Thursday, July 28, 2011

Seven Links: Oh So That's What it is!

My favorite photo--it shows the beauty and age of the Calabrian natural and cultural landscape

Doug noticed an entry on Facebook from Sue of Pownall Chronicles concerning something about "7 links" and nominating this blog. We had no idea what it was and forgot to ask. Then I noticed that some of the blogs on our blogroll  had titles starting with "7-links". Thanks to them, I found the root webpage explaining that this was an idea to spread the good word about our own blogs and about others. So I'm belatedly addressing the questions listed. But first, I'd like to nominate some other blogs:

Great bloggers I’m nominating to share 7 links on their blogs:

1) Irene from An American in Padua because I connect with her writing.
2) Suzie from Palazzo Pizzo because she connects me to my love of art and architecture.
3) LuLu from Calbrisella Mia because of her love for Calabria.
4) Barbara from The Expresso Break because of her dedication to a first class blog.
(She left Naples so she no longer updates her blog but perhaps if she sees this, she can point us to her 7 links).
5) Jo from Joe Bloggs for her dedication to the art of writing and her wit.

Back to our Seven Links:
1) Our Most Beautiful Post:The Question--I'm interpreting beautiful as revealing the beauty of Italy through Doug's great photos.

2) Our Most Popular Post: So Many Restaurants, So Little Time--Go figure, I guess a lot of people go to Italy or think about going there just to eat.

3) Our Most Controversial Post: Calabria's Reverse Immigration--Nobody responded with any anger, but it's the closest I can come.
4) Our Most Helpful Post: House Hunt Italia--as far as I can tell.
5) A Post Whose Success Surprised Me: Beaches--for similar reasons as the restaurants--people looking for information about where to go...I guess.
6) A Post I Feel didn’t get the Attention it Deserved: Sicilia for a Day.

7) The Post that I am Most Proud of: In Memoria di Francesco--because it seemed to touch people just as I'd hoped it would, and as a writer, the writing just flowed (I like it when that happens).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Not by Bread Alone

Here is a  display at a large supermarket. The sign says you can find over 20 styles of bread here
Our American friend Aleris and her husband built a wood-fired bread oven at their home in Oregon (forno legno). Before moving to Italy, we had discussions with her and others about little bakery shops in Europe. Then, I told them that in our area there are no quaint little shops selling baked goods – just quaint little shops selling a variety of groceries and sundries.
I know more now. Almost every small town in the area has a bakery (panificio) --but they wholesale their products to the small stores and the larger supermercati. A few still bake with wood, but most have modernized with electric ovens for more control and increased outputs for the sake of making some money. A local guy I met (Stefano) started with wood. 
These are images of Stefano’s new, state-of-the-art bakery here in Santa Domenica Talao. He makes some traditional hard crust breads you see in the photos. The other bakery in the village specializes in softer French breads, panini and rolls. I also buy a ciabatta type bread made in nearby Orsomarso that is between a hard Italian and a soft French.
Owner Stefano works on a focaccia bread. He employees three other guys. These shots were after midnight. They work all night to make dough, bake it then wrap it in plastic. It gets delivered to the local small and large stores early the next morning 6 days a week. 

Cravings for Cheese and Other Foods – It’s funny that the only material things I have missed from the US so far are things to put in my stomach! We are lucky to have friends in the US and the UK who are willing to bring me goodies when they come to their holiday homes. 
Last spring an Irish friend brought excellent Irish cheddar. In June, our friends from New Jersey – in addition to all kinds of clothes, pills and “things” – actually brought us a kilo of Kosher corned beef and pastrami, and even some Jewish rye bread. Guess what I had for breakfast and snacks for the next week! Next, my Welsh “brother” Mike Jones showed up with 4 types of English cheddar to try. Di and I both liked the Vintage Reserve West Country cheddar and Mike thinks he can bring a couple kilos when he returns in a few weeks. I love the cheddar for its flavour and because it cooks nicely without turning rubbery.
A typical deli stand in the Mercatissimo in S. Nicola Arcella with plenty of cheese to choose from 
I have found an Italian cheese that cooks well. Few Italian cheeses cook well for me. So far I have found Valgrana to be tasty and a good cooker – an Italian cheddar. Of course, fresh ricotta is good for cooking, as-is mozzerella, but they are both very mild. Eborianato is a very nice blue-type cheese that is firm and dry vs. the Gorgonzola that tends to be too soft and gooey for my liking – nice to snack on or for salads. Another tasty formaggio just for eating is Grana Padano. If you like French Brie, you would like Italian Camoscio d’Oro – a soft, creamy, flavourful cheese that’s a bit more expensive at €14,90/kg. There are only a few Italian cheeses that I avoid.
Good eating to you, Guido

Friday, July 15, 2011

Summer is Sizzling

Summer has really kicked into gear now. Two weeks of hot weather, more people in the stores of beach towns, brushfires, evening concerts, club events and festivals.

 The brushfire across the valley today is almost 600 acres, but a layer of marine air overhead is keeping it from really exploding (hey there old colleagues--I remember some fire behavior details) The temp today is 32C/90F with 53% rh. It’s a typical arson fire done by someone who likes mushrooms or other plants that do well after fire. I can see the line the guy walked this morning to expand the fire, perpendicular to the wind direction. Costly to the government, but the tanker planes are entertainment for me. 12 seconds for those planes to scoop-up 1400 gallons of sea water as I watched thru binoculars. Check last summer’s posts for photos of the Canadairs.
Last weekend a local jeep club held a rally here.  

Most of the 4x4 rigs had huge aggressive tyres and some were equipped with snorkels for fording deep streams. They went mud “bogging” below the village where we walk sometimes, and they had other competitions later in the day. Suffice to say, there is no Tread Lightly ethic in Calabria! Several were flying American or Confederate American flags. Hmmm, is there an influence from the outside? At least it was not sponsored by Bud Light beer. Come si dice “Bubba” in Italiano?

The newest bar in town, just 58 steps from our house, has had live music twice already and it is relaxing to get a cold drink or gelato and listen to the tunes. This was a jazz trio. 

The nice thing about these summer nights is that all ages are represented. It’s refreshing to see kids that are not glued to an electronic game and who play together outdoors. 

The middle of July is when tourists start arriving in Scalea and you do notice the change. Monday, the main supermarcato in town was overwhelmed at 8,30 because they had not boosted their staffing. Only 3 resisters open and queues with 20 people waiting in each. Today they had it going with 6 of 12 registers. Come August, I try to be waiting outside at 8,00 when the doors open to beat the rush.

Scalea is a great town for vacationers in that you can walk to everything. Being a watcher-of-things, I have picked up on the habits of the beach crowd. First out the door in the morning around 8,30 are the Pakistani beach vendors. The Pakistanis are the majority with a few other nationalities. We ran into a vendor while swimming the dog who had been in our Italian class. Very nice fellows and they trudge up and down in the hot sun all day selling trinkets, beach toys, jewelry and clothes. Hard way to earn a living. 
Next on the streets between 9 and 10 AM are lines of people headed to the sea with their chairs, towels and umbrellas. I could not help but put a label on them – they are the morning migration of the lemmings headed to sea.  Hence, watch for lemmings crossing the road. 

All towns around here have festas and things happening all summer. The companies that lease the lighting displays to each town must do well. The Scalea displays went up earlier this week and the same company is erecting displays in our town today. There is more money spent on such things in the summer than for Christmas or New Years. I suppose because more people are around and a festive environment can encourage the spending of money?  Saturday is a big Madonna festa of some sort with fireworks. We always watch them from the terrace here. 

I have a tendency to whine about humidity now and then, but one member of the family likes to soak up the rays wearing a heavy black coat. 
Buona estate tutti, Guido

Friday, July 8, 2011

Fun July 4 on the Beach

We love Calabria because it mostly hasn't been discovered by the "expat community" in the sense of a bunch of people who just want to live by the sea shore and soak up the sun and generally not really care what country they happen to inhabit. We are surrounded by Italians and Italian culture. 

However, there a two days of the year we like to celebrate our birth country--and try to be respectfully low key about it.  Thanksgiving and July 4. 

Too bad the Italians don't happen to have a corresponding festa on the 4th because they wrote the book on fireworks displays--by government entities and well as by anyone who wants to send some up. We opted for a fun day at our favorite beach at the Lido Paradiso.

We gathered with a small group of American friends and just enjoyed the day. That's it--sunning and snorkeling and lolling in the surf. Great day. Happy Birthday USA.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

From SDT to Paestum, Sorrento and Ercolano

A view of the landscape in the park around the temples.  We liked the peace and quiet.
Since the whole world revolves around Santa Domenica Talao, let it be known that you could easily stay here and take the train as a day trip and see these sights. Or, take the train and stay one night in Sorrento. We chose to drive in order to bring our friend Vince (the dog). We drove north on SS18 thru Sapri and Policastro. Traffic was fairly light in the mountains and it was a stunning drive worth your time.

Paestum is off the beaten track, but there is plenty to buy or eat

Paestum is an ancient Greek site we found just 2 hours north of SDT and just south of Salerno. The 2500 year-old site contains some of the best-preserved Doric column structures in Italy. If you took a little Latin, like Guido, you are likely to pronounce this “ae” as pye-stum. Howard Hillman’s website says pest’m. We stopped at a bar in Paestum for a rest on the ride home and when I asked the owner, he said pastum. If you mumble a mix of peh and pah, you’ll make it.  Above, plenty of tourist facilities surround the site.

Pretty pics are Apollo (also Temple of Neptune) and is the best preserved of the 3 temples. Interpretive signing was getting pretty beaten in the elements, but at least they had some. Interpretation in Italy is sketchy.

Di stands by temple Hera.

View of Sorrento  on the way to the town center

Sorrento, aka Little America of Italy
In the image above are the villages of Castellamare di Stabia,Vico Equense and Meta with Sorrento at the top. They all blur together and the traffic is something to experience. We'd like to back just to take a boat tour along the Amalfi coast and Capri, but when we return it will be via treno!

We make the crack about Americans because the majority of the people on the busy streets, on tours, at bars, etc were speaking American. Just blew us away. Just a handful of UKers and some Germans. We had to get deep into the side streets of the historic area to hear Italian and to speak it. The storico is very nice with many, many shops and little restaurants and pizzarie tucked away all over. A handout states Sorrento has 100 hotels. We stayed at the Plaza in the next photo which accepted the dog in our room. Warning, Sorrento is highly developed with no vacant lots and the parks are fenced to keep dogs out of vegetation. We had a pet friendly hotel in Sorrento but what we didn’t know is there is not a single place you can walk a dog other than the pavement (we and Vince are pretty unused to that scene—besides the place was wall-to-wall tourists day and night so it was hard to be discrete….)
Not the best town for a dog the size of ours!

Our hotel--the Plaza--not our fav
This is one of the hotels where we wished we'd stayed.  Next time

Nice frescos in this domed space in the historic district. 

Although we saw some sandy beaches, the bulk of the sunbathing and swimming seems attached to these constructed piers.

Once in Sorrento, all you have to do is take the train to Naples and get off either in Pompeii, or Ercolano. The train is easy and gives fair warning of the stops. You can walk to the station from Sorrento centro storico

Ercolano (Herculaneum) is a 50 minute,  € 2,00 train ride from Sorrento. No AC on the train, so try to grab seats out of the sun. There are lots of cool tunnels...

Ercolano was a Roman resort for the elite that was buried under 20-30 meters of mud and debris that flowed from Vesuvius in 79AD – the same eruption that took Pompei. Pompei was covered more by ash and supposedly was easier to excavate. We skipped Pompei after reports of huge tour groups, but then learned that the excavated ruins at Ercolano are in better condition and, because of the wealth of the Roman users, contains some lovely tile work, engravings and paintings that can be seen now. Hardly anyone to share the 5 acre site with. It was a good choice. Just imagine the effort to clean-away 20 meters of debris from all that you see in that image. It is a great destination and they have done a good job with interpretive signs and self-guided recorded tours.

Below, old streets. They actually had a sewer system running under all of this which carried waste to the nearby sea.  Some of art on the walls is amazing and somehow didn't get trashed by the mud.  Same with mosaic tile floors.

Having seen the solid stone columns that the Egyptians created, we found this Roman construction interesting. The columns and some walls have an internal structure of brick, then an overlay facade made from cement or similar material. Don't know how the got the fluting in columns so perfect. There were also curved or domed ceilings that had an overlay that looked so good I thought it must have had a corrugated form of sort to create the surface.

Next you see modern Ercolano which is built on volcanic fill all around the historic site.

One fascinating item is that the seashore used to be about a mile closer before the eruption. In this photo the wet area represents what used to be nearly sea level, so the walkway and everything to the left is part of the debris flow that covered the resort. 

 Last night in Sorrento
We discovered this nice hotel, dating to 1880's, where we made dinner reservations. We didn't walk thru the place, but given the dress of staff and the "look" of some guests (yeah Americans), the rooms are probably in the €4-500 range. It and several others perched over the sea have romantic views and are away from noisy traffic too. We enjoyed that Sorrento sunset and our meals.

Can't you imagine Grace Kelly and Cary Grant here? Ah, but also Di and Guido. 

As always, we were glad to come home to Casa del Tramonto and our own piece of the Med.


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