Tuesday 20 December 2011

Winter Solstice celebration

The Winter Solstice has been celebrated in some way or another for thousands of years. In the Northern Hemisphere, the winter solstice is often connected with various religious holy days. Pagan religions associated the winter solstice with significant life changes, intricately linked with the universe and fates that determined the future and effected those lives.

This significance can also be found in the Southern Hemisphere, where the Winter Solstice takes place in June. For science-enthusiasts the winter solstice is an interesting astronomical occurrence that offers an opportunity to celebrate what we have managed to learn about the cosmos and affords us an excitement of space exploration and the complexity of the universe. Winter Solstice marks that day when there is less daylight than at any other time of the year. We commonly refer to it as the shortest day. The Summer Solstice, on the other hand, is the day with the most daylight (the longest day).

The exact date and time of the winter solstice, while always occurring within a day or two of December 21, changes from year to year because of the difference between a calendar year of 365 days, and the solar year of 365.26 days - the exact time it takes for the Earth to make one trip around the sun.

You are invited to celebrate the winter solstice with poetry and song in Assisi. Bring a favourite winter poem to share, if you like, or simply come and listen in candle-lit dark and enjoy the peaceful quiet of the house where we are meeting.

Thursday 15 December 2011

How to avoid getting 'hit by air' in Italy

Many Italians, it seems, are prone to a particularly wide range of winter illnesses, helped apparently by an in-depth knowledge of human anatomy. More than a decade living in this country has led me to a shocking conclusion. Being Italian is bad for your health. As winter draws in, those around me are suffering from a range of distinctly Italian ailments, that make our limited British colds and flus sound as bland as our food. As I cycle around the medieval streets of my adoptive home town of Bologna, I smile to myself, marvelling at the fact that I am still wearing a light-weight jacket at this time of year.

No translation
 My Italian counterparts are less fortunate.
They have their woolly scarves and quilted coats out and are rubbing their necks, complaining of my favourite mystery Italian malady "la cervicale". "Soffro di cervicale (I suffer from cervicale)," they tell me, making it sound particularly serious. Most people over the age of 30 seem to have the condition, but I am still at a loss as to what exactly it is and how to translate it. I have looked it up in the dictionary and found "cervical" - an adjective referring to the cervical vertebrae, those little bones in the back of your neck - but as an ailment, there is simply no English translation. We do not have it! The British also do not seem to have the sort of exceptional knowledge of their own anatomy which Italians have.

Benefits of ignorance
Soon after I moved here, I remember a friend telling me he was not feeling very well. "My liver hurts," he said. I have since been assured by doctors that you cannot actually feel your liver, but what really struck me was the fact that he knew where his liver was. We British, in contrast, are a nation staggeringly ignorant of our anatomy. Italians can also tell you if the pain is in their stomach or intestine - and can even specify whether it is colic or colitis - but to us it is all just "tummy ache". Yet although I should feel embarrassed about my inability to point out the exact location of my gall bladder, I am not. Why? Because I think it makes me healthier. After years of first-hand experience of the delicate Italian constitution, I have come up with a theory about why we British are so much sturdier. If you cannot name it, you cannot suffer from it. If you do not know where it is, it cannot hurt you. Among my Italian friends I am considered something of an immuno-superhuman. I can leave the gym sweaty to have my shower at home and not catch a chill en route. I can swim after eating and not get congestion or cramp. I can walk around with wet hair and not get "la cervicale". I even brag about it. At restaurants I will say: "Let me sit in the draught. I'll be fine. I'm English."

'Mustn't grumble'
I ran my theory past a Sicilian psychoanalyst and he said I had a point. For example, the British do not have a term for a "colpo d'aria". It literally translates as a "hit of air" and seems to be incredibly dangerous for Italians.
They can get one in their eye, their ear, their head or any part of their abdomen.
To avoid getting a colpo d'aria, until at least April, they must never go out without wearing a woollen vest, known as a "maglia della salute" (a shirt of health). British mums hold their kids' jackets so they will not get hot and sweaty while they run around and play. In contrast, the parks here in Italy are filled with pint-sized, quilted Michelin men, zipped up to their noses to stop the air getting in and hitting them. Italians are brought up to be afraid of these health risks, while our ignorance of their very existence makes us strong and fearless.
It is a question of etiquette too. We are a nation that "mustn't grumble", trained from an early age that the only answer to "How are you?" is "Fine, thank you." Our vocabulary reflects this. Whether we have had a cold or spent six weeks in intensive care, we will tell you we have been "a bit poorly".

'Change of season'
But last week I experienced a moment of panic. I woke up feeling weak and nauseous.
What if that cultural difference was actually contagious? What if years in the country had changed my constitution and I too was suffering from another common Italian health hazard, "the change of season"? I tried to convince myself that lack of sleep was to blame, but I was not certain.
Later that day, I bumped into a neighbour and confessed that I was feeling "a bit poorly".
"Ooh," she said, looking concerned. "I went to the doctor yesterday and he told me there's a 48-hour stomach flu going around." Then her face brightened up. "But don't worry, you're English so it'll only last 24 hours for you!" And suddenly - superhuman status restored - I felt a whole lot better.

Wednesday 14 December 2011

On 13th of December is Saint Lucia's day: Christianity and Paganism intermingle effortlessly

Saint Lucy (283–304), also known as Saint Lucia, was a wealthy young Christian martyr who is venerated as a saint by Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Christians. Her feast day in the West is 13 December; with a name derived from lux, lucis "light", she is the patron saint of those who are blind. Saint Lucy is one of the very few saints celebrated by members of the Lutheran Church among the Scandinavian peoples, who take part in Saint Lucy's Day celebrations that retain many elements of Germanic paganism. Saint Lucy is one of seven women, aside from the Blessed Virgin Mary, commemorated by name in the Canon of the Mass. Hagiography tells us that Lucy was a Christian during the Diocletian persecution. She consecrated her virginity to God,[3] refused to marry a pagan, and had her dowry distributed to the poor. Her would-be husband denounced her as a Christian to the governor of Syracuse, Sicily. Miraculously unable to move her or burn her, the guards took out her eyes with a fork. In another version, Lucy's would-be husband admired her eyes, so she tore them out and gave them to him, saying, "Now let me live to God".

In Italy St. Lucy is called Santa Lucia. St. Lucy’s Day is observed throughout the country, but is especially honored in Sicily. The day has traditionally been celebrated with bonfires, processions, and other illuminations. In Sicily St. Lucy, dressed in a blue cloak showered with stars, and her donkey Castaldo bring gifts to children on the eve of her feast day. Children leave their shoes outside on St. Lucy’s Eve in order to collect her offerings. Sicilians also remember the miracle that St. Lucy performed when famine struck the island. According to legend, hunger had weakened so many that the people of Syracuse went as a group to the church to ask the saint to deliver them. While they were praying, a ship loaded with grain sailed into the harbor. For this reason Italians celebrate St. Lucy’s Day by eating a boiled wheat dish called cuccia or cuccidata. Lucy is the patron saint of the Italian cities of Syracuse and Milan.

Scholars agree that the legend of St. Lucy contains more fiction that fact. Nevertheless, her cult flourished in Syracuse as early as the fifth century. In the sixth and seventh centuries it spread to the Italian cities of Rome and Ravenna. Eventually her fame stretched across Europe, and she became one of the most popular saints of the Middle Ages. Artists often depicted her carrying her eyes in a dish or holding the palm of martyrdom and a lamp. Some portrayed her with a sword thrust through her throat. People invoked the aid of St. Lucy for afflictions of the eyes and throat. Although her feast day currently falls on December 13, before the sixteenth-century Gregorian calendar reform, St. Lucy’s Day fell on the winter solstice. Legends claimed that the saint blinded herself on this, the shortest day of the year. In fact, her name, Lucia, comes from the Latin word for “light,” lux. Thus, many old folk customs invoked Lucy as a symbol of light, especially the light that coincides with the lengthening of days after the winter solstice.

St. Lucy’s Day is especially celebrated in the country of her birth, Italy, and in Scandinavia. How did this Italian saint develop a following in the land of the Vikings? When the people of the cold, dark North converted to Christianity around 1000 A.D., they acquired a special fondness for the saint whose feast day marked the return of the sun and whose name itself means “light.” Over the centuries they kindled many flames and fires in her name. At one time people in northern Europe lit “St. Lucy’s fires” on the evening of her feast day. They threw incense into the flames and bathed in the smoke, which was said to protect one from witchcraft, disease, and other dangers. While this was happening, others played music to accompany the sun’s changing course. An old Scandinavian custom forbade all turning motions on St. Lucy’s Day, including spinning, stirring, and working a grindstone. Superstitions warned that these circular motions might interfere with the sun’s change of course.

Folk belief also hinted that miracles occurred at midnight on St. Lucy’s Eve. The few souls awake and alert at this potent hour might hear cattle speaking or see running water turn into wine. In past times many believed that the saint had the power to shorten the winter season. This belief led to the custom of writing her name and drawing a picture of a girl alongside it on doors and fences in the hopes that the saint would hasten the end of winter. Another old custom encouraged people to keep a candle burning in their home all day long on her feast day.

Sunday 11 December 2011

Weddings and castles

Italy’s castles provide accommodations embedded with history. It’s one thing to tour a castle which is like touring a museum and quite another to actually wake up in one, to dine in one and to be able to tell friends about your experience. Castles are a great place to stay for history buffs as well as the hopelessly romantic.
In fact, one of Hollywood’s most romantic marriages took place in an Italian castle. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes were married in Castello Odescalchi in Bracciano on the southern shores of Lake Bracciano in the Italy’s Lazio region. Recently, it was the venue chosen by Croatian heiress Petra Ecclestone to businessman James Stunt. The reported $5 million wedding ranks it ahead of Kate Middleton and Prince William’s nuptials as well as those of Kim Kardashian and Kris Humphries.

Castello Odescalchi is about one hour by car from Rome and can also be reached by a commuter railway line that runs between Rome and Viterbo. Castello Odescalchi is one of the most beautiful feudal mansions in Europe. Although it does not operate as a hotel, but rather as a museum, it offers tours of the castle and is a spectacular venue for weddings and receptions. The bride and groom can spend their first night there.
Italy has some 200 castles including those privately owned and sometimes open to the public for special occasions. Of course, not all of Italian castles have overnight accommodations.


Italy’s Umbria region is home to the Monterone Castle that has guestrooms and other hotel amenities. It is located just under two miles from the historical city of Perugia, which can be reached via train from Rome. Monterone dates back to the Thirteenth Century and is believed to have a Knights Templar connection that made it a convenient stop over for knights enroute from Rome to Perugia. The Templar church of San Bevignate is just a mile away.

Accommodations at the Monterone Castle have all of the conveniences of a modern hotel, yet each guestroom is steeped in historical stories and artifacts. If you book the Dragon Room you should be prepared for an additional occupant, because it is said to be the abode of the castle’s ghost.
Guests will enjoy the property’s expansive terraces with views of the Umbrian countryside and a lovely rose garden with some two hundred roses. They can also relax by the pool, in the Jacuzzi or enjoy the wellness area. Just outside the castle walls guests can stroll through a tree studded park shaded with oaks and olive groves. When you’re hungry you don’t have to dash into Perugia. There’s a Michelin star restaurant in the castle that offers, in addition to its regular menu, special tasting menus and wine pairings.

Monterone Castle is the perfect place to stay for exploring the ancient city of Perugia, which dates back to the year 205 BC when it was known as Perusia. Today it is a vibrant cultural center known for art and music and chocolate as well as Etruscan history. It is home to the annual Umbria Jazz Festival, the largest jazz festival in Italy (usually held in July) and the Eurochocolate Festival in October. Likewise, it is possible to also visit Assisi and Deruta. Getting to Perugia from Rome, about 100 miles away is best by train or by car. The journey from Rome to Perugia offers a beautiful drive through scenic countryside.

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Castello di Casole (Siena)

As autumn turns to winter at Castello di Casole and its Casali (Farmhouse) owners savour the season's best - porcini mushrooms, pumpkin-filled ravioli and the hearty Tuscan bread soup "ribollita".

Aside from the tremendous construction progress at the estate, especially at Hotel Castello di Casole, we are excited to share that we have now sold all available interests in Casale Poggio alla Corona and Villa Scuola, as well as all resale interests. 

There are still interests available in Villa Sant'Antonio, a three bedroom villas near the hotel scheduled for completion in Summer 2012, and in The Bargagli Penthouse, scheduled for completion in Spring 2012. 
Clearly, the international appeal of Tuscany and the allure of the Castello di Casole estate supports a never ending interest from a global market. If you would like to learn more about our current and future offerings, I would be pleased to hear from you and welcome your phone call or send us an email at info@abode.it