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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Ferragosto: dolce far niente!!

Cari amici,

How are you?
Sunday, August 15, it was Ferragosto.
Well Ferragosto in Italy is many things: is a day off from work, a day of relax, a day of food, sun, and fun. Ferragosto is a great time to spend with family and friends, a day when most retail, commercial, industrial and governmental offices are closed. Ferragosto is also religious processions and many towns celebrate Ferragosto with communal fairs, fireworks and dancing in the square. Ferragosto is allegria!! And I have so many wonderful memories of it with my family and friends!!

On a history side Ferragosto is an Italian holiday. Originally, it may have related to a celebration of the middle of the summer and the end of the hard labor in the fields. The Catholic Church celebrates this date as a Holy Day of Obligation to commemorate the “Assunzione della vergine Maria” Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary”—the real physical elevation of her sinless soul and incorrupt body, into Heaven.
However, this holiday was celebrated in the Roman Empire even before the Roman Catholic Church came into existence. It was a celebration in honor the gods—in particular of Diana , and the cycle of fertility and ripening. In fact, the present Italian name of the holiday derives from its original Latin name, Feriae Augusti ("Holidays of the Emperor Augustus  "). Almost the entire month of August was taken as a holiday and leisure time in Italy in honor of this feast day.
In the 30s, Mussolini made Ferragosto a national holiday and initiated the process of vacationing in August. Italian workers earn 6 weeks paid vacation for every year worked. In the 60s, the Italian economy was in full swing of its industrial revolution. The make-up of the workforce had moved from agricultural to heavy industry. This created a serious problem during the hot month of August. The working conditions in the plants were unbearable because of the heat. The Unions and Industrialists got together and decided to close the plants for 3 weeks during the hottest days of August and required the employees to use part of their paid vacation for this purpose.
Beach at Ferragosto
Ferragosto's Fireworks in Padova

Although changes in the Italian economy from Industrial to high-tech and the implementation of air conditioning have made obsolete the necessity to close the plants, the tradition still exists. We still love to take our vacation in August!! 


Presently companies rarely shut-down for more than the 4 days surrounding Ferragosto and the vacations are now spread out from June through late September, however they do run on limited personnel as most Italians prefer vacationing in August. Don’t plan to contact any Italian company around this period….nobody will be there and if there will not be able to help you till September! Actually For an Italian, it is truly offensive to work on this day I guess this is also Italian: we take our vacation seriously!!! We work hard but we like to enjoy life too! And to keep tradition alive…especially when they have to do with vacationing!!

The city where I'm from at Ferragosto
Again a quiet shoot of my city at Ferragosto
If you happen to be in Italy, let’s say around the 25 of July and September 1st you will be able to see some unusual quiet atmosphere in cities like Firenze, Roma and Milano!! The cities are empty, it only takes about 15 minutes to drive from one side of Milan to the other. If you wonder where everybody is just take a ride to any cities along the coast:  you will find here millions of people gather increasing the local population of at least 10 times. Everyone is at the beach, preparing for the night’s feast, fireworks, and camp-out under the stars.
And to be more specific on the 15th of August, Ferragosto indeed, whether in the city or along the sea, the streets are empty until well into the afternoon. Well half of us Italians are in Church to Celebrate the Assumption, that is when the Madonna was allowed into heaven, and the other half of the Italians will be sleeping in!

Family Ferragosto lunch
My cousins  grilling for the 
Ferragosto lunch


And after Church or sleeping in Ferragosto is also an occasion for a festive meal, a culinary breath of winter in the midst of summer: We fire up our ranges and make rich hearty dishes along the lines of pasta or lasagna. In my family in Italy we also always had one of my favorite dishes, Vitello Tonnato, easy and so delicious!!


With my nephew Alex
Alex having fun around his pool


Ferragosto at my godparents
The swimming pool waiting for the after lunch's fun

So Ferragosto, no matter how you look at it, it's an occasion to get together with friends and enjoy a fine meal, relax on the beach or on the hill and have fun under the sun and under the stars!! I was in NYC Sunday for Ferragosto but I didn’t’ wanted to skip the tradition to have a day off and have some fun!! 


So I went to Central Park for a stroll, then did some fun shopping: since I will go to Italy in September and I was missing my family, with whom I'm always normally for this feast day, I thought to use the day for buying souvenirs for them. 



Then I called my family and some friends that were having fun all together in Italy to wish them a great Ferragosto and I close the day with a nice romantic dinner with my favorite Ferragosto dish: Vitello Tonnato indeed!!

At the NBC's Store






Well I wasn't in Italy and I wasn't with my family this year, so no barbecue and water games around someone swimming pool, , but I managed to have anyway a very great and relaxing day!!

And here is the recipe of one of my favorite dishes for Ferragosto in my family: Vitello tonnato, chilled veal in tuna sauce. Since is cold dish to serve and it takes a while to get it ready, what I normally do, I cook the meat the day before and I prepare it to serve the day of the dinner-party!!
(For 6-8 people):

Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 2 hours
Total Time: 3 hours

Ingredients:
FOR POACHING THE MEAT:

2 1⁄2 lbs. lean veal roast, preferably top round, 
   
firmly trussed
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
1 stalk celery, without leaves, chopped
1 medium onion,
chopped
4 sprigs Italian parsley


FOR THE TUNA SAUCE:

1  7-oz. can imported tuna, packed in olive oil

5 flat anchovy filets

1 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed

3 tbsp. capers, soaked and rinsed

1 1⁄4 cups mayonnaise ( My mom makes also the Mayonnase, super delicious but it can get tricky so I almost always skip that!!)
A few more perfect capers, some lemon slices, and sprigs of parsley for garnishing

Preparation:
1. For poaching the meat: Put veal in a deep, heavy pan. Add carrots, celery, onions, parsley, and enough water to cover. Remove meat and set it aside. Cover pan, bring water to a boil, then add veal. Return to a boil, cover, reduce heat, and gently simmer for 2 hours. Add more water if necessary. Remove from heat, set aside, and allow meat to cool in the stock.
2. For the tuna sauce: Drain tuna and put into a food processor with anchovies, olive oil, lemon juice, and capers. Process until it becomes a creamy, beige-colored sauce. Fold sauce gently, but thoroughly, into mayonnaise. If made ahead of time, refrigerate.
3. When meat is cool, transfer to a cutting board. Remove the strings, and carefully cut into uniformly thin slices.
4. Spread some of the tuna sauce on bottom of a platter. Over it, lay a single layer of veal slices, edge to edge, without overlapping; cover with sauce. Repeat layering, ending with sauce.
5. Cover veal with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. (It will keep for at least a week.) Bring to room temperature before serving. Use a spatula to smooth the top, and garnish with capers, lemon slices and spring of parsley.

If you like it less salty, like I do and what to have it lighter and still very tasty, skip the eggs, and the anchovies for the making of the sauce!! Still very delicious!!

If you like wine: White wines are the perfect wines to accompany this dish!!

Buon appetito and stay tune for my Friday Blog for more about my life, music, Italy, food, travel, fashion…and fun stuff!!

Friday, August 13, 2010

A weekend of music and love: The Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert

Dear friends,

How are you?

The summer days keep coming along, one more sunny and wonderful than the other. Life is always beautiful but for me in the summer, my favorite season of all, life is even better than great…can it be????
I’m Italian and I really depend on the weather: so a lot of sunshine and my heart sings of full happiness!!

And talking about sunshine and happiness I will tell you today all about my weekend: a fantastic one!!
Last weekend I was very happy and blessed to be part of the 17th Memorial Concert in the Memory of Sergio Franchi!!

Singing in the Garage of Sergio in 2008
Eva and her mom and us singing

I’ve been in America six years now, and I’ve been part of this event for the last 5 years. The 2009 the Concert didn’t took place since Eva had to take care of her beloved mother who wasn’t well, who’s by the way now doing better and she just turned 97 last Saturday!!  And of course also counting the year 2008, when the Concert got wiped out because of the Hurricane Hanna!! What you may not know is that, since most of the performers where there already in Stonington, we ended up having a wonderful day performing songs for a very limited audience of friends, family and volunteers in Sergio favorites place: the garage of his beloved collections of cars!! 

With Jeff Domoto
With Giorgio Fumanti

Here are some precious and my own private collection pictures of it!! It was a very special day!!

I just love this event, and I may say is one of my favorite events to perform at!!

Sergio Franchi
Cover CD of Sergio Franchi

Even if I’m sure you know Sergio let me start sharing with you some headlines of his life. Sergio Franchi was a great tenor who rose to fame in the 1960s, singing a repertory of mostly popular and Italian love songs as well as light classics. Besides maintaining a very busy concert schedule, he made numerous recordings, appeared on many television shows, and even enjoyed a brief career in the movies. Sergio was born in Cremona, Italy, on April 6, 1926, his father Neapolitan and his mama Genovese.  Just like me he was half from the North of Italy and half of the South and just like me he was a crooner of love songs!!  Another thing I share with Sergio is that although he showed considerable vocal talent in his childhood and adolescence, he followed his father's wishes that he study electrical engineering, while I studied Psychology! While working on his degree, he took private instruction in music, and after graduation seriously began focusing on a career as a singer. He accompanied his family when they relocated to Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1952, and there he took a part-time job as a draftsman; meanwhile he worked vigorously at developing his vocal skills.

Sergio Franchi
The Original Poster

By the mid-'50s, he became recognized as one of the most promising young singers in South Africa, but since he really loved opera he decided to return to Italy for further study, taking vocal instruction from the very famous vocal teacher Rossi Massetti. He soon launched his career in Europe, and in 1962 began a highly successful tour of the United States, singing a mixture of Italian and popular songs. His rise was meteoric, equaled by few singers before or since: Sergio, a virtual unknown when he set foot on American soil, became an overnight sensation who was immediately booked for an appearance on the most popular television variety program, The Ed Sullivan Show, as well as on the equally popular comedy program, The Red Skelton Show. In 1963, he appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show twice and gave numerous sold-out concerts. 
Sergio on the Ed Sullivan Show
He signed with RCA Victor label and his albums "Romantic Italian Songs" (his first US album, 1962) and "Our Man From Italy" (1963) were both on Billboard's top-40 album charts during their respective years. Throughout the 1960s and '70s, Sergio made numerous concert tours and recordings, as well as many lucrative nightclub appearances, such as those at the Flamingo Room in Las Vegas (1969 - 1971). He kept himself in the national public eye with his regular television appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Red Skelton Show, and Hollywood Palace. Sergio expanded his career into films when he appeared in the 1969 Stanley Kramer comedy “The Secret of Santa Vittoria”, which starred Anthony Quinn and Anna Magnani. Sergio loved his heritage and he was also very proud to be an American! He became an American citizen in 1972, and very proudly he used to say, "Now I'm a Yankee Franchi!”
Sergio posing with his billboard
Sergio and Eva Franchi














Sergio became also closely identified with several charities in the United States, including Boys Town, from whom he received the Michelangelo Award for his vigorous philanthropic and social support. He died of brain cancer on May 1, at 64 years of age, in 1990. A tremendous life that ended far to soon, with great success and great love!!
Sergio was married when he met Eva at one of his Concert at the Flamingo Room in Las Vegas. Eva, a beautiful former ballerina from Hungary and Sergio fall in love immediately: their love was love at first sight and endless love for sure.
To this day, 17 years after Sergio has died, Eva, one of the most beautiful and sweet women I’ve ever met, still loves Sergio with all her heart!! It is for love that seventeen years ago, she decided to start an annual concert honoring her husband, when her grief after her husband's death from cancer in 1990 was still fresh. Eva decided to start a Foundation too with the intent to continue what Sergio so much believed in believed in... helping others.
The Sergio Franchi Estate
The Sergio Franchi Estate

Since 1993 The Foundation have been able to award over 470 scholarships, worth more than a million Dollar in scholarships, and awards to students of vocal studies, young tenors and sopranos, with the hope that through beautiful, romantic, classical music they can keep the spirit of romance alive in the hearts of people  “the very thing that Sergio has always stood for”, as Eva love to recall. 
The stage
The Memorial Concert still take place in the impressive beautiful lawn of Eva and Sergio 240-acre Stonington estate, where all we artists get to perform accompanied by a wonderful 40 piece orchestra also this year directed by Jeff Domoto. The attendance of the Concert is every year impressive, and still the sing of how much love and respect Sergio still have among his fans. It started with 1500 people and its attendance has averaged about 4,000, but once reached 6,000.
The day of the Concert people have the chance to enjoy the music, or stopping by the little family chapel and museum on the property, and wandering like old friends through the handsome brick main house, gazing at paintings Sergio collected and ones he did himself and admire the collection of beautiful cars of Sergio, another of his great passions!

I love this event and I love Eva, her positive energy and her passion and love for Sergio. I think that this has been the driven force behind this event.  She’s a generous and real human being and honoring Sergio and his musical legacy has been Eva's primary focus for the past 20 years. Well you know by now that I’m a romantic soul and I do believe in the power of love, this may be one of the reason I love this event: it’s moved by a sincere and strong love of a woman for his man!!

My weekend of fun started last Friday when I jumped into the car around 1PM direction Stonington CT where the Estate of Eva is. Well the traffic was insane, took us 5 hours to get there, in place of the 2 and half needed. But we enjoyed the ride and the music in the car. Without rush, just having fun!!

Rehearsal 
Rehearsal

It is always wonderful to drive into the Sergio Franchi Drive and see the wonderful estate and huge stage ready for the Concert!! When we got there the rehearsals where already started. We could already hear the music playing!! It is a very welcoming event, and already the day before people are welcomed to walk around the property and why not, since the rehearsal are in the garden of the estate, to attend the rehearsals. It was wonderful to get to see already Sandra and Forrest and Susan, great friends and supporters of my music who had already arrived.
It had rained Friday afternoon so they had to remove for security the microphones and monitors from the stage. So I did partially my rehearsal and we planned, with Jeff Domoto, the conductor of the orchestra, to rehears and sound check too the day of the Concert, in the morning!!

Hilary's Estate
My bedroom at Hilary's house

Also this year I was lucky to be guest for night at the wonderful house of the neighbor of Eva, the wonderful Hilary Heminway!!  Hilary, who I’m so blessed to be calling now a dear friend, is a very respected interior designer for the rich and famous!! And she’s the most adorable person in the world. So after rehearsal we drove to her place, that, even if neighbor of Eva, still will take us 10 minute to get to and of course with the help of the navigator or we’ll get lost in the forest…those estates are so beautiful and big!!
With Hilary, Alex and his girlfriend
Hilary was there awake waiting for me and JJ. It was so wonderful to see her after a year. After some cheat chat she showed us the way to our beautiful rooms, actually two beautiful bedrooms to choose from and two bathrooms!! Since she’s an interior designer you can imagine how beautiful and perfect her house is. And so welcoming!  I just love Hilary and her whole house!! Actually Hilary had also written a few books, so if you like it you can look up for them at your bookstore and see some of her incredible work!!

Hilary’s estate is so beautiful and quiet. At night it really gets dark there and I love to walk outside and admire the stars: I know it’s not possible, but it looks like the stars are more there than in any other place in the world I’ve been! Beautiful night!!
Ad after a stars sight we went to bed.

I had to be at Eva’s house to do sound check and rehearsal at 11AM! So we woke up at 9AM and after an exquisite breakfast with fresh berries, orange juice, coffee and home made cake at Hilary’s, I did my make up and hair, and we drove to Eva’s.

The audience
With Eva and Sean Arnold

There were already hundreds of cars on the streets and parked on lawn trying to get into the Estate for the Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert.
But thanks to our VIP/Artist sign, we got to drive in quickly avoiding the long line! Already hundreds of people where on the garden and Eva was walking around checking that Sergio’s collector cars where parks on the right places, and checking that everything was perfect!! That’s Eva!!

The Tenors
With Dawn, Latonia and James

She is also very much involved in the whole preparation of the show, from choosing the performers among the many who wants to participate, looking for some new talents too, choosing all of the songs for each of us! And every year she does a great job with it!

Swaying with Sway
This year among the great performers there were the great tenor of the Metropolitan Opera James Valenti, who performed a few wonderful arias and also a wonderful lovely duet with the beautiful mezzo soprano, and real life James ‘s girlfriend, Dawn Pierce, tenor Jesus Garcia, tenor Sean Arnold, soprano Latonia Moore, Mezzo soprano Margaret Mezzacappa, my great friends tenor Chris Macchio and the super funny Filippo Voltaggio and a wonderful 13 years old tenor prodigy from Russia Afanasy Prokhorov.

Singing Sway
Enjoying the applause after Sway

A surprise appearance of tenor Frank Tenaglia at the closing numbers with the 4 tenors Sean, Chiss, James and Jesus was a very funny and uplifting addition.

Singing La Vie En Rose
Singing La Vie En Rose

This year Eva had chosen for me two very close to my heart songs to sing: “Sway” the song my parents dance when they met in Venice and “La Vie En Rose”, the song that made me a singer. And it was so very special to me to get the standing ovation after my rendition of “La Vie En Rose” a song I love with all my heart and that the audience loves too!!

Back Stage with Filippo and Chriss
Back Stage with Giulia, Chris and Johnatan

It was such a great day. The weather was picture perfect, and for the first time in the last 5 years not humid at all, which is good for my hair as you can imagine!!
While JJ was selling CDs with the great help of my friend Susan, under the CDs tent, I was helped back stage the whole day, by dear friend Lissa and Giulia. We had so much fun together and it was so wonderful to get to spend the whole day with them!! Lissa also took all the pictures of the Concert that you see in this blog!! She was my angel!!
With Lissa and Giulia
With Eva and a fan after the show

It was just a perfect day surrounded by people I love so much!!

And even if I was so exhausted, it was wonderful to get to meet after the show many old and new friends and fans and to talk to them and take pictures with them and sign CDs.
They all where saying how much they loved the whole show and of course, since there was the rumor that this would have been the last memorial Concert for Sergio, at least in this form, many of them where saying that they hoped it was only a rumor!!

With Afanasy Prokhrov


With Margaret Mezzacappa

I can’t say what the future of this event will be, since only Eva can decide that, but knowing Eva I think she won’t be able to stop doing this. She’s moved by love and love can’t be stopped!! But maybe the Concert will change venue or change its’ size. Only time can really tell!!
At the end of the show Eva’s played a recording of his beloved Sergio, “The Lord’s Prayer”, she graciously thanks the people for coming to the show and of course at the sound of Sergio’s voice, her voice broke into a deep commotions!! It was a very sweet and touching moment that made me realize that she won’t be able to let go this event easily after all.
With Babe and Tatiana
The after party at Eva's house

At the end of the day I had this feeling of happiness and joy!! We were invited to join Eva’s at her house for the after show dinner. Almost all the performers where there and some of the closest friends of Eva and members of the family!! A very special night after a very special day!
The house, where Sergio and Eva spent 10 year together is a beautiful special place. Eva has arranged that no matter in which room you are there are few pictures of Sergio. So no matter where she’s sitting there is always Sergio looking at her!! Is it this romantic??
Paintings in Sergio's Estate
Memories of Sergio 

Eva was finally happy and relaxed. As you can imagine such an event is not an easy thing to organize, especially for Eva that loves to get involved in everything!! But her happiness was contagious and we all were feeling the same!!

I went to bed with a big smile in my face and so much love into my heart: it’s wonderful to be part of an event like this where music and love are one!!

Sunday morning we woke up early to have another wonderful breakfast with Hilary and this time also her son Alex and his girlfriend.
Of course talk of the breakfast was the Concert. Hilary, also a dear friend of Eva, had attended the Concert and Alex and his girlfriend didn’t so we had to share with them the wonderful memories of it…and some gossip too!!

The beach
The beach
It was then time to say goodbye…I never like that moment!! But Of course Hilary and Alex are also great supporters of my music so we made plans to see them soon at one of my Concert in New York City, as they will come with Eva as well!! So we don’t have to wait long to see each other again!!

The Water Cafe' in Stonington, CT
With JJ we decied to go sightseeing, since the whole area is so beautiful!!
We drove to Stonington to see the village and to take a walk in the sand on the beautiful beach. We went for a wonderful lunch at the best restaurant on Stonington, the Water Café! This is a wonderful restaurant of my dear friend Stephanie, who I have met a few years ago at the Memorial Concert of Sergio Franchi. Stephanie is also a dear friend of Eva, and even though I had seen her briefly the day of the Concert, I thought it was nice to surprise her with a visit at her fantastic place.

I just came to realize, while writing this blog, that most of my best friends are people I get to meet thanks to my music: precious friends, another gift that music bring into my life!!

Beautiful home in Watch Hills, RI

Ocean House in Watch Hills, RI

Then, after more kiss goodbye with Stephanie, on suggestion of her, we drove to Rhode Island to see a beautiful place called Watch Hill.
Really breathtaking place, my ideal place to live: some very impressive wonderful houses with view on the Ocean!! More things now in my wishing list!!
And then it was time to drive back home!

The Ocean House in Watch Hills, RI
The balcony of the Ocean House

Luckily the traffic was not that bad and we were back home in the normal 3 hours!!

It was a great weekend: a wonderful weekend of music, special friends and dear fans. One of those weekend that makes me realize how lucky I am to have got from God my talent and my wonderful life, my friends and my fans!!
I can’t wait for next year, to do it all over again…because I’m sure there will be a next year for sure!!
The Sergio Franchi Memorial Concert won’t stop playing his music!! I love this event, and Eva and Sergio. Eva said that Sergio was always saying to her "No matter what you do, my love, if you can't do it with passion, don't do it." "This concert" as Eva says” "I've been doing it with passion, and without the passion it would not work."
All I do in my life I’ve been doing it with passion too, or it wouldn’t work and I can add…I would have stopped doing it long ago.
Music is my passion in this life, but for sure is not easy at all and if it wasn’t for the passion that drives me, well I would have stopped already so many times. More bad days than good ones….but one day of musical joy, one applause….and there we go again full of energy again!!
Stay tuned for my next blog for more memories, music, travels to Italy and recipes!!
Life is beautiful and I want to take this chance to thank you all for being part of it!

Love always,

Giada