Tag Archives: Italy

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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Another Reason to Be Good – Santa Lucia ;)

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Kids, pay heed! It’s once again time to be good if you want to get candies and cookies and other goodies for the feast day of Santa Lucia on December 13th! With all these opportunities for getting gifts in exchange for being good (and avoiding that nasty gift of coal for being bad), it seems to me that December must be the most well-behaved month of the year! Perhaps some of these holidays should be spread out during the year so that the goodness can last a bit longer 🙂

The feast day of Santa Lucia is celebrated in various parts of Italy and in very different ways. In Sicily, where she was actually born and martyred, they celebrate her feast day with religious processions and special food. Legend has it that back in 1582, a severe famine miraculously ended on her feast day when ships loaded with grain entered the harbor. The people were so hungry that they didn’t take the time to grind the grain into flour, but boiled the grains immediately. Because of this, Sicilians, even to this day, will not eat anything made with flour on her feast day. No bread, no pasta! Instead, they make a traditional dish called cuccia. Everyone makes their cuccia a bit differently and the women have their kids bring their version to all the neighbors to sample. Here is one recipe, which sounds delicious and is tempting me to try it soon…

Cuccia

500 g. whole wheat (not ground)
500 g. ricotta
250 g sugar
salt
cinnamon
vanilla
candied fruits and/or chocolate chips

Soften the whole wheat for 2 days in water. After the 2 days, boil the wheat with a little bit of salt added to the water for at least an hour until it is cooked. Drain the wheat and let it settle for an hour before proceeding.
Meanwhile drain the ricotta until it is dry. Once dry, add the sugar, cinnamon, and vanilla and mix well (an electric mixer works well for this.) Stir in the candied fruits and/or chocolate chips.
Add the wheat mixture and mix it all up. Portion the mixture into individual bowls and sprinkle with cinnamon.

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The feast day of Santa Lucia is also celebrated in North-Eastern Italy, but in a totally different way. The traditional food eaten here is goose, and she is the one that brings gifts to the good boys and girls. She brings sweets and candies to the good ones, and guess what she brings to those not so good? Yep, once again they get coal!

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According to tradition, she arrives during the night between Dec. 12th and Dec. 13th in the company of a donkey and her escort, Castaldo. Children are asked to leave coffee for Lucia, a carrot for the donkey, and a glass of wine for Castaldo. In exchange, she leaves candies and sweets for the children. But don’t get any ideas of catching a glimpse of her – if she sees you, she will throw ash in your eyes! Yikes!

When I asked my mom about her memories of Santa Lucia, the only thing she came up with was this little rhyme:
Santa Lucia – il giorno piu corto che ci sia! (Santa Lucia – the shortest day there is). I always thought the shortest day was December 21st…hmm…maybe I’ve been wrong all these years! Obviously, my mom didn’t grow up in one of the places where her feast day was heavily celebrated!

This very traditional Italian song, Santa Lucia, is always one that brings me back to my childhood when these songs were always sung at gatherings at the Italian Social Club my parents belonged to in San Francisco.  And of course, when Andrea Bocelli sings it, I can swoon!

Waiting….waiting….and still waiting

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June 10, 2011…the day my husband presented all his required documentation to the young gentleman at the San Francisco Italian Consulate for his request to become an Italian citizen through marriage.  He had with him all the police and FBI records indicating that he wasn’t a hardened criminal and he was definitely worthy of Italian citizenship.  “Your request will be processed and you will receive your citizenship within 2 years of this meeting” is what we were told.  Gosh, 2 years?  Ok, well it is what it is so we knew we had to be patient.

Patiently waiting....

Patiently waiting….

Fast forward to November 20, 2013…and guess what?  We have not heard a peep from anyone….niente, nulla, zip!  If my calculations are correct, we are now at almost 2 1/2 years since our meeting.  Hmm…what’s the holdup?   Is his paperwork sitting on someone’s desk at some Ministry office in Italy, or worse yet, it is still sitting on that gentleman’s desk at the consulate’s office in San Francisco, never having begun its journey?

Hopefully his paperwork isn't it this stack?

Hopefully his paperwork isn’t in this stack?

So, silly me decides to try to see if I can find out,  even though I have very little hope of getting a satisfactory answer since San Francisco’s Italian Consulate is not exactly user-friendly.  But, maybe, since they have a new Consul General and they seem to be doing more within the Italian community, things have taken a change for the better?  There’s always a chance and you don’t know until you try, right?

My first attempt (and the least obtrusive) is to try by sending an email (since this seems to be their preferred method of communication).  One email goes unanswered.  Then the second…  Maybe the third time will be the charm, I hope.  But nope, once again, nothing.

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OK,  time to take the 2nd line of attack – the phone call.

So I looked up the direct line for the citizenship office and I dialed the number, just to get a recording which very bluntly stated:  “That mailbox is full  and is not accepting any messages!”  Hmm….ok….so I decided to give them a few days to empty out their messages.  When I tried again a week later, guess what?  I got the same message.

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So at this point I decided to try the Consulate’s main line.  And big surprise,  I struck out there as well.  It started off promising when I actually got a person on the other end, but as soon as I began speaking and she heard the word “citizenship” (and, mind you, she didn’t even give me the opportunity to finish saying the word), she transferred me to that darn mailbox that was full!  Really?

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At this point, my blood is starting to boil (something that happens every time I have to deal with them) because I feel totally helpless and completely at their mercy.  They have an attitude that they can do whatever they want and no one can touch them… and I’m sure they enjoy this feeling of power.  I’m just thankful that I don’t have to deal with them for something REALLY important.  Consul Generals seem to come and go, hopes rise that things will be different, but in reality, nothing changes and the service to their citizens seems to get more and more lacking.  Why does such a beautiful country like Italy have such dark places within their bureaucracy?  It makes me sad to think that the country of my heart is so cold when it comes to taking care of their own.

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I may be sabatoging my husband’s chances of ever getting his citizenship with my ramblings here but sometimes it feels good to vent….and hopefully, one day soon, we will hear some good news from them.

The Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso

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santa_caterina_sasso1[1]While on a private boat tour of Lago Maggiore on Day 3 of our Italy – Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour, we will have the opportunity to explore this very ancient and beautiful sanctuary, Santa Caterina del Sasso, perched precipitously on the side of a cliff.  It is located a few miles north of the town in which my parents grew up and it wasn’t until 2009 that I was able to actually visit this magical place.  The sanctuary sits on a cliff above the eastern shore of the lake, and it is best accessible by boat.  We accessed it by road, but we had to climb down (and then eventually back up) from the parking lot.  The climb was a bit arduous, but the result of being able to explore this extraordinary place was beyond compare.  My mom used to tell me that the lake’s depth here at the sanctuary is the deepest in the entire lake and that there are rumors of sunken treasure which no one has ever been able to recover due to the great depth.  Who knows if this legend is true, but it just adds to the mysticism here.  The sanctuary is home to a small group of Domincian friars, after having been part of the Carmelite order of monks for many years.  The church has recently been restored, and the frescoes have been cleaned and brought to light after many years of being hidden beneath rubble and dirt.

The story of the this sanctuary and how it came to be are enchanting.  The story goes that a certain rich merchant by the name of Albert Besozzi, while crossing the lake during a storm in 1170, capsized his boat near the rocky shores of the stone cliff.  He clung to the rocks and prayed to Santa Caterina to save him.  He promised that if his life were spared, he would build a santuary to the saint and live the rest of his days as a hermit.  His life was saved, and he kept his promise by devoting his life to her.  It is believed that several miracles happened here, all due to the intervention of Santa Caterina.  The evidence of one of these miracles can still be evidenced today, and I was fortunate to see it.  During a rock slide in the 17th century, a huge boulder came off the cliffs and was destined to destroy the altar and Alberto Besozzi’s tomb.  Miraculously, the rock was lodged above the altar and never came down to destroy it.  The site is still evident today, with that part of the chapel being kept unrestored so that the miraculous recovery can be seen.

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Strolling along the arches and gazing out at Monte Rosa in the distance, you can see how this very scenic piece of coastline would lend itself to a life of devotion and prayer by the faithful.  Experiencing the silence, only interrupted by the sounds of the lapping waves on the rocks, was a moment that will stay with me forever as I remember the shores of the lake that is such a part of my core.

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Can This Be For Real?

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I can’t quite understand how an older gentleman (76), and not a very attractive one at that, like Silvio Berlusconi can always get beautiful women to fall in love with him.  He must have some sort of charisma which lures these beauties to him which is a complete mystery to me.  In an interview published today in Italy’s Vanity Fair is the story of his latest love, Francesca Pascale (28), and her claim that SHE made HIM fall in love with her!

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She courted him until he relented!  Why on earth did she go for him, when she could probably have any other man in the world?  He may be successful financially and politically (even though lately his political career leaves something to be desired), but I’m sure there are other men out there who have the same characteristics and who are much more suited to her young age.  So why him?  I can’t figure it out.

Francesca claims that she had her sights on “B”, as she calls him, back when she was 18 years old while she was working for his political party.  She decided back then that she was going to pursue him and she succeeded in 2009 to make him notice her.  At that time, she said that he told her to forget about it because he couldn’t give her the future she deserved.  Needless to say, neither one of them heeded that advice, and in 2011 he presented her with a diamond ring.  They have been an item ever since and she hopes that they will marry soon.

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She has been right by his side as he has gone through some of the most trying times of his life defending allegations of tax fraud and sex with a minor.  She defiantly defends him saying, “My president isn’t a saint, but he is absolutely unable to treat women like objects.”

I wonder how her parents feel about this relationship since he is probably older than her father!

Il Domm de Milan (The Duomo of Milan)

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Another of Milan’s treasures which we will be visiting on our upcoming Italy…Wine, Dine & Unwind Tour  will be it’s most massive Gothic cathedral, Il Duomo. I have visited this stunning architectural wonder several times, and once in the winter when it’s spires were covered in snow making it look like a decorated cake!

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The Duomo is the center of Milan, with the streets radiating out from it’s piazza. Begun in 1386, it took over 6 centuries to complete! Most of it was completed during the reign of Napoleon Bonaparte when he crowned himself King of Italy. It’s official finish date, though, wasn’t until 1965 when its last gate was inaugurated! Throughout all of it’s construction phases and many architects, it took on various architectural styles. Some Gothic purists complain that it “steals from every style in the world; and every style spoiled.” This may be true from an architectural standpoint, but to the lay person’s eye, it is magnificent. It’s many spires and statues are awe-inspiring and create a façade of intricacy that looks like lace. Henry James described it as “a structure not supremely interesting, not logical not…commandingly beautiful, but grandly curious and superbly rich…”
The Duomo is constructed of marble quarried from the shores of Lago Maggiore and brought to Milan via canals that were built especially for the purpose of covering the Duomo’s façade. Leonardo Da Vinci engineered these canals under the direction of Ludovico Sforza. They were called the Navigli, and most of them have been boarded over except for the Naviglio Grande which today houses restaurants and art galleries.

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The inside of the Duomo has some very interesting elements, one of which is an astrological map. The zodiac signs are arranged in a long line on the floor of the Cathedral and span its width. There is a tiny hole on the ceiling which is open to the sky. When the sun is exactly overhead at noon, the shadow cast from the sun’s ray will fall on the current astrological sign. I was fascinated by its precision! It is like an ancient calendar!
Sitting on top of the Duomo, is a beautifully golden statue of “La Madonnina”.

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She has become the symbol of Milan. During WWII, she was taken off the church and put into storage to keep her safe. To this day, no building can be higher than “La Madonnina”. Here is a very famous song which has become a sort of anthem for Milan.

Not Just Spumante in Asti!

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Tucked away in the heart of Piemonte’s wine region and about 55 km east of Turin lies the medieval province of Asti.

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This area is part of the Langhe and Monferrato hill regions of Piemonte and is a major producer of some of the world’s finest wines. Among it’s most famous is the sparkling wine made from the Moscato Bianco grape aptly called Asti (DOCG). My family has made many a toasts with this sweet and sparkling wine – most memorably at my wedding!

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While Martini and Rossi, Gancia and Riccadonna made commercial wines like Asti Spumante and transported them all over the world, Asti is quickly gaining international acclaim for its classic red wines such as Barbera d’Asti, Freisa d’Asti, Grignolino d’Asti, Bonarda and Ruché di Castagnole Monferrato.

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The province of Asti hosts some unique and very interesting events which depict it’s rich history and famous gastronomy. Among one of the most popular yearly events is the Palio di Asti, a medieval race between the various “old” neighborhoods (“rioni” or “borghi”) of Asti and it’s surrounding areas.

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Horsemen compete in bare-back horse races to win the crimson banner bearing the coat of arms of the city of Asti and of its patron saint, San Secondo. This Palio is the oldest one recorded in history, dating back to the 13th century. It is even older than the famous Palio di Siena.

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A week before the Palio, Asti hosts yet another party: the Festival delle Sagre. This is a food-lover’s delight! Asti turns into the biggest open-air restaurant in Italy when most of the towns in Asti’s province meet in the great “Campo del Palio” square and offer typical food and wine for which they are known.

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On the Sunday of the Sagre all the towns involved stage a parade with floats depicting traditional farming with everyone in costume along Asti’s roads to reach “Campo del Palio” square.

And then in the later Fall, Asti falls into the white truffle or “tartufo bianco” season. Some of the best truffles are found around Asti’s hills, and every weekend there is a local truffle festival.

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The city of Asti is one of the most important cities of art in Piedmont. The old town is picturesque and charming with noble palaces, medieval towers, ancient churches, and the magnificent Gothic Cathedral.

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Being ruled by Italy and France, and eventually passed to the Savoy ruling family as part of a dowry, it was a city full of riches and power.

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Venturing outside of the city walls into the northern part of the province, one finds the ancient pilgrim route called the Via Fracigena. Here lie more quaint towns, enchanting churches and imposing medieval castles.

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The wine routes in Asti offer great walking, trekking or biking opportunities through hills covered by vineyards. At every corner is the temptation to make a stop at the wineries and farms to taste different wines and local produce. And the winemakers are all too willing to please!

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Let’s go!

Renovating a “Rustico” in Italy

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I’m pleased to bring you a guest post by Geom. Paolo Terazza from Terazza Immobiliare on restructuring a “rustico” in Italy.  This article has some great advice for those considering a project of this type!  I have translated the article from Italian with the original Italian version at the end of this post…

 
Renovating a rustico (a rustic, and often times, very old home) is a real estate transaction that often transcends entrepreneurship.  It is in fact a real passion and to some extent also a fashion.
For many people, this is the realization of a dream that was waiting in the drawer for many years.  It is the realization of the desire to live in a peaceful and bucolic setting, away from the hectic modern world, in a house which retains a country origin and reorganized and restructured to provide a comfortable space. I myself, in the past, have dabbled in this work/passion by gaining a lot of satisfaction from this activity and storing a wealth of knowledge to carry it out.  I promised myself to become an advisor for these types of interventions.
It’s good to keep in mind that renovating is generally quite complex and costly, and should be evaluated in advance with a lot of thought to prevent enthusiasm for the dream from underestimating the financial commitment necessary.
It’s important, in order not to spend money without being able to resell the property in the future, to consider several factors:

The size: the size must be one to develop into a medium to large house; avoid falling in love with a very small rustico that would prove to be cumbersome and difficult to redo.  But also avoid even those too large, useful only to those who intend to carry out a the hotel business.

The physical characteristics: It is important that a rustico present a homogenous style to the location where it is situated, or is modified according to this principle. In Italy there are several types of rusticos that vary depending on the province and location, and it is good to preserve and revive this style.

Distance and accessibility: some rusticos are located in areas not served by good roads or very far away from services. The idea may seem attractive but it should be kept in mind that their value has been significantly depreciated, except in special cases as many areas of Tuscany, where it is normal to have long stretches of dirt roads.

The condition of the structure: if the structure is too deteriorated, the cost rises greatly.  It might be more economical to disassemble the useful components and destroy the rest. Unfortunately, with some buildings it is prohibited to destroy them, and so you may find yourself forced by law to have to renovate a structure that cannot be redone, or to undertake a restoration that can become complex and expensive.

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Ristrutturare un rustico è un’operazione immobiliare che spesso trascende l’imprenditorialità,si tratta in effetti di una vera e propria passione e per certi versi anche di una moda.

Per molte persone rappresenta la realizzazione di un sogno che attendeva nel cassetto da molti anni, la concretizzazione del desiderio di vivere in un luogo tranquillo e bucolico, lontano dal frenetico mondo moderno, in un’abitazione che conserva una matrice contadina riorganizzata e ristrutturata per fornire un elevato confort abitativo. Io stesso in passato mi sono dilettato in questo lavoro-passione traendo molta soddisfazione da tale attività ed immagazzinando un  bagaglio di conoscenze necessarie a svolgerla, tanto che mi sono ripromesso di diventare consulente per questi tipi di intervento.

E’ bene tener presente che si tratta di una ristrutturazione in genere abbastanza complessa e costosa, e che conviene valutare in anticipo con molta ponderazione per evitare che l’entusiasmo, indubbio, porti a sottovalutare l’impegno finanziario necessario.

E’ fondamentale, al fine di non immagazzinare il proprio denaro in un immobile che nel futuro risulti difficilmente rivendibile, valutare diversi fattori:

La grandezza: la misura deve essere quella necessaria a sviluppare un’abitazione di dimensioni medio grandi, evitate di innamorarvi di rustici molto piccoli , si riveleranno scomodi e difficili da gestire, ma scartate anche quelli troppo grandi, utili solo a chi ha intenzione di svolgere l’attività alberghiera .
–  La tipicità: è importante che un rustico presenti uno stile omogeneo al luogo dove si trova, o che sia modificabile secondo questo principio. In Italia esistono moltissimi tipi di rustici che variano a seconda della provincia e del distretto di appartenenza, ed è bene conservare e riprendere questa tipicità.
 –La distanza e la raggiungibilità: certi rustici si trovano in aree servite da strade non sempre praticabili, oppure estremamente distanti dai servizi. L’idea può sembrare affascinante ma va tenuto presente che il loro valore è notevolmente deprezzato, salvo casi particolari come molte zone della Toscana dove è normale percorrere lunghi tratti di strade bianche .
–  Lo stato della struttura: se la struttura del rustico è troppo deteriorata il costo sale moltissimo, tanto che risulterebbe più economico lo smontaggio dei componenti utili e l’abbattimento. Ma questa operazione è chiaramente vietata per gli immobili antichi, e quindi vi potreste trovare costretti dalla legge a dover ristrutturare una struttura non ristrutturabile, oppure ristrutturabile con sistemi complessi e costosissimi.

The House in Amalfi….A Book Review

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Elizabeth Adler shines again with this novel set on the beautiful Amalfi coast.  Her descriptions are always so vivid that you feel like you are experiencing it yourself.

This story follows Lamour, a 30-something landscape designer from Chicago, who, when her life begins to unravel, decides to return to the place where she last felt happy.  Her husband has recently been killed in a car accident, and while she is trying to deal with his death, she discovers that he had been having an affair and was about to leave her for this other woman.  Devastated, she decides to leave Chicago behind and run to the little house along the cliffs of the Amalfi coast where she lived with her father, Jon-Boy, when she was a little girl.  Life as a child wasn’t easy, either, because her father was a starving author who squandered every penny he made.  But, he made her feel like the love of his life, and their time in Amalfi were the happiest moments of Lamour’s life.  She had been a free child – living in a tattered red bathing suit, going barefoot, and swimming in the beautiful blue waters of the sea – without a care in the world.  Her idyllic childhood had been shattered, though, when her father mysteriously died in Italy while she had been sent back to the United States to have a “normal” childhood with some good family friends.

Lamour is determined to go back to the house in Amalfi and discover everything she can about her father’s death.  Once back, she meets people that she knew growing up and she begins to feel at home.  She begins to unravel the pieces of the mystery, all the while fixing up her little safe haven precariously perched along the cliffs.  She begins to feel happy again…even falling in love.

The descriptions of the places she visits and the food that she eats are mesmerizing.  The plot moves along very quickly, albeit being a bit predictable.  Nonetheless, it is an enjoyable easy read and a real pleasure.

This book was read as part of the Italy in Books Challenge 2011.

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!

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