Going Underground in Camerano

July 30, 2012

Ah, Italy "the land of the endless discoveries." One never finishes discovering the wonders "above ground" - let alone underground! And sometimes, serendipity leads you to yet another discovery. Gray weather at the seaside last weekend prompted us to head out for some exploration. What wonders we found in a seemingly nondescript Adriatic seaside town, Camerano, whose very name is linked to its suprising labyrinthine maze of subterranean grottoes and tunnels, used by its first inhabitants, the Piceni, in the 9th-c. B.C., our guide, Daniele told us. read more...

Preci’s Curious Fame

July 27, 2012

A friend joined me for the adventure: we took a curvy wooded road into the Valnerina and then up into the Sibiliine mountains in southern Umbria, until we came to tiny Preci (population: about 200). Born as a medieval rural village near a Benedictine oratory (now the Abbey of Sant'Eutizio) time seems to have stood still in Preci. The serenity of this picturesque mountain village of warm Mediterranean colors belies its bellicose past: in the thirteenth century, feudal overlords battled Papal authority for dominance. After decades of conflict, the town was sacked in the early sixteenth century by nearby Norcia and then later rebuilt by Paul III. His mid-sixteenth century reign coincides with the diffusion of the fame of the medical skills of Preci doctors throughout Europe. Preci's sought-after surgeons constructed noble palaces and the town soon became an elegant fortified village. read more...

Running with Fire in Grello

April 20, 2012

Rural youth living near the tiny walled hilltown of Grello (pop. 45) run whenever they can these days. In serious training. But not for a a track meet. They'll be running with fire on the night of June 23rd, vigil of the feast of St. John the Baptist, patron saint of this mountainside castle-village. Rituals in the Baptist's honor intertweave water rites with fire (his feast is at the time of the summer solstice); in fact, fire and water, propitious elements of purification, combine and merge in many late June Umbrian festivities, all rooted in Roman rituals. read more...

In Le Marche, Golden Serpents, Lace Wonders

February 2, 2012

Lost in time are the origins of Offida, medieval hilltown of Le Marche, certainly inhabited in the Bronze Age, later by a local Italic tribe, then finally by the Romans. The town's name might derive from the temple dedicated to the serpent Ophis/Ophite, sacred edifice, where worship took place before a golden snake. Legend relates that the high priest of the temple could miraculously cauterize open wounds and bites by passing his wrist, wrapped with a writhing sacred snake, over the injury. The legend lives on in Offida: il serpente aureo ("golden snake") recurs again and again in place names of the town: after visiting the nineteen-centruy frescoed theater, Teatro Serpente Aureo, we walked down Corso Serpente Aureo to the Ristorante Ophis (ah, that snake again!) read more...

Perugia’s SAN COSTANZO – and a Sweet Wink

January 27, 2012

Perugia is not just proud of its chocolate, Etruscan artifacts and the Umbria Jazz festival: this provincial capital of Umbria also boasts not just one but three patron saints! Legend tells us that one of them, San Costanzo, first bishop, was buried outside of the city's Roman walls after his decapitation in the 3rd century. Celebrations start the night before his feast day, January 29, with the luminaria, the candlelit procession to the Church of San Costanzo, built on the site of his martyrdom. read more...

Sant’Antonio e il Malocchio

January 19, 2012

Our beloved San Francesco di Assisi might be revered as the patron saint of animals in other countries but certainly not here in Italy: Sant'Antonio Abate, 4th-century hermit saint who lived in the Egyptian desert with just a piglet for a companion, is the protector of Italy's animals. On his feast day, January 17th, animal-lovers gather at a designated church - cats in arms, dogs on leashes, turtles in boxes, canaries in cages, sheep harnessed, horses bridled - to have their animals blessed... read more...

Il Calendario di Sale

January 9, 2012

Onions and salt to predict the weather in the New Year? Over our years on the land, I've learned how farm women can take off il malocchio, how St. Anthony's image in a stall will keep the animals healthy, how a cross made of woven reeds can protect the crops in the field and that you never shake out a tablecloth nor throw out the crumbs swept off the floor after the Ave Maria (ie, after 6 pm) - and now I've learned how to predict the coming year's weather with onions and salt. read more...

Naples: A Street-life Nativity

December 22, 2011

In a bustling narrow alleyway in downtown Naples, Neapolitan life and Naples' highest craft traditions merge. I can't imagine Christmas without a walk in Via San Gregorio Armeno, nor any visit to Naples without a stop here. The sacred and the profane blend in wondrous harmony in the Neapolitan creche tradition - and are alive on the streets. read more...

Self-Exile on a Mediterranean Island

July 11, 2011

Augustus Caesar banished his libertine daughter, Giulia to Ventotene, tiny Mediterranean island just south of Rome and north of Naples. The exiled Giulia might not have relished the peace and natural beauty of Ventotene but today the island (1 km long and 700 m. wide) attracts those who seek a sort of "self-exile": a move out of the fast lane into a world of all things "slow", from the island food to the idle pace of Ventotene life... read more...

La Scarzuola:  From St. Francis to Savador Dali

June 10, 2011

A recent visit to La Scarzuola, in northern Umbria - where our region almost merges with Tuscany - plopped me right into a surreal world of Dali-Miro'-Escher-Fellini-like bizzarities. The name "Scarzuola" derives from a marsh plant of the area, "la scarza", used by San Francesco di Assisi, legend tells us, to build himself a shelter here in the early 13th century. read more...