Monday, May 23, 2016


After drinking in the mosaics of Ravenna ( and some local wine) we set our sights on
 Padua ( Padova), a city just north of Venice and about a two hour drive up the coast.
But before we shove off there is one more person we must visit in Ravenna....


Dante Alighieri was about as Florentine as you can get. He is what you might refer to as a Medieval Romantic. Example: One day he just caught a glimpse of the beautiful Beatrice as she walked along the Arno and he was smitten for life. One glance!
Why mess up a good thing with familiarity. Anyway, he ran afoul of the higher-ups of Florence so they threw him out of town...ejected...exile...the worst punishment. Dante spent his exile in Ravenna until he died of Malaria. And guess what? The City of Florence wants him back! After all, now he's the hometown hero. Ravenna's response?...a flick of the hand under the chin...."Basta!" You didn't want him then and he ain't moving' now!

So, what does Dante have to do with Padua? Well, it seems plenty.


As the story goes, Reginaldo degli Srovegni was an important Paduan Financier in the 13th Century. He made his fortune as a Usurer, a lender of money who extracted large interest payments from his clients. Nothing like making yourself rich on the misery of others. However, according to the Medieval Code, Usurey was a sin, a big sin. Dante, in The Inferno, being a guy who liked to put people in their place, placed old Reginaldo in the inner ring or the Seventh Circle of Hell where the violent are eternally punished by fire. Users were considered violent because as Virgil explains in Canto XI:

"Usurers sin against Art
Art is the grandchild of God.: 

The tomb of Enrico degli Scrovegni


Eternal damnation is a long stretch to serve and it just so happens that Reginaldo's son, Enrico picked up Dad's dirty business and figured he needed a couple of 'get out of jail free' cards real fast. So, to save his and pop's eternal souls he built a Chapel and to cover all the bases he dedicated it to the lives of Mary and Jesus. To decorate the Chapel walls he hired the top gun painter out of Florence....
his name was....



Scrovegni spared no expense, a lot was riding on this. Giotto was on top of his game and came with a large contract. The dominate blue is crushed lapis lazuli, a semi- precious stone from Persia. The reds were Vermillion and Dragonsblood ( try buying that at your local art store). Everything was top drawer. At one end of the Chapel rests the Scrovegni Tomb with sculptures by Andrea Pisano, from Pisa.

The other end depicts Giotto's The Last Judgement
which Michelangelo surely saw before he painted his in The Sistine Chapel in Rome

The walls are arranged on three themes: The Lives of Joachim and Anna.

A most sweet kiss under the original Golden Arch. Giotto was really the first artist to embrace tactile humanity into his paintings.

A domestic scene of the birth of Mary.

Jesus: not such a sweet kiss.

Once again we leave under a star studded lapis lazuli sky. and without a doubt, this is one of the highest levels of artistic achievement in all the Western Civilization .
It was an honor to be there.

For further information and reservations:
Padua, Italy

Photos courtesy of Stew Vreeland
Mille grazie, Stew!

Wednesday, May 18, 2016


KATIA:   "Dove vuoi andare oggi, James?"  ( Where do you go today, James?)

JAMES:  " Ravenna"

KATIA:   "Dove? "  (where?)


KATIA:    "No lo so, non capisco" ( I don't know. I don't understand)

JAMES:    One more time..."R A V E N N A!"

KATIA:    "Ahhh!", "You mean, Ra  van na."  ( Rah  vayn  na )  don't forget to roll the 'r'.

JAMES:    " Yes, there too!"


When the crowds of Rome and Florence get to you and the physical challenge of walking six miles a day on worn and uneven cobbles break your knees and you are up to your neck in the Renaissance and Baroque and you have "done" it what seems like a million times, then it is time to refresh yourself and head to the Adriatic to the jewel that is Ravenna.

Ravenna is not on the way to somewhere else. It is a destination and expect an overnight. Ravenna sits on what was an old Roman Naval Port on Italy's Adriatic shore. The sea has receded  a bit so now the town is slightly inland. Ravenna is now known for it's amazing collection of glorious mosaics.


Remember when Rome was coming apart, the orgies were over, the aqueducts destroyed, the population decimated by disease...well, it became clear that the only option left was to get out of town and head east to Constantinople ( named for the Emperor Constantine, now Istanbul). As an interim  stop along the way Ravenna became the new 'Eastern" Capitol of the Roman Empire. There, the now Christian Emperors built Churches, Baptistries and Tombs. To decorate these buildings they brought in artists trained in mosaics, creating images using tiny pieces of  colored glass. Think of covering the hull of a cruise ship with other words, it took a lot of glass pieces ( tessera) to make a picture.


Since we were coming up from Umbria, our first stop was the church of Sant' Apollinare in Classe on the outskirts of town. As an introduction, it did not disappoint.

( the original  bad cheese hats)

After arriving in town we were greeted in the Piazza Popolo with the Festival of the local pasta, Cappellacci ( little  bad hats), egg pasta bundles stuffed with cheese. All the restaurants in town were there for a Cappellacci Smack Down. After eating more than we needed to it was time to move on, but not before coffee.

( the real big cheese)

What can I say, simply amazing!

Empress Theodora was a beautiful actress who married well.

The first beardless depiction of Christ.

"It was at times like being in an M.C. Escher print."
                                    - Paul Turina


"The best is yet to come."
                             -Elida Wassman

Elida led us to the last building of the day as I was well past my 35 minutes of art tolerance. Galla Placidia was in her day the most powerful person in the Empire, but, she ain't here, she is in Rome. It don't matter.


As alabaster ages it develops a beautiful golden hue.

St. Lawrence shown here with his implement of  martyrdom, the grill.

As we leave we look up to those stars that have been shining in Ravenna for fifteen hundred years...
Buonanotte Ravenna.

Next stop - Padua and the Blue Scrovegni Chapel of Giotto.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

SOLOMEO [ Umbria ]

It sounded familiar,'Solomeo', and then I remembered it was the town in Umbria, not far from Panicale, that was the topic of an article I had read some months back. Then, James saw in The International New York Times a page, in graphics, about Italian landmarks that are being restored with the help of businesses.

Brunello Cucinelli, the crowned prince of cashmere had been looking for a place to expand his industry.

The Umbrian hill town of Solomeo dated from the late 12th century, but was falling into ruin.
His vision was to build his factory and world headquarters here. But, his vision was not just focused on business, his intend was to restore the town and bring a new life energy to it. Creating jobs was only the beginning.

Cucinelli is a humanist. Here in Solomeo his mission was not only to bring work to the people of the region and to restore the town, but to create a place of beauty and culture. His plans included a theatre, school, garden and library. Those plans have been realized. The church in the center of town is being restored, and the interior is really quite amazing. Currently there are artisans working on the interior, and were working the day we visited.

Looking down from the hill town to the valley just below is the factory as well as a newly planted vineyard and olive grove....all part of Cucinelli's plan for this place of industry, culture and beauty.

We were all hungry....

Just down the hill from the center of town is a Bar / Bottega where we thought we might get a panini or something for a light lunch.  The woman at the back counter suggested a plate of local cheese and cured meats. A good idea we thought and order that. The four of us relaxed at a small table outside. The weather was perfect. This is what arrived at our table!

A fantastic selection of local Umbrian cheeses and meats as promised!
It was perfectly delicious.
Umbrians take great pride in the food from their region, and why not, when this is what they offer.

All in all, an interesting visit to a place we had never visited before.

Oh, and by the way, there is a Brunello Cucinelli retail store in the center of town. The cashmere products he makes are of the finest quality. The clothes are beautiful and refined.
There is a renaissance in the making here in Solomeo, lead by a creative thinker Brunello Cucinelli who has looked to the creative minds of the past and brought those ideas forward to now  and acted upon it all.
One disappointment.......Debbie and I were hoping to find an 'outlet store' here!
It no longer exists.....darn!

Friday, May 13, 2016


The other day, just before the rain I took this photo from the rooftop of the Hotel Raphael where we met friends for a cocktail. The tallest spire is Sant' Ivo in Sapienza, one of Borromini's masterpieces. Unfortunately, we have never had a chance to visit due ti the fact it is only open on Sunday mornings for mass, and it seems that we are never in Rome on a Sunday morning.
Prossima volta!

Thursday, April 28, 2016


Paul ( the Wine Guy), " I promised to visit a vineyard in Sardegna....want to come?"
Elizabeth and me (the Wine Drinkers), "Duh...Yah!"

After a car ride to Rome and a short flight. we are on the island of Sardegna. Technically, Sardegna is part of Italy, but for all intents and purposes, you find yourself in a different country.


Our destination is the region around Dorgali, a two hour drive from Cagliari, on the eastern part of the island, This is the home of Cannonau di Sardegna, the ancient grape of remarkable structure.
Sardegna seems to be ringed with huge jagged mountains with white rock streaked with gold and red,  which plunge into the sea. Don't look for any scenic seaside roads here, it is all hairpin turns and switchbacks up and down the coastal mountains.

We descend into a valley that seems uninhabited, save for some vineyards and olive groves. The land is dry, rain being scarce.

Everywhere you look you encounter terrible beauty. It is as if some great ancient god ( they are still here, by the way) tore a large chunk of earth out, leaving this jagged mountain range.

As Paul talked wine business with Manuela, Elizabeth and I , along with Betty tried to absorb this wonderful paradise until it was time for the........

Atha Ruja

We were in a small stucco hut (cantina) tasting world class wines (92 point rating). What's not to like? But, as the day grew long we had to retire to the hotel on the other side of the mountains.


As we pass through a tunnel we emerge facing the Mare Tirreno and way down below sits the seaside village of Cala Gonone. What can I say, the town has a 'La Dolce Vita' quality to it( aside from the multitude of gelateria's). The beaches are golden red and the sea a stunning aquamarine.

At night we dined on local seafood and roast suckling pig, porcheddu. We promised our host to return in October for the harvest. We returned to Cagliari to catch our flight back to the mainland. But, I could not help myself and had to buy a 'souvenir' from Sardegna.

"The best tuna in the world!"
     - Tonino di Avellino

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

POGGIO ALLORO.....A Visit To A Family Farm In Tuscany

There it is, San Gimignano in the distance, recognizable by all it's medieval towers. We have been there to see some of the important and beautiful fresco cycles, and  now it is time to visit a family farm we have heard and read about for the past few years.....Poggio Alloro.

Once again we are on the wine trail with Paul and Betty.  After arriving and all the introductions and hugs went around it was only minutes before a chilled bottle of Poggio Alloro wine showed up with four glasses. As family members came to greet their old friends Paul and Betty and meet their new friends James & Elizabeth, more bottles chairs appeared along with additional  glasses and bottles of wine.

This is a true family farm where they raise what they eat. This is Chianina territory, the ghostly white cow...steer raised in Tuscany. Chianina is the beef used for Fiorentina steak that is famous here, generally huge and cut thick, grilled quickly so that it is barely cooked through.
After a glass or two of wine walk down to the barn to see the Chianina to find just how huge these white specters are! 

We pass Amico's vegetable garden. Amigo  it seems is the patriarch here  at the farm and this is just one of the chores he tends too. We later find that the fennel salad at dinner is from his garden. Everything here at the farm, including the wine is 'biological' or organic.

 Sarah, Amico's daughter, who we met at  her wine tasting in Yarmouth , Maine, of all places, invites us to join the family for dinner.
Local cured meats are served first.

Then......Amico shows up with the steaks, Chianina  beef, of course.
We understand that he is a master at grilling these fine cuts of meat.

On this night he grills in the spacious dining room fireplace.
Amico, as nimble as an acrobat, moves in and out of the fireplace with ease as he  tends to the steaks.

Finished with her work for the day Sarah joins us and pours wine  first for Betty and Paul, then for all at the table.
A fennel salad is brought to the table, along with bread.....everything from the farm.
The wine is delicious.

Steaks are ready. Amico salts them. They are ready to be served. Can't wait!!!

The beef is amazing and cooked masterfully. 
"Bravo!" Amico.  

After a perfect night's sleep, James wakes early and finds a place on the terrace overlooking San Gimignano ( San G.! as he calls it) to draw. He spoke of his interest in the rising and terraced landscape between the farm and San Gimignano. He makes a drawing, which will become a painting, so, that probably means a return visit here.
No problem!

Vineyards surround the farm.

It seems that everyone here on the farm has a task. When we arrived Russell was mowing and weeding, another  was in this shed cutting wood. Down at the cantina there were cousins putting 
labels on much work goes on here from dawn to dusk, with great food and wine in between the work. Incredible.

The wood that was being cut in the morning it put in a wheelbarrow and wheeled up to the outdoor brick oven. Amico is there to arrange the wood for cooking the evening meals for the farm's guests. In conversation we come to understand that nearly everything that is on the family table is grown or raised on the farm. It is a tale of hard work with rich results, good work, good food, good wine, family and friends. We are all sorry we will not be at the table for this meal!

Sarah had a group coming to Poggio Alloro for a cooking class. The dining room is rearranged and readied for a lesson in pasta making. Sarah is a woman of many talents.

A Family Farm in Tuscany , by Sarah Fioroni

A Family Farm in Tuscany is a lovely book that Sarah has written about living and working on her families farm, Poggio Alloro.  She includes some of the traditional Tuscan recipes that are prepared here. James and I bought the book a couple of years ago, but now, being here it all comes to life. After meeting the people in the book and not only seeing the amount of work they do...everyone is in constant motion, I am so delighted to be here. You can bet that James and I will be using some of Sarah's recipes.

Before leaving we stop in the cantina to buy a few bottles of wine to take back to Panicale.
Paul imports this wine, so we will buy more when we return home.

Another final look at San G. before leaving.

Hugs go around. Betty walking arm in arm with Amico back to the car. He gives her a  potted rose, an old rose from Poggio Alloro. She will loving put it in her garden.
This is how great memories are made.

Mille Grazie, Sarah, Amico and all at Poggio Alloro.