Italian bacon and eggs: Italy’s obsession with American food (no, this isn’t a joke)

Above: when I first started coming to Italy 30 years ago, bacon was still called pancetta. Now it’s called “bacon” in Italian.

Tracie and I landed in Italy yesterday with our daughters, ages 4 and 6. It’s their first real trip to Europe (since our oldest doesn’t have any recollection of our visits here when she was just one year old; and our youngest only made it here previously in utero).

When we told them about our summer trip this spring, they were concerned — gastronomically speaking.

“Daddy, daddy, we can’t go to Italy!” they protested vehemently. “They won’t have the things we like to eat there!”

“They have LOTS of good things to eat in Italy!” Tracie and I laughed and smiled.

“Do they have pizza in Italy?”

“Yes, of course they do,” I told them. “In fact, the Italians invented pizza! They have the best pizza in the world.”

They seemed genuinely impressed by this historical tidbit but then came the culinary litmus test that would determine their willingness to join their parents in the Garden of Europe:

“But daddy, do they have bacon in Italy?”

Above: bacon and eggs is now commonly found on menus in northern Italy.

It must have been seven or so years ago when my Italian bromance Giovanni took me out for (truly excellent) hamburgers and I noticed that the cured pork belly was cut and smoked not like traditional Italian pancetta but like American bacon.

In the time since, “bacon” — as it is now called in Italian — has become ubiquitous in northern Italy.

Above: a hamburger I ate last month in Franciacorta. Note the bacon.

Italians love LOVE hamburgers. They love them so much that they don’t use butcher scraps to form the patties. They use the highest quality beef they can find. And beyond the myriad fast food restaurants that now sadly dot the northern Italian countryside, the omni-present amburgheria (hamburger house) never uses the hydrogenated-oil buns that we adore in America. Instead, they use artisanal buns.

I’ve had some of the best hamburgers of my life in Italy in recent years. And that’s coming from an all-American, huge bacon-cheeseburger fan.

Bacon and scrambled eggs are also immensely popular now in northern Italy. Two years ago, I snapped the above photo of the dish in a run-of-the-mill trattoria in downtown Milan, ordered at lunch à la carte.

Above: bacon fries with Pecorino sauce (no joke) at the same amburgheria in Franciacorta.

Giovanni is graciously hosting our family this month at his place in Franciacorta. And being the generous and thoughtful friend that he is, he went grocery shopping for us before we arrived. The bacon in the top photo is awaiting our girls in his fridge as they slumber.

Back at home, we spend SO MUCH money on high-quality, wholesome bacon. Here in Italy, even when they cut the bacon from top hogs, the price is still very reasonable.

Leave it to the Italians to “misunderstand” American cuisine and make it all the better along the way. My only worry is: will our children ever want American bacon again?

We arrived safely and soundly yesterday afternoon in Milan and made our way to Franciacorta before the heavy rain began to fall. The girls have already spotted their first bunnies outside of Giovanni’s apartment and they loved the fresh fruit that Giovanni’s mom had prepared for them. Aside from a lost bag (mine, thank goodness, not Tracie’s with all the girls’ things), we’re already having a great time. Thanks for reading and buon weekend a tutti!

My Italy, although speech does not aid those mortal wounds: the Italian Republic’s populist tide

Above: the Euganean Hills where the Italian poet Francis Petrarch (1304-1374) spent his last years transcribing his life’s work.

“My Italy, although speech does not aid those mortal wounds of which in your lovely body I see so many, I wish at least my sighs to be such as Tiber and Arno hope for, and Po where I now sit sorrowful and sad” (translation by Robert Durling).

The above passage, the opening of the most famous of Francis Petrarch’s political poems in Italian, came to mind last week when I read the news that Italy would have a new governing coalition formed by racists and nationalists.

The news also made me think of my dissertation advisor, the Italian poet Luigi Ballerini, whom I recently saw in Milan where he was born in 1940. His earliest memories, he has often told me, are of Nazi soldiers retreating from the city atop their tanks, bare-chested in the heart of winter. Luigi never knew his father, who was killed by fascists on a Greek island.

Today, Matteo Salvini — an avowed racist, nationalist, and Euroskeptic (not to mention a confidant of Steve Bannon, who now resides in Rome) — has come to power in Italy (see this Fox news account of one of Salvini’s campaign rallies from earlier this year).

The Italian papers reported yesterday and the English news media is just beginning to file its reports on Salvini’s freshly forged alliance with Viktor Orbán, the hardline anti-immigrant and openly anti-Semitic prime minister of Hungary. Together, they plan to re-write the EU’s rules on immigration — Salvini and Orbán’s shared cause célèbre.

Before he cleaned up his act and tried to affect an air of respectability, Salvini was renowned in Italy for his overtly racist rhetoric. In 2009, he proposed (as a joke, he later claimed) that foreigners riding the subway in Milan be forced to wear stars on their clothing to denote their immigration status.

Even when I’m Italy teaching for an Italian university, I’m technically an extracomunitario, an alien. Will he require that I wear a star when I take the train?

Tomorrow, I’ll head off again to Italy for another two weeks of teaching at a university there. This time, I’m taking my wife and our two young daughters with me. We took our oldest daughter to visit the country when she was just a baby. She has no memories of our time there. So this trip, which we’ve been planning and talking about for weeks, is their “first trip to Italy.”

It makes me think of my first trip to Italy, in 1987 when I studied the history of Italian language at the University of Padua. I’ll never forget meeting and interacting with other foreign students from the Middle East and Africa then. I can only imagine, with dread, how they perceive Italy’s current political climate. I can hardly fathom their concern for their children’s futures.

When I saw Luigi last month in Milan, where he is living permanently now, he told me that he doesn’t recognize the Italy of his adolescence, a time when economic prosperity and liberal attitudes locked arms to create a culture of hope, tolerance, and humanism there.

Machiavelli famously closed The Prince with these lines from the same poem by Petrarch:

“If only you would show some sign of piety, then virtue against rage will take up arms, and battle will be short, for all that ancient valor in the Italian heart is not dead” (translation by Mark Musa).

Hope still shines in the distant future, dimmed and diminished but still flickering. Let us pray that the not-so ancient valor in the Italian heart is not dead.

In memoriam: Pietro Cheli (1965-2017)

Photo by Giovanni Arcari.

Who Was Pietro Cheli
by Giacomo Papi
Il Post Libri
November 6, 2017
(translation mine)

At dawn on Monday, November 5, 2017, Pietro Cheli died in his bed as the rain fell over Milan.

“I’m fine,” he had told his wife Alba Solaro shortly before the moment arrived. He may not have realized that it wasn’t true.

He was born in Genoa in 1965. He was 52 years old. He often said he would pass soon. Genoa was his favorite soccer team. He was a cultural journalist, meaning that for his entire life, he had worked in publishing, reading and publishing books, appearing at presentations, speaking on the radio, on television, and editing culture columns at the newspapers where he worked.

First at Il Giornale and La Voce with Indro Montanelli; then at Glamour and Diario with Enrico Deaglio; and finally at Amica where he was the magazine’s deputy editor. He was one of the great “men-machines”: When it came time to close an edition, he had an incredible capacity to edit its pages with a level of concentration and attention that made it appear seamless and almost easy.

He was a voluminous man whose enthusiasms and aversions often overflowed. He was a generous and contrarian man who sometimes used his body — his belly mostly but also his hands — as his own language. He could use it to spark the interest of strangers, intimidate his adversaries, and embrace his friends. Going by appearances, he seemed a man unafraid of the world and a singular voice of culture. In fact, he struggled with his doubts as to whether he should join in or keep his distance.

He hid but also rallied behind the character he had created. His way of hiding was by taking up all available space.

After they met, Luis Sepúlveda put him in one of his books. He called Cheli “a portly detective nicknamed ‘the Brooklyn Bambino’ by the homicide squad.”

Even when he spoke ill or gossiped about some one — as he often did, especially when it came to those he felt had usurped a position of power they didn’t deserve — his perspective was shaped by his disappointment and his amusement at the human comedy. But he never grew angry. He wasn’t ever able to avoid fools and hangers-on because he knew that fools and hangers-on nearly always had stories to share. And I believe it was also because he didn’t want to hurt them.

He was an elegant man (years later, he still laughed about an article that appeared in a Genoa newspaper wherein the author wrote he had “the elegance of a Finollo,” an old men’s store that catered to Genoa’s upper classes). He was a man full of wit. He could lash out but he also knew how to protect.

When he liked someone, he always knew how to identify the perfect anecdote or mannerism to describe him. He would reveal it for everyone to see, whether he intended to screw that person over or make him a legend.

As he lay dead in his room, he was elegant and rotund, surrounded by his books. He was cherubic, like a peacefully slumbering adolescent’s big baby doll.

*****

See this video of Pietro speaking (in Italian) about his recent book I’m A Racist But I’m Trying To Quit.

We’ll miss you dearly, Pietro.

Italy’s “no” vote and Italians’ certain uncertainty

roman-ruins-italyA lot of people have asked me to share my insights into Sunday’s referendum on political reform in Italy and the implications of the Italians’ resounding “no” vote. (In case you’re not following the New York Times, check out this recent coverage of the fallout from this week’s vote, an overview of why it could prove to be a pivotal moment in Italy’s new future and the stability of the European Union and its currency.)

On my last visit to Italy, the first night I was in the country in early November, I was invited to a dinner party at the home of a successful hairdresser. The 8 or so guests (give or take a few that stopped by to say hello) were all progressive middle-aged professionals, people more or less my age and like me. Naturally, they grilled me not for dinner but on my thoughts about Donald Trump and could he possibly be elected president?

As in many Italian homes during dinner, the television was on full-blast throughout our repast. There was a lot of coverage of earthquake relief (central Italy has been struck by a series of major earthquakes this year and many ill-prepared hilltop towns there have been devastated by the powerful seismic activity). Art historian Salvatore Settis (whom I knew during my Scuola Normale and Getty days during grad school) was on, talking about his new book, If Venice Dies. And of course, there was coverage of the December referendum on constitutional overhaul.

When I shifted the conversation from Trump to the referendum, the table fell silent. Not one guest at the dinner party wanted to break the brio of the evening by unleashing polarizing, divisive thoughts and feelings on the subject. Amen. And so it was.

According to most accounts, youth unemployment in Italy continues to hover at 40 percent. When we complain about the lack of job opportunities for young people in the U.S., we often don’t realize that our outlook is much rosier than for nearly all of our European counterparts. And Italy, where economic recovery from the years of the financial crisis has yet to take hold, is facing challenging times ahead.

I work in and write about Italian wine, but my life in Italy brings me into contact with people there from all walks of life (thanks to the many years I lived, studied, and worked there). Among my peers, the only people I see who are thriving are those who have created their own small businesses. Most of the people I went to school with enjoy job security (mostly in publishing and marketing) but many are deeply disheartened by their inability to change their economic status or provide greater economic mobility for their children.

I even have a few friends who are postermen for Italian mammismo. The only difference is that, at 50 years old (like me), living with your mother is no longer cute.

The economic challenges of middle-class life in Italy have been weighing on my peers and counterparts for more than a decade (the seeds of the current status quo go back to the demise of the corrupt socialist coalition in the 1990s). This seemingly unsurmountable intractability was likely what prompted the silence that fell over the table when I asked my dinner companions to share their thoughts about the referendum. Better to embrace the brio of the moment than to bust open the fears and insecurities that brimmed beneath.

On Sunday night, after the results of the referendum were clear, a good friend of mine wrote the following on his Facebook. He’s a successful winemaker who also works in a political lobby for farmers and grape growers.

Listening to [Massmo] D’Alema laughing on the radio, saying that today was a great day, with the Elio e Le Storie Tese song “Land of Persimmons” in the background, makes me realize that we are definitively SCREWED [sic] as a nation.

Happy Monday to all the people who will continue to break their backs to make their businesses succeed, to all the people who are creating jobs as they try to show foreigners that we are something more than the “Picturesque Country” in [actor and comic] Enrico Montesano’s “English Lady” [skit].

I’ve embedded the videos of the song and the skit below. His mood, I believe, is representative of many successful middle-aged Italians who view the EU and constitutional reform as vital to Italy’s future.

The populist movements, on both the far right and far left in Italy, see the outcome of this week’s vote as an opening for their agenda (although a streamlining of the Italian parliament, which would have been set into motion had the result been “yes,” would have also opened political channels for Italy’s rising populist parties).

To understand the implications of the vote and its probable legacy, see this New York Times piece, “A New Wave of Popular Fury Could Hit Europe in 2017.” In it, Alissa Rubin writes:

“The political demise of Mr. Renzi, the Italian prime minister, and his reform agenda removes an unabashedly pro-European leader who had hoped to ignite economic growth by ending an era of crippling budget austerity. Instead, he may be remembered for creating an opening for politicians who are openly hostile to Europe and the euro.”

Renzi’s fall could very well usher in an era when Beppe Grillo’s Five Star movement enters into the mainstream of Italian politics (again, see the Rubin’s piece for the Times). It’s probable that Grillo will call for a referendum on leaving the Eurozone (the first step in leaving the EU). If Italy, a founding member, were to leave the EU, it’s likely that the union would collapse.

It’s hard for me to believe there would be a moment in my lifetime, let alone my children’s lifetime, when the future of the EU could be in question. But then again, I never thought it possible that a populist candidate like Donald Trump could be delivered to the White House on a fundamentally bigoted platform.

The one thing that is certain about the results of Sunday’s vote in Italy is uncertainty. So many Italian wine bloggers love to quote the famous line from The Leopard: “everything needs to change, so everything can stay the same.” Scarcely do they know the portent of this utterance in the historical context in which it was first spoken and its deep-reaching relevance today.

In the wake of this week’s vote, maybe it’s more fitting to say: everything needs to stay the same so everything can change.

Amatriciana for Amatrice: Slow Food founder calls for restaurateurs and diners across the world to support Amatrice in year-long campaign

best amatriciana recipeAbove: my friend and client Tony Vallone’s Amatriciana here in Houston.

In Italy yesterday, Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini proposed that “every restaurant in the world” serve Amatriciana for the next 12 months and donate €2 for every dish served directly to the Amatrice municipal government (see bank info below).

The village of Amatrice (AH-mah-TREE-cheh), known for its production of salumi and its celebrated Pasta all’Amatriciana (ah-MAH-tree-CHEE’AH-nah, long noodles dressed with tomato sauce and sautéed guanciale, cured pig’s jowl), was virtually destroyed in this week’s devastating earthquake in central Italy.

Petrini’s proposal, “A Future for Amatrice,” is a long-term fundraising initiative intended to provide sustained aid to Amatrice and its residents even after the “emotional wave of the moment has passed,” he wrote in a statement released to mainstream and social media.

Here in Houston, my friend and client Tony Vallone was already a step ahead of Petrini: yesterday, he began setting aside $2 for every dish of Amatriciana he serves (above) to be donated to Italian Red Cross relief efforts.

Ammado is the official micro-donation for the Italian Red Cross: here’s the link to donate.

You can also donate through the Italy-America Chamber of Commerce Texas (another client of mine). The Chamber is taking donations through PayPal and will donate funds collected to Italian Government relief efforts.

And if you want to send money directly to the Amatrice municipal government, here’s the bank code provided by Petrini in his statement: IT28M0832773470000000006000.

The destruction of Amatrice and a string of picturesque hilltop villages in this week’s catastrophe is a tragic loss for the Italian people and the world at large.

See the op-ed published this week by political commentator Beppe Severgnini in the New York Times.

“And in the space of just one summer’s night,” he writes, “Amatrice is all but gone.”

A FANTASTIC trattoria in Trastevere (Rome) and a Befana to burn

Notes from the eternal city…

best trattoria trastevere romePosting in a hurry this morning for Rome before our group of writers heads to Salento for wine tasting, eating, and touring for three days.

But just had to share the tip: dinner at Tavernaccia in Trastevere last night was phenomenally good. No website but here’s the Google place page.

Not only did we eat one of the best spaghetti alla gricia I’ve ever had but we also had what we unanimously declared the best roast suckling pig in history.

Excellent wine list with lots of natty Friulian.

Thank you to Hande and Theo for turning us on to this amazing place. Some of us cried… it was that good. And the price was ridiculously affordable.

befana italy burnThis morning, my college-days buddy Steve shared this photo from Prato della Valle in Padua (my old stomping ground).

That’s the Befana, the witch who comes on the night of January 5 each year to bring children presents or lumps of coal. She will be burned later today, sweeping out the old and welcoming the new year.

Here’s the Wiki entry to learn more (really interesting to read up on the tradition’s origins, btw).

That’s all I have time to post this morning. Stay tuned!

How much does an Italian speeding ticket cost?

speedy ticket italy costIt finally happened to me: yesterday I received a snail mail from a rental car agency in Italy informing me of an administrative fee ($50!) they had charged me for a forthcoming speeding ticket from the Italian police.

They sent me a copy of the ticket but not the final fee. I’ve surmised that I will be charged a penalty for paying late (if you pay after 60 days from when the citation was issued, you are assessed a fine; you get a 30 percent discount if you pay with five days, it says).

I’ve done a lot of driving in my life. Between touring with bands and traveling for wine work, I’ve clocked a lot of miles over the years.

I’m an extremely cautious and defensive driver and I make a point of never speeding — even in Italy (just ask Giovanni or Paolo). The last time I got a speeding ticket I was 19 years old (nearly thirty years ago!).

But back in May of this year, a speed camera captured me over the limit in a little town in Tuscany. I must not have noticed that I had entered a 50 km per hour zone.

In looking around the internets this morning for information on Italian speeding tickets and fines, I found this page of the Italian State police site (those are the police who drive blue cars and where blue shirts as part of their uniforms).

But the information hasn’t been updated since new (higher) fines went into effect in January of this year.

The best and most recently updated page I could find was this one on an Italian legal blog.

Here’s my English summary of the fines relative to the speed over the limit.

Up to 10 km/h over the speed limit: €41 with a 30 percent increase if the infraction is committed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.

Between 11-40 km/h: €169 (and three points “subtracted” from your driving record; although I don’t how this affects foreigners).

Between 40-60 km/h: €531 (and six points subtracted; your license is suspended if the infraction is committed between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.).

More than 60 km/h: €828 (and ten points subtracted as well as suspension of your license for six to twelve months).

My ticket is in the 11-40 km/h range.

Until this time, I’ve never been issued any kind of traffic ticket in Italy. But I know that in the past, Americans often ignored the tickets.

Since Italy implemented its speeding camera network, the fines are unavoidable. Even in the case of a rental car, the ticket will reach you (as it did me).

The good news is that you can pay by wire transfer, which is actually really easy to do.

I’ll report more when I receive the actual ticket.

Hopefully, people who receive a similar notice from their rental car company will find this post useful (and helpful in reducing anxiety about having to pay a fine).

And for the record, I wasn’t driving that cute red 500 in the photo above. But it was the only image of an Italian car I could find in my archive to go with this post!

Pig ass king: a taste of culatello history at Antica Corte Pallavicina

corte di pallavicina do bianchiAbove: the culatello aging cellar at Antica Corte Pallavicina.

The earliest printed mention of cultatello I’ve been able to find dates back to 1931 in the Italian Touring Club’s Guide to Italian Gastronomy (the following translation is mine):

    culatello, a truly famous product from Busseto and nearby Zibello in lower Parma. It is prepared using the loins of the pig, seasoned with salt and pepper and then aged for six months indoors and outdoors.
    It is sliced raw and it is a highly refined and exceptionally delicious cured meat.
    Its fame stretches back centuries.
    In his History of the City of Parma [1591], Bonaventura Angeli recounts that at the royal wedding of Andrea of the Counts Rossi and Giovanna of the Counts Sanvitale in 1322, “excellent culatello” was sent by the Marquis Pallavicino from Busseto and Count Rossi from Zibello, both cousins of the betrothed. The culatello, adds the author, was one of the most prized entrées in the Pantagruelian banquet held to celebrate the occasion.

Thanks to Google Books, I was able to read the passage from Angeli’s 1591 chronicle of Parma and the note on the 1322 wedding of Andrea and Vannina (her name as it appears in Angeli’s book).

I’m sorry to report that there is no mention of culatello in the description of the banquet (which only occupies one line).

But this apocryphal anecdote has been reported countless times by contemporary chroniclers of Italian food who, like me, found the 1931 reference but, unlike me, did not go back to read the primary text.

The passage is significant nonetheless because it reveals how coveted culatello was in the first half of the twentieth century (at the peak of Italian fascism btw).

It’s also significant because of the mention of the Marquis Pallavicino, whose family figures prominently in Angeli’s book.

The Pallavicino family was a major power player in Parma throughout the middle ages and Renaissance.

And today, the Antica Corte Pallavicina estate (run by the Spigaroli brothers) is the spiritual home of culatello.

The estate’s two restaurants lie in the heart of lower Parma province, where the intense humidity (the Po river is literally a stone’s through away) is key to provoking the bacteria needed to produce culatello.

As the sorely missed Kyle Phillips wrote some years ago for About.com, culatello (literally, the little ass of the pig) “is made from the major muscle group one finds in a prosciutto … seasoned and lightly salted, stuffed into a pig’s bladder, tied to give it a pear-like shape, and then hung 8-12 months to cure in farm buildings in the Bassa Parmense [lower Parma], not far from the Po River, where the mist swirls through the windows, interacts with the molds on the walls, and imparts a hauntingly elusive something that makes all other cold cuts pale by comparison.”

On my recent trip to Italy, Barone Pizzini CEO Silvano Brescianini (my friend and client) generously treated me to dinner at the Antica Corte Pallavicina.

Following the opening amuse-bouche, the opening dish was the “podium” of 18-, 27-, and 37-month aged Culatello di Zibello.

Next came the tortelli d’erbette alla parmigiana al doppio burro d’affioramento delle vacche rosse (below): traditional Parmense stuffed pasta filled with finely chopped Swiss chard, ricotta, and finely grated aged Parmigiano Reggiano dressed in double-top-cream vacche rosse butter.

An incredible meal and what a sight to see those culatelli (above)!

Especially after our visit to the Corte Pallavicina, it’s not hard to understand why culatello is legendary among the world’s cured meats.

In the light of this, I hereby forgive the Italian Touring Club for their editors’ folkloristic attribution!

tortelli recipe emilia romagna

A history of Montalcino that I’m translating into English, a new and cherished project

stefano cinelli colombini barbi montalcinoAbove: I’ve always admired Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s writing and the “voice” that he has given to Montalcino and its wines.

Ever since I realized that I was never going to make a decent living by translating and writing about Italian poetry (one of the great passions of my intellectual life), I’ve tried to find ways to incorporate my academic interests into my work as a wine blogger for hire.

From Roman times to the current day, Italy’s cultural patrimony has continued to fascinate and inform the western world and its ars poetica, as it were, its aesthetic sensibilities. Nearly every art and literary movement today, from naturalism to the avant-garde, can trace its origins back to Italian intellectual life. Where would be today without Michelangelo… or Marinetti, for that matter?

Over the arc of my adult life and career, wine and food history has taken the place of prosody as a window that offers a humanist perspective into Italy and its many wonders, natural and crafted. Whether the etymology of a term like sovescio (cover crop) or my reflections on a Pasolini poem inspired by an Italian wine merchant in Mexico City, viticulture — the culture of wine and the vine – has become a pretext and conceit for writing about a cultural legacy that continues to bewilder me.

Legacy winemaker Stefano Cinelli Colombini’s writing first came to my attention via his posts for the popular Italian wine blog Intravino.

On more than one occasion, I found myself translating his work for posts on my blog or blogs where I have contributed as a reporter/journalist.

He is a superb writer and his posts made a deep impression on me because he is virtually the only member of the Montalcino community who speaks out regularly (and eloquently) on cultural and political issues that affect the wines, wineries, and people there.

We met and tasted at Vinitaly this year. And then we met again in May at his winery in Montalcino. When I proposed that we work together to produce a blog devoted to Montalcino, its history, its people, and its wines, he was enthusiastic. He had already launched a similar project, in Italian, years ago.

The result of our delightful conversations is MontalcinoBlog.com, a new online journal devoted to the history, life, and times of Montalcino — the appellation where I first discovered an interest and passion for viticulture as a student in Italy.

Currently, I’m translating Stefano’s excellent History of Montalcino from the Italian and I’m loving every minute of it.

Yesterday’s post — Montalcino History: Montalcino fends off the Medici’s troops and becomes Italy’s last free city — was a study of numismatics. Stefano’s notes on coins forged by Montalcino during the 1550s became a rabbit hole that had me researching Latin inscriptions during the Renaissance.

There’s an expression in Italian: pane per i miei denti, literally bread for my teeth or something I can really sink my teeth into.

Call me a kid in a candy store. It’s a dream job for me and I’ve been having a blast reading and corresponding with Stefano, whose erudition and knowledge of Italian history (not to mention his classic Tuscan wit) are as entertaining as they are thrilling.

Once I complete my translation of his history of Montalcino, we’ll move on to myriad subjects he’s covered in his writings and work. There’s much more groovy stuff to come.

Please check it out here and thanks for reading…

Maremma dispatch: the 1954 Ribolla coal mine tragedy

ribolla mine accidentA number of people commented yesterday on this photo, posted from the village of Ribolla (Roccastrada township) in the heart of Maremma (Tuscany) yesterday.

It’s a memorial to the victims of the 1954 coal mine tragedy there, which claimed the lives of 43 miners and shook Italy and its citizens just as the nation was rebuilding in the wake of the Second World War.

An explosion was caused by firedamp (a flammable gas) just as the miners had begun their morning’s work.

More than 50,000 persons attended the miners’ funerals, according to the Italian Wiki entry for Ribolla.

Here’s the only English-language account I could find.

The episode inspired the 1962 novel La vita agra by Luciano Bianciardi (published in English as It’s a Hard Life), which was adapted for the screen in 1964 by Carlo Lizzani.

The hills of the Maremma Toscana, which lie roughly 15 km from the sea, were a historical center for mineral and coal mining, with a legacy that stretches back to the iron age and the time of the Etruscans.

Viticulturally, Maremma is more widely known for its coastal vineyards. But today there is a growing presence of fine wine production in the hills that lie inland from the sea.

More on that later. Heading out now for my first appointment of the day in Montalcino…