Wednesday, December 4, 2013

A Carpenter's Workbench gets a new lease of life as our kitchen table

A few months ago I posted a photo of a re-invigorated carpenter's workbench which we fell in love with at the Arezzo antique market. Well, here is a photo of a similar one which we also found recently at the same Arezzo monthly antique market, and, it has now become our 'new', but very old, kitchen table. A thick piece of glass has made what may have been an impractical bench into something completely usable, very comfortable, and indeed supremely beautiful. We love its character - the 2 timber vice that have tightly held hundreds of pieces of timber over the years, are still attached and working, and the visible recesses that held the tools of the carpenter's trade, bear the worn signs of their past life. It is a table that each time we sit at to eat a meal or drink a cup of coffee, it makes us smile thinking of its past history and new beginning. It looks very much at home in our beautifully imperfect ancient apartment! 


Monday, November 18, 2013

Verona - Aida in the Ampitheatre

Verona is a delightful Italian city  to visit only a short distance from Venice - many go just to see "Juilet's balcony", supposedly the balcony where Shakespeare's fictitious Juliet Capulet was wooed by Romeo Montague. It is always supremely busy in Juliet's corner of Verona, and I admit it is not a place I bother to go - too touristy for my liking and surely fictitious, so what's the point! - plus plastic souvenirs have never been my 'thing'... however, there are many other wonderful places to wander, discover and soak in the peaceful ambience of this beautiful city, so it is undoubtedly worth including it in your Italian itinerary.
We have visited many times but never been able to co-ordinate our trip to coincide with viewing Opera in their magnificent Roman amphitheatre in Piazza Bra .......... that is, until recently, when we specifically timed our visit to see Aida performed in the open air, and what a spectacle it was! The stage set designers used a large 'crane-like' structure to suspend people and create 3 dimensionality in the open void - a difficult thing to achieve when there is no roof or ceiling structure to work with. They also cleverly utilized the steps of the amphitheatre behind the stage as additional 3 dimensional height which significantly contributed to the ambiance of the production. I have to admit sound quality was not brilliant, but then we were sitting in a centuries old open air structure, so that was totally to be expected and it was the overall package of production, history of the structure and the pure spectacle that we loved. A wonderful experience that we will remember forever!

Also a beautiful and tranquil Veronese site is Giardino Giusti, a magnificent Italian Renaissance garden which was first planted in 1580. With a wonderful hilltop view back to Verona's main area, it is an Italianate mix of sculptural & natural and includes terraces filled with ancient Cyprus trees, fish filled ponds and Roman sculpture. It is the perfect place to quietly wander after one of those long lazy lunches we regularly partake in when in this part of the world!

Another interesting thing about Verona - they always seem to have some of the best buskers I have ever come across and we love strolling the streets enjoying the ambience they add to the city. When you see them do make sure you give them some money as without money they will not be there!



Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lacole Casa Italiana - surely the world's best warehouse of repurposed Architectural elements

I love researching far and wide to uncover interesting and intriguing places in our local Umbrian/Tuscan community, places that excite my senses with the quality and depth of what they offer, well 'PORTE DEL PASSATO' Via della Liberta, Pistrino di Citerna (PG), and its sister store 'LACOLE CASA ITALIANA' a few hundred metres down the road, both fit this category.
Lacole Casa Italiana is an enormous warehouse with the most amazingly indepth product display of beautiful recycled architectural & interior design elements imaginable. Do you require a jaw dropping marble fireplace surround to finish your home?...or 70yr old majolica wear concrete tiles for that family room renovation?.....or perhaps a centuries old marble sink to complete your bathroom, or an antique stone archway - my list could go on and on, - well this is undoubtedly the place to find them, and not only will you find them, but you will also have a bevy of choice! I love these type of warehouses but never have I seen the quantity and quality of repurposed architectural items that this place has to offer - nor have I ever seen the items displayed and catalogued with such precision and attention to detail - this place is most definitely a labour of love by its owners and the photos I took below are truly just a fraction of what they offer - it did feel a little like an elaborate movie set, yet everything we saw was certainly available for purchase. 
I admit to seriously eyeing off the majolica ware concrete tiles - can definitely see them in my soon to be started house extension as an integral element of the kitchen/family room  - just currently working out how I can get them back to Australia, but where there is a will.....
Porte del Passato, its sister store down the road, cleverly uses these collected old materials and up-cycles them into useful and beautiful furniture/kitchen units/internal doors - in fact I have no doubt they could work around what ever you required to complete your space. Their craftspeople repaint and rework the pieces to rejuvenate them on a scale I have not seen previously and their attention to detail seem to know no bounds! 

Both places are inspiring and I feel certainly worth going out of your way to visit if these type of things interest you ....... you will definitely find unusual and exciting product, but just don't expect to find a bargain... though I have to point out that with the obviously enormous effort the owners have put into breathing new life into these old items, the prices are totally understandable.

Internal doors repainted and rejuvenated at PORTE del PASSATO
Old cupboard repainted & fitted with rejuvenated marble sinks in a Carrara marble
benchtop makes a beautiful bathroom unit for a refurbished ancient home

Monday, September 23, 2013

Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini - one of our favourite restaurants in Rome

Fancy sharing a table with religious royalty in Rome? Well, amidst the busy high end shops around the base of the Spanish steps you can at one of our favourite restaurants - a theatrical & bohemian haven which transports you to another world.

Originally the atelier of sculptural artist Antonio Canova who bought the space in 1818 to favour his prized pupil Adamo Tadolini, it remained as a sculptural workshop until 1967. Re-created into a restaurant in 2000, Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini Via del Babunino 150 Rome, is a wonderful place to enjoy a very Roman lunch or dinner. 

Dwarfed by huge plaster, bronze and marble sculptures the tables are nestled into the space in a casual manner that creates a feeling of secret inclusion in Canova's and Tadolini's brilliance - and my favourite table, (photo #3 below) ensures not only will you never dine alone but your guest may very well be the custodian of church secrets, though unfortunately he will not be in a position to reveal them to you! The original layout and a large amount of the workshop tools have been retained so the space has a feeling of authenticity which is captivating and intriguing.

With such surroundings one may consider the food is not the main event, however we have always enjoyed delightful fresh pasta dishes and exceptionally good seasonal food, washed down with fabulous local wines. I feel strongly that when one travels, sometimes a wonderful long lazy lunch can introduce you to a city every bit as much as an important monument or art gallery, but with Canova's sculptural works exhibited in such lofty arenas as the Hermitage and the Louvre, here at this restaurant you can do both!


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Fresh Porcini Mushrooms & Black Truffles directly from the farmer - Ahhhhh....... it's good to be back in Italy!!

In Europe, autumn begins tomorrow and the produce markets in Italy are brimming with the most beautiful looking, and delicious, tasting fruit & vegetables. So our arrival to our home in Citta della Pieve at midnight last night, was perfect timing to fill our baskets at this morning's Saturday market. Although our town's market is small in comparison to many others in the area, it still has food stalls that always deliver exceptional quality seasonal products which we stock up on in large quantity.
In addition to innumerable fruit & vegetables, today we purchased some huge fresh porcini mushrooms which I prepared for lunch by thickly slicing them, then frying in a little garlic infused olive oil and served with fresh thyme and cracked pepper. Simple, quick and incredibly delicious - couldn't be better really! As L would say, all knowledge is acquired, and I discovered this method of cooking them a few moths ago when we ate at our favourite restaurant in Arezzo, "Antica Osteria L'Agania" - the strong but delicate taste of the Porcini mushrooms shines through and delivers a meal so delicious it belies the simplicity of its preparation.
Then later in the day in another quest to uncover some more local knowledge, we were out driving in the Arezzo area when we came upon a little hut selling freshly gathered large black and white truffles. The aroma in the little timber cabin which is open Saturday only, was overwhelming and their product - only white or black truffles in varying sizes, had been collected directly by them the previous day - hard to beat buying directly from the farmer, particularly in the case of truffles where the length of time out of the ground diminishes the strength of the taste. We chose 2 of the large black truffles for only 15Euro, then bought fresh pasta which we simply grated the truffles over for the most amazingly delicious dinner - now that is what I call fabulous fast food! The remainder of the truffles currently sit in a jar with our eggs as we are told the aroma will seep into the porous egg shell and give us truffle tasting eggs for our omelette tomorrow morning - though with the cost and availability of fresh truffles I think we will just shave them into the omelette instead!  


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Arezzo Antique Market - a fabulous way to spend the day!!

Arezzo's monthly antique market is definitely one of Italy's best Antique markets. Held on the weekend of the first Sunday of the month, it is a wonderfully eclectic mix of furniture, art, vintage textiles and bric a brac. One of our favourite activities is to wander it on a Saturday morning and over our many visits, we have developed a ritual for the day - we arrive early (more choice), have  a quick espresso or 2, before wandering all the streets ensuring we visit our favourite stalls, then around 1pm, stop for lunch at Osteria L'Agania, a simple trattoria with a changing seasonal menu of locally produced product. On this visit to Osteria L'Agania we ate home made pasta with generous quantities of fresh truffles shaved over the top, and the most delicious fresh porcini mushrooms we have ever tasted - prepared by simply frying them. We were told that this season of porcini mushrooms has been one of the best ever and my taste buds can certainly testify to this.  

This particular visit coincided with an art festival in the city which presented itself in delightfully obtuse and unexpected installations - one a huge cascading waterfall of books from the window of a building in the main mall, another a sea of old clothes strung high in the ceiling space of the colonnade around the main piazza. I love the fact that Italy allows young artists the opportunity to display their art in such a public forum - these pieces often push the boundaries of what many may consider art to be, but that is exactly the point - it continues the discussion about culture and engages a wider audience. Without doubt it injected a sense of fun, fascination and enquiry into the city of Arezzo - and in the end this creates public spaces with a wonderfully inclusive vibe.

Some market visits are more fruitful than others, but we always manage to find something that makes its way back to our home in Citta della Pieve. On July's visit we bought far more than we intended but are thrilled with our unexpected purchase! For the past 2yrs we always visit a stall holder in the main piazza who often stocks refurbished old carpenter's workbenches ready to begin a new life as a table or console. Although not really in need of a new kitchen table, this weekend, the price and the quality of the work bench he had totally captivated us, so early Sunday morning, it was delivered into our kitchen....and it looks spectacular!! We have had a piece of glass made for the top, to cover the recesses for the carpenter's tools to become a supremely gorgeous & practical kitchen table. The 2 original vices are still in place, and the cut out recesses for upturned tools and the solidity of the timber would all no doubt have many a story to tell. It is this table's history and previous working life that we totally love.

We also managed to find another 2 pieces of artwork for our ever growing gallery walls in both our bedroom and living room - all of €15 each, they are framed in elaborate gilt frames, and bought from one of our favourite stalls, (the main reason we always arrive early on a Saturday is to get first pick of this stall holders artworks as they are always interesting and well priced!) Individually, none of  the art pieces are especially grand, but en-masse they make a beautiful mosaic gallery wall.

Many of the pieces in our Citta della Pieve home have come from this excellent monthly antique market and a significant part of the fun was the hunt to discover and uncover.
Arezzo was hosting a art installation across the whole city, and the hanging clothes in the background of this photo are part of this
An Art installation in the portico of the main Piazza
Our new kitchen table! The history of this piece compliments our centuries old
apartment and we are thrilled with this purchase
Unfortunately I missed out on this antique marble font with pedestal (should have visited before lunch!),However  I intend to watch for another in the future as it would make a sensational powder room sink. The price was not much more than a ordinary white porcelain one.  Obviously though the trick is getting it back to Australia!
Timber doors from an old convent - € 300 for the pair they were really beautiful and I thought good
value with a wonderful story to tell
Our regular lunch venue - delicious seasonal food
Home made pasta with shaved fresh truffle - delicious!
Fried fresh Porcini mushrooms with Tuscan white beans - food doesn't get much better than this! 
Product changes regularly but there is always treasure waiting to be discovered
A wonderfully fun book sculpture - part of the art installations throughout the city of Arezzo
And here is the finished product in our kitchen at Citta della Pieve - we are thrilled with the results
Another shot of our new, but very old, kitchen table in situ