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, 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.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Part 2: Random Food Musings in Emilia Romagna: Italian Soul Food, Appetizing Views, Artful Eating

From poetry to pottery: The site where Maurizio courted his wife by reciting poetry.

In a land of culinary masterpieces, Maurizio makes clay dishes to bake the most basic of nourishments.

 Medieval View in Bologna: Palazzo della Mercanzia 
"Some people have wine, some do not, but everyone has bread,” Maurizio contends. He digs up his own clay to make plates to bake piadina, the flat bread typical of the Emilia Romagna region of Italy.

In every culture, bread is important. It is a religious symbol,” says Maurizio from his home in Montetiffi, high on a mountain with a view of a medieval castle, vineyards, and trees loaded with apricots.
Piadina is “not just for the stomach. It is also for the soul,” asserts Maurizio. He and his potter wife own the business, Le Teglie di Montetiffi.

In the Emilia Romagna region, one grows accustomed to hearing words like soul, art, passione, coupled with “food.”

In fact, “the father of Italian gastronomy” referred to eating as an art. Pellegrino Artusi, a native of the region, compiled Italy’s first cookbook, “The Science of Cooking and the Art of Eating Well” ( “La scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangier bene.”)

Publishers rejected Artusi’s work. So, in 1891 at the age of 71 he self-published the book, then kept updating it for 20 years. Now a culinary complex stands in his hometown, Forlimpopoli; it includes a library, cooking school, and museum.  An annual gastronomic festival also celebrates his contribution.

Compatriots in Artusi’s region can easily heed his advice to cook with fresh produce in season, considering Emilia Romagna is one of Italy’s prime agricultural areas.
Eel, rabbit, and poultry are raised there; different kinds of mushrooms, olives, grapes, apricots, peaches, pears, cherries are harvested in the region. Emilia Romagna also produces sea salt, salamis, cheeses, wines, olive oil, balsamic vinegar.
From April through November people feast on the food products at festivals dedicated to pumpkin, ham, rice, truffles, fish, certain wines, and at other festivals with more general gastronomic themes.

Meanwhile, at least one local gourmet is critical of Italian food in the U.S. “It is not prepared the Italian way. Non e cozi, ” Francesco asserts, indignantly. His observation is based on watching cooking programs on American television.      
It seems natural in that country that Francesco, a young man, talks about cooking. Food is “a fundamental element in Italy,” he says, stating the obvious. He works at the reception desk of Palazzo della Mercanzia in downtown Bologna. The castle dates back to 1384, and until today it houses the city’s chamber of commerce (photo near top of story.)
He gave me a cookbook of Bologna’s culinary specialties to take to places where Italian dishes are not prepared correctly.

The local delicacies in the cookbook are plentiful in restaurants in Bologna, the region’s largest city. For instance, pumpkin tortellini, roast rabbit, and veal topped with thick slabs of huge porcini mushrooms are among the dishes on the menu at Trattoria La Corte Galuzzi, which has a typical medieval view of the Galuzzi tower.

Yet, in spite of downtown Bologna’s reputable restaurants with medieval views, Italians flock to several McDonald’s. The McDonald’s in Bologna look like other McDonald’s located in Anywhere Land.
According to one local taxi driver, the attraction is the cost of the meals at McDonald's.

“But,” I said to him, “One ‘Il Mac’ costs 7.30 euro, hardly a bargain.” Nearby CaffĂ© Zamboni offers an 8 euro dinner buffet with any drink, including wine, I pointed out.
In a land of culinary masterpieces, McDonald's in Bologna entices with 'Il Mac'
The buffet is stocked with about 10 items, including a variety of salads topped with olives and herbs, piadina sandwiches, cheeses, watermelon.

Competition for McDonald's: the buffet at Caffe Zamboni
Later I met a young soldier in Piazza Maggiore, and his conversation immediately turned to food. It had become a routine subject.
It was not surprising that the first thing the soldier said of the region was, “Si mangia bene in Emilia Romagna. One eats well in Emilia Romagna.”
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, Earthy Reporter, Copyright 2012
See Part 1 of Food Musings: “Italian Fast Food, Habits to Copy, Beach Dives” (posted just before this story.)

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Spa's Italian Soul Full of Green Heart, Amore

Jasmine covers entire pillars and fences in Castrocaro Terme. It grows in wild clumps on the town’s riverbanks and in the spa’s park.
The jasmine perfumes the air, day and night, nearly everywhere in the small Italian town.
The scent blends with the mountain air of the Apennines and oxygen from ancient pine trees. A medieval castle emerges through those trees.
However, it is not the castle, (1000 years old ), that links the town to a remote past. It is the mineral water that flows from the mountains to the valley in Castrocaro.
A long time ago, the Romans (rulers of the region from about 500 BC to 500 AD ) bathed in that water, and they called the place Salsubium. Even before that, the Etruscans dipped themselves in the suflur-salt-bromine-iodine water. 
Finally in 1936, Benito Mussolini, then dictator of Italy, fostered the building of a modern spa complex, which was inaugurated two years later. ( Mussolini, whose hometown is 13 kilometers from Castrocaro, spurred multiple construction projects in his region.)

Today a warm mist with a slight smell of sulfur fills the room with the mineral water pool at the Centro Benessere ( Wellness Center.)

The bathers emerge from the warm water, then wrap themselves in warm, white sheets. Some of them lie in their sheets on wooden lawn chairs in an adjoining terrace, where a slab of sun fills the space between buildings (photo right).

Elsewhere, patrons expose themselves more fully to the summer sun, lying on rows of lounge chairs on the rooftop, a fifth floor solarium.

Nearly all the women, whether they are young or old, thin or fat, wear bikinis. A few are covered in Castrocaro’s mineral-infused bluish-gray mud.

The patrons are usually laughing or smiling, and so are Salvina, Elza, and the other attendants. It seems to be a normal state of being for many Italians.

I land in that dolce vita before attending the “Blogville” project hosted by the Emilia Romagna Tourism Board. (
Love chakra with Italian heart
I rarely plan a trip, but this time I did because I was heading for a developed country in peak tourist season. After jotting down names of towns on an internet map of the region, I looked up their populations. I chose Castrocaro just because of its small population, 6000.

This small town, popular with Italians, very rarely sees foreign visitors, according to hotel and spa workers.

Last year the town hosted more than 40,000 visitors to its facilities, according to Silvano Verlicchi, the administrator of the privately-held complex that includes the spa, convention halls, medical clinic, and rehabilitation center that uses thermal water to treat illnesses, such as arthritis, chronic bronchitis. The Grand Hotel, also part of that complex, is the only hotel in town with a 4 star rating, or, as Verlicchi points out, “4 Star S for superior.” 
Meanwhile, I am glad to be the town’s Foreigner, and that I can learn to speak in Italian mixed with Spanish and Portuguese.

I use that linguistic mixture when I meet the staff that runs the spa’s entertainment programs.

One staff member, Antonio, celebrates nature every day with other patrons in the spa’s eight hectares ( 20 acres) of park. Inside the “green heart of Romagna” (as the town labels itself ), he fuses an awakening of the senses with oriental healing exercises (photo above).
In his class, Sensazioni in Natura ( sensations in nature), he shows spa-goers how to breathe the jasmine-scented air deeply, the tai chi way. He focuses on chakra dell’amore, chakra of love. With his Italian heart, he tells people to look into each other’s eyes, hug, and say, “Ti voglio bene” (I wish you well.)

Amore al italiano is also part of Samantha’s daily nature walk. When we arrive at a romantic archway of trees, she arranges women and men in pairs; she asks us to hold hands (photo above.)
Warm mineral water pool at Centro Benessere
I am paired off with Roberto, a retired mechanic from Abruzzo. Slowly, we walk to the end of the green arch. Then he asks, “May I kiss you ?” Those are words I now understand in Italian. “Si,” I say, smiling back at Roberto as I point to my cheek.
I continue to enjoy amore, but it is obvious that other foreign visitors are not expected. Staffers at the tourist information booth downtown do not speak English. Posters advertising concerts and festivals are printed in Italian only. Only one of the town’s three banks will permit a visitor to trade dollars for euros.

For now, il cuore verde di Romagna, the green heart of Romagna, remains the domain of Italians.
Story and photos by Carola Reuben, Earthy Reporter, copyright 2012


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Italian Butt Pinchers Extinct, but Kissers Abundant

Italian men: Cyclists in Castrocaro Terme, military man (below)
Butt pinchers are extinct, according to random interviews with Italian women during my first days in Italy. Before they disappeared from their habitat, some women I know who traveled to Italy in the 1980s or earlier say they witnessed (or felt) the butt pinchers.

"Now, NO !” exploded Jovanna when I asked her about the butt pinchers. “Italian women are stronger now. All over the world, women are stronger,” she exclaimed, clenching her fist. “Italian men treat women with respect. They are romantic now.”

 I spoke to Jovanna, singer and animator for the Meldola Jazz Band, after the band’s performance on an outdoor stage in the small town Castrocaro Terme.

Italian men: Mauricio, wholesale wine vendor from Forli, man reading on stairs to castle ( below)
There on Notte Celeste I received a kiss al italiano from Mauro the trumpet player. But I am getting ahead of my story.

That evening light blue (celestial) balloons adorned every pillar and storefront downtown (photo, bottom of post.) To my questions about the reason for Notte Celeste (Celestial Night), people would say, “It is just that.. We are having a festa

So the festa started, and a fire eater pranced to the beat of drums. Japanese-Italians in kimonos from the Japanese Cultural Association in Florence hosted a crafts booth, and a troupe from the nearby medieval village of Terra del Sole put on a Renaissance drum and dance performance.

Meanwhile on an outdoor stage, the 20-piece Meldola Jazz Band swung into 1940s Glenn Miller songs, then played “The Girl from Ipanema,” and a crowd of 300 or so clapped heartily to the beat. My dancing feet could not stay still.
Jovanna picked me out of the crowd and spoke in Italian. I covered my face bashfully with my celeste-colored scarf, but she kept pointing at me and talking. I said, “Non parlo italiano.”
Castrocaro Terme was adorned with blue balloons for Notte Celeste

Men in Terra del Sole

Then a man emerged from the crowd to explain to me in English: “For being the  liveliest person in the audience, you won a prize, a kiss from the trumpet player.”

After the show, I went to the stage to claim my prize. I met Mauro, an olive-skinned man, perhaps around 45, and 5 feet 2 inches tall with long, dark hair and a radiant smile. Pointing to his mouth and then to mine, he asked in Italian if he could give me a kiss. I said “si” and pointed to my cheek.

When I met Mauro, I had been in Italy just 36 hours, but his gentle kiss was already my second. The first bacio was from a man I shall call Signor di Milano (because he is married).
He said in Italian, “What the heart does not see, the heart does not feel.” I understood him because I speak similar languages, Spanish and Portuguese.

 The heart he was referring to was his wife’s heart, which was far away in Milano. The elderly man then squeezed my cheeks with his hand and grabbed a kiss in a corridor of Hotel Eden.

 A few days later, I thought about Signor de Milano when a choral group sang about the Italian tradition of infidelity. The group, Il fascino dell’ Operatta, included in its program, “E Scabroso Le Donne Studiar” ( It is Difficult to Understand Women.)
They sang love songs into the night in a park at Piazzi d’Armi by the side of yet another neighborhood castle ( Palazzio Pretorio) in the medieval village, Terra del Sole.
The choir of 25, men in tuxedoes and women in long gowns, sequined and dazzling red and turquoise and pink, celebrated with their music the many dimensions of love. “With passione,” said  Romeo Signani, one of the choir’s soloists. Indeed, Love is a Many Splendored Thing (L’Amore E Una Cosa Meravigliosa. )

And now after more than 10 days in the Emila-Romagna region, I am a veteran recipient of kisses. I did not come to be kissed; I came here because I am among the so-called “bloggers” selected for a subsidized stay in “Blogville,” a project sponsored by the Emilia-Romagna Tourism Board. ( )

Meanwhile as I received more kisses, I remembered Jovanna’s words about Italian men treating women with respect.

In fact, her colleague Mauro requested permission before giving me two more baci (kisses), one on each cheek, as he exited the stage. Then he went into the jasmine-scented Notte Celeste, carrying an instrument case in one hand. With the other hand he waved with exaggerated flourishes while saying, “bella, bella”...
Story and photos by Carola C. Reuben, earthy reporter, copyright, 2012