Monthly Archives: June 2007
Friday’s Urban Trekking for the students enrolled in Umbra’s Intensive Italian Through Culture Program allowed students to learn about some of the hidden gems Perugia has to offer. The theme of the trek was botteghe artigianali (artisan workshops). Umbria is one is the few regions in Italy that still perserves the ancient tradition of these workshops. The students and guide Valeria Romani spent the morning trekkng along streets many of them had never walked before while stopping off to observe these artisans at work.
The first stop was leather book-binding workshop. Dating back to the middle ages when artisans make booksof wood and bound their covers in leather, the Italian tradition of
covering books still exists today. The handmade books are generally shipped off to clients in Paris and the US and many Italians use these books as wedding albums.
The second stop was Il Pozzo delle Ceramiche Taticchi right up the street from Umbra’s main building. There, artisans hand paint pottery with scenes from Perugia and the Umbrian countryside. Maria Antonietta Tittichi gets her pottery from the well-know pottery mecca of Deruta (just 15 minutes from Perugia) and paints them all by hand in her shop.
The students then set off to the opposite side of Perugia to a hand woven fabric artisan. The Brozetti workshop uses 18th century hand looms (the only in all of Italy who weave fabric by hand) to create beautiful and intricate tablecloths, centerpieces, tassels, etc, out of cotton, linen and even silk. The factory is housed in the church of San Francesco
delle Donne and it truly a magnificent place.
The trek finished at the Augusta Perusia chocolate shop. Students learned about the art of chocolate making and how Augusta Perusia maintains the highest quality of product despite being a very small operation. Students were then treated to some of Perugia’s most famous chocolate made fresh that very morning.
For more information on the stops please visit the following websites
In photos: Massimilliano demonstrates the process of decorating the cover of one of the books he made, students observe one of the 18th century looms in action, Giordano explains the chocolate-making process
Christine Hickman, instructor of Umbra’s Gnocchi Making night, first learned how to make homemade potato gnocchi on the shores of the beautiful Umbrian lake, Lago Trasimeno in the small but charming town of Castiglione del Lago. While studying the intricacies of la cucina italiana she learned the recipe from a local restaurant owner Anna Maria Rodriquez D’Amato, who she came to know as her Gnocchi Mamma.
Gnocchi is plural for gnocco, which translates to “lump” and can be purchased in various forms—dried, frozen, fresh and vacuum sealed. But store-bought gnocchi can often be gummy and dense. Christine says it best when she states, “Well-made gnocchi, on the other hand, are light pillows with a creamy texture, a divine pleasure to the palette.” It seems as though just as with everything else, homemade is best.
As students kneaded the dough, Christine explained that the secret to good gnocchi is not to work the dough too much. Her explanation is simple, in the end, the mixture of flour, egg and potato should feel like a baby’s bottom—in weight and texture.
Once the dough is just right, students rolled it out into long strands to be cut into small half-inch pieces. Once the pieces are cut they must be given a quick roll on what’s called a gnocchi paddle. The paddle is very small and ribbed, giving the gnocchi its trademark texture. Rolling the gnocchi across the paddle may seem tedious, but its importance is vital as it helps allow the sauce to stick to each gnocco. The small dents can also be made with a fork, but Christine suggests purchasing a wooden gnocchi paddle, pointing out that it also makes a great souvenir.
The popular dish can be made out of potato, semolina (durum wheat) as well as with ricotta cheese, sometimes combined with spinach in the Tuscan region. Gnocchi is commonly accompanied by classic sauces such as tomato, butter and sage. Sometimes their fluffy goodness may simply be enjoyed with a pat of butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese sprinkled on top.
Just as Christine’s Gnocchi Mamma taught her how to make the perfect little lumps of pasta and potato, Christine passed on the “art of gnocchi-making” to Umbra students. At then end of the evening the students exclaimed, “You’re now OUR Gnocchi Mamma!”
Umbra will be hosting a third gnocchi making night next Thursday, June 21st. For more information on gnocchi or cooking with Christine Hickman, visit her website www.sonomarcella.com
Last night’s Tandem Exchange abounded with temptations. At Ristorante Eden, Umbra students were enticed by warm bruschettasprinkled with melted cheese and tomatoes, enchanted by glasses overflowing with luscious wine, and drawn in by the mystical allure of Perugia as seen from the restaurant’s picturesque terrace overhanging the ancient city wall. And to top it all off, the night air was filled with a fabulous fusion of mother tongues that would put even the Tower of Babel to shame.
Tandem provides a safe and fun environment for students to meet and speak with native Italians. Over aperitivi, program participants traded idiomatic expressions and slang terminology in both English and Italian, enjoying the opportunity to learn things that can’t be gleaned from even the most insightful textbook. Popular movies, hobbies, and Paris Hilton (a serpent of sorts) were all among the topics discussed. Some students were so enamored with the atmosphere that they stayed to eat dinner at Eden. Apples, however, were not on the menu.
At the end of the evening, no one was expelled from paradise. But students trickled out of Eden with full stomachs and enlivened minds, eager to sample the diverse merriments the night offered, emerging into Perugia’s starlit night fully clothed.
Umbra’s summer session offers a unique opportunity for students who wish to completely immerse themselves in the language and culture of Italy called Intensive Italian through Culture. All their classes are conducted in Italian and they are instructed to only speak Italian for their time in Perugia. They also attend events carried out solamente in Italiano. These events include daytrips to Assisi, lunches with their professors, urban trekking through the city itself and a tasting of Umbrian specialities. Leonardo Spulcia from a local cacioteca offered different types of Umbrian cheese, salame, olive oil and washed it down with a bit of Umbrian vino rosso. Most students headed directly to Leonardo’s store after the tasting to pick up more of the very items they had
This Friday the group will embark on an urban trek through the historical city of Perugia. Students will visit different botteghe and witness the artisans at work. They’ll also visit a ceramics studio, leather working shop, an antique fabric/weaving maker and finish in the famous Augusta Perusia chocolate factory.
Last night, over a hundred students from Umbra’s 2007 summer session attended gelato night at Gelateria Veneto. Gelato night, a popular Umbra tradition, gives students a chance to mingle with one another over free gelato. Students can practice their Italian, chat about their experiences in Perugia, or sample one of those elusive flavors they’ve been dying to try. What better way for students to gel with one another than over a cool cone of gelato?
Though ice cream has long been recognized for its icebreaking capacities, the history of Italian gelato is particularly rich. Before the cone became popular, Italian street vendors would serve a small quantity of gelato wrapped in waxed paper. This came to be known as “hokey-pokey,” a possible mispronunciation of the Italian “ecco un poco,” meaning “here’s a little.”
But there was no hokey-pokey at gelato night this year, and Umbra students happily clenched cones of gelato in the blissful night breeze, the perfect chance to chill out after a long day.
And that’s what it’s all about.
Wine, or vino in Italian, has a long and illustrious history. The word comes from the Latin vinum, proving that even if wine originated thousands of years ago in ancient Iran, Italy has some claim to this ubiquitous drink. From Dionysus and drunken satyrs to the recent Oscar-winning movie Sideways, wine has a hold on both our imagination and our palates. There is something mythical about wine, something that makes it truly intoxicating.
As a way to familiarize students with the culture of wine, Umbra hosted anoptional wine tasting yesterday evening. Students were offered a brief introduction to the art of enjoying wine, covering such basics as how to correctly open a bottle and which foods complement which wines. Two reds and a sparkling blush were tasted, and students munched on torta al testo and other appetizers while chatting with one another.
All in all, the night was luscious, with no lushes to speak of. Even the Roman Emperors would be impressed.
Umbra Institute students and local Italians filled the spacious frescoed rooms of Umbra building in Via Marzia as the first meeting of the Italian-English language exchange program, known as TANDEM, began this
Tandem offers Umbra students the opportunity to converse in Italian with and get assistance from local students while assisting them with their English. “It’s a great way to learn to speak Italian like a native” said Jen Dirvianskis, an Umbra student.summer. This is just one part of the Intensive Italian language through Culture program offered at Umbra each summer and directed by Professor Robert Proctor of Connecticut College.
Few if any of the students realized that the Umbra building was the center for one of the so-called “colonies” of the
prestigious Accademia dell’Arcadia, an Italian literary academy founded in Rome in 1690 by Queen Christina of Sweden.
Powerful remnants of the past still exist today in the palazzo. The aula magna is covered with frescos representing ancient Greek Arcadia painted in the early 19th century, and meticulously written on the windows interior shutters are the academy’s bylaws and philosophy. As one sits in the room it is easy to imagine the setting group of authors and composers who met every weekend to impress and delight each other with their stories, poems and prose.
The Accademia dell’Arcadia was appropriately named by its members who sought to imitate in literature the simplicity of the ancient shepherds, who were supposed to have lived in Arcadia in the golden age, divinely inspired in poetry by the Muses, Apollo, Hermes and Pan.
The Academy of Arcadia counted among its members some of the principal literary men of the time, including Menzini, Redi, Metastasio, Rolli, Guidi, and others. The famous composer George Frideric Handel is known to have often attended the meetings and symposia of the Arcadian Academics when studying in Italy.
Just behind the Umbra building at the end of Corso Cavour was the Giardini dell’Arcadia, which still exists today under its new name Giardini del Frontone.
Future Tandem events this summer will take place at the Umbra facility and throughout the streets and piazzas in Perugia. Check back again soon to see the latest updates for the Tandem programs.