Morso Soggiorno’s annotated year in review: 2013

2013. Morso Soggiorno’s inaugural year.

We visited Abruzzo, Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche, Sicily, Basilicata and Puglia. We ate, we drank, we laughed. We strolled, foraged, hiked, shopped, rolled pasta, hunted truffles, pressed olive oil, picked grapes, cooked with a duchess, picked purple potatoes with a farmer in a fog shrouded field, made more cultural faux pas and grammar mistakes than even Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could save us from, and still, we were welcomed warmly, with the love, care and attention usually offered only to family.

The only thing we didn’t conquer was the Italian postal service, who still has all the goodies we shipped home. Hope you’re enjoying them, guys.

Here are a bunch of my impressions, visual and verbal, in no certain order, of the first year living my dream. Intrigued? Hope you can join us next year. Keep an eye out for our 2014 itinerary, including Turin, Sicily and Abruzzo, coming in early January.

Bombed out Baroque palazzi and churches on just about every corner in Palermo, Sicily, each more hauntingly beautiful and staggeringly dramatic than the next.

bombed out baroque in palermo

For the Sunday afternoon passegiata in Scanno, the older women do their best to bring the guidebooks to life by dressing in the traditional style: long full skirts, black sweaters and heads covered in a dark fazzoletti. Then, they scowl at us when we take pictures. Huh?

costume sundays in scannoWe walked around a remote farm in the mountains of Le Marche, cameras in hand, while we waited for the sheep’s milk to heat in a giant copper pot, first to make the pecorino, and then to make the ricotta. Behind the barn, we found doves in cages, bees in hives and baby chicks hiding under a bush with their mother.

dovesAn enchanting day spent with Nicoletta Polo Lanza at Palazzo Butera in Palermo, Sicily. We cooked, learned more than a bit of the history of her husband’s family, and lived for a little while like the royalty of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily.

ducal splendorIn the chill fields beneath the medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, three farmers compared notes. Two Italian, one American, six hands, many seeds and a meeting of the minds over farming grains in harsh conditions. Like Massachusetts. And the mountains of Abruzzo.

Farmers taking crops

Everywhere in Italy, you see them. Great cars. Little cars, big cars, fast cars, slow cars, old cars, new cars. Horns blasting, engines revving, ignoring signals, speed limits, and every parking regulation ever invented. But always doing it with style.

funky fabulous cars

In an old barn in Ofena, Abruzzo, we’re treated to a demonstration of the only “modern” machine available in the region that can separate the lentils from their unwelcome casings. Part winnower, part thresher, very high maintenance but lovingly cosseted, it processes every Slow Food Presidia lentil for miles around.

lentil harvester

Paparazza, Italian style. They start ‘em young. And cute.

paparazzi

The chef of Sapori di Campagna, Ofena, Italy. A woman of many talents, Gabriela taught us to how to make six kinds of pasta, among other regional specialities, then she prepared us a delectable six course dinner. But by far, the best thing Gabriela shared was her 2013 calendar, hanging in a place of honor and inspiration on the back of her kitchen door. Does it feature picturesque photos of the region, you ask? Speciality foods? No. Just beautiful, and scantily clad, Italian soccer stars in all their glory.

pasta maker with calendar The salt flats in Trapani, Sicily. Don Quixote, eat your heart out. Sprinkle on a little salt. We’ve got plenty.

salt flats don quixote style

Whimsical, colorful Opera dei Pupi, the traveling marionette caravans rest in alleys in between performances, a homage to families who travelled from town to town performing, beginning in the 13th century.

sicilian puppet shows

The juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, both in the service of a sustainable life.

sustainability, modern and age old

“Hello,” he said, a disembodied voice originating high above us. “Do you want to buy biscotti? I can come down, it’s just too cold to sit there all day.” Our answer was a resounding si! si!, yes! to the best chocolate biscotti, and incredible mostacciolo cookies, made with grape must and chocolate. My favorite part? Lifesize photos adorning the walls and doorways, all of his late wife, in her youth, dressed in the typical Scannese costume.the biscsotti man in scanno“Take a Dramamine if you get queasy on switchbacks or have a problem with heights,” I warned my intrepid traveling companions. The drive from Sulmona to Scanno is fraught with both, but the vistas are worth the effort. Like hanging on the edge of Heaven.

the road to scanno When I was 12, my parents took us to Spain. There, we watched a donkey walk in a circle, his movement turning a giant stone wheel that crushed olives for olive oil. It was a sensory delight, but the smell was what I most vividly remember. Fresh cut hay, green grass, both deep, rich, and verdant. Modernization makes the process simpler, but I was transported to another time and place as the vivid green, freshly pressed oil poured from the press in Marsala, Sicily.

there is nothing like virgin olive oil

The men in Italy. Need I say more? When they meet, they kiss each other on the cheeks. Twice. They carry babies, push strollers, walk slowly with aging nonnas, and have been known to make an appreciative comment to a random woman passing by.  At this, the feminist in me shrugs her shoulders. Italian men are demonstrative, and they demonstrate their love for their families, and the fairer sex loudly and often.

three generations

These two women gave us a simple lesson in trickle down economics and caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. We bought garlic, the lady on the left “neglected” to make us our change as she deposited our coins into a well worn leather coin purse. Later, we saw her take the same coins and trade them at another vendor for grapes, and cheese. And so it goes.

trickle down economics Pasta alla guitarra in a simple sauce of wild spinach foraged from the mountainside behind Il Vecchio Ristoro in Rocca Pia. Sweet, tender, deeply hued matte velvet green leaves, almost triangular in shape, have a slight mineral, earthy taste.

wild spinach pasta

Thinking Ahead! Salone del Gusto 2014

Some people wait all year for the announcement of their favorite band’s tour dates, or the first game of the season of their beloved sports team, or the latest fashions from Europe’s runways, or simply Christmas or a special birthday.

Me? My special date comes once every two years, and the building excitement and anticipation exceeds all of the above rolled into one. I wait for Slow Food to announce the dates of the Salone del Gusto/Terra Madre food show in Turin, Italy. Once they’re public, I burst into action.

The whimsical logo of Salone del Gusto 2012I scramble to get my press pass. I book a hotel that’s convenient to the show, but within walking distance of the beautiful, historic, architecturally and culturally vibrant city center of Turin. Continue reading

Day 1, Rome.

I have just come into my room after eating a salad and wolfing down a plate of rigatoni arrabiata like a barbarian, taken off my boots for the first time in 24 hours, peeled off my socks, cried over my pruney feet, and plugged in my DEAD (for the first time in history) cell phone.

I am so tired that this will be brief. My room is very nice, but a cavern would be nice after the last 24 hours of travel. In keeping with my plan to experience part of this trip as my ‘Junior Year Abroad,’ I forced myself to take public transportation to the B&B from the airport. Not as easy as it sounds. It had its ups and downs.

The ups? On the train from Fiumicino to Rome Termini, I shared my little quartet of seats with two young Japanese guys. They spent the whole time practicing Italian words. You can’t imagine how many different ways there are to pronounce “Noodle.” And I was the hit of the train when my Tumi bag rolled down the aisle the entire length of the car all on its own.

When I needed help, which was often, most people were gracious. The two glaring exceptions? A miserable Guardia Civil guy and an old man on the street. After hearing my query, he just put up his hand, shook his head, and kept walking. He probably thought I was a lunatic. I have renamed the trip ‘A Senior Moment Abroad,’ or better yet, ‘A Broad having a Senior Moment.’ I can barely speak English, let alone use the months of Italian tutoring my friend Carlotta afforded me.

The downs? I tried to use my cell phone Google map app to get from the bus stop to my room. It should have been a walk of less than a 1/4 mile. Instead, 30 minutes later, I had effectively scaled Mount Everest tugging my 500 lb. rolling Tumi behind me and I was lost. A call to the landlady confirmed that the B&B is at the base of the hill. Damn you, Google Maps. And damn all my preaching that hot yoga can serve as adequate cardio. It can’t.

There are reasons that youth is a good time for bohemian travel adventures. Scaling Rome’s seven hills, including the one that led to my B&B, is on the top of that list.

Turns out my B&B hostess, Laura, was an au pair in England in the late 60’s, a stewardess for Alitalia in the 70’s, and an official Rome Tour Guide in the 80’s and beyond. She’s obviously scaled a few mountains herself. I breathe a sign of relief. I am in good hands.

Laura shows me my room (thank God there are no stairs), and informs me that breakfast is between 7 and 10 am. By the looks of things (me) she tells me that she’ll be happy to hold it until I wake up.

Still unaware that I have turned the human-to-zombie corner, I ask about directions to the catacombs and she looks at me with a jaundiced eye.

“I think we should discuss it tomorrow in the morning over breakfast,” she says. Which turns out to be a great idea.

As I fall asleep, my feet ache, the pillow doesn’t smell of home, and an accordion is playing O Sole Mio in the street. But the Basilica of St. Peter is illuminated outside my window. I smile. I’m here. It’s all worth it. Rome, is after all, Rome.