Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Dogged, by Greatness.

The Scaglieris, or della Scalas, were Verona's greatest ruling family, who dominated the city beginning in the 1300s. Their family emblem was the dog. You can even see dogs on their elaborate tombs, holding up shields in their little paws.

Apparently, the family thought the greatest of the great was Genghis Khan, and the word "Khan" reminded them of the Italian word "cane" (pronounced KAH-nay), for dog. So they adopted Cujo as the family symbol.

The greatest and best known of the Scaglieris was Francesco, who came to be known as "Can'Grande." That's right. The original Big Dog. A ruthless but effective political leader, he was also a patron of the arts. Can'Grande gave refuge to Dante in Verona after the poet's exile. Hence, Dante pays tribute to the Big Dog himself in several of his works. The best known is probably in Canto XVII of the Divine Comedy, where Dante says "even his enemies would be unable to keep silent about him."

Can'Grande's reign was followed by other pups in the della Scala litter, among them:

    Nephew Mastino (the Mastiff)
    The Mastiff's son Can'Grande II (Big Dog 2), killed and succeeded by his brother:
    Can'Signorio (Mr. Dog, or Lord Dog), then succeeded by:
    his son, Can'Francesco (Frankie Dog. so to speak.)

What? No General Dogsbody in the family?

Here's a closer look at one of the dogs on the della Scala tomb.(On the shield is the family coat of arms, the ladder. That's what "La Scala" means in Italian.)

Monday, May 29, 2006

Verona, Verona, wherefore art thou, Verona?

Here are some other pictures and stories from our afternoon in beautiful, ancient Verona.

A few centurions stand outside the arena.

Approaching the Piazza dei Signori from the vegetable market, Piazza delle Erbe.

A statue of Dante Alighieri stands in the Piazza dei Signori, which is why it's sometimes also called Piazza Dante. It's in the heart of Verona's medieval section. Dante spent his years of exile in Verona, as a guest of the ruler, Scaglieri. Here's a closer look at Dante's statue:

Just to the right of Dante in the picture, you can a statue above the arch. This is of Girolamo Fracastoro, a physician, scientist, and poet. Back in the 1500s Girolamo proposed a theory that diseases were caused by microorganisms! The ancient Veronese must have thought him crazy. One of Girolamo's poems centers on a character named Sifilo. That's where we get the word "syphilis." And here's Girolamo:

One of many lions in Verona. The lion is the symbol of St. Mark, patron saint of nearby Venice. Verona was under the rule of La Serenissima for about four centuries, so the lion is represented all over the city in the region. Our guide told us the Veronese say there are more lions in their town than in Africa.

I believe this particular lion is near the Piazza delle Erbe, but unfortunately I can't be sure. We saw so many sights that afternoon in Verona, it was hard to keep track of what was what. So if you can fill in the details, please add it to the comments on this blog, per favore.

Calgon, take me away!!! Please.

Thursday, May 25th.

Okay. So we get off the autostrada in mainland Venice, and come to the end of the auto portion of the trip. We'll next take a water taxi to take us to the islands. Here in the Piazzale Roma, what do I see?

Good heavens!! (For my non-Palousian friends, I work on the Washington State University campus, in PULLMAN.) Thanks to Sandy for drawing this bar to my attention!

As it turned out, we ran into more reminders of home. This one tickled the Scandinavian Lutherans in our party. (Roger and Dennis - are you sending your people to check up on me?)

Genoa's Cathedral of San Lorenzo.

I made it a point to visit many of these spots in Italy.

This confessional was in Genoa's medieval San Lorenzo cathedral.

But enough with the baring of my soul. (It would take a verrrrrrrrrrrrry long blog.)

The Cathedral of San Lorenzo was consecrated in 1118. This makes it older than Milan's Duomo by more than two centuries! However, the distinctive black-and-white striped exterior was added in the 1500s.

This is the arch above the cathedral entrance. It was hard for me to get a wide shot of the outside of the cathedral, because the square in front of it is astonishingly small, so one cannot step back far enough to get a shot of the facade without special equipment. But get a good look at the facade at this site. (When you get to the page, you may have to click on "skip this ad" to see the photo.)

San Lorenzo holds many relics, including remains long believed to be those of John the Baptist. This is the chapel of San Giovanni Battista.

Detail above the altar.

The remains were stolen in Turkey. Are they really John's? As our guide Fausta said, that's not really the issue for the Genovese. What matters is their faith, that their city is protected by that particular saint.

Her are more pictures of the interior of San Lorenzo.

Last Supper, by Procaccino (I think!).

In the chapel of John the Baptist are three statues of Christiany's strongest mother figures: Eve, Mary and John's mother Elizabeth. It was nice to see Eve in the mix. Opposite the mothers are strong fathers, including St. Joseph. But you'll see Christ's legal guardian in several other spots in the San Lorenzo Cathedral. He's a pretty popular guy.

Now, this statue of St. Joseph is not in the John the Baptist chapel, but on the opposite end of the San Lorenzo cathedral. I really liked it. It's rare to see Jesus portrayed as a child - not an infant or toddler, but a child, and a cheerful one at that. (I really miss my little Joseph back home now!)

When you spend time with Gillian, your guardian angel has to work overtime.

We were in a museum in Genoa - either Palazzo Rosso or Palazzo Bianco, I can't remember which - and quite by accident, got this great shot of Sandy placed just so, against that stunning fresco. Dear Sandy, a sweet angel herself. We tried to corrupt her, but she was obviously traveling with Higher Powers.

I'm back home in Moscow now, late on Sunday night. It took about 27 hours of travel to get here, beginning in Venice with a 5AM boat ride from the hotel directly to the Marco Polo airport; then on to an Alitalia flight to Milan, then an SAS flight to Copenhagen. There our plane was delayed by an hour, as it had been struck by lightning and they wanted to do a thorough check before we boarded. None of us had any problem with that delay! Then a 10-hour flight to Seattle, and finally on the good old Horizon back to Pullman-Moscow.

After leaving Genoa it was hard to blog, partly because all of our events ran late into the night; partly because my room in Venice, gorgeous as it was, was so small there wasn't a table on which I could set up the laptop; partly because wireless access at a nearby internet point cost a lot; but mostly because I was pretty well wiped out every night.

I did jot notes each night, though, and with those I'll pick up where I left off and you should see new entries over the next couple of weeks. (I'm also waiting for my tourmates to get back and share their pictures, and post the best ones.)

Off to bed now, perchance to rise and play with photo editing software.

Buona notte...

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

I just have a quick couple of minutes right now (on borrowed wireless time) to say that La Ceneretola was FABULOUS. The Carlo Felice is a gorgeous theater, and we are all happy opera campers tonight.

We're leaving for Venice in the morning, and I may not have a chance to update the blog for a few days, but keep checking!!

Gotta go, ciao.

Well, it's off to the opera again tonight to the Teatro Carlo Felice to watch Rossini's La Cenerentola. It's the Cinderella story, but without pumpkins, talking mice and bibbidi bobbidi boo.

This opera was not performed for many decades, becuase there weren't very many good mezzo-sopranos who could tackle the challenging arias in this opera.

But then came - Cecilia Bartoli. (But that's not who we'll hear tonight.)

Enough said.

Off now to get ready for the theater!!

Oh, BTW, some links:

Teatro Carlo Felice

Rossini's "Cenerentola" (Cinderella)

Italians are incredibly proud of Genoa's favorite son, Christopher Columbus. But a DNA test could blow all that pride out of the water. Martin Dugard, the author of "The Last Voyage of Columbus, writes about it in the Los Angeles Times: Was Columbus really Italian?

Here's a snippet: "It's commonly held that the explorer was an Italian who moved to Portugal and then Spain. But many experts suggest he was instead a Catalan nobleman who hid his true identity, or the illegitimate son of a Majorcan prince, or even a Jew who spent his life masking his true identity. Birth records indicate he was born in Genoa sometime during the fall of 1451. Skeptics, however, believe those records were fabricated by zealous city fathers."


"When [the findings are released], we will know just a little bit more about one of the Americas' greatest immigrants. Let that be an occasion to reflect on the life of a charismatic and passionate man who chose to live boldly rather than settle for mediocrity — as well as those new explorers who, via plywood rafts, tattered shoes slapping Arizona sands or dark freight containers, follow in his footsteps."

And of course, the Genovese think all this talk of him being Spanish is utter nonsense!!

Meantime, here in Genoa you can visit Chris' house. I hear most Genovese think of it as a tourist trap, but it does generate a steady stream of tourist traffic. It won't include me. There's too much else to enjoy in this wonderful city, which I am loving more and more with each passing hour.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

More pictures, less talk.

I seriously overslept this morning, and woke up, can you believe it, just FOUR MINUTES before our bus to the Riviera left the hotel. So my brain's not working too well tonight (and it IS after 3AM, past the time I usually get up for work!) I'm just going to post more Riviera pictures for you to enjoy, and add in comments later. Thanks to Liz and Cherri for sharing their pictures!

(BTW, I can get ready in two minutes because, with my usual working hours, it pays to have a routine down pat, of get up, get out!!)

The church at Camoglie


The remains of the castle at Santa Margherita Ligure

The Chef/Cartoonist/Flirt Extraordinaire

When we first arrived in Italy, our group expressed and interest in taking a cooking class, and our incredibly wonderful guide Arianna (whom we all adore!) immediately mentioned Fausto. Not only is he a brilliant chef, she said, he is also a talented cartoonist and "a very particular type of man" (which you can read as, "a real character.) So she set up this afternoon of cooking and entertainment for us.

When we arrived in Rapallo this afternoon at his restaurant, U Giancu, he popped out of a second-story window.

Below is the outside of U Giancu, proudly displaying Fausto's love of cartoons. (The window right above "U Giancu" was where we had our first peek at Il Signor Fausto Oneto.)

When he came downstairs, wearing a blue shoe on one foot and and orange one on the other, he greeted us warmly and led us into his beautiful restaurant, lined with original cartoons including some by Chic Young (Blondie). Fausto had closed his restaurant for the afternoon to accomodate us. His kitchen was SPOTLESS (and having worked in kitchens of some fastidious chefs, I can still say this is the cleanest one I've ever seen.)

All right, the food. First of all, remember that Liguria is a coastal state, renowned for its seafood.

Fausto serves only meat at U Giancu. "Everybody else serves the fish," he says, "so why should I?" This bit of information is a a mere hors d'oeuvre to his personality.

He was going to show us how to make focaccia, the real Ligurian variety, filled with stracchino cheese, as well as one with onions. A quiche of swiss chard, fresh herbs from his amazing garden, ricotta cheese and two crusts. A fresh green vegetable medley with fettucine. Pesto, the real Ligurian way. Gnocchi, to serve as a medium for that pesto. Rack of lamb, seasoned with fresh herbs, also from the garden. For dessert, we melted a chocolate-hazelnut combination called gianduia (pronounced jahn-DOO-yah) and mixed in roasted whole hazelnuts, then put it to cool in molds, for a treat called nocciolato. And for starters, tempura-style fresh sage flowers (fior di salvia), which he took us into the garden to pick.

Beverly and twin sister Barbara with Fausto, holding the freshly picked sage blossoms.

Fausto began with the focaccia dough. Notice that he changed his cap. (One of many cap changes he made today.)

Outside the window you can see lemon trees in his garden (more on the garden in a moment.)

He made sure each of us had a chore. Here Fausto explains the correct way to saute the vegetable medley while his assistant Stefania works; Blaine sets about his task of coating the rack of lamb in the herb mix.

All this time there was an incredibly diverse mix of music playing from his iPod through a stereo in the kitchen. I heard an Italian favorite, "Mamma," sung by a tenor; Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, and Aaron Copland, to name just a few!

Fausto certainly was charming. After Beverly chopped some herbs, this is what he did with her finished product.

I can't even begin to describe his outrageous flirting. (That thing with the herb heart was pretty mild, believe me.) Fausto's assistants were just rolling their eyes. He was having the time of his life with us.

When it came time to eat, oh my word. Or should I say, there are NO WORDS. In addition to the dishes we prepared, he presented us with bruschette, salami, pickled baby eggplants, and AMAZING white and red wines bottled especially for his restaurant.

Fausto is a great big showman with an obvious passion for his work. He is very knowledgeable, and intimately understands the historical and cultural context of Ligurian cuisine. In his three cookbooks are his very clever cartoons. His garden gives him fresh herbs, onions, garlic and salad greens. The trees bear figs, cherries, lemons, oranges. The shrubs give capers, flowers, berries. I can’t tell you how much else there is in that garden, but clearly Fausto uses the garden as inspiration, coming up with dishes based on what’s ripe and at its peak. The garden is just beautiful, and so fragrant. Nothing about his cooking is contrived or affected. Nothing is over-seasoned. He simply flows with the best nature has to offer at any moment. Everything in perfect balance.

Under all the flirting and hamming is a serious and brilliant chef. AND Fausto has more personality than all the chefs on the Food Network, put together. Ask any of my tourmates, and I know they will back me up. He is beyond outrageous. He is – in the truest sense of the word – an original.

I tell you, if you ever have the chance to come to the Italian Riviera, you MUST go to U Giancu (pronounced ooh-JAHN-koo) in Rapallo and eat one of the most amazing meals of your life, AND partake of the whole Fausto experience. It's rare to see a this much talent, charm, passion and eccentricity, all in one body.

Okay. Now we get to the final picture of the day.


Leave your suggested captions in the comments section, or e-mail me.

All I can say is, if you show an Italian man your cooking skills, you'll go far with him. Notice the change of cap?

And on that note, buona notte, amici.

Gillian Coldsnow

The Riviera really is as amazing as you've always heard.

Portofino harbor

I lived on the Oregon coast for seven years, and felt really blessed to live in such surroundings. But I confess that over the last ten years, I've seen changes that have detracted from the natural beauty. Development, mostly, and the horrendous tourist traffic in the summer, to name just a couple.

Somehow, the towns of the Italian Riviera have managed to avoid that. The picture you see above is of internationally renowned Portofino. The glib and glam flock here - but doesn't it look just like a little fishing village, still? In fact, many of the homes still sport laundry lines outside the windows! And the relaxed and friendly demeanor of the locals doesn't give away the hidden character of Portofino's part-time citizens.

But it took some laws to keep the town's aura. Tour buses are not allowed to drive through, and when tourists arrive by boat (as we did) the guides have to quit using the microphones before the boat pulls up to the pier.

Doesn't this seem like a sleepy little town?

What you can't see is what's behind the facades of those old fishermen's homes. The interiors, a long time ago, were torn out and transformed into small but gorgeous apartments for people who live elsewhere most of the time. A studio looking out on the Portofino harbor can easily cost more than a million Euro!

Part of the character of the Riviera towns come from the distinctive colors. Only four colors are allowed on the facades: faded yellow, a terra cotta-ish pink, brown or green. These old fisherman's homes have all been designated as historic landmarks.

We hiked up the path to the cliff where the historic San Giorgio church sits looking out above the Mediterranean.

A relic of Portofino's patron saint, Giorgio (yes - that's one and the same as England's St. George!)is believed to be found here.

And this is the path leading up to the church, with some our our tour members listening to our guide, Fausta.

From L-R: our Liguria guide, Fausta (with back turned to camera), Melinda, Sylvia (hidden), Barbara and Liz. Leaning up against the fence are Cherri and Blaine.

Look at the stone path leading into the church:

Individual stones, black and white, arranged into that beautiful pattern. We saw the same type of path leading up to the town church in neighboring town Camoglie as well.

Monday, May 22, 2006

I really must get some sleep!

I must be up early tomorrow for our full day on the Riviera of Levante, and our cooking class. These two-to-four hour bits of sleep are just not enough for this aging body!

Again, buona notte, amici.

All right, back to the things that REALLY matter.

That was just one of the entrees (yes, honestly, just one!) we ordered for dinner at Lupo's tonight, a mixed grill of seafood. It tasted even better than it looks. (More on Lupo's later.) With dinner we ordered a bottle of one of those fabulous Italian wines you seldom see in the US, dolcetto, a beautiful dry red from the neighboring Piemonte region.

And more on food:

Gelato! It really is a very different experience than ice cream. The texture is so light, the gelato gives no resistance in the mouth. Flavors are clean, and hit you just the right way.

The crucial question the gelateria poses to you at the ordering stand: cono or copetta?

You can choose as many flavors as you wish to load into your cone or cup. Besides the berry, mango, chocolate and coffee, there are flavors that could mystify. Want vanilla? Order "fior di latte," "flowers of milk. How poetic! Want mixed berries? Try "frutti di bosco," "fruit of the woods." Also try straciatella (vanilla with chocolate layers), cocco (coconut), nocciolo (hazelnut), prugna (plum), melone, ananas (pineapple) and mele (apple.

The City Between the Hills and Sea

As we approached Genoa, we caught glimpses of the Mediterranean sea. The Ligurian capital is perched in the center of a crescent-shaped bit of shoreline, and spreads upwards into the hills. It’s a gorgeous mix of buildings, from medieval to modern. (Not the best picture, I know - I'll try to get a better one tomorrow.)

See this turret-like tower right beside the apartment building?

The medieval feel to the city is still evident. The medieval quarter streets are unbelievably narrow! They're called caruggi (kah-ROO-jee).

Well, yes of course, being as unbelievably tall as I am, I suppose my arm span indicates the streets are not quite that narrow after all. But look at this now:

Here are a couple of other pictures of Genoa's streets. I am really loving this city. There's something about it, I swear, that feels like an Asian city before modernization. The narrow alleys, the streets lining those alleys...the carabinieri patrolling the caruggi and the Genoese citizens.....

....and ticketing them!! Oh by the way, I had my own brush with Italian police this morning. I was trying to call my tour mates in room 112. Was so groggy from lack of sleep that I dialed '0112' - unaware that in Italy, dialing '0' at a business will give you and outside line. And that is how I found out that the Italian equivalent of 9-1-1, is 1-1-2.

"Pronto. Carbinieri!"


Cherri and Liz inside a university foyer. The entrance is an ancient stone portico.

More of that mix of medieval and contemporary. The arch leads into a steep driveway. Wouldn't you like to have an antiquarian marble saint protecting your window?

Maybe 3 dollars a gallon isn't so bad after all.

Out of Milan, and onto the Autostrada! The speed limit is 80 kilometers per hour, which is somewhere between 50 and 55 mph.

Gasoline is about 1.20 Euro per liter – that’s 1.53 US dollars per liter; at 3.79 liters to the gallon, that’s $5.79 per gallon!

We stopped at one of Italy's ubiquitous "Autogrill" - roughly equivalent to our truck stops. But you should see the food offered. The sandwiches? They all use incomparably fresh vegetables, immensely flavorful meats such as cotto and crudo (ham), bresaola, prosciutto di Parma, salami Genovese and various other salumi.

And the bread? Well, I now have a new goal to achieve in my baking!

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Manon. Not Puccini's (sigh), but Massenet's version ain't half bad!

The performance in La Scala was really excellent. It wasn't easy for me to see the stage from the balcony, what with people ahead of me craning their necks right in my line of sight; but frankly, there wasn't a lot of action taking place onstage. So with each scene opening, I'd stand up and use my binocs to get the lay of the land, so to speak, then relax and concentrate on the music.

IT WAS GORGEOUS. Ion Marin (very handsome dude) conducted the orchestra, which balanced perfectly against the vocalists - who were brilliant. Massenet's music and orchestration is lush, melodic and dramatic.

The plot of Manon (the same Manon of Puccini's "Manon Lescaut") involves a self-centred, lying, deceptive little tart/twit whose motto is, as Sueann Ramella would put it, "ME! ME! ME!! IT'S ALL ABOUT ME!!!!!!"

How to sum it up? Act 1 is something like this:

Manon: I am so beautiful!!
Des Grieux: I think you are beautiful!
Manon: I am so beautiful!!
Des Grieux: You are not the sort of girl I should consort with, but...
Manon: I am so beautiful!!
Des Grieux: I think I am falling in love with you.
Manon: Hey! Are you listening to me? I am, like, so beautiful!!
Des Grieux: Oh damn you, I am going to get me to a monastery and take holy orders.
Manon: I am so beautiful!! Oh yes, I am too too beautiful!!

Well, just as he tries to become a priest, La Tart shows up with a change of heart.

Manon: I am so sorry, please don't wear those robes, they look so dowdy, and they won't look good when you walk beside me, because....remember....I AM SO BEAUTIFUL!!!
Des Grieux: Damn you woman, leave me alone!
Manon: no, really, you should accept my offer, because...I am still the same woman you fell in love with, and even though four years have passed and I am now an old hag at age 20...I AM STILL SO BEAUTIFUL!!!
Des Grieux: Damn you, woman, get thee behind.....oh what the hell, I give up. Let's go. I cannot resist you anymore, because...in the end....YOU ARE SO BEAUTIFUL!!

You just know it's going to end badly.

OK, so that's not exactly how it goes, but it's not a complete fabrication either! REALLY.

Tsk. Such a bad message for young girls.

All right, it's now almost 4AM (Milan time) and I am bleary-eyed after being up for nearly 22 hours. I've just recorded some audio updates for NWPR and posted them back to the studio, so barring any problems, they should be airing Monday onwards.

Yawn. We're off to Genoa tomorrow morning, I'd better get a bit of shuteye, then. Buona notte, amici!

Up on the Roof.

Sunday morning I went with two members of the group up to the Duomo rooftop to get up close and personal with the saints. I especially like those who sinned incomparably before turning it all around, thereby earning the right to be on the Duomo.

I took the paid elevator up, but you still have to walk the last bit up to the top. Here are a couple of shots from that excursion.

Cherri and Liz by one of the arches. You can see from the carved marble above them why the Duomo looks so lacy from the street.

Wish I knew enough about mythology and/or saints to know this guy's story....if you know why he's being held up (or pulled apart) by the cherubs, please post a comment to let me know!

You can walk across those massive roof tiles and get right up to the stained glass windows. Mass was in session when this shot was taken. I could hear the choir very clearly and smell incense too!

Now, THAT's a downspout, eh? Just one of the many gargoyles on the Duomo. One of them closely resembles a duck-billed platypus. No wonder Mark Twain said the statues including "every creeping thing!' (how King James....)

Imagine living with a Gothic cathedral right up against your home! See how close the saints and spires are to this block of apartments (possibly offices?), with rooftop gardens?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

This is one of the uncovered sides of the Duomo, taken on this cloudy, humid Saturday afternoon. What you can't see in this picture is the incredible swell of humanity just below, in the Piazza del Duomo. It must be campaign season. There were many tents of political parties and candidates and volunteers handing out flyers.

This tent was of a party or candidate advocating an anti-immigration stand.