The Beauty of British Columbia

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First Nations Totem Poles

First Nations Totem Poles

Pacific Temperate Rainforest

Pacific Temperate Rainforest

Living in Italy where people like to enjoy life, I have come to appreciate the joys of celebrating all sorts of things. As my niece says, “best to celebrate as much as possible before the final celebration” (at which, of course, you yourself will be absent!). So I decided to fly to Vancouver Island to celebrate my sister’s birthday and to see her family who I do not get a chance to see much of. We had a great family re-union and I also got to enjoy the BC wilderness.

Vancouver Island has mountains, forests, rivers and of course the ocean. The best part is that it is possible to experience all of these in a day. The West Coast temperate rainforests with their tall redwood and red cyprus trees are spectacular, many growing to over 100 ft tall.

Kinsol Trestle

Kinsol Trestle

We walked along part of the BC trail in the Cowichan Valley and came across the Kinsol Trestle, a wooden railway trestle bridge built in 1920 over the Koksilah river. Reputed to be one of the highest railway trestles in the world, it is around 145 ft high and over 600 ft long. All the vertical supporting beams are fashioned from single tree trunks which is quite amazing when you think about it.

Although I’ve lived in Canada for 20 years, I had never actually seen a bear in the wild. One morning, we went for a walk in the forest, stopped at a farmhouse cafe for lunch and as we were driving back, we rounded a bend and suddenly came across a black bear calmly wandering accross the road.

1413068462306Good thing I didn’t hit it but I did manage to stop the car and get a photo. What surprised me was that we were well out of the forested area where we had seen signs warning people about bears and we had just passed several houses. Apparently, at this time of year, bears go around foraging for food to build up their stores of fat before winter sets in.

Capilano Rope Suspension Bridge

Capilano Rope Suspension Bridge

Taking the ferry from the island to Vancouver city is a short and picturesque trip as you pass other Gulf islands and often see dolphins or whales. Vancouver has a wonderful geographical location, with mountains on one side and the ocean on the other. My friend Evelyn does some work for the tourist board and has free access to all the major tourist sites. She took took me on a great tour of the city starting with a walk across a 450 ft long and 230 ft high rope suspension bridge over the Capilano river in north Vancouver. The bridge sways a little as you walk along it which is a little disconcerting at first but you soon get used to it. I wouldn’t recommend it for people with a fear of heights!

Capilano River Salmon Hatchery

Capilano River Salmon Hatchery

This is the time of year when salmon swim upriver from the ocean to spawn and I was lucky to see them in the Capilano river. There a few different species of salmon and it is quite a sight to actually see them swimming against the flow and jumping out of the water. Fishing depletes their numbers and in order to repopulate the stock, a salmon hatchery close to the mouth of the river traps them as they come upriver. The trap consists of a small wall built across the river such that the fish are diverted into a narrow trench leading into the hatchery. Here, the fish spawn, the spawn is allowed to hatch and when the fish are big enough, they are put back into the river again to continue their lifecycle in the ocean. At the end of their lifecycle which may last for 1 to 5 years depending on the species, they return to the same river to spawn.

Bailey Beehive

Bailey Beehive

I stayed with my niece Charmaine and family who live in the city. They have a little garden where surprisingly for a small city space, they keep a beehive. This year, they harvested around 100 lbs of honey and had a spring, a summer and an autumn collection. The spring and summer varieties are lighter in colour and more fluid while the autumn variety is a rich brown. I have samples of each and we are going to do a tasting this Thanksgiving weekend, back in Ontario.

 

 

 

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Something New in New York City

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Ground Zero Pool

Ground Zero Pool

It was exciting to be in Manhattan which is the opposite of Rome. Where no building in the centre of Rome is taller than St. Peter’s Basilica, Manhattan’s skyscrapers soar into the sky creating a vertical landscape. There is a sense of intense energy and freedom of expression, from the designs of the buildings to how people dress. One gets the feeling that anything is possible and you can be whatever you want.

Chrysler Building

Chrysler Building

We stayed in a lovely and spacious apartment on Mott St. on the edge of Chinatown and Little Italy which we got through friends who rent it out on Airbnb. We loved this funky area with lots of restaurants, cafes and interesting shops. Great changes are occurring in the neighbourhoods on the Lower East Side. The Bowery, which was once derelict and crime ridden, is becoming gentrified and we felt quite comfortable walking around, where a few years ago, there would have been the fear of getting mugged. As always, it was a pleasure to see the old iconic buildings like the Chrysler and the Empire State but it was some of the new things that caught my attention.

High Line

High Line

The High Line is a green walkway constructed on the disused elevated railway line running along the west side of Manhattan between the buildings. Trees, plants and wild flowers line the sides and there are places to sit and enjoy the view. Starting in the Meatpacking district, on Gansevoort St., it now spans about 20 blocks or so with a further extension planned. Close to the beginning of the Line is a new building designed by Italian architect Renzo Piano which will be the home of the Whitney Museum of American Art early next year.

Robert Indiana Sculpture

Robert Indiana Sculpture

In NYC art installations are no longer confined to museums and one suddenly comes upon pieces like this one by Robert Indiana installed on 7th Avenue and 53rd St to mark the 1st International Hope Day on Sept 13, which also happened to be the artists 86th birthday.

Time Square

Time Square

 Time Square is visually overwhelming with its giant electronic screens, fluorescent colours, advertising, and constantly changing pictures and slogans. A part of it has been pedestrianized and there are stalls selling various types of food and tourist knicknacks. People dressed like Disney characters (or hardly dressed at all) mill around trying to make a few bucks by posing for photos with tourists. Its all quite surreal.  I found it too frenetic with the constant movement, changing images, noise, and people and couldn’t stay there for too long.

 The Ground Zero site where the twin towers used to be, now has two large pools each occupying the footprint of the tower that once stood there. The pools have a second pool in the centre which you can’t see the bottom of, giving the quality of water falling into a hole in the depths of the earth. The names of the people who died on that day are engraved on burnished bronze ledges running around the perimeter. A white rose is placed on the name of a person whose birthday is on that day which is touching. A Memorial Museum stands between the two pools.

Freedom Tower, 1 World Trade Center

Freedom Tower, 1 World Trade Centre

At the edge of Ground Zero Square stands “1 World Trade Center”, supposedly the tallest building in America and called the Freedom Tower. A stylized soaring dove, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, will span the site and is now under construction. We thought that the portion of the Calatrava piece built so far looked more like a dinosaur than a dove but it might look different when completed.

We did a lot of walking including tramping around the major museums which are magnificent in their wealth of exhibits. Museum entrance fees are not cheap and neither is eating out compared with Toronto and Rome. Even food in the supermarkets is quite costly except for junk food. However, electronic goods are still relatively inexpensive. I bought a little ‘point and shoot’ camera. Hopefully, my posts will benefit from improved photos!

 

 

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Parmesan Cheese (Parmigiano-Reggiano)

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1411487029543We are going back to Canada soon and my niece asked me to bring her back some parmesan. I only recently discovered that it is perfectly legal to bring cheese into Canada as long as its no more than 20kg at a value of $20 or less. Whoever came up with that price must have last bought cheese about 50 years ago!

Valley in the Appenines

Valley in the Appenines

Anyhow, what better place to get parmesan than Fidz’s home province of Emilia-Romagna where we were last week. A cheese can only be called Parmigiano-Reggiano if it is made in a small area between Parma and Bologna. Supposedly, the milk produced by cattle who graze in that area is different from elsewhere and the cheese does not taste the same if made with milk from anywhere else. Cheese made in exactly the same way in other parts of the province is called Grano Padano. We were able to compare as we had lunch with Fidz’s uncle near Piacenza and were offered the local Grano Padano while we went back to Fidz’s home south of Parma for dinner and had Parmigiano. I have to admit that they do taste slightly different and Grano Padano has a grainier texture. However, one likely would not be able to tell the difference when used for cooking and Grano Padano is cheaper.

1411487148765The making of Parmigiano started in 1200 or so with Benedictine and Cistercian monks living in monasteries between the Po river and the Appenines. Until around 40 years ago, there were many small farms making Parmigiano. A lot of these farms would also raise pigs for making prosciutto as the pigs would be fed with the whey left over from cheesemaking mixed with wheat chaff. Now, the operation is more centralised and streamlined. We went to a co-operative in Migliara where milk is brought in from the high plains in the mountains so the Parmigiano made here is ‘mountain’ parmesan which has a superb taste and is delicious eaten on its own. These ‘mountain’ producers are slowly fading out as the logistics of bringing in milk and transporting cheese on narrow mountain roads make it more expensive to produce.

1411504434628The milk collected in the evening is poured into large stainless steel trays and allowed to settle so that the cream (which is used for making butter) rises to the top. The next day, the bottom layer is allowed to flow into a large copper vat and milk collected in the morning is added. Some whey from the day before as well as rennet are also added. The milk coagulates and is stirred at a temperature of around 55C using a huge stainless steel balloon whisk called a spino so that the curds form little granules. We actually arrived at the co-op in the afternoon and this part had already been completed and the vats cleaned ready for the evening milk.

1411504531844After the granules have been stirred to the right consistency, the curds are are put into muslin and allowed to drain. The contents of each vat are divided in two, called gemelli (twins), and placed in large plastic moulds called fascera still wrapped in muslin. In the afternoon, the muslin is removed and perforated stamps are placed between the cheese and the side of the mould giving the name of the cheese maker and the date. This will become imprinted on the cheese and represents its mark of origin like on a wine label.

1411487419852The next day, the cheese wheels are moved into stainless steel moulds and allowed to rest for about 2 or 3 days.

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Then they are placed in salt water where they are turned every day for about 3 weeks.

 

The production process is now completed and the wheels are  taken to the storage room where they are placed on shelves and mechanically turned every week. The outside of the cheese dries forming a natural crust which, by the way, is edible. Maturation has to be at least 12 months and at this stage, the cheese can be sold as a ‘fresh’ parmesan called mezzano, not really Parmigiano but the promise of one and regarded as inferior.

1411487236187At this point, Parmigiano experts called ‘battitori’ check the consistency and quality of the cheese by hitting the wheels with little hammers and checking for the right vibrations. Wheels with cracks or faults in them are discarded. The ones that have passed the test are fire-branded and allowed to continue maturing for another 2 years. The cost of the cheese depends on its age. Fidz’s father used to be a Parmesan inspector on the fiscal side and his job was to visit the small mountain cheese makers and make sure they weren’t branding cheeses as older than they really were to get a better price. Part of the work entailed inserting a thin tube into the centre of the wheel and removing a sliver to taste in order to confirm the age of a batch. What a great job!

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The Volto Santo in Lucca

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San Michele in Foro, Lucca

San Michele in Foro, Lucca

Almost all organized activities in Rome grind to a halt in the summer until about mid-September so I was surprised to get an email saying that our choir practice was starting on Sept. 1st. The choir is associated with the Basilica di Santa Croce in Via Flaminia which was celebrating the Festa di Santa Croce (Feast of the Holy Cross) on Sept. 12th and we had to prepare to sing at this event.

 1410804066245Despite being raised as a Catholic, I had never heard of this feast and went to check it out on the Internet. Celebrated mostly by churches who have relics of the cross, I found out that it is a major event in Lucca in northern Tuscany and this year, it was being celebrated there on Saturday Sept 13th. Since we were going up north for a couple of days, we decided to stop there on the way up to check it out. Lucca is a small walled town with narrow streets, one of the few medieval towns in Italy with completely intact walls. We got there on Saturday afternoon to find that the fronts of all the buildings were adorned with candles which were already being lit by about 4pm as there were many to be lit and they spanned three or four stories in places.

Volto Santo, San Martino Cathedral

Volto Santo, San Martino Cathedral

 The cathedral of San Martino houses a wooden crucifix called the Volto Santo. Legend has it that this crucifix was carved by Nicodemus (one of the followers of Christ) following the crucifixion. It somehow arrived in Lucca in the 8th century and is deeply revered. On the feast of Santa Croce, almost all electric lights are switched off within the walls at nightfall. A candlelit procession proceeds from the church of San Freddiano and wends its way through the town to the cathedral where homage is paid to the Volto Santo. The figure of Christ is crowned with a gold crown and ornate solid gold belt which are normally housed in the museum and only brought out on the day of the feast.

Volto Santo Procession

Volto Santo Procession

By 8pm when the procession started, the town was jammed with people from Lucca and the surrounding area, as well as lots of tourists. Everything was bathed in candlelight, a very beautiful sight. In the procession were the clergy and congregations of all the parishes around, carrying crosses and standards from their own church and of course tall candles. Then there were representations from various bodies like the firemen, police, hospitals as well as a number of brass bands. The procession just kept going and going.

 1410809072612At the church of San Martino, where there was a choir and music being played, each group came in, went past the Volto Santo and out again. By about 10pm, the procession was still in progress but we were tired after several hours of walking and returned to our hotel just outside the walls.  Within the walls, the lights were still off and candles glowed everywhere. I hoped that not all the firemen were at the procession!

 

 

 

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Michaelangelo’s Legacy After 450 Years

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Piazza di Campidoglio

Piazza di Campidoglio

We are surrounded by works of Michaelangelo as he spent the latter part of his life here in Rome. Every day, walking home from the market, I can’t help admiring the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica which was designed by him and of course, crowds throng the Sistine chapel to gaze at his paintings on the ceiling and front wall. Since most of his larger works, both sculptures and paintings, are ‘in situ’ and cannot be moved, I was not particularly tempted to see an exhibition of his work at the Capitoline museum marking the 450th anniversary of his death. However, we felt that we should go just to see what was on display.

Michaelangelo's David

Michaelangelo’s David

The Capitoline museum is at the Piazza di Campidoglio which fittingly, was designed by Michaelangelo and houses both the museum as well as City Hall. At the entrance to the museum, we were greeted by a copy of Michaelangelo’s 17 ft high statue of David. The original is in the museum in Florence and many copies exist but this one was done by 3D scanning and some sort of resin. Amazing what modern technology can do!

Michaelangelo really was an incredible man, and it is unimaginable that a single person could be a master of sculpture, painting, architecture and even poetry and not only that, but could have produced so much in his lifetime of 89 years. Very difficult to exhibit such a broad range of monumental work and I felt that the exhibition did not do justice to his genius.

Michaelangelo's Sketch of Piazza di Campidoglio

Michaelangelo’s Sketch of Piazza di Campidoglio

There were some very interesting sketches and drawings and childishly, I was taken with his drawing of the Piazza di Campidoglio as we could actually see the piazza out of the window as shown in the above photo. What surprised me was his body of written work. I did not know that he had written so much poetry and though I could not read it, I found it a pleasure just to look at his exquisite handwriting.

The Piazza is on a little hill with the Foro Romano just behind it. The two museum buildings flanking City Hall, are connected by an underground tunnel with views of Roman excavations below and steps leading up to behind City Hall with spectacular views of the Foro. As you can imagine, the museum is quite extensive and after tramping up and down for a couple of hours we came upon the cafe on the top floor where the view was amazing.  Needless to say, we sat down immediately to have lunch. My regular readers may have noticed that I change the header picture of my blog occasionally. What you now see is the view from the terrace at the top showing a number of church domes including St. Peter’s.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Summer Continues in Rome

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Beach Near Latina

Beach Near Latina

We were lucky with the weather in Ireland as it didn’t rain much while we were there. However, at around 15C, it felt quite cool and there was the sense that summer was ending. When we returned to Rome it was around 30C, and apart from the daylight hours getting shorter, it is still summer weather here.

1409229232176With the heat, we were glad to accept an invitation to go to the seaside south of Rome for the day. Beaches in Italy are crowded at this time of the year and it was a far cry from the deserted beaches in Ireland. However, the warm sea and cloudless skies compensated for the activity on the beach if you can call lying in the sun an activity! I was pleased to see five or so young men with a little baby. They all took turns amusing the baby including all pretending to sleep so that the baby would sleep as well. Several of them actually did fall asleep while the baby remained wide awake.

1409229105427I was reminded of walking on the beach in Goa when I saw a couple of fishermen using the same type of circular nets. I had always thought that these were specific to India but apparently not. Not too many fish being caught but I think the men were enjoying the activity more than the catch.

 1409493484091On the way back to Rome, we passed by Castel Gandolfo where the Popes traditionally spend their summer vacation. Papa Francesco has decided to open up the papal villa at Castel Gandolfo to the public so we stopped to see if we could visit. Indeed the gardens are open to the public but one has to pay a hefty fee to go in and tickets can only be booked through the Musei Vaticani in Rome. So much for making the gardens accessible to the public though I do believe that if Papa Francesco had his way, it would really be free for all! Castel Gandolfo itself is a little village on Lake Albano so instead of enjoying the gardens we enjoyed a meal in a restaurant with a wonderful view overlooking the lake as you can see from this photo.

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Ireland: From Dingle to Wicklow

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Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

We drove from Northern Ireland to the Dingle peninsula via Clonmacnoise, an ancient monastic settlement developed in the 9th century.

Clonmacnoise Monastery

Clonmacnoise Monastery

The last time I was in Clonmacnoise, admittedly many years ago, there was nobody else there and it had a mystical atmosphere with  its tall round tower and ruined churches situated right on the banks of the Shannon River. It was a little disconcerting this time, to see busloads of tourists, an interpretive centre,  and prettified surroundings but it was still interesting to see the Irish high  crosses now on display indoors with copies on the original sites.

We opted to take a ferry from Killimer in County Clare to Tarbert in County Kerry  which took us along a scenic route. Arriving on the Dingle peninsula, we were immediately struck by how beautiful and wild it is. Rumour has it that National Geographic once declared it the most beautiful place on earth!

Inch Strand

Inch Strand

We stayed with friends in Inch overlooking a long stretch of beach which attracts a few surfers but which is otherwise empty. It was glorious to wake up in the morning and see the wonderful view while still in bed. The landscape on the Dingle peninsula really is magical with a rocky wild coastline, mountains and hedges of wild, purple fuschia and orange montbretia growing along the sides of the narrow roads.

Ogham Stone and Cross, Kilmalkedar Church

Ogham Stone and Cross, Kilmalkedar Church

There are a number of archaeological sites on Dingle ranging from prehistoric Beehive huts built without mortar or nails, to pre-Christian artefacts to early Christian churches. Driving to these sites, one follows a narrow coastal road with truly magnificent scenery.  The road signs are in gaelic so it helps to know the Irish form of the town or village one is heading towards. I was fascinated by the Ogham stones which consist of groups of one to five horizontal lines representing letters, and which are the earliest form of Irish writing.

1408968938057Much too soon, we left Dingle and made our way to Cashel and Kilkenny. The ruins of the church on the Rock of Cashel are certainly impressive but I preferred the completely empty and unvisited ruins of the massive Kells Abbey and a magnificient stone tower and high cross at nearby Kilree. There was nobody at either of these two places and Kilree is down a small lane with the cross in a field and a sign saying ‘Beware of the bull’. Luckily, there was a small herd of cows also in the field so we figured that the bull wouldn’t be paying much attention to us.

Jerpoint Abbey

Jerpoint Abbey

One of the most beautiful cloisters I saw were at Jerpoint Abbey also close to Kilkenny. All of the cloister pillars once had magnificient carvings but few of these are still intact. Again, there were very few people here and the atmosphere of the place was retained. Kilkenny is a very pretty little town dominated by an Anglo-Norman  castle on the Nore river which runs through the town.

The Wicklow Gap

The Wicklow Gap

Our last stop was visiting friends who have a lovely cottage in County Wicklow. Wicklow is close to Dublin and I was able to visit my favourite haunts. Some of them like Glendalough, are now teeming with tourists but the rest of the county is still wild and spectacular with rivers, mountains and bogs covered with purple heather. We had a wonderful and memorable holiday in Ireland. Thank you to all my friends all over the country who hosted us and showed us around. We hope to return soon and perhaps to reciprocate your hosptality in Rome.

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Northern Ireland

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Giant's Causeway

Giant’s Causeway

We left Dublin and drove up the northeast coast into northern Ireland or Ulster where there were more friends to visit. The only indication that we had crossed over the border was that the road signs were in miles per hour instead of kilometres, and we suddenly began to see lots of British and Ulster flags.

Bushmills Bunting

Bushmills Bunting

Needless to say, these are seen particularly in areas where there are a lot of Protestants so you can always guess the allegiance of the area you are driving through,

The scenery along the northeast coast of Ulster was beautiful with the Mourne mountains on one side and the sea on the other.

Belfast's Titanic Museum

Belfast’s Titanic Museum

We only spent a day in Belfast and a friend organized a trip to Belfast’s Titanic Experience in the morning. Housed in a specially designed building in the newly developed docks area, there were multiple exhibits ranging from economic conditions in Belfast when the Titanic was built to showing how it was actually built. Harland and Wolff still have an enormous gantry for ship-building at the docks though there isn’t much of this happening at the moment.

Shankhill Road Mural

Shankhill Road Mural

In the afternoon we took a “Black Taxi’ political tour which consisted of our friend and the two of us in a black cab with our guide and driver Sam. First he took us to the Protestant Shankhill Road. There were lots of British flags and the entire sides of some of the houses were covered with giant murals, jokingly referred to as ‘the Muriels’. Next we went to the Catholic Falls Road where the only flags we saw were Palestinian and there were no ‘Muriels’ but memorial ‘gardens’ commemorating those who died in sectarian warfare. 1408559709096Separating the two areas were what they call the ‘Peace Walls’. Around 10 metres high, there are several of them in the city separating Protestant and Catholic areas. There were metal gates at intervals which open at 6am and close at 6pm preventing easy access to these areas at night. The houses backing onto the walls have what Sam called a Belfast conservatory i.e. a huge wire screen enclosing the back of the house to keep out petrol bombs. It was sad to see that sectarian allegiances still divide the working classes in such a strong way.

Derry Walled City

Derry Walled City

We also paid a short visit to Derry city, the only walled city in Ireland. We were able to walk on the broad medieval walls which still have the original cannon used to protect the city from siege. The walls enclose the old city and one can walk around the entire wall in about 45 minutes. Derry was also plagued by sectarian strife as in Belfast, but it seems that this has been overcome to a better degree here. The city is lovely and it was a pleasure to stroll around. I would have liked to spend more time there.

Antrim Coastline

Antrim Coastline

Our next stop was Ballycastle at the tip of the northern coast. Again the coast is beautiful with rocky cliffs, beaches and lush meadows on the tops of cliffs with grazing cattle. One of the main tourist attractions is the Giant’s Causeway where volcanic activity 60 million years ago has resulted in outcrops of geometric basalt columns of various heights.

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge

My own highlight was walking across a rope bridge at Carrick-A-Rede. The rope bridge connects the mainland with a tiny island offshore which is in the path of migrating salmon and was originally used by salmon fisherman. A visit to Bushmills whiskey distillery was educational for me as I did not know that malt, which whiskey is made from, is the term for germinated flax seed. The education continued as we tasted generous helpings of 12 year old single malt! We did so much in just four days that it was really just a taste and we decided that we have to visit Northern Ireland again and enjoy it at a more leisurely pace.

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Ireland: Dublin’s Delights

Guinness Gate

Guinness Gate

Rome can be unbearably hot in August so we decided to leave the city for cooler climes like the rest of the Romans do.  We decided to visit Ireland and started our trip in Dublin where I had lived for many years. I was looking forward to seeing the city again and catching up with old friends who I had not seen in a long time.

Dublin Mountains

Dublin Mountains

We were met at the airport by my friend Maggie who whisked us off to the Dublin Mountains so we could breathe in the fresh mountain air and get a view of the city. It’s wonderful to get to a completely unspoiled landscape just a few miles out of the city. One of the things I love about Ireland is the constantly changing light as it can be raining, cloudy or sunny within minutes making the same landscape look different all the time.

Renovated Gas Tower

Renovated Gas Tower

Our hosts Rory and Bernie greeted us with open arms despite being in the throes of a massive kitchen renovation. Luckily, their friends and neighbours across the road had given them the use of their house while on holiday so we just all trooped across the road and used their kitchen instead. Rory who has an architectural background, gave us fine tours of the city inbetween our packed schedule. I was really surprised by how much the city has grown since my last visit with new areas which have been developed, new buildings and interesting renovations. The old gas tower has been converted into an apartment building which is used by Google who have a ‘campus’ nearby to house its geeks. I was glad to see that despite the recent economic slump, the city has maintained an air of prosperity.

Cobblestones Pub

Cobblestones Pub

In addition to seeing the sights of which there are many, Fidz was keen to taste Guinness and to listen to traditional Irish music. Luckily, my friend Renee is well up on the music scene and took us to a pub on Sunday afternoon where musicians randomly gather to play together. There weren’t too many people in the pub and we sat at a table right next to the musicians and were actually able to talk to them. The Guinness flowed very easily down Fidz’s throat and I suspect that there will be a number of pub stops during the rest of our tour!

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The Virgin in the Village

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Madonna Degli Angeli, Capitignano

Madonna Degli Angeli, Capitignano

This past weekend, we were excited to be invited to a Italian village feast by our friends Jane and Enrico from Toronto. Enrico was born in Capitignano, Abruzzo where there is an annual feast of the Madonna (Madonna degli Angeli) dating back to the 17th cent. 1407260613150The drive there on Saturday morning was very scenic as Abruzzo is green and mountainous, a pleasure to drive through.

 When we got there, the procession from the church had just started. A brass band led the way followed by the statue of The Virgin borne aloft by a few strong men. Dressed in a red robe with a blue cape and a crown on her head, she was a fine sight. Every few yards, usually in front of someone’s house, a person would approach to pin money to ribbons hanging from the Virgin’s arms. There were quite a number of 50 Eur notes fluttering about! 1407241284376After doing a round of the village, the statue was returned to the church in a burst of fireworks followed by Mass.  Then it was time for lunch.

 We were invited to Ennrico’s aunt Elena and uncle Enrico Sr. for lunch. It was a beautiful sunny day and we started with appetizers in the garden. 1407241430649A gargantuan lunch followed, consisting of an antipasto plate, two types of pasta, three types of meat, vegetables and an array of sweets, all accompanied by copious amounts of wine, and ending with home-made liqueurs. The relatives were happy to see Enrico again and it was a jolly affair with stories and memories of the past.

 Meanwhile, the village was preparing for the evening festivities which included a live band playing in the main Piazza.

1407241022091There was a fascinating array of photos from times past on display in the Piazza. I was particularly struck by the photos of the dowry (la dote) being carried to the husband’s house by the bride’s relatives. The photo on the right taken in 1956, actually shows Elena’s (our hostess) relatives (including our friend Enrico’s mother) taking la dote to the house where we had just had lunch. Typically, ‘la dote’ would consist of the bride’s goods, linens, and so forth. Likely money was involved as well with some families.

 In the evening, people walked about the village meeting up with friends and relatives who had come back for the event. Babies, teenagers, grandparents and parents all mingled which is something I enjoy seeing. The band played when night fell and the village was lit up just like Christmas. It was truly a memorable occasion.

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