La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona – Don’t Miss It!

La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona

The Most Important Moment – © 2018 Jed Smith

Guess who scored a press pass to La Giostra di Cavalleresca di Sulmona?

That would be lucky, lucky yours truly, thanks to Saint Novelia, my dear friend and “partner in crime” (when we get together we cook up all sorts of good trouble!). Yes, I had a front row seat to this incredible event! And, I was ready with my best equipment.

This event is held the last weekend in July every year.

La Giostra di Cavalleresca became an annual event in Sulmona starting in 1994. It pays tribute to jousting events from centuries ago and Abruzzo’s rich noble heritage.

On Saturday and Sunday, around four in the afternoon, a long, seemingly endless procession of people dressed in exquisite Medieval garb makes its way up the Corso to Piazza Garibaldi, Sulmona’s main square.

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Back in the Kitchen with Novelia for Spaghetti alla Chitarra!

Spaghetti alla chitarra

A 200-Year-Old Chitarra – © 2018 Jed Smith

A chitarra that makes pasta, not music?

I argue that it makes both, especially after another guided journey in “la cucina” with my dear friend Novelia. Could spaghetti alla chitarra be that much better than spaghetti made with an expensive KitchenAid? Plenty.

Can the hands infuse some magical quality to pasta?

After this experience, I’d say “Yes!” Maybe grounding oneself in the simplicity of days gone by has benefits. Maybe making pasta without the help (and ease) of modern technology can bring us back to an essential reverence for creating that which sustains us.

Novelia, with her spaghetti alla chitarra has made me a convert.

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Letting Your Story Unfold

Letting Your Story Unfold

Delphic Sibyl, Sistine Chapel Ceiling, Michelangelo (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve recently returned from a major writers’ conference in NYC and my brain is still on fire with all that I learned from a vast array of aspiring speakers. But, it was the bonus “pre” all-day presentation, entitled “Story Trumps Structure”(also a book) by acclaimed psychological thriller author Steven James that gave me the most potent shot of momentum—not only for my own creative writing but in how I approach and live life.

What the heck does letting your story unfold have to do with building a life in Italy? Well, plenty.

The “Middle Way” can be your sweet spot.

If there’s anything my life in Italy is teaching me it’s that being successful and being happy (and sane) means finding the balance between well-laid plans and loads of flexibility. I’ve written about this before, but the more I doggedly adhered to my structured outline of how I thought my journey was to play out the more I was cutting myself from other possibilities—possibilites that were WAY better!

At the writing conference, I heard, loud and clear, how writing with an outline sitting on one’s altar can become a straightjacket to creativity. “Letting your story unfold” seemed to be a reoccurring theme with other speakers as well.

Mid-conference, I paused, and said to myself, “Message received.” It was as though the keys to my self-imposed jail cell of control had been handed to me with the message, “Free yourself!” I vowed to place greater trust in my inner writing muse.

Then I shifted gears to reflect on my first five years in Italy.

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Pietrantonj is Abruzzo’s Oldest Winery

Montepulciano d'Abruzzo, Pietrantonj

Cerano Montepulciano d”Aruzzo Riserva from Pietrantonj

One thing leads to another.

This is becoming my motto in life, with one additional clarifier. One thing leads to another when you give yourself over to the flow of life and say “Let’s play!” Well, my introduction to Pietrantonj, Abruzzo’s oldest winery, is a prime example of things organically falling into place. First, came my visit to Sulmona and a fulfilled wish to witness my dear friend Novelia crafting her handmade pasta. I was over the moon that Novelia invited me into the kitchen with my camera to capture her artistry. As Novelia and I were plotting our cooking session, the topic of pairing wines worthy of her creations arose. Immediately, Novelia exclaimed, “Pietrantonj, of course!” Then, Novelia made a call to the Pietrantonj family and I was in like flint in short order to have a personal tour and tasting with Alice Pietrantonj, one of the three daughters.

The experience evolved.

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Fall in Love with Novelia and Fettuccine “a mano”

Fettuccine, Italywise

Fettuccine al mano – © 2018 Jed Smith

Am I a lucky man or not?

After you view the video contained in this post, I believe you’ll quickly respond in the affirmative. Just two weeks ago, I had the supreme good fortune to spend time in Sulmona, Abruzzo with my dear friend Novelia—this time to receive a personal demonstration of how to create pasta entirely by hand. Yep, not a single bit of assistance with modern appliances. We started with fettuccine, made with giant duck eggs, no less. That was followed by spaghetti made with a 200-year-old chitarra, but that is worthy of its own post (stay tuned).

I’ve never experienced a woman with so much reverence and love for her culinary creations.

Novelia’s fettuccine “a mano” is tangible proof. This is not someone just going through the steps dutifully. She is an artisan in the highest sense. Her hands at work easily could be those of a master sculptor.

She talks to her ingredients.

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Learning Italian? Lighten Up with Music.

Learn Italian, Italywise

Music can be a worthy teacher when you want to learn Italian.

I’ve taken to utilizing Italian music to round out my knowledge of Italian.

If you’re on the journey to achieve some kind of competency when you learn Italian, then I highly encourage you to lighten things up and let Italian pop music be one of your teachers. Currently, I’m in a bit of  “pause” with intensive grammar studies (i.e. the more complicated verb tenses). When I did my month-long Italian language intensive at Torre di Babele in Rome (read my post about it), my head was so full that I felt as though surely it was too much and was seeping out of my ears. In the ensuing weeks and months, I became convinced that I had lost the lion’s share of what I had learned. But, thanks to stepping up my dedication to listening to Italian music, a lot is coming back to me now. And, in the context of music, it’s actually making sense.

To learn Italian through music can be a ton of fun.

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The Rich Fishing History of Abruzzo’s Trabocchi

Trabocchi, Trabocco

One of the many trabocchi dotting the coast of Abruzzo. Image by Lorenabacchilega of Creative Commons

Trabocchi are “fishing machines” dating back to the 18th century.

At least that’s the earliest documentation attesting to their existence. Some sources claim these fascinating structures as being first put in use by the Phoenicians. Trabocchi (read more on Wikipedia) are all along the coast of Abruzzo. During my recent train ride up Italy’s eastern coast on Trenitalia’s Frecciabianca (The White Arrow) from Pescara to Bologna, I saw several trabocchi. My dear friend Novelia from Sulmona has been urging me to experience one of these historical structures firsthand. So, I’ve added it to my bucket list and hopefully, I will experience one within the next year.

An old, black and white film added to my resolve to visit one of the trabocchi.

It was when I viewed the following film on YouTube that I said, “No ands, ifs or buts…I’m doing this!”

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A Symphony of Italian Hand Gestures

Italian Hand Gestures, Jed Smith Photography

Words Fail. © 2018 Jed Smith

A beauty to behold.

Yes, Italian hand gestures contain a fluidity and artistry that continues to amaze me. Italians must have something built into their genes that makes them so adept at this kind of visual poetry. While I speak with my hands, much like my artistic mother, I was taught, growing up, restraint in this regard. I was adominished to keep my hands to myself and to be mindful of encroaching upon another person’s space. Today, if I tried to emulate this innate talent for non-verbal communications that Italians use so effortlessly, I’m afraid I would be the laughing stock of all around me.

So, for this week’s post, I’ve decided to share with you a few of my favorite images showing the art of Italian hand gestures in action. I will keep my commentary to a minimum and let the images speak mostly for themselves. 

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Italian Bike Life – Dress As You Please

Bike Life, Jed Smith Photography

Center of Attention © 2018 Jed Smith

I’ve been meaning to tackle this subject for quite a while, and even today’s post is only a beginning to a fuller visual essay on bike life in Italy.

Bicycles own a big place in Italian culture.

Of course, the Giro d’Italia contributes heavily and people are solidly fanatical about following it. But this week I’d like to focus on the everyday-getting-from-here-to-there bike culture. It’s huge.

This past weekend, we made a day trip to Ferrara, about two hours by train and just north of Bologna. Ferrara is in Emilia-Romagna, which is the region known for producing arguably the best pasta in all of Italy (stay tuned for next week’s post about one of these best meals I’ve ever had). Unfortunately, Ferrara is often bypassed by people making a beeline for nearby Bologna. I’d been urged to visit Ferrara, particularly to see the stunning Cathedral of St. George. Just when I thought I’d seen all the most breathtaking churches of Italy…

Anyway, getting back on track, we entered the city center amidst a swarm of people on their bikes. This wasn’t a new phenomenon for me, since Treviso, our city, is also home to a robust population of bikes. But on this day, I had my camera in hand and I decided to embark on a quick photo essay of these colorful people and outfits passing us left and right.

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Speaking of Tongues…

Italian relics, St. Anthony

A shrine to St. Anthony’s tongue, jawbone, vocal cords, and more.

Fair warning: if you’re a fan and believer in religious relics, you might want to skip this week’s blog post. I’m dedicated to sharing the full gamut of my Italian life and I’d be remiss if I didn’t address this topic since it’s impossible to avoid it while marveling at the majesty and ingenuity of Italian churches. For me, this practice of putting saints’ body parts on display is a bit unsettling.

A visit to the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padova and a viewing of “pieces” of the saint.

Yes, pieces of the saint. The main attraction? St. Anthony’s tongue.

During a recent visit to Padova with my sister and brother-in-law, I was introduced to the relics of St. Anthony.

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