food / travel

In Mantua, Discovering The Italian Origins And Delicacies Of Halloween

Italians have ancient claims on the origins of the ever more global holiday of Halloween. In Mantua, where Jack-O-Lanterns -- called "lumere" -- light the roads to cemeteries, others may be more interested in the delicious dishes made wi

Pasta with pumpkin is on every menu in Mantua (alessandraelle)
Pasta with pumpkin is on every menu in Mantua (alessandraelle)
Luca Bergamin

MANTUA - Halloween, Made in Italy. Actually, locals say it was invented here, in the northern Italian city of Mantua. For centuries, the night between October 31 and November 1, residents have hung carved pumpkins with a candle glowing inside: along roads leading to the cemeteries, on windowsills and on trees to scare the wayfarers. Mantua's Jack-O-Lanterns are called "lumere," and are celebrated with a big party attended by people dressed up as witches and wizards on October 30. The following night, according to the legend, the candles inside the carved pumpkins will help the souls of the dead to find their relatives who are still alive and have prepared for them a meal of pumpkin tortelli.

In the first century AD, the Latin poet Martial celebrated pumpkin in his Epigrams. "You'll eat it as an appetizer, then as a side dish, and finally as a dessert… there are bland flat cakes, candies of every kind of shape and size, and pastries…" The giant squash are one of the most important ingredients of Mantua cuisine. Nothing must be thrown away. Leaves, pulp, seeds and flowers are all ingredients for cooking delicious food.

In the 18th-century Corte Sguazzarina in the village Castel Goffredo, at the foot of the slopes surrounding Lake Garda, there are pumpkin cooking classes. Pumpkin can be served as a hors d'oeuvres with mustard and parmesan, in cakes with herbs, in risottos with mushrooms and sausages, in cannelloni with lard, in breaded veal cutlet, in cookies with spices and in cakes with chocolate and almonds.

Over all, tortelli are the most beloved pumpkin dish. Tortelli are stuffed pasta which was the favorite food of Isabella d'Este Gonzaga, Marquise of Mantua, who, according to legend, inspired the recipe to the chiefs of her court. Today, every Mantua housewife has her own recipe and shapes tortelli in squares, rectangles, small bags and candies.

From the poet Virgil to Michelin stars

Vera Bini, chef of the Michelin-star-rated Aquila Nigra restaurant, serves up the tops in tortelli. "Pumpkin has an almost human quality," Bini says. "Its life lasts from October to March and you have to figure out when it is just at its best." Bini says the secret for the best stuffing for tortelli is mixing amaretto, apples, mustard, nutmeg, parmesan, and good pumpkin, adding a dressing of butter and sage.

The ancient Romans used to eat pumpkin. Probably even Virgil, one of Rome's greatest poets, who was born close to Mantua, appreciated it. He is currently been celebrated with an exhibition in the 16th century Palazzo Te in Mantua.

The exhibition is showing for the first time in Italy the face of Virgil, which was portrayed in a mosaic discovered in 1896 in the Roman villa in the ancient city of Hadrumentum, in Tunisia. In the mosaic, Virgil has a slightly receding hairline and a pensive look. The muses of history Clio and of tragedy Melpomene stand on either side of the poet. On Virgil's lap there is a volume on which is written his epic poem Aeneid.

Virgil has always been the most famous and beloved Mantua native. But now, the Lovers of Valdarno are challenging his supremacy. They are two human skeletons, dating back to the Neolithic era, which were found in a necropolis in the village of Valdaro in 2007, huddled close together, and are now on display at the Mantua Archeological Museum.

Just outside Mantua, you can sail the channels covered by millions of green lotus flowers in Mincio Park. In the park, grey herons fly free with Mantua's Basilica of St. Andrea and the medieval towers as a backdrop. The fishermen's boats along the Mincio River carry you to the small village of Grazie dedicated to the Virgin Mary and famous for its sanctuary adorned with odd ex-votos and statues.

But if possible, it is best to arrive in autumn, when the Halloween pumpkins are displayed in downtown Mantua, and locals burn the cane thickets along the river. The view of the red sky over the valley will continue to enchant poets and writers for centuries to come.

Read the original article in Italian

photo - alessandraelle

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Air Next: How A Crypto Scam Collapsed On A Single Spelling Mistake

It is today a proven fraud, nailed by the French stock market watchdog: Air Next resorted to a full range of dubious practices to raise money for a blockchain-powered e-commerce app. But the simplest of errors exposed the scam and limited the damage to investors. A cautionary tale for the crypto economy.

Sky is the crypto limit

Laurence Boisseau

PARIS — Air Next promised to use blockchain technology to revolutionize passenger transport. Should we have read something into its name? In fact, the company was talking a lot of hot air from the start. Air Next turned out to be a scam, with a fake website, false identities, fake criminal records, counterfeited bank certificates, aggressive marketing … real crooks. Thirty-five employees recruited over the summer ranked among its victims, not to mention the few investors who put money in the business.

Maud (not her real name) had always dreamed of working in a start-up. In July, she spotted an ad on Linkedin and was interviewed by videoconference — hardly unusual in the era of COVID and teleworking. She was hired very quickly and signed a permanent work contract. She resigned from her old job, happy to get started on a new adventure.

Others like Maud fell for the bait. At least ten senior managers, coming from major airlines, airports, large French and American corporations, a former police officer … all firmly believed in this project. Some quit their jobs to join; some French expats even made their way back to France.

Share capital of one billion 

The story began last February, when Air Next registered with the Paris Commercial Court. The new company stated it was developing an application that would allow the purchase of airline tickets by using cryptocurrency, at unbeatable prices and with an automatic guarantee in case of cancellation or delay, via a "smart contract" system (a computer protocol that facilitates, verifies and oversees the handling of a contract).

The firm declared a share capital of one billion euros, with offices under construction at 50, Avenue des Champs Elysées, and a president, Philippe Vincent ... which was probably a usurped identity.

Last summer, Air Next started recruiting. The company also wanted to raise money to have the assets on hand to allow passenger compensation. It organized a fundraiser using an ICO, or "Initial Coin Offering", via the issuance of digital tokens, transacted in cryptocurrencies through the blockchain.

While nothing obliged him to do so, the company owner went as far as setting up a file with the AMF, France's stock market regulator which oversees this type of transaction. Seeking the market regulator stamp is optional, but when issued, it gives guarantees to those buying tokens.

screenshot of the typo that revealed the Air Next scam

The infamous typo that brought the Air Next scam down

compta online

Raising Initial Coin Offering 

Then, on Sept. 30, the AMF issued an alert, by way of a press release, on the risks of fraud associated with the ICO, as it suspected some documents to be forgeries. A few hours before that, Air Next had just brought forward by several days the date of its tokens pre-sale.

For employees of the new company, it was a brutal wake-up call. They quickly understood that they had been duped, that they'd bet on the proverbial house of cards. On the investor side, the CEO didn't get beyond an initial fundraising of 150,000 euros. He was hoping to raise millions, but despite his failure, he didn't lose confidence. Challenged by one of his employees on Telegram, he admitted that "many documents provided were false", that "an error cost the life of this project."

What was the "error" he was referring to? A typo in the name of the would-be bank backing the startup. A very small one, at the bottom of the page of the false bank certificate, where the name "Edmond de Rothschild" is misspelled "Edemond".

Finding culprits 

Before the AMF's public alert, websites specializing in crypto-assets had already noted certain inconsistencies. The company had declared a share capital of 1 billion euros, which is an enormous amount. Air Next's CEO also boasted about having discovered bitcoin at a time when only a few geeks knew about cryptocurrency.

Employees and investors filed a complaint. Failing to find the general manager, Julien Leclerc — which might also be a fake name — they started looking for other culprits. They believe that if the Paris Commercial Court hadn't registered the company, no one would have been defrauded.

Beyond the handful of victims, this case is a plea for the implementation of more secure procedures, in an increasingly digital world, particularly following the pandemic. The much touted ICO market is itself a victim, and may find it hard to recover.

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