There is a mass this morning, and it is a simple mass with only the regular folk in attendance. On our way down the hill, Leondina stands in her doorway, and takes my hand insisting that we come in for coffee. A few minutes later, Ivo walks up the stairs. He and Nadia and Andrea probably sleep downstairs in the cantina.
The family arrived yesterday from Parma, and he talks with us about the problems he is having with the local workers. We all laugh about Anselmo, the woodworker, who does excellent work but is unreliable. He also tells us about a painter who ignored his instructions and painted several rooms in a bright orange-red instead of a pale apricot. These things happen to Italians, too, especially if they are not on hand to supervise.
We ask him to come by today or tomorrow, and we also hope to see inside his house, which is right on the square in the centro storico and still needs work before he can move into it. We believe it was given to him by an elder relative, and remember the oldest woman in the village sitting there, bent over, on her little balcony. She died at around age 96 about two years ago.
Tia is sick, so she and Monique will not come today. We postpone the visit to Chia's living presepio until tomorrow. In the meantime, I make more homemade applesauce and we spend time fiddling around outside in the garden. We are falling in love with the simple plot of land that we purchased a few years ago between the lavender garden and San Rocco. We love to walk out there and it is Sofi's favorite place to romp and play. Roy wants another bench, this one to be placed between the apple tree and the soon to be planted olive tree. We'll see what kind of benches are available in the Spring.
We bought a roast chicken yesterday, and I heat it with a glaze of our piccante pomodori jam. I could not believe how good it tasted, and now Roy agrees that we will plant as many tomatoes as we can find room for this year in the raised garden above the lavender. We have given out a lot of the jam, and only have two or three jars left. Next year, we will make a lot more.
There is another mass this morning, but this is the regular Sunday mass. Roy realizes that there are a number of responses to each mass that don't change from week to week, and later puts all of them on a little sheet of paper for us to take to mass. But everything is so familiar, that I think we can memorize them fairly easily. Yes, we are in the groove, the flow of it all, even if grasping the language is still difficult.
On the walk home, we see Anselmo driving up into the centro storico, and wave. His car is one of those ancient Renaults, a strange bubbly design. When we reach Italo's house and see Ivo outside, we tell him Anselmo has arrived. We suppose it is for a meeting with Ivo at his house. Ivo shrugs his shoulders and starts his walk up the hill.
Just before we reach our gate, Lore and Alberto drive up the hill. They will be here for a week, overseeing Stefano and Luca and Enzo Rosati's work in their new house. Lore gets out of the car and wishes us happy anniversary with kisses on both cheeks and a big hug. Was it only two years ago today that we were married in the Catholic Church at Scarzuola with Lore and Alberto as witnesses? It seems so long ago.
Tiziano calls to say that the cena with his family is off for now, because his grandfather, Tito, is very sick. Tito is a very sweet man and we are worried about him. He loves Sofi and just the sight of her makes him laugh. The idea of interviews with the oldest people of the village takes on an added importance. We will check in with Tiziano tomorrow.
Tia is feeling better, so she and Monique arrive at our house around 4PM. Sofi stays at the house, but the rest of us pile into Tia's powerful station-wagon and Roy drives us to Chia. The sky is still light, but in another hour we will be surrounded by twinkly lights and dark blue all around us. Chia stands on a tall tufa cliff facing our house, on the other side of the valley.
Roy's parking karma allows us to find a great parking spot, and we walk with a growing number of families with young children, all in anticipation of this annual event. Tia's dogs guard the car and sleep huddled under a big blanket. The living presepio, or manger, takes place on Christmas Night, the following night, New Year's Day, the following day and finally, Epifany. The local townspeople dress in authentic costumes, bringing our imaginations to life with their re-enactment of a time more than 2,000 years ago.
Historically in this part of Italy, the period between 4th century BC and the 2nd century AD is a very important era. Evidence of the Etruscans are carefully studied, even in our village, and discoveries of their way of life, whether in story or in actual artifact found in the countryside, is looked at with great interest. So we can transport ourselves quite easily to the time when the Romans overtook the Etruscans, taking on positive aspects of their civilization and destroying the rest. At this point in time, the Romans had conquered the Etruscans, and the Roman grasp of civilization reached all the way to the Holy Land. So, in context, seeing Roman Soldiers on this night is a natural sight.
We have to wait a half hour or so before we are allowed past the Roman soldiers, but with everyone huddled together the air is festive, the area sheltered. The queue is Italian-style. That means that most of the people ignore the fact that others arrived before them, turning one straight line into a mass of people, each one wiggling to find a way forward between others who are not as aggressive. This all takes place in good spirit, so it only takes a look in the eye, if they will allow their eyes to meet yours, to get them to stop pushing or wrangling.
At the head of the queue, we are greeted by Roman soldiers, dressed in metal headdresses, red capes and traditional Roman soldier uniforms, designed "BA" or "Before Armani". Way before. They are gruff and scary, pushing each other about to show us they are to be taken seriously. These men do fulfill a practical role: only a certain number of people are let in at a time.
This is good. It allows us to take our time walking down the steep paths along the cliffs, enjoying the scenes inside the little tufa caves as we walk. As protection, crude castagno wooden fences have been constructed to keep us from falling off the side. And smudge-pots light our way all the way down and across the event.
Roy and Tia lead the way, with Monique and I following, arm and arm until the paths are too narrow to navigate in any way other than single-file. Woman sewing in one cave, embroidering in another, men hammering away at iron, woodworking, capture our attention until we look around us to see that the sky is dark and we are surrounded by firelight and the sounds of children singing.
At one stand, a man stirs a big old copper cauldron with a branch of a tree, and then lifts out fresh ricotta, which is sold by a costumed woman to his left. We see animals in a tiny park-like setting with women and children tending the animals. One man is carving something in wood while sitting on a stump, his little dog standing upright on his shoulders, clearly enjoying his role.
Just ahead is a little hamlet, fashioned with bamboo screens hiding the cooking, and sheets of sweet or salty paper-thin pizza bianca sold behind a booth. At an adjoining booth, a man and women sell tiny cups of white wine. Later on, we are given a tiny cup of hot mulled red wine.
Later on the walk a booth sells a deliciously tasty fried nugget of ricotta and raisin and sugar. And then we are at the manger. We must climb up a little bank to get a good view. Here we see a group of people and animals set up so that all except the Christ Child are real. For obvious reasons, a ceramic statue takes the place of the Baby.
We are just about finished, and when we leave we are directed up a path that leads back to the area below the start of the walk. There are still people arriving, but we are cold now, exhilarated by the uphill climb to the car. We are ready for a hot meal, and Tia's dogs are very happy to see her.
At home, Roy leads the way and lets Sofi out. She is so excited to see her friends Gioia and Charlie, and they all scamper about, running in and out, with Gioia taking Sofi's toys and Sofi having a pull-of-war with her stuffed giraffe toy. Gioia runs out of the room and before we know it she's returned with the toy Sofi sleeps with. Sofi takes it all in stride, but is not about to give up her little toy that she sleeps with, so lays on top of it, guarding it like a hen sitting on her eggs.
We heat up the sausage and grapes and bread, make a salad and sit around drinking wine and getting warm before the fire. All the while, out of one eye, Tia watches Gioia. The rest of us mostly laugh at the little dog's antics. And then all the dogs are tired, with Gioia sitting on Tia's lap with her gangly legs stretched out and her little belly full.
When it is time to go, we turn around to see a relieved Sofi, laying on the couch in the kitchen surrounded by her toys. She is exhausted, and spends the rest of the evening sleeping fitfully between us while we watch TV.
We hear that our Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was walking in Piazza Navona in Rome the other day, and someone bashed him in the head with their tripod. He is not the most popular guy, and unless you are in his close coterie of friends, he'll not have an interest in helping you financially. His cronies do very well. Everyone else gets to complain.
Good thing the fellow did not damage his camera. At any rate, Silvio is fine, with a bandaged neck but otherwise his Frank Sinatra-style hair transplant is working and the top of his head looks like a new Chia Pet. The owner of the tripod spent some hours in jail, but was set free pending a trial. How amazing that he was set free. We cannot imagine this happening in any other country in the world, despite our sympathy with the poor fellow. When Lore tells us all about it she giggles and waves her hand, telling us she wished the man would have done him in. Tho we don't like him at all, we certainly don't wish him ill will. The Italians are a bit more demonstrative, I'm afraid...
Late in the afternoon we drive up to the castello in Giove, to visit Kees and Catherine. To get to their house in the Borgo, we drive onto the castle grounds and park against a back wall. We walk uphill and then down the cobbled pathways, greeted by sweetly framed doorways in ferro and wood and look up to see tiny clotheslines hanging over our heads.
Drying laundry in Italy is poetry in motion. The other day in Pontormo a little trattoria hung their aprons out to dry. The wind blew them back and forth as though they were rocking hula-hoops, the strings wildly shaking, the aprons flapping back and forth. I wanted to take a photograph, but instead stood for a few moments just taking in the joy of it all.
Kees and Catherine have worked wonders with their house, built on several levels and sandwiched in between neighbors on both sides. Kees taught himself to be his own muratore for most of the work, reclaiming stones found deep within the thick walls, and uncovering a hidden fireplace under layers of stucco. The apartment is big, and has a lovely southern exposure. From the kitchen window, we can even see Mt. Sorate in the distance.
When we ask them what news they hear about Mugnano, Catherine tells us that the neighbors talked about our visitors from the U S and expected Catherine to know all about them. The world is not THAT small.
I suggest to Roy that we redo all our olives. We tasted them when Tia and Monique were here last night, and they are too salty. So I want to rinse them off and do a new marinade with much less salt. Otherwise, they have cured well enough that we can eat them even now. But I am too tired today to tackle this project, and so will leave it for domani, or even dopo domani.
"The light is so much better in Italy," Monique told me two nights ago. She lives mainly in Paris, but owns homes in New York and I think Florida as well. We don' t know why it seems better. But there is something different about the light here, as well as the texture of the sky. Is it diffused, as if seen through one of those toy kaleidoscopes that turn and reflect colors and shapes wound round and round, creating levels and levels of the same colors and shapes?
Perhaps our imagination is heightened here by the natural stone and the dark green cypress and the blue sky. The sky here, with its wispy cotton candy stretched clouds, reminds me of religious paintings in Catholic churches of my childhood, especially at St. Agatha's, where I walked with Pamie DiRico and Brenda Flavin on Saturdays so that the priests could "hear" their confessions.
On one particular Saturday, I sat in a pew waiting for them to come out. A priest beckoned me with a "Vieni qui" movement of his hand. Frightened that God would strike me dead if I lied, I shouted out, "I'm sorry, Father, I'm not a Catholic!" I remember the statues and the colors inside the church, and I loved sitting there quietly on Saturday afternoons.
Today the sky is a watery blue, with smog on the horizon way off toward Rieti, where snow covers the craggy mountaintops. When we have a heavy cold rain, the snow stretches all across the mountain range, and we can see a wide expanse of it from our house. I think they are the lower Appennines.
Roy wants us to bake a ciabatta, an especially crusty loaf of salted white bread, and I unfold the top of the package of flour, understanding some of the recipe, while Roy putters outside. I hate following recipes accurately, believing that some of the chef must be added to each dish, so ignore the time it is to bake and the second mixing of the flour, and even the temperature, thinking it must be baked at a higher temperature than the paper bag suggests. This time, we won't use the bread machine.
I knead the dough with my hands, adding some extra flour, but want to try it my way first, and scatter a handful of cornmeal over the top of our baking stone and slide the wet dough out of the bowl onto it's flat surface and wait for it to rise. I let it rise twice the time it suggests, and brush some of Diego's fine olive oil on the top. I place the stone on a rack in the oven but immediately forget the time.
When the top looks golden through the window of the door, and the minestrone is hot, I slide out the baking rack and rap the round loaf with my right fist. It does not have a hollow sound, but looks so good that I keep it out anyway. Roy tells me to wait until it cools a little, but I have never been very good at this and take a wooden spatula in my hand to pry it up ever so gently all around. I am the person who "defrosts" a freezer with a knife, feeling like a nomad or an Antarctic explorer with each chunk I pull out with my hand, instead of waiting for it to melt on its own.
One time I defrosted the freezer in the first little apartment I rented in San Francisco and severed the gas line. Whoooee. I ran down the hall to my landlord, Mr. Chu, whose wife came running and somehow I got a new refrigerator out of it all. Since then, I am hesitant to get out a knife. And the self-defrosting models have a special attraction for me.
Roy slices a few pieces off the ends and we devour it with homemade minestrone that has been sitting in the freezer since October. The bread needs to cook a little more and next time we'll add some salt. Otherwise, it is a big hit. So now we'll have to buy up all the ciabatta flour we can from LIDL, because they threaten to stop selling it as soon as their bread machines have sold out.
Well, Roy found the perfect greenhouse, or serra, in a Unipiu catalogue. It is exactly what I want for my "office", but is too expensive, and one panel too long. So we make some measurements and drive there to see if we can buy a few of the components and have Virgilio make it for us.
No, they don't make a smaller one. We would have to buy it and modify it. And no, they don't sell the roof panels or the side panels separately, either. So we come home to make some more measurements. I want it to be constructed of ferro (iron) with panels on two sides and on the top, but with a ferro frame. Roy thinks we should have a little structure that just sits inside the area we have to work with, for insulation purposes.
I disagree, wanting only two sides with a paneled roof and door. The back tufa wall with a window exists and is lovely. We'll take the photo to Virgilio and see where we can have the panels cut for the windows and roof. Perhaps he will tell us where to find them, and we're sure the price will be less than half of what we'd pay at Unopiu.
I'm getting close to start making the scarecrows, and Roy thinks we have enough hay. We also discuss what's wrong with the plants outside our side fence, and think we need two more osmanthus and something to go on each side of the stairs. Roy wants free-standing box, tall in the back and short in the front. I am not sure, but we love being out in that part of the land and will surely add a bench facing past Tiziano's house to the deep green valley where the sheep love to graze. We also consider a cypress on either side of the top step, but need more time to research the options.
Lore comes by for a chat, telling us that her construction is moving rapidly along. She tells us about a man from Bomarzo who will apply the intonaco, or plaster to the walls. I suppose he's like a drywall expert in the U S. Perhaps that's what we need to give our walls some more depth before we do any internal painting. We really need to paint the entry area and stairway going upstairs, and I'd like to do that in the next year or so. But I'd like the finish to be rough and have a look of an old palazzo. What would I do without my dreams?
Roy drives down the Mugnano hill on the shiny black asphalt until we see frost on the dark road, with not a glint of light in sight. He slows down, and the road fairly twinkles as we turn, the morning sunlight reflecting off frost covering the road and most of the trees. We don't know how cold it is, but we can see frost on all the fields surrounding the hill on which the ancient village sits like a hen warming its eggs.
While on the Superstrada to Viterbo, we see the vigili urbani from Vitorchiano huddled in their police car, keeping warm while the camera from the speed trap set just in front of them clicks off photos of approaching speeding drivers. Ahead of us, we see two cars speeding toward them, and Roy flashes the headlights at them. In his rearview mirror he sees their brake lights quickly light up, and knows that he's saved two different people fines of €77 each.
Italians are funny. They hate the laws, and even help strangers to break them. Or should I say, finesse their way around them. This is a good example.
Later in the afternoon we hear whistling at the gate. It is Felice, and Sofi starts her low moaning and then quick chirping, rushing from her little wicker bed to the top of the stairs, turning her head to face me as if to say, "Let's GO!" She looks up at me and I tell her, "Via! Via!" Unless I stand at the top of the stairs she'll wait for me.
Outside, Felice moves up the stairs as though he has a great weight on his shoulders. He has to hold his thighs with each step to give him the courage to take one more. And then he is on the terrace and Roy and Sofi are there to greet him.
A few minutes later I walk out to greet him and to see what's going on. We take a walk around. First he looks at his lemon tree, swaddled in a gauzy white cloth. I don't' like the look of the yellow tips on many of the leaves and ask him. "Fa niente." It is nothing. He sees the big green lemons and is very pleased.
We want to know if we have to paint the trees to protect them from spring bugs, and he tells Roy something about getting calcio from Stefano, the muratore or even white paint. I'm not sure I like that idea, and we'll do some more research. How much calcio? How do we apply it? We know that "marble mud", the dust from marble yards, is good for figs, but perhaps its composition is somewhat like plain calcio.
Felice and Roy and Sofi and I walk out to the far yard and talk about the big ripa of tufa above us. I'd like to see it all cleared. The stone is very beautiful. Felice thinks it's a good idea, and encourages Roy to have Mario cut down all the trees growing out of the huge tufa wall, Eventually, they will pull the wall away from the hill. So in the next month we'll have Mario come with his motosega and cut away. I agree to leave all the green leaves and dark berries, but the rest will be hacked away.
The insegnante and his favorite pupil take a walk around the big fig tree, like sizing up their prey, and Roy starts to clip, while Felice takes a stick and points to each offending branch. Off they go. We walk off the upper orto, and agree on planting three short rows of pomodori. That's all.
Down below, where the pomodori grew this year, we'll have potatoes and zucchini. Roy tells Felice, "Solo fiori". He does not care much for zucchini, but loves the flowers prepared and stuffed. It is too late to plant fava beans. I am really sad about that. I did not know that fava beans are planted in October. That means that the earth will not be prepared well for tomatoes the following year. In February we'll plant potatoes, which will be harvested in June, before it gets too hot. We still have lots of potatoes from this year sitting in the cave that we have not cooked.
Felice turns around to look out at the lavender garden when I step past the little carved iron gate and close it low behind me. He tells me that he loves this garden, and it is beautiful. The light in his old eyes tells me that he really means it.
Roy opens the bottom gate for Felice to leave, and there are neighbors sitting on the little stone benches we set up at the end of the path: Franca and Giuliola are sitting and Andrea is playing with the gravel, throwing the stones against the wall. Roy calls up to me to tell me that people are sitting on the benches, and Sofi and I walk down the path to greet them. We are delighted.
We hoped that our neighbors would feel comfortable sitting there, and now wonder if we need a third little stone bench to match the other two. The sun continues to shine on the path, and although it is cold in the shade, it is warm in the sun. Down the street, Augusta and Luciana arrive for their daily walk, and come over to join us. Luciana sits, and Franca and Andrea take a little walk on the path. Livio arrives, and before we know it they are saying "C'e veddiamo and "A domani." A domani? I did not remember that tomorrow is Epifania.
Tomorrow Roy will join his Confraternity buddies for the blessing of the reliquaries in the evening. A regular mass will be said in the morning. I love this evening service. The reliquaries are supposed to be authentic remains of actual saints, tiny pieces of bone encased within glass and mounted in ornate vessels. Mugnano has many of them.
Roy speaks with Tiziano and Tito is still very ill. He is staying at their house and waiting for the results of his hospital tests. We will say a prayer for him tomorrow in church and light a candle.
Now it's time to start a big pot of minestrone for the cold days ahead. I put on my worn apron and tie it at the back. I am ready. Before I am through, the tall copper pot my mother gave us the first year we were married is almost full. After it simmers for a while and cools down, Roy takes it out to sit on the sink in the loggia until tomorrow.
Today is a major holiday in Italia, Epifany, signified by pretend witches bringing sweets to young children, supposedly by sliding down their chimneys. Yesterday, Franca told us that Andrea thinks that Babbo is much more important than the Epifania. She agreed that this was Ester's last year of joining the celebration. But little Andrea has many more years to look forward to Babbo's greeting on Christmas Eve.
The Epifany today also signifies the arrival of the three wise men bringing gifts to the Christ Child. So we have a mass this morning. A disabled child who is related to Carla's family is in the church, along with his relatives. This mass is in honor of Carla's family. There are two women who look similar to Carla, and the child is delightful, remembering the mass and singing the Alleluia more joyously than any of us.
On the door of the little church is a poster, telling us that there will be special collections for the terribile maremoto in Southeast Asia. "It is impossible to remain indifferent", the poster tells us, and after the mass Giuliola passes out donation envelopes for us to return tonight at the service. We have been wondering where we could best donate, and this is an excellent way. We tuck our money into the envelope and will turn it in tonight.
The stories on the television continue nonstop, and they are heartbreaking. The politicians jockey for position on the T V news, and the U S has given up its stewardship along with Japan and Australia and India to the United Nations, which is as it should be. So how will the mechanics of it all work? Will most of the money be eaten up in red tape? Strangely, Doctors Without Borders is turning donations away. They don't seem to have the infrastructure in place to handle their enormous following.
What is the long-term plan to revive this part of the world? And while we are at it, why don't we do something about the children in Africa? Their chance of survival to adulthood is abysmal. Is theirs a news story that gets buried because Africa is a third world continent? Should we forget about them? Where should the emphasis lie? And what happens after the initial news stories die down? We hear that although many millions of dollars are pledged in these emergencies, only part of the pledges turn into real money. It appears to be grandstanding of the grimmest kind.
I light a candle for Tito before the mass, and ask Rosita and Tiziano how he is doing. Not well: he spends all day in bed. So we ask if we can stop to see him, and agree that we will see him at around noon.
We walk home in a thick fog and Roy prints out a photo of Sofi, making a get-well card for Tito from her. Tito loves Sofi. She makes him laugh just looking at her. The Italians don't say, "get well". They say "Stay in good health" or "Stai bene". Roy wants to have Sofi "sign" the card, so he mixes a little coffee powder with water and dips her front paw in it, placing the paw below the message for an imprint then dries the mess with a hair dryer. I sign her name and we leave Sofi to guard the house while we drop off the card and a lavender sachet to this sweet man.
Tito does not look well. He sleeps in a little bed in the corner of Enzo and Rosita's bedroom, all covered up and wearing a dark blue wool cap. Tiziano wakes him and he thanks us for coming. When Tiziano shows him Sofi's card he tries to smile and thanks us again. Tito is having trouble with his brain. We don't know exactly what is wrong, but he appears disoriented. He turned 92 on December 15th.
While seated in the kitchen, Tiziano agrees that we'll get together this year to write a history for the people of Mugnano. To do this we'll interviewing old as well as younger people who have stories to tell and scan photographs. He suggests we get Silvana involved. She has many photos of Mugnano events from past years and we think would enjoy the project. It will also help our Italian, we hope.
Roy wants to grill part of our pranzo in the fireplace, and starts a fire to get the coals red hot and then grey. Yesterday we picked up a corner grate for the fireplace, and also a couple of veal chops, so he'll sear them the way they do at Roscio and I'll make swiss chard, or bietole and a salad with oranges and rugghetta and fennel thinly sliced with the vegetable peeler so that it is almost translucent. Not every meal is an "Italian" meal...
When we come home, I open the side gates, and Sofi and I walk around the property. I love it out beyond the lavender field and the side gate, and continue to formulate a few additions to the landscape. There is always something to do.
It is very cold by the time we leave for the evening church service at 6:15. We drive up, and Elena is at the door when we arrive. Roy and Valerio walk down the aisle to the sacristy to change, and Elena and I decide to sit together. We sit in the second row. I am nervous, but will just follow her lead.
The reliquaries are set up on the altar and some of them are exquisite. The statue of San Liberato the Martyr is placed front and center. His skin is black, and his vestments are gold. The bust is beautiful, but I am confused. The statue that is taken around on his Saint's Day has white skin. Elena does not know why, and Giuliola tells us that he was a black man, from Africa. But when I ask her why the second statue that we see every time we are in church is white skinned, she makes up some explanation that does not sit right with me. I'll have to find out why.
The service is very moving. Don Luca sits in an elaborate red chair facing the altar, and Vincenzo does the honors, chanting the names of each saint as the reliquary is held up by Enzo Gasperoni. Some of the reliquaries have remains of more than one saint. I have a little notebook and start to write down the names but there are so many I give up. Roy tells me later that Don Luca had detailed instructions for each man to carry out. Federico's father said to Roy, "You and I will just sit on either side of Don Luca" and Roy was relieved.
At the end of the service, when all the other reliquaries are put back in the sacristy, the bust of San Liberato is held by Don Luca, and each person in the church comes up to kiss it. There are at least fifty people in the church. Roy is to my right as I face San Liberato, standing at Don Luca's side, and I am so moved that a tear slides down my cheek.
When Roy returns after the mass, with his costume put away, we pass Rosita and I remember to thank her for their Christmas gifts. She tells me that Tito is "molto contenta". It really pleased him that we stopped by and gave him the card from Sofi. He will continue in our prayers.
Little Sofi shakes in my arms at the vet this afternoon, but just looks the other way when she is pushed and prodded and shot full of medicine on her 6-month visit. But when the vet clips her nails, she remains stoic; shaking but looking straight ahead as if to say, "Please just get this over with. If I don't move a muscle maybe they'll stop." Sofi has long black nails on her paws, and it is impossible for us to clip them. For the winter, she keeps her pelo duro fur coat, and only gets a short clip in the warm months. We are so proud of her. Back at home she is very quiet and tired. The medicine and the visit itself probably wore her out.
Thanks to the magic of the internet, I spend some time tonight researching bread recipes and copying some for us as well as for Tia. We don't have all the flours we'd like to have, so we are trying to figure out how to make the best bread we can using local ingredients. We've ordered a 1985 Italian baking book by Carol Field, so perhaps that will help us decipher some of the types of flour and methods to use.
While I am trying to get an internet connection, the lines are somehow crossed and it sounds as though Rosanna Rosannadanna is trying to climb right out of the computer. Two women gab away; their voices rise one after another in ascending decibels as the fragile connection squeaks out it's last gasp and then the connection dies with a snap. We have such a feeble internet connection here that on foggy and wet days such as this, it is a real task to actually make any connection at all.
Sofi lies around all day, looking at me with a "what have you done to me" expression. The rabies injection is really bothering her. But she will not leave my side, no matter what room I am in.
As much as I want to redo the olives, it is just too cold. We take down all the Christmas decorations except for the lights rimming the property. Roy likes the way they light up the terrace, and somehow imagines us sitting out there at night in the warm weather with the lights still on. I'll wait a week and hope that he changes his mind. Neighbors will probably think, "Oh, it's those daffy stranieri, with their Christmas lights on all year. They're a little loose in the head."
I have spent hours researching recipes for making great bread, and have ordered a 20-year old Carol Field book on Italian bread-making on the internet. Today we make a loaf with sunflower seeds and flour, and can't seem to decide whether we like the bread better in the bread-maker or in the oven.
I opt for the oven, so we decide to do the mixing and the first two rises in the bread-maker and the actual cooking in the oven. But the dough is too wet. I throw caution to the wind, scooping out the sunflowers and pasty earthen dough from the canister in the bread machine. Next, I drop it all into a round glass fish bowl and then add some white flour before plunging in poised with the beaters shaped like whirly-gigs. I flip the switch and dig right into the soggy mess like a dune buggy over a sandy beach. Around and around and up and down and finally the dough moves away from the side of the bowl. I turn it out onto the baking stone covered with a sanding of polenta flour and then sit it near the fire in the fireplace to rise to twice its size. Speriamo.
A few hours later, we decide to put it in the oven, and after we take it out and cool it for a few minutes, it actually tastes quite good. In the meantime, I rustle up a batter of rye bread and it comes out rather like a football. It is supposed to rise to twice its size, so we leave it overnight under a towel out of the draft, and we'll put it in the oven in the morning. In the meantime, the sourdough starter needs to be stirred. It sits on a metal frame over the radiator at the back of the kitchen. When we take out the bowl it is soupy, but not to worry. This will take a few days. Are you thinking of Lucille Ball and Ethel Mertz and their bread making days?
Speaking of Lucy and Ethel, Tia calls and thinks we should open a bakery:.L'Avventura baked goods and baking coveralls, an adventure from head to foot. She's the real bread expert. She and Monique bought out the entire remainder of the flour from LIDL in Narni and have almost finished it. They have baked bread every day. So check back in with us in a month to see if we have any good recipes...Or good stories.
After mass, Enzo tells us that his father remains ill. Something continues to press on his brain, but it is not a tumor. They will have another consultation at the hospital on Tuesday. Italians are riveted to news of the sick. Alberto and Loredana and Roy and I hang on Enzo's every word. Tito remains in our thoughts and in our prayers.
There is a notice of the feast day of San Antonio d' Abate on Saturday, January 16th, but no notice of a service for the animals. San Antonio d'Abate is the patron saint of animals, and most churches have little ceremonies for local pets. After church, Roy asks Livio if there will be a service, and he tells Roy that it will probably be on Sunday afternoon. Sofia Maria will be ready!
We bake the rye bread, which is a little round loaf, and when it comes out of the oven it is as hard as stone. Roy slices into it and it is delicious.
There is a rose that I love. It is a Floribunda, a shrub rose, called Easy Going. It should be renamed. Finding it for our gardens has been anything but Easy Going. I fell in love with it at Judith's house in West Marin, California. She told me that it was grown by Harkness Nursery in England, so I emailed and then called them. Yes, they did grow the rose, but no they won't have any until next fall. Referrals to three other nurseries in England also were dead ends.
So I did some more research, thanks to Google, and found a grower in the Netherlands that claims to have them. Before Google, before the internet, whatever did people do? Judith, bless her, ordered some up to be shipped to her from one of the sources I tried, without even being asked. And then she found out that it is not possible to ship roses to Italy from California. This particular nursery will not ship to EU countries outside England, but will ship to the US. So she'll use them at her new house next door.
Today remains very cold, and Roy drives to Soriano to pay our annual Italian medical insurance. It's the same as last year: €377. If Roy becomes a citizen, it will be free, I suspect. But we're still waiting to hear something about his grandfather's citizenship in the U S. Google can't help with that, unfortunately. We filled out and submitted the paperwork in San Francisco before we returned here last month. Who knows when we'll receive a reply. We need to find out when he became a U S citizen before Roy can continue filing his own citizenship application for Italy.
While Googling on the web, I come across a web site of an Italian man who lives in Germany and writes about food and cooking...and bread, in English! So I forward the site to Tia. I also email him to ask him about where to buy good flour in Italy. For all the wonderful things about living in Italy, shopping is definitely not one of them. I don't mind. We came here partly to get away from all the commercialism. So in our own silly way we are pioneering, finding new ways to meet the challenges we face.
Looking back on it, the permits to live here, the consulates, the drivers licenses, the local bureaucratic red tape, have not really been all that difficult. Yes, learning the language continues to be very difficult. But we signed up for that. And it's making our lives fuller, keeping our brains on overdrive.
In the meantime, back to the bread saga, we continue to keep the beginning sourdough starter in a covered bowl above the radiator in the kitchen. Each time we stir it, it sinks lower. By the time it is "ready", there won't be enough to do anything with. I can only laugh when I read this.
Thank you, Alberto, my new "best friend". Alberto writes the web site I found while trying to locate a nursery to sell us the Easy Going roses. He sends me names of web sites of two companies that make flour in Italy. I've emailed them, and both sites are also in English. Alberto confirms that when he travels to Tuscany and Umbria, he longs for a little salt in his bread. No kidding. Bread made in other parts of Italy is usually crusty and delicious. We'll be adding a link to his site on our web page soon, and he will add ours to his. Tia will especially love his site. There are recipes on it for non-Italian dishes.
Today is a real mix-up. Our first appointment with Sacha to see a house in Bomarzo is cancelled at the last minute while we're at his gate, and the second appointment is sbagliato (wrong). I think I have an appointment with Giusy for a pedicure, but she shows me on the calendar that we changed it to the following week.
It's back home for some minestrone and chicken and a fire and perhaps today we can tackle changing the olives and making a drawing of the greenhouse. I make the mixture to go with the olives and start a rye bread, and then come up to write.
But Roy calls up to me to have me come downstairs. It is dark outside, with the lights still rimming the terrace. But a black wrought iron chair is placed on its side on the wooden bench below the kitchen window. And another sits right beside it. The chairs are from the table by the front stairs. As far as we know, no one has been here. But someone had to have moved the chairs.
So someone must have jumped a wall, we guess, and opened the side gate during the past two or three hours. We have no idea what they wanted. Placing the chairs as they did would not help them to break into the house. And now we are on alert again. Roy takes the flashlight and goes out to look around, returning with a puzzled look on his face. We know someone who is not a friend came onto our property this afternoon. And we hope that he does not return...Now we are on high alert again.
What is it with thefts in Italy? It is as if people think it is fair to steal things that belong to other people. As far as we know, thieves are not interested in hurting their victims. They just want to rob them of material things. Someone wants to break into our house. They want to rob us. We don't have much to steal. We are not wealthy people. So I guess there is no such place as paradise.
The best news of the night is that a new recipe for rye bread is a great success. It will definitely go on the food blog soon. I am not so sure that the sourdough starter will be an ongoing activity, but its addition to the bread is a winner. We're not about to change our lives because someone wants to cause us harm. We'll know if they're Italian. They'll definitely want to taste tonight's bread...
Roy did not sleep well last night, and at 6AM I found him running downstairs with a flashlight and rushing out the front door because he heard a "knocking" somewhere. Fa niente. We've decided to let the Marshalo know; he's head of the Carabinieri in Bomarzo, and they'll probably drive by the house now and then. We've taken more security measures, but if whoever jumped over our fence reads this journal, don't look here for any bright ideas. As a matter of fact, don't look here for bright ideas of any kind for any reason!
Bread, bread, our rye bread is simply divine. We'll post the recipe on the Food blog soon. Our research for better flour continues...
I have an appt. with Alice, who really helps my sore shoulder, but notice a big bump on the back of Sofi's neck, so right after I am through we drive straight to the vet. It is nothing. If the bump remains for a week, we should go back. Poor Sofi. So we call Tia and drive back thru Amelia and stop for a visit.
Tia's brother and sister in law are here from Finland. They were in Thailand when the earthquake and tsunami struck, but were unhurt. The Finnish government reached them with a text message on their cell phone and told them they'd have a free flight home in two days. Those Fins really had their act together. Tia is really pleased to have them here for awhile. Her brother is a great chef, although does not know much about baking bread...Yet.
Prince Dado Ruspoli died on Tuesday. I think we met him once at the castle, introduced by his niece, Giada. At age eighty, he left behind a young wife and two children, aged nine and ten. Since we did not know him, we did not attend the elaborate funeral mass in Rome. But Lili calls us to tell us that there will be a service in Vignanello at 3pm, so we go to pay our respects and also to see the service. In the local newspaper there is a story about his life, including a photo taken with Brigitte Bardot and tales about his jetset life before settling down at around age 60.
Lili and her daughter, Catherine, arrive soon after we do. At just before 3pm, the local priest of the Ruspoli family church in the square speaks up as though we are all his friends. He will not be able to celebrate a mass, since the mass itself has just been held in Rome and there can only be one funeral mass. Although this is the family's church, the decision to not hold the funeral mass here was certainly not his.
Lili tells us that everyone in the town loves this priest. He is quite eccentric, let's leave it at that, and instead of witnessing the mass we hear a beautiful Ave Maria sung from the balcony where a grand organ plays.
The priest starts a reading from St. Paul to the Corinthians, and is interrupted by the doors of the church suddenly opening and the casket arriving in characteristic royal fashion, carried by eight pallbearers. We recognize Giada's older son at the right front side, his face full of emotion. Surprisingly, the entry of the casket is met with a burst of spontaneous applause.
Once the casket is laid down on a purple rug placed in front of the altar in the center aisle, the family follows, and stands circling the casket. Flag bearers in full costume stand at attention on either side of the aisle.
A prayer is said, the priest speaks about his friend, Dada, and then Carlo, the tiny head gardener of Ruspoli, reads a letter he wrote. He finishes reading by looking over at the casket and, in a clear voice, saying, "Ciao, Dado!"
The priest then gives his salute to the Prince, ending with the same, "Ciao, Dado!" So when it is time for the sindaco (mayor) of Vignanello, a young curly haired fellow, to speak his few words on behalf of the town, he finishes speaking with the same goodbye.
The service ends as abruptly as it began, the casket is held up by young pallbearers from the family, and Dado leads his own procession across the plaza, across the moat, through the huge wooden doors of Palazzo Ruspoli for the last time, followed again by applause. We imagine that he is buried in the local cemetery in a family tomb.
We return home to see that Felice has come by, and turned over a little earth in the pomodori garden. Just enough was moved that we think he wanted to putter here for a while. We are sorry we were not here to greet him.
Yes, we try another loaf of bread, this time in the machine, and in an email from Lili we find out that she makes her own flour. We will have dinner with her tomorrow, and will find out where she gets the grain and what methods she uses. But we are invited tonight to dinner at Shelly's, and the three of us sit around the kitchen table and share a bottle of wine.
Dani is upstairs in bed with a fever, but in customary fashion, Shelly caters to him, bringing up a tray of food and then another when it is time for dessert. Dani has been trained as an Italian male. Although only 13, he has the makings of a characteristic Italian man: handsome, a great love of his mother, and an attitude that being waited upon by his mother and other women are a normal and necessary part of life. It will be interesting to see how he matures.
Claudio remains in Rome at his sister's apartment, going into the hospital often. Their lives are becoming more and more closely connected back to Rome. Perhaps when Dani goes to school in Rome next year that will mark another passage for Shelly and Claudio. Will they be able to keep up their wonderful property? Only time will tell.
A lovely letter arrives from Uncle Harry, with an article in it from a San Diego newspaper. There is a man in Nevada City, CA, who has just finished making his 95th violin. He is 95 years old! Refusing to sell even one of his violins, he takes them apart every three years or so, studying how the instruments change in tone. He has lent his violins to famous musicians, and has no interest in ever selling even one.
It appears he will set up a foundation to care for these pieces after his death. I imagine him sitting in his kitchen in front of the fireplace, whittling the wood silently and thoughtfully, hearing the sounds of the violin and blessing each day.
After a very foggy morning here, the sun appears over a mist in the valley and Sofi enjoys a few hours reclining on the front step. While Roy is out doing errands, we walk out past the side gate and inspect the fruit trees, whose branches are just starting to show tiny nodules. In only a few weeks, we will have blossoms, and then the whole property will begin to come alive. We're going to talk with Stefano about using calcio on the bottom trunks of the trees. I have some doubts, but will keep an open mind.
Already I see bright blue flowers on the rosemarino above the parcheggio. I am sure that I want to replace the crepuscule roses on the rose arch. It is time to pick up new bare root roses and plant them on either side, after taking out all the existing soil and replacing it. They'll probably be yellow. While looking at the area next to the arch, I realize that the spot in the loggia where we have our presepio is a grand spot for a big blue hydrangea. It will get plenty of light but no direct sun. It is strange that I never thought of that before.
The serra (greenhouse) is beginning to take shape on paper, and Roy wants to return to Unopiu to look at some fine details of their greenhouse model. I see that the existing old door to the chicken coop can be moved to a little tufa building on the top level of the far property. It even hinges on the correct side. This project may just happen, and in time for spring seedlings. I am thrilled at the thought.
Tonight Sofi guards the house while we visit Lili. Patricia and Olivia are there, as well as Mateus and Catherine. I love to eat in their big kitchen at the long table. The table must seat at least a dozen people, and is broad enough to place dishes in the center with plenty of extra room. Sitting in front of the fire, we feast on a pot of lenticche as well as wonderful eggplant parmigiana, salad and pizza bianca before three desserts: our steamed pudding, Olivia's chocolate treats with whipped cream and blueberries and Patricia's apple crumble.
Lili fills us in on the grain that she buys at a health food store near Rome. She also showed us the Bosch machine she uses to grind it. But the store will also sell it to us ground and ready to use. The places also sell all kinds of vegetables. I am sure that they will also sell the kind of molasses we need to make pumpernickel bread. What I learned tonight is that if we buy farina integrale, which Patricia tells us is a kind of bran, at the grocery store, we are not sure that it is not shot with chemicals. That is why flour bought from a grocery store has an expiration date. If we buy grain or flour the way she recommends, she tells me that it will keep for 2,000 (yes, two thousand) years. As you can see, we still have more research to do, but our noses are on the scent...
Sofi is back to her old self, even though the bump on the back of her little neck remains a little swollen. But the sun is out, and it is a beautiful day. So she's happy to gambol about.
Although it is cold, we drive off to Viterbo, all three of us snug in the front seat. Now that the roses are all dormant, it is time to replace the roses on the rose arch. We have tried for three years to grow the Crepescule roses, but they are not happy. So Tiziana at Vivaio Michelini convinces us that what we need are two Alister Stella Gray roses. They will look somewhat like the Crepescule, but have fewer thorns and will be more robust. We will see.
She also tells us to purchase something called stallatico to use in the winter mixed with the soil. It is some kind of soil additive. And then in March we are to switch to nitrophosca gold. This year we are going to make an extra effort with the roses to see if we can get them all to thrive. Now that they will get ongoing watering, we will make sure that the soil is right, the food is right.
The Easy Going roses should arrive in the next couple of weeks. We are anxious to start again out in the garden. I think I'd like to plant delphiniums and have a lot of blue in the garden. Blue delphinium and blue iris and pink roses and lavender in the lavender garden room and blue hydrangeas and blue plumbago and yellow and peach and white roses and nepeta on the front terrace. The far garden has pink and white roses. I am not sure where the easy going roses will go.
We've decided on smallish terra cotta olive oil jars flanking the bottom of the stairs to the far property, with pittisporum planted to grow over the sides. We'll probably go back to Carlo in Ripabianca, because he has the best prices on great pots. Perhaps tomorrow we'll start to work on the soil, taking out the Crepescules and digging out all the soil, then replacing the old soil with new soil and stallatico and, of course, the new roses. We buy stallatico from Bruno in Attigliano and will spend some time mixing the stallatico with the existing soil on all the plants.
Tonight there are bonfires in both La Quercia and neighboring Bagnaia, home of Villa Lante. Roy went to the fire in Bagnaia last year, and hopes that I will join him tonight. The fire is in honor of San Antonio D'Abate, the patron saint of animals. Tomorrow night, we will have our own little bonfire in the centro storico, and Sofia will be blessed.
Roy finishes the drawing of the greenhouse, and the angle of the roof is now just right. Tomorrow we will go to Virgilio to have him give us a price to build and install it and tell us where we can buy the panels. In just a few weeks we will start to plant seeds, and if we can have a greenhouse then we can move the operation out of the guest bedroom into my new "office". If the greenhouse will happen this year, Roy will also install fluorescent lights as "grow" lights. Soon, very soon, our lives will be full of tending our little spot of land. But this time, we can begin to do some serious planting.
Autofuriosa. I would have thought it might be expressed as stradarribiata. Road rage. Yes, the Italians are certainly capable of road rage. This is a cover story about it in a recent Automobile Club of Italy magazine. Speaking of rage, when we are at tonight's festa in Bagnaia in honor of San Antonio D'Abate, I am standing on the church steps to try to see what is going on.
Marco is a volunteer for the group putting on the fire lighting event, starring an enormous mound of wood, placed just so, after a benediction and procession by the local Confraternita di Bagnaia in front of San Antonio d'Abate's own church. Marco sets up red and white striped tape, keeping a bunch of us back from the main part of the front steps, to make room for the priests and Confraternita.
But in characteristic Italian fashion, a number of people appear after the tape is set up, and a movie-star handsome young man, at least 6'6" tall, decides to stand right in front of me, blocking my view of the stairs where the priests will say the benediction as well as most of the pyre in the square; one that will be lit in fifteen minutes or so.
I try to ask him to move to the left, and he just peers down at me standing on the other side of the plastic tape and turns around to show me his back. So I try to make it difficult for him, moving toward him to try to edge him to another step, or at least out of my direct line of sight. I am claustrophobic, and also have a little rage of my own going on. There are people behind me at least several rows deep. It is difficult to move in any direction.
If a man is that tall, shouldn't he be a little considerate of little old ladies who he can just as well stand behind? No. Instead, he turns around and tells me, "No spingere!" or "Don't push!" I just look up at him blankly, but stare right at him until he removes his gaze. Boh. It's useless. He's so typical that he will probably enjoy causing me stress.
Roy came to this event last year with out me, and wants me to see it. There. I have seen it. It is cold, we wait half an hour to see young people on the committee posing for pictures in front of the mass of wood, and hundreds of people standing behind guard rails to watch gasoline doused on this huge pile of wood and then see it lit. The Vigili del Fuoco, or firemen, drive by now and then in a fire truck. But otherwise, there is not much protection from the fire, especially if the wind is blowing. After an hour or so of this silliness, we drive on home to a quiet evening before our own little fire.
Roy tells me on the way home that he has been thinking about installing a gas starter for our fireplace. What a good idea, especially since the gas line for the stove is so close by. He thinks he will tackle the project in April...after we've had our last fire. Huh? If we are having trouble keeping fires lit these days, why not now? Some mysteries are better left as mysteries, I suppose.
On these sunny days, I can't wait to open the bedroom window wide while I write. The gauzy drapes near the desk seem to breathe in and out with each gentle breeze. Outside, the noises of the dogs in the valley and the birds in our treetops remind me that this is not a day of rest for all living things.
Tito is not well at all. Tiziano tells us that his doctor sent him home last Tuesday, not able to do anything for him. The growth is somewhere between his nose and his eye, and he is too old for surgery. So these days he mostly sleeps. I can look down upon their house and hope that he is able to sit in the sunlight and at least hear the birds sing. He is a simple country man, and I think these sounds are sounds that he loves. He remains in my prayers.
The day starts before dawn, with Roy moving slowly and in pain. I know to get up and take a shower while he's trying to see if the medication he just took for his stomach works. Before I am out of the shower he is downstairs in real pain. He thinks it is an intestinal thing.
I know he is really in a bad way, because he asks me to drive. Sofi cries in the back seat, confused by my take-charge attitude and place behind the wheel. It is -3 degrees C., so the windshield takes a few minutes to defrost.
By the time we get to Terni and the Pronto Soccorso, or Emergency Room, he is a little better. Sofi stays in the car while Roy gets admitted. Lo and behold, he has a kidney stone. It has been 15 years since his last attack. Luckily it is a tiny stone, more like a grain of sand. Calcolo renale. Kidney stone. An attending nurse named Beatrice helps us, and her English is very good. Roy has an eco-cardiogram, a blood and a urine test. He is to come back tomorrow for an appointment with the urologist. For pain, he is prescribed medicine, and he will go to Dottoressa this afternoon to fill her in and get her prescription. The cost of this experience today is zip. zero. €0.
Roy feels so much better when he is dismissed that he wants a little breakfast and then to drive north to Carlo's in Ripabianca for two pots for the far yard. Carlo is great. I tell him all our pots are from him, and he gives us a brother-in-law price.
While we are there, we take a chance and drive a few minutes north to Deruta. We collect those little square plates with Italian "modo de dire" sayings on them, which are probably old and we are told aren't made anymore. The reason is purely a matter of economics. The artists took too long to make them and so they were not profitable at the amount they had to price the plates.
After a few shops we stop at one on a lark, and a woman tells us that her brother has some. We think she will call him. But she walks to the back of the little shop where her brother paints the ceramica, and shows us three covered with paint. He uses them to mix his paints! So we buy all three that she tells us are "sporco". Underneath the paint, which is washed off with a sponge and water, are delightful sayings. We offer her €5 each, and turn home, feeling we have had too many adventures already for one day. We are tired.
Roy rests up and at 4PM drives to Dottoressa. In the meantime, I am outside with Sofi and see Felice slowly walking up Via Mameli. He comes up and we have a long talk. I even understand a little of what he is saying. But there are a few real surprises.
First of all, he tells me that he planted two rows of fava beans for us during the past ten days or so. Fava beans! I thought it was too late to plant them! So the little turning over of the earth in this year's pomodori field was done for the two rows of fava beans! God bless Felice. He tells me that he asked Italo if he thought it was too late to plant favas, and they both agreed to try it anyway.
He then tells me that in February we will plant two and only two rows of patate. He lowers his head and smiles, telling me that we have not eaten the potatoes from last year that sit in the cava. Well, we have eaten some. We love potatoes. I have no idea why we have not eaten more.
But the biggest surprise comes when I ask him about the chairs on the front terrace. Someone had jumped over the fence and stacked them to probably steal them. Felice came by and put one on top of the wooden bench and stood the other one by its side. So now the chairs are safely locked away for the rest of the winter. We don't use them at this time of year, anyway.
Although yesterday was the feast day of San Antonio D'Abate, the patron saint of farm animals, it is to be celebrated tonight, in little Mugnano. But Felice tells me that even though there may be a blessing of the animals tonight, it is only really a blessing of the farm animals. St. Vito is the patron saint of dogs. But when I look it up in our saints' calendar, St. Vito is nowhere to be found.
Vito, Vito! It sounds like a chant from a Godfather film. I tell Felice that I don't think a priest will come on St. Vito's day to bless the dogs in Mugnano. He laughs and agrees.
Felice leaves, Roy leaves to meet with Dottoressa, who gives him prescriptions for today's medicine and for tomorrow's appointment. She is not worried about his elevated blood pressure. He comes home and feels fine about going to the centro storico after dark, so we bundle up and the three of us drive there.
Livio has opened the doors to the church, set an altar by the door, lit the candles and prepped a beautiful fire in the center of the plaza, right in front of the open doors. The fire is set every bit as beautifully as that in Bagnaia yesterday. Vincenzo, the shepherd, and Livio light the fire, and by the time Don Luca and some of the villagers arrive, the fire is beautiful.
While we are waiting for things to "heat up", Alberto Cozzi comes over to us. We ask him if he has signed the petition to get ADSL in Bomarzo and he has not, but he tells us that he will have a computer in a couple of weeks and will do so. We don't know if the petition for Bomarzo also covers Mugnano, but he tells us that it does, because Mugnano is less than 4 kilometers from the hub of where the line will reach. His boss's boss is responsible for the project, and since he works for Telecom Italia we think that we can believe him.
Today Roy signed up at the Ferramenta in Bomarzo, but was only the twentieth person to sign up. That is the bad news. The good news is that this is only the third day of the sign-up. So we forward emails along to everyone we know in Mugnano who we think we can get to sign. The service is expected to be installed by May. And to think we were told that Mugnano would never have ADSL. Miracles do happen.
Earlier, Felice told me that "tanti anni fa" (many years ago), there used to be a procession down Via Piana with all the farm animals. Now there aren't many farm animals left. I ask Giuliola if she remembers and she tells me that is true, making horns come out of her head with her index fingers and laughing, describing the different animals.
Tonight we have a bleating old sheep, two cats (one runs away from Alberto Cozzi before the service starts) and one of Enzo's sweet and shy hunting dogs, as well as Sofi. Brik and Ubik are not here, nor is Felix the cat. But fa niente, Don Luca is happy anyway. Tiziana, the former mayor and Jacopo's mother, agrees with Roy that person for person and fire for fire, Mugnano's fire can stack up to famous Bagnaia's fire any day. We all agree.
Here is Don Luca with Sofia Maria after the blessing.
We are so tired that we come home, even though the people in the village are just gearing up, with trays of sweets and now sausages to be grilled. Sofi is overwhelmed by the fire, which scared her, as well as the sheep, who also scared her. But she is doubly blessed today, and behaved like an angel all day. So we take her home and all look forward to an early night in dreamland.
The pipes froze last night. And so did the internet connection. I put a pasta pot of water on to boil for sponge baths, but Roy fixes the problem by walking outside to the water heater and bypassing the hot water. It works, and we are back in business. But we are still not able to get an internet connection. Last night we emailed Paola and Shelly to see if we can get more people to sign the petition for ADSL. Speriamo.
The bright sun will warm things up, so we get ready to drive back to the hospital in Terni. On these, the coldest days of the year, we look forward to warm fires in the fireplace and wonder when we'll have our one day of snow. Today it is just too cold. But Roy feels much better and for that I am grateful. His visit with the doctor at the hospital takes less than ten minutes after the customary long wait, and all is well.
We are feeling more comfortable about our decision to center our serious health needs at the Terni hospital. By all counts, it is the best around, second to Perugia and of course, Rome. Roy's appointment is at ten AM, but when we arrive we have to go to get a number and pay for the service first, and our number is 171. Considering the early hour, that means that more than a thousand people come to this hospital for outpatient services every day!
Karina calls and yes, she'd like to see the Sistene Chapel with us. She may get a gig to do some Angels and Demons tours. Those are tours based on the book by Dan Brown. After the DaVinci Code, this author is hot, hot. So his book situated in Rome is now the backdrop for a new set of Rome tours, mapping out the spots where the murders took place. We've offered to do some research with her for the tours, and so will spend the day with her jaunting around the city, while Sofi plays at Tia's house with Gioia and Charlie.
Roy is feeling better, but we are both tired. Somehow Roy does not like to keep still, so he moves the olive oil jars up from the parcheggio and settles them down where they are to live in the far property at the base of the steps. A few wheelbarrows full of river stones stabilize them, and we'll plant pittisporum on top after a generous load of terra buona with stallatico.
Tonight, while I am on the phone with Tia, I see raindrops on the kitchen window. Finalmente! We have not had rain for over a month. We are due for rain...and snow! Will tonight be the night? It is surely cold enough.
Looking out the window after last night's rain, I see snowy ice-cream topped hills in the distance. Today the mountain range seems higher and wider than the last time I noticed. At closer view, I see a nearer range without snow. We will study some books tonight to better define it, determining where the range begins and ends in our view.
Right now, I can see past Orte, further into the Tiber Valley toward Rome. It is as though I am looking through a long eyed lens. Did I not realize how far our view extends? So we'll get our map books out to see if we can figure out where the Apennines begin and end in our part of Italia. In the valley below us, the bushes and bare trees look like rusty debris fallen by the banks of the Tiber. Here in Mugnano the ground is cold and wet, but no snow has fallen.
Once out in the car it is cold and windy, and the sky is letting us know that our one day of snow a year may soon be upon us. The rain left the ground wet, but by the time we awoke, the rain had moved on. We drive to Pinzaglia in Bassano to pick up four evergreen pittisporum plants for the tops of our two olive oil jugs. Roy will probably plant them tomorrow, They will be perfect, because they will not grow tall, but will drop over the sides of the rim like spilled honey.
I first saw pittisporum plants at Unopiu sitting on top of grand clay pots outside their front door, and liked the way the leaves formed and grew sideways on top of the pots. I look forward to sitting on the far staircase with Roy and Sofi in warmer weather and watching the pots take on their varied patina.
Inside, I make our first pot of lentils for the year, and they are very tasty. I am not used to making it without sausages, and like it better all by itself. Roy makes a sausage sandwich with the fresh rye bread. It is hard to top fresh rye bread, just out of the oven, crispy on top. When we take the train to Rome soon, we'll visit Castroni, pick up molasses and caraway seeds and perhaps some better flour. The bread marathon continues.
Is this a winter's day? The sun is warm and sweet, and everyone is out walking. "Come primavera!" I hear someone say on the street below our house. Like Spring. The sky is a soft blue, and Sofi sails through the air, barely touching the ground now and then. Roy takes advantage of the bright sun to do some whacking on the dead tree limbs and ivy and brush growing on the far tufa wall. He is like a young boy on a rustler search of the Old West, with his hand-saw in its case like a holster, his trusty Felco #6 in his back pocket.
I am lying down for a few minutes and the front door bell sets Sofi off as though she is going rabid. What a great watch dog! I call out to Roy, thinking he's in his "office" in the garden, only to hear that he's up on the far tufa wall. So I walk down to the front gate to take a package from a courier. It's the big bread loaf pan we ordered from LIDL. When I open the gate Sofi jumps out, gamboling down the path toward our little stone benches. Augusta and Luciana are sitting there, happily sunning themselves. The sun is so warm that Luciana sports a little white handkerchief on her head.
"Via! Via!" they scold Sofi, knowing that I'm waiting for her at the gate. I wave at them and they wave back. It warms my heart to see them sitting there enjoying the last rays of today's afternoon sun.
Well, I might as well stay up. Sofi and I walk out to see Roy on his three-story aluminum ladder. I know he is having a blast. When we take the side stairs, we see him way up on top of the tallest tufa. "Did you see the arch?" he calls out to me. I cannot really see it. Quite a bit of brush still remains. But there is tufa in the shape of an arch, and I can barely make it out. For the next hour he is like a swashbuckler, hacking away at the pirates in his midst, their arms stuck 'round each other in a death grip that has lasted for years.
Sofi and I stay on the middle bank, watching to make sure he does not fall. There is so much to take down, that he stops after awhile, acknowledging that he has a lot of firewood and kindling from today's booty. It will take several more days of work to clear the tufa. The more he clears, the more beautiful the stone becomes. So he'll keep at it.
Earlier in the day Roy plants the pittisporum plants in the olive oil vases. He asks what I think, and they are wonderful, just a little too tall. So I clip away at the taller branches, making the growth more lateral. They already look wonderful. With a little patina on them they'll look even better. This was a great choice to frame the bottom of our stairs.
I have a pedicure with Giusy late in the afternoon and she has just read Angels and Demons. I tell her that we're going to the Sistine Chapel tomorrow in Rome and also will do a mock Angels and Demons tours, scouting out the places where the murders took place in the book. She tells me about the Vatican museum, and hopes that we spend some time there. I ask her how many times she has been, and she tells me only once, years ago. She wishes us a good trip with a goodbye kiss.
Roy and Sofi pick me up and we drive to Tia and Bruce's. Tia tells me, "We've never had a dog sleep-over before. This should be fun!" I hope so. Sofi should be just fine. We have brought her cage and an animal and her food and a lead and a dish. Gioia and Sofi run round and round. Tia tells us Gioia wants to be a dental hygienist. She loves to get her face into other dogs mouths. She especially likes Sofi's beard. And as wild as Gioia is, Sofi keeps right up with her. She comes over to me often with kisses, and I have to keep from melting, she is so sweet.
We sneak out the door while Sofi and Gioia are running upstairs, and leave to go home to get ready for an early day tomorrow in Rome. It is strangely quiet at home without her.
In the dark, we leave for Rome with a train from Orte, where Roy parks the car while I wait at the bar inside. We are able to take an early train, and by the time we reach Karina at the line outside the Vatican Museum, we are right on time. We ride the metro to a new stop, past Ottaviana, and the new stop is on the other side of the Vatican. So much of the Rome metro is new and clean. We have dressed lightly, knowing we'll do a lot of walking.
Entering the museum, we first enter a doorway and walk down an aisle where we see hundreds of statues. One pope, we have been told, went on a rampage one day, knocking off all the penises of the male statues, not wanting anyone to get any sexual thoughts while viewing them. But there are plenty left that escaped his mighty staff.
I am perplexed by a Roman numeral on the ceiling of one room: LVX. How is that possible? I'll have to ask Avery, or Duccio, or someone who knows Latin well. Roy laughs and tells me that it is probably "pre-Roman". Very funny.
I know that it is very important to do a tour of the Vatican Museum and the Sistine Chapel. I don't have a great feeling about the manner in which people are led through museums like dogs on a tether. Because of the crowds, although we admit there is not a great number today, it is difficult to stop and admire a single piece for more than a minute.
The more we see, the move overwhelmed I become. I think I am doing the artists a great injustice. Can you imagine being told, "We want to commission you to carve a statue or paint a painting for a space where tens of thousands will pass by each year, but your piece will hardly get a second glance."?
There are some rooms with benches, and we try to sit now and then to concentrate on one piece or two. In the Raphael rooms, I spend the most time studying a piece to the right of a window. This is not the piece that people come from all over the world to see. It is another piece, and I love it because the folds of the fabrics seem to stand right out from the wall. But then I am a lover of texture and textiles, and am drawn to color and fabric. So much in this museum has been restored that the paint looks practically new.
Overall, there is too much violence for me in the majority of paintings; too many people and too many subjects in each piece. I do applaud the undertaking. And I do applaud the popes who became benefactors of many artists, making it possible for them to earn livings by doing what they love. But which pope is to be credited with encouraging and sponsoring each artist?
After we leave, we walk to a bookstore to pick up a book on the popes. This is an excellent addition to our library. Each pope's reign is described, in many cases his papal seal is depicted. The book is categorized by year as well as by alphabet.
But I am getting ahead of myself. We walk through the map room, which is quite extraordinary. I do not know who painted the maps, nor do I know the dates the maps were painted. But we did find Mugnano on a map, and were even able to buy a copy at the end of the tour.
At the Sistine Chapel we sat at two corners of the room, taking in Michelangelo's ceiling. But there are great masterworks along two sides of the room done by as many as twelve exceptional artists of the time. Again, there are too many figures to contemplate, and the paintings are so far away that they are difficult to study.
Now our attention is drawn to the real reason for this room: the choice of a new pope. So we imagine 165 or so cardinals in this room, locked in with a key. I turn to my left and see two guards in front of a short hallway and a fainting couch covered in red at the end of the hall. We know that there are rooms off the Sistine Chapel for the cardinals to sleep in. But where is the stufa, or stove, that sends out white or black smoke after each vote?
Once we are ready to leave the room, we encounter three men in uniform. We ask them where the stufa is located. One tells us that it is brought in when the vote is being taken. "How does the smoke get outside?" I ask. "We open a window." Boh! So there must be a vent with the stufa that is angled out the window. "The next pope will be Italian." the handsome one tells us, a navy blue scarf tucked neatly inside his blue blazer. So now you have it. They all want to know who their next boss will be, and it is probably a daily conversation among them.
Once outside the chapel, there is more to see, mostly incredibly beautiful painted cabinets leaning against both side walls. There are no doors between each room, but when looking forward from one room to the next and the next, the view of portico after portico is fantastic, with exquisite paintings surrounding each one.
I did not feel well this morning, and I really don't feel well now. Alice's backrub the other day shook up something in my equilibrium, and I am dizzy. A pain in my neck is worse, and I think I am getting an influenza. But I did not want to miss any of this, nor did I want to get in the way of Karina and Roy's adventure.
Walking down the steps and the ramp, round and round, down and down, I start to lose my perspective and the dizziness gets worse. Somehow we reach terra firma and outside the cold air feels great.
We walk around to the front of the Vatican, for we are going to stop at the places where the murders took place in the book Angels and Demons. We find the obelisk, and then find the west wind. It is a marker on the ground on the west side of the obelisk, and a wind is blowing from the west today.
We take a bus to Piazza Navona, to the place of another murder, and I am really fading. So we walk to the restaurant that Bruce and Tia recommended, and it is one that Karina does not know. La Campana is the name. We learn that it is one of the oldest restaurants in Rome. Inside, there are three rooms. We are led to a table in the second room, past plates of all kinds of vegetable antipasti on platters, and on the right wall a refrigerated case right out of Campo di Fiore. Melanzane, bunches of fresh zucchini flowers, oranges, berries, lemons, all lusciously arranged behind glass doors. In the front of the cases are huge platters of cakes and poached pears.
Tia tells me to be sure to have a dessert with chestnuts, but I am not very interested in eating. The vegetable antipasto is delicious, but I can't eat much. I try spigola, which the waiter fillets, but can't eat much of that, either. Karina eats carciofi Romana and a buffala and rugghetta and pomodori salad, and Roy eats pasta and a vedure fritti and a kind of suppli. Everything is very tasty and we recommend this restaurant highly. But I'm sliding downhill and unfortunately today's adventure comes to an abrupt end.
We take a train to Orte, and Roy brings me home before picking up Sofi, who has played nonstop in Tia's garden. I think she has been a good girl, and she runs up to our room and sits in her wicker bed to wait until I get up a few hours later. We'll surely go back to Rome in the next month, this time with Sofi, because there is so much to see, and these cold months are the best time to view touristy places. We remember how wonderful Venice was during Christmas one year, and even though we go to these places in the warm months, the cold months are the time when we can really experience them in the most relaxing way.
Shelly comes by for coffee, and brings some clothes for our scarecrows or to donate to Caritas. One vest I particularly fancy. It will be perfect for the young boy. During the next two weeks the three scarecrows, a mother and two children, will be finished and planted by the fruit trees. Roy is in charge of making the frames.
But Roy is interested in getting back out to the tufa project in the far yard, and after pranzo the sky clears and it is warm enough for him to get out his ladder and hand saw. Sofi and I stand on the middle bank and watch him hack away at the dead trees, the overgrown brush, and he tells me that if he has the choice between planting a plant and hacking away at underbrush for three hours, he'll take the three hour project.
Sofi noses all around, but stays clear of all the tree limbs and ivy and underbrush that Roy throws over the tall tufa wall. He is now up above the tufa outcropping, walking on a kind of path behind it. Tree by tree, the area is cleared. We decide to keep a little of the ivy on the top of the tufa for now. He thinks it may be helping to keep up the tufa wall. There is much to be done. So for today, he has cut down an enormous amount of wood before he stops.
That reminds me. Early this morning we get a call from Antonio. The firewood is ready. So at around 10 AM, Mario and Pepe come by with Pepe's tractor and Roy and Mario and Pepe stack the wood neatly in the parcheggio. It is gorgeous, and all quercia, or oak. Serena is the secretary of the association, so we'll pay her the €80 for two metro stero. We have enough wood for the remainder of this year already, so bit by bit Roy will cut this wood up and stack it for next year.
We come inside for tea as the sun lowers in the west, and have a discussion about Italo cutting his wood into little pieces for his stufa. Roy thinks a stufa is a good idea. A stufa is a wood stove kept in the kitchen to heat the room. Roy would like us to have a stufa and to run pipes around the back of the house to heat the other rooms as well. So Roy has another project to take on. If we find a stufa that can be installed flush in the wall to the right of the fireplace and pipes run around the back of the house, what will it look like and what will it cost? Roy thinks it will save us a ton of money on heating.
The solar panels on the roof were supposed to do this, but with our inability to understand much Italian when buying the house, we were talked into putting up a system that only heats hot water with solar energy. To convert it to be a heating source, the cost would skyrocket. So this is another option. I think it would take us a couple of years to pay it off in cost savings, but I am keeping an open mind, especially if it is a great looking one.
I think today will be a fine tribute to old San Vincenzo, for a clear blue sky appears at first light. But as the morning wears on, clouds sail by until the blue is obscured by dappled grey. At eight AM, an explosion went off in the valley, to tell us, "Evvvryyybudddiyup!"
Mass is late this morning, at eleven AM. But at 9:30, cars are parked across the street and men with burgundy quilted jackets stand looking over the valley. It is the Polymartium Band, here in honor of our feast day for San Vincenzo. San Vincenzo is our second patron saint. The more important one is San Liberato, whose day is celebrated at the beginning of May. I don't know why we have two, but why not?
I count at least three dozen musicians before the morning is over, and there are some young ones interspersed among the regulars. We don't see Roberto Pangrazi, our geometra, but Giuseppe, who works for the commune, is there, playing a drum.
Last night I prepared sliced bread soaked in an egg and milk and cinnamon batter. This morning it is baked as a different kind of French toast...this time without the frying. Very tasty. We have a bottle of maple syrup that Roy heats with a little butter. He also cooks some breakfast sausages, but it makes a real mess in the kitchen.
I am all for cooking any foods like sausages on the grill or outside in the summer kitchen. Now I completely understand the need for a second kitchen. The fan above the stove does not clear out anywhere near the amount of smoke that is created. So we'll smell like sausages today.
We dress for church, and walk up early, to see the band on its procession up and down all the little streets in the village. Sofi guards the house, but we leave her outside.
We stand at the bus stop as the band approaches after parading down two little streets behind our house. What this band lacks in artistry it makes up in strength. We decide to follow them up the hill, and meet a few neighbors on the way who join us.
Once we are at the square, we decide to sit on the bench in front of Ernesta's in the sun. Felice comes by for a hug, and the scarf we gave him three Christmases ago is carefully wound around his neck, tucked into his Sunday coat. He also wears a handsome hat. Antonio comes by, and we thank him for having the wood delivered to us yesterday. He tells us that the wood is from Vallerano, and it is excellent quercia, or oak. We are surprised, thinking that the wood came from the forest in the Tiber Valley, but pleased that the quality is so good.
He tells us that there was too much rain this fall to cut, So I ask him if they had to pay a lot for the wood and he tells us no, because they performed all the labor services. I hope that it worked out for the Universita Agraria as well as for us. Antonio is a fine young man. We are thrilled that he is its president. He and Pepe and Mario do a tremendous amount of work for this volunteer organization, and we think they really enjoy the work. We hear the three of them below in the valley on weekends, working in the fields and on their tractors, laughing and yelling.
Gino walks up the hill in double-time. For a ninety-six year young man he is quite extraordinary. He joins us on the bench, telling us yet again that he is from Orvieto. When Roy asks him how old he is, Gino tells him eighty-four. I remind him that he is ninety-six, but he will have none of that!
Roy walks inside the church to change into his Confraternity costume, and the next I see him is just before the mass, standing in the front row, wearing the bright red and navy blue costume of the Confraternita di San Liberato. Don Luca is dressed in a very ornate red vestment with gold threads in honor of the occasion. A reliquary of San Vincenzo stands in front of the altar, with silver cherubs holding up the frame. Inside of the frame, I later notice, are two bone fragments, probably from fingers. But the glass on the front is broken.
I still am amazed that saints are carved up after death and their remains are scattered all over Italy or Spain by groups of nuns who specialize in this gruesome activity. I read last night in the Dan Brown book, Deception Point, that Christopher Columbus's scrotum is in safekeeping in the cathedral in Seville, Spain. "When the church obtains the remains of a great man, they saint him and spread the relics to different cathedrals so that everyone can enjoy their splendor."
Don Luca is a great priest, and he is very well organized. So when four or five members of the Confraternita walk up the side aisle after mass has begun to get dressed in the sacristy, Don Luca looks down at his watch to let them know that they were bad boys. Gianpiero, as Priory, will have to take them out to the woodshed later...
All in all, about fifteen members of the Confraternity are in attendance, and when it is time for the procession, dear Roy is given the bandiera of San Liberato on a tall pole to carry. What an honor! I do not have our camera, but will be sure to bring it next time. Everyone treats him so well, and he takes his role so seriously, that I can't help but beam with pride.
The little street leading all the way to the Duomo has been paved, in herringbone bricks edged in river stones, so the band paraded up and down to "christen" it earlier. Now, the women and then the men are organized in two lines behind the band, with Don Luca at the rear. His microphone sends his voice past us, as if he is in two places at once, and we respond to him as we are counseled. I can keep up, for many of the phrases are said often, as long as I am not first in line.
I am way in front of Roy in the procession, but when we turn the corner to walk down to Via Mameli, I can see him and he sees me and smiles. The procession leads all the way to our gate, and Francesco stands there in uniform to protect all of us. Sofi is nowhere to be seen. We later find her in the cave, huddled in fear from the sounds of the fireworks in the valley.
When the procession ends we have arrived back in the little church. I wait for Roy while he changes and then we walk home to a frightened Sofi. She cheers up at the sight of us, and we're home now for the rest of the day to relax.
We are on a snow watch, but nothing has happened here yet. Each day friends tell us that very cold weather and possibly snow are on the way. This morning we drive to see Ulla at Castello Santa Maria, to help her get started with her internet connection. We are there for less than two hours, but think we make some progress. We perform some computer setup, or rather Roy does, while Sofi and the cat engage in a staring match once the cat jumps down from under the covers of Serena's little bed. Then we find resources for her and encourage her to call a person who advertises individual computer training. That done, we drive home.
Later in the afternoon, Felice arrives and Roy shows him the new pots and the work he has done on the tufa wall. Felice has spoken with Livio and Giuliola, who own the land somewhere behind the tufa wall, and they have no problem with Roy's cleanup. Some time this spring we'll get together with them to see what kind of documents they have to show where their property line stops and ours begins. The land is mostly abandoned beyond the tufa wall, and probably not of much use to anyone. It is on the North face of the hill, and we think quite steep. Our property description is not very concise.
I do some research on the internet regarding greenhouses, but like our design better than anything we have seen. But I ask that the back of it be taller, with a steeper rise toward the front for more sunlight, that a door be placed in the middle of the side wall and to give one of the windows a hinge opening toward the front. Roy responds subito with a great drawing, detailing everything. He is a master at defining drawings, and really enjoys the process.
In the next few days we'll do some research at a glass place in Narni and see if they also make the fiberglass panels for the roof. We're almost ready to take the design to Virgilio. At this point, I'm not expecting a greenhouse for this year's spring seeds. I'm sure it will take a couple of months just to get it fabricated. Virgilio always has a long waiting list. So we'll scale down our garden plans for this spring and summer, and will speak with Stefano in the next couple of weeks to show him the design and get his thoughts about installing it.
We have an email from Robin Diner and learn that on Saturday, little Hannah was born. So now Robin and Jim have joined the grandparents' club. Welcome! We are sure that Leslie will be a wonderful mother, and Clay a great dad.
Angels' dandruff appears in big fat flakes at about ten am, covering as far as the eye can see, when Sofi and I stand at the front door. The sky is grey, obscuring most of the far landscape. Because there is a wind, the flakes blow sideways and up and down before....turning to rain. Drat. All around us the hills are covered with a white blanket.
But here, because we are a little lower than the high hills surrounding us, we have nothing. Only rain. Just in case, we put off our trip to Terni. Tia reminds us that Italians are crazy drivers, and dangerous ones when the roads are slippery. So we stay at home, with Roy only going out to Attigliano to shop for necessities.
I am reminded of the story of Mugnano being saved almost a thousand years ago because from the lookout atop the castle in Soriano, Mugnano could not be seen. "As far as your eye could see" was the goal of marauders who destroyed towns all around. And little Mugnano was saved. Today Mugnano is saved from the snowstorm. But if we have a lot of snow, the steep road up to the village will be impassable. So for this we are thankful.
This afternoon, I start to sew clothes for the scarecrows. I finish half of a blouse for the young girl, with shirring on the cuffs and neck of the shirt, made from a soft plaid cotton kitchen towel. I then start on her flowered pants before realizing that there is not enough light in the room to continue to work on this dreary afternoon.
The young boy will be easy to do. The girl and the mother will take all the work. We'll be sure to have photos on the site when we're done. Now, it's details, details, details...I love the creative aspects of this project, and coming up with designs for the clothes...old clothes or unused fabric remnants or cotton kitchen towels that are reworked.
It is almost a shame that this family will have to stand outside in all the rainy weather..."Just stop it, Evanne!" I tell myself. I have to remind myself to ask Roy if he'll donate a baseball cap for the young boy, but realize that we have a fun rainhat with basottos on it from Marielisa. We will see which one is just right.
There is a delay in sending the roses from the Netherlands, because there is a frost, but we receive an email from England telling us that they cannot send roses to Italy...by law. How daunting! So having a nursery in the Netherlands is a very good idea. We're not ready to plant them, anyway.
The design for the greenhouse, or serra, is finished, and we will take it to Virgilio tomorrow, after Roy gets back from seeing Dottoressa in Mugnano. His leg is bothering him again, and he thinks it might have something to do with his lower back. I hope not. Otherwise, he feels fine, and has not experienced any repercussions regarding his kidneys.
On this cold morning, we drive to Terni for a few errands and then to Narni Scalo to the glass place, to get quotes for the glass and roof of the greenhouse. We want this before taking the design to Virgilio. Guilermo stands way in the back of the cavernous building. He appears about 65 and has a face a little like Jonathan Winters. He even wears a cap that Winters would wear when doing an old man impression. But his jolly face and smile that turns his face into a ripple of folds tells us that he's happy to see new friends.
He has a wonderful material to use for the roof that is a kind of plastic with channels. It is much better looking than the old sheeting that sits on top of roofs all over Italy. He and Roy go over the measurements. Roy's design is very detailed and this helps. Before we are through, we have a very low price quote and a sample of the roof panels. Now we can go to Virgilio. We all agree that the greenhouse must be in place before ordering the panels, to make sure they are just right. And they can be done in a day.
But Virgilio is closed, so Roy calls him late in the afternoon and goes up to see him. Stefano just happens to be there, and so the three of them go over the design, and Virgilio will have a price in ten days. He can make it in April or May. Stefano tells us to expect it in June. That's about what I thought. So we'll have a smaller number of pomodori, and they'll never see the inside of the greenhouse.
I spend several hours working on the scarecrows, and have the body finished for one adult, except for the head and the stuffing. Roy will go to Viterbo tomorrow to find some kind of pillow stuffing that can handle weather. The hay no longer looks like a sensible alternative.
Roy drives to Viterbo, but the mattress place is closed by the time he gets there. So we'll try to return tomorrow to find waterproof material to stuff the scarecrows. We don't like the way hay looks, so think some kind of plastic will work better. He does find wood to make the scarecrow poles to sit in the ground.
Shelly sees Roy on the Mugnano road and asks him if Dani can stay overnight tonight. After dark, Dani arrives and we spend the evening watching TV. Sofi is happy to have a new friend for a few hours. Dani prays for snow, so that he won't have to go to school. I remember how few snow days we had in high school. The headmaster usually overslept when it snowed, and while we woke up earlier than usual and listened intently to the school closing announcements after snowstorms, our school hardly was on the list. It seems so long ago.
Roy gets up early to take Dani to school before it's even light and I hear the magic words, "Snow!" I sit up and turn the light on next to me, and yes, today is the day of our one-day-a-year snowfall. The leaves on the nespola tree stands so tall we can touch them from our window, balancing at least an inch of powder on top. Beyond to San Rocco there is a sea of white. The lavender mounds wear their snowy hats; even the gravel walks are covered. Let's take some photos!
By the time the car glides into the parcheggio, Sofi and I have opened the side gates to get a closer look. Sofi is not sure of what this white powder is, but her beard is quickly full of snow and she likes it, racing up and down, snow flying as though she is an engine-powered snow-blower.
The streets remain clear all the way to Viterbo, and traffic remains very light. We drive to two mattress stores, which don't know what to tell us. Roy asks for little pieces of plastic, shaped like beans (fagiolini), and we are directed to an Obi-like store called BRIK and another wholesale store that sells paper goods. But no one can help.
"Let's go to see my old friend, Claudia at Mailboxes Etc.!" Sure enough, they have a huge bag of "popcorn" and sell us half of it for an exorbitant price. No matter. It is what we need.
Back at home, I can hardly wait to get going, and sew up the wrists and ankles of the man and the young girl so that we can stuff them and see what they look like. The popcorn is perfect, and Roy gets the job of stuffing the gloves with uncooked hard pasta.
Sofi has a soft foam ball in her dog house that she does not play with, and it becomes the head for the little girl. The sewing machine zips along rapidly, and a plaid shirt for the girl is done, a jersey fits on nicely, and the flowered pants are perfect if not too long. Later they'll be cut and hemmed, after I figure out what to do with her feet. Ah, perfect wool long socks, stuffed and then my old sneakers fit just fine! When Roy comes upstairs, she's sitting with a leg hanging over one arm of the chair. She is really a tomboy.
The funniest figure is the boy-turned man-turned old man. Finally we have a place for our old man mask. With a funny looking mesh baseball cap from Tosca, this is one scary dude. It is late by the time I'm finished with him, and he scares me so much that I don't want to be alone in the same room with him. When he's finished, I take him down to sit in the living room to greet people.
Here's lookin' at you, kid!
Tia asks if we want to go to dinner with them at a Chinese restaurant in Terni tonight. Sure! This will be our first Chinese meal in Italy...ever. We agree to meet them there, and find a great gastronomia across the street. But we park right in front of the place where I usually buy setting lotion for my hair, and I see a wig in the window that looks cheap. Let's find out.
Inside, we ask for a cheap wig. Three or four people stand around waiting to close, and an older man asks us if the wig is for Carnevale. No, a spaventapasseri (scarecrow). There is a wonderful lavender one in the window, but it is €58. No thanks. A young woman leans over to the window display and takes out a Carnevale wig, made of shiny colored strands of all different bright colors, and long bangs. €15. Perfect! We leave with it, and instead of putting it in the car, take it for "show and tell" at the restaurant. When Tia and Bruce arrive, Tia can't wait to try it on. It is very funny. But now I want it for the young girl.
The meal is pretty good. We like the Peking duck, but the rest of the meal is not exceptional. We are so starved for unusual food that we scarf it up anyway with bottles of Kirin beer. Afterward, we drive to a place that sells expensive wines, but also serves wine by the glass as well as regular cocktails and different kinds of hot chocolate. There is a lounge upstairs, and when we climb the stairs a couple is just leaving. A whole area is empty, just for us. Since we were rushed out of the restaurant by a long line of young people waiting for tables, we take our time here, before taking our good friends back to their car and driving home.
This was a fun evening, but the best part is getting home and putting the new wig on the young girl, who sits with a leg over an arm of one of the living room chairs. She's ready to go. What do you think?
We tell him we know why, and to find out the answer he will have to come to our house. Better to bring a camera with him. Roy thinks that when Tito sees a photo of the old guy sitting in our living room he will get better subito...not wanting to be replaced.
We ask Tiziano about Marieadelaide. She has not been in town for months. And he tells us that she is in Bel Colle hospital with some pulmonary illness. Poor woman. She must be really sick.
More sewing today, but the sky is clear and the afternoon is warm. So sewing will have to wait, because it's a day to be out in the garden. I start the long project of cutting back roses and firming up the soil around them, while Roy brings his saw horses to a spot below the side stairs and methodically cuts the wood into plastic lugs. There is enough wood that came down from the top of the tufa wall for almost a winter's worth of kindling.
There are almost fifty roses to tend to, but I'll begin with the three Cornelia roses on the edge of the bank near San Rocco. There is so much Bermuda grass sticking up, that I realize this is a never-ending job. But three roses finished are better than none at all.
Sofi loves this part of the land the most, and flies through the air with one of her toys.
Tiziano comes by around six for a short visit. He is amazed by the character sitting in the living room. When he invites us for dinner later this week, we tell him to tell his grandfather that if he won't sit at the table with us, we'll bring our new relative...
I open the bedroom windows wide. The sky is so blue that today will be warm, and this is a great day to freshen up the room. But after I'm downstairs for a while I see that Pepe is burning in the valley, and the sky smells smoky. So I close the windows for now.
After breakfast, we're all out in the garden. I'm able to cut back all five roses on the front path with some help from Roy with the higher branches. The roses are Lady Hillingtons. They are strong and healthy, so after a first pruning I'll probably return on the next beautiful day to clip them again. The guide wire we installed on the walls really works well, and is hardly visible on the lovely tufa wall. There are plenty of tiny nodules on the branches, and we can tell that the fruit trees can't wait for spring.
I'm able to finish all the roses in one of the firoieras as well, with five roses cut back in the planter near the side wall. We have something called Stallatico that Tiziana at Michellini tells us to give all the plants during the dormant period (now), and unfortunately Sofi thinks it's a treat, so tries to eat it. It is not dangerous, but we'll need to find a way to disguise it in the earth.
Everyone in the village is out today, and they all talk about how beautiful the day is. And we are all hopeful that the warm sunny days continue. We don't have a huge garden; we have just enough to keep us busy. So we take on our gardening tasks slowly, sure that we'll have plenty of good days in the next few weeks to finish our winter pruning.
I'm almost finished making the last scarecrow, but there are no pictures of her to post yet. I'll work on her face tomorrow. That will be the most difficult part. What's planned for next month? We look forward to buds on the plants and trees, and perhaps even consider seeding one of the banks in the far property to have a little grass. Right now it's wild.
While Roy is out cutting wood, he hears voices and looks up to see Giuliola and Livio and their daughter walk to the end of Via Antica. They look over at our land, and perhaps theirs behind it. Roy asks if they mind if he cuts down the huge dead tree, and they do not. One of these days we'll have them over to figure out where their land ends and ours begins. It is at least on the other side of the huge tufa wall.
Catherine comes by for tea, and we lend her a pruning book. It seems strange that people seek our advice for roses, but they do. The more we work with roses, the more we love them, and the better we become at taking care of them. A key is the horse droppings, and Catherine also tells us the hay that they roll around in works wonders, mixed in with the earth. There's always something to learn.
The month starts with terrible cold weather. An overcast and angry sky brings us bone-chilling cold. The fireplace works overtime, and licks of flame dance around last year's wood. We have plenty to last us for the season, no matter how many cold days we have.
The third scarecrow is close to being finished, but it's too cold to finish her upstairs, so I spend some time hanging out with Roy watching TV. We have fresh perch fillets that he bought in Soriano this morning, and I am in the mood for pasta. So I cook up some garlic cloves and sliced onion in olive oil, add a few anchovies and stir them till they disappear, then add pitted green olives and some of their juice, a squirt of tomato paste, a jar of our heirloom tomatoes that have been strained through our trusty Foley food mill, some dried thyme, and serve it over bavetti, or flat spaghetti. Roy raves about the sauce.
In the meantime, I've taken a few slices of day-old breadcrumbs, and put them in a food processor with fresh Italian parsley. We now have wonderful breadcrumbs. After beating up an egg and dipping the fillet in the egg, I dip it in the breadcrumb mixture, add some dry seasonings and pat the extra breadcrumb mixture on top of it. I start to add some oil to a pan and sauté it, then change my mind and put it in a preheated oven around 375 degrees, with a little of the red olive sauce on top. Because it was partially sautéed, the breadcrumbs get a little crispy.
There's too much food for one meal, so we put one of the fillets in the outside refrigerator for tomorrow. I have Ready, Steady Cook, the BBC cooking program, to thank for encouraging me to make homemade breadcrumbs, instead of using the very fine breadcrumbs offered in the store. Backstage, we have plenty of jars of tomatoes, so we'll not run out of them before our next batch next fall us ready.
I'm writing more, and looking for new writing projects that will actually pay us, on these cold days when it's not fun to be out in the garden.
This is a significant day for many reasons, both religious and non-religious. The day begins with Pope John Paul being rushed to his local hospital, I Gemelli, which has been called the third Vatican after St. Peter's and his summer residence, Castel Gandolfo. He has had nine hospital stays since becoming pope, and this latest bout is a bronchial infection. Strangely, we celebrate the Blessing of the gola, or throat, in a benediction late in the afternoon in our own church in Mugnano, an annual event announced on Sunday.
We are two of about fifteen people in the little church, with Don Luca presiding. Before the beginning of the service, my eyes are drawn to a cintura, a kind of corded crimson sash with an elaborate fringe at each end. Tied to the bell announcing the arrival of the priest and beginning of mass, it is located at the front of the church near the sacristy door. I see it swing slowly like a gentle hand moving back and forth just under the surface of a pool of water. I am mesmerized by it.
The service is a sweet one. Each of us is given a candle, and Don Luca lights the candles of those of us at the end of each row, and we in turn light the candle of the person next to us. When it is time to blow our candles out, he tells us to relight them at home and rekindle our faith. He has two candles, which have been crossed and tied with a red ribbon. We form a line and when it is my turn, he speaks his blessing on my behalf, moving the crossed candles so that the cool wax of the unlit candles rests against both sides of my throat.
Thinking back on the Pope and the news media this morning, the European press is all-agog about his health. As a kind of reigning monarch, his sickness today reflects upon sick people all over the world, young and old, and he seems to be a beacon for them. Don't give up. There is much to live for, and many things to do. So although the press wants things shaken up for media's sake, calmness seems to pervade the Vatican.
This is not new news that the pope is ill. Medical experts in New York are interviewed on CNN, and they think he can recover nicely. Unfeeling sorts, who are news-hungry, want to stir up possible backstage antics and political wrangling, equating the goings on inside the Vatican with American politics. What they don't realize is that the Pope has no intention of stepping down. His advanced age, which is really not so old at 82, is really a plus. All the people who have been promoted or hired since he became pope want him to live longer, even if only for their own sake. So the cardinals' date in the Sistine Chapel will have to wait. And the "Pope watch" continues.
I say a prayer for him and for a friend, who is battling illness, but is full of life and I send each of them a prayer in my heart for their continued courageous and indomitable spirit. Thinking back about the cintura tied to the bell inside the church, I am reminded that each day is full of meaning and full of symbols. I am starting to speed up my days, and catch myself forgetting the little things.
In Italy, today is a day that also portends the end of winter. It is a lovely day, and Lore tells us that if the weather is lovely, it means that spring will come soon. If the weather is bad, we can expect winter to continue for six more weeks. On the phone today, I ask her if she knows about Punxatawney Phil, the groundhog in Pennsylvania, who draws almost 30,000 people on this morning each year to see if he sees his shadow when he comes out of his hole. If he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter. But you know all that.
Since today is warm again, I'm back outside clipping roses, and neighbors are happily walking by and greeting us. Enzo stops by to check on the leak in the bathroom. Roy decides that he does not want to fix it himself, so Enzo's assistant, Fabrizio, will come by later this afternoon to work on it.
Earlier today Roy returned from visiting Dottoressa, who gave him a prescription for liniment, and thinks he has tendonitis. She tells him to wrap his knee in a bandage, and her treatment seems to work after only a short time. He's feeling much better.
Roy tells me that when Fabrizio came yesterday to fix the leak in the bathroom, he called it a "crepa". So I ask Alice today while she's kneading my back like it's a ball of soft dough, if crepa means leak. She tells me it means crack. "Avere una perdita" means to spring a leak. So she would use the word "perdita", from the verb, perdere.
We then have a discussion about language, and she tells me that the English language uses many more words to describe something than the Italians do. That makes sense. So it is important to understand the context in which things are said, before one can understand what word actually fits. And that is why people tell us to listen to Italian being spoken on the TV and see if we can get a gist of what is being said. More and more we are doing that.
We received an email a couple of days ago from a man in North Carolina who is trying to find Canasta Crisphead lettuce. Google must like our site. People contact us almost once a month after doing a Google search. It's fun to make new friends. So this afternoon we stop at Bruno's in Attigliano, but his Canasta seeds are not crisphead. The lettuce is rounder and the tips are a brownish red. I think this is the strangest lettuce. And it does not look crisp to me at all. I think he wants what we think of as a kind of romaine, but its centers are not so stiff. We were told last summer that this is also called Canasta. We'll keep looking.
But I email him to tell him we'll keep looking, and an email comes back, telling me that this is what he is looking for, and he has found it in the U S. I admit this lettuce is very tasty. I just don't like looking at brown leaves in a salad. Now if I could have a meal and just look at it instead of eating, I'd be thin as a rail. Don't look for that to happen.
A few days ago when Tiziano was here, Roy asked him about a flock of over a hundred little birds, flying all together, swarming and weaving over the valley like shirts blowing in the wind. They looked like sparrows. Si! Passeri! Tiziano knew all about them. Ah. Spaventapasseri are scarecrows and so they are meant to scare...sparrows!
At Danieli's, while waiting for my hair to "take", he reads to me from the newspaper about the pope's condition. When I tell him what I know, he tells me that he is impressed that I know more than he does about the pope. The newspaper reports that when there is a new pope, they think he will be Italian. Not so fast. Let's see if we can keep this old gent's heart ticking a few years longer. Although I don't agree with a lot of the things he espouses, I cheer him on from the sidelines.
I suppose I love having an elderly pope just as I love the pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church. Am I less of an idealist than I think? Or do I just love the ceremony? Perhaps a little of both. But then I am a dreamer at heart. And with my dreams, many things come true.
The weather mystifies me. One day is "come primavera" and the next we're blasted by cold weather and threatening sky. Today the spring returns, and it's important to not waste a lot of time before getting all the roses pruned.
Roy loves clipping the suckers off the caki trees. Right now, he's up in a ladder in the tree in the side yard. The suckers make good kindling, and clipping wood and making kindling is one of his favorite pastimes.
What does Sofi like? Anything as long as it's right nearby. I need help from Roy to cut some of the stronger rose branches. I read that Iceberg roses like to be cut back severely, and that makes sense. Otherwise, they're leggy, and we want them to grow horizontally across the front fence. Once we have all the roses cut back, Roy will make a mixture of terra buono and stallaticco and will feed the roses. I don't really understand why the roses should get anything right now. But it's what Tiziana at Michellini recommends, so we'll do what she says.
Roy has just come back from Shelly's, where he picked up several buckets of Victor's droppings. By the time March comes around, they'll be dry and ready to mix with good soil and other nutrients. We're going to really feed the roses this year, to see if we can get them to give us explosions of color. We are situated perfectly, facing south, with plenty of irrigation. So if we watch for "animali" and spray a biologic spray, we should be just fine.
I have more sewing to do for the Senora scarecrow, but that will have to wait until the afternoon cools down. We picked up a hair extender this morning at a beauty supply shop, and it will be perfect for her. So we'll be finished before the end of the weekend. I am excited enough that I'm willing to make them for other people. They've become more of an art form, or garden art. It takes a lot of time, but I really enjoy making something out of pieces of fabric and my imagination. I'd like to make a ballerina that floats from a tree, but someone will have to commission that. After this one, I'll move on to other projects.
Today is clear and cool, but the sun is out, and I am able to finish pruning the last of almost fifty plants. While I am working on the roses, Roy is playing in the trees, deciding to do all tree pruning himself. With the double story ladder against the main trunk of the caki tree on the front terrace, he works methodically. If he works a few hours every day, he should be finished with all the trees in a week. Or two. Speriamo.
Later, I finish the third spaventapasseri. She is a shorter Gina Lollobrigida type, so I suppose Gina is her name. I do think she will spend most of the time inside, coming out for good weather. She'll be out to stay in June. Since the clothes can come off and be washed, all three characters should do quite well.
Felice comes by while we are having pranzo with two tools, one of which is ours. He is here to prep for the potatoes, and readies the soil against the wall facing San Rocco. So there will be plenty of room for the sprawling zucchini. He tells me that it is time to get the seeds planted for the pomodori, so I'll take them out of the freezer soon and ready the guest bedroom for tables of soil and seeds, in front of the window. Hopefully next year we'll be able to plant the seeds in the greenhouse. Since the pomodori will be planted in the upper garden this year, there is less room, so we will have fewer plants.
I want to introduce him to our new relatives, so bring him in the house before he starts in the garden. I turn the overhead light on in the living room and lead him into the room. He raises his head and steps back, in a kind of shock, at the sight of the man who looks like Tito's double, facing him on the couch. He is speechless, and does not know what to say, taking his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiping his forehead.
He turns to his right and sees the young girl, playfully hanging one leg over the side of an ornate chair. And then he laughs. He takes a few minutes looking around the room, at the bookshelves, the books, the photos, the furniture, and returns his gaze to the old man. And then he applauds, telling me it is all a wonderful sight. Roy tells him they are "fatto a mano, a Ivana" and he responds, "Complementi," nodding at me. I've decided to name the old man Vito and the young girl, Lulu. Wonder what he'll think of Gina. She'll descend the stairs tomorrow.
After Felice leaves, I decide to finish Gina and bring her downstairs tonight anyway. She will look better when she's standing up, Carmen style, against tufa bricks in the far property, with her basket under her arm. Look for her photo on our site soon.
Carla starts the hymns off like a cannon firing, but at least her voice is strong. The rest of us jump to attention and chirp out like little birds all lined up on a telephone wire, and we even finish sort-of in unison. There must have been a meeting, because Carla takes on Marieadelaide's post as choir leader, and we are all relieved that she was chosen for this role instead of any of us.
Don Luca announces that the Festa di San Liberato will be held during the week of May 1 to May 8, with the main procession on May 8th. In the coming weeks, we'll hear about what is planned. In some years, Ferragosto (August 15th) has been the date of the main celebration, with Francesco heading a group of villagers who set up the medieval pageantry. In other years, this weekend is the main event, culminating in spectacular fireworks shot off right below our house in the valley.
Lore and Alberto arrive right after church, to supervise the fallegname, who is to do the woodwork in their new house. He has been to the house four times to measure, and Lore laughs. Roy tells her he's measured four times, but will cut once. It is said that if woodworkers come to measure twice, they'll only need to cut once. So Roy tells her that because the worker is old, perhaps four times to measure, but if they're in luck, he'll cut only once.
Finito! The roses are finished. They have all been clipped and fed with stallatico and new soil. In a month we'll start to feed them. But for now we can concentrate on other things. Today I used a new pruner, manufactured by ValleVerde. It costs about €10 and I think it is better than the very expensive Felco's that we have used for years. I'll have to call Tia to let her know where to pick one up locally.
In the afternoon, just as the sun starts to lower in the West, we walk with Sofi to the other end of Via Mameli. She is really good, and we don't need to put her on a lead. Her first visit is to Pepe in his garage, where he gives her a hug. Roy sees an old carved cane, or bastone, there and asks him what it is made of. Sassafras. The word in Italian is similar, but it makes sense. Sassafras wood makes great walking sticks. A few minutes later on the way, after making a wide swath around Nando's cats, Carlo and Oosten meet us on the end of the little lane coming up past the public washtubs, carrying a table to Oosten's house.
Once we reach the end and turn around, Augosto and Vincenza drive up and stop in front of Italo and Leondina's house. Leondina gets out of the back seat and what's this? Italo has his shoulder in a cast. Mamma mia. Roy helps him out of the car. When we ask him what happened, Italo seems to have selective memory. Something happened at his campo, when he was cutting branches on a tree. When Roy sees it is his left shoulder, he tells Italo that is fine. Italo saws his wood with his right hand.
Vincenza tells us he'll be eighty-five next month. He seems to have the joie de vivre of a sixty year old. Leondina laughs at him, and he even laughs at himself. So it is nothing too serious. We are happy to hear that he went to Bel Colle in Viterbo and survived. That hospital gives us the willies.
But when we return to Pepe's garage, we ask him what happened to Italo. He tells us that Italo won't admit it, but he climbed up into a tree and sawed off a big heavy branch. It fell on him, knocking him out of the tree, and fell on his shoulder. He screamed out and I think Gianfranco heard him. But today, he can't wait to jaunt down the street to show his war wounds to all his pals.
The cold night ends with Sofi by the door, wanting to go out. She is outside for a long time, and I open the door to see if I can locate her. A ha! Her front paws are up on one of the rose planters on the terrace, and her beard is full of dirt. She has been chomping on the stallatico. I call her in, and we try to tell her not to do that any more. But she is so cute that it is difficult to chastise her. Roy promises to tell me tomorrow what the ingredients are in the stallatico.
Pepe told us yesterday that today would be cold. It is cold, but beautiful and sunny and of course we're outside in the garden. We move both the Crepescule roses from the rose arch to the right of the stairs going upstairs to the upper garden above the lavender, one below and one above. They did not like their spot on the terrace. Perhaps they were too "in your face". Now they live in spots where previous roses have not been happy, either.
First, there were Walter Branchi's Glorie de Dijons. Those puny roses were so wimpy that no matter how much we coddled them, they bloomed only now and then, with sorry specimens that were gorgeous and fragrant, but lifeless and tiny, whose blossoms refused to stand up. Then we took all the soil out and planted Buff Beauties.
Two of them took, one on the other side of the stairs and one on the other side of the mammoth rosemary bush. But the spot on the right seemed jinxed. So we're playing with fire, but we're playing. We figure that if the Crepescules weren't happy on the terrace, perhaps they'll be happy here, with full sun and plenty of irrigation.
We spend a lot of the day digging out the spots where the former roses grew and the new roses would be planted. Scoop by scoop, we move the old "tainted" soil to the wheelbarrow. In the far yard on the middle terrace, we have a very uneven terrain. So we're using that soil to fill in. Some day we may even plant grass. But for now, it's all we can do to try to even things out.
So new Alister Stella Gray roses now flank the rose arch on the terrace. We also began the project of making three real arches going up the stairs above the lavender garden. We have the black iron side supports, already planted in the ground with cement supports underneath. Those were installed when Mario and Dino built the stairs. Now Roy has come up with the idea of using black plastic pipe, with twisted wire interiors, to form the curves. They will look wonderful, and the wire inside will keep them stable, even in a strong wind.
The Paul Lede roses already have formed branches that cross over the top of the bottom two arches from last year, and we will keep them long. So before we know it, we won't even be able to see the black pipe. Ingenious and cheap. Bravo, Roy!
While we are working on the rose arch on the terrace, Leondina and another woman walk down the street toward us. We call out to them, wishing them a good afternoon. They call up to us and laugh, then sit on our little stone benches. Before long we hear Leondina's, "Vieni. VIENI!" She's calling out to Italo, who appears walking toward them like a soldier with a purple heart medal. Only instead of a ribbon he wears a bright blue and white shoulder brace and a natty wool cap. Leondina and Italo really know how to laugh. And we love having our neighbors sit on our stone benches. It is a great place to catch the afternoon sun, with the tall tufa wall to lean back against.
I want the experience of pruning a tree, so take on the Amerena, or sour cherry, that sits at the edge of the lavender garden. It is not very tall, so I am able to study it and clip with our new clippers, branch by branch. Once I am done clipping, Roy tells me that Mario clips the ends off many of the branches to stimulate growth.
I will have to read up on that. Yes, it stimulates growth. But I think it encourages the branches to grow shoots out sideways the next year. The tree looks graceful when I'm through. But I see sap oozing out of its trunk in a number of places, and it really does not look very healthy. Perhaps this will be its last year. Roy wants me to promise him that we'll replace it next year, if it needs replacing, with a new amerina. That's fine with me. I love making the jams. I also love soaking the fruit in brandy after picking and pitting it each August.
Felice appears just after pranzo to do some work on the lower vegetable garden. His health seems very good, and he enjoys being here, so we tell him to work slowly. When he is through, we are still working on our roses, and ask him about Italo. He points to his right shoulder and I tell him it was Italo's left shoulder and he laughs, telling us yet another version of Italo's " caduti" experience.
We love being outside in this garden. Now the garden is starting to come alive again, so before we know it we'll be spending most of our time puttering here, in the spot we love so. There is always something to do, some new thing to explore, some new way to plant or to feed or to harvest or to just sit and be happy. We are becoming experts, year by year, at all these things.
Today is Shrove Tuesday, the day we pick to take the train to Florence. When we arrive at Santa Maria Novella, the train station, the ground is dotted with confetti. Mardi Gras is very popular in Italia. During a walk, we find ourselves followed by a band of young school children, dressed in Medieval costumes that look more like the underside of turtles than breastplates of soldiers, made out of construction paper and markers, tied with string. The sight of them is so adorable that we have to stop to let them pass by.
The scene is a strange one; the procession of little turtles leads right into the famous square where a reproduction of Michelangelo's David looks down at them in his birthday suit.
We're here on a mission for a client, who wants eight chandeliers just like ours in our kitchen. Ours was made of wood, hand carved and unpainted, and now has the added depth of years of fires in the nearby fireplace and natural patina. We've come to make a deal with the shop owner who sold ours to us years ago. But there is only one left in the size they'll want, and these chandeliers are no longer made. Puor troppo!
Not to be deterred, we search the neighborhoods of Florence and interview prospective turnatores (wood turners) and fallegnames (wood carvers). We have done our research, and tomorrow should receive our second set of prices. Is it better to have them hand carved by Italian craftsmen or knocked out by workers in Mexico? We'll see when the prices come in, and we have made some excellent contacts for future projects.
We have pranzo at Quattro Leoni, where we ate years ago, and the tomato bread soup and grilled chicken are wonderful. This is a simple eating day, because Roy has his colon scopia (colonoscopy) on Thursday. And we're now ready to return home after hours of walking.
After the train arrives in Orte, we drive to see Virgilio, but he does not have our estimate for the serra yet. We will try again the end of the week.
Florence was exciting, dramatic, full of eye candy, but we look forward to coming home. Sofi is exhausted, and plops down for a snooze. Before we know it, we're joining her.
Ash Wednesday begins with full sun on the terrace, and I'm ready to work on the rose arches. Roy starts his regimen of liquids and medicine, to drink eight liters of water and a chalky solution before the day is through in preparation for tomorrow's procedure.
I weed half of the raised garden bed above the parcheggio, and give the lettuce and broccoli a douse of water. But I can't see any agretti popping up. I wonder if the lack of rain has ruined the crop. We'll see.
Roy is ready to work on the arches, and by the time we are through in mid-afternoon, the three arches are finished and rose branches are trained with clips. We have used black plastic pipe; the same we use for the irrigation system, and the end result looks wonderful. But just as we're done, we hear a church bell, and it's time to walk up to mass and to get our ashes on our foreheads, Or at least that is what I think we'll get. I put on my faux fur hat and coat and gloves, in case it is cold when we walk back.
On the way up the street, the benches are full of neighbors. Maria, the Sarda (she's always spoken about in this way) sits on the end of one bench, knitting. Italo sits with his head back, facing full sun, with his arms folded. Leondina is there, as is Donato's mother, Giustino, Maria (who takes care of Giustino), Giuseppe, Argentina and a few others. Leondina wants to know where we are going. Looks like this crew does not go to Ash Wednesday mass.
Once in church, we see that there is a very small group of people. Don Luca performs the service, and when it is time for us to get our ashes, we all line up. Don Luca seems to recite some phrase that is not familiar to me, and I don't know if the ashes even leave his hand. I see him do something over the top of the heads of the parishioners in front of me.
When it is my turn, Don Luca looks at my face, and then at my hat. What does he want? Oh. Before I have a chance to take it off, a hand swoops up from behind me and plucks it off my head. Don Luca is finished with me in a flash, and I turn around to see Roy hand me my hat. I'll add this to my list of "life's embarrassing moments".
Roy is a trooper. Back at home, he finishes all his drink just as ordered and is ready for whatever tomorrow brings at the Orvieto hospital.
Roy's colon scopia is a great success. We arrive at the Orvieto hospital, which more closely resembles Marin General than a S F hospital, and the dottoressa who does the procedure is very good. While he is resting, she brings me into an office and gives me a report, including showing me on a drawing where one 2mm polyp was found. It is sent to Perugia for analysis, and we're to send a payment through the post office for €14.
The colon scopia cost €36 and the medicine he took for the prep cost €11. The procedure mirrors the procedure at Children's Hospital. So when it's time for mine in another two years, I'll know what to look forward to. Roy wants us to consider Orvieto as our hospital of choice for emergencies. It's 5 to 10 minutes closer than Terni. But I am not sure.
I get to drive home, for Roy is still pretty groggy, and he spends most of the afternoon snoozing. After the procedure, he told me he was aware of what was going on, but we don't think he really was. Later tonight, he doesn't remember anything. But he's not in pain. We'll return to Orvieto in a couple of weeks regarding the analysis, but are both relieved to have this important milestone checked off on our list.
Today is my day to feel under the weather. Roy gets out the huge hose reel and waters, for there has been no rain in weeks. I rally in time to drive to Fornole to check out the agrigarden store for a price for the water pipe, and then we're off to Tia's for playtime for the dogs and pranzo and a "show and tell" of Tia's new orto.
The orto is really great. Almost 700 tufa blocks were used to outline the planters raised one tufa level high, with tufa walkways in between. The planters are a meter wide and about six meters long, and there must be six of them. Nursery cloth was placed first, then an entire truckload of terra buona was brought in. They'll need another load. So this project will be a great success. Tomatoes, flowers, other vegetables, herbs...Tia has planned out every space. Her brother and sister in law are tired, but Tia is full of her usual pep. Brava, Tia!
Gioia remains a devilish dog, but full of fun. Well, I'm not so sure how Sofi feels about that. Gioia nestles Sofi under her long legs, and pins her down, while Sofi slides out from under her like butter in a pan and bites at her snout. This is doggie roughhousing, and for the most part they like it. Then Gioia is tired and lies down, and Sofi joins us, happy to be out from under Gioia's grasp.
I spend most of the afternoon sleeping, and Roy calls Virgilio to see if he has a price for our serra. When Roy returns from a visit to him, he is disappointed, as am I. The price is too high. Roy wants to get another quote, so we may ask Dino. Right now, the project is on hold, until we come up with another solution. In the meantime, we need to get the seeds planted in the guest bedroom.
No gardening today. The sky is an ominous grey and instead we'll meet with Akiko and her family in Soriano this afternoon. We may even have time to meet Ann Monckton as well.
Akiko is waiting for us when we arrive, and tells us to call her Aki. She is a lovely woman and we find her husband, Giorgio, to be really delightful. Giorgio's brother also joins us, not wanting to do a lot of walking with a bout of back pain. Another couple walk up to the group, and we then meet Ken and Pam, who have just bought a house...in Mugnano! We have all just met in person.
Previously, Ken and Akikomet through an internet chat site for consultants who work or have worked for FAO (Food Agriculture Organization). We heard about Akiko through Patricia Brennan, who worked at FAO many years ago. The world gets smaller and smaller. We invite Ken and Pam to go with us in our car, and follow Akikoand her husband and his brother down the hill and up a driveway while we get to know our new Mugnano neighbors.
We are about to enter an unusual property that has so much charm and promise that we fall in love with it almost instantly. It is a good thing we don't have any money...
The house has about three hectares of land, but it seems like more. There are a number of outbuildings on the property, and a house for a horse and fenced off paddock. There are also three springs, a pozzo, and so many winding paths and lovely spots to sit that we have difficulty keeping track of how many there are. We see at least six olive trees and many, many oak trees.
The house was built in 1934, with the date of the house inscribed on a curved stone placed over the front door. A new addition was built on the side, which works as a kind of guest house. There are three parts to the house, but they are not attached. The main house has an excellent fireplace, and could be made up into a warm, inviting space, with a big downstairs salon and room for a good sized kitchen and several rooms upstairs.
Around the back of the house are two more rooms, with low ceilings, more for playrooms for children or an occasional guest quarters. The newer addition houses a salon with plumbing and an upstairs loft. The two entry doors to this space are wide and constructed in glass framed with ferro detailing.
We'd love to work on getting the house and grounds ready to sell. We are clear with Akiko and Giorgio that we are not real estate agents, but give them a few ideas. Then we follow them to the second property, which is a fairly new construction in the Cimini National Park. This house lacks the character of the first house, but could be an excellent house for an Italian family. Italians love houses of new construction, with big, broad entry rooms.
This house has a large downstairs salon with a wonderful working fireplace, small but serviceable kitchen, back terrace to entertain in, three bedrooms and two baths. We meet more members of the family here, who have come earlier to do a big cleanup. We are told that there is a view of Lago di Vico from the property, but it is cold and overcast, so we cannot see the lake today. We will try to return on a nicer day to take photos.
We say goodbye to Akiko and her family and then set out on our next adventure. Ken, an
American, and Pam, who has lived in Italy for years but is originally from England, have just purchased a little one bedroom apartment in the centro storico of Mugnano. We agree to meet them at their new place and then come to our house for tea.
Mauro is their muratore. They met him when they went to get the key to the flat. So he's going to start on Monday demolishing and restructuring the place for them. I really like the existing bathroom floor. The tiles are narrow rectangular early 20th century, all in black. The room is a railroad shape, long and narrow. I'd put a shower at the window, take out the bidet, move the toilet to the place where the bidet sits and put a skirt around the sink. But I think Pam and Ken want to move the bathroom, which will cost more money. It is interesting to see how different people view the same space. We're sure they'll do a wonderful job and look forward to seeing the stages of development.
Once at our house, we open a bottle of spumante to celebrate, and also have tea in front of a roaring fire in the fireplace. After they leave to return to Rome, we watch the British Academy Awards, and are impressed by the way in which they are produced. This is a lower key model of the American extravaganzas.
The graphics are stylish, the set simple, and the nominees all sit theatre style in uncomfortable stuffy seats. Martin Scorcese seems to sit in his chair as though he is about to be swallowed up by it. Even before he loses to David Lean for best director, he seems out of place and out of sorts. Vera Drake seems to steal the show, and it is a good thing. This is a remarkable film. But The Aviator wins for best film, so the Weinsteins show their staying power again. Best dressed? For sure it is Helen Mirren, in a black gauze sheath with lace, beaded to the nines. Good show!
The sky is murky when we walk up to church, but it is not cold. When we walk into the church, Livio seems preoccupied and does not look us in the eye and greet us as he usually does. When he comes over to us after we are sitting in our regular spots, he tells us that Tito passed away last night. We are so sad for his family.
Lore and Alberto are still in the village supervising their restoration work, and they come in to sit with us. We tell them about Tito. Then Marsiglia and Felice arrive, and I get up and greet them as they enter. I put my arms around both of them and put my face close to theirs, telling them about Tito. Marsiglia takes it in stride, but a change comes over Felice's face. I help Marsiglia to her seat across the aisle and then turn around to let Felice know we are here for him and feel his sorrow.
Nothing is mentioned during the mass, but afterward I ask Giuliola about the funeral, and it will be tomorrow at 3PM. This will be the first time a friend in the village has passed away, and our first experience participating in the service and in the procession to the cemetery. We all have heavy hearts.
While Roy speaks with Lore and Alberto, I return to Felice and Marsiglia. The subject of age comes up, and Marsiglia shakes her index finger, "Niente vecchio. Solo giovane." I then respond. "La parola vecchio non esistente." Felice responds, with a wave of his hand to the heavens, "Brava! Buon idea!" Finally he understands what I am saying and finally I speak it correctly. Marsiglia has indomitable spirit. She and her sister, Leondina both have it, and at times like this, they are there to lift the rest of us us up. Bravi!
When we walk home, we see a little white car pass quickly by. We see the figures of Giuliola and Livio and Mauro and Laura huddled inside, and we follow the car with our eyes as it turns left at the fountain and drives down onto the strada Bianca to the pink house in the valley where Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano prepare for sweet Tito's last trip.
Roy calls Tiziano and gives our condolences, telling him we'll be by in the afternoon with a torta. I go right to work making a lemon custardy torta with a layer of orange marmelade below the lemon créme.
We drive down there around 3PM, leaving Sofi in the garden. We meet Gianfranco and Felice driving up the strada bianca toward us. We arrive with the torta, and Tiziano greets us. I ask him where to take the torta, and he ushers me into the kitchen. Strangely, there is no sign of food anywhere. We are asked if we'd like tea, and we decline.
In the living room, the air of silence can be cut with a knife. Tito is laid out in his suit, with a filmy drape featuring the sign of the cross floating across Tito's chest. The whole picture looks like an adult bassinet. Sweet Tito. Chairs are placed around the casket in the shape of an egg, and Rosita stands near his head, looking sadly into space. Enzo is in Tiziano's study.
We walk over to Enzo to give him a hug, and he is full of emotion, but happy to see us. Most of the visit we spend with Tiziano, learning more about the Italian customs surrounding death. Tonight at about nine, Giuliola and other women of the village will come to say a rosary. The funeral will be tomorrow in our church, followed by a procession to the cemetery.
When we sit, Rosita brings the torta out, which has been evenly sliced, and offers us each a piece. We take it, and later go into the kitchen, where many people sit crowded around one end of the table, eating the rest of the torta. This seems such a strange flip of customs. Italians are so generous. They love their food so much. We cannot imagine coming to someone's house at a time like this and not bringing loads of food, so that the family members won't have to cook or take care of anything. Did we do the wrong thing? Tiziano does not think so, and will explain the American custom to his parents later when most of the people have left.
We look around for Enzo, and hear a sound by the side of the house that sounds as though it is literally shaking the house loose from its foundation. It appears that the neighbor, who doesn't really know how to work his own tractor, is stuck and Enzo is out there, trying to rescue the tractor. The neighbor's timing is indeed strange. So we will speak with Enzo tomorrow. We give our blessings and leave, and come home to wait for Ann Monckton, a new person we have been introduced to by phone through Michelle. Ann is coincidentally a friend of Pam and Ken's.
Anne arrives soon after we do, and we have tea by the fire. She lives in the countryside of Lugnano, and also has just purchased a place in Giove. So we're giving her information on Stefano, our favorite muratore. She will probably have Stefano and Mauro quote on her place. Interesting enough, her Giove investment was tiny, and she will fix it up for friends to stay in on weekends, and to keep for her own retirement. Ann is no older than we are, so this is really looking ahead!
When the three of us sit around having tea, we talk more about Italian customs. Earlier, with tears in his eyes, Roy told me again about his Uncle Roy's funeral, with the cab of his truck shined up, following the hearse. Roy then sang out, as we drove down the Superstrada, "Bury me in my overalls, don't want no gab-er-diiinnnnes..." So poor Tito will go to heaven wearing his suit. He has not worn the suit for twenty years, on the occasion of Tiziano's Confirmation. We all think it is too bad that Tito was not buried in his jeans. But then I know the reason. Bella figura. Tito must be dressed in his very best clothes, so that when he knocks at heaven's gate, he'll make a good impression.
St. Valentine is the patron saint of Terni, a city near us. But today we will go to Tito's funeral, and are preparing to dress up for this very cold winter procession.
Sofi stays inside and keeps warm, while we bundle up and walk up the silent street to the church. In the square, we stand in front of piles of river stones that are staged by the door to the Orsini palazzo, waiting for others to arrive. The pavement has not yet been finished in the square. We encounter Felice, standing near the caduti memorial, and he looks lost. He is very sad over the loss of his good friend. He walks with us and waits with us outside the church.
Soon, the villagers congregate, and are joined by friends and family members. Tiziano stands to the side by himself and I walk over to him to greet him. The open-back camion with the flowers arrives first, then Tito in the hearse. Rosita and Enzo and then Tiziano stand by the back of the hearse while Tito's casket is taken out by pallbearers from the Funebre and Don Luca leads us all into the church. It is so silent that not even the birds sing today.
The funeral service is like a mass. At the end, there are more greetings and then the women of the village take their place at the beginning of the procession, each carrying a spray of flowers enveloped in clear plastic. They are followed by Tito in the hearse for his last ride, then Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano and the rest of the villagers. We choose to stand together behind the family.
Right after the service, Felice disappears. I look for him all over the square, but he must be at home, silently thinking of his good friend. During the service I looked around at him standing behind me, and he had tears in his eyes. Although I have wondered often what it would be like participating in one of these processions when we watched them from our terrace while they walk by below on the street, I am so very sad to be here.
We now know the words of the drone. Don Luca leads us in loud voice, but the rest of us sound like a village of bees, flying in formation and humming the same sounds. "Ave maria, piene di grazia...."
At the cemetery, we follow down the paths to the Gasperoni tomb, framed in large squares of pink marble. Tito's casket is slid in more than half-way, and the remainder of the service is conducted here after flowers are placed all around the tomb.
Once the service is ended, Tito's casket is slid into the tomb, and Mauro takes his little bucket of cement and gently closes off the front hole of the tomb, then places in the pink marble that is to be inscribed with Tito's information and photograph. Tito's wife lays below him. Above him and to his right are three more spaces for the rest of the family.
Lore and Alberto and Roy and I walk out together, after visiting the two areas where our spots will be. We will be sure to arrange this within the next year. Because we are residents, we have the right to have two spaces in this cemetery.
The tone changes as we arrive at our path, and we welcome Lore and Alberto in for tea and to meet our "hospiti" (guests). There is amazement in their eyes, and Lore asks us who made our family of scarecrows. Later we'll take photos of them in the garden and take the photos to Michellini. The reactions people have to these figures are better than I even imagined. Although Alberto tells us there is a museum in Treviso for spaventapasseri, I can find no information on the internet about them. Right now, our little museum is our living room.
The evening ends with us thinking of sweet Tito, and remembering the first time we saw him. On the morning of our first Festa di San Liberato, we looked up to see him leaning over his balcony above his red and blue faded festa banner. On that day, the light in his eyes and his smile as he proudly watched the Polymartium band parade slowly below him gave us a snapshot that we remember tonight as we hold his memory in our hearts.
We research the internet to find out what we should do to protect our fruit trees. White latex paint mixed with water and painted on the trunks or copper sulfate spray or even baking soda mixed with water are three options. But Roy wants to use calcio, and that is what Felice recommended. We will have to work on them this week. Once Roy studies the options, however, he wants to use a mixture of solvay becarbonato (baking soda), water and copper sulfate sprayed on the trees, later painting them with calcio. Looks like he's hedging all bets. That's fine with me, as long as we can do it this week.
We purchased our peach tree more than two years ago, and this will be its third season here. For the first two seasons, we have had no fruit. The first year, Mario cut all the branches back, telling us that we'd have a stronger tree that way. Last year, without protection, the tree's leaves curled up and it was so diseased that it failed to produce any fruit. So we're determined to make sure it is healthy from the start of the season. This year, with two new fruit trees on the property, we have more at risk.
This morning, it was clear and warm enough (barely) to take the family out for photos. Each of them needs a little work, but basically they are finished. We'll wait for better weather to bring them outside, and even then don't know if they'll live outside all year. Right now, they look happy in the living room, scaring anyone who comes into the house and probably chuckling to themselves.
We purchase tiny little containers for the pomodori seeds from Bruno, as well as ten kilo of potatoes for Felice to pick from. Planting potatoes to get potatoes? It's a mystery to me. Back at home after pranzo, I add terra buona to the little containers, water them with warm bottled water, and drop seeds into 48 little containers. We don't expect them all to take, but if half of them do, we'll be happy. They will live in the guest bedroom by the front window for two months, before being planted outside. Later today, Roy will go out to purchase a clip-on light that will stay on during the dark hours. These new babies will need extra care, and until we have a greenhouse, they will continue to start their growing season inside.
Speaking of greenhouses, Roy drives up to Bomarzo to another ferro, who suggests that the house be made of anodized aluminum. I now understand that the greenhouse in the Unopiu catalog is anodized aluminum, so that might be a more realistic option. He should have his quotes in two days, and is quoting both with iron and with aluminum. I remain hopeful.
Outside, we measure off the land where we'll plant the tomatoes. In an aside, I tell Roy that the San Marzano pomodori plants that we'll purchase at the end of April will be planted down below by the back wall. That way, we can use the upper planting area only for heirlooms, and of course the peach tree. We measure off about 15 meters of space, so Roy tells me that means 30 plants. Felice reminds us that the enormous rosemarino bush will have to be cut back. The upward growth will have to be cut, leaving the cascading part of the bush. It's getting to big, so we'll chop off a lot of it later this week. Now it is just too cold.
The doorbell rings, and we are greeted by two men from ENEL. They are here to install a new electric and Gas meter, one that can be read at their home office. During the past two days, they also ran all new lines on the street. So although the power has shut off intermittently, we think everything will settle down now.
The cold weather continues, with no rain. We are able to pick up a nature "grow light" for the pomodori seeds, to give them round-the-clock attention. Felice comes by to plant the potatoes. When he's starting the holes, I ask Roy if the orto space is in the shape of an angle. Felice is not moving in a straight line. When I mention it, he looks down the row and starts to laugh. Then Roy gets a plumb line from his "office" and they map out the three rows together.
Felice has been coming by at around 1:30 each afternoon. Today, he tells Roy that he has abandoned his orto garden. I think it takes too much work. He brings two of his tools and leaves them. So we think he'll just come here. Am I thrilled or am I sad? Perhaps it is a little of each. If that really is the case, we want him to come here more often, even if just to sit in the warm afternoon sun. Did Tito's death have anything to do with it?
Roy has picked up twenty or so tufa bricks, and is laying out the path above. It looks wonderful. I ask him how his knee is doing, and that reminds me that he met with Dottoressa this morning, who told him to stay away from cheese and milk for 30 days. Was that because of his kidney stone or his knee? Dottoressa did not feel like speaking any English today, so Roy did not get a full explanation for what she recommends. She also recommends that he take some medication twice a day. It is a kind of mild non-aspirin, since Roy is allergic to that.
I make an Italian herb bread with a recipe from the Carol Field cookbook we just received, and it is delicious. We have a warm and toasty and delicious end to another day.
Very funny. We receive a call from the vivaio in the Netherlands that the "Easy Going" roses have been returned to them. The caller is a Mr. Smelt. I am not kidding. Herb Caen would have loved his name, especially since he deals with fragrant roses. The vivaio is informed that we do not exist at the address given. Does the fact that there is more than one Via Mameli, Uno stump them? What a surprise! I am told that they will resend them today, and we have suggested that they also post our phone number. I'd like to post a note on the other Numero Uno, but Roy tells me he does not want us to. Anyone around will be happy to tell the driver where to find us. This escapade continues.
We drive to the Attigliano market to pick up fish for pranzo, and on the way back drive to Bomarzo to see if our preventivo is ready for the serra. But the place is padlocked and a woman leans out the window above the shop to tell us she is sick and her husband is minding the store. She is the fruit and vegetable shop owner in Bomarzo. Piccolo mondo. Roy will drive up tomorrow to see if he has the preventivo then.
Although it is cold, it is so sunny that Roy wants to continue to work on laying the tufa border on the upper orto. It looks great. Once he has finished, I help him to grade the earth to get ready to lay out nursery cloth and gravel. We have plenty of everything we'll need.
It's time to cut back the enormous rosemary bush. Felice recommends that we cut the top of it back, because it will block the sun from the tomatoes. We stop our grading project to clip, and take off half of the bush, leaving the undulating lower branches. It opens up the view of the wonderful tufa wall behind it. The bush must be 50 years old.
Today began with every little thing going wrong, but by the time we walked up to work on the upper orto in the afternoon sun, with Sofi gamboling by our side, everything fell into place. I don't think there is anything I love to do more in the world than work silently side by side with Roy in our garden. As the sun lowers in the western sky, we bring in our tools and set a fire in the fireplace.
As we get ready to drive off to Amelia, a car stops and the Bomarzo ferro worker jumps out to give us his preventivo for the serra. It is bad news. In iron, the price is the same as that of the Unopiu catalogue, and to have the work done in anodized aluminum the price is even higher. Roy tells him it's too expensive, but thanks him. We talk about options, and Tia has a man who made a wine rack for them in iron, who moonlights on his own, so when she's back from Rome we'll contact him and see if he can help us. Somehow we'll find a way.
I have not had a visit to Alice for a massage for weeks, and this morning can hardly walk downstairs, my lower back is so sore from all the bending in the garden. But she fixes me up and we spend an hour laughing at the very silliness of life.
Last night, I had the strangest dream that I was not quite dead, but was fitted for a casket and helped to practice lying in it holding my breath. All about me people were getting ready to mortar me into the casket. So we talk together about the meaning of dreams, and I think the remembrance of Tito's casket sitting part way into its tomb had more to do with the dream than anything else.
Roy cannot wait to get home from Amelia, because he wants to eat more of the fish that we ate yesterday for pranzo. We only cooked part of it completely. When I sit down and have the first bite, after adding a little oil and cooking it through, I understand why he was so anxious to have it again. Yes, we'll post the recipe on the Food blog of this site in a few days.
This afternoon is so sunny that I cannot wait to be outside with Roy to finish the gravel project for the new pathway. While we are cutting the nursery cloth Roy tells me, "I thought we had seen this cloth for the last time. I could not imagine that we would make more paths." But we both know that gravel looks wonderful on those areas that need a little sprucing up, especially when framed in tufa.
When we have finished and the planter is placed again at a focal point at the top of the stairs, I ask Roy when Felice's birthday is. I think it is in February. I want us to make a special bench for him, like the stone ones that sit outside the gate. We now have the perfect spot for the bench, to the right of the Madonna. Actually, she'll be looking over at him.
His view will be the upper orto, the lavender garden, the lower orto, the roses, the far property, and beyond to the entire inner Tiber valley. I want him to have a special place, all his own, where he can just come and sit. This one will have the benefit of shade from the huge fig tree on summer days. We need to make sure there is an appropriate knob on the tree so that he can hang his coat or his hat on it. Italian farmers love these knobs. When we have workers on our property, they always find a knob of a tree to hang their shirts, or hats, or their lunch.
When we come back inside for tea, Roy tells me that Felice's birthday is a week from Monday, so we have ten days to finish it.
The bright sun wakes us early, but I can still see winter's cold breath, blown all over the valley while we slept. It's time to return to Roy's project cleaning the far tufa walls and uncovering the caves. Today he wants my help. I drag down tree branches so that he can cut the good ones for firewood, while he methodically chops away above me. Roy has a kind of rhythm to his cutting and clearing. I can almost hear a metronome; his movements are so steady.
When he's up there, he's careful to make sure he does not bring down the soft tufa stone outcropping with him. The branches are dragged down to the first level; a space we fantasize will one day be the site of our bocce court. In the next few days, Roy will burn everything. He is waiting for a day with no wind.
These days, our fires in the fireplace roar, perhaps partly because of the dry weather. It may help that we now understand the idiosyncrasies of our fireplace, building the fires "just so" in the corner, with plenty of air underneath to fuel the paper and kindling below the logs.
Gina has not yet had her day, so before it gets too late, we take her outside to lean, "a la Carmen" against the rose arch and the stairs going up to our latest gravel paving project. Sofi accepts her as a new member of the family, so here they are together.
I start a country rye bread with another recipe from Carol Field's Italian Bread Book. I have given up on the bread machine. Its loaves are too regular. They look like old-fashioned loaves from an American grocery store. Instead, I love the freeform shape of loaves left to rise in a lightly oiled bowl and then dropped on a baking stone dusted with corn meal to rise yet again before baking in a hot oven. This recipe for country rye bread calls for a cup of biga, and instead I add a cup of sourdough starter from the container that I keep in the refrigerator. Each week, I add more flour and water to replace what I have taken out for recipes.
The aspect of bread making that I love best is the kneading of dough in a big bowl with a hand mixer adapted with twisted metal arms that look like corkscrews. These arms gracefully slide around the mass of wet dough like Fred and Ginger in a dance, weaving in and out, back and forth, all the while creating a silky mass that does not need to be kneaded by hand. This mass is set to rise for three hours in a lightly oiled big bowl. The result will be three medium loaves of bread. I'd like to let the dough rise until morning, but it has risen so much in three hours that I fear we'll have a re-enactment of Lucy and Ethel and their bread fiasco If I don't make the loaves tonight.
So I lay out parchment paper as suggested, scatter lots of flour, and cut the dough into four pieces. I later learn that the wording of the recipe is not clear. It does not tell me to flour the parchment paper. So when its time to slide the dough off the parchment paper onto the cornmeal-coated and heated baking stone, what? It's stuck. So more flour, scraping the dough off the paper, reforming it and then the first loaf goes in. Forty minutes later it's out and the next one goes in.
The result is so crunchy and crispy that it is gone before we know it. The inside is perfect. But we decide only to bake two loaves tonight, leaving the last two to sit overnight under a towel. We'll see how that comes out tomorrow.
Rain is finally here, and it is cold enough to snow, so we walk up to church with our umbrellas, feeling the soft rain and thankful we won't have to water. Don Mauro is our priest, and Lore and Alberto seem impatient with him. I work at not judging him. Lore and Rosita and I sit in our row, with the men behind us. It feels strange.
We invite Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano for cena on Friday night. We have wanted to invite them for a meal, but when Tito was alive they were not all able to come at the same time. I am hopeful that they won't be taken aback when they meet Vito. He looks so much like Tito that it is frightening.
Lore and Alberto will come for pranzo one day this week, whenever they can fit us in. They are busy with their workmen on their next-door property, and their bathroom and kitchen tiles will be laid this week. Alan calls and he is in town, so we invite him for cena tomorrow night. Wendy is not with him this trip.
The bread is not good when it is left to rise all night, so the two loaves we left under towels won't rise. We bake them this morning and they taste like ciabatta, crusty and delicious. Next I'll try rosemary bread. We have plenty of interesting flour and I want to keep at it until I have a couple of really good recipes. The timing is what stymies me. I'd like to have freshly baked hot bread for pranzo, but I'd have to get up and start it around 6AM. Don't know if I'm up for that.
Will I be sorry that I asked for rain? This is the second day of it, and we really need it. Thankfully, we've spent a lot of time in the garden during the last month, and we're pretty well caught up. I can almost hear the earth drinking up all the water. Speaking of water, we have noticed more chlorine in our water, especially when we take showers. So some work is being done to adjust the chemical balance in our tap water. I think that's a good thing, but we still use bottled water for almost everything.
Roy has been working on getting that claim paid by the trucking company responsible for sideswiping his drivers' side mirror four months ago in Rome. Only today is he able to reach the correct claims person, who tells him she only had the claim for two days. So the agent must have sat on it. Now an adjuster has to come to see the car. It is a good thing we've kept the mirror attached with good old gaffer's tape for all this time.
In the kitchen, I'm working on a rosemary bread, using some of the LIDL rye flour and the "0" flour we picked up by mistake instead of the traditional "OO" flour we've always used. The mixture seems coarser, but we'll find out tonight, when Alan comes for risotto and chicken and our newest bread.
The bread turns out all right. But we want to know what the difference is between "O" and "OO" flour. Thanks to Carol Field, here is the difference: "OO" flour is one part pastry flour and three parts all-purpose flour. "O" flour is one part cake flour and four parts all-purpose flour. So in a few days, I'll post more of the description under the Food blog of this site, in case you want to replicate an Italian bread recipe that calls for either of these flours. I think it's time that Carol updated the book. So I'll email Eli Adler, who does ongoing work with her. Perhaps he will know if she's planning to.
It is fun to have an evening here with Alan, but he leaves without dessert, confirming with us that chocolate cake eaten at night results in very little sleep. So he leaves with a "porta via" bag of chocolate cake and a wedge of our new rosemarino bread. The bread is all right. But just all right. I'll repeat the recipe soon, making some adjustments.
Yesterday almost passed us by without remembering that it was a holiday in the U S. Thanks to email, Pookie dropped us a line from Portland that reminded us.
Yesterday's high points: rain and the risotto Milanese we shared here with Alan, at cena. He did not like the spaventapasseri. They seemed to frighten him, for he could not get out of the room fast enough after being introduced to Gina, Vito and Lulu. Now if they will only frighten birds away from the fruit trees as effectively as they frighten guests to our house. I don't want to scare the little birds away altogether; for I love hearing their voices and seeing them flit from tree to tree.
Now I am worried about what to do with Vito when Tiziano and his parents come for cena on Friday. That scare will ruin the evening before it even starts. Maybe we'll hide him under a bed.
Roy drives up to Orvieto to pick up the results from the testing of his colonscopia, but there is a mix-up. We think that instead of driving to the post office to pay for the tests and sending the money to the hospital in Perugia, we only needed to walk across the hall to the payment office, CUP, and return with a payment receipt. Now that Roy has shown the receipt to the hospital, they will have the results sent to them.
While Roy is away from the house, the power goes off for some local electrical work, and I open the front door, in case the roses are delivered and the door bell won't work. I also look outside from the balcony, and notice that the roses there are starting to sprout little green shoots.
Felice comes by later and tells us an old Italian proverb. It has to do with a witch in the window, and whether winter will last for six more weeks. Roy thinks this was the origin of the groundhog folklore. So we'll have to ask around what had to happen for the winter to be over.
He meets us at the front door after slowly ascending the stone stairs, and we have something to show him. We think his birthday is next Sunday, but it was last Sunday. No matter. We are ready.
Roy walks up the stairs first to the area near the fig tree, and I guide Felice behind him, showing him the new gravel and tufa paving we have done. Then Roy turns him around and tells him that the bench in front of him is "reservato solo per Felice". Roy shows him the knob on the fig tree above; a knob that is specifically arranged for Felice's hat or coat.
He sits on the simple marble topped bench, and is clearly thrilled, putting his hands to the sides of his face, mirroring a telescope, and moving his head to show the panorama in front of him. He then stands up, makes the sign of the cross to the Madonna, gives her a kiss with his lips gently touching his fingers and then her head. He places his cap on the knob and his face lights up his little balcony like a sunrise reflecting off a shiny window.
We walk him back to the front of the house and he tells us he must take a walk around every couple of days, or people will think he's dead. He thinks it's funny. Or does he? When we tell him he is welcome to come here every day, he asks Roy if he can have a row to plant his tomatoes, and of course he can. I notice that his eyes are watery, and don't know if it is the coldness of the day or if his eyes are really getting worse. I worry about him as if he is a member of the family. But then again, he is.
Last night Roy met with a new ironworker, Silvano, who is Fiorella's nephew. Fiorella works part time for Tia and Bruce, and is a forthright and delightful woman, exuberant in her gestures and joyful in her every expression. Evidently her sister is delightful too. Roy met her at their kitchen door and immediately knew just who she was, greeting her as though they were old friends. He was made to feel right at home.
Roy waited in the family kitchen for Silvano. While he sat, Mama stood cleaning a towel full of herbs and greens picked fresh from the garden for cena. Everyone was glued to the television, where an old Marilyn Monroe and Robert Mitchum movie played in Italian.
Silvano is a ferro worker who moonlights at his own maggazino on the family property. We will know by this weekend if he can make the serra for us within our budget. Roy tells me he'll offer to make it with him if that will keep the price down. Egad. I'm disappointed by the production this has become, but as usual, I remain hopeful.
Yesterday Roy came home with special mail. A card arrived from the littlest angels, a valentine so dear that I wish I could put it on the site. Angie must have taken Marissa and Nicole to the local photo studio, for they were wearing little angel diapers and paper mache wings, dressed as cupids. We're sure this photo will be one they'll cherish all their lives, as will we.
Rain continues all day, and Roy tells me this is the strangest mix of weather he has ever seen. Rain, sleet, hail, wind, bright sun; moving quickly from one form to another. While it is sunny for a few minutes, he thinks he's funny and hangs the clothes out on one of the "pelicanos" (metal and plastic moveable clothes lines) on the terrace. But the hail returns, and before I know it he's opened up both front doors and the whole thing is in the front hall, covered with hailstones.
Earlier this morning, the graceful branches of the cachi tree in front of the kitchen window were laden with watery jewels in the reflecting sunlight. For a few moments the scene was a photograph, and then the sun moved behind a dark cloud and the tree disappeared in a mist. I keep the photo in my memory, as one of life's treasured visual moments.
We found an excellent Merlot recently in a local supermarket, from a winery located in the Veneto, and the price is a remarkable €2.50. Roy purchases all that he can locate, and tries to find other branches of the same chain, where he snaps up all he can from them as well. Occasionally we hit on a remarkable wine at a remarkable price, and this is one.
I recommend that Roy try to buy cases of it, but he tells me that the Italian markets are not like American markets. Usually, everything they have is displayed on the shelves. That is why they are out of things so often. So now we'll have a new adventure, locating the other shops that might carry this wine. At €15 or so a case, we can afford to stock up.
I've been reading two books by Isabella Dusi. The first, Vanilla Beans and Brodo, talks about her first year living as a stranieri in Montalcino. I am now reading the second book, Bel Vino. The books are full of minute information on the town and customs. I don't know if I "like" the books, but they are full of helpful information. While I read, I can't help comparing our village to Montalcino.
Montalcino is a town unlike any other in Italy. It is an aristocratic town, with more than a few inhabitants who are poor contadini turned rich Brunello producers. The locals say that it takes seven generations to turn a contadini into a somewhat cultured member of the village. Actually, the contadinis live mostly outside the walls of Montalcino, but many of them are among the richest people in Italy, thanks to the phenomenal Brunello wine.
Here in Mugnano, no only is there no caste system, we seem protected from many things. Lately, we have been protected by the weather. When the higher hills all around us are covered with sleet and snow, we have rain. Just as Mugnano was protected by not being seen from the fortress tower in Soriano when marauders crushed every town and village in their sight over a thousand years ago, we are protected by the weather as well. So far, in all the years we have visited or lived here, we have experienced only one day of snow a year.
Recently, when referring to our part of the village as Mugnano Basso, neighbors laughed. Mugnano is just, well, Mugnano. There is no real "Alto" or "Basso". People in this village think of themselves as a kind of an extended family. Well, there are really only five family names in the cemetery, and almost every household has a direct relationship to one of the five "families". We learn that Celestino Natale, the man who built this house and had his initials carved over the front gate, is related to Enzo's family. The web get smaller...
Roy wanted our own homemade bread for toast today, so I baked one single large loaf of the rosemarino bread without the rosemarino and without the rock salt on top last night. The more I bake, the more I learn. I used some of the baurenbraut flour from LIDL and our own sourdough starter instead of dry lievito. Before I went up to bed, the bread was taken out of the oven and it looked like a loaf one would purchase at a store.
This morning, we eat the bread for toast, and it is all right. Just all right. I think the flour is the culprit. There is more work to be done, and there are more experiments needed. Ultimately, I'd love a pizza/bread oven installed in the outdoor kitchen/loggia. We have spoken about this for years, and there is a spot in the tufa wall above the cave where we install the presepio each Christmas that will be perfect.
Roy wants it to be powered by a bombola, and that could be kept below in the cava. I'd like it to look "caracteristico", carved out of the tufa stone. So we'll begin our research on the internal part and also get Maurizio involved when it looks closer to reality. The oven was Maurizio's idea just after we purchased the house more than seven years ago.
There is a silence in the cold air this morning. Perhaps the ground is digesting all the rain that has dropped steadily for the past few days. Sofi enjoys drinking water, sometimes drinking from a little bowl left outside for her. The bowl is full today, and she drinks thirstily from it. I take Vito upstairs and sit him in the guest room, watching over the tomato seeds, nestled in earth and warmed by the light of a lamp 24 hours a day. I don't want him downstairs when Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano come tonight. He looks so much like Tito, who just passed away, that it is scary.
Tia calls, and there is so much snow in Amelia that there are signs posted for people to use chains. All around us the heavens have sent down their shakers of snow, dusting the tops of every hill around us. But in little Mugnano, there is nothing.
I am happy we are having Tiziano's family for cena. I love to cook risotto, and having people for a meal in the wintertime gives me an excuse to make it, while people sit around eating crostini and drinking their first glasses of local wine before the fire.
Tonight we have risotto with zucca (an orange squash), followed by baked fish. The crostini is made with our own bread, and although I am disappointed with this last loaf, it does make great crostini, with rubbed garlic and olive oil and salt. I also fix poached pears in white wine, stuffed with gorgonzola and marscapone for dessert.
Rosita makes a wonderful lemon torta with lemons from their garden. We drink Enzo's wine, a young red with a little spritz to it. It is Enzo's, so we enjoy it more because it is his. I especially like the corks, whittled down with a pocket-knife to fit in the neck of the tall green glass bottles.
We learn more about WWII tonight. The one Mugnano resident we lost during the war died when someone from the German army holed up in Giove launched artillery across the valley toward American soldiers marching from Bomarzo. It landed in a house on Porta Antica, blowing up the roof and killing a woman inside. Enzo was a child at the time, and tells us her name was Rosa.
Recently on a walk up Porta Antica where, at the end of the street, we can look down upon our property, we passed by the house. I love the house, or what is left of it. A big fig tree grows inside, but there is nothing left within the walls, and the roof is completely gone. Through the window, we can see the sky. Only now are they beginning to work on the little house.
In a separate war incident, a train carrying explosives was blown up in Bassano in Teverina, a town on the other side of Chia, as it passed below a bridge. The explosion was so loud that it broke windows and opened doors as far away as Mugnano. Enzo was asleep under a window, and his bed was blown clear across the room.
In my mind, I can hear the American foot soldiers marching across Bomarzo and down the hill toward Giove. The Germans retreated toward Amelia, so no fighting took place near Mugnano.
Enzo tells us that the Palio this year will be extended to include a horse representing Mugnano and possibly one from Giove. Bravo! We love the little Palio, and love to attend each year on April 25th. See the Archives for this date on past years for stories about the events.
Somehow the conversation arises about making bread, and Roy tells them that we are doing research about putting in a bread/pizza oven in the outdoor kitchen. When Enzo hears that Roy wants to power it with a bombola (gas) his eyes close shut and he makes a face as if he has just heard a loud noise. Bam! Enzo convinces Roy that wood is the proper thing to use, and that it will not take much wood to get it going. Bravo Enzo!
After a late breakfast, we walk up to the village. I have been unable to reach Lore by phone, and we do want to make a date with them for pranzo at our house. It is 11AM, and the village is buzzing.
We walk down the path to Lore and Alberto's house and Roy calls out a buon giorno. Two workers wearing heavy sweaters install mattone upstairs in the open room. Alberto appears with a tray and two dark green glasses, containing coffee for them. He looks so elegant today, but then he is a very elegant man. We wish him a buon compleanno for his birthday yesterday and he smiles broadly, holding the tray in one hand and giving me a hug with the other.
Lore walks out a side door to greet us and shows us all the new work. She also shows us two of their maggazinos, full of furniture. From the roof of one of the maggazinos, two gaping holes in the roof stand like open wounds. Clear plastic neatly wraps each piece of furniture. One fabulous old pale green silk cloth, edged with dainty tassels, protects smaller objects on a shelf. When I tell her it is beautiful, she looks at me as though I am out of my mind.
She clearly enjoys the project, showing us the wooden trunk she has been oiling and new tiles that have been installed in the kitchen. They are not able to come for pranzo, so we make a tentative date for a week from tomorrow. Tomorrow they will return to Rome. We bid them "A domani" and continue our walk.
When we leave their part of the borgo, we meet up with Alberto Cozzi as he steps out of the Orsini Palazzo. It is his 50th birthday, so we are able to wish him an auguri and buon compleanno. Franco the vedura man is here today with his truck, and we greet Giuseppa, who is buying two bunches of what we know as scallions from him. She calls them spring onions, and is buying them to plant now. They will be ready to eat in May. So we buy two bunches, and they'll be planted in rich dark soil during the next few days.
Right outside the cantina below Ivo's house, we come upon Romeo. He is trying to take a crusty layer off the inside of one of his huge plastic pails with a tool that looks like a putty knife. He tells us he is trying to take off residue left from the vendemmia. The whole space smells like fermenting wine, and Sofi laps at the water running down the street from a hose. Fa niente. It will help her to sleep after pranzo.
We want to take a walk to Ken and Pam's new apartment, but as we look down toward the caduti monument we see them parking. So we stop and wait for them, then follow them to look at their space.
Mauro has taken out all the mattone, and has covered the entire apartment with an underlayment of cement. All the internal walls have been taken down, too, and the fireplace completely gutted. Later, Roy tells me they want to make their space modern.
On our way up the hill earlier, we encountered Paola and Serena, who were driving to Bomarzo to sign the petition for ADSL. On the way back down the same hill, we see them just returning. Brava Paola. She was also able to recruit Italo and take him along. Italo signed the petition along with Serena, although did not really know what he was signing. No matter. He is walking next to us without his shoulder brace, and is his usual happy self. Roy and I love to ask the neighbors about the weather. "Quando tempo cambiare?" Roy asks Italo. "Giugnio! Ha!" he responds with a laugh.
Paola is diligently working to convince more people to sign up, and the number is above 30 now. Slowly, slowly, the wheels of progress turn in this little part of the world. But they are turning.
After pranzo, Roy asks me to take a walk with him. We enter the loggia, the room that also doubles as our outdoor kitchen, and he shows me that putting a bread oven above the cava will not work. And then our eyes are drawn to a round outcropping of tufa to the right of the cava; one that has probably had no practical purpose since it was created there thousands of years ago.
This is a perfect spot for the oven, and there is room above it for a chimney that will be routed outside. Roy still is not convinced that Enzo is correct. He does not think that the aroma of wood will permeate through the oven tiles. So we have research to do, and I"d like to ask Maurizio what he thinks. I envision a caracteristico oven, perhaps with an old wooden door, backed in iron, the whole structure inserted into the carved out tufa rock.
It's time to call Silvano in Amelia to find out about the serra project, but there is no answer. So Roy takes out the tall ladder and finishes his winter pruning of the cachi tree on the front terrace. Armed with sharp-edged comments from me regarding last year's massacre of the tree, he prunes one side back heavily, but the side we can view from the kitchen window gets a gentle clip. When he climbs way up on the ladder, I stand steadying it on the bottom rung.
I read in a pruning book that it is common that one side of a tree is pruned back heavily one year, the opposite side the next. Since last year the branches that were previously visible from the kitchen were sparse, I am hopeful that we'll have a generous growth this year. As we did for the past two years, we'll cut the fruit off during June, giving us shade and the beauty of the tree until mid fall, and no messy cachi on the gravel. All the fruit on the second cachi tree in the side garden will be used to make our popular holiday pudding.
Last night Alberto Cozzi's party included fireworks. We did not go, but the noise woke us at least twice. Fireworks are considered a big deal for a big deal party, and a 50th birthday party qualifies, don't you think? Of course, it scared the life out of Sofi, who would up in the bed for a few minutes until she calmed down.
This morning, we wake to see a light dusting of snow on the trees and ground. But since we only have one day of snow a year, we all just wish it away. We walk up to mass and it is cold, but refreshingly so. Above us is a snow sky, murky and heavy and damp. Once down on Via Mameli, Leondina shuffles out in her slippers with a shawl over her shoulders to give me a big hug and see if we'll come in for caffé. But no, Sofi waits for us.
We're pacing ourselves today, because tonight we'll be up at midnight to watch the pre-Oscar show. We locate 60 minutes in English on one of the SKY television stations, and even if it's a week old, it's good to watch it.
The birds sound almost frantic outside. Is it my imagination, or are they more agitated in the cold weather? We can even hear them with the windows shut on these bitter days, but I am happy to know that they have made homes here. Now will I be happy once the fruit trees blossom and start to fruit? Will Gina and Vito and Lulu be able to keep them away from the fruit? Only time will tell. I do know that Roy will paint the trunks of the trees in the next few days. If tomorrow warms up a little, that will be the day.
On this last day of February, we stay in bed until almost noon. Last night we watched the Oscars on television until almost 6AM, so we sleep in.
Roy finally is able to reach Silvano on the phone just after pranzo, and he agrees to build the serra in iron for approximately the price we budgeted. Bravo! But he wants to know, "How will we get it here?" Boh! Fa niente. Roy calls Stefano and makes an appointment for him to come by tomorrow after pranzo to scope the area out.
Stefano has a cute little truck, and Roy thinks that he and Stefano and Luca can pick up the pieces and transport them here. They'll be bolted together in place once they're here. After they're in place we'll re-measure for the windows and roofing panels. We know that it will take no time at all for the glass to be cut.
Before the structure is built, we will need to prepare the area and re-measure everything. That is a job for Stefano and Luca. Silvano may be making this without coming out to field measure. So I take photos of the little existing chicken coop. It looks more like an outhouse that you'd find in the back woods of Kentucky. The word "eyesore" comes to mind.
Since we're transported city folk, the idea of a "chicken coop" conjured a kind of romantic notion of feeding chicks and picking our own fresh warm eggs when we first arrived. In reality, the structure is a dump, with rusty metal, corroded chicken wire, dilapidated wooden doors and a rusty corrugated tin roof, all leaning against the tall tufa outcropping at the edge of our property above the parcheggio. One old wooden door, however, can be cut and reused outside a little tufa outbuilding on the far property.
So what's up for March? We're still waiting for those Easy Going Roses to arrive, and they'll be planted where the peonies are now. The little peony bushes are just not happy, so they'll be replanted in the far property to survive or not on their own, March is the month we begin to feed the roses, and just about everything else. On sunny warm days, we'll be out moving things around and perhaps we'll even scatter seed for some prato on the far property.
The building of the serra will be Roy's main project, other than continuing to cut down wood in the far property and uncover more of the tufa outcropping.
Today the first green sprout of the pomodori seeds appeared in the guest bedroom window. They'll continue to grow in their little pots in the house for most of the next two months. I can finally think of these sprouts sitting in the sunny serra (greenhouse) and of me puttering around inside, potting plants and planting seeds. I am hoping that the construction work can begin and finish in the month of March. We will know more later this week after we've had our first meeting to go over the drawings.
For me, I will be spending time writing, when not out in the garden. For some days, I have known that the San Francisco Chronicle will buy a story of mine about the garden. It will run in the Home and Garden Section, with photos we have taken during the years we have owned the property. I am cautiously optimistic. Thanks to Roy and my dear friends who have encouraged me to write, I am hopefully turning a corner with my writing. I don't know the date the story will run, but think it won't be for at least a month. Now it is time to get serious and write some other articles and get going on the first book.
Bright sun wakes me up, and I think, "We'll spend the day outside!" But it is icy-cold on the terrace, even in the sun.
Roy mixes the potion for the fruit trees, a mixture of solvay bicarbonato, copper sulfate and dish soap, and sprays it on every fruit tree. Bravo. We hope that this year our plum and peach trees will escape the early spring blight. In this, our third year of owning the peach tree, we have yet to see one peach.
Shelly stops by for a short visit, and to pick up the frozen meats we have kept for her. Her life still is in turmoil, but perhaps she will have a chance to slow down in the next few weeks. Claudio is still in Rome, and she has finished one segment for the English TV station on "the pope watch" in Rome since her return from the U S. This "watch" has been going on for over ten years.
Her sources in and around the Vatican tell her the pope is not well at all, and is being kept alive by machines. We take this news with a grain of salt, wanting to believe that his resolve has a lot to do with his behavior. Today, we hear that he has spoken a few words. We think that is very soon, but who can say "NO!" to the pope?
We show her the latest mess done by ENEL, a low slung electrical wire directly in our view. Shelly tells us there is a law that all these poles will have to be put underground, This has something to do with the Tiber Valley "something or other." We'll ask Mario Fosci, who works for ENEL, what he knows about the law. Shelly thinks ENEL is dragging their feet. So perhaps we'll get our wish of having the lines buried. That will be good news.
Stefano and Luca come by after pranzo, and walk through the project to be done to get the area ready for the serra. Stefano estimates it will take the two of them a day. Roy also shows them the crumbling cement on the walls, and he thinks we need to repair it, bit by bit. We will do that with his help. After we have our meeting with Silvano on Thursday and get a timeline we'll bring Stefano back in. Sofi is so happy to see her pals here again.
I work on sewing Vito back together, now that Roy has repaired his mask. You can view all three scarecrows on the photos section of our website, under Garden Art. All the clothes are cleanable or washable, so it is possible to leave them out once the weather gets warmer. With a little sewing by hand, we can wash all the clothes, repairing the figures so that they can last. Vito probably won't last after this year, however, because his mask is made of rubber, and it has seen many, many adventures. Perhaps we'll replace his head next year....I don't anticipate making more figures unless it is on commission.
Tony and Pat call from Ohio, and they are expected back tomorrow. We'll be sure to see them later this week, after they settle in. And Akiko and Giorgio check in, letting us know the report from the geometra is expected any day now. We hope to work on their project this spring.
Elizabeth comes by tonight for cena, a simple risotto and salad. But Giordano calls and asks for some HR advice, so we have a quick meeting after he's through work. We think he's going to be offered a good job in Rome, and we talk about the options. This is wonderful news for Giordano. He is a talented young man, and although at the beginning of his career, these stepping stones are ones that will be very valuable to him as he learns more and more about the world of post production and sound.
It appears his whole family is going to be moving back to Rome within the next several months or so. Looking back, we don't know how we would have fared so well without their guiding hands at the beginning of our adventures here.
Felice comes by, and tells us that he is very proud of us. He thinks it is a great idea that we have pruned all our trees ourselves, and sprayed the fruit trees, as well. Today is bone chilling cold, albeit clear. Roy shows Felice his finished "throne" and, although I did not see his reaction, Roy tells me he is pleased. One day we will find a carved iron piece of a gate and will sink it into cement in the ground behind the seat as a backrest. For now, the bench is fine as it is.
When I wrap a warm scarf around me and walk out to greet him, he asks us when we can come for a piccolo pranzo. We agree on a date, and he asks us to write it down for him, but Roy mixes up the date and the day and a few minutes after he leaves, takes off to find him before he gets home to tell Marsiglia.
He finds Felice in his cantina, and although I have had a tour, this is the first time Roy has visited the special room. I remember one summer day being served wine in a cloudy glass in the cool dark cave, each of us giggling that we were doing something we should not be doing, whispering so that no one would hear us.
Today there are three little sprouts in the guest bedroom. One Black Russian and two Earl of Edgecomb plants have thrust out their first sparks of green, reaching for sunlight. This year, we have a light on the seedlings 24 hours a day. When it is bright and sunny outside, they face the window. Otherwise, and during the dark hours, a light is focused on them. Roy made a wonderful scrim that looks like the headpiece of an elaborate nun's habit to deflect the light back on the plants. Tomorrow I will make a mixture of warm camomile tea and spray it on the little containers of terra buona.
Marilyn emails us that she's back to her old habits. She's planted ninety seeds, which is twice our lot, but then again Marilyn always does things in a big way. She'll be feeding all of Sonoma County before we know it and has plenty of room in their gorgeous garden to plant all kinds of things.
The Easy Going roses have still not arrived, so I'll email the vivaio in the Netherlands on Friday if they have not arrived by that afternoon. This is getting old.
But a creative spark has remained lit since we drove to Fornole earlier today. Once there, we picked up an ancient step that is used for the seat of Felice's stone bench. I spotted some lovely old tiles, stacked on the ground. Walking closer, a few of the designs were so wonderful that I could see them lining the area around both old sinks of ours; the one in the loggia and the one outside under the big olive tree.
Now that we're going to replumb the water line in the garden, I want to face the old sink in old hand painted tiles. And it is time to spruce up the area around the sink in the loggia as well. But these tiles are very expensive. The ones I especially like are €25 to €50 apiece! We'll need 40 to 50, so there is no way we will buy these. But I am thinking. The design does not have to be elaborate.
I email Pat Ryerson in California, who probably has some ideas. But if she does not, we can visit Ciara at Giacomini or even Carlo in Ripabianca and ask them. I love the idea of being able to create these tiles. Why did I not think of it sooner? I am a lover of Italian ceramics. I love the look of the paint on the terra cotta. Perhaps there is a painter inside me, waiting to emerge. We will see if this is a passing frivolity or the real thing.
We hear from a high school friend of Roy's, Rich Fisher, who will visit with a friend in a few weeks. And then Roy drives off to the Questura in Viterbo, hoping to pick up his new Permesso di Sojourno, or official residency papers. Many years ago, a mistake was made in Roy's name on his permesso. They finally agreed to fix it, and have notified him that they have his new permesso. He has taken new photos.
Roy will be able to apply for dual citizenship in another three years, and if there is even a tiny mistake on his papers, it will slow everything down. So now is the time to fix it. There is still no word from the Immigration office of the U S Government, who is trying to locate the citizenship information of his grandfather. It appears Roy will become a citizen before the information arrives. We are trying to find out when his grandfather became a citizen. If he became a citizen after Roy's mom was born, Roy can become a citizen soon. But the wheels of government turn slowly...whether it's in the US or Italia.
Sofi and I remain at home to wait for the roses to be delivered. Magari! (This is a wonderful word that loosely translates: "if only this were so.") Another day goes by with no delivery. Roy returns and I fix up a cacciatore and pasta, served with grilled crostini rubbed with garlic and given a drizzle of olive oil and salt. Roy's reaction: "I thought I hated garlic, but these crostini are so good I am rethinking my old palate." Bravo!
The rain begins again, and it is so cold and windy that the windows wail a mournful sound. The heat is turned on, and the tomato seeds and soil in their little paper jackets are pushed toward the radiator below the window, to keep them warm. I am so cold that I get back into bed for an hour or so to warm up under the down comforter, while Sofi sleeps in her wicker bed nearby. Roy spends the time downstairs, redesigning the greenhouse. He will meet with Silvano tomorrow with the precise instructions. Roy loves this detail work. I can think of no better birthday gift than this serra, designed to a fare-thee-well by Roy.
The howling rain turns to thundering explosions in the distance, and Sofi's muffled cries from her little bed get me up. So we both move downstairs, where Roy has built a lovely fire. The night ends with us all watching Desperate Housewives. The program is probably ten years old, but we've never seen it before, so indulge ourselves on this rainy night with some silliness.
Kathryn Thomas is busy trying to find a great chef for her lovely little hotel and restaurant in Amelia, The Carleni. Last year Jeremy Tower agreed to open the restaurant and changed his mind at the last minute. Now Kathryn is anxious to get the business going, and we've referred Alex Borghesa, Karina's nephew and Barbara Bouchet's oldest son.
He runs a trendy restaurant in Rome and is also interviewing with the Armani folk about taking on a restaurant in Shanghai or some other exotic Asian locale. But the decision has not been made, so Karina agrees to track down Alex and see if Alex and Kathryn can meet. We are happy that we can help them both. We also hear from Karina that she is doing Angels and Demons tours almost every day. It looks as though Dan Brown is really pumping up the Rome economy. The tours are hot, hot, and Karina's group is the only licensed one to do those particular tours.
Slurpy delicious rain soaks everything under foot. With gravel under foot, walking around a fair amount of our property in this weather is not a problem. Actually, in addition to looking very Italianate, the gravel is a really practical solution. The nursery cloth underneath keeps the weeds at bay, and any airborne weeds that grab on can easily be pulled out.
Sofi loves to go out in the rain. Well actually, she loves coming in after a romp. We have a thirsty towel by the door, and roll her up in it and play when she comes back in to dry off. We're not tired of the rain yet. Give us a few days.
On February 15th, we planted the seeds for our heirloom tomatoes. Today is almost three weeks later, and only three sprouts have come up. We will be patient, but it appears that we will have a much smaller number of heirloom plants. Should we plant more seeds of other varieties just in case? Not yet. Last year we did not plant our seeds until the first week of March, and they turned out just fine. But our seeds are now older, and have been kept in the freezer when not being used. We'll give it another week before deciding whether to plant more seeds.
Roy returns from meeting with Silvano, who will buy the steel tomorrow for the greenhouse. He only works on these projects on Saturday, and his shop is too small to do this project. So he'll only work on it on Sunny Saturdays. Boh! Roy agrees to help him. So pray for sun next Saturday. I don't think the job will take all that long to do. But what do I know?
I'm back to baking bread without really following the recipe, and make two scrumptious loafs of ciabatta bread. The flour is from LIDL, and we'll pick up more soon if they still carry it. The bread is light as a feather, crusty and incredibly delicious. It is difficult to determine from the package how much of what ingredient is inside. But oh how I'd love to know!
While Roy is out, I sit down and map out the design for the ceramic tiles that I will design. Pat Ryerson kindly gives me great advice, and next week we'll drive to Imprunetta to pick up a box of tiles and the rest of the supplies I'll need. We may check in with Carlo in Ripabianca to see if he'll fire the tiles when they're done. Pat suggests I do some test samples to verify the color and finish, so this may be a long term project. Can you imagine me a ceramic artist? Why not!
The cold continues, but the entire valley is enveloped in fog when we awake. Several hours later the fog has disappeared, replaced by bright sun. But the sun is so low in the sky that it's too cold to go outside without a jacket.
The camomile tea I add to the tomato seeds and earth might be working. Two more sprouts have appeared, but they are all from the Earl of Edgecomb variety. I'll try some more camomile tea tomorrow. That is suggested to keep off any mold that might occur while the tiny seeds get ready to squeeze through the soil, stretching with all their might for sunlight. We have so much to learn.
The mail arrives, and Roy opens an envelope from ENEL. Now that they have installed an automatic reader for the gas and electric usage, they send us a bill for the past three years. It is more than €800! That works out to about €30 a month, so on a monthly basis, that is not bad. We knew it was coming. But it is still a shock.
Tony and Pat arrive for pranzo today, and it is a simple risotto and insalata meal. The ciabatta I baked last night is wonderful used for crostini, doused in olive oil and sprinkled with salt after a rub of a garlic clove.
We hear one more story about the couple that conned them into buying their property in Lugnano. While in the heat of all the problems with the house, the wife came by one day to tell them she had a gift for them. The entire bombola had been filled for them, free of charge. Tony later finds out that when a bombola is installed (for gas), there is no charge for the first time it is filled. The cost for the gas has to do with how much is consumed and how much is refilled. So this couple is so slimy that they take advantage of Tony and Pat again and again and again. Hopefully for them these antics have come to an end.
After Pat and Tony leave, we drive to Vivaio Pinzaglia in Bassano in Teverina to buy some little annuals to brighten up the pots in the parcheggio as well as the front of the loggia. These are primroses, and they are about all we can find that look decent in this cold weather. At 60 cents each, it's not much of an investment.
At about 9pm, snow starts to fall; big fat juicy flakes that actually stick. Stick on the copper tops of the pillars on either side of the front gate. Stick to the tops of round boxwood, all at the same angle. The later it gets, the heavier the snowfall. It's not evident on the gravel, but on the tree outside our bedroom window, the snow is already a half inch deep in an hour's time. Further out, the tall olive tree looks white. Of course it is not white, but appears so in the dead of night. What surprises will we find at first light?
When we awake, we see no change in the amount of snow that has fallen during the night. So what's left is a dusting of it, but snow nevertheless. There goes our one-day-a-year snowfall tradition.
While we're in church, I can hear my voice reverberate around the room during the hymns, and it is as if I am one of the strong ones. Carla is not here today to lead us. But Don Luca can always be counted on for his strong baritone voice, his head lowered just a bit to send his notes all the way to the back of the little church.
The blessing of the house will be another week, because all this week Don Luca will bless the houses on the various streets of Bomarzo. Perhaps by then there will be more tomato "sprouts" for him to bless. Speriamo! On Saturday there will be a memorial mass for Tito, and after that Roy will have a meeting of the Confraternita di San Liberato, during which a new priory and new officers will be chosen. We don't know the tradition or history of this, so Roy is hoping Tiziano will stay after his grandfather's mass and translate for him.
But today we get ready for pranzo with Lore and Alberto. It's another excuse to cook risotto, and it turns out just fine. I am anxious because Lore and Alberto are precise about their opinions and I want to make a good impression. It all works out well, and when it is over we can relax for the rest of the cold afternoon. The snow is gone, but there is no sun.
Sun, glorious sun! This is one of those exquisite winter days, when the sun is bright enough that we are out in shirtsleeves on the terrace. But not for long.
Roy takes off for the bank, to make sure that they don't automatically pay the enormous ENEL bill that came a few days ago. Alberto advised us yesterday that he has no bills paid automatically at the bank. Now that we live here full time, Roy agrees, and we'll figure out what to do about the enormous charge. He's probably rehearsing what he'll say when he calls them on the phone.
He comes home and speaks with someone at ENEL, who agrees to let us pay in four installments. So I tell Roy to take some money out of savings and just pay it. We'll see.
Today is the day we meet Tia and Bruce at the Indian restaurant in Terni. They have spoken about this place for over a year. The Mahrajah is its name. But first we drive to the commune to register to vote and then stop in Narni scalo to see if we can buy flour at LIDL. I have about given up on staying at home all the time to wait for the roses to be delivered. Now the vivaio doesn't return my emails. Cowabunga!
LIDL is closed until the afternoon, and when we go back there is no flour. Next week we'll go to Naturasi! in Rome, so perhaps we will find our flour source there.
In the meantime, it's time for pranzo. But what's this? There is a padlock on the door of the restaurant. Bruce tells us it's open every day, but they don't even answer their phone. So we're back to the Chinese restaurant, and that is fine with me. The €5 euro Peking Duck is a real treat.
Back at home, we see water running down the street and it seems to be coming from Pepe's garage. Roy takes a shovel and sees a gurgle of water outside the garage, next to our property. It looks like a water pipe has a leak. Francesco drives up the street and Roy stops him. He's our local policeman, and agrees to have someone come out to fix it in the morning. In the meantime, calls to Paola and also to Pepe go unanswered. If the weather is freezing tonight, and it surely will be, the road will be dangerous.
Oh, I forgot. Before we drove to Narni this morning, we stopped at the Commune to register to vote for the local elections with Ivo. Drat. He tells us that we cannot vote. Only members of the European Union can vote in local elections. So it's back to the drawing board to find out about Roy's citizenship. Until then, we're still stranieri.
This bothers me a great deal. We seemed to make so many inroads in the village, and were told that we were eligible to vote, that this news sends me reeling. I think Roy is very disappointed, too. It's not that we want to give up our U S citizenship, but we want to be truly integrated into our village. It's not enough to volunteer and become friendly with the neighbors.
On this lovely sunny and cold day, Roy spends the morning in Terni, waiting for the car to be serviced. I'm researching information on painting ceramic tiles, now that I have the idea of painting tiles myself. Last night I sat in the kitchen making new designs on graph paper while Roy watched TV. We'll probably drive to Montelupo on the same trip we take to Florence to meet up with Dorothy and Charlie in a few weeks. Pat tells us that we should go to Colorobbia to get the supplies there. It's another adventure, one I truly look forward to.
Felice comes by, asking if he can take some rosemarino from the garden. Marsiglia will be roasting something with it for our pranzo on Thursday. But he does not look all that well, and his eyes are really tearing. I see a big drop plop down his cheek when we are standing around talking in the garden. He does not even venture up the steps to sit on his bench. I am hoping this will pass, and with the warm weather he'll feel more like the old Felice we know and love.
Sofi climbs up, up, up on the tall tufa rock and sits and whines when we're alone. She is afraid to come down. But I don't climb up to get her. She manages to get back down and is frightened, so I'm hoping this is the best deterrent. I pick her up and give her a hug.
I email Paola Fosci regarding the leak on the street from the broken water pipe, and she emails me back that her father has spoken with Francesco. Francesco comes by and spends a couple of hours standing against the wall, watching. Giuseppe and another man from the Commune work on the pipe and I think they have fixed it. No more water pours across the street. And later I see Serena and Pepe and Ubik walking up the street from the garage, so they must be satisfied that everything worked out. On these cold nights, the temperature drops below freezing, so a leaky pipe spewing cold water on the road is especially dangerous.
Our roses were returned once again to the vivaio in the Netherlands. What a comedy of errors! The box has at least ten stickers that say that we don't live here, but no one called. They are sending the roses a third time, but I'm wondering what shape they will be in, if they ever do arrive.
This is our third session with Dr. Alberti at Perugia Hospital. I have three more months on Laroxyl and then will stop taking it. He is hopeful I will not have any more migraines. If I have two, I am to start taking it again. I am hopeful, because taking medicine for the rest of my life for these headaches is not a good idea. And he believes this malady is genetic and there is no way to diagnose what causes them.
He does counsel me that now that I live in Italy, my life should have less stress. So keeping stress at bay is a major objective. We're all for that.
There is a home show outside Perugia. So we decide to go, and it is different than those we've gone to in the U S. I remember one we went to outside Boston while my father was alive and living in a nursing home. Because we could only visit him for a little while each day, we went to a home show. It was the middle of winter and of all things, we purchased a hot tub for our house in Mill Valley! What a scene. The truck transporting it across the country was too big to get up the mountain where we lived, and Roy and the truck driver rolled it down the driveway on a furniture dolly. We are lucky it did not roll right down into the front window.
Luckily, we did no damage this time. We were able to do some research on pizza ovens and also stufas. We have lots more work to do on both those subjects. But the show helped. All the displays were professionally done. There was no kitsch, other than some very cute Italian designed linens. And it was good to walk, after waiting almost two hours for Dr. Alberti at the hospital.
The day begins with an appointment with a commercialista, or tax accountant, in Amelia. It turns out that not only does she not speak a word of English, she has no idea whether we should pay tax in Italy or not. So we thank her and walk around the corner to Eurolinks, our former language school, and spend a few minutes with Simona and Elettra, our former teachers. Simona recommends her commercialista, who we have also met, but she is "on holiday" this week. We'll call her next week. What we can put off for another week is fine with Roy.
We must arrive home in time to feed Sofi and walk up to the borgo to Felice and Marsiglia's house for an early pranzo. The weather is warm, and Sofi sits outside, guarding the property and sleeping in the sun while we walk up the hill. The borgo is cordoned off to all but foot traffic, and a team of at least six men are methodically cutting and laying the mattone in a herringbone pattern, with river stones on the borders. This is a very elegant look for little Mugnano, and the paisanis just state blankly at the goings on, not knowing what to think.
Once inside Felice's house, we present Marsiglia with the two little herb plants in a basket, and it is a good thing we bring something, for it is her birthday and also Italo's! Italo arrives right after we do, but Leondina has probably been in the kitchen all morning. What ensues is a remarkable meal. We sit in the living/dining room around a square table, and first there is the crostini, covered with a tuna/artichoke/zucchini mixture, alongside marinated artichokes and slices of prosciutto.
Next up is a tagliatelle with tomato sauce, very delicious, and then a roast chicken dish, with rosemary and green olives. There is a slight piccante to the sauce and it is tender and perfect. Next is a platter of breaded veal and breaded artichokes, fried in olive oil. The verdura is a cold spinach in olive oil. We are full, full, but there is still more. The dessert is a tiramasu with a slice of pineapple on top (ananas) and then some fried cookies.
Luckily I have eaten just a little of everything, so I've prepared myself. I'm not so sure about Roy, especially with Felice's young red wine, which flowed and flowed. The conversation is spirited, with Felice so full of life that I can hardly stop thinking about how fortunate we are to know him.
I look over at him sitting next to me and think, "I want to remember Felice like this; sitting beside me and laughing and sharing stories with us." I don't take a moment with him for granted. But these are clearly his slowing down years. He can educate us all about farming and planting, but no longer will he be out in the fields himself. He doesn't even seem to miss it.
As the day wears on, we realize that he'd like to have some carciofe (artichoke) plants, and are working out spots for us to plant them for him. Roy thinks they'd work well around at least a couple of the olive trees, and that's fine with me. I have never taken the time to really understand artichokes, but they are so revered as a vegetable in Italy that this year is my year to give them a try. And they are planted in March and April, so we are right on time to plant them. The next time Felice comes by, we'll make sure he agrees where they should go.
Once we're home, we take a little ride to pick up six tall terra cotta pots to plant boxwood in. The configuration of the garden going up to Roy's office is going to be changed, so those six boxwood will be planted in six planters, which can be moved to different parts of the property. On either side of the tufa steps going up to Roy's office are going to be tiny boxwood plants. Eventually, they will grow into tiny sculptured hedges. Inside the hedge on the right will be more roses, and also an evergreen ball of a tree, possibly a laurel. The five lavender bushes will be moved nearer the big olive tree.
The telephone rings and it is Karina. She is giving an Angels and Demons tour in Rome tomorrow and it will be covered by BBC. She has one couple but needs a second couple for the tour, so we have been invited. Quickly, we call around and agree on Angie to babysit for Sofia in Rome for the morning and afternoon. That should be fun, and we need to make sure we have comfortable walking shoes and dress in layers. Black, black, black is the color of choice.
The U S Department of State has issued a worldwide terror alert, dated March 8th. The last one was dated September 10th. I have been thinking that tomorrow will be a dangerous day all around the world, and probably the worst place for us to be on March 11th will be around the Vatican in Rome. But we cannot let our lives be ruled by terrorists, so we will be watchful but life will go on. Until it is decided that it will not. The decision is not up to us, anyway.
We're up and dressed by dawn, and out in the car by 6:30AM. We arrive in Rome at Angie's apartment, drop off Sofi and arrive at Piazza del Popolo by 8AM in a taxi. When we open the door of the cab and walk across the street to the entrance of the piazza, the day is warm and the voices we hear are graceful and lyrical. The words are the words of the everyday Italians, walking to work, but to us we are tourists today, drinking in the sounds and the smells of Rome. What a city! There is an excitement in the air, and although there are many other tourists around, we don't feel as overwhelmed by the crowds as we do during summer months.
We're early, so first take a stroll into the twin churches facing us. Roy loves the story of the architect, who was told to build twin churches next to each other, but the amount of space allotted for each church was different. So one dome is in the shape of a circle and the other in an ellipse. The shape of the ellipse will figure as an important characteristic in our tour, which will start in a little over an hour.
When we arrive at the front of the second and larger church, whom do we find at the door but Karina, studying her notes. At her feet are two beggars, one of which she has known for years. One time she brought a cashmere shawl for the woman, handed down from Barbara, but the woman has never been seen wearing it. Today she sits on the ground in a graceful velvet-like dark blue skirt.
Speaking of beggars, a few minutes earlier we are approached by another beggar. This one is better dressed than we are. She wears a full-length wool red Stewart plaid skirt, a tan colored jacket and a beautiful flowered scarf over her head. She is right out of a Ralph Lauren ad, except that her face is haggled and worn, and her grey stringy hair has not seen water in recent memory. From the back, she is a magazine ad. From the front, she is one scary looking woman, missing most of her teeth and wearing a somewhat crazed expression. We look away, and she moves on.
Inside the church, sweet music is playing. We understand why Karina calls this her "office". She tells us that she is becoming more spiritual, perhaps partly due to the peacefulness she feels sitting here.
But it is time for our prima colazione, so we walk to Rosati's for caffé and brioche and catch up. An hour later, we meet Karina and the other couple, and then the BBC film crew, outside the first church.
We won't give the tour away, other than to say that we recommend it, and if you come to Rome and take it, Karina will probably be your guide. You can find the site at: angelsandemons.it. The company also gives a 1 and 1/2 hour nighttime tour that you can find on: romeatnight.it.
The film crew is fun, and we are asked questions by the on-air host, a young Tamsin, who works for BBC in Rome. We are told that the piece will be used both for tourism stories as well as during the fifteen days between the date of the pope's death and the conclave to choose a new pope. Of course, when I am asked if the book has taught me anything about the politics within the Vatican, and if it has raised questions, I tell them that yes, I know have many questions. Roy and I both disagree with many of the things that the current pope has to say, but we admire him greatly just the same. We are not ready to see him go.
We are told that the producer will get us a videotape of the piece, and we'll watch it with Tia and Bruce, since we don't have a vcr.
After the tour ends, we have a very late pranzo at a restaurant near Castel San Angelo. I love spada (swordfish) and Karina and I each feast on that, while Roy has his fried calamari and a simple pasta dish. On the way back to Piazza de Popolo, where we take a taxi to Angie's, we find an amazing shop on a back street that sells hand blown glass items at a very reasonable price. So we but a glass lamp for the loggia, and two hand painted glasses. Since the tour was free, since it was covered by BBC, we feel like celebrating a little, and these trinkets will be memories of a wonderful adventure in Rome.
Sofi has also had fun with Angie, but we are all tired, and after the drive home can't wait to relax. At home she is under the weather, so we'll have a quiet day at home tomorrow. Tiziano comes by a while later, to tell us that he has to make a presentation in Bomarzo tomorrow night, so can't go to the confraternity meeting with Roy. He does, however, help Roy to understand the voting process.
So about the process: It appears that each member of the Confraternity, which as this date is about 28, gets to write four names of current members of the group on a secret ballot. The ballots are tallied and Don Luca and the four highest vote getters decide who will be the priori. Tiziano tells Roy to expect a great deal of disorganization. We go to bed with Roy nervous about this next step in our lives.
The roses arrive! It is just after 11AM, and Marcello rings the bell. The package is in perfect shape, and he tells me that it arrived at the post office in Bomarzo just this morning. So he appears with the box in his car, instead of on his motorino. I am so thrilled.
When the box is opened, the roses are in terrific shape, still moist, and the roots are worthy of a magazine photo, they are so robust. I cannot wait to get them in the ground, and Roy drives off to Bruno, to buy more soil. This, their third try, was sent from The Netherlands just a couple of days ago. So we're convinced that the Italian mail system is much improved.
Last night, while unable to sleep, I determined that the peonies uprooted by the new roses will have to find new homes. So two of them will be planted where five lavender plants now grow, on the way up to Roy's "office". One more will be planted near the cherry tree. Roy promises that he'll have everything dug up and replanted before the end of the day tomorrow. Three of the uprooted lavender plants will resurface behind the bench near the olive tree.
Tia calls to find out how we did yesterday in Rome, and tells us that it is raining in Amelia, and cold and windy. They now have 30 of their 37 fruit trees planted, and Bruce has left for his U S visit, so she and Michael will drive to Orte to pick up Bruce's car and have pranzo at NonnaPappa. I look forward to having her visit here next Wednesday. For today's agenda, I am not so sure that we'll be able to plant. It is very windy.
I've made a loaf of rye bread and also cooked a celery root. We both love celery root, and this cooked in water with a bouillon cube and finished in a food processor with fresh rosemary and butter and salt and pepper is very tasty, with marinated beef fillets. Roy places his fillet on a slice of hot bread, and we finish off a bottle of local red wine, while discussing the confraternity vote tonight.
Our tomato seeds are a problem. The oldest seeds, an Earl of Edgecomb variety, are almost all intact, but only one seed of forty sprouted. Marilyn tells us to be patient, because hers purchased at the same time from the same people are late bloomers but prolific. She tells us she planted 120 seeds and there are 140 plants. The sound you hear is Gregor Mendel turning over in his grave.
We attend a memorial mass for dear Tito, and afterward Roy stays for the voting of the new priory and consiglioris. These votes take place every three years. Giovanni sees me walk by his house as darkness descends and asks me where my husband is. Confraternita! I tell him, and he nods. No sense in trying to keep it from him.
When Roy gets home, he tells me that the new priory is Alberto Cozzi and the two additional consiglioris are Mauro and Francesco, Federico's father. I think something is going on between Alberto and Enzo, but we want to stay out of the village politics. Alberto has always been friendly to us, but there is some bad blood somewhere. I don't even want to know what it is. But soon enough the word will get around, and next Sunday there is a procession. So it will be interesting to see if anything changes. For us, we like both Alberto and Enzo. We are hoping things will simmer down.
Wind and cold greet us this morning, and we sleep in because we went to mass last night. Later in the day, Roy moves around three lavender plants, three tiny peony bushes and plants the three new roses. The changes look great, and the peonies actually look very healthy. Perhaps they just needed a few years to become acclimated. The lavender plants we move are old clipped big ones, and now they are in a grouping near the base of the big olive tree.
I roast a shoulder of lamb with artichokes and onions and olives and tomatoes and garlic. The result is excellent, and it is such an overcast day that we have our midday meal in the middle of the afternoon. It is a quiet and peaceful day.
We drive to Viterbo to find out if we really can vote, with all our identity papers in hand. We meet with Signora Altissimi, who Roy makes fun of, because she is shorter than me. He tells her she should change her name and she is sweet about all the silliness. We are taken to her office by two interns, who are also studying English. The man in the office we first see thinks this will be a good experience for them.
Signora Altissimi concurs with the advice Ivo gave us the other day. We can vote in local elections if we are members of the European Community, but not if we are U S citizens. She tells us to come back in three years, when our residency term will have been ten years. We ask if we can apply in advance, and she tells us we can apply six months in advance. How long will it take? Two years. Boh! The papers, which must be perfect and all in original copies with translations, will be transferred to the Minestero. We'll just have to find someone who knows him/them. It is so strange to live in a place where we are unable to vote.
One of the requirements for citizenship stumps us. We must each have an official document that states that we are not felons. We have no idea what kind of document that is. But while we're waiting to see if Roy's grandfather's citizenship will help Roy, we will work on getting all these documents. I'll do the same. We think that the U S Government won't want to make it easy for us.
Just as we park at the gate, we see Felice walking down the street toward us with something over his shoulder. When he gets closer, he shows us twenty tiny artichoke plants. In the next fifteen minutes, my next iteration of our formal Italianate garden is thrown right out the window.
Felice thinks we should plant one here,,,and one there...and two there... I don't have the heart to disappoint him. So we compromise, and before we are done we have planted fifteen carciofe (artichoke) slips. The good news is that these plants are beautiful and have gorgeous purple/green flowers that are actually good to eat. The plant works very well in combination with lavender.
So Roy takes out several big bags of terra buono and a big shovel. Roy and I agree on the placement, and he moves six boxwood plants aside to be planted later into the tall pots we purchased last week. Four carciofe plants are planted down that row, and three across in front of the bench but behind the boxwood hedge. Before we are through, we have come up with places for fifteen. Felice tells us to keep the others. We think these will also be for Felice, since he no longer has his own orto.
After Felice leaves, we knock some terra off the roots of the boxwood, add some ashes and terra buona and the round globes look gorgeous in the tall pots. We place six of them around and will make sure that they are well watered. Now we know that boxwood does not like to be transplanted. These six have already been transplanted once. So if we're in luck, they'll do just fine. We give them a little stallatico for luck and water them.
While Roy digs for one of the carciofi plants, he severs an irrigation line. But this is a reminder that he and Steve need to get to work on the new water line. We don't use the irrigation system in the winter, anyway.
Back inside, we turn on the TV, and it is amazing how many commercials there are for frozen or packaged foods. One commercial tonight features a can of pasta sauce and the scene is a large family sitting around the table. The cook tells them the sauce was from a can and no one believes her, except one woman, who gives her the eagle eye.
Roy tells me that he thinks that our generation will be the last generation in Italy to cook every meal from scratch. The Italians will become like the Americans. I truly hope not. Or at least I hope I am not around to see it. I don't think I have used sauce from a can since I was in college.
Marilyn emails us that tomatoes are like children being born...Some just arrive late. She plants the same varieties we have, and emails us a photo of her fluorescent lights held up with chains, that she is easily able to shorten as the plants grow. Now that is a great idea, one we will surely use in our greenhouse. Until then, we're going to look for plastic trays that will not encourage mold. We are going to plant more seeds in the next couple of days.
Regarding the greenhouse, or serra, we've decided that when it is finished, we'll store the three pieces in the parcheggio and paint them, until Stefano and Luca are able to prepare the space for it. So we're talking about a final installation in mid to late April.
In the meantime, we're ready to buy Nitrofosca Gold, which Michellini recommends for roses and all plants. It is March, and March is the month to start to feed roses. I remember that fruit trees flowered in February in Marin, and our fruit trees aren't anywhere near ready to flower. It will be at least a few weeks before we see any buds. I don't remember the weather being this overcast so late in March before. Now that we keep a good journal, we'll have to look in the archives to plot the weather and growth of the plants from year to year.
I skipped over writing about Felice. He acts so much older this year. When he leaned down to plant the little carciofe slips this afternoon, he needed help getting up. I just want him to sit on a bench, but he's not about to do that. Perhaps if he comes here more often, he'll spend some time just sitting. I want to treat him like a little flower, but that won't be possible. I dream of him coming to visit here for decades, but that is looking more and more doubtful. Perhaps the warm weather will add some spring to his step.
Roy ends the evening studying cookbooks. He has invited Alice for my birthday pranzo on Wednesday, along with Tia, and I am just to show up. In the morning he will be cooking and tells me I can drive to get my hair done by myself! Goodness this is a shock.
We leave the house at 9 AM and find a NaturaSi! store in the outskirts of Rome by 10. I don't know what we expected, but the store is small. We find molasses, which is an ingredient to use to make rye bread that we have not found locally, and special stone ground flour, plus some unusual leavening ingredients. So later this week we'll do some more experimenting.
But there'll be no cooking on my part until Thursday. Today we have an al fresco pranzo in Piazza del Popolo after the dentist and tomorrow Roy will be cooking for my birthday. I see him making notes each evening at home, scrunching his eyes in concentration over cookbooks, and watch him buy ingredients that he thinks are "just so". I ask no questions, and can think of no better way to celebrate a birthday.
After pranzo, we walk down the Corso, detouring down back streets whenever we can. We love the sounds and the smells of Rome, especially on its quieter side streets. We never pass a doorway or entryway without looking in, usually to find a delicious eye-candy surprise.
Near Piazza de Spagna, we locate an art supply store. I am hoping to find some graph paper that is translucent, and we find just the thing. I'm imagining some of the designs I want to try on ceramic tiles once we buy the mattone and paints in Montelupo next week. When finished, the outdoor sink will have hand painted pavers on four sides of its base. There are two "legs", which will have mattone on the front and the outside of each one. There will probably be a skirt in front, between the "legs", made of oilcloth on an iron rod. The back of the old marble sink is attached to a tufa wall.
I envision painted iris leaves and possibly a couple of flowers on the bottom front, and perhaps some kind of vine climbing up the sides. I'm hoping the tiles won't look contemporary. Mostly I'm just hoping they'll be finished! And then there's the space above the backsplash at the back of the sink to think about. That area will probably be more of a design reminiscent of the DeRuta ceramics patterns we love so. But I'll work on the front first.
Sofi enjoys walking with us, or rather prancing along next to Roy, with me following a step or so behind on the narrow sidewalk. But after awhile we can see that all the noise of this big city and all the cars are too much for her, and she finds the car by herself and can't wait to get inside for a rest.
The ride home from Rome is really an easy one, once we arrive at the Gran Raccordo. We're home in about an hour, taking in the grand sights of tall Roman pines on verdant green meadows and hills. The starkness of the trees makes a grand statement. We can understand why Alan wanted to have a rim of them at the back of his property.
It's Uncle Harry's 90th birthday today, so we call him as soon as we're home. Dear Uncle Harry sounds great, and we look forward to seeing him again late in November when we fly back to the U S for Thanksgiving. Then Sofi gets a good brushing, because tomorrow is girls' day, and I plan the heirloom seeds I will plant tomorrow morning in a new set of tiny pots, this time in plastic. We'll set up a larger table in the guest bedroom and continue the experiment of growing the tasty heirloom tomatoes until we get it right!
The day begins with Roy jumping out of bed early. He has big plans for today, and leaves early to drive to do some special food shopping for today's pranzo. The other evening he told me that he'd like to cook for my birthday, a festive lunch, and suggested we invite Tia and Alice. That's fine with me. I have nothing to do, so I get up and Sofi and I putter around for the morning, walking around the garden and sweeping the steps.
Tia and Alice arrive at noon. Roy, wearing his L'Avventura cook jacket, methodically paces through the kitchen as though he is a guest chef on our favorite TV program, Ready, Steady Cook! He greets the girls, but returns quickly to his post.
The girls and Sofi and I walk around the garden to give Roy more time in the kitchen, but before we are through he's waiting for us, a towel over his shoulder. He is so dear to do this that I think I'd even eat liver if he prepared it today. Well, maybe not liver.
The table is set with our best dishes, three glasses at each place, and we sit down for a first course of a beautifully presented tuna and bean and tomato salad on a lettuce leaf. What a great presentation! This is served with dry spumante. He apologizes that he did not have the time for a first course, but no matter. This is the kind of first course I'd order at a restaurant on a beautiful day. And the weather is the most beautiful we've had this year.
Yummy, yummy, we all agree and then after a few minutes it is time for the main course, a beef satay that he has cooked in the summer kitchen. He tells me he likes cooking there, and I agree that it's the only place to cook anything smoky. Anyway, the beef is served with a marinated zucchini that is cooked in the broiler, but ten inches below it. The flavor is delectable, and the taste perfect. This is served with our favorite local wine.
For dessert, Roy outdoes himself. We are served crepes stuffed with marinated strawberries in sour cream. Roy makes the crepes in a new pan, and we are all so impressed. They come out so perfectly that Roy smiles and lowers his head with all the complements. I can't think of any sweeter gift from my best pal.
He reminds me later, "This was better than last year, eh?"
"Last year?" I ask quizzically.
"Last year I totally forgot your birthday." And now I remember how hurt I was. It took me relating late in the evening how nice my friends were to send me wishes. I was so hurt. And it was just a day. So what was the big deal about birthdays, anyway?
When Tia and Alice ask me if I'm looking forward to this birthday, I tell them it's like any other. Roy tells us all that he's looking forward to my 62nd birthday. That will be a day to really celebrate. I'll be eligible for Social Security! That will be in 2008, the same year I will be eligible to become an Italian Citizen. Piano, piano. We celebrate each day, anyway.
Sofi is a little strange today. Perhaps she does not understand all the attention. She likes to have friends come to visit, and later in the afternoon Tony and Pat come by. They are settling into their house in Lugnano, slowly working through all the problems after a long spell back in Ohio. We don't anticipate that we will be able to do a garden for them after all, unless they put in a well. Right now, they're concentrating on fixing the swimming pool and considering whether or not to sue their builder.
We are fortunate that we have found great workers and I think Roy has a great deal to do with all of it. He likes being involved with projects, and supervises in a non-threatening way, but makes sure that our interests are best served. He takes nothing for granted.
This Saturday, he'll hopefully work with Silvano on the serra. Tonight I plant 24 new seeds in plastic containers. We'll see if these do any better than the others. We are only up to ten plants. Forty refuse to show their little heads. We have less room to plant this year, and we never know how many seeds to plant. Once the serra is in, I'll experiment more with tomatoes and other flowers and vegetables.
This has been a lovely day, all around. The weather appears to have turned, so perhaps this weekend we'll even be able to take the kumquat tree out of its winter home in the loggia.
Yesterday, Tia inspected the lemon tree with me. It's still under its winter protection of a strange papery cloak, and I can see that the edges of the leaves are getting burned from the frost. When Tia takes a look, she tells me that it has some kind of disease. Porca miseria.
I take off the whole wrap that envelopes it and Roy and I clip off all the dry leaves. It looks a little better, and we'll find a round brace for the branches. We've seen them before, and I think they'll look better than the bamboo poles sticking out like tiki torches.
It's Thursday, and I start to work on weeding the lavender garden while Roy is out doing errands. Almost everything is closed on Thursday afternoons, so he has to shop for the rest of the day and tomorrow morning. Today is another beautiful day, and I start off wearing two shirts, but quickly take off the top one, my blue "play with your food" shirt from our last camp, as the morning warms up.
Hoeing with my old fashioned tool from Felice, I'm able to hold the wooden end while I throw the metal end down with a "whunk!", dragging it toward me, breaking up the clay soil and rocks. Lavender loves terrible soil, the rockier the better. Clay soil is perfect, I later find out when watching a garden show on BBC.
But the "whunk!" is hard on my shoulder. I work on throwing the tool down without putting too much pressure on my upper body, but I quickly forget and move back to assimilating a prisoner on a chain-gang, raising my shoulders and throwing the tool wide and hard. The soil breaks up with a thud, and rocks and weeds go flying, except for that darned Bermuda grass. For that, I have to dig deep, deep, and the deeper I dig, the deeper I find the roots.
All around me are the sounds of Spring. There are all the old bird sounds, and a few new ones. Black birds, little brown birds with terra cotta chests, black and white birds with wide wing spreads. Even the lizards are back, darting up the warm tufa stones. We're only four days away from the actual first day of Spring, yet the countryside around me is green and lush and the limbs of the trees, although still bare, are covered with bumps. My greatest delight is the peach tree. This is the third year we have owned it. The first year, Mario cut everything back, telling us it will grow in stronger that way.
Last year, there was some kind of blight on all the fruit trees. Leaves curled up and died and there was no fruit. This year, we are determined, and with two new fruit trees, we're armed with a battery of disinfectants, all biological. The next day we are without wind, Roy will spray again with copper sulfate, called rame sulfato.
Driving through Amelia later in the day, we see a few trees turned completely blue, as if characters in a cartoon. That farmer has clearly overdone it. But we are told that the copper sulfate is completely harmless to the trees and to the fruit, but protects them from early spring bugs. So we'll do a much-watered down version.
I do admit I love the blue-green color. We have seen it often on walls of farmhouses, and could not figure out what it was from. Giovanni even has a rame sulfato sprayer, burnished with age, complete with a pump. He wears it with straps that hangs over his shoulders like an accordion and proudly struts down Via Mameli toward his campo. We think the sprayer we have will be just fine.
The phone rings just before 9AM and it is Prue, telling me that she just saw Roy on BBC news. What fun. The story is a story about the Vatican being upset that there is so much negative news whenever the Vatican is mentioned. So Roy's comments about the conclave and some of Karina's comments about the Angels and Demons tour are featured. A little later we are able to see the story re-shown, and it is fun to see the first snippet. Actually, we like the BBC news better than CNN international. So we'll be watching it more.
The weather is still wonderful. Roy and I spend most of the day out in the garden. I've made good headway with the lavender, but many of the artichoke plants lie like wilted maidens holding the back of their hands against their foreheads in a "oh, poor me" expression.
It has been three days, with plenty of water, so perhaps a few of them could not take the shock. Two days ago, I put the little plugs that we did not plant in a bucket in the loggia, and filled it up about two inches with water. Those still look fine, so perhaps we'll replace five others in a day or two if they don't rally. It's a good thing we kept these.
Roy spends a lot of the day working on the lamp in our bedroom. We bought it six years ago from an antique shop in Orvieto, and I love it, except for the finish. The lamp is hand carved wood, but it is stained a very dark brown. I ask Roy if he thinks we can take the stain off. He tries a few things with marginal luck, then decides to take the lamp with him to Viterbo to see if he can come up with something.
He comes back with the lamp and tells me that he was laughed at wherever he went. The people he spoke with told him it was useless to do anything. Once something is stained, it permeates the wood. But I see the wood in spots where the stain did not really take, so I am confident that we can find an answer.
He calls Silvano and Silvano tells him he'll start work tomorrow at 8AM on the serra. Roy plans to work alongside him. Bravo Roy! Sofi and I will sleep in.
I think I am going to sleep in, but at just before 8AM, I can hear a loud hum right outside our window. I get up and look out to see a huge cement truck inside Pia's gate across the street. Today is the day they'll pour the concrete foundation. So we'll see how big a footprint the little house will have. We are delighted to see that it is very small, and almost invisible from our bedroom window.
Sofi shakes and shakes. The noise frightens her, so I pick her up and take her to the window to see what all the commotion is all about. Might as well get up. So we step outside and wave hello to Pia after getting dressed and start some laundry.
The weather is still beautiful, so I take all my tools and meander back to the lavender garden. Piano, piano. I set little goals for myself so that the whole project won't seem so overwhelming. But I stop often, and one time Sofi and I step up to inspect the peach tree, which is so happy that I can see pink buds just ready to burst like popcorn kernels.
I recall that in Marin County, CA, that the fruit trees blossomed in February. Roy thinks we have not had enough warm days this February for the trees to blossom. But it is almost the third week of March. Isn't that late for fruit trees to blossom? I have not seen any blossoms anywhere.
Roy comes home for pranzo, calling me at 1PM to tell me he is finished for the day. I'm anxious to hear what his morning was like. It is a good thing that Roy worked with Silvano, because there would have been major problems if the job had been left to Silvano to interpret.
As it is, there are a few changes, but nothing that I cannot live with. Silvano will also paint the serra, which is good, and it will be the anthracite (dark grey) that we want. Roy shows me a couple of photos of the work, and I am pleased. He thinks it will be another two weeks before we'll have to figure out how to get it here.
After pranzo, we walk back to the side garden, because Roy wants to work on the fig tree. I ask him if we can also thin out the big olive tree, because tomorrow we'll need branches for the Palm Sunday procession. In Italy, people use olive branches instead of palm leaves.
Before the afternoon is over, Roy has finished pruning the fig tree. The tree reminds us of an old elephant. It is big and gangly and gnarled before the shoots and leaves and fruit appear. So he evens it out and cuts down many of the very tall stickers. Every September, we are unable to reach all the figs, and many of them wind up like sticky open wounds on the ground, swarming with bees. At least this year we think we'll be able to get to the figs before the bees do. Speriamo!
Before dark, we're able to take the kumquat tree out of the loggia and sit it in its spot of honor at the front corner of our property, almost like an internal bowsprit. It is so full of fruit! We will have to be vigilant this next month to make sure we cover it if there is to be any frost. After protecting it so well this winter, we don't want to lose it to one night's frost. And we know that it is possible for there to be frost as late as the end of April.
Spring starts tomorrow officially, but we welcome our unofficial spring today. In the morning, Roy joins his confraternity brothers in a small procession from the old church to the one we use all the time. We are savvy church-goers now, and bring our own olive branches with us on this day. We have enough to give Lore and Alberto some, and also Marsiglia.
We meet Felice and Marsiglia at the front of the church. Felice holds some old olive branches and Marsiglia just holds onto Felice's arm. So I give her a couple of long sprays so that she can feel them in her hands as the procession unfolds. She is like a sweet princess to me, and deserves a beautiful bunch just for herself.
There are eight confraternity men today. I hoped that Alberto Cozzi would be among them, since he is the new priori, but he is not here. Lore and Alberto tell us that they'll come down for a visit late in the day. Roy calls Duccio to invite him to come and bring his lovely wife, Giovanna.
We met Stein and his girlfriend briefly in church, who are accompanied by Oosten. They are all from Norway. Mugnano is becoming a haven for...Norwegians! We want to drop by Stein's house, formerly Karen's house, formerly Karina's house, and bring a bottle of spumante to welcome them. When we arrive, they are both in the garden, and show us around the space we know so well. They are interested to learn more about the trees. In the meantime, they have taken all the laurel bushes out and some of the ivy. They agree to come by to see us later in the day.
So we drive to Il Pallone to shop, and then at home I make a chocolate cake just to be sure we have something when everyone comes by. But when the people start to come, we serve spumante. It is only after the first group leaves and Helga, Stein's girlfriend, and Oosten arrive, that we cut the cake and serve it.
Stein arrives later, but there is still time for him to have some cake. We like them both very much and look forward to getting to know them better. That will take some time, because he will not live here full time for a year and a half. We share some of our stories with them.
Rich Fisher, a high school friend of Roy's, calls and tells Roy he and a woman friend have just checked into a local hotel. They will call us later and we'll go out to meet them. But they don't call, and at about 9:30 we drive out to find them. No luck.
There are only two places where they can stay, and they are not at either one. So we drive on to Oktoberfest and have our first beer there of the new year, a delicious Turn and Taxis export from Regensburg, Germany, but delicious, nonetheless.
We wake up to a warm and lovely morning. There's not a cloud in the sky. I get ready for today's pranzo with Rich Fisher, Roy's boyhood chum, and his friend, Diane. They arrive just after 11AM, and Roy takes them for a tour of the village while I cook away. Roy takes Sofi with them and I admit I miss her following me around.
While I'm waiting for things to cook, I walk out to the garden and pull some weeds from the gravel. I'm worried about Sofi's lethargic countenance, and can't help thinking about little Brinkley and how helpless she was.
They all come back after quite a long time, and report quite an adventure. First they run into Maria, the Sarda, who presents Roy with a big bouquet of Mimosa for Signora Ivana (that's me). Then they run into Stefano, who is working on one of Carlo's apartments. Rich is able to get in and see what building materials are used in Medieval villages in Italy.
While they are there, Stefano offers to pick up the serra from Silvano when it is finished. He is such a nice guy. I think we're just a couple of Saturdays away from having it delivered and installed. By the time we go to the Montecastrilli marketplace late in April, we'll be ready!
When we're eating pranzo, Felice comes by, and looks over the artichoke plants. We think they look like they're dying swans, but he is not concerned. He assures us they'll pick up within a week. Speriamo! I encourage Rich and Diane to come out to meet him, and he's so delightful. He loves to meet our friends.
He also counsels Roy that he's done a good job on the big olive and the fig tree, and encourages him to cut more from the olive.And then he leaves. I tell him at the gate that he's invited every day. We really miss not seeing him.
Pranzo works out fine, and Rich and Roy talk nonstop about this and that. We are able to give them a few ideas about their trip to Rome and even make a reservation at a reasonable hotel in Campo di Fiori for them. By the time pranzo is done and they are ready to leave, I am so worried about Sofi that we decide to take her right to the vet. All through pranzo she lay on the cool floor near me, just by the curtain to the sink. Her nose is very warm.
She lays in my arms while Roy gets ready to leave, and is a lead weight against me in the car. We arrive at the vet and have to wait over an hour to get in. Roy thinks it's better than having to wait a week to make an appointment, and I guess he's right.
Dottoressa is always joyful, and it is comforting to see her. She takes Sofi's temperature and it is quaranta. That is high (40 degrees) So she takes some blood and will have results tomorrow evening. She'll check for red and white blood cells and also for any possible liver problems. As strange as it sounds, we're relieved that there is something that we can work on. Coming to a vet and having a "nothing's wrong" prognosis is what we were afraid of.
Everything is calm in little Mugnano this morning. There are no sounds of tractors in the valley when we get up, just the sounds of a passing motorino or a car now and then on the street below us. The birds even act mellow.
Sofi wags her tail that she is feeling better. Perhaps the antibiotics helped yesterday. We look forward to receiving the results of her blood tests tonight.
Rosina calls down to bid me a good morning, and she tells me that the sky portends a change in the weather. The sky is a pale blue, with an almost translucent cloud cover, sweeping over us from the west. At first, all we can see is pale blue above us.
But by the time Rosina comes out on her terrace to hang laundry, the sky has changed. It stays warm all day. Even at 6PM the temperature is balmy. But there is moisture in the air, and sadly we think we will have bad weather for tomorrow's road trip to Florence.
We have not fed the roses yet, so Roy gives each of them a dose of Nitrofosfa Gold, which was recommended by our friends at Michellini. I wonder if the food is also good for other plants, but Felice does not know. I do know it is the wrong kind of food for peonies, so stop Roy in time before he feeds those cranky plants as well. I think they'll do well this year, even though we've just moved them. This week we will find out the answers to both the peonies as well as the other plants in the garden.
Life in the garden is complicated until we figure out its simple rules. Every gardener has a different recommendation for feeding roses. And when we look the subject up on the internet, we are more confused than ever. We still have to spread horse manure around, and have plenty of it dried, thanks to Shelly and her horse, Victor. By the end of the month, we think we'll have all the correct advice, and will be sure to log what we do and how it works for future seasons.
Speaking about food and plants, the tomatoes are a great disappointment in the guest bedroom. Ten plants have sprouted out of more than sixty. A couple of dozen were just planted on the 16th, but the others are deader than doornails. Every day or every other day we feed the seedlings with camomile tea flavored water and move them from the grow light to the front window. So they have direct sun every hour of the day. Still no progress.
Felice arrives after pranzo, and has his old and rusty zappa with him and his cutters. He wants to work on our olive trees. Roy follows him out and they talk about the trees, one by one. When they walk out to the far property, Felice points with the edge of his red clippers, and Roy takes them from him to cut the high branches. After a few minutes, Roy puts his hand out to take the clippers and Felice tells him, "Go get one of your own. This is mine!" And then he laughs.
Roy gets his own cutters and the two of them methodically work from tree to tree. The three old olive trees that were volunteers after their grandfathers were cut, look good to me, but after Felice and Roy get through with them, they look terrific. There is poetry to the process, and Felice clearly loves it, standing back to get a big picture view, and then leaning in or around to do the center parts. Our garden guarantees Felice that he always has a place to go, without having to worry about maintaining it.
On the farthest tree, Felice steps on what is left of the old tree stump to reach a branch. That is how Italo fell and hurt his shoulder. So I stand below him, not that I could really break his fall, and think good thoughts.
Before he leaves, Felice leaves his zappa with his other tools in Roy's magazzino. He has no use for them anywhere else. That tells me he'll be here more often, and I am encouraged by how good he looks today.
After Felice leaves, we drive to Amelia to meet our new accountant. Her name is Laura, and she is young and spirited. Her advice is good, and the meeting takes less than 30 minutes. Then we're on to Terni to Sofi's vet for test results.
On the way to Terni, we pass many fruit trees and mimosa trees, in full bloom. This past week of glorious warm days has opened the buds of many of the dormant fruit trees, and now we know it is really Spring. In our garden, Felice showed Roy how to pinch any buds that crowd each other, making room for bigger peaches. Yesterday Roy sprayed the fruit trees again, so we think the peaches and the plums will survive this year without their annual fear of blight.
Our plums are incredibly delicious, long and purply, dark and oval in shape with long thin pits. We look forward to many plums and this year, for the first time, peaches as well. Let's pray for a really juicy season!
When we reach the vet's office in Terni, Dr. Cristalli sees us, and we have not seen him for many visits. He is a delightful man, so knowledgeable, and praises Sofi for her excellent coat of hair. Roy tells him she's dressed for winter. He tells us that Sofi's problem is her liver, and we do not know if it is because she ate some stallatico in the garden, or if it is an infection.
So he gives her another injection of antibiotics and gives us a prescription of pills for her to take. It makes sense that there was something wrong with her liver, the way she was acting. But now she is more like her old self, and is really relived we are going home.
I like to report the costs of anything medical, so we and our friends in the U S can compare costs to the U S. For yesterday and today's visits, lab analysis of two vials of blood, two injections and five pills, the cost is €45. I think that's quite remarkable, considering how much we paid at Madera Pet Hospital, a place we respected highly in California.
We are in luck. We leave at just after 7AM to drive to Florence and there is not rain in sight. Sofi is more alert this morning, and sits on my lap for most of the trip.
We arrive in Florence at just before 9AM, and park just inside the gate. Once we take our maps out, we realize we parked in a great spot. It takes less than fifteen minutes to get to Dorothy and Charlie's apartment. I admit that I slow us down. There are wonderful shops on the side street we walk.
This must be an area for upscale artisans. I see lamps and chandeliers that I love, and also rush past a shop that has exquisite silk taffeta in the window. The lampshades from Florence are quite characteristic, and I can see some samples of them in a blur as I walk by. Roy is way ahead of us. Sofi sniffs the ground and I window shop on these narrow sidewalks, keeping ourselves out of the way of Florentines who walk past us.
The apartment is out of a dream. It is so close to the Ponte Vecchio that we can almost reach out and touch it. We are on the opposite side of the Arno to most of the museums, but very close to many leather shops and cafés. The apartment is modern, but beautifully appointed. We'll share the rental information to people who ask. The minimum rental is for one week. There are two bedrooms and two bathrooms. One bedroom overlooks the Arno and the other the street. The kitchen is a wonder, with handpainted tiles on both the floor and the walls. Yum.
Sofi stays unhappily in the apartment while we go to our tour, but alas the tour Dorothy booked for us is only in Italian. We'll have to revisit on a Saturday or Sunday to have it spoken in English. Mindy is a college student of architecture, and there are lots to see. We talk about the buildings we pass, and Dorothy introduces us to the patron saint of dentists, who it also appears is the patron saint of blacksmiths. There is a wonderful statue of him on the corner of a building, and we can see what looks like forceps to take out teeth, carved into the marble background.
Christopher, Mindy's younger brother, loves the idea of being able to drink wine in a restaurant. He and Mindy are going through significant rites of passage on this trip, thanks to their loving aunt and uncle, who take it as a cherished duty to share significant ideas and places with each of their younger family members. We're thrilled they've included us on this day. Although we're unable to do the tour today, the four others make a reservation for a guided tour later in the day. It will be without the costumes we had hoped, but will be wonderful, nonetheless.
So we meander around and find our way to a favorite restaurant, Il Faggiolini. Ribbolita and Tuscan bread soup are served, as well as lots of other goodies. Strangely, today the beans don't have much of a taste. But in all the other times we've visited, they were wonderful. We eat meatballs and pasta and vegetables and soups and lots of house wine. Then it is time to get back to Sofi.
Sofi can't wait to get out of her little sherpa bag, and scarfs up her turkey in a minute. She is happy now, and although we'd love to stay, we have a trip to Montelupo planned to get the supplies for my budding ceramics career. Pat Ryerson has kindly given me lots of information to absorb and people to see on this first step.
Montelupo is not that far away, and we take the second exit, bringing us to an industrial area outside of the centro storico. We find ourselves right outside the factory where most of the best ceramics are painted and fired for the town, and think this is where Pat wants us to go, but it is not. The manager shows us how to find Galliano, the Colorobbia owner who will sell us supplies. He is right around the corner.
Galliano is alone in the showroom, and takes me under his wing. I am grateful. After showing me ceramica Americana, he is surprised at the colors I choose. And then I show him a plate on the wall, done in a Raphaello style, with my favorite grotesques, and he beams. He is clearly thrilled that I shun the modern colors and choose more subdued ones, for the designs I wish to create are more traditional in nature.
We're done before 5PM, so drive into Montelupo itself, and take a quick walk around before returning to Sofi and the car. We're home before 7:45, and that means that we took the drive home in two hours. I won't tell you how fast Roy drove, but on a few occasions I heard myself saying in my subconscious, "Is it time for us to go? Is it time for us to go?"
I am a believer that I will die when the time is right, and have no real control over it. So on these days when I see the coverage of the Terri Schaibo case in Florida, where her husband and her parents are fighting over whether to keep her alive or not, I wonder the reason for this sad case to be played out for so many years.
We look forward to going to bed, because we are all tired. I am somewhat excited and nervous that tomorrow I'll start painting some of the ceramic tiles I've designed. It will be interesting to see how they will turn out.
Today is hazy, but when Roy leaves to get a haircut and see Dottoressa, Sofi and I get up to start painting the tiles, which will later be glazed. I'm able to get the basic design onto the tile, but it is getting comfortable with the paint and its thinning out with water that takes some trial and error. Thankfully there's not too much error.
After a minor challenge at the beginning, I'm able to finish two tiles before Roy returns at noon. By the end of the day, with many interruptions, I've finished five. Tomorrow I think I'll be able to do a lot more, now that I have the hang of it all, and we really like the results. As soon as they're fired, we'll have a photo on the site. Speriamo.
Dottoressa finds Roy's blood pressure elevated, and he'll be tested again in a week, this time with full blood work in addition to a cholesterol and liver test. Tomorrow he'll return just to have his pressure rechecked. We really have faith in our doctoressa, who takes our symptoms seriously and gives us excellent counsel.
It is time to not renew our umbrella major medical coverage. This is coverage we can't afford, and we're both convinced now that we don't need it, especially since we can buy a 30-day policy for our trips to the U S.
Last night, we found a long pole that Felice must have left for us to fashion for the arch over the nocciola trees, using their tall branches as a base. Today Roy rigs up a brace to turn the stick into an arch, and soaks it in a wheel barrowful of water. He learned this in boy scouts. Good ole Roy. He turns everything in to a project!
I make a loaf of bread using some of the new flour from NaturaSi! and molasses. It is dark and rich and a big hit. I'm noting the ingredients, because I don't often follow recipes and instead make up my own. But when the bread is a real winner, we'd like to remember what we did that worked!
This bread is delicious, and crusty. We learn to put a little water on the top of the bread before baking it, resulting in a very crusty loaf. We have a little roast pork left from Monday, and Roy eats a sandwich made with the fresh bread after bowls of homemade minestrone. I made the minestrone during the winter and it has rested for a few months in the freezer. Today is cool, so it is a wonderful pranzo.
Felice comes by while I'm painting away on the tiles in the kitchen, and wants to work on the nocciole arch. He is here working with Roy for over an hour. Roy sets up two adjoining ladders, and the two of them face each other, with Roy taking direction from Felice.
Felice stretches the branches of the trees more than I think possible. His branch, which is soft from its soaking, is first placed at the top of the arch, and Roy and Felice tie it to branches snugly with string. Then branch-by-branch they stretch and pull.
In the midst of the project, with big branches lopped off here and there, I am wondering what the heck is going on. But I love Felice. And I trust him. It is a good thing. For when they have finished, the arch is a thing of beauty. And when the leaves grow, it will be absolutely lovely. We've always loved the natural arch formed by the two trees. Now the arch will be taller and more precise.
Tia calls from Puglia with a toothache, and we give her the number of our dentist in Rome. First Bruce gets food poisoning. Now Tia has a toothache. This Puglia trip does not sound very relaxing. They're due back tomorrow, and I tell Tia she can have my Tuesday appointment at the dentist if he can't fit her in otherwise. He's a great guy, and I'm sure will find a way to help her.
We decide not to go to mass tonight. We'll go tomorrow night, for Roy will be participating. But for tonight we stay at home.
I asked Roy earlier in the day if he could take a few bunches of the lush rosemarino growing in the fiorieras and plant them near the old rosemarino bush. He does, but does not happen to look up at the peach tree. Sofi and I walk out to see how the rosemary looks and are shocked to see the peach tree in full flower. It is so beautiful.
I find Roy to show him this new treasure. He is surprised that he did not even look up to see the tree when he planted the rosemary. We walk over to it and lovingly pinch off a few buds, and are clearly thrilled. This is one beautiful tree. Finalmente. The tree is in flower and now it will bear fruit.
There is a chill in the air. Roy sits on Felice's bench and we notice that now each day there will be new things to take note of in the garden. I stand with my arm around his shoulder and we smile silently at each other. It is great to be alive.
It rained a little last night. We can see drops on the window. Outside it looks like an English moor, but I'm awake early and want to get started painting while Roy is at Dottoressa's. She wants to take his blood pressure again.
Roy arrives back with good news. His pressure is better and he'll have it checked again next week. We drive to Viterbo to find a Colorobbia shop and it is jammed full of art supplies and books. But no kiln. One day next week we'll drive to Tuscania where the closest one is located. By then I'll have finished painting the box of tiles.
It is warm and the air is moist and full of rich spring smells when we walk up to the centro storico just before 8:30PM. It is dark, and there are two fat red candles lit over the steps to Luigina's house. As we continue on our walk, doors open and neighbors emerge for mass one-by-one as though they are characters in an ancient advent calendar.
More of the pavement in the village piazza is finished, and its spina di pesche (spine of the fish) design works well here. Men are seen carrying their little paper tote bags to church tonight. No one carries his costume on a hanger. But by the time they all file in with Don Luca and Vincenzo to the tiny sacristy, eighteen men somehow change into their robes and emerge like hobbits from their cave into the light of the little church.
While in the sacristy, Don Luca asks for three volunteers to help him during the mass. Roy is right in front of him, and raises his hand. He tells me later that he volunteered so that he might get out of carrying the huge bier during the procession. But the lord has another idea.
Roy emerges next to Don Luca, holding a statue of Christ on a large wooden cross. In one hand, I note a white folded handkerchief. It looks strange to me, until I see that Roy is to hold the cross while the congregation files up to kiss Christ's knee. Between each kiss, Roy wipes the knee. He tells me later that Elena is notable because, although she is wearing full makeup, she politely kisses her index finger while the finger touches Christ's knee.
I am seated in the third row with Lore and Alberto. The mass is a confusing one because there are three statues of Christ. One continues to rest in its regular place, high up on the wall behind the altar. Tonight it is covered with a red cloth edged in gold.
In front of the altar is the bier, with a life-size sculpture of Christ, lying with his feet toward us. And Roy holds yet another statue. We are told that in some communities, young men are chosen to represent Christ in the procession. But not in Mugnano. Not yet.
I notice young Salvatore, who is so close with his father, Mario, that he wears a red shirt to match his fathers, and when his father stands against one wall during the mass, Salvatore moves to stand in front of him. I think that, when it is time, Salvature will definitely become a member of the Confraternity. He is learning the responsibilities early.
Outside, we are told to take our places, with the women in front, then the bier, then the men. Alberto Cozzi walks near the front in his new position as the priory, with the traditional bastone of the priory.
I walk over to Felice and Marsiglia. I think Felice does not want to walk, but Marsiglia does, so I take her arm in mine and we walk at the end of the procession. Marsiglia is very sure footed, and when it is time for us to recite the lord's prayer, we speak it in unison. By this time, I even remember most of it. Was it really that long ago that I had no idea what words to say?
When we walk just past Leondina and Italo's house, there is a flurry of activity around the bier, and the next thing I know, Roy is at the front right corner. Roy should know better than to think wishful thoughts right in the sacristy. But he is wearing his exercise belt, so is able to handle the weight.
There is a full moon overhead, and although the air is full of moisture, it is warm, and there is not much of a breeze. So it is a comfortable night to take such a walk. The mass ends and before I know it I can see Roy closing the tall top of the church doors from inside. I turn to Tiziano and joke with him that Roy is the new janitor of the church.
We walk quietly down the hill toward the house, and there is not a sound except the sound of a bird now and then. In this peaceful village, even a holiday weekend has its quiet moments.
I am able to meet Silvano and see our new serra at his parents' house this morning in Amelia, and it is quite exciting. The execution of the design is excellent, but Roy wants to see it all assembled. Silvano tells him that that will not be possible. Roy is undeterred. He notices a tall cement wall just behind us, and with Silvano and his uncle's help and a C-clamp, the three of them are able to hold it in place while I take a photo.
Now that it is in place, Roy discovers a mistake. In the area where Silvano planned how two of the sides will fit, there is a small area that is not covered. They decide that adding on long slim piece with a corner will do the trick, and now we are happy. It will be ready on Tuesday, and now Roy needs to call Stefano to arrange to have the pieces picked up and delivered here.
We stop in Giove at Sgrina, the best macelleria around, and pick up an abbaccio, which is a shoulder of young spring lamb. This is an Italian delicacy, only available for a short time each year. So we plan to cook it within the next few days. Roy is sorry that we did not buy mint jelly when we were at Castroni in Rome. I suppose I could make some with all of our wild mint, but it doesn't sound very interesting to me.
A few hours later, Tony and Pat come by to use our land line telephone (they only have a cell phone), and we invite them for Pasquetta, the Easter Monday celebration. We'll have the abaccio then, and Tony and Pat will bring the wine and dessert.
Tonight we drive to Donatella's art opening in Graffignano. These openings are places where we run into friends and also meet interesting people. The art is another matter. The scene reminds me of the art openings in San Francisco. The difference is in the level of sophistication. I'd rather say that modern art is not our favorite medium and let it go at that.
Just as we leave, Clara and then Duccio and Giovanna arrive, and we are able to chat for a little while. We really enjoy them all. Clara tells us that she goes to a Catholic Church in Rome near Piazza Republica, where the priest is from Poland and speaks English. A number of Americans living in Rome go to her church, and she invites us to go with her some Sunday. That will be a good idea.
She will also introduce us to the priest, who can hear our confessions. That is a good idea, since we are unable to go to confession here with Don Luca. He speaks no English, and I fear that our understanding of Italian may suffer in translation. Don Francis comes to visit less and less, with all his responsibilities in Washington, D.C. working for the Council of Catholic Bishops, so we need a local English-speaking priest, at least for now.
We're missing little Sofi, so drive home and take her out for a walk up to the centro storico. The new pavement looks just great. In less than a week, the mattone has taken on a natural patina. We hope that cars will not be allowed, but doubt that that will happen. Anyway, we run into Leondina and Italo on the way up and I take Leondina under my arm as I did last evening with her sister, Marsiglia.
Leondina tells me that Marsiglia was very tired after her walk last night, but that these two sisters are very strong. "Not like their husbands!" I respond and she agrees with a laugh. There is something solid and fearless in the two of them. I like them very much.
Italo waits for her about halfway across the piazza. He is wearing a tweed golf cap, tweed jacket and patterned sweater. Somehow it all looks quite natty. He has a kind of swarthy look about him. They make a very handsome couple.
Marsiglia and Italo are alone tonight, because Vincenza and Augosto and their daughters are in Rome. I can't imagine they won't return tomorrow. So tonight Leondina and Italo will join their best friends, Felice and Marsiglia.
We walk around the village and then back home, considering whether or not to go to mass tonight or tomorrow morning. But we decide to go tomorrow, and watch a little TV before getting into bed with a couple of good books.
Whether we are pushing the end of March or not, the flowers and trees in the garden surely are. On a walk around the garden this morning, I'm aware that it is becoming a thing of beauty, a place of peace.
Earlier, we walked up to Easter mass. We were early arrivals, and when Lore and Alberto arrived we moved over to welcome them. On Friday evening, Lore asked me what we thought about the Terry Sciavo case. We were not sure.
This morning, I tell her that I believe that it is Terry's misfortune because she did not make her wishes clear to her husband early on. Right around the time we were married in the early 80's, Roy and I executed Living Wills, asserting that we wanted no heroic measures taken if we were to find ourselves on life support systems and that we both wanted to be cremated.
Now our attorney in California has that information, but what if something happens to one or both of us while we're here (which we hope is forever)? We will be sure to speak with Dottoressa the next time we visit her. Terence knows what our wishes are.
So back to Terry Sciavo. Since she did not make her wishes clear, her case is being waged publicly. We believe hers is a private and a moral matter. But if given the choice, we would take steps to keep her alive. We have no idea what her wishes were, but she is not in a coma. She responds to people around her, even if it is only moving her head. We believe she has had a great deal of brain damage. The whole situation is so sad.
It is so sad that her family members do not speak. I can speak from experience that that kind of situation is heartbreaking. Perhaps all this activity around the time of Christ's death and resurrection is helping people to take a close look at their lives and make their wishes known. We hope so.
In church this morning, Don Luca speaks about the DaVinci Code in his homily! He mentions it four times, so is clearly sending a message. He thinks it is a fabrication. After mass, Lore tells all of us in no uncertain terms that it is a terrible book with a terrible premise. Roy and Tiziano tell her that it is only a "fantasia" but she presses on, raising her arms and rolling her eyes.
Today rains off and on, and we are able to walk out into the garden between the raindrops to see new growth on the apple tree and the artichoke plants firmly rooted in the ground. Inside, there is a new shoot in one of the seeds brought from the Kendall Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival on September 9, 2001. The seed is actually from a tomato we tasted at the festival!
The ceramics wait on a table in the loggia to be painted a clear top coat before they are all fired. They are covered with plastic. Today is just too damp to paint.
Inside, I decide to cook the artichokes for tomorrow. I pre-cook them on the stove, but will finish them in the oven. The dish is a kind of carciofe alla Romana, stuffed with garlic and parsley and pancetta and fresh breadcrumbs and olive oil, then cooked in olive oil and white wine. We'll have it for a first course tomorrow at pasquetta, or Easter Monday.
Traditionally, Easter Monday is a day of picnics, but the weekend has been dreary and cool and tomorrow is no day to picnic. Today Roy even had a fire going for the afternoon and evening.
We call Terence and Angie and hear that Julia, their au pair from Germany, has arrived and is settling in. We are thankful for her, and hope that the relationship works out for everyone. Today, Easter will be celebrated at Kevin and Christine's, so it should be fun. California family gatherings are always fun.
We're happy for the rain, but will be happy to be able to go out to garden. The ceramic tiles are now covered over in the loggia, and I look forward to some dry weather so that I can paint a top protective coat before they are fired. I'll be ready for a new design or two next week, and we'll try the Colorobbia store in Tuscania later in the week. Perhaps we'll even go to one of their shops in Rome on Tuesday.
We're looking forward to Tuesday, and Sofi must be, too. She looks like a baby gorilla, with all her hair sticking out all over her little head and body. She's ready for her spring cut from Irina at Marielisa's. I suppose she will feel like a lamb being shorn. But she's so cute she will look wonderful, and we're sure will feel better, too.
Pasquetta is the day after Easter Sunday. It is the day that all Italians take off for picnics. But today is overcast and rainy enough that we have to eat inside.
Pat and Tony arrive around 11:30, and we eat around 1:30. First we start with Carciofe Alla Romana, stuffed artichokes. Then we move on to brodetto abaccio, a shoulder of young spring lamb. This is served over a bed of celery root puree. Delicious if I do say so myself. That is me you see, taking a bow.
Pat and Tony have brought a bottle of red wine and an ice cream dessert, as well as a bottle of Prosecco. When it is all done, we take a walk around the garden. When we are on the front terrace we see Clara driving by with her daughter in law and her husband, after having pranzo at Lore and Alberto's. We invite them up and take them through the garden. Then it is time for everyone to leave, so we walk up the street and back with Sofi.
The rest of the afternoon and evening are calm, and we're out in between bouts of rain showers. The garden looks luscious. These are the chocolate days; the days before the little bugs get into the plants and wreck havoc. Hopefully we have headed them off with our biologic spraying.
The fertile ground also reminds us how much weeding we have to do to make the garden look the way we want it to. But for the next couple of days, we won't be around to do much work. Fa niente. Everything except the new roses seem to be taking on lives of their own.
We get up when it's still dark. This change in daylight savings time is wonderful, but will take a little getting used to.
We're out of the house before 8AM and on our way to Tragliata, near Lake Bracciano, where Sofi will get her hair and nails cut and groomed. It is a long drive, but we arrive in a little over an hour. Irina, the groomer, is a lovely young woman who really enjoys all the dogs, and Sofi loves her, too.
We're off to Rome, driving on the Aurelia and then find our way across town to the neighborhood near the Vatican, to find Fulvia's shop, Cinzia Santis, a houseware and Lista di Notte (honeymoon registry). She's sitting right there when we come down the ramp, and her sister Livia is also there. They are both ready for a hug. Before we are through, we find a large heavy frying pan and a cutting board that doubles as a bread board. Both items are very reasonable. This is a great store, and we even get a little discount. Email us for the address if you're going to Rome. It's very near The Vatican.
On the way to the dentist, we stop at Castroni. I am happy to say that all we buy is a jar of chutney. We are so used to our lives here, that we can do without most things we used to rely on.
The dentist calls as asks us to come early, so we take a walk through Piazza del Popolo and wend our way there. I don't even remember what he is going to do, but he tells me he is replacing a big filling that has cracked.
Less than an hour and one large dose of novocaine later, we're out of there. I really like this man, Dottore Chiantini, who studied at Boston University and speaks English fluently. His office is immaculate, his tools include all the latest technology, and an enormous plasma screen covers half of the window in front of me when I sit on the lounge that his patients recline on.
I am amazed at his technology, a technology so advanced that he does all his work himself. He can take x-rays, clean teeth, do extractions, fillings, the works, and makes it all look easy. I ask him to show me the camera he uses during the process, and it is like a little probe. When he's done, I follow him over to his computer and he clicks off a few areas to update my file and when I'm out of the chair he can easily present me with an invoice.
I wonder what Dorothy Slattery, our Mill Valley dentist, would think of all this. He's interested to meet her and show her his system, so the next time she and Charlie come to Italy, they'll have to get together. Dorothy is interested to meet him.
Tia is expected at his office in a couple of hours, with some tooth emergency. We are sure it will go well.
We drive off to pick up Sofi, returning on the Gran Raccordo Annulare and then the Aurelia. She is happy to see us, but Irina tells us that she did a lot of crying while she waited for us. She is so cute, but so, well, hairless. She looks like a dachshund with a beard. Her hair, the little that she has, is lighter in color. I'm happy to have her sleep on my lap for the ride home.
Like us, Sofi is happiest when we're at home. She and I spend a little time out looking at the stars tonight. It has rained a lot during the last few days, but tonight is warm and fresh and clear. I hold her in my arms and I can feel her little tail wag while we look over at Pepe's garden, a mess of dirt and dead plants. He's undertaking a huge drainage project to try to protect the garden as well as the garage beneath. The mound of terra competes with Chia in the distance. Tomorrow we'll go over to see firsthand what all the fuss is about.
Tia calls tonight with thanks. Dr. Chiantini took out her wisdom tooth and she's as pleased with him as we are. It's good to be able to share this great resource, and he welcomes the new business.
The fog clears late, but we're able to do some thorough gardening in between projects. Everything in the garden is happy, happy except for the new roses. Even the old peony bushes are thriving in their new spots. Roy moves four lavender plants; one to replace one that had died, two more to make a square space in the center of the lavender field, and one to an open space between two tall cypress trees and the last lavender in the single row on the left side of the walk. We'll place tufa bricks around the square area in the middle of the lavender field as a border, put down nursery cloth and gravel, and look around for an old bird feeder as a focal point.
I'm tired of looking at the big field of lavender, liking rows of lavender instead that billow out in the breeze. Two of the newly moved lavender plants have joined three old ones below the big olive tree, placed in a planned random fashion. The tree is so open that plenty of light filters through, and the branches are tall enough that the lavender will get plenty of sun.
I clip away the dead shoots of Felice's fifteen artichoke plants, and they'll all thrive here. Roy spends some time outside the gate on the mermaid roses, and they're so happy that their long arms throw themselves over the side of the parcheggio, swaying in the breeze like a porch swing. I continue on my ongoing project to manicure the boxwood and lavender. I must stop clipping the lavender this week, to give it plenty of time to send out new shoots before June.
Stefano and Luca come by after pranzo and look at the slowly decaying bank. They cannot take the project to repair it on right away, but recommend chicken wire to hold the bank up, then tufa-colored intonico. That's a kind of cement. I've seen it in other places, and weeds don't seem to take root on its surface. Stefano promises it will be the correct color, so I agree with this necessary project.
It's a good idea, and probably will take place later in the spring. In the meantime, as soon as Silvano finishes the last details of the serra, Roy and Stefano will take his truck to Amelia to pick it up and install it. We are right on time. Perhaps even next week it will be installed.
In the loggia, the ceramic tiles sit on tables covered with plastic. I uncover them, and am able to almost finish a coat of transparent glaze before I run out. I have so much to learn about ceramics. Finishing this box of tiles and having the tiles glazed will tell me a lot about what to do and not do.
Inside the house, in the guest bedroom window, sixteen shoots have come up. We planted more seeds on March 16th, and those seeds are four years old. I read that seeds can survive for four years, so here's a living example. The heirloom seeds from last year have not fared so well. Only two of about fifty have come up. We are still on schedule for our spring planting at the end of April or beginning of May.
After the serra is installed, we will drive to Narni Scalo to the glass shop, to order the glass for the sides and the policarbonato sheets for the roof. That won't take more than a day. So we'll be finished for sure by mid April. I'm happy it will be done before Peggy arrives during the last week of April.
Peggy and Roy and I attended the Kendall-Jackson Heirloom Tomato Festival on September 9, 2001. So many of the seeds are from that adventure. It will be so much fun to show her the plants and the greenhouse. It will be so much fun to see her anyway, especially now that the garden will be bursting with life. I'd welcome seeing her any old time.
For pranzo, I cook a frittata, but forget to use the fresh artichoke hearts I prepared the other night! The artichokes were the reason I wanted to make a frittata, but we have cold zucchini and plenty of herbs and a couple of tomatoes and a bunch of spring onions. And I want to try out the new frying pan we purchased yesterday in Rome.
The frittata is a great success, full and puffy, thanks to the pan. It's great to finally have a frying pan that gives off even heat. So I fix a blood orange and fennel salad and this morning made another loaf of bread. I read that to make a bread rise, put a pan of water in the oven while it is preheating, as well as coat the top of the loaf with a spoonful of water. The result is amazing. And delicious.
Now what's to do with the artichokes? Later in the day, I decide to make a soup, because the rain has returned and it is quite cool. We have fresh mint in the garden, so I start with sautéing spring onions and garlic in olive oil, adding diced celery, diced artichokes, making a chicken broth for it to cook in, adding fresh thyme, a little fresh ginger, a half teaspoon of coriander (I don't really know much about it, but like the taste).
After it's all cooked down, I put it all in all a food processor with fresh mint and chives and cream. We have that tonight with slices of our fresh bread. These simple meals are our favorites. And now that we have fifteen artichoke plants, I'll be looking for all kinds of things to do with artichokes.
It's cool early this morning when we leave to drive to Viterbo to the auto mechanic who will fix our rear view mirror. Let's see. That's about six months to replace a rear view mirror, Sound about right? Between the back and forth with the owner of the trucking company who was responsible for sideswiping our car when it was parked in Rome, to the insurance company who could not find the claim to the appointment with the adjuster to getting the check to making an appointment, that's about right.
This morning it takes almost two hours for a procedure that Roy thought would take twenty minutes. The waiting room is a shaky prefab metal job that rustles like a jews harp whenever the door opens and shuts, blowing in cold air on this windy morning.
We sit for a while, then walk for a while, to pass the time. The waiting room is shaped like a sausage, long and narrow and greasy. At about half way through our wait, a man walks in and Sofi almost lunges at him, barking like crazy. The man looks down at her and leers, "Are you going to eat me?"
We apologize and Roy shushes Sofi, but I wonder. I think people have a scent about them. And some men give off a certain scent that drives Sofi into a frenzy. And then there are others who Sofi immediately takes to. A man outside pats Sofi and tells us she is from a very intelligent breed. She all but purrs and wags her tail like a Salvation Army bell.
When we drive out, Roy thinks he's driving a new car. He's elated with his new mirror. So we take a left and drive to Tuscania, where we are told we can find unglazed ceramic tiles and, hopefully, Colorobbia paints and instruction.
We are told we'll find the place near the cemetery of this tasty old town. Everything in Tuscania is fashioned with tufa, the characteristic volcanic rock found all over this part of Italy. The ruins outside the city walls and the gorgeous tufa towers all over town are a wonderful sight to see when peeking over the ridge from Viterbo.
We find the place behind the cemetery, but aside from a planter that is so gorgeous it leaves me drooling, the woman has no tiles in bisque ready for painting. Nor does she sell Colorobbia products. So it's been a nice drive, but we might as well go home and play in the garden. It is warming up and will be beautiful at home.
At home, we have a heavenly pranzo. We heat up a container of lamb pasta sauce from the freezer, and it's perfect over a package of fresh basil gnocchi from a Viterbo gastronomia. Then there's homemade bread to dunk, a glass of wine, and a salad of rugghetta, shaved fennel and sliced blood oranges.
The day is warm, and we can't wait to be outside in the garden. Roy has to do some watering, because the days have been warm and he has not turned on the irrigation system yet. The vibernum on either side of the front door are droopy and need a long drink. He makes a list of the plastic pipe and other fittings he'll need to finish this year's irrigation project, now that we have no water from the garden sink.
We walk out to measure the area where we will place gravel in the middle of the lavender field, and it is about 2 meters square. We have plenty of gravel. Roy calculates that we'll also need about twenty narrow tufa bricks, so we'll pick up 2 dozen in Civita Castellana at Tufitalia later this afternoon. Tomorrow we may have the project finished. Or when we wake up will he say, "April Fool's!"?
I hear, "Sofia! Sofia!" and it is Felice. He tells us he needs some sun on his face, so has come here to hoe with his favorite old tool, a zappa that he keeps in Roy's garden cottage. We tell him that we have seen the thirteen fava plants spring up from the seeds that he and Italo planted a couple of months ago. Italo told him it was too late then to plant them, so perhaps tomorrow Felice can tell him, "April Fool's!" Or do they do that here? We'll have to ask.
After he leaves, we drive to pick up the tufa bricks, and also to find a place in the center of town that is listed as a Colorobbia dealer. The drive is spectacular, and as the road dips down, down into the carved out tufa shell at the edge of Civita Castellana, we remember that last year the man who helped us plan our fiorieras carved out of tufa stone told us they have about twenty years of tufa left to dig at Tufitalia.
The hole that we have driven into is enormous. Roy is happy that he did not wash the car this morning. We think of people like Dick Ryerson and Glen Carroll, who'd be amazed by this place. We are sure Sarah Hammond still dreams about the day she came here for the first time.
The man in the little trailer recognizes us, and laughs when Roy tells him he has a quasi-furgone (sort-of truck). The bricks are very heavy, and a young man loads them into the back of the hatchback, two at a time. When we drive back to pay for them, the man tells us €10. When Roy pays him and we drive off we are sure the bill will not leave his pocket. Fa niente. This is a small price to pay for what will be a beautiful finished space.
We drive up the steep incline behind a huge truck of tufa bricks, one with a Caserta sign painted on the back. And it is then that Roy muses that perhaps the truck driver is driving our Passat. (For those of you who don't remember, our car was stolen almost two years ago and we were told that it pulled off the A-1 the same morning in Caserta, near Naples, where the Carabinieri think it was loaded onto a ship and disappeared.)
We drive into town as a thunderclap sounds like cymbals crashing on either side of us. Rain follows in torrents. So there goes a beautiful day, but Roy won't have to water when we get home. Around and around we drive, and actually find the little shop. It is closed, and the barber down the street tells us it will open tomorrow at 9AM. Inside the window, we see lots of supplies and plenty of bisque plates. We love the name of the web site. It is called www.civitonicsdoitbetter.com .
Back at home, we notice another tomato shoot springing into life inside the guest room planter box. Outside everything is thriving. Except the Easy Going roses. Go figure.
The evening ends with the Pope in very bad health. He's not in a coma, but has clearly had a serious infection and some sort of heart failure. We pray for him.