Tag Archives: Tuscany

Mangia! Mangia! – Baccalà Binds and Divides Italy

In the U.S. you can count on finding a burger at every truck stop, small town or major city. In the U.K. the same could be said about fish and chips. In Italy, it’s baccalà (salt cod). In the case of hamburgers or fish and chips, the recipe never varies much, but the recipe for salt cod changes drastically from region to region in Italy. Don’t ask for baccalà alla Livornese in Venice or baccalà mantecato in Puglia.

Salt cod can be fried for the Italian version of fish and chips
Salt cod can be fried (served with patate fritte) for the Italian version of fish and chips

It’s not hard to imagine why salt cod became the go-to food around the Italian boot. In times before trucks and refrigeration, the transport of fresh fish was impossible. Despite this fact, the Roman Catholic Church mandated days of abstinence when meat could not be eaten. Salted or dried fish became a Friday and Lenten favorite. It had the added benefit of being very inexpensive and was a protein staple for the poor. Cod boasts remarkable nutritional properties: it contains over 18% protein, which once dried rises to almost 80%.

Salt cod came to the ports of Livorno, Genoa and Naples in the 11th century, brought by Basque sailors, who ventured into the waters of the northern Atlantic, hunting the whales that passed through the Bay of Biscay. They came into contact with the Viking sailors, who dried the fresh-caught cod in the cold dry North Sea winds and then broke it into pieces and chewed it like a biscuit. In the 13th century, the Portuguese, realizing the commercial value of the easily-stored dried fish, cornered the market, sending their ships as far as Greenland. They added salt to dry the fish faster, giving rise to bacalhau (derived from the Latin, meaning “baculus” or stick). They traded salt cod along the western coast of the Italian peninsula.

Fried salt cod simmering in a spicy tomato sauce
Fried salt cod simmering in a spicy tomato sauce

The history of baccalà in Venice only dates back to 1431 when a Venetian ship, laden with spices and 800 barrels of Malvasia wine, departed from the island of Crete under the command of the sea captain Piero Querini, and headed for the North Sea and Flanders. When the ship reached the English Channel, the route was disrupted by a violent storm that, after breaking the rudder, blew the ship north for many days. Boarding lifeboats, the crew (only 14 of 68 survived) landed on the uninhabited rock of Sandoy, in Norway’s northern Lofoten Islands.

For four months, the Venetians lived with the Norwegian fishermen, and learnt the art of preserving cod. Norway’s unique climatic conditions of low temperatures, dry air and a low amount of precipitation were (and still are) perfect for air-drying cod in open tents. Cod preserved in this way can last for years. Captain Querini returned home with sixty dried stockfish. He told the ruling Doges how the Norwegians dried the fish in the wind until it became as hard and then they beat it and spiced it turning it into a soft and tasty mix. The recipe was known by the Spanish words baccalà mantecato (creamed codfish). Querini went back to Norway many times, becoming a major trader in dried and salted codfish.

There are two forms of dried codfish – stockfish and salt cod. Stockfish or stoccafisso is made using the smaller cod, dried on sticks in the cold dry air of Scandinavia, creating a very light, easily transported stick fish, thus the name. Salt cod or baccalà is created from cod, three to six feet long, split, and salted on wood planks for about ten days, thus only partially drying them. Today, all of the stoccafisso and baccalà eaten in Italy comes from Norway.

Salt cod has many of the characteristics of fresh cod, large, soft flakes of succulent, opaque flesh with slightly chewy firm texture from the salting, and not at all fishy in flavor. To prepare it, the cook rinses the salt off it and soaks it in cold water for 12 or more hours, depending upon its thickness, changing the water 2-3 times daily. (Stockfish takes a couple of extra days to rehydrate.) Once it has soaked it is skinned, deboned, and ready to be made into the local recipe.

Bacala alla Livornese ready to serve in Tuscany
Baccalà alla Livornese ready to serve in Tuscany

In Veneto, baccalà is considered a real delicacy: Baccalà alla Vicentina (slowly braised with onions, anchovies and milk) and Baccalà Mantecato (an mashed preparation with extra virgin olive oil, lemon and parsley) are always served with polenta. Some other popular recipes are Baccalà alla Livornese (with tomatoes, garlic, parsley and basil), cooked throughout Tuscany. When in Rome you will find Baccalà Fritto (salt cod chunks fried in a simple egg and flour batter)and Baccalà all’Agro Dolce (with tomatoes, cooked in wine, flavored with red pepper, pine nuts and sultana raisins).

Baccalà alla Pizzaiola (salt cod covered with tomatoes, breadcrumbs, capers, plenty of oregano and baked in the oven) and Baccalà alla Napoletana (the baccalà is fried and then placed in a simmering tomato sauce, with olives, capers and pine nuts), are recipes from Naples. The Neapolitans, even today, boasts the highest consumption of both stockfish and dried salted cod. They claim there are 365 different ways to eat baccalà – one for every day of the year.

As you travel around Italy, ask for baccalà at least once at each stop to taste the true regionalism of  the country.

Italian Food Rules: The BookItalian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Men in Tights Never Go Out of Fashion

For years I’ve been telling my touring clients at FriendinFlorence.com to listen for the sound of drums and trumpets in the alleys of Florence. “You are sure to see men in tights if you find the corteo,” I say.

Corteo for the three kings on Epiphany in January
Corteo for the three kings on Epiphany in January

Throughout the year, there are at least thirty parades, processions, or other celebrations with historical costumes, including men in tights. The drummers are in tights, the trumpeters are in tights, the flag wavers are in tights, even the noblemen on horses are in tights as they ride in the corteo.

The Flag Wavers need the flexibility of calzemaglia
The Flag Wavers need the flexibility of calzamaglia

What brings this to mind today – a day without a corteo – is the wonderful column by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times. Mantyhose are apparently all the rage. In fact, yesterday I was in the Paperback Exchange Bookstore in Florence and there were two trendy men wearing mantyyhose. They looked something like this gentleman, but they incorpoated more layers and more color:

All over Europe Mantyhose are a La Moda
All over Europe Mantyhose are alla Moda

The U.S. has it’s own men in tights but they are usually super heros.

Batman & Robin flaunted their tights
Batman & Robin flaunted their tights

Britain had Robin Hood. Ms. Dowd rightly observed that in the 1993 film Robin Hood: Men in Tights, Robin, Little John and the Merry Men sang, “We’re men, we’re men in tights; we roam around the forest looking for fights.”

Men wore tights for over 300 years in Italy
Men wore tights for over 300 years in Italy

Florence, however, has the longest and most colorful history of men who showed a lot of leg. Frescos celebrate the fashionable men who roamed the streets generation after generation for almost 300 years (14th – 16th centuries). Lorenzo the Magnificent was … yes … magnificent … in tights (something had to distract the focus away from that nose). Michelangelo probably didn’t change his calzamaglia more than once a month, if that often. Even Savonarola, the monk of the Bonfire of the Vanities, didn’t disparage the well-turn calf sheathed in skin-tight stockings.

The historic soccer game Calcio in Costume take place in June in Florence
The historic soccer game Calcio in Costume takes place in June in Florence

The Calcio Storico in Florence has for centuries shown how manly men in tights can be. Or perhaps it’s because they are wearing stockings and bloomers that makes this annual game so bloody and violent. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

Emilio Cavallini His & Hers
Emilio Cavallini His & Hers

It was, of course, a Tuscan, Emilio Cavallini (born 1945 in San Miniato near Pisa), who introduced unisex hosiery to modern times. In 2009, his high-end stocking company designed products for a more male sensibility and now it sells about 30,000 pairs a year to men. The new billionaire owner of Spanx didn’t skyrocket to success by ignoring the growing male market – look for Spanx this year for men who want to smooth those unsightly thigh-topping saddlebags.

The Conservative Man's Brosiery
The Conservative Man's Brosiery

Runners have been sporting spandex for years never knowing how fashionable they were (perhaps only worrying about that chaffing problem), but now they can toss away the all black look and add a little creativity with stripes, skulls, plaids and polka dots.

Colorful Mantyhose for Spring 2012?
Colorful Mantyhose for Spring 2012?

And maybe rainbow colors will show up in the designers’ lines for men next season and we will have come full circle from the trend setter of the Renaissance to the fashion forward man of today.

Italian Food Rule – No Doggy Bags!

History of a Food Rule

Some of the best stories are those that start in the same place where they end. The more things change the more they stay the same. The Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags! has strange antecedents because according to some the doggy bag’s first appearance was in the 6th century BC … in Rome.

Apparently, when invited to a banquet at the neighbor’s villa the ancient Roman would bring a napkin or two. It was a compliment to the host to take some of the dinner home wrapped up in your napkin.

Wrap it up in a napkin and take it home
Ancient Romans wrapped part of dinner up in a napkin to take home

But perhaps with the fall of the empire the custom fell into disfavor. During the Middle Ages, the leftovers went first to the kitchen staff, then to the lower order of servants, and then out the backdoor to the beggars in the courtyard.

Why don’t Italians ask for doggy bags?

In modern times, there seem to be three reasons that Italians don’t ask for a take-out container. (The term doggy bag or doggie bag is an Americanism that entered the European lexicon mostly to complain about the practice.)

First, Italian food is made to order, to be eaten as the chef envisioned it, immediately as the dish arrives on the table. It is not to be eaten at another temperature (cold pizza), in another form (bistecca alla fiorentina sliced in a sandwich), or mixed together (pasta alla carbonara with a chunk off a veal chop resting on top).

Thanks for the doggy bag!

Second, servings in Italian restaurants tend to be of the appropriate size so that the diner does not get too full by eating everything on the plate. A light eater does not order an antipasto, a primo, a secondo, and a dolce – one or two courses is enough.

Third, Italians look at food left on the plate as scraps, not leftovers. There’s a difference. It’s not good manners to ask to take home kitchen scraps.

For 60 years Americans have requested doggy bags

Some say the term “doggy bag” came into being because embarrassed Americans wanted to hide their real purpose in requesting a container for leftovers. (Emily Post certainly frowned on the practice.) But the Smithsonian blog Food & Think claims that the first doggy bags were for the benefit of dogs during the 1940s when rationing had an adverse impact on pet diets. One Seattle restaurant offered a waxed paper bag labeled “Bones for Bowser.”

By the 1970s, the practice of doggy bags for late night snacks for human consumption became more accepted, first at restaurants that already offered take-out or delivery (pizza joints and Chinese restaurants). Then even elegant places would oblige when asked. (Remember the aluminum foil swan you got on prom night when you didn’t want to burst a seam on your fancy dress?)

Swans make take-away so so special
Swans make take-away so so special

Today, there are a few reasons why Americans whole-heartedly adhere to the doggy bag ideal.

First, most restaurants in the United States believe that their customers do not think they are getting good value for their dollar if the serving size is not at least twice the size of what a normal person can eat at a sitting. In other words, the customer expects to get one or two extra meals out of an evening at a restaurant.

Two, as American-born, London-based broadcaster Charlie Wolff, in the BBC magazine article, Doggy bag: Why are the British too embarrassed to ask?, explained “We Americans don’t have the airs and graces of Europeans. Americans are a bit more of the people, more pedestrian. There’s nothing embarrassing about asking for a doggy bag. We don’t want to see waste. There’s a sense of working hard for your money and wanting value for your dollar.” His mother used to make an omelette with the remains of meals from their favourite Chinese restaurant. She also used to bring any uneaten bread rolls home. “We were upper middle class. My parents came through the Depression and I’m sure that had a bearing even when they became successful.”

Third, Americans are the first to start recycling their waste and in the same way they look at leftover food as a product to be recycled in future meals.

Which brings us back to Rome…

Un Doggy Bag, per favore?

The Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags is starting to crumble. Some say that Michelle Obama is to blame. In 2009, Michelle was in Rome during the G8. This news item was widely-reported: “The Coldiretti Society of Italian Farmers heartily praised Michelle Obama for her progressive use of the doggy bag during the recent family’s stay in Rome.”  Michelle, together with her two daughters, dined at the ´I Maccheroni´ restaurant near the Pantheon. The family ordered three pasta dishes – carbonara, amatriciana and bolognese – but the meal turned out to be too hearty for the three Obama girls. And so Michelle asked the waiter to pack the leftovers into a bag to take home.

Michelle made a splash with her request for a doggy bag
Michelle made a splash with her request for a doggy bag

The First Lady’s effort to make sure the food did not go to waste was widely understood as a public encouragement to save more and waste less. The Coldiretti stated, “It’s an important move against an epidemic in developed countries today – more that 30% of all the food product we buy are discarded without ever having been used.”

By 2010, a non-profit group that works with homeless people in Milan, Cena dell’Amicizia, began a project called “Il buono che avanza,” (“The good things left over”). Restaurants in the Milan area can voluntarily take part, whereupon they are provided with doggy bags and a sticker by the non-profit. “The idea is to fight the idea of a throw-away, consumerist society where waste is normal and recycling (even of food) is looked down upon,” claimed Cena dell’Amicizia.

Logo for Milan's take-away campaign
Logo for Milan’s take-away campaign

In the Piemonte region there is a movement, not so much for waste, but to prevent drunk driving, to provide take-away bags, called buta stupa (“corked bottle” in Piedmontese dialect), for leftover wine.

What about the rest of Europe?

Even the Brits are coming around (although no news from the French). Last year, The Too Good To Waste campaign was introduced to reduce the amount of food waste in restaurants. The average London restaurant produces 21 tons of food waste every year, research by the Sustainable Restaurant Association found. That’s the equivalent to the weight of three double-decker buses. Too Good To Waste is encouraging diners to be “lovers, not leavers” and ask for their leftovers to go. They, too, have created a distinctive take-away cartoon for the crusade.

Too Good To Waste - Britain's crusade
Too Good To Waste – Britain’s crusade

It seems Italy and Britain are not alone in trying to break the Food Rule: No Doggy Bags; in Sweden (also in 2011, a magic year for doggy bags) a campaign was started to prevent waste in restaurants. Among other things, the promoters convinced the rapper Dogge Doggelito from the The Latin Kings, one of Sweden’s first hip hop groups, to participate in their doggy bag promotional film. In the film, Doggelito overhears a couple quarrel about something the man finds embarrassing, and takes for granted that she wants his autograph – when in fact it’s a doggy bag she wants.

Sweden's doggy bag campaign
Sweden’s doggy bag campaign

Tuscany will not violate the Food Rule

From all appearances, Florence and Tuscany will hold tight to the Italian Food Rule: No Doggy Bags! Florentines may be willing to recycle their trash, but leftovers do not constitute food in a region that prides itself in a cuisine that has not seen change in centuries and is not ready for reheating in the microwave oven. As a baby step, Tuscany may agree to follow the national Associazione Italiana Sommeliers, which is promoting Portami Via, a move to provide take-away bags for leftover wine.

Tuscany may support doggy bags for vino
Tuscany may support doggy bags for vino

 

Italian Food Rules by Ann Reavis is available now. You can buy Italian Food Rules by using these links:

Italian Food Rules: The Book

Amazon. com (U.S.) eBook for Kindle & Kindle Apps

Amazon. com (U.S.) paperback

Amazon.co.uk (United Kingdom)

Amazon.it (Italy)

Amazon.de (Germany)

Amazon.fr (France)

Barnes & Noble (U.S.) eBook for Nook

 

Mangia! Mangia! – Cioccolata Calda, the Best Florence has to Offer

Before the New Year’s diet resolution kicks in there was time for one last venture into the world of great hot chocolate in Florence. This time it was a paper cup of Grom’s Fondente with a moustache of whipped cream and a tall white ceramic cup of Catinari’s Fondente with only a silver spoon.

Deep dark chocolate from the best cocoa beans the world has to offer
Deep dark chocolate from the best cocoa beans the world has to offer

Of all the cioccolata calda in Florence, Catinari is the best in quality, quantity, presentation and experience. Vestri comes in second in taste, but the plastic cup is a flaw. Grom serves three interesting versions of high quality, but the paper cup and no place to sit are drawbacks. Rivoire has the old world ambience, but has let the quality slip and, though unlikely, it seems like the cups have gotten smaller.

Mangia! Mangia! has already discussed the hot chocolate of Vestri and Rivoire. The first week of a new year is perfect for measuring Grom against Catinari.

Roberto Cantinari – Father of Tuscan Chocolate

A life devoted to chocolate – Roberto Catinari, now in his mid 70s, is credited with inspiring Tuscany’s young chocolatiers, who gave birth to the “Chocolate Valley” that runs from Florence through Prato and Pistoia and on to Lucca and Pisa.

It is said that his love of chocolate began in Switzerland where the young Pistoian immigrant began work at seventeen as a dishwasher in a pastry shop. It was over ten years before he worked his way into the white coat of a pastry chef. He spent ten more years perfecting his craft.

Roberto Catinari has the perfect face of a master chocolate maker
Roberto Catinari has the perfect face of a master chocolate maker

In 1974, he returned to the mountains north of Pistoia and his mother’s house in the hamlet of Bardalone, to start a business with his wife. Six years later they moved to a more advantageous location in Agliana (between Pistoia and Prato) where the kitchen and shop continued until 2007 when he obtained a larger space nearby.

Catinari, with his flowing white beard, could be a chocolate wizard from a Harry Potter novel, but he looks at his work as a craft to be mastered. Over the past thirty years he has created a business where at first no one would pay for quality ingredients until today when chocolate-makers beg for a chance to spend time learning in his relatively small chocolate laboratory. He demands attention to detail, the best ingredients, and a passion for chocolate from all who work with him. Catinari keeps the facility small by choice – a way of valuing quality over quantity. His focus is on the value that hand-made attention to detail and the best raw ingredients bring to the final product.

The beautiful entrance to Catinari's Arte del Cioccolato
The beautiful entrance to Arte del Cioccolato

Except for the shop in Agliana, there is only one other Cantinari Arte del Cioccolato shop and that is in Florence, down a specially decorated little alley at the bottom of Via Porta Rossa where it meets Via Tornabuoni. It’s easy to miss. Here the attention to the main ingredient is readily apparent and drinking cioccolata calda is a special experience.

First, there is the walk down the short paved alley with decorative trees and huge flickering candles. The tiny shop is paneled in dark wood with glass cases full of meticulously decorated chocolate candies. Two comfortable seats are inside and outside, heaters keep the small tables warm even in winter. Arte del Cioccolato serves either Fondente (dark chocolate) or Al Latte (milk chocolate) flavors, both made with chocolate from São Tomé, the small island in the Gulf of Guinea off the coast of Africa. A large ceramic cup is filled just over half way with thick hot hot chocolate, placed on a saucer with a spoon. The spoon is useful for cooling the first sips and capturing the last bit coating the sides of the cup. None should be missed.

Grom – The Boys from Piedmonte Aim to Bring Gelato to the World

Grom, the upstart youngster, opened its doors in May 2003 in the center of Torino, and the success was immediate, unlike Alberto Cantinari’s experience driving around Tuscany for years, slowly building a fan base. At Grom, long lines formed in front of the store from the very first day and the two founding partners, Guido Martinetti and Federico Grom, planned for world-domination with their artisanal gelato.

Grom offers three flavors of hot chocolate
Grom has three great flavors

In January 2005, they decided to expand with the opening of new stores and invest in a centralized laboratory suitable to meet the production demand of the future. The goal was always the same: offering the very best. The centralization of the first phase of production (the mixing of raw materials) became a key decision allowing for a strict quality control standard. But most important, like Catinari, they wanted to assure the quality of the ingredients, for instance, by allowing only certain types of fruit available at local consortia, rather than at the wholesale fruit markets found in each city. The liquid mixtures produced in the laboratory, are checked by a team of experts and then distributed three times a week to each store, where they are blended daily to create incredible gelato. The same system is used for Grom’s cioccolata calda. This attention to quality and the right raw material is at the origin of what makes Grom famous throughout Italy and already many parts of the world (New York City, Paris, Osaka, Tokyo, and Malibu, so far).

Grom’s centralized laboratory also produces the excellent liquid chocolate served at each store as hot chocolate. Grom offers a choice of three flavors:  Bacio, Al Latte and Fondente.  All include fresh milk, dark chocolate of the best “crus” around the world (Al Latte uses Teyuna cocoa of Colombia, Bacio incorporates Tonda Gentile Trilobate hazelnuts and the Fondente starts with Ocumare chocolate from Venezuela), and a few drops of cream. There are no thickeners and the liquid chocolate is heated on the spot in each gelateria so as not to weakening the complex flavors of the great chocolates.

It’s true that it may not be fair to measure Grom, a gelateria, against three chocolate makers when weighing the merits of cioccolata calda in Florence. It didn’t come in first ,but it certainly was a credible competitor. Next winter, perhaps the hot chocolate at Café Giacosa and Café Florian will be on the list of challengers. But now, the New Year’s diet commences…

Grom – www.grom.it (in Florence) Via del Campanile at Via delle Oche – Ph. +39 055.216158. Open from 10:30am to 11:00pm

Roberto Catinari, www.robertocatinari.it,www.artedelcioccolato.it Arte del Cioccolato, Via Provinciale, 378; Agliana; +39-0574-718-506; (in Florence) Chiasso de Soldanieri, near the corner of Via Porta Rossa and Via Tornabuoni); +39-o55-217-136.
Open from 10:00am to 8:00pm

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Happy New Year from Tuscany!

Auguri di Buon Anno!!

Tuscan Traveler is looking forward to another year in Florence and Tuscany, writing about the less traveled paths, the hidden courtyards, as well as the objects or places seen every day, but for which the stories have been lost.

Via dello Studio view of the Florence Duomo
Florence Duomo seen from Via dello Studio

In 2011, Florentine food will be a focus and so will Tuscany for tots (or just for those very young at heart). Italian politics is too difficult for Tuscan Traveler to translate, but 2011 promises to be a year of great change (hopefully), therefore the best alternative web sites for current events will be brought to focus (of course, most likely under the theme Burnt To a Crisp).

2011 is the Year to Visit Tuscany with Friend In Florence

Tuscan Traveler and Friend In Florence expect to welcome friends back to Florence and Tuscany, as well as meet visitors new to the history, art, food and wine of this fascinating city and a diverse region of beaches and mountains, vineyards and olive groves, hill towns, markets, and so, so much more.

Tuscany in the summer in a sunflower year
Tuscany in the summer in a Sunflower Year

Friend in Florence offers you a virtual friend, who has both the experience of a native Florentine and the imagination and curiosity of a visitor, who after 12 years still looks at Florence and Tuscany with the eyes of a foreigner. Offering custom walking tours of Florence and chauffeured expeditions throughout Tuscany, Friend In Florence provides minute by minute information and experiences to create memories that will last for years.

For those who want to explore on their own, Friend in Florence offers self-guided itineraries of Florence and/or Tuscany with information about special events, introductions to friends of Tuscan Traveler and Friend in Florence, directions to workshops of craftsmen and small select wineries, and reservations at the best Florentine restaurants or countryside trattorias.

Montefioralle - one of the small hill towns of Tuscany
Montefioralle - one of the small hill towns of Tuscany

In the New Year, experience the Joy of a Florentine Kitchen!

Tuscan Traveler will post descriptions of the best places to eat in Florence and Tuscany, but if you have a desire to experience the joy and simplicity of cooking the Florentine way, ask Friend in Florence to arrange a class in your apartment kitchen in Florence or at your villa in Tuscany. If you don’t want to cook, but also want the comfort and privacy of eating at your home away from home, request a catered lunch or dinner from Friend in Florence.

Tuscan vegetables with zucchini flowers
Tuscan vegetables with zucchini flowers cooked up by a Florentine chef

TuscanTraveler.com (email: tuscantrav@gmail.com)

FriendInFlorence.com (email: friendinflorence@gmail.com)

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – Following the Aqueducts Near Lucca & Pisa

I’m embarrassed to say that I have misrepresented an historical fact to friends and family when I pointed out the aqueduct near Lucca and exclaimed, “Isn’t it amazing that those Romans could build something so wonderful, which could last 2,000 years.” It was only a ten-fold mistake, but I should have known better than to guess.

Lucca's aqueduct designed by Nottolini in 1823
Lucca's aqueduct designed by Nottolini in 1823

It was in the early 1700s that the Lucchesi realized it was necessary to build a large aqueduct to supply the city with water of good quality, replacing water from oft-contaminated wells. From that time, not being ancient Roman hydrologists who had solved the problem hundreds of times throughout Europe, Tuscan mathematicians and hydraulic engineers engaged in lengthy discussions, elaborating various projects that did not lead to concrete results for almost 150 years.

The aqueduct was built only in the following century when Luccese architect Lorenzo Nottolini took into consideration several earlier hypotheses and came up with the best solution. Work began in 1823 and, following several interruptions, the project was completed in 1851. The water was drawn from several springs on the northern slope of Mount Pisano, passed through several layers of stones and gravel to become pure and clear. A large part of its conveyance works, built between 1825 and 1840, are still visible today in the parkland of the Monumental Aqueduct of Guamo.

Temple-cistern at the beginning of Nottolini Aqueduct at Guamo, Capannori
Temple-cistern at the beginning of Nottolini Aqueduct at Guamo, Capannori

Built in an elegant neoclassical style, the little temple-cistern of Guamo collected water from the springs. Inside, it has a basin divided into two parts. Water was channeled inside the conduit that passed over a row of more than 400 arches in brick and masonry for a length of about 3,250 meters, the series of which is today interrupted by the A11 motorway, the road I travel, pointing out the fascinating structure.

Aqueducts not just for Romans
Aqueducts - Not just for Romans

The water arrived at another temple-cistern – San Concordio – a circular-plan building in the neoclassical style. The water poured from the conduit into a large marble basin; from here it fell into two tunnels containing very large smelted iron tubes, which conveyed the water about 2,000 meters underground into the city and a large fountain in the square beside the cathedral. By making the tubes moveable, Nottolini provided for the effects of the metal lengthening and shortening due to heat and cold, so as to avoid the ruptures that had occurred in other aqueducts. The hydraulic system of the aqueduct was completed by a system of fountains that furnished the urban center.

Other Aqueducts in the Lucca Region

Older aqueducts can be found both north and south of Lucca. They are not Roman either, but they pre-date the Nottolini aqueduct.

Aqueduct crosses the moat into Barga's historic center
Aqueduct crosses the moat into Barga's historic center

Barga

Built in the 15th century, the aqueduct of Barga is of stone construction (differing from those made of terracotta bricks) that assured water to the fountains in the historical center. Today, a spectacular series of arches can be found in the Parco Fratelli Kennedy (Kennedy Brothers Park), also the site of the medieval moat of the village of Barga.

Medici Aqueduct of Asciano

The project for an aqueduct capable of supplying the city of Pisa with the water of the Pisan Mountains near Lucca was ordered by Grand Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici, but credit must go to his son, Ferdinando I, however, for the construction of the long aqueduct, which reach the walls of Pisa from Bottino di San Rocco in the Fonti Valley.

Grand Duke Ferdinand I visiting the aqueduct work-in-progress
Grand Duke Ferdinand I visiting the work-in-progress

Begun in 1592, designed by architect Raffaello di Zanobi di Pagno, who was succeeded by Andrea Sandrini from Siena, it had more than 900 arches and wound along a course of six kilometers. In the 1597 treatise, Dei Bagni di Pisa, famous physician Girolamo Mercuriale considered the aqueduct of Asciano to be among “the almost divine works of Ferdinando I”. The engraver Jacques Callot depicted the Visita di Ferdinando I ad Asciano in an engraving created in the 1620s, documenting the Grand Duke’s direct interest in the works.

Portions of the Medici Aqueduct cross the countryside north of Pisa
The Medici Aqueduct in the countryside north of Pisa

Today, portions of the Medicean aqueduct still stand in the countryside between Asciano and Pisa, providing a picturesque route for walks and cycling.

Dove Vai? – Travel To Italian World War II Sites with Anne Saunders

One of the joys of living in Italy is not only the chance to visit places where Renaissance artists, poets, dukes and popes wandered the same hallways and alleys, but to visit locations where no less dramatic, but much more recent history took place.

To Americans under 60 years of age World War II in Europe is often a vague set of facts found in a history book – a short chapter or two. Italy, like Normandy, provides a full semester’s course on the sociological background, politics, alliances, military strategies, and both tragic and victorious outcomes, especially from 1942 to 1945 – the Italian Campaign.

American Sicily-Rome WW II Cemetery at Anzio/Nettuno
American Sicily-Rome WW II Cemetery at Anzio/Nettuno

TuscanTraveler.com has a special interest in the American Cemeteries, located at Anzio/Nettuno and Florence. So it is a pleasure to find that Anne Saunders, an American researcher, has compiled a guide to almost every location in Italy where one can undertake a full study of the history of World War II and the Italian Campaign.

Front Cover
Front Cover

A Travel Guide to World War II Sites in Italy describes and provides directions to over one hundred World War II museums, monuments, cemeteries and battlefields. The tours, with complete directions, travel times, maps and other helpful hints, focus on a particular city or region, following the Allied and German armies as they battled from southern to northern Italy.

American soldiers in battle Lucca (November 1944)
American soldiers in battle outside of Lucca (November 1944)

It might be more accurate to call this book “A Short History and Travel Guide of the Italian Campaign” because in this small volume (100 pages) Anne provides concise descriptions of the years leading up to Italy’s alliance with Germany, the Allied landing in Africa and Sicily, and the subsequent important battles and strategic decisions that led to the German surrender. Sections recounting the history lead into to description of the pertinent museums, cemeteries (American, Commonwealth, German, Polish, French and others), memorials and monuments.

Gothic Line near Lucca
Gothic Line near Lucca

I learned that the Gothic Line was built by forced labor and that I want to go immediately to see the dramatic mountainside German Military Cemetery at Traversa where more than 30,000 German soldiers are buried. My only quibble with Anne’s book is that she fails to describe the beautiful flower gardens in which the Commonwealth soldiers are buried – not on the outside of the plots, but actually around each tombstone, as if they lie in an English country garden forever.

Commonwealth Beach Head Cemetery in Anzio
Commonwealth Beach Head Cemetery in Anzio

Anne, a true researcher, provides an exhaustive bibliography and even a list of films about the Italian Campaign.  She also provides hotel and transportation suggestions. Archival WWII photos illustrate the guidebook. For more information regarding the Italian campaign, read about WWII Italy and/or visit Anne’s complete and informative online page of news and links.

Anne Saunders has a BA from Wellesley College, MA from Columbia University, and PhD from the University of South Carolina. She taught for over twenty years at the College of Charleston, where she is now a research associate. A lifelong fan of Italy, she spent four summers there doing research for the guidebook. I would like to know more about how she got the inspiration to undertake the years of travel and study that resulted in this informative and very helpful guide.

Connect to Anne’s Amazon Author Page. To view the book’s table of contents and selected pages, click on its Amazon web page. Visit where to buy for a list of stores and web vendors in the USA, Canada, the UK, Italy, and elsewhere.

Tuscan Traveler’s Tales – It’s a Sunflower Year in Tuscany

“A Sunflower Year?” asked Francesca as we drove through the rolling Tuscan hills southwest of Siena. I pointed out to this Florentine that some years there were no sunflowers to be found in Tuscany, but in others the golden flowers created the Tuscan landscape of movies and postcards and tourists’ fantasies. 2010 is a Sunflower Year.

Southern Tuscany during a Sunflower Year
Southern Tuscany during a Sunflower Year

Twelve years ago, the first Italian film I saw was Il Ciclone. I’ve seen it about three times because as a failing beginning Italian language student, I’ve taken a lot of classes. It seems to be the film-of-choice for first-level Italian language teachers. Not because it’s easy to understand – most of the actors have Florentine accents – but because it is funny. The parts I remember the best are the scenes when the cute guy on a scooter speeds to the family farmhouse through fields of sunflowers. It was the perfect depiction of my dream of the Tuscan countryside – not vineyards or olive groves, but with fields of yellow flowers surrounding a golden rustic house with a terra cotta roof.

Tuscan Traveler's Fantasy Tuscany Made Reality
Tuscan Traveler's Fantasy Tuscany Made Reality

So why are some years filled with sunflowers and in others nary a bloom to be found. I had a client – a photographer and painter – who wanted to take photos of Tuscan sunflowers. We traveled the back roads from Florence to Siena to Montepulciano for five days before we found one field near Montalcino.

Of course, the answer that comes to mind is that Italian farmers are rigorous in their husbandry of the fertile soil and therefore, rotate their crops to preserve the nutrients and decrease the pathogens to allow for healthy crops every year. But it is incredible to think that Italian farmers are so cohesive to agree en masse that they should all grow sunflowers in a given year. Especially on the years that the sunflower crops have failed dismally when lack of rain wilted them on the stalk just as the flowers came into bloom.

Fields of Sunflowers on the Chianti Back Roads
Fields of Sunflowers on the Chianti Back Roads

No, of course, it is all about subsidies. It appears that the Italian government and the European Union have for years subsidized certain crops and that determines a Sunflower Year. Now in the age of biofuels, new subsidies have been created to Save the Planet. (Of course, the cost and amount of CO2 emitted from farming sunflowers and burning sunflower biofuel far outweigh the value of the relatively small amount of fuel that can be obtained from the plant.)

Turning its Face to the Tuscan Sun
Turning its Face to the Tuscan Sun

But after the momentary distraction brought by the realities of farming in Italy and EU subsidies, I am back in my golden haze, loving Tuscany during the summers when millions of the giant flowers turn their faces to the sun. I wish every year was a Sunflower Year.