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Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Sicily – A Land Of Contradictions

Article first published as Sicily - A Land of Contradictions on Technorati.

The picturesque miniature villages, forgotten by modern life and going about at a slower, somehow more genuine pace. The gorgeous sand beaches leading to waters so clear you can spot the details of the tiny fish swimming near the bottom of the sea. A culinary tradition of such richness  that every visit to this Italian island unveils new delights and entices you to come back again and again. Vibrant cities such as Palermo and Taormina, with their cultural heritage and many architectural wonders. Dramatic volcanoes, the Etna winning the prize of the most famous one, the green plain of Catania spreading under its looming shape. An abundance of citrus fruit, almonds and vegetables. A bountiful production of wine and oil, as well a thriving fishing trade. Add natural resources such as sulphur, gas and salt. Yes, Sicily has it all.

But this blessed part of our planet is also steeped in contradictions. Let's concentrate on a few in particular.

The majority of the population has of course elected to live in the coastal areas, the massive exodus resulting in the inner, rural territories being seriously under populated. This is unlikely to change and is creating an imbalance in the financial circumstances of the population. Did Dolce & Gabbana's three months casting in Sicily to discover non-professional models for their latest men summer collection included the whole territory? It would be interesting to know.

A little bundle of joy will soon be joining your family. As your pregnancy progresses, you will no doubt appreciate to find out that parking spaces are reserved especially for you. But will this delicate attention make you forget about the lack of pavement and how dangerous this makes walking in the streets? Not so sure.

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, the Sicilian beaches are out of this world, and you will find that they are often not crowded at all, which definitely has its importance in making the experience an enjoyable one. You leave the seaside after soaking up the sun the whole day, feeling contented and relaxed. The last thing you fancy coming across are various heaps of garbage strewn around. Sadly, this might well be the case, casting an unpleasant shadow over your stay in heaven.

You will also almost certainly step into a beautiful grocery store that has retained the flair of an era long vanished. You find yourself unable to resist filling your basket with artisanal goodies, wrapped in colourful paper or moving gently inside an old-fashioned jar or bottle. The shock of the bill at the till will certainly make you leave your reverie at once.

Sicily, a land of many contradictions. But so worth discovering.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

A new, very special and cozy house


Casa Blu is an exclusive villa on the sea in Fontane Bianche, a well-known beach resort just to the south of Syracuse.

Olive Oil: Bitter is Better?

Article first published as Olive Oil: Bitter is Better? on Technorati.

Hardly a day goes by without news relating to the latest health discoveries appearing in newspapers and magazines, on TV and on the Internet. In parallel, one can read about the multiplication of health problems given today's tendency to eat more, with food getting richer and richer while at the same time populations move less and less. No wonder obesity is on the rise at a rate that can only be described as alarming, not only in high income countries, but also in middle or even low income countries, especially in urban areas. It is said that one billion adults are now overweight, while three million are considered obese.

With its wide array of options, the slimming products and meal plans market certainly is a lucrative one, but it is easy to get lost in its meanders. It is also no surprise that the mass of information widely available can confuse people, especially as it is often conflicting. A subject has however remained unchanged over the years, and that is the benefits of the Mediterranean diet.

What does this way of eating consist of? Lots of vegetables, fruit, pulses and unrefined cereals, which provide a healthy dose of dietary fibres, moderate amounts of dairy products, fish and wine, and low meat consumption. And last but not least, olive oil as the main source of fat. The very high level of monounsaturated fats present in this oil is thought to be a factor in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, has anti-inflammatory properties, and evidence that its antioxidants improve cholesterol regulation is commonly cited.

The way the olive oil is produced, in particular the stage of pressing, however does have an impact in terms of health benefits. Studies have tested the anti-inflammatory capacities of extra virgin olive oil from the first pressing with virgin olive oils from later pressings. The result was that first pressing oils were able to lower inflammatory markers in the blood, when second or subsequent pressings were not.

Interestingly, it is also now recognized that the bitterer the olive oil tastes, the more polyphenols it contains. Polyphenols protect cells and body chemicals against the damage caused by free radicals, and can possibly deactivate substances that play a role in the growth of cancers. Additionally, they make the oil last longer.

One of the bitterness factors comes from the type of olives used for the oil production. If you go to Apulia, the region forming the high heel on the "boot" of Italy, you will encounter the Peranza variety. Its distinct bitterness makes it an ideal candidate for a first pressed, extra virgin version of this wonderful addition to the daily diet.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Bandiera Blu

The cleanest beaches in Italy:

Every year the Italian Government publishs a list of the cleanest beaches in Italy. Click here:

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Italian Body Language

Article first published as Italian Body Language on Technorati.

Every European nation has been attributed its own clichés: The French complain a lot but are romantic, the Germans have no sense of humor but work very hard, The Spanish are loud but welcoming, etc. You will agree I think that an entire nation cannot be cataloged into such narrow boxes. I happen to live in Germany and most people I have encountered do have a sense of humor. They are also in the vast majority very helpful, warm and welcoming towards my family and myself.

One cliché I do find to be true, though, is how important body language is to Italians. Perhaps I especially notice it as it has been pointed out to me that I am prone to "speaking with my hands". No doubt this is the Italian blood in me coming to the surface!

During a visit to the lesser known perhaps but absolutely gorgeous region of the Marches, we encountered many local people and enjoyed watching them interacting. Our house was close to the lovely walled city of Urbino, to which we cycled on a magnificent sunny day. Comfortably sitting down at a café terrace and having ordered much needed refreshments, I began to discreetly look at our neighbors. Now my Italian is rather basic, and I did not try, nor did I want, to pry. I just observed people instead.

Two women in their mid-thirties, I would say, we engrossed in a passionate and obviously very amusing discussion. They both kept throwing their heads back, laughing heartily, hands alternatively flying to their mouths and to their hearts. Their eyes were twinkling, and they were having trouble keeping the loudness of their voices under control. Behind them I spotted a woman with two young boys. The look of love in her eyes, her head half tilted, the way she kept patting their heads and pinching their round cheeks, all this told me that she was their mother. She had a game of blowing them kisses, pulling a funny face at the same time, which kept the little ones highly entertained. On the other side, a middle age couple look as though they were going through a stormy patch in their relationship. Hands were pointing accusingly at each other, and it seemed that reproaches were being uttered through clenched teeth. After a while, they both sat back and fell silent, looking away from each other, arms firmly crossed on their chests. Finally, I rested my gaze on a group of teenagers, the girls pretending not to be flirting while the boys clearly were competing for their attention. They kept getting up, throwing their arms on the side, and looking deeply into the eyes of the girl they were desperate to impress. In return the said girl usually gave a small smile and intense look, only to quickly resume her demure position.
As they walked away, I noticed hands being held and heads resting on shoulders. I could not help but smile: the courting had clearly been successful!