Ever since the Greeks and Romans ruled Italy, they have built monuments that have lasted for several millennia--many using concrete. Concrete type materials were used by humans for over 6500 years in Syria and Jordan. Hydraulic lime with cementing qualities were in use by 700BC. The ancient Romans discovered that adding volcanic ash to the mix allowed it to set underwater. In Rome, the huge domed ceiling of the Pantheon is made entirely of unsupported concrete. Romans added hair to prevent cracking and blood to make it frost resistant (hopefully, not human!) It should be no surprise that Italians are still using concrete, often in unusual ways...
One example of this can be see from space on Google Earth: The Cretto de Gibellina (the Crack of Gibellina) in central Sicily. Also known as Cretto di Burri (Crack of Burri), named after Alberto Burri, the artist who created it, it is a half mile square work in concrete which resembles the cracking that appears in dried river mud. It was installed at the original site of Gibellina, a village that was completely destroyed by a 1968 earthquake. It looks as if the artist meant the cracks to represent the cracks in the earth and the lives of the people of Gibellina. In actuality, Burri covered the actual footprint of the buildings in the original town, while leaving the streets as pathways throughout the concrete. (The town of Gibbellina was relocated and christened Nuova Gibellina 20 kilometers away.) Being truly a monument to the town and the 1150 lives that were lost, the concrete installation actually contains the building rubble including furniture, utensils, and toys. Walking the "streets" visitors feel the emotions of the loss.
This unusual piece of modern art is worth the visit, as are many so-called ghost towns throughout Italy that have been abandoned after being destroyed by earthquakes. There are often recitals, other artists' installations, dance performances as well as the ruins of village buildings painted by other artists. It's like walking into a futuristic, post-apocalyptic film like Mad Max.
The work was left unfinished after Burri ran out of funds in 1989, but in 2015, to honor what would have been Burri's 100th birthday, funding was found and his work was completed... made obvious by the much whiter colored concrete in one corner of the site.
If you're planning to visit, Cretto de Gibellina is located about 30 miles south-west of Palermo.
The olive oil is produced from a tree which is sacred. It gives wood for fire, for heat. It gives the olive oil which is for condiment, for cooking, but also for light, you know, for oil lamps, and the olives to eat, which is practically complete. --Antonio Carluccio, chef
I've collected a series of short videos that illustrate how olive oil is grown, harvested and turned into extra virgin olive oil.
In the first video below, a a small scale fattoria (farm with a small production facility) in the mountains of Liguria is shown harvesting their olives on terraced slopes by climbing up into the trees and raking the olives onto large nets. The olive oil production is done my fairly small farm machinery.
In the next video, there is a broader view of larger scale, modern olive oil production where trees are harvested by machines that shake the olives loose and collect them in one step...
The next video is a look at the Brizi olive oil factory in Montefalco, Umbria which makes extra virgin olive oil using the traditional "cold pressed" method with modern machinery. Note at the end of the video that the spent, dried cardboard-looking paste sheets are ground up to be sent to another facility which extracts a lesser grade olive oil from them. It's a good illustration of where the supermarket variety, tasteless olive oil might come from.
The next shows a simple approach to olives and the oil produced... "We don't pick olives for profit... we do it because we have a certain love for these things." Hard world for the a couple of hundred gallons of oil...
The final video illustrates the amazing size and age of the olive trees in Puglia in Southern Italy. As it turns out, today there are over 60 million olive threes in Puglia with the oldest trees being carbon dated to well over 200 years old. And yes, they still produce olives.
Ok, so while researching my post about our Bocca della Verita mascot, I came across this gem. Apparently, back in the 1980s, a vending machine company had just come up with a new design for a fortune telling machine. They showed off their machine to a prospective Italian client and he loved it--with one catch. They needed to make it look like the Bocca della Verita.
Manufactured by DPS-Promatic in Italy, apparently the idea was a hit because the company claims to have units in countries all around the world. Apparently, they also make the machine in different versions: Horoscope, Tutankhamen, and a Gypsy. There is a floor standing model and a smaller wall-mounted one.
Here's a video of how to use it. Stick your hand in the mouth and it will scan the lines of your palm. Wait until it analyzes, then it prints out an ATM style fortune...
Many of you who have not yet been to Rome might not know what our mascot is... or why we chose him. I thought I would give a little history of this famous Roman treasure and an explanation of why he was chosen as our GVI logo.
First, La Bocca della Verità literally translates as the Mouth of Truth. It is a two ton, six foot diameter, seven inch thick bas relief sculptured medallion, carved from Pavonazzo marble sometime between 200BC to 100 AD. It is located in the covered portico entrance to Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome and has stood there since the 17th century. Historians aren't sure of La Bocca's original use, meaning or purpose... either as part of a fountain or as a large manhole cover for the water delivery system in ancient Rome. They are sure that it must have been something very important since the marble he is carved from was quarried in present day Turkey, ruled by the Romans and called Asia Minor in the first century AD.
Some believe the stoic man's face is that of a pagan Roman god--perhaps Oceanus. With his two horns, it's doubtful that La Bocca is a mere mortal.
Still others claim that La Bocca is really Tiberinus, the god of the River Tiber, who according to legend, found the twins Romulus and Remus and gave them to the she-wolf Lupa (who had just lost her own cubs) to suckle. It is said that these twins were the founders of the city of Rome itself. I don't think it's likely that a sculpture of Tiberinus would be carved from marble in Asia Minor of a local diety. It's more likely that La Bocca was carved in that area to honor one of the Roman gods with broader appeal.
Perhaps he is really Bacchus (Dionysus in ancient Greece), a Greco-Roman god of the grape and wine, fertility, harvest, theater and both sexual and religious ecstasy. When I look really closely at the outer areas of hair, I can see a spiraled vine pattern, perhaps representing vines.
But I have another theory about his true identity:
Michelangelo's Moses with horns
"And when Moses came down from the Mount Sinai, he held the two tables of the testimony, and he knew not that his face was horned from the conversation of the Lord. And Aaron and the children of Israel seeing the face of Moses horned, were afraid to come near.” (Exodus 34:29-30, D-R)
Could it be that the face of La Bocca is really the horned face of Moses? Even Michelangelo sculpted Moses with horns. Perhaps the horns represent the righteousness of Moses...
"I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up." (Psalm 75:10)
Could it be that this is really Moses? Do his horns represent righteousness? Is this the source of the legend about his bite?
The Bite... La Bocca... The Mouth. This is the most famous thing about La Bocca. They say the legend began in the Middle Ages--If you told a lie with your hand in La Bocca's mouth, he would bite it off. You might have seen that famous scene in A Roman Holiday where Gregory Peck scares the hell out of Audrey Hepburn when he puts his hand in and acts like it is getting bitten off. (Click HERE to watch the scene).
Well, Lucas and Lisa and I went to pay homage to La Bocca when we were in Rome... it was one of the places Lucas wanted to see the most--until we were about 30 feet from it, when he started to get a bit worried that the legend was true. He learned that the legend was simply great fun and nothing to worry about. Besides, God blessed me with a fabulous boy who really does tell the truth all the time. He's a great son and will grow to be a great man. I'm sure of it.
Perhaps that's part of the reason I chose the Bocca della Verità as our Grand Voyage Italy mascot and logo. It reminds me of my wonderful, honest son. It also reminds me how he doubted his own virtue--something that we all should do from time to time--re-testing our values and honesty to keep us on track in life. It reminds me of our fantastic Grand Voyage throughout Italy.
I suppose he also reminds me of myself. He kind of looks like me a bit, at least when I let my beard grow a big shaggy. He's got scars which don't affect his standing in the world. I've got scars too, but keep on moving forward. If he represents Bacchus, then that's fine too. I love wine (never to excess) with great food and can't wait every summer to harvest my heirloom tomatoes. Lately, most meals in our family are what Lisa, Lucas and I make ourselves from scratch at home. After living in France years ago, I always wanted to cook like the French did... but now, after getting back to our Italian roots, I realize that the French cuisine wasn't honest with me. It was complex and contrived. Italian cooking is the honest choice--simple ingredients prepared in simple ways. Often quick, never stressful, always delizioso. That's a truth, too.
The honesty part of La Bocca--whether inspired by Moses or not--is part of my reason for choosing him, too. When I write for this blog, I want to be honest about my feelings, my experiences and how I feel about the amazing things I uncovered--and have yet to uncover--along my Grand Voyage about Italy. I don't want to share things that I care little about. I want to share passions, history (the ultimate truth) and the culture that ran through my Father's veins. And the truth is, Italy isn't perfect. I'll always be truthful about that.
May my own hand be bitten off if I write something that is untrue. My hand did come out clean, after all...
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...