Thursday, April 25, 2013

Comfort Food: Neapolitan Pizza in Florence

Today is a legal holiday, marking the liberation of Italy from Nazi occupation and the end of the Fascist regime, thanks the combined efforts of the Allied armies and Italian Resistance partisan fighters.
As reported by Beautiful Florence's previous post, a violent act of private war had caused deaths at the Boston Marathon just as I was about to write on a Da Vinci restoration.  The city holds many memories for me.  As I write, in the office I can turn my head to view my framed master's degree from Boston University.  I was unprepared, however, to see the following e-mail message on my I phone.
Emilia Gambardella, one of the interns at our English-language publishing house (, arrived in the office similarly upset.  Her sister is a student at Boston's Northeastern University.  "The city is in a lockdown, it's difficult to get news," she said.
"Well, look at this on my phone," I replied.  "A grad student at BU was one of the three victims in the marathon bombing."

"Well, the suspects killed a cop on the MIT campus and the police are searching everywhere in Watertown," she informed me.  This is getting worse and worse, I thought.  MIT is between Kendall and Central squares, the latter close to Harvard Square, Cambridge, where my last home was located before moving to Florence.  I wrote that I had also lived in the Fresh Pond neighborhood in Cambridge.  In actual fact, Fresh Pond was behind my apartment, which was situated off of Mt. Auburn St. on a little road just before the Watertown-Belmont line.  Watertown, that most anonymous of Boston suburbs, and rightly so, 
 had just lost its anonymity to participate in a tragedy.

Emilia was in the office to discuss researching her upcoming article on Neapolitan pizza in Florence for Vista, Florence & Tuscany.  As her father, a former waiter-turned-Wall Street-stockbroker, was born in Naples, it was an obvious choice.  On this occasion, I told Emilia that the day after 9/11, another writer in my office, Stella Fiore (also a BU alumna), and I sought refuge in the good, genuine food made by Carmine, Florence's original Neapolitan pizzaiuolo
(pizza chef).  Later, in 2008, a group of friends took me to lunch right after my mother's death at Carmine's new trattoria, Vico del Carmine.
When my friends asked for the check, Carmine informed them that the meal was on the house.

Let's go and see if Osteria del Caffè Italiano still has a Neapolitan pizza annex," (left) I said, "and set up when to go back for a meal and interview.  It is but five minutes from the office on via Isola delle Stinche."
We walked in and found pizza chef Vincenzo on the job.  "You're lucky," he said, "the owner is right outside."
Osteria del Caffè Italiano's proprietor, Umberto Montana, came to embrace me despite the fact that I had not seen him since 2006, when working on another story.  He called for spumante (Italian sparkling wine) for Emilia and myself.  He apologized for having to dine with a theatre troupe who were to go on stage at that evening at the nearby Teatro Verdi, and asked the pizzaiuolo to prepare a pizza for us to share as aperitivo
(pre-dinner drinks and snack).
Goodness, these are all the faces of my possible ancestors and paesani, I thought when looking at the placemat.  After all, Umberto Montana hails originally from the region natives know as Lucania
(re-christened Basilicata by fascist leader Mussolini, who came to a bad end as remembered at the beginning of this article).  Umberto is from the province of Potenza in Lucania, both my late parents from the 
province of Matera.
Meanwhile, our pizza was baking in an authentic wood-burning brick oven.
As he was shredding mozzarella cheese with his hands, Vincenzo informed us all the ingredients came from the south, or more precisely, vengono da giù.

Chi non la conosce, non capisce, chi l'assaggia, la comprende said Vincenzo.
"Who is unfamiliar with [Neapolitan pizza] doesn't understand, who tastes it will comprehend."
Below Emilia (left) and your distraught Beautiful Florence blogger are about to receive,
as unseen tradition would hold, the ultimate comfort food, Neapolitan pizza.
Again, unbelievably, on the house.
Pizza è come la donna, è amore, said Vincenzo
(Pizza is like a woman, it is love).
He  told us he hails from downtown Naples, the Sanità neighborhood. With music by the Neapolitan 
Pino Daniele playing softly in the background, we began to relax.
Emilia and I were treated to an authentic Margherita, comprising tomato, cheese & basil.
The crust was thin, crispy and chewy, the flavors flavorful and as the ultimate critic, Emilia, observed, 
subtle and perfectly balanced.  

Much more relaxed, but still on the job, I addressed the following remark to Vincenzo,
who happened also to be suffering from a bad cold.
"The important thing," I said, and was about to say
that the expert Emilia tasted the pizza, when he finished my sentence...

"is to be well."  (è stare bene)

There was nothing more to say, but to be well again.

All pictures in this post, except for the very last, were taken by faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer 
Bree Chun.  Emilia recorded this image of Vincenzo at work.

In the meantime, the BU alumni association has sent me another e-mail.  It has already raised over 700,000 dollars in memory of the graduate student who lost her life watching the Boston Marathon.  
And life with all its surprises continues from my vantage point in 
Beautiful Florence.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spring, Heartbreak & Da Vinci

Sun and warmth finally arrived in Florence & Tuscany this past Sunday, April 14.
Yesterday I caught librarian Joanna June in the act of taking a picture of our now blossoming wisteria vine (see previous post) in the Borgo Albizi courtyard.  Joanna, who has kindly allowed Beautiful Florence to publish her photo, works at the Florence campus of Florida State University, which is located in the same building as our office.
All sweetness and light after a long, chilly and record-breaking
 wet and never-ending winter it would seem.
It was... until an event turned the blood in my veins into ice.
"Bombs on the Marathon," screamed the Repubblica headline.
Oh, my God, the Boston marathon.

If I turn my head, I can see my framed masters degree from Boston University, where I commuted from 
where I was living in Cambridge, initially Fresh Pond, then behind Harvard Yard.
The marathon finish line is on Boylston St. close to Copley
and the venue of my first job, on Park Street.

Participants tackled Heartbreak Hill near the end, only to run down to face real heartbreak.
Boston and Florence are living examples of the world's intellectual capacities and freedom, accompanied by a good dose of heart.

Besides showing that spring has finally sprung in Florence, I meant to write about the 
current restoration of a 1480 Leonardo da Vinci work.  This report is timed to coincide with the airing of an historical fantasy,"Da Vinci Demons," based on the early life of the Renaissance genius
 later this month on the Fox channel.
According to Dr. Maurizio Seracini, Leonardo completed the underdrawing for the Adoration of the Magi which did not win the favor of the commissioning San Donato a Scopeto monastery.  Da Vinci departed for Milan, other artists added color, glue and retouches on top before the oil on panel disappeared into the monastery storeroom.  Resurrected by the Uffizi Gallery in 1670, the Adoration of the Magi remained on public view before disappearing again into the hands of restorers at the Fortezza da Basso laboratory of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure.
Out of view, that is, except to professional journalists, including your faithful Beautiful Florence blogger, who were called in to hear restorers pronounce the diagnosis above.  They also mentioned that the wooden support was not in great shape either, causing pigment to detach.
The restoration was announced to be conservative, that is, a cleaning plus strengthening the support.
When the monochrome masterpiece returns to the Uffizi, visitors will be able to better admire such details as the magnificent horse's head clearly drawn by no other than Leonardo da Vinci.
Part of the reason possibly why the nascent work failed to find favor 
is that behind the serene Virgin Mary and Child is a battle scene!
Leonardo da Vinci is remembered for his unique brand of three-dimensional realism, given depth by a play of chiaroscuro (light and shadow).   In the Adoration of the Magi (photos courtesy of the Fine Arts Ministry, Florence), didn't da Vinci simply give a sublime summary of the human condition?
In the foreground, the Three Kings, form a triangular composition around the Virgin Mary and Child they are adoring.  After all, this is their reward for listening to their hearts and following a star
to the ultimate Redeemer.

The rest is just strife, conflict and bloodshed...just like that found at the bottom of Boston's
 Heartbreak Hill.

Over six centuries later, Leonardo da Vinci's encapsulation of the life's peace and drama 
remain contemporary and timeless.
No need for color, the painting as it appears can be considered finished--there is no more to say...

     Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
                                -- Rosanna

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Spring 2013 in Florence

Into each life, some rain must fall.
Agreed, but thanks to the precipitation of this past winter and early spring, 2013 has been the year with the most rainfall in Florence for the past 50 years.  In my just-previous Easter blog, I predicted it might stop raining on the day of the Resurrection.
 It actually did--and on the following day, Easter Monday, as well.
Then it started again.  Above is the scene in our Borgo Albizi courtyard from the office window.
Thanks to gray, overcast skies, the wisteria has only produced a few, timid blossoms,
 and the fig tree it is wrapped around, just one leaf!

Faithful Beautiful Florence blog photographer Bree Chun and I decided to take a stroll around downtown Florence in search of some color, and warmth.
We found it on the new pedestrian-only zone comprising the sidewalk and road in front of the
designer shops on via Tornabuoni.
The medieval palace in the background is no other than the Ferragamo flagship store.
Via Tornabuoni also hosts the pricey boutiques of Prada, Armani, Gucci and Tods, just to name a few.

If this is how these shops are using the mark-ups on their astronomically prized clothes,
I applaud their efforts.  The rose pink and magenta colors stand out against a backdrop of silver gray light and matching sidewalks.

Walking back to Borgo degli Albizi, Bree and I turned into via Porta Rossa,
where a surprise awaited us--an imaginative, cheerful window display.
No, it was not the usual show of shoes, handbags and pastel spring clothes... was a celebration of the new Pope!  Papa Nuovo in Italian, and popping out of an Easter egg to greet and bless the world.  Mind you, this is Florence, not Rome and the shop in question sells objects in silver.  The eggs in the silver holders--creative advertising--below the papal poster are inscribed with the member names of the college of cardinals who were in the running for the top job.

 Papanuovo is also a clever play on words since
  ovo means egg in Italian.
Easter eggs are traditional fertility symbols, so one can only hope that...
April showers will bring May flowers.

As a contrast to the scene outside our window, here is a May preview--provided by a vase of freesias on the office table.
Maybe spring is merely a state of mind.

Reporting live from Beautiful Florence
    -- Rosanna