Dreaming In Italian

A breath of fresh air

Saturday, February 6th, 2021

We haven’t used Laura’s car for over two months and even then it was only to go to a supermarket outside the center. So that means that for over two months we’ve never been further than maybe 200 meters from our front door. Over the last month or so in fact it was against the law to travel outside your city except for some compelling reason (work, health, etc). I was getting a little worried that the car battery might be going dead. As of February 1st the rules were relaxed and it is now allowed to take a trip outside your own city and even to another region (except for two regions which still have a high rate of infections). So we decide to take a little trip.

I had once done a translation of a tourist brochure for the comune of Bologna about nearby points of interest so I knew that there was a relatively well preserved Etruscan village not too far away. After a Google search I found that it was at Marzabotto. Well, preserved is relative since the Etruscans left there about 2400 years ago and so the layout of the town with streets and foundations of houses are there but not much else. There is however a museum with a lot of Etruscan artifacts that were found at the site and surely a lot of other information. In any case Marzabotto is only about 30 Km from Bologna so it seemed like a good outing. Unfortunately all of the Etruscan stuff was closed due to the pandemic.

If interested you can find out more about the Etruscan site and museum here . We’ll be back.

I also found that Marzabotto is noted for something more somber. In and around Marzabotto between September 29 and October 5 1944 the Nazis massacred at least 770 people, the entire populations of some little towns; men, women, children, seniors, priests, everybody. The idea was to terrorize the population to convince them to not support the partigiani (the Italian partisan guerrilla fighters). I suspect that such cruelty served to increase the recruitment of partigiani and supporters. In any case there is a memorial museum in Barzabotto and as you might guess, it too was closed.

The wall at the entrance to the museum with photos (if they were available) of those killed in the massacre.

At least it prompted us to watch a film on Amazon Prime the next day “L’uomo che verrà” (The Man Who Will Come) on the subject of the massacre. It is only available here with Italian spoken language and Italian subtitles. The subtitles are necessary not only for me, but also for most Italians since much of the dialog is an a local dialect. If interested in learning more about the massacre you can follow this link

Then we had our first restaurant meal for 4 months. I had researched restaurants in the area and found that there were some good ones in Sasso Marconi which is larger than Marzabotto and and only 8 km away. The meal was good, the restaurant was very welcoming and the price was incredibly low for the quality of the food. We decided to splurge and has an antipasto (sformato – “flan”), a primo (tortelloni- a fresh stuffed pasta but the size of big ravioli), a secondo (scaloppine) and a contorno (verdure fritte – fried vegetables), plus a half liter of the house red and water and coffee at the end of the meal. The total for everything was 50 euros. It was all good (although the fried veggies weren’t great).

Sformato of potatoes and mushrooms with a parmigiano cream with black truffles.
Scaloppini with porcini mushrooms
The fried veggies
At the end, a free small piece of cake and a kind of creamy limoncello in the green bottle (also free) and coffees for Laura and I

So since we’ll need to go back sometime to see the museums we’ll definitely eat at Osteria dei Sani again.

As we were almost home I was almost overwhelmed by the feeling of being able to have at least a taste of a normal life. It was like taking a deep breath of the early morning air. Don’t we all wish so much for a return to normal – whatever that is – or will be.

What have I been doing lately (cosa ho combinato ultimamente)

Thursday, January 28th, 2021

Sometimes life gets a little boring when I need to stay home almost all of the time. Fortunately I always have little projects. One you can see when you look at this page. I added a feature and did some rearranging. The addition is the ability to translate the entire post for those who don’t read English well (I’m looking at you Laura). As long as I was at it I threw in French, Spanish and German just for kicks. I know one person who reads my blog who’s fluent in German and don’t know about the other languages. The free version of this plug-in uses Google translate and I know that the translations, at least into Italian are, let’s say, imprecise. Still Laura can read the blog now rather than just look at the pictures. If I get any comments in the other languages in the next couple of months I’ll keep them otherwise I will narrow the number of languages to English and Italian. And I will hope that Google keeps improving the translation into Italian. Click on a flag at the top left corner. Hovering over a flag shows the language if you don’t recognize the flag. I also moved some stuff that was on the right side of the page to the left side since all of that stuff disappears when viewed on an iPad. This includes the place where one can subscribe by mail (hint, hint).

One way to relieve boredom for me is to cook. I like to do it and I like to eat the results. This week when I was at the great vegetable market near us named Verdura (vegetable in Italian) I admired a squash that I had never seen before and thought that I could do something with it.

Zucca Delica – I found that it originally came from Japan. You just about need a samurai sword to cut it.

I thought a hearty soup since it is winter after all. It’s a big and heavy sucker. I could use it as a weapon if need be. I also found that it is really tough in the sense that cutting it was a real challenge. I have a good quality 10 inch chef knife that I keep well sharpened and it was a challenge even with that. I tried using a vegetable peeler to peel it and found that was really not going to be a good option so I cut it into slices and roasted it for about 30 minutes in the oven so that I could easily cut off the peel and make it into chunks. Since soups are very forgiving you can add a lot of different stuff (of course there are limits) so I had half a head of left-over cauliflower and a couple of potatoes that were getting pretty old and for something green I had some tuscan kale as it’s called in the U.S. or sometimes called dinosaur kale. Here it’s cavolo nero. I always have broth available and the trinity of aromatic vegetable – celery, onion and carrots so I was all set. Fortunately it is really tasty. I say fortunately because I made a LOT of it.

The finished product

Next I made some chocolate chip cookies, a very American thing that it turns out seems to have taken root in Italy if not the world. I found a bunch of Italian recipes for these in addition to all of those from american sites. They look a little funny but they are pretty much what I wanted – a little crunchy rather than soft in the center. I can hardly wait to make another batch since I learned a lot from this one.

Kind of ugly but good. The chocolate ships here are a lot smaller. I’m going to make the next batch with chunks of extra dark chocolate.

And of course there is a little silliness. Since I am an early riser after I have breakfast I set everything order so that when Laura finally comes into the kitchen everything is ready for her breakfast. So I have a little fun with it from time to time.

We all need some silliness in our lives.

I mentioned in the last post that Laura had order a ton of stuff from the Coop supermarket. That includes our preferred beer.

There were 30 bottles total when delivered.

And of course a Baci quote:

Life is too important to be taken seriously.
La vita e troppo importante per essere presa sul serio

Oscar Wilde

That’s all folks. I’ll continue to lie low and wait for the vaccine.

An eventful week

Thursday, January 21st, 2021

Yes, eventful. Of course there was a new president in the U.S. but there were also events at casa Joe and Laura.

So first things first: the inauguration. All things considered (like 25,000 national guard locking down the capital) it was a pretty good show. Lady Gaga, Garth Brooks and Jennifer Lopez providing the songs, the flags commemorating the 400,000 who have died from Covid in the U.S. due to extremely poor management of the epidemic on the national level and the huge national and international sigh of relief to have a sane person as president. I especially like J.Lo singing “This is land is your land”. It’s the only song that really provokes an emotional reaction for my country of origin and I think would be a good replacement for the current national anthem. I tried to stream the video via the New York Times but there must have been millions of others trying to do the same because it broke up so much that it was worthless. During the same period Laura streamed the whole thing from the La Stampa website without a hitch but of course didn’t understand a thing since there were no subtitles. That would be a good project for the Google guys to do real time subtitles in another language – a difficult technical task but those guys are pretty good at technology. Go for it Googlers.

Next was the caldaia (water heater). It ceased to work some time on Monday afternoon (January 18).

The caldaia in the kitchen

The lack of hot water was an annoyance but the water heater also provides heat for the house which made it much more urgent with winter temperatures. It showed an “error 3” on the display. I looked in the manual that I had downloaded months ago and it said to call for a repair person. So Laura called them and they came out the next afternoon and fixed it. Since we are renting the landlord will pay the bill – only 80 euros. It seems that there was some blockage in the exhaust pipe which required a fair amount of disassembly and reassembly and they also lubricated some moving parts in the process. One somewhat nice thing about the heat is that even in winter it doesn’t get too cold in the house. That’s probably because the building is over 500 years old and has thick walls. The thermostat is set at 20 C (68 F) during the day and at 16 C (61 F) at night but even in these days when the temperature is below freezing at night it almost never falls below 66 F (19 C) but when the heat comes on in the morning at 5 AM it takes about 5 hours to recover that one degree to reach the daytime temperature. So in any case now we’re back to normal

The other notable thing is that since we have two cats we also need a constant supply of kitty litter. Each sack of litter weighs about 15 pounds so it is really a chore to buy and transport it. So Laura ordered a bunch (10 sacks) from a major supermarket chain, Coop, for delivery to our door. She also ordered enough other stuff to bring the total above the level where we need to pay for delivery, I think that’s something like 75 euros. We have the litter stashed in unlikely places but it’s still a lot more convenient than a trek to the store. I think that we’ll be regular customers for home delivery from Coop.

And finally there is the greenhouse (“serra” in Italian) that Laura ordered. We have a very small one for herbs like basil, rosemary, thyme, etc) but it is really too small so Laura ordered another one. So yesterday afternoon I decided it would be a good project to assemble it. I thought an hour maximum since there are no tools required. It was made by a German company and so you’d think that since there Germans are so precise that the instructions would be clear – something like those from Ikea. Well, you can look at the photos below and judge for yourself.

There are a total of 154 total pieces not counting the shelves and the cover. This is the front of the instruction page.
Pretty clear, huh?

The Germans must assume that everyone is an engineer. Fortunately I am one and only made two or 3 errors none of which required too much time to correct. For the record it took just over 2 hours to assemble. Today I’ll put the cover on it.

And a new Baci quote that seems particularly apt for this period (and maybe every period),

Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn.
Ogni tramonte porta la promessa di una nuova alba.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

A penny for your thoughts – as in comments ;^)

Ode to Bologna

Sunday, January 3rd, 2021

The local newspaper, il Resto di Carlino, published an open letter from Roberta Capua who is originally from Naples and was Miss Italia in 1986. She has been a television personality for about 22 years and has now lived in Bologna for more than 14 years. She recently wrote an open letter to the paper about her love for the city. Since I feel the same way I translated the letter (with a few uncertainties) but nothing major. There are some local references that I explain in the footnotes.

Lucio Dalla1 was right, in the center of Bologna you couldn’t lose even a child. This city is big and small at the same time, it’s good natured and lively, it’s secular and catholic, it’s politically left and moderate. It remains a living room on a human scale, but elegant and it’s not for nothing that Bologna now is at the peak classification of places where one lives better. Who deserves the credit? The politics?

More than anything it’s the people. Around here there is imagination and ingenuity, health and five stars (the real ones not grillini2), culture and science that pay homage to the oldest university3. Everything that unites a solid social fabric makes this a land a place of the heart.

If you come by here you stop and never want to leave. It’s no coincidence that the virologists these days make it the benchmark of health excitement exactly here at Bologna guided by professor Pierluigi Viale and that the experimentation with monoclonal antibodies done at Policlinico S. Orsola4. As it’s not an accident that around here the economy has withstood better the force of the antivirus prohibitions and closures. “Bologna dreams” was the slogan of the culture minister Nicola Sinisi (1987). Bologna still dreams. Bigger and better than ever.

Roberta Capua

  1. Lucio Dalla was a very popular Italian singer who was born and I think lived in Bologna all of his life. If you are interested you can read more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucio_Dalla
  2. A political movement in Italy is called the “Five Star Movement” and was founded by the comedian Beppe Grillo and his adherents are called “grillini”. He’s a pretty interesting guy although I regard the movement that he founded as the Party of “NO” without a plan to get to “YES”. You can read more about him here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beppe_Grillo
  3. The university of Bologna, Alma Mater Studiorum, is the oldest university in the world having been founded in 1088. Here is yet another link for those interested: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Bologna
  4. Policlinico S. Orsola is the largest hospital in Bologna founded in 1592 (a lot of old stuff here). Health care in Bologna is very good. And of course I’m going to provide a link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Policlinico_Sant’Orsola-Malpighi

Now to change the subject… We’ve been listening to a lot of music lately and a lot of that has been jazz and classical, two genres that I have largely ignored unless they were in a sound track of a film. Laura’s father was a big aficionado of both so she has a lot of CDs of his. In addition she is a big fan of Davit Garrett who I had never heard of. He’s kind of a rock star violinist. He plays all kinds of genres and is very good. He doesn’t make any list of the most popular or best violinists today but he obviously appeals to a broad audience.
Here are links to two YouTube videos – the first is one is a documentary film and you can see David in action, the second is a very demanding classical piece.

First  David Garett

Next something appropriate for the new year – “vaffanculo” means “fuck off” in Italian.

And of course I can’t conclude without a Baci saying:

There is no beauty without a touch of strangeness.
Non c’è bellezza senza un pizzico di stranezza.

Edgard Allen Poe

Happy holidays to all. 

P.S. Let me know what you think of the music and if you were already familiar with David Garrett.