Rovereto: an hour to discover what’s on offer

roveretoRovereto is a fairly small city in the Trentino-Alto Adige Region of northern Italy. We passed through only for an hour to rest during a longer drive. For me, Rovereto will forever be remembered as the city where we drank bad coffee (even in Italy it happens!) and had a nice look at the atmosphere of the city through its frescoed buildings and shop signs, two things that easily grab my attention.

In our Milan neighbourhood, the frescoed buildings are mostly Art Nouveau and the colours have faded and at times all but disappeared from the building facades. I was really struck by the upkeep of the buildings in the part of Rovereto we visited. The colours of the frescos were vivid and strong and even the smaller details were well-defined and preserved. Surely in Milan we have examples of well-maintained and preserved frescoes, but the building in the photo below struck me in a way that none in Milan have.

Rovereto è una città non tanto grande in Trentino-Alto Adige. Noi ci siamo fermati lì solo per un’oretta per una pausa durante un viaggio più lungo. Per me, Rovereto sarà per sempre ricordato come la città dove abbiamo bevuto un caffè pessimo (succede perfino in  Italia!) e dove abbiamo assaggiato l’atmosfera della città attraverso i suoi palazzi affrescati e cartelle dei negozietti, due cose che noto sempre.

Nel nostro quartiere di Milano, i palazzi affrescati sono per di più Liberty e i colori sono schiariti e a volte quasi spariti dalle facciate. Mi ha colpito la cura dei palazzi a Rovereto. I colori degli affreschi erano ancora vibranti e forti e anche dei dettagli piccoli erano ancora ben-delineate conservate.  Sicuramente anche a Milano abbiamo degli esempi di edifici ben-mantenuti con affreschi conservate, ma il palazzo nella foto sotto mi ha colpito come nessun altro a Milano.

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Apart from the frescos we saw, I was very much attracted by the typical shop signs of years gone by. I often see these outside historic cafés or artisan shops. In fact, the ones below are for an umbrella maker and a sewing shop, two specialty shops that in the world of “fast fashion” are rapidly disappearing.

Sono stata, inoltre, molto colpita dalle cartelle dei negozietti di uno stile ormai antiquato. Vedo spesso queste sui café storici e negozi di artigianato. Questi qui, per me sono dei negozi che vediamo sempre meno spesso nel mondo del “Fast Fashion”.

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And speaking of places that have gradually disappeared, on my last trip to the USA I didn’t see one single calzolaio, shoe repair shop. Are they still around? Or was our local Cappy’s Shoe Repair the last in a now forgotten trade? For the record, we have two calzolai within 2 minutes of our apartment.

Parlando di posti che stanno sparendo, durante il mio ultimo viaggio negli USA non ho visto un singolo calzolaio. Esistono ancora negli USA? O il Cappy’s Shoe Repair del mio paesino era l’ultimo di un lavoro artigianato ormai sparito? A Milano, ho ben 2 calzolai entro 2 minuti da casa.

As we were heading for the car, I found one more sign that struck me. It was for Il Museo della Guerra (The War Museum). It struck me as funny that the colours were almost the same as a Tibetan Buddhist’s robes… that dark red and bright yet muted yellow.

Tornando verso la macchina, ho trovato un’altra cartella per Il Museo della Guerra. Mi ha colpito come divertente che i colori erano gli stessi degli abiti di un Moncaco Tibetano… quel rosso scuro e un giallo, sia vivace che scuro allo stesso momento.

As a total pascifist, it seems absurd that, while growing up, my favourite rooms to visit at The Philadelphia Museum of Art were the ones with the armor. My mother hated them, but always reminded me that our museum had  “one of the finest collection of armor in the whole world”. In university, I became increasingly fascinated by the period during and between the two World Wars, mostly through literature and film. This has both inspired my writing and created a bond of common interest with my husband. Il Museo della Guerra is one of the reasons I’d like to return to Rovereto and the surrounding countryside soon. The regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and neighbouring Veneto were the land of many battles during WWI. To see the frescos, global, ancient and local war history again, would be a lesson in art and history together and definitly something a little off the beaten track for most foreign tourists.

And having a good coffee would be a bonus!

Da pacifista, sembra assurdo che, da ragazza, le mie sale preferite alla Philadelphia Museum of Art erano quelle dell’armatura. Mia mamma le odiava, ma mi ricordava sempre che il nostro museo aveva “una delle più importanti collezioni di armatura nel mondo”. All’università ho trovato sempre più affascinante l’epoca tra le due guerre, attraversa la letteratura e il cinema. Questa è stata ispirazione della mia scrittura e anche un’interessa in comune con mio marito. Il Museo della Guerra è uno dei motivi per la quale vorrei tornare a Rovereto e i dintorni. Le regioni di Trentino-Alto Adige e Veneto erano le terre di tante battaglie durante la prima guerra mondiale. Vedere gli affreschi, Il museo della Guerra che ospita relitti guerre mondali e da tutte le epoche è una lezione in arte e storia. E’ anche una cosa fuori dai soliti posti turistici per visitatori internazionali.

E avere un buon caffè sarebbe un bonus!

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returning home

When I finally came around to saying, “Maybe I’ll come home this summer,” it had been 6 years since I last stepped foot on American soil. I’ll admit it. I love travelling, but hate flying. And this time I had to fly solo with my 4 year old daughter. But when I said this, I was sitting at a table in a local restaurant surrounded by family. One of my sisters was in my city with her husband and daughter and we were chatting. It was like a homecoming without having to go anywhere.

When my husband and I went to the airport to pick them up, my sister and I hugged for a long time, then we stopped, looked into each other’s faces, said a few words and then hugged again. It had been a long time coming. My niece and nephews are grown or almost grown, way too much time had passed since I’d seen my sisters and brother and I felt like I had denied my daughter getting to know our family. And so, tickets were booked and I finally went back home.

How can I summarize a 4 week trip back home? I returned to a country I like more now than I did as a frustrated teenager desperate to leave at any cost, just to go out into the world. I saw my only brother for the first time in 17 years. I faced my fears of flying (again). Many thanks to the wonderful Delta and Alitalia cabin crews. Your smiles and the little chats we had as you filled me cup helped me get through it! I managed to deal with travelling with a 4 year old. I managed to parent said 4 year old for 28 days on my own. I managed to handle 4 weeks away from my husband. I managed walking through the George Washington National Forest without mobile phone service. I managed to hold it together when my 4 year old said she wanted to try a fried oyster. I think the keyword for the trip is managed. Yes, I managed. I overcame any potential obstacles I’d set for myself in the weeks preceeding our trip.

I also danced all evening overlooking the ocean while my brother-in-law’s band, The Mighty Parrot Band played. I drank my first Long Island Iced Tea in forever. I’ve missed a good cocktail all these wine drinking years! I ate numerous salads and real fresh barbecue. (Gotta focus on balance!) I drank too many Iced Coconut Milk Mocha Macchiatos (no caramel sauce please!) from Starbucks, but heck, we don’t have Starbucks in Italy yet, so I decided to enjoy it while I could.

I saw Lucy the Elephant, but I remembered her as much smaller, watched skates dance on the surface of the Atlantic Ocean as the waves broke, went on the rides at the Ocean City Boardwalk for the first time, got to see one friend and our kids played together for an hour, I sat on my sister’s porch swing for hours and hours, fed the ducks, saw numerous rainbows and spoke English all day. I’d say those 28 days were quite full.

I went back to the states with 1 suitcase and 1 carry-on for my daughter and I. Then we went to the outlets. Needless to say we came back with double the luggage. The new suitcase is the birth of the “sisterhood of the travelling suitcase” soon to be brought back to the states by another sister on her next trip here.

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that mini holiday in Trentino

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Recently (ok, in reality it was nearly 3 months ago), we took a short trip to Folgaria in Trentino. The mountains are where my husband used to holiday with his grandparents in the summertime and it’s remained a favourite place of his. I, on the other hand, am not used to the heart palpitations of riding up and down the curvy mountainside and we sort of weren’t prepared for the Exorcist-worthy sick that happend in the backseat 3 km from our destination. (Note: my husband now keeps a bag with a roll of paper towels in the trunk and I’ve taken a preference for the seaside to avoid it flat out!)

What can I say about Trentino?

  • Well, I inadvertently booked us into a hotel run by the Little Nuns of the Sacred Family. I probably should have grasped this since the hotel was called Casa Santa Maria.  Wynne’s reflections upon seeing the statue of the Virgin Mary standing on a serpent include: “Abbraccia“… that is, the Virgin Mary wants to hug us. Guess my MA thesis in representitions of the Dormition is coming back at me and pushing me towards another degree in Theology. The hotel was clean, the mere mortals who worked there were very friendly and I faced my fear of nuns each morning at breakfast. (Honestly, I kind of wanted a nun hug, but didn’t know how to ask!) They also put a DVD on in their basement game and TV room for our daughter each evening, which for her was like going to the cinema in her pyjamas and for me was a visit to one of my favourite childhood cartoon films, Thumbelina!
  • Trentino is also the place where 4 lunch/dinner meals out of 5 we (or more precisely, I!) had to order spätzel with tomato sauce, because it was THE ONLY THING she wanted to eat. We enjoyed sharing them “family style” each time (because there was no way I was going to eat gnocchetti verdi at every single meal!), but secretly we’ve vowed to not eat them again until next winter! If you’re stopping in Folgaria, be sure to eat at Ristorate da Ugo. We ate our first meal there and  then decided to eat every single meal there,  because everything was SO GOOD. Especially the  spätzel, obviously! We also recommend their gulasch, the canederli in broth or served with gulasch sauce, which was something like heaven on a plate. And that’s coming from an almost vegetarian!
  • Finally, Trentino is the place where we realised exactly how much a city girl our daughter is. You know gnats? Those little annoying tiny insects that fly around your head on nature walks? Well, she was terrified. Guess it’s an incentive to return, right?

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Since this trip, we’ve more recently (honestly, really recently!) been to the Ligurian seaside… The land of focaccia and cappuccino for breakfast and trofie al pesto for lunch. Next year my husband can go to the mountains, but I’m already planning a couple weeks at the seaside so Wynne and I can be living it up Portofino style!

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Milan’s hidden courtyards: at Cortina Arte

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My husband currently has 2 exhibitions at Cortina Arte in Milan and in nearby Busto Arsizio at Galleria Palmieri. Yesterday was the finissage of the exhibition at Cortina Arte and since a friend asked if I would be going, I decided to stop by with our daughter.

One thing I can say about Milan is that there are little surprises around every corner. Cortina Arte is located in a hidden courtyard, covered with uva fragola that makes an incredibly fragrant canopy in the summer. When visiting for the first time, most people are shocked to find such a location in the middle of “industrial” Milan. Ok, so Milan is an “industrial” business city, but you can turn a corner almost anywhere and find a Medieval church, signs of WWII bomb shelters and so much more. Milan, although much smaller, is like London; you can live here and go out every day, but it would still take years to explore the city and discover all her secrets.

The subject of my husband’s cycle of works exhibited this year is the city he was born in and has lived in his whole life: Milan. He has taken elements of the long gone Milan of his and his parents childhoods, parts that have been brought back to life again like the newly reopened La Darsena as well as the new skyline of Porta Garibaldi (La Nuova Babilonia, 2015, seen above in the first photo), in an exploration of Milan from the past to the present.

For me, beyond the paintings housed in the gallery (sorry, Giovanni, I see them so much, I have them memorised!) and the other small businesses and sculptor’s studio in the courtyard, this little location is “my” little enchanted garden. I’d love to live in this space. It reminds me of my time in England and of the fantasy I had that Italy was much more a richer darker green… oh, how mistaken I was. Of course having a space like this means also knowing how to be a real gardener, but my green thumb has a lot of learning to do first.

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Vendemmia in about 3 months for those of you interested in some sweet grapes…

Am I the only one who chooses to live in the city, but dreams about an enchanted green sanctuary?

5 things you’ll learn to live without while becoming milanese

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Disclaimer: After 10 years in Italy and the 4 previous years spent in the UK, I’ve been in training for a long time on this one, but coming from American Suburbia has it’s own set of “what we thing creature comforts should be” vs. reality. If you grew up in a city or a small town, this could be totally different for you!

1. A dryer – I spoke about my thoughts on the washing machine in a previous post, but the reality is that the “laundry room” in the house I grew up in was an actual ROOM. It even had an extra freezer (why did we need that thing?!) and a huge pantry, which make me feel so minimalist now. In our Italian city apartment, we have a washer in the kitchen, but even if we wanted a dryer, I have no clue where we’d have room for it. Since I’ve spent my entire adult life without a dryer, I’ve accepted that my living room and bathroom resemble various levels of the Laundry Amazon Forest most days. It’s got a certain charm about it.

2. 24-hour supermarkets – Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to your closest supermarket at 4 am. I bet it was during some high school or college sleep over ritual, right? Yes, I did that too. It was during my punk phase. However, unless you’re running a Bed & Breakfast and wake up in a cold sweat to realise you don’t have any eggs for your 7 am wake up call, I think you’ll survive.

3. A car – This is subjective, because I live in a city and I like to walk. My husband has a car, which I get a ride in about 2 or 3 times a month when we need to go somewhere out of town or transport something like a painting. If I need to go further than my walking distance (which is pretty far), I hope on a tram (obviously channeling my inner Judy Garland and singing The Trolley Song in my head as we depart). So, apart from the occasional trip to IKEA, or to a nearby town without a train station, I’m happy not having my own car.

4. A driver’s license – This is even more subjective now that we have carsharing services in Milan and I would have access to my husband’s car, but after 10 years in Italy, I still have not gotten my Italian driver’s license and my now very expired US driver’s license (um… 2010, I think) wasn’t even valid when it hadn’t expired yet. That’s right, no converting to an Italian license. Unless you’re renting a car as a tourist, you have to go back to driving school and it costs around 650+ euros, so I keep putting it off and I don’t miss driving anyway.

5. Air conditioning – ok, I admit it. The summer our daughter was 1 and I either carried her in my arms or in her carrier, had her napping on me or breastfeeding most of the day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I caved and convinced my husband to buy a portable air conditioner. Of course, once we brought it home with us, we used it for about 4 nights and then the heatwave ended and last year we used it maybe 3 nights… oops! Since the AC unit cost about 330 euros, that works out to about 50 euros per night… Although itmight have been more cost effective to go on vacation during those heatwaves, now that the Italian meteorologists have started naming weather systems with scary names like “Ferox”, I want to be prepared! Nothing like a little meteorological scaremongering to get you to fork out half your driver’s license fund, eh?!

 Is there anything you thought you couldn’t live without before moving internationally? Or anything you can’t imagine living without now?

Milan’s World War II Bomb Shelters

This year marks 70 years since the end of World War II. We study the events in history class, perhaps have heard stories from a veteran, we can travel to concentration camps and other memorials and museums. These are all things I experienced but which, afterwards, returned to being detached from my existence. Of course they lived on in my memories as images and in the emotions I felt about them, but they were not part of my daily life.

In my area of Milan are two buildings that still carry the signs of having been bomb shelters during the war. The arrows have likely been repainted through the years to keep their memory alive, but even with such obvious signs, many people I point them out to are shocked that these arrows once indicated bomb shelters. The war, even when the Festa della Liberazione on 25 April comes around, has become a far off memory.

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Being a writer with a colourful imagination, when I pass these buildings, I have a rush of images of what it must have been like on the same street all those years ago… The sounds of a siren and airplane engines, the ground shaking, the women running hand in hand with their children, thinking only of survival, perhaps making plans to escape the city as sfollati to extended family in the countryside.

But nowhere was safe. Movies like 2009’s L’uomo che verrà (The Man Who Will Come) show us the dangers that lurked along the front after 1943, when Italy was divided between the Allied forces coming up from the south and the German army keeping hold in the north. That was when the real Hell began. The Italians were divided: Il Duce’s army together with the German, and the partigiani following the updates of the Allied forces and fighting for the freedom of their land. All of them were human, none of them were innately evil. I often wonder what it must have been like to just kill, be ordered to kill, because you were following orders, because you didn’t think you had a choice or because you believed killing was helping you fight for your cause. I judge no one, but recognise that children witnessed incredible violence, were confused with conflicting images and opinions about the different adults they saw, all based on which uniform they wore and perhaps which language they spoke, and whether they shared their bread with them or ordered their mother to hand over the last chickens and remaining meat.

And although the location has changed, what we witness as part of War has not. Below is a painting by my husband depicting the massacre caused by Allied bombs mistakenly dropped on an elementary school in Gorla, just outside Milan. This image with the dead bodies of children lined up could easily be in Gaza (the painting is entitled Da Gorla a Gaza [From Gorla to Gaza] for this reason). World War II remains a timely reminder of what man is capable of and the present-day has proven that man is still capable.

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Every time I pass these two bomb shelters, I touch the arrows. (Yes, I am the crazy woman caressing the cement!) I could be one of those women, running hand in hand with my daughter, thinking only of survival. And in that moment, I am one with all those living in war-torn areas, hoping that something will change.

“Once you bring life into the world, you must protect it. We must protect it by changing the world.” – Elie Wiesel

Expo 2015: work in progress

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There are only 10 days to go before Expo 2015 opens in Milan. I’ve heard about where it is and heard updates from my husband every time he drove past the Expo construction site, but have spent all this time very disconnected from the event. Located a short distance outside Milan, it is interestingly positioned across the street from the Baranzate prison.

I don’t really know what Expo is supposed to be beyond a reason to bring countries together and more tourism to Milan. I know the theme is Feeding the Planet, Energy for Life. I know some countries have backed out of Expo, but that 20 million people are expected to visit. I know tickets run around 30 euros for a 1-day visit and that a lot of money has gone into making Expo possible.

Today, Tuesday, 21 April 2015, my husband accompanied me to the Expo construction site, because I was interested in seeing it. Although, I kept hearing that it was still so far from completion, that the workers were working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to complete the convention centre by 1 May, I really didn’t expect to feel what I did while walking outside the perimeter.

As we drove up, I saw cranes at work, small makeshift buildings for the construction teams, I saw hints of the architectural design beyond the trees, trucks arriving and leaving, groups of business suits looking over documents and drafts. I saw men in orange vests and helmets and a bus arriving at 11 am with the next shift of construction workers. I suddenly saw Expo differently. There are people saying with a laugh “che figura faremo?!” (What kind of impression are we going to make?!”) because at 10 days from the grand opening, the Expo convention centre is still a work in progress. Perhaps parts won’t even be finished in time. For the last three years, I’ve seen Italy’s economy suffer, seen how Expo might not be beneficial for us. I worry that maybe we will have invested so much money and not get the return we need to keep our city and country going.

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But as I climbed onto the fence of the Baranzate prison to take photos of the construction site, everything changed. In a moment in which jobs are scarce, people are being laid off or are on unemployment with little to no prospect of finding work, Expo is giving a lot of people work. All those construction workers, whether they work day or night, are bringing home money to support their families.

In a country where our ex-Members of Parliament earn an endless and incredibly high pension, here are people who construct the possibility of a better future for all of us, whether it’s an extra convention centre for future events or the opportunity to see how we plan on feeding our planet in a more eco-friendly manner, how we plan on saving those who are undernourished and at high-risk of contracting deadly diseases, or learning more about the effects of obesity. Forget about the politicians, because those men in orange vests are the real labourers who keep our country going. These are the people who move the economy.

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I arrived at the construction site without any desire to see Expo. I left feeling that it is now an obligation for me as a sign of solidarity for all the construction workers who are making this event possible. I do not know what people will see in 10 days time from the exact spot I was standing, but what I do know is that they will see signs of hope for a better future.

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