Thursday, September 30, 2010

Musical (Mis)Takes

I've been at a few performances where the musicians have followed these instructions and a few where they should have.

Thanks to Cathy for this one.

30 settembre - San Geriolamo

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sort of Haiku - Roman Style

The following from my friend Robert is an observation he made after a few days (and evenings) spent here in Roma.
Rome by day
Old rocks
Rome by night
Robert Rooney - September 2010
Yes I know Haiku should have 17 syllables and a seasonal reference but I think its clever! And highly appropriate with the opening of the Fall Season of the Opera later this week!

29 settembre - Santi Michele e Arcangeli

Monday, September 27, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

I was working on my ballet translations this weekend and came across a perfect Lunedi Lunacy and was all set to post it then realized it would be funnier if the source was there for comparison.

In 1905 Mikail Folkine choreographed a small piece for Anna Pavlova which was to become her trademark: The Dying Swan. It has been passed down as a show piece for generations of ballerinas, each one adding her own layer to the original. It is still considered to be one of the major test pieces before any dancer can be truly considered a Prima ballerina assoluta.

Back in 1959 the incredible impresario Sol Hurok brought the Bolshoi Ballet to North America. It was the first major cultural crack in the Iron Curtain. They came to Toronto which in those days didn't have a major theatre so performances took place in Maple Leaf Gardens - the home hockey rink of the Toronto Team. The Gardens was the site of many cultural events at the time - the Metropolitan Opera played there every spring, the Royal Ballet danced there and I saw Maria Callas in concert there. A stage was erected at one end of the arena, baffling hung and seating installed on the rink surface. I could never afford the seats on the floor so my vantage point was always from high up in the Grey section where binoculars were a must. That spring of 1959 I trained them on the dancers from Moscow for two performances and saw (?) the great Galina Ulanova as Giselle one evening and the incomparable Maya Plisetskaya in Swan Lake the next afternoon. I saw Plisetskaya on only one other occasion several years later when Toronto finally had a theatre and the Bolshoi brought a mixed programme to the stage. She was dancing that signature piece and there was no question that she was a Prima Ballerina Assoluta!

Another dance company that also dropped in - well more like crashed in - for the occasional visit was the Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo - the Trocs. This group of drag dancers has been taking the piss out of classical dance for years. And as anyone knows you can't properly take the piss out of something unless you are a master of it - and these guys are all fine classically trained dancers.

Each of their Primi Ballerini has performed their own unique version of the Fokine-Pavlova classic. My first experience was seeing the remarkable Ida Nevasayneva swan to her death to great acclaim. Here one of their more recent dancers, Maya Thickenthighya, has put her own spin on the demise of the Cygnus ballerinus. And believe it or not I've seen curtain calls exactly like that - but they were serious!

While searching for information on the Dying Swan I came across this article in the Independent. Dame Nanette de Valois had spent her early years as a dancer with Pavlova and it appears notated her performances. It follows the passing on of a dance from one generation of dancer to another.

27 settembre - San Vincenzo de'Paoli

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Friday, September 24, 2010

They Say A Change ...

is as good as a rest. Well what with not working these days I find that I'm not resting all that much. Still seem to be doing a great deal between the Hounds from Hell (up at 0700 to walk them), Ballet2000 and a few other things.
So instead of a rest I thought I'd try a change to the look of the blog. Not sure I'm happy with it but we will see. Can always change it back or go into some wild flight of fantasy as the mood strikes me. In the mean time have to take the dogs for their doo - no that's as in grooming not as in... well okay that too.
And just to keep their Uncle Pervy happy here's a brief - pre-doo - HFH video:

24 settembre - Beata Vergine Maria della Mercede

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Sharing - Food Glorious Food

I honestly dare anyone who lives here for any length of time not to become obsessed with food. In the morning as I munch my gluten-free toast with Calve All Natural Peanut Butter - how ever will I go back to that Kraft Krap I once loved - my mind is racing as to what we will have for dinner. Of course menus change radically when the almost daily visit to the butcher and vegetable stall reveal something that you just can't resist or when an old favorite has come into its own and you want to grab the first of the season.

In a spirit of sharing I thought I'd provide a few more food photos and a few links to some wonderful food and foodies sites - some I check regularly and one that I hadn't seen before.

Another antipasti treat from Osteria Piazzetta dell'Erba - they are going to have to put me on the payroll soon. Their tower of grilled vegetables was a marvel of fresh grilled eggplant, zucchini and yellow pepper with tomatoes and basil sauce.

Zucchini flowers are ubiquitous here in Italy. You will find most trattoria - or at least in the south - have Fiori di Zucca on the menu as an antipasti. Normally these would be zucchini flowers stuffed with a strip of anchovy and a small bar of pecorino, dipped in a batter and deep fried. Michelle over at Bleeding Espresso - or rather her husband's aunt - has come up with a simple recipe for zucchini flower fritters which sounds delicious. And she has links to a few variations on the standard Fiori recipes.

On my trip up to see Il Trovatore at the Arena I stopped in for lunch at a family owned Osteria Casa Vino where we had enjoyed two meals in Verona last year. The train had been behind schedule and it was 2:45 when I asked about lunch - I was reminded that it was a bit late but when I said I had memories of their polenta antipasti I was shown to a table. Three slices of grilled polenta with Gorgonzola, Lardo and Salmai toppings - shear heaven with a glass of local white wine. And as I recall we had done on our first visit as they finished lunch the couple at the next table made reservations for dinner that night.

I mentioned in an earlier post that Laurent had a wonderful panzanella (bread salad) at Osteria Piazzetta dell'Erba last month. When visiting my friend Wendy Holloway's The Flavor of Italy I was moved to click on one of her links which took me to A Stove with a House Around It and a quick, easy and tasty looking version of Panzanella using a minimum of ingredients. A nice dish to remind you of the tastes of summer as autumn comes upon us.
In the past three years I have acquired a taste for things that were never on the menu at our very anglo-post war home when I growing up. Nothing really drastically unusual but not your standard 1950s fare. Yesterday I had a very good Wild Boar stew at one of our favorite local restaurants and in Pesaro at the Bristolino sampled Bibo's Octopus carpacio. Paper thin slices of perfectly cooked octopus dressed lightly with oil, peppercorns and green onions.

Wendy at The Flavor of Italy doesn't post all that often - she has her hands full with her B&B, her cooking courses and a few other pans on the burners. But when something comes into season she passes on recipes to make the most of what's become available. Her lavender crop was plentiful earlier this year so as a dolci - or just a sinful pleasure - she made Lavender-Honey Gelato. I'm not sure if I'll try the recipe - I do have some lavender on the balcony - or just make the trip out to see her.
More traditional was the ricotta and spinach stuff ravioli at H2NO but being the sort of place it was there was a twist - fresh salmon in a light cream sauce. That man knows what to do with fish!

Moving away from Italy - about 9000 kms more or less - to the Pacific Coast of Canada and my old friend Dan Peiser sitting at the big picture window looking out over the Gulf in his beautiful home on Galeano Island. I can't believe its been almost a year since he started posting IslandEat and I don't think I've made reference to it at all!!! Some friend!! As well as food preparation and food talk Dan has been sharing a delightful series of recipes he found amongst his grandmother Jessie's papers. In his What Would Jessie Dish series he mixes her handwritten - and often cryptic - recipes with family photos and reminiscences. The most recent recipe is for simple Brown Sugar Cookies - and as always with it comes a stream of memories of a lady I would have love to meet.

23 settembre - San Padre Pio da Pietrelcina

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Cardinal's Garden

I had only seen Villa d'Este in the winter so when friends Lorraine and John suggested a Sunday jaunt at the beginning of August we decided that, like much here, a second look was well deserved. This time around most of the fountains were working - though as always there was something under repair.

I've put together this video look at them with some film and photos I took that day. Please excuse the hand-held jerky moments, I really should take a film course or better yet buy a tripod. As the project was done in a larger format you may want to double click on the video and go directly to the YouTube download.

The wonderful music - which I'm hoping won't be removed by EMI - is by Leo Delibes and is the Galliarde from his ballet music for Victor Hugo's Le Roi s'amuse. Sir Thomas Beecham is conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and the whole suite of dances is one of those wonderful "lollipops" that Beecham delighted and gave delight in. And thank you David for introducing me to it.

I am still trying to identify the little piece played on the Fountain Organ at the end of the video. Anyone of my more musical friends know?

21 settembre - San Matteo apostolo ed evangelista

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

Many, many, many years BL - Before Laurent - I had a partner who use to huff and puff that musicals, particularly movie musicals, were ridiculous. People didn't break into song and dance out of nowhere. Well he may not have - and we may not have in fact he hated it when I would burst into song on the Toronto subway - but this group of family and friends do.

In my books its inspired lunacy and should happen more often in our lives.

Okay they may not be Zero Mostel and the original cast of Fiddler on the Roof but they got some of the Jerome Robbins choreography down pretty damned good.


Many thanks to my darling Shirl for this one.

20 settembre - Sant'Andrea Kim Taegon e i Santi martiri coreani

Friday, September 17, 2010

Nerman in Hollywood

This is another posting in the irregular series I've been doing highlighting the work of Swedish artist Einar Nerman.

After his ten year stay in England, Einar Nerman and his family returned to Sweden and probably would have resettled there but for the threat of war. His wife decided that she and the children should join friends who were going to America. Nerman was give the choice to go with them and reluctantly agreed. What was going to be a few months once again turned into a ten year stay.

On arriving in New York he went searching for a newspaper or magazine to publish his work. In those days New York had morning, afternoon and evening newspapers chief amongst which was the Hearst published Journal-American. When Nerman went to see the editor he discovered they had been printing his London drawings without his permission or payment. Rather than sue he took a job with the newspaper and for one of his first assignments was sent to Hollywood to draw the current screen favorites.

Sonja Henie was three time Olympic champion and star of a series of popular 20th Century Fox movie musicals. Nerman has captured that ever present Henie smile as she glided across the rink and it may just be me but has he also captured a bit of her reported devilishness in that trailing shadow?

The Hollywood Raj was the name penned by Sheridan Morley to describe the large number of performers from the British Isles who made Beverly Hills their home in the hay day of the studio system. Nominally headed by C. Aubrey Smith they included some of Hollywood's most famous leading players and some of its finest character actors. Many had travelled over to appear on Broadway, made their way to the West Coast and found the sunshine of California more appealing than the cold fogs of London. Nerman had caught some of them on paper during their London days and others he lined during his Hollywood days.

Unfortunately Sir Cedric Hardwicke is probably now best known as King Seti in C. B. Demille's The Ten Commandments. However his career spanned film, theatre, radio and television with performances that won him awards and accolades on both sides of the Atlantic. His Follo in the 1934 Hunchback of Notre Dame is a truly chilling portrait of evil. In day-to-day life he was, like many of his colleagues, a gentle, well-spoken and highly educated man.
Before he became known as Sherlock Holmes, Basil Rathbone was the adversary of many of Hollywood's swashbuckling heros. The irony was that he was one of the finest swordsmen in the world and as he often jokingly remarked: I could have killed Errol Flynn anytime I wanted to.

Nerman captured many actors from the British community while they were still appearing on the London stage - many of them as they enjoyed their first flush of success.

Charles Laughton was a leading actor in some of the most astonishing performances ever committed to celluloid - The Mutiny on the Bounty, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Witness for the Prosecution. Though Edmund Gwenn was a supporting player his Kris Kringle in Miracle on 34th Street is still the definitive and most loved Santa Claus on film.
Claude Rains is probably best remembered as Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca and King John in Robin Hood. Gladys Cooper was a great beauty in her day and known as a fine player of Maugham and Pinero, as she aged she became the grande dame in many movies (Rebecca,
My Fair Lady
) and continued performing on stage and screen until well into her 80s. She also starred in The Rogues, one of the most sophisticated, superbly written and acted - and short lived - series ever shown on American TV.
Many members of the British Colony had been introduced to film goers in the early films of English director Alfred Hitchcock. When he moved to the United States many were to appear in his films and on his popular TV series. Though the most famous caricature of the director was the one he created himself for the beginning of his TV show, Nerman's is a fine representation of the rotund master of implied horror.

In the preface to the book these drawings are taken from composer-Playwright Sandy Wilson quotes Nerman as saying: It is very easy to be nasty, but kindness nowadays means so much. And that is one thing that is notable in Nerman's work - his drawings are seldom unkind to their subject. But that did not stop him from taking the odd sly dig at his sitter if it meant he could capture something of their character with his pen.

We've all heard stories about Joan Crawford - real and apocryphal - about her toughness and her spiky temper. Nerman's lines for this drawing have a sharpness that reflect the character of his sitter.
I may be reading a bit too much into this but in this caricature of Spencer Tracy, I think Nerman rather slyly caught some of the squareness of the man - that solidness that made him beloved of women and men.
Claudette Colbert was one of the highest paid screen stars of the 30s and 40s. She had a flair for comedy and sophisticated scripts but under it all was a will of iron. She made incredible demands of the studios and got most of them. Even Nerman met one of those demands - she insisted on always being photographed from her left side. And I think he also captured a little bit of the steel behind the satin.

One of Nerman's favourite subjects - and close friends - was the reclusive Swedish star Greta Garbo. He seldom spoke of their friendship but she is the Hollywood star who he drew most often.
His drawings of the legendary actress were particularly popular in his homeland and the bottom one was used on a Swedish stamp in 2005 to commemorate the centenary of her birth.

Other postings on Nerman and his work can be found at:
Trans-Atlantic Caricatures
Classical Nerman
Dance, Dance, Dance Little Lady

17 settembre - San Roberto Bellarmino
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Thursday, September 16, 2010


A Serious Situation at Canadian Border Towns

The Manitoba Herald as Reported by Clive Runnels, August 6, 2010

The flood of American liberals sneaking across the border into Canada has intensified in the past week, sparking calls for increased patrols to stop the illegal immigration. The recent actions of the Tea Party are prompting an exodus among left-leaning citizens who fear they'll soon be required to hunt, pray, and to agree with Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck..

Canadian border farmers say it's not uncommon to see dozens of sociology professors, animal-rights activists and Unitarians crossing their fields at night. "I went out to milk the cows the other day, and there was a Hollywood producer huddled in the barn," said Manitoba farmer Red Greenfield, whose acreage borders North Dakota . The producer was cold, exhausted and hungry. He asked me if I could spare a latte and some free-range chicken. When I said I didn't have any, he left before I even got a chance to show him my screenplay, eh?"

In an effort to stop the illegal aliens, Greenfield erected higher fences, but the liberals scaled them. He then installed loudspeakers that blared Rush Limbaugh across the fields. "Not real effective," he said. "The liberals still got through and Rush annoyed the cows so much that they wouldn't give any milk."

Officials are particularly concerned about smugglers who meet liberals near the Canadian border, pack them into Volvo station wagons and drive them across the border where they are simply left to fend for themselves" A lot of these people are not prepared for our rugged conditions," an Ontario border patrolman said. "I found one
carload without a single bottle of imported drinking water. They did have a nice little Napa Valley Cabernet, though."

When liberals are caught, they're sent back across the border, often wailing loudly that they fear retribution from conservatives. Rumors have been circulating about plans being made to build re-education camps where liberals will be forced to drink domestic beer and watch NASCAR races.

In recent days, liberals have turned to ingenious ways of crossing the border. Some have been disguised as senior citizens taking a bus trip to buy cheap Canadian prescription drugs. After catching a half- dozen young vegans in powdered wig disguises, Canadian immigration authorities began stopping buses and quizzing the supposed senior-citizens about Perry Como and Rosemary Clooney to prove that they were alive in the '50s. "If they can't identify the accordion player on The Lawrence Welk Show, we become very suspicious about their age," an official said.

Canadian citizens have complained that the illegal immigrants are creating an organic-broccoli shortage and are renting all the Michael Moore movies. "I really feel sorry for American liberals, but the Canadian economy just can't support them," an Ottawa resident said. "How many art-history majors does one country need?"

In an effort to ease tensions between the United States and Canada , Vice President Biden met with the Canadian ambassador and pledged that the administration would take steps to reassure liberals. A source close to President Obama said, "We're going to have some Paul McCartney and Peter, Paul & Mary concerts. And we might even put some endangered species on postage stamps. The President is determined to reach out," he said. The Herald will be interested to see if Obama can actually raise Mary from the dead in time for the concert!

Many thanks to my Texas darling YDG for passing this on.

16 settembre - Santa Ludmilla

Clothing the Music

We were up in Milano in late July to see Il Barbiere di Siviglia and other than the opera had no planned itinerary. It was a weekend to wander Centro, window shop - though we did get break down and buy some fantastic sheets on sale at Frette and I did get that Borsolino - eat, drink, visit the miraculous Duomo and just relax. There was a great deal going on and as always some fascinating exhibitions but only one was on my must-see list: Il costumi veste la musica (The costumes [that] clothe the music) at the Palazzo Morando. It was a peek into the Wardrobe workshops at La Scala.

With the renovation of theatre in 2002-2004 the physical plant of the house was moved out to the Ansaldo Workshops on the outskirts of the city. All the productions are created there and transported to the theatre for final rehearsals and performances. The Benois Pavilion (named after famed designer Nicola Benois) houses the scenery workshop; the Visconti Pavilion (named after director Lucchino Visconti) has rehearsal halls and a stage area identical to the theatre's; and the Caramba Pavillion is the costume atelier.

I had no problem identifying who the first two workshops were named after but Caramba meant nothing to me. A quick search revealed that Luigi Sapelli, who went by the name of Caramba, was a renowned designer of sets and costumes for La Scala, La Fenice, Regio di Torino, Opera di Roma and the Metropolitan Opera. A self-taught artist, he established his own costume design studio and from 1921 until his death in 1936 he was director of decor and costuming at La Scala. So the costume workshop at the new facility was named in his honour.

The shop houses pattern makers, cutters, seamstresses, tailors, milliners, boot and shoe makers and the various other artisans needed to bring a designer's creations to life. In a normal season they will create between 800 and 1000 new costumes and up to 1500 are taken from the warehouse to be repaired and retailored to fit the current company of singers and dancers.

The warehouse currently has an inventory of almost 60,000 costumes for over 280 productions. Some of the costumes date back to 1911 and are kept for their historic value. Others - such as the one worn by Joyce DiDonato as Rosina (right) designed 40 years ago by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle - are used time and time again. The storage wardrobes take up 1400 sq metres (about 15,000 sq feet) of the workshop area.

There is also a full laundry on site as each costume is washed before being sent to the theatre and washed again after the final performance. There is a smaller laundry at the theatre for quick clean ups and freshening.

The exhibition allowed a view into the workshops with examples of costume books for productions, designers' notes and buyers' lists, the materials used and most important a chance to have a close up look at the costumes that are worn on stage.

A left click on the thimble and thread below will take you to a slide show of a few of the photos I took of the exhibition. (And if you wish to stop and look at a photo more closely just use the pause button and simply click through them - many of these costumes are worth a closer look for the sheer artistry involved in creating them.)

A left click on the poster will take you to a slide show of exhibition photographs.

More photos can be found at my friend Opera Chic's - who had an article on the exhibition in August. It was while going through her archives that I remembered I had a few photos myself and should really put them to use.

As an amusing little side note - I saw the poster for the exhibition outside the opera house but no one at the La Scala Bookshop or at their Administration counter could give me directions on how to get to the Palazzo Morando. At least the receptionist had the good grace to apologize and say he hadn't seen the exhibition himself.

The photo of Joyce DiDonato from the La Scala Barbiere is by
Marco Brescia & Rudy Amisano, Archivio Fotografico del Teatro alla Scala

16 settembre - Santi Corneilo e Cipriano

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Mercoledi Musciale

Another video by some long forgotten comedian who use to yell at the audience, I can't - or rather don't want to - remember his name, made one of those memory drawers pop open.

I suddenly had a flashback to sitting in Teresa Michaelski's basement rec room listening to CHUM radio and reading some fan magazine as we listened to the latest Elvis Presley hit.

Watching this video I can see today why we were all so taken by Elvis - the man and the voice - at the time. He was young, beautiful, fresh and, dare I say anything so cliche, spoke for my generation. And he wasn't the caricature that he was to become as he, and we, aged.

15 settembre - Beata Maria Addolorata

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Head of One John, The Heart of Another

When I did the posting a week or so ago on Salome and John the Baptist I searched through my files for pictures I was sure I had taken of an intriguing sculpture in one of the more interesting churches in Roma. Santa Maria degli Angeli e dei Martiri was built using much of the existing Baths of Diocletian and the groundwork was designed by Michelangelo just before he died. It is also the location of the meridian that was used to set time in Roma from 1702 until 1846. There is a great working example that allows you to track the movement of the sun along Francesco Bianchini's wonder of astronomical calculation.

The photos I was looking for where of a marble representation of the head of John the Baptist on the salver by the German-born Polish artist Igor Mitoraj. Giving up on finding them amongst the many uncatalogued photos I have, I went with our friend Stephan, on his last day in Rome, and too a few new shots of the piece.

In 2006 Mitoraj was commissioned to created new bronze doors and also the statue for what is "unofficially" Italy's state church. He is noted for bronze and marble works of incomplete faces and torsos, often wrapped in bandages or bands. His installations - and many of them are large pieces - have been seen throughout the world. His John is not the grizzled, disheveled bear-like figure of approved iconography but rather a young unlined clean shaven face clean with those trademark bandages. And the neck has not been severed but - as is probably the more realistic vision of what happens at a beheading - hacked off.

It certainly plays against the conventions set by previous generations of painters and sculptors and perhaps because I am accustomed to the traditional I, initially, found it unsettling. Now after several viewings I'm impressed by the beauty of the work but I find it a bit cold and unmoving. Perhaps I am more of a traditionalist than I realize.

More examples of Igor Mitoraj's work can be found here.

Part of the Galilei Divin Uomo this installation recreates the pendulum experiment that he did - you'll notice that it is a globe and one can only hope that it is meant to circle around the sun.

And there is another display in Santa Maria which is the second example of that fine old Vatican tradition of rewriting history that I have seen in the past few weeks - the first being the shameless co-opting of one of the great liberal theologians of the 19th century John Cardinal Newman as his beatification draws near next week. The second is an exhibition in Santa Maria celebrating the works and life of Galileo - Galilei Divin Uomo (Galileo a Divine Man). The stated purpose of the exhibition "is to make everybody understand that science means to decode the logic of He who created the world”. It includes the statement that Antonino Zichichi's book on the great scientist “demonstrates that Galileo was a man of God, dedicated to discovering the 'logic of the creator', thus destroying the myth that Galileo was an atheist". Respected though he may be Zichichi's book has always been consider highly objective in it bias. And I hadn't realized that anyone had claimed that Galileo was an "atheist" other than mabye Bertolt Brecht who was really writing about himself more than any Renaissance scientist in his well-known play. It could be amusing, if it were not so damnably dishonest, to see how suddenly Galileo has become a loving son of the Church, encouraged in his work etc. etc. etc. And how Mother Church and Science walk hand in hand. Cor ad cor loquitur ("Heart speaks to heart") was Cardinal Newman's motto but for a heart to speak to a heart you need openness and honesty - both of which seem to be missing in this "installation". But perhaps that is the subject for another day or a personal rant.

14 settembre - L'Esaltazione della Santa Croce

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Monday, September 13, 2010

Lunedi Lunacy

For some reason the phrase "when men were men and sheep shifted nervously from hoof to hoof" sprang to mind.

13 settembre - San Giovanni Crisostomo

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Not Your Average Ham and Cheese

I've already mention the great dolci (desserts for my friend Dayle)at Osteria Piazzetta dell'Erba. But Stefano and his crew turn out more than just sweets to serve on their tree shaded terrace along one of Assisi's medieval walls. Their menu is nontraditional for an Italian Osteria - a little bit of nouvelle, a touch of fusion and the Italian flair for unadulterated fresh flavours and presentation. They had come highly recommended in the Gambero Rosso Guide - the Holy Writ of Italian Eateries - and as it has led us to wonderful dining in Spoleto, Ancona, Sermonetta, Firenze, Parma et al we headed there for lunch on the first day of our stay in Assisi. And the first of three meals we had there in three days.

When I glanced at the menu I knew there was one thing I had to try - their Toasted Ham and Cheese sandwich. Toasted Ham and Cheese sandwich? Yep, your good old fashioned croque monsieur as its called in French bistros. Just a bit of comfort food the way mom use to make.

Well okay not quite the way mom use to make. It was described as being a toasted sandwich of local ham, Parmesan gelato studded with cooked vegetables and a saffron mayonnaise. Parmesan gelato? Nope mom never made Parmesan gelato. Hell not even cuddly Leonard at Tropical Ice makes Parmesan gelato.

It sounded so intriguing I had to try it - it was either going to be revolting or a taste treat, I was sure there would be no in between. So taking my taste buds in hand - as it were - I bravely ordered it as an antipasti.

And this tempting plate was set in front of me.

My verdict - a taste treat! Nice contrast of texture, temperature and flavours. And that was just the first of what proved to be a series of beautifully prepared, well-reasoned and seasoned dishes that Stefano put on our table in those three days.


Its a little difficult to find the "bread" in this traditional Umbrian Bread Salad (top) but it was chocked full of fresh vegetables that actually tasted of the sunshine and earthiness. The selection of cheeses (bottom) included some wonderful local soft blue cheeses (my favorite) and one very good aged goat cheese; all paired with fruit relishes - fig, cheery and apple.

I Primi

The pasta is made on the premises and as with most pastas here sauced with a light hand. The orchietti (top) was dressed with wild mushrooms and broccoli with just a dash of spicy olive oil. The cannelloni (bottom) was the traditional stuffing of ricotta but enriched by sun dried tomato.

I Secondi

When asked about his intensely flavourful beef, Stefano said he was ashamed to admit that it came from Ireland. He stressed he wanted to use Italian beef but the quality of what he got was so variable that he couldn't justify being patriotic over giving his customers value for money. The Beef and Beer combination (top) was an unusual combination of a small glass of beer, a cup of raw vegetables and some beautiful braised chunks of beef - and the idea was to mix them all together. Unusual yes, but our friend Craig was delighted. As was I with my beef skewers (middle) that had been grilled to medium just the way I asked and accompanied by - the only ordinary touch on the menu but no complaint from me - roast potato wedges. Another evening Carol Ann and I had the Chicken Curry (bottom) - the first time I had seen that on an Italian menu. We both agreed that chicken in Italy has a different taste than at home - a more buttery flavour is the only way I can describe it. And that flavour was enhanced by a judicious use of curry seasoning and a jasmine rice.

Then of course there were those deserts I mentioned. And I neglected the lunch time salads that were mosaics of vegetables, lettuces and meats glistening with a fruity local olive oil and a dash of balsamic vinegar. And so healthy!

I'm just sorry that Assisi is a two and a half drive from our place otherwise dell'Erba would become the Sunday pranzo spot of choice so I could sit on the terrace or when it gets colder in the cosy dining room and try a few more of the items on their changing seasonal menus.

12 settembre - San Tesaura Beccaria

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Lux Perpetua Luceat Eis

I have my own memories of that day - our worry and concern for our family - Sophie, Andrew, Neil - in New York City. The horror of watching it all happening, the numbness and the "dear god this is only a dream, please!" feeling of it all. But what we at a distance felt was nothing compared to what those on the ground witnessed or felt and feel to this day.

A right click on this powerful image will take you to a post that Joe Jarvis has shared with us for the past 6 years and I hope will continue to share as we remember, mourn and pray to what ever god we worship that this will never come to pass again - anywhere!

Requiéscant in pace.

11 settembre

Eid Mubarek

For my friends celebrating the conclusion of Ramadan.

Friday, September 10, 2010

La Dolce Sweeta

I'm sorry I know I should have resisted but I couldn't - I've come all over Fellini this week.

What you don't get it? How old are you?

You see his most famous film was La Dolce Vita which means The Sweet Life but dolce in Italian also means dessert so I was making a play on ... oh never mind.

Anyway as I was saying before I interrupted myself, on menus in trattoria - or osteria or bars or restorante for that matter - Dolce is the dessert. It seems that after an anti-pasti, a primi and a secondi with side dishes you are expected to have room for a dolce or at least fruit. Because of the gluten thing I tend towards the fruit myself and I don't think I've ever in my life eaten as much pineapple as I have in the past three years. I'm wondering what they did for a frutta before the nice people at Dole started importing into Italy?

Often when you ask about the dolce the waiter, with a slightly glazed look in his eye, rattles off the standard list: Panna cotta, tiramisu, crema catalana, torta di Nonna, tartufo, sorbetto, gelato or frutta. And as I've discovered lately, one of my favorites, affogato seems to be there for the asking but just never mentioned.

There are meals where the dolci are as ordinary as the tone in which they were recited and then there are Dolci:

Sometimes the closest the torta di Nonna (Grandma's cake) has come to a Nonna is that the factor owner's grandmother may have visited it once; and then there is the Torta di Nonna served by Lorenzo and Bibo at the Bristolino in Pesaro. Not sure if they actually use their nonna's receipt - every nonna has her own and every one is special - but it is buttery, moist and redolent of lemon and pine nuts. And in this case its served between the secondi and the dolce just in case you need something to fill the gap while you're waiting.

And their green apple sorbet is a great finish to a big seafood meal. Sorbetto here is more liquid then we think of it in North America. Whipped frozen fruit essence perhaps with a bit of egg white beaten in and sometimes a lacing of prosecco or vodka but always served with a spoon and a straw

Then there is the ubiquitous pineapple:

Staying with the Fellini theme, the Grand Hotel in Rimini serves their pineapple as a "carpaccio" - thin slices of pineapple piled up and topped with a Florentine cup filled with creamy pineapple gelato and garnished with fresh berries. Mr Dole would be proud.

Not to be outdone, the marvelous Osteria Piazzetta dell' Erba in Assisi serves theirs as a topping for a ricotta filled canolli perched in a pineapple puree.

And their whipped vanilla Yogurt mousse was studded with chunks of juicy pineapple and slices of kiwi.

Then there's gelato:

Again Stefano at dell' Erba knows that presentation is as important as taste so for his sampling of fresh fruit gelato each scoop is topped with a slice of the source of its flavour. That evening it was baked fig, pineapple, green apple, ground cherry and kiwi. Though honestly the tastes were so intense that no visual reminder, as pretty and tasty as they were, was necessary.

The odd time you will get sorbetto served in hollowed out lemon or orange. At the lovely terrace dining room of Hotel Umbra, hidden in an alley way off the Piazza del Commune di Assisi , they've adapted the presentation. The chestnut, plum and banana gelato were served in a chestnut shell, a hollowed out plum and a tiny banana skin. Lest I make it sound like presentation was everything the gelato was delicious. It was the perfect end to a meal that had started out with the best eggplant parmigiana I have ever eaten.

And back at dell'Erba, being so close to Perugia and because apparently there are people out there who like the stuff, they had to have something chocolate. So how about a sampling of profiterolle, chocolate custard, chocolate gelato, white chocolate mouse and a white chocolate semi-freddo. And keep in mind this was meant for one person - though extra spoons were given just in case peer pressure forced you to share.

And I've become convinced that all of these things are miracle diet foods - after all I've lost weight since I came here and I rarely end a meal without a dolce!

10 settembre - San Nicola da Tolentino
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