THE STORY SO FAR:
I'd gone back to Romagna with my old friend Angelo and after 40 years we had not only discovered Ravenna but been enchanted by it!
The mosaics, the history, the atmosphere, the food, the fun and the gelatos had us captivated!
And I went on to continue my adventure in Romagna, But now to learn much more about this strange and wonderful place.
And more that I hadn’t known about were Christmas in San Marino, Passatelli and Tonino Guerra - and getting kidnapped to the Magic Mountain!
Now apart from bringing me loads of excursion money in the 1980s, San Marino is something very special. Like Cinzia said, it’s historic, atmospheric, duty free, another country and it’s up its own mountain – Mount Titano, plus of course its economy depends on tourists.
Something I profited from royally for at least 10 years was Christmas (Christmas markets and festive holidays to be precise) so I know a big Christmas-time opportunity when I see one and San Marino is a big Christmas opportunity.
In San Marino, they call it the ‘Christmas of Marvels’ and I high- lighted it in the magazine. Christmas markets, Christmas events, nativity scenes, Christmas lights, Christmas music and Christmas shops wound themselves all around San Marino’s ever-upward cobbled streets already dotted with boutique shopping opportunities. And it was all in very good taste and not too expensive as most tax had been taken off. Nearly at the top of the mountain Santa Claus had set up his headquarters served by hundreds of elves. Altogether a great story and one that I thought would run and run.
Naturally the magazine had great write-ups on hotels and vine- yards – and restaurants and food. Basically it was a fun set of stories about somewhere very special and quite mysterious and extremely packed with history and food and wine.
Which all reminds me of the supreme Romagna soul-food, a simple but sublime concoction made of left-overs. That’s what they tell you! Obviously, you’ve got some stale bread in your kitchen, some hard, left-over parmesan, a lemon or two that are past their best and a few herbs and spices plus an egg or two? With this you can make Passatelli.
Just make breadcrumbs out of the stale bread and grate the parmesan finely, mix these two ingredients together with the lemon zest, add some nutmeg and other spices and bind the whole lot together with the eggs. In Romagna you’re probably talking about a couple of dozen eggs – just to give you an idea about proportions!
Simple, right? And cheap – that’s the Passatelli mix, but you’re going to have to make a stock to put it in. They say you should get a big pot. Why a big pot? Well you’re going to have to put a big capon chicken into it plus big lumps – a few kilos of beef or pork. You are going to boil all this with herbs for at least a day. A day? Well, you want to make the richest perfect broth don’t you?
The rest is simple. Take the boiled meat out of the broth – put it on one side for your second course for which you’ll make a cold Bearnaise-type sauce. Now you’re ready to make sensational simple heartwarming Passatelli.
Bring the rich broth to the boil and use a potato ricer to squeeze strands of the Passatelli into it. Serve from a big steaming tureen. It is paradise in a bowl.
The magazine got rave reviews from all the locals that read it. Even though it didn’t get mass circulation like I had thought, I loved the place and the magazine so much, I carried on producing them. After all, the fascinating in-depth stories and glorious pictures must be a powerful way of marketing tourism and giving it massive value-added, mustn’t they?
Anyway, I was enjoying being a writer, editor and publisher of a magazine that local people loved! And I loved travelling around, finding out stuff, meeting fans and eating great food.
So I carried blithely on and produced another couple of editions. It was hard work, it was costly. I couldn’t get anyone to support it financially and I was running out of cash and credit. I had hoped that the magazines and the website would at least generate enquiries, but they didn’t.
I thought that the Best of Romagna number 2 was better than number 1. It was chock-full of even more fascinating stories and great pictures.
The first time I had arrived in Ravenna, which started this whole process was 21 March 2012. This was the day that Tonino Guerra died. It’s surprising that more people haven’t heard about this amazing man. Tonino Guerra was the writing partner of fellow Romagnolo Federico Fellini on his Oscar-winning film ‘Amarcord’. This was just one of his achievements – amongst over forty other great classic films including ‘Blow Up’ and ‘Ginger and Fred’. Guerra was also a prolific poet in the Romagnolo language and a phenomenally good artist and mosaicist. He brought the Dalai Lama to his retirement home, the hilltop castle town of Pennabilli where he tirelessly worked to create museums and festivals. But above all this man, imprisoned by the Nazis for his partisan work, was a true Romagnolo with a passion for food and wine enjoyment and argument.
I got introduced to Tonino Guerra’s life and work at a restaurant that he had founded in the town of his birth – Santarcangelo di Romagna. On a research trip for an article in the second magazine this is where I think I discovered the real heart and soul of Romagna.
The restaurant is called La Sangiovesa after the rich red wine that is redolent of the area. It is an insight into the way the Romagnolo spirit works.
Guerra’s partner in the restaurant was a publisher – Maggioli, his family had a big palace in the centre of Santarcangelo, complete with a maze of catacombs that were used to store wine. And this is where the restaurant was to be. The idea was to celebrate the best of Romagnolo food and wine and hospitality and naturally it had to be done better than well.
The restaurant was to be the showplace, but the ‘tenuta’ was to be the workplace. Maggioli also owned a big farm – Tenuta Saiano at the bottom of Monte Bello. Here the food for the restaurant was grown or raised. Here were the capons for the broth, the donkeys for the stew, the posh pigs for the grills and of course the beef. Naturally great cheeses were to be made and naturally there was a vineyard for beautiful Sangiovese wines. Everything would be perfect.
And in the showplace restaurant, of course they started with the design. Rural but serious! Tonino even went to Austria to study heating stoves and came back with an idea he put into practice – stun- ning mosaic stoves everywhere.
The advantage of being a Romagnolo is that you know exactly how good food is made, so in the Sangiovesa there are four important stations. As you enter the restaurant (actually “Osteria”) you see the great boards of cold meats, cheese and jam starters, then the piadina station where ladies make the delicious flatbread. The next station you see is the pasta station where more staff create pasta from scratch with flour and eggs, rolling pins and knives. The next station is for desserts, gelatos and dessert wines where great cakes and puddings are created. And finally, on your way out you’ll encounter the cash station and shop where you can buy anything you would like to take home with you!
Then you eat! Any meal starts with great platters of perfect cold hams from every part of the pig, superb cheeses and delightful confec- tions of figs and apricots. Naturally freshly-made pasta follows, then there is a main course of meat and vegetables. Trencherman’s food! Followed by perfect desserts – cheesecakes, applecakes, trifles and more. Then perfect coffee! And great wines throughout.
That sort of committment to good meticulous cooking and quality and management of food requires passion – and that’s what Romagnolos like Tonino Guerra have a lot of.
So, in the magazine there was a big story about Tonino Guerra and his creations plus a bunch of other tough Romagnolo men and women. The list included the robber barons who owned Santarcangelo among other places – the Malatesta family, Mussolini the Romagnolo who grabbed power and ruled with a rod of iron and lots more.
Then my September came and everything started to close down in Marina di Ravenna. It was the end of the season. I wondered what I should do.
I was having my car cleaned by the beach and the man who was doing it asked what my profession was. “I write” I said “So do I” replied Alessandro. Turns out that he was an off-duty drummer and songwriter for a Romagnolo hard rock outfit and he invited me to a performance in Cesena’s medieval castle. How could I refuse?
The band wasn’t scheduled to play until midnight so I was looking for a little sustenance. “ Where do you come from?” “Can I help you?” said my very new friend Chiara, who found me food and introduced me to her friend Daniela. I had been picked up in the very nicest way. The next day they took me to see ‘their’ Romagna.
We started off in Cesena, then off to see the source of the River Tiber, Rome’s great river which naturally Mussolini had claimed for his own Romagna and moved the border. You can do that sort if thing if you’re a dictator! Then we went off into the mountains for lunch in Sarsina – a fabulous pilgrimage site where the priest exorcised my demons by placing a metal collar around my throat. Then it was off to see Daniela’s mountain home before dinner.
Up another mountain – Montecodruzzo – we had a staggeringly good dinner provided by the local farmer in his restaurant with sensa- tional panoramic views stretching all the way to Tuscany.
“Where will I go now Marina di Ravenna is closing down” I said “Longiano” said they.
Within a few days Chiara and Daniela had taken me to Longiano for lunch and to meet the locals and within a few more I’d got a stun- ning aparrment there.
Daniela had a little local advantage as she had worked in the local castle art collection, which is another Romagnolo story in itself.
Local poet Tito Balestra was yet another typical Romagnolo man, passionate, argumentative, chauvinistic, above all lovable, apparently. He had a lot of friends, did Tito, in the years before and after the second world war. Friends like top artists and art dealers and they all gave him gifts – arty gifts. Hence the local castle art collection with great Italian painters represented plus work from artists like Degas and Goya. Wow.
Then one morning I’m working in my apartment and I get a horrible pain in my stomach. I rang the local doctor, Luciano Guidi he came to see me and gave me a jab–“How much do I owe you?”Said I “Nothing” says he. By that night an ambulance has collected me to take me to Cesena Hospital. “I’m sorry” says the lovely doctor “You have pancreatitis”.
For the three weeks I was in hospital, every day I had a visit from Chiara or Daniela or both. Each time they came to see me they wore different attractive costumes – very jolly. And their families came too, Daniella’s mum worked in the hospital. And my family came, and Pam and, naturally Angelo.
And then I was on my way home to Longiano for a week or so showing Pam Romagna and then I was on my way home to the UK.
Back in Bath for Christmas, I was pretty sure that my Romagna adventure was over. Nobody in the hospital had found out what had caused my pancreatitis so that was fairly high on my agenda. Plus, I had sustainable tourism reports to write.
So, a few months of ordinary work and then a couple of interesting events were lined up. I’d been invited to speak in five places – three of which I was in two minds about – Grozny, Ürümqi and Rostov Veliky the other two I was in only one mind about – Grenada and Hasselt.
Why worry about having doubts? Two minds sometimes work.
TO BE CONTINUED...
and more about Romagna at www.BestofRomagna.com
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Valere Tjolle is the travel and tourism insider. An entrepreneur, consultant, developer and journalist, he has been in at the beginning of almost every tourism development for the last sixty years. There is no one better placed to expose the seedy side of tourism nor its enormous opportunities to unite people across the globe.