I could write non-stop about all the things to do in Italy. Now that I’ve can safely say that I’m “settling in” living in Italy, I’ll be putting on my more adventure-worthy shoes and heading out to provide views and insights that hopefully are well off the beaten path.

Coming to Treviso? Head to Hostaria dai Naneti for a Quick Bite with the Locals

Trevsio, Naneti, Italywise

Our “snack” was a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, a basket of bread and two glasses of wine – only 10 euro!

Treviso is chock-full of reasons (too numerous to list here, but coming in a subsequent post) to make it a stop on your tour of Veneto. It’s easy to leave the hordes of tourists in Venice and head to this incredibly civilized and elegant town, just 20 minutes north. With its river and canals running in and around the city center, Treviso, like Venice, is an ancient city. And, it’s the home of Prosecco. I joke that the waterway encircling the city surely must be made entirely of prosecco.

Recently we’ve latched onto one of Treviso’s prized gems – Hostaria dai Naneti. Dedicated locals flock here daily to queue up, and grab quick bites (cicchetti) and glasses of wine from a generous listing on the main board. On TripAdvisor, Hostaria dai Naneti currently is rated #2 out of 333 Treviso restaurants. I’d say that’s a pretty hearty endorsement. We found this place on our own one day, when strolling the city center. We spotted it, tucked in a small alley adjacent to the large Benetton store (headquartered in Treviso). People were spilling out of the Hostaria, drinks and cicchetti in hand, into the alleyway, where they were communing happily.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

Locals queue up for panini, boards of sliced meats, and glasses of wine (or a Spritz!)

Hostaria dai Naneti, dates back to the 900s and is reportedly the second oldest institution in Treviso. The name itself reflects the local dialect. Hostaria is a local variation on “osteria” which traditionally refers to a place of simple wine and local food. Some people might call it an Italian “pub” or “public house” (I call it a really cool, down to earth wine bar). “Naneti” is a local variation on “nanetti” which means dwarves. I’ll have to dig further to understand how dwarves inspired this Treviso institution.

Tons of locals choose Hostaria dai Naneti for a quick lunch, and often they return for “happy hour” later in the day, when they can wind down and linger. If you arrive during peak business, be patient, and be prepared to queue up – though understanding who is next in line can be a bit confusing. Fortunately this is mitigated by the incredible kindness and civility of the Treviso people. In other words, it may feel like you’re stepping into a bit of madness, but it’s a happy madness. The people running the hostaria are agile food and beverage artisans. A large wine “board” lists an ample selection of yummy wine, and a case of cicchetti (prepared small bites) and cured meats and cheeses make ordering easy.

Treviso, Naneti, Italywise

The Wine Board at Hostaria dai Naneti

Simone kindly volunteered to order for us. Two glasses of wine, a board of sliced prosciutto crudo, and a basket of bread, only set us back 10 euro. Hard to beat, right? A similar offering in California would have been at least $30. While this didn’t become our lunch for the day, it nicely sated our appetites, and quenched our thirsts after a morning strolling and shopping trip in Treviso’s city center. Life IS good!

 

Hostaria dai Naneti

Via Broli, 2, Treviso, Italia

Tel: 3403783158

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The Devil Is in the Detail, or Is the Detail in the Devil?

Handsome devil, Italywise

Tintoretto chose to portray a “handsome devil” in The Temptation of Christ (detail)

How many times have we heard someone described as a “handsome devil”? I never gave it much thought, until I stumbled across a handsome devil, literally, while reading the captivating novel, Lucifer’s Shadow, by David Hewson, which is set in Venice. A central character, Signor Sacchi is showing young Englishman Daniel Forster Tintoretto’s The Temptation of Christ, at the Scuola Grande’s Sala Superior, and pointing out how Tintoretto broke with the majority of the portrayals of a horrific Lucifer, and painted him as a devilishly beguiling young man. I guess it makes the temptation even more tempting. What starving person could say no to such a beautiful face?

Tintoretto, Italywise

The Temptation of Christ – Tintoretto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I was so intrigued by this snippet in the plot that I rushed to my computer, and my buddy Google, and saw for myself. Now, I’m determined to make the hike down to Venice and experience this in person. My love of art history once again has been ignited, and with a concentration on the jackpot of artistic treasures in Venice, I’m going to be busy for a long time. Since my recollections of Tintoretto are too vague to be of use, I want to focus and learn everything I can about this acclaimed artist.

This painting certainly has piqued my curiosity, especially in regards to man’s endless quest to make sense of good and evil, or light and dark. This is evidenced in the stories and myths man has created and expressed in art and literature, with Satan often being a headliner.

I’m a big fan, and follower of the work of Carl Jung. In fact, I’m due for a re-reading of his book, Man and His Symbols. I believe Jung “nailed” the prevailing cause of man’s neurosis and lack of mental and emotional wholeness: Man’s attempt to split off and purge his own darkness. The devil became a representation of this attempt to jettison the unsavory parts of one’s nature which lurk in shadow side of the psyche. Jung believed a wholesale rejection of man’s shadow side leads to an individual’s unending battle with himself.

Having grown up with many heavy-handed and fearful teachings of a Southern Baptist culture, I know I’ve spent years in a war with myself. Consequently, I’ve been a prisoner of perfectionism. However, try as I may to exorcise the devil, and run from my shadow, I’ve come to realize the wisdom of bringing light, and acceptance, to all parts of my being.

I realize I’m probably getting WAY too philosophical, and usually I endeavor to avoid discussing religion or sounding “preachy” in any regard, since I believe the path to wholeness and truth isn’t a one-size-fits all. That said, I do love the following quote from Carl Jung about working with the shadow. I call it making peace with the devil – whether
“he” is handsome or horrific.

May we all find peace and integration, and may we continue to enjoy and utilize the vast myths and stories that represent our search for meaning.

Filling the conscious mind with ideal conceptions is a characteristic of Western theosophy, but not the confrontation with the shadow and the world of darkness. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. – Carl Jung, “The Philosophical Tree” (1945)

Head South from Venice to the Port of Chioggia

Chioggia, Italywise

Chioggia is just 45 minutes south of Venice, and well worth a side trip.

Veneto is rich with places to visit, yet most visitors make a beeline for Venice and miss out on some of the gems close by. Yes, Venice is hard to beat (it’s my favorite city in Italy…thus far) but at times it’s hard to extricate yourself from the strong tourist influence, unless you have a real insider’s guide, or unless you know a native Venetian who will share the parts of Venice that are hidden to most visitors.

So, if you’ve exhausted yourself on Venice, and if you’re up for a change of pace, then I’d recommend taking a jaunt south to the port and fishing village of Chioggia. It may not be the jackpot of tourist attractions, but it’s a lovely, picturesque town in which you experience a slower pace and Italian life with more normalcy.

The best advice I can give you to really appreciate Chioggia is to stroll leisurely while absorbing the local flavor and the photo-worthy beauty of the canals, boats and colorful houses. Sure, there are a few churches, an ancient bell-tower and a bustling fish market, but you may find the historical richness and content pales after time in Venice. Don’t let that deter you because you’ll be cheating yourself.

I had my first introduction to Chiogga last week when we met with Italian friends (translation five Italians and one American – me). One of these friends is from Chioggia and she wanted to share her hometown with us. What a treat. This began with an amazing seafood “pranzo” at Ristorante Palazzo (Via Cavallotti Felice, 368), with an unimposing edifice, on a small street. You might think you’re heading “nowhere”, but I’m here to tell you, you’re definitely heading to a lunch that is well worth your time – not only from the quality and freshness of the local seafood, but from an experience of the locals.

Get there early, or call ahead to reserve a table (041 5507212), otherwise this “hopping” place won’t be able to accommodate you.

When we arrived, already there was a lively group of “good ole boys” (fourteen of them) having a long, happy lunch (with lots of toasting). We started with prosecco on tap and served by the liter (I still pinch myself that this is a pretty standard experience in Veneto – after all it is the birthplace of prosecco, and the hub of its production). Then, the seafood – so good that, as they say in the South in the U.S., I just wanted to slap someone. I started with a soft polenta covered with calamari fritti, and followed it up with cozze (mussels) marinara. The sauce was generous, and I employed a used shell to scoop up this savory liquid, while also inviting my friends to sop it up with bread (they joyfully complied). Other dishes at the table – a spaghetti allo scoglio (literally referring to the rocks on the shore where the fish and crustaceans reside). This, also, was in a marinara sauce. Another dish was a plate a deliciously prepared and handsomely presented scallops.

With our bellies nicely sated, we strolled for at least three hours, stopping for espresso and a grappa (for me), and a small deter to a pasticceria for meringhe (a hard meringue filled with heavy whipped cream).

All-in-all, a pretty amazing day. I’m grateful for every one of these experiences!

An unforgettable lunch at Ristorante Palazzo, Chioggia

 

Staying “Abreast” of Famous Italian Sculpture

Italian sculpture, Italywise

Fontana delle tette once spouted red wine and white wine during important celebrations.

I’m taking a break from writing about the practicalities of living in Italy, and from philosophical musings about a big life change. As I write this post, I’m finding it impossible to wipe the smile from my face. Just yesterday I was introduced to the Fontana delle tette, which translates as “The Fountain of the Tits”. Yes, you heard correctly. This statue, found in the city of Treviso, is a famous piece of Italian sculpture, created in 1559. In the photo above, I’m lovingly wrapping my arms around this wonderful lady, who I understand is a replica of the original (encased in protective glass nearby). The story of its creation earns my admiration for Italian creativity and ingenuity. But, before I share the story as I understand it, a brief side note…

My dear mother, Liz Smith-Cox, would love this statue. I so wish she were still with me in this earthly realm so we could converse about this lovely woman. I suspect Mom would giggle mischievously, while simultaneously applauding the ingenuity of the sculpture. Liz is a legend in the world of art education. She was also raised as a Baptist, which might have squelched celebration of works of art that would be perceived as too revealing or “naughty”. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. My mother celebrated the naked beauty of the human form, and taught me likewise. I remember, back in high school when I was her student, she had prepared a slide show of important historical works of arts. Instead of making the presentation herself, she was sidelined by a flu, necessitating a substitute teacher – one who came with some religious baggage. As the substitute played the slide show my mom had prepared, she obscured slides on the screen that featured any kind of nudity. When Mom heard about this impromptu censorship, she was furious. And, in my opinion, for just cause.

I hope the above paragraph doesn’t seem gratuitous. I share it, nonetheless, to provide context as to why I love this piece of Italian sculpture.

A brief history of Fontana delle tette

This sculpture was rendered by the orders of the mayor of the Republic of Venice, Alvise Da Ponte, in 1559 after a hard drought had plagued Treviso and the surrounding countryside. The fountain’s first home was the Praetorian Palace, in Via Calmaggiore. In the autumn, if there was a new Podesta (a high, elected official), wine would flow from the breasts of this statue. White flowed from one nipple, and red from the other. City citizens could quench their thirst for wine for three days.

Damn, I wish this still the case. I’d be lined up with the other residents, ready to drink my fill. The wines of Veneto are spectacular., But, I’ll save that for another post.

I hope you find this snippet of local history interesting. And, in closing, I raise a toast to my wonderful mother, who nursed me well in all the ways that matter! Thanks Liz!!!

 

 

 

 

A Special Insider’s View of the Food and Wines of Umbria

 

Umbria cuisine, ItalyWise

Recently I had the very good fortune to sit down with Elizabeth Wholey, who is a local expert in the foods and wines of Umbria. She is also a dear friend. Elizabeth has lived in Umbria for many years, and she carefully and painstakingly has done her detective work in understanding the history and craft of Umbrian food and wine. She has built important, long-lasting relationships with local food and wine producers – many who are gems hidden to the eyes of many people who visit Umbria. Elizabeth recently wrote Sustenance: Food Traditions in Italy’s Heartland

A Guide to Farms, Markets, and Fairs in the Upper Tiber Valley in Sustenance, Elizabeth Wholey explores the Upper Tiber Valley and the ways in which its peasants fed and sustained themselves throughout history. Their ancient food traditions are still alive today, often with a modern twist, and are accessible to visitors as well as to the local populace. – available at Amazon.com

Elizabeth graciously agreed to do this interview for Italywise.com. I hope this will whet you appetite to learn even more!

You’re very passionate about the food and wines of Umbria, particularly of the Upper Tiber Valley. What, in your opinion, makes them so special?

Most people were poor in this part of the world until fairly recently. They subsisted on what they could grow, hunt, forage or barter, the growing season was short, and much of the terrain was mountainous. However, they made the most of what was available, and cooks took pride in what they created. These dishes are beloved, and are still found on local restaurant menus, often with a modern twist. People here are careful about what they eat and who they buy from. If a food product is not of high quality, a seller won’t survive. In other places local, seasonal, and sustainable are concepts that you fight for; here they are taken for granted, though vigilance has become necessary. People don’t want pesticides and herbicides in their soil.  

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Living in Italy, Italywise

Finding Your Voice – Staying Open

Being and staying open to the full gamut of experience that life has to offer isn’t something that has come naturally to me. I still talk a good game, and tell myself I’ve evolved. Yet, at times, I feel a physical sensation in my solar plexus and in my chest that feels as though some kind of internal resistance or “brake” is saying “NO!” to experiences that don’t fit with my preconceived ideas of how things should be. Then, I sense my world becoming narrow and constricted. When this happens, I believe I have cut myself off from the wise, inner creative muse. My authentic voice temporarily becomes mute.

I’m learning to watch and allow even this rift in my psyche, when it happens, rather than trying to oust it. Attempting to strong-arm or wrestle it into submission only ensures resistance unpacks its bags and hangs around. Funny how steering into, rather than running from, the less desirable experiences in life can be the path to regaining one’s equilibrium.

So, in this fourth and last installment in my post series on finding your voice, I’d like to speak to something that has become a daily lesson for me – staying open. Staying open has meant not allowing myself to be trapped in my left brain, where I can’t readily access the rich resources in the expansive creative world of my right brain.

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Finding Your Voice, and Learning to Play

I believe the word “should” can be your greatest nemesis when it comes to learning to play and to “finding your voice”. As I wrote in the first installment of this series, to “color outside the lines” probably has been the most important advice left to me by my artist mother. The “shoulds” of our conditioning will keep you prisoner to preconceived concepts of how life is supposed to be, and they will leave you in narrow world that doesn’t reveal to you the magnificent possibilities of self-expression.

Easier said than done. Oh, how I wish I could toss all my “shoulds” to the side of the road, and proceed happily on my journey. But, I’ve found it’s like pulling weeds. The first step is being aware of them and seeing their roots, which go way back to childhood when potent influences, like society, the church and the school system began training our brains and behaviors into becoming well-behaved and perfect little beings.

At the beach and ready for mischief.

At the beach and ready for mischief.

We do know how to play, but most of us have forgotten. Playing was like breathing as children, but as adults all too often we look at play simply as a diversion from the more difficult realities of life vs. being a rich source for unearthing the treasures that exist in every one of us.

While, like most people, I experienced many powerful “molding” influences to keep me in line as a young child, my mom’s approach to art was a good antidote. Liz was fearless in playing and experimenting in her studio, and in the classroom. She would think nothing of going outside our house and tearing off an interesting piece of bark from a tree, and taking it into her studio and glueing it to a canvas, and then building a painting around it. She did this with many found objects, and I loved her “collage” period. I liken it to her swimming around all the possibilities for creative expression to find what resonated with her. And, different themes and media resonated with her at different times. She exemplified the metaphor of letting the river (of creativity) take her on an undisclosed journey.

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Finding your voice – in art, and in life.

Finding your voice sometimes can take a lifetime. We often have to dig our way out of a mountain of conditioning, and voices telling us how things are “supposed” to be and what is “acceptable”. Confusion ensues, and we can be afraid to color outside the lines. Because discovering one’s own voice is such a rich topic, and one central to the fabric of my being, this post will be the first of four installments.

I was blessed to be born to a mother full of life, and with a love of teaching. My mom, Liz Smith-Cox, was a highly influential art educator in the public school system. Her students remember the powerful impact she had on their lives, in the art classroom, and in life in general. I remember how she recognized my artistic abilities at the age of five when I crafted the “Happy Squirrel” out of terra-cotta clay. The little guy had movement, and personality. She kept putting clay, drawing paper, crayons and pencils in my hand, and encouraged me create or draw anything and everything that struck my fancy. No limits.

The woman who taught me to find my own artistic voice - my mom, Liz Smith-Cox.

The woman who taught me to find my own artistic voice – my mom, Liz Smith-Cox.

Then, I entered first grade, where I was under the tyrannical rule of a mean old lady, Mrs. Anderson. Someone had “taken the meat out of her sandwich” years before, and she was keen to rule with an iron fist, and a hard set of rules as to how things should be done. Why such an embittered soul was put in charge of joyous, and impressionable young children is beyond me. On my second report card, Mrs. Anderson gave me D in handwriting. My mother was dumbfounded, and when she met with the teacher to gain an understanding of why, Mrs. Anderson explained that handwriting included “coloring” and I was refusing to color within the lines of the drawings provided. It had nothing to do with my penmanship. My mom was furious. I think this is one of the first times I understood the force of my mom’s belief that creativity should be unfettered. I also remember how she stood up at a PTA meeting and gave a man a thorough dressing down for suggesting that all that was needed for art in the schools was some crayons and a coloring book. “Coloring outside the lines” became a recurring theme and mantra in her many years of teaching and workshops.

My Momma Liz was a tiger when it came to protecting and encouraging the individuality of the creative voice. I am incredibly blessed that she nurtured me along in this regard, as I believe such a foundation has helped me find my voice much more easily. This isn’t to say that I haven’t taken detours into what I believed was the accepted way to go, but something always has harkened me back to my own path.

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Piano Piano – The Art of Slowing Down

Why rush? I’m asking myself this question more and more. Italian life, and the emphasis on slowing down to savor the present moment, steadily has been exposing my American conditioning of go, do, and achieve.

Italians value slowing downs and enjoying the moment.

Italians, as a general rule, value slowing down, connecting with others, and enjoying the present moment.

My favorite saying here in Italy is “piano, piano” which translates as “slowly, slowly” or “softly, softly”. You’ll be hard pressed to find this exact translation if you refer to an Italian-to-English dictionary. This puzzles me because it is used so frequently. My best understanding is that it originates from musical terminology, and is an indication to approach and play a particular piece or section of music more slowly and softly. Nonetheless, it has become a new mantra.

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Lost in thought, or anchored in the present?

 

Clouds are an oft-used metaphor for thoughts...

Clouds are an oft-used metaphor for thoughts…

A fair warning…this post is going to be fairly philosophical. I feel compelled to share these rather personal musings with you, since I believe I’ve been asked by life, as part of this major move to Italy, if “thinking” and “thoughts” are serving me, or if I am their prisoner.

One thing I’ve learned about myself is that, somewhere along the way in my development, I adopted the belief that thinking was my most powerful weapon, and my best armour to the perils of life. I suspect the real shift or enslavement to thought (vs. “being”) began somewhere around ten or eleven years old when I began plotting a strategy to ensure I would always feel safe in the world, and to get what I wanted. And, this is when I began living locked away in the tower of my mind. This is what I mean by being “lost in thought”.

In retrospect, I see the enormous energy drain that resulted from living this way – watching, thinking, worrying and controlling. This didn’t reach the breaking point, or the point at which I realized “There has to be a better way.” until I made the decision to move my life, lock, stock and barrel, to Italy. I left the security of the familiar, and I couldn’t have asked for a bigger transition that demanded incredible patience, and asked me to “do my best” while simultaneously telling me “to let go”. Old habits don’t die a quick or easy death.

“Trying to change thought with thought is like trying to bite your own teeth.” – Alan Watts

I’ve listened to a fair number of Alan Watts’s lectures. He has always been a great source for shaking up my usual perspectives on how things are supposed to be. This particular quote hit me between the eyes. A few simple words had described the mental battle I had been losing in trying to change myself and adapt.

I came to see, and doubt, the belief that I could use the power of my mind (thinking) to conquer or muscle my way through anything.

This has lead to some other personal realizations.

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