Summer Vacation

Hello World,

I know I haven’t posted in a while. Please forgive me. I was on vacation! I’m back in Torino now and I’ll be posting more about Italian life soon. For now, here are some photos from this August in the U S of A. I took them all with my amazing point and shoot camera, which was all I felt like carrying around with me, since I was there to relax. All of the photos I took of Philadelphia, I took with film, so maybe I will post them later after I scan the negatives.


usa-1 One of my favorite places to be: the Ocean City, NJ beach at sunrise. You can see Atlantic City in the distance.

usa-2  usa-3  usa-4

usa-5  usa-6 The Ocean City boardwalk early in the morning.

usa-7 Part of the seven-mile long beach. I worked in that big pink hotel one summer.

usa-8  usa-9 A welcome change of scenery. These photos were taken on a camping trip in the Delaware Water Gap State Park, on the Pennsylvania-New Jersey border. It was beautiful. I didn’t even care that it rained most of the time.

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   The park contained hundreds of waterfalls.  usa-13A house on the main (and only) street of Walpack, NJ, which is inside the state park. It looked like a ghost town with about five or six houses, a post office, two churches, and the ruins of a gas station on a single street.

usa-35Need gas?

usa-14OK, I do have just one digital photo from Philadelphia… and the most important one! Nothing beats a genuine Philadelphia soft pretzel bought from a food cart on the streets of the city. Price: 50 cents. Mustard on top is a must, in my opinion.

usa-12Walking over the Brooklyn Bridge in New York City. You can see Brooklyn in the distance.

usa-15 I liked the contrast between these older buildings in Chinatown and the skyscrapers in the distance.

usa-16 Brooklyn as seen from the piers.

usa-32 Took a ride on the Staten Island Ferry, which is completely free, and saw these views.



usa-18  usa-19 Coney Island

usa-34The original Nathan’s famous hot dogs, Coney Island

usa-20 Central Park

usa-21 Authentic bones in the American Museum of Natural History

usa-22 My favorite animal


High Line Park, a park built on the tracks of an old elevated railway that passed high up in the city, really close to buildings and sometimes going right through them.



Barnegat Lighthouse, on Long Beach Island, New Jersey


Walkway to the beach at Cape May Point, New Jersey


An old World War II bunker built on the beach at Cape May Point, NJ


usa-30Lighthouse, Cape May Point, NJ

usa-28 Humans

usa-29Seagulls :)

Posted in Photography, Travel | Leave a comment

Italian Cemeteries

IMG_2656This post is a personal glimpse of a small number of cemeteries that I have visited in Italy, which I find to have a particular quiet beauty.

Those who die in an Italian city will likely be placed in a cemetery like this one, which is part of the Cimitero Monumentale in Torino. The dead are not buried in the ground but entombed in vertical niches like those seen here. What I find most interesting are the photos beside the names, which are most always accompanied by flowers placed in special built-in vases.

IMG_2659I visited a small mountain village in Liguria called Fontanarossa, where one of my ancestors was born. Today the village has very few inhabitants, although in the 1800s it was a regular small farming town from which many people, including my great-great grandfather, emigrated to America. I found the cemetery to be very beautiful, if that is a word that can be applied to graveyards. The church of Santo Stefano, seen in the first photo below, was built in the 1100s.


Fontanarossa-11 A more modern structure with vertical tombs can be seen in the back.

Fontanarossa-12  IMG_4427 The next three photos were taken in the cemetery of another of my small ancestral villages, called Diecimo, in Tuscany. It is the birthplace of one of my great-great grandmothers, who in fact also emigrated to America and, in Philadelphia, met and married the great-great grandfather from Fontanarossa of whom I just spoke above.

Una curiosità (an interesting fact): the town’s name of Diecimo, which is related to the Latin (and Italian) word for “tenth”, comes from the town’s location at the tenth mile on the way from Lucca (a historically important city) to Rome.

IMG_4828There is more space here and the tombs are more spread out, but again, no one is buried in the ground.

IMG_4835Flowers and photographs adorn the graves. Many of the tombs displayed the last name of my great-great grandmother. The name was widespread there, both in the cemetery and on the doorbells throughout the town. I have noticed this in most of my small ancestral towns, which took me by surprise because I didn’t know anyone, besides relatives, with my name in the US.

IMG_4839The church that is just visible in the background is the Pieve di Santa Maria Assunta, a very ancient church that was built sometime before the year 919 (Wikipedia says in the sixth century), as a historical document from that year mentions the existence of the church, but not the year it was founded.

I will end this post with one of my favorite travel photographs, which I took outside the town of Trino, about an hour east of Torino. The photo shows the old cemetery walls, which enclose the interior from view. In the distance the Alps are visible, and they are always a beautiful sight when they fill the horizon on clear days.


Posted in Italian Life, Photography, Travel, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Farinata and Pizza al fresco

IMG_2584Me + farinata = happy

IMG_2585Pizza al Tegamino (Pan Pizza)

I went out for pizza on Sunday night and returned to Alla Baita dei Sette Nani (At the Seven Dwarfs’ Hut), a totally unpretentious, mountain cabin-style pizzeria downtown (which I wrote about here). One of the four tables out on the sidewalk was free, so we were able to dine al fresco which was nice because the street was closed to traffic.

I ordered farinata for an appetizer. It’s one of my favorite foods, even though I never even heard of it before coming to Torino (see my first post about it and recipe here). I was temped to get the abbondante portion, but settled for the medium size instead, to leave some room for the pizza.

While eating, I noticed two girls at one of the other outside tables. They had partial plates of food in front of them and were both leaning over their cell phones completely absorbed in whatever important things they were doing in their virtual worlds. It reminded me of what one of my friends told me about when she put her apartment up for rent for tourists in Torino. A potential renter contacted her and asked if there was wifi in the apartment. My friend said she wanted to put up a sign in the house saying “No wifi. Talk to each other.”

But I digress.

This pizzeria specializes in pizza al tegamino (pan pizza) cooked in a wood-fired oven. The pizzas seem small but they fill you up. The crust was very tasty, but the combination of vegetables they topped my pizza with was a little weird. My favorite pizza al tegamino is still the one I get from the take away pizza place a block away from my apartment, which is so flavorful and topped with a generous portion of grilled peppers, eggplant, and zucchini.

But I’m willing to taste-test my way around Torino’s pizzerias to see if anyone can make a better pan pizza. All in the name of research, of course.

In conclusion, a good time was had by all (except maybe the cell phone girls). Especially since there was farinata.

Postscript: If you promise not to tell, I’ll show you what I had for breakfast this morning.



Posted in Food, Torino | Leave a comment

Jennifer & Massimo – Wedding in Cortazzone d’Asti

j-m-w_38IT Ho avuto il piacere di fotografare il matrimonio di Jennifer e Massimo ed è stata una bella giornata per due belle persone. Abbiamo cominciato la mattina presto da Jennifer, dove si è preparata con delle sue amiche e l’adorato cane Boby. Poi siamo andati alla Parrocchia Maria Ausiliatrice a Torino dove aspettavano Massimo e numerosi amici e parenti. Arrivata la sposa con suo padre, è cominciata una bella cerimonia e dopo aver lanciato riso e coriandoli siamo andati all’Agriturismo La Luna Nera dove si cominciava a mangiare e festeggiare. Il servizio si è concluso con un photobooth dove abbiamo scattato foto divertenti agli sposi con gli amici. Tanti auguri ed è stata una bella esperienza sia da fotografa che da amica.

EN I had the pleasure of photographing Jennifer and Massimo’s wedding and it was a beautiful day for two beautiful people. We started early in the morning at Jennifer’s home, where she got ready with some of her friends and her beloved dog Boby. Then we went to the Maria Ausiliatrice Church in Torino, where Massimo and many friends and relatives were waiting. Once the bride arrived with her father, a nice ceremony began and after throwing rice and confetti we went to the La Luna Nera Agritourism where everyone started eating and celebrating. The photography ended with a wedding photobooth in which we took funny pictures of the bride and groom with their friends. Best wishes; it was a great experience both as a photographer and as a friend.

Foto di Michelle Bottalico e secondo fotografo Giovanni Gambacciani

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Posted in Matrimoni - Wedding Photography | 5 Comments

Relaxing at the Park

IMG_2560It was a nice sunny day last Sunday and we spent the afternoon relaxing at the Parco del Valentino downtown. Lots of other people had the same idea, including a pair of senior citizen ladies sunbathing topless. Totally normal in Italy.

IMG_2559Took a quick snap of this cute conked-out family. But their nap didn’t last long once the baby woke up and had to be fed.

Posted in Italian Life | 2 Comments

The Materan Belvedere at Dusk

IMG_8875Towards the end of one of my trips to Matera, I snapped this photo at the Belvedere on the Murgia plain across the canyon from the Sassi. The word belvedere means “panoramic viewpoint” and is so called because from that point there is a very nice view of the Sassi on the other side of the canyon (the Sassi are to the right of where I was standing to take this picture).

I like this image because the landscape at dusk seems surreal, almost like it was taken in another world.

Posted in Matera, Photography | 2 Comments

Engagement Photography: Jennifer & Massimo


IT: Auguri Jennifer and Massimo! Questa bella coppia si sposerà il mese prossimo ed in attesa dell’evento siamo andati alla Reggia di Venaria Reale vicino a Torino per un servizio fotografico prematrimoniale. E’ stata una bellissima giornata di sole ed i giardini della Reggia erano quasi deserti… condizioni perfette per fotografare! Jennifer e Massimo sono simpatici e divertenti e il servizio sembrava una gita tra amici.

EN: Congratulations Jennifer and Massimo! This lovely couple will be married next month, and in anticipation of the event we went to the Palace of Venaria near Torino for engagement photos. It was a beautiful sunny day and the palace gardens were almost deserted… perfect conditions for photographs! Jennifer and Massimo are fun to be around and the shoot felt like an outing with friends.

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J-M_09  J-M_10  J-M_11  J-M_12  J-M_16   J-M_14

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Posted in Prematrimoniale - Engagement Photography | 4 Comments

Job Advertisements Italian Style

IMG_2462This is a sign posted on a shoe store window advertising a salesperson position. It says:

We are looking for a trainee/salesgirl; age limit 29 years old; show up with resume and photo

Unfortunately in Italy, a job announcement like this is normal. There is no sense of age or appearance discrimination here.

Like many other foreigners, I can’t get used to seeing this, and it borders on making me laugh and making me angry. It is illegal to practice age discrimination in the United States and in many other countries. That’s not to say it doesn’t happen, but if you are so inclined you can sue an employer if you feel you have been wronged (see here for an example).

From the beginning of my time in Italy, it seemed to me that Italians were overly concerned with people’s ages in both a professional and social context. When I learned how to draft an Italian resume (based on the European guidelines for curriculum vitae), I saw that there are places to put your birth date and photo. This didn’t sit right with me, since I think that an applicant’s age is no one’s business and that he or she should be evaluated based on their skills. I’ll talk about the photo in a second.

In social situations, I felt that people asked for other people’s ages more often than I was used to. I even noticed this in newspapers and magazines. In the Italian version of the TV guide, for example, the actors’ ages are always listed in parentheses right after their names. How is that relevant?

The advertisement also asks for a photo. What is implicit though not directly stated in this case is that the candidate be good looking. There is a phrase in Italian that shows up often in job advertisements, and it is si richiede bella presenza. That basically means “you must be attractive” to apply.

That’s another thing that you just can’t say in many countries. Besides showing one’s personal appearance, a photo can allow employers to discriminate based on gender and race as well (which are additional problems in Italy). According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it is prohibited to ask for an applicant’s photo before a job offer has been made and accepted. Again, that doesn’t mean that discrimination based on appearance doesn’t happen (with studies showing that more attractive people tend to get hired more often), but the fact that it’s blatantly stated in Italy points to cultural differences.

Bella presenza is usually indicated on job ads seeking people who will have contact with the public, like salespeople and flight attendants. I don’t see why that is so important. I’d rather interact with someone who is polite, helpful, and really understands the product or service (because I usually have lots of questions) regardless of their physical appearance.

I bought a pair of shoes in that very store (where they hung the advertisement) in January, when almost everything is discounted by 50% in Italy. What most interests me is that the salesperson be patient, since they have to get the shoes for me (no self-service in many places) and I usually have to try on many pairs to find something that fits.

There is more I can say on this topic but I’m not interested in turning this post into a rant. There are both favorable and unfavorable aspects of Italy, and the same thing goes for my native country (see here). What I think is most important is that we open our eyes and think critically about certain cultural assumptions and their consequences on individuals and society.

What are our standards of beauty and how much do they differ among individual people and parts of the world?

Do people’s looks influence their ability to do their jobs? Do we get different service from people who fall along different parts of the attractiveness spectrum? Are you going to buy more from a conventionally attractive person? Whatever the answer, is that a good thing?

What are our prejudices against people with various kinds of looks? Do we have different expectations based on someone’s appearance?

What are the consequences of society placing so much importance on physical appearance?

Feel free to chime in in the comments.

Posted in Expat Life, Italian Life | 2 Comments

The Sassi of Matera: In the Beginning

belvedere_00A view of the Sassi with some of the prehistoric caves visible on the left across the canyon. The Civita, the ancient fortified city, is the highest central area around where the cathedral bell tower is visible.

The Sassi of Matera are famous for being one of the oldest continuously inhabited (since the Paleolithic era) settlements in the world, second only to Petra, Jordan. Since the Sassi developed over many different periods, the result is a sort of organized confusion. I found the Sassi interesting because they are so multi-layered, and I was curious about the history of the city and the history of the caves that I could see in the distance behind the Sassi on the other side of the canyon. Here’s what I found out about the basic early history of Matera (continues after the photos).

belvedere_01These photos were all taken on the west bank of the canyon and show the area and some of the caves where the first settlements were located.
belvedere_02  belvedere_03  belvedere_04  belvedere_05  belvedere_06  belvedere_07  belvedere_08  belvedere_09  belvedere_10  belvedere_11  belvedere_12 These two photos show parts of the interior and ancient frescoes of the rock church called Madonna delle tre Porte.
belvedere_13  belvedere_14  belvedere_15 These impressions in the stone are part of an ancient water collection and filtration system. 

belvedere_16  belvedere_17  belvedere_18  belvedere_19  belvedere_20  belvedere_21  belvedere_22Human presence in Matera began not in the Sassi but in the caves on the other side of the Gravina canyon. The Sassi developed on the east bank of the Gravina stream, while the plateau and sloping sides of the west bank, called the Murgia, were the seat of early settlements starting in the Paleolithic era.

A complete skeleton of a Neanderthal man, known as l’uomo di Altamura (the Altamura man) has even been found in il Pulo di Altamura, a few kilometers from Matera, showing the archeological richness of the Murgia.

Archaeological finds, including dwellings, burial places, and temples, have been discovered in the Murgia from the Paleolithic period, where nomadic groups lived in the natural caves along the steep sides of the Gravina.

The inhabitants of the Murgia in the Neolithic period were no longer nomadic but were shepherds and cultivated terraced plots on the slopes of the canyon. People lived in villages consisting of huts with wooden poles, evidenced by the holes in the rock for the poles, and they dug defensive trenches around their villages. Three villages sprang up in this area, two on the west bank and one on the east bank where the central part, called the Civita, of the Sassi now stands. The villages were arranged around a natural water reservoir and they represent the first socially organized communities in the Murgia.

These early people dug cisterns in the rock to gather and filter rainwater and to irrigate their cultivated plots. They also dug out containing spaces for their herds and smaller cisterns that served as drinking troughs for their animals, and they made walls, paths, wells, dykes, and terraced fields.

The existence of better tools in the Bronze and Iron ages made it easier to dig into the tufo, the soft tufa rock of the canyon walls. The rock across the stream on the east bank of the Gravina was softer and more easy to excavate, and it was there that the town known as the Sassi started to develop.

In fact, during the Metal Ages, two of the Neolithic villages disappeared and the one on the east bank, located on a rocky spur, continued to be inhabited and became the oldest part of the Sassi (the Civita.)

Matera consisted of simple agropastoral settlements during the Greek and Roman periods. During the High Middle Ages the Lombards arrived and built defensive walls to protect against the Byzantines in bordering Puglia, rebuilding the settlement several times after invasions during the Lombard-Byzantine clashes from 867 to 994. With the establishment of political, administrative, and military powers, the hamlet turned into a city and the Civita, the ancient fortified citadel, was born.

Starting in the tenth century, groups of shepherds had begun to settle on the east bank and dig out rough dwellings in the tufa. By the time the Normans arrived in the year 1000, Matera consisted of a fortified city center (the Civita) with rural groups of houses excavated along the steep rocky sides of the east bank of the Gravina, outside of the perimeter of the Civita.

In the course of the following centuries, the Sassi expanded and Matera became the seat of religious settlements, rock churches, convents, and monasteries. The built-up areas gradually became more complex and turned into the other two districts of the Sassi, the Sasso Caveoso and the Sasso Barisano. This scheme gave life to a most interesting urban complex admired for its organization and harmony with the natural environment.

-Giardini di pietra. I Sassi di Matera e la civiltà mediterranea by Pietro Laureano
Posted in Matera, Photography, Travel | Leave a comment

New Jerseys

IMG_1570  IMG_1571Have you ever seen these road barriers? They are a common sight on Italian streets and are used to direct the flow of traffic or to block off work areas. They are usually made of plastic and are hollow so they can be filled with water or sand for stabilization.

I found out their name in Italian… They are called New Jersey Barriers or just New Jerseys*.

Come on, really? This isn’t doing anything to help my home state’s reputation.

The name comes from their shape, which is supposed to resemble the outline of New Jersey. No matter how hard I squint, I just don’t see it in these things. Yeah, I get it that they are a little narrower in the middle, but that’s a pretty weak approximation, if you ask me.

I realize this is a ripe opportunity for yet more New Jersey jokes, so go ahead and make fun of my state if that’s your thing. But if you’re making jokes, you probably haven’t explored much of the state besides the factory-lined stretch of I-95 that leads to New York City.

I’m from South Jersey anyway, where you can find farms and pine barrens and beaches and lots of other pretty stuff, and buy local specialties like Jersey tomatoes, corn, blueberries, peaches, and apples straight from the farms. Mmmmmm….

Well that’s your edification for today along with a strange unique vocabulary lesson. Till next time.

*If you don’t believe me, check out the Wikipedia article here.
Posted in Italian Language | 2 Comments