Venice and Fonte De Amore in October
The phrase ‘Sunny Italy’ is cliché, but according to the locals, don’t expect it in October. So the Visionalist crew was seriously fortunate that our recent travels to Lo Stivale, ‘The Boot’, was accompanied by beautiful weather nearly the entire way.
For starters, we puddle-jumped between Amstererdam and Venice, where local-boy-made good Giuliano Zuccato was kind enough to play host to the city of his childhood. Zucatto, a clay modeler of some renown, with thirty-one years in the Ford design studios before retiring in the Eighties.
Zucatto emigrated as a teenager, and before finding a ‘New World’ job contracted a rare form of tuburculosis that landed him in a full body cast in a Windsor hospital for eighteen months. It was during this time that he discovered his talent for sculpture, and a patron from the area pointed him in the direction of Ford Motor Company as a way to cash in on his hobby. In the years following, Zuccatto worked closely with Ford’s top designers to create some of the company’s most influential vehicles. But fine arts seems to be at the core of Zucato’s soul, and an exploration of the palaces and basilicas of Venice with him was more than educational—it was a sentimental reunion of artistic spirit in a sense, since Zucatto’s great-something uncles, Valerio and Francesco Zucatto—were responsible for some of the finest 16 th century mosaics in St. Mark’s cathedral. While in Venice, we stayed in the convent of Suore Francescane di Cristo Re, where the good sisters proved both gracious and filled with joy of life. Giuliano Zucatto, who himself is an accomplished mosaicist, proudly displayed his own work of art hanging within the convent.
In Zucatto’s hometown of Bannia, in the province of Pordenone, we filmed in the rustic, river-powered sawmill where he’d spent his formative years cutting timber for the locals. His cousin still lives there, still runs the mill, which dates, in part, to Roman times.
Another mill in town is called L’Ultimo Mulino, and has been converted to one of the finest hotel/restaurants in Friuli. We dined in luxury—a many-course feast featuring the world-renowned crustaceans of Venice—and accompanied by the President of Pordenone, the affable Elio De Anna, whose grandfather lived thirty years in Cleveland, Ohio. A convention in the province required our being housed an hour away from Bannia, in the pretty town of Udine, which is a surprisingly scant twenty miles from Slovenia.
From Friuli, it was a long drive through the backbone of Italy, with our invaluable tour guide, Joe Bernardini of Livonia Travel, manning the wheel, educating us about Italian traditions and translating at the most opportune moments. Joe, born and raised in metro Detroit, comes from a tightly-knit Italian American family and speaks fluent Italian. No argument from the Visionalist crew: we couldn’t have done the trip without him. We arrived late in Sulmona, a picturesque town situated in the valley of the Gizio river in Abruzzo, and the following day, met up with John and Lina Del Signore.
John and Lina are well-known Detroit area restrauteurs best known for their Laurel Manor Banquent Center, which is operated by their son Tino and daughter-in-law Nanci) and Bacco, where their son Luciano is chef and co-owner. The pair met in the Fifties in a small Abruzzan town with the perfectly appropriate and impossibly romantic name of Fonte D’Amore (Fountain of Love), and subequently (for thirty-eight years) ran a beloved Livonia restaurant of the same name whose August closing is much lamented.
We spend several days in Fonte D’Amore, treking up to the mountainside hermitage of St. Onofrio, truffle-hunting with John’s brother Enzo, filming countless interactions in the twice-weekly Sulmona open-air market, visting the burial sites of the Del Signore family, and most importantly, getting to know their extended family, which includes brothers, sisters, cousins and so on. This delightful group so embraced our crew, in every sense of the word, that we are left with a genuine understanding of heartfelt Italian hospitality.
From Sulmona, we traveled to Rome for a late-night, adventure-filled trip to the Colosseum, and from there, regretably, a six AM flight from the Land of Saints, Poets and Sailors back to the land of early snow and a foiled grab at the World Series.