Monday 26 July 2010

Libera Terra (Free land) Mafia free area

In some organic shops here in Italy you can actually find Mafia free area products... which means that these Sicilian, or Pugliese products are guaranteed to be mafia free. They have been produced on land which has been confiscated from the mafia and made for a good cause instead.
Wine, olive oil, pasta, tomato sauce- for such products, the Sicilian sun is itself a guarantee of quality. But those who market such delicacies under the label 'Libera Terra' say their products come with a bonus — the 'taste of freedom.'
'From lands freed from the Mafia', reads the light blue pack of penne rigate pasta on display among dozens of other products in these dedicated shops. To understand that label, travel 250 miles as the crow flies south, to Sicily.

A short ride from Palermo a group of young people cultivate about 490 acres of land once owned by some of the most ruthless Mafia bosses. They belong to an umbrella organization called Libera and are led by Don Luigi Ciotti, a priest who has dedicated his life to the fight against organised crime in Southern Italy. In 1995, Libera collected 1 million signatures to prompt the Italian parliament to pass a law allowing properties confiscated from convicted mobsters to be used for socially useful purposes.
The cooperative’s most successful product is a wine label, 'Centopassi' ('One hundred steps'), named after the film about a Sicilian journalist killed by the Mafia. But the cooperative grows a diverse group of crops, including wheat, melons and lentils. It is one of five co-ops that sell goods under the Libera Terra ('Free land') label, including two others in Sicily, one in Puglia and one in Calabria. The final products are sold nationwide through fair trade and organic food chains, cooperative supermarkets and three dedicated shops: in Rome, Naples and Palermo.

I have just tried this white wine from guess which town? CORLEONE!!! well balanced and pleasantly floral...

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Weekly Markets in Italy

The markets in Italy, ranging from flea markets to antique and food markets to those holding a variety of crafts, all tell an interesting and unique story as interested onlookers and potential buyers stroll by. Fit for those who indulge and bargain hunters alike, the numerous types of markets can be enjoyed and visited by every kind of tourist with a curious appeal for a taste of the unknown gems each market holds. Italian goods are renowned for their quality, design and style, with every town offering unique craftsmanship.

Friday 16 July 2010

House prices finally decreasing to normal level

It is currently a good moment to purchase a property in Italy. Because of their cultural richness Tuscany and Umbria have a very stable real estate market. The fact that in Tuscany and Umbria properties are very much request by foreigners and that the local government has very strict rules and laws regarding new buildings, has brought the house prices from 2000 until last year, before the global crisis, to a non realistic level. At the beginning of the crisis most house owners refused to decrease their prices, hoping that the economic crisis would last only a short time.

A lot of owners realise that nowadays and also in the near future, selling their properties at the original price is impossible. For this reason some of them have already started selling their properties at a price, much more reasonable and even at a price much lower than the market value, in order to get rid of them. However it must be said that we are talking in the first place about home owners of an abandoned property, which every year is getting worser and in these difficult times it’s better not to speculate.

Here is an example of a large price reduction:
The property in the picture was in the beginning for sale for 2,200,000 €. The owner reduced the price to 1,900,000 €. In the future I’m sure that more and more home owners will follow this strategy for the simple fact that the last 5 years the prices have increased in absurd way and that no one is prepared to pay the prices of about 2 years ago.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Palio di Siena

What is the “Palio di Siena“? The simplest answer is a horse race held in Piazza del Campo in Siena twice a year, on July 2 and August 16, in which 10 historical quarters of the city, or Contrade, compete to win a silk banner portraying the Virgin Mary called the “Palio“.

The simplest answer might not be the most suitable though, because nobody who has been to Siena even just once would agree that the Palio is just a horse race. For the people of Siena, the Palio is a cult, it is a matter of life and death, something absolutely serious.

City life revolves around it: the contrade prepare the competition meticulously throughout the year.

The Palio as we know it dates back to the 17th century. The celebrations go on for 4 days. On the first day (June 29th and August 13th), the training trial takes place very early in the morning. On the same day, the “tratta” (literally, the “trade“) begins, that is the operation through which the horses are assigned to the 10 contrade competing. Once a horse has been assigned to a contrada, it is entrusted to a person called the “barbaresco“, who, accompanied by the people of the contrada (or “contradaioli“), takes it to its stable. Then in the evening, there is the first of the 6 trials that take place before the actual Palio.

The barbaresco escorts the horse to Piazza del Campo followed by a large group of contradaioli singing traditional songs. It is possible to see the trials by sitting on the stands placed around the perimeter of the square. This first trial is meant to test both the horse, which cannot be changed anyway, and the “fantino”, the jockey, who can be changed up until the day of the Palio. The contrade enter the Piazza in the same order as on the day of the Palio.

On the second day (June 30th or August 14th), at 9 am, there is the second trial. The third trial is in the evening.

On the third day, the day before the Palio (July 1st and August 15th), there is a fourth trial at 9am and then, around 7pm, there is the “prova generale“, the general trial. The prova generale is preceded by the traditional “carica dei carabinieri” on horseback. After the prova generale, every contrada has a dinner where contradaioli, the Captain of the contrada, the jockey and even tourists party together. After the dinner the captain of the contrada goes to meet the captains of the friendly contrade to form alliances against the enemy contrade. All the agreements are verbal.

On the day of the Palio (July 2nd and August 16th), at 7:45 in the chapel next to the Town Hall, the Archbishop of Siena celebrates the “Messa del Fantino“, the mass for the jockeys. At 9am there is the “provaccia“, literally the “bad trial”, which received this name because the contradaioli are generally not very interested in it. After the provaccia, the jockeys and the captains go to the Town Hall to register the jockey and the jacket with which he will ride.

Around 3pm, after the ceremony of the comparsa’s dressing, both this latter and the horse are blessed by the priest of the contrada church: the priest closes the blessing by telling the horse “vai e torna vincitore“, “go and come back a winner”. After the blessing ceremony, the contrade’s comparse and the town’s minor figures dressed up in historical costumes walk through the center stopping to perform their flag-waving show in Piazza Salimbeni opposite the Casino dei Nobili, in front of Palazzo Chigi Saraceni and by the Duomo.

Around 2:50 pm, the flag-wavers’ procession leaves the courtyard of Palazzo del Governo in Piazza del Duomo and goes to Piazza del Campo. Around 4pm the parade in historical costumes enters the Campo. At 7pm the “drappellone“, the drape, is brought to the judges’ box while the 17 “alfieri“, the flag-wavers, perform their show. The Palio follows immediately after.

A mortar is fired and the horses enter the square from the door called Entrone. Every jockey receives a whip which is used to “spur” the horse and to hamper his rivals. The jockeys then move towards the “mossa“, that is the spot where the “canapi“, the ropes that mark the starting line, are pulled. The order in which the horses are supposed to enter the ropes (i canapi) is regulated. The different contrade are drawn and called by the “mossiere“, the person who start the race.

When it’s time the horse of the last contrada takes a run-up and enters and the race begins. If the start is not valid, the “mossiere” stops the race and the ritual of the entrance in the “canapi” starts all over again. This can take some time, because while waiting, the jockeys talk to try and make alliances. If the start is valid, the horses have to run three times around the square. It is the horse that wins, even if it gets to the finishing line without the jockey, or as they call it, as a “cavallo scosso“.

The celebrations begin immediately, with the contradaioli jumping over the fence to touch the winning horse and jockey and of course to get the Palio. They bring the Palio to Provenzano in July and to the Cathedral in August to sing the Te Deum to thank God for the victory. The official celebration is in September and it’s called Cena della Vittoria. It’s a street party with lots of people, music and good food. And of course the guest of honour: the horse!