Giordano takes the computer for its upgrade, and we are hopeful that we will see some changes when we start it up again. In the meantime, we have lots to do in the garden.
I've had it with clipping lavender. There is so much left to clip, but after seeing Tia's gorgeous lavender, I'll just sit back and relax. Ours are just not ready to clip. So the two baskets over the kitchen cabinets will do just fine for now.
I am a little nervous about the challenge I made to Roy to come up with Sunflowers. He will probably snitch them on the side of a hill between our house and Orvieto. Tia tells us that this year there are hardly any sunflowers because last year with all the hot sun the crop was ruined and people don't want to try that again. These farmers actually get paid for producing a crop. We come across a florist who has sunflowers in the window, and I think Roy should stop here and pick them up. I don't want to have to bail him out of jail on Saturday.
We have to leave mid-afternoon so that Maria can come and clean, so drive to Amelia to Tia's to borrow four chairs and stop at Pinzaglia, the vivaio in Orte, to purchase little plants for an inside window box in the kitchen. After Saturday, the window box will be moved outside in the sun.
At Tia's, we visit in the kitchen. Their entire house is air conditioned. So of course it is cool; so cool that Bruce shows up for a quick hello wearing socks to keep his feet warm. He is a little tired, still, from his operation, but looks good.
We take a detour on the way back from Tia and Bruce's to go to the little plant shops in Sipicciano and Civitella D' Agliano. At Civitella we find a wonderful used pine folding table with benches, also in pine, for an incredible price of €50. We have been looking everywhere for large folding tables. This table looks so good that we may keep it on the terrace all summer.
Tonight the computer is back. Giordano is not ready for the upgrade yet. But while I write, over my shoulder is a big fat gorgeous yellow moon, sitting over a far hill. Roy calls Paola in Rome to ask her if she'll spread the word about Saturday's pranzo for the men at NonnaPappa and she tells Roy the moon is big there, too. Roy tries to tell me that based on the direction of the moon that the moon in Rome is bigger than in Mugnano. Yes, that's me, falling off the turnip truck.
Late in the day we move back out to the garden to work. I'm clipping lavender shoots, one by one, and Roy is working on the irrigation system and watering. It is a good thing that we have planned this big event at our house soon. If not, we would take all summer for these projects. Instead, we can enjoy the summer with the projects not hanging over our heads. But are we ever tired now!
I spend much of the day cooking. Arista (roast pork to be served cold) with a crust of macerated: finnocchio seeds, minced garlic, crushed pepper, sea salt and a little olive oil; homemade apple sauce flavored with brown sugar and Amaretto; potato salad; cocomero (watermelon) granita with Grand Mariner, made with an entire watermelon. There is enough to feed the entire town. Now if we can only find enough room in the freezer...
Then I organize the guest bedroom, sorting clothes and material and filing things away. I cut and pin the curtains that go with the tablecloths for tomorrow's party. They will be sewn tomorrow morning and used together as a table cover. We put up all the tables and try the cloths to make sure they will all work together. The plan is excellent, and we know we will have lots of room for everyone.
Roy spends the day in the garden on different projects and then cleaning up the loggia and putting new steps in to the loggia.
Sofi stays by my side sleeping for most of the day. It is too hot to move around too much. Before we know it, it is almost midnight and we fall into bed, almost too tired to sleep.
I have no idea what day I stopped writing before turning the computer over to Giordano. So I'll try to work backward, and reconstruct the days.
Roy wakes up before 6AM, but I am so tired I sleep until after 7. I think we are in good shape for the festa today, and sew the pinned fabric for one of the tablecloths. The fabric was originally intended as curtains to go below the kitchen sink, but we need cloths for three tables, and these together will make the third table. For some reason, I pinned but did not hem them, so iron them out and make a tiny edging on each one, giving us at least a foot more of fabric.
When I walk downstairs with Sofi in my arms, Roy has finished grilling the chicken that has been marinating in ziplock bags in the frigo all night. He then uses the aspiratore on the front terrace again, and lays out the rest of the tables. I place the tablecloths on them, and all of a sudden the whole property seems dressed and ready. The colors are beautiful.
I have really learned some valuable lessons from past events here. One is that women love to get together with other women and to meet new friends. Secondly, women love to bring something, to participate more than just arrive. That makes our preparation so much less stressful. And thirdly, plastic plates and cups and utensils make the event much less formal and much less stressful. As much as I despise plastic plates or cups or utensils, the dark blue heavy plates and heavy plastic utensils don't look all that bad.
Roy goes out for a few last minute things, and I make the caprese, this time with cherry tomatoes, tiny bocconcini (fresh mozzarella balls) and basilico. On a toothpick, first the cherry tomato, then a piece of fresh basil, then a bocconcini. We have a green and white ceramic platter, and are able to fill the platter with these tasty treats. So even if no one brings any food, we are prepared.
Roy returns with roses and wood polish, and gives a once-over to the long old wood counter in the loggia where the buffet will be set up. I finish the flower arrangements with roses and lavender and herbs from the garden and the new roses. Then Roy scoots me upstairs to get ready.
Just before 1PM, Duccio and Giovanna and Clara arrive, followed closely by Tia. Everyone wants to help, so Giovanna helps Roy put out cushions and I organize the food that starts to arrive. In another fifteen minutes we have more than twenty people, and the men leave...seven of them in two cars to NonnaPapa, meeting Renzo there for their own pranzo. Roy is joined by: Duccio, Augusto, Antonio, Renzo, Giovanni and Valerio.
Roy tells me later that on the way he tells Duccio that Renzo is the Station Master at Orvieto, and that his daughter is my violin teacher. When they get out of the car, just as Duccio is introduced to Renzo, he asks Renzo, "So, is your daughter the violinist?" Roy finds this very funny.
Back at L'Avventura, car after car arrive and park on the street below. I tell a few women that at 2:30 the bus will arrive and they may have to move their cars. No one seems to care. For now, coming upstairs to the terrace and presenting their dishes have the highest priority. And what presentations!
I have nothing to worry about regarding the food. I have made double recipes of homemade applesauce and potato salad, the little caprese, an arista (roast pork covered in spices and served cold) and a huge platter of chicken grilled in lavender. Prue brings her famous eggplant soup. There are marinated zucchini in a balsamic dressing. Marinated pepperoni. Tortas of all kinds, including: eggplant, onion, zucchini and more zucchini, egg and prosciutto. Then there are melons...at least a dozen, and a basket of huge juicy apricots. There is a very unusual rice salad, a tomato gratinee, a huge platter of sliced eggs, fagiolini, and other vegetables. There is a spicy South American ceci bean and hot pepper salad. Catherine brings hummus. A rolled cheese and egg dish arrives that is incredibly tasty. There is so much food arriving, that I am unable to remember who brings what.
And then there are the desserts. I made a chocolate cake and a whole watermelon worth of granita. But tortas and tortas and more tortas arrive. Ursula's with a cream filling and fruit slices displayed on top. Kenya's South American flan, rich and juicy. Nut tortas, chocolate tortas, tiny rice krispy chocolate covered balls, several kinds of ice cream in beautiful shades of pink and purple and green.
The variety and creativity of these dishes is beyond my wildest dream. I am sure I am forgetting something. But there is not one dish that is not excellent. The desserts are kept in the kitchen for now. There is so much food on the buffet that we have to move some dishes to other counters. Somehow we find places for everything.
Outside, people wander through the gardens and introduce themselves to people they have not met. We serve water and wine. By the time we are ready to eat, it is after 2PM. In an effortless way, the women enter the loggia and feast their eyes before filling their plates. Without forming cliques, people gravitate to the three tables and even the shyest women seem animated and full of fun. I stop to eat just a little, but am so happy greeting everyone that the food seems secondary. And I know there will be lots to eat later.
Giovanna wants to see the printouts of Bella, Ciao I have done. In addition to the Italian words, I have been able to find two English translations. She thinks one is close to the Italian, but the second one is very different. We sing a few words, show the papers around, but the conversations are so animated that it is an hour later when I walk up to Elena and put my arm around her. She tells me she has had too much vino, but is laughing. I take the words to Bella, Ciao to her and we sing the song together, everyone else chiming in at the chorus.
I thank everyone for coming and tell them how happy I am that they are here. I am standing to the right of Tiziana and put my arm around her. I then ask them to all join me in singing Buon Compleanno to Tiziana, whose birthday is tomorrow.
It is about 3:30 and I ask the women if they want to wait for the men to have dolce. No one wants to wait. They tell me the men will have plenty to eat. And then the women take the food on the buffet and bring it into the kitchen. With each plate one brings in, I hand her a dessert to take back out. And in the next ten minutes everyone is happily eating dessert. It is 4PM on the nose, and the front bell rings. It is Felice, and I greet him, announcing that it is Felice, our first man. Everyone cheers.
Felice is somewhat overwhelmed, but gives his funny royal wave and I ask him if he wants a drink. He wants coffee, so I go inside to make him some. While it is on the stove, I realize this is a perfect time for the annual photograph. So I ask everyone to go into the lavender garden, and try to show Felice how to take a photograph. He really wants nothing to do with the camera, but how can he refuse me?
We decide to line up on the stairs to the potato orto, and there are almost thirty of us. Even Luigina and Giovanna arrive just in time to have their picture taken. I sit on the first step in the front, next to Tiziana. I am not sure what happens, but Felice takes a photo. And then Mary Jane bounds out of the group to take a photo herself. In another minute or two, there are a few more photographs, and then it is time for more dessert.
By the time the men arrive, the women are all mellow. The men are happy as well, and it is time to bring out the granita. All together we have forty people, and there is plenty of room for everyone on the terrace. The weather has been very warm, but we have had breezes all afternoon. And overhead we have been sheltered by the caki tree and two large umbrellas. Luckily, no caki have boinked anyone on the head.
By the time the last guest leaves at eight o'clock, we are tired but so happy. I want to list the people, and thank them for being a part of this special annual event today:
Tia, Giovanna, Clara, Elisabeth, Catherine, Prue, Dawn, Mary Jane, Anne, Giada, Christina, Patricia, Paola, Silvia, Hermelyn, Luigina, Giovanna, Tiziana, Laura, Elena, Rosita, Giuseppa, Ursula, VIncenza, Leontina, Kenya and Pat. For the men: Duccio, Bruce, Antonio, Italo, Augusto, Tiziano, Giovanni, Renzo, Valerio, Enzo, Felice, Giordano, Bill, Ivo. And of course, Roy and Sofia.
I almost miss her email. Giordano is updating our computer system, and there is much confusion getting it up and ready. I did not anticipate not being able to write for a few days...
While I comb my hair in the bathroom, Roy takes a few steps toward me and asks me if I have seen Michelle Berry's email. I have not. She has an operable brain tumor, and will have an operation in the next days.
My brain goes into overdrive. I feel as though I am falling through a time tunnel. I seem to be looking down at myself falling, falling into Alice in Wonderland's well, not able to stand up. I hear a loud hum all around me.
Roy walks back upstairs and calls out the bedroom window. "Mario! MARIO!"
"Mario is here and is cutting the trees on the bank with his weed-wacker. I must go down to see what is going on." He refers to Mario Fosci, not Mario, our gardener. It appears that the Comune and the Universita have agreed to move forward to fix our ripa, or bank, and the first step is to cut down all of the trees. This is necessary because they cause the bank to move when they catch the wind and erode the bank. I am thankful they waited until after our festa yesterday to begin.
It is clear and warm outside. I want to walk to mass. Roy takes my fan from the car, in case it is very hot in the little church. He also comes up the stairs with a huge machete, which was sitting inside the cancello near the car. How did it get there? Did Mario fling it in when he walked by? But why? How did he think he would retrieve it?
We leave Sofi inside the house and walk down the front stairs to the path. Mario is there, sweating profusely, chopping each tree with his weed-wacker. Antonio is on the road below, supervising and keeping the downed branches and trunks near the side of the road and directing the few cars that pass by. Yes, it is his machete. But he did not throw it inside the gate. A mystery.
We walk up to the centro storico to mass, and I light a candle for Michelle. Inside the little box where the votives are kept are prayer cards for San Liberato Martyre, our patron saint. I take one to mail to Michelle tomorrow. It speaks of him as our benefactor, who gives blessings to all his people. I have faith that he will include her in his blessings on this day.
There are few people in the church. The rest of the "regulars" are either at the wedding of Felice and Marsiglia's grandchild in Bomarzo or at the beach. I stand at the door waiting for the priest to arrive, and Roy stands outside with Big Tonino, getting information about locations of the antique mercatos around Central Italy. Tonino sells antiques at these mercatos, and has a list of places and dates.
And then the big black motorcycle speeds up into the quiet piazza and it is Don Luca, dressed all in black with a menacing looking helmet. Roy walks up to him as he parks and asks him if he is Darth Vader. He smiles but does not understand. So Roy tells him Star Wars, and then he understands. This is pretty funny, considering Don Luca is a priest. I so appreciate little comedic events on this day to break up the trepidation in my heart.
Behind me, Lucia's strong voice helps me to speak loudly during the mass, and sing louder than is necessary. She usually sits in front, but comes late today. I think it is a sign that I need her. I feel her strength behind me, and isn't that what it is all about? These people in the church speak and sing clearly and loudly during mass. When one of us is not feeling strong, the others' voices are at once calming and reassuring. I ask Roy for his handkerchief, wiping the tears that want to spill out of the corner of my right eye.
After mass, Norena asks where Roy is, and we see him walk toward us, down the few steps from the church. I am already standing outside with Tiziano. Norena asks him about his machete, and tells us she found it on the path when taking her walk early this morning. She flung it into the parcheggio, thinking it was Roy's. A mystery solved.
As we start to walk home, we see Luigina arriving at the piazza wearing a black dress . We ask if she is going to the wedding, but she is not. About twenty minutes later she rings our bell, and arrives with Antonella to collect donations for next year's festa. Another mystery solved. They have already collected quite a bit of money, and of course we give more.
We are sorry there will not be a festa in August, but the paving of the centro storico will take place instead. And that is a good thing. The receipt is made out to Ivana, so at least Antonella knows me as more than just "Signora". When the men come to collect, the name on the receipt is always Diner.
I am so often called "Signora" by the people of the village that I now answer them with a smile and say, "No Signora, Ivana!" This is the closest I can come to an Italian name. And today, Valerio calla me Sofia. Does he call Sofi Ivana?
Below us, Mario and Antonio continue cutting the branches and trees. They tell us their responsibility is only for part of the path, and that the Comune owns the rest, but they will cut all the way down the path. We are very fortunate that these young men are so resourceful and hard working. More than that, they are kind.
We hope that their parents are proud of them. We surely are. This village is in good hands, we are sure. Later we walk up to the village and see a notice from the Universita that in July members can order firewood, which will be ready on July 23rd.
We have invited the couple from Norway who bought a little apartment on Via Mameli. The woman is May, pronounced Mai, such a funny name in Italia. Mai means "never", so she will have fun introducing herself. We pass by on our way home from church, and they are outside on their balcony in their bathing suits, sunning themselves. It is such a strange sight to see in Mugnano. But May seems very sweet and shy. We look forward to spending a little time with them later and to meeting their teenage son.
I wait on the street outside our house and Roy goes up to get Sofi, the camera, and a few bottles of water for Antonio and Mario. Sofi races down the path toward me, and I love seeing her. She is truly my companion, following me from room to room, waiting in the chair or below the desk for me while I write. I take a few photos...one I especially like shows Roy in his straw hat, looking down at the tree cutting with San Rocco behind him.
Roy makes coffee, and I ask him if we can have breakfast outside on our new pine table. He raises the umbrella, and we sit there under the caki tree when, "Boink!" a caki bounces hard on the table and pops off onto the gravel. Last night, more than twenty caki dropped from the tree. Do we need hard hats for guests who come to visit this summer?
It is almost noon, and perhaps we will not have pranzo. We eat huge apricots, brought to us yesterday, with a few grapes and cherries. Fruit tastes so delicious when eaten outside under the shade of an umbrella, gently soothed by the venticielo (little breeze). Along with the coffee we each have a slice of Marsiglia's morning cake. It is quite good.
Mario and Antonio stop for pranzo, and we do not know when they will return. Their work is a good start, regardless of next steps. When Roy encountered Mario at the beginning of his cutting, he asked Mario if he would save the row of Iris, meandering down the path. I moved these Iris two years ago from our garden, separating them and replanting them on the path. Mario tells Roy that he loves the Iris, and will not disturb them. So for now they are safe.
We have no idea what the Comune and the Universita have planned, but for now the whole front of the property is open, and there is a clear view of our pomodori garden and of San Rocco. Roy reminds me that he will need to keep after the weeds growing on the front wall in the far property. No matter the next steps in this project, we want to be the best neighbors possible.
When walking the garbage tonight, we walk up to the piazza in the centro storico and Roy sees a notice from the Universita. It is time to order firewood, and on Tuesdays and Fridays for an hour each day orders will be taken in the square. Wood will be ready on July 23rd and will be sold at the price of €40 per metro stero.
So THAT is why they decided to cut the trees today. And also that is why they decided to cut all the way down to San Rocco...We will be buying our own firewood! Well, not our own but the wood from the trees right in front of our house. Perhaps they should just stack the wood at our house now....
Yesterday afternoon, May and her husband and son Kris, came for a visit. When asked why Italy and why Mugnano for this family from Norway, May tells the story that she always had a dream of living in Italy. Circumstances made it possible, and she researched Italy, finding a little place in Mugnano as one of the places she chose to pursue on the internet with a site hosted by our Norwegian friend, Oysten.
Oysten, has a web site also in Norwegian, so he met her and helped her to make her decision to buy here. They will be here another ten days or so, so I offer to cook with her some time soon. Perhaps next week we will get together again. She has great spirit, and they are a very nice family. We will surely see them again.
Today is really hot, so I stay inside after a little morning weeding and rose deadheading. I am able to finish several sewing projects that have been waiting for my attention for a long time. In the meantime, Roy sits with Giordano to figure out the new upgrade to our computer system. Earlier Roy worked on the weeds on the front path. Now that all the trees have been cut, the wall all the way down to San Rocco is clearly visible.
Later, Roy goes online to check our bills and finds out that we have been paying an exorbitant amount for our ISP since the beginning of June. We signed up with a company in Canada over two years ago, because they did not have roaming charges, but all of a sudden they changed their plan without letting us know. So we are a little frantic. We are trying to find out information on ISPs locally, since this roaming issue is probably a big problem.
After some research, in which Roy is unable to find a phone number for our cellular carrier, he calls TIM. Not only does the person we speak with speak English, but the technician speaks English as well. Sounds good to us. Before an hour is up, we are connected with a new ISP.
We did cancel our plan to sign up with the local telephone company for a satellite hookup program, because the plan is not compatible with the Mac. We suppose we could switch to our PC, but prefer to use the Mac.
Ned and Jean are expected here for pranzo tomorrow, on vacation from Boston, so I've cooked another Arista, this time a small one, and made two new recipes. One is for zucchini and mint and the other is for red peppers. Both marinate in wine vinegar, and look beautiful. We'll see tomorrow how they taste. We intend to not serve anything hot for this meal, and all three dishes will be served at room temperature. They will spend tonight in the frigo and we will take them out in the morning.
Tomorrow night we are expected at Ursula's for cena, along with Elizabeth and Giada and their children. We hope Diego and Luciana will be back in time to meet Giada. Giada wants to see the castello, and she surely will like Diego. It is difficult not to like this kind man. Elizabeth has been to the castello before...We celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary mass there a couple of years ago, and Elizabeth and her two older sons joined us then.
While waiting for Stefano to arrive, Roy and I hang the three black metal lanterns in the caki tree on the front terrace that we purchased from the castle at Galeazza some months ago. He has a great idea of putting sand in the bottom of each lantern, where the little glass globe holding a wick and citronella will be sunk. They look wonderful. Tonight we will have prosciutto and melon and try Antonio's wine by candlelight on the terrace.
Stefano arrives after 6PM to add a row of bathroom tiles. He insists that we not pay him, although he stays for almost an hour. He is going to be a father of a girl in October, already named Corine. We miss not seeing him and share "auguri's" because of our new grand daughters.
Felice also comes by, to tell us the wedding of his grand daughter on Sunday was wonderful. She and her new husband are both from Bomarzo. Tonight Roy and I talk about the closeness of Italian families. We don't hear much about young people rebelling against their families and moving away. This bride is in her early thirties, and marries after a five year engagement. We hope to meet her one day.
The lights on the terrace are lovely, Antonio's wine is excellent and we sit outside listening to the sounds of night until we are just too tired and come in to bed.
We sleep soundly and arise to warm breezes. Today will be a hot one.
Tiziana is late for my lesson at her school in Orte, and soon after we begin students start to arrive for a 10:30 class. I am not used to so much confusion, but Tiziano gives me all her attention and we do exercises together on the scales. These are new exercises aimed at building confidence in both my bowing and fingering. I like the exercises very much and look forward to practicing.
Speaking of practicing, I tell her straight off that I did not practice this past week. She puts her hand on her hip and replies, "Bravo." Huh? Later, when I have mastered a difficult bowing exercise, she tells me "Bravo!"
I answer by telling her that I don't know if I should believe her or not. She replies that "Bravo" and "Bravo!" are two different words. It is all in the inflection. I am not confused this time. The Italian mannerisms and manners of speech are becoming more natural to me. I take this in stride.
After the lesson, Roy and Sofi bring me home to get ready for Ned and Jean. They arrive right at 1PM, and for the next five hours we eat and drink and then eat some more. There are five courses, starting off with spumante and dry crackers, followed by prosciutto and melon and Orvieto Classico.
Then an enormous antipasto with salame, celery, olives, marinated green peppers with capers, marinated red peppers with oregano, marinated zucchini with mint. This is followed by arista (cold sliced pork made last night) and homemade applesauce served with Antonio's red wine and Trebbiano white from Colle Amerini. Then peaches in red wine served with orange cookies.
We take a break and they get a tour of the garden, and we walk up to the centro storico, stopping to greet Italo and Leontina on the way up, Gino in the village and Giuseppe on the way back.
Just before they leave we finish off with tall glasses of cocomero (watermelon) granita and more cookies.
We loved meeting Jean and spending time with Ned, talking about their trip and their family, and would love to see them here again with their three children. Ned is a remarkable man, whose compassion shows in everything he does. As my attorney in Boston, he has shown strength, resolve, and an ability to see my family issues clearly. I respect him more than I can say. The lawsuit is not discussed on this day, but I cannot help looking at him across the table and thinking how fortunate I am to know a man as principled and kind as this man.
Ned and Jean drive off, and we get ready for dinner tonight at Ursula's house in front of Diego's castello. Elizabeth calls, and she has just been called to work the night shift at the hospital. She and Giada and their children will not join us. Giada cannot come either. Since the purpose of this dinner is to give a tour of the castello to Giada, I'd like to cancel, but we feel sorry for Ursula. She has been cooking all day. So we pick up Clara in Bomarzo and go anyway.
Ursula's taste is very French, and she has painted the outdoor chairs a light pink, and set a beautiful table with checked tablecloth and deep blue dishes and glasses. Her roses are all in their second bloom, and wind around the iron portico where we will have dinner.
She takes us to her vegetable garden in back, where she has strewn wildflower seeds, and I imagine being in a garden in Provence. The look is rustic and romantic. She even has a grape arbor over a little summer table in the rear of her little house. The whole effect is really charming.
She invites a neighbor, to bring the number of people back up to 6. Nino is also there, an Egyptian-born Italian who loves to stir up controversy. He has been her off-an-on romantic interest for all the years we have known her. With Clara and Roy, we make up a complete table.
The neighbor turns out to be a woman who has nothing good to say about anything. We are her favorite stepping-stones for the dinner. She tells the other people at the table that they should not cater to our English language. In fact, we should only speak Italian, and if we do that, in a year we will speak it well. She turns her head to look at the other people at the table, ignoring us. We speak as much Italian as we are able, but Clara and Ursula continue to translate things we do not understand.
This rudeness is compounded by Nino's grandstanding. He tells Clara, a German woman who has lived in Italy for over 30 years, that his heroes are Hitler and Stalin. He thinks Mussolini was a waste, because he could not stand up to Hitler. We are thinking we have Howard Stern at the table.
I am sitting to Ursula's left, and she seems to be preoccupied in thought. Earlier she heard that her daughter, Serena, cut her finger on some kind of kitchen machine at the hotel in Provence where she is working for the summer, and was just told that she must stay out of work for a second week until her finger completely heals.
Ursula thinks she will come home tomorrow for a rest. So we imagine she is not paying much attention to anything that is going on. Diego and Luciana come up the drive after we arrive, but are too tired to join us. They have just returned from a visit to Serena.
We can hardly wait to leave, and make the excuse that we have left Sofia alone for too long. On the ride home, we have a new appreciation for Clara, who turns out to be a very sincere and intelligent woman, sensitive and yet direct. We discuss the scene, and all agree that we are pleased that the three of us were able to spend time together.
It feels good to sleep in a little. We are still up and dressed at 8:30, but today there is no rush. After checking on the garden and watering the hydrangeas, we get coffee in Bomarzo and drive to Viterbo to speak with someone at ENEL about rerouting the electrical connection to our house and burying an electrical pole across the street that is right in our view from the terrace.
We were told the last time we came that someone is only there to speak with us in the morning, so this morning we are met by a young woman who sits us down and tells us it will cost "a sack of soldi" to accomplish what we want to do. She agrees to call a technical expert and we wait while she has a conversation with him. While she agrees with him and we hear "a sack of soldi" again, it dawns on me that we need a reason other than aesthetics for why the line should be buried.
I tell Roy that perhaps we should speak with Pia, who owns the property across the street, and see if she can help us come up with a good reason. In the meantime, a person who we hope speaks a little English will call us to make an appointment to survey the situation. We want the electrical to come to our house from the street above us, and electrical is visible on the side of Gino's house, so we don't think that will be a big deal. We will see.
We shop at Ipercoop and get some real bargains on food. We don't need much. There are still plenty of things left from the party. And yesterday's arista is still excellent. We have so much zucchini that I will sauté more late this afternoon and marinate it in wine vinegar. That recipe is really good, and the zucchini keeps at least for a week because of the vinegar.
Roy fixes the shower and redrills holes in the new bathroom tile for the shower bar. He is really good at these projects. It is good to have the shower back working again.
These days, we lay low in the middle of the day, because it is very hot outside. We do not have pranzo outside, opting instead for a meal in the cool kitchen. I think the lavender will be ready to harvest soon, and then we will have baskets throughout the house. Now at night we can smell the scent of lavender coming through our bedroom window.
Roy makes an appointment with Irina for Sofi to get her clip tomorrow, and we'll leave early to go to the allevamento near Lake Bracciano.
We travel to the allevatrice (breeder) near Lake Bracciano, so that Irina can give Sofi her summer haircut. We take a picture of Sofi with her mom, Palmira, and play with the other Basottos while Sofi has her bath and clipping. Irina, the groomer, is holding Palmira.
Afterward, we drive north and west to Cerveteri, a famous Etruscan town, and eat on a loggia overlooking the town. I eat Rombo, a wonderfully fleshy white fish, and Roy eats his usual Fritto Di Mare. This time, there were plenty of little fishes, and Sofi sat at our feet crunching on fish heads that Roy fed her under the table.
Roy's pasta was remarkable in its simplicity. I want to try to make it with good olive oil, a clove of garlic that is taken out of the pan after it is sautéed, crushed tomatoes and fresh basilico just before the pasta is added. The predominant taste is the basilico, fresh and heady without the starchy taste so prevalent in red pasta sauces. And of course fresh grated cheese. I think the Americans put too many things into their pasta sauces, turning them into a mélange that has no real taste. We will see.
We drive to Sasso from Cerveteri, and I remember the town from Carol Holding, because she attended a wedding there in a castle. We found a Borgo Sasso, and a closed gate, but no castle and no real Sasso, although there were many meandering streets with wrong way signs. I think we need to return to both places and do some walking tours.
On the way home, we call Tony and Pat, and invite them and their kids and grandchildren who are visiting to come by for granita. The weather is very hot today, and they probably spent much of it in their pool.
They arrive an hour or so after we get home, and we have fun getting to know them all. They have a wonderful family, and a grandson who will spend a year in Rome in an exchange program with SMU. I think he will be a sophomore this year and will come to Rome as a junior.
One caki boinks Diane right on her chest, and she sits back with a start. This is the only direct hit this year so far. It is getting dangerous to sit there, unless the umbrella is open. I think the tree plans the drops, and took a liking to Diane. Not a good idea. Her husband, Tom, is an attorney.
While doing the tour of the garden, we encounter the usual beautiful butterflies, or farfalle, and Tom and Pat seem to know the names of most of them. They love the sweet nectar from the lavender buds, and often compete with the bees.
Tony is a funny man and Pat a delightful woman. We look forward to getting to know them. For now, we spend much of the visit hearing about their challenges, many of which we've experienced. It seems so long ago that we were green around the edges here.
The more time we spend here, the more I think it is truly a paradise come true. Tonight, after Roy turns a sprinkler on the lavender and we eat melon and prosciutto and a glass of wine, we walk up with Sofi and meet all the neighbors.
On the way back, we take Sofi over to see Lucia and Augusta, who are on the bench across from Giustino's house. Lucia loves dogs, and talks to Sofi sweetly. I tell her that Sofi went to Bracciano today for a haircut but that she is a true Italian dog, born outside Rome.
Roy chimes in, "Can't you just tell by her long Roman nose?" Of course we all laugh and Sofi races Roy back to the gate and up the stairs as the sounds of caki boink-ing on the table below reverberates over our heads.
The wind whips through the valley and our gauzy curtains fly through the air like ghosts dancing about. We close the west-facing window to the bedroom and still feel a kind of hot-breathed vortex coming in from the south, pretending to take us off to Oz as the birds stand as sentries and tell us to hold on.
Below us on the street, Brik and Ubik growl at each other and Pepe stops them from getting into a real row. There is a storm brewing. For two days we have had clouds, and on this day we think there will be a major uprising in the sky. We feel there are warnings all about.
Instead we greet the day with sleepy smiles and drive off to Terni for multiple tasks: Sofi's annual injection at the vet, Roy's meeting at Toro regarding our auto insurance renewal, a trip to the big vivaio to look for a portable rain-bird and then return by way of Amelia to drop off four borrowed chairs from Tia and Bruce. We never get to the vivaio.
Roy leaves Sofi and me at the vet for the customary hour or so to wait, while he drives to the Alfa dealer to check on our insurance renewal. We watch a Terra Nova (Newfoundland) getting sheared like a sheep. He is enormous, and so much hair is shaved off that it could make a warm fur coat for winter. The dog sits and slobbers, making no indication that it even knows what is happening.
When we see Dottoressa Luciana for Sofi's shot, I tell her I am afraid of the pain and she tells me she is afraid of Sofi's toenails. I tell her that yesterday they were cut, as a present for her. The last time she cut Sofi's nails, there was a real mess. Sofi's nails are black, so there is no way to tell how short is too short. The shot is easy, and before we know it it is over. Sofi never knew what happened.
Back at home, we have a case of big peaches (20 of them) sitting in little seats in a mini orange crate on the kitchen counter. This is a good way to buy them here. They do not get bruised this way, and seem to ripen more evenly than if we picked them individually and put them in a bag.
Today is the day to make peach granita. So over the kitchen sink I use the vegetable peeler to take off the skin and cut and then puree the peaches. Separately, I heat sugar water with a good dousing of Amaretto until it boils and the sugar disappears. It cools on the kitchen window and mixes with a tray of pureed peaches, and about a half lemon squeezed.
That mixture sits in the refrigerator for an hour, and then is slid into the freezer in a big tray. In a few hours, we take the tray out and "fork it" until it crystallizes. Then it can go back in the freezer and will keep for a few days. It is a messy job, but a rewarding one. When I taste the finished puree, it needs more sugar than the watermelon granita did...a lot more. When all is done, Roy still favors the watermelon granita. They are both terrific on a hot day to cool down.
Giordano lets us know that he has a new job in Attigliano for an editing house, and we invite him over for his favorite chocolate cake, which I make especially for him, sending him home with what is left. He comes with his cousin, Lauren, and we have a good visit.
When they leave, I fertilize everything in the garden, and Roy follows me with the hose and wand. In the midst of it all, I remember that we have not yet ordered the firewood for the winter, and think tonight is the last night to order it. So we stop what we are doing and walk up to the piazza, only to find that we have until the end of the month and on Fridays the appointed time is earlier in the day to order.
No matter, we come home, water a little more, and then sit out with cocktails to enjoy the sunset. It is another lovely evening, with plenty of breeze. Last summer's oppressive heat wave has escaped us...for now.
We forgo the customary prosciutto and melon for cocktail food. Roy makes me a Smirnoff and tonic with a lime bought today at Pianeta in Terni. This is my first of the summer. And have I told you I have not had one migraine since taking the new medicine?
We take our customary walk to the garbage, and let Sofi off the lead to run down to see Bastia at the bus stop. Men are gathered there, and the customary sniffing goes on. It is after ten PM, but everyone is out. This is a friendly village, and the same folks sit in the same places every night.
Tonight is the start of a weekend, and Giovanna and her relatives and Luigina also join the group. There are about fifteen at the bus stop and another six or so in front of Leondina's. We make up the social group in what Roy refers to as "Mugnano Basso".
Sofi is careful to stay away from the black and white cat, but otherwise has a good time with everyone. She is still off the lead when we walk home and up the path. Sofi is becoming an adult dog. We no longer have the kiddie gates up on the stairs or in front of the living room door. Her sweetness remains, and we continue to be thrilled with her.
Mario and Antonio are working on the front bank at just after 7AM with the weed-wacker, a machete, and lots of gusto. By the time we walk outside just before nine, they have taken down almost a truckful of tree limbs. The bank really looks dangerous now. It is a good thing that it hardly ever rains in Italia in the summer time, because whatever bank is there would be washed away with one big storm.
Here are the before and after photos, showing how the path looked before with the trees and after with a bare bank.
Later in the day, when Roy comes back from errands, he follows Francesco up the hill. Francesco, who is our local policeman, stops and stares for a long time at the bank. There is no way that he or the sindaco can think that we were crying "wolf!" now.
Tiziano comes by at 9AM for coffee and a speaking lesson. We sit outside at our new table. This is our new gathering spot. In addition to taking most of our meals there, it is a good place just to sit, with privacy and also a very good view of the valley.
We talk some about the War. That is, WWII. Because Roy and I read so much about Italy during that time, we want to know from the villagers what life was like here then. After a little while, Paola also comes by, and we have a good time.
Tiziano tells us a story about his grandfather during the war. He was a soldier for about seven years. During that time, he was sent to Africa, and also to Lebanon, near Tobruk. On one of his assignments, he became friendly with a simple man who could not read or write. So Tiziano's grandfather wrote letters for his friend to his friend's wife, and read the letters back to him when they came.
After awhile, he received a letter that he could not easily explain. The man's wife told him that she thought of him so much that she became pregnant. "Is this possible?" the man asked him. "I don't know", was the only response he could give. He did not want to be the one to tell his friend how the wife became pregnant. This is one of many stories of the War, but we want to know about Mugnano.
Tiziano tells us that because Mugnano is not a tall hill town, it escaped the wrath of many Germans, simply because it was not easily spotted then. Now it can be seen at a distance from the A-1, but at that time, the closest bombs were dropped in the valley near Orte. One old woman was killed, from a piece of a bomb that careened up into the village. Otherwise, the village escaped direct fire. We were told that Nazis took over our house, and imagine a Nazi flag flying from the flagpole. But we do not know for sure.
There was a tunnel from the Orsini castle to the medieval tower, but that has been walled up. We think that people of the village hid in the tunnel during bombing raids. I wonder what the older Italians think of Germans and Americans coming into their towns and villages. Do they flash back to the time of war? We are told that the Italians want to forget the war. So stories are not passed down. We will try to find out some stories, anyway. Tiziano is more interested in really old stories from Etruscan times, but any of these stories are interesting to us.
Roy wants to go to the newly constructed amphitheatre in Attigliano tonight to see a rhythm and blues group. There is a poster announcing it, but no time is given. I agree to go later and we drive up around 9:45. There is a man standing on the stage guarding the instruments. He has no idea when the concert will take place. A local policeman on a motorcycle has no idea, either. So we drive to the Oktoberfest pub for a beer and to see Kenya instead.
Kenya comes out to sit with us and speak about life in South America. She and her husband will move to Rio in September, and we will miss them. We are just getting to know them and like her a great deal. We agree to go with her to a wine festival in Vignanello on August 8th.
On our way out, we meet Paola, Antonio, Fulvia, Mario, Carla's son and his girlfriend. We finally learn the significance of the words "metro stero". The size is approximately five quintales (500 kg.) and it is stacked,
horizontally, then vertically, then horizontally, and so on. But in this way, there is plenty of air, causing it to dry faster, so it is different than buying a cord of wood. We will order two on Tuesday, and that should get us through the winter.
Roy thinks that the wood will be dry enough to burn this winter. We will pay €80 for what we paid &ero;150 for last year from a man who lives in Orte, consisting of two metro steros, or ten quintale.
We come home and it is very cool tonight. We look forward to a good sleeping night.
Roy thinks the Daily Journal should be called, "In search of an editor".
We wake up to a cool day, and drive up to church. Sitting inside, we turn around when people enter, and I am struck by the fact that we behave like the old Italians. When someone we don't know comes in, we look them over as if to say, "Who is THAT?" Was it only a few years ago that we were on the other end of all that staring?
There is a roar of an engine, and it is Don Luca, pulling up into the piazza and getting off his big black motorcycle. Today, he has on light colored sport shoes, and this looks funny with his black levis and black shirt and glossy black hair all askew. But when we see him standing at the altar, the shoes look just right.
After mass, I chide Leontina, who wants me to give her a big kiss. I ask her why she has not given her sister, Marsiglia, a kiss, and she tells me that she did that earlier. Marsiglia is old news to her.
We drive home and pick up Sofi and then drive to Spoleto. Today there is a mercato there, and we think it will be crowded, because the music festival will continue for one more week. For some reason, we keep missing this festa, but will surely attend another year. This year, it is back to the Umbria Jazz Festival in Perugia. Mitch Woods will play, and we'll meet him for pranzo later this week before his afternoon show outside the Brufani Palace.
I really want to go to see Ahmad Jamal, who is one of my favorite musicians, but his show is at midnight, and that makes the whole thing very complicated. We'd have to stay over, find a place for Sofi, etc, etc., not to mention the cost. So we'll ask Mitch if he will meet him. I love his piano playing, and even more, his talent for arranging. I think that is a special skill, and Ahmad has that in spades. His CD, Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing is one we play often, year after year, and are never tired of hearing it.
Spoleto is not all that crowded, amazingly, and we find a place to park near the mercato. We only pick up a small picture frame and a few napkin rings, but like the experience very much. We see some of these same people at the Pissignano mercato, and the woman who sells us the napkin rings tells us that the Pissignano show has really grown since its beginning around 1990. We will greet her next time we go.
We eat at DaPiero, where we eat when we go to Spoleto, and everything is excellent, as usual. Roy loves the castrato, and shares some of it with Sofi. I love the grilled vegetables and also the simple pasta with pomodori. We come home to eat dishes of peach granita, and once it has melted a little has a really complex taste. It is worth all the fuss.
Just as we arrive home, it starts to rain. This is a strange occurrence for summertime in Italia, but it does not last, and when we go out to water later there are hardly any drops on the leaves. We are thankful, because our front bank is precarious, and we don't want to think of what will happen if it really storms.
While Roy waters and I deadhead roses, we are able to look closely at all our plants. It is funny that some things thrive, while others die off. And now, the roses are getting a strange white coating, which means spiders and other animali, and tomorrow morning I will spray if there is no wind.
But the old plumbago is ready to flower. So the focus of the garden moves from one area to another as the summer wears on. Next week we will cut the lavender. Felice wants us to have Mario cut it, because it will take him only an hour. For me, it will take days.
Yes, we have become creatures of habit. We eat that old prosciutto and melon thing for dinner with a glass of wine again. The melons taste better and better. Under the stars, with the silence of the valley broken by only two cars leaving the village as we eat, Roy muses that at 50 cents a car to pass by, we would not make much money if we set up a toll booth below our house.
Tonight's walk is a quiet one, with Baschia at home and the men scattered. Only Italo and Giovanni are out tonight with the women, and when we walk by the bus stop see Giovanni walking his across the street neighbor back to her stairs. I think it is sweet, but Roy thinks Giovanni is telling her, "I'll be over after the stranieri stop looking."
It's humid and somewhat cooler today. The sky reminds me of a New England summer - dirty and dusky and oppressive. It is difficult to find energy to do much of anything. Roy has driven to Orvieto and then Terni to meet with two different insurance companies about our auto insurance, which must be paid today. We decide to stay with Toro, the company owned by Fiat, because they somewhat subsidize the premiums for Alfa Romeos.
We take what is called KASKO. This coverage includes collision as well as single car occurrences, in the event we drive into a tree...Most Italians do not insure themselves against collision, and we found this out last year. For years, we have not been insured for this. We think it's very important. But it is costly.
Sofi and I are at home, spraying roses and clipping boxwood. There is not much noise in the valley today. The farmers seem disinterested in getting out their tractors. But this afternoon I think it will be cool enough to take up the gravel on the front walk and put down nursery cloth. The weeds are terrible there, popping up more than four inches just days after our festa.
I pick up cakis each morning from the front terrace, and about a dozen fell last night. That is about right. Each night for the past week somewhere between a dozen and twenty are left on the gravel in the morning. One week ago, however, we counted more than forty. At this rate, several hundred will have fallen on their own before the end of the summer. Does this give you some idea of how big the tree is and how many caki would fall if we had not made a major effort to clip them a few weeks ago?
I thin out the two arugula plants, which are now monstrous, and pluck some lettuce leaves for a salad. Inside, I wash the arugula and lettuce and bag them for the frigo. Roy will bring a lasagna from Orvieto for pranzo. We really like just eating one meal a day.
Later in the afternoon Roy decides to have a major caki drive. He gets out the huge aluminum ladder with three sections, and by the time I am downstairs he has dropped about fifty. In the next two hours, between the two of us, we have dropped and picked up more than two hundred.
Here's Roy, "up a tree"...
Felice comes by, and his button-down collar striped shirt is tied at the waist. I don't know if he belongs in an old Cuban movie or in a Ralph Lauren magazine ad. I opt for the former, looking at his hands. He laughs at Roy up in the tree, and strides over to his pomodori.
When Roy takes the caki and fallen branches to the burn pile, Felice tells him he has never seen such large San Marzano pomodori. I ask him if he knows about steroids, and he answers, "Pulmoni!" We don't know if there is an equivalent to a county fair, but would surely win a prize for the biggest pomodori in all of Alto Lazio!
There is rumbling in the hills, and we are sure thunder is not far off. So we shut down the computer and "batten down the hatches", waiting for a big storm. We ignore the fact that our ripa, or bank, may cascade down onto Via Mameli...
The rain escapes us, and after cena we walk down to the bus stop. Sofi is off the lead these nights. She is learning to keep close by, and when a car comes, we pick her up.
On the way, we meet Leontina and learn that the woman with her is Argentina. That is the woman who lives on the corner that Roy thought looked like a Kathryn O'Shaughnessy. I ask her her name and when I find out, tell her mine and we exchange kisses and handshakes. Her hands are rougher than Felice's, but she is very kind and we like her very much. I ask her if she was born in Mugnano, and she tells us that she was born in Narni Scalo. "Stranieri!" I exclaim. She does not remember how many years she has lived here.
Leontina asks us in for coffee, and is disappointed that we do not accept. But I tell her "Solo decaffinato, per che no dormire sta notte." She seems to understand.
Sofi races Roy home and as we walk up the steps think it feels like a fall night. We are not ready for fall...yet. But we do like the cool sleeping weather. Buon riposo!
I am finally working on a good piece of music...a piece by Borodin. I think it is taking me forever to be able to play a piece of music like an adult. But today, Tiziana introduces me to this piece, which is also known as Stranger in Paradise. I am sure that Roy and Sofi and the neighbors will know it very well by the time I am through.
I tell Tiziana that I think I am teaching myself bad habits. I sometimes practice and practice a piece of music or a special scale, only to find out I am playing it wrong. But at least I am practicing. And I do love to play on Uncle Harry's wonderful violin.
Roy called Terence and Angie yesterday, and Terence's business is thriving. We look forward to seeing new pictures, but know they are very busy just feeding these little angels.
Today in the garden, the lavender is thriving. It is more beautiful than I remember in past years. When taking in the mermaid roses in flower on the fence facing San Rocco and butterflies and bees singing and drinking up nectar in the lavender, I cannot think of any place on this earth I would rather be.
Tonight on our walk, Giovanni tells us that one of the kittens that Nando and his wife have been feeding was run over by Francesco, the Vigili Urbani. The kitten probably darted out into the street. But we see Francesco from a distance when we walk down from ordering firewood in the centro storico, and he is going up in a motorino from Aqua Puzza, instead of taking the direct route down Via Mameli, past the scene of the crime.
We imagine that he does not want to be near Nando's for a few days. When we see Nando we tell him we are sorry, and he raises his shoulders in a "what could we do?" pose. The two remaining kittens have grown quite a bit, and sit looking blankly out into the street. This is a sobering way to grow up.
The Umbria Jazz Festival is on our agenda today, and we leave early to walk around Perugia for a while before seeing Mitch play outside the Brufani Palace. The weather is mild...twenty-something, and the three of us bound up the escalators....Well, Sofi is pretty frightened by it all, especially the caves we come out of in the midst of the moving stairways...but after she is on terra firma she romps and sniffs around and is joyous.
We have pranzo with Mitch and a fun time. Ray Gelato comes over for a visit, and we are able to talk music talk. Illinois Jaquet, Stan Getz, Ahmad Jamal...Gee I'm sorry we won't get to see him...
Here's Mitch and Sofi, doin' a jive across from the Brufani Palace.
Mitch and his 9-piece band are really rockin' and perform outside after 2:30 in gorgeous weather. There is a big blank area in front of the stage and before we know it the area is filled with dancing jivesters. His band is really great. Sax, base, trumpet, trombone, guitar, drums, piano...Every last person plays like the pro he is. This is the biggest little big band I have ever seen. They work much better in this venue. In Orvieto they were cramped inside a restaurant with stone walls and yieee they were LOUD! Now the sound is fresh and clear.
We leave there and drive home through Chiusi, stopping at Pat and Tony's in Lugnano for a drink and a tour. These poor people got really duped a couple of years ago when they bought their property. It is wonderful space, but a very bad architect took them to the cleaners. Now they are mopping up, literally and figuratively. But a fun story.
Yesterday they were in Rome with one son, his wife and their two children, taking in the Trevi Fountain. One woman with a fishing line with a magnet on the end was fishing for €1 and €2 coins. These coins have metal in their centers. So although people came up to talk to her and tell her she was doing something wrong, she ignored everyone. They were told she "rakes in €100 a day or more".
Wondering if they should contact a policeman, the family wandered around just watching. A policeman finally arrived, and when Tony asked if he'd arrest her, the policeman replied, "Why, there is no law against fishing in Italia!" Christina sighed, "But this woman is stealing all those people's wishes!"
We're sure we can help Pat and Tony with some of their lingering problems, and also want to take them to the Guardea Gnocci Festival next month. For the time they are here, they need to have some real fun.
The weather continues warm and lovely. We are so grateful for the good weather after the oppressive heat of last summer. It is fun to clip and weed and just nose about.
I ask Roy what his project will be for the day, and he tells me he wants to rearrange his "office", the little gardener's cottage behind the big olive tree. I like his ideas and after an afternoon nap he is ready to tackle it. Early this morning, he rigged up a support for the older plumbago, which is starting to flower. I love plumbago, with its mass of light blue flowers that last for most of the summer.
I nose around a few of our garden books, in the event Pat and Tony ask us to design their garden. I have an image of it in my mind, and it would be a fun project with great results. They deserve some good fortune after all the trouble they experienced with their architect.
Tonight we are invited to Clara's for dinner with Duccio and Giovanna and possibly Anselma from Bomarzo. That will be fun for us, but Sofi will stay home. I'm sure she'll like it better that way, too.
When I am getting changed, Roy tells me that Felice is in the potato orto, digging them all up. It is not a good idea to keep them in the ground all summer. We have less than I thought...half of a lug...but that is quite a bit for us. Roy finds a top for the lug and takes them out to the cava. Felice thinks they will keep well there until we have finished them.
Their skins are thin and the taste is lovely. We are able to bring several to Clara, and they are still warm in her hand when we get out of the car and give her a bag with the potatoes and bunches of lavender tied with raffia.
Dinner is lovely. We like Clara's house and grounds quite a bit. Cocktails are served on a beautiful terrace surrounded by olive and bay trees and lavender and roses. The dinner is served inside and then we return outside after dinner to the lovely terrace. Anselma and Galliano from Bomarzo are there, as are Duccio and Giovanna.
We really work at speaking Italian almost exclusively tonight. It is not easy, but somehow we manage to have a good time. Strangely, I understand much of what is said. Often, Clara stops in mid-sentence to ask me if I understand. Duccio and Giovanna also take extra care with us to make sure we feel part of the conversation. We really appreciate the thoughtfulness of these three friends.
We are home by midnight, and look forward to seeing them all again.
I wake up feeling tired and without any strength. In an hour or two, I am back in bed for the rest of the day. It is beautiful outside, but I miss it all, closing the shutters in our room in both directions and ending the day trying to sleep off this silly virus. Sofi sleeps with one eye watching me in a nearby chair.
I'm feeling better, but still weak. While I was in bed yesterday, with Sofi in the chair nearby to watch my every move, Roy continued to work on his "office", organizing and sorting out things he wants to get rid of.
We take a walk to the pomodori this morning, and see the first tomatoes on two of the Black Russian plants, and on two of the Juane Flame. By now, Marilyn and Bob in Glen Ellen, CA, are almost at the end of their crop. Marilyn emails me that Bob had to bring in the last bunch with his tractor...50 pounds of them! I think they had 120 plants. We have 43 heirloom plants and 8 San Marzano plants.
We planted our first seeds inside on March 9th. They moved outside at the beginning of May. So by all calculations have shown slow growth. We have not added any special fertilizing medium as they grew, but Roy sprayed them once with copper sulfate, which we are told is biologic. Spediamo!
When we are through, we'll compare what we did with what Marilyn did and adjust later for next year's crop. I'm estimating it will be mid August before the first ones are ripe and early September for the last ones. If Michelle is well enough to travel, she'll be able to share some of them with us. Felice wants us to start to cover them in the heat of the day. We will begin that on Monday.
Sitting here at the computer I can smell the tomatoes on my hands. It is a somewhat heavy and sour smell, at once earthy and pungent. This is proof that anyone can grow a tomato from seed.
Roy wants to drive to the mercato at Ascoli Pieno tomorrow and to go to church tonight. I am still feeling weak, so we will see.
Franco's truck drives up Via Mameli, and on his loudspeaker he calls out "Meloni, meloni, meloni!" I don't have the energy to walk up the street, but Roy has driven to Soriano and will pick up fruit there. It can't be Franco, it must be someone else, but I don't have much energy, so will spend the rest of the day sleeping this virus off...
It's 4AM and I am up and ready to go! After two days of sleep, I feel great and can't wait to have an adventure. Roy gets up after 7AM and we decide to go to the mercato after an 8:15 mass in Bomarzo. We put Sofi in the car and drive up and park.
The church is a fairly new church, built in the round with an amazing ceiling of mattone tiles in the design of a circle. All the walls are cement, and the paintings stand out from the wall. All the surfaces are HARD. So the sound is incredible. No amplified sound is needed. When the hymns are sung, the voices dance on the ceiling like angels wings.
Unfortunately, Italians think amplified sound is a good thing. So there is a mic on the priest, and a mic for all the readings. The priest on this day is the priest with three sets of glasses and one bad eye, Don Bruno. He is also the one who speaks very loudly in his homily, and then very softly. With the added amplification, the room seems to move in and out like an over stuffed girdle. It is difficult enough to understand the actual words in Italian. It is just impossible to figure out what he is trying to say in English.
Once mass is finished, we dart out and let Sofi play for a few minutes. Then we are off to our adventure, the antiquario mercato held on the third Sunday of each month at Ascoli Piceno, on the way to the Adriatic Coast, way past Norcia. We take a route we are not familiar with, and it takes A LONG TIME.
We pull into the town at 11:30AM and drive to the centro storico. But there are bleachers there, and we don't see a mercato. Roy drives to the Carabinieri and asks them. Yes, the mercato is held on the third Sunday of each month except today, where there will be another event. The woman thinks the mercato will be held in a town on the coast about twenty minutes north.
There is no time for even a coffee, so we get in the car, wave goodbye to Ascoli Piceno, and drive out to the coast, then up to San Benedetto del Tronto. This is a real beach town. We drive into the middle of where we think the mercato would be, but don't see anything unusual. We park and Roy asks where it might be and are told we might find something down by the beach.
At the beach there is a major event: a huge Jetski race, with racers flying up into the air splaying bursts of water over the crowds and over the sidewalk with their water monsters.
The beach, did I tell you about the beach? It is like every bad movie about an Italian beach. Thousands of people squashed under hundreds of umbrellas. Those that don't fit are standing wall to wall on the beach and wall to wall in the water. The water looks green and clear and beautiful. I am almost tempted.
Instead we realize there is no mercato here. But since Fermo, the famous mercato held at night from 5:30PM to 2AM is only twenty or so minutes north, we decide to find pranzo somewhere and then spend the afternoon in Fermo until the mercato begins. A good backup plan, we think.
Roy tells me, "So let's look for a place called The Clam House". Very funny. Casa Vongole. It takes me a minute or two to figure it out. We drive on the coast road to the next town, only to find, "Casa Vongole!" Well, that's not the name, but it very well might have been.
Situated on the beach, with bamboo "sandwiches" as roofs over the tables (one sheet of bamboo matting above, one sheet of clear plastic in the middle, and one sheet of bamboo matting below), we sit on rattan chairs and might as well be ordering drinks with paper lanterns, the place is so funny. And the "menu turistica" is right out of The Clam House...Steamed mussels and tiny clams as an appetizer, spaghetti vongole for primi, and fritto mare for secondo. A bottle of water, a half liter of wine and two coffees, for €13 each. What a deal. The food is really great.
The real entertainment starts after we sit down. A bottle of water comes out to us and then as we are waiting for our first course, a bell rings in the kitchen, indicating that an order is ready, and Sofi jumps up and barks. LOUDLY! The bustling restaurant stops cold. All eyes turn to us. We smile weakly and look down at Sofi, who is wagging her tail. Two little boys in tiny trunks at the table next to us laugh, and ask us Sofi's name.
Each time the bell rings, Sofi barks. After about twenty minutes she gets bored with all this and stops. And then, while we are trying to eat our spaghetti, we feel something under our feet. And it is the two little boys playing under the tablecloth with Sofi.
Their mothers get up and try to get under the tablecloth to retrieve their sons. Of course, they are each wearing two-piece bathing suits, and Roy is content to just watch them wiggle about. I can hardly contain myself.
The piece d' resistance happens five minutes later, when a black man enters the area with things to sell from his bag. He walks over to us, not seeing Sofi. But she sees him. The table fairly levitates, the wine glasses shake, and Sofi darts out from under the table at him. We don't even have to say, "No, grazie." He is fifty feet away in less than two seconds. People all around us smile at us as if to say, "Grazie."
Back in the car, we drive through the rest of the town toward the beach road until I order "STOP! Back UP!" Roy looks at me, looks in the rear view mirror, and backs up about ten feet. On his left is a poster for the antique mercato in Fermo. Held every Thursday evening in July and August. Today is Sunday.
Plan C. We drive up to Macerata, then take the freeway down toward Visso. We'll have a gelato in Visso and come back via the Castelluccio Road we love. The drive is really beautiful. This part of Marche is green and lush with rolling hills and beautiful trees that make wonderful tree noises. I am a sucker for "tree noises".
On the way back, I realize I have fallen in love with trees. Trees in a natural state. Beech trees. Trees lit with silver that shimmer in the sun. Trees that shed their leaves in the winter and even evergreen trees. I tell Roy it is a good thing the trees are gone from our bank because if I realized how much I loved trees I would have put up a stink when the Universita wanted to cut them down. Now I want to know all about them. And I especially want to encourage Pat and Tony to build a natural looking bank of trees at the front of their property, camouflaging their house from the street. I can't wait to get home to start to study them in the many books we have.
We arrive in Visso and after everyone has a gelato (Sofi finds a dropped tablespoon or so under our table), we walk to the card store, and see a photo of the lenticche in flower. We also see the trees in the shape of Italy (we wrote about this last month) and want to send a card to Duccio and Giovanna.
We ask the woman at the store when the trees in the shape of Italia were planted, and she tells us it happened in 1960, for a big festa. We then ask her about the trees in the shape of North America, the trees in the shape of Africa, the trees in the shape of Australia, and she looks at us as though we need to get our heads examined. All she can say is that they must have grown that way naturally. Well, I never!
We drive the rest of the way back through Terni, so we can see Marmore Falls, an exquisite steep waterfall visible from the road, and 500km after we began our journey, we are on the terrace, watering and tending the plants and happy to be home.
Last night after getting out of the car, we said hello to Candida, atop Pepe's garden. One of his many pomodori plants displayed green tomatoes the size of oranges. Only one. I hope the two we gave him will measure up. Competing with the neighbors when it comes to growing produce is serious business. We have not checked out our pomodori today. Our pomodori are going to be harvested late, but hopefully we will have a sweet and luscious and bountiful harvest, to last us from late in August through the first half of September.
Later last night, we walked over to visit Italo and Rosina and Leondina, who were sitting outside their houses down on Via Mameli closer to the centro storico. Italo and Rosina admitted they were born in Mugnano, but Leondina was born in LaRochette, which is technically Bomarzo. So I called her a stranieri, and then said that Roy and I would always be stranieri. Rosina kindly told me that was not true. "If only that were so (magari!)"
Sleep was sweet last night. I wake up rested. It is warm, but not oppressively hot. Roy covers the south-facing side of the pomodori with a dark green mesh, but there is no protection from the overhead rays. I think he knows what he is doing. Felice will come by and check, and if we need more cloth, we'll pick it up from Bruno in Attigliano. Bruno is a good guy. Everyone around just says the name "Bruno" and everyone else nods their heads in agreement.
Well, I guess two years after our move here is fair warning. I pick up a folded lap blanket that was stashed under a table next to the divan in the kitchen, and what do you suppose stares up at me? A one-half inch long black scorpion. I hate to even write it, but this is a rite of passage, I suppose. The fat black "lobster" just lays there, and I squint so that I cannot really see it. I turn the blanket over on the floor, stomp on the place where I think it is, and call up to Roy to get rid of it.
Now you may think I am a complete wimp, but I have come so very far. The day we first saw this house, I learned that there might be scorpions, and almost turned around. I am really REALLY afraid of little things, especially spiders, that crawl around. My first step forward a few years ago was to think of them as little harmless lobsters. I am not at the point yet of being able to do anything about them.
Roy comes downstairs, and I am outside. I tell him to tell me if he "got it". He turns the blanket over and goes over to the sink to get a piece of paper towel. When he gets back, it is gone. Not a good idea.
I walk inside and tell him we'll have to take the divan apart, and then he sees it on the floor and tells me to go back outside. He kills it. So I survive this round, and know that they are pretty harmless. They keep to themselves, like the dark, and aren't poisonous.
All our white roses are thriving now. The iceberg roses are particularly lovely. When they blossom, groups of them blossom together from the same main branch. The result is a number of wedding-bouquet perfect bunches, all on the same plant. Now the plants hug the front fence in espalier fashion. I have hoped that they would cover the whole fence, but that is a little too ambitious for now.
The "whites" in the fiorieras are also thriving. They appear to be a miniature version of the icebergs, and a few of them are beginning to cascade over the front of the planters next to the rosemary.
I pick six or seven zucchini. It has been days since my last picking, so some are getting large. We may not use them all, but these are large enough. I slice one into short julienne strips, and sauté it in olive oil with pieces of garlic. The garlic comes out as it starts to brown, and I then fry the zucchini sticks until they are crispy with fresh mint thrown in for good measure. I add this to my plain pomodori sauce with a little pasta water, add a half box of penne, and with freshly grated parmesan this is a wonderful pasta.
It is time to check in with Tia, and she is off to Capri with friends from the US for a few days. We'll see them on Saturday at Matthew and Terri's son's christening. But I want to refresh my memory about tenant farmers, so we have a discussion about them.
Tenant farmers are local people who take on another's crop, usually olive trees or grape vineyards, and then share the bounty with the person who owns the land. It appears that the person who owns the property pays to buy the plants and has the tenant farmer or a gardener-type plant them. Then, when they are old enough to produce, each side takes 50% of the crop. Before the crops are mature, the going hourly rate around here is €8 an hour for gardener-type work.
Some people don't care about the crop, just want to see the trees and vines planted. And others want as much production as they can get. The 50/50 seems a fair balance, if there is a trustworthy person nearby who will be dependable. We don't think we'll ever get into that with our piddly little grove of olive trees...six right now. At most, we'll have nine. That's a lot of work for us for a few days each year. But a joy to look at and a joy to enjoy all year long.
I finally figure out how to play the Polovetsian Dance piece on the violin. At first the notes seem so strange, but I think it through and just kept trying. I don't have the whole piece in my music book, so will ask Tiziana to get it for me this week. It is such an overwhelming feeling to be able to play a beautiful piece of music.
I get so carried away while I practice that Sofi gets mad in her chair and goes downstairs and barks at every sound. She is obviously jealous. Perhaps I need to play a funny little tune for her with her name on it...like Happy Birthday, dear Sofi. I remember she loved that, especially when I sang, "Little Sofi..." Yes, I spoil her. But she dearly loves me, and who could ask for anything more?
We spoke with Terence last night, and learn that the girls are getting to be closer to each other in size these days. We so look forward to meeting them and to spending time with them in November. So our schedule will have to be very flexible. It will be our turn to take over some serious baby-duties, and we are sure will enjoy it. Photos come in tonight on Shutterfly, and we can definitely see the changes in the girls sizes.
Sad news just in. Maria Marler has had a massive heart attack. She is the daughter of Jed's brother, and is only 40 years old. We pray for her, and that she will come out of her coma very soon. She and Justin have a five-month old baby girl. On a happier note, we hope to all be reunited this Thanksgiving, and will be bringing Italia t-shirts for all the young cousins for the cousins' photo. More than twenty years ago, a cousins' photo was taken in Carmel Valley of the cousins at that time, who are now the parents of a new generation.
Today I spent some time going over our digital photographs and organizing them. This is a long-term project, but we have to decide which and how many to keep. We will pick up a cd burner when we are back in the US, but until then will try to have a friend burn a few cds for us so that we can better store our photos.
Roy asks, "What about the Nemorino photos?" and I open the folder and look at the little dog we loved before Sofi came into our lives. How sad he looked. He was never happy here, no matter what we tried to do. Now we know he is happy with a family in Switzerland, and Sofi is so very happy here.
Things worked out for Nemo as well as us, but there was a lot of sadness while we tried to figure out what we should do for Nemo. We kept just a few photos, and now I hardly recognize them. He actually looks a lot like Baschia, the little dog Sofi loves to play with.
Tonight we meet Pat and Tony at Oktoberfest for the Mexican Festa. Tonight we eat Mexican food, and Roy is thrilled. I looked forward to it, and the food is not bad, but I'd rather eat passable Italian food than passable Mexican food anytime. It is fun just the same.
We are the only people in the place until just before ten, and we leave just as the live music picks up, driving Pat and Tony instead to Sipicciano for a gelato. When we walk into the bar, a young woman greets us, and asks where Sofia is! She must remember Sofi from Danieli's hair salon. Sofi is at home guarding the house. The homemade gelato is excellent, and Tony and Pat thank us for introducing them to the best gelato around.
When we come home to see Sofi, she is like a Mexican jumping bean. She probably slept for three hours or so while we were gone and now is full of pep and wants to play. But once we settle in, she is happy to just be near us. She is a joy, and we say goodnight with a smile, looking over at her silly expression and legs sticking up in the air while her head hangs backward over her pillow.
While Roy is in Terni getting the car serviced, Sofi and I nose around the garden. We deadhead mermaid roses on the fence and clip back the rosa banksias on the gate to encourage linear growth. We hope that the banksias will form an arch over the gate leading to San Rocco by the end of summer.
The Sweet Normandie rose is a real surprise. It has come into its second flower and is lush and happy in an elaborate terra cotta pot behind the lavender field. The iceberg roses are flourishing. We have given up on the Gloria de Dijons and have removed all three. The Paul Ledes are not flowering. Neither are the Madame Alfred Carrieres. Mary Rose is also in its second flower and the blossoms are smaller this time around. I have learned to cut a rose way back on this particular plant, and it is working. In previous years, the plant was very leggy and unattractive.
One Buff Beauty is doing well, but is not ready to cascade over the tufa wall. The other two are too shy to even rise up above the top of the wall. The Cornelias in the far property have not really taken off, either. We will give them a few years to see if they acclimate themselves.
I am not so sure about the Crepuscule roses over the rose arch on the front terrace. I hoped for a lush profusion of yellow blossoms, but can't figure out whether we should start again next year with a different rose here or wait it out. We are not in a hurry.
The Lady Hillingtons on the front path are beautiful specimens, but don't come anywhere near covering the long tufa wall. We love them still.
Now the old plumbago is in flower, and the lavender is still beautiful. I know it is time to cut it down, but I'm not quite ready to give up looking over from the front terrace and seeing the field covered with dancing white butterflies.
This morning, Angie comes for a visit, and we take a walk around. When she house-sits in November, most of the flowers are hibernating, so it is fun for her to see the garden mostly in flower. We sit under an umbrella at the table and chat. She brings Floppy today, a dog she is taking care of for the month. Floppy is an old male, 13 years, partly blind and partly deaf. But he still has enough energy to mark spots all over the garden and give Sofi a major once-over.
I think it is so hot that Sofi does not have enough energy to run around. I pick two pomodori that have turned red, and one that is still green. I fix fried "green" tomatoes for Roy for pranzo, with the tomatoes dipped in polenta before being sautéed in safflower oil. Quite tasty.
Tonight we'll return to Oktoberfest, so Roy can get another Messicani "food fix". For me, the tortillas taste like cardboard, so I'll probably pass up cena, and opt for a Turn und Taxis beer.
The visit to Oktoberfest is fun, with Sofi playing "follow the pied piper" all around the outside dining area. leading six children, one of which is a daughter of Pino and Kenya, the owners. When she walks under a table, they all follow her under the table, holding her on her lead. In and out, giro, giro...
Sofi prances about and the little girls and one boy squeal with delight. By the end of our meal, even one little girl who is afraid of dogs pets Sofi and we can see this is a triumph for her. Last year at this time Sofi played about with two of Marilyn and Bob Smith's grandchildren. It seems like yesterday. Now Sofi is 14 months old, and about as big as she will ever get. I can still hold her in my arm and she fits just fine. So when we finally take her on an airplane she will be able to go right in the cabin with us.
Roy agrees that we don't have to go back tomorrow night for more Mexican food. I am relieved, and we arrive home to find many people from the village taking walks. It is so warm outside that no one wants to be at home. The children sound like cayotes, howling in the night. I can't blame them. The night is very still and I think it is more fun being outside than inside with a fan blowing the air about.
I am in the midst of a violin lesson with Tiziana when Roy meets Bill in the square in Orte. Bill introduces him to a woman he works with from England. When hearing that we live in Mugnano, her response is, "Mugnano. The only town in Italy without a bar..." Roy responds, "When you're in Mugnano and want a café, you'll have to knock on someone's door." Sounds good to me.
Tiziana tells me that she will have a big children's concert in Orte during the first week of September. Michelle will be here then, and we look forward to taking her to it. These children's music concerts are really wonderful.
The mind is a truly amazing tool. During the first summer I spent any time here, the cicadas drowned out any other noise, once they got started. The noise was strange to me. I don't remember them in New England growing up. Nor do I remember them in California.
Thrilled by the silence and tranquility of our village and the landscape around our property, I could not believe that the sounds of cicadas could really dominate. Until I sat here one day on the terrace and one little creature seemed to say, "Watch me!" I hated it, screamed at it, hit at it with a rake. Nothing stopped it.
Yesterday, I made peace with the cicadas. I no longer think of them as creatures bent on destroying our peace of mind. I say, "buon giorno!" to them. And quietly sit down near them, although I cannot see them in the tree. And they stop their noises. They just stop.
I hear that once every seventeen years in the US, cicadas descend and lay thousands of eggs and then die. This is supposed to be "their year". I have no idea what happens in Italia. But unless they descend like Tippi Hedren's "Birds", I think I can deal with them in our midst.
Time for the boxwood "haircuts". I start with the two thyme orbs in the herb garden, and snip at them with my kitchen scissors 'till they're smaller and really 'round. Then I walk around the front terrace, clipping the newer box. I think it is a little late in the year to continue to clip, so wait until the sun is down, and hope that the cut leaves will not burn. The larger box on the other side of the terrace hardly needs any clipping. I'll look at the box in the lavender garden later tonight. The sun is still blazing over there.
I am going to attempt to clip some lavender tonight. The field is really ready to cut, and Roy waters it every other night. But it's almost too late to cut, so I must get serious about it. Perhaps I'll even set the alarm for 6AM and clip in the morning when it is cool. Roy empties all the baskets in the house of lavender, so that's my cue, and I cut four plants after all.
Later in the evening we go out for a walk and are met by several women from Mugnano Alto. We welcome them to Mugnano Basso, and all have a laugh. We also see Mauro and Laura and little Julia, walking her doll in a carriage. Sofi is "nose to the ground" chasing a mosca (moth) and we admit that she is a cacciatore (hunter) and that the mosca is her amica. Laura looks down and tells us "era" (was), and indeed the little moth is morte.
Sofi decides to bark at Argentina, and actually chases her a little. The men at the bus stop think this is funny, but Argentina is frightened, and runs over to them, tripping on the step up to the bus stop. I feel badly for her. The men are not very kind. They think Sofi is very funny. She is not funny tonight. She is a brat. But when we come home, she follows me upstairs and gets into her chair to cool off. Tonight is the most humid night I remember. And there is no sign of rain.
This is the day I get up at 6AM to harvest most of the lavender. By 8AM there is already too much sun and there are too many bees for me to continue. I have a number of baskets full of lavender, but once they are stripped I wonder if there will be enough lavender for baskets inside the house. I am able to clip 24 plants. Later in the day I clean the stems. It takes most of the day, but I work in the loggia, which is cool when there is a breeze. I will finish clipping tonight or tomorrow morning. The cleaning will take a few days.
I love spending time early in the garden. Sofi loves it, too, until the grey cat taunts her and sits by the upper fence like a Cheshire cat. Sofi is able to climb up most of the back tufa wall behind the Madonna, but can't quite get to the cat. Of course, that drives her crazy, and she barks until I climb up to get her. She responds to "NO!" and comes back wagging her tail. I tell her it is more fun playing near me while I clip, and she seems to agree...for now.
Tonight Sofi stays at home, while we drive to Amelia to Matthew and Terri's celebration for Sebastian's christening. The little one shows up in a stunning gold and black braided Maroccan tunic over his diaper and black Ralph Lauren velvet slippers. He looks like the little emperor in the Chinese film some years back. What a happy and easy going baby.
The house and landscaping are a dream. The place is out of an Italianesque Great Gatsby party. Although the house has a small footprint, the style is my favorite, formal Italianate, and there are about five floors, including a rooftop terrace. The gardens are extensive, and the pool area is quite large. A dance floor has been set up, and a live band plays through the evening. A team of valets stand at the door to take our cars. Food and drinks continue nonstop.
Sebastian's parents really know how to party. Matthew welcomes us in English, and the ceremony by the pool is very sweet, conducted by another Matthew, a minister from the Church of England. The program and the prayers are very touching. Afterward, Terri speaks in Italian, and does an admirable job. She tells us to party hard and that the bar still has plenty of liquor. I am not used to this kind of announcement in legal-happy US.
During the next hours while we party, the liquor is free-flowing. After dinner we are among the first to leave, before midnight, and later hear that the party continues until 5AM with many people winding up in the gorgeous pool. It certainly is a memorable event. Alan Briggs tells us that our time in Italy will be measured by this party..."Before Matthew and Terri's party"...or "after the party of the year"...
I hear thunder in the distance, but there is no rain. When we wake up, the air is heavy and humid. We leave Sofi outside behind a locked gate, to see how she does in the garden by herself.
Outside church, Livio asks where we were last Sunday. They are so used to seeing us every Sunday that they conjectured that we flew back to the U.S. Roy fills Livio in on last Sunday's antics, and it is time to go in for mass. I have a fan from Verona that I use often in the stifling little church. Don Luca doesn't seem to recognize the heat.
In front of us, a woman who spends the summertime in Mugnano turns around and greets us. She is sitting in Giuseppa's seat. Then another "summer visitor" comes in and sits next to her...in Augusta's seat. Rina comes in and takes her seat on the far aisle. Then Pepe's aunt Giuseppa arrives, looks over at the full bench, makes a comment that we cannot hear, and has to sit in front. But when Augusta arrives, she faces the bench and puts her head down and the three women move over for her.
Marieadelaide is not here. We see her in the back seat of someone's car. She must be going for an outing. So inside, Roy tells me that he will start the acapella opening hymn. Vincenzo rings the bell, and is met by silence. Roy raises his head, opens his mouth, but nothing comes out. No one else begins the hymn either. So we start mass without a hymn.
But after the collection is taken, Antonio's mother, Giuseppa, starts the next hymn. Then all of us sheep burst into song alongside her. She also starts the last hymn. Everyone else joins along, but no one wants to start.
Outside, I tell Tiziano that we miss him. He responds, "I miss me, too!" He realizes what he has said, and we all laugh, promising to get together next weekend. In the meantime, his dig in Amelia continues unabated, with the discovery of two new walls. Roy jokingly accuses him of planting the discovery to go along with his timing. It is not true, but would be a very Italian way to think.
Sofi is waiting patiently inside the gate for our return, but enjoys herself much better in the car on the way to Soriano. We park on a side street and the mercato is quite small, but we find a single appliqué, or sconce, to fit near the fireplace. Roy offers the woman less money than she wants, and she agrees to take it.
We then travel nearby to Vitorchiano, where the market is small and not very good. But we stop at the supermarket at Il Pallone on the way. This market is open on Sunday mornings, and always does a great business. It is the only market anywhere around open on Sunday morning. Perhaps Italy has "blue laws", similar to the laws I remember in Boston growing up. Somehow this market finds a way to stay open.
And then we spend the rest of the day at home. After ten PM, we take the garbage and find the street empty. The weekend is over. The sometimes-occupants have left for another week. And Sofi dashes home, racing Roy to the front gate.
Sofi spends another morning alone on the terrace, while we have our first official meeting with new clients in Lugnano. We like this couple very much, and want to make sure that all the bad counsel they have been given and all the substandard work done on their property is behind them. We have an initial meeting, ask lots of questions, take photos and do a number of measurements. Then it is home to sort it all out.
Earlier in the morning we meet with Stefano to see if he will be interested in working with us. He is. I will be in charge of the design, Roy in charge of the implementation. Stefano and Luca will be building the retaining walls. Roy will mastermind the irrigation system, and we will bring in other people for other phases of the work. We hope to bring Mario in as a possible tenant farmer. They want to put in olive trees and grape vines. The project is for a total landscaping project. It is very exciting work.
In the afternoon, Sofi and I stay at home. Later, Felice comes by and he and I tie up the pomodori plants, which are rapidly growing. I give him a huge San Marzano pomodoro to take home and taste. It is so large that it may not be very good. The crop of San Marzanos are enormous. Either they will be great or terrible.
Felice tells us to keep the cloth off the plants for the next days. I think the front row of plants is not getting enough air circulation. When I am through helping Felice tie up the individual plants, my fingers are green and smell of tomatoes. Some of the stalks are fuzzy, and they all feel full of moisture. I think that is a good thing.
The air continues to be very humid. I make four large rice-stuffed tomatoes when the weather cools down, but it is too hot to eat them, so we will have them cold or at room temperature in the next few days. We take several stuffed zucchini to Pat and Tony this morning, and have plenty more at home.
The evening ends while we watch the beginning of the convention in Boston. I am tired, so Roy takes the garbage by himself. Sofi sits there on the terrace and won't follow him. She makes me laugh the way she follows me about. We are tired and drag ourselves up to bed just before midnight.
We have been so out of touch with politics in the U.S. that I decide to get up at 3AM and spend the next three hours in front of the TV in the kitchen. Being from Boston, watching the goings-on at the convention is particularly interesting to me.
Later in the day, we drive to Chiusi to the big vivaio there, armed with our list of trees and plants to look at. Nida takes us around in a little golf cart and we are able to get a very good idea of the things we'll propose in our garden design.
When we return home, Roy calls Mario, who comes over to meet with us at the end of his work day. He agrees to go with us to Tony and Pat's, and before he leaves agrees to be involved as the gardener and caretaker of a yet-to-be planted olive grove of approximately 120 trees. He is unwilling to work on grapes, as that is a labor-intensive effort that he is not interested in, so Tony agrees to drop that idea for now. We will try to get Stefano over there tomorrow to look at the work he would do. This is a very interesting project, and we are perfect people to manage the project and design the landscaping.
I am almost getting used to getting up for three hours in the middle of the night.
The phone rings early, and Terence tells us that he and Angie have bought a new house in Walnut Creek. That news is so exciting. We are thrilled.
But we also receive very sad news from Terence that Maria Marler died last night. She did not come out of her coma, and we are so sad for the family. We will have information on the website very soon with memorial information. We believe that an education fund has been set up for baby Laura, who is five months old. We will report the details on a later date, as soon as we know more.
Tonight we are invited to Tiziano's house for pizza. We arrive to find Enzo tending the outdoor pizza oven, a bright red tall metal oven that stands close to the table. I am invited to sit at the end of the table, with Roy on one side and Tiziano on the other.
Rosita takes over the cooking and we have potato pizza with fennel, eggplant pizza, anchovy pizza, zucchini pizza, plain mozzarella pizza and a tuna pizza with ruggheta and mayo. I try everything but the last, which Roy confirms is very good.
We have brought chocolate cake, and all have that with ice cream. Of course there is plenty of Enzo's great homemade wine. I amaze myself by speaking almost entirely in Italian, and am able to conduct a conversation about American politics, a subject I find fascinating, especially viewed as an "outsider" from our remote village.
When we arrive home, Roy complements me on speaking so comfortably. I will say it is getting easier. This morning, while having my monthly pedicure, I spoke with Giusy about politics as well, and think that I am able to speak tonight partly because I "practiced" this morning.
I did not stay up last night for the convention. For most of the morning, I work on the garden design and accompanying excel chart of the items we need to price. Two days ago, we went to Vivaio Margheriti, in Chiusi. This vivaio is the largest vivaio in central Italy, and they are very helpful in showing us particular plants and confirming prices.
Late in the morning, we drive to Viterbo to go over the basic garden design with our friends at Michellini, the fine vivaio where most of our plantings come from. We need at least a second set of prices to determine where we will go to purchase the plants for Pat and Tony.
Later in the day, we meet Stefano and he follows us to Pat and Tony's to look over the muratore section of the project to be done for them. He is really masterful, and also gives Tony ideas for things that he will not be able to start on for a while. Stefano is always backed up with work, and we worry that he will not be able to construct the needed walls before the rain starts. We agree that he will give us his pricing in a few days and stay to have a drink with Pat and Tony before going home to Sofi and a walk after dark.
Early in the day, we drive to the vivaio in Amelia to price olive trees for Pat and Tony. We believe that it is important to purchase olive trees in the same area where they will be planted, and Amelia is the next town away.
The vivaio has two locations, and one is located outside the town itself. We follow a man in a white truck down bumpy strada biaca to find the second location until we think we are miles away. When we are ready to give up, he turns off the road and yes, this is the place. Luigi and his friend talk to us about sizes of trees, kinds to plant.
This variety is called Frontoio, and since they will want the trees to produce for olive oil, what could be better? The two we purchased a year or so ago are Leccino, but Roy did not know to water them every day in the summertime, so we will not have a crop from them this year. That is too bad, because there were many flowers on the trees. No matter. We have four other olive trees that will produce, and with our participation in the vendemmia for a number of friends, we will not run out of good olive oil all year.
Tonight is a night we will long remember. We are invited to a reception and casual dinner at Castello Ruspoli by Giada Ruspoli. The event starts at 6pm and the parking gods are with us when we drive up to the centro storico of Vignanello. A truck pulls out from the best parking spot in town just as we arrive. Roy jockeys the car around and before you know it, we are walking over the drawbridge to the castle.
Carlo, a man we later meet, arrives before us, and knocks on the huge wooden door. The door is opened and we are among the first to arrive. We have been here before, on tours, but never as invited guests of the owner. I can hardly wait to walk through the entryway out into the garden.
We are happy to be early, and are able to walk alone around my favorite garden for a few minutes. Others arrive, and we are served spumante and greet Giada as she walks over the drawbridge to the garden. The mood is festive, and there is excitement in the air. We hear the marching band start to play and soon we will be walking out to watch them.
This weekend is the town's festa, honoring its patron saint, San Biagi (st. Blaise). After more guests arrive and we toast to the evening, we walk with Giada outside the castle to watch the marching band, which arrives on foot up the big hill to the town and stops in the square in front of the church. This church has always been "Ruspoli's church", and was built hundreds of years ago by the Ruspoli family.
At some point the Orsinis and Ruspolis married, and the garden was designed by a member of the Orsini/Ruspoli family. Giada tells us that the design is the same design as that planned for the original garden. There are huge oak trees almost as high as the four-story castle framing the partierres, and a secret garden seen by walking over to the side of the castle wall is formed in the same manner. On this night, a formidable German Shepherd holds watch in the garden below.
The garden has only a few elements, and is practically devoid of color, except for lemons on the potted citrus trees and profusions of pale pink hydrangeas. There are also roses, but none seem to be in bloom on this evening. The Italianate box hedges are made of laurel, clipped tightly, and the complicated inner-designs are formed by smaller box, also clipped tightly.
We notice that there is grafting being done, and a friend explains that the black plastic balls tied around the base of a few strong branches of the lemon trees are there so that the balls will form roots. Once the roots have sufficiently formed, the branches will be cut and will be planted to make other trees.
There is so much to learn about gardening, and I love every new story, every new experience. It will be some time before our lemon is hardy enough to do a graft. And today, four fall off on the ground, so perhaps the heat is getting to it. Roy tells me he waters it every other night in this heat. But back to Ruspoli...
Once out in the square, we follow the crowd to the church, and stand inside the huge just-restored carved wooden doors. We watch a few minutes of the service, but it is hot and we walk outside to wait for the next event.
Soon we find that the program for the next part of the evening is a walk through town to view the many shops displaying hand-crafted items and many paintings. In one shop, there is a large black and white historical photo display, and Giada explains some of the wonderful scenes to us. We finish the rest of the walk through town by ourselves, and meet up with Giada back in the garden a little while later.
Dinner is served, casual style, in the family's kitchen, just inside the front door of the castle. We are served hors d'oeuvres and then pizza, and plenty of wine in crystal goblets. We eat standing up in the beautiful kitchen, and are given chits to go next door to the gelateria for dessert.
Outside there is a band and we are serenaded while we walk around. The guests seem to scatter outside in the square, and Giada invites us inside to see her apartment.
Three stories up, the three of us reach her home, which overlooks the church and the square. The ceilings must be twenty feet high, the rooms very large. In the room which is both a kitchen and a dining room, separated by an elegant short wall, we face the square and the front door of the church, clearly visible through a double French door and small balcony. The scene takes my breath away.
We like Giada very much, and also her sons, who talk with us during the evening. We invite them to come to see us before they leave in ten days to return to their other home in South America. The eldest son, Marco, works for a production company in Rio, and although he speaks good English, welcomes the opportunity to visit us and to speak advertising lingo in English. We are more than happy to help.
It is time to go home, and we walk out the front door of the castle to a full moon and music following us down the hill to the car. I turn around and take one last look outside to the silent garden, my eyes drawn down the main path to a tall tree, a light reflected in its boughs. Earlier, Giada turned on this light, and she and I stood in the darkened doorway, silently drinking in the beauty of the setting.
Where did the month go? It ends with us staying out of the heat for most of the day and working on the landscape design for Pat and Tony. Tonight we take them to the Guardea Gnocchi Festival. We love this festival, and since it continues for three weeks, attend at least three times during the festa each year. There are so many festivals in the summertime, that we can literally attend one almost every night in towns not more than 30 minutes from our house. We are way behind, and this is our first festival of the summer.
Roy's parking karma is still intact. A car pulls out right as we get to the square where the festa is held. The square is full of people, and there are over a hundred tables, 99 of which are already saved. We find one being wiped off way out of the way, and are able to take it for our own for the evening. But there is more room, so a young couple sit with us and listen to Tony's jokes.
The bruschetta is the best I've ever had, and the gnocci is pretty good, too. Roy and Pat have theirs with a duck sauce, and it is really tasty. Tony and I have ours with regular pomodori and ours is great, too. We try their beans, lamb, spedini and have a bottle of local wine. €55 for dinner for four of us and we finish the night off with gelato in Alviano, across from the castle.
We're home before midnight and sit out with Sofi under the full moon until the clock strikes and the month has come to an end.
Roy gives me a coin from his wallet and reminds me to light a candle for Justin and baby Laura. It is a sad walk that I take to the front of the church and over to the little candle stand. It takes me two matches, but the tiny candle is lit and stands all by itself until just before the mass, when Giuseppa lights a candle and then one of the summertime women does the same. We are all heavy-hearted.
Back in the pew, the first hymn is sung. We are comforted by our friends in the village. Without knowing the cause of our sadness, they lift us up with their voices. As Sunday after Sunday pass, we are more and more aware of the power of their acapella singing. And we join them each Sunday to add our strength for the times when it is needed. We dearly love these people.
The reading is done about a little known prophet, and after the mass we ask Tiziano about him. Qoelet. What a strange spelling of his name. Tiziano does not know the answer. So Don Luca comes out of the church and we ask him. "Una domanda, insegnante, " I ask, and Roy comes over to do the hard part. Don Luca looks really happy to be asked. This is from a passage in the bible. We will have to ask Don Francis for the whole explanation.
Back at home, I take out the bible, and look it up. "Qoelet. See Ecclesiastes." How interesting. Why not look up Ecclesiastes and see what it says in the passages referred to today at mass? Our Oxford English Bible has lots of footnotes and explanations. "Every generation must deal with the fact that mortals inevitably live in a world in which they do not have control ("all is vanity") and life can only be lived before a sovereign God who alone determines all that happens on earth."
I am confused by the word "vanity" and it is explained that vanity literally means "breath" or "vapor". In Ecclesiastes, it is used repeatedly as a metaphor for things that cannot be grasped either physically or intellectually, things that are ephemeral, insubstantial, enigmatic, or absurd. I am sure you know of the famous phrase in Ecclesiastes, "For every thing there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven."
It is difficult to comprehend a death of a young woman in the prime of her life, so perhaps Ecclesiastes is telling me that I have no control over it, so I need to weep and then just let it be and move on. "Make us know the shortness of our life that we may gain wisdom of heart." Later we hear that Maria's funeral took place on Friday. Maria's husband, baby daughter, mother, sister and other relatives and friends are in our hearts.
After church, Roy asks Tonino's daughter, Serena, about the locations of today's antique mercatos. She tells us that one is in Marta, on the other side of Viterbo on Lake Bolsena. Roy wants to go to Manziano, just north of Rome, so I am relieved, because Marta is so much closer. Marta is a wonderful town, and the antique mercato is held overlooking the beautiful lake. It is small, but there are a few excellent booths. We meet a painter who is a friend of Mary Jane's, and he tells us about a Vietnamese restaurant in Rome, and also recommends the antique mercato held each month in Rome on Ponte Milvio. That is near Karina's apartment, and we will certainly attend in this fall.
After the walk along the water, we eat at Gino's, and Sofi eats her chicken from a plastic bowl under the table. She sits there quietly until we are through. A young woman waits on us, and there is a funny interchange between her and a male waiter, who acts like the retired NBC peacock.
He waves his had over her and she rolls her eyes. I ask, "Fastidio?" (Does he bother you?), and she nods just a little, saying that all men in Italy are that way. I tell her that Roy is not like that, and can see him rise a little in his chair. I love that man and bless each day that I share with him.
After pranzo, we see that we have a parking ticket. We parked in a correct space, but Roy did not think to get a ticket from the machine, which stood right next to the car. Anyway, we drive to the next town, Capodimonte, and walk over to the Re di Gelato (king of ice cream). We can understand the name, for we sit under a shade tree and the rich taste of the ice cream is definitely memorable. I think it tastes even better in the tiny cups and even tinier plastic spoons, which we use to dip into the heavenly treat.
That reminds me. Last night, in Alviano, we ate ice cream from little cups outside the gelateria. A tiny girl in a pram ate vanilla ice cream from a cone. She held the cone in her right fist. With her left fist, she daintily combed over the ice cream itself with her fingers, and then licked her chubby hand. Again, and again, she continued this process. Not realizing that bringing the cone to her mouth would bring more immediate gratification, she seemed to love the experience. Everyone in Italia loves gelato, and there are almost as many excellent places to find it as there are bars serving espresso...
Sofi and Roy and I walk down to the lake's edge. Bolsena is a volcanic lake, and the sand is a shiny black, with rather large pebbles. I take off my sandals and wade in to my ankles to coax Sofi in. She is not sure, but wants to come to me, so she steps in about three inches, and then steps back out. I am sure she feels cooler, but is probably unsure of herself. We dry her off, and she is ready to go home, as are we.
After arriving back home, Roy calls Alan and we drive over with Sofi. This is Sofi's first time at Alan and Wendy's house, and it is a right of passage of sorts, because Alan has many dogs...big male dogs.
Little Sofi is overwhelmed by them all at the front door, who surround her and sniff and sniff. Inside, there is more commotion, but Sofi stands up to them. Alan sends all the dogs but old Rusty outside. She then proceeds to bring Rusty to life...a life that Alan thinks has been dormant for some time. They race around and around the table, or rather, Sofi races around and under the table and Rusty runs around...After a few minutes of racing around, they both calm down and the humans can speak.
Martin, the landscape designer, is there to consult with Alan on a complicated pond project. Alan's father is also there. We want to ask Alan about the lawn he put in, and also get some feedback about his irrigation system. Martin adds some useful advice, and we go away with very helpful information. I really like Alan, and appreciate his creative thinking about everyday challenges. He must be masterful in his work building shopping centers around the world.
The day ends with a jolly moon, too fat for its own good, in a sultry shade of yellow turned especially pink by the polluted air. I think the temperature today was almost 40, but the TV indicated that Rome was only 27. I think that neither is correct. But the wind picks up and Roy is unable to spray the pomodori tonight. He notices some black spiders on one plant at the end of the first row. I hope the air tomorrow morning will be still so that he can take out the copper sulfate and spray.
We sleep until almost nine, and while I am checking email, someone is at the front gate. It is Catherine, with Leondina, and Sofi and I go out to greet them and walk them back to Leondina's. I take the key and Roy gets up and sprays the pomodori with copper sulfate, which we now know is biologic and is known to the farmers as medicine, not insecticide.
This morning is a real event. I walk on the other side of Leondina, and she holds each of us, or rather we each hold her and I tell her that we are "guarding the princess of Mugnano".
Back at Leondina's, we sit outside on the bench and watch Sofi and Leondina's grandson play about, and then Bastia comes by with Ennio and she cavorts with him as well. Vincenza, Leondina's daughter, asks me if we won't take advantage of their hospitality and have a caffé. How could we say no?
So we agree and sit inside, talking about the full moon for the past two nights and also about life. My speaking engine sputters and starts and proceeds at a slow pace, but proceeds nonetheless. Catherine is more of a BMW to my cinque-cento, but we finish at the same spot and walk home with Sofi.
Inside, I play a tune for Catherine on my violin and she tries it out. An experienced musician who has studied for years, she plays around with Harry's violin and loves it. It is truly a beautiful instrument. We agree that the next time she comes I will get out the fiddle books and we will both play.
While we are giving her a tour of the garden, Tony and Pat stop by to take a sample of our gravel, to see if it is the right thing to use when grouting their back patio. They all leave, and it is time to prepare pranzo, eggplant "burgers" with fresh sliced buffala mozzarella and sliced pomodori from the garden. Earlier, Leondina asked what I was preparing for pranzo and I responded "reservations", but the joke did not translate. There is such an expectation that the women prepare a formal meal at pranzo. As it is, this is a pretty elaborate meal to prepare.
We receive a call from Michellini that their pricing is finished, and return there late in the afternoon to go over prices and look at a few specific trees. They are very helpful, and the prices are good. We return home to work on the plan some more and before we know it it is time to water.
Felice comes by, and he has not been feeling well. On Saturday he spent the day in bed, feeling dizzy. We hope it is because of the warm weather, but tell him not to work, not to bend over. We are worried about him.
Later, we sit under the full moon and can't bother with dinner, but I did fix peaches in red wine earlier, so that is a great substitute. After dinner, we take a walk all the way up to the Roverselli's and welcome them back to Mugnano. It has been many weeks since they were last here. Of course they can't resist bringing out the spumante, and even Sofi has a taste. Their corner of Mugnano is very quiet, although in the center of the village and on the main part of Via Mameli children scream and run around, even at 11 PM.
After a drink, we return home, and run into Paola and Antonio and Dario. We remind Antonio that the Universita can have all the proceeds from the sale of our pomodori, but he does not know how to go about it. So we will approach Gianni at Sappori Due when the first ones are ripe. Roy suggests they put up a table at the old gas station below Mugnano with a big sign, "Farm fresh, direct from the farm". I am not about to be involved, but we will see if there is some way to help the Universita to raise some money.
We arrive home just before midnight and it is really hot. So we turn the fan up a notch and climb into bed to read and hopefully fall asleep.
Outside the sky is grey and before I am really awake, crashing thunder and lightning appear outside our west-facing window. Sofi cries out and scurries under the bed. It is not even 8AM. But in less time than it takes the thunder and lightning to frighten little Sofi, the rain stops and we are welcomed by a very steamy day.
The day is uneventful. I am happy that I don't even leave home. We have pranzo outside, because it is just too hot inside after making a small pasta dish and some fresh tomato sauce from our San Marzano pomodori...ten of them. It is difficult to describe how wonderful a simple pasta tastes with fresh tomato sauce.
Thanks to my mother's "Foley Food Mill", I process the tomatoes after boiling them for a few minutes and cutting them into pieces. I love the food mill. It is so un-fancy and old-fashioned. With a few anchovies swirled around in olive oil until they disappear, garlic sautéed in olive oil and then taken out when it is golden, some fresh basil pieces some grindings of salt and pepper and a tiny bit of sugar that is all we need for sauce fresh from the garden.
Later, I spend some time in the loggia over the sink, cleaning up the red onions and braiding them in two big braids, then hanging them on hooks on the wall.
Lore and Alberto come over after nine for spumante and peach granita, and after a while, Paola comes by for a drink with the little family dog, Ubik. Ubik makes his mark a few times and is grouchy, but calms down and takes his visit in stride. Sofi wants to play, but he'll have none of that.
I think we are boring for Alberto, who does not speak English, but Lore's English is very good and she likes to practice. I'd like us to speak Italian more in their presence, if only for Alberto's benefit, but someday we will. We walk them back down the street to the end of Via Mameli and leave them talking with Leondina and Augusto and Vincenza and Ivo's wife and walk home under a blood-red moon.
I have not been practicing the violin every day, and that's important. Tiziana understands, and tells me during today's lesson that if I don't practice we will do exercises during my lessons instead. She is very kind. I am not happy with my playing today, and since playing the violin is something I really want to do, it is up to me to find a place to practice every day. Some days and weeks are easier than others. My shoulder has been bothering me, but I try to play through it, knowing that I don't stretch after each session.
After the lesson, we drive to a convent of nuns in Orte Scalo, who sell homeopathic remedies in a cloister behind a wooden door. I want to buy some unguent for my feet, which are especially dry during the summer. So I bring a jar of something that we bought at the cloister in Montecassino, south of Rome, last year. It takes twenty minutes after my first conversation with someone through a speaker for a nun to appear, and she does not have what I want. But I am sure they have something comparable.
She walks back behind a big door, and comes back after ten more minutes with a tiny nun dressed in forest green topped in white who is from Indonesia. Her name is Margaret, and although the first nun told me that Margaret speaks a little English, we speak only in Italian.
A much older nun comes in, and is let in through a locked door. She comes around to face me, when she is shown the jar I brought in. I see her pick it up and read it about three inches from her face. Although she wears glasses, they don't seem to do much good.
I learn that her name is Elizabeth, and she is from Prague. She asks me if I speak Dutch. She brings out a salve that sounds dangerous. I am told to put drops of it on my foot, cover the foot with a bandage for three days and then take the bandage off. Never rub the ointment on my skin. Yikes.
We settle for some camomile cream, and then Elizabeth tells me that Margaret sings in the church. Well, she is part of a choir that sings Gregorian chants, and will sing this Sunday morning. So of course we will go, and Margaret tells me to look for her. I thought that these nuns do not speak, but I must be wrong. They are both very sweet and before I leave I give them a donation.
It is hot back at home, and we stay inside until 5PM when Mario comes to talk about his part of the landscaping plan for Tony and Pat. He asks if an architect designed the plan, and when Roy tells him it was me, thinks I am a geometra and complements me. This is such a funny country. There are so many things to laugh about.
He knows of Marco, the architect who swindled Tony and Pat, and it is interesting that this man is so well known all over the area. I guess it takes gullible strangers to be caught up in his net. We hope to hear in a day or so what has transpired between the architect and Tony and Tony's attorney. I don't wish this kind of situation to anyone. It is every person who wants to buy a house in Italy's worst nightmare.
Giordano comes by late with a friend and we sit outside under the moon. Claudio and Shelly and Dani went to visit relatives near Trento and Claudio is in the hospital there with heart-related problems while Giordano takes care of the property and animals here. So we're offering to help any way we can.
"Northern Italy has been swept by what is known as a "perturbazione," which can mean just about anything where rain is involved."
I read this today in an online newsletter, and am reminded that summer storms in Italy are infrequent, but when they strike, they strike with a vengeance.
Yesterday was so humid that we ate pranzo indoors. Today, Silvana walks by and tells us that rain is coming, so we take in our cushions and chairs and wait for a storm. We are not disappointed.
All of a sudden, at around four PM, the sky turns a dirty charcoal black. Sofi and I are taking a nap, and look up to see bolts of lightning strike in Bomarzo. Then a huge crash, seemingly right outside our door...
The storm only lasts ten minutes. By that time we are all downstairs. Windows are all shut, the computer is unplugged, and all is silent. Roy walks outside and the sun is shining. But from across the street, in the field behind Pia's land, he hears snapping sounds and watches the electric lines spark. He calls us to join him and we try to figure out what to do.
We cannot reach anyone at ENEL, and we don't have any emergency number for them. Roy walks down the stairs to the path, and encounters Francesco, the Vigili Urbani, coming up the hill on his police motorino. He stops him and since he is Pia's brother, has a key to her gate. They both go inside and Roy walks over close to the lines to see that none have come down. Francesco agrees to call ENEL himself. That is a good idea. He will probably get more action.
We are still concerned, and call our friends at the Carabinieri office in Bomarzo. Francesco, the carabinieri, comes by, and Roy shows him what's happening. What we don't know is that on the other side of Giustino building a line has actually caught on fire, on the building next to Antonello's apartment.
By this time we hear many people on the street, buzzing around like bees. Roy walks down to see what happened, and in the next half hour three ENEL trucks arrive. Sofi and I follow. This is a big event for little Mugnano, a regular spettacolo.
When we arrive at the scene, we see the ENEL guys all drinking bottles of Peroni beer. I suppose they need fortification before beginning their sometimes dangerous work. One puts a ladder similar to our three-part aluminum ladder but much taller, against the building where the line lays there like a long charcoal salsiche, or sausage. He climbs up right next to Antonello's, and on the balcony laundry flaps away. Antonello's mother appears, dressed in a tiny denim skirt and top.
The scene is right out of a modern day Romeo and Juliet, but Romeo is busy fighting with the ape's (bees) that hover around the electrical box. Below, "oo's" and "boh's" and "eh's?" are muttered, but no one seems to be laughing. Roy tells me that if the building was made of wood there would have been a major fire.
All the neighbors mill around, and more than one calls this a "spettacolo", or opera of sorts. Spettacolos often refer to big festas; fireworks are known as spettacolo pirotechnicas. This is the biggest event in Mugnano for months, and everyone comes out to watch.
By the time they are through at ten PM, Roy has joined them in the rain with an umbrella and Mag-Lite. He and Donato shine their flashlights up where the men are working in the dark. The sound of the generator drones on and on, and the men methodically finish their work. Roy is back at home when the doorbell rings, and one of the men comes by to make sure our power is working. We wonder if these men are paid overtime...
Last night's rain leaves a cover of mist on everything, which dries off by mid morning. Today is the day we begin to put up the San Marzano pomodori, and twenty-seven of them are plunged into boiling water so that we can take their skins off. These are not the regular San Marzanos, but a much larger version that is very tasty and thin-skinned. They continue to amaze Felice, who goes home with another huge sample to seed for his next year's crop.
Before we are done with the process, we have seven good sized jars standing at attention backstage. Later in the day, I pick twenty, with even more to be picked tomorrow or Monday for the next batch.
In the loggia, we have set up everything we need. Today this really works as a summer "kitchen". There is a three burner camping hotplate on saw horses, a giant kettle for boiling the bottles, and a folding table with cooling racks to set the hot jars upon.
While I am in the midst of it all, Roy goes out to buy a large single burner gas unit, which will work more efficiently with the next batch. He makes the labels and we are done for today.
At around 4:30 PM, there is a shower, but Tony and Pat are to arrive at 5 so that we can take them to Capedimonte for the corregone sagra, so we hope it will pass quickly. Corregone are little fish, and we have no idea how they will be prepared.
But the showers turn into a raging "temporale", or thunderstorm, and by the time Tony and Pat arrive, we have to pull our car up next to theirs so that they can get in without being totally drenched.
Still hopeful, we drive to Viterbo by the back road, but the sky overhead continues angry. Tony and I want to turn around, although Roy thinks that where we are going will not be rainy. We turn around and wind up at their house for a drink, where it is dry, and then to Hotel Umbria for dinner, where it is also dry.
Afterward, we come to Mugnano for some granita, and the little empty pots on the outdoor table are full of more than 2 inches of water. Sofi greets us and dances around with joy as the day winds down and we all ponder our lives for the rest of the summer if this surprising weather continues.
We are met by fog, which does not clear by the time we go to Tiziano's for our Saturday morning lesson. Across the street, Pia bravely limps along with her building project, her son at her side and one truck delivering steel rods. For the rest of the day they continue to work. We admire them, doing almost all of the work themselves. One other worker is there, and when they are through can be proud that the little cottage is built by their own hands.
I notice a sadness in Sofi, for we do not take her on some of our evening outings. Tonight, she is again alone in the bedroom, and we leave Mugnano with Alberto and Loredana to begin a busy evening.
First, we have cocktails at Tia and Bruce's casa, and share Tia's excitement with the three last pieces of furniture that arrived the previous evening. Her work on the inside of their house is finally finished. Bravo for Tia for an extraordinary job.
We are joined by Alan, his father, his son, Simon and wife and two children. From there, we drive to Palazzo Petrignani for an art exhibit. Tia's neighbor is one of several artists exhibiting, and her work is exceptional. For a student of only one year, the quality of her work is professional and reminds us of pieces we have seen at the Hess Collection in Napa, a photo-realism exists in her drawings that has us taking a double-take at a few of the pieces, one of which is the artist as a tiny child.
Then it is on to the Guardea Gnocchi festival, where we have reserved two long tables.
We find the tables right away, and look for the rest of our friends. While Roy sits at one of the tables, Tony's architect comes by looking for seats for himself and his wife. Roy happily puts up his index finger and moves it like a metronome, indicating, "NO!" This little action pleases Roy to no end. He looks forward to sharing this information with Tony and Pat.
Everyone arrives, and we have a really wonderful time. Alan joins us at our table, and really does quite well speaking in Italian to Alberto. The gnocchi tonight is made with a sauce made from castrated lamb. This sounds strange, but the lamb is quite tender. It is delicious.
From there, we drive to Alviano, where the famous 500-year-old Castle of Bartolomeo d'Alviano guards the town. In the square in the shadow of the tower, we have gelato. I learn that there is another name for watermelon, or cocomero, which is one of the flavors of gelato this evening. That is anguria. Alberto calls it anguria, which is a more genteel name. We drive home and are happy to call it a day...or a night. And Sofi is so happy to see us that we stay up and sit outside under the stars until she calms down and is ready to go back to sleep.
Last night we told Loredana that we would not see her at mass today, because we are going to mass at the cloister in Orte of Benedictine nuns. Before we leave Mugnano at nine, the fog has disappeared and the three of us stop at the bar in Bomarzo for coffee.
The church in the cloister is beautiful and quite large. We arrive early for mass, but the singing has already begun, the voices of angels greet us from behind a black grate up in the apse. An elderly priest appears and the mass begins. We do not join in singing the hymns, for that is the joyous task of the chanting nuns.
We look for Margaret but are unable to single her out. We miss our Mugnano friends in church, but this truly is a wonderful and unusual way to celebrate mass. Roy tells me the mass is performed the old fashioned way, and the Latin sung by the nuns is very familiar to him. We look forward to coming again, and surely will if Michelle is able to visit next month. She would love it.
We wake up late, and the fog has cleared, giving us a beautiful day. These days we go to bed after midnight, and get our lazy bones up after 8AM. We have no complaints, but remember how much we love the early morning hours out in the garden. These days, we enjoy the garden most after 6PM, when the sun is lower on the horizon and we have more of a cool breeze.
Today we present our proposal for the landscaping to the Lorias. They are such kind people that it is just not fair that they have been treated so poorly by their architect. We sit inside and go over the plan and costs with them, while outside the property sits like an open wound on the land, with huge caked boulders of mud surrounding the house. Their view is lovely, and although completing our entire plan is costly, think they will probably want a scaled down version, to be started in September.
They invite us to go with them to an opera in a nearby town on Saturday, but we have already committed to a return to the Guardea gnocchi festival with Tiziano and Paola and some of their friends. Another town nearby also has a gnocchi festival, and Tony tells us that this town sells gnocchi made of real potatoes, while Guardea sells some kind of imitation. Could have fooled us. Is it jealous rivalry, or is the gnocchi from Guardea really just made of flour?
At home, we pick more San Marzanos from the pomodori orto. I count eighty-two, with at least that amount still left on the vine. Later in the early evening, we start our production line. Inside, we boil the tomatoes for a minute or so each and then plunge them into cold water so that we can peel and core then. Then they are taken outside, where a huge pot is bubbling in the loggia, where empty glass jars are sterilized.
Inside each jar, we put a half-teaspoon of salt and a little lemon juice. Then the pomodori. At the top of the jar, we press down the pulp with a plastic spatula to get out all the bubbles, clean off the top of the jar, seal it and then plunge the sealed jar back into boiling water, to cook for about 45 minutes. That is all there is to it.
Tonight we are able to prepare ten large bottles of the juicy stuff with about 88 tomatoes, some of them huge. Days ago, at Tia's, we spotted a San Marzano on a countertop that looked like ours. We are sure they came from the same vendor at the Montecastrili mercato, so will check in with her to see how hers are coming along.
In a few days, we will have another session processing pomodori. Today's efforts are a great success, and we end the day looking forward to whatever tomorrow brings.
The fog continues for the early morning hours, and a hint of fall is in the air. Last year, the days droned on day after day of 100-degree weather. Now there is a breeze, and 80-degree temperatures are more common.
For the past few weeks my right shoulder has been bothering me, and the pain is enough that I call Tiziana to tell her I want to stop my violin lessons until September. Alice will return from vacation in the U.S. in two weeks, and once I have a few massage sessions with her, I am sure that my shoulder will be healed.
I am also mindful that I must get into a regimen of special stretching exercises after playing each day. I am so focused on playing that my body must be stressed out. I love playing too much to not find a way to relax my body more. Tiziana is wonderful about it and we'll surely begin again in September.
Today is the feast day of Saint Lorenzo Martire, the patron saint of Attigliano. All the stores are closed in the town, and we are invited by Lore and Alberto to join them tonight for a walk through the town to view the lights and mercato and listen to the music. They pick us up at 9PM, and tonight the air is very still and humid.
Lore asks us if we have these festas in America, and is surprised to hear that we do not. I suppose the closest thing might be the county fairs held in the summertime, except for Boston's North End, which celebrates the feast of Saint Gennaro and a few other saints whose names I cannot remember. But I do remember summer Saturday nights in Boston as a young girl.
I worked with my father, or rather hung around in the store until closing, and then he closed up and took me to the North End for an Italian meal and a passegiata through the streets. I remember that on a particular evening, the statue of a saint rolled by on a flatbed and people hung money on her while looking up at her, adoringly. I can almost hear Frank Sinatra songs playing in the background...
On the sidewalk, a vendor sold zeppole, a kind of tiny doughnut with powdered sugar. And then we walked to the corner bar to have a papery sno-cone with Tamarindo syrup (coca-cola without the spritz). It is beyond my wildest dreams that in my adult years I would return to celebrate this kind of event as a natural occurrence.
Sofi sits between Lore and me on the back seat of their car, and is so happy to be a part of the group. We walk through the town, with its carnival-like atmosphere and cheap plastic blowup toys. One street looks like a midway, with very elaborate lights on every block. Sofi loves the sounds and the people milling about, having a good time. She fairly bounces as she walks, looking around and almost smiling.
I roll my eyes at the garbage being sold at these stands, and see few people with any purchases under their arms. Perhaps these markets do better in the daytime, and tomorrow the stands will continue until pranzo. One stand actually hawks computerized fortune telling, but there are no takers. I feel as if we are in a circus, with no Big Top.
We sit in the piazza for a gelato, after running into friends we know, including Tony and Pat, Dino, Lucia from Roscio, Paola from yoga class, Ernesta's sister, the woman who cleans our house with Maria and a few people we know only to say buongiorno to. There is a female singer to entertain us, whose songs run all together as though the same song is being played over and over, who stands atop an elaborate stage.
Tony met the truck driver who is responsible for the set earlier in the day and he and Pat want to get up close to the stage. Tony has a way of meeting people who really know what is going on and Pat stands back and smiles at his antics. He really knows how to enjoy life.
In our little table behind the fountain, we are bored by the goings on and instead walk over to the still unfinished restoration of old Attlgliano, including a small Roman amphitheatre. An excellent architect must have designed the old neighborhood, and the quality of the muratore work is excellent. We make note of these things these days.
It is after we walk around the stage and Roy picks up Sofi because a big crowd has gathered that our real adventure begins. Alberto dropped us off earlier in the evening and parked in a spot where someone boxed him in. In front of his car is a tiny Fiat cinque-cento, and the squeeze is so tight to maneuver the car out that he has to stop pulling out and Roy and Alberto try to pick up the little cinque-cento and bounce it over a few inches so that Alberto can maneuver his car out.
The car does not want to move very much, but a burly looking young man and his girlfriend come by and he wants to get in on the action. He tries to see if the other car blocking us is open, but it is not. He tries to push it forward, but it seems to have suction cups under the tires....or an emergency brake.
Roy beckons him over and says, "a mano". Roy holds one side of the back bumper with both hands and the young man takes the other. He takes a big breath and blows it all out at once while yelling, "Vai!" to Roy. Both men bounce the car, and it rises up in the air and plunks down several inches to the right. They try it again. "VAI!" And once more. "VAIIII!" Bravo. There is now room to move the car. Again, the cinque-cento is a remarkable car, and we are so fortunate that it is so small.
Back in Mugnano, we ask to be taken to the square, and tell our friends that we will walk home from there. Every spot on the tattered green painted metal benches is taken. The women stare out at us as though they have never seen us before, arms crossed stone-like in front of them.
When we are out of the car, however, we are greeted by smiles and "buona serra" 's. Sofi is a big hit with all the children and after racing around for a few minutes we wend our way back down the hill. Up above, we see lights on the loggia of the Orsino palazzo, and Roy tells me he is happy that people are living there. It is good to see the building so alive.
It is after eleven PM and people are congregated on every bench and plastic chair. By the time we arrive home, closer to eleven thirty, the people have begun their walk to their little houses where the air is still and it is time for a few dreams before another day dawns in little Mugnano.
But tonight, San Lorenzo is also known as the night of the shooting stars, because the Earth passes through a cloud of meteors tonight and those who stay up late are treated to celestial fireworks. Or that is what I read about this date. Actually, just as we get into bed, the man-made Spettacolo Pirotechnica takes off in Attigliano with a big bang. Sofi is traumatized, and gets in bed with us until the fireworks have come to an end and we can move her to her own bed.
News in from those of you who know Shelly and Claudio and Dani Cesaretti, our neighbors who were so helpful to us when we first bought L'Avventura. While on a trip to visit Claudio's relatives in the north of Italy, Claudio suffered a heart problem and is in a hospital in Trento. Soon he will have a single bypass operation there and may be hospitalized until mid September.
The good news is that his heart is strong, and if all goes well, his former health will be restored after a period of recuperation. In the meantime, Giordano is taking care of the horse, Victor, and the property. This morning, Roy stays at their house while Gio goes to work and Enzo repairs a melted circuit board for their water heater, zapped during the storm last week. Gio has been without hot water for days and probably hollered "'Basta!" Now the problem is solved, so we are happy that we could help out in even this small way.
Roy arrives back home and we drive to the weekly mercato in Terni. On the way, we stop at Alan's to drop off a tray of watermelon granita, to be put in the freezer for this afternoon. The mercato is huge, as usual, but it is so hot today that I carry Sofi in my arms and it is just too hot to enjoy it.
We arrive at Alan's to see many people already there, enjoying the pool. Before the afternoon is over, we are able to talk with many friends and some new ones, as well. Prue is there with her brother, Madison, on vacation for a week from Saudi Arabia. Bruce is there, without Tia, who is not feeling well. Jill is there, without Mario, but it is good to see her. Also there are Matthew, Terri, Vicky and Sebastian, many neighbors, Alicia and Justin and many children, as well as Alan's son Simon, his wife Irma, and their two children, Brandon and Ashley.
Here are two tiny stars of the day:
Sebastian (9 mos) and Sofia (15 mos)...
Alan is a marvelous host, as usual, and the food is wonderful. We leave while the party is still in full swing, and drive back through Attigliano to check our lottery tickets at the café. No, we did not win a trip to the Caribbean. Funny, but leaving Italy has no magic for me. At least not yet.
At home, the house is dark and cool, which is the way we like it during these hot days. Today is at least 35 degrees, and it could reach 37, which is technically 100 degrees Farenheit. Boh!
Gio comes by after work for a few beers and to check in. Roy and I are each reading books about Rome during and after WWII, and he fills us in on some related historical information. It is always good to see him. And oh, he zaps Roy's Handspring from his Palm, sending him Solitare, and for the rest of the evening Roy is fixated on it, telling me he is trying to figure out how to use it...
Last night when Gio sat with us, we spoke about the terrorist threats to Italy. I have become accustomed to the machine-gun toting guards at banks and public buildings, especially in Rome. In a terrorist warning recently, an announcement was made that something will happen in Italy anytime from now until after August 15 (Ferrogosto) if the Italian troops do not leave Iraq.
But Gio thinks that won't happen. Berlusconi stands side by side (when Bush will let him) with the US because he personally wants to make money on Iraq contracts to rebuild the country. I have also forgotten that it is imperative that every person carries an ID wherever they go. So there are layers and layers of security bureaucracy built into the fabric of Italian life.
Today, after getting our haircuts, we drive to the Questura in Viterbo to get fingerprinted. This is a new step in renewing our permesso di sojournos. It is quite a mess, because the ink is rolled over our fingers and the palms of our hands before they are stamped on official documents, which we are to sign in four places. I am sure that the process is very different in the U.S.
Over in a corner of the room sits an antiquated sink and an electric hand dryer. I ask the two people in the office if they have anyone who can do palm readings, and they don't understand. I think it is funny, just the same. Sofi sits by our feet the whole time and remains silent. Good dog!
Afterward we drive to the Bomarzo Commune to see about filing for Roy 's citizenship and applying to vote. We learn that as long as we are residents, the number of years we have been here does not matter. But to file for citizenship, Roy needs to file at another office of the Questura in Viterbo. Our paperwork will be ready next week for our permessos, so he will apply then. When the manifesto comes out for the next election in the Spring, that is when we need to register to vote.
When coming out of the Commune, we see Roberto Pangrazi, who tells us that our ripa, or bank, will be rebuilt starting in the first few days of September. The sindaco is on vacation, but Roberto has seen the gory condition of the bank, so we think we can believe him. I ask him to confirm what he just told us, and he nods his head. We can only hope...
In the meantime, when driving through Viterbo we see armed policemen everywhere, toting machine guns. The country is really on high alert. We are happy to be country bumpkins now, and will delay any trips to Rome for at least a month.
In the meantime, we hear from Michelle Berry that she is unable to travel because of medical treatments she will start in a few weeks. It is wonderful here at any time, of year, so when she feels better, she will come. But Tosca is feeling better, and we expect her to step in just in time to help us eat the heirloom tomatoes.
After pranzo, Pia stands at her property and a huge cement truck arrives to pour foundation and a few walls. Roy walks over a couple of hours later to see what is going on and to report next steps. He guides her in the best method to water down the concrete, which has just been poured. She tells him the house will be little, but will look "carina, just like ours..." We are hopeful that it will be tasteful. At any rate, it will not be very noticeable from our terrace.
Later, Roy preps the raised orto garden for arugula seeds and lattuga Romano and plants twelve plugs of lettuce and one row of rughetta (arugula). We pulled out all the existing rugghetta, as it became tough and seedy. Roy won't eat it regardless, but I love it, especially in a salad. And it will be very tasty with the heirloom tomatoes.
I help him set up bamboo poles and a mesh cover for the new lettuce and rughetta during the hot sun hours of the day, and Felice comes over to see what we are up to. He seems to approve, especially when Roy pulls out a giant weed hiding behind a big rose bush. While he is pulling it out, I tell him, "Vai! Vai!" which is the word men use when needing to use all their strength to move something heavy. He turns to me and tells me, "Via! Via!" (go away) and Felice laughs at us both.
Tonight is Alicia's 50th birthday celebration, and after a quiet day we leave Sofia at home and drive to the Locanda Giuseppe in Giove. We arrive in the midst of the festivities, and for the next several hours are able to talk with old friends and meet some new ones. Steve is playing the bass fiddle, and doing his usual exceptional job, and Madison sings, even with out a mic.
We sit with Max and Irina, Tia and Bruce and Alan, and after a while I find myself next to Irina. I tell her that sometime I'd like to speak with her about Russia and tell her that my father was born in Lipovitz, near Kiev. She tells me that she is from the Ukraine, where Lipovitz is located, and also that this town is one of the towns where Jews were allowed to live in Russia during the beginning of the 20th century.
I can't tell you how sad that makes me feel. When I tell her that my father's Russian name was Baluchnik, she tells me that it means "the man who makes bread". There is a roll, like a Kaiser roll, or a rosetta, in Italian, which is also known as a bulkie roll in English. I can begin to understand the derivation of the name. Family yarns tell us that past generations were boot makers, but we do not have much information.
So my father's family was similar to many other families at the time, persecuted and hated. My father and his family immigrated to Boston and he grew up to be an honors graduate of MIT, and a genius (154 IQ), but never forgot his heritage.
Some years later, he married my mother, who was a Baptist, and they changed their name to Brandon so that my brother and I would not be persecuted as my father had been. So a phony name kept us from identification with our true heritage. Strangely, I have no idea about my mother's ancestors, either. I know her father died when she was thirteen.
They lived in Canada, and soon afterward the family moved to the Dorchester section of Boston to live near my grandmother's sisters. It is a good thing that studying a person's lineage is popular these days. I am just sorry that I did not ask a lot of questions when older members of our family were still alive.
Here in Italy everyone seems to know his or her heritage. In this village, there are mostly five family names in the graveyard, which makes the research easier. Shelly and Gio tell us how dangerous this is from a health standpoint. Somehow the people here live to be almost ninety and most of them seem very healthy, just the same. Everyone walks every day and most people also work in their little plots of land below the village. This activity must be good for them.
Back to Alicia's party, we leave after an explosion of fireworks to honor her, and are happy that we are able to participate in this celebration.
At home, Sofi greets us with many kisses, and we are glad to be here, among the crickets and other sounds of the night with many things to think about.
We spend most of the day quietly, staying out of the heat, but travel to Guardea tonight to the last night of the gnocchi festival, with a group of young Mugnanese including Gio and Tiziano and some of Tiziano's friends. Afterward, we are invited to go to Viterbo to hear Dario's band play. Dario is Valerio and Elena's son, and plays the piano.
Gio joins us in our car, and we are met by Tiziano with Christina and her friend, Nicoletta. Nicoletta is from Foligno, and she and Christina have cena with us in Guardea, and then we follow Tiziano back to Mugnano to pick up Christina's older sister, Valeria, before driving to Viterbo to see Dario and his group.
The group is playing in a famous café that for a time was converted into a MacDonald's! Luckily, the franchise moved out, and instead the front has a long counter with gelato and other sweets. The back room is framed in beautifully carved wood with glass front vetrinas. In front of these is a short balcony, where Dario and a singer and a guitarist and a saxophone player entertain us until midnight.
When we arrive, Elena and Valerio and friends are already there, so Roy and I join them while Gio joins Tiziano and the girls. We arrive home late, but the night is warm, so we stay outside with Sofi until she calms down and will go to sleep.
News is in about the devastation caused by the hurricane in Florida. We are waiting for a disaster of our own today, and it feels like the calm before the storm. Italy was given until today to withdraw all its troops from Iraq. Berlusconi refused, so Al Queda has given notice to its armies to strike all targets in Italy. Whatever it is, we will weather it.
On a lighter note, tonight we have a mass and procession at the church in honor of the Assumption. Today is also Ferrogosto, the big summer holiday celebrated all over Italy. Little Mugnano is full of people, everyone is in the street until very late at night, and we look forward to joining them all.
Just before 9PM, we light the lanterns on the terrace and walk up to the church. On Via Mameli, every house is lit with tiny lights, in honor of the Assumption. When we arrive in the square, we are so relieved to find that mass will be held outside. It is still very warm, with a breeze greeting us only now and then.
All the benches, as well as the altar, have been moved outside. When we arrive, we see several members of the Confraternity moving out the carpet as well. In front of the benches stands the Madonna, her face crowned in gold and rimmed with tiny lights. Rosary beads rest on her outstretched arms, and her pale blue cloak moves with the venticello (little breeze). She is lovely, and I think is probably old, and from Napoli. She is by far my favorite adornment of the church.
Livio has spent most of the week sanding and bleaching all the benches. I ask Giuliola about it, and she tells me that the benches have been covered with the same ugly coffee color paint since she was a child. Almost every bench has been stripped, and two have also been stained and polished. When the mass is over, Don Luca praises Livio for his very hard work.
Two new members are welcomed into the Confraternity tonight, Ivo and one other man we do not know. Don Luca is to be praised for doing such an exceptional job with the parishioners. In a village of less than 85 permanent residents, he has appointed twenty-nine willing members of the Confraternity. After the service, Ivo's daughter tells us that it made her cry to see her father dressed and standing in a place of honor next to the priest. It is indeed an honor to be recognized in this way.
Roy tells me later that from his vantage point with his Confraternity brothers behind Don Luca, he could see down the center aisle of the congregation, and up the little street toward the tower. What a marvelous vista. Our life here has such rich texture, and there is so much we have yet to learn. During the homily, Don Ciro also speaks about the sguardo (view) and the view we each have when participating in the procession all the way to our cancello and back in the dark, with the walk framed in tiny lights, is nothing less than magic.
At home in bed, after midnight, the crickets and cicadas chirp on to remind us how lucky we are to be a part of this special village.
We think it is still a holiday, and many stores are closed. Sofi and I work in the garden while Roy drives to the hardware store. All the plants shaped as round globes in the garden except for the box are looking scraggly, so there is a lot of work to do clipping them before the sun is too hot to work.
The boxwood continues to look just fabulous...We have almost one hundred of them, eleven oval and around eighty round, plus fourteen santolina and two teucrium, all shaped in balls. They love the sun and love water, and we have plenty of both. With the new irrigation system in place, Roy does not water very much by hand anymore. He mostly takes the wand and putters around, pulling weeds and watching.
Tonight, Felice weeds with his old hoe. He slowly but steadily hacks out all the weeds on the fence line between the lavender and the mermaid roses. I think he also hoes in the lavender field. In an hour he can do more than we can do in a day. And he seems to love being here. We don't care if he doesn't lift a finger. We just love seeing him enjoy himself.
The Paul Lede roses are a puzzlement, for they have suckers that shoot out from the middle of the plant, but they definitely have seven leaves so the shoots have to go. The plants themselves are doing pretty well. These roses do not produce many flowers, but the ones that bloom are beautiful.
Most of the garden looks good, but the hot sun takes its toll on some of the roses. I will feed them again tonight, to see if we can get one more bloom this summer. I am hopeful that the worst of the hot summer sun has passed. Next summer, we will look for something to plant that will flourish during the hot months. The plumbago is the happiest, and leans out over the front path, waving at people who walk by.
That reminds me, The San Marzano pomodori are about all picked, and soon the plants will come out, leaving more room for the heirlooms. There are 41 heirloom plants that survived, and we have picked the first ten tomatoes or so...mostly Black Russians and one Juane Flame.
I think most of them will be ready to pick around the end of the month. Tomorrow I'll make a panzanella, bread and tomato salad, with these first ones. We have planted more basilico, because once the tomatoes are picked, they'll be wonderful with basil and olive oil, whether or not we have fresh mozzarella.
Pia is working across the street on her retaining walls with two workers. They sit for pranzo under their huge tree while we sit outside under our caki tree. We are thinking that she is really getting to know her little piece of land, and we hope she will be happy with her little weekend house. She borrows a bicycle pump from us, because the wheel on the cement mixer is flat, but otherwise she and the workers plug steadily along.
Tonight we are invited to Tony and Pat's, where we talk about a scaled down landscaping proposal and then drive up to Alviano to attend the town's gelato sagra. Any excuse for a gelato... Tony likes the proposal, but we think that once we start he will want to do more. We are really sure that we can help them a great deal, and that will be good for all of us.
Roy had a good time last night as a member of the Confraternity, but thinks the village should have had some kind of food for all the people congregating in the square after the mass and procession. The medieval festival planned for this date was cancelled because the square was to be repaved with old stones, but somehow the project was delayed. So we have no project and no festa in Mugnano this year. We Mugnanese are really lumacas (snails). Perhaps next year...
Tosca arrives in less than two weeks, and it will be good to see her. She has not been here since the fall of 1998, we think, and there have been many changes. I especially look forward to her meeting the Madonna.
I want to make panzanella (bread and tomato salad) with the heirlooms, and now there are enough to try it out. It is really delicious. I follow a recipe that calls for skinning the tomatoes with a vegetable peeler, but the skins come right off. We are eating the Black Russians, which are the first to mature, but we picked one Juane Flame yesterday, a light orange round tomato.
Tonight, we will have sliced tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, in addition to Vitello Tonato, a cold thinly sliced veal with an anchovy/tuna sauce. Shelly and Gio will come for cena, after packing up Dani for a trip to Crete with relatives. So our pranzo is very light.
Last night I looked over the San Marzanos while Felice was still here, and there are lots of blossoms and some more tiny green tomatoes, so those will continue to grow a few weeks more. The whole growing area looks like a little cottage, with green sprouts and leaves covering most of the top of the bamboo. It is shaded and acidy smelling underneath, at once moist and full of earthy aromas. Is this what they call heaven on earth?
Sofi snoops down around my feet while I pick up leaves to see what's underneath and generally inspect the plants. This is a thrilling process, made more so when we can take a tomato off a vine, bring it in and wash and slice it, then pop it into our mouths. Long after we eat I can still smell the vine on my hands.
This afternoon, we drive to Viterbo to pick up our permesso di sojournos. Roy will also see if there is an office where he can apply for citizenship. We have Nonno's birth certificate with us, and hope that this will help Roy to gain citizenship before the customary ten years.
When we get to the office to pick up our permessos, the capo tells us it will be another month. When we ask him why, he asks us if it is urgent. When we tell him no, he responds with a customary raising of his shoulders and a smile, telling us to take it easy and perhaps come back in September. In Rome, he tells us, it would take a year...
Back out to the car, and we have a parking ticket. We forgot to go to a pay machine for a parking ticket, so they "bless" us with a parking ticket of their own on the windshield. Boh!
On to the Prefettura, which is located in Piazza della Plebiscito, a gorgeous square in the old part of Viterbo. We see the sign indicating cittadenza, but the guard tells us people there only work in the morning. Perhaps by the time we have been residents for ten years we will get through all the red tape and delays....
Tonight is very warm, and I am relieved that I prepared most of the meal in advance. In the morning I sautéed yellow and red bell peppers (the red from our garden) in a little olive oil and garlic, and tonight I finish the sauce with two tablespoons of just-melted butter, plenty of torn leaves of fresh basilico, a big handful of freshly grated cheese, and toss it with tubes of penne pasta. The result is very tasty and beautiful to look at as a first course.
Next, the thinly sliced veal with tuna and anchovy sauce served on a ceramic platter is really great, with extra sauce on the side. I prepared the dish in advance yesterday, put it in the refrigerator under wrap so that the flavors would meld, and take it out early so that it will come to room temperature.
The veal is served with a platter of sliced heirloom tomatoes of different colors, with fresh buffala mozzarella sliced and served in the center. Over all are tiny ribbons of fresh basilco. Olive oil is served on the side.
Later, before coffee, Roy serves up peach and watermelon granita with cookies. We sit outside for hours under a starry sky. This evening is good for Shelly, who has a lot on her mind. She seems a little sad, almost wistful, with Claudio away at a rehab facility in the north to get ready for his surgery, Dani off with relatives in Crete, and Gio getting ready to move to an apartment in Lugnano.
Roy gets up very early to start a fire in the lower terrace to burn off leaves and weeds, but a wind sneaks up and he is forced to spray water on the fire to put it out. He had hoped to burn everything off on a windless morning, but the wind continues all day. This makes him think of Russ and Mary, our Mill Valley neighbors, and of the time he almost burned our houses down while thinking he was just burning a few leaves...
He walks up to the village to see Dottoressa for a prescription, while Sofi and I stay at home. Across the street, two muratores do a fine job on a retaining wall for Pia, and we are able to see the top of it when we walk outside to have breakfast. Otherwise, it is a quiet day.
Now I know why Catherine Lombard told us to grow rugghetta from packets of seeds. They sprouted up in three days! Roy covers the raised orto garden during the hot sun hours, so that the newly planted lettuce and rugghetta and the pepperoni are not burned by the sun. We have many peppers and now the pepperoncini plant from Giuseppa has many tiny hot peppers almost ready as well.
Our plum tree near the front gate has wonderful plums. They are small and oval in shape with dark skins and meaty lemony colored fruit. I reach what I can and those I cannot reach somehow plop down unhurt on the gravel. Since Sofi does not like fruit, I pick them up and wash them off in the morning. Felice tells me not to eat them from the tree at night...They are "troppo caldo". Instead, leave them inside until the morning, when they are cool. We never save enough for a jam, but love them just the same.
I sit on one of the new folding stools by the lavender, and clip five or so. They don't want to form round balls, but are low and wide and squat. I take one pass at them and will try to work on a few of them again in a day or so. Roy waters them often, so they keep growing and their leaves are a wonderful soft grey, even in the heat of the summer. I move to deadhead roses, and Roy and I agree that the garden is fun. We take on a small project each day or evening and have a never-ending variety of tasks.
Tonight Roy takes the garbage by himself and tells me when he returns that cars are parked all the way to our house from the centro storico. A comedian is performing tonight, but we don't go. It is so difficult to understand comedians in Italian. Even when we know the words the jokes are lost on us.
Crickets and cicadas compete with the electric fans and the gauzy curtains dance, telling me there is enough breeze to stop the fan in our room. I love the quietness here at night, broken only by those pesky insects that never seem to sleep. But the migraine drug laroxyl is my new best friend, and sleep comes easy for me these days...almost too easy.
I think today will be cool because there is a real breeze, but the heat sneaks up on us and before we know it we are covering the peppers and gearing up for some real heat.
I am able to harvest seven little heirlooms in various fall colors. They are not as sweet as some heirlooms, but taste rich and delicious just the same, especially with a little fresh mozzarella, basil from the garden and Tia and Bruce's olive oil.
After pranzo, we leave for Fermo, where we are told there is a weekly mercato in the evening. We have been trying to go all summer, and this is the last night we can go. So we start by driving to Visso, where we stop for a gelato, and then drive to Fermo. a new town for us.
The outer town consists of unfortunately typical urban sprawl, but once we are in the center, which is high on a hill, we are enchanted. Although this is the Marche, it reminds us of many lovely Umbrian towns, washed with light.
We are joined by plenty of people, all looking for parking, and we find a spot halfway up the hill. Once we arrive, we find a mixture of junky African and Indonesian setups and kitschy crafts. In the center of the town, however, is a very nice antique mercato, with sellers we have not seen before.
Roy falls in love with a small ceramic vase, covered with grotesques (a delicate painting style made famous by Nero, quite lovely). There is nothing grotesque about this, except for the two "handles" which are modeled in some kind of face. On the bottom is a painted sign and a number. We will ask Alberto what this specific "chop" means. Roy haggles for a lower price, and they both compromise.
Shops are open, and we find two outfits for our tiny gemelli as well. Sofi has fun meeting new friends, and we leave there about 9:15. We are home by midnight, and drive back in the dark through a new route, which must be lovely in the daytime. Roy is so at home behind the wheel that he loves these drives. I love being with him, so these adventures are fun.
For those of you wishing to donate to the scholarship fund for Laura Marler, daughter of Justin Marler and Maria Donohoe here is the information. As you know, Maria passed away from a heart attack recently at age 40. We send our love and blessings to the whole family.
Golden State Scholarshare Trust P. O. Box 60009 Los Angeles, Ca 90060-9850 Acct #'s 1913-12734087 1797-12734087 $ 25.00 min. per check They are mutual funds, which are aged bonded.
Today feels like the hottest day yet, but compared to last summer it is just a temporary blip. I spend some time outside deadheading roses and then raking leaves on the gravel, but soon give up.
Later in the day, we find Felice out in the pomodori garden. We tell him that we found tiny black bugs on some of the tomatoes. Roy shows him one. He says not to worry, but we sprayed rame sulfato earlier just in case. Felice tells us they come around with the change of season. God bless Felice.
Roy wants to plant half the number of tomato plants next year and space them out, but Felice and I like the "casa pomodoro" effect. Felice is not very tall and he and I have no trouble walking in and out of the three long rows. And what a delicious earthy smell! Long after I leave the orto, I smell the green shoots on my hands.
Earlier in the day, I go online to begin research on grotesques. This is a kind of style of painting on ceramics, based on wall and ceiling paintings that go back to the time of Nero. For detailed information on this subject, refer to the blog on this site called Places to Visit.
Tony and Pat come by for a drink, and then we get ready to go to a sagra in Bassano in Teverina with Lore and Alberto. The sagra is a non-event, aka not very good, held in the parking lot of a big cement building. The food is passable. The beer is good.
We drive back here with Lore and Alberto to sit on the terrace and sip spumanti under the stars with Sofi at our feet. Spending time with good friends at home, we think, is a lovely ending to the day.
A couple of weeks ago, I participated in a discussion over cocktails at Tia and Bruce's house with two Australian men about the right to vote. In Australia, it is mandatory to vote, and these two men were adamant that people should be forced to vote. I was just as adamant in my stance that being able to vote is a privilege and a responsibility, but should not be a legal matter.
Here in Italy, people are allowed to vote, and I must admit I am saddened about the low voter turnout. When there is a referendum, people do not vote because they think voting "no" is the same as not voting at all. This is a country of people who spend their time conniving about convoluted schemes to get around the law. So mandatory voting would not really be an issue here.
This country is run by less than honorable men who line their pockets while lying through their pearly-toothed smiles at their constituents. So although I choose to spend the rest of my life here, I have no intention of relinquishing my US citizenship or the privilege of voting. And if I am able to become a citizen here after ten years of residency (dual citizenship is allowed in Italy and the US), I surely will vote. As residents, we think we can also vote in local elections, which are held in the Spring.
Last night, Avery sent us an article via email regarding the fight for women to win the right to vote in the early 1900's. The subject is jarring, and if you'd like me to forward it to you, email me. The subject will be aired on HBO before the election. Try to watch
"Iron Jawed Angels" on HBO this fall, about this subject. But by all means, vote.
Because we made a conscious choice to live in another country, that does not mean that we want to give up our right and privilege of voting. Meeting people who are forced to vote, seeing news programs about people who are not allowed to vote, makes me more honored than ever that I am given the opportunity to vote.
I hope that between now and election day that the media spends more time about getting out the vote than airing the dirty campaigns being waged on either side. News junkie that I am, it wearies me.
Over breakfast, Roy and I discuss the various sagras we have attended in the years we have been here, and now the sagras in Mugnano get more praise than before. Last night's sagra, a beer sagra in nearby Bassano In Teverina, gets a low score. The beer (Heineken) was good, but the food was only passable and the flying bugs were a real hassle. We had to stand in line for a long time to get our food, the fiore di zucchini was fried in a heavy batter, the strozipretti was only fair.
This morning, I sleep in. The laroxyl I take at night really helps me to have a sweet sleep. After breakfast I putter around, picking up stray hazel nuts from below the arbor on the way to the lavender garden. This is the time for the hazelnuts, or nocciole, to be harvested, and I must admit that we don't really do anything with them after they are dried. Like eating them. And we like them very much. Perhaps this year we will do something with the crop. It is fun to have the two trees just the same. This property is full of interesting things to make note of, every season of the year.
I take a walk over to the tufa wall above the tomatoes, and look down on the three rows of plants. Each day I pick about eight of them, mostly small in size. So the crop is not yet overwhelming. Tosca is coming at the right time to help us eat them.
Since the Universita is not making any overtures regarding the tomatoes, we'll probably put them up in glass jars. Shelly gives us a good idea. She reuses all her glass jars, but takes them to the hardware store in Giove, where she can match up new tops to old bottles. So the next thing to figure out is where we will store them all, backstage. Wish we could afford to move forward on building a magazino (store room) in the back of the house. We will find a place to store the glass jars, just the same.
At noontime each day, we close the shutters in our bedroom on the side facing west, because the sun is so hot. Today, when lifting the screen to close them, I can almost reach out to the two-story tall nespola (loquat) tree, its new leaves a tender and fuzzy pale green. One day this tree will go. I'd like to move it out toward San Rocco, but it probably won't make the move. This subject will be an adventure for another day...
Roy calls Gio to find out how Claudio's surgery went, but the surgery won't happen until Monday. Evidently Claudio was given some pre-prep medicine, and thought that meant that surgery was imminent. So Michelle raced up there in time to hang out. And Roy tells Gio that we heard singing from the party Dario gave last night in his father's orto near the cemetery, and Gio tells him he was not singing, but the party was fun. We love the idea of Gio hanging out with the locals.
Tonight Alberto and Lore pick us up to drive to Bomarzo to the Ensemble Classica concert outside in front of the Duomo. We have heard this group before, two years ago in Orte. The lead musician is the first flautist in La Scala Opera House in Milan. We think he lives nearby, in Vitorchiano, and his group plays in medieval towns in the area at the end of summer each year.
We purchased one of their cds at a concert two years ago in Orte, and it was stolen with the Passat. So we've wanted to replace the cd, which we like very much. And we love the orchestra.
Tonight, there is only one flautist, but he is Romano Pucci, from La Scala. Two years ago, there were three. But there are three violinists tonight, so I am happy. The concert is grand.
We arrive early, afraid that we won't find a place to sit. The ubiquitous white plastic chairs are set up in six rows to fill the plaza around the temporary stage. So Lore picks out four seats in the center of the fourth row, and we sit and watch the rehearsal. It is better than good. One violinist practices an especially complicated piece, and before he is through there are tears in my eyes. Oh, how I love the sound of the violin. I dream of playing well one day.
The chairs remain almost completely empty twenty minutes before show time. We all are wondering if anyone will appear for the concert at 9:15, but all of a sudden, at around 9:35, fifty people just show up. The seats are all taken.
In the meantime, the Bomartians are very boisterous. The women, oh the women. One decides she wants to move her seat, so pushes a few white chairs out of the way and just leaves them in her wake. This is not a town of elegant people. The people are country people, and don't have the manners that people their age attending concerts in Rome would have. They just holler out to someone across the plaza, push a chair out of the way and forget there is anyone else in the audience. But they love their music.
No matter, this is a friendly bunch. Stefano, our mayor, announces the group, and he sports a summer tan. We really like this young man, and although we hear that he may be "sacrificed" for another candidate for reelection, we hope he remains on the ballot. He has been good for Bomarzo and Mugnano and has been good to us.
The performance is first rate. During the playing of The Barber of Seville, two moths keep perfect time fluttering under the lights framing the stairs going up to the Duomo. Everything works. The pavement of pepperino under our feet, the lighting on the surrounding buildings, the open windows, even the dogs and children in the distance, all add to the cacophony that is a concert in an Italian town.
That reminds me. When have we ever gone to a free music concert in California? Free music concerts are everywhere, all over Italy, no matter the season. In California, after school music programs are slashed from school budgets. Here music is important to everyone, no matter the age. My violin teacher, Tiziana, and her sister, Simona, teach music to all the school children of Orte. They are busy year round. The financial shape of the country may be terrible, but the Italians know where there priorities lie. So I suppose that is another reason why a hopelessly impractical person like me is really at home in Italia.
Tonight, we especially like the music on the program from Nino Rota, an Italian composer who died in 1976. He wrote music for Zefferelli and even music for The Godfather, known in Italy as Il Padrino. Lore's favorite piece is one where the clarinetist solos in Gershwin's Summertime. Italians almost always stick an American song into their repertoire. I like the Aire da La Traviata by Verdi.
When the concert is over, after four encores, we are able to thank the musicians personally, and also buy cds. The cd we lost is out of print, but we find a few more.
Alberto drives us home under a chilly sky, and Roy and Sofi and I sit outside under the stars. I have a glass of wine, a wool shawl draped over my shoulders. The weather is starting to turn.
I think the temperature will be cooler today, so I wear a dress with short sleeves to go to mass. But when we take our coffee out on the terrace before walking up to church, I notice that the sun is bright, and that Roy is putting his straw hat deftly on his head, at just the right angle. All he needs is a Tuscani cigar and he'll pass for a native Italian. But I'd rather see him sensa cigar, so I'm happy he does not smoke.
Sadly, Sofi is left on the terrace when we walk up to church, and she cries and cries until we are out of sight. Up in the plaza in front of the little church it is cooler than on the walk, for most of the street remains in the shade. We wait with Lore and Alberto outside the Orsini palazzo until Don Luca arrives in his station wagon and changes into his vestments before we step inside the church.
But what's this? Livio's beautifully restored castagno benches have been moved inside, but there are fewer benches. And "our" row on the right of the center aisle is taken up by Giuseppa and a summer time resident. Boh! We sit in the last row, and poor Felice is left to walk over to the left side and sit against the wall. I wave a greeting to him, and also to Marsiglia, who now is seated in the last row on the left side. Let's see what happens...
Everyone is clearly out of step. Since Italians all arrive at the last minute, there is a lot of staring going on. But who will sit in front of us? What will Augusta do? How about Rina?
Augusta arrives, and looks down her nose at the summertime resident, seated on the aisle beside Giuseppa. Giuseppa instantly moves over to Rina's seat, but the other woman tries to make room for Augusta in the middle beside her. Augusta smiles and shakes her head. She will have none of it. So the woman slides over and Augusta in her mind raises her arms and shouts, "Vinceri!". She puts her wallet down on her seat and walks up to the front of the little church to light a candle.
Marieadelaide loudly begins the first hymn, and as if on cue, Rina arrives. There are about eight inches left on the bench, but she looks down and the women all raise their shoulders, take in a breath, and make room for her. After all, it is Her seat. All right. Now we can concentrate on the mass...
Roy and I are getting a little too sure of our selves. We have practically memorized all the responses to the mass, and know when to come in on cue, even if we have no idea what is really going on. So when Don Luca tells us that the mass is finished, and wishes us "Buona Domenica!" and we respond, "Rendiamo, grazie addio ", Roy and I are ready to burst into the last hymn. But before we are able to open our mouths, the other Giuseppa, Antonio's mother, jumps the gun and starts a different hymn. BOH!
Another hymn to learn. It is a sweet one, so we'll see if Rosita and Tiziano can give us the words. So I'm kissing my way out of the church...Rosita, Elena, Vincenza...and then everyone is talking joyously on the front steps and on the pavement below.
Roy and Tiziano stand over to the side, and Roy asks Tiziano if he was singing Friday night at Dario's festa. He tells him no, and I ask him if he did not sing, and Gio did not sing, whose were all those voices? He tells us there were about twenty people.
So I see Antonio and give him a kiss and ask him if he sang on Friday night. He tells us he does not remember with a sheepish grin. And then I am full of confidence, and walk over to give Leondina a kiss and a hug. And then Marsiglia, of course, who takes me in her arms and does not want to let me go.
She tells me it is too warm, and I ask Felice, who is on her side, if the change in weather has anything to do with the new moon. He does not really answer me, but is full of joy on this sunny morning. I ask Marsiglia what direction their windows face, and she cannot figure it out, but tells me there is sun all day. We both look at Felice, and he does not want to figure it out, either.
I ask him if the wind comes from the west at this time of year, and he looks at me perplexed and laughingly asks me, "Are you saying ovest (west) or est (east)?"My pronunciation needs some work. He stands with his right arm bent leaning on Marsiglia's shoulder, and I take his arm off her shoulder and put her arm through his. "Melio!" I tell him, and she nods. It is then that I realize that she is here without a cane (bastone) and tell her "Brava!"
They turn to their right, as if on cue, and Felice cuffs his left hand on his hip to indicate pranzo. I ask him if he is preparing pranzo and Marsiglia tells me no. She proudly proclaims that she takes care of the house and he takes care of the garden. That is the right thing to do.
So I tell her it is our secret, but I prepare the meals and Roy does the dishes. I think that is better. She laughs and seems to understand that that is the American way. And off they go.
As the days have turned into months and the months into years, we continue to peel back the layers and layers of the ancient tree that is Mugnano and find ourselves welcomed into the family tree that signifies the village. So we walk down the hill and Leondina is dressed but in her summer slippers, shuffling across the street in front of their house to their cantina, we think. It is time for another hug, and she asks us if we'll have café. She asks us so often that we really cannot say no.
So I tell her just a little, and she calls down the street to her daughter, Vincenza, who obediently walks back and into her little house next door to prepare café for us. Leondina offers and then Vincenza does the work. I suppose this is the job of the daughter. Vincenza takes it in stride. She is a lovely woman. And we know she and her husband, Augosto, enjoy our company. Roy walks home to retrieve Sofia, and I realize that I must wait for Sofi outside, or there will be an accident when she bounds down the street toward me...
Before I know it, Sofi is running down the street, but not to me. She sees two different young men who love her and she loves them, too. When she sees me, I crouch down and she runs fast as blazes right through the space between my legs, just below my long dress. Leondina laughs. Sofi races around and around and then Bastia arrives, lifts his leg on a pot, and chases her around some more.
Pepe walks by, and she is in heaven. He stops three times, turns around and tells her "Ancora!" and she rushes again and again to his side for a hug. Then it is time for us. She calms down and we put her on her lead and by this time Vincenza is ready for us.
We step inside for coffee after I ask the customary, "Permessa?" and Leondina happily sits in front of the fireplace, silently, with her hands folded in her lap, while Augusto and Roy carry on most of the conversation at the kitchen table. Vincenza speaks when she can, and I burst into my version of a "song" which is mostly off tune (this is more a metaphor for what I jokingly call conversation). Augusto loves speaking about politics, as do I, and I feel like a young boxer, trying to spar in an imaginary ring. He dances around with me and kindly does not give me a sucker punch.
We leave after a short visit, and Sofi happily bounds along, arriving at home and taking a long drink of water. She is clearly hungry, and I want to feed her before we take Tony and Pat to pranzo at NonnaPappa. Sofi will be with us, and it can get pretty wild with the dogs there, so it is better to get her main feeding out of the way early.
I finish wrapping Tony and Pat's anniversary gifts: a tray, coasters and pot holders, with herbs and flowers and tissue and ribbon. The tray and coasters are a kind of joke. Every time we go there for cocktails, Pat apologizes that they do not have a tray, and brings out paper napkins after apologizing that they don't have coasters, either. Today is their 45th wedding anniversary, and we want this to be a special day for them.
After they arrive and open their gifts, we get into our car. Off we all go to Orte, and Sofi knows where she is right as she gets out of the car. I don't bother to put her on her lead. Inside, Timmy and Catherine are there, and have they ever grown! They are here to pick up Carlotta to take her to their pool for the afternoon. After hugs all around, and measurements with Timmy to show that he is already taller than me, we greet Pepe, Fidelia's father, and Fidelia. Or rather Sofia greets them. It is a love fest.
Before we know it, we are seated in at a wonderful cool table in the back, near a table where a big black pug lies sullenly on the floor, staring at our little dog. Sofi is back on her lead, and the lead is attached to the bottom of one of the legs of my chair until Fidelia comes over and asks me if she can take Sofi into the kitchen, and unhooks her from the lead.
Roy responds to Tony and Pat, "I guess someone ordered dog, " and is met by steely stares from me. A few minutes later, Fidelia's mother comes out with Sofi. I have never met her before, but know that she owned a basotto from our breeder for many years. Her name is Antonella and I am so pleased to finally meet her. I ignore our group, who is doing just fine, and sit with Antonella and Sofi by the door, forgetting that my Italian is far from fluent. We don't have any trouble speaking with each other.
There are not many people in the restaurant, and no one seems to care about the dogs. Antonella returns to the kitchen and I return to our table with Sofi. Before I know it, another couple arrives with a Basotto puppy. Sofi is introduced to Tiberio, an eight-month old male from the same breeder, and they are both taken off lead and for the next hour play-wrestle silently with each other in a kind of Quiet Man bout, over and under and over again, all around the restaurant. They clearly are having the time of their lives, and this is very good for Sofi.
(Roy later tells me he never heard of The Quiet Man, an early John Wayne film with Victor McLaughlin. The fight scene is one of the most famous in movie history, and in one take the two of them roll over and over, fighting back and forth, down the Irish countryside.)
We introduce ourselves to Anna and Fausto, Tiberio's owners, and give them our card, offering to meet them here again for pranzo while the dogs play. We recall seeing them here before, and they tell us they live in Rome and Vignanello.
Pranzo is the usual exceptional food, including the wine, which cost all of €8.50 a bottle. The restaurant is attractive, the food unusual, the people kind and friendly. This is clearly our favorite restaurant, and we miss not going there more often.
We drive home through the old city of Orte, and Tony and Pat are horrified at the narrowness of the streets and cannot believe that we can really navigate them. But we are so used to Orte that Roy maneuvers right through without even closing in his side mirror. From there we show them the cloister where the Gregorian chants are sung at Sunday mass, and then drive home.
We sit on the terrace for a long while just relaxing, and before they leave I take Livio's handmade basket and cutters and lead them like the pied piper down to the tomato orto, up and down the three rows, picking ripe fruit as we go. Before they leave, I have washed and bagged a couple of handfuls of heirloom tomatoes for them to take home. They leave happy and we are happy to have shared this time with them.
Sofi is clearly exhausted but happy, and jumps up in the chair in the bedroom by the fan to have a dolce fa niente. This day has been joyous from beginning to end, especially when we hear from Michelle in San Francisco that the experimental treatment for her brain tumor is working and she is already thinking of a new date for her visit.
Claudio's operation this morning was a success, and Gio calls us on his lunch break from work to let us know. He is eating pizza, calling friends about Claudio, and working on the computer, all at the same time. Although this was not an extremely serious operation, we are relived for the whole family and look forward to seeing Claudio again when he is feeling better.
I pick a red pepperoni to include in the panzanella salad at pranzo, but send Roy out to get some cetrioli (cucumber). At pranzo, Roy names off the ingredients for the salad and tells me we should grow cetrioli next year. Does it grow on a vine or from the ground? We really are showing our city backgrounds.
We think often of our grand daughters being here with us, and how much fun it will be to show them the garden and the plants and the flowers. They will think of us as country folk with our gardens and plants as they grow. In less than three months we will be with them, and Angie our dog sitter will be here to take care of Sofi. I really want to take her but think it will be too much excitement for Angie, our daughter in law, and Terence and the girls and Freddi the basset hound. Perhaps next year.
There are about a dozen small tomatoes to pick, in gold and umber colors. I wash them and put them in a basket to use in a day or so. Outside, I clip a rosemary plant back on the terrace quite a bit, and put the cuttings into a big bag for Felice to give to Marsiglia and their neighbors. He is happy with the little gift, and takes it in his rough hands and walks down the front stairs after he weeds a little around the roses in the lavender garden.
I do a box clip on the front terrace and Roy calls Mario to ask him to come tomorrow at sunrise to do the weed wacking, now that he's arriving back from his vacation up North. I think Roy will use the aspiratore on the terrace to get up all the leaves and flotsam tomorrow morning while Mario works in other areas of the property.
We take the garbage tonight, and Antonello is more confident. He chases after Sofi, and she races all around the street. Later, she encounters Clo, the white female dog belonging to a Romanian woman, and is very tentative with her. She is openly flirty with the male dogs, but does not get too close to the females.
We forgot to get a prescription for my visit to the Migraine center in the hospital in Perugia on Wednesday, and Dottoressa is on vacation, so I wait for an hour for a friend of hers, who arrives and writes the prescription with no problem. While I wait, a pharmaceutical salesman is in front of me. He has been doing this job for two years, and his territory is the provincia of Viterbo. Escano is also waiting, and he and I laugh that the hospital in Viterbo is terrible.
I ask the salesman how many doctors he sees, and he tells me 570!. That seems like a lot of doctors in the province, but I think many of them are in the Bel Colle hospital in Viterbo. I ask him where the best hospitals are in Central Italy and he tells us Sienna followed by Florence and Bologna. We all joke about Claudio being in the perfect place to have a heart problem. We need to do research and if we are ever in need of a hospital go to the town who has the best hospital for that specialty and "just happen" to have to go to the emergency room. See, I am getting the hang of acting like an Italian to figure out a way around the myriad regulations.
After four months, we return to the hospital in Perugia for a visit to Dottore Alberti. I am so happy to see him, for his counsel has been excellent. During the past four months, I have experienced only one migraine headache. He is pleased as well, and tells me to continue with the medicine, taking a little less from September on. I'm to have a blood test and have my pressure checked before seeing him again in December.
On the two previous appointments, Roy and I waited up to three hours each time to see a doctor. Now that Dr. Alberti is my doctor, today's appointment takes place right on time.
We drive back on a tiny circuitous route, wending our way thorough the hills and tiny towns of Umbria, ending up at the A-1 in Orvieto Scalo. It's then just a short drive home. On the way, we see a manifesto (poster) announcing a Sagra di Macedonia. That wins the award as the most ridiculous sagra ever. Can you imagine, a sagra based on cut up fruit?
Fall is in the air, and I am thinking for the first time about vivid red flowers on the terrace and in the pots in the parcheggio. Before, I thought only of pastels, but the stone colors and excessive heat of the summer days has me rethinking my color palate. I think I want red because it is more of a fall and winter color. I look forward to fall and a blaze of glorious color to shout, "It is great to be alive!". "Bring on the cool weather!"
I call Lore and we want to go to their house to see the work Stefano has done in their new old house next door to them. In the meantime, Sofi follows me to the various ortos, and we pick a selection to take to them: two zucchini, a red pepperoni, fifteen pomodori of glorious colors in mostly small sizes, the heart of a lettuce, flowers from a sedano (celery) plant, stalks of basilico and salvia, a bunch of just-picked nocciole (hazelnuts) and a couple of plums from the tree. I might as well throw in a red onion from a braid in the loggia. Wonderful. They do not have an orto garden, so what better gift to take to them?
The arrive from Narni too late for us to go to their house, and instead invite us to go with them for pizza at La Fossate. We accept, and scoop up Sofi and all take off in Alberto's red car.
We wait what seems like hours for the pizza, but the beer is cold and refreshing. The air is humid, but sitting outside is wonderful. Alberto, who is normally extremely mild mannered, is so upset by the delay that he gets up and walks into the kitchen. The next thing we know the pizzas are being rushed out to the table.
Sofi eats much of my pizza. It is terrible. I always order Margherita (plain tomato and mozzarella), but the crust tastes like paper. At least it is thin.
Kenya's beautiful daughters come by to see Sofia, and she goes with them on her lead for a walk around. We are sorry that they will return to South America in a week, but Kenya is homesick, and has lived here for over ten years. She is at home tonight but perhaps we will see her tomorrow night to say goodbye.
Back at home, we take a walk down to the bus stop and every seat is taken. We think everyone on the street is out walking around at ten PM, and Antonello and his older brother call out, "Fee! Fee!" They love Sofi and this is the name they use to call her. Antonello is no longer afraid of her, and she races around and around while they squeal with laughter.
We walk home and Roy tries to figure out what is wrong with the car. The alarm went off last night twice around 3AM. Around 8AM it went off again. So as soon as the CD player is ready to be installed, we'll make an appointment to take the car in to be serviced.
After a drive to Viterbo to pick up a few red plants, we stop off to see Lore and Alberto's reconstruction work. Stefano and Luca have done an exceptional job, and we look forward to watching the progress of this restoration.
When we walk across the Mugnano centro storico to get back to our car, Salvatore takes Sofi's lead and follows her around. I think she is trying to get away from him, but by now realizes that children love to take her around. I am relieved, because Salvatore put down his toy machine gun in favor of the lead. Sweet Federico has a toy machine gun as well. I cannot imagine why an adult would allow a child to have a toy machine gun. But guns in America are passed about like candies, tho' not in Italia.
Roy asked me for days to make stuffed peppers. I think the idea of stuffed peppers is not very appetizing, but anything for Roy. I cannot find a good recipe, so make one up, and Roy tells me he likes it. But then he admits that the only stuffed peppers he has ever eaten are Stouffer's! Mamma mia. If I had realized THAT....These have toasted pine nuts, capers, rice, grated cheese and because Roy asked, ground meat. The saving grace for me at this meal is the addition of the first larger heirloom tomatoes, reddish brown and very juicy, sliced and served with fresh mozzarella, fresh basilico and olive oil.
Maria finally comes to clean, and we drive to Terni to the vet to get Sofi's nails clipped and find out more about what we need to do to get Sofi ready for the trip to the U.S. in November. We arrive early at the vet, and Dottoressa Luciana arrives, before anyone else, and we are ushered right in before the lights are even turned on.
Roy tells her we are here to get Sofi's nails cut, a task she loathes because it is difficult to tell how short to cut them. But she is a trooper, and as we sing to Sofi, "Sofia, we just kissed a dog named So-fi-a..." she lays silently in my arms and we think closes her eyes while the clip, clip goes on, nail by nail. Only once Dottoressa cuts too much, but Sofi is brave. Wish I could say the same...
We also ask her what we need to do to take Sofi on a plane to America and she does not really know, but will call and let us know. We think we need to do something with the embassy, and will call on Monday. We are becoming so attached to Sofi that we can't bear to leave her for three weeks. Angie Good will come and house-sit just the same. She loves our house and it should be a fun break for her.
It is time for a new set of tires, after 46,000 kilometers, and after checking around, we get new tires at Lucagomme in Terni. This is a family operation, immaculate, and although there are other workers, a man, his wife and son do most of the work. The price is much better than the price Roy is quoted in Attigliano.
Roy has a sneaking suspicion that someone at the tire place in Attigliano had something to do with the theft of our Passat. The coincidence is just too close. After putting on the tires two years ago, someone at the gomme place in Attigliano took a test drive in the Passat, and the next week the car was stolen. Police suspect a ring, with people scoping out cars and giving the information to the real thieves. That is all behind us, but since Luca gives Roy a much better price for really fine Pirelli tires, we decide to have them changed on the spot.
At home, there is an urgent note from Maria that there has been an accident, and there is a big wasp nest in the door going out to the balcony. Roy gets his can of spray and sees the nest. He sprays and quickly closes the door. It is like the roach motel. No one checks out. Many, many wasps are dead on the balcony, and after five minutes Roy opens the door and cleans up.
Otherwise, the house looks great. We have a phone message from Wendy from this morning, and call to find out that they have a houseful of guests, but are looking for sagras to go to tomorrow. We think there is one in Guardea for Chinghale, but will let them know.
We leave for a tiny sagra at Oktoberfest, a pannocchio sagra (corn), and drive around Attigliano first to check out the manifesti for sagras. Nothing tomorrow, but the Chinghiale sagra will take place on Sat. and Sunday. Since we'll all be at Tia and Bruce's on Saturday, suggest we all go on Sunday, and Roy calls and reserves a table. But he has trouble explaining his name. It will be fun to find the table. Who knows what name we will be given?
On to Oktoberfest, to say goodbye to Kenya and her family, who will move next week to Rio de Janiero. We don't know them really well, but like them very much and will miss them. Little Giada especially loves Sofi, and I let her take Sofi all around the outdoor patio on Sofi's lead.
The pannocchio festa is one that we think no one but us will enjoy. We are the only persons in the place until another family shows up. And when we leave at 9:30, things have not changed. But we have been served boiled corn sitting on the cob, sprinkled liberally with salt. We ask for butter, and they think it is strange. They think eating pannocchio is very strange. In Italy, corn is grown and served to animals as feed. No matter, we spread on butter and are in heaven, chomping on the ears like playing on a typewriter.
Kenya comes in and hugs us, and tells us she would like to come to see us at home tomorrow morning. We agree and get ready to leave, but Julia is very sad. I tell her not to cry, that we will email pictures of Sofi, and when she returns she will be taller than me (not a big deal).
At home, we take a walk to the bus stop, and Sofi hears, "Fee! Fee!" while she runs toward Antonello and his big brother.
We look forward to seeing Kenya at our house this morning, before she moves to Rio next week with her family. She arrives with one of her daughters, Giada, who wants to see Sofia one more time. Sofi barks and wags her tail while they come up the front stairs, and Sofi and Giada play around in the garden, while Kenya comes inside with us. It is hot, and the sun is still low in the sky. The umbrella is of no use, so it is a better idea to have coffee inside this morning.
I have wanted to get to know Kenya better, but somehow that never happened. So she asks me if we will go to visit them. We remember our trip to Rio with fondness almost twenty years ago, but see no reason for a trip there in the near future. Instead we talk about her, and also about seeing her whenever she and her children come to visit.
Today begins as another sad day for Giada. She cries with her little friends, and although looks forward to moving to a new place, is sad to leave them behind. So before she is able to be sad with Sofi, I tell her not to say goodbye to any of her friends, including Sofi, just say, "C'e veddiamo!" with a big wave and a smile. So as they leave, after Roy takes a photo of Giada and Sofi together, Giada looks at me and waves. I hear her clearly say "C'e veddiamo, Sofi!" and think of all the friends she will now say that to.
Giada and Sofi
Children really are adaptable and Giada is an amazingly poised and outgoing young girl. We look forward to watching her grow, and to seeing her the next time they come back to Italy. Pino, who is Kenya's husband and Giada's father, will leave a week after the girls, and has agreed to sing "Bella, Ciao!" with Roy one night at the Oktoberfest pub. We wish this family every happiness.
After Kenya and Giada depart, we take a trip around the various local towns to find bright red geraniums for the parcheggio. There are none to be found in Chia, in Bomarzo, in Sipicciano, and none in Pisciarello. But Roy has a hunch, and we drive to Soriano, and the plant and animal food store just south of the centro storico has six dark red ones. They are the perfect size, so we buy them all, for less than ten euro.
We arrive home for a simple pranzo and I spend most of the afternoon making a whole watermelon's worth of granita for Tia and Bruce's party tomorrow night. We plant the new geraniums in the late afternoon, and give the discarded pink ones over to Austin, who will put them on the balcony of his new house down the street.
I tell him about the pending problem we might jointly face if the ripa comes down onto Via Mameli during the winter rains. He commiserates, telling us that he will officially buy the orto behind San Rocco soon, giving more fuel to the importance of keeping the path open. Speriamo!
I am really tired, and we decide not to go to the violin concert in Attigliano. Instead, we sit outside under the moon and enjoy a quiet evening at home.
The figs get bigger by the day. A few turn pale enough that I want to reach up and pluck them before the birds stick their beaks into them and split their skins open. But they are all too high for me to reach. The tree is enormous...taller than the house. So my attention is focused elsewhere - nodding to the Madonna, looking at the ground where the potatoes were planted and harvested, wondering what we'll plant there for the fall.
These days, the zucchini plants are all but ignored. There is always something interesting to prepare for pranzo, and since this is our only real meal of the day, I don't have much of an interest in cooking zucchini or fixing elaborate meals on the stove. We hardly use our barbecue, either.
When it is a little cooler, we'll do a lot of grilling, but today we take out stuffed zucchini from the freezer and will have that with sliced heirloom tomatoes and basilico from the garden, with fresh mozzarella. I prepared the zucchini over a week ago, and made enough to freeze for several meals. Otherwise, we eat whatever is fresh in the garden.
I take Livio's handmade basket out to harvest more nocciole, and see that there are still many not ready to drop from the trees. I mostly pick up the nuts from the gravel. When Tosca arrives next week, we'll harvest together. That activity will probably take all of five minutes, but it will be fun.
Sofi bounds over to help this morning, because she loves to get her nose into anything interesting on the ground. I think she cracks some of the nuts with her teeth, because I find empty shells around. But she does not eat the tasty plums that drop from a nearby tree. Chicken and rice and cheese are the foods she likes best. But unless she eats her croquante at night, she does not get any treats. Otherwise, she is spoiled. No wonder she follows me around like a shadow.
Roy shows me that he hand-clipped the upper box hedge at ten o'clock last night, while I was in bed. He has really taken gardening on with a kind of silent joy. Every morning and every night he takes on some little project. He is like his father in that way. And he is very good at it. Last night, hose in hand, he followed me around after I dropped little pellets of food onto each plant and rose. Well I did not do every one. The lavender and the santolina and a few other things will get fed another night.
Although it is the end of August, some things are in the midst of active growing. The loqual tree, the lemon tree, the older olive trees, the fig tree, all show green fruit. So we look forward to plenty of activity in the garden for the next several months. I really must get back to the lavender and clip them into precise round globes. Otherwise, they'll get leggy. If I clip them correctly, they will look beautiful all year round.
I open the side gate and Sofi bounds over to the cave and jumps on the mound of earth. Soon we will go back to excavating with Tiziano, to see what interesting things we can find. I am sorry that we did not realize that the newer olive trees needed to be watered every day. There was fruit on the trees, but since we did not water them often, the fruit dried up. The other olive trees are already established, so their fruit continues to prosper. Fa niente. Another lesson learned.
Tonight is the "end of summer" party at Tia and Bruce's. They give it in honor of getting their lives back, with all the summer visitors gone. I am happy to wear a wonderful long white linen dress for one last time this summer. There are about forty people gathered there. Tables are set outside by the pool. The setting is beautiful, and we meet friends we have heard about from Tia, and a few we have not. Other "expat" friends are there as well, and we enjoy speaking with each other and sharing stories and ideas and advice from time to time.
Matthew and Terry are there with baby Sebastian, who is teething three tiny teeth. I walk over to greet them and smile down at Sebastian, but he looks up and opens his mouth to take a spoonful of food from his mother, looks over at me for a moment and starts to bawl. I feel so badly that I walk away, over to meet Matthew's friend Richard and then his wife, Kiran. Kiran and Richard have triplets who are 6 years old, including one son named Sebastian. I ask Sebastian if I make him want to cry, and he tells me no, not to worry, because baby Sebastian is just teething.
I ask him if he remembers when his first teeth came in, and then which tooth came in first. He does not know, but his mother, who is a really lovely woman, reaches out to show me and as she does so, a swoosh of red wine moves around the bowl of her glass like a whirlpool and up out of her glass, is suspended in mid air while we all watch with horror as it moves like a diverted hurricane right onto the front of my long white linen dress.
Kiran is clearly mortified but I laugh at it all, agreeing to go inside to the kitchen with her to see if we can find some salt. Sebastian follows, chattering along to tell every one that the wine also landed on his arm but it did not stain. Inside, Fiorella is at the sink, and she gives us a dish of salt. Kiran crouches down and we press the salt onto the stain and I think I recall that soda water will take out the stain, so Fiorella finds some of that as well.
It is time for the advice of a true Italian. Fiorella then suggests that we put white wine on the red wine stain. We try that as well, and then Tia comes in and gives us a cylinder of spot remover, a kind of "Shout". Nothing really works, so I thank everyone and we walk back outside to the party. I am able to ignore my dress, and thank Kiran for the opportunity to gain an instant best friend. I don't know what to do to make her feel better, so walk over to get a glass of red wine. What the heck. I can really enjoy myself now.
April sits next to me. We have wanted to meet her for more than a year. She is a dear friend of Angie's, who looks very much like Vanessa Redgrave. I like her very much and we are able to have a wild conversation about American politics. She introduces us to her daughter, Flavia, who is a film promoter, and Farenheit 911 is one of the films she promoted recently. I tell her that we want to see it and want to see it in English. She tells me it is in wide distribution in Italy, and almost the entire film is in English. So we will make a special effort to see it this next week.
The food is wonderful, our cocomero granita is a hit, and Roy gets it ready to put it on the dessert table, so I have nothing to do but enjoy myself. I see Tia walking up and down the stairs nonstop, and think that is crazy so go inside and take a platter of grilled aubergine around to help out a little. I tell Tia and Bruce, that if it is any consolation, they won't have to do this again for another year. But everyone clearly has a wonderful time.
Instead of encouraging people to jump in the pool, the children are asked to send tiny candles across the top of the water like little toy boats. The little plastic cups bob up and down while the breeze gives them a ride toward us, all seated at the other end of the pool. This is a lovely touch, and we watch the almost full moon reflect on the water, making the candles look like tiny stars, arriving as if on cue, to dance for us in the moonlight.
Today begins with another sweet breeze from the West, gliding across the window and blowing me a kiss. Once I am dressed, there is precious little time to spend with Sofi before we walk up to church. She is left crying at the front gate, and I am so sad that I cannot turn around to see her.
Once in front of Lydia's house, we see the summertime woman who sits in front of us in church, causing the "regulars" to sit elsewhere. We pass her on the way, wanting to return to our regular banca (bench, or pew), located second from the back on the right as you enter our tiny church. But I realize I am being uncharitable on this Sunday, so stop and walk with her. She tells me she was born in Mugnano and spends August here, although she lives in Tuscany for the rest of the year.
She lingers outside the church to chat with other women, and we walk in, realizing that there are two fewer bancas inside than before they were restored. We sit in the second bench from the back, and then Roy walks out to ask Livio what has happened. Livio did not replace two of the benches, because they are not made of castagno. Perhaps that is why all the benches were painted some years ago.
We are feeling badly for the way we are acting, so stand up and move one row back, sitting on the last row on the aisle. So the Summertime woman comes in and sits in front of us, as does a woman Roy silently calls Blanche because she looks like Blanche Pastore of Blanche's restaurant in China Basin, San Francisco. We can just hear the angels rumbling.
Augusta walks in and gives the woman a sweet smile, so she moves over one to give Augusta back her seat. Giuseppa, Zio Peppe's wife, sits in Rina's seat, and when Rina comes in after mass has begun, sits one row forward of her regular spot. Franca comes in and sits with us. But when Rosita comes in and stands in the back, I turn and invite her to join us. Later Franca moves closer to Roy and Rosita sits. We clearly need to replace the two bancas, and that is a good thing. For a tiny village, this is an active parish.
Before mass, Roy tells me to read the gospel in English, a wonderful parable. This is a suggestion that when invited to someone's house for a meal, go to sit in the most unimportant seat. That way, if the host wants you to sit in a more exalted spot, he or she will have you move up. But if you move immediately to sit in the most exalted spot and the host plans that someone else is to sit in that seat, you will be put in the most unimportant seat, for that will be the only seat left. I think the musical chairs that take place before the mass starts is a good example of how this all works.
The church is full for this mass, and the voices loud for each response and each hymn. Although Don Luca comes in before the mass, he is followed a few minutes later by Don Ciro, who is to preside. Don Luca stands next to him for the start of the mass, his collar open, his goatee neatly groomed. When his sunglasses are on his head, he looks like a sexy young man. It makes me laugh just writing this. Don Luca is every bit the devoted priest. But he is movie-star handsome, and I am sure the teenage girls all swoon over him. He leaves soon after the beginning of the mass, and Don Ciro is at home with this devoted flock.
After mass I lead Marsiglia out of the church, letting her hold onto my arm before encountering Felice. He raises his shoulders and smiles warmly to tell me that is fine with him. Outside, once we meet up with Felice, Marsiglia asks me if we miss our nipote, and we tell her yes, but we will see them in a few months. Leondina, Marsiglia's sister, is now by my side. She holds onto me and asks me in a pleading way to please stop to have coffee with her. Roy is speaking with Tiziano and I tell her yes. I can tell she really wants us to go.
So we walk down the hill and she is preparing coffee, just for the two of us. Fulvia greets us and we sit in her grandmother's living room while Leondina prepares coffee. There is the most remarkable photograph on the wall of Mugnano taken from the other side of the Tiber River years ago. It makes Mugnano look as though it is situated on the coast of the Riviera. The photograph was taken by Ivo's first wife. She passed away some years ago. His second wife is Nadia, and she is very sweet, but somehow this first woman's presence continues to remain with great importance in this house.
We are served coffee, but Leondina and Fulvia don't wish to have any. They sit with us at the table, and we mostly speak with Fulvia in Italian. Leondina sits and watches. We hear that Mario is the family chef, and it is then that we want to organize a festa one night where Mario and I will cook, a fish stew, which is Mario's specialty. Mario and I will buy the fish at 4AM from Marta, a fishing village about 45 minutes from here. Fulvia and Roy think this is a good idea and Fulvio will make sure that everyone can come.
We will invite: Mario and Fulvia and Mario's whole family (Pepe, Serena, Candida, Paola), plus Fulvia's whole family, (Italo, Leondina, Vincenza, Augusto, and Livia), plus Giuseppa and Antonio. Antonio and Paola have been dating for many years, and Giuseppa is Antonio's mother. We will also invite Ivo and his family, but they may not be able to come down from Parma. There will be at least fifteen people, even without Ivo's family. We have wanted to do this for some time. The date we hope to settle on will be the night before our wedding anniversary, and we will feel like celebrating! But then, we celebrate our marriage every single day. Any excuse for a festa!
We get up to leave and are told that Lydia is sitting outside. She had a terrible fall on Porta Antica in Mugnano, and has broken both shoulders, a few ribs, and we are sure more is wrong with her when we see her. I go to kiss her and she tells me not to touch her shoulders. Her shoulders and arms are bandaged, and her hands are held in place with more bandages. Inside, Leondina tells me, "Un disastro!" and I realize that Lydia is at least 70, so this is quite dangerous. A young woman sits to her side, and we are sure she needs care 24 hours a day. This is so sad, because Lydia has been so full of life and joy. Now she sits like a frightened little bird, with dark circles around her eyes. We walk home sadly.
We return home and Sofi cries and cries when she greets us. From that moment on, she does not leave my side. Sofi and I walk down to the pomodori garden, and pick a whole basketful of small heirlooms. I tell Roy I'd like to give them to neighbors but it is noon, so think it is too close to pranzo. Roy tells me no, so the three of us walk down the street, passing out tiny bags of four or five little heirlooms to each house, telling people they are special tomatoes from ancient American seeds. We will have more later...
Everyone but Argentina agrees to take a few. We are even able to give some to Maria, the woman from Sardinia. I feel a little silly because these tomatoes are small. I think the Italians think they are wimpy little tomatoes and why should we grow little wimpy tomatoes when the big Italian tomatoes are so prevalent? When the really big ones are ready, we'll pass those out as well. The neighbors must think we are nuts, but they know we want to share whatever bountiful harvest we have.
Roy installs the last screen in the house on the guestroom side window, after watching the Formula 1 race in Belgium. Sofi and I come upstairs to write, keeping quiet and cool with the fan blowing the air around the room.
Roy comes up with an invitation for the cena we want to do in September, and I work on it a bit, then print it out. I tell him that unless we get Mario's approval, we will have to wait a week before passing them out. We drive up to the centro storico, and Roy walks over to Pepe's house, where he finds Mario and Fulvia and Paola and Antonio, all watching TV.
Mario thinks it s a good idea. Everyone looks at their calendars and agree that it's a great idea. Antonio thinks Mario and I should go earlier than 5AM, but then he won't be joining us, so it is easy for him to offer up this advice and he laughs. Roy comes back to the car to get the invites, and passes them around. I am excited. I love to plan events, and love the idea that Mario and I will go to get the fish at 4AM and prepare the meal together for these neighbors and new friends. Paola agrees to help organize. Roy tells her to make sure everyone comes. The rest is up to us...I have some ideas...
Later, we drive to Guardea. We have reserved a table for tonight's sagra di Cinghiale, and are joined by Alan and Wendy and four of their houseguests from Croatia.
I love this sagra. Well, I love the organization that the people of Guardea have with the gnocci festival, followed by the cinghiale festival. Roy and I arrive early, and right away we see a table that Roy thinks is ours. Earlier, he called to reserve a table, but the man could not understand Roy's name. So Roy warns me to look for a name that is anything like ours.
Diner. We find a table right in the prime area near the stage and the name reads, "DINOS". Roy is sure that that is ours. Roy finds a man still placing names on tables, and he goes through his list, not finding a name remotely connected to ours. So he says, "That must be it."
From that moment on, I know that Roy's Italian name is now Dino. Dino Diner. I am sorry that we do not save the reservation sign, complete with an ugly cinghiale roaring out of a circle. DINOS is what the sign reads, and Roy puts an apostrophe before the "S", so now he is Dino. That makes life so easy. The Italians do not recognize the letter "Y", so explaining Roy's name is always difficult. No more. He will be Dino. Dino e Signora Diner. Dino is Roy's new "supernome" (nickname), just as Ivana is mine.
Alan and Wendy arrive with Mattei and Mattea, the adults, and two beautiful blonde children, one boy and one girl. The parents speak very good English, but the children are not so sure. By the end of the evening, we learn that the girl plays the piano quite seriously, and the boy will soon begin violin lessons. The father plays the violin and the mother plays the piano.
I encourage the young boy to fantasize that he is playing the violin with me, and he humors me. The girl does not like the live music. She is a serious musician, who has been playing for five years. So before they leave I tell her to remain serious. I also speak with the mother and tell her that when the children are older, they will look back and remember their best times as those when they played music with their parents.
I also tell the mother to be sure that their teachers are kind to them. My first violin teacher made me go home and cry after my lessons, and I know that Tiziana makes me soar with imagination when I play with her. It makes me want to play, to study, to be better than I ever thought I could be.
We leave after dining on marvelous pappardelle noodles with chinghiale and tomato bruschetta, beer and red wine and potato frittes to drive to the next town, Alviano, overlooking the famous castle, to have gelato. This is the end of the summer, so they are out of chocolate, but we find enough wonderful flavors to all be happy. We end the evening with hugs, planning to have Wendy and Alan come for pranzo on Friday.
On the way home, Roy tells me that Merto spoke about life in Croatia. After the war, the country was split up into five separate countries, each speaking a different language. Some time later, Merto was able to get a job as a producer for a TV crew who came in to report on the war. He became so alive and excited about what he was doing, making it possible for a crew to report 24 hours a day, that his wife more than once had to track him down, fearing that he was part of a German crew who was reportedly shot down during this highly volatile war.
I respond to Roy, "If we were living in the US, we would never hear of a story like this. In Europe, we hear of so many stories. So many different viewpoints, so many different challenges to every day life". I cannot imagine wanting to live anywhere else. And how sad that most people in the U S only know of what they know about happenings inside the U S.
They have no idea what it is like to be shackled, to be imprisoned, for one's ideals. And with so many countries so near to us, we hear so many true stories, but each one so very different. And there is so little American news available to us. Fox does not count. So we are constantly barraged by other viewpoints, which I find extremely healthy.
The furrows in the gravel from Roy's hose when watering earlier in the evening are still there after eleven PM when Sofi and I meander out to the lavender garden to greet the full moon. It stares right back at us, and although the hounds in the lower valley sound out loud and clear, the sounds in our garden are mute and I can hear our breaths move in and out while we stare back at the moon.
We wake up late, and are still sitting at the table on the terrace having coffee when Luigina walks down to feed her chickens. I think out loud that she must think we are lazy bums and Roy tells me he has the answer: we are just having our midmorning "coffee and..."
Roy leaves to go to the bank in Attigliano, and while I am inside the doorbell rings at the front gate. I open the balcony doors and walk out to see a familiar face. It is Marcello, the postman, with a certified letter. This turns out to be a green envelope, signifying a speeding ticket, this time from Vitorchiano. Boh! Marcello smiles knowingly at me. And I realize that he hid the envelope from my sight until I signed for it. It's not as if we could actually refuse to accept it...
In the kitchen, while Roy opens the envelope, I ask him what the ticket is all about. He tells me that on the Superstrada, between Orte and Viterbo, the posted speed is only 90km. He noted in his Handspring that he may get a ticket logged on that date for driving 120. The ticket claims he was going 110. He must have seen a trooper with one of those radar machines. €144 is a lot of money in anyone's eyes. Porca Miseria!
So I think about our mayor, Stefano Bonori, and as long as Vitorchiano is making a ton of money on these speed traps, why doesn't Stefano get his people to patrol near the Bomarzo off-ramp? Roy tells me that Soriano's border extends to the other side of the offramp. So that ends my idea for raising money for Bomarzo, so that they can rebuild our ripa.
We call Catherine and Kees, asking if Belvedere is still open, and Kees thinks so. We meet them there around 7:30 to watch the sunset and have a cocktail. We have sweaters because the wind has picked up, and certainly need them.
Just as Catherine and Kees are ready to walk back home, an unmistakable car drives up to park, and it is Alan and Wendy. Roy walks over to direct Alan's parking, and this will be three days in a row that we have been with them. Tonight is a real surprise.
They ask us if we want to go to DaPiero's for a pizza, and we have never been there. So,why not? But they won't allow Sofi, so she gets to sleep in the car while we walk inside. The pizza is the best we have had in a long time, with a thin crispy crust, and we finish every bit. Tomorrow Alan and Wendy will drive to Cinque Terre for a few days, but we will see them on Friday for pranzo at our house.
The wind continues to keep us comfortable at home, and we welcome going to bed with cool breezes serenading us to sleep.
The gauzy curtains of the bedroom appear like sails when I walk in, billowing out into the room, the window glass opening and closing like a box in a Punch and Judy show. One cloth wrestles itself from its tieback and flies into the center of the room, as if a cartoon ghost has decided to welcome me into its lair.
On this last day of August, a strong wind from the West pushes clouds overhead to the East, as if to say, "C'mon! C'MON!" And all around the birds and the bees and the insects hear its' call. The air is strangely silent.
Nonno Gino drives his little ape up the hill just after 1:30, and he is early today. We hear him drive by while eating pranzo on the terrace. Today, I pick a whole basketful of heirlooms, including the first really big ones. I no longer care what type they are. And Roy eats a few slices, but clearly is not as enamored of the juicy orbs as I. This is a day to be outside working in the garden, or in the fields, because the bruising sun has taken a rest behind the parade of clouds that move about.
We will plant a new salvia plant tonight. I think they old ones lasted almost two years, but are so leggy that Roy pulled them out days ago. We love fresh herbs, and the area in front of the loggia is a perfect place to grow them, surrounded by flowers in a raised planter of ancient tufa stones.
Tosca arrives early tomorrow morning, and we check her flight schedule online. Alitalia's pilots are threatening to strike, and she is expected on an Alitalia flight. We read that the airline has only enough cash to last until the end of the month, so hope she is able to return as planned. Who is around with big pockets to bail out little Alitalia? Only time will tell.
While I am clipping the roses in the fiorieras, I hear a little voice call up, "Good morning!" It is Germania, a ten-year-old girl whose grandfather was Il Capitan. Roy is introduced to Francesco, her father, whom we think is clearing out his cantina, next to our property. This is the cantina Roy has been trying to buy.
Well, Francesco tells Roy he will not sell it, but we can use the cantina and gives Roy a key to have copied. Roy rushes to Giove before the hardware store closes, and Sofi and I meet Francesco and Germania. They both speak very good English. Francesco tells Roy he will never sell the house next to Gianfranco or the cantina. But we have the best of both worlds...We have the use of the cantina and do not have to do anything to use it.
The evening ends with us sitting on the terrace with cocktails, looking up at an orange yolk of a moon, fuller than full. We wish Tosca an easy flight, watching the jolly moon as her plane flies over the clouds from Boston.
I am awakened by a gunshot. Hunting season must start today. Before we leave for the airport at 6:45 am to pick up Tosca, two more shots have pierced the quiet mantle of the valley.
By the time we pick her up and return home, we have witnessed a kind of caravan of eight or so huge horses with their riders seemingly balancing on their backs; this seen somewhere between Tarquinia and Vetralla. Roy chose this longer but more scenic route home. The riders all wear the same straw hats. Some of them hang their hats against their backs. They look like the horsy folk in the Maremmena, from the coastal region of Tuscany, slowly walking their horses through town.
While doing errands in Viterbo, we step out of a little market to see a monk in a long brown hooded cloak, wearing a white beard almost down to his shoulders. It is as if we planned these visual treats for Tosca, "Cue the horses! Cue the monk!"
At home, we sit on the terrace with our plates of pasta and sliced heirloom tomatoes and fresh mozzarella until Tosca and I are both too tired to keep our eyes open. So all the girls take naps, while Roy watches new channels on TV.
Later in the day I clip boxwood on the terrace, and consider working on the lavender plants, but don't seem to get around to it. When it is time for cocktails, we sit under a dishwater-grey sky. On these cool nights, Sofi eats her croquante outside in front of us, as a kind of cocktail treat of her own. When she finishes ever bit, she gets a piece of cheese.
I wake up early, to the sounds of a big dog barking. It is Tex, Shelly and Claudio's dog. I know that because I hear Shelly hopelessly trying to call him. We will go to see her later and bring her some tomatoes. But first we will call to make sure everything is all right. The sky is still a murky grey, so perhaps this is also a good day to tackle trimming the lavender.
I soak some tiny white beans, called Fagiolini di Purgatorio, and I cannot remember where they came from. Roy thinks he has seen them in the past few days. Speriamo. I cook them slowly in our bean pot, and they are done just as we are ready for pranzo. But we have been very busy...
This morning, I decide to harvest all the small pomodori that I am able to find, process about sixty of them and put them up in glass jars for winter. Roy readies the outdoor kitchen with our large single burner, which is a jolly red, and sets the enormous pot on top with water to boil for the jars.
Inside, I boil the tiny tomatoes just enough to cut their skins, and when they are in the sink I gingerly take each one in my hands to skin. They are piping hot, so it is a delicate job. I decide to not core the tomatoes, because they start to fall apart when I do. The skins are really thin.
We also pick enough San Marzanos to process one big glass jar full. So altogether we process about six bottles. The colors are eggyolk yellow and lemon yellow and a pale orange, plus a bright red for the San Marzanos. The skins left in the sink are beautiful all mixed together. The colors in the jars are beautiful, too.
But Roy forgets to leave space in the top of the jars when he fills them, so they bulge out after being cooked in their jars. Roy rushes to Giove to buy more lids before the stores close. And we open the lids to find that they seal has been met. So he takes a little out of each jar, reseals them with new boiled lids and processes them again.
Pranzo is heavenly. There are still about twenty heirlooms in the kitchen. We start to eat the large heirlooms with fresh mozzarella, basil from the garden, Diego's fine olive oil, the beans, the leftover pasta from yesterday, and Roy slices some tiny salamis.
Although the day starts off cool, it gets quite hot, and Roy opens a second umbrella on the terrace so that Tosca and I can read after pranzo. Mario calls and agrees to come late in the afternoon to work on taking all the weeds off the huge tufa walls behind the house with our huge ladder.
Sofi seems to have disappeared for quite a while, but we find her under the cherry tree. Right next to her is an entire santolina plant, dug up and moved whole, while she sniffs for a lizard in the dirty hole. Roy replants the santolina and Sofi agrees to come inside to cool off. I wonder if she is trying to get our attention...
Inside, Tosca takes some photos in the kitchen, and Roy shows her how to manipulate them on the computer. We all have projects of our own to tackle, and the day goes swiftly by.
Roy drives to Shelly's to give her some heirlooms and borrow a copy of Farenheit 911 so that we can watch it tonight. I cannot bear to watch the Republican convention any more. The people at the convention act like hound dogs with raw meat in their jaws...
Tosca and Sofi and I take a walk around the Mugnano loop. When we get to the bus stop, several of the men are laughing and talking about the Americana, or is it Americani? This pleases me to no end that they are comfortable enough around me to tease us. We come across Terzo at the bus stop, trying out new crutches. He broke his ankle, I think, falling out of a tree last Saturday. Or that is what Felice tells me when we encounter his coming around the first bend.
I introduce Tosca around, and she gives her name as Ellen. But to us she remains Tosca. On the way back up the hill, we encounter Adriana and speak about the ripa. She tells me many things, most of which I do not understand. But somehow she tells me that the people of Chia were very smart, and found a way to have their walls built. Little Mugnano has no power. I tell her about the sindaco, and about the ripa, and she as much tells me "Buca lupo..."
Mario comes by with his huge ladder and starts the project of cleaning up the tufa walls behind the house, but stops half way through, out of time. Sofi growls at him, and I pick her up. Why does she act that way only with him? I think he has always spoken loudly to her and frightened her at the beginning, so she does not like him. He comes over to us and I see her growl as if she is ready to attack him. I have never seen her act this way.
After Mario tells us he'll be back to finish next week, Roy gets a call that we will not do our archeological walk this Saturday. Perhaps next week. So Roy takes out the copy of Farenheit 911 and we watch it. I am surprised at the poor quality of the film. We are sure that he won all his awards for subject matter, for the film has precious little artistic value. We think Bowling for Colombine was a better film.
We go to bed with the subject of the film on our minds. It is jarring.
Via Piana, which is the name the locals use for the main street instead of Via Mameli, is like a war zone. When we walk up to take the garbage late in the afternoon, there is Terzo, in crutches, Marino, in an arm cast and sling, and Lydia with her shoulders and arms in bandages. Roy tells Marino and Terzo that trees are dangerous, and they agree. Both have fallen from olive trees. What are they doing in summertime, climbing up into the olive trees? Is there something we do not know about what we should be doing to our olive trees?
Roy walks to the far garbage receptacles because we have plastic bottles and glass. On the way back, Dina comes out of her house and asks us in for coffee. I decline, as usual, telling her I will never be able to sleep tonight if we do, but sit down on the bench outside her house with her. Roy does the same, watching Sofi sniff around. The sun is bright, and we take the metal bench across the street to so that we can all sit in the shade.
But earlier in the day our house was a flurry of activity...
Roy set his alarm the night before, and wakes up early to use the aspiratore to clean the leaves from the gravel on the front terrace. There is a lot of noise, so Tosca gets up, too. I take my turn in the shower. This little house is like a boarding house when we have guests.
We still have only one bathroom. We are waiting for a miracle to drop money in our laps so that we can put in another bathroom, store room and sala di pranzo. So we do not have many guests, and that is probably a good thing. We really enjoy having guests for pranzo and a long afternoon, and often entertain in this way. I don't know how Tia and Bruce do it, with guest after guest after guest arriving at their home, expecting to be waited on, taken on tours, fed, cleaned up after...This is the moan of the expat community in this paradise.
My morning is spent mostly in the kitchen, but first we wait to hear Italo's fish truck. In the meantime, we have a little breakfast on the terrace. Today is very sunny and it will be hot, hot outside for pranzo. Roy raises the umbrella, but the morning sun slides under it from the east. Fa niente.
We hear the silly melody from Italo's truck, and take Sofi with us to see Italo. He is standing on the street wearing his white cotton coat, speaking with Lydia, commiserating with her. Sofi runs up to Italo. She loves the smell of fish on him.
It appears we are the first in line, because the truck is not ready for business. We walk over to it with Italo, and he puts his hands down like a surgeon, fishing (sorry for the pun) with his hands to find the catches underneath, and slides the display case containing the fish out under the overhang of the truck.
How ingenious these Italian trucks are. We see trucks of all kinds set up at weekly mercatos. When we see them close up for pranzo, we are amazed to see how compact they are. While fully extended, they are able to display an enormous amount of clothing or shoes or housewares, but in no time flat they are able to pack up and leave.
Italo opens the glass from the front for us, because it is covered with condensation. I am most taken by the displays of whole fish, who stare out at nothingness, as if dogs lying on their backs, waiting, waiting...
Clear eyed fish are a sign that they are fresh, so most Italians want to see them this way. Then Italo will fillet them.
We decide we want fillets of salmon for today, but he only has two good-sized pieces. So he picks up his cellulare in his rubber-gloved hand and calls his wife, who is stationed in her own truck outside Sappore Due in Attigliano.
Yes, she has salmon to fillet. And she will save two for Roy. So we buy Italo's salmon, and he fillets them beautifully. I almost forget to ask for fish for Sofi, and he comes up with a wonderful fillet of something that looks like sole.
By this time, Luigina and Maria are waiting, waiting, and Maria offers her opinion on the fish, or the weather, but mostly the walking wounded in Mugnano. Luigina agrees, whirls her hand up near her head in a "boh!" fashion, and they both greet Sofi.
Back at home, now that we have our fish for pranzo, I decide I want to cook everything in advance. Both the stove and the standing fans are chugging away, and I put my brightly colored summertime apron over my head and tie it while I ponder which thing to prepare first.
This is like a dance, and I start slowly, sitting the fish on the counter above the small frigo. Then I take the zucchini, wash it, slice it into narrow rounds and plunk it into boiling water for a quick blanch, before putting it in its cook-pot on the window sill to cool.
I mince and sauté an onion in olive oil, freshly grate Parmegiano cheese, finely mince fresh presemmelo from the terrace, then mix the onion and zucchini and place it back in the window.
Onto the fish to poach, and when I am through, I slip Sofi's fish into the fish broth and cook hers, too.
The zucchini is cool enough to handle now, so I prepare the sformato. A greased springform pan comes first, layered with zucchini and onion. Then half the mixed cheese and breadcrumbs and presemmelo are placed on top, another layer of zucchini, the rest of the mixed cheese, and the top is a layer of finely sliced provolone cheese. This last is dicey, because the gastronomias will not slice cheese, so I cut the cheese myself and work a patchwork over the top.
The sformato is put in the oven to bake, and I take it out before it is done, letting it sit on the stove. Just before we sit down to eat, I will put it under the broiler.
A hand-painted ceramic platter from Deruta is brought out next, and the heirlooms are sliced and placed on the platter with fresh basilico from the terrace. The mozzarella will be added at the last minute.
By now both sinks are full of dishes, and Roy wants to help, so I let him step in to do the dishes while I walk upstairs to change. I am really hot by this time, and stand in front of the fan to cool off.
Before I know it, Wendy and Alan arrive, we open the bottle of icy spumante that they bring, and sip the delicious drink. This is a perfect way to begin the meal. While they walk around the garden, I slice the sformato, which has just come out of the broiler, for our first course. No pasta or riso today for primi, but this sformato, which I hope will be delicious.
I am not disappointed, and will surely add this to the recipes on our Food blog on this site. The rest of the meal is really special, and, when served on the new orange and yellow paisley cloth, the site is a cacophony of color. Salmon with a red pepper salsa, green basilico, heirloom tomatoes in red and yellow and orange on a handpainted ceramic platter...both Tosca and I take out the camera for a shot.
After pranzo, we sit on white duck lounge chairs under the shade of the caki tree and an umbrella. It is now cool. After two hours of snarling at each other, Short Stuff is relaxed enough so that Sofi tackles him, and for the next twenty minutes or so they do their silent dance. She rolls under him, jumps over him, and her acrobatics are worthy of a David Letterman Stupid Pet Tricks segment. She runs back and forth, between the chairs and back again, while he sits there dazed. She lunges from afar, sliding in as if a runner to home plate, the gravel spitting in the air, dust flying.
After Wendy and Alan and Short Stuff leave, Sofi is left with her long tongue hanging out, flopped on the cool terrazzo floor in the kitchen. Tosca goes upstairs to take a nap, and Roy and I clean up, then take a walk to drop off garbage and see what's going on in the village.
The morning is lovely and fragrant. I take a little container of yoghourt and a spoon outside with me, unlock the gate to the far property and sit on the tufa steps facing the church. I silently watch Sofi gambol up to the cave, down to the bottom terrace and up again. She sees Roy leave and races over to me, relieved that I won't be going anywhere. Roy is off to do errands, Tosca inside fixing her breakfast, and I'm gearing up to fix pranzo for us before we take off for a busy afternoon and evening.
But first, I want to sit and enjoy the moment. I love these tufa steps, built last year by Dino (from Attigliano) and Mario. They are wide and graceful, and when they were being built, I imagined sitting on them while cheering Roy on at a bocce game on our own court.
With the latest political wrangling in the Commune for funds, it will be years before we are able to build the court. The ripa and path must be repaired first. Now the path is so delicate it may be closed to walkers who want to peek inside the open window of San Rocco.
I love the silence of this place. I love being alone here. Even if there are people in the house, I can find a quiet place to sit and be thankful. Not a day goes by that I am not thankful.
The morning is over before I know it. But it is too hot to eat outside. How hot? When we leave around 3PM, the temperature in the car reads 44. That's equivalent to 110 degrees Farenheit! Sofi is so hot that she sits on my right leg, leaning into the cold air coming out of the fan in front of me like a bowsprit, her little face almost smiling with the air blowing her beard against her nuzzle.
Our first stop is Il Re di Gelato, at Capodimonte, on the southern shore of Lake Bolsena. Italy makes excellent ice cream, known as gelato, and this is some of the best we've tasted. We find an old, torn circus poster for Tosca, near where our car is parked. She loves taking pictures of them, and although she asked Roy earlier if she should take her cameras, finds great photo opps wherever we go.
Pittigliano, northwest of Capodimonte, is our next stop. This is one of the three sister towns of Southern Tuscany. We ordered gifts for the twins here in June, and they are still not ready. Otherwise, the town is not a disappointment. Nor is Sovano, the next town.
On the way out, we stop at the Fortezza Del Orsini, where art classes are held all summer. We are in luck, We know where the school is located, just outside the fortezza, and see a man walking under the wooden arbor holding what looks like brochures in his hand.
Tosca walks inside and is almost ready to sign up for a class that starts tomorrow. She tells us she will return to take a one-week class next summer. We are happy that we could take her here, after speaking with students the first time we visited Sorano over a year ago.
We skip the third town, Sovano, which we think has been over-restored, and drive east to Gradoli, a town located on the North end of Lake Bolsena. Once inside, Roy drives us almost up to the Farnese Palazzo, but there is no parking in the plaza. Tosca and Sofi and I get out and Roy parks. We are surrounded by old women, who are sitting outside on their little wooden chairs. This bunch seems friendly, especially when I apologize for getting out of the car right next to one.
I feel brave this afternoon, and am able to speak with two of the women for almost five minutes; the time it takes for Roy to find a good parking spot and walk up the hill toward us.
Inside, the reception for the art exhibition arranged by Donatella Valore is held on the second floor. When we reach the room, my eyes are drawn to the series of grotesques framing the upper walls of the room. They are quite remarkable, and, although the building has seen a lot of damage, the grotesques are very clear. If you click on the Places to Visit Blog on this site, you can read about grotesques, and their history.
The artists are artist friends of Donatella, who live in the Tiber Valley, probably all in locations fairly near us. We know two of them, and greet them after arriving. We are introduced to Ingrid, the Countess from La Quercia and her husband and son. Ingrid is one of the women who were invited by Donatella to my lavender lunch and could not come at the last moment. So it is good to finally meet her.
She invites me to her house in La Quercia next Sunday before Roy's confraternity procession. Roy will be taking a special bus with his Confraternity brothers to Viterbo, for the annual procession and mass at the Duomo in La Quercia, so Tosca and I will drive to La Quercia, visit the Contessa and then take photos of Roy and his "brothers" arriving up the long hill into town for a mass in their honor.
We drive home and Tosca wants to stay in and watch TV. Sofi is left to sleep in her little cage in our room, and we change to drive off to Orte for Tiziana's big children's concert. We don't have much time, and the town is really off limits to parking, because there are eight days of events and many people are expected in this tiny hill town. I think I see a small space on the way out of town, and Roy drops me off and goes to find a place.
He finds me a few minutes later, and we greet a number of friends, including Tiziana, her sister, Simona, Simona's boyfriend, Giorgio, the girls' parents, Laura and Renzo, and a few other friends, Egidio, Egidio's wife and Antonella.
We love the concert, and after it is over, walk down to the car, but the car is not there. It has been towed. Roy did not have as much room as he though he did, and evidently a bus could not maneuver around the car, so it was towed while we were sitting in the Duomo, oblivious.
It is now 10:45PM, and Roy walks down to a policeman and a policewoman, who give him the phone number to call. Later, one of them drives us to the tow place. We sit outside a seemingly abandoned warehouse in the middle of nowhere. Twenty or so minutes later, lights are turned on, a man comes out of a nearby building, and opens his office. Once Roy pays (cash, of course), he takes us to our car, and we drive back to Mugnano.
But I am really ready for a beer, so we drive to Attigliano to Oktoberfest. I am not hungry, but am not very happy. Roy is very sorry. He feels terrible. I am not angry. I just feel violated that our car was moved. But this is a lesson learned. Roy thinks his great "parking karma" has worn out. I really want a cold, cold beer.
After two beers and a snack, we drive home and greet Sofi, who cries and kisses us as if we had been gone for days. What a sweet welcome after such a strange evening.
I don't wake up in a much better mood than when I went to sleep hours ago. So Roy suggests to Tosca that she take a day trip. She has been our guest here for five days so far. She is up for an adventure, so decides to take the train to Rome and tomorrow to Florence. We will see her in a few days.
This morning is warm. So warm that we drive up to church after Roy takes Tosca to the train. The doors are open to the church, and it looks as if all the pews have returned, although a few on the left side still need their final coats of stain. A few summer women remain a little longer in the village, and two of them sit in the pew in front of us. So Augusta winds up sitting on the other side of the same pew, and one pew forward. She sweetly takes it all in stride, as though she wants the visitors to feel at home. Marieadelaide is not here, so we mix up the hymns. And completely forget Roy's favorite, "Noi canterremo, Gloria a te..."
Don Mauro is today's priest, and he runs his words together as if they are on fire. I think he has plans right after mass. He speaks so very quickly, until it is time for the homily. And then he takes his time...He reminds me of the old time American Catholic priests, who have performed the mass so many times that the words aren't as important any more as the cadence. I like him just the same, but wish he'd slow down.
We always accept a program for the mass, especially because we want to be sure we understand what events are listed on the back. But after the first prayer, I open ours to find the inside...blank!
I walk to the back of the little church, where Livio is standing with his arms folded. I show him and tell him, "Misterioso..." There are no more programs, but Rosita wants to hand me hers, and I hesitate to take it. Tiziano is sitting behind her and hands Livio his, so I trade mine with Tiziano's, thank him and walk back to my place. It appears we have been singled out for the mystery, but somehow stumble through and find our way.
I am unable to concentrate on the mass. I am thinking too much about being off-kilter, I think mostly about the car being towed last night, and of how violated it makes us feel. So when we leave church after the service and Mario and Fulvia walk up to us, I am delighted that Mario wants to talk with me about the cena in a few weeks that he and I will prepare.
He and I will leave Mugnano that morning to go shopping for fish at 4AM, and I look forward to his teaching. Although I love to cook, I think he can teach me a thing or two about traditional Italian fish preparation. Roy wants to be a "fly on the wall" and I think it will be fun if he and Fulvia come shopping, too.
I imagine us putting a type of cioppino together in our wonderful huge copper pot with its long copper ladle. He will have to come over soon to go over our cookware and dishes to make sure we have enough of everything. There will probably be fewer than 15 people, so I think we will almost have enough of everything.
We want to eat outside, so when we drive to Viterbo this week, we will price the renting of two outdoor heaters. The meal is for September 25th, but in case it is chilly, want to see if we can still eat outside. I don't think we can handle more than 12 in our kitchen, but we will see...
Tiziano is standing nearby, and he tells Roy and me that he starts his week of unpaid archeological "digging" on Monday in Ferrento, an important Etruscan town near Viterbo. This dig has been going on for over 50 years. Archaeologists are uncovering an entire city, and this site is a wonderful one for training archeologists. It is also open to the public, so he will call us in a day or so to tell us when we can visit him there at work.
We are so fortunate to have him as a good friend. But poor Tiziano has to complete a week unpaid "digging" before he can complete his master's degree. We will try to take photos and put them on the site after we return from the dig later this week. Stay tuned...
After mass, we take Sofi and drive off to IKEA, north of Rome. Roy wants to buy a metal shelf unit, of a specific size, to fit under the stairs "backstage". Now that we are using the cantina for folding tables and chairs, we can better organize that area, and the attractive restaurant supply type metal shelves work well there now. We have room for one more, so want to get that under way. The house is so small that every inch counts for storage. And the store room addition appears to be a long way off.
The shelves are not deep enough at IKEA, and we find the right shelf at another store, but it is too pricy. We drive back by way of Narni and Orte, but cannot find what we want in either place. So our last bet for the day (not many stores are open on Sunday afternoons) is our local "overstocks and bankruptcies" store in Attigliano. We find just what we want, and Roy notices that it was purchased at Due Piu before they went out of business. Our other shelves were purchased there, too.
Valentini, the owner, agrees to sell us the unit we want, which is being used to display shampoos and detergents and towels and other treasures, for a price we don't like. Well, Roy thinks it is all right, but I tell Valentini that we have four others, and purchased them for forty percent less. He hems and haws and we keep pushing, and then agrees to sell it to us "because we are friends". This is the first time he has agreed to drop his price, so we quickly go inside and pay, before he changes his mind.
While we slowly drive home, with the shelving unit held inside the open hatchback with bungee cords, one of Roy's Confraternity brothers and his family drives up behind us on the single little road into Mugnano. Roy turns on his directional and waves him around.
It is then that he and I speak about the men at last night's "calcio game" played behind Oktoberfest Pub. We did have a big laugh. There was a table of more than twenty young men, including Pino, Kenya's husband, at the outside dining area of the pub when we walked in. They were all drinking and laughing and singing the songs that crowds in Calcio stadiums sing. After about twenty minutes, they left to go to a paved and wired-in area like a tennis court without a net, behind the building.
When we walked out to drive home we could see them. The court was fully lit, and so were the men. They were running around in their undershorts, trying to play a game and laughing. It actually looked like fun.
So Roy wonders aloud today if his Confraternity "brothers" will want to get together and get involved in similar antics. We are both thrilled that Roy is so welcomed as a brother. And can't imagine the group acting the way the young men acted last night. I think Roy is relieved that many of the brothers are his age...We will see...
Once we are at home, Roy sees that he needs to cut the back two posts of the shelving unit down for the piece to fit correctly. After that is done, I notice that it would be great if we take this opportunity to paint the whole backstage area. Roy is not happy, but agrees that if it is to be done, it needs to be done now. So he spackles and tomorrow morning will paint. Then we will reorganize everything.
This is an inexpensive way to help the whole house function better. I feel that we are getting ready for winter: putting up tomatoes, building shelves, and soon the firewood will be delivered. The only thing that remains is the oppressive heat. Today the temperature again reaches over 100 degrees Farenheit!
Tonight, Roy tells me that he is going to cut down the last two pepperoni plants. Mario and Fulvia wave to us from Pepe's garden next door, and Roy tells them what he is doing. So Mario tells him that this kind of pepperoni is difficult to grow and gives him six beautiful pepperoncini. They look like the larger sized hot Mexican peppers we've seen in California. But I know almost nothing about preparing Mexican food, and want to stuff them with sharp cheese and bake them for pranzo tomorrow. So I'll do a little research in my cookbooks and on the internet.
We go to bed with the new shelves sitting half built on the terrace just outside the front door, and things from "backstage" stacked all over the front hall. Tomorrow morning we will paint, before we go to see Alice for my first massage in months, and then we'll pick up a few things to go with the stuffed pepperoncinis for lunch. I am psyched about cooking, especially things I have not prepared before. Cooking can be such a wonderful adventure. I am not afraid to try new methods of cooking. And Roy loves to be the taster.
Tonight is cool, and we all look forward to a good night's sleep, especially after watching Scorcese's Gangs of New York on TV. What a bad movie. But Barbara Bouchet, Karina's sister, has a part, and we love seeing her. She really looks gorgeous. So we hope that this role will get her more work, and that we'll see her and her sister Karina, again soon.
Since we're undertaking a major cleaning to get the house ready for winter, the backstage area is taking our focus these past few days. Roy buys more paint, and after spackling the walls, paints the walls and low ceiling there.
We put the new shelves back together and install them. Once the paint is dry, we will reorganize the area. Why is it that most of the things we store we never use? I'd like the luxury of having a "we never use this" room. Instead, we'll try to pare down what we do use and need. The rest will just have to go.
I have never seen a "garage sale" or "yard sale" in Italy, but they would probably be pretty popular. It might be fun for all the "expats" to get together and have one, just among ourselves. But I don't really want to organize one, so unless someone else wants to take it on, will let this pass us by. I send Tia and Bruce an email to ask them and they call us, but we can't get up enough energy to put one together, so the idea flies right out the window.
Alice is finally back, and I have her first appointment this morning. She does a remarkable job massaging and manipulating my arm and shoulder, and after another session on Friday, I hope I can get back to playing the violin. This week is a busy week for Tiziana in Orte, so I'll wait a week and call to see if I can begin lessons with her again around the 15th.
I pick a couple of hundred heirlooms, mostly pretty small, but remarkably colored, and they look so wonderful in glass jars that I think we'll do some more of that in the next days. I have never heard of anyone "putting up" heirlooms, but they just might be great. The larger ones are still on the vine, and there are plenty of green ones left to ripen. So we will have many, many jars...I'll have to check out the internet for ideas...
I don't find much information on the net, other than the information that the heirlooms have fewer seeds and can be "put up" just like regular tomatoes. We're too tired tonight to do them, but not too tired to take a photo, so here are our latest bunch, along with a few red pepperoni and a handful of nocciole (hazelnuts), all from our garden...
Roy fixes a hot water bottle for my shoulder and I decide to sit up and watch a silly movie until almost 1AM, while he slowly walks upstairs for a needed rest.
When we leave the house at 9:45, we see Ennio driving down from the cemetery, and his arm goes out to give us a big wave as we take a right at the fountain and drive down the hill. This exuberant greeting tells us we are at home here, and we love that.
We arrive at Alan and Wendy's just in time to be a part of their meeting with their new architect and Carlo, who is the overseer of the property. Alan wants a meditation room built for Wendy, on a beautiful site, at the topmost part of the property, in front of three cherry trees and an old oak.
We are able to help give them a little guidance, and it feels good to be able to help. Near the end of the meeting, we walk up to the site and measure it off with them. The view of the surrounding hillside is lovely.
Alan drives and Wendy and Sofi and I sit in back, while Roy directs in front. We first drive to our favorite paint store, and we are able to talk the shopkeeper into lending us a PMS color wheel for a week. We will pick it up and return it to the store on Friday, after Alan and Wendy leave.
From there, we guide Alan to Michellini, so that they can buy ten large pine trees, oleander trees and a Veronica. They are impressed with Michellini as are we. That vivaio is always in great condition, the people knowledgeable and helpful. Alan agrees to have the holes dug for the pines and Michellini will deliver and plant them.
We have a few minutes to dash to OBI before it closes at mid day. They buy metal shelves, and we buy more bins for backstage. We are able to finish just in time for pranzo, and eat at Il Labyrinth, inside the walled city. Afterward, we take them for a walk around San Pellegrino, and also for a look at The Macchina Di Santa Rosa.
We arrive back at Alan's, and I can't wait to get home, although we all had a good morning. We are able to be at home for about an hour before Roy drives to Orte to pick up Tosca, who arrives from Florence.
I have started the pomodori. This time, since the skins are so thin, I core and skin the tomatoes before putting them in big pots to boil for five minutes. I am afraid there won't be enough water, so add a little to each pot. There are more than a hundred small yellow and peach color and orange colored orbs, and, while Roy boils the glass jars and lids, I turn up the heat on the tomatoes and let them cook for about ten minutes. By now, although I hardly move the tomatoes around, for fear of breaking them up, there is lots of liquid.
When Roy is ready with the hot jars, he puts in salt and lemon juice. I hold the jars at an angle with mits, and he fills them up. We have five or so big glass jars filled with the most beautiful colored tomatoes and liquid. Tomorrow we will work on another color. I think we will have fifty jars full at least before we are through. So we'll be in great shape for winter, and will also have jars to give away. And of course there will be lots of heirloom tomatoes to just eat.
Tosca wants to eat pasta, so fixes a little sauce with our heirlooms for Roy and her. I am happy with just a glass of wine. After Tosca goes to bed, Roy and Sofi and I take the garbage, but there is not a soul around. It is after 11PM, but the night is so fragrant and cool that we expect a crew to be sitting outside. When we walk back, we see the rusted out Mugnano sign with its back facing us, stuck into the base of Donato's side gate. Roy will have to speak with Donato. We love that rusted sign. It is the only Mugano sign of its kind. When we first bought L'Avventura, it was affixed to the side of Donato's house. Now it just sits, abandoned, by the side of the road.
Sofi is so happy to be home, and by my side. She wags her tail and gets a little shut-eye while I work in the kitchen, and I can see that she is really tired, as are all of us.
I can hear a dog barking in the valley below us, and am reminded that we must reach Tiziano to put off our Saturday walk for a month or so. On Saturday, we will rise early to drive with Tia and Bruce to Villa Lante for the annual flower and plant show.
Tiziano calls and we agree to do the walk at the beginning of October, based on our schedule and also Duccio and Giovanna's. That will be beautiful weather, I think, and will give us one more thing to look forward to.
Enzo called last night and arrives early with a young man to check the water heater and inspect the house for possible problems. He tells us that we need to put in a special vent near the stove for air to escape, in addition to the fan we have over the stove. Roy reminds me that when we told Judith this regarding her apartment in Amelia, she said, "Well, I'll just open the window!" Magari.
We think it is a good idea that houses are checked for safety. And we pay for this inspection. So before Enzo leaves, Roy gives him €85 for the inspection, and agrees to let Stefano know that we need him to do this additional work. When I ask Roy how much it is, he tells me "It cost this much last year. It seems to be the law." I recall that this is far more than even our property tax!
There are tomatoes and tomatoes and tomatoes to pick. And then there will be some more. I pick more than ten pounds worth (4 kilos), and separate two different types from the rest. One type is the Black Russians, and one is a combination of the Juane Flame and Scotland Yellow. I spend most of the morning skinning and coring the tomatoes over the sink.
The skins are so thin that they peel off fairly easily, so there is no need to blanch them in advance. This blanching process is a real mess, and the tomatoes are difficult to handle when hot. So now I peel and core them and then heat them over the stove until they boil and then boil them for five minutes. By then, Roy has sterilized the glass jars in the loggia in his big pot. I then take the pots out and he fills them after putting in salt and lemon juice. Then they are put back into the boiling water bath for 45 minutes. This morning, I complete the first process of skinning and coring the tomatoes. Later this afternoon, we will finish the process.
The larger heirlooms are left for eating. Although I kept meticulous records at the beginning, now that I'm picking them to eat, I don't really care which ones they are. I will do an inventory in a day or so, and pick out those tomatoes we like the best for growing next year.
I stop the prep work for the tomatoes around noon, feed Sofi and then prepare our pranzo. This is a new recipe, and a great one, for panzanella, which is Italian bread and tomato salad. I want to make it again before posting it on the website, for it needs a little adjustment. But once adjusted, the recipe will be spectacular.
Here's a photo of the panzanella...
Roy is cutting back on the amount of tomatoes he eats. He probably thinks it is far too healthy for him. But this is the season, and heaven help any guest who visits at this time of year if they do not like tomatoes.
I call Angie Good to invite her to join us for Sofi's annual party at her allevamento. She is delighted, and because she will be staying at Tia and Bruce's that weekend, I asked Tia's permission before asking Angie. Tia thinks that is fine. We should know by then if we will definitely take Sofi with us to the U S in November. In any case, Angie will stay at our house.
At pranzo today, Roy brings up the subject of the grandchildren...We need to get going on buying the Italia t-shirts for them all to wear for their "photo opp." at Thanksgiving. So far, we have: Sean Patrick, Melissa, Nicole, Emily, Laura, Geneva, Ryan and Isabel. For those of you who do not remember, this is a repeat of the grandchildren photo taken by Leo years ago, when Terence was a young boy and all his cousins were his age as well. Iolanda bought Italia t-shirts for them all, and Leo lined them up on the couch in Carmel Valley...youngest to the oldest, and this photo is one that everyone in the family cherishes. We're sure they're looking down on us from above, so happy that we're all going to keep up the tradition.
Late in the day, Roy sterilizes more jars, and we put up two huge and four medium sized jars of heirlooms. We have two large bottles of juice left, which I'll do something with in the next few days.
Tonight we toast some of the bread we had for lunch that had been marinating, and have it with roasted peppers in olive oil, after a small slice of melon and prosciutto. I am getting tired of the melon and prosciutto thing, but Roy seems to favor that over the tomatoes that never seem to end. We will look back on this time months from now. We will have many, many glass jars of tomatoes then, but now while they are fresh, there is nothing like a sweet heirloom sliced with a little salt and excellent olive oil.
We all put sweaters on to have cocktails and eat outside, because the air is quite cool. But when Sofi and Roy and I venture down to take the bottles and garbage, there is not a soul about. On the way back, Luigina and her husband arrive back, and I see her walking with her large watering can to the fountain, and then over to water the plants on the street. She does a magical job with them all, and the street always looks wonderful. How do you say "a green thumb" in Italian?
I sleep in a little, but Roy is up before 7AM to work with Mario on clearing all the brush from the tufa walls behind the house. He tells me later that Rosina stood out on her balcony, telling Mario that she throws boiling water down on the weeds to kill them. She tells him she is doing her part, but is clearly happy that Mario and Roy are clearing up the bank.
Gino Lagramino and his son, Mario (I call him Marrr-eee-OHHHH), also stand out on Gino's balcony just above us to watch. I am sorry I am asleep for all of this. This scene is the theatre of the absurd all over again, with people walking onto and out of their balconies, the focus shifting to and fro, as though we are watching a stage play from below.
Roy decides to take a ride on the bicycle we brought on one crazy trip from Mill Valley, along with a bolt of material and five suitcases, years ago. Today, Pepe sees Roy trying to test it out, and advises him to adjust the seat upward so that he can get better traction (?). He also tells Roy not to ride the bike up the Mugnano hill. Piano, piano. Pepe seems to take us under his wing. We need all the help we can get.
Roy tells me that he wants to ride the bicycle to Attigliano to do errands. But he tells me about a 70-year-young woman he encountered yesterday in Attigliano who asked for help lifting a 6-pack of water onto her luggage rack. He now wants to add a rack. He does love his toys, but in this case, if he does agree to ride the bike, it will help.
Roy gets a call from ENEL that they will be here on Tuesday morning regarding the burying of one electrical pole on the other side of the street. We hear that both Mario and Pepe Fosce worked at ENEL, so will find out this weekend if they can help us in any way. Otherwise, we fear the folks from ENEL will try to take us to the cleaners. When we first inquired about it, the customer service woman told us it would cost, "A sack of soldi..." The pole definitely obstructs our view. But will we be willing to pay the price to bury it?
Tosca gets up at the crack of dawn to take the bus to Viterbo, and calls us in the afternoon to pick her up there. We thought this would happen, so drive to Ferrento, an archeological site of a Roman Theatre where Tiziano will be working this week and next.
I will be driving on Sunday to La Quercia, and have been invited to visit Contessa Ingrid and her husband, who live nearby. Roy drives me today, according to her directions, to make sure that I don't get lost. He will be walking in the Confraternity procession from Viterbo to La Quercia, and Tosca and I will meet him at the church after the big mass. Ingrid invited me to visit her when I spoke with her in Gradoli last weekend, and will bring Tosca. Sofi will have to stay home to guard the house. Strangely, this will be the first time I have driven the car since we bought it last year.
We check out Frenchy's Bistro in La Quercia, because Tia gave us the assignment to find a place for pranzo on Saturday. We will go with them and with Jill to Villa Lante on Saturday morning, and they want to have pranzo somewhere afterward. I know they want to find a place that serves more than Italian food, and this place fits the bill. It is rustic and looks like fun.
We eat at another trattoria in La Quercia, and it is a memorable meal. They ask if Sofi is quiet before letting her in the restaurant. I prayed that she would be quiet, but since I fed her a big dish of poached turkey in advance, she is tired and just wants to rest on the cold mattone floor. We share a appetizer of batter fried zucchini flowers and both eat very unusual salads. Roy thinks his is as close to a Cobb Salad as he has had in Italia. Sofi behaves beautifully, and I am very proud of her. Perhaps the turkey put her to sleep.
We pick up Tosca near the Teatro in Viterbo, and drive to Montefiascone. First we take her to San Biagio, one of our favorite churches, a 10th century Romanesque jewel. And then to the Duomo at the top of Montefiascone. Tosca buys us a gelato in the square, and then we drive home by way of the calanques, huge tufa outcroppings surrounding Civita de Bagnoregio.
We decide to stop in and visit Ursula and Diego. Ursula is home, tells us this weekend they will drive to France to pick up Serena for a three week visit. Then she walks us up to see Diego sitting, watching a team bulldoze for a swimming pool on a gorgeous vista overlooking the calanques. It is good to see him.
The man who is in charge of the digging for the pool tells Diego that he lives in paradise. He will surely go to hell because he has already seen paradise, so he does not have to worry about being good. It will not matter. Diego is such a religious man that he is probably either offended or thinks this man is just crazy. Should I worry? We think we are in paradise already. Whatever does this mean for us?
Before we leave Ursula's, she takes us in to see three tiny chicks that have just been born. The mother is very protective, she tells us. Before we get there, we see huge pigs in their pens, and one is nursing little suckling piglets. Tosca leans in to take a picture and a wasp flies right into her forehead, stinging her. Ursula tells her that she needs to rub Salvia leaves on the spot, but before going back shows us the chicks, and one appears to be dead. She picks it up, and by this time, Roy and Sofi and Tosca have returned to Ursula's cottage.
I am shaken by the sad chick, and think it is still alive, Ursula holds it in her palm and brings it to the floor where there is a little dish of water. The chick starts to move, and Ursula puts its beak into the water. After a minute or two, the chick starts to move. The heat from her hand warms it and the tiny thing starts to revive.
Ursula takes it back to the mother, and tries to put it under her. The mother doesn't seem to want it. But it stays there for a while, and I tell Ursula I will call her as soon as I am home and look up what she is supposed to do to save a baby chick.
By this time, Tosca and Roy have found an ice cube at Ursula's and Ursula brings out a bunch of salvia leaves. We get in the car and drive home. I call Shelly, who always has home remedies for things. Although she is overloaded with stress these days, she acts happy to hear from us and tells me that Tosca needs to use Ammonia on the sting. Or even her own urine, rubbed over the sting. I suppose that if Tosca was out in the desert this might work, but at home Tosca would rather search the internet, and reads that she needs an anti-inflammatory pill and a paste of a mixture of Solvay Bicorbonato (baking soda) and water.
Not too much later, she walks upstairs, and is not heard from for the rest of the night.
In the meantime, I finish a spectacular tomato soup, which I started last night and also made a salsa to go with it. Look for the recipe on our site soon under Food.
While finishing the soup, I also put a pot of beans on to cook for Tosca, and then made Roy's favorite chocolate cake. So after cocktails and the soup, I bring out a piece of chocolate cake to end the evening.
We straighten out the kitchen, turn on the dishwasher, and take the garbage down the street. These nights, I take a big wicker basket with the recycling bottles and cans, and we take those to the end of the street and drop them in a huge green canister.
Sititng outside Italo and Leondina's are: Italo, Marino, Noreena, Leondina and a man whose name we do not yet know. They laugh at Sofi, who is teased by Italo and then we walk back home. The rest of the street is silent. Ennio and Bastia walked by earlier and Sofi barked hello, but we were not ready for our walk. We thought they would be waiting at the bus stop, but when we arrived they had already walked home.
Tonight is cool and silent.
My shoulder is much better, but there is still work to be done so that I can return to the violin lessons I love. Alice works wonders with my shoulder again, and while I am there, Roy and Tosca search for a party rental store to find outdoor heaters for our September 25th festa. They also drive up to the Duomo at the top of the hill. Sofi is left in the car while they walk in, and, when they return, let her out of the car for a few minutes.
When they do, she dashes inside the Duomo, runs right up the center aisle, around the side to the sacristy and under a "do not enter" rope. Roy is able to reach down and grab her and take her outside. All the while, a dour worker at the church stares and scowls at them both.
When I walk down the stairs outside Alice's apartment, she runs over to greet me, all out of breath. We drive home through Lugnano and show Tosca the outside of Tony and Pat's property.
Back at home, I fix the cold tomato soup again with cucumber salsa. I do not like the way the borlotti beans looked after they were cooked last night...a dark brown. They remind me of Boston Baked Beans, and I ate enough of them in my childhood to last into another lifetime.
I concoct a bean dip, with fresh tomato juice from the darkest heirlooms bottled a few days ago, minced garlic, chopped salvia, olive oil, plenty of salt, lemon juice and plenty of Tabasco, all macerated in the blender with the beans. This is served with toasted crusty bread, and also salsa chips. There are also fat dark figs that I have wrapped in prosciutto. Another visual treat, and the food tastes as good as it looks, served on the orange and yellow paisley cloth.
Serena waves from their garden, and I walk over to give her some big heirlooms. One of the largest, a yellow and orange one called Gold Medal, matches her cotton dress perfectly. She is a delightful woman. I try to ask how long she will be in Mugnano, and somehow she invites us to come by in a day or two. How did I mix that up? Did she think she has to reciprocate? She did say she is looking forward to our combined festa on September 25th.
Yesterday, when Roy was trying out his bicycle, Pepe told him that he will have Stefano fix the cracks in the tufa ripa between our property and his garden. He will then have Stefano reface the tufa walkway with pepperino roto. He wants to install a cancello between our wall and his garage, with keys for his family, ours, and Francesco, who recently gave us a key to the cantina he has been using. That is a great idea, if Pepe can do it. It will make our property much more secure.
While Tosca takes a nap, we drive to Viterbo to do some errands and then have a meeting with Pat and Tony at their house in Lugnano. Their pool has been emptied, and we learn of more catastrophes regarding their builder. Somehow they are keeping it all together until they leave at the end of the month.
Back at home, the sun is fading and there is a lovely breeze. Tosca sits out on the terrace, reading. After finishing some gardening, Roy waters and putters around. Then it is time for a cocktail.
We eat prosciutto and melon inside tonight, while watching a silly movie. And after Tosca goes to bed, we take Sofi for our nightly walk down the street. It is Friday, and all the weekenders are out. Many of them are at the bus stop. On these nights, I take a wicker basket to hold our glass and plastic and metal cans, and we empty it at the end of the street at the recycling bin, just before the road splits in two.
We meet Tia and Bruce and Jill in Bomarzo, just off the Superstrada. They wait for us in a clearing where, on other days, a prostitute sits in a folding chair by the side of her automobile. There are many prostitutes in Italy, and many, many of them are seen on the side of well-traveled country roads. On this particular road, which is the back route from Bomarzo to Orte, we often see three or four prostitutes, all bravely stationed by themselves, beckoning drivers to pull over. Many of them are African. I think their life is so sad.
On this day, thankfully, there is no one there but Bruce and Tia and Jill. They follow us on the back road to Bagnaia, and we remember that we parked last year on the other side of Villa Lante when attending their annual exposition. There is a sign that leads us down a side street, and amazingly, someone opens the side gate for us, probably thinking we are exhibitors.
We find a place to park, but walk down to the front entrance and pay. Sofi is on a lead, and it is only about twenty minutes later that an officious looking man tells us she is not allowed here. Roy wants to take her to the car, but I notice a dog sleeping under an exhibitor's table, and tell Roy to pick Sofi up and act as though she belongs here. We are not bothered during the rest of the visit.
Exhibitors are here from France, England, Holland, and other parts of Italy. We run into Alessandra, who owns the wonderful vivaio south of us, a friend from Michellini, a woman from the vivaio previously owned by Walter Branchi. Michael the garden designer is also there, hovering around Tia and Jill and us. He is very helpful, and before Tia is done she has bought wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of hostas and roses and bulbs and who knows what else. She is celebrating because she finally has good water from the town, and also because there is a big storm brewing that should arrive in a few days, so she won't have to water if it rains really hard.
We only buy one thing, a book, until Roy sees a little iron dog that he wants to add to his dog collection. Tosca purchases three mandarinos, with skins the color of limes. The taste is very astringent, and I think the fruit makes wonderful preserves.
We have a surprise for Tia and Bruce, and lead them to Frenchy's Bistro, on the road to Viterbo. They are amazed that we could find a French bistro. Of course most of the food is Italian, but Tia and I have blintzes with salmon and she and Roy can't resist the foie gras. Two women next to us fall in love with Sofi, and the owner brings over a ceramic bowl of water for her. We enjoy our pranzo immensely and will certainly return.
We say goodbye to Tia and Bruce and Jill and drive back home, where Roy and I are able to do some serious weeding and work on the roses on the front path.
The Pink Panther movie is showing on TV, so Tosca and Roy and I have a great time watching, while I try to conjure up a sformato, made with a zucchini fresh from our garden that "could have eaten Toledo", it is so large. Before the movie we watch Barbara Bouchet interview Quentin Tarentino at the Venice Film Festival.
She does a great job interviewing him, and he must be relieved that she speaks excellent English. Later we find out that Quentin is very taken with her. Perhaps he will be interested in hiring her for one of his movies. That would be a wonderful "break" and we will keep our fingers crossed for her. She is Karina's sister.
Tomorrow Tosca wants to "lay low" on her last day in Italia, and Roy and I will go to mass in the morning, and then Roy will participate in the grand procession with his confraternity brothers in Viterbo, where I will take photographs.
Roy and Sofi and I take our little walk after the movie, and after watching the end of the movie, E.T. The air is fresh and fragrant. This is a lovely evening.
There is a strange cadence to the morning mass. Vincenzo is not here. We have never been here for a mass when he was not here. Nor is Marieadelaide. But Giuseppa starts all the hymns right on time. Don Mauro is today's priest, and he runs all his words together as if they make up a long string that becomes a baseball...or in this case a lesson in rejoicing when a fallen soul finds God again and is welcomed back with great joy. That is today's homily, and although I read the words in our English missal as well as the Italian, I cannot follow him well. The rest of the congregation sits silently.
When it is time for the collection, however, Giuseppa just sits and stares straight ahead. It takes some minutes, but Renata leans forward and reminds her, and she looks into her purse for her money and then silently walks around with the little raffia basket, as though she is thinking of something far off.
I am shocked that she does not remember on cue, and then it takes so long for her to stand up that I start to silently weep. I weep for her; she is so lovely and kind. The thought of not having her here with us on Sunday morning, or of Vincenzo not standing with his arms folded by the door to the sacristy, makes me so sad.
I borrow Roy's handkerchief twice, but gain my composure, and kneel after communion, silently praying that I will get my mind back on track. I surely love being in this little church, silently following the musical chairs of it all with two less benches, and the women re-settling themselves before Don Mauro enters in his street clothes and walks back to change. Livio tells us that the other two benches were of a wood other than castagno, and it appears that from now on we will have to make do with two less benches. There is usually plenty of room, so it won't be a problem.
After church, Tiziano tells us that he is tired, because he hosted a big party last night for his pals. We heard them laughing well into the night, and love hearing that the younger generation of people from this village get along so well.
After pranzo, Roy gets ready for his big afternoon procession from Viterbo to La Quercia with his confraternity, and then settles down to watch the Formula 1 race, thinking that he will miss the end of it. I clean up the kitchen and don't watch much of it, but he loves these races, and I love to see him happy. As luck would have it, the race ends just before he has to leave.
Tosca wants to "lay low" for her last day here, so I get ready to drive myself to La Quercia, to meet Roy after the procession is over. The event is to be quite a spectacular, with over twenty confraternities participating in a procession that leads from the bottom of the hill in Viterbo to the top of the hill at Santa Maria di La Quercia, the lovely church with three original Della Robbias above its carved wooden front doors.
I take our digital camera, and have no trouble maneuvering out of our parcheggio. This is the first time I have driven myself in over a year! I rather enjoy taking a jaunt by myself. It is very quiet, and I take the back road through Bomarzo and then Bagnaia and finally La Quercia, where I turn left into the back parking lot of the church. I am almost an hour early, but most of the parking places have already been taken.
I find a place, and walk around the church to the front steps, where I want to be sitting when the procession arrives. The tiny old priest who appears to be the organizer tells me that I will need to leave when the procession arrives; all the confraternities will be standing on the front steps of the church, lined up group by group, and no one else is allowed to be there.
I hide behind a pillar, and then see a priest standing in front of one of the main pillars, so I stand behind him, to his right, whispering to the little priest, but hoping this priest is the only person who hears me, "Non mi visto!" (don't see me) The young priest smiles, and acknowledges what I am trying to do. I show him my camera and tell him that my husband is a member of one of the confraternities.
As if by magic, I am left alone. The procession starts, and as Roy later comments, the whole thing is rather "over the top". Someone on a microphone announces each group, as well as the town that the confraternity represents. Most of the confraternities have elaborate banners held by someone in their front row.
Little Mugnano has a respectable banner, but it is not elaborate; San Liberato's figure seems to have been crafted with a color Xerox onto cloth, although it is outlined in gold on a red and blue background. The confraternity costumes are red with blue capes and bronze medallions, quite wonderful.
When it is Mugnano's turn, and they are located about a third of the way back in the procession, the group is shown to the top of the stairs right in front of me! Roy sees me as the group moves forward and I see him in the front row, holding a tall pole with an unlit lantern. For the next fifteen minutes, I become Mugnano's own papparazza, stepping down in front of them to get a group shot, then beside them to take a few candid close-ups.
Here they are:
Tosca then goes up to bed while we are watching Cleopatra on TV. To say that we get outdated movies here in Italy is an understatement. I am not able to stay up until midnight, when the movie is scheduled to end, but then I know how it turns out...
We awake at 5AM, and after walking downstairs and opening the front door, I look up to see thousands of stars in the night sky. I call to Tosca in the kitchen, who comes out and looks up with me at the heavens. The stars seem to be congregated just above us, and they are so clear that I remind myself that we need to spend more time outside at night. It takes such a small effort to just look up!
A few minutest later we are all ready to go, and drive her to the train station in Orte, so that she can arrive in plenty of time for the plane that leaves at 1PM for Boston. Roy takes her suitcase down the stairs and up to the platform. Luckily, this train commences at Orte, and sits with its doors open at the station as we come up the stairs. Tosca is able to choose a great seat, and we bid her goodbye as the conductor announces the train's imminent departure for its ultimate destination: the airport.
We are very tired, and the sky turns from black to grey to violet to a cloudy blue-grey as we drive over the Bomarzo hill. At home, we climb back into bed for a few hours.
Later in the morning, Sofi and I pick three large basketfuls of heirloom tomatoes. I want to process another batch this afternoon. My hands are still stained green from their picking and washing when Tony and Pat arrive to pick up a letter for them that was emailed to us earlier from their attorney. I am thinking more and more about their plight. I should think seriously about writing about it.
Theirs is a story no one should have to repeat. It is a story of the underbelly of Italian life; a story woven so brilliantly that the antagonist will never be caught, with Tony and Pat as the latest helpless creatures in his spider web who are all but swallowed up by the system. In Italy, wily contractors swindle innocent people again and again, and are able finesse their way through the bureaucracy in ways that are undetectable. We are so fortunate that we pay attention to small details, and also that we have not fallen into this man's trap.
As Tony and Pat leave, we give them a bagful of tomatoes. Roy then takes a basketful more to Shelly and Claudio. Roy is happy to see Claudio at their kitchen table when Roy arrives, and we are glad that we could share out bounty with this couple, who have been so kind to us over the years.
I have a headache, but think it is a kind of virus, because I think I have a temperature. But I ignore it, and later feel a little better. After pranzo, I stand at the kitchen sink, starting the peeling and coring of the hundred or so tomatoes that will be put up in a few hours.
It takes two hours to ready them to cook, and all the while I stand at the kitchen window, watching the light rain turn to a downpour. I run out with Roy to take in a chair and umbrella and the laundry. The loggia is used every day of the year, and today it really helps; inside we open up the drying rack and get ready to process the tomatoes.
We put up seven more bottles this afternoon, with plenty of tomatoes and juice left over. Roy asks me to make a pasta sugo for tomorrow. Tosca's visit has given me the impetus to do more cooking and I'm going to experiment with different ways to cook tomatoes, now that we have so many that are delicious and fresh.
It is a good thing that I picked while I did, for this afternoon's downpour would have helped to make the pomodori garden a real mess. The sky clears after the tomatoes are processed, and we open the shutters and the windows. The clouds in the sky are now pale lavender rimmed in pink, and the valley below us a Brigadoon, with long wisps of fog creating layers of shades of green and grey. Four tiny birds sit close to each other on a telephone pole, looking soaked and probably trying to dry off.
Inside, I take the sheets that have been drying outside and then in the loggia upstairs to iron their embroidered edges, before remaking our bed. They smell fresh and cool to the touch, and look wonderful on the tall bed.
Roy tries a few times to reach Paola, who finally calls back but cannot really hear him. She promises to call back soon. Tonight, Roy hopes to get the word through to her father, Pepe, who retired from ENEL some years ago. Tomorrow at 10AM, people from ENEL arrive to speak with us about burying the telephone and electrical pole underground. We are worried that the price will indeed be "a sack of soldi" and if so, we will not be able to do it. But if Pepe knows some people at ENEL, perhaps we can at least get the best price. We have not idea what to expect.
So perhaps the little birds will have to find a new place to sit, but our view will be greatly enhanced. I look out the front bedroom window now, and the whole sky appears lavender and pink. It is now 7:30PM, and the sunset is sure to be magnificent.
But in a few minutes the front doorbell rings, and it is Paola! We invite her in and tell her about tomorrow morning, so she calls her father who asks if we can cancel tomorrow's meeting with ENEL. We cannot, so we are to get names of people who come and he will see what he can do. He will come by tomorrow on his way back from Rome.
Paola tells us what a big hit our tomatoes were with them yesterday, and although Pepe has two of our best tomato plants, they are not ready to pick. So I give Paola a bunch of different ones, wrapped in a little raffia, and tell her we will let her know what happens tomorrow. She asks us if we have tried to make jam with the sweet tomatoes, and we have not, but what a good idea. The Black Russians and the Black French Tula would also make great chutney. So we won't have too many tomatoes after all!
We also speak about the cena that Mario and I will cook on the 25th, and it seems Mario prepared many kilo of fish for last Saturday night's cena at Tiziano's. It appears that even our big copper pot will not be big enough for what he will prepare at our house, so we will get together to see what we need to borrow from their kitchen. What a time we will have!
The weather has certainly changed. We are unable to connect to the internet to get our emails. Our connection is so fragile that the wet weather can make a decided difference. There is nothing but a wet English fog outside the window, but the air is fragrant and the birds are happy, and so are we.
Roy has many small glass jars in his shed, so he'll get new tops from the hardware store in Giove and we will put up heirloom tomato jam for the holidays. We confirm with Artusi's bible of a book that there exists an authentic Italian recipe for tomato jam. It is a wonder that anyone in Italy buys jam at all. The customary giving of jams at Christmas time keeps us all loaded down with different things to try.
Roberto Scirocchi arrives from ENEL (he tells us his name is like a strong wind, but he is actually very simpatico). He completes his measurements, and walks around with Roy. At one point, he lays his paperwork down on a wall and the paper he is working on blows down below. Roy manages to "fish" it out with a branch cutter, telescoped out all the way, and Roberto calls him a pescatore (fisherman). Before he leaves, we present him with a huge heirloom tomato and he tells us that he would like to reciprocate with a big bunch of power. We were really looking for a discount on the work to be done, but, whatever...
So our electrical line will have to cross under the street and connect with a meter to be stationed next to our side planters. This box will be necessary until 2005, when the visual reading of meters on site will be unnecessary. The rest of the work to be done will be approximately 60 meters long, with additional trench digging by Stefano and Luca on our terrace. I am nervous at the very sound of it. The preventivo will come in a few weeks. In the meantime, we have all the information, and will give it to Paola to give to Pepe tonight. This project is looking extremely doubtful.
The humidity continues all day, with a few showers. Felice is in the lavender garden checking things out when we return from seeing Alice in Amelia, and we give him a bag of heirlooms. Roy asks him about the tree across the street, owned by the old couple that own the land and used to tend the chickens there before they were too sick to take care of them. They are neighbors of Felice and Marsiglia, but spend their time in Rome these days. He will check with them the first time he sees them to see if we can chop down the dead tree right in our view. If so, we will have Mario come and do the work.
I have trimmed five or six lavender plants this afternoon, and will do more tomorrow. Some of them are very healthy, but one is dying and will need to be replaced. Roy has been watering all of them and overall they look very healthy. I don't remember that we did so much work on them before to look beautiful during their off season. They are broader than they are tall, and it takes a few turns with the scissors for them to look as good as they should. In past years, the roundness of them off-season helped the entire landscape to look manicured and, well, Italianate!
The bedroom windows are open at ten o'clock tonight, and I can hear the drumbeats in the valley of young men practicing for a medieval procession. There must be a group of them in Bomarzo who practice regularly, for often, late at night, the sounds reverberate across the Tiber valley all the way to little Mugnano.
That reminds me. When Roy and his band of Confraternity brothers marched in the procession on Sunday, he heard a number of people asking each other, "Where is Mugnano?" We love that. Even people in our own province don't know we exist.
Paola did not come tonight, so we will call her tomorrow. We hope that Pepe will be able to call someone in Viterbo to get us the best possible preventivo. The project becomes more and more ominous.
We continue to check around about the requirements for taking Sofi with us on our November trip to the Bay Area, but we are still not convinced that we will be able to take her. Regardless, Angie Good has been hired to stay at our house and make sure it is secure day and night.
Did it ever rain today! Last night we kept all our windows open in our bedroom, and the gauzy curtains flew into the air like ghosts. The wind whipped through the valley, and we had at least two thunderstorms during the night. Today the rain continues off and on all day, but by about 6PM it clears and the air is so fragrant we just have to take a walk around the property.
I read a recipe in Artusi's famous cookbook for Tomato Jam, so just have to try it with our Black Russian and Black French Tula heirloom tomatoes. I wish we had fresh ginger in the house, because by the time we are through I want to make it more of a chutney. Perhaps in the next week we will make a real chutney. Plenty of tomatoes remain on the vine, so we will have tomatoes for the rest of September! What a treat! We are happy that we started planting them a little late this year.
Sofi continues to entertain herself with her toys. She loves the new green ball, and runs with it in her mouth. So she throws it, catches it, and slides on the gravel as though she is sliding into home base. She also loves her soft black toys, and does not seem to mind having to play by herself when we are busy doing other things. There is always something to do at L'Avventura.
The sky is pale blue, whitewashed with filmy clouds, but last night the storms were so wild that Sofi wimpered on and on while sitting upright in her cage near me.
When walking out to the terrace this morning, I see Pepe leaning down over his lettuce and wave to him. Roy takes the copy of the paperwork from Tuesday's meeting with ENEL, and asks Pepe what he thinks. Pepe knows the man to call, and will call him, but does not know if he can do anything. It has been five years since he retired. If it is meant to be, it will be.
I smell smoke coming in the window near where I write, so someone must be burning in the valley. I hear the sound of an electric chain saw below us, and am reminded of living on Mount Tam, just above Mill Valley, CA. The nonstop droning of the saw pierced our tranquil setting, with every possible bit of land in the process of development; all the while conservationists raised their fists. I have never seen so many huge homes for tiny families.
Here the chain saw is used to fell trees and clear away brush, for people are responsible for keeping their land free of debris and tall grasses. If a fire starts on someone's land, and they have not tended their space properly, I am told that somehow they are found responsible. I remember Karina watching out for Shelly and Claudio's land years ago, and running out in her nightgown when a fire struck, not knowing who to call or what to do on their huge piece of land. Somehow the fire department arrived and the fire was put out.
We take good care of our little piece of property, and I put my foot down regarding Roy owning a chain saw. It is just too dangerous and too easy for someone to be badly hurt when using it. For whatever major sawing needs to be done, we just call Mario, who comes right over and topples anything we ask him to like the giant in Jack and the Beanstalk.
I take my little stool outside and clip most of the Santolina plants into globes, and pull weeds around the cherry tree. We find many volunteer cherry shoots, and once they are rooted are tough to pull up. I love working in the garden, but it is often too hot during the summer months. Today it is hot, and Roy comes over to tell me he can really feel the heat coming up from the soil. I agree. My hair is a mass of waves and curls, with all the humidity, and I put it back with a scrunchie to try to cool off.
This afternoon, we drive to Viterbo to finally pick up our permessos. They renewed in May, but we have been walking around with temporary permits. After getting our fingerprinted applications finished in August as we were instructed, we were told that the final papers would be ready in one month. Mine is ready, Roy's is not. But his application was somehow dated one day earlier. Go figure.
The office is a shambles where we go to pick up the final paperwork. Each person has his own folder, with the necessary documents inside, and they sit alphabetically in stacks. No one seems to know what they are doing, and files get passed from stack to stack. No wonder Roy's is not under the "D's". Perhaps mine was finished first, and the person doing the checking took a phone call, or went out for coffee...or pranzo, and Roy's file was put somewhere...On the other side of the window, people line up nervously, speaking in many languages, but all share a look of anxious anticipation.
The scary thing about all this is that those are really important documents, and losing them will create major chaos in our lives. After searching for about twenty minutes, a man returns to the window to tell Roy that his paperwork will be ready on Tuesday. "Sicuro?" Roy asks. "Si, sicuro." We are both sure he is not "sicuro" of anything. But on Tuesday Roy will return to see if they have found his records.
At home it is tomato time again, and we put up about eight jars of tomatoes. Roy picked a large wicker basketful earlier in the afternoon, and reports that the tomatoes on the vine all look fine, even though we have had a lot of rain. We should have tomatoes for at least the next two weeks, especially if we have some more delicious sunshine.
I made a pasta sauce today with heirloom broth, olive oil, garlic, sage, cut, skinned and seeded yellow heirlooms and anchovies and we were just sorry there was not more sauce to mop up, or fresh bread to dunk. Although I am tired of peeling and coring tomatoes, I am sure that we will be grateful this winter that we took the time to put them up. We have more than fifty jars finished, and may have twenty or thirty more before the end of the picking season, all stacked neatly backstage on our bakers rack shelves.
By the time we turn in, a soft rain returns, and Roy breathes a sigh of relief that he has passed another day without the need to water.
Today is Friday, and in Italy it is a very unlucky day. Friday the 17th. In America, the unlucky day is Friday the 13th. I have not been able to find out the significance of the number 17. So for now it remains a mystery.
Today, Tony and Pat have invited us to be their guest at pranzo, in honor of our 23rd wedding anniversary, which they want to celebrate early. Sofi eats pranzo early, and stays in the house while we drive to Lugnano and then to Montecchio to a restaurant they like.
September is the beginning of Porcini mushroom season. Roy does not like them. He thinks they are slimy. But I disagree, and take advantage of the restaurant's offerings to have tagliatelle with porcini musrooms and plenty of fresh presemelo (parsley). Tony and Pat order the same, while Roy orders chinghiale (wild boar) with his pasta. First, we have an antipasto, and Roy also wants crostini, because he loves fegato (liver), something I detest.
The meal is fun, and with plenty of local wine we are ready for a rest. Back at home, the rain returns, and continues off and on all the rest of the day. Drinking wine in the middle of the day has its definite drawbacks. So we spend the rest of the day and evening quietly.
We wonder about tomorrow's big festa for Sofi, near lake Bracciano. Roy emails Marielisa to ask if it is still on, and she emails him back to tell him to bring an umbrella. We are prepared for a mess, but surely don't want to miss this Bassotto free-for-all.
The morning is cool and bright, with not a hint of rain in the air. I make a little chocolate cake to take this afternoon. At pranzo, we have more cold tomato soup with salsa, and I cannot resist more heirlooms with fresh buffala mozzarella, olive oil and fresh basilico. The tomatoes are rich and buttery, just as we remembered them from California.
Angie and Floppy arrive right on time and we drive down by way of Viterbo to Marielisa's festa di cane. The weather is overcast, but, aside from a few drops, we are saved from the torrential rain that is hitting Rome. There are about fifty dogs, 98% of them basottos. Sofi finds a playmate almost right away, and they chase each other silently until Sofi is worn out. For the rest of the festa she stays close to Angie and Roy and me.
The live Romanian band starts up soon after we arrive. The sax player is not very good, and that makes the band sound comical and even better. They play folk songs that are perfect for the cadence of the dogs gamboling about, but I have not idea what the songs are. The group of men in the band seems to think we are all crazy, the way we act around the dogs.
We are only able to find one woman who looks like her dog. The dog is pale beige in color, with a certain way of looking out. Her master has a short pale crop of hair, and has the same look about her. The dog is spoiled rotten, sitting right on the table in front of her. The rest of the dogs are on the ground, sniffing each other, wagging their tails and romping about.
Although there are about fifty of them, and many of them have similar characteristics, they each have their own "look" about them, and no one seems to have difficulty finding their own pet, when it is time to return home.
Six different sets of people bring cakes in the shape of basottos. The grand prize winner is a cake in the shape of a basotto in profile, framed with a white net "tutu". The dog's hair is done with slices of strawberries sitting on a custard frame, jeweled collar and all. We will certainly think of entering the competition next year; but only if we can come up with a fabulous concept.
Angie has the opportunity to hand out cards, and leaves some with Marielisa. We enjoy Angie so, that it is fun to have her with us. She is a top notch dog sitter, so we'd like to help her in any way we can, as long as we can keep her booked during Thanksgiving each year for ourselves...
Sofi sleeps in my arms all the way home, and is tired enough that she crashes on the couch in the kitchen almost right away. We are all happy to be home, but loved the experience of seeing all these sweet dogs playing together.
Finally we're back to wonderful weather. At least for a day. At church, Felice tells us that we can cut down the tall dead tree across the street from us in front of the old chicken coop. His neighbors who are in Rome all the time now, think it's a good idea, so we'll have Mario do it in a week or two, but I'm hopeful that Felice will be there to supervise, as well, especially if neighbors ask. Then we'll have a clear view all the way down the
Tiber Valley to Orte. Now if only we can get a preventivo to bury the power line that we can afford...
After church, Sofi and Roy and I walk down to the front path to work on the roses. I am able to clip a bunch for a vase in the kitchen before we deadhead, and manicure the Lady Hillington roses that are espaliered against the tall tufa wall. I am wearing black, and the hot sun melts me after only ten minutes, so I scoot upstairs to change into something more summery.
Roy wants dried porcini mushrooms in the pasta sauce for pranzo. Last night on the way back from Marielisa's, we drove by a Porcini mushroom sagra in Vetralla. In one particular square, we glanced at mushroom vendors, but Roy was not about to stop. He does not like Porcini's. He thinks they are slimy. So on we went.
But dried Porcini is another matter, at least with him. He likes the mustiness in a sauce made with them. So I put a handful in a small pot of water and heat them so that they simmer for at least twenty minutes. Then I take the juice from more heirlooms that has been strained through the Foley food mill and cook it down, add some more ingredients after sautéing a white onion in olive oil and butter and the result pleases Roy, so that makes me happy.
We eat outside on the terrace, and this is the first time we could do that in at least a week. But just before we eat, Sofi and I walk down to the pomodori garden and pick a basket and a half of ripe ones, including enough to make one big jar of San Marzanos and at least five of the heirlooms of various colors.
Right after pranzo, I start peeling and coring the pomodori, and this takes more than two hours. Roy's production line in the loggia works fine, and we are ready to take everything out to cool at 5PM. By now, we have 55 jars of heirlooms and San Marzanos stored backstage. Before we are through for the season, we might have 20 more. We continue to give the large Gold Medal variety to friends, and a Black Russian or two, but mostly put them up or slice and eat them freshly picked. The rest are bottled for winter cooking and eating.
After a break, I do some sewing. I want to cover the electrical wires that tie the chandelier in the kitchen to the ceiling, and have more green damask to use that we also used to cover the divano against the wall. I think my effort will be wasted today, because the result looks too skimpy. Tomorrow morning I will cut and sew a wider piece, so that the fabric scrunches. It is time that we take the whole chandelier down to clean it anyway. And while we are at it, we will take down the chandelier in the bathroom, so that we can clean the glass prisms there as well. If it is not too hot, we will also be back at work in the garden.
We have just about decided that it is not a good idea to take Sofi with us to the U S this fall. Angie will be here to take care of the house, and loves having her around. We think that since the babies are still small, that there will be too much excitement at Terence and Angie's to subject them to a little dog, even though Sofi is really well behaved.
Pepe rings the bell at about noon, and comes up to tell us that he is working on our request to ENEL to bury the pole across the street. The "capo" in charge was not available in Viterbo on Friday, when Pepe went there to see him. As soon as Pepe speaks with him, he will let us know what we can do. He is also arranging for us to get a preventivo to have the work done from the edge of our property to the house.
So right now we have no idea if we will be able to do it, or be able to afford it. He tells us that ENEL tries to either do a whole town, or at least an entire street, instead of just one pole. So perhaps they will give us a very high quote to make us go away.
Judith is back in town for a month, and we invite her here for a simple pranzo, consisting of all things tomato, of course. More soup, more salsa, more sliced tomatoes with buffala, blah, blah. Today is lovely again, and although we eat outside, it is quite warm. The sewing project will be done another day...
She brings dried tomatoes from California, which she has processed in a dehydrator. I must say she has us interested. We don't want to buy another appliance, but the idea of drying fruits and tomatoes and even porcini mushrooms is interesting. Perhaps we will try to dry some in the sun, but then again that sounds very messy.
The sun stays with us all afternoon, so I make some more peach granita with the ripe peaches in the kitchen, and then do a little bit of gardening. Roy is already out weeding and fiddling with the mermaid roses. Ouch! These are my favorite days; not leaving the house, doing a little of this and a little of that...
Alice works wonders again with my shoulder, and I'm ready to return to violin lessons.
Roy returns to Viterbo after pranzo, to see what the people at the Questura have to say about where his permesso is. It surfaces, after Roy watches a woman retype a permesso with carbon paper! And of course it spells his name wrong. So they add a dozen stamps and signatures to it and curse whoever wrote it up and declare that they will process a new one. We need to follow up, because when Roy applies for citizenship, everything has to be "just so". We are hoping to recover some archived information on his grandfather when we return to the U S.
We take a walk after 9PM, take the garbage and walk all the way down Via Mameli. Pepe is out with Ubik, who wants nothing to do with Sofia. But she and Pepe have a love affair going. Then we sit with Leondina and Italo and Noreena and Maria for a few minutes. Maria thinks she has a key to our door, and Roy walks with her to her house to see if it is ours. It is not, and I suggest that during the next festa we have a lottery to find out whose key it is. This is my second suggestion. The first is that she try every door in the village and to this she looks at me, horrified.
Maria calls me "signora", although I ask her often to call me just Ivana. I ask why, and Noreena tells me that years ago there were many old women who were all referred to as "signora". I respond that if I am a principessa I can be referred to as "signora", but in this little village, there is no need.
We are asked why our nipote have not visited, and we tell them that Angie and Terence were here in 1998. Noreena remembers them, and described them, saying that Angie was a beautiful blonde and Terence was quite tall. I'd say she had a good memory! They all let us know in no uncertain terms that they must visit us with the new babies. Soon!
Tonight is cool. These fall nights are delicious and calm, the sunsets beautiful. We end the night reading...I reading Angels and Demons and Roy reading Malaparte's The Skin. We have no television in our bedroom and this is a good way for us to get in some good reading. I had no idea how much Roy would enjoy a good book. But he enjoys just about every book he reads, sharing tidbits with me. This must be how I dreamt it would be....
I know we are out of the loop concerning many news stories in the U S, or "America" as our neighbors call it. But to hear that many vibrant Catholic churches in Massachusetts are being closed because the Archdiocese needs to come up with money to pay legal cost associated with pedofile claims against priests, I am at a loss.
I somehow feel that, partly due to a very sad personal family situation that I do not refer to at all in this journal, the whole eastern part of the state of Massachusetts is ready to fall into the ocean.
When we return to the U S for a visit, we are totally out of the loop. We feel like people from another planet. So it is with nervous anticipation that I face another trip. Everything seems so LOUD to us, so ANGRY; people shaking their fists, blaming anyone but themselves, for their lives, doing nothing to help their fellow man. Is this the reason we were put on this earth?
I hear ringing inside my head, and instead tell myself to put thinking of being in the U S out of my head for another two months. So I take a deep breath and look out at the countryside below us and concentrate on being at peace with myself and the world again.
Last night, when walking home by the bus stop, we turned to see Giovanni and Argentina sitting there side by side in the darkness, lit only by a streetlamp and the half moon up above. In my dreams I hope they are holding hands.
Today, Giusy gives me my monthly pedicure and introduces me to a book that I want to read. It is in Italian, translated from Spanish; a tale of women at a hotel in Chile. Perhaps this will be a good way for me to learn Italian. I so love to read, and tell Giusy that I will read it and speak with her next month about the book. This is sort of a book club for an idiot. It is perfect for me.
For the first time in months at this time of day, Roy and Sofi and I take a walk at around 6 PM up to the centro storico of the village. On the way, Argentina walks over to Giovanni, who sits on his front step, to show him some kind of a card. We are probably reading too much into this, but if their friendship brings them happiness, we're surely pleased for them.
Once up the hill, we see that the street leading to the medieval tower looks centuries old; the pavement is gone and in its place are dirt and pipes and the start of a sewer system. This is the first street to be restored. Finally, every person in Mugnano will be hooked up to the sewer system. For some, the very first time! The project is due to continue for six months or more. We are so relieved that we have two septic tanks plus a pump to connect us to the sewer, an agonizing process that was completed over a year ago.
So I pick Sofi up in my arms, and we step over the dirt, looking down narrow side alleyways and walking down a few we have never seen. We take one, and it comes out around near Pepe's house. We run into him as we are coming out, and he invites us in for coffee or a beer.
Once we are past the front gate and Pepe tells Serena and Candida that we are there, Serena calls out to Roy that Mario is on the phone from Milan and wants to speak with him. And then he wants to speak with me. We plan to meet him at 5:30 AM on Saturday, to drive to Marta to pick up just-caught fish for Saturday night's festa at our house.
Outside, we sit under a beautiful carved tufa outcropping, watching the pink sunset. Sofi bounds around and around on a beautiful bed of prato, or grass, that is magazine perfect, just in front of us.
Candida asks me if we play cards. I remember that we heard that she loves to play cards, and admit that we play a little Scopa, but don't know Briscola well. We will have to practice Scopa for the next few days, but look forward to playing with her on Saturday night. She agrees that we won't play for money. Roy and I would surely lose every round. We say goodnight and walk down the hill, facing a real wind. This is unusual, for the wind usually dies down by about 6 P M each night.
All in all, we are happy to be home, and so very happy that home is here in this little village of kind people who seem to really enjoy one another.
Days just fly by, and I have not even taken out my violin. Next week for sure. Mid days are warm and humid, the mornings and evenings cool. We still eat outside, but the heat is no longer oppressive. The forecast for Rome is for rain tomorrow, but we are hoping the rain will stay south of us for a few more days.
Maria calls with a skin allergy, so cannot come to clean until next week. Fa niente. We will do some extra cleaning before Saturday. I also want to cook up a bunch of polenta, a zucchini sformato, a batch of bean dip, a chocolate cake...just to have around. Since Mario and I have not discussed the menu, I have no idea what we will be stirring up for fifteen people. Roy reminds me that if we invite them for 8PM, we need to be ready to sit down to eat by 8:15. Italians love to get right into the food...
We have some beautiful white linen fabric with blue French style birds and curlicues, and it is just right to line the pine cabinet in the bathroom. Roy is so organized. He wants to take it outside to work on it, and determines that the best way to do it is with a staple gun. Before we know it, we're done. Now it's time to go through all the things we've collected in the bathroom...
So while Roy is out doing an errand, including mailing our absentee ballots back to California, I make a batch of polenta, but it forms so quickly that something must be wrong with it. Roy arrives home and I sit him down almost immediately to chow down...
This polenta will not be right for Saturday. Perhaps something happened to it over the summer months. But it is pretty tasty with a little butter and freshly grated cheese. But who to ask? We'll just buy more polenta tomorrow and I'll give it a try again tomorrow night. The beans cooked up just fine, and we'll have bean dip to fortify us while we cook on Saturday.
Bob and Lindsey email us a great tomato jam recipe, and you'll see it soon on the food blog of this site. If we can find some cumin, we'll stir up a batch with our tomatoes. It sounds great.
We surely have some strange flying creatures, popping up after the rains. Tonight Roy dances around the kitchen with a flyswatter. One particular critter lays in wait for him and just before he pounces it hops off to another part of the room. Sofi lays on the couch staring at him, and I can almost detect a little smile...
Suzanne Ciani is back in Amelia for another visit, and we'll join Suzanne and Judith for pranzo tomorrow at NonnaPappa. It is always good to see her. But for this visit, we won't be joining her in Mirabella for her concert in the town where all her relatives are. It is too long a trip for us right now. She is here on a bicycle trip through Umbria before driving to Mirabella, so she will have plenty of stories to tell.
Pat Ryerson calls, and she and Dick are enjoying Orvieto today, after a visit to their bank. We will see them on Sunday at the Sagratino Sagra in Montefalco, very near their villa. The weather looks "iffy" for the next few days, but we are hopeful.
To be safe, Roy takes the basket of lavender in the fireplace out to the grotto, and cleans it out to prepare it for fall and winter fires. We will probably have a little fire tonight, and look forward to a crisp fall season in Mugnano.
This morning, I prepare a double portion of sformato with zucchini, as well as finishing the bean dip, while Roy does some work on the feet of the old kitchen chairs. I think they'll last forever, and are probably one of the best bargains we've encountered in Italy. Hand carved and doweled, with rush seats, they cost approximately €30 each!
We drive off to Orte to NonnaPappa, to have pranzo with Judith and Suzanne and Judith's dogs, Bianca and Louie. Fidelia loves to see Sofi, and embraces her as soon as Sofi steps in the front door. I take her off her lead, and she stays close for most of the pranzo, only going outside to sniff around the edge of the lake.
Before we are through, Matthew and Terry and Sebastian Peacock arrive with two guests we met at Sebastian's christening. Otherwise, we are the only people in the restaurant. This is good for us, but not so good for Fidelia. We hope that her business is good, otherwise. We would hate to see her have to close.
Back at home, I prep for tomorrow's big dinner, cooking a large sformato and a big portion of bean dip. I notice that we have too many tomatoes ready to put up, and we stop what we are doing to make a kind of a spicy tomato jam, and put up the San Marzanos. They won't keep for three days, when we'll next be able to work on them.
I don't like the results of the jam. It is far too spicy...to much cumin. So we'll make more next week. But we are able to put up one large jar of San Marzanos, before we go back to getting ready for tomorrow's party.
We go to bed late, and it is almost 1AM before I am ready to go to sleep...
The alarm goes off at 4AM and it is cold. Cold inside. Cold outside. At 5AM we are all sitting in the car in the centro storico, waiting for Mario to walk down a tiny side street from his parents' house to the place where we are parked, next to the fountain outside the church.
He arrives, looking very American in his North Face windbreaker. Roy knows how to get to Marta with his eyes closed, almost, and drives there while Mario sits with him in the front seat, Sofi and I cuddled in the back to keep warm.
Just before arriving in the lakeside town of Marta, we reach MartaPesce, a large warehouse complex that is used for fishermen to bring fish in and take fish out. Inside there is a fish store, but we wait in line outside the gate before it is even open. A few minutes after we arrive, the gate slides open, and we drive around to the back.
Mario clearly knows what he is doing, and convinces a short thin man in a white coat who looks a little like a fish himself, to sell to us wholesale.
It is a good thing Mario is here. Before we are through, we spend €230 on the fish! Octopus, polipo, calamari, scoglio, cozzo (mussles), volgole (clams), and a long white fish with no spines but a central bone. The fish is more expensive today, because the weather yesterday was not good, causing there to be less fish. Supply and demand.
The scene is amazing. Sofi is left in the car while we walk inside, careful not to get in anyone's way. Styrofoam boxes and boxes and boxes of fish, from the sea and from the lake. One huge spada (swordfish), with a block of Styrofoam sticking through its long pointed snout sits on the floor near us. I love spada, but today is not the day for this fish. Mario knows just what he wants.
We drive to the fishing port for coffee, stopping at a café where many of the local fishermen come for coffee. On the way out of town, we bypass the southern end of the lake, and whitecaps and foam lap up against the seawall, the lake clearly windy. Tomorrow the price of fish will be even higher!
We take a wrong turn, and wind up in Tuscania, but it is a lovely drive, and Mario tells us that on his job supervising the installation of high-tension wires for ENEL that he often encounters archeological finds, and loves anything Etruscan. When he finds something, he takes it to Mugnano and shows it to Tiziano, who helps him to identify it. How wonderful that there is such a love of this history by young people in the area. The idea of finding objects more than 2,000 years old is beyond my comprehension.
We drive back to Viterbo, and get a list of things Mario will need for us to cook today. One of the things he needs is tomatoes. He wants ripe San Marzanos...If only I knew last night before I put a dozen or more of them up. So he will get some from his father's garden. We stop at the outdoor market and pick up white and yellow onions, presemelo, garlic and then we are ready to go home.
Roy did not have enough time to really clean the loggia, or outdoor kitchen, but it does not seem to matter. This room will become the center of activity for the day and early evening. Pepe is in his garden, and we open our side gate. For the next few hours, Pepe and Mario go back and forth from our terrace to their garden. Stefano is working on a project fixing the floor of his garden, so I make coffee for the men and they take a break, coming over to our terrace for a few minutes. It is so much fun to have them all here, to have the property sing with activity.
But first, we present Mario with his very own L'Avventura denim cook jacket, to use today and tonight. Roy puts his on, and I put mine on. We have one more, one medium one, in case we need it. Now we are all ready to go to work, under Mario's direction.
First, the fish is separated. Then Mario begins to clean the fish, a process that takes several hours. Roy cleans the mussels and clams and Mario comes inside with the two large polipo ( a fish that looks like a miniature of the sea monster in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) to be cooked for five minutes in a big pot. I try not to gag, they are so scary looking. I turn on the heat under the polipo and Mario goes back outside to clean the fish in the outdoor sink. When they are done, he takes them out and sits them on plates in the open window over the sink.
Inside, I arrange all the flowers, and prepare a simple pasta with yellow peppers for pranzo. Roy comes in, and we agree that it will be too cold to eat outside tonight. He cleans off the legs of the outdoor table, and we move it inside, after taking the sisal carpet up and moving it upstairs. We then add another table, move the couches against the far walls, and somehow are able to come up with a long table, enough to seat the fourteen people who are expected tonight.
Upstairs, I have a beautiful yellow damask tablecloth with brightly colored flowers, the same one I used for the lavender lunch. We bought vivid peach colored roses yesterday and I am able to make wonderful arrangements with them, using fig leaves and tiny unripe figs from the big tree, three big glass cylinders with big white candles. We have white linen napkins and plenty of dishes, including Roy's grandmother's and our wedding china. Somehow it all works out fine.
Roy and Mario do all the cleaning of the fish, and are almost through when I announce that pranzo is ready and serve it in a big bowl on the paisley tablecloth outside under the caki tree. It is warm this afternoon, but the warm weather will not hold, we are sure.
Mario knows that the apes will buzz if he does not finish cleaning the fish and throwing the residue broth down the drain before he eats. They are already gathering, but we cannot do anything to help him. He has a gentle and happy manner, and really enjoys this preparation. The room really works, with Roy setting up a big single burner on one side, and the camp stove three-burners facing the terrace. He continues until he is through, and then put some of the clams and mussels on to cook while we eat.
We stop for pranzo, and even relax a little and have a little red wine, before going back to work. I tell Mario I really want to help him with what he is doing, and he supervises me cleaning a little calamari. My skin fairly crawls while I slice through the center membrane, then slide my fingers under the sack and turn it over, making sure that the inky sac in the middle is not burst. I manage to do one, but it is more than I can handle, so turn the project back over to Mario and Roy, while I return inside to organize the kitchen and dining room.
CAN"T YOU TELL?
Vincenza gets her own cook jacket, then skins the onions and gets the presemelo ready. I take the skin off two fleshy yellow lemons, making sure not to take much of the white pith, and then slice the skin in narrow julienne pieces. We cut the sedano (celery) and five carrots after peeling them, but leave the onions whole.
Vincenza goes back out to help him clean some more fish, and then she and I go out to pick some fig branches for the table decorations. I have already set the long table, and she watches as I arrange loose roses, fig branches and then rosemary branches with flowers attached, all along the center of the table. She seems to enjoy participating. I do whatever I can to keep from having to go outside to clean more fish...
Vincenza goes home, and Mario comes in to ask what time it is. We are doing fine, and he sautees a portion, then gets his grandmother's huge black padella (heavy frying pan), that will be used to cook the zuppa, which will be more of a stew than a soup.
He prepares the scoglio next.
I put the sformato I made last night in the preheated oven, and it comes out wonderfully crispy on top. But we need to slow down, because Fulvia is expected on the 9:10 train. So 8PM becomes 8:20, then I take the sformato out of the oven. Then it is 8:45 and we decide to wait for Fulvia before starting. People are eating bean dip and corn chips and having a glass of wine. No one seems bothered by the delay. Old Italian folk songs are playing on the CD player, and Candida and Giuseppa are singing along with one, "Hai lavoro, hai lavoro!"
Fulvia arrives, and by this time, everyone is hungry. Pepe has brought homemade bread, that he has prepped for days, and it is very, very hearty. The zucchini and cheese sformato is just right, a small taste and the last cheese we'll have all night (reference Italian food laws...never any cheese with fish!)
Then it is time for the main course, and the copper pot is put on the stove in the kitchen, where Mario serves his pride and joy, with his father's bread. He does not seem tired at all, but Roy and I are starting to wilt. After the zuppa, Mario fillets each scoglio, and we bring them out serving by serving. The fish is not hot by this time, but it is really delicious. Sofi sits by my side for most of the night, and I admit I give her a little Scoglio. She seems a little overwhelmed by all the activity, but stays quietly near my foot.
For the next few hours, we laugh and drink and eat and tell stories. Giuseppa brought a homemade liquor made from a bush in her orto, and it is the best after dinner digestive I have ever had. We serve coffee, chocolate cake, nut cake, and a pineapple upside down cake. Each person gets a sample of each. I am happy with Giuseppa's liquor, having lost my appetite with all the prep work.
When asked about my chocolate cake, I decide to admit I am a fraud, and bring out the box of mix. All the younger women want to know where to get it, while the older women look shocked that I would do such a thing. But it tastes so good that I am forgiven.
Everyone leaves at a little after 1AM, and I give all the roses to the older women. Roy and I stay up until 3AM cleaning up, and then go to bed for a few hours. We will need to be up at 8AM, in time to go to mass. It was quite a night, and the most wonderful 23rd wedding anniversary eve we could have imagined.
Today is our 23rd wedding anniversary. Before church, Livio asks us if we will participate again in the October 8th and 9th medieval festa in Soriano. We agree, but I do not like the costume I wore last year. We will call Alberto in Orte to see if we can borrow a new costume.
Don Luca is today's priest. He is incredibly well focused, looking at each of us during the homily, and holding our gaze to let us know he really means what he is saying. When he prays, you just know he embraces what he does with every fiber of his being. We are so fortunate to have his guide us.
Don Francis is coming for a visit in December, and I hope that there will be some music concerts to take him to. He is another amazing priest, whose new job has to do with inter-faith dialog, and he works at the Bishop level, as well as with us lay people. There will be so much to talk with him about.
Lore and Alberto sit next to us at mass, and afterward, Lore asks Roy what we have been doing. I am busy speaking with Giuseppa, then Felice and Tiziano, but overhear Roy telling her about the cena last night. She is visibly annoyed that they were not invited, but then relaxes and takes it in stride. We don't always invite each other to our get-togethers, and in this case there certainly was not enough room. The reason for the dinner was to get to know the two families better, so it was not an appropriate time to have them here, either. But we do enjoy their company, and hope to spend some time with them this next week. They are not in Mugnano often, spending most of their time in Rome.
I ask Giuseppa if she is tired, and she is not. But no one else from the dinner is at mass. Tiziano does confirm that Argentina and Giuseppe are an "item" and have been for six or seven months. We are happy for them. This is very sweet news.
When we drive down the hill, we stop at Vincenza and Agusto's, because we have a dish of hers and their front window is open in the kitchen, facing the street. The smell of minestrone cooking on the stove wafts out the window, and it is rich and aromatic. I hand her the dish through the open window, declining her offer of coffee. We have a busy day ahead.
Sofi is crying out from behind the iron fence when we reach home, and we take her in our arms for a hug. Then it is time to drive on to Montefalco to meet up with Dick and Pat Ryerson, who are there for the sagra di Sagratino, the famous grapes of the area.
The weather is very cold and windy. We are not dressed for it. Dick and Pat have eaten at home, but we are hungry, so order dishes of polenta and local wine under a big circus-like tent, while we wait for the sagra to open. The exhibition will not begin until 4PM, and we are clearly frozen, so decide to leave and meet up with Dick and Pat another time.
On our way down the hill, we meet the start of the parade of floats representing the local winemakers and their farms. Everyone is dressed in costume, and the floats are really beautiful, led by tractors, or in some cases, big farm animals. We are not able to leave because there are so many floats getting ready to go up the hill, so we watch for a while. We are sure that Pat and Dick will have a wonderful time. Perhaps next year we will dress warmer...
I love the tessuti (cloth) in Montefalco, and we are able to look some over in a shop located just before leaving the centro storico. It is typical Umbrian cloth, with a wonderful weave. But then I have always been in love with fabrics.
We drive home via the town of Trevi and decide to stop there for a coffee to warm up. What a surprise! There is an antiquariato in Trevi, held on this 3rd Sunday of month. We find two doorknobs for €5 to use inside our front doors and a hat rack.
Then it is time to go home and climb into bed. It is as though we are jet-lagged, we are so tired from this weekend's lack of sleep.
We are still really tired, and sleep in. Judith calls to tell us that Suzanne's concert this Friday night is becoming a big show, with posters being put up all over town, and two "warmup acts" before her." Bravo, Suzanne!
Roy loved the zuppa de pesce from Saturday night, and we have it for pranzo. I eat the broth, the mussels and the clams, and the flaky white fish, but the calamari and polipo and octopus are too weird for me. We don't keep the rest, but it was good while it lasted.
We heard from Lore and Alberto that there is much to see in Vulci, an archeological site on the border of Lazio and Tuscany nearer the coast. We drive there, but are too tired for the walk. The exhibition will be extended until the end of the year, so we will be back soon. Perhaps we will bring Karina, so she can add this to her touring "bag of tricks."
From there, we drive to Pittigliano to pick up monogrammed ceramics we have ordered for holiday gifts. We take a different route back home, but are clearly too tired to really enjoy much, so make it an early evening.
This is a glorious cool morning, with haze in the valley, bright sun overhead. We drive to Amelia for my session with Alice and yes, my shoulder still is in pain. Today, she gives me a job to do...Tonight I am to put a whole box of sale marino grande on the stove to heat, then put it in a cloth bag, covered by a pillowslip, and then hang it over my right shoulder. Roy and Sofi pick me up after seeing posters hung up over town, announcing Friday's concert for Suzanne that she is a "world famous grammy nominated pianist". Bravo, Suzanne. The town is abuzz.
The mid day is beautiful and warm, and I am able to walk out in shirtsleeves and read, and then do some lavender clipping. A woman, and then a man, call down to me, in English! They are visiting Pasquale and his wife. Evidently the women met during WWII. It is strange to see a person speaking in English above us. I wish them a good vacation and walk to the steps overlooking San Rocco with my book, a little unnerved that the sound of English breaks the tranquility of the village. They seem like nice people, who enjoy the view but want a little more excitement in their vacation. I wish them well.
Tonight's moon is full, and Sofi bounds along the street after 9PM when we take our bundle of garbage and wicker basket of recycled bottles. No one is about, but the moon sits low in the sky, like the yolk in an Ovita egg.
Lore calls to invite us for cena on Sunday, and we tell her about Friday's concert. She is inviting their architect friend, who really likes to talk. "Have some questions ready, " she counsels, and Roy responds, "We only have to have one..." I was in Boston last winter for a meeting with my atty. when their architect friend, Maurizio, came for dinner with Roy. Roy said that once he was given the floor, Maurizio talked on and on and on. I'm sure we'll have fun anyway.
We make another double recipe of tomato jam, because the recipe we have used too much cumin, and it overpowered the jam, which is more of a chutney. So we are not using cumin at all this time, hoping it will equalize out. Before we are through, we have a quadruple recipe, and fill six or seven smallish jars. We also have a bowl of it left, and will make a roast chicken with this sauce tomorrow to try it out. We combined Lindsey's recipe with one from the website www. tomatojam.com. The site is an interesting one, worth checking if you like tomatoes.
We walk up to the village because today is Wednesday, and Dottoressa has her hour in the little agraria building across from Ernesta's tabacchi this morning. I arrive late, after bounding up the hill around Terzo, who is struggling on crutches after falling out of a tree. We know he is going to see Dottoressa, too.
Roy and Sofi walk around the square while I wait, and check out the big cement truck that is going to provide the underlayment for the mattone on the first street completed in the big Mugnano centro storico project. The mattone is to be herringbone, or what is referred to as spina di pesce, or spine of the fish. That design is to be an expensive paving job, but bravo to sindaco Stefano Bonori if he managed this. Now if only he can get the wall fixed on the way into the village below our property. He tells us that the money for that comes from another source. We don't know whether to believe him anymore.
Once inside, I see Rosita waiting and sit next to her after giving her a greeting. Ennio and Ada are both inside with Dottoressa, as they are each Wednesday, and they seem to take up anywhere from twenty minutes to one half hour each time. Rosita rolls her eyes when I ask if they are inside. Terzo arrives, and sits across from us. I decide to let him go before me. I want to lighten up the atmosphere, and ask them both if perhaps Ennio and Ada are inside playing Briscola with Dottoressa. They laugh, but clearly are miffed with them both.
When it is my turn, I meet two ragazzi, students from Iran in her office who are going to medical school. One is the niece of Dottoressa's boyfriend. I am amazed that they do not know much Italian and will have to learn it quickly to be able to attend classes. In the meantime, they are shadowing Dottoressa, who seems to enjoy her mentoring role.
I get a prescription for a mammography and a pap smear, and then Roy takes me to Attigliano to make an appointment with the hospital in Terni. Dottoressa and I agree that the Viterbo hospital is terrible. I did not know that I could go to a hospital in another province unless it was for a specialty, but the man at the commune is kind to me, and sets up the appointments for next month.
But my date of birth and place of birth are incorrect, as is the spelling of my maiden name. We don't notice this till later, so will return to see if something is wrong in the computer. When I finally am able to apply for citizenship, I want to make sure that all my records are accurate. The red tape in this country is famous for its complexity, and I want everything that I can control to be correct. We'll try again on Monday.
On the way back down the hill after seeing Dottoressa, we come upon Marie and Luigina. Luigina has a little plastic bag in her hand, and they are walking up together to buy meat for pranzo from the truck parked in the square. I comment on Marie's hair, which is usually jet-black but today is short and blonde tinged with grey.
I tell her that I like it and she and Luigina sit on the short wall facing me while Marie tells me she is allergic to the black dye. When she had her hair done last time, her adult son cried out when he saw her, "What did you do to your hair?" I told them the story about the time I had my hair dyed red, and when coming out of the salon, Roy literally cried little tears and said, "What have you done to your hair? My mother had red hair!" They laughed, and I showed them my dark roots, telling them that tomorrow I will have my hair colored in Sipicciano. All the while, Roy and Sofi wait for me patiently further down on the little wall.
These little interchanges are very important to me, and they seem to be to the women in the village, too. We really want to belong here, and, this little "confession" helps me to feel just a little more connected. Yesterday, while speaking with Dottoressa and the two students, we spoke about how important it is for me, and for them, to have little discussions with people to reinforce what we have learned in Italian.
When we met with Pat and Dick Ryerson on Sunday, I learned that a fourth camper has had a bout with breast cancer. So if any campers are reading, be sure to keep in touch with those campers you have not seen lately. Email us if you want to know specifics. All four are real troupers, and you know who you are. We are really proud of you, and send our loving wishes for your continued great health.
"Un cyclone in casa" means, "bringing down the house"! Roy listens to Queen Latifa on David Letterman tonight while I take a chocolate torta out of the oven. On occasion, I can handle watching the show, which appears every night. A commercial for Jay Leno, whose show also appears on the same channel, comes on during a commercial break, or "publicita" which seems to appear like a proud announcement. Perhaps the channel is so excited that it is able to get a paid commercial that it wants to celebrate...
Earlier, I pick figs from the big tree, and fix them for our little cena, sliced in half with a slice of prosciutto, and eaten with a glass of Felice's red wine. Many figs have fallen (caduti), but many are left. I am swarmed by apes (bees) while I reach a plateful from the tree. I step gingerly around the ripe ones that have already fallen. Below me, the lovely Madonna and child look forward, ignoring the dropped figs that surround them. Felice's wine is, well, felice. It is a happy wine, young and drinkable, with tiny specs of grapes coating the glass. Delicious.
We finally hear from Karina, and expect her to come up from Rome to stay with us for a few days in a week or so. That will be fun. Roy gets a call from Suzanne and she is having a great time with her Backroads bicycle pals. On Friday morning we will meet up with them at La Badia, just south of Orvieto, and will see Cindy Churchill and her husband, then take them up to the town to have coffee. We'll probably then take Suzanne and her girlfriend back to Amelia, to prepare for Suzanne's concert Friday night.
I have not seen Cindy since graduating from Thayer Academy in the mid 60's. But Ellen Wolfe and Suzanne and I have seen each other over the years, and both Ellen and Suzanne have been house guests here. Ellen tells me that Michelle Dreyfus is a successful legislator in Georgia. David Levin is my brother's attorney, although I have not seen him since high school, either. I suppose it is a small world. Those were not my favorite years, but it will be good to see Cindy again. I have not kept up with other students in our class, nor do I have any interest in attending any reunions. But a visit now and then from a classmate is fun.
Today, the whole house smells of minestrone. Little soup. We have not built our first fire in the fireplace yet, but otherwise the inside of the house is infused with good winter smells. Earlier this afternoon, we precook little white beans, sauté prosciutto, onions, garlic, carrots, celery, potato, swiss chard, presemelo...all the good stuff, in our big copper pot. The zuppa will cook gently tonight and tomorrow morning, and then we will add tiny pasta shells. We are ready for the cold, crisp fall and winter months ahead.
Downstairs, Sofi jumps up on Roy and he says, "I am so sorry we are not taking Sofi this trip. Terence would love her." She bounds up and down on him as he folds his arms and she finds a way to get her nose up under them. I have never seen him laugh out loud with a dog before, but this is a one in a million dog. She is kind and gentle with me, and bounds playfully with Roy. I can put my finger or my hand in her mouth and she will just hold it, making sure she does not hold too tight, all the while flapping her long coda (tail).
She and I play with the ball. She holds it in her mouth, and occasionally lets it roll down the kitchen floor toward me. I stop it with my shoe and guide it back to her. Sometimes she bats it back and forth between her front paws.
Nemo never seemed happy here. Sofi loves being with us, loves playing by herself with her toys and balls and chasing lizards. In all our days together we have never had such a loving and playful dog. With loving wishes in heaven to Huntley and the two Brinkleys, we are in heaven on earth with this little treasure.
I love the sound the little tractors make when they lumber up the hill toward the village. Today I am sitting in front of our largest olive tree, reading Angels and Demons, when the silence of the valley is broken by either Giovanni's or Gino's macchina. It interrupts me, and I look up, not focusing on anything special, just taking in the sounds and the smells around me.
This morning's thick fog has broken, and it is warm enough that I take off my sweatshirt. Earlier, when Roy and Sofi and I drove to Sipicciano so that Roy and I could get our haircuts, the weather told a different story. The humidity in Danieli's salon was so thick that he used a hand held hair dryer to clear the electrical line so that he could play his CD player.
At home, a young woman comes to the front gate to get Roy's signature. She is a temporary mail carrier, and we have another ticket, this time for driving too fast on the road to Fermo last month. The fine is enormous, €144. I ask Roy if it is enough that he will want to drive less, and he lowers his head and quietly agrees.
For pranzo, I heat the chicken dish that I prepared yesterday with our spicy tomato salsa, and also come up with a sautéed fennel and raisin and fig and tomato side dish to go with it. Alice told me of a dish made with fennel and raisins, and I remember some of her recipe, but leave out the cumin, thinking that the cumin in the chicken dish will be enough for us... The result is very good, although I should add ginger to it. I will try it again before deciding if it should go on the site.
Upstairs, the front window is open, and the gauzy curtains billow out gently into the room while I write. Later, I will go back out to the lavender garden and clip more lavender into rounds, and also reclip the santolina. Everything gets a haircut today.
Sofi lies on the chair behind me, ever present. This morning, she wanted to play by my feet while Daniele worked on my hair. Luckily she did not see the snake in a terrarium just inside the front door. Daniele moved it from the back room. He does such a great job on my hair that I cannot think of going anywhere else, but that snake is another matter. I make sure that I do not even look at it. What a creepy thing to have inside a salon.
That reminds me. Marielisa emailed us this week, asking us if we'd help her to sell a portion of her land with two buildings and a horse paddock on it, not too far from the Fimucino airport. We'll call to make an appointment with Irina for Sofi, while Marielisa and we meet to learn more about what she wants to sell. We know that she used to have horses on her property, but no longer does. She wants friendly people to buy the land...people who love dogs and are good neighbors. When we find out the details and take some pictures, we'll post that on the site soon.