Ghosttowns in the Hills of Italy and Tourism

I’m referring not to the haunting of the hills but the abandonment of villages.

Empty buildings.  Why?  They have the food they need.  The homes are beautiful.  Why would they leave?  I expect that these typically family-centric communities of 5+ houses become nonviable as the younger generation moves away and the older one dies.  Driving around, we passed two of these housing clusters that were  empty and another that was at half its potential occupancy.

Another challenge evident exists in housing prices.  According to one local, after the release of the book Under the Tuscan Sun and then the movie, prices of Tuscan villas shot sky high.  It makes me wonder if those detritus filled decaying homes might be bought and inhabited if the locals weren’t priced out.  I wonder if this same effect happened after the release of the book Eat, Pray, Love in the countries it referred to.

Italian Food Part 2: Tuscany

The market at Monterci in Tuscany introduced me to a new gastronomic passion, porchetta.  Porchetta is a whole sucking pig, de-boned and stuffed with garlic, rosemary, fennel and liver.  This juicy and delicious meat is a regional favorite which makes for a delicious and inexpensive lunch at the market when topped with a crunchy piece of skin and stuffed in a crispy roll, its exact flavors varying based on the chef.

It was here in Tuscany that I was made aware that not only were the restaurant menu items, and market items locally grown, but that they are also seasonally available.  What this means is that should I go back to Tuscany in July the foods available would be what is ripe at that time.  Fortunately for me ‘in season’ during December is cingale (wild boar), black truffles, chestnuts, porchini mushrooms and persimmon.

In the Caprese Michelangelo area, locals who harvest the mushrooms, truffles, and chestnuts from the forest are able to bring the fruits of their labor to market with the assistance of a local Co-op.  Sounds like an easy and exotic way to get those truffles that you love?  It isn’t.  Each of the trees in the forest is ‘owned’ by someone and you would very literally be taking their livelihood.

Overall I have really enjoyed the regional flavors and the lessons that are evident when a locale seems to have  a more sustainable food system.

Learn more about the foods of Tuscany from our hostess.

Italian Food Part 1: Sorrento

I’m sitting in a kitchen in Caprese Michelangelo in the hills of Tuscany with a glass of a local white wine.  There s a fire going to keep the room toasty warm.  Jay is busy in our hostess’ kitchen preparing a tomato and fennel fish stew with ingredients that we picked up from the market that day, all of which were locally grown or brought in from the coast.

Is ‘local’ a theme here?  So far, it is and not just because it is a passion of mine.

Let’s start from the beginning:

In Sorrento, where I spent my first few days, the streets are lined with orange trees.  Small orchards of a few trees, herbs, and grape vines seemed to occupy all available space in backyards and on balconies.

Limoncello, a lemon based liquor, is not only regionally unique but also varies by producer.  One variety I tasted on a whim was far better, in my opinion, than others to the point that I might have though it was a different drink all together.

At night while enjoying a stroll down Sorrento’s small side streets, I caught a glimpses of the day’s catch – frutta di mare – in display cases visible from the outside of the restaurants.  No doubt this is meant to entice you in, and also to let you know what the fresh catch is for the day.  Fresh meaning that it was caught that day and brought up from the harbour.

Once seated at the restaurant for the evening I was pleasantly surprised with a local and superior in quality bottle of vino rosso – red wine.  This left no need to spend money on the otherwise pricey wine list, a pleasant occurrence which repeated itself throughout the trip until Rome.

Sorrento’s ability to not only feed me, but to do so locally and with great flavor was definitely appreciated.  I appreciated knowing that the locally produced and harvested foods comprised the entire menu.

Would this be repeated?  Find out about Tuscany in Italian Food Part 2: Tuscany.

What are best practices anyway?

Best practices: these mysterious things that I hear talked about again and again.  I have been told that we need to look for and implement them.   The idea sounds good.  Look for what works and repeat everywhere.

I do not believe it is that simple.  I’ve been giving it some thought lately and the challenge I see is that what is best for one community is not necessarily the best for another.

Different communities certainly have in common that they are groups of people, however, that is potentially the end of the similarities between any two groups.  The cultural personality of one community changes the way it’s participants interact with each other and with information. This cultural difference is what makes a community alive, vibrant and unique. To say that any one idea will ever work in every type of community is simply wrong.

While the truly ‘best practices’ out there are the ones which work for many different cultures and communities, it is also possible to have a project that is incredibly specialized to one culture, and which is able to have a great effect on it.

So, I propose a change of wording or rather a clarification. Let’s search for ‘net positive practices’. In that phrasing there is no assumption of rank, just an acknowledgment that an initiative or plan worked.