An Italian Holiday Tradition

Gli Zampognari

In the days before Christmas, from the mountains of the Abruzzo, the Matese and the Sannio, the zampognari come down to the cities to add their sonorous magic to the spirit of the coming Holiday. By tradition they come in pairs, in traditional garb: the senior member plays the zampogna (a kind of bagpipe), while the junior partner play the piffero (a kind of oboe.) Always the repertoire includes “Tu scendi dalle Stelle”, the most beloved and best known Italian carol.


In those times

To us Italians living in self-imposed exile (at least for those of us coming from South of Rome), the sight and the memory of the zampognari are poignant reminders of an Italy that is all but vanished, of a simpler time, of a smaller close-knit world of family members and friends, of a lifestyle that played out almost entirely in the home, the local school, the church, the nearby bar, and the town square dominated by the clock tower. All within walking distance. A trip to the big city, 30 kilometers away, was a sometime thing, a serious undertaking, perhaps a treat for a small boy, offered as a reward for some significant milestone, such as a graduation. And the progress of the seasons was marked by unvarying milestones that spooled their stately way across the months: the hanging of the sorb bush outside the balcony, the making of the sanguinaccio by the severe black-clad women who lived downstairs, the bottling of the tomatoes, the taralli at Easter, the return of the swallows to their mud nests built in the seams between the beams and the flat ceiling. And, of course, the advent of the zampognari.

In those times there were no Santa Claus and no Christmas tree; there were instead the Befana and the Presepe. The Befana, a good witch, brought gifts to children who had been good on January 6 (the Feast of the Epiphany.) Adults did not exchange gifts in this simpler time: the preoccupation with basic needs was still too immediate to allow detours into discretionary items acquired simply for reasons of status, aesthetics, or amusement.

And now…

But that was then, and this is now. Italians now have Santa Claus and Christmas trees, and the trickle of holiday shoppers is morphing into a torrent. Italians are fond of giving and receiving artwork, custom-designed jewelry, and household items that combine functionality with beauty and tradition. Come Christmas, fashion-conscious young girls promenading along Via Veneto or Via Toledo will sport sparkling Murano glass pendants and intricately crafted earrings, the walls of Italian homes will be newly-hung with original Italian paintings and classic photographs recalling an earlier era, and the lady of the house will be enjoying her new Deruta bowls and serving platters. The old ones, after all, will be thrown out of the window with the outgoing year come December 31.

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Venetian Gondolas, Jewelry and Romance on Lake Merritt

By Lorna Moglia, November 16, 2012

Lake Merritt, Oakland
Lake Merritt, Oakland
Once upon a time (c’era una volta), a Great Egret with snowy white plumage, long neck and a yellow dagger bill, was perched on the dock of Gondola Servizio–a rare occurrence (una rara occorrenza), watching a young romantic couple board an authentic Venetian gondola. As the gondolier lifted his oar, this magnificent bird (magnifico uccello), gracefully took flight, with an impressive wingspan, across the blue-green, rippling waters (acque increspate) of Lake Merritt. Very surreal (Molto surreale).
Lake Merritt, Oakland
Lake Merritt, Oakland

And so begins the romantic tour (giro romantico), and the high hopes and expectations of the young fellow who has a white gold ring hidden in his pocket. They slowly and gracefully begin to glide. Today the wind and current require the gondolier to quickly perform an intriguing Venetian rowing maneuver. He raises his left leg behind him and expertly pushes his foot off the dock’s rail, veering the rear of the 36 foot long, half-ton gondola away from the dock. He holds this position for a brief moment (un breve momento), as if waiting for the snap of a picture. The dock is now behind them. Patrons sitting on the adjacent dock of the Lake Chalet Restaurant are enjoying their food and wine, watching brown pelicans dive for fish. They’re intrigued by the odd vision of a gondolier on Lake Merritt, rowing past them in his distinctive Venetian black and white striped shirt and straw hat with its red ribbon fluttering in the breeze (svolazzanti nella brezza).

The gondola grew smaller and smaller (la gondola divenne sempre più piccola). It was a perfect day. The sun reflected off the water, the young couple appeared to be enjoying their Prosecco; the parasol opened as they disappeared around the bend following the path of the white Great Egret. A few of us on the dock knew the secret and were anxiously awaiting their arrival, pacing back and forth between the dock and Gondola Servizio’s boutique where authentic Venetian masks taunted us with mystery and romance (dove autentiche maschere veneziane ci provocano con mistero e romanticismo).

Maschera Veneziana
Maschera Veneziana
The gondolier too was hoping that the young man received a “yes” for, should it not be so, the ride back would be long and quiet. On this day, the Great Egret soared in large circles above the couple and watched as the young man carefully opened a small box and offered her a shiny round metal ring. After a few seconds the young man gently wiped small water droplets for what seemed an eternity as the white Great Egret flew towards the sunset. The gondola returned with the couple full of smiles and laughter wafting across the lake. They spent a few more minutes with the gondolier as he photographed them, capturing their happiness (registrando la loro felicita’).

There was one more surprise… As the couple left the dock and entered the boutique, they were suddenly captivated by a shimmering pure silver handmade pendant, flashing an aqua-blue glass gem. This Lorna Moglia-designed piece will remind them of all that was beautiful on their special day.
End (Fine).

La Gondola sul Lago
La Gondola sul Lago

Discover Lorna Moglia’s unique pure silver, glass art jewelry designs online at and Her work is also showcased beautifully within Gondola Servizio’s boutique, overlooking Lake Merritt with their majestic authentic Venetian gondolas. For reservations visit And, enjoy the amazing views, including the Necklace of Lights shimmering in the evening, while you wine and dine at the Lake Chalet
Gondolas on Lake Merritt
Gondolas on Lake Merritt

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Ceramics and the Italian Constitution

As we all know, the year 2011 was the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy and of its emergence as a modern national state.  For this occasion a series of 12 ceramic plates were realized by ceramist Andrea Branciforti.  On each plate is painted one of the first 12 fundamental articles of the Italian Constitution.

These iconic plates have been exhibited at Faenza, Ravenna, and other Italian cities, along with other historic artifacts gathered from various Museums dedicated to the Italian period of the Risorgimento and from participating Italian libraries.  These shows have been dedicated to the quest of all peoples, across the vast sweep of human history, for constitutional freedoms.  Such constitutionally guaranteed freedoms are at the base of the civilization and the democracy of a country; they first found expression in the Magna Charta Libertatum and then, in the case of Italy, in the Albertine Statute and finally in today’s Constitution.

In this context it is appropriate to remember, in free translation, the words of Pietro Calamandrei to the young people present in the Hall of the Humanitarian Society of Milano on January 25, 1955: “If you need to ask yourselves where our Constitution was born go to the mountains where the partisans fell, to the jails in which they were imprisoned, to the fields where they where hanged.  Wherever an Italian has died fighting for dignity and freedom, go there, for in those places our Constitution was born

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Plates and Chopping Boards | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

When we sit at the dining table, we hardly waste much time thinking of how tableware originated and evolved in time.  We might briefly admire the beauty of a plate or a particular decoration perhaps just  as ice breaker and small conversation. We might treat ourselves with the elegant newest collection of dishware made by Alessi called “Dressed”, or some hand painted ceramic plates, or we might end up eating in any casual dinnerware with nonchalance. The important thing is to have food into a washable or throw away vessel and assign a plate to each person sitting at a dining table. But it was not always this way a few centuries ago.

Think about how it was in the Middle Age when diners in noble courts and taverns alike shared bowls, glasses, chopping blocks and tin plates.  This meant that diners sharing tableware had to pay attention to each other and respect table ethics because they were facing each other while eating from the same plate.

Each person had a spoon to dip in a common soup bowl and in a common sauce bowl. Meat and solid food were cut in a serving dish placed in the center table from which each person took a piece and place it on the chopping block shared with another person. If the other person was a woman and supposedly not a master in the art of cutting, the man sharing the chopping block with her would cut a pieces and offer it to the woman.

Forks did not exist yet, they arrived on the Italian Florentine tables around the 1300. Women held each piece of solid food between two fingers and brought it to the mouth gently. Men stabbed solid food or meat with a knife and ate directly from the blade.

Napkins did not exist yet either. It was an accepted custom to clean oily hands on the tablecloth, but it was not acceptable to lick the fingers clean with the mouth. To avoid offending table decency, a piece of food which had been in the mouth first, could not be put on the shared chopping board, or shared thin plate, that was not acceptable.

Why I am talking about table customs in the Middle Age and what does it have to do with the way we eat today? It seems that every thing old at some point become new again. I was really surprised to see that some restaurants in Italy have taken this historical table custom and twisted to today’s novelty.

In a restaurant on the Amalfi cost in Italy, I observed some appetizers being served on a cold stone and some others on a pre-heated stones depending on the type of food. Some restaurants serve also the main entrée on hot stones and it becomes really spectacular. Food arrives at the table seared halfway, the rest of the cooking is completed at the table by the customers, the way they like it.

This trend is spreading throughout the U.S. too. I have eaten at upscale restaurants in California where one time I enjoyed appetizers on a Himalayan salt plate, the next time I delighted myself with an Argentinean Seared Flank Stake on hot slate with chimichuri sauce and the next time again I tried a fried kale with parmesan churros. All three times it was an enjoyable experience in that cooking at the table with friends evolves in a pleasant conversation.

Just like in the Middle Age, in trendy restaurants of today,  food is brought to the table on a hot stone  with another plate to eat off of it, but today there is an array of flatware, glassware and tablecloths to help us being more comfortable or civilized at the dining table.

These stones are available at gourmet shops and they are affordable.

I shall be here to answer any question you might have on the “mise en place”, staging a table, or staging a dinner party. Ciao,


Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos, outdoor kitchens and outdoor rooms, great rooms and entertainment rooms. Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.

She is the author of two Italian regional cuisine books available on this site in the Books section, on Amazon and through the publisher:

Italy In Small Bites | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

This year is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy as a Republic, such a small country, such a concentrate of art and history, a country where even a shoe shine is an artist in his own way.
Today, April 25 Italy celebrates its liberation from the Nazi’s occupation. I am in Torino and for the first time in my life I am witnessing a touching spectacle of so many Italian flags flying over every balcony in downtown area, a sign of a renewed love for our nation.
Italian emigrants and their strong patriotism have brought many Italian products around the world, shown them, talked about and place them on the market. They have turned the “made in Italy” a trade mark to be proud of, a symbol of sophistication, elegance, purity and simple classicism.
Italian style of this century is very modern, very colorful and linear while Italians still enjoy walking around and breathing antiquity. The streets of Italy are very historical, but fashion, interiors and cars are not.

The architectural style of Tuscan farmhouses have been copied in California by the boat load and turned into a mansions style, but the bucolic Tuscan scenes cannot be reproduced. Tuscan style is not about a large home empty of emotions and atmospheres, but it comprises a whole life style, it means going to market everyday, cook fresh food, neighbors popping by for coffee unannounced, evening dinner with family and friends, taking afternoon naps, cultivate the land and most importantly being surrounded by the warmth of the people occupying the house.

Italians put a lot of passion when it comes to design eating vessels, an old custom that goes back to the Roman Empire. Pleasing the eyes before the palate and pleasing the palate with fresh, uncomplicated, nor manipulated food. It’s like a game of pleasures, one following the other as close as possible.

What to say about the decorative art of tile making for flooring, kitchen backsplash, bathrooms, or entryways? Italians have an incredible ability to create stunning combinations of material old and new that no one else can do, or combinations of colors and patterns within the material no one else can even think about. Ideas don’t just come because Italians are clever, their ideas are embedded in their blood through years of tradition and history. In my design projects I can sleep soundly when I employ Italian tile setters and stone fabricators, I know that even if I don’t observe their work, it will be done to perfection. Their clinical eye is a safe heaven. 

Fashion is a strong weapons for Italians. We dress very fashionable every day even to go to the market. We feel an immense pleasure and satisfaction to be admired by others, it highly gratifies our self-esteem and with that comes the elegant, flirtatious behavior in both men and women. Fashion is used in office and home décor, but in these areas our fashion is classic, classic contemporary, classic modern, classic eclectic, that type of classic that will not go out of vogue in a couple of years, just to be clear.

The thrill of driving an Italian sport car, or simply seeing one roaring by at the speed of light is revitalizing. I hope Italy continues to make them, even if it is only for the pleasure of few lucky ones.

Food is no exception to the country’s beauty. Anywhere in Italy food is excellent, even in a “hole in the wall”. Eat Italian food to stay fit and young. In foreign countries Italian restaurants are considered the best. Olive oil, prosciutto, Parmigiano cheese, pasta, cheeses and wines are the most exported food out of Italy.

All of us expatriates, laborious, hard workers Italian people, entrepreneurial at heart have contributed to the good reputation of our high quality products, but not much has ever been said about the Italian emigrants, we are kept in the back of the scene.

This 150th birthday of Italy unification as a Republic comes at a time of world turmoil, shifting of economic power and natural disasters, but Italy is also fighting its own battle with its own government, high unemployment, poor immigrants from every where in the world arriving on the coasts of Italy by the thousand a day, causing an economic stress the country cannot support. The most dangerous battle facing Italy is the counterfeit of its original products which are being sold all over the world in the name of saving the cent. This is undermining our Italian economy.

Italy is a vibrant country, all this concentrate of beauty might be a hand full for some tourist. Just take it in small doses, you will love to learn even the noise in the streets and the fatalism of its people. It is still the most charming country to visit and to return to.

If you like Italian style home and décor, I am here, look no further. As the professional who is always ready, I shall be prompt and ready to help you with any of your needs, whether it will decorating, designing, or remodeling. Leave your name in the box below, I shall answer you in 24 hours time. Ciao,

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is a trained Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990. Being Italian born and raised, Valentina’s design work has been influenced by Classicism and stylish, timeless designs. She is a designer well-known to bring originality to people’s homes. As an Italian designer and true to her origins, she provides only the best workmanship and design solutions. Author of two Italian regional cuisine books:




Brewing In Architecture | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

Getting up in the morning with that roaring sound of my Italian professional espresso maker really gets my blood going. Aside from the sound of birds chirping outside my bedroom window there is no better sound I like to hear in the morning.
Espresso, my lifetime lover I can’t do without it. My coffee has always been the same type for years, a blend of Brazilian green coffee beans that I toast myself to my liking. Espresso requires special Italian machines to make it frothy, thick and short.

One type of very common machine for family consumption is made for a stove top and produces one cup (small machine) up to twenty-four cups (very tall). The other kind is the café type with a few levels, one for each cup, a selection to make one or many cups at once, the cappuccino and steam feature, temperature/pressure gauge and more buttons that you know what to do. You get the picture, it is a professional machine, which performs for high traffic cafés.

A coffee maker in Italy like everything in my country must have style, we just don’t settle for functionality, we want beauty in the kitchen too.

Italian architect Aldo Rossi (1931-1997) using architectural features of Italy designed many attractive famous espresso makers all produced by Alessi. He is considered to be the greatest Italian architect of the second half of the 20th century. It has been said: “Aldo Rossi is an author of abstraction, geometrical patterns and silent evocation created some of the most intensely poetic works of architecture and design in his age”.

In his products he utilizes geometrical shapes to make profound design statements. Aldo Rossi designed the Pens espresso makers, La Cupola espresso maker in 1984, la Conica espresso maker in 1988. All these designs reflect the harmony and the beauty of the classic architecture of Italy.  Aldo Rossi has been called  ‘a poet who happens to be an architect’. His theory on the nature of design is about offering an alternative to the technological and functional emphasis of modernism. Italians love to roll around in antiquity even when making coffee. Our eyes rejoice in the presence of a Brunelleschi’s cupola, Medieval Towers or Palladian’s architectural details. Now transfer all that beauty into food and gadgets to serve those food and you have pure pleasure. Espresso for Italians has the same importance as tea for British.  It is one of the many pleasures of the day in the Italian life and it is good for you.

I read a very encouraging article on the New York Times about coffee health. In some researches has been found that caffeine might prove to be a way to stimulate hair growth in men going bald.
Coffee could protect people against multiple sclerosis. Habitual coffee consumption is associated with a substantially lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

Higher coffee and caffeine intake is associated with a significantly lower incidence of Parkinson’s disease. Harvard Medical Study says coffee drinking may help against heart disease.
Women who drink coffee are (much) less likely to commit suicide. Abstinence from Coffee drinking leads to early death.
Who would have ever thought of all these benefits!

With this in mind, let us keep the habit of making coffee, but let us brew it in the classicism of Italian architecture where romance is written on buildings the world admires.

I am here ready to help you with the selection of special objects, gadgets and kitchen wear  and to design that special Italian kitchen for you. Leave your name in the box below, I shall answer you in 25 hours time. Ciao,

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved


Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.

She is  the author of two regional Italian cookbooks available in this site and in her books site:

Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity
Sins Of A Queen – Italian Appetizers and Desserts


Sawdust Or Stardust | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

Spring is almost at our door, it is time to refresh the look of interior spaces and to buy furniture. Those of you who have just finished a home remodeling, after such a big sacrifice and hardship, now is the moment to make the new areas shine, sit back, relax and enjoy the new spaces with comfortable furniture.
Before rushing to furniture stores with a renewed excitement (remember when was last time you bought furniture?) is important to know the shifts that have occurred in the market with supply and demand, the shift in consumer thinking or choices and to know about about imported or locally produced furniture.

The annual world market furniture show at High Point in North Carolina will happen April 2-7, 2011. It is the world runway for home fashions and it happens one month after the New York’s Fashion Week. There you will find an enormous selection of furniture and accessories of all styles and historic periods. The show is overwhelming and super stuffed with beautiful furniture, but all of that will reach local stores at some point during the year, so we can all enjoy and finally make a purchase.

This is basically what you need to keep in mind. Decide how much you want to spend and the quality you want in your home, then look at the product you are buying.

The most common furniture are made of melamine material, veneer, laminate, solid wood and a lot more. I will just talk about a few.

The majority of furniture are made of sawdust pushed together with various resins with the exterior surface made of plastic derivates printed and colored as wood. When the resins are not treated at a high temperature (this is an information never disclosed to consumers) they emanate a formaldehyde gas which is carcinogenic and irritating for the lungs. The odor is not pleasant and emission can last many years. To reduce the emission, these kind of furniture are covered with the an exterior layer of melamine.

Furniture with veneer and honeycomb: the exterior face has a layer of about one millimeter thick of real wood, the interior is made with a honeycomb structure which doesn’t allow doors and drawers to bow with time. Furniture with veneer exterior are good lasting furniture, priced affordably.

Real wood furniture are the stars of any interiors, they have all the characteristics of elegance, beauty, style, durability and they are pricey. Real wood furniture fall in the category of luxury, but knowing the right ebonist (artistic furniture maker) real wood furniture can be produced locally at a better price than the market offers.

Let me be your chosen designer who can put star…dust in your décor. I can help you with any style. Put your name in the box, leave a comment and I will answer you within 24 hours. Ciao,

Copyright © 2011 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola has been in business as a designer since 1990. She has helped a variegated group of fun people realizing their dreams with homes, offices, interiors and exteriors.
She is a designer well known to bring originality to people’s homes. She also designes furniture and has been successful in producing them locally with local artists craftsmen.

Italy’s Iron Crown

Iron Crown
Italy's Iron Crown

The tradition of Italian jewelry-making and of silver- and gold-smithing goes back centuries.  But most objects of silver and gold, whether made for aesthetic or utilitarian purposes, belonged to wealthy individuals, and their historical vicissitudes were not necessarily recorded for posterity.  Some institutional collections, however, such as royal treasures, have recorded histories that offer fascinating details on the historical fate of the jewels of which they were comprised.

Italy, as is well-known, was a kingdom until the end of the second World War, when the people opted, by plebiscite, for a republican form of government.  The House of Savoy was one of the oldest aristocratic houses in Europe, having ruled over shifting boundaries since the tenth century.  And of course there were the jewels of the Crown, which eventually became the official jewels of the Kingdom of Italy, to be used only on solemn state occasions.

The chief piece of the collection is undoubtedly the Iron Crown, which, for centuries, has been kept in the Duomo di Monza.  This crown is of 8th century Longobard manufacture, and, according to tradition, it incorporates a circular insert made of metal from one of the nails from Christ’s cross.  The Iron Crown thus antedates the Savoy dynasty, and it is a symbol of the Kingdom of Italy quite apart from the historical vicissitudes of which dynasty happened to rule the country.  It was used, in fact, to crown the German kings of Italy in the Middle Ages, the kings of the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy, and the kings of the Lombardo-Veneto kingdom, but never a Savoy king.

The crown, despite its name, is made of a silver-gold alloy.  It is constructed in six segments joined vertically to each other.  Since the crown, in its present state, is too small to fit the head of a grown man, it is hypothesized that it was originally composed of EIGHT segments, two of which have somehow been lost.  The crown is adorned with 26 embossed golden roses, 22 precious stones of various colors, and 24 cloisonne’ plaques.

The historical value of the Iron Crown is inestimable.  The legend of the nail from the True Cross goes back to Empress Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine.  The crown itself was commissioned by Teodolinda, Queen of the Longobards, and it was used thereafter to crown the Kings of Italy, amongst which Theodoric, Charles the Great, and Frederick Barbarossa.

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Customs and Traditions Of An Italian Christmas Dinner | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

This is an excerpt from my second book just released a few days ago: “Sins Of A Queen”.

In Italy, in the province of Pavia, Christmas Eve dinner starts with a soup of lasagna mixed with mushrooms sauté in oil and garlic. In old times in Italy newborn babies were wrapped in bands of white cloth to keep their tender legs very straight and prevent them from growing bowed. In the fantasy of the local people this dish represents those bands, it is made in honor of baby Jesus being born on Christmas Eve.

Many specialties follow this first dish: marinated eel, salted stockfish and escargot. The small horns of the escargot allude to discord and disagreement between people, therefore they need to be hidden in the stomach of the guests to properly prepare themselves to a peaceful Christmas, as the legend says.
Other fundamental specialties are risotto cooked in any style, roasted turkey, boiled capon dressed with mustard. In the same province of Pavia, going more toward the inland towns and villages, included in the typical menu of the holidays, after a risotto plate, there are stuffed onions with meat and focaccia bread.

A must have dessert for the end of the dinner is the Sbrisolona Torte, a typical dessert of that area. It is a crisp and friable torte, which accompanies Torrone, Panettone and Pâte Brisee’ all hand-made specialties found in each home. The Sbrisolona Torte doesn’t really mark the end of the dinner, there are still all the fruits of the season parading on the table: citrus, grapes and dry nuts. Apples, even though are fruits of Christmas season, they are not eaten because they represent the fruit with which Adam and Eve committed the original sin.

Women bake hand-made breads for Christmas holidays. The portion to use for every meal is cut and reserved, then all Christmas breads are placed on the center of the table and everyone in turn must take a piece every day from Christmas Eve until the 31st of December. It is a belief that Christmas breads do not go bad, do not grow mold and therefore they are good to cure bellyache.

Every region in Italy has different customs and traditions. In the South, the main item on everybody’s table is fish, cooked any way possible, in addition to the delicacy of raw fish and shell fish and it doesn’t matter how much its price sky-rockets in this time of the year, it is a must have! Christmas dinners last many hours, they could go on for 5 or 6 hours. Italians people spend a lot of money for a Christmas dinner and cook for days to make it ready, but the only important thing is the togetherness of the family, the love for one another and that in itself is priceless. Ciao.

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola has been in business as an interior designer since 1990. Her life is a continuous evolvement of colorful events. She will not only design your home, build it and decorate it, but she will also design your palate with her new productions of Italian regional cookbooks. She is the author of:
 Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity
She is also the author of the newly published book: Sins Of A Queen

Caressing The Past | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

This year I feel very honored to have been selected as one of the designers to decorate Christmas at the Historic Ainsley House in Campbell, CA. The owner, John Colpitts, a British native, built the House in 1920s as a retirement home. John came to California in the late 1800s and made his fortune canning food, which he exported to England to his brother.

The Christmas theme of this year was “Christmas Around The World”. Being Italian born I thought of bringing a bit of the Amalfi’s flavors into my decorations, with citrus fruit, grapes, roses, camellias and the typical poinsettias. My color scheme has been platinum, green, white, with a touch of purple and gold as accents throughout the guest bedroom, boudoir, closet and cosmetic parlor.

The guest quarter is a very delicate room, with powdery pastel colors fit for an elegant woman. Original 1920’s dresses are kept beautifully on mannequins and inside of the closet, while originals accessories peek through an original traveling trunk resting in the boudoir. I was so surprised to see a cosmetic parlor in the boudoir. It is a simple pedestal sink with a lighted mirror above and monogrammed face towels hanging on the bar, all concealed beyond a door when not in use. What a nice feature! Small features and details such a cosmetic parlor have ceded the way to large spaces, which I feel at time they are totally sterile and without a soul.

While I was in the attic of the House selecting the items for my Christmas decorations, I felt so much part of that era. The curator was telling me that J.C. the owner, kept his liqueurs in the basements beyond some wood panels. The Prohibition Law marked the era, but we all know that when something is forbidden, we want exactly the object of sins. The story goes that the highlight of the Ainsley’s parties was to turn all the lights off and make the guests find the door to the basement where the liqueurs were kept.

Going up and down the stairs from the attic, I could not help admiring the hardwood floor beautifully concerted almost as inlay work, the type of setting that would require the artistry and clinical eye of an ebonist. Custom flooring is another area of designing that has ceded the step to a less expensive and faster application.

The House was designed with 15 rooms in a style of Tudor Revival architecture with the influence of Arts and Crafts movement of the 1920s. The most striking feature is the English style thatched roof, remade in 2007 as a faux thatched, but one can also admire the half-timbering façade, the interior wood paneling, the multi-paneled windows and the bay windows, especially the corner one at the breakfast room.

During my conversation with the curator/director, I learned that in 1990 the House was lifted up in its entirety and moved about 1.5 mile to the present location in Campbell, CA. One would think tiles would come apart, floor would open up and walls would create cracks during the house moving, but nothing came undone. Workmanship was really a mastery, I can adduce.
The modernity of the guest bathroom style really struck me, the entire bath is quite spacious. The tub is enclosed in a Tudor style alcove surrounded by Nile green tiles, the shower is separated from the tubs, enclosed with a glass door and finished with the same color tiles with three water jets, a very avant-garde detail to find in bathrooms of that era. A deep linen closet and an enclosed W.C. make this a desirable spa, just as we intend it today.

Alcinda was in love with John Colpitts who was a workaholic with a strong character and played hard to get. The only way to get him to pay attention to her was to accept a job in his firm as a bookkeeper. Alcinda was 17 years younger than John, but she became his wife at last.  A medium while visiting the house a few years ago felt a massive male energy, so I was told, I felt the same while I was decorating the upstairs guest bedroom, an enveloping warm male presence, perhaps he was a woman’s charmer. He had many visitors from Europe sojourning in his house. I can see the care that was given to the guest bedroom, made delicately elegant and comfortable for a woman. For the same reason, I wanted to give the room the same gentleness using soft Christmas colors and a certain daintiness with the flavors of romantic Amalfi.

The Ainsley House will be open everyday from Nov. 20th to Dec. 19th. Calendar of events will include: Holiday Teas and Tours, Holiday Boutique, Photo with Santa and Holiday Open House.
I have enjoyed the experience of caressing the past in a prestigious historic home and especially have enjoyed the comments on my upside down tree. Perhaps next year, I can be called to decorate your Christmas with a special theme at your home. Ciao,

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is a trained Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990. Being Italian born and raised, Valentina’s design work has been influenced by Classicism and stylish, timeless designs. She will create your everyday living with a certain luxury without taking away your comfort. She loves to restore old homes, historic dwellings and she focuses on remodeling.

The Nativity Scene in Italian Art – 2

Neapolitan Nativity Scene
Neapolitan Nativity Scene

In Naples, where the most elaborate creations eventually took place, we have a record of a Presepe given by Queen Sancia to the Poor Clares in 1370.  Development was subsequently rapid, with artists such as Giovanni and Pietro Alemanno and Giovanni da Nola.  The Presepe became mobile, based on wooden sculptures crafted to scale.  Artisans became ever more skilled in creating the “pastori”, eventually adding articulated limbs, wigs, glass eyes, lifelike bare skin.  At the same time the background was developing, the setting became important.  Perspective and special illumination were used, decorative elements were added, attention was paid to colors and the use of reflective surfaces.  In effect the Presepe outstripped its original function of representing  the bare Nativity, and became an artistic ideal in its own right, becoming more and more secularized in the process.  The scope of the representation also expanded: it was now not just the shepherds  and the Magi who came to worship the newborn Christ, but people from all walks of life, the baker, the butcher, the candle-maker…, all in the typical dress of their day and trade.

The Nativity scene is of course represented in very many countries all over the world, and it is fascinating to see how native cultural elements are incorporated into the Diversorium.  The pastori exhibit local physiognomies and local dress, architectural elements echo the architecture of the country, vegetation and other decorative elements are modeled after local examples.  The fidelity that is lost in giving up the attempt to represent the Palestinian landscape of 2000 years ago is more than made up for by the ecumenical union of all believers and by the implicit declaration that the event represented transcends any local characterization and holds a message for all mankind.

In Naples, particularly, we find that unique blend of classicism and religious art that had swept the Peninsula since the Quattrocento.  Thus, a Neapolitan Presepe may depict the grotto of the Nativity next to Roman columns, with the Vesuvio in the background and perhaps even the sea, Naples’ sea, somewhere in the scene.  Today the most spectacular collection of Presepi is found at the Museo di San Martino in Naples.  In these examples, rich in baroque detail and symbolism, some of the figures may be arrayed in valuable cloth and may be wearing real jewels.

The artistic/religious theme began to wane in the 19th century, and the Presepe became a commercial commodity, within reach of most families who wanted to recreate the Nativity scene, in a more or less simplified form, in their own homes.  Today one can buy most representational elements in a wide variety of sizes and assemble them at home – typically a joyous activity that involves the whole family.  A famous street in Naples, San Gregorio Armeno, houses most Neapolitan Presepe artisans, and the neighborhood comes alive every Christmas as hordes of Neapolitans and tourists alike prowl the shops in search of pastori, I Re Magi, il Bue e l’Asinello, the Angels, il Bebe’, and perhaps the Tavern-Keeper and the Shoe Maker.

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The Nativity Scene in Italian Art – 1

Nativity scene
Italian Nativity Scene

The Nativity Scene, called the “Presepe” in Italian, began with Saint Francis of Assisi, who re-enacted the scene of Christ’s birth in a living tableau in Greccio in 1223.  While conventional two-dimensional representations of the Nativity were plentiful in medieval and Renaissance Italy, the idea of a three-dimensional representation achieved via sculpted figures was slow to take off.  The earliest known artist to have attempted this was Arnolfo di Cambio, who, in 1283, created a representation “del tutto tondo”, in his own words.  But it was not until the first half of the Seicento that great advances in this new art form were made, starting in Lombardia  and Liguria and then extending elsewhere.  The artists associated with these advances were Antonio Bagarelli at Modena, Guido Mazzoni a Piobbico, Federico Brandani at Urbino, etc.

There are three themes that are played out in the Presepe.  They are the Mystery, the Annunciation, and the Diversorium.  The Mystery is of course, in Christian doctrine, the mystery of the Son of God taking on a human nature for the salvation of mankind,  The Annunciation in this context refers to announcing the fateful event to the world, symbolised by the shepherds receiving word from the Angel.  The Diversorium is a fancy Latin word which refers to the location, in this case the hut, in which the holy birth takes place.

The tale of the Nativity on which the Presepe is based can be found in Luke and Matthew.  Origen added the now canonical bue e asinello in the third century.  A point of deep theological import was the depiction of the Virgin Mary.  Should she be represented as a woman who had just given birth, attended by midwives and fortune tellers, as was common at that time?  Or should she be shown immune to the stress and the pain of human childbirth?  The former representation emphasised heavily the human nature of Christ; the second brought to the fore His divine nature, making it seem that his birth had not been of the normal human variety.

The Presepe as an art form reached its zenith in the Bourbon Naples of the 18th century.  A later article will detail its progress from these small beginning to the baroque masterpieces housed at the Museo di San Martino.

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Shaken, Not Stirred | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

As the holidays season approaches with all the cheerful lights, elegant evening dresses showing up in stores and many parties to attend, I am just on time to bring “to the table” some directions for easy, understated classic style to make many unforgettable stylish parties.

Being a designer with a passion for kitchen designs, good food and decorated tables, it is only natural that I would inform on the latest style and trends even when it comes to talk about the beginning and the end of a dinner.

My trips to Europe, other than visiting family and friends are an added excuse to browse in retail stores and take notes of all the beautiful merchandise, display styles, fill my eyes with colors and overflowing my mind with ideas. Invitations to friends’ homes are inevitable when I am there, they are my lifetime friends. Just that in itself is a precious opportunity to study their customs and learn what is going on across the Ocean.

My attention this autumn 2010 has fallen on the resurgence of the after dinner liqueurs, cordials, apéritif and digestive drinks, or “digestivi” as we Italians would call them in our language.
Digestive drinks have been used for centuries to help settle the stomach after a large meal. Often Italian meals last a few hours, when Italians get together for lunch or dinner can easily forget time!
Digestives also have the property of cleansing and detoxifying, facilitate digestion, eliminate toxins and at times help with reflux problems. They are made mostly with natural herbs, roots, tree barks and spices, infused in a base of alcohol. Due to all the herbs, they were originally considered more medicinal to resolve digestive problems than drinks to enjoy. It is recommended not to use them in large doses, because they are vasodilator, only sips will be favorable to the digestion.
Due to their bitter taste, digestives have had hard time appearing on the tables in the US until a few years ago. We can now find them in upper scale restaurants and in people’s homes along with aperitifs and palate cleansers between specialties. Fruit sorbets will do just that when served after a fish dish and also, to the contraire of digestives, they are vasoconstrictors and will ease the digestion by lowering the temperature in the stomach.

Apéritifs are a prelude to a good meal and often served one hour before lunch or dinner. In Europe going out for an apéritif is a way of socializing with friends or family. It is an occasion to see and be seen, gossip, to show off the newest fashion outfit and the best part is that ingesting an apéritif will enhance the appetite.
In order to make these kind of drinking activities even more fun and pleasant, we need to own special glasses. Holding an elegant, or an interesting designed glass in our hands exalts the pleasure, I know it’s a cliché, but we eat with the eyes first.
Please note the elegant 2010 new glasses collection made by Italian company Richard Ginori, producing ceramics, porcelain, pottery and glasses since 1735. This is pure elegance!
In my second book “Sins Of A Queen” I have included a small chapter on glasses to serve with apéritif and sweet wines.
Enjoy the following short excerpt:

Glass to use with all sweet wines and wines made with withered grapes
Plain glass, fine crystal is better, small chalice, slightly bombe’ and stocky with a smaller mouth. This shape allows the unfolding of all the aromas in the glass and all their concentration in the nose.

Glass to use with all liqueur type of wines
It is a small glass, a bitter taller than the glass used for sweet wines with a larger mouth, which is made for the dry wines of the liqueur type. The larger opening allows the wine to rest on the tip of the tongue, which is the part of the tongue most sensitive to taste sweetness.

Glass to use with Spumante and sparkling type of wines
Tall and thin flute glass. The long and narrow body allows the development in the mouth of fine “perlage” meaning it allows to taste the thin bubbles or pearls in the young wines produced with the classic method of all sparkling wines.
Flute glass with belly and a larger opening, allows the oxygenation of the sparkling wine and the right development in the mouth of complex aromas found in mature grapes without compromising the savoring of the “perlage”.
Half flute glass is shorter than the flute. It is made to taste dry Spumante type of wines with a less refined “perlage” and larger bubbles. The tight opening allows a good concentration of the delicate aromas towards the nose and a slow development of carbon dioxide”.

Enjoying the beginning of a dinner with an apéritif and the end with a digestive is surprisingly addictive. Once you get used to it, you must continue on. Let it happen, shaken or stirred is a choice of style and life and not only good for James Bond. Ciao,
Interior Designer  – Visit my site:

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos.
She is the author of two regional Italian cookbooks:
Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity –
Sins Of A Queen – is in the printing and due to be released around Nov.2010.

The Distinctive Direction Of Italian Fall Fashions | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

A few months ago, I had the idea of declaring the month of October the month of Italian style. Many presentations will occur this month in the Bay Area, one of them will be the event I have organized with Frette store in Stanford Shopping Centre, Palo Alto, CA. Frette is an Italian house producing luxury bed and bath items since 1860. In October Frette is celebrating its 150th Anniversary with a new collection simply called “Anniversario”. It is my interest as a designer, to present the new Fall line and show my audience how to use it, in addition to talk about the distinctive direction Italian fashion and home design are taking this Fall 2010. Please, come to my events: Italian Life In Style.

Fashion and home design are two separate disciplines always intertwining and taking oxygen from one another.  Since the beginning of time, the human body has been determining any project of building. The reflection on the human body and the introspective thoughts of it have been the vehicle that made people want to paint the body, to dress it, to build cities, to build homes and their interiors and to design to whole universe.

The Italian word “abito” (English: dress) takes from the verb “abitare” (English: to live, to inhabit). The dress is the first place we live in and our body offers infinite possibilities to relate ourselves to the surrounding space. Fashion gives us the freedom and fantasy to dress how we want and the freedom to compose our own style in homes.

To dress a home goes far beyond colors and fabrics, it is the thread, which resolves the human body’s architectural spatial challenges and satisfies the human desire to be surrounded by functional and beautiful objects. Dressing an Italian home interior is quite simple as long as lines and forms are kept at a minimal. As an Italian born, I can say that Italians live in antiquity, we open our windows and we are surrounded by history, but in our homes we are very modern, we like simple, straight lines and very few bold colors.

A leather red floor would be perfect for a home studio with satin chrome furniture frames mixed with glass, as much as a white/beige striped closet doors would look so elegant on a white marble floor. Play it tone on tone and never go wrong.
Italian kitchens are not at all fussy, they must be functional, color is optional, they are either very colorful, we like Ferrari red by the way, or very black, greige (combination of grey and beige) and rivers of white. Forget the kitchen knickknacks all together.

Italian living rooms are made for “fare bella figura” – an Italian philosophy to present a good image, to make a good impression. Our guests, when entering an Italian home, musty be greeted by beautiful things and be seated in an even more elegant room, which in some cases, the family hardly uses for themselves just to keep it new as long as possible.

Baths are made with the minimal essentials.

Take a look at one of the homes in Los Altos, CA I staged in the classic contemporary Italian style.

Space in Italy is the essence. Italy is a small country, its homes reflect the restriction of space. In comparison with American homes, I must say Italian homes are very small, but they are very fashionable and efficient. If you visit a building with eight apartments, you will see eight different home styles, each one being very creative and á la page. In one of those eight styles, you bound to find a classic antique décor too.

Fashion and home design are two sides of the same creative coin, they both thrive on ideas and innovations.
Dress your home according to your character and personalize it as you would put together your fashion ensemble in the morning.

Carry a color scheme from room to room, mix modern with antique pieces, play with patterns, make art out of your memories and cherished moments, show your personality, be extravagant in small spaces, don’t forget to decorate cozy outdoor corners and make a “bella figura” with the main entry. Ciao,

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990 and a former Fashion Designer. She has been developing projects in the USA and Europe serving a variegated group of fun people. She blends well fashion and interior in any of her design work. She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles. Being Italian born and raised, Valentina’s design work has been influenced by Classicism and stylish, timeless designs. She will create your everyday living with a certain luxury without taking away a comfortable living.
By the way, she is also the author of the Italian regional cookbook: Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity.

Hollywood lives in cookie wonderland! | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

Love to go to matinees, especially when the expectation is high. Good film, good stories, attractive images, fantasy flies high, resulting in a few hours of daydreaming. That is time well spent.
I cannot say all of this about the film I saw last Sunday Eat Pray Love, a two hours and half wasted in the cinema. As an Italian born, I am totally offended about the view of Italy that Hollywood portraits.
Take a look of that scene in Rome when Liz Gilbert (Julia Roberts) is looking for a place to stay for a few months. She enters a dilapidated building, with no hot running water.
The owner of the house tells her to boil the water three to four times to fill up the bathtub. Liz responds the water will not be enough for a bath and the Italian woman rebuttals that she will have enough to wash the most important parts. What an absurdity! There is no house in Italy, old or new that doesn’t have hot running water. Italians don’t live in dilapidated homes, nor they rent them to travelers. We might be surrounded by antiquity, we open our windows and often see the beauty of history all around us, but Italian home interiors are very modern with sleek lines, chic décor, valuable furnishing and most of the time very avant-guard style. Where has Hollywood gone on vacation and experienced no hot water bath?

Another stereotype is the scene of a boisterous group of young lads going after the women tourist pinching their bottoms and vocalizing their pleasure. Italian men might have done that in the 18-1900s when education was a privilege of the élite, but that custom no longer exists in the civilized Italy. Italy is a very modern and vibrant country. We have everything the world wants from style and beauty to good manners and to the art of knowing how to live well, but we also have all the problems of every modern industrialized country. Italians have a high level of education, men don’t have time to spend their days pinching ladies derriere, they are too busy keeping up with the tough demands of the European Union as much as Italians in general don’t loose their days eating spaghetti and pizza all the day long. It is an archaic myth, Hollywood!

In the film Liz (Julia Roberts) is in search of herself and her purpose. For a year she takes a yuppie vacation around the world, her hair is well highlighted for the entire trip and she is somewhat well dressed. That is not what people do when they are lost in life and want to find a new direction. I believe when people are questioning their life is because they want to find a deeper meaning and discover their soul again, certain futile aspects of their life might and will pass in second order, but not in this film. Ok, I forgot, this is Hollywood and I want to be critical.

All in all the scenery is OK, Hollywood could have done better with the means it has, it feels more like a travel log than a film with a spiritual meaning. It teaches us that anytime there is an obstacle in a marriage, it is better to break it up and go on a world trip, instead of understanding each other and work it out. Good teaching for the young generations……!
OK, so last Sunday I spent my two hours and half in a very boring seat, I guess Hollywood needed my $11.00. Ciao,
Interior Designer

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an interior designer, in business since 1990 and a former fashion designer. She helps people realizing their dream spaces in homes, offices, interiors, exteriors, restaurants and more. Visit her website:

Author of the book: Come Mia Nonna–A Return to Simplicity.

and the author of the book: Sins Of A Queen, due to be released around Nov.2010.

Benvenuto Cellini – Italian Goldsmith

Cellini's "Saliera" in gold, enamel, and ivory
Cellini's "Saliera"

If one were to name a single Italian artist who most perfectly embodies the turbulence and the genius of late Renaissance Italy that artist would certainly be Benvenuto Cellini, unexcelled goldsmith, sculptor, painter, musician, but also a lawless murderer whose life was marked by violent conflict whenever his immoderate appetites were thwarted or his professional preeminence challenged. Benvenuto was also a successful military man, hailed as a hero at the Siege of Rome in 1527, rewarded by the Pope for his military prowess, and a distinguished participant in the conflict between his native city of Florence and its rival Siena. As if all this were not enough, Benvenuto was also the author of an acclaimed Autobiography, which is relentlessly self-promoting but magnificently captures the spirit of those restless times.

Benvenuto’s life is the stuff of film and legend. His travels spanned the great centers of Italian art, Florence, Rome, Naples, Venice. He was a friend of Popes and kings, spending several years at the court of Francis I of France, immersed in court intrigues and controversies. During his stay in Rome he murdered a couple out of jealousy, because he was in love with the MAN. He was for a period jailed in Castel Sant’Angelo, from which he tried to escape in the best tradition of a Dumas novel. He suffered both legs broken in the process, and was nearly executed but for the timely intercession of powerful friends.

But it is of course his art that has made him immortal, and of all the art forms in which he excelled his predilection was goldsmithing and the carving of intricately beautiful objects. Some of his most notable works are the Saliera (The Salt Cellar), carved in gold, ivory and enamel, pictured in this article. The Saliera itself has a checkered history: made for Francis I of France it eventually made its way to the Vienna Museum, from which it was stolen in 2006. Only recently was it recovered and restored to its former home in Austria.

Famous are also his gold medallions, among which we may mention “Leda and the Swan”, also in Vienna, “Hercules and the Nemean Lion”, in gold repousse’, and “Atlas supporting the Sphere”, in chased gold. An outstanding Cricifix carved in ivory is housed at the Escorial, outside Madrid. And his “Perseus with the Head of Medusa” is a magnificent example of his larger sculptures.

Cellini died in his native city, Florence, in 1571. Straddling the end of the Italian Renaissance and the birth of Mannerism, he was truly a figure of myth, incomparable artist, swashbuckling adventurer, at the mercy of strong passions, and an accomplished author.

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Le Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome

Scuderie Art Museum
Le Scuderie del Quirinale

Some of the most acclaimed art exhibits to have taken place in Rome in recent years have been held at the Scuderie del Quirinale.  These have included works from quintessentially Italian artists, such as Antonello da Messina and Giovanni Bellini, as well as international collections on loan from from their permanent homes.  Such were the 100 Masterworks of the Hermitage and the masterworks of the Guggenheim, of which more later.  Notable other exhibits were Birth of an Empire, the Ottocento, Pop Art, Metaphysics, and Futurism.Over a scant 10 years the 32 exhibits hosted at the Scuderie have been characterized by uncompromising professionalism and unflagging passion, with the result that this former Museum of the Carriage has been indelibly etched in the memories of artists, art historians, and of the public, as one of the more prestigious venues of its kind in the world.  The physical building is itself interesting, and, as is true for many buildings in Italy, has a somewhat mysterious history which is well worth recounting.

Built in the first half of the 18th century, the building is located between the Piazza del Quirinale and the Salita di Montecavallo.  For the first two centuries of life its quiet purpose was to provide logistic support to its more imposing and important neighbor, the Palazzo del Quirinale, which is the Italian equivalent of the American White House in Washington.  One of the roles played by the Scuderie was to serve as a garage for the conveyances of the Pope, and, later, of the Italian royal family.  In the 80’s it was turned into a museum, the Museo delle Carrozze, in recognition of its early role as a rimessa.

The Exhibitions

A new life for the Scuderie began in1997, when the Office of the Italian Presidency, to which the building belongs, gave permission to the Commune of Rome to remodel and use the historic building for major art exhibitions.  Following an international competition, the architect Gae Aulenti was selected to restore the structure and design the exhibition spaces.  The work was performed in record time, just in time to inaugurate the new millennium.  On December 21, 1999, this most recent addition to the world’s top-tier exhibition halls was officially launched with the attendance of the President of the Republic, the Mayor of Rome, and the Italian Minister of Culture.  At its launch the Scuderie featured the 100 Masterworks of the Hermitage, obtained on loan from Saint Petersburg, the largest outpouring of art in that museum’s history.  Included were masterworks by Degas, Monet, Renoir, Cézanne, Gauguin, Rousseau  le Douanier, Vlaminck, Derein, Vallotton, Vuillard, Sisley, Pisarro, Matisse e Picasso.  They were to remain at the Scuderie until June 2000.  Five years later, in 2005, there followed an equally important exhibit, the Masterworks of the Guggenheim, which definitely solidified the position of the Scuderie as one of the premier artistic centers of international collectivism.

Another important paradigm that animates the choice and programmation of exhibited material derives from the expressed goal to enhance the public’s understanding and appreciation for Italian classical and modern art.  This goal has been amply supported by great exhibits dedicated to such figures as Botticelli, Alberto Burri, Antonello da Messina.  Entire historical periods, such as the Renaissance and the Risorgimento, have been featured.  The place of Italian art in the larger context of international art has been explored in a series of thoughtful and innovative shows (Maestà di Roma, Rembrandt, Metafisica, Velazquez, Bernini, Luca Giordano, Da Giotto a Malevic. La reciproca meraviglia, Dürer e l’Italia.)

Not least of the Scuderie’s endeavors is carrying out a mainly summer program dedicated to the great figures of the international cultural scene (Sebastiāo Salgado, Wim Wenders e Santiago Calatrava.)  These are extraordinary events that manage to deliver maximum enjoyment and comprehensibility to the public, while retaining  maximum historical and artistic rigor and innovation.

The Scuderie, after 10 years of uninterrupted successful exhibitions, represents simultaneously the realization of an ambitious artistic goal and a departure point for similarly important endeavors in the future.

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A Funny and Personal View | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

Bari is a large sunny city in the south of Italy, located on the Adriatic sea, six hours south of Venice and four hours east of Rome. It is the major city of the region of Puglia and it has been named the “Milano” of the south (but thank God, Bari has no resemblance to the fog and industrial smoke stacks of Milano). In Bari, there are palm trees, warm weather (or scorching, by some people’s standards), fresh fish, colorful people and “dolce far niente” (sweet do nothing).

People of Bari are warm, affectionate and very sociable, because the warm Mediterranean weather affects them. They know how to enjoy life (too much I say).
Their mornings start at the last minute, after they know they will be late for work. Once they have arrived and are situated at work, it is time for coffee. Around 10am, coffee shops are brimming with people who indulge in espresso, hot, short and to the point, standing up at the bar counter, shooting the breeze with other colleagues while passionately tasting a fragrant cornetto (croissant). The talk during coffee time is either the latest news on the local soccer team, politics, or the juicy romantic conquest from the night before (and not necessarily in that order!).

On the way to school, students bite with enjoyment into savory focaccias made with Puglia olives and tomatoes (this is after they have already had a breakfast at home: caffe’ latte and biscotti). At 1pm, on the way from school, they will go through the same ritual before going home for lunch… students can afford to overeat!

Work in Bari takes a different twist. All businesses shut down at 1pm every day in order for people to go home and have lunch with their family (super nice!). All of the businesses are shut down at this time, so are all of the schools, stores, and activities. If you are a smoker, consider yourself lucky, as only tobacconist shops are open during this time to help feed your vices.

Between 1 and 4 pm people do whatever they like for relaxation, but eating accompanied by one or two glasses of wine is the most important part of that relaxation. In fact, lunch is the biggest meal of the day and no one will ever think that drinking wine for lunch is a sin, or better you will never hear anyone say: “No wine for me, I have to return to work”.

At 4 pm, activities resume until seven or eight at night, jamming the streets with traffic and bustling people. Contrary to those who must return to work in the afternoon, there is a category of people who have full-time jobs whose hours are 8am to 2pm. You might ask if this is really a full-time job; yes, there are people who work half days and they are considered full-time workers! Students, the independently wealthy, housewives, and teenagers (or those who have the time and can afford to get out), stroll arm-in-arm along Via Sparano, Corso Cavour and Piazza Mercantile, the three most elegant places in the city. These are the places to see and be seen in the city.

Bari is comprised of Bari Nuova (new city) and Bari Vecchia (old city). The charming old city of Bari Vecchia is mysterious and magical, especially at night. This part of the city has the most character, and the heart of its center is called “Muratti” quarters where a treasure trove of millenary art, history and culture are kept.
Bari Vecchia looks over the balcony of the Adriatic sea like a lady waiting for her sailor. The aroma of algae and salt water, mixed with the delicious smell of food from the homes and restaurants that are lined along the bank will fill your nose and permeate the air. On the spur of the moment, you might find yourself going into a seafood restaurant, as if some magic spell has been played on you with the aroma of food pulling you in and tickling your fancy. No, you don’t need a reservation as restaurateurs will welcome you at any hour of the night as if they were welcoming you to their own homes. The people of Bari are night crawlers, so when I say any hour of the night, I do mean any hour. It is very common to find restaurants working at their full capacity at 3 am.

In Bari Vecchia “Castello Svevo”, a Norman-Swabian castle, stands tall. It was built by Frederick II in the Byzantine-Norman-Swabian style. The Basilica and the Cathedral of Saint Nicholas below are two examples of fine Romanic style. The Basilica holds the remains of Saint Nicholas in the crypt. Bari is also an active economic center, has the second largest population in the south of Italy, is the principal center for technological research (Polo Universitario and Tecnopolis being two main places for this), and is the base of the annual “Fiera del Levante” the international trade show that represents every possible merchandise in the world.

Bari people love to exhibit themselves while going to the theatre, dressed up to their teeth and competing with each other on who shows up with the best designer outfit (it’s almost like going to the Oscars). Teatro Petruzzelli is the fourth largest in Italy for its dimension and stature. Many famous opera singers and international actors have marked the stage. Herbert von Karajan, Rudolf Nureyev, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Liza Minnelli, Juliette Greco have performed there, along with the unforgettable Italian comedians, dancers, opera singers, poets and cabaret singers like Eduardo De Filippo, Riccardo Muti, Carla Fracci, Luciano Pavarotti, Piero Cappuccilli, Giorgio Gaber.

Bari was founded by the Greeks and later became a Roman municipality. In 840 AD, Bari was attacked and dominated by Saracens pirates, an attack which lasted many years, and was then saved by a Venetian fleet and remained under the Byzantine’s power for some time. In the 12th and 13th century, Bari changed the ruling power and soon, Bari passed under the possession of the Normans and Swabians (today’s Bavarians). The Swabians rebuilt the city, and King Frederick II revitalized all activities and the city port, remodeled the castle, and in his court, arts and culture flourished.

Due to the favorable geographic position with easy passage to the East Road, the Middle Eastern countries, and the vicinity to the Mediterranean, Bari was then taken under possession by the Angevin’s, followed the Aragon’s (15th century), the powerful Italian Sforza family from Milano (1464), and later by the Spaniards (through 16th and 18th century), during which time Puglia fell in poverty due to high taxation that the Spaniards imposed on the population.

About 100km north and south of Bari, the outskirts of the city are surrounded by natural and architectural beauty. Lecce, which is in the south of Bari, is a fine example of a pristine town where the masters of the Baroque style competed with each other creating the most elaborate and elegant examples of Baroque in the history of Italy.

Alberobello, the quaint and romantic town of conic-shaped dwellings called Trulli will leave you breathless! Alberobello was built on two different hills; the western hill being the modern Alberobello and the eastern hill being the old Alberobello with its Trulli houses, that are now recognized as national monuments under UNESCO’s patrimony since 1996. A stroll through the historical center, will give you a view of the quaint narrow streets that are made of ancient stones. The shops and artisan botteghe (work rooms) inside Trulli will take you back to a bucolic time, when everything was so much simpler and people were gentile, sincere, warm, giving and caring. This is truly an unforgettable experience! Hope to see you in Puglia. Ciao,

Interior Designer

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos. Valentina was awarded  “Best Of Local Business” July 2010 by the U.S. Commerce Association.
Valentina is the author of the Puglia cultural cuisine book: Come Mia Nonna – A Return To Simplicity.
The book is available through FinestItalian and her publisher:

Valentina’s second book ” Sins Of A Queen” will be released at the end of 2010.

Sea Urchins or Newly Wed Night | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

Fish in Puglia is a sacred saint subject! It is a very serious matter.
People eat it at least four times a week and every time is a ritual.

“Il fritto misto”, or mixed fried fish is always eaten with the hands, when brought to the mouth is almost like playing a harmonica with the flesh and the bones.
Many fish sauces or broths are always used as condiments to pasta or rice and the fish cooked with those sauces is eaten as a second course, this way the preparation time is well spent and we have two substantial dishes at once. It is also a good way to save money on food. Pugliese cooking is today, as it was in the antiquity, a frugal cuisine.

One characteristic aspect of the fish in Puglia is the ritual of eating it raw on the bank of the Adriatic Sea.

In Bari, my home town,  there is a place called: “N-Derr’a La Lanze”, a centre of the mariners’ life of the old city, where fishermen leave their boats to rock on the calm waters of the port, where they sew their nets and curl octopi for hours. Curling octopi it is a spectacle to see! It is an ancient practice that goes back to the late 1500’s and is only done in Bari. The City Council governing Bari in the 1500’s, established that the curled octopi had to be sold in a roll of a Kilogram at the price of 3-1/2 grain, which was the money value at that time.

The curling serves the purpose of tenderizing the octopi, which then will be eaten raw with only a glass of white wine and a piece of fresh country Pugliese bread.
Many other seafood, or as we call them “frutti di mare” are eaten raw, such as sea truffles, mussels, clams, razor clams, oysters, sea-urchins, smelt fish and others found in the Mediterranean Sea. Sunday meals especially are not complete without seafood.

We have and old Barese saying that goes: “It is better to eat sea-urchins and seafood than to consummate a first newly wed night”.

Be careful when eating shell fish, they must be live and kicking. It is the only way Italians eat shell fish and in general all the fish. Mussels are at their best state in the months without the “r” and even better when they are reproducing. In May, June, July and August the flesh of the mussels is richer, bigger and tastier. In the town of Taranto, mussels are considered their “Black Gold” and they are made in a variety of mouth watering specialties.

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Please forward this article to anyone you think might be interested in reading it and let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.
Thank you. Ciao.


Author of the book: Come Mia Nonna–A Return to Simplicity

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior Designer in business since 1990 with a passion for kitchens and cooking. She operates in the USA and Europe.
She loves to remodel homes and loves to turn ugly spaces into castles, but especially loves to design kitchens and wine grottos. This is the focus of her design.
Robert Taitano, a friend and business associate of says:
“Valentina – an International Professional Interior Designer is now giving you an opportunity to redesign your palate”.

Unwind, Ferragosto Is Coming | By: Valentina Cirasola | Interior Designer

The word Ferragosto comes from the Latin word Feriae Augusti, the pagan feast in the year 18 a.d. made in honor of the Roman Emperor Octavian Augustus.
On the 1st of August the Romans celebrated the harvest of grain, cereals and the fertility of the earth. This festivity would last until the end of August.

Feriae Augusti, or Ferragosto as it is pronounced in today modern Italian language was intended as “the relaxation of August” from the working year.
This festivity would develop with public rituals and banquets, excess of drinking and sex practices to which everyone was permitted to participate, including slaves, maids and the lower class along with the nobles and emperors.
Horseracing, bull fighting and sports events were organized to add to the public fun.
Even the working animals, such as cows and donkeys were left to relax for the whole month of August and were dressed in the festivity attires with lot of flowers to decorate them. The workers would give good wishes to their employers and would receive a good tip from them.

The festivities would reach its peak on the 15th of August as it still happens today. Through the centuries the Feriae Augusti, or Ferragosto became so radicated in people’s lives that the Roman Church decided to turn it into a legal festivity and made a holiday rather than suppress it.

Today in Italy and all over the Christian Europe, Ferragosto is celebrated as a religious holiday and as the mid-Summer holiday.
Modern Italians and Europeans intend this holiday as vacation time, fun, amusement, eating, resting, dancing, socializing and no work activity is conceived. Therefore when dealing with Italy remember not to place any order of merchandise in July and August. Factories are closed, people are enjoying their vacation and no one is in town.

In August, being the hottest month of the year, people tend to wear light fabrics, such as linen and cotton. They are the breathable fabrics of all, luscious and delicate textiles that treat our skin in a delicate and gentle way.
People eat very light food to beat the heat, fresh fruit and vegetables to supplement the loss of water through copious perspiration.

Outdoor dining is very common in Italy. People tend to eat late in the evening. Restaurants are full very late at night and promenades pullulate with people.
Nighttime is magic for an intimate dinner, or to pull the small hours talking and joking with friends.
In villas and Summer homes’ backyard vacationers organize their night life.

Plain pergolas are easy to build and dress up with hanging panels of sheer fabrics or cheap burlap. The breathable fabric provides privacy but is sheer enough to let in the soft glow of the moon. A gazebo is an easy item to create. The portable types come in a variety of colors and fabrics and they can be put up in minutes. Any patio, like a lady, can be dressed up to go out for dinner.

Unwind and decompress, once a year at least, it is important to see life in a different perspective. Ciao,
Interior Designer

Copyright © 2010 Valentina Cirasola, All Rights Reserved

Valentina Cirasola is an Italian Interior and former Fashion Designer, working in the USA and Europe. She marries well fashion and interior in any of her design work. She loves to remodel homes and loves to create the unusual. In her career she has helped a variegated group of fun people realizing their dreams with homes, offices, interiors and exteriors. Valentina has been awarded for the second time:
“Best Of Local Business” by U.S. Commerce Association, July 2010.