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.
Buon Ferragosto! A popular greeting heard among Italians this time of year. Ferragosto, technically August 15, is the official start to the Italian exodus out of the cities . . . and a part of Italian cultural DNA which is to head for the beaches or mountains during the month of August, with this tradition dating all the way back to 18 B.C.!
This was the year Emperor Augustus, after whom the month of August is named (it was his favorite time of year), formally instituted the August ‘vaca’ by connecting various annual festivities celebrating the harvest to create an extended period of rest from the year’s labors. He filled this period with rituals, races, games and FUN. Known then as feriae augusti and today as Ferragosta, it later took on a Christian meaning as well coinciding with the Feast of the Assumption of the Virgin into Heaven celebrated on August 15th. Today, August 15th is a national holiday and much like our 4th of July or Memorial Day culminates in dazzling displays of fireworks filling the night skies.
Usually, public holidays mean a total shutdown, even in major towns and cities, with everything from post offices to public transport closed, and that’s the case on August 15th — though a few major tourist sites in major cities remain open, as well as restaurants, at least for lunch. You’ll see ‘chiuso per ferie’ signs popping up all over the place, often with images of the mountains and the sea.
Rome comes alive for the Gran Ballo di Ferragosto, a city-wide party during which every street, square and corner is filled with people dancing. Larger squares host dance performances all day, getting more and more professional (or absurd) as the sun goes down. I have never been in Rome for this, but the massive dance party’s theme is participation, so if you hit the streets you’d better be ready to get your own personal dance on!
Featured photos were taken in Procida, Cortina, Elba, Capri, the Aeoliean Islands, Sardinia, Puglia and the Amalfi Coast. Special thanks to Frank Yantorno and Ciclismo Classico for several of these dazzling images.