The weather on the Adriatic Sea on the eastern coast of Italy can get very rough--at times too rough for fishermen to voyage out to sea to fill their nets. About 2000 years ago, the Phoenicians invented a sort of land-based fishing machine that could catch fish even in rough seas. Although many believe this is the reason for their invention, some claim that farmers invented the structures to supplement their food supply during times of poor harvests. Whoever invented it, the trabucco (not to be confused with the same Italian word for a trebuchet, a military weapon) has become a proud part of the maritime history of Italy...
A trabucco (also, trabocco or travocc) looks like the upper parts of a sailing ship built on the craggy edge of a small prominence jutting out into the sea. To the a fan of Steinbeck stories, they might appear to have jumped right off the page from one of his stories about the fishing villages on the northern California Coast.
Essentially, a trabucco is a fishing shack with attached decks built on stilts. Nets are rigged onto long pine poles called antennae jutting out over the water and then dropped into the paths of passing schools of fish. Since schools of fish often navigate closely past such points of land, the trabucco became a very efficient method of fishing. In the early part of the 20th century, a successful trabucco could catch enough fish for up to 10 families.
Trabucco ready to drop its nets
Ristorante Al trabucco da Mimì on the Gargano in Peschici
Trabucco da Mimi's decor
Dining at a trabucco can go from rustic to casual to fine dining and offer a most unusual experience
The seafood is always the freshest
Trabucci are found along the coasts of Abruzzi (especially along the Costa dei Trabocchi, a coastal area named for them) and the rocky Gargano peninsula in Puglia where they are protected as National Monuments. Although some are still used today for fishing, they have become treasured monuments to the history of fishing in southern Italy, many being restored into seaside restaurants and bars. They can also be found along the coastlines of the southern Adriatic, especially in the provinces of Chieti, Campobasso, and Foggia and also in some parts of the coast of southern Tyrrhenian Sea on the west side of the Boot.
If you are ever in Abruzzo or in Puglia on the Gargano peninsula (a fantastic beach destination), plan on having lunch or a romantic dinner at one of these trabucci turned into eateries. It will be a high-point of your voyage and one of the most unique dining experiences of your entire life...
When I look at this picture, I image my Dad and his "three-legged horse" selling fruit...
This is a photo of the Hoboken, New Jersey harbor... "the docks"... in 1910. One of the busiest of its piers was where the Holland-American Line berthed its ships, bringing immigrants from Europe. At the time, Hoboken, was one of the busiest ports for immigrants entering the U.S., and Ellis Island was a short ferry trip downstream, with Manhattan seen on the other side of the Hudson River. Before reaching these docks, immigrants would pass Liberty Island where the Statue of Liberty held her welcoming torch...
My father, Saverio Finzi, emigrated to the U.S. in 1917 when he was just 4 years old, with his father, Sergio, mother Caterina (Deceglie), sister Antonia and brother Anselmo. On the same ships manifest are listed many others from my father's hometown of Molfetta in Puglia. On the ships manifest for Sergio's final trip with his family, there were no fewer than 13 passengers listed from his hometown of Molfetta.
Sergio, also had two previous voyages to American--in 1907 and 1909--and between these two other passages were listed another 20 passengers from Molfetta. Large numbers of Molfetese settled in Hoboken, making it--even to this day--the sister city of Molfetta. Both towns even celebrate matching festivals each year to honor the Madonna dei Martiri (Madonna of the Martyrs).
Life in Hoboken, although much better than life during the hard times in Southern Italy at the time, were still difficult. My father tells of walking the railroad tracks picking up pieces of coal that had fallen from the steam locomotives, and then taking them home to his mother to burn as both a source of heat and cooking in their cast iron stove. Saverio had to leave elementary school early--by the 5th grade--just so he could help support their growing family (Sergio and Caterina eventually had six children).
Later on, when he was a teenager, he and his brother bought what Dad always called his "three legged horse" (lame in one leg) and a cart so they could sell fruit to the passengers and seamen down at the harbor. He amassed a large collection of coins from perhaps a dozen or more countries from all around the world during this period. All from customers that bought fruit from him... I still have the coins today and often get them out to show my son, Lucas, from time to time.
Dad loved selling fruit and vegetables--and meeting people. Everyone loved him. He also made the most beautifully hand-written signs for the store window. He might have been a sign painter in another life. But meeting and chatting with his customers was his best attribute. Perhaps this is why he always was a fruit and vegetable man his whole life, and later on gained more skills to also become a beloved "deli-man". Some of his customers lovingly dubbed him, "My Baloney Man".
I just had to have a deli slicing machine...
He not only knew how to pick the best produce (and taught me to smell, rather than squeeze), but he could also make fantastic baked ham, fist-sized polpette (meatballs), and the most amazing roast turkey and baked lasagna. He taught me how to cook about as good as he did. I even have a deli meat slicer in my kitchen, in honor of My Baloney Man.
Hoboken must have been a wonderful place to grow up for him (my family moved out of Hoboken when I was 18 months old). He swam in the Hudson by jumping off the piers. He told me that one very cold winter, he and his pals walked all the way across the frozen Hudson River to Manhattan, spent the afternoon, and then walked back across the ice. Dad told me that he used to find "quicksilver" (the liquid metal, mercury) pouring out of cracks in the cliffs overhanging the town. And further on, the same steep cliff had an amazing inclined plane, locals called "the Wagon Lift", which my father told me used to lift horse and wagons up the cliff from Hoboken into Jersey City.
He fished for eels and caught crab from the river--and later taught me how. He loved the smell of the river, which I am certain reminded him of the hometown he described so well to me... "Molfetta was filled with white houses all around the harbor. There were always sail boats bobbing up and down and the smell of fish..."
Eventually, Lisa, Lucas and I would pay homage to Saverio by visiting Molfetta. It was just as he described it. I wish he could have come with us... oh, that's right. He did.
Deep in the Salento, the part of Puglia that shapes the heel of Italy's boot, you will find incredible natural beauty, a mostly rocky coastline with intermittent sandy beach coves, incredibly clear water and many sea caves. One of the most majestic and compelling is the Grotte della Poesia (Caves of Poetry) in the small town of Roca, a 100 foot wide sinkhole at the edge of the sea.
Roca is positioned in between San Foca and Torre dell'Orso about 35 miles south of Brindisi. Both San Foca and Toree Dell'Orso have several large beach resorts and are very crowded, especially in the month of August when Italians flock to the Salento for their summer holiday. But if you look past the rows of umbrellas, cabanas and beach chairs, you'll find both nature and ancient history here.
Grotte della Poesia is said to have been a favorite swimming spot for an ancient princess, the sight of her swimming there inspired poets--thus the name Caves of Poetry. But visitors nowadays come mainly to take leaps from its 15' cliffs into the clear waters, to scuba dive, swim from the sinkhole through an underground sea cave and back out to the sea. You can even rent a boat from nearby San Foca to get up close and personal to all the cliffs and grottoes in the area.
Natural beauty of the sinkhole
Nearby resort beaches and the Torre dell'Orso (Tower of the Bear) and it's "Little Sisters"
Steps carved in the tufa stone
Aerial view of the Grotta della Poesia
Voyagers also come for the archeological sites along the coastline. On the north side of the cove adjacent to the Grotte, you will find the archaeological site of Roca Vecchia, which is similar to Egnazia--an ancient town right at the edge of the sea. There is evidence of humans living here since the Bronze Age, along with the remains of massive walls from the 4th century BC, all the way up to structures and medieval walls dated to the fourteenth century AD. The site was used almost exclusively for the purpose of worship before the construction of the city itself. Rare inscriptions, animal sacrifices and other inscriptions have been found in a smaller sinkhole next to Grottta della Poesia with the name Little Poetry. You can wander through the old walls of the past and then head over to the Grotte for a swim and lots of sun.
Roca Vecchia architectural site
If you enjoy beach resorts, there are plenty to choose from, otherwise you can rent a bare boat charter for visiting the area, or rent an apartment or hotel room in either nearby San Foca or Torre Dell'Orso, the former being a well-equipped port town with shops, restaurants and markets. Or stay in or near Lecce as your hub... often considered to be the "Florence of the South" with it's 17th century baroque architecture.
In any event, taking the time to discover the rugged, natural coastline of the Salento will give you the experience of a lifetime...
You will find AnticoFornoSantaChiara in the southern region of Puglia behind the walls of Altamura, where their world famous Altamura bread is made. In fact, Altamura bread can only be made in Altamura... it has D.O.P. designation and is under strict standards to be able to use the name "Altamura" bread.
Vito Macella, is the owner, baker and a bit of pirate and showman. He loves to show off his historic forno (oven) that dates from 1423. His is one of of the firstpublic ovensin Altamura,usedfor cooking meats, biscuits, pretzels and other Pugliese baked specialties, and of course, the famous Altamura Bread. A short walk inside the walls of the historic center and you'll come to the Forno. You can park your car on the Corso Vittorio Emanuale II just outside of the old arched porto where Via Madonna dei Martiri begins. Take a stroll three intersections until Via Corte D'Appello and then you'll see tiny Via Luca Martucci on your left. It's really like a very small piazza with the Forno Antico at the back left corner. You'll probably see a large round table outside with an umbrella over it. There might be people sitting, chatting and eating. Sit with them and join in.
When Vito comes out to greet you, tell him you would like una degustazione (a tasting) of whatever he feels like putting in front of you. Depending on what he baked that day, and what other local ingredients he had to create with, he might bring you a plate of antipasto, focaccia, squares of pizza, olives, tomatoes, tiny bocconcin (mozzarella balls), sliced caciocavallo cheese, prosciutto, lardo, or carpaccio--paper thin slices of raw veal marinated in red wine. Oh, of course, he'll always have some of his Altamura Bread for you to taste. We consider unexpected lunch we had at the Forno as one of the best we ate in all of Italy.
In this unassuming little piazza, you'll find the door in the back corner for the Forno
Inside the doors of the Forno you can see Vito at work at his rustic oven. The stacks of wood are what he uses--early each morning--to fire up this massive cavern. It takes lots of hard work and many hours to get the mass of stone inside the oven up to temperature. The breadofAltamuraismade according totraditional methodsandwith high quality, local ingredients, the two most important (as Vito told me) being the water and the local Durham flour. Altamura bread was the the first productin Europeto bear theD.O.P. logoin thecategory"Bakeryandbaked goods". No wonder--it's such a special bread. The loaves are quite large with a shape like a floppy chef's hat or a sort of fat beret. It is airy and full of bubbles inside with a dark brown crust nearly 1/4 inch thick. Unlike Tuscan bread, they use salt in Altamura Bread, so there's loads of flavor. One more thing: The bread can stay fresh for weeks... some say for a month! A loaf we bought Vito's bakery lasted up for several days all the way back to Rome.
But again, there's more than just the bread to experience here. Vito offers the biggest dose of Southern Italian hospitality that anyone can find. He is charming, roguish, funny and inviting. You'll meet his kids and sit with strangers talking many languages, but somehow you will all be friends in the end. By all means, buy some bread and other treats here, but just soak in the atmosphere, the personalities and the wine.
Don't pass by Altamura. You won't be disappointed.
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In Northern Italy, if you want to experience the rustic charm, fresh air and home grown richness of Italian food, you find an agriturismo to stay in. We stayed in two in Tuscany--one which was family owned and run and who grew and produced their own wine and olive oil. The other was a more bastadized, corporate owned affair, caharging extra for vineyard tours and tastings, with an over priced little restaurant on site and overpriced low quality "tourist wine". There are still others who are much more authentic--and where you can participate in taking care of animals, tending crops or making cheese, pasta and such. When traveling in Southern Italy the equivalent is staying in a masseria.
Most masserie are very old... built between the 1500-1600s when Spain ruled the South. A masseria is a rather large farm complex to house not only the landowners, but also the peasants who tended the crops and farm animals. The complex usually included several other specialty buildings to house animals, to store crops, to make wine or cheese, etc. Some masseria developed into essentially small villages surrounded and protected high walls with a central courtyard surrounded by all the other structures.
Many of the masserie today have been renovated and turned into vacation rentals and are mostly found in Puglia, in eastern Campania, on the plateau--or Murgia--of Basilicata, in Calabria, and in Sicily, Abruzzo and Molise. A masseria gives Voyagers a vacation that combines nature, local culture and home-grown (or Slow Food) cuisine with all the creature comforts of a world class vacation rental. You'll find modern plumbing, air conditioning (although often not as cool as we Americans would like it) and internet (slow or limited wireless connections due to thick walls), and satellite TV (often limited on station offerings). Some of the overly developed (in my opinion) masseria even offer spa treatments, golf courses and other offerings that have little to do with saturating yourself in local flavor or customs. I'd avoid these "resort" types and search for facilities that offer a more genuine Southern Italian experience. If you find a family run masseria you will find people go out of their way to make your stay a comfortable, memorable one. That was out experience when we stayed in a similar place, a small masseria of Trulli (pointed stone houses). Southern Italians are simply more hospitable than up in the North. There, I've said it.
Masseria Brancati near Ostuni, Puglia
Masseria il Frantoio, Ostuni, Puglia
When staying at a masseria, you will get the feel of a farm along with a definite level of comfort found on a country estate. I think this is a great way for Southern Italians (if they are the ones who developed and run the properties) to preserve and reuse these historic structures, along with preserving this period of history in Southern Italy. If you decide to book a stay in a masseria, you will most likely be welcomed like family members, sample their own olive oil and wine and even cheese made on these farms (beware of Ricotta Forte!). You will also learn about the local culture and history--of Puglia, Basilicata or Campania.
Owners will often join guests for home-cooked dinners using products from the farms... many types of pasta with vegetables, parmigiana di melanzana, seafood (the sea is all around in the South), pizza made in outdoor wood ovens, roasted vegetables, insalata caprese, polpette (meatballs) or beefsteak, home made breads (they use salt in Southern bread, unlike the Tuscan breads), thick jam-like honey, and to drink... good Southern varieties of red wine (Primativo is out favorite!). I strongly suggest looking for an organic masseria that uses no chemicals to grow their olive trees, vines, cherries, almonds, and vegetables. You will not believe how simply food can taste so damned wonderful. Imagine having a real Italian family meal—excellent, simple fare pared with a great local wine and great, hand-waving conversation. You will never have experiences like these staying in hotels.
Evening meal at Masseria il Frantoio
Pasta making at Masseria Panareo
Some masseria offer classes in cheese making, pasta making, cooking or show you how olive oil is made. Visit in the fall and help with the harvest or grapes, almonds or olives. Some of the largest and oldest olive trees grow in the South... I took a photo of Lucas standing with a 2000 year old specimen! There are many masserie throughout the region and accommodation ranges from simple apartments to luxury suites and even trulli (circular stone huts), and most are in peaceful settings in the countryside surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. You usually need a car (rent in Bari or Naples) to access them and some can be difficult to find but it’s worth it for such unique accommodation and the opportunity to experience the warm hospitality of Southern Italians.
1500 year old olive tree
If you want to stay in an organic masseria, use those words on Google... "organic masseria" and see what you come up with. The cost for a stay in a masseria stay might run from $60 to over $200 a night per person including breakfast.
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The Hoboken Italian Festival, the premier Italian-American festival in the New Jersey tri-state area, is nearly 85 years old, and is derived from the 600 year old sagre (festival) of the Madonna Dei Martiri held each year in Molfetta (Puglia), Italy. Many Italian immigrants--like my father Saverio (Sal) Finzi with his mother, father, brother and sister--came from Molfetta to Hoboken in hopes of building their new American life. This festival has merged into a celebration of Hoboken, the religious Sagre, or feast day, and to honor Italian families who came from Molfetta.
The Madonna being carried in the Hoboken festival
The festival occurs yearly, the weekend after Labor Day, for 4 days at Sinatra Park, on the historic waterfront of Hoboken, NJ. The highlight of the feast, beyond the fabulous views of the Manhattan skyline and the wide variety of foods and entertainment, is the day long procession through the streets of Hoboken, including a painstaking reenactment of the "Blessing of the Fleet" in the Hudson River, all culminating with a huge fireworks extravaganza in the evening. Sinatra Park, named after Frank Sinatra (who grew up in Hoboken and went to school with my Mother, Marie Vetri), is also where the film On The Waterfront was filmed in 1954. There is an abundance of food and music for all to enjoy.
The tradition of the Madonna Dei Martiri to the year 1399, when the King of Naples, Ladislao di Durazzo, commanded that the Sagre and the Religious celebration be combined to celebrate the “Miracle” and blessings of the Madonna. This celebration is traditionally held on September 8, which is the Universal Feast of the Nativity of Mary. The actual “Miracle” of the Madonna in 1188....
Luminarie lighting up the Molfetta festival of the Madonna dei Martiri
Molfetta, situated as a port town on the Adriatic Sea, has historically been a maritime community. In 1188 a boatload of Crusaders returning from the Holy Land found the Icon of the Madonna floating on the water. They brought it to the Hospice in Molfetta which was constructed in 1162 on the orders of the Norman King, William II. The Crusaders would return to Molfetta, many of whom were wounded and dying. It is for this reason that Molfetta had built the Hospice. Those who were returned to health went on their way, while some died in Molfetta as Martyrs of the Faith. Everyone prayed to the Madonna of Martyrs who was symbolized as a Mother and Child with Angels, in a Byzantine style Icon. The Madonna in 1840 became the town’s patron along side San Corrado. Especially devoted were the fisherman who asked for her protection. Annually, the Molfettese people, where ever they are in the world, take time to celebrate this Miracle. Traditionally, there is Novena with a Mass and procession through the streets. At some point the Icon (statue) is placed on the fishing boats for veneration. A plenary indulgence is granted by the Pope to anyone who attends the Mass of the Madonna Dei Martiri and the Mass the Sunday following Easter.
The blessing of the fleet in Molfetta harbor
Lucas and me blessing ourselves in Molfetta waters in honor of my Dad
If you go:
Hoboken Italian Festival honoring the Madonna dei Martiri Festival Dates for 2015: September 10th - 13th The Procession is on Saturday, Sept. 12th.
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