TRAVEL

Day Trip: Venice

"Where should I go for a day trip out of Rome?" That's probably the most popular question question people ask me when planning a trip to Italy.  Tivoli, Napoli, Cività di Bagnoreggio, Bomarzo, Caserta, Spoleto, Siena... so many sites, towns and cities up my sleeve and all within reasonable distance.  But here's one I never, until now, bothered to suggest:  Venice.

Venice? Impossible, you say.   Not at all. . .

Door to door Roma Termini- Venezia San Lucia is a 3 hour 45 minute train on the Alta Velocità (high speed) trains.  Double down for the return and you're only 7.5 hours seated where you can contemplate time travel by catching up on most of the entire first season of Dark.  To make the most of a Venice day trip, you're going to have to get up early.  The best Rome departure is on the Italo 6.15am train*, arriving in Venice at 10am with a return train at 7:00pm- that gives you nine full hours to do whatever you want in La Serenissima.  And to make the day trip evening sweeter, Italo Treno offers day return fare at great prices, the kind of incentive if you are competitive and thrifty like me.  

Whether meandering or must-see, if you're really going to day trip to Venice, have a plan.  Or better yet, download a Google map for an idea of where you want to go and how you will need to get there- your choices are walking, water bus (see below) and water taxi.  If you want to be clever, customize a My Maps by dropping pins on cultural and food sites and download it onto your phone.  It's going to be a long day, so I suggest powering up on protein and excitement or coffee, and wear your most comfortable (and waterproof) walking shoes.    

Most importantly, know where you're going to eat.  For the daytripper, my only suggestion (and latest mantra) is get thee to a few baccari..  Baccari are those  no-frills bars overflowing with people queued up for cicchetti, whimsical appetizers like creamed cod, pickled onions or braised artichokes on a bread, usually accompanied by a glass of wine. Service is quick, once you are front and center at the counter, and the cod (bacalà mantecato) is an excellent protein solution to fuel you through Venice.  My go-tos are Da Fiore (San Marco/San Stefano), Cantine del Vino già Schiavi (Dorsoduro) and Osteria da Carla (San Marco).

And the best tip? Keep spare euro in your pocket for cicchetti and also the vaporetto, Venice's water bus public transport system.  The 1-Day fare costs 20 euro, while a single 75-minute fare is 7.50 euro (and can be bought on board). Again, cash is king and makes everything go faster.

Is a day trip to ambitious and frivolous? Yes, just like Venice and at times, just like me.

*Daytripping from Florence is even easier: just 2.05 hours by train, and you don't have to get up in the dark. Departure: 7.54 am.

La Biennale is the perfect excuse to visit Venice for the day. A heptathlon of cultural events, the Biennale's big draws are art, architecture and cinema. Every odd numbered year, the islands are inundated with contemporary art  for the international art festival, a six-month art fest from  May through November.  Architecture and design lovers head to Venice in even number years as the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale transform into the very cutting edge for the Architecture Biennale May through November.  At the end of every August, Venice's Lido island illuminates with a galaxy of silver screen stars at the annual Film Festival, an eleven-day affair which is both the both the worst and best time to book a reservation at a five star hotel.

My latest day trip to Venice was an intense attempt to visit all 120 artists and 86 country participants in the *57th International Art Exhibition - Viva Arte Viva in less than 8 hours. My take? Christine Macel's curation for Viva Arte Viva was more introspective, and had more humor and human interaction than biennales past.  The Italia Pavilion was finally something to talk about and at times, amazing like a Neil Gaiman story, whereas Russia was a disappointment. The USA Pavilion was somewhere in between, but that was artist Mark Bradford's point.  The Biennale's roster of artists was solid-  enough new entries to make you feel like the art world's wheels are moving more aggressively.

PHOTOS FROM THE 57th INTERNATIONAL ART EXHIBITION

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Keeping up with Contemporary Rome

This article first appeared in Marriott Traveler, August 2017

You'll find street art on nearly every corner and every wall in Rome, especially in the Quadraro neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images) 

You'll find street art on nearly every corner and every wall in Rome, especially in the Quadraro neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images) 

The Eternal City’s 3,000-plus years of history are visible every time you walk its streets — turn any corner and it seems an ancient ruin rises before you. But lately it’s become apparent that Rome’s sidewalks are also dotted with more modern interests. 

Turn away for a spell from the city’s storied wonders and lean in to new museum and gallery initiatives — you may discover contemporary art as Rome’s newest wonder. 

The Museums

The MAXXI Museum is housed in Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Flaminio neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images)  

The MAXXI Museum is housed in Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Flaminio neighborhood. (Photo: Getty Images)  

When in Rome, it’s not all about the old. Though the city has an incredible and limitless lineup of museums devoted to Italy’s ancient, medieval, Renaissance and Baroque art, the Eternal City keeps its eternal vibe with a dynamic modern and contemporary art scene.

La Galleria Nazionale, housed in a palace containing Italy’s main collection of post-unification Italian art, is dedicated to who’s who in Italian art, from neoclassicists, Macchiaioli and futurists to Arte Povera and contemporary artists.

In 2016 director Cristiana Collu revamped the century-old building and changed up the permanent collection to create a new interpretation in the nonlinear exhibition “Time Is Out of Joint.” Canova faces off with Twombly, while Clemente, Modigliani, Beecroft, Penone, Calder, Kandinsky, Duchamp, Pollock and Balla hang out.

For a full-on 21st-century focus, head to the MAXI Museum, Zaha Hadid’s concrete undulation in the Guido Reni district in the Flaminio neighborhood. MAXXI devotes its halls to work produced only in this century, with a permanent collection, temporary exhibitions and Italy’s largest modern architecture archive.

Museo MACRO is Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. (Photo: Getty Images) 

Museo MACRO is Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. (Photo: Getty Images) 

For a smaller step into contemporary, Museo MACRO is Rome’s only contemporary gallery and working studio space. Located in a former Peroni beer factory, MACRO hosts exhibitions as well as artists in situ. Also, keep an eye on the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, a temporary exhibition space that occasionally hosts contemporary art and photography shows.

 

The Galleries

La dolce vita refers to Rome’s heyday in the mid-1900s, when the city was a world’s stage of fashion, performance and art. Somehow that vitality took a slumber for a few decades, only to wake up, thanks, in part, to Gavin Brown.

The New York gallerist chose the “quiet” (i.e., southern) area of the Trastevere neighborhood for the Rome outpost of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise (GBE), one of his six art spaces that include spots in New York and Los Angeles. Brown wowed the art world by choosing Sant’Andrea de Scaphis, a deconsecrated 8th-century church, for his Rome location.

Known for amazing exhibitions and even more amazing contemporary artists such as Rirkrit Tiravanija, Urs Fischer, Alex Katz and Ed Atkins, the intimate space hosts site-specific installations as well as multi-work shows.

After GBE, keep on the trail of other emerging artists by visiting Frutta Gallery, Galerie Emanuel Layr and Monitor, and then catch up with contemporary art’s heavy-hitters like Giuseppe Penone, Cy Twombly, Rachel Whiteread, Kiki Smith and Richard Long at Gagosian Gallery and Lorcan O’Neill.

The Streets

Get outside. Everyone knows that Rome is all about life on its streets. Since the days of Julius Caesar, the city has been a hotbed of contemporary art; its walls were canvas to ingenious and indignant graffiti.

Over the centuries street art has painted itself into Roman daily life. From scratchings and tags to gorgeous calligraphy, rebellious stencils and larger-than-life murals, street art is on every corner and every wall, and there is no better area to experience all of it than Quadraro.

A periphery neighborhood outside of the city center, Quadraro has become a full-immersion outdoor museum since artist David Vecchiato (Diavù) launched Museo  del Urban Art MURO in 2010.

Some the best local and international artists including Diavù, Alice Pasquini, Camilla Falsini, Jim Avignon and Zio Ziegler have graced Quadraro’s walls with evocative paintings, transforming Quadraro into living and continually evolving exhibition of incredible street art.

The Factory: Milan's Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

Don't laugh, but Milan is my Breath of Fresh Air.  My Mind Clearer and my Get Back to Reality. As much as I love Rome and its ever-permeating chaos, every now and then,  I need to get of my head, literally and metaphysically, and I need Milan like some people need that morning meditation, coffee, workout, cigarette or shot.    Just 2 hours and 55 minutes on the FrecciaRossa and I've got my fix.

Grab your Milan map and head seven or so kilometers slight northeast of the Duomo.  Likely a lot of the city's outer-lying neighborhoods, Bicocca is a Vonnegut setting -  town build up up on the remains of Borgo Pirelli (Pirelli Town), Italy's early 20th century City of Industry. Back in the day, Bicocca was the headquarters and hub to some of Italy's top automotive and mass transit companies- tires, trains, engines, cars, war machines and more made the hamlet an industrial landscape of  factories, warehouses, and workers' housing.  80 years later, the landscape has evolved into Tetris of low, red brick building, midsize angular hangars to form a mini, gridform city of administrative and financial offices, factories, state university, shopping malls and Pirelli Hangar Bicocca.

Only in Milan would you find an incredible art foundation on the grounds of a tire factory, especially when it is one of the world's largest.   10,900 square metres of exhibition galleries with a  California campus vibe mixed with brick warehouses and concrete gardens, Hangar Bicocca is the Pirelli's love letter to site specific art installations.   Comprised of three buildings - the Shed (a series of connected, low brick buildings), the Navata (an amazing and huge hangar), and the Cubo, Hangar Bicocca is free-entry, interactive art space for permanent and temporary exhibitions.  All projects are large scale, and meant to be experienced not just looked at, aside from Efemero, a mural project by Brazilian artist Osgemeous on the external facade of the Cubo.  And Hangar Bicocca is a combination of interior and exterior spaces, whose enclosed garden is playground (on any day there are school visits),  social scene (the caffe has an outdoor seating area) and post-apocalyptic Instagram background - Fausto Melotti's enormous La Sequenza (1981) - a sequence of oxidized iron sheets 22 metres long, 7 metres high and 10 metres wide surrounded by tumbleweeds - is a permanent resident.  The other permanent resident is    Anselm Kiefer's The Seven Heavenly Palaces, an interior landscape within the Hangar landscape and a walk around Kiefer's pysche through seven fragile cement towers and five, large scale mixed-media paintings.

#ARTTOTHEPEOPLE

Appearing every now and then in the dark hued palette of greys, whites and black, are uniformed members of Hangar Bicocca's pit crew, young art monitors wearing Pirelli red jackets with the clever hashtag #arttothepeople, treading on trend as much on Borgo Pirelli's famous 1943 workers' strike.   Off to the side of the shed is Dopolavoro, a beautiful caffe restaurant with chalkboard walls and open seating that seemed as much the hip meet up as the perfect business lunch spot.  It is-- the menu is seasonal,  Italian regional and organically curated by chef Lorenzo Piccinelli.  So yeah, this is how I get my contemporary fix... Milan + art, with a glass of Arneis and tartar.

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Pirelli Hangar Bicocca

Via Chiesa 2 (+39) 02 66 11 15 73

Thursday through Sundays, 10 am to 10pm

Free entrance

Anish Kapoor in Rome

Carne Trémula.

The name of Pedro Almodovar's 1997 film is running through my head as I walk through a ground floor gallery , navigating fleshy red sculptures, monumental canvas and pvc architectural pieces, and vicious paintings/vivisections. This is what it must feel like to be inside a body, or more likely inside Anish Kapoor's brain, the artist whose eponymous exhibition at the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Roma (MACRO) is making half the guests shy away or inspiring a series of selfies (it's a thing. Kapoor's art makes a great selfie backdrop, subject or frame).

I love it.

Kapoor is a pretty brainy Indian-British artist, whose sculpture and paintings are best described as boundary-testing and bombastically biomorphic. Using material includingdirt, fiberglass, resin, canvas, steel, pvc, silicon, wood, wax and paint, playing on themes such as trauma, transformation, size, sexuality and emptiness, an single piece by Kapoor easily dominates the space around it.  For the MACRO, Kapoor is showing 30 works of art (from 2005 to 2016), which beautifully fight for attention in a lone, white gallery.

"This is not art, this is science!", shouts my eight-year-old and tireless colleague who has worked with me side by side for the past eight years, shuffling and hustling across Italy at every kind of exhibition possible- antiquities, Baroque masters, architecture.  She is impressed and at the same time disgusted with Kapoor's work.  Animal hides hang like paintings (or is that the reverse?) and paintings seem to cavern into discombobulated body parts.

She tells me prefers his solid sculpture, both large and small.  They are happier.  But it seems that every piece makes hersmile as she cracks up at the names.  Hunter. Flayed. Unborn. Hung. Inner Stuff. First Milk. Disrobe. Stench. Curtain.  They sound like a forensics report.  I'll admit I cringe a little as I peer into what looks like the cross section of biopsy.  When I lean in, I get lost in the depths of crimsons and vermillions.  Every piece by Kapoor traps you inside with deliberate intensity and meticulous beauty.  And shown together in a collective, the 30 pieces show off the bicameral mind of the artist. Hot and cold, solid and fragile, big and small, reflective and porous, durability and decay.  Duality at its biggest and best.

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Processed with VSCO with n1 preset

Oh yeah, now I get.  Kapoor is playing with me, the viewer, and he's playing with time.  I have to come back.

ANISH KAPOOR at MACRO via Nizza

Through April 17, 2017

Cloud 9: Fuksas' Nuvola

It's been ten years since I went to MAXXI to hear architecture Massimiliano Fuksas talk about his dreams of clouds, and just  four years since I wrote about the "coming soon" opening of La Nuvola, Fuksas's architectonical actualization.  I've  been that archi-stalker, visiting the construction in EUR as much as I can to get a glimpse inside the glass box.  For a long time, years, all I could see was what looked like a metal carcass.   And then one day this year, I read La Nuvola unveiled itself a Halloween inauguration.   The congress hall/conference center of a new Rome was [almost but not quite] open for business.

Ten years, I told myself.  What's a few more months?  And that's serendipity.  La Nuvola announced public visits, by reservation only,  for four days during the second week of December.  La Nuvola was ready for me.

We head first to an underground, a rectangle black hole, or Kubrick's 201o in horizontal format. This is a monster of a congress hall designed to fit 3000 people, or be divided into smaller components for groups. My inner Spike Jonez wants me to shoot a video here, preferably with Christopher Walken.

Up in the The Cloud, ground level.  It's a diaphanous, amorphic shape, anchored to the floor.  An Ikea paper lantern.  Or a paper-machè Pikachu, waiting for lift off.  It's gleeful.  I am worried about the sun and heat in the summer months.  How will it feel?  Trapped? Will it wilt like all pretty things on a hot  day?  Will it run away like a naughty Pokemon?

Inside the Cloud is a crazy, curvy metal skeleton that makes me think about Barbarella and ordering a black polyeurethane dress.  I wish La Nuvola was a performing arts center because I'd really enjoy a long intermezzo tiptapping around on stilettos and with a cocktail in hand.  And then I remember it's meant for large conferences and key note speakers. I make a mental note to sign up for a conference, any conference.

Pop of color.  The main conference room.  It's like being inside a heart. I love the contrast from white to blood red.

People in glass houses.... The Nuvola is contained in a glass box, that naggingly reminds me of Jennifer Lopez.  I am thinking about The Cell, which means I am really thinking about Damien Hirst.  No one else really like it as much as I did. I want to see people walking up and down the fire stairs.   I want to have someone take hyperlaspe videos of me in a fluoro blue dress running up and down.   I like transparency.

My take? It's about time this Nuvola opens, and if I were you, I'd take a double look at any late 2017 conferences happening in Rome.

#EmptyGAMilano and UBS's Don't Shoot the Painter

There is nothing quite like GAM, Milan's Gallery of Modern Art.  The neoclassical Villa Reale is an incredible backdrop for art from any era, and even better when contrasting the very modern with Milan days of yore.  On September 28, 2015, I hosted #EmptyGAMilano to coincide with the closing of the UBS exhibitionDon't Shoot the Painter - 110 paintings shown together from the bank's vast corporate collections.  Joining me were Instagram's Kristin Watts, Tamu McPherson of All the Pretty Birds, Collater.al, AndyKate and many more.

For more information on organizing or participating in an #EmptyMuseo, read here and please email me erica@ericafirpo.com

Thank you, Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada, thank you.  I have been waiting for an arts complex like this to come to Italy for ten years.  An incredible fashion-based arts foundation with not just the big bucks but bigger balls to show off what seems like an entire contemporary art collection [nope, there's more in storage],  a temporary show bringing priceless antiquities from collections including the Vatican, debut its onsite cinema with a retrospective film on Roman Polanski, and hire aesthete auteur Wes Anderson to design its bar, all the meanwhile sitting pretty in a 19,000 sq m complex from mastermind starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

Koolhaas, an architect who is known for ability to transcend space with a good dose of ego,  transformed a former distillery in Milan's southwest into a 21st century artsy mall.  And of course, it balances the quintessential Prada vibe- sleek and cool-toned, with a slight hand at playful.  Gorgeous,  24 karat gold leafed covers the "Haunted House", a four+ level temporary exhibition area, the cinema is horizontal mirrored reflection of the "podium", Koolhaas' glass box where Prada's debut exhibition Serial Classic resides, a concrete cistern houses lets us get up front and above a Damien Hirst piece, and all is enclosed by perimeter walls housing more of Prada's never-ending collection.

More than anything, Fondazione Prada isn't just about the exhibition [though Serial Classic ranks as 'blockbuster', tens of sculptures exploring the multiples in antiquity, curated by archeologist Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola]- it's about the experience.  Like any museum or gallery space, you are meant to walk through halls of installations, sculpture and painting and more than anything you are meant to enjoy yourself in every single space- whether it be art car collection, the Robert Gober installations in the haunted, or an evening at the on site cinema.

Everyone seems to be talking about Bar Luce, the deliciously decor'd, ersatz vintage bar by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson is a long time Prada collaborator who created and filmed the 2013 Prada short film Castello Calvacanti (starring my friend Giorgio along with Jason Schwartzman) which makes an appearance in one of the fully functioning pin ball machines in the bar's hall [the other is themed The Life Aquatic].  And I agree, it is charming- Anderson designed the wall paper, curated jukebox, and hand picked the food and beverages, as well as everything else. I just hope that aperitivi hour at Bar Luce doesn't overshadow the point of Fondazione Prada- art.

I'm just going to take a moment to add one more element to Fondazione Prada- it all about  repeat performance and the 5th wall.  In two months, I've visted Fondazione Prada in three different incarnations-- as intrepid art reporter- taking in the entire complex in a sugar-fueled afternoon,  as aperitivo aficionado sitting pretty at Bar Luce and as best daytime date ever when I took my husband Darius for a walk through Serial Classic so that he could see his favorite antiquities on, well,  repeat (mind you, I snuck in the Haunted House as well).  And I've already lined up a Friday night cinema date with my friend Laura.

Perhaps this is the new form of mall entertainment?

Bar Luce

Hot Pockets: Conversation with Massimo Bottura, Superstar Intellectual Italian Chef

Hot Pocketsis a series of chef interviews that appear on my blog or for other publications. This article was originally written for Fathomand published on Friday 21st November 2014.  

Our continuing adventures during Chefs Travel week takes us to Italy for a converation between contributing editor Erica Firpo and Massimo Bottura, the chef whose flagship, Osteria Francescana, has three Michelin stars and sits at #3 on The World's 50 Best Restaurants list — about his new cookbook, about food and art, about the importance of Playboy to the young boy's mind.

MODENA, Italy – Every time I think about the time I had lunch at Osteria Francescana, chef Massimo Bottura's three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, I smile. Who else would create a transcendental dish dedicated to parmesan and call it The Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano? And who would sit you in a restaurant decorated with his personal art collection which includes pieces by Vezzoli and Cattelan?

To make a long story short, a few years ago I treated myself to Bottura's tasting menu at his restaurant in Emilia-Romana. The next thing I knew, I was driving around Modena with Bottura to meet his wife Lara Gilmore and to say hello to pieces by Maurizio Cattelan, David Salle, the Chapman brothers, and Marcel Dzama, among others. I told them I loved every piece and therefore I loved them. They told me they were writing a book.

Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef is his new conceptual cookbook, a beautiful tome that looks gorgeous on the coffee table. It's filled with Bottura's stories — transporting tales through head, heart, and stomach. As a reader, you take the journey with him. Bottura is a creator: His dishes are edible, personal stories that traverse travel, tradition, perspective, and, to some, patience. They are as much about art and word play as they are about culinary experimentation. We recently had a chat about all of the above.

Osteria Francescana

A kitchen scene, as appears in Bottura's cookbook. Photo by Stefano Grazieri.

What was the first piece of art you purchased?

One of the first contemporary works we bought was Turisti by Maurizio Cattelan. We saw the taxidermy pigeons at the Venice Biennale in 1997. By December, once the exhibition was dismounted, ten were in our apartment in Modena. We didn't dare put them in the restaurant at the time, but today some of the pigeons are hanging from the rafters of Osteria Francescana. We installed them after a renovation in 2012. The rest of them sit quietly on a bookshelf in our living room, observing us from above.

What was the last? What's next? What else do you collect?

I just bought, after years of desiring and hunting, two Joseph Beuys pieces. The first is his classic felt suit — one of the most important works in his career — and a material that became a signature for him, the way Parmigiano-Reggiano and traditional balsamic vinegar are for me. The second is a La Rivoluzione Siamo Noi, a print that shows Beuys walking with his determined gait, iconic hat, and safari vest, a comment on the many social sculptures initiated in Italy in the 1980s.

The first film we ever made for OF was an attempt to describe our creative process through the close examination of two different recipes. We called it We Are the Revolution after Beuys' conceptual premise. We still don't know if these new works will be hung at home or at the restaurant. We always say, "We don't find the art. It finds us." And in that same breath we add, "The art knows where it needs to go."

How would you define your creative process?

My inspiration comes from living in the present and from not getting too caught up in the day-to-day. I daydream a lot. I probably would have been put into the category of ADD when I was a kid. Thank goodness no one noticed or corrected this trait. I let my mind wander as often as I can and I travel through my memories, my experiences allowing my eagerness to taste life guide me. Whenever I find myself in a new place, I eat locally and seek out simple authentic food. That is how I understand a place, through my palate. When I was in China, I learned the technique of making dumplings. In Sri Lanka, curry, and in Thailand how to balance spices. All these experiences are added to my cultural baggage. They become part of me and part of my kitchen. They tell stories about my travels and experiences. I am very interested in personal cooking; not in national or regional cooking. I want to feel that the chef is there, somewhere, in that recipe, speaking to me, asking me to change my point of view.

I always suggest that young chefs read, travel, and dig as deep as they can into their culture to understand who they are and where they come from. Then and only then can they discover their true motivations, passions, and inspirations. This is what I have done over my 28-year career.

So, to answer your question, my creative process begins with the world around me, who I am, and where I come from, but everything I have read, listened to, watched, cried over, tasted, and dreamt. I often say, "learn everything, then forget everything." It is so important to fill one's suitcase with culture, books, music, literature, and art, travels, and then kitchen experience. Cooking is not manual labor but a thinking man's job. I mean, creativity is creativity. It's not throwing a piece of meat into a skillet. That is cooking. What we are trying to do requires jumping into that pan with your soul. One of the most valuable ingredients or tools in the kitchen, and one too often left behind, is the mind. If you really think about it, the only zero kilometer cooking is that which is taking place in our minds. I can dream anything or traverse continents without leaving the kitchen.

Massimo Bottura

The dish "Five Ages of Parmigiano Reggiano." Photo by Carlo Benvenuto.

Your dishes are conceptual and playful in nature and in name. They're Duchampian — inspired by art and experience. Would you elaborate on that?

I am actually reading a fantastic biography of Duchamp and I love the Calvin Thomas book Afternoons with Duchamp. He had his finger on the pulse long before many others. The language and the titles of my recipes are intrinsic to the ideas and stories behind them. There is Duchamp in there, but also Boetti. Words play such a big part of our world today, and maybe have since the bible, since Gutenberg's printing press. Many artists have used words as visual signifiers for other things — culture, consumerism, and identity. If you call a poached turbot with faux grilled marks "Is this a grilled turbot?" you not only create a curiosity among the diners but you begin to address other issues: How should turbot be cooked? Why is it always grilled on the Adriatic Riviera? Isn't it time we question that?

Food is nourishment not only for the body but also for the mind. Stimulate the appetite, but feed the hungry soul. Language has played a role in my kitchen since the first savory potato and onion Cappuccino, then Memory of a Mortadella Sandwich, and so on. A little bit of irony goes a long way, especially if you think about how serious and set in stone the Italian kitchen can be, which is an oxymoron in itself because the Italian kitchen is based on improvisation, yet everyone wants to write down the absolute truth. Well, it just doesn't exist. Bollito, not boiled. There you go.

What's your favorite name of one of your dishes? And your favorite name for a piece of art?

I love the way Alghiero Boetti's mind works. "Immagine e somiglianza" is the title for a series of works by the artist, but the expression also refers to most of Western art. As for my recipes, it's hard to pick just one. They have become companions over the years. Oops! I dropped the lemon tart talks about imperfection and Millefoglie di foglie addresses the importance of finding poetry in the everyday. I love the recipes because I love the ideas behind them as well as the flavors, not just the word play.

You mention Notari "Come to Italy with Me" and "tearing up the pages of the Silver Spoon." You're an Emilian chef who both throttles Italian cooking traditions for not encouraging creativity and grabs hold of other regions to shake them up. What does tradition mean to you?

Tradition is everything. It is our geography — every bell tower and church dotting the countryside. Tradition is an accumulation of human gestures. And when it comes to traditional food, then one is also addressing agriculture, artisans, territory, and identity. I do not deny traditions but work through them, never assuming they are right but always trying to respect their origins. My kitchen is probably (and ironically) the most traditional in Italy today, even if it doesn't look that way. The only way to safeguard our traditions is to let them breathe and grow and move out of the comfort zone. When they become comfort food, then there is the inevitable decline. The critical (and constructive) mind is distracted by sentiments and nostalgia, and consequently the ragu looses something magical in the process. It just becomes another routine instead of a solution to a question, an active gesture, an attempt to revive not just repeat.

Massimo Bottura

The dish "Oops! I Dropped the Lemon Tart." Photo by Carlo Benvenuto.

You've made the Emilia Burger for Shake Shack. What are you saying about Italian food and your cuisine to Americans?

If you make an Emilia burger at home, then you will know what I am saying about American food. Good idea, but poor followthrough. What is the great weakness of any hamburger? The patty is always dry. That is why we added ground cotechino and Parmigiano-Reggiano: flavor, gelatin, and texture. Try it and see what happens to your hamburger. By adding a dollop of salsa verde instead of insipid lettuce or a pickle, we've added acidity and chlorophyll in concentration. The touch of balsamic mayonnaise rounds out the flavors and lends depth to the palate. I love America. And I love street food. Eating a hamburger in a park is one of the great joys of being in a city like New York, but if you add a little Italian zing, then wow! Wise contamination is a good thing.

Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef is wonderful — a hybrid coffee table/family history/cookbook that focuses on three-dimensionalization of an idea. It's not just a cookbook or a culinary history. Where do you want to see this book?

I'd love to see the book leave the shelves and migrate to elementary schools and libraries and museums, or find a secret community under the beds of a teenage boys, like the once-coveted issues of Playboy we all collected as kids.

Many of your dishes, like Pollution, have a message. What is your overall message?

I honestly see each recipe in the context of what I learned from it or what we as a restaurant learned from making it. So recipes are little life lessons for chefs and for restaurants. I am still making them up, so I probably won't know the final message until it is too late. The career of a chef is like a puzzle. Over time the pieces fall into place and you begin to see a picture, but often it is not what you thought it would be. I began wanting desperately to be avant-garde, to break the rules and live dangerously. The more I grow and learn, the more our kitchen whispers rather than shouts. I like this reversal because I'd rather engage an audience in an idea, a flavor, a string of thoughts than shock them. Our kitchen leads you inward like a labyrinth to a place called flavor — which at times can be familiar and at times alarming. We hope unforgettable and enduring. That is what we aim for. But the real message of the book is directed at the next generation: Be like a tree. Grow slowly.

Oceano Adriatico, Fendi Experiments

Every year, the Alda Fendi Foundation holds the Lenten Experiments, an avant-garde performance series that takes place around the last week of Lent. Every year I go and every year I write about it.

Why am I so predictable? Because I believe in the Experiments and more importantly, I believe that if you have the opportunity you should go see them.

What are the Experiments?  45 minute ultra-sensory mayhem. Music- classical, techno, nostalgic. Performance- shocking, nude, beautiful, dance. Imagery- shocking, historic, cartoon, text.  The Experiments are the love child of Raffaele Curi and Alda Fendi. They are a nod to a part of Roman culture that only gets seen by the outside world for a few seconds in films like La Dolce Vita, Mamma Roma and La Grande Bellezza, or if you've had the good fortune to have a very crazy weekend in Rome.  They are performance art not just by the players on stage but also by the participants who seeming stand around watching the performance unfold in fabulous attire and from all walks of life.  They are a three dimensional celebration of the thoughts that run rampant in Raffaele's head.

Who is Raffaele Curi?  Raffaele is a personaggio, a character and living legend.  He grew up in Ancona, moved to Rome to act and immediately received a role in Vittorio de Sica's Academy-award-winning Garden of the Finzi-Contini.  From there, his life imitated art, a bit La Dolce Vita with a touch of La Grande Bellezza. Pedro Almodovar, Prince Charles, Man Ray, Susan Sarandon, Carlo Menotti are some of his friends, and me. Raffaele lives just around the corner from my house, close enough to bump into each other at our local market and just far away enough to never ever want to hang out at my bar because he is faithful to the one I don't like. It's a Rome thing.

And he is Alda's partner in crime, the ying to her yang, the extra set of eyes and ears and most importantly her friend.  And its because of that friendship, Raffaele has had the opportunity to create experiments with complete freedom and sheer glee.  Oceano Adriatico is a celebration of the crazy life journey of Raffaele,  in part by art director Dante Ferretti as well as Curi's love for his childhood home in Italy's Le March region. Get it? Adriatic Ocean, because the world revolves around Le Marche. . . .

What did I think?  Oceano Adriatico is a bit more tame than years past, and it is a great celebration.

Performances April 3 to 6, Studios dePaolis, via Tiburtina 521. For more information, please check out my article in Ansa.

MORE FENDI EXPERIMENTS

 

Rome and the Worldwide Instameet

This past weekend, we [me and the Professor] had an instameet.

Wha? Ma che ci fai con un "instameet"???

An instameet. I.e. a group of people getting together at a decided location to take photos and then post them on Instagram in an excited, obsessive frenzy, with hashtags accompaniment.  I know, I know. Neither of us are the first people that come to mind with the words "group" and  "organization" [Flashback: insouciant birthday partying, resistant airplane ticket buying, writing habits that often do not include eating or cleaning for days].  But obsessive frenzy? Yeah, I'm that girl. I like passion, I like passionate people and I like how Instagram foments that passion.

Over the past several months, we've had six instameets with a few different hashtags: #instameettheromans in Historic Rome, #eurwalk, a walk around the Fascist era architecture of EUR neighborhood, #colosseumfordays, all about the Colosseum (a tag I hope keeps going for centuries) and #walkroma, the consistent and underlying tag of these walks plus our Ostiense and Ostia Antica instameets and this past weekend's walk at Ponte della Musica in zona Flaminia.  And we've consistently had a great group of people [artists, photographers, journalists, interior designers, students, rocket scientists, pro athletes, diplomats, government lobbyists, mind readers] who have come from all over (Lazio and then some) to walk around and photograph the Eternal City ~ who wouldn't want to?  And on a side note, I'm also a late night "silent participant" of many others instameets, like Hong Kong, Sidney, Venice Beach and London, when insomnia is fuelled by a steep fall down the hashtag rabbit hole, especially the #WWMI8 (Instagram's tag for all instameets that happened this weekend).

I'd like to say that our instameets are a non-stop discussion on photography and its techniques, plus showing off a little cultural heritage, but really they are all about making friends, making jokes and confirming that all roads lead to Rome.  Inevitably, someone discovers that they are  tangentially related to someone else.  In my case, someone a) knows one of my cousins b) has dated/could potentially date one of my cousins c) works/worked with one of my cousins d) has never met any of my cousins  but somehow randomly knows one of my old and forgotten friends from wherever.  Yes, the Rome instameet is a yenta, a matchmaker, a nonna and a nosey neighbor.

If you'd like to be kept up-to-date on our Instameets, enjoy the gallery below (a sampling of this past weekend's #walkroma at the Ponte della Musica and Stadio dei Marmi), send me an email and/or keep your eye on our Rome Instameets here.  For a who's who of our #WalkRoma participants in Instagram's 8th Worldwide Instameet, peruse the photo below (and the foot shot above) and click on it. I've tagged everybody who came with an Instagram profile.  Thank you again, you guys are really great-- can't wait to see you for the next instameet!