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Ok, here’s the question. Would you be attracted to a bar with an entrance like this?

la farmacia bar pictureLa Farmacia Bar

La Farmacia dei Sani, as this wine bar is called, is a clever play on the Italian idea of pharmacy. In fact, their mission translates as something like “born with good idea to interpret everything like a pharmacy, to cure every symptom of appetite.”

The Maratea coast is quite beautiful, especially at sunset. It’s in Basilicata, a little slice of it that peeks into the Tyrrhenian sea. Americans don’t go there much, despite the tag line “the Pearl of the Tyrrhenian”. They prefer to cram into the Cinque Terre. Maratea is just another beautiful place in Italy.

maratea sunset pictureMaratea Sunset

This picture above was taken from the grounds of the Santavenere Hotel, right on the Maratea coast with, as you can see, great views. It’s the off season, so rooms are affordable, despite the luxury, and the folks running it are family, rather than a corporate conglomerate.

Just up the hill from the hotel and coastline are villages where everyone makes something good from the earth, the kinds of villages Italians like to visit because they can knock on random doors looking for the best regional salami or cheese—and they know they will find it.

Nearby, just above the little villages, is the small town of Maratea. Main street looks like this, all pretty in pastel:

maratea pictureMain Street, Maratea, Basilicata, Italy

Above that is the tip of the hill with, as anthropologists say frequently, “has religious significance. And great views by the way.

So you can take this vertical itinerary and have it all. Just set your GPS to “UP”.

In any case, I am extremely attracted to that little bar. You can get all the regional wines and things to eat that involve artisan cured meats (cold cuts to you) and cheeses. Don’t be intimidated. Belly up to the bar and ask the pharmacist what’s good for you—to eat and drink.

A Bar in Maratea originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Apr 20, 2015, © James Martin.


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To tourists trying to make the most of the weak euro by avoiding the cities of Italy and instead driving around aimlessly in the countryside. Don’t do it! Skies turn black, shadows weaken your best attempt at pictures, low lying fog blurs the details of your best landscape snaps. Come to your senses oh yee cheapskate tourist! This is not the time for you!

And now the evidence:

umbrian landscapeRural Landscape: Umbria near Fontanaro

umbria countryside pictureLake and Clouds, Umbria

umbria farmhouse pictureUmbrian Farmhouse

montestigliano pictureUgly Shadows, Montestigliano

san gimignano fog pictureLow Lying Fog: San Gimignano

san gimignano stormRainstorm: San Gimignano

(This message has been presented as a public service by Wandering Italy and Just Go Italy. For more information on San Gimignano, see: San Gimignano: City of Towers.)

Warning: Avoid Rural Italy in the Off Season originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Apr 03, 2015, © James Martin.


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crusty bread picture
When you allow big industry to provide your food, the evolution of that food always follows the same lines. A humungous company will introduce something cheap yet relatively tasty. People buy it. The company that makes the food cranks it out in as cheap a way as possible because the CEO gets paid an unimaginable amount of money and politicians don’t come cheap these day. The company is publicly traded, so it has to make ever more money or risk getting bought out for cheap, even when the product becomes, well, shall we say stale? So the product is redone, not so that it tastes better, but so that it offends fewer and fewer people and thus reaches into the furthest cracks of over-fracked America. That’s why people like the “Italian” food at Olive Garden. It doesn’t offend you with that green color of pesto or the “unexpected” taste of capers. It is Italian in name only.

The same has happened to bread. It no longer offends people with a crust that is actually crust-like. A slice can be used to sop up unsightly kitchen spills. It is light enough that a truckload of loaves uses hardly any fuel. It has a list of ingredients a mile long. You never knew it took so much chemical mining to make bread, so you give up trying because you don’t own a mine—which means you buy more non-offensive bread @ 50 cents a loaf which equates to 59 dollars a pound.

Artisan bread follows a more traditional evolution, the one we used to associate with a free market. It finds its market, it creates a better mousetrap so to speak, and serves that market by changing only when tastes change.

So if you actually like crusty bread with flavor and an interior that isn’t blindingly white and soft as a baby’s bottom you might pay through the nose in the good ol’ US of A because the artisan baker isn’t getting the tax breaks the big boys with their paid political clout are getting—but your nose knows, and your well-being benefits.

Then again, you can make bread at home for very little money. Yes, generous people sick of crap bread are working tirelessly to show you how you don’t need a wood burning oven or a steam-pressurized professional oven to make fantastic bread (but you can, as I do, lust after one). You need a push. You need a mentor. You can do this.

If you travel, you know the rest of the world has great bread and a great many bakeries. (I know, America has decent bread too, but it’s a specialty item, not an everyday thing.) You can go to Germany and be amazed at the bread on your breakfast table. Southern Italy bakes what I think is Italy’s best bread. Thus, what I’m saying is that it doesn’t matter what country your mentor comes from. It’s all good if the bread is made of yeast, flour, water, a touch of salt and love.

So, here’s the deal. Why not learn bread in Piemonte from a Dutch master? You can. I’m telling you, it’s cheap, you will enjoy being in a place where Italy’s best wine comes from, and you’ll be hosted by people I guarantee you will enjoy.

I’m talking about Marla and Fabrizio over at beautiful Bella Baita and their collaboration with “Dutch Baker Extraordinaire, Ralph Nieboer.”

Artisan Bread Making Workshop May 22 through 24

This hands on 2 day three night hands on workshop will feature Ralph Nieboer sharing his secrets for making and maintaining a wild yeast starter and making various types of lean and enriched breads with wild yeast and poolish varieties of dough. You will also be learning various decoration techniques including his very intriguing mesh covered loaves. We are still working out all the finer details which will follow. Fabrizio and I will be cooking and making dough as well.

The workshop is small and personal, so contact Marla and she’ll set you up.

If you’d like to research further, here are some links I’ve come up with in my research:

Ralph Nieboer’s Facebook page

Bella Baita Facebook

Bella Baita Bed and Breakfast
Italian Alps Retreat
Borgata SerreMarchetto 1
10060 Pinasca (TO) Italia
Bella Baita GPS Coordinates
N° 44.96050 E° 007.24000

The Breadlab

Do You Knead Bread?

Your Basic Bread originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Mar 13, 2015, © James Martin.


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I am currently listening to the audio version of Amarcord: Marcella Remembers.

I am not reading it. Reading, you see, sloshes the vitreous of the eye as the animated eyeball scoots back and forth over the words, a vitreous martini shaker of sorts.

You see, a couple of weeks ago my right eye abruptly began ignoring the scene before me. The contents pouring into my brain burst into an array of spinning color, half-moons of yellow fringed in red, followed by a milkiness flooded with black swirls like the escape path of a squid.

The doctor peered in, reciting the gruesome details in a sort of code, a rat-a-tat of words to her assistant. One of the words was “hemorrhage.”

Finally, she turned off her searing light and spoke softly to me. “When one passes the age of 60, it is common for the vitreous of the eye to dry up, tugging at the tiny veins and the edges of the retina. The veins break, causing the floaters you see.”

Then surgery. As you age, things slowly begin to shut down. This was my first catastrophic failure. The surgeon would go in, vacuum up the dried bits of blood and tack the retina back on with a laser. Then a gas bubble would be injected to hold the retina in place while it healed.

Thus I am a prisoner in San Francisco. I cannot go up a hill or the bubble would get too big. I cannot fly until the bubble dissipates completely. Thus the lack of updates here.

If you are squeamish, I’m going to assume you’ve stopped reading already, because the surgery, for which I was awake, was quite something.

I could see with amazing clarity what was going on inside my eye. No longer was light being shaped by an imperfect lens, passed through a bit of cataract before passing through to the retina for processing. I was seeing directly inside my body, inside the very organ the surgeon was saving. I saw her vacuum up the black swirls, the squid in reverse, I heard the hum of the laser tacking down the retina, the amplified twitter of my pulsing heart always in the background. A fantastic voyage, one you couldn’t take just a few years ago, when eventual blindness was the lone prognosis.

Today is the first day I can raise my head after four days of bowing down, paying homage to the gods of good health and trying to keep that blasted bubble backed into the retina, helping to hold it in place while it heals. It feels good.

The bubble prevents me from seeing much more than blobs of light; it’s like looking through the frosted glass of a dirty martini.

Martha puts drops in my eye every few hours. Marcella provides the entertainment that keeps the hours flowing. I can’t wait to get cooking again. I can’t wait to tell you of a different adventure.

Eyeless in Frisco originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jan 26, 2015, © James Martin.


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It makes quite the romantic picture, the swarthy gentleman in pith helmet and immaculately pressed desert garb shouting commands to muscular and sweaty natives as they move boulders, wedge massive pickaxes between giant stones and dust little oil lamps with tiny brushes.

At the time, rich and powerful folk had like Charles of Bourbon, King of Naples, liked to have rooms and rooms of the more impressive loot from older times (stuff they hadn’t pickaxed to dust), so they had yet another group of muscular workers revamp ordinary rooms in their royal palaces to display it.

So, if you happen to be one of the three tourists brave enough to make a trip south of Naples, you can be rewarded not only by seeing the ancient site of Herculaneum and its associated artifact museums, but you can now visit the palace and see where Charles kept the good stuff, which was all moved to Naples long ago, but still.

“Obviously you can’t see any of the antiquities from Herculaneum any more, since these were moved to Naples in the 18th century, but nevertheless it is extremely evocative to visit the original rooms of the Herculanense Museum. In particular, one room contains back-lit copies of all the ancient paintings that used to adorn it (apparently all in their original places). Also on display are original 18th century books about the excavated antiquities, including Winkelmann and Cochin, and what look like original plans of buildings like the Villa of the Papyri, and the Villa of Diomedes and the amphitheatre at Pompeii (but I don’t know if they are actually the originals – but they do look old!). There are lots of plans illustrating where some of the most well-known artefacts from Herculaneum were displayed, and panels about the early excavations and some of the characters who directed them, such as Paderni, and about early restorations of statues, and the early attempts at unrolling papyri (including a replica of Piaggio’s machine). You then get to walk through the king’s apartments, which are next door to the museum, and which were redecorated by the Murats.” ~ Visit to the Herculanenses Museum

It’s a short walk from the archaeological site, which makes your visit a long day, but I’m excited; it sounds very interesting. Besides, you can visit two towns the way, three if you separate ancient and modern Herculaneum. And there’s a train station nearby.

Here’s a link to the official website called MUSA, Musei del Sito Reale (di Portici). There are several museums you can visit in the building and a botanical garden outside.

Map

It seems you have to zoom out the map and you’ll see the location of the site of ancient Herculaneum.

Herculaneum: When Archaeology Was A Gentleman's Game originally appeared on WanderingItaly.com Jan 19, 2015, © James Martin.


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