Saturday, May 23, 2009

Tea and tradition in typical Istanbul

I just got back from Istanbul and am already planning my second trip to that beautiful Turkish city, half in the European continent, half in the Asian land, divided by the charming Bosphorus, where the Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea meet.

Apart from the strictly touristic attractions, where travellers are both flattered and cheated by expert and cheeky traders, Turkish people are just lovely.

One day I happened to be in a not ver
y touristic spot and the display of some of the best cakes ever lured me inside the shop. I found myself in an old-fashioned, woody-decorated café with a mouthwatering view of any kind of pastries and cakes, of any shape and flavour, from chocolate to strawberry to raspberry.

As usual, I took a look at the cosy shop and started taking photos. The spot was way too cute to leave it behind without a picture. Lined up along the windows were the tables, and the last one was covered with books and had a pair of reading glasses on top.

At first I thought the books could have been of the boy who served behind the counter, probably an university student as that was a pretty young area and quite populated by students.

Coming back to my seat, I noticed that actually those books belonged to a tall and gentle-mannered man, most likely the owner of the café. Shamelessly, I approached him while he was concentrated on his books and I asked him what he was doing. Clearly amused but by no means surprised and with an expert savoir faire, he replied (in Turkish) something that I interpreted as "reading the Koran".

In fact, he had a book in Arabic and one in Turkish. I have always been very much attracted by Arabic culture, language, traditions, and somehow I got very excited at the idea that the gentleman spoke Arabic. Apparently, he appreciated my questions and gave me three books.

With the aid of hands, a mix between Turkish, English and Italian and a small dictionary, I understood that they were the explanation of the
Koran in English.

In the wake of 30 years spent in the desperately profit-
driven Western society, the last thing I would expect when I enter a café and order tea and cookies is that the owner will give me a book, let alone three.

After this and other stories, I can say that I will surely be back to Istanbul and undoubtedly look for that café close to Galata Tower.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

All that glitters is not gold

I've always believed that quality has nothing to do with appearance, and in Strasbourg I had the empirical proof to support my theory.

My evidence is called La Cure Gourmande, literally "The Greedy Cure". From both outside and inside it looks like a candy, exactly like the ones they sell.

As soon as you get in the small shop you are welcomed by a friendly "Bonjour Madame! Voulez-vous goûter un de nos biscuits à la fraise?" How to say no to such a warm invite to taste mouthwatering strawberry cookies?


And that was the first trick: those cookies were actually good, the st
rawberry inside actually tasted like strawberry.

The more we walked into the store, the more the sight became captivating. Chic sachets containing finely decorated chocolate hung from old-fashioned shelves, a wide range of nougat lay on fancy wooden chests and an impressive variety of (mock-)homemade biscuits was the main display.

I'd like to make clear first that I don't just *like* chocolate, I'm completely addicted to it, and when I find myself before any kind of sweets and cookies, I take the plunge shamelessly.

I've noticed La Cure Gourmande on my second day in Strasbourg and I decided to shop there before I'd leave so to have a good travel companion on my way back to London. The memory of that tantalizing show haunted my short French stay.

On the last day I couldn't wait. I got up excited that I was going to give my already beautiful holiday the final touch and, despite the definitely unreasonable price, I filled a cute paper bag with all the most appetizing types of biscuits.

I couldn't resist and, once back home packing my last stuff, I tried some of them. And here my theory was confirmed by the empirical evidence of heavy and hard cookies that didn't do any justice to their lovely look.

I couldn't believe what I was experiencing, I couldn't believe how a sweet-obsessed like myself could get bamboozled by a couple of nice displays. Yes, truth hurts.

Instead of the aphrodisiac blend of fruits, sugar, chocolate, coconut flavors, I found a rocklike mix of butter and sugar, where the taste of what was meant to be the main ingredients was sadly imperceptible.

Well, I guess it's always good to remember that all that glitters is not gold.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Migrations and life journeys

I've always tried to dig deep into my family's history and I've always been fascinated by my grandmother's tales on the journey that was going to represent the beginning of their new life in another country.

Reading a warmheartin
g article in World Hum, I spotted many common features with my family's past and although I know that was the destiny of a large part of the Italian population, it's always revealing how many families have shared struggles and emotions throughout history.

In the late 1950s my mother was seven and was only the secondborn of six children. My grandfather had already settled in France, started working as a miner and prepared everything for the arrival of his family.

My grandmother was 26, had already a consistent brood and made her way alone with her children and her brother-in-law to Northern France. She is from a tiny village in Sardinia and could hardly speak Italian, let alone French.

Desperation, the aftermath of Second World War and poverty were the essential ingredients for her courage that led her to embark on a journey studded with old coaches, crumbling trains and slow ships, through the Mediterranean Sea, Central and Northern Italy first and most France afterwards, to reach what her husband had reckoned was their best bet.

Today most of my uncles still live in France, where the family has considerably increased and boasts now children and babies of all ages. Every time I go to see them, not very often actually, there is at least a new born. If I wait a couple of years, the new born can be three or four, even.

Travelling and living abroad are always enriching experiences, and I'm sure this part of my family's past is the main reason why I can't stay too long in the same place, but I bet my grandparents, back in the 1950s, only wanted to live a quiet life in their tiny village.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Sardinia between past and present

When I went to see the parade of the Mamuthones to write an article for GoNomad, I knew it was going to be emotional, but reality was well over my expectations.

Sardinia is a treasure chest when it comes to traditions. Mamuthones have been lasting for 2,000 years, but they are not alone: there are the Merdules, other masks that represent the old oxen's owners (
Mere de Ule in Sardinian language), and other festivals and celebrations reproducing a deep connection between present and past.

All rituals have something ancestral a
nd primordial that connects modern times with the dawn of civilization and what amazes me the most is that everybody, even the smallest child, is a proud and stalwart defender of their traditions.

Every celebration is the quintessence of local history blended with people's personality, as every village in Sardinia has their own idiosyncrasies, coming from the events that populated their history and the mix of foreign dominations.


Sardinia is one of the few places where the farest past is perfectly traceable and recognizable in todays life, not only because there are annual celebrations and festivals to remember historical events, but because people have unconsciously kept ancient flavors and a pretty much untouched environment.
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