It was a lunch doomed to fail. It was Monday, our “day off” and we decided to go for a little “slow lunch” to help our re-entry into Dallas after almost three weeks in Italy. A little research (click here for Bill Addison’s EATS blog review) led us to Villa-O, a new spot on Travis Walk in the Knox-Henderson area of Dallas.Upon entering the restaurant, two disturbing signs: a nautical theme that did not seem to go with the food, and a dearth of diners at high noon. Well, it was Monday after all, but still…Then an unthinkable third bad thing: mounted on the wall of the outdoor eating area were not one but two TV’s!! Beautiful they were, wood- framed and flat screened, but this was lunch, our break from the “real world”. And what was on those two screens? Blow by blow House vote torpedoeing the Bailout Package, matched only by a blow-by-blow tanking of the stock market. Food for thought? I think not. But at least the nautical theme fit now…..torpedoeing, tanking… (more…)
Archive for September, 2008
Â Â Â Â It’s the first week of school and the Adriatic beaches of Pescara and points north are full of white sand and furled umbrellas but little else. Â We headed north to Silvi Marina in search of local food and people and found few of either. Â Where the weather the week before had touched 100F, on this day the sky hung low and gray, with a crisp hint in the breeze that blew east to Croatia. (more…)
We visited San Galgano on a rainy Saturday.Â It’s a special church and vacant monastery in western Tuscany, famous for its sword in the stone. For those of us who are more familiar with the King Arthur version, hearing the Italian legend causes us to wonder about the synchronicity of events, or at least the similarity of images found in the human psyche. (more…)
Â Â Â Â We’re on the hunt for Donatellis here in Abruzzo. Â Great-grandfather Antonio was born in 1861 and came to the US in the 1880′s. Immigration records from Staten Island show only that he was from “Abruzzi”, no town, no notes.Â A gift from the children to grandson Robert Â on his 75th birthday sent him with us here with the dubious battle plan of driving around the region, Â dropping into towns, and asking if anybody had seen any Donatellis.
Well, OK, we found a few clues. Â A search on the web uncovered other Donatellis on the same mission and a critical mass of the tribe in Pescocostanzo, Sulmona, and Ateleta. Â We picked lovely L’Aquila as our home base. Â It is a town of about 80,000 only an hour or so from Rome, and has all the churches, forts, museums, piazzas, and restaurants needed to assuage a soul in search of its’ home.
Our first stop was Pescocostanzo, where a quick step into a local “alimentari”, or food store, revealed Domenico Gizzarelli, not a Donatelli, but a willing guide who offered to take us to the City Hall there to check out birth records. We returned on a week day and walked with him down Pescocostanzo’s decidedly Alpine-influenced streets.
A quick duck into City Hall provided clues, but no answers. Â Records from years prior to 1880 were not located there, so we were sent back to lovely L’Aquila to the regional registry, but not before a little more investigation. A trip to the tourist information center brought anecdotal news that the Donatellis were blacksmiths and alimentari owners, and that some local Donatellis owned a hotel near the top of town called Gatto Bianco, the white cat.
We headed up that way and found another Roberto Donatelli (same name as the birthday boy) who with his wife Patrizia own an exquisite eight-room hotel furnished with restored antiques, outfitted with sumptuous fabrics and walls and floors in native stone and wood.Â Â (more…)
Â Â Â Â Abruzzo delights with surprises, layers of a past not shared with more familiar regions. Â Prior to the reunification of Italy in the late 1800′s, this was Hapsburg territory, and the signs still linger, from the window box flowers to the Alpine pitched roofs with wooden eaves, to the surprising apertivo served in the town square of Sulmona: Â real Vienna sausages served with a little yin-yang of ketchup and mayo. Â Buon’ appetito and vive la difference!
Â Â Â Â St. Francis of Assisi’s sweet spirit lingers in this town that loved him and bears his name. Â The church sits, stark white against the Umbrian hills. Â Colonnades line the plaza where pilgrims slept. Francis was a bit of a rebel in his day, founding a new order of monks who lived together without rank, as brothers. The area was disputed, with bitter fights for sovereignty, so much so that the Pope encased the saint’s remains in stone under the church for centuries. Â Today, you can venture to the lower chapel and stand in silence, viewing St.Francis’ rough-hewn sepulchre in a dark room, surrounded by his favorite contemporaries, along with modern day admirers and friends. Â It is good company, stitched together by the spirit of the saint that lingers here still.
Â Â Â Â We’re on the hunt for Italian roots in Abruzzo this week. Â Bob Donatelli turned 75 this year and his kids chipped in to send him and wife Maureen on a trip to Abruzzo. Â We’re here in lovely L’Aquila at the gateway of the Abruzzo region not listening to reports of banks failing and the dollar falling back home. Â And it’s easy to do: Â we are surrounded by rolling hills punctuated by medieval castles, strolling down piazzas lined with Rennaissance style buildings, dropping into St. Bartholomew’s church with a ceiling dripping with gold and frescoes.
On a search for the Donatellis, we dropped into Pescocostanzo, a city that is home to many Donatellis. Â It was a Sunday, with many a “chiuso” (closed) sign on stores and restaurants, the kiss of death to tourists.Â Â (more…)
To spend an early afternoon with Tuscan tour-guide-turned-author DarioÂ Castagno is to take a giddy roller-coaster ride back in time whereÂ memories of the Siena/Florence conflicts are still fresh (if second-hand).Â Dario, who was born in England but got here as quickly as heÂ could,Â gives those of us from somewhat sterile suburban environments aÂ sense of what it’s like to live here, in layers with the past.Â We started with a quick spin around Borgo Scopeto, a medieval hamletÂ gracefully turned luxe hotel at the gateway of the Chianti wine road.Â Â Dario gave us a brief history of the grand medieval battles betweenÂ Siena and Florence (the FlorentinesÂ always started it, by the way),Â two proud city states who could drop their native animosity whenÂ necessary to team up against the hated Pisa. (more…)
Piano means “slow” in Italian.Â Slow Food, slow down, you get the idea. We had a slow lunch with new friends Carlo and Silvia Volpi at OsteriaÂ del Contadino near Pisa which must be the best place around to haveÂ cooking in the “campania” or country style.Â It is out of the way butÂ we’ve been taken there twice now by locals, both times to greatÂ satisfaction.Â The interior is a little dusky and filled with hands-onÂ implements used for farming and cooking in days long gone by.Â TheÂ food is fantastic, and takes you back as well to a time, maybe notÂ even in your own life, when things were slower and richer.Â We lovedÂ the starter with prosciutto and sweet local melon, the appetizerÂ medley of local speciaties, the generous shavings of truffle on pastaÂ and gnocchi, and the unusual semifreddo served with a side of espressoÂ to top it off – literally to pour on top.
Due to a regrettable set of circumstances (replete with boringÂ
details) we found ourselves in Pisa gazing longingly at our
rental carÂ behind locked fences.Â Having shelled out â‚¬35 for a
New York-pricedÂ cab ride to our hotel the night before, we
decided to give the localÂ ”autobus” a try.Â