Often in my conversations and in my stories, I say that “the travel gods smile upon me”. I am not certain when exactly I started to use that term, but I do know that the blessing of those travel gods goes back to my first “real” overseas adventure which was a trek by car through much of Turkey some 17 years ago. i understand that Saint Christopher is the patron saint of safe travels and I must believe that he has been with me through the years as well. I have been blessed with safe travels all these years and I pray to continue to remain under St. Christopher’s watch and care.
But those little travelgods that I refer to-they are the ones who playfully bless you with unforgettable travel adventures and memories! I imagine them as being little Putti–the Cupid-like characters in many Renaissance and Baroque paintings. Here is a depiction of some putti…. .
A bit mischievous looking those putti, aren’t they?
This week, the travel gods were particularly mischievous. They, along with my dear Italian friends, ensured that I had quite a memorable adventure one recent day. One of the key components of being “smiled upon by the travel gods” is having experiences that could never be found in tourist guides. Those experiences often occur based on friendships amongst locals. I had one of these experiences with my dear friends from Ferrara. I was going to take the train from Florence for a weekend visit. Serenella suggested that I arrive in Bologna so that we could explore that city a bit and have dinner there. She also suggested that I stay through Tuesday as her husband, Andrea was participating in a cocktail competition. I knew a bit about what this was about as they had shown me photos of some of Andrea’s cocktail creations. They were amazing. Intricately carved flowers, birds, butterflies, etc. from fruits and vegetables-anything edible can be used. I knew that the cocktail competition would be interesting. I had no idea how much so!
We arrived in the seaside town of Riccione for the day of the cocktail competition. Riccione is a town that wealthy Italians visit in the summer. There are many high-end shops and a very pedestrian friendly promenade. It was a blessedly beautiful day and the walk down to the seaside was a wonderful surprise. I had not seen the seaside in Italy since I had traveled to the Amalfi coast with my sister about seven years ago.
The cocktail competition was quite interesting and exciting. The morning competition was among students. The stage is setup with three fully equipped “mini bars”. Three contestants compete at a time and they must conjure up three glasses of the same cocktail within seven minutes. A huge electronic sign shows the countdown and an announcer lets the contestants know how much time they have remaining. You could feel the jitters from some of the young people as for most, if not all, it was their first competition. The recipes for cocktails must be their own, developed under the guidance of their teachers. There are judges on stage who watch all the moves, handling of ingredients and measuring/mixing skills. The cocktails are then carefully carried on trays to the Appearance and Taste judges. Not a bad job to have and the judge closest in the photo gave us a few sips as we watched!
It struck me what serious business this all was. There was definitely a fun and interesting aspect to it as a spectator, but for the participants, winning was a very big deal for their education and careers. For in Italy becoming a professional barrister. bartender or wait person is a serious career. You can see that in the way that these people treat and serve you every day here in Italy. Both young woman and young men competed. The three winners were all young women. That was nice to see as I think previous generations were quite male dominated in this profession. The grand winner was a quite heavyset young woman. Everyone else in the contest was slim and pretty. She was physically the “odd one out”, but her skill and talent was the BEST on that day. She was so happy that she was crying and I felt so happy for her. It was a very nice moment. You are able see the winner in the photo below on the left in the first photo and with her award in the second photo After a lunch of delicious panini, the afternoon adult competition was to begin. I am told that not only would I be watching that, but that there was also a regional Miss Italia competition on the stage that afternoon I knew this was going to be interesting! The adults, like the young students, competed in groups of three with the same type of judging. Interestingly enough all the adult competitors were men, which rather indicated that I may be correct in thinking that it is changing with the generations. One could easily discern that the level of confidence, skill and professionalism increased greatly in the adult competition.
I was not surprised at this, since I have seen the pride and passion that Andrea has for what he does. Photos here are of Andrea preparing his cocktail and of the finished product The beautiful radish flower garnished cocktail is Andrea’s creation. He created and carved the flower the night before at home. His wife and I helped to choose the most beautiful as he carved several radish flowers! Amazing and he was awarded a third place!
That was all exciting enough, but then of course we had the bonus of the Miss Italia contest. The women were as expected, very beautiful, for there is certaintly no shortage of beautiful people in this beautiful country.
I had recently read that viewership is down dramatically for the Miss Italia contest, very much like the Miss America pageant in the United States. Although I hesitate to buy into this as entertainment, I allowed myself to relax and just enjoy the moment. I did note, however, that the judges pretty much all had silver hair and were all male!
I was surprised that most of the contestants had blonde hair, as most Americans envision the quintessential Italian beauty as having dark hair.
They had a swimsuit competition and an evening dress competition.
A few of them did talent competions. This contestant was my favorite and she did win the talent portion. Surprisingly most of the women had frowns or were definitely not wearing smiles. I suppose it was supposed to be some kind of sexy look. This woman wore a beautiful smile throughout the competition and she got my vote for what that was worth!
So it was quite the day! A beautiful day with great friends. A very Italian Day that I could never had found on the tourist map. A day blessed by the travel gods!