Thursday, April 30, 2009

One Fish, Two Fish, Green Fish, Slow Fish

Last summer, when Martello was attempting to sell the merits of Genova to Trofie Wife, I believe that one of his talking points was that the city hosted the annual "Slow Fish" festival. Knowing my penchant for fancy, over-priced, and sustainable foods, he thought this would be a major plus. However, my reaction was something along the lines of, "so let me get this straight, you want me to leave the city that hosts the annual Chocolate Show for the city that hosts the annual fish festival?" Let's just say this creatures of the sea festival wasn't what eventually won me over, but Trofie Wife was nonetheless delighted when the opportunity came around to check it out (there was added incentive for Martello, as it was being hosted in a new Jean Nouvel-designed pavilion at the Fiera di Genova).

The Fiera is the local convention center, kind of like the Javits Center, except here you gaze out at the Mediterranean instead of the West Side Highway. As the name implies, the fair was sponsored by the International Slow Food movement, which is conveniently located in Italy. In fact, the Italians are so taken with sustainable eating methods that they've even passed this concern on to their dogs; more than a couple were on hand (and extremely well-behaved).

The first floor hosted an array of exhibits (mostly in Italian) about keeping the oceans clean and only buying sustainable fish, as well as an interesting section on the relationship between Bergen, Norway and Genoa (they have a deep, enduring relationship cemented by cod). Amazingly delightful fish sandwiches were available indoors, with a line up of "street food" just outside. Trofie Wife took a particular shine to cicciarelli di Noli, little anchovies fried whole and served in a paper cone with a lemon on the side for squeezing. They were superbly delicious. Noli is another little coastal village past Savona en route to France. They tout their little fish as especially sustainable as the nets cause no harm to the rest of the sea's inhabitants.

Sated with our munchies, we wandered over to a crowded, noisy area where it turned out that several people were auctioning off fish. We didn't really understand if this was a reenactment of days and commerce gone by or if such activities still occur (either way, the catches didn't seem to have too many takers).

So after thinking we had seen the majority of the show, we headed up to the second floor, thinking we'd do a quick run-through before splitting. We were not quite ready for what we saw there: row after row, stall after stall of fish and sea-related products, as well as portable restaurants imported from as far away as Venice and Sicily as well as an enoteca for wines that pair well with fish that would probably put many wine shows to shame! (They were also selling these bizarre wine glass carriers that avid tasters could wear around their necks, which made those who had purchased them look like human Saint Bernards rushing towards a culinary emergency, armed with sauvignon blanc.)

I had a bit of a freak-out moment when an eager (and somehow still hungry) Martello started grabbing for samples, which he didn't bother to stop and see he had to pay for, eerily reminding me of my father, who when I took him to the Chocolate Show, was pulling up waxen display pieces and attempting to eat them... . We settled with the offended (French) stall owner and then sauntered (and eventually rolled) on through the rest of the stalls, sampling, purchasing, and gawking as we went. The stalls were divided by sustainability (regardless of location, the specially-marked Slow Food products got top billing) and then region, moving from the Veneto on down to Sicily and Sardinia. Of course, the one chocolate item that was available for sampling was not available for purchase (after we both were hooked), an amazing 70 percent dark bar using salt from Ibiza (Slow Fish is also big on plain and herbed sea salt; we picked up a great jar there). Trofie Wife is hoping that the offending company will either update the products on their Web site or show up at the Chocolate Show next season! On our way out, Martello also picked up a delightful lemon-flavored carbonated water (to add to his accumulated collection of Slow beers); another new product we'd like to have again that doesn't seem available anywhere... .

When we finally retreated, we managed to get ourselves to the vicinity of the train station with just enough time and cash on hand to buy a kilo of Grom gelato, because clearly, ice cream can be paired with just about anything. Sadly, while there is no Slow Gelato (or Chocolate or Bread or Pastry...), there is a Slow Cheese event in September. Hopefully we can swing by, armed with doses of Lactaid and a refrigerated sack!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, April 17, 2009

Pasqua e Pasquetta

With the seders now over and a long Easter weekend ahead of us, Trofie Wife returned to exploring Italian culture. Being in Italy for yet another sacred Catholic holiday made Trofie Wife want to see some more examples of traditions that she would not soon view again. After some Googling and snooping around the cathedral provided no information about any impending passion plays or Stations of the Cross, Trofie Wife resigned herself to missing out on any unique religious displays; perhaps she'd make it to Rome for that sort of event at some point. And then the phone rang. It was Martello. He had missed the bus, and in the midst of walking home from the office, he ran into legions of parading Arezanans.

Turns out, they were reenacting the Via Crucis (Way of the Cross) at around 9:00 p.m. or so in the evening (I had thought it occurred during the day but perhaps the event corresponds to the hour of Jesus's death?). The camera and I swiftly met him just in time to document the procession. It was a very poignant display of devotion, with hundreds of people holding candles or just walking in silence and then singing after each station (as directed by the priest via megaphone). The town band played and various crosses and statues of the passion and its aftermath were carried by men with holsters (though I have to ask why so many elderly men were lugging things; couldn't they find any hulky youngsters to volunteer, or maybe it's an honor for a church elder...).

Our neighbors walked along the sea then up the hill and back to the local parish church, S.S. Nazario E Celso, which dates from the 18th century (I had previously only known it as the church on the way to the train station...); plenty of our fellow heathens walked parallel to the route, observing as we strolled. Just as the procession made its way back to the church, the skies opened and it began to pour. They quickly brought in the assorted crosses and statues, and everyone ran inside for cover; Martello and I followed them in order to get a glimpse of the magnificent baroque cathedral.

We saw a flier hanging in the cathedral announcing that all Italian churches would be collecting funds for the L'Aquila earthquake relief this coming weekend. (Note: Abruzzo is about 400 miles south and east of Liguria; we haven't seen or heard much about the earthquake locally aside from this solicitation. Of course, the major national media outlets are following the story closely; on Wednesday night our favorite news program, Exit, discussed the astronomical cost of rebuilding. This time around, Italy needs to take a cue from San Francisco and Japan on how to properly construct earthquake-ready modern buildings.)

As we were leaving the procession, Martello asked why Passover was called Pasqua Ebraica (Jewish Easter), since the two holidays, he said, have very little in common. Trofie Wife countered (thinking at the time that it would make a great academic paper) that beyond the seasonal overlap (and the similarities between Lent and giving up leavened products), there's a case to be made that both holidays center around dramatic historical reenactments of the central moment in each religion's history (the Crucifixion and the Exodus). Martello countered that the revelation at Sinai was the crucial historic moment in Judaism, yet I replied that Sinai was impossible without the Exodus (chicken/egg much?).

Aside from getting our much-awaited gas tank, not much happened on Saturday (aside from sleeping and catching up online). Trofie Wife expected Easter Sunday to be pretty dead, given everyone being off at church or eating with their families. Surprisingly (yet not to Martello, who had suspected it all along), things were open in Genoa. We finally made it to an exhibit at Palazzo Ducale, which Martello had been hoping to check out for a while (it was lackluster) and enjoyed our wanderings through the farmers market (again I ask, on Easter? in Italy????) and our gelato senza coni. We sat by the Porto Antico for a while and noted a sushi joint and microbrewery that we agreed to return to post Pesach. We returned home to make, by hand, chestnut flour gnocchi. It was quite the production, but the dish actually tasted quite good, especially due to chief saucier Martello's valiant efforts with the frying pan. We look forward to making gnocchi with real flour soon!

Pasquetta (or little Easter) is Easter Monday. It's a fantastic holiday, its sole purpose being outdoor picnics (Jesus rises, brings 80 degree weather?). We walked on the path from Arenzano to neighboring Cogoleto and enjoyed the sun in each spot, although we were overdressed for the beach and envious of all the folks in their shorts and bathing suits. Martello even spotted a small family of Hasidic Jews (probably down from Milan for the day and even warmer than we were, given their black trousers) who were also enjoying their Pasquetta. Sadly, the weather hasn't held up and any hopes for a return to the beach this weekend are slim.

Well, that brings us up to date with the wanderings of Martello e Trofie Wife. We are hoping for some fun, local adventures in the next few weeks with the arrival of the Slow Fish Festival and some visitors from near and far. Stay tuned!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

How Cheap Plastic Saved Pesach

Let Trofie Wife first start by saying that I don't invite strange events into our lives just so we'll have something to write about; they just happen. With this in mind, I now bring you the tale of Passover in Arenzano, 5769...

The day began easily enough with Martello and I attempting to say the Birkat Hachama (Blessing of the Sun) as that superstar hid behind the clouds and Martello ran out the door to make the bus. I made another attempt (this time with feeling) on the balcony after he left, though I did struggle with the whole logic of the act (I was reading a book on string theory at the time; it's hard to transcend astronomy and cosmology with rabbinic "calculations," but I'm sure the large outdoor gatherings of people reciting the prayer together and then noshing on bagels were very nice. I also wonder if there's a special prize for actually being 28 when something that only happens every 28 years occurs; if so, please send two to our apartment in Arenzano, grazie).

I headed to the grocery store (saying "ciao" along the way to the goats and one of the neighborhood peacocks who was making a run for it out of the park and heading towards centro) for the final few items that would complete our seder plate. I read online that vegetarians substitute a roasted beet for the shank bone (there are a number of reasons as to why, some relating to an obscure Talmudic tract, others to Holocaust lore), so we went with that. Martello was desperate for me to find some horseradish (there was no Gold's in Milano). I had no luck, but grabbed the closest thing, an entire carton of bitter radishes (which, according to the producing town's Web site, are quite nutritious!).

Bitter radishes

I have to say that composing your own seder plate certainly makes one feel like a real adult. Especially the part where you have to woman up and roast an egg (mine turned out especially deformed as I pretty much threw it into the boiling water, none too pleased that I was going to have to handle and then stare at a smelly, hard-boiled and then roasted egg for two days).

Make-shift seder plate: note haroset out of a jar to the left (way too sweet), roasted beet in foil, roasted egg with concealed oozed yoke (due to cracking), and bitter radishes

Weird French matzah resembling a doily. The orange and wine flavor was good, especially when toasted.

So, my roasting progressed with the afternoon, moving from beets, to an egg, to potatoes. I noted that it was a little strange that the oven flame was flickering, but I was able to turn it back up, so I thought little of it.

After successfully having purchased fresh fish from the market, I was excited to make my first ever packet meal, a delightful fish wrap with a potato base topped with chunks of cod, lemons, olives, garlic, and parsley. We didn't have any kitchen string, so I substituted unwaxed dental floss; I'm sure my ultra-hip dentist would be proud to see her freebies being used in this manner. Dessert was going to be a Lidia Bastianich flourless mini-cake recipe clipped from New York magazine; she used almond flour, but I planned to swap it for chestnut flour (which is a Piedmontese speciality).

Fish and floss.

Wrapped fish packet

With the fish packets made, the dessert ingredients all lined up, and Martello 30 minutes away from departure, I turned on the gas and tried to light the burner, but it was a no go. I tried several more times, from every possible angle, but it was futile; it appeared as though our gas tank was empty (there's no gauge, so you can't definitively tell). I nearly had a breakdown, after having devoted such a considerable amount of time to making a lovely meal (I had also just mixed the butter and sugar for dessert). I couldn't believe that all was lost! I thought about other options, but wasn't sure how to make it work. When Martello arrived home, he stopped me from destroying the kitchen/rocking silently in the corner, and we then reached the conclusion that we would attempt to cook our gourmet meal in the toaster oven (yes, the infamous 10 euro toaster oven purchased at the grocery store). I was nervous about embarking on this course of events due to all the parchment paper, but we did one set of two and then the rest of the packets, and the fish cooked through perfectly. We also baked the mini flourless cakes in that manner. Passover was saved! (Martello noted that it was more like a Chanukah rather than a Passover miracle.)

Fish packets in toaster oven

Perfectly cooked fish

Chestnut cupcake

We read from a reproduced (originally wood-cut) haggadah that Martello had purchased in the Jewish Museum in Venice. It was a bit awkward to follow, and we only had one, but we managed to cobble together a decent enough seder over the two nights (the gas would not arrive until Saturday morning as I believed that the stove had come back to life on Thursday after I was able to brew one espresso pot (it psyched me out) and by the time I got to the store on Friday morning, it was too late for afternoon delivery). The moral of the story is to always respect your toaster oven and give it more to do than merely toast bread. It's really very versatile and likes the challenge (perhaps the same thing can be said for God...).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Feste Time

After several weekends of travel, Martello e Trofie Wife decided to take this last one before Passover easy. Friday night was dedicated to a feste (party; wherein we made the faux pas of bringing the offending Bolognese Lambrusco) for a departing colleague, which gave Trofie Wife (after she reluctantly agreed to leave the house after 11 p.m.) an opportunity to meet more of Martello's co-workers. I admitted that they were a fun bunch, although the mix of English and Italian was a bit dizzying/disarming (while most people speak a mix of both, some Italians and some estrani (well, mostly Trofie Wife) don't have much to offer conversationally in their subordinate language.

We finally made it out late on another rainy Saturday just in time to hit IKEA for a tavola pieghevole (folding table) so Trofie Wife could work and read outside on the rare ocassion when the sun is actually shining! Once finished with the furniture shopping, we went to town at the Swedish market, picking up a bunch of salmon-related products and other assorted treats, including a small portion of reindeer salami (sorry, Rudolph), whose purchase proved that Trofie Wife didn't fall too far from the paternal tree when it comes to culinary curiosity (disappointingly, it did sorta just taste like beef). We returned home to watch Wall*E, which we had managed to miss in both the English- and Italian-language theatres. What a great flick! (I greatly enjoy imitating the robots, especially when dancing with appliances in the kitchen.)

The weekend was rounded out with another feste, a late potluck brunch at the home of another one of Martello's co-workers. As this extremely international group sat around the table conversing in English, Italian, and food (and later moving on to badminton and a pre-downpour stroll), I felt as though I were in a scene out of a slow-paced, subtitled film, sitting in a lovely European backyard, sipping wine and eating cake (including our quickly-conceived and well-received salt-specked chocolate chip cookies (er "biscuits"); someone even requested the recipe!) and discussing all matter of things intellectual and otherwise (yes, I know I sound both snobby and dorky). Our lives felt, and continue to feel, very charmed.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

The Dampness Won’t Dampen Our Plans and Matzah Milanese

The last weekend of March provided a doozy of a downpour. But rather than stay inside all weekend (well, with the exception of Saturday afternoon), we decided to brave the storm and explore more of Genova and Milano. After buying Martello some pants that actually fit, we treated ourselves to a romantic dinner (a belated Valentine's Day meal, if you will; we're slow) at Enoteca Tiflis, a cavernous wine bar and restaurant that's tucked behind Piazza del Erbe and looks like it stepped out from medieval central casting. Unfortunately, the ambiance bested the meal (there was a weird Asian-spice and kebab thing going on), but the wine Trofie Wife selected (a Sangiovese from the Marché region) was divine.

After dinner we skedaddled home so that we could awake along with Euro Daylight Saving Time and make our way to Milano on the early train. Our main goal was shopping for Passover staples coupled with some sightseeing. Of course, the rain persisted, but we trudged on, easily navigating the Milano metro to reach Eretz, one of the city's kosher grocery stores far from the city center. It was quite small but packed with folks of seemingly various levels of observance greeting each other as they shopped for the upcoming holiday. The store had a good mix of products both familiar and new, with most of them coming from either Israel or France (too many of the Italian products weren't Ashkenazi (Eastern European Jewish)-friendly, sigh...). There were no Streits or Manischewitz products in sight (a welcome change), and Martello was in awe of the kosher salami selection (while I was dubious of the faux, fatty beef proscuitto). We carefully curated a selection of light, non-perishable, and "necessary" items, as we would be forced to lug around everything with us all day. We stopped into the adjacent kosher bakery for a donut (Trofie Wife) and teensy tuna and egg sandwiches (Martello), but Trofie Wife shunned their (non-Lavazza) coffee machine for the output of a proper espresso maker elsewhere.

We made our way back to the city center so we could tour the famed Duomo and imposing Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II. Due to the rain, we didn't scale the Duomo's roof, but we will be back in order to do so. The pictures really speak for themselves, but the Duomo soars into the sky and all the sculpture bedecking it is intricate and impressive.

Within the Galleria, Martello spotted a sign for a beit midrash (Jewish library) curiously situated above a McDonald's (unfortunately, we couldn't get a good shot of them together in one frame).

Our Sunday brunch was eaten at Obikà, a chic mozzarella bar that recently opened its first New York cafe. We had a sampler of three types of buffalo mozzarella, and Martello enjoyed the lighting fixtures while Trofie Wife was fascinated by the automatic kitchen door that opened and closed with perfect timing (we're a couple of simple pleasures).

Obikà is just one eatery within a giant food court situated diagonally behind the Duomo. Security stopped Martello from taking pictures (likely because we'd use them to open our own trendy food court), but among the ridiculously overpriced grocery items was a limited-edition bottle of Bling H20 (sadly, an American product out of LA; the company decorates frosted glass bottles with Swarovski crystals, pumps in purified water, and then sends the crass item to market) decorated in honor of President Obama and priced at 300 euros!

In the afternoon we attempted to attend a Magritte exhibit at Piazza Reale, but it was the last day of the show and the line was hundreds of people long, though you have to give folks a lot of credit for waiting outside in the rain on a long line to see art; I doubt that happens often in the States. We ended the day with a quick stroll through the Brera neighborhood, a bathroom break at the Castello Sforzesco (maybe we'll go back to actually tour the castle next time), and some excellent gelato at La Bottega del Gelato (pignoli ice cream!). Trofie Wife should add that during our Brera stroll we ran into some animal rights activists. I accepted their flier and read and translated it later in the week, learning all the Italian words related to the importance of spaying and neutering a pet (Martello has taken note of my innovative method of learning the language via protest literature). It's funny, because I remember watching an episode of The Dog Whisperer some years back which featured an Italian man and his Standard Boxer who had moved to Southern Florida. Cesar Millan (ha! Sorta like Milan!) explained to the man that the dog really needed to be neutered if he was going to be properly socialized, and the man insisted that it's just not something that's accepted in the machismo Italian culture. I don't recall where in Italy that man was from, but there's definitely a larger movement abreast here to control the domestic animal population (which includes shipping a number of cane randagi (stray dogs) home with me).

Upon boarding the train for home, Trofie Wife realized that we had arrived and were now departing from either Binario 20 or 21 (21 was the infamous platform (its history soon to be chronicled in a station-based museum) from which Italian Jews were shipped to concentration camps during World War II). If it was in fact 21 on which we traveled, oh the irony that it was now being used as a means of transport to kosher for Passover goods!

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Focaccia Triumph

We live in the world center of focaccia production and as such, have grown quite accustomed to its light, perfectly oiled and salted taste. True Ligurian focaccia is nothing like the puffy, Uno pizzeria-like junk found back in the States, which I never much cared for and which Martello even claims he will no longer ingest. Thus, given the fact that our time in Italia is likely half way through, Trofie Wife believed it was important to perfect her focaccia making so that we won't be forced to eat dreck when we settle back home. After one failed attempt at a sweet focaccia (most of the blame can be laid at the foot of the wrong kind of yeast (for angel food cake), purchased in haste back in December), I managed to make a perfectly beautiful tray of normale. So perfect, in fact, that I had to wake up Martello after he had fallen asleep (typical) so he could have a bite.

Below, please see my triumph.

I promise it will not supplant the cupcakes in my repetoire, but I'll try to make it a staple for any future housewarmings, dinner parties, potlucks, or castle stormings.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

The Goats[est] with the Mostest

So for some reason that Trofie Wife still doesn't understand, there is a veritable menagerie across the street from the supermarket shopping center: goats (including some adorable new baby goats); chickens; a confused, oversized duck that looks like he got caught in an oil slick and/or licked a tab of LSD; and a gimpy bunny rabbit (one of his paws is pushed in, perhaps the result of a goat charge). I guess it's the situation of one lone farmer resisting the encroaching development. For a moment or two I thought the animals were actually owed by the commune of Arenzano, serving as a window onto a bygone era, but Martello said that made no sense. Whoever owns them is never amongst them shepherd style, but the animals do receive a steady stream of food from passing grocery workers and children (accompanied by their parents) after school. There's lightly-barbed wire around their stone-enclosed pen, but the mature goats manage to leap up (but, thankfully, not over) the wall to grab the proffered grub.

I have yet to record any viable footage of said goats (who dominate the pen) locking horns and body slamming each other (it's quite a sight), but perhaps Martello (who's looking more and more like a billy goat with his ever-thickening barba (beard) these days) can goad them into a match one weekend afternoon and we'll have something to post.

Nevertheless, I present to you these images:

I have no idea where that sink came from and why it's still there

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Adopt-a-Nonna Day

A couple of weeks back, after great fanfare (read: persistent nagging), Trofie Wife finally agreed to join her over-eager landlord-neighbor, Mrs. Furley, on a walk around the neighborhood. Unbeknownst to me, it just so happened that the day of our date was concurrent with the Feast of the Annunciation, which, as Wikipedia explained, is the day that God served as Mary's home pregnancy test and told her that Jesus would be arriving in nine months (and don't worry about the messy details). The occasion was marked with a small assemblage of vendors and blue and white streamers (it's a boy!) near yet another church, Madonna della Olivette, one that Trofie Wife and Martello were unaware existed. Some further online digging explains why this is the church to visit if you want, as Martello often says, to "do it up" on March 25. Apparently olives (along with being one of Trofie Wife's favorite delicacies) are linked to fertility (and thus Mary) in Catholic lore. Thus the Annunciation would prove to be an especially important day of celebration for this parish.

The church itself is quite spectacularly situated on a precipice, somehow eked out atop a terrace that was likely home to many olive trees centuries ago. Trofie Wife was amazed at the number of octogenarians easily ascending the steep cobblestone steps, clearly such repeated actions being a key to their longevity. Mrs. Furley also scaled the steps, albeit with a bit of difficulty, grasping hold of Trofie Wife as they went. She had remembered that near Christmastime I had answered "no" to the question of whether or not we were Catholic, so she politely asked if it would be okay for me to enter the church with her. I came along as she (who claims not to be religious but definitely has a deep and unabiding connection to superstitions of all sorts) lit a prayer candle (likely in remembrance of her husband, or wait, am I mixing that up with yahrzeit candles? maybe it was for the Madonna?), showed me the famous statue of the Virgin Mary that is a pilgrimage site in and of itself, and muttered loudly (in English) about a man who she believed was "looking at us in a stupid way" (I thought he looked friendly and maybe was checking her out as she looks pretty good for someone in her ninth decade!).

Mrs. Furley believes that we are twins, due to our shared birthday and ascending signs, yet when she did not react with Trofie Wife-level joy upon spotting an absolutely adorable dog, I was relieved; there is no way we could be twins if she did not squeal with delight at a passing pooch. As we walked, we also passed the building that reportedly served as headquarters for the invading armies (first the Germans, then the Americans) during World War II. Mrs. Furley spoke of using her language skills as a young, frightened teenager for both commands. I'm sure that she has many stories from that era, but it's clearly a traumatic subject and we would never push her for information (though she brings it up on occasion to both me and Martello). As we made our way to a bench by the seaside, Mrs. Furley probed further regarding my own religious inclinations and eventually (with the assistance of a dictionary), I explained that we were ebrei (to which the delighted response was, "oh, you are a Jew!"). She asked me a little bit about what we believed, remarking that the Old Testament was quite "profound," and then related a story (which she repeated to Martello the next day) about a non-Jewish neighbor, prior to the outbreak of World War II, kicking her violinist daughter out of the house for falling in love with a Jew and recalling her own mother (Mrs. Furley's that is) being very upset about this other mother's rash actions. Incidentally, I'm currently reading a book about the Italian Jewish community leading up to and during WWII. I'm only about a quarter of the way through, but I have to say that the book paints a fascinating story about the complexities and divided loyalties during the entire period from the Risorgimento (Italian unification in the 19th century) through the end of WWII. The community depicted within (and perhaps Italian society itself) is perhaps the most multi-faceted, complex, dare I say schizo Jewish community that I have ever encountered (and that's saying a lot!). Trofie Wife will be sure to provide a full update once I have completed the text.

The excursion clearly made Mrs. Furley's day, and I suspect that I will assent to more of these in the future (particularly the ones she proposed involving her beachside cabana), despite my belief that she has already told me (and Martello) all of her stories at least six times.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Well, That’s Potentially Courageous

In what is being promoted as a show of solidarity with Afghan women, Italy is considering temporarily pulling out its female service members from Afghanistan in order to lodge a protest against the Shi'ite Personal Status Law (see Trofie Wife is not sure that it would make a huge practical difference, but it might be a good move symbolically, particularly if some of the displaced troops held particularly key positions such that their absence would truly affect the civilian situation on the ground (through some well-orchestrated inconveniences) without endangering lives. However, perhaps by leaving women in their crucial field positions (and forcing misogynists to take note), the Italians (and all other members of the Coalition of the Willing, or whatever we're calling it now) will visibly drive home the importance of equal personhood.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Perhaps They Should Try Craig’s List?

How’s this for a diplomatic disaster in the making? In its infinite wisdom, Italy is hosting the G-8 on remote islands far from the mainland in an attempt to block protests and avoid violence and property destruction (see However, it looks like the powers that be didn’t quite think through every aspect of their ingenius plan. Apparently, the conference organizers are still working to secure cruise ships that can be used to house visiting diplomats. The response has not been great thus far. Maybe they should try Craig’s List? I really hope American delegates (or any others, for that matter) are not forced to bed down on paddle pal boards in the middle of the Mediterranean.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Divide and Conquer

For their next adventures, Martello and Trofie Wife split up, each laying claim to a different swath of Switzerland for the weekend, with Martello skiing with his officemates on the French side and Trofie Wife visiting her family in Zurich (the German side). Martello had a great time skiing, particularly enjoying the freedom of not having to wait for me at every turn.

While it was nice to see her family, Trofie Wife definitely had been sold a false bill of goods (prior to getting on a train) regarding her niece and nephew’s ability to sleep through the night (they, in fact, don’t know how or have a very loose definition of "night"). As per usual, my child tolerance level capped out after about ten minutes (apparently, I was even zipping through bedtime stories too quickly; sorry, I wanted to read my own fascinating book). I did have some additional patience for the swapping of dirty looks with the tiny one (she senses my derision for her kind, and I sense that she already has the sarcastic wit of an adult, likely gifted by her father), who is continually confused by my physical resemblance to her mother and lack of a similar level of affection/ability to feed her.

About 12 hours into my stay, my overtired (due to the non-sleeping children in her care) sister managed to drop her house keys down the elevator shaft en route to the park, so our Saturday afternoon excursion (originally meant to be time at the lake) turned into an adventure to get the spare key from my brother-in-law (whose office, thankfully, is situated near the main Sprungli chocolate store). The rest of the day included naps (always a plus), a trip to the park (where I had to negotiate, with a persistent munchkin, regarding the number of sticks that would be permitted in the apartment (one, but he might have lost that privilege somewhere along the path home), quality Asian fusion takeout, sisterly bonding time (with children stashed away), and Vicky Christina Barcelona, which was truly fantastic (thank you, Woody!).

WANTED: For obstruction of sleep. Armed with instruments and surprisingly skillful lungs.

However, Trofie Wife's attempt at blissful sleep on Saturday night dissipated around 4:30 a.m. when the type of loud noises that could only be made by a baby (or toddler or whatever she is) emerged from the room next door; by 7 a.m. the older one was banging his tambourine. It was clear that I really needed to get out of that place! So, I maneuvered myself to the train station and enjoyed the truly gorgeous rail ride between Milan and Zurich (if you ever have the chance to do it, please do; you pass all the lakes and rows upon rows of mountainous skyline).

During my nearly two-hour layover in a sunny Milan, I ruminated on how we needed to spend more time there (preferably outside the train station). When I finally arrived in Arenzano, I basked in the quiet of our apartment and greeted an equally exhausted Martello when he walked through the door about an hour later. Trofie Wife slept very well that night, thank you.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, April 9, 2009

My Bologna Has a First Name…

Martello has already regaled you with many tales of our lovely weekend in Bologna. Trofie Wife’s mission is to fill in the details, act as the putty to his plastering (or something like that). Martello neglected to mention that we should once again be lauded for making an early train (despite Martello having to race back to the apartment and then to the train station due to a miscommunication about who had the camera—no one) and landing in Bologna by 11 a.m. I will also add that our lovely hotel allowed us to get into our room —featuring orange décor— before official check-in time, so we could check out the awesome view of the city below (though Trofie Wife was none too comfortable with the window, which lacked a screen or bar despite our soaring height).

Martello already drew a picture of the gorgeous Biblioteca Communale. I will merely add that libraries are my favorite type of place, and I was tempted to just deposit myself in this particularly grand one for the remainder of the trip. But if I had done that, I would have missed our lovely passeggiata through the Quadrilatero district—replete with enticing food stalls (where we purchased the most succulent strawberries ever and fresh honey) as well as our hike up (and back down again) the high tower (Pisa is so overrated).

To prove Pisa's mediocrity, the Bologna tower folks posted this sign midway up. 

Following said hike—which occurred during the official lunch hours—we managed to sweet talk our way into a last-minute lunch at a cute little place that had fantastic zucca (pumpkin) tortellini. Martello described most of the latter half of the afternoon, but I'll just add that we also found our way to the oft-used trade fair grounds (incidentally, a project on which a colleague of Martello’s worked).

We can both honestly state that our meal at the Osteria de’ Poeti was far and away one of the best that we’ve had in Italy thus far—and that’s clearly saying a lot! In addition to the fine food and wine, we were treated to live music. Unfortunately, the stylings were mainly cheesy American tunes (the one-man synthesizer phenom opened with Sting’s “Fields of Gold”). However, once the Italian and Latin music started swirling and the quasi-karaoke (fueled by alcohol-laden locals) got rolling, it was a much more pleasurable experience. And Bologna’s lit piazza made for a romantic stroll home.

On Sunday, we explored the old Jewish ghetto and museum. It was fairly empty and not incredibly interesting (there was a lot of generic information about the Jewish people, which Martello and I are already somewhat acquainted with) apart from the relatively brief exhibit on the history of the Jews of Bologna and the wider Emilia-Romagna region (Jews were in or out of favor depending on the season (or pope or doge), kind of like mini-skirts). Once a Papal State, Bologna was the setting of the infamous kidnapping case of Edgardo Mortara, who was seized from his family by the Catholic Church in 1858. Due to the fact that a servant had had him baptized when he was ill, the Church claimed that he was Catholic and thus could not be raised by Jews. (Apparently this law has since been relaxed. I have a sister who was baptized by a nanny in Vicenza. None of the sitting popes since the early 1960s have laid claim to her, though I might note that she is an excellent cook and loves cats, Benedict.) Absurdly, although Mortara reestablished some connection with his family, he went on to become a priest and attempted to bring Jews into the Church (i.e. convert them en masse). Trofie Wife has read that this is still a bit of a touchy subject (in relation to the sainthood candidacy of the pope in question, Pius IX), so maybe that is why there is not a lot of information about the incident on display at the museum. Another bit of information that I would have liked more in-depth information about (and Google hasn’t turned up anything else) was the brief mention of there being at least one Jewish woman amongst the prominent money lenders in the community—she must have been something else! The museum also has a separate wing for rotating art exhibits and apparently has some sort of Hebrew learning program as well—we spotted an easel with the alef bet in one of the locked classrooms.    

Following the history lesson, we headed to an award-winning gelateria, La Sorbetteria Castiglione. It was really difficult to decide on flavors; there were just so many from which to choose! We then spent the rest of the day in Modena, gazing at yellow buildings, the awe-inspiring church (I think synagogues need more Romanesque arches), and bottle upon bottle of Lambrusco and pricey balsamic vinegar (we picked up some more moderately priced ones). Modena also has a vaunted Jewish history and still-active community of sorts, but there wasn’t time to check it out; perhaps during the next trip. We ended this extremely pleasurable weekend three trains later, despite a scolding by Trenitalia personnel on Train #2 due to Martello breaking all protocol and opening the door after the conductor had been given the all-clear (he says in his defense that if we hadn’t forced our way onto this train—our original was over an hour late—we’d still be waiting at the transfer point).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Move Over Must-See TV: Thursday Night is Movie Night

Martello and Trofie Wife recently took advantage of the original language theatre yet again, meeting in downtown Genoa post-work for a viewing of The Wrestler. Having mentioned on this blog before my impressions of the quaint matinees, I discovered that the evening shows are quite another (crowded) story. Trofie Wife was wise enough to advise that we purchase our tickets prior to getting a quick bite to eat. By show time, the ticket line was well out the door; the theatre was kind enough to hold up the film until everyone still waiting could purchase their tickets and get seated (like that would ever happen in New York!). The crowd was mostly an Italian one, either eager to hear English, or, more likely, just annoyed by all that dubbing. More so than other films I’ve seen here, The Wrestler is definitely contextual; I think the more you know of New Jersey, the better you are able to understand many of the references. I’m sure most of our readers have seen the movie by now, so I will only add that Mickey Rourke was every bit as good as advertised, and Trofie Wife enjoyed the stroll down memory lane (oh how I loved late ’80s-early ’90s WWF pro-wrestling!).

Incidentally, we ran into several of Martello’s co-workers, who he did not know were coming (I gladly offered up my NJ translation services). After the show, we joined them for a quick nightcap, where I learned what amaro was (apparently some sort of Italian bitters akin to Jagermeister; I have yet to try it, I just asked what it was when I saw it in a port-sized glass) and scored a ride home. Despite the late bedtime, we somehow managed to rouse ourselves early enough so that Martello could get a glimpse of the Friday market. We purchased some fresh vegetables and fruits and then Martello headed to his job, while I returned home to mine.

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Current (Ok, Actually Belated) Events

(Note: Trofie Wife is about three weeks behind in blogging due to an increased work load. Ironically, lots of things worth sharing have also occurred during this period. I’m trying my best to get it all up here and up to date this week; apologies for what I fear will be information overload (a state Martello claims I am not familiar with as a “collector of information.”)

First off, we thank all of those who forwarded on the New York Times article on vending machine pizza (, for those of you who haven’t seen it). We have not yet seen or even heard about these particular machines here, but I have already vouched for, on this blog, the wonders of the Italian coffee/hot drink vending machines. We’ll be sure to report back should we happen to run into one of these artificially intelligent pizza makers.

In other belated news, some of you may have heard sad reports about the roving attack dogs in Sicily (see Trofie Wife never quite connected with the people who run the canile in Arenzano, but some of the points elucidated in this article help to reinforce why they might not have been so bullish about me serving as a volunteer without ever having owned a dog. Apparently, Italian dog kennels are drastically underfunded but sorely needed. A good portion of the animals aren’t socialized, but whereas in the States, euthanasia is carried out on dogs that just don’t seem like they’ll ever make the adopability cut, mercy killing is verboten here (and opportunities for rehabilitation rare). That makes for a bad combination—and a good reason why the dog kennel people, even in quaint Arenzano, want to know that you know your canine stuff. Alas, Trofie Wife’s search for consistent canine affection remains unrequited….(sigh).

Baci e gelato,

Martello e Trofie Wife

Sunday, April 5, 2009

some more blogging

so a few weeks ago, we booked it to bologna for a lovely weekend, and while Trofie Wife will undoubtedly write more backstory, i will share some thoughts.

these two leaning towers constitute a central bologna landmark of construction mediocrity to rival pisa:

most likely, the bricklayers had too much lambrusco (a very sweet, red version of prosecco native to the region, which is apparently not the coolest beverage to bring to a party). we climbed the taller of the two (it's only about 4ft askew), and had this eye-opening view down to the shorter neighbor, listing nearly 11ft from plumb:

in modern times, some *crazy* architect (a certain hackneyed d.libeskind comes to mind...) might intentionally design a dramatically angular structure, rigorously studying geometries and cantilevers, yet this unplanned instance is highly captivating precisely because it's genuinely erroneous. it is perhaps an illustration of the perils (and possibilities) of laying one brick at a time, compounding smaller lapses, rather than working towards a goal.

the newlyweds atop a tower:

this building typology flourished in medieval bologna, as over 180 towers sprouted. built by wealthy families as symbols of power, they vary in proportions, ornament, porosity... here's another:

moving from potency to fertility, some other intriguing bologna snapshots include this lovely fountain in piazza maggiore:

and this spruced-up door knocker (sorry, couldn't help it):

bologna has always been a center of anatomical and other research, as the home to the oldest continually-operating university in europe (third in the world, after fez and cairo). public body dissections were staged on a marble slab in the center of the teatro anatomico, with fantastic wood sculpted figures like apollo hanging from the coffers above. unfortunately photos inside this space did not come out too well, so, dear reader, you're just going to have to go see it yourself. i do, however, have a photo of Trofie Wife looking 'positively anatomical':
Trofie Wife is here enjoying herself (perhaps a bit too much?) in the massage chair of the hotel lobby, after a long day touring.

some other weekend pics:

a large student population has maintained bologna as a hotbed of activism. critical mass is a loose movement in support of cycling and non-motorized transit. they occasionally stage 'protests' by cycling (and roller-blading, etc) en masse through major thoroughfares (in philly, nyc, and many other locales). sitting in front of the duomo, we witnessed critical mass bologna, seemingly unaware of the irony in pedaling through an already-pedestrianized piazza.

speaking of the duomo, it is the fifth largest in the world (but who's counting?), though would have been larger than st. peter's if not for jealous papal intervention, resulting in some abrupt architectural 'flourishes', especially at this transept:
(still grand inside):
the romanesque duomo in modena, to which we ventured the following day, i found far more evocative. exposed brick construction breaks down the tremendous scale; heavy, dark massive materials and proportions rather than soaring, thin, pointy and light; and moody darkness starkly pierced by light rather than even bathing in celestial light--these contrasts firmly set the modena cathedral in the kingdom of the earth and bologna in the heavens. some pics from modena:

amusing, fanciful sculptures were integrated into the architecture throughout the modena cathedral, such as these column details:

(yes, that last one is a lion eating a man).

this one is taxidermied nutria (cute-ria?) from a science exhibit we passed in a bologna piazza.
while i don't know of any nutria delicacies, you can find much else in the famed salumerias of the meat-centric bologna (discard any preconceptions of the eponymous american lunch meat). it really is amazing how sharply different the cuisine is within relatively short distances here.

while i'm at it, looking through my photos, i have to throw in another shot from cinque terre, because it's just ridiculously stunning.

and now i take leave, not wanting to steal too much of Trofie Wife's thunder. there will be lots more to come on bolognese jews, gelato (duh), encounters with trenitalia personnel, and other untold adventures...

bologna e aceto balsamico,