Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

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No Baloney in Bologna

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Fountain of Neptune anchors Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore.

Story & Photo
By Cecil Scaglione

BOLOGNA —- Bologna’s location is one of its major attractions, said Na’ama, the young Israeli economist who came here to study at the oldest university on the continent.
“From here,” she said, “you can get on a train and in a short time be in Parma or Ravenna or Rimini.”
There’s also Turin, Venice, the Italian lake country, Padua, and Florence all within a two-hour train ride.
After a 45-minute ride, we debarked onto the comfortably clean streets of Parma and fine-tuned our noses to hone in on a local delicacy — not parmesan cheese but prosciutto di Parma. Cut thin enough to almost see through, this version of the Italian cured ham is tender on the teeth and has a keen flavor that still lingers.
The following day, we headed in the opposite direction to Ravenna, just off the Adriatic coast.
Before tracking down a site to gorge on a plate of overflowing seafood, we made our way to the Basilica di San Vitale to view 1,500-year-old mosaics that reflect the town’s tenure as capital of the Byzantine Empire in Europe for three centuries.
We stopped by Dante’s tomb on the way. Dante was tossed out of is native Florence after he picked the wrong side in the ongoing battle with the papacy. In exile, he wrote “The Divine Comedy” after taking up residence in Ravenna.
Incidentally, you won’t find any baloney in Bologna. The model for the U.S. version of the large round ground-pork sausage is mortadella, which houses delectable chunks of fat and, when copied on this side of the Atlantic, was dubbed bologna/baloney.
And the street-and-sidewalk no-baloney bustle convinced us we weren’t in the typical town when one thinks of somnolent sunny Italy.
The desk clerk gave us a polite but brisk “Bon giorno.” The fellows who put together our coffees, rolls and fruit in the eating emporium down the street must have known we weren’t fully awakened to local prices. The bill for a banana was more than $4, which taught us quickly to ask the locals where they munch.
The clerks in the bank where I set off alarms by trying to exit through the wrong door did not take operatic offense. They just politely pointed me to the designated door without much more than a polite shrug.
The point is, Bologna is as much business as badinage. But it’s still as much about food as finance.
For our introduction to what Bolognese boast about — tortelloni made on the premises — we checked with merchants in the old quarter. A florist suggested Trattoria da Gianni, a hole in the wall down a little alley that we would have overlooked. The proprietor ushered us to a table crammed amongst many jammed with men and women in office attire who gathered here for the same reason we did. The fine food.
After getting fortified with the local specialty, we moved on to visit the two leaning towers that anchor the historic downtown. While not as attractive nor as storied as Pisa’s I Torre Pendente, these two monoliths lounge unruffled by the hurrying hordes and beeping buses rumbling around their bases. They appear more attuned to the music and musings that emanate from the nearby University of Bologna grounds, where Copernicus and Dante once scurried to class.
There’s an outdoor market every Friday in the Piazza dell’ VIII Agosto on the rim of the commercial hub that offers everything from boots to bracelets. Merchants in the nearby market-and-bakery complex display an array of fruit, vegetables, breads and sweets to match all the sights and scents of one’s dreams.
Among them we found a fist-sized roll with thumb-sized studs poking out in all directions. They appeared on our table at Trattoria Fantoni, another enticing hole-in-the-wall eatery, where we watched other diners break off these protuberences and eat them as breadsticks.
Asked what these rolls are called, our server said: “Sputnik.”

– 30 –

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 27, 2015 at 7:16 am

Posted in Italy, Travel

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The Day Santa Died

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                         By Cecil Scaglione

                                                   Mature Life Features

  ‘Twas the day before Christmas. 

  We got to the butcher and picked up our gallantine for Christmas Eve and lasagna for Christmas dinner. Gallantine is a tradition here. A chicken is de-boned and stuffed with everything from prosciutto to pistachios and hard-boiled eggs to eggplant, then pressed and cooked, sliced and eaten cold. Got chores done while we were out – cash from the bank ATM, started the car, and checked out our last-minute grocery list — as a humid sirocco-like wind swooped in and made the town almost summery. Lou dropped by for a grappa and headed home for a shower. Riccardo dropped by about midday and said he’d skip tonight because he won’t be able to find a parking space because of midnight Mass at the church.

  Then he told us. “Bobbie died,” he said

  Bobbie was ambushed by a deadly heart attack on his early-morning walk with his dog. He had been looking forward to playing Santa: “A true Santa Claus from the North,” he told me several days earlier. He was proud of the fact that he was the first non-native offered the role.  He even let his beard grow to match his thick head of white hair. He had been a technical-magazine editor in Sweden before chucking it and moving to Panicale, where he augmented whatever pension and other funds he had by managing rental properties, organizing travel tours, and dabbling in real estate.

  I skidded down to the piazza to scout out the facts. Lou was right behind me. We ran into Simone’s wife (Aldo’s daughter-in-law who owns and works with her husband at the osteria they opened in the apartment Bev and I rented on our first trip). Lou got our foto and she told us “Babbo Natale e morta.” I asked if they found an alternate. She nodded her head: “Qualqu’ uno” (somebody).

  I asked if her osteria’s Christmas Eve dinner (30 euros per person) was full. She shook her head “no,” and explained they didn’t start planning/advertising early enough. I said they’ll start earlier next year. She nodded “si.”

  Then she added that Santa was due to land in the piazza at 3:30 p.m. We returned to the apartment and sipped a few until it was time to check the piazza. It was still warm and humid but it started to drizzle on the couple of dozen kids and their parents scattered around the 550-year-old fountain. So they trooped into below-street-level club room across the alley from the osteria. Guillermo said the club room was made available after it started to rain. Santa and his jingling bells were greeted about 4:20 by applauding parents and wide-eyed youngsters. Everyone got something. Even the  adults — each received a little package of candy that was handed out by the children.

  But no one seemed to miss Bobbie.

  (A few days later, a hearse squeezed up through the steep archway and a clutch of mourners  followed the casket into the church for Mass. When the service ended and the remains rolled back into the vehicle, no one followed but everyone applauded Bobbie’s passing as the long car slipped down into the piazza and out the Umberto 1 gate.)

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2011

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 20, 2011 at 12:05 am

Rome Gets Ready

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By Cecil Scaglione

 

Mature Life Features 

  A Christmas carnival in Piazza Navona is just that – a carnival, complete with carousel, carney games (“A Win Every Time”), knick-knack booths, balloons dancing with the wind, hot and cold food, classes of kids corralled by clusters of nuns, litters of tourists marshaled around by guys and gals waving them on with numbered signs, and dueling guitarists. All this counterpointing the ageless statues and churches that give substance to this celebrated canyon a couple of blocks from the Pantheon in The Eternal City.

  I quickly snagged a cimballi calde (hot doughnut) to hold me until lunch. A cimballi is a Roman doughnut about the size of a small pizza and can be eaten plain, sprinkled with sugar or covered with Nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut butter spread popular here). I hadn’t had one since one of the officers aboard our freighter cooked a batch one morning. The dough is much tastier than the U.S. donut, it’s deep-fried but as flat as a pizza, has a less fatty texture and doesn’t curl up into gut-busting balls to play havoc with your digestive processes and system.

  We went to Rome after the high season opened Dec. 8. It closes Jan. 6. Both days are national holidays here. The first is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; the closing date is Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas in many quarters.

  For our first stop, we arrived at my favorite optometric shop on Via Nazionale just as the owner was unlocking his exterior display boxes and I bought a couple of pairs of sunglasses. They’re about one-fifth the price of expensive ones sold under such American trade names as RayBan,Foster Grant, etc., which are made by these same Italians. Bev got an eyeglass frame to take home.

  After strolling into and by the ritzy boutiques stretching from the Spanish steps to the Trevi Fountain — and picking up a gelato across from the fountain at one of the finest gelateria in the universe – we went into the Pantheon for the first time. It’s now a basilica with Mass offered every Saturday and Sunday, although it’s closed Christmas Day. The sun was bouncing off Roman roofs so we didn’t have to worry about rain falling in through the hole in the massive copula that also lets light pour into the building, the only one to survive two millennia in its entirety since Roman times.

  After lunch at my favorite eating spot – Melo’s, a Sicilian ristorante on the steps leading down from the bottom of Via Nazionale to il Vittoriano and the Forum – we decided to take an earlier train back home instead of hanging around into the evening. We were tired.

  The sun was rising as our train pulled out of Chiusi and it was setting as we rolled out of Roma Termini.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2010

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 16, 2011 at 12:05 am

Legends Thrive off Italian Coast

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By Igor Lobanov

Mature Life Features

 


VALLETTA, Malta ‑‑‑‑ Long popular with vacationing royalty and artists from across Europe, this rock‑bound bastion 50 miles south of Sicily remains an enigma to many North Americans.

  A balmy year‑round climate bathes a land whose legacy is rooted in temples a thousand years older than Egypt’s Pyramids at Giza and branches through classical Greece and Rome to the palaces of a patrician unit of Christian crusaders.

  The Apostle Paul was shipwrecked here. Arabs occupied the outcropping in 879, followed by the Normans. Napoleon dropped by for six days and his troops hung around for a couple of years until sent packing by the English. Britain’s Royal Navy operated out of the island’s superb natural harbors for a century and a half before the Maltese finally attained their independence in 1964. But it was the Sovereign Military Hospitaler Order of St. John of Jerusalem, better  known as the Knights of Malta, whose influence is most heavily felt.

  Our cruise ship arrived after dark and we made sure we were on deck as the harbor pilot led the vessel to the quay. As we nosed past the breakwater into the island capital’s narrow harbor entrance, we were confronted by the massive spotlighted star‑shaped Fort St. Elmo to the right and the spear‑like walls of Fort San Angelo to the left whose towering ramparts take on a creamy yellowish glow.

  The Knights of St. John, ousted from the Holy Land by the Ottoman Turks and then from the island of Rhodes by Suleiman I (The Magnificent), were invited here in the mid‑16th century by Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who saw Malta as the pivotal bulwark to blunt a Moslem  invasion of Southern Europe. The newcomers fortified the island and withstood a brutal four‑month Turkish siege in 1565. Over the next 2 1/2 centuries, they created a place that Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott called “a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen.”

  The Renaissance grid of narrow streets holds palaces, municipal buildings, and churches, many still honeycombed with secret passages.  The soaring Co‑Cathedral of St. John, with its high‑baroque ornamentation, has a marble floor quilt‑pattern of mosaics that covers the tombs of some 350 knights. A museum houses treasures “liberated” from all over the Mediterranean by the far‑ranging cavaliers. On a wall of the Oratory is Italian Renaissance  painter Caravaggio’s chilling masterpiece,  “The Beheading of St. John the Baptist.”

  Perched on a mountain spur 160 miles away high above the Ionian Sea on the northeast coast of Sicily is Taormina (see map). Medieval  stone buildings hug cobblestone streets and unexpected portals reveal views past flowering gardens to the deep blue waters where Homer set his tales of Neptune, Ulysses, and the Cyclops.

  A favored residence of wealthy Roman  patricians for centuries,  its quixotic Piazza IX Aprile overlooking the sea is its social center where folks gather in coffee, gelato and marzipan or participate in the lassiggato, the traditional Latin evening stroll. 

  The piazza is framed by a couple of churches and a clock tower dating from the Middle Ages that serves as a gateway to the medieval sector. Narrow lanes lead to views of the villa‑strewn hillside above and the sea below. A few small squares with bars and other meeting places are interspersed with shops catering to the chic crowd.

  Carved into a hillside on the northeastern fringe of town  is the town’s treasured Greco‑Roman theater that dates back to the 3rd century BC. The Greeks built it for classical plays and musical events and the Imperial‑age Romans transformed it into an amphitheater for gladiator contests, hunting spectaculars, and even naval battles on a flooded stage.

  Today”s audiences at summer concerts and other events still have a grandstand view past the stage to the sea and the largest active volcano in Europe: Sicily’s Mt. Etna.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2003       

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

November 11, 2011 at 12:05 am

Posted in Italy, Travel

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Mature Life Features Writer Wins Top Travel-Story Award

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San Diego, Oct. 26 — “The Naples Nobody Knows,” a story included in the August 2010 Mature Life Features  package, has won a first-place plaque in the 38th annual San Diego Press Club Excellence in Journalism Awards.

Written by Mature Life Features editor Cecil Scaglione, the story as it appeared in Toronto-based Forever Young News (www.foreveryoungnews.com) was judged the best among entries in the Non-Daily Newspapers-Travel category.

Award presentations were made Tuesday, Oct. 25, at a dinner attended by 350 political and community leaders, radio personalities, and newspaper and television writers and photographers from throughout Southern California.

Mature Life Features previous award in the same category in this annual competition was in 2008 for a travel story written by Scaglione and entitled “Take a Free Ride in Las Vegas” as it appeared in the Seattle area’s The Senior Source.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

October 27, 2011 at 12:05 am

Forever Young News clip

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Canada’s Adult Lifestyle Publication

The Naples Nobody Knows

          Story and Photos

By Cecil Scaglione, Mature Life Features

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Puzzuoli and Naples in background

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 Norman Castle in Naples
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Cuma tunnel to Apollo’s Sybil
“Did you get to Pompeii?” That’s the first question everyone asks when they hear we’ve been to Naples. Our answer is No. Nor did we head for tourist-trampled Positano on the affluent Amalfi Coast. Ditto for commercialized Capri.

But we did stroll around 2,800-year-old Cuma, the first Greek colony established on the Italian peninsula some 350 years before the founding of Naples.

It’s the images of these fortress-like ruins and nearby Pozzuoli, Sofia Loren’s birthplace, that appear when we think of Naples. As do memories of Simone, Dario, Maria and Tulia, who whisked us through the crammed and crowded cobblestone streets of this cosmopolitan complex built at the base of Mount Vesuvius. The volcano on the southeastern edge of Naples is responsible for a couple of the world’s better-known ruins – Pompeii and Herculaneum.

However, about 30 kilometres on the west of Naples is Cuma, a sight that can satisfy both the avid and amateur archeologist. With a 4 euro entry fee, they can amble over and around the remains of temples to Apollo and Jove on the acropolis that overlooks one of the most enthralling expanses of beach along the Mediterranean shore.

It was these soft waves rolling up against the softly curved shoreline and the natural hot springs that drew the Greeks here. It’s also the land of myth and magic that Virgil etched into legend. Both avid and amateur will get a kick out of walking through the 145-yard trapezoid tunnel hollowed out of the massive rock to the grotto of the Sybil, Apollo’s prophetic priestess who foretold Aeneas’s future.

On the drive to Cuma, you can stop at a roadside overlook to peer down into Lake Avernus, which contemporaries of Homer and Virgil believed to be the entrance to Hades.

Before embarking on any of these jaunts, you have to sample the original modern pizza – the margherita. It’s available everywhere in Naples. While this type of flatbread dates back several centuries, it was in June 1889 that Neapolitan chef Raffaele Esposito created the Pizza Margherita in honour Italy’s Queen consort, Margherita of Savoy, who was visiting the city. He garnished it with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, to represent the red, white and green Italian flag. He was the first to add cheese.

After washing down this palate-pleaser with wine and beer, it was time to dive into side dishes of fresh seafood, also available everywhere in this seaside city. Then it’s chased down with a toddy of the local favorite – the citrus-flavored liqueur limoncello, which is sipped as widely here as Starbucks coffee is in Seattle.

There are sites aplenty to see between snacks in this, the third-largest city in Italy.

We stopped at the il Vero Bar del Professore on the edge of the massive Piazza Plebescito, the largest square in Naples. It was given that name after the plebescite of 1870 that made Naples part of the Kingdom of Italy under the House of Savoy. On one flank are the municipal palace and Real Teatro San Carlo, the opera house that has been operating continuously since 1737. Behind it is the Norman Castel Nuovo, where you can board a hop-on-hop-off bus to tour the town.

After sampling two specialties of il Vero Bar – a coffee with nut cream and a sfogliatelle (roll) – Simone led us to San Severo Chapel to view The Veiled Christ, completed in 1753 by Giuseppe Sanmartino, reposed among more than two dozen other intriguing works of art.

Then we headed for the central metro station, dodging anything on wheels as we danced through the Piazza de Gesu, one of the city’s prettiest piazzas decorated with churches and statues. The station is tucked firmly in a section locals call Calcutta because of the constant commotion created by vendors and vagrants, booths and bicycles, walkers and watchers. Our train took us to a stop within minutes of our bed-and-breakfast in Pozzuoli, a commune on Naples’s western border that was once the busiest seaport on this section of the Italian peninsula. It was here that St. Paul landed about 60 A.D. to establish a Christian community.

A recently built waterfront park and walkway makes this one of the more pleasant promenades alongside the Mediterranean.

For more information visit italiantourism.com.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 1, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Rome’s Ready

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 A Christmas carnival in Piazza Navone is just that – a carnival, complete with carousel, carney games (“A Win Every Time”), knick-knack booths, balloons dancing with the wind, and hot and cold food, classes of kids marshaled around by nuns, litters of tourists marshaled around by a guys and gals waving them on with numbered signs, and dueling guitarists. All this counterpointing the ageless statues and churches that form the walls of this canyon in The Eternal City.

I quickly snagged a cimballi calde (hot doughnut) to hold me until lunch. A cimballi is a Roman doughnut about the size of a small pizza and can be eaten plain, sprinkled with sugar or covered with nutella (a chocolate-hazelnut butter spread popular here). I hadn’t had one since one of the officers aboard our freighter cooked a batch one morning. The dough is much tastier than the U.S. donut, it’s deep-fried but as flat as a pizza, has a less fatty texture and doesn’t curl up into gut-busting balls to play havoc with your digestive processes and system.

We went to Rome the day after the high season opened Dec. 8. It closes Jan. 6. Both days are national holidays here. The first is the Feast of the Immaculate Conception; the closing date is Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas in most quarters.

For our first stop, we arrived at my favorite optometric shop on Via Nazionale just as the owner was unlocking  his exterior display boxes and I bought a couple of pairs of sunglasses. They’re about one-fifth the price of expensive sold under such American trade names as RayBan,Foster Grant, etc., which are amde by these same Italians. Bev got an eyeglass frame to take home.

After strolling into and by the ritzy boutiques stretching from the Spanish steps to the Trevi Fountain — and picking up a gelato across from the fountain at one of the finest gelateria in the universe —  we went into the Pantheon for the first time. It’s now a basilica with Mass offered every Saturday and Sunday, although it’s closed Christmas Day. The sun was bouncing off Roman roofs so we didn’t have to worry about rain falling in through the hole in the massive copula that also lets light pour into the building, the only one to survive in its entirety since Roman times.

After lunch at my favorite eating spot – Melo’s, a Sicilian ristorante on the steps leading down from the bottom of  Via Nazionale to il Vittoriano and the Forum – we decided to take an earlier train back home instead of hanging around into the evening  We were tired.

The sun was rising as our train pulled out of Chiusi and it was setting as we rolled out of Roma Termini.

Written by Cecil Scaglione

December 10, 2009 at 3:05 am

Posted in Italy, Travel

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