Posts Tagged With: dante

The Good Life in Emilia-Romagna: Ravenna and Cesena

Buongiorno a tutti!

How are you all? It feels like ages since the blog tour- I feel like I should go back for a refresher! So, I’ve talked about places to stay, places to eat and food/wine production, and the city of Forlì, but we also managed to add in a few other activities and cities to our agenda that were totally ‘up my alley’: art, exhibitions, sculptures, nature and a million and one photography and drawing opportunities!

See flamingos at the Parco del Delta del Po

Did you know there were wild flamingos living in Italy?! I didn’t! I wouldn’t have believed it had I not seen it with my own eyes. They fly up from Africa and ‘hang out’ in the Parco del Delta del Po as a stop-over to other climes but they have been known to stay for much of the year. We had a lovely boat trip  up the river for a spot of bird watching. As soon as we started off in the boat a massive heron swooped over the river in front of us above a cormorant who was demonstrating his wing drying technique to us.

Our very knowledgeable English-speaking guide, Andrea, provided us with binoculars, pointed us in the direction of the local wildlife and gave us a commentary of the birds and plants that can be found there as well as the history of the park.

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FLAMINGOS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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I could just spend all day on this river. If I lived in the area, I’d be permanently out there on a canoe with my camera. What makes it so interesting to photograph were these weird little houses on stilts with fishing nets. They’re called “casoni” in the park, but elsewhere in Italy they’re known as trabucchi. It’s the lazy mans way of catching fish. You basically sit on the deck with a beer looking at flamingos, lower the net into the water and wait for a few minutes, raise the net and voila, you have fish (sometimes).

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I’m trying to get as much sketching done as possible at the moment – my theory is that if I’m painting or drawing something every day, I’m going to improve quickly… we’ll see! Anyway, this was my very quick 10 minute watercolour sketch of the casoni.

The park office itself is very geared towards education, particularly children, where you can learn about how ox-bows are created and how the local water pumps work (the water pumps are essential to the area as a lot of the land in the area is actually lower than sea level). They also have ‘The Magic Box’ – a sort of virtual reality room which makes you feel like you’re in a lift and where you can navigate through the different strata of the Earth’s crust and learn about them as you go. It’s very clever; it really does make you feel like you’re in a lift!

Ravenna Street Art by bike

One of my other favourite activities of our blog tour was a bike trip to see Ravenna’s Street Art led by our guide Marco Miccoli who organises a Street Art Festival which takes place every September. I’ve never seen such an array of impressive murals before. There are a lot to see and you can find guides and hire bikes at the tourist information office in Piazza San Francesco. The locals have a healthy respect for the art and we didn’t see any of them painted over. It’s a beautiful way of giving a new lease of life to boring old buildings though I think there’s been some mixed reviews from the residents! This was one of my favourites…

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There is such an array of styles and techniques – not just the more typical ‘spray paint’ variety. It’s certainly worth a look at  and it’s all free!

Learn how to make a mosaic 

Ravenna is famous for its mosaics. It has an incredibly high percentage of the world’s mosaics and they are everywhere. Have a look at one of my previous posts on Ravenna to check some of them out. Our bike tour took us past Koko Mosaico  where we saw some mosaic artists in action. I really fancy doing some mosaics – they run courses one a month for a week. I’d love to give it a go! These are some of the mosaics that were on show at Koko Mosaico…

 

Visit the ID Dante exhibition

There’s not much time left to see this exhibition – it’s in the Biblioteca di Storia Contemporanea “Alfredo Oriani” and it closes on the 23rd October so if you’re in the area, get a move on! The exhibition shows the works of 33 artists all with a common theme: Dante, the author of the Divine Comedy. The classic image of Dante (check out the Wiki link above to see it) is one where he seems to be wearing a red night shirt with matching nightcap adorned with a sort of leafy halo (as you may be able to tell, I haven’t studied Dante or the Divine Comedy but from a novice perspective, that’s his image and it’s a well known one across Italy!). This exhibition had artists interpreting Dante’s portrait in their own style and using their own techniques. What a great idea – providing a common theme and seeing how different people interpret it. Seeing and hearing about the artwork was fascinating. I quite fancy having a go at Dante’s portrait myself now!

And why Dante? Dante is more associated with Florence but in fact, he had a big presence in Ravenna. Ravenna is where he died, his tomb is there (though I think there’s some question mark as to whether his body is?!). This project was designed to bring his presence in Ravenna more to the forefront. Here are my favourites from the exhibition. Guess which one of them gives me the creeps and makes my eyes hurt?

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Cesena

Our final destination for the Blog Tour was Cesena. It was the first time I’d been to Cesena and I have to say, it’s my favourite of the cities we visited, mainly because it seems to be able to combine a ‘hip and happening’ vibe with quaint cobble-stoned streets! Cesena is characterised by the imposing ‘Rocca Malatestiana’ a fortress built by the Malatesta family (the governing family of the region between 1295 and 1500).

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This is the Rocca Malatestiana. I still laugh when I think of the name of this family. “Malatesta”, the name of the family, sounds a lot like “mal di testa” when said quickly. “Mal di testa” means headache. During one tour of a castle years ago in Gradara, also inhabited by this family, I was struggling for ages to understand how headaches had such a prominent part to play in the history of the castle…

The city was surrounded by a wall, much of which still exists today and was designed by Leonardo Da Vinci. I was struck by how unimpressive the wall was – I mean, even I could have scaled it I think! However, it emerged that it was once surrounded by a moat and it rose further in my esteem when I learnt it was in the shape of a scorpion. Cesena is also the home to the Biblioteca Malatestiana which was the first municipal library in Italy and has been granted “Memory of the World” status by UNESCO for the building itself and for the books it contains. The old part of the library hasn’t changed from when it was built almost 600 hundred years ago and it’s still possible to visit. To best explore Cesena, it’s a good idea to do it by bike. Everything is flat so it’s a good way to discover the city. There is an amazing free online audio guide that you can listen do on your way around.

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Our first stop on our bike tour was the studio of  Leonardo Lucchi in Piazza del Popolo where there is also a permanent exhibition of his sculptures. His sculptures are brilliant – the work is mainly females in bronze with a sort of characteristic ‘balancing’ component which makes you wonder how on earth the sculpture is staying upright. All of them have a real delicacy about them.  Here are some of my favourites. The exhibition is free so pop in if you’re in Cesena…

Then we went outside of the city walls to follow the river

But my favourite part of the Cesena tour was inside the city walls. Cesena has all these quaint pretty painted houses and cobbled walkways. It really is a lovely city.

We planned our trip to Cesena perfectly in time for their International Street Food Festival which has been going for 9 years or so. I was so thrilled! In Italy, you get a choice of Italian restaurants or Italian restaurants, or sometimes Italian restaurants!  I mean, I love Italian food so it’s not a problem, but sometimes I just hanker after food that’s not Italian. So I was ecstatic to be able to eat a burrito (Mexican food for the Italian’s reading this!). I haven’t had one for over 3 years! And there was curry… mmmm curry! It’s definitely worth coming to Cesena just for this festival to be honest. The chefs are from all around the world and cook their own traditional food. Brilliant!

I could sit and have a drink in Piazza del Popolo, the main square in Cesena, for hours. In fact, we did. I managed to fit a drawing in too!

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So that about sums up my Blog Tour week. I had the best time with some lovely fellow bloggers who were incredibly patient with my Italian (I become monosyllabic after about 9pm) and I’m so pleased I had this opportunity to explore the area “off the beaten track” and meet some wonderful characters in the process.

Have a look at what my fellow bloggers had to say too:

Meanwhile, as ever, I am always available to be wined and dined on a blog tour in any hot, sunny country, perhaps by a beach (Maldives: You need me!). For any questions about what we did or for any corrections, drop me a line in the comments 🙂

A presto,

x

 

 

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The Nine Circles of Hell, Sightseeing in Ravenna and Photo Expeditions!

Buongiorno a tutti!

How’s everyone? I’ve had a very good, though largely unproductive, few days!

I shall tell you what I’m supposed to be doing – I’m supposed to be editing my book. And yet it seems I’ve spent most of my time doing more interesting/inspiring things instead. I’ve only managed two editing days in the last fortnight. I must, must, must finish!!!

The weekend before last I went to see “Dante’s Inferno” in the caves in Camerano where I used to live (to be clear, I used to live in Camerano, not the caves!). It was probably one of the most unusual plays I’ve seen – rather than sitting in one place it was a sort of group walking tour of the 9 “circles” of hell. As a quick summary, Dante and Virgil (of Roman poetry fame), take a tour of hell which is divided into 9 circles with increasing levels of torment in line with the increasing seriousness of the sins committed. In each larger cave (they’re all connected by small candlelit passageways), there were two or three actors that would recount what was going on in that specific circle of hell. Anyway, it was very good, though in a very difficult form of Italian (passato remoto – it’s not very common and more often used in the written form!) so I had to fill in the gaps with trusty Wikipedia after the performance.

I was also invited to Ravenna last weekend by my lovely neighbour to stay with her just as lovely family. I think it’s probably my most ‘full-on’ Italian language experience to date. I think I have a sort of weekly brain usage quota and as a result, I feel pretty brain dead – I’m unable to string more than a couple of words together now. Ravenna is absolutely spectacular though. I didn’t know anything about it before I went but it’s in Emigia-Romagna, the region north of Le Marche (the region where I am), and on the coast. It’s well-known because it has an extraordinary number of mosaics, some of the oldest in the world and most of them are in the churches. Ravenna is basically built upon a massive lagoon. If they hadn’t filled it all in over the years and sucked out all the water, it would have been like Venice. As it is they’ve had to keep building Ravenna up because it seems the entire city is suffering from subsidence! As a result, when you go around the old historic sites, you kind of walk down to them. It’s got a fascinating history; all recounted by my neighbour, her niece and niece’s partner. This sort of knowledge and patriotism about the area you live in and its history and artwork is something I love about Italy. Alas I have a terrible “in one ear, out the other” tendency for all things of historic importance, which is un-reflective of my level of interest so apologies for my lack of educational information on this blog but have a look here if you want to look into it! If you visit Ravenna yourself it’s well worth buying a sightseeing ticket which will get you into the main sights (tombs and churches mainly!) for just under 10 euros.

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Mosaic somewhere in Ravenna – I should have made a note! Perhaps we can call it an interactive, “guess where this mosaic is?” sort of competition. The winner gets credited in the caption.

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Now…. this is in the tomb of Galla Placidea. I was thinking about having my tomb decorated similarly. There is solid gold in all of these mosaics. SOLID GOLD!

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SEE THE GOLD!!!!!! GOLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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This is the Mausoleum of Theoderic. He was a big deal in Ravenna. He was worried about getting captured so there’s rumours of a secret tunnel that goes from one of the churches in Ravenna to this mausoleum (they liked to build their mausoleum’s whilst they were still alive – I guess if you want to make sure something is done right, do it yourself!) and at that point, it was right on the seafront so he could have made a quick get away.  It’s very difficult to imagine how Ravenna must have looked a few hundred years back!

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And here there were a collection of mosaics dug up from around the area…

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And, you guessed it, more mosaics – this mosaic covered a massive area in a large church… all telling the history of Jesus.

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And this is in the crypt of another church. I said how Ravenna was built on a lagoon – well you can see here how it’s been quite difficult to keep the water out!!! There’s actually fish swimming around in it!!! It makes me feel better about the damp problem in my house at least.

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And there’s a little ferry that takes you across the river to get to the harbour…

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And this is the harbour…

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And this church is still in Ravenna but further out. It was my favourite – nice setting (you have to pay 5 euros to go in. The churches in Ravenna must make a fortune). The mosaic around the altar was amazing. Still with solid gold – the churches in Ravenna it seems are wealthy!

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This is a close up of above the altar. All these mosaics must have taken decades!!!!

On a different note I was up in the mountains taking pictures of the stars last week. It’s a lovely idea in theory – it’s absolutely stunning up there at night. But there is NOBODY around and the problem with star pictures is that you have to leave your camera out taking photos for half an hour (because it’s so dark you need to have a long exposure so that you can get enough light in). So I ventured into the pitch blackness, set up the camera, waited in the car and then started worrying that there might be an axe-murderer on the loose. Next time I’m going to take a photography buddy with me!

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I also got up at the crack of dawn the other week to take photos at the beach in Civitanova. It feels like I’m always awake at the crack of dawn but I usually stay in bed willing myself to go back to sleep. But the sunrise was so lovely it inspired me to actually get up early again (for all of about half an hour).

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Yesterday I was very cultured and went to a Schubert and Chopin piano concert in Macerata. Very good indeed.

Finally, it’s chestnut season!!!! I’ve been having a great time harvesting stuff this month. My friend who has a house nearby has been visiting for the last week or so and we found a great spot a couple of days ago for chestnut picking. So, inspired by none other than Frank Sinatra, I have been roasting my chestnuts on my (non)open fire. They’re EXCELLENT!!!! I still have to perfect the timings but the recipe largely goes: 1. Score the chestnuts, 2. Put them in a tinfoil little parcel with a spoonful of water, 3. Chuck it in the stufa/wood burner for 20 minutes, 4. Peel and eat them. I think Mr Sinatra would have been impressed. Mmmmmmmm.

I think that about sums it up.

I hope you’re all having an excellent week. Buona giornata da Sarnano!

xxx

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Divine Comedy, Christmas festivities and slimey fruit…

Ciao a tutti!

How is everyone? It’s been a busy week here. I’m trying out a new way of displaying photos on the blog. If you’re reading it from the WordPress internet site hover over the pictures to read the captions. However if you receive it by email, I’ve no idea what it will look like! Let me know if it works ok 🙂

Here’s a quick update…

Sightseeing!

These last couple of weeks we’ve been to some new places which have been really lovely. I had forgotten how much I like exploring new areas.

A couple of weekends ago, we had an interesting coach trip to Gradara and Candelara with about 40 or so of our immediate neighbours. It was good to meet them all, though I don’t think I could tell you anyone’s name. Although if you call everyone Giuseppe you have about a 70% chance of getting it right!

Gradara is really interesting. It’s a beautiful castle that I’ve been meaning to visit for ages having driven past it several times. It’s a few miles north of Ancona. We had a guide to show us around. She spent ages and ages talking about headaches in a very confusing fashion, almost giving them a personality if you will. Or at least, I thought that’s what she was talking about until I finally established that “mal di testa” (headache) is not the same as “malatesta” (a surname). It turns out Gradara was owned for a period of time by the very influential Malatesta family and not reigned by headaches.

The castle has an interesting story attached – it tells the true love story between Paolo Malatesta and the wife (Francesca) of his brother (Gianciotto). The story is immortalized in Dante’s `Divine Comedy`. Basically Francesca is tricked into marrying the unattractive, limping, hunch-backed Gianciotto because he sends his handsome brother Paolo to propose on his behalf, pretending that he’s him. She seems to genuinely marry Paolo but he signs the wedding certificate in his brother’s name. That night, back at the castle, the curtains around the bed were pulled, all was dark, Gianciotto enters and er, job’s a good’un. Francesca, on discovery that she’s married a man with a face like a bag of spanners and the morals to match (though at least she married a clever man, if not a looker), decides to starve herself to death. Francesca, who seems to have been a very forgiving sort, didn’t seem to hold a grudge against Paolo who she immediately commenced an affair with. Gianciotto finds out, tries to kill his brother but Francesca steps in the way. She’s stabbed and killed and then Gianciotto kills his brother, Paolo.  I think that sums it up – no need now to worry about having to read the Divine Comedy 😉

Candelara is a beautiful hill top town. The coach trip also included this too as at this time every year they have a festival where all the lights are turned off and it’s lit only by candlelight. During this, they had a `pyrotechnic display` which featured 10 regular sized balloons with lights in.  There was also a big market and an exhibition of precepe (nativity scenes).

Ferrara

Last weekend, we went to Ferrara with some friends and had a fab time. We stayed the night before in Jesi at a friend’s house and went out for a nice meal in the centre of Jesi. It reminds me a bit of London. Whereas on a Saturday night in Sarnano, absolutely nobody is in town, on a Saturday night in Jesi, everyone seems to be in town! It was standing room only in all the bars. We headed to Ferrara the next day. Depending on which website you visit or who you speak to, Ferrara is either a great place to go to or quite dull. In my opinion it’s the former. Quaint with lots of little pretty alleys, it’s got a stunning cathedral and it’s just a nice place to have a wander around. When we were there it had a Christmas market and with all the festive lights, it really did look pretty.

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It’s not really sightseeing because it’s only 5 minutes away, but I just wanted to say how impressed I am with our little village. It’s got a good sized ice-rink. I went during the day and before the Italian’s turn their Christmas lights on  (here it’s about the 8th December I think) so I’ll go back again this week and take some photo’s for the blog. I might even attempt to skate.

As an aside, I don’t know whether this is just in my area or not but today is bonfire day here. You light a fire so that the angels carrying the Virgin Mary’s house to Loreto can find their way there (no Sat Nav I suppose) and warm themselves up a bit. How sweet!

Christmas Decorations

Keeping on the Christmas theme, we bought a Christmas tree from a florist in town. It’s my first “real” tree too. I don’t usually approve of that but this one is in a pot so we can bring it in year after year assuming we don’t kill it. I hope it doesn’t grow too big. Anyway, it’s feeling quite Christmassy in the house, despite the terrible handmade tree decorations involving paper, oranges and fir-cones. I did a little better with the wreaths which I’ve been giving away as presents (I gave one to my Jehovas Witness neighbour this morning. She wasn’t in so I left it by her door. When I returned, Pane Caldo informed me that they don’t celebrate Christmas so I raced back to retrieve it. Her mother is generally on guard at the window and I have a horrible feeling saw the whole sorry business).

Paying bills

Bill paying in Italy is a mystery. You never pay the company that you need to pay directly. I made that mistake when I phoned up the water company once asking if I could pay my bill. They said, yes, of course. I asked if they would take credit card. They said they weren’t sure. I was a bit stumped and asked if I should give them the long number on the front of the card. There was silence and then they finally understood…. I can’t pay THEM, you know, the people I owe. It turns out, in Italy, you pay your bills at either the bank, at the Tabaccheria (basically a little corner shop selling cigarettes and newspapers sometimes – oh and matches, you can only get matches at a Tabaccheria rather oddly) or the post office. I still don’t know what you pay where. I generally do a circuit of all three until I find the correct one. It vaguely makes sense to outsource your bill payment I suppose, but it seems strange nonetheless!

Food

This week has been curious on the food front. The next door neighbour has a lot of cachi at the moment. Cacchi are orange apple-sized fruit that mature about now. As a short Italian lesson: cacchi is the plural, caco is the singular version of the noun. All italian nouns are split into feminine or masculine and they end in a different letter accordingly (very simply ‘o’ for masculine, ‘a’ for feminine usually). In most cases it doesn’t matter if you can’t remember whether your inanimate object is masculine and feminine – people get what you’re trying to say. But, you must never, ever, say “caca” when you intend “caco”. The word “Cacca” means another thing entirely and something you certainly shouldn’t eat. It’s the same with all kinds of fruit – if you mix up your feminine and masculines when it comes to fruit it can be very embarrassing. Anyway, apparently you should eat your caco on bread and I must say, it’s very nice. It has a consistency of jam without the hassle of having to make the jam.

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Caco on bread…

 

There’s Nespole which is another fruit (Japanese Plum for us maybe?). This one is a small orange one which you eat when it’s brown. My neighbour is insistent about you eating things immediately so when she presented a brown squidgy slime that looked positively gone off and then encouraged me to eat it, I didn’t quite know how to cope with the situation. However, it wasn’t too bad. Weird with lots of sort of big random pips in, but not bad. I’ve got lots to eat now. I’ll have to make something with them.

On taking this photo several flies flew off when I moved them. I think they might actually be mouldy. I think that's just how you eat them, like blue cheese.

On taking this photo several flies flew off when I moved them. I think they might actually be mouldy. I think that’s just how you eat them, like blue cheese.

Carrying on the food vain, I made focaccia the other day but it turned out flat and heavy, not light and fluffy like it’s supposed to. I consulted my neighbour who said I should buy some dough from the bakery. The dough is decades old, from the bakers mum. I don’t think she’s ever bought yeast because it’s a living organism and so it just grows. When you make your bread, you leave a bit of the dough to one side, add more flour etc. to it and then it grows more yeast. I do not know how to make bread using this strategy! I have a bread recipe book and at no point does it say to get a bit of someone’s dough and do ‘x’ to it. You just don’t seem to be able to buy yeast in packets here like in the UK. I kind of like this method, it’s quaint. So tomorrow, I will go to the bakers and ask for their dough (ha!).

Writing

I’ve almost finished my book! I just need to write another 3000 words or so to make it up to 70000 but I’m stuck on the ending! It’s absolute trash but I’m quite proud of having got this far.  I usually give up after the first chapter. Anyway, please send happy writing vibes, I’m determined to finish before I leave for the UK next week. but these last few words are a struggle!

Animal watch

The animal watch spot has been quiet, I know. We haven’t seen many really but here’s one I took this evening of the resident animal.

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I thought cats sort of curl up to sleep but no, Batfink sleeps like he’s had too many beers.

 

Right, that’s it for now. Have lovely rest of weeks!

xxx

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