Friday, May 29, 2009

La natura e l'arte di Dio

Dante writes La natura e l’arte di Dio (nature is the art of God).

You can see the storm coming in for miles.  Like most things in Italy it is a gradual build-up.  But when it hits it is as fierce as they come.  Perched high atop a Tuscan hill the view from where I sit is exceptional.  The valley seems to have been decorated by a master artisan.  The clouds slowly roll in to cover everything in a cool mist.  The wise olive trees are perfectly placed, while the sad bending and weaving Cypress trees hold their own against the wind.

8 kilometers, 20 minutes by cab, 1 hour by bus if you catch both on time, and about 10 degrees cooler Villamagna seems trapped in history.  The locals speak very little to no English (which I love).  There is one little café, one little restaurant, and small bar.  Nothing seems to have changed here in decades.  Walking into the café you hear the record skip while being greeted with a very warm buon giorno. 

Villamagna is just outside Bagno a Ripoli which is just outside of Florence, but the worlds are so different.  The locals have lived here for generations.  The little house I’ve rented has been in the owner’s family for 3 generations.  That is a foreign concept to most Americans.

It takes some time to beat the American out of me.  Waiting for the bus is a little like therapy.  I walk far too fast for my own good in a hurry to get nowhere.  I barely enjoy my dinner before I’m asking for the check.  But gradually, surely, the American in me seeps out like the comfortable feeling you get when you secretly loosen your belt after a 3 course Tuscan meal.  It is quite good for the soul to let life pass you by while enjoying it.  I’ve come to learn as I do every year that Italy really is a lifestyle and not a destination. 

There are few things as good as Fagioli Uccelletto, the Bargello, or the smell of Villamagna after the rain.  I wonder how many times the serpents tail would encircle me to deliver my fate in Dante’s hell?   I’m guessing four times around due to my avarice nature.  I seem to squander things away with no thought of tomorrow.  I hope my search within my soul that began so many years ago leads me to Beatrice and inner peace.  If it doesn’t I can say that I truly gave it everything and I’m ok with that.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Those aren't lemons, but they're great to eat!

Those aren’t lemons, but they are amazing!  The delicious Bread Lemon.

Those huge football sized lemons you see on the Amalfi Coast dressing up windows aren’t actually lemons.  They are fantastic to eat though.  The locals call them Limone di Pane which means bread lemon.

They smell like grapefruit, but are about the same weight as a regular sized lemon.  The fruit inside is protected by a an enormous pith that gives the fruit its size and its name.

The locals cut it in half and then slice it into smaller, bite sized slices about the size of a lemon you get for a cocktail at a bar.  Then they sprinkle a little sugar on it for an after dinner treat that is fantastic.  The only thing they don’t eat is the skin…it’s too bitter.

Check out the How to Tour Italy Podcast with Cooking Vacations or the Video with Cooking vacations to learn more.

Real Deal Limoncello

Real Deal Limoncello! 

This recipe comes courtesy of Cooking Vacations and Lauren who was given this recipe from her friend Antoni0.

Limoncello is an authentic elixir that is suitable as an aperitif, a digestivo, or as an evening drink with friends.  The ingredients for Limonello are simple and few, and making a batch does not require much work.

If you are trying this recipe and aren’t living in Positano than I suggest, as a first step, washing the lemons you buy from the store in vegetable and fruit wash thoroughly.  You want to remove all of the waxy coating on it so that it looks good on the shelf at the store.  That is the major difference between food in Italy and the U.S.  In Italy food is judged by how it tastes, not how it looks.  You’ll rarely, if ever, find any produce with wax or a shining agent on it.

5 organic lemons (thoroughly washed)

2 cups of everclear

2 cups of sugar

2 cups of water

Take a large glass jar with a sealable lid.  Wash the lemons and pat them dry.  Remove the zest with a potato peeler.  Take only the skin leaving the pith (the white stuff between the skin and the fruit of the lemon).

Fill the jar with the everclear and drop in the skin of the 5 lemons you have peeled.  Seal the jar and store in a cool, dry place.  Every day pick up the jar and swirl it around.  After 6 days (it can go as long as 14, but no longer) you combine it as follows:

Bring the water to a boil and add the sugar.  Melt it to a simple sugar.  Let it cool to room temperature.  Pour into the glass jar with the lemons and everclear.  Swirl around.  Then strain into a bottle. 

Store it in the freezer and enjoy ice cold.

Thank you Lauren and Cooking Vacations.  

Check out the video on on how we made Limoncello from the Cooking Vacations balcony overlooking Positano…amazing.

You’ll also learn a thing or two about those huge “lemons” you see in the Amalfi Coast.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Well Mr. Steinbeck your essay worked

Positano and the Amalfi Coast as a whole is one of the most beautiful spots in Italy.  I am looking forward to exploring lesser known regions to find a local comparison, but for now the A.C. is it.  Mr. Steinbeck wrote "it is difficult to consider tourism an industry because there aren't enough tourists."  That has certainly changed.  It's booming with tourists.  As well it should.  Like any popular spot there is a reason and the reason is it's amazing.

It is one of those things.  Someone tells someone and all of a sudden it's out there.  The A.C. has been host to day-trippers and the wealthy for quite some time, but it can certainly be enjoyed as a local.

I have to admit that I'm not a beach guy so the A.C. on the surface doesn't do it for me.  Once you get here and start to dig in you find a whole new world.  A world of small local cafes, little markets, fantastic terrace gardens, huge lemons, clinging clouds, insane Vespa drivers, and some of the nicest people you'll ever meet.

My advice for the A.C. is simple...don't take a day trip here or there.  If you're in the A.C. be in the A.C.  Don't try to hit each town in a day with a home base in miss all the fun.  The towns have a different life entirely at night when the boats take the sore and weary Americans home.  (I write sore because you'll walk up so many steps that it's best not to think about it.  Buy some great shoes and go for it.) The smart ones stay here and enjoy it at night.

It is expensive, but if you do it right you'll be good.  

1.  Don't eat at the seaside restaurants.  Great food, but insanely expensive.
2.  Buy some fruit, bread, cheese, salami, from the in town, top of the hill markets and walk down to the beach for a little picnic.
3.  Hit the cafes like Bar International on Via Chiesa Nuova for an espresso.
4.  Ask the locals where they eat and go there.
5.  Don't assume everyone speaks English.  Be p0lite and begin the conversation by asking if they speak Italian if you can.
6.  Go to Capri, go to Ischia, and go to Procida.  Be sure to stay the night to enjoy the local side of things.
7.  Enjoy anything with lemons and olive oil.  The combination here is the best I've ever had.  I truly love the Italian Anchovies (not salty) with lemon juice and olive oil.  This is one of the best snacks i've ever enjoyed.
8.  Treat yourself to some plump green olives and prosecco on the beach.  Or, take Hande's advice from Vino Roma and order a Franciacorta instead.  I have to admit it...I like it better too.  :)

Explore the A.C. and let it touch your soul like it has since the Augustus and some of the worlds most beloved writers.  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In Rome? Love Wine? Go to Vino Roma!

If you love Wine, like wine, want to learn more about wine, have fun with wine, or try something super cool in Rome go to Vino Roma for a wonderful time.  You'll enjoy wines with Hande from throughout Italy and learn a lot about wine in a fun way.  You have to check it out. 

Listen to my upcoming radio segment with Hande at Vino Roma this Thursday.

Great stuff.  I'm a white wine guy and finally know why :)

If you're only in Rome for a day this should make the list.  Vino Roma offers cruise packages too...very cool.

They are right over Ponte Cavour next to some great cafes.

Cool stuff to do in Florence

Some Very Cool Stuff to Do in Florence


Accademia Museum – Do you like Michelangelo?  Who doesn’t?  Do you like Maplethorpe?  Most actually don’t…to in their face.  Put your opinion aside and dive into a cool concept.  Check out how the contemporary isn’t that much different from the classic.  Compare Michelangelo’s David to the nude photography of Maplethorpe to understand things haven’t changed all that much.


Iris Garden – through may 20 check out the blooming Iris’s from the Florentine Iris Society at Piazzale Michelangelo.  A real springtime treat for flower lovers with a wonderful view of Florence.


Check out for great information about what to do and what’s happening in Tuscany. 


Amico Museo – Through Sunday May 17th Tuscany is offering a taste of the Artisan’s life.  You can visit wonderful museums and historical workshops from Siena to Lucca, and more to dive into ancient flour mills, villas, churches, and much more.


“Genius We are Born” – celebrate the genius of Florence from artists to filmmakers to scientists.  Go to  May 15 – 24th.  Hear people reading Dante in the Streets, attend lectures on Da Vinci, Learn about Clement VII.


Trofeo Marzocco – Florentine Flag Throwing at its finest in Piazza Signoria on May 23.  See the best compete for a truly medieval spectacle with thousands of photo opps.  This is something you can’t see just anywhere.


Celebrate the anniversary of the death of Fra Angelico in Florence on May 23.  First a mass at Capella dei Priori in Palazzo Vecchio, then a small parade to Piazza Signoria, then palms and flowers will dress the plaque marking the spot where he was burned to death in the Piazza.  It all starts at 10:00 AM in Palazzo Vecchio.


Galileo at Palazzo Strozzi until August 30th.  Learn about the genius that is Galileo through lectures, videos.  Lots of other goodies from Pompeii, plus Botticelli, Rubens, and more.


Love wine?  Of course you do.  Check out Corte del Vino on May 23 – 24.  400 wines, 80 winemakers, taste it all, taste the best.  Only 18 Euro per ticket.  You can also enjoy lunch for a little extra. - if you like wine you have to check out the guided tours and tastings in Tuscany on May 31.  All of Italy’s wines are present and accounted for so you can indulge Napa Style.  This is a real treat since Italy doesn’t often present its wines like Napa does for tours and tastings. 


Are you a fan of Filippo Lippi?  After 7 years of restoration his fresco cycle in Prato is available to enjoy by guided tour.  Call 0574 24112 to make a reservation.





Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Finally, we're in Rome and the Project begins

No day of travel is without its perils.  We missed our connection in London, but we managed to enjoy lunch with our friend Darryl C.  One of the greatest guys I know.

Our first leg from O'Hare to London wasn't too bad.  We flew coach.  (I tried to upgrade, but couldn't get it done)  The time flew since I slept.  I couldn't help getting annoyed with a little boy across the aisle who wouldn't stop yelling, screaming, and otherwise causing a problem.

I enjoy watching how others travel.  There are people out there who are always complaining and miss the concept that traveling is the adventure.  The stuff you do in the middle is the easy part.

A group of older folks were on our flight.  The men wore WWII gear so you knew they had been to the Big One and lived to tell about it.  I was impressed that they all sat in the middle row of 5 on the 777 and didn't budge, say a word, or complain a bit.  They didn't even get up to go to the bathroom.  I enjoyed watching them as they easily conversed with each other and everyone around them with the ease that only comes from surviving something that should have been your end.  It was nice to see them embracing every moment unconcerned about the little or the big things.  The only things these gentlemen were concerned with was that their wives had what they needed for the flight like a bottle of water and something to read.

I'm a bit tired so I won't pontificate, but suffice it to say I hope I can be as at ease in my skin someday as these men were in theirs.

Feed your soul.  

Tomorrow...the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, San Luigi dei Francesi, and the Colosseo.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pronto! Using the phone in Italy

Calling Italy from the U.S. 

1.     Dial the International access code (011 in the U.S.)
2.     Dial 39, the country code for Italy
3.     Dial the 2-4 digit area code
4.     Dial the 4-8 local number
5.     011 39 02 xxx – xxx - xx


Calling Italy from Italy 

For all domestic calls dial the area code and number.  Calling from Rome to Milan simply dial 02 – xxx – xxxx.  The area code is always needed in Italy even when calling from Rome to a Rome number. 

Calling an Italian Cell Phone 

Cell phones do not have to be prefixed with a 0.  Rather than area codes cell phones use a 3 digit cellular prefix that begin with a 3.  When calling from the U.S. to an Italian cell phone dial 011 – 39 – 3xx – xxx – xxx.  When calling a cell phone from Italy to Italy dial 3xx – xxx – xxx.

 Calling the U.S. from Italy 

1.     Dial the International access code for Italy – 00
2.     Dial the country code for the U.S. – 1
3.     Dial the area code for the city you want to call (Chicago) – 312
4.     Finally dial the phone number
5.     001 – 312 – xxx – xxxx