Thursday, May 24, 2012

Florence Gelato Festival

Today Beautiful Florence blog photographer and myself visited Florence's Gelato Festival and got the real scoop.  Details tomorrow.

The Florence Gelato festival, which we visited yesterday afternoon, is on through
Sunday, May 27 (open noon - midnight).  The hours are such because I imagine that Italians would celebrate their coffee break with a shot of dark espresso coffee up to noon.  Dinner in Florence is any time between 8 and 10 pm, so gelato would be the perfect dessert.

Having experienced Florence's Chocolate Fair (see Feb. 17 post),
 I was expecting
more of the same with the Gelato Festival, a fairly new entry on Florence's food fest scene.

Well, as we discovered, the script was a bit different.
No spoonful of free gelato appeared under one's nose in again the centrally located
 Piazza della Repubblica as happened with chocolate
 during the Chocolate Fair.

Instead we discovered tourists lining up for a 15 euro Gelato Card
that allowed one five tastings, plus a gelato cocktail in addition to other perks.
The card even featured an English translation.

Gelato card, indeed!  This in a country where spoonfuls of gelato are customarily offered as taste samples.  I was disappointed.  It wasn't free gelato I was seeking;  after all I could have pulled out my press pass and gone to town.  No, I was putting myself in the shoes of the visitor.  Was this just some commercial venture?

So I asked the cashier where some free gelato samples were to be found at the fair.  "Not in here in Piazza Repubblica,"  she said, "try one of the other Gelato Festival locations, say, Piazza Santa Maria Novella."

We hit gold, well to be more precise, a free sampling of chocolate ice cream in
Piazza Santa Maria Novella.

After a few stern, firm turndowns--"gelato card, please"--a young lady extended this complementary spoonful.  She was in the employ of Carmelo Chiaramida, a master gelato maker of clear Sicilian origin (it can be argued that the best gelato in Italy comes from Sicily) who lives and works in near Udine, above Venice.

So the sign told us.

Afterwards, when we identified ourselves as doing a story.
Carmelo immediately scooped out
(see opening picture) more of his
intensely rich dark chocolate ice cream,
which is interspersed with bits of chocolate
muffin, and topped with black cherries.

There goes dinner, I thought.

Carmelo explained that he uses only the best dark chocolate, melted only with hot water and not milk.

The black cherry sauce is meant to add contrast, he said.

He also told us that the only the best ice makers in Italy are invited to the Gelato Festival, where each specializes
in just one flavor.

Well, the next gelato master who offered us a
free sample was obviously a non Italian.  He also
advertised this fact with a large Canadian flag
in the background.

We made the kind acquaintance of gelato passionate
 James Coleridge, from Vancouver.

"This is the largest Gelato Festival in world," he told us.  "And why are you here?" I asked.
"I was the top ranked North American in the World Gelato Championships," he said, "and like everyone else here, I was invited."

I began to understand why there was a 15 euro Gelato Card.
"Well, I just give out gelato," said James.  "My philosophy is taste, taste, taste."

So, what taste treat is in the hand of your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger?
It is none other than Jame's signature pecan ice cream,
made from California pecans, Moldon salt from the U.K,. and sprinkled with carmelized pecans and slighted warmed Canadian maple syrup.

"There are four flavor notes," James noted.

I noted the maple syrup from Quebec nearby.

Although I am a fan of both homemade American ice cream and Italian gelato,
James told me many things that I did not know.

"Ice cream is composed of up to 25% fat, while gelato averages less than 7%," he said.
"Gelato is best conserved out of sight in steel vats in order to maintain the integrity of the ice crystals," said this graduate of the Italian Culinary Institute in Calabria and 
the Carpignano Gelato University in Bologna.

Well, at this point I was close to speechless.
Unbeknownst to us, however, another gelato surprise lay in wait nearby.

This is Alessandro, the nephew (don't you love it) of Toni Cafarelli,
the self styled Re di Gelato (King of Gelato),
who makes "Sicilian gelato" on Florence's viale Strozzi across from
the Fortezza da Basso.

The bottle of olive oil next to Alessandro is no coincidence.  His uncle's stand displays
a creamy crema gelato flavored with one of six types of high quality olive oil produced by Prunetti near San Polo in Chianti (a half hour from Florence).
The types were classified by Tuscan olive varieties.  Tawny tried the one with a dash of oil made from mild Leccino olives.

The Gelato King's gelato was to die for, even on sight.

The surprises continued.  Not only did this gelato taste as good as it looks,
when putting a cupful together, Alessandro went to work with a will and skill that would make his
invisibile uncle-king proud.

He sprinkled on just a little crushed black pepper, ground poppy seed and bread crumbs as well as red salt from Hawaii (!!!)

"That way the gelato is both cold and warm, sweet and salty,"
said Alessandro.
"The entire palate is involved."

Well, earlier we had noticed homemade, mainly gluten free ice cream offered at a democratic price not part of the Gelato Card by Coop, Italy's giant cooperative supermarket.

Well, as good as the Coop's premium gelato might be, it was nothing compared to the
olive oil ice cream with special toppings
by the self-anointed (by popular acclaim) Gelato King.

See the crushed bread crumbs, poppy seeds, black and pink pepper?
The taste experience brought a flavor memory to mind.

I suddenly realized why 25 years ago, with a only a few lire (Italian currency) in my pocket
I opted to have gelato--and nothing else--for lunch.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Expat Free Art Show in Florence

    This beautiful photo of Florence's Ponte Santa Trinita at twilight is part of a local expatriate art show
American Contemporary Artists in Florence.
Few people know that the bridge was designed by Michelangelo.
The picture, by Christine Dickert, is on display with more photos, paintings, sculptures and small installations at the Palagio di Parte Guelfa (near the central post office close to Piazza Repubblica)
through May 11.

With visiting hours from 9 am - 6 pm, American Contemporary Artists in Florence 
is open to the public with free admission as it part of
the 2012 Amerigo & America program
in commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the death of
Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci,
 who gave his name to two continents.
The resident artists are members of three groups based in Florence:  the American International League,the Network and the Young Anglo Women's Network.  Christine Dickert, who heads up the Young Anglo Women's Network, was exhibiting as part of a fourth participating organization,
the Healing Photo Art Foundation.

Also on display at the Palagio di Parte Guelfa, the above photos of the Tuscan countryside, were taken by Elaine Poggi, the founder of Healing Photo Art.  Elaine came to Florence with the intention of becoming a concert pianist, married, had a family, then created the Healing Photo Art Foundation to bring landscape photos by both amateur and professional photographers to hospital rooms both in Italy and the U.S.

On show at American Contemporary Artists in Florence is this
still life by AILO member Olivia Santiago.
 Olivia is a professional painter who specializes in drawings and paintings in the style of the Old Masters.  Immersed in the cultural and art world of Tuscany, she draws inspiration from the beauty of her surroundings.

The American-International League to which she belongs, is the oldest expatriate organization in Florence.  Founded in the 1975, AILO's main purpose is to raise money for charity projects, which the organization does in a spectacular way at the annual Dec. 8 Christmas bazaar.
Members of AILO come from all over the world, but the common (and official) language is English.

Speaking of Christmas, this work is from a former Network member Yvonne Di Palma,
who passed away last December.  A young Yvonne arrived in Florence from Philadelphia 30 years ago, eventually married a Neapolitan, and decided to recreate the magnificent 17th century Neapolitan tradition of il prespio (Nativity scene).  Yvonne went one step further, however.  She decided to use this art form as political commentary on current affairs, incorporating a myriad of scenes-within-a-scene with guest appearances by world leaders and politicians.

I don't know if the mayor of Florence, Matteo Renzi knows that he is represented in Yvonne Di Palma's Nativity scene--but there he is, the figure to the left.  I also don't know who this Crudelia figure is to Renzi's right, but perhaps a reader of Beautiful Florence can help identify the person.
These photos were taken by faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Elke Schoolman.

This work, titled Philosophic Conversations with the Wind  is by Network member Alanna Dotson, a native of North Carolina.  In her own words, Alanna felt "done with the world of corporate America, took a trip to Tuscany, fell in love with culture and beauty here, and renewed my creative spark."  She teaches Mixed Media workshops and is currently writing and illustrating children's books.  The organization to which she belongs, Network,
is a social and professional organization founded in 1991 for native English speaking residents in Tuscany.  Its purpose is to foster communication and friendship, and to provide a forum for the exchange of ideas and information.

AILO has regular monthly meetings on the first Tuesday of the month;  Network meets for a light potluck supper starting at 8 pm, followed by a a speaker at the Florence campus of Syracuse University the second Wednesday of the month; while the Young Anglo Women's Network (YAWN)  is a light-hearted crowd that meets over the Florentine tradition of aperitivo (cocktail hour featuring a buffet) starting at 7 pm generally on the third or fourth Thursday of the month.
YAWN member Hillary Scott, whose charcoal drawing is pictured above, was always passionate about drawing, painting and working with people with developmental disabilities.  After earning a degree in Art and Psychology from Ohio Wesleyan University, she came to Florence.    A new mom, who currently lives in Florence with her family, Hillary is looking forward to "reconnecting two loves:  drawing and working with people from under-served populations and communities."

This work is by Jamie Morris, who has lived in Florence for over 25 years after earning a BFA from the Cleveland Institute of Art and an MFA from Kent State University, both in Painting and Drawing.
Says Jamie, "certainly living in Florence has had a huge impact on my art.  There is a synthesis between worlds happening on various levels;  a mixture of ideas, images, materials and techniques."
Her works are characterized by oil and water based paint, marble dust and exhibit elements of collage.

Above is a portrait in pastel by Barbara Maraventano, a long-time member
and past president of AILO.
She is originally from New York City.

The abstract work below, entitled "Measuring Space," is by AILO artist Sylvia Teri, who has participated in shows in the U.S., Italy, Austria, Spain and Korea.  Her work is inspired by a quote by Antonio Parronchi, "elaborations of planes and is dilated or again restrained...a sort of form-color...always harmonious in its pure chromatic timbre..."

Sylvia's piece and the beautiful quote reminded me why I added a show of the women's expatriate groups to the Amerigo & America program....out of pure love for the artist.
I was very lucky, having been recognized for writing at a very early age, so I recognize the importance of giving voice to
 artistic expression.

The youngest artist to exhibit at American Contemporary Artists in Florence is Sofia Nordgren from YAWN, who has lived here since September 2011.   Florence has inspired her paintings though its colors, flowers and nature as experience at the Cascine Park, Rose Garden and Fiesole.

Sofia's work to me is reminiscent of Georgia O'Keeffe.

Healing Photo Artist photographer Sara Amrhein also exhibited as a YAWN member with some of her jewelry.  A third generation (half) Italian-American, her artistic work consists of painting, sculpture, drawing, photography and jewelry design.

"I believe the message of the Renaissance masters was not to continue repeating the same ideas and methods but rather to continue pushing forward and to create the new and unexpected and to challenged the perception of what art is," says Sara.

Inaugurating the American Contemporary Artists in Florence show was U.S. Consul General Sarah Morrison.  To her left is Robert Shackelford, secretary of AACUPI, American College and University Programs in Italy secretary and one of the members of the Amerigo & America committee.  Robbie introduced all the artists participating.  To the right of the Consul General is your Beautiful Florence blogger, head of the Amerigo & America committee whose program will be presented officially in two weeks.  To the right of Rosanna is Andrea Poggi, who collaborates with his mother Elaine Poggi on the  Healing Photo Art Foundation
that Elaine founded and heads.

I so happy to finally meet the artists who filled in the frame of American Contemporary Art in Florence--I had made this request before the exhibition but somehow it never happened.
Thanks also to American contemporary artist Alanna Dotson of Network who took the photo.

Those familiar with the Beautiful Florence blog know my love for flowers and nature.  So, I would like to end with what Tuscany looks like at the beginning of May:  poppies in bloom--quite a difference from the opening photo in the previous post
A Light in the Darkness:  Kate Brooks.

This lyrical painting is by AILO member Lolita Valderrama Savage, who also trained at Florence's Fine Arts Academy under Professor Silvio Loffredo.  She spends part of the year painting in Tuscany, and her works can be found in private collections and in exhibitions in the U.S.A.

This is the scene in the fields just outside of Beautiful Florence
right now.