The Happy Goatherd

Enea is one of the cheesemakers to whom I take my guests.

Enea smiles

Enea

He lives on a farm at the end of a dirt road that runs along the top of a ridge. At the point where the tarmac runs out, there’s a vineyard. Bumping slowly along the rutted road you pass a house, then nothing for 10 minutes. As the nose of the ridge begins to dip toward the valley, you spy a ramshackle house with solar panels on the roof. If you come in July, you’ll think you’ve arrived at a farm machine museum until you see Enea putting his heritage wheat through the vintage thresher.

Old machine to thresh wheat

Antique threshing machine

Enea and his wife Valeria are nearly self-sufficient. They have a herd of goats, two cows, a few chickens, a couple of horses, a vegetable garden, an olive grove and fields of cereals and hay. They’re hoping for another cow.

Goats in pasture

The goats

One of Enea's cows

The first cow

During the spring and summer Enea milks the goats every morning, makes cheese with their milk and then, with the help of his working dogs, takes them out to graze. The dogs are tri-lingual. I don’t think the goats are. On days when we’re there and he doesn’t go out with them in the morning, their complaints are perfectly comprehensible nonetheless.

Milking a goat

Enea milks while sitting on a one-legged stool.

Moulding cheese

Enea forms his goat’s milk cheese by hand.

Cheese

Fresh goat’s milk cheese

On Wednesdays he makes sourdough bread. His bread shed contains a wood-fired oven and a tiny mill where he grinds enough of his heritage wheat for the week’s batch of bread. On Wednesday evenings he goes to town to deliver his produce to a group of friends who buy collectively.

Bread dough

The dough

Sourdough

Stretching and folding the dough

Flour mill

The mini flour mill

Cleaning wood-fired oven

The wood-fired oven

They’re self-sufficient for art and music too. Valeria paints and Enea plays the guitar. The solar panels and batteries keep them in touch with the outside world via their cell phones, computer and internet connection.

Valeria prepares lunch

Valeria also prepares our lunch.

One of the guests in the last group I took there asked Enea why he chose to make cheese. He told us this story:

‘When I finished school, I knew I didn’t want to go to university, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I enjoyed helping a friend pick his olives. Then I rented an apartment from a cheesemaker with goats. He was French and made French-style soft goat cheese. I watched him and began to help him. I saw he was always smiling, and I decided that was the life I wanted.’

Enea with a goat

The happy goatherd

Enea is one of the cheesemakers who teaches our course Theory and Practice of Italian Cheese. Details at: http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/courses_with_artisan/theory-practice-of-italian-cheese/.

Posted in cheese, FARM, LIFE, milk | 2 Comments

Ruined by Good Food

What happened to Janet after indulging in artisan food in Tuscany? Here’s the unexpected answer in my latest post on the Slow Travel Tours website: http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/life-changing/

Here's Janet with a dyepot, not cooking

Here’s Janet with a dyepot

Shortly after she returned home to California I received a WhatsApp message from her which began:

“You have ruined me!!!”

I was worried, but not for long. Read the rest of my blog on the Slow Travel Tours website: http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/life-changing/

Posted in DIET, dyeing, LIFE | Leave a comment

Generosity

On 23 December as I looked over my menu for Christmas lunch, I was struck by the generosity of my Italian friends and producers. I realised I didn’t have to buy most of the ingredients I needed! They were gifts people had thrust upon me over the last two or three months, not just Christmas presents, but as part of their culture of giving. You share what you have, especially what you make yourself.

So many gifts!

So many gifts!

To find out the story behind the gifts read my new blog over at Slow Travel Tours: http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/generosity/

Posted in cheese, CHESTNUTS, COOKING, LIFE, OLIVE OIL, weaving, WINE | Leave a comment

Time Doesn’t Run

‘Garfagnana Dove Il Tempo Non Corre’ is the motto printed on aprons sold by the tourist office in Castelnuovo di Garfagnana. It means literally, ‘Garfagnana where time doesn’t run’. We might say, ‘where time stands still’. In fact, it creeps along slowly.

A slow apron

I’ve just reread a piece by Rebecca Solnit in the London Review of Books (29 August 2013) in which she reflects on some of the effects our electronic age have had on our experience of time: the interruptions to our concentration, the fragmentation of our solitude and relationships. She wonders how far we will allow big corporations to shatter our lives. Will we all be wearing Google glasses with continuous pop-up messages reminding us of practicalities while causing us to forget to ‘contemplate the essential mysteries of the universe and the oneness of things’?

Then she muses:

‘I wonder sometimes if there will be a revolt against the quality of time the new technologies have brought us… Or perhaps there already has been, in a small, quiet way. The real point about the slow food movement was often missed. It wasn’t food. It was about doing something from scratch, with pleasure, all the way through, in the old methodical way we used to do things. That didn’t merely produce better food; it produced a better relationship to materials, processes and labour, notably your own, before the spoon reached your mouth. It produced pleasure in production as well as consumption. It made whole what is broken.’

Reading this I realise it’s that wholeness I see in the producers to whom I take my clients: an immersion and satisfaction in what they do. It’s not that they don’t have to work hard or that they don’t have troubles, but that doing something from start to finish, from sowing to harvest, from slaughter to salami, from fiber to fabric, for themselves, their families and their communities produces a contentment way beyond the monetary value of their work.

I can think of so many examples it’s hard to know where to start or stop.

Ismaele Turri rears pigs and makes salumi.

He bakes bread…

…in a wood-fired oven he built himself heated with wood he chopped himself. He didn’t grow the wheat, but he does grow farro and corn. The farm is an agriturismo which he and his wife Cinzia run. And he has a bar a short walk from the farm.

Ismaele still has time to teach his skills to others.

Paolo Magazzini is another unhurried multi-tasker. He’s a farro and beef cattle farmer. He fertilises his fields with the manure of the cattle. He ploughs, plants with his own seed corn, harvests and pearls the farro. He provides the pearling service for about a dozen other farmers.

Paolo proud of his farro of the Garfagnana IGP (photo: Andrew Bartley)

Paolo is also the village baker, carrying on his mother’s trade. His recipe includes his farro flour and his own potatoes.

Paolo carves the initials of my guests in the loaves they’ve made.

Time is suspended when Paolo tells a story. (photo: Alex Entzinger)

Romeo Ricciardi weaves with antique hemp.

His mother-in-law Carla prepares balls of hemp from the tangled skeins.

From her smile, I wonder if she’s thinking about the beautiful finished articles he weaves.

Romeo says he’s happiest at the loom and hunting funghi. (photo: Carolyn Kropf)

Marzia Ridolfi and her husband rear cows, sheep and goats which she milks twice a day.

She makes cheese from the milk.

Her hands press the whey from the curd. (photo: Anne Shelley)

Stefania Maffei loves the silkworms that connect her to her grandmother’s work.

Schoolchildren come to her workshop to learn about the history of their families and Lucca in the silk trade.

Severino Rocchi laughs during his work as a pork butcher. (photo: Margi Isom)

His brother Ubaldo and, even better, his son Gino work with him.

Gino will carry the business forward with a smile into the next generation.  What more could any parent hope for?

Elements by Inger Sannes at Christopher Newport University, Virginia

Inger changed her career from business to art… (photo: Neal Johnson)

…and now expresses herself through her hands. (photo: Neal Johnson)

Carlo Galgani can make anything from metal…

…in his forge powered only by water.

Vitalina makes cheese from her goat milk…

…and matures her cheese on wooden boards.

It takes considerable inner fortitude to resist the health and safety inspectors who want her to use stainless steel.

Andrea Bertucci (centre) at his Osteria Il Vecchio Mulino (photo: Sergio Perrella)

Andrea is never short of time when he can spend it with customers who he feeds with his latest artisan food finds.

Roberto Gianarrelli abandoned driving a lorry to make craft beer.

He dreams up new recipes when he comes to check his beer in the middle of the night.

Daniela ladles cheese curd slowly by hand.

She has plenty of time to sit in the shade and play with her younger daughter.

Riccardo is a weekend truffle hunter…

…and the long hours he spends in the woods with his dog infuse his family and work life too.

Who knows what he’s contemplating while stirring polenta for his village festa.

The wholeness of my producers’ lives floods over to envelop my driver Andrea Paganelli and me.

For a moment we’ve escaped electronic intrusions. (photo: Neal Johnson)

 

 

 

Posted in ART, BEER, BREAD, BUTCHER, cheese, CRAFTS, FARM, FESTAS, GARFAGNANA, ICE CREAM / GELATO, LIFE, milk, OLIVE OIL, POLENTA, spinning, weaving | 6 Comments

The Carabinieri and the Maiden

This sequence of photos taken at the monastery La Certosa di Calci (Pisa) speaks for itself. If you want to know more about my exploration of the Monti Pisani, click here to read my blog ‘Ring Around the Pisan Mountains’ on the Slow Travel Tour website.

Photos courtesy of Klaus Falbe-Hansen.

Full blog at:

http://slowtraveltours.com/blog/ring-around-the-pisan-mountains/

 

 

 

Posted in LIFE | Leave a comment

Like the Seasons: the Life of a Cheesemaker

The cheese course group arrived 45 minutes late at Daniela’s dairy. She had already added the rennet, the enzyme that speeds up coagulation of the curd, to have the curd ready for our planned arrival time. Now it was past its best. We feared we’d ruined her day’s production of cheese. Daniela’s youthful appearance belies years of experience making cheese. She knew the curd couldn’t be used to make a hard cheese to be matured for several months, so we used it to make some soft cheeses: stracchino and raviggiolo.

Daniela cuts the curd to allow it to separate from the whey (photo: Kirby Piazza)

 

When making soft cheese, the curd is put in moulds immediately. (photo: Kirby Piazza)

Small cheeses to be eaten fresh

Stracchino is delicious mixed with sausage, spread on bread & toasted under a grill.

I first went to visit Daniela Pagliai at her organic farm I Taufi early last June. I had learned about it from the address on the wrapping of some exceptional butter I’d come across at a gastronomia in Ponte a Moriano near Lucca. The wrapping claimed the contents were ricotta, so I assumed Daniela also made cheese, and I warmed to a person who wasn’t uptight about precision labelling. (Not that ricotta is cheese, but you have to make cheese first and then use the whey to make ricotta.)

The address of the farm was Melo. I didn’t know Melo, but I’d been to the picture postcard town of Cutigliano from which you ascend the Pistoiese slopes of the Apennines, it seems like forever, to get to Melo.

One of many picturesque views of Cutigliano

What appears on the map to be at the edge of civilisation, turned out to be a hub of pastoral activities with Daniela at the centre. On this first meeting she appeared self-possessed, only mildly curious about my tours and calmly accepting of my request to bring clients to watch her make cheese, as if life often brought novelties to her door. A warm honesty flowed from her candid smile and guileless eyes.

Daniela Pagliai

She showed me her modern dairy, the maturing room and the cows in the barn.

Maturing room with a flat failed cheese that tasted delicious (photo: Kirby Piazza)

Her younger daughter clung to her apron; the older one arrived home from school.

Daniela’s younger daughter (photo: Kirby Piazza)

One of Daniela’s Brown Swiss (photo: Kirby Piazza)

Cats are welcome in the barn. (photo: Kirby Piazza)

I was much more curious about her than she about me. In the dairy she had fondled a spino, the wooden stick traditionally used to cut curds, so I knew she respected tradition.

Spino: a stick used for centuries to cut the curd (photo: Kirby Piazza)

More evidence of tradition in the barn (photo: Kirby Piazza)

I asked diffidently whether the cows ever went outside, and was relieved to hear they still practise transhumance, taking the cows to alpine pastures a couple of hours’ walk above where we were now. The cows have to wait until school is out and the whole family can up stakes and move to their summer home. We went to see it without them.

Her sister’s sheep had arrived a couple of weeks earlier.

Rich alpine meadows

The many streams provide plentiful water for the animals.

In the farm shop she sold her cheeses, butter, yoghurt and preserves.

Direct sales: yoghurt, cheeses, stracchino, jam, tomini, eggs, milk, ricotta, butter (photo: Kirby Piazza)

Everything listed on the sign and more

On a shelf I noticed a slim book entitled Come le Stagioni: Daniela Pagliai (Like the Seasons), a biography of her written by a friend from Pistoia in the form of an interview. I bought a copy and learned she was practically born making cheese. During school holidays she and her dog herded her father’s sheep. By the time she was 14 she was in charge of the pigs and all the phases of cheesemaking on the family farm. At 16 she married Valter and discovered that his contribution to the marital economy was a herd of milk cows. She moved to her in-law’s farm and transferred her cheesemaking skills to cow’s milk. After five years she and Valter realised their dream of buying their own farm and becoming organic.

In the book she sums up her philosophy of life:

‘I think there are many types of “love” all led by the heart. Without its beating, there can be no beginning. I’m not talking only of the beating that pumps blood through our veins, but also the beating for our children, our parents, our house, our land, our work, which are all united in one thing: love.

‘How can I explain to you how much I love my life and my work? How can I make you understand what I feel for my children and my husband? For nothing else in the world and no other life in the world would I change my own life and these loves.

A life to hang onto

‘For me life is like the seasons: moments of joy are like the flowers and perfumes of spring and like the ripening of its fruit and the embrace of the hot summer sun. Moments of melancholy are like the autumn with its rain, which sometimes also streams from my eyes, and like the winter, because you have to move with the rhythm of the snow, delicately placing your feet like the large snowflakes descending joyously from the sky, sprinkling the roof and our valley, and walking, walking lightly, toward a new spring.’

There was still snow on the ground when I took Giancarlo Russo to visit Daniela in preparation for our new cheese course.

The view from Daniela’s dairy (photo: Kirby Piazza)

He approved, and Daniela became part of the course in which Giancarlo teaches the theoretical sessions.

Daniela & Giancarlo exchanging views on cheesemaking (photo: Kirby Piazza)

For more information about the Theory and Practice of Italian Cheese course: http://www.sapori-e-saperi.com/courses_with_artisan/theory-practice-of-italian-cheese/

My thanks to Kirby Piazza for his photographs of Daniela and the farm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in cheese, FARM, LIFE, RICOTTA | 10 Comments

A Pillow in the Countryside

Where you lay your head at night can make or break your holiday. Your accommodation seems a simple thing to choose. You go to Tripadvisor, read the reviews and make your booking. You’re looking for a bedroom with a comfortable bed, a bathroom, a decent continental breakfast, cleanliness and friendly attentive staff. That’s probably exactly what you’ll get; a secure place to retreat to after visiting the famous works of art and architecture in some of most beautiful cities in the world. But at the heart of every country are its citizens, people who live differently from you. By your second or third trip, you can begin to think about getting to know them. This is what my tours are about. I want my guests to experience how Italians live their everyday life, which is something you still can’t do on the internet. It’s a compulsive reason to travel to Italy.

I seek total cultural immersion, and so I usually choose an agriturismo for my guests, farm accommodation in the countryside, often on the edge of a village. Each one has a character completely its own determined by the personality of the owners, the setting, the architecture of the farm buildings and the produce of the farm. Here are some examples from my part of Italy, the area around Lucca and the spectacularly beautiful Garfagnana.

Al Benefizio

I didn’t choose Al Benefizio; it chose me. Early in my sojourn in Italy I was at an agricultural meeting near Barga, feeling totally out of my element, when two women approached me and introduced themselves in English. One was Francesca Buonagurelli, the owner and farmer at Al Benefizio, and she is one of the main reasons for staying at Al Benefizio.

To read more about my favourite agriturismi around Lucca and the Garfagnana, please go to the full blog at Slow Travel Tours.

Posted in Accommodation, FARM, GARFAGNANA, holidays, LIFE, Lucca | 2 Comments

Sparse Houses

This week I got into a Fiat Panda 4×4 that turned out to be a time machine. The precise date to which it took me was 1969, but it could easily have been a couple of centuries earlier. Renato, the butcher and shopkeeper of my village Casabasciana, wanted to take me somewhere hidden.

Renato remembers exactly how thick each customer likes her pork shop

He knows I like walking in the wilderness, and thought this place would appeal to me, but wouldn’t reveal any more. We fixed Thursday afternoon, and I gathered my equally curious and appreciative friends Lone, Klaus and Tove to accompany us. Crammed into the Panda, we drove down the hill to the Lima Valley and turned right toward Abetone and Renato’s home town of Popiglio.

Opposite the road to Lucchio, before Popiglio, we turned left into a gravel lane where Renato’s cousin Giuliano was waiting for us with his Panda 4×4. We divided ourselves between the two cars and bounced and wound up the eroded track, passing an occasional farm building.

We pass through lush woodland (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Just when it seemed we couldn’t go any higher, we reached the end of the road and the farmstead where Renato’s and Giuliano’s mothers and Giuliano himself were born.

Arriving at the past (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

The sky was a uniform grey that day which added to the mood of desolation. The buildings sat on a narrow terrace, with stalls and pigsty beneath the house on the downhill side and the main door at the back.

Number 3, Sparse Houses, Popiglio

Numbers 1 and 2 must have been the buildings we passed on the way up.

Giuliano has a key for every door (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Giuliano opens the main door and to our right is the kitchen, focal point of a farmhouse.

Giuliano and Renato tell us about life in this house (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

There are almost too many things to take in, objects signifying a different way of living.

The calendar from the year Giuliano's parents left (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

A reminder of how long the house has been empty (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

The family tries to keep the place in good repair, but it’s becoming more and more difficult.

The fireplace provided heat to the room and for cooking (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Electricity and running water are recent additions (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Burners

I’ve seen these burners in many old houses. You put coals from the hearth in the iron boxes and a trivet on top on which to rest the pot. The bottoms of the boxes are gratings that allow the ash to drop through and you remove it through the square holes beneath.

No Italian kitchen is complete without many coffee pots (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Every room is decorated with stencils. (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

The bedrooms are on the upper floor.

Iron bedstead with handwoven bedspread (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Wool of their own sheep and probably hemp

Il prete, which means 'the priest' (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Renato explains that this object was made from thin strips of chestnut wood. You hung a pot of hot coals on the hook inside at the apex and placed it under the covers as a bed warmer. We all giggle at the idea of a priest in the bed.

The second bedroom

In the background another model of ‘priest’, and in the foreground a tool to hold a skein of yarn while you wound it into a ball.

The upstairs landing, like the kitchen, was another ethnographic museum.

The walker in which Giuliano learned to walk (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

A fly excluding curtain for the front door... (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

...lovingly constructed of beer bottle caps. (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

A charcoal rake (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Giuliano’s father and grandfather were charcoal burners.

Hand-carved wooden hooks for the téléférique (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

There was a mountain cable car for hauling heavy goods up to the house.

The tour of the main house concluded, we went to see the rest of the buildings.

The courtyard (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

At the far end of the courtyard the door on the right opened into the much smaller house where Renato’s mother was born. Renato asked if we could guess why they left the courtyard covered with weeds. Because the pavement was so beautiful that if anyone saw it, they’d be up there with crow bars in an instant.

Carefully cut and laid paving stones (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

The metato ceiling made of chestnut poles (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

The metato was the building in which chestnuts were put (‘mettere’ means ‘to put’) to dry on a slatted ceiling above a smouldering fire before being shelled, sorted and taken to the miller to be ground into flour. Back in the house we had seen some of the other tools required for the later stages.

Chestnut shelling poles and perforated sorting table (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

The wood-fired bread oven (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

A chestnut wood bread palette

A late cantilevered bathroom and reinforced walls (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

When the earthquake of 1920 caused landslides that covered several villages, the lower walls of houses were reinforced with these stone buttresses, just like a mediaeval fort, one of which we could just see across the Lima valley.

View of Lucchio and modern quarry below (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Above the tiny village clinging onto the wooded slope are the remains of a fortress, part of Lucca’s late mediaeval line of defence against the Florentines.

There was an almost unwelcome surprise. Adjoining the far end of the house was another house, owned by other people from Popiglio. They had brought it right up to date, including a television aerial.

I wanted to see where the charcoal pile used to be. We drove back down the road a few hundred metres where we were greeted by more spectacular views.

Balzo Nero, a living geology lesson (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

More geology (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

Vico Pancellorum (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

We know Vico Pancellorum well because of its restaurant Buca di Baldabò, one of our favourites in the area.

On the spot where the charcoal used to be produced was a strange orchid.

Birdsnest orchid (Photo: Klaus Falbe-Hansen)

It has no chlorophyll, but is a saprophyte which feeds on rotting vegetation with the help of a symbiotic fungus.

As we drove away, we learned the sad subtext to the visit. The family had concluded they had to sell the house. Their children have no interest in it, and since Prime Minister Monti introduced more taxes for uninhabited buildings, it was becoming too much of a financial drain. Their 7 hectares (14 acres) of fields and woodland are also subject to taxes. The top half of the road is private and requires constant maintenance. But who would buy it? Do I know anyone?

 

Posted in HISTORY, LIFE | 4 Comments

Ottava Rima in the Dairy

You never know what you’ll find at an artisan cheesemaker’s in Tuscany. I’d been meaning to visit I Taufi farm for several years, and finally made it last summer. I’m no longer surprised by the superwomen I meet at these farms, but Daniela Pagliai is exceptional, and I’ll tell her story another time.

Daniela Pagliai in her farm shop

In her farm shop, there was a shelf of pamphlets and leaflets. I took a selection to read at home. One turned out to be about a village woman, born in the late 1800s who improvised verses in ottava rima as she worked and in the evenings around the kitchen fire. I thought improvising poetry was a dead art; something troubadours did in the Middle Ages. Yet here was a woman who was doing it during my lifetime, and she hadn’t even gone to school. I did a little research on ottava rima and discovered that it has been traced back to Bocaccio in the 14th century and so may have originated in Tuscany. Interesting, but then I forgot about it.

On Tuesday last week I received an email from Stefano, the owner of Il Mecenate, one of my favourite restaurants in Lucca, announcing four classes on the improvisation of ottava rima taught by a master of the art Mauro Chechi. A native Tuscan born in the Maremma, he trained in jurisprudence (another improvisatory art?), but gave up practising in 1979 for a life in the theatre.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTBbbTgL5T8[/youtube]

The lesson took place at the headquarters of the Partita Democratica* in Piazza San Francesco in Lucca. When I arrived at the bleak shopfront, after dinner next door at Stefano’s, there were about a dozen people milling around in the unheated room, lined with 1970s tongue-and-groove knotty pine wainscotting above which hung framed black-and-white photos of past party luminaries. The furnishings consisted of a long formica-topped table and green plastic stacking chairs. The class was billed to begin at 9 pm, and Mauro tried to start at about 9.15, but people kept trickling in until 9.30. In the end 18 men and women, old and young, stylishly dressed and carelessly clad were assembled. Many seemed to know Mauro and all had some acquaintance with ottava rima. Since I wanted to blend in, I didn’t take any photos or videos. One Italian who did got the evil eye from those around him.

Mauro told us that ottava rima is still practised in several regions of Italy including the Abruzzo, and there are practitioners in most of the countries where Romance languages are spoken. It’s particularly easy to improvise the rhyming scheme when many words have the same endings. It’s much harder in English, although some English poets have used it, a famous example being Byron’s Don Juan. Each verse has eight lines of 10 or 11 syllables with a rhyme scheme abababcc. The rhyming sounds at the ends of the lines are the anchoring landmarks that permit you to improvise, acting perhaps like chord sequences for a jazz musician.

After giving us a couple of examples, Mauro started going round the room asking each person to try it. Some people had obviously done it before. The youngest, a man in his 20s, was particularly adept. I was relieved that some people declined, as I did when it came my turn. I wondered whether the woman next to me wished I hadn’t attended, when Mauro asked her to improvise on the theme of the English visitor! But she made a good job of it and shook my hand warmly when I left. Some people wanted to go away and practise at home before trying in public, but Mauro said they’d never get better unless they practise with an audience. One man who excelled advised that you have to sing it in order for the words to come easily.

If you’re wondering why this is in my blog which is usually about food and gastronomic tours, then you’d better ask Slow Food who made this video at Slow Folk 3.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P5pbPEubmJ4[/youtube]

Only a few kilometres from Daniela’s farm this ottava rima show recently took place to a packed hall. The audience was having so much fun, it could have been a stand-up comedy routine. I couldn’t tear myself away, even though I only understood scattered words.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZbUdwjrK3Kc[/youtube]

I probably won’t pursue the art any further myself, but I feel a world where people still have fun improvising in ottava rima is a better place to live.

*Centre left party whose member Enrico Letta is the current Prime Minister of Italy.

Posted in cheese, Italian language, LIFE, POETRY | 2 Comments

What an iPhone doesn’t see

Last night after dinner I went for a walk. The dirt track from Ai Frati, the restored monastery where we’re staying on my ‘Cheese, Bread & Honey’ tour, leads through chestnut woods. It was 9.30 pm and nearly dark. The black tree trunks were wreathed in clouds of fireflies, so dense that they produced a continuous display of tiny pinpricks of light. I stood transfixed. Then I thought of sharing it, but my iPhone 4S was blind to the beauty around it.

no fireflies in iphone photo

iPhone's view of fireflies in the woods at dusk

I can still see the miniature fireworks in my head. I’m glad there are things that ordinary technology can’t deliver and you need to experience in the flesh.

Posted in LIFE | 6 Comments