A shared life of art, food and soul in two towns an ocean apart: Panicale, Italy and Peterborough, New Hampshire, each lying on the 43rd Parallel.
Parallel Towns, Parallel Lives - much the same and yet very different.
Transatlantic Journal is a weekly reflection on making art, food and friends over four seasons in our town in Italy and our town in New Hampshire.
We hope you will follow us on this journey.
- Saint Ambrose (329-397), advice to St. Augustine
Q. I am planning on visiting Rome and I am on the Atkins diet. Is there anything I can eat?
S. P. Q. R.
During the turbulent period of time after the assassination of Julius Caesar, Rome was thrown into a Civil War. Patrician Senators sought the restoration of the Republic while forces loyal to Caesar fought to establish a new Empire. Three men joined forces to oppose the Republic: Octavius (the mind), along with his future enemy and Cleo boy toy, Marc Antony ( the muscle)
and the third, Marcus Lepidus ( the money). This alliance was known as the Second Triumvirate, the rule of three. But, as they say, that was a very long time ago.
Today there is another Triumvirate that rules Rome. This one is not built of military strength and political ambition, but of something much more simple, durham wheat and water.
" Adapt your dish of spaghetti to circumstances and your state of mind."
- Guiseppe Marotta
Romans take their pasta very seriously and three dishes stand out as forming the nucleus of Roman cuisine, The Roman culinary hat trick:
CACIO e PEPE
Served in a beautiful ceramic bowl from Deruta
The quintessential Roman dish, spaghetti tossed with finely grated Pecorino Roman
cheese ( no substitutions), and freshly ground black pepper. Straightforward, simple...easy? un-un.
Timing, heat, good pasta, good olive oil make this dish best left to professionals, order
it at AR Galleto and sit outside in the Piazza Farnese, a block and world away from the ordered chaos of the Campo dei Fiori.
SPAGHETTI alla CARBONARA
Spaghetti with fresh eggs, "bacon" and grated pecorino Romano. Forget the myth that this dish was invented for American G.I.'s who missed their bacon and eggs. Carbonara means 'charcoal burners wife' and probably came down from Abruzzo, but , lets face it, every farmyard in Italy has chickens and most raise at least one pig, for guess what? Pancetta ( cured pork belly) and
guanciale ( cured pork jowl). Romans insist on guanciale. Try this dish at Al Moro, quite close to the Trevi Fountain.
If you'd like a quick lesson in making Spaghetti Carbonara, watch Elizabeth Minchilli's video from her Rome kitchen , November 13, 2014 post: www.elizabrthminchilliinrome
BUCATINI alla AMATRICIANA
This is a dish that no matter what you are doing, rest assured you are doing something wrong. There seems to be no definitive list of ingredients. The pasta is Bucatini, a thicker
hollow spaghetti ( 'little hole '), but you may see it served on penne or rigatoni. There are ground tomatoes ( San Marzano), unless its 'gricia', no tomatoes. Onions? To some its a sin to add
onions ( Queen Margherita, of pizza fame, is said to have insisted on onions.)
Some like to add wine, red or white? It depends. Others say wine ruins the acid balance. Oh, did I mention garlic? Mama Mia! The recipe does require meat....guanciale. Almost everybody outside Rome just roll their eyes and use pancetta. There remains only one ingredient that everyone can agree with.......crushed red pepper and of course a good appetite. We first had this pasta at Checchino dal 1887 in the Testaccio neighborhood, but go to La Taverna dei Fori Imperiali, in Monti and you will have the best in Rome.
" Everything you see I owe to spaghetti."
You can take the boy out of New Hampshire......
Coffee Cups and ?
pencil on paper
I was fortunate enough to be Visiting Artist at The American Academy in Rome. We had an apartment in the main building ( McKim, Mead & White Building) called 'Il Cortile' because it looked over the central courtyard. I was there to draw and immediately set up a still life of two espresso cups with a snazzy container that I filled with sugar and began drawing. Awhile later Elizabeth came in and looked at my drawing and asked, "what is sugar doing in the cheese server?"
Q."Hey Jim!, I'm an artist and I'm reading your blog and all I'm reading is pumpkins, shoes n' stuff! Where's the art? What's the matter, you got no more hocus-pocus and golden whatever's to explain?"
- Quin R., Brooklyn
Remember the squared circle? here it is again, but now I've drawn the diagonal of the square and used the length to determine the sides of a new rectangle.
It becomes an irregular proportion (i.e. a 12" x 16" is a 3 to 4 ratio and regular,
this rectangle is 12" x 17", thus irregular). It is called a root two rectangle.
MIX AND MATCH
Now that I have established the outer lines of the rectangle, I now draw a line down the middle, bisecting it. I locate the Golden Section points on the sides (dotted lines).
With a compass I've had since elementary school, I inscribe the two circles from the center on the Golden Section points. The circumference of each is determined by the distance between the Golden Section points. Still with me?
The circles more or less determine my key elements, the flowers, and mirroring them, the fabric. Balance by symmetry.
Q. "Come on Jim, you're giving me a headache! Whats with all the lines? Don't you ever just wing it?
You know .......create? That's what artists do....create."
THE SHELL GAME
The Chambered Nautilus is an example of the Golden Section as logarithmic spiral as a growth ratio .
In other words, as it gets bigger the shape remains the same.
The ancients believed that all of nature is infused with the 'Divine Proportion'. That I don't know about but why not use it to structure and enhance your.....
Cards From Cortona
oil on panel, 7" x 5"
PS. In response to Quin from Brooklyn, more than valid concerns that these formulas are in and of themselves hindering creativity I would say that I have spent over a quarter of a century studying formal composition, as I would tell my students, Once you have learned it....forget it. Let it sink into your visual memory so that you can re-cognize when you see it. In other words, "Just wing it.....with knowledge."
" If I could paint and had the necessary time, I should devote myself for a few years to making pictures only of olive trees."
- Aldous Huxley
One morning, Katia came to our house for a visit. "James and Elizabeth, you must come to Panicale in October and help with the olive harvest, I will feed you!", she exclaimed with a flourish. It sounded to me like a Tom Sawyer and the fence set up. A lot of work, no pay. Elizabeth then replied, " Katia, you know that we would love to visit in the fall, but it is also a busy time for us in the studio, it is very difficult to get away" ( never mind expensive). Undeterred, Katia continued,"Senti carissima, the harvest is so much fun, we all participate, Massimo, my father and mother and even nonna helps out! And the food! Mama Mia!"
LITTLE DID WE KNOW WHAT WAS TO COME
The landscape of Umbria and Tuscany is characterized by two crops, grapes for the production of wine and olives for 'green gold', extra virgin olive oil. In both cases the fruit is harvested and pressed in the fall and miracles of everyday transubstantiation take place. all across central Italy, many private homes have a small vineyard for wine that will be consumed throughout the year, this is called table wine, humble and delicious. There is also usually from a few to hundreds of olive trees on the property. The oil that is pressed from the olives will sustain a families cooking needs for a year.
Together, these are the life blood of Italy.
Il Progresso olive oil
Who has the best olive oil in Italy? It depends who you ask. Some insist on the peppery Tuscan olive oil from Lucca and Chianti, others swear by the refined, elegant oil from Garda. Puglia, to the south has unwavering support, while to other southerners it is the dark green, sediment infused oil from Sicily.
Hillside of Panicale
pencil on paper
Personally, all I have to do is look out the window to see where my favorite olive oil comes from. The hills surrounding Lake Trasimeno are considered by many to be the perfect blend of rocky soil and harsh climate necessary for the best olives.
DARK CLOUDS O THE HORIZON
That is until this year. The winter of 2013-14 was unusually mild, followed by a wet spring. we had heard rumors of a blight of Biblical proportions killing trees in Puglia and making its way north. The culprit is a fly inadvertently brought from the Americas, possibly California (gulp!). The fly burrows into the fruit, lays eggs and the larvae suck the olive dry. What is harvestable is questionable. A cold winter is necessary to control the fly population and it didn't happen,...so,what happens now?
One thing for sure, la casalinga (housewife) who was used to having oil for the year must now buy it...at higher prices. Italy is the second highest exporter ( after Spain) of olive oil in the world. That means less to export...higher prices.
In New England, the fall foliage season rolls down from Canada in early October and cascades over Cape Cod and the Islands around the beginning of November. This arboreal technicolor review is witnessed by countless tourists in large buses as well as 'daytrippers' from all parts of New England, New York and beyond. They come to catch the first glimpses of the yellows, oranges, vermillion and magentas of the sugar maples and myriad of other trees. There is nothing subtle about a 'peak' New England fall.
Personally, I wait for the tide to roll back, after the maples have dropped their leaves and the tourists have bought their souvenirs and left, a quiet returns and a second 'fall' occurs. It is now time for the majestic oaks, rugged hickories and elegant birches to step forward. The oak eschews the brilliant chroma of the maple and instead dons a more regal mantle of burnt orange and russet. The hickory turns gold, the envy of any potentate or commodities trader. This thunderous chord is offset by the lyrical dance of the white birches with lemon yellow leaves. Only the beeches will keep their leaves all winter, a ghostly presence, rattling in the wind, waiting for spring.
The angle of sunlight is now low and sharp, the clear, piercing light passes through the bare trees, casting long shadows on the dry fields. Deer are on the move. It is time for sheep to find winter shelter. Birds are agitated, preparing for their long flight south. Overhead, a river of hawks arrive from Mount Desert in Maine and catch the thermal updrafts above Pack Monadnock mountain and continue down the coast.
There is a certain nostalgia or sadness to this time of year. Firewood is stacked strategically around the house. It will be needed to ward off the bitter cold of winter, gardens are put to bed and everyone waits for the first flurry of snow. Storm windows are fastened and everywhere you begin to see the unofficial flag of New England unfurl, the blue plastic tarp that covers everything for the winter.
LATE HARVEST AT LULL FARM
"Live Free and Farm"
This is also the time for the rural farmstands. Not far from us is one of the best, Lull Farm, in Hollis, New Hampshire. I spend a part of my youth nearby at my Uncle's farm. Here bins of apples compete with mountains of pumpkins and squash for attention. The weekends find the stand crowded with families in festive moods. Children scamper over piles of pumpkins trying to find the perfect one, classic country mirth. It is an event that reminds me of a Brueghel painting.
The Wedding Dance, 1566
Tip 'O The Hat and my thanks to our friends Judith and Robert Oksner for on call editing