Category Archives: Memories

A Reminder of My Childhood – Vitello Tonnato

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When I was a young child, we used to visit Italy about every 3 years – mostly to see my grandparents, cousins, and aunts.  During those visits, I spent a lot of time with my Nonna Luigia.  Nonna was an excellent cook (in fact, she had owned a restaurant while my dad was growing up).  Every night we would be invited to Nonna’s house for dinner.  I was always amazed how she could cook up some great meals – all without having an oven.  She only had a small cooktop, but she’d whip up some delicious dinners.  One of those delicasies was Vitello Tonnato!  This is the perfect dish to enjoy on a warm summer evening.  Last night, on another warm summer evening, I decided to try my luck with this recipe.  As soon as I took my first taste, I was transported back to my Nonna’s little apartment many years ago!

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Vitello Tonnato

The first part involves preparing the roast.  This should be done in advance so it has time to cool.

900 gram Veal roast, tied up (ask the butcher to do this for you)

2 carrots, cut in half

1 onion, cut into pieces

2 celery stalks, cut into pieces

Small bunch of parsley

1/4 liter white wine

Salted water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the meat, wine and vegetables to the pot.  Cover and poach gently for approximately 1 hour.  Take the pan off the heat and allow the veal to cool down in the broth.  Reserve some of the broth for the sauce.  Wrap the roast in foil and place it in the refrigerator until it is completely cold. 

For the sauce:

200 g of tuna fillets packed in oil

3 – 4 salted anchovies

2 hard boiled egg yolks

2 T. capers

4 T. olive oil

Juice of l large lemon

4-5 T. of veal broth

Salt & pepper to taste

Blend together the tuna, anchovies, egg yolks and capers in a Cuisinart.  Pour in the lemon juice and olive oil and blend until smooth.

Add the broth bit by bit until you have a nice spreading consistency.  Season with salt and pepper.

To serve:

Cut up the veal into thin slices and arrange them on a large serving dish.  Coat with the sauce and sprinkle some capers on the top.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for a few hours for the flavors to blend.  Bring to room temperature before serving.

Bianca’s Vineyard – A Book Review

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When Italy Book Tours asked me to review this new book by Teresa Neumann, I volunteered right away.  It had all the attributes of a GREAT book!  Bianca’s Vineyard did not disappoint!  And what makes it even more interesting is that it is based on a true story.  Taking place at the beginning of the 20th century and spanning through World War II and a bit beyond, it described the hardships of life in Italy during the difficult war years as well the difficulties of immigrating to a whole new world!  This book hit close to home because my parents and grandparents immigrated here as well, and I am always enthralled by these stories.

Egisto Bertozzi, the youngest of 3 brothers, was expected to immigrate to the United States so that he could earn money and send it back to Italy.  Moving he did, but before he did, he was expected to marry and bring an Italian wife with him.  He was in love with Marietta and she was to be his wife.  But, Egisto wasn’t religious and refused to marry in church.  Marietta’s family forbade their daughter to marry outside the Church and therefore broke up the loving couple.  Heartbroken, but desperate to find a wife, he married a beautiful poor girl, Arilda, from his town whom he didn’t know at all.  Arilda was looking for an escape from her miserable life and thought that this would be just the perfect opportunity to make a change for the better. At first they were happy in their new home, but soon, things started to become difficult for Arilda and she became depressed.  Egisto suffered for his wife and tried to make things work out for their sake as well as their children’s.  Arilda ended up leaving them and moving back to Italy right before the start of World War II.

The story goes on to describe how difficult life became in Italy during this time.  Hunger and fear swept the country, and the citizens of Italy were desperate.  Egisto tried his hardest to help his family in Italy, but even that was hard.  There were times when he didn’t even know the fate of his family.  My parents, who lived along the shores of Lago Maggiore, have described to me what life was like during World War II in Italy, but their tales were nothing compared to the hardships endured in other parts of Italy, especially Tuscany.  The Nazi’s, Fascists and Partisans waged war against each other and anyone else who didn’t support their cause. Many innocent people lost their lives and fear was rampant.  It must have been such a horrible time in this idyllic country.  It’s hard to believe that such beautiful places endured such atrocities, but I know they did from this book as well as lots of other movies and stories I’ve read about life in Italy during the war.

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The story starts off in the present when Egisto’s grandchildren visit Italy to learn about their history and see the family homestead. There they meet Bianca, Egisto’s niece, who is now an elderly woman and who inherited the family vineyard.  She tells them their family’s story so that they may know the strong and proud lineage that they come from.

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Egisto Bertozzi, sculptor

Connections to the homeland are so important to really understand one’s self and realize the sacrifices that were made to improve dire situations.  I’ve always said that it takes a very strong person to leave everything they’ve known all their lives, move to a country where they don’t know the language nor have any family, and forge a new life.  My parents did it and I am so proud of their inner strength.

Interview with Teresa Neumann:

Did you ever know Egisto Bertozzi personally?
Yes. He was amazing; suave but simple, smart but humble. Oliver Towne of the St. Paul Pioneer Press once wrote that “Egisto Bertozzi was part of the creativity of our civilization.” It was truly an honor to have known him.

What inspired you to write Bianca’s Vineyard?
First my husband. One of the things I found fascinating about David, when I met him was that he was half-Italian, which meant he possessed an unusual amount self-confidence along with generous amounts of artistic creativity and scientific savvy. Throw in a unique zest for life, and I realized I’d discovered a “Renaissance man” much like my husband’s grandfather, highly acclaimed sculptor Egisto Bertozzi, the co-main character in my book. My love-affair with Italy had begun.
My mother-in-law, Violenza (Babe)Bertozzi Neumann, was an incredible blessing. So when I learned that after immigrating to the U.S., Egisto’s wife Armida had a mental breakdown, abandoned her family, moved back to Italy, found a job as a domestic to a “high-level fascist leader” and then disappeared during WWII – only to be found years later, her death a mega-mystery – well, who could resist that challenge?!

Your book is set primarily Italy. Have you been there?
In the last 15 years, many times. Egisto was a sculptor, born and raised in Tuscany, near Lucca. He studied at the famous art school in nearby Pietrasanta. Just before WWI broke out, he and Armida secretly married and immigrated to St. Paul, Minnesota, where their two children were born. Later, after WWII, Egisto took Violenza (my mother-in-law) to meet his family and spend the summer in Italy. Until his death decades later, Egisto’s family corresponded with him. Then all letters from Italy abruptly stopped. It wasn’t until much later, after years of research, that we found out why.
Fast forward to 2001: I received a response to a query letter from Egisto’s niece, Bianca Corrotti inviting us Tuscany to meet her and the other Bertozzi cousins. By then, my mother-in-law was in her 80’s and couldn’t travel, so we reluctantly went without her. Our hearts immediately bonded with my husband’s relatives and birthed the passion and motivation to research and write Bianca’s Vineyard.

What about Minnesota, where Egisto and Armida lived after immigrating to the U.S.?
Being as my husband and I were raised in Iowa, Minnesota was in our “back yard” so to speak. Many Bertozzi and Neumann relatives live in the “Land of Lakes,” so we’ve made numerous pilgrimages there over the years. The area is home to many of Egisto’s sculptures. We’ve particularly loved studying his sculptures at St. Paul Cathedral.

What is your next project?
In 2013, Domenico’s Table, the sequel to Bianca’s Vineyard was published. My third book, not a sequel, but with an Italian-American protagonist, is called A Year in the Company of Freaks and should be out this summer. You can read more about it, and my other books, on my website: http://www.teresaneumann.com

Venice’s Fabulous Hotel Danieli and my SPG Experience

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I know I’ve already written a little about the extraordinary Hotel Danieli from our first visit there in 2004 (click here if you want to read it), but I thought I’d do an update from our recent visit during Carnevale 2015!  It’s nice to know that things have not changed at this hotel – they are still as wonderful as they were 10 years ago!  The only thing that I noticed changed is that they have gone to an electronic key system. Funny enough, though, is that they have kept the old fashioned tassle on the key!  You still turn in your key with the concierge when you leave (unless you don’t mind carrying around a huge bulky tassled key with you!) and they put it on the little peg board they have behind the desk!  It’s still so old fashioned that way!  And after 5 days of staying with them, I didn’t have to tell them my room number anymore when we came back into the hotel after our walks about town – they knew it!

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It’s great customer service when you feel like a hotel really pays attention to their guests and makes them feel so much at home!

Upon check-in, we found a bottle of prosecco in our room – a wonderful treat to make us feel so welcome!

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And then on my birthday, which I celebrated while in Venice, they sent me a beautiful chocolate cake!

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At first, I thought someone from my family may have ordered it delivered, but when I couldn’t find a card with it, I went and asked the concierge.  When I told him it was my birthday, he came out from behind the desk and gave me a big hug and kiss!  And then he happily told me that the hotel had sent it!  What a nice surprise!

We spent a lot more time using the facilities at the hotel on this visit – so much more than we did back in 2004!  Probably because we weren’t travelling with young kids 🙂  At every single moment, the service was exceptional.  We ended up having Aperol spritz’ in the lobby every afternoon and breakfast in the beautiful terrace restaurant every morning!  The views from the terrace are absolutely stunning!

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Too bad it was February, otherwise we would have definitely sat outside every morning and every night taking it all in.  Despite that, we were still able to go out to enjoy the terrace’s views – they are gorgeous and so magical!  It’s as if you are looking at Venice from a bird’s eye view!

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The hotel was beautifully decorated for Carnevale with fresh flowers and masks everywhere!

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And so many people were milling around in costumes – it’s as if they had stepped out of a history book!

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Amidst the antique and elegant surroundings, it felt as if we had walked back into 15th century Venice.  Wearing the attire helped 🙂

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The Hotel Danieli is definitely a very unique and stately hotel.  It is one of Venice’s finest, and because of that, it is quite pricey if you have to pay for a room.  But luckily, we paid absolutely nothing for our 5 night stay there!  You’re probably wondering how we did that!  I am going to let you in on the absolute BEST credit card loyalty program I have ever been a part of!  No, I don’t work for this program – I am only a BIG fan!  They really know how to treat those that are loyal to them with exceptional perks at their hotels!  I believe in giving credit where credit is due, and this program definitely deserves my praises.  They go above and beyond in customer service!  Sadly, we experience so little of that these days that when one finds someone that is running their business as it should be, it needs to be complimented and promoted!  The program is called SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) and it is affiliated with American Express.

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You get points by charging things on your AMEX card, and then you trade those points in for nights at Starwood Hotels (you can trade them in for other things, like flights, but I find that the hotel points are the best value).  The Starwood umbrella includes many brands:  Westin, St. Regis, Sheraton, W and Luxury (and many subsets of these!).  The hotels are found all over the world, and I have to say that we have expanded our travels so much more after becoming members back in 2003.  We have stayed at places (like the Hotel Danieli) that we probably would never have experienced if not members of this program.  It has also made our lives more spontaneous – we live fairly close to San Francisco and have, on more than one occasion, decided to stay overnight in SF on a whim (sometimes without even packing overnight bags and toothbrushes!).  I know that we would never have done this if we didn’t have the points to stay in a great hotel!  Not only can you experience staying in these beautiful hotels for free as soon as you have enough points for an eligible night, but you are handsomely rewarded for being loyal customers!  We have been members for quite a while, and because we use their hotels quite a bit, we have been promoted to Platinum status and have become eligible for suite upgrades.  At this level, even more benefits open up.  For instance, we get free internet and free breakfast every day of our stay.

During this particular stay at the Hotel Danieli, our breakfast, in the beautiful terrace restaurant, would have cost us 50 Euros per person per day. Instead, we got it complimentary!  And, as an added bonus, we were upgraded to a suite for our entire 5 night stay.

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We had a living room, which was decorated with fresh flowers every day, a lovely bedroom, a foyer with a vanity table, and a gorgeous marble bathroom!

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But the best part of our suite was the spectacular view of Venice’s main canal!  Every morning, when we opened the shutters, we were greeted by the sight of gondolas and an unobstructed view of San Giorgio Maggiore…it was just like living a dream.

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If you are interested in exploring this SPG card and all its benefits, here is the link!  If you do sign up, let them know that Barbara Rindge sent you (yes, I’ll get some points for the referral and I’ll greatly thank you!).  But really, I’m not doing it for the points – I truly believe they are a great loyalty program!

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Enjoying our daily Aperol Spritz!

The Light in the Ruins – A Book Review

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This excellent book by the author of Midwives, Chris Bohjalian, delves into life in the beautiful Tuscan countryside during the ravages of World War II. The Rosati’s, a noble family, who lived in a beautiful villa surrounded by vineyards and olive trees, thought their little world was safe from the horrors of the War even though both their sons were in the military fighting for Il Duce. Their oldest son was off in Sicily and their other son was commissioned in Florence as part of the Nazi pillaging of art, but the rest of them were quietly living out the War in their little corner of Heaven. Heaven was about to turn into an inferno, though, when the Nazi’s learned of the secret Etruscan tomb on their property and the possibilty of gathering priceless artifacts to send back to Germany.

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At first, they treated the Rosati’s with respect and reverence. One of the young German officers even fell in love with Cristina, the youngest daughter, and it all seemed like they would live a happily ever after once the War was over. This fairytale abruptly came to an end, though, when Italy surrendered to the Allies. The Germans became desparate and began trashing the countryside and killing anyone suspected of harboring the Partisans.

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Massacres of innocent people, sometimes a whole town, took place and everyone lived in fear. The Rosati’s were no exception: they soon became prisoners in their own home.

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They were forced to give up their home for it to become a barracks for the Nazi’s. They were allowed to remain, though, but all 6 of them were crammed into one room. Their animals were slaughtered to feed the soldiers and their vineyards and olive groves destroyed. Everything they had was gone! And on top of all the physical and economic hardship they indured, their allegiance was questioned by all…were they Nazi sympathizers (after all, their daughter was in love with one) or were they harboring Partisans?

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Fast forward 10 years or so….the War is over and Italy has somewhat repaired itself from the damages. The Rosati’s have left their war-torn estate behind and moved to Rome. The horrors they endured during the War are still raw scars on their hearts that have yet to heal, and probably never will. And now, their family has become the target of a brutal serial killer. Someone is out for revenge, but why? Who? The pretty, young, female investigator assigned to the case has to untangle clues from the past which puts her back in touch with her own secrets and horrors endured during the War. The story takes its twists and turns, but the reader is always caught up and motivated to keep reading wondering how its all going to come together.

My Dad – The Soccer Player

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Growing up in Italy, playing soccer is every boy’s greatest dream, much like baseball, basketball, and football are the dreams of many American boys!  Few get to really pursue this dream, but my dad was one of the lucky ones.  Throughout his life, he lived and breathed soccer!  He truly loved the game and didn’t have any trouble memorizing all the stats of all the soccer games played by all the Italian teams.  His favorites were Juventus and Milan, but he paid close attention to all of them.  In fact, when the World Cup games were on, he was always at the Italian club in San Francisco watching the games on a giant screen TV!  Growing up, I never quite understood his fascination with the game, but I later came to understand why he had such a passion for it.  You see, my dad played professional soccer in Italy for probably about 8 years in the late 40’s and early 50’s.  His team was Gallarate (a town near Milan in Northern Italy).  He played in Serie B and was a mid-fielder.

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During his career, he was a top goal-scorer and earned quite a following in his home town.  Many in the town followed his games and were excited whenever he’d score a goal – even to the point of getting free dental work from his dentist!  He was a home-town celebrity but you’d never know it by his demeanor.  He took the accolades quietly, even though he enjoyed the little perks!

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During a recent trip to Italy, a few years after my dad had passed away, I got to meet up with one of his many fans who had followed his career closely.  He asked me if I knew what a great soccer player my dad had been, and sadly, I had to confess that I had only heard about the perks he received(and those stories weren’t even from him!)  He told me that my dad had great talent, but my dad was too conservative and humble to allow himself to venture into Serie A.  He said that Como, a Serie A team at the time, had courted my dad to play for them.  But my dad had declined because he felt that his knees weren’t good enough!  He had had meniscus surgery, which in those days was a major operation, and he was unsure that he could keep up in Serie A.  According to this fan, my dad had incredible skills – he could use both feet to shoot into the goal or to pass, and he had great aim with his head shots! I only wished that I could have seen him play this game that he loved so much.  The only memory I have of his skills was when he used to play “keep away” with me…I remember chasing the ball but never being able to get it because he’d whisk it away with his feet so much faster than I could ever go!

There is so much more I’d love to ask him about his soccer days but sadly he’s no longer with me.  And when he was here, I never thought about asking…why is it that we never take those special opportunities when we have them?

Nonna Always Knows Best

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Do you ever wonder why Italian women are usually always thin?  Is it because they starve themselves (kind of an impossible feat when everything is so good in Italy)?  The answer may lie in those recommendations handed down from generation to generation – recommendations that make so much sense because deep down we already know them.  Occasionally, though, we just need a little nudge to remember these basic rules for maintaining a healthy lifestyle!  So here we go:

Nonna’s recommendations for staying slim!

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1.  Enjoy your food:  This means eating slowly and savoring every bite.  If we take the time to really taste our food, we will eat slower and ultimately, eat less.  We should learn to eat calmly, rather than gobbling down our food as quickly as we can.

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2.  Eat lots of fresh fruit and vegetables:  In order to really get the most of this most important food group, buy a little at a time, making sure that it is fresh and in season.  When you want to have a snack, eat a piece of fruit, maybe accompanied by a yogurt.

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3.  Turn off the TV:  Do not eat dinner in front of the TV.  When we are immersed in a TV show or watching a movie, we become absorbed in the show and forget that we are also eating – making it easier to overeat.  Eating should be shared with others where we can talk and share of ourselves.  If we are alone, turn on some classical music instead – this will help us be calm and have the knowledge of what we are eating.

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4.  Eat food that is genuine!  Let go of all those processed foods, even though they seem to be easier to prepare but, which, in reality, don’t save us all that much time!  A healthy meal can be created from REAL ingredients in a jiffy – Italian food, is by nature, usually very simple and only requires a few ingredients – just make sure that they are fresh and of high quality!

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5. MOVE!  This is the key, I think, to everything.  Italians do a lot of walking and they also do a lot of cleaning!  Give exercise a purpose –  walk to do the grocery shopping, ride your bike to the farmer’s market, sweep and mop the floor…the key is to keep moving.

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Our Nonna’s lives weren’t easy and they didn’t drive everywhere – they walked, in rain or shine (or snow) to get the fresh ingredients to prepare the delicious family meals.  They washed their clothes by hand and hung them out to dry.  They scrubbed their marble floors until they shined, and not only the floors of their homes, but those thousands of marble stairs leading up to their 3rd floor apartments.   We may have more modern conveniences to make our lives easier, but it’s important to remember that the old fashioned ways sometimes really are the best if we want to live a healthy life!  If we listen to our Nonnas and incorporate these basic rules, hopefully we’ll avoid packing on the pounds…and if you’ve lost your way (like I have, sadly), we’ll hear that little voice gently nudging us to get back to the basics of a healthy lifestyle!

So please excuse me as I get off my duff – I have a date with my kitchen floor and the mop!

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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!

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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Will There Be Ghosts…Or Not?

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Italy is in great need of funds and so they are looking for creative ways to raise that revenue.  Part of their plan includes allowing large corporations to sponsor the renovation and upkeep of Italy’s monuments, roads, etc. (like Tod’s contribution to the renovation of Rome’s great Colosseum).  Another aspect of this plan is to offer up properties for “sale” throughout Italy.  These “sales” are actually 99 year leases…not quite forever, but enough time to do something new with it.  These sales will not only raise revenue but help to promote the development of the regions as well.  One of these 5 Italian properties for “sale” is the tiny island of Poveglia in the Venetian lagoon.

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Poveglia has a sinister past which has given it quite a reputation.   It began as a battleground over power between the Venetians and the Genoese back in the 14th century, and ended up as a hospital for the elderly during the 20th century.  During the 18th century, when the plague was discovered on two ships entering into Venice, it became that ominous place where Venetians stricken with the plague and other infectious diseases went to die.  When it was used as a hospital for the elderly from 1922 to 1968, it is rumored that experiments on the mentally ill were performed here.  One of the directors that performed these crude operations ended up throwing himself from the hospital’s tower because he claimed to have been driven mad by ghosts!  The reputation of being haunted has stuck with the island…it is currently uninhabited, with eerie reminders of days gone by.  There are rusted beds, crumbling walls, vines encroaching on building interiors – all the elements of a horror film.  Many brave souls that have ventured to spend some time there have reported ghostly presences.

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Even though Italy wants to try to lease the island to make some money, local Venetians are forming a group to try to save the island for them!  They want to make it into a refuge from the overly touristic Venice where people can run away to enjoy a quiet picnic, stroll peaceful gardens, and learn to sail.   They obviously don’t believe the haunted claim as many of them said they used to spend weekends there as children.

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The citizen group known as Friends of Poveglia has so far raised about 160,000 Euros to buy and restore the island for the locals.  Meanwhile a corporate investor has offered 513,000 to “lease” the island and build a mega-resort.  Who will win out?  Maybe the ghosts will decide it’s ultimate fate….

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My Italian Hometown of Ispra

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A few years ago, I wrote some posts about my time in Ispra – the town on Lago Maggiore that my parents hail from…and that is very close to my heart! I feel at home there whenever I visit – as if it’s in my soul. Here is a gorgeous pictorial of this beautiful little town on the Eastern shores of Lago Maggiore.

Ispra is affectionately nicknamed “La Perla del Lago Maggiore” – the pearl of Lago Maggiore – because it is one of the most beautiful villages along the lake. The afternoon sun shines on it and it’s gorgeous shoreline. It is about 70 km from Milan along the shores of Lago Maggiore and it sits between two rocky hills that slope gently towards the lake – Monte dei Nassi and Monte del Prete. The views of the nearby mountains is stunning, and on sunny clear days you can see the majestic Monte Rosa – an Alpine peak always covered in snow which glows pink when the sun shines on it.

Ispra’s history is impressive, being first inhabited in prehistoric times and then as a settlement of the Celtic Insubri. The Insubri were a civilization made up of Ligurian, Celtic, Etruscan and Gaulish tribes. They were the original founders of Milan in the 2nd century BC. These people lived by fishing and agriculture and were later colonized by the Romans followed by the Lombards and Franks during the Medieval Era. The Renaissance brought the noble and powerful Visconti and Torriani families from Milan who fought each other for domain over Ispra. It remained under Milanese rule until the Borromeo family (of Isola Bella fame) took it over. For a short while, it fell into decline with a brief occupation by French and Spanish troops, but rose once more to aristocratic status during the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. During this time, the current port was built and used as an important base for the transportation of goods through the Swiss border. Several riots by local patriots against the Hapsburgs took place here and finally Ispra joined Garibaldi and the troops of the Savoys, the future kings of Italy, to overthrow the Hapsburgs. Many artifacts have been discovered, including engraved stones, jars, amphora, Roman tombs, an ancient canoe and a parchment dating back to the 8th century – all these evidence of Ispra’s occupation during history.

Ispra’s center, dominated by the beautiful church of San Martino, was inhabited by aristocrats for many years – thus resulting in some impressive mansions throughout the town. My parents told me stories of sneaking into the grounds of these villas as children to climb the fruit trees 🙂 Some of the aristocratic families were still living there then and the entire town knew about them, even though they didn’t associate with the common folk! My mom says she remembers a special “box” near the choir loft in the church that was reserved only for them. The beautiful church, San Martino, has frescoes dating back to the 17th century! My parents were married in this gorgeous church over 50 years ago! In more recent times, I took refuge in this church during a huge summer thunderstorm 🙂

Ispra, La Perla del Lago Maggiore, never disappoints me and I look forward to my visits with anticipation!