The landscape of the Cinque Terre is certainly rugged. On the other hand, what we love about the Cinque Terre are the “5 little lands” themselves—as well as all the man-made things we’ve tacked on to the ruggedness. Otherwise there’s just a desolate mountain prone to rock slides.

For example, take a look at the terraces:

cinque terre terraces pictureThe Terraces of the Cinque Terre

These are fragile. They require lots of maintenance.

When folks abandon the vineyards because there is more money in tourism, the terraces tend to collapse, usually on top of other terraces. Then all it takes is a big rain to bring the whole house of cards down.

Not to mention the wild boar, who delight in this sort of destruction while adding their own.

I was reminded of these facts when I was talking to a map seller. I’ve been linking to a map of the Cinque Terre that is no longer produced. Why? I’m glad you asked.

Recent rains have changed the landscape so significantly it’s time to make new maps. When things settle.

Now that’s significant.

I’m not going to press the issue of the role of tourism in this destruction, because then you will call me an “elitist” and someone who wants the Cinque Terre all to himself because it is the most beautiful place on earth and should be open to anyone who wants to see it.

Yes, it’s happened.

So I will tell you another story of a nearby Italian Riviera town also revered by tourists. Portovenere. Once a bedraggled and crumbling town on the edge of the sea, in 1909 Henry James once called it “a queer, little crumbling village on an headland”, its little streets now resound with the heavy footsteps of tourists wielding selfie sticks.

So, to balance my account of the Cinque Terre, I will tell you of some great success that the money from tourism can bring. (Success in the sense that things get fixed up, restored, and the sea no longer threatens to reclaim a little village that ravages our imaginations; whether you think of this as success or would prefer to stand in solitude in front of romantic, crumbling ruins is, of course, up to you.)

Henry James again:

“There is a ruined church near the village, which occupies the site (according to tradition) of an ancient temple of Venus; and if Venus ever revisits her desecrated shrines she must sometimes pause a moment in that sunny stillness and listen to the murmur of the tideless sea at the base of the narrow promontory…” ~ Portovenere … a queer, little crumbling village . . .

Ruined? Not today. Here:

portovenere churchPortovenere, Chiesa di San Pietro - Church of Saint Peter

Lots of people get married in the little chiesa these days. It is person-sized. It doesn’t try to overwhelm you. It is a little temple, with a cute pipe organ wedged between the wall arches.

portovenere church organ pictureDelighfully hand made organ in Portovenere

So visit both places, please, while they stand. Hike the Cinque Terre but walk lightly. Every stone is important.

Can You Love the Cinque Terre to Death? originally appeared on Jul 09, 2015, © James Martin.

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This is one of those posts that Google will hate. You know it, because it will be short and sweet. Google has taken a stand on shortness, it’s not good. To be serious you need length. Some day, this page will be so far down in google ranking that I will sit with my head in my hands for hours.

In any case, I’ve spent the last few days thinking of hands and fingers. Finger fatness. And yes, even finger length. It all started with sculptor Pinuccio Sciola, the Man Who Makes Rocks Sing, who, when I met him 4 years ago, had taken to sculpting (roughtly) the kind of (rough) hands you see on Sardinian shepherds. Big, sausage-fingered, old baseball mitt hands. He pulled one out of the pile and showed me, then began to chuckle. The hands he created amused him. He compared them to his own. He chuckled even harder at the thought.

So, here is Pinuccio and one of his hands.

pinuccio sciola picturePinuccio Sciola exhamines his work, a Sardinian shepherd's hand

Recently, we were on a trip to discover how to help the shepherds of Puglia. Puglian shepherds seemed to have the same hands. Maybe the clan came from Sardinia. Lots of shepherds did find their way to the mainland. It’s a fair bet that the folks making your Tuscan formaggio pecorino came from Sardinia.

Here is a matched pair of Pulia’s finest shepherd hands:

shepherds hands pictureHands of a shepherd in Puglia

What got me thinking about this the apparent correlation between hands and the kind of work one does came about after watching chef Francesco Ferretti. His hands are like many chefs hands I’ve watched with fascination as they’ve crafted raw ingredients into food and even art sometimes. They are not shepherd’s hands. They are something else.

Here is Francesco cutting the dough to make pici, an eggless pasta associated with bread-crumb based sauces, real cucina povera stuff.

chef hands pictureThe Hands of a Chef in Chianti

Different, eh?

So I look at my short stubby fingers. They tend very much toward those of shepherds. There’s not a hint of the chef’s artistically curled digits with their associated deftness.

I better find some sheep. Soon. Serious sheep. They will be long in body and seriously strong in mind. I shall Google them.

A Show of Hands originally appeared on Jun 26, 2015, © James Martin.

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I have practiced at the game of golf since my youth. That was back in the days of the Mashie Niblick—my dad actually possessed one of those now-extinct clubs. Since that far-away time I’ve mastered quite a bit of the game to the extent that I can, with repeatable accuracy, get the ball to go straight through the clown’s legs and then to bounce off the right patent leather shoe of Snow White to get me within a few inches of the pin on the par 4, 7th hole of my home course. Onlookers are aghast. Usually.

But the course at the Golf Club Castelfalfi was another thing altogether. The minute you climb into the cart and start weaving down the crunchy gravel path you know you are somewhere special. This is the largest club in Tuscany, with 27 holes tucked neatly into the undulating Chianti landscape. The woods come right down to the edge of the course. Blue herons glide overhead. There are olive trees scattered about, not just for show. You can drive your cart right up to the fence of the game preserve and see wild boar. Just on the other side of the fence is an Etruscan tomb. This isn’t Cleveland.

But oh, the golf. It’s hard enough to navigate the course in a golf cart for crying out loud. Even a golf idiot can see that the mountain course at Castelfalfi would be a challenge, even without a paper mache clown trying to waylay your ill-putted ball.

After we had done our surveillance of the course came the unthinkable. Golf Club Director Manola Alberti asked Martha and I if we wanted to play, or at least hit a few balls from the driving range.

Martha committed us to flailing away at some balls on the driving range. Now I was locked into showing off my skill at this silly game.

First, course pro Alessandro Resseguir de Miremont showed us how it was done.

castelfalfi golf pro pictureCastelfalfi's Golf Pro

He hit a ball almost to the trees. You could hardly see the path of the thing after the first 250 yards or so. “That was a bad shot,” he said.

Alessandro launched into a critique outlining all the things that that made the ball travel a bit too far to the right and then teed one up and smacked it into the stratosphere, landing dead center, just where you’d put a bullseye if you were going to make an impossible challenge to the man’s skill.

So he took us through all the correct body movements, set a ball upon the tee and told me to hit it.

I did. I shanked it. The ball hit the barrier between my tee-off room and Martha’s. Heads snapped toward the sound of reverberating, tortured wood. The ball dribbled back in my direction.

I had gotten everyone’s attention. Now for my real shot.

And amazingly, it had loft, it had distance…

It went about a third of the way that Alessandro’s ball did. But still.

So we hit the rest of the balls. Zero shanked. I was happy. Alessandro was a great teacher. He spoke wonderful English.

We headed off to the temporary clubhouse for a pleasant lunch and a small beer (as a reward for my not doing any permanent damage to the structure).

After lunch we saw Alessandro out on the driving range. I suspect he thought I had poisoned his swing by exhibiting my unconventional golfing style. Sorry Alessandro….

But really, if you golf and want to go somewhere special, go to Golf Club Castelfalfi. You won’t be disappointed. I guarantee it.

I mean, just look at the place.

castelfalfi golf course pictureCastelfalfi Golf Course

golf club castelfalfi pictureGolf Club Castelfalfi

Golf Club Castelfalfi
50050 Montaione FI, Italy
Tel: +39 0571 890 200

Tuscan Golf originally appeared on Jun 20, 2015, © James Martin.

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You will be hard pressed to find a better lunch value offered at the Caffè Bella Vista in Gravina in Puglia. A four course meal offered at 15 euros a person starts with a table overflowing with antipasti and ends with dessert and coffee. This, for example, was what we thought we were getting for the antipasto course…until the waiter came along and stacked a couple more plates on top of the ones already waiting for us to empty them.

antipasti pictureAntipasti: Caffe' Bella Vista in Gravina in Puglia

Then came the pasta, a beautiful orecchiette with sausage and mushrooms. Then a meat course with vegetables, for which Puglia is known.

When the waiter came by to clear the plates, he asked what we wanted for the end of the meal, the dolce bit. We made those childish rubbing-the-full-belly-in-circles hand gestures that we Americans do, and then I suddenly remembered something culinary guru Judy Witts Francini left on my facebook page.

i always stop for pastry there— they make a minne delle virgine which is incredible—think that is the name

Since the Caffè Bella Vista is also a pasticceria, I had to ask if they had one of these. But since I didn’t remember exactly what Judy had written, I asked the waiter if they had any local specialties called “something of the vergine”.

“Ah,” he exclaimed, “tette,” and scurried off to retrieve one.

When he returned he had his sad face on. They were all out of tits, tette, and they were very sorry.

It’s the first time I’ve ever discussed tits in a restaurant with a waiter. Ever. Not even pastry ones.

Minni di vergini refers, they say, to poor St Agatha, who had refused the attentions of a powerful judge.

While chained, she was whipped, cut, burnt, and finally her breasts were cut off. ~ Saint Agatha – Patron Saint for Breast Cancer

Poor St. Agatha, a victim of the unchecked power of the rich. Remember her. Here’s a picture of the dirty deed:

st agatha fresco pictureFresco showing the torture of St. Agatha from the Duomo of Castell'Arquato, Italy

I'm Sorry, We're All Out of Tits originally appeared on Jun 06, 2015, © James Martin.

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