Thursday, November 22, 2012

A Street by Any Other Name

By Patricia Winton

Piazza della Repubblica, Rome
Visitors to various Italian cities soon learn that street and piazza names are often linked to important dates in Italian history. One of the most popular piazza names Piazza della Repubblica comes from June 2, 1946, when Italy declared itself a republic following World War II. Piazza Esedra in Rome was rechristened Piazza della Repubblica in 1960 in honor of the Rome Olympics. Other streets and piazzas named for dates that recur throughout Italy include:

Via II Giugno, like Piazza della Repubblica, also recognizes the anniversary of the referendum vote that ousted the monarchy and established Italy as a republic. It’s also marks the first time women in Italy voted. The day is a public holiday.

Via XX Settembre, Gneova, Photo by Renahx
Via XX Settembre commemorates the date in 1870 when Rome was finally captured to unify Italy as one nation and eliminate the government domination by the Pope. The first Via XX Settembre is in Rome marking the point where the wall was breached (Read about this event in my Novel Adventurers post.). Many streets previously named for popes were rechristened Via XX Settembre. The original street in Rome, for example, had been named Via Pia (for Pope Pius).

Via VII Ottobre 1492 marks the day Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Caribbean, believing he had reached the East Indies. Often celebrated as the day Columbus discovered America. While Columbus (Cristoforo Colombo) began his explorations in Spain, he is honored as a son of Italy. His home town of Genova is one of several towns with this street name.

Via XXV Aprile celebrates the day in 1945 when the Nazis surrendered their last stronghold in northern Italy and Benito Mussolini’s government dissolved in Rome. The day is celebrated as Liberation Day in Italy, a public holiday.

Via XXIV Maggio marks the day in 1914 when Italy entered World War I. While it’s not celebrated as a holiday, several Italian cities bear this street name, including Pisa, Salerno, and Porto Viro, near Venice.

Via IV Novembre is represented in more Italian cities, observing the day in 1918 when Italy and Austria-Hungary ended hostilities, ending the Italian campaign in World War I. Rome, Como, and Bologna, among others, have streets named for this anniversary.

Italian street names commemorate great warriors, from ancient Rome to unification to the World Wars. They honor saints and cities and scientists. They revere heroes from other countries, like Rome’s Viale Washington George. In Rome, there’s even a Piazzale degli Eroi, Little Piazza of the Heroes. But I find the street names dedicated to dates to be the most curious.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Remembering Rosemary

By Patricia Winton 

 There's rosemary, that's for remembrance.... 
    Ophelia in Othello                                

I first encountered rosemary in a little red, white, and blue metal container. It didn’t—and doesn’t still—sit on my mother’s spice rack. When I opened my own kitchen, I began widening my culinary horizons, and rosemary became an early experiment. I hate to admit it, but I produced the worst meatballs ever to be consumed by humankind, and my enthusiasm for rosemary cooled considerably…until I first came to Italy and encountered it fresh.

I visited my friends John and Enzo in the village of Riparbella, not far from the Etruscan town of Volterra. Enzo prepared roast chicken by sticking slivers of garlic into the flesh, placing more garlic, half a lemon, and a large sprig of rosemary in the body cavity, and coating the skin with olive oil. He placed it in a large baking dish surrounded by quartered potatoes. These were coated with more olive oil and anointed with additional garlic and rosemary. My reaction to this dish was akin to Julia Child’s introduction to sole meuniĆ©re, her first meal in France. I’ve been a fan of fresh rosemary since. Variations of this dish still dominate the Italian dining table for Sunday lunch.

Rosemary, common throughout the Mediterranean, has long been an integral part of the culinary scene on the Italian peninsula. Archaeological evidence suggests that the Etruscans used rosemary to flavor their fish and meat as early as 700-300 BC. The Italian word rosemarino comes from the Latin ros marinus, meaning “dew of the sea.” The Romans spread the plant to England during their occupation, although it needs protection from the cold in that climate, and Italians took it with them to the Americas when they emigrated there.

When I returned to the U.S. after that first experience here, I grew rosemary myself. It can survive outdoors in the Washington area, and rosemary graced my community garden for ten years. When I left the garden, I transplanted it (with the owner’s permission) to an area behind the building where I lived. It was an enormous plant by this time, and I had to rent a car to transport it. It thrived that summer, and when winter came, I gathered sprigs to hang in my kitchen, but I always clipped a fresh bit for cooking. Imagine my horror the following spring when I went out to gather rosemary to find the gardener had hacked it down. More than ten years later, I still get an empty feeling when I think about it.

Here in Rome, I have rosemary in a pot on my fifth-floor terrace. I still haven’t gotten the knack for growing it in a container. Surprisingly, it doesn’t seem to like the summer sun, which is intense. But come autumn and winter, it will thrive again just in time for all those winter stews, roast chickens, and legs of lamb that I’ll enjoy.