Thursday, December 2, 2010

Above All Bon Appetito

I trudged steadly to the top of the mountain Casa Lanzarotti sits upon.  The snow was mid-calf deep with a crusty top layer.  The sky cleared just as I made it to the top.  The chestnut, beech and white oak forest was quiet; the air clean and fresh.  Before I left the house I opened windows and let the cold, but dry air into my apartment and burned frankincense.  The incense brought out the spiders...the big spiders that inhabit this rocky fortress.  I caught the spider in a glass jar to show Iris.  She wasn't impressed.  She took me down into the bowels of the "cantine" and we looked for "the big one".  We didn't find it, but her showing me how big it was with her hands held apart, made me shutter.  Iris assures me that no one has been bitten in the eighteen years she's lived here, but the spiders look a lot like hobo spiders to me.  At least I have caught the one that's been living in my kitchen.  Spiders and flies don't like frankincense?!  The resin has antiseptic properties and perhaps that's why?  I didn't see any spiders on my hike, but I did see a caterpillar crossing the road and I jumped two or three caprioli, small deer.  There are many birds here, but oddly no squirrels.   I've been hiking up, around, down the mountainsides of this semi-circular valley, where the river Taro begins its journey down the valley, through the mountains, Parma and finally into the Po River and ultimately the Adriatic Sea.  Many of the valley's inhabitants immigrated the past century, mostly to France, the US, Brazil and Argentina.  There are many villages, but most are quiet in the winter as the homes are second homes belonging to Italians living abroad or in northern Italy's bigger cities.  The valley is a mushroom picker's paradise.  I made it here late for the harvest, but I have enjoyed many dishes with mushrooms in them.  Yum!  A couple of organic farmers from near Nice, France spent this past week as house guests-Joelle and Jean-Louis.  Jean-Louis' parents are from a small village near Casa Lanzarotti, where the family still owns a couple of homes.    It was fun sharing time with them and Iris.  Joelle and Jean-Louis have been friends of Iris' for some time.  She's trying to talk them into buying a farm here and selling their organic veggies at the market in Parma.  Jean-Louis explained how to make some typical, local dishes.  The locals make a potatoe or rice pie.  You roll out dough, very thin, and then cover it with pre-cooked rice or potatoes, leeks, onions, garlic-basically whatever you want on it, and of course you also add grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.  Roll out another layer of thin dough and cover the whole, rolling the edges together before putting it in the oven.  I haven't tried it yet, but sounds good.  This area is one of the areas that produces the milk that becomes Parmigiano-Reggiano.  I walk to a nearby dairy farm to get milk twice a week, raw milk, (just the way I like it)  and Eleanora, one of the dairy farmers, explained how what they feed their dairy cattle is strictly regulated to assure that their milk is as it should be to produce Parmesan cheese.  They feed their cows, mostly Friesians, three types of hay.  One type is the first crop of hay grown in May.  I was amazed at how strictly the feed is regulated.  Another local food, a pasta, that I helped make and is very tasty, is one that calls for wheat and chestnut flours.  You roll the wheat flour very thin.  I used an electric pasta machine.  Once the pasta is as thin as it needs to be you spread a chestnut flour/water mix onto the wheat dough, cover it with another thinly rolled layer of wheat dough and crimp the edges with a nifty roller that cuts and decorates the edges of the pasta.  You throw these pieces of pasta, roughly 1/2 inch X 1/2 inch into boiling water until tender, then bathe them in a butter, walnut, basil sauce.   This valley has many chestnut trees.  The Austrian/Spanish Hapsburgs controlled this area and introduced and encouraged the planting of chestnut trees.  Chestnut flour is sweet.  I don't normally eat a lot of meat, but I'm working on an organic farm that specializes in organic beef, pork and lamb; so I'm doing what the Romans do while in Rome-eating meat and it's good.  I keep hiking to burn the calories, keep my arteries from clogging and, most importantly, to maintain an appetite.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

San Fedelino

I recently walked an ancient Roman road in northern Italy and learned that along this byway centuries ago a Roman soldier, gone awol, was tracked down by assassins hired by the emperor and beheaded.  His name was San Fedelino.  He'd served his emperor until one day he chose to believe differently, he became a christian, and he fled north along a road I was walking.  In 900 and something A.D. a tiny church was erected where he had been killed and his bones were disinterred and taken to Como where he now rests.  He later became a saint.  It takes courage to stand up against the powers that be; to go against the flow; to resist being like everybody else; to do what you believe is right despite the consequences.  San Fedelino means "little faithful one".  The church that commemorates his passing is in an isolated spot that can only be accessed by foot or boat.  I haven't visited the place, but it seems fitting that it lies off the beaten track.

"Heavy" is the word that best describes the feeling I have had on this visit to Italy.  Italy is a country heavly beautiful; deeply traditional.  Hand in hand its natural and manufactured beauties walk blending stone, wood, metal, water and earth into forms that rise and fall and are as beautiful falling as rising. Like an ancient woman bent over with age, walking on crooked legs fingering a rosary of Hail Marys and Our Fathers; and  like a boisterous, handsome young man full of himself and casting caution to the wind, Italy be-comes and is beautiful.

I drove to Pontremoli with Iris and Camilla yesterday.  We travelled through fog, chestnut forests and over foaming creeks to pick up whole wheat flour at a water generated flour mill, "come una volta".  We stopped and walked the streets of ancient Pontremoli before returning home.  Iris treated us to a hot chocolate at one of the three Swiss coffee and pastry shops that were founded by three Swiss brothers in the 1800's.  The one we visited in Pontremoli is the best preserved one.  Enjoy the photos I've posted on Facebook.


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Slam Bam Am'dam

It's amazing how far and how quickly one can travel going 500 mph at 39,000 ft.  It takes 3 to 4 days for your body to catch up with your body (?)-just what the hell is going on here?  Time:  What a concept!    Perhaps I framed the question incorrectly?  It takes your body time to adjust to the new time?  Well by now it's obvious I don't really know what's up; I'll muddle through.  Flying from Seattle to Iceland takes 6.5 hrs and breaks up the flight to Europe.  I liked it.  I had a couple hour layover in Reykjavik where Karen from WA state chatted me up.  She's visiting a friend in the Netherlands.  She brought a smile to my heart when she told me I neither looked or acted my age.  I'm still smiling.

I've been hiking around Am'dam, north of the city and tomorrow will drive to East Holland near the German border with my friend Mark-Hans.  Mark is a gracious and gregarious host.  He and I and Ernst-Jan, another friend I met 7 years ago, discussed culture and our affinities and dis-affinities towards our native culture and supposed foreign ones. Ernst-Jan asked me, after I made the comment that Am'dam seemed more livable than San Fran, why I thought so.  One thing you can count on from the Dutch is there directness and forthrightness-they often say what they think and ask what they want.  It's refreshing and perhaps that is one reason why I find their largest city more livable?  There are many reasons:  an efficient and modern public transport system, an apparent commitment to clean air, water & energy systems, recycling, bicycling, multi-culturalism and widespread tolerance of human diversity and vice.   Perhaps their attention to the maintenance of civil infrastructure and civility is a direct consequence of their need to constantly combat the water's rising tide and the sand's continual shift?  They literally live on moving ground and water.  Mark and I stopped to look at a street in a village north of Am'dam under re-construction;  sump pumps were humming, steel pilings were being driven and ancient beams uncovered.  The brick path atop the dyke we walked bowed from the center to its edges.  Marks hikes regularly around the polders out to Marken Lighthouse and informed me that he has noticed an obvious change in the path since last year's hikes.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Bay Area Diversity


Wow...what a surprise for this country boy from Idaho and Montana.  The idea I had of California, you know, that it would be similar to Idaho and Montana except that I'd be farther south, that I'd enjoy warmer  temperatures and of course that it would be more populated.  Well...let me tell you.  First day here Nichole, Adrian and I strolled dowtown San Mateo and I felt like I'd already left the US and had entered another country.  Don't get me wrong, I enjoy being in foreign countries, hearing foreign languages and being culturally shocked, but I didn't expect to be culturally shocked so close and so soon.  I soon got over feeling somewhat unnerved by it all, when a homeless man, pushing a shopping cart full of his worldly possessions, helped me regain my composure by saying, in response to my asking Nichole which direction we were going and Nichole answering straight ahead, that it's better to say forward rather than straight.  I figure if a homeless man can maintain his presence of mind despite his life situation, then so could I.

What is it that makes me feel like such a fish out of water?  It's a combination of "things".  The vegetation is different.  There are palm trees, tropical flowers, cacti, eucalyptus trees and many other plants I can't name and that are unfamiliar.  The air is heavier.  The land is covered with buildings, asphalt and concrete.  California forces me to redefine my idea of America.  Above all, it's the human-scape that fascinates and challenges.  There are Chinese, Blacks, Mexicans, sub-continent Indians, Afghanis, Japanese, Phillipinos, Jews, etc. and they all coexist within the matrix of Mexican/hispanic culture. 

We drove into "the city" (San Fran) a couple of days ago to visit the Exploratorium.  It was fun toying with science, Sophie, Nichole, David and Adrian.  We had lunch at Gracias Madre in the Mission District, where the sidewalks are dirty, because people use them.  We visited the Pirate Shop, a writer's lab and Pirate supply store, another shop where air plants and animal bones jockey for space and are for sale and a curiosities for kids store.  Murals color the walls of many of the buildings in this San Fran district and the usual melting pot of people walk its streets.  It seems the Mission District is becoming popularized by the more affluent young?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Spirithelper's Retreat Treat

A friend and I visited Spirithelper yesterday and yes...we two love fungi.  We also consider ourselves to be fun guys. (smile)  Enjoy the photos.