Category Archives: Uncategorized

Zucchero’s Black Cat Live Tour

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Last night I got the chance, once more, to see Zucchero live in San Francisco! This time he was performing at the iconic Palace of Fine Arts! The setting was great, with the most comfortable seats ever! We got to enjoy them when we weren’t standing up to dance and move to the great beats! We were in the 3rd row, with a great view!

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Zucchero put on a great performance – I’m always amazed at the stamina these performers have! He played straight for about 2 1/2 hours, never taking a break! His band was great, too! He had players from Italy as well as from the USA and they were incredible musicians! There was a sultry violinist that played front and center and she was definitely a show stopper!

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He began the concert with some of the songs from his new album, Black Cat. The songs were good but I have to say that, sadly, they weren’t my favorites. After introducing these new songs, the rest of the night was spent playing lots of his other songs, which were amazing. He played the guitar on many of them, with his mesmerizing voice booming all the while! One of my favorite pieces was Miserere – they piped in Luciano Pavarotti’s voice from the original duet they had performed many years ago, along with the music video from that performance. This was simply stunning! Zucchero singing live while Pavarotti’s voice boomed from the recording! You can only imagine the emotion!

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Zucchero spoke to us in his excellent English, even though he claims it’s not very good! He loves San Francisco and it shows! And it seems that San Francisco loves him right back! I saw so many of my Italian friends there – friends from my childhood that I haven’t seen in ages! The Italian community in San Francisco is timeless and seeing these special people is always a priceless treasure!

 

Changes in the Marriage Vow

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It was publicized last week that “fidelity” will no longer be part of the Italian marriage vow…couples will no longer  need to promise to be “faithful until death do us part.” Let’s be honest, infidelity has been rampant in Italy for many years – mainly on the man’s part, but many times also on the wife’s side. There is a total double standard, though, when it comes to cheating – men are forgiven a lot easier than women. I guess society (and men) accept that desirable men have mistresses!  But for a  women, this is frowned upon!. According to the law, infidelity in women can lead to illegitimacy – and this can disrupt the family! After all, a man may not know if a resulting child is his if his wife’s been cheating on him! Wow….I never realized that all this legal thought went into that little phrase. For whatever reason, though, they have now decided to abolish it entirely from the marriage ceremony. What do you think?

Michelangelo’s Ghost – A Book Review

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Gigi Pandian has created a tale of suspense and intrigue in the beautiful Italian countryside. Jaya Jones, a professor of art history from San Francisco, is pulled into a treasure hunt to find never-before seen masterpieces created by Lazzaro Allegri,a contemporary of Michelangelo. His sketchbooks showed his drawings of the royal courts of India – an art that spanned two continents in ways never before seen.

This story is a thrilling combination of suspence and romance. It gripped me from the beginning, and had me hooked throughout its many twists and turns, until the end. The characters were all well developed and we came to know each one of them well. You couldn’t help to fall in love with Jaya – her spunkiness and resolve were contagious and I was rooting for her all the way through!

I wholeheartedly recommend this book – it’s a fun read and takes place in my favorite location of all time: Italy!

Where to Buy the Book:   Amazon ~ Barnes & Noble

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Meet the Author:

USA Today bestselling author Gigi Pandian is the child of cultural anthropologists from New Mexico and the southern tip of India. She spent her childhood being dragged around the world, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gigi writes the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mysteries, the Accidental Alchemist mysteries, and locked-room mystery short stories. Gigi’s debut novel, Artifact, was awarded a Malice Domestic Grant and named a “Best of 2012” debut by Suspense Magazine. Her fiction has been awarded the Lefty Award and short-listed for Macavity and Agatha Awards. Sign up for her email newsletter at http://www.gigipandian.com/newsletter.

Connect with the author: Website ~ Twitter ~ Facebook

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The Verdict is In…but Was Justice Served?

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Amanda Knox’ fate was decided earlier this week…and, luckily for her, she was found to be innocent!  She spent 4 years in an Italian prison, accused of killing her British roommate while they were both studying in Perugia, Italy.

This case has brought tons of media coverage, both in Italy and throughout the world.  The story has become sensationalized, and the media has loved covering it.  And why wouldn’t they?  A beautiful American girl accused of killing another beautiful girl in a sexual game gone wrong – this story had everything to  make it exciting!  It even involved a black man from the Ivory Coast to add to the mix!

Unfortunately, since the beginning, there were too many questions raised about the evidence and it’s unreliability. And, of course, Amanda’s lawyers ran with this.  They used this to base their defense…and it finally worked to Amanda’s benefit.

But the question still remains: Was Amanda involved with the death of her roommate?

I have an opinion on this – and whether it’s right or wrong, I cannot judge – but it’s just my gut feeling.  I’m sure there will be arguments on both sides, but this is my feeling:  I believe that Amanda was involved.  I don’t believe it was a pre-meditated act, but I feel that she was high on drugs at the time and got involved in a sexual game.  Perhaps they were all high on drugs and during the course of “play”, things got out of hand and poor Meredith became the victim.

I think it’s a shame that Meredith’s parents cannot get closure on their daughter’s senseless death.  I haven’t heard if the investigation into finding her killer will begin again, but I’m not sure how they will without any reliable evidence.  Perhaps they will turn their attention to the prisoner they already have behind bars and pin the entire murder conviction on him.

Meanwhile, Amanda is free and back home in Seattle.  It will be interesting to see how her life will progress from now on, but I’m hoping that if she is truly guilty, her conscience will prevail and she will confess. And,  if she is really innocent, then I hope that she has learned from her ordeal and will use it to benefit others.

Coming Into the Home Stretch

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Returning to Ispra after my galavanting around Milan and Como, I found new areas to explore. After visiting some friends that lived on the north end of town, I realized that I didn’t know that area at all! So one day, after lunch (and leaving my mom with her sister), I set out. First destination was the lake. But instead of heading South as I always do, I headed North. Now I had been to the edge of the north beach before, and had even looked at one time about continuing in that direction, but had been intimidated by the lack of a path and the many granite boulders hugging the lake’s edge. But this time, since I knew that there was a path there somewhere, I braved the unknown. To my surprise (and relief), a path eventually appeared…and it was gorgeous! It reminded me of the Via del Amore in the Cinque Terre!!! Who needs to go all the way to Liguria when this exists here!


Winding along the lake’s edge, it was a beautiful and peaceful stroll. I was alone on this stretch of granite pavingstones with only the lake’s gentle waves lapping against the boulders. At one time, this area had been where the limestone mines were. When my parents were young, many of their parents worked there. My mom told me that when she was a little girl, her and her friends would ditch preschool in order to sneak down to this part of the lake to play! A bell would sound when they were about to blast, and the kids would take cover in some caves in case of falling rocks! Can you imagine the adventures they must have had? Today this area is filled with some gorgeous villas that even have water garages for their boats! When I reached the end of the path, I took a LONG winding staircase back up to the road.


From here I had to trek up to the top of the hill before heading down back into town. I passed some gorgeous properties – some new, but also some old stately villas!


The walk was strenuous but so rewarding!

Upon entering back into town, I passed a real estate office. In their window were pictures of properties for sale in and around Ispra. It’s always been my dream to own a little part of this little paradise! So I picked up their little property guide and started dreaming. Heading back to my internet connection, I began to do some research. To my surprise and excitement, I found an apartment in the center of town in the same complex as my mom’s friend. We had just been over for dinner the night before, so I was familiar with the building. We called him and he knew all about the place for sale….he even had the keys! What a thrill! The apartment sits on the third and final floor, and it has two bedrooms, one bath, two balconies, a kitchen, a large living room/dining room, a storage closet….and down in the basement a cantina! It is sunny and bright (the apartment, not the cantina!!! Haha) It is large and spacious! AND the price was great! But, with all this excitement comes the harsh reality of what buying a property in Italy really entails. Do I really know anything about renovating? What about finding reputable contractors? Yes, the apartment did need work….a new kitchen and bathroom would be great….new floors….removal of wallpaper and painting….some new windows….all the things I would need to make it mine! But the possibilities were clear. I had the picture of the renovated apartment that our friend had, and I knew that with some patience and some money, it would turn out beautifully!!!! So….I’m still dreaming and perhaps my dream will come true!


Sadly, our time in Italy has come to an end. We are on our LONG flight back to San Francisco. I have come back with treasured memories of my home away from home…and I have experienced life as it was here through my mom’s eyes. So much of who I am comes from this tiny little gem.

Ispra – La perla del Lago Maggiore
Ispra- The pearl of Lago Maggiore


– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Ispra

An Unexpected Detour

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On my last morning in Milan, as I was heading down the elevator to grab a bite to eat, I noticed a poster inside the elevator talking about terrace dining at the hotel. Curious, I went in search of this peaceful paradise in this busy city. The terrace was on the rooftop and truly an oasis of tranquility. I grabbed a table and ordered my usual capuccino and marmalade filled croissant and sat peacefully taking in the fresh crisp air of the morning.


Refreshed and ready to tackle the city bustle, I headed out to catch the Metro! Feeling like a pro navigating the city, I found myself in Piazza Duomo once more determined to come away with some fashion purchases. This time I headed in the opposite direction from Via Montenapoleone to the “lower rent” district ( if there is such a thing in Milan), and, to my surprise, I found several “normal” stores! I must have been in a shopping mood, so I was VERY successful! In one of the shops, I even met an Italian pianist who will be performing at The Palace of the Legion of Honor in San Francisco later this month – and she invited me to her performance! What a small world we truly live in!

Loaded with packages, I had to quit my shopping expedition to head back to the hotel for my ride back to Ispra. My cousin surprised me with the notice that he had taken the afternoon off from work so that we could do something together. What to do? We had about four hours to explore…so we decided to take a detour to Lake Como! The only other time I had visited Lake Como was in winter – it was beautiful, but not exactly tourist weather. We parked a bit out of the center of Como and began our trek towards the lakefront promenade. We passed my favorite little alleyways that I’m always so attracted to when I visit Italy. Tiny little winding alleys, with cobblestones underfoot and gorgeous old buildings with flowers hanging off the balconies, make me think of all the millions of people over the centuries that have walked these same steps! Explaining this fascination to my cousin, he said that, unfortunately for them, who have always lived surrounded by these ancient environs, they don’t even think twice about the historical beauty that surrounds them. I think I may have opened his eyes!


After passing gorgeous piazzas filled with outdoor eating, we arrived at the lake’s edge.


We found a beautiful little restaurant and enjoyed some wonderful pasta and a cool glass of wine. I couldn’t have been happier – al fresco dining in a gorgeous setting with a spectacular view, great food, and good company! Now this is my idea of La Bella Vita! Even though I didn’t get any George Clooney sitings, it was the perfect day!


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Location:Milan, Como

Incredible Milano

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Yesterday, I headed out to Milan in order to attend the Macef convention today at FieraMilano. I used every method of transportation to arrive (except I guess, boat)! I got a ride from Ispra to a train station that had a direct connection to Milan. Once arrived in Milan, I bought a 2 day Metro pass so that I could navigate the city with ease. Milan’s metro system is extremely easy to understand and also very accessible from many parts of the city. After checking in to my favorite hotel, the Westin Palace on Piazza della Repubblica, I headed out for some adventures!

Hopping on the Metro in front of my hotel, I headed to the heart of this vibrant city – Piazza Duomo! Upon exiting the Metro station, I was faced with the incredible facade of the majestic Gothic duomo.

I sat for awhile at it’s door, enjoying a prosciutto panino and doing some people watching! The piazza was hopping! There were throngs of tourists, and also throngs of street merchants trying to sell you junky little souvenirs. Holding on tight to my purse, I sat and admired this architectural wonder. Once I got my fill, I headed out in search of the famed Naviglio Grande. At one time, Milan was compared to Amsterdam in that canals traversed the city. In fact, there was a canal right near the Duomo from which the marble from Lago Maggiore came to build the massive structure. Over time, the canals were filled in and the city was built over them. The Navigli district is the only area in Milan where the canals are still present. At one time, this part of the city was extremely seedy and dangerous…but it has been rejuvenated into a trendy area filled with boutiques and restaurants. I have to say that the shopping kind of disappointed me, but the restaurants looked wonderful.

After exploring this area, I headed back to the Duomo area to do some window shopping. Milan is the city of fashion, so every designer is represented here. The prices are exhorbitant, but if you are looking for designer labels, this is the place for you!

Heading back to the hotel, I decided to spend the evening at the hotel’s bar, enjoying an aperitivo. Aperitivos are always served with food…it helps with the tolerance of the alcohol!

I sat with my IPad and wrote and wrote! Sitting in the corner, I wasn’t disturbed by anyone! Just how I like it! For dinner, since I still haven’t mastered the art of eating alone in public, I played it safe by ordering room service. Lasagne with a glass of white wine….not too shabby!

Today, I attended the giant Macef convention. This event is dedicated to Italian design and gifts. I came for for the sole purpose of looking at bomboniere (favors), but ended up finding so much more. I am inspired to open a gift shop in order to showcase all the gorgeous Italian designs I witnessed today! There is something about the absolute simplicity of Italian design that captivates me! And the ideas I came away with are an inspiration for some future endeavors. I will have to do some legwork in order to introduce the bomboniere concept in the USA! And who knows, maybe some other items will sneak their way in!

After wandering the convention today in my “gladiator” shoes, I had to call it quits! I dressed for success today, but fashion comes with a price!!!! But I came away with such a sense of Italian design, and also a dream of sharing it back home!

And tonight’s “loner” dinner was bruschetta! Yummy!


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Location:Milan

Parties And More

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Sorry for the delay in keeping my promise to blog almost every day, but our social calendar has been absolutely overwhelming. We have had at least two invitations every day! We are just so popular!!!! Ha! Ha!

The day after my last post was the whole reason for our trip – the town’s giant birthday party for all the 80 year olds in town!!! And what a shindig it was! The day started off with a a special blessing to the Class of 1931 during the Sunday liturgy! Along with the many 1931’ers present, there was even a wedding at the same Mass! It was the strangest thing I have ever seen!

The entire congregation was seated for the beginning of Mass, when in walked the bridal procession!!! Nothing like having the entire church community celebrate with you!

After the very crowded Mass, we all piled into cars to be whisked away to La Fornarina…an excellent restaurant which has become the town’s favorite. The food was incredible…and it kept coming and coming! We started off with a huge assortment of antipastos including prosciutto and melon, coppa, salame,and parmesan crisps filled with tuna. Then came the first pasta dish – fettucine alla panna con porcini (fettucini with cream and porcini mushrooms)! This was followed by another pasta dish – spaghetti alle vongole (spaghetti with clams). Both of these dishes were delicious, but two pasta dishes? Unheard of!

And if that wasn’t enough, the main course was still to come!!! I forget what the other choices were, but I ordered Pesce Persico (perch). This fish is very special here because it is a specialty of Lago Maggiore, since it is commonly fished in the lake! It was served with french fries. What I noticed here is that vegetables are not a common occurence on the menu – you have to make a real point to order them! Whereas in the home and everyday menus of the Italians, vegetables are always present – but when they have guests or are hosting a special meal, they are never present! Very strange! After this main course, we had the dessert! It was a San Honore cake! This is THE cake whenever there is a special occasion – even in San Francisco we order these cakes for those times. It is made usually with rum, cream puffs filled with cream, and a bit of chocolate! No calories in this one!

In addition to all this food, the alcohol was freely flowing! Wine with the meal, and choices of limoncello and grappa with dessert! Coffee with grappa – making it “correct” – finished off the meal! Wow! And do you know how much all of this cost???? Only 30 €!

Well….that was what we had for lunch…but dinner was yet to come! We were invited for dinner at my cousin’s place! He prepared a pasta made with lots of various seafood – which was delicious! He gave me the “secret” recipe, so I will post it once I try it at home. He also prepared a carpaccio of swordfish – DELICIOUS! I am going to have to see if my fish monger will slice the fish so paper thin to be worthy of this recipe! Needless to say, we were a bit full that day! But the generosity of all our family and friends has been limitless! Italians are the most giving people there are!

The following day was crystal clear and I took advantage of the weather to head on down to the lake for a peaceful stroll along the promenade! This spot on Lago Maggiore is absolutely heavenly – I even found a classical villa for sale along the lake’s edge! What a dream it would be to own such a piece of Lago Maggiore’s history! I wonder how much it is?

After my stroll, we headed off to spend some time with the newest member of our family – 6 month old Clarissa! As if we hadn’t had our fill of food the day before, we were invited yet again to another cousin’s house for dinner! This one’s house sits on a hill and has a view of Lago Maggiore! It is absolutely stunning! Here they prepared some ravioli with butter and sage sauce and pork cutlets served with melted cheese and prosciutto! Another delicious meal!

And now we come to yesterday!!! What a fun filled day filled with all my favorite things- sightseeing, shopping, and FOOD!!!! Again, the day was crystal clear and there was not a cloud in the sky for my shopping trip to Ponte Tresa. This town sits on the border between Italy and Switzerland, and it is on the shores of beautiful Lake Lugano. The lake very much resembles the lakes of Austria around Salzburg!

The verdant woods surrounding the lake, with the tall mountains in the background, were just stunning. Because I was with locals, they knew of the perfect spot to take me to! Lake Lugano is like two lakes connected by a river. This spot is called Lavena Ponte Tresa…and it is so picturesque. There is a small promenade with little boats moored to the shore and tiny outdoor restaurants! It is quiet and peaceful…and SO beautiful!

We came to Ponte Tresa because there was a Campisa purse store here. I was really excited at first because I thought I was getting a great deal on some name brand purses. Don’t get me wrong – the purses are well made and really stylish. The prices are great, and they are trendy and fashionable! They are also extremely popular! But…and this is a big but for me….they are not leather!!!! I really want a leather purse from Italy, and I was disappointed that I didn’t find it. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to find one!

After a day of shopping, dinner at another cousin’s was still to come! She, also, lives on a hill and has a gorgeous view of the lake!

They all have such beautiful homes! She prepared a risotto dish made with gorgonzola cheese and sliced apples! What a wonderful combination of flavors! So creamy, yet spiked with the unique flavor of spicy gorgonzola cheese…and then sweetened up with the small apple slices! Yummy!

This particular cousin has become the custodian of all the family photos handed down from one generation to the next. She shared with me any photo which I wished to have. I have such treasures of my grandparents and my dad as a little boy! I can’t wait to go home and sort them out!

There hasn’t been enough time in each day to truly savor all these delicious delicasies prepared with such loving care – I think I have to spend at least a month to truly appreciate each of these invites on an individual basis. But just spending time together has been incredible, and truly unforgettable!

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Location:Ispra and Ponte Tresa

Living The Italian Life

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These last couple of days have been spent truly living the “normal” life of an Italian. Yesterday morning, after our daily brakfast of a capucchino and a brioche, we headed out for a morning stroll into town. As soon as we made it maybe 100 yards, we ran into my mom’ best childhood friend who was on her way to visit her loved ones at the cemetary. In Italy, visiting the cemetary and taking care of the flowers at the gravesite, is a weekly, if not, a daily activity! It is also a big social meeting place!!!! I wanted to go, since the last time I visited this cemetary and I had tried to find my grandparents’ grave, I failed terribly because I searched and searched but never found it! Therefore, since my mom was with me…and she knew where they were….I wanted to go. Armed with my camera, we followed my mom’s friend to the cemetary!


Wandering through it, they began reminiscing about such and such, and noticing their graves, they were reminded of someone else! It may seem like it was a macabre subject, but in reality, it was not in the least bit sad. They were actually being reminded with happy thoughts of the deceased. The dead are never forgotten in Italy….the flowers are always well taken care of, and the cemetary is part of everyday life. They are beautiful and peaceful places, with gorgeous monuments, sculptures, and flowers. As my aunt said, “We have to take care of the gravesites because that is really our final home…not the one we currently live in!”


After our visit to all the family and friends that have gone before us, we were invited impromptly for lunch at my mom’s friend. Therefore, she stopped at the local butcher and bought some fresh prosciutto and salami. Then she stopped at the bskery and bought some delicious bread. By the time we got home, we were salivating! Our simple lunch was delicious, and being invited into the home where my mom spent so many days of her childhood was incomparable. This friend lived down the street from my mom, and according to her friend, they used to constantly run from one house to the other! It’s amazing that this woman has lived over 80 years in the exact same house!!!!

Spending all day with the ladies, despite being very interested in their stories, was taking a bit of a toll on me. I needed to get out and walk a bit. Therefore, as we were leaving, on our way to visit my aunt, I told my mom that I needed to get out and move a bit. She decided to come with me, and so, instead of taking the main road to get to my aunt’s, we took the backroads and crossed through fields and made friends with some local chickens!!! It was wonderful! The smells of fresh grass and hay immediately brought me back to when I was a little girl and used to come to Italy!

My aunt had some more stories to tell, but again, I felt like I needed some youthful interaction….and so my cousin came to the rescue! My mom stayed with her sister and they had some quiet time together while I went out for some woodfired pizza! There is nothing like Italian pizza! The crust is paper thin, with a little of a burnt edge, topped with prosciutto and mushrooms….a delicacy not to be missed. Only that in Italy, there is no sharing of food – everyone gets their own pizza….and they eat the whole thing! No doggie bags here!!!! Happy and content, I ended my day in anticipation for the next day’s event…and the reason for our trip here!

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Location:Ispra

Discovering Some Family Treasures

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After falling back to sleep around 4:30 am, we slept until about 9. By the time we made it down to the “bar” for breakfast, they were almost out of goodies! Luckily, they still had my absolute favorite – a marmelade filled croissant. The pastries and the coffee here are uniquely good – there is no comparison to anything I have had anywhere else.


After breakfast, we crossed the street from our hotel to head to the bank for some currency exchange. On the way, we passed Il Nazionale, the establishment that my grandparents had during the War. It was a bar and restaurant, with a few rooms to rent upstairs. My dad grew up here, and I have a picture of him as a little boy standing on this same balcony.


The house is now owned by an old friend of my father’s…and while we were strolling in front of it and stopping to take pictures, he saw us and invited us in!!! What a treat it was! I was able to see furniture, light fixtures, floors, and other things that were in the house when my Dad lived in it.


He was telling us that they want to redo the house, and they are planning on THROWING AWAY some of these pieces of furniture! Can you believe that they are just going to toss them? I am determined to see what I can do about saving them! Hopefully, I can figure out a way to send them safely across the seas to find a new home in California!


After living some of my father’s family history, we strolled towards the home that my mom grew up in. Her family home is located in the historic center of town, and as a historic building, the exteriors cannot be altered. Therefore, the outside of her home looks just like it has for hundreds of years….but evidently, the interiors have all been modernized.


Unfortunately, I was not able to see the insides. The small cobblestone alleyway was the path my mom took on her wedding day that led to the Church.


Visiting some old family friends, I enjoyed listening to stories of the “old days”! They were reliving their youth, and saying that even though they were poor, they enjoyed life! Perhaps it is just the story of the elderly, but they all looked upon their youth with such good memories.

Before being whisked off to dinner with another cousin, we took a walk down to the “lungolago” – the beautiful lakefront promenade. We sat on a bench, happy to take in the gorgeous panorama in front of our eyes!


Dinner tonight was at a town festival in an adjacent town, Sesto Calende, where my cousin lives. They were celebrating the feast of the “oratorio” – a sort of boys and girls club run by the town priests. My cousin used to hang out here as a boy, and now his son does. Rows and rows of tables were set up under some tents, and volunteer cooks made the meals. We had a choice of spaghetti with clams, codfish with onions, polenta with ragu sauce, tripe, or polenta with gorgonzola cheese! It was all delicious (except I didn’t try the tripe – a little too adventurous for me). And of course, a little bit of wine! Even though they were cooking for hoards of people, the food was prepared with such care and it was phenomenal. And the 5 Euro fee was a steal!

Time for bed now….we shall see what tomorrow brings us!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Ispra