Monthly Archives: September 2009

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Beach Life Italian Style

Only death or divorce will get you a spot in the coveted first row on an Italian beach. In a country where there is a socialistic equality in most things – health care, long lines at the post office, job security, good food – the beach is not one of them. In the U.S., if you get up early enough, you can stake out the best piece of sand on almost any shore and you can usually have a couple of yards between you and your nearest neighbor.

Each beach station has its own color scheme
Each beach station has its own color scheme

In Italy, the best spot is already taken – everywhere.  This prime real estate is a ten foot square piece of sand on the front row (closest to the waterline) in one of the hundreds of beach stations (stabilimenti balneari or bagni) that line the sandy beach along the gently rolling Tyrrhenian Sea from Rome to Cinque Terre. It is only obtained through patience or primogeniture.

This, of course, is not the natural sea-washed, wind-ruffled, kid-pocked, littered and shell-strewn beach of the States or Britain. No, this is ten feet of perfectly groomed sand, topped by a large beach umbrella, a beach chair, two matching sling-back chairs and a long lounge with attached sun-shade.

Chairs for five under the umbrella
Chairs for five under the umbrella

It’s crowded, especially after the allowable five people move into the space. It’s more crowded when the neighboring umbrellas on either side are raised and their quota of five people each arrive. But ,of course, if you have a spot on the front row, you know everyone around you – they have been friends, or even family, for decades.

It takes a lifetime to get to the front row
It takes a lifetime to get to the front row

Each summer Italians spend as much time as possible, not only in the same seaside town, or at the same bagno, but on the same spot of sand, the same distance from the same sea.  They frequently rent the spot for three to four months each year. When no member of the extended family is present between the months of May to mid-September, no one else is allowed to sit under their umbrella, on their chairs, or on their ten-square feet of sand.

For Americans who for the most part don’t spend the summer holidays in the same place twice, this shows an astonishing commitment or a sad lack of imagination. But this is not unusual for Italians. A recent study showed that over 70% of Italians take their 30 to 60 days of vacation each summer at the same time and over 65% spend that holiday time in the exact same place every year.

Perhaps it is the chaos of their history and politics that push Italians into a comfortable conformity in their private lives.  They have a sense of humor about it all. In the 1960s, Piero Focaccia, a popular singer, warbled this tune:

Changing cabins for rent at the beach
Changing cabins for rent at the beach

Per quest’anno, non cambiare.
Stessa spiaggia, stesso mare.

For this year, don’t change
Same beach, same sea.

Italy is blessed with beaches, both east on the Adriatic Sea or the west on the adjoining seas:  Ligurian, Tyrrhenian, as well as the southern Ionian Sea.  The personalities of the coasts are clearly defined.  The east coast has thousands of stabilimenti lined up at Rimini, Ancona, San Benedetto and Lido di Jesolo, south to Pescara. The sea is flat and tepid, but the beaches rock with discos and luna parks.  The west coast has more rambunctious seas, but seems to have a more placid beach life, fewer teenagers looking to hook up, more groups of three or four middle-aged ladies standing knee deep in the water gossiping. Italians are opinionated and loyal – those that favor the east coast, do not let the west coast sand slide through their toes.

Actually, there is not a lot of sand-toe contact on the Italian beaches. Once the Italian family (this is not a solitary pastime; you only go to the beach with family or friends) selects its preferred coast, picks a town to match their socio-economic class (Forte dei Marmi for high-rollers, Viareggio and Lido di Camaiore for the well-to-do, Lido di Massa Carrara for the middle class) and puts down one to five thousand euro for the sixteen summer weeks (mid-May to mid-September) at a bath station, they will have a combination of the following amenities: a parking lot, an entry portico, a receptionist (for day or weekly renters), a bar or café, showers (mostly cold, some hot for a fee), toilets, changing cabins, restaurant, fresh- or sea-water pool (higher end establishments), video games, fooseball tables, boardwalks to the sea (wood, plastic, or rubber), a bagnino (lifeguard cum umbrella jockey cum sand raker), a flag pole with colored flags (red if sea is too rough), paddle boats for rent, and a rescue rowboat for the bagnino.

Upscale stabilimento provides extra space
Upscale stabilimento balneari provides extra space

For the American with an exaggerated sense of personal space, the Italian beach scene, although colorful, can seem claustrophobic. For the Italian it is a joyful place of friends and family – teenagers fall in love, get married ten years later, socialize and play cards with other couples, have children – who play as babies/toddlers/teenagers, and then fall in love and start the cycle all over again.

As the summer ends and the ombrelloni are put away, Italians say goodbye to their beach mates with promises of “Stessa spiaggia, stesso mare” next year.

Dove Vai? – Balsamic Vinegar Museum, Museo del Cibo #3

While visiting the Musei del Cibo in the region around Parma, a visitor will find a rewarding short detour to the Balsamic Vinegar Museum (Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale) in Spilamberto, less than ten miles southeast of Modena.

Casks used to ferment Traditional Balsamic Vinegar
Casks used to ferment Traditional Balsamic Vinegar

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar (Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale) is produced in the area around Modena, which was once the ancient lands of the ducal family of Este.

Acelto Balsamico Tradizionale of Dukes of Este (18th cent.)
Acelto Balsamico Tradizionale of Dukes of Este (18th cent.)

With no addition of any aromatic substances, Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is obtained from cooked grape-must, which is slowly turned into a rich, think, sweet deep caramel-colored liquid from natural fermentation and progressive concentration through a very long (10 to 100 years) ageing process in a set of progressively smaller casks of different kinds of wood.

Traditional Balsamic Vinegar is a deep, dark and bright brown color with a smooth thick density. The taste is a well balanced sweet and sour that changes depending on the types of wood used for the aging.

The main difference between the Traditional Balsamic Vinegar and all other vinegars is not only the material from which it is obtained, but most of all the alchemy of time together with the knowledge and know-how of a tradition of ancient origin.

The so-called balsamic vinegar, found in the U.S. at neighborhood supermarkets or on the table of most Italian restaurants, is frequently made of a splash of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale mixed with a large quantity of regular red wine vinegar, or worse, is sweetened red wine vinegar with caramel coloring.

Copper-lined Pot used to Cook Grape-must for Balsamic Vinegar
Copper-lined Pot used to Cook Grape-must for Balsamic Vinegar

The Museo Balsamico Tradizionale provides a comprehensive explanation, through both an English-language film and rooms filled with ancient and modern equipment, of the deceptively simple process for making this sublime nectar.

Bottles of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale made in Modena
Bottles of Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena

The museum is compact, but a visitor emerges with an understanding of the history, culture and pride of the producers located in a narrow a strip of land in the Italy’s Emilia Region. The museum displays reveal true complexity of the product’s preparation that time and experience have made perfect; argues for the need to protect its name, control its genuineness and regulate its production so as to avoid any form of industrialization.

Museo del Balsamico Tradizionale

Villa Comunale Fabriani
Via Roncati, 28
41057 Spilamberto (Mo)

tel. +39 059 781614
fax +39 059 7861913

e-mail: info@museodelbalsamicotradizionale.org

Hours:

Tuesday to Sunday 9.30 – 13.00 / 15.00 – 19.00

The Museum is closed for holidays, including December 23 – 25, and January 1.

Tickets:

€ 2,00
€ 4,00 w/ tasting (only on Sunday morning or by reservation)
€ 1,00 for seniors over 65
Free for minors under 18

Guided Visit:

Only with prior reservation: info@museodelbalsamicotradizionale.org

Web Site:

http://www.museodelbalsamicotradizionale.org

Dove Vai? – Two Rivers Arrives in Florence

Despite the fact that it may seem like carrying coals to Newcastle or running the sprinkler in a downpour, the arrival of many of American Greg Wyatt’s sculptures to Florence’s Piazza Signoria and the Sala d’Arme in the Palazzo Vecchio is a welcome change from the offerings of Giambologna, Cellini and Ammannati.

Ammannati greets Greg Wyatt
Ammannati greets Greg Wyatt

Greg Wyatt, a native of Grand View-on-Hudson, New York, presently holds the position of Sculptor-in-Residence at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City. Cast bronze is his primary medium of artistic expression. Dr. Anthony Janson, editor of W.H. Janson’s History of Art, has stated that Wyatt’s work is based on the philosophy of “spiritual realism.”

Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt watch the placement of Two Rivers
Mr. and Mrs. Wyatt watch the placement of Two Rivers

Yesterday, Wyatt’s mammoth sixteen-foot bronze, Two Rivers, said to symbolize the creative relationship forged between the world of Florence’s Arno River and that of New York’s Hudson River, arrived in Piazza Signoria from a foundry in France. It will remain in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio until November 24, 2009. Wyatt has donated the statue to the City of Florence where it will take its place among other modern works in Piazza Poggi.

Detail of Two Rivers by Greg Wyatt
Detail of Two Rivers by Greg Wyatt

Inside the Sala d’Arme a number of Wyatt’s smaller works will be on display for free viewing by the public from September 5 to November 24. The excellent exhibition catalog (with Italian/English translation by Tuscan Traveler’s own Francesca Boni) will be on sale. The opening ceremony will take place at 7:30pm on Saturday, September 5.

Two Rivers outside the Palazzo Vecchio
Two Rivers in the shadow of the Palazzo Vecchio

An interesting interview with Greg Wyatt where he discusses his artistic influences and philosophy, as well as the process of creating his bronze sculptures can be seen online.