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Everything Italian on one site!

Looking for Italian language instruction? Organizing a trip to Italy? What about finding the greatest Italian restaurant in the Bay Area or that ultimate recipe just like your grandma used to make? Or perhaps you spent too much time watching the game (alas!) with your buddies, and need a little Italian bauble to soothe your lovely wife’s ruffled feathers. All of these things you will find on our website. We have consolidated the contents of a couple of earlier sites to provide you with a seamless Italian experience.

Along with the new commercial elements there remains, on this site, the original focus on art, culture, and history. And we intend to grow: the ultimate aim is to provide all Italophiles of the Bay Area, and beyond, a one-stop electronic storefront that will provide intellectual stimulation alongside material possessions for gracious living. Our sister site, finestItalian.com, continues unchanged, though it, too, is slated for some enhancements.

So please come visit often, drop us a line, let us know how you feel. Buy some Italian art once in a while, or an Italian pendant for your sweetheart, or a gorgeous ceramics bowl for your holiday table. But even if you don’t, we hope to hear from you.

Mantova

Palazzo Te

Palazzo Te

Another historical and cultural gem is the Lombard city of Mantova, former home of the Dukes of Gonzaga. This amazing family ruled Mantova for nearly 400 years, and contributed at least one Saint, a couple of Holy Roman Empresses, several French Dukes, and a Polish Queen Consort. During the Renaissance the Gonzaga were among the most important patrons of the arts in Italy, including opera and music in general.

The legacy of the Dukes of Mantova is most apparent today in the Palazzo Ducale, an architectural complex comprising several buildings connected by various corridors and galleries, and including internal gardens and courtyards. In the Palazzo Ducale one finds the famous Camera degli Sposi (Chamber of the Newlyweds), with frescoes by Andrea Mantegna, dedicated to Ludovico Gonzaga and to his wife Barbara of Brandenburg. Another must-see in Mantova is Palazzo Te, designed by Giulio Romano in 1525 at the behest of Federico II Gonzaga. This palace, home to Federico’s “official” lover Isabella Boschetti, was built on a small wooded island in the midst of a lake since vanished. It contains the famous Sala dei Giganti, the Sala di Amore and Psyche, and the Sala dei Cavalli (the Gonzaga horse stables were famous all over Europe at that time.) Of course the city contains many more buildings of note, both secular and religious (more about Mantova) The immense Piazza Sordello, bounded on one side by the Palazzo Ducale, is the center of the old city, reached immediately by crossing one of the bridges spanning the Mincio. Palazzo Te is at the other end of the city, presumably to keep wife and official lover as far apart as possible.

Palazzuolo and Bertinoro

PALAZZUOLO
An enchanting borgo in the green heart of Italy, where Romagna becomes Tuscany, Palazzuolo sul Senio is a place in which to rediscover a life in contact with nature, a oasis in the midst of gently sloping mountains, far from traffic pollution and from the frenetic rhythms of city life. At Palazzuolo one can visit valleys large and small, uninhabited casolari, ruins of ancient castles and historic hamlets bathed in an atmosphere that whispers of a glorious past.

ACTIVITIES
The beautiful landscape abounds with hiking and horse trails. A leisurely walk through the borgo is an ideal way to spend a couple of hours and soak in the air of the “little Switzerland of the Appenine”. Summer evenings are animated with charming markets, musical events, culinary exhibitions and important cultural activities. In 1991 Palazzuolo won the designation of “Villaggio Ideale d’Italia”, awarded by the magazine Airone and by the CEE.

BERTINORO
Another captivating hamlet in the hills of Romagna is Bertinoro, the “land of Ruby and Gold”. A little town with an illustrious history dating back to the 4th century, it boasts a fortress in which famous guests resided for various amounts of time, including Dante, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, Cardinal Albornoz, and others. The name itself comes from the Italian verb “bere” (to drink) and the noun “oro” (gold), and it means “drinking from a golden goblet”. The Fortress still offers hospitality in 21 rooms, as does also an ancient seminary not far from the town center.

ACTIVITIES
Bertinoro is in the midst of olive oil and wine country, so a stop at some tasting establishment hidden away in the countryside is a must. Once in the village itself, a terraced restaurant offers breathtaking views of the rolling hills with manicured rows of vines and fruit trees. Across the narrow street another restaurant provides top notch typical Romagnole fare. A low-cost alternative is the neighbouring fresh pasta shop, where you can not only buy various kinds of pasta to take home, but ask them to cook you a plate right then and there and serve it to you with their excellent Bolognese ragu’.

Naples Redux

Naples’ artistic and cultural patrimony dates back two millennia, but there IS a vibrant, young Naples of music and spectacle awaiting the adventurous visitor. A place of modern entertainment, where various types of contemporary music can be enjoyed, is Galleria 19 (read: Galleria Diciannove), which is located on via San Sebastiano, in Naples’ historical center, very close to Via dei Tribunali.

As glossy and hip as any equivalent establishment in the Haight or in SoHo, Galleria 19 offers disco, contemporary pop, jazz, instrumental and vocal, often with local musicians and singers performing live. The locale, reached by going down a few steps from street level, is a remodeled old book repository, long and narrow, with the stage at the far end and a hypermodern bar along the left side. Comfortable chairs and love seats are strewn along the right side, leaving a center space for dancing. Want to rearrange the furniture to suit your group’s seating preferences? By all means forget stuffy american rules and redecorate: this is free-form Naples, where rules are kept to a minimum.

History
The ambience is a suggestive, atmospheric blend of severe ancient walls wearing the latest fashion in art and lighting. Most of the clientele, young people in their twenties and early thirties, are there in their evening best. Nowhere else in all of Naples will you see such expanses of long, stockinged female legs, ending in feet encased in pumps sporting 8-centimeter stiletto heels. As for the quintessential little black dress, this is the place to show it off, and they are little indeed. The young men do their best to keep up, in their form-fitting short coats and pants from Fusco. Definitely a feast for the eyes.

Dozza and Brisighella

Dozza

Dozza’s Painted Walls

La Valle del Senio, in Romagna, like a necklace encrusted with precious jewels, is dotted with fascinating little borghi in which history and art live side by side and which offer a glimpse of contemporary Italian life apparently immune to the demands of modernity. Two such magical places are Brisighella and Dozza.

Brisighella was founded in the 13th century by the Italian condottiere Maghinardo Pagano. The lords of Faenza began building the Rock of Brisighella a century later, which then took its final form during the lordship of Venice, in the 16th century. The borgo is formed of a labyrinth of ancient narrow streets, of which the most famous is Via degli Asini (Street of the Donkeys.) Over the town dominates the Pieve di S. Giovanni Ottavo, erected in the fifth century and enlarged between the 11th and 12th centuries. The lore of Brisighella is filled with interesting anecdotes and historical tidbits from ancient to contemporary times, and the town is perfect for leisurely walks – distances are short, the streets are well-kept, the traffic is minimal, opportunities for gelati and cappuccini abound. A local guide with detailed knowledge is available and will add immensely to the understanding of the town.

Dozza, another little artistic jewel, is only a few kilometers from Brisighella and is known for two things: one is the Rocca Sforzesca, built by Caterina Sforza in the late Quattrocento and later used as a palazzo signorile. The borgo itself is of ancient origin, probably founded by the Gauls well before the Roman conquest. The Rock is powerful, massive, and was inhabited by the descendants of the Malvezzi, lords during the Renaissance, until 1960. Today the Rock houses a museum and a sophisticated wine bar in which all manner of local wines can be tasted and purchased.

A Tale of two Ferraris

Ferrari 330GTC

Ferrari 330GTC

So, moving from the general to the particular, the time has come (as W. said) to tell you about MY Ferraris. I have owned two of them, but alas, no longer! The first was a 1967 330GTC, an absolutely beautiful car that I had bought used for what now seems like a pittance. This was a significant car, and is certainly a collector’s item today. It sported the original V-12 Colombo-designed engine, carbureted, 330 cc per cylinder (that’s x12, if you want the engine size), 300 hp. This was one of a total run of 600 cars built by Ferrari in 1966 and 1967. It was the first Ferrari designed and built for the road: earlier models had all been essentially modified race cars. As such, it was equipped with air conditioning, electric window lifts, and other amenities that had been lacking in the more spartan earlier Ferraris. The steering, alas, was still unassisted, which made driving the car a chore at low speeds. But hey, I was 30 and in top shape, and I did my best to never slow down below 50 mph, so the problem was not serious (just kidding :-))

There were more macho cars coming out of Maranello at that time, notably the much-desired 275GTB/4, and of course there had been the GTO, but none that could match the understated elegance of the GTC’s flowing lines. The green paint was a non-Ferrari color, but it was hard to take issue with its soft metallic translucence. Of course the oval grille in the front shouted FERRARI at a distance. The car was robust and non-temperamental, a perfect rebuttal to all those silly stories about the unreliability of Italian cars. I owned it for several years, then, one fateful day, probably under the influence of some alien ray that completely befuddled my brain, I traded it in.

Hello world!

Panorama di Napoli

Naples with Vesuvius


I want to tell you about a book I have just finished reading.  It is called  “Ancient Shore – Dispatches from Naples”.  A slim, poetic, endearing little book, full of the innocence of the stranger who alights on these shores and is seduced by the Siren song of Parthenope.  It is written by Shirley Hazzard.  We natives are always a bit put off by, and suspicious of, such books.  Basically we are unwilling to credit foreigners with the sensitivity and the expansiveness of mind required for a thorough understanding of the City and its culture.

Nevertheless, Ms Hazzard has written a lovely little book, and she is, on prima facie evidence, a lovely lady.  I should be pleased and honored to offer her a cappuccino at the Gambrinus.  And I am looking forward to reading her “The Bay of Noon”, the story of Jenny and Gioconda in Naples.