Try a Little Benessere

 

 

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Things have been a little tense the last few weeks on the global scene. Conflicts and polarizing issues are beginning to rob and replace our efforts to find contentment and joy in our communities and families. Our lifestyle is becoming dulled and we’re becoming less satisfied with our achievements and the measure of our worth.

Maybe it’s because we’ve lost the artistry of living that the Italians know so well. They call it benessere “a sense of well being”. Traveling in Italy and staying with my Italian family and friends has led me to believe that Italians seem to know how to balance work and relaxation, surrounding themselves with beauty and art in their homes and businesses, eating fresh and vibrant food and focusing on family and friends. Italian design and fashion, culture and living, the way Italians prepare and eat their food all combine to create a sense of well being that doesn’t depend solely on the size of your bank account or stock portfolio.

Italians have long understood how art and beauty forge and strengthen our emotional bonds to life to create a sense of well being and lighten our discontent. Here are 10 ways to use the Italian concept of  “benessere” to make the world a better place in which to live.

1. Green agriculture and eco-sustainability

Italy is a country with “ un cuore verde”, a green heart. A country that measures its worth by preserving and protecting the land. In Italy green agriculture and eco-sustainability have been a powerful movement for decades.The pleasures of the table and ecologically-balanced farming methods are encouraged by the Italian government and through private groups. Italy’s farmhouses and family vineyards and orchards have always been a model for land to hand cooking.The traditional agricultural roots of Italian casalinga (homestyle) cooking are a legacy of Italian cuisine that we can all benefit from.

2. Wine

Wine is not simply considered a drink in Italy. It is part of the local culture and the moderate consumption  of wine is an integral part of the Mediterranean diet. There are well documented reports about the benefits of drinking red wine and recently a lot of buzz about the healthy lifestyle and longevity enjoyed by the people of Sardegna and the dark red wine Cannonau, said to contain the world’s highest levels of antioxidants (two to three times the level of flavonoids as other wines). The people of Sardegna who drink this wine are 10 times more likely to live to be 100. Research and the known effects of flavonoids, have shown that moderate wine consumption may increase life expectancy while also lowering stress levels. Wine may not be able to solve all the world’s problems but reducing stress often allows us to put our problems in perspective and find a more balanced solution.

3. Love, Friendship and Conviviality

Love is in the air all year long in Italy and has been for centuries.  While we were busy developing the austere virtues of the Reformation, the Italians were relaxing in the inspiring glow of the Renaissance. And although we might want to identify the Italian style of love differently, Italians more often equate love with the concept of enchantment, charm or delight, innamorato. Italians take pleasure in the companionship of friends and opening themselves to life on the piazza. My Italian friend Luca once told me that his day would not be complete if he did not connect with at least one of his friends.

4. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Since ancient times Italian olive oil has been an integral part of the way Italians eat. High in polyphenols and protective antioxidants beneficial to heart health, extra virgin olive oil is an important part of a heart healthy diet reducing the risk of variety of diseases and promoting good health. Italians share their love of olive oil and Italy’s precious bottles of “liquid gold” are available all over the world.

5. Art and Design

Laura Biagiotti, known for her Italian cashmere collection, has said that “Italian fashion is meant to add the extraordinary to everyday life”. From ancient Italian cultures to the Great Masters of the Renaissance, Italian art and design transcend politics, gender, economies and cultural differences to inspire and elevate all peoples of the world.
6. Cheese

According to National Geographic writer and Emmy award-winning documentarian Dan Buettner the secret of longevity is encoded in an Italian cheese. Whether or not an Italian cheese can save the world remains to be seen but Buettner who travels the globe to examine and unlock the secrets of long life claims that a Sardinian sheep’s milk cheese is a start. Eaten as part of a diet among people in Sardegna, designated by Buettner as a World Blue Zone (regions where long lived people can provide lessons for living longer and improving the quality of life), the cheese known as pecorino sardo made from grass-fed sheep’s’ milk results in a product with high levels of beneficial omega-3 fatty acids.

7. La Bella Vita

Italy’s contribution to living a life of purpose and pleasure is eloquently summed up by Andrea Bocelli as he describes the essential elements of living life in Tuscany.

Man was created for living here, where, with the toil of his labour in the fields, he can procure everything that he needs for a tranquil life and where he can also meditate on the profound meaning and spiritual value of his time spent on earth safe from the contradictions, vices, absurdities and tensions of the increasingly oppressive reinforced concrete world“.

8. Espresso

Although Italians may not have invented coffee they have perfected its making and service. True Italian coffee beverages bring enjoyment and satisfaction to millions of people all over the world every day. And as an espresso has less caffeine than a cup of coffee, a little goes a long way in lifting our spirits.

9. Family

family veneto

Our Italian Family near Vicenza circa 1900.

Italians appreciate their families and develop strong bonds with older family members. Elders are celebrated and family is revered. Loving grandparents provide child care, financial help, wisdom and motivation to perpetuate cultural and family traditions. In turn, elders are more engaged and feel a sense of belonging in their families and communities. Time and age is more irrelevant and society as a whole more dependent on family values with encouragement and supportive circle of family.

10. Relax and Recharge

Americans choose to work  much more than Italians in fact lately more than any European country. Now although this may have as much to do with a complex economy, tax policies and labor issues it still tells the story that Italians value time to relax and recharge much more than we do. In fact today 15th August , the Feast of the Assumption , is when all Italy, or so it seems, stops work to celebrate. In fact some Italians and businesses take the entire month off.  During  Ferragosto everyone pretty much abandons their career obligations and heads out of town making time to relax and enjoy life regardless of present circumstances.  Because fortunes always change , politicians come and go, the economy races up and down and it’s important to do something to make it all worthwhile.

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Italy Travels 1000 miles the Third Week in May

There is a saying in Italy that “in place of blood, fuel runs in the veins of Brescians”. By the end of the 20th century, the area surrounding Brescia had become the center for motor racing competitions in Italy. None never more famous than Italy’s ‘Mille Miglia‘, one of the greatest classic car races in the world.  A four day event that combines the magical scenery of the Italian countryside with one of the greatest spectacles in motor sports.  A historical rally of legendary cars, a race of endurance competing across 1000 miles from Brescia to Rome passing through some of the most beautiful cities on the peninsula and most stunning landscapes on the planet. race 2017 The route for the 2017 event, which celebrates the MM’s 90th anniversary, will take 440 drivers through more than 200 villages and towns, seven Italian regions and the Republic of San Marino.

1956 Ferrari 500 TR Spider Scaglietti

Cars are selected exclusively from models that took part in at least one of the historical Mille Miglia races (from 1927 to 1957) and driven by a crews from around the world. Some like a 1928 SSK Mercedes are priceless museum pieces including 14 Fiats, 12 Alfa Romeos, 4 Zagato-built cars, 2 Maseratis and 4 Ferrari that completed the original course.  A race of rock star proportions where enthusiastic lovers of velocity line the route (a loop of a little more than half of Italy), standing along mountain passes, Tuscan hill towns, roundabouts, pass cathedrals and castles, plains and lakes going as fast as they possibly can. From Brescia to Rome and back again.

Click here for a short documentary of Italy’s Mille Miglia from Jay Leno’s Garage.

Assisi Embroidery – Stitches Like Woodcuts

Umbria has been called the land of mysticism where the lives of saints like Francis and Clare of Assisi combine with vestiges of Etruscan, Roman, Medieval and Renaissance history to create a woven pattern in art that is unique. The earliest examples of Assisi Embroidery, also known as Punto Assisi or Ricami d’Assisi, date from the 13th century. The evolution of this style of embroidery includes a legend that St. Francis brought an example of the work back from China.

The convents and monasteries of Assisi started to make embroideries where the contours were embroidered with silk in one monochromatic color (usually in black or brown) then the whole of the background was filled in so that the main designs were outlined in silhouette and the background worked. In this technique the pattern is created by leaving the design unstitched and stitching the background in one colour. This photo negative style of needlework where the interior of the pattern is left plain or “void” is as referred to as Voided Work and gives Assisi embroidery a woodcut-like quality that is so compelling.

Assisi embroidery is worked in only two colors, one color for the background (traditionally red, blue, green or gold) with a monochromatic color that outlines the motifs. Fanciful motifs based on medieval symbology with elaborate scrollwork coexist with simplistic patterns from nature like flowers, branches and leaves creating a body of work both sophisticated and natural.

In  the 18th and 19th centuries the techniques of Assisi Embroidery were all but lost then revived in the early 1900’s when the “Laboratorio Ricreativo Festivo Feminale San Francisci di Assisi” was founded as a workshop teaching  young girls of the city to embroider. They took  traditional embroidery techniques and simplified them. Silk  was replaced by embroidery cotton, the outlines and contours made by counted stitch. The designs were simplified, made new or borrowed from wood sculptures and stone reliefs found in churches.

Assisi embroidery was commonly used for altar clothes and other ecclesiastic items and decorative items, pouchesassisi embroidery and tokens or favors and for household items creating exquisite tablescapes.

assisi embroidery 2

Truffle Times

white truffle
Some have described the aroma and flavor of the Italian truffle as rich and intense with a taste of honey and garlic reminiscent of the earthy woods in which it is found. Others have described them as a misshapen knot with an aroma best left in the leafy understory of the woods. Each to his own but I would suggest that you give truffles a try. Italians eat them raw, shaved over egg dishes or plain pastas, infused in olive oil or honey, in risotto and soft polenta (I had them over braised pigeon on my last trip).
A few years ago I stayed in the village of San Giovanni d’Asso, in the heart of  the Crete Senesi, where I was able to get up close and personal with the legendary white truffle. S.G. d’Asso is the home of the Museo di Tartufo, Italys first museum dedicated to the truffle. The museum created by a pharmacist, a chef and a botanist is located in a 13th century castle. But this is only one of the many wonderful things about the town, the other is a the town itself and a remarkable locanda (country inn) called Locanda del Castello where Selvana, her son Massimo create the most pleasant soggiorno for you to enjoy truffles, termes and Tuscany plus other activities from wine and cheese tastings to horseback riding and cycling.
Many cities and towns in Northern Italy, Tuscany and Umbria celebrate the white truffle with food festivals and markets during October and November. The town of Alba in Piemonte is the classic big box tourist destination for white truffles in Italy but the towns of Savigno, NW of Bologna (1-2-3 Sunday in November), San Giovanni d’Asso south of Siena (2-3 weekend in November) and Citta’ di Castello in Umbria (1st weekend in November) all have regional truffle festivals.
A good introduction to the taste of the Italian truffle is by way of a honey available at CosituttiMarketPlace . This luxurious millefiori honey has a precious sliver of Italian truffle in every jar. A balance of earthiness and sweetness. Here you can also find some recipes for using this honey in the most extraordinary ways.
Some interesting facts about truffles 
  • The aroma and flavors of truffles was thought to be so intoxicating that the Church in the Middle Ages regarded the seductive appeal of truffles as dangerous and they were banned from Medieval kitchens.
  • Rossini, the famous Italian composer, admitted that he had wept only 3 times in his life, “Once when my first opera failed, once again when I heard Paganini play the violin and once when the truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic”.
  • A tartufaio, truffle hunter, accompanied by his trained dog will search early in the morning for truffles when the air is clear and favorable for the dog to smell out the truffle.
  • The most sought after white truffles are found only in select geological pockets in central and northwest Italy, Croatia and Slovenia, and the yield each autumn cannot keep up.
  • The amount of truffle oil required for most recipes costs 25 to 50 cents, a small price to pay for an aroma and flavor that is so unique and irresistible.

Italy’s Magic Touch

An American: Will say ‘hello”.
An Italian: Will give you a big hug and a kiss and pat you on the back

hugsI am never happier than when I am in Italy. The food, the wine, the art and design, the landscape and sounds . . . the touch.

As you might have noticed Italians like to touch. They are a tactile society. Everything around them invites them “to feel” both physically and metaphorically. Italy is filled with emotions that cannot be denied. The fabric of history demands it.

Italians in general are a welcoming people with a culture of hospitality. They still shake hands and may touch your shoulder as they escort you through their country. Acquaintances often hug and kiss when they meet. Our Italian family greets us with many baci e abbracci.

As we become more distanced from traditional customs and families become divided we are less likely to experience the emotional power of touch. The spontaneity of touching has become downsized. Touching someone has become a negative action, an intrusion on one’s space, a danger signal. Stranger danger is real but are we overcompensating as a society when we teach our kids not to let anyone including aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents touch them without asking first. We teach are kids not to hug too tightly and that many people don’t want to be hugged. A published study in the Journal of Early Child Development and Care reported that preschoolers in America are more aggressive than their peers in France (another demonstrable country). They’re also touched less. Coincidence? It could be, but research would suggest otherwise.

The risk of loosing the connection of touch, once thought to be unbreakable, is crumbling before our very eyes. A friendly touch has appreciable affirming benefits and it is no more magical than when felt in Italy.

Accustomed to Build With Their Ruins

“The Venetians, exiles from ancient and beautiful cities and used to fabricate with ruins of ancient monuments, not least for affection  that for admiration, had become familiar with the practice of the oldest insert snippets in their buildings . . . and each fragment in their loved one that they added . . . helped them transform their refuge into their homeland ” John Ruskin

ruins-floor

Asin Erminio – Venetian Floor Restoration

Much of the beauty of Italy lies in its ruins. Even for the first time traveler there is a sentimental pleasure in experiencing the ancient architecture and art found in almost every corner, viale, staircase, field, forest or floor in Italy.  In Venice “pavimento alla veneziana“, ornamental Venetian terrazzo floors have roots that lie deep in history, in ancient Greece, where floors made from stream stones were arranged and mixed with lime or clay.

Historical inspiration for art and practicality is nothing new in Italy. The cobblestone pavements and streets of Rome were made by trimming large blocks of stone that had been used to build ancient Roman roads. Italians literally live among the ruins and many chic boutique hotels have been build from the crumbling walls of medieval villages.Wood and stone cottages have been restyled as suites, castle kitchens serve as banquet halls and former dungeons now host business meetings. Recusing ancient villages with wifi in a UNESCO World Heritage Site can rescue the past with an affection for the ruins upon which a new heritage is built.

Cultural repurposing of old or found materials is a valuable way to remember the past, a “sympathetic” way to use historical structures and discarded remnants. An evocative treasure of old materials and colors, sights and sounds that reminds us that there is a historical reference point to who we are and in turn what we do.

Whether we use past ruins a source of materials to enhance our current projects or look at ruins as a nostalgic window to another time and place restoration is a language built of momentoes looking for improvement.

Books about Italian Ruins and Restoration

In Ruins by Christopher Woodward

Italian Hours by Henry James

The Stones of Venice by John Ruskin

Pavimenti a Venezia – The Floors of Venice by Tudy Sammartini, Antonio Crovato and Gabriele Crozzoli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Macchina

enzo ferrariDriving a Ferrari on the streets of Maranello was a definite alpha Italy experience so when motorvalley.com launched in March with information and locations of Italian automobile museums, a calendar of racing and car show events and discounts on car driving experiences we were all over it.

The revved up Emilia Romagna tourism website also lists day tours of factories and showrooms and some great offers to immerse you into the “land of taste and motors”.  The province of Emilia Romagna in northeastern Italy is home to Ferrari, Maserati, Lamborghini, Pagani and De Tomaso luxury car manufacturers as well as Ducati motorcycles and the taste towns of Bologna and Modena. You can sample the regions’s iconic  Aceto Balsamico, Lambrusco wine and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and satisfy your inner racer along the way.

The site also has an interesting section about the stories and characters significant to Italian motor racing and car manufacturing.

eric ferrari

Our travel group at the Hotel Arthur close to the Ferrari factory (Modena area)