Le Cinque Terre


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Manarola, Cinque TerreLe Cinque Terre are 5 villages precariously perched on the Coast of Liguria, between La Spezia and Levanto.  Cinque Terre literally means ‘5 lands’, but in this case terre refers to villages.  Inhabited since at least the 11th Century, they likely date back to Roman times.  The 5 villages are connected by rail, bus, boat and ancient trails that follow the coastline and go up into the mountains. The area was almost inaccessible except by sea, until the Genoa to La Spezia railway was built in 1870.Vernazza porto, cinque Terre liguria

In 1997, the Cinque Terre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site as an example of a cultural, evolved organic landscape transformed by man over centuries. The inhabitants have adapted and shaped the steep, rugged, uneven coastal landscape so they could use the land vertically. Terrazzamenti a fasce (terraced strips of land) extend along the steep slopes, up to 400 m above sea level for growing grape vines, olive trees and lemon trees.   They are held in place by 100’s of km of muretti a secco (dry stone walls). These are thought to have been built in the 12th century, when Saracen raids from the sea decreased.  In 1999 il Parco Nazionale delle Cinque Terre was established, becoming Italia’s smallest yet most densely populated (~4,000 people) national park.Terrazzamenti a fasce Cinque Terre Volastra, Manarola

Aside from clifftop villages of colourful houses, viste mozzafiato (breathtaking views), hiking trails and terrazzamenti, the Cinque Terre area is known for fresh seafood, pesto Genovese made with local basilico and olio, lemons, and white grapes.  The grapes are made into white wines, including Sciacchetrà, a sweet wine which is a blend of Bosco, Albarola and Vermentino grapes.Limoni, Vernazza, Cinque Terre

The 5 villages are less than 10 minutes apart by train. Going from South to North, they are:

#1 Riomaggiore is the most Southern village with a population of 1500- including Manarola, Volastra and Groppo.  Brightly coloured buildings are stacked on either side of a steep ravine down to the tiny harbour.  The main Cinque Terre park office is in Riomaggiore and the start of the Sentiero Azzurro (blue trail) the 12 km old donkey trail along the sea, connecting all the villages.  The section from Riomaggiore to Manarola, less than 1 km away, is the fairly flat Via del Amore, which is presently closed until 2021. Sadly, I did not make it to Riomaggiore-find out why in my next post!Manarola, Cinque Terre

#2 Manarola is surrounded by vineyards and famous for wine.  The brightly coloured houses seem to follow the natural form of the coastline and lead down to the small harbour, boat ramp and several viewpoints.  Carrugi-steep, narrow alleys all lead to the sea. Manarola is a perfect place to watch the sunset. From December 8th into January the hills behind Manarola are illuminated with more than 200 figures and 12.000 lights for the biggest lighted Presepio (Nativity scene) in the world.Corniglia, Cinque Terre, dal Sentiero Rosso

#3 Corniglia population ~150 is considered part of Vernazza.  It is the quietest village and the only one not on the coast.  It is on a 100m high promontory, going steeply down to the sea.  Surrounded by terrazzamenti on three sides Corniglia has views of the other villages. Ferries and boats do not stop here, since there is no harbour.  Corniglia Stazione, Cinque TerreCorniglia’s stazione is down near the sea, and the village, is accessed by climbing a wide staircase with 400 steps, called Lardarina.  This probably explains why Corniglia is the quietest! There are buses too, although I did not see any.  Corniglia was named for the Roman family who owned the land, and it was acquired in 1276 by the Repulic of Genoa. Corniglia’s vino is mentioned in Giovanni Boccaccio’s 14th Century literary masterpiece Decameron:

 e allora in una tovagliuola bianchissima gli portò due fette di pane arrostito e un gran bicchiere di vernaccia da Corniglia. Translation by Cristinaand then, in an immaculately white napkin, I brought him 2 slices of toasted bread and a large glass of Vernaccia from Corniglia

Vernazza dal Sentiero Azzurro#4 Vernazza is the most beautiful of the towns, with its tiny beach, picturesque natural harbour and breakwater, surrounded by terraced olive groves.  The population is ~825 including Corniglia.  Vernazza is first mentioned in 1080 as the fortified naval base of the Obertenghi family to protect the area from pirates. Verna refers to native or indigenous.  The local vino is called Vernaccia, which is probably where Vernazza gets its name.  Vernazza dal Castello DoriaA climb to the 15th Century  Castello Doria (admission €1.50) will reward you with stunning views over the harbour.  The harbour church, Santa Margherita di Antiochia was built in 1251, and the octagonal tower added in the 16th C.  The Sanctuary Nostra Signora di Reggio is a 1 hour steep walk away.Vernazza Cinque Terre

In 2011 rainstorms caused massive flooding and mudslides.  Vernazza and its stazione were buried under 4m of mud and debris and 7 people were killed.  Along the main street is a large black and white photo display of the flooding.

Monterosso a mare dal Sentiero Azzurro#5 Monterosso al Mare pop 1425 is the largest and most northern village.  It is the most accessible by car and has more hotels and amenities and a large beach, the only sand beach in the area. There is an old and new town, separated by a tunnel and the stazione.  Monterosso is famous for lemons and anchovies.

How to get there and around– Taking a car to Cinque Terre is a bit of a pain. It is possible to drive there, but the villages are car free, so the car has to be parked somewhere. Parking is more available in and around Monterosso, Levanto and La Spezia.

Boats and ferries leave from La Spezia, Portovenere, Lerici and Genova. Note that many of them do not operate from October to March.Vernazza Stazione

Train is the easiest, cheapest and most efficient way to travel. There are frequent local trains between La Spezia and Levanto.  Many people go on daytours from other cities, but note that Firenze is 2.5 hours away and Milano is 3 hours away, which does not leave much time for enjoying the area.  It is possible to stay in La Spezia, Pisa Portovenere, Genova, Levanto, Lerici or even Santa Margherita Ligure and commute by train, but you can read more about that in the next post!

Individual train tickets between La Spezia and Levanto are €4 and valid for 75 minutes. If you plan to hike and take the train, buy a Cinque Terre Card.  The combo card (trekking and treno) includes unlimited train travel between La Spezia and Levanto, use of all the trails, and wifi that actually works! It costs €16 per day. For trekking only, it is €7.50 per day.  The card is available for 2 and 3 days, except in my case! There are also family and low season prices.  For more information, check here.

**Note that proper footwear is required on all the trails. Open toed shoes and smooth soles are not allowed and there are fines.

In the next post, I will tell you the details of my own Cinque Terre experience last month, including why I did not go to Riomaggiore!Vernazza di notte

Buon viaggio, Cristina

L’arte sa nuotare


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Putto Raffaello Firenze street art BlubL’arte sa Nuotare -art knows how to swim- is a project by Italian street artist Blub (Bloob).  Anyone who has been to Firenze in the last few years has likely seen Blub’s work plastered onto the city’s sportelli di gas e di luce- the metallic doors of gas and electrical panels. Blub street art FirenzeI was recently in Firenze with my nipotina Isabella. We were constantly on the lookout for ‘Blubi’ (BLOO•bee).  It was like a scavenger hunt! We even spotted a few in Lucca, but none in Siena.  Blub street art Firenze Dante l'arte sa nuotareNo one has met mysterious street artist Blub.  All we know about Blub is that he…..or she….. is from Firenze and is a talented artist with a fun, quirky sense of humour.Blub street artist Firenze, the Creation of AdamBlub’s series “L’arte sa Nuotare’ takes famous works of art and gives them a new look, immersing them underwater, complete with blue background, snorkel masks and bollicine-bubbles! Blub street art La Dolce Vita Shannon Milar L'arte sa nuotare

More recent works receiving the Blub treatment are contemporary icons such as the kiss from La Dolce Vita, Freddie Mercury and Amy Winehouse.  Blubi have a magnetic attraction to anyone passing by. Blub Modigliani street art Lucca l'arte sa nuotareThe works are not graffiti painted directly onto the precious, crumbling renaissance walls. Blub paints 1 original acrylic on canvas or metal, then makes posters in sizes to fit the sportelli and pastes them up with 100% plant based glue. Sportelli also provide ready made frames.Ragazza con l'orecchina di perla Blub street artist Firenze, Girl with a pearl earring

How did this series start?  According to a February 2019 interview (in Italiano) with Firenze Urban Lifestyle Magazine, Blub claims that for fun, the first ‘masked’ triad were Da Vinci works-La Gioconda (aka Mona Lisa), Dama con l’ermellino, and a self portrait of Leonardo.  One night, with the help and encouragement of friends, they were pasted up on sportelli in the San Niccolò area. Blub Leonardo Da Vinci Donna con l'ermellino Firenze street art

It was originally a way of remembering the flood of the Arno in 1966 and the saving of Firenze’s priceless artwork from the muddy water that ravaged the city.  That night ‘l’arte non affoga’ (art does not drown) became ‘l’arte sa nuotare’.

Firenze Duomo Blub street artAside from the reference to the 1966 flood, the series brings together the past and contemporary world, pays tribute to the personality of Firenze and is dedicated to those who find solutions in a sea of difficulty. The expression ‘sink or swim’ comes to mind.Van Gogh Blub street art l'arte sa nuotare

Water generates life and is a symbol of rebirth and purification.  Time stands still underwater, placing the immersed works that have left their mark and survive today in another dimension.  With this series of work, Blub is trying to incite curiosity rather than controversy.

Blub street art firenze L'arte sa nuotareBlub hunting will now also be possible in Napoli!  Blub has 6 new works on display at the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli until August 31!  Frescoes from Pompeii underwater!  I will definitely try to see this exhibit!  Update!  I did  make  it  to  Napoli.  Read  about  it  in  Blub  a Napoli. I hope you enjoyed this Blub photo exhibit! Have you had the pleasure of finding Blubi? If you like to view artwork al fresco and un po’ bagnato, happy Blub hunting!  More Blub images are available on instagram #lartesanuotare.

Ciao, Cristina

*La Dolce Vita photo taken by Shannon Milar in Lucca.  All other photos taken by me in Firenze, except the Amedeo Modigliani which was taken in Lucca.Putto Raffaello Blub street artist Firenze


Puglia~Mia Regione Preferita


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Italia has 20 regioni /regions. So far, I have been to 14 of them.  I love them all, but my absolute favourite is Puglia.  Why?  Well, aside from the obvious reason that it is home, there are countless others.  I have narrowed this post down to my top 10 reasons to love Puglia-in no particular order.  There are a lot of links to previous posts included here.  Please check them out!  Many of my Puglia posts were written when this blog only had about 27 readers, 80% of them related to me.  These posts need some new love!1) 840 km of coastline-That is a lot of beach!  The transparent turquoise colour of the water is real.Earlier this month, 13 Pugliese beaches received the environmental designation Bandiera Blu, including Polignano a Mare, Margherita di Savoia and Peschici.

2) Cucina Pugliese is rustic cucina povera or peasant food, focusing on the freshness and simplicity of the ingredients that are in season.   Orecchiette con sugo

Pugliese specialties include orecchiette al sugo, orecchiette con cime di rape, grano arso, fave e cicorie, burrata, pancotto e patate, polpo, pesce, focaccia Pugliese, taralli, cartellate, pasticciotto, and pizza con la ricotta.  Everything is drizzled with Pugliese ‘liquid gold’, extra virgin olive oil.Cucina Pugliese 1

Cucina PuglieseI hope I have made you hungry.  Buon appetito!

3) Vino- Oenotria ‘Land of Wine’ is the name the ancient Greeks gave Puglia. 425 km long, Puglia has a diverse agricultural landscape with mountains, plains, the Mediterranean sun, coastal sea breezes and fertile soil.  The climate is hot and dry, especially during the summer.  The name Puglia comes from the Latin ‘a pluvia’ meaning without rain. These environmental features, plus the presence of vitigni autoctoni (Native or Indigenous species of grapes) create an ideal environment for growing grapes and producing vino.

Vino is my favourite topic of research.  A few years ago, I published a Vini di Puglia trilogy-a series of 3 blog posts on the wines of Puglia!  Vini di Puglia is about the ‘big 3’ Negroamaro, Nero di Troia and Primitivo.  Part 2 Aglianico to Zibibbo is about all the other grapes of Puglia plus a glossary of viniculture terms in Italiano.  Il Tuccanese a grape native to Orsara di Puglia is the last post in the trilogy. Salute!

4) Architettura. Puglia has it’s own architectural style-Romanico Pugliese (Pugliese Romanesque).  Puglia was at the crossroads between Europe and the Crusades in the 11th-13th Century.  Many cattedrale were built in this style,  including those in Troia, Trani, Bari, Otranto, Molfetta, Bitonto, Siponto and Ruvo di Puglia.  Romanico Pugliese is a unique architectural style distinguished by elements of both Eastern and Western elements. These include vaulted ceilings, Byzantine semicircular cupolas, porticoes held up by marble lions, and intricate decorations with classical Byzantine and Arab features. The Romanesque Cathedrals in Puglia are on the UNESCO heritage sites tentative list, which is the step before heritage designation.  Troia cattedrale Romanica Pugliese

The 11 sectioned rosone pictured here of the Cattedrale di Troia built in 1145 AD looks like it is woven in stone.  Other architectural styles specific to Puglia are the Barrocco Leccese found in Lecce and the mysterious Castel del Monte in Andria built by Federico II, which is its own unique entity.

5) Promontorio del Gargano One of the most beautiful areas on earth, Il Promontorio del Gargano (gar·GAH·noh) is the promontory sticking out above ‘il tacco’, the heel of Italia.  You can also think of it as la caviglia-the ankle spur of Italia.  Surrounded by the Adriatico on 3 sides, the area is more like an island; biodiverse with unique flora and fauna. Most of the promontorio is a protected area and marine reserve, Il Parco Nazionale del Gargano, which includes le Isole Tremiti and the ancient Foresta Umbra. Fortunately, this has prevented development by large multinational hotels and resorts.San Domino Isole Tremiti, Puglia

Il Gargano is famous for picchi (woodpeckers) and other birds, 300 varieties of orchids, almonds and olives.  There are endless ancient hillside olive groves, pine forests, sea grotte, limestone cliffs, rocky shores, crystalline water and fresh seafood.

Baia delle Zagare, Puglia

Baia delle Zagare

The winding road around the Gargano, SS 89 from Foggia, has sharp turns and viste mozzafiato (VIS·teh moz·zah·FYAH·toh)-breathtaking views. One of my favourite viewpoints is La Baia delle Zagare, where the battle scene between the Amazons and Germans in the movie Wonder Woman were filmed!

6)Trabucchi  Trabucchi (tra∙BOO∙kkee) are old fishing contraptions found on the Adriatic coast of Abruzzo, Molise and Puglia. The design probably dates back to the ancient Phoenicians.  Trabucchi have fascinated me since I was a child, taking l’Adriatico, the night train from Bologna to Foggia on a stormy night.  They looked like giant alien octopi coming out of the sea!  There are 13 functioning trabucchi on the coast of the Promontorio del Gargano between Peschici and Vieste, the oldest dating back to the 18th century.  They are protected as National cultural heritage sites within the Parco Nazionale del Gargano. Read more in I Trabucchi del Gargano.

7) Trulli-These traditional limestone houses are unique to the Val d’Itria in Southern Puglia.  They were built ‘a secco’, which means dry-without mortar.  Trulli have domed cone-shaped roofs built up of overlapping grey limestone slabs called chiancharelle (kyan•ka•REL•leh). 

‘La Zona dei Trulli’ includes the areas around Locorotondo, Fasano, Cisternino, Martina Franca, Ceglie Massapica and the largest concentration of 1,620 trulli in Alberobello.  Alberobello and its trulli are a UNESCO World Heritage Site Read more about trulli in I Trulli di Alberobello Trulli Alberobello8) History/Connection to the Iliad  Can any other region say it was founded by a Trojan War hero?  According to legend, after the fall of Troy the mythical hero Diomede (Diomedes) found out his wife had been unfaithful.  Instead of returning home to Argos, he sailed the Adriatic, created the Isole Tremiti, and then was invited by Daunus, King of the Daunia (modern Provincia di Foggia) to settle there.  Diomede allegedly planted the first grape vines in Puglia, brought with him from Greece. He also founded many other towns in Puglia.  Diomede was allegedly shipwrecked and died near the Isole Tremiti.

tomba di Diomede Isole Tremiti

La tomba di Diomede on San Nicola.

An unmarked Hellenic period tomb on San Nicola is known as ‘la tomba di Diomede’. According to legend, his crew was so upset that the Goddess Venus took pity on the grieving men and turned them into birds that continue to cry for their loss. The scientific name for the Great Albatross common in the area is ‘Diomedea’.  These birds look like seagulls and sounds like a crying newborn.  There is a scene in Fellini’s fim ‘Otto e mezzo’ (8½), where a cardinal tells this story to Guido (Marcello Mastroianni).

A Diomedea, San Domino

Orsara di Puglia landscape9)Paesaggi- The landscape of Puglia is varied and beautiful, made up of wheat fields, olive groves, vineyards and rocky coastline.  The region has 60 million olive trees,  including ulivi secolari-centuries old trees with knotted, gnarled trunks that have been twisted by time and wind.  Puglia’s trees produce 40% of the olive oil in Italia.

10) Slower pace Most of Puglia is still very much ‘real italia’, less commercialized and touristy, with great places to visit.  I am often told my photos look like they are from old movie sets.  Even though Puglia is often on the ‘places to see this year’ lists, it is uncrowded.  This is partly because it is poorly served by public transportation, and also because most foreigners visiting Puglia only go to the Salento and Alberobello! Italians from other regions travel to Puglia a lot, making it a great place to practice speaking italiano! Check out the posts A Perfect day in Italia and Il Sole di Metà Pomeriggio for more paese scenes.Fiat 500K Giardiniera AutobianchiHave you been to Puglia, mia regione preferita?  Let me know in the comments.

This post is written as part of the #dolcevitabloggers monthly blogging linkup, hosted by Jasmine, Kelly and Kristie the 3rd Sunday of the month.  Click the link to check out what the rest of the Dolce Vita bloggers have written on this month’s topic.Porto, San Domino, Isole Tremiti, Puglia

Ciao, Cristina



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The winners of the 2019 Accenti Writing and Photo contests were announced at the Accenti Magazine Awards, during the 2nd edition of the Librissimi Italian Book Fair held at the Columbus Centre in Toronto. The awards were presented by publisher Domenic Cusmano and editor-in-chief Licia Canton. My photo Cruciverba was selected as the winner of the ‘Capture an Italian Moment’ photo contest!

Cruciverba (croo•chee•VER•bah)=Crossword. ‘On hot summer afternoons, I love to wander the winding cobblestone streets and narrow alleys of the medieval hilltop village of my birth, searching for interesting scenes of everyday life. This image of an octogenarian casually sitting in the shade doing a crossword with his cane resting at his feet immediately captured my attention.  It gave me hope that I will still be able to do my weekly cruciverba at his age.’

The winner of the 2019 Accenti writing contest is Eufemia Fantetti of Toronto for her short story ‘Tree of Life’.  Eufemia’s words dance off the page (or screen) and tug at the heart. I am looking forward to reading her upcoming book, My Father, Fortune-tellers & Me: A Memoir. The winning photos and stories will be featured in upcoming issues of Accenti online. Read about all of the finalists hereAccenti online photo contest finalists 2019Founded in 2002, the mission of Accenti Magazine ‘the magazine with an Italian accent’, is to document the evolution of the Italian-Canadian experience and disseminate its expression through the publication of literary and creative works. Accenti also aims to act as a conduit for dialogue among its readers and contributors. The 2020 photo and writing competition will be open and accepting submissions later in the year. To find out more, go to http://www.accenti.ca/photo-contest or http://www.accenti.ca/writing-contest.

Ciao, Cristina

Bloghiversario #5!

Caspita, il tempo volo!  Oggi Un po’ di pepe compie 5 anni/Today Un po’ di pepe turns 5! It is hard to believe it has already been 5 years since starting this blog.  Where did the time go?  If feels like just yesterday I had trouble coming up with a blog name. This has been an amazing, rewarding experience and I have ‘met’ so many virtual friends and even reconnected with old ones.

There have been some big life changes recently.  The biggest one is that I left my permanent job and switched to working freelance.  Now I can say I am una libera professionista.  That has a nice ring to it.  I will be working less and my schedule will be much more flexible. No longer will I have to request time off one year in advance!  In theory, this means more time for writing and making art.  So far, all I have done is housecleaning, gardenwork and powerwashing, but those need to be done too!

Posts have increased from an average of 2 per month to 3 lately.  Hopefully this will continue!  A change in layout and a gallery page will be coming soon. Hopefully you are Caravaggio fans, because I wrote 4 posts recently and there will be more! A few blog collaborations are in the works too.

In other news… I will be going on a short trip to Firenze with my nipotina soon.  We will do a lot of research for future posts. My first non work related publication came out recently.  Read about it here.  There are 2 more publications coming out soon; a contribution to the Canadian Wine Anthology and a short story in the AICW Padula 2016 Conference Anthology.

La Terrazza degli Uffizi

In the last year, I have participated in 2 blogging linkup groups. ‘In my kitchen’ (IMK) hosted by Sherry posted in September and April.  My next one will be from my Pugliese kitchen this summer.  7 post were linked to the monthly ‘Dolce Vita Bloggers’  (DVB) group hosted by Jasmine, Kelly and Kristie .  These have been some of my most viewed posts, especially Aria Pericolosa.  In May, the DVB theme is ‘Favourite region of Italy’. Although I have been to 14 out of the 20 regions it should not be too difficult to guess which one I will write about!

This month’s DVB theme is ‘Favourite season in Italy’ but the timing was too close to Easter and this bloghiversary post for me to participate.  I definitely have a favourite season, and will write about it in the future.  A question I am often asked is ‘When is the best time to visit Italia?’.  Well, the answer is …anytime you are able to go!  There is no time that is not good to visit, you just need to know that each season will give a very different travel experience and even a different selection of food.  It’s all good!

Today is also La Festa della Liberazione d’Italia, the anniversary of the liberation of Italia from Fascist occupation in 1945.  It has been a national holiday since 1946.  Viva la libertà!

Grazie to all of you for taking the time to read, comment, send messages and especially for giving me an excuse to research and write about things that interest me!  If you have any suggestions for posts or just want to say ‘ciao‘, leave me a comment.

Grazie mille a tutti i lettori di ‘Un po’ di pepe’ per leggere e darmi una scusa per scrivere di cose che mi piacciono.  Lasciami un messaggio se hai un idea per un post o semplicemente per dire ‘ciao’.  Un abbraccio, Cristina


Halifax and the Titanic


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Titanic: the unsinkable ship exhibit Maritime Museum of the Atlantic HalifaxApril 15th 1912, 2:20am. 107 years ago today, the doomed luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank to the bottom of the North Atlantic.  In October, I had the opportunity to visit to the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic in Halifax, Nova Scotia. The museum has a permanent exhibit called Titanic: The Unsinkable Ship. The exhibit takes you back in time and tries to recreate what life was like for everyone on board.  It is interactive, educational and really well done, focusing on the creation and tragedy of the ship, and also Halifax’s connection to Titanic.

The collection includes photos, reproductions, and many items that floated to the surface when Titanic sank. These were donated or loaned by descendants of the recovery ship crews.  Following maritime custom, fragments of shipwrecks were kept as reminders. This ‘wreckwood’ was not sold commercially, but kept by the families. Some very large pieces of elaborately carved wood and a deck chair were also recovered.  The deck chair was given to Reverend H Cunningham for his work on the recovery ships.  It was donated to the museum by his family.  Titanic deck chair Maritime Museum of the AtlanticThere is also a reproduction deck chair where visitors to the museum can sit and imagine what it would have been like to hang out aboard deck-before jumping into a lifeboat, of course!

Halifax was the closest port to the disaster and when the news broke, there was much confusion. The survivors and damaged ship were expected in Halifax.  Trainloads of relatives were on their way.  Immigration officers, sleeping arrangements and medical care were prepared in anticipation of an onslaught of 2200 cold, wet, hungry, displaced people.  As it turned out, the 706 survivors were all taken to New York by the rescue ship Carpathia because the captain thought it was safer to head south than risk meeting another iceberg on the way to Halifax. 325 bodies were recovered from the frigid water, mostly by the cable ship Mackay-Bennett.  116 had to be respectfully buried at sea because they ran out of supplies, ice and embalming fluid.  Regulations permitted only embalmed bodies be brought ashore.  The 209 bodies were taken to the Mayflower Curling Rink in Halifax.  Undertakers came from all over Nova Scotia to help.  59 of the bodies were picked up by relatives or shipped home, and 150 are buried in 3 Halifax cemeteries,  one third in unmarked graves.  One belongs to a 23 year old J Dawson, the name of Leonardo Di Caprio’s fictional character in the 1997 movie. Titanic’s band bass player and violinist are also buried here.

The crew of the Mackay Bennett were profoundly affected by the recovery of an unidentified 2 year old boy. They paid for his gravestone and accompanied him to the cemetery.  He was wearing a pair of brown leather shoes.  Unclaimed personal effects were burned to prevent souvenir hunting, but the Halifax Police Sargeant in charge could not bear to destroy the shoes.  He kept them in his desk drawer until he retired and his grandson donated them to the museum in 2002.  In 2010, scientists were able to use the shoes to identify the child as 19 month old Sidney Goodwin the youngest in a family of 8 on their way to Niagara Falls.Maritime Museum of the Atlantic. Shoes

Visiting the exhibit again made me think about the world’s ongoing fascination with Titanic. Everyone knows how it ends and there have been other marine tragedies with worse devastation. In fact 5 years later the Halifax Explosion killed 2,000 and injured 9,000. Yet it is Titanic and its stories that go on and continue to fascinate and intrigue after over 100 yrs. Why?  Read on:

1) Man vs Nature. Titanic was the biggest, fastest moving thing on the planet. According to the builders ‘even God could not sink this ship’. She was considered invincible and unsinkable, yet ironically was gone 4 days into her first voyage. Titanic was propelled with arrogance at full speed at night in an area known as ‘iceberg alley’, steering straight into an iceberg- and no one saw it coming! It turns out the impact of the iceberg should have damaged the ship, but not caused it to sink.  As I learned in the exhibit, Canadian scientists discovered that the steel used to build Titanic contained high levels of sulfur, making it brittle at cold temperatures.  This helps to explain the devastating results.Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax Titanic

2) Maritime safety- In the early 20th Century, everything was becoming ‘super-sized’, but regulations did not keep up with progress.  The White Star Line knew more lifeboats were needed, but did not want to make the deck look cluttered or make 1st class passengers nervous. There was room for 64 lifeboats but regulations only required 16!  With approximately 2224 passengers and crew on board, there were only 20 lifeboats with room for 1178 people.  The crew had no lifeboat training, so when panic and fear set in, they were massively disorganized and rowed out with 470 empty seats!  It was fortunate Titanic sailed at only ⅔ capacity, as there was room for almost 1,000 more passengers.

Commercial Wireless traffic had taken priority over ice warnings. The ship Californian had sent Titanic an earlier iceberg warning, and was close enough to rescue everyone, but her wireless operators were tired and asleep so did not respond to Titanic’s distress call. The captain even saw thought he saw flares, but did not respond. Safety regulations and procedures at sea improved immediately, ensuring lifeboat space for everyone on board, regular lifeboat drills, and continuous wireless watch for distress calls became mandatory.

3) Social inequality at the turn of the century -There was an extreme contrast of passengers on board-the richest man in the world, John Jacob Astor IV, returning from his honeymoon, passengers returning from the Grand Tour, and the lower deck filled with impoverished immigrants heading to a new life in America. The classes were tightly segregated by locked barriers.  The survival rate for 1st class women was 97% and for 3rd class men 13%.Titanic exhibit. Maritime Museum of the Atlantic Halifax

4) Media-Titanic went down at the beginning of the communication age and was the first real disaster heard around the world. The first reports were from wireless operators on Carpathia. When she arrived in New York on April 18th, Carpathia was surrounded by hundreds of small boats chartered by news agencies.  The captain threatened to shoot any newsman who tried to board his ship.

5) Personal stories-It took 2 hours and 40 minutes for Titanic to sink. This provided time for survivors to witness the drama taking place-suffering, sacrifice, bravery, selfishness, cowardice, heartbreak.  We all know that the band kept playing to keep the passengers calm, and about the older couple who died in their bed together as she would not get into a lifeboat without him, and the richest man in the world putting his pregnant wife on a lifeboat then bravely going down with the ship. The stories were about real people and the public could not get enough.

6) Constant presence in popular culture-The silent film ‘Saved from the Titanic’ was released one month later, starring Dorothy Gibson, a real survivor, wearing the same outfit she was wearing that fateful night. 2 more movies and many books were soon released. The hype continued until 1918, then WW1, the Great Depression and WWII overshadowed Titanic.  In 1953 a new ‘Titanic’ movie was released, then the 1957 book ‘A Night to Remember’ sparked renewed interest.  Walter Lord interviewed >60 survivors, some of them speaking for the first time. The wreck of the Titanic was discovered SE of Newfoundland in 1985.  The ghostly images from the ship’s graveyard at the bottom of the Atlantic brought it back to life.  Then of course the 1997 James Cameron blockbuster renewed interest again.  There have been at least 15 movies/documentaries, 13 TV movies/miniseries and almost 200 books about Titanic.

I hope you have enjoyed my thought provoking visit to the Titanic exhibit. Despite the tragedy, we have the Titanic disaster to thank for improving maritime safety, and bringing to light the injustices and social inequality that were present at the time. If you happen to visit Halifax, do not miss the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic.

Buon viaggio, Cristina

In My Kitchen, April 2019


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The last few weeks, my kitchen table has been a multipurpose space, doubling as a greenhouse and an art studio.  For the 4th year in a row, I am participating in the ‘Leftovers’ printmaking exchange.  The idea is to use leftover paper and other materials to make an edition of small prints.  I need to send 15 hand pulled prints via Wingtip Press to the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force in Boise.  1 print will be reserved for silent auction to support hunger relief and 2 will be part of travelling exhibitions. Last year, my print went on a Grand Tour to China, Wales, Whangarei New Zealand, Reno Nevada and Boise!  The remaining 12 prints are exchanged with other participating printmakers. In a few months, I will receive my ‘leftovers’ package in the mail with 12 prints  from around the world!

I have a beautiful old aluminum scolapasta (colander) in my kitchen that just oozes character.  I worked on my sketches and carved the linoleum here, but will do the printmaking in my little studio space.  I have to post the prints by April 10th! Papà has pomodoro seedlings growing on my back porch.  They are covered in plastic as it has been sunny, but cold.  I was given more seeds by a friend, so 2 weeks ago, right after la luna piena –the full moon, I started growing them at the end of the kitchen table by the big window.  Piselli and pepperoncini are growing nicely too!I made ravioli with funghi-mushroom filling but I could not seem to decide what size or shape to make my ravioli/agnolotti/mezzalune!  Despite the lack of symmetry, they tasted good, although I prefer my usual ricotta filling.

Some time this month, I plan to invite my coworkers over for pizza, but 2 of them have Celiac, so I need to make gluten free dough.  Mannaggia!  My experience with gluten free dough is that it tastes like crap, with the consistency of styrofoam.  Potato, rice and corn flour all result in a dense blob of yuck, yuck and yuck!  Bleh!  My local family run generi alimentari Renzullo’s finally started selling Caputo Fioreglut.  This is a gluten free flour from Italia that I read about on both Paola‘s and Silvia‘s blogs.  They are both in Australia and raved about it, but it was not available here.

I bought a bag for $12.00 (!) and decided to try focaccia first.  That way, if it came out as a sticky, unpalatable blob of yuck at least I did not waste ingredients on it.  Fioreglut has some rice and corn flour, but the main ingredient is farina di grano saraceno-buckwheat flour!  I followed the recipe on the bag, since it was almost the same as my usual recipe.  Making gluten free dough is the opposite of making regular bread dough.  Usually you want to knead the dough as much as you can to make it light and airy.  Gluten free dough must be handled as little as possible to keep it together.  My white blob of dough looked questionable, but it did rise.  I dimpled it with my fingers and added rosemary, salt and parmigiano, made the sign of the cross and put it in the oven. I could not believe the results-it was actually delicious!  Just look at the photo!  Before inviting my friends over, I will try focaccia Pugliese, then pizza.

This ‘In my kitchen’ post is linked to the worldwide monthly get together of food bloggers hosted by Sherry of Sherry’s Pickings.  Click to read the other participating posts.  Buon appetito, Cristina

Spring Reading 2019


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My pile of books ‘to read’ has been growing for awhile.  Since I started writing this blog, I seem to have less time to read books.  I still read a lot, just not as many ‘real’ books. Lately I have had time to catch up on reading, so the pile is decreasing. Here are the Goodreads reviews for my latest reads:

The Caviar LadyThe Caviar Lady by Michele Marziani
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Caviar Lady is an English translation of the Italian book ‘La Signora del Caviale’. The book takes place in a quiet fishing village on the Po, near Ferrara where prized caviar is harvested from the sturgeon. It is a simply written story told through the eyes of an innocent, Nellino, who is 12 years old at the start of the book. With the outbreak of WWII, things change in the village, including the disappearance of the caviar lady. The war becomes part of everyday life and the growing disillusionment of the once optimistic young Nellino.
This tragic story of family, friendship, disillusionment, disappearance and survival amid the horrors of war is a simply written one, yet the important details seem to lie in what is unwritten. The once thriving sturgeon fishing/caviar industry on the Po is a part of Italian cultural history I did not know about. Another victim of the war. I would definitely recommend The Caviar Lady, in fact, I plan to read it in Italian next.

Finding Rosa: A Mother with Alzheimer’s, a Daughter in Search of the PastFinding Rosa: A Mother with Alzheimer’s, a Daughter in Search of the Past by Caterina Edwards
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Finding Rosa is part memoir, part history lesson, part detective work, about the author’s years of caring for her mother with deteriorating Alzheimer’s, while trying to piece together the history of her mother’s life. Complicating things, Rosa’s homeland no longer exists. Istria is now mostly Croatian, but also belonged to Austria, Italy and Yugoslavia all in rapid succession.
The Istriani are described as the ‘forgotten Italians’, and the author learns of atrocities and ethnic cleansing, hundreds of thousands of displaced refugees, and unknown numbers missing or murdered by being buried alive in ‘le foibe’ (deep sinkholes). She makes several trips to Trieste and her mother’s homeland to visit relatives and interview ‘i rimasti’ (the remaining ones) and finds public records have been destroyed to hide the evidence of missing persons.
Since I know a few Istriani, I knew about some of the things that happened in Istria’s history, but I did not know the extent of the horrors or the fact that displacement happened not once, but 3 times in the 20th Century.
Brutally honest, Finding Rosa pieces together Rosa’s life, as we slowly begin to understand her angry, hypercritical, dictatorial personality and also her fear and paranoia. It also explores the challenges of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, the effects of displacement on future generations and the importance of making the truth known. Ciao, Cristina (Note, Finding Rosa is being translated into Italiano)

I Heart Rome: Recipes & Stories from the Eternal CityI Heart Rome: Recipes & Stories from the Eternal City by Maria Pasquale
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I was to express my love for Roma in words and images, this is pretty much what it would look like! Ciao, Cristina


The Pink House and Other StoriesThe Pink House and Other Stories by Licia Canton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Pink House and Other Stories is a collection of 15 short stories. Each of these stories stand on their own, but several of them are interconnected. 6 of the stories are about events surrounding a car accident after a Leonard Cohen concert and a writer experiencing a creative block post trauma. The stories are told from different perspectives; the victim, the driver, the passenger, making the connectedness less obvious at first, but apparent as you continue reading. 2 other stories center around an unlikely couple; a very pregnant woman and a man she meets in the library. I was left wanting to know more about them.
The other 7 stories are not related. Most feature multigenerational Italian Canadian characters and deal with family relationships, love, aging and tension between generations. I could identify with many of the characters and situations.
My favourite story in the book is about an octogenarian insistent on renewing his motorcycle license so that he can be ready at any time to drive anything and everything. This character reminds me of my own hard working father and other aging immigrants I know.
The stories in this collection are not overly verbose. The author states what is necessary, but leaves enough room for the reader to think about the issues discussed and read between the lines. Ciao, Cristina

Lost AriaLost Aria by Carmelo Militano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

‘Lost Aria’ is a collection of 8 moody, sensual, smoke-filled stories, set in Winnipeg and several Italian cities. The stories delve into the topics of relationships, vulnerability, loss and grief. Poetry is the thread binding them together. Most of the characters are poets or writers, tortured and suffering for their art, trying to find or recreate themselves. Reading and poetry are presented as an escape and a coping mechanism. The prose in ‘Lost Aria’ presents like poetry, whether it is the sensual description of a woman’s body, the realization that a friend’s life had been ‘a prologue to nothing’, the regret over words not spoken to a mother before her death, or the description of poetry itself ‘poetry is a way of knowing we often ignore, or quickly allow to pass over us like a brief splash of water on the face before we return to the business of arriving safely home. Poetry, like sensuality, feels impermanent and unsustainable…’. I recommend reading ‘Lost Aria’ on a comfy couch by candlelight with an ample glass of wine!. Ciao, Cristina

I have already written a blog post about La Brigantessa, but I will include it here again in case you missed it!

La BrigantessaLa Brigantessa by Rosanna Micelotta Battigelli
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

La Brigantessa is a novel of historical fiction which takes place following the Unification of Italy (1860’s), during a decade of turmoil. It was a time when law enforcement was often worse than the criminals and the law only applied to the wealthy.
The main character, Gabriella Falcone, is a young peasant girl whose family work for the parish priest in a small village in Calabria. Her love has volunteered to fight alongside Giuseppe Garibaldi. When Gabriella stabs a nobleman in self defense, she is forced to flee knowing that her version of the facts will not matter. La Brigantessa has everything a great read needs…love, honour, class struggles, jealousy, betrayal, bravery, suspense, and even a ‘modern’ Calabrese Robin Hood.
The story is told from the point of view of many characters, yet they are all so well-developed there is no confusion. Each character is given a detailed, credible backstory, revealing their individual struggles and motivations. I was emotionally invested in these characters-even the nasty ones! The attention to detail regarding life and customs in 19th Century Calabria transported me right there.
I have been waiting 2 years for La Brigantessa to come out, since I heard the author read excerpts from it at 2 conferences-and it did not disappoint! Pour yourself a glass of vino-red of course, sit back and enjoy. Ciao, Cristina

View all my reviews  

For more of my book reviews on this blog, search the category ‘Libri’.  Here are links to The Sicilian Wife, Bridge of Sighs and Dreams, Cristo si è fermato a Eboli, and Italian Street Food.  My ratings are usually out of 5 peperoncini! I will leave you with Madame Gautreau toasting my smaller pile of books!

Buona lettura, Cristina

Zeppole di San Giuseppe


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Zeppole di San Giuseppe are a traditional pastry served in southern and central Italy on March 19th for la festa di San Giuseppe.  In Italia, March 19th is also La Festa del Papà -Father’s Day.  In North America, Father’s Day is the 3rd Sunday in June, but in Italia it is always on March 19th because San Giuseppe (St Joseph) was, of course, the papà of Jesus! He is also the patron saint of carpenters, the family, orphans and the homeless. March 19th is also a few days away from spring and the start of the agricultural year, in the fields and vineyards.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe are made with the same choux pastry as bignè di San Giuseppe, but the dough is piped out into ‘nests’ rather than spooned onto the baking sheet.  They can be baked or fried.  The hole in the center of the zeppola is filled with crema pasticcera, a creamy custard.  Finally, the signature detail of zeppole di San Giuseppe….they are topped with un amarena in sciroppo.  Amarene are dark, wild sour cherries and they are preserved in syrup.  Amarene in sciroppo are likely available at your local Italian market.  Note-the word zeppole, singular zeppola, is used in some regions, including Calabria, for a type of doughnut or fried dough.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe are not the easiest thing to make, especially if you are not a baker or used to a piping bag.  My first ones did not look beautiful, but they still tasted great. If you need a visual tutorial, there are quite a few good videos online, especially from Benedetta, and Zia Franca.

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

  • 150g (175ml, ¾ cup) water
  • 125g (½ cup) butter
  • pinch of salt
  • 150g (285 ml, 1 cup + 2 tablespoons) 00 flour
  • 4 medium eggs

Heat the water on low heat and add butter and sugar.  Stir until melted and bring to a boil.  Add the flour ALL AT ONCE and stir quickly until the mixture leaves the sides of the pan and forms a ball.  Remove from heat and let cool slightly, then add the eggs, 1 at a time.  A mixer at low speed can be used for this part, but I just used my wooden spoon-less stuff to wash!Zeppole di San Giuseppe

Put the dough in a pastry bag with a very large stella, star tip.  The tip needs to be at least 1 cm, preferably larger, or the zeppole will come out too small.  I was not able to find a bigger tip, so mine were actually zeppoline!  Pipe out circular nests with 2 rows of pastry onto carta forno –parchment paper.  Bake at 200ºC (400ºF) for 15 minutes, then lower the temperature to 180ºC (350ºF) for 10 minutes.  Turn off oven and leave the door partially open to let them cool.

Baked zeppole have a delicate taste.  Frying gives them a more robust taste.  To fry them, cut the parchement paper into squares.  Drop the whole square upside down into hot oil.  Remove the paper and turn them.  Enrica from Chiarapassion says her Mamma’s secret is to  bake them, then fries them so they do not absorb as much oil!  Sounds like twice as much work to me though.Zeppole di San Giuseppe fritte

Dust with icing sugar, top with crema pasticcera and amarena with syrup.  I served mine with my homemade liquore di foglie di amarena.

Crema Pasticcera

  • 2 whole eggs + 2 yolks
  • 80g (6 tbsp, 1/3 cup +1 tbsp) sugar
  • 70g (165 ml, ½ cup) flour
  • ½ L (500 ml, 2 cups) whole milk
  • lemon peel
  • vanilla bean(optional)

Heat the milk in a pot with the lemon peel.  I use the entire peel.  Start at the top and cut it like a corkscrew so you end up with one long peel.  In a bowl, beat eggs and yolks, add sugar and whisk. When milk is hot, remove lemon peel and add vanilla bean, if desired. Add other ingredients, whisk and heat until thick.  When cool, refrigerate with plastic wrap touching the crema.  When ready to use, fill a pasty bag and pipe onto zeppole with a large star tip.

Auguri a tutti i Papà del mondo e Buon Onomastico a tutti i Giuseppe, Giuseppina, Giuseppa, Peppe, Joe, Pina, Josie e Giusy!  Ciao, Cristina

PS In my post La Festa del Papà, you can see my absolutely favourite photo of me and papà.  Have a look.  Cute-issimo, no?

Giornata della Donna~Franca Viola


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Auguri per la Festa della Donna! Today is la Giornata Internazionale della Donna or International Women’s Day-originally known as International Working Women’s Day. There is no one specific organization or event behind International Women’s Day, but it is celebrated in many countries around the world. It is a day to recognize the achievements of women and a call to action towards gender equality.  More about la festa della donna is in this post.

I thought today would be appropriate to write about an outstanding, courageous woman, and I have chosen Franca Viola.  In 1965 Franca was the first Italian woman to refuse to accept un matrimonio riparatore – a rehabilitating or reparative marriage. This was a situation where all charges of rape, sexual assault and/or abduction were dropped if the offender married his victim. This was legal! The assumption was that no one else would want the woman anyways, thus ‘restoring’ the family. Mannaggia! ‘Marry the rapist’ laws and practices were common in many parts of the world until the 1970s and unfortunately still exist in too many countries.

Franca was the daughter of contadini in Alcamo, Sicilia. In 1963, she was 15 and had a 23 year old boyfriend Filippo Melodia, the nephew a local mafioso. She broke off the relationship when he was arrested for theft. He left the country and returned in 1965, thinking he could just resume their relationship. Franca refused, in fact she had a new boyfriend, her future husband Giuseppe Ruisi.

Melodia was furious and threatened Franca, her family and Giuseppe. The evening of December 26 1965, he and a dozen others invaded the Viola house. They beat her mother and dragged Franca away. She was taken to a farmhouse and for 8 days Melodia repeatedly raped her, telling her she would have to marry him to avoid dishonouring her family and becoming una donna svergognata –a shameless woman. Her father worked with the carabinieri to organize a rescue. On January 2 1966, Franca was released and the kidnappers arrested.

As expected, Melodia offered un matrimonio riparatore, expecting the law support him. Contrary to Sicilian custom at the time, Franca publicly refused. With the support of her father, she took Melodia to court for kidnapping, rape and intimidation. Her family received threats and their barn and vineyard were burned down. The December 1966 trial received worldwide attention, including coverage by the New York Times.

Melodia’s defence claimed he was love sick and the feeling was mutual.   He claimed that Franca’s family did not approve of their marriage and that the kidnapping was a consentual elopement. Franca denied the claim, stating:

 Io non sono proprietà di nessuno, nessuno può costringermi ad amare una persona che non rispetto, l’onore lo perde chi le fa certe cose, non chi le subisce”. (I am the property of no one, no one can force me to love a person I do not respect. Honour is lost by the one who does certain things, not the one who is subjected to them).

Melodia was found guilty and sentenced to 11 years in prison. He was murdered in Modena 2 years after his release. 7 of his accomplices also received 4 year prison sentences.

Franca Viola became a symbol of freedom and dignity for all women who endured violence, and her example provided others with the courage to say ‘NO’. Her case led to the abolishment of Articolo 544, the article of law where a rapist/kidnapper avoided prosecution by marrying the victim. In December 1968, Franca married Giuseppe who supported her through the trial. They still live in Alcamo with their family.

On International Women’s Day 2014, Franca received the honour of ‘Grande Ufficiale dell’Ordine al Merito della Repubblica Italiana’. President Giorgio Napolitano awarded her with this for her courageous gesture in refusing the matrimonio riparatore, which signalled a fundamental change in the history of the emancipation of women in Italia.

Ciao, Cristina

Photo credits-Cover photo and portrait of Franca Viola-Wikimedia Commons, second photo of Franca from archivo.corriere.it with graphics added by Cristina.