Quarantine Selfie Collage


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Running out of things to do during this crazy quarantine? Art is a great stress reliever. Try this ‘Quarantine Selfie’, an art project suitable for the whole family. This project was my 2nd ever blog post-back in 2014, and I think only 12 people read it. If the painting looks familiar, it appeared-wearing an N95 mask-a few weeks ago in the post COVID 19 Andrà tutto bene. Stay safe and make art! Ciao, Cristina

Un po' di pepe

Autoritratto, 2013 Autoritratto, 2013

Autoritratto (ow∙tow∙ree∙TRAT∙tow) means self-portrait. Who says ‘selfies’ can only be done via phone? Try this mixed-media collage project to make your own selfie at home.

You will need:
 -3 self portraits on paper, all close to the same size
 -a hard surface such as a wood panel, cradled wood panel or board
- acrylic matte medium. This is acrylic paint without the colour, and it can be used as a glue and also as a protective coating over top of your work
- bits and pieces of old artwork to collage


  1. Draw or paint 3 ‘selfies’ on paper. If you are like me, you have lots of them lying around from different art classes. You can also make 3 photocopies of the same image, and colour each one differently.
  2. Crumple each selfie into a ball.
  3. Open them up again and tear into several pieces.
  4. Find your…

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COVID19-Insieme ce la faremo


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Coffee? Martina_illustratesWhat a week it has been!  The COVID 19 pandemic has changed life for everyone. Last week, I wrote about COVID 19 and the situation in Italia.  Then the world became emotional watching videos of neighourhoods all over the country singing in solidarity from their balconies and windows.  There was also a collective round of applause at noon for frontline health care workers.  This uplifting show of resilience and community support was much needed. Rainbow paintings by bambini, and the positive messages #iorestoacasa and #andratuttobene spread positivity throughout the country in a show of mass cooperation and unity.

This week in Italia there is discouragement and low morale, with new cases going up daily.  Stats are updated here.  Things are getting worse instead of better. There are now more deaths than in China and the numbers keep rising, despite extreme social distancing measures.  We all saw the morbid images from Bergamo of a convoy of army vehicles transporting coffins elsewhere because there is no room for them.  I feel terrible when I think of all the people dying alone in ICU, without their families, not even given the dignity of a funeral.  It is natural to feel demoralized under the circumstances, and the mental health effects of quarantine and social distancing, but it is important to stay positive and hopeful.

What we all have to remember is that the COVID 19 virus can incubate for 14 days.  Knowing this, it makes sense that measures taken today will take 2 weeks to have an effect, and the increase in cases were mostly infected before the whole country was in quarantine. Now there are even stricter measures in place.

China has had 4 days with no new cases. We also need to remember they are on day 81 (since Jan 1st), while Italia is only at day 32 (Feb 20th there were 3 cases).  If all of this is correct, it should start getting better next week ……  if everyone stays home!  Movement of people will just keep feeding  the virus.

What I do not understand is why other countries are not learning from what is happening in Italia and acting sooner?  It is not if, but when. For example, the UK now has more cases than Italia did at the same point, but they only just closed bars yesterday!  Despite social distancing measures, we see videos of socially and morally irresponsible spring break partying in Florida, and a packed Bondi Beach in Sydney.  The only way to contain this thing is to STAY HOME!  Wake up and smell the cappuccino already! The super strict rules need to be stricter and need to be enforced.  This cartoon sent to me on Facebook shows what is needed to kick COVID 19.  The coronavirus says:  ‘I’m leaving, there is no one here’.

I hope the balcony singing resumes, because music is the universal language and it is so important for social and mental health. ForzaInsieme ce la faremo-together we will do it!  Stay strong everyone…and unless you are an essential service, STAY AT HOME!  Ciao, Cristina

Image: Coffee? used with permission by Martina Heiduczek IG @martina_illustrates

Coffee? Martina_illustrates

To lighten the mood I am attaching a hilarious video from Rimbamband of ‘Virus Corona’ (pronounced VEE∙roos Corona) to the tune of the 80’s hit My Sharona.  The lyrics are hilarious, but even if you don’t understand Italiano, it is still funny.



COVID19-Andrà tutto bene


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This is a blog post I did not want to have to write.  A few weeks ago, I was hoping the COVID19 outbreak in Italia would just fizzle out on its own.  That has not happened, and Italia-my other home-has been absolutely devastated.  My family and friends there are all safe, but they are worried and confused, with things changing every day.

Yesterday, I overheard a group discussing the cancellation of NBA and NHL games and how that was ‘drastic, fear-mongering because more people die of the seasonal flu’ and ‘only sick people over 80 are dying’.  Most of you readers may not know this, but my ‘real job’ is at BC Childrens’ Hospital in Vancouver.  As a healthcare professional, I need to discuss the situation and present the facts.

COVID19 stands for ‘Corona Virus Disease 19’ and is in the same family as SARS.   Some of you may remember the SARS outbreak in Asia and Toronto in 2003?  SARS was more deadly (10% mortality), but COVID19 has far more cases and has been spreading like wildfire.  The coronavirus family cause disease in animals.  The genetic code for COVID 19 has been linked to bats.  It originated in Wuhan, China and likely passed to another animal before being passed on to humans.

The death rate for COVID19 about 3.4%, much higher than the seasonal flu. Death is not likely for those under 60 and healthy, but it can be spread to grandparents, parents, friends who are immunosuppressed or have other health issues.  Children do not seem to be affected, but can spread the virus. 20% of cases will develop severe pneumonia and ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome) needing oxygen therapy and possibly ICU and mechanical ventilation.

The situation in Italia-as of 13 March 2020, there have been 17,660 confirmed cases, 1,266 deaths, and 1,439 recoveries, leaving 14,955 active cases.  This data is updated daily here.

Why are there so many cases in Italia?  There are many reasons, including the fact the government has been transparent about reporting the #’s and facts from the beginning and they have tested over 60,000 people, revealing asymptomatic cases.  There is a large elderly population, the hardest group hit, and also the fact that Italians are probably the world’s most cuddly, affectionate population-which in any other situation is a positive thing.

For those of you who are not aware, restrictions started on Feb 22nd in Lombardia with the ‘red zone’ areas  being quarantined.  On March 4th schools are closed for 2 weeks.  March 8th the red zone is extended to include areas of Veneto and Emilia Romagna, Piemonte and Le Marche.

March 9th the whole country is declared a red zone. 60 million people are in quarantine until April 3rd-including travel restrictions and a ban on public gatherings.  The hashtag #iorestoacasa (I am staying home) is started to encourage limited movement and social distancing. Travel between towns requires printing an online ‘autodeclaration’ form stating the reason-medical appointment/going to work/family emergency.  Everyone has to stay 1 m apart and bars and restaurant close at 6pm.  Meanwhile, cases continue to climb. ‘Smartworking’ is the buzz word for those able to work from home.

March 11 Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte extends the restrictions to what is basically a complete shutdown.  Only essential services are allowed to stay open –pharmacies and stores selling food and other essential items. In his words:

Rimaniamo distanti oggi, per abbracciarci con piu calore e per correre insieme piu veloci domani/Let’s keep our distance today, to hug each other stronger tomorrow.

March 11 the WHO declares a pandemic.  A pandemic is ‘the sustained and continuous transmission of a disease in 3 or more different geographical regions at the same time’.  This does not necessarily refer to how lethal the disease is.  In less than 2 months COVID19 has spread to 116 countries.

At the macelleria (butcher/meat shop) in Orsara di Puglia, my Zia reports that only 1 person is allowed to enter at a time and everyone else has to stand in line outside, 1m apart from each other.  Many shops have attached tape lines on the floor 1m apart. Below is a photo from my cousin’s store selling cleaning products.  They have sold out of hand sanitizer, alcohol and mascherine-facemasks, but have lots of toilet paper left.

The containment measures may seem drastic, and I guess they are, especially since it has  been only 20 days-but it is the only way to stop cross contamination.  Without hosts, the virus cannot spread.  It will be contained if people are isolated. In epidemiology lingo, intervening to try and slow the spread and prevent the # of severe cases is called ‘flattening the curve’.  This is also to prevent system overload and ensure that health care resources can keep up.  20% of cases will develop severe respiratory distress, possibly needing ICU and ventilation.  This is not the seasonal flu and will overwhelm the system.  In Italia on March 10th there were 600 people in 55 ICU’s.  The median age is 65, meaning that there are younger people in ICU too.  An ICU physician in Lombardia calls it ‘worse than a bomb’. ICU beds in the north are full and doctors have to make decisions about resource allocation.

Many other countries are now where Italia was on February 22nd and need to follow her example and implement measures early.  Today in Canada, our Prime Minister is in isolation as his wife has come back from the UK and tested positive. This is unfortunate, but has got people listening.  There needs to be a balance between staying calm to avoid panic and hysteria, but also being proactive and prepared.

COVID19 is not an airborne disease.  It is spread by droplet and close contact with an infected person. Respiratory droplets are produced by a sneeze or cough.  They can travel up to 1.8m (6ft) and directly enter the body through the eyes, mouth or nose.  Contact refers to touching an infected person or object such as doorknob or railings directly.  Unwashed hands contaminated with COVID 19 can introduce the virus into the body when touching eyes, mouth and nose.  With these facts in mind, here are the most important things to help prevent the spread of the COVID19:

  • Wash hands! Soap and water or alcohol based hand sanitizers are both effective.
  • Avoid touching the face
  • Keep 2m away from sick people
  • Cough and sneeze into sleeve/elbow
  • If you are sick, stay home! There is no treatment for viruses-stay home, rest and drink fluids.
  • Go to the Dr or emergency department only if you are truly unwell. Call your local public health service first to ask what to do/where to go
  • Only wear a mask if you are sick. Masks will not prevent getting sick. They provide a false sense of security and may even increase chances of getting sick since you are more likely to touch face.  Do not stockpile masks and hand sanitizer-they are needed by hospitals.
  • Depending on your location and the number of cases, follow the recommendations of the local health department re social distancing, travel, etc.
  • Make sure you have 2 months supply of any medications.  There is no need to stockpile other food and supplies-and especially not toilet paper!

Autoritratto con mascherinaShort term pain for long-term gain.  There will definitely be short term repercussions to the economy, but health and safety have to come first.

Let’s hope that things settle down in a few weeks to a month.  Today, Friday the 13th at 6pm in Roma, Firenze and several other cities, balcony flash mobs occurred, with everyone banging pots and pans and singing out on their balconies!   Warmer weather creates a less friendly climate for viruses, so bring on the sun! These will be happening all weekend. Once this is all over, those of you who had to cancel trips to Italia will be able to rebook.  The economy will need you.  Remember #andràtuttobene-everything will be all right.  Forza Italia/Stay strong Italia!  Grazie mille to all of the front line health care workers!  Please read the next post: COVID19-Insieme ce la Faremo  Ciao, Cristina

Napoli Street Art


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volto di Sophia Loren Napoli street artNapoli is gritty, wonderfully chaotic, passionate and anything but boring, making it a perfect place for self-expression.  Graffiti is not a new concept to the Napoletani.  Ancient graffiti can be found in Pompeii, including ‘I was here’ type messages and suggestive notes written on the walls of the brothel.  In the historic center of Napoli graffiti, posters and murals have been elevated to a fine art form.  I was in Napoli on a search for Blub street art and ended up finding so much more.

Volto di Sophia, a colourful Bollywood inspired portrait of iconic Napoletana Sophia Loren is on Vico dei Zuroli, just off of Via dei Tribunali.  The artist is Stikki Peaches, originally from Montreal.Madonna con la Pistola Banksy Napoli street art

Madonna con la Pistola is the only work in Italia by the elusive and mysterious English street artist Banksy.  It is in Piazza Gerolamini, off of Via dei Tribunali.  The Madonna in ecstasy with a gun in place of a halo is the artist’s exploration of the relationship between religion and organized crime.  It has now been covered by glass for protection from the elements.

Street portrait of San Gennaro by Jorit AgochSan Gennaro, a hyperrealistic 15m high portrait of Napoli’s patron saint is by Italian- Dutch artist Jorit Agoch (Jorit Ciro Cerullo).  It is on Via Forcella near the Duomo.  The model is the artist’s friend, a mechanic also named Gennaro.  This could be an homage to Caravaggio, who would take ordinary people off the street to be his models for paintings of extraordinary people. There are more ginormous Jorit murals in the Ponticelli Graffiti park near the airport and in the financial district.Pizza vs McDonalds

Exit/Enter is a street artist from Firenze who paints whimsical, expressive stick figures. There are a few Exit/Enter works around Napoli, including this one which I though was an angry pizza and a clown.  Then I realized the clown looked like a skinny Ronald McDonald.  Sure enough-it is titled ‘Pizza vs McDonald’s’! I do not remember the name of the street, but it was also just off of Via dei Tribunali.

San Pio Daniele TvBoy Street ArtBeloved Napoletano singer Pino Daniele passed away in 2015. Pino with his smile and guitar is sainted by artist TvBoy in San Pino Daniele found in Vico dei Panettieri.  Grazie to Sara from My Dear Italia for the photo.Mission Possible is the colourful mural by Napoletana artist Roxy in the box (Rosaria Bosso). She includes 2 important figures in the history of Napoli; San Gennaro and Caravaggio. They are casually hanging out reading the New York Times and 24 Ore.  It is in Piazza Cardinale Sisto Riario Sforza, near the Duomo, Pio Monte della Misericordia and Via dei Tribunali.

Napoli Street Art StencilThis stencil baby is on an electrical panel is near the lineup to get into the Cappella San Severo.  The signature on the bum says Joan Aquito.

Blub Verdi, NapoliGiuseppe Verdi and a Renaissance woman covered by a shop door are the only Blub work I found on the street after visiting the Blub Pompeii inspired exhibit at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli.  I was disappointed not to find Totò, another iconic Napoletano.  For more Blub love, read Blub a Napoli and L’arte sa Nuotare.Renaissance woman by Blub

I hope you enjoyed this street art tour of Napoli Centro Storico! More Napoli information can be found in Un Giorno a Napoli. Banksy Madonna con la Pistola Napoli Ciao, Cristina

The Last Medici


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Anna Maria Luisa De' Medici portrait by Jan Van DouvenAnna Maria Luisa de’ Medici, the last descendant of the Medici dynasty died on February 18, 1743.  Her family of bankers had ruled Firenze on and off for over 300 years, and amassed countless art treasures. Fortunately for us, Anna Maria Luisa was a woman ahead of her time.  Knowing her family was on the verge of extinction, she made sure her family’s legacy was protected.Actress playing Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici at Palazzo Pitti

The middle child of Cosimo III de’ Medici and Marguerite d’Orleans, she was born in 1667 and had 2 brothers, Ferdinando and Gian Gastone.  Anna Maria Luisa’s parents could not stand each other.  Her mother returned to France when Anna Maria Luisa was 8 years old and never returned.

In 1691, at the age of 24, Anna Maria Luisa was married by proxy to the widowed Elector Palatine, a prince of Bavaria.  Her marriage, although arranged, was happy and she lived a comfortable life as ‘Electress Palatine’ in Dusseldorf, where she was a patroness of the arts. Anna Maria Luisa and her husband did not have any children.  It was thought until recently that he had given her syphilis.

Ferdinando and Gian Gastone were both in disastrous marriages and neither lived with his wife. Cosimo was worried about them both being without an heir.  He even had his Cardinal brother released from religious life to marry, but 2 years later, he died without children.  When Ferdinando died in 1713, Cosimo changed Tuscan law to allow a female heir, passing Medici rule to Anna Maria Luisa after Gian Gastone. He lobbied the European leaders, but they refused to accept this.

When Anna Maria Luisa’s husband died in 1716, she returned to Firenze, moving into a wing of the Palazzo Pitti.  Cosimo III died in 1723, leaving Gian Gastone to be a terrible Grand Duke of Tuscany until his death in 1737.  Despite the fact that Cosimo wanted the House of Este from Modena take over, it was decided the debt-ridden Lorraine (Lorena) family of the Austrian Hapsburg dynasty would take over the government of Tuscany.  Anna Maria Luisa had no say in the decision.

On Gian Gastone’s death, Anna Maria Luisa inherited all of the Medici personal property.  Knowing the Medici line ended with her, she was determined that her family’s possessions would not be sold off piece by piece to pay off Austrian war debts.  Anna Maria Luisa had to find a solution quickly, before the vultures swooped in!Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici signing the Patto di Famiglia

On October 31, 1737, she signed a legal contract, the Patto di Famiglia (Family Pact) leaving all of the personal property of the Medici, including the Uffizi, Palazzo Pitti and Medici Villas to the city upon her death.  It stipulated that none of the collection could be sold or removed from Firenze.  More specifically, it stated that the Medici collections:

‘esse rimanessero per ornamento dello Stato, per utilità del Pubblico e per attirare la curiosità dei Forestieri’  / were to be left as ornaments of the State, for use of the public and to attract the curiosity of foreigners.

If she only knew! She was unknowingly providing for her city’s future economy.

Anna Maria Luisa spent the rest of her life doing charitable work, cataloguing the inventory of her family collection and overseeing the building of the Cappella dei Principi in San Lorenzo where she was later buried. The Patto di Famiglia became active on her death February 18, 1743. In 2012 her bones were exhumed due to concerns of damage from the 1966 flood.  (Note…I am not sure why this took 46 years??).  She died of a breast tumour and there was no evidence of syphilis.

Originally designed by Giorgio Vasari for Cosimo I in 1560, the Uffizi, former administrative offices (uffici means offices) of the Medici and the Archivo dello Stato was opened to the public 16 years after Anna Maria Luisa’s death.  The Uffizi Gallery now has 16 million visitors every year. Galleria degli Uffizi

In Firenze Anna Maria Luisa is known as ‘La Principessa Saggia’, the wise Princess.  She is also known and recognized for her big hair. The city of Firenze honours her each year on Oct 31st to celebrate the Patto di Famiglia with free admission to the Uffizi and on February 18th the anniversary of her death with free admission to civic museums. There is often an actress playing her at the Palazzo Pitti.  The art loving world is forever indebted to Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici.Anna Maria Luisa de' Medici sculpture Palazzo Pitti


Portrait of Elettrice Palatina Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici by Jan Van Douven, Dusseldorf, Wikimedia

Photos of actress playing Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici at Palazzo Pitti from Filistrucchi, the manufacturers of the big-ass parrucca (wig) she is wearing!

Photo of actress playing Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici signing the Patto di Famiglia ilreporter website

Sculpture of Anna Maria Luisa de’ Medici by Ivo Barbaresi 1945.  Donated to Palazzo Pitti by Fiorenza Bartolozzi 2011.

Ciao, Cristina

Un Giorno a Napoli


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Vespa Napoli Centro StoricoNapoli is one of the oldest continually inhabited urban areas in the world.  It was founded by Greek sailors from Rhodes in 680 BC.  They named her Parthenope after the siren who tried to lure Ulysses. In 474 BC it was renamed Neapolis, meaning ‘new city’ giving us the present name as well as the anglicized Naples.  After Roma and Milano,  Napoli is the 3rd largest city in Italia.

Napoli is an open air museum layered with 2800 years of history-from Ancient to Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque, with ruins, castles, historic buildings and monuments.  It was one of the wealthiest cities in Europe before Italian unification of 1860.  Allied bombing during WWII caused severe damage, resulting in extensive reconstruction after 1945. Napoli’s Centro Storico, the largest in Europe, still has the rectangular grid layout of the original Greek streets, called Decumani and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1995.Napoli

Napoli is underrated, misunderstood and does not get the love it deserves, except from fans of Elena Ferrante novels. News of corruption, the Camorra and ongoing garbage crises give it a bad rep. It it ironic that everyone-including many Italians fears for their life and thinks it is just a crime pit, when Napoli is actually safer than most large North American cities. It is vibrant, wonderfully chaotic, full of life and passionate, friendly people. Napoli has an ‘edge’ to it and is anything but boring! Via dei Tribunali Napoli

Not even 2 hours from Orsara di Puglia, I had only been to Napoli to take ferries or fly home.  2 years ago, I decided just days in advance to arrive by bus the day before my flight and stay 24 hours.  Best plan ever!  Last year I went for the day with my cugino who had an airport pickup, and took the bus home for €11.

I would not advise anyone to see Napoli in one day. 3-4 days is needed, not including daytrips to Pompeii, the Amalfi Coast, Capri or Ischia.  However, if you have only un giorno-one day to spare, because you are headed somewhere else or taking a daytrip, this is my suggested itinerary!

My first full day in Napoli was a last minute plan.  I had 4 ‘must see’ things on my list. They were all walking distance from Piazza Dante, so I booked a night at the wonderfully named ‘Il Paradiso di Dante’. If arriving at the Stazione in Piazza Garibaldi or the bus terminal behind it, all of the destinations are easily reached on foot or by Metro.  A day ticket for the Metro is €4.50. From Capodichino airport, the Alibus is a 15 min non-stop ride to Piazza Garibaldi for €5.

I realize few people will drool over ancient frescos or Caravaggio for as much time as I do, so I am adding a few extra sites along the way.  This itinerary can be done in reverse and/or in different order. Antico forno Attanasio sfogliatelle

The first stop on any visit to Napoli is for Sfogliatelle –crunchy layered pastry, filled with sweet ricotta, lemon and candied peel. Sfogliatelle in Napoli are delicious and inexpensive.  The best are served straight from the oven at Antico Forno Attanasio, Via Ferrovia 1-4 just a few blocks from Piazza Garibaldi.  At €1.30, why stop at just one?  The lineup moves quickly.  The sign above the oven says ‘Napule tre cose tene belle….o’ mare o’ vesuvio e sfogliatelle’ / Napoli has 3 beautiful things….the sea, Vesuvius and sfogliatelle.sfogliatella

Walk down Corso Umberto I to Via Duomo (or Metro to Museo if reversing).  Turn right on Via dei Tribunali a long narrow street packed with great stuff.  It is one of the original Greek Decumani. Napoli has elevated graffiti into an art form, so keep an eye out for cool street art.

Blub Verdi, NapoliFirst stop is the small octagonal church Pio Monte della Misericordia to see Caravaggio’s masterpiece 7 opere di Misericordia-7 Acts of Mercy hanging where it has been for over 400 years. Napoli has been a capital of the Baroque since the 1606 artistic revolution following the arrival of Caravaggio. Admission is €8.  Open daily from 9:00-18:00 except Sunday it closes at 14:30. Do not miss this and click the link to read my post!Pio Monte della Misericordia

Not even 100 m away is the Duomo Santa Maria Assunta built on the site of a temple of Neptune.  It was ruined in the 1456 earthquake and repeatedly renovated, resulting in a mishmash of styles and a Neogothic facade.  The church is often called San Gennaro- Napoli’s patron saint.  The Cappella di San Gennaro contains an ampule of his blood that is brought out on the 1st Saturday in May, September 19th and December 16th for the miracle of his blood liquefying.

Facciata Duomo di Napoli

Duomo di Napoli. Image Wikimedia Commons

The entrance to Napoli Sotterranea is close by on Via dei Tribunali.  Napoli’s stratified history is visible here…..40 m below street level are Greek structures, Roman aqueducts and cisterns, catacombs, a Bourbon royal escape tunnel and stuff left over from 1945 when the underground was an air raid shelter! The tour is 1.5 hours so I have never had enough time, but it sounds fascinating!

Presepio Via San Gregorio ArmenoAt Piazza San Gaetano turn left onto Via San Gregorio Armeno.  Napoli has a long presepio– Nativity Scene tradition. This street is full of artigiani– artisans making presepio pieces along with figurines of contemporary personalities.  I like to visit the bottega of Antonio Pepe.

Via San Gregorio Armeni Napoli, Antonio Pepe, www.unpodipepe.ca

‘Lavorazioni di Pastori e Scenografie Presepiati Antonio Pepe’, Via San Gregorio Armeno, Napoli (no relation!)

The end of this street intersects with the one parallel to Via dei Tribunali, another of the Decumani, called ‘Spaccanapoli’ meaning ‘cut across Napoli’ because it cuts the centro storico in half.  There may be time later to visit the Chiostro di Santa Chiara, cloisters with beautiful majolica tile work.

Back on Via dei Tribunali turn left at Piazza Luigi Miraglia to Via Francesco de Sanctis 19, the Cappella San Severo.  My Zia told me not to miss this! It is a Baroque chapel with strict security, admission limits and no photography allowed.  Lineups can be long, but I only waited 30 minutes.

The main attraction is Giuseppe Sammartino’s jaw dropping 1753 sculpture Cristo Vellato- Christ laying on a  mattress, covered in a sheer veil with a lace edge-all sculpted out of marble.  It is so lifelike, the urge to reach out and touch it is hard to resist.  The owner, Prince Raimondo di Sangro dabbled in alchemy.  Baroque urban legend is that he taught the artist how to calcify a veil with marble crystals…but it is actually sculpted. The small Chapel is filled with other magnificent works of art. Admission is €8 or online €10.  Open 9:00-18:00.  Closed Tuesdays! It may be better to see this first then walk back to Via S Gregorio Armeno.San Gregorio Armeno Napoli

When hunger strikes, there is plenty of cibo di strada-street food available on Via dei Tribunali and Spaccanapoli. Fritto misto –fried fish or vegetables in paper cones, pizze fritte and pizza al portafoglio are all delicious. Sfogliatelle and babà are €1! Pizza Margherita

Via dei Tribunali is also home to Gino Sorbillo pizza, which always has lineups. The line moves quickly, but with a shortage of time, try one of the less known places.  It is hard to find bad pizza in Napoli!Port'Alba Via dei Tribunali Napoli

Exit Via dei Tribunali through the Port’Alba to Piazza Dante on Via Toledo. From here, walk or take the Metro 1 stop to Museo.  Walking will take almost the same amount of time.  The Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli (MANN) is massive and has the world’s biggest collection of Greco Roman art and artifacts.  For archeology nerds like me, this is Heaven and it needs its own post.  The frescoes and artifacts from Pompeii and Ercolano/Herculaneum are here, and the massive Farnese collection sculptures such as Toro Farnese. Marble sculpture Toro Farnese in MANNapoliThe Gabbinetto Segreto is a secret room full of ancient erotica, mostly from Pompeii’s brothel.  Admission is €18 and well worth it.  Tickets can be bought online.  Open from 9:00-19:30- later than other places, but it is closed Tuesdays! Read more about MANN in Blub a Napoli.  The day can also start at MANN, doing the itinerary in reverse.Museo Archeologico Nazionale Napoli

Depending on how much time is spent walking, visiting all of the above and when you need to leave, there may be time for more.  Take the Metro 2 stops to the award winning Toledo station, walk to the end of Via Toledo to Piazza del Plebescito, one of the largest piazze in Italia.  Piazza del Plebescito NapoliOn Via Chiaia is Caffè Gambrinus the historic caffè letterario where European intellectuals including Oscar Wilde, Hemingway, D’Annunzio and Totò hung out.  Caffe Gambrinus NapoliMussolini shut it down for being antifascist.  That alone is reason to have another sfogliatella there-even take-out will cost more due to the location, but worth it.Caffe Gambrinus Napoli

If you somehow still have time left, walk to Galleria Umberto I, Teatro San Carlo Opera House or Via Santa Lucia by the harbour and Castel dell’Ovo. Need more sfogliatelle? Stop at Pintauro, Via Toledo 275.  Then take the Metro back to Piazza Garibaldi.

Napoli is great to visit any time of year! Remember that MANN and the Cappella San Severo are closed Tuesdays.   Busier times include December for the Presepi on display and the 3 San Gennaro dates. I have only been in July or August when a lot of Napoletani are at the beach.  There are less cars on the road-according to my taxi driver-named Gennaro of course!  He was so impressed that I was able to understand him!  We had many neighbours and friend from Napoli when I was growing up so I understand Napoletano quite well.Via San Gregorio Armeno

An old saying goes ‘Vedi Napoli e mori’. I hope you enjoyed un giorno a Napoli-I guarantee you will be back! Have an extra sfogliatella for me! Buon viaggio, Cristina

Stay tuned for my next post on Napoli street art!

Buon Anno 2020


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Un po' di pepe instagram top 9Buon Anno a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’, vicini e lontani!  Spero che 2020 porta buona salute e gioia a voi e ai vostri cari.

Happy New Year readers of  ‘Un po’ di pepe’, near and far.  I hope 2020 brings good health and joy to you and your loved ones!

It is the end of another decade!  WordPress keeps end of year stats which I love to share because they are so interesting.*  In 2019, Un po’ di pepe had over 12,000 views from 112 different countries!  I wish I could visit all of of them!  The top posts of 2019 are listed here, in case you missed any of them.  4 of the most viewed posts were published in 2019, and 4 were written as part of blogging linkups. I also discovered that the 5 most viewed posts all come out as top suggestions in google searches.  Molto cool!  Several book reviews post were published, and they can be found under the category ‘Libri’.

Based on the number of views, the top posts of 2019 are:

#9 Cristo si è fermato a Eboli.  This post from January is a book review of an Italian classic-one of my favourite books, Christ Stopped at Eboli.  I recommend everyone read it before visiting I Sassi di Matera.

#8 My recipe for Olive Oil Limoncello Cake was inspired by an art retreat at Casa Berti near Lucca, while surrounded by olive trees, freshly pressed olive oil and limoncello. It received increase exposure as a link on a new post Olio d’oliva in November and on Mamma Prada’s newsletter.Olive oil limoncello cake

#7 I have been to 14 out of the 20 regioni-regions of Italia, and love them all, but my favourite, of course is Puglia. Puglia-La Mia Regione Preferita lists my top reasons to love Puglia.Porto, San Domino, Isole Tremiti, Puglia

#6 Palazzo Massimo alle Terme is one of my favourite museums in Roma. This 2017 post comes up 10th in a google search and was the inspiration for another posts that hardly anyone read- Hairstyling in Ancient Roma. Have you been to Palazzo Massimo?

#5 In My Kitchen in Puglia  This post about my summer cucina and the amazing barrel-vaulted stone ceiling was written as part of the ‘In  my  kitchen’ worldwide blog linkup hosted monthly by Sherry’s Pickings

#4 I was surprised to see La Trinità di Masaccio on this list again!  Yipee!  When I first published this art history lesson, it had about 30 views, but I just discovered that it comes up as the 4th listing in a google search! This explains the small but steady trickle of views.

My quick sketches of the vanishing point, perspective lines and triangular composition. The colour image is my entry ticket from 2004!

#3 Polignano a Mare In this 2016 post about the stunning clifftop town on the coast of Puglia, read about my probable encounter with the mysterious ‘stair poet’  and learn what infraditi are.

#2-The number 2 spot is a tie! In second spot once again is 2015’s Grano Arso about a Pugliese gastronomic tradition that honours the resilience of our contadini ancestors.  In 2017 I did a reading on grano arso at the Association of Italian Canadian Writers Conference, which was published- Grano Arso in print.   My first publication that is not about diabetes! There is not a lot written on grano arso in English, which explains why the post comes up 5th on google search.Italian Canadiana Vol 32 2018 Grano Arso Cristina Pepe www.unpodipepe.ca

#2a  I am so super thrilled that L’Arte sa Nuotare not only made my top list but  tied for #2! In May I was in Firenze with my nipotina** Isabella.  We had a fabulous time and were on constant lookout for street art by Blub, the talented artist who plunges famous works of art underwater. This post also comes up as the 3rd  listing on a google search.  Spread the Blub love- more Blub in Blub a Napoli.Blub street art Firenze

#1 Italiano per Ristoranti-How to Pronounce your Restaurant Menu, this handy Italian menu pronunciation guide is once again the top post, by a longshot.  If you google ‘Italian pronunciation guide restaurant’ it comes out as the top suggestion! “Italian menu pronunciation’ comes in at #6 on the google listing.  This 2014 post was updated in 2016 and is available as a 6 page downloadable PDF via a link on the post.  Someday, I plan to expand and turn it into an ebook. Speriamo!

Bruschetta (broo.SKET.tah)

For 2020 my goals are simple….less stress, more exercise, more art and writing!

I would love to hear which post you liked best, and what you would like to read more about in 2020 on Un po’ di pepe?  Let me know in the comments.  Looking forward to writing more cose interresanti /interesting stuff in 2020.

Vi auguro un 2020 piena di gioia e buona salute!  Ciao, CristinaUn po' di pepe instagram top 9

*Note…WordPress’ method of collecting stats is odd.  The newest post counts as a ‘Home page’ view until the next one is published and I am not sure how much this changes the results.

**Nipote or nipotina means both niece and granddaughter in Italiano.  In this case, it means niece.

-detail of Lucania ’61 mural by Carlo Levi in Palazzo Lanfranchi, Matera from Wikimedia Commons

Il Zampognaro


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Zampognaro-traditional Abruzzese bagpipe playing shepherd Il Zampognaro (zahm•poh•NYAH•roh) is a part of most Italian Presepi or Nativity scenes.  Zampognari are traditional Abruzzese shepherds, playing bagpipes known as zampogne (zahm•POH•nyeh). I have wanted one for a long time, and wrote about it in Il Presepio and Il Presepio di Mamma. Last year in Napoli’s  Via San Gregorio Armeno I was so overwhelmed that I forgot to look for one!

Via San Gregorio Armeni Napoli, Antonio Pepe, www.unpodipepe.ca

‘Lavorazioni di Pastori e Scenografie Presepiati Antonio Pepe’, Via San Gregorio Armeno, Napoli (no relation!)

This year, I spent a few days in Lecce before going to Napoli.  Lecce is known for cartapesta-papier maché and I saw Nativity figures, so I searched and found my  hand made glazed terra cotta zampognaro.  He is smaller and does not look like the other figures, but he has so much character with his puffy cheeks, I can almost hear him playing Tu Scende dalle Stelle….

Are you wondering why Abruzzese bagpiping shepherds are in Italian presepi?  It has to do with la transumanza, the migration of animals along tratturi-established paths in use since pre Roman times that were protected by royal decree.  Pastori-shepherds moved their animals from the mountains of Abruzzo and Molise where they grazed in the summer, to la pianura, the lowlands of Puglia.  They did this to escape the snow, and in spring the sheep and goats were herded back to Abruzzo. The tratturi were used into the 1960’s, then trucks replaced the crossing by foot.view-from-hotel-certosa

During le feste Natalizie, December 8th to January 5th, zampognari in traditional dress would go to the villages to play for extra money or food, thus the zampognaro became symbolic of Christmas in Italia and earned a place in the Presepio.

La Transumanza: Cammino Reale/Royal Shepherd’s Track has been on the  tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites since 2006.  On December 11, 2019, it received UNESCO designation as ‘intangible cultural heritage of humanity’! Auguri zampognari!  Do any of you have un zampognaro?Presepio 2019

Cari lettori di Un po’ di pepe, Vi augura un Buonissimo Natale e un meraviglioso 2020 piena di gioia e salute!

Dear readers of Un po’ di pepe, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and a marvelous 2020 filled with health and joy!

Ciao, Cristina

In my kitchen, December 2019


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Christmas villageIt’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas in my kitchen! The traditional dolci di Natale baking is not until next week, but here is what has been happening in my kitchen so far this month.

Once again, I had a bancarella at the Italian Christmas Mercato, selling handpulled  original prints and handmade cards.  A few days before the event, I decided to make another new Christmas card.  My kitchen table turned into a ‘studio annex’,  full of sketches and linoleum carving tools for a few days!Linocut printmaking Fiat 500

I carved a Fiat Cinquecento (500) carrying a tree on the roof.  The prints barely dried in time, but were very popular!  More photos are on my instagram feed, which is linked in the sidebar.  This is the original 1957 Cinquecento model, with porte di suicidio-suicide doors that hinge on the left.  Find out more in the post The Original Cinquecento. Many of the purchasers had personal stories to tell me about what attracted them to it.  A subject for another post!Linocut Christmas cards Fiat 500

As usual, I made cookies to offer friends who came to visit me at the mercato.  This time I made espresso cookies.  Recipe available in Espresso Cookies.Espresso cookies

Saturday was Papà’s birthday.  He had urgent heart surgery in September, so we were very happy to celebrate this birthday!  Mamma and I made his favourite pasta,  tagliatelle the week before and froze them in little nests on cookie sheets.  They were dropped into boiling water straight from the freezer.Tagliatelle, handmade pasta

Last Christmas a friend brought Baci made with ruby cocoa beans from Italy.  This year I received a box as a gift, purchased from my local Italian deli.  What is ruby chocolate?  It is not white chocolate with pink coloring!  It is milk chocolate made with Brazilian cocoa beans that are a dark purple colour.  They are only fermented for a few days, so they do not turn brown, then citric acid is added to keep the pinky colour.  This is the same idea as squirting lemon juice on apples when making apple pie, to keep them from going brown.  The taste is very slightly berryish and lemony-because of the citric acid.  There are no other ingredients or flavourings added.  Is this just a marketing ploy?  Yes!  But since raspberry and lemon are my 2 favourite flavours, I like them anyways.  Have you tried Ruby Baci?

Panettone is plentiful in December, and I love panettone french toast.  The panettone already has so much flavour that all you really need to do is soak it in eggs and milk then cook it on the stovetop, or even bake it.  I added a bit of orange zest and topped it with fresh ricotta and a drizzle of maple syrup-I do live in Canada after all! Do not use expensive or homemade panettone for this.  The cheap cellophane wrapped ones are good for french toast.Panettone french toast

I made my favourite winter salad, Insalata Purtuall’ with fennel and oranges.  Insalata Purtuall, Orange and fennel saladSince the oranges had to be peeled, I candied the rind to use later this month for panettone or biscotti.Canditi, candied orange rindThe only Christmas baking so far in my kitchen are cranberry pistachio orange biscotti.  It was my first time making them and will definitely make them again.Cranberry pistachio biscotti

Read more about my family’s traditional Christmas baking in a previous post Dolci di Natale. Links for my recipe for Panettone with Orange Walnuts and Figs and for Crustoli can be found in this post.  We will be making Cauzuncill’ and Cartellate in a few days.

Thanks Sherry from Australia for hosting the monthly food blogging event, In My Kitchen (IMK). Read about what is happening in other world kitchens in December by clicking the link to Sherry’s Pickings.

Buon appetito, Cristina

Olio d’Oliva


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Olive oil section of supermercatoOlio d’oliva-olive oil has been essential to Mediterranean life for over 4,000 years.   It has been a major trading resource, is one of the main nutritional components of the Mediterranean diet and the healthiest source of fat, produced without the use of chemicals or industrial refining. Olive oil has also been used as a medication, soap, moisturizer and terra cotta lamp fuel.Pouring Famiglia Creanza Extra virgin olive oil

15 ml (1 tablespoon) of olive oil has 120 calories, 14g fat and no cholesterol. 75% of the fat is monounsaturated (MUFA-the good kind), 11% polyunsaturated (PUFA), 14% vegetable saturated fat and 0% trans fats.

Extra Virgin olive oil EVOO may be the healthiest thing in the kitchen. It has been associated with health benefits including protection from heart and blood vessel disease, decreased blood clotting, decreased risk of chronic diseases, improvement in bone and digestive health, stabilizing blood sugar and improved brain function.  These benefits are due to 2 main properties: Oleic acid and antioxidants.  Oleic acid, the main fat in olive oil is a MUFA with cholesterol lowering and antiinflammatory effects.La raccolta delle olive www.unpodipepe.ca

EVOO contains large amounts of antioxidants including tocopherols (vitamin E) and polyphenols (tyrosol, hydrotyrosol and oleocanthal) which protect against oxidation and spoilage in the oil—and also in the body ingesting the oil! That means you!  Antioxidants decrease oxidative damage caused by free radicals, which are believed to cause cell damage and contribute to cancer. Antioxidants also have antiinflammatory properties, especially oleocanthal which is nature’s ibuprofen.Olive, Casa Berti www.unpodipepe.ca

La Raccolta delle olive, the olive harvest is late October to early November, before the first frost. To produce the best quality oil, the olives are taken to il frantoio, the olive mill, within 24 hours of harvest.  My previous post La Raccolta delle Olive has a detailed explanation and photos of the entire harvest process, including the italian words for all of the steps.

The terms ‘first press’ and ‘cold pressed’ are outdated, and mainly used for marketing, since hydraulic presses are no longer used. Olives are crushed or ground-only once, then oil and water are separated from the olive paste using a centrifuge.  The colour of the oil ranges from grassy green to yellow gold, depending on the ripeness and type of olives and the amount of chlorophyll in the leaves. Oil is stored in stainless steel vats until it is bottled, to preserve nutrients, colour and flavour.

This fresh, pure olive juice is ‘virgin olive oil’ as it has not been refined or extracted using chemicals or heat. It can be considered ‘extra virgin olive oil’ if the acidity is less than 0.8%, with superior taste and aroma.  This is mostly related to the quality and freshness of the olives.

‘Pure’ ‘Fino’ or ‘Light’ are marketing terms for refined olive oil-not calorie or fat reduced oil. It is refined using solvents and high heat to neutralize the taste of the oil.  A small amount of EVOO is added for taste.  This allows the use of lower quality olives and blending oils from many sources, possibly increasing the shelf life and smoke point. Refining and heating destroys the antioxidants and vitamins in the oil, but it is still high in MUFA’s and has no trans fats.

Pomace olive oil is made from the pits, skin and sediment and removed using chemicals. It should not be eaten and is only used for deep frying or polishing furniture.

Fresh EVOO should taste clean, fresh and peppery and smell of olives, with a spicy/bitter ‘bite’ when it hits the back of the throat. This spiciness is the polyphenols!  Old or refined olive oil will not have this sensation.Ricotta fatta in casa

EVOO is used for pouring and drizzling directly on food crudo –raw, and for salads, vegetables, sauces, pasta, bread, soups.  There seems to be a notion-mostly in North America, that you cannot cook with olive oil.  This is not true!  Like most Mediterranean cooks, I use it almost exclusively.  In fact, I don’t think I knew other oils existed until I was in my 20’s!  The smoke point of olive oil is about 200°C (375-400°F) which is great for sautéing or shallow frying. Vegetables cooked in olive oil absorb the polyphenols from the oil, making them double antioxidanted!  Excessive heating such as deep frying destroys the antioxidant benefits, so only use older or lower quality olive oil. I have several different olive oils in my kitchen; a few decent ones for cooking and baking and a really good quality one for salads and drizzling.

Is your bottle of EVOO 100% real?  Unlike Europe, North American regulations do not require strict labeling of olive oil.  A 2010 report called ‘Oil Imposters’ from the UC Davis Olive Center stated that 69% of imported oil labeled as ‘Extra Virgin’ in California failed IOC standards.  Their lab found:

Poor quality oil-made with poor quality or improperly stored/processed olives

Oxidation- oil exposed to too much heat, light or age

Adulteration-oil cut with cheaper refined olive oil and soybean or canola oil

Tim Mueller discusses fraud in the olive oil market in his 2012 book Extra Virginity: The sublime and scandalous world of olive oil. I believe there has been a lot of improvement since 2012, but olive oil fraud still happens. It probably started in 4000 BC! In addition to the labeling, another problem is that most North American consumers do not know what real, fresh EVOO tastes like, and are used to poor quality oil.

How can you tell if your EVOO is the real? Here are some tips:

  • Taste-The oil should taste fruity, like olives and be peppery with a slight burn when it hits the back of the throat. The bitterness/spiciness is the polyphenols! This sensation decreases as the oil gets older or exposed to air and light.  Bitter is better!
  • Aroma. The oil should smell like olives or fruity. It should not smell moldy, or like hay, vinegar, sweaty gym socks or old salame.
  • Best before date and harvest date. Oxidation starts when the oil is produced. It is usually good for 18-24 months after extraction, if stored properly. Buy only amounts that will be consumed in a few months. Like wine, half full bottles of oil spoil faster. Unlike wine, olive oil does not age well! Keep bottles tightly capped.
  • Origins (same country, region, estate) ‘packaged in’ or ‘bottled in’ means the olives are not grown in that country. By the time of bottling and importing, the olives or oil is likely already 4-6 months old.
  • Marketing-Avoid products labelled ‘pure’, ‘fino’ or ‘light’.
  • Packaging Olive oil should be packaged in dark glass bottles or large tins which block UV light. Do not buy olive oil in plastic bottles.
  • Cost-EVOO should not be cheap. Producing quality oil takes time, labour and expense. 1L of olive oil requires 2,000 olives!
  • Buy from the farmer, or from someone who buys from the farmer. This is not easy outside of Mediterranean countries, California or Australia, but it is possible to find good quality olive oil. For example, here in Vancouver I know of 2 vendors who import oil directly from their family olive groves in Italia.

Olive oil limoncello cakePs If you love EVOO, try my Olive Oil Limoncello Cake

Ciao e buon appetito, Cristina