Tuesday, December 29, 2009

An Italian New Year's Eve







To celebrate the night between December 31 and January 1st, called "Capodanno" it is an Italian tradition to shoot fireworks, as in many other cities around the world. In Venice they will celebrate like last year with the "Love 2010 event". On St. Mark's square from the central tower a spectacular program of music and lights will be performed, with projections that will color the historic buildings surrounding the square. At midnight the water of the lagoon at San Marco will host a fireworks display that will light up New Year's Eve. And for all, a toast with Bellini.
I wish I was there!
But the Italian tradition includes also a number of superstitious rituals for the first hours of the new year, all aiming at ensuring abundance, prosperity and happiness for the entire year. To start at home... kissing under the mistletoe is a sign of good omen. On New Year's Eve, also hanging some mistletoe on the front door it is said it will take away the evil spirits from your home, this tradition comes directly from ancient beliefs handed down by the Druids. In many towns and villages a long procession of people, skiing or walking, with torches in their hands will wind up the hills or the mountains, where a huge effigy of wood and rags will be burned and with it, symbolically, the fire will erase all the troubles and sorrows of the old year.



Also important is what you eat that night and particular care is given to the decoration of the table.
Holiday Placesetting



Tradition has it that, both at home, at friends or in restaurants, dinner on the last day of the year should last several hours, to celebrate the stroke of midnight still at the table! Dinner could become a party lasting until well past Midnight, with dance and music, more champagne, streamers and coriandoli (which in English are called "confetti" and I have no idea why...since confetti in Italian are those almonds coated in sugar given away at weddings!) The rich, lengthy dinner, called "il Cenone di Capodanno" (big dinner) always requires to eat plenty of lentils which are a pledge of wealth for the new year and since every lentil represents a coin, more we will eat, more money we will have! Here is one of the most popular dish in the North for that evening: the Zampone (boned pigs' forelegs stuffed with a mixture of ground pork, pork rinds, and spices) with lentils, mashed potatoes, spinach and mostarda, an Italian condiment made of candied fruit and a mustard flavored syrup.

A festive table in the south with its specialty of cannoli, cassata, marzipan.

In Val d'Aosta and the Marches, while the clock strikes midnight it brings good luck to eat 12 black grapes, while in Romagna is fine to eat grapes of any color. From North to South pomegranate is also said to bring good luck, with its lively, festive color and the numerous tiny parts of the fruit, which again means wealth.
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In Abruzzo, dinner often must have 7 soups of 7 different vegetables, also bearers of wealth. And on and on... for each region of Italy a different tradition...! But indispensable everywhere is a "cin cin" a toast with champagne or sparkling wine, uncorked exactly at midnight and always making the big bang: this noise, like the one of firecrackers, in ancient times was said helping to ward off the evil eye. As you can see many traditions for Capodanno have pagan roots, since it is not considered a religious holiday.
One of the oldest traditions is to break on the floor some pieces from the table, like plates, cups, trays, precisely at midnight, to drive away all the evil that has accumulated during the year and in general disposing of old or unused items signify changes. The practice to throw them from the window was widespread in Italy in various ways, and is still living partially in large cities like Rome and Naples, often with damage to parked cars and sometimes even to the unwary passers-by but fortunately it has become a custom almost abandoned!
And now from my home to yours a toast to the New Year: may it bring
Joy and Peace!
What are you happily leaving behind from the past year?
Images source

Don't forget my "Milan Design Week" Tour, please click on "The event is back"

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The end of a decade

Do you remember December 31, 1999?
The decade began with a big fear of the millennium bug, which many "technology experts" said would create havoc in computers, airplanes would fall,  disasters would happen in every corner of the globe. As soon as the non-emergency had passed, a genuine threat materialized in September 2001 with the demolition of the Twin Towers and thousands of deaths.   The journey from the Twin Towers to the war in Afghanistan and Iraq,  to the recession years has been long and complicated also by the increasingly difficult relationship between our Mother Earth and the population, with a devastating Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, earthquakes and floods.
It seems they were ten years to be forgotten!
But on the other side The Old and the new World are now closer then ever.
China and India are rapidly emerging on the world scene.
We may have learned a lesson or two from the economy and we may have become more responsible toward our Earth.
Many of us these past years have arduously migrated  from analog to digital, I still love to shoot film with my camera but on the other side I have become a blogger and who would have imagined ten years ago the power, good or bad, of these social media like Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and the new ones emerging?
They have changed the way we approach communication, commerce, advertisement, politics.
I believe that Internet, even if a product of the XX century, is one of the most important factor of the past decade, since it has reached an enormous number of people and has created important changes in our lives.
I will carry Internet with me into the New Year,  but I will also pack with me the products of our old culture like books, cinema, music, magazines, television, theatre and art.
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What will you carry with you to enter the new decade?

Don't forget my "Milan Design Week"  Tour, please click on "The event is back"

Monday, December 21, 2009

An Italian Christmas part I

A major tradition in Italy is the setting every year, a few weeks before Christmas, of the Nativity scene, which we call "Presepio" from a Latin word meaning "manger". It could be just a few hours work, dusting figurines out of boxes where they slept the whole year or it could be a more challenging job, finding new figurines, recreating new scenes, in this case it could last the whole month of December, but on the evening of the 24th everything must be ready.
It is a very ancient tradition, since the first mention of "crib" (manger) can be found in 1035 AD documents, relating to a church in Naples even though tradition says that Saint Francis of Assisi was the first to create a Presepio with real people and animals. During the 17th and 18th century Naples turned the Nativity scene into an art form. The Presepio included the nativity scene but also represented life in Naples at the time. Spirituality and daily life, sacred and profane, prayers and irony are all part of Neapolitan presepio, as only in this city of contradiction is possible to see. Living nativities are a common site in Italy during the Christmas season. On Christmas Eve small towns in Italy celebrate the day with a live nativity scene much as St. Francis of Assisi did in 1223. There are live animals, children and adults playing the roles of the Holy Family and a newborn playing the baby Jesus.
Almost every Italian family has its own set of figurines and mine were bought by my parents around 1940 and later years and much later divided between my sister and myself. When we visit it is a joy to see the other half of the Presepio and recognize figurines like old friends. Here are some images from my own Presepio.

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The wooden houses were made by our maternal grandfather and they are magic in the evening when the lights are on.
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The shepherd on the top right is calling everyone to assist to the event.

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The lady in the middle brings fresh baked bread to the manger.
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This lady instead brings a camisole to cover Baby Jesus and you can see the Wise Men (Re Magi) and a camel approaching the stable. Every day they move a little closer, so that on January 6th they are in front of Jesus with their gifts, myrrh, gold and incense.
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An old man is helped by his son to walk toward the stable. You may notice out of scale items, since they were added over the years and the landscape is quite surreal: pine trees and palms go together, sand for desert and moss for greenery, western clothes and Middle east or African animals... but it is still magic for me to set the scene every year. The giraffe over the years has lost one leg, some figurines are partially broken, all colors are fading, but not the memories they evoke!

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The manger is empty, Jesus is not born yet, it is family tradition to put Him there only after midnight, when December 25th is just starting or in the morning and an Italian tradition is that the youngest family member place the baby Jesus in the crib.
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And here you can see Him, kept comfortable by the straw and the warmth of the animals in the stable.
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But the most amazing "Nativity" are the ones created in Naples and surrounding region. The most precious one is at the Royal Palace in Caserta, near Naples, it was made in 18th century, with clay and original textiles. A small part can be seen in this image.

Only in the 18th century Neapolitan Nativity added real looking people to the scene, shepherds, peasants, craftsmen, sellers of goods. Here are some good examples of Nativity found in churches or private houses around Italy.




During last century the tradition of a Christmas tree became also part of Italian culture, but most of the time the tree is still accompanied by a Presepio.
Christmas eve dinner is a big celebration, meat is not allowed the whole December 24th, and at dinner (called Cenone or big dinner) and held very late, around 10:00PM, on many Italian tables king is the "capitone" or eel, cooked in different ways, fish, shellfish, especially clams, and whatever the family can afford to make a feast.
In the North, and lately also in the South, at the end of dinner a must is the Panettone (a sweet raised bread with candied fruits invented in Milan during the Renaissance) always accompanied by different nuts, dried dates and tangerines.
The following day Christmas lunch is celebrated with the extended family, appetizers are followed by a broth with tortellini and for the main course no turkey but most of the time a stuffed capon with all sort of seasonal vegetables and of course another slice of Panettone or any other Christmas sweets like Marrons glacés (glazed chestnuts) together with Torrone (almond nougat).
On Christmas eve children are allowed to stay up and after dinner many families still go to Midnight Mass, walking briskly in the crisp air, under a starry sky or sometimes with snow flakes falling down, but the church is always warm, filled with chants accompanied by the organ, lit by hundreds of candles. Everyone feels happy to be there and to exchange the sign of peace with the persons sitting nearby, shaking their hands and pronouncing the magic words "Peace be with you". Time stands still.


From my house to yours: Peace and Joy be with you!

Friday, December 18, 2009

My give-away winner is...


On my 100th post I promised a gift and today the winner of this B&W 8" x 12" custom print is Dale of Hospitality Design Inspirations, a blog exploring interesting and new hotel projects around the world.
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Congratulations Dale! and thanks to all the participants.

If you want to be in Milan with me for Design Week 2010...

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Art & Jewellery

In January 2010 at the Vancouver Art Gallery there will be a new exhibition and the artist will be
Michael Lin.
"Michael Lin is highly regarded for his monumental painted installations that reconfigure and redesign public spaces. Using patterns based on traditional Taiwanese textiles, his work has been integrated into museum cafés, lobbies, galleries and façades in many countries, dynamically transforming their architecture and the way they are perceived by the public. For his solo exhibition at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Michael Lin has created an enormous hand-painted mural that will cover the Gallery’s Georgia Street façade, bringing his artwork outside the traditional confines of the Gallery space. Expanding on his interest in veiling the institution, he has also conceived a book-wrapping project for the Gallery Store, which will cover Gallery publications in a wrapping paper of his own design. Raised in Taiwan, Lin lives between Brussels, Shanghai and Taipei. His work reflects the influence of these diverse sites of cultural production and his movement between them". (from VAG web site)

This was the art section... Now...Jewellery you will ask? Here it comes:

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In Milan there is a gorgeous showroom of my favorite Jeweller: Pomellato... with walls hand painted by Michael Lin.

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I fell in love with Pomellato when I was young (they started in 1967) and I always walked in via San Pietro all'Orto to admire the windows display even when I could not afford to buy anything. Several years passed by and when my beautiful, sweet, talented niece Valentina, an architect, was hired by the firm, we were all excited in the family and she is still so happy to be there even if at times tired of so much traveling around the world!
I am so glad that Pomellato has reached a well deserved international fame and has now flagship stores everywhere, from Russia to Singapore to Kuwait.
There is a video on YouTube I could not embed in this post so if you want to see it please go to YouTube and search for Pomellato in Milan (or if you are lucky just clicking on YouTube link may bring you the videos!).

Rings from NUDO collection.


Rings from the latest collection "M'ama, non m'ama" (He loves me, he loves me not)

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From "Victoria" collection

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From "Tango" collection

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From "Capri" collection

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Also part of Pomellato company is the Dodo brand, another big trend for younger (and older too I would say) jewellery lovers.

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I am sure you'll smile when you'll enter the Dodo site.
Precious in any sense of the word!

If you want to see Milan with me...click on "The event is back"

Sunday, December 13, 2009

More on Milan Design Week

 During the Milan Furniture Fair (also called Salone del Mobile, trade only event April 14-19, 2010) there are always many other design events, open to the public, which are organized under the umbrella name of "Fuori Salone". 
The whole city is transformed and in several areas there are performances, installations, interviews with top designers, shows, music, social events, drinks and food, all of these happening most of the day and until late at night, the whole week.

This is the first of a few posts related to "The event is back" to show what was going on in Milan this past April and it may give you an idea of what will happen at the next edition, April 2010.

Palazzo Visconti, in the center of Milan was home to an installation by Patricia Urquiola.
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Urquiola, during the Fuori Salone 2009 presented a NEW bathroom concept for the Axor brand of Hansgrohe. A "gorgeous coulisse provided the baroque Palazzo Visconti in the heart of Milan with a successful staging of the new bathroom collection Axor Urquiola." Says Philippe Grohe, “The visitors were throughout thrilled, from both, the staging and the bathroom collection itself. Both, journalists and the architects among the visitors found it very exciting that Patricia Urquiola, for sure one of the most wanted designers of the 2009 Milan Furniture Fair, many times personally answered their questions."

Lombard baroque and contemporary design!

To be able to participate to Salone del Mobile 2010 click on The event is back.

Images from Flickr
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