January 21, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011 - , No comments

Profile: ARCA lecturer Dorit Straus on insuring art


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Dorit Straus, Vice President and Worldwide Specialty Fine Art Manager for Chubb & Son, a division of Federal Insurance Company, will again teach the course, Investigation, Insurance and the Art Trade, in Amelia at ARCA’s 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies program. Straus’ course discusses fine art insurance; the role of the insurance company, the agent and the broker; the insurance contract; risk analysis and selection; losses and claims; theft losses; and interaction with police and law enforcement.

Ms. Straus published an article, “Implications of Art Theft in the Fine Art Insurance Industry”, in Art & Crime: Exploring the Dark Side of the Art World (Edited by Noah Charney) that explains the relationship between insurance and art theft. She has also written a chapter on insuring art in a book by Diane McManus Jensen, Valerie Ann Leeds, and Ralph Toporoff, The Art of Collecting: An Intimate Tour Inside Private Art Collections with Advice on Starting Your Own (Antique Collectors’ Club Ltd, 2010).

Ms. Straus, the Worldwide Fine Art Specialty manager for Chubb Personal Insurance, joined Chubb in 1982. Prior to Chubb, she studied archaeology at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel, lectured on Biblical Archeology and worked at several museums (The Jewish Museum, The Peabody Museum of Ethnography at Harvard University, and the Museum of Contemporary Craft in New York, now known as the Museum of Art and Design). She has underwriting experience in Property, Casualty, and Entertainment as well as fine art. She was a key member of OBJECT ID of the Getty Institute, which established universal criteria for describing works of art. She speaks on art and insurance at international venues including seminars on risk management for museums and cultural institutions at Shanghai University. She was the keynote speaker at a fine art risk management seminar sponsored by the government of Taiwan; a featured speaker at a conference at Dresden, Germany; and a panelist at a seminar on art theft at Cambridge University, United Kingdom, where she met Noah Charney, ARCA’s founder.

ARCA blog: You’ve been quoted in the press that the most common art insurance claim stems not from theft, but from damage done while the art work is in transit.
Ms. Straus: Actually, its damage from a variety of causes not just damage in transit. In severe winter weather, it is not uncommon to see a lot of water damage claims to fine art. For example, excess weight of snow resulting in roof collapses and seepage of water from various sources including below grade seepage. During the summer we see water damage to fine art as a result of severe rains or air conditioners that leak and saturate walls along with the art that hangs on that wall.

Fire, smoke and soot also are major perils that we see on a regular basis. Improper packing or crating and poor installation are also common causes of loss.

I do not mean to minimize theft as an important cause of loss, but as I have written in various articles, there are ways to prevent theft through central station alarms, and through inspections by the insurance company of the premises to point out the weak spots in the security system.

What is much harder to predict is when a dealer who has been in business for many years, goes rogue and starts selling art on consignment in violation of his consignment agreements and or selling the works and not remitting the proceeds to the owners. This can become more prevalent during bad economic times.
ARCA blog: You’ve also said that when a museum purchases insurance to protect its collection, the insurance companies follow up with security inspections and risk management recommendations such as how to protect the art against damage from fire.
Ms. Straus: This statement needs to be qualified. Not every insurance company has staff on hand that can go out and inspect the museum facilities. So it should be a very important consideration by the people responsible for purchasing the museum insurance policy to ascertain if the company has such capabilities. They should also be looking at the caliber of the people who are doing the inspection. The risk management assessment should include not just the security system and its components, but also the fire protection and procedures, including the adequacy of the fire suppression capabilities of the museum and the local fire department. They should be looking at protective devices as well as the human element. Are employees vetted? Do they undergo periodic background checks? Is there dual accountability? There are lots of other considerations that should be taken into account to address and prevent insider theft.
ARCA blog: It’s too expensive for museums to insure their entire art collection. Do they select a blanket limit up to a certain amount that would cover any paintings stolen from the collection? And do insurance companies get nervous when there’s a rare painting by van Gogh, Vermeer, Rembrandt or any other artist that seems to attract thieves?
Ms. Straus: The way museums purchase insurance varies and each museum, unless it is a governmental entity, makes those decisions based on their own assessment of risk taking. In the US, most museums are private not-for-profit organizations with a board of directors who make those decisions. Also, those decisions are made based on the size of the collection, the type of collection, and by the finances of the institutions. Major art museums are going to take a different approach than historical societies, or a natural history museum.

Many museums in Europe are state owned and therefore the decision making on risk transfer is not their own, but is directed through a governmental entity. There are also government indemnity programs that are similar to purchasing private insurance. However, generally when museums borrow from one another or from private collectors the risk transfer then is typically insured for the value of the loan amount.

When underwriting a museum, one considers the total collection and evaluates the exposures as a whole; one does not look at individual works by certain artists and decide that those are more attractive to a thief.
ARCA blog: You once said that stolen works of art are only recovered 10 percent of the time and, on average, take 20 years to be recovered. Are you surprised when objects are noticed in pre-sale catalogues by large auction houses? Do you expect that they should have done more due diligence or examined the painting’s provenance before listing the work for sale? Is provenance research too time consuming for many of these art houses?
Ms. Straus: I am not surprised that items are flagged as stolen in pre-sale catalogues. The sheer volume that goes through the auction houses is so enormous and rapid. Very often these works have already passed through several owners before they reach the auction house, and these owners may indeed be “innocent purchasers”. I do expect, however, that the auction houses conduct due diligence investigations when they sense that there may be something wrong with the consigners or the work itself, whether it’s a question of illegal ownership or authenticity.
ARCA blog: What kind of art insurance issues have kept you up at night, metaphorically speaking, in the past six months? What do you see as the riskiest areas in insuring art?
Ms. Straus: We have been going through terrible economic times, so I am concerned about moral hazard either by fraudulent insurance claims or from dealers who are stealing from their clients.

I am also particularly concerned about the trend of art as investment and regarding art as an asset class. I don’t want to generalize, but when you start thinking about art as a commodity rather than as an object that expresses our humanity and our culture, it loses its importance and it becomes interchangeable solely as a money exchange. Maybe I am naïve, but when you value something for more than its monetary value you have a personal stake in it along with making sure that you invest in protecting it properly.
The application deadline is today, January 21, for ARCA's 2011 Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.

January 20, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: Pasticceria Massimo's Appearance in Daniel Silva's Novel 'The Defector'


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

While studying in Amelia at ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime Studies in 2009, I looked forward to July 21, the release date for another book in Daniel Silva's series on Gabriel Allon, art restorer, spy and assassin. Downloading the book from Audible.com would allow me to listen to The Defector on my iPhone although I was in a medieval town in the middle of Umbria. And although I had been looking forward to this book since Silva had signed my copy of Moscow Rules in 2008, I would not be able to listen to the book until midnight.

That day, a Tuesday, Monica Di Stefano, Italian teacher extraordinaire and gracious Umbrian host, guided a group of students and attending family members through Narni, visiting a church, the duomo, and a stage theatre. We lunched on curried chicken, pesto trofilo, and meatloaf with mashed potatoes at a cucina off a side street. Desserts, baked there, included a flourless chocolate torte, a fruit crumble, and a crème brulee.

We explored Narni underground, an area discovered by some children in 1979 when they climbed into the vegetable garden of an old man who asked them to explore an area from where he could feel fresh air. Inside the opening, they discovered an old church used by the Dominicans from the 12th century and beyond that Inquisition torture chambers. A prisoner in 1759 had left carvings on his cell wall explaining his name, his military rank of corporeal, and signs related to Christianity and masonry. The man was likely a leader of the guards for the Inquisition chambers and had been put in prison for 13 years because he had tried to save another guard from torture. Another prisoner of the Inquisition was accused of having two wives -- something awful in Italy because two wives meant two mother-in-laws -- and when he killed a guard and escaped, he ended up in L'Aquila, outside the protected walls of the papal empire. The hidden chamber also revealed two skeletons, including one of a tall woman with a full set of teeth and clothing tied by ribbons at the sleeves, not sown, putting her in the 19th century.

After this field trip, we returned to Amelia, prepared for the next day's lecture and not until midnight did I insert earphones to listen to The Defector. Minutes later I heard: "Chapter Four, Amelia, Umbria."

Silva's Gabriel Allon describes the town:
"Amelia, the oldest of the Umbria's cities, had seen the last outbreak of Black Death and, in all likelihood, every one before it. Founded by Umbrian tribesmen long before the dawn of the Common Era, it had been conquered by Etruscans, Romans, Goths, and Lombards before finally being placed under the dominion of the popes. Its dun-colored walls were more than ten feet thick, and many of its ancient streets were navigable only on foot... It's main street, Via Rimembranze, was the place where most Amelians passed their ample amounts of free time. In late afternoon, they strolled the pavements and congregated on street corners, trading in gossip and watching the traffic heading down the valley toward Orvieto."
Allon enters Pasticceria Massimo and orders a cappuccino and a selection of pastries.

So the next day, after waking at 9 a.m., breakfasting at 10, ironing at 11 and getting dressed at noon, my family and I followed Gabriel Allon's path into Pasticceria Massimo to try the cappuccino and cream puffs. Massimo, the owner, and a woman wearing eyeglasses behind the counter -- possibly the model for the girl who had served Gabriel Allon in the book -- did not know of Daniel Silva or his books but were pleased to learn of the connection.

The Illy espresso was delicious, the foam smooth, and the service gracious. We later learned of Massimo's great tiramisu cakes and added Pasticceria Massimo to our daily routine. We were able to share our story with Daniel Silva and his wife Jamie Gangel who sent a signed bookplate to "the girl who presided over the gleaming glass counter of Pasticceria Massimo" as Daniel Silva wrote in his book. In exchange, the woman in the eyeglass at Massimo's, of course her name was Daniela, sent a memento of Amelia to Daniel Silva and is waiting for The Defector to be translated into Italian.

My first visit to Massimo's was followed by a two-hour Italian class with Monica Di Stefano and then a lecturer by Diane Charney, a French Literature Professor at Yale University, on the heroic work of Rose Valland who copied the negatives of looted art works processed through the Jeu du Paume in Paris during World War II.

That evening, after a trip to the fromaggerie for fresh yogurt and cardinale cheese in the afternoon, a group of us dined on pizza at Porcelli's Taverne and then two of us walked Diane Charney to her guest apartment on Via della Repubblica until Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard's Art Crime and Antiquities Squad, joined us on the street. When I introduced myself, he said that he had already met my husband and children earlier that day. The four of us chatted long enough for his wife to call and wonder what had happened to him when he went to park the car.

Without the aid of my journal, I would not have remembered that finding Amelia mentioned in Daniel Silva's 2009 novel was sandwiched in between Narni underground's Inquisition torture chambers and meeting Scotland Yard's Richard Ellis. But I have recalled those two days here for those potential candidates considering the program who wonder about the consequences of enrolling in ARCA's Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies. It was not a summer of lectures and assigned readings I had anticipated -- the rest of the summer could fill another novel!

Photo: Daniela Grillini, Pasticceria Massimo, possibly the model for Daniel Silva's character who "presided over the gleaming glass counter."

Pasticceria Massimo
Via delle Rimembranze, 8
Amelia (Tr)
Chiuso il lunedi/Closed on Monday

January 19, 2011

Wednesday, January 19, 2011 - , No comments

ARCA 2011 Student Zachariah Mattheus on Going to Amelia

Zachariah Mattheus will be part of ARCA's 2011 summer program in art crime studies and cultural heritage protection. He is an independent art director and graphic designer working in branding, print and web design. HIs professional collaborations over the past ten years with Warner Music Group, Rhino Records, Kerouac Films, Bloomberg, Conde Nast, Envirosell, Vox Guitars, The New York City Ballet and Jordache exhibit his penchant for the telling of great stories. His work can be seen at www.zachmattheus.com.

ARCA Blog: What is your academic background and how did you come to commit to a summer in Umbria studying art crime?
I received my degree in Graphic Design from The School of Visual Arts. I came across the ARCA program in a NY Times article about 1.5 years ago. I already had a fascination with art crime, especially forgery, from reading every book I could get my hands on about the subject, both non-fiction and fiction (Fake!, The Forger, The Rescue Artist, The Lost Van Gogh, The Art Thief, etc). The ARCA program was the logical next step for me in immersing myself further into the world of art crime.
ARCA Blog: Have you traveled or lived in Italy and what would you like to do there when you are not attending lectures?
I have lived in Italy twice before, once as a student in 1999 and once as a teacher in 2002-03 in Florence at Studio Art Centers International. It was there that I met my wife-to-be Jess Hayden who will be joining us in Amelia this summer. We are both very excited to return to Italy, especially to an area that we do not know and are eager to explore. We love a good dinner party, although she is definitely the chef, and intend to eat and drink our way through the summer. While we are there we intend to spend some time with old friends and explore the areas along the Adriatic and in the south. And of course get back to Florence and one of our favorite restaurants, Garga.
ARCA Blog: The program culminates in the writing of a publishable article. What area of art crime or cultural protection would you like to research?
At this point I would say I would like to further explore the world of forgery, but after seeing the ARCA prospectus who know what direction I will be pushed in once classes begin.

January 18, 2011

Profile: ARCA Lecturer Richard Ellis speaks about "Art Policing and Investigation:


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

Former Detective Sergeant Richard Ellis, founder of Scotland Yard’s Art and Antiquities Squad, will be returning to Amelia next summer to teach “Art Policing and Investigation” from August 1 through August 12 at ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies.

Mr. Ellis ran the Art & Antiquities Squad for New Scotland Yard from 1989 until his retirement from the police in 1999. After working for Christie’s fine Art Security Services and Trace recovery services, in 2005 he joined with security and conservation specialists to form the Art Management Group. He is also director of Art Resolve and Art Retrieval International Ltd.

As a specialist art crime investigator both in the police and in the private sector, Mr. Ellis has been involved in many notable recoveries such as ‘The Scream’ stolen from the National Gallery of Norway in 1994, Audobon’s ‘Birds of America’ stolen from the State Library in St. Petersburg, antiquities looted from China and Egypt as well as the recovery of numerous items of art and antiquities stolen from private residences throughout the United Kingdom and abroad including in 2005 silver stolen Stanton Harcourt and in 2006 paintings by Bonnard, Vuillard and Duffy stolen in London.

ARCA blog: Mr. Ellis, how would you describe the scope of your course? And how can students best prepare for your class?
Mr. Ellis: In scope, I have tried to ensure that my course gives the students a clear understanding of the breadth of cultural property crime, the responsibilities of the police/law enforcement nationally and internationally and the legal basis upon which investigations are built. The art market is global and cultural property crime mirrors this in every way, from theft and the disposal of the stolen objects, to fraud and the faking and forging of cultural objects. For a criminal investigation to be successful it is essential that the investigator understands how to project the investigation in to other jurisdictions, how evidence is legally obtained and then presented in courts foreign jurisdiction.
ARCA blog: In your course, you speak about working closely with former smuggler and Dutch art dealer Michel van Rijn. Does he still help the authorities and are you still in contact with him?
Mr. Ellis: I use Michel van Rijn to illustrate not only the importance of "informants" to the criminal investigator, but also the problems that "informants" can create for an investigator and hence the care that must be used when dealing with such individuals. I play an interview that I recorded with Michel in 2004 at the request of the Dutch Government, which was played to an EU conference to illustrate how criminals fabricate provenance and the difficulties that this presents for all those involved in cultural property. I am still in contact with Michel, which provides me with a constant insight in to the darker side of the art market. Michel will of course help the authorities if it is in his interest to do so and this is another reason why I introduce him to the students. Understanding why people become informants is essential to being able to use them and the information that they provide safely and legally and this is another part of the scope of my course. Understanding why people become involved in cultural property crimes, their motives and expectations will assist the investigator in reaching a successful outcome to a case.
ARCA blog: In the past three decades, do you think police agencies are more or less interested in investigating stolen art and antiquities? Do you think there are more resources out there today? What role does the Internet play in investigations today?
Mr. Ellis: The past three decades has been interesting in respect of the response to cultural property crime by the police in many countries. At the start of the 1980's there was little interest in this area of crime with the exception of Italy, who throughout this time have devoted considerable resources to protecting their cultural property and investigating those responsible for the theft of it. In 1984 the art squad at Scotland Yard was actually closed and its 14 detectives were dispersed on to other crime squads. In the USA the FBI had no dedicated team and only in the police departments in New York and Los Angeles was there any recognition that art and antique crime posed a problem. It was largely due to the restructuring of the art market during the 1980's and the rapid increase in prices that this generated that criminals recognised the potential in art crime. The resulting increase in crime forced law enforcement to adjust and review the situation.

By the end of the 1980's I had reformed the art squad at New Scotland Yard, the FBI in New York were handling an increasing number of international requests through one dedicated office and in Los Angeles an art detail was put in place run by a detective Bill Martin who was later appointed to the President's advisory panel on cultural property crime. During the 1990's more countries recognised cultural property crime as a problem and with the end of the cold war and the opening of international borders the trafficking of cultural property crime grew rapidly becoming a major concern.

The introduction of computer systems during this period, which recorded and made accessible information on stolen objects was a major step forward and Interpol has been able to provide a central record of at least the most important stolen cultural property. France, Italy, the USA and a handful of other countries developed their own databases of stolen cultural property supported by dedicated investigators. UNESCO developed a programme of workshops through which it was able to raise awareness of cultural property crime and by utilising the help of specialist police officers such as myself, it delivered a programme designed to assist countries in protecting their cultural heritage.

There followed a number of high profile cases which illustrated how with the cooperation of these dedicated national squads successful prosecutions could be achieved such as the recovery of the Scream and the prosecution of Tokeley Parry and Fred Schultz to name but two of my own cases. However, as we entered the new millennium, other international crimes overtook cultural property crime in importance for law enforcement. Drug trafficking, people trafficking and terrorism now occupy the top three positions and with the global economic crisis financial fraud has also moved above cultural property crime in importance and I fear that we shall see a gradual reduction in the number of specialist officers dedicated to cultural property crimes. This makes the work of ARCA all the more important as the private sector will now be required to handle the many crimes and disputes left untouched by law enforcement and only through some serious academic research to demonstrate the true scale of the problem that cultural property posses will governments and law enforcement agencies be persuaded to direct more of their limited resources to it. The internet offers a fantastic tool for the investigator in terms of information about objects and where they are appearing on the market for sale. It does not however replace the need to actually talk to victims of crime or to interview those in possession of disputed items in order to reach some kind of resolution to a dispute. These are skills that you can only gain by actually doing the job and no amount of internet research will give you those skills.

Finally and in answer to the last part of your first question, "How can students best prepare for your class?" I would suggest that they cover as many art thefts and investigations as they can find in books and on the internet. To keep an open mind on who has committed the crime and not to be influenced by the often ill-informed opinions of the journalists. To read "The Irish Game" by Mathew Hart, which sets out probably the most thoroughly investigated art thefts of a single collection and gives a good insight in to who commits such crimes and how the criminal has arrived at the routes to market available to them for iconic works of art. A topic to be covered in my class.
ARCA blog: Thank you, Mr. Ellis.

The application for the postgraduate program in Art Crime Studies and Cultural Heritage Protection is this Friday on January 21.

January 16, 2011

January 14, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: A view from the Historic Center


by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

This view from inside the historic center of Amelia is of Via della Repubblica looking down to the Porta Romana, the main gate of the town. The street is lined with shops. A coiffeur salon just inside the Porta Roma extends like a well-lit cavern alongside the medieval walls. Continuing up the street are clothing and jewelry stores, a fabric store, a pharmacy with the town's longest lines in the morning and evening; a hat shop; and Giampiero's shoe store where he can be found most mornings greeting his friends and clients with a smile and "Ciao, Ciao!" When Giampiero is not too busy at the shoe store, he walks up two doors to help his brother-in-law Luciano Rossi serve lunch at Punto Divino. A deconsecrated church, San Giovanni Decollato, once the Ospedaletto, a hostel for pilgrims traveling to or from Rome, opens sporadically to display and sell art and crafts for charity.

January 13, 2011

Thursday, January 13, 2011 - ,,, No comments

Amelia, Umbria: Porcelli's Beats Out Napoli Pizza



by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

One of the reasons for our fondness for the restaurants in Amelia is certainly due to the ubiquitous owners who have to close their eating establishments to get any time away from their businesses. Valda, as she is known by her customers, the smiling and gregarious owner of Porcelli's, arguably serves the best pizza in Amelia. Personally, I favor the gargonzola cheese with sliced pears and crushed almonds. My children love the nutella pizza that Valda often presents to regular customers at the end of a late meal. Then there's a salad that's only on the Italian menu that has greens, kiwi fruit, and walnuts dressed with a vinaigrette.

Many people prefer pizza from Napoli. However, when my family and I tried the pizza in Napoli, I had to agree with my husband -- even as I enjoyed a seven cheese pie -- when he said, "This pizza is not as good as our pizza." I understood he wasn't talking about pizza from Pasadena. Because after living in Amelia for a month, 'our pizza' had become pizza from La Misticanza or Porcelli's. The pizza in Amelia typically has a thin crust, with cheese topped with thin slices of toppings such as zucchini, eggplant, red peppers, prosciutto, or even truffles. Oil does not drip through the pizza boxes or congeal on the plate as in California. With whole pies selling from three to eight euros, we ate pizza daily.

Valda, with her trademark dark eyeliner and long eyelashes, opens her taverne in the evening and keeps it open for as long as her customers and musicians play. It's not unusual for someone to arrive at midnight. Porcelli's is carved into the hillside and has spacious dining rooms stretching into caverns whose walls are decorated with art by Valda's deceased husband. The space is perfect for musicians to perform long into the night without disturbing the neighbors. However, the customers smoking outside Porcelli's doors on Via Farratini may not be so accommodating if the party is particularly good. And the party, like the pizza, is always good.

January 12, 2011

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - ,, No comments

Amelia, Umbria: La Misticanza




by Catherine Schofield Segin

Two of my classmates, Lauren Cattey, a criminologist, and Katie Ogden, an art historian, and I were sitting at one of the many shiny metal bistro tables on the patio of Bar Leonardi overlooking the Piazza 21 Settembre, the large open space outside of the walls of historic Amelia. As students of ARCA’s Postgraduate Program in Art Crime Studies, we had by then survived three weeks of lectures, five days a week, five to six hours a day. Our course time had cut into prime grocery shopping time that on Thursdays in Amelia meant from about 8 a.m. to about 1 or 2 p.m. when the stores closed for the afternoon and the evening. Drinking espresso drinks and prosecco, nibbling on potato chips and nuts, we watched the Italians around us, smartly dressed in various hues of purple, the men with their man-bags which held their cell phones and cigarettes, the women who that summer flagrantly displaced purple or leopard bra straps. We considered our options for dinner – inexpensive pizza from the shop across the park – and then we ran out of ideas. We’d eaten lunch at Punto di Vino, as usual, and could return since it was the one place that always remained open.

Our counting of purple outfits – we often reached double digits – was interrupted by a tall man who exited from a car in a parking space in front of us and ambled over with a piece of paper. In either Italian or English, likely the latter as that is why he chose us, he asked how he could find La Misticanza. We were baffled. We'd lived in Amelia for more than three weeks and although it was a small town and we were always discovering a new food market or shop -- and sharing the information as to when they were open -- Porcelli's was closed on Tuesdays, Cansacchi was closed on Wednesdays and Le Colonne was closed on Thursdays -- we hadn’t heard about this Misticanza. The fair haired man, now we were guessing he was German, claimed that he was meeting friends so in helpful desperation I recalled a pretty sign with a floral motif outside a bar door across the road from Bar Leonardi and directed him around the corner to the left.

This bar we had sent the newcomer to seemed to be deserted during the day and yet attracted a boisterous crowd in the evening but we'd never been inside the open doors nor had we seen a menu. So, as soon as it grew dark, we crossed the piazza, stepped into the sit down area of a brewery and walked up to the cashier and then peered into a side door to find a crowded dining room overlooking the Porta Romana. Using our rudimentary Italian, we ordered what we thought was one plate of salami and cheese only to receive three large platters of antipasto. We were laughing by the time the pizza arrived but didn’t turn down what would become one of our favorite pizzas, the caprese, a puffy crust covered in slices of tomato and mozzarella with basil and drizzled with olive oil.

We would return a few more times, very careful to order just pizza, as the gregarious and talented chef could be creative with the menu and the bill. Many long evenings were spent in the place we came to know as “Crazy Johnny’s” where nothing is predictable except the excellent quality of the food.

Tomorrow’s post will highlight Porcelli’s, a pizza tavern inside the historic center.

Top Photo: View of the Porta Romana from La Misticanza
Middle photo: The dining room of La Misticanza
Bottom photo: Caprese pizza

January 11, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: Punto di Vino's hospitality



by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

While Bar Leonardi is the prime meeting place in Amelia, Punto Di Vino, a wine shop and cafe operated by Luciano Rossi and his extended family within the medieval wall of Amelia, fed me, connected me wirelessly to friends and family, and fed my chocolate addiction with double chocolate biscotti.

My first day in Amelia in 2009, as one of the students in ARCA's Postgraduate Program in Art Crime Studies, fell on June 2, a national holiday to mark the end of the monarchy in 1946 and the beginning of the new republic. I lived in a new apartment above Bar Leonardi but when I stepped out of my door mid-morning into a rainy and windy day the piazza was empty. I would later learn that few people venture out into the rain. If you want privacy in Amelia, pick a Thursday afternoon (when the shops close each week) during a thunderstorm in the summertime when fewer people are out than at 3 a.m.

After drinking just one caffe latte at Bar Leonardi, I walked south and found a warm shop, Pizza & Company, with rotisserie chickens and platters of grilled and lightly fried vegetables and sheets of pizza which looks like what we call foccacia in the States. Still jet-lagged and fairly oblivious to what a national holiday meant in Italy, I purchased some grilled eggplant drizzled with olive oil and chives and a serving of roasted potatoes, thinking that I'd return to the shop in the afternoon (which did not reopen because it was also Tuesday).

I walked for hours through the town. It is not that big, but it is beautiful and I kept stopping to take pictures such as the one of the view through one of the gates of the town. After a visit to the duomo, viewing the cathedral's beautiful art and listening to the wind howl, I toured the Cisterne Romane where the Romans had stored the town's water, and then stood outside the doors of the closed archaeological museum until retreating into what seemed like the only open establishment in town -- Punto di Vino.

Luciano's son, Alessio, was likely working as he spoke English and oriented myself and the other students who wandered in that evening and throughout the night.

Although we would gradually discover other great eating establishments in Amelia, the hospitality of Punto di Vino was extended to us for lunch, during the afternoon siesta, and for dinner. Other restaurants may close once or twice a week in Amelia, but Punto di Vino stays open all the time during the summer. It is located on Via della Repubblica inside of the historical town so it's opened doors allowed visibility to everyone who came in and out of the city. In addition, Luciano, his son Alessio, and his daughter Francesca answered endless questions about the town, its customs, and provided fresh food such as salami and cheeses, risotto with fungi, and insalata di pomodore (a "divine" tomato salad with olive oil, vinegar and lemon).

After a day of grey clouds and cold, the warmth of Punto di Vino on that first day was the best of Italian hospitality which has never paled. The next day, a Wednesday, I was startled when I stepped out of my apartment onto the piazza to sunshine and hundreds of people milling around Bar Leonardi.

Tomorrow I'll write about how it took us three weeks to discover one of the best restaurants in town that was just across the road from Bar Leonardi.

Photo: Luciano and Alessio Rossio (standing) pictured with Robin Munro Tyner, Julia Brennan, and Colette Loll Marvin (2009 ARCA students).

January 10, 2011

Amelia, Umbria: Everyone gathers at Bar Leonardi




by Catherine Schofield Sezgin

ARCA's Postgraduate Program in International Art Crime and Cultural Heritage Protection Studies will be held for the third year in Amelia, Umbria, in 2011. The deadline for student applications has been extended to January 21, 2011.

Amelia is a beautiful walled medieval town about an hour drive north of Rome. It can also be reached from Rome by taking a train to Orte, then taking either a bus or a taxi to Amelia. Most visitors directed to Amelia are instructed to meet their host where all roads leading to the old town converge: Bar Leonardi, an establishment across from the main entrance to the old town, the Porta Romana, and on a piazza adjacent to a park.

Bar Leonardi opens very early in the morning and stays open late and, most importantly, in Italy, it stays open all day. In the morning, customers typically pick up espressos and cornettos, read newspapers, and greet friends and business partners. In the afternoon, during siesta, the bar can be quiet except for customers dashing in to play the lottery or to pick up cigarettes. After siesta, people emerge and gather again, drinking prosecco and more coffee. Of course, only the Americans order lattes and cappucinos so late in the day and although the server may admit to a wry smile, he will bring the milk-based drinks that cease for Europeans by 11 a.m.

I have just a bit of advice for a regular customer at Bar Leonardi: be consistent. Espresso drinks are inexpensive and plentiful; however, the cashier, who is often the ever-present owner, prides himself upon greeting you by remembering your order and the whole charm of buon giorno will be marred if you have to correct him with your whim of the day.

If you like a cappucino, then a latte, and maybe an espresso later on, I recommend that you order a cappucino from Bar Leonardi, another from Massimo's Pattisserie across the street, then cross the piazza to the smaller bar run by the red-headed Amelia to order a latte, and when you're ready for your fourth drink, maybe another latte or cappucino in the afternoon, you can visit Caffe Grande inside the walls and their staff will prepare you anything and include an artificial sweetner if you prefer.

Decaffeinated espresso is always available in Amelia's coffee bars. My bartenders well remember me for my order of 'decaffinato doppio cappuccino, per favore' which was a unique request in Italy although not in California where I normally reside. In Amelia, the cappucino is one euro or less; in Los Angeles, it's $4 so you can understand my free-for-all on the decaffeinated drinks.

Another reason people go to Bar Leonardi: everyone in town eventually goes to or passes Bar Leonardi so you can just sit at an outside table and wait. If your friend doesn't walk by, someone who knows your friend will walk by, and you can inquire, have you seen so and so, and that friend will be able to say, yes, I just saw them in Punto di Vino or at the Biblioteca because it only takes about 15 minutes and a pair of strong legs to cover the commercial area of Amelia which offers a few grocery stores, a couple of great eating establishments, many takeout places, and boutique clothing stores.

Later we'll talk about procuring food in Amelia -- when restaurants are open and closed requires knowledge of the weekly schedule.