Saturday, May 23rd, 2009

The Women of Gragnano Italy  & children ! The Women of Gragnano Italy & children !

I finally had the opportunity to visit Italy.   I owe it all to my Aunt Dee (my deceased dad’s older sister) and her husband, Uncle Dick wanting me and their daughter Karen to finally meet our cousins in Gragnano, Italy, a suburb of Naples (Napoli).  My great grandfathers who did not know each other at the time they came over to America  Gabriel Malafronte ( went to New York and was in the restaurant business ) and Domenic Mercurio( produce guy )   came to the US in 1898 . Domenic Mercurio started selling fruit & vegetables door to door and  eventually opened an authentic thriving Italian grocery store, Mercurio’s in Fairfield , CT (closed in 2005 after 100 years) .I grew up in this store and never shopped a traditional supermarket until I was 18 and in college.

Meeting my cousins was fascinating and they are all wonderful . Aunt Dee speaks excellent Italian( she takes lessons and is more disciplined than I )   , I do not as my grandmother used to tell us …they lived in America and should only speak English now…. I never learned and now I am trying to learn Spanish for my job .

Gragnano is a small working class suburb of Naples that was known for its pasta – originally had 2,000 pasta manufacturers now it it is down to 200 . Gragnano is about an hour north of the Amalfi coast and the sophisticated charming towns of Positano & Sorrento . Ferries to Capri depart daily from Naples but due to inclement weather we were unable to visit this trip.

Everyone has their own vision of Italy whether they have been there or not …..the land of romance,  fabulous food & wine, historical, ancient secrets still waiting to be discovered, home of Ducatis and Ferrais , high fashion and now the slow food movement. I love the discovery and adventure of getting to know the locals and their culture and italy did not disappoint me .

My travel  challenges, however,  included the  national obsession with cigarette & cigar smoking and the questionable  sanitation of the bathrooms.  Just spending a couple of days in Rome and my eyes were already burning and hurting. I ‘ll bet the  US tobacco  industry is still making their profits here.  I used the American BioTech Silverbiotics spray and gel to keep the irritation and swelling down . Thank goodness I also had all of my supplements , they really helped. Couldn’t have made it without my Deflect for O blood types from North American Pharmacal …..and my Greens + & Sun Chlorella.

What I want to know is , how do the motorcycle  riders keep a lit cigarette in their mouth while maneuvering their speedy vehicles through traffic . Amazing skills they have .

The bathrooms , which on top of fees ranging from .5 to 1.00 Euro were always a surprise.  Hole in the ground or toilette? Seat or no seat ?…were you going to get paper? Did they flush ? We used the great outdoors several times and it was more sanitary than most public toilets. Other than that we were comfortable with Italy and its customs, many familiar to me with my Italian upbringing.

Rome was a typical city full of adventure and Gelato waiting for you on every block . I had only experienced Gelato at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas and it was nothing like this. I am not a fan of ice cream and usually opt for sorbet because I am lactose intolerant to cow’s milk. . However, I became a Gelato convert( no milky aftertaste, does not make you thirsty , no indigestion or bloating and a small cup satisfies you ) ……even a snob by the end of my trip . In Italy ,  Gelato is considered a snack , not a desert . Much better than a candy bar over here.

My friend Stacey Stilts from West Hollywood, CA  joined me for the final week of my trip and she loves Gelato , usually buying it from her local Whole Foods store.  The best types are made several times daily in small batches, served in stainless steel metal tub with natural ingredients  no artificial anything- right up my alley!Gelato Favorites

Our #1 favorite place was in Rome ( Roma ) . Gelateria Die Teatro , at 70 Via di San Simone Street a small cobblestone side street near some antique stores just a few blocks down after crossing the Tiber River from Caste De Angelo and walking about 10 minutes. My ginger Gelato with chunks of ginger and Stacey’s fig & Ricotta cheese were the best of all we had. Wished we could have gone back for more . #2 winner was Gelateria Torterzo Coccatero / Furoi dal Centro in Borgo a Mozono , just north of Lucca about 25 miles with  hazelnut-Nicola ,Pischaccio, Raspberry & Mango …a real surprise  on the main road leading to Bagni de Lucca on the right . They also make the most incredible Gelato pastries and cakes .wwwbernorddiniluca@yahoo.it #3 for organic and dark chocolate with cocoa nibs was GROM in Florence, Oche 24a  ..(.the Strawberry (  fragiloa ) was good too) . A new restaurant in Lucca( opened in MAY ) , Grano Salis , we could have been dining in LA with the decor  ……their house specialty was Cinnamon ( canella )and it was sooo creamy, not sweet &  absolutely awesome . Do not however get their Tiramiso , very disappointing .Other flavors that we loved from other establishments were pear, passion fruit, tiramiso and crema . The chestnut was bland and Tuscany chianti was ok  ,the cherry was too sweet.

990205015_2371Eating was a challenge since I do not consume wheat or pork products -I cheated once and paid dearly for it with an anchovy & zucchini flower pizza and a few slices of salami . So what do you eat when you aren’t eating the 5 p’s in Italy – pizza, pasta, panni, proscuitto & pastries? A lot of cheese! Thank goodness for sheep cheese..and many different types… …it agreed with me -no bloating or sinus problems .. I stay away from cow except for mozzarella.

The bohemian suburb of Rome , per Rick Steve’s Italy 2009 book  www.ricksteves.com…..saved us here. Trastevere had wonderful restaurants that were better priced and offered more varieties of vegetables, fish and meats than some of the others I had experienced in other parts of Rome & Lucca.

Our favorite here which we frequented twice was Ai Fienaroli , a couple of blocks south of the main square and not as touristy . www.aifienaroli. See if Gizamo is working…she only works part time for tips because she loves the cooking of Chef Stefano . They have the best mussels & clams ,vegetables ( like chicory & artichokes)lean fresh  meats and fish dishes and are well known for their Tiramiso . The best wine bar was ChaKra with owner Ricardo who told us about Ai Fienardoli and helped us understand the social life of the local Romans……get the Valpolicello for only 22Euro……tastes like the Amarone for 55.00 …..both from the Veneto region.

While we were in the Lucca area we rented a Villa for the week from a sharp business women -Alexandra Galvani who recently purchased Burgo Giusto and is turning this restored 17th century village into a wellness center. We loved it here and our villa , the former postman’s house was ours & we had a full kitchen . A bit romantic , and decorated with roses herbs gardens,  olive groves and an abundance of  birds;  is located 23 miles north of Lucca in a very small village Partigliano . A running joke around here is if you enter one of the bars ( very different from the US ) you may as well be going into a retirement home , a little challenging for us single women .

We frequented the local markets for produce & fish and also a grocery chain, Esselunga ….which offered the best take away gourmet foods- sheep cheeses, meats ( beef , shrimp ) and incredible prices on produce & wine. Local food in season included our favorite of artichokes- Carciofi , zucchini & flowers, green beans , mussels ( Cozze), eggplant ,rainbow trout and blueberries. We ate well. Breakfasts of organic eggs, herbs,meats and veggies with our Yerba mate & green teas were lifesavers. I was in egg withdrawal since Gragnano & Rome did not serve eggs for breakfast – mostly pork based meats, pastries , breads, rolls & croissants  and Capucino . I lived on Yerbe Mate te , Greens+ bars & almonds  for breakfast the first week that I brought from the US. From then on we ate meals like picnics……and maintained our weight with better foods and smaller, more frequent meals.

Our favorite day of all was in Cinque Terre . A group of 5 small towns tucked into the cliffs north990205015_140 of Tuscany past Carrara ( the marble mines) and La Spezia ( off A -12) . We only had the chance to hike the first 3 towns and and back …..and want  to return. There are trails at several altitudes, small charming villages , good food & wines….and really nice  people) . This area is a mad house in the summer but May & Sept are terrific lower key months with great weather .  The town practically shut down during the winter months in Dec ember& January . We ate in the small delis & Trattoria’s  that offered cheeses, anchovies,tomatoes,artichokes ,eggplant & olives …with slices of Cecina from the  pizzeria’s (completely wheat free lentil flour slices that the Italians eat it plain with salt  but I added my picnic treat on top )and hung out at our favorite wine bar -(Enoteca) in Corniglia ….Il Purin.Mario ,Mario owns local vineyards, has his own wine label and will allow you to consume your lunch in his shop with a purchase when the other restaurants are all closed. A  truly delightful place. Most of the restaurants close from 2:30-7:30 so you are very limited on food choices except for the smaller deli’s and pizzeria’s.

Other Lucca area highlights:

Horseback Riding : Ranch Il Ruscello / Bagni Di Lucca 347-688-8661 Rosi  , a Dutch native,  is the best ! Western saddle, speaks English ,25.00Euro per hour ( includes natioanl license )  and also offers 3 day overnight trips and riding lessons.

Terme /Hot Springs : Jean Varraud , Bagni Di Lucca.www.termebagnidilucca.it  A medical spa type of place ….the caves offer a natural steam sauna( dating back to the time of Napolean’s sister -Paulina )   and the mud treatments and massages are a respite from all the hiking around. Not fancy , just effective. Closed Friday afternoons.

Lucca Winery & Olive Oil : Fattoria Sardi Giustiniani offered wine & olive oil tastings by Elena , a native from Lucca who for 25.00 Euro pp is a great deal . Truly off the beaten track and not touristy like some in the southern Tuscany areas…..no tour buses here. ..get a local directory of the 30 local farms & wineries in this region. The 2005 Merlot is truly one of the best reds you will ever consume( next to the Veneto regions of reds)  I am not a Chianti fan . The best white is blend is a 2007 Felice. The olive oil has a peppery finish and only 300 bottles are produced per year . Apts are also available for rent . You are just 10 minutes south of Lucca and close to the Auto strada for convenience to Florence but in another quiet  peaceful world .

990205016_1951Umbria/ Assisi . I did not get but less than 24 hours in this beautiful town and could have easily spent a week here….this was my favorite Artist : I wish I had room to buy some plates and vases from this talented artist -Pittura su Tei at Assisi Typical wwwassisitypicalaltervista.org. She makes the most unusual bracelets from forks & raw gemstones and her painted plates were the most beautiful anywhere.

Must have’s for healthy travel :

Travel mug for your tea unless you don’t mind 4 oz china tea cups…tea bags…..herbal teas are  limited here however you can buy Green ,chamomile,rose hips and lemon verbena….bring  extra kleenex or TP-for roadside stops!  ,a shaker cup , Ipod or mp3 player for music  if you stay in the country as it is very quiet ……Band-aids and an ace bandage for hiking….several pairs of sneakers/sandals to rotate  your shoes in case of blisters…. a headlamp flashlight for hiking around unlit areas or to use as a reading light …Natural Air Fresheners for mold control – North American herb & Spice Germ-a Cleanze...and Mia Rose Air therapy work the best and your supplements. I really needed the Liverclean city pollution) ,Thyroid Balance ( weight,brain  & hormones)  Sugar Balance ( after Gelato’s& wine ) and the Anti-Aging 3 Collagen( skin, joints& immune)  from Dr Venessa, chlorella & spirulina  or your favorite green drink ….L- Glutamine, Taurine, Tryptophan , MSM & Turmeric ( Jarrow brand is best here….for any inflammation)  Melatonin, B’s ,& C and EFA’s … good quality skin care serums , creams & masks ….Italy is VERY dry

Bring ….a sense of humor ….a lot of time ( Nothing in Italy moves quickly except for cars and motorcycles) and PATIENCE .

I will definitely be back to explore my other roots in Sicily and keep in touch with my Cousins, visit Capri ,  and head back to Cinque Terre…..

In Continued health and happy traveling …..there are 3 photo albums up on Facebook now.

Sally Byrd

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