Love Thursday: Los Angeles’ Watts Towers by Simon Rodia, Italian Immigrant

This week’s Love Thursday comes from our trusty correspondent Salena who recently did a great 3-part series on the Watts Towers by Simon Rodia over at her place, The Daily Rant. Salena saw a special theme emerge as she was taking beautiful photos of this amazing creation, though, and she was kind enough to share with us:

Love Blooms in L.A.

I had never even heard of this magnificent structure — so imagine my surprise when I found out that the Italian immigrant who built it actually went to America to work in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. Rodia was from Ribottoli, outside of Naples, and his real first name was Sabato.

In 1921, Rodia purchased the triangular-shaped lot at 1761-1765 107th Street in Los Angeles and began to construct his masterpiece, which he called “Nuestro Pueblo” (meaning “our town”). For 34 years, Rodia worked single-handedly to build his towers without benefit of machine equipment, scaffolding, bolts, rivets, welds or drawing board designs.

Besides his own ingenuity, he used simple tools, pipe fitter pliers and a window-washer’s belt and buckle.

Construction worker by day and artist by night, Rodia adorned his towers with a diverse mosaic of broken glass, sea shells, generic pottery and tile, a rare piece of 19th-century, hand painted Canton ware and many pieces of 20th-century American ceramics.

Rodia once said, “I had it in mind to do something big and I did it.”

The tallest of his towers stands 99½ feet and contains the longest slender reinforced concrete column in the world. The monument also features a gazebo with a circular bench, three bird baths, a center column and a spire reaching a height of 38 feet. Rodia’s “ship of Marco Polo” has a spire of 28 feet, and the 140-foot long “south wall” is decorated extensively with tiles, sea shells, pottery, glass and hand-drawn designs.

Thanks so much Salena for sharing these photos and

this inspiring story about a man, a dream, love, hard work, and persistence.

Happy Love Thursday to all!

[All text in block quotes comes from the Watts Towers website.]

Win a Bag of Café Orzo: The Italian Caffeine-Free Alternative to Coffee

If you’ve been in a bar in Italy, you may have heard someone order un caffè d’orzo” instead of a plain old un caffè.

What is orzo?

Orzo is roasted barley, naturally caffeine-free, and DEEE-licious. I drink orzo from time to time, although I normally make it with milk into an orzo latte or orzoccino instead of drinking it like coffee — but you can certainly just put it in your coffee or espresso maker (it’s brewed the same way) and drink it “straight” like un caffè.

Where can I find orzo?

If you’re in Italy, it’s sold next to coffee in the grocery store or, of course, at the bar, but if you’re in the United States, you can now find Café Orzo in American coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants.

Café Orzo is made by two leaves and a bud, the award-winning tea company based in Colorado. They were kind enough to send me a sample when I was in the U.S., and it tasted just like what I knew in Italy. That is, YUM.

If you can’t get Café Orzo in your favorite establishment, why not tell the management about it?

What does orzo taste like?

As Café Orzo explains on its Facebook page:

It’s much richer than tea, and while we consider it an alternative to coffee, its flavor is distinctly different. Café Orzo has an earthy, nutty taste, and naturally occurring sugars in the barley impart a slight sweetness.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I personally consider orzo a whole different drink from coffee or tea — something truly in a class all by itself.

You can also follow two leaves and a bud on Facebook, by the way.

Where does Café Orzo come from?

Café Orzo is 100% certified organic roasted barley that grows on small farms in Italy, near the Adriatic Sea and is artisan roasted in small batches. Yes — you’re getting the real thing from the Bel Paese.

Isn’t “orzo” a type of pasta?

Some Americans and others may know orzo as a type of small soup pasta, and indeed there is a pasta by this name, but don’t be fooled when you’re in a bar in Italy, where it’s roasted barley. In other words, if you order orzo here in a bar, you won’t get a cup of rice-like pasta, I promise.

Didn’t you mention a giveaway?


Just comment* here with how you would enjoy your Café Orzo if you won a bag (if you’re not sure of the possibilities, check out the recipes) by 11:59 p.m. next Sunday, July 25, 2010, and you will be entered in the random drawing for a bag of Café Orzo direct from the company.

For extra chances to win, be sure to check in over at the Bleeding Espresso page on Facebook!

* Sorry for international readers, but the giveaway is limited to those with United States shipping addresses for shipping/customs reasons. If you comment below but aren’t eligible for the drawing, please specify as such (a quick “international” notation will work).

Panino Con La Mortadella Fritta

Sounds fancy, eh? OK, then let’s stick with that instead of calling this week’s What’s Cooking Wednesday what it really is: a fried bologna sandwich. With senape!

Have you ever had un panino con la mortadella fritta? Even if you don’t normally like bologna, I highly recommend finding the best sliced mortadella you can, tearing it up into smaller pieces, frying it in a pan (no oil, just a hot pan), and then slapping it on a fresh Italian roll. Oh, and add mustard.

My grandmother used to make these whenever we wanted a substantial snack but didn’t know what else to eat. P had never had one of these babies before I came along — and yes, he turned up his nose at first. But then the smell of frying mortadella got to him. He rarely has a “raw” mortadella panino now.

And even though you have to turn the stove on, frying doesn’t take very long so this ends up being a super easy summer treat around here.

Oh, and while we’re talking sandwiches/panini, be sure to check out Sara’s (Ms Adventures in Italy) explanation of the difference between a panino in Italiano and a panino in America at Panini Happy. Great stuff!

Buon appetito!

Love Thursday: Family and Friends Edition

This week’s Love Thursday is quite special because the photos come from two friends made via Internet and my very own niece, Mia:

From L-R:

(1) My friend Beth’s daughter Sarah made a batch of  peanut butter cookies and this heart came out.

(2) My friend Lucy of On my way 2 work and Other Stuff spotted this branch-formed heart.

(3) My niece Mia caught this heart-shaped puddle before it dried up.

(4) Again, Mia’s eye saw a heart in this pork cutlet.

I have *no* idea who Mia takes after!

Happy Love Thursday everyone!

Are you ready for the weekend?

I sure am.

Celebrating the Fourth of July in Italy

Quite a few people have asked me over the years whether Italians celebrate the Fourth of July. The simple answer is no, as Italians don’t particularly care when the United States became an independent nation.

But chances are if you find an American on July 4th, you’ll at least find some kind of cookout around. Most of the Americans in Italy I know still find a way to celebrate — and many of us also wear our American flag t-shirts as well (myself included). P.S. Those stylin’ nails in the photo are *not* mine, but those of Dreamgirl Pumpkincat210 on Flickr.

Yesterday was actually a festa in the village (Madonna della Provvidenza) so we ended up even having fireworks, which we watched from our house; every year this celebration is held the first weekend of July, so I’m always guaranteed fireworks around the 4th. Funny how things work out.

Before the fireworks, though, yesterday morning, P and I went up into the campagna (the land we just bought in the country — yes it’s final now!), and had our own little feast with grilled chicken, salad, baked beans, suppressata, and pecorino. Quite appropriately a mix of American and Italian, I suppose. Ah, and fresh figs from one of trees for dessert:

Truth be told, though, while P prepared, I spent a lot of time either reading David Farley’s An Irreverent Curiosity: In Search of the Church’s Strangest Relic in Italy’s Oddest Town on my iPod Touch (Farley will be our guest on the Eye on Italy podcast this week!) or just staring off into space while sitting here:

Last week was quite stressful for me with all the Amanda Knox-related posts, and if you haven’t noticed, I’ve now turned comments off on them. I wanted to start this week stress-free and get back to focusing on my life and the people, animals, and few objects I’ve chosen to surround myself with.

I do appreciate that there are horrible events in the world every day, but many years ago I stopped watching the news because it’s too easy for me to get emotionally involved in all the bad — there is *so* much bad — and that just isn’t good for me. I still like to think I stay well-informed by picking and choosing what to read, and I lend my support to causes I truly believe in, but I just can’t let in all that negative and still live a happy life.

Perhaps that’s selfish, but it’s the best — and only — method of self-preservation I know.

Thanks to everyone who read and commented last week; hopefully some of the newcomers will stick around, but if it’s just the “regulars” here, that’s cool too. You’re the best regulars around.

And now, gratuitous kitty photo entitled “iz reddee 4 mah closeup” just because:

Have a great week!

Michelle FabioMichelle Fabio is an American attorney-turned-freelance writer living in her family's ancestral village in Calabria, Italy and savoring simplicity one sip at a time.

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