Monday, August 21, 2017

Confienza, rice fields and the Panissa, a gastronomical gem.

When we were in Vercelli, we looked for a specialized delicatessen or fine foods store, so as to be able to see and buy all the specialty rice Vercelli has to offer.
In early March, the rice fields of Vercelli are cold
dusty and barren, as they await the planting
 season in the early weeks of Spring. At times,
our souls feel as cold and as barren as these
Vercelli has been the center of the Italian rice production region for centuries. It was here, that Dino de Laurentis, filmed his famous movie, Riso Amaro, Bitter Rice, back in 1949.
At times,our souls feel as cold and as barren as
these rice fields.
So the woman at the Vercelli speciality-foods shop sold us several types of rice: Arborio,  Nero Venere, Carnaroli, Sant'Andrea, Badio and  Roma.   
The mystics often have passed through a long
period, similar to this rice field, which some called
the "dark night of the soul" (Saint John of the
When she rang up the bill, I told her: "I have to drive up north this afternoon, towards Novarra. Could you recommend some place to stop and have lunch on my way up there, and enjoy a good plate of risotto?" The friendly lady behind the register answered one word only: "Confienza."
I was perplexed with her answer: I thought she was telling me to "confess." What would this lady want me to confess?
She must of understood the dumb look on my face, that she had uttered a proper noun: "Confiesa no!Confienza", she clarified : "with an 'n' and a 'z'.

"Confienza is about 20 minutes from here. Take the road out of town and head west, towards Novarra. In the center of the town there is a church. In front of the church, a restaurant. You can't miss it."
The city of Vercelli is in the center of the Italian rice industry, but you don't understand the first thing about Italian rice, until you go out to fields, in places near towns like Confienza, and stop by the processing plants, where they take off the shell, and polish the grain, pack it and getting it ready for the kitchen table.


A modern rice processing and packing plant.

The rice fields have canals and irrigation ditches. There are aqueducts, made of brick and stone. But this time of year, the fields were dry

Past the canal, the road leads to the center of
This street leads to the center
of Confienzo
Instead of writing anymore, I will let the photographs we took finish the story of our visit.
The typical main street of a Piedmont town.

We found our way to our
destination: "in front of the Church".
The entrance to the restaurant.
Scales, old pans and other
memorabilia of the family in
the foyer of the restaurant.

An old-time meat grinder with a
The table dressed with cups, white tablecloth, and
underneath golden tablecloth.

"Vitello atonnato" was our
appetizer at the restaurant.

The "Vitello atonnato" is literally
"tuna-fish-ed veal", made with
veal, tuna fish, egg yokes, 
mayonnaise, olive oil  and capers.

Risotto Panissa, typical of the
Vercelli region: Sant'Andrea rice,
carrots, celery, fagioli (beans),
tomatoes, red wine, butter and
Parmesan cheese.

The "Panissa" is a hearty dish,
a peasant tradition, that only in
the last years has been revived
elegant restaurants as a
gastronomical gem.

 Panissa Vercellese sometimes is
seasoned with cotica di maliale
(pork rinds).

We finished our lunch with a
"Semifeddo Ofelia" and an

An assortment of homemade cookies were
our complimentary farewell gift.



Sunday, August 20, 2017

From the Vercelli Book to Beowulf, Our Understanding of Belief in the Middle Ages.

"Oft sceall eorl monig änes willan,
wräec ändreogan, swä üs geworden es"
("Often when one follows his own will,
many are hurt. This happened to us.")
Beowulf, verses 3077-3078,
translated by Seamus Heaney
W.W.Norton & Company, Inc., 2000,

Books, particularly ancient books, sometimes seem to leave us spellbound. Five months ago , as I have reported to you in previous posts, while doing a pilgrimage down the Old Via Francigena Path, having left Val d'Aosta, Estela, my wife, and I visited the town of Vercelli, lured by the possibility of getting to learn something about the famous Vercelli Book.

The Vercelli Book, a manuscript from the 10th
Century, contains a Liber Homiliarum or Book
of Homilies. It is one of the four surviving
codices written in "Old English".
As I have already written, the Vercelli Book is one of the four original extant manuscripts in what we call in the English-speaking world for some reason I cannot fathom, "Old English", when a more truthful term might be "Old Teutonic language spoken in England during the 7th to 10th Centuries". Whatever term you choose, the most famous of the surviving codices of that period in that language is in the British Library, and contains, no less than the only surviving copy of Beowulf. The visit to the Vercelli Museum, and having experienced personally, having the Vercelli Book in my hands, stimulated my interest in the period, in the language, and reignited my long-lost curiosity for Beowulf, since I was exposed first to it in High School English Literature. So yesterday, when I went to a book store, and saw "Beowulf" on shelf, I fell into a spell, bought it, brought it home, read most of it yesterday, and finished it off this morning during Sunday breakfast.

The bilingual "Beowulf" with a new
verse translation by Nobel Prize
winning author Seamus Heaney"
was for me a worthwhile investment
for my personal library.
I bear no particular credentials to analyze this great work of literature, but having studied the Dream of the Rood, a contemporary Epic Poem written likewise in "Old English", and similarly surviving to our times in another Codex , today I saw Beowulf in a different light:  Beowulf is the Messiah of the Danes, and of the Scandinavian peoples in general, slaying first Grendel, then his mother.
When Beowulf takes on his final and fatal battle against evil, his 11 ring-bearing troops leave him alone to be tortured by the Dragon, something like a Passion and Death, with only Wiglaf coming to his rescue, a sort of John the Apostle, while the rest of his entourage, runs in fear of the beast.

Grendel is an another Biblical symbol:

"And from Cain there sprang
misbegotten spirits, among them Grendel:"
Beowulf, verses 1265-1266

I believe that Beowulf might have been the result of the syncretism in Northern Europe between Christian and Pre-Christian beliefs. Reading the original Anglo-Saxon text on the left, and Heaney's translation into modern English on the right, we realize how beautiful this epic poem is: the cadence, the rhyme and the rhythm, the imagery, the purity of the characters, the suspense in the action-packed adventures. The values of the period are clearly defined: loyalty, camaraderie, bravery, nobility and fairness.

Beowulf is the true Iliad of Northern Europe.

I heed thee all to read it. If possible and time permitting, in one swallow!


Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Leonardo D Vinci and the Millshouse of Mora Bassa at Vigevano.

The Ecomuseo de Roggia Mora - Mulino di Mora Bassa is something that doesn´t seem to fit in a blog titled Road of Faith & Art. If after reading this post, and looking at the pictures Estela and I took, you come to the conclusion, that this museum is not pertinent, I am confident you will at least find it to be a place with an interesting history and worth a visit.
After our visit to Vercelli, we drove 40 kilometers west to Vigevano, leaving the province of Piedmont, and into the neighboring province of Lombardia, in the county or Pavia.
 We have written several posts on Vigevano in previous years.
Leonardo Da Vinci worked on several commissions in Vigevano, for the Duke of Milan, Ludovigo il Moro, during the final years of the 15th Centuries. One of his assignments was to improve the canals in  the surrounding region.

From our perspective in Road of Faith & Art, one of Leonardo Da Vinci´s principal contributions was his Last Supper, a portrait of Our Lord and His Apostles. But Leonardo was mostly occupied more as an inventor, as a mechanical engineer, and than as a painter.

The Duke of Milan, Ludovigo il Moro, named the Moor because of his dark complection, gave this millhouse to Beatrice d'Este, in 1492, as a wedding present. When Beatrice died, in 1498, Ludovigo ceded the millhouse and all the surrounding properties to the Dominican Friars, of the Capella di Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan. In the refectory of the Capella, Leonardo da Vinci painted the Last Supper. 

The Dominicans owned the millhouse over 300 years, until Napoleon expropriated it at the beginning of the 19th Century, when he invaded Northern Italy. The Marquis Saporiti renegotiated the millhouse and the rest of the Sforza inheritance from the Napoleon government in 1803, and it was ceded in turn to King Carlo Alberto of Piedmont, in 1845. The descendants of the royal family ceded the property 1988 to the Associazione Irrigazione Est Sesia (the regional irrigation administrator).

The Associazione  Irrigazione obtained a grant in the year 2000, from the provincial government of Piedmont and the City government of Vigevano to restore the millhouse, converting it into a Museum dedicated to the role of the inner waterways of Piedmont and Lombardy, and the role Leonardo Da Vinci played.

The aim of the Associazione Irrigazione Est Sesia is to familiarize the general public with the canal system of the nearby plains of Piedmont and Lombardia, particularly the Roggia Mora, the Naviglio Sforzesco, the Naviglio della Martesana and the Canale Cavour canals.

When Estela and I visited the Ecomuseo della Roggia Mora Bassa, it was full of children from nearby grammar schools. Education in the European Union in general, and particularly in Italy, tends to integrate the world, while in America we seem to departmentalize knowledge. 

In Europe, education offers young people a vision of the integrated relationship between history, literature, politics, engineering, environment and the community.

The Ecomuseo della Roggia Mora Bassa has entitled its permanent exhibit "L'Acqua disegna il paessaggio" ("Water designs the landscape"). Water is a key ingredient of a civilization.

When we go through the codices of Leonardo, we realize that many of the drawings of the machines were not intended as projects to be built, but to visualize a principle for his own personal study, or perhaps to be discussed with his colleagues and associates.

The inventions in the permanent exhibit of the Ecomuseo are all made in wood, based on the designs of Leonardo Da Vinci.
The above video shows how one of the wooden
models works, based on a drawing of Leonardo
referred to as the "Scythed Chariot".
The models work, and can be touched by visitors of the museum, adults and children alike.
The different wooden models show the diversity of the inventiveness of Da Vinci: weapons and gears, tools and clocks, boats and flying machines. All brought back to life in the atmosphere of the close of the 15th Century, at a  moment of history when a new world had just been discovered.

Cecilia Gallerani, whose portrait was painted by Da Vinci,  "The Lady with an Ermine",  spent many a day here with the inventor in this millhouse. Cecilia was the favorite mistress of Ludovigo Sforza, and their relationship became intimate, and she bore il Moro a son, Cesare.

When Ludovigo married Beatrice d'Este, the duchess ordered her husband to banish Cecilia from the court and the Castle.

Giant crossbow, intentioned for destroy walls
of castles.

The Ecomuseo has a permanent exhibition titled "Leonardo in the Territory, the places, the studies, the machines." The models made in wood, were built by Gabriele Niccolai, from Florence, and Dario Noe di Bienale, Milan, at the beginning of the 21st Century.

To achieve this objective, Niccolai and Noe studies the drawings of Leonardo Da Vinci. The original drawings are in different collections, in several countries. These collections are called "codices".

The most important codices for these instruments are the "Codex Atlantica" and the "Codex Madrid". These codices show the variety of certain studies in mechanics, and a great graphical precision.