Friday, 28 September 2018


(The Battle to Preserve)

By August, 1943, fascist Benito Mussolini had fallen. Allied forces, determined to persuade the Badoglio government to surrender, ordered heavy, ongoing and simultaneous bombing of Italy’s industrial triangle - Milan, Genoa and Turin. On the night of August 14, 1943, over 134 Lancaster bombers took off from bases in England, their mission to pummel Milan with over 400 tons of bombs.

600 Milanese buildings were destroyed in this single early morning raid. One of these structures, the Monastery of Santa Maria Grazie, was reduced to rubble; the roof caved in, the cloister collapsed and entire walls were blown out. Miraculously, standing in the debris were three walls in the refectory. The importance? One of the walls, improbably still standing in the wreckage, was Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. What likely saved this precious masterpiece? In an effort to protect their heritage amidst bombing raids, ordinary citizens had carefully covered the fresco with sandbags and scaffolding.

World War II was not the first armed conflict to threaten what is one of the world’s most famous paintings. During the Napoleonic Wars, bored soldiers who had been bunked in Santa Maria delle Grazie used The Last Supper for target practice with Jesus’ face as the bullseye. I can only shake my head.

2019 will mark the 500th anniversary of da Vinci’s death and over 500 years of Italy’s unending battle to preserve The Last Supper.

A mere six years after Leonardo completed his masterpiece, deterioration began. During the Renaissance, it was common to paint directly onto the walls of buildings. Sadly however, da Vinci was not trained in traditional fresco techniques. So poor was his choice of materials that the humid conditions of the convent resulted in almost instant deterioration. Humidity has been one of the prime enemies of this glorious fresco. Over the years the fresco room has flooded and was unbelievably even once used as a stable.

Modern day pollution has also wreaked havoc with the masterpiece, so much so that the Italian government installed a sophisticated heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to protect the fresco from the polluted air of Milan.

We as tourists, eager to view The Last Supper, are also a source of soiling. To minimize the humidity and pollution we bring in on our clothes and bodies, only 30 tourists at a time are allowed in for a 15 minute visit. Art lovers are herded between several rooms to dehumidify while a series of doors close behind them and others open in front of them. A new state of the art air filtration system will be installed and active by 2019.

It took 21 years, but a restoration project, completed in 1999, peeled away centuries of poor touch-ups and the ravages of pollution and humidity.

 Before Restoration:

Today Jim and I passed through the final door leading out of the series of dehumidification rooms, took a step, turned to the right.......and there it was, the only colour in a whitewashed room......Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper. My long standing wish had come true! For 15 minutes our minds and hearts devoured its beauty, artistry, complexity and the psychological drama as Jesus says, One of you will betray me.

Exiting the refectory, I thought about the privilege Jim and I had just enjoyed. Mostly though, my heart filled with gratitude and respect for ordinary Italian citizens and their government who over the years, over the centuries actually, have passionately and tirelessly battled war damage, humidity, pollution and poor workmanship to preserve their treasure for future generations.

La bellezza perisce nelle vita, ma e immortale nell’arte. ( Beauty perishes in life, but is immortal in art. ) ~ Leonardo da Vinci

Thursday, 20 September 2018


(My Sweet Italian Love ❤️)

I confess that it was love at first sight. Sorry Jim, but how could I not fall passionately in love. So colourful, so smooth, but exhibiting an attractive coolness and intensity at the same time. Wow! Exactly what an amore Italiano should be. Sigh! Swoon! (Swoon?) I now feel obliged to admit that this Italian love of mine began many years ago in romantic Roma and has increased in intensity with every trip to Italy. Now you know why we continue to return. On each visit, I learn more about mia amore, a love affair which has truly transformed me

Si! Yes! Mia dolce amore Italiano has transformed me ..... converted me from an ice cream lover to a gelato lover. My passionate sweet Italian love is gelato.

At first attracted to the rainbow of vibrant swirled gelato colours, I was dismayed to learn that such displays are meant to attract children. Hmmm? I fell embarrassingly into that category. I further discovered that many such bright gelato displays are frequently made from mixes, not fresh ingredients. I learned not to feast at these huge touristy displays, but to wander the backstreets in search of smaller gelaterias displaying muted natural colours. Think of it. Banana is a very pale yellow, not garish gold. These artisan gelaterias use locally sourced ingredients, natural flavours and no artificial colours.

I learned that gelaterias who keep their flavours in stainless steel tubs rather that in the standard swirling displays, wish to keep their handcrafted frozen delights stored until someone orders a specific flavour. Thus the fresh ingredients are kept exactly that way.....fresh!

I have been known to argue that gelato crafters use stronger flavours. Wrong again, Daphne. North American ice cream has a higher butterfat content which makes its texture very rich. Here’s the issue. Butterfat actually coats your tongue, dulling your taste buds. Who knew? I have learned that without my taste buds being coated, I can more fully experience gelato’s flavour intensity.

Gelato is made with more milk, less cream, and often egg yolks; less air is added. Well, you say, without the butterfat, gelato has to be less smooth. Not so. Gelato, served at a slightly higher temperature than ice cream, is famous for its creamy luxury.

And flavours? Whatever you can imagine has likely been crafted. In Tropea, Calabria, Jim fell in love with the local nduja, a spicy pork salami. Gelato Tonino’s specializes in unique flavours. In spite of my exaggerated grimaces, Jim enjoyed an nduja gelato. My Italian hairdresser, Tony, recommends hot red pepper gelato. Whatever, you guys.....think I’ll stick to the sweeter varieties.

So have I sold you on my passion yet? Maybe? Well, the best has been saved for last. I have learned that in Italy until you find the flavour you like, it is perfectly acceptable to ask for un assaggio...a taste! Whoa! I’m all for that!

Okay, all this writing about gelato has set my taste buds humming. It is early morning, Jim is asleep and I write, but perhaps it is time for a stroll around the corner to the local gelateria. For breakfast?? Now that’s amore. 😉

Saturday, 15 September 2018


(Dolomite Reflections)

Tomorrow morning, after seven days in the Italian Alps (Dolomites), Jim and I take our leave. 😢 These imposing sedimentary rock massifs reaching heavenward into bright blue skies or surrounded by slithering snake-like cloud formations have proven to be more than a memorable experience, much more than we anticipated.

When planning our trip, Jim was adamant that, If we visit the Dolomites, we are going to “really visit” the Dolomites. And so with hands on walking sticks we have hiked from around the vertical walls of Tre Cime di Lavaredo which dramatically rise from the valley below, to the World War I fortifications at Cinque Torri, to the turquoise green waters of Lago di Braies, and to the green valleys and meadows of Alpe di Siusi. Jaw dropping is the only way to describe the views. The organization of the Italian trail system is nothing short of spectacular, with well marked trails and free maps, and the Rifugio network of mountain huts offering delicious foods and overnight accommodation to long distance hikers. With the exception of driving from Cortina to Cinque Torri, Jim and I have left our car unused at our hotels. The local Italian buses which service Dolomite access points are plentiful, timely, spotlessly clean and driven by friendly, patient drivers.

Have the hikes been easy? No! But at pushing 72 years of age, we wanted to do them while we can. Life holds no guarantees. With twenty minutes left, or so the sign indicated, on the Tre Cime trail and facing a dauntingly steep final incline, I whined to Jim, Can I quit now? Patting me on the back he laughed and noted, I don’t think they airlift you out because you are tired. Dig deep, one foot after the other, breathe, just move. Done! Some would laugh, but for me, the completion of the last half of that gruelling trail was a major accomplishment in sheer determination.

Forget the fat old Italian mama myth. Italians, as well as Germans and Austrians, put the majority of Canadians and Americans to shame. They are truly fit; regular walking, hiking, biking, even for the older population, are common activities. The elderly, whether with canes and walkers or not, join in the evening passeggiata. On the Tre Cime Hike, there were as many people of our generation as there were younger hikers. Like Jim and I, they often struggled, but they were THERE and active and pushing themselves. Oh, and we have seen not a single fast food outlet in the region. Hallelujah!

Huddled under soft, thick eiderdowns, with cool fresh mountain air wafting in our open windows, and stars twinkling in the black, black sky, a blissful sleep overcomes us easily. We found the Swiss and Austrian Alps beautiful, but they pale in comparison to what we have experienced here in Italy. We have made so many memories to cherish.

Thursday, 6 September 2018


(Prosecco Paradise)

Champagne is a region; prosecco, a grape and Italians do not want you to forget it!

Not a major tourist destination! No tour bus armadas dangerously hogging the roads! No plethora of microphoned, sunflower-toting tour guides leading glass-eyed lemmings! No hordes of pushy tourists making cobblestoned streets impassable! No gitchy shops hawking Chinese-made Italian (?) souvenirs and not a selfie-stick in sight! Okay, to all of my tour-loving friends, my rant about big bus tourism is over. This is merely my way of saying that I am in MY travel heaven.

It’s just Jim and I and an afternoon glass of chilled Prosecco, the vista of green-leafed vines rippling across steeply terraced vineyards and tumbling down to tiny ochre-coloured villages below, spaghetti thin twisting roads that defy logic and the heady scent of sun-warmed grapes dangling heavily from ancient gnarled vines. Pure heaven.

So scenically stunning are these hills, home to the renowned sparkling wine, Prosecco, and a wine-making school dating back to 1876, that the region has been nominated as. UNESCO World Heritage site.

We have arrived just as the area is mid-harvest - la vendemmia. The terraced fields are steep enough to make the use of farm machinery untenable. All local vineyards are harvested by hand in a time-honoured, labour-intensive tradition. At under fifty thousand acres and manually harvested, this is not a region of massive producers. Savour that glass of sparkling magic.

And so, after a quiet afternoon today, we are off on our Prosecco adventure of tastings at local vineyards, exploring the glorious countryside, tastings at local vineyards, eating local foods, tastings at local get the picture. I may never come home.

Sunday, 2 September 2018


(With Love for Beautiful Italy)

I promised myself an early night, but jet lag has decided to play its crazy time zone havoc with my body and brain......and so I write.

No matter the hour, Venice is a heart-stopping feast for the eyes and senses, a unique atmosphere suspended in time. Jim and I so love this city. My wish would be that each of you, at least once in your lifetime, experience the thrill and impact of that gobsmacking initial arrival in Venice.

Arrive at the train station. Exit the main doors to the vista of the Grand Canal “right there”, directly in front of you or better yet, enter Venetia via water taxi from the airport, winding your way up the glorious Grand Canal. Jim and I have been blessed enough to have arrived in la Serenissima three times now. Her aura of magic and mystery never wanes. She continues to take our breath away.

Giuseppe Verdi once wrote, “Avrai tu l’universo, resti l’Italia a me”. (You may have the universe if I may have Italy.)

Over the years, we have explored Italy slowly, falling in love with each region, its unique food, art, culture, people and of course, wine. Countless cherished memories have left their loving imprints on our hearts. “Why Italy?” you ask. Don’t get me wrong. France, Scotland, Ireland, England, Austria, Germany and Switzerland have each held us in their enthrall, but in Italy, Jim and I instantly sensed a feeling of belonging. No, Canada has not been displaced. Canada is home. Nothing makes my heart soar, at the end of a trip, more than seeing that giant red maple leaf on the tail wing of our plane. But, for whatever reasons, Jim and I seamlessly fit into Italy’s culture, it’s rhythms, its food, its life.

Glancing out our window, I smile at the silhouettes of gondolas floating at dock, moored in anticipation of tomorrow’s sailings, and at the twinkling night lights reflected like a thousand stars on the winding black ribbon which is the Grand Canal at this hour. My emotions fly. Fatigue? For sure! But more the sheer joy of returning to bella Italia. We still have so much to explore. Let our northern adventure begin.

And now that blissful sleep at long last beckons.....
Buona notte. 😴