An Italian kiss

When Perugia-born clothing designer Luisa Spagnoli first invented the hazelnut-centred chocolate in 1922, she called it a cazzotto because it resembled a fist. The name didn’t ring right to Giovanni Buitoni, managing director of the Perugina chocolate factory and Spagnoli’s younger lover—Buitoni was 14 years her junior.

The idea of asking a shop assistant for a “punch” just didn’t resonate with the entrepreneur, who was also on the board of directors of the famous pasta brand. Buitoni commissioned futurist artist Federico Seneca to design the packaging and concept, hence the silver wrapping and the tiny slip of paper printed with a quotation about love we still unfurl today.

The box depicting two lovers locked in an embrace was inspired by Venetian Francesco Hayez’s The Kiss (1859), on display in Milan’s Pinacoteca di Brera. All these factors proved a winning recipe; a 1927 advertisement claimed, “In only five years, Perugina has sold 100 million Baci”.


Francesco Hayez’s “The Kiss” (1859)
For Spagnoli and Buitoni, business was never solely about making money (he was also the mayor of Perugia between 1930 and 1934). The pair looked after their employees in a time when corporate social responsibility was practically inexistent: terraced housing and a swimming pool were built near the workplace; dances, football matches and social occasions were regular occurrences; and a nursery was opened at the Fontiveggi factory during the First World War, so that female employees could bring their children to work while the men were away at war.

In 1939, the chocolates set sail to the States, opening a shop to rave reviews in New York’s Fifth Avenue. Luisa Spagnoli did not live to see the overseas success of her chocolates. In 1935, at age 58, the businesswoman passed away in Paris with throat cancer, Buitoni steadfastly by her side.
The enterprise continues to go from strength to strength. In 2018, Baci Perugina were rebranded. Gone are the entwined lovers, replaced with a scattering of gold and white stars topped with a contemporary logo. Limited Edition, Extra Dark 70% and Milk are minor variations on the original dark chocolate recipe. Looking down from the firmament, Luisa Spagnoli and Giovanni Buitoni, who went on marry the opera singer Letizia Cairone two years after Luisa’s death, surely would be proud to see the product of their love sweetly primed for the future.

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Carnevale in Pietrasanta!

Think of Carnevale in Italy and you are sure to think first of Venice.  I know I do!

But the season is alive throughout the peninsula and the small ones have a charm that Venice, for all its glory, lacks.



Yesterday I had my first taste of a smaller, home-grown version of the Carnevale parade in the lovely little artsy town of Pietrasanta.  This small town is part of Versilia on the coast of northern Tuscany, about 20 miles north of Pisa and 15 miles south of Carrara. Only 2 miles from the coast, you can quickly reach the beach of Marina di Pietrasanta and the fashionable Forte dei Marmi.  But those two places are best reserved for a warmer time of year.

The Carnevale in Pietrasanta is composed of locals, young and old, and devoid of pretension.


That’s what I liked most about it!


Of course it didn’t hurt that it was a beautiful, almost spring-like day with cerulean skies and puffy white clouds.


Now, here’s the thing: I don’t know what I was expecting, but the Pietrasanta parade was made up of about 6 major floats with companies of participants associated with each float.  The floats ranged in subject matter from the Moulin Rouge, to Dr. Spock, to Michael Jackson’s Killer.



To me, it felt more like a Halloween parade than a celebration of a religious matter.


But, it was unabashed, and I loved it for that.  It reminded me of my home town, way across the pond in the prairie states of the US.


A fun time was had by all!








Trevi Fountain news

ROME – Most of the tourists who have tossed coins over their shoulder into Rome’s Trevi Fountain over the past 20 years probably did not know that they were helping the city’s poor. But the Rome city government has said no more.


Beginning April 1, the city said, the coins will no longer be delivered to the Rome diocesan Caritas for funding homeless shelters, soup kitchens and parish-based services to families in difficulty.

Instead, the city plans to use the money to help with the upkeep of monuments and to fund grants to “social projects,” which are yet to be defined. It also will hire workers to sort and count the coins, something that Caritas volunteers did for free.

In 2018, the international collection of coins added up to about 1.5 million euros or about $1.7 million.

Interviewed Jan. 12 by Vatican News, Father Benoni Ambarus, director of Caritas Rome, said, “The first thing I want to say is thank you to the millions of tourists who created a sea of solidarity with their coins.”

The priest was still hoping something would change before the change dried up in April. After all, the city council voted in October 2017 to start keeping the money in city coffers, but after a public outcry, the agreement with Caritas was extended to April 2018 and again to Dec. 31, 2018.

The end of the Caffè Giubbe Rosse in Florence



The end of 2018 in Florence also sees the end of its most famous historic café. The company that owns the café has been declared bankrupt, owing around 3.5 million euros.

Contributing to this debt has been the colossal land rent in the centre of Florence of 25,000 euros per month plus very significant charges for the occupation of public land the large, invasive and very expensive outdoor terrace built on unfortunate directives of the Municipality and of the Superintendency for architectural and environmental heritage).
Caffè Giubbe Rosse is a café in Piazza della Repubblica. When opened in 1896, the cafè was actually called “Fratelli Reininghaus”. It was named “Giubbe Rosse” (Red jackets or coats) in 1910, after the jackets which waiters wear to this very day.
The café has a long-standing reputation as the resort of literati and intellectuals. Alberto Viviani defined the Giubbe Rosse as fucina di sogni e di passioni (“a forge of dreams and passions”).

The Giubbe Rosse was the place where the Futurist movement blossomed, struggled and expanded; it played a very important role in the history of Italian culture as a workshop of ideas, projects, and passions.
Poets such as Ardengo Soffici, Giovanni Papini, Eugenio Montale, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Giuseppe Prezzolini and many others met and wrote in this literary café, an important venue of Italian literature in the beginning of the 20th century.

Important magazines such as Solaria and Lacerba originated here from the writers who frequented the café.
Giubbe Rosse was founded by two Germans, the Reininghaus brothers, in 1896.
Let’s hope someone will step in to rescue this historic part of old Florence!

This article was written on Facebook by Freya’s Florence Tours – Freya Middleton

Fashion shoot in Paris

What a fun afternoon!  I was enjoying a guided tour through a private garden in the center of old Paris and, all of a sudden, I noticed a fashion model and photographer.  There were working hard and took lots of photos.  The model was beautiful, as you would expect!

And oh, p.s., I saw the same model in the New York Times today, modeling for Valentino.



Oh, and I might add, it was cold today!  About 20 degrees Fahrenheit.  The model was not dressed in warm clothes, but rather a top and mini skirt, tights and boots and a pretty, but not warm, coat.


You can well imagine how beautiful the architecture of this small square is! Obviously its a perfect backdrop for selling fashion!

Christmas Day, Champs-Élysées, Paris. 2018

Christmas afternoon on the Champs-Élysées. Sunny and chilly.  Perfect winter day in the perfect city!




Random things that struck me, found on the Champs-Élysées:










One of the most charming aspects of Christmas in Paris to me is all the hand-painted decorations on the store windows.  Some are really graphic and cool like this one:




But more of them are really sweet and old-fashioned, like the next bunch:






Okay, back to the fun holiday decorations and great architecture of the Champs-Élysées:






















The next set of pictures are of what is to me the most beautiful building on the Champs-Élysées.

























Other striking aspects of the Champs-Élysées:







And, finally, I’ll close this post because this is already so long.  But, before I do, pictures of some of the cool advertising I saw in the subway on my way to the Champs-Élysées:


Oh, and P.S.: here’s a very cool old picture of the layout of this area from the point of view of the Arc de Triomphe.  The Eiffel Tower hadn’t even been dreamed of yet!
















Randomly keeping up in Paris

Just trying to keep up with posting all the amazing things I’m seeing here in Paris!






While most of us are familiar with the iconic Parisian art nouveau metro appearance, like this:



A more modern take is this:




Very cool, no?


What movie are the French going to see?  Just like the rest of the world, they want to see the film about the life of Freddie Mercury and Queen:



Parisian architecture is still fabulous:





And walking not far from the opera, I noticed this inscription on a plaque:


In English the inscription reads: “here fell for the liberation Guillois Michel Peacekeeper 20 August 1944”.

Knowing only that the Liberation of Paris took place between August 19-25, 1944, I searched Google for info on this patriot.  You can read about him and the liberation here:


Wherever in the world I am lucky enough to travel, I am always entertained by the fact that there will be references in that place to other places.  How many people would love to be in Paris?  Millions I am sure!  But here in Paris, an exhibition is devoted to Venice! When in Venice, there will be references to other places as well.  It goes on and on, ever thus!



And no matter how many illustrious persons lived in France throughout history, what entertains the French now, apparently, is a look back at Michael Jackson!!  An exhibition about Michael Jackson at the Grand Palais!  Never thought I’d live to see the day…




Anyone reading this post in December of 2018 will know that Paris has been in turmoil with the protests of the so-called gilets jaunes, and as a matter of fact I thought about canceling my long-planned trip to this city because the news coming out of Paris was so dire.  Paris has calmed down the past week or so and I was amused in front of Notre Dame to see that the French gendarmes are a lot like the Italian carabinieri, they tend to congregate to chat and check their cells.  I doubt that was what authorities intended.