Category Archives Italian Style

Taking place this weekend is the famous Italian vintage auto race called the Mille Miglia.  It was an open-road endurance race which took place in Italy twenty-four times from 1927 to 1957.  TIMG_7522ahe race was banned after two fatal crashes.  The crash in 1957 took the lives of the drivers and nine spectators.

In 1977, the race was revived under the name Mille Miglia Storica, a rally-type race for pre-1957 cars like Alfa Romeo, BMW, Ferrari, Maserati, Mercedes Benz, Porsche and Bugatti .  Only the cars selected from the models which took part in the original races can participate in the Mille Miglia.

Teams and caIMG_7517rs come from all over the world, but it is difficult to get entrance. The number of participants is limited and the organizers are very selective about the cars that are accepted. My husband, Neal, and friend, Jim Pugh, were lucky to be selected to drive a 1952 Fiat Giuliana in the 2013 race. You can find some videos I made of them leaving the main piazza to the start as well as another video of other cars on their way. So exciting!

IMG_7516The race this year starts Thursday, May 19 and will end Sunday, May 22. It always starts in Brescia, turns around in Rome and returns to Brescia. There are 3 legs to the race with overnight stops in Rimini, Rome and Parma. Before the start, spectators can view all the perfectly restored cars in the main piazza and along the streets of Brescia. The late afternoon start is exciting, even as a spectator, with the roar of those engines.

Believe me, the race is still an endurance race – for the drivers and for the cars, many of which do not make it to the finish.  I made videos of the cars driving through the streets to the start of the race.  You can see Neal and Jim taking off by clicking here.  For another video showing more cars, click here.

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Brescia is in northern Italy near Lake Como, so it would be a great destination this weekend of the year to observe such a unique race and then spend a few days at one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.

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Photo by Garry Plartt

Carnevale, which means “farewell to meat”, lasts for 10 days, beginning this year on January 30th and ending as always the night before Ash Wednesday, which this year is February 10th, and the beginning of Lent. In Venice, this magical celebration includes street performances, elegant masked balls, extravagant parties, spectacular gondola parades on the canals, along with music and mysterious masked revelers everywhere. 

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Carnevale reached its peak in the 18th century, when Venice was the renowned pleasure capital of Europe. When Napoleon invaded Venice in 1797, the glory days of Carnevale ended.  It was dead for almost 200 years. Then in 1979, in order to boost tourism, the city of Venice brought back to life Carnevale – the world’s most opulent party.

The official opening of Carnevale is in the famous St. Mark’s Square, which is the center for most events.  “The Flight of the Angel,” begins at noon and kicks off the festivities.  An “angel” (the winner of a beauty contest) flies on a zip line above the costumed crowd while acrobats perform on a stage at ground level.  The piazza is maskedcouplevenicecarnevalepacked with disguised dignitaries and masked visitors – a colorful and extravagant display of creativity.

There are plenty of private parties in elegant villas along the canals. One of the most extravagant is the Grand Masquerade Ball, held at the Palazzo Flangini.  You can attend if you have the right costume and can pay $750 a ticket.  But you will find masks and merriment on every canal and every alley in the city.

Then there is the candlelight water parade on the canal. Rowboats, gondolas and other watercraft, all illuminated by candlelight, provide a romantic spectacle. The grand finale is the Notte della Taranta (Night of the Tarantula) party followed by an over the top fireworks display which concludes the festivities.

But before the party and fireworks end and Lent begins, don’t forget to enjoy the traditional sweets of Carnevale – fried pastries! When Carnevale started hundreds of years ago, most kitchens did not have ovens, so frying was the only way to prepare such sweets.  They may go by different names, depending on the region in Italy, but the Venetians call them Castagnole, Frittele and Frappe.  In Florence, the traditional sweets for Carnevale are Cenci, Fritelle di Riso and Schiacciata alla Fiorentina.  (more…)

Until I visited Italy at Christmastime, I never realized the differences between how they celebrate Christmas and how Americans do. On the Italian holiday calendar, December 25 isn’t the only special day. Throughout December and January there are a number of religious holidays to mark the season.  They begin their festivities on December 8, celebrating the Immaculate Conception and end on January 6, the Epiphany.  Here is a calendar of the religious dates they honor.

Christmas tree at the Piazza del Duomo, Florence

 

DECEMBER 8: L’Immacolata Concezione – celebration of the Immaculate Conception

DECEMBER 13: La Festa di Santa Lucia – St. Lucy’s Day

DECEMBER 24: La Vigilia di Natale – Christmas Eve

DECEMBER 25: Natale – Christmas

DECEMBER 26: La Festa di Santo Stefano – St. Stephen’s Day marks the announcement of the birth of Jesus and the arrival of the Three Wise Men

DECEMBER 31: La Festa di San Silvestro – New Year’s Eve

JANUARY 1: Il Capodanno – New Year’s Day

JANUARY 6: La Festa dell’Epifania – The Epiphany

Kicking off the season on December 8th, there will be lights strung across city streets, lighted trees in the piazzas, roasting chestnuts on the corner, a traditional Christmas market in the main piazza, as well as nativity scenes (presepi) in most churches and piazzas. These sights are what excite Italians at this time of year. Though gifts are exchanged, the emphasis in Italy is not on gift-giving, but more about being with friends and family and observing their Catholic traditions (even though many are disillusioned with the Church).  Here are some photos taken this year of the lights and sights in Florence.

Christmas in Florence

 

From the north to the south of Italy, depending on the local traditions, different parts of Italy celebrate in different ways. In the Alps at midnight on Christmas Eve hundreds of people ski down an Alpine peak carrying lit torches. In Umbria, you can see many representatives of Babo Natale (Santa Claus) in their illuminated canoes on the Tiber River.  Bagpipe and flute players (zampognari and pifferai) are a part of Christmas celebrations in Rome, Naples, and southern Italy.

When I was in Florence, we went to the Mercatino di Natale in the Santa Croce Piazza, shopped and sipped hot mulled wine and munched on steaming hot chestnuts.

Piazza del Duomo in Florence

 

But for most, it is the delight of gathering around a bountiful, beautifully laid table, sharing traditional regional dishes and the holiday atmosphere that Italians look forward to every year. There are three important Christmas meals.

Before attending Midnight Mass, the traditional Christmas Eve Dinner would include seven types of fish. Since we have an Italian now in our family, I wanted to honor his traditions, but seven courses of fish on Christmas Eve was just too much for me to accomplish. So, we put all seven fishes in a fish stew called Cioppino, which was created by fishermen in San Francisco.  It has now become our family tradition.  Click here for my recipe.

On Christmas Day, Italians invite their immediate family for a large lunch that can go on all day. In recognition of the importance of this day, only a family’s best table linens, finest china and silver flatware are used to set a table of which everyone can be proud, even Nonna!

Nativity in Florence

 

The first course is often preceded by a classic antipasto of local cured meats and cheese.  Next is the pasta course, followed by roasted meat – veal, beef, or pork, including lots of everyone’s favorite seasonal side dishes.  Not to be forgotten are the traditional sweets, such as panettone, almond cookies, and torrone (honey nougat with nuts).

Santo Stefano’s lunch, served on the 26th, is a less formal meal (leftovers!) and often friends and more distant relatives are invited.

The last of the celebrations falls on January 6th, the Epiphany.  During the night of the 5th, La Befana (a witch on a broomstick) arrives with gifts for the good children and coal for the not so good!  The legend says that la Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men who asked her to lead them to the baby Jesus, but she declined to help them.

Ti_vogliamo_bene_befana_1She then realized that she had made a big mistake and gathered up a bag full of gifts and set off to search for the baby Jesus. Though she followed the same star as the Magi, she was unable to find the stable. Now, la Befana continues to travel the world, searching every house for the Christ child.   The arrival of la Befana marks the end of the long and festive holiday season in Italy.

No matter how you celebrate the season, make traditions for your family and spread good cheer to all.

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