As I type this, I cannot believe that I am saying it, but the follow-up to my memoir from May 2020 Italy is My Boyfriendis ready for you to pre-order. I am over the moon. I got some amazing reviews from some of my favorite influencers, and I am extremely excited to share My Italian Guestbook with you. I L-O-V-E the cover! Let me know in the comments what you think of the cover art. I hand-picked the illustrator Melinda Beck; I think she’s extraordinary. Please click here to pre-order your copy. It is full of fun and funny stories from my first ever workshop and last year’s retreats. There’s love, laughter, a few lies, and loads of Limoncello…oh and a little sex too.
Here’s what the Editor in Chief of the Florentine, Helen Farrell, had to say about My Italian Guestbook.
+++ My Italian Guestbook is an upbeat collection of stories about Annette Joseph’s revival of a twelfth-century fortress in the Lunigiana countryside. From the unexpected challenges of La Fortezza’s first photo-styling workshop to a romantic liaison between a local butcher and an American vegetarian, the colorful characters and entertaining anecdotes in this galloping read are bound to make you crave a Tuscan adventure or three.
I was determined to give La Fortezza it’s own crest. Since it’s a 12th-century fortress, let’s face it, it deserves one. I decided to consult one of the most talented artists I know, Betty Soldi. Betty lives in Florence and is an incredible calligrapher and graphic designer. She’s a delight as a person and wonderful to work with. Over the summer we worked on assembling all the elements that would make up the La Fortezza crest. I think that the collaboration was a dream. I am so pleased with our new crest. It gives our space the branding that was meant for it and brings our home to life. Let me know what you think? In the next months, you will see how I use the crest on branding everything at La Fortezza. Here are a couple of things that I’ve used our new crest on.
I had the pleasure of visiting the Podere Concori winery in the Garfagnana region of Italy. This region is the mountainous region just south of where we live, as you drive towards Lucca. Our driver Andrea, who owns Tuscan Drivers, did a fabulous job driving us up and through the mountains; he even stopped to show us where he grew up near, Viagli Sotto high up in the mountains. It was gorgeous. Let’s face it we live in one of the most beautiful regions in Italy! We even stopped off at a national park, which once was a stop-over point for shepherds as they crossed the mountain range. It definitely had an alpine vibe and some pretty weird marble statues.
Okay back to biodynamic wine. Essentially biodynamic wine is grown hyper naturally, using not only natural pesticides but also using the phases of the moon.
The official definition of biodynamic farming according to the Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association is “a spiritual-ethical-ecological approach to agriculture, gardens, food production and nutrition.” Biodynamic wine is made with a set of farming practices that views the farm or vineyard as one solid organism. The ecosystem functions as a whole with each portion of the farm or vineyard contributing to the next. The idea is to create a self-sustaining system. Natural materials, soils, and composts are used to sustain the vineyard. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides are forbidden for the sake of soil fertility. A range of animals from ducks to horses to sheep live on the soil and fertilize it, creating a rich, fertile environment for the vines to grow in. Biodynamic farming also seeks sustainability or leaving the land in as good or better shape as they found it for future generations.
This vineyard also uses ancient methods to rid the grapes of pests and fertilize using sheep and horses and a crazy donkey as well. The wine we tasted was delicious. Although some of the wines, like the white had a funky flavor, which took some getting used to. The owner is committed to growing grapes in this way, but it’s an amazing amount of work. I did take pause and think that maybe we should convert our vineyard in the coming years to a bio-dynamic vineyard? Right now we are organic, so taking the next step might not be a big leap. I will keep you posted. In the meantime, I highly encourage you to taste some biodynamic wine, let me know what you think. Thank you to our amazing driver Andrea and Tuscan Drivers, our preferred La Fortezza Workshop/Retreat drivers.
When a local Italian home goods manufacturer approached me to collaborate, I was pretty thrilled. I was even more excited when I saw that they made all of their products using Cararra marble. The marble mountains of Cararra are located about 30 minutes from La Fortezza. I pass them all the time and marvel at the glow of the distinctive white marble cavities that have been carved out of the massive mountain range for centuries.
The idea that these enormous craters were carved and transported by hand is mind-blowing. Of course, over the years the cutting, collecting, and transporting of marble blocks has been modernized. Still, it is hard work, and the miners are in danger and take great risks to this day. The FiammettaV Home Collection is impressive. But honestly, when I drove to their location, right under the marble mountains where their materials are mined, I was even more impressed. One thing that I cannot get over is my proximity to amazing experiences. I think sometimes the Italians take for granted the amazingness around them. I guess when your office is at the bottom of a marble mountain with the most incredible view, that’s just normal, right? But for me, I am always in shock and awe and frankly pure glee.
Seriously always pitching myself.
Mattia, the PR director for FiammettaV casually suggested that we take a look at the mines where their product materials are mined. I was like, “Sure why not?!” I never expected to be driven literally into the mine. I have never seen anything like it. I have toured the mines before, but this was VIP access, and I was speechless. Which if you know me, takes a lot.
Our driver Michael was amazing, The ride to the top of the mine was treacherous, and the switchbacks were precarious. Some of the steep angles made me laugh; they were so ridiculously dangerous. Not to mention the giant trucks hauling hundreds of tons of marble down the mountain. We had to pull over several times to let them pass. As you can imagine, it’s hard for the loaded trucks to stop once they start their downhill descent. Let’s say it was the most insane ride at an amusement park you can imagine. Once we reached the top, the giant carving machines were in full action. It was so vast that the full Starwars sized vehicles looked like a child’s toy from our vantage point. Some of it was hard to comprehend. At one point we had a view of the mountain and a view of the sea. It was like a dream.
Watching the giant marble slabs fall as they were pried from the mine walls was amazing and unreal. The sound alone shook the ground as the block toppled to the ground. The walls look like art installations, and even the giant blocks look like they belong in a museum. I have always loved marble and marble products. FiammettaV made the experience very special. I will keep you posted on our collaboration. I can not stress enough if you’re in the area, make sure you tour the mines. Head to my site to the free day activities page to book your tour. Grazie mille FiammettaV for the very very special experience.
While the workers constructed the pool deck and the pergola, I shopped for outdoor furniture.
The first thing I wanted to establish was the vibe. Since I have a rather bohemian approach to design, I wanted the pool design to reflect the rest of our space. We love Mykonos, so I thought drawing inspiration from the hotel pools there would be a good jumping-off point. Plus it would look great with the gorgeous view surrounding the pool area. I wanted something serene and cool but nothing fussy or colorful. Although I do love a little quirkiness in my designs, I found that all white was the way to go, and I could add a little whimsy as well.
Most of the furniture is very natural and organic. I found the most amazing pink Bulgarian fish stand at one of my favorite props houses outside Bologna. My friend and partner in crime and producer, prop mistress Barbara took me to this place over the winter. When I entered this warehouse, I nearly fainted from overload…yes beauty overload. I saw this amazing ‘bar.” Actually, they had some extraordinary bars, but this pink one had my name on it, and it was the perfect addition to my pool vibe. We love to make cocktails and serve them, so why not have a really cool pink bar to serve them from?! The bar really made the look of the pool perfection in my eyes.
We bought it, and set a delivery date. Of course the delivery date was on a day we were shooting my new cookbook, La Fortezza Cookbook, and let me tell you, thank God it was because the company sent 1 driver to deliver 1 heavy heavy bar, and we needed all the crew to help unload it. Barbara was a super hero as she not only made a plan of how to unload this 500 pound bar, but she jumped up on the truck and single handedly unloaded it with help from our chef Leo and our stylist’s husband Charlie. It was quite the group effort. Along with the driver, a very nice woman, they managed to unload and place the pink bar without injury to them or the bar.
The pergola serves as a respite from the sunshine, and a breezy place to read or take a nap. I have also been working at the table. In fact I am writing from here right now. I found this really cool table at one of my favorite little stores. It’s actually a chain store much like World Market in the US. I saw the table, but unlike my usual shopping decisions, I did not buy it right away. When I went back the next day, it was gone. They had sold the last one. I asked if possibly there was another at another store location? They looked at me like I had said something so odd they could not wrap their brains around it. In the states that would be the natural question, but in Italy not so much. So I googled the store locations while the girls just looked at each other and scratched their heads. “Here,” I said. “Livorno, could you call and ask if they have the table?” “Livorno?” one of the girls replied, “I guess we could, Si.”
They called the store, and they had 2 tables. “Please have them hold one, and I will come get it,” I said. Now in the US, they would have taken my credit card, and then had it shipped to the house. But not in Italy, no such thing. I waved goodbye, and I jumped in the car and headed to a strip mall in Livorno, about 30 minutes away. When I arrived at the store, I made my purchase and met the salesgirl at the back door to load my table. It would not fit. She said you could strap it to the top of the car. Um, no that sounds dangerous and illegal I thought. I asked for the manager. She walked to the car and looked at the table and the Land Rover, and said this will not fit. “So can I have it delivered?” “No”, she said. Pretty blunt, I thought, but there was no way that this table could not be delivered. She worked at a furniture store how could that be?
Then I looked at my phone and realized it was lunch time, and everything stops in Italy at lunchtime. I surmised she just did not want to deal with me. “We can give you a refund,” she said, mildly annoyed. I was going to have it delivered I thought; nothing would stop me. I asked her to call a delivery company and find out how much to deliver. About 15 minutes later she walked towards me phone in hand and said, “It is very expensive”, …”How much?” I said. “100 euros”, she replied. “Sounds good, I said let’s have it delivered.” She continued to talk on the phone for another 10 minutes and then turned to me and said, they can’t deliver it.” Then she hung up.
Mildly pissed off, I called Barbara the solver of all things. It took her about 5 minutes to call a delivery company and arrange to have the table delivered, the same day. I handed to phone to the store manager, and she and Barbara got it all worked out. I profusely thanked Barbara. Jumped into the car an drove off. In Italy this entire scenario is what we all to refer to as “Normale”(normal). Everything is more complicated, but in the end I got my table, and I LOVE it.
The pool is really great. We love the entire set up, and although it was a project and a half, it was worth all the effort, all the pain, and the endless work involved to make it happen. Remember I am a pit bull when it comes to projects, and NO is not an option. When in Italy renovating, this is the best way to be. Ciao all and hope to see you poolside, here at La Fortezza someday. xx