Sirius XM satellite radio launched the Beatles Channel (channel 18) this past week and other Sirius stations joined in the celebration. One in particular was XM Channel 88 NFL Radio who asked listeners to call in and name their Fab Four of Football. This got me thinking what would my choice be for Italy’s Fab Four. The top 4 most fabulous experiences you could have it Italy. It almost seems impossible to choose 4 distinctive touchstones that define the “fatal charm of Italy that can be found nowhere else” but here are mine.
Driving through the iconic landscape of the Tuscany’s Crete Senesi and Val d’Orcia
Florence, Rome and Venice
Assisi and the Franciscan Santuario of La Verna
The mosaics of Ravenna
An amazing list to be sure but here are a few more things in Italy I think are over the top, the star of the group, the best travel investment you can make, the cherry on the sundae, the most dominant person, place or thing you can see in Italy.
I surely have more than 11 but here is my Italy in 30 Seconds List.
- Tagliatelle and ragu’ from Bologna
- Panzerotti from Milano
- Wild boar ragu -pappardelle al cinghiale ragu’ with a glass of Brunello from Montalcino
- Shopping at Santa Maria Novella Farmacia in Florence
- Pizza al taglio in Rome
- Bistecca alla fiorentina a/k/a the Tuscan T-bone with a glass of Chianti Classico Riserva
- A glass of Sagrantino wine from Montefalco in Umbria
- Cioccolata Calda – hot Italian Drinking Chocolate in almost any piazza in Italy
- A dip at an Italian terme (hot spring)
- Cappellacci di zucca and glass of sweet Albana di Romagna wine to end a meal in Ferrara
- A glass of Vin Santo with cantucci in Tuscany
If you need a visual image to keep you focused on your Lenten journey you might consider the Italian Renaissance artist Pinturicchio’s Allegory of the Hill of Wisdom (1504). The Greek philosophers Socrates and Crates are caught in a rather tricky balancing act on the top of a steep hill with the Roman goddess Fortuna. A desperate band of travelers are shown trudging upward on a difficult path, supposedly a path we humans have to undertake if we want to reach wisdom.
To view Pinturicchio’s Allegoria del Colle della Sapienza you have to look downward rather than upward as it is part of the floor intarsia in the Cathedral of Siena. A masterpiece underfoot, Giorgio Vasari called the floor of Siena’s Duomo “the most beautiful, big and magnificent that has ever been done”. Normally covered by carpets to protect it, the floor is uncovered for a few months each year when stories from antiquity, biblical scenes and allegories come to life through intricate patterns and designs created in marble as vivid and alive as any Renaissance sculpture. Siena cathedral floor
Siena is one of my favorite cities in Italy, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a must see when traveling in Tuscany. Siena is located in the Val d’Orcia, a breathtakingly beautiful part of Italy that makes the journey all the more memorable. A perfect image in my mind’s eye to reflect on life’s journey. Pinturicchio’s travelers to the Hill of Wisdom find their fortunes cast from the top as if to say Fortune is fickle and Wisdom lies in knowing so.
Not the cylindrical, furry, tunneling subterranean kind but the word element in Moleskine, Milan’s iconic little black notebook. Co-opted as a travel journal, planner, diary and sketchbook the notebook with the famous blank pages of ivory-colored paper is waiting to be filled with your thoughts.
Each notebook page is kept in place with a ribbon bookmark and then collectively tucked away between the covers with a signature elastic band. Used by Picasso, van Gogh, Matisse and Hemingway moleskine notebooks have a devoted following worldwide and can now be found in a variety of covers, colors and digital versions for a new generation of artists and thinkers.
Bring or buy your Moleskine on your next trip to Milan and meet with other like-minded writers and sketchers while sipping an espresso at the Moleskine Cafe in Milan’s Brera district. The cafe, art gallery, store and library is described as a clean-lined, minimalistic space designed with neutral colors “like the pages of a Moleskine notebook” waiting to inspire you to tell your story.
No it’s not a basketball team but a slicing machine and on a recent trip to Italy to visit our Italian friends in Umbria, I was surprised to see a piece of kitchen art prominetely displayed in their renovated family farmhouse that brought me back home in Indiana. It was a Berkel (Model B) meat slicer from La Porte, Indiana about 30 minutes from where I live.
Butcher W.A.Van Berkel began producing meat slicing machines in the late 1800’s in Holland. The quality and innovation of his design quickly differentiated him from his competitors. The concave blade and machine movement allowed a more precise cut especially favored by European meat markets. Berkel slicers became renowned throughout Italy and to this day are favored.
The proper slicing of salumi and salami in Italy is both an art and a science and the Italians saw the benefit of having the right machine to do it. Proper slicing is essential to maintain the true flavor components of the meat. Meat slicing aficionados believe that a sleek thin slice of salami allows the real true flavor of the artisan product to come through. Emilio Mitidieri, a maestro Italian slicer in San Francisco sources and refurbishes vintage Berkel meat slicers from Italy which were manufactured in Indiana during the 1920’s. The Berkel slicer Indiana (Model B) with a floral fly-wheel made in La Porte Indiana remained in production for a decade. Their quality, historical innovation and art nouveau style make them highly collectible and many remaining are being restored here and in Italy for those who would like to preserve a piece of industrial history.
Convivium – a gathering meant to be the food of good will, the seasoning of friendship, the leavening of grace and the solace of life; it revives humours, restores spirit, delights senses, fosters and awakens reason – from the letters of Marsilio Ficino to Bernardo Bembo
Now is the perfect time of year to host a holiday convivium, a coming together of family and friends to celebrate the season to “restore spirits” and foster good will. An opulent banquent of food and wine, both traditional and newly shared with aromas in the kitchen that tell of familiar tales with old recipes handed down and new ones experimented and most importantly, everyone eating together around a warm and welcoming table.
A Kitchen Convivium by arclinea
Marsilio Ficino and Bernado Bembo were both fans of the Renaissance convivium, an informal circle of friends that gathered together to discuss ideas and exercise their minds. Ficino, a 15th century Italian philosopher and scholar was an important intellectual figure in the circle of Lorenzo de’ Medici and would often be invited to the Medici villa in Careggi to discuss the teachings of the ancient philosophers.
Bernardo Bembo was the Venetian ambassador to Florence as well as one of the greatest Italian book collectors of the 15th century. The portrait of Ginevra de Benci (1474), the only painting by Leonardo da Vinci in the United States, is said to have been commissioned by Bembo whose affection for her was shared as a platonic affair. The painting was acquired in 1967 by the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC for $5 million dollars paid to the Royal House of Liechtenstein.
*You may recognize the plural form of convivum as convivia — set up by the Slow Food movement in 1989 as an Italian initiative in reaction against increasing globalization and standardization of food. A key theme is to link together those who enjoy good food and want to preserve and support local, small-scale producers.
The widespread use of this most basic utensil can be credited to the Italians through the tablescapes of Venice and a Medici princess. From the 10th through the 13th centuries, forks were fairly common among Venice’s wealthy trading partners in Byzantium. In the 11th century, the Byzantine wife of a Doge of Venice brought forks to the tables of La Serenissima however it wasn’t until the 16th century that forks were widely adopted in Italy and beyond.
The epicurean tastes of a Medici princess were transferred to France in 1533 when Catherine de’ Medici wed King Henry II, bringing with her Italian recipes and cooks, confectioners, distillers and the fork! French tables and travelers seeing and savoring Italy in the 1600’s were enamored by the slender handled 2-tined instrument that allowed food to slide more easily into the mouth.
In later centuries larger forks with 4 curved tines were developed and soon after the fork became more than a once criticized “excessive delicacy, a luxury of habits” that sufficiently offended the likes of St. Damian,a hermit and ascetic, who criticized the Byzantine-born Venetian princess for her use of the fork at the table that when she died of the plague, he regarded it as a just punishment from God for her vanity.