Earthquakes and Connections

Ciao Friends, Family and Loyal Readers:  And yes, you must be very loyal as it has been quite some time since our last post.  We are enjoying our summer, mostly in the Berkshires, and hope everyone else is enjoying their’s as well.

A lot has happened since our re-entry and we will share some of the more important events, especially as they relate to our beloved adopted City of Bologna.  Earlier this summer, the Emiglia-Romagna region suffered two serious earthquakes and a continuing series of aftershocks. These quakes were centered just outside of Bologna, but affected a substantial area of the region.  We were back in the States by this time, but quickly received emails and calls from friends, uncertain of our return, concerned about our safety.  We in turn, were very worried about our Bolognese friends and reached out to them immediately. The good news is that no-one we know was hurt, but friends did have some damage and trauma to homes, psyches and landmarks.  In Bologna itself, both the cathedral of San Domenico (from our Easter post) and San Petronio (our Palm Sunday and Piazza Maggiore posts) suffered damage. 

Perhaps affected most significantly was the home and town, San Giacomo delle Segnate, of our good friends Monica and Daniela and their family (see a delightful country weekend-part two post). Monica and her son, Romeo were already headed to Italy when the quakes first struck and decided to continue on.  The family home, Daniela’s place of work in Modena, and the sweet church in San Giacomo delle Segnate were all damaged, with the church tower collapsing.  The latter was hit during WWII and restored, so hopefully that will happen again. The family spent time at the beaches in Rimini and then in tents in the backyard at home for the balance of the summer.  Pictures of Giacomo’s birthday party are bittersweet with the children clearly enjoying water balloons and dunking for apples (remember these simple childhood pleasures?), but with the bedroom/tents in the background.   The aftershocks are ongoing with continuing fear on everyone’s part, especially the children.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected. 

On a more positive note, partially because of all this news from the region, we realized  just how connected we felt to the City and our friends there, and  are planning a visit to Bologna as an add-on to a long-planned trip to France in the early Fall.  “Our” apartment, la Nostra Casa, is not available this Fall, so we have rented an apartment on Via Fondazza, just across the street from where Giorgio Morandi lived and worked for a substantial part of his life (see Morandi immersion post). We both hope that some of his creative energy infiltrates these two finance and accounting professionals!  We were also asked by the University of Bologna to teach a seminar in the Spring of 2013, and while that has not been finalized by either us or the University, it does seem likely(we guest-lectured there last Spring).  And our friend Hope, from Cono’s Italian class, is about to move with her husband for their 2 year stay in Florence.  So we are happy to report, earthquakes and all, that our connections with Bologna continue.  Happy Summer to All!

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Re-entry

Dear Friends, Family and Loyal Readers:  It is Sunday, June 10th, just five or so weeks after we returned to our home in New York after our amazing two month stay in Bologna.  We have received quite a  number of compliments about the blog, for which we thank you.  It is fun to write and also to know that people are reading and enjoying it.  We have also received a few “complaints”, which we consider compliments as well, that the blog entries have not continued.  So here I sit tonight, with fingers to keys, to catch you up on our re-entry to NY and then in posts to follow, with our continuing connections to the region.

We were away for exactly two months, and the first good news to report is that despite our many purchases and appropriately huge-2 month-sized suitcases, our foresight sending heavier items home with Mom and later, Mark and Jean,  plus mailing books back helped us to just squeak by under the weight limit on the flight home.  You may recall on the flight over, our bags were so heavy that it was not a matter of paying an extra fee, but they simply would not be taken.  A hilarious, frantic and hasty re-packing with Mom saved the day on the way over, but we did not want a repeat performance on the way back, and Mom had already gone home with her suitcases.  Packing and trying to weigh these large suitcases at the apartment on a scale meant for two feet was funny and difficult at the same time.  Thankfully, at the airport they only weighed the suitcases and not our Emilia-Romagna food filled bodies!  A quick aside on that:  Seriously, neither of us, nor any of our visitors, gained any weight during our time there which we found amazing.  We attribute this, gratefully, to the Mediterranean diet, lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of chicken and fish, and miles of walking/exploring to walk off the gelatos and pastries. 

We were happy to see our NYC apartment, but we arrived home to TONS of mail to sort through.   Although Mark and Jean brought some of the first class mail with them on their visit,  there were half a dozen or eight crates of the stuff in our office waiting to be opened. Although a good part of it was catalogs (yes, there is a shopper in the family) and magazines, we still had a daunting task to deal with the balance of it.  Three days after we arrived home, we were on the road again.  Eileen’s friend from kindergarten, Mary, was being inaugurated as the 220th President of the New Jersey Medical Society.  Although we were loath to pack a bag, especially since the Bologna bags were still not completely unpacked, we did just that and headed to a formal gala in southern New Jersey to celebrate with Mary, her family and other friends.  Mom was there too, since she is also good friends with Mary and her Mom.  So began our delightful process of catching up with friends and family, whom we missed dearly while we were away.  Back in New York City for just two nights, we then took the train to our upstate NY home to pick up our car.  Why pay for NYC parking for 2 months when we have a perfectly good garage upstate? It was good to see all the flowers and trees starting to bloom there and get a taste of what awaits us for the summer.  So the first week home, we slept in three different places, not the most conducive for coping with jet-lag, but nevertheless, necessary and in some cases, fun.

Our re-entry to New York life was not as easy as we thought, although truthfully, I am not sure either of us gave it much thought ahead of our return.  But while we were away, we did live a different life in a different City, with a different social circle, and it was hard to flip back to our “regular” life.  It is very different from being on vacation for two or three weeks or even being on a long cross-country bicycle ride in te US.  Of course, seeing Mom and the granddaughters regularly are both real treats, and by now, we have caught up with most of our friends, dug out of our mail and attended to our respective businesses.  But we miss the simpler life we had back in Bologna, and are already planning our next visit.  More on that and other connections to come…  Buona notte!

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Our Final Week

Dear Friend, Family and Loyal Readers,  You can tell just how busy a week it was due to the length of time it took to post this entry and this work stuff sure has a way of interfering with our last week here in Bologna!  Our last week here (for this stay) was so busy, and full of emotions, both happy and sad.  As we mentioned in our last post, both of us have out of the country Board meeting which involves 2 days of travel for Eileen and four for Cono.  Returning to our adopted city after being out of the country, we both experienced a feeling, not of (re)entering a foreign country, but of coming “home”. The rest of our time we start to pack, no easy feat after two months, and have many “lasts”: last dinners with different friends, last walk at Piazza Maggiore, last coffee shop stop, last shopping and of course, last gelato or two. 🙂

Like kids at the beginning of summer vacation, when we first arrived, two months felt like we had all the time in the world.  Now  with the end our stay looming like the analogous end of summer, Labor Day weekend and back to school (NY) fast approaching, we can’t believe how fast the time went.  And how many things there are still left on the “list” that we still want to do.   With a couple of days more available than Cono, Eileen goes to the Palazzo Pepoli to see the museum of the history of Bologna.  This is another museum sponsored by Genus Bononiae, right on our very own Via Castiglione.  The splendid backdrop of this medieval building contracts starkly with the very modern, interactive methods of telling the fascinating history of the City.  For future visitors, make this part of the beginning of your stay instead of  leaving it to the end.  It is worth devoting at least a half a day there learning about the many changes in the development of modern Bologna from the Etruscan times to the building of the Via Emilia to the present day voices.  There is a 3D video and other great interactive exhibits. For non-Italian speakers, make sure to first pick up a free booklet containing English translation of the exhibit descriptions at the gift shop.

Packing as we mentioned is a chore since we have “spread” out over the course of our stay and it is a rather large apartment.  Good heads up, if we might say so ourselves, was sending a fair amount of unneeded items back with Mark and Jean after their stay, and the mailing home by Cono of his many heavy Italian books and other items when he went to his Board meeting in Chicago.  We do not want a repeat of the scene from our outbound flight when our bags were significantly overweight and have to redistribute in a hurry at check-in at JFK airport.  As a reminder, at a certain point, it is not a matter of paying extra fees, the airline will simple refuse to take your heavy bags.  We also leave two bags of extra wine from our festa with our gracious good friend, Maria Teresa.  We will either be back or she can have another party in our honor.  We hope these two alternatives are done together.

The toughest part of the week are our good-byes to our many Bolognese friends.  This has been a special and vital part of our stay here, and we try to see or speak with everyone before we leave.  Dinners are shared with friends at restaurants that have been on the list to try, and we find some new favorites.   All in all, our final week is bittersweet, with many hugs and teary eyes, as we reflect on the wonderful adventure we shared, the many new friends we have in our adopted City, and the dream now converted to a unforgetable memory.  So we tell everyone arrivederci for now, but plan to be back.  More on that and our “Best  of Bologna” to come.  Stay tuned…

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Culture Vulture Weekend

Dear Friends, Family and Loyal Readers:  Our penultimate weekend continues on April 21-22 after la nostra festa with a relaxing clean up day on Saturday (fortunately greatly assisted the previous night by Svetlana, cleaning ace with a sense of humor and flair).   Now that our days left in Bologna are numbered in the single digit (for this visit anyway), and with both of us attending out of the country Board meetings in the upcoming week, we are doing our best to make the most of our last days here.

On Saturday evening, we take advantage of another wonderful free event sponsored by Genus Bononiae (www.genusbononiae.it), a terrific organization we mentioned in earlier posts, that really shows you the history, culture and buildings of Bologna.  When you come here (and we hope you do), make sure to pick up on of their brochures from the tourist office as they have many sites and events to offer.  This particular event is a concert of pianoforte di Baldassare Partore (Milano, 1799).  A talented duo plays a program ranging from Shubert to Mozart to Rossini and more.  At one point, one player apparently breaks a string on one of the two instruments. Fortunately, a gentleman in the audience,  a “string man”, is able to repair the broken chord and the concert continues to much applause.  Speaking of applause, for any program we have attended, the Italian audience will not leave without an encore.  They sit in their seats and applaud until an additional piece is performed, and it works every time!  As with most/all of the venues of Genus Bononiae, the site is as important or more so than the performance, and tonight’s is held in San Colombano, not far from Palazzo Fava (of “A Sunday to Savor”  post).  This is a church complex dating back to the VII century, and appropriately for tonight’s concert, houses a collection of ancient musical instruments.

On Sunday, we take the train to Parma, despite an announced strike (it is Italian custom to announce in advance a strike of something like the trains or post, and it typically lasts a day).  The weather has by now returned to it regular glorious springtime, and we have time before our planned afternoon opera.  There is an event taking place called “Una Dominica a Parma” (A Sunday in Parma) and it showcases local art, shopping and food, some of our favorite things.  We stroll through the street fairs in Via Garibaldi and Via Cavour, and pick up some small items for our granddaughters.  We then head to the Galleria Nazionale Parma (National Art Gallery; www.gallerianazionaleparma.it), which is housed in the former Farnese family palace.  The family also built an attached massive and fascinating wooden theater, now non-functioning as it is a huge potential fire hazard, and which we saw on our visit last year.  The Gallery, on our plans anyway, is free today due to the special celebration going on in Parma.  Va bene!

We start out in the first dozen or so rooms of pre-16th century paintings and see molto, molto Madonnas with Child; there is a particularly striking Madonna by Di Vinci. They are beautiful and it is interesting to see the developments over the centuries, but nevertheless we are happy to reach the 16th century portraits of other figures. Of particular note in this category are four portraits by four different artists of nobleman and Prince Alessandro Farnese at varying stages of his life (from 1569-1624).  The highlight of the gallery is the Correggio’s; he is one of the great masters of the Renaissance.  His real name is Gruppi d’ Angeli da Antonio Allegri, but is known as Correggio from his birthplace. Correggio’s frescoes can be seen at the Camera di San Paolo (Chamber of St. Paul) in Parma as well, which we also visited last year.   He lived and worked in Parma in the early 16th century. There is also a beautiful Parmigianino from the 16th century, St. Catherine’s Marriage, which was acquired in an exchange with the Uffizi in Florence.  

After our fill of the Gallery, we lunch at our favorite Parma restaurant, El Corsaro, and it is time to head to the Opera house.  We see Verdi’s Stiffelio, wonderfully performed by the resident company; the soprano singing the part of Lina is particularly strong.  The opera house itself is  an ornate beige and gold, with many levels of boxes, but a relatively small house.  We are amused by an American class of high school students, all dressed up for the occasion, and having a grand time taking photos of each other from the fourth tier boxes. 

A post opera gelato is essential on a sunny Sunday in Parma, and we happily oblige before heading to the crowded train (due to the strike and cancelled trains) back to Bologna.  And that is a culture vulture weekend, Emilia-Romagna style!

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La Nostra Festa

Dear Friends, Family and Loyal Readers,  Our penultimate weekend in Bologna is a busy one and we begin it on Friday, April 20th, with a festa (party) for our Bolognese friends at our apartment here. Our friends are a very important part of our life no matter where we are, and Bologna is no exception.  In fact, our budding (at the time) social  network last year was a key, if not deciding factor in our choice of this City to spend our two months abroad in Italy.  When recently asked at a luncheon what we liked best about Bologna, our first answer is the people, who are warm, genuine, and welcoming. Certain other cities in the region are known as being more “closed”, but Bologna is the reverse and that has definitely been our experience during our time here.  We feel that our budding friendships of last year have now blossomed.

All good parties begin with the preparation, and we have a huge assist from Valentina, who not only recommends a favorite caterer, but then proceeds to help select the menu and interacts with them as they do not speak English.  Despite Eileen’s recent cooking lesson, she is not advanced enough yet to handle the varieties of foods and the expected number of guests.  We shop for wine, flowers and other party items as for example, there are not enough wine glasses to accommodate a crowd.  Fortunately, Valentina also has a local wine shop and an accessories place.  The flowers we handle on Strada Maggiore in a shop we have passed on our many walks on that favorite strada.  

We busy ourselves preparing the apartment, which very easily lends itself to entertaining, and soon we are ready to welcome our guests. We were just under 20 in total, including three delightful special guests in Carlotta and Giacomo, daughter and son of Daniela and Lorenzo, and young Valentina (not the one of Dozza and catering fame), daughter of Angela and Matteo.  In fact, some of the best party photos  were taken by Valentina, 5, who is quite the budding photographer, and a bit strict when lining up her subjects for a group shot!  And we thank her Dad for sending along many fabulous photos. Our guests come bearing gifts, some of which will be consumed here, and others back in NY; all are lovely and appreciated mementoes of the flavors we have come to love here in our adopted City. And speaking of young artists, Carlotta paints us a beautiful card that will be treasured.  Sadly, Monica, who introduced us to so many friends, is back in Boston with Romeo and Michael, and will not be here, but sends us a lovely note.

The festa food is delicious, consisting of several different hot hor d’oeuvres, two lazagnes (one Bolognese with meat and the other verdure, with vegetables),  a beautiful Panetone consisting of a stack of a variety of small sandwiches, a small salad, each in individual cups, spiedini di frutta (fruit on sticks, again beautifully presented with half oranges as a base; friends at home-look for this at our home during the summer) and a variety of rich cremes for dolce (dessert). We unfortunately did not photograph the food, as it was consumed rather quickly! We are sure we are going to get more comments on gaining weight here, but it was all delicious and worth every calorie (plus the portions were small)!  🙂

We made a small toast with Prosecco thanking our friends for opening their hearts, homes and families to us, and we plan that we will meet again one way or another. Here are some photos from the party:

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Morandi Immersion

Dear Friends, Family and Loyal Readers, This has been a week for  seeing and learning more about the famous Bolognese artist, Giorgio Morandi.  Thanks to Walter and Ed N.’s  enthusiastic recommendations ,  this week we visit the Morandi Museo and Casa Morandi, his studio (this due to Ed).  The Morandi Museo is in the Palazzo d’ Accursio (see post: A Lively Sunday in Bologna) and Casa Morandi is a 10 minute stroll from our apartment on Via Fondazza, between Strada Maggiore and Santo Stefano, two of my favorite stradas.  (a note for John Grisham fans:  “The Broker” (2005) for a substantial part takes place in Bologna, and the broker’s safe house is on Via Fondazza.  The book is a good read if you are visiting here, as it has many, I believe accurate, facts about the City.). Georgio Morandi (1890-1964) is famous for his still life (morta natura), floral and landscape paintings as well as his intricate etchings.  Many of still life works were donated by his sister to the Morandi Museo and are part of the permanent collect there.   Also current on loan from Pavarotti’s three daughters are his private collection. (Pavarotti is from nearby Modena.)  He is clearly a minimalist, and his works are most typically of everyday objects that one would find in a kitchen or workroom. Most famous is his depiction of a funnel like object ubiquitous in his still lives.   There are of course no photos allowed, but you can view  images by googling his name. See also: http://www.mambo-bologna.org/museomorandi/.

  

From google images.

As mentioned in our early visit and post, the Palazzo d’Accursio or Palazzo Comunale, which houses the museum, is also the town hall.  It is a stunning building in Piazza Maggiore, worthy of a visit in and of itself.  On Wednesdays, admission to the Museum is free, but worth the ticket price regardless of the day.

Equally fascinating is the story of the artist’s life.  Although stories vary, by all accounts he was a recluse.  Unmarried, he lived and worked for virtually his entire life in an apartment on Via Fondazza (from 1910-1964).  Two of his sisters lived there as well, and one, Maria Teresa, had the foresight to preserve much of his work.  She is the one who made the large donation that is now part of the permanent collection of Museo Morandi.   The common everyday objects of his painting were those that were in his apartment/studio.  We also see the olive tree in the courtyard that inspired “Cortile (courtyard) di Via Fondazza”.  And a postcard of the George Washington bridge on a working table caught the eyes of these New Yorker’s. The house on Via Fondazza,  sponsored by both the Comune of Bologna and the University of Bologna is now open to the public, but call first as there are limited hours. It is in the city center, about a 10 minute walk from the Piazza Maggiore, and definitely worth a visit to see how this twentieth century artist lived and worked.  P.S.  The sun also shone for a couple of days this week.  Va bene; all is well as we get ready for our festa.

From google images.                     From Eileen’s images.

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Cooking with Big Carlo

Dear Friends, Family and Loyal Readers,  Our dear friend Rita, has a saying that goes something like: “When was the last time you did something for the first time?”, and although this trip is filled with many such experiences, on Monday, April 16th, Eileen has a special one.  She is signed up for a cooking lesson with the Bologna Cooking School  (www.bolognacookingschool.com) and “Big Carlo”, its president and head chef, highly recommended by another BG friend, Nina.  All good cooking starts with the right ingredients, so Eileen meets Big Carlo and her fellow chefs for the day (an American and 2 sisters from Wales) at the food markets in back of our apartment.  There we examine the now familiar markets with a local expert, checking tomatoes, bread, vegetables, and the all important meats for the ragu sauce and tortellini. 

That’s Big Carlo himself (yes, he is a big man and enjoys his own cooking) outside the meat market, where we look but do not buy.  That is saved for choice meats properly trimmed and ground at the shops of friends outside of the central market area. Shopping is not complete without a coffee/espresso at a local shop, and we have one on Oberdan, close to the markets.

As you can see, (to Stefanie’s comment), there are a wide variety of blends and related cost, including the “Cheap Bastard” at .80 Euro!  We also stop at an embroidery shop along via Indipendenza where Carlo has our previously purchased aprons personalized with our names to make us “official”.   We arrive back at Carlo’s apartment, close to the train station and the Porta Galliera, where we meet Luciana, and Gabriella, Carlo’s 82-year-old sister, who will help us make pasta!  It is hard to believe that 2 simple ingredients, a very soft flour and eggs, plus a lot of pectoral muscle, are all that go into the food we all love so much!

The group makes and rolls enough dough for tagliatelle (wide spaghetti), tortellini, and  tortelloni, all typical pasta of Bologna.  Tagliatelle is served with ragu sauce, which we also make, and the secret is in the meats (ground beef and pancetta).  Tortellini is stuffed with a mixture of mortadella (a very rich bologna type meat a stratosphere away from its American counterpart) as well as pork loin and prosciutto, and tortelloni is stuffed with ricotta, spinach and parsley.  We learn how labor intensive these last two pastas are as we make them all by hand in the course of the lesson.  And we understand why they are typically made by hand once a year by the entire family, usually for Christmas eve, as they are quite time-consuming.  No pasta machines in Big Carlo’s apartment!  After our hard work, we enjoy the fruits of our labor, accompanied by delicious prosecco, red Sangiovese, and dessert wine for the appropriate courses:

We leave after a full day, with new friends, a recipe booklet, and literally full of our home-made creations, and full of our sense of accomplishment. Eileen is not sure if she will ever make pasta by hand again, but can say that she has done it and enjoyed/appreciated it.  And then she promptly goes home for a nap! 🙂

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