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It was a perfect Spring day and this was to be our first visit to the historic town of Sezze.   We could see, as we approached, that it was perched high on a hill overlooking the Pontine Plain.

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We could just make out a queue of slow moving cars making their tortuous way up the steep and winding hill. Clearly this was going to be a popular event. Finding a parking place was very difficult because the town, which was larger than I had imagined, was already thronged with visitors from far and wide. In the end we had to park a little out of town and make our way back to the centre on foot.

April is the season when the artichoke is in its prime, and in Sezze this vegetable has become the symbol of the cultural and culinary heritage of the area. This was the 45th edition of this gastronomic event, Sezze’s Artichoke Festival or Sagra del Carciofo.

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The artichoke, is in fact, a member of the thistle family, and it’s the large compact flower bud that is for eating – they are high in fibre and iron and interestingly are also said to possess aphrodisiac properties.

In these parts it is the non prickly “Romanesco” variety of artichoke that is grown, which produces beautiful purple tinted heads.

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They thrive in the local micro-climate of the Pontine Plain where they are sheltered from cold winters and warmed by balmy sea breezes. The plain was originally just swamp land where people were plagued by Malaria.  However, during the 1930’s, Mussolini organised thousands of workers from the north of Italy to construct networks of dikes and canals to drain the land and transform the swamps into fertile agricultural land.  Today the local economy remains largely based on agriculture.

As we neared the bustling centre of the town we began to see stall after stall of proud farmers exhibiting and promoting their wonderful seasonal produce.

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Some had created floral arrangements with the artichokes.

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These had been spray painted to look like flowers.

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An artichoke tree !!!

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Makeshift camp kitchens and tented dining areas had been erected serving meals of several courses all based on artichokes, prepared and cooked in so many different culinary ways, such as raw, pickled, marinated, fried in batter, braised, fricasseed, barbecued, alone or in sauces and stews.  There is even an artichoke liqueur called “Cynar”.

The streets were full of music and dancers in colourful traditional costumes.

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There were street entertainers.

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Demonstrations of local handicrafts – basket making.

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Stalls selling arts and crafts.

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I would have liked to have further explored the old Medieval quarters of Sezze and taken more photos, but the town was absolutely thronged with visitors that day.

So I will just have to go back there very soon !!!   Watch this space !!!

All photos by me

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

Some Delicious Globe Artichoke Recipes

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In May Itri held a special feast, that is known as the Sagra dell’Ulivo”,  to celebrate Itri’s wonderful table olives and olive oil which play a vital role in the town’s agricultural economy. The surrounding undulating hillsides of Itri are tinted with the silvery green foliage of olive trees, indeed this little town has been noted for the quality of its olives since Roman times.  

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The Itrana variety of olive trees  is exclusive to this specific area, thriving as a consequence of the unique environment, quality of the fertile soil, temperate micro-climate, sea breezes and fresh mountain air.  Extra Virgin Olive oil from Itri is noted for being of a consistently high quality as  it  is naturally exceptionally low in acidity

Itri exports much of its olive oil and olives, under the denomination of “Gaeta Olives”. The product adopted the name of the more known nearby city because they were shipped from the port of Gaeta.

Here are some photos I took in May of scarlet poppies growing under the olive trees …

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Budding olive flowers and poppies

A large camp kitchen had been set up in the centre of  the town and was serving meals based on Itri’s olives and olive oil.

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Kay and I enjoyed our passeggiata browsing through the stalls which were exhibiting local traditional food and wine  …..

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traditional work and tools of local artisans …..

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Typical tradesmen …..

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Local arts and crafts …..

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The following day was Mothers Day in Italy

A young lad was playing the zambogna, a form of typical rustic bagpipe

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and there were some locals dressed in traditional Ciociara costumes.

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You can read more about our own olive groves in Itri and our Extra Virgin Olive Oil here at our Tre Cancelle website

http://trecancelleolive.shapcott-family.com/

All photos by me 

© Louise Shapcott (NonnaLou)

 

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This year at Christmas-time we thought it would be good to take our friends, who were visiting us from Wales,  to see an Italian “Presepio Vivo” – a “Live Nativity”. 

The little medieval town of Maranola, near Formia, has become well known for this popular event, and this Christmas of 2011 was to be the town’s 37th edition, with presentations being held on several evenings: 26 December; the 1st and the 6th of January (the Epiphany).

This is a wonderful event where the locals work closely together as a community to put on a re-enactment of the Nativity story. 

As “this is Italy” the event was a little late in getting underway, so as the queue of people waited patiently, some Ciociaria zampogna players (wearing their typical form of footware – le ciocie) began to pipe their traditional folk music and carols.

Finally as we began to make forward progress and at last we entered the old Medieval part of town though an ancient gateway.

It seemed as if we were taking a step back in time. Throughout the labyrinth of narrow winding streets and alleys of Maranola, scenes of  typical village life of years gone by was being portrayed by the townspeople.

In old store-rooms and cellars along the way, costumed locals, both young and old, depicted characters carrying out their various trades, every day chores and typical handicrafts.

There were groups singing and dancing to traditional music.

There were also stalls handing out tasters of local produce to sample enroute.

As we meandered our way onwards and upwards through the old town there seemed to be something of interest around every corner. 

As we neared the highest point of the town we came to the square by the old Caetani tower, which dates back to the 1300’s.  Here there was a charming live tableau depicting the nativity scene, farm animals, a stable with Mary and Jesus and a real little baby lying in the manger.

The trail next lead us into the nearby church, the Chiesa di San Luca Evangelista, who is Maranola’s patron saint. The church  has some ancient frescoes.

Next we entered the beautiful church dedicated to Santa Maria dei Martiri which is ornately decorated.  Here there was a beautiful crib with hand-made terracotta figurines which are said to date back to the 16th century.

Thank you to the people of Maranola and the Associazione Culturale for their hard work in putting on such a wonderful Presepe Vivo.  Well done to each and every one who took part.

For more information about the town of Maranola see my website:  http://maranola.shapcott-family.com

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The tiny town of Campodimele, near Itri, also put on a “Living Nativity” this Christmas. 

Sadly this event was severely marred by some very inclement wet and windy weather, but I did manage to take a couple of pictures. It was such a shame as the villagers had worked so hard to organise this event. 

I love their wooly hats – but it really was freezing cold !!!

I hope the villagers of Campodimele will try to hold this event again next year, if so we will be there for sure !!!

For more information about the town of Campodimele see my website:  http://campodimele.shapcott-family.com

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I made up my mind that we really needed to take our Australian friend Diana out and about to see some local sites.  So I planned a route, heading towards Cassino, taking the scenic road via Campodimele and Pico

However, in my moment of enthusiasm (or was it madness ?) I had forgotten to take into consideration, the tortuous ascending route, with numerous vertiginous hairpin bends, that leads up to the abbey of Montecassino

 

This could be considered challenging even for some confident drivers, especially when you find a bus coming at you on the wrong side of the road !!!)  I was somewhat relieved as we neared to top and the Abbey finally came into vision.  After a huge sigh of relief I slowly managed to prize my white knuckled hands away from the steering wheel.

I was wearing a sundress, so I donned a cardigan, as to be allowed into the Abbey you must be respectful in wearing appropriate clothing, ie shoulders must be covered, and mini-skirts and “mini” shorts are definitely frowned upon.

As you enter the Abbey you first walk through a peaceful cloister and standing in the centre of the garden is a bronze statue depicting the death of St Benedict.

From the balcony on the lower section there is a stunning panoramic view of the Liri Valley and to the right, on a hillside, the Polish Cemetery.

A wide stone staircase steps lead up to a higher cloistered area and the facade of the grand Basilica.

The inside of the Basilica is incredibly ornate and lavishly decorated with beautiful examples of intricate inlaid marble, gilded plasterwork and frescoes.

A vaulted stairway leading down to the crypt is adorned with tiny blue and gold mosaic tiles, and the chapels are also opulently embellished with beautiful mosaics.

There is a museum which houses many of the abbey’s ancient treasures (please note that this is only open on Sundays during the winter months).

There are also two shops where you can purchase souvenirs and herbal remedies and preparations made by the monks.

Nowadays, it hard to believe that this beautiful tranquil  location was once the site of a fierce battle that raged during 1944, resulting in the abbey being virtually destroyed. 

Click here for more details of Montecassino and the Gustav Line.

For more information and photos of the Abbey and Montecassino please take a look at our  website:  http://cassino.shapcott-family.com

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Saint Constance is the co-patron of the mountain town of San Donato Val Di Comino which sits on the edge of the Parco Nazionale di Abruzzo.  Constance was a courageous young  Roman  girl  who was martyred for defending her faith.  In 1756, the saint’s remains were brought to San Donato for safe-keeping and housed in the Cathedral of Santa Maria and San Marcello.

Her feast is held annually on the last Sunday of August, and during this ancient festival there is a night vigil and a procession in which the saint’s statue is carried through the streets by 12 young men dressed as pages in colourful 18th century costumes.

Many of the locals also dress up in traditional costumes of the Ciociaria region.

The typical type of footware – the rather strange looking sandals known as  “cioce”, from which the region of Ciociaria takes its name.

Santa Costanza is the patron saint of young people and of  spinsters, who in the past were traditionally nicknamed as “cipolle”- “onions”.  Therefore traditional local dishes are served based on onions such as the “cipollata” made of onions, cheese and eggs.

There is also the Mercatino di Santa Costanza – a traditional market that has been held every year since the 1700’s. The custom was that children were given a clay money box to encourage them to save up their pocket money throughout the year. On the feast day the money boxes were smashed and at the market the children were able to buy whistles, small toys and items made of terracotta, together with new money boxes to save up their coins or “spiccioli” for the next year.


Mothers had the opportunity to buy such things as plaited tresses of garlic or onions, terracotta urns, pots, pans and dishes.

At the market there are also stalls selling local arts and crafts, as well as traditional food products such as the curiously shaped Caciacavallo cheese.

The festivities also include entertainment in the form of comedians, acrobats, popular games, concerts and  culminate in an impressive fireworks display.

Click Here For more information about San Donato

and the neighbouring towns of the Val di Comino

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During August we had the pleasure of having a lovely French family to stay with us.  We soon learned that their summer holiday was booked to coincide with a family wedding that was to take place in this beautiful  area of South Lazio.   The bride’s family originated from the small town of Casalvieri, which is very close to Atina, the birthplace of my Italian grandparents, in the beautiful Val di Comino.  The wedding was to be held at the Abbey of Casamari in Frosinone, which is located between the towns of  Frosinone and Sora, close to Isola del Liri, with its beautiful waterfall.

We expressed interest about the wedding, and asked if we could tag along to observe the celebrations.

Thus, on the day of the wedding, Paul and I drove to Casamari.  We purposely arrived early so that we had plenty of time to explore the ancient abbey, which is still a functioning monastery housing approximately twenty monks.

The Cistercian monastery dates back to the 13th century and is dedicated to Santa Maria,  San Giovanni and San Paolo.  It is noted as being a fine example of early-Gothic architecture, similar to that  found at the Abbey of Fossanova, near Priverno.

The church has an elegant nave with clean simple lines and a vaulted ceiling. Despite its simplicity there are some examples of beautiful intricately carved stonework ….

…  and some wonderfully ornate bronze doors.

Interestingly many of the windows, instead of being made of stained glass, are glazed with translucent slices of agate alabaster which give the majestic building a golden amber glow.

The main altar is of an ornate Baroque style, and was beautifully decorated for the wedding with  exquisite arrangements of white roses.

We also explored the outside of the Abbey, the courtyard and gardens.

The tranquil Cloister and covered walkway has an ancient well as its centrepiece and the flowerbeds were planted with stunning scarlet salvias.

Before long the wedding  guests began to arrive and the ceremony to celebrate the couple’s union got underway.

What a splendid location for a fairy tale wedding.

We wish the radiant couple much love and happiness and many splendid years together.

Our special friends :  La Famille Filatriau: Regis, Domenique, Solenn and Tatiana

 

Also take a look at our Blog Entry regarding Fossanova Abbey

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I (Louie) have been beavering away on the old computer.

Using  my own photos I have  now put together 2 Video / Slideshows.

Please do take a look  ………..

One is dedicated to :

Our “Tre Cancelle” Farmhouse Holiday Apartments

The second is about this interesting region of South Lazio

that we are so lucky to now live in :

“Beautiful South Lazio”


I hope this will give you an idea

of what beauty surrounds us here at

“Tre Cancelle”

For more details about our 2 Farmhouse Holiday Apartments

and other local Holiday Villas available to rent,

please go to our Website at :

http://trecancelle.shapcott-family.com

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A cheery “Ciao” to you, one and all,

hoping each and everyone is keeping well

and getting into the swing of this year’s seasonal festivities.

I must admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of Christmas, since at the age of 9 or 10 I became very disillusioned on abruptly discovering that Father Christmas was in fact not real.  I was absolutely devastated.  How I had been duped !!!

My dear mother, Tina, always loved Christmas. She seemed to forever see Christmas through the eyes of an innocent child.  When I was young she used to delight in taking me on trips to London to visit the large department stores with their glittering, alluring window displays.  Here I would be enticed to visit dear Olde Santa in his magical twinkling grotto.  However, so fervent was her passion, that in the period leading up to Christmas I was taken to visit Santa in several different stores.  Even at the age of 4 or 5 I must have had quite an enquiring mind, as I soon began to deduce that each of the Santas somehow looked subtly different, ie the colour of their gloves, boots and belts etc !!!

In Italy festivities begin on the 6th December with the Festa di San Nicola, followed by the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on the 8th, which is marked by a Public Holiday.  The 13th December is the feast of Santa Lucia also known as “The Festival of Lights”. It seems that no expense is spared as each Comune stings up its extravagant sparkling, displays of Christmas street illuminations, on entering or each town one is greeted with the cheery message Buona Festa.

Outside their premises some shop keepers lay out cheery red or green felt on the pavements, and display Christmas trees decorated with ribbons and bows, and assorted dangling pasta shapes that have been gilded with gold spray paint, creating a jolly festive atmosphere.

One thing that it is not easy to find in Italy is Christmas cards.  Occasionally they are sold individually, and then choice is very limited, the quality very poor, and they very over-priced.  Last year the only place we were able to find packs of Christmas cards was in IKEA in Naples.  It seems that greetings cards in general have not really caught on in Italy.  The staff at our local Post Office often comment on how many letters are cards we receive, particularly around Christmastime.  I think that next year I will have to get busy and make my own greetings cards, perhaps this could be a new little cottage industry for me.

In Italy, in the weeks leading up to Christmas traditionally shepherd pipers, known as pifferai and zampognari, come down from the mountainous regions of the Abruzzi to herald the pending birth of the Christ child, by playing their traditional festive music.  The ciaramella is a wooden flute, and the zambogna is a type of reed bag-pipe, the air sacks of which are traditionally made of goat or sheep skin and the flutes are commonly carved of olive wood.  They musicians sport an unusual type of foot ware, known as the ciocia, which is said to date back to Etruscan times.  This consists of a rudimentary leather sole which towards the toe curves upwards.  This is held in place by long straps which are tightly bound around the foot and calf.  This type of foot-ware is part of the local costume of the people of Ciociaria, who take their name from this unique type of shoe.  My mother’s family originated from this region.

Each church erects a special Nativity tableau, called a presepe, many of the figurines that been hand crafted by traditional artisans. In certain towns it is possible to see a “living” Nativity scene, with real people and children dressed in costumes, acting out the traditional story.  I am told such an event takes place annually in the medieval hill towns of Maranola and Minturno and we are hoping to go and take a look this Christmas.

In their own homes families also strive to recreate their own nativity scenes, some more elaborate than others, and encourage their children to play their part in the family’s preparations for Christmas. Shops sell many of the essential crèche components to create a fanciful display.  These can range from the basics such as: cork, moss, bark and straw, to more extravagant additions such as snow capped mountains, caves, stables, bridges, lights and electrically driven streams and water-wheels.  Also there is a wide range of figurines on offer, Mary and St Joseph, glittering winged angels, lowly farmyard animals, traditional shepherds playing their pipes, people representing other common professions, and of course il bambino Gesù, to be laid in the manger at midnight on Christmas Eve.  The exotic Magi are added to the display on the day of the Epiphany.  These figures range from decidedly tacky, mass produced, plastic specimens, to more tasteful, hand crafted statuettes.  Sometimes such nativity scenes are handed down through the family, from one generation to another.

I recall one year, many years ago, my aunt once sent over a parcel containing a basic crib, with an integral musical box.  It played the tune to the well loved Italian Christmas carol: “Tu scendi dalle stelle,  O re del Cielo,  E vieni in una grotta,  Al freddo e al gelo.” As a child I was transfixed by the enchanting scene and the delightful rhythmical tune.

My mother used to describe to us how my grandfather, or Nonno in Italian, used to create their special Nativity scene.  Being a skilled carpenter he constructed a splendid wooden crib and would work for many hours, painstakingly creating the display, with mountains made of cardboard and a night sky illuminated by tiny bulbs which ran off a battery.  He would use earth for the ground, and flour for the snow.  Then he would lovingly position the plaster statuettes of Our Lady, Joseph, the shepherds, kings, angels and animals to complete the scene.  Unfortunately one Christmas the poor family cat got somewhat confused and did a “whoopsie” in the middle of the scene !!! I am sure he would have paid for his error!   After this Nonno vowed never again to use real soil in the display.

Paul and I will be spending Christmas in Italy this year.

We would like to wish …..

Peace and goodwill to all men ( women and dogs !!!)

We hope that this year the true spirit of Christmas will enrich your lives.

We wish you  health, happiness and harmony for the coming New Year

Louise and Paul

and of course the “Woof-Gang”

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Very recently we welcomed a trio from America, Patrick, Kathy and Rita, who came to this area searching for more information on a particular time in their family’s history. 

Patrick and Kathy were trying to retrace their father’s journey through Italy as a soldier in the US 88th “Blue Devil” Division

Patrick is currently writing a book about his father’s experiences during this period.  His father sent home many descriptive letters to his new bride, who he had only married the day before his departure from America.

Charles Logan was just 22 years old when he was drafted into the army and sent to fight in Italy along the infamous GUSTAV Line.  His Division disembarked at Naples and was then transported to the town of Piedimonte d’Alife (now known as Piedimonte Matesse)  for combat training.

The 88th was then sent to the GUSTAV Line, on the western flank of the main Fifth Army, to relieve the 5th British Division in the Minturno area in Operation Diadem. The 88th “Blue Devils”, encountering stiff German resistance, took part in a particularly bitter and bloody battle, which lasted almost 3 days, to seize the village of Santa Maria Infante. 

The capture of this position  on the 14th May 1944, proved to be a defining moment, finally breaking through the GUSTAV line and forcing a German retreat

The French Expeditionary Corps of Morrocan Goumiers*, who were skilled in mountain warfare, continued to make their way forward over the seemingly impassable terrain of the Aurunci Mountains, while the 88th surged ahead, taking the seaward facing villages of Spigno Saturnia, Castellonorato, Trivio, Maranola, then on through Formia, Itri, Fondi, Monte San Biagio to Roccagorga.

Continuing northward some of the 88th Divison made contact with  Allied units breaking out of the Anzio beach-head on 29th May and they were the first to enter Rome on the 4 June 1944.

We had the great pleasure of acting as Patrick’s guide and driver during their stay, and we visited Cassino and  Montecassino and many of the above mentioned towns and villages, travelling some 500 miles during the week.

We learned so much about the historical significance of these places through this traumatic  period of the Second World War.  From the picturesque little villages that we see today, it is hard to imagine what it would have been like for the local people and the opposing  Allied forces during this terrible time.

The Italians had suffered greatly under German occupation, having to endure persecution, reprisals and famine.  Prior to their liberation these villages also had endured heavy land and naval bombardments by the Allied forces which resulted in catastrophic damage, and hundreds of innocent civilian deaths and casualties.

 

* Yet there was more suffering to come – The French General Alphonse Juin, before the final battles to the breach the German GUSTAV  line, he was said to have promised the Morrocan Goumier troops the following:

“For 50 hours you will be the absolute masters of what you will find beyond the enemy. Nobody will punish you for what you will do, nobody will ask you about what you will get up to.” 

When the Goumiers swarmed over the mountain villages they subjected thousands of Italian women and even young girls to merciless violence and rape, and reportedly any men who fought to save  their wives and daughters from harm were ruthlessly murdered. 

A novel, “La Ciociara”, was penned, based on this subject of mass rape, by the author Alberto Moravia.  This was subsequently made into a film also called “La Ciociara” or  “Two Women”, directed by Vittorio de Sica, and starred Sophia Loren. In 1960, for this role, she was awarded an Academy Award for Best Actress.

We would just like to wish Patrick Logan good luck with the writing of his book about his father’s war time experiences, and we very much look forward to the book’s publication.

We would be interested to hear from anyone else who had family members who fought in Italy during World War II, along this area of the German GUSTAV Line.

For more information about some of  the towns and villages in SOUTH LAZIO that were positioned along the GUSTAV Line, please click on the following links:

Montecassino

Castelforte

Santi Cosma e Damiano 

Minturno 

Spigno Saturnia 

Castellonorato

Trivio

Maranola

Formia

Gaeta 

Itri

Campodimele

Fondi

Monte San Biagio

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