"Rabbit. Rabbit." These were the first words we each uttered on this day, at just after midnight. See the last posting of September to find out why.
I'm back to recording the days of the month in sequence, so beginning with this month, no longer will you have to read the journal backwards. It is amazing to me that since we started this journal, I have posted more than three hundred times!
Che mancharebbe...could it be? Well, Martha was right. In addition to the meaning, "If we didn't have it, we would miss it," this phrase also loosely translates to "It's a good thing."
"During the last three months of 2005...especially as each month drew to a close, the people of Mugnano were heard to whisper the words to each other and the words passed from house to house, down the little streets and across the borgo.
As midnight drew to a close on the last day of the last month of the year, a groundswell could be heard across the village. The bells of the little church in the square pealed twenty four times, women silently bared their backsides to the moon, turned around and as the townspeople greeted each other, their first words were, "Coniglio! Coniglio!" and then, "Buon anno!"
The months passed, and in the houses where these words were uttered faithfully,...."
Can you tell I have been reading a medieval novel?
Sun rises in a clear sky this morning, and we're off to Arezzo, to the monthly antique market, for this will be the best walking weather of the year.
We arrive in not much more than an hour, and although we are able to find a place to park on the street, we can only park there for an hour. So we move the car to the parking garage we remembered from last time. Sofi and I wait in the sun until Roy parks.
The air is cool, and I feel a draft on my throat. Perhaps we'll find a vendor with light Pashima or wool scarves. I'll need one today. Roy does not sound all that well either, but he is wearing a vest.
As we approach the main street, we encounter two women from a nonprofit organization trying to raise awareness and money for animal protection causes. The poster animal is a little basotto, like Sofi, but an adorable puppy, facing right into the camera, with the image of its beard turning the little dog into a caricature of itself.
They sell t-shirts, wonderful ones, with the dog's image on the front. Only later do we realize that the words printed above the dog's face read, "call my lawyer!" in Italian. I am sorry we did not purchase more than one. Sofi is given a wonderful bandanna to wear, one that lasts all of about fifteen minutes before it finds it's way to my little tote.
But now we are walking up the hill, and before we know it the eye candy of the 200 plus vendors are all around us. We never expect to buy anything when we come to this famous market on the first weekend of each month, but on this day we purchase: one t-shirt for Roy, one lightweight warm scarf for me from an Indian shop, a prayer font that we later use on the table in the kitchen to display fresh fruit, (carved from a quite marvelous marble from Carrara at an incredible price of €55.)
Then we find an iron planter for around € 30. With all the money we've spent, Roy tells us we need to eat panini for pranzo, so he buys them for us at a little café and we sit on stone steps in the main square and all feast there. We have brought roast chicken for Sofi from home, and everyone is happy as can be.
I admit I am amazed that Roy agrees to this manner of eating pranzo, actually suggests it, for I love the idea of eating bread and cheese and even wine and fruit for pranzo instead of a sit down meal. This is the first time Roy would even think of suggesting it in decades. Perhaps he is mellowing in this respect. Magari.
We are in the midst of a wonderful day, but after about 2PM realize Roy has a dinner engagement with Don Luca and his Confraternity buddies, so we drive home through a circuitous route that includes Cortona.
Now I've been poo-poo-ing Cortona since all the Frances Mayes notoriety has changed the town, yuppifying it and driving the prices into oblivion. But today Roy wants to drive there on the way home, so we park around back (if you drive to Cortona, don't take the first street to the center of town, but instead drive around to the back. That way, you'll have a straight shot into town instead of facing an uphill climb.)
The streets are full of tourists, but the town is lovelier than ever. No matter how many tourists descend on Cortona, no matter how many stranieri buy homes there, Cortona will remain a beautiful, beautiful town. One of my favorite ceramics stores is still there, with very reasonable prices. We take a few photos of the plates I want to copy, and the owner is quite amenable.
Then we have a caffé in the square and drive home.
An hour or two later, Roy changes, picks up a jar of fig conserve to give to Don Luca, and waits at the gate for Gino and Valerio and Enzo. Roy is not feeling well. His cold has reappeared. At first he wants to drive to the Confraternity cena so that he can come home early. But now he has left the keys at home and drives off with his brothers.
Sofi and I sit in front of the telly with cheese and fruit and wine and fig conserve. I get a minor buzz on and we go up to bed early, so that Sofi can snooze and I can read. Girls' night in. It's a marvelous treat. Meanwhile, Roy arrives at Don Luca's and there are fifteen of them, including Don Luca, a priori from Bomarzo and Roy's Confraternity buddies from Mugnano. Fabrizio, Nicola, Alberto and Francesco (who lives next to Luigina) are the chefs, and during the meal Don Luca asks what day tomorrow will be. No one knows. It is the Festa di Nonni (grandparents' day), and Valerio and Roy are the only two nonni. Bravos all around to the two proud men. Roy's home before midnight, and it's good to have him home.
The sky is cold, with streaks of thin clouds obscuring a bright sun. It's time to pick tomatoes from both ortos, but they are all past their prime. We'll cut almost all of the plants down today or tomorrow and will put up tomatoes later, squeezing them as much as possible to get some of the water out.
The priest speaks about the joys of the vendemmia, and today we bless the harvest and the grapes. On November 11th, on the feast day of San Martino, the wine will be tasted from this season's harvest. So far, we have picked...niente.
Today, when walking home from church with Laura and Mauro, Laura tells us that the sky is triste (sad). There are a few drops of rain and the sky is cloudy. The air remains cold and wet.
After church, Sofi and I work on the roses on the front path.
Italo agrees the sky is sad later when I am deadheading the roses on the front path and he walks by with an empty bucket. He takes water to the chickens in his orto. And he is sad, for his wife was Leondina, our good friend who died recently.
Speaking of triste, even the figs are sad. There are some left on the tree, but I don't think they will ripen. We have so much on the shelf, that we're only sad for the tree.
I'm going to make the first batch of polenta today, and we'll have our first fire in the fireplace. Summer seemed so short, but there's no holding back when cool weather decides to descend. So we might as well enjoy it.
But I am really tired. So when Roy tells me that pasta is fine for pranzo, I am really relieved. I look forward to a long afternoon nap in this drafty weather. The wind blows and it is a silent afternoon.
By 5PM we are so tired we cannot stay awake another moment. The power is off and on in the wind and the rain. We try to sleep, but doze off and on. Roy gets up around 7PM to see if he can get one of the circuits back on. We are back in winter weather, with an electrical system that is cranky when the weather turns humid and cold.
The next thing we know, it's past midnight, and we're still in bed.
We slept in until 8AM, and we needed the rest. The weather is gloomy, but once we're up we try to get the electrical system to work. With three circuits, only one works. So Roy maneuvers a long extension cord from the guest bedroom so that we can hook up the refrigerator in the kitchen.
We heat up some minestrone and get ready to leave for a reception in Rome given by a friend from the Smithsonian. Sofi stays in her little bed and we pick up Tiziano and drive in to Rome. We've decided to drive instead of take the train.
We arrive and meet Emanuela, who grew up in Mugnano, and her husband, Alain, who are mostly responsible for today's reception on ancient medicinal plants.
We had no idea, but the show consists of the unveiling of their website. I'm taken by the photos of botanicals, many five hundred years old! This project is one done in connection with Earthwatch and the Biblioteca in Rome, and twenty or so middle aged women in Birkenstocks and black socks and black cotton pants and t-shirts from the program are there. We speak with a couple of women who are friendly as can be.
Then it is time to begin. I want to ask Emanuela if there are slides that I can copy and paint from, as I am enamored with botanical drawings these days. But once the show begins, we see that we can look up any of them on their new web site.
It is fabulous. Just fabulous, if you are interested in medicinal plants, or botanicals, or the history of plants. The site is:
http://www.sil.si.edu/digitalcollections/herbals I have my sketch book, and fire away at scores of drawings, while one by one they appear on the screen.
We meet Emanuela's mother, her sister, and also Simone's mother, who seems to be a good friend of the family. They must be very proud of Emanuela. We surely are, and agree that she will come for a visit in the next two weeks before she must return to Washington, DC. and her job at the Smithsonian.
We drive home as the sky turns navy blue and share the A-1 with hundreds of huge trucks. It is a good thing that Roy loves to drive. Just as we're leaving the tall and stately turn-of-the-twentieth-century tall apartment buildings in Rome, each one a marvel in itself with its beautifully orchestrated colors and grand wooden front doors...
Roy looks in the rearview mirror and asks Tiziano, "Have you ever eaten horse meat?" There are special butchers in places all over Italy that sell the stuff. What a sad commentary.
"Oh. No." he responds, "Only as a young child."
"Perhaps your mother wanted to turn you into a stallion, " I quip, then am engulfed with laughter.
Back at home, Sofi is playful as ever, and we spend the rest of the evening in front of the TV, with power restored and a promise from Maurizio, an electrician from Bomarzo, that he will come tomorrow afternoon to help Roy sort our electrical challenges all out.
October 4, 2005
We've emailed Michelle Berry to find out what she does to freeze basil. We have plenty of fresh basil growing in the herb garden, but with this cool weather it is just a matter of time before it all dies. Here's Michelle's answer:
"I put the basil in the Cuisinart and chopped it very small. Added tablespoon of lemon juice (in place of olive oil and as I mentioned garlic, nuts (pine or walnut) and grated parm to form frozen pesto cubes. In your case, I would blend the leaves with fresh lemon diluted with water - just to form a slightly liquid paste. The consistence should be wet enough to freeze into cube in ice cube trays."
What a great idea! Of course we'll take most of the basil that we have and. like squirrels, will put our "nuts" away for the winter.
I wake with the start of a headache, but am wishing it away, with the help of a welcome rub from Roy on my shoulders.
We've been corresponding with Karen Holmes, the guardian angel of the Leo Diner Scholarship at the Cinema Department of San Francisco State. We thought she had never actually met Leo, but that was not the case. Her memories bring back some of mine, and I'm sure many of Roy's, about the old lab on Golden Gate Avenue...
"Now this may surprise you but I am sure that I did see Leo and more than once! I started shooting film well before I entered film school in 1970. We had an 8mm wind-up Bolex and a 16mm Beaulieu (I still have that one.) I took my footage to Leo Diner on hmmmm.... Maybe Golden Gate Avenue? I can still see the building, the place where you dropped off film and smell the delicious odor of film chemicals.
"Whenever I am experimenting with hand processing personally, modifying my optical printer or jury rigging up some way to do creative titles, I think about Leo and his lab, a wonderful mysterious place that ignited my desire to explore process as well as content. I have always been happy that the Leo Diner Award can keep his spirit alive. "
We've wanted to encourage the Department to hold a Leo Diner Film Festival of past winners, to stir up more entrants and showcase the great creative work of the winners. Here's what she has to say about the idea...
"Let's aim for a festival next fall. It will be 14 years then and a fall festival would be a great preparation for the 15th award."
There is always something to look forward to. And now as fall gears up, with leaves turning, persimmons ripening, fires in the kitchen fireplace and the harvesting of grapes, we look forward to our short trip to the United States in late November, and the possibility of a festival in honor of Leo next year.
I've had a headache for two days, the first in months, and am unable to shake it. Perhaps it is the major change in the weather from warm to cool, from spotty showers to downpours and an overcast sky.
I manage to spend time in the studio this morning, and paint some new designs that will be fired this week in Deruta. Between an hour or so of filtered sun and dark clouds, I stand at the counter facing South. Paint seems to fly off my brush. Soon we'll visit the Commercialista in Viterbo and set up a business license. Perhaps some day we'll even be able to turn this joyous activity into a craft that actually makes some money.
Something is very wrong with our electrical system. Of four separate circuits, one keeps bouncing out. Yesterday Maurizio, an electrician from Bomarzo, came and fooled around for a while, but left because at the time we had no power outage. He told Roy to call him when there was a problem.
He left and the power went out, but Roy was unable to reach him by phone. So, day after day, Roy fiddles with the circuits, not able to figure out where the problem lies.
We take nine pieces to class, and can't remember what pieces we've taken that will be ready to pick up. I think they'll be posted on the photos section of this site today or tomorrow.
That is, until we see them. Boh! We still are having problems with the smalto. The designs are fine, but I spend most of the three hour session trying to repair the base coat on the plates we've brought to fire. What a mess. We determine that the smalto is too thin, so won't hold the glaze universally. I'm looking forward to a good cry. This is such a long, long road.
Once we're home, Roy agrees to build our first fire of the season, and it is a lovely one, lighting up the corner of the fireplace and taking off right away. This is one of the reasons we look forward to fall. Outside, on the way home, we looked up to see a sliver of a moon, and the first star, in a beautiful navy blue and pink sky, smeared with black clouds. Might as well enjoy the weather. It's here to stay.
On the way out tonight, Roy stops me to walk over to the Osmanthus, next to the parcheggio on the little path. It is filled with tiny white flowers and the most amazing smell, even more fragrant than jasmine. Funny, but I don' t recall ever seeing blossoms on the Osmanthus plants here before. October is such a month of surprises, the garden is lush and fragrant. Go figure.
My headache lingers, but we walk up to see Dottoressa in the borgo this morning at 9. She's one hour late, as usual, and those of us waiting for her laugh that she is on some other time clock.
We're second in line, and have lots to go over with her. We leave with a bunch of prescriptions, including prescriptions to see specialists for various things, and we'll probably pay around €100 for all specialist visits and the prescriptions. The care here in Italy is amazing, when you know who to go to.
Roy comes back from an errand and tells me that four of our neighbors are gabbing on the little stone benches outside our parcheggio. Lydia, Giuseppa, Luciana and Augusta sit there, happily side by side. Roy asks them if they think he needs to put in another bench and they think he should. I think we're fine for now, but love having our neighbors sit there. These women do not miss a day of walking. I wish I could say the same. No wonder they live so long.
Chris and Helena come for tea. They are here on a short visit from England, and although we've emailed back and forth for more than a year, this is the first time we've met them. We do some brainstorming with them about finding a bed and breakfast situation, and they'll visit Todi and Amelia and Narni in the next few days, although they're staying in Vetralla with friends. Then they'll travel on to Venice. Perhaps they'll run into Judith, who'll be there as well, this time with both dogs.
The power is still not fixed, so tomorrow Roy will try to reach Maurizio again and see if they can scope out the problem. Otherwise, it's a quiet day, with me snoozing to get rid of my headache and walks out to look at the garden, which looks amazing after all the rain. Sarah is right. The roses are as happy as can be.
I'm taking a break from painting. I'm still very unhappy about the smalto, and want to wait to paint until I am sure we have the correct mixture. What is the answer? Judith calls her friend Mardi, who agrees to meet with me. So I'll call her tomorrow. She has a full studio in Tuscania, so perhaps she can help me find the answers.
Last night I had some strange things happen while I tried to sleep. The back of my head, just where it meets the neck, started to quiver. I felt like old Aunt Ethel, whose head wobbled back and forth like those little bobble toys perched on the back ledges of automobiles. I lay on my back, with my arms resting over my waist, and my arms fall asleep, tingling me awake.
This morning, Roy asks me to write this down, to tell the doctor from the hospital in Perugia next month. I think it has something to do with the length of the migraine this time. But by the middle of today, the headache seems a thing of the past.
I tackle the dreaded job of switching warm weather and cool weather clothes and actually finish in about an hour. Although this house is quite small, we have organized it well, and because of our simple life, we don't really need much in the way of trendy clothes anymore. So I pull out a pair of jeans and a velour top, and that will probably be a uniform for me for these next months. I'm actually looking forward to packing for the trip to the U S in November, and think we'll be taking much fewer things than last year.
We hear from a couple more potential clients, who we'll see in the next months, and Roy will be masterminding those projects. Sure, I'll work with him, but I'm hopefully going to be busy once we can figure out what's going on with the ceramics.
Outside, there is rain and more rain, but it is a light rain, so lovely that when the late afternoon arrives we see a bright sunset reflecting across the valley in Chia. Below are the layers of misty clouds, green-grey and lush. Our garden looks like an English garden, with roses flourishing and everything green, green, green.
One of the electrical circuits still does not work, but we cannot reach Maurizio. So we continue to jury-rig our electrical needs for a few more days.
Tonight, Roy asks me, "Do you ever write in the journal, "Nothing happened today?"" How strange. There is always something to write about.
The rain continued overnight, and Roy gets out of the shower early, even before I wake up.
There is a message on the phone that Giovanna asks if we'd like to delay our planned day trip for a week for better weather. But we're adventurers, so we call back and say we're on if they are. We're all happy to go anyway, so Roy and Sofi and I arrive at Duccio and Giovanna's in Bomarzo just before 9AM.
They live in the most wonderful former guardhouse for an Orsini castello. It must be four hundred years old. Inside is a really beautiful fresco on the ceiling of the salon. When stepping into the room, you know you are inside a very special building. But I am getting ahead of myself...
We drive right up to the door, but because they are not yet ready, we have to back down twice for cars driving down from the borgo. Roy calls this "rush hour". We back down to the San Anselmo statue, the one Christopher loves with the saint's hand raised from the elbow as Christopher does in every photo.
We drive back up a third time, and our good friends get in the car, with Giovanna in the back with Sofi and me and Duccio in the copilot seat. He's happy not to drive, and Roy is happy to be the one to drive, so the day starts out well, even though it is raining.
We drive through Terni and on to the town Giovanna has wanted to visit for almost a year. Accumoli. The drive is lovely, with trees just beginning to turn. Vivid red trees stand out among thousands of different hued green trees, lush from weeks of rain as if painted drops drooled on a canvas. Here and there, yellow leaved trees stand out, with a few terra cotta ones thrown in as if strewn across a meadow. The geography is flat and hilly, with steep mountain ranges on either side, the Apennines, marked by slices of dirty and sensual fog layered between steep hills of autumn hues.
When we arrive, the first man we see is right out of a special effects movie. He is quite tiny and leans his head to one side, with ears that seem larger than his head, sticking out like sonar detectors. The sky is grey, the streets are grey, and he blends in with his grey skin and grey jacket and grey pants as if he has just emerged from around the corner out of a Brigadoon fog.
We park and walk around the same corner to a little bar. Sofi and I wait outside, along with a number of local men who all look, well, rather harsh and sullen. It is as if the cold hard winters have turned these men into characteristic figures out of a Jack London novel set in the hinterlands of Italy.
We have seen these men before, in towns like Castelluccio and Norcia, but why aren't the women just as rough looking? The women we see today have rosy cheeks and pleasant faces. When we greet them, they smile warmly and acknowledge us back. There is so much to learn...
Giovanna gets out her favorite touring book, a 1962 version of Guida Rossa, the Touring Club of Italy Lazio guide she has treasured for decades. With her as our guide, we start at the base of the town and walk up on top of thick slabs of stone, edged in river stones. As we walk, Giovanna reads from her guide, noting sandstone buildings of remarkable architecture. Some are in disrepair. It is evident that restoration efforts have taken place here, for newer sandstone can be found slipped in between disintegrated stones on various buildings.
Roy and I are reminded of Maybeck's Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco, that Liberty Style monument to feminine beauty that started to crumble almost as soon as it was finished in the early 20th century. Why would they ever want to build with sandstone? Well, it is the local stone, so of course that is the reason. Here in Italy the stone is known as arenaria.
We are not able to enter any of the special buildings with the exception of one little church, but as we reach the top of the main street, a little bundle of a dog in black fur bounds out toward us, and a woman asks us if we want her. She must be abandonata. We tell the woman no, and Sofi sniffs a little at her but does not really care for her. We continue on about our walk, with the little bundle of fur following our every move.
We leave the town partially satisfied with the visit. leaving the little dog behind. But we still want to get inside a few of those buildings. After all, Giovanna has wanted to see them for months.
We switch gears and it's after twelve, so we've decided to drive to a nearby town, Amatrice, which is the home of Spaghetti Amatriciana, made with Pancetta. We are all hungry just thinking of it.
We arrive in the town and again, Giovanna gets out her guide. We park next to a lovely church, but not the main one in town. Inside there is a really lovely Assumption painting, and other frescoes worth spending time with.
We decide to walk down the main street, and stop at a shop to buy local Pecorino, and to ask for the best restaurant for the local specialty. The woman in the shop tells us to leave town and drive toward the lake. We should eat at Trattoria Dell Lago, which is in the outskirts of Amatrice, but overlooks the lake. I'm wondering why we should leave the town, but we agree to go, after we check out the church of San Francesco.
But the Duomo is closed. Next door is the local tourist office for the area, and a kind young man shows us around, including a peek at the cloister of San Francesco. Unfortunately, the church is only open when the local priest is here. There are no hours. Giovanna wants to see some of the artwork inside. She has read in her guide book that several important works of art can be seen here, but the young man tells us otherwise.
In the years since Giovanna's book was published, a new priest came to town and locked away all the art that Giovanna wants to see. Or has it been stolen? We are not sure. We do know that the statue taken around town on the patron saint's day, was replaced by a copy. The copy is now taken around for the latest processions.
The whole conversation turns quirky, and we believe Giovanna is sad. Sad that her book is no longer telling what the real story of the church is, and even sadder that those wonderful works of art are no longer available to be viewed.
We take solace in the fact that we're soon to eat a great meal, and drive down the hill, stopping to ask directions at an intersection. A man nods his head, takes a minute and then tells us to drive over the bridge, take a left.... His directions are good, but then again, the restaurant is easy to find. Roy pulls into a place right in front of the restaurant.
Silvano greets us, apologizing that dogs are not allowed when Duccio asks about Sofi. I am sure he tells me so because he is not the owner and wants us to know that the decision is not of his choosing. Several dogs sit sleepily and patiently outside, so we leave Sofi sleeping in the car. She has already been fed pieces of cooked chicken, her favorite, so she'll be fine.
Silvano somehow takes to me, talking to me all the while we're trying to sit down and get settled. He asks us what we want, and of course we want the local specialty, spaghetti Amatriciana. But Giovanna wants to know if we'll be eating the white or red sauce. So when ours comes with the red sauce, we ask him if this is the authentic one, and what the white sauce was all about.
He tells us that many years ago the white sauce was what was used for Amatriciana, but only because tomatoes were not available. Boh? In the recent past, Amatriciana is always served with red sauce. We're satisfied with his answer, mostly because we're starved. And the heaping plates of hot pasta are heavenly.
Once we've finished that, we are brought a big tray of pieces of roast lamb, apparently cooked alla brace (on hot coals). We're also brought diced sautéed potatoes in olive oil and julienne zucchini in a very light batter. Of course there is local red wine, made probably last Thursday, but drinkable nonetheless.
We decide to have coffee in Rieti, but when we leave I ask Silvano for a business card. I introduced myself earlier, and when I tell him I want to write about the restaurant on our website, he remembers my name and I tell him we'll see him a la prossima (next time).
We leave with cards of the restaurant, Trattoria Dell Lago. Definitely put this on your list if you're interested in wandering the far coast of Lazio past Rieti. It's a lovely leisurely drive and an excellent restaurant, especially if you like spaghetti Amatriciana, made with local pancetta.
Ah, Rieti. This is one lovely city. After we park, Giovanna leads us toward the Duomo, but first we stop at a remarkable cloister.
Then it's on to the Duomo, a really beautiful church, with some remarkable work and some unremarkable and badly done restorations. All in all, the place is worth a visit. Duccio kindly asks a woman if there is any reference in the city to San Liberato, but she asks the priest and tells us that there is none.
So the reference we received from the little church of San Liberato in the town of the same name was that it was located in the region of Rieti, and that's that. So our next research may well be in the Vatican Library. It's time we get back to our San Liberato research.
We stop at an elegant bar and Giovanna and I have camomile tea with lemon. The hot tea is a treat after all the food. Roy cannot resist gelato. Giovanna tells us of a funny story of going to a bar some years ago and asking for camomile tea with lemon, and the bartender asking her if she wants the special camomila. She does, and thinks it's so very tasty.
Some years later, she goes back to the same bar, this time with Duccio, and tells the bartender she wants their special camomila. It is then that she finds out that he has put grappa in her tea. Since Giovanna does not drink, she had no idea what the bartender meant. But we all have a good laugh. Today we are served ordinary camomila, although I'd be willing to try the special blend on a cold day.
We drive home past Piediluco, a lovely lake, and arrive home as it begins to get dark and the sky clouds over. For most of the day we've had lovely weather, cool but rainless. And now that we're arriving back home, a fine mist returns.
This has been a lovely trip, and we say goodbye to our friends at the San Anselmo statue, then drive home to find a leak in the roof of the studio. It's no wonder, with all the rain, but there is no real damage.
Inside, Roy starts a fire and we settle down for a quiet night in front of the TV. Tomorrow he'll be up at dawn, to watch the Formula 1 race live from Japan. Brooooom! Brooooommm! I can tell he'll have good dreams of racing cars tonight.
Roy lies on the couch, watching the Formula 1 race at 7AM, a race held today in Japan. The beginning of these races are particularly exciting, with what looks like little toy cars on the screen, each driver maneuvering to overtake his rivals. But the toy cars are multi million dollar real ones, the drivers world class.
For twenty experienced drivers, it amazes me that a handful of them are able to move up more than five positions in less than a few minutes after the start of the race. The psychology of this is interesting. The accidents are not. After seeing the first spill, I turn away from the screen.
I watch the first two minutes and then walk upstairs to take a shower and get back to my book, Reading Lolita in Tehran. Two things cause my mind to wander. The first is the author's description of "non-Revolutionary writers," which she writes are "the ones celebrated by the young: James, Nabokov, Woolf, Bellow, Austen and Joyce." Huh? The author is Azar Nafisi, a woman who clearly was born in Iran, but schooled in Europe.
Is it really true that young readers around the world today only celebrate one American author? Am I so ingrained in my own list of mostly American writers that I am very surprised not to see: Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Faulkner and Kerouak also among this list? For me, these were authors I celebrated in my early twenties, along with Sartre and Camus and Simone De Bevoir. My list also included Shakespeare and Hardy, but then I studied English Literature and was fixated by Hardy's influence of the power of nature over man and frustrated about his concept of man's inability to do much about his own condition.
The second diversion surfaces when the author writes, "Nabokov calls every great novel a fairy tale." Azar believes that the magic of good in a fairy tale "offers you freedoms that reality denies. In all great works of fiction, regardless of the grim reality they present, there is an affirmation of life against the transience of that life, an essential defiance. This affirmation lies in the way the author takes control of reality by retelling it in his own way, thus creating a new world. Every great work of art, I would declare pompously, is a celebration, an act of insubordination against the betrayals, horrors and infidelities of life."
Perhaps that is why I love to write. On the canvas that is the world about me, I choose to paint those things that speak to me, that move me, in a positive way. It is as if I have taken a giant brush and painted over so many events of my growing up, striking a new set as it were, and deciding to capture those moments, those images, that move me daily and speak to me of a life full of gentleness and simple beauty.
I seem to see my life these days as a kind of fiction; you might call it a fairy tale, and relationships as a kind of romantic ideal. So in these later years, I choose friendships with those who choose kindness over sarcasm, gentleness over caustic degradation of their friends, relatives and co-workers. I am able to, for in this simple life, I am not forced to interact with people on a daily basis that rub me like sandpaper. Have I paid my dues? No one knows.
I'll wear the same clothes I wore when we still lived in California for ten years or more. Bella figura (to make a good impression by the way one dresses) is not important to me. I'll always try to look presentable, but the latest fashion is lost on me, as is the frantic consumerism that we watch literally consuming the fabric that is every day life in America when we visit each fall. I'll learn this new language, hope to get to know more neighbors, but my life with Roy and our little dog on our little piece of land in this simple village is all that I could ask for.
It is Sunday, the sky is beautiful and the temperature warm. On the way to church we encounter Silvana, who tells us that every property in Mugnano is now sold. We point to the little apartment right across from the bus stop, and palates of floor tiles are stacked, waiting to be laid.
She tells us that an Italian has bought the place, but does not know if it is a Roman. She confirms that Mugnano is "molto tranquilla" and we agree. It is so important that Mugnano does not lose any of its characteristic tranquility. I think every single person in this village feels the same. At least we hope they do.
During mass, I am able to make out the 23rd psalm, and it is lovely to read in Italian: "Il Signore e il mio pastore: non manco di nulla".
I've hung out a second load of laundry on the terrace, Fabrizio and Marina and Anna have come by to ask if we'll come for pranzo on November 1 (si, certo!), and Roy has driven off to nearby Il Pallone to grocery shop.
On the way, he meets our new neighbors, a Swiss couple named Annika and her husband, who bought the little white box of a house with a roof balustrade and a little garden below us. They will come for a glass of wine this afternoon.
I speak with Mardi, a friend of Judith's who is a ceramicist in the US, but a painter when she is here in Tuscania. She invites us for a visit later this week, and tells us to bring our ceramics. She tells me she has no idea what to tell me about the smalto. When she has been here before, it was impossible for her to find anyone to help her with the complex issue of smalto for her ceramics. Perhaps that is why she paints while she is here.
Across the street, Pia's project continues at a snail's pace. One worker plods along. At this pace, it will be next summer before the little house is finished.
Roy cuts down all the tomato vines, and wants to burn the piles in place. I'm hoping he'll wait a week or more. Then we'll have to decide if and what and when to plant anything as a winter cover crop. We'll check into fava beans.
Our new Swedish friends arrive, and Annika is about the most relaxed new homeowner I've ever encountered in Italy. She and her husband, Torbgorn, have owned their house for about four days, and since it came furnished they have plenty of time to put their own stamp on it. We sit around on the terrace with a bottle of Orvieto Classico and fill them in on local trivia and give them contact information for one Swedish woman and all the Norwegians. We look forward to stopping by for a visit before they leave at the end of the week.
In the meantime, we'll greet Wendy Hallinan and her husband Dan here tomorrow, who'll arrive for a simple pranzo and to learn about buying property in Italia.
I'm really bummed. I know that I took some wonderful photographs of our Lady Hillingdon roses sitting in a pitcher in the kitchen mixed with some Buff Beauty rosebuds and herbs. The mix of yellows seemed blended somewhere in heaven. But somehow the photos disappeared. Sigh. The roses are still flowering, so we'll wait until they've blossomed and do a second try.
We wake to a clear and warm fall day. With guests arriving for pranzo, Roy drives to Lugnano and Attigliano to shop. I spend most of the morning in the kitchen, with a few breaks to putter in the garden.
Our guests, Wendy and Danny Hallinan, arrive and it is as if we've known them for years. With mutual friends and the Bay Area in common, there is a great deal to talk about.
As we unfold our lives here, we are able to speak with them about the surprises of living in Italy, and also of what we like the best about our lives. Before they've been here an hour, we invite them to stay here overnight and also to pick grapes with us for Enzo Gasperoni tomorrow.
Enzo calls to confirm an 8AM start, and Wendy seems more interested in taking in the Italian experience than house hunting. But in the afternoon, we are able to reach Patricia, who has a new listing of flats in a wonderful palazzo in Bassano in Teverina, and she agrees to give us a tour, even though she leaves for a visit to Ireland tomorrow.
We're stopped on the narrow road leading into the borgo by a line of cars. Facing us is a huge truck, partially blocking the way. "Could it be?" Roy wonders. "I think that's Patricia holding up traffic."
To the left and right of us are growing groups of men, standing around staring but not interested in helping. Evidently the driver does not think they have enough clearance to get by.
Roy gets out of the car and sees that yes, it is Patricia, and walks up to the car, sizing up the chances of her ability to get through. He closes in both rearview mirrors and stands in front of her, waving his hands forward and left, left and right, left, right and whew she has cleared the truck.
Just as she moves on, the truck driver gets into his rig and drives off. Danny and Wendy think this is fun, it is such a typical slice of Italian life. I think it's funny that it was Patricia who held up traffic. I always thought she was a daring sort. We like her a great deal, and think she's amazing to give us this time when she's frazzled trying to get out of town tomorrow.
The palazzo is quite wonderful, with three separate flats. We'll list them on this site in a week or so. Wendy falls in love with one, one that has an enormous "great room", and what's not to like? There is a little garden attached to one of the flats, but it is a shade garden, so no perfect for Danny's green thumb.
We wish Patricia a Buon Viaggio! and drive on to Porchiano to see Alicia's house, which is also for sale and listed on this site. Justin and Alicia are very kind and ask Roy to do the "tour", and I follow along, noting that the rooms are enormous and the kitchen well laid out. The fireplace is also enormous in the "great room", with an interesting glass panel covering about two feet of the top of the opening, which helps the fire to draw. This is a great idea, especially for a very large fireplace.
There are views from every room, and Justin tells us that a cinghiale comes with the property (piccolo scherzo - joke), along with a little forest, more than a hundred olive trees and plenty of land for gardening. It's too big for Wendy and Danny, but quite a property, nonetheless.
By the time we reach home, it's starting to get dark, and little Sofi has been alone for a long time. So she "fare una festa" (makes a party to see us) and we give her a treat of letting her lead us up into the borgo.
On our walk, we see an open cantina near Pepe's, and it is Pepe's. He and his uncle, also Pepe, are pressing the grapes, with Pepe the elder turning the screw of the press and Pepe the younger pouring the pressed juice into bottles. He stops to give us a bottle and also to give Sofi a hug. He tells us it is some word Roy can't remember when I ask him later, but he thinks Danny knows it.
After we finish our walk, we spend the rest of the evening in the kitchen. It's too warm for a fire, so snack away at pecorino and our figs with cream cheese and crackers and their wonderful bottle of Roso dell Montalcino, planning our morning tomorrow starting at 6AM. Buona notte.
We think the word Pepe used to describe the wine last night was bitter, so I look that word up in the dictionary, and come up with amaro. A word next to bitter is biting, and the word is one we've heard recently.
Ah. pungente also is the word for biting, so a little while ago, when I wrote that being catty is the same as pungente, that's what pungente really means. There is no real translation for "catty". But now when you want to use the phrase, "to the bitter end..." you can say, "fino alla morte."
I learned from Roy that when looking up the meaning of a word, also look up the words surrounding it, and you'll usually find some interesting word or phrase nearby. Reading it out loud makes the word or phrase easy to remember. I then need to use the word or phrase or it will dart out of my brain like the wind.
I'm wondering while looking out the window at 7AM whether the fog in the valley will lift. The sky is purple-y gray, as if the horizon does not exist, and the sky is a huge blanket of fog that only shows light behind the highest clouds. Brrr. So I'm surmising that we'll pick grapes today "fino alla morte". That's Roy. Mr. Dependable.
Danny and Roy are now downstairs, so I call down to Danny to ask him the word. "Agro", or bitter, is the word. So I look up "agro" and also see agrodolce, which means sweet and sour as well as "agrume" as the description of a citrus tree.
Now everyone is up except Sofi, who makes her little groaning sounds from her little wicker bed next to the desk. So I scoop her up and we're downstairs in a minute to join the morning party.
Enzo arrives and calls up to Roy a few minutes later, and we're ready to go. Sadly, we must leave little Sofi behind. The four of us follow Enzo to thirteen long rows of grapes on the flat plain outside Giove. There are nine of us, including a woman who was a family friend of Enzo's father-in-law, who died earlier this year. She shows up in a flowered housedress and apron with her own forbice, as if she's picked these same vines for decades.
Here we are, minus the Signora, after we've finished our little vendemmia:
Yes, Tiziano has joined us today. This is a real surprise, because we thought he never picked the grapes with his father. So we give him no end of teasing, and he takes it in stride. Once he finds out that Antonia is passionate about archeology, especially Roman archeology, his eyes light up and he looks as though he'd rather sit with her and talk about old tiles. But that will have to wait.
I tell Tiziano that I am sad, thinking about Tito, who picked with us last year in Mugnano. But Tito is Tiziano's other grandfather, and Tiziano tells me that he and his father are thinking about the other grandfather this morning. This is his land. Enzo's Mugnano grapes were picked last week when we were in Rome. The day is clear, and although it is cool enough for a sweater as we begin, the temperature rises rapidly and soon we're taking off layers of clothes.
I am wearing boots, but the ground is very muddy after all this fall's rain. The ground is a soft mud that sticks to my boots like it is some kind of glue. I can hear the sound of one boot and then another, making a "slurp, slurp!" sound as I slowly pick up one boot and put my foot down on another spot of terra, with at least eight inches of soft weeds underfoot. My long workpants are a mess, with at least four inches of mud covering the bottom.
At the end of the rows of grape vines, shafts of sunlight stream across the meadow. Sun is low in the sky, and although the sun is not hot, I'm going to put on my baseball cap, the red one with MIT on the crown. My father graduated from MIT, but the hat is significant because I believe it stands for Mugnano in Teverina, the signature hat of our village. Even if I am the only person in the village to wear this insignia, I believe it is the hat of our village. And today, it keeps the hair and whatever bright sun there is out of my eyes.
Just as we got out of the car a little while ago, I called over to Enzo to tell him that we were going to pick grapes "Fino al morte!" (until the bitter end). He stopped for a moment, then responded, "Ah, fino morte! A giusto!" Forget those prepositions, that unnecessary grammar. These are our kinds of folks. Just speak in the present tense, throw those words and phrases out there that we think we know, and the people from our village will figure out what we are trying to say.
So you are a sophisticated kind of person? In time, we'll be able to speak proper Italian. But don't expect great strides from us right away. Like good wine, it will take a few years for us to figure it all out. We are not in a hurry, so why should you be?
There are grapey black grapes and Trebbiano white grapes, which also have a pink tinge to them in places. We don't mix the two, but the white grapes far outnumber the black ones. Each type is really tasty. Unfortunately, we did not segregate the table grapes, and a neighbor comes by with a message from Enzo's mother in law to save some for the pranzo. It is too late. But he saves some anyway.
So let's talk about the process: There are huge black buckets (secchios), set out at the end of the rows and also scattered about in the middle of the rows as well. Each of us has a set of forbice, or cutters, and each of us gets an old plastic secchio with a handle. We form rows, with people working on either side of an area of a row, from the farthest point away to the nearest point.
Clip, clip, clip. Clip bunches of grapes with one hand, hold the bunch in the other and drop them in the bucket on the ground at your feet. If there are too many leaves or branches, clip off what's in the way. If a bunch has mold, clip it and let it fall to the ground, not in the bucket. All the while, talk away to your partner directly opposite to you.
This is all done in a kind of slow dance, with no one giving orders, the workers just gravitating to spots where they see luscious bunches glowing in the soft early sunlight, reflecting against dark green leaves, moving in and out to the sounds of the workers and the sounds of the clip, clipping of the branches and vines.
On this day, there are a lot of bunches of grapes that we can't use. We've had too much rain. But we're able to pick all thirteen long rows in less than three hours. Because it is early, many of the apes (bees) are still asleep, some of them curled around wet grapes, doing their silent snoring.
Did I tell you I've just finished reading, The Secret Life of Bees? I have a new respect for bees, although hate to be swarmed by pesky ones just when I think I'm having a perfect moment in the sun.
Back to the grapes, we try to eat a couple here and there, and they are so grapey that they taste truly sinful, and I can see Mario out of the corner of my eye. Does he really eat more grapes than he picks? I thought he'd be driving the grapes back and forth the way he moves up and down Via Mameli in his car all the day long. But today he works. And later we learn that he is Enzo's first cousin. There are some real similarities to their faces but none at all in their dispositions.
Nando is the most serious of us. He is a new pensionato, and as a former banker, has trouble smiling when he's concentrating on this new craft. His eyebrows join each other and his forehead wrinkles when I try to approach him with a silly comment. He'll have none of that.
All the while, Daniele calls out about the grapes. Whether there is a lot of mold, whether he's finding gorgeous bulbous bunches shining in the reflected rays of the sun, or just chatting away. Antonia is pretty silent. Tiziano laughs a lot, and I admit Roy and I egg him on. Enzo laughs whenever he can. We're a pretty happy bunch.
The other woman asks us if we like grapes, and tries to be friendly. But she's probably never had to speak to someone whose mother tongue is not Italian, so doesn't really know what to say. We're bonding with sloshy handfuls of grapes moving across and down between us on our ever-so-sticky hands, in a kind of rhythm. It is like the rhythm of a porch swing, with me pushing out with the very tips of my toes to keep the rhythm going. Fino morte. I'll keep the swing going with the tips of my toes. And just when I'm starting to get bored with it all, it's over. No warning. It's just over.
When we've finished, the big black secchios are lined up at the near end of the rows and Enzo collects the little buckets and takes them home. Elio, the Mugnano/Bomarzo school bus-truck driver, will stop by after pranzo to pick up all the grapes and take them to Vignanello. Vigna - nello. What a great town to take them to. Then they'll be taken to a mulino, where they'll be sorted and crushed and Enzo will be paid. He does not know how much. That depends on how much he's picked.
Our payment is a big pranzo, and of course a jug of wine "a certo punto" and after we drive home to take off our muddy clothes and feed Sofi its time to return. Rosita and her tiny mother lay out a feast for the ten of us.
While sitting around the long table, Nando, Mario and then Enzo sit across from us and the three of them are like schoolboys, lively and full of fun and wanting to talk to the four "Americans" as if we're all new little toys to play around with. Not able to speak a word of English, they prod us as if to say, "Come, come! Just get the words out. We'll figure out what you're trying to say."
This is magic to our ears, and Danieli bursts forth as if he's on stage with no script, using his background in Spanish and deftly maneuvering the minefield of Italian to tell stories, ask questions and comment on anything he can.
Antonia has the answers, the words he cannot come up with, and whispers them to him. She's not ready to "burst into song" with the words she knows. Danieli does quite well with the language, mostly because he is fearless, trying out words and phrases. We are sitting in a salon and the villagers are playing word games with us. "A five letter word ... "
Roy is treated as though he can speak the language almost fluently, and since he's at the end of the table, he is like a spectator at a tennis match, his head bouncing left and right as the villagers send a volley to Danieli and he hits it back, not sure just where it will land.
Mario keeps filling up our little plastic cups with local wine, and we can't help thinking about Rita and Ernesta, who've been left behind to have pranzo by themselves. Well, Ernesta probably never has pranzo by herself. She is the center of the village, wearing her white doctor's coat always brilliantly clean and holding court regarding all the happenings in the village in her Tabacchio.
I find so many funny things about our situation, and any chance I get to pop into the conversation, I jump onto the "court" and lob my phrases or thoughts over the net. Mostly the talk is about Mugnano, and who was born here. I tease Mario that he is a "stranieri" because he was born in adjacent Bomarzo. In Italy, unless you are "nato a..." the actual village or town you are speaking about, the person is a stranieri, or stranger.
Enzo was a forest ranger, I believe near Norcia, years ago. He knows much about the terra of Italia, and when Daniele tells him they've seen a house in Umbertide that they like a lot, he tells them that it is very humid in Umbertide, not something they expected to hear.
The food just keeps coming. When peas are served as the vegetable, Enzo waves them away with a dismissive gesture, lowering his head and making a sour face. Roy joyfully tells Rosita, "Si, tre or quatro!", letting her know in his way that he hates peas. She beams and shrugs her shoulders when I apologize to her.
A pineapple upside down cake is served for dessert, and the sharp knives we used with our main course are kept, but the forks have been surrendered along with the plastic plates we were served with the salad, our previous course.
Now we know we are in a simple village when the pieces of the cake are jabbed with a serving knife to put them on our plates, and the villagers sit around cutting their individual slice of cake and plopping it into their mouths piece by piece by aiming the piece toward their mouths and plunking the cake inside, deftly pulling out the knife and stabbing the knife into another piece from their plate. I have never seen anything like it.
It's time to move on, although it's not much after 2PM, and we lead Daniele and Antonia from Giove to Amelia, stopping once on the road to tell them that yes, that beautiful city on the hill is Amelia. We drive around the ancient Roman wall that surrounds Amelia to Macchie, where Helen and Panaghis have the rental house for them.
Panaghis meets us on the road and leads us in, then shows us the three rental units and we have a surprise. For not a lot more, they can rent the big house, for it is empty. So our new friends are delighted with this amazing gesture, and we lead them back to Amelia to the Coop, where they can stock up for their week with groceries.
Our next adventure is with an Irish-Italian man in Amelia, who has a palazzo for sale. You can see it on our site. Domenico is an architect, and has decided to sell the place, so we enter through a secret garden and it is beautiful. One would have to have a vision to see these old places, but once the weeds were cleaned up, there is a well and a lovely large peach tree and we are told also a lovely peony bush.
Yes, Daniele could garden here. A garden in the borgo in Amelia is an unexpected treat. The palazzo is about three hundred years old, and yes, we're going to show it to Daniele and Antonia tomorrow morning.
Back at home, Sofia greets us and I'm full of sadness. I do not feel right about leaving her all this time, so tomorrow she'll be with us all day and evening. Tia calls to invite us for cena. She has a big leg of lamb and Sofi is always welcome there. So we'll drive there from ceramics class in Terni.
Sofi is sweet and quiet. She does not eat all her croquante and later that night she is sick at least twice. I am afraid she worried herself sick today. So now I am the worried one, determined to keep her with us any chance we can.
We're back to scouting properties, now that we have a client who is really interested. And since Antonia wants to pursue her love of archaeology, we have a mission to find them a place where they can both immerse themselves into the ancient history and culture of this great land.
Our great friend Jim Bolen died last night in San Miguel de Allende from complications due to lung cancer. For twenty-five years, he's made us laugh and has been a particularly good friend to me. Until a few weeks ago, we wrote to each other at least once a week.
We'll raise a glass of our very best wine to Jim and reminisce about happy times. There were many, many of those.
I think he deserves to have a posting all by himself today. Please send him off with a smile, as we surely will.
Yesterday began with sun and clear skies. I scooped Sofi up into my arms and we drove off to Amelia to take Danieli and Antonia to see a gorgeous palazzo. Seeing it for the second time enhanced our appreciation for this special building. You can view a few photos of it on our web site.
After a short stop at home for a simple pranzo, we drove to Terni for a ceramics lesson and finally are feeling better about the ceramics after they've been fire. The smalto is still not perfect, but it is a lot better. I worked on a crest to give as a gift. It will be ready next Wednesday, and I liked it so much I almost didn't want to give it away. But I can always paint another one.
We drove to Tia and Bruce's for cena. They marinated and cooked a leg of lamb, and we sat around the kitchen for a couple of hours catching up on the latest news. Bruce came in and out of the kitchen from his home office. He works on US time, so we don't get to spend much time with him.
I was drawn to a design on chairs in their sun room, and suggested that I pattern the handpainted dishes after the design. Tia loved the idea. Neither of us were thrilled with the bird idea. Now I'll do some sketches and we all thought this will be the right direction. Once we've decided on a design, I'm hopeful that the smalto will be working perfectly and I can get to work painting.
We drove home and I poached pears to get ready for tonight's dinner at Domenico's outside Amelia with Danieli and Antonia. Our new friends are doing some serious thinking about the properties we've already shown them, and we may have a few more in the next week or so if they're still not sure. What we do know is that they are both very interested in Roman archeology. So Amelia is a terrific location. And if not, we'll find them a place in Tuscia, on our side of the Tiber River.
Roy checked email and there is very sad news of very dear friend Jim Bolen's death yesterday. It was a sad and thought provoking way to end the day.
So I'm very tired after last night's news. There are a few messages in about Jimmy. I thought of him during the night, but not with sadness. When getting dressed, I ask Roy to get out one of our best bottles of wine to toast to our dear friend tonight.
"Brunello?" Roy asks with a questioning smile.
"Yes." I answer. And it is then that a single tear falls. Why, I wonder? He had a life well lived, and his cancer and his financial state did not bode well for the life he would have wanted to live.
I think that the tear fell from some corner of my heart, a place we all have that is reserved for remembering someone who has touched us deeply. If only I had a little precious bottle to keep the single tears shed for dearest friends who are no longer with us. But it is just as well. I am hoping the little bottle would remain mostly empty.
We drive to Tuscania this morning to meet Mardi, a friend of Judith's who is also a ceramicist. She owns an apartment in the borgo with a remarkable view of San Francesco. I sit in a chair looking out the view and see crows flying overhead by a huge caki tree in the distance, its leaves and fruit turning into juicy orange against a tawny tufa colored background edged in wide expanses of green.
Mardi's ceramics are very interesting, and I particularly like her Etruscan images, with women's faces done in profile or her beloved cows. Mardi paints each afternoon in a field in Vulci, and stands with her colored chalks following the long horned creatures around. She does a painting a day, and pins them up on the walls of her apartment. It is as if we are viewing a latter day Lascaux, but this time the colors are vivid on a grey background.
I am encouraged by her kind words about my work, accepting of the fact that my pieces are hand made, so the intonations and imperfections are a part of the design. She and Roy speak about chemistry a little, the chemistry of the smalto such a mystery to me that I don't know if I have the ability to comprehend it.
She takes us for a walk around town, and we eat a simple pranzo at a corner café. Then we say goodbye, looking forward to seeing her next year when she returns.
Then we stop at Kevin and Clive's, a property between Vetralla and Viterbo to see if it's something that Danieli and Antonia might like. But it's too small. I tell them that with all the work they are doing on it that they might just want to keep it.
We'll see them again, and will post their property on our site soon. So we dodge a huge cement truck, and drive back home in time to stuff the pears with gorgonzola and marscapone and drive off to Amelia.
Danieli and Antonia meet us and we drive off to Domenico's, on the way out of town toward Fornole. He lives at the top of what we believe is the tallest hill other than the hill that the Duomo sits on, and the view is beyond magnificent.
After a tour around, and a few spats between Sofi and Finnegan, his sweet and playful dog, we're taken for a tour of his remarkable house and adjacent little church. The house is constructed of limestone bricks, and in some areas dates back two thousand years, with carved stones to prove it. To say the building is remarkable is an understatement. We are all wide-eyed.
Because Domenico is an architect, his eye for detail and design have crafted the work that he has done in what Lore would say is "a proper way". We sit at a long handcrafted wooden table under a vaulted ceiling, again original of limestone bricks.
We pause at least twice to raise our glasses to Jim. We've opened the Brunello and like Jim it is full of surprises. But it's not up to the caliber we would have expected of a '97. It is a good wine, nonetheless. And of course we share a few stories of our dear friend.
Domenico cooks greens just picked from his garden and lamb on top of coals in the open fireplace. His garden is a Monet painting, with red cabbages and cavolo nero so exquisite that I want an entire corner of one of the ortos filled with them next fall.
Our stuffed pears are only fair. I think they were refrigerated before they totally cooled late last night. But we have lots of other food and the night is all about conversation, of which there is plenty to go around. We leave just before midnight, and Danieli and Antonia are still there. We imagine the conversation continuing until daylight...
I wake with a hangover, and it is no wonder. We don't really eat meals at night any more, and we know why. It is impossible to sleep after eating and drinking so close to bedtime. We must be showing our age. Perhaps it was the Pimm's Cup that we drank as an aperitif. We have not been served this drink for ages, and admit the drink is wonderful served as it was with fresh mint. But it packed a wallop.
Roy gets up before me, and while I'm getting dressed, Felice comes by to tell Roy we need to plant our fava beans. They will be a cover crop for winter. I also want to plant red cabbage, cavolo nero, broccoli, and more lettuce. Felice thinks we should plant garlic. So Roy drives off to Viterbo to find it all and to have his cell phone fixed.
Our Swedish friends drop by to say goodbye for now. We look forward to getting to know these new neighbors. We did not have chance to see their house. Next time...
The day is lovely, but sad news arrives with Felice when he returns again after pranzo. His old friend Giovanni Rucco, who lives near us on Via Mameli, has just died. In the past, Giovanni and Felice carried the flowers to the monument of the war dead on our feast day each year. And now there is only Felice.
Felice takes the news in stride. He and Giovanni were the last remaining residents who fought in WWII and were born the same year. He is teaching us about so many things, not the least of which is dealing with death. A few hours later, we walk up to Giovanni's open front door, and inside pay our respects to his daughter, who lives in Soriano, and his son.
His son stands over a table in what is probably the living room, sorting through his father's things. A mop stands at the front door. "Un casino" (a mess) he comments, with his head down. Giovanni's body must be upstairs. This is the first time we have not seen a person's body laid out to be viewed after death. Perhaps tomorrow. The funeral will be at 3:30 in the afternoon.
We call Lore and Alberto in Rome to let them know, but they will not be here until Sunday. They did not really know Giovanni, but it is good to let them know that the little village is shrinking just a little more.
"Tanti morti" Tiziano exclaims when Roy calls him to make arrangements for getting together tomorrow morning and asks him if he knows. Yes, it is unusual to have so many people die in such short a period of time here. In less than two months, three people have died in our little village. So our numbers are now just above eighty.
And for us, the death of our dear friend, Jim is just one more nail. We are learning from these dear neighbors how to cope with loss. Or at least I think we are. Felice acts as if death is as natural as birth, and it surely is.
So is the character of the village beginning to change? Who will take the place of Giovanni, who sat on his front step or on a bench near the bus stop, for most of each day? He loved to great our houseguests, especially the American ones, and acted proud of the village when we introduced him on our walks up to the borgo.
I wonder how his passing is affecting Argentina, his neighbor across the street whom he seemed to have a tender relationship with. We did not see her today. But Pepe saw Giovanni this morning, and also at about noon. He seemed fine. How quickly life can be snuffed out.
Will his son or daughter move into his house? These are all questions to be answered in the coming months, as the seasons change and we find ourselves more and more a part of this tranquil place.
On this bright, cool morning, we're out with Duccio and Giovanna and Tiziano to see his Domitii carving in the countryside outside Bomarzo. We drive past the cemetery toward Mugnano and leave the car at a certain point. Then we walk on foot for about twenty minutes, crossing ancient Roman pavements with furrows made by wooden carts. We are out in the woods, so there is no telling what we will come across.
Down, down we climb. Today Roy and I both carry walking sticks, and it makes a tremendous difference. With something to lean on, I am much more secure in my step. The air is fresh and sweet, and the walk lovely, with ancient oaks all around us and birds caressing the trees as we walk below.
HERE WE ARE AT THE DOMITII NOTICE....
After we leave the marker, we continue downhill until each one of us wonders what it will be like to walk back uphill. Roy suggests that, in the interest of time, Tiziano might want to walk the rest of the way home, and I want to join him. I don't relish the thought of walking uphill all that way.
So before we know it, we've all decided to walk down, and Tiziano will drive everyone back up to Bomarzo, except me. I'll walk home and wait with Sofi for Roy to arrive.
The walk is more beautiful with each step. We have a couple of wonderful views of the village, and before we know it, we've passed Shelly and Claudio's property, and then the Mugnano cemetery, where I say goodbye to everyone and walk home. They take a shortcut to Tiziano's through neighboring properties.
This has been a memorable walk, one we'd like to repeat. It will be difficult to find a more beautiful morning. Roy later tells me that the view of Mugnano and our house are a treat from the lower properties. Unfortunately, I kept the camera. When he arrives home we embark on a search for plants for our orto. It is two days before a full moon, so tonight is the ideal evening to plant. We have not been able to find the plants we want anywhere.
We're able to find Broccolo Calabrese and lattuga Romana, but not much else, other than ravanello (radish) and agretti seeds. I am sure that we need to sit down in the next days with a planting calendar, and determine what we want to plant, when it is available and in seeds or in plants, and then Roy will program a calendar reminder on his Palm Pilot.
It is apparently too late for red cabbage or Cavolo Nero, the leafy dark green vegetable used for ribbolita, that tasty twice cooked bean soup. I can still see the purple and green-grey leaves of the red cabbage, with the cavolo nero standing tall behind it at Domenico's garden. I envision a blanket of them in front of the tufa wall above the parcheggio. Next fall to be sure.
Bells peal from the church and it is time for Giovanni's funeral. We walk up to his house, and neighbors are gathered. One hearse and a funeral truck to carry the flowers are parked outside.
Roy comments that everyone is wearing their clean jeans. That's about what to expect from this little village. Even Giovanni's son wears jeans and a short sleeved shirt.
After Giovanni's body in the casket is gently carried out, his son slowly and purposefully turns the key in the lock. We are suspended in time. The key is turned as though he does not ever want to unlock it again.
We follow the family and the hearse to the church, and stand in the very back of the church for the mass. Once the mass has been said, I stand outside with Felice, asking him if this has been hard on him.
He gives me a brave smile. I am learning that death is really not to be feared. Although Felice has know Giovanni for more than fifty years, he shrugs at the mention of death, and stands silently while Giovanni is moved into the hearse for his last ride.
"Ultima guida?" I ask Felice. "Si."
We do not walk all the way to the cemetery, but stop at our house. As we start the walk, we see Pepe the Elder sitting on a banchetta, and walk over to give our condolences. He and Augusta and Giovanni are brothers and sister. Or at least that is what we think.
We greet Pepe the younger near his garage on Via Mameli, and ask him if Giovanni was his uncle. No. Pepe the Elder's wife is this Pepe's aunt. He is only related by marriage. Go figure.
Roy plants about a dozen lettuce and the six broccoli. We already have cauliflower and swiss chard and arugula planted. So we're not doing badly.
While Roy plants, I come inside and make a bean dip and a squash soup with tart apples and ginger. I'll finish it tomorrow. We're both tired from our long walk this morning, but energized.
The night is cool, and it is almost a full moon. So with the exception of seeds for radishes and agretti that we'll plant tomorrow, we're done planting for this month.
We are so tired that we do not go to church this morning. Roy gets up early to watch the last Formula 1 race from China. But the time Sofi and I get up the fog has cleared and it will be a beautiful day.
I finish the squash and apple soup, and serve it with wonderful bread we bought yesterday at our favorite panificio. It is a dark grain bread.
We are able to work in the garden, and that is a joy. Clipping boxwood, weeding, moving plants, getting ready for winter take much less time than in the summer months. The birds are frantic this time of year. It seems there is a fear out there with the hunters nearby.
I hear a fluttering of many wings and a lot of chi-chi-chi, especially in the mornings. So the birds are undoubtedly protecting their turfs and hiding from the humans. I am sure that there are nests in the nespola trees and also in the big caki tree on the front terrace.
Bless Roy. He works so hard at reaching all the caki on the big tree, but on these lovely fall days I can look up and see yellow and burnt sienna in the tree. That means a plop (!) is not far behind. He has cut down at least one thousand of them, and there must be at least twenty hiding behind leaves in spots difficult to reach with our two-story ladder.
That reminds me. Two of our cypress trees need grooming near the tops, so we'll hope we can get Mario back soon and see if he can reach them. Every year or so they need grooming to look their best. And Mario's hand must be better by now. He has groomed the three next to the lavender garden.
Tonight we drive to Daniele and Antonia's rental house on Helen and Panaghis' property in Macchie. Tia and Bruce and their American friends join us, as well as a friend of Panaghis'. It is always good to see Helen and Panaghis again.
Daniele cooks up an incredible pork stew. He is such a good communicator. They found a macelleria (butcher) right inside the Amelia wall and said, "Bisogno maile per cuocoro humido..." The woman behind the counter pulled out a huge piece of pork belly and that's what he bought.
He cooked the stew for two days in a big terra cotta padella with a terra cotta handle and chatted with all of his guests as if it was just like home. Antonia shared his relaxed attitude and although we each brought something, Daniele was clearly the star.
Sofi behaved herself and had a good time, only venturing out twice in the dark under the almost full moon. I was cautious, because we were told there were cinghiale roaming close to the house to feast from figs by the front door, but she ran in whenever I called her.
We drove home with her sleeping soundly on my lap, and Roy reminding me that his leg was still painful. He is sure the pain came from the downhill walk from Bomazo to Mugnano yesterday. I'll try to keep him from moving around a lot this next week, although we've another house to preview for Daniele and Antonia and a few other people to contact for possible properties as well. They are clearly in love with the Amelia area, but we have not found the perfect property...yet.
Fog gives way to bright sun, and we've slept in. It sounds as if in the last week or so we've had many more birds. Perhaps the hunters are shooing them closer to the village. I am not a vegetarian, but the "sport" of hunting birds just seems so mean and meaningless.
Last night Pepe's garage was still open when we drove into our parcheggio. So we walked in to see Mario on the floor soldering steel. The steel beams for Paola's roof are being prepped there and painted with an anti-ruggine (anti-rust) coating, similar to what is used on the Golden Gate Bridge. Today they'll begin the process of installing the beams, with Mario on call on the phone, although he'll be back at work in Rome.
Pepe gave us a plastic bin of walnuts, telling us to throw out those that aren't good. We now have lots of walnuts and lots of hazelnuts (nocciole), so it's time to start thinking about making winter desserts...Will ripe caki and steamed pudding be far behind?
But we're focused on finding a source for fava beans to plant....but no luck today. The moon is full and we're running out of time to plant favas for this month. I've been told that the best days to plant are the two days just before a full moon. Tick, tock.
Roy's pain is worse today, and he's using a bastone (cane). We visit with a couple of real estate folks, and see one property in Lugnano, but it is too close to the railway tracks. So we pass on it. We scout a couple of other properties, including a huge convent, but pass on them all.
Later in the day we meet with new people in Lugnano who have a lovely house to sell. It's posted on our site. I just love the grounds. It is a very interesting setup, with many outbuildings. But the price is high. The husband died six years ago, so it is too difficult for the wife and daughter to keep up. We will show this property to Daniele and Antonia tomorrow.
Tia thinks the house behind them outside Amelia is for sale, so we follow her there, and a car is in the driveway. Tia and I go up to the door and ring the bell, but the woman tells us she's decided not to sell after all. This happens a lot in Italia.
Roy is in a lot of pain. He tries to visit Dottoressa, but she is on vacation for a few days and there is a long line at the office for her stand-in, so Roy wants to go to the Pronto Soccorso (Emergency Room) in Narni. Narni is the place to go for orthopedic emergencies.
It is a funny place, this Pronto Soccorso. We walk in a small door and have to wait in a little hallway, not much wider than one in a normal house. Several people mill about, and it takes twenty minutes before anyone will pay attention to us.
But we are ushered inside an anteroom with a desk. Two doctors come and go, and one looks like Charro. She is as tall and strong as a character in a Russian cartoon, and an official Dottoressa. Later we ask her where she was born, and she is from Praga (Prague). That is the way to ask an Italian what their nationality is. We don't say, "Where are you from?" but "Where were you born?" I rather like that.
The more I watch her, the softer her looks become. At first glance, we see flashy hair, flashy makeup with lots of black around her eyes, edged in baby blue. A large comb ties back some of her hair. Her skin is very tanned. She tells us that she loves the sun. The more she speaks, the more we appreciate her gentle but "get it done" attitude.
This Dottoressa really knows her stuff. She takes Roy into a room adjacent to where I am sitting, and I watch her move his leg up and down, check out his neck, his spine, the way he stands. We agree that he'll be given an injection for his pain, and then I remember that Roy has a severe allergic reaction to aspirin. Just in time, I mention it, and they change what they are about to give him. They give him Voltaren.
We leave with a prescription for injections (Voltaren 75mg and MuscoRil 4mg) for the next four days. This will be a first for me, but I think I can do it. I'm just not sure about getting the bubbles out of the syringe, but we watch ER all the time, and between us can figure it out. If Roy's pain is not gone by the end of the week, he'll visit our local Dottoressa Ofelia and get special x-rays and consulting.
We're in and out of there in an hour, and consider that quite remarkable. So Roy drives us home and agrees to stay off his feet for at least a day. We'll put off most of our house scouting for a day, with the exception of the Lugnano house that I can show without Roy.
Roy goes up to bed early and I'm hoping he'll have a good night's sleep. The pain has already subsided a bit, and we are both relieved. I'm moving into overdrive to take over many of the tasks he likes to do tomorrow.
Roy sleeps in a little, and takes it easy. I get ready to drive off to the pharmacy and food store. These are errands Roy loves to do, but on this day he is ordered to stay at home off his feet.
Would you believe that I have only driven the car three times since we moved here more than three years ago? I am exhilarated at the chance to feel some independence, although a little skittish about navigating out of the parcheggio, a 90 degree turn backwards onto an incline. Well, if Ginger Rogers could do it, so can I, I tell myself.
I'm able to back up with no problem. When I get to Vezio, the pharmacist, he sends his good wishes to Roy and asks me if I also want syringes. Boh! Two medicines are mixed in each batch. Oh, boy. Yes, I'll take five. If he's not better after five of these, surely Dottoressa will take over.
I drive down the hill from Bomarzo and it is as if I am on a scooter. I feel so free with the breeze from the open window blowing against my face. What a gorgeous scene. No wonder Roy loves to do errands!
At Sappori Due, Rosalba asks me where Roy is. I tell her about his pain. As I leave, Nando drives into the parking lot, and is surprised to see me. I tell him about Roy and now all of Mugnano will surely know. Can you just see the women sitting on the benches in the village, their arms folded on their laps, nodding their heads and discussing Roy's plight? Who will be the first to spread the news?
Back at home, Roy's behaving by sitting at the computer working on the mechanics of the web site. For the next few hours he relaxes. Then I leave Sofi to take care of him while I drive off to meet Daniele and Antonia to show them a house.
The house is not right for them, but they like many things about it. So now I'm feeling free as a bird and say, "Let's take a ride!" I drive them to Dawn's house in the countryside of Lugnano, then on to Rita and Filipo's. This is such an interesting couple. They are interesting and interested. Antonia especially likes old houses. She studies the provenance of them. So this property that needs total restoration is one they find interesting, if not a little daunting. Still not perfect.
We drive into Lugnano, where I see a sign and take down a number for Roy to call. Later we find out it is for a tiny apartment, but the view is remarkable.
We decide to come back home and hang out with Roy for a while and have tea. Ready, Steady, Cook is on TV, and we're able to share one of our favorite shows with them. Then they drive back to their rental house and we make plans to show them more properties on Thursday. Hopefully Roy will be a little better then.
We speak with Diedre in Capitone, and her house is one that we'll show them on Thursday. I've wanted to see her house for a long time, and it is supposed to be quite beautiful. It has the right specs, but may be too restored. This couple wants something they can get their hands dirty with, but not a complete restoration. We'll surely find the perfect place, if not on this trip, after they've returned.
So it's time for Roy's injection, and after we figure out how to snap the tops off the vials and get the air bubbles out of the syringe, I am amazed at how easy it is to stick the needle into Roy's behind. It doesn't even seem to hurt. Last night Roy had me draw a pen around the spot where I aimed today, directly across from where his injection was given last night. I have no idea where tomorrow's will land, but we'll figure it out.
Roy seems better, and we think his pain will gradually subside. I don't want to worry him, but the spot I thought was an insect bite under my right arm has formed a hard bump. I'll have to have Dottoressa check it out. Why is it that women always think the worst of these things? I'll just plod along, and think I can take whatever is in store for me in stride.
The enormity of life in this place is beyond my comprehension. Day by day we're learning so much about life and getting older and coping and dealing with challenges. The villagers take things in stride. We are learning to do the same. At least I hope so.
Today has been a glorious weather day. After the morning fog cleared, there wasn't a cloud in the sky. During mid afternoon, the temperature rose to 25. We thought we'd have rain, but it passed us by. So perhaps we'll have a few lovely days ahead. Whatever the weather, we look forward to property scouting and seeing some new houses in the next few days.
Look for some new listings on the site under property for sale. We're consciously building up that part of the site. As Ann Murphy, our good friend and excellent Mill Valley realtor advisor told us, "It's all in the listings." So we hope to have many excellent ones to check out each month.
Well, we've tumbled on from a lovely clear day to a wet, drowsy morning. But we're up early to take Domenico to properties on a first pass before he brings an Irish (gulp) developer to the area. We heard that in Tuscany developers are turning medieval borgos into a number of a kind of theme vacation parks. Is this what the world and lovely Italia is coming to?
I am still reading the book, Reading Lolita in Tehran, and am learning more of the background behind the "Death to America!" concept...In a strange way, I see how the Americanization of a simple way of life starts to change society in an unnatural way.
Of course I am not for the violence, or for the extremism of the Fundamentalists, but have to wonder about where people's priorities have changed. So should we not show him properties? How far am I/are we willing to go? My heart really isn't in it. Is this a taste of my morality?
We sit with Domenico, and the more we get to know him, the more we like him. He has a good heart, and a gentle soul. He is also an excellent architect, with an eye for purity of design and passion for authentic restoration. But first we take him to see Patricia's property in Bassano. He likes it very much. But the property he really likes is Filipo and Rita's in Lugnano.
After a quick pranzo an hour later, we dash off to class, and the finished plate I worked on for Domenico as a surprise present all last Wednesday afternoon is a knockout. I call him breathless asking him to meet us tomorrow at 9AM at the bar in Amelia. He agrees, but wants to know what's up. I tell him I have a surprise for him, but won't tell him what it is.
When we get home, I take a first look at the site of the palazzo he is developing in Amelia where the crest of the plate I've just finished came from. We took a photo of it more than a week ago. My interpretation is spot on.
Roy gets his third injection, and by now I'm feeling more relaxed about the process. Roy is feeling better, but we'll check out Dotoressa tomorrow. Also, at first light, I'll get up to take a shower and we'll drive off to Soriano to get a blood test, in preparation for a standard Perugia visit in a couple of weeks about my headaches.
We still have no power on the first floor, and extension cords jury-rigged from the second bedroom to power the refrigerator and light by the couch and the T V. The electrician promises to be here on Saturday. Let's hope he shows and let's hope even more that he can resolve what's causing the power to be so cranky.
We're out of the house just after 7AM to get to the hospital in Soriano before there is a long line to get a blood test. I'm second to arrive, and the office is not yet open. But before I know it I'm saying hello to people I've encountered many times before and laying my arm out on a green pillow.
This is the first time I have ever had my blood drawn that I am not squeamish. I'm ready to have a friendly conversation. But a thin man in a white jacket jabs my left arm as though he's blindfolded and playing pi–ata. Hey! I direct him to an actual vein and he mushes around, while I'm about to faint. Did he get his training with Ed Norton flailing around in a sewer?
It's finally over, and I raise my left arm as I've seen others do, as though the blood will drain back down my arm. What an unnatural behavior! I roll my eyes at the next man in line and tell him the experience has been "brutto!" He shrugs his shoulders and moves forward into the breach...
We drive past the Soriano property we've not seen for a long time, and speak with one of the owners, who agrees to get us a key on Sunday. Then we park in Amelia and give Domenico his plate. He seems pleased, telling me I should do a whole set for the palazzo. Sure, just give me an order!
But he is preoccupied with a busy day ahead, so I show the plate to Daniele and Antonia and tell him that we'll not take him to the same properties, as he's going to be looking at them for a developer, and it would not be fair to either of them.
Off we go to Capitone to see Diedre's beautifully restored town house. Well, it's a 500 year old house in a town, so I suppose that's an apt description. It's right next to the big church, and from top to cellar, she's done a top job. The thick walls are so well built that there is not a crack in any of them.
It is a very damp day, but I cannot smell dampness in any room of the house. We all think the house is grand, especially the back garden with loggia, pizza oven, grass and lovely old wall, on which she hangs lots of lovely pots of flowers. This is a wonderful property. But is it the right one for Daniele and Antonia? They don't think so.
It's off to Porchiano and then to the countryside outside Giove, to another house. This house with a pool is one I have not seen yet. We leave it with the agreement that it's best left as a summer rental.
We take them on to Soriano, and have pranzo at Tre Scalini after walking around the borgo, even up to the big castle at the top. This town is newer than the lovely Amelia, of medieval lineage, and less trendy. But shops and character abound, and they like the town a lot.
We drive by the property 2 km outside the town, and tell them we'll take them in a few days once we have the keys. But Antonia seems smitten by the Mugnano property, and she and I sit across from each other, batting ideas back and forth.
After an exceptional pranzo, we drive back to Mugnano so that they can have copies of rubbings of the ancient tiles we've found in the valley. They want to match them up to tiles in the Pantheon. What a fun exercise for them during the three weeks they'll stay in Rome! Bravo!
Daniele is just burnt out at looking at houses, so we're hoping they'll take a few days and just have fun. When they are ready and it is a lovely day, we'll revisit Mugnano and Soriano. We've shown them a wealth of properties, each one different from the last, and they have plenty to think about.
We like them very much and hope we can help them settle on something that is perfect for them.
They leave for the last night in their rental house, and we drive on to Dottoressa. After a wait of over an hour, she takes us on, as though she's a school principal and we're students asking for permission to take on a new program.
Unfortunately, we have several things to go over with her. For me, she wants me to have an ecographia subito. If I can't get a free apt, I am to pay for it. So we drive up to the farmacia and Vezio can't get us an appt. She tells us to come to Mugnano next Thursday for flu shots. We'll be there!
So when we get home, Roy calls Viterbo, and I'm scheduled for a test tomorrow morning at 9AM. That means we'll have to cancel our appt. with a realtor from Giove.
Roy's leg is so much better that I don't even give him an injection, hoping that we'll space it out for one more day. This is very promising. So if he keeps off his leg for a few days, perhaps he will get back to normal.
Outside, a slight rain continues. Tomorrow we'll buy fava seeds and plant them. While waiting in line for Dottoressa, Giovanna and Escano arrived and she advised us to not worry about planting with the phases of the moon. So tomorrow we'll buy fave seeds from Bruno and definitely plant them, three inches or so below the surface. We'll also plant spinach, while we're at it. We have room. Why not?
Rain, rain, rain. Roy calls it "sole liquido!" when greeting neighbors. We arrive at Palazzo Rocca in Viterbo for an ecographia (ultrasound) for me, and the news is all good. The bump was probably a bite from a little "animali", and although it was under my arm, we have nothing to worry about.
Since this is a private visit (Dottoressa wanted the appointment subito in the event the result was not so positive) we have to pay €55. So I ask the doctor to also do an ultrasound of my right arm. That arm is the one with the sore muscles from violin playing. But he finds nothing to worry about.
We drive to Ipercoop, a local mega-grocery store, and stock up on vedura for a big pot of minestrone. With a big special on spareribs, we pick up a package and will marinate and cook the meaty ribs slowly during the next couple of days.
While we are having pranzo today, Mario arrives to chop the wood that was delivered last summer. Roy joins him, stacking the pieces as they're cut with Mario's moto-sega. But Roy knows not to get near that dangerous machine.
Less than two hours later, everything is stacked neatly in the side wing of the parcheggio, and we're ready for winter. Yesterday we built one of our first fires of the season, and we look forward to many warm days and nights in our cozy kitchen in front of the fire.
Roy calls Christopher to wish him a happy birthday, and it's almost time for our trip to California. We plan to pack light this trip, and not buy much at all to bring back. I think the romance of buying and transporting all kinds of things has passed. We're learning to live with all things Italian, and are very close to being able to take one suitcase each for the two weeks. With Roy's leg not in perfect shape, that is more of a necessity than ever.
Roy is feeling very much better today. We think those three injections did wonders. Now we'll see if he has any recurrences before giving him more injections. But the next time we see Dottoressa, we'll make an appointment with a specialist to check him out. That should be next week, when we have our flu shots in Mugnano. Doctors are so good in Italy about providing flu shots that we heard the other day that a doctor called a woman to make sure she came in for hers.
Tomorrow is Jim Bolen's memorial. We sent our remembrance to Janet and Jerry Greenbaum last night. It should be quite an event, and we are sorry we will miss it. Jim was a great and good friend, and it's difficult to imagine a party without him. I really miss him.
Mario arrives early and the sound of the droning weed-wacker can be heard through the double paned windows. Roy goes out to see him and asks him about Vito. Vito seems to be sitting up in his chair out by the olive trees.
Mario confirms that everything is "tutto a posto" with the old guy. I am sorry we were not looking out the window to see this brawny man gently lifting the scarecrow from his chair and replacing him after the grass underneath him was cut.
Roy asks Mario if he knows of a property for sale that is caracteristico. He does, and in the next days he'll show it to us. Our scouting for properties for our clients is in full swing, and neighbors and workmen are excellent sources.
The electrician from Soriano arrives right at 9AM, and he clears dirt away from the main junction box at the front of the property. This was a box that he installed more than a year ago. The power goes back on, and he thinks he's fixed the problem. But half an hour later the power shuts off, and we have to call him again. He'll return tomorrow morning, depending on the weather.
We spend several hours scouting for properties today, and have seen five of them today. One of them is a site in Penna that is extraordinary. A good sized house can be constructed on it. We imagine Domenico as the architect and an exquisite house, so caracteristic it's impossible to tell it's a complete restoration.
It' s possible we'll show all the places we've seen today to Domenico tomorrow, as well as one other we located earlier. He'll arrive for pranzo tomorrow and then we'll show him all around.
We check in with Antonia and Daniele, who are traipsing around Hadrian's Villa in Tivoli, outside Rome. That is a fabulous site, and we're sure they're enjoying it tremendously. Roy suggests that they give the house searching a rest, and in a week or so they can take the train up and we'll show them several more places. We understand that it's not easy to view houses while you're trying to enjoy a vacation. So we space the visits out, and only show them properties that we think will be serious contenders.
We have a number of properties that are not listed on the site yet, but are hopeful that we have enough variety on our site that if someone is a serious buyer for a property in Central Italy that they'll view what we have and contact us.
We've been approached by a realtor to sign an exclusive arrangement with them, but we certainly will not. Our independence is just what is so appealing to our clients. There is no multiple listing service in Italy, so a realtor can only show what properties they have contracts for.
We can show many, many properties, for in addition to the houses on our site and others we are getting ready to post, we can work with realtors all over Italy. We are not realtors, anyway, but property scouts and project managers. So we're hoping our business will work well as a niche service in this market place.
I simmer a variety of beans this evening, in preparation for a big pot of minestrone that I'll fix tomorrow morning. We are missing celery (sedano), but if Pepe is in his garage, I'll ask him tomorrow morning if he has a little in his orto up above. If not, I'll improvise.
That reminds me. Michelle asks for my lemon risotto recipe, and I admit I mostly made it up a few weeks ago when I prepared it for her birthday. But my lemon risotto is always a big hit. Tonight I check in a Williams-Sonoma cookbook and find a recipe for lemon risotto. So I quickly email her, hoping she'll check her email today. She's hoping to make the risotto tonight.
Tiziano arrives after church, wondering why we've not been there for mass. He sees the electricista here working, and we ask him if we are the talk of the village after missing mass two Sundays in a row. Last Sunday we did not go to mass, because we went to Giovanni's funeral mass the day before.
Don Ciro tells the parishioners during the homily to love their neighbors, and Tiziano arrives with this same message and hugs. Alberto and Laura and Mauro kept our seats "warm" in church. Lore took the train to Rome for the day.
Tiziano's talk and trip to Pisa were a great success, and now he's hard at work on his latest projects, some of which will involve us as volunteers. He tells us that there is an ancient fountain right next to the piece of land that Antonia is interested in.
The mayor called him to ask him to attend a meeting regarding another ancient church in Mugnano, the one right next to the cemetery. Since the mayor knows he needs to expand the cemetery, he needs to know if there is land around the church that can be used.
Since our ashes will be buried there some day, we are hoping for a little niche in a special corner. As the land is developed and the old church is possibly restored, we'll look for our site there. It is a wonderful idea.
Roy drives off to Soriano, to see if we can take Domenico there later in the afternoon. But a phone message comes in from one of the owners that yes, we can come by then.
We walk up with Sofi to see Paola's house project, and Pepe and Mario are there excavating the cantina on the floor reached down a flight of stairs from the front door. It is so beautiful in its pristine beauty, practically untouched except for a big bread oven on one wall.
The house will be an amazing jewel box, even if there aren't many windows. What a wonderful project for Pepe and his son to take on for his daughter. They are a very kind family, and we love our casual talks with them whenever we see them.
Domenico cannot come for pranzo, so we meet him mid afternoon. We show him six properties, and he likes two of them very much. Two are a definite no and we are not sure about the others.
We see a sign for a property while we're driving back with Domenico on a back road in Penna, and take down the phone number. After we leave Domenico we drive back and the property has no gate. So we walk around and think this property is really great. Tomorrow we'll track down the owners and see what we can find out.
We arrive home to a gate that won't work and no power again. The weather this afternoon was lovely and warm, so what's up with that? Andrea, the electrician, will return on Saturday. In the meantime, it's back to our patched extension cords again.
Tonight we have a long conversation with Dawn, who sadly will have to put her two cocker spaniels to sleep next weekend. Italian vets are a rare breed. Not many of them will put an animal to sleep. These dogs are fifteen years old, blind and deaf. So it's time for them to have their rest. A vet in Orte, probably the one we took Nemo to years ago, will agree to help her. We are sad for her and for her dogs and will say a prayer for them on Saturday.
We have not seen Dawn since my lavender lunch, and it's time we got together with her again. We pass by her property under construction now and then, and hopefully she'll be spending more time there, soon. It is a really lovely site, made more so because many people travel on her strada bianca to a special little church at the end of the road. She is such a warm and outgoing woman, that we can't imagine her in a remote house. So hopefully her neighbors will stop and visit her often.
The night ends with the shutters open and lights of the valley bright in the moonlight.
Last night, the conversation with Dawn meandered to Italian taxes. It seems strangely part of the Italian character to cheat on the government. We don't really understand that. There is a tug of war between the government and the people they govern: the government charges 20% tax on just about everything, and the people maneuver carefully to find a way to avoid paying it.
So in an almost Keystone Kops way of working, the dreaded Guardia di Finanza travel in packs, descending upon people whom someone has called them about. Perhaps the person has made them angry for some reason. Perhaps they are jealous. Who knows? But once the dreaded pack of men descend, they wreck havoc on the person or persons, absconding with their computers and records for months at a time, under the guise that there is some tax avoidance in play.
Is it too simple to think that the way to fix all this is to lower the tax? Then what would people have to complain about? These stealthful characters...what would happen to them? This cheating the government, and speaking about its leaders with disdain, is something ingrained in the Italian character.
We look at the situation from afar, choosing instead to pay the tax, just as we studied and went through the bureaucracy of obtaining our Italian drivers licenses, long before any of our stranieri friends succumbed. So it is evident that the character is not solely Italian...perhaps people moving to Italy consider it a necessary part of the Italian experience. This is one character trait we hope to avoid.
I want to be able to sleep at night. I expect the tax police to come, but hope to be able to have a civil conversation with them, show them our records and not have to worry.
This morning the fog returns to the valley, and we have no idea how the day will unfold. We need to return to Deruta for new smalto. And find a commercialista. And continue to search for properties.
We meet with a commercialista in Viterbo, a nice young man who confirms that we don't need to file Italian taxes if we aren't making money in Italy. But setting up the businesses is another matter.
This meeting is an interview. Since he does not have other American clients, we're wondering if he is the best choice for us. Interesting enough, we find that accountants, called commercialistas in Italy, charge a monthly fee instead of an hourly rate. We're not ready to take on this young man on that basis...yet.
In the afternoon, we continue sourcing properties, again in Penna. We find one by driving up a driveway and encountering a cleaning lady. We know her brother and she knows Alan. So she and her husband take us to another property and we like it very much. We'll consider it....
And then we meet with our good friend, Patricia, in Orte. We like what her commercialista has to say and will call him tomorrow. In the meantime, we talk about finding projects to work on together. We'd really like that. Perhaps her Penna property and one of the properties we showed Domenico will work in tandem for his developer. We will see.
We stop at Shelly's to feed Tex on the way home, and the stars are out. Their front lawn is a wonderful spot to do star gazing, for the lights of the village, although not very bright, are far enough away so that the sky appears navy blue and the stars bright. The air is so clean and crisp on this fall night that I do a little waltz as we wait for Tex to chow down. Like Sofi, he does not like to eat when he is alone, and with Michelle and Claudio away for a few days he must be lonely.
The electricity still is not working well when we arrive home, but the gate works, and I think it has something to do with the original wiring that was done when we rebuilt our front wall. We'll try again on Saturday with Andrea, the electrician.
In the meantime, we have to get up to Deruta to buy more smalto. There are only a couple of weeks left till we travel to California, and I want to take some pieces to show to potential shops...I have spent so little time painting that I need to return to it with gusto...but we have spent so much time sourcing properties that everything else has taken a back seat.
Really, our lives are so rich that we have trouble finding time to do everything we love. I can't imagine it, but we stay up until midnight most nights, and are up at 8AM.
It is now almost midnight. Dorme bene.
On these late October mornings, fog embraces us, usually giving way to spectacular sun, albeit lower in the sky. With tremendous amounts of rain this fall, everything is green, green, except for the deciduous trees, whose leaves unveil their last bursts of passion before dropping off and laying all curled up on the gravel.
In the valley, fog clears and we're blessed with shades of green and gold, layer upon layer, the trees and bushes and plants parading for us as if suspended on a catwalk. These greens and golds and rich browns from the earth are the colors our eyes never cease to explore with wonder, with dabs here and there as if from a paint brush of terra cotta and red.
We're doing more scouting this morning, and while we're at it, we're learning about different micro-climates of the region, micro climates that change from valley to valley, hill to hill. My mind wanders back to a fantasy of medieval Italia, where the towers protected the different towns from bands of marauders and lookouts were life-saving necessities.
These days, the silence of it all, broken twice a day by a bus and now and then by a neighbor greeting us as they walk by to the cemetery, reminds us that this paradise was not always so. We must protect it. Pia arrives to work on her property across the street and tells us that it's bright and sunny in Viterbo. At just before 11AM we're still socked in.
By the time night falls, we've previewed several more properties, ranging in price from €200,000 to €700,000 and signed on with a wonderful commercialista (accountant) named Luca.
It's time to add more properties to our site, but we've decided not to post them all. Instead, view our site as a kind of a broad brush, a sampling of what our area of Central Italy has to offer. Once we're contacted, we'll preview properties that we believe will more closely answer specific needs and start a meaningful dialogue. Do let us know if you're interested, and if so, what you're looking for. Click on the "contact Roy and Evanne" on our site, and we'll get back to you within the same day.
Luca tells us that with the service we provide, we are each what is called a Procacciatore, and that makes sense. We are hunters of sorts, hunting and gathering for our clients who want to escape the very disheartening task of finding a dream property in this strange real estate market, with no multiple listing of properties. And with people who have a property to sell, we've something to offer them just as valuable.
There is more than one experience today that reminds us that we are providing a great service for our clients. An owner of an expensive house gets upset because we are not looking at their property for ourselves, but for clients. We are brought in by a realtor, and the realtor backs out of the driveway after the viewing, telling us we should have lied. We respond by telling the agent we refuse to lie. If that is the case, the agent will have to step in.
An owner of a real estate agency tells us that people who lie are all over Italia. So it is evident that we'll never become agents. We want to be able to sleep at night. Speaking of that, I've been worried about the Guardia di Finanza.
Luca educates us tonight about those tax police, telling us that they must have a court order in order to barge into our house and take our computers away if they think we are doing something to avoid paying Italian taxes.
He tells us they will call us on the phone first, and we can refer them to him. What a relief! Not that we will do anything wrong. The tax stories we've been told are exaggerations, which is something the Italians do brilliantly. It's all in a story, as though it's cocktail fodder.
So he's setting up our businesses, and we've agreed to an annual retainer. Now we can call him at any time and he'll educate us and work with us. Since we're paying him on an ongoing basis, we're really encouraged to move forward, both on my ceramics business and the procacciatore side. We certainly have a lot of great properties to offer, and this next week should see some real progress.
I'm also doing more drawing and painting, taking my sketch book wherever we go. Tomorrow I'll work on more designs in class, and if we have time tomorrow after my mammography in Orte, we'll drive to Deruta to pick up better smalto.
This has been a very busy and productive day. Tonight before going to bed, I walk out upon the terrace, followed by Sofi. The stars are out, and I take in a huge breath of fresh air, while focusing on a view so dark that only the stars and lights from Chia far across the peaceful valley light our way.
It's time for a free mammography. The facility is not modern, but the machines are the same I've been squeezed upon in California. Since my ecographia last week, I'm confident that there's nothing to see.
The fog remains, as if we're alone on an island and there is nothingness all around. What surprises will we encounter when the fog lifts its drowsy head?
Well, I've a real surprise after I arrive at the hospital in the centro storico in Orte. After waiting for twenty minutes in line, I am told I don't have to pay (biannual mammographies are free), and told to wait in the sala di attessa (waiting room). Romolo Villa ushers me right in after he opens the door wearing his official white coat, and sits down at a computer, punching my name into the machine and watching with me as the screen lights up.
You're here on the wrong day, Signora, he tells me in Italian. It can't be, I have an appointment!
Yes, but if you see this line on the letter, you are to arrive exactly on the second anniversary of your last mammography...See, it's right here on this line.
Boh! If I had paid attention I would have seen it myself, and no, he cannot take me anyway.
Outside, I'm walking on the pavement made wet by the fog, and look up to see Roy and "piccola" walking toward me. We drive on to Soriano to pick up the "analysis" of my blood test and why not. We drive on to Deruta to pick up plates that we need in what is called a bisque state, and a reformulation of our smalto.
We arrive at Mondo Ceramica and purchase rutile, a sandy substance to add to our smalto to make the finish more antique. We drive off to buy the cotto at our favorite place, but she's just closed for pranzo and will return at 2PM. She guides us to a local trattoria with a price-fixed menu, and it's perfect. But first we stop at a supermarket and buy a few slices of tacchino (turkey) for Sofi and have it cut up in small pieces.
Everyone has a good meal, and we find the cotto that we need, then drive on to class. Again, the time speeds by, and I've finished an ornate pitcher for Marissa and begun almost an identical pitcher for Nicole. Each one takes about two sessions (eight hours) to paint.
But when I leave I find that there will be no class next week. It will be the Day of the Dead. Time's a wastin'. With the adjusted smalto, I'll work at home to paint some more pieces and then fire them in Francesco's oven in another ten days or so.
With work to do on the web site and more sourcing of properties each day, we're feeling like a couple of steam engines. Where do the days go? We end this one just before midnight with a couple of books and lots to think about regarding clients and properties.
Halloween is the strangest event in Italia. It consists of the worst traditions of the United States and as far as we know, none of the best. But Italians are all agog about the arrival of this "event". Here in our little village we don't expect any "trick or treaters".
But stores are full of paper and plastic objects and costumes. What about bobbing for apples and treasure hunts and haunted houses with a scary old woman with a wart on her face opening the door? BOO! I don't think they have been told any of this.
That reminds me. Yesterday in Deruta, city workers were out in their trucks, stringing up lights...for Christmas! Yes, the city depends on
tourism for its livelihood, but I am afraid it is more than that. The Americanization of Italia is seeping in through its very bones.
If you come here, we hope you will embrace the culture and history of this grand country, and want to leave your American or English or Irish customs behind. Otherwise, how will one be able to really appreciate the history and culture of this, or any other place, away from "home"?
So why are we so helpful with people who want their own "Italian experience"? We're happy to share its authentic history and culture with others. We so want to preserve it, and are hopeful they will, too.
Dottoressa does not show up in Mugnano for her regular time. Ernesta arrives after an hour to tell us she is in Perugia at a funeral. We walk down the steps to the little building in the borgo to see Felice, who tells us he wants to plant our favas soon, and Alberto, who invites us to join him for coffee.
For the first time in all the years we have known Lore and Alberto, we arrive for coffee and a tour around the newly restored house. It looks lovely. We hear that Clara has a full time person looking after her in Rome and send our fond wishes. She hates hearing "piano, piano." Lore tells us she was told that after Clara's husband died, and after she later suffered her stroke, that is all she heard. Now she does not want to hear the too familiar "Piano, piano".
Clara wants to socialize, to have a drink, to enjoy her friends socially, but it's not quite time. As Roy's mother would have said, "There but the grace of God go I..."
We leave to drive to the Comune to drop off our photos for our new ID cards, and take a few photos of the marvelous grotesques inside the Orsini Palazzo next door. I look forward to painting them. I so miss painting. Now that Roy has added the rutile to the smalto, I'll surely be able to paint soon.
After pranzo, we meet with Dierdre at her home in Capitone and continue to be enthusiastic about her property. On the way back, we stop in Amelia to see Domenico. He tells us that the owner of the Palazzo Venturelli arrived today and Domenico showed him the plate I painted for him. It is wonderful to see it sitting out when we arrive without notice.
Tomorrow we'll meet with him again to firm up Monday's appointments. Back at home, we receive a lot of calls and emails to schedule appointments, so our property scouting is beginning to pay off.
The closer we get to the time of our US trip, the more activity there is on the many properties we have in play. It feels good to have so much activity, but I admit I yearn to be out in the studio. With Roy taking the most active role, I'll be able to move on to painting in the next days. Speriamo.
With Dottoressa's schedule all moved around, we drive to see her in Chia, then on to Lugnano and Guardea to scout out more properties. We're socked in, in such thick fog that we can't see past the shutters.
But the line at the office in Chia is so long that people stream out the door of the little building, with a few people even hanging over the metal fence against the rose bushes.
We drive on to Lugnano to spec properties and the first one we see is in Guardea. Upon reaching the property, down a rocky strada bianca, our eyes are drawn to the sight of two soaring cypress trees, at least one hundred years old, flanking a dilapidated stone casale. There is a great deal of land, more than one hundred olive trees, and an incredible view, but the price is not cheap.
We agree to take that on, and return to Lugnano, where a young man attempts to show us the property beneath Tony and Pat's. We stop him at the edge of the lane leading into the space, shaking our finger at him. He gets out of the car and Roy asks, "Who is the proprietor of this property?" The answer is just what we expected. "Pasqui."
We refuse to see the property. When the young man arrives at Roy's open car window, we tell him a little of what we know of this man and "thief" and "liar" are two of the words we use to characterize him. After we tell him a few reasons for our strong opinion, we thank him for his time and tell him we'll see him again.
Our home made minestrone soup is really magnificent, if a soup can be described in such a way, so we drive home to enjoy bowls of the stuff, before leaving to drive to Amelia for meetings.
We're home after dark, and it's not cool enough for a fire. So we work on the web site and talk about altering the home page, probably when we're in the U S. Now that we have more than twenty properties and a growing list of clients interested in properties in Central Italia, it's time.
Andrea, the electrician who "moonlights" with us on our electrical woes on weekends, is late. He does not answer his cell phone, either. So our band-aid electrical system hangs on...
Andrea arrives at 11AM, and for a few hours he and Roy jiggle and jiggle and play around with the various circuits. At one point, everything is broken. He leaves for pranzo and returns an hour later. I am sure, when standing close to him, that he had cigarettes for pranzo. But I am somehow confident about the way he speaks and the way he moves.
Finally everything works, including the emergency switch for the fogna(septic tank). We hold our breath during the day and evening, but it is as if we never had a problem. I admit that when looking around the bathroom, a room we have not had electricity in for days, the room looks nicer than I remembered. It is funny how a familiar room can look new after a few days with no real lighting...
So I want to talk about arista. Arista is a pork roast, and these pork roasts are very popular with Italian families who serve large numbers of people. The roast is cooked in advance, and served at warm temperature or cold. The name arista came from a time the pork was served to a group of monks who replied when asked what they thought of the food. "Arista!Arista!" or "Good! Good!" they replied. And so the name for the dish...That's what my old pal Artusi has to say about it in his book.
So we buy a small pork roast from the wonderful butcher in Giove, named Sgrina. He is such an artist, that we do not have the heart to tell him to leave any of the fat surrounding the meat. He slices off the fat in such a gentle way that it is as though he is singing a lullaby to the piece of meat. "Lullaby, and good night..."
Anyway, later we stop at another macelleria and pick up a few slices of pancetta to lay across the top like a diva stretched out on a fainting couch. With a few sliced cloves of garlic and a few sprigs of rosemary poked into the roast, we slide it into a preheated oven at 350 degrees.
The roast weighs about 3 pounds, but the recipe calls for a much bigger roast. We cook it for about 30 minutes per pound, or until the instant meat thermometer registers above 175. By the time it is taken out and sits, the temperature rises to the correct 185 degrees. Then I put it on a warm platter on top of the stove, cover it loosely with aluminum foil, and an hour or so later when we slice and serve it, it is still a little warm. I heat the pan on the top of the stove, add a little pork bouillon cube, a little red wine, a little water, and scrape the pieces away from the pan.
This is a very simple thing to fix. But what makes it a delicious main course, is the accompaniment of my homemade apple sauce and also a dollop of our fig and ginger and lemon conserve. Earlier I grilled zucchini strips, and serve them at room temperature and also steam some broccoli.
Rita and Filippo are our guests tonight, and they are so much fun. We really enjoy getting to know them and Sofi dances around the kitchen, she is so delighted to meet them.
In addition to wanting to sell their Lugnano property, they also have another property that they will help us to list. It sounds very exciting. This case is another person who wants nothing to do with real estate agents. They have such bad reputations in Italy.
How did I forget to mention that our new friends Daniele and Antonia have decided to buy the Umbertide property after all? We are sad to think that they won't be moving closer to us. But then there is a property that we have that is a wonderful archeological site quite near us, and Antonia is smitten by it. If it is meant to be, they will find a way to buy it...
We end the night with Roy turning back all the clocks and wonder if our automatic alarms will wake us up early anyway.
Yes, I'm up before 7AM, so I take a shower and go back to bed to read for an hour. How long will it take me to adjust to what the Italians call "ore legale, or what Americans call Daylight Savings Time? And why do we persist on turning the clocks back, or forward? Research tells me that Ben Franklin started it all. Laws are afoot to change it again.
Speaking of laws, there is a new law on the books in Rome that if a person owns a dog, he must take it out for a walk twice a day. Why are there so many laws in Italy? No one seems to pay attention to any them. But the new law I just love is the outlawing of round goldfish bowls.
There was a study that determined that round goldfish bowls drove goldfish absolutely mad, or blind, depending on who you ask. Animal rights activists are behind both of these laws, and no wonder. More than 150,000 dogs are abandoned each year in Italy. I have not seen any statistics on gold fish...
Once I'm up, we leave for mass and it is wonderful to see so many of our full time and also part time neighbors in the village on this morning. This is a joyous time for our village, for a two-day holiday begins on Tuesday, so Italians love to make this a week-long vacation.
The fog persists, and we hear that this fall is a crazy weather year. Each day, the sun comes out around noon, and the rest of the day is lovely. Depending on where you are, the fog may clear much earlier...or not at all.
We return from mass and Akiko and Giorgio arrive to give us keys for their Soriano property. We are happy that they stay for coffee, and to talk about life in Italia. We like them very much, and selfishly hope we sell their property to friends. We love the land, and it's a place we'd love to visit often.
As soon as they leave, we scoop up Sofi in our arms and drive off to the annual antique mercato in Viterbo. Lore and Alberto purchased a bench here yesterday, but we're only here for a look, and to stop in to see Patricia, who is selling some wonderful recuperated doors and an elaborate setee, along with a four-poster bed.
She tells us that a Saudi sheik is expected to arrive any day to buy the setee. So I imagine Patricia sitting there in a sari, just waiting for the buyer to arrive. If you knew Patricia, you'd know how funny this is.
We drive to Amelia to meet with Domenico at his hilltop home and stop for tea. We have just enough time to meet some new friends and enjoy the incredible view. On the outside table is a natural arrangement of blossoms from a strawberry tree. We have never seen one. The colors of the round fruit range from a chatreuse to a dark red. The berries are quite extraordinary. I'm not so sure of the taste. After a short meeting, we say goodbye drive on to see Judith at her palazzo inside the borgo of Amelia.
It is good to see Judith, after all this time. We have only seen her briefly once on this trip, but she is very happy with her home here, and with Amelia. If she had her choice, no one who is not an Italian would move into Amelia at all.
Her next project here is with the cats of Amelia. She thinks she will be successful single handedly getting every cat sterilized in town. This is a lofty goal, unless you know Judith. If anyone can accomplish that, she can.
We've been on several strada biancas today, and the last one is the one to Tia and Bruce's house. Sofi is excited. She knows where she is headed. Once we arrive, she squeals to get out of the car. In her own way, I think she likes Gioia, Tia's dog.
Helen and Panis and Vasily arrive soon afterward, and we move to the living room for cocktails, and the first fire of the season in the fireplace. While Bruce lights it up, however, a huge bee, one of those dangerous ones that fly and sound like a dirigible, floats out of the firebox and up above a large chestnut beam.
Bruce is allergic to bees, but he walks out to the kitchen for a flyswatter. I open my woolen shawl wide and hide on the sofa with Helen and Sofi, underneath the dark fabric.
Panis sits back and takes in the scene, as does Vasily. But Roy is on his feet, acting as spotter. Bruce gives up the flyswatter and Roy leaps forward, we think knocking off a wing. We all hope the bee does not get angry. But we don't see it.
The amazing Tia steps in, pushes a shutter aside, and as the bee revives, gives it one enormous "Thwack!" This is a woman with great strength of character and yes, strength of body as well. Not one to quiver, she seems to love the excitement, especially her role in it all.
That done, we sit around the cocktail table for wine and snacks, until Bruce tells us his steaks are ready. Tonight, we feast on steaks and corn and baked potatoes. That might sound like ordinary fare to you, but to those of us living in Italia full time it is a very special dinner.
After a big salad, Helen's dessert is a mixture of dried apricots soaked in tea, with cardamom and star anise, served with yoghourt. While all of us enjoy the company and the great food, Sofi is given a bone and takes great offense at Gioia, who attempts to take it away from her.
Twice tonight, Sofi shows how strong her lungs are. It takes me to coax her with a tiny piece of steak to distract her from the bone. And then it's time to go home, out in what is now very cold air. By the time we arrive home, Sofi is tired and ready to go to sleep, as are we.
Today is Halloween, but the day is mostly lost on us. Roy starts the day with tests in Soriano, and picks up our Italian identity cards at the Comune before coming home. The electrician arrives, replaces two circuit breakers and "changes the polarity" on some things, whatever that means. In other words, he fiddles around, changing some switches, and leaves before pranzo, agreeing to come back in December to do some small projects. For now, everything works.
A new person calls, who wants to sell his property in Amelia, a big stone casale with five bedrooms, completely restored, for somewhere around €500,000. We'll see it later this week. We do not know him, but look forward to meeting him in a few days, when he's back in town.
Roy mixes the smalto, and we dip some plates. They don't look bad, and I take them out to the studio, where I paint borders on a few of the simple ones we'll use in the kitchen. Again, we are still in test mode. I hope that we'll fire a number of things next week, so am deciding which plates to paint.
Last night, we've decided to change the designs on Tia's plates. They will be of the Vietri style, with a cartoon-like characterization of her dog Gioia around the edge, with a few large olives in between. I think the plan is a good one, Now I only need to draw a few dogs to see which design will be the perfect one.
In the meantime, the Irish developer arrives in Amelia late and we're working with him and with Domenico to make his trip worthwhile. He'll return in a couple of weeks and in the meantime we're working double time to tie up any loose ends on the properties he fancies.
I'm really tired, so Sofi and I sleep for a couple of hours in the afternoon. When we wake up it is dark, but Italia is not like the US on Halloween night. Or so we think.
But at just before 10PM, Roy closes the door to my studio, for we think there will be rain tomorrow, perhaps even starting tonight. And he returns to the house to tell me that something is going on in the village. There must be a festa for the little ones. He hears "Ooooo's" and "Ahhhhh's" coming from the direction of the school building.
Ten minutes later, the bell to the cancello rings, and about twenty people arrive, all dressed in costume! For the first time in little Mugnano's recent history, Vigilia di Ognissanti, or Halloween, arrives. With plastic bags to collect goodies, the children noisily march up the stairs. Sofi does not know what to think.
Francesco, dressed as a witch with a huge hat and a sheet wrapped around his shoulders leads the group, including the other adults (Mauro, Valerio, Ivo, Valerio's daughter Federica and her husband Andrea) and a band of children, including: Federica's 3 sons; Mattia, Flavio and Valerio, plus two Andreas, Julia and of course, Salvatore.
We send them on their way with candy bars after taking this photo:
And so we close the chapter on yet another month.
A mixture of fog and haze surrounds us on the way to mass. Today is All Saint's Day, and the church is full. Now that we know Maria's name, we can name every person on our "side" of the church this morning.
Before the service, we stand at the door of the church admiring the recently laid pavement and perfectly groomed trees. Lucia stands with us, as does Marieadelaide, as Maria walks down the little street from the Medieval tower toward us. Her red sweater is worn "Mugnano style" buttoned one off.
When she arrives in front of Lucia, her friend walks up to her and tells her that her sweater is on wrong. Maria doubts all this, but looks down, stretches her sweater out in front of her, drops her chins with a frown and it is only then that she sees what the talk is all about.
Her dear friend Lucia helps her to re-button her sweater, and they smile sweetly at each other. Are they related? We are not sure, but today Tiziano tells us that Maria is Marino's aunt. The tapestry that is Mugnano has a very tight weave...
Later in the day, I tell Roy that there is a funny coincidence between Mugnano and Mill Valley, the place we lived when we bought our little house. A miller is called a mugnaio.
Shelly arrives to bring a thank you gift to us for feeding Tex while they were in Capri, and laughs at the thought of us actually going to the pranzo in the village. Tiziano does, too, but not for the same reason. Later, when we've finished our meal in the old school building, we tell ourselves that we attend these events in spite of the food, which is served on long wooden boards by members of the festarolo committee, and is not something we'd serve at home.
Today we sit on a long bench next to sweet Giuseppa, who shows us her swollen thumb, the result of an accident at her orto. Roy shows her his fingers that are completely healed, and his new fingernail, grown in after his accident this summer. He consoles her, and she smiles knowingly that he is right. Time will heal the wound.
Francesco the carabinieri and Mauro sit across from us. Mauro loves all the children in the village, and as Salvatore's father, is an instigator of much of the silliness that takes place. He calls little Julia on her cell phone and pretends he is someone else. Only later does she discover the prank.
I ask Mauro, who accompanied the band of revelers last night, where they walked, and he tells us they walked all over Mugnano. We were probably the last house they visited. He confirms that this is the first year they have done the American "trick or treat".
Some Italians, namely Italy's Papaboys, a group of pope devotees, think Halloween is "a party in honor of Santa and hell," and stage mass prayer vigils on that night. In Sweden, views of the holiday are that it is an "unnecessary, bad American custom". Halloween "undermines our cultural identity," complains the Rev. Giordano Frosinii, who is a Roman Catholic theologian in Pistoia.
A mayor in Vienna agrees, noting "It is an American custom that's got nothing to do with our culture." although Halloween has become increasingly popular all across Europe, complete with carved pumpkins, witches on broomsticks, makeshift houses of horror and costumed children rushing door to door for candy. It's begun to breed a backlash.
Critics see it as the epitome of crass, U S-style commercialism. Clerics and conservatives contend it clashes with the spirit of traditional Nov. 1 All Saints' Day remembrances. And it has purists in countries struggling to retain a sense of uniqueness in Europe's every-enlarging melting pot grimacing like Jack o' Lanterns.
I breathe a sigh, just thinking about it, after reading this information on the online version of the New York Times. Perhaps even in our lifetime the world will become a homogenized place of shopping malls and internet business, with no cultural differences from one country to the next. We'll do all we can to save our little village from this as long as we can.
Roy asks Serena, Salvatore's mother, just who they expect will become Julia's husband when she grows up...Since Federico and Julia are cousins, that leaves Salvatore. Julia is one of the only little girls in the village. It will be interesting to watch them all grow up together. The three of them are six years young, and all great pals, racing in and out of the room, playing hide and seek, not at all interested in the food.
Rosita tells us on the walk up to the borgo that it will not rain today, but when rain falls during pranzo, Roy gets up and walks over to her at the other side of the room to ask her why. She makes a face at him and whirls her hand and arm around in a kind of tornado as a silent answer. Her neighbors nod in agreement. Boh!
Back at home, there's work to do on the computer, and with a little rain there's plenty of time for a nap.
The day ends peacefully with clear skies and a bright red sunset.
This is a day of scouting and meeting new folks.
We arrive at an important Villa, Villa Rosa, next to Palazzo Petrignani, in the centro storico of Amelia, one of our favorite towns. Amelia is a very important town in Italy's ancient history, with evidences of buildings two thousand years old or more.
Rosa was the wife of Signor Petrignani, considered an important personage in Amelia's history. The palazzo is completely restored, with fireplaces in almost every room and a formal Italianate garden with a luscious view of the valley. We have a selection of photos on this site, but for frescoes and more detail, let us know if you're interested.
This is a prestige property for someone who wants a to own their own piece of history, a part-time jewel in an important Italian town. There is a good smattering of English speaking people in the area, but the characteristic charm of the town is only beginning to be explored by the outside world.
From there, we drive on to meet Maggie and sign up her lovely property in the Valley of the Nera. This three bedroom home is completely restored, with 11 hectares of land. There is permission to build two other properties on the site, and it could be a wonderful compound for friends or family.
She is about 45 minutes north of Terni, and we think she is remote until we drive less than ten minutes to Ferentillo, a nearby town with a wonderful restaurant, Ai Tre Archi, and we are waited on by Giuseppina (Pina) whose jolly red cheeks peek out from behind her white cap.
We meet Michael and Evelyn, who are from England and own properties nearby, and for the next few hours we sit by a glass window with Sofi sitting near us right outside the door. The talk is all about the good news, bad news about living in Italy...we share our experiences and political views on recycling (Italy is way behind the rest of us), the government, and Michael tells us he's ready to leave Italy. Some people live here for four or five years and then move back to England or the US. We find ourselves loving the life here more and more the longer we're here. But Italy is not for everyone...
We drive back and spend an hour or so at home before meeting with our new Commercialista in Orte. The meeting is short, but we've started the clock with him earlier than we originally planned...The business is starting to really take off and we'll need to be ready...
Just before we leave for Perugia, Tiziano comes by for a meeting and to discuss the translation project we have for him. Then we take the familiar drive to the hospital in Perugia, where I'm given thumbs up by my doctor for several months. We have to wait almost an hour for our specific appointment, but I have a book to read, so we take the wait in stride.
We remember a Tavola Calda in Deruta, and have an early pranzo there for less than €10. We also find a good vivaio with lots of bulbs to sell. So we call Tia and pick up more than 70 narcissus for us and a couple of hundred for Tia. Tia always does things in a big way, and has plenty of land, so she may plant as many as one thousand before she's through.
The night is clear and cold, but we're not home long enough to build a fire.
We leave the house for Capranica before dawn and arrive to find no queue at all. The skin clinic opens at 7AM, and there are about a dozen people milling about, but no one gets in line. So we do, for it is about ten minutes to 7. Just then, everyone stands up and pushes in front of us. Italians hate lines, refuse to queue, but know they have to. We're still number 9, and although the doctors don't arrive until 9AM, we have our tickets and sit and read until we see our number pop up on the big window above our heads.
The doctor who sees me is jolly, and he prescribes an ointment for one thing and asks if I want a lab test on the other. I do, so he sends us downstairs where a room is full of people. But we want lab work, so can't see anyone until after 10:30. We take a new number, and this time we are number One!
We take advantage of the almost two hour wait by taking Sofi for a walk to the centro storico of this grand Lazio town. We see at least two churches, one of which is huge. We especially love the chandeliers, hung as though they are tiny lights in different heights suspended from what looks like fine wires. The design actually looks French, with lots of faceted glass, but the design is not over-the-top.
I'm able to locate a number of stemmas, now that I have a new fascination with painting family crests. Two we see this morning have head plates from coats of armor as part of the design. I'll have to do some internet searching for histories of crests. I've been asked to design a few for friends, especially since they know they can have ceramic plates made with their own crest...
Years and years and more years ago, my father owned a company called The American Academy of Heraldry. For twenty-five dollars, he'd research your family crest and give it to you on a wooden plaque. He took out a 1/2 page ad in the Sports section of the New York Times one Sunday, and promptly went out of business. $25,000 worth of orders came in so fast that he had no idea how to fill them. And what he wound up with was an elaborately carved wooden chair, something that looked as though it belonged in an old castle. I still laugh to think of it. Poor Dad. I can hear him laughing at it all now. Guess that's where some of my dreaming comes from...
Back at the clinic, I'm nervous because we meet with a doctor to see what's up with my toenails. He takes a sample of what's ailing me and it will take two weeks for the diagnosis.
We're home for enough time to eat freshly roast chicken and salad with blue cheese. Yesterday we found iceberg lettuce at LIDL, and for some reason Roy likes an old fashioned salad with crumbled blue cheese and vinaigrette dressing. Remind you of Tadich Grill in San Francisco?
When we're driving about, Roy asks me what food I miss, and what I'm looking forward to eating in San Francisco. I answer, "A Manhattan Bagel" but otherwise miss the giant shrimp cocktails and boiled live lobsters from Maine. Am I showing my New England heritage? That's probably the only place that shows...
I love Canada Dry Ginger Ale. Also Triscuits. But otherwise, we're so settled in our lives here that we don't miss much at all, other than movies. And these days we don't pay much attention to first run movies, either. But then Roy misses Mexican food. We'll surely have our fill of it in a few weeks.
We have a meeting with a prospective client who has three houses to sell, and leave thinking of making some changes to our marketing strategy. It's time to change the face of our web site. Our listings are coming in, and we have so many good properties that we are working to showcase them the best way we can.
We meet with a client who has already listed with us, check in with more of our clients, and it's time to meet my new gynecologist at a clinic in Viterbo. This is the missing link for our medical needs, and I think she's just great. So I'm getting older. But generally my health is quite good. She appreciates holistic medicine, and that makes her even a better choice. I am able to conduct a meeting with her entirely by myself, completely in Italian. I suppose I know more Italian than I think I do.
I love the meeting. We sat and talked at her desk for most of the time, with the checkup taking very little time. She did not rush me out at all, and when we talked about Dottoressa Ofelia leaving at the end of the year or move back to Perugia, I ask who she thinks I should go to. She has a person in Soriano who is a good friend of hers, so we'll give Dottoressa's replacement a chance, but I'm almost ready to move to Soriano right away. I like this doctor that much.
We were at first very concerned that we will be losing Dottoressa, but she's not giving any of her patients much attention these days, making the choice easier. We wish her well, and think she'll be happier in Perugia, where she studied medicine, has a boyfriend and an apartment.
Our lives are very busy these days, and although I love what we're doing, I sorely miss being at home more. I think that will change. I hope so. The ceramics sit and wait for me...
Tonight I get into bed early, for I'm finishing The Kite Chaser, and it has me in its grips...
We meet the Sgrina folks at Judith's early, to repair something we bought from them last year on her behalf. Then we drive to an appointment in the countryside outside Amelia, with a man who has a grand property to list with us. He and his wife are delightful people, both architects from Rome, and what a wonderful job they have done on this property!
We are delighted to include it in our list of properties.
Duccio and Giovanna have treasures to show us from their trip to the special antique market this last week in Viterbo, and we love what they have to show us. So after a short meeting, during which Duccio and Roy drink a little wheat beer from Bavaria, we're home for awhile and then off to view another property. I'm beginning to feel anxious. My hands are itching to paint, and although the air is humid and the sky overcast, I'd love to be at home this afternoon. It is not to be.
We drive to Umbria near Todi to scout new properties, and love what we see. These properties will not be listed on the website, so we'll show people the photos and descriptions privately. I'm dreaming of one as a cooking school, complete with tennis court, swimming pool, the works.
Piano, piano...what has happened to our lives to turn us almost upside down? We have so many wonderful properties now, that our scouting may slow down considerably. We will not forget that smelling the roses is what life is all about. And if we're able to introduce friends to the whole Italian experience, so much the better.
For now, I'll not plan to fret about what pieces I can paint and have fired before we leave for the U S. Whatever is done, is done. But what I know is that I am interested in family coat of arms, a word known as stemma in Italian. I love the bishop's plates and perhaps will find a location in San Francisco where we can take orders for plates or tiles with stemmi. I'm even willing to design family crests for families who don't have them.
We arrive home after dark, for it becomes dark early on these late fall days. But the air is sweet, and the leaves from the cachi tree on the terrace are turning to burnt sienna and yellow. It is time to begin the steamed puddings we fix and give as gifts at Christmastime.
Out in the studio everything is dry. The humidity makes it difficult to paint, however, so we'll see if the weather clears tomorrow.
Today is an anniversary mass for the father of a friend, Emanuela, who grew up in Mugnano and now works at the Smithsonian in Washington, D C. Her sister Tiziana greets us at the door to the little church, but Emanuela is traveling. We may see her here in a month or so.
The church is full. Rain has not kept the neighbors away, and umbrellas stand at the back of the church like drunken sailors, leaning against each other by the door to keep from falling over.
Don Luca is today's priest, and Luciana comes to sit next to her dear friend, Augusta in the row in front of us. Roy welcomes her to our part of the church and she laughs. On the other side of the church, Emanuela's family takes up more than two benches. It is wonderful to see so many people here, and hopefully Emanuela's mother is comforted by their presence. I walk over to greet her and give her a hug.
After church, we look for Paola with Tiziano to arrange to meet tonight, but she is not in her little house. Pepe is there alone, standing amid piles of rubble, the ancient stones of the frame of the building bare. When looking up, we see a strange site.
The rear wall of her little house on the second floor is owned by...someone else! There is a recently installed door to the far right that opens onto...nothing! The back wall is covered in intonico and painted white. So evidently Paola will put in a new floor and side wall. Hopefully the neighbor has another entry, or is not around while this work is being done.
The house is a treasure. With skylights above and an appreciation for the ancient walls, this will be a lovely little haven for our dear friend.
We walk home and then leave to meet with a nearby client and have a second look at her property. This property will surely sell soon. It has everything going for it at a very reasonable price. And the second time we see it, we like it even more than the first.
We're at home long enough to warm a ricotta torta, and then leave for Steven and Alvaro's home in the countryside outside Bassano in Teverina, a neighboring town. Down, down, down we drive, and the setting is idyllic. The air is heavy, and the fog around us settling, a mist of rain on hiatus for a few hours.
Sofi does not quite know what to expect, but she is the star of the show and we imagine that we are solely invited as her caretakers. So when the gate opens and Alvaro sees her, it is as if he is greeting a long lost friend. When Steven greets us, he can't wait to scoop Sofi up in his arms. She takes to him right away, although is she is clearly overwhelmed by all the activity and two other dogs sniffing around.
Everyone wants to greet Sofi, for we are the only guests who did not know Gilberto, their basotto, who ran off just a year ago. In photos, the expressions of the two dogs as well as the markings make us think that Elmer was the same father of each of them.
As the guests mingle and my eyes settle on the scene, I am drawn to a paradox. Several of the Italian men, who are almost all with English speaking women, stand back with the same familiar look on each of their faces. It is the same look we have at a gathering of Italian speaking people at a social gathering. It is a look of not quite understanding what is going on, but an eagerness to participate.
How strange and yet how strangely comforting this appears to me. Now I am tempted to walk over to each of them and start a conversation in Italian. But a headache keeps me from my usual party mood, and I think I'm coming down with a flu. So instead I speak with a woman to my left, who is here on vacation.
Sofi spends a great deal of the time under the table, safely away from strangers who like to do the dog version of "cootchie-coo!" with her. Earlier, I told Steven that when someone picks her up and does that, she lays limply in their arms, waiting for it to end. So when Alvaro can't resist picking her up and coos to her, Steven laughs out loud as we watch her head drop with a silent thud.
We do not know any of the guests when we arrive, but by the time we leave we have been made to feel as if we have a new group of friends. We look forward to seeing them again and will surely invite Steven and Alvaro for pranzo before the end of the year.
Alvaro shows us out, and before we leave he wants us to see the little rental unit they have overlooking the Tiber Valley. It is a really great place to rent for €300 a week, with a separate little kitchenette and a private deck. We agree to come back to take photos and put it on our site. This time we'll bring Tiziano, who would like to know more about their property and they would like to meet him as well. As an archeologist, he can answer many questions about their property.
Sofi seems happy to be back at home. I am not feeling well at all, and think that if I sleep for a few hours we will be able to take Tiziano and Paola to Viterbo tonight to Antonio's Enoteca. But an hour later I am really going downhill, and Roy calls them up to cancel.
The rainy day ends with the house enveloped in fog as though we're on an English moor, and Sofi and I embraced by the dark night. When Roy comes up to bed, we're fast asleep.
Fog continues, but the weather is for sun in Rome, so we're hopeful. Sofi spends the day with her best pal, Angie, in her neighborhood near the Flaminia and we drive on to our dentist near Piazza de Popolo. We park right next to the Tiber, and the traffic on that street is like a major freeway. Somehow we are able to cross with our limbs and nerves intact, and then it's just a block on to Dr. Chiantini's office.
If it is possible to have a good experience at the dentist, this is what we have. We are not good dental patients, but at least have our teeth cleaned twice a year. He does not say a word about my mouth, or give me a lecture, or tell me how to brush my teeth. Isn't it a little late for all that?
Instead, we use what few moments we have to talk about fun things. The day before, he participated in a regatta at Civitavecchia, crewing for a friend with six other people. He tells me his job is to stand at the mast and lower the rope for the sail. No thanks!
Somehow a discussion of our website and journal comes up, and I tell him he is in it. So he wants to look, and we determine that my last appointment was on March 29th. So we look up the archives, and I can see a big smile on his face as he reads what I have to say about him.
After Roy and I are through, we meet Danieli and Antonia, or Danny and Wendy, at Piazza del Popolo. They're back to Danny and Wendy. Somehow the Italian names just didn't stick with them. But the restaurant Dr. Chiantini recommended to us is closed on Mondays, so we eat at a corner restaurant, and because it is a lovely afternoon, we sit outside.
Sure, it is a tourist spot, but trendy, so the salads are great and so is the wine. We tell them they need to see Duccio and Giovanna's ancient tomb under their house, and call Duccio to make sure we can see it today. He's at home, so after we are shown their great rental apartment on the Spanish Steps, we take the Metro to the neighborhood of San John Laterano.
After a little meandering, find the correct building. Duccio gives an excellent tour, and we learn that the site dates back to the time of Marcus Aurelius, ten years or so before the birth of Christ.
In the 1920's Giovanna's grandfather was friendly with the man in charge of construction permits in Rome, so he was given permission to build a house over this famous monument, with the understanding that it would remain a site that the public would have access to by ringing the doorbell and being led downstairs to the basement. Giovanna's father was able to occupy the top two floors and the first floor was given to the man in charge of the permits. So it works for everyone.
We were happy to be able to introduce our archeologist friends to this special nice of Roman history. Duccio invites us all up for one of the best views of Rome and a drink, but we decline and say goodbye, agreeing with Danny and Wendy that we'll take them to Umbertide for the day on Friday.
We pick up Sofi and drive home, and my migraine comes back with a vengeance. Perhaps it was the teeth cleaning that may have jarred my head. Who knows? But I can't wait to get into bed with my trusty ice pack. It has been a wonderful day, nonetheless.
Roy's gone back and forth with the people at the messenger service and tells them he'll drive to Viterbo to pick up a package they've been unable to deliver to him.
We have an appointment to source a new property, but I stay at home. The property is a gorgeous one in the countryside outside Amelia, and we'll add it to our site, very soon. Included in the deal are a large number of authentic antiques, so we'll see if we can help the owner to find homes for some of those pieces as well. I remember the man, and look forward to seeing the property soon.
He gives Roy some great garden advice. To keep weeds away from garden paths, and around boxwood, twice a year he buys and spreads construction road salt. Weeds don't grow, but it does not bother the plants. I really need to see this. We'll be sure to return there with some photos for him, hopefully before we leave for the U S.
I make a ricotta torte for tomorrow's pranzo with Franco and Candida, and do a few loads of laundry, but otherwise it's a lost day. Look on our site for the ricotta torte recipe. We continue to make it, for it gets raves whenever we serve it.
Roy drives off for a meeting to show one of our properties, and it is a good meeting. A meeting tonight regarding the possible sale of one of the properties is postponed, and we have the rest of the day to regroup.
Sofi seems much happier at home.
Yesterday's migraine continued all night. Fog reappears this morning, and we're not deterred. We drive to Orte for a pedicure with my favorite pedicurist, Giusy. Talk about Ghandi and deep-seated feelings, soulful emotions, take over. I can hardly believe I can carry on this kind of conversation completely in Italian.
Then it's on to Orvieto to Candace and Frank's wonderful house. Sofi loves the house, especially loves the garden, and we all laugh at her romping in the grass, hopping after lucertoles (lizards). Since she spent a night there earlier this year, they have all become great friends. So she is completely at home here, sitting outside the glass door to the garden until we let her in.
We leave there for my ceramics class in Terni, and I'm able to finish Nicole's pitcher, one that matches Marissa's, that we pick up today. It looks great. I'm also able to do a little ceramic hook for each of them, complete with little putti (angels) and their initials.
We stop at Tia's to show her my latest drawings of her little dog Gioia. We've decided to put the dog's face on her plates, as well as a few olives here and there, and I've sketched out a couple of faces to choose from. She likes one a lot, and she and Michael, who is there to help her with the next round of plantings tomorrow, love Marissa's pitcher.
We won't see Tia again until the beginning of December, but catch up on her latest trauma, a dog left tied to her tree at the top of her drive. It had been hit by a car. She called her vet, who came around to pick up the dog, but no one knows who it belongs to. Since it is a Maremenna, she is sure it belongs to a shepherd, so she's asking all around to find out who owns it.
When we leave, we see two of the horses that are kept on her property just roaming around the private road to her house. Another day, another adventure for Tia. She has so much energy, and it is a good thing. She always runs at full speed. And there is a lot to do.
Back at home, we work on our listings, talk with clients and settle in for a few hours before going to bed. Tomorrow Leslie Baker and a friend will arrive to look properties. We'll have quite a bit to show her and look forward to meeting her. We also will be introduced to another person who has a property she wants us to take on. The business is really picking up speed.
Guests arrive for pranzo from Marin County, north of San Francisco, California. They have introduced themselves by email and are friends of friends. Leslie and Rosella have been friends for years, since their meeting when Rosella flew from her home in Assisi, to take a rafting trip on the Colorado River. Roy and Leslie share stories of their earlier lives, while Rosella and I form an immediate unspoken bond.
We're out in the lavender garden facing San Rocco. Rosella asks us the name of the little church, and yes we're interested in acquiring it after all. What is the name of the church? The moment she hears San Rocco, a smile warms up her lovely face. She can't wait to tell us about this everyman's saint, a saint we know as the patron of incurable diseases.
Well, we know the story about San Rocco. He became a saint during the Middle Ages. Born in Southern France, he walked to Rome on a pilgrimage. On the way back, he caught the plague somewhere near Piacenza. Laying near death, his little white dog stole bread from a wealthy neighbor, and licked his wounds until he was cured....But what was the name of the dog?
Rosella is a tour guide in the area of Umbria around Assisi. Every subject conjures up a story, and this art historian has plenty of stories to share. A tour with Rosella is certainly one to take in while traveling around Assisi, the place of her birth.
Today we have a little feast, and I've fixed some of my latest favorites. But there is not much time to dawdle. Earlier Roy took them to the Soriano property, but it will take too much work. Leslie is here on a mission to find the perfect house to share with possibly another couple. She is not sure how many people will actually plunk down the cash to join in a kind of partnership, but thinks it will be at least two couples.
After pranzo, Leslie leaves us information on a huge vineyard and home for sale in nearby Castiglione in Teverina. A friend's family needs to sell it, and we'll put on our hunters hats and scope it out. Thanks very much, Leslie. This sounds like a great adventure. We'll meet the friend soon when we're back in San Francisco. In the meantime, we'll find a way to see the property and take photos.
It's time to lead Leslie and Rosella to Deidre's. Each time we love her house more. This five hundred year old house is ready to move into, and after a tour Deidre shares information about the village, the stores, and yes, there is another English speaking woman in the village who is a good friend. Leslie leaves with plenty to think about. It's possible for two couples to share this house and maintain their own privacy.
They leave to return to Rosella's in Assisi, and we're hugging all around and then leaving to meet with Deidre's friend Ruth in a nearby village, Collicello, on the far outskirts of Amelia.
I am taken aback by how much I love Ruth's property. Roy tells people that finding the right property in Italy is a soulful experience. When standing at a doorway of a house that is to be yours, there is a pulling, an arms wide hug from the spirits of the house, who hold you in their embrace and won't let go until you surrender to their calling, calling...
Right inside a deep green painted door under an archway, my eyes are drawn to a sprawling rose huddled against a wall. Could it be my lovely Lady Hillingdon?
"Yes," Ruth confirms, and we can see a few blossoms refusing to recognize that it's way past the time of year when sun coaxes the branches into giving out one last burst.
We all agree to join forces to market her property, which is now listed on our site and described in more detail. But lets talk about the garden and the roses: Cecile Bruner, Graham Stewart, Abraham Darby, Rosa Banksea Lutea...Yum! Don't forget the olive and fig and pear and apple and walnut trees on two terraced gardens of 2,000 meters. A view so lovely I have trouble concentrating.
But lets talk about the history of this delicious property...
As ancient as Deidre's wonderful house is, this one is 100 years older! Built in the 1400's on the defensive wall between Amelia and Todi in the village of Collicello, this tower and fortress surprises us with lots of light from almost every room. Technically, the village is on the outskirts of Amelia. But listen to the story of a nearby villain!
After the tower was built, a nearby landowner built his reputation and his pirate bounty by kidnapping people and demanding ransom for their return. After years and years of this cruel stranglehold of the area, the son of a widow in nearby Montecastrilli was kidnapped.
A specific amount of ransom was demanded of the widow, and when she could only scrape up half of what was demanded, he returned...one half of her son. The town was outraged. Men banded together and lynched the dastardly bloke to put an end to it.
So what's this to do with little Collicello? Nothing, but Ruth tells us the story over tea in her big kitchen in front of two big logs, burning and spitting in the fireplace behind us as if a nearby ghost wants to tell us more stories. The English certainly know how to brew a fine pot of tea!
Yes, Ruth signs up with us, and this is another property that can be purchased by two couples or two families. Why is she selling? Her husband died two years ago, and it is a lot to keep up. A few weeks ago, she had trouble getting out of bed, and her children who live in Rome want her to be closer to them in the event she needs special care.
So she'll look for a little apartment in Rome once this has been sold. She's sad to think about leaving this extraordinary home, and we can see why.
We leave her and I dream about the little terraced land, just enough to have a lovely garden. What lovely properties we have to share with friends who want to live the Italian dream!
We are sure we have been transported to an English moor, the fog is so consistent each morning this late Fall. Wendy tells me that it's because there was so much rain in September that the earth is full of moisture. So why is it so foggy here, and not on higher elevations? During past years, the fog was not so persistent. Thankfully, it clears up by late morning each day.
On this morning, we have a short client meeting and then pick Dan and Wendy up at the Attigliano train station for a big adventure. It is so good to see our new friends again.
We take out a bag of apples, plunked yesterday from their bed of soft grass below a client's neglected tree, and share them around. These apples are from a very old tree, and we'd love to have a graft. The apples are lovely and small and tart. A vivid yellowy green turns peachy and then rosey and then dark rose in color. Each apple is a painting, the peach tone of the rose a color I've never seen before on such a fruit.
It is as if I'm biting into a perfumed orb, the juices inside my mouth exploding as the tastes meld and my teeth bite down again into the crunchy pulpy whiter than white textury substance that is at the apple's essence. My mouth is like a little ocean, churning and chopping and swallowing up the sweet sacrifice before it disappears down down down...
How long have these apples remained on the ground? One day, a few hours? How would they have tasted plucked right from the tree? The last time we tasted them right from the tree they surely were tart and delectable. But was the taste more remarkable then? My taste buds are busy fantasizing their current feast, with no memory going back more than a few minutes. It is as if there's never been a taste of an apple quite like this one before.
Such is the simple joy of one exquisite moment, and I'm drunk with the wonder of it all. I'm slinking down in my seat, my head on the backrest, my eyes closed. Around me are all noises and sounds but I've drowned them out. I open my eyes, and the little seeds stare back at me from the scrawny little core held up by three fingers and a thumb. And then I'm transported back and we're entering the toll booth of the A-l. I pop the core into a plastic bag and look out the window at the moving landscape.
Today, we drive our friends North on the A-1, turn off at Bettole and drive past Cortona over to Northern Umbria and on to Dan and Wendy's property just outside Niccone. They know full well that the area they have chosen to live in will often be foggy, cold in the winter, there will be lots of snow, but they're hearty folk and love the property just the same. On the road approaching the village, Dan tells us, "There is a left just past the sign and I think it's this one... Oh, it's that one...Yes, this looks familiar." Up and up and up Roy drives, with Dan as navigator in the front seat. Sofi rides shotgun with her paws on the middle armrest between the two men, her little back legs resting firmly against the base of the back seat on top of her special cushion.
On this warm clear day, the property and surrounding countryside are magazine spread beautiful. Wendy exclaims, "I've never seen the property unless it's been in a fog!"
We're reminded of our friends Pat and Dick Ryerson, who purchased their property outside Montefalco late one fall day just before dusk. They could not remember much about the house, and so we drove up and took photos everywhere for them. Once we returned to California and showed them the photos, we heard Pat exclaim, "I didn't know we had THAT!..Wow!...We have THAT! ...And THAT? A balcony outside our bedroom window?"
We can see why Dan and Wendy love this property. There are a number of advantages to buying a bi-familiare property. That is a property where another owner owns a part of the same building. It is as though there are two ancient stone houses built side by side with one wall in common, a "townhouse". On this land, there are several properties, and several owners. Each set of owners has their own distinct terrace or garden or olive trees, or all of the above.
So what do I think are the advantages of this kind of ownership? In this case, one neighbor lives there year 'round, and is available to look out for the other properties. If neighbors speak the same language, and in this case at least three owners speak English, so much the better.
"Do you have a spare flashlight? Can I borrow a few eggs? Did your power just go off?" There are many little things that come up when neighbors are close by. It's fun to have some shared experiences, and help to introduce neighbors to the local produce market, restaurants, local gossip, etc.
The owner of the other side of the same building has an extraordinary lawn, so precise it appears to be an apt description of a property below, called Prato Verde. I have no idea why anyone would name their property Green Lawn, but then there are many things I don't understand about the Italian way of life.
I just try to slip these things on like new little shoes, hoping that they will fit. If I wear them for a while and get used to them, I hope that they will be so comfortable that I will forget I have them on at all. They will hopefully become a part of my consciousness, and with layers and layers and layers of these customs or modo de dire (figures of speech) I expect that one fine day I will feel I've always lived here. Speriamo!
Yesterday, Rosella spoke with me about the variety of cooking in different regions and even cities and towns across this country. She felt that there is no such thing as a narrow palate, expressing that the food cooked in Milan is ever so different from food cooked in, let's say, Rome. I told her that everywhere in Italy the ingredients are almost always the same, and her eyes glazed over.
In this part of Umbria, Dan and Wendy will learn about new cooking methods, new ways to fix traditional Italian dishes, and I'm sure will come up with twists and turns to turn the traditional Italian palate on its ear. What fun they will have, and what fun we will have experiencing cooking adventures with them. Already I'm dreaming of baking fresh bread in their bread oven.
So back at Dan and Wendy's, it's almost 1PM and we're hungry, so we leave the doors open and close the gate, driving down to Locanda di Nonna Gelsa in Niccone and park at the lot next to the building.
Inside we're welcomed by a dark haired lovely young Chiara, and find a table in the corner, where Dan and I can sit against the wall and watch the goings on while Wendy and Roy have their backs to the room. I never sit with my back to the room. I have no idea why I have such a fear, and tell waiters often that I was a gangster in a former life. Could there be any other explanation?
Later, Wendy fills us in on the gossip that our waitress is pregnant by the cook, but that is fine, because the restaurant is owned by her mother... They will get married next month. The baby is due at the end of March.
Dan and Wendy ate at this restaurant just once, and already they are picking up splashes of local color.
I order a specialty "alla Nonna" and change my mind, telling Chiara not to tell Nonna that I don't want her dish after all. Roy fantasizes that Nonna stands at attention in the kitchen wearing one of those silly little paper caps, waiting until someone orders her special dish. If someone later changes his or her mind she is crestfallen.
Pasta for me is fresh and buttery soft and tender, the simple tomato and basil sauce a perfectly light first course. Others have ravioli or fat tortollini wrapped around plump local porchini. Then there are slim almost transparent slices of pork in an apple sauce that tastes of balsamico. And the vegetable I order is cavalfiore. Roy stares at me in amazement. We now grow cauliflower, and I want to learn how to fix it in wonderful new ways. This is steamed and mixed with peperoncino and fresh olive oil. It is simple and a tasty change from the usual vegetable fare.
Others eat rabbit and pork and lamb chops. Roy changes his order after watching a man bring a little plate of stacked and succulent roasted tiny lamb chops to a table in a side room across from us. A trio of older women pick the chops apart with their fingers, sliding the bones into their mouths and pulling off the meat. We're also served artichokes, a simple artichoke on a plate, its crown face down and its tail shooting straight up several inches or more. The choke appears steamed and elegant in its presentation without any adornment.
A couple of desserts follow of buca di neve (hole of snow) in chocolate, which look like piles of dirty snow but taste like crunchy egg whites frothed and sprinkled with cocoa powder and espressos are served all around. We now drink espresso after pranzo at a restaurant, and find that there is so little caffeine that it does not keep us up at night as I so often feared.
It's getting late, it's almost 4PM, so we pay the bill and drive up the hill again, to take photos at their property for an hour and share ideas. A large German Shepherd clamors to get in and once he sniffs at Sofi she'll have none of him.She jumps right at him and squeals loudly. He cowers under the car. We're all taken aback, so pick her up and keep him outside of the gate.
There's a place for a splash pool on the property, and we tell them about one we've seen at a client's and we'll find out more about it and take pictures for them. The spot will face the sunset and we can see them sitting there with their glasses of Prosecco on a warm summer evening, the sky turning pink and lavender before the sun hides from view.
The property has many great features, and when I ask Wendy where she sees herself, it is in the living room, surrounded by tall stone walls and a lovely round hearth.
We drive back home through nearby Umbertide, and it really does not take long at all to return to Orte, where we say goodbye to our friends at the train station. We'll see them in a few weeks in California.
There is still time to have a short meeting with a client, and then we settle in at home, where Sofi can't wait to get into her little bed and drop off to dreamland.
We confirm tomorrow's appointments, including a cocktail party with Frank and Candace late in the day in Orvieto and a music concert, the first of the holiday season.
Earlier tomorrow we'll meet with two more clients and view one more property, one we think will be a fabulously neglected old estate in a nearby hill town. We've looked in through the old iron gate and wondered what lurked inside. Tomorrow we'll find out...
Better get some sleep...
Well, we forgot all about dear San Martino, the patron saint of the vendemmia. Yesterday, in addition to being Veterans Day in the US, was the day when the all the locals take their first taste of this year's wine. Usually it is not very good, but we're sorry we were not in Mugnano for much of the day to see what the annual fuss is all about.
This morning I'm awake before dawn, but then the fog creates a kind of daylight, obscuring even the dark of night. Isn't that a strange phenomenon that night becomes day when moisture in the air is thick as thieves? Hmm. Thick as thieves. I'm conjuring up the men (?) who robbed us some years ago huddled together in the mist, as if leaning against a light pole. They are like the umbrellas we saw last Sunday, holding each other up at the back of the church while rain poured down outside the door. Who says you can't dream while you're awake?
I love this early morning awake time, walking out with Sofi to the terrace and the lavender garden. On these days the cachi (persimmon) trees are the focus of everyone's attention. The leaves are the broad shapes of Sofi's long ears, turned colors of the harvest, rich and bursting with a last gasp of passion before they drop and lie curled up like croissants on the hard gravel below. Hurry, hurry they call out. Look up, look up.
Today we drive to the nearby town where Daniele cuts our hair. Sipicciano is famous for the café in the square where the homemade ice cream competes with the finest shops in Rome. It is also the home of one fabulous estate, apparently all but forgotten on the high mesa just above the village.
In the fog, we'll get to see what is behind those high walls and ancient cypress trees. I can just taste the air of the garden, formal and Italianate, my very favorite style of garden. We hope to add this to our list of properties on our web site.
Donatella stands near the caduti monument waiting for us, but there is time for caffé before we look. We can only see the estate from the outside today, but we'll see inside next time, when someone arrives with the keys. Today we learn that Donatella wants to sell her apartment, so we take a look and it is just wonderful, situated on four floors with two grand fireplaces. We have photos of it on the site. Take a look!
Next, she takes us to a little pied-a-terre owned by a friend of hers, who also wants to sell. It is a perfect apartment for a person or couple wanting a weekend getaway. We'll have those photos soon as well.
Duccio wants us to visit him this weekend to see his new robot, a contraption that cleans the house. We've not enough time today, and thought he'd not be in town this weekend, but we'll surely see it soon. Wonder if it will have a name.
We tell Donatella that we'll return this afternoon to take photos, and drive on to meet three people who arrive from Rome to look at one of our properties. It is a lovely day in Umbria, and the property shows well. The woman paints porcelain, so I wonder if they'll become neighbors. It would be interesting to have a friend nearby to share ceramic painting ideas with.
They drive off to Rome, and we return home for pranzo and a rest, before driving to Orvieto to a cocktail party and then a concert. I hope to sneak in a dolce fa niente while Roy is gone before tonight's events...
But it is not to be. Soon we're driving off to Orvieto to meet with Franco and Candida. It is very cold when we leave, so we're wearing our cold weather coats. It is a good thing. When the weather turns cold, the dark streets of Oriveto surround the cold air, and we feel the cold to our very bones.
There are two ways to walk to the cocktail party before the concert, and Candida suggest we take the walk around the wall of the city. Looking down, we are able to see a swan carved in marble on one side of the Porta Romana. It appears the swan is cuddling a young one. On the other side of the gate, an eagle stands proudly. What is the story? Candida does not know, but we ask her to find out.
There are many churches in Orvieto, and a number of them have become deconsecrated. But one little one that has not is Santa Maria delle Neve, and they take us inside for a look. The neighborhood "adopted" this little church, and made the restoration possible. The Madonna is taken for a walk once a year, and we'll be sure to attend. It is a sweet story of a neighborhood that truly treasures its customs.
At the apartment of our host and hostess for the party, we meet John and Susie. Susie is a newly ordained Episcopal Minister, and the Bishop of the Orvieto parish gave her a little deconsecrated chapel where she holds her services on Sunday mornings. We agree to attend one, hopefully before the end of the year.
John runs a school of Renaissance Art study, connected with Gordon College in Massachusetts. The fall semester will be over on December 17th, so we'll plan to get together with them around the holidays.
One subject we speak about is the garden that needs to be designed and planted. I talk with him about my San Francisco Chronicle article, and of how he could have a formal Italianate garden in keeping with the important stone buildings, and an easy to maintain design. I'm not really interested in taking it on as a project, but offer to give him advice.
A well-known landscape designer from Seattle has just seen the garden and offered to design it Pro Bono. Perhaps I can act as another set of eyes. My interest is in preserving local culture and tradition and design, and not in bringing outside designs in to change the character of the place.
I ask John who will be responsible for the upkeep of the garden, and he tells me it will be the students. This is one more reason to put in a simple garden with gravel and boxwood and a few roses. But we're on to other topics, including the Etruscans, and we'll bring Tiziano with us for a visit sometime. He'd really appreciate looking around some of the important buildings.
But it's time for the concert in the Duomo, so we all walk down the dark meandering streets. Candace has chosen our path wisely, for we arrive at the square facing the Duomo, and the big doors are wide open, facing us. The image is breathtaking. For the first time, we can see all the way to the back of the Duomo from the edge of the square. Young people dressed in black hand out programs, and the program consists of Brahms Requiem, with two chorales, including St. Paul's in Rome and one German group.
We are ten minutes early, and the seats are pretty full, so we sit in the back row. I am worried, because there are spotlights from the very peaks of the ceiling, as well as very bright lights on at least a dozen sconces hanging high overhead. I have very sensitive eyes when it comes to lightbulbs, especially naked ones, and lights aimed from heights high above me are a recipe for disaster.
I take a couple of the programs, and hold them like a bill of a baseball cap in front of my forehead. I am able to block out a lot of the bright lights, and so for the next half hour I'm able to take in the Requiem as well as the extraordinary frescoes and paintings on the inside of the Duomo. After that, I just succumb to the discomfort and close my eyes to listen to the music.
After the concert ends, Roy asks a sound person behind him why there were speakers. He thinks that the sound suffered and that listening to the concert without speakers would have improved the sound. The sound man, however, tells him that the reason for the sound system is to protect the sound. He tells Roy that the Duomo is so big that unmodulated sound is just lost. And of course it is a gig, so we understand.
We meet Ava, a neighbor living in Orvieto from Sweden, and five of us walk to a little spot near Frank and Candida's, a wine bar with some food. Guanciale (pork cheeks) is on the menu, and when it is good it is extraordinary, So three of us order it, although I'm not hungry.
Let's just say I would not order it again there, especially at night. We don't eat at night, and later I want to boink myself on the head. I cannot sleep, and turn and twist and ask myself why I punished myself in this way.
We drive home under a cold moon. Tonight feels like a festive occasion during the Christmas holidays, and so we huddle under our warm coats and welcome the season ahead.
We are resigned to the fog, and walk up to church in the midst of it, wearing our winter coats and entering the little church with our neighbors. Felice is there without Marsiglia. The cold chills her and we send our good wishes.
"PresenteRO!" Felice answers. He will give her our best wishes.
Before the mass, a neighbor tells us that in Bomarzo it is "un altra mondo" (another world), without fog. And it takes until noon for the fog to clear.
We have a fire this morning, and soon after the fire is laid, Paola comes for coffe and brings Ubik, her little dog. Ubik and Sofi tolerate each other, and in our kitchen we are able to speak more with Paola about the construction of her little house in the borgo and also about the traditions of the village.
After church, Tiziano told me about my entrance into Cattolica Accion, and I thought after all this time they just decided they did not want me. But that is not the case, and I am to attend an event on December 10th. He tells me he'll call me from home with the details.
But he calls to say there is a meeting today at 3:30 PM, so of course we will attend, and it is at the same place where Roy had his Confraternity dinner a few weeks ago.
We speak with Paola about the children in the village, Babbo Natale's list of children to remember this year, and she helps us to figure out a few of the children who we don't really know.
Paola was born in Mugnano. Her father had to walk part way to go to school in Bomarzo, and I think Paola probably took the school bus to Bomarzo, just as Federico and Salvatore and the others do.
Roy asks her what Mugnano will be like in twenty years, and she shrugs her head. There are not many children, there is no place for them to really play. When I ask her what children did twenty years ago, she responds that times were different then, and she is right.
So I'm thinking...I know the little children like to make a lot of noise. And I think it would be wonderful if there would be someone to teach them the bandiera, the flag throwing. With flag throwers are also drummers, and although Mauro thought this was a good idea when I suggested it to him at the Mugnano pranzo on the 1st, he does not know of anyone who can teach it. We will see if we can find someone who will know how to do this.
When we tell her about our new business, she knows of a little house for us to list, and makes a call. We'll see the house on Tuesday morning. It is near Amelia, in a little borgo. There are at least two bedrooms, a garden, and the price should be reasonable. Sounds great!
She leaves and I get cooking. We have guests tomorrow and I have to squeeze in the cooking. Today and tomorrow morning are pretty booked. But we agree to take her and Tiziano to Tonino's restaurant tonight in Viterbo. What was it that I said to myself last night about eating at night?
It is about smelling the roses, taking in the local character of a place, appreciating our surroundings. Somehow we'll fit everything in.
We have a quick pranzo of porchetta and broccoli in olive oil and pepperoncino, quite tasty. Then it's on to my meeting...
Roy kindly agrees to attend with me, and the spot is the same place where years ago we met with Don Luca, walking into a frenzy of teenagers running around. A memorable sign is absent. It said something like, "Don't sit on a seat that is already taken." We think this means, "Do not sit on anyone's lap." It struck us as very funny at the time, and we still think it's funny.
There are not many cars around, but when we enter, the room is almost full of people sitting around a large table. There must be thirty people! Sonia and her husband, Domenico, greet us warmly. Are we wearing headdresses that shout out, "Mugnano!" How do they know it's us?
The one and one half hour meeting consists of various readings from a two sided sheet of paper. The subjects are religious in nature, and at first a number of women act as though the conversation is only between two people. After awhile, they settle down, and people around the room start to share their opinions.
We understand "poco" but it is a good exercise. Just before the end of the meeting, they ask us what we think. We are the only people there from Mugnano. Roy tells them we understand a little but know it's important to participate.
Domenico then tells us that the next meeting will be conducted solely in English, and a collective gasp is heard from the room. I respond, "Mai!" (never), telling them that English is not so important. The women seem to settle down a little.
We pay our (my) annual dues of €21, and leave, but not before two women come up specifically to greet me. I have seen one at Dottoressa's office in Bomarzo. The other is a friend of Rosita's.
Roy and I both feel somewhat overwhelmed by these church experiences, but know how important they are. By next year, I hope to understand quite a bit more. Each day the door to understanding the language opens up another crack. Just a crack.
At nine we're waiting on a side road for a new Mario, who will meet us to take us to Dave Stewart's family property in Castiglione in Teverina. The house is right out of a Fellini movie set. It is way over the top, in a humorous kind of way.
When we enter the property, the entire cement wall of one building is covered with a painting of the late owner's crest. It has two birds (lovebirds) below a castle, and the word Palombara is painted in huge letters. But there is something obviously missing. It is the "m" in Palombara. Palomba is the Italian word for dove, and whoever did the painting neglected to add the "m", turning the wall into something very kitsch.
We're taken around the property, which consists of 43 acres of grapes, several buildings and outbuildings. Railroad tracks run right through the property, which is a real problem, but Mario assures us that the trains go by very quickly, so we shouldn't be concerned. When we stand in the vineyard, however, a local train zooms by and we have to stop our conversation until it has safely passed.
We will meet with Dave next week to talk about the possible property and the challenges. In the meantime, we say goodbye, and rush on to Castiglione in Teverina to our favorite panificio. We want to pick up a loaf of bread for our pranzo in a few hours with John and Betsey Cutler.
It is only on the way home that I remember that John and Betsey did not want to come for pranzo. They specifically told us that they wanted to take us out for pranzo. But how can we show friends the Italian Experience while eating at a restaurant?
I cooked most of the meal yesterday in between meetings, and this morning, put the finishing touches on things while Roy picks them up at the Orte train station.
It is so good to see John and Betsey. The hours just fly by. They tell us about their project buying a house and land in Ireland and we share stories with them about Italia. It is really fun.
But just after we have coffee and chocolate cake, we tell them we have someplace to take them. Today is Tiziano's first day as Capo of his archaeological dig, and we drive them down, down, down to the field to see what's going on. Armed with more than half of a chocolate torta for Tiziano and his "slaves", I hold Sofi in my arms and we walk through the grasses and rocks to the site.
A man in a backhoe as well as three workers clear specific rows of dirt and rubble. Already, a number of tiles with stamps have been found, and this crew is an experience professional crew trained at archeological excavations. So they make a great deal of headway and on the first day have uncovered an important wall. The wall is red, signifying that it was a a part of a clay oven. So Tiziano is thrilled.
We are told to walk to a path to see an ancient wall, but I stay and talk with Tiziano while the others take a look. Then we drive back home and walk up to the borgo, where John and Betsey get to meet almost a third of the village. Many people are out, and we introduce them to a number of our neighbors. It is fun.
We take our friends to the train in Attigliano, and make plans to call them when we're back in the Bay Area soon. We feel as if we're on a roller coaster, but with a number of meetings still to go, we need to stay on the ride a little longer...
Today is the second day without fog, but it looks as though it will rain. There is evidence that we had some rain last night, but nothing significant. Mario arrives to clear land to plant fava beans, and Roy takes me to Daniele to get my hair done.
We speak about Sipicciano and a wonderful ancient town house we have listed in the borgo. But I tell him Sipicciano is always sporco (dirty). The town has the finest gelato, the best macelleria (butcher), the best parucchiere (hairdresser) around. But the people don't take care of the streets.
He agrees, telling me that the townspeople, and now the Mayor, are ready to shake things up. This weekend there will be a town meeting, and we expect a lot of shouting, to get the place cleaned up. He tells me that the town workers are pigro (lazy), leaning on their brooms while they stuff their pockets with money. He hands me a flyer, announcing the meeting, and I can't wait to get home and translate it. Stay tuned for what happens...
While I'm sitting around waiting for my hair to be transformed, Roy picks up more fava beans for Mario and he finishes in just a couple of hours. "It would take another man five hours!" Mario boasts. And Roy replies, "And it would take me a day and a half." Mario works fast and steady. He is like a locomotive.
He also plants sixty of the Narcissus bulbs around three trees in the far property. I'll plant the rest of them myself in the next days. With a full moon tonight, it's ideal planting time. It's also olive picking time, and Daniele tells me he'll only keep the shop open this morning. The family has 140 olive trees, and he'll pick this afternoon.
But the weather is not good. It starts to rain, and by the time we come home for pranzo, it starts to thunder and then to rain. And then it rains some more.
I sit on the sofa in the kitchen just after pranzo and watch the leaves on the persimmon tree gently fall to the terrace. It is raining, raining. For miles around on these mild fall days, the persimmon trees are bare, with copper colored orbs hanging as if they are decorating a holiday tree. Somehow our trees have not lost many of their leaves...until today.
In the space of about five minutes, the rain falls and the leaves gently follow. There must be hundreds of them. At first glance, the view outside the window is of a tree covered with thousands of leaves. But after awhile, a whole section of the tree in my view is bare. Now that Roy has "de-nuded" the tree, there are no orbs to catch my eye.
We have moved from fall to winter in the space of a few minutes. And I find myself switching into a different gear, perhaps holding myself in closer, keeping my body tenser, choosing to revert into myself to stave out the cold instead of open my arms wide to let warm air in.
We drive to Orte for my free mammogram, and the man who examines me is...William! I ask him his name and he takes in a deep breath and lets it all out at once, as if presenting an oratory. "William!" he tells me. "Ah, Guillermo. Bravo. Grazie, Guillermo." And so it is that my exam is done and I wait until he is sure the images are clear.
While I wait, he ushers in a big jolly grey haired woman in a mannish haircut. She holds the lapels of her jacket together with one hand, and nestles her purse with the other in her lap. He asks the same questions he asked me: When were you born? What is your address? What is your telephone number? How much schooling did you have? Have your mother or any grandmother had breast cancer?
The woman laughs at every question. She remembers her age, but can only laugh when he asks her how much schooling she has had. She lives in Vallerano, but is clearly a country woman. When asked her phone number, she laughs again, saying that her phone is "roto". Perhaps she is nervous. I hope she fared well with Guillermo. All I know is that he cleared me to leave and I walk out in the rain to meet a waiting Roy and Sofi.
We are to meet Patricia at her palazzo for tea, and catch up on her various properties. She compliments us on the number of properties we list, and we speak about a few that we are working on together. We'll see a new property with her after we return.
At home, Domenico comes for a short visit and then we take him to meet another client, so that he can get some developmental questions answered. We expect some movement on a wonderful property in a few weeks. He brings the plate I painted for him. I've asked to borrow it for our U S trip. Without enough time to do much painting, we'll at least be able to show it around to a couple of shops.
The skies are angry. It is dark all around, yet flashes of thunder and lightening turn the skies a dishwater grey, with bright flashes in all directions. We arrive back home to intermittent power. And Roy tells me he's going to get an attachment for his new cell phone, so that we can connect to the internet without a land line. That seems like a good idea.
The days wind down until our trip, and Angie confirms the dates she will be here with Sofi. We look forward to the plane trip, when we'll be able to rest. Until then, we'll catch up on the prescriptions we need to pick up, start to pack, and put things in order. With Angie here all the time while we're gone, we're confident that the house will be safe and Sofi will have a great companion.
We're looking forward to seeing friends and spending time with our family. It will be interesting to see how little we purchase this trip, as a kind of validation that we're self sufficient here in our little paradise.
Roy wonders about the bulbs planted today. In all the rain, will they be washed away? We'll take a look tomorrow morning before we leave for Roy's doctor's appointment in Perugia.
During the night, a storm so violent rocked little Mugnano that Sofi whimpered under the bed and Roy and I held on as if we were sitting on a little boat knocked about on a raging sea. Yesterday the cachi trees were full of leaves. This morning they are bereft of all but the fruit, the leaves soft and soggy on the terrace and the grass below.
At two A M, I get out of bed to see what the clatter is all about. Through the partly closed shutters, flashes of lightning continue to strike all around us. The streetlight from the little street above shines on the nespola tree right outside our room, but when I look at it in the dark I am sure it is full of icy snow. I prompt Roy out of bed to look, but he tells me it is merely a reflection of the light from above and hops back up into bed.
We wake to no phone line, but the power is intact. So we drive off to Perugia for a medical appointment for Roy, one that takes no time at all.
We stop in DeRuta for pranzo at a Tavola Calda, and to pick up a plate or two to paint. Then it's on to class, where I paint a bishop's plate with a stema (family crest) for Don Francis and also a plate for a friend with her dog framed by a circle of olives.
Ivana hugs me a goodbye. She's moving to Bergamo and I am truly sorry. I would have enjoyed getting to know this wonderful painter.
We arrive home to a dead telephone line. There was a great deal of rain while we were gone, witnessed by the Mugnano fields covered with water so high they appear like lakes. But we still have power. Roy calls around, and everyone he calls has their phone service. It appears our phone is "roto". Perhaps the phone was zapped by lightening. We'll have to pick up another tomorrow.
We're blessed with no fog this morning, and a beautiful fall sky, reminiscent of New England. I remember my mother singing "That old buttermilk sky" and yes, the clouds look like buttermilk, thick and lumpy with purple shadows cast from the sun.
We're off to the Orvieto market, and to buy a phone, then expect to plant the remainder of the bulbs, eighty or so, half of them narcissus.
But first, we drive to Attigliano to stop at the bank, and since Thursday is market day in Attigliano, Sofi and I take a walk to see what's up. Amazingly, a woman is selling the skirts I've been trying to find in Rome, and for 2 Euro less! I pick up a black one, and now we won't have to drive up to Orvieto.
Instead, we drive to Viterbo, to pick up a telephone and shampoo. Daniele tells us about a wholesale place. I think he feels guilty because he never has any to sell me when I'm there. We drive around and around the industrial section of Viterbo and stop at a bar.
After cups of delicious "caffé normale" (espresso), we ask for the shop and the owner helps us with a map. The negozio is right around the corner in an industrial building. But they will not sell to me until we call Daniele and he convinces them to sell the shampoo to us at retail prices.
We find a phone at Le Clerk, one of the huge food and houseware and clothing emporiums that also have little shops at either end. And later in the day we hear that last night's storm felled huge trees in Rome and also Terni. It is a good thing we have not been listening to the news, or we might even be worried...
On the way home, the road up to Mugnano is quite muddy, with murky water sitting on top of the plowed fields like a hen sitting squatty on a nest.
Felice rings the bell to make sure he gives us good wishes for our trip. We walk around and show him Mario's work planting the fave beans, and he appears itchy to do something. He tells us he'll be back tomorrow or the next day to rake the beautiful red leaves of the cachi trees.
I like having something easy for him to do. Without a campo of his own any more, he likes to have a place to go, something to do to make him feel needed. We'd love to have him every day, even if just to come and sit.
Roy is not bending down these days, with his right leg bothering him. So I agree to plant the hundred or so bulbs we have left to plant. Mario planted the first sixty the other day. The moon is full, so there's not time to waste.
The earth talks back to me when I dig down with my scoop and planting prod, telling me it's hungry for my plantings. A dozen or so rim the cherry tree, and rows of them border Lulu's bench.
I've taken out this year's basil, and planted tiny bulbs in their place. Here and there, plantings of narcissus and tiny white and colored blossoms will burst with the beginnings of spring. I ready the soil, place the little bulbs face up in the ground, and Roy follows me with big sacks of earth to fill them in.
He checked around the olive and apple trees where Mario planted the other bulbs a few days ago. We wondered if all the rain has washed them away. But they are fine. Roy plants cloves of garlic in the raised bed near the broccoli plants, and we've finished planting for now.
Inside, I begin the holiday process of making steamed persimmon puddings and freezing them for guests and for holiday dinners. Before the day is through, I've made seven of them. The tree is so full that a few of the branches look ready to collapse from the weight.
I only need six of them to make my puddings, but don't want to wait. The next time I'll be able to cook will be the first week in December, so perhaps the fruit will have all fallen by then. I hope not.
Tomorrow very early we'll leave for the airport, and fly off to San Francisco for our annual visit to see our family for Thanksgiving. "Tacchini repieno!" Roy tells the people that we meet. Stuffed turkey. I don't think I've ever seen a stuffed turkey in Italy, although turkey is a very popular thing to cook, mostly sliced before it is prepared.
Angie Good arrives just after 5PM, and the cries from Sofi are profound. She loves Angie, and no wonder. Angie loves her right back. The two of them snuggling together on the sofa give me joy, especially since we want Sofi to be loved while we are gone on our short visit to the U S.
I picked five or six ripe cachi this afternoon, and seven steamed puddings are now in the freezer, ready for holiday presents and desserts. I am not sure that there will be more left on the tree when we return. But if there are, we have plenty of supplies to make more.
A call from a new client in England tonight, very interested in one of our properties. So we call around to set the stage for a viewing just after we return. It is a lovely house, and in move-in condition. We are all hopeful.
Angie settles in and Sofi does not seem all that worried. We get ready to go to bed for a few hours before leaving for the airport and our flight to San Francisco. I pulled a muscle in my lower back a few hours earlier, but am otherwise pretty calm. We pack light, and hope that our trip will be uneventful.
We wake after only a few hours, leaving at 3:30 AM for Leonardo DaVinci Airport. Roy drops me off with the luggage, and as I wait for him, I focus on a pack of travelers, groggy from an all too familiar lack of sleep.
Like penguins they move, leaning forward all at the same angle, holding the straps of their suitcases, faces forward, arms, behind them. Group by group they proceed, with the Japanese mostly in grey, the Midwesterners wearing red and black windbreakers. The scene is a New Yorker cartoon.
The boarding is uneventful, and we are air-bound right on time. Bravo, Alitalia! When in Paris, we'll transfer to an Air France airbus. Once we reach the outskirts of Paris, the view outside the window is one of gunmetal grey buttons on a broad canvas.
All around, purpley brown shapes and shadows stretch across the landscape, like pieces of a puzzle randomly scattered. The plane is a dot on the blue sky soaring over layers of cappuccino foam, broken here and there by craggy mountain tops. Earlier, "To your left, you can see Mount Blanc."
On the back of the seat in front of us we are warned, "Giubbotto salvagente sottola poltrona!" (life vest under front seat.)All too soon we'll leave any vestige of the Italian culture behind. Again outside my window, a brown wooly poodle dog shape appears thrown across the soft grey-green landscape, lying on its side in a wild state. Dirty cotton balls plopped over tops of one another face us as we come closer and then...We slide right through their midst as if eating our way through cotton candy...
We're cutting through steam from a tea kettle and we're surrounded. A clear sky appears in the far distance and then we're greeted by green fields and little towns with pointed roofs.
The brown earth is more of a pinky French shade, a mustardy clay and yellowy-green bosco with long shadows stretching the lines of trees and planted and manicured "just so". A solitary car passes by, and then we pass rows and rows of cypresses, the picture a chenille bedspread. All this just before we land on Flight 84 from Rome to Paris.
On the menu, apricot fig chutney with duck foie gras. We are certainly on a French flight...
The flight is uneventful, and we stop at Michelle's, then drive out to Martinez for our first visit with Terence and Angie and the twins.
I'm afraid the twins won't like me. I sit against the wall, my shoeless feet stretched out in front of me, and then Nicole walks over and I give her a sip of my lemonade with ice.
Angie notes that this drink is forbidden, but I am the Nonna and this is my right. We are here to spoil them. Angie nods her head, allowing me this gift. Nicole looks up, knowing it is a stolen secret and, eyes wide, takes a tiny sip, and then another. It is our peace pipe - an acknowledgement, an instant bond. Months later she will tell her mother with authority, "Nonna lets me drink this!"
She is a tiny Iolanda, hair a golden curly carrot mop, baby fine and shiny.
Marissa, ever the big sister, exhibits a grace about here, a daintiness, in the way she holds her tiny fingers, turns her head.
Nicole screams through dinner, but Marissa sits next to her oblivious, happily eating broccoli bits, learning to use a little fork. Nicole is all fists with applesauce in her hands, her fist in her mouth, the applesauce all over her bib. No wonder she is still hungry!
The gifts fly out of the suitcase...tops, pants, socks, a pair of grown up sweaters from Florence, pink shearling boots they scuff along the carpet.
After a few minutes with Michelle, we drive out to the Ferry Building, for a few hours of people watching. Trendy folks are everywhere, and there are exquisite samples of foods to taste. Today is balmy with a clear sky. We eat salads and burritos on a bench next to the pier where the Alamada Ferry arrives.
Just as people seem to look like their dogs, we notice that people who arrive off the ferry from the East Bay have a certain look about them, a look that is different from people from Marin, or even people from San Francisco. Now what does THAT mean?
Morton Beebe and his lovely French wife talk about the authentic mushroom vendor. They visit the Ferry Building at least a few times a week. And for those who live or work nearby, the natural foods and selections of exquisite although pricy foods are ever available.
Perhaps the most telling sign that we are in a consumer-crazed country is found at one of the little food stalls. "Buy happiness here!" is the proudly displayed sign right next to the cash register. That probably says it all about our reason to move...
We drive to Adrian and Jed's for a short visit, and I encourage Jed to keep a sketchbook with him, while I sit and sketch an imaginary chair. I'd like to sketch with him, but we won't have time this trip. His paintings are beautifully and precisely crafted. Jed likes drawing straight angles and lines, and I like flourishes and curves. That's a male/female thing, a painting teacher told me months ago.
Adrian fills us in on what's been happening around the property, and show us a pepper tree in the back yard, once brought in a coffee can from Frank Vail, and now towering above the house.
At Terence and Angie's house, Marissa waddles over to me for a hug and to stay in my arms. Nicole laughs and waves her hands. Marissa puts my shoes on my feet as if to say, "Let's go!" They get zipped up in their shearling jackets and we drive to Concord in their SUV.
Nonno is scrunched up in back where the dogs usually sit, as though it's Hell Night at his fraternity. Later he feels the pain. The girls and I are in the back seat just in front of him, watching Barney on DVD. They are mesmerized.
At the Thai restaurant, everyone wants to watch them. They are captivating, waving to every passer by, Nicole leans her head over the back of her chair, staring at a woman at a nearby table. Bye, bye, Bye, bye. Before we leave, Angie and the girls sit in the front widow, waving to people as they walk by under the neon sign.
Then it's back to Michelle's on Portrero Hill, where we spend the next several days at her town house with a spectacular view of the cityscape and necklace of lights of the Bay Bridge.
I'm awake at 2AM, so I read and sketch and write. I rather like the cushiony chair I sketched while gabbing with Jed. Later in the morning we attend mass with Father Rossi at San Rafael's in San Rafael, and he asks us to hang out for a few minutes to talk.
I love his mass, and even get weepy at the first hymn. "Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God's people on Earth." they sing, and again I choke, the words hanging in my throat. I so miss his masses.
Then we drive to Peggy and Mike's for brunch, and they are so much fun. It is strange that I did not start to paint while we lived in San Rafael. Perhaps it took living here to open up this new vista for me. Peggy is a wonderful artist, and now we talk about what fun it would be to paint together. Again, there is not enough time.
We miss seeing Jess, who will play the Sugarplum Fairy in this year's Nutcracker at Marin Ballet. Where will she go to college next year? We look forward to following her progress.
Mike tells us, "As soon as we got back from your house last time, we put down beige gravel and planted boxwood all around." So Peggy and I walk out with a couple of pairs of shears and I give them a clipping, showing her how easy it is to groom them into rounds.
In the front, we decide to sculpt the boxwood into ovals, and the two older boxwood plants will be clipped in curves, with flat tops. The whole property looks terrific, inside and out. And Peggy thrills me by presenting me with one of her still-life's, a kitchen scene done in oils.
We stop for a few minutes with Gene and Art, and Art gives Roy a copy of his book. We both look forward to reading it. What a triumph this is for Art.
We drive back into San Francisco for dinner with Roy's youngest brother, Christopher and his wife, Patty, at a nearby restaurant. Roy and I have been married for almost 25 years, but in all that time we have never spent time just with the two of them.
I love Patty's Audrey Hepburn haircut, and of course Christopher has plenty to talk about. He wants to know what we think of the new George Clooney movie, for they saw it last night. We're looking forward to seeing it, hopefully tomorrow.
We say goodnight, and we'll see them on Thanksgiving in a few days. And drive back to Michelle's for a short visit before we all go to bed.
A sadness creeps over me before dawn, and it is Jimmy who slips into my consciousness. For the second time in 24 hours, I weep. I do miss that man, someone whose friendship I continue to cherish. Roy will understand my tears, for he loved Jimmy, just as I did, although not in the same way. We'd spend hours together, just talking and talking. And in this last year of his life, a life he was not ready to relinquish, he chided me to press on with my book.
I call the Greenbaums, and tonight we'll visit them to raise a glass to Jimmy. But first, we have a schedule packed with business meetings and friends to see and little things to pickup.
After a quick espresso on Portrero Hill, we meet with a possible new client, one who wants us to sell his family's extensive vineyard and property near us in Castiglione in Teverina. We have a good meeting, agree to speak again before we return to Italy, and then drive to Mill Valley for a meeting with Ann Murphy at her home.
Joe's Taco Lounge is our lunch spot, where we see the "In Memory" photo of Joe and talk about the Friday nights we spent at the Avenue Grill and Joe's chiding.
We can't resist driving up to Marin View, and Mary Janigian is at home, so we spend a short while with her. Then it's back to the city to another former neighborhood, one overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. The weather for our trip has been balmy and clear, with not a spot of fog.
At 4PM, we have a visit with Ernestine Campagnoli, a dear family friend, one who lives on the same block of Larkin where Roy and I lived soon after we were married in 1981, as renters from the man known to us as "Larry Landlord".
We watch the sun setting purple and red and pink and lavender behind that bridge. It's impossible not to think well of the huge structure, a welcome to everyone who passes by, or who even takes a few moments to stare at it.
San Francisco is a city to stare at. We're staying on Portrero Hill at Michelle's gorgeous condominium, an ultra sophisticated city slick pad, complete with balconies to hang out on and the sprawling city-by-the-bay sitting on a platter right smack in our view.
Michelle is a kind and generous hostess, leaving a ripe persimmon, pieces of fruit, special coffees, treats, around in case we want a snack. She knows our schedule is unpredictable, but we steal away time late at night to hang out together, and tomorrow night for sure we'll have dinner together.
We drive out to The Avenues for a drink with Jerry and Janet Greenbaum. We do not know them, but they were best friends of Jim's, and we must raise a glass to him. Wherever we look are touches of Jim's craft. He was their designer, and they were such generous friends and clients that we laugh about the never-ending projects they agreed to take on, projects that usually coincided with Jim's cash flow, or lack thereof.
Jim lived life full out, and these two dear people loved Jim just about as much as any of us. Jim's belt lays curled up like a kitten on a sofa in a den. "I also have his watch," Jerry tells us with a sigh. "Come look at the bar Jim designed," Janet calls out, while Jerry pours each of us a drink.
I lose it. Leaning against a wall, the tears just stream down my cheeks. We consider ourselves blessed to have known him, and to have been called his friends. Roy keeps the conversation going while I quietly work on gaining my composure. We can't stay, although they'd like us to join them for dinner. We'd like to, but there just isn't enough time, and we're really tired.
Instead, we drive back to Michelle's and snack on leftovers, yummy cold poached salmon and a spicy soup. The days slip by, each one full of tasty tidbits of the place we loved and friends we cherish.
Today is Ruby Tuesday! But first, we stop at New York Bagel in Mill Valley for crusty toasted sesame seed bagels with cream cheese and espresso. Sitting on the counter, it seems like old times.
Roy drops me off at Ruby's for my annual consultation. Ruby is my astrologer, a no-nonsense spot-on woman, tinier than me and beautiful, with deep Sienna colored hair and a smile as big as all Marin.
This is to be my year. I can just feel it. For at least five years, I've met with Ruby on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, and she has guided me through the minefields of my life. We both are confident that we are looking at a year filled with creativity and exploration and happiness. With her track record, I have nothing but good things to look forward to.
Can you imagine that the sound of a B L T is magic to us? We stop at a Joe's in Marin for BLT's on sourdough, and then take on the George Clooney movie, Good Night and Good Luck. David Strathhern certainly is Oscar material.
We stop at Pat and Dick Ryerson's to drop off a planting calendar and hugs, but don't have time for a visit. We agree to meet in Montelupo at the Ceramics Festival at the end of June, and drive in to The City, stopping at Whole Foods to pick up cracked crab and crusty bread and other treats.
Michelle greets us and we spend a lovely evening hanging out, with glasses of Sofia, the Blanc de Blanc of Coppola's Monterey bubbly named after his daughter. We take the label, and I'll make a little tray in honor of our little dog, also Sofia.
We hang out for a while, and I fix the potato dish for tomorrow. Once it's ready, we leave to meet Donna Compaglia and Deena Maise at the Ferry Building for lunch. The place to eat is Boule's Larder, and the food is extraordinary. Three of us feast on poached halibut served on cold greens with sliced avocado. We love it. Roy eats a pulled pork sandwich, very tasty. I think the pulled pork is a kind of signature dish for this extraordinary place.
Emeril, who is the head chef and owner, spends a few minutes with me, standing at her kitchen counter. She takes me to task for mentioning Anthony Bourdain, whose Kitchen Confidential We have a lot to catch up on, and Donna gives me lots to think about, including a request for a set of specially designed dinnerware for them, with designs from a piece of Fortuny fabric. Before we return to Italy, we'll see Donna and Al and work out a design. I'll design a test plate first. Creating special signature ceramics for clients, something totally unique, is the direction my ceramics painting is taking, and I am excited by all of it.
After lunch, we drive on to meet with Alex Kalsey, who will work with us to redesign our business web site. We finish our meeting with a list of things for each of us to accomplish, subito!
We love the Kalseys, and enjoy spending the evening with them. Also joining us are Carol and Linda and various Kalsey relatives. Lindsey and Bob fix an incredibly delicious fillet of beef, and lots of vino. Time passes so quickly, and then we drive home, missing them already. I'm asleep almost before we reach home.
Today is the day the Italians refer to as Ringraziamento, and we look forward to spending the day with Terence and Angie and the twins and Angie's parents, Nick and Milica and eating tacchini repieno (stuffed turkey). One of Roy's brothers and his sister and some of their family members will join us at Terence and Angie's.
We have a few minutes with Michelle and say goodbye. I have a flash regarding my ceramics. For the near future, I'll design a number of plates and side pieces with the grotesque design I've used on Marissa and Nicole's pitchers, with a joyous and voluptuous woman in the center and a number of intricate designs and characters flanking her. Michelle wants a pie plate, and that will be fun to design.
I am itching to paint. So instead I draw images from here and there, and later I'll turn the designs into finished ceramics. There is a label for Sofia Blanc de Blanc champagne I especially like, which I'll decoupage in Sofi's honor.
Michelle is a dear, dear friend and I will miss her. We drive to Terence's and for the rest of the day enjoy the preparations and then the socializing and eating the stuffed turkey.
Yes, I've decided not to write for most of the rest of the trip. I'm taking a vacation from writing until we return to Italy on December 4th. The trip is such a whirlwind that I'm not stopping to write my thoughts, and it's just as well. We're thankful to be here, thankful for our friends and San Francisco relatives, and thankful that we'll be able to spend some quality time with our little grand daughters, whose personalities blossom as the days grow one upon another. Check in with us in December!
We're still in the U S for a few more days, with errands and friends to see. Today is Leo's birthday, and Pat Flaharty arrives for an early dinner. Margaret is at home with a bad cold, so we promise to visit her on the way to the airport. Terence and Angie have gone to San Francisco for Alvin's art opening, and the little ones are frolicking around the kitchen.
Pat is every bit the experienced grand father, so thinks he can pick both of the twins up at the same time, all the while holding a plastic container of Cheerios. I'm cracking open crabs and hear a clatter and then an, "OH, oh."
It's Pat, dropping the container of Cheerios, which by this time is scattered like a game of 52-Pickup, all over the hardwood floor. The girls, still in his arms, are silent and staring, as if to say, "You'll get it now!"
Roy and Pat and I howl with laughter. Roy thinks we should let Freddi the Basset Hound inside to clear things up like a zamboni at an ice rink. Pat opts for a broom, and the evidence is soon carted away. But right after we eat, Pat is itching to get back to Margaret. He sniffs something and yes, it's time to leave...subito. The girls need a diaper change. He's gone before Roy has a chance to think and now we're all upstairs, and soon the girls are in bed.
Nicole can't wait to get into her crib, but Marissa is another story. A sweet lullaby CD is playing to lull them to sleep, but Marissa is not ready. She cries until I hold her, and it takes twenty minutes of this cooing and gently caressing her until she stands up, folds into a triangle still standing, her head touching the bed. Will she be a gymnast? Boom! She's down, instantly asleep, and I'm quietly closing the door.
What a wonderful experience it is to hang out with grand children at this age. Day by day, they warm up more and more to us. We miss not sharing their experiences, and agree with Angie that we'll get a computer camera so that we can see and talk to them real time while we're back in Italy.
This morning, Roy stayed around the house to do fixit jobs, while Angie and I and the girls drove to music class at a nearby yoga studio. Marissa and Nicole were the youngest of about eight little ones and their mothers. The instructor was a new father, and his son sat in a papoose hanging around his neck. The site was a strange one, especially as he swung around waving tie dyed scarves and castanets, leading all of us in a rhythm fest. But his baby son lay limp and oblivious.
At first shy, the girls were wide-eyed, staring at the other children. All the adults sang to the signature music they all have at home on CD..."Hello to you..." and waved their hands in unison. For the next hour, I snapped photos of the girls and joined in. Brava to Angie, for encouraging the girls. These sessions are a precursor to the children actually playing instruments. Now that we have brought a violin and a flute back for the girls, we're all anticipating their interest in beginning to play music at an early age.
Uncle Harry started playing the violin at age five, so why not? One day, his violin will be theirs. In the meantime, I'm playing it as often as I can, loving the tones of the instrument and feeling fabulous while I play and missing it while I'm not.
We hear that at a previous session with another instructor who brought a violin, Nicole took to the instrument immediately, not afraid to play the entire length of the bow. As long as they're not pushed into playing, we're all hopeful this is something the girls will love to do, if only for a short while.
We're in bed watching David Letterman's meeting with Oprah when Terence and Angie come in, and the next thing we know we're out cold.
I think I've been poisoned...was it the white wine? For the next 24 hours I cannot get out of bed except for the three times I...well, never mind. I had planned to do a medical screening, offered by my Life Insurance Company today at 3PM in Napa, but Roy cancels. Maybe next year.
Roy meets with Celeste regarding our web site, and I lay low, wanting to make sure I'm ok to travel tomorrow. He returns with Gira Polli roast chickens and I get up for a little while. Roy spent most of the day doing little things around the house. He is so like Leo...always busy puttering. Angie and Terence and also Uncle Harry get their lists ready each year for our visits. Roy feels a sense of accomplishment, and I feel just lousy.
I have no idea how the day ends.
It's sad to leave, and Roy thinks the visit is too short. We have now bonded with the girls, and they wave to us, saying "Bye, bye. Bye, bye." They don't know it will be a year before we see them again. We are so proud of Terence and Angie. They are wonderful parents, and have a sweet way of dealing with the temperaments of the girls. Child rearing has come a long way.
Here we are, with Marissa and Nicole, who are a joy to be around.
The flights are long, and the weather on the ground not good, but we reach home just after dark and "Piccola" cries and cries in my arms, waiting just outside the door. Angie our house sitter has a fire waiting in the kitchen, and it is good to be home. After a short visit, she returns to Rome, and we'll see her later this month when she sits for Tia and Bruce.
We note about a dozen persimmons still on the tree on the front terrace. There are so many leaves on the tree during the year, that these were able to hide from view. They have lingered, even after the many storms these past two weeks, and I wonder if Roy will get out a ladder to take them down or we'll just watch them splat on the gravel. I am hoping the former, but we are jet lagged. A higher priority is to get our Christmas lights hung on the paranco. We'll see.
We sleep late. Sofi is a little butterball. Is it possible she could have gained all this weight during the last two weeks? Now she'll be on a diet. She's not been overweight before, and we don't like the idea of her getting a paunch. It's very bad for her health. I remember seeing Dachshunds with their stomachs dragging on the ground, and Sofi will not be one of those. I think she's not happy at this new weight.
Angie calls to ask how Sofi is, and to tell us that she misses her. With her winter coat she looks so cute, her hair long and unruly but still precious to us. I may take scissors out and do a little trim of her beard. But jet lag takes over, and I'll think of it another day.
In the afternoon, Felice comes by to welcome us home. Angie has visited Felice and Marsiglia several times while she has been here, and tells us that Felice should not walk up the front steps to our property. His balance is not good, nor is his vision. We tell him we'll come to his house for a visit tomorrow and he is visibly thrilled with this news.
A friend has a medical scare, and decides to go to the American Hospital in Rome for a colonoscopy. They charge her €1,100. Roy's cost €34 last year in Orvieto. The subsequent blood tests will cost her another €1,000. In the Italian medical system, the same tests would cost less than €35. So she decides to get the blood tests closer to home.
When I ask her what the experience was like in Rome, she tells me it was funny. The medical staff did not speak all that much English anyway. So we've all learned a lesson. And our appreciation of the Italian medical system continues.
Today is a day to fix steamed puddings and freeze them. We finish making three of them and the process is time consuming. It takes half an hour to get them ready, and then two hours to steam them on the top of the stove. Our count is now at ten, and at this time of year, everything else is taken out of the little freezer. There are hundreds of caki left on the second tree near the lavender garden, plenty to give away and I'll fix some in a salad one of these days.
We leave Sofi at home, for it is rainy and windy, and drive up to the borgo for a visit with Marsiglia and Felice. Their house is warm and toasty and Italo is there as well. We all sit in the kitchen and Marsiglia brings out her little sweets, house-made cookies that look like bow ties, and of course there is Fanta and a bottle of local wine. It is probably Italo's wine (watch out!), for Felice no longer tends his grapes.
We talk of the new doctor. Earlier, Ida called us to tell us his hours are Tuesdays from 2-3 in Mugnano. Roy and I are considering changing to a recommended doctor in Soriano. We will see. We talk about the weather, and the predictions are that these storms will continue. We will have a wet winter.
We talk more about the flooding around Mugnano. The Tiber River is very high, and all the fields look like lakes. Tia tells us that Lake Cobara was so full that water was released from the dam there last week, causing floods in Amelia and Lugnano. The road between Amelia and Lugnano will be closed for six months, due to a landslide.
We wonder about Alicia. She'll have to take the Giove road when venturing out. And for us, the Alviano dam has released its overflow, causing the Tiber to rise and last week the bridge between Bomarzo and Attigliano was flooded and the road closed. It feels as though we are living in another century.
We leave, telling them we'll see them again in a few days, and walk to our car in the mist. Silence surrounds us in the plaza, and our solitary footsteps are loud on the moist and beautiful herringbone pavement. Even the clipped box trees in the Unopiu planters seem to shiver.
We're soon home in front of the fire and settle in for the rest of the evening.
We are still jet lagged, moving through the day in a fog. The sky is mostly clear, and the temperature rises to the teens. The terrace is a steam kettle, the ground so moist that the water from the past several weeks' storms can't wait to evaporate. But there has been so much rain that we're seeing a dangerous aftermath.
The cava nearest our house is showing signs of possible collapse. Water drips from the roof of the natural tufa outcropping, and although it is thousands of years old, above it is Rosina's little house and if we don't have it checked there could be serious problems ahead.
Roy calls Roberto Pangrazi, who will arrive on Friday to survey the scene. I encourage Roy to think of what we'd ideally like to have happen back there. He just wants it cemented over. I am thinking of a steel support not visible and a higher roof of the cava, perhaps turning it into a kind of lemonaia. I agree to cover the tufa with cemento, as long as it's a natural brown color. Form and function...form and function. Roy and I go back and forth about projects, each of us checking the other. We make a good team.
Roy drove out this morning to get a haircut, and the Sipicciano road was open, but more landslides have occurred, one even in Mugnano at the base of Via Mameli, right at the turn. Later, when driving to Amelia on the way to my ceramics lesson in Terni, we are rerouted through Montenero. Everywhere roads are closed.
I am so happy to be painting again. During the three hours of today's session, I am able to do one stema (coat of arms) and two plates with a new signature design. I now envision two types of designs on dinnerware: the grotesques and this leaf and flower design. For this design, each plate will be a little different. Next Wednesday, we'll pick up today's plates, and will show them on the site. The first of January, we'll be ready to start the ceramics business with earnest. Now we're taking orders.
I clip Sofi's beard a little, and she likes the attention. Now she looks like the little dog on Roy's t-shirt. So cute. I love her winter cut. She is soft and her longer hair accentuates her roly-poly look. I'm lessening her food, and she seems happy with that.
We're so jet lagged that we can't sleep, and the after midnight hours tick by with each of us reading and writing and planning the next phase of our little businesses. Life is grand.
The phone rings at 8AM and it is Donatella. She wants to see us to tell us about some Prince who has property for us to list in Vignanello. Could he be related to the Ruspolis? We'll visit Donatella after mass to find out.
Roy turns to me as he walks to the shower. "How interesting the twists and turns of our lives" he tells me with a smile. I return his smile leaning against the pillow and stretch out a few more minutes in bed. It's very cold and foggy outside, and if not for the religious holiday (Immaculate Conception), I'd surely stay right where I am. I have some kind of a stomach virus.
We walk up to mass, and it is very cold...just above freezing, and we're surrounded by mist. Because of all the rain for the past three weeks, the ground and the air is full of moisture. But it is lovely.
Once we reach the borgo, Antonio and Paola are there to greet us. They're on their way to pick up Mugnano's Christmas tree. Then, one by one, we are greeted our neighbors, who each wish us, "Bentornati!" Every chance we get, Roy takes out a photo of Marissa and Nicole. I laugh when Gioliola tells me that they look like me. It is too difficult to explain.
Tiziano and I have a short talk and he tells me that he's had great success with his dig. We'll get together with him later to speak about it. But Serena, Mauro's wife, takes me by the arm and several of the women stand around me while Serena instructs me to attend an Azzione Cattolica service this afternoon. Afterward, I'll be initiated, whatever that means.
"Do I have to take an exam?" I ask her, horrified. Tiziano stands at the steps of the church laughing and rolls his eyes at the women all chattering around me like hens. I'm too tired to really worry. We agree to call Tiziano after the service and meet up with him later this afternoon.
The air in front of my nose is not frozen, so it can't be all that cold. But I have the shivers, so dream about getting back in bed. But we're not able to, so we get in the car instead and drive all the way around Vitorchiano to get to Sipicciano because the regular road is closed from landslides. Leafless trees in the fields stand like frosty twinkling lights in the reflected sun, surrounded by a thick mist. The grey green colorless sky is magical.
We stop at Donatella's townhouse in the borgo, and we really like her place a lot. Once it's stripped of all its furniture and years of belongings, it will be a very special townhouse. We hope to find a buyer for it soon. Donatella wants to clue us in on the Prince we are to meet on Saturday, a man who wants us to manage the sale of his grand palazzo in Vignanello. No, he is not a Ruspoli. He is a Bourbon from Naples, which we are told is older and more important than the Ruspolis, whose family is only six or seven hundred years old!
I'm fading, so after a cup of camomila tea at the bar, we drive home. But after pranzo, we're out in the car again, this time for Bomarzo, and my initiation into the women's version of the Confraternita.
This is a non-event. About one hundred women participate in the service, which is mostly a rosary with a few hymns thrown in. It is long, and at the end each woman is called up to get her membership card for the 2006 year from Don Luca. That includes me. That's it. Who knows where my blue bandiera will come from. But now I'm really official.
Roy asks Tiziano if he'll come for tea, and we are brought up to date about his dig as well as the latest iteration of his museum project. After a lot of talking, we think that San Rocco should be the place for his little museum, with a little extra space for meetings or perhaps even a chapel. He wants us to meet with the mayor about it, and we will, after he confers with Don Luca. We're hopeful that he can work out some kind of arrangement whereby the Comune can take over the church for not a lot of money.
Roy and I have so much going on in our lives that we don't have a great interest in any elaborate schemes that might involve our participation on a long term basis. Tiziano must have his museum, And then anything else that works in the space is fine with us. To do that, someone will have to get the path restored to the church and a handrail. And Roy tells me that we'll then put in the bocce court. With a better path and some foot traffic, the court might be a lot of fun.
I'm more interested in getting into bed with a book, so that is how I end my day, with Sofi by my side and Roy channel switching in front of the TV.
I spend a lot of the day in bed, with a stomach flu. Roberto Pangrazi, the town geometra, comes by to check on the moisture and dripping water in the cava, and Rosina is out on her balcony. Roberto tells Roy it is also Rosina's responsibility to pay for the maintenance, so tells them together that he thinks the safe thing is for Stefano to cement it over. Later Roy will show it to Stefano and will then tell him my idea. There is no reason it can't work, and it should not cost a great deal of money.
Roy checks out the Tenaglie house and works on getting a quote for a new heating system. We have not been asked to do this by the prospective buyers who will see the house late next week, but we consider this as a value-add for any prospective buyer. We can't imagine a regular real estate agent doing this on their own, and perhaps this will help us to show people who want to purchase properties in our area that we are definitely the folks to contact. Speriamo.
We are told that we will be introduced to a prince tomorrow in Vignanello, a prince who wants us to list his property. We have countesses now as clients, and now a prince. Not that it matters. We think this just makes the Italian "experience" more fun for people just entering the Italian real estate market. "We just bought from a prince...His family goes back over 600 years...and he is also an Ambassador."
The reality is that a house is just a house. It is the image one gets when first stepping onto a property that sticks. The lineage just helps to add to the story, and anyone purchasing property in Italy will have a story to tell. We hope to help to make the story a positive one, with a few adventures along the way.
Sofi stays at home. We pick up Donatella early after driving a circuitous route through Vitorchiano, because the road to Sipicciano is still closed with all the rain. She insists on bringing Orsino, her lumbering and lazy dog, and has a sheet to cover the back seat of the car for him. She smoothes out the cloth before she and Roy stand behind the dog and push him groaning up onto the seat, then she gets inside and sits down.
Donatella is really a very kind woman, a Renaissance kind of person who steps to the beat of her own drummer. The more we know her the more we enjoy her quirkiness.
We drive on to Ingrid and Lamberto's home outside Bagnaia, and when we step on the gravel, I fall in love with the place. Yes, I love our house and could not think of leaving it, but I'd dream about this one, the shape of the house, how it sits on the property, the bones of its Italianate garden, the gravel (special tiny river stones in mostly beige). I'd love to get inside for a look. One day...
We sit in a tiny room by a blazing fire to get warm. Ingrid tells us, "The Prince does not want us to arrive too early." Ingrid and Lamberto have a new dog, a springy large black Schnauzer named Freuling. This dog is less than a year old and weighs 35 kilos, but bounds around as though she weighs five.
Lamberto tells us he'll stay at home, so the ladies decide he'll take care of the dogs, and we leave him while he's being pulled in two directions by the two huge dogs as though he's in a Keystone Kops cartoon. He should be wearing one of those police whistles in his mouth and a cap ready to fall off the back of his head. Lamberto is a jolly man, always smiling, and we glide across the gravel and down the hill while he nods his head to say goodbye, all out of breath.
We arrive at the gate of Guido d'Aquino, Principo di San Severo, Cavallieri di Malta, a property just outside the walled town of Vignanello. After reading some of the framed documents on his walls, we see that he is one of those Templar fellows, but we don't know how to ask him any questions based on things we've learned from Angels and Demons. That will have to wait for another time, if ever.
What do we think a prince should look like? This one's quite an important prince, somehow connected to the Bourbons, whatever that means. He's not tall, but dressed in slacks, polished black shoes, a wool sport coat, a red vest, a dress shirt, tie and scarf in his pocket. He's probably one of those Nixon dressers...one who even wears slacks while walking on the beach...but he has a title to live up to.
He kisses my hand as I introduce myself upon getting out of the car. "Charmed, I'm sure", I think to myself. This will be fun. He greets the ladies, who are old friends, and walks us through the chapel and the downstairs apartment, before we follow him up a level of stairs to the main part of the house. Could it be that there is no front door? Yes, this is it.
Roy's taking notes and we're taking in all the details, the high ceilings, the beautifully laid original flooring, the beamed ceilings, the delicate antiques. His wife now lives in New York, and his two young children are at the universities in Perugia and Rome. Since he also lives in Rome, this is a lot of house to have to take care of. We're going to help him to sell it.
He fixes coffee for us and we sit in the salon, drinking out of little cups and spoons emblazoned with his family crest...Ah, another stema. I ask him if he would like to have a plate with his family crest on it and sure, he gives me a color photo to use. First he asks me suspiciously how much it will cost and when I tell him it will be a gift, he relaxes.
I am building up quite a good number of family crests. When I come across one that is the crest of a friend's family, I ask for a photo and will make two plates: one for the person and one for me. When I have a goodly number, we'll display them, probably in the front hall. Yes, I'll also paint them on commission, but this little "hobby" will be to collect family crests of friends and people I know. So each plate will have a story, a person, to connect it with. While I'm building my inventory, and getting ready for the ceramics business to be a commercial enterprise, I'm learning more painting techniques and having the time of my life.
But back to the Principo...
He asks me if I'd like a look around, and gets up and gives me his arm. The Prince dances me out of the room humming Loengrin's wedding march as if we're in a Fred Astaire musical, and we walk up the stairs, where he shows me four bedrooms and two bathrooms and a salon. Did I tell you he speaks to us only in Italian and somehow we are able to figure out what is going on?
Guido (somehow this name does not seem to fit) and Roy and I sit at the dining room table and talk about the deal, and what he wants to achieve with the sale of the property. We'll have the property listed on our web site in a day or two, but it consists of: four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, a huge salon or dining room, library, kitchen, two side parlors on the top two floors, an apartment on the bottom floor with one bedroom and 1 1/2 baths and a large salon, a large private deconsecrated chapel big enough to rent out for events, a front courtyard, a loggia and land to garden with olive and fruit trees. The price is 1,390,000 Euro. Based on other properties we've seen, we think this is a good price for this property.
After taking photos, we say goodbye and take the ladies home after pulling Orsino back up into the back seat. We're home in time to finish making a new batch of applesauce and my mother's famed cheese spread to take to Tia's tonight.
I somehow also find time to spend in the studio, and paint one small vase and two small plates. I'm amazed at how well they turn out, the delicate flowers an ornate flourish, each plate an original design with a similar motif. This will be my signature design for this year. Let's pray the smalto will hold.
We'll see the first finished pieces on Wednesday at class. Remember that Roy dipped these pieces in smalto that he mixed some weeks ago? Ever the optimist, I can't just sit back and hope that the smalto will one day work. I need to paint. My fingers are itchy like an inveterate gambler at the gaming tables.
Sorry, Sofi, you'll have to stay at home tonight. We bundle up, with me dressed in purple velvet pants and top and Roy all in black with a chestnut colored sport coat, very elegant. We bring plates and a basket and food and a bunch of red roses in case Tia does not have enough flowers to decorate the food dishes.
Helen and Panis are in the kitchen with Tia when we arrive. Roy is sent around to light hundreds of candles while I work in the kitchen, then Tia gets dressed and before we know it people are arriving and we're all having a great time. I'm somehow feeling better, but don't drink. The food is great, and mom's applesauce and cheese spread are a big hit.
We think we're going to leave just as Bruce puts on the Rolling Stones to get everyone dancing, and before I know it Helen and I are "getting down" to "Start me UP!" and then "Just about Midnight..." and then the music just goes on and on and we're out the door and on our way home.
Wouldn't you think we'd just plop into bed? No. Until 2AM we're coming up with details about the redesign of our web site and sending thoughts to Alex Kalsey, who is performing masterfully. Very soon you'll see what it's all about.
Let's get a few hours sleep before mass tomorrow...
It's not that hard to get up, although we've hardly slept last night. The sky is clear and we walk up to mass under clear and lovely sunshine. But it is cold. Don Pasquale is the priest, and we have not seen him before, although Marsiglia tells us later he is a Bomarzo priest she has known for some time.
I like him. I like the way he speaks, the purposeful way he speaks, his sureness. He watches us as he speaks and follows us, guiding me I'm sure when I don't know all the words and I can see him mouthing them.
After mass, Marsiglia asks us for coffee and I tell her yes. I think it's a good idea. So we follow them up the little path to their house, Marsiglia calling out to Felice, "Apre la porta! Apre la porta!" He laughs his gravelly laugh and before we know it we're in their warm kitchen.
We don't stay for more than a short visit. On the way out of the borgo we see Pepe taking earth from Paola's apartment and walk over to see what's going on. There is more earth to take out, and the space looks great. I tell Paola about my unusual idea for a drop basket in the window behind the sink facing the street, and show her how it would be done. She loves the idea, and we're happy to help.
On the way down Via Mameli, Giovanna's door is open and her whole place is in a shambles. Stefano is completely redoing her bottom floor with a big open kitchen. We love it that neighbors are fixing up their homes, and Giovanna is a very friendly woman. We look forward to getting to know her on the weekends she spends here from Viterbo.
In a few minutes we're at home and it's time to get out the paranco and hoist it up to hang the Christmas lights. Boy is it heavy! We move it from behind the house and I guide it Ginger Rodgers style (backward, although not in high heels) on a hand truck, while Roy holds the heavy end and guides me.
Somehow we get it lifted, but it sticks on the rusty opening. So I steady it as though I'm a young sailor on a masted schooner in a gale, and Roy returns with WD-40. In a few minutes it slides down with a "thwack!"
We think later this afternoon we'll string the lights, but it rains. One day at a time. Roy drives out to the Sunday market while I sneak time in the studio, working on three plates I started some time ago. I love the design, but it is just too cold out here. We'll have to pick up a little heater.
Inside, I fix Pasta Amatriciana with onions, butter, pancetta, grated cheese and peperoncino. Without thinking I eat a little of it myself. This is a test. If my stomach can handle this, I'll surely be feeling better. Somehow everything is fine.
Although the rain begins again, I work in the studio until my hands are too cold, working on the designs for the green bordered plates. I love the design. Let's hope the smalto holds...
Back inside, I cook two more steamed puddings, sitting then on the stove to steam for two hours. We'll settle in with some web site research and a good book.
We're thinking of our good friends, the Murphys, and especially Jess, who stars this weekend in the Nutcracker of the Marin Ballet as the Sugar Plum Fairy. What wonders are in store for this talented and sweet young lady!
A clear day gives way to an overcast sky and yes, rain. It's too cold to work in the studio, and I'm really tired. So Sofi and I take a nap in the afternoon, after spending the morning making a copper soup pot full of minestrone.
Roy met with the prospective plumber in Tenaglie, and learned that there is not hot water hookup to the kitchen! So he'll have a preventivo for the prospective owner in a couple of days. The more he sees the house, the more he likes it.
Roy is in a puttering mood, so when it clears he takes out the two story ladder and when Sofi and I surface at around 5PM, he's putting the finishing touches on the big tree on the terrace. The tree faces the village, and as I'm helping him to guide the lines of lights, Luigina walks by and yells up, "C'e bello!"
Marie opens her window up above to close the shutters and tells us the same. And then Laura and little Andrea walk by and let us know they think the tree is beautiful. This is our Christmas gift to the people of the village. We are proud to live among them.
I wake up feeling better than I have in weeks. The sky is grey, but it is not raining. So what will today bring?
We start a cleanup inside and out, putting luggage away finally, and getting ready for Christmas. Roy comes in the door to tell me there has been an important "frane", or slide on our wall near San Rocco. So Sofi and I follow him out to take a look.
"Remember that big boulder I showed you a couple of days ago down on the street? That boulder was from our wall!" And so it was. "Enormous" is the only word I can use to describe the tufa stones holding up the land above the path to San Rocco. I ask Roy if we can walk up to the borgo to see if Stefano is working and have him take a look at that wall, as well as the cava.
"Remember the slide at the foot of Via Mameli? Well, much of the earth on the other side of the street has fallen into the street there as well."
What a mess. With all the rain we have had during these past two months, I am not surprised. So Sofi and Roy and I walk up to the borgo, and yes, Stefano is working inside Paola's house. Outside the door, both Pepes stand there, as well as Enzo. Sofi is very popular this morning, with Brik greeting her just at the edge of the spina de pesce matonelle. And now Pepe the younger, who I tell Enzo is Sofi's "findanzato" is cooing to her, rubbing her stomach.
Roy calls out to Stefano and yes, he'll stop by on his way to pranzo to take a look. But when he arrives, there is nothing but bad news. For one, nothing can be done until Spring. It is too dangerous to work on the bank now. For another, it is possible a whole expanse of the wall will have to be rebuilt. We see other spots where the wall has separated. Stefano will ask Pangrazi, the geometra, to work up a preventivo for us in the meantime.
For what it's worth, he thinks the huge boulders that have fallen date back as far as the 12th century. Unfortunately, they are worthless, because their composition is tufa, and they are so porous that they will crumble when moved. Stefano will try to work with them. He will attempt to cut them and use what he can, using the rest as backfill. I still want to keep them, so Roy puts up caution tape on the path to alert people that the path is dangerous, and we ignore the problem, for there is nothing we can do during the winter except pray that it will not get worse.
It's time for pranzo, and the minestrone is superb, especially with added pieces of roast chicken, After pranzo, Roy checks in with Judith, and we pick her up in Orte later this afternoon and take her to her palazzo in Amelia. After a short visit, we're back home, and it is cold.
The phone rings, and this is the time clients want to talk. So we deal with multiple owners of properties and also possible buyers. We have some great properties, and more than one is in flux at the moment. Roy deals with the calls and I sit with Sofi and draw new designs.
I read that the traditional way to put designs on pottery is to trace them onto fine paper, put tiny pinprick holes on top of the drawings and then use a carbon bag to pounce the carbon through onto little dots, carbon that will be covered by paint and will not show up when fired.
So I come up with a complicated design of my own that I will "pounce" on a plate. I see that this pouncing makes it possible for the design to be used over and over. What I like about it is that the size of the design is uniform. Earlier today, I worked a design without first drawing it with a soft pencil. It felt good to be so sure of the design, and of my hand. If not for the cold, I'd be out in my studio all day. Tomorrow while I'm in class, Roy will pick up a tiny heater. Then, I'll be able to disappear for hours at a time.
The moon is almost full, and tomorrow we'll see the real thing. But tonight there is a haze around much of it. And so we hang our heads out to take a look at the lights on our terrace, reminding ourselves that we have the only Christmas lights in the village. Other towns have lights flashing all evening, but our little village is ignored. So for our neighbors, we are happy to bring them this little treat.
We have one more day until the full moon, but you could have fooled me. The day is a little strange, my psyche a little stretched. Moon in this, sun in that, I still don't understand it all. But somehow the moons have a way of shaking things up, or settling them down. These days I'm feeling a rumble, somewhat like an underground spring. Do not know what that means. Let's find out...
We're out of the house for coffee, and don't have it until we reach Montecchio. But first we stop at the Tenaglie house for a moment. I have not been there for some time, and before we reach the house we come to the town of Tenaglie itself. What a lovely town! This is just a perfect town for a stranieri to settle into. And the property we have listed is just on the other side of the borgo. So a walk into town is easy, and right around the corner is the neighborhood of San Rocco, as well as an alimentary.
Roy has researched putting a heating system into the house, and this change will certainly affect the price the prospective buyer offers, but not by a lot. We drive into Montecchio and ask a Carabineri where the Comune is, and we look up and all laugh. He is standing right in front of it.
Inside, we speak with the Tecnico, and get a plot map of the house. We ask a couple of questions, and realize the tecnico is not all that technical. Fa niente. We then walk down the street to the Casa di Risparmio, the local bank. They confirm what someone needs to do to set up a bank account.
Where does someone get a Codice Fiscale? The closest place is Orvieto, and that's also where they can open a bank account. This bank is a branch of the Casa di Risparmio di Orvieto. That's how we opened our bank account years ago.
On the way back, we find a new property, at €125,000, and call about it. We'll go to see it tomorrow, to give our client another option for his price range.
On the way back, Roy asks me what I'd think about having him paint the shutters the light blue-grey I wanted. I'm surprised and happy. We stop at a place in Guardea who can mix the color I'd like. We'll pick it up tomorrow and test it on a shutter on the side of the house. Perhaps we won't have to replace them after all.
We're at home for enough time to have pranzo, including a salad of romaine lettuce and sliced persimmons with pine nuts and crumbled Gorgonzola cheese with a vinaigrette dressing, quite tasty, and then Roy packs up seven ceramic pieces I've painted and we drive to Terni to class. Well, there are only three of us today, and Monia is not coming, so the class is free. First Fausto leaves, then the other lady, and I'm by myself for three hours or so.
It takes me all that time to repair my pieces and get them ready for the oven. So I leave Marco with instructions, but they may sit there until January 11th, when the class begins again after the holidays. Whatever will I do with myself in the meantime? Easy. There are a ton of things to do.
Two ceramic pieces have come back from the oven, both in good shape. We take them to Tia to get a look at the color of the smalto, and she and I agree that we like the bright white color of the plates better. That's fine with me. I've already decided that we'll have a whole set of plates for ourselves with our own off-white smalto background, in my new design.
We sit with Tia and Bruce and have a little soup, then come home to regroup until tomorrow morning, when we'll take Judith around to see a number of properties.
We've decided to fix a Christmas dinner at home, so call a few friends and start to plan the day. It is an excuse to get the decorations finished, and why not?
Candace is getting ready to take her written driving test tomorrow, and I am anxious just thinking about it. She has studied the text for weeks, and if she does not pass, she can just take it again. I cannot imagine taking the written test. The oral test several years ago was hard enough. But she seems to think this is the better way to go. Magari!
Roy comes into the bedroom looking like a coal miner. At Castorama, the big hardware store that opened this week in Terni, he bought a wear it yourself flashlight that sits on his forehead. I am sure it will be good for all kinds of projects, and can't wait to come up with one for him.
There'll be a full moon tonight, and we wake to find a wintery sky and low temperatures. We arrive at Judith's before 9AM, and drive to Colicello to see Ruth and her unusual guard house, a property we have for sale on our web site. Ruth is a beautiful woman in many senses of the word. Our visit is short, but she is endearing every step of the way.
The house and garden are beautiful, even in the grey mist enveloping the borgo. In the fireplace on the ground floor a pellet stove is burning, with lots of heat and fire, and this is the first time I remember actually seeing one in action. What a great ecological and practical idea!
We can't stay for coffee, because we have a house in Tenaglie to see, one we've just located and want to check out in case the existing Tenaglie property is not just right for our new clients.
On the road to and from Collicello are so many oak trees we are amazed. We know they are oaks, because they don't want to shed their leaves. The leaves turn a dull coppery brown instead, and just hang there. "What happens with the new growth in the Spring?" Roy asks. These leaves must fall off, but I remember that well into the middle of winter they refuse to fall to the ground. On the road between Porchiano and Amelia, broad swaths of coppery brown slash across the evergreen landscape, and it is then that we realize how many oaks there really are.
Other trees on the road are lacy and delicate as we drive by in a soft mist. We see very little snow here, but the trees have a show all their own.
The second Tenaglia house is an interesting property, and we'll probably have the information on our site soon. I love the stufa, and the views are spectacular. But I'm not sure about the construction. There are many questions to answer before we proceed with this property.
Back in Amelia, we take Judith to meet another client, who has a large property facing the town. He is very kind, offering us caffé while showing us his selection of extraordinary antiques and the house as well. But Judith has to move on, to drive to her relatives' anniversary party near Naples, so we leave her and drive on to Terni to do some grunt work on the Tenaglie house. She tells us that if there was a little more property and she decided to live here full time, she might be interested. The view of Amelia itself is lovely.
At the office in Terni where the land records are kept, we're helped by a lovely woman, who answers all our detailed questions and produces us lots of names and information. Armed with that, we have a lot of information for the client who we'll meet in person tomorrow.
Tonight, we meet with Luca, our Commercialista, who answers more questions and laughs at our translation of a legal document. He agrees to reword it properly...subito!
We wonder about the viability of penalty clauses for hydraulicos and muratores and he shrugs his shoulders. "You won't get one to sign any contract that has a penalty clause in it. If you want to do something, make them wait to get paid if they take too long." Benvenuto a Italia!
We are amazed that we are so close to Christmas. It is a good thing that we are having guests for cena tonight. Today we'll be decorating for the holidays, and I'm so happy we'll try to get it all done so we won't have to worry about it every day.
This morning, Ducccio and Don and Mary pick us up and Roy directs Duccio to the house in Tenaglie. But we have a surprise. This is not the houses that Duccio has visited! He's pleasantly surprised, and so are we.
All in all, it's a good visit, with plenty for Don and Mary to think about. Duccio drives us to Barbierani winery, where Don purchases wine for tonight. But he is charged ten times the amount on his credit card, and it is only his checking that saves the day. An honest mistake we are sure. But one man shoves the original man out of the way who made the charge on the computer, and Mary and I have a laugh over their antics.
Duccio drops us off before pranzo, and we spend the rest of the afternoon getting the manger ready and doing holiday decorating, along with cooking for cena.
Tonight the seven of us have a merry old time, with holiday music playing and lots of fun. I'm happy with all of it. But we go to bed tired. Very tired. Tomorrow we'll pick Don and Mary up to see the house again and answer many questions.
With Don's questions that he turned over to us at the end of last evening, we meet with the owner's nephew and his wife to obtain answers, and the news is all good. We drive to the house in Tenaglie, with the others following in Duccio's car. We take them on a new route, over hill and dale, to show them some back roads and lovely scenery. There is a road between Attigliano and Lugnano with a few properties we'd love to scout. We take this back road every chance we get.
Once at the house, Giovanna sees it for the first time and the rest of us, including Sofi, get to explore it again. With greetings to an elderly couple who are putting a new door on their house by themselves, with the inside of the room a shambles of muratore dust and an aluminum frame in their hands to fit into the space where the door needs to go, they greet Don and Mary. After the first hello, they and tell them they hope that Don buys. We think they'll be sweet neighbors.
When meeting with Rosalba and her husband earlier, we ask about the name of the muratore, and how to find him. I joke that we'll yell his name out from the front door, and Rosalba's husband tells me it is almost like that. The San Rocco neighborhood of Tenaglie is like a family. It sounds good.
I'm oh-so-tired, after standing for most of yesterday, preparing for last night's dinner and wanting it to be just right for Don and Mary. So we drive back home after leaving the group, and Sofi and I take long naps after pranzo.
In the meantime, Roy has added more bamboo poles to the lemon tree, and wrapped it in a special kind of gauzy drape made just for that. We need to purchase more on Monday, but for now the tree will survive. And the temperatures are below freezing most nights, although we've not quite arrived in official Winter, yet.
Rosalba and Lilli come by with a counteroffer and we ask them to get back to us with more information before we go back to Don and Mary. We are just about there.
We are treated to an early evening concert, performed by the "St Paul's Within the Walls" Choir from Rome. This concert is held in the church of San Ludovico in Orvieto, which we attend with Franco and Candida. I feel as if I've come out of the shadows. For all intents and purposes, I am now to be referred to in Italia as Eva (pronounced Ava). The silly "Ivana", which is pronounced in three syllables..."eee-vaaahhh-naaahhh", was my first attempt to Italianize my given name years ago.
All along, those who saw the actual spelling of my name and were more fluent in Italian than we, pronounced my name "Aye-vah-nah". So this new "sopranome" or nickname, I think will make me happy and make more sense to the Italians. It feels good to introduce myself that way, although I stumble on it the first few times I try it tonight after the concert.
During the concert, an Anglican-Episcopal one, performed mostly in English with a female Episcopal Priest, we sing Christmas hymns along with the special choir. One hymn is one I've never heard before. It is an old Basque hymn, and I think it is incredibly lovely. Can you imagine these words in a hymn?
We love singing along with this wonderful choir. When it is time to sing "O Little Town of Bethlehem", we are surprised to hear it sung with different notes and intonations, but lovely just the same.
But it is Silent Night that touched me for the first time ever. When we sing this carol, we sing it slowly. And each word, sung in English, is captured and caressed. It is only when we are able to sing in our native English, surrounded by almost non-stop Italian, that we appreciate the ability to do so.
These days, almost nothing escapes our grateful hearts. Since we've stored fig jams and steamed puddings in the larder, we have only to cut holiday fabric and tie it with cord for friends with little cards. So the frantic and meaningless holiday shopping escapes us.
On a walk by the manger in the grotto outside our house, we nod our heads and smile. I hope we'll remember where we've hidden the "Babe" to be placed in the manger late on Saturday night after Babbo has made the rounds of all the children visiting in the village.
After tonight's concert, I have an opportunity to speak with a young soloist, a woman from North Carolina who is studying to be an opera singer. I ask her about her quest, and she tells me it is slow. I tell her she needs a mentor, and she thanks me but tells me she'd prefer to achieve her fame on her own merits.
"How much do you know about the underbelly of Italy?" I ask her. "If someone can help you to break in, I suggest you consider holding your ideals in check, get in where you can, and then sing your heart out. Anyone will be able to tell that you deserve to be there. It will be interesting to follow her career.
Kay and Csaba are two new friends from Australia with Czech ancestors. She tells us that he killed a pig yesterday, and they'll feast on it tomorrow. She is fairly horrified by the ordeal, but we speak about how natural the process is for a farmer and she agrees. I'm reminded of Judith, a decidedly vocal vegetarian, who asks us if we'd like to order "flesh" when we are with her in a restaurant.
Candace asks us, "Does she wear leather shoes, have a leather handbag or wear a leather coat?" Yes to all the above. I'm not sure I understand the whole rationale. But Judith is a saver of souls, a saver of lives, not wanting to hurt even a fly. So bless her.
Umbria Jazz is almost upon us, and as Candace tells us they have tickets to hear a French group perform a salute to Django Reinheart, I let out a whoop in the little enoteca. There will be two nights of salutes to Django, and Dino and I are such big fans of the music, that we just have to get tickets for one of the concerts. Tomorrow we'll rush to Oriveto to see if we can get in under the wire.
We wake to the view of a cold and clear morning: a tiny passeri stands dark in the shadow of a tall nespola tree. A sentry outside our west-facing window, he greets me with his profile.
Downstairs, there is no hot water. The pipes have frozen. Now I remember that in past years we left water dripping in one of the sinks on the coldest days. So our plan of getting out early is dashed. At least the lemon tree was wrapped last night and stands huddled and protected against the morning frost.
Dino rises and in a few minutes the hot water rushes out to tell us to hurry...and soon we are driving North to Oriveto. The temperature in the car is -3 degrees Centigrade. It's not too bad, because there is no wind and the sun is bright.
At the hospital, he tries to obtain an appointment for an MRI. That will take months. Right now, he has one for March, but thinks that if we drive to the hospital they will find him an appointment earlier. We take a number, but when it is our turn we are told that we waited in the wrong line...The place we need to find is downstairs.
After a strange dialogue with a secretary, where Dino confirms that he has no metal parts (pacemakers, steel plates in his knees or hips, etc.), he is told that he will be given a call. So instead of coming right home, we drive up to the centro storico to Teatro Mancinelli for tickets to the Django Reinhart program during Umbria Jazz. We love, love, love the music of Django Reinhart, music that was first popular as part of an underground jazz movements during WWII in Europe, especially in France.
Since a violin is a major component of any Django group (Stefan Grapelli was a famous violinist who played with Django), I have it in my head that as one of my future fantasies I will play riffs with a guitarist. Dream on, Ava! (From now on, I will be referred to as Ava, pronounced both in English and Italian as Ava, spelled in Italian as Eva. Roy will be referred to as Dino. So Arrivederci Roy, Ivana, Evanne...)
Tickets in hand, we have agreed to pick Shelly up at the train station from Rome, and tell her to take the train to Orvieto. So we stop for a caffé, and then more Babo Natale gifts and groceries in Lo Scalo. People from Orvieto call the lower more modern part of their town Lo Scalo instead of Orvieto Scalo.
We pick up Shelly and all drive back to Mugnano, agreeing to drive up for a holiday drink soon. And then it is home for some gnocci with yesterday's sugo and meatballs. This packaged gnocci is very tasty. Yes, I want to make gnocci some day. But for now, these gnocci are an excellent substitute.
And so it is that the cold days continue on to Christmas...
We meet the new doctor today, in our little village meeting room. But first, in the morning, we drive to Orte Scalo for an appointment with Giusy for a pedicure, and to tell her what is wrong with my toenails is no big deal. I have a cream, which I am to use once a month, but I have already forgotten to use it. She reads the instructions, and I'm to use it twice a day. Just one more thing to remember.
"Buon dio!" Felice exclaims when Dino shows him the fallen boulders on the path next to San Rocco. He scratches his head, holding his cap with the same hand.
"I have not heard that said since my grandfather said the same thing years ago," Dino tells me. "Good God!" is the translation.
Felice has come by to say hello and to ask when we will come for a visit. We make plans to visit them both on Friday afternoon.
Later, when Dino and I meet with our new doctor for the first time at the tiny meeting room in the centro storico, what we hear is a new dialect from Dottore Enrico Bifferoni. This is a fairly young man, not much older than Dottoressa Onofri, with clear cool eyes and a dark head of hair flat on the back as if he rests against a tall plank while he drives.
He gives Dino plenty of attention, but we are not completely sure of what he is saying. This will be a new learning experience for us, but he seems serious about his craft and welcoming to have us as patients. At least for now, we'll continue with him.
On the very cold walk home, I'm expecting to hear the three bongs that tell us its three degrees above zero Centigrade (freezing) outside, until I realize we only hear that sound while driving in the car. There is a slight wind that pushes against us now, daring us to move forward, and a grey buttermilk sky overhead, so tonight will definitely freeze.
While waiting for the doctor, Enzo and Rosita come out of his office, and Rosita has had two teeth pulled this morning. She looks to be in pain. This is not a good thing to have to experience right in the middle of the holidays. We wish them well, and agree that we'll drive out to son Tiziano's excavation site tomorrow morning, with the hot chocolate cake he loves and a thermos of tea.
Tonight we stop at Franco and Candida's for cena, and then walk up the steep cobbled street to the teatro, a deconsecrated church, where we watch and listen to a guitarist who sings like Paolo Conte and a fabulous clarinetist who acts as his sideman. The clarinetist gyrates as his instrument sweetly moans its whole range. He takes it to places we don't expect, low and high notes, loud and sweet and soft.
I imagine him as a circus clown in whitepaint, a harlequin with black vertical slits for eyes, his head covered as if he were hairless, his serpentlike body snaking as if he were being led by a charmer. And then they are through, and we are led down the same street and into our good friends' home for a little drink to send us on our way.
We arrive home to the terrace lights and tree still lit, so the time is still before midnight, but the temperature has stayed at -1Centigrade since we left just after 6PM. It's good to get ready for bed and jump under the down coverlet. Sofi, in her fur coat, guards as sentry in front of the window and we are all soon asleep.
It's difficult to sleep, so we get up and make a chocolate torta and a thermos of tea to take to Tiziano and his workers at the dig. We leave the house by 10AM, but after a very icy and bumpy drive, we arrive at the campo to find it empty!
Dino calls Tiziano, who is at home laughing. They finished their work on Monday, and were waiting for us. Puor troppo! So we take our little snack and drive to the Gasperoni's pink house on our way out, and have a picnic on their kitchen table with Tiziano and his parents, who think it's all great fun, eating still warm chocolate cake and tea from the thermos.
Enzo wears his traditional jeans, but around his waist is a gunbelt of ammunition. He is on his way to hunt birds, especially pheasants. I refuse to shake his hand and we all laugh, but I don't think it's particularly funny. Yes, I admit I eat meat, but don't think the sport of killing birds is fair at all. Enzo is a very kind man, and a retired Park Ranger, so this is part of his nature. We admit that we'll join them to eat zuppa di faraona (pheasant soup) soon, which is supposed to be very tasty. We will see...
Rosita reminds me that the ceramic shop in Bomarzo has opened, and the young woman also has a kiln right in the back of the shop. So we stop on our way up the hill and introduce ourselves. She has painted for six years, and her shop is full of things to buy.
Would I like to have a shop? No. I think if the business gets off the ground and we have the smalto (undercoat) challenge figured out, I'd open the studio in Mugnano one or two days a week and Dino would also sell the ceramics at antique mercatos. There is a little side gate we could open near the parcheggio, and also I can paint a sign with a phone number. For now, word of mouth is just fine with me. After seeing the amount of inventory that is needed to make the rental of a shop worthwhile, I sigh. I don't see myself doing anything similar. Retail never did have an appeal to me.
We drive to Viterbo for errands, and our Babbo Natale shopping is all but finished. Dino thinks he wants to announce his arrival on Christmas Eve on the way to each door, and that means shaking heavy bells. So of course he's on a mission to find them. We come close at an agri store, but what they have is a kind of cowbell, and there are two for sale. But they are almost €18 each, so we pass. Before Saturday afternoon is here, mark my words. Dino will have his bells...
At home the Babbo gifts are all wrapped and prepared, and there's plenty of time for an afternoon nap. These days, we're working with Alex to get our new web site ready to inaugurate. He is doing masterful work, but we have a lot to do as well. And another consultant, Celeste, is working with us to help us get "more traffic to the site". In other words, encourage more people to look us up.
I think some days my feet are glued to the kitchen floor. This morning I make three more persimmon puddings. First Sofi and I take a walk out to the tree near the lavender garden. Many have plopped on the ground, and the bare leaves are heavy with the ripe fruit. I think this week will be "it" for the puddings. I'm quite sick of making them, but they do make good gifts and desserts to freeze. So for now the cooking continues.
Donatella calls us to tell us that Walter, the man who owns the bar in Sipicciano, has a house to sell, so we'll see it tomorrow morning. I believe it is a house that needs restoring. Now if we could only move the property to Amelia....
Roy drives to Tenaglie to get another quote for the heating for Don's house, and to meet the muratore who did the previous work on the house. We've noted a house nearby for sale, but no one is ever home when we knock, so Roy will ask the muratore, as well as the owner of the nearby shop, how to reach them. The property looks wonderful.
Today I'm fixing a persimmon pudding with out sugar, for Marsiglia. We'll take it up to them this afternoon. We're determined to figure out how to take a photo of us by our Christmas tree on the terrace with the village Medieval tower in the background, but this entails a few machinations both awkward and scary. Roy muses.
We have an appointment to view a house in the countryside outside Sipicciano. Sipicciano is the nearby town with our most excellent paruchierre (hairdresser) and macelleria (butcher) and the best homemade ice cream around. Well, Walter, who owns the bar that makes this out of this world gelato, has property he wants us to sell.
So we stop at the bar and follow him, with Donatella at his side and thankfully Orsino her huge dog staying behind. Donatella introduced us. She is an impresario, first of all for modern art, then an entrepreneurial plucker of all things and projects she comes across. She is the procacciatore of all procacciatores.
The property is deliciosa. The price? An amazing €51,000. It is a lovely plot of land, approximately an acre, with olive trees, fruit trees, an abandoned and fallen down stone house and approved architectural plans to build a new house. But Roy finds the best down below, where a chicken coop stands near the most fabulous grottos. One is large enough for a huge outdoor kitchen. I imagine it in the heat of the summer, with guests cool, sitting around a huge wooden table.
The grotto extends far underground, and the walls are incredible. Many of those marvelous tufa "buggies" or holes perfect for votive candles, are there, but we are told they were cut for pigeons. So what's this all about?
The story is that pigeons are homing types. They return to a spot where they feel at home. So in olden days people carved these, welcomed pigeons, and after they nested, "Boink!" The pidgeons were done in and served for pranzo. Grizzly and practical. So this is not a spot for too vivid an imagination...
Then we have to scoot, because we are next to meet with Philip, a new client in Amelia, thanks to our good pal and client, Judith Ciani Smith. He lives on the top floor of a palazzo in Amelia, one that was home to an important bishop who lived in the 15th century. What Philip does not realize, is that Amelia goes back to before the time of Christ, so this bishop can be thought of as a not so old new guy on the block.
The "house" is wonderful, with a turret at the top and views everywhere. Philip's almost out of time to make important construction decisions, and like many clients we're brought in late in the game. This project is just under the wire. Muratores arrive on January 2nd to tear out flooring, so we give him ideas he things are grand and now we're to come back with a kitchen plan and an overall scheme. This is right up our alley.
Before the night is through, we've done a basic plan, cost it out, and are ready to meet with him right after Santo Stefano, the day after Christmas.
Now we have pranzo, I whip together Marsiglia's budino without sugar, and it takes two hours to steam. We wrap ourselves up and open the door, just as we see them coming down the walk. Poor Felice did not remember that we agreed with him earlier in the week that we would walk to their house for a holiday visit. So we sit at home with them and have a sweet visit. Then they're off again, slowly arm in arm, back down the path to the borgo and home.
Quickly, Dino takes out two ladders and a "c-clamp", and we move the picnic table on the terrace to a spot just under the holiday tree. At "golden hour", just as the sky turns a pinky blue, we're climbing up on the creaky table, all three of us, and blink! Here we are. Notice the picnic table and Dino's shoes, as well as the tower just behind my head. Even Sofi complies, with the silly reindeer antlers on her little head. We are one happy family.
So in case you did not receive our email photocard, here's what you missed:
The evening ends with visions of sugarplums...actually with visions of friends who will open our email greeting and remember us for a moment. Roy thinks that the internet has allowed people to stay closer in touch. I think just the opposite.
Sure, it makes it easier to quickly contact someone. But is that really getting in touch? There is nothing like a hug, a real in person greeting, looking someone in the eye and asking about his or her life. Perhaps because we are so far away from most of our friends, we are forgiven for this short spurt of a greeting.
To every one we know, we send our best wishes and blessings for peace and good will. Especially for good will and an actual two armed hug for good measure. This holiday does something special, we hope, for each and every person. It gives one a chance to remember, to reflect, and to hope for a life of internal peace. And on that first Christmas, the hope reflected in the eyes of everyone who looked up at that Star, remains to us on this day. We are so thankful for all of that.
Will we find the carciofi to serve "alla Giudeca"? These are the giant artichokes that take a while to prepare, but are served looking like flowers burst from a bath in hot and golden oil. The task is formidable.
First, we drive to Giove to Sgrinia, the finest macelleria around, to pick up our abaccio, or baby lamb shoulder, cut just so. We ordered it earlier in the week, but have to wait our turn to pick up our treasure.
The young son of the owner waits on us, and we are not sure what to tell him. Dino tells him we want to fix abaccio alla Romana, and after showing us the shoulder, which we approve, he cuts a delicate chop and shows it to us, asking if this is what we want.
"NO!" Dino tells him, and I shake my head, wondering just what we will tell him. The cacophony of the shop, full of people, stops like a door slammed in a windstorm. At least twenty people stare at us, and not a breath is uttered.
"Abaccio alla Romana!" Dino pleads. Dino motions to the young man's father, who has helped us many times. The father tells him how to cut it, and as he does, one by one, each person in the shop gives his or her advice. Actually, the dish is called abaccio brodetto, but that's not a big deal.
I turn around to see many pursed lips, nods. "These are certainly strainieri," we can almost hear them think to themselves. "They don't know what they're talking about, so let's help them through it. At least they're trying to fix a proper Italian meal!"
The real conversations begin again, and the young man behind the counter uses his knives deftly, chopping with a definite thud, but slicing as if he's cooing a romantic lullaby to the little creature. We are well served.
As we leave, the owner walks out with us and we wish him an auguri. He hugs me and wishes us well. He clearly enjoys these days. At the center of the lives of his customers, this sweet man creates magical dishes. One, of thin slices of veal wrapped around sausage meat and herbs and tied with string, is clearly his own. Soon we will try this for guests.
We leave, stop at two stores in Giove who only have medium sized carciofi, and Roy suggests we drive right on to La Quercia, next to Viterbo, where the very best shopping around is assured. We stop at Sappori Uno in Attigliano, but their carciofi is tiny. So on we drive, through Bomarzo, Vitorchiano, over hill and dale, arriving at a thriving La Quercia, the town with the famous Della Robbia blue and white porcelain statues from the year 1500 framing the front door to the Duomo.
But on this day, our mission is clear. There are three fruit and vedura shops, but no large carciofi are here. So we've agreed to Plan B: smaller carciofi in a kind of lemony cream sauce.
First, Dino takes a number from Biscetti, the gastronomia extraordinare. We are at least twenty numbers back, so it's time for caffé, and a ciambella (sugar donut) for Dino.
Clementines, lattuga, spedini with vegetables for Candida to grill, lemons, lovely green grapes, apples, quince...and of course 18 carciofi, long and leafy with their purply green spikes, lying around like gawky teenagers. There's lots of work to be done here...We pick up a few things from each little shop, wanting to spread the business around.
Back at home, Tiziano comes for a visit, bringing us fresh eggs in a lovely little basket with an embroidered doily in the bottom, sausages from one of the family pigs in Giove, and a bottle of the red wine from the grapes we picked earlier in the fall. Lovely.
We tell Tiziano about the sausage with grapes dish, and he wants us to all try it together. So we agree to do it soon, and then he leaves for pranzo at home.
After our pranzo, it's time to get ready to cook. Roy strings the bells for his Babbo Natale tonight, and they sound wonderful. That reminds me. Dino has an idea that the children of Mugnano should have snow. Less than two hours away, in Terminillo beyond Rieti, there is plenty of snow. Dino thinks the parents should get together and have a truckload delivered to the borgo, dropped before dawn as a surprise to the children. Then we can all make snow men, called .
Tiziano tells us it's a great idea, but the mayor must approve the idea first. For the borgo is a public place. So we agree to speak with Francesco. He's the Vigili Urbano, and if the idea comes from him, perhaps we can pull it off, sometime between Christmas and Epiphany. Let's see what happens...
So I have this idea that I want to try to fix carciofi, but am not sure which way to go. I like a Carol Field recipe, so triple it, and it takes over an hour to get the artichokes prepped. With three persimmon puddings on the stove and now the carciofi, the whole house is infused with great smells...mostly of garlic and mint from the carciofi.
It's time to stop, to get Babbo dressed, and this is a real production. But we've done this before, so it takes no time at all and we're out the door and laughing our way down Via Mameli. Babbo rattles his bells and calls out, "Ho, Ho, HO!" and then turns around and tells me that the Italians don't do that. There isn't an "H" in their alphabet. So it's "O!O!O!" and a chorus of Jingle Bells and then we're at Donato's house.
From there, we walk around Mugnano Basso and take a few photos, then arrive in the plaza to find it full of colored holiday lights, strung from building to building, a huge red "Star from the East" near Livio's house.
We walk up to Livio's and Mauro runs down to his car. I call out, "Babbo arriva! In cinque minute!" and think he's disappearing. But Mauro is the wisest of them all. He hid all the presents in his car and has them sitting by the front door. When Babbo arrives, he has him hand them inside to Erica and Salvatore. What a great idea!
From house to house, we're welcomed and invited in. But we don't have the time, for we have to reach every house before mass. Some of our favorites are not in town, so those gifts will be given later. There is enough time to walk back home, and the weather is mild, so we stop at home to regroup and then it's back to Christmas Eve Mass.
Here are a few pictures of Babbo's event.br>
I'm not sure I like what has been done to the carciofi, so I play with the dish a little before going up to bed. Tomrrow will be a big cooking day, but fun.
Dino and I muse that this Babbo "thing" is more fun after-the-fact that during the experience itself. The walk is very quiet, as if no one lives in the village, and we feel like strangers. But once a door is opened we're treated like family. Until next year...
Looking back on the day, it was almost everything we could have wished, with the exception of being surrounded by our family. It feels as if I've been cooking for days, but at 7PM the pranzo guests have just left and we're into the cleanup phase. It makes sense that two days of cooking resulted in a six-hour holiday lunch. And we enjoyed every bit of it.
A surprise phone call comes in from Tiziana, my violin teacher, who we have not seen for over a year. The call touches me deeply, as do a bottle of homemade liquor from Fiorella, Tia's cleaning lady. "Oh, how sweet of her," I exclaimed and then Pow! If a match had been near my mouth upon taking a sip, I surely would have set the house on fire. It's tasty just the same, with hints of mandarin orange and lemony grappa.
The day begins with a methodical banging of pots, but first it's Christmas, so I heat up some waffles and make a topping of heated maple syrup, sliced bananas and walnuts. Cups of espresso wash this down, and then it's time to get in gear.
While Dino and Sofi walk up to the borgo to see if he can find the clanger for his bell, dropped somewhere along the Babbo Natale route last night, I work on the artichokes, then roll out the dough for the ricotta and saffron tart and heat up the sweet and sour onions. The baby lamb is browned in thinly sliced onion and olive oil, then dusted with flour, a glass of white wine and boiling water. This all simmers for a couple of hours on top of the stove, and I'll let it sit. When it's close to being ready, I'll stir in a mixture of egg yolks, finely chopped parsley and marjoram and lemon juice just at the end.
Frank and Candace arrive right on time with a wonderful spicy tomato-y faro soup, which we serve with a spoon or so of freshly grated cheese and a swirl of our best olive oil. But first we open a bottle of dry spumante, and Angie and Frank and Candace join us. We don't know where Alan is, so Roy calls him and again he has the date wrong. So while he gets his act together, we start the soup, and the afternoon proceeds apace.
Alan arrives a while later. The soup is divine, with a number of very special tastes that are difficult to identify. We never do find out what all the spices are, but coriander seems to be one. We are sure to save a container before they leave. What's this version of "doggy bag" or "porta via" called? Frank and Candace bring a bottle of 1988 French wine. Frank things it's past its prime, but we think it's great. The wine tastes as though it has a real story to tell, but by now we're on to Italian stories...
The egg and herbs are whirled into the lamb, it's heated a few minutes, and as we pass around the tray of artichokes and onions, I ladle out the lamb. With plenty of local read wine to go around, we're pacing ourselves.
After the main course we proceed to a salad of a kind of romaine with walnuts and pomegranate seeds in a vinaigrette and finally the budino di caki, or steamed persimmon pudding, topped with heated cherries from our tree. The cherries have soaked for a year and a half in Sauvignon grappa. After cups of espresso, we try tastes of a number of liquors, and that's where Fiorella's firewater comes in.
So it's a great way to spend a Christmas Day. In the past, we've spent it quietly, and somehow the day is meant to be spent with friends. So we agree to have a repeat next year. But for now we need to recoup from this one.
Tomorrow we'll be attending three different festas, but for now, it's time to call Terence and Angie and Uncle Harry and Aunt Elaine and then to settle down. Through all of this Sofi spent the day in heavenly bliss, surrounded by some of her very favorite people, not to mention two of Alan's dogs, Rusty and Short Stuff, who meandered in and out and behaved like gentlemen.
Today is spent in a whirlwind of activity. With all the best intentions, we open the front door after we're dressed and it is raining. So we don't attend mass this morning, although today's service is an hour later than our usual Sunday mass.
I love my holiday sketch books, given to me as a gift from Angie Good, and sneak in a little time to sketch. With the weather too cold and wet to do much painting in the studio, sketching in the warm house is a joyous activity.
We scoop up Sofi and a budino di caki (steamed persimmon pudding) and drive off to Steven and Alvaro's country house just below the borgo of Bassano in Teverina. Sofi is moody today, and that is unusual. Perhaps all the attention yesterday was more than she is used to. And today, there are a number of unfamiliar people. So although Steven and Alvaro and the other guests fawn over her, she's not happy, and hides or wants to sit right by my foot.
Alvaro has clearly read his holiday card from us, and introduces us as "Eva and Dino." Another couple arrives soon after us. The lovely dark haired woman's name is Angela Maria and her husband's name is David. What is so funny is that she wants to be called by another name: Maria, and David tells us that yes, his name is David, but we can call him Richard. The other guest is Connie. Simple as that. We can remember that name.
Today we are served a traditional American Thanksgiving meal, and our hosts are so kind that we are each given a gift. The tasty meal is finished with an authentic Romertoff, a huge German ceramic container whose contents have taken over six months to prepare. First pure alcohol and some fruit are plopped in, and then I can't remember just what, but many fruits, including strawberries and grapes and in the last week or two, a pineapple. The drink is cold and sweet and tasty and we are sure will pack a wallop when we least expect it.
We thank our hosts and leave for home, after dropping Connie off at the Orte train station. We enjoyed getting to know her and hope that we see her again. After a few minutes at home, we're off again to Vetralla/Viterbo for a holiday party at Kevin and Clyve's country house. What fun guests they have!
We meet their English friends, as well as a number of local Viterbese. I spend a while with two attractive women, and they are so patient with me. I speak with them about cooking, and somehow we share recipes and talk about food. It is so much fun.
We greet a young vet, Giannini. This summer we took Sofi to his vet clinic in Viterbo to get her nails clipped. We're unable to clip her nails ourselves, partly because we're squeamish, as is Sofi, and partly because her nails are black and we have no idea how close to cut them. Yikes! Anyway, the vet who took care of her recognized us. He is the vet of Kevin and Clyve's five or so Irish Setters.
It's time we make a change in vets. We love Dr. Cristali in Terni, but it is a long drive to his office and he's close to retirement. We hardly ever meet him and have to wait at least an hour each time we take Sofi to see him. Kevin thinks this Viterbo vet is great, so it's worth a try.
I spend a while chatting with a young woman in the kitchen who speaks very good English. She is graduating in February with a Masters in Environmental Studies. She tells me she thinks she can get a job working for the consulting company, Bain, who has two offices in Italy. "Jump at it!" I tell her. They are a very important worldwide consulting company, and this would be a great first job for her.
It is fun to take on a mentoring role again. It has been a long time since I have helped a young person figure out a career path. Some of the basics still apply, with a little innovation thrown in to make it more interesting. I offer to help her edit her cover letters, and look forward to hearing from her.
The food is plentiful, and one of the big hits of the party is a tray of tiny minced pies containing chopped up pieces of candied fruit. The Italians love it! We are served "devils on horseback" which are really prunes wrapped with bacon, and although this is an old recipe we remember from many years ago, it is fun to translate it to Italian. Kevin tells me that "angels on horseback" consists of chicken livers wrapped in bacon, but I sort of gag to myself, not being a liver aficionado. I do like the name however. What old recipes these are!
We leave to drive on to Shelly and Claudio's, where everyone is just sitting down to dinner. We told Shelly that we'd just stop by for a drink, but sit down instead, and pick at a little here and there of their lentils and bollito misto and salad and apple crumble. The food is always wonderful at their house.
Catherine and Kees are there, and we've not seen them for a while. Catherine has painted a lovely watercolor scene of their house and it is now used as labels for Shelly's jams. Why haven't I painted something creative for us?
So while I can't sleep I think of the handsome painted ceramic dinner plates at Steven and Alvaro's from Deruta and Catherine's watercolors and am itching to come up with a design for L'Avventura Ceramica as well as L'Avventura in general that we'll use for the many jars we give away as gifts.
I can't wait to get up in the morning!
Today is my father 's birthday. He would have been 100 today!
In his honor, I spend the day sketching designs for ceramics, mostly from a gardening book given to us as a Christmas present from Alan and Wendy. When I was a child, I remember going into dad's room, an amazing place filled to the rafters with books and a bedside light on all through the night.
One of his books was a book on drawing the human form, and with its examples, he showed me how to draw ovals for heads and torsos with a pencil and then, bit by bit, turn the ovals into lifelike characters. It was fun.
Dad had all kinds of books. "Learn EVERYTHING!" was his mantra. Born with a photographic memory and an IQ of 154, his brain was like a piece of flypaper...everything stuck to it.
So today I think of him and draw away in my new sketchbook. I sketch until I am bleary, and before I'm through at the end of the day, I've sketched twenty pages of flowers and vegetables in quite a bit of detail. These will be used as some of the basic designs of the plates I will paint starting next week.
I also draw out a kind of logo for L'Avventura Ceramica. So I'll probably redraw it with colored pencils or paint it and then scan it into the computer. Soon you'll see some of my drawings on the website, now that we have a multi-purpose and handy scanner, printer and photocopier. With our old printer "giving up the ghost" (now how would that translate into Italian?), this replacement is inexpensive and speedy.
We decide not to go to the living Presepio in Bassano tonight, because it is raining. We're both also tired. Roy's been busy putting the finishing touches on the compromeso for one of our houses for sale. Both parties have agreed, and the red tape will take us all a while to complete. But it's a wonderful purchase for both the buyer and the seller.
Shelly calls, and we'll be invited to a dinner this next week at the Gasperoni's, where Rosita will cook a zuppa di faraone (pheasant) for our three families. It should be a lot of fun.
So good night, dear Dad. And just before we go to bed there is an email from Pat Flaharty. His brother John passed away this morning of cancer. Blessings to him. Today is a real day of remembrance.
On this cold and cloudy morning, we oversleep, but then are able to arrive at Daniele's at 9AM so that he can color my hair. He's alone in the shop today, telling me that after Christmas no one comes to the shop.
For some reason, I don't ask if he's using the same formula to mix the potion to use on my hair. But less than two hours later, when he's drying my hair in front of the mirror, I'm horrified. The color is bright yellowy beige.
"No! Sbagliato!" I cry out. It is wrong!
"Wait until it is dry," he assures me. But when it is dry and the color is really bad, I tell him that he must fix it. So he mixes another batch, and I try to become a chemist all of a sudden to help him figure out what to do. I agree on a change, and while he's putting it on my head, Dino arrives and sits nearby, just taking it all in. I admit I was hoping he'd be angry, or at least concerned.
The solution is very strong, so strong that it starts to burn my scalp. "Will my hair now fall out?" I think to myself, but he really must change the color. So I put my book down and close my eyes, which by this time are full of tears from the burning sensation on my head.
"Do you want me to stop?" he asks me in Italian. I shake my head and he tells me "Just five minutes more."
So this color is not right, either, but at least it's a kind of a pale honey color. He won't let us pay him, and tells me to come back in a week and he'll fix it.
His uncle's house is for sale, and we agree to go to his house nearby after pranzo to take a look. We think the house is near the house we were shown eight years ago when we bought our house in Mugnano. Strangely enough, this is the same house Daniele and his parents show us.
Dino and I have agreed that we will only sell houses of "character and charm". This house is the one we passed on eight years ago, without even entering the front door. So we tell them we'll keep it in mind if anyone needs such a house, but it is too new for us, and too modern in style. It would be a good weekend house for someone from Rome.
But down the street we find a fallen down shack with a fabulous view, so I ask Dino to take photos of it and we drive to Daniele's shop and ask him about it. It's been sold, but no work has been done, so he'll see if they're willing to sell it again and will let us know.
Back at home, we're trying to get our scanner to work. I have an idea of how to put some of my drawings on our new web site, which is still in development. I'm hoping it will be ready to be unveiled right after the first of the year. Oh, that's next week.
We take on a couple of new web addresses: www.lavventuraitalia.com www.lavventuraproperties.com and www.lavventuraceramica.com. Alex Kalsey is doing such a fine job designing the site, and now I have more work to do to get it ready. So it may be a couple of more weeks. In the meantime, the existing site will still work. These addresses are probably not set up yet, so continue to use our old address until we let you know.
Tonight we're going to attend the Orvieto Jazz Festival, a tribute to Django Reinhart, one of our favorite musicians from the 1940's. Django played the guitar with Stephan Grappelli, who played the violin, and although they're both long gone, the tribute will be special.
This morning, Roy meets with a kitchen shop owner, who uses a CAD program to rework a client's kitchen. Sofi and I stay at home so that I can work on the site and work up a new recipe, now that Jaime's Italy Italian cookbook has arrived. Last night I read the entire thing, and it is a good read, as well as a good cookbook. I want to try a sausage and egg pasta dish with pancetta. We have everything we need, so I'll just surprise Roy. Perhaps I'll even bake some bread...
Tonight will be our New Year's Night out, although it's a couple of days early. We'll stay at home on the actual New Year's Eve, considering it Amateur Night, more of a night of unrealistic expectations. We usually rent a movie, drink champagne and eat caviar, then go to bed early. But now that I know that it's good luck to bare one's backside to the moon at the stroke of midnight (Lore taught me this some years ago, but can't do it herself this year because they'll be in a hotel with "very important" guests.), I wonder if we'll stay up, just for that.
We hopefully will remember to say, "Rabbit! Rabbit!" as our first words at the stroke of midnight. This is another superstition, one that we try to remember at the beginning of each month. What I don't know is whether either of them actually works. But what if I/we don't say or do them?????
The day is cold, very cold, but after a day of sketching and designing arwork for the web site, I'm ready to go out. We arrive in Orvieto and park close to the theatre. Hardly any people are out, although the concert in Teatro Manchinelli is sold out.
The theatre is lovely, and we have seats in a box near the center on the second row of balconies. It is a great vantage point, much better than being in the orchestra. I like it especially, because I can hang over the padded red velvet curb and see everything happening in the theatre.
While waiting for the concert to begin and the curtain to rise, I'm drawn to the orchestra pit and the eight wooden stairs leading up to the stage. A number of years ago, Dino and I watched a performance of Sunset Boulevard with Glen Close on Broadway with Avery and Don. It was a fabulous play, masterfully done.
The William Holden character fell on cue right into the orchestra pit, which the audience was led to believe was the swimming pool. I imagine him falling in here with the lights down for added dramatic emphasis.
To this day, I think of that staging and that play when glancing at an orchestra pit. Brilliant. But Avery and I were caught off guard by the curved staircase that Glen Close came down to "make her entrance" for Mr. DeMille. It was constructed from stage left to stage right, which we felt was clearly backward. Later, when viewing the video of the original film, we were convinced.
Tonight, the eight men on stage, not all at the same time, were bathed in a red light reminiscent of cooked beets. The lights reflecting off their guitars shot prisms toward the audience, and I found myself drawn into the experience as if we were transported back to the 1950's. All but one young guitarist wore slacks.
One guitarist even wore short dark socks, which did not reach all the way up to the cuff of his pants. So a pasty rim of flesh hung between the two like a donut. The Django character must have been 70 at least, but bopped his left knee in perfect rhythm so fast and for so long that he could have been inflicted with St. Vitus Dance. He had a ball!
My favorite musician, of course, was Florin Nicelescu on violin, although Christian Escoude in the catbird seat came in a second best. Roy liked the fisharmonica player. So what a strange group of instruments, you are thinking? There were four guitars, a base, a violin and a fisharmonica.
It all worked, especially when the group jammed. I love seeing a group jam. One played his heart out, and when he took a breath, it was a cue for the next to step in. I yelled, "Bravo!" each time Florin performed a solo, his fingers flying on the bridge of the violin and the bow. And I was not alone.
We met up with Candace and Frank at intermission, but did not meet afterward, because they were off to their next concert, this time at midnight. The Orvieto Jazz Festival only lasts for a few days. But the concerts continue all day and into the night. Since they live in Orvieto, they take in all they can. We'll see them again, soon.
Back at home after a stop for an Amaro and a beer in Orvieto Scalo at a bar, we're remembering to leave the water dripping in the sink to make sure the pipes don't freeze.
So what am I missing? We're eating "brunch", a late morning American breakfast of speck (German thinly sliced lean bacon), Rosita's fresh eggs, and a potato, grated and crisply fried with coffee and toast. Roy drinks his coffee "Americano", watered down in a big cup. This cholesterol dump is what Roy loves, and he hardly ever eats it in Italia. So this is a treat.
But we're watching CNN news, and there is a breaking story about Baby Noor. Baby Noor was found during a sweep in Iraq by American forces. The soldiers were told that she had spinal bifida and the Iraqi hospitals could do nothing to save her life. Cue the cavalry.
Do I know so little about what is going on in the US that I become angry? Yes, angry. The narrator tells us that for humanitarian reasons they must obscure the faces of the family members. The story is such big news that all around the family, men stand with video cameras and cover every second they can before the family gets into a jeep to drive to the airport for a flight to Atlanta.
"The insurgents will kill the family members for cooperating with the Americans if we don't protect them," they report almost smugly, as if they're patting themselves on the back: for the story and also for obscuring the faces of family members.
What are they thinking? If they truly want to be humanitarians, why not arrange for a hospital to do the work and fly the baby out secretly? Now the baby's and the baby's family's lives are in imminent mortal danger. Since we know that the baby will be flown to Atlanta, I'm imagining Ted Turner salivating over CNN's "soon to be award winning" coverage.
Am I ill from the rich breakfast or the story, or a little of both? I turn away like a lumaca, walking up with Sofi to write just to get away from it all.
OK. "Come back home," I tell myself. And I take a deep breath to clear my head to adjust to the scene around me. I'm thinking of attempting some different painting, probably watercolor on thick stock. My drawings of fruits and flowers for ceramics are coming out so well, that I might just do a set of them to be framed. What I don't like about watercolor is that the paper often gets water-spotted and bumpy. So I'll attempt to do some with very little water.
Roy's working on the new scanner, which won't scan. The more we develop the web site, the more I want to include my artwork. So transferring the designs after scanning them and manipulating them will probably take Illustrator, a complex software program I don't really want to learn. I'll sit with Candida after the first of the year to see how complicated it is to work.
Did I tell you that I hate the color of my hair? The only good thing about it is that I don't have to look at myself. Dino doesn't mind it. But it is a honey color, since I have natural red pigment in my hair. "My mother had red hair!" Dino exclaimed more than twenty years ago when I emerged from a salon in California to surprise him.
Ever since then I've been sure that there was no red in my hair. I think the red frightens him. I've decided to try to wait a month, to see if my hair will get a break from the bleach, before pummeling it again.
Because the afternoon sun is bright, I move all the hydrangea plants into the loggia for the rest of the winter, clipping them back and hoping they'll all revive. Hydrangeas are a strange bunch. Some thrive, some don't. I am hopeful.
Next to the three hydrangea bushes sits a mint in a pot, ready for dormancy. I clip off almost all of the shoots before finding one healthy one left below all the other remaining dry branches. It is so healthy that it descended right down to the gravel and forged its way to the earth below, where it rooted. So I cut it off, yank it out of the ground, find a new pot, insert the roots, add a little fresh soil, and we'll see if it survives. I know enough to put it in a pot, for it will take over the entire garden if it's not restrained.
Plant by plant, I clip them back, take off the leaves of some of the roses, and this month long project will proceed slowly. Today Sofi and I wander back inside and I do some more painting, until Dino tells me we're invited to Tiziano's for tea and for a quick look at something Dino's been translating.
Tiziano's at home with a sore throat, and while we're sitting in the kitchen gabbing, his parents return. I tell him he must take good care of his mother, who is still suffering from having two wisdom teeth (denti del giudizi) pulled out last week. The dentist took the stitches out early, so that he could leave for vacation, and I am worried about her. She is still not well.
We make plans for the dinner they'll have of pheasant soup next week, and we'll bring our budino di caki for desert. Sure, I'll make another couple of budinos tomorrow. They are very popular, and need to last the winter, although by the time March comes around, I'm sick of eating them.
On this last day of the year it rains a sweet rain, kissing the plants before they shudder as the temperature drops almost to freezing. The citrus plants sit snugly inside the loggia for the winter, or covered in their winter coats. Everything else is prepared.
I can't resist sketching in my new little book, and page by page add: artichokes, peaches, beans, fennel, hyacinths in a pot...The choices are endless, and so on and on I sketch until I am bleary eyed, or the light in the kitchen is mostly shadows. I dislike overhead lights, so once the sun in the sky is low, it's a sign to stop for the day.
I prepare a chicken risotto with sage for pranzo, and it's about the best risotto I've made yet. Pranzo takes place in mid afternoon, for we slept this morning until almost ten A M.
Later, Dino takes out a bottle of Prosecco, and after cleaning the prawns, I decide to make a scampi that we'll serve on bruschetta. Although we don't really like the shrimp in Italy, these giants are quite tasty, especially when cooked in garlic and olive oil and white wine and fresh presemelo. The bruschetta is so drippy that I find myself licking my fingers. Its such bad manners but so tasty that I don't want to miss a drop.
We watch a couple of rented movies, and then it's zero hour, starting a few minutes early in some town or village across the valley with noise and lights and fireworks.
And another chapter of another year is put to bed in this lovely village we call home.