lunedì 27 aprile 2009

Update on our home in L'Aquila

Saturday it was our buildint's turn have it's damage assessed by the experts from the fire department and the Bank of Italy's Engineers.
Since our appartment complex and a dozen buildings around it are owned by the Bank, a public institution, they were assesed before the rest in the city center and our surrounding neighborhood. The whole area is still off limits without accompanyment from the firefighters.
The basemente level is in good shape, as are the primary walls (I forget the name in English). Our appartment and the one on the same floor are in the worst shape - at least a dozen fractured walls, with more and more pieces falling off every time we come in. It now looks like the Rolling Stones, the Eagles, AND the sex pistols were staying there.
But despite that it is not to be knocked down. It will take months, when they do get around to it. We still don't know. But the important parts are standing and in good shape. The unimportant walls are not, but they don't matter, it seems.
Still kind of depressing to see the room I watched the first half of Hairspray with Silvia and the girls the night of the quake with cracked walls and broken glass everywhere.

Hugs to all of you.


Please join this group and spread the word to help my city of L'Aquila fly agai:

giovedì 16 aprile 2009

Helping L’Aquila Soar Again

To everyone who loves Italy,

I grew up in Wisconsin but have been lucky enough to call L'Aquila my home since 2001. My wife, Silvia, teaches Renaissance history at the university here and my daughters, Sofia and Emily are in school. Fortunately all safe after the Earthquake less than two weeks ago although, like thousands of others, we don't know when, or if, they'll be able to live again in our apartment. This message isn’t about us - our car wasn't destroyed and thanks to the hotels on the coast we have shelter and most things we need for the immediate future. I have work to get back to in Rome.

Reconstruction in the long-run and getting people into stable shelter and some normalcy will take time. To date a third of the buildings surveyed are unsafe to live in, and the historical center has not been included in that survey yet. Tens of thousands of people are in the tent communities in and around L’Aquila and many more are guests in hotels like me, or with relatives in Rome and elsewhere.

I have been told that the media in the US and UK have already moved on to other subjects (no Americans like me died or were seriously injured), although many grass roots groups - mostly connected to academia or the Italian-American communities are still very active.

With a few friends, both in the US and England, we noticed that we could help both the people of l’Aquila and the city and region that we love. We started with the first English-language group on the subject on Facebook ( L'Aquila Renaissance - Helping L'Aquila and Abruzzo ,

We have also set up this petition in favour of L’Aquila and the villages and towns around it:

For now the group tries to give information on how to donate form the USA (often tax deductible). The list is incomplete.

- NIAF - The National Italian American Foundation have created a Abruzzo Relief Fund & their online donation form is in English. Again here you can make a fast & easy online donation to assist in helping L'Aquila now and rebuild their lives, it's tax free for those in the US.
Italian Academy Foundation (IAF) has established a L'Aquila relief fund. Additionally, the IAF headquarters in L'Aquila (Bisegna) is open to the victims of the April 6, 2009, earthquake who are seeking shelter. View the IAF website at
Catholic Relief Services
- The Sons of Italy Foundation (SIF) has created an Emergency Relief Fund. View the Order Sons of Italy in America website at
UNICO Announces Initiation of Fund to Aid Abruzzo Italy Earthquake Relief. website at
The American Red Cross

- Global Giving for Abruzzo -
- Red Cross UK -

While no one can argue that the human loss is greater than the cultural loss, I am also worried that during the reconstruction, the beautiful old city will be neglected. If I had talked to be before the quake, I would have spent half the conversation trying to convince you, especially those living in or visiting Rome, to come look at this jewel that so few Americans see but is an hour and a half drive from the Eternal City. I hope to be able to push the city like that again soon.

As always, to make sure things work in the long term it will be helpful that people keep on experessing, through letters and email, to officials in L'Aquila, in the Italian government, and in the U.S. government, the Press and other “piazze” in favor of rebuilding the city and not expanding it. Many of us have seen the result of the "modern urban suburbs" created, some never finished, after similar events, In the long term we hope that this group - and what may grow out of it, can contribute to the future of this city just as the world’s love for Assisi and Florence help their rebirth after natural disasters.

Thank you.

L’Aquila, April 16th

Joshua Lawrence
L’Aquila, Italy / Madison, Wisconsin.

giovedì 9 aprile 2009

Earthquake in L'Aquila (we are all fine)

We woke up at 3.30 a.m Sunday night/Monday morning to a Earthquake that was 5,7 richter but brought down the entire antique city center, and, unfortunately, many new buildings as well. Me, my wife, daughters and extended family are all alive and unscratched. We were able to save the animals two days ago too. But almost three hundred people lost their lives, 1000 injured and tens of thousands are homeless, at least temporarily. I am staying with relatives almost 100 km away now where we can no longer feel the aftershocks. I thank everyone for their words, worries, prayers and offers of help. I've always believed in people, now I believe in them even more. Even if some "people" are the criminals who built the modern buildings that fell - Abruzzo is seismic but usually this magnitude does not bring down buildings if they were designed and built properly.

lunedì 9 marzo 2009

G-Spot: Liver & Lamb

When the owners of Garibaldi (see post “Galleons and Sloops in the Apennines”) decided to add on this little restaurant right across the street, the idea was to offer a simple selection of grilled food to the same sort of people who were stopping in for a glass of wine and the company of friends friends and colleagues before going home for dinner.

Davide and Daniele insist that name of the place - Punto G - Piacere della Griglia (literally “G Spot - Pleasures from the Grill”) - was inspired by the letter “G” in both “grill” and “Garibalidi” the name of both the street it’s on and the bar the run across the street. It was not originally a play on the Gräfenberg spot, but that didn’t stop them from hosting a public conference on the matter by sexuality and psychiatry professors from the University of L’Aquila last summer.

You don’t have to eat red meat if you don’t want to. They do grilled vegetables and bruschetta as well. But grilled eggplant, zucchini, red sweet peppers, onions and radicchio (red bitter lettuce that’s heaven when seared) are almost sublime when served with a half pound angus steak from Ireland. Even better when you’ve reignited your taste buds before hand with bruschetta (grilled toast with toppings) covered with black truffle paste, porcine mushrooms, hot pepper sauce, or marcetto (a spreadable tangy aged pecorino sheep cheese).

Just don’t leave without trying the spiedini, the tiny little shish kebab skewers that the Abruzzi are famous for. Traditionally made sheep the pieces are tiny so that they grill down tender and tasty. Ultimate finger food for a glass of ruby dark red wine, you eat them right off the sticks and can imagine people doing the same in the same room hundreds of years before. They also have a turkey and chicken version, but their most interesting variation on the theme is liver and hot peppers. Another bottle of this red please.

venerdì 6 marzo 2009

Polar Hot Chocolate

Once again a little break away from the home office and the Rome office. A quick stop to write and think in my little book bar haunt in L’Aquila - Caffè Polar. The music is from Ray Gelato’s most recent album, a current jazz singer who’s sound seems more at place alongside Louis Prima recordings. It’s cold and humid today, my older relatives here would say c’è aria di neve, in other words the air is perfect for it to snow soon.
It’s five-fifteen in the afternoon and it’s pampering time - hot chocolate, almost as dense as pudding, with a little island of crushed coconut in the middle.
You can find excellent hot chocolate all over Italy, and sometimes it’s better. But today I like it best here.

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venerdì 27 febbraio 2009

Soggy Noodles?

My daughter likes her breakfast cereal soggy. I think that's gross and hope her tastes will change as she grows up; thankfully she already is food-curious for an eleven year old.
Breakfast cereals are slowly becoming popular here after years of marketing by multinationals, which can even be a good thing - corn flakes are not evil.
Breakfast cereals are part of our half-american household but we still usually go for dipping Italian breakfast cookies in warm milk, colored with chocolate or espresso shots according to the age of who’s dunking.
But most of us would rather our cornflakes are still crunchy when we eat it.
It's the same with pasta. Think about it. It's just more pleasurable to have something to bite into than something squishy that falls apart under your tongue. It's called "al dente" - literally "to the tooth” because your teeth still have to deal with eating it - but Ricciolidoro (Goldilocks) would have called it "just right".
How do you tell when Ricciolidoro will finish her whole plate?
Folk legend has it that you throw a strand of spaghetti on a vertical wooden cupboard and when it starts to stick it's ready.
I have tried this so you don't have to at home.
First, it has to be a simple wood surface, or it will just slide off anyway. Second, it's really quite disgusting. When was the cupboard last cleaned? How much pasta material will stay up there and for how long? And trust the insights of the rocket scientist who tested the theory (me) that the taste of wood finish and traces of cleaning liquids and wax were not enjoyable when I was 19, and there’s no way I’m going to verify if they have gotten any better today.
I mean, who dreamt that up?
Basically the pasta is al dente the minute the center is cooked, and the exterior is just becoming soft enough to make the sauce stick but not so soft that it absorbs the sauce.
You can actually see this moment happen. As your spaghetti boils try taking a piece out and biting into it a few minutes before the cooking time indicated on the package and look at the subtle color difference like you would count the rings of a wooden stump to identify the age of a tree. When the inside yellow disappears, it should be ready. I prefer it a bit rawer, when there’s still a pinprick sized darker core.
If you’ve been eating soggy spaghetti for most of you life, try eating it the hard way.