“In fourteen hundred ninety-two~

map of italy- Beyond the Pasta- Mark Leslie

~ Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Happy Columbus Day!

In honor of good ole Chris discovering America – or getting close enough, depending on who you ask – I thought I’d post some sea images I have taken during my visits to Italy. Maybe you’ll be inspired to cross the “ocean blue” to visit Christopher’s homeland. È bella!

On your way to see the Sistine Chapel at the Vatican Museums, you will walk down a long, and I mean LONG, corridor lined with maps. Enormous oil paintings depicting the world as it was thought to be. Some of these paintings are easily 10-feet tall and twice as wide. Here is a view of part of the legend for the map of Sardinia, an island off of Italy’s western coast.

These maps, besides showing land, also depicted the many dangers that awaited seafaring craft. I have to admit that I think this creature is incredibly beautiful. I don’t know who the artist was but – BRAVO!

Naturally in Italy, if you show the evil that awaits you on the sea, then you must show the good as well. I am not sure who the saint is with the Virgin on the back of the winged lion. I’d love to hear of someone has an idea of who he might be.

Images of the sea are not limited only to paint in Italy. Here is an ancient floor mosaic at the Villa Giulia, Rome. This is an incredible museum located in the Villa Borghese park, just down the road from the Roman zoo.

The Villa Giulia houses a “nymphaeum” with a loggia overlooking it. Even if you have never heard of that word before, you can certainly figure out that there are bound to be some nymphs around. The stag sea creature (above) is part of the loggia floor mosaic. You must walk across him to gaze down over the railing at the nymph fountains below.

From tiny mosaic floor tiles in Rome to a large painted tile map embedded in the stucco wall above the main gate – porta – to the coastal town of Amalfi.

tile map above the Amalfi porta- Beyond the Pasta- Mark Leslie

Here the fortunes of the sea were best realized for roughly 300 years from the early 800s up to the end of the 1100s. Yes, Amalfi is that old and it was truly that RICH.

I know we certainly felt rich when we stayed at the Hotel Aurora. Looking out of our window every morning we were treated to a view of some anchored yachts. I can only imagine how incredible it must be to sleep on a yacht off the coast of Amalfi. The view from the water looking at Amalfi and the coastline must have been stupefacente – amazing!

Going back north of Rome and even north of Viterbo, the sea has its affect on the local culture, too.

At Il Parco dei Mostri – The Park of Monsters – in the little town of Bomarzo, you will find all manner of sea creatures sculpted in the park. Created in 1552, it is a curious place where creatures, a tilting house, Hell mouths, even an elephant are strewn about the grounds. Sea creatures are an integral part of the Italian culture whether you live next to the water or are hundreds of kilometers away in northern Lazio.

I wonder what creatures Columbus encountered on his voyage toward the New World? Mermaids, giant squids, sirens, maybe even an ancestor of Moby Dick’s could have been waiting for him as he sailed west.

Oh, since it is Columbus Day on Oct 12 – here is a video that I remember seeing during some junior high social studies class in the late 1970s. The video is from 1960 – you’ll be able to tell.  Watch it. You’ll have to suffer a Toyota ad in German first, sorry.

I really wish I could find a link to the Looney Tunes episode of Bugs Bunny with Columbus…remember, Queen Isabella all bejeweled and sexy? Bugs ends up helping Chris prove that “the world she is-a round, like a melon” by throwing a baseball around the world. When Bugs catches it, there are stickers from across the globe on it. Mi piace Bugs Bunny molto!

Ciao e a presto~


About the Author

Mark LeslieMark Leslie, seen cooking on NBC’s "The Today Show" and Hallmark Channel's "Home & Family," loves to cook for anyone with an appetite, vacations in Italy every year, and lives to eat his way through every plate of pasta and cone of gelato placed before him. His first book, “Beyond the Pasta: Recipes, Language & Life with an Italian Family,” tells of his life in Italy while cooking with an Italian grandmother. He shares his food experiences on his blog at www.beyondthepasta.com and has taught cooking classes in California, Georgia, Minnesota, Texas, and across Alabama. While judging for high school culinary events, he was chosen by the US Department of Education to judge for their "National Education Startup Challenge." Mark can be regularly seen cooking on NBC-affiliate, WSFA-TV 12's "Alabama Live! each Friday, bringing easy, locally sourced recipes to central Alabama. His iTunes app “Beyond the Pasta” features helpful videos and more of Nonna’s family-style recipes that she shared with him, plus, upon its release, it was named “New & Noteworthy” by Apple. DaVinci Wines chose Mark as their "2012 Storyteller" in Language Arts—where they sent him to Vinci, Italy, to write about wine, food and life. Mark, his home and book have been featured in such national publications and blogs as House Beautiful, Paula Deen, Food Republic, The Kitchn, Apartment Therapy, Field & Stream, and The Daily Meal. A Chicago-area native and “Yankee” by birth, Mark has lived in Alabama for over 24 years, and celebrates the fact that he started life eating farina, progressed to grits, and finally arrived at polenta. Buonissimo!View all posts by Mark Leslie →

"Beyond the Pasta" is owned and operated by Mark Leslie. Unless otherwise specified all content, writing, recipes and photography is original and held in copyright through the Library of Congress. It may not be used without the express written consent of Mark Leslie.