Thursday, November 25, 2010

Euro Thanksgiving 2.0

Zucca (pumpkin) pizza

It was tough for Trofie Wife to spend yet another Thanksgiving away from home. Apart from special birthdays falling on years ending in 0, 5, 3, or 8, this is the only time of the year when all of her siblings are together. It was at least some comfort that Zurich Sister wouldn’t be making it to the feast in 2009 either, pending her permanent return home two months later. A trip back East (er, I guess it’s west of here) would have also allowed her to attend her 10th high school reunion, but thanks to the wonders of social networking, there was a lot less unsated curiosity.

At least this second Thanksgiving in Italy we’d have guests and proper food, as opposed to the prior year’s debacle of Martello working late and our fish ravoli disintegrating in the pot. Thanksgiving 2009 featured guests from five countries (plus token Americans)—South Africa, Costa Rica, Norway, France, and Italy—and we think we did a fair enough job explaining its significance to them all.

We featured American favorites as well as those with an Italian twist— Gorgonzola on sweet crackers topped with candied raspberries (a recipe I picked up from Housing Works’ catering company and have shared at past family Thanksgivings), pizza with pumpkin, brined turkey breasts (no way a whole turkey was making it into that oven!), Brussels sprouts with craisins (procured thanks to the American bazaar; they were so good that Martello, the avowed Brussels sprouts foe, not only tasted but actually enjoyed them), chestnut stuffing, and of course some cupcakes—peanut butter chocolate chip.
Pette della tacchino

Martello-approved Brussels sprouts
Euro Thanksgiving 3.0 is just around the corner…hope to report back on it before Turkey Day 2011!

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Via della Sfiga!

Trofie Wife saw Avenue Q back when it first arrived on Broadway and her post-college life had close parallels with those depicted onstage (she may have gotten a little weepy when she first heard “I Wish I Could Go Back to College…”). Martello never saw it onstage, but his laptop somehow acquired the soundtrack, and he was familiar enough with the story and music so that when we saw large posters around town featuring mischievous-looking puppets, we agreed that we should give the Italian version playing at the Politeama Genovese theatre --Via della Sfiga-- a shot.

It was fascinating to see how they translated the book, which is tuned to American pop culture and political references. Thanks to our cultural exports, nearly everyone knew (as evidenced by laughter) who Arnold from TV’s Diff'rent Strokes was. During “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist” some of the text interludes included jokes that played on Italian regional stereotypes. We kinda missed the one about the Genovese, but the crowd was in stitches, and in the ensuing months as we gained more knowledge of our surroundings, we became fairly certain that the line had something to do with their supposed “cheapness” thrift. During intermission we were intrigued by the ads projected onto a pulled down screen, a la movie theatre previews (American theatre professionals reading this take note!).

Martello and I were surprised that Rod’s imaginary girlfriend still lived in Canada. We were expecting something a little bit more local (there are plenty of corners of Italy that are difficult to travel to and/or European countries composed of three syllables--Rom-an-ia, anyone?). Of course Trofie Wife was anxiously awaiting how the “George Bush is only for now” line would be transposed. They opted to go with Bossi, the head of the anti-immigrant Lega Nord party. Also, finding “my purpose” became finding “my dream” (sogno). It struck me as an especially noteworthy change since American culture is so focused on work and work having meaning (or "purpose") whereas those feelings are a little bit less prominent around here. Finding one’s dream isn’t too shabby a send-off message.

Trofie Wife happily left with a T-shirt commemorating the experience, although Martello wisely advised that she send it back to the States for future wearing, as “sfiga” isn’t quite the nicest word to be displaying when walking down the street (and most elderly Arenzanese residents probably aren’t familiar with the show and won’t get the joke).

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Cinofilo in Centro

Despite subscribing to several “Events in Genova” e-bulletins, we find out about a lot of events here the old fashioned way—billboards and signs. So Trofie Wife was more than a little bit excited when Martello came home one night after having run an errand in Genova and mentioned that a) he saw a little something about a “dog show” at the convention center (Fiera di Genova) and b) he was willing to devote a portion of a Saturday to said event.

Now, Trofie Wife prefers dogs in their natural habitat (on the couch with me getting their bellies rubbed while I simultaneously read a book and they nuzzle me back), so I’m not totally keen on the whole dog show set up—while some of them seem to really enjoy the attention and preening, others seem miserable, bordering on depressed/abused. I witnessed one bearded collie in particular who was whining—she really had absolutely no interest in getting brushed and then prancing in a circle.
One unhappy puppy... I really wanted to help her try and escape...

Despite being morally opposed to the whole dog prancing thing, I have stepped foot inside these shows (and watch them on TV) because it’s a great way for me, a deprived non-dog-owner, to see a whole bunch of them at once and learn about the breeds, knowledge that will hopefully be applied in my real life sooner rather than later. It's a bonus that in Italy instead of denoting itself as a "kennel club," the organizers use “gruppo cinofilo”— at least they demonstrate in their title their clear love of these animals.

Below, you'll find a few more examples of some the adorable and not-so-adorable pups we saw.

This poodle eventually had glitter on its ass...It was horrifying. 
My first puli! (They're the rasta dogs.)

Dream dog: Marrone spinone!

Look at those eyes! If only I knew how to jimmy open a lock…

Baci e gelato e latrati (barks),
Martello e Trofie Wife

Friday, November 5, 2010

(Surprisingly) In Praise of American Cookery

These past few posts Trofie Wife has boasted of the wonders of Italian seasonal cuisine. But I need to take a moment to actually scold the Italian kitchen for what it did to me when I was trying to make myself a nice birthday treat last year (surprised that I prefer to dwell on last year's birthday??).

I really, really wanted some cupcakes. I had, of course, made them here several times before, but they just didn’t have the right oomph. Probably because some key ingredients—baking powder and baking soda—were missing from my arsenal. So, I finally decided, upon embarking on vanilla bean cupcakes with salted caramel frosting(!!) that I should buy some proper leavening tools.

Baking soda and baking powder were nowhere to be found. I tried both grocery stores in Arenzano, as well as the one in Voltri, which usually has more “exotic” ingredients. Finally, I settled on some “ammonium bicarbonate.” Yes, as one would surmise, this is a product that by no means sounds appetizing and is not the sort of thing that anyone wants anywhere near her birthday cupcakes (apparently nowadays in the United States it's usually procured at the pharmacy). Instead of having a yummy cupcake smell, my oven spewed forth a plume of aroma that seemed like a mix of clean hospital floors and a stinkbomb. My cupcakes were fluffy, but I had to both air out my kitchen as well as my cupcakes! When they did finally air out, they tasted just fine…[However, Martello was certain to lay on the guilt concerning my carbon footprint, souring the taste a wee bit...]

Thankfully, I was finally able to pick up American baking powder at the annual American bazaar in Genova later that November.  Life has been much better tasting (not to mention smelling), ever since!

Trofie Wife contemplating olives (shocker).
I spent the rest of that birthday weekend on a mini sweater shopping spree (thank you i genitori!) and then exploring Imperia, another one of Liguria’s regional capitals, this one west of us, in the direction of France. Imperia is a major center of the olive oil industry, and boy does it show in the food and available products. We enjoyed a lovely lunch by the water, and although it was no longer beach season, the water was blue and the weather pretty pleasant.

Old passageways leading to the sea.
We ventured to the old centro and walked around the ruins, stopping to scoop up as many bottles of local oil and wine as we could carry. All in all, a nice celebration.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Pay Dirt in Alba

Trofie Wife suspects that when most of you hear the word “truffle,” you think of delectable chocolates filled with yummy ganache. While I’m a fan of those too, when fall comes around in Italy, a different kind of tartufo is on everyone’s mind. Those would be the little, oddly shaped (and to some, oddly smelling) mushrooms uncovered by enterprising dog snouts in Italy and discerning pig snouts in France (either country, Trofie Wife’s in animal heaven!), which are fiercely guarded by the humans who get paid for the animals’ work.  These fungi don’t come cheap, with restaurants all over the world paying huge sums for seemingly small portions. We got to see the lumps on display at Alba’s famed market, behind glass as if they were jewels. We exercised frugality, however, and thankfully managed to spend less than 20 euros on one white truffle (Alba’s famous for these) and a handful of small black ones. 

Martello and I had actually selected to go that first weekend of November (the fair’s about a month long), because it was dedicated to the truffle-sniffing dogs and their owners (it might have been the other way around, but the dogs should always get top billing in my opinion). However, hard as we looked, said dogs didn’t seem to be on display anywhere. Yet fate shined down upon me anyway, and I met these guys in the piazza

Sadly, they did not follow me home...maybe I should consider dousing myself in truffle oil in the future...
We had a delicious truffle-infused lunch (the local pasta is a thin egg variety called tajarin) and brought back a number of delicacies—the above-mentioned truffles, truffle oil, truffle butter, pasta, cheese, wine, and even some chocolate truffles (why not?). Truffles keep best hidden in rice, so we slipped the white and black ones in there for safe keeping. Later that week we made a risotto with the white and then just barely had enough time for another round of tajarin with the black truffles before they turned. 

Martello still thinks truffles smell a bit like stinky feet. But having soaked in enough Italian foodiness these past two years, he now appreciates them (but still thinks they’re ridiculously overpriced). 

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Blender Blunders

After gazing at many a tempting soup recipe that required fine pureeing and reaching acceptance that she would be nowhere near her lovely array of kitcheny wedding gifts for some time, Trofie Wife finally succumbed to her desires and purchased a miniature Moulinex blender that would get the job done, albeit in many small batches. Hilarity (and horror) ensued.

When I first plugged in said blender directly to the wall and put it immediately on top of what I was hoping would become a lovely dinner soup (sans water guard) it nearly caught on fire (there were sparks), and the house went dark. (Sorry, we have no pictures.) Trofie Wife was not looking forward to having to a) explain this to and b) fix this matter via Mrs. Furley. Thankfully, I located the fuse boxes both inside the apartment and in the basement and got the electricity going again (at the time I had no idea whether or not I had blown the entire building's supply).

When he arrived home, Martello managed to get most of the water out of the mechanism and strongly suggested that I not use said appliance unless he was monitoring me. Freaked out by the prospect of actually having to use our remains repatriation insurance, I for once agreed.

A year later, we are now on our second Moulinex (same size). The mechanism never quite got over its initial baptism, and after about seven or so months of faithful service, it finally gave out (after shooting off a parting round of sparks). Trofie Wife quickly got over her fear of the machine, coming up with a multi-part method for using it: 1) Switch off surge protector, 2) Unplug toaster and tea kettle, 3) Plug in blender, 4) Switch on surge protector, 5) Let blender get used to being plugged in, 6) Put mechanism on top of bowl, usually forgetting water guard, 7) Curse at self for forgetting water guard, 8) Put on water guard and blend, 9) Reverse steps 1-4 when finished. [Note: Martello would like to remind Trofie Wife that he invented Steps 1-5, though she's on her own when she gets to 6.]

So we’ve made progress…And continue to enjoy soup and other chopped/mushed things made in teeny, tiny batches. And thankfully our wedding appliances (and their instruction manuals, which will definitely be read!) remain unharmed, secreted in North American closets for eventual use.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Feste di Maronne e Zucca

People who know Trofie Wife well know that fall is my favorite season. Leaves aflame in reds and orange, slight wind chills that call for boldly colored corduroys, apples and their byproducts, lots of birthday cakes. Well, that’s my riff on an East Coast autumn. Fall in northern Italy is a New York autumn bubbling over like Prosecco, on account of all the sagre e feste celebrating the bounty of this gorgeous land (not to mention the bounty of new fall fashions (secondo me, the only season worthy of slightly fiscally irresponsible splurges) in all the store windows). Autumn in northern Italy above all means tartufo (truffles; more on that in a few more posts), marrone (chestnuts), and zucca (pumpkin).

Martello and I spent last October chasing down sagre. First we headed to Cuneo, which borders France and is close to another of our beloved cities, Torino. In both on a clear day, you can stare at the Alps while standing in the town’s main piazza. Men whose families had probably served in such capacity for generations could be found roasting chestnuts in huge pots.
Chestnuts come in many varieties
Wizened chestnut roasters
We were overwhelmed by the selection of chestnut and general produce offerings (we bought and lugged home 3 kilos of carrots and purple potatoes; we couldn’t quite bring the 3-foot stalks of leeks on the train, nor would we have known what to do with them in the kitchen!). And with so many sweets on display, we finally settled on a single dessert at a famous and elegant café: chestnut gelato injected with chestnut cream and enrobed in dark chocolate.

Cavallino! A tiny horse (not sure why it was there...)
The next day we turned our attention to pumpkins, visiting the small village of Rocchetta di Cengio, where we rode the zucca bus (unfortunately not pumpkin-shaped) up the hill to view the pumpkins in gara (competition for largest and loveliest), buy pumpkiny treats, and dine on zucca frittelle e vellutata di zucca (fried and soupy pumpkin, respectively), all the while listening to mountainy folk music.
Pumpkin My Ride
We didn't make it back to either of these festivals this year, but we're still enjoying marrone e zucca, albeit bought at the mercato!

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Anniversario in Bellagio

Lovely Lake Como

Trofie Wife is frantically trying to catch up with blog posts before the calendar catches up with her, and the events herein described become a year old (almost doesn’t count!).

With our first marriage anniversary closing in, Martello and I decided to use the occasion to take a nice weekend trip, this time treating ourselves to the independence (though often when dealing with parking it can be imprisonment) provided by a car. Since neither of us drives stick and most European cars are outfitted with these tricky tools, we had to pay a premium for an automatic. We got some extra vroom vroom for our buck, though it presented itself in miniscule form. We got 36 hours with a Smart car!

Trofie Wife has had a vehicular crush on Smart cars since she first saw them cruising through the streets of Manhattan (actually probably before that, maybe on another European visit or in a magazine). Given Trofie Wife’s short stature it seemed like a match made in heaven, though there was no way on Earth that I planned to commandeer the vehicle (I don’t drive in this country—the roads are way too curvy and jagged and the drivers make New York cabbies seem like stalwarts of safety). Yet riding along en Smart on the autostrada en route to the Lakes sadly demonstrated that a Smart car would never become a permanent addition to our assets. You can feel the car move and shake as other vehicles whirl by you—clearly not a good sign.

Some of us are excited that we are the same size of the car!
And others of us like to burst that bubble by pointing out how much bigger than the car we are!
We arrived in Bellagio on Saturday afternoon, just early enough to enjoy some strolling and gorgeous lakeside views of the sunset. While our hotel room resembled a Manhattan SRO circa 1985, we had a lovely dinner, enjoying a red blend, Valcalepio (not to be confused with the Veneto's Valpolicella), that’s native to nearby Bergamo. The following day we loaded the little car onto the ferry to Varenna (between this trip and our sojourn up this way in December 2008, we can safely say that we've seen Lake Como from every possible angle). Varenna's also a lovely little town, and we enjoyed walking around and lazing on the shore—it was surprisingly warm enough that bathing suits would have been proper attire, had we packed them. All in all, not a bad way to celebrate 1 year in Italy and 8 years together (the whole wedding anniversary thing as a method of counting a relationship’s length always strikes me as a little odd, since said relationship did not begin at the altar—unless of course you had a really wild night in Vegas!).

To make the celebration even grander, the universe granted me and all womankind the ultimate present at the Autogrill stop on the way home—there was a line for the men’s room!

The one-handed Martello snap, giving professional photographers everywhere a run for their money.
Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Oktoberfest in Genova

(Yes, Trofie Wife knows it’s now July and talking about an Oktoberfest that actually happened last September is a little out of season, but who doesn’t feel like a cold beer right now? Well, Trofie Wife for one. Not really a fan…)

Oktoberfest is really not a concept that one associates with Italy. But a branch of Munich’s august brewery Hofbräuhaus (HB) thrives in the center of Genova, and they decided that a tribute to their home city replete with birra, bretzels, e würstel in Piazza della Vittoria (one of the largest piazze in town) would be a huge hit, and it was. The lines for a bretzel were so long that we gave up and opted for pizza around the corner instead, but Martello was sure to return for a birra, and we hit the stands for imported miele e senape (honey and mustard). Given our various preoccupations with beer and mustard (Martello) and honey and efficiency (Trofie Wife), we should probably be living in the Germanic region of the country, Alto Adige, but alas, here in the Riviera we’ll stay.

Inside the tent

Outside. The arch is a tribute to Italy's fallen World War I heroes.

As we looked on at the festivities inside the huge tented biergarten, the extreme irony of it all dawned on me: I was watching Italians, who were gathered in a square dedicated to the war heroes of World War I (felled by Germans), listening to a German band play oompah-pahed versions of American spirituals (“When the Saints Go Marching In” and “Down by the Riverside,” which is apparently also known as “Ain’t Gonna Study War No More,” which seems apt). There was also an impromptu acoustic outbreak of "Hey, Baby, I Want to Know If You'll Be My Girl," which involved lots of Italian teenagers standing on the picnic tables and screaming off key; it somehow reminded me of camp (sorry, we didn't get any footage of that).

Such is the new Europe and the impact of globalization. Have a listen:

Baci, gelato, e birra,
Martello e Trofie Wife

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Here's to Cheese!

Trofie Wife’s lactose intolerance is well documented, but that hasn’t prevented me from enjoying the milky fruits of Italia, thanks to online pharmacies and an assist from some good friends with Lactaid connections! So armed to the hilt with my favorite digestive enzyme supplement, on a late September weekday I made my way to Bra in Piemonte to a Slow Food event called Cheese. Yes, just "Cheese"—like Madonna and Prince it needs no further nomenclature. Devoted readers might recall that Martello and I had an amazing time at last April’s Slow Fish event in Genova. Well Fish is merely the warm-up band for Cheese. Whereas Fish is confined to Genova’s convention center, Bra is literally sprinkled with Cheese, each of its cobblestoned streets beckoning to another table of samples expressed from cow, sheep, and goat. There’s a tent of international cheeses, local cheeses, specially Slow Food-endorsed Presidio cheeses, and other affiliated products.

Although I had my trusty pills, I was still overly cautious as to how much I sampled, which was a good thing, because the only facilities were Portapotties. I tried a delicious sedano (that would be celery) sorbetto, which would make an excellent appetizer or amuse buche. I lugged home cheese for Martello, honey (a favorite Trofie Wife purchase at all these fairs), honey wine (which has been since used in many an appreciative baked good), and some chocolate (not featured at Cheese but available in a well-stocked store that was getting great foodie foot traffic). It took me about an hour to consume a very small portion of the delicious beer that we first sampled in the Dolomiti, which I paired with an acciughe (anchovy) and verdure panino.

Nope, that's not a chocolate fountain. It's a balsamic vinegar one!

Small model for Cow Parade Roma

I can't decide whether or not this cow is racist... 

Set up in a corner of the Piemonte Region’s featured area were pens containing the real stars of the show—all those animals we have to thank for the milk that makes the cheese and gelato. They appeared quite somber being held in such small pens, a fact that seemingly ran counter to many of the organic, freerange principles held by Slow Food (though I understand that you can’t have the cattle roaming around near the wine tasting area). Here are some of my new friends (though none of them ever called...)

This one is fuzzy!

I really wanted to help this one break free.

Junior getting some of his own free samples. 

Brown cow.

I thought this one was going to charge. Maybe the flash was on?

It was a lovely day exploring more of Piemonte and the expansive bounty of Italian food. It's just too bad that it was senza Martello.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Capodanno Ebreo in Milano

With Passover now upon us, it seems like an appropriate time to review the events of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur…Although we started on our second year in Italy this fall, it was actually our first High Holidays around these parts. Given Trofie Wife’s propensity for online research, we located all possible options for prayer, evaluated (er debated?) them, and then came to a decision with just a few moments to spare.

For Rosh Hashana, we settled on a Progressive community located in Milano, the distance being negotiable due to the holidays falling over the weekend. (For those unfamiliar, Progressive synagogues are affiliated with the Union of Reform Judaism. However, they tend to grow in accordance with the character and practice of the local community and as such, can often appear more conservative than mainline American Reform congregations. In general, they are marketed as an alternative to Orthodoxy with few guidelines other than a commitment to pluralism and egalitarianism.)

We hopped the last regionale train on Friday night (nothing like Chef Express cuisine for an erev meal!) and then settled into a hotel located close enough to the synagogue, though closer to the happening canal- and nightclub-dotted Navigli neighborhood. From the synagogue’s Web site, we had a general sense of what to expect, but we were not prepared for the outpouring of welcome that met us inside. With apologies to any past, present, or future synagogue presidents that might find this post, the community’s president is by far the nicest (and most adorable) that could be created. The rabbi—who incidentally has a family connection to our little neck of the boot and couldn’t understand why in the world we would be living here—is one of those brilliant Renaissance-type characters. Not only is he a skilled orator, but on the side, he’s a classical instrumentalist of some note (with quite the pleasant singing voice), and from what we could understand of his sermon, quite learned (this hunch was eventually backed up by further evidence collected after Trofie Wife joined the synagogue’s e-mail list, where his weekly d’var Torah (which I usually shy away from after a page or so) includes at least 15 citations a pop in about four different languages). 

The room was small, resembling an East Coast synagogue’s library or Hebrew school classroom, yet it was packed with a diverse group of Jews (and likely some non-Jewish family members) singing melodies new and familiar.  We saw some rituals that neither one of us had encountered before (additional blessings around the Torah reading, widespread sheltering under tallits during the Priestly Blessing and other points), which we assumed were Italian traditions. The synagogue appears to mix Ashkenazi Reform, Sephardi, and Italianate practices, making everyone feel like a piece of their heritage is represented. We were not the only Anglophones to wander in—there was an Australian med student who knew even less Italian than we, yet she managed to snag the kind of High Holiday honors usually reserved for only the choicest members back over the ocean. When the rabbi’s gaze fell in our direction, I allowed Martello to take the aliyah alone because it seemed like there was a one-person-from-each-family rule, plus he could understand the Italian instructions better than I, but I’ll get him back next year.

Following kiddush, we took advantage of our time in Milano, enjoying leisurely strolls, finally scaling the Duomo (and incidentally running into one of Martello’s colleagues atop it!) and, unfortunately, making a bad restaurant choice from among the many along the canals, though recovering with some excellent gelato—the first of 5770. And amazingly, we ran into Martello’s colleague yet again that evening! We felt like we got to experience Milano a bit more than in prior short trips. Perhaps the most humorous sighting of the weekend occurred during a Sunday walk, when we viewed the owner of an adorable bulldog clean the via of his uh “pee-ah” with sparkling, bottled mineral water. Only in Milano…

Despite having found this fantastic congregation, we opted to stay closer to home for Yom Kippur, being that it was mid-week, and Trofie Wife does not fast well and prefers to manage the day in familiar (bed, bathroom) surroundings. Martello had visited the local tribe (which happens to be Sephardic in style, if not entirely in membership) before and knew what to expect, but Trofie Wife was expecting the worst (and Martello was waiting with his “I told you so” ready). Yet as much as Martello may have hoped it would, the moment for reciting it never came. An ardent congregation member around our age who Martello had met on his prior voyage was already on our case to come back the next day, and after I said I wasn’t quite sure if I’d be there but Martello probably would, the "Cheerleader" made blatantly clear that my presence was not of any consequence but Martello’s most certainly was. Well, with that, he lost at least one customer for Kol Nidre (yours truly; I stayed there physically but checked out in my mind) and two customers (or by his count, one) for Yom Kippur. 

With a polite smile masking her bitterness, Trofie Wife disengaged from the conversation and climbed the steps to the women’s gallery, sitting next to two Israeli med students, who came and left quickly (some of their male compatriots could be seen smoking outside following official release. Classy). I was then left surrounded by a truly uninspiring group of devotees. The majority of the women up in the nosebleed seats were chattering away (though I noted that pant suits were acceptable should I ever return, so score one) and most of the men below in the privileged seats looked like they’d rather be undergoing a root canal. Martello was surprised that I didn’t storm the main floor and demand that we leave before the end of the service, but I figured that we weren’t going to make an earlier train anyway.

As the droning rabbi thanked everyone from coming from far away to be part of the community, it dawned on me that most congregants under 60 either lived in another city or, if local, never stepped foot in the synagogue any other time of the year and merely returned to pay homage to the congregation of their parents’ or grandparents’ youth, making it truly a memorial instead of a living spiritual home. It was a far cry from the scene in Milano, where everyone present seemed like they had made a conscious decision to be part of this specific community.  

Upon our return from the city, Trofie Wife spent the remainder of Kol Nidre praying along with the online stream from New York’s Central Synagogue. We spent Yom Kippur in a synagogue of our own creation, surrounded by a variety of religious texts, thoughts, and streaming services. Trofie Wife enjoyed a variety of sermons, some from rabbis I once knew back in youth group. While certainly not the way our ancestors celebrated, it worked for me, and allowed me to get a little taste of everything. Speaking of taste, we broke our fast with a nice pesto pizza. (Despite Trofie Wife’s mastery of bagel baking and the local availability of lox and cream cheese, I just cannot bear to be in a kitchen preparing food when I cannot eat it.)

During Martello’s first visit to the community the Cheerleader had lamented that most Jews were leaving the area and that’s why the community was shrinking. Perhaps the shrinking isn’t tied to a geographical exodus but instead a distaste for current communal practices coupled with a typically Genovese (as we’re learning) inability to introduce reforms that mess with traditions of any kind, be they related to food, religion, or paperwork. Incidentally, pluralism has been a growing topic in the Italian Jewish community with a large forum taking place just prior to Pesach, and it looks like our Milan-based synagogue is sprouting a new branch in Rome. Who knows; maybe Genova will be next! In the interim, I have my streaming shuls!

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Shake Your Pesto Maker

In an afternoon that should go down in the record books as evidence that Trofie is a most easy-going Wife, I suggested that Martello and I train further down the shore to Alassio in order to check out the Miss Muretto contest. Now it wasn’t the beauty pageant’s toned and leggy contestants that was the main draw (at least not for me). Trofie Wife was interested in seeing the much-touted pesto-making competition in which they would partake, a segment of the World Pesto Championships (and as such, I believed there would be some sampling involved). It was also an excuse to finally make it to Alassio, which is one of the more historically popular and luxurious tourist spots on the Rivieria Ponente.

Beyond its beaches and fine cuisine, Alassio is renowned for its painted, tiled wall (the above-noted “muretto,” from which the pageant draws its name) filled with remembrances of visitors and local achievements, including this one:
Always a favorite with the Europeans!

And this one, which Martello insisted I strike a pose by (perhaps to make up for his later close inspection of the candidates during the pesto making; Trofie Wife was barely able to strike an unselfconscious pose on her wedding day; it was even less possible on the main drag of Alassio in broad daylight, without the benefit of cosmetic enhancement).
Yes, that's Trofie Wife behind those shades. 

Pesto-making with a mortar and pestle as carried out by beautiful young things is perhaps one of the most suggestive events that a beauty pageant can ever sponsor--are you listening Donald Trump?? 

The contestants line up to get their instructions. 

On the job.

Il vincitore is crowned!

Delightfully, the judging seemed to be based on actual skill and the final outcome of said pesto, not the length of one’s shorts. Sadly, the public was not invited to sample neither the pesto nor the girls (well, I can’t totally vouch for what happened to the girls, but the pesto was off limits). After the show ended and Trofie Wife ceased being complicit in setting women back several decades, we strolled around centro and made our way to a beachfront bar, where we had a refreshing aperitivo, and Trofie Wife got in some ogling of her own (that would be dog watching).  

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bambino Barce Brachot

As the slight chill of fall began to descend on Arenzano and we recovered from our first week back at work after that luxurious vacation, Trofie Wife was certain to stay on top of all local events that merely required a short jaunt out of the apartment. As we learned during our first week in Arenzano last settembre, the feast of the Bambini di Pragha (he of the large cathedral/seminary behind our house) is the first week of September, and the town is all aflutter with various minor celebrations leading up to the big event. The Sunday prior to the feast is the annual blessing of the boats and fishermen. The priests become captains for the afternoon, commandeering the faithful with their always trusty megaphones (while the land lubbing faithful and other onlookers watch from the shore), sailing between Genova Voltri and Arenzano, spraying blessings and song into the sea. Since the invention of scuba diving, they’ve managed to send down a diver to place a rosary on the statue of the Madonna di Aggugina, which landed there after some sort of wreckage many years ago; it’s possible that other things get sent down there for blessings or blessings are retrieved from below, but Trofie Wife isn’t totally certain. As an added bonus, footage from the diving is projected onto a screen near the harbor; gotta love technology!

Here’s our own photographic footage from this event:

The locals await the boat. 

The boat approaches.

 I padri spout blessings from their megaphones. 

The barce brachot seemed mainly to attract the older set, but it was nonetheless well attended (probably because the older generation is incredibly well represented ’round these parts). It was a beautiful sight on the harbor as the sun began deliberating a descent, although it was bittersweet as sailors realized that they’d be on involuntary shore leave for several months, a point further emphasized by the beach clubs embarking soon thereafter on the task of dismantling the cabanas.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Prossima Fermata: Summer’s End!

We return to the final chapter of this summertime story to find Martello e Trofie Wife en route to Vicenza, which was to be the last major stop on our epic tour. Due to an unexpectedly long connection, we were able to take a quick walk around Castlefranco’s centro, seeing the outside of the famed castle and a whole passel of bunnies. While we were expecting to land directly in Vicenza, the train only went as far as Padova (a city to which we hope to return at some point) where due to some sort of track issue, we had to take a very long bus. Comedy and frustration continued to ensue as we arrived nearly at midnight at the hotel where we thought we had a reservation but in fact did not (Martello had called the number of one hotel but inadvertently told the taxi driver to take us to a different one). Luckily, there was an available room at what turned out to be a converted monastery, austere but clean and a good value (as of late the New York Times among other publications have been touting the praises of such cloistered lodging; see ).

The arcade between our monastery hotel and the duomo

Vicenza was a sort of Holy Grail for both Martello and Trofie Wife—being architectural godfather Palladio’s hometown (Martello's grail) and the place where Trofie Wife's father lived and my eldest sorella was born (my grail).

Statue of the architectural godfather. The Vicenza commune has not yet commissioned the statues for Trofie Wife's parenti, but I hear that they're working on it...

As we wandered up the hill toward the large duomo Berico, I saw a sturdy American-looking fellow jog by in an Army Ranger t-shirt and felt as though my historical duty had been performed (perhaps we could have seen the base had we taken a normal train into town, but it’s completely closed to the public, as one would expect). Unfortunately, Villa Rotunda—Palladio’s most famous work—was closed on the day we were there, so we’ll have to make it back at some point. Joined once again by i Miamese, we did, however, see some other hallmarks of local architecture including Villa Nani (with its adorable little gargoyles) as well as Palladio’s Teatro Olimpico, the Pinoteca, and a lovely park with Palladian accents.  

Teatro Olimpico
Some Palladian accents in various parks

The next morning, we started our journey back to Liguria. If you’ve read all these posts related to our viaggio di agosto (or even just one or two), you can see how lucky we were to have the opportunity to see so much of this varied country—nature, art, food, and friendly people. To return to Arenzano and find that the adventure was going to continue delighted us even more, as there’s just so much more to see both near and far. We’re planning on taking as much advantage of it as possible (and have so far this fall, which in part accounts for why these dispatches are so far behind).

More musings and wanderings to come soon.

Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie

"Miamese" in Mountainous Places

Another unexpected--yet most welcome--addition to our trip was a visit with friends from Martello’s grad school days, i Miamese, who were staying with family in the tiny town of Cesana, near the larger (yet still small) town of Feltre. We were extremely grateful for la Miamese's entire family’s warmth and hospitality. Their history in the town goes far back, and each section of the family keeps a cozy summer home in what Trofie Wife decided was a delightful compound, with shared outside space for large family meals. We spent our first day together touring around Feltre, visiting the church, and encountering an elderly sculptor who showed us around the unique works in his studio:

Artist's studio

View of Feltre

We spent the better part of the evening at the Pedavena beer hall. Given its proximity to Austria, this region of Italy is known for brewing some excellent beer. In fact, Pedavena was so superb that even Trofie Wife (not really a beer drinker) enjoyed it! We didn’t know that the major summer beer fest was in progress that evening, so the crowd grew surprisingly large and the music loud. Though at various stages of pushing 30, we enjoyed the throwback to high school, with la Miamese's mama picking us up when we were good and full.

Autobus to Belluno

Belluno, a noted lovely town at the foot of the mountains, was our destination the following day. Unfortunately, the lack of a train station luggage room required that we schlep our huge bag around with us while touring charming cobblestone streets. This was particularly annoying given that a massive downpour engulfed the town. Luckily, we had already stopped at a gelateria and were safely ensconced inside, scoops at the ready. When the crazy rainstorm finally ceased, we wandered the quaint streets, stopping into churches and doing a bit of bird watching (a mama pigeon was feeding her squawking young).  Although we were continuing to journey west (and what a journey it was) we planned to meet up with our friends once again in Vicenza
Arcades of Belluno
Baci e gelato,
Martello e Trofie