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.

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.

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:

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.

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.

The Wildest Horse Race in the World by Marguerite Henry

I am an avid reader of any book or novel that pertains to Italy. I stumbled upon this book accidentally. It was a discard from a school library and because it pertained to medieval Italy, and therefore research for future novels of mine, I immediately purchased the book.

This is a classic tale about a young boy and a horse who enter the famous Italian Palio. The author, Marguerite Henry did an exceptional job at researching this novel by attending the Palio and Siena herself to study the sport. She brings to life the pain, the excitement, and the passion for this sport.

Throughout the sometimes heart-wrenching tale of endurance, Henry reveals the ancient practice in vivid detail. It is a story of overcoming the unsurmountable, of perseverence, of achieving the impossible.

The book was first published in 1976 and can still be found on-line at various bookstores. It is beautifully illustrated to bring alive the details and scenery of the ancient city of Siena.

So, if you are a collector of Italian books, then this is a must have for your bookshelf and children.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Vita by Melania Mazzucco

“The image of that city rising from the water and aiming straight for the sky will stay with him for the rest of his life - so near and yet so unreachable.”

This novel written by Melania Mazzucco became an international publishing sensation with the rights were sold in 11 countries, 300,000 copies were sold in Italy, and it won the prestigious Strega Award in Italy.

Melania Mazzucco brings to life the Italian immigrant experience, the journeys of hopes, dreams, illusions and disillusionment that many made at the turn of the century to escape poverty.

Historical fact is melded with fiction as Mazzucco reveals the story of Vita (aged nine) and Diamante (aged 12), two cousins who immigrate to New York City in 1903. After clearing customs at Ellis Island, the two children try to locate Vita’s father who lives in a boardinghouse located in the Italian Quarter.

Mazzucco’s prose is powerful and she breathe life to the horrible conditions the poor Italian immigrant was subjected to. It is a struggle merely to survive as Vita and Diamante try to assimilate into.

From squalor to the brutal conditions of labor; from lack of essentials to starvation, from disease to death, from the threats of the notorious Black Hand letters to murder and chaos - the reader experiences all the darkness of the times through the eyes of these two children and the various characters in the story. Out of the darnkess of their lives, Vita and Diamante discover an enduring love.

Diamante becomes trapped working as a waterboy for a railroad - the more he earns, the more he owes. Disillusioned, he escapes to the west. Their separation affects the two youths in many ways, with both good and bad influences. Shattered dreams, discouragement, toil and struggle change the immigrants.

Mazzucco tells this history of her family with passion and pain. Each word is to be savoured and understood and by the end of the novel, the reader is left with a lasting impression of what thousands of Italian immigrants struggled with to rebuild their lives in a new world.

Brava Melania Mazzucco.

Vivaldi's Virgins by Barbara Quick

Visit: http://www.vivaldisvirgins.com
VIVALDI'S VIRGINSBarbara Quick, Harper Collins, 2007, $24.95 USD / $31.00 CND, hardcover, 284 pages, ISBN: 978-0-06-089052-0

Anna Maria dal Violin was abandoned as a baby and lives as an orphan in the foundling home and cloisters of the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice. From an early age, she was taught to play the violin and became part of an elite orchestra of orphan girls. Antonio Vivaldi, the "Red Priest" composed many of his pieces for them.

Anna Maria longs to learn who her parents are. Sister Laura instructs Anna Maria to share her most inner thoughts and aspirations into letters to the mother she has never known. She soon rises to become Vivaldi's favorite and he composes challenges pieces for her to play.

But Anna Maria longs to learn who she is and longs to see Venice. On more than one occasion, she manages to escape from the orphanage. Each time she is caught and punished. A small golden locket and chain is presented to her by a Jewish seamstress. Anna Maria knows it holds the secret of her parentage. Eventually, Anna Maria does learn the truth about herself and some of the other characters.

Behind the masks of Carnivale and the musical scores of Vivaldi, 18th century Venice comes brilliantly to life. In this passionate novel, Vivaldi is seen through the eyes of Anna Maria. The plot takes several twists and turns that enthrall the reader. The details of history are well researched and the imagery sensational.

The prose is lyrical and mesmerizing at times.
Quick has included a glossary at the end to help the reader with Italian words and phrases. At the end, Barbara Quick describes what is historical fact and what she created from her imagination. This is a complex tale and will appeal to lovers of Italian history as well as fans of Vivaldi and his music. Barbara Quick has written a truly enduring coming of age story.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

About Me

Mirella Patzer is a novelist, researcher, blogger, and history afficionado. She has published two novels. Her short stories have been featured in several anthologies. She has been featured in radio programs and newspaper articles. She is currently at work on a trilogy about the women of the Ottonian Empire. She lives and writes from her home between Calgary and the Canadian Rockies and her condo in Great Falls Montana.