I've already done a post about Palios... the Palio being the winning cloth or colors. The most famous Palio horse races in Siena and Asti. But here's a different take on the Palio horse races in Italy...
Alba is a town of 30,000 people that is well known for white truffles and Barolo wine. But why do they have--of all things--a donkey Palio instead of a horse Palio? Well, there is a 100 year old rivalry between old grudge with Asti, a town only 20 miles away. Apparently, in 1932, Alba was not allowed to enter the Palio in Asti, a race held since the 1200s. Ok, we'll get back at them, they thought... and did, by organizing their own donkey races. In Italy, the words ciucio, asino or somaro all mean jackass, donkey... or stupid. In this way they poked great fun at the Asti horse races.
In the other races, the horses are wild and muscular and full of speed, while macho men cling to their backs and get close to death or serious injury... it's all very exciting and spectacular. But in Alba the stubborn donkeys run--sometimes--but mostly bump into things, throw their riders, roam around aimlessly, turn in circles, walk backwards or suddenly stop altogether while their riders kick, swear, beg, cry, pull, tug and push in attempts to get them going again.
There are actually very strict regulations to protect the donkeys used in the races--all female, by the way (a statement about Italian female stubbornness, perhaps?) They also have microchips embedded and riders are given donkeys randomly by drawing to prevent any advantage over another particularly stubborn beast. Jockeys aren't allowed to do anything that might hurt the donkeys—including whips, spiked shoes and bits—all of which are banned. The animals have veterinarians at the race for a physical exam before the race and after. Judges have keen eyes and will immediately disqualify riders who use sharp objects to poke the donkeys into giving them a burst of speed. Riders can get hurt too with kids but also from the course coats on the donkeys' backs.... most wear padded bike shorts to prevent chafing and cuts.
The Donkey's race takes place during the International Fair of the White Truffle of Alba. The city of Alba lies in the heart of Langhe e Roero area in the Piedmont Region, where some of the finest and well-known Italian wines are produced. Besides wine and truffles other specialties are hazelnuts, cheese and chocolate. The city of Alba is divided into nine historical borghi (districts) that compete to seize a painted drape, the so-called Palio, through the donkey race. On the day of the Palio more than 1000 people dressed in colorfull medieval costumes and stroll around the city portraying ladies, knights, peasants and jesters. The riders and donkeys don't get a chance to be familiar with each other because of the random drawing that matches rider to beast. This silly race is three laps long with lots of excitement and fun for all ages.
Alba International White Truffle Fair Oct 11 - Nov 15, 2015 Alba, Italy The donkey race is held on the first Sunday in October of the festival.
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"Many Americans studying in Italy or choosing to move here just confuse us. We think 'but why?' With more young Italians than ever hoping to emigrate to the U.S., we fail to understand American enthusiasm for wanting to come here. We don't have enough jobs, things are expensive and there is not enough good housing. In America you have big cars and houses. It is the opposite here"
Dark and smooth and icey... tasted just like cioccolato fondente gelato back in Italy!
Lisa and Lucas surprised me by making a batch of Italian water ice. It was Lucas' idea and they researched some recipes, decided how to make it taste more "Italian" and went to work. I had some tonight after dinner. It was amazing. One of the best frozen desserts I've even had in my life!
5 cups water
2 cups sugar
1 cup Hershey's special Dark cocoa
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Lucas and Lisa boiled the water and sugar into what's called a "simple syrup". They boiled the concoction for five minutes and then took it off the flame. Lucas added the cinnamon and cocoa and stirred until everything was dissolved and mixed thoroughly.
They let the mixture cool down before placing it in the fridge overnight.
Lucas put the plastic container of syrup solution into the freezer before he left for school this morning.
After dinner... Ready to serve: Lisa took an ice cream scoop and scraped the ice into balls and placed them into small ramekins. The trick is to scrape rather than trying to scoop. It's not ice cream. It's ice.
This was amazing... I told them next time I want them to try and duplicate the flavor of the Coco Gelato (coconut) that I had in Italy. They're a great team in the kitchen.
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My father was born in Molfetta, Puglia in the South. My Mom's mother and father came from Naples. Both spoke dialects of Italian. My mother often said that my father's dialect was so different from hers that she couldn't understand certain words. If you watch the Godfather, especially the scenes in GF II showing Vito Corleone as a young man, you can hear this sort of dialect... albeit Sicilian. The words in the South are often totally different. Lots of slang is used. Liaisons happen... Usually, the end of one word attaches to the beginning of the next word. Beginnings of words are often omitted. Even Italians consider these dialects like another language... for example, the announcements on the train from Bari to Rome are in English, Italian and "Dialetto". Dialect sounds nothing like regular Italian down South.
Now, add to all this the fact that Italian immigrants in American spoke a sort of second hand Italian dialect, much was lost to misunderstood pronunciations and the fact that many (like my parents) didn't want to speak Italian in the home. When I asked why my parents didn't teach us Italian, they said they wanted an "All-American" home for us. Even today in the South parents don't want their children to speak Dialect when they move to the big cities in Italy. They are looked down upon for speaking it by Northern Italians. What a shame... These dialects are what makes Italian so interesting.
Here are a collection of words and phrases that I grew up with... spelled phonetically:
Stoonod Idiot Mopeen Dish Cloth, Rag Agida/Agita Acid indigestion caused by someone aggravating you Googootz A fool Cabbadost Thick head/stubborn sfatcheem a Jerk Stroonz an Ass Stroonz-a-medz Half ass Strombolone Clumsy Chooch Jackass Briagone Drunk A-fa Nabalee Get out of Here/Go to Naples Facha-broot Ugly face Dees-Gradseeyad You disgrace! Stata-Geet Shut Up SkeeVo Disgusting Ashpette Wait! Jadrool Lazy bum (cucumber) Ooo-Fah I've had it/I'm fed up TooSay Batz You're crazy Bock-owz Bathroom/stink house Bazanigole Basil Boombotz Idiot/Crazy Brazjole Brasciole/Penis Kay-Gotz What the F*ck Gotzo What Balls Coh-Yonees Balls Ah-Va-Fan-gool Go f*ck yourself Pasta-vazool Pasta fagioli (bean soup) Gobba-ghool Capicola (a type of cold cut meat) Gabeesh? Understand? Gavone Pig/Slob/Overeater Jamoke Idiot Goombah Pal/Comrade/Friend GooMahd Girlfriend ComoseeCyam? What do you call it? Keh -sa-deech? How are you? Mal-yOke Evil eye Mamaluke Idiot/stupid/screw-up Manageya Damn it/Curse it Managutt Manicotti (pasta) Madone! Madonna! (exclamation) Medz-a-medz So-so/half and half/not so much Mutzarelle Mozzarella cheese Naboleedahn Neapolitan/someone from Naples piezahn Friend/countryman/brother Pitza-gaina Egg-meat pie Boochach Bitch Rigutt Ricotta cheese Scarole Escarole/Cash money Skutch Pest StuGotz Screw it/F*ck it Vena Ka Come here
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
Sure, we all think we "must go" to Pisa and see the leaning tower, but thousands of others have the same idea. Pisa is very crowded, difficult and expensive to park close to the Tower and aside from the Piazza Miricola which encompasses to Tower, Basilica and the Baptistry, it's not easy to get around to see the rest of Pisa... after all, most visitors spend only an hour or two at the Piazza and leave the city, not seeing anything else of Pisa. So...
Instead of visiting the Leaning Tower of Pisa...
Visit the Leaning Towers of Bologna instead...
Not for the faint of heart
The view looking down
Well, here's option...
The Leaning Towers of Bologna(yes, there's two) are in the middle of a wonderful city with a well-preserved historical center (one of the largest in Italy) thanks to a careful restoration and conservation policy which began at the end of the 1970s. Bologna is the largest city (and the capital) of the Emilia-Romagna Region. The highlight of Bologna is it's twin leaning towers, but trust me, Bologna is a city where you can stay for a while... there much more than the Towers to see here. But first, a little info about its leaning towers... The taller of the leaning towers in Bologna is called the Asinelli while the smaller but more leaning tower is called the Garisenda. Asinelli Tower measures 318 feet tall and the Garisenda Tower stands at 158 feet. For 3 Euros you can climb to the top of the Asinelli Tower but be advised, this climb is not for those who are afraid of height (the old wooden stairs are open in the middle looking all the way to the top and bottom) or are out of shape. There are almost 500 steps to the top. Also be aware that the stairway is very narrow with worn, uneven steps... and you have to squeeze past people on the way up and the way down. It will take about 10 minutes to reach the top (resting every few levels) but the views are amazing.
Terracotta roofs of Bologna as seen from the Tower
It's obvious how much the tower leans when looking at its foundation.
What Bologna must have looked like in the 1200s with as many as 180 towers.
The famous porticoes in Bologna go on for miles...
Bologna has been settled from 1000 BC onwards. The Celts, the Romans, the Gauls, the Lombards and even Byzantium all had a part in its history. In the 12th century, the expanding city needed a new line of walls, and at the end of the 13th century had one of largest textile industries in Italy. The complex system of canals in Bologna was one of the most advanced waterway systems in Europe. Hydraulic energy derived from the canal system ran the numerous textile mills and helped transport goods. Bologna is also a university town... in fact, founded in 1088, the University of Bologna is widely considered to be the world's first university.
Feminists owe a great deal to Bologna as well. During the Renaissance, Bologna was the only Italian city that allowed women to excel in any profession. Women had much more freedom than in other Italian cities; some even had the opportunity to earn a degree at the university. The School of Bologna for art flourished in Bologna between the 16th and 17th centuries, and rivaled Florence and Rome as a center of painting. But remember, this is a modern, living, breathing city. It's as beautiful as Lucca but larger. The reddish brown color of the buildings and covered porticoes invite you to walk and explore--in total, there are 24 miles of porticoes in the city's historical center allowing visitors to stroll throughout the historic center protected from inclement weather.
In addition to its two famous leaning towers, there are about 18 more still remaining that stand relatively straight. There is an antiques market at Piazza Santo Stefano. Imagine that at one time there were about 180 towers in the 1200s. Most either fell down, were torn down or shortened and re-purposed. Sadly, during a new urban development plan at the beginning of the 20th century, the last remaining towers were torn down. The modern attitude is to preserve the towers that remain. Lucky for the people who live and visit Bologna!
Now, as to what else Bologna has to offer...
The International museum and library of music displays ancient musical instruments and unique musical scores from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The Basilica of San Domenico is worth seeing, with its Romanesque facade and Baroque interior decorations and frescoes. And for a vista overlooking the city, take a trip up to San Michele in Bosco perched on a forested hilltop overlooking Bologna. You can also visit a parmigiano reggiano factory or a Ducati motorcycle factory--take your pick. As for food, there is always the sauce Bolognese to feed the hungry traveler.
So perhaps you would still want to visit Pisa to see its Leaning Tower, but after a short two hour visit, jump on a train for a couple of hours and visit Bologna for a few days. One great itinerary would be to fly into Pisa, see their tower, then get on a train to spend a couple of days at Lucca to relax and perhaps rent a bicycle and ride on top of their walls, then move on to Vinci to get a taste of Leonardo's genius in the Da Vinci Museum (an overnighter), then move on for a few day stay in Bologna for a taste of a vibrant, wonderful Italian city. You could finish off your trip in Venice and fly home from there.
Have some tagliatelle alla Bolognese for me!
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Copyright, Jerry Finzi, Grand Voyage Italy, All rights reserved
"Americans never really get a day off. When they are on vacation, they still check for messages, file reports, talk to their boss and attend phone conferences. The vast majority of Italians don't do that. If they are on vacation, they are on vacation. They have no conversations about work, don't think about it and certainly don't call up their bosses to hear about what's going on while they're away."
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