Buona Festa del Ringraziamento!
On this day of thanks, and especially after two pandemic Thanksgivings, I thought it would be fun to give a “grazie mille” for some of the many, many ways Italy and the spirit of la dolce vita make our lives sweeter.
We’ll start with some foodie gratitude, as doubtless many of us have food on our minds! We begin with pizza, with its humble Neapolitan cucina povera roots—the “crust” first served as an improvised oven thermometer, and to prevent waste it was “repurposed” as a carrier for whatever leftovers might be available. Today “pizza” is the #1 word in the Italian language understood by everyone, everywhere!
Not to mention mozzarella di bufala, burrata, Parmigiano Reggiano, Pecorino Romano, taleggio, gorgonzola, and the list goes on … Plus savory salumi with their many sensory, stimulating variations … As well as endless varieties of pastas and sauces, and saltimbocca and ossobuco. Let’s give thanks for the sweetness of figs, fragrant blood oranges and the world’s most heavenly lemons . . . and limoncello and granita limone . And, lest we not forget: GELATO! … and the incomparable cannoli … YUM!
Let’s also praise Italy’s chocolate cities: Torino, home of Nutella; Perugia, home of Baci; and the Sicilian city of Modica with its distinctively textured cold-pressed chocolate bars made in the style of the ancients—but in this case, the Aztecs!
Shifting gears … let’s be grateful for the grace of the roman arch, Palladian windows, and so much other timeless architecture. As well as our sense of time itself—our calendar and especially the blissful summer months of July and August, named respectively for Julius Caesar and Rome’s first Emperor, Augustus.
For Rome, the Eternal City … for Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance … for Leonardo, for Michelangelo, for Raphael, and for the world’s most recognized and beloved art treasures. And, for so many charming medieval hill towns and vineyard-covered hillsides, plus over 5,000 miles of stunning coastline. For La Serenissima, the most magical and improbable of cities and for the rhythmic lapping of her canals and the romance of the gondola …
For the world’s most mellifluous language—musical and sexy, everything just sounds better in Italian … what else would you expect from the language created by Dante, the world’s greatest poet?!
For the language of music and the creation of opera, the piano and the violin … For Vivaldi and Verdi … and for Volare!
For the Ferrari and the Vespa … and for an unfailing sense of style and la bella figura … and sprezzatura!
For the fun and frivolity of the zanni (clowns) of the Commedia dell’ Arte, including the engagingly transgressive Arlecchino … and for Fellini and Roberto Benigni!
But most of all, for the spirit of resilience and joy that speaks to the “inner Italian” within all of us. SAlute and Viva l’Italia!
Finally a special grazie mille to those who have contributed to and enriched Postcards from the Boot over these past 4 years—Deborah Baldini and Biordi Art Imports, Kathleen Gonzalez, Karen La Rosa, Danielle Oteri, Anita Sanseverino, Allison Scolo, and especially, Frank Yantorno who is a phenomenal photographer, artist and Ciclismo Classico cycling guide extraordinaire. And, above all, to ALL of YOU readers for your support and encouragement.
Few countries can boast having ever had a “Golden Age” while Italy is the only country to have experienced not just one or even two but three golden ages!
Two thousand years ago Rome created an empire that dominated the Western world for an unprecedented four centuries. It was a triumph of engineering, artistic and organizational genius.Roman engineering genius gave us the longest-lasting monuments and buildings—as well as bridges, paved roads, aqueducts and cities—from antiquity, all of which created a sense of local community and inclusion in their time. Arenas like the Colosseum regularly hosted public entertainments that were impressive even by today’s standards.
Rome’s great legacy would help inspire Italy’s second Golden Age: the Renaissance, that 250-year creative flowering and intellectual transformation which began in 15th century Florence. Like classical Rome, the Italian Renaissance would spawn timeless artistic treasures and scientific advances. It would also celebrate human agency, an impulse that informs our modern sense of ourselves.
Italy is once again experiencing a Golden Age … though one of an entirely different nature. It’s one that celebrates the good life—La Dolce Vita—in all aspects of beauty and pleasure.
Following World War II, movies like Roman Holiday and gorgeous women like Sophia Loren (not to mention their ubiquitous leading man, Marcello Mastroianni) established Italy as the ultimate destination for romance, soon supplanting Paris as the epicenter of love.
Italy perennially ranks numero uno as people’s most desired place to visit and it’s now synonymous with fashion and design. And, no surprise, Italian cuisine ranks as the world’s most popular! The most important international modern art extravaganza—the Biennial—began in Venice. So did the world’s first film festival.
Today Italy is the world’s undisputed Lifestyle Superpower.
In the deep south of Italy, surrounded by crystal-clear waters and 500 miles of Adriatic and Ionian coastline, is the enclave of Puglia that sits on the sun-baked heel of the Boot. I first visited years ago and fell in love with its sleepy whitewashed villages, colorful folk traditions, its unique trulli set amongst olive trees, endless plates of mouth-watering food and some of the most gracious people in all of Italy.
More than 800 of the gargantuan trees at the ancient olive farm, Antica Masseria Brancati, near Ostuni, are considered natural monuments. With their gnarled and knotted trunks, many are upwards of 3000 years old.
The city of Lecce dates back to Magna Graecia, but because of its exquisite Baroque architecture it is known as the Florence of the South. The architectural style in Lecce is so distinctive that it was given its own name – “Barocco Leccese.“ The city’s opulent palaces and churches are built with Lecce stone, which has been used since ancient times.
Food is a surefire way to get to the heart of a culture and makes travel to Puglia ever-rewarding. Puglia’s tradition of rustic “cucina povera” centers around freshness and simplicity. The cherries are amazing, as is the burrata, focaccia and the orecchiette con cima di rape (with broccoli rabe), just to mention a few.
Puglia has plenty of charming towns ideal for leisurely wandering including Martina Franca; the labyrinthine whitewashed streets of Locorotondo and Ostuni; and the hobbit-like trulli of Alberobello (along with the stunning seaside towns of Polignano a Mare, Otranto and Gallipoli).
The town of Polignano a Mare has dedicated a statue and waterfront to the great Italian singer Domenico (Mimmo) Modugno (popularly known as Mr. Volare) who was born there in 1928. Mimmo was a singer, songwriter, actor, parliamentarian and three-time Grammy award winner.
His song Nel Blu Dipinto De Blu, popularly known as Volare, became a huge international hit in 1958 and sold over 30 million records. It also won him his first Grammy award (and an appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show 😉
But what makes Puglia so appealing is its authenticity. Things move at a slower pace and people will always make time for you. Everyone is so proud of their region; they don’t mind when you take photos and are keen to help in any way they can.