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Venice was once one of the wealthiest places in the world. An important center for trade, the private fortunes of the merchants was put on showy display in the lavish churches and highly decorated palaces that they created. In a city like Venice, you can see masterpieces without ever stepping foot into a museum – however, there are also incredibly unique and charming exhibits tucked away in unexpected places like the Burano Lace Museum.

Better known as the museo del merletto in Italian, the Venice lace museum is located on the colorful island of Burano, a short journey across the lagoon.

The fishing island is probably best known for its cheerfully painted homes which attract Instagrammers of all kinds – however, the island was once most famous for Burano lace.

Venetian lace was once the most sought-after in the world, and it was the lace from Burano that was considered the finest of all.

If you were European royalty or princely clergy, the impossibly delicate and intricate lace that decorated your cuffs and collars was Burano lace.

Demand for Burano lace hit a peak in the 1600s when lace was a popular accessory for both men and women.

That can be hard to imagine in these days of mass fashion, which is what makes a visit to the Burano Lace Museum so interesting.

For a tiny €5 entry fee, you can enter the building in the center of Burano that was once the lace school and wander through the exhibits of the handmade adornments.

This kind of Venetian lace was particularly expensive because it required so much skill to produce. The lacemaking style in Burano was known as punto in aria (points in the air), because it was literally created with just a needle and thread – with the pointed needle weaving through the air, wielded by the talented lacemaker.

The resulting lace is airy and detailed, looking like it could tear at any second.

The Burano lace museum is full of display drawers which you can open and close to get a better look at the diversity in this handmade craft.

Burano lace is still made by hand, and if you are lucky enough with your timing, you will find women sitting by the window on the second floor, making lace.

Lace making is a dying tradition in Burano, but there are still a few women who continue to make Venetian lace by hand.

This style of lacemaking uses a tombolo – a rounded, stuffed cushion – and the technique is a bit like embroidery.

I loved being able to see the technique in action. There are a few high-end lace shops in Burano which employ women to do demonstrations, but the best place to see the tradition alive is here at the Burano Lace Museum.

In addition to lace samples and lace making, this unique Venice museum also has a small collection of artwork.

Most of the paintings showcase lace or lacemaking.

There is also a small exhibit of more contemporary paintings of life on the lagoon, which are lovely and a bit unexpected given the museum’s laser focus theme.

The island of Burano is small and it does not take long to wander around. The Venice Lace Museum makes for an excellent short stop to learn more about the unique history of the island.

Burano Lace Museum (Museo del Merletto)

Piazza Galuppi 187
Burano (Venice)

Open Tuesday through Sunday 10 am – 5 pm (and until 6 pm April through October). Closed Monday.

The post Burano Lace Museum appeared first on An American in Rome.

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The Sistine Chapel is found inside the Vatican in Rome, but the church of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore is sometimes known as the Sistine Chapel of Milan.

It is easy to see where the nickname comes from as soon as you step through the doors. The entire interior of the church is completely decorated. Literally, everywhere you look is covered with artwork.

Construction of San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore began in 1503, and it was built using several walls and ruins that date back to ancient Roman times. In fact, the former monastery of the church is now Milan’s Civic Archaeological Museum.

The museum houses artifacts from Etruscan times and Mediolanum (ancient Milan), and as charming as it is – the church is still the main draw.

While most people coming to Milan are plotting ways to get tickets to the Last Supper, very few ever make it to this stunning church.

Da Vinci’s Last Supper deserves its fame – but it is shame that San Maurizio is not better known.  The 16th-century artists who created the frescoes inside don’t have the same name recognition as Da Vinci, but they are celebrated in their own right.

The works around the altar, for example, are by Renaissance painter (and friend to dear old Leonardo) Bernardino Luini.

As pretty as the main church can be, the truly breathtaking area is behind what is known as the dividing wall.

You see, San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore takes its name because it is an ex-convent. The most important Benedictine convent in Milan, in fact (e.g. Monastro Maggiore). And the nuns did not simply waltz into the church to partake in mass with the, well, masses.

Instead, they listened to mass and provided the music for the service while completely hidden from view.

They couldn’t enjoy the artwork in the main church – but trust me, the Hall of the Nuns is even better.

Better than better – it is spectacular.

I can only imagine what it would have been like to enjoy these incredible walls, and reflect on faith and on life while cloistered away from the world.

And on a lighter note, I truly loved that this artist imagined unicorns heading on to Noah’s arc.  (But if they were saved from the flood, I wonder what happened to them afterward).

San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore truly is like the Sistine Chapel in Milan, without the crowds that you usually find at the Vatican Museums.

Best of all – it is completely free. It is often used to host concerts, as well.

I visited the church with Doing Italy, who is a Milan (and Northern Italy) expert! I loved discovering this hidden gem with her. Planning to visit yourself? Here is how to get from Malpensa Airport to Milan.

San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore

Corso Magenta, 15
Milan, Italy

Open: Tuesday – Sunday from 9:30 am – 7:30 pm. Closed Monday.

The post Milan’s Stunning San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore appeared first on An American in Rome.

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The Puglia town of Polignano a Mare is famous for its stunning clifftop homes and whitewashed walls against an impossibly blue ocean backdrop – but it is now becoming even more famous for a scheme to charge tourists €5 to visit the historic center at Christmastime. (Article in Italian)

During the offseason, Polignano a Mare looks a little bit like the shot above – empty.

During the summer, the winding streets are full of visitors soaking up the southern Italian sun and the views from the seaside terraces for which the town is famous. Those visitors and that tourism are what keep the town going.

So though the empty squares and free tables give everyone a lot more space to breathe, the town of Polignano a Mare needed to look for another way to make money.

The solution has been to install turnstiles at the entrance to the historic center and charge all tourists a €5 entrance fee.

The pay-to-visit plan will be in place through the Epiphany, Italy’s January 6th holiday.

Town officials say that it is a way to raise needed funds when visitors come to admire Polignano a Mare’s Christmas light display.

The light display, known as Meraviglioso Natale, is inspired by the famous display in the town of Salerno

If tourists want to step foot into the old town, they will need to purchase a card for €5.

(Residents of Polignano a Mare will have their own, different, cards in order to swipe in and walk through the turnstiles to get home).

It all sounds… pretty crazy to me. It is treated this real-life Italian town like Disneyland, charging admission to even see the area.

I am all for capitalizing on tourism, but installing turnstiles and charging to walk into a town seems crazy. Go ahead and charge for parking, then have a city tax for overnight guests. But turnstiles in town? I hate the precedent it sets.

Proponents say that it is a bit like the fee charged by Civita di Bagnoregio, an abandoned town near Orvieto that is only accessible via a long pedestrian bridge, and which costs €5 to visit.

The mayor of Polignano also argues that the €5 admission includes access to see the lights, as well as things like free cotton candy for kids, but that simply makes it sound more like an amusement park for me.

I would love to see someone come up with an idea that raises money while supporting traditions rather than commercializing the beautiful streets and oceanside views that make the town so special.

What do you think? Would you pay to visit Polignano a Mare?

The post Puglia Town Installs Turnstiles and Charges €5 to Visit appeared first on An American in Rome.

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Listen – when it comes to Italian food, you do not mess with nonna’s recipes, ok? And you most certainly do not add salad cream to the bolognese sauce.

Italian chef Gino D’Acampo is a regular on the British TV show This Morning, showing off how to cook traditional dishes.

Naturally, there is always a bit of banter back and forth but this time the chef absolutely loses it when the host of the show explains that she loves to add salad cream to her bolognese. He literally cannot even. He has to walk away and rant in Italian before eventually coming back to the stove and yelling “THIS IS WHAT IS WRONG WITH THIS COUNTRY!”

Gino Gets Angry With Rochelle for Eating Bolognese With Salad Cream | This Morning - YouTube

It is worth watching the entire clip because D’Acampo begins the whole thing already stressed – bemoaning that he only has six minutes to explain how to make a meat sauce. You can see that he starts off honestly wanting to instruct – and goes into details about why Italians really do not make a sauce with only ground beef. You get the sense that he cannot believe he has to break it down to such simple terms.

He also notes that Italians do not eat spaghetti bolognese. Instead, they use a fresh, flat pasta that the sauce can stick to better.

The discussion starts to take a turn after chef D’Acampo pours milk into the base of the sauce to help tenderize the meat and ensure a hint of creaminess in the final dish without the addition of cream. Egging the Italian food expert on, one of the hosts asks:

“When do you add the mushrooms?”

“What mushrooms? You do not add mushrooms!”

And then, at around 4:15, the issue of salad cream (a vinegary condiment) first comes up.

It is not that the Italian chef is merely grossed out (though he does start off repeating che schifo – how disgusting) – no, he is insulted. He is angry that his grandmother’s recipe could be bastardized is such a horrible way.

He is offended that you would add your “cazzi sour cream!” (which in this case cannot be interpreted to mean anything other than “f@#$ing sour cream”).

Does he come here and change your “banger de mash??”

I didn’t think so. Don’t change anything.

He tries to move on, adding tomato concentrate to the sauce, but at 5:14 he has to go back to the issue.

He ends with the gem: Thank you to me!

(And if you want to make sure you don’t offend anyone, here is how to cook pasta like an Italian).

The post Italian Chef Loses it Over Salad Cream in Bolognese appeared first on An American in Rome.

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Walk around Venice in early November and you will start to see signs of a holiday. The celebration is a purely Venetian one because the 11th of November marks the Festa di San Martino.

If you happen to find yourself in Venice on the actual 11 November, you may hear a racket around every corner as children bang pots and pans with wooden spoons and sing songs to celebrate St. Martin. (Oh, and to collect free sweets and even a little bit of money).

The History of San Martino in Venice 

St. Martin of Tours was born in Hungary in 316 but soon moved to Pavia, Italy with his Roman soldier father. The future saint eventually joined the army himself. One night, he came upon a beggar freezing outside the city gates. St. Martin took his sword and cut his cape in two in order to give away half to keep the poor man warm.

St. Martin left the army to become a monk. He was well known for his charitable deeds and a cult of followers developed and grew after his death. He is now the patron saint of soldiers.

11 of November is the saint’s name day and there is a Renaissance church dedicated to San Martino in the sestiere of Castello in Venice.

In English, Festa di San Martino is sometimes known as Martinmas

 

11 November in Venice Today

La Festa di San Martino traditionally would have been a time to indulge in seasonal products like chestnuts, but today it is more of an excuse to have a party for kids. Children dress up in paper crowns and colored pendants and set out to hunt out treats.

The children parade through the streets with their improvised drums in order to attract the attention of shopkeepers. They bang the pots and pans or sing a song much in the same way that American children ring doorbells on Halloween – looking for a bit of fun and some extra generosity in the form of free candy or some money to buy a San Martino cookie.

When the holiday falls on a school day, you will often see teachers leading groups of sugar-hungry kids through the streets.

One of the most common sweets you will see in Venice during this November holiday are special cookies known as San Martini which are made by most bakeries. The pastry crust is shaped to represent the saint on horseback, then covered with chocolate and topped with candy.

The figure sits high on a horse, holding a sword and wearing a cape. The sweet treat is meant to symbolize the saint ready to cut his cape in two to share with the freezing beggar and the moment when he embarked on his life of charity.

If you find yourself in Venice on 11 November, be sure to stop and cheer them on. Then celebrate on your own by digging into a San Martini cookie – the bigger the better.

And don’t hesitate – you won’t be able to find the special Venetian cookies at any other time of the year. You can also find a different kind of cookie that is also known as a biscotto di San Martino in Sicily.

Want to learn more about traditional Italian holidays? Venice’s San Martino is a bit like Italy’s January 6 holiday for the Epiphany because it is seen as a holiday for children. 

The post Festa di San Martino: 11 November in Venice, Italy appeared first on An American in Rome.

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Burrata cheese is a fresh cheese from the region of Puglia in Italy, but to really understand what burrata is, you first need to know about stracciatella.

“Stracciatella” is also a fresh cheese that comes from Puglia, the heel of Italy’s boot. Stracciatella refers to “strips” and it literally is a cheese made from strips of cheese that are left over as a byproduct of mozzarella-making which might otherwise be discarded. The strips of mozzarella are mixed with fresh cream to create an almost soupy (and tasty) fresh cheese.

Burrata cheese is made by taking a ball of what would otherwise be mozzarella and pulling it flat. This flattened piece of semi-soft cheese is then used as an envelope and the stracciatella is scooped into the middle. The “envelope” is then closed by hand and dipped in hot water to seal it, and conserved in cold water.

Making burrata cheese in Italy - YouTube

In the end, burrata is a semi-soft cheese similar to mozzarella that has then been stuffed with ripped mozzarella mixed with cream. When you cut it open, the creamy interior spills out and mixes with the firmer outer layer. It is absolutely delicious.

Burrata can be made from bufala milk or cow’s milk but cow’s milk is more traditional in Puglia. It should be made the same day that the cows are milked.

I saw burrata being made with Radici del Sud at La Querceta in Puglia’s Valle d’Itria region. The all-organic farm produces a range of cheese, meats, and vegetables, but here is how they make burrata:

How to serve burrata cheese

In Italy, burrata is most commonly served on its own rather than being melted down or cooked. It is best if it is served so fresh that it has not even been refrigerated in transit. (Cold refrigeration can make the outer shell of the cheese chewy, but it is unavoidable if the cheese needs to be transported outside of its production area in Puglia). Be sure to let burrata rest for an hour outside of the fridge before serving it.

When burrata is shipped it is usually packaged with some lightly salted water. This can be discarded before serving.

To cut burrata, cut it as if it were a pie, in wedges. This means there will be more of the outer cheese to hold the inside together a bit. If you cut it straight across, to create rounded slices, you won’t have the optimum balance of outer cheese to soft interior creamy cheese.

Burrata can be great with semi-dried tomatoes which add a nice acidity to contrast with the milky cheese.

Can you eat burrata during pregnancy?

If you are traveling to Italy while pregnant, you should know that not all burrata is pasteurized. Many small-scale producers prefer to use raw, organic milk to create their cheeses. The burrata is made with water heated to 90C, but that is not technically high enough to pasteurize the cheese. If you want to enjoy burrata during pregnancy, it is best to find a cheese that specifies that it is made with pasteurized milk.

The post What is burrata cheese? (And how do you eat it?) appeared first on An American in Rome.

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