There is a reason people have flocked to la bel Paese as part of their Grand Tour in the nineteenth century and are still doing it today. Tourists gather en masse in hopes of discovering the romance, history and beauty of Italy. Blame the artists. That's right, the romantic movement in art filled the salons, galleries and the homes of the elite (who could actually afford a "Grand Tour" for a year or more) and in essence promoted the beauty of Italia. Here are a dozen of what I consider the most beautiful and romantic of this type of painting... who wouldn't want to travel to Italy after seeing the grandeur?
Gulf of Naples by moonlight by Ajvazovskij
Ponte Rotto by Hubert Robert
River Beggers by Caneletto 1780
View of the canal channel from the Ponte San Marco, by Giuseppe Canella - 1834
Ragusa, Sicily by Emil Jakob Schindler
Fireworks in Naples by Oswald Achenbach
The Shipment, by Segantini Giovanni
View from the Ponte Vecchio in Florence over the Arno, by Palladini 1862
Rome and Castel Sant Angelo by Silvestr Fedosievich Shchedrin
I stumbled across the compelling videos of Andrea Giraldo on Facebook this week. Both his Facebook page and You Tube channel share the name, Il Mio Viaggio a New York, and contain many videos of an Italian's look at tourist sites and everyday life in and around the Big Apple. He speaks in Italian, but the visuals tell his story well enough. Here are a couple of my favorites...
The first is when he visits a "Chuck and Cheese" (as he pronounced it), a kid's party and game venue for the "working class"....
The next video is his visit to a street vendor selling hot tins for lunch. As most Italians take 2-3 hours to go home for lunch (their riposa) he must be in shock with the long lines of people getting take out food from a cart and gobbling their lunches down in 10 minutes while sitting on ledges on the sidewalks of Manhattan.
Click the photo above to watch this Italia Slow Tour video on the high mountain plateau of Castelluccio in Umbria. Lentils are considered good luck when eaten on New Year's Day in Italy. This video shows how the plants were harvested in the old manner--with winnowing baskets. The variety of lentil grown in the high altitude of Castelluccio is a PGI product and is very high in iron and protein. Wath this charming older woman as she shows how to seperate the lentils from the chaff.
There are industrial creations that become iconic images in our minds and in history... the VW Beetle, the iPod, the Moka coffee pot, the Coca Cola bottle, the Fiat 500 (Cinquecento). Many have become inspiration for artists worldwide.
One more comes to mind: TheVespa motor scooter.
The classic shape of the Vespa has been around since 1946, evolving in design over the years by its parent company, Piaggio, but keeping its basic elements: a unibody with covered engine and wheels, a two-person boat-shaped seat, a flat floorboard with cyclops headlight and a fairing to protect legs from the weather.
Many use the bodies of their scooters as their canvases, while others prefer to interpret the iconic shape of the Vespa in other mediums. They have been painted, bejeweled, sculpted, photographed and made into jewelry. Right now we will take a look at the art of mosaic, where cut pieces of tiles or stone used--some mosaics created on the vehicles themselves.
Finally, there is this amazing mosaic illustration by Chris Sumka, an amazing mosaic artist from Edmundton, Alberta, Canada. Chris uses ceramic tiles and natural stone in his pieces. He often has existing creations for sale but also works on commissioned assignments.
In a land ravaged by earthquakes, floods and volcanoes from time to time, it's no wonder that in Italy, one will occasionally discover one of the many Ghost Towns...
Perched high on a rocky outcrop, with buildings precariously built under overhanging cliffs, is the beautiful remains of Pentedattilo, a village in southern Calabria. (The look of this village--tucked under dolomite cliffs--reminds me of the twin villages of Pietrapertosa and Castellmezzano we visited in Basilicata.) The village is a 45 minute drive from Reggio-Calabria. It got its name from the Byzantine word Pentedáktilos, which means five fingers, a reference to the five deep valleys surrounding the mountainous village. First inhabited in "Magna Graecia" period and then the Romans, Pentedattilo offers a wonderful view of the sea.
Being one of the oldest Ghost Towns of Italy, the town was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1783, which led to large parts of the population moving to the nearby seaside port town of Melito Porto Salvo. Today a modern-day with the same name of Pentedattilo was built on another hilltop a bit closer to the sea. The residents still attend Catholic services in the restored Chiesa dei Pietro e Paolo (Church of Saints Peter and Paul) standing proudly against the threat of Nature under the cliffs in the old town.
After some restoration in the 1980s, the old village today has a few new residents, although many ruins still sit without roofs, windows or doors just waiting for the Voyager with camera to capture its haunting beauty and solitude. Oddly enough, the village becomes the site of the International Pentedattilo Film Festival... with appropriate their motto, "Don't be a Ghost".
It's simple, really. My Mother grew up in a poor immigrant Italian family in Hoboken. I'm sure her Neapolitan parents passed on this tradition. When you're poor in Italy, you are superstitious about money so you tend to push luck on your side with certain traditions. You would eat coin shaped lentils on New Year's Day, for instance. My Mother taught me that putting a pile of coins--whatever you happen to be carrying in your pocket at the end of the year--on the windowsill will guarantee that you have money all year long.
One rule: Put the coins out before midnight.
Felice Anno Nuovo!
Postscript: Years ago when I lived in my loft/studio in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, I used to have my windows washed by professional window-washers. You know the kind... they clip their safety belts on to lugs outside of the commercial building windows, then lean back over the void to soap up, clean and then squeegie the windows clean. I had a 50 foot long wall of 10 foot tall windows running along the front of my sixth floor loft. Once a month, they would clean the city grime off the windows and suddenly the front of the studio would seem a lot brighter.
One year, in a cold January, I noticed that the years of accumulated nickels, dimes, pennies and quarters were gone! There must have been $20-30 in coins out there. I figured one of my window-washers must have needed it more than I did...
...unless it was those notorious, thieving Flying Rats of New York--the pigeons! --Jerry Finzi
Experience the Italian lifestyle, heritage, cuisine, art, music, language and traditions, while learning how our own Grand Voyage to Italy affected our lives back at home--per sempre--forever. Andiamo, take a Grand Voyage with us...