The Manger Scene – A Hidden Treasure of Italy

December 1, 2022

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

The Manger Scene or Il Presepio dates back to the 13th century and was started by St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of Italy. Saint Francis built a creche in a cave and celebrated Mass on Christmas in the town of Greccio, Italy. There is a beautiful sanctuary in Greccio that commemorates the Nativity that was constructed in 1223 by St. Francis. Greccio is a small hill town in Lazio and is still frequented today by historians and artists. It always amazes me how time seems to stand still in Italy, and in particular in Greccio during Christmas.

It took hundreds of years before Naples became the center for sculptures of the Manger Scene. In the early 1800’s sculptors were commissioned to carve life size and life like replicas of the Nativity. This was shortly followed by theater performances by live actors each Christmas Eve. All the neighborhoods and provinces in Naples still follow this beautiful tradition. In fact, starting December 8, which is the feast of the Immaculate Conception, there are festivals and live theatre surrounding the birth of Jesus and depicting the Manger Scene. It is a gift that St. Francis gave to us, it brings us closer to the meaning of Christmas.

Via San Gregorio Armenio in Naples

Via San Gregorio Armenio in Naples is frozen in time and is where countless artisans display their beautiful versions of Jesus, Mary, and Josepth. The extent of the statues on sale is mesmerizing and so is the ornate and intricate detail of each piece. It is Christmas everyday on this street, and tourists flock to this location for beautiful Christmas gifts in all seasons. This is the cornerstone of the holiday festivities in Naples. The city is ablaze with lights from early December through January. Naples also celebrates the wonderful feast of Santa Lucia, who is known to bring light and vision throughout the world. This celebration takes place on December 13.

It is clear to see that Naples is a city of great faith and this brings a joy to all who visit. The people of Naples are bright and full of life and they share this gift with all they meet. As the saying goes, lontano da Napoli non si po sta – which means you can never be far from Naples. I cherish the wonderful traditions of Christmas in Naples and hold dear the beauty of the Manger Scene. Wishing all of you the deep and true happiness that Christmas brings.

Buon Natale!

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Il Foulard – The Italian Scarf – A Hidden Treasure of Italy

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

October 5, 2022

Joanne’s Collection of Scarves

The silk scarf or foulard is probably one of the most beautiful Italian accessory. As we all know the Italians have great style and their accessories are high end and meticulously selected to enhance any wardrobe that will outlast trends. Designers have had their own wonderful scarves that are signature creations and are truly art-forms in their own right. Some of the most gorgeous scarves have been designed by Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Versace, Ferragamo, Laura Biagiotti, and countless other fashion houses.

Italian silk is probably the most exquisite in the world. Lake Como is also known as Silk City because if its many factories and family-owned businesses. Ludivico Sforza, who was the Duke of Milan in 1400 cultivated mulberry trees in Lake Como to feed the silkworms. This was the beginning of the silk industry in Italy. For the following centuries silk manufacturing has been prevalent throughout Italy. Italy is renowned for the Made in Italy fashion brand because of its silk industry, as well as, many other impeccable fashion items.

Perhaps the first scarf dates back to Egyptian times, when Nefertiti wore magnificent head and neck coverings that adorned her clothing. The Romans utilized neck coverings for warmth and practicality, while the French invented the cravat in the 17th century. Queen Victoria was a fashion icon in her time, with beautiful English lace scarves and neck pieces. It was actresses like Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly that brought the scarf to more modern times. Who could forget Audrey in her chic outfit with a fashionable scarf in Roman Holiday. A scarf can transform any outfit. Grace Kelly always a timeless beauty, was even more beautiful in her many head scarves throughout her career as an actress. Princess Grace inspired the famous Gucci Flora Scarf that was especially designed for her. The Gucci Flora Scarf is a true art form and still popular today after 7 decades.

Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday
Grace Kelly in The Country Girl
Gucci Flora Scarf

Like all things Italian, quality and not quantity is the mantra for everything, and also when accessorizing. It is not unreasonable to drop several hundred dollars on a scarf, but it is an investment that will last a lifetime. It is a luxury item that can be a family heirloom, the same as jewelry or art. A scarf is an accessory for all seasons. Italian women and men wear scarves as a little extra something, a thing of beauty that identifies their special brand and personality.

About the Author:

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Il Caffe – An Italian Treasure

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

September 6, 2022

While coffee dates back to first being discovered in Ethiopia in the 9th Century, it became available in Italy in the 16th century and imported through the port of Venice. Venice has a strong background in the coffee industry because of its prime location on the Adriatic Sea. History tells us that coffee was consumed heavily in Arab nations so that worshipers could stay awake during late night prayers. It was and still is a staple throughout the Middle East and Europe.

In Italy it was available for the rich and sold in pharmacies. Soon it became available for the middle classes and made primarily at home. The rise of coffee as a pass time in fancy Italian bars and hotels became prevalent in the 1950s and 60s. You may remember watching La Dolce Vita the fabulous Fellini movie and marveling at the beautiful people sitting at the once famous Cafe de Paris on Via Veneto. Sipping Espresso at a choice location was an event to see and be seen. It still is today.

Cafe de Paris, Rome

Coffee is also a part of haute cuisine. Espresso flavor became and is a part of eclectic pastries and candy. Coffee and chocolate go hand in hand to create some of our most beloved desserts. The most famous one perhaps being Tira mi Su, a delicious pick me up.

As a child, I began drinking caffe latte at age 2. I’m not very tall, so maybe it did stunt my growth, but it was worth it! Coffee is one of my favorite things generally, but specifically it is an ultimate experience for me when drinking coffee in Italy. Most Italians go to the local corner bar for their morning fix. The standard is a strong caffe ristretto or cappuccino and these are consumed quickly standing up before work . No true Italian in Italy or elsewhere will ever drink a cappuccino after 11AM. This is insulting to Italians and a reminder that you are not really embracing their culture. The leisurely espresso is consumed in late afternoon at a spectacular outdoor café, sitting down with a gelato, and this is followed by people watching, taking in the runway of beautiful Italian fashion.

Coffee culture in America has exploded in the new millennium, but it greatly differs from Italian coffee culture. There is a common ground in that drinking coffee is a social opportunity. Italian coffee culture is a hidden treasure, and like all pass times in Italy, it is entrenched in taking time to enjoy simple pleasures, and savoring life in all its wonderful and surprising ways. Hope you enjoy a buon caffe today!

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

L’onomastico – Name Day in Italy- Featuring St. John the Baptist & Florence

June 24, 2022

By: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

If you were born in Italy and Catholic, you most likely always celebrate your l’onomastico, which is also the birthday of the saint you were named after. My birth name is Giovanna, and in my case it is the birthday of Saint John the Baptist, which is celebrated today, June 24th. All the Johns, Joannes, Joans, Giovannis and Giovannas, etc celebrate their name day today as well. St. John the Baptist is recognized throughout Italy as the patron saint of Florence, Turin, and other cities in Italy. There are festivals throughout Italy celebrating Saint John the Baptist in June. I particularly love the amazing parades and celebrations in Florence.

For me the feast day of St. John the Baptist is always a double celebration, because it is a wonderful family tradition to celebrate St. John and his impact on Italy, and the Catholic religion , but it is also my name day. In Italy your name day is just as important as your birthday, and sometimes even more. Warm wishes are sent to you, flowers, sweets, and a preparation of a special family meal. It is a fantastic way to celebrate who you are and your relationship to your saint.

St. John the Baptist is one of the most important saints in the Catholic religion, because of his inspiration from Jesus to baptize him. The fact that St. John was chosen to baptized Jesus is especially symbolic to his ministry and to the sacrament of rebirth. It is the first sacrament we receive as Catholics. The immersion into water is to cleanse and to bring new life into our body and souls. St. John walked along with Jesus in his life, and throughout many Gospel passages. He is an essential foundation of Christianity. I am humbled to be called after him. On his feast day, we pray to St. John to reaffirm our faith, and to relive the promises our parents and godparents made on our Baptism day.

As with all celebrations, we enjoy fabulous food, which includes a pasta dish made with snails. Snails are not easy to find, but there are special seafood stores that have them. Snails are a symbol of St. John and are often depicted in many Renaissance paintings. Our meal also includes the traditional antipasti and salumi of Tuscany, branzino, or other fresh fish and some excellent Tuscan wines. Like all special occasions, there is always a beautiful dessert. On this day, we usually prepare la Schiacciata alla Fiorentina. This is a simple olive oil cake flavored with orange zest and orange liquor. It is sometimes served plain but often filled with vanilla pastry cream. The top is dusted with powdered sugar with a cocoa chocolate lily, the flower of Florence.

I hope I have inspired you to celebrate your own l’onomastico. If it is today, Auguri, and best wishes! These are special days and help us to reflect what our names may mean to us, and what they may have meant to our parents.

About the Author: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

A Hidden Treasure of Italy – The Sistine Madonna

May 6, 2022

By Joanne Natale Spigonardo

The Sistine Madonna

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought I would write about one of the greatest mothers of all, Mary. Mary symbolizes the unconditional love of motherhood, and the gifts that motherhood brings. The Sistine Madonna depicts the purity of devotion that Mary has for her Son. The painting was one of the great works of Raphael, and was commissioned by Pope Julius II for the church of San Sisto in Piacenza, Italy. The painting was completed in 1513 and the Rovere family of Piacenza was one of its benefactors. It is considered one of the most extraordinary masterpieces of Renaissance Italy. Its truly a hidden treasure of Italy, however it now resides in Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden, Germany.

The meaning of la Madonna di San Sisto is interpreted in many ways, however one interpretation is that Mary is at the center of reality on earth and as a Mother she will eventually lead her Son to Heaven. She is having a vision of the future. Her worried expression could be a foreshadowing of the crucifixion of Christ, and the pain, as well as the glory that her Son will experience. Like all Mother’s she holds her child close to her heart, and wants to protect Him from his destiny, and like all Mother’s she knows that children need to follow their chosen path.

One of the most famous images in the Sistine Madonna is the beautiful angels, that Raphael called his putti. Raphael is greatly known for his cherubs. He was inspired by the innocence of children and their general curiosity and wonder of the beauty around them. Some historic facts about his angels are that they were the village children that were watching Raphael paint and he was touched by their attention to his art.

Raphael’s Cherub in The Sistine Madonna

There are countless masterpieces of the Madonna in Italy and throughout the world. One can only assume that the love of Mary and of mothers is one of life’s greatest gifts. Hope that all the mothers in the universe, and those that are like mothers to us, have a wonderful Mother’s Day!

About the Author

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Flea Markets in Italy

By Karen Titus

April 26, 2022

If you love to walk through flea markets and find a perfect treasure,  would highly suggest to make time to do this while visiting  Italy! There are numerous markets to choose from in the country, many famous markets are in Rome, Venice and Arezzo.

In Arezzo, the Fiera Antiquaria flea market is held every first Sunday of the month and the Saturday prior.  At this market, or mercari,  are a variety of eclectic items, furnishings and treasures of history.  The findings are truly unlimited, it simply depends on what your definition of treasure may be.  Th Fiera Antiquaria has an “object of the month” and they share the story on their official social media channels. For example, during Easter, focus was on collections of Easter eggs made of porcelains, ceramics and other precious metals and stone.  Some past and future markets include fine linens and fabrics.

Throughout Italy, many markets are traditionally held weekly on the street. The smaller markets within the neighborhoods or community can really tell a story of the residents and region.  The items can be fairly inexpensive to high end.  Depending on the area, the market may have focus on presenting and selling locally grown foods, produce and meats or maybe homemade wines, and fragrant flowers.  How much fun to peruse through vintage items and find the absolutely perfect gift, or t-shirt, jacket or fun jewelry, or maybe an old map, photos or someone’s favorite record collection. 

The best time of year for flea markets in Italy would be from April to September, if you are planning your trip during this time, why not take an hour or two to wander through and maybe find that treasure to bring home and recycle.  

Shopping and being sustainable at the same time, Diverti!

About the Author:

Karen Titus is a retired Delta Air Lines employee.  While not really retired, she is working on her next chapter keeping true to her passion of travel and exploration. She has a new granddaughter and plans on sharing her excitement with Violet and bringing her along on many trips abroad. 

For more information about Karen, please visit: https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-titus-22b4a1b

St. Joseph’s Day – A Hidden Treasure

March 19, 2022

Joanne Natale Spigonardo

Zeppole di San Giuseppe

If you are originally from Italy, or an Italian American, you’ve certainly celebrated St. Joseph’s Day! It is the traditional Father’s Day in Italy, where everyone honors their own fathers as well as St. Joseph the father to us all. On March 19, everyone who is Italian, or would like to be, celebrates in some special way or maintains long-standing family traditions.

In Italy, St. Joseph’s Day is celebrated with a huge family dinner, to include extended families, especially Godfathers and special Uncles that are important in one’s life. Like all wonderful celebrations, St. Joseph’s Day includes wonderful food. The festivities usually include grilled meats, like spring lamb and goat. The antipasto consists of beautiful fresh mellanzane (egg plant) and verdure (green vegetables), with a compliment of delectable cheeses like gorgonzola and peccorino. In addition, special pastas like paglia e fieno (wheat and hay) are part of the menu. Fava beans are also eaten on St. Joseph’s day.

St. Joseph’s Day is highly celebrated in Sicily as well, where St. Joseph is the patron saint. The St. Joseph novena is said 9 days before the feast day to bring on a fertile spring, and to ward off droughts and bad weather. There are many parades and festivals in the small villages surrounding Palermo and Agrigento.

On St. Joseph’s day in America, Italian neighbors and their pastry shops begin making the beloved Zeppole di San Giuseppe, or St. Joseph Day cakes weeks prior to the feast day. They are usually plain, or filled with vanilla or chocolate cream, but the most delicious for most people are the ones filled with ricotta and chocolate chips. Our family tradition included making all of these special treats and always embracing this special day. Saint Joseph’s day was always a day we could break Lent, and because it is just a few days before spring, it is a true respite of festivity after a long winter. Hope you will celebrate it this year!

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Valentine’s Day in Italy, Featuring Terni – A Hidden Treasure

By:  Joanne Natale Spigonardo

February 14, 2022

The origins of Valentine’s Day come from the beautiful city of Terni.  Terni is located in the northern part of Umbria, in the region of Perugia.  Like the rest of Italy, it has a wealth of history and antiquity.  It is the birthplace of Saint Valentine.  He was born in 226 AD and was martyred in Rome in 269 AD.  He is buried in the Basilica di San Valentino, in Terni.

San Valentino, Patron Saint of Love

Saint Valentine was a bishop who performed clandestine marriages for Christians who were being persecuted.  He also helped Christians escape from prison. He is known as the saint of love for this reason, and his love of love led to his own death.  Many couples go to Terni to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but it is also a day that many Italians get engaged and has become a tradition for couples globally. 

Homage to St. Valentine

In Italy, Valentine’s Day is for lovers, you send a Valentine to your boyfriend, girlfriend, partner, and spouse.  It is not a tradition to send general Valentine’s to everyone.  Normally, an Italian Valentine’s Day will include a romantic dinner, wine, chocolates, and beautiful flowers, and usually roses. Roses were identified with the Greek and Roman Goddess of love, Aphrodite.  The red rose is the symbol of love for that reason. Other origins of Valentine’s Day also date back to the fertility festival in Roman times, called Lupercalia.

The Ciocolattino Festival on Valentine’s Day in Terni

The Feast of Saint Valentine’s Day was first celebrated in the 5th Century on February 14 and has remained as the date to celebrate Saint Valentine and love. In Terni, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with beautiful parades and festivals.  Many flock to see the remains of Saint Valentine, in the Basilica di San Valentino, and hope for a special blessing from him to have their love last. Terni, also has a Marathon race on Valentine’s Day where runners wear love laden regalia with hearts and flowers and dedicate the race to their lover.  Terni has beautiful street fairs with cicollattini bancarelle – which means – chocolate vendor stalls that sell magnificent chocolates that are in all shapes and many of them are life sized symbols of love. Hope you will put Terni on your bucket list for a special Valentine’s Day in the future.

Terni, Marathon of Love

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

New Year’s Eve in Italy

Piazza Venezia – Rome Italy

By: Joanne Natale Spigonardo

December 31, 2021

As 2021 comes to a close, and we find that some of our travels have been curtailed in the last two years, it is wonderful to remember our past travels.  One of mine is travelling to Rome for a long weekend that included New Year’s Eve. 

The city was ablaze with lights as it always is during the Holidays, but it was even extra festive for New Year’s Eve.  We started the day with a noon Mass at the Vatican said by Pope John Paul.  It was an amazing experience to end and to start out the New Year with such significant spiritual guidance. We walked along the Tiber to Trastevere and Piazza Navona and visited with the Befana, who was getting ready for January 6th.  We stopped at the many outdoor stalls and purchased the seven dried fruits and nuts that are eaten for good luck on New Year’s Eve.  These consisted of almonds, hazelnuts, peanuts, walnuts, dates, raisins and dried figs. We purchased fresh pomegranates because its many seeds, according to legend, bring  fertility and wealth, and have done so since ancient Roman times.

We ate a cenone – at L’ambasciata d’Abruzzo – which was a famous restaurant in Rome for many decades.  Cenone means a big feast, and a big feast we had!  We had a multitude of antipasti, prosciutto, mozzarella di buffola, soppressate, the traditional lentil soup with cotechino, bacala, bucatini with sardines, stuffed artichokes, and many other delicacies.  All of these foods are eaten for good luck and prosperity as well.  The desserts were numerous, panettone, zeppole, biscotti, grapes, and a magnificent torta con crema.

The evening ending with bottles of spumante and prosecco on the Spanish Steps with fireworks overlooking Piazza Venezia and along the Tiber.  It is a memory that sustains me till this day when we are still battling COVID and many social issues globally. 

Other cities in Italy also have amazing celebrations for New Year’s Eve.  Most of them include fireworks along the spectacular iconic and historical landmarks in each city.  Their culinary delights include lentils always, as well as the dried fruits and nuts.  Each city has many traditional and unique dishes, for example the large and life-like marzipan candy fruits in Sicily and the insalata di rinforzo in Naples, a power salad with cauliflower, green olives, pickles and anchovies.  The salad promises to bring good health to you and your family in the New Year.

New Year’s Eve in Naples
New Year’s Eve in Palermo
New Year’s Eve in Piza

In homage to my heritage, I’m making lentil soup today.  It is my hope that you and your families have a healthy, prosperous and joyous 2022.  My fondest wish is that you visit Italy in 2022 and find a hidden treasure there.  Happy New Year!

Joanne Spigonardo

About the Author:

Joanne has many years of experience in travel to Italy, Italian art, literature, film, history, wine, and cuisine. She is a lover of nature and beauty.  She is an advocate for Italian immigrant women, and the author of White Widow, which is available on Amazon. https://www.amazon.com/White-Widow-Joanne-Natale-Spigonardo/dp/B085DT65DB.  For more information about Joanne please visit her LinkedIn page:  https://www.linkedin.com/in/joanne-spigonardo-b4824a9/.

Cinisi Sicily

By Karen Titus

November 14, 2021

Cinisi, Sicily a place I don’t think I have ever heard of until having a conversation with my second cousin on our family history.  As we discussed our roots and learned more of about my grandfather growing up in Sicily, he shared with me his father was from Cinisi.  So as I looked into this coastal town, well I found what sounds like a hidden treasure.

Cinisi has a population of approximately 12,500 and it lies along the coastline of the Mediterranean Sea.  The area brings tourists for a variety of reasons from the long history,  starting with the churches that date back to 1600 & 1700’s, the lush terrain that grows olive trees, fruits and nuts, and the beautiful beaches.   The weather is moderate with short winters and summer days that are warm but cool in the evening.

So this has peaked my curiosity and would like to visit the Benedictine Monastery.  This monastery dates back to the  that dates to the 1800 century and from there on to the Church of Santa Fara, which is dedicated to the patron saint of the town. 

Of course, my idea of a vacation includes a stay at the beack, so will plan to relax on Magaggiari Beach.  As it seas on the sea, the beaches are very rocky and they say the contract of color between the rock and the water is magnificent.

If I time my trip right,  I can also enjoy the food festivals.  In May, the town gathers to present the local products of fruits, nus and goods from the olive trees.  I can imagine the scents and tastes as you walk along.  You would have the warm sun on your skin, the blue sky for your eyes, the taste of the harvest and the smell of local dishes.  I also imagine hearing the conversations that I may not understand, but falling in love with the passion.

With the long history of the town, they do have several famous people, Giovanni Meli, 1740 – 1815 was a doctor and poet.  This could be my next blog as I dive into his poetry.

To get to Cinisi is fairly simple as it is in close proximity of Falcone – Borsellino Airport (Palermo) and as connection from Europe.  Now that borders are opening, hoping this trip to a little hidden treasure is on the horizon for 2022.

About the Author:

For more information about Karen, please visit: 

https://www.linkedin.com/in/karen-titus-22b4a1b