Why is this night different from all other nights?

On all other nights, we eat either unleavened or leavened bread, but tonight we eat only unleavened bread.
On all other nights, we eat all kinds of vegetables, but tonight, we eat only bitter herbs.
On all other nights, we do not dip [our food] even once, but tonight we dip twice.
On all other nights, we eat either sitting or reclining, but tonight we only recline.

I posted this beautiful Passover plate when I wrote about the synagogue in Pesaro; it is an example of the ceramics that were created by Jewish artisans in the region in the 1600s.

To all my friends who will begin their seder meal with that question and those answers I wish the Happiest and Holiest of Passovers.

Chag Pesach Sameach.

18 aprile – la prima sera di Pesach

I Am Not A Shoe Fetish! Honest!

Its just I can’t get over the shoes on display here in Italy. Not just in the high fashion centres like Milano or the slightly lower fashion (except in its own mind) Roma but in the high end shops in towns like Pesaro.

Though these are not as outrageous as some of the footwear on display in Milano I am still trying to figure out where the smart upper middle class woman would wear these in Pesaro???? Though for some reason I am seeing them with a multi-pleated thirties style dress in a soft brown with matching fur at the cuffs in a revival of The Women. I really must stop watching those 30s movies!

28 agosto – Sant’Agostino d’Ippona

The Scuole On Via Sara Levi Nathan

You may recall that last year on my visit to Pesaro I came across a rather unusual and touching memorial to the expulsion of the Jews under the Manifesto of Race enacted in 1938. By that time there were very few Jews living in Pesaro as much of the community had moved to Ancona and the records show that no one was actually deported from Pesaro. However Jewish refugees from Croatia, Germany and Poland had been rounded up but unlike many people they were not herded into internment camps but housed in private homes or hotels in the town. They were required to report to the police daily but there was an unspoken agreement with the local authorities so it was more observed in theory than in practice. They were the lucky ones – others in the Urbino region were not as fortunate and made the journey to camps and almost certain death.

This poster from the Museum display at the Sephardic Synagogue gives graphic voice to the restrictions placed on Italian Jews with the enacting of the Manifesto of Race in 1938.

It was the repetition of an age old pattern of tolerance-intolerance for the community in Pesaro. There had been a Jewish settlement in the town since 1214; a community that had lived mostly at peace and in a live-and-let-live arrangement with the local rulers and populace. Over the years other Jewish merchants – expelled from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies – came into the town and integrated into the Italian community. However with the persecution, expulsion and execution, under Papal decree, of the Marranos of Ancona a new community of Portuguese (Shepardic) Jews migrated to the town. A protest blockade of Ancona harbour shed new importance on Pesaro and Guidubaldo Della Rovere was more than happy to welcome merchants, doctors, artisans and commerce into his Dukedom. Though his attitude was to turn less welcoming when the harbour proved too shallow for major trading.

In 1507 Gershom Soncino opened a printing house in Pesaro and worked there with some interruptions until 1520. He produced, besides books in Italian and Latin, an impressive range of classical Hebrew texts including a book of Festival Prayers thought to date from 1520.

It was at that time that construction was begun on the Shepardic Synagogue in what was the old Jewish Quarter. It is thought that Mordekhaj Volterra, a wealthy Portuguese banker, commissioned and financed the building prior to leaving the city for Firenze where he became Francesco dei Medici’s financial and political adviser. This dates the building from between 1556-1559. It housed not only a scuole but community offices, an infant school, a school dedicated to the studying of the Kabbalah and a music school.

This beautiful Passover plate – typical of the period in design – from the Pesaro Ghetto dates from 1614 and is currently in the Jewish Museum in New York City.

When the Duchy of Urbino devolved to the Papal States in the 1600s a ghetto was created and with the closing of the Italian rite Synagogue outside its boundaries only the Sephardic scuole was left for the community. The boarded up Italian synagogue was badly damaged in the 1930 earthquake and eventually demolished in 1940. During the period of Nazi occupation it goes without saying that the Sephardic Synagogue was closed down.In 1944 the liberating British Army included an all Jewish regiment who reopened the Synagogue and services were held there for the last time. The building was left abandoned and it deteriorated rapidly. With the agreement of the Jewish Community in Ancona, who own the building, the City of Pesaro took it over and began a restoration project in 1990. Work was finally completed in 2004 and the building opened as a historical site.

The Sephardic Synagogue is actually on Via delle Scuole a narrow street just off Via Sara Levi Nathan. A bit of investigation revealed that the street was named after the Pesarese Sara Levi (1819-1882), a friend of Mazzini and Garibaldi and the mother of Ernesto Nathan (London 1845-Rome 1921), a Mayor of Rome. The main portal faces the east (Jerusalem) and the small door at the right led to the woman’s gallery.

Because it is only open on Thursday afternoon’s for a few hours I’ve never been able to visit it in previous years. This year I decided that as this may well be the last trip to Pesaro for a while I had to see it. It is a small but fascinating piece of Italian and Jewish history.

At the entrance of the synagogue there is a water stoop for ritual thrice washing of hands before prayer.  It still shows signs of the elaborate stucco work that capped it – it is probably that the nitche would have been pianted with an elaborate design.


The mikveh would have been for total immersion bathing as required prior to Yom Kipper and other occasions. Both were fed by a natural spring.

The ground floor houses an interesting exhibition on life in and around the Synagogue and detailed explanations of the various artifacts and rituals in Italian and English. Rather amusingly of the two possible translations for the Italian Pasqua (Passover or Easter) the English version has the Sephardic community celebrating the Christian festival.

The communal baking oven was used only for baking of the Passover matzoh which would have been overseen by the Rabbi. Given the size of the oven the matzo would have been baked in small batches – the dough kneaded as a community effort in the same room and put into the oven immediately to avoid contamination from leavening.

We were encouraged by a very friendly lady to go up the staircase to what she said – with obvious pride in her voice and on her face – was a treasure for Pesaro. And she was right – even in its current state the Prayer Room has an incredible beauty.

The large rectangular room was filled with light from three walls of large windows; the fourth wall enclosed the women’s galleries. The colours were light – mostly whites, grays, blues and soft browns. Benches lined the walls – contrasting natural wood with panels painted a deep green – the only dark colour in the room.

When the magnificently carved, gilt wooden arce was in its place in the niche it would have been an awesome sight.  Even without it the detailing in the stucco work work surroudning the niche is impressive.
I’m not sure what the Hebrew letters say and would appreciate nay help from my friends who can read it.
The east end of the room – facing Jerusalem – has a large niche for the arc – a magnificent carved gilt Aron ha-Kodesh which is now in the care of the Jewish community in Livorno. Likewise the elaborately carved and gilded bimah or reading stand was moved to the Levantine synagogue in Ancona. Unfortunately no effort has been made to recreate them as part of the restoration nor into replacing what must have been the elaborate candle fixtures hanging from the richly stuccoed ceiling.
What catches the eye immediately on entering the room is the marvelous stucco ceiling.  A riot of floral and leave motifs in white and gray it is a delight to the eye.
When the few remaining sections of paint were examined it was found that the soft gray background had been achieed by mixing coal black into the paint.

For some foolish reason I did not get a picture of the west end of the room – a balcony accessed on either side by a flight of marble stairs broken by a landing. On the landings were very badly damaged and faded frescos which I can only hope will be restored – in part at least – in the future. I’m not sure what the balcony would have been used for – perhaps a cantor or since music was so important in the Sephardic rite a choir of some type.

The two fescos on the balcony landings are badly damanaged but still show traces of the original designs.  One (above) shows the Holy City of Jersualem.
The facing fesco depicts the Encampment of the Children of Israel at Mount Sinai.  The three dimensional framing, again a reflection of the deocation of the period, is accomplished iwth painted wood and trompe d’oeil.

The stucco panels on the walls avoid any use of human form in the decorations but are decorate with arabesques.
In the spirt of the time the panels over the windows are festooned with fruits and flowers.

I have often felt when entering a particular mosque, temple, church or synagogue that centuries of people bringing their hopes, their fears, their desires, their needs and their thanks to a place works its way into the walls and gives the place a beauty that all the man made decoration in the world cannot accomplish. For me the Prayer Room of this 460 year old synagogue in the historic backstreets of a small town in Italy had that feeling.

24 agosto – San Bartolomeo apostolo

Pissing in the WIND

I’ve been remarkable silent for the past 12 days while on my annual Ferragosto jaunt to Pesaro. That just isn’t normal and I hope to make up for it in the next few days with some posts about the town (one of my favorite in Italy), the food, the Rossini Festival, the food and the side trips to Urbino and Rimini, the food, the days spent in Assisi with an excursion to Perugia and did I mention the food?

One of the reasons I’ve been lax in my postings I can blame squarely on WIND. Its a long story but up to now I’ve been using an Internet key from TIM when I travel to various areas here in Italy. Other than on the train I have never had a bit of trouble.

Laurent decided to go the same route but went with WIND because they were the first Provider outlet we found in Pesaro. We should have done our research. He could not upload the application to his Ibook and when he took it back to the store their attitude was pretty much – we got your €50.00 so tough! I tried it on my Ibook and it set up okay so I took the WIND key and gave him the TIM. No good deed ever goes unpunished.

Over the past 10 days it has

  • taken anywhere from 5 to 10 minutes to initialize the system.
  • taken between 2 to 5 minutes to connect.
  • taken so long to download basic Google that I was constantly getting time outs.
  • took over 3 minutes to upload a small picture file – a larger one timed out.
  • a check of their system to verify they had service in Assisi indicated it wasn’t a problem – but the signal was so weak that nothing and I do mean nothing was coming through.
  • Sitting on the terrace by the pool at the hotel in Pesaro there was not available signal for over two hours.

Though I have entitled this posting Pissing in the WIND which is what I feel like I’ve been doing the past few days, second thoughts suggest that this should be an outward rather than an inward gesture. If I could find anyone at WIND who seemed to give a damn I’d try it. However at this point I’m home, connected to my faithful FASTWEB – that has only failed me once in 3 years – and secure in the knowledge that on the next trip I will have my TIM key with me.

And I should start posting again. In the meantime I’m open to suggestions as to what to do with the key from WIND?

21 agosto – San Pio X Papa


Though his name is not as exploited as say Mozart’s is in Salzburg there is no mistaking that Rossini is a “native son” of Pesaro. His image appears in many places and there is even a Rossini Torta that can be brought home in a decorative tin as a culinary souvenir of your visit. But this being Italy there is a certain light-heartedness to it all. There is an honest affection for the man who though perhaps its best known citizen is only one of many Pesaresi who have contributed to the world of music (Renata Tebaldi, Cristiano Mozzati0) and athletics (Massimo Ambrosini, Valentino Rossi).

While wandering the back streets of town looking for the old Synagogue we passed by an interesting building that we had remarked on once before. It has all the appearances of a church as indeed it was in the 12th century but its 21st century incarnation is as Casetta Vaccaj, a very pleasant wine bar and cafe. I’ll be writing a bit more about it later but what caught my eye there was a poster for an art exhibition they had a few years ago. It featured the work of Filippo Letizi, a local artist and animator who now works out of Berlin.

His drawings of The Swan of Pesaro echo that affection for the bon vivant, gourmet, wit and genius of the man. These particular designs are on a collection of aprons and shopping bags which he did for the two sisters who own the Casetta and reflect Rossini’s love of things culinary.

Anyone who has been to Pesaro will recognize the beachfront, the Piazzale della libertà with Arnaldo Pomodoro’s lovely Globe of Peace fountain, Casa Rossini, Duomo, Piazza del Popolo and the main shopping street. They are all leading up to the Teatro Rossini in this promotional video Letizi did for the town.

Letizi Pesaro
fil3tto | MySpace Video

For me it captures the charm of one of my favorite places in all of Italy.

13 agosto – Santi Ponziano e Ippolito