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Dozza, Italia 11 September 2011

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Up the hill to Dozza

After Victoria prepared us a farm-style breakfast in the kitchen, we headed up the path to the gravel road leading to Dozza village. The hill is steep, and it was already beginning to be hot, so we took our time ... past the goats and the steep artichoke and bean field, between the kennel and a storage shed, and out onto a narrow country lane leading on up to the village gates.

Dozza is a popular destination. billed as "one of the prettiest little villages in Italy." It is a walled town, with narrow cobbled streets and vehicles mostly excluded.

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One enters the town through a pair of once-defensible gates, the beautiful old brickwork bristling with archer's ports and places to pour boiling oil. How interesting, to reflect on a time when the only wealth was what could be defended. We later discuss this somber subject with Davide.

Within, the town's two main streets are brightly decorated with murals by a collection of artists from all over Europe. This is not just a tourist town, but the shopping center for the nearby farms. We stopped in a well-stocked market with a meat counter for the mortadella and prosciutto cotto for this evening's dinner (for which we were scrupulously reimbursed.) 

We size up the town's four eating establishments, but cannot make a decision -- it is too early. Instead, it is time to explore the castle -- La Rocca -- at the top of the village. With the gates and walls, this little town was a stronghold of the family that held Imola and much of the surrounding territory. 

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Against whom was this formidable castle to be defended? This is never made clear. Its defenses are as strong on the inside -- this is the entry and town-side tower at right -- and La Rocca is endowed with several fall-back layers should successive gates be breached. As Davide will observe on this eleventh day of September, fear is profitable for politicians in any era. Will we ever have to defend our riches again? We who live happily while producing much of our sustenance could stand in sorry helplessness should hungry city cousins come calling. This is on the Italian farmer's mind as well as on ours.

On this day, a lovely Italian fellow cheerfully takes our euros, even granting us elders the senior rate supposedly meant only for locals, and shows us how to penetrate the castle's defenses most expeditiously.

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Either unusually thoughtful, or an important insight into the priorities of the castellan: La Rocca's kitchen is just inside the gate past the guard-room. The local commune has taken great pains to furnish this room with the equipment of the times – fairly recent time, I suspect – but the row of little wood-burners with built-to-fit hand-crank roasters, saute pans, and grills along one side, and the open hearth bristling with pot hooks and rotisseries on the other, with a generous table in the center, suggests that this was a busy place that could feed a substantial complement.

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The soot-darkened ceiling suggests that this room has seen lots of use. I can easily imagine the cook resting in the comfortable chair beside the hearth, his or her feet up on the footstool where the kitchen boy sits when there is a roast to be turned and basted in the wide fireplace. To the right of the hearth, there is a dumbwaiter to the upstairs dining room. It snows here, and can be bitterly cold and foggy more than half the year, and so I can also easily imagine that if there is a comfortable room in the lace, this is it.

In the spirit of the best old and new technologies, we are fascinated by the way these old kitchens function. When farm-to-table was the only option right around the seasons, how did they keep things tasty and interesting?

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Popular history adores exaggerations of the meanness of the past, and so the “torture room” has been romaticized through the centuries. No doubt the keepers of this castle used this room to impress the serfs working the large surrounding estate with their no-nonsense approach to discipline, and scratches on the walls suggest that stays of 20 or 30 days were not unknown.

The castle's history also mentions the “pit of the tormented” in the torture room's floor, but sober research suggests a much less interesting story: packed full of snow, it was used to refrigerate edibles and provide ice and chilled drinks into the summer.

In the basement, two whole rooms were dedicated to the storage of late season produce, especially pumpkins, into the winter. Historians delight in the dark stories, but the daily pursuit of year-'round good food is probably a much better description of what went on here.

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Who lived here? Besides cook, kitchen boy, and the guard, all that remains on the upper floors are the ceilings and a veritable rogues gallery of the castellans starting in 1529. In the formal sitting room hangs a single large painting of Tommaso Campeggi and his family from some time in the early 1700s, clearly a fecund era. Opposite hangs a dour portrait of a woman from the same period, suggesting the woman in the family picture may have stepped in after the other produced the young – but such suppositions may be as romanticized as the story of the pit.


<p>Ceilings on the "royal floor"...

Ceilings on the "royal floor" suggest an overstock of artisans ...

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Outside the Rocca's gates on this hot and sunny Sunday, town life continued vigorously. The 11 o'clock service was canceled in favor of a wedding from which this young exemplar of Italian beauty escaped for a ciggie break. Another small escapee experienced the feel of the bride and groom's escape vehicle under the attentive eye of his father.

All over Dozza's centro storico -- historic center, modern murals adorn the walls, works by artists from all over Europe. Like Dozza, many of Italy's small towns take their status as piu bella borghi d'Italia very seriously. It's very good for business. Dozza entertains busloads of tourists, most of them frm Italy, every summer weekend.

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After a stout and memorable repast featuring a superb Lambrusco frizzante from the neighborhood, we ambled back down through the town and to our farmstay to nap through the heat of the afternoon.

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