William Penn and the city of Love at the Philadelphia History Museum

January 28, 2017

While in Philadelphia for my wife’s swearing in as an Italian citizen we visited the Philadelphia History Museum.  They show a good video about the city’s founding.  See link at bottom, first in a series.

Penn was not born a Quaker.  In fact the earliest image we have of him is this painting, done during his service fighting a rebellion in Ireland.  He is dressed in armor.  He became a Quaker during his college years, a period of intense religious conflict.

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His father was a close associate of King Charles II.  When his father died, Charles still owed substantial sums to Penn’s father, which he settled by granting huge areas of land which Penn wanted to call Sylvania, the latin for ‘forest.’  The King insisted on adding “Penn” and thus came into being the name of the present day state. The grant included the area today known as Delaware.  

The new proprietor, then probably the world’s largest individual landowner, first landed in America in 1682, afterwards traveling up the Delaware river to found Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.  To attract Quakers he wrote a prospectus that brought in some 250 well to do Quakers.  He eventually distributed it in Europe, attracting Hugenots, Mennonites, Amish, Lutherans, and Jews.  He limited his own power as leader, a notable innovation, as was open discourse, akin to a Quaker meeting.  Prisons were workshops designed to teach rather than punish.  Swearing, lying, and drunkenness were forbidden as well as “idle amusements” such as stage plays, gambling, revels, masques, cock fighting and bear baiting.

He began advocating for a union of the colonies and his Frame for a Government contained many of the principles later to inspire the US Constitution.  However, his attempts to establish a true City of Brotherly Love failed within two years.  He had returned to England, never to return, and soon city leaders had reneged on the agreement Penn had forged with the Lagniappe.  

 

George Washington's watch

George Washington’s watch at Philadelphia History Museum

Aranjuez, the summer palace of the Spanish royalty | Summer Palace Aranjuez, Spain

Aranjuez is just south of Madrid and home to the summer palace.  It was built in the second half of the 16th century under Phillip II.  The town was originally inhabited only by the court but now is a small but vibrant town dominated by the tourists who visit the palace.

The main entrance is through a gate that leads onto a large courtyard.

 

Palacio de Aranjuez pen and ink

Palacio de Aranjuez pen and ink, (5 x7″, 12.7 x 17.8 cm- to purchase see bottom)

 

Palcio de Sivela, Aranjuez

Palcio de Sivela, Aranjuez

Visitors would have entered through the doors to be confronted with a magnificent marble staircase and a ceiling high above.   Nowadays visitors enter through a much smaller entrance in the Renaissance style wing.  This style features a rather flat presentation, with pediments of various sorts adoring the windows.  Here you can also see the Romanesque arches, rounded versus the sharper edges of the Gothic style.

The interior visitors access is limited to two floors.  Once you climb the main staircase there perhaps a dozen rooms.  Some are more what you might expect in terms of high and painted ceilings, luxurious furnishings, and rich colors.  Others are intensely decorated with ceramics:

 

Aranjuez Ceramics

Aranjuez Ceramics

 

 

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Aranjuez interior

 

 

The palace sits on the conjunction of two rivers, the Tagus and Jarama.  The rivers feed numerous fountains and maintain the extensive gardens.

Fountains Aranjuez

Fountains Aranjuez

Fountains Aranjuez

Fountains Aranjuez

Aranjuez River Tajo

Aranjuez River Tajo

Nearby is the Palcio de Sivela, built in 1860 and completely restored in 1988.  Here is my impression of it

Palcio de Sivela, Aranjuez

Palcio de Sivela, Aranjuez (watercolor, 5 x7″, 12.7 x 17.8 cm) sold!

 

The pen and ink—

[wpecpp name=”Palacio de Aranjuez pen and ink” price=”25″ align=”left”]

Wines of Northern Italy

Wines of Piedmonte, in the north of Italy

I did not realize how complex the matter of Piedmont wine is when I became interested while in Turin (Torino in Italian). What intrigued me were the lightly bubbly wines we were getting at restaurants as a house wine. Red, not white, and not bubbly like champagne. I wanted to learn more about them so I could avoid them! Neither of us liked the ones we had and needed to know how to ask if they were going to serve one and identify them on the wine shelves. We bought a few by mistake.

I have found meager references to this style on the Internet but one thing that is helpful to know: they are referred to as ‘frizzante.’ Knowing that would have helped a lot.

A frizzante wine has between 1 and 2.5 times atmospheric pressure in the bottle, compared to 5-6 for a ‘spumante,’ such as the famous and not my favorite by any means Asti Spumante, from the town of Asti not too far from Torino. I have only found references to white frizzante wines- see below for their names. I have no idea what they are like, having never tried any of them.

But not too worry. The wines of this region are mostly red, and still (versus spumante or firzzante). There are many excellent ones.

Nebbiolo Grapes

Nebbiolo is considered the greatest wine from Piedmont. It’s a high tannin grape with red cherry- a very common flavor for red wine- tar – not so common and if too strong is a fault – and rose flavors with. There are some 13 DOC or DOCG (a higher certification) wines in the region made from this grape and they vary widely from one another in nose and tongue.

Barolo, made with Nebbiolo,  is a DOCG southwest of Alba and not far from Torino. The only vineyards with this status are on the southern facing hills. The wine is a brick red with 13%+ alcohol. The wines are aged for at least 18 months in barrel and not for sale for at least 3 years. The Riserva is five. Best ones are 10 years old or more.

Barbaresco DOCG is located northeast of of Alba on the south-facing slopes. These wines are lighter than the Barolo products.

Other Nebbiolo Wines

Langhe Nebbiolo is a region the grows Barolo and Barbaresco without the classification status so they are less expensive. There are sub-regions:
Albugnano, Carema, Fara, Ghemme, Gattinara, Langhe Nebbiolo, Lessona, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Roero 
Rosso, Sizzano* *Nebbiolo is known as Spanna in these areas

Barbera grapes

Barbera is the most common red grape in Piedmont.  They are dark and you should taste black cherry, anise, and herbs. It is less expensive than Barolo wines and goes with many foods. There are 2 DOCGs :Barbera d’Asti and Barbera del Monferrato Superiore. Superiore’wines are aged for more time and have more alcohol.

 

Dolcetto grapes

Dolcetto are dark in color with flavors of blackberry, licorice and tar. The wines do not age well. They are tannic, which some producers are reducing, making the wine more fruty. There are 3 DOCGs  DoglianiDolcetto di Ovada Superiore and Dolcetto di Diano d’Alba. Superiore’wines test at 13%and are aged longer which reduces the tannic impact.

White Wines

Moscato Bianco has been around a very long time. Roses, mandarin orange, cotton candy touch the nose. Asti Spumante  a very bubbly (Spumante’) sweet wine with only 9% alcohol. No wonder I do not like it!

Moscato d’Asti  Is a Frizzante’ that’s very sweet with about 5% alcohol.

 

Cortese

Gavi’ wines from Cortese are dry with lemon-like flavors with good aacidity.

Arneis Roero DOCG, Arneis is medium-bodied with almond notes on the finish, and are grassy similar to Sauvignon Blanc white of Bordeaux.

 

Here’s a link to a site with a podcast:

The Best Regional Wines of Northern Italy

 

Eric Asimov of “The Pour” in the New York Times:

Burlotto Langhe Freisa 2010, about $18:The Piedmont region of northwestern Italy is best known for its nebbiolos and barberas, but oddball grapes like the freisa lurk there as well. Burlotto makes excellent Barolos, yet its 2010 Langhe freisa is fascinating. It’s reminiscent of nebbiolo with its combination of textural lightness, firm tannins and deep flavors, and if it is maybe more Naugahyde than leather, it’s perfect for burgers and sausages off the grill. It might even benefit from another year of aging.

Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo 2010, about $15:Produttori del Barbaresco is one of the world’s finest wine co-ops, offering great values throughout its range. The Langhe nebbiolo is generally made from the grapes of young vines, or grapes that for one reason or another don’t go into the Barbarescos. This is a lighter gauge than a true Barbaresco but still offers all the classic leather, floral and red fruit flavors.

These are very reasonable prices for New York City especially.  I was just there and could not find anything decent from anywhere under $13 US, and that was a very good Zinfandel from California.

 

 

Cuisine piedmontese

Piedmont is especially known for its wide variety of antipasto, meats and especially raw beef, truffles,  and is the home of grissini, the breadsticks you can get in some many places of the world.   It is close to the French border and the royal family that once ruled Italy, Sardinia, Sicliy and parts of France brought many influences into the region, not the least of which is French, most visible in the cheeses.

The cheeses are much like the soft cheeses of France in shape, texture, aroma and flavor.One cheese dish is the fonduta- fondue- is made with Fontina and butter.  T

Bagna Cauda (or bagna caôda) is an antipasto that includes raw vegetables served with a warm garlic, anchovies, olive oil and butter sauce.  Other hot appetizers: stuffed squash blossoms deep fired, stuffed Savoy cabbage, and crochette, rice or potatoes croquettes with cheese.  Eggs with truffles and onions make tartra piemontese, or baked to form a fritata.  Vitello tonnato is veal with a capers and tuna sauce.  There is an antipasto called Finanzier, organ meats and mushrooms, Marsala, garlic and vinegar. Terrines and pâtés are made with game birds and liver, in another nod to the French.

 

Piedmonte wine and cheese

Piedmonte wine and cheese

 

Stuffed onions are made with parmigiano, eggs, butter and herbs.  Peppers are stuffed with  rice, butter, olive oil anchovies and garlic.

Beyond the antipasti is a huge world of flavor and style.  Salumi are the family of what we in the US call pepperoni, although pepperoni means ‘peppers’ in Italian.  There is an immense variety.   Most are made from pork but some from trout, beef, goose, or even potatoes.  The most famous is Salamin d’la duja, stored in an earthenware jar stuffed with fat.  Prosciutto crudo- in America we call it simply ‘prosciutto’ which means ham in Italian.  In Italy you have to specify if you want ‘cotto’ or ‘crudo,’ the latter meaning ‘raw’ but it refers to salted or smoked hams just like in Spain or France.

Rabbit is marinated and made as tender as tuna and thus called tonno di coniglio.  You can order “Insalata di carne cruda’ which is raw beef or veal appetizer marinaded in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic, garnished with truffles in season. Other salads include wild mushrooms, beans, greens, asparagus or sweet and sour onions.

The local pasta is called tajarin, served with beef broth, butter, Grana Padano (a relative of Parmigiano), shaved truffles and nutmet.    Meat and herb filled dumplings come with a a sage and butter sauce.  Gnocci are served with Fontina, Grana Padano and butter. Polenta is popular in winter – thank goodness we are here in the summer.  It is prepared with Toma, a strong soft cheese in the French style,  Fontina, butter and Grana Padano. This is called polenta cunsa.  There are bean soups, such as cisràand tôfeja, flavored with pork or pork rind.

 Tajarin al tartufo


Tajarin al tartufo

Risotto comes from the rice grown in the region.  It might be prepared with sauces made from frogs, meat or vegetables.

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Brasato al Barolo  is braised beef marinated in red wine.  Veal, lamb and baby goat are common.  Lepre in civet is rabbit marinated in red wine and cooked with vegetables and herbs.

Piemonte is also known for its hazelnuts. We saw a hazelnut pie in one of the local markets.  Candied chestnuts are called marron glaces.  Torta gianduia is made with hazelnut and chocolate but no flour.  Zabaione are stuffed peaches or chestnuts.

You can also get any other Italian dish at a wide variety of restaurants.  Pizza by weight it common if less so than Rome.  Lasagna, pesto sauces, grilled or roasted meats, pork chops, you name it, you can find it and many of these are more common than the specialty items which are found in the more exclusive restaurants.

Coffee.  Italy serves the best.  Last time we spent time here, which was last fall, we went to Spain afterwards.  We could barely stomach the coffee for a few weeks.  This time we crossed into France, which is very close.  We found the coffee to be foul tasting, weak and expensive and were very happy to cross back into Italy, despite enjoying the  food in that part of France.

The fresh fruit and vegetables are high quality and inexpensive.  We bought a kilo of excellent green figs for less than $3.  The watermelon has been as low as $.29 a kilo.  Peaches, nectarines, plums are all local, as are apples.  Circoria (a bitter green), spinach, fennel, lettuces.  The list is endless.  I found the big sesame breadsticks at the local market.

 

Street market in Turin

Street market in Turin

The bread-  it is astoundingly crusty, and sold with or without seeds, mostly the latter, by weight and very inexpensive.  It does not last long but you can freeze it.

bread

 

Wine.  There is a lot of it, it’s good to great, and it’s not expensive.  Some of both the reds and white is a bit carbonated (naturally), which we do not care for.  Asti is not far and they make the famous Asti Spumante.  I may have never had a good one or they are all lousy, I can not say which.  You can get wine in enotecas.  You can bring your own container for the local inexpensive wine or buy better quality wine by the bottle at the same place or in any grocery store.

Enoteca in Turino

Enoteca in Turino

For more background on the wine here, see http://www.amoretravelguides.com/blog/torino-italy-wine-wine-and-more-wine.php

 

There are restaurants galore here, as you would imagine.  We stick to the places the locals go to on an every day basis versus the Michelin starred ones.  The pork filet with a piece of chesse filled ham on top we had at a local joint where the wine is $9 a half liter for local white.  That’s quite a bit more than in Rome but still half of what we were paying in Graz this summer, and this wine is better.

Pork filet called Nido, a nest.

Pork filet called Nido, a nest.

I hope to write more about the wine in another post.

Torino (Turin), historically important and a surprisingly entertaining city in northern Italy

Torino (Turin), historically important and a surprisingly entertaining city in northern Italy

 

Turin is more than the home of the Shroud of Turin and the home of one of the world’s largest car manufacturers, Fiat-Chrysler.  It is also home to many museums, most famously the Museo Egitzio (Egyptian Museum), Museo di Antichita, the wonderful archaeological museum; Museo dell Automobile with an astounding collection dating to the first Fiat in 1892;  the excellent Palazzo Reale;  There are many more, as well as astounding architecture and urban design.  Getting around is super easy with its excellent public transit system taking you just about anywhere efficiently and inexpensively. Continue reading

A terrific baroque building: Basilika Mariatrost, Graz (with sketches)

A terrific baroque building: Basilika* Mariatrost, Graz (with sketches)

July 2016

The lovely Mariatrost Basilica is a baroque style building on top of the Purberg hill, a steep climb from the bus stop including some 225 steps.  There’s a lovely view from the top-  see my pen and ink sketch below- and what’s inside is a superb example of the baroque.

Basilika Mariatrost

Basilika Mariatrost

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Salzburg

June 2016

There’s enough to see and do in Salzburg, Austria for the three days we were there, although beyond that I am less optimistic.  It’s certainly attractive enough for longer term living but a bit on the small side, and a good four hours from Vienna for more intensive living, and the winters are still cold and snowy enough to discourage any but skiers and ice skaters. A bit of background and then some highlights.

 

Salzburg

Salzburg

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Schloss Eggenberg, Graz, Austria | Schloss Eggenberg

A Baroque masterpiece and World Heritage Site, Schloss Eggenberg in Graz, Austria is a treasure of the Baroque and, to a lesser extent, the Rococo period of the Baroque epoch, which is the last development in the as well as the most complex and intricate of the period.

One of 600 paintings in the apartments of Schloss Eggenberg

One of 600 paintings in the apartments of Schloss Eggenberg

Here is a video slide show of our photos during the visit, which is only available as a guided tour, set to Mozarts’ Klarinettenkonzert (K. 622).  The tour is in English as well as German. Continue reading

Graz’s Museums

Graz’s Museums

For a city of a mere 300,000, Graz has a large number of museums.   Boys will no doubt be attracted to the Armory, which holds an extensive collection of medieval armory worn by the knights.  We skipped that one and instead have gone to the Graz Museum, Kunsthouse and the Museum in Palais.   There are a dozen to visit on our annual 30 euro pass. (click ‘continue reading’ below)

Medieval Graz

Medieval Graz

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Graz, Austria, a small city that is home to dozens of museums

June 2016

After an overnight in Dusseldorf, we flew in a prop jet into the small airpport in Graz, Austria.  It’s a tiny airport, and but a 10 minute walk to train station.  Before long we were exiting the system and taking the wrong exit, so we added a kilometer to our walk.  We missed a turn and added a bit more, but then we got to the door.

Graz is 200 km southwest of Vienna, just about an hour by train.  It is the second largest city in Austria and home to six universities with 44,000 students.  The University of Gray is the city’s oldest.  It was founded in 1585 under Archduke Karl II. There are over 30,000 students in it alone.  The entire city is a World Heritage Site (1999).   Slovenia is its nearest neighbor (to the south); Hungary is not far to the east.  Graz is home to just 310,000 residents.

 

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View of the downtown from the funicular that goes to Schlossberg Castle

Graz was settled as far back as 5000 BC, likely for two reasons.  First is the Mur River, which flows swiftly this time of year.  This facilitated transportation and commerce.  Second, there is a large and steep hill just off the river, not 5 minutes from our place, which made for an excellent natural fortification, which has never been breached.

Hitler visited in 1938 and was welcomed and the Jewish community subsequently destroyed. In 2000, on the anniversary of the the Kristalnacht pogroms the city presented the Jewish community with a new synagogue to replace they one destroyed. Some 15% of the city was destroyed by Allied bombing, but the Old Town was largely spared.   Graz surrendered to Soviet troops at the end of WWII.

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The city has dozens of museums.  We bought a pass that allows entrance to 12 of them for 30 euros.  So far we have just visited the Modern Art museum, largely given over to an incomprehensible installation.  However there were some genuine works or art as well.

Riverside Drive, Wilhelm Thöny, Austrian Artist. Graz 1888- 1949

Riverside Drive, Wilhelm Thöny, Austrian Artist. Graz 1888- 1949

We’ve had a few snacks and light meals thus far.  Soup.  It’s June and the people are eating hot soup!  With temperature in the low 20’s c (under 72f) the days are cool and the nights a bit on the chilly side, quite the contrast with Valencia, from where we just came, and where summer temperatures can hit 40C.

 

Here are views of Graz from the top of Schlossberg Castle.

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