Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Florence: Hammered Gold Jewelry: an ancient tradition


Generations of Skill at the studio of  Nerdi in Florence Italy

Early in the morning, the Ponte Vecchio is still waking up. 
Shop owners  are removing the shutters and the dazzling glint of gold challenges the sunrise.   The mobs of tourists  and window shoppers will soon fill the street but for a short time it is quiet and almost deserted.

This is a wonderful time to walk the ancient streets of Florence.
If there are no cars on the back alleys and lanes, you can imagine you are back in the middle ages.

The Medici family put all the craftsmen and artisans who worked for the family in this former monastery and it continues to be the 'house of the goldsmith'.    Casa dell' Orafo

On the first floor a simple wooden door leads you into the studio of the Nerdi family.  My visit was arranged by 'Italian Stories' and I was warmly welcomed by Daniella, Silvia and Luca.

This is a working studio where not much has changed over the years  Perhaps the showcases for the fine jewelry pieces have been updated, but the work bench and many of the tools have not changed in decades.
Since 1948 Paolo Nerdi has worked in the studio when he was not much taller than the work bench he has used his entire career.


Today at the age of 81 he arrives every morning via scooter, even in winter!  He scrutinizes all the materials and gives advice based on decades of experience.     I was fortunate to meet him the day I visited.   Sig Nerdi's warm smile and greeting makes you feel as if you are a friend who has dropped in for a chat or to drop off a bracelet that needs repair.    

Today the workshop is run by Daniela, Paolo's daughter in law and "maestra d'arte orafa'.   A graduate of the Art Institute in Florence, Daniela and her colleague Luca, a 35 year veteran gold- smith,  create original pieces, engravings, where ancient jewelry can be restored, modified and renewed. 

Nerdi's does work for local jewelry stores, commissions, repairs as well as redesign for customers who want a new look for pieces they may have had for years.  There were a number of wedding rings being engraved today, happy work.

The hand engraving work is stunning and I fell in love with the piece in this photo.   Every stroke by a sure hand, every tool fitting the hand of the maestro as a glove.   

 Silvia was kind enough to translate for me as Paolo demonstrated some of the techniques used to create such fine works of art.  

The traditional method of crafting find pieces is still practiced in the studio.  Work done by a skilled hand reflects the years of training that is required.

A collection of more modern looking gold chain necklaces, bracelets and earrings caught my attention.  Silvia told me the studio was well know for the old style and technique of hammering gold.

I found little written about the technique but many interpretations on line.    Silvia supplied additional photos to demonstrate the process.

                                Hammered Gold 
The technique and styles are the same used by craftsmen centuries ago and secret...

The gold is melted and from the liquid metal a golden plate is formed.  Slowly it is transformed into a golden thread:  passing through a sspinneret and it becomes thinner with every passage through the machinery.  

When it is thin enough it is passed through a spiral to create chain mails(circles).  The chain rings are closed and welded then hammered.   Now they are reopened and joined together to form the necklaces, bracelets or earrings you see here.  

The technique and the tools are part of the decades of experience that goes into each link.

Necklaces in different lengths, bracelets and earrings can be ordered directly from the studio.  Contact the studio for prices. 


Silvia was my patient translator for my visits to Nerdi's studio.
She graciously answered countless emails and questions.  
The historic information and photos of hammered gold are from Silvia.    Make an appointment to visit the studio and perhaps learn more about one of the many techniques the Nerdi studio specializes in.
The studio is open Monday to Friday

Nerdi Laboratorio Orafo Incisore
Vicolo Marzio 2
tel +39 055 292382


Additional history

Oggi Cucino Vegetariano: Friselle Leccesi


friselle (negozio comprato)
5 pomodori maturi, tagliati a cubetti
2 cucchiaini di capperi
olive nere tritate,
2 cucchiai di olio extra vergine di oliva
erbe fresche - origano o basilico o arucula o tutti loro
Mettere tutti gli ingredienti (tranne il friselle) in una grande ciotola e lasciate riposare il tutto per 15 minuti. Mettere a bagno le friselle in acqua fino a quando non ottengono abbastanza morbido (non troppo a lungo) prima di topping.

Cucchiaio il composto di pomodoro in modo uniforme su ogni frisella. Top con un filo d'olio d'oliva, un pizzico di sale e un po 'strappati erbe fresche.

Our English Version:

friselle (store bought)
5 ripe tomatoes, chopped into small cubes
2 teaspoons capers
black olives, chopped
2 tbs extra virgin olive oil
fresh herbs – oregano or basil or arucula or all of them
Place all the ingredients (except the friselle) in a large bowl and let it all sit for 15 minutes. Soak the friselle into water until they get pretty soft (not for too long) before topping them.

Spoon the tomato mixture evenly over each frisella. Top with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkle of salt and some ripped fresh herbs.

Venice: The Venician Beads are Speaking.....................

"Tuttifruttii" each bead is different

Click, Click ............. I hear this rhythmic sound as I walk with Marisa Convento in the residential neighborhood historically known for the 'bead stringers', the impiraresse.   

As the beads tap against each other, they produce a music. Marisa tells me she never leaves home without 'the beads' and the one time she forgot them, the beads had to be delivered to her!

Jewelry designers and bead historian: Marisa Convent
Photo from Italian Stories website
Click, Click, Click

 I met with Marisa on two different occasions during this trip to Italy. Although a very busy designer, she stopped her work to share with me her passion for Venice and the important history of Venetian glass beads.

This was a history lesson that wove a 'string' between international trade hundreds of years ago and how glass beads exported from Venice impacted the lives of Venetian women.  

Leaving the crowds to head towards the Arsenale.
  On my second visit,  Marisa met me near St Marks early one morning before the thousands of tourists arrived. We strolled along the lagoon towards the area of the Arsenale and the Biennale Pavilions. (note:  only St Marks is a square)
The landscape of Venice changes as you get away from the historic center. We passed shops that sold cheese, meats, the coffee roaster, a bakery, local Venetians supporting the residents in a world of large supermarkets.   Without my camera we could have been seen as two acquaintances out for a walk.

I have only been 'lost' in this part of the city once so I was happy to return with an expert. I love to watch Venetians transverse their city with ease, never looking at the few street signs, just knowing when to turn left or right.

As we turned down one of the side streets everything changed. We were in the neighborhood where Venetians live. It was a hot sunny day so laundry was hung across every passageway, a colorful display of family flags!

The extreme heat wave hitting Venice this week, kept most of the locals walking on the shady side of the street and spending time in the massive park near this part of the island. Marisa had a great deal to show me and tell me about the 'bead stringers' in every campi (courtyard) we visited.  

Click, click, the beads continue to sing as we walk through the neighborhoods

The daily shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables is centrally located on a former boat parked in the canal at the center of the neighborhood. Not much has changed over the decades. The small campi in the neighborhoods are still the center of the community. 

A former city well now covered, sits in a prominent place within the neighborhood campo.   You will see these throughout Venice, some larger than others, some with intricate carvings and heavy metal lids.

  • Marisa explained that the women had to bring water to their homes twice a day for cooking, washing and laundry. Gathering at the well may have given them a few moments to chat while waiting to fill their buckets.   

      The women had large families and many exhausting duties        at home yet they still took on bead work for the small amount of money it would contribute to the family. 

More fascinating  to me were the corner shrines tucked into walls or over archways. We saw several and some had interesting stories. Each shrine is taken care of by an appointed neighbor. Flowers and lights embellish most of the shrines. One was totally renovated and the largest we saw that day had an interesting history.

One of the neighbors living a few doors from this shrine told us there is a communal prayer "Il Rosario di Maggio" service every week. Neighbors in this campo come together and pray the rosary.  They form a procession to visit other  shrines in the surrounding campi.  

Look closely and you will see the same shrine in this photo of the early 1900's that Marisa shared with me.   The women in the photo are 'bead stringers'.      

During my tour of the neighborhood that once housed many impiraressi, Marisa shared wonderful anecdotes about the strong guilds that were prominent in the area:   la pegola, the caulkers, those that worked with tar,  the carpenters who always carried  their tools with them, were 'on call' at any time for a repair and the rope makers, all guilds vital to the shipping industry.  Streets are even named after the trades the residents practiced.   

The neighborhood women spent whatever daylight hours that were not devoted to children or household chores, stringing the very small glass beads made in Murano.  

Above is a tray of seed beads and the multi needle tool that was passed through the tray of beads.  As the needles filled with beads they were passed down to the strings attached to the needles.    The more proficient the woman stringer, the more needles she used.  

Beads were easier to ship around the world when uniformally packaged in this way......another entire history lesson you shall hear when you join one of Marissa's tours.   (see below).

She will share the history and importance of the smallest of glass beads made in Murano, strung by hard working women, the beads that would be traded and used for ball dresses, costumes, beaded bags, beaded jewelry and flowers.

One of the original designs at Marissa's studio.  Photo from her web site

 On your next visit to Venice don't be a tourist, experience part of the life of Venezia.   Venice is a living museum that has much to tell you.  

All the great adventures listed below are available through:

Italian Stories www.italianstories.it

The Hidden Beads of Venice
Visit the secrets of the bead stringers

Beads in Family Workshop
A family friendly event that is a hands on experience

Midnight Beads in Venice
An evening event that shows you Venice in a different 'light'

And you may hear the click of the beads

From Marisa Convento's web site

"My name is Marisa Convento, I am an Impiraressa, venetian traditional word for what I do: inventing  jewelery, embroidery, flowers and corals with fine venetian glass beads and rare vintage seed beads. My Venetian Dreams are strung for you and for the love of Venice, the city where I live, dream and work "

I was the guest of Marisa Convento, who I want to thank for her time and extensive knowledge of Venetian history.   Her passion for her art and her city is contagious.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Running Away to Live in Italy! Interviews with expats living in Italy

How many times have you considered moving to Italy, even for only a few months each year?

On every trip Home to Italy I meet expats who have done just that! 

Most recently a young woman from Arizona and most encouragingly a mature woman who retired, sold her home and moved to Italy and a few others who have lived in Italy for decades......

Often on a vacation you will spend time in a town or city that 'speaks' to you and think "I could live here".   But we never again think about moving once we return to our regular lives.

In this series I will interview several expats and ask them why and how they 'moved to Italy'.

Today meet Kelly Medford

Kelly is an accomplished, professional painter who I met several years ago in Rome.  She was kind to let me 'shadow' her around while she was painting one day.  Kelly, as you will read in her bio at the end of this story, paints outside.  She paints in ALL kinds of weather.  
We have stayed in touch and I have watched as her reputation has grown as she has added teaching workshops in the USA and in Europe.  

 Hello Kelly, thank you for agreeing to this interview.
How long have you been an expat in Italy?
I moved to Italy in January of 2004, it's hard to believe that I've now been here just over 11 years. 

Prior to becoming an expat did you live in Italy for any length of time?
No I didn't. I did come on a landscape painting course with my teacher at the time, who suggested that I apply to study in the drawing program at The Florence Academy of Art 

What made you decide to no longer be a visitor but to be a resident in Italy?
After completing a year of drawing in Florence I realized that the majority of that year was spent focused on studying, closed in the studio. 
I wanted to stay and learn Italian, eat more good food, travel and just get to know Italy better.
I started taking my easel out on the street to paint, which seemed like the best way to accomplish my goals and indeed it's what I'm still doing over 10 years later. 

 Any reasons you wish to share, for selecting the city/town you live in?
I moved to Rome after having spent 6 years in Florence. While Florence is a beautiful city, it is small and offers less opportunities to working artists today. 
Rome being the capital city is much larger with loads of opportunities, galleries and artists of all different genres and the big spaces just suit me- not to mention the whole aesthetic of Rome which is very different from any other Italian city.
It is where the old meets the new and everything in between.
I love the chaos interspersed with quiet found at the numerous spacious parks around the city. 

Did you speak Italian before you moved to Italy?
No I did not, not even a word. I took a couple of classes and then moved to the countryside of Tuscany for a year. Living in the countryside really helped me to learn the language, not having any other option if I wanted to communicate.
Then I took private lessons over the years in Florence. My teacher is still a good friend and wonderfully patient woman. She taught me so much and forced me to read novels, write essays and learn about history, culture and traditions in Italy. I am grateful to Lucia! 

What is or was the most difficult part(s) of expat life?   
Everyone says this, but it is true: the bureaucracy can be trying. For me I deal with a lot of paperwork in shipping paintings all around the world. You cannot imagine the various steps that go into shipping artwork! 
Also something that is difficult about being an expat is you have to learn a lot. First is learning the language, but then comes learning about the history, culture and politics and in my opinion is an important part of living abroad and understanding more about the culture you are living in. 
Being an American in Italy- or at least in Rome- I realize how we are so used to everything being "easy." What I mean is in America you can just use your debit card everywhere or order everything online. 
Here you can still order from Amazon, but sometimes you can't figure out where your package is and the endless hours of phone calls ensue. 
One good thing to do is observe how Italians handle these kind of situations and then when your Italian is good enough imitate them! This may sound funny, but it's true. 
I remember the first time the postal service "lost" a tracked and insured package of mine. When I called the toll-free number the person on the other end told me that it must be stolen and there was nothing to do and promptly hung up. I literally broke down crying, the package was an original oil painting that could not be replaced, literally a one of a kind object.
So I called a friend and asked his advice as to what I should do. He laughed at how upset I was and just said, "Hey, this is Italy, just call back and talk to someone else." And he was right, it was really that simple and I found my package with the next person I talked to.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Not the Typical Cooking Lessons in Italy: Come learn to cook Italian in Puglia

Not the Typical Cooking Lessons in Italy: 
 Come learn to cook Italian in Puglia

One of the more popular activities for travelers to Italy is to participate in a cooking lesson, an event that will take you beyond site seeing and shopping.
It can also give you great insight into the lifestyle and traditions of the country you are visiting.  What you learn at the Cookinpuglia school could change your attitude towards Italian food and cooking.

COOKINPUGLIA  creator Ylenia Sambati, has designed a unique combination of learning experiences not often found at other cooking schools. Part of her philosophy  is ‘to recreate the most authentic atmosphere, cooking with local mums and herself, using the most genuine ingredients and educate guests on how this type of cuisine could be a real elixir for health’. 

Beside the traditional Cucina Povera Pugliese, Ylenia Sambati has created a new idea of cooking by using  real food engaging local communities and mums, using seasonal and pure ingredients thus giving students information on food issues, health and eco-friendly living.

CookinPuglia offers hands on cooking experiences with a unique flare.  Classes are taught by local women who cook for their families every day.   In a chat with founder Ylenia Sambati, she shared the philosophy of the school:  “ Cookinpuglia plays an important role in preserving the true Italian cuisine and culture through a memorable experience of food presentations, seminars and hands on kitchen practices as well as the impact food has on health and wellbeing”.

A few of the unique programs available include Cucina Povera, the traditional preparation of dishes enjoyed by generations of Italians, The Mediterranean Diet,  Vegetarian Italian dishes,  Healthy Organic cooking  and her newest Ayurvedi cooking (available in 2016).   Each program follows the use of the freshest ingredients, locally sourced, seasonal foods, using herb seasonings and the importance of extra virgin olive oil.

Traditional recipes originating from ‘peasant cooking’ have been improved upon and are the source of several programs:

Vegetarian Italian Cooking:   Puglia is a paradise of vegetables and healthy ingredients.  Vegetarian Italian recipes use ‘Km Zero’ ingredients.  Classes demonstrate how to prepare flavorful dishes using the very best organic and green ingredients.   You will learn how to select seasonal vegetable at the food market and how to prepare legumes and use brown flours in the dishes you prepare.   Only olive oil, wine and food produced in the area are used.  All ingredients are bought fresh daily.   

The Mediterranean Diet is considered one of the healthiest food plans. The focus on whole grain, vegetables, antioxidant-rich fruits, legumes, sea food, pasta, rice, olive oil, wine, nuts and a limited amount of animal protein.   All the ingredients that are plentiful in sun and sea rich Puglia.   Extra Virgin Olive oil is a staple in the Mediterranean diet and available from local farms with a long tradition of oil production.  This class begins with an orientation on the Mediterranean Diet, the lifestyle and a trip to the market.  Back at the school, participants will prepare a 4 course meal guided by a local with lifelong experience cooking in the Mediterranean style.   This plan also promotes enjoying your meals, eating slowly with friends or family.

Organic cooking classes will teach participants the basics of nutrition and diet, choosing the right foods that will provide the proper nutrition.  The class begins with an instructive market visit to explain how to select the best foods with the most flavors.  The class will demonstrate how to combine ingredients that are both healthy and taste good.   Lunch will be based on the dishes prepared by the class.

Ayurvedic  Cooking will be added in 2016:  how the food we eat (major food groups) prepared correctly can result in better digestion and absorption on needed nutrients.   The goal is to help prevent sickness by cooking and eating correctly.

As part of your CookinPuglia  experience ,it is also possible to visit farms and meet the local producers of the foods, cheese and oil you will be cooking with.  And of course a visit to the local winery is also available.

There are also cooking programs designed for the more advanced ‘chef’ as well as culinary programs that include classes and a visiting guest chef.  If you are traveling as a family or as part of a group, a specific program can be designed to suit your interests.  Wine tours and olive oil tastings can also be arranged. 

Cooking lessons are offered at the Cooking and Wine School north of Lecce in the charming town of Squinzano or in Martina Franca in a private trullo home, the cone shaped homes famous in Puglia.
Culinary programs are available year round.  YLTOUR PR offers other tours and services from experiences to itinerary planning throughout Puglia. 

Contact Ylenia Sambati at info@cookinpuglia.com or info@yltopurpr.com.
 More details available from www.Cookinpuglia.com and www.yltourpr.com

Lee Laurino editor of Home To Italy reviewed the above programs with CEO Ylenia Sambati.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Italy: Reflections

Mysterious Reflections in Italy

Tourists line up at every monument, fountain and church on the “must see” list from their tour books. There is a sea of iPhones and iPads held over people’s heads at every turn and dreaded selfie sticks blocking the views of many special sites. 

There is an entire world of landmarks one misses by keeping their eyes down at their guidebook or their mobile device.

Looking up will allow you to see parts of Italy you would otherwise miss. Some of the photos from the Italian chapter of “Reflections,” a photo book planned for release in 2016, show wonderful views in reflections. 

Often the view from the sidewalk will allow you to see the upper floors of a building on a narrow street. And this view offers a totally different perspective.

On my recent trips Home to Italy I found the reflections where ever I traveled became far more interesting than any selfi.   And the view in the reflection was something I often could not see from the sidewalk.   

Rome:  fountain 
photo by Alice Capitoloo

High water Venice

Florence:  the crystal ball