Monday, July 14, 2014

Born Invisible: Sheila McKinnon's Exhibit in Rome

BORN INVISIBLE © Sheila McKinnon
It has been over a month since our last post.  Our fantastic intern Caelan Fortes visited this exhibit in Rome. Here is what she has to say about it:  

 “BORN INVISIBLE” is an exhibition of Italy-based Canadian photographer Sheila McKinnon, featuring fifty photographs and a video presentation. The selection aims to highlight the ongoing debate about women’s rights and social injustice. Through photographs of young girls and women, “BORN INVISIBLE” comments on the “heredity of silence [by capturing] the inaudible presence of voiceless girls and women, phantom beings whose lives are often decided without their consent.”
Adamant that photography goes farther than documentation, McKinnon’s works are not simply portraits of these young girls, but striking depictions of their situations and their plights. As she notes in her video presentation, McKinnon realized she “could speak with [her] camera and they couldn’t speak for themselves.” The presentation is far from pretentious; it is an important and beautifully presented social commentary on a very real humanitarian problem.
What is unique to McKinnon is the purposeful composition of her pictures. To call her photographs “poignant” is an understatement. Her manipulation of color and juxtaposition of light and dark is stunning. As with a map, McKinnon deciphers her compositional elements in the video presentation. Squares and rectangles indicate protection; inverted colors indicate the variability of the exterior; lit faces indicate an emphasis on the heart. There is nothing haphazard about McKinnon’s work; each photograph is infused with meaning.
Most poignant to me, and noted far before I’d stumbled upon the presentation, was the depiction of the girls in medias res. In nearly every photograph, the subjects are holding onto an object in some way. While working with the girls, McKinnon remarks in her video presentation, she observed the connectedness they had to both other people and to their livelihood. Thus, it was important for her that the girls not be isolated from their environment, but instead immortalized in action. I found this particularly stirring. These girls, though voiceless and paralyzed figuratively by forces beyond their control, are not idle. Sheila, too, is not idle in observing their suffering, and she is calling on us to also not stand as idle bystanders to these social injustices.
In comparison to the other photography exhibit in the Museo di Roma, which focused on refugees, BORN INVISIBLE stands out because of it is subtleties. Sheila McKinnon has taken what is undoubtedly agonizing adversity and an ostensibly permanent condition and presented it in a gentle, sometimes playful way. The exhibit is not explicitly pain-centric; the girls are not injured, suffering, or tortured. In fact, most are smiling and their actions joyful. McKinnon does not go for the “money shot” in a series of histrionic images meant to force empathy out of the viewer. Instead she depicts the quotidian. It is this nuance that struck me the hardest. This humanitarian problem, for us an abstract third party to read and sympathize with, is embedded in the lives of these girls. It does not discriminate whether they are suffering or whether they are content. It is in this way, though, that a viewer can understand how deeply these injustices permeate the lives of McKinnon’s subjects. In her video presentation, McKinnon lectures, “what we choose to see with our eyes is only an illusion.” I think her exhibition really touches on the fallibility of perception. A smiling girl going about her life and a voiceless girl deprived of basic human rights are not mutually exclusive.
“BORN INVISIBLE” is a perfect testament to the varied ways advocacy can manifest itself. Public protests, fundraisers, and the ilk serve the same purpose; however, McKinnon chooses to draw attention to a deserving issue through art. With her photography as the illuminating spokesperson of the suffering of these girls, art becomes the liaison of voiceless victims, giving them presence and importance. A contemporary Dorothea Lange of the third world, Sheila McKinnon epitomizes advocacy in art - observing a problem, acting on it, and creating an awareness of it in an impactful, eloquent, and moving way.
While exploring the beautiful neighborhood of Trastevere and all its shops and restaurants, allow yourself a pit stop to the Museo di Roma in Trastevere. Tickets are only 7.5 euros, with a reduced fee of 6.5. This wonderful exhibition is on view until September 28!

 Museo di Roma in Trastevere, 
Piazza S. Egidio 1B, 
tel. 065816563.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 Gelato Festival in Rome

Roman Gelato
May 15-18, The Auditorium Parco dellaMusica will host the 2014 Rome Gelato Festival. Over the four day event there will be tastings, seminars, demonstrations and more. Rome's best artisans will be present and guests will be able to taste exciting new flavors. Guests will also have the opportunity to participate in classes and learn how to make gelato such as gluten-free or vegan options.

The event starts at 12:00 every day and runs until 24:00 every night except Sunday when the event will end at 20:00. For more information and to purchase tickets check out thewebsite.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Top 9 Wine Bars in Rome

Once again, Antiqua Tours intern Annie Epstein has managed to create a fantastic list for winelovers in Rome.
Comparing two Italian sparkling wines

  1. Al Vino Al Vino, Via dei Serpenti 19
Al Vino Al Vino is a bustling enoteca that is well worth a visit (or two). A favorite among locals and regulars, the atmosphere is upbeat and cheery. The wines by the glass are written on a chalkboard above the bar and the offerings are usually Italian. The wine list is excellent, but to take a visit to Al Vino Al Vino to the next level, order the caponata. The enoteca renders a unique version of the sweet-sour eggplant dish, which pairs well with a glass of wine or three.
  1. Il Goccetto, Via dei Banchi Vecchi 14
This wine bar is beloved by locals and considered a classic by wine aficionados, all the while remaining accessible to tourists passing through Rome. The vintage décor and walls lined with bottles of excellent wines from around the world inspire visitors to step out of their wine comfort zones. Il Goccetto offers an extensive wine by the glass menu (and generous pours), as well as tasty canapés and cheese plates.
  1. Bibenda Wineconcept, Via Capo d’Africa 21
Bibenda Wineconcept, while not known for its food, is wine geek heaven. The rooms are filled with wine books and gadgets, not to mention Italian and French wines. Stop in for glass or buy a bottle or two for later; Bibenda has bottles that fit every budget. The sommeliers are extremely knowledgeable, so go with questions and they’ll be happy to help you.
  1. Bulzoni, Viale Parioli 36
Enoteca Bulzoni has been managed by the same family since 1929 and still maintains its dedication to selling top-notch Italian wines and spirits. The focus here is on natural wines, though this enoteca seems to have a bottle for every occasion. The offerings range from table wines to rare vintages. Though Bulzoni Italian-focused, it does offer bottles from France, Germany, and Austria.
  1. La Barrique, Via del Boschetto 41b
This enoteca is a great spot for a quality meal and fantastic glass of wine. La Barrique focuses on natural wines and offers bottles from Italy, France, and Germany. On top of their excellent by-the-glass offerings, the enoteca offers small plates and pasta. La Barrique is a great place to buy a bottle or settle in for a glass of wine and a meal.
  1. Palatium Enoteca Regionale, Via Frattina 94
This Lazio-centric enoteca, located a stone’s throw from the Spanish Steps, offers some of the best products of the region. Palatium Enoteca Regionale offers wines of the area, meals made with local recipes, and goods produced in Lazio. This Roman treasure is a great spot to discover an underappreciated Lazio wine and snack on a plate of local cheeses. The menu is seasonal and many of the ingredients are for sale.
  1. Enoteca Provincia Romana, Largo di Foro Traiano 84
This enoteca, sponsored by the county of Rome, also utilizes local ingredients and local wines. The enoteca has recently introduced pastas dishes to its menu, as well as seasonal vegetable dishes and salads. It hosts a delightful aperitivo and boasts affordable wines. The enoteca is usually bustling and a fun location for dinner for those looking for more than aperitivo.
  1. Passaguai, Via Pomponio Leto 1
Passaguai, sight for sore eyes after a day of pushing through crowds at the Vatican museum, is a casual wine bar that offers a great wine by the glass and homemade snacks. The enoteca makes its own preserves, mostarde, and olive oils. Passaguai also has prepares a delicious cheese plate. Stop in and refresh with a classic wine and cheese break.
  1. Litro, Via Fratelli Bonnet 5
Litro is a hip new enoteca in Old Monteverde that offers a premium selection of natural wines. The enoteca offers a range of by-the-glass options as well as bottles. Be sure to check out the orange wines available. Stop in for the enoteca’s cold small plates or its tasty Lazio cheese plate. Litro seeks out wines from smaller Italian wineries; so if you have questions or need help deciding, ask the friendly staff.

A wine tasting in Rome

We offer tastings and tours ranging from natural wine seminars, exclusive tastings of Lazio wine and more.  Contact us for more information at 

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Churchkhela, Puri and Mzhave Niori at the Tbilisi Market

Tbilisi Food Market 
Me, pickles and a fermenting goddess

 I'll admit that the primary reason I decided to join the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi,Georgia was for the location. For a few years now, I had been wanting to discover for myself the rich wine and culinary culture of Georgia. I narrowly missed the DWCC post-conference trip from Izmir in 2012, and had had tentative plans to visit in 2013, but life got in the way and it just never happened.

In the interim, I studied the food and wine of Georgia and planned itineraries in my head. Travel information was scarce and mostly related to mountains and hiking, and the guidebooks tended towards pathetic regarding food and wine information. So, when I saw the announcement that the 2014 IWINETC conference would be held in Georgia and they were looking for bloggers and speakers, I jumped at the opportunity. My speech was accepted and I managed to join the pre- and post-conference media trip as well. I was very excited to join fellow food and wine lovers in the birthplace of wine. 

When I received the tour itinerary I was slightly disheartened to see that a visit to the Tbilisi market I had been reading, studying and dreaming about was not included on the schedule. But that would not deter me. I had a few hours of free time so I decided I would go on my own…even though I had yet to fully understand the concept of Georgian hospitality. When you read in guide books that Georgians believe, “A guest is a gift from God,” it is not lip service. From taxi drivers to invitations to homes, I was almost embarrassed by the level of hospitality in Georgia-knowing that I could never reciprocate in the same way. A week before the trip, I posted on the Wine and Culinary Tourism page on Facebook that I was looking for a guide and almost as soon as I posted, I got a reply that a guide would be waiting in the lobby at 10:30 am on the day of my arrival. I invited my fellow FAM trippers and the lovely guide Mariam met us in the lobby, threw us in cab and gave us our first view of the city. Of course, that view was seen while swerving in and out of the congested Tbilisi traffic until we arrived at the market about 10 minutes later. 

Churchkhela at the Tbilisi Market

At this point I am sure I will start to sound like a living foodie cliché, so forgive me. The Tbilisi market needs to be included in any visitor’s itinerary. It was an explosion of colors, flavors and aromas. Before going I was mostly curious about the walnuts, fruits, pickles and Churchchela, strings of nuts dipped in grape concentrate, otherwise known as “Georgian candy.” The vendors were gracious and kindly let us sample their products. They were more than happy to explain the use of various seasons and spices such as the marigold and fenugreek powder, plum sauces and garlic salt. It was a sensory overload. 

Spice vendor explaining how to use the marigold and fenugreek powder

My favorite “discovery” was learning that like Italians, Georgians have a long-standing tradition and passion for wild food ranging from foraged edible weeds, wild thyme (so good!), mushrooms and fermented or pickled foods. I tasted fermented cabbage, whole fermented garlic (Mzhave Niori), fermented wild greens and wild leeks. As an advocate for home fermentation, I was overwhelmed by the range of pickled goods available. There was so much variety; anything edible was pickled. I bought fermented garlic and the strong aroma followed me all the way back home. Pickled vegetables were available at every meal we had during our trip and without paying too much attention to the health benefits, we unintentionally aided the digestion of some of the heavier Georgian foods. Fermented foods are true Super Foods. I am sure my travel mates got tired of me exclaiming, “Oh my god, I love pickles!” at every meal, but I couldn't contain myself. I really, really love pickles. Good to know that they pair perfectly with the strong Chacha, a beverage similar to vodka that is made from the leftovers of the wine.

Fermented products at the Tbilisi Market

Pickles weren't the only product that excited me. Churchkhela, the sausage shaped delicious strings of nuts that have been dipped in grape concentrate and flour were a delight. They were sweet enough to satisfy a sweet tooth but not cloyingly so. They'd be great on a hike instead of premixed trail mix. They were simple and delicious, and the one food product I wish I had bought more of.

I also loved the wild honey that was sold in used pickled jars alongside different bee products such as pollen and propolis, as well as honeycomb. I took pollen every day while in Georgia as an immunity boost and—despite sleeping an average of three hours a night—I managed to stay energetic and healthy throughout the trip. 

Honey in used pickle jars

I not only sampled these products, also I learned about local baking techniques. The market had surprises around every corner. Mariam took us inside a small bakery where there were shelves of long pointed bread called puri and the delicious aroma of yeast and wood fire. The oven was not in the wall but in the earth in the form of a cylindrical clay tub that resembled a well. These ovens are called tone. After the dough has risen, been kneaded and been rolled, it is not put in a pan or on a shelf for baking. Instead, it is pressed up against the inner wall of the tone. I had never seen this baking process before and found it fascinating. It was yet another link that Georgian food and wine has to the earth and clay vessels. 
The "tone" photo by Sally Prosser at
 The aromas, colors and flavors are now imprinted on my heart and palate. I am so glad we visited the market before we started our trip. All of the food we tasted and all the meals we shared were made richer by the market experience. Understanding the food and the source of that food is an important part of traveling. At the Georgian table each meal is perfectly balanced between salty, sour, sweet, bitter and umami. Visiting the market gave me a much better understanding of the Georgian kitchen and what we could expect over the next nine days.

The Tbilisi Market is truly a can’t-miss for food lovers, people interested in a more authentic experience in Georgia, proponents of slow food, real food and people who want to eat like our ancestors. Markets are always great venues to experience of the bounty of the region, and this market is no exception. I learned that the Georgian food culture is real. It has not yet been corrupted by mass production and industrialization. I certainly hope that the Georgians take pride in this and protect it. These pockets of real food culture have almost disappeared in some places and are limited to the elite in others. Food is culture, and in Georgia the culture is rich.

My next visit to Georgia will include an extra suitcase for more edible souvenirs. 

Thank you Sally, Rowena and Erin for letting me include some of your photos in the blog post!

Check out their blogs/posts on Georgia!

 For more on Georgian wine, check out posts by Sarah Abbot MW here and here 

Gorgeous photo of Churchkhela and fruit by Sally Prosser (@mycustardpie)

Mzhave Niori (fermented garlic)

Puri (bread) photo by Sally Prosser (@mycustardpie)

Tone (oven) photo by Sally Prosser

Me with some puri (bread) photo by Rowena Dumlao-Giardina (@ApronSneakers)
Rowena Dumlao - Giardina.
Rowena Dumlao - Giardina.

Jars of raw honey

Bee products

Our lovely guide Mariam speaking with a Churchkhela vendor

The baker taking fresh puri out of the tone

Our guide Mariam (second from right) patiently explaining everything to us. Photo by Erin Korpisto (@vinesanddesigns)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Tbilisi Sulphur Baths

*Interior shots by food stylist Erin Merhar
Interior photo from the pool by Erin Merhar
 The name Tbilisi derives from an old Georgian word meaning “warm place.”    The word applies to both the glorious sulphur baths on which the city was founded, as well as the generosity and warmth of the Georgian people. I visited the sulfur baths during the International Wine Tourism Conference feeling quite depleted after a long flight, late night feasts and preparation for two presentations at the conference. I had a reservation at 9:00 and, though I was up until 3:00 the night before drinking exquisite Georgian wine with new friends, there was no way I was missing that appointment for a private room with massage and scrub. My body and soul ached for that appointment.
      The legend of Tbilisi's foundation is based on these baths, which are built around naturally occurring hot sulphur springs that can be located by smell alone. Hot sulphur water helps a variety of ailments including skin disorders, arthritis, autoimmune disease, muscle tension and sports injuries. The baths are designed to allow the visitor to relish in the warm bounty of the earth, to provide a relaxing experience enjoyed with with friends and family. The baths are in the old town, dome-shaped and reminiscent of both Etruscan funeral mounds in Cerveteri and a scene from a 1970s sci-fi flick. Slipping into the baths, one feels as though he or she has entered the womb of Gaia herself.
Little beehive domes of the sulphur baths

      When I arrived I wasn't sure I was at the right place. My partner for the morning was late, so I decided enter the private room and change. Then, I opened the door to an oasis: a private pool. There was a large bath in the center of the room that brought to mind a full-immersion baptismal. The water temperature was perfect. It was hot, but not overwhelmingly so, and there was space for at least 10 people. We had a private sauna, showers and an ice cold bath. There were also two marble beds for a massage and scrub (both part of the package). We had the pool for and hour and half—though 2-3 hours would have been more ideal. I had to speak at the conference later that afternoon, so I couldn't linger. I was afraid that if I stayed too long, I'd be too tired to even participate.
      I entered the warm pool and just sat there, relaxing and letting the water wash away the filth from body and the tension from soul. The sulphur springs flowed continuously, renewing the pools as I sat. After about 20 minutes, a topless lady came in to scrub and massage us with a special exfoliating glove similar to those used at a Turkish hammam. At the baths, women scrubbed women and men scrubbed men. Since we were a female party of two, we were taken care of by a lovely woman with a gentle face and strong hands adept at removing layer upon layer of dead skin to reveal new skin I never knew existed. Who knew I had freckles? After exfoliation, she massaged me from head to toe and I felt like butter under her warm hands. She released me back to the warm pool and her next patient took her turn.
     Everyone has their own bathing or showering rituals, but nothing compares to an intimate, sumptuous, and invigorating full-body deep exfoliation. The baths were an intimate luxury very few of us in the West experience. Who else bathes us but our own mothers? Even then, baths between a mother and child lasted only until we were of a certain age, after which we lost that connection and began to bathe alone. Allowing a stranger to touch and bathe you—without a common language—can be intimidating. Eye contact, smiles and hand gestures were our only language, yet I knew when I needed to turn over or lift up my arm.
      Since I've been back in Italy, more than one person has remarked that I seem lighter and more carefree. Before I left for Georgia I felt a lot of pressure from my work life, home life and the normal day-to-day problems of life. We had experienced a great and devastating death in the family and I felt broken. I was burdened by my feelings of deep grief and felt my life slowly unravelling. I could not control the sudden waves anger or sorrow I was experiencing. But those burdens were lifted in Georgia. They were washed away, exfoliated from my body and my spirit, and drained into the Mtkvari River to the Caspian Sea. They are no longer my burdens.
      In the warmth of the springs under a tiled dome I felt every nerve and muscle of my body relax. I focused on my breathing; I meditated and felt deeply relaxed and sleepy. Before I left, I plunged into the ice-cold pool to awaken myself once more. This use of hot- and cold-water therapy has been found to have cardiovascular benefits and to help migraine sufferers. My body stayed warm despite my quick cold-water plunge. Afterwards, I felt reinvigorated and ready for the day ahead of me, ready to speak to a room full of people with my colleagues and participate fully in the journey ahead of me.
I came to Georgia for the wine, but the baths prepared me for the warmth and generosity of the entire land. A visit to the sulphur baths is an essential part of the Tbilisi experience. Rent a private room, or join the gender-segregated pools. The springs are a gateway to understanding the foundation of the city. They are a part of life and not just for tourists. 

Interior shot of private pool by Erin Merhar

Bakhmaro run by Gulo (599 58 81 22)
There are totally 7 rooms for 20 - 50 Lari, 2 rooms for 60 Lari and VIP for 100 Lari (for 20 persons).
Open 07:30 – 01:00.
Address: Grishashvili 5

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Georgia: Here Wine Lives

I had the honor of visiting the Republic of Georgia for the International Wine Tourism Conference in Tbilisi last week. Very few places have impressed me as much or left me with so much desire to come back that I feel pain.  Georgia is the cradle of wine.  Wine in Georgia is a tradition of place and of people.  Through the ages and through invasions and oppression the people persevered through wine.  The vine (there are over 500 indigenous grape types) is the symbol of both country and people and grape motifs are everywhere. What makes Georgia so fascinating is that their own style wine making has survived. This ancient heritage of Qvevri is now protected and recognized by UNESCO.

Watch this short video on the ancient tradition of Qvervi making.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Top Nine Roman Gelatos

With the hot months around the corner it is almost gelato for every meal season, so I asked Antiqua Tours intern Annie Epstein to write a post on her top nine gelati she has had in Rome.  Annie is a Study Abroad student and great asset to us.  Right now she doesn't have a blog I can link to but I am sure we will be hearing about her in the future.  I am looking forward to tasting gelato this season with our guests. I have linked to The Rome Digest for information on where to find each venue and opening hours. 

Gelateria del Teatro is known for creating pure flavors derived from fresh, well-sourced ingredients, so it’s no surprise that the mint stracciatella has a penetrating herbaceous flavor. A bite of the pale green gelato will pack a creamy punch reminiscent of a just-picked sprig of mint and a bit of chocolate crunch.
  1. Pistachio—Vice
Although one should never visit Italy and miss nocciola, hazelnut, it is also important to branch out within the nut world. Try the pistachio flavor at Vice for a lightly sweet and pleasantly creamy experience. The pistachio, abundant in Southern Italy, is another less appreciated nut in the United States that deserves to be embraced. The nutty taste is a welcome break from heavy chocolate or light fruit, falling just in the middle of the gelato spectrum.
  1. Ananas e zenzero—Fatamorgana
On a whim, I chose this flavor for no better reason than the name. Ananas, I came to find out, means pineapple. Zenzero means ginger. Together, the two flavors create something brand new. The first bite of this pale yellow sorbet has the delicate flavor of very fresh pineapple that finishes with the subtle zing of ginger. Fatamorgana avoids a saccharine pineapple taste and applies a deft hand to the ginger, yielding a floral, multidimensional sorbet that deserves lingering over. It’s perfect for a hot afternoon in Rome.
  1. Fragola—Fior di Luna
Throughout Rome, gelaterias boast florescent red tubs of fragola, strawberry sorbet. Don’t trust these places. Instead, venture to Fior di Luna, tucked away in Trastevere, for a superior experience. When I visited this gelateria, the last flavor on my mind was strawberry. I was drawn to the tubs of gelato rather than sorbet. But from behind the counter there appeared a small spoonful of deep red fragola for me to try. The vegan sorbet tasted as if I’d just stuffed fifteen perfectly ripe strawberries into my mouth. Get it while you can—this gelareria offers the flavor only when strawberries are in season!
  1. Chocolate and fig—Fior di Luna
Another wonderful flavor option is chocolate and fig. While chocolate is satisfying on its own (and Fior di Luna offers a variety of chocolate sorbets of varying cacao percentages), chocolate gelato combined with fig is everything rich and lovely about chocolate with a hint of syrupy fruit. This flavor makes for a satisfying dessert, but the fig keeps it light enough to pass as a snack any time of the day.
  1. Orange—Fior di Luna
Fior di Luna takes pride in its products and takes care to source the best possible ingredients, while adhering to natural restrains such as seasonality. Thus it’s no surprise that the arancia or orange sorbet is a glowing example of the importance of ingredients. The gelateria utilizes the Italian arancia moro, which the shop explains is rich in antioxidants and accounts for the pink-orange color of the sorbet. This ancient Italian fruit is given a chance to shine and the showcases the floral complexity of the red orange. (Italian speakers can read more here:
  1. EstasiFatamorgana
Coffee-chocolate lovers should experience estasi at Fatamorgana, made with coffee, chocolate, and whole hazelnuts, a flavor that’s not too creamy and slightly bitter. Espresso is beloved the world over, so I would be remiss to neglect to include a coffee gelato option. The nutty crunch of hazelnuts melds with the intense coffee bean flavor, softened by a bit of chocolate. The classic combination of nuts, coffee, and chocolate is never a letdown.
  1. Ricotta, fig, and almond—Gelateria del Teatro
Gelateria del Teatro manages to accomplish a flavor that’s tangy, sweet, nutty, and just a bit sour. Despite the use of ricotta, this gelato is light and refreshing. The crunch of the almonds, paired with the floral note of figs, perfectly compliments the ricotta-based gelato. The ricotta, fig, and almond gracefully accomplish a flavor that wins the hearts of sweet and savory dessert lovers.
  1. Chocolate and wine—Gelateria del Teatro
Dark chocolate and red wine is a widely accepted complimentary pair—why not turn them into an antioxidant-packed gelato flavor? Teatro seemingly uses little sugar in this flavor, allowing small bits of chocolate to sweeten each bite. The red wine shines through, bringing out the deep flavors of dark chocolate. This is chocolate gelato all grown up (and a little tipsy).

For more information on our food tours or if you are interested in organizing a gelato tour in Rome, contact us at