I live just outside of San Francisco and have been studying Italian on and off for the last seven years. What started as a lark seems to have veered towards an obsession. In any case, I am hooked!
The Museo Italo Americano in San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center has provided much of my formal training. As with many students, once I had worked through the basic texts and had at least a foundation in the language, I began looking for classes that would allow me to explore the aspects of Italy in which I was most interested.
At the beginning of last year I learned that the Museo would be starting a series of classes – with each 8-week term focusing on just one of the twenty regions of Italy, starting, alphabetically, with Abruzzo. I had long felt that the unique aspects of the Italian regions would lend themselves to such a region-by-region approach, so signed up for the first class.
None of the students in that class had ever been to Abruzzo so it was very much a mutual learning process. While I had some initial concerns as to how much one could learn about a place without actually visiting, it soon became apparent that the resources available on the internet were extensive, even if one limited oneself to those in English.
Our internet starting point for our exploration of each region has, not surprisingly, been WikiPedia, in both its English and Italian versions. Of course, while that site provides a great deal of basic information, once you have a general orientation one wants more than WikiPedia can offer.
I cannot remember when I first stumbled across Sammy Dunham’s “Life in Abruzzo” website, but as we began our study of Abruzzo, no matter what the topic, it seemed that I would soon find something relevant there, presented by Sammy in the most delightful fashion. As we have proceeded through the regions (so far we have been through five in addition to Abruzzo — Apulia (Puglia), Basilicata, Calabria, Campania and Emilia-Romagna) it has remained the best such site of any I have come across so far.
Perhaps more than any other region we have studied so far, Abruzzo for me is all about the images. Another fabulous site I soon found was Paesaggi d’Abruzzo, a photo site started three years ago by a fellow from Abruzzo named Alessandro Di Nisio which now has an archive of over 25,000 photos about the region. Again, no matter what I was interested in at the moment – food, nature, festivals, etc. – it always seemed I could find relevant photos there, and both the enthusiasm of the photographers, and the gratitude of the thousands of followers of the site around the world always, comes through clearly.
The eight weeks of our Abruzzo class flew by and since then, although we have moved on to other regions, I have always been drawn back to Abruzzo. Of course, it helps that both Life in Abruzzo and Paesaggi d’Abruzzo are also on Facebook which means that I enjoy almost a small daily dose of something about the region. Needless to say, I was overjoyed last year when the Museo announced that it would be sponsoring a trip to Abruzzo, and my wife and I immediately signed up. Although it was a bit of a risk (for them!), the Museo also asked me to give a talk at the Museo in February which turned out very well and gave me a welcome opportunity to pull my thoughts together in advance of our trip. The PowerPoint and handout I prepared for that class, together with some materials that I prepared to accompany the Abruzzo cheeses and “confetti” we served at the reception (care of Marcelli Formaggi in New Jersey and the Chicago outlet of Confetti Pelino in Sulmona), can be found here via Dropbox: http://db.tt/CC60ebIL.
The date of our departure for Italy is fast approaching and my excitement is growing. In some ways I feel like I have been to Abruzzo already, although I know that there is no substitute for actually visiting, and I am sure the chance to meet the Abruzzesi will be the highlight of the trip.
I encourage anyone who has the slightest interest in Abruzzo to pursue it even if you do not have the chance to go there. There is so much you can learn from afar.
Mike’s February 19, 2012 Abruzzo presentation at the Museo: http://db.tt/CC60ebIL
Photography – Corno Grande from Campo Imperatore by Nancy Moyle