All stories and photos on this site, Earthy Reporter, are the property of Carola C. Reuben and cannot be used elsewhere without prior written permission from Carola C. Reuben. Just ask. I will probably say yes.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Peace, Fish, Yield to Cruise Ships in Piriapolis Port

copyright 2014, story and photos, Carola C. Reuben

Small wooden fishing boats float alongside yachts in the port at Piriapolis, Uruguay. Sea lions flip up and down as they swim near the boats, and sometimes, one naps on a dock (photo below.)

Fish (mullet) jump out of the water, and some of them end up for sale in kiosks across the street from the bay.  

From the opening of one kiosk, Patricia announces, “Today I have brotolla (forkfish) and corvina (sea bass), fresquecitas”(photo below.)  Frozen barge fillets from China are on display next to the fresh fare just delivered from the fishing boats.

The front of another kiosk frames Bebe the fisherman, playing cards with another wizened old man.
Bebe (photo below) has been a fixture there since 1976, even during the rainy winters when icy wind blows into his kiosk. He closes the kiosk only during severe storms or on days of mourning when local fishermen die at sea.

Bebe : a fixture at the Piriapolis port for 38 years.
Once upon a time British slave traders docked at the port to smuggle cowhides. Back then the land next to the port was known as “the cow herd of the sea,” according to Pablo Reborido, Piriapolis history buff and tour guide.

In the early 1700s cows were breeding in the wild, and locals would skin them. The British would then smuggle the leather out of Spanish territory on ships carrying slaves from Africa to Buenos Aires. The port on Rio de la Plata, a salt water estuary, is still called Puerto de los Ingleses ( British Port.)     The shore remained nearly deserted and not much happened there until 1890. That is when Francisco Piria bought 2700 hectares (6671 acres) of land and created Uruguay’s first beach resort.
Piria, a mystic and Kabbalist, reportedly favored the location because of his belief in the “energy” between the sea and the hills that encircle it. Some of today’s vacationers as well as “the Guru of Piriapolis” still refer to that “energy.” ( See previous story, “Guru, Flowers, Sun Finally Beam on Piriapolis.”)
When Piria built his first hotel (circa 1902), vacationers from Montevideo and Buenos Aires arrived there only by boat. At his swanky hotel in the wilderness, they would dine with china and silverware imported from Europe.
Then the first hotel became too small to fit the vacationers, so Piria built the gigantic Argentino Hotel, inaugurated in 1930 (photo below). 
 Historic Hotel: Pablo Reborido leads a tour.

Meanwhile Piria, the son of Italian immigrants, was also busy selling seaside lots and laying out his resort.
Piria created a mystical route in the wilderness. It wound around a three-ton sculpture of a bull, imported from Paris and placed on a hilltop as well as two other fountains, including one of Venus surrounded by cherubim (a replica of a Greek temple in Villa Paravicini, Italy.) 

Today Piria’s creations still stand in Piriapolis, and the mullet keep on jumping in the port.

However, the tiny port is about to change. It is to be enlarged this year (2014) to accommodate cruise ships.   
But at least for now the orange-colored fishing boats remain, and at night, street lanterns still cast a dim light on the little boats, rocking gently in the bay.
Copyright, 2014, Carola C. Reuben, EarthyReporter 
Hilltop view of tiny port about to be enlarged.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Guru, Flowers, Sun Finally Beam on Piriapolis

©2013, story and photos, Carol C. Reuben

The Guru of Piriapolis resurrects himself when the sun finally shines with warmth on Uruguay’s Rio de la Plata.
He times his annual resuscitation by the sea with the arrival of hordes of vacationers at the end of spring (December in the Southern Hemisphere.)
The guru also introduces himself as a pai de santo, priest of an Afro-Brazilian spiritualism sect. The white pai offers African-based healing to Uruguayans, who are also mostly white (85 to 90%).
He sets up his table for business by the boardwalk as Piriapolis emerges from a gray, rainy winter and spring.
Some vacationers dressed in sweaters walk past him. Others, wearing swimsuits or shorts, sit on lawn chairs, toasting their skin from white to pink and sipping tea from yerba mate pots (photos, top of story.)
Street vendors crop up for the season. “Pop, pop caramelado,” chants a woman carrying a load of candy coated popcorn.
Most of the vendors hawk their wares politely, Uruguayan style. They say, “Buendia (good day.) Excuse me, senora, I am selling these little cakes.”

Vendors from neighboring countries join them. Belen and “Rod Ro” from Argentina sell bead jewelry as well as purses made from recycled materials, such as candy wrappers (photo right.) Two brown-skinned youths from Bahia in northeastern Brazil hoist racks of hammocks on their shoulders.  

Meanwhile, drivers in cars with loud speakers ride past them. Their booming voices announce outdoor festivals, such as La Fiesta de la Paella Gigante (the party of the giant paella), the festival that kicks off the summer season. 

Several cooks prepare the paella in a pot that stretches across the width of a street (photo above.) The dish feeds 3000 or more people, who line up for several blocks to purchase their portions. Dinner is finally ready as TV cameras focus on the bulldozer that dumps mussels, clams, and scallops on top of the dish (photo below).

By the time the 17th annual paella fiesta comes around, the salty air in Piriapolis is infused with the aroma of blossoms from Persian lilac trees, jasmine, gardenias, flor de la selva and tilo.
The town has turned into a flower garden. The pinks and reds of hibiscus blend with the violet of wisteria and the purple, blue and pink shades of hydrangea (photo below).
In that flowery aura, the guru and pai (father in Portuguese) introduces himself in Spanish as Itar Nere, a messenger of faith and light, who has special powers because he was born in India.
According to the story he tells, he was a year old when his Russian father and French mother vacationed with him in Piriapolis in 1933. His parents were struck dead by lightening on the beach, and a local family raised him.
Eventually he roamed around the world for 30 years with circuses as a juggler and trapeze artist, but he returned to Piriapolis, where he makes a home with his five dogs in a tent outside town.

Itar places bead necklaces on his table, green, red, yellow, blue, white (photo below.) He explains the beads are spiritual guides; each color represents a different orixa (deity) of umbanda, an Afro-Brazilian spiritualism sect.
A Jesus nailed to a cross sways on a chain on his chest; to umbanda followers, Jesus is also the deity Oxala. Each umbanda deity corresponds to a Catholic saint and has two names, including one that originated in the Yoruba language.
Practitioners of Afro-Brazilian spiritualism sects in Uruguay support several temples in the capital, Montevideo, as well as Radio America 1450 AM. They also leave offerings on beaches for the goddess of the water, Iemanja: blue and white flowers and beads, candles, cakes, sometimes a sacrificed chicken.
Itar is not just a pai; he also calls himself a curandero and psychic, tells fortunes with shells and tarot cards, and imparts energy from rocks. He offers all of those services in one session for 200 pesos (about $9.30).
He contends there are “tremendous energies” in Piriapolis between the sea and the circle of hills around it. (More than 100 years ago, the founder of Piriapolis, a mystic, said he chose the location to create a resort because of that energy. See upcoming story on Earthy Reporter.)

Itar ends his session with blessings in the names of the Holy Spirit and Pai Ogum. He gazes directly at a client with his green eyes and a third green “eye” made of stone that he wears on his forehead.
“Be happy,” he urges. “Even when you are unhappy, be happy.”
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, copyright 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Buzz on the Street, Piriapolis, Uruguay: Comments on Historic Plan for Legalization of Marijuana

As Uruguay is poised to approve a historic plan to legalize marijuana, several Uruguayans were interviewed at random in the coastal town of Piriapolis. I translated their summarized responses from Spanish to English. They were asked, “Do you agree or disagree with the legalization of marijuana?”

Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben
Nicolas Ruetalo, 31, looks forward to growing marijuana and joining cannabis clubs if Uruguay becomes the first country to regulate the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana. Users would be permitted to cultivate up to six plants at home.
He was interviewed while rolling a marijuana cigarette, sitting on a bench on the Piriapolis boardwalk just before the sun set on Rio de la Plata (photo above ).
Although he favors legalization, he said he has misgivings about the plan. For example, he fears Monsanto’s possible involvement with the production of marijuana because, he charges, the agri-chemical corporation lacks  “ecological sensitivity.”   
Ruetalo, a “bio-builder” of homes made with natural materials, said another negative would be registering as a marijuana user, a requirement to buy the substance from a pharmacy. Buyers registered in a database would be able to buy up to 40 grams (1.4 ounces ) per month, according to the plan.
“What if you are rejected from a job ( because of being on the list )?” Ruetalo asked. “What if there is a change of government ?” The current president, Jose Mujica, backs the measure.
Baglivo: ¨Marijuana is not a necessity¨

Moral Dilemma VS. Business Interest

Carlos Baglivo could reap profits if the Senate approves the plan that has already passed the country’s House of Representatives.   
However, Baglivo, 53, said he wonders if his family-owned pharmacy, La Sierra, should sell marijuana. Some pharmacies would be licensed to sell marijuana to registered users, according to the measure.
Baglivo, who also runs a real estate agency, described his reluctance to sell it. “Marijuana is not a necessity or a medication; drugs are escapist.” At the root of marijuana usage is a societal problem of families who have lost control over their youths, he contends.
Still, he said, his mind was opened to advantages of legalization after he heard a politician’s comments: any illegal substance that involves  large sums of money is detrimental to the country.
Meanwhile before making a decision, Baglivo (photo above ) said he must learn more about the bureaucratic end of selling it.

Plan Could Be Global Blemish

J. Gonzalez (right): " Ojo ! Watch out !" 
Julio Gonzalez says “no” to Uruguay’s legalization plan. “Ojo! Watch out !” 
Gonzalez, 44, who teaches high school chemistry as well as computer skills to adults, said legalization works in some European countries, where public consumption is limited to cafes and driving under the influence is illegal.
However, the Uruguayan plan is far more encompassing. He has doubts about adequate controls. For example, he expects there will still be marijuana robberies under a legalized system. 
Uruguay’s historic experiment may put the country on the world map, but if the plan is not successful, the country will end up as a stain on the map, he contends.

Benitez: "A Matter of Business and Politics"
Marcelo Benitez, 34, owner of the ATP gym (photo above), said legalization does not matter to him. Anyway, he cannot influence the plan, he said. “I imagine it has to do with commercial and political interests.”
In general, Benitez contends that what he says does not matter. “To me, what I project with my feelings matters more than what I say.”

B.D. Gonzalez: Wants Government to Profit 

Blanca Daisy Gonzalez, 71, retired worker of cleaning and cooking services (photo above), said, “it seems like a good thing if it stops drug traffickers. Instead of letting them make money, the money would go to the government.”
According to the plan, only the government would be allowed to sell marijuana. The measure aims to divert marijuana users from patronizing drug dealers, who may eventually sell them harder drugs. Buyers must be over 18.

Fernandez: "The forbidden is worse""

Carlos Fernandez, 30, employee of the bookstore, Los Libros (photo right), also said it could be a good source of income for the government. However,  the plan “must be very well controlled and organized by the government.”
“Marijuana use has become so common,” he continued. “People can get it anywhere…All the young people smoke it.” According to Uruguay’s National Drugs Committee, about 22 tons per year are sold in the country with a population of about 3.5 million.  
In addition, Fernandez favors legalization because “the  forbidden is always worse.”
Copyright, 2013, Earthy Reporter, Carola C. Reuben

Sunday, August 4, 2013

From Gringo Serial Killer to Mahjong Players: Expats Stranded in Paradise, Bocas del Toro, Panama

Boating, waterfront lifestyle lured Judy to Bocas
Story, photos by
Carola C. Reuben
Security may stop me from boarding a plane with the chunk of heavy metal in my carry-on suitcase, I was fretting as I entered the airport in Fort Lauderdale, FL, USA.
I was taking a boat part to my friend in Panama who needed it to get her boat fixed. She depends on her boat whenever she leaves home, whether to see another human or to buy groceries.

My luggage cleared security, after all. However, relief did not last. Soon I met a Panamanian couple who warned me about the American serial killer who used to lurk where I was heading.

Beware of the Gringo Serial Killer

Ten cuidado con el Loco Bill ( Beware of Wild Bill ),” Kira and Dino Tejada exclaimed in unison. Panamanians say that whenever someone mentions a trip to Bocas del Toro, they laughed. The couple was returning to Panama City after a Bahamas cruise.   
As it turns out, though, the, gringo mass murderer, William D. Holbert, is no longer a threat. He has been jailed in Panama since July 30, 2010.
He confessed to killing five US expatriates in Bocas; he was also a suspect in the murder of two Panamanians. With the help of his wife, Laura M. Reese, he befriended the expats, killed them, then stole their money and properties.
I landed in Wild Bill’s killing fields two flights later.

Outside the tiny airport in Isla Colon, the most developed island in the Bocas del Toro archipelago, I looked for my friend, Judy Chisholm. 

Mario led me out of touristy Isla Colon

 Instead, Dan Evers, a US native
and veterinarian, appeared in the steamy heat to tell me Judy’s substitute boat had also broken down. So, she had arranged for Mario the boat mechanic to give me a ride to her house.
Later Mario arrived to deliver me from the tourist-packed island, infested with motels and bars, where taxi rides are 60 cents for locals, $2 for gringos (photo above.)

We sped away on the Chriqui Lagoon in a small power boat.

Stranded on a Wild Green Island
About 20 minutes later Judy’s house appeared, a solitary square of white on top of water, rising on stilts in front of a green horizon (photo, top of story.) 
Behind the house there were no roads, just mangrove jungle; in front, only water. We were marooned there until a boat could be repaired.
Meanwhile we were connected to a wider world via internet, TV from a satellite dish, two cell phones, and in case of emergency, a horn, loud enough to be heard if boaters are passing by.
Also, there were appliances that worked with electricity from a solar system. However, Judy said, “this is a rainy day, not a day to use the vacuum cleaner, washing machine or microwave.”
I was visiting the end of June to escape the tedium of trying to sell or rent out my property in Boca Raton, FL, USA.
Judy used to live in Boca Raton. She left three plus years ago, drawn by a waterfront lifestyle and lower cost of living. 
Now her new house is up for sale. “The simplest things are so complicated. It finally got to me,” she said.

The next morning Judy exclaimed, "We can get out !"

Mario the mechanic had delivered a repaired boat, but then we could not leave because of the pouring rain.
Meanwhile to keep the boat from filling up with water, Judy ran into the rain every two hours to switch the boat’s water pump on and off.      
The rain finally stopped by late afternoon, but the weather had discouraged some expats from attending a weekly mahjong gathering.
On the now tranquil water, Ngobe and Bugle Indian children paddled by in dugout canoes, wearing elementary school uniforms (photo below.)

They are among the inhabitants of three sparsely populated islands in Judy’s San Cristobal neighborhood. Unlike the foreign residents, the Indians live in shacks without electricity. 
* * * 
The next day the weather was tranquil enough for an excursion to buy supplies.
The closest place to shop is touristy Isla Colon, but it is also the most expensive. So, Judy chose to drive the boat 30 to 40 minutes to Almirante on the mainland, then ride inland another 40 minutes in a public van to a big town, Changuinola (population 18,000).
Both towns are still at the center of banana empires.   

From Banana Pioneers to Expat Adventurers

In the 1890s foreign banana barons started buying huge tracts of land in Bocas del Toro province, according to “Outline of History of the Province of Bocas del Toro, Panama” by Clyde S. Stephens.  
Today Chiquita Brands International warehouses still stand on the waterfront in Almirante (photo below), and the dark-skinned descendents of banana workers sit at a table on a dock, playing cards and drinking beer. Their ancestors were imported from Caribbean islands, starting in the early 1900s.

We returned from the banana capital with a boatload of supplies, including imported Pringles potato chips, Betty Crocker’s brownie fudge mix, and food for Judy’s sick old cat, young cat, and dog. 
A big tomato fell into the water as we unloaded the boat. Judy twisted her body under the dock and plunged her arm into the water to retrieve it. “I am not giving it up,” she declared, considering the long shopping trip.  

Days rolled by as we savored the salty wind in Judy’s home. She played solitaire on the computer and took calls from potential home buyers on I went swimming in water shoes to avoid contact with the sea urchins.   

Finally, it was social Sunday at Rana Azul. Twice a week the restaurant opens in an Austrian couple’s yard; some Sundays as many as 40 neighborhood expats arrive on their boats.
That day a man who put his “whole life on sale” on Ebay was among the expats nibbling on pizza or weiner schnitzel.
In 2008 Ian Usher auctioned off his “life,” including a house in a suburb of Perth, Australia, all its contents, a car, and an introduction to friends.
He became “homeless,” traveled, and wrote a book, “A Life Sold.” He self-published it and sold only 2000 copies, but then Walt Disney bought the rights to the story. So, he decided to buy his own island.       
Now the challenge of living in a watery wilderness is over, and Ian, 50, is about to sell his house and travel again, he recounted.
Other expats who embraced the challenge range in age from their 20s to 70s.

Belgians Lazare Roels and fiancee are caretakers of property with room rentals

However, to US expat Linda Peimann, the adjustment was easy. For one thing, she and her husband continue to live among Americans, and she enjoys the weather, she said. 
Some expats make a living from providing services for foreigners. For example, Ken Chester installs solar panels and plumbing.
Others make a living from tourists who seek a trip on the wild side. For instance, a family from France and Martinique is building bungalows to rent out on their muddy, remote hilltop
with an expansive water view. At the end of a day’s work, they set a tablet in their wilderness. They linger over appetizers and wine, lasagna seasoned just so, salad, spiced baked apple, and icy banana-cream.
Chez Bernard: A table set in the wilderness

Meanwhile at Rana Azul, the buzz was about the recent burglaries at expat homes in the neighborhood. The police stationed in touristy Isla Colon do not come out to the remote islands, Judy explained.
Even Wild Bill was not caught in Bocas del Toro, but on the lam in Costa Rica. In fact for three years Wild Bill lived in an expat paradise isolated enough to get away with murder.
Copyright, Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Amish 'Snowbirds' Migrate to Florida Village

Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, copyright, 2013
Two Amish women sit in the sunshine of a warm winter’s day at Lido Beach in Sarasota, Florida, USA. White bonnets frame their tanned faces as they tilt their heads towards the sun.
Another Amish woman steps in and out of the turquoise-colored sea, wetting the purple hem of her long dress. Her companion prances into the Gulf Sea, lifting her dress all the way up to the knees.
They are among the beachgoers from the Amish “snowbird” village of Pinecraft at the eastern edge of Sarasota.
Pinecraft is year round home to a mix of some 3000 Amish, Mennonites, and Plain Sects, both traditional and reformed. Each winter thousands more join them, arriving on chartered buses from Ohio, Indiana, and other snowy, northern states.

In that Disneyland for the Amish, the Amish ride on tricycles past a display of themselves. The only horse and buggy in the village stand still. Other wooden figures on urban Bahia Vista Street depict a rural Amish lifestyle (photo below).  

The first time I saw the Amish on exhibit I was at Yoder’s restaurant to sample “Amish home-cooking” from a menu with a psalm printed on it, “Oh, taste and see the Lord is good…”
I noticed the Amish in 2011 during my winter stay in the Sarasota area; then I watched them in 2012 and on short visits through March, 2013.
One day I met Vera Overholt, due to “Divine Providence,“ as she put it.
We were reading notices on the outer wall of Pinecraft’s tiny post office. There was a red tricycle for sale, an “Amish lady” seeking work as an elderly aide, rentals, homes for sale. Vera ( photo above ) was looking for garage sales.
She lives across the street from the post office in a little house that has been her full-time home for more than 20 years.
Before that, Vera and her late husband migrated seasonally since 1967 from Ohio to Pinecraft. More than 30 years ago, they set up a produce stand in front of their house.
They also created a company, The Christian Hymnary Publishers. They published a collection of more than 1000 hymns as well as other Anabaptist books, such as “The Heroic True Story of a Pioneer Amish family during the French and Indian War, 1754-1763.”
Like Vera, the Anabaptists in Pinecraft don’t work on farms. Year round residents might work in construction or at jobs in village establishments, or own businesses, such as gift shops and produce markets; others are retirees.
They trace their roots to the Protestant Reformation in 16th century Europe, where their practice of adult baptism, or “believer’s baptism,” was an offense punishable by death in Switzerland.
Some of them fled from persecution in Switzerland, Holland, and Germany in the 1700s, and settled in Pennsylvania.
In the 1920s some of their descendants stayed in the Florida winter haven when it was the Sarasota National Tourist Camp. Later houses sprouted in the 1940s and 1950s, and now some 500 houses, closely packed together, fill the village.

Villagers say good-bye to their friends as they leave on buses.
Today many Anabaptists of different persuasions still yield to church rules and what they perceive to be God’s will, rather than pledging allegiance to the state. They stand against consumerism, violence, and competition.
They tend to choose a simple lifestyle and reject technological advances. However in their winter getaway, standards are more relaxed. For instance, Vera said, “everyone” in the village uses electricity.

Dawn Szantyr, one of a few non-Amish residents of Pinecraft,  identifies with her neighbors’ values, such as nonviolence and a pursuit of a simple lifestyle. After all, she describes herself as an “old hippy love child.”
Dawn, a massage therapist who has Amish clients, contends, “I like to hang my clothes out to dry.” Rather than driving, she enjoys walking to stores in the village, like Earth Origins and CVS Pharmacy. She prefers to go to the park in the evening instead of watching TV or being on a computer.

Amish and non-Amish mix in downtown Pinecraft
As the Amish mix with the general population, they can be seen driving their tricycles to supermarkets outside the village or riding on public buses to the beach.
Meanwhile the sunny day at Lido Beach draws to an end.
At a picnic table two bearded men and two women in bonnets clasp their hands in prayer in front of hamburgers and a stack of fried onion rings from a fast food stand.
Nearby on the beach four women are dressed in the modest attire decreed by God, according to their beliefs.
One of them holds up a cell phone toward the sky streaked with pink (photo, top of post). She tucks her long dress under her as she sits on the sand, then she uses the modern device to snap a photo of the sunset.
Copyright 2013,  Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Mussolini Crypt: Admirers Worship at Dictator's Altar

One passes a tranquil field just before arriving at Mussolini's crypt.  

Sergio Schiavone says the air is pure at Mussolini's grave
A stern expression set in stone hovers above Benito Mussolini’s tomb. Next to that hard marble bust, the dictator’s admirers keep his memory alive.
Sergio Schiavone, for one, pays homage at the crypt in the fascist dictator’s hometown in north central Italy, Predappio.
The indirect lighting illuminates his face as he exclaims in the underground vault, “Here one breathes the purest air.”
He continues in Italian, “Cueste era grande.. This was greatness.” He spreads his arms, stretching them as wide as they would open. A shadow of Sergio’s body falls on Mussolini’s stone-covered coffin.

Before his own death, Sergio, 77, wanted to visit Mussolini’s grave. With his wife, daughter, and granddaughter, he made the pilgrimage from a home in Rome filled with photos of Mussolini. Sergio’s father had served in Mussolini’s volunteer militia.
The fascist Blackshirts ( the Voluntary Militia for National Security ) reputedly used violence and intimidation against Mussolini’s opponents as they carried out the dictator’s agenda, 1925-1943. Mussolini became prime minister in 1922, but it was later that he seized powers that allowed him to put an end to political parties, censor the press and prohibit other civil liberties.
Whatever his methods may have been, Sergio contends the dictator imposed order and discipline, which do not exist today.

Mussolini's remains were finally buried in this cemetery 12 years after his execution.

Streets Named after Mussolini 

My journey to Mussolini’s tomb began after I noticed a hotel and a street named after the dictator in a nearby town, Castrocaro Terme.
Then a couple of kilometers from Castrocaro, I met a shop owner sitting on a bench in an ancient, cobblestone alley in the medieval village, Terra del Sole.
The man, perhaps in his 50s and born after the Mussolini era, urged me to visit the dictator’s crypt. He referred to Mussolini’s rule as “a respectable dictatorship.”
Italy would not have its current problems, such as government corruption, if Il Duce (“the Duke” ) were ruling now, he said. The man, who asked not to be identified, repeated, “Bendito Mussolini, Bless Mussolini.”

Soon after I met Giuseppe, 61, a retired police officer and resident of nearby Forli. He was in Castrocaro to treat tendonitis at the thermal spa ( See older post, “Spa’s Italian Soul Full of Green Heart, Amore.”)
I asked Giuseppe, who was born in Mussolini’s hometown, how he feels about the dictator. “Cosi cosi, so-so,” he said. Then he said he does not like him.
Giuseppe’s grandfather, labeled a “communist” by the fascists, was persecuted. Giuseppe’s mother was Jewish, and her brother died in the Auschwitz concentration camp when Mussolini was allied with Germany’s Adolf Hitler during World War II.

From Mutilation to Adoration

 My curiosity was aroused, so one day I caught a bus from the city of Forli to Predappio, where Mussolini was born in 1883.
The bus curved around 23 kilometers of Apennine Mountain views alongside villages and fields of sunflowers, wheat, and corn as I pondered the journey of Mussolini’s remains.
Mussolini’s body finally returned to his birthplace 12 yeas after his corpse was displayed in front of angry mobs.
Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petracci, were trying to escape near the end of World War II from the advancing allied army. However, they were caught on April 27, 1945 near a Lake Como village, and two days later, they were executed along with other fascists in a firing squad.
After the corpses of Mussolini and the other fascists were kicked and spat upon, six of the 15 were taken to Milan. They were hung upside down on meat hooks in a gas station in Piazzale Loreto while citizens stoned them.
Mussolini’s body was then buried in an unmarked cemetery. Loyalists found it and dug it up a year later. Afterwards, the remains were moved around until they were located nearly a year later in a trunk in a monastery in Lombardy.
Authorities then held them for 10 years. Finally, they were given to Mussolini’s widow, who buried them in the family crypt.

My reflections stop with the bus in Predappio's tiny downtown. I find Pizzeria Tamy and lunch ( spinach pasta with cheesy cream sauce, grilled tomatoes and eggplant topped with herbs, roast chicken.)
Sauro ( photo, right), who runs the small restaurant with his two sisters, tells me that Mussolini "was a good politician when he started." He continues in English, "but he lost his head in the end when he joined the Germans." I ask what he thinks of the adoring people who visit Mussolini's tomb. "It is too much," he declares.

 As I walk 2 km or so to the grave, I pass a medieval church, then small residential buildings, two or three stories high. Irises bloom in front of them; mountains rise behind them. I stop at a bench where Natascia is waiting for a bus with her son, Kevin (photo, right). I ask Natascia, "Dove (where )....?" Natascia, a local resident, completes my sentence. After all, "everyone" comes to town for the same reason, she says. Predappio ( with a population under 6,500 ), receives some 100,000 visitors per year.

"Mussolini did a lot of good. He created employment," Natascia says in Italian. "If he were here now, we would not have a crisis."
Soon Italy's recession seems far away as I look down a steep hill, where horses graze inside a green frame of trees ( photo, top of story.)
Across the street from the field, the wrought iron gates of a cemetery lead to the two-story Mussolini family crypt.
Four men carrying motorcycle helmets enter the underground vault that holds the dictator's remains. They rode from the Venice area, about 150 kilometers away.
One of them, Perry of Los Angeles, has lived in Italy for 30 years; he says he simply came along for the ride with his friends.
The trip is an annual pilgrimage for two of his friends, including Antonio, 60. He says the first part of Il Duce's rule was good; the second was not.
According to Antonio, the good part included creating employment and construction projects, such as draining swamps to build cities.
To Antonio, the bad part was Mussolini's alliance with Hitler and his participation in World War II. The pro-war dictator referred to fascism as "education for combat."
"War alone brings up to their highest tension all human energies and puts the stamp of nobility upon peoples who have the courage to meet it," Mussolini has declared. "War is to man what maternity is to woman."

Meanwhile, near the tomb of the war-loving fascist, a statue of a priest perpetually crosses its arms peacefully across its chest.
Plaques dedicated to the dictator cover three walls: "Forever Faithful to Italy's Il Duce ....comrades from Mantova;" "With us always...a group of friends from Campolieto."
The plaques, the pilgrims, the stern-faced bust together create an enduring altar to Il Duce.
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben
copyright 2012, Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter

Friday, September 7, 2012

Part 1: Random Food Musings in Emilia Romagna: Italian Fast Food, Habits to Copy, Beach Dives

A field of sunflowers in Emilia Romagna, a prime Italian agricultural region. 
Patrizia’s new husband complained that when they live in Italy all she will do is sit, eat, and talk for hours at a time.

That was seven years ago, and now, her husband, a U.S. native, does the same thing. “Good things are easy to copy,” contends Patrizia, 53. “In Italy, we eat, we talk about what we are going to eat, and who we will invite to eat with us.”
However, that day “a quick lunch” was on the agenda, according to plans made by the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board for "Blogville" participants. ( See .) Patrizia of the Comacchio tourism office was showing us the coast near Ferrera.
The quick lunch was served under a thatched roof in front of the Adriatic Sea. Rows of sunbathers on lounge chairs stretched out on both sides of us.
White wine accompanied three courses, boiled shredded potato topped with baby octopus, pasta with a thin veneer of tomato sauce and chopped parsley served with crab in its shell, and fritto mixto, fried seafood and vegetables. The meal at the camping resort, Holiday Village Florenz, lasted only one hour, 45 minutes. ( )
Another day on another beach, I asked the waitress if the tuna in a pasta dish is canned. "No !" she said. "It is fresh tuna." The dish turned out to be pasta with a slight coating of tomato sauce, olive oil, barely cooked cherry tomatoes, basil, and cubes of fresh tuna.
At the beach joint, Habana Cafe, even the pasta was made from scratch.
There, chef Marco created a vegetarian topping for fresh pasta on a 95-degree F day. Not a hint of sea breeze entered the  tiny kitchen as Marco blended slivers of grilled eggplant skin, zucchini, pumpkin sprouts, white wine, chopped parsley, garlic, and other ingredients.
The orange and light green tones of pumpkin flowers framed the platter. The artiste posed for photos, but he scolded, "Hurry up. The dish will get cold" (photo above.)
Marco is just one of several specialized cooks at Habana Cafe, located in a town ( Rimini ) packed with Italian visitors and other European tourists.
From Habana's outdoor tables, instead of a sea view, one gazes at endless beach umbrellas in bright colors, nestling close to each other.
Away from beach towns, diners feast in a small town at outdoor tables on porches that hover above stone stairs leading to the town's medieval castle.

'Ferdi' creates dishes for diners who sit on porches perched on castle stairs. 
The restaurant, Osteria la Postierla, in Castrocaro Terme lists some 125 items, including appetizers, pasta dishes, meat entrees, side dishes, pizzas, and desserts.

The size of the menu is “normal,” according to waitress Alessia. The restaurant’s patrons are locals as well as other Italians who come to the town because of its spa (see prior story, “Spa’s Italian Soul Full of Green Heart, Amore.”)

On that “normal” menu, the fish is labeled “frozen” for its “normal” (but fussy) Italian clients. After all, the rest is fresh. Pieces of cooked lemon perch on veal (vitella al limone); ripe black olives cover a veal chop in a crushed olive sauce; thick slices of freshly harvested artichoke hearts as well as cherry tomatoes top a steamed pork dish (scaloppini al cartoccio.)

The restaurant simply follows a norm. The “father of Italian gastronomy” advised his fellow citizens to cook only with fresh ingredients. Pellegrino Artusi, a native of Emilia Romagna, published the first Italian cookbook in 1891. ( See more about Artusi in Part 2 of “Random Food Musings,” posted below this story.)

Meanwhile, our “Blogville” day did not focus on food. After all, a few hours after the quick lunch, we were to dine on appetizers only at Spiaggia Romea, the delta park and resort with both lake and sea shore.   
Wines accompanied appetizers served on heaping platters in an outdoor restaurant with bright green tables and red geraniums (right photo.)

The buffet included amaretto-seasoned pumpkin ravioli, branzino fish (European sea bass ) with pimento, mussels, gnocchi with tomato sauce, smoked eel, grilled eel, proscuitto (ham) with canteloupe, penzarati stuffed with tomato and mozarella, apple risotto, pasta with clams. Just appetizers.
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, Copyright 2012
See Part 2 of Food Musings: "Italian Soul Food, Appetizing Views, Artful Eating,” below this post.