History and Women

Women's History, Biographies, and Historical Fiction Books

______________________________________________

______________________________________________
Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Successful Query Letter


Writing a query letter is very challenging. It must be short and concise, and must pack a powerful punch - enough to make agents and publishers take interest. Recently, I had to send out a query letter to place my romance novel.

I thought I would share with my readers, my recent successful query letter. This letter garnered me two requests for the full manuscript and 3 contract offers. So I know I was on the right track somehow. I know it's not perfect, but it was successful. Here it is:

__________


A lost ancient treasure. A 100 year family feud. A woman who must choose between two men: one bound by a dying wish, the other bound by desperation. And a passion richer than the bloodstone pendant she wears around her neck.

In medieval Italy, as spirited and stalwart as any man, the brazen Countess Morena is betrothed to the impoverished, black-hearted Count Ernesto; a man desperate to escape his mounting gambling debts by marrying her and laying claim to the ancient treasure secreted somewhere in the underbelly of her castle. Morena meets her match when Amoro, the handsome and brash heir to the Duchy of Genoa, swears an oath upon his father’s grave to claim her as his bride and end the feud between their families. Soon, Amoro’s virile charm awakens the passion in her steadfast heart. But a treacherous plot ensnares them; Ernesto abducts Morena and renders Amoro helpless. Embroiled in a life-and-death chase, Morena learns that not even the devious madness of her captor can destroy her love for Amoro as their hearts unite and their destinies become one.

The Pendant, a historical romance, gothic-style novel at approximately 92,000 words, is a tale of love that lights up the middle ages with fire and passion.

I’ve loved reading all genres of historical novels and dreamed of writing them since I was a young girl. I have published several short stories and one previous novel and have spent the last 8 years researching and writing several more novels in the medieval era. I believe The Pendant encompasses the mystery and suspense of a page-turning novel of romantic suspense.

Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to hearing from you.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Interview with Author Sarah Junkin



Today, I'm very excited to host an interview with Sarah Junkin. I've known Sarah for several years now, not only as a journalist, but as a good friend. Recently I had the pleasure of reading her latest novel, Stuffed, and posted a brief review on this blog. (Click here to bring up the review.) Well the novel has recently been released with great success. It's unique because of its extraordinary use of humour threaded through serious social issues that concern all of us in one way or another. It's one book I highly recommend and is definitely a favourite on my book shelf.



Welcome to my blog Sarah. I'm very happy to have you drop by for a visit. I very much enjoyed reading your book with its fascinating characters, odd and unusual circumstances and happenings, and powerful social dilemmas. I loved, loved, loved your book. So I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of the story you’ve penned?
Thank you, Mirella!

Stuffed is a story about a woman named Hadley who feels so desperately alone that she joins Alcoholics Anonymous in her search for friendship. She’s never been much of a drinker, but in her quest for some sort of connection, finds much more than she’s bargained for through new friendships with offbeat and damaged characters. Hadley’s husband, Bud, is emotionally abusive, and after years of marriage to him, Hadley’s self-esteem is almost non-existent. Bud is known to be Canada’s second-best taxidermist, an accomplished artist whose medium happens to be restoring dead animals. Initially, strange things just seem to happen to Hadley that are beyond her control, but through the story, taxidermy becomes a metaphor for the restoration of Hadley’s dignity from the inside out.

You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

Stuffed is a nod to the fact that most people believe taxidermists stuff dead animals. Though that’s not actually the case – most are preserved by the creation of a hollow fibreglass frame – it’s a common misconcention. In my research for the book I met with some very accomplished taxidermists and learned that it is in fact a highly skilled art form, although I’m sure you’ll agree it seems a fairly odd way to make a living!


I wanted to write about how emotional abuse, because its damaging effects occur on the inside and are therefore almost invisible, is nontheless just as devastating for the victim as physical abuse is. Taxidermy is all about restoring damaged – well, dead, actually – creatures by exposing and then re-building their damaged cores. I’ve always enjoyed exploring serious themes through the lens of humour, and I was confident I could create humourous scenes if I populated Hadley’s world with taxidermists and their work.

What makes this book special to you?

Well, I absolutely loved every minute of writing this book! Even now when I pick it up, it makes me laugh and it makes me cry. To be honest I am very proud to have created Stuffed.

What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

Though Stuffed is a comedy in many ways, it’s also deals with some pretty weighty issues such as spousal abuse, alcoholism, and how people cope with physical disabilities. I’ve been told that there are scenes in Stuffed that some find uncomfortable or disturbing to read, in part because they may find themselves wanting to laugh out loud and they don’t know if it’s okay to find humour in certain situations. I hope my readers will simply enjoy the chaos of Hadley’s strange life and perhaps find the inspiration to laugh at some of the pain in their own lives.

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

Through my work as a journalist, I’ve come to realize that our entire world is simply a collection of millions of stories, and there are endless absurdities and zaniness in our day-to-day lives if we look closely enough and pay attention to what’s going on around us. The key is recognising that fact. Once you get into the habit of it, and connect with each life event as a part of a fascinating story, the writing part becomes easy.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

As a professional reporter I’ve learned to be pretty disciplined when it comes to my writing. Not every day will be brilliant, just like in any other job, but I try to write a minimum amount every day. By doing that I increase my chances of having days that are dazzlingly good.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

Well, it is early days in promoting Stuffed, but I wouldn’t rule out anything. It seems like there must be lots of opportunities to exploit the theme of taxidermy…does anyone have any ideas?

I have created a very unique book trailer video, which can be found on my website at http://www.sarahjunkin.ca/or on YouTube (search for Stuffed by Sarah Junkin). So many book trailer videos seem to look like PowerPoint presentations with text descriptions of what the book is about. But my trailer video aims to capture the emotion and energy of Stuffed without actually telling the story. It is set to a driving rock anthem by a young artist from Ontario named Alissa Oh, and I will be blogging about how I created the video, how I found Alissa’s music, and why I think her song fits so well with the themes of Stuffed. I invite feedback from anyone who watches the video, and encourage everyone to share it with their friends!



I will be hosting a private, by-invitation book launch party in Cochrane, Alberta, Canada on October 3 and on October 8, Bentleys Books and Java Jamboree will be jointly hosting a public book signing event at Java Jamboree.

I have a fan page on FaceBook called Stuffed by Sarah Junkin and I invite everyone to become a fan. For FaceBook users, that will be the best way to find out about upcoming promotional events.

CochraneConnects, a magazine I write for, is giving away a copy of Stuffed as a prize to the winner of a contest launched in the last edition of the magazine.

My next focus will be to expand beyond Cochrane and I’m looking for media attention, especially reviews, in Calgary and beyond. I hope to build a local buzz about the book and then gradually expand to get some national attention. Media people, if you are reading this, please visit my website and contact me!

Each author is different in the way they create a work of fiction. Please describe for us how you plan or plot a story.

For my first draft of a work of fiction, I plan very little apart from a very general plot outline that will usually change multiple times. I don’t know when I begin what my ending will be. I find it’s more fun that way.

It is very true, though, that the craft of writing occurs in the discipline of re-writing. Because my conception of the characters and events in Stuffed changed as the story evolved, it ended up as a very different story from the one I first imagined. This required a lot of hard work after the first draft was complete to ensure that the story flowed and that early scenes fit with later scenes and provided the necessary foreshadowing and background to future events.

Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

When I’m on a roll, I’m extremely focussed and for long periods of time barely move away from my computer screen. If I’m in the middle of an important scene I may forget to eat or shower, and during those times friends know to stay away, and my kids become pretty self-sufficient. Those are my favourite days. On other days I may be researching with taxidermists or AA members, but those days are fun too because the work of a writer can be pretty lonely at times.

What is your current work in progress?

I’m currently working on a novel about a young woman who through a series of odd events finds herself living in a nudist resort. I enjoy dropping my characters into places they don’t necessarily belong and then sitting back to see what happens. I’m curious about the fact that every single one of us owns a naked body and they’re all pretty similar, yet most of us are quite reluctant for anyone else to see our own specific model. That seems like an interesting contradiction to me.

Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?

Stuffed will be in Cochrane bookstores Sept. 30 and available from most on-line booksellers around that time too. But it’s also available immediately on my website: http://www.sarahjunkin.ca/or from the publisher at http://www.buybooksontheweb.com/.

What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

I’d like readers to know that writing Stuffed was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. And I’d like to think that they’ll find some of that joy and laughter between the pages of their own copy of my book.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Italy's Anglo-Italiano Invasion



I recently read an article written by an English gentleman who works for a company dealing in Italian Real Estate. He congenially allowed me to share his entertaining view on Anglo Italian colloquialisms with my readers. I hope you enjoy his article as much as I did.

* * * * *


Brits don’t do other languages very well – which perhaps explains why we spent centuries making the rest of the world speak ours.

As a 40-something-year-old Englishman, the four years I’ve spent trying to master Italian haven’t been the easiest. At times I’ve half-wished that a couple of hundred years ago we stopped off in Italy to colonise that too.

Low points that still make me shudder? Confusing ho scoperto (“I discovered”) with ho scopato (“I ******”). It was only our second meeting – but I hope my future mom-in-law guessed what I was trying to say. Don’t even get me started on the time I tried to ask a waitress in Forte dei Marmi about leaving la mancia (the tip)…but instead asked her what to do about la minchia (a crude term for penis).

So with all I’ve gone through to learn the world’s most romantic language, it’s a slap in the face to see half of Italy now hell-bent on replacing it with an ugly hotch-potch of Italian and English.

Looking for somewhere to stay on that vacation to Venice? If gli hotel are fully booked, lo staff might suggest un bed and breakfast. Staying in town for longer? Try un loft with un big open-space or un residence. In between sightseeing, you can fare lo shopping at un shopping centre nearby – full of i fashion outlet and i discount shop.

Among the worst offenders are the media – with le news that i VIP and le showgirl have been using il private jet di Silvio Berlusconi to attend i party at his mansion – where the Italian Prime Minister allegedly slept with una sexy escort.

It’s not the first time he’s made un gaffe and the scandal has left il feeling between il tycoon and his voters at an all-time low. No wonder he’s complaining about lo stress and il suo privacy.

Following il summit di G8 in Italy – attended by altri leader such as Barack Obama and le first ladies – Berlusconi has called un meeting of his cabinet to tie up un nuovo budget. But a newspaper has un gran scoop – during un briefing, Berlusconi blamed Il Ministro del Welfare for the budget hitting un record.

Some trade unionists have gathered outside to hurl gli slogan and to put uno stop to his proposals. But Berlusconi’s more concerned about what they think in il settore dei business. That and un nuovo poll showing most Italians think his fiscal plans will be un flop.

Or perhaps you’re more interested in soccer? La Gazzetta dello Sport has a report on il derby at il weekend between i due club di Milan, Inter and AC Milan. I fans couldn’t buy i ticket as il match era sold-out. David Beckham was il matchwinner for AC Milan a goal from un corner. It led to scuffles among gli hooligan, which gli steward soon sorted out. Leonardo, il mister di AC Milan, was simply relieved to have won.

Even worse are the beauty and gossip magazines, where you learn Madonna non è piu single and now has un nuovo boyfriend. She and il suo partner have been holidaying in un resort. Or read about Victoria Beckham – reputed to be una snob – wolfing down un snack while il suo bodyguard eats un sandwich.

A few pages on, una showgirl from un reality show is sipping i cocktail in un bar. She later enjoyed a spot of il clubbing before going home with un pop star from un boyband.

But is it really that difficult to say albergo instead of hotel, va bene, not OK, spuntino rather than snack?

Last year the Dante Alighieri Society began a campaign to limit the use of English in Italian. They’ve got their work cut out, now that Anglo-Italiano is il nuovo trend…

******************************************************

Ainsley Okoro works for the property for sale in Italy website Homes and Villas Abroad.com and specialises in Calabria property and Tuscany property.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bread, Olive Oil and Grapes



Ah, the memories of summer. When I was a child, my mother used to often interrupt our play to bring us snacks. She made bread once a week and on that day, she would slice a fresh loaf, spread it with a light brushing of olive oil and a tiny bit of salt. Then she would either slice grapes on top of it or bring the grapes to us in a small side dish.

I can't tell you what it is about this snack, but the three ingredients together are outstanding. It is a marriage of taste that explodes on your tastebuds.

To this day, I make myself this snack, even though it's never as good as my mom used to make.

But it's healthy and simple and quick. It's a wonderful taste of Italy that is sure to impress!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Panettone (Bread Machine)



Panettone is a traditional Italian bread that is most prevalent during Christmas and Easter. My mother's kitchen always emitted the beautiful aroma of this bread before these holidays and she would make them to give away as gifts to friends and neighbors.

Here is my favourite recipe for the breadmaker.

3 1/2 cups flour
1/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup candied mixed peel and citron
1/2 cup milk
3 eggs beaten
2 egg yolks beaten
1/2 cup butter softened
1 teaspoon anise extract
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 teaspoons each of grated orange and lemon peel
2 teaspoons yeast

Mix 1 tbsp of the flour with raisins, candied peel and citron. Add milk, eggs, butter, anise, sugar, salt, orange and lemon peels in bread machine pan or proceed as per manufacturer's instructions. Turn on machine and set to normal/basic bread setting, choosing light colour setting if available. Sprinkl reserved fruit mixture into machine when fruit alarm sounds or just as second kneading is ending. Makes one 1 1/2 lb. loaf.


Welcome, I’m so glad to have this opportunity to chat with you. Can you share with my readers the essence of your book and why you penned it?

Twenty-some years ago I started studying Italian simply to be able to speak with Italians on our travels. I never expected to fall in love with the language, but I did. La Bella Lingua celebrates this love by recounting the adventurous tale of how Italian became Italian, civilized the West and enriched every aspect of culture and life.

You’ve chosen a very interesting title. What inspired the title? What inspired the book?

“La Bella Lingua” means the beautiful language, and that’s how I view Italian. I worked as a journalist for many years, and I know a great story when I see one. The story of Italian has everything: history, drama, courageous heroes, beautiful women, music, art, fashion, food and, of course, love! I couldn’t resist telling it.

What makes this book special to you?

It’s a true opera amorosa, or labor of love. I’ve written dozens of trade and text books but none has meant so much—or brought such joy and satisfaction to my life.

What makes this a book that people MUST read and WHY?

There’s a bit of Italian in every soul—the part that loves passionately, that appreciates beauty, good food, friends and family, that lives in and savors the moment. This is a book for your inner Italian. Even if you never visit Italy and never say so much as “ciao!”, if you love pizza, pasta or just an armchair adventure you’ll find something to love in La Bella Lingua .

What sparks your creativity? Any tips to help others spark their own creativity?

I interviewed a lawyer-turned-chef in Florence and asked her what had sparked her passion for food. “Signora,” she said, “we do not so much choose our passions as much as they choose us.” Italian seized my imagination and my heart. I would say open yourself up to a wide range of experiences and pursue the one that stirs you the most.

What has been the biggest stumbling block in your writing? Can you share some tips to help others get past similar problems?

At times I thought I was “tutta matta” (completely crazy) to write about a language other than my own. Italian, as many of you know, is easy to love but hard to learn, so I struggled mightily to master it. Yet, as with any other obstacle, I found help by turning to experts for guidance and support—and by simply persevering day by day, treating every iota of progress as a victory.

Tell me about the most unusual things you have done to promote your book?

Well, I haven’t done it yet, but I bought a shower curtain decorated with Italian words, and I plan to offer it as a prize for an online contest. Any takers?

Each author is different in the way they write. Please describe for us the steps you took to plan your book.

First, I had to study Italian -- not just its grammar and vocabulary but its history. In addition to years of classes, I worked with a private tutor in San Francisco and took a course in the history of Italian at the Societa Dante Alighieri in Florence. Since I’m trained as a journalist, I then followed the steps I use for articles and books: I identified authoritative sources and interviewed them. All the while I kept reading everything I could about every aspect of the language.

Authors are very unique in the way they write, the tools they use, when they write, etc. Please describe a typical writing day for you? How do you organize your day?

My best writing days are in Italy. I let my husband sleep in and creep down the stairs to the matchbox kitchen of the summer house we rent each year. I make myself an espresso as my pet cat (yes, she lives here) begs to be petted and fed. Then she and I go up a lovely flower-lined path to the little cottage where I write. It’s like Butterfly’s house in the opera, with a long porch open to the sky and a view of the sea. I set up my laptop on a rickety wooden table and write for several hours. My husband comes up mid-morning with cappuccino and biscotti. Then I write only lunchtime. The rest of the day I swim, walk, talk, explore, etc.

In California, I simply go down to my office, turn on the computer and start plugging away. When I run into a dead end, I fantasize about being back in my casetta in Italy.

What is your current work in progress?



When I got here ten days ago, I thought I’d never have another book idea. But the atmosphere here is so nourishing that my husband describes it as amniotic fluid. In this creative womb, sure enough, I’ve found inspiration. The idea is too fragile and new for me to dare put it out in the world. But it will be about Italy, I assure you.

Can you tell us where to find more information about you and your books and how readers can reach you?



Yes, please visit my website at www.becomingitalian.com or www.labellalingua.org. There is an excerpt of the first chapter posted there. I do a blog on Italian three times a week at www.becomingitalianwordbyword.typepad.com.

I love getting feedback and hearing from readers who share my love of all things Italian. I look forward to hearing from you.

What would you like our readers to know about you and your writing?

An Italian friend once told me that I had unlocked “the Italian secret.” When I asked what that was, he said, “You know how to make the soul smile.” I like to think that’s true, and I hope La Bella Lingua does the same for readers.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini



Winner of the Premio Campiello (Italy's equivalent of the National Book Award)

I'm always excited to get my hands on translated Italian novels. I stumbled across this book while surfing an on-line book store. So I ordered it and just finished reading it the other night.

The writing is beautiful and very, very rich with details. The story is compelling and entertaining. It is no wonder it won Italy's most prestigious literary award.

Here is the cover blurb synopsis:

Winner of the Premio Campiello (Italy's equivalent of the National Book Award), short-listed for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award upon its first English-language publication in the U.K., and published to critical acclaim in fourteen languages, this mesmerizing historical novel by one of Italy's premier women writers is available in the United States for the first time.

Set in Sicily in the early eighteenth century, The Silent Duchess is the story of Marianna Ucrìa, the daughter of an aristocratic family and the victim of a mysterious childhood trauma that has left her deaf and mute, trapped in a world of silence. Set apart from the world by her disability, Marianna searches for knowledge and fulfillment in a society where women face either forced marriages and endless childbearing or a life of renunciation within the walls of a convent. When she is just thirteen years old, Marianna is forced to marry her own aging uncle. Her status and wealth as a duchess cannot protect her from many of the horrors of that time: she witnesses her mother's decline due to her addiction to opium and snuff and her father's cruelly misguided religious piety as he participates in the hanging of a young boy. She watches helplessly as her four-year-old son dies of smallpox and her youngest daughter is married off at the age of twelve. It is not until the death of her "uncle-husband" that Marianna at last gains freedom from her life of subservience: she learns to manage her estates and to love a man as she had never loved her husband, and she also learns of the unspeakable events that led to her lifelong silence. In luminous language that conveys both the keen visual sight and thedeep human insight possessed by her remarkable main character, Dacia Maraini captures the splendor and the corruption of Marianna's world and the strength of her spirit. The Silent Duchess is the timeless story of one woman's struggle to find her own voice after years of silence.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Italian Pastry Cream



If there is one taste that reminds me of my Italian childhood, it is Italian pastry cream. I remember as a child hovering at the stove with my mother or aunt as they carefully made this cream, a recipe handed down to them from my grandmother. They would make a big batch and divide it into three. With drops of food coloring they would tint one batch red and another green. They always left the last batch untouched. Red, white, and green are the colors of the Italian flag. They would then slice a sponge cake into three layers, drench each layer in espresso and sambucca, and then slather each of the colored creams on each layer.

I have to admit, I make this pastry cream and serve it to my own family instead of pudding. It is the one recipe I have that comforts, that brings good memories, that makes me die with delight with every mouthful.

In a pinch, if you want to make tiramisu and don't have mascarpone cream on hand, this is an excellent substitute. It is a nice variation.

Italian Pastry Cream ingredients:

4 egg yolks
1 cup flour
1 cup sugar
4 cups milk
1 lemon rind
1 cinammon stick

Place sugar, egg yolks flour, lemon rind (if using it), and vanilla in a sauce pan and mix together well.

In a separate sauce pan, scald milk.

Very slowly pour milk over egg yolk mixture, in a thin stream, beating constantly with rotary beater.

Continue cooking on low heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until mixture reaches the boiling point.

Cook 4 minutes longer, stirring constantly.

Pour into bowl and let cool, stir occasionally to prevent skin from forming over the top.

If using it as a cake/pastry filling, chill (with plastic wrap pressed onto the surface to prevent a skin from forming) until very thick at least 3-4 hours.

But if you're anything like me, I like it while it's still hot.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

La Bella Lingua by Diane Hales



La Bella Lingua by Dianne Hales

Little did Dianne Hales know that when she went on her first vacation to Italy, it would become a life altering experience. But that’s exactly what happened. Not only did she fall in love with the country, its culture, its people, she took it one step further. She decided to BE Italian in every sense of the word.

Her first hurdle was the language barrier. Most people try to learn a language word by word, through repetition and trial and error. But not Dianne. She began at the very beginning and went back into history to understand how Italian came to life.

Dianne takes us on a true Italian journey. Chapter by chapter, she explores how some of Italy’s most famous personages, writers, artists, and musicians helped shape the language from its vulgar vernacular into the beautiful harmonic language that it is today.

Sprinkled throughout, is Dianne’s humor as she stumbles verbally and sends the wrong message as she begins to speak basic words. But as her skill develops, so does her keen sense of analysis and she is able to give her take on how Italians communicate through their coloroful words, complex hand gestures, and rich food and drink. She met with experts from some of the country’ s leading educational organizations for her research and even explored Italy’s many dialects.

To say her journey and her book was captivating would be an understatement. The uniqueness of her story, the vibrant prose contained within this non-fiction book, and her tales of some of her mishaps as she learned to speak Italian, kept me turning the pages, eager to learn more. Her book honors Italy and Italians everywhere. A highly recommended read – but beware – it will make you want to vacation there yourself. Brava Dianne! Encore!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Italian Hand Gestures

If you're Italian, at least once in your life, you have been accused of speaking with your hands. I know I often have. But it wasn't until I went to Italy and spent time with my grandparents and cousins that I learned many of the gestures and their meanings.

I often visit the website: http://www.italyfromtheinside.com. It has to be one of the best websites about the Italian culture on the web. They've given me permission to promote their site on my own site. If you haven't visited them before, please stop by.

Now enjoy the video on hand gestures.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Medieval Food

In my research for my medieval novels, I'm always looking for examples of medieval food. Not all of what we eat today was available in medieval times. So I've had to be very careful in choosing what foods to mention in my novel.

In Italy, the Restaurante Zeffirino recreated some medieval recipes and videod the entire episode. I very much enjoyed watching this video and learning from it. Italians took their food as seriously back then as they do today. Good food is truly a passion embedded in the heart of every Italian.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Maria Montessori 1870 - 1952




Maria Montessori was born in the town of Chiaravalle in the province of Ancona, Italy in the year 1870 in an era where it was not common to treat children with respect. The old adage applied – Children should be seen and not heart. Her father, Alessandro Montessori, worked in an official capacity for the Italian government and was a respected member of the bourgeois civil service. Her mother, Renide Stoppani, came from a wealthy, well-educated family known for their devotion to the liberation and unity of Italy.

It was her mother who encouraged Maria towards advanced education and convinced her to register at the Regia Scuola Tecnica Michaelangelo Buonarroti in engineering studies at the age of thirteen. She disliked it greatly and knew that this was not a model for an ideal school. She decided to drop out of her engineering program. Her family, friends, and especially her father, all cheered the decision for they were shocked that she would choose such an unlady-like profession.

Much to their chagrin, Maria decided to go to the University of Rome and become a student of their medical program. She graduated with a score of 100 out of 105 in 1896, the first female doctor in Italy’s history.

A month after her graduation, she was chosen to represent Italy in a Women's International Congress in Berlin, Germany. When she returned to Rome, she was appointed as a surgical assistant at Santo Spirito, worked at the children’s hospital, and maintained a private practice.

By 1897 Maria came to the realization that the children she worked with could not be adequately treated in the hospitals and should instead be educated in schools. Towards this goal, she began to devote more and more of her time towards perfecting education. In 1912 she developed The Montessori Method – a method of learning that used nature to meet the real needs of children.

In 1900 she became a director of a small school for 'challenged' youth. Her methods were hailed as experimental, but miraculous. She believed that children should be taught “how” prior to executing a task.

While working there, Maria had a love affair with a colleague, Dr. Montesano. In 1898, Maria gave birth to her only child, Mario Montessori. They vowed to keep their relationship and the identity of the father of her son a secret. They pledged that neither of them would ever marry another person. Montesano failed to live up to his end of the bargain, however, and fell in love with and married another woman while still working with Montessori in daily contact. The pain of this betrayal caused her to leave the school. She sent her son to a wet nurse and later to a boarding school.

In 1907 Montessori actively began to emphasize her theories and methods of pedagogy. She became the director for a group of daycare centers for children of the working class in one of the worst neighbourhoods in Rome. Her pupils were labelled as “wild and unruly”. Yet, under her guidance and methods, they began to respond. She respected the children and always held them in the highest regard and insisted that the teachers she employed did the same.

The success of their work was amazing. Children younger than three and four years old began to read, write, and initiate self-respect. Her method encouraged these underprivileged children to “absorb their culture”. But they absorbed much more than mere reading and writing – they soon progressed to botany, zoology, mathematics, geography, with great ease and spontaneous energy.

Critics complained her methods were too rigorous and harsh. But instead she argued, “I studied my children, and they taught me how to teach them." To hear such a statement today, would not turn heads. In Maria Montessori’s day, however, everyone was left agape and shocked. Because she believed that the learning environment was just as important as the learning itself, her school was the first to have child-sized tables and chairs made for the students. Her schools were often peaceful, orderly places, were the children valued their space for concentration and the process of learning.

Her methods completely contradicted traditional forms of educational. For example, adults often reprimand children about runny noses, but never take the time to teach them how to take care of it themselves. Maria said, “I decided to give the children a slightly humorous lesson on how to blow their noses. After I had shown them different ways to use a handkerchief, I ended by indicating how it could be done as unobtrusively as possible. I took out my handkerchief in such a way that they could hardly see it and blew my nose as softly as I could. The children watched me in rapt attention, but failed to laugh. I wondered why, but I had hardly finished my demonstration when they broke out into applause that resembled a long repressed ovation in a theater. When I was on the point of leaving the school, the children began to shout, 'Thank you, thank you for the lesson!'"

On one occasion, a teacher was late. The eager students actually crawled through the window and got right to work while they waited. Maria created the game of silence, a brief period of meditation that allowed the children to start the day with a sense of peace and focus.

In the latter years of her life, from around 1907 to the mid-1930's, Maria devoted all of her time and energy in founding schools that taught her method throughout Europe and North America. She also traveled to India and Sri Lanka, and until 1947, she trained thousands of teachers in the Montessori curriculum and methodology.
Maria Montessori died in 1952 in the Netherlands after a lifetime devoted to the study of child development. She also worked for women’s rights and social reform. Her success in Italy led to international recognition, and during her lifetime she traveled the world lecturing and training. ‘Educate for Peace’ was her guiding principle which influenced her every deed.

Her work lives on through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI), the organization she founded in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 1929 to carry on her work.

Maria made numerous memorable quotations. Following is a collection of her most famous ones:

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Casa Braccio by F. Marion Crawford


Casa Braccio is the first, but not the last, novel of F. Marion Crawford that I have and will read.

It is the compelling story of a young nun who flees the convent with her lover, a Scottish doctor/nobleman. He used a young woman's corpse, the victim of suicide, to create the impression that the nun has died in a fire, instead of going over the cloister's walls and disappearing.

Twenty years later, the nun dies and her husband and daughter, Gloria, live in Rome.

In a maze of intricate twists and turns, the novel goes on to explore the intrigues and triangles and passions of Gloria and her circle. Eventually, she commits suicide and her father is left to contemplate how his sacriligious deed of long ago has ruined many lives.

It is literally unputdownable and has hooked me on this newly discovered author. It is my very favourite kind of book.

The book is in two volumes . I downloaded it free Manybooks where it is available in many different electronic formats.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pompeii



Although I have been to Italy many times, and visited Milano, Rome, Venice, Vicenza, Trieste and the Abruzzi region, there are many, many places I have yet to experience. Pompeii has always been such a place for me. I have heard first hand about the location and some of the sites to see there.

Fortunately, this video is a lovely portrayal of what one can experience there. I was deeply touched by the stone bodies who still lie where they perished, preserved for all time in rock as a reminder of this terrible tragedy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

F. Marion Crawford - Italian American Author


Every once in a while we discover a new author who fast becomes one of our favourites. Recently, I discovered such an author. Like any new discovery, I’m suddenly very excited about it.

I’m always searching for all things Italian to blog about and always on the prowl for novels set in Italy. Through the magic of e-books and my new found passion for reading e-books on my smartphone, I have been able to search for books, published long ago, that are free. This is how I stumbled upon the books of F. Marion Crawford, aka Francis Marion Crawford.

Crawford was born at Bagni di Lucca, Italy, on the 2nd of August 1854. He was the son of American sculptor Thomas Crawford, and the nephew of the poet, Julia Ward Howe.

He attended university in Cambridge, Heidelberg, and Rome. In 1879 he travelled to India to study Sanskrit and became an editor. He returned to the United States to study Sanskrit at Harvard University.

In 1882 he wrote his first novel, Mr. Isaacs, about Anglo-Indian life touched with a bit of Oriental mystery. This book saw great success. In 1883 he wrote Dr. Claudius then returned to Italy where he made it his permanent home. Each year thereafter, he published another novel – each one successful, several of them being in the genre of historical fiction.

Here is a picture of Crawford at his home in Sorrenta in front of a small fountain in his back yard. The caption reads: In the garden of his house in Sorrento, Italy, where he writes in the summer. The tablet over the fountain to which Mr. Crawford points, bears a verse in Greek, beautiful in form and sentiment, which the novelist's wife composed, and had cut in the tablet as a birthday thought for her husband.



He is considered a most talented narrator, and his books of fiction, full of historic vigour and memorable characters became hugely popular. He could spin a story in a dramatic way and set his plots against charming backdrops.
He died at Sorrento on the 9th of April 1909.



Following are a list of his books. I’ve already been able to find several of them in e-book format and am very excited about reading them.

Mr. Isaacs (1882, novel)
Dr. Claudius (1883, novel)
A Roman Singer (1884, novel)
An American Politician (1884, novel)
To Leeward (1884, novel)
Zoroaster (1885, novel)
A Tale of a Lonely Parish (1886, novel)
Marzio's Crucifix (1887, novel)
Saracinesca (1887, novel)
Paul Patoff (1887, novel)
With the Immortals (1888, novel)
Greifenstein (1889, novel)
Sant Ilario (1889, novel)
A Cigarette-makers Romance (1890, novel)
Khaled (1891, novel)
The Witch of Prague (1891, novel)
The Three Fates (1892, novel)
The Children of the King (1892, novel)
Don Orsino (1892, novel)
Marion Darche (1893, novel)
Pietro Ghisleri (1893, novel)
Katharine Lauderdale (1894, novel)
Love in Idleness (1894, novel)
The Ralstons (1894, novel)
Casa Braccio (1895, novel)
Adam Johnstons Son (1895, novel)
Taquisara (1896, novel)
A Rose of Yesterday (1897, novel)
Corleone (1897, novel)
Ave Roma Immortalis (1898, history)
Via Crucis (1899, novel)
In the Palace of the King (1900, novel)
Rulers of the South (1900, history)
Marietta (1901, novel)
Cecilia (1902, novel)
Whosoever Shall Offend (1904, novel)
Soprano (1905, novel)
Gleanings from Venetian History (1905, history)
A Lady of Rome (1906, novel)
The White Sister (1909, novel)

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Becoming Italian Word by Word by Diane Hales


I recently had the pleasure of meeting Diane Hales through the miracle of cyberspace. Diane stumbled across this blog and took the time to email me and tell me a little about herself, her work, and her blog.

Diane is a journalist who fell in love with Italy and the Italian language and has since travelled Italy extensively and has even written a book about our lovely language. The book, pictured above, will be released in May. I'll definitely keep an eye out for it since it seems very interesting.

So if you would like to lose yourself in a beautiful blog about Italy, its culture, its people, then I invite you to visit her blog Becoming Italian Word By Word. Here you will find numerous topics related to Italy and a link to her website Becoming Italian.

Brava Diane! A l'amicizia!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Italian Marriages

My cousin sent me the following video clip and it made me laugh. Although it's a bit more risque then the stuff I usually post, it made me laugh because almost every Italian couple I know are exactly like this with each other.

I've never heard of the singer, Roby Santini before, but I will most definitely do some further research on him since I loved this clip very much.

We Italians do not hesitate to express ourselves verbally. We say it like it is. But always, at the end of the day, we love each other dearly and family is at the root of everything we do. I hope you enjoy it. The music is traditional and adds to the lightheartedness. And Roby Santini is Abruzzese too!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Medieval Scriptorium

I'm currently working on a novel that takes place in 10th century Germany and Italy. In those days, writing and illuminating was done on processed sheep skins called vellum.

In my research I came across this video that demonstrates how a sheet of vellum was made. It's in Italian, however, even if you can't understand the language, the demonstration is pretty thorough and easy to understand.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Strozzapreti


One of the things I love most about the Italian language is its descriptive words. Italians love to call things just as they see them.

I had never heard of strozzapreti before. It is a pasta noodle that is usually home made and not available in commercial format in my area. But I accidentally stumbled upon it when researching historical Italian recipes. And I've since seen a recipe featured on a popular Italian/Canadian television program.

They are called strozzapreti because the noodle was made by a group of nuns in a monastery in the Tuscany/Romagna region who claimed they pasta could choke a priest - strozzapreti. The noodle resembles a rolled towel and is similar to penne or fusili.

The legend of strozzapreti is that gluttonous priests were so passionate by the savory pasta that they wolfed the noodles down too quickly and choked themselves, sometimes to death.

Another legend refers to the actual making of the pasta - a housewife who actually "chokes" the dough strips in a fit of rage enough to choke a priest.

And yet another legend goes that housewives made the pasta for priests as partial payment for land rents (In the Romagna region, the Catholic Church rented extensive land tracts to farmers), and their husbands would be angered enough by the venal priests eating their wives' food to wish the priests would choke as they stuffed their mouth with it.

Regardless of the which legend is true, the name reflects a little resentment against the priests.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Andrea Bocelli



Andrea Bocelli

Andrea Bocelli is a world famous, gifted opera singer who not only sings, but writes and produces too. He was born in Italy in 1958 with congenital glaucoma. At the age of 12, he was involved in an accident which blinded him completely. Although never formally trained as an opera singer, his robust voice can easily cross the bounds of the music styles into pop and all other genres as is evidenced in the You Tube video below where he sings Elmo to sleep! Close your eyes and enjoy the magic of Andrea Bocelli!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Omerta by Mario Puzo


Omerta is the final novel in a trilogy about the Mafia. It was written during the last three years of Mario Puzo's life. The first novel in the trilogy was The Godfather in which Puzo introduced us to the Corleone family. The second novel, The Last Don, is about the rise and fall of the brutal Clericuzio family. Omerta concludes the trilogy by depicting the Aprile family who struggle to escape the stronghold of the Mafia way of life.

The book is fast paced and takes the reader through many twists and turns. As with all of Mr. Puzo's books, they are full of drama, betrayal, and intrigue. Mario Puzo became famous in literature and in Hollywood for his stories of the Mafia. I have always enjoyed his stories and will sorely miss him.

Here is the summary of the book as it is written on the book jacket:

Don Raymonde Aprile is an old man wily enough to retire gracefully from organized crime after a lifetime of ruthless conquest. Having kept his three children at a distance, he's ensured that they are now respectable members of the establishment: Valerius is an army colonel who teaches at West Point, Marcantonio is an influential TV network executive, and Nicole is a corporate litigator with a weakness for pro bono cases to fight the death penalty. To protect them from harm, and to maintain his entrée into the legitimate world of international banking, Don Aprile has adopted a "nephew" from Sicily, Astorre Viola, whose legal guardian made the unfortunate decision to commit suicide in the trunk of a car. Astorre is an unlikely enforcer--a macaroni importer with a fondness for riding stallions and recording Italian ballads with his band.

Though Don Aprile's retirement is seen as a business opportunity by his last Mafia rival, Timmona Portella, it is viewed with suspicion by Kurt Cilke, the FBI's special agent in charge of investigating organized crime. Cilke has achieved remarkable success in breaking down the bonds between families, cultivating high-ranking sources who in return for federal protection have violated omerta--Sicilian for "code of silence," the vow among men of honor that, until recently, kept them from betraying their secrets to the authorities.

As Cilke and the FBI mount their campaign to wipe out the Mafia once and for all, Astorre Viola and the Apriles find themselves in the midst of one last war, a conflict in which it is hard to distinguish who, if anyone, is on the right side of the law, and whether mercy or vengeance is the best course of action.

Rich with suspense, dark humor, and the larger-than-life characters who have turned Mario Puzo's novels into modern myths, Omerta is a powerful epitaph for the Mafia at the turn of a new century, and a final triumph for a great American storyteller.





Mario Puzo
October 15, 1920 – July 2, 1999

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger



I am currently reading The Ruby Ring by Diane Haeger and am very much enjoying it. It is a love story between Raphael Sanzio, famous painter, and the woman he used as a model, Margherita Luti. The novel has me totally entranced. I'm enjoying the vivid descriptions of Rome, its palazzi, famous personages, and colorful clothing. Here is the back cover blurb:

Rome, 1520. The Eternal City is in mourning. Raphael Sanzio, beloved painter and national hero, has died suddenly at the height of his fame. His body lies in state at the splendid marble Pantheon. At the nearby convent of Sant’Apollonia, a young woman comes to the Mother Superior, seeking refuge. She is Margherita Luti, a baker’s daughter from a humble neighborhood on the Tiber, now an outcast from Roman society, persecuted by powerful enemies within the Vatican. Margherita was Raphael’s beloved and appeared as the Madonna in many of his paintings. Theirs was a love for the ages. But now that Raphael is gone, the convent is her only hope of finding an honest and peaceful life.

The Mother Superior agrees to admit Margherita to their order. But first, she must give up the ruby ring she wears on her left hand, the ring she had worn in Raphael’s scandalous nude “engagement portrait.” The ring has a storied past, and it must be returned to the Church or Margherita will be cast out into the streets. Behind the quiet walls of the convent, Margherita makes her decision . . . and remembers her life with Raphael—and the love and torment—embodied in that one precious jewel.

In The Ruby Ring, Diane Haeger brings to life a love affair so passionate that it remains undimmed by time. Set in the sumptuous world of the Italian Renaissance, it’s the story of the clergymen, artists, rakes, and noblemen who made Raphael and Margherita’s world the most dynamic and decadent era in European history.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Marco Polo



Marco Polo

Many years ago, as I floated down one of Venice's canals on a gondola, I noticed a plaque high up on the wall of a home that marked the home of Marco Polo.



I'll never forget that moment. Having grown up in Canada, it amazed me to see homes centuries old still in existence, still lived in.



Ever since, I've been fascinated with learning more about this interesting man who become one of the most famous personages in Italian History. Marco Polo travelled the Silk Road and broke bread with Kublai Khan of the Mongol Empire.

Marco Polo was born in 1254. The Polo family were of the nobility from Dalamatia. It is uncertain whether Marco Polo was born there or in Venice in 1254. At the time, Venice was a famous center for commerce in the Mediterranean. As a son of an affluent family, Marco learned to read and write, studied the classical authors, and read the Bible. He spoke French, Latin, and Italian. He had a zest for knowledge as is evidenced by his enthusiasm in writing about new resources, people, and lands he later discovered as a result of his travels.

When Marco Polo was 6 years old, his father and uncle took him with them as they set out eastward on their first trip to Cathay (China). He was 15 years old when he returned. Upon his arrival back in Venice, he learned his mother had passed away. He remained in Venice with his father and uncle for two more years and then they embarked once again to Cathay.

He wrote about his travels in a book he entitled Il Millione (The Million, or The Travels of Marco Polo). He documented his experiences and the sights he visited. He remarked upon the differences between Europe and Asia. More importantly, he brought new and different spices to Italy from the Orient. Marco Polo died in 1324.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

La Scala di Milano



My uncle and his family live in Milano. Many years ago, while in my teens, I remember he took me to La Scala. I remember sitting in one of the red velvet palchi, my mouth agape at the beautiful architecture and gold gilt. I was transfixed, speechless, overwhelmed at the antiquity, the history, as if the whispers of those before us still lingered there somehow. It was an experience I have never forgotten and never will.



Prior to 1776, the structure that once stood there was called Teatro Ducale. After a carnival gala on February 1776, the Teatro caught fire and it was destroyed.

Many Milanese socialites who owned palchi (private boxes) in the theatre, wrote to Archduke Ferdinand I of Austria and asked him for a new theatre. They also requested a provisional teatro be identified while a new structure was being built. He whole heartedly approved.

Neoclassical architect, Giuseppe Piermarini, produced the first design for the new theatre, but Count Firmian, an Austrian governor, rejected the plans.

Later in 1776, Empress Maria Theresa approved a second plan. It was to be built on the location where the church of Santa Maria della Scala stood. This is where the new theatre got its name. So the church was deconsecrated and demolished.

Under the guidance of master contractors Pietro Marliani, Pietro Nosetti, and Antonio and Giuseppe Fe, the new structure took a little more than two years to complete.

La Scala of Milano boasts over 3,000 seats within 678 pit-stalls within in six tiers of boxes above which is the Loggia or two galleries. The stage at La Scala is the largest in Italy.

To fund the endeavour, the contractors sold each of the palchi. The owners were permitted to lavishly decorate them as they wished.

In Milano's high society, La Scala became the preeminent meeting place for noble and wealthy Milanese people. It was customary for the main floor to have no chairs. Spectators always watched the shows standing. There was no orchestra pit, so the musicians were always in full few. And in the foyer? A casino was always in place in keeping with the norm for theatres at the time.

On the floor above all the palchi, is the loggia. Here, the less wealthy could pay a reduced price to enjoy the performances. This group are referred to as loggione, critical opera aficionados who readily deomonstrate their pleasure or displeasure towards the perforamnces. Even today, the loggione continue their vociferous critiques. In 2006, tenor Roberto Alagna was booed off-stage during his performance. A non-wardrobed understudy was forced to replace him mid-concert.

Prior to the days before electricity, over 1000 oil lamps illuminated all parts of the theatre. To protect against another fire, several rooms were filled with hundreds of water buckets. In time, oil lamps were replaced by gas lamps, these in turn were replaced by electric lights in 1883.

La Scala was destined to undergo more renovations. The first in 1907 and again in 1943 after it was severely damaged by the bombs of World War II.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Espresso Coffee 101



For the longest time, I wanted an espresso maker. Not the stove top kinds, I've got several of those. The real automatic ones that can whip milk too. So I purchased The Cuisinart Espresso Maker depicted above. It sits on a prominent spot on my kitchen counter, a source of great pride to me.

The truth is, however, that I'm very intimidated. Yes, you heard it right, I, Mirella Patzer of 100% Italian blood is afraid to use the darn appliance. It could be because I simply don't have the time to read through the instruction book or that I can't operate the darn DVD player in my Family Room in order to watch the How To DVD.

But I think the truth is that I'm intimidated. Espresso coffee has gotten to be such a specialty and an art. So I'm writing this article in the hopes of educating myself a little more about the various types of espresso I should one day learn to make.

The term espresso refers to the brewing method. Very hot, nearly boiling water is forced by pressure through ground coffee powder in an espresso machine.

So for the purposes of my own education, here are the basic variations of classic espresso beverages which I hope to attempt over the following weeks:

An Espresso is a straight serving of espresso coffee often referred to as a shot. I love to drink this with sugar and a shot of Sambucca. Sambucca and espresso coffee are two flavours that are entwined and compliment each other.



Espresso Ristretto is also known as short or corto. It is only 1/2 to 3/4 of a shot of espresso. In other words, it has been shortened. Because of its higher concentration, it is more dense and aromatic than a normal shot of espresso.



Espresso Lungo is the oppositve of short or corto. It is an espresso with twice the amount of water that is passed through the standard amount of coffee. It is less aromatic and much weaker in taste.



Espresso Romano is a standard espresso served with a twist of lemon peel served on the side of the cup. The lemon is rubbed on the side of the cup to provide a lemon taste. The lemon should never be added into the coffee, as the citric acid breaks up the crema.



Espresso con Panna is a standard espresso topped with whipped cream and sprinkling of unsweetened chocolate powder.



Double Espresso or Espresso Doppio is 2 shots of espresso in one cup. It is also known as a double-shot.



Cappuccino us a standard shot of espresso topped by hot steamed milk and milk froth. To keep it authentic, the maker must ensure it consists of 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 stiff foam added to the espresso coffee.



Café Latte is 1 to 2 shots of espresso and 3 times as much hot milk. The key is there is more milk than coffee than a standard capuccino. It has a weaker taste. Milk and coffee are poured simultaneously from either side of the glass.



An Espresso Macchiato is a standard shot of espresso topped with a small amount of milk steam foam.



Latte Macchiato is hot frothed milk which is poured to a glass then followed by slow dribbling of the espresso. The coffee 'stains' the milk. This is different than when making a cappuccino where the milk and froth are added later to the coffee, and when making latte the milk and coffee are poured at the same time into the glass. In a latte macchiato, the coffee is poured into the milk and froth. This creates a layered effect which is best served in a clear glass.



Café Mocha was invented in America and is prepared by mixing a standard espresso shot with 2 ounces of thick strong hot chocolate which is then topped with hot frothed milk.



In the course of writing and preparing this post, I developed a powerful yearning for an espresso. So what did I do? Well, I pulled out my trusty stove top maker and poured myself a cup with a huge dollop of whip cream on top. I believe this is called an Espresso con Panna, only I skipped the chocolate powder. And my cuisinart sits waiting. Sigh.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pizzelle




Pizzelle (pit-sell-eh) - Pizzelle are a traditional cookie from the Abruzzi regionof Italy. They are thin wafer cookies that look almost like a waffle. The word pizelle means little, round, and flat.

For decades, blacksmiths forged pizzelle irons out of cast iron with a family crest or the name of the woman. These were passed down from generation to generation, just as a precious piece of jewelery.



According to an article from the Lonely Planet Publications on the Festival of the Snakes:

Legend has it that the mountainous and bucolic area around Abruzzo was once so infested by snakes that life tended to the short, sharp and brutal rather than the long and cheerful. The local shepherds, back in 700 BC, appealed to Apollo for help. His advice was to capture the snakes, domesticate them by draping them around his statue and then release them into the bush again.

Curiously, this seemed to work and the ritual has been replayed ever since. Somewhere along the way, however, the fickle mortals dumped the old Greek gods for the newish Christian gods and indulged in a bit of historical revisionism. Apollo became Saint Domenica and a few touches of modernity, like fireworks, were added to the ritual.

Celebrations begin on St Joseph's Day, 19 March, when the first snakes of the season are netted and caged. Two months later, on the first Thursday in May, the village is stirred by an 8am revelry call of fireworks, followed by a traditional mass. After the mass, the statue of Saint Domenica is hauled through the streets of Colcullo, where villagers drape the captured serpents, boa-like, around the stone neck of Saint Domenica.

This ritual and the procession is usually accompanied by a noisy band of villagers, barking dogs and merry-makers. At the edge of the village the squirming mass is released back into the bush and the villagers, so it is said, are immune from snake bites for another year.


Today, pizzelles continue to be revered and celebrated at feasts. In the small Abruzzi town of Salle, they honor a 12th century monk named Beato Roberto. Celebrants attach pizzelle to tree branches and proceed down the street with them.

Although my mother still uses her pizzelle iron (a cherished heirloom she brought with her from the old country when she immigrated to Canada in the 1950's, I prefer to use a modern, electronic model.



From the youngest to the oldest, I have yet to meet the person who did not like a pizzelle. During Christmas and Easter and other family get togethers, I see that they are the very first cookie to disappear from the cookie platter.

Here is my favourite pizzelle recipe, handed down through my Abruzzese mother and her mother and grandmothers before her:

6 eggs
7 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
3 teaspoons pure anise extract or a few drops of pure anise oil
1 cup melted butter or oil
4 tablespoons baking powder

Beat eggs and sugar. Add cooled melted butter or margarine, and anise extract. Sift flour and baking powder and add to egg mixture. Batter will have a dough like consistency. Form into 1 inch balls and place on the grids in the pizzelle baker. This will make about 150 small pizzelle.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Cavalucci di siena (Nut Cakes of Italy)



These cookies originated in the 13th century and developed by the poor farm wives of Tuscany. They were served in abudance during the Pallio. Hence the name Cavalucci which means little horses in Italian.

Cavalucci di Siena (Nut Cakes of Italy)

2 cups flour sifted
1 cup hot water
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup walnuts chopped
1/3 cup candied orange peel chopped
1/8 tsp. each: nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves
½ tsp. anise seed

Cook the sugar and water together until it becomes a syrup and spins a thread. Remove from the heat and add the nuts, spices and orange peel. Add the flour and knead into a smooth dough. Roll thin, cut into small cakes and bake at 350° F until light brown.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Briscola - An Italian Card Game



Memories of my childhood consist of large Christmas and Easter family get-togethers with constant eating, a ton of food, lots of loud talking and gestures, and then BRISCOLA games till the wee hours of the morning.

Briscola is a traditional Italian trick taking game for 2 to 6 players. It uses the Italian 40-card deck. Each player is dealt 3 cards with one turned up as the trump suit. Play does not need to follow suit and the winner of each trick replenishes their hand first. The total points in each game are 120 and whoever has the higher scoring wins a manche of the game.

The cards were a work of art in themselves.



Play with 3-6 players just takes a few minor adjustments to the rules or cards and the versions for 4-6 are played with partnerships.

We often played for quarters. I remember that no matter who won the kitty, we were genuinely thrilled for them and often went out of our way to help another family member win.

As we children grew up and married and had children of our own, we don't all get together like this anymore. But these wonderful memories of my childhood will always stay with me.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Candida martinelli's Italophile Site

Every once in a while, I accidentally stumble upon a fabulous website. This happened to me very recently. The website is called Candida Martinelli's Italophile Site - http://www.italophiles.com

I have literally spent an hour or so clicking and learning, submersing myself in all aspects of the culture from recipes to art to travel to books to arts and crafts - and the list goes on and on and on.

Candida's passion for everything Italian is clear and she is continually searching and updating this informative website.

Always loaded with colorful pictures and descriptions, I doubt there is anything she hasn't written about or tracked. Some of the products she's identified are linked directly to the product should you wish to buy.

I can't begin to tell you how impressed I am with her dedication in compiling this wonderful collection of Italiana! I urge you to visit, but warn you to set aside some time. Once you're there, you never want to leave.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Battle of the Moro River


At the bottom of my blog are several YouTube videos about World War II, specifically about the Battle for Ortona and the Battle of the Moro River. These two battles are very near and dear to my heart. You see, my family's vineyards lie on the banks of the Moro River. Today, these same vineyards belong to my mother and her sisters here in Canada.

The Moro River Campaign was a campaign fought by the First Canadian Infantry Division along the Moro River in eastern Italy in December 1943. The Campaign was part of the British Eighth Army's drive across the Winter Line. The campaign lasted throughout December, 1943, and culminated with the vicious Battle of Ortona.



During 1943, my mother and her family survived the devastation and the battles that occurred on these very vineyards outside of Villa San Leonardo which is located just south of Ortona. The Canadian soldiers, with the assistance of the Americans, liberated the town from German occupancy.

I am passionate about this subject. This rich family history is the sole reason I became an author. I long to recount the hardships faced by the Italian citizens during this time. I want to pay homage to the Canadians who helped them survive, who gave them food and blankets while they lived in caves until their homes could be rebuilt.

Before I can write about this episode of World War II, I need to walk my upon my grandfather's vineyards. I need to visit the cave where he sought shelter for his family for 8 long months. Only in this way can I begin to perhaps understand and truly experience this sentiment.

Today, next to my family's vineyards is the Moro River War Cemetary. A lovely tribute to the Canadian, English, and American soldiers who lost their lives to free the Italians from the German's clutches.



One day, whether in the form of a novel or a collection of short stories, I will tell their stories. In the meantime, I welcome any comments or information anyone has about these battles or circumstances.
StumbleUpon My StumbleUpon PageAdd to Technorati Favorites

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Venetian Mask by Rosalind Laker


Eighteenth century Venice is an era of decadence and sin, intrigue and corruption, illicit romance and dark secrets. Carnivale and the wearing of opulent masks make hiding while in public easy. Trysts and illicit encounters abound. Danger and violence lurk around any chosen corner. Under this magnificent and glamorous backdrop, the lives of three young girls, Adrianna, Elena, and Marietta, intertwine at the “Ospedale della Pieta” a renowned music conservatory for orphaned girls.
Adrianna, the most famous and most highly revered singer of the Pieta gives up the opportunity for a sensational career in the opera to marry a talented Venetian mask- maker whom she has fallen deeply in love with.

The beautiful blonde and blue-eyed Elena catches the attention of Marco and Fillipo Celano, two brothers from a very rich and powerful family. She is in love with and betrothed to Marco, but when he suddenly dies before their wedding, she must become the wife of his brother, Filipo, a man who is ambitious as well as dangerous. To maintain his lofty position within the Celano family, Filipo must sire an heir, but Elena remains barren. The more desperate he becomes for an heir, the more he turns to violence towards the gentle Elena.

The rich voice and beauty catapults Marietta into top spot at the Pieta. She becomes one of the most famed singers of Venice. Her notoriety draws the notice and love of a handsome Frenchman named Alix Desgrange. Their plans to elope are ruined when Alix’s guardian learns of the tryst. The two lovers are forever separated when Alix must marry someone else in his homeland of France.

Several years pass. Marietta receives a marriage proposal from Domenico Torrisi. The Torrisi and Celano families have been mortal enemies for many years. Once she marries into the Torrisi family, she will never be allowed to see Elena again. Both husbands forbid the two women to maintain their friendship. With the aid of Adrianna, Elena and Marietta begin to meet discreetly. Their friendship continues under these clandestine conditions. Further, they develop a repertoire of secret hand and eye signals to communicate with each other whenever in public.

Clandestine meetings, secret births, murder, vengeance, vendetta, betrayal, and political intrigue decorate this intricate plot. I was easily drawn into the story as the simplicity and joy of life for the three “Pieta” girls deteriorate.
Rosalind Laker vividly recreates the mystique of the “golden age” of Venice where sin can hide behind the mask of the wearer. She has wonderfully portrayed the decadence of Venice. The reader will be swept away on a heart-wrenching journey of violence, trickery, and dark secrets. The story’s realistic sub-plots of hatred and obsession draw the reader deeper into the tale. The rich decadence of Venetian life of centuries past, unforgettable characters, and the roller-coaster of twists and turns sprinkled throughout the story, make this an unforgettable novel. The stories of the three girls and the hardships they must overcome is endearing. The ending does not disappoint. I recommend this unique novel for anyone who wants to vividly experience the rich culture of the ancient city of Venice.



StumbleUpon My StumbleUpon PageAdd to Technorati Favorites

Blogger Templates