Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Giubiana of Canzo

Giubiana procession
Canzo is a little village in the province of Como, on the mountain road that links Bellagio to Erba. Here, every year on the last Thursday of January, the Giubiana is burnt.

The ritual stake of the Giubiana, in other places called Giubia or o Giöbia, is a tradition that repeats itself every year in several villages of northern Lombardy. The name comes from Iovis (Jupiter), which also gives the name to the day of giovedì ("Thursday"), sacred day to the pagan god. The Giubiana is a woman, often an ugly and evil old witch, elsewhere she can be a pretty but mean girl. In any case, she is the personified guilt of the evils of the previous year, and her death by fire represents a hopeful wish for the newly begun year.

It would seem a cruel and chauvinist ritual that evokes times of the Inquisition, and undoubtedly its origins are born directly from those episodes, but tradition is tradition, and it must be respected as is.

At Canzo in particular, the celebration is very elaborated and participated by the citizens. It is a kind of theatrical performance around the streets of the center town, in which the Giubiana, bound to a cart led by a donkey, is first taken in a procession to the market square where the trial takes place. Then, once judged (the process shouldn't leave any guesses to a final other than the verdict of guilty), everybody goes to the meadow "delle Stelline", where a pyre is ready, on which the puppet of the witch is set upon and burnt.

Pumpier in bicicleta
The Giubiana of Canzo is played entirely in the local dialect (similar to Milanese Meneghino, but with rural influences). As an effect of globalization, Lombard dialect is slowly but inexorably disappearing from our lands, and it is unusual to hear it perfectly spoken, in this occasion, also by children. Honors to the organization for keeping this tradition alive, in which run deep our origins.

The play includes a large number of characters, every one with its role, and involves a big part of the citizens. Here, the characters, in order of appearance in the procession (the italic is the original dialect version):

- i pumpier in bicicleta (the firemen in bicycle), from the procession to the trial, their task is to ensure just procedure of the process and the execution of the penalty, with particular attention to the dangers of the fire, an ever present element. Also the bicycles are vintage and equipped with a little cart with a manual pump-hydrant.

- i cilostar (the candle-holders), they wear black masks and red tunics, and they hold big candlesticks to light the procession to win over the oblivion of the dark.

- il pastur ca suna 'l cornu e l'alpée ca 'l porta i corni dal bech (the sheppard that plays the horn and the mountain man which holds the horns of the goat)

- i buschirö (the woodsmen), with their vintage tools,

- 'l carett di paisan (the cart of the village people), pulled by a donkey that transports the Giubiana who is guarded by the boia (executioner) in a black cassock, its face covered by a black hood.

- al train, a cart full of sticks and twigs, symbols of the mountain winter economy

- al Barbanera cui pianètt dala furtüna Mr. "BlackBeard", that distributes good luck with his cards,

- i bagai, bei e brut bun e gram (the kids, nice, ugly, good and bad ones). The nice and good ones have the face colored in white and play the bells, the ugly and bad ones have black faces and rattle i toll e cuerc, cans and pot covers,

Cilostar, Pastur, Alpée, Regiuu
- i Regiuu vestiti cul capèl e 'l tabar (the elderly people, wearing hats and capes). Lombard society was organized in large families; in the same courtyard lived three to four generations. The elderly members were respected and played the role as consultants for solutions regarding disagreements and important decisions,

- L'aucat di caus pers (the lawyer of lost causes), defender of the Giubiana in the process, his role clearly showing that his involvement is only because of her money,

- i testimoni dal prucèss e la cumar dala Contrada (the witnesses of the process and the godmother of the quarter) will speak during the process, some in favor, some against the Giubiana.

- i stria picitt ca fan strimì cun la magìa - e i diauj dala bela vus (the spooky kids, that scare with their magic - and the devils with the nice voice) that sing the ode to the Giubiana,

- l'urzu (the bear), symbol of instinctive strength that must be tamed,

- al casciadur ca duma e fa balà l'urzu (the hunter that domesticates the bear and make him dance),

- l'om Selvadigh (the Wild man), very ancient symbol of Alpine culture, he is the one that lives in harmony with the woods and knows the secrets of nature, he comes from the silence of the forest,

Giubiana and Boia
- l'Anguana, mysterious good fairy, symbol of water as vital feminine element.

The beating of the drums constantly underline the main phases of the play; the band follows the procession playing a grotesque funeral march.
People spontaneously follow the procession to the square and listen to the process.

The process includes a listing, by the witnesses, of all the negative events that happened during the whole of the previous year, obviously to put guilt on the Giubiana. Aside from the typical peasant themes linked to weather conditions and other natural occurrences, there are chronicled facts. The 2008 Giubiana, in fact, was guilty of the war in Iraq and all the unfortunate people that are dying for it, of the ozone hole, of global warming, of the economical crisis, of the trash emergency in Campania...
Of course the enactment of the Giubiana of Canzo doesn't give pretense to find a real fault for these negative things, but it makes us think of how good it would be if we could win them simply by burning a straw puppet. To solve the evils in the world is another thing altogether, but simply naming them in a social rite can help us at least to recognize them, which is not often expected...

Thanks to Rubber Slippers In Italy for the photos and the video.
Informations on the Comune di Canzo website.

Monday, February 11, 2008

The clone in the dish

The clone in the dish

Guglielmo Ragozzino

During april 2007, the European Committee asked to European Food Safety Authority, EFSA, an opinion about the possibility to put on the market milk and meat coming from cloned animals, for example pigs and cows. The answer - a substancial go-ahead - came in these days, and the Coldiretti, the important Italian union of agriculturists, spreaded it to a public of non-specialists, clarifying their contrariety and concern.
In few words, EFSA just ensured that the nutritional qualities are not different from the products coming from animals grown in traditional way. It takes time anyway to make a public consultation, within February 25, in order to give a definitive answer in may. At this point the Committee will put together this opinion with the one by European Group on Ethics, and will decide. Also Coldiretti made an own practical (and not scientific) consultation, online; the result was that 55% of the answers is an absolute NO, 36% asked atleast the labelling of the foodstuff that shows the cloned origin; while the 8% is in favor and 1% didn't give any answer.
It remains the suspicion that EFSA cannot free itself from the charme of American FDA (Food and Drug Administration), that already pushes toward the liberalization of the cloned animals.
The reasons that bring also a part of Eurpoean agricultural industry to follow the path to cloning is the convinction to obtain in this way deformed animals, dedicated to the production of bigger hams, more milk, etc. But this does not consider atleast three bad things.
The first is the elimination of any biodiversity. This last thing is not a fixation of tropical ecology, but it is the attempt to have, also to our climates, less riceptive to sicknesses organisms.
The discendants of Dolly sheep won't ever be able to free themselves from the sickness present in the ancestor's (if that's the way one say) organism. From the absence of biodiversity descends an inferior immune defense, so the oxes are often exposed to epidemics. Lastly, often genetics give opposite result than those hoped by who uses it in order to "improve the races"; and it is cause of a producteive life really short, so that even a part of American agriculture moves countertendencial steps and confirms again the utility to cross animals with different characteristics in order to obtain more healthy anymals, and after all more meat and milk. The experts of the farms that we asked to, told as that instead of throwing money on the cloning science, it would be better to invest on the structures for animals. In times of climatic changes, a too strong genetic science would be a further disadvantage. Even more if the genetics is connected to cruel breeding systems, in crazy places. The cows have already a halved life, instead of 7 to 8 lactations they had in the past nowadays they have 3 or 4. The cloned oxes would have together all those defects.

from Il Manifesto on January 12th, 2008 [free translation by me - here the original]

There is a lot of noise, in these days, about the news and marketing, for food, in America, of meat and milk coming from cloned oxes and pigs.
Even if it is a different procedure, this subject has several sides in common with the one of genetically modified organisms. In the case of cloning, infact, there is no genetical artificial modification. There is no scientist that goes to artificially change the sequnce of the DNA, and so the phisical (and organoleptic) characteristics of the produced organisms are the same of the producer organisms. Instead, it is substituted the reproductive mechanism that generated the new organism, obviously with the goal to obtain a better quality from the commercial point of view. The idea is: we select a cow (or pig) commercially perfect and then we replicate it always identical to itself, and so the same commercially perfect. The genetic wealth of the result organism is infact identical to the source organism.
In the case of GMO, instead, the DNA sequence is modified, substituting some genes with other taken from DNA chains of other completely different organisms. The goal is somehow different than the case of clonation, because in this case they tend to produce new organisms, that contain characteristics that couldn't be generated in a natural way. For example i remember the demonstration, some years agon, of a flower in which genetic sequence had been inserted the gene of bioluminescence, taken from the DNA of a crustacean. The new organism was a flower which petals made own light night time. In this case the idea was: we create an organism that contains all the characteristics we are interested to, giving up those useless characteristics. Such organisms have the commercial advantage to be able to create new spaces of market to fill of business. In the particular case of the bioluminescent flower they thought to grow it next to the highways, with obvious advantages from the point of view of driving safety (the idea is not bad, even if i have to say that, thinking just few minutes about, i can find entire epical poems of alternative solution with the same effect much cheaper - for example the use of those lamps that accumulate solar energy on daylight time and give back a discrete light night time).

Even avoiding moral implication tied to the human intervent in the creation process of a new life, there are still some questions about the marketing of cloned or GM animals (or vegetables).

The first questions that filled up the European media after the news of commercialization in America of clone products are the ones that affect closest the consumers, firstly careful to health and quality of the product. The cloned meat is healthy? Is it good?
As far as i know there is no reason to doubt that the meat (or milk) of a cloned animal have different properties from the meat of the animal source of the clonation. That meat (milk) has the same characteristics, and so if the one is good, the other is good too. If the one is healty, the other is healty too.
For the GMO it is different, because the characteristics of the produced organisms not only are different from the ones of the organisms they started from, but they are different also in an umpredictable way, being that the genetic modification can (and usually it is so) create organisms that have never been produced, and won't ever be produced, in a natural way. A question is, for example, if, and in which way, an allergic to strawberries person could eat a chicken which DNA is mixed with strawberry genes. The answer to this question depends on determining the reaction of the antibodies of that person to the cells of the strawberry chicken. Since there is no medical experience on this kind of cells, the reaction cannot be predicted.
For what concerns the frlavor, it is obvious that the reason to use GMO technology for food is to produce organisms that taste differently from the ones they use to apply the technology.

Evaluating the problem from another point of view, another open question is the ecology one, well focused by the quoted article. The world, with its food chains is based on biodiversity, or right on the fact that the reproductive crossbreed of two individuals generates an organism partially different from both. The surviving differences are the more favourable ones in terms of environmental adaptation, since the mutant individuals have more probabilities to survive, and so to breed, perpetrating the mutation to the next generations. This mechanism extended the neck of the girafs so that they could feed on the higher leaves of the trees, it transformed to flippers the limbs of the cetaceans, it divided the animals in herbivores that feed on vegetables, and carnivores, that feed on herbivores. But it also divided the living beings in animals that feed on vegetables and vegetables that feed on the rests of the animals.
If we discovered the commercially perfect ox (or pig), it will end up that agriculture will produce always that same ox (or pig), entire farms full with copies of one only organism always and everywhere equal to itself, reproducing characteristics always equal, and not even necessarily the best ones under the point of view of environmental adaptation, but only under the commercial point of vies. Those organisms will steal "existency shares" to all the other oxes (pigs), that will day by day disappear from the animal world, compromising all the alimentary chains in which they are involved.
Maybe this process does not necessarily compromise the life on the earth, for sure it will contribute in the simplification of the genetic patrimony. Maybe we don't need animals that produce inferior in quality and more expensive meat or milk, but for sure the world needs them, otherwise natural evolution would have already thought itself to make "ethnic cleansing". Biodiversity is a preservation mechanism of the species and of life in general. If an individual is sensitive to a virus, for example, it can be that another similar individual of the same species wouldn't be. Genetic natural mutations of the virus will tend to attack organisms with a different genetic patrimony. The organisms of the attacked species will tend to generate natural mutations resistant to that virus. If the genetic patrimony of a set of animals is always invariant and identical to itself, a virus able to kill one individual would be able to kill all the individuals of the set. Clonation is so the antithesis of the natural evolution, on which is based how the world works.
About what it concerns to GMO, instead, the matter is slightly different. If the natural evolution tends to select the genetic characteristics of a species so that the individuals would become more competitive than the competitors, the genetic artificial modification tends to select the species so that the individual would be more competitive only from a commercial point of view, evalued on the pockets of who owns the copyright. These new organisms, even if potencially less strong than the natural organisms, they would take over in the same environment, and so also the natural ones, with time, will adapt to new entries' presence. If we will produce a variety of GM corn resistant to 90% of a certain type of parasite, and if we cultivate only that variety, it will happen that 90% of the parasites would die, leaving the remaining 10% free to riproduce. The only result we would obtain is to make those parasites stronger (for natural selection). If instead the variety of corn released would resist to the totality of the parasites, those parasites would estinguish, or atleast they would parcially disappear, compromising the food chains they belong to.

There is, then, a social consequence. Obviously who owns the technology for production of GMO and clones, would apply it for money, with disadvantages for those ones that apply traditional technologies for animal breeding and vegetable cultivation. The control on this "copyright" can be obtaining producing sterile clones or GMO's. If for example a farmer grows sterile GM corn, he won't be able to use part of the grains of the harvested corn to sow the fields for the next year, but he will have to buy them again from the same producer of GM corn. This would break into fragments those social balances coming from subsistence economies of poor countries. Moreover the traditional cultivation, nowadays, benefit from the pollinator bugs that, not respecting the borders of the cultivated fields, bring the pollen from a cultivation to another. If a farmer uses GM seeds, his sterile vegetables won't give good pollen for fertilizing the vegetables of the neighbor farmers, who will see damaged their harvest too.

Lastly there is a cultural aspect of the problem. A GM chicken tasting of strawberry is good or not? The answer can be different belonging to who answer, but i think that it makes sense the interpretation of the taste under a cultural point of view. Infact, how does one eat the strawberry chicken? In a fruit salad or roasted with french fries? Being that there is no story of tradition tied to strawberry chicken, there does not exist either a popular recipe that produce a popular plate that allows us to catalog the flavor upon known values. In other words the flavor of a food is a cultural fact, and so it's not possible to decide if the strawberry chicken have an objective gastronomical value negative or positive. One can only make some experiments and evaluate the answer of the consumer, but the attempt itself distorts the gastronomical tradition, made not only of good ingredients, but also of History. I think that a traditional steaming roast chicken, with french fries will always be better, because in that way my mother used to cook it, and before her mother, going back to prehistory. Or, also, i like a bowl of good fresh strawberries with sugar and lemon. The much good it can be, i would leave the strawberry chicken at McDonalds, where the problem is not to make good food, but to sell it good.
A last thing i would add is that the gastronomic variety of a tradition is given to the match of various available ingredients. If we eliminate from the market the "minor" ones, which are the ones worse from the commercial point of view, we would have to give up the possibility to cook the almost totality of the popular recipes. Variety of quality in the foods available on the market gives a variety of flavors in which one measure a gastronomical tradition. Having few goods, even if perfect ones, in the stores, means loosing variety in cookings.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Where to go?

View of Costa Smeralda, Sardinia
Everybody i meet in the blog universe, that is not from Italy or doesn't know very well this country, asks me for suggestions about where to travel, if one comes here for tourism.
That, to me, is a difficult question, first of all because i am not a tourist, so i see this country with different eyes. I have all the time to spend over here so i don't have necessarily to choose the very best all of the sudden as it happens to tourists (unless they're so rich to be able to spend ages over here). Moreover, being that i am an Italian in Italy, i have more chance to appreciate the very deep inside it, because i don't have the barreer of language and cultural difference.

Autumn in Monferrato, Piedmont
by Mario Spalla
An american tourist in Italy would probably end up to eat at the touristic expensive restaurant in the center town, with the menu translated in English (where "Prosciutto di Parma D.O.P." is "ham"), which, undoubtedly, may serve good food. But Italy is also made of the little winebar in that hole of a wall, in an unknown village where they serve a good wine with a plate of salumi e formaggi locali (local cured meat and cheeses), where the owner will spend some time chatting with you (a good example of it is Il Covo).

Secondly the answer of such a question strictly depends upon what one is interested to. To make some exapmples, if somebody is interested in art i would suggest Florence and Rome. Who wants to have fun till early morning spending time (and money) in the discos, they should go to Riviera Romagnola. If you are interested in nice tans, sandy beaches next to a beautiful sea, Sardinia is your final destination.

Greve in Chianti centre village, Tuscany
But you may also be interested in skiing and in mountain landscapes. In these cases i would suggest the Alps...
About food... uhm... I think wherever you can find excellent McDonald's.
Ahaha... ehm... just joking!

So, not being able to be objective enough, i'll try an answer according to my tastes.

As a first suggestion i would say that, for who can choose, it's not a wonderful idea to travel in August. One problem is that it can be really very hot. Especially in the south, the termometer can easily reach 40 Celsius (104 F). I have been in Palermo with 50 C (122 F) and it was terrible. That problem is, obviously, less felt in the north and up in the mountains, where temperatures are more human-bearable.

Serra San Quirico, Marche
from www.comune.serrasanquirico.an.it
Besides the warmth, the main problem of August, anyway, is that Italians have the bad habit to take off for holidays in this month all together. This means that the typical holiday destinations are packed of people, while the non-typical ones are empty. Personally i don't like crowd, so i prefer, atleast in that month, the unusual destinations (there are nice ones too). Plus, if you go to some crowded place, it is also expensive (for an easy supply-demand rule), while if you go to an unusual one, being that there's not a big lot of people, also the shops tend to close for holiday. Last, in August, being that big herds of people moving, if you travel by car you can find a really busy traffic, especially on the main highways from north to south.

If there's no other choice than August, i would suggest the north, which is cooler and better served. But the best period to visit Italy, in my opinion, is the spring, untill the half of july. Infact winter is cold, and daylights are shorter, autumn can really give wonderfully colored days, but sometimes it can be very rainy.

I don't like strict programs that don't allow me to really enjoy one place because there's no time. Instead, i think that the best Italy one can appreciate is the one that is not visible on the surface. To meet people, having dinners in a little informal trattorias, shopping at the local artisan's, learn the local customs... no way you can do it, if you just pass by for a couple of days.
Which means that if you really want to have a wide experience of Italian culture you have to spend ages in this country, because the local cultures are so various that they are really different region by region, or also town by town. So, better to choose one or two areas and deeply explore only them. Just to make a gastronomical example, the typical dish of Piedmont is called bagna caoda.

Assisi, Umbria
It's a kind of big pot with a sauce made out of olive oil, garlic and anchovees, to be eaten hot wih raw vegetables.
In the next region of Lumbardy common people almost do not even know what bagna caoda is. Vice versa, the typical dish of this last region is casseula, stewed pork meat with cabbage. Nobody knows it in Piedmont. Moreover you'll never find casseula or bagna caoda nor in Piedmont nor in Lumbardy if you go to a common tourist restaurant.

Orvieto, Umbria
Those dishes can be found only in the old fashioned country trattorias, and only during winter.

So, planning to stay... let's say... one month in Italy i would choose no more than two places to stay, and rent a car to drive around those two places and visit the typical old little villages.

My favorite area in Italy is the center. In the center I would avoid Tuscany, because it's packed of foreign people, tourists or immigrants, especially from UK and USA. I have nothing racist against British or American people, but for sure, if you want to experience the real Italy, their invadent presence is a big limit. I remember, for example, walking in the center of Greve in Chianti (a little village in the famous wine area), where one can think there's the most authentic and uncontaminated italian culture, the most widely spoken language that i could hear was English.
My favorite regions are infact Umbria, Marche and Abruzzo, considered much less as a target by those "colonizers". That's why those regions are much less expensive although the territory is very similar to the Tuscan one (i hope this won't be considered a suggestion to rich American and British people to colonize also those lands!).

Dolomiti view, Trentino Alto Adige
from www.dolomitinetwork.com

Saint Rhemy en Bosses, Valle d'Aosta
from www.regione.vda.it
Those regions are my favorite for the food, the landscapes made of sweet hills, the wines (although Tuscany is still the best to that respect), the little medioeval villages, the courtesy and hospitality of people, and in general the culture strictly linked to the roots in their territory. The Parco Enogastronomico della Marca Centrale (Oenological and Gastronomical Park of Central Marche) is a good example of research of our root in the territory, through food, and preservation of our culture.

One of my favorite activities is also hiking in the mountains. With that purpose i suggest the spring on the Alps. Hiking paths are well kept and pretty much each one of them has atleast one refuge on the top, which makes the walk even more interesting for the food and the rest that can be enjoyed after the hard ascent.

View from Monte Tesoro, Lumbardy
from Rubber Slippers in Italy
The dolomites in the Alto Adige area are one of the most beautiful scenic view i have ever seen in my entire life, and the variety of mountain landscapes in Valle d'Aosta worth some days spent on hiking. Also the area (Como lake) where I live is enjoyable for hiking, and it offers also dramatic views of the lake.

Coliseum, Rome
Besides my tastes, i think that the ultimate thing that is missing wherever in the westerner world and we have in Italy, is the History, mother of our culture and customs. That's a fact that most of European (and, by extension, also South and North American) cultures were somehow originated in this country, so any foreign tourist coming to Italy can find atleast a little stone of his own History.

If i was a tourist, then, i wouldn't miss to visit Rome for its monuments, buildings and ruins that designed all the westerner cultures of the last three millennia, although nowadays it's a so busy and messy town that can be really tiring.

A good guide for Italian restaurants is Slow Food's Osterie d'Italia.
A good help to choose hiking paths in Lumbardy is Diska's Photos and PassoLento

(click on the photos to enlarge)