Gaspara Stampa, Female Renaissance Poet
14 September 2015
I found this ceramic plate a few years ago at a charity shop in Tufness Park. The back of it is stamped and says that it comes from the Guerrieri workshop on the Murano island in Venice.
The phrase “Vivere ardendo e non sentire il male” can be roughly translated as “To live in flames and never feel the pain.”
It’s like what I talked about yesterday. I’ve been looking at this phrase for years now, using the plate to put my rings on it while I wash the dishes in the kitchen, and it never occurred to me that it could come from something.
So finally I looked it up and yes it comes from a poem, written during the Renaissance by Gaspara Stampa, “Amor mi ha fatto tal ch’io vivo in foco“. (Love has made me such that live in fire).
I hadn’t heard of her before, but Gaspara Stampa is considered to be one of the greatest female poets of the Renaissance. She lived in Venice in the 1500s and she was educated in literature, art and music. Her family hosted salons in their homes and had regular visitors of artists, writers and musicians. She shunned society’s constraints and lived quite freely as an educated woman with lots of lovers.
I’ve been having this poem staring me in the face all this time! And what’s more it’s written by a Venetian courtesan poet, considered to be one of the greatest poets during the Renaissance. Can you believe it?
Here’s the poem in Italian:
Amor m’ha fatto tal ch’io vivo in foco,
qual nova salamandra al mondo, e quale
l’altro di lei non men strano animale,
che vive e spira nel medesimo loco.
Le mie delizie son tutte e il mio gioco
vivere ardendo e non sentire il male,
e non curar ch’ei che m’induce a tale
abbia di me pietà molto né poco.
I’m still trying to understand the old-fashioned Italian myself. But I like the part where the phrase comes from:
Love has made me such that I live in fire,
Like a second salamander in this world
Or like the phoenix that lives and dies in the same place.
All my delights and my game
Are to live in flames and never feel the pain
And never care if he who leads me to this,
Pities me little or much.
I feel like I’m full of all these ideas right now, of poems and writing, of Venice, of Italy, and of all these possibilities that life offers if you can ignore the self-doubt and what society says you can and can’t do. Of course, if you’re wealthy and educated, life is a lot easier, but this woman is still great inspiration. From this poem, she’s a woman who doesn’t back down because she’s been jilted in love and continues to fan the flames of her passion and personality.
My Love For Italian Ceramics and Its History
13 September 2015
You know that feeling when you finally notice something that you’ve been looking at or seeing for years and years and you realize that it is the most beautiful thing you’ve ever seen? It’s kind of a cliché, but why is it? Why did it take you all that time to notice it?
That’s how I feel about Italian ceramics. I grew up with pieces at home and seeing them at them at all of my relatives homes in Italy and the US. I passed by countless shops in and around Napoli and it was just something familiar and passé, souvenirs hocked to the tourists.
This past year, it suddenly hit me how beautiful they are. Travelling to Venice to visit my in-laws, I noticed ceramics in their homes too, all these plates and jugs and bowls full of colours and patterns that seem to have absorbed all of that Mediterranean sun and gleam it back out inside the home.
What was wrong with me all these years? These are the most beautiful things in the world and I want to cradle them like babies. Lots of places sell cheaper pieces like souvenirs, which are still incredibly beautiful in my opinion, and I’ve found lots of them in the charity shop for a pound or two.
But it made me wonder, being blind to these beautiful things surrounding me all these years, why were ceramics so popular in Italy? Why did they start making them?
The Italian pottery that we see all over Italy is called maoilica, a tin-glazed earthenware that makes the pottery gleam with colours that never fade. This type of pottery making originated in Mespotamia during the 9th century and the process travelled along the major trade routes. It made its way to Italy via Spain (specifically via Majorca hence the word maoilica) during the 12th century.
During the Renaissance improvements were made to the kilns and glazing process. New colours, in addition to the original purple and green, like orange, blue and yellow were used and the hand-painted pottery was elevated to an art form. The noble, wealthy families commissioned these pieces. Jugs, dinner plates, platters, vases, and tiles were all put into use and on display. The decorative patterns and colours taken from the Islamic and Spanish pottery soon turned into an Italian style of using mythical and biblical narratives and figures with ornate and colourful decorative patters against a gleaming white background.
And the noble families even changed their eating habits because of the maoilica craze. Where before they engaged in family style eating, all eating off of the same platter, meals began to be served on beautiful individual plates.
I’ve only touched on the top layer of the history of pottery in Italy and I haven’t even mentioned the towns throughout Italy that were famous for making these these works — Deruta in Umbria, Montelupo in Tuscany, Vietri in Campania, Grottaglia in Puglia, and Monreale in Sicily. There is so much more to read and learn about and I’m only getting started. I know that following the history of these works also entails following the development of Italy as a country. From looking at one beautiful object, I can uncover a whole story and as well as the history of the development of Italy as a country. It’s incredible.
If you can’t make a trip to Italy right away, there are lots of places to buy maoilica online.
The History of Ferragosto in Italy
15 August 2015
Happy Ferragosto everyone! It’s cloudy here in London and I’m sitting here reminiscing about all those Ferragostos in the past spent in Italy. All those hot, sunny days sitting with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins all shouting at the table in a glorious cacophony of words, songs and plates and plates of food. But what does Ferragosto mean? When did it start?
Ferragosto is a public holiday in Italy as well as a major holiday in the Catholic Church marking the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. (Why do they call it the Assumption? Is it because they never found Mary’s body after she died and they assumed she went up into heaven?)
In Monte di Procida, where my family lives, today is one of the finest days of the year. The main church in the piazza is called SS. Maria Assunta, dedicated to the Assumption, so they have to do up this festival in big style. There are three days of feasting in the piazza with lights, music and food. On the 15th, everyone goes to mass where the church is decorated in white and gold. After mass, there’s a giant procession with the statue of the Virgin Mary at the helm and a brass band follows playing the overture to Verdi’s Aida and all the people follow Mary down to the sea. In the evening, after everyone has busted their guts with a giant lunch, the beach fills up with people to watch the midnight firework display.
Growing up, I thought this was the way it was done all over Italy, but in lots of other places, most people just leave their homes to go to the beach. Curious about this, I started doing a little bit of research and interestingly, there’s a story behind this.
Ferragosto has its origins in Ancient Rome. The holiday was established by Emperor Augustus and took place after the first major harvest around 1 August. It’s possible that this also coincided with the pagan holiday of mid-summer on 2 August that marks the mid-point between the Summer Solstice (21 June) and the Autumnal Equinox (21 September). The ancient Ferragosto aimed to unify the August holidays and create a longer period of rest which stretched out to a few weeks. When Catholicism arrived, as they did with many other pagan holidays, they adopted Ferragosto and moved it to coincide with the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and claimed the 15th of August as the official day of Ferragosto.
The popular tradition of going away for Ferragosto began in the 1920s during the Fascist regime. The government, in conjunction with the various worker’s associations that organised trips, workshops, and events for the working class, offered a special promotion on train tickets during the three-day period surrounding Ferragosto. For the first time, working class families could afford to visit other cities in Italy as well as travel to the beach and the mountains. All these families, in order to keep costs down, would also pack food with them and this also started the tradition of picnicing on Ferragosto.
All of this could explain why many Italians today take a month-long holiday in August, stretching back to the ancient Roman tradition of a harvest holiday. The 15th marks the mid-point of the summer holiday, a pseudo-religous pseudo-pagan mid-summer feast.
The film Pranzo di ferragosto (2008) (English title: Mid-August Lunch) is a spectacular film of a man named Gianni who inadvertently ends up hosting a Ferragosto lunch of elderly women in Rome at his mother’s house while his friends, who have left their mothers with Gianni, flee the city for the beach for two days of freedom. The film captures the emptiness of the city during the national holiday, the laziness inspired by the August heat, and the unexpected joy at finding yourself making the most of a less than appealing situation. Watch the trailer:
How will you celebrate Ferragost? There is a slight break in the clouds now and I think I’ll take a walk to the library and then through the farmer’s market and celebrate a little mid-summer repose.
Enjoy the day!
A little explanation about The Limonata Lounge
14 August 2015
I’ve had this blog for over a year now and slowly I’ve been developing it into something that encompasses all the dreams that I have inside of me.
The Limonata Lounge is a place where you can embrace a solitude filled with light and beauty, comraderie and a sense of belonging. It’s not just a place that contains these things, but also a place where things happen, where you can create, think, learn, and let the beautiful parts of you shine outwards into the world.
To me, it’s the place that exists inside of me of where I’ve always wanted to be. If you poke around the site, you’ll find out that I’ve always wanted to be in Italy. I was born and raised in New York, but every summer we would go to Italy, to a small town in the province of Naples, Monte di Procida where we had a house. Papa was from there and my mother was from the nearby island of Ischia, so we would always spend time there, too.
I was a lonely child. I had lots of siblings and cousins back in the States, but they were very much older than me and most of them were starting to get married and have children by the time I was born. But in Italy, there were so many cousins my age and there my solitude abated. I loved it there so much. Of hanging out by the sea, playing barefoot with my cousins in the garden under the lemon tress, of long evenings on the terrace. I loved the church bells, the sounds of the scooters zooming by, Neapolitan mothers in the surrounding houses shouting at their children, and of Paolino singing and selling produce through the microphone while passing the streets in his blue ape bursting with fruit and vegetables.
The Limonata Lounge is inspired by these memories and I’m recreating that place that resides inside of me through this site. This site is about all the things I love: Italy and its history, cooking, traveling and making things. I want to share these things with you and hope that they may inspire you to follow your gut feeling and do what you love and create the place that you want to be in.
Recipe: How to Make (or not make) La Pizza Rustica Napoletana
3 August 2015
This past Saturday morning I was home and watching the Archway Farmer’s Market happening just outside the flat. I could see the cheese and salame stands from the window and I got a craving for something my mom used to make called ‘La Pizza Rustica’ – a cheese bomb of paradise that she made for Easter, made of ricotta mixed with eggs, grated parmigiano, and cubes of any other hard cheese and salame. She only made it once a year, thank god she did, because with one bite I could feel it making a bee-line for my thighs.
The word pizza may seem like a misnomer since what we think of as traditional pizza from Napoli is nothing this covered pie of decadence; although this is a Neapolitan recipe.
I had never made it before, but I like trying to make things my mother made and it makes me feel a little bit closer to her. So I went shopping downstairs at the market and with a little bit of help from Davide and the internet, I set out to make it. In the end it came out good, just the way I remembered it, but there was a little snaffu while cooking it that kind of made it look disgusting. But still, it’s too delicious to not share with you, so I’ll tell you how to make and how not to make this Pizza Rustica Italiana.
(Other recipes call for a rich dough using suet, sugar, eggs, flour and butter and require you to bake the whole thing in the oven. Mamma used a simple pizza dough of flour and water and she then cooked it on the stove.)
La Pizza Rustica Napoletana
1 deep dish pan that you can cook on the stove (alternatively you can use a round dish that you can put in the oven because flipping it during cooking gets a bit tricky.)
1 rolling pin
400 g all-purpose flour
200 g water
10 g yeast
600 g ricotta
200 g milk
100 g grated parmigiano, pecorino or other hard cheese (I used a Trentingrana that comes from Trentino in the upper North East corner of Italy)
100 g of cubes of hard cheese (I used piave stravecchia)
100g of assorted dried salame cut into cubes (you could use ham too, especially if you don’t want it to be too salty)
1 egg yolk
1. For the dough, mix the yeast with the water and then mix it with the dough. You can use a mixer for this to really mix and activate the yeast and get the dough nice and soft. Otherwise you can use your hands to mix it all together until you get a somewhat sticky ball of dough and then knead it with your hands on the counter. Once nice and soft, put it back in the bowl and cover it with a plate or towel and leave it to rest and rise while you make the filling.
Watch Davide show you how to do knead dough:
2. For the filling, put the ricotta, milk, grated cheese and egg yolk in a bowl and mix well. Add the cubes of cheese and salame.
3. When the dough is ready, cut it in half and roll out two circular pieces. Roll out a bigger piece which you’ll use to line the bottom and the sides of the pan. Be careful to not roll it too thin.
4. Line the pan and sides with sunflower oil. Then place the piece of dough at the bottom of the pan, pressing into the side and letting the excess dough fall over the rim.
5. Spoon the filling into the pan.
6. Place the other disc of dough on top and fold in the sides. Dust a good amount of flour on top.
7. Cook the pizza on low heat for 10 minutes. If it starts to burn a little you can sneak in some more oil from the sides.
8. Flip the pizza over and cook for another 5-10 minutes.
*This is the tricky bit. Take a plate and put it upside down on top of the pan. Make sure the top of the pizza, the uncooked part, has some flour on it, otherwise the dough is going to stick to the plate. With one hand on top of the plate, lift the pan and turn it over so the pizza rests on top of the plate with the cooked top facing up. Slide the pizza back into the pan. (My problem was that I rolled the dough to thin so the filling exploded into an oozy doughy mess when I tried to flip it.
9. Remove from heat and allow to cool. Place on a plate and refrigerate it for a few hours. Some people wait 24 hours, but I couldn’t wait that long.