Caterina Campodonico was a peasant that worked hard selling necklaces made of nuts and loafs of breads. Before she died in 1882, she was determined to show her legacy by hiring the most expensive sculptor around, Lorenzo Orengo, and a poet to build her monument. In order to do that she had to sell a lot of nut necklaces and save all her profits. So its easy to see why the “Peanut Seller” in the magnificent Staglieno cemetery in Genoa, became a symbol for the hard working people of Genoa. In the pictures below you can see her proudly wearing one of her necklaces.
Caterina is one of many stories in this outdoor museum. I’ve seen plenty of interesting cemeteries, but not with so much expression and emotion. Its worth checking it out just for a handful of angels, like the one we called the William H Macy angel (below), and possibly the sexiest angel in the world. Around the same time Caterina Campodonico died in 1882, Giulio Monteverde designed this most sensual angel (top picture and one more below) to guard the tomb of of the Oneto family. No wonder Macy looks grumpy. He’s nowhere near her.
There’s also the grave of the Genoa born Giuseppe Mazzini who helped free and unify Italy. His life and efforts read like a binge worthy Netflix series. He’s so important to Genoa, that they celebrate him twice, June 22 when he was born, and March 10 when he died. And then there’s the grave of the estranged wife of Oscar Wilde’s, Constance Lloyd, which I couldnt find. Not sure how she would feel knowing that her descendants added “Wife of Oscar Wilde” on her stone. All the info out there suggests she did not want that association.
Genoa gets often shortchanged and overlooked by Italy tourists. The striking Staglieno is perhaps the #1 reason why you should not only visit this city, but stay a while. And there’s a lot More Than This (the Genoa slogan you see everywhere these days). I didnt know they were such big fans of Brian Ferry. Click on the pictures below for a closer look
A well overdue update to the Hell’s Kitchen guide.
We say bye bye to Azuri, the lovable Falafel Nazi (lovable now), Basera my go to Indian for so many years (I miss the Chettinad chicken already), and Georgio’s Country grill that I cant… ok I confess I wont miss this one that much. All three sadly shuttered in the past few months.
Say hello to Dell’anima, which I mentioned here before. Probably the most important Italian addition in years, and the most thrilling Gotham West Market addition since they opened pretty much.
And we have a very important burger replacement. Out goes the HKSG veteran Island Burger, in comes Farm to Burger offering craftier and better quality meat for the same price. Albeit without much atmosphere at lunch time at least inside the Aliz hotel.
Click here to see the guide
If you walk around the village of Bevagna in Umbria looking for a place to eat, Antiche Sere might be the last place you’ll pick. Sort of like picking Thai food in Hell’s Kitchen, NYC. I think my group was hoping I made a mistake when we finally reached it. “Are you positive this is it? From the parking lot we passed more inviting places. Like, all of them. And there are about 10 spots higher on Trip Advisor in a town with 11 restaurants”. They said none of this out loud of course. They trust me and learned to follow me like the sheep in the anarchist logo surrounding the “A” in Antiche.
The software engineer in me looks at it with the following logic. The people of Umbria (Umbri? Umbrianos? I like Umbrianos) I’m told rarely go out to eat. Holidays, special occasions, thats just about it. Thats because most of the restaurants mostly serve the same traditional dishes that that residents make at home. So the restaurants in little villages like Bevagna have to rely on us tourists to a large extent. And like in a Las Vegas bunny ranch, they need to look attractive, and positioned properly to attract customers. And then you have places like Antiche Sere that just dont give a hoot. The type that know what they are and gained a following. They type you target, and not bump into by accident.
This being my first Umbria post means the end result was quite positive. One of the most complete meals of a two week trip in fact. As soon as you walk in, you feel more at ease once you see the funky space. You walk by a small kitchen where you see the proud anarchist owner washing dishes, so at least you know the dishes will be clean. And while the anarchist doesnt speak much English it seams, there’s a young friendly Indian waiter that does.
The menu is small. The first sign that this is gonna be good. The second sign was that the Porchetta Rabbit I heard about from Wendy from Antonelli winery is on it. I now have a very warm and fuzzy feeling about this. The young Anarchist in training told us the specials and we pretty much ordered all of them along with the all important rabbit.
Started with a delicious Chickpeas and clams soup. Clams from Ancora and local chickpeas much sturdier and more flavorful than what we are used to (Goya). This is one of the lone places we encountered in Umbria that gets fresh seafood on occasion. Panzanella salad with soaked bread, tomato, celery and some very good vinegar was refreshing on a hot day. Simply grilled beefy local mushrooms. Eggplant parmigiana was another winner. And an exceptional oversized cappelletti pasta with cheese and tomato sauce.
But the shining star and best dish of the trip nominee was the rabbit rolled Porchetta style – aka “I cant believe its not Porchetta”. A dish more common in pricey French joints. Its incredibly tender and packed with flavor. One of those signature dishes that may not come up from researching, but from a local. All washed down with delicious local beer.
One of the joys of road tripping in Italy’s countryside for us is listening to the local radio. While we try to catch some Italian tunes that match the mood, we often find catchy American songs that we either never get at our local stations for some reason, or they sound a little different (ie explicit to us). It started years ago when we discovered that Bruno Mars actually wanted to be a Billionaire “So fuckin bad”. Who knew?
And so during each trip there’s a point where a particular song emerges as the theme song of the trip. Unlike the previous clear winner (LP – Lost on You) in Sicily, this one required some growing. But by the time we got to our last leg in Umbria, we were all going “Gotta blame it on the Goose (the Grey kind), Gotta blame it on my juice, baby”, until we almost ran into a ditch when I (driver) got carried away a little.
Driving the Val d’Orcia in Tuscany can be dangerous. Its shockingly beautiful. The colors change seasonally, but the gentle rolling hills are fixed and unlike anywhere else in the world. Driving between Pienza and San Quirico especially feels like a National Park, Cypress-Land if you will. Baby Fiats stopping in the middle of the road, wedding shoots, drones flying everywhere. For the landscape freaks, there’s plenty of “Juice”. Pictures below taken with iphone, shaking hands, and deteriorating eyesight. Heck, you can see the difference from 6 years ago. I just dont feel like carrying the big boy camera with me anymore. Click on any of the pictures to enlarge