Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Eating fresh and local in Rome

As much as I've been dedicating my energies to promoting Etruscan tourism around Rome (and an exciting 6th Century B.C. vase on display in Cerveteri, repratriated from The Met in New York),  food tourism seems to be a lot more relevant lately. This year's theme of the World's Fair being held in Milan is "Feeding the Planet" designed to raise awareness about the effects of industrial farming on the environment. The fair itself left a lot to be desired, comprised of elaborate pavilions for each country with very little information. The best pavilions in my opinion were from Brazil, a pavilion that involved hiking a tarp to get inside, and the Israel pavilion dedicated to their invention of the drip irrigation system.

The United States pavilion at Milan's World's Fair, serving the all American lobster roll

The Vietnam pavilion at Milan's World's Fair 
There was an entire section of the World's Fair dedicated to the movement of Slow Food, best summarized as the opposite of fast food. The movement began in Italy in the 1980's as an attempt to get the rest of the world to cook and eat like the Italians, with fresh and local ingredients. Despite the Italian reputation as such, the historic center of Rome is suffering as it concerns the production and service of quality and healthy food. Only two restaurants inside the city walls have been given the "snail of approval" from the Slow Food association in recognition of following the slow food philosophy of freshly made, locally grown, affordable food.

Please see a recent guest blog post I wrote for Hosted Villas about Hostaria Grappolo D'Oro located behind Rome's oldest outdoor food market, Campo di Fiori. -article link  
The owners not only have the "snail of approval" but are involved in leading food tours in the neighborhood teaching about local dining and food shopping customs.

My favorite appetizer at Grappolo D'Oro, a unique interpretation of "panzanella"

A winter and spring favorite in Rome, puntarelle salad, found only in Rome and served to perfection Grappolo D'Oro 

Friday, July 3, 2015

My Rome Wedding

Photo by Simone Checcheti

After a love affair with the city of Rome for over a decade, the city provided the optimal location for my wedding.  Rome lived up to its expectation of being a bureaucratic and customer service nightmare. But after a year of planning, several months preparing document after document,  and innumerable hours waiting in offices, the event served as a reminder of just how much I love this place, even when I am determined to hate it.

For anyone from abroad getting married in Italy, be prepared to compile a long list of documents and spend more time waiting in offices than what will amount to your wedding day. You will be required to make several trips to the Embassy, local legal offices and the tribunal with witnesses in tow.  Each office will tell you something different.

One of the biggest challenges I consistently found in each office as I filed my paperwork is what I believe will plague the rest of my life in Italy: the predicament of the birthplace. Italian officials seem unqualified to read American passports. I repeatedly had to explain why my birth certificate reads "Buffalo" and my passport reads "New York, USA". That New York is a state, in addition to being a city, and Buffalo is a city in that state.  Several clerks refused to accept this and process my documents.

If you do not plan to have a Catholic wedding, you are required to go to the City Hall for a 10 minute ceremony administered by the mayor or a representative of his. To book this hall, you must go 6 months in advance and wait in line for hours to make your request. But the documents a foreigner is required to put together are valid only for 6 months. There is high demand for this hall, because it is one of only 3 locations where a non-Catholic wedding can be legally performed. As part of the Lateran Pact signed my Mussolini, Catholic weddings count legally for state weddings. Any other religious denomination or civil wedding must be performed at the city hall.

On the day of the ceremony, when I exited the "sala rossa" of the city hall entering Michelangelo's piazza atop the Capitol Hill, home to Rome's oldest settlement dating back to the 13th Century B.C., I felt privileged. To have celebrated such a significant life event in a place of such historic significance, all the administrative drama was more than worth it. With 20 of my closest family and friends at my side, I had views of the entire city of Rome, its eclectic blend of buildings testifying to an eternal presence, and its beautiful church tops and ruins and every glance.

It is a medieval tradition that citizens getting married in Rome must publish their names in front of the city hall building for 7 days allowing for anyone to protest your union. Thankfully this is now accomplished online.

Our reception was held in a medieval castle about 15 miles outside Rome. Despite some disorganization Castello di Lunghezza was the perfect location for a winter wedding.  The staff had forgotten we made several visits and booked the hall 9 months earlier, and later told me when I made the appointment to pay the deposit 3 months beforehand that it would be under reconstruction all winter.  Such archaic organizational methods I suppose are to be expected for an authentically historic and romantic setting. The castle was built in the 8th century and became property of the Papacy in the 13th Century. Our non-denominational Christian ceremony was officiated by my dear friend Tanya Halkyard, ironically in the Pope's former private chapel.

The dinner was catered by Angelucci catering who were incredibly efficient in preparing an elaborate 4 course dinner for over 100 people in a kitchen the size of my bedroom, and scurrying through
narrow hallways and doorways of the castle providing excellent service.

It was a challenge finding a balance between American wedding traditions of dancing and speeches and the Italian tradition of eating and more eating.  We had a lot of all of the above. With Andrea Loco on DJ, we turned the stone walls and wooden ceiling of the castle into a soiree, burning off our many calories earned from a large buffet of prosciutto, porchetta and an array of fresh and aged cheeses, a seated dinner of 2 first courses and 2 second courses and a room reserved for dessert with all my Italian favorites...fried dough, freshly filled cannoli, tiramisu and Mont Blanc wedding cake.

I am happy to share with you our wedding announcement published in the Buffalo News, highlighting the tremendous and generous efforts of friends and strangers of my hometown that helped in the un-romantic but very Roman process of planning my wedding in Rome.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Remembering Auschwitz

The beginning of the year is often a time of hope and optimism. As was the case 70 years ago in January when the concentration camp at Auschwitz was liberated.  The tragedy of the Holocaust has left emotional and physical marks throughout the entire world.

A plaque in the Jewish Ghetto in front of the Portico di Ottavia commemorating the victims of Holocaust deported on October 16th 1943.

While Italy's role in World War II is often misunderstood, for lack of a better word, the country has worked effortlessly to improve and reinforce its sensitive image. While Italy has had a reputation for attempting to save the Jewish people from deportation, more than 2000 Roman Jews and other victims were arrested and deported to Auschwitz in October 1943 and only a handful returned after the gates opened in January 1945.
A plaque in the Jewish Ghetto commemorating over 100 children that were arrested from school and deported to Auschwitz

Please reference my article in Wanted in Rome magazine about various Jewish memorials around the capital city; and the marks in front of doorsteps that are found in Rome and 8 additional European countries. These physical marks are called "stumbling stones" and mark the addresses of victims from where each adult and child was arrested, a powerful and unavoidable way of keeping their memory alive, and of bringing them back to the community, one at a time. - article link

An example of stumbling blocks that can be found all over Rome and Europe, placed at the doorsteps of victims of the Holocaust, indicating their name, date and place of deportation and date of death.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Gift ideas: Creative craft jewelry in Rome

The Romans have long been known for the ornate way they present themselves. A tradition that began with the Etruscans and their finely engraved gold and bronze jewelry.  Fine jewelry making is a custom that is still alive and well in Rome, providing excellent opportunities to find hand-made, personal and luxurious holiday gifts and souvenirs from the eternal city.

Please check out my article on the Context Travel blog that features some local artisans and what they are creating this season.

Creative jewelry made from ancient and modern coins from around the world, featured by Moedas Vazadas, one of many stands at the Mercato Mont, a vintage and artisanal market located near the Coliseum at Metro Cavour 

Jewelry maker Massimo Nocerino in front of his boutique on Via Francesco Crispi near the Spanish Steps

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Wedding planning in Rome

The road to wedding planning in Rome seems as thought it has been longer than the path to finding an Italian husband. The endless appointments at City Hall offices, the notorizations, the sworn statements, more notorizations, and the waiting with witnesses at the tribunal and the embassy, have been an un-romantic and unexpected part of the process. Even more unexpected however was the difficulty of finding a wedding dress in such a fashion conscious city as Rome. First there was the salesclerk that refused to assist me and ordered us to return in a few months because she felt 6 months was too far in advance to shop for a gown; then there were the 2 saleswoman who kicked my friend and I out of the shop for speaking English to each other, and then finally the atelier that had sample sizes only for runway models.  Then along came Sister Maria Laura from the monastery of St. Rita in Cascia located in Umbria.

Please check out my article in Wanted in Rome magazine about shopping for my wedding dress at a second-hand dress depot, a charity run by Agostinian nuns in the hills of Umbria. -article link

The 20th Century Basilica of St. Rita in Cascia where the saints' incorrupt remains can be found.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A modern way of visiting ancient Cerveteri

A hill-top city along the sea, halfway between the city of Rome and it's commercial port Civitavecchia, stands the ancient city of Cerveteri, a city formed as early as the 8th Century B.C.  Nearby rest the city's inhabitants in what we now consider a city of the dead. The site is one of the most unique burial sites in the world. Built as large mounds made of volcanic rock, the Etruscan tombs resemble Egyptian pyramids. These spaces can be better understood as burial homes that were once full of domestic and personal items.

The unique architecture of these hundreds of burial homes was discovered and un-earthed only a couple hundred years ago. The site as a necropolis is more than 2,500 years old.  It has come to life again with a new technology program installed at the site allowing you to see digital reconstructions inside some of the tombs, as if present at their funeral, bearing witness to the rituals taking place and the placement of precious objects.

Writing on this topic, I am happy to be featured on authors (and fellow Buffalonians) William Graebner and Dianne Bennett's blog Rome the Second Time. Like myself, they are interested in exposing visitors in Rome to the hundreds of curiosities that lie below, between, and beyond the city's main highlights and have written several books with itineraries on the topic.

You can check out their website, with my post about Fu-touring at Cerveteri:

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The best local farmer's markets in Rome

In a country that is world-renowned for its landscape, topography and agriculture, local farmers markets and places to find organic products are surprisingly few and far between.

Check out my article in Wanted in Rome magazine to find the best quality and best priced local produce and products, and help the environment and local economy by doing so! -article link

Olive oil and Montepulciano wine of Abruzzo farmer Enrico Gallinaro at a farmer's market organized by Terra Terra Farmer's Association.