Monday, July 31, 2006

JESI (part II): Yellow is the new black

THE TREND FOR men is yellow pants.

I’ve seen a lot of men, usually older, wearing pants the color of a ripe banana. It’s not like the workman’s neon pants. And they aren’t pastel. They are rather some sort of a sun weathered yellow.

There are some variations. You might find yellow shorts instead of long pants. And some of the pants (and shorts) are more of an orange hue.

What kind of shirts might match the aforementioned fashion? The answer appears to be: anything. I’ve seen blue, red, striped, button-down and sports jerseys.

Sitting in the shade, wearing a lightweight dress and flip-flops, I’m sweating. There’s no getting around today’s heat.

I wonder if the yellow pants make men cooler?

- Caitlyn Slivinski

LORETO (part VI): It could have been the greatest mistake ever made

THEY CALL THEM ricciarelli cookies and they are the tastiest cookies in the world.


The ones I ate were at the Pirri Rolando Pasticceria in Loreto. The soft, maleable, feather-light cookies tasted like amaretto and sugar and they melted in my mouth.

I started with five cookies and an espresso but I had to have more.

I approached the woman at the counter and asked, "Un quatro kilo, per favore?"

She laughed for a second and then said in Italian, "Do you want 400 or 500 cookies, because that is how many four kilo's will get you. You want a 'quarto kilo,' no?"

"Oh," I replied with a smile. I had meant a quarter kilo. "Si."

Then I watched her gently toss 33 cookies into a paper bag.

I should have stuck with the four kilo's.

- G. Miller

Sunday, July 30, 2006

SIROLO (part II): Dinner straight from the Sea

I REALLY DO LOVE working for my food.

For some reason a bag of naked green pistachios don’t taste as good as they do after being pried through their a hard shell.

The tongue testing mouth maneuvers needed to de-shell a sunflower seed makes an equally admirable and rewarding snack.

However, as I stare down at the seven “grilled shrimp” that look more like dwarfed lobsters on my dinner plate, I am caught off guard.

I had ordered a fish dish figuring that it would be fresh and delicious, served in the town of Sirolo. After all, I could see the home of my future dinner, the Adriatic Sea, from the town’s main piazza.

I am starving and now I have to make my way through each hard red shell and scrape out the meager meat inside. How does one go about eating these without totally grossing out their surrounding fellow diners?

I glance to my left at Berit, who has previously voiced her repulsion towards all seafood. She stares down in polite silence that does little to mask her disgust.

To my right Annie looks at me apprehensively. Highly allergic to shellfish and without her medication in Italy, my plate is essentially a death wish.

I tentatively take a shrimp and begin sawing, cracking and crunching through its little body. Pink meat is exposed in the tail. I question the edibility of the squishy brown guts in the abdomen.

An eyeball and antennae break off.

I’m reminded of a high school biology class. I crack another shrimp and a piece lands on Annie’s shirt. Some ends up in my hair. It’s going to be a long dinner.

By the end my plate looks like a war zone. Legs, eyeballs, antennae, cracked bodies and guts are smeared across my plate.

For all that work I’m still not full and thinking ahead to a gelato dessert.

All that takes is a spoon.

- Philly Petronis

EDITOR'S NOTE: The seven shrimp were huge (about 8 inches long), unadorned and whole. They appeared to be taken directly from the Sea, grilled and placed on Philly's plate.

And she ate them all.

Her determination was impressive.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

CAMERANO (part XIV): Ciao to everybody!

THE CAMERANO PROJECT officially ends today, with most of the students leaving the town for home or further travels.

And we here at Andiamo, a venture loosely connected to the Camerano Project, are heading home as well.

Despite the staff returning to America, we will be updating the site daily for the next few weeks.

We still have a lot of stories to tell.

The image above was taken on our first day in Camerano. It's rather symbolic of the town (in my opinion, at least).

- G. Miller

Friday, July 28, 2006

PORTO RECANATI: It all started with the 'fro

LAST NIGHT WAS the grand party to celebrate the completion of the inaugural Camerano Project.

The website is already online and the students are still in Camerano.

Impressive, eh?

Check out the student's work at

For the party at Pininpero, a nightclub on the beach, graduate assistant Chas Davis went all kind of Starsky & Hutch on us.

And that was just the beginning.

Chas broke the ice on the dance floor, shaking and shimmying with student Mark Rowan.

The Travel Girls mingled with the kids from the project.

Jennifer Adams and Averyl Dunn got their groove on.

Then everything went crazy.

Berit tried to drag grad assistant Nikki Luccarelli into the Adriatic Sea.

Even though Berit couldn't get Nikki into the water, everyone else decided to take a swim ...

Including the local Italians, many of whom dipped into the sea in their tighty-whities.

And then they wouldn't put their pants back on (although Allison Fisher, right, didn't seem to mind).

Congratulations to the students of the Camerano Project for surviving and flourishing under extreme conditions.

- G. Miller

ANCONA: Lost in translation

AS WE WAIT FOR literally hours in the Ancona train station for our 13:30 train to Rome, it’s inevitable that we become a bit restless.

Our attention is caught when we see a little girl who cannot be more than seven-years old wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Sexy”.

We cannot help but laugh.

But then our amusement slowly turns to suspicion and uneasiness.

The dark-haired, olive-skinned girl is traveling with her mother, a younger brother and grandmother and we wonder if her family knows exactly what her shirt means.

The mother seems with it and none of us feels the immediate need to call Division of Youth and Family Services. The T-shirt makes us feel uneasy and concerned for the little girl’s living situation.

Is her mother some skeevy slimebag or is the child simply lost in translation?

We hope for the latter and continue on our way.

I guess it isn’t much different than seeing a little seven-year old American girl wearing a T-shirt that reads, “Ciao Bella!”

I bought one for my younger sister last year.

- Ann Curran

EDITOR'S NOTE: We recently learned that “Ciao Bella” is the phrase johns use to solicit hookers in Italy.

It is also an expression used among close friends.

Oh, and the photo above is actually from Macerata. We didn't photograph the young girl in the "sexy" shirt.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

FANO (parts II & III): The Jersey Shore of the Le Marche region (and that's not necessarily a bad thing)

SCREAMING KIDS, NAGGING PEDDLERS, wafts of fried food and the obnoxious horn and calls advertising fresh cut coconut are all part of the experience at the Fano beach.

The shallow water that remains at knee level for about a quarter of a mile makes it an ideal beach for kids and people who fear the depths of unknown seawater.

For only 6 euros anyone can rent a lounge chair at one of the various beach sections. The adjustable sun shield on top of the chairs makes the fee seem worthwhile in the long run compared to the price of wrinkle reducing Botox.

To stock up on beach gear there are shops along the beach nestled among endless restaurants and gelaterias. Homesick American’s can find refuge at the Beach Burger, a fast food hamburger joint with a fluorescent and turquoise based décor reminiscent of The Max restaurant from Saved by the Bell.

You expect to see Zack, Slater, Kelly, Jessie, Lisa and Screech sitting at the next table.

A little farther off the main sidewalk is an excellent Spanish restaurant, Buena Siesta. They serve various salads and piadine – flat bread – sandwiches. A basket of chewy hot piadine is served with every salad and is tasty enough (to us at least) to motivate a return trip from the previous year.

If for no other reason, a visit to Fano is worthwhile for the people watching alone. We noted that Fano’s boardwalk was unlike the popular beach towns in Le Marche in that it’s as busy during the prime beach hours as it is at night.

Sitting at a café along the boardwalk is like watching a runway show. As the sun sets, men’s gold chains and Speedos are exchanged for wife beaters and skintight jeans. Scandalous bikinis are replaced with skanky mini skirts and midriff revealing tops.

I was only slightly skeeved out by the man who was hanging out his hotel window, paparazzi zoom lens camera in hand snapping away at the passing nightlife below.

Who could blame him?

Some of the outfits that we saw preteens wearing as they walked along the boardwalk would put Tara Reid to shame. The outrageous clothes, excessive makeup, gold jewelry made us all agree that Fano is essentially the “Jersey Shore” of Le Marche.

If you want to get away from the younger crowds, loud music and bars, follow the signs to “Centro.” This offers a more relaxing setting for a night with low-key bars and excellent restaurants with outdoor seating. During the day and early evening, there are a wide variety of clothing shops and cafes.

- Philly Petronis

THE BEACH AT FANO IS definitely good for people watching.

The first people I see are twin boys eating cherries on Lido Due, one of Fano’s three beaches. They look about eight and are full of energy. I watch as they toss cherries in their mouths and then spit the seeds into their very tolerant grandpa’s hand.

The two main beaches are called Lido Uno and Lido Due. The third, called Bagni Arzilla, is further down, away from the main boardwalk. Bagni Arzilla is a secret to me until I decide to walk down to the end of the beach, about a fifteen-minute walk.

It’s immediately obvious that this beach is where the young people go. The crowd seems to be mostly people in their 20’s or 30’s and the scene is very active. There are several people playing volleyball. Some people are having a water gun fight. Other boys are on a court that looks similar to a tennis court but they are playing a game that involves kicking a ball or heading it back and forth over a net.

Among the crowd are also several young men tanning their already quite dark and hairless bodies. Their hair is gelled and they sport trendy Speedos. They appear to be what we would call metrosexuals.

Fano is an experience so relaxing that you can lay down at this public beach wearing next to nothing and fall peacefully asleep as if in the comforts of your own home. I definitely recommend it.

Fano is a vacation spot for Europeans, especially Italians, and that adds to the character of the place.

There are several hotels along the beach too.

The hotel closest to the Bagni Arzilla is Hotel Excelsior with rooms as cheap as 45 Euro a night. It’s the cheapest of the three I investigate and the desk assistant at the Excelsior speaks English - which is not always common in Le Marche. If I visit Fano again, I’ll stay here because of it’s location, price and English-speaking employees. It reminds me of a hotel that you might find on the Jersey shore that caters to young people.

Right on the boardwalk, the Astoria Hotel is bigger, fancier and has balconies that look out to the beach. For this reason, the rates start at 65 Euro for a room. This hotel would be the ideal choice for a well-off family to spend a luxurious holiday at the beach.

There’s also a hotel called the Hotel Orfeo, located in a shopping strip. Their rooms are 60 Euro for a room - kind of pricey for a mediocre hotel that’s a good distance from the beach.

We stayed there out of fear that we wouldn’t find something closer to the beach. But it’s a tourist trap and should be utilized only as a last resort, in my opinion. It is empty and poorly decorated and the rates are too high for a hotel so far removed from the attractions.

There is a curfew at many of the hotels but the desk clerks are sometimes lenient, letting you take the key and coming home at any time you want. Remember to lock the door behind you though.

I can just see the desk clerk in the morning yelling at us, “Didn’t I tell you to turn off the lights when you get in?”

“It’s like being at home,” Ann says.

- Caitlyn Slivinski

EDITOR'S NOTE: The second image, the one of the guy in the Speedo, was not taken in Fano. We are short on Fano images. This gentleman was photographed in Portonovo.

But we had to find some way to get his picture online.

SIROLO: Sparky watches the world

SPARKY LIKES TO WATCH the world go by from his perch on the window ledge of a fuit shop in the upper section of Sirolo.

He has quite a view.

On summer evenings, Sirolo is a popular spot for vacationing Italians and other Europeans. Sparky can see all the latest fashions being sported by the high-rolling crowd. There is often live music in the piazza just down the road from his shop. There are art exhibits across the street and a million gelato shops nearby.

The beautiful resort city at the southern base of Monte Conero was first inhabited by the Greeks, well before the Roman Empire came to the East coast of Italy.

Now the area is populated by sun-worshippers who appreciate the gentle breezes during hot summer nights.

- G. Miller

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


AT 1:18 am East Coast time (or 7:18 am here in Italy), Ann Curran (left) turned 22.

First college is over and now this.

Drop her a line at and say Happy Birthday.

- G. Miller

CAMERANO (part XIII): Two parties for the price of one

WE WATCHED THE ITALIANS dance in the street after their team defeated Germany, assuring them a spot in the World Cup championship game.

We laughed and partied and took pictures.

And then it dawned on us: at home, Americans were busy celebrating our nation’s 230th birthday.

As historic a moment as it was - the Italians hadn’t been to the World Cup since 1994 and hadn’t won since ’82, we couldn’t help but feel a little guilty feeling so connected to a county that wasn’t our own.

Especially on the day our patriotism is expected to shine through the most.

It was strange to be out of the county over the Fourth of July but it was an interesting and fun experience to watch another nation’s people revel in their own pride for their country.

And even though we were thousands of miles away from home - and craving watermelons, hotdogs and red, white and blue fireworks - seeing how proud the Italians were reminded us that we were also proud of the U.S.A. … despite our team’s performance in the World Cup (America failed to qualify for second round again this year).

- Ann Curran

OFFAGNA (part II): Even the warriors were bored

DAVE MAIALETTI WAS skeptical all along.

He hates Renaissance Festivals back home. He figured he would hate the famed Medieval Festival in Offagna, too.

But I made him go. I promised there would be fireworks.

So we went to Offanga and watched jousting, archery competitions, mandolin playing and flag throwing. Honestly, it was pretty lame. Like Disneyland lame.

The crowd sat in steel bleachers, far removed from the action. We could barely see anything.

But we knew we would be able to see the fireworks from just about anywhere. And the thought of the colors illuminating the 15th century castle were enough to keep us interested (plus we paid 8 Euro to get into the city, and 2 Euro for parking).

The archery competition dragged and dragged and was followed by sword fighting and then speeches.

By midnight, more than an hour after the fireworks were scheduled, there were no fireworks.

So we left. Disappointed.

"Now I know," Dave said. "I hate Renaissance Festivals back home and Medieval Festivals in Italy."

- G. Miller

(the Medieval Festival in Offagna is an annual event happening during the third week in July)

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

CAMERANO (part XII): Get your own bottle!

ELLIOTT YANCEY can handle his wine.

He toured the vineyard of Silvano Strologo, tasted a few gentle, dry reds, bought a few bottles and posed for pictures with a really heavy 27 liter monster.

Silvano Strologo - who was nice enough to show us around despite our arriving during pausa - said that he recently sold three of the large bottles to a restaurant in Germany.

Lucky Germans.

The vineyard produces only red wines, mostly varieties of the regional specialty - the Rosso Conero. The grapes are grown across the street from the cantina and you can stroll the grounds at your leisure.

- G. Miller

MONTE PETRANO: Sky high and loving it

THE ROAD TO THE top of Monte Petrano is a sidewinder - and a difficult one at that.

The curves are sharp and the incline is steep. Our little Lancia's engine screamed the whole way up.

Amazingly, along the road, there were bicyclists chugging up to the top where cool breezes are the ultimate reward.

There were hundreds of people relaxing in the cool air on the flat top of the mountain, one of the highest in the region. People played bocce, flew kites and ate picnics. A few people were harnessing the strong winds in huge kites that pulled them on skateboards and in little buggies.

The vast expanse of land is a doggie wonderland. The open fields are great places for pooches to run on blazing summer days.

- G. Miller

CAMERANO (part XI): Thanks to the NY Post and the Horse with no name


"It is important that you make an effort to overcome your fears today, because if you don't you will be held back from doing something that could have been a lot of fun. The choice is simple: live up to your true potential or look back a few years from now and lament what might have been. You can make your dreams come true."

After reading my horoscope from the New York Post, I knew I had to go horseback riding even though I didn’t really want to.

I didn’t have a choice.

It’s not that I’m scared of horses. It’s not like I survived some terrible, traumatic fall off a bucking horse and broke my nose and the chances of me ever riding again were slim to non-existent.

The truth is, I’d never been on a horse.

But to say that I was “thrilled” to go horseback riding would be a bit of a stretch.

Actually, it would be a flat-out lie. But more than I hate sitting on wild, unpredictable animals, I hate not forcing myself to try something new. And so, on a miserably hot and humid Thursday afternoon, we set out for the farm to face my fears.

When we arrived at Il Corbezzolo, I was not entirely surprised by what I saw. There were a dozen or so horses roaming around a fenced-in pen. Horses the color of midnight, dirt, and yogurt gelato, and some with a perfect blend of all three.

Eric, the man who seemed to be in charge, walked toward me with sweat dripping down his face and a cigarette hanging out his mouth. With a thick leather strap, he pulled a magnificent looking white creature behind him. He pointed directly to me, and then to the horse.

With no words exchanged, I understood. This horse was mine.

Or I was the horse’s.

I stepped one foot into the stirrup and threw my body over the horse (which I was told had no name), hoping my weight would not crush him. He barely moved. I stroked his pasty white mane and made clicking noises near his writhing ears.

So far, I wasn’t freaking out. In fact, I felt calm as I sat perched on the horse, almost eager to break free from the enclosed pen and go up the mountain.

My horse seemed to sense that I trusted him and he obeyed nearly all of my commands via tugging and loosening the reins. The only times he veered off course were to munch on some green stalks along the side of the trail.

And even though Eric didn’t speak English, I felt safe and comfortable while he smoked cigarettes and chatted on his cell phone, leading the way through the tall stalks of grass and eventually up a steep, thorn-filled hill while the rest of us obediently followed.

When we first approached the hill, I became nervous. I had remained relatively calm and was even somewhat enjoying myself up until that point. My horse proved to be sweet natured and calm but I wasn’t sure if I could trust him with a mountain.

I was instructed to lean forward and allow the horse to plow through the rugged terrain. With each stride the horse made, I got more and more used to feeling like I was going to slide right off.

When we reached the top, the horse and I breathed in the fresh air. The view was breathtaking - the city on the hill, the bright sunlight on the green mountains and the pale blue sky.

The hard part was over. Now we both could relax.

Even though my fears almost prevented me from going, I’d encourage anyone to trudge through their own reservations.

If you don't you will be held back from doing something that could have been a lot of fun.

I don’t know whether to thank Eric, the sweet-natured cream-colored horse or the writers at the New York Post for making me go through with riding but I am definitely happy that I did.

- Ann Curran

Monday, July 24, 2006

CAMERANO (part X): Get with the stick

IF THERE'S ONE THING I’ve learned from being abroad for an elongated period of time, it’s this: you have to know how to drive a stick shift.

After a fun day of horseback riding, we were hot, famished, cranky and tired.

We desperately wanted to cool off, eat, sleep and not talk. George, our chaperone and designated driver (meaning the only one among us who knows how to drive a stick-shift), sensed our moods.

Cranking the AC and driving a little faster than usual, we began to leave the farm.

Just as we were approaching the exit, we felt the car struggling against the rough terrain and steep slope of a gravel-road hill. We were so close to the top and then suddenly the car was backpedaling down the hill.

“This is what my horse kept doing,” I said in an attempt to lighten the mood.

The car clearly needed more momentum to successfully climb over the hill.

As George attempted to maneuver the stubborn car, Chas - in shotgun - encouraged George’s driving. Chas' cool attitude kept the rest of us somewhat calm. Berit and Caitlyn had more trouble relaxing than Philly and me, especially when the car began to tip.

“That’s it!” Berit exclaimed from the backseat. “Let me out!”

With Chas acting a traffic controller, Berit hiding in the bushes and Caitlyn laughing and taking pictures, George, Philly and I faced the hill (from inside the tilted car) and trudged upward.

Luckily for us, it only took one more try for George to make the little Lancia climb up the hill.

One try for George would have equaled eight or nine attempts for any of the non-experienced stick shift drivers.

If not more. Thank heaven for small favors.

But it was really then, at that moment, did I realize how necessary it was for a person to be able to drive using a stick shift while cruising around the hilly terrain of the Le Marche region.

We all let out a celebratory hurrah (and also sighs of relief) when we were back on track and over this stubborn hill.

Thanks to George, we were on our way.

While it’s easiest to learn when you’re first learning to drive, it’s never too late to become familiar with a stick shift.

And I suggest you realize this before traveling abroad for a month.

- Ann Curran

GOLA DEL FURLO: In the footsteps of the Roman Army

THERE WERE ONCE four main roads leading to and from Rome.

They were routes used by the Roman Army in ancient times to get from Rome to other sections of the empire.

The Via Flaminia was the Roman road to the Adriatic Sea with the road finally ending at the seaport of Fano.

To get to Fano, however, the Roman Army had to trek through the steep and treacherous mountains, following the Burano River for much of the journey.

The easiest path led the Romans through the Gola Del Furlo, the throat of Furlo. But even that was not an easy path. The Romans had to dig a deep, 30 foot long tunnel through limestone hills.

Today, drivers still use that tunnel when driving through the scenic range that is remniscent of the Grand Canyon.

- G. Miller

ACQUALAGNA: Mmmmmm ... truffles

BELIEVE IT OR NOT, Acqualagna is a rather famous place.

Set in the rolling foothills of the Appenine Mountains, the city is the world's Mecca for truffles.

Founded in 1292, the small city of 4,000 people plays host to multiple truffle festivals annually in February, August and November.

Farms abound in the region, instilling the feeling of old world Italy there.

- G. Miller

OSIMO (part II): We're riding on the escalator of life

IN GUIDEBOOKS, OSIMO IS SAID to be a city of art, history, and tradition.

Not to be skeptical but this sounds like every town in Le Marche.

To me, what stands out in Osimo is how technology is incorporated into the city's life.

Walking around we immediately find an escalator.

“Weird, an escalator – where does it go?” I question.

“Is it free?” asks Ann.

It is a reasonable question since even tap water at a restaurant has a price in Europe.

“It’s definitely free,” Philly says and I agree as I watch the townspeople of Osimo get on without depositing any Euro.

We hop on and take a short ride to the bottom of the hill, down the side of the city walls. Right in front of us is another unusual sight for these small Le Marche towns. A funicular!

“What is that?” Ann says out loud to no one in particular.

“I don’t know the name,” I answer, “But I’ve been on one before in Pittsburgh. Let’s go.”

Hesitantly, we approach the funicular doors, which open beckoning us to enter.

“Are you sure this is free?” Ann doubts and looks at us.

But Berit has already made up her mind that we’re going to take the plunge. She coerces us to get on with her and we ride to the bottom.

“How are we going to get back up?” Philly questions.

“The same way we got down,” I say but not totally trusting myself.

We thought something magical might await us at the end of our ride but instead we find a parking lot. We walk around a little and take pictures in front of a relief map of Osimo that’s mounted on the wall.

Deciding to go back to the center of town, we easily figure out that the funicular will take us back up and we ascend.

In the narrow streets of Osimo, we hear American music coming from above. This is a strange experience because the apartments in this medieval city look so old but pop music explodes out its windows.

Ann listens carefully and sings along, “Shake it like a Polaroid picture.”

And we do.

After a fun afternoon in this town we get ready to meet back in the piazza. Berit and Philly get ahead of Ann and I and they quickly disappear. We later find out that they had stepped into a candy store and found quite a treat.

It turns out that Osmio is one of the few places that we have found a delicious chewy fruit candy called Dietorelle.

There are many other attractions in Osimo like the City Hall, the Diocese Museum, the Cathedral of Saint Leopard and the Dance and Ballet festival.

But if I had to tell you the top three things to do in Osimo, it would be to check out the high-tech vertical public transportation, take pictures of the view and indulge in some sweet, chewy Dietorelle.

- Caitlyn Slivinski

CAMERANO (part IX): Whoa. That is some pink pasta.


The agriturismo - a bed and breakfast type establishment with a restaurant featuring traditional, regional dishes - has a horse farm and is surrounded by vineyards and farm land.

The scent of hay and horses wafts through the air. If you study the local wine - the Rosso Conero - you can almost distinguish the same smell in your glass as you can at the agriturismo.

That is not a bad thing.

But the little establishment takes the specialty wine one step further. They have used that Rosso Conero to add color, literally, to their pasta dishes.

It can be a little shocking.

Photography instructor David Maialetti received his plate of pink raviolis with a look of awe.

But he ate them. And they were good. And filling.

- G. Miller

CAGLI (part IV): My mouth is on fire!

YES, THERE IS A FLAME in Kaitlyn Massimino's drink.

The drink is one of the house specialities at Caffe del Corso, the happening spot in the center of Old Cagli. On an average weekend night, the bar/ restaurant is jammed with revelers drinking and dancing to the latest sounds.

And the man behind the bar is the reason for alll the good times.

His name is Luca but they call him Seven, a reference to an old family nickname. He is huge, happy and full of tattoos.

Ask for a shot and he's likely to do one with you. His brother, Eddie (another nickname), is likely to grab your girl and spin her on the dance floor.

After one night in the bar, you are like family.

- G. Miller

(the photo of Seven comes courtesy of 2006 Cagli Project member Lizz Samolis)

Sunday, July 23, 2006

CASTEL SANT ANGELO: Italy in one region

WE DROVE TO THE far western reaches of the Le Marche region to find a restaurant.

It took forever to get there but it was worth it.

They say that Le Marche is Italy in one region and there appears to be some truth to that.

We began our day in Camerano, near the beaches of the Conero Riviera, and wound up in the glorious mountains of Central Italy. In between, we passed vineyards, ancient villages, farms of all sorts and modern, industrial centers.

When we finally arrived in Castel Sant Angelo, the sun was setting over the region, casting an orange glow over the world. It was beautiful.

This image was taken in front of Il Giardino degli Ulivi, the restaurant we drove hours to find.

The eatery was a real treat and it deserves its own entry. So keep your eyes open ... it will come in a few days.

- G. Miller

CAGLI (part III): Who is the blonde chick?

EDITOR'S NOTE: This entry comes to us from Alyssa Porambo, a blonde member of the 2006 Cagli Project.

EVER SINCE I WAS FIVE, I have had blonde hair. Long, straight golden locks have been my trademark look for so long that sometimes I am unaware of my dominant physical attribute. Many people in the States have blonde hair, and so I usually slip into the crowd as just another flaxen girl.

In the small town of Cagli, Italy, on the other hand, it is a completely different story.

I have never been so aware of my blondeness since staying in Cagli for one month.

Cagli is composed almost entirely of brunettes.

As I walked through the streets of the old town the day I arrived, I was much too excited to notice anything besides the beautiful stone buildings and the charm of the people. After a few days, however, I began to notice how few blondes I saw strolling around the piazza.

Eventually, I push back the questions I have about blondes in Cagli, thinking they are all in my head. Still, at the halfway mark of my stay in Italy, I had yet to meet a blonde Cagliese.

Are Italians from this region not naturally blonde? Why had I not seen a woman even with bright blonde highlights? Is being blonde not popular? It did not seem that way to me because every time I went out with my friends, the Italian men would ask to have their picture taken with me. Some of them would just stare at my hair in awe, and some would even come up to me and begin stroking my hair, reminding me of a childhood occurrence.

Picture this: I am sitting on a train in Florence with my parents and my younger brother. I am eight years old. An older Italian woman walks in my direction, stops, and stares at my head. She begins moving slowly towards me and finally, there she is, standing in front of me.

Unsure of what to do, I look to my mom for some guidance but she is just as confused as I am. Suddenly, I feel a hand on my head, moving back and forth. It is at this moment I realize that the woman is stroking my hair, intensely examining it. She’s smiling at me, repeating the phrase “Che bella! Che bella!” over and over.

Soon, everyone in the train is staring in our general direction, looking for the source of great joy for this woman. She then bent down, pinched my cheeks, and said, “Bella Americana!”

Then she just walked away, leaving a very confused eight-year-old girl to wonder what the heck just happened.

My family had moved to Germany to live for three years when I was seven years old. Throughout our time in Europe, we traveled extensively: France, Austria, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Poland, Germany and Italy. Every new place we went, the natives had different reactions to my hair color.

In Austria, for instance, I was never looked at as different or strange; I blended into the crowd nicely. In France, I was clearly American, but there was no overwhelming reaction to my appearance.

The Italian people, however, opened my eyes to the great distinction between blonde and brunette. The incident on the train was my first encounter with a reaction of astonishment to my hair color but it was not the last.
We traveled to Italy three times while living in Germany, and every time we went, I would be pointed at, smiled at, and gawked at. As a 10-year-old walking the streets of Rome with my mom, an old woman grabbed my hand and pulled me down so she could touch my hair.

“What the heck is it with these Italians and loving blonde Americans?” I would wonder to myself every time I would be pointed at, stared at.

As a 17-year-old, I returned to Italy with a group of friends. My friend Kelsey and I were the only two blonde girls on the trip. Similar to my experiences as a child, we received a multitude of looks from Italians, but this time, it was not from cute Italian grandmothers.

This time, they came from Italian men, believing that being blonde had a much different connotation than “Hi, I’m American, come and pet my head, please.”

We would not even have to open our mouths and speak English for them to realize we were American, flock over and begin talking to us in Italian.

So when I found out I was returning to Italy in the summer of 2006, I prepared myself for the worst. I expected men to flock to me, women to point at me, and children to look at me like I had three heads.

And boy was I right.

Shouts of, “Americana! Americana!” could be heard throughout the main piazza in Cagli the moment I stepped off that bus. And they have continued throughout my time here.

It is as if these people have not seen a blonde woman in their lives! Is it really that rare to see a blonde in this town? Italian magazines and Italian television are both saturated with blonde women. Is it not the same to see a blonde woman in a picture as to see one in real life?

When I finally meet a blonde woman in Cagli, I am so excited! But then I learn that she is originally from Bulgaria and moved to Cagli when she got married.

“There are no blondes in Cagli,” she says as she shakes her head. “I am convinced!”

Suddenly, it became my mission to find at least one blonde native Cagliese before I returned to the States. There has to be at least one blonde Italian roaming around here somewhere!

However, my quest turns out to be much more difficult than I had expected. Every baby, teenager, and woman I came across ss brunette. Even when I go to the local grocery store, Sidis, I can find no hair care products for blondes. As I hopefully scan the shelves for any sign of blonde life in Cagli, I conclude that it is nowhere to be found.

When I spoke to one of the local hairdressers about blondes, Matteo Susini, he informed me of the reasons why there is a great lack of flaxen girls in this region of Italy.

“Most of the blondes come from northern, not Central Italy,” he says. “It is very rare to see a natural blonde walking through the streets of Cagli because most people from this region are dark haired.”

“Also, women here do not want to be dyed blonde because it takes too much maintenance,” Matteo, a blonde, continues. “Blonde highlights are more popular because of the minimal upkeep.”

Finally, armed with the reasons why there are few blonde women in the town of Cagli, I take to the ancient streets holding my head up high.

I am one of very few in this town who dares to sport light locks and darn it, I will embrace it.

Being blonde in a brunette city was strange for me at first, but I now embrace my ability to make a sad man happy with a flick of my neck, the toss of my hair and a smile on my face.

I am an American. I am a blonde. And I am so proud.

- Alyssa Porambo

SENIGALLIA: Land of velvet beaches

THE OLD MEN RIDE BIKES through the center of the old town, talking on cell phones and staring at the pretty young ladies.

A popular seaside resort since the mid 1800's, Senigallia retains its charms as well as its famous "Velvet Beach," the 13 kilometers of sandy apron leading into the refreshing waters.

There is also great history to the city. Founded in the 4th century BC, the town became a prosperous merchant city because of its location. Even today, there are shops and boutiques all over the place.

At the heart of the city is the old Rocca Roveresca, the brick fort that once defended the city.

- G. Miller

Saturday, July 22, 2006

OSIMO: Wine and walking in a truly pleasant place

EDITOR'S NOTE: The Andiamo Nelle Marche staff writers have vacated the region for a few days, opting to see the exotic sites of nearby Croatia - land of beaches, wines, Roman ruins and excellent night life.

Uh, doesn't that remind you of another region?

Anyway, the editor will be handling travel updates for the next few days ...

THE UMANI RONCHI WINERY distributes 4.5 million bottles of wine per year to locations around the world, with only 20% of their delicious product staying in Italy.

And if you visit the facilities, conveniently located on SS16 (one of the major roads), they'll let you drink a lot of tasty wine.

For free.

It's a great way to pass the hot summer days here in Le Marche.

In the evening, you can stroll the cobblestone streets in the lively medieval city Osimo.

You can find old men sitting along the wall of City Hall near the main piazza, younger people relaxing at Bar Diana's outdoor cafe, children playing soccer near the Diocese Museum and a whole varity of people wandering near the sculpted garden by the scenic overlook.

The scenic overlook, with its cool sea breeze wafting in, is probably about 15 degrees cooler than in the city center.

With tons of shops, restaurants, cafes, gelaterias and friendly people (the gelato seller tried to teach us Italian), Osimo is a wonderful place to visit.

- G. Miller

Friday, July 21, 2006

CAMERANO (part VIII): Chillin' in Italia

ITALY IS KNOWN for its olive oil, wine and pasta but on hot summer days, gelato is what I crave.

Gelato is the Italian word for ice cream. But anyone who has tried freshly made gelato can attest to the fact that it is better than Hagan-Daz, Baskin Robins or TCBY any day.

The cold, slippery-smooth texture is excellent whether sitting in a cup or atop a cone. Most importantly you can find numerous gelaterias or cafés with gelato at any point in time while in Italy.

Gelato differs from American style ice-cream in that the taste is denser. It’s made with less air but at the same time, the gelato is slightly less filling. Gelato is considered to be healthier than ice cream because the ingredients consist of less butterfat and more natural components such as fruit, coco, and in some cases even olive oil. Gelato is made daily, while ice cream can contain chemicals preservatives that allow it to be stored in the freezer for months.

L’Altro Mondo located just feet from the piazza in Camerano has what I consider to be an excellent assortment of gelato flavors. Their options range from your typical vanilla and chocolate to Nutella, a gelato version of the popular chocolate-hazelnut spread, and Bacio, a take on one of Italy’s most famous candies.

My personal favorite is the yogurt flavor while my friend Annie prefers café and chocolate mixed together.

Regardless of what you chose, its hard to go wrong.

- Berit Baugher

LORETO (part V): Hello God, it's me Caitlyn

LORETO IS AN HISTORIC, religious town and a host to many pilgrimages.

When we arrive, however, it’s raining and doesn’t seem so special.

Ducking under a doorway to stay dry we watch a monk stroll in an oversized, hooded, chocolate robe. He’s dark-skinned with white hair and the robe sits heavy on his frail body.

As he passes, the most enormous thunder goes off and echoes through the city. The light above us in the entrance to the crypt flickers and Philly, Berit, and I grab onto each other and huddle against a decorative iron door behind us.

Our professor, George, looks back at us and scoffs, “Funny, because the first thing I think when I hear thunder is to get away from the metal.”

We all laugh, but George admits that the thunder scared him too.

It seems everyone jumped at the sound…except the monk who is still walking towards the Bascilica, in the rain. He’s sort of smiling to himself, as if he was the one who set off the ground-shaking sound.

“Was that God?” I wonder aloud, half joking.

Now in a religious state of mind, I wander onward and see a flock of ladies dressed head to toe in white. Their shoes are orthopedic-style and chunky, stockings covered their legs and a one piece jumper is their uniform. The whole outfit is bleached pure white. Each one seems busily tending to an elderly person, of which there are many.

Looking around I think, “These nuns all look so young.”

I see one talking on her cell phone and wearing a lot of make-up.

Later in the day I spot a few of these nuns in a store getting custom-embroidered aprons and giggling like schoolgirls. They are throwing down money left and right.

“Things sure seem opposite here in Loreto,” I say, puzzled.

It is then that a shiny object catches my eye. A small red cross on their habit lets me know that these nuns were not nuns at all.

They are nurses.

“Well that explains a lot,” I comment aloud to assure myself that I wasn’t going crazy.

As soon as they leave the store I watch as three nurses reach into their purses and light up cigarettes.

“Loreto nurses all smoke cigarettes?” I say to no one. “I feel like I’m in the twilight zone.”

- Caitlyn Slivinski

Thursday, July 20, 2006

ADRIATIC SEA: Sunsets and fisherman, tourists and la dolce vita

WHILE THERE IS AN ABUNDANCE of amazing places to see and exciting things to do in Le Marche, one of the most simple, enjoyable things to do here is watch the sunset.

From Portonovo you can watch the sun drop below the mountains near Ancona, casting an orange glow across the Eastern horizon of the Adriatic Sea.

By the time the sun sets, the beaches have cleared out, the parking attendants have gone for the day and the gentlemen in Speedos have retreated (for the most part). In Portonovo, you can enjoy the silence and natural beauty.

And it is free.

- G. Miller

CAMERANO (part VII): Too beautiful to take for granted

EDITOR'S NOTE: This feature comes from special contributor Chas Davis, a graduate assistant who is currently working in the Camerano Project. He was also a graduate assistant in the Cagli Projects of 2005 and 2006.

WHEN LE MARCHE has been your home for a month and a half, it can be easy to let the extraordinary become mundane.

The quilted, gently undulating landscape seamlessly flowing into the Adriatic below your horse almost seems ordinary. However, the cascading rows of grape vines, the towns perched stoically atop their hills in the distance and the distant chatter from our Italian cowboy guides are reminders that we are no where near the commonplace.

We have traveled halfway across the world to do something many of us could do halfway across our hometowns.

Italy usually brings to mind visions of late-night wine sipping after a day spent touring the marvels of antiquity, not horseback riding. But that’s where we are, high on the hills over the Adriatic Sea.

Our horses still respond to the sharp, inexperienced tugs we send down the reigns with head-jerks and indifferent whinnies. The conversations among the Americans still concern trivialities from home.

However, the unfamiliar setting and subtle differences in atmosphere are a constant reminder of how far away from home we really were.

Then, the crises of the moment brings us crashing back to home: I bare the heavy burden of breaking it to my travel companions that is temporarily down.

I hear a cry of shock and disbelief but it’s not from our group. It comes from another one of our equestrian voyagers, another young American college student. It was a girl, dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, who could have previously blended in as any other nationality immediately identified herself as one of our countrymen.

“Oh no! Do you have any idea for how long?” she says with a very concerned tone.

I assure her it will probably be short-lived. According to my last visit to our favorite online social network, the system administrators are doing maintenance work while the sun is on our current side of the globe.

We all share in a collective sigh of relief: our link to home won’t be permanently severed.

Our thoughts again are focused on riding unfamiliar horses with guides we can’t understand, through Italian vineyards, an ocean away from home.

- Chas Davis

CAMERANO (part VI): Have a drink and watch the kids play

ONLY IN EUROPE would a bar be built to accompany a public playground.

At first, Bar Summer Time seems like a perfect combination. A parent can sit back and relax with a couple cocktails as the screaming and running hyperactive children slowly become tolerable.

Then I think about this in an American context and realize that this could probably classify a parent as an alcoholic, hence the reason I’m not ready for children.

The shack style bar that serves ice cream, snacks and drinks has become a popular hangout for us Americans after our Monday night dinners. The TV, foosball and playground complete with a mini-roller rink, slides and swings provide more forms of amusement than the typical billiard table or jukebox.

However, I recommend some supervision if you decide to play after drinking.

It isn’t until mid-flight, after jumping about ten feet off my swing, that I realize another reason that playgrounds and drinking don’t mix in America.

- Philly Petronis

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

CAMERANO (part V): That horse isn't just standing there

IT'S A GORGEOUS DAY OUT and the sun is beating steadily down on my back, while my jeans are already beginning to stick to my legs.

The scent of hay and manure wafts through the air and in the center of the stables at the Il Corbezzello ranch, the horses mill about, waiting to be assigned a rider.

Immediately upon entering, my friends and I are sized up by the ranch owner Eric and his assistant Donatella. Being only 5’3 and the second shortest of the group, I assume they will fit me with one of the slightly smaller horses. To my surprise - and horror - Eric walks towards the group with the reigns of the largest horse in one hand and his right index finger outstretched in my direction.

“How could they possibly expect me to get on that large creature?” I wonder.

The horse, who’s name I was never told, is a black and white spotted pinto. He is fitted with a tan, English saddle and a red saddle blanket underneath. Eric hoists me up and begins to fit my stirrups.

I am overwhelmed with fear. I recall my last encounter on a horse when, at the age of 7, I was nearly bucked off a pony named Ginger. Eric attempts to instruct me on the ways to control the horse. But he doesn’t speak English and I don’t speak Italian.

I nod my head as he speaks hoping I’ll get the hang of it once on the trail.

Early on I am certain that my horse will throw me off. Recalling the stories told on the way to the ranch about people being thrown off of horses, I am overcome with a wave of uneasiness.

As we are leaving the stable, my horse sees another horse and they begin to nuzzle heads. Then they begin making strange grunting noises and all of a sudden everyone is looking at me. Eric is yelling something in Italian.

I am certain this is it.

To my relief, I regain control of the horse and am able to make my way on the trail. We spend the next hour riding through a vineyard and then up the side of the mountain. The dirt paths wind around the various hills and through long stretches of vineyards and thorny brush.

Except for a few false alarms the ride goes smoothly. At some points, the horse seems to be procrastinating. I assume it has a very bad case of ADD but I find out later from my friend Chas - who rides behind me - that my horse is actually stopping every few minutes to go to the bathroom.

- Berit Baugher

FANO: A room and a scare - and a reason to celebrate (if you survive!)

IT REALLY LOOKS LIKE a scene from The Shining, a movie that haunts me.

I’ve had the same scary dream at least three or four times a year since I was 8-years old. And now, while I’m trying to relax and clear my head in Italy, I find myself face-to-face with my nightmare.

Only this time, it’s reality.

After an hour in the car and what seems like ages of aimlessly walking up and down different streets, the girls and I finally locate this cozy hotel we had stayed in the previous summer. There, at the front desk sits the creepiest man I have ever seen in real life, smiling, like he’s been waiting for our arrival.

I suggest unless you enjoy a good scare (or you’re vacationing with a 6’6 250 pound linebacker to protect you), make sure you feel comfortable with the receptionist at the Hotel Orfeo BEFORE you give him your passport.

His skin is sunken in and swollen at the same time, loose by his fleshy cheeks and tight around his olive shaped eyes. One eye is lazy and both are bloodshot. His pupils are dilated. Countless veins cover his forearms as though there are clothespins actually pinching his skin and forcing it to be so taut. His sinister grin exposes crooked stained teeth.

“Americane?” he asks with slurred speech.

I shudder.

I watch as my friends struggle to communicate with the man, shocked that they are willingly handing over their passports to a man whose appearance alone has given me goosebumps.

And I’m beginning to realize that had he asked for their driver’s licenses, credit card and social security numbers, and original birth certificates, they would have obliged. Nothing scares these girls.

After we check in, we climb the two flights of stairs to our room. Everything looks different from last year. The once rose-colored walls have darkened to the shade of blood. The stench of the hotel is stale and putrid. It smells of death.

Once we are out of earshot, I let my friends have it, “Um, was anyone else like totally freaked out by that guy?”

The girls giggle and agree that his looks were not only unfortunate but downright frightening. They also comment on how funny it is that we seem to be the only guests staying in the hotel.


While I have absolutely no problem being the wet blanket of the group and demanding we leave, I was too busy studying the creep and our surroundings to notice my friends toss fifty Euro in his direction. And I get the feeling this guy’s idea of a refund involves a switchblade and some rope.

When I wake up the next morning, alive and in one piece, I do a dance of celebration.

- Ann Curran

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

JESI: A great town when it's open

THE NINE BENCHES IN the main Jesi Piazza remain empty.

Their dark brown wood has absorbed the midday sun, making them too hot to lounge on comfortably.

Anyone still out remains under cover in alcoves or in the shade of shop awnings.

White “saldi” signs tempt lingering shoppers to search through the glass windows for mid-summer deals. The sound of jangling keys and the clanking of rolling metal blinds covering closed shop fronts is replaced by clattering plates in nearby cafes.

Families of tourists clad in comfortable shoes and casual clothes, swing shopping bags, as they wander around trying to find a place to eat.

One by one shopkeepers walk slowly to a rusty bike rack to unchain their transportation and pedal home for lunch and rest.

Large clock hands on the top of the Teatro Pergolesi remind Jesi that it is one o’clock, the start of pausa.

- Philly Petronis

CAMERANO (part IV): Fantastico nights with Italian boys

WE WALK INTO THE BAR that our roommate Kiley has dubbed the Havana Club - because of the vintage sign on the back wall that reads just that - and we have our first encounter with the locals.

They’re getting rippin’ drunk and we’re looking for trouble.

A guy that looks about my age – 20 - and seems like he’s a few drinks deep passes by. He’s sporting an Italia jersey and I scan my mind for something to say.

“Mi piace,” I blurt it out and point to his shirt since, “I like,” is the first thing to pop into my head.

Instead of being impressed by my language skills, he looks back at me and with a devilish smile asks in Italian, “You like my shirt or you like me?”

I roll my eyes to disguise my embarrassment then quickly tug on his shirt to clear up the misunderstanding and scurry away.

Meanwhile back at the table, my friends pore over the menu, picking out fancy drinks to try. About to take a look myself, I hear my new “mi piace” friend yelling.

I spin around as he shoves a glass of red wine in my hand; it matches the one in his own.

In harmony, we shout, “Salute!”

Then he introduces himself as Roberto. It takes about half a second for his friends to catch on, approach Roberto, and ask him “who’s your buddy?”

Well, they said something in Italian. I assume that’s what it was.

Another hand is thrust into mine. His name is Mauro and he speaks English. Kind of. He explains that there is a beach nearby called Black Rock and that after the bar he and his friends go and spend the night in their sleeping bags.

Sleeping bag is a word Mauro does not know in Italian. He holds his hands up in prayer position and tilts his head against them. Roberto yawns like he’s tired. Mauro then puts his hands out like he’s holding something at knee-height and jumps into it. Roberto puts his hands the same way but after jumping he pinches his fingers together and makes an upward motion and a “zzzip” sound.

“Ohh, a sleeping bag?” I finally guess.

Roberto nods and repeats, “Fantastico!”

It seems that everything Roberto says is followed by, “Fantastico!”

The beach is fantastico, the wine, the sleeping bag. It’s his favorite word, and mine too because I understand it.

After some convincing, my American friends and I agree to take advantage of our time here because we knew we don’t have a moment to waste this month. These days go and they go fast.

Before I know it we’re all navigating our way on foot down a path in the pitch-black forest that leads down to place the Italians kept calling, “Fantastico!”

It takes a brutal twenty minutes - stumbling in the dark - to reach the bottom but once we get down there it’s worth it. Think Cape Cod with people sitting around campfires and the waves crashing on the shore – only better.

Better because we’re in Italy.

There’s Italian chatter, the waves are waves of the Adriatic and it is the perfect place to watch the sunrise… I learned this at 6:27 am when I'm woken up to watch it.

My contacts are glued to my eyeballs because I’ve slept with them in - like I know I’m not supposed to do. Squinting, I crawl out of the two sleeping bags my Italian friends had lent to me to make sure I slept comfortably. The soft sand cradles my feet and I join my friends at the shoreline to watch the day break.

Everything looks different now: the campfires are just blackened logs, the beach is barren and the waves are the only sound on the Black Rock Beach this morning.

Slowly we walk back towards to the path that led us down the night before. We struggle up through the forest and I think, “I’m glad I didn’t think about this last night “

Had I known it was this steep and arduous, I may never have walked down. I would’ve missed out on a fantastico night.

- Caitlyn Slivinski

Monday, July 17, 2006

CASTELFIDARDO (part II): Relax. Stay a while.

FOR LUNCH WE EAT mouth-watering spaghetti and drink white wine at a friendly restaurant on the beach while chatting about family, relationships and our trip so far.

Afterwards, we spend a stressful day sunbathing and collecting stones on the beaches of Mezzavalle.

Then in Castelfidardo, I enjoy a refreshing cone of café gelato.

Later at the same cafe, I watch in a combination of awe, amusement and astonishment as an elderly man argues and eventually scolds the waiter who has failed to fill his wine glass to the absolute brim.

Keep in mind that it is 1:30 in the afternoon on an otherwise insignificant Tuesday.

These are just a few examples of how life really slows down when you leave fast-paced American culture and enter Italian life.

Americans are notorious for despising anything slow. We cringe at the thought of a frozen computer screen and think the DMV could actually be the gateway to Hell.

You must realize before traveling to a place like Italy that life slows down.

When you go out to eat, dinner can take as long as three hours or more. There are no doggie bags. It is considered rude to rush your meal. Most stores outside of the larger Italian cities actually close between the hours of one and four PM so the Italians can leisurely stroll home and enjoy pausa, nap time.

Don’t get me wrong. I love the way New York City literally seems to move. I love how fast I can get my French Vanilla ice coffee from Dunkin Donuts every morning. And I love how I don’t have to stick around until I’ve sucked the entire thing down. I love asking for the check even before I’ve eaten the last bite, just to make sure I’m continuously on the go.

But it doesn’t hurt anyone or anything to enjoy a glass of wine in the middle of the afternoon and know that this is not frowned upon.

In Italy, your presence will never be hurried out.

- Ann Curran

OFFAGNA: Princess for a day?

THE MEDIEVAL FORTRESS, the “Rocca,” is the highlight of the small town of Offagna.

For 3 euros you can tour the fortress that was built between 1452 and 1456.

Ducking under low doorways, walking along uneven dirt floors and climbing rickety stairs to the fortress’ roof somehow has the ability to transport you back to medieval times.

Glass cases in various rooms throughout the castle contain medieval knight armor, knives, and rifles to further stimulate the fortress’s historical importance as a means of defense.

From the top of the fortress there are beautiful views and a nice breeze. If you get a thrill by disturbing serenity, you can ring the big bronze bell cast in 1477 and engraved with the Ancona coat of arms. Offagna once protected the ancient port city from invaders from the west.

Cobblestone streets weave towards pizzerias, small markets and bakeries nestled inconspicuously behind ornate doorframes. The architecture of various churches and towers dating back to the fifteenth century are impressive and intact, making it feel like I was walking through a functioning museum.

From July 22 to July 29 Offagna hosts a medieval festival. A brochure promises that fire-eaters, minstrels, ladies and knights will be roaming the streets.

Our visit sparks enough interest to return, possibly dressed as princesses, to take part in the festivities.

- Philly Petronis

Saturday, July 15, 2006

MORRO D'ALBA: Mio vino e vostro vino (a good reason to drink in the middle of the day)

I'M REMINDED OF a really clean big garage when I enter the main room of the Mancinelli Winery. Rather than cars, large stainless steel barrels that measure about 15-feet line one side of the room.

“It smells like a hangover,” Annie whispers.

A short old man, owner Fabio Mancinelli, greets us warily, not knowing what to make of the four smiling girls with their male chaperone silently standing before him.

George attempts to break the ice with his paltry Italian vocabulary. Somehow he succeeds in getting across the point that we’re “journalism” students.

The man’s offer to allow us to taste the wines on a table next to him seems reluctant, yet once he starts pouring he’s very generous passing out three different glasses refilled twice more with different red wines.

I smile after each taste, hoping that between the five of us we will be able to finish the servings.

We pass the glasses around each trying to pawn off the remaining wine by arguing about our varying tolerance levels and how much we’ve already had. It’s an awkward position, not wanting to be drunk in the middle the day and not wanting to be rude.

Smiles are the only way I can show my reaction to the various wines’ tastes. After tasting the final full-bodied red wine I’m unable to remember if its “molto buono” or “molto bene,” so I resort to a thumbs up.

After our tasting he offers us a tour. He leads us down a winding stairwell to more stainless steel barrels. We all draw our own hypotheses of the various machines purposes based on the different shapes, Italian signs and dials. He explains each of their purposes to George who relays the process of removing the grapes skins to all of us.

We are led into another room that is filled with crates of wine piled from the floor to the ceiling; there must be over a thousand bottles of wine. We look at each other with wide eyes, imagining having such a collection at our own disposal. Stocks of corked barrels fill another room. The crimson dripping stains around huge wax corks look like bullet-hole wounds.

Back upstairs we meet the owner’s wife, Luisa, who is equally knowledgeable about the wine and olive oil making processes. Luisa shows us the olive oil machines, much smaller than those dedicated to transforming the grapes.

She explains the process of making oil in slow Italian to me. I nod my head every few minutes and say, “Si,” feigning comprehension.

For the bottling process she uses her hands to help explain, holding an imaginary bottle, pouring in imaginary wine and topping with an imaginary cork. She is standing in front of a machine that we learn costs about 300,000 dollars.

I look at her Salvatore Ferragamo sunglasses and her husband’s LaCoste T-shirt and wonder if it’s a lucrative business.

Luisa leads us outside into another building where we follow her upstairs to a room that resembles a restaurant. Various half full bottles of wine and grappa are laid out on a front table.

She pours us a glass of wine that resembles port. It’s strong and there is nowhere to spit it out. I am unaware of the customs of wine tasting.

After she pours us each of us a glass of white wine, apologizing that it’s not “freddo,” she briefly leaves the room.

A blackberry tart is in her hands when she returns she is apologetic once again that it is all she has for our spur of the moment tasting.

As we sip our glasses of sweet white wine we follow her out on the balcony surveying the Italian countryside.

“Mia casa” she says proudly pointing to an adjacent balcony covered with potted plants and a brightly colored mosaic door.

I picture what its like to live her life. Perhaps she has an eligible son.

- Philly Petronis

Friday, July 14, 2006

CAMERANO (part III): Keep moving, there's nothing to see here

WITHOUT KNOWING THE ITALIAN word for fitting room I hold the shirts I picked out up to my torso. I point to the shirt, point to myself and, in English, say to the saleswoman, “Try on?’

It’s Wednesday, market day in Camerano. There are dozens of stands - open from 9am until 12:30 in the afternoon - with racks of discounted clothing lining the piazza. It is a scene replicated in small towns across Italy on a daily basis.

The woman answers something back in Italian and them motions for me to follow her.

We take a few steps over to a large white van, which she uses to transport her clothing products from town to town, from market day to market day.

As she opens the van, all I can think is, “What is going on?”

She points her thin, tan finger to the open door and looks at me. Shrugging my shoulders I climb into this huge unmarked van.

“Is she kidnapping me?” I wonder.

Once inside I see that a white tarp has been hung in the interior of the van and a mirror is leaning against the driver’s seat. I finally realize it’s a make-shift fitting room and I try on my shirts.

Sure the tarp doesn’t cover all the windows and the people of Camerano perusing the market this morning can probably see me changing but you learn that the Wednesday market is a, “When in Rome …” type of thing.

After trying on my shirts I exit the van and practically bump into the vender.

She asks, “Va bene?”

No, sadly, they are not good.

I shake my head and hand her the shirts, slightly defeated.

- Caitlyn Slivinski

CAGLI (part III): In the end, the right decision

“WAIT,” A MAN said in broken English. “Who you pick, France or Italy?”

I am standing in a crowded bar in Cagli surrounded by several crazed soccer fans watching the last minutes of the 2006 World Cup championship game. The game is 1-1 and the overtime periods have not resulted in a wining shot.

The Italians huddle around the TV waiting for the shoot-out to decide the winner. The hunger for victory can be seen in their eyes as they eagerly anticipate winning the World Cup for the first time in 24 years.

You could say I am in a slightly dangerous situation depending upon how I answer the question.

Now, you would think that this was an easy decision. I am in Italy after all, so of course I should want the Italians to win. And I do to some extent.

However, having grown up in a household with a mother who spent her summers in France and a grandmother who was raised there, you could say that I am, in most cases, inclined to chose France when it comes to situations where you are required to pick a country.

And so continues the great debate: who do I want to win the World Cup Finals? France or Italy.

I had visited France several times as a child and have several deeply rooted memories there. But the last three summers I have spent a significant amount of time in Italy, where I also have family, and have grown to love the country and it’s people.

“Italy” I answer with a grin and absolute certainty, knowing that I mean it because I truly do want the Italians to win.

I love both countries but the prospect of being in Italy for the celebration afterward is just too tempting.

The crowd roars after the Italy scores the final penalty kick, defeating France, and it brings a tear to my eye.

- Berit Baugher