La Porta dei Parchi – An Organic Farm Ahead of Its Time

La Porta dei Parchi

The Gathering – © 2018 Jed Smith

Organic farming was a unique concept forty years ago.

Looking back to the late seventies and early eighties, I remember how organic products were a rare find. Only a few health food stores carried them. An organic way of life was considered more of a hippy, counter-culture type of thing.

So, imagine my surprise to learn that master shepherd Nunzio Marcelli resolved to build an organic sheep and goat farm, La Porta dei Parchi, forty years ago in the majestic mountains of Abruzzo.

The realization of La Porta dei Parchi is an inspiring story.

As you will find out in the following video, which is Part One of a four-part series, Nunzio was unlike many of his contemporaries who left their small villages in search of a more cosmopolitan life.

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Join Me for a Tour of an Inspiring Organic Farm in Abruzzo

Organic farm, Italywise

My visit to the organic farm, La Porta dei Parchi, in Abruzzo.

Go deep.

This is becoming my mantra here in Italy. The potential for rich experiences is plentiful. But it’s easy to zoom by, to just take it in all in too superficially because there IS so much and you can find yourself trying to accumulate and check off as many experiences as possible. It’s easy to feel anxious that you simply won’t be able to cover it all.

La Porta dei Parchi, a spectacular organic farm situated in the towering Apennine mountains in Abruzzo, has been an experience that keeps unfolding the more I’ve been willing to look deeper and not simply do a quick “drive by.”

Take an introductory video tour with me.

I love reaching out and bringing people closer to what I consider as worthy experiences in Italy.

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Castrovalva – A Fairytale Town Clings to a Precipice

Castrovalva, Italywise

Looking up to the hill town of Castrovalva

Impossibly situated…

That’s what I thought when I first saw the tiny village of Castrovalva, perched high on a sliver of rock in The Apennines of Abruzzo. This was just last weekend and my journey there (accompanied by my dear friends Novelia and Peppe) had been planned at the last minute. My main mission was to visit La Porta di Parchi, an organic sheep and goat farm, also an agriturismo. It was late on a Friday afternoon and we were scoping out the farm and preparing for my interviews with Nunzio, the master shepherd, for the following morning. And, as good fortune would have it, we took a 45-minute side trip to Castrovalva. After all, you can see the village from La Porta di Parchi.

One access road and a population of fifteen people.

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Italian Faces Etched with Emotion

Italian faces

Intense Contemplation – © 2018 Jed Smith

I love faces.

And Italian faces are endlessly fascinating to me. Being married to an Italian has taught me firsthand that the passion that is so integral to the culture rarely hides behind a poker face. Hands fly and faces have countless ways of expressing mood and sentiment.

In the States, I grew up in the South. Be polite. Don’t make other people uncomfortable. Keep your feelings (other than joy, happiness, and peace) at bay. That was the pervasive conditioning. Talk about growing up with a leash on one’s emotions!

As a photographer and artist, I’m drawn to portraiture that captures the telltale signs of emotion. Placid, expressionless faces hold no appeal to me from an artistic point of view. There’s no “juice” to inspire capturing an image, whether in a photo or with my paintbrush.

My press pass at La Giostra Cavalleresca di Sulmona gave me plenty of new inspiration.

Boy, did I hit paydirt.

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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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Pope Celestine V and the Courage to Resign

Celestine V

Pope Celestine V – © 2018 Jed Smith

The verb “resign” can be a loaded word.

The word can connote giving up or giving in. When a person is said to have resigned themselves to a situation, it often implies waving a white flag to something beyond their control or their liking.

Then, there is choosing to resign when a person realizes something isn’t working for them, or when they’ve explored a path and gracefully backed out and said, “No, thank you.”

Enter Pope Celestine V

I knew nothing about the man who was chosen as Pope during the 13th century and during the last non-conclave choosing of the Holy Father—that is until I visited L’Aquila with my dear friends Novelia and Peppe. I had, just the day before, visited Celestine’s remote hermitage in the Morrone mountains and seen the small, cramped cell where he had slept. In L’Aquila, I saw Santa Maria di Collemaggio, the inspiring basilica born of his dream. There, I learned the fuller story of the first Pope to resign.

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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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ItalyWise Coming Attractions!

ItalyWise is hard at work.

Just wanted you all to know that ItalyWise is anything but asleep or on vacation this week. Since I’ve thrown myself headlong into the world of video production, I’ve been up to my eyeballs in shooting and editing video footage—all with the intent of making ItalyWise an even more dimensional experience. I want to make videos a regular part of my posts and I have ambitious goals for building out a robust YouTube channel.

So, I’m utilizing this weeks post as a marquee to whet your appetites for what is in store in the coming weeks.

ItalyWise, La Giostra, Abruzzo

Intensity – © 2018 Jed Smith

La Giostra Cavalleresca in Sulmona.

ItalyWise takes you, once again, to one of my favorite places in Italy: Sulmona, Abruzzo. Held the last weekend in July for the last twenty-four years, this is a Medieval festival and jousting event not to be missed. I’ll take you from the processions of rich costumes and pageantry to the highly-competitive jousting event held in Piazza Garibaldi.

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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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