-by Diana Maiola
The great strides of women over the last century are evident in every area imaginable. In politics, the workplace and society, in general, women have made great leaps forward in procuring and, hence, managing positions that were traditionally only open to men. One such woman is Giorgia Boscolo. Giorgia Boscolo, in fact, is the first woman, after a strict tradition of 900 years, to become a female gondoliere (known as gondoliera) in Venice.
Passing the entrance exam allowed her to attend the training school. She became a substitute gondoliere after passing the rigorous tests and exams with high scores. After a very involved internship, she was then allowed to be classified as an official gondoliere.
The idea of becoming a gondoliere began young for Giorgia as she always dreamed of following in the footsteps of her father Dante, who spent his whole career on the canals of Venice. Working every day in a male-dominated career has been a transition and Giorgia hopes one day to have a few female colleagues. Thankfully, most of her male counterparts have embraced her arrival on the canals.
Aldo Reato, the president of the gondoliers of Venice has said: “It was right and inevitable that we too would adapt to the changing times. I personally welcome Giorgia into the category with pride and affection, wishing her to live the gondola in the most genuine way and to love the lagoon as her father did; she too, like us, the first guardians and sentinels of an inimitable artistic, historical and human heritage."
Focused on her dream, Giorgia has demonstrated great elegance and sportsmanship in her accomplishment. In the end, she has made huge strides towards gender equality and breaking the centuries–old traditions of Venice, the Serenissima Republic.
Now a bit about the Venetian Gondola, an iconic symbol of the spectacular city of Venice, Italy. The earliest documentation of these sleek hand-made vessels dates back to the year 1094. Dark in color and with a long slender shape, it is 35.5 feet long and 4.7 feet wide. In order to accommodate navigating in very shallow waters such as those found in the endless canals of Venice, it has a flat bottom. To better balance the weight of the gondolier that flat bottom is asymmetric. In the construction of a gondola, eight different types of wood are used. Those woods are oak, larch, fir, linden, elm, walnut, mahogany and cherrywood.
The rich tradition of building the gondola in Venice is carried on in the Squero. The Squero is the artisans’ workshop and the most famous is the Squero of San Trovaso. Most of the artisans come from the mountainous areas of Belluno in northern Italy. With the collaborative work of a team of craftsmen, it takes 12 months to complete one gondola.
In 1609 a decree was issued which stated that all gondolas had to be black. This law has never been changed. If you see a gondola with accents of gold, you can be sure that it is real 24k gold leaf as nothing inferior is acceptable.
During the glory days of the Venetian Republic, there were about 10,000 gondolas in circulation. Today, there are sadly only 400. The next time you are in Venice, be sure to take a ride. It is a relaxing way to absorb the beauty of this alluring city!
-By Diana Maiola
The summer month of August is upon us. For many around the globe and in normal non-Covid-19 circumstances, it is the perfect time to take that last-minute vacation with the family or squeeze in a festive gathering around the BBQ. August is typically one of the warmer months of the year and here in Italy, most people abandon the city and take refuge at the beach or run to the mountains for some fresh mountain air. Local festivals are common and everything is celebrated from holy saints to peaches, truffles and wine. Famous song writers and musicians perform free concerts in modern stadiums or in ancient ruins that get temporarily fitted with a stage, lights and seating. The most important day of the month for the Italians is the 15th of August, the Feast of the Assumption. In many towns mass is attended and then the streets fill with the locals as a procession devoted the Mother Mary passes by. This is a national holiday and with the exception of many restaurants, most everything is closed. This is a day that restaurants offer special multi course set menus that may begin at 1 pm and not end until 5:30 or 6 pm in the evening. These festive meals are always served in sit down fashion. The antipasti can vary from a variety of 7-12 different items to nibble on and the pasta courses are at least 2. The meat or fish course will be abundant and include a nice choice of side dishes. After a break a little walk or leg stretching, it is back to the table for fresh fruit, dessert and espresso as well as limoncello or some other type of digestive liquor. Teens on the other hand, organize huge picnics with dozens if not hundreds of participants. This is known as a “scampagnata”. Of course, their mammas are up cooking the night before and pasta is a must as well as roasted sausage, poultry and vegetables. If the event is near a water source like a stream, everyone will be sure to get tossed in at least once at some point during the day.
Now let’s discuss the feast of the assumption itself. According to Christian belief, the tradition of the feast day of the Assumption of Mary is the day that God assumed the Virgin Mary into Heaven at the end of her life. However, and very interestingly, the origins of this celebration started in pre-Christian times with the ancient Romans. During that time, it was a Pagan Feast known as “Ferragosto”. In Latin it is known as Feriae Augusti and it was the Emperor Augustus, who in the year 18 BC made the 1st of August a day of rest after weeks and weeks of hard work in the fields. Workers received a monetary gift or bonus and it became a custom for the workers to wish their employers a “Buon Ferragosto." Horse races and festivities were organized across the entire Roman Empire and beasts of burden such as cows, oxen, mules and donkeys were decorated with fresh flowers and given a rest. During Renaissance times, the Catholic Church moved the official date of Ferragosto to August 15 to coincide with the Assumption of Mary.
Unfortunately, all around the world since the advent of the global Pandemic, gatherings including festivals, weddings, concerts, parties etc, have been cancelled or postponed.
Here in Italy the much- anticipated festivals have already been cancelled or are not going to happen this year. In some cities and towns to pacify the very devout, the local priest arranged for the statue of Mary or another favorite saint to be taken out of storage and a select few mask-clad parishioners took a brisk walk through the main streets carrying the statue so that locals could stand on their balconies and say a prayer as it passed by. In our beloved Cleveland, the feast of the Assumption which takes place in August has been cancelled for the first time in 121 years! This gives us all the more reason to anticipate next years’ festivities.
2020 is more than half over. In a month it will be September and then before we know it, it will be the holidays!! Looking forward to 2021!
-By Diana Maiola
It is the symbol of victory, prosperity, fertility, perseverance and wisdom but most importantly, it is the ultimate representation of Peace. The olive tree is stoic, stubborn and stunningly beautiful! The origins of the olive tree can be traced according to fossil evidence from 20-40 million years ago in what is now Italy and the eastern Mediterranean Basin. Actual cultivation first took place about 7000 years ago. Today there are 800 million olive trees growing on our Earth and there are over 500 different cultivars (varieties of olives).
My first recollection of them was when I was 6 years old. My uncle, Zio Raffaele, took me to a piece of land that belonged to the Pugliese side of my family of my dear mother, Anna, and for the first time in my life I was cognizant of these magnificent trees. The soil was a bit sandy and I was chasing a tiny lizard that lead me right to the gnarly trunk of an ancient olive tree. I was so taken with the tree and I had to touch it. As I stood up, I actually felt embraced by the tree. Something magnetic transpired because I have been drawn to the olive tree ever since. In so many parts of the world there are olive trees. For the purpose of this post, I am going to focus on the trees of Italy. Eighteen out of 20 regions in Italy grow olive trees. Here is a quick list of some regions and their corresponding % of olive oil production:
The typical life expectancy of an olive tree is 300-600 years, however, there are countless trees that are more than 1,000 years old!! My personal favorites are in the region of Puglia, especially those that are “Secolare”. “Secolare” in Italian
means secular and is a perfect way to give reference to a remarkably old tree. There are between 50 – 60 million trees in this region alone and we like to think that there is one tree per person living in Italy! One can drive for hours within the region of Puglia and witness that the trees are planted as far as the eye can see. The olive tree is incredibly resistant and can survive without much care. It grows in sandy, windy, rocky and burning sun conditions bordering on drought. It is adaptable and flexible and maintains its silvery leaves all year long.
The fruit of the tree, the olives are harvested mostly by hand between October and November in Italy. Within four hours of being picked they must be rushed to the “Frantoio” or mill to be pressed into oil. My 3 favorite cultivars are Ogliarola, Coratina and Peranzana. Extra Virgin Olive oil does not improve with age and its biggest enemy is light. Dark glass bottles kept in a cool dry place are best for optimum protection and storage. Some of the health benefits of olive oil include that it is Rich in monounsaturated fat and Oleic acid. It is an antioxidant; it has strong anti-inflammatory properties and promotes a healthy heart. Furthermore, it is not associated with obesity or weight gain and it helps to maintain beautiful skin. The Mediterranean diet relies heavily on the use of olive oil and it is delicious with grilled vegetables, toasted bread, in soups on fish and the list goes on and on.
Here in Italy the ancient wood of a deceased tree is given to artisans that transform the wood into objects of art or useful household items such as cutting boards, utensils, serving bowls etc. It makes me happy that the life of these trees is repurposed and not forgotten.
When I consider the integrity of the olive tree it reminds me of the legendary character, vitality, stability and fortitude of my parents, my grandparents and all the generations that precede them. When I have an exceptional bottle of olive oil in my kitchen, I feel blessed. For this, I am at peace.
-By Diana Maiola
I love Springtime in Italy. By the middle of March the already mild winter begins to subside and the days kissed by Mediterranean sunshine begin to get longer. Strolling through the streets of Rome it is very easy to distinguish locals from foreigners. Foreigners will have already traded their winter wardrobe for flip flops and short sleeves while the locals are still hanging on to their down jackets and cashmere scarves. Italians are “freeze babies”. They are horribly afraid of the cold and they fear a spontaneous draft as if it were the plague! For a woman, even wearing a sling back shoe with hosiery is considered a risk. All aches and pains from a headache, runny nose, sore knee or stiff neck are blamed on “Un Colpo di freddo” or as translated, a blast of cold.
Still, Spring is a time of celebration. Annual summer flowers are already being planted in weathered planters and beds as decoration. The winter fruits are still delicious, especially the blood oranges from Sicily. The olive trees are starting to reveal tiny clusters of olives which will mature come October and November and be ripe for harvest and fig trees are starting to reveal gumball sized figs.
Two of my favorite things to experience in Springtime are the wild asparagus and the abundance of artichokes that are available.
It is common to be driving with a local and all of a sudden, they pull to the side of the road in order to collect wild asparagus. The wild version of the asparagus is much more slender than the commercial version, sweet and mild in taste and adaptable to most any recipe. They really are a wonderful gift of Spring.
Now let’s talk artichokes. Coming from Cleveland I am used to seeing artichokes in the grocery store at an absorbent price of $2.00-$4.00 each. It always amazes me that someone out in sunny California has not decided to grow these wonderful vegetables in mass quantities in order to bring down the price a bit. I do not mind paying top dollar for something that I enjoy but, the problem is that I have seen what they cost here in Italy and so now I am spoiled. My best memory of making artichokes took place about 12 years ago. In the small town of my paternal ancestors a man comes into town about 2 times per week in the spring with a small truck full of artichokes. When the artichokes are collected, they are left in tact with their long stems. When peeled the stems are fully edible. A bunch or as the Italians refer to them as “un mazzo”, a bouquet of artichokes consists of 14 heads. Each bouquet is sold for 4 euro or 3 bouquets for 10 euro!! Yes, you are reading it correctly converted to US dollars that is about $4.48 for 14 artichokes with stems or about 32 cents each!! If you opt for the 3 for 10 deal it comes out to about 27 cents each. What a bargain!!
So, getting back to my favorite artichoke story. It was early morning and my cousin alerted me that the artichokevendor with his rickety truck was fast approaching. Instantly, I knew what I was making for lunch and I wanted 1 bouquet of artichokes to feed 5 people. I reached into my purse and the only thing I had was a twenty-euro bill. I threw the money over my balcony to my cousin and he flagged down the vendor. He was quick to catch the money, but he did not hear me say “bring me back one bouquet”. Instead, within about 7 minutes I had 6 heavy bouquets of artichokes with long stems equaling 84 individual heads!! NOW WHAT??!! Thinking fast on my feet has always been my strong suit, so I called my aunts to help me clean and prepare this mountain of artichokes. We basically spent the remainder
of the morning and then again into the early evening hours making artichokes. We fed 6 families that day and had a blast. I will remember it forever.
One of my favorite ways to prepare artichokes is stewed. After peeling the tough outer leaves and removing the choke, the artichokes are halved and then stewed slowly with white wine, water, garlic, parsley, olive oil, garlic and salt and pepper. When the artichokes are tender about 90 -120 min later and the broth is reduced by half, toast some good bread for dipping and enjoy!
-By Diana Maiola
Travelling is a wonderful thing. If you are able to simply pack your things, lock the door and get to the airport, you are fortunate. If you have a household with children and pets, getting away in a smooth fashion can prove to be a challenge. Not impossible!! But just the same a challenge.
So, what do we do when we have furry family members that need to be taken into consideration while travelling. Fortunately, there are wonderful pet hotels that will board your pet while you are away. They provide a safe and warm environment with professional supervision so that you are more at ease while on vacation. It is always good to read reviews and ask friends and family for referrals before deciding where to lodge your sweet pets. Many provide a pet cam that will allow you to check in on your loved one via live stream video. This is most helpful when you are missing them! Of course, if you are fortunate enough to have a friend or relative pet sit that is also a great option.
If you decide to engage in air travel with you small pet, make sure to carefully review all of the rules pertaining to that specific airline. As well, consult with your vet to make sure that your little one can handle the journey. I have personally travelled on several occasions across the Atlantic with my 8 pound Maltese, Marcello. The first time I did it, I was nervous. Each time afterwards was easier and easier. Marcello is registered as an ESA or Emotional Support Animal. On most airlines, this allows your pet to travel on your lap or at your feet in the flight cabin. Marcello loves it and I am at ease knowing that he is right with me. A month or two before departure, make sure to have all of your documents in order. Your vet will need to verify and sign off that said pet has had all necessary vaccinations within the required time of departure. Each airline has a set of forms which must be completed and then attached to your reservation no later than 48 hours before departure. By doing this, you actually will receive a pet boarding pass upon check-in at the airport. Make sure to confirm that the documents have indeed been received. Sometimes things get lost in the shuffle. Upon arrival at the airport, make sure that you also have hard copies of all of your docs, just in case.
What I have experienced is that most people in the airport and on board the aircraft are very open to getting to know your furry travel companion. I have had fellow travelers offer to walk him up and down the aisle while on board, hold him while I go to the restroom and ask to take a selfie with him. A few passengers may give you a less than pleasant glance, but that is totally their problem. For me, snuggling with my little guy while travelling makes me happy and the time pass quicker.
One of our most frequently asked questions is about price-understandably so! Our custom journeys have widely varying prices. Custom does not mean more expensive. It means that you get to see and do exactly what you want- tailored to perfection!
We stress the importance of knowing your budget upfront, prior to itinerary design. This helps us recommend which destinations, activities and other factors will give you the most bang for your buck. It is always better if we can design with your budget in mind- this way, you don't fall in love with a journey that is way out of your price range. We always want to maximize your experience of authentic Europe, no matter your budget.
Our price is shaped by several factors: