Benvenuto A Italia
What is there to say about the city of gondolas and canals. It is as timeless and iconic as the world makes it out to be. It was my second time visiting this eternal city and this time I truly feel like I was able to taste what Venice was about. I literally mean it. Our entire trip was related to the food history of Italy and about the Slow Food movement. One thinks of slow food in the literal sense, like honey, or maybe having turtle soup. It in fact is not about the speed of how the food is made or is but rather how it is prepared.
Slow food is three things: good, clean, and fair. It is food that has quality, is flavorsome, and above all else healthy. Slow food is made without harming the environment, production and growing processes which are ecofriendly. Slow Food is about accessibility making prices for the consumer and the producer affordable. The main goals of this movement are to educate the public about small productions rather than mass consumerism. To make better food that is also better for you. Above anything else to protect the environment.
The world is so used to mass consuming and reaping the earth for produce that it forgets about the negative connotations it can have. In Italy food is only eaten when it is in season when it is the most fresh. So while year round in the USA you can find peaches and berries in stores and markets, in Italy and some other countries in Europe you will only see them being sold during the summer months when the climate is ideal for these crops. I was lucky enough to be taken to lunch to a restaurant that has forever changed my culinary palette as well as my life.
In Italy there is something called a "degustazione" which translated means to taste and enjoy a flight of something specifically food. Our tour guide showed me this local spot and it was one of the most memorable meals of my trip and my life. The chef came out every time he dropped our plates off and described to us what we were about to experience. From fresh handmade pasta to bread baked in house. Sauces made from the freshest tomatoes, pesto so fragrant as if a basil plant was growing in your bowl. Each course was made with only ingredients indigenous to Venice. All while sipping it all down with a famous Campari Spritz to quell the heat. For dessert we engorged on a chocolate specialty, Salame di Cioccolato translates to Chocolate Salami. I felt part of Venice had been just fed to me literally and figuratively. I had a higher understanding of what Slow Food was and what it truly meant. While Rome stole my heart and soul. Venice had stolen my appetite and my stomach.
A weekend trip to Rome...
It has been my life long dream of being in a movie. To star in a film and walk down streets while cameras follow me and capture my every moment. To be immortalized within a film canister and to be forever remembered and seen. While in Rome I felt like it was coming all true. I felt like I was starring in an Italian cinematic masterpiece. I was the young out of towner ingénue, with a dream and a heart that was looking for a man named Marcello.
Their is something known as the Golden Age of Cinema and it originated in Italy it was known as Neorealism. The Neorealism movement was one of the greatest moments in film history. It revolved around depicting a post World War II Italy, showing the harsh realities of life through the lives of everyday Italians. There are two movies in particular I am very fond of and both are set in Rome. The first film C'eravamo Tanto Amati which translates to We all loved each other so much directed by Ettore Scola, and second La Dolce Vita which translates to The Sweet Life and was directed by another great director by the name of Frederico Fellini. Both are set in Rome and both are masterpieces from their time.
Ettore Scolas film revolves around the story of three friends who end up falling madly in love with the same woman named Nicola, their journey of love and heart break leads them to unsettling realizations about life and about the world itself. In La Dolce Vita we are taken on an adventure in Rome with Marcello Rubini a journalist who is searching for love and happiness in the streets and city of Rome. He takes us on a wild adventure throughout Rome reflecting on the events that happen to him.
My all time favorite moment from this film is Anita Ekberg as Sylvia the famous actress in the film who under some magical Italian spell bathes herself and plays in the waters of the Trevi Fountain, yelling out for Marcello to come save her. I have always been fascinated with this iconic scene and have since then always dreamt of meeting a young handsome man named Marcello. I had made it a point in my Italian adventure to find a man named Marcello and have him rescue me from something perilous.
As I toured the city of Rome I could not help but feel like I was looking for the same thing Marcello was. As I wandered the streets of timeless Roma I was overwhelmed with a feeling of hope and the same time despair. Rome looked the same as it did in those movies decades ago, I walked by Piazza Di Spagna feeling like I was excepting Gianni or Antonio from We all loved each other so much to appear and take me to dinner, while I carelessly laughed at the thought of them both fighting for my attention. I began to dream while being awake, Rome was seducing my senses and making me believe in something I had given up on. I felt love once again in my heart after feeling nothing for years.
While sitting on the edge of the fountain I felt something taking over me. I sat by the Trevi Fountain and gawked at the majestic beauty of this immense monument I began thinking about how I wanted to take my shoes off and splash in its aquamarine waters like Sylvia once did and call for Marcello to rescue me from this Italian spell Rome was slowly casting over me.
Walking alongside the coliseum was surreal. I felt like I had been transported in time and was starring in my own neorealism film. I was in love with Rome. A city of dreams, and love. Timeless in every way imaginable, the beauty of the city could only described as breathtaking. The history and culture was palpable, I wanted to be immortalized within the city and to somehow leave a part of myself in Rome to remain behind as an eternal memoir for the world to see.
I bathed in the moon light of the midnight sky and felt its cool rays of blue light caress my skin. It was as if Rome was hugging me good bye. I went out for one last time before I was to be returned to reality from my neorealism delusion. It was one of the best experiences I have had the pleasure of living. It was Pride month across the world and Rome was celebrating like no other. Once again Rome was casting a spell upon me, and I have never felt such radiant love like I did that night. I had lived my dream and it was ending with an unforgettable moment along side a giant piece of history and with my international family. Roma ti amo.
Our Italian adventure began a new with the city of Commachio. The city was very small and resembled Venice because of the reason of having canals throughout the city. As well as many stone bridges one of them being the famous Trepponti or otherwise known as three bridges.
Located in the Po delta of the river Po. It is a small town with one main source of income and commerce, Anguillas. Which in Italian means eels. The main source of commerce and one of the most valuable resources that Commachio had to offer, and still to this day is well known for this salty pickled delight.
Our tour started on a boat where it took us around the delta and to the houses where the men who fished for these eels lived and worked. Their houses where small elite and designed to house around 4 to 5 men who would spend their nights waiting for the eels to be caught within their nets and trap systems they had set. The life of an eel man was not a rather glamorous one, neither was for the women of the village. The eels once caught in these giant woven baskets of sorts would then be taken by boat into the factory la Manifattura dei Marinati, where they would be prepped and skewered to be roasted and or pickled. Men fished the eels and the women cooked them, sounds a lot like modern day to me where men worked and women would cook but it was a fair trade off in my opinion.
The eels would be roasted on giant spits in front of huge ovens that lined the walls of the factory. The trick to knowing when they were done was an apple. An apple was placed next to the flames when the half of the Apple was cooked they would rotate the spit and the apple and once the apple was fully roasted they were ready. The whole process was done is mass and the factory was the sole producer and distributor of these eels for all of Italy.
My curiosity was peeked when I discovered this town and this factory had been once the set for an old classic movie that starred the iconic and legendary Sofia Loren. La Donna Del Fiume was the name of the film which translates into The Lady of the River. The story revolved around Nives working in the factory cooking the eels and falling in love with a man named Gino who was a eel fisher with a bad reputation. All in all it was a cult classic in the Italian cinema as well as a controversial one. It showed the life of a fishermen working the Po river delta and the women's role in making the eels. Just the fact that I could have been standing in the same room as history was being filmed excited me.
I took several pictures including some with the posters they had of Sofia holding up the cans of marinated eels, and one of me pretending to cook them just like Nives did in the film, causally laughing at Ginos attempts to make me jealous. Overall our excursion to this small yet significant city was nothing less than spectacular, I was able to learn about something I would have never known about and I felt like I could have been casted in an Italian cinematic masterpiece, maybe Carlo Ponti would have cast me in the next film except it will be called Il Uomo Del Fiume, the man of the river. Obviously this great film mogul is no longer with us but hey a boy can dream.
Ferrara di nuovo.
Ferrara once again. So after a gelato hang over we had our second excursion planned for the day. A guided tour of the infamous Castello Estense. Our tour guide was a lovely lady whose name was Emanuela Mari, a local of Ferrara and in my opinion the most knowledgeable person I have ever met. She was born and raised in the city, and has the mind of an owl. Her tour of the castle was nothing less than spectacular. The Castello Estense had seen quite some things in its time. We learned about the history of banquets. These giant feasts that would attract nobility and all others to dine in the castle for hours and engorge. It was the medieval times so being poisoned was quite a common thing, so to make sure nothing was being poisoned their was a man and his job was to taste everything single thing before it was served to ensure the nobility would not be poisoned. It was one of many precautions that were set in place to ensure these banquets had no hidden agenda to gain political power by killing your enemy. Eventually though someone would end up being poisoned.
The tour took us to the kitchens where they churned out mass quantities of food from these massive fire pits and giant iron cauldrons and ovens which could fit a full grown man. Made our kitchens now a days seem like a joke. Next to the kitchens following a set of stairs were the dungeons and jails that held the prisoners of the family. A little ironic to have the kitchen next to where you kept your prisoners, I feel as if making them smell the food was another way of punishing them. Some of these dungeons were rather surreal. I am 6'3 and had to bend and bow my head to be able to stand. They were small, damp, dark, and void of freedom to say the least.
We made our way to the more uplifting parts of the castle after our stay in the dungeons. The Este family had oranges imported to their Castle garden because they could not grow oranges in the climate of the province. They most definitely did not take the word no for an answer. We went to the terrace of the Castle where they still have orange trees thriving. I wanted to pick one and eat it to feel like an Este but the signs prohibited one from doing so. I opted not to just incase they felt the need to lock me into one of the dungeons we had been giving a tour of. We reached the rooms where the Este family spent most of their time, almost like a living room of sorts except most living rooms don't have timeless and priceless frescos lining the roofs of each room. Castello Estense was a strong and reliable Castle with its unique charm to it, most of the rooms now are used as offices but walking through its halls and dungeons still felt like a walk back in time.
Here we are on the first day of our adventure within the city of Ferrara. So far the city has a quaint charm to it. Old but nothing about this city is old. Within its walls of stone and its streets of cobble stone it is full of history and life. The people are kind and welcoming, as well as modern and always dressed for the runway. Italians are always dressed for success. They are never seen in their home wear, it is always ready to wear. Heels are the tennis shoes for women, leather sneakers and loafers are the norm for men. Italian fashion and style definitely does not compare to what is considering chic in America. Coffee here flows like a river into the cups of the masses. When you say lets go to a bar, you will not find liquor lined shelves and wells. Instead you will discover a giant machine which produces espressos in the blink of an eye. Ferrara was showing itself to us and I was only falling more in love with this city.
We were tasked with a scavenger hunt to make us more familiar with the city the girls and I took our first day into the city head on. We started from the CIEE main head quarters and ventured out towards the castle. There were certain strategic stops which were for us to be better familiar with the city. We walked down one of the oldest streets in Ferrara towards the outer walls. Eventually the hunt took us to a place that has forever changed my life. Gelateria La Romana dal 1947 which has been churned out fresh hand made gelato since 1947. They only use the freshest ingredients and only seasonal fruits that are available on the market. Needless to say it was not the last time I ventured out to eat this delicious frozen treat, in fact by the end of the trip the workers already knew me like a regular and greeted me with a smile and reveled at my appetite for gelato.
Noi siamo arrivati finalmente!!!
We finally arrived! after traveling for over 11 hours total flight time we finally made it to our destination. Ferrara the city of bicycles, medieval renaissance walls, cobblestone streets, a Castle which withstood the test of time and the famous cappellacci di zucca. Which I later came to love and learn how to make.
This was not my first time traveling to Italy. Traveling has always been a passion of mine something I think I inherited from my mother. My family and I used to live in Madrid, Spain. For our last couple of months before moving back to the states my mother and I took a mini euro trip. Our trip took us across several European countries Italy being one of them. I spoke only French, Spanish, and English at the time so my linguistics skills were not of much use in Italy but my mother had an ace up her sleeve. She had learned Italian and fearlessly led our Italian adventure throughout most of the major cities and cites, it inspired me to learn and add this language to my skill set and to redeem myself for not being able to help her communicate.
The fondest memories I have are of her and I sitting on trains bouncing from city to city taking in the views and planning our next adventure. I love her more than words can describe and hold those memories close to my heart. She inspired me to sign up for this trip to Ferrara through The University of Houston. Traveling to Ferrara and Italy in general was something personal to me I wanted to circumnavigate the same streets her and I once walked together and feel like I did those days when we were together in 2007.
Fast forward to 2016 a couple of inches and pounds later here I was in Italy. Speaking Italian like a local and finding my way through cities I only dreamed of seeing. Ferrara was a small quaint town with picturesque streets frozen in time. A medieval city that was one of the first modern cities to be erected in Italian history. Its walls protected it against attacks and even time itself, everything about Ferrara was like walking down a portal in time. Buildings still had the same iron railings and decorations, streets were still the same cobblestone that was laid down ages ago. It was our first night and first dinner as a group and I was settling myself into our home for the next two weeks and I was ready to begin my Italian adventure. I was ready for Italy and to eat.