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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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

Welcome Baby C!

c_01Welcome baby Camilla! I had the pleasure of photographing this sweet little baby a few weeks ago. She looks so peaceful when she sleeps, and I also like the more natural shots of her at home and with her parents. I think newborn photography is really special; babies grow up so fast, and these photos are a way to remember their earliest and tiniest days.

Benvenuta piccola Camilla! Ho avuto il piacere di fotografare questa piccola e dolce bambina qualche settimana fa. Guardare le foto in cui dorme mi dà una sensazione di pace e mi piacciono anche le immagini della bimba in casa e quelle con i suoi genitori. Penso che la fotografia dei neonati sia davvero speciale: i bimbi crescono così in fretta e queste foto rappresentano il miglior modo per ricordare i loro primi giorni in cui erano così piccoli.

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Posted in Baby Photography | 2 Comments

Calabrese DOC

I wrote this story two years ago after an experience with Dreaming South in Calabria, but I never got around to posting it:


Un ce ocedd nat ca u pass pi Cariati”.

There aren’t any birds that haven’t passed through Cariati.

I learned this proverb from Antonio, my host’s father, during lunch at the beginning of my ten-day stay in Cariati, a small city in the Southern Italian region of Calabria.

It refers to the fact that Cariati was a point of passage for many different people throughout history because of its location by the sea.

But in this case, Antonio likened the saying to our group of ten artists who came to Cariati to participate in a documentary project last summer. We were photographers and video artists who came from France, Iran, Poland, the United States, Russia and England. We mingled with each other and of course, with the Calabrians, who were hospitable and proud of their roots.

Very hospitable. We were welcomed immediately by our host Giovanni and his family. His mother picked me up from the train station, and our group enjoyed ten days of exquisite breakfasts, lunches, and dinners together, most of them either eaten in the family’s pizzeria or cooked by Raffaela, Giovanni’s mother, and eaten on the terrace of their house.

Antonio and Raffaella like to meet people and tell them about their culture, and they were eager to share their food, language, and traditions with us. I felt so lucky to be able to understand Italian on this trip, as otherwise I would not have been able to talk directly to many of the people in the area, and much would have been lost in translation.

They were not just hospitable, but proud. Giovanni’s father Antonio, an exuberant, talkative man, wears his regional pride on his sleeve.

He referred to himself, only half-joking, as “Calabrese DOC” (DOC means “denominazione origine controllata [controlled designation of origin] and appears on bottles of wine and Italian food products, indicating their authenticity and quality.)

He told me about how he moved to Switzerland for work in the 1970s, and when people asked him where he was from, he said Calabria, not Italy. He had found a job in Switzerland which paid three million lire a month, a good salary, and he described Switzerland as a beautiful place.

But after a while, he said, he looked around and saw that everyone was in a hurry. He described them with their heads down, rushing from one place to the next.

A friendly extrovert, Antonio has no trouble making friends. If he walked into a club by himself, he would walk out at the end of the night with a few new friends.

However, he said that in Switzerland he couldn’t make friends, and he felt that the people didn’t want to get close.

So, friendless and watching everyone rush around, at one point he asked himself:

“Che ci faccio qui?” (What am I doing here?) Then he repeated it again to himself, “Che ci faccio qui?!?”

He lasted one month in Switzerland.

Before he headed home, his Swiss acquaintances asked him what was wrong, why he was leaving so soon.

“I’m in love,” he responded.

“Oh, you have a woman waiting for you in Calabria,” they nodded knowingly. “It’s natural that you want to go back. You can marry her and bring her here to Switzerland and start a family. “

“No.” he said.

“I’m in love with my land.”

It’s not hard to see why, even as a short term visitor. The landscape is so captivating it’s hard to describe it without falling into cliché. I was reading on the train on the way to Cariati, and when I looked out the window at the rolling hills covered in olive trees and the clear blue Ionian sea, I jerked to my senses, thinking, “Why am I reading?

The old historical center sits on top of a hill and is surrounded by medieval walls with eight towers. Front doors open right onto the cobblestoned streets, where people sit on chairs outside, the streets becoming an extension of their homes. The city offers a panoramic view of the sea below, and a visitor can get lost wandering through the winding labyrinth of narrow alleys and white stone buildings shimmering in the summer sun.

“The Calabrian sun is the best,” Antonio states with great conviction. “No matter what you have,” he continues, “you can come here and be healed. The Pugliese sun is no good. The Sicilian sun is okay for some things but not for others, but nothing beats the sun of Calabria.”

Antonio continued, crediting the Calabrian sun for the success of the region’s characteristic crops- traditional “poor” vegetables such as peppers, onions, and potatoes, and other crops like lemons, fruit, grapes and olives, all of which, along with fish and seafood from the adjacent sea, are put together to make their simple but delicious regional dishes.

Giovanni, Antonio, Raffaele, and others I met in Cariati extolled the flavors of their local food and its superiority over food that is not grown locally, preferably in Calabria.

“We live for flavor,” Antonio said as we sat down to enjoy lunch. “We enjoy.”

He got more talkative, gesticulating enthusiastically, as the white Calabrese wine kept flowing. He and his wife shared stories about traditional life in Calabria, gender roles, small sustainable cultivation, the local dialect, and what he called Calabria’s miraculous olive oil.

When people stopped paying attention he motioned to them with his arms to listen, repeating “Ascol’, ascol’” (Listen, listen).

Lunches lasted a long time. The whole trip was relaxed, reflecting a slower way of life than the frenetic pace many of us are used to.

Nothing against Torino, a fine city and my adopted home, but it’s very different from a Southern Italian town and, leaving the problems that face Southern Italy aside for a moment, has less of a stereotypically “Italian” feeling.

For ten days, I felt like I left Torino and went to Italy. And I quite liked it.

Posted in Cariati (Calabria), Travel | Leave a comment