This month starts off cool. We go to Terni to see if we can find faucets for our new bathroom vanity and sink. On the way to the Edificio Hydraulico, we are stopped in traffic. A policeman is diverting traffic, and out my window I see a huge mercato. This is the weekly market in Terni, and of course we must take a side trip and check it out.
What an experience! There must be a hundred stalls, almost everything under €10. except the shoes, which are not much more. Two dozen roses for €3. Zip up wool sweaters for €8 each. We each buy a sweater and I find a pair of black watch plaid slip-in slipper-shoes for €6. A long braid of beautiful red onions for €4. Fish vendors, porchetta vendors, fruit and vegetable vendors, and clothing of all kinds. Towels, embroidered sheets, kitchenware, wicker baskets, real birds and puppies and hamsters and turtles. This is an amazing market. We will come again!
Three plumbing supply stores later, we cannot find the faucets I want. Later in the day, we remeasure and start to think that finding the right sink may be a problem.
I go for an x-ray for my neck and right shoulder, and it costs €36.90 at the Orte hospital. I pay in advance and get a computerized ticket. Then I go to the radiology room down the hall, which is not more than a waiting room. I press a buzzer and the door opens. A woman takes my paperwork and about five minutes later a scruffy looking young man opens the door and beckons me inside. I think it is a joke. He is wearing a brown striped sweater and is chewing gum. No white jackets anywhere....I see an x-ray machine that looks as though it was built before WWII. Along the walls are boxes and boxes stacked to the ceiling of supplies. I have no idea what they are for...There are just dimension numbers in black marker on the sides.
He tells me to take off my glasses and then my shirt. I am thinking they should be playing some kind of "Help me make it through the night..." music in the background. I do what he asks and he then unhooks the gold cross from around my neck. There is a young woman standing by him just looking. He brings me up to the x-ray machine and tells me to step up on a platform. In about five minutes it is over and five minutes later he tells me to get dressed and shows me the x-rays. They look fine, and I can return on Saturday to pick them up. Nothing major is wrong, so I walk back to the Duomo and find Roy and Sofi just arriving in the car.
We go to Marco Ottaviani's house, for Roy to remeasure the new piece of furniture. He has so many dogs, and I am unable to get out of the car with Sofi. We stay huddled inside while a big Maremanna dog licks his chops at the window beside me. Ten minutes later Roy appears, pleased that we will have more room than he thought, but no enough room to get a regular sized sink.
We go to Tessicini in Lugnano to look for a piece of marble for the bathroom vanity, and Franco helps us. He remembered us from five years ago, when he helped us with our kitchen counters. We bit off a big challenge with this piece of furniture...It may not be deep enough for a regular sink. He helps us to design the counter, and gives us a really inexpensive price. Marble does not cost a great deal here, but then again, it is the land of marble...
As is our custom, we drive around and around to find just the right components. Franco advises us to drive to Civita Castellana, south of us. He calls it the Mother City of ceramica. That means sinks and tubs and toilets and bidets...Surely we can find what we want there. We will then call Marco and ask him to add a panel on each side of the piece to give it added depth. We have worked it out carefully and it will look as though it was made to be a sink base. We really enjoy this kind of project.
At home, I practice the violin while Enzo Rosati comes to do his annual inspection of the hot water heater. He brings a vacuum cleaner and tools. Roy thinks it is a kind of a sham, because he gives us a receipt, spends fifteen minutes cleaning out the back of the heater, and then charges us €28. If he does that at every house in the area he'll do really well...Sometimes we stranieri are too cynical and suspicious. Perhaps he is performing a good service. Anyway, Sofi likes him. He stops and gently strokes her until he has her confidence and then has her shake his hand with her paw. She is smitten.
This morning before going to Orte, we stop at the Attigliano weekly market and buy a fish called Spigola. It is a fleshy white fish, and we ask the fish monger to clean it. He scales it and cuts off the heat and tail. That's about it. So just before dinner Roy steps in and cuts off the gills and the big bone in the center. We think that although the fish is very tasty, we will probably order fish in restaurants from now on unless we come upon someone who will actually clean the fish for us. I am not sure I want to learn how to clean a fish. Somehow the romance of it all is lost on me.
Felice saw us as we drove up this morning, and told us that he prepared the land near the peach tree to plant broccoletti. It needs to be planted "after the twentieth of the month"...so that must mean the phase of the moon will be right. Roy likes broccoli, so we will do that. Did I tell you that the pepperoni looks excellent and the sedano (celery) is delicious? I had no idea that celery could be so tasty, just cut. The rugghetta has bounced back and we are hoping it will escape the little bugs earlier in the year.
Found some tiny tiny black bug in the rugghetta, so sprayed a tiny bit of soap and water to see if we could "clean it/them out". Catharine gave us some chard and finocchio, so we will plant that in a day or so. We wanted overcast weather for so long, and it is here. The air is heavy and the clothes do not want to dry. They seem to lazily want to hang out on the drying rack all day. That is fine with me.
We are renting DVD's at night, and our first one from the Attigliano shop we rented last night is a black and white Fail Safe. What a creepy plot! It is fairly new, but shot in Playhouse 90 style. The time seemed so na•ve compared to what is going on now.
Cut it out, Arnold. We are sick of hearing about you here, so can imagine what it is like on the TV and in the newspapers at home. Bob Kalsey refers us to a website to check out: http://www.arnoldlifestyle.com. What are you people doing back there? We leave and you start fumbling around with the economy and won't take any responsibility. Then you want this guy for governor. I should talk. Our Prime Minister actually thinks he's a comedian. He is a joke. I'll admit that. Now that I think of it, who in their right mind would run for political office? And what does that mean for all us sheep?
We drove to Civita Castellana and found a sink at the first place we stopped. We found our faucets at the second place. We were able to take the sink home but the faucets will take a week. Civita Castellana has so much porcelain that we probably had hundreds of factories to choose from. We realized that we need a standard sized sink, and will add side panels to the back of the sink piece, instead. The piece of marble will be a great fit on top. Roy will meet with Marco to work out the details...without Sofi and me. The other day when we drove to his house, Sofi and I were held prisoners in the car, surrounded by drooling huge white maremenna dogs, while Roy went inside to confer with Marco.
Tonight we rented the movie, Freda about Freda Kahlo, artist and wife of Diego Rivera. Selma Hayek's performance was stellar. I even stayed awake for it.
We pick up my x-rays (the Italians call them R-X) from the hospital in Orte and will take them next week to Dottoressa. I think she will set up some rehabilitation appointments for me. I also get my hair done...a great job for an amazing €35. While I am waiting for my hair to take in the color, I am able to have an actual conversation in Italian with Daniele's mother and a woman from Sippiciano about our car theft. This woman's car (a Volvo) was stolen in the same manner as ours, from the plaza in Sipicciano, a town ten minutes from Mugnano. She was also gassed. The carabineri were no help. She knew about us, and we shared condolences.
We spend the entire afternoon and evening at home, and it is a joy. The birds of spring have returned, warbling in the nespola trees. Sofi and I spend an hour or two next to the lavender garden. I manicure two boxwood that appear to have died from the summer heat. Slowly, slowly, I cut away the dead leaves, and they both show new growth. It is a painstaking job, but the results are excellent. Next week Mario will take out all the lavender...except for a few scattered around the garden, the plants in the lavender field are dead, dead, dead. They are starting to look ridiculous in their prissy round globes of dead stalks. Felice will scatter dichondra seeds in two areas, and we will see if we can have a ground cover below the big olive tree and under the trees by the front fence.
We receive an email from Suzanne Ciani, who will be in Italy in a week. It will be good to see here again, and to take a trip up to Lucca with Sofi.
It's Sunday, and the air feels like a towel on the line that refuses to dry. We drive up to church and the church is full. Relatives in town...There must be great pranzos all around the village today. Giuliola comes in and appears taller than ever, perhaps because she comes over to us before mass and puts her arm around me. She is a gentle giant, and tells us about some kind of festivities in Soriano on Friday and Saturday. She wants us to get dressed up in some kind of medieval costumes...We agree but must go up to see Giuliola and Livio this week to take a look at what we have agreed to put on.
After church, I comment on Elena's black leather jacket. It looks very much like my gray one, and she puts her arm around me and tells Roy we are twins (gemelli). I agree, and point to our blonde hair and say, "naturale" and she laughs. She points to my eyes, which are brown, and hers, which are a blue-gray...Whatever does that mean? We have some fun trying to communicate and then Roy and I get in the car to go home to pick up Sofi.
We drive to a town north of Spoleto, but pass many signs on the superstrada for a trattoria, so we take Sofi there for pranzo. The man at the front desk asks us if she will behave. Magari! I say to myself. We are put in a corner behind a big screen. The food is so mediocre that I do not eat my papparadelle with tartuffo. It tastes watery and, well, tasteless. Roy likes his pranzo, a strozzopretti pasta arribiatta (spicy) and that pleases me. Sofi is kept quiet below me with pieces of bread. A seeing-eye dog comes in with his owner. They are seated next to us and Sofi barks two barks. She does not understand that the dog will ignore her. Luckily there are some very noisy children nearby, so our little doggie does not create a stir.
We leave the restaurant and it starts to pour. Sofi is put in back and she burrows into the carryon we have for her, going to sleep. We drive north past Spoleto to an outdoor market in Clittuno. We find an old wicker tray, but it is so wet that most vendors have their wares covered over with plastic cloth. This is not a day conducive to looking around. We get back in the car and drive to Chiusi and then to Sarteano, to see Dorothy and Charlie and Kristin and Dave and their friends. We love the house. When Shirley and Rich rented it with their daughter last year, we fell in love with it. The house is featured in the book, Private Tuscany, and it is rented out for most of the year. No wonder.
The day dawn clear and bright and cool, but by noontime it is hot and we are able to put up tables and umbrella and get ready to eat outside with Dorothy, Charlie, Kristin, Dave, and Karina, who takes the train up from Rome just for pranzo. Just as they arrive, Austin is coming up the walk to get to his new property, and we greet him. It is strange because he speaks a little English, which is hardly ever spoken at all in Mugnano. Earlier in the morning, Roy drives to Lugnano to meet with Franco about the bathroom sink project.
It is such a warm day that we set up the big square table on the terrace and have to put up the big umbrella to give us shade. After everyone gets a tour, we sit down in the sling chairs on the other side of the front terrace for our welcome spumante and figs from the garden with gorgonzola and slices of chinghale salami.
Then it's time for polenta and for segundi a mixed grill. Peach granita for dessert and cookies from the Sardinian bakery. Lots of wine...Nebbiolo from Piemonte, Vino Nobile from Tuscany, Orvieto Classico from Umbria...
Dave and Charlie take off for a bike ride...a loop to Lugnano...Amelia...Giove and back. It takes them just over two hours. In the meantime, Kristin and Dorothy and Sofi and Roy and I take a walk through the village and come back and hang around. It is good for all ouf us to just relax with each other.
After they leave, we have a quiet evening. Just a snack of dry pecorino cheese with slices of apple and honey and a glass of red wine. We so love sharing our lives with our friends and look forward to seeing them again on Thursday evening at their incredible casale in Sarteano. We will certainly recommend the house to anyone who wants to stay in a fabulous place for a week in Tuscany. Can you imagine...the house even comes with a maid for three hours a day who can also cook. She can prepare meals as a separate charge, and on Thursday her husband will cook a goat on the outdoor grill. We will try to remember to take some pictures. The woman who designed the house has an incredible eye for fabrics. I think she imports them from India. I will find out....
We drive to the Viterbo market to look for some Porcini mushroom. This is mushroom season, especially after the rain, but we cannot find them. We settle for white mushrooms. Perhaps we will find some tomorrow.
Roy takes me to get a pedicure, and then we go home. It rains and rains. We have cacciatore, made with the leftover chicken and pepper sauce as a base. We watch the move The Others and have a quiet night.
Roy encourages me to go to Dottoressa in the village this morning with my x-rays to see what she has to say about my shoulder and arm. The weather starts as overcast but at around nine there is a real shower. At ten, however, the rain stops and the sky is bright blue and very clear. Go figure. Roy wants to eat outside, but we agree that it is not a good idea today. We set the table in the kitchen before driving up to the village.
It takes more than 30 minutes to get in to see Dottoressa, because I am fourth in line, and the couple before me takes so long that the husband even goes out in the middle of their session to get Dottoressa a café. Terzio and Rina grumble, or rather Terzio grumbles and Rina looks up at the heavens and rolls her eyes at the couple still inside with Dottoressa. Terzio leaves angrily. Outside, the weekly mercato is in full swing. There are only three vendors, porchetta and meat, clothes and housewares. But each place has plenty of activity. I am amazed at how much is purchased at these weekly markets.
When it is finally my turn, Dottoressa is in a very good mood. Perhaps it is the café. She looks at my xrays and tells me I have some spine degeneration, which accounts for both my ongoing headaches and pains in my arm and shoulder. She prescribes physical therapy at the hospital in Orte, and I agree to go there after my violin lesson on Friday.
We drive right home afterward, because our next guests are due at l'una. Since we now are invited for dinner tonight at Diego's, we will change the menu to an antipasto and a small risotto. When we are greeting our guests, Austin, (he pronounces it something like Oushtin...he is Norwegian) walks up the walk. As he passes the front gate I look down and ask, "Do you think we give nothing but parties here?" He is very polite and shy and tells me he thinks not. "Well, we do! We will invite you soon!" He is flustered and walks quickly down the path to his new property, not knowing what to think.
I have found a recipe for a simple peach dessert in an Italian cookbook: Cut a peach in half, take out the pit, crumble walnuts in each center and cover the open halves with melted chocolate. Boil equal amounts of sugar and water until the sugar dissolves, and pour a thin coating over the top. I find little round ramekins that just fit the peach halves, and put a little Grand Mariner and a dob of melted chocolate in each one before the peach. I heat the chocolate in the top of a double boiler (we have found bars of extra fondente...dark chocolate... in a market in Amelia) and completely cover the tops of each peach with melted chocolate. I put the filled ramekins on a cookie sheet in the oven and will heat them for 20-30 minutes at 350 while we are eating the risotto.
That done, Roy grates cheese and I fix trays of: bruschetta of tomatoes, garlic, basilico and olive oil on some, olive tapenade on others. Slices of melon with prosciutto, a small dish of marinated anchovies, a few olives, fresh celery from the garden, figs from the garden with gorgonzola, sliced cheese and some of that wonderful chinghiale salami, sliced with toothpics.
For Segundo, we have risotto Milanese (with saffron) and sautéed mushrooms in Madeira wine sauce. Orvieto Classico works fine with the whole meal, although we started before the meal with Brut spumante from the local cooperative. Everything seems to work. The dessert is a big hit.
After pranzo, we take a walk up to the village and by this time (4:30 PM), people are out walking. Sofi wags her tail mightily and seems to dance up the hill. We meet three women who love Sofi and greet here by name. Then Giovanni, then Italo. Italo is coming out of his cantina across the street, and I ask him if the carved pepperino over the cantina is old. He tells me no, so I ask, "Cinque anni fa?" and he nods yes. I ask where Dina, his wife is, and he tells me she is in Rome. "Pobre Italo!" I exclaim, and he shakes his head that he is not sad. "Vacanza per Italo!" I exclaim and everyone laughs. He nods in agreement. We move on.
Strangely, Brik the dog has led our little walk. Ding pats him on the head and he struts as though it is his duty to lead newcomers around the village. He scorns Sofi but slowly does his duty, meandering through the tiny streets with us.
On the way back downhill, we come to the fountain on Via Mameli, where a new group of villagers sit outside. Baschia is there with his master, and Sofi behaves like a saucy lady with him. Everyone laughs. We tell Ding and Paul on the short walk back to our house that the people of our village are very proud of Mugnano. So they love having us walk with our guests, and make sure they greet us with a smile. They all know how much we love the village as well.
Back at home Ding and Paul leave, and we agree that we will see them in a few hours. When we arrive at Diego's converted monastery, where they are staying, the whole place is lit and there is a fire in the enormous fireplace in the great room. We have dinner there, and the only others are a trio at one other table who appear to be from the U.S. As usual, too much food, but we are able to speak with Serena, who leaves tomorrow for cooking school in France with Paul Bocouse (sp?) Diego tells her that after two years she can return and teach him how to cook.
We are a little sad for Ursula, Serena's mother, because Diego and Luciana will drive Serena tomorrow, and Ursula will stay behind. We will call her tomorrow to see how she is. Diego is his usual kind self, but is too busy to spend much time with us. We ask him advice where we should buy our six olive trees for the property next to San Rocco and he tells us not to get them now. They might freeze if they are planted now. Instead, plant them in February. He will give us six if we call him then. We love his olive oil, so his trees must be wonderful. But we certainly don't expect him to give them to us. We will see.
We drive home under an almost full moon. The sky is crisp and clear and the air cold. It is good to get under the down comforter with the window open and drift quickly off to dreamland.
Roy wants me to go to Orte to see if I can get in without an advance appointment for physical therapy, but the hospital is very confusing. I am told to go upstairs to the right, but there are many closed doors and people sitting out in the hallway. I meekly knock and open a door on the right, only to have a doctor in a white coat behind a desk holler at me and throw me out. He is giving a consultation to a young woman, who leaves soon after. I apologize to her and she tells me to enter.
I make some more profuse apologies, telling him I am a stranieri and am having trouble understanding where I should go. By now I am almost in tears, and he melts and smiles, telling me he understands, sending me down the hallway to an open door to the left. I find someone who wants to know if I have an appointment. All I can do is make an appointment. A young girl in a white coat sits down and opens a huge lined notebook and takes my name and prescription and phone number, writing everything down in this kind of log book. She hands me back my prescription and tells me they will call me in a few weeks. I can do nothing to get them to move up the date. She shows me the long list of people waiting in front of me who have not yet been called.
Back in the car, Roy thinks we should see if our umbrella insurance will cover the physical therapy. Perhaps we should go to the American Hospital in Rome for a consultation. We will check at home to see. We are now thinking like Italians. Since we pay an insurance premium, perhaps we can get some of it back in services.
We go to Michelini in Viterbo to reorder the lavender...forty very small ones. Tiziana tells us that the variety is the typical Italian type, quasi English...quasi French. We know we like it. Our last lavender all came from here as well. We also order one more Lady Hillington rose for the front wall. Sofi is a big hit, as usual, even though in her excitement she piddles on the floor. Lucia tells us we have picked a very unusual name for our dog. She likes it very much, but has never heard a dog called Sofia before. Sofi returns the complement with a big kiss. All the nursery items will be delivered next week. In the meantime, we will get Mario to come and take out the dead lavender and prep the field.
Back at home, we see Austin, the young Norwegian, sitting on the wall across from our cancello. Sofi and I walk over after we park to greet him. He is waiting for someone, and we talk about how much we all love Mugnano. The gentle quietness of it all appeals to him as well. We invite him for pranzo some day next week. He responds, "There is a problem. I am a vegetarian." I reassure him that that is not a problem for us.
He tells me that his choice has nothing to do with food, but he wants to be conscious of the animals. I laugh and remind him that he is wearing a leather belt. He looks down and tells me he is a pragmatist. So I respond that if he is truly a pragmatist, he will eat meat....Our volley is a kind one, and in good spirit. We have a short conversation about what bad gardeners we all are. The good news about his garden is that it is not visible from the street, so if his vegetables don't survive, no one will really know. He is a friendly and somewhat shy young man, and we look forward to getting to know him.
I especially look forward to asking him what color hair he has put on his license. This is the first really bald man I have met whom I can ask. Since receiving those George Carlin jokes, I am so curious to find out if bald men put "niente" on the space where the color of their hair should go.
We make a deep dish peach pie to take to dinner tonight. The peaches we have are large and ripe. So although it is not a particularly Italian dessert, I want to take something home made. And I have no idea what dessert goes with goat......
Giuliola and her niece and another woman we see at church every week come by with my dress for the corteo on Friday and Saturday. It is a simple garment, long and flax colored linen with a gathered top and sleeves and a long sash. There are also brown tights. Gioliola tells me to wear a turtleneck underneath...it will be cold. Roy's costume will be ready tomorrow.
We drive up early and return to Cetano, then take a short walk around Sarteano. Sarteano is lovely. It has a simple tuscan renaissance feel to it, and the little streets are immaculate. Walking by an alimentary, we look in to see fruit so perfect we think we are looking at a huge still-life. Sofi spends most of the time in our arms, as there are many dogs roaming around Sarteano, off-leash. She loves the town anyway.
Rising up out of Sarteano toward Dorothy and Charlie's "hill", we are guided by an almost full moon. The sky is clear and navy-blue, with the moon sitting full-on like a bright yellow hat. We open our windows to take in the snappy crackling sounds and heady scent of burning leaves and Sofi rides the open window like a bowsprit, ears flapping back, nose up, wind blowing her little beard flat across the bottom of her snout.
The house is alive with the sounds of many conversations going all at once. A cacophony of laughter. Romano is at the open fireplace, turning a well-cooked goat carcass, legs akimbo. We are handed glasses of red wine and Sofi darts all around, greeting guests and sniffing the floor.
The peach pie is a good idea. It is one of three desserts, and is given the place of honor, displaying birthday candles for Dorothy and Charlie at dessert. So you probably want to know about the goat. Capreto is what it is called. It does not taste like much of anything...interesting taste, succulent, a kind of grey color. The homemade minestrone first is really tasty, as are the beans in a red sauce.
Everyone makes us feel so at home. We spend much of the time giving ideas to people for the next few days of their trips...Dorothy and Charlie to Sovano, Kristin and other friends back to Florence, others to Orvieto, an idea to go out to the coast instead of spending more time shopping in tourist cities...we feel like guides and it is fun.
Sofi and I sleep on the way back, guided by our excellent driver, who apparently does a fine job. We wake up just as Roy backs into the driveway. We bid goodnight to the jolly moon and go upstairs to dreamland.
My arm gives me more trouble during the night, and we take my x-rays to Alessandra. She explains them to me...some degeneration...arteriosclerosis of the bones, but the tendons seem to be not what they should. So the good news is that the pain is not from bone problems. She works on me for an hour and tells me to get an x-ray of my left arm and shoulder and not to play the violin for at least a few weeks.
On the rugged drive up the steep hill to Alessandra, we pass a man on a tractor, dropping hay behind him wherever he goes. A little farther on is a very long metal feeding structure, with bars up and down so that cows can get their heads in between the bars to eat. Grass and hay is piled up in front of them. It is a marvelous chorus line of tan and white cows, each one more beautiful than the next. They all look pretty much the same to me. I wonder if I had a whole head of cows (is a group of cows a head?) how I could tell them apart. They seem so content, without a thought why they are being fed so well...
That makes me sad, and we go from there to my violin lesson, where I sit with Tiziana to tell her how sad I am that I will not be able to play for a little while. I have an appt. with Alessandro next Friday, so perhaps I will be on the mend soon. Roy calls the insurance company, and they will not cover rehabilitation treatment without surgery, so we will see if Ofelia will write me a new ticket and we will go to Terni to a place Tiziana recommends. It does not make sense that I wait three weeks or more to get in to a clinic. That is the Italian medical system, however, so we are doing our best to work around it. All in all, the system works fine for us.
Roy picks up his costume from Livio and Giuliola in the afternoon. It is certainly attractive...a tan wool tunic over a white collarless shirt and the same brown tights as mine. With the black belt and sandals Roy will be his usual handsome self. I fear I will look like a washerwoman, but this is a poor village and I will enjoy my role anyway.
We dress and drive up to Soriano, which is lit like the Golden Gate Bridge and stands tall and proud in all its greyness. We park below and take the hundreds of steps... piano, piano to get to the square. We do not see anyone in costume on the way up and no wonder. We come out of a medieval portico in the main square to see...no one in costume except a few folks from Mugnano! Hundreds of people line bleachers and in the center are the same stands we use for the medieval festivals in Mugnano...chestnut vendors, a stall "selling" flour, stalls "selling"...bracelets and necklaces, tiny bottles of grappa, jams and honeys, items of copper, tiny ceramic bowls, Livio's pristine handmade woven baskets...and a stall "selling" fruit and vegetables. We eat a chestnut prepared by Livio and mill around. It is fun. There are about twenty of us from Mugnano, and we are supplying the "local color" for the evening's entertainment.
After about an hour of us milling around, and one of our group even cooking sausages, we hear some announcements and there are several ornate chair set at one end of the square. This is to be a court of some kind, and tied in ropes and held by three soldiers is an accused strega, or witch. Evidently this is an annual event, the trial of the strega, and we are bit players without dialog. Our vegetable stand even becomes a prop for many of the people, who wind up throwing vegetables (mostly lettuce) at the poor woman.
I suppose I am too into the whole scene, for I keep saying "libero!" or "free!" while everyone else hoots and throws things at her. The sound system is very good, and she mouths a mournful song. She is brought to the end of the square where the men are sitting on chairs, and they hound her for awhile, she sings again, tries to run unsuccessfully, is led to a stock, where she is given another chance to repent, and then it is over. She is dragged to the other end of the square (we are following the action all around) and carried up onto a wooden structure piled high with kindling and a gallows. She appears to be tied up, but she has only wound her wrists around the rope. We congregate around her, the others cheering and I just in disbelief. (If I could, I would have helped her escape, but that is not written in the script.)
The whole structure is set on fire, as she drops down a trap door. Before you know it, she is outside with us, watching the flames. As she dropped down, a fake witch like a scarecrow is hoisted up. The flames shoot in skyward under the full moon and everyone cheers. We turn around and leave in a kind of procession and it is over. Tomorrow will be another event and we will return in our same costumes. On the way home, Roy is sure we need to do research and have costumes made for ourselves...We will see. Our friends back in California all must think this is shades of the Mountain Play all over again...
It is so foggy that we can hardly believe that by noon the sun is out and we are taking off our sweaters. The lattuga and radicchio and pepperoni and rugghetta are doing just fine. It is about time. Only a few leaves are bitten by sneaky birds...those plastic bottles seem to work. I love Cherie's scarcrow bird, even if it does not scare the birds it floats happily under the huge tufa rock outcropping.
We do our summer to winter change of clothes, moving things back and forth between the guest bedroom and our own. This house does not have much storage, but we make do nicely with plastic tubs stored underneath the beds.
Roy calls Franco about the marble top for our new sink unit, but it won't be ready until Tuesday. The faucets are not ready, either. But by the end of next week we should be very far along in installing at least the base unit in the bathroom. This is exciting. The sink has never worked very well for us, nor have we had enough storage in the bathroom. This should solve it.
We have a quiet day, and get ready for our repeat performance tonight in Soriano. We have no idea what to expect, other than there will be a big meal after it is over in the taverna for everyone participating. This will take place about midnight. Stay tuned.
Poor little Sofia. Two days ago, when Giuliola and the other ladies came by to deliver my costume, Sofi darted out the front gate. Brik followed the women to the start of our path, and Sofia ran down the path as fast as her tiny legs would carry her, right into the growling mouth of Brik! Bang! She jumped right up in his face and he responded by snapping at her..almost a bite. Sofia yelped the sound of a car alarm..."Wheep! Wheep! Wheep! Wheep!" and ran as fast as she could back up the path and up the ten steps to my arms. We think she will not approach Brik again with such reckless abandon. How sad she has to learn this way.
We snack on prosciutto and melon and slices of cheese and honey and get dressed for tonight's performance. I add my black pashima and I really look like a maid now...Off we go...
When we arrive at the square, people are milling about and we help stage all the props and stands. In about an hour, the production begins, but this time there is a stand in the middle of the square with a big trunk of a tree. Francesco tells us it is to chop off someone's head. His eyes light up with a scary expression. I tell him I was sad last night because I wanted the woman, charged with being a witch (strega), to be set free. "Libera!" he cried. He also wanted her freed but for another reason. "Sono diavolo!" he exclaimed (I am the devil!)
Francesco and his sister are very friendly tonight. They come over, one at a time, and guide us in what we are to do. Occasionally, someone from Soriano who works on the event comes over and talks away at us. If they want us to do anything, someone from Mugnano comes over to help translate...as though we are deaf and dumb. Well, perhaps we are not deaf...
Here is tonight's scenario: Remember from last night that we, the Mugnanese, have brought all our sets from our medieval festas, and are dressed in appropriate garb? We are supplying the "local color"...Our "booths" are set up around the perimeter of the square. Once they are set up, we walk around the stands, talk with the other costumed people and sample the cheese and prosciutto and wine, as though we are experiencing an everyday occurrence. Tonight the village's honest to goodness shepherd is making ricotta, and it is truly delicious. Our booth is the vedura booth, full of fresh fruit and vegetables in baskets, arranged "just so".
Horns and drums sound the approach of costumed people from Soriano. Dressed in fabulous red and navy velvet tunics and tights and red suede boots, they enter the square and march around in formation, beating away on the drums, which sound very much like the drums we hear often at night from our bedroom window. They are followed by the flag bearers, six young men, who are dressed in red and blue short tunics and perform difficult flag twirling exercises.
When they have finished, both groups leave the square. Soldiers arrive with a man in a rope tie. He is being charged with some heinous act, and, unlike the singing prisoner last night, he hollers away. He wears a white blousy shirt and black pants, looking very pirate-like. He is led to the stand in the center of the square, taken up the steps, and is brought to his knees, so that his head rests on the tree stump. The grim reaper takes a medieval axe and very skillfully drags his head over the stump, so he falls over. No blood, thank goodness, but he is taken off in a horse-drawn wooden carriage, and we are told to follow them up the hill to the gate of the town, which by now has a wooden drawbridge, which we cross.
The drawbridge is closed, and we can see from the hill behind it that fires are starting in different areas all over the square. By now it is an inky black night, but the stars and moon are visible overhead. The drums continue to beat. We are "protected" behind the moat and walls of the town.
Sounds of swords clashing begin, and a big battle now takes place. I surmise that it is to revenge the death of the prisoner. After ten minutes or so, the men of Soriano vanquish the pillagers, and the big wooden door is let down to let soldiers carry off the dead over their shoulders.
I turn to Enrico's girlfriend, as the wooden door is being lowered, and ask, "Dove Cleopatra?" This strikes her as very funny. "Piace?" I ask and she nods yes. I am growing in confidence. Earlier, Enrico said to me, "Una bruta journata." He is having a bad time getting everything to work. I am able to understand these few words, and even say a few back to him. Heaven knows what I say. These people from Mugnano are so kind to us. They try so hard to understand what we are saying...often we mispronounce the words, but they are able to coach us along. Later in the evening, a neighbor is hand-cutting the prosciutto next to me. I think I am so smart, I tell him he is a surgeon. But I mispronounce it, and after three or four tries, he understands, and smiles weakly at me, telling me that I am calling him a "chirugo". Sounds good to me...
Anyway, we are told to walk back down to the square, and take up our previous spots. Young people come out and dance around with pastel streamers, and there are people juggling with fire, you know, the typical medieval stuff.
We are told when to leave, and are at the end of the final procession, ending the night's entertainment. We exit to the sound of drum beats and applause. The Mountain Play was never like this....
Marino drives his little whit e truck up the side street near the square, and all the men stack the tables and baskets and food onto the little truck. He leaves the truck, and enters the taverna, where we are all given a wonderful dinner and invited to dance. It is a raucous hour or two, until we fizzle out. Everyone is tired. Even Livio, sitting across from me, is nodding, and we say goodnight and walk downhill to the car. We see Marino driving his truck by our car on the way out of town, and the truck looks like the Beverly Hillbillies have come to Italia. We follow him home, and are able to pass him outside the town.
When Sofi and I are outside at home on the terrace looking at the moon, Marino drives up the hill beneath us and every bit of wood remains intact. Dorme bene.
Today is "Columbus Day" in America, but this is not celebrated in Italia. As we enter church, Livio and a woman ask us if we are tired. We tell them no, but that we slept well. The woman tells us that she "slept like a corpse." What a strange expression.
After church, we get Sofi and drive to Bracciano. There are markets today in Spoleto and Bracciano, but I let Roy choose and he wants to drive south. We arrive at Bracciano, and a woman comes up to us and recognizes Sofi. Well, she asks us if we bought Sofi in Italy. We nod and she asks if we bought her from Marielisa. She is a good friend, and the woman recognized Sofi's face. That Elmer, Sofi's father, has fathered many, many doggies. This is not the first time strangers have asked us if Sofi came from there. Sofi answers with a cuddle, and we go on to the market.
It is nothing special, but we do buy some lemon honey, and walk around the remarkable town. We find a place to eat in an alleyway and it is good. Not great but good. Except an appetizer...grilled smoked Prova (Provalone) cheese with honey and rugghetta and pine nuts. What an extraordinary combination of tastes! The cheese is still a little warm. The only change we would make is to toast the pine nuts...We are sure to try this at home and suggest you do, as well.
We walk some more after pranzo and come to a vantage point over Lake Bracciano. The lake is so smooth that the clouds in the sky reflect off the water. It is truly a beautiful sight. We walk back to the car and return home by way of Barberano Romana and Blera. We really like these towns.
Tonight, Mario comes by to look at two projects we need to have done soon: digging up the dead lavender field and replanting it with 40 tiny new lavender plants, and rebuilding the fence and wall between the Mariani property, where our six new olive trees and the bocce court will go, and our lavender field. The mesh wall is rusty and decayed, and Sofi can jump right through big holes if she wants to. There is a steep incline from that property to ours, so we need to put in simple tufa steps and a very simple gate, made of mesh and castagno (chestnut) beams. Maybe some day we will have a real gate there, but for the foreseeable future, we must keep it simple. We need to do this soon, if only to protect Sofi.
Mario tells us that if we asked him last month, it would be done. But now it is time for him to prepare for the olive vendemmia, which will last a month. So he can do the lavender planting, but the other project will not start until the second week of December. Evidently he does not mind working out in the cold...
Felice tells us to plant on a new moon, so the lavender will arrive within the week but it will be planted after the 20th. We must be true to these advices. We will not get the olive trees until February, but Diego wants to give us six, so we will call him then.
Pranzo today at Tia and Bruce's, and we sit outside under the lush pergola. Sofia is welcomed at their house, even though Ivy, their old English Setter, is on her last legs and growls fiercely at her. There are two other dogs there, however, a Jack Russell and a greyhound, who belong to the painter. Sofi enjoys running around with them and generally nosing around the paths and gardens. When we call her, she runs to us as fast as her little legs will carry her, ears flapping in the breeze. She is a loveable bundle of joy.
Tia is remarkable. Her command of the Italian language is forceful and masterful. She has so many workers there all day long that she can spew out groups of words, if not complete sentences, faster than I can take a breath. Workers are trying to find a well, working on the electrical, painting, plumbing, irrigation, on and on. They thought the project would be done by July and it keeps on going.
Their house and grounds are really beautiful, and except for the road getting to their house we really enjoy going there. Today, a rock catches up under the wheel of our car on the way up the hill on the strada bianca. Every revolution of the tire we hear a knock, but can not see anything. When we back out of the driveway and Roy turns the wheels, we hear a terrible sound and a big rock plops out. So we drive another way out of the property and look forward to the new paving of the road, which will take place, we hope, before the rains come. Magari!
We drive on to Terracini, but the marble top for the vanity is not finished. They have a big job in Florence this week, so hope to have it finished on Friday. We hope so.
On a visit to Dottoressa, I learn that I cannot go to the clinic in Terni. I can only go to clinics in our province, which is Lazio. Unless I pay, then I can go tomorrow. I willwait till I am called. What is strange, is that I will go once, then not be scheduled again for a few months. Whatever treatment can they give me in one session that will last? I am still confident that the medical system here works for us.
Sofi is barking, and we see Felice's black jacket on the stairs by the front gate. She barks at it, not knowing what it is. So we go out to see him in the garden, and he has totally cleared the land where the tomatoes were planted. It will lie fallow for now.
The chard is starting to gain strength, and the gobbi, which I call cardi, are starting to sprout up again. Up on the orto garden above, the cabbage looks beautiful, but it is not ready for picking. He has cleared the rest of the area there as well. We will plant broccoletti on the start of the new moon (next week). Potatoes will be planted near the cabbage in February, after the broccoletti has seen its day, but not much else. We pick some red pepperonis in the other orto garden for sauce, and also some leaves of the lattuga and rugghetta for a salad at pranzo. Tasty!
Roy does some errands, and gets his hair cut. He takes a bottle of my shampoo with him, and Danieli thinks he can get it here. That is a relief. We may know next week.
We are planning our winter trip to the U.S. and this time plan to not buy very much to bring back. We think we can order my shampoo locally, and except for ziplock bags, a few items of clothing and glucosamine, think we have settled into life well here without reliance on anything from the U.S. I am even giving up Crest toothpaste, especially since hearing that only gel toothpaste will work on a Sonicare toothbrush.
Oysten, the young man from Norway, walks by the parcheggio while Roy is cutting firewood with his new €4 saw. Roy invites him for pranzo tomorrow. I will make another peach pie and we will have a vegetarian meal, to suit his palate.
Later in the day, Roy sees Felice across the street feeding the chickens. He asks where the chicken man and his wife are. They are in Rome. Signora is having tests. Roy asks Felice if he has tanti eggs. Felice says no, that although there are five chickens, they eat a lot and don't give many eggs. "Al 'Italiana?" Roy responds, and Felice laughs. Al 'Italiana refers to the Italians who spend most of their time eating and don't do much work.
I am busy up in our bedroom, sewing. On Monday, we took a quick trip to IKEA outside Rome, and bought a set of handkerchief linen curtains for the kitchen. Actually, they are not for the kitchen, but I recut them so that they are the right length for the kitchen window. I make tiebacks with small gold rings, and am able to make two sets of curtains with the material. We are sure we will have to wash them often, so will have a spare set to use while we are laundering the other set. As Shelly would say, "cheap and cheerful". They actually look very good. Sofi goes into her cage and sleeps...she loves to stay near me.
It has been a perfect day...beautiful sunny skies, a little breeze, birds singing, and plenty of time to do little projects around the house...clip the yellow leaves off the rose arch, make the curtains, make a pie, pack away my summer clothes...Tonight, while we are doing dishes, Roy quietly comments, "This is beyond my wildest dreams".
Oysten comes by for pranzo, and I am busily stirring polenta with a huge spoon as he comes in the door. Well, he follows an enormous bunch of flowers, done up as only the Italians can. The arrangement is a kind of "spray", with roses, white lilies, tons of babies breath, antherium and dahlias. I know it is not a funeral arrangement, because there are no chrysanthemums. So I feel like a bride, or the finalist in a piano recital.
He is a very sweet man, and this was a very thoughtful thing to bring. There is a belief that one should never bring wine to a meal at someone's house, because the host has already picked out the wine he/she/they want to serve, and it is presumptuous. We don't share that view, but for me, flowers are always a perfect gift.
I try out the new hot cheese/honey/grapes/pinenuts/arugula dish after the polenta, and it is a big hit, even if I forget to serve the grapes until everyone is finished. The plates are clean, so they must like it.
Oysten is going to work for a 4-Star hotel in Rome, the Victoria, and also teach Norwegian, yes, Norwegian, in Rome. This country never ceases to amaze me.
Later in the afternoon, Sofi and I walk down the front steps to deadhead all the roses on the path and cut away the yellow leaves. I am disappointed that there are so many yellow leaves, but it must be because of the rain. Now there are no yellow leaves, but the wall is sparse. Just as well.
While I am working on the roses, people from the village start to take their daily walk toward the cemetery, so Sofi is able to greet a number of young children and grandmothers. Stefano and Luca come by to look over the paving job they will do in the outdoor kitchen, which we also call the loggia. They start early tomorrow, so Roy moves almost everything out of the room while I finish with the roses. They will use the same mattone that is used throughout the terrace and parcheggio areas. Now if we can only replace that nasty asbestos roof...
We have a fire in the kitchen fireplace tonight. Even though the day is warm, after the sun goes down it is really chilly. The fire crackles while Sofi sleeps between us on the couch and we watch The Pianista.
I go up to bed not knowing what will happen with the Red Sox. This is game 7 of the playoffs, and even thought I am not a tremendous baseball fan, I was born in Boston and in a small corner of my heart I hope that they can beat the Yankees tonight. When we wake up, it will all be over. Let's hope there is not a fiasco like the catch in the Cubs game last night.
How sad, those Red Sox...losing the big game in the eleventh inning. There is not much to say, but the town must be a sad one today.
For us, it is a happy day. Roy moved everything out of the loggia except the washing machine, which Stefano and Luca move onto the gravel when they arrive. Roy has set the stage, even setting up the paranco all by himself. He is wearing his new coveralls, which he purchased in Giove, and he looks as though he works at a filling station in his new grey coveralls with red patches on the pockets. He makes me smile, he is so cute. And he loves his new coveralls.
Stefano and Luca arrive early and get right to work with the jackhammer, getting rid of the cement and rest of the flooring in the loggia. Rosina calls down to him to find out what he is doing, and after he tells her he looks at us and rolls his eyes. I ask, "Arribiatta?" and he tells me no, she is not angry. She just wants to know what he is doing.
We leave for a few hours, and when we return at pranzo, they have put the mesh on the floor, readying it for cement. This afternoon, they hand mix the cement and cover the floor. It will dry for four days and on Tuesday they will lay the mattone tiles. When the work is finally done on the back of the house and Enzo returns, we will have him reroute the pipe for the water outside the room. Stefano has laid the conduit for more electrical against a side wall, and this will be a very practical room. We cover everything over outside with a tarp, because the sky is threatening.
We take a quick trip to Terni and try to get Sofi's nails clipped, but the vet is very busy. Next week. So we walk around the town and get to know it a little better. Almost every good-sized town in Italy has its own special charm. Terni is no exception. At first, we hesitated to drive to Terni because its street grid is very complicated. But we have figured that out, and now like to walk around the old part of town. This is the city of St. Valentine, so one of these days we will go to his church. I have been thinking that we have seen so many wonderful churches, that perhaps once a month we will pick a town and a church and go to Sunday mass there.
We go to Oktoberfest for a beer and try to find something on the menu that is worth eating. Except for the fries, the food is ghastly. We keep trying, because the beer is so good, but perhaps we should just stop by for a beer now and then. Every time we go we tell ourselves that this is the last time....
We wake to a dark sky. It feels like 6AM, but it is already 8AM and time for a new day. Roy's pick for today is Massa Martana. He has found a listing for a mercato there, and as we tell Lore, we find out when we arrive if it is "important" or not.
Speaking of Lore, poor Lore, she went to the hospital to have her cast taken off on Wednesday, but after they x-rayed her foot they put another cast on and want her to behave herself for another two weeks...She is so active we cannot imagine her lolling around under a blanket reading. Alberto is a gem. He is afraid to leave her alone, because she will get up and clean or take on some kind of project. So he sits by her, reading but watching her out of the corner of his eye. Alberto has really come into his own these days. Lore is so proud of him. We are as well. He is a fine man, never complaining.
We drive to Massa Martana, thinking that that is where the mercato is. There is a mercato there, but it is a regular weekly market. At the bar, the woman tells us we want Massa Martana, and to get there we have to go over a mountain and round and round. It takes us over an hour, but we find it.
When we get out of the car, we see a sign for an antiquario, so there are several antiquarios in the town, but no mercato. A man is taking two old copper bowls out of a storage cantina, and Sofi barks at him She never barks, so it must be the copper bowls she is barking at. He is very kind and laughs. He is also the man who has the first antiquario. His furniture is beautiful, but way out of our price range. He has another negozio a few kilometers away, and we go with him after we look at the three other shops in the town. Everything looks closed up tight, but when we ask around, suddenly all the lights go on.
We follow the man to his home, where he has a big storeroom, full of more beautiful furniture. We are looking for a bureau for our bedroom, but his prices are really high. Well, perhaps not so high, just to high for us...
We drive on to find a place for pranzo, and wind up in the lower end of Spoleto, at Trattoria da Gastone. We find this by parking the car at the first square inside the wall, and walking up the hill. We see a sign in an alley, and that is good enough for us. We enter an empty restaurant, and call out. Gastone comes around a corner, agrees to feed us and allow Sofi, and takes us around a corner to a dining room. A tall blonde man with long hair and a chef's cap hangs his head out the kitchen and smiles. These days, our requirements for pranzo are a place that will allow Sofi. Sometimes we are in luck.
We have housemade Lasagna. Actually, we think the woman with her back to me at the next table made the lasagna at home and brought it in. Everyone at the table is served the lasagna and Gastone tells us we should have that. A woman at the table gets up and goes to the kitchen to serve everyone at their table the lasagna. Did she know that two pieces were taken out of the dish before she got to it? What a great choice. Roy asks for a small pitcher of red wine, and Gastone brings a full bottle over. He fiddles with the wrapper over the neck of the bottle, and someone at the other end of the room calls out to him. So he asks Roy if he will open the bottle himself, and gives Roy the opener. This is a very silly trattoria, but has a funny charm to it. Roy especially likes a plant on the window sill behind him. One stalk sticks straight up out of the pot with nothing on it. There are only three tables taken in the big room: an English couple who are trying to "fit in " but sneak their maps out when no one is looking, a big table next to us with four women and one young girl. And then us. Later in the meal the chef comes out and sits at the big table.
When we leave, Gastone strikes up a conversation with me. When I tell him we live in Lazio, he makes me wait while he rushes into another room for some billete di visita (business cards), telling me that next time we come call him first and we will get special treatment. Tell him we are the people from Lazio. While I am waiting, Roy is leading the English couple down the street and giving them directions. Sofi is very well behaved, but so full of bread that she looks forward to a break outside. We learn that to keep Sofi quiet we silently feed her tiny pieces of bread during the meal....
We have coffee at a café near the car and go home. It rains and we are inside for the night, in front of the fire. Roy calls Suzanne in Rome about meeting up to see her film about Mother Teresa tomorrow night. She will have our film tickets for us at her hotel. They are "red" (VIP) tickets and after the film there is a reception. Roy asks if it is black tie. Suzanne answers, not black tie, but yes, there will be plenty of black. Sounds good to me. We later learn that the "plenty of black" indicates the number of priests and nuns in attendance...
We leave early for Rome, packing up Sofi and her collapsible cage, toys, bowl, pillow and food for Angela, who will dog sit with Sofi at her house in Rome. We think this is a very good idea, and a way to see how Sofi does without us. Angela Good will stay at our house while we are gone to the U.S. We even have a little carryall for us for this one overnight in the big city. We certainly have become country bumpkins. Let's see how we behave in raucous Rome.
While Sofi noses around Angela's apartment and garden, we sneak out the door. She has no idea that we have left. Later in the day we get a message that she is doing fine. We are relieved.
We check in to the Albergo Al Sole, a little hotel in the Campo di Fiore. It is a walkup, but inexpensive and just fine with us. We take a little walk around the campo, and the stands are just as full of luscious fruit and vegetables as ever. We don't have much time, so take the streetcar to meet Karina, and have pranzo at the Music Center, a modern complex of music halls and cafés. Dave Brubeck will be there later this week and next month, Michael Tilson Thomas. The acoustics are supposed to be quite excellent, so we look forward to going to a concert there sometime. We take a little walk around the center with Karina, but must get back.
We go back to the hotel, change for the film and take a taxi to her hotel, which is right next to the Vatican. In the news, we see that 300,000 people are in Rome for the beatification, but the ceremony was from 11AM to 12:30, so we are able to get there without much trouble. We go on to the hall where the film will be shown with Suzanne, and meet her relatives from Mirabella.
Before the film, Peggy Noonan is chosen to give the introduction, along with the director of Communications for the Vatican. Peggy is a last minute stand-in for Richard Attenborough, who could not make it. She is now on the staff of the Wall Street Journal, but has served for President Regan. Despite her political affiliation, we find her boring and embarrassing. She is asked by the woman who is taking Mother Teresa's place to speak for 3-5 minutes. She speaks for 30. She clearly is not a public speaker, but is so sickeningly sweet that Suzanne wants to sink under her chair.
When she finally finishes, the film is shown, and it is a good documentary, about the legacy of Mother Teresa. Suzanne has composed the music for this film as well as the first film done for "Mother" in 1985. After the film, we attend the reception, and meet a number of people who are going around the world on behalf of Mother's Teresa's cause and mission. They are all very interesting and full of life.
We walk outside at 8PM with Suzanne and her sister and hear a loud commotion nearby. We follow the noise to St. Peter's square, where there is a groundswell of applause. There are thousands of people in the square, and Pope John Paul II is in his window, waving.
Just then, music from an elaborate sound system begins, along with a fireworks display that lasts for 30 minutes. We watch it, amazed. The music plays in time with the fireworks. The pope does not move for the entire show. After the fireworks end, he speaks for a few minutes, in a very strong voice. He thanks many people. Roy thinks he is thanking the people who have set up the chairs, but I think that is an old family joke. The city of Rome has put on the fireworks display in honor of his 25th anniversary. It is quite a treat.
We walk on down a side street and find a trattoria in an alley. It is warm enough to eat outside, and we sit next to a journalist team from a TV station in Philadelphia. Journalists are teaming around Rome these days, because the pope is elevating 31 cardinals, because it is his 25th anniversary, because he is beatifying Mother Teresa, but most of all because he sounds tired and they think his time may be near. They are hovering around the cardinals, trying to figure out who is going to be the next pope.
We go home with tired feet, but exhilarated by the evening's events. The weather was clear and we had a truly memorable day in this beautiful city.
We are to meet Duccio and Giovanna and go to the Protestant Cemetery and have pranzo at their house in Rome. We wake up early and walk around the Campo di Fiore, but it is overcast and rains off and on. We decide to check out of the hotel and leave our suitcase at Duccio's. We left the car at Angie's yesterday, and will take the metro and a cab there after pranzo.
It really starts to rain, and when we arrive at Duccio's we agree that it is too rainy to go to the cemetery, so we send the suitcase up on an electric lift and walk around the neighborhood to see a number of wonderful churches and important sights. The first on is in the basement of Duccio and Giovanna's house. It is the remains of a Roman altar. The building was owned by Giovanna's grandfather, and he was one of the first hydroelectric engineers in Rome. He and a man who was in charge of the public works of Rome agreed that the altar would be better protected if they built a shell around it, so built a 4-story building above it and apartments for each of them. The building was given in his will to Giovanna, who has lived there all her life. The altar is in many guidebooks, and when someone comes to ring the bell, anyone who is home must go down and let them in and tell them about the history of the altar.
We have a great pranzo at their flat and take the metro to the Flamminia, where we get off and go to Rosati's café. We say goodbye to Rome by taking a cab to Angie's, and Sofi gets great marks for her behavior. It is good to have her back with us. It is especially good to arrive at home and wind down after a great short trip.
We really are country bumpkins. This little village looks like paradise to us, although our wide-eyed wonder at the sites of Rome is intact. We love going to Rome. There are so many layers to this complex city, that no matter how often we go we will hardly penetrate it. There is so much to look forward to.
Stefano and Luca arrive and begin paving the mattone in the loggia. We go to Lugnano and pick up the marble sink top. The center piece broke as they cut it, so they give us another piece and cut it into a rectangle. It will make a great top over a small short cabinet in the loggia next to the sink.
We go back home to get ready for the arrival of Suzanne and her sister and her sister's two American Eskimo dogs...we do not know what to expect. They arrive and the dogs are really well behaved. Sofi is intimidated by them, so they don't really pay much attention to each other. This is sad, because we'd like to think they could be playmates.
Otherwise, the visit is fine and we have a fire in the fireplace and a good meal. For dessert, we have a Pandoro, a tall cake that comes in an elaborate bag, to shake powdered sugar over the top. After shaking the bag and taking the cake out, the custom is to slice it across, making a star shaped piece to serve each person. We take out the cherries that have been marinating in brandy since the summer, and spoon some over each piece. They taste wonderful, a little tart, but wonderful. These are the cherries from the tree next to the lavender field.
Suzanne may have a gig at the music center in Rome on December 21. We've invited her to come here first to sleep out her jet lag and then we can take her into Rome. The date is not set, but it looks promising. What a small world that a few days ago we had pranzo at the music center...our first visit and the first time we have heard of it... and now are hearing about it all over again.
Stefano and Luca finish the paving, but will come back tomorrow to fill in the grout. Tomorrow afternoon we can put all the furniture back in the room. Roy leaves to take the sink and marble to Marco to work out what he has to add to the back of it, and Roy is unable to get the right clamps for the sink. Tomorrow he will go to Civita Castellana, where we bought the sink, for the clamps. While he is gone, I call Michellini to find out when they will deliver the lavender, and they are waiting for the rose to arrive. We don't want to wait a week for that, so hope the rest can be delivered before Friday. Then Mario can replant the lavender and the three evergreen plants in the same area. We can wait for the rose for the front wall. We can even wait until January and get a bare root rose. We will see...
We are tired and full and just hang out for the rest of the afternoon and evening in front of the fire.
Roy goes to Civita Castellana early in the rain to get hardware for the sink project. It is too rainy to go to the weekly mercato in Terni. We still do not have our lavender or sempivirins from Michellini, so Roy decides to go to Viterbo in the rain and pick them up himself. Sofi and I stay at home and put up brandied peaches. Peaches are still cropping up in local markets, and we wonder if they are coming from Sicily.
Outside, I see Felice go out of the gate and say buon giorno. He comes back up the stairs and shows me the broccoletti that he has planted for us in the space where we grew the tomatoes. A long line of tiny plants, in preciso fashion, sit happily by the front fence. They are from his orto garden, and he will plant another row tomorrow. He must be growing them from seeds. They are really beautiful.
Stefano and Luca finish the mattone project, and move the washing machine back inside the loggia. Luca also helps Roy bring in the huge piece of cut marble for the bathroom sink. Roy tells me that Marco is doing a great job on the top, and we should have it all in by the end of the week. He just needs to put in the mirrors on the front doors. Then we will call Enzo to come in and take out the bidet and replumb the sink. The piece of furniture is long enough that it will also cover the space where the bidet has stood. Yesterday Roy measured the width of the bathroom door to make sure we can get the piece of furniture in the door. It will fit. Now that would have been a real calamity!
Stefano comes by in the afternoon with Roberto Pangrazi, the town geometra, to talk to us about the shoring up of the front of the house. Stefano will do the work at the beginning of November, and it promises to be a real mess. There will be huge turnbuckles inside the house, synching the back walls to the front, cathedral style, and they will excavate the foundation at the front of the house, a meter at a time. Then they will put in steel beams. The total time will only be about three days, but it will be done over about a ten day period. I am imagining rainy days, Sofi frightened with the noise, a fine dust creeping into everything. We will survive. Now the kitchen and the living room doors don't close, a sign that the work really has to be done. I ask Roy if we should leave the turnbuckles in place, the way old churches do, but we agree that would look strange. Interesting, but strange in this little house.
We will start to plan the packing up of the contents of the house, in preparation for this work. Roy is especially good at these projects. Roy also talks to them about making a storage room below the bathroom at the back of the house, and inside a room for a little bathroom and shower. We will need a permit for that, and Roy has instructed Roberto to begin the plan. That project will take at least six months to get a permit. But it will be good to finally have some real storage and a second bathroom.
Roy calls Mario again, and he may be able to come on Friday afternoon to plant the 40 new tiny lavender plants and the three larger sempervirins. It depends on the weather and what is going on with him in terms of the olive harvest. We think it is early, but he is booked for several weeks because of the olive harvest. Magari. Perhaps tomorrow Roy will pull out the rest of the dying lavender and that will make Mario's job easier. That is, if it stops raining.
We wake to rain again, but are not complaining. The roof is as solid as a bunker...actually the weight of all the cement and reinforcement is probably helping to destabilize the house...There are no leaks and we are relieved. I have a lot of sewing to do...the gauzy drapes that are so wonderful in the warm weather, blowing freely in the tall open windows are not hemmed at the bottom. They sit on the floor in folds, dramatic but Roy is not crazy about them. So there are six sets of them to do, complicated because the fabric is so thin. That should keep me out of trouble for a while...
Spaccese, the town handyman, will come this afternoon to work with Roy to put in another electrical plug in the loggia for the freezer and outdoor frigo. Roy will also talk with him about the bathroom plumbing project...perhaps we do not need Enzo. Spaccese is Pepe Fosci's cousin, we think. He is from Bomarzo, and arrives in his dark green ape, a three wheeled job with a back cabin, so tiny it just creeps up the Bomarzo hill.
Roy is not happy with me. The new mattone floor on the loggia needs to be brushed with acido, a short but messy project. He wants to put everything back in the loggia and think about the acido project later but I want it done right. The sky clears and the steam comes off the gravel and out of Roy's ears. He sulks and takes on the project today. I go upstairs and sew silently.
The sun comes out behind the clouds and it is beautiful all over the Tiber valley. Sheep graze in a far meadow on a hill, the land is green and happy with all the rain, and the sun reflects the joyous panorama around us. A motorino speeds down Via Mameli below us. Otherwise, there is not a sound except for an occasional bird and the soft wind blowing through the trees. The loquat trees are growing very tall and lush, and have chosen this month to unveil their creamy flowers, just below our bedroom window. I open it and breathe in the fragrant scent of the blossoms. The drapes blow inward with the breeze and I drink it all in thirstily.
Just as I finish one set of drapes for the bedroom, Spaccese arrives to look at the projects. He is busy with the olive vendemmia and not ready to work until next Thursday. He also thinks that Enzo Rosati must do the hydraulico work. He will do the electrical work late next week.
Roy calls Enzo, who is busy with a job at the church. He will come by tomorrow afternoon to look at the bathroom project, but can't start until at least the end of next week. Everything is stored in the living room, but we don't really use that room anyway, so another week will be just fine. In the meantime, we have to find a light to hang down from the ceiling in the bathroom, now that the new piece is so tall. We will look tomorrow in Viterbo. I want a tiny old chandelier and hope we can just wait until we find one.
Roy has done the acido and moves everything back in to the loggia. It looks wonderful. During rain storms, we can sit there protected and watch the rain through a kind of "cornice" or picture frame. When viewed from the terrace, the mattone floor is raised and the little paved grotto inside reminds me of an opera set in Milan for Rigoletto, raked at an angle. When Spaccese comes to work on the electrical next week, Roy will have him install special wiring for tiny lights inside the grotto. We may have a year-round presepio. I am concentrating on the design for this year's manger, which the Italians call a presepio, and will finish it in time for this holiday season.
The rain falls softly as we close the shutters on the kitchen window, put another log on the fire and reflect on another memorable day.
There is a thick layer of fog in the valley. Usually, this indicates a beautifully clear day ahead. Today, there are clouds up above, but it looks promising. At 7:15 the front gate bell rings and it is Mario, here to clean up the lavender field and plant the new lavender and three large boxwood. I go out to see him and he wants to make sure the three plants are placed correctly. I have him move them a little, and remind him to pulire (clean) the land around the lavender before planting, but everything looks good. He asks me for the scopa di ferro (iron rake) and I cannot find just what he wants, but he has plenty of garden tools to choose from. Remember I am married to McGuyver....
Roy and Sofi and I go to Alessandra's so that she can work on my shoulder. It is getting much better, even if the hospital does not call me to go in for my physical therapy. We drive to Terni from there, and walk all around the old city, after taking her to the vet to get her nails clipped. There are two vets in the practice, but my favorite is not in. The young woman takes care of us, but cuts a nail on one of Sofi's back paws too short and draws blood. I am holding her in my arms and think I will faint. I am so sad that she is in pain. Sofi is wonderful, and takes it in stride. We decide to leave the rest of her back paw nails alone. The vet assures us that they get filed down by walking on the street. I surely will never want to cut her nails myself. They are dark and it is impossible to see the correct place.
In the old part of the city, we look at a couple of lamp stores, but nothing is just perfect. So we wait. We park on a side street, because there is some kind of workers' strike going on, and a parade. I am handed a leaflet, and will try to read it later to understand what they want. Everyone seem mellow, but they do have someone beating the drums in the parade...We later learn that it is a half day strike to protest changes in pensions.
On the way back we stop at an Autogrille for a panini, but they don't want to let Sofi in. We get them "porta via" and eat in the car. The manager must be in a bad mood. We can usually go in there with no problem.
We arrive home to see Mario's fine work in the garden. Every single lavender plant is planted in "preciso" form. The three large "box" look great. They are not really boxwood, but have a similar type of leaf. The contrast looks great next to the lavender.
The brocoletti is doing well, and for once the rugghetta is thriving. All the lettuce looks good. I go inside and look over the cannellini beans, which have been soaking in water overnight. We will cook them later tonight in the bean pot and eat them after salting them and drizzling Diego's nutty-flavored olive oil.
I spend some more time on the bedroom drapes. This is really a long-term project, but the pair that is finished look just right. The clouds come and go and it is cool, a perfect day to stay in and sew, especially after the long walk this morning in Terni. Sofi did not have a nap, so she is conked out on the rug next to the bed.
I cook the beans and tell Roy to turn them off when I go up to bed. He forgets, and when he gets up in the middle of the night to turn them off, they are fine.
Roy loves these mercatos, and today we return to Narni, but the mercato is nothing special. I need some hem binding for the drapes and have run out of my favorite kind from the U.S. Of course, Italy has nothing like that. So I buy something similar and improvise and in the late afternoon both sets of drapes in the bedroom are finished.
In the meantime, Roy works outside on his saw-horses, making shelves to go between the freezer and frigo in the loggia. He makes a kind of a box, and it works really well. Roy has never had a bona fide garage to do projects in since we have been married, but now he can work right on the gravel and the sawdust just disappears. He must impress all the neighbors. He surely impresses Sofi and me.
Roy takes out the camera and takes photos of the newly planted lavender. We will not bring photos with us to the U S this winter, because they will be posted on this site on the photos page. Roy needs to do some work on the page first, to take out some old photos and make room for some more. It is about time that we include some good pictures of "L'Avventura". A good project for a rainy day...
Enzo comes by to look at the bathroom project, and he seems to like the components we are working with. For the first time, I see what the marble will look like on top of the base unit with the faucets and I am really happy. It is a reach for me to get to the faucets but you know me...form over function. It's really not that far, but the piece of marble is very generous and the design makes the piece look much older than its years...Enzo thinks he will be able to do it the end of this week. Roy also asks him to reroute the water line in the loggia, which comes into the room in a big black insulated pipe. When he comes to work, he will reroute it outside the room and have it come in right at the sink. We call David and Alex and make arrangements for them to come and see the sink and bidet, which we will not longer be able to use. We will sell them to them very reasonably if they are interested. If we do get a downstairs bathroom, we will need a smaller sink.
Suzanne calls and she and her sister have gone to Amelia from their rental house in Lucca, and her sister wants to buy an apartment there. We offer to help her find a place, and also to work on it for her when she is in the U.S. This would be a good use of Roy's extensive project management skills. We will talk more about it next week when we visit them in Lucca.
Elisabeth's birthday is tomorrow, and we are invited to drop by. We have not seen her in months, and the children have not met Sofia, so we will go tomorrow afternoon for a short visit. Her dog has also given birth to nine puppies, but by now most of them must have found other homes. We will see. It will probably be a chaotic visit, as usual, but lots of fun.
I don't know what I was thinking, but when we arrive at church for mass, there is no one around, except one little woman wearing an apron, walking across the square. We wait and think the church door is closed because it is cold. The door is locked. Just then, Giuliola comes down her stairs with the key...The clocks were turned back last night and only the dumb stranieri were not clued in.
Giuliola is surprised at us, because Roy is so preciso with his hand-held computer. Roy is surprised that the computer did not change automatically, so we come home for an hour while Roy changes all of the clocks and then we go back up to church.
After mass, we come home and Sofi and I stay in the house while Roy drives to Bagnaia to pick up something at the outdoor market for pranzo. We bought fresh ravioli yesterday and will have that tonight. We decide to take a drive to Amelia and walk around inside the walled town, writing down names and phone numbers to call to help Judith, Suzanne's sister, find a place there. We find two or three, but there are not very many places for sale in this lovely town. We will help her spread theword, and start with a call to Tia. Afterward, we go to Lili's country house to wish her happy birthday.
At Elizabeth's, Sofi meets another basotto, a really big one named Asia who is old and not very friendly. Asia's owners are friends from Rome, who give us good advice about Sofi. We need to be more careful about her going up and down stairs, because of her long spine. Marielisa mentioned it, but it seems that this is something we need to pay close attention to. Since Sofi loves to bound up and down the marble stairs all day long, we probably need to get a children's gate to go across the top and bottom of the staircase until we train her to keep off the stairs.
We leave early in the morning to drive to Lucca. Suzanne and her sister have invited us to stay with them for a few days, and Roy really wants to get a birth certificate of his grandfather, who was born in 1884. We are expecting that this will take most of a morning.
On the way up, we stop in Chiusi to visit Alex and David at their "new" casale. They have done a lot of work, and we admire them very much for wanting to spend their first winter there. Portable heaters have been installed, but the project is an overwhelming one. They are taking it all in stride, with small steps. Young daughters Tomasina and Isolde are enjoying it, until they drive back to Giove and spend time in real civilization. We think that next summer will be a lot of fun for them all.
It is very messy underfoot, and the three of us get back into the car and drive North. We stop outside Florence at Ikea to look for a very small file cabinet that won't look too modern. We are in luck, and find one at a good price. It comes in a flat box, so Roy will put it together when we get home.
On to Lucca, and we arrive at their rental house mid afternoon. That evening, we go to Il Moro, a very good restaurant on the outskirts of Lucca. This restaurant is one of the two hundred or so restaurants in an association that hands out a special hand painted plate if someone eats the house specialty. Roy convinces the owner to sell him two, as gifts for Suzanne and Judith, although they did not offer the fish stew, the specialty of the house. This is a very good place to eat, and we recommend it.
Roy is a master with directions, and finds his way home in the dark like a homing pigeon. We go to bed tired and excited about tomorrow's adventures.
We get up early and leave before Suzanne and Judith are even dressed. We agree to meet them later for pranzo in the town. We find the commune in Lucca easily, and the window where we make the request is right on the first floor. We see a form to fill out with Nonno's name and birthdate and there is not even a line. A young woman comes up to the window and nods her head, "Yes, we can do that. 1884? Not a problem."
Before we know it, she has taken the 1884 book down from the shelf, and shows us the entry for Attilio Barsuglia. She goes out the door and returns in two minutes with all of the information on a piece of paper. She stamps it with four different stamps, signs it, and hands it to us. No charge! This took all of ten minutes.
What do we do with the rest of our day? We take Sofi up on top of the wall, a huge wide wall meant for walking, lined with trees and grass. We take her off her lead and she gambols all around, happy as can be. While walking around Lucca, we see a look-alike woman with her dog. She is tall and stately with short curly hair in a kind of a bubble hairdo. The dog is a very large black poodle, and they both have the same walk. So which of us looks more like Sofi? I suppose Roy with his beard....Roy makes reservations at Da Giulio in Pelleria and we meet Suzanne and Judith and the dogs there at 1PM. We put Sofi in the sherpa bag in the car, a short distance away, where she sleeps peacefully.
In the afternoon, fresh from his great success at the commune, Roy wants to go to visit the relatives. He has not called them, but called a family friend of his mother's, only to find out that she passed away in April. It is now raining, and we drive outside the wall to Via San Donato, and pull in the driveway. Armando is standing there, wondering who these people are waving at him. Roy gets out and after he gets over the shock, Armando invites us in for a glass of wine. We meet his wife, his two beautiful daughters and his mother, Maria. Maria is upstairs in the dining room with one of her grand daughters, sewing and talking away. She does not recognize us at first. It has been eight years since our last visit.
We are taken into the living room and amazingly are able to have a conversation with them. Years ago, when we went to their house for pranzo, none of them knew any English, and we hardly knew a word of Italian. But could Maria ever cook!
Today, we talk about where we live, why we came to Italy to live, why we bought where we did ("Why didn't you buy a house in Lucca?") and about politics. The big news in Italy is that there is a possibility that the government will make it mandatory for all schools to remove crucifixes from their walls. 97% of the people surveyed think this is a terrible idea. So we talk about that and President Bush and terrorism...
We leave and agree to keep in touch with them, and arrive home in the rain, in time to change for cena. This time, we will eat inside the walled city. We eat at Osteria Baralla, and the food is quite good. This is not where Roy wants to eat, but the restaurant he wants to eat at is closed on Tuesdays. It is good to have a meal without the dogs, but we look forward to going home to them, and bring them part of our dinner.
We go to bed early and look forward to a drive down the coast tomorrow.
We leave later today than yesterday, but agree that we will see Suzanne and Judith in a few days. They will go to Amelia and try to look for an apartment for Judith.
We drive to Livorno in pouring rain. The sky is menacing all the way, but just as we arrive in Livorno and begin to drive around, it starts to clear. Roy finds a restaurant, Le Volte, and the rain has slowed to a fine mist. There is hardly anyone in the restaurant, but we like it very much. Of course, this is a fish town, and we have a hot fish appetizer, followed by Linguine in a lemon clam sauce and Roy has gnocci with prawns. The food is remarkable. We will definitely return.
The rest of the drive is uneventful and long, but we return through Tarquinia and it is such a beautiful town we can't resist driving around the narrow streets. We find a rosticceria and bring home a roast chicken and potatoes. It is good not to cook tonight, although we have a salad with lattuga and rugghetta fresh from the garden.
There was a message left for me on the phone yesterday that I am finally scheduled to go in to the Orte hospital for rehabilitation treatments for my shoulder. So we arrive at 9AM and they agree to take me this morning. I will have ten sessions of about an hour each, on succeeding days. The rehab consists of sitting at, or lying next to, machines that are either magnetic or electro-something based.
I sit in a stiff chair over in a corner next to the first machine. There are kind-of sponges fitted like jackets over metal pads, attached to the machine by cords. One is placed on my shoulder blade, one on my shoulder, one on the back of my neck. They are bound to my body by a loose cloth. Rosella steps behind me and turns a knob and I think I am being slowly electrocuted. There is a kind of pulse that comes and goes in waves. She leaves me and the curtain remains open. I start to laugh with the silliness of it all. This is lower-than-low tech.
Chattering goes on all over the open clinic. Two women come into the big room, talking at a fast clip, and walk right up to me; then they reach behind my head for magazines. I am treated like the prosciutto at the Mugnano festa that waited sitting up on a chair while the band played and was then raffled off. One woman dangles a plastic bag over my face while she rifles through the magazines. The bag is slung over her wrist, as if it is a piece of jewelry. Then I am left alone, although people walk by continuously. The atmosphere is like a strange kind of club to which I would rather not belong...
After about twenty minutes, a loud alarm goes off and I am taken to another nearby machine. Now I get to lie down, and a curved metal bar is moved up my body to just above my chest. This must be for my spine. I cannot feel anything here, but after about another twenty minutes, another alarm goes off and I am though. These sessions cost
about €3 each...I pay €36 before the start of the session, and this covers all ten sessions. No wonder the Italian government is going broke!
Rain, rain, almost ever day, but we need it. Our roof is secure, although I am worried because the cracks are getting much worse over the doors to the kitchen and living room. Next week Stefano will do the repair work, and we will have to get the house ready for a real mess.
Roy buys a shop vac, and tells me that he is going to follow Stefano and Luca around vaccuming up the dust that is created. He also wants us to consider staying at a nearby agritourismo if the dust is just too bad. The whole house will be affected, so we will see. I am hoping that paint cloths covering everything will be all we'll need. I am making a big pot of minestrone next week, but we may wind up not eating here during the worst of it. The good news is that it will only take a week.
Suzanne and Judith call us from Amelia and they have found an apartment that they like very much. We agree to go and see it with them, and share their opinion. It is in a lovely open piazza, facing the old post office. A bell tower outside peals the time on the hour. There is no real view except for the piazza but there are beautiful painted ceilings, old tiles in many of the rooms, and the place is spotless. The bathroom tiles are lovely and everything has been done using the best materials. There is also a tiny studio apartment upstairs that may be purchased as well. This is a good idea, since there is one main entrance for both places.
We recommend that she think it over tonight, but she is ready to make an offer. Suzanne tells her that if she does not buy it, Suzanne will. So they come up with a price for the two places and the realtor agrees to go to the owner tonight with their offer. We give Judith the name of our notaio, and leave them as they go to a meeting with another realtor. Later in the evening, they call us several times, lost on the road, looking for a place to stay. Eventually they find one and Suzanne especially must be exhausted. It has been a very long day for them both.
Enzo arrives at 8:30 with young Fabrizio and they take out the sink and bidet before we know it. We will store them behind the house until we decide what to do with them. Roy decides to take me to Orte while they are getting the basics done, and is back to them in about 30 minutes. He drives me to the hospital for my second treatment, and everything goes without a hitch. The two women who help me are Paola and Rosella and I am able to move swiftly from one machine to the other. I hardly have to wait for him after the session.
We arrive back home and the sink unit really looks wonderful. They next reroute the water pipe behind the loggia. Enzo will return next week, we hope, to hook up the heated towel bar. And now we are ready for Spaccese to come to work on the electrical with Roy. Roy calls him and he is surprised Enzo did his work so fast...He will come on Tuesday. Roy calls Stefano to check in about a starting date, and Stefano stalls...he does not want to do the work when we need him to. He promises to come by tomorrow to look at the work. I look up at the kitchen door and worry. The crack is growing...
I make a kind of pot roast with pieces of beef, which I marinate most of the day in red wine and onion and garlic and carrot and celery. When cooked, I add potatoes, and it makes a good meal to have by the fire. We have rented Unfaithful with Diane Lane and Richard Gere and look forward to seeing her in Under the Tuscan Sun when we get to the states.
No trick-or-treaters tonight, although there are some costumes sold in nearby stores. This is a big holiday weekend. Tomorrow is All Saints Day, and Sunday is Day of the Dead. There will be a big mass at the Mugnano cemetery honoring the people who passed away this past year. We will also have a little ceremony of our own in the replanted lavender field, and scatter some of Isabel's ashes. A friend gave them to us a few weeks ago, and now we will have our good friend with us all the time.
Suzanne emails us that Judith's offer for the apartment in Amelia has been accepted. She has a lot of work ahead to make the place livable, although it is in move-in condition. There is no real kitchen, although the tiny apartment right upstairs that she also bought has a kitchen. And there is no furniture. A daunting task for a woman on her own who does not speak Italian and will only be here twice a year. The two of them have taken a train to Naples and will spend the weekend there. We are sure Suzanne will spend it sleeping and Judith dreaming of her new venture.
Today is All Saints' Day, and although it is Saturday, we go to mass at the regular Sunday time. After mass, we work around the house. It is a quiet day, and we joyfully undertake the simplest of tasks. The two loquat trees are full of sweet blossoms, and tiny little birds have returned to sing and hop from branch to branch while dining on their nectar. The tree outside the bedroom nearest the lavender has grown so that Mario will have to prune it way back in January. We can hardly see our favorite olive tree in front of the gardener's cottage, and that tree has grown to enormous proportions, graceful and proud.
We have seen so much change on our property in the past five years. Soon, we will use more of the land; in February we hope to plant six olive trees from Diego, above the spot where Roy's bocce court will go. We are hoping to donate the tiny spot to the village and have the commune involved in building it. Roy finishes adding the short mesh to the nearer wall at the end of the lavender. Next month, there will be a new simple castagno and mesh fence replacing the old worn one. Now, there are big holes enough for Sofi to fall through. So this temporary measure will allow her to gambol about in the meantime without fear.
I'm sitting in our bedroom and it is four PM. Shadows from the Tiber Valley hills block the sun in spots, and the view looks both warm and cold at the same time, depending on where the sun hits the lush land. The yellow leaves on the plane trees stand out strong and proud, next to all the soft grey-green olives and other evergreens. A branch from the big caki tree on the terrace reaches into the view, and its leaves have turned terra cotta in the last few days. Soon they will fall. For the first time there are no messy caki to contend with.
Next to me, Sofi sleeps in her cage on a big pillow with the door open. She loves the new bones we've brought her, but would rather stay here with me. She is as close to an angel as any dog I have ever had.
There is a layer of fog when we wake up, but it is so high that we can see the valley and sun streaming below it. Off in the distance, I can see some tall lemony-leafed trees, shot by sunlight streaming in from the left. There must be a clearing way down in the valley, beyond any road. We will have to walk down there some time.
Today is the day we scatter Isabel's ashes in the lavender garden. Roy picks out the five lavender closest to the front corner for the spot and shakes the ashes out of the little glass jar. She floats out like an angel, and we can almost hear the sound of her laughter. The air is still, and sun beams through the clouds above us. I read a poem of Robert Frost's, "In a Vale" and we speak about our memories of that dear woman. Today, her photograph sits on our kitchen table. We are blessed to have known her and loved her kindness and gentle spirit and, most of all, her love of life.
Before we know it, the entire village is eclipsed by fog. We know that it will be beautiful later, so we plan to drive north of Spoleto to the monthly antique market after church. We start to drive up to church, but must park down below, because there are Bomarzo Polymartium Band members already parking in front of us. We walk up and mingle around in front of the church. Today, there will be no morning mass. The mass will be at 3:30 in the cemetery. Now there is the marching band from Bomarzo, Don Luca, Stefano Bonari (the sindaco, or mayor) and two carabinieri, the one who looks like a blown-up version of the little king and a tiny little sidekick, as well as many people from the village.
We look for Felice and Giovanni. They fought in WWII and laid the wreath for the Caduti (fallen) last year. A cousin of Felice's has just died, so Marsiglia tells us he is in Viterbo at the cemetery. We see him come up the hill later, unshaven, with a plastic bottle of water. We think he has been down in his garden. Taking his place are Alberto and another man, dressed in new neon volunteer fireman jumpsuits and new boots. Roy thinks it's worth volunteering, just to get the costume...
The band plays a few tunes, including the Italian National Anthem, Don Luca gives a few blessings, Alberto and another man take the wreath and lay it against the marble statue, and then it is over. I have been holding Marsiglia's arm, and turn her over to Felice, who gives her a big hug (un gran abraccio).
We go home, get Sofi, and drive to the market, north of Spoleto. The sun is out and the sky is clear. Trees are starting to turn from green to gold and red.
We find a very reasonable old light for the bathroom, and Roy will wire it when we get home. We also find a few little holiday gifts, and a white alabaster dog for Roy's collection. We stop to eat at a trattoria nearby, and I love the homemade tagliatelle con tartufo. This is the season for truffles, fragrant and musty and heady with each bite. Roy gets to eat fegato(liver) crostini, and he is a happy man. I cannot imagine eating liver of any kind, but if it makes him happy and I don't have to serve it at home, that's fine with me.
Later in the day, Michelle stops by for coffee. We agree to sign her letter to the sindaco to get recycling canisters in the village. He seemed to like the idea when she asked him yesterday about using discarded plants from the cemetery to build a compost area for the people. Progress one slow step at a time.
Roy and Sofi take me to Orte for the next session with the magnetic machines. Upstairs, I stick my head around the door to say hello to Paola and Rosella. We are starting to get to know each other. Paola even smiles now when she sees me and tries out her English a few words here and there each day. Rosella speaks only a few words, but loves to say, "breasts!" She is a very funny woman, and makes me laugh when she hooks me up to the old machines, sometimes even bringing me a sheet to cover my bare shoulder like a toga.
While I am sitting at the first machine, Paola and Rosella come over and talk to me. I hear Rosella tell Signor Volpe in the next curtained area that I am English. "Americano!" I answer out loud, although I am not asked. A few minutes later, Paola, who speaks better English than Rosella, asks me why I would leave the US to live in Italy.
"Tropo complicato in America" I reply. "It is more important there to make money and live for tomorrow than smell a flower or enjoy the beauty of a lovely moment".
"You speak as though you are English!" Paola replies. "You have a European way of looking at life, not American." I am impressed with her ability to discern the nuances between the English and the American lifestyles. She is from Rome. Perhaps she has spent time with Europeans and/or Americans.
During the day, I think a lot about what she said. And I think about the land, and the things we plant in our gardens. Especially the onions.
When we first stick them in the ground, they are lithe and lovely and seem unable to stand on their own and live for more than a day. But they do live. Fortified by sun and liberal doses of rain and water, they thrive. Months later, their bulbs grow layer by layer by layer. When we take them out of the ground to braid them together and hang them in the kitchen, they have become works of art.
And it is only then that we take them, one by one, and peel away at them. And in peeling the layers away, we see that each layer has definition, texture, responsible in its own way for its role in producing the stunning globe that is the final shape of the onion. When life is full, it consists of layer upon layer upon layer. Only when we are able to look back and peel away at our life, layer by layer, can we begin to understand why we are here on earth for a short while. And for some of it, happy or sad, it brings a tear.
Yesterday, at the cemetery, I saw empty spots in the cement walls. I wondered if it is possible to buy one of the spots. I will ask. For the first time, although Roy and I have spoken about being cremated and having our ashes scattered across the lavender field, I am distrustful of what will happen to the land here after I die.
A year ago, I thought my nieces would take over this land with Terence, and dreamt of them loving this spot as we do. Now that they no longer view me as a treasured part of their lives, I am forced to look at life, and death, in a new way.
I don't think that, after my death, that there will be a reason to cherish the lavender garden. In the Mugnano cemetery, people go ever day to visit and take flowers to relatives and people they love. I would rather be there, surrounded by people who want to visit, than cast away, having the land dug up and something modern put in its place.
I love this village so much that I cannot imagine being anywhere else. When we go back to Boston, we visit my father's grave without fail. I do not know if anyone else visits him, but we do. And so I think that there must be an official place for me to be, even if it is only on each November 2nd for people to come and look over and remember a person who lived with them for awhile and loved sharing their village with them.
Roy and I get up early to go to Soriano for Roy's blood test for his cholesterol. It is over in ten minutes, and after we have coffee at a nearby café, Roy takes me to Orte for another session of therapy. It is really working. My shoulder feels ever so much better.
Rosella asks me if I stayed up all night, I am so early, but she allows me to get onto the machines right away. The second machine is so strange that it's current has my arm actually leaping up every few seconds. It is a little strong (forte), but I try to ignore it, reading a book.
Afterward, we go to an outdoor market in Orte and buy some more bitola (swiss chard) so I can make that wonderful soup again. I'll post the recipe on this site soon. We come home and Stefano comes by to look over the project. He will start some preliminary work this next week, but won't do the project until between Dec. 11th and Christmas. It appears that the house was very well built in 1935, including steel rods through the floors. Stefano will be putting more steel reinforcing in the floors and walls, but Roy does not think we will need any kind of "turnbuckle" on the outside of the house. We will see.
Today is another really beautiful and warm day. I am able to do some puttering outside, including giving a little haircut to a few of the older boxwood on the front terrace. I am taking it easy on my arm until it is stronger, but grooming one or two plants a day will go quickly and won't cause much pain.
I call Loredana to check in, and she is getting better by the day, but is very tired in the afternoons. I forget to tell her that we ran into Anselma yesterday and she is going to call Lore. We hope that Lore is well enough to return to Mugnano soon. We do miss Lore and Alberto.
We stop at Dottoressa Ofelia in the afternoon for a prescription for my new gynecologist. I have to wait almost an hour to see Ofelia to get it. That done, we fly to Viterbo for an appointment with Dottoressa Maria Battestoni, a woman who is a friend of Elizabeth's. I like her very much. Strange, but she only recommends mammograms every 2 years for me. Otherwise, one more good connection in Italy. She is a private doctor, not part of the state system, so her visit is €80. Expensive by Italian standards, but not by American....She invites us to come to her agritourismo with Elizabeth in Bolsena sometime. That must be where Tomasso worked this summer. Something new to look forward to!
We drop off Sofia at home so she can take a nap and go to Roscio for a simple dinner. That place is really a trip. The owner and another man spend each night standing outside, directing traffic. That means directing the truckers that stop their huge trucks there for a meal. When we arrive, there must be 20 trucks lining the street and parking lots. Inside, I am the only woman except for two waitresses and the cooks. The place really rocks.
For some strange reason, we really like to eat there. The atmosphere, aside from the truckers, is quite good. Tablecloths and cloth napkins, attractive but not overdone décor, and of course the big TV in the corner for all to see. They have a new menu and it is actually getting trendy. I have a salad of fennel, grapefruit, oranges, black olives and shaved parmesan. A nice break from pasta. And their grilled meat is always excellent.
We get home to find out that I am going to be deposed while I am in Boston, and go to bed on that sad note.
What a beautiful day! A funny time in Orte at the hospital, and then we come back to Mugnano for our flu shots from Dottoressa, who has office hours in the village on Wednesday mornings. Last year she would not give us shots, telling us they are only for the old people. What a difference a year makes. She includes us this year in her bunch of old folks...180 flu shots for her patients. That is quite a case load.
She is in a wonderful mood, and tells us that she is reading Schopenhauer. She wants to understand why her patients behave the way they do. That is heavy slogging, and perhaps I'll even try to read him some day. There is so much to learn about life!
She is not happy continuing to prescribe Imigran for my migraines, and tells me that there is a special research clinic at the hospital in Perugia where she will schedule me to go in January to research my headaches. That should be interesting.
Suzanne called yesterday to say that Judith will use Fabiana as her notaio and that her Amelia house deal will be done next month. Judith will fly over for a week. But the great news is that Suzanne will have two concerts nearby in December, on December 19th in Ostia Antica and on the 21st in Rome, perhaps in the Music Center. She will also go to Paris for five days, but will come here to visit us as well. And of course we will go to her concerts. Perhaps she will join us here for Christmas or New Year's. It will be wonderful to share some of the holidays with her.
Roy works on the top part of the bathroom cabinet out on the terrace, in anticipation of Spaccese, who will be here this afternoon. When they are through, we will only have to wait for Enzo to install the heated towel bar for the bathroom to be finished.
Outside the moon glows and the sky turns lavender and gray. It is time for a fire. In another hour Tiziano will come by for an English lesson. On Sunday we spoke with him and laughed. He missed the last meeting because he confuses the words Tuesday and Thursday. So we have agreed to never meet on either of those dates and laugh again. If Roy is still working with Spaccese, Tiziano and I will work by ourselves at the table in front of the fire.
Last evening, while Spaccese worked away with Roy on the electrical work in the bathroom and installing the top sink unit, I waited for Tiziano. Spaccese tells us that he cannot work for us during the day, because he is harvesting his olives, with help from Pepe Fosci, who we think is his cousin. That reminds me. We need to check the three olive trees in the far property and pick them if there are any olives. As Spaccese says, this is a bad year for olives. Our big olive tree has no fruit, and we are doubtful that the other three have any, either. We will check in a day or so.
Tiziano arrives almost an hour late, apologizing for his lateness. We sit on the couch and talk, first in Italian and then in English, about his busy schedule and what he is studying at School. He is taking exams in a week or so, in preparation for receiving his Doctorate in Archeological Studies. He also works at the archeological museum in Amelia and at the museum in Soriano. We start to work on Roy's letter to the mayor, requesting that the commune-owned path in front of our house be repaired, and that a castagno fence and handrail be put in for the safety of anyone who uses the path.
Roy first wrote the letter in English, then used our translation software to turn it into an Italian document. The software is pretty useless, as Tiziano shows us after Roy comes down and Spaccese leaves.
After we finish talking with him about the translation and laughing about our feeble attempts, he tells us about his mother and father and the war his father is having with the mayor. Remember I wrote about Alberto and another man in volunteer firefighting costumes taking the wreath to the caduti memorial on Sunday? Well, Tiziano's parents were very upset that Alberto (who is Vincenzo's son, not the other Alberto who is married to Loredana) and a man from Bomarzo took the wreath. Felice and Giovanni, or other men who actually fought in WWII should have carried the wreath, but it was some kind of favor the mayor did for Alberto. Tiziano thinks the mayor is trying to publicize people doing volunteer work. Well, Tiziano's parents are really angry because the strada bianca in front of their house in the valley below us has huge ruts in the road from the rains. The commune is responsible for maintaining it, but has done nothing. Week by week, month by month, Stefano (the mayor) tells Tiziano's father that it will be done. But nothing happens.
And now that Alberto was allowed to present the caduti wreath, Tiziano's parents are so upset they are practically ready to stage a war against the mayor. I recall that they campaigned against him in the last election. The next election will not be for two years. So can you imagine how Tiziano must be feeling as he helps us to write this letter?
We like the mayor, and are hoping that our wish to turn over a small portion of our land for the community bocce ball court will win him some points with the local voters. In turn, we want him to fix the hill on the side of the path and install a castagno short fence of x-bracing. We will have a meeting with just the mayor in a week or so, and will see how he responds. Since we are right above the only road into the village, our safety concern is of more import to the mayor than the strada bianca on a seldom-used road in the valley. We will see.
Before pranzo, we drive to Vitorchiano to shop, and stop at the way at the Trappist Nuns' little shop. They sell their jams through Paul Ferrari in the Bay Area! We have not tried them, and pick one up, as well as some little gifts for folks in the U.S.
They also sell us some broccoletti from their garden, and since Felice planted broccoletti in our orto garden, we buy a kilo to try it out. I am not sure if I should do anything special with it other than the olive oil, pepperoncini, garlic sauté, and call Loredana in Rome for the ultimate advice. She tells me to wash it thoroughly and take off all the hard stems, but otherwise do what I had planned. It comes out a little bitter, although I did not overcook it. I'd better find something good to do with it, because Roy is now wary of it and we will have lots of it this winter. Perhaps we can try it in a soup, replacing the swiss chard. Do you know about the website called about.com? There is a section on Italian food, and I will also check that out. This is an excellent site. I note that today's entry includes a description of Bomarzo and the Monster Park down the road, as well as a link to ideas about curing olives.
Just before dark, the trees stand out so brilliantly I can hardly believe they are real. The caki tree appears to be shot with neon, the yellow trees down below shine bright gold against a dark green backdrop. The sky is lavender, with clouds turned pink from the setting sun. This picture cannot be real. I get up and stand at the window, looking at a scene I have seen every day for over a year and cannot believe that it is the same scene today. From season to season, and even day to day, the light and condition of the sky and the leaves on the trees are in constant visual change.
Pepe comes by to say that Spaccese will be here tomorrow, because of an emergency. Roy calls Enzo to see when he will return and has no idea what Enzo responds to him. Enzo speaks the most incredible Bomarzese dialect, rattling his words off in machine-gun speed. Roy supposes Enzo will just show up one day to finish his work and get his check.
Sofi sure hates to go out in the rain. We have a little raincoat for her, just to cover her back, but she looks up at me sadly when I plonk! her down on the gravel and tell her to do her business.
Later in the morning after the clinic we take a short drive to Orvieto to pick up a few gifts and stop at a fast food place near the autostrada for pranzo. Only in Italia would they have a sommelier in full battle garb at a fast food restaurant. The place also sells local wines and Italian gift food items, so a local winery may be sponsoring him. He bows when we walk by with our plastic trays of pasta.
While we are in Orvieto, I think that Sofi has worms. I am not sure...Did she swallow an elastic? I am not sure what the worm should look like. Roy wants to wait but I want to call Marielisa right away. I fret all afternoon and evening. She is such a sweet dog that I can't bear to have anything happen to her.
Tia calls to check in after her quick trip to the Bay Area and gives us the sad news that Joe Leis, owner of the Avenue Grill in Mill Valley, died of a heart attack on Monday. He and Marnie had just returned from Mexico and he was so happy. The good thing is that Bruce and Tia had dinner with them on Friday night. So for Tia and Bruce it was a good way to say goodbye. We liked Joe a lot, and remember our Friday nights fondly at The Grill, at table #9. It is such a small world that we did not know that Tia and Bruce were very good friends of theirs. We would have sent our regards. No matter. We will say a prayer for Joe and remember him with a smile.
I ask Tia about the worms, and she counsels me that she is sure that Sofi has them, but to go to the vet right away and get a prescription. It is normal over here for puppies to have worms. Tomorrow morning we have planned to drive to Norcia for the day, and we will go through Terni to get to the vet early in the morning. I am sad that she will have to wait a night to get some medicine, but she seems fine. What a wimp I am.
We drive to Terni in the rain on the way to Norcia to take Sofi to Dr. Cristalli, her vet. We are there before the office opens, and another vet beckons us in. When he stops to answer a phone call I ask Roy why we can't see Dr. Cristalli and after a few tears and a short discussion, Cristalli appears and allays my fears. He gives Sofi a pill, telling us to give her another in a month and then twice a year. He advises subtle changes to her diet (add cooked pasta chopped up fine and good Umbrian olive oil. si certo. this is Italy)
The most interesting advice is to take away the bones we have been giving her. We have only been giving her bones for the last week or so, and evidently there is some kind of bacteria that forms in these bones, in combination with the things Sofi sniffs on the ground. He confirms that puppies get these parasites often, and not to worry.
We leave very relieved and take a beautiful ride to Norcia for pranzo. The ride past Terni through the Valdinera (valley of the Nera River) is in peak foliage season. The difference between this and New England is that medieval towers climb up the steep peaks. It is a glorious site. We walk around the town of Norcia and buy lentils, prosciutto and sausages (specialties of the area) and Sofi sleeps in the car while we have a great lunch at Ristorante Granaro el Monte.
On the way home, the ride on the curvy roads is more than Sofi can take. She gets sick, and when we stop, more sick. Just before we reach Terni, we see the Marmore Falls in the distance, water just gushing over the side of the cliffs, and stop to see them more closely. Sofi gets her spirit back and runs with us. So she is all right, probably responding to the long drive and the medicine. When we get home, she is back to her old self. We spend a quiet evening by the fire and she is quiet as can be.
We walk up to church in the fog, but by the time we reach the square the fog is almost gone, the blue sky overhead promising a beautiful day. We have not seen Felice for days, and he is not in church today, either. Neither is Marsiglia. We hope that they are all right.
The temperature is almost hot, a great day to work outside. While Roy putters, I take the large rake and rake the leaves on the path to the lavender garden and on the whole front terrace. Sofi is in heaven, racing all around the yard, spewing leaves in the air like Pigpen in Charlie Brown. She bounds right into a tall pile of caki leaves and rolls around in ecstacy. When it is time for me to pick up the leaves and put them in a bucket, she races around again, playing with me by darting to and fro from one pile of leaves to another.
Paola comes by for a visit, and we sit outside on the bench in front of the kitchen. Roy brings another chair out of the loggia and it is summer-warm. She tells us that Giuseppe, her uncle, is in the hospital with a heart problem. We have not seen him but she thinks he will be fine. That must be why his wife, Giuseppa, has not been in church, either.
I ask her what is new about the story about the schools having to take crucifixes out of the classrooms. She tells us that it was the result of a lawsuit that was initiated by a Muslim man who is the head of the Muslim community in Italy. He does not want his children to be forced to pray to a Catholic ikon. The case went before a judge, who agreed with him that the crucifixes should be removed. There was a public outcry, and an appeal that has gone to another judge, who is just sitting on it. Well, don't get me started.
I read that the results of a public survey indicated that 97% of Italians did not agree with this first judge. Mamma mia. Of course they don't agree! Italy is so open to people who want to come and live here from all over the world. But the culture is very Catholic and the Italian culture is very important to the Italian people. If someone is of another belief, they can go somewhere the belief is practiced and part of the culture. In American, there is no culture; hence, our inability to reject any kind of practice or way of life. In Italy, the very fabric of the culture is entwined with the Catholic religion.
This issue is a real hot button for me, and you know what happens to me when you press my "hot button". I am tired of Americans and English and Germans coming to Italy and trying to change it to fit into their previous culture and lifestyle. Before we know it, Italy will have no culture. The "I want my Starbucks coffee" mentality drives me crazy. Don't buy a place in Italy if you want to make it "more like home". Sssssssss. Just hear me sizzle, like the compressed air being let out of a Illy coffee can.
We tell her about our idea of a bocce court and ask her what she thinks. She likes the idea. Her boyfriend is Antonio, the President of the Universita Agraria of Mugnano. She will tell him about it. Roy's idea is for his organization to volunteer to build the court, we will provide the land and we will visit with Stefano, the mayor, this week to talk with him about fortifying the path and putting in a castagno hand rail.
This seems too easy. Far too easy. There must be something complicated ahead. Stay tuned. Paula will bring Antonio by next weekend to talk about it and to look over the land.
After dinner, I take Sofi outside before taking her up to bed. The moon is full, and I hear voices down below. Silvana is walking on Via Mameli, near the entrance to our parcheggio, and I call out to her. She is with Baskia's master and Baskia, taking a walk and enjoying the moon. She asks about Loredana and wants to know when she will return. I think it will be a few more weeks.
Roy worked for hours this afternoon on the photos on the website. The photos are his project, as the copy is mine, and he makes some good progress. We are hoping that in a week or so we will be up to date on all the sections, including photos. This website has been a great gift to us from Bob and Lindsey and Alex Kalsey. Not only does it allow us to document our goings on for future reference, we no longer have to write long emails to lots of different people about what is going on. The strangest part of all is that people actually read it!
Two more treatments and I am done at the clinic in Orte. A woman bids me "arrividerla!" because today is her last treatment. I hope I will see her some day in Orte and greet her. While I am hooked up to the first machine, I hear two people speaking. I cannot figure out what they are saying at all. They speak in a local dialect. Because they are behind a curtain, they sound like characters out of an old Douglas Fairbanks film. I imagine them cocking their heads, wearing knit hats and beckoning each other toward a pirate ship with leering glances. I never do find out what is going on back there, for I am taken to another room and hooked up again to another machine. I have been wearing a wool and paisley scarf, and am able to cover my shoulder with it over the probes. We call this Armani d'Orte.
We drive to Soriano to pick up the results of Roy's blood tests, and have a conversation about the composting Shelly wants to do at the cemetery (which is next to her property). The sindaco is willing to listen to her idea about recycling and composting, and wants her to come up with a solution. I tell Roy I think Shelly should buy a mulching machine, and put a bin right outside the cemetery and collect the dead plants and flowers a few times a week. She can then have all the compost herself. Any other plan would require someone doing the work, so it does not make sense to have it for the people of the village. I don't think they will really care.
Roy thinks we need a little mulching machine. I think doing the composting has become a real drag for him, because it takes so long for everything to break down. So we stop at CAMI on the way back. Cami sells farm and agricultural machines and supplies, and they offer a used excellent machine to him at a great price. It was returned by a farmer who could not use it to cut olive branches, which are very hard. Shelly probably needs one bigger than this, but perhaps if we buy this machine it will give her some ideas.
Back at home, we hear Don Luca on the street. There has been another death, this time a mother of someone in the village who lives in Rome, but wanted to be buried in Mugnano. At first we think it is Marsiglia's brother, because his wife is held on either side by neighbors as the procession slowly moves below us. But Marsiglia and Dina are nowhere to be seen.
After the procession, we take photos of the path in front of our house to take to the mayor tomorrow. We then go up into the village below the tower and take photos of the wonderful crossed castagno fence rail that we want used on the path. If we are in luck, we will get our wish of a protected path below our house. We will also talk with Stefano about the bocce court. This next weekend we will go over the idea with Antonio and Paola. There are many young adults emerging in the village, so we are confident that we can resurrect bocce here. Decades ago there was a court, but it was paved over for parking due to lack of interest. How very exciting if we can make this new plan happen. Knowing our past adventures in the US, would you expect anything different? We are bringing old culture back into the village, and look forward to getting the people to share our excitement about it.
Felice comes by, and it is so good to see him. We ask about Marsiglia, and she hurt her leg yesterday morning in the bathroom. She slipped, we think. Be we think they both are fine, so no need to worry. We give him a lavender wand to take home to her. He tells us to pick one of the cabbages, because it is ready and the rain will soak into it and rot it. I go through some of my cookbooks for a recipe and will cook it tonight. I will save some of it out for a minestrone to make tomorrow or the next day.
The moon is right, so tomorrow Felice will scatter the seeds for the ground cover. They will grow below the big olive tree and also in the garden in front of the path to the lavender field. Both areas are looking un-manicured.
I think Roy is a little overwhelmed with the volume of leaves on the terrace. Yesterday we raked them all up and this morning, leaves from Roy's "damn caki" tree blanketed the terrace below it. There was no rain, nor was there wind, but there was fog. The tree has turned shades of terra cotta and bright red, but somehow the tree is not as dramatic as it has been in previous years. We think the long hot summer has had an impact. It certainly has had an impact on the olive crops.
Shelly calls us after pranzo to ask if we want to bundle our olives with theirs to take to the agraria. They need 200 kilos to have the olives be crushed as a separate crush, and they only have 50. We have none. Niente. We laugh because we wonder what she was thinking. If she has 50 with 125 trees, how many did she think we'd have with one? or 4?
Tia calls. "We need help!" For Tia and Bruce, the olive harvest will be abundant. We will be meeting them tomorrow for pranzo at NonnaPappa, and will discuss going over to help them harvest. They will have plenty of olives, and we will get some of their oil for our efforts, not that it matters. I gently mention Shelly's call to us, and she just laughs. So it makes no sense to try to put them together. The two couples don't really get along. I don't know the details, so just don't get involved. My rehab will be finished on Wednesday. If I find that I cannot pick, perhaps I will cook. But it will be fun to be there just the same.
I have mixed the dates up. We go to NonnaPappa tomorrow, not today. So after my rehab, we drive to Amelia to help Tia with the olive harvest. Before we leave the hospital, I ask Paola if she will read my xrays tomorrow and talk to me about ongoing rehab. She agrees and I am relieved. On the road between Orte and Amelia, we stop at the agritourismo we have watched being restored. Roy goes in to get a tour and a brochure. We'll write it up on the Places to Stay section of this site.
We take the back road to Tia and Bruce's, and it is a much better road. We find out later that they have to have work done on the bottom of their cars from the pummeling they are getting from the road. We always like seeing new vistas, and this one is particularly pretty, rolling hills, interesting casales, yellow and red leaves on the trees etc... We come upon Tia on the road to their casale, way up in a tree, looking cute as can be in her Old Navy coveralls. Sofi darts out of the car and over the rough terrain, and for the next few hours the three of us have a great time. We are not expected, but Bruce comes back from town with a cooked chicken and some pizza, so there is plenty to eat for pranzo.
Roy and Tia are up on old wooden ladders in a big olive tree. The ground is covered below with a beautiful beige olive mesh, and Sofi bounds right into it, until I encourage her off. The olives are chartreuse and eggplant colored jewels, and there are olive trees in such abundance that we can imagine a great, great harvest for our two friends. But how will they manage to pick them all? We are only able to help for a day or two this week....
I sit on a red lug turned upside down and sort the twigs and stems from already picked olives, strewn on to the mesh. Tia and Roy continue to pick the olives from the top of the tree. So we spend several hours on this one tree, and they have 125...Let me see the math...Luckily many of the trees have no olives. They have hired a crew to work on the weekend, and we will come back tomorrow and Thursday to help some more.
While we sit around the kitchen having lunch and drinking some of their new wine, which we like a lot, Bruce asks us if we want to be paid in dollars or in oil. I try to tell him that this is a gift of friendship, but he will not listen. So we will have some great olive oil for our efforts.
Tia gets the results of her body scan, done last week in the US, and she comes out with "flying colors". We are thrilled for her. She has come up with a great product from Whole Foods to color hair, so I will buy some in the U.S. and ask my good friend, Lia, about it. It appears to be homeopathic...
Sofi has the time of her life bounding all over the land, and comes right back to us when we call her. She is afraid of Ivy, Tia's old dog, with just cause. Ivy snaps at her whenever she enters Ivy's domain. So Sofi stays on one part of the kitchen and Ivy on the other during pranzo, during which they are each given plates of cooked chicken.
Tia later calls to tell her we are the best migrant workers they have ever had....
We come home and change for our visit to the sindaco. Roy put on his clean jeans and we see that Stefano has jeans on, too, but they are topped by a white crewneck that sets off his short, neatly cropped hair. He could be in a magazine add with Tia, in their red, white and navy...He reminds me of a high school "preppie", but is very serious and moves very quickly...all quite uncharacteristic of 90% of the Italian population.
We are not first in line to see him but he asks if we can do our business in less than cinque minute. Si. He ushers us in. Roy is drawn to a modern painting on the wall of a large book sitting on a shelf by itself. He asks Stefano if that is the book of exceptions. (The book of laws, or rules, is very small). Stefano laughs a short laugh and agrees.
We have had the secretary log in and stamp both copies of the letter, and he reads it closely, nodding his head in agreement. He knows the path is pericoloso, but at this time the monies for the village are tied up in a big project for the sewer system. He tells us that when the engineer does the work for the sewer system he will also look at our path and the terra beneath it, and bundle that in with the overall Mugnano project.
Roy asks "when" and he agrees that we will get a fence to our front gate in primavera. The rest will have to wait. We are all right with that. Once we meet with Antonio and get people excited about building the court, we will go back to Stefano again.
We run into Karina on the road, who has come to town to see Dottoressa in Bomarzo. We tell her we will wait for her and drive her to Shelly's after her meeting. Shelly is not home and it is dark, so we bring Kari home for tea. While we wait for the water to boil, I take her up to see the new bathroom sink. She loves it.
We then giggle like schoolgirls as she tells me about the time she was overseeing the house for us, just after we bought it and were back in the U.S. We asked Kari to measure the holes in the bathroom, so that we would know how wide the new towel bars should be.
Karina did not understand what we wanted, so told Maurizio Garrone, who was doing work for us at the time, to measure the holes in the bathroom. Which holes? All the holes. Measure them from the floor or from the ceiling? Karina thinks that when you are asked to do something, don't question. Just do it. So we get a diagram of the room, with scores of holes strategically placed and measured. Tears run down our cheeks as we howl with laughter.
We take Karina to Shelly's after tea, and sit down to watch "About Schmidt", a very funny film starring Jack Nicholson and Kathy Bates. We love the character of little Ngudu.
While we are in the middle of the film About Schmidt, the phone rings and we put the dvd on pause. It is Terence. "We have some news."
All of a sudden our lives are changed. We are now Nonna and Nonno-in-waiting, a baby to be born in June. We are so excited that we will see them soon to embrace them in person and to tell them how happy we are for them. They are a wonderful couple, and we wish them every happiness in the world. After we hang up, Roy remarks, still in shock, "Wonder if they have considered the name Ngudu, unless that name is already too popular..."
I hear two words often during my visits to the Orte hospital rehab. clinic: ginnastica (calisthenics) and ginocchio (knee) followed close behind by spalla (shoulder). I think they mean exercise when they speak of ginnastica. They just don't follow the Italian dictionary...Today I meet with Paola to go over my radiologia(x-rays) in addition to having my last treatments. She advises me to wait a couple of weeks and if I am still in pain to see an osteopath. I hug Rosella and Paola and thank them and they ask me to send a postcard when I go to the U.S. While I am sitting by the machines, I thumb through a new Pottery Barn catalogue; one that Tia has lent me overnight. At first glance, there are so many things I would like to have. So I go through it over and over.
By the time I am through with the treatment and walk down the stairs and out into the cold air, my head is spinning with materialism. Roy is unable to park right outside, so in the few minutes it takes me to walk down the path, to the right, then to the left and down a block or two of ancient stone buildings, I start to hear birds, smell rich cooking, take in the beautiful layer upon layer of stone houses hugging each other on every corner.
And the thoughts of items in the catalogue waft out of my head like smoke from a slow fire, replaced by the sights and sounds and smells of everything that is right here and so very important to me. We get no catalogues in the mail. And for us the only reason to look forward to seeing our postman is to wave buon giorno! to him each day.
We drive to Amelia, but it is just too cold to pick olives. We do some errands instead, and call Tia to tell her we will meet them at the restaurant at L'una. We arrive at NonnaPappa early, and watch about twenty hunters file by with their guns, in full battle gear. Roy thinks they are partisans, lost from the war. Bruce remarks, "Not with those guns."
Fidelia greets Sofi with a big hug, and little Felipo, who is not much older than Sofi and a Jack Russell terrier bounds over to see her. The two little dogs spend the next few hours chasing each other. I ask Fidelia if Felipo is using condoms and we laugh. The last thing we need is for Sofi to get pregnant, but we think she is too young. Magari! We watch them race around the restaurant after each other, and luckily there are only the 7 of us in the restaurant today. Near the end of the meal Sofi winds up in my lap, sound asleep. This was a treat for Sofi, because Fidelia also fed Sofi real food just for her.
Just before we finish, the hunters come by the big picture window with a huge chinghale.
Tia and I are upset, and ask a few of the hunters why it is still barely alive. They tell us it is dead, and string it onto the roof of one of the hunter's cars. The lot is full of cars, and the hunters then go off for more...
We take Tia home (Bruce left early to go back to work) and Sofi is like a lead weight on my lap she is so tired. We get home to a cold house under a winter sky and Roy gets ready to build a fire.
This morning we stop next to the bus stop on our way out of the village to drop off some garbage. We greet Rosina and little Federico, waiting for the school bus with Giovanni. We take Sofi out to greet Federico, but he is shy. Roy tells Giovanni and Rosina that we are going to pick olives and beats his chest, saying that he will feel like Tarzan when he is through. They just look at him.
We stop at the Titty Bar for coffee, a little place just at the Attigliano offramp of the A-1. We like Maurizio and his sweet wife very much, but cannot figure out why they picked such a name for a bar.....They really like Sofi and remember to greet her by name each time we go in.
Today we are on a mission. We are going directly to Tia's to pick olives, although it is still cold outside. We are hoping it will clear. Fortified by strong espresso, we drive over the hill through Lugnano to the back road of Casa Lara. Tia is nowhere to be seen, but there is a strange car on the side of the road, and an old man up in a tree. We are sure this is someone who is picking for Tia and Bruce, so we park the car and walk over the bumpy terra toward his tree to join him.
Tia arrives fifteen minutes later with more lugs, and Roy tells her we have been there since 6 AM. She laughs, because she just left before we came to bring more supplies. For the next three hours we work away, sometimes even silently. Roy and Tia are up on old wooden ladders. Tia has a hand rake. I am on the ground, picking out the twigs and leaves and putting the olives that sit on the netting into the big red lugs. We are all on pretty rugged land. It has recently been turned, but looks like craters of the moon.
Sofi is in heaven, bounding up and down, going from person to person and then straying off a little on the scent of a chinghale. Luckily there are none nearby. The clouds come and go, but it is warm enough to continue. By the time we go in for pranzo, we have picked four lugs. That may not sound like much, but it is an enormous amount.
Inside, we cut up roast chicken for salad and sit around in the kitchen with Bruce joining us. Ivy snaps at Sofi and she yelps out, crying away. We don't think Ivy actually took a bite, but scared the living heck out of her. She shakes in my arms until we sit down for pranzo. We have fixed two plates of chicken for Sofi and Ivy, so since they are kept apart, they seem to do fine until Tia can't resist picking up Sofi after lunch and Ivy shows her who is boss....
We come home for a few minutes and then go up to Danieli to get our hair cuts and my color done. Danieli takes me first, mixes the solution and finishes with the painting so quickly I am not sure what he has done. He uses no foil. Just two brushes and two plastic dishes of solution. While I sit and wait for the color to take hold, Roy gets his hair cut and his beard trimmed. When I am done, the price is €40 for the two of us. Roy asks me if I am happy with it and I respond, "This is what it is." I am learning not to judge even my hairdresser these days. He does do a good job.
Roy really wants to get the mulcher we looked at the other day, and we are able to get it for even a lower price than first quoted. The Italians like to take a little off the price of most things, almost to make the buyer feel he is being singled out to get a special deal. This little gesture is appreciated, and is why we like to shop locally whenever we can.
When we drive off, I ask if the mulcher is the same as the one in the movie Fargo. Roy laughs and thinks that he'll store it with a boot upside down in it to keep rainwater from going in. I think he is kidding.
Tonight we leave Sofi in her bed and drive to Alan's with the potato dish I cooked last night to include with his dinner. We had no idea he would spend the entire day on the meal. Tonight, he is using his dining room for the first time, including his best silver and china and crystal. There are ten of us, and his neighbors Jill and Mario are co-hosting.
The main dish is roast leg of lamb, with squash and brussel sprouts from his garden, our potatoes and his, a combination trifle/tirimisu for dessert. We start with a cream of squash soup. A great meal, with only a hint of Italia in the dessert...definitely an ex-pat evening. The highlight of the evening is watching Roy eat all four of his brussel sprouts and not wincing.
We wake late to a beautifully clear day. The shutters are partly closed, because Maria came here to clean yesterday afternoon and when she left it was dark. So the darkness helps us sleep in a little. I rake more caki leaves on the terrace, and they are so beautiful; each leaf a painting. Yellow and orange and bronze with touches of green here and there. In a pile under the tree, they invite Sofi and me like a bed. Sofi cannot resist. I hesitate for a minute, then move on to do more laundry.
The loggia looks so wonderful, it is a pleasure to do laundry there, then hang everything out on drying racks on the terrace. Tia and Bruce have a clothes dryer, but no one else does. In cold wet weather things take days to dry, but today we will probably be able to finish a few loads and take the clothes in dry later this afternoon.
We hear from the people who bought our Mill Valley house that there is a kind of dispute they are having with their neighbors on the driveway easement. We think that is so silly. How could anyone want to have a dispute with Russ and Mary? We offer to meet with them the next time we are there.
We remember that during our first month in Mill Valley we almost burned Russ and Mary's house down. We had a fire in the fireplace and Roy took the ashes out to a wet spot between the two houses, thinking there would not be a problem. We went to work and Roy called Mary asking her to look out on the ashes. He wanted to be careful. Over the receiver he heard firetrucks blaring. There was no fire. But Russ shook his index finger at us like we were schoolchildren when we rushed back home. We felt so terrible. That day we sent a big bunch of flowers to them with an apology. And we became great friends.
Here our neighbors are above us, and Rosina calls out to Sofi, who is barking at something in the distance. "What is it?" I pick Sofi up and take her out to the side gate to show her that nothing is there. We wave up at Rosina and I wave. Lagrimino is also out on his little deck, but he just looks over at us. Sofi stops and goes back to quietly nosing around on the terrace.
Below, Roy brings out the mulcher. We take up the newly raked leaves and put them into the machine, placed right under the caki tree. Roy will have to get better wheels for the mulcher to wheel it around, but otherwise it does very well, even spitting up errant pieces of gravel that get lost in the accumulated leaves.
We decide not to get new wheels, but to take it down to the compost area instead, where it will do its work. We are slow to learn the hows and whys of this composting business, but eventually we will get it right.
We do a few errands in Viterbo, and in Pieneta, the big grocery and general store, we are overwhelmed and can't wait to leave. We have become country bumpkins, and can imagine that we will not fare well when we go to the U.S. What a difference a year makes.
Yesterday on the way through Bomarzo, an Italian flag was flown at half-staff over the Carabinieri office. Now Italy has seen the ravages of war affect it's own people. A few days ago, sixteen Italians were killed in Iraq. We really are doing a terrible job there. With all the experts forgetting what they have learned from past insurrections, we go in to conquer instead of working with the Iraqis to rebuild their ravaged country. No wonder other countries won't send their soldiers. For a fresh perspective, read or watch International news. It is a real eye-opener.
We wait for Roberto Pangrazi, the geometra, who will come to re-measure for the work on the back of the house. He arrives to tell us we cannot do the project...We cannot build a storage room for the house. Roy asks, "What about adding a bathroom?"
Si, certo, you can build a bathroom. "So make it the biggest bathroom you can, include the heater, the laundry..." and Roberto re-measures. We can add the equivalent of 10% of the cubic measurement of the house. Strano, ma vero. We will move the washing machine in there, the heater now sitting on the outside of the back of the house, and in bad weather we will be able to dry our clothes inside in a real laundry room. After we begin, we will put in a wall to close off the bathroom that is not on the plans. We are beginning to master "the art of the arrangement" and after all, isn't this the ultimate "form over function"?
Today is a bone-chilling day. It is eight degrees, but seems much colder, because the air is so damp. Not good olive-picking weather, either. But a great day for a roaring fire, which is just what we have while we fix pranzo.
This morning, before we went out, Felice came by and Roy showed the mulcher to him down in the compost area. Felice likes the mulcher, and we think he will use it.
Roy and Sofi take me to get a pedicure in Orte, and I try to tell Giusy that I think I am getting a corn between my little toe and the one next to it. I try to tell her maize, which is the word for corn in Italian. She has me spell it, and when she sees it she laughs, "Popcorn!" I try to tell her "un granaro di maise" and somehow it does not translate. Giusy gives me the best pedicure I have ever had, but I am unable to have the long conversations I used to have with Lien and then Emy in Mill Valley.
Coming home, we look up and see the shutters open at Lore and Alberto's house. What a wonderful surprise. We drive right up into the village and walk over. Alberto invites us in and after a few hugs he breaks out a new bottle of wine. It is so good to see them. Lore's foot looks very good. It is not swollen, and we are sure she is mending nicely. We confirm that Alberto is indeed Il Magnifico in deed as well as in name. This gentle giant has waited on Lore hand and foot for two months, not an easy thing to do for this determined lady.
We walk up to church and meet Elena in the square. She tells us that the wind is a scirocco wind from the south. It is a wet wind, and Roy asks me if I combed my hair. He does compliment me on the way I buttoned my sweater, Mugnano style, with the bottom button in the wrong buttonhole.
Lore is there, and brings a picture of herself wearing a red dress, sitting on her terrace, sporting a large leg cast. The cast is now gone, but it is good to see how well she has recovered. We walk home and eat our first oatmeal of the season, or for Roy should I say brown sugar with a topping of oatmeal.
Later in the day, I take a nap, an unusual occurrence for me. Sofi comes up and I put her in her cage and close the door. Fifteen minutes later she starts to cry. For the first time, I take her out and put her up on the bed. She is ecstatic to be there with me, and can't stop kissing my face and jumping all over the pillow. I look over and she is bleeding.
Roy does not want to call anyone. He thinks she will be fine and we will go to the vet first thing in the am. Dr. Cristalli's office opens at 9:30 and I will go for my mammography at 8:30 in Orte, then we will drive right up. For the rest of the day I am silent, trying to keep busy and holding her as much as I can. She must be having her first signs of female maturity, but I don't remember Brinkley going through this. I am trying to not think of anything.
I oversleep, with a night of turbulent dreams behind me. We quickly get dressed and drive to Orte for my free mammogram at the hospital. A letter came last week with an invitation, and although my new gynecologist thinks I won't need one for another year, I get one anyway. It is quick, the doctors are gentle and kind, and after I get dressed I wait in the hallway right next to the big Kodak imaging machine to see the images pop out and the doctor look at them with me. Everything is fine.
Next we drive to Terni to Dr. Cristalli, and arrive five minutes after the office opens. We wait around, and he is not there, so the young woman vet takes us in. There is nothing to worry about, Sofia is just coming of age, so we make an appointment for next month for her little operation. They show us this little kind of "g-string" that we can buy from the shop next door, as a kind of diaper, but it's not necessary.
Back in the car, we call Irena, who works for Marielisa, to make an appointment a few days before her operation for her grooming. Irina puts Marielisa on the phone, who wants to know if we went to the vet. Yes. "Did they all laugh at you? Are you too old to remember that she is becoming a woman, or are you gay?" She is a very funny woman and makes us laugh at ourselves.
On the way back home we drive from the Superstrada to Bomarzo to see all the beautiful plane trees on the road just before reaching Bomarzo cut and stripped of their leaves. Their branches are hacked so that what is left are figures standing with their arms raised up high and naked, as if to say to passers-by, "What are YOU looking at!" These trees are so beautiful in the spring and summer and fall. We must have faith that this is an annual exercise and remember them as they were and will be again.
On the way down the hill we see Alberto's red Fiat parked on the side of the road. We look over and see him climbing across a barrier with a plastic bag in his hand. Lore must have sent him out to pick ciccoria or something like that from a field. It is amazing that Italians think nothing of stopping on the side of the road to pick up herbs or greens for pranzo or cena. We do not stop, agreeing to leave him in his semi-private world.
We stop again at the Post Office but no, the planting calendars are still not in. Perhaps next week. The Italians certainly do not have the American marketing mentality of selling holiday items six months in advance. Calendars will arrive just in time to change the old for the new ones.
We arrive home with rosettas for pranzo with yesterday's vegetable soup, to be eaten by the fire. The air is wet and fragrant, and we are sure that winter has set in. There is not a season that we do not like. Outside the caki tree continues to shed its beautiful leaves, but, amazingly there are many little roses on a number of the plants, and I am able to pick enough for little arrangements around the house, combined with greens of sage and wild mint in little ceramic containers.
November 18-Dec 9
....... travels to America.
We have just returned from three weeks in the U.S. and thanks to everyone for making our trip to the Bay Area so much fun. What's the big news of the trip? We're now Nonno and Nonna-in-Waiting! Terence and Angie are expecting their first child in June. We are all overwhelmed by the news and thrilled. Thanks to email and digital photos, we will be there in spirit at the birth, which will probably be a good thing for them. With three sets for grandparents, they won't have much time to themselves.
Angie Good, our masterful house and dog sitter, stays for a cup of tea after welcoming us, and then decides to drive back to her home in Rome. She has a dog arriving tomorrow morning, so wants to take off at night while there is less traffic. Obviously, she has lived in Rome for many years, so knows the traffic patterns by heart. For me, driving to Rome at night is a daunting experience. The truckers on the road are monsters, both in their size and in their driving habits.
Roy makes a fire in the fireplace, and I sit on the couch with Sofi, while Angie tells us the latest animal news. Prue may need to have her dog, Dizzy, put to sleep...She has killed three sheep at Alicia's while Prue is in the US and Prue called Angie before we arrived in despair. A worse story has taken place involving a man who works transporting carpets who was given a gig to drive 40 horses from Belgium through Italy and then ship them to Malta. I won't go into it, but the man lost his way near a friend of Angie's house, and when he stopped her to ask for directions, they opened the back of the truck to find almost all of the horses dead. It has been on TV and is a dreadful story.
Angie Good's life is all about animals. She is the best possible dog sitter. When we ask her if she is interested in sitting for a friend who has a husband and a son as well as a horse and dog, she replies, "OK about the horse and dog and the house, but never with a husband and a child..." At least she knows her strengths. We can't speak highly enough of her.
All the news at our house was grand, luckily. Angela Good was as good as her name. The house looks wonderful and Sofi is happy as can be. While we were gone, Sofi went into heat for the first time (the Italians call it cah-LOHR-ee) and Angie knew just what to do. We quickly book Angie for our trip back to the US next November and plan to have her come for pranzo when she is at Tia and Bruce's during Christmas.
We are SO happy to be here.
I want to make sure that I continue the twice-a-day regimen of a walk with Sofi around the Mugnano loop. This is good for me as well as for her, and I love the walk. I wake up easily and when we walk out the gate Brik is waiting for us.
Sofi is no longer ignored by the male dogs in Mugnano. She is in love with Brik, the big mongrel we call the sindaco, or mayor, of the village. He waits outside our gate 24 hours a day to see her. Twice a day we go for a walk around the loop below our house, and he leads us every step of the way. Any dog that comes near is kept at a safe distance. Even Ubik, who has been his pal for years, is not welcome.
When Brik gets too close to Sofi, I just shoo him away, and he wags his tail and keeps his distance. If a dog could be a gentleman, Brik would be it. I can tell he'd like to have his way with her, but clearly is as smitten with her as she is with him. She rushes up to him and kisses him on the snout and he kisses her back. When we return to our gate, I give him a big dog treat and he watches sadly as we close the gate behind us.
Mario arrives, and, with the weed wacker, cleans up all three pieces of property. He even cleans up around San Rocco. He has brought Dino with him. Dino is a muratore, and will do the reconstruction of the wall between the lavender garden and the open field with Mario, starting next week. Or perhaps after Christmas. I ask Mario about the trees, and Dino has a lot to say. Roy asks him, "Non solo muratore?" This man is very knowledgeable and we feel very good about Mario's choice for a working partner.
We drive to Vitorchiano to the supermarket after taking a short trip to Attigliano to the weekly mercato. There is nothing special there, so decide to take our luck at the supermarket for vegetables. This is a good choice. We buy red peppers, fennel, zucchini, some clementines and a few apples as well as a cooked chicken and regular groceries.
I have jet lag, and go to bed early, but am unable to sleep. I get up from 3-5AM and read cookbooks, then return to bed and finally nod off.
Today, Sofi goes for her first grooming after our walk with Brik. She looks pretty scruffy, but still cute. Basottos get a twice-a-year grooming. Otherwise, they do not shed and are very easy to care for. We stop at the TittyBar to see Maurizio and his wife before getting on the A-1. While Mario's wife makes cappuccino for me, Italo, the fish-monger, comes in for coffee. Sofi smells the fish on his clothes and jumps up on him. He greets her and hugs her and then goes to the counter. He apologises to Maurizio's wife for not greeting her right away. She responds, "I understand. It is understandable that Sofia has all your attention!"
We drive to the allevimento, near Lake Bracciano, and the road to Marielisa's house is a nightmare; the asphalt is broken up by huge holes (bucos). We are very late and Roy maneuvers as though we are going through an obstacle course. We fairly fly and finally reach Irina, who is to take care of Sofi.
This breeder does a remarkable job as a breeder. She is out of town today, but Irina takes care of everything and all the dogs are relaxed. Most of them snooze in the sun after their initial barking at us.
While we wait for Sofi to have her coat sheared and groomed and nails clipped, we greet her sisters and mother and father, who are all perfectly groomed and lick our hands through the little fences. There must be thirty dogs or more on this property...Basottos, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Norwich Terriers, Scotties.
We hardly recognize our little girl when Irina is through. She still has her beard and bushy eyebrows, but everything else is short. Sofi is one beautiful dog. We leave there at noon, intending to be back at home before 2 for a late pranzo and then a meeting with Stefano about the new project shoring up our foundation and wall damage.
Instead, Roy swerves to miss an oncoming car, and the right front wheel bangs into a big hole in the asphalt. When he moves the car forward, there is a thump, thump, thump. I am seething. He tries to move the car forward, but the noise is very loud. After five minutes, he agrees to call in a tow-truck. It is now 12:15. At 3PM the truck finally arrives.
In the meantime, a whole herd of sheep finds its way down the sad excuse for a road, heading right for us and then surrounds the car. Sofi cannot believe the site outside the car window. She barks and barks. The sheep look mostly straight ahead. One white dog herds them from the front, and the shepherd herds them from behind with an old white Fiat cinque-cento. He actually pushes them with the front of his car. This is one mean man.
Otherwise, it is quiet on this country road. So quiet that the first tow-truck cannot find us. When the second truck pulls up, a man lumbers out from the high seat of the cab with a chewed-up Toscani cigar hanging out the front of his mouth....We are sure this man is the size of Bluto. He wears an enormous yellow Macinaw jacket over blue pants that look like a gunny sack, sinched at the waist with a rope. Roy explains what is wrong with the car. He is sure it is the wheel, because while we waited he took off the tire and inspected the wheel. The driver hardly says a word, but efficiently loads the car onto the back of the truck and we climb in front next to him.
For the next hour, we sit silently with Sofi on our laps, listening to Italian talk radio. Italian talk radio is composed of little segues, interspersed with short spurts of jolly music. The man who hosts the program is a happy guy, and many of the callers laugh and tell stories. I could get into this kind of talk radio. How strange this silent man, obviously hooked on the program.
When we get to the Alfa Romeo dealer in Rome, our driver gets out and makes sure that the mechanic does a good job. He then comes over to us and shakes our hands. We realize he is just shy, or perhaps even intimidated by our English. We wait for about 30 minutes, and then a mechanic takes the car away, returning it to us in ten minutes, instructing us to drive off. He has switched a front and rear tire, for the rear tire was smaller, and tells us to get a new wheel. In the meantime, he tells Roy not to drive over 80 km. an hour. That means driving on back roads.
We leave there around 5PM and arrive home around 8. The country roads, the traffic, the dark, all conspire to make this a very long ride. I feed Sofi with a stash of dry food we keep in the trunk. At home, tired and hungry, I luckily can put together a quick meal. Yesterday, we had a roast chicken and a carrot flan and we have flan left. There is also chicken, so I cook rice and add broth at the beginning and chicken pieces and fresh grated cheese at the end. With a glass of wine and the flan, this is a good meal.
Brik really missed his walk with Sofi yesterday afternoon, and is whining and wagging his tail when we walk down the front steps and open the gate early in the morning. Loredana and Alberto come by for a visit, because they are returning early to Rome and I do not have time to make a wreath for them. Instead I give her a lavender wand and some homemade jam and a basket with bay leaves, telling her a wreath will come later. We will not have New Year's Eve with them, because they will go to Naples this year. Perhaps Suzanne Ciani will join us, or perhaps we will have a quiet night by ourselves.
We have a lovely day at the house, with an afternoon trip to Viterbo and Vitorchiano for food shopping and a quiet evening by the fire.
Brik and Sofi and I do our walk early, and return in time for me to get ready to walk up to church with Roy. We are greeted by our old friends...the sounds of "Bentornati!" repeated again and again delight us. In church, Marsiglia, Giovanna and Candida even come by for a hug before mass.
I begin to make wreaths from the cuttings of the big Bay tree outside the loggia, with wire metal circles bought yesterday at Obi in Viterbo. Before the day is done, I have one finished for Michelle and Claudio, and one for Catherine and Kaas. We have lots of bay leaves, and the wreaths are wonderful to hang in the kitchen. These wreaths have large bay leaves, not the same as the Smith and Hawken wreaths we purchased each year, but more wonderful because they are "fatto a mano" (made by hand).
We leave Sofi for a long nap and go to Orte to Taverna Roberteschi to meet Tia and Bruce and Tia's friends Catherine and David. David has just purchased a huge flat in Amelia and Catherine is working for him on the project. He is a filmmaker in Chicago who will spend time here...we don't know how much. We had hoped this pranzo would be at Diego's, but he is in Paris, probably visiting his daughter, Serena.
The meal is a tasty one, with most of the group choosing strutzo, or Ostrich. I have tiny lamb chops, and we all have great red wine. A meal with Bruce is guaranteed to include special red wine. Tia brings us a big container of olive oil, our pay for helping with the harvest, and I bring Tia an Italian planting calendar and a jar of our jam from the sour cherry tree. They are off to India for Christmas and New Year's, and will have Angie Good stay at their house then. We will be sure to have Angie come for pranzo at least once to get her Sofi fix.
Back at home, we speak with Duccio, who invites us up for a short visit at their Bomarzo home. I have finished a wreath for them, and upon entering their wonderful guard house for the Bomarzo Palazzo, Duccio takes the wreath and puts it on his head, like Caesar. All he needs is a white sheet and he will be a perfect Roman. Come to think of it, he already is a perfect Roman. We stay for tea and Duccio and Giovanna tell us that Saddam has just been captured. So we cut our visit short and go home to see the strange news unfolding on CNN.
We take our little early morning walk, and today Ubik tries to move in on Sofi. Brik pins him down and barks until he stops. Brik is at least twice the size of Ubik, and wants to make sure no one gets close to Sofia. I consider this a blessing. Ubik is about Sofi's size, a dangerous thing because he is can be a very aggressive dog. When the walk starts, Ubik hunkers down behind, but follows from a distance, Brik checking every so often to make sure Ubik is not gaining on little Sofi. Brik is rewarded at the end of the walk with a big biscuit that I keep in my jacket pocket.
I work on some more bay wreaths, and finish one for Karina, who comes later with Giordano for tea. They fill us in on Berlusconi's latest silliness. Strangely, the Italians rather like Berlusconi, and stick up for him when the rest of the world calls him names. So although he is failing miserably as head of the European Union for this six month term, his countrymen feel no need to disdain him. Beats me.
Every morning on our walk we pass a kitchen garden with big pale pink roses yawning against the fence. The first day of our return from the U.S., we noticed six or seven blossoms. Each day the blossoms open a little wider. Today their arms stretch and more little blossoms fight to see the light. Last night we had a real frost, and the meadows and little plots of land are covered with icy jewels as the sun stretches across the land.
Today, in the midst of our walk, Ubik emerges, like the fox in Tchaikovski's Peter in the Wolf...da DA da DUM...Before I know it he is sniffing at Sofi's behind and Brik lets out a yowl and races toward him with a meancing bark. Sofi quivers like the little bird and Ubik is relegated to a distance far behind us.
We return to the house and give Brik his biscuit at the gate with a "c'e veddiamo!". Mario, our heavy-duty gardener, and his friend, Dino, are hard at work on replacing the side wall between the lavender field and the empty plot of land before San Rocco, although it is only 8AM. We have agreed to a gray cinder block wall, because we will face it with the green spiny osmanthus plants and mermaid roses that we have on the opposite side of our property. I ask Dino and Mario about the olive trees we want to plant on the bare land, and they agree that we should plant five, not six, after bickering between themselves for five minutes on the merits of planting either five or six.
Today is the day Sofi gets her "intervento" (is spayed). She is happy as can be, bounding around the Alfa dealership in Terni when we go to buy a new wheel for the car. Mario, the car salesman, is there and gives us a great hug and makes sure we get a discount.
Then it is on to get a quick do-it-yourself car wash and we are at the vet right on time. The three vets there are such a happy bunch...They are kind and sweet and I see Dr. Christalli put on one of those green paper coats, so know he will do the surgery. I hold Sofi while he gives her the first injection, and after ten minutes or so she gets another and is sound asleep.
We return two hours later to pick her up and find out that they have also removed two teeth that were growing in where they should not have been. I hold her for ten minutes or so while they explain what we are to do, including making a little shirt for her with four holes to wear for two days so that she will not scratch herself.
Back at home, we put her in her cage after walking up to Brik, with her in the little sherpa bag. He sniffs and whines and I give him a biscuit, telling her it will be a day or two before she can have a walk. I stay next to her for the rest of the afternoon, writing and reading. For some of the time, she lays in my arms, shaking. The less attention I give her, the better she seems to be.
Mario and Dino are still there in the dark while Roy is out doing errands, so I turn on the lights. They worked almost ten hours today. Bravo. They are excellent workers and our wall should be finished very quickly. Stefano, on the other hand, did not show up today as he was supposed to. He will come tomorrow, as will the SMEG repairman. I forgot to write that our dishwasher will not work. Every time we go away for a few weeks and it is not used, the SMEG people tell us that they think calcium builds up and hardens and it won't start, so they are sending a technician.
Sofi spent a few hours in the bed with us last night, shaking, but around midnight was calm enough to go to her bed. This morning, she is much improved.
Roy and Sofi take me to Orte to get a pedicure and run into Alberto. Roy confirms that he will play Babo Natale on Sunday in Orte, and possibly even on Christmas Eve. He will try to work out something with Livio here in Mugnano in case he can do a gig in our village as well. Roy makes a great Santa.
I spend much of the day making wreaths to give to neighbors. Right after pranzo, Giuseppa comes by with two baby trees...a kind of a cherry and a pomegranite. How sweet of her. We may plant them in the new property, since we will have steps there soon.
Later in the day Felice comes by to see what Stefano is banging at at the back of the house. Roy brings him into the kitchen to show him the cracks. When they go back to look at Stefano's work, they see that behind the turnbuckle holding up the second floor, the cement has pretty much disintegrated. Virgilio, the man who made our iron gates, is to come next to see what he can fashion for the back of the house. I am groaning silently just thinking of what bad shape the house must be in.
Roy tells me that Stefano seems kind of miffed that Mario and Dino are here doing muratore work. I ask him to talk to Stefano to tell him that he was so busy that we keep him for the most important work. He did such a good job for us that I don't want him to feel that we are slighting him.
In the meantime, Mario and Dino are working like a house-afire. The foundation is poured for the wall on the other side of the lavender garden, and by tomorrow evening a lot of it will have been done. The temperature was below freezing last night and during the day it does not get much above 7 degrees centigrade. Beautiful but cold.
No walk today, because Sofi needs her sleep. But Brik whines at the gate, just waiting for his love. So late in the afternoon I take her down to spend a few minutes with him and give him a biscuit. He is not interested in the biscuit, but just wants to be near her. I had no idea that a dog could show such heartfelt emotion toward another dog. I do believe they really love each other. If Sofi's dog house were not so heavy, we would take it down to the path so Brik could sleep in it. Although he has slept outside all his life, it is very cold these past few nights. Roy has turned the solar panels off. Last winter, we had some frozen pipes, so hopefully this will not happen this year.
The SMEG repairman calls to say he will be here tomorrow. Tomorrow will be busy. We will have Aurora for pranzo for the first time, and at 3PM Maria will come to clean. Perhaps we will go to Lugnano to see Aurora's new property. We are looking forward to meeting her finally. She was referred to us by Fabiano Togandi, our Notaio, and we have been emailing each other for months. She moved here in November, just before our trip, so have not had a chance to meet her. Tomorrow is the day.
Mario and Dino are here before dawn. After spending much of yesterday hauling sand and tufa and cement blocks up from the parcheggio onto the paranco and then across the terraces on wheelbarrows, the wall is rising quickly. So quickly that before we know it the foundation for the stairs is in. What's this? Roy sees them building walls on either side of the staircase. We had asked that the wide tufa stairs be built "Viterbo style" with no side walls. We want the feeling to be open and the stairs to be wide. I imagine us sitting on them with Sofi, facing San Rocco and the Tiber valley. Instead, the bruto cement blocks are quickly rising...
Aurora has arrived, and we go out to check on Mario and Dino. Mario calls out to Sofi,
"Eh, Bruta!" and I answer, protectively, "No, Sofi sono bella!" He laughs and rubs her head playfully with his rough hand.
Roy asks them what is with the walls? After some back and forth, including exclamations from me that the walls are "bruta!" and that it is important that the stairs be bella, Roy tells them the walls must come down. Late tonight Roy goes out to see what they have done after we left and everything has come down.
In the meantime, we have a fine lunch with Aurora, and linger a little over pranzo. But not too long, because Maria and her friend arrive around 3:15 to clean. We go with Aurora to see her newly purchased property between Lugnano and Attigliano, and it is truly lovely. A very old stone farm house, or casale, rectangular in shape with an attached animal barn. Electricity has been brought to the outside of the house, but it will take at least a year for the property to be lived in in any normal state.
This is indeed an impulse buy, but the land and the view and the way the house is situated on the property is indeed magical. Aurora is not sure if she will keep it or sell it, but for now she will continue renting in Orvieto as the dollar continues to plunge precipitously and the Euro heads up and up.
We leave Dawn and go to do a few measurements at Judith's and spend some time at Sgrina in Giove, planning the kitchen layout for her. Earlier in the day the SMEG repairman arrived at our house to tell us that our 6-year-old dishwasher is "morte". The calcium in the water is so heavy that the three weeks it was not used has taken its toll. Calcium has locked up the motor, and it is not possible to fix it. The machine, we now discover, is too complicated. We need one that is "electro-mechanico" and the one we purchased is totally electronic. We ask him for a solution, and a new one from SMEG is expensive. We will look around before ordering another one. At Sgrina, the model that would work in our kitchen, the same manufacturer as our frigo, is the same price as the new SMEG.
We awake while it is still dark, and as the sun starts to rise, the sky looking southeast turns from inky blue to maraschino red liquid shaken and wiped across the sky with a broad brush. Minute by minute, the background turns a pale blue-gray, and the red turns to streaks of neon-pink behind flat clouds on the horizon. It is very cold, below freezing I suspect, and the valley is awash in gossamer jewels dancing on the land. Sofi wakes, wags her tail, curls up like a croissant and goes back to sleep.
Mario and Dino have begun today's work. The loquat trees are in full flower, their creamy buds bursting in the cold air. Beyond the largest tree outside our bedroom window facing west, Mario is surveying the job to be done, turning giro and giro like Sofi before going back to sleep. He seems to be figuring out what they will do next.
By the end of the day, they have finished most of the wall itself, including a tufa cap. They will work on Saturday and Sunday, and we think will finish the stairs and the fencing. This is a good project for them. Mario, especially, is full of machismo in a very sweet way, and I don't suspect this duo are experts with delicate detail. We remind them that we want a tufa cap on the front of the wall, and to make sure that the grout is clean. With Stefano, these comments are things we would not have to say. I am still bothered by the fact that Stefano is not happy that we have someone else doing muratore work for us. I will see if Roy will speak with him.
After pranzo, Aldo comes by who works with Virgilio, the iron worker. He surveys his part of the foundation work to be done, and will meet with Pangrazi to make sure there is a valid permit for the work and also talk with Stefano. That project will begin after the first of the new year. We can wait a little longer...
We finally reach Suzanne Ciani, my high school friend from Thayer Academy, and she is gearing up for a concert tonight and tomorrow night in Rome. We will attend tomorrow night's gig after having an early dinner near the concert hall. Peter and Annie and Juliano (Duccio and Giovanna's son and a piano player) will attend with us, and perhaps a few others will want to come at the last minute. We ask Suzanne if she knows Mitch Woods, and she does not. He is a piano player we know from Mill Valley, and is playing at the Winter Umbria Jazz Festival in Orvieto after Christmas. Perhaps Suzanne will come to stay for New Year's and go to see Mitch as well with us. If Suzanne stays here for New Year's Eve, I will introduce her to Loredana's custom at midnight...a secret woman thing under the moon....
We have resigned ourselves to the fact that we will need to replace the dishwasher, and in our fashion have gone to eight different places to compare models and prices. We have gone to negozios in: Terni, Giove, Montefiascone, Viterbo Sud, Viterbo and Soriano. The SMEG repairman is the one we want to order the dishwasher from, but we found a better price in a catalogue in Viterbo. So we are certain he can beat that price. He told us we could do better with him than with a "negozio" so Roy will call him. We should have the new dishwasher by the second week of January, and will stay with the SMEG brand.
Sofi is back to 100%, but we have not taken a walk with Brik since the morning of her operation. We went out to see him twice today, but tonight we dallied with Mario and Dino before going to see him, and he rambled off to see his "wife", the Rodesian Ridgeback owned by Tiziano's family in the valley. She is the mother of a litter of his puppies, and today he was especially anxious with Sofia. Always a gentleman, his restraint is getting to him. It is a good thing I am always with her. Tomorrow morning we will revive our morning walks, and we will see if he is still "molto gentile".
The bouganvilla plants have died in the frost, but they were small to begin with. We will replace them in the spring. The plumbago has ended its season, and we will cut it all back soon. Although we have had several nights below freezing, our winter roses are beautiful. They mix with sage and other herbs in little vases around the house, and remind me of the bunches and bunches we pick in the spring and summer months. Every bud at this time of year is precious, and somehow these roses seem to thrive here. We have protected the little kumquat, which looks like a medieval gem of a topiary in our big English pot, and it will live in Roy's "office" for most of the winter. There are plenty of kumquats ready for picking, so I will make a marmalade after Christmas.
We have not given away much jam this holiday, as it is so good we are trying to hoard it to make it last the whole winter. The bay wreaths we made are quite beautiful and unusual gifts, and people are very happy with them. Today we ate some sour cherries in Courvosier on pandoro cake, that star-shaped high domed cake that lasts for weeks. We opened the cake yesterday at pranzo and will have it for a week or so. We used the last of one jar of cherries and have one more. Next summer we will put up many, many bottles of peaches and sour cherries.
We have found the heirloom tomato seeds given to us by Marilyn and Bob Smith on our trip, and they are now safely sleeping in the freezer. In February, the guest bedroom will become an indoor greenhouse, planting the seeds in soil, watering them and sitting them in the sunny front window until the end of April. This year we will have a very big crop and, like the lavender and the bay wreaths, will share them with the people of our village. What fun it will be if Mugnano becomes the heirloom tomato capital of Europe...There I go, dreaming again.
I take Sofi in my arms and walk out the front door and down the steps with the sound of Jerry Vale singing in my subconscious. Outside the gate, Brik awaits and when he sees us, lets out a high-pitched moan. "If our lips should meet, inamorata...Kiss me, kiss me sweet, inamorata...I'm at heaven's door, inamorata. Want you more and more, inamorata... "(Isn't that the truth!)..."You're my fantasy, a very beautiful sonata, my inamorata...Say that you're my sweetheart, my love." A crescendo of violins repeats the refrain...
All the while, the two dogs do their little dance. Sofi is not shy, and leaps at him from the bottom step with her snout reaching almost up to his. They dance around and around. Brik and I know that he is interested in getting behind her, she just wants to kiss. I warn him, "Brik!" and he wags his tail and backs off. Then the three of us gambol down the path toward the village and take our usual passaggiatta below Via Mameli and back up again.
After pranzo, I know we are leaving her at home for several hours, so take her for an early walk. Brik is not there. Someone must be feeding him pranzo. We come upon a few people sitting on benches, and they all laugh at little Sofi, who I confirm is in love. At the bus stop, old Giustino, who is almost blind, taps his cane and laughs his gravelly laugh. He questions, "inamorata?" I agree and he laughs again, saying "Bravo, Brik. Sono un cavalier!" Well, yes, I guess he is.
Sofi eats early and goes to visit Mario and Dino. They have almost finished the steps. Sofi "walks the plank" down to the new terrace and Dino picks her up for a hug. She races around but comes to me when I call her. I am thankful that, all in all, she'd rather be with me.
Roy and I leave her in her bed and drive off to Rome. We meet Karina for dinner near Ponte Milvio at a bistro. She is full of stories, and wants to know if we have had any political discussions on our trip...
After dinner we drive to the theatre, and meet up with Juliano, Duccio and Giovanna's son. The theatre is small, but newly furbished in red velvet chairs and matching huge drapes behind the stage. An ebony baby grand piano is placed center stage, under a spotlight. Suzanne appears twenty or so minutes later and performs beautifully for us, interspersing music of her creation with Italian and English commentary. Afterward, we introduce her around and agree to speak in a few days. We have made a reservation for her to join us at a Mitch Woods concert in Orvieto at the end of the month, and she'll probably stay with us then for a few days.
We arrive home in record time. There is no one on the road. Mitch has left a message that he'd like to stay with us for a day or two later in January, so Roy calls him to check in. We will see him at his concert and plan his visit then.
The winter solstice is upon us, and the day dawns very cold and even wet underfoot. I take an umbrella and after feeding Sofi, take her for her walk. Brik must be under some shelter in the village. I see that Sofi does not like the wet weather, and does not really want to do the walk. We get as far as the furthest garbage containers, and I turn around. If it is not fun, we should not do it. She stays at home while we drive up to mass, and Roy asks Livio if he still wants him to be Babbo Natale. Livio wants him to, but they must speak with Don Luca.
After the mass, Don Luca thinks it's a very good idea, especially with Roy's beard. It is agreed that his performance will be on Christmas Eve, before the 10:30 PM mass. Guiliola and another woman count out how many children will be in Mugnano, and the number appears to be about eight. There will be a procession to each house with a child. and I will take photos. We tell them we will get caramels to give out. Don Luca reminds Roy twice to make sure there is plenty of chocolate.
We are up to the task, stopping to pick up Sofi and then driving to Viterbo to find Roy his very own Babo Natale suit. Trying to borrow one from Orte does not make sense. And we are in luck, for we remember a party goods store near Blockbuster, and Roy spots one lone Babbo Natale suit inside the front door on a shelf. We purchase clear plastic bags and tiny toy cars for boys and plastic charm bracelets for girls and then go to LeClerk for the candy.
At home, everything is wrapped, while Roy tries on his suit. It is a great fit, and the long, curly beard is even better than his. It continues to be a dreary day, and we think we will forego Orte tonight, because it is cold. Alberto has not called, so he must have others to do the Babbo Natale duty.
Yesterday, Roy found a ripe avocado, and we have a pink grapefruit and avocado salad with pranzo. This old fashioned salad is one Roy likes a lot, and we have not had one
since we moved here. I finish cooking some borlotti beans for the minestrone, and we have some with Diego's olive oil before putting the rest in the soup pot. They are really delicious. I have not cooked borlotti beans before. They are the white beans with the pink spots and veins in them. We have a fire, and curl up watching old movies on TV. There is an Alfred Hitchcock Festival on one of the channels, and we could not imagine a better way to spend a cold December day.
We attend yoga class today, the first session in weeks and weeks. Sofi and I take a walk before class, and Brik is not around. While we are on the loop below Via Mameli, we hear Brik and Ubik fighting in front of our path. It takes us five minutes or so to reach the path, but by then they have both left. No matter. The skies cleared and we have had a dry walk.
Yoga, the first session in months, is very relaxing. There are Christmas carols on tape in the background, and candles and incense displayed in a holiday arrangement on the center of the floor in front of us. It is cold on the hard floor, so we have extra blankets to cover our mats. By the time we are through, we remember how good yoga makes us feel. My right shoulder is much improved, and we will return to our regular class next week.
It is a quiet day, with Mario and Dino putting up castagno (chestnut, very hard wood) poles and getting ready to add the fencing. They will probably be finished before Christmas Day. Felice comes by while we are decorating the loggia with lights and bay leaves. We bring out our boom box and play holiday music. Our Christmas tree is a kumquat tree in our wonderful big pot from England, one that we have taken from England to California and now to Italy. It is lit with tiny white lights and sits in the loggia on an old piece of castagno next to the grotto, where the presepio holds court, amid tufa bricks and bunches of Victor's hay.
Facing the inside of the grotto walls, like a cornice, is metal wire, covered with bay branches from the tree above and tiny lights. Roy has rigged up the star of Bethlehem on a stiff wire standing tall above the manger. You would think we knew what we were doing. Roy wants to hang a Presepio sign at the walk below our property pointing to the grotto and have Christmas carols playing all the day long. I divert his attention and he is on to another project. So we won't have to face that this year.
Instead, we check the church bulletin for concerts, and the first is tomorrow night in Mugnano. Today, Roy goes to see Roberto Pangrazi to figure out the ICI tax, which is our property tax, but we don't have to pay anything until June. He will have the preventivo for the work to build the magazino and bathroom behind the house at the end of the year...I guess that means next week.
From now until the second week of January, it is difficult to get any work done. Holiday after holiday after holiday descend upon the Italian workers. In the meantime, everyone calls out, "Auguri!" and since we are not much on material gifts, we don't have the standard stress at Chrismas time surrounding buying presents. We light a fire with some cut castagno, from the previous poles used at the end of the lavender field. Castagno has pitch pockets, and when hot enough, sparks fly out with a sound like a gun going off. BAM! We usually have a fire without a screen, but when burning castagno wood, we definitely replace the screen.
Today Angie comes for pranzo, and after that, Felice will come for a visit with his lovely wife, Marsiglia. In the morning, we drive with Sofi to Viterbo to pick up sausages, pancetta and a pork loin for Christmas Day. We'll have lentils and sausage for pranzo today, cooked slowly in our wonderful dark brown bean pot.
Angie arrives just after noon, and for several hours we have a wonderful time with her. Felice and Marsiglia arrive mid-afternoon, and we sit in the kitchen in front of the fire. Angie is wonderful with them, and translates the things we do not understand. When we tell them that we are going to be grandparents in June, Marsiglia tells us "if a tree does not bear fruit, cut it down!" Pretty direct, I must say. She is referring to the importance of having children. Felice presents us with a big bottle of his homemade wine and she gives us cookies that are typical Mugnanese cookies. Some old family recipe, I suppose. They are delicious, made with hazelnuts.
We take them out to see the presepio, which is now lit and holiday music is playing. It is a big hit. As they leave, I whisper to Marsiglia that we thank them for their friendship. We really mean it. She has held my hand for most of their visit.
In the meantime, Mario and Dino are working away at the wall and fence. We won't be finished before Christmas, but it won't be long after the holiday that the work will be done.
Sofi and I go for a walk before it gets any colder. We still do not see Brik, until we are past the last trash receptacles on Via Mameli and are ready to walk down the hill. He is lying in the middle of the street. Sofi rushes up to him and gives him a big smooch. He just looks at her and gets up and walks down the street away from us.
Now that Sofi is no longer "calore", the love is gone. The look in his eyes reminds me of lovers in Italian movies, first so much in love and later fairly bored by the site of the same woman they so recently could not get out of their minds. Sofi does not seem to care. She seems very well adjusted. We continued down the hill and she gambols happily along until we arrive home.
Tiziano Gasperoni calls and comes by with presents...a lovely handmade yellow candle in the shape of a rose and an embroidered cosy for me and a very handsome bottle filled with Gasperoni's homemade wine. These are the very best kind of gifts, and we share some spumante with Tiziano and a few laughs, agreeing to start our English/Italian lessons again next week. While he is there, the doorbell rings, and it is Livio. He has walked down in the very cold weather to let us know that there is a music concert tonight in the church. We ask him in and show him the presepio. He and Tiziano tell us we should have a sign and charge money to see it. We all laugh. I wonder, is that is what Roy meant yesterday?
Tonight, we go up to the village to a music concert in the church. This is the first music concert this holiday season for us. We love these holiday concerts. Choral groups come from all over Northern Italy to these little villages. This particular group is one we have not heard before. They are excellent, and finish their hour-long concert with three pieces we know well, "Deck the Halls, Joy to the World and White Christmas".
We leave to go home after checking in with Livio. We will meet him at his house tomorrow night so Babbo Natale can visit all the childrens' houses. Then it is home for a cup of tea and one of Marsiglia's cookies and on to bed.
We send our happiest greetings and wishes for a peaceful and loving holiday to all our friends and relatives, and hope that the new year brings you great joy.
Here we are in our loggia, next to the presepio (or manger), which is set in an ancient grotto. We have left the grotto its original state to honor this holiday each year. Last fall, we laid handmade mattone (floor tiles), but otherwise the grotto is original, perhaps hundreds of years old.
Today is Roy's big day. It starts out slowly, with Sofi and I going for a walk while Roy sleeps, and then he suits up so you can see him in full regalia. Here he is, but he has forgotten his loot and hopes we will let him back in...
After pranzo, we drive to Orte, this time with Sofia wearing her little red scrunchie around her neck. Roy has a repeat performance as Babbo Natale in Orte this afternoon, this time with Clementine, an old donkey, pulling a specially decorated sleigh around and around the town. Alberto is his elf, and the two of them start below town.
By the time they reach the square, almost an hour has passed. Sofi and I keep warm in the Pro Loco (like a Chamber of Commerce) office. Tiziana and her children's chorus come by for carols on the steps of the Duomo. Round and round Roy and Alberto and the children go, singing "Jingle Bells...ho, ho, ho" again and again. Alberto tells Roy that Roy is the official Babbo Natale of Orte, and this is so because Alberto tried to perform as Babbo on December 21st but was told by at least one child, "You're not Babbo, You're the Pro Loco guy!"
His position intact, Roy agrees to go home for a short rest before suiting up again. Tonight, Roy has his Mugnano debut...a special performance as Vero Babbo Natale (the REAL Babbo Natale), who does not speak Italian because, si certo, he is from the North Pole. Sofi unhappily stays at home sleeping, with visions of sugarplums dancing in her head...or perhaps doggie treats...
I am feeling a little doubtful regarding whether we are doing the right thing. I don't know how the Mugnanese will respond. It is cold and dark, but the air is very still, and we drive up, leaving the car just below the centro storico. Once out of the car, Roy really gets into his role, laughing, "Ho, ho, ho!" as he walks through the deserted square with a basket of little gifts and candy for the children of the village.
At Giuliola and Livio's house, which is right next to the church in the square, we greet their daughter, Simona and her husband, Giulio. Giuliola wants us to eat, but we are on a mission. It dawns on us that we have bought the house of Celestino Natale, and how apt this now is. Tonight we are Babbo and Signora Natale...Some things are just meant to be...
We have fifteen bags of treats and toys, and Giuliola counts off each child's name, telling us who is in the village and who is not here tonight. We start with Francesco Perini's house, and leave two gifts for his son and daughter on the doorstep. When they arrive home, they will see that Babbo did not forget them.
House by house, Roy steps up the narrow stairs and knocks loudly. At one house, someone asks, "Who's there?" and Roy answers in an authoritative voice, "BABBO!"
Inside, there is a burst of laughter from the adults, and the door opens. We take a photo at each stop with Babbo and the child or children. Next week, we will give the photos out to each of the families.
In a few houses, the children are so shy that they hide behind their mothers. Marica is especially shy, so perhaps later she will enjoy Babbo's little regalo, a tiny bracelet and chocolates. Salvatore, at the first house we find people home, comes right out. There is a picture of Salvatore and his older sister, Erica on the Photos page of this site, with Babbo, si certo!
At one house, our camera will not work. We figure out after we are outside on the walk that the camera is full. So Roy deletes a few photos and we look up to see everyone watching our route from the balcony and waving. The grandmother, Elena, is a sexy blonde, and I ask her if she wants her photo taken with Babbo. She flies down the stairs at a chance to have her photo taken. Elena is very happy. I tell her, "Basta!" after the photo is taken, because I am Signora Natale, and everyone laughs, even Elena.
Everyone wants Babbo to eat and drink, but he tells them he is very busy. We actually just finish in time for Babbo to take off his suit at Giuliola's and put it in the car before mass.
Mass is lovely, and we sing a few of the hymns we heard last night in the same little church. We understand from Guilio that this little church is from the 12th century. The priest is one we have seen before, and he is wonderful. He is full of such joy, and at the moment he lovingly places the Christ Child in the crib below the altar, and another in the presepio at the side of the altar, he expresses how wonderful the world really is, and that life is truly worth waiting for. When it is time for us all to greet each other, the priest comes down from the altar and warmly shakes each person's hand in the church. Our church is not full, but it is full of joy and good will.
I think of Angie and Terence and am wistful. We are so much more aware of children now, and of the coming of children, and of the passages of life. Six people passed away this past year in our village. In the bulletin board outside the Commune Agraria office, we are now on the list of Mugnano households...We are household number 51. We count 86 members, so the village is still less than 100. We walk home remembering how narrow the little streets are; how close the homes are to each other. And yet, the families in Mugnano have a happiness about them, a joy of life and of living and of the simple tranquility that is the place we call home.
Today is tranquillo, all the day long. I take two walks with Sofia and have a talk with Maria, the Sarda (from Sardinia) at the bus stop, but otherwise it's just the three of us. Roy tunes the Happy Channel on TV this morning, and Barbara Bouchet, Karina's glamourous sister, is on a program taped for viewing last night and rebroadcast this morning. For the first time in memory, we see actual choreographed and costumed dancing routines. Barbara and about ten other movie stars are featured elsewhere on the show, each introducing a young boy or girl who is a contestant on a singing fest, not unlike Ted Mack goes to Italy ... with the June Taylor Dancers...Barbara is drop dead gorgeous. She is sixty, but looks at least ten years younger.
Let's talk about Italian TV entertainment. It really is all about laughter and having a good time. Where is that in the U.S., other than TV sitcoms with laugh tracks? These shows are all live, and include live music and entertainment. I admit there is too much "T & A" but the women seem to enjoy participating in it as much as the men. I can't understand that part, but, whatever....
I don't like much of it, but I do like today's program on the Happy Channel. This is a showcase of young talent, some of the young people incredibly poised. The youngest is six, the oldest is twelve. In each case, the parents are shown sitting on banquettes watching nearby, on camera. It is very corny. It is very camp. It is how we choose to spend an hour or two this morning.
At night, we have our main meal of a pork loin roast and a bottle of ten-year-old Brunello. It is Christmas, so why not?
Today is Santo Stefano, another Italian holiday. We spend it quietly. After our morning walk, we have breakfast and then go outside to enjoy the bright sunlight. Although the sun is low on the horizon, we are able to work in our shirtsleeves.
Today we tackle the property above the olive trees. We clear enormous tufa stones at the top of the property, as high as Roy can reach. Later, Mario will get up with a ladder and clean some more. When we stand back, we see one very tall tree that has grown inside the tufa, between two huge outcroppings. It is an amazing tree; not very beautiful, but we will find out what it is and let it be. While we are cleaning up, tiny birds that look like robins chirp around and around, not afraid of Sofi or of us.
Today I cook broccoletti for the first time. Felice planted rows of it where the tomatoes grew last summer. There are no flowers, but the leaves look familiar. I asked Felice what to do with them, and he responded by telling me to make a garlic and olive oil sauté in a frying pan. I take his word for it, and as part of pranzo swirl Diego's olive oil in a pan, throw in some garlic chopped very small.
When the pan is hot, in goes the clean broccoletti leaves and they are stirred with a wooden spoon to coat them. I add grindings of salt and pepper. Then a top goes on the pan to steam them a little. The leaves are greatly reduced in size now. When they are all limp, I turn off the heat, add a little lemon juice and a little grated cheese. They are delicious. Or at least I think so. Roy and vegetables, well, that's another story for another time.
We have dallied too long outside after pranzo, and now it is too cold to take Sofi for a walk. No matter. She gambols all over the property while we clean and has plenty of exercise. I will remember earlier tomorrow afternoon to take her for a walk.
Today is my father 's birthday. I wonder what he is thinking about our lives, and can imagine him here, sleeping outside on a bench in the afternoon sun.
While Roy has gone to Viterbo for errands, Giovanna from below us on Via Mameli comes by with tiny Antonello, who is now just old enough to walk. This is his second Natale, and we sit outside on the bench in front of the kitchen. Sofi barks until we give her a few treats. I remember we have one more bag from Babbo Natale and it has a car in it. Perfect! So I present it to Antonello and he wants to feed Sofi. I like Giovanna very much and hope to get to know her better as my Italian improves. She remembered hearing about Roy's antics as Babbo. It is funny how the word gets around so quickly in this tiny village.
I had such great luck yesterday with the broccoletti that I'm going to try the same recipe with arugula leaves. Arugula is called rugghetta in Italy, and we have a lot of it. Much of it has grown too large to use raw, so I should be able to use the larger leaves in an olive oil and garlic sauté. This time, I add a tiny bit of sugar at the end, because these leaves are so bitter. The result is so good that Roy even eats it and likes it. I love having warm greens at a meal during the cold weather. We also have our minestrone again at pranzo.
Now it is time for another walk with Sofi. She sits on a cushion on the desk next to me while I write, and as soon as I dress more warmly I will take her down for our afternoon passagiatta.
Tonight we go to a gospel concert at the Orsini Palazzo in Bomarzo. Sorry, Sofi, this is not something you'd like. It will be LOUD! We learned to park in the back of the Palazzo and walk up the steep rear incline from Alberto Roverselli. It is a good thing, because all the regular parking spaces in the lots are taken. Up and up and up we go.
Just outside the gates of the Palazzo, we see Duccio's door open a crack. We thought he would be in Rome! So Roy climbs the stairs and knocks. Duccio comes to the door, and we take him with us. Before the concert there will be a talk by a woman I met two years ago with Michelle, Mary Jane Cryan, who wrote a local guidebook about Etruscan places. She left us a voice mail message that she hopes to see us, so that will be fun. It is always fun to surprise Duccio with knowledge of a person or a place he does not expect us to know.
We introduce Mary Jane to Duccio, and then Stefano Bonari, the mayor, comes up to Mary Jane and me. She asks him if he knows me and he says no. I laugh out loud and give him a kiss. A few minutes later he comes over to Roy and Duccio and me and takes my hand. He is one cute guy. You can recognize him because he always looks like a young preppie, with a big smile, dark crew cut; and tonight, a navy blazer with white shirt and conservative tie. His little son, who is probably five, looks just like him and is a devil. Pockets full of plastic gargoyles and phantoms, he dashes around any room he is in, ignoring anything going on around him. His father looks straight ahead, pretending he is not there.
There is a huge man with white hair who introduces Mary Jane after he is introduced by the mayor. Duccio tells us that once an Italian man gets his hand on a microphone, it becomes a part of him. No kidding. For the next 45 minutes, Mary Jane is only able to speak for five minutes. This oaf of a man drones on and on and even Duccio thinks he is an "unmitigated bore". Later Michelle tells us Mary Jane is very pleased he was there. Tiziano agrees with Duccio. We don't know whom to believe.
At the appointed time, a woman comes up and takes the mic away, thanking them, and telling them it is now time for the concert. In less than five minutes, the piano starts rockin' and this six-piece combo gets the whole room shaking. One man on piano, one man playing clarinet and sax, a woman playing sax, a man on the drums, and all of them sing. In addition, two other women sing. All are strangely white at this gospel and jazz concert.
We are not disappointed. Italians love gospel music, but it is often not sung in a church. I have seen gospel concerts in Italy in churches, and think that this concert would have been better served in the nearby duomo. No matter. It is a lot of fun. Roy and I clap along with most of the audience. Duccio does not. He looks over at me strangely when I clap, and then turns back to Mary Jane's book, which he reads during the entire concert. Luckily there is a lot of light in the room.
Just before the end of the concert, he gets up and whispers that he must call Giovanna, but we should stop at their house for a drink after the concert. We stay till the end, joining in singing "Amen" as the concert ends. Then it's on to Duccio's for a drink. Giovanna may come in the next few days. We will not join them at New Year's Eve, but will see them after the first of the year.
It's home to Sofi and a movie, and on to bed.
Sofi does not like to walk in the rain, but this morning we have just a drizzle, so I put on her little red slicker and we do our regular walk. She is slow and dainty and does not like to get her paws wet for the first five minutes. Then she is resigned to it. The walk ends uneventfully.
Roy prints out the Babbo Natale photos, and puts each one in a big envelope, with the return address as: Babbo Natale. After church, he is able to give out three of the photos. Elena is not in town, so she will have to wait for hers. We give Marica's to Mauro, her uncle, and he gives it to his aunt, the woman who sits in front of me in church. Another mystery solved. We don't know her name but this is another connection. She is so very pleased to have the photo.
Today we stay around, I sew a little, and we leave around five for the concert in Viterbo. Roy does not really know where it is, so we call Tiziana who directs us to the opposite end of town from where we are near Piazza Garibaldi. The concert is in Palazzo Carletti, a beautiful building with frescos in each room. The room is small but elegantly appointed, and the concert is a Monteverdi one. It is incredible that we are able to see this concert for free, and it is excellent. One harpsichord, two violins, a cello and two sopranos. Tiziana and her sister both perform brilliantly, and we sit with their parents in the second row. Then we bid "Bon viaggio" to Simona and Giorgio, who leave on Wednesday for a month in Japan, performing La Traviata.
I hear as many as four roosters crowing, during our walk at eight am. Across from our property is the first chicken coop; one that I am sure houses a rooster. When we walk around the bend at the far side of Via Mameli and continue on until we are past Karina's old house, we see the second "coop", which is owned by Giovanna and Pepe, Paola Fosci's aunt and uncle. There is a second rooster there. We are outside their coop and hear the first rooster do his warble-dee-dee. Then the rooster right near us responds.
In a few more seconds, one I think that lives near Tiziano Gasperoni's house sounds off, and then even farther in the valley another one squaks the same tune. Back and forth, they answer one another like clicks of Morse Code. Perhaps it is the dampness, the drippy, mournful dirty wet morning that gets them going. Sofi can't wait for this walk to be over. We left the house before the rain starts, and I use an umbrella for part of the walk, but she does not have her red raincoat on. She is clearly not having a good time.
Back at home, I have a quick yoghourt and then we're all off to Yoga. Sofi stays in her sherpa bag in the car, and we have a very active session. Like Sofi on her walk, I am counting the minutes before it is over, knowing that I'll feel better all day.
On to Giove, where we stop at the kitchen store. Gianpiero follows us to Judith's apartment in Amelia to measure for her new cabinets. All the dimensions are out of whack, and he has forgotten his carpenter's square. But he knows the falegname down the street, and borrows one from him. He measures both Judith's main kitchen and the space in the upstairs studio and somehow will have the dimensions worked out for us next Monday.
Back at home, Mario and Dino continue to work on the fence and cancello in the rain. We find out that Dino is really an ironworker, and made the clasp and hardware for the gate himself! So Roy asks him if he is also a cook. "Yes, " Dino responds, "My mother died when I was young and I had to cook for my four siblings". Ironworker, falegname, muratore, chef, arborist, he can do it all...
I survey the job from the bedroom window. Yes, it is rustic. I have been aware that it would be rustic. My eyes need to get used to the castagno wood poles and gate. It is not possible to do an expensive wall treatment, and perhaps this will work out fine. I am wanting a more rustic life for us, so I like the idea of it all. I especially love the wide tufa stairs going down into the terrace where the olive trees will live, above the bocce court. I think it will all work out fine. In a few weeks we will plant osmanthus and roses, so the look will be softened as we get into spring. And then we can all sit on the stairs facing San Rocco while the sun sets....
Sofi and I do a half-walk in the fog, and arrive home in time to drive off to Viterbo to renew our ACI membership (ACI is like AAA in America). "The girls" are there...Donatella and Angela who we wrote all about in our May 15th saga about the car theft. I first take Sofi in to see Maurizio while Roy parks. He has just lost his basotto at 6 years young but gives Sofi a kiss. Then on to see Donatella, who renews our membership so we do not have to wait in line like everyone else. Day by day, we are becoming more like the rest of the Italians...working the system...
We take Sofi home and drive to Orvieto, meeting Suzanne at the train, and taking the funicular up to the town to attend an event at Umbria Jazz 11. We are early for the show, and are able to meet a few of the musicians and relax. Mitch Woods comes to sit with us, but once the music starts, the noise is deafening. There is a 9-piece big-band sound, and Mitch likes the amps. tuned way up. So after the break, Suzanne and I go to sit in the very back of the room...At the end of the night my ears are still ringing. We love the music just the same; everyone played brilliantly. And we'll see Mitch on the 11th or 12th for a few days at our house. We may even put a little party together while he is here.
We drive home and settle in. I make a risotto and we sit around and gab for the rest of the evening. We love having guests, and the ability to talk for hours in our native tongue.
The last big meal of the year will be pranzo today, and we sit around, it seems for hours, enjoying the food and the fire. Suzanne asks us if we make resolutions for the new year. Not really; life is so simple here. Time in church these past few weeks for reflection, but no.
Tonight we have a grand festa, the four of us. First we listen to Eva Cassidy for an hour or so and Suzanne and I have a little year-end cry listening to her sing "Somewhere Over The Rainbow". That's it for the year-end melancholy. Then we perk up and watch a DVD rental, Juliet of the Spirits.
Instead of a big meal, we feast on: champagne, marinated prawns; marinated mixed seafood; caviar and sour cream, Suzanne's parsley and olive pesto, small pieces of pecorino cheese with a slice of pear and a tiny dollop of piquante pear salsa, lox and cream cheese with tiny rugghetta leaves and lemon sliced thin...with tiny toast points.
Before we know it, it is almost midnight. The countdown begins, and we watch the festivities on Italian TV. At midnight, kisses all around, and Suzanne and Sofi and I go out to bare our butts to the moon, for good luck. Roy comes out and we watch fireworks in Penna, Orte, Chia, Bomarzo, and even a few in tiny Mugnano. Sofi shakes and I take her back inside.
All in all, it has been a wonderful year.