and I was hoping they’d be just as good when I made them!  I was not disappointed!  Making them is so simple, once you realize what the heck you need to do with these delicate flowers!

First and foremost – these flowers are very delicate and should be used as quickly after picking as possible (definitely no more than a day or two).  First I very gently rinsed them off in some cold water and put them on a towel to pat dry.  Then I cut off the stem and removed the pistol inside.  I opened them up flat…and now they were ready to become the treats I remembered so dearly.

I took the petals and coated them with some beaten egg that had been seasoned with salt and pepper.  (I added a bit of Prosecco to the beaten egg – some people add beer or mineral water!)  Then I dipped them in some flour and placed them immediately into some hot olive oil in the frying pan.  I cooked each side until they were golden brown.  I laid them in a dish covered with a paper towel to absorb the oil and patted the tops with another paper towel.  Once I was pleased that the excess oil was off of them, I placed them in a serving dish and sprinkled them lightly with some salt.  That’s when I devoured them!  They were SO good :)

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Cantina Coppo and the Underground Cathedrals of Wine

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UNESCO has been busy in Piemonte, recognizing this historic wine producing region which preserves the tradional methods of growing and producing grapes and wine. Evidence of wine production has been found here that dates back to the Etruscans!  Everyone we met while in Piemonte was pretty excited about this new distinction – they are hoping that it will bring more tourists to the area – thereby making them more profitable. Despite the fact that I wish for them lots of good fortune, it’s nice to still have a place to visit in Italy that is beautiful but not yet overrun by tourists. The roads are small – and driving them, without having to worry about too many cars, was relaxing. We could take in the scenery without the hassles of watching for passing cars whizzing by. We could easily find parking wherever we went and therefore allowed us to explore so much more. We could eat in any restaurant we chose and got to chat with the restaurant staff in a more intimate manner. We were even given a ride back to our agriturismo by a waiter one night after dinner when we didn’t feel like walking back UPHILL to it!

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The DOWNHILL walk we took to the restaurant.

These small interactions with the locals are what we remember about our trips and which make it all the more special.

UNESCO has recognized a unique site in Canelli called the Underground Cathedrals of Wine. These caves, which reach deep into the hillsides, have been in use for hundreds of years and therefore have some historic significance to the wine making tradition. We wanted to visit one of the wineries whose cellars make up these Underground Cathedrals of Wine and were fortunate to arrange a private tour at Cantina Coppo. The same family has been producing these wines since 1892 – it’s great that every new generation  has the interest to continue the family business. Our tour guide, Luigi, was one of the youngest members of the family. He studied business law so that he could bring a new element to the family business. The passion he has for his family’s wine making tradition is infectious. He talked about the wines they produce with lots of love, as well as having great knowledge of the wine making process. They produce some red wines like Barbera and Gavi, some whites like Chardonnay, and the sweet Moscato…but their prized wines are what they call The Metodo Classico (or sparkling wines) produced in the same method as champagne.

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These wines are crisp and refreshing. Coppo’s sparkling wine would be perfect as an aperitif, with a beautiful al fresco summer lunch, or as a dessert wine. It is so versatile and delicious that we didn’t even mind lugging 6 bottles home in our suitcases!

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Luigi took us into the giant caves in which they age their wines.  He explained to us that the caves are always at a constant temperature of 15 degrees centigrade – no matter how hot or cold it gets outside!  The walls of the caves can become very wet with the rains, and they can even flood, but the water doesn’t hurt anything.

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The caves were built over 100 years ago with brick and the original brickwork is still there!  He showed us one cave room where the family keeps their own private stash of wine – he said that on special occasions, one of them is sent down to pick out a special bottle :)  Dust covered many of these old bottles, just adding to the charm of this very special place.

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If you visit the Asti region of Piemonte, make sure to make a stop in Canelli to visit the Underground Cathedrals of Wine.  Our cantina was Cantina Coppo at Via Alba 68, Canelli (AT) and they charged 15 euros/pp for a tour.  The other more well known winery is Contratto at Via Giovanni Battista Giuliani 56, Canelli (AT) and we were told they charge 25 euros/pp for a tour.  Both, I’m sure, would be an excellent way to see this new UNESCO World Heritage site.