Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Embrace of Art – The Italian International Dance Festival 2013

“Two cultures touch and share the beauty of art.”  This was the tag line for the Italian International Dance Festival.  The very first ever held in the US, the Festival hoped to be a touchstone for professional dance in Italy and America.  I can tell you that it succeeded beyond anyone’s expectations.  The Festival was held on March 22 at the Julia Richman Theater in NYC.

The Festival was the idea of a small group of dance-centric visionaries who call themselves TAG: T for Tabata Caldironi, a professional dancer and Italian TV hostess; A for Antonio Pio Fini, a professional dancer, choreographer and Artistic Director of the Festival; and G for Gianluca Blandi, a professional dancer, choreographer and producer. 

This same group spearheads the Festival’s companion event, the Alto Jonio Dance Festival (AJD) held annually in Calabria, Italy. This means that the winner of the Festival’s Emerging Choreographer Competition, Diasuke Omiya, will perform his work at AJD in Italy in July 2013.

One of the emotional highpoints of the Festival was the performance of Noa Guy and Antonio Pio Fini.  Noa Guy is a composer, musician and vocalist who 17 years ago came to New York from Israel for one week and has never been able to return.  During that fateful week, she was in a near fatal car crash that left her in a coma.  When she awoke, her injuries required years of rehabilitation. Brain trauma left her with epilepsy and deafness in one ear.  With serious equilibrium problems and without feeling from the knee down in one leg, she walks only with the help of forearm crutches. 

What in the world is she doing on stage at a dance festival?  Noa met Antonio at Movement Salon on 3rd Avenue, where they worked together on her healing.  They created a series of movements that allow Noa to things she cannot otherwise do: jump, climb, be suspended upside down, twist and turn.  Eventually they turned these movements into a performance.

Noa walks onto the stage with her crutches, lets them fall to the floor and takes Antonio’s hands.  From there, she soars and spins to the music while Antonio, on whom she depends for stability and strength, adjusts to every nuance of her movement.  As much as they practice, each time they dance is an improvisation.  As described so eloquently by the Host, Tabata Caldironi, “Noa can’t walk.  But with Antonio, she can dance.”

The Awards

“A Heart For Art Lifetime Achievement Award” was given to Luigi Facciuto, known by everyone as “Luigi”.  A first-generation Italian American, Luigi danced from a very early age until a car accident left him paralyzed and comatose in his 20’s.  He eventually emerged from his injuries by developing his own movement technique which became what the world knows as Jazz Dance.  Luigi performed in over 40 Hollywood films including Singin’ In the Rain.  Gene Kelly was his mentor.  He worked with the likes of Fred Astaire, Judy Garland and Danny Kaye.  Over time, he moved to NYC and opened Luigi’s Jazz Centre, where he still teaches and inspires every day.   Among other accomplishments, Luigi was known for having the most students performing on Broadway than any other teacher in the city. 

Part of Luigi’s mission is to rehabilitate dancers with serious injuries, such as Ben Vereen.  Ben worked with Luigi after a car wreck left him unable to perform.  “Luigi got me dancing again,” says Vereen.  “Italy has given America many wonderful things.  But the best thing Italy ever gave America was Luigi.”  Ben accompanied Luigi to the Festival’s Artists’ Reception and helped us celebrate Luigi’s 80th birthday.

“A Heart For Art Extraordinary Dancer Award” was given to Alessandra Ferri.  Born in Milan and a student of Teatro alla Scala, she joined London’s Royal Ballet Theater.  After  performing at the Met in 1982,  Mikhail Baryshnikov invited her to join him at the American Ballet Theater.  She became Principal Dancer and remained with the company for 28 years.  She was named Permanent Guest Artist at La Scala in Milan and retired in 2007.  Since then, she has collaborated on many creative projects, including a short film with Sting called Prelude.

“A Heart For Art Bridge Award” was given to Elena Albano, a native of Milan and a renowned teacher of the Martha Graham technique.  Albano studied at the Martha Graham School and the Alvin Ailey School in NYC and the National Center for Contemporary Dance National Ballet in Mexico.  She has taught the Martha Graham Technique at Teatro Carcano in Milan since 1990.  Along the way, she also managed to graduate in Medicine and Surgery and is a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation specialist. Albano bridges not only medicine and dance through understanding and challenging the human body, but she also bridges the US and Italy by bringing dance to each culture.

“A Heart For Art Ambassador Award” was given to Sasa’ Di Donna.  Di Donna trained in American Jazz Dance and has had a long career in dance and choreography on Italian television.   He brings his love of Jazz to his many choreography projects in his native Milan as well as Morocco, London, Dubai and South Africa.

Each award winner received a custom made piece of jewelry from Franco Pianegonda.  His creations are worn by celebrities like Alicia Keys, Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony and Ivana Trump.

The Performances

The Festival performances included:

U Mundu Balla, choreography by Nicola Iervasi, performed by Talent Unlimited High School students, music by QuartAumenta.

Kyrie –   part of a larger piece, Requiem, created in celebration of the 200th anniversary of Verdi’s birthday.  Choreography by Michael Mao, performed by Antonio Pio Fini & Kristin Draucker.

Bright – choreography and performance by Diasuke Omiya, Emerging Choreographer Competition Winner.

Solitude –choreography by Luigi, performed by his student Jessica Black, music by Duke Ellington.

La Pelle Sotto L’Abito – choreography by Alex Atzewi, performed by Alex Atzewi Dance Company.

Quando Io Non Sono – choreography by Elena Albano, performed by Sefania Coloru and Vera Paganin music by Stefano Ianne.

Tripudium – choreography by Antonella Perazzo, performed by Caliince Dance of Pauline Legras music by Gianluca Perazzo.
Abbalamu Cu Ventu – choreography by Mare Nostrum Elements, Kevin Albert and Nicola Iervasi, performed by Suzanne Beahrs, Ada Cacciatore, Eduardo Hermanson, Laurence Martin, Samantha McLoughlin, Collin Ranf, Sabrina Shapiro, Joshua Yarbrough, music by QuartAumenta.

Le Lavandaie – choreography by Mare Nostrum Elements, Anabella Lenzu, performed by Eva Hansson, Cheryl Orsini, traditional Tarantella music arranged by Joseph Church.

Dancing with Noa – choreography and performance by Noa Guy and Antonio Pio Fini, music Claudio Monteverdi.

Moment to Moment – choreography by Ellen Tharp, performed by Staten Island Ballet, music by Anna Moffo singing Rachmaninoff.

New York, New York – choreography by Luigi, performed by his student Ericka Black, sung by Liza Minnelli, who is another Luigi student.


The generous sponsors who made this event so special include:

Gourmet Cooking & Living
La Cucina Italiana Magazine
Movement Salon
Pizzeria 28
Wine WorldWide

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Park to Park 2013 – Running Between NYC's Central Park and Naples' Villa Communale

    Runners enjoying the beauty of Naples.

New York City and Naples, Italy share many important connections; some physical, some more esoteric. Both cities lie on the 41st parallel of our planet.  Countless Neapolitans made NYC their home in generations past and their descendants remain as one of Manhattan’s most distinctive ethnic groups.   Because of this, the cities share one of the world’s most popular cuisines, along with a deep love of music, opera and theater.  Neapolitans brought Pulcinella and the rest of the Commedia Dell’Arte to NYC and it remains alive in both cities today.  Both cities “never sleep” and are melting pots of many of the world’s cultures, creating a constant flow of imagination and creativity.

Given all of this, creating further connections between Naples and New York just feels right.  So Emilio Gramanzini, a native of Naples who runs in the NYC Marathon, decided that running can be another way to join these two locations.  NYC has Central Park and Naples has Villa Communale, a centuries-old park created by the Bourbon kings.  In NYC you can run along the New York Harbor and in Naples, the stunning Gulf of Naples.  Why not?  Five years ago, Park to Park (P2P) was born with the idea that runners would participate in the NYC Marathon and come to Naples for the 10K along Via Caracciolo and the Gulf of Naples.  And like the NYC Marathon, P2P Naples is open to runners of all levels.

The 2007 inaugural race in Naples had 600 runners and 800 in 2008.  Since 2010 there has been a race between members of the Italian and US Armed Forces and Police from the nearby NATO base as well as the US Navy, NYPD and NYFD.    In 2012 the Military Corps of the Italian Red Cross joined the fun.  It has become one of the city’s most important sporting events.   The winner gets the Interforces Championship Trophy, designed by Gramanzini and sculpted by Lello Esposito, whose works are exhibited around the world.  

P2P 2013 Naples has something else no other race has - the support of the Association of Neapolitan Pizza Chefs.   On May 10 & 11, the Chefs will cook their specialities to the delight of stomachs everywhere.  Proceeds from sales will go to purchase defibrillators for Naples sports facilities.

P2P 2013 Naples will be held on Sunday, May 12, followed by the NYC Marathon in Central Park on May 19.

Be a part of P2P – 2013, sponsored by Napoli Road Runners.  

To learn more, visit the website.

What to do in Naples?

If you go to Naples for the race, what will you do the rest of the time?  Also, what if you’re not a runner, but you’re traveling with one?  No problem.  Naples is chock full of beauty, great food and wine.

For special travel packages which include stays as Grand Hotel Santa Lucia and Hotel Royal Continental, contact info@airontour.com

Another recommended hotel is Hotel Naples.

For details about what to do in Naples, see my article.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Time As Tyrant

The Clock/L’orogolio, part of the No Escape series, written by Dino Buzzati, directed by Laura Caporroti, produced by Kairos Italy Theater (KIT), at Cherry Lane Theater, New York City, November, 2012.

Tick, tock, tick, tock.  The relentless clock marks the seconds as they pass. Tick, tock. Measured, pitiless, unflinching, unforgiving. Its mechanical beat underlies the jagged, raw emotion that unfolds onstage.  One woman whose twisted, terrifying character is split between two actresses, is both delighted and compelled to murder her hateful husband.  She succeeds, but so does he.  Upon his death his soul inhabits the clock whose constant tick tock traps his widow in a miserable, other-worldly existence.  She is doomed to constantly relive her own darkest moments of hating him, devising his murder and carrying it out.

The set is sparse: two simple chairs face the audience on the right side and the left.  Between the chairs are several clocks on the bare wooden floor.  The two actresses keep to their respective sides of the stage, except at the very end of the play when their characters seem to have switched bodies.  Throughout the play, they each hold a telephone receiver with a long cord, connected to nothing.

The Clock poses questions without answers and presents confusion without clarity.  We know that the wife hates the husband enough to kill him, but we don’t know why.  We know that the power of the merciless clock is enough to drive her insane, but we don’t know if she was insane already.  We don’t know if his manipulating soul in the clock is proof of his malevolent nature, or a strange justice for the death of an innocent man.

Such a story walks invisible lines and forces the audience to follow and at times, run ahead, searching for sure footing.  Of course, surety never comes.  And isn’t that a mark of great storytelling?

For a story like this to be absorbing, the actresses need to be fearless and in total command of the material.   Here, Lucia Grillo and Amy Frances Quint mesmerized us as two sides of the same woman: Grillo embodied the aggression of anger and sexuality while Quint spiraled in fear.  Despite these differences, both sides of the character agreed that murder was the only solution.

Lucia Grillo, Photo by D. Condonesu

Grillo’s aggression sported many colors: an almost predatory sexuality and the deep misery that creates spitting anger.  She played with the phone receiver and cord almost as a cat plays with mouse.  The schemes brewing in her mind were almost palpable as she slowly poisoned her husband while encouraging him to have more.   At one point she screamed at her husband with such vehemence and repulsion that every head in the audience snapped to attention.   Grillo was all powerful, until the soul in the clock overtook her.

Amy Quint, Photo by D. Condonesu
Quint’s portrayal of the terrified aspect of the woman was such a thorough examination of fear that she actually came out the other side: her terror made her terrifying.  Pale and quivering, the phone cord wrapped ever more tightly around her neck.  We half expected a suicide at any moment.  Quint even crawled on her belly under her chair, trying to increase the distance between her and her husband.  The moment she understood that she would kill him rang like a bell.

As the woman’s character was split between two actresses, either of these portrayals in less capable hands could have been a one-note performance.  But each actress brought such nuanced understanding to their roles that neither personality was truncated.  Each was richly layered as they spiraled downward, deeper into madness and powerlessness.

The Clock/L’orogolio was directed by KIT founder and driving force Laura Caporroti.  She developed the material at World Wide Lab: A Director’s Feast, held in Brooklyn this summer.  “This is the most difficult and challenging piece by Buzzati,” says Caporroti. “It is impossible to perform it in a traditional way. At the World Wide Lab, we started with different exercises on the play’s words and objects and it became clear that the clocks and the phone were the focus of the play. Initially, the play was done separately in English and Italian. However, we improvised and tried to unify the two languages, and it worked much better.”

Who is Dino Buzzati?

Dino Buzzati (1906-1972) was a multi-faceted talent and leading figure in 20th century Italian literature.  He was a painter, poet and, from the age of 22 until his death, a journalist and crime news reporter for Corriere della Sera.  He wrote novels, plays for theater and radio, opera librettos, short stories, children’s books and was known as the Italian Kafka.  Perhaps his most famous work was the novel Il Deserto dei Tartari (The Tartar Steppe).

His writing style is often described as magical realism.  In his own words, Buzzatti understood that the “effectiveness of a fantastic story will depend on its being told in the most simple and practical terms.”

In the 1950’s Buzzatti created No Escape, a compilation of four works, each exploring women unable to control their own lives.  The works include The Clock, Striptease, The Switchboard Operator and Alone At Home.

What is KIT?

KIT is Kairos Italy Theater and is the preeminent Italian theater company in NYC.  Its mission is to create artistic exchanges between Italy, the US and the rest of the world.  KIT specializes in bringing works to New York stages that have never before been presented in the US.  Appreciation of these works is designed for everyone through KIT’s Double Theater Experience: one act performed in English and then in Italian.

KIT founder, actress, producer and director Laura Caporroti is always striving to expand KIT’s reach and deepen its relationship with the community.  To that end, KIT sponsors Italian cultural events such as the Italian Theater Festival and presents classes in Italian & Theater for children and adults. It is the theater company in residence at Casa Italiana Zerrilli-Marimo’ at NYU.

KIT productions are unexpected, thought- provoking and literate.  New York  is lucky to have KIT.

To learn more about KIT, click here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Italian Silent Films Give Voice to the Immigrant Experience

A frightened 13 year old boy, pretending to be brave, kisses his father good-bye before climbing, alone, onto a steamship in the Genoa harbor.  His father whispers, “Remember, you are on a mission from God” just before leaving his last embrace.  The child climbs onto the ship with his small bag of belongings, wondering what Argentina will be like and how long it will take to find his mother, last known to be working as a maid for a wealthy Argentinean family.

This is the opening scene of the Italian silent film, Dagli Appennini alle Ande (From the Apennines to the Andes) by Umberto Paradisi (1916).  The film is adapted from the classic short story Cuore (Heart) by Edmondo De Amicis, written in 1886.  I viewed this rare, restored film at Leshowitz Hall, Cali School of Music, Montclair State University.  An original score was performed live by Marco Cappelli and Chris Opperman.  The film was provided by the Fondazione Cineteca di Bologna.

Although the film was richly emotional and engrossing on its own, it appeared within a larger context of Italian silent filmmaking.  This information was provided by Dr. Teresa Fiore who holds Inserra Endowed Chair in Italian and Italian American Studies at MSU, and Prof. Jacqueline Reich of Cinema and Cultural Studies from Stony Brook University.  From both of their talks, a more detailed understanding emerged.

The short story upon which the film was based.

Prof. Reich opened her talk with film clips of two iconic representations of Italian immigration.  The first was from The Godfather Part II showing the young Vito Andolini (later Vito Corleone) smuggled out of Sicily and into America for his safety.  This film doesn’t tell the tale of the sea voyage itself, but focuses instead on his departure and emotional arrival in America.  The second clip was from 2006’s Nuovomondo (The Golden Door) which gives a rather detailed description of life aboard ship as it crosses the ocean, complete with its indignities and uncertainties.  Dagli Appennini alle Ande, made many decades before either of these examples, showed the loneliness and desolation of the young boy during his 27-day voyage.  However, his arrival in Argentina was not highlighted as a meaningful moment, perhaps because the rest of film followed the tortured search for his mother.

In Italy during the silent film era, venues for watching films were shared with other activities.  The phrase cinema ambulante (walking film) described the portability of these works, which were shown in a variety of places.  Opera houses, music halls, fair grounds and even churches (depending on the film) were quickly transformed into temporary movie theaters.

There were several genres popular with moviegoers at the time. Travelogues were often shown, allowing viewers who may have never left their villages with the chance to see what other countries might look like.  Films of natural disasters were also popular, such as the eruption of Vesuvius in 1906 and the earthquake of Messina in 1908.  During WWI, film was used to document many battles and general destruction.  Around 1916, a genre known as Diva Films emerged, featuring popular actresses in plots involving high fashion and high society.  Religious themes were also frequent celluloid topics.   

Meanwhile, across the ocean, New York was the center of American filmmaking and the city most densely populated with Italian immigrants.  This guaranteed an eager audience for immigrant-themed stories.  Many new Italian arrivals used these films as behavioral guides or cautionary tales. Either way, they were learning how to be American.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Alto Jonio Dance 2012

What do NYC’s Martha Graham School, Peridance Capezio Center, Steps on Broadway, Essence of Italy, Key West’s Modern Dance, Milan’s Centro Studi Coreografici Carcano and Calabria’s AAJ-TV have in common?  We all joined forces to sponsor Alto Jonio Dance 2012 Festival (AJD 2012) in Villapiana, Calabria, Italy

AJD 2012 was an international, week-long dance school and competition held at the end of July in Calabria’s seaside town of Villapiana.  It brought together high-caliber choreographers, performers and students from around the world.  Antonio Pio Fini, a professional dancer and Villapiana native who splits his time between Italy and Manhattan, envisioned a dance event that would invigorate the local state of the art.  Calling upon contacts made throughout his career, Fini brought together a wide array of professionals to teach multiple dance styles.  From NYC, Michael Mao of Michael Mao Dance Company, Megumi Nakayama, hip hop choreographer, and Nicola Iervasi, Artistic Director of Mare Nostrum Elements; from Philadelphia, Christopher Fleming of Ballet Fleming; from Japan, Rebecca Imaizumi, hip hop choreographer; from Milan, Elena Albano, choreographer and teacher of Martha Graham technique; from Turin, Davide Accossato, tap dance teacher and from nearby Lattarico, Gianlucca Blandi taught Pilates while also serving as AJD’s Producer. 

Students chose from a wide variety of movement styles, including ballet, hip hop, tarantella, Pilates, yoga, Martha Graham technique, modern, repertory, Latin and tap.  The students were from the local area plus Milan and Vienna.  For many of them, this was the first time they would be exposed to such a variety of styles taught by such accomplished teachers.  As the week progressed, the students became more of a family; taking classes, sharing meals, going to the beach and enduring the heat (it was about 113 degrees Fahrenheit).  When the competition arrived on July 31, they enthusiastically cheered each other on from the stands.  Among the scholarship winners were Stefania Coloru, who will study for a semester at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York and Marco Belsito who will study at the Centro Studi Coreografici "Teatro Carcano" in Milan.

The night of the competition was hosted by Milan TV broadcasters Tabata Caldironi and Francesco Mogol.  The audience was treated to beautiful performances by AJD winners from prior years: Filipo Stabile, who was the 2011 winner from Villapiana and Jonathan Campbell, the winner of the 2011 Emerging Choreographer award in NYC.   Campbell, along with Austin Diaz, performed the works that won the 2011 prize along with a stunning new composition.

Michael Mao received an award honoring his outstanding career and contributions to the world of dance. Nicola Iervasi joined the stage along with his Mare Nostrum Elements dancers for a joyous tarantella, to the celebratory rhythms of QuartAumentata, a Calabrian musical group who just signed with Sony Classical.

The winner of the Prize for Choreographic Composition, Antonella Perazzo (center) hugs Artistic Director Antonio Pio Fini, to his right, Gianlucca Blandi, Producer.

Response of the town of Villapiana

Villapiana is the small seaside town where AJD’s Artistic Director, Antonio Pio Fini, was raised.  Although surely a wonderful place to grow up, it has limited opportunities for anyone dreaming of a career in dance.  Fini wanted to present the next generation of dancers in his town with better experiences, so he created this summer school and competition.

The town responded by warmly welcoming the teachers, students, journalists and tourists who arrived for AJD 2012.  A poetry contest was held for local school students, the winner being Rosa Maria Galluzzi for her entry, “La Danza” (The Dance).  She received her award on stage, along with her proud parents, on the night of the AJD competition. 

Rosa Maria is the daughter of Celestina and Vincenzo, owners of Hotel Celestina where I had the good fortune to stay.  It has a two-star rating but it acts like a three-star.  The rooms are spacious and full of light, with comfortable beds and modern, large bathrooms. Celestina and Vincenzo are the kind of warm, hospitable people that you hope to meet to meet in a small, foreign place. 

A continental breakfast is included at Il Pirata, a festive cafĂ© at the end of the street.  Il Pirata was built by Celestina’s father, who calls himself the Pirate of Gelato.  (He also built the hotel and named it for his daughter.)  I sampled as many gelato flavors as possible during my stay and I want to return and try them again. And again.

The hotel is within walking distance of the dance studio, grocery stores, restaurants and the beach.  Our chosen beach was Lido Verde, which provided lounges and umbrellas, changing rooms and showers.  We ate many lunches and dinners at Lido Verde, which served luscious spaghetti al mare with lemon and olive oil (one of my favorites).  I enjoyed all of the fish dishes, which were simply prepared with fresh fish caught nearby.  My personal favorite was a thick slice of sword fish drizzled with olive oil and topped with chopped fresh parsley.  Lido Verde also serves its own selection of wines that went perfectly with lunch and dinner.

Villapiana threw a party for the staff and dancers of AJD in the town square on a crystal clear moonlit night.  Organized by Mayor Roberto Rizzuto and Cultural Attache’ Felicia Favale, the piazza was closed to all vehicle traffic while tables were spread with homemade local dishes of pork, eggplant, artichokes and beans, wine and desserts.  Delicious aromas filled the air.  Local families reached into their personal histories and brought out the handiwork that thrived in Villapiana in the past: delicately detailed needlework.  Bed linens and table cloths painstakingly embellished by the women from prior generations were proudly brought out to be admired and appreciated by this group of foreign visitors.  A young girl, dressed in the traditional Villapianese costume of centuries ago agreed to pose with me for a photograph.

Soon, the music started.  Young men who are local musicians played the frame drum and fisarmonica, inviting us all to dance to the rhythms of the tarantellas and pizzicas that rang for centuries in this region.  The next surprise was Antonio Fini performing his ritualistic fire dance on the cool piazza pavement.  I’ve watched him perform these fluid movements with flaming metal bolas on multiple New York stages, but the spontaneity and earthiness of this performance was truly special.  Antonio was joined by Gianlucca Blandi who, up to this moment, had been practicing with only unlit bolas.  He chose this night to be his fiery debut.  The combination of both dancers created a spectacle of strength and wonder.

It seemed to me that this is where all of the dances were meant to be done; in the dark, hot summer air.  Everything around us was ancient; the moon, the piazza, the songs.  We all danced, some barefoot, some not, under the beneficent light of the full moon.  In the midst of it all, my wonderful friend Tabata Caldironi danced up to me and said, “This is a perfect southern night.  Don’t ever forget this.”  Believe me, I never will.

To learn more and to join us for AJD 2013, visit altojoniodance.com.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Unlocking the Secrets of Campania

  The beautiful town of Agerola, province of Naples.

 The region of Campania includes some very famous places: the Amalfi Coast, the island of Capri and the cities of Naples and Sorrento. Not only are they beautiful and the favored destination of generations of celebrities, but even songs are written about them. Yet in some ways, they are victims of their popularity. They are quite crowded at certain times of the year and, to one extent or another, certain shops and restaurants can have a ‘touristy’ feel. But there is another side to Campania, a gentler, more spacious side. Small towns with their own traditions, cuisine and wine are nestled in the region’s hills and valleys. Many of these areas were the birthplaces of our Italian-American ancestors in the provinces of Avellino, Benevento, Caserta and Salerno. For example, in Salerno you can discover Roscigno Vecchio, locally referred to as ‘the town that walks’. Landslides have hit Roscigno Vecchio many times during its history, forcing the complete evacuation of its historical center to alternative locations. But its inhabitants moved en masse and rebuilt, while striving to preserve as many structures as possible. The latest evacuation occurred in the 20th century. The town is now considered an eco-museum dedicated to Italian life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It is located within a National Park and the Cilento World Heritage Site.

Stopping for a drink in Roscigno Vecchio. 

While you’re in Salerno, be sure to taste the soppressata, the tasty local salami and Mozzarella nella Mortella cheese. Primarily made in the small rural village of Novi Velia, it is made of cow’s milk flavored with myrtle leaves. You can always venture into the town of Agerola in the Province of Naples. Agerola is part of a nature reserve, the Latteri Mountains Park, and the starting point of the Trail of the Gods (Sentiero Degli Dei). This route affords uninterrupted, spectacular views of Praiano, Positano, Capri and Cilento. On the way, snack on Vesuvius Piennolo Tomatoes, grown on the foothills of the famous volcano. These small cherry tomatoes are some of the oldest agricultural products in Campania. You can often see them reproduced in woven baskets in the classic Neapolitan presepi. Of course, you’ll need cheese for your journey, so why not try Fiordilatte or Provolone del Monaco, two of Campania’s best cheese varieties? And what about the wine? The province of Benevento boasts the playful Falanghina, while Caserta offers Pallangrello and Casavecchia grapes, both harvested from the oldest cultivated indigenous vines in the region. Round out your impromptu picnic with chestnuts, honey, cherries and olive oil. No wonder Italians eat dinner so late in the day.

                                              Campolattaro, province of Benevento.

 These are only a few of the discoveries waiting to be uncovered in the quietly beautiful towns of Campania. And the Region of Campania would like to help you get the most out of your experience. Visit wecampania.it for more highlights and suggested itineraries. Buon viaggio!

Friday, May 25, 2012

Edible Treasures of Ascoli Piceno

Ascoli Piceno is the southernmost province of Italy’s Marche region, about 2 hours north of Rome. It borders the region of Abruzzo to the south, is caressed by the Adriatic Sea to the east and protected by the Apennine Mountains to the west. This little-known province is home to some wonderful delicacies. Food historian and author, Francine Segan, educated us all at a recent event held in NYC’s Princeton Club. For instance, Olive all’Ascolane is a taste sensation. These olives were already famous during Roman times for their pleasing, mild flavor. Start with the tender, succulent green olives that grow only in Ascoli Piceno. Knife peel each one by hand. Simmer 3 types of meat together and season to taste. Squeeze the meat into a small ball and wrap an olive around each one. Tap this stuffing into the olive 10 times. Dip each rotund olive into egg, flour and bread crumbs, then fry in hot olive oil. Yes, it takes hours. Yes, it’s worth it. Perfect for an antipasto or side dish, you’ll never think about olives the same way again. An unassuming little town in Ascoli Picenco, called Offida, is home to Cantina del Picchio, a restaurant where Francine swears she had the best meals of her life. The Cantina has an outstanding chef, Emilio Pasqualini, who serves up heavenly dishes on a daily basis in this out of the way place. Chef Pasqualini recently spent some time in NYC and, just before returning to Italy, prepared the olive all’ascolane for our Princeton Club event. According to Francine, he made 800 of them. Delicious.
Olive all'Ascolane ready for tasting. An award-winning egg pasta also comes from this region, Spinosi Pasta. Made with fresh eggs, superfine flour, salt and Spinosi’s own full-bodied olive oil, this pasta is rich in protein, Omega 3 and Vitamin E. It cooks in 3-4 minutes and is very porous, meaning that a little goes a long way and it quickly soaks up any sauce you serve with it. The flavor of this dry pasta rivals that of fresh pasta from other brands. You can find Spinosi Pasta at Di Paolo’s in NYC’s Little Italy or online. Ascoli Piceno not only offers food, but it is also a great source for wine. The Ciu’ Ciu’ Winery produces Kurni, which Joe Bastianich lovingly describes in his new book, Grandi Vini, An Opinionated Tour of Italy’s 89 Finest Wineries. I haven’t tasted that particular wine, but I have tried Oppidum from the same winery, and it has become a favorite of mine. It’s a smooth red with just the right amount of body. This winery is an organic operation and the reds have extremely low sulphite levels. If you prefer white wine, I highly recommend the Ciu’ Ciu’ Pecorino. It tastes like apricots, dandelion and honey, and I loved it. Ascoli Piceno has a colorful Carnevale in February and a Renaissance Faire in August that has the whole town dressed in period costumes. One of its landmarks is Caffe Meletti, voted among the Most Important Cafes in Italy. Not only is it an architectural masterpiece, but its guest list includes Ernest Hemingway and Jean-Paul Satre. To order from DiPaolo’s, visit dipaoloselects.com. For the wine, visit ciuciuvini.it To learn more about Ascoli Piceno, visit provincia.ap.it