A Halloween Legend: Italy’s Cursed Island

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The condition of the people was pitiable to behold. They sickened by the thousands daily, and died unattended and without help. Many died in the open street, others dying in their houses, made it known by the stench of their rotting bodies. Consecrated churchyards did not suffice for the burial of the vast multitude of bodies, which were heaped by the hundreds in vast trenches, like goods in a ships hold and covered with a little earth.

-Giovanni Bocaccio, The Decameron

Buon Halloween a tutti!

 To celebrate the spookiest day of the year, I have uncovered an old Italian legend that is guaranteed to send a chill down your spine!  I did a bit of research because I was curious about what stories and legends Italians shared around their campfires.  I came across a scan of this old book in Italian from 1837 (you can see it here), that contained the history of l’isola di Poveglia (the Island of Poveglia), a small island in the Venetian lagoon.  It is about 18 acres (7.25 hectares) in area, and has been referenced in history since around 421 A.D., when some mainland people (mainly from Padua and Este) fled there to escape barbaric invasions.  Its history since then has been eerily dark and grim.

It was heavily populated starting around 800 A.D., but when Venice was attacked by the Genoans in 1379, the entire population was moved off the island.  It was then fortified by the Venetians and remained uninhabited until the late 1700s.  The reason it remained uninhabited during all of those centuries remains unclear.  The Venetian government tried to offer habitation of the island many times during those centuries, but every offer was turned down—even by the decendants of the island’s original inhabitants.  What about that island would repel so many people and cause them to decline such an offer?  We may never know…

In the late 1700s, the island fell into the hands of the Public Health Office, and was used as a kind of “customs control” for all goods and people traveling in and out of the Venice lagoon.   After many people were discovered to be ill with the plague, the island became what is known as a Lazaretto, or a quarantine area for plague victims.  In fact, the term quarantine originated from the Venetian dialect word for quaranta giorni, or forty days, which was the amount of time slated for isolation before entry was permitted.  The plague of 1576 killed 50,000 people, or a third of its population alone.  This, however, was far less than the mainland victims, partly due to the Venetians’ strict quarantine policies.  There were many Lazaretti in existence in Venice throughout the centuries in which the Plague took its toll on the people of Europe.  During this time, it is said that this particular Lazaretto became more or less a corpse factory, and was used as a plague pit to dispose of the bodies of the plague fallen.  It is for this reason that fisherman even today will avoid the area, for fear of catching more than they bargained for.

Plague victims found on a nearby Lazaretto (Lazaretto Vecchio)

 That alone is enough to provide the island with a more than sinister reputation.  However, there is more…

 In 1922, l’isola di Poveglia became a venue for a psychiatric hospital.  The site was adorned with a ward that exhibited a beautiful bell tower.  It seemed like the reputation of the island could finally be redeemed with such a beautiful structure on its grounds.  

Not so. 

It was the patients of the ward that first began to realize that something was not right with the place.  They began to report whispers coming from the walls, and some even claimed to have seen apparitions of the plague victims themselves.  These reports, of course, fell on deaf ears; because after all, there is a reason they are in the psychiatric ward, right?  

In time, however, the sole doctor of the hospital began to hear their cries for help, and being the ambitious  doctor he was, initiated “treatments” involving electrocution and other methods on the poor patients that were nothing short of torture.  Oblivious to the suffering he was inflicting on his patients and determined to find the cause of their madness, however, the doctor soon began to question his own sanity after he began to see the apparitions himself.  

It is not known what was the instigator, whether it was by choice, by the hands of his patients, or some other dark force, but shortly after the doctor began seeing the apparitions, he fell (dove? was pushed?) from the top of the bell tower on a silent night.  The fall did not kill him, however, and he was able to get back on his feet.  That is, until what has been described as a grey mist rose from the ground, wrapped around him and crept into his nostrils, choking him to death.  

 

After the incident, the hospital was shut down and the island became uninhabited once more.  Several people have shown interest in purchasing the island, and one family in particular that wanted to turn the island into a vacation spot came extremely close to making the acquisition.  However, upon attempting to stay for a period to evaluate the property, the family fled the island shortly before nightfall on the first day.  They refused to speak of what had happened to them there, and all that is known is that something had occurred that caused their little daughter to require fourteen stitches on her head.  

Even today, the island is off-limits to the public, and those that venture there and evade the small group of police that guard the island out of curiosity have reported unbearable screams and pained moans coming from the property.

Is this all legend woven together from pieces of truth throughout the history of the Italian people, or is there more truth to this story than first suspected?  We may never know, as everyone that tries to make the island public is repelled by the dark forces that seem to keep the desolate island resting in peace.   Perhaps that is all they want…

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For a gallery of photos from the island and the hospital taken by an incredibly brave photographer, visit this site. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The Dark Side of Expatriatism

I know that it has been a long time since I have updated, it has been a roller coaster over here!  Let me fill you in a bit on what has been going on (the good stuff), then I will get to the heart of this post.

Some personal updates:

I decided to get out of my shell a bit and start selling Avon over here.  I have been doing fairly decent and it is a really fun way to get out and about and improve my Italian.  You can find the website here.

Christian and I had our first wedding anniversary!  We had a small celebration the day of, and plan to have a nice spa weekend sometime soon.  I am so blessed to have found my soulmate and best friend, and even more blessed to spend the rest of my life with him!

We have a new addition to the family, a little grey furball named Arturo (Arthur).  He is the cutest, most affectionate little “micio” (kitten), and I swear sometimes he has lightning in his veins!  Now I will have someone to play with when Christian goes away to China for work!

 

The big update: (no, I’m not pregnant) Ever since I was in grade school, I had always imagined that I would go to college right after high school.  I was always dreaming of what I would be, and I have always been passionate about learning.  However, life doesn’t always turn out just the way you want it, and after a few failed attempts at finding financial aid for college after high school, I thought I would never get the financial opportunity.  Never gave up, though, and I recently applied for a scholarship to University of Phoenix online, paid for by the Manufacturing Institute.  I submitted my application, the 3 required essays, and the 2 recommendation letters from my employers, and recently found out that I am a recipient of the scholarship!  Full tuition for my bachelor’s degree, completely paid for!  This is still unreal to me, as I never understood how some kids party away their expensive educations and really take them for granted, while all the while I was dying to get in and I couldn’t!  It will be tough to do with working full time and keeping my marriage in tip-top shape, but with God’s help, I can do it!  My plan B was to go to college here in Italy, but that would require me to go at least part time at work, and it would all be in Italian.  This way I can still work full time, classes are extremely flexible online, and they are in English!

That’s about all for the updates, so let’s switch gears and get to the heart of this post.

I am writing this part to ask some advice from my readers, especially those seasoned expats.  When there are crises back at home, how do you handle them?  I knew going into this that this was going to come up sooner or later, but as they say, I was expecting later than sooner.  I won’t go into detail for privacy reasons, but these past few months (basically all the time I have spent not updating this site) have been a kind of hell.  But it is so strange, because my daily life here is so calm.  I have love, support, routine, joy, friends… but chaos and heartbreak back home keep me in a constant state of anxiety.  I am by no means miserable with my life here, in fact it is the opposite- I couldn’t have chosen a better life for myself, but I feel like things are falling apart back home with my loved ones caught in the storm and hurting and I am completely helpless to stop it because of the life I chose.  That brings on a great deal of other baggage like remorse and guilt for wanting to have a happy life, and all that grand ‘ole mess.   When the health of a loved one declines and you are so far away,  expats, how do you cope with the decision you made to make your life on another continent and leaving loved ones behind?  You feel as if you abandoned them, and the time you could have spent with them before they go on is lost to your happy new life.  Selfish?  I am thinking so.

But on the other hand, I knew this would be something I would have to face eventually when I chose the expatriate life.  This is an inevitable part of the experience, one that few long term expatriates are exempt from.  So my question is, how should I handle this?  Since it is not a situation that could be immediately resolved by a plane flight over the ocean (could it ever be?), I have been trying to be there for them as much as I can by staying in touch every day, and helping in every way I know how at a distance—but it still just doesn’t feel to me like it is enough.  While the world is constantly getting smaller by way of technology, I don’t think it will ever be ‘small’ enough to eliminate this “Dark Side” of expatriatism.

As always, your input, readers, is just precious to me.

-Chelsi

World Wine Passion

click me to see the World Wine Passion website!

Photo courtesy of Anna Harding

Passion.  How do you define it? One way to describe it would be as the object of an intense desire, ardent affection, or strong enthusiasm.  In honor of Single’s Awareness Day Valentine’s Day, the one day of the year that it is socially acceptable to view the world through rose colored glasses, we will be searching instead for how the world feels about the inside of a different rose colored glass. 

 

 For millennia, human kind has been cultivating wild Vitis vinifera.  Even that sounds romantic, doesn’t it?  Archaeological findings in the Middle East have found evidence of wine production as far back as 7,000 years ago.  With something that has lasted so long in world culture, it goes without saying that wine is something that we can be passionate about.  

Italy is the world leader in wine consumption, with the average person consuming 54 liters, or 14 gallons of the fruity goodness annually, compared to the U.K. at 20 liters or 5 gallons, and Americans, who don’t even make it to 2 gallons a year on average per person.  Don’t think that Italians walk around wine sodden and rosy cheeked all the time, it’s probably just a difference in cultural preferences.  I for one know how much more Americans prefer their brew, and it would be next to impossible to find a ‘wine bar’ anywhere but in the most diverse parts of the big cities.

 Love it or hate it, wine is a huge part of Italian culture.  I will admit that I have a very limited knowledge of wine myself, but with the help of Ailsa Walling and Claudio Toce of World Wine Passion, I have made it my mission to discover the root of the passion for wine that Italy has had throughout history, and what it means to Italy and the world today.

Two beautiful people who couldn't be more passionate about wine!

During a wine tasting put on by World Wine Passion, I spoke with Ailsa about what makes her so passionate about wine and what World Wine Passion is all about.

Q: So tell me what is World Wine Passion about? 

Ailsa: We started World Wine Passion because we love wine, and not just the wine but the entire enogastronomic* world, with the object of promoting small wine producers of ten thousand bottles a year or less.  We represent one producer that produces about four and a half thousand bottles of wine a year– a really, really small amount.

*Enogastronomy, or “enogastronomia” in italian, refers to the harmony of wines with foods particular to the region in which the wine was produced.

What would you say is the amount of bottles produced per year by the average producer?

Ailsa: I would say that fifty to one hundred thousand bottles a year would still be considered small, so the producers we represent make about a tenth of that.

Would that make the wines more expensive?

Ailsa:  Not necessarily more expensive, but a lot more special because the people that are producing the wines dedicate their entire lives to perfecting the art of wine making, exemplifying passion and respect for the territory with every single bottle they produce, and being a great example of wine passion.  However, they cannot compete with wines that you find at the supermarket on price, but as far as taste and quality are concerned, they beat them hands down.  Don’t just go to the supermarket and buy the cheapest wine on the shelf– you’ve got to know what you’re buying, and make an informed choice.

An informed choice… How do we make an informed choice when selecting the wine for the next meal? Why, educate ourselves, that’s how!  With the help of World Wine Passion’s Claudio and Ailsa and their fantastic upcoming website, we will get an exclusive look in the coming months at the world of wines, and we will be educated on what characteristics of a wine make it a quality wine, and not just another one of the mass produced generics. We will get intimate details of some of the wines that World Wine Passion represents, and learn what makes those wines unlike any others in the world.  However, don’t think they are just any wines, they are the ones that have been produced through hard work by passionate people… the rare wines with enchanting character because they contain a little dash of something extra:  Heart and Soul.

Click here to visit World Wine Passion’s Facebook page, and feel free to show your support!

Oh Memphis, How I Have Missed You!

Walkin’ in Memphis

In a few days I will be on a plane back to my hometown for Christmas.  I am catching a flight from Venice at 6:30 on Christmas morning (no, I’m not crazy, I saved 600 bucks), and will arrive at Memphis International Airport at 4:30 pm with a suitcase full of homemade jam (Christmas presents, don’t hate).  I hope to see every person I have missed in the past four months within an hour of arriving but I know that is wishful thinking.  I can’t wait to see those smiles and get those hugs and really see how big my little Lexie is getting!    

Yeah, most aspects of Memphis I can go the rest of my life without experiencing again and I will die with a grin on my face, but aside from my friends and family which are obvious, there are some things that I have missed about Memphis.  Particularly, the food. 

Starbucks Coffee

 

Today’s Italy Fact:

Did you know that there is not a single Starbucks in the country of Italy? 

That’s right!  I have been to Starbucks in Peru, China, and the Netherlands, but if you are looking for one within the Italian border, you are outta luck.  I was absolutely stunned by this when I first arrived here.  I thought, “But Starbucks designed their entire customer experience on what Howard Schultz discovered on a trip in Italy!” Being an ex-Starbucks barista myself, I thought for sure they would at least have a few in the big cities.  Nope, not-a-one.  However,  it didn’t take me very long to realize why.  

Italians take their coffee just as serious as they take their meal time.  It is always espresso of some sort, and inside every coffee bar (they just call it “bar”) you will find the warm and inviting atmosphere that Starbucks has mirrored and used to become one of the most successful companies in the U.S…. minus the takeout.  You will never find a paper or plastic cup in one of these bars, and if you want the “dirty water” American coffee that you are used to, you have to ask for an “Americano”, and if you’re lucky they will know how to make one.  If you have ever asked your barista at Starbucks what an Americano is, they will tell you that it is straight espresso and water.  That’s exactly what it is in Italy, but it is actually Italy’s only way they have of accommodating the Americans that want their “dirty water”.  Their coffee machines only put out straight espresso.

Since an Italian would be completely scandalized by their bar of choice giving them a paper cup and telling them they can drink their coffee on the run rather than enjoying it with their company and taking their time and enjoying the day, Starbucks is right in not bringing their current business model over here, because for once in the company’s existence they would find themselves with an empty till.

Now for why I miss it, even though I can get a macchiato faster than I can get a drink of water… 

One word: Variety 

Although you can’t find a better cappuccino than in Italy, and they make them perfectly classy and so darn pretty, you just can’t customize your drink like you can at Starbucks.  No extra flavors like Caramel or Vanilla, no choices on low-fat or soy, and definitely no Venti sizes!  Although I’m sorry Starbucks, Italy’s got you beat in the pastry department.

 First drink when I get in Memphis:

 

Triple Venti Skinny Caramel Latte

 

Corky’s BBQ

 

Sure you can find a rack of ribs here if you search enough, but it won’t be drowning in Barbeque sauce- in fact, it won’t have a drop!   Finding Barbeque sauce in Italy is the equivalent of finding your favorite authentic Thai sauce brand in Kroger.  The “American” section of the grocery store consists of a 2 foot section of a shelf in the back of the store… about as much attention as we Americans give to authentic foreign brands.  So in other words, when I can get my hands on some Barbeque sauce here (usually Corky’s BBQ sauce that mom sends me in a “care” package), I treat that bottle like there is liquid gold in it.

 Why Corky’s?  Corky’s is world famous for their Barbeque, and in my opinion takes the cake for the best in Memphis.  I know many of my fellow Memphians will disagree with this statement, but you know what they say about opinions being like… noses.  They even FedEx their menu to wherever in the U.S. you are.  Unfortunately they are not international yet or I would definitely be eating a $75 pulled pork sandwich! WORTH IT.

 First Corky’s meal when I get in Memphis:

Pulled Pork Sandwich with cole slaw, baked beans, and twice-baked potato (tater) salad 

…and now I have to clean the drool off of my keyboard

 

Gibson’s Donuts

 

Of all of the wonderful pastries they have here in Italy, they don’t make donuts.  The pastries tend to be on the dry side, and they don’t like anything too sweet, so sugar glaze is out of the question.   Of all of the times Christian has been in Memphis, I have gotten him to eat donuts- mostly from different donut shops around the city.  You know what the only thing is that he has requested I bring him back from my Christmas trip to Memphis?  Kroger-bought Krispy Kreme donuts.  Shame!  Yeah they’re good, but they aren’t Gibson’s!  I used to go there often on Sundays after church and the proprietor of the shop would always throw (yes, throw-from across the room) a fresh-from-the-oven-melt-in-your-mouth glazed with angel tears donut.  Awww man.

First donut when I get back in Memphis: 

The first one I can catch 

This obviously isn’t the complete list, I have quite a few fast food places I am hitting up, but that’s about as interesting as me writing about pasta. 

Wait a second!

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Pasta Centrale – Mostaccioli/Penne Lisce


Pronunciation: muss-tah-chee-OH-lee / PEN-neh LEE-shieh

Literal Translation: little mustaches / smooth pens

Mostaccioli, sometimes also called penne lisce, or “smooth pens” refers to a smooth, tube shaped pasta with the ends cut at an angle to resemble a quill or pen point. In the U.S.A. it is more commonly referred to as just “penne pasta”, but since the texture is smooth, or “lisce” instead of ridged, or “rigate”, the more specific name would be “penne lisce”.

…or you can just call them little moustaches.

Lexie's mostacciolo is coming in quite nicely... but I think she is a bit surprised by this!

Mostaccioli are best served with light sauces, such as fresh tomato sauce or just a sprinkling of olive oil, salt, and pepper. They are also great in a casserole dish (“pasta al forno”) and are delicious with cheese based sauces.

Cooking instructions courtesy of Barilla
01.
Bring 4 – 6 quarts of water to a rolling boil, add salt to taste.
02.
Add contents of package to boiling water. Stir gently.
03.
Return to a boil. For authentic “al dente” pasta, boil uncovered, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. For more tender pasta, boil an additional 1 minute.
04.
Remove from heat. Drain well.

Recipe Time!

As promised, with each type of pasta highlighted there will be a recipe provided that will be authentic Italian.  This recipe I have not tried before, but we made it for dinner tonight.  It was really fun to make and really hit the spot!

Here is the translated recipe… don’t have a name for it yet, but if you try it at home, help a girl out and we can name it together!!!

Ingredients:

350 g / 12.5 oz of mostaccioli / penne lisce pasta

400 g  of peeled tomatoes (chopped or diced, about 4 medium sized tomatoes)

300 g / 11 oz of sausage

50 g / 2 oz of grated Parmesan cheese

20 g 1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil

20 g 1/4 cup of butter

1 cup of dry sparkling white wine (I used Prosecco)

1 teaspoon dried Oregano

1 teaspoon Rosemary

1 tablespoon fresh Sage q.b.

salt and pepper to taste.

Execution:

Chop and mix together oregano, rosemary, and sage.

Peel and dice the sausage.

Saute briefly the herbs in butter and olive oil, add the pieces of sausage and after the sausage is browned evenly, sprinkle with white wine. Let the wine evaporate a bit, add salt, add the tomatoes and turn off the heat after a couple of minutes of simmering.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water, drain it al dente. Serve with meat sauce and parmesan cheese.

Chelsi’s Review:  “I love the taste of the fresh sage, it makes it lighter and gives the tomatoes that extra burst of flavor.”

Christian’s Review:  “Really flavorful, good mix of pasta and sauce, but next time I would skip the butter.  7.5 out of 10!”

 

Introducing: Pasta Centrale

I would like to introduce you to a new section of the site that will be completely dedicated to one of my favorite things (in moderation).  Pasta!

Each week I will be highlighting a different type of pasta, to expand your pasta knowledge and mine as well!  This was inspired by my extremely deep conversations with my husband about how every pasta’s name is most often a literal translation of what Italians think the pasta looks like.  For example, the lovely linguine literally means “little tongues”, and the pasta that you call “bow tie”, is actually called “farfalle”, which means “butterflies”.   How fun!

While we go on our journey of expanding our knowledge of Italian carbohydrates, I will be researching and explaining the history of each type, explaining how to pronounce the often complicated Italian names, and providing you with an authentic Italian recipe that will be tested out in the Zangrando kitchen for good measure with some honest to goodness feedback.

At the end of this journey, we will be certified, authentic, bonafide Pasta Masters!

The Etsy Shop is Up and Running!

Many of you may not have known, but I am a closet artist with a wide range of abilities, and am only just now getting the confidence to get my work out there to see how I can bless people with what I do.  I love portrait drawing, the detail involved in it to get that expression just right to reflect the character of the person is so enchanting to me.  I have always done portraits for friends and family, and seeing the look on their faces when they see that someone has taken the time to put their image one stroke at a time on a piece of paper to last for a very long time is just priceless to me.

So, I have put my first ad up on Etsy.  Give the shop a look for yourself and tell your friends.  Perfect Christmas gift for your loved ones!

Little Camilla, a gift for my good friend and fellow American that lives in Belluno with me as a thank you for her irreplaceable help in my wedding and letting her sweet girls be my flower girls. This is the first of a pair (Camilla has a sister!). But sssshhhhhh.... she doesn't know yet!