AN ITALIAN EXPERIENCE - Journal Archives
April through June, 2006

APRIL 2006

April 1
This morning's fog has me thinking that it will clear early, and it does. By the time we're out in the car at 10AM, the fog is a thing of the past. We drive to Lugnano for an errand, and on the way take a side trip to Dawn's to see how her building is coming. We have not seen or heard from her in months.

She's not there, but the workers are doing a wonderful job. Old stones cover the face of the house, and it looks as though they're working on the inside now. She has a marvelous scene of hills in every direction, with no modern houses to blight her view. She must be thrilled.

At home, it's a gardening day, and I start to spray the roses with denatured alcohol, soap and water to protect them from little critters. I'm aware that more than a dozen of the tomatoes look as though they're ready to burst out of their little seedling trays, so Dino helps me find thirteen larger pots, and I replant them. The replanted tomatoes are clearly in shock, so I add special seedling fertilizer and put them back upstairs in a bedroom window. By the end of the day they've completely recovered.

What is a mystery is why those thirteen sprouted so early and are so much healthier than all the others. These were planted almost as an afterthought, in tiny yoghourt cups with holes punched in the bottoms. We're more than a month away from the others being ready to plant in the ground. These will be ready in a week or two. But they won't be planted until the end of the month for sure.

April is a surprise month, with usually one or two quick frosts to shock early bloomers. We'll be cautious. Perhaps we'll move the tomatoes into the serra (greenhouse) at Easter. But for now, we 're adding special fertilizer and C-Spray twice a week to assure that they will thrive in the window.

I know, I know. I promised a planting calendar, and have not included April yet. So by the end of the weekend, I hope you'll be able to click on Our Garden Calendar and find it up to date.

The narcissi are almost all in flower, and it is warm enough to be out in shirtsleeves. I walk out to the far property, and want to just sit on the grass and hang out, but there is a lot of work to do first.

We're tying back roses on the path, I'm clipping boxwood, Dino's watering things that are not on the irrigation system, Sofi's nosing around chasing lizards. It's a really lovely day.

Sheets are lying on the little drying rack on the terrace, whipping in the breeze, and I whisk them off to make the bed. By the time I write this it's 10PM and I can't wait to get in bed to the smell of those sheets, fragrant with the fresh smells of spring.

April 2
After sleeping with two ice packs last night, I'm feeling better, with less pain in my neck and shoulder. Dino gets up before 6AM, because it's the time for the Formula 1 race from Melbourne, Australia this week. He comes back to bed when I'm getting up to tell me the race was a disaster, with only 11 drivers finishing the race. Plenty of excitement for spectators, he continues.

I don't understand the thrill of watching people hurt themselves in a dangerous auto race. The spectators remind me of Romans who couldn't wait to get into the Colosseum to watch gladiators kill each other. But Dino loves it, so I'm happy for him. I'm happy, too, that we only have a television in the kitchen. Life is so much more civil since we have not had a television in the bedroom. We both get a lot more reading done, and are not held captive by the little machine.

We walk up to mass, and there is a circle of neighbors waiting outside for Don Luca. We join them, for it is too pretty to go inside yet. He arrives on his silver motorcycle and black helmet and I try to explain Darth Vader to Elena. Any time we see Don Luca drive up to the borgo when it is not mass time, we think of Darth Vader, coming to visit the family of the dead. Yes, I know. I have an over active imagination.

Just before mass, we stop at Paola's house, to ask her to come for a visit today. We have something for her. She'll arrive before pranzo.

The group in church is very small today, for most of the villagers took the bus trip, or pilgrimaggio, to La Verna, which was one of the places where St. Francis lived, in upper Umbria. We traveled there a few years ago and it is a wonderful place. But today we'll stay at home.

After mass, we realize that we don't have the letter for Don Luca to sign, so Dino rushes ahead of me to find it, and I take my time, stopping to pinch off little yellow leaves of the Lady Hillingdon roses growing against the tall tufa wall on the path.

Dino finds the letter, and walks back toward the borgo to give it to Don Luca. Don Luca takes it and will make whatever changes he needs to and return it to us. The letter is permission for us to enter the Diocesean library in Bagnoregio to begin our research for the real San Liberato. I look forward to moving ahead on the project. I'm not so sure Tiziano likes the prospect of the work ahead as much as we do.

Today is another lovely day; so lovely, in fact, that we decide to eat tuna fish sandwiches and take pranzo outside under an umbrella at the long table on the terrace. It's magical, with only the birds to accompany us. An opera plays inside, and it is The Pearl Fishers. I love listening to opera, especially on Sunday mornings, and with the windows open and a soft breeze blowing, it's heavenly.

Paola comes by, and we present her with the two mugs I painted for her as a gift for referring us to Rosalba and Lilly. Everyone in the real estate transaction seems genuinely pleased. I think that is everyone except their aunt, who is so sad not to be able to return to the house of so many good memories. That reminds me. We really must pay her a visit soon.

After a talk with Paola about her house restoration and the people she is using to do the work, she leaves and we sit down to eat. And after we've finished, there's little time left before we drive to Orvieto to attend a concert with Candida and Franco.

We're standing on the terrace, ready to measure for the number of artichoke plants we'll be able to fit on the back wall of the raised planter bed, when I see Felice and Marsiglia and Italo leaning over the wall across from Pepe's garden. They turn to walk back to the borgo, and I am so sad. I miss Felice's almost daily walks through the garden, the click of his keys opening the front gate, his labored steps up to the terrace and his wave. And I miss him even more now, as he does not look up.

And then Marsiglia turns her head and sees me, and we both wave. The three of them walk back toward us, we open the parcheggio gate, and I rush out there with Sofi in my arms to greet them all.

We take them through the garden, and Felice's face lights up. He walks from olive tree to olive tree, rubbing his fingers at the end of the branches, looking down at the favas that he sowed several months ago. That was the last time we saw him here.

Marsiglia takes me aside and tells me how sad she is. She does not know who this man is by her side. He stays inside almost every day, and today did not even want to attend mass, although the morning was warm. Dino is not so gloomy. He tells me later that Felice recognized everything, so that is not so bad. I saw him take a look up at his bench, next to the Madonna, and wonder if he'll ever sit there again. My heart sinks.

And as we drive up to Orvieto to meet Candida and Franco, we decide that we'll bring Mario back twice a month, and otherwise will do without anyone else to tend our garden. I want a contadino from Mugnano, someone who'll love our garden and want to come and putter and give us advice and sit and talk. So until one magically appears, we'll do without for now.

The concert is a strange and wonderful dance performance, a fusion of Indian and Spanish Flamenco. You had to be there. We are mesmerized by the group; by the creator's ability to draw the three dancers together, entwined by the music and the choreography.

Afterward, we walk to a little café near their house and have a bottle of wine and snacks. We agree to take a road trip together in a month or so, and that will be fun. In the meantime, the talk is all about gardens, and their orto. Since Candida is a vegetarian, no wonder she has placed such great importance on their orto. She's planting carrots and beets and snap peas and we're genuinely impressed.

I'm missing Sofi, so we don't stay out all that long, and when we return under a cobalt blue starry sky, she's waiting for us and runs out to greet me as I wait for her near the side gate. Oh, how I love that little dog!

It's been a wonderful day. It's a really good thing to attend creative events now and then, even if I don't want to leave the property. It really is worthwhile, and Candida and Franco are a lot of fun to be around. I find myself inspired to create when I see these dancers in their elaborate costumes and the lighting and smoke billowing out creating a perfect mood.

That reminds me. When a smoke machine blew smoke across the stage at the beginning of the performance, I turned to Candida and said, "I wonder where the exit signs are." She turned to me and said, "There is just one exit door, and it is at the back."

Off and on during the concert I went through exercises of how we'd escape in a fire. It is worth considering, and I'm reminded of this because of a large accident in Bahrain this morning, where more than fifty people died on a pleasure cruise. The boat capsized and the people who died were trapped down below, unable to open the windows or doors under water.

So much for news to lull me to dreamland. No wonder I never sleep!

April 3
I can't stay in bed. The sky is clear and the fog in the valley is lifting. Today will be another beautiful day. But in an hour we're socked in by fog, so it's a good morning for a quick trip to Deruta to pick up more handmade tiles for the loggia project. We're not sure if we need a border, and I don't really want one, thinking the tiles will look just fine the way they are.

When we reach Mondo Ceramica, our new friend Francesco helps us and Dino wants me to consider a border tile, so we pick out a thin one. He also suggests I pick up a white lab coat, so I do, with their logo on the pocket. I think it reminds him of his old film lab days. Perhaps it's better than wearing an old apron. I actually like the old apron. But I'll try this for a while.

We've picked up forty more handmade 10cm square tiles, which makes fifty all together. The loggia sink project keeps getting bigger...On the way home I think we might use a wooden shelf at the top instead of a border on three sides, and that might be the best option. We'll use the border for something else.

We are looking for wooden trays to insert a few of my tiles into, and I'd like square ones. We're told there is one place in Deruta for them, and the woman's shop has no signage and is on the other side of the Superstrada. But we track her down after a few twists and turns and a few "A certo punto's" from locals. She does not have square trays, and our handmade tiles don't exactly fit. So we're to come back with a few finished handmade tiles and she'll see what she can do.

On the way back, I've been thinking. Although her shop is very special, and some of the painted frames are exquisite, I think we'll go to our friend in Amelia with four of the finished tiles and see what she can do for a frame as a tray with handles. We're starting to prepare for our table at Villa Lante in September, and this will be a good item, we think. We still don't know the date, or whether they will accept us, but Dino thinks Giuliola's daughter will get back to us soon. Speriamo.

We stop at an Autogrille for pranzo on the way back, because we cannot find a macelleria in Deruta before it's time for stores to close. Sofi is an angel waiting for us with no complaint, but she's much happier at home with her tacchino. By the time we reach Mugnano, the sky is clear, birds are singing, and we have hours ahead of us to enjoy the beautiful day.

I can't get Felice and Marsiglia out of my mind, so when Dino decides to take a nap at around 5 P M, I take Sofi for a walk to the borgo. It is silent on the way, and it is silent in the borgo, with no one around except for a worker on Annarita's building, putting up scaffolding.

When we reach Felice's, I ring the bell, but there is no answer and no key in the door. I am worried. Are they in the hospital? We walk back across the piazza and as we start to walk down the steep hill by the Orsini palazzo, there they are, slowly walking up the hill, arm in arm. They have been on a two hour (!) walk, out past the Gasperonis' house.

I put Marsiglia on my right arm, Felice on my left, and we walk back up the hill and across the piazza to their house, with Sofi following right along, as if we're Dorothy with the Tin Man and the Lion and Toto. Inside, we have a wonderful visit. I am able to speak with them and even think they understand what I am saying. And I understand about 60% of what they are saying, which is pretty good.

Before I leave, they show me that they still have the key to our front gate and garden. So I make sure that they know they are welcome. In fact, I tell them that we miss them very much and hope they'll come by often. "Our garden is always welcome to you. Come and sit. Come and walk around anytime. We really miss not having you in our garden." And I am sure that they understand.

Sofi and I practically gambol down the hill, I am so relieved. And back at home, we find Dino weeding and working in the garden. He stops to pick up my fired ceramics from Elena in Bomarzo, and comes back with half of them. The rest will be finished tomorrow and every tile looks good so far.

I've painted the first ten tiles for the loggia sink project, and there are forty left to go. The design is blue on a white background, a design I've come up with after studying very old tiles from Spain. But they are not too difficult to paint, so I'll smalto the rest on Wednesday in class and perhaps have them all done before Stefano comes to build the garden sink and re-plumb the loggia sink and tile it with these tiles. He promises to start this month. Speriamo.

Our new neighbors from Sweden come by for a surprise visit. They are here for a few weeks. We have a glass of wine in the kitchen and speak about what's been going on in their absence. We vow to get them together with Stein and Helga this weekend. Stein and Helga arrive on Friday from Norway. We also offer to lead them to OBI, the big hardware store in Viterbo, on Wednesday. Hardware stores are very important places for new homeowners. And OBI is difficult to find.

The evening ends with a clear sky and lots of stars. We have plenty to be happy about as we turn in.

April 4
Spring is really here. Last night we slept with the window open and the chattering of birds wakes me up. When I open my eyes, the sky is blue and it's a day to garden. Dino waters before breakfast and then gets in the car to do errands. He surely likes to drive as much as I enjoy being at home!

I take a walk around the property, and we have so much wild fennel! It is delicious, and I look forward to using it...where? There is also borage, with its luminous blue leaves and grey green leaves. I remember making a borage soup that was wonderful but have no idea how. The recipe was from the farmer's market in San Rafael. What a great market that is! I'll look for something on line.

With the last of the tiles to be picked up tomorrow from Elena and also class to attend, the garden sink project is ready for Stefano. We'll have to start nagging him. For although he promised to build the new structure before Pasqua, we're less than two weeks away and he's not ready to begin.

Once he begins, we'll need to try to get him to bury the plumbing work and install the tiles above the sink in the loggia as well, so he'll want those tiles subito. I'll smalto them tomorrow, or at least most of them, and those little tiles won't take as long. I have ten painted and need fifty. With Elena gone until Sunday in Paris, we won't have an oven ready for firing until next week anyway, so later this week I'll happily work on the blue and white tiles.

Today is a garden kind of day, with clear skies and mild temperature and very little wind until late afternoon. I mostly putter, and Dino works on the irrigation system. Sofi is busy, too. She's mostly a patient sort, telling the lizards she'll stand by the lavender plants and wait for each one to move. We've lost a few plants when she's become excited, but mostly she's pretty tame. Not wanting to lose any more plants, we watch her closely when she's in the middle garden. Otherwise, she does not do any damage.

I take a look at the fruit trees, and only the peach tree gives me worries. It always has leaf blight, and this year is no exception. Tomorrow we'll see what Bruno has to spray. I'm expecting it to be biologic, or I won't let Dino buy it. We also have to drive to OBI in Viterbo, so we'll see what they have to say as well.

In a search on the internet, I read to keep the fallen leaves away from the base of the tree. "When the tree is dormant, apply a Bordeaux mix, made from copper and oil, or a commercial fungicide to kill overwintering spores", it says, so I'll add that to the planting calendar. Let's see what the locals say to use.

We hear from the hotel in Ponza, and they'll allow Sofi, so we won't leave her in Rome with Valerie. It will be fun to have her with us, and when we look at a coffee table book that Michelle lends us on Ponza, I'm excited. It looks like a very interesting island, and it will be fun hiking all around for Sofi as well as for us.

I'm doing some reading in Italian, and it's not as daunting as I thought it would be. No, I don't understand all that I'm reading, but I was taught to slide my eyes over the words and get the gist of what is being said. So that helps. I'm reading some religious pamphlet sent to me in the mail from the Catholic Church, and should mail it to Don Francis. It talks about inter-faith dialogue, and he probably wrote it!

I am a person who wants to know details, so it's not like me to skim a sentence. But that is the only way to learn this language without taking formal classes. If I stop to look up each word, I don't think that will work. I'm actually enjoying reading, as long as I don't read too much at one time. Ha. No chance of that.

We're going to be advertising in the Sunday Times of London for our real estate business, but their Classified department is very difficult to reach. Hopefully, if you're in England, you'll see our ad for the next four Sundays. If you're reading this and looking for property in Italy, hopefully you've already emailed us. We're much more responsive than those folks at the Times. Really!

April 5
We think it will be a lovely day, but the wind picks up just as I'm spritzing the roses and the sky clouds over. We drive down the hill to Annika and Tord's and meet their friends here from Sweden. Then we lead the four of them to OBI in Viterbo, pick up a screen for the front door, and drive off to do some errands.

Rosario, the glass artist, may be a good artist, but he is not very reliable. We've been trying to get Bruce's elaborate glass vase repaired and he tells us it's finally finished, but we drive to meet him and he does not show up. On the phone he tells us he's coming, but an hour later we give up. This is one of those Italian crafts stories we'd like to have a good ending. We're hoping to be able to pick it up before Bruce's birthday on Sunday. But it looks doubtful.

We stop at our friends at Michellini and pick up a couple of ceanothus plants for the far property, but we're looking for very large lavender plants. Four of them will replace plants knocked around by Sofi during her lucertole hunting. The people at this vivaio love Sofi, and she loves them, loves having the whole place to sniff around.

This is the time of year that we're worried about our peach tree, with the leaves curling up as if they have ugly blisters. They tell us to use rame sulfato (copper sulfate), but after the blooms have finished. We did not remember to take care of this earlier, but hope that now that the blooms are almost spent that we can save the leaves, or at least the fruit.

We pick up the last batch of mattone from Elena, and she has done a very good job firing them, as usual. She's on her way to Paris for a week, so I have until Monday afternoon to paint away on the blue and white tiles for the loggia. I'm hopeful that the first project is finished, and that we're just waiting for Stefano to begin.

We won't know until we arrive in class later, to look at the 6 remaining tiles to be fired. The design is the focal point of the whole project, and I am nervous, especially since the last firings from class did not turn out well.

When we arrive in class, the tiles are not ready. They have not even been fired. So we tell Marco to pick them up and we'll return in two days or so to take them to another forno. He's fine with that. Dino leaves and I hear Il Pensiero, the signature song from the opera Nabucco, wafting from down the street.

Marco and I walk outside and try to find out where the sound is coming from. At the intersection, there is a group of people and a loudspeaker, talking about this weekend's national election. Puor troppo (too bad). We are hoping for a spontaneous concert.

Marco is in a chorus of some opera group, and asks me if I'd like to join. I thank him but decline. He then tells me about Carmen, the opera that will be staged in Terni this July. We will surely attend.

The other students and our teacher, Monia, arrive and each student works on his own project. I smalto (dip an underglaze) forty handmade tiles to paint at home and then Monia smaltos a large vase for me with large forceps (forbices). I will paint acanthus leaves all around it, with a design of my own, and she has me outlining the leaves first in a pale orange. It takes a long time, but I'm able to sit with her near the end of the session to begin the over-painting of the edges in green. The orange won't show later, but is there for background tone.

The vase is about ten inches tall, so should be quite interesting when it's done. Expecting it to take several weeks or more to complete in class, I've picked an elaborate design. It's a good idea to paint things in class that I need help with. Straightforward things I can pretty much complete myself. And we've determined that firing ceramics should all be done at Elena's now.

We're sitting around laughing and painting, and I understand about half of what's being said. When all of a sudden a woman I have not seen before arrives with...a toilet! It's primed in a dull white, but not fired. She wants to paint an elaborate design inside...

So Monia, with a straight face, helps her to pick a design and sits next to her, with the toilet on its side, as they take tissue paper and a carbon bag and transfer a basic design onto the unfinished inside of the porcelain fixture. Then Monia draws the outline, and the woman sits and begins to paint. Either this is an "installation", or the woman is going to use the toilet in a very upscale bathroom, or she is nuts.

We all try not to judge her. Fausto asks me what I think and I roll my eyes. Then I tell myself to be open-minded, and someone in class suggests that I paint a toilet next, after the two sink projects. I tell her that I'll paint a contadini toilet to go with our outdoor sink. Of course I am kidding. No matter how I try, I cannot make sense of painting the inside of a toilet.

We drive home and it's very cool and overcast. Friday we should have rain. And Friday is the day of Dino's colonscopia. So we're getting ready for him to have a day of eating light and drinking liquid tomorrow and then before he knows it on Friday the procedure will be done and we'll check off another medical procedure done well.

We surely believe in colonoscopies. This is Dino's third in five years. My second is not scheduled until next year. We pay attention to this procedure, and hope you will, too. It's too important a procedure to ignore for anyone over the age of 50.

April 6
We've been expecting lots of sun, but it's pretty cloudy this morning, and the clouds remain all day. There is no rain, and we feel fortunate. Our friends and family in California are so sick of rain. We've had a lot of rain this season, but for the past two weeks we've had dry weather.

Now when I walk out to spray the roses, even though it's only been a few days, I see that the little mites have attacked with vengeance. Spraying roses is a task I take on at least twice a week during the spring. It's important, and not all that difficult. But it takes paying attention, and pinching off leaves that have already been attacked.

Stefano and Luca surprise us just after 8AM. They've arrived to start the garden sink project. I can't quite believe it. But before they're done for the day, the old sink structure has been taken apart, they've begun cleaning the old marble sink with muriatic acid and tomorrow they'll work at finishing the plumbing and basic structure. Perhaps they'll even start the tile work.

So when they're through, they'll move on to the loggia. Today I work diligently to get the smaller tiles painted. Fifty have smalto, the white chalky undercoat. I've repaired any imperfections, and by bed time I've finished painting twenty-one. I also want to repaint three tiles from the bottom part of the garden sink, but unless they're done by Monday afternoon when Elena returns from Paris, they won't be ready. We're hoping she'll fire a session of my tiles right away. Then we'll be through with both projects early! I should not speak too soon...

Back to the garden sink project, it's being built from scratch, and the bases are made of red tile blocks with ridges, perhaps to hold the grout well. Both Stefano and Luca are precise and methodical workers, and it's a joy to have them around.

Dino spends most of the day getting ready for his colonscopia tomorrow at 8AM, by drinking liters of a special formula. We know the drill, and before the morning is through tomorrow, we'll be back home, after having the procedure at the hospital in Orvieto.

April 7
Oh, how I hate to get up when it's still dark outside. But today is the day for Dino's colonoscopy at the hospital in nearby Orvieto, and it's at 8AM, so before we know it he's done with the procedure and we're waiting to leave. By 10AM we're having coffee and by noon we're back at home, checking out the garden sink project, with Stefano and Luca working away in the sunshine.

Now that the procedure is over, and Dino had only one tiny polyp, we're told he won't have to have another procedure for two years. The doctor, Gabrielli, speaks English, and is quite friendly, checking in on Dino in between the patient after patient he works on like cars coming off an assembly line.

Earlier, when we waited down the hall, the same doctor entered, wearing jeans and a jean jacket, and not seeming to know where he was going. Someone directed him into our area, and when Dino later realized that this same man would do the procedure, he took a deep breath and quietly asked a few questions, like, " Are you new here?" Dino is wondering if this is the doctor's first procedure. But Gabrielli works generally in the teaching hospital in Terni and seems to be helping out our regular doctor.

Roy relaxes a little while the doctor tries to figure out the computer. Gabrielli then asks him if he wants anesthesia. This is all sounding so weird. But with a little numbing, Dino doesn't worry much about anything, nor does he remember much, other than experiencing wild hallucinations. And before he knows it, he's lying in a little anteroom on a gurney and I'm by his side.

Back at home, the garden sink project takes on a new life. The old sink has been taken down, the supports are now rubble, new mattone blocks are cemented in place and the sink is cleaned with muriatic acid and replaced. Dino finds a long piece of white marble that is quite similar in color to the grain on the marble sink and shows it to Stefano. Yes, Stefano thinks it will work, and will cut it after the rest of the job is finished as a top shelf that will also protect most of the tiles. So we won't have to buy any marble.

There is a mixup, however. After the sink has been cemented in place, Stefano tells Dino and me that the secondary faucet on the side of the sink has to be moved closer to the wall. He has already cut two tiles with center holes and I have painted them, but now Stefano does not want to use them. Later, I ask Dino if we can look at the project on our own this weekend, and see if we can move the faucet. So we'll see tomorrow.

It's not the worst thing that I'll have to paint another tile. And after the sink bases and back have been finished, the whole piece is to sit for several days to "cure" before my painted tiles are installed. So my timing is also all right for the second tile project in the loggia. By my calculations, I can finish eight tiles a day and still be finished by Monday afternoon when Elena returns from Paris. By the end of the day, I've completed twenty-four of the fifty tiles.

Stefano and Luca and Dino have also removed the sink in the loggia and turned it around so that the drain-board is nearer the side of the house, where we want it to be. Next step in the loggia project is to get Enzo Rosati in to adjust the plumbing. Then Stefano will bury all the pipes in the wall and will install the new smaller blue and white painted tiles there, too.

I'm still concerned about the six tiles that have not been fired that sit in Terni. We call Marco a couple of times, but he is not there. So Dino wants to drive there anyway, thinking we can find them. I have asked Marco to take them back from the place where they are to be fired. I don't know if he has.

But when we arrive at his ferramento (hardware store, where I also take my ceramic lessons), although Marco won't be back today, another associate helps me to find the six tiles, sitting patiently on a back shelf. They are lovely, and we move them to two trays and place them in the car. On Monday, they'll be transported to Elena. I'll have about sixty tiles, so can fill up an entire oven all by myself.

Tonight, we're watching an old Lucille Ball movie, The Long Long Trailer, and forget how funny it is. We can't find any information in the latest Leonard Maltin book we have, and call Adrian and Jed to ask them. Adrian tells us that his books are not as good anymore. Many movies have been deleted. So it takes until the closing credits to see that Marjorie Main and Keenan Wynne are also in it. It's fun to watch, even if for the umpteenth time.

Our friends Dan and Wendy have arrived in Italy and are settling in at their house in Umbertide for several months. Stein and Helga should arrive today from Norway. We'll see them tomorrow, we're sure. So we've invited Dan and Wendy for pranzo on Sunday for abaccio brodettato (Spring lamb in a special sauce), and they jump at the chance. Perhaps we'll invite Stein and Helga, too.

While we're watching the movie, the doorbell rings, and it is Maria the Sarda (from Sardinia). Earlier, Dino saw her while she returned from her walk way past Shelly's house, with a big bunch of wild asparagus. So she asks for me and stands at the gate with six fresh eggs (from this afternoon) and a bunch of fresh wild asparagus.

We invite her in, but she only comes to the terrace, and gives us an idea of how to prepare the asparagus with pasta by baking it... perhaps I'll make it tomorrow. Surely I will! Everything's fresh!

I ask her if she would mind taking me for a walk next week to show me how and where to pick wild asparagus, and she's happy to oblige. It is such a coincidence that she brought these tonight, for Dino and I saw at least five or six people along the various roadways searching for wild asparagus and spoke about it on the way home from Terni a few hours earlier. It is such a characteristic thing to see in Italy. People living in Italy surely know how to enjoy fresh food.

April 8
On this lovely day, almost everything has decided to wake up in the garden and we're wondering if we're to expect another cold snap. But we're not about to worry; instead, Dino makes a wonderful frame for the pink cloud rose in the pot in the lavender garden out of two pieces of narrow rebar, bent in the middle so the rose can grow up by attaching to four poles. Here's what it looks like.


We saw something similar yesterday in Spazio Verde, but they could not tell us where to purchase one. So after it was tested in the pot, Dino sprayed it with antiruggine (anti-rust) paint, and we guided four healthy branches to the poles.

Today, the first white peony of the season decides to blossom, but at the end of the day it closed up again. So we hope we'll have it for a while. Some of the narcissi have been blooming for a couple of weeks, so as they lose their flowers, more bulbs are going to take their place by blooming if on cue.

Now it's important to not cut back the green foliage on the spent bulbs and it's also important to give them some food for extra nourishment, getting them ready for their annual hibernation. They can sleep all summer and fall and winter and next spring we'll see them again. Speriamo.

I know we'll be tempted, because the spent foliage will look unkempt, but until about the beginning of June they'll need to rest right where they are.

Dino finishes the grooming of the rosa banksias arch, and tiny flowers are beginning to peek out. Almost every rose shows buds, with the exception of the four Peter Beales roses, which are taking their time to show any growth at all. We'll be patient.

I begin cooking for tomorrow's pranzo, and Dino picks up the abaccio (spring shoulder of lamb). On his way out of the village he stops at Stein's, and Stein tells him they'll bring salmon from their native Norway. I have a surprise: a little pot of dill in the upstairs window, just enough to complement this wonderful treat.

I paint more of the little handmade tiles for the loggia, and when I'm done there are only eight more to be painted before Monday afternoon. I'm not sure what the configuration will be, but we'll be prepared and will have a few left over for samples or to make trays. I continue to like the design very much.

April 9
It's Palm Sunday, and in Italy olive branches are used in place of the traditional palm fronds at mass. Dino picked our branches from the big tree across the street last evening. Our olive trees have been pruned, almost over-pruned I'm sorry to say, so the tree that sits on the abandoned property next to Pia's, where the old couple used to feed their chickens, has been plucked of a few branches. Augusta and Giuseppa plucked a few for themselves from this same tree on their walk in the afternoon.

Was it not so long ago that we greeted the old man and his wife twice a day at feeding time for the chicks? We surely treasured these little moments then, and we treasure them when we look back upon them now.

And then there was Gino and his wife on their old motorized cart, with her hanging off the back with both craggy hands on the old wooden boards wearing a babushka, as he struggled up the hill from their orto. After she died, he seemed to wither himself, and now he has left to join her. And we can't forget Leondina, sitting on the bench in front of her house, inviting Sofi and me in for coffee.

There is something wonderful about taking another's culture into one's heart. The surroundings, the sights and smells, the customs are all so new. The experience is almost bride-like, with an overwhelming fullness in one's heart, and the joy of forming images of new neighbors is a feeling to be treasured. The images of things, of buildings, of scenes, are imbedded in one's brain as if they are paintings, filed away in a storeroom for later use.

So although I am sad on this day thinking of them all, I am also grateful for the images, for the memories. And collecting these memories is something to dream about, something to strive for, when deciding to move to a new country. We wish this for any readers who dream about moving here.

Some weeks ago, Franco assured me that the overwhelming emotions of love last a year. "Just a year, " he counseled, "and then the feelings won't be the same". I admit that my love affair with Italy, and with this village, has lasted more than ten years. I'm not as short of breath about it all now, but I cherish it, as I cherish my love for Dino, in a different way.

During mass, while Don Luca speaks in a voice I still don't really understand, I think about how life has changed for us here. There is a nodding kind of acknowledgement and acceptance that the people of the village have for us now. We all sing the same four hymns in the same voice, as if we're a mini chorus singing Il Pensiero from the opera Nabucco. We're on the same little boat, bobbing to and fro on the same waves.

After church, Tiziano and Dino and I flank the front door, waiting for Don Luca. He looks guilty, not having finished the letter. So he promises he'll have it for us on Thursday, then leaves in his Darth Vader outfit on his silver motorcycle and zooms off to Bomarzo to officiate at the next mass.

Later, guests remark about the way the villagers have accepted us. Dino's role in the Confraternity today at mass and his position in the procession from the old church to the one we use every week is certainly a testament to that, too.

Before the procession, Marsiglia sits on the edge of a pew waiting for Don Luca's arrival, and Felice sits at the back of the church, absentmindedly entertaining himself. Marsiglia is not happy. She's stoic about her role as caregiver, but I recall not so long ago that the two showed their love for each other openly and could not wait to embrace in our presence. These days, theirs is more of a physical holding each other up kind of emotion.

So when it's time for the procession, I take Marsiglia in my right arm and Felice in my left and we slowly make our way down the four steps of the church. We walk toward the medieval tower, where Don Luca stands waiting for us with a mound of palm fronds on a table below him, surrounded by members of the Confraternity.

On the way back, as we form two rows, Tord from Sweden stands by one of the houses and takes a photo of Felice, who walks just in front of me in the procession, followed by Marsiglia. We'll have to ask for a copy of this photo. I'll remember just where I was when it was taken.

After mass, we share greetings with neighbors, and then walk home to get ready for pranzo with Stein and Helga and Danny and Wendy. Most of the meal was prepared yesterday, but it is time to begin the abaccio brodetatto, a shoulder of Spring lamb in a broth that is finished at the last minute with beaten egg yolks and lemon juice, reminiscent of the Greek egglemon soup.

We are able to eat outside, even though there are spotty clouds overhead, but the meal works out fine. Stein and Helga bring Norwegian smoked salmon that he caught last August and it is incredibly delicious, served with dark bread and lemon. Yum!

I have a headache, and it is no wonder. I drank one glass of Orvieto Classico yesterday, but the weather is changing again, so I am performing my role of barometer, with a migraine arriving in full strength. Boh! I have very little to drink, and after our guests have all left Sofi and I spend a lot of the late afternoon and evening in bed, me with an ice pack.

It's so good to have friends here, sharing stories and getting to know one another. Now that Dan and Wendy are here until July, we'll see them often, we're sure. They're in the midst of dealing with beds and kitchen furniture and where to put things. It's their turn for a real Italian adventure, and we're happy to follow along the way.

April 10
There's a buttermilk sky overhead, and it's cool. We must spray the roses, because this is the weather that the little bugs and worms love, destroying leaves and, if we're not vigilant, most of the plants. But it begins to rain and it's not a time to spray. Won't do any good.

Stefano will not be here after all, today, and now I misunderstand Dino. At least five of the tiles need smalto on one side. I finish the last eight, check all the tiles for breaks in the smalto to repair, and they're all ready for Elena's return from Paris.

First, we drive to Orvieto, for my ecographia. The office sits above the shop where we purchased our sewing machine years ago, but we can't find the entrance. Under scaffolding, it looks like the entrance to a Mussolini-styled apartment building, and that's just what it is. Half way up the stairs is a wonderful sign indicating we've found the right place. Otherwise, the location is a mystery.


Inside, there are almost no lights, and a doctor in a white lab coat sits at an office at the end of the hall, waiting for me. He examines me, and in a few minutes decides that there is nothing wrong with my bones, nothing wrong with my tendons, and possibly I need an ecographia of my neck to see if it's a disc problem. Sigh.

At least I won't need a pin. I will need massages, and Dino recommends that we contact a woman in Attigiliano who has distributed flyers for massage therapy. It's worth a try. But tomorrow we'll walk up to the doctor for a prescription for the neck exam. "For my age," this doctor tells us, "I'm doing normally." Dino can't wait to get home to a pranzo of abaccio brodettato over pappardelle noodles. So that's just what we have with a green salad and it's really, really wonderful. We have enough for another meal, so we'll be able stretch this wonder a little further.

Elena returns after 6PM, and we drive up our dozens of tiles to see if she'll fire them all right away. I'd like to learn how to stack the oven with them, so we'll see if she has time to show me. There's always so much new to learn.

She doesn't seem to want to load them in front of me, and that's all right too. We ask if she can fire them all this week, and we're hopeful they'll be done by Friday. So we'll miss the Easter deadline for Stefano to install them, but only by a day or so. Both projects will surely be done before the roses really start to bloom.

Down on the path, the Lady Hillingdon roses are already showing leaves and a profusion of yellow buds. Our Spring garden is like a symphony, with narcissus as overtures followed by the purple and white bearded iris. The dozens and dozens of round boxwood form the orchestra, creating harmony. Spring flowers twinkle and the roses begin to unfold until they're a profusion of raucous tumbling chorales. With any luck, we have the makings of a wonderfully rich and fragrant garden festival this year. This just in: Prodi has probably won the election as the next Prime Minister of Italy, so it's good bye, Berlusconi, for now. Will he do a Nixon ("You won't have me to push around anymore!" ?) I doubt it.

The Prodi victory will not mean that he takes office yet. Berlusconi will hang on as a caretaker Prime Minister until after the election next month of a new president, when Ciampi's 7-year term is up. No one expects any great changes. Berlusconi thinks there were problems with the vote counting, so refuses to concede.

In the last few days of the campaign, Silvio Berlusconi pledged to drop the ICI tax on first homes. He thought this was a big deal. Well, to tell the truth, our last ICI (property tax) bill was less than €7. That's 3.50 for me and 3.50 for Dino...No wonder Italy is in such a financial mess.

April 11
Today Don Luca is to come to bless the house. But yesterday, when arriving back home from taking tiles to Elena around 7PM, a priest who sometimes helps Don Luca drove out of the village. Perhaps Don Luca will not come today, and will send this man. We will ask him his name. We may miss the blessing, for I have an appointment with Giusy for my toes later this A M, and then we must drive to Terni to deal with the water company for Don.

It's windy, with the sun trying to come out, but I'm going to try to spray the roses, because I know this is the type of weather in which little white animali and worms love to infest our roses. I don't know if the roses get more of the soapy mixture or Sofi and I do, but I think they're better off than without anything.

Soon it's time to drive to Giusy's, and for an hour she and I speak about philosophy and spiritualism, all in Italian. Somehow we are able to communicate. God bless her. She is one patient woman. And I love these sessions with her, wishing we had them more often.

Everyone wants to speak about the election, but no one knows what to do. No one I ask in the shop knows what will happen next month when Ciampi, the Italian President's term is up. When I ask if he'll repeat for another seven years, most of the people shrug their shoulders and answer yes, they think so.

So no one wants to take responsibility, but most of the people agree that if Berlusconi would do less lining of his own pockets and the pockets of his friends and truly concentrate on improving the Italian economy, he would be a great choice. It appears that the election is so close that there will be no majority; hence, another election in the fall seems likely. With no real coalition possible, Italian politics will continue in its present quagmire. How sad.

We drive to Terni so that Dino can meet with the water people about a client's new service, but they won't talk with him in person. He can only do business with them on the telephone, so we drive home and he calls. The water is turned on for the client, and all is well.

We finish eating the abacchio for pranzo, this time over rice, and then it's time for me to walk up to the doctor to get a prescription for a neck exam. I arrive just as the doctor arrives, and only Terzo is in front of me. It is strange. When Dottoressa was here, there were lines of people waiting for her each week. Now that we have a new doctor, no one seems to want to visit with him. We think he's all right.

Since it only takes a minute, I walk up to see Marsiglia and Felice, but as I walk by Annarita's building, Stefano and Luca are walking out on the scaffolding, using it to drop debris into Stefano's truck from Lore and Alberto's third little building, which needs a new roof and new floors. It is a magazzino, right between their property and Livio and Giuliola's. I wave at them and then walk up to see our pals.

"Who's there?" Marsiglia calls out when I ring the bell. And then I walk up the steep stairs to find everything on the floor in front of the sink, and Marsiglia bent over trying to fix a water leak under the sink. She won't let me help, but thinks she's fixed it and calls out to Felice, who walks out from a dark living room, where he has been resting. I think Felice rests all day these days. It is sad. Perhaps when the weather is warmer he'll want to be outside.

I stay for a few minutes, and Marsiglia asks if we've had our house blessed. When I say no, she goes to the phone and asks her brother in law where the priest is. I tell her not to worry, that it's time for me to return home to wait for the priest. And so with big hugs all around, I walk down the stairs. Marsiglia follows me down, a crocheted wrap on her shoulders and her scuff slippers on her feet and takes me by the arm. She follows me half way across the plaza and hugs me good bye.

At home, Dino is watering, and I decide to pull up all the spring onions. There are about a dozen, and now the raised planter is empty. Tomorrow we will plant seeds, for the full moon should arrive on Thursday, and it's the best time of the month to plant. I've just taken the onions inside to wash them off when the doorbell rings, and it is the priest with Livio by his side.

Sofi rushes down the front stairs barking, followed by Dino. She loves this priest, and leads him up the stairs. He is kind of a friar, wearing a brown robe and sandals, and Sofi can't stay away from his toes. It is quite embarrassing, especially when we're all standing in the kitchen reciting the lord's prayer, and Sofi moves over to him, trying to kiss his toes.

I pick her up for the end of the blessing, and before he leaves we take the priest out to the Madonna in the garden, asking for a blessing for her. He likes the statue quite a bit, and understands that it is French, from Lourdes. And then he is finished with his blessings and we bid him farewell.

It's time to visit with Stein and Helga at their house, where Dino consults with them about a few projects he will undertake in their absence. We toast each other with a little lemoncello in lovely little carved bohemian glasses. And then it is time to say goodbye until their next trip. Helga is especially sorry that she won't be here for the bloom of the iris in Stein's garden, but we'll take photos and email them to her. They should bloom later this week. We'll miss them.

We have a rainbow right outside the kitchen window, and almost pick up the phone and call Stein, asking him to look outside his window for the pot of gold. It appears that close. And in a few minutes thunder rolls across the valley and we shut down the computer. These freak Spring storms can do a lot of danger to computers.

April 12
Today is sunny and warm, but we're off to Donatella's to re-photograph her kitchen for a possible interested client. I have time to spray a few roses but no time for the garden.

We love her house. On this sunny day, we're able to take a number of photos. The property is the Sipicciano town house, and we think it's a great buy. We're suggesting that anyone interested in it might also be interested in the little plot of land 1km away. It's an easy jog and lovely path, with the combination of a centuries old borgo property with land for an orto garden and possible Etruscan cave that can be restored into living quarters. Dino's already thinking of a design for a new kitchen there.

On the way back, we decide to take a drive up a long gravel driveway to what we think is an agritourismo, but we are in for a surprise. It is a place for meetings, weddings, and also hundreds of acres of biologic farming, where children are taught about animals and growing grain and making bread and other contadini endeavors. The grounds are beautifully maintained, with exceptional quality restoration done in every room. We'll add their link to our site soon.

Dino drops me off to make a torta for today's pranzo at Bruce and Tia's, and drives off to pick up several trays for the ceramics I'll smalto today in class. He's back in enough time to pack up Sofi and the torta and drive to Amelia. After a wonderful pranzo and tour of their really wonderful property, we're off to Terni, and class.

Four hours later, Dino picks me up and I've almost finished the tall leaf vase. It will take another session to complete, so I stop and smalto 16 more small tiles. We've agreed that we'll have five rows of eleven tiles each, so I'll paint a few extras. Elena will have our tiles finished on Friday. Dino tells Stefano the plan...that the sink must be finished by Friday, to be set for four days and then the tiles must be laid on Tuesday. The loggia project will take longer, with Enzo Rosati coming first to figure out where to move the pipes. Dino buys a new chisel and will chisel away at the intonico above the sink to prepare it for the new tiles. I've only to paint, and we're sure Elena will fire them early next week, which will be fine.

We'll have guests for cena on April 25th, which is a national holiday in Italy, and are hoping that both projects will be done by then.

It's almost a full moon, and tomorrow I'll surely plant lots of seeds. I am inspired by Tia, who does every thing in a big way. I'm impressed by her gardening prowess, as well as the complexity of all her garden projects. We think that the Montecastrilli Mercato will be on the last weekend of April, and that is when we'll purchase any other Italian tomato plants, herbs, flowers for our gardens. It's not quite warm enough to plant more than arugula and lettuce outside yet, but in two weeks we're sure the danger of any frost will have passed.

April 13
It's a garden kind of day, so let's go. We mix up a batch of sterile potting mix that we brought from the U S and Dino punches holes in many of the little yoghourt cups I've hoarded all spring. There's also a special biologic mixture to put in with all this before planting seeds, so we'll do it right this time.

Many of the little pots in the guest bedroom window are ready to go in the serra, including two long trays of tomato plants that are almost a foot high. No matter. They'll wait till we're ready for them. The rest of the plants are looking pretty puny, but I'm hopeful. We have a month to go before we must plant them, so we'll plant in stages, with these taller ones in the ground first.

I've asked Dino to make a kind of trellis for the sweet peas, which have been growing down without it. They take up a row against the back wall of the serra, and it's beginning to look like...a greenhouse! What a surprise. All against the back tufa wall I've laid out plants in pots, and the seedlings will take center stage on the counter, where they will get the most sun, and the most light. Because the door will be closed at night, with only air from a window to bring in any coolness, I'm hoping they won't have a shock. I don't think so. The weather is plenty warm enough.

We've also taken out everything in the raised orto bed, turned the soil, and today we plant five rows of lettuce (three of Dino's iceberg lettuce and two of romaine) plus a row of rugghetta (arugula). There's plenty of room for other things after we go to the Montecastrilli market at the end of the month.

There's also time to paint eleven tiles for the loggia project, and now that's done. Tomorrow we'll pick up most of the tiles, and this will be the last of them to cook. Hopefully, Stefano will arrive tomorrow to finish the sink, then we'll be able to put the tiles on early next week. The loggia project will have to wait until Enzo arrives on Saturday to check out what needs to be done.

In the meantime, Dino walks up to Rosina's to take a look at the solar panels. The panels have been leaking down, down, down through the gutters, down the side of the house and into the street. What a drag. We wonder about the length of our guarantee.

Dino leaves to drive to Tenaglie for a meeting with a contractor on behalf of a client, and I sit on the terrace painting the last tiles for the loggia project. We've decided on a fifth row of tiles and that means a top design. I'm through before it's time to change for mass, and Dino arrives in time to walk up with me.

While I paint this afternoon as the sun lowers on the horizon, I feel philosophical for some reason, thinking about life and the inevitability of death. With Good Friday upon us, I'm wondering about getting old, about what would happen if life ended for me now. And I think it will have been said that my life ended in a sweet way.

Now I see myself getting older here, just sitting here painting, and when I'm too old to paint, just sitting here on the terrace, with a walk down the street as the sun lowers in the sky during the late afternoon. We pass Donato's mother, who sits or stands by her doorway for hours each day, and I think she is at peace, waiting for her sweet son to come home.

We hear inklings of life in America and of business stories and of work life there. We can't relate to it anymore. I think I'd rather sell pencils on a street corner than deal with the pace and complexity of business. I'm just a simple woman after all, and it's simple pleasures that I seek: the opening of a peony bud, a butterfly gliding by, a lizard clinging to a tufa wall with Sofi sitting and staring at it until it moves...

The mass tonight seems like a regular mass, but at the end Don Luca and Giuliola move the altar into the sacristy and take everything away except for pots of grano on the floor, surrounding tiny lit candles. I'm sorry Don Luca did not choose to have someone wash his feet in the old Catholic tradition on Holy Thursday. The mass just ends, and Vincenzo walks down the aisle, turning to say to one of his neighbors, "What are you waiting for? It's over." And then we walk down the hill toward home.

On this night we stop at the parcheggio, then drive down to visit Annika and Tord and their beautiful daughter at the little square white house between our house and Tiziano's. We've been invited for drinks, and sit before an open fire, drinking wine and talking about local customs.

We like these new neighbors very much, and look forward to getting to know them better when they return in June. We're sure they'll get along very well with Stein and Helga, too. What wonderful neighbors these people all are, and what great additions to our little village!

We drive home under an inky sky and a very full moon, with dogs barking and the cool air making us happy we've worn warm jackets. But it's not too cold for the seedlings in the serra, and we look forward to working in the garden again tomorrow, after a trip to Orvieto to make an appointment for my neck exam.

April 14
We're awake early, just after 6 A M, and I look across the bed, out toward the West-facing window to see an egg-yolk shaped moon lowering itself over our medieval big sister town, Bomarzo. It looks like a beach ball, just after its bounce, settling down for the day. In the South-facing window, someone is burning leaves and the smoke blows east, sending signals across the Tiber. Time to get out of bed.

This morning we drive to Orvieto, and before we leave have time for breakfast and also a walk around the garden to do some boxwood clipping. I have a small rectangular tub, which works quite well to hold under each plant while I clip to pick up all the tiny clippings, and it comes in handy today.

I plunk it down at the base of each plant, leaning it ever so gently against the next one, and clip away at the tiny green leaves with a small pair of scissors to shape each one into a symmetrical round orb. Now, Sarah pooh, poo's this, thinking I should pinch each end so that there is no scissor hedge look, but in Spring the box grows fast enough that in a week it's no longer noticeable. Her pinching is just too, too for me. I want them to look wonderful, but am not about to go around pinching. Forgive me, Sarah.

Two peony bushes are in flower, one pink and one white, and the trendy iris in brown and pink are ready to pop. The wild iris has been in flower for a few weeks, and sit in vases all over the house. Outside, the purple bearded iris (what's the plural of iris?) flanks the path half way down to San Rocco.

On our far property, groupings of white bearded iris lean against the huge tufa back walls as if they were carried by armfuls and dropped "just so". The cherry tree is in flower, and their flowers appeared as if on cue, just as the narcissus at its base finished their early show.

Sweet peas sit swollen in pots around the house, ready to appear, and a few have opened early. A clump of tiny purple flowers is in bloom in the stepped up little English garden outside the living room window, but I have no idea what they are.

We're about a week away from roses beginning to flower, with the exception of the Lady Hillingdons, which began to flower a week ago. They are amazing flowers, and I think some of the stronger and older canes need to be cut back this winter. The plants are already that old.

I've checked the seedlings in the serra, and they're doing all right, with the exception of the red cabbage, which I want to explode in the raised orto in colors of rose and blue/green/grey at the end of the summer, as a cornice, or picture frame, for the rest of the orto garden. If they don't succeed, we'll pick up several in Montecastrilli at the end of the month.

I'm now wondering what we can plant in the parcheggio except geraniums, for it is so hot there in summer that almost nothing else flowers. The azaleas there are reaching the end of their season. And the white petunias we want to cascade over the balcony will be planted later this month, after the danger of frost has passed.

We make an appointment for my neck x-ray in a few weeks, and stop at a tessuti (fabric) store in Orvieto Scalo. It is a very good store, with lots of books of fabric, and we take one home, but the sample is not what we want. I am looking for the same fabric we have, a soft blue/grey and off white fairly wide stripe. We may have to travel to Rome to see what we can find there. Italians don't understand simple fabrics. Even a striped fabric has extra stripes. So we'll keep looking.

Stefano and Luca arrive late in the afternoon after a visit from Annika and Tord's daughter, Ingela. After a walk around, she leaves for her first visit to the Park of the Monsters, a 16th century tufa theme park down the road from the edge of our village. She's on her way to Turkey for six months in a job for a Swedish tour company. What an adventure she has in store for her!

Stefano and Luca finish building the basic part of the sink, and it will cure until Tuesday morning, when the painted tiles and handmade mattone and marble will be set in place. The structure looks fine.

There's time to spray a few roses, for the worms and tiny mites have tried to do their work. I pinch off a few of the leaves that have curled up and hope for the best. Most of the roses are doing well. Two of the new roses don't seem to be taking off, but we have time.

Dino takes three more tiles up to Elena to fire this weekend, for we've decided to add another row inside the bottom opening of the structure. The inside tiles will be plain white, but must be fired anyway. I guess that makes 97 tiles for this project. I'm very happy with the finished design for the top of the sink, and on Tuesday will see the result and post it on the site. I'm ready to move on.

In the loggia, Stefano will dig into the wall soon to set the tiles, but Enzo needs to do some work with the existing plumbing first. He'll be here tomorrow to at least look at the work to be done. We're probably a week or two away from being able to see that in place.

The wind picks up, but the sky is still clear, and it has been a lovely day. Tonight is the sad procession of Good Friday, and Dino will lead the procession in costume. I'll follow behind with all the women.

Dino leaves, and I follow about twenty minutes later, as the sky darkens and one by one the villagers leave their houses and silently walk up to the borgo to attend the service. Donato and his sister and brother-in-law, Otello, are just in front of me, and they stop to greet me.

Otello walks beside me, asking if Roy is already in church. And then we speak about Otello's role in the Confraternity of carrying the crucifix with the draped dome during processions. He wears a special leather brace around his back and waist to hold it, as if it were a flag. He tells me that he has done this for thirty years. Thirty years of carrying the crucifix...and I've never seen him not be in a procession.

So what will Dino's role be? Fabrizio reminded him yesterday to be early, and when he comes out of the sacristy, I see that he leads the group. Once the mass is nearly finished, Don Ciro nods to him and he gets up and walks to the door, returning with a large crucifix.

He holds it while members of the congregation file up to kiss it. And later helps carry the fallen Christ statue on a bier, as the people of the village walk down almost to our house and back in the dark, with a just past full moon in a navy sky streaked with blood red. The moon seems to sit low in the sky, as if it is at the bottom of a bowl that is the Tiber Valley.

Lights twinkle below, reflecting off the water, and the only sounds are the clicking of feet on the pavement and Don Ciro and the congregation chanting in time to the steps of the solemn procession, past Luigina's house and candles flickering against a chicken-wire window.

I sit in church with Marsiglia and Felice. She does not take the walk but he does, and she smiles broadly as he returns to us. The walk did him good. And now they are both tired and ready for bed. How old they have grown in just these few years. And how we love them, love greeting them, love seeing them.

Dino is very tired. He was prepared for tonight with a back brace, a knee brace, a calf brace, as if he's been preparing for an athletic event. How many years will he be able to be a member of this group? For now, he shows up at every event, probably for twelve or so a year.

He takes his ever-changing role seriously, and as he stands with the crucifix while we all line up to kiss the statue, I'm wondering how many people recognize his role, and that he was not born in Mugnano. No one seems to mind, and we're both honored that he has been chosen.

I wear my blue A C scarf, as does Giuseppa, but everyone else seemed to forget. I ask Rosita afterward if I did the correct thing wearing it, and she said that yes, it was the correct thing, but she forgot to wear hers. Perhaps tomorrow more people will wear their scarves.

After relaxing for a while at home, I walk up to bed with Sofi, and as the big moon stares in the window, I climb up into the bed and fall asleep almost instantly.

April 15
This is tax day in the U S, but in Italy we have a three-month extension in which to file. There's not much to do, so we'll probably file soon. Today, the emphasis is more on working with Enzo on the plumbing and finding out about how to get a ferry to Ponza for our next trip. Both tasks will take a little creative work.

Today we're invited to Alan and Wendy's, and Alan asked me to make my chocolate cake. It's so easy that I certainly will comply. With no tiles to paint, I'll work more on the seeds and clipping boxwood and spraying roses. The roses really are showing signs of leaf problems.

Although the day is clear, it is cool, and Dino spends time working on some of the old boxwood hedges, using a pitchfork around them to loosen dirt and adding food. "It's an experiment" he tells me. The hedges are looking yellowy and not very happy. Enzo does not show up, nor can Dino reach him by phone.

We drive to Alan and Wendy's house in Penna, and they have an extraordinary garden. Garden is hardly the word for it. Landscape? It is possibly more of a state of mind. This place is totally Alan. He is a man who appears frightened by nothing (with the exception of our scarecrows sitting last winter in our living room). The bigger the challenge, the more his fertile mind can sift and bend and shape the situation. This property is certainly a work of love. As I've written earlier, Australians think big, and this property is big with a capital B.

Alan loves color and variety, and there are so many varieties of flowers and plants and trees that this is a veritable botanical garden of public proportions. Large expanses of beautifully maintained lawn transcend to the pool area past violas in at least eight colors, planted symmetrically in banks, color by color. The design concept is strong, and there are defined shade areas as well as sun areas.

Views of the Tiber Valley are evident from every spot. Stairs of wood, gravel and grass mark paths above and beside the long and perfectly maintained pool. Tall, tall trees of many varieties demarcate one "room" from another.

Every plant has a precise reason for being where it is. In one area of tightly planted tiny lavender in three rows, he'll move the center row, as well as specific plants on the border rows, next winter to another part of the garden. It looks good now; it will look better next year. I have been told that lavender does not move well, and can testify to that, but have not said anything. For Alan does not worry about what people advise about his garden. He'll find a way to move them and they will be fine.

For all the professional landscapers who told him he could not design the garden in the manner he has, he has foiled each one. Experts come back and admit he is correct. He is taking tiny begonia slips from last year's plants, dried them, and will replant them into pots in an area he will make into a greenhouse. He has an orto garden, patterned after Tia's tufa-walled sections, magazine beautiful when viewed from above. He's concerned about his lettuce, but he has test soil kits, so will find a way to grow the perfect lettuce. He is an amazing man.

I think he has found paradise here. In the winter he readies the land, works along side his worker, Carlo, guides any contractors, and with a vision in his head maps out tasks to be completed by spring. He has his own mental garden calendar, much more elaborate than ours. I think he truly is a man of the soil, a man of the earth. It will take at least two people full time to manage this garden during the growing season, but nothing would be as successful without Alan's guiding hand.

Today Alan and Wendy host Tia and Bruce, Matthew, Dino and I for pranzo, and as we're driving home Dino asks if I've written about the reasons for living in Italy.

We've agreed at pranzo that the economy is terrible, the bureaucracy is somewhat impossible, it is difficult to find good workers, it is very difficult to purchase things that are so easy to purchase in the U S, but people come to live here in spite of it all. It is the sense of place, the respect for the land, the appreciation of a beautiful day, the love of a good meal with ones you care about; all these things make Italy so special.

Throw in magnificent architecture, museums, and gorgeous undulating landscapes as eye candy and good weather and it's difficult not to like. For each of us at the table today, we believe we've found paradise. Paradise is different for each of the couples. But collectively we agree that there is no country in the world, no place to live, that can compare.

Sofi gets along with all the dogs today, including Tia and Bruce's Gioia and Charlie; well, at least she puts up with them, interested more in exploring on her own than running with the others. I know she needs to socialize more. What to do? We still need to work on that.

I have a headache when we reach home, so lie down for a while, and think we'll not go to mass tonight. "It's not mandatory tonight." Dino tells me on the way home. Tomorrow, I tell myself. Tomorrow I'll come back to life.

Dino drives off to the store for last minute things, for tomorrow and Monday are both holidays. I look forward to a couple of quiet days, but who knows?

April 16
Easter morning conjures up cold Sunday mornings of my childhood, wearing spring dresses and coats not warm enough for the New England cold. Here it's a more casual affair, and no one wears a hat.

Early on this Easter morning we have showers, ending by 8 AM with sun breaking through clouds. Birds tell us to get up, and we think it will be a lovely day after all.

We walk up to the borgo for mass, and enter the church just before Marsiglia and Felice. They're not dressed for Spring, for the air is still cool. After hugs all around with neighbors who arrive, Don Luca appears in his Darth Vader suit, hair askew from the motorcycle.

Don Ciro is to be the priest today, but he is late. So I think Don Luca is "filling time" for the main act. He tells us that he has been our priest for five years, and loves Mugnano. He also speaks about Don Ciro, and tells us that of all the churches where he could officiate on this special day, he chose Mugnano, and only Mugnano.

E vero?

About five minutes later, Don Ciro arrives, quickly dresses, and delights us with the most wonderful mass, in which he sings like a joyous bird for a great deal of it. When it is time for communion, he gives each of us a wafer dipped in wine. Don Luca is right. This is an extraordinary priest. We leave the church full of joy and love.

Today I fix the saffron ricotta torte for pranzo, but also sauté green onions and a small amount of chopped prosciutto to add to it. Dino tells me it's the best one yet. We're to have cena at Matthew and Terry's tonight in Amelia, so don't have a major meal. We'd rather be out in the garden, anyway.

With the nespola (loquat) tree by the side of the house reaching the roof and obscuring some of the view of the lavender garden from our bedroom, Dino takes out the two-story ladder and cuts away a great deal of it.

What we have now is a tree that is sure to grow quickly, with sun able to penetrate most of the branches. It still looks lovely, but clearly is not as thick as it was earlier in the day. I'm not concerned, for one of these years it will be gone, replaced by a sitting room opening onto the garden, perhaps with a balcony above entered from our bedroom.

Dino and I work along side by side as Sofi chases lizards. She catches one, and I think it might be something else more ominous. I let out a yell and tell Dino, "Get her! Hurry!"

By the time he reaches her, she's let it go, and it is a lizard. She doesn't want to eat it anyway, for like most of us, it's all about the chase....

The boxwood globes grow amazingly quickly during early spring, and I'm clipping a few of the plants again, after not more than ten days. Not all of the boxwood have reached full growth, and some have slight frost damage, but generally the box look full and I'm proud of my corps de ballet, as Dino calls them.

There is growth on almost every rose, but despite my methodical spraying with denatured alcohol and soap and water, the worms seem to thrive. So it's pinch, pinch, pinch here and there to take off and throw away those leaves that have been damaged beyond repair. I put the leaves in my pocket, making sure they don't drop on the ground and throw the lot in the garbage.

While we're clearing the gravel of nespola branches, taking them to the burn pile next to San Rocco, we agree that the idea of a bocce court is probably not a good idea. By the time we're able to put one in, we probably won't be as enthused with the sport. It's not as though we're back in San Rafael with our pals, playing every week during spring.

An email comes in from Carol Podesta, telling us the weather has been rainy in San Rafael, CA, with not much bocce playing yet this season. Those were fun days, and we miss our friends. Time passes and life changes. But those are wonderful memories.

We drive to Amelia for cena, and it as if we are entering a movie set. This is one extraordinary house, with landscaping and garden to match. I love the formal Italianate style, both of house and of garden, and Matthew and Terry have done a painstaking job here. While on a tour of a few of the rooms that have been redesigned since our last visit two years ago, I commend Matthew for his respect of the provenance of the house.

We sit at a long table in the living room, with Alan and Wendy, Bruce and Tia, Matthew and Terri, their nanny, Isabel, and Tracy, a friend of Terri's from the U S. It's a fun evening, with Terri acting as a master of ceremonies, announcing each course. And of course the wine is excellent.

We're crunching on the gravel walking to the car and drinking in the cold air, arm in arm, and driving on the still to be repaired back road through Lugnano and Attigliano, reaching Mugnano as the big yellow moon watches us, partially obscured behind a dark cloud.

April 17
Perhaps Elena will have the last tiles ready for us this morning, although today is an Italian holiday, Pasquetta - the day after Easter (Pasqua), a day the Italians traditionally go on a picnic. Even after 10AM the fog obscures the village, but Dino drives to Bomarzo to see if the Pro Loco is open to buy Palio tickets and to see if she's open.

He returns to say that the Pro Loco office is not open, and that the tiles will not be ready until Wednesday. So we'll figure out what to do without the four last tiles until then. The anticipation builds. Tomorrow we will see. We've agreed that we'll set up a folding table in the path, and I'll be there like a toddler behind her lemonade stand, waiting to be asked for my treasures, one by one. They are numbered, so the process should go smoothly.

We spend the day in the garden: clipping, pulling weeds, spraying roses, shaping vibernum and teucrium plants, pulling off heads of the spent narcissus bulbs and the day passes before we know it. With an overcast sky it is cool, so we plod along.

Dino repairs and reinstalls a part of the irrigation system, checks for leaks in the garden sink and Sofi continues her watchful quest for lucertoles. Since having one in her mouth yesterday before spitting it out, we think she'll take a more distant approach.

Dino spends time with a scraper, trying to get old dirt and years of buildup off the marble sink. I walk over to him and say, "I think it's odd that you just refuse to try the muriatic acid." (This is what Stefano recommended we use to clean up the sink.) Dino's version of an explosion ensues, as he walks away silently, and I take my cue, walking in the opposite direction.

An hour later, he's in the house for pranzo, the sink is finished and looks beautiful. He's done a remarkable job. It is only later that he tells me that it is hydrochloric acid, or chlorine gas. Egad. I had no idea.

Today is a day for picnics in Italy, but usually the weather is not good. Today is no exception, although it does not really rain here. But it is a holiday, nonetheless.

I fix a spectacular salad, if I do say so myself, of cold sliced grilled meats, crunchy greens and a toasted sesame seed and peanut dressing. This is our version of a picnic.

April 18
On the past few mornings, we awoke to a fine mist, and drops on the flowers after an early morning rain. This morning it rained steadily until about 7, and as a result, Stefano calls to tell us he'll not arrive here this morning. If it clears, he'll be here later.

So what's to do? I awoke earlier worrying about all the tiles laid out on the long table in the terrace. Will they be too wet to adhere to the garden sink structure? Dino doesn't think so.

We drive to Orvieto Scalo to return a fabric sample and to pick up a roast chicken for pranzo. There's a light rain here and there, but as we drive south the sky clears and it looks better in little Mugnano.

We arrive home to find Luca on the terrace, waiting for Stefano. In about fifteen minutes Stefano arrives, and they begin to install the tiles. He finishes the right side, (19 tiles so far) including the tile for the side utility faucet, but the rain returns and while we're working Dino puts a tarp over the roof of the quasi-pergola in front of the sink. In one hour, the sky has changed from clouds to a downpour.

They can't continue, for there is just too much rain, and we hope they will return tomorrow. Sofi stays by our sides during the whole adventure, with occasional pats from Stefano and Luca, but she's wet, too, so we say goodbye for today and return to dry off in front of a fire.

In the meantime, I have discovered a mistake in my design: one particular tile is missing smalto on the left edge. It's a tile on the very front of the structure. So Stefano tells me he can work around it, and will install that tile next week. I have smalto and a tile set aside for such an emergency, so after they leave, I smalto the tile and paint it so that Dino can take it to Elena tonight.

I'm in a painting mood, so paint four of the smaller handmade tiles in a rose and ring design, to be used together on a tray. We have a concept that we're working on that will include different size trays, with wooden borders and interesting handles, and my hand-painted tiles in the center. We'll see if the woman in Amelia can make the trays for a reasonable price.

Dino returns to say that the tiles will be ready this weekend. Did I tell you that the tile installation has been very stressful? While standing back watching the tiles being laid, I pick up on each little thing that is not perfect.

Mostly I'm not happy with the earliest smalto, or undercoat, of some of the tiles. The later tiles are all fine, but I have worked on this project for so long that I'm relieved the project is almost finished. But there is a creeping doubt in my mind. Something is not right...

Enzo arrives to go over some plumbing challenges, including the solar panel leaks, a lack of water in the greenhouse (now fixed, bravo!) and an overview of the loggia sink project (burying the pipes in the wall and installing blue and white tiles). He is so sweet, interested in the tiles and taking his time to look them over and complement us.

He'll return next week with a tall, tall ladder to enable him to climb up on the roof to see what he can do about the solar panel leaks. Even though he is very difficult to understand, he is such a good man and so kind that we find a way to comprehend what he's saying.

We talk with Franco and Candida to check in on any last minute plans, and expect them to arrive tomorrow evening, almost ready for bed...We leave on Thursday morning before dawn to catch a ferry to the island of Ponza at 9AM at a seaport a little North of Naples for Dino's birthday celebration. Our plan is to leave at 5:30AM. Let's see how we do....

April 19
"Fabbrica di San Pietro" is a phrase used for a project that takes forever. I don't know how long it took to build Saint Peter's Basilica in Rome, but that is where the phrase came from. The garden sink project seems to be just such a project. The more I think about how it looks, the less I like it...I fear challenges ahead.

The sky clears early, and it will be a beautiful day. So Stefano and Luca arrive around 8:30 and I've laid out the tiles on the path near the sink. One by one, Stefano installs them, with Luca mixing whatever goes behind it, I think it's called intonaco, and me handing the tiles to Stefano and checking the results.

We're having water leak problems, with the solar panels on the roof leaking more every day, so Dino isolates the solar panels and turns off the water. Enzo can't come today, so we'll have to wait to see him until next week. In the meantime, we'll hope that the leaking is from all the rain yesterday. This is a good place to use the word, "speriamo" (we hope so).

Did I write that "speriamo" is also used by an individual to say, "I hope so"? It is so confusing, but I think Italians think they are not alone when they hope. How's that for an explanation?

It appears that four tiles need to be re-smaltoed, but they are to be plain white tiles with smalto on one edge, so Stefano can wait until next week for those, installing all the others. We have three tiles, so hope that we can find a fourth at Marco's hardware store in Terni today. If not, Dino will drive to Deruta while I'm painting in class.

Lore and Alberto arrive while Stefano is still installing the tiles, and he's worried. Lore is extremely precise, and wants to know why they are not at their house. I tell her that it has rained and rained in Mugnano, which it has.

She looks at my tiles and tells me that they are simpatico, or nice. I am sure she is being polite, and also very kind. Nice is a good description, but who wants the result of something they've created to be...nice?

Alberto's hand is bandaged, and he has had a small operation. It is a kind of carpal tunnel thing, and we joke with him that he has been lifting his wine glass too often. He likes that. But then he is such a friendly man, that he'd like the joke.

They leave with Lore turning to Stefano and Luca and saying, "Ciao, ragazzi." Luckily for them, the workers are almost finished here for today, and at around 11AM they can drive up to Lore's project to work for the rest of the day. They'll return next week to finish the other tiles and cut and install a marble shelf on top. My stomach continues to do flip-flops.

So let's talk about the marble shelf. Remember that I wrote that Dino found a wonderful rectangular piece of marble with curved edges on one side? Well, it was dirty, so he uses the acido on it this morning, and the result is scary. Yes, it is very clean. But in the process, some of the marbling disappeared. "It eats away at the surface." is what Dino tells me. It will work fine, all the same, with an interesting drift in the grain, but not the gorgeous drift it had before. There's so much to learn...

Mario calls at 2PM, wanting to come and garden. So Dino tells him he'll have to arrive before 2:30 and will walk him around to tell him what we need. Then we'll be in Terni until tonight. Let's hope he doesn't destroy anything, this well-meaning "toro" (bull), in our garden.

I've moved the blue and white tiles back in to the loggia, and opened up the package of border tiles that Dino picked up this morning from Elena. They are fine. So I am confident with my ability to smalto, or undercoat, ceramics. It has taken a year, but I know how to do it now, possibly even better than Monia, my teacher. The tiles I smalto come out uniformly well.

Now that I look at my work, I see what I would do differently. I think I've moved to the next level of proficiency, and am much more confident. Today in class, I'll paint a flowered dish to take to Carol, the Executive Director of the Italian branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society. There will be a party in Tuscany in a few weeks, along with a mini plant sale, and we'll take a few heirloom pomodori plants to sell as well as the dish.

The dish will be auctioned off to make money for the branch. I have no idea what the design will be, hoping to find something interesting in class, or I'll come up with a design myself. The plate must be finished soon in order to be ready for the party, and we're hoping Elena will still be working when we return from class, so that she can fire it.

Earlier, Stefano and Luca used wood and wire to stabilize the top row of tiles. They are to sit for a few days before they install the marble top. So next week the last tiles will be finished and installed.

We drive to Terni and I pick up a torta d'airea (raised cake plate) and Monia helps me with a design. I don't quite finish, but think I can finish next week and we'll get it fired in time for the gathering.

At home, Annika and Tord come for a glass of wine on the terrace. They'll leave for Sweden tomorrow. Then Pepe comes by with a bottle of bubbly for Dino's birthday. He and Ubik join us in the kitchen for a drink. He has lots to say about the political situation, and thinks Berlusconi would have been a better choice. He thinks Prodi will do nothing. We'll see.

We're packing and getting ready for a few days away from Mugnano. The grass has been cut, the plants are all watered, and we're ready for Dino's birthday tomorrow and a new adventure.

April 20
Today is Dino's birthday, and before dawn we've packed, dressed, and Candida and Franco pick us up to drive to Formia. There we'll take a ferry to the island of Ponza, where we'll stay until Saturday. It's barely light when we leave Mugnano.

We're early for the ferry in Formia, but not by much. It has taken more than two hours to reach the town where the ferry trip begins. An hour later, we're on our way to Ponza, for a two-and-one-half hour trip. Sofi is happy to be with us, and ready for an adventure.

The sky is partly cloudy, but when we enter the tiny port we are met by a quarter-shaped moon of a beach, its pastel houses stepping up the cove like children stomping to the tune of a marching song. It is as if their Pro Loco (Chamber of Commerce) instructed the residents, "Here is the color palate to use to paint your houses"!

A range of pale yellow, pink, periwinkle blue, peach and green is dotted occasionally by a house washed in pale terra cotta. The periwinkle blue is my favorite; the same color washing our hotel the color of the sea broken by white, white shutters rising up from the balcony floor. Our room opens to a view of the cove, with a rowboat named "Paradise" moored right outside our balcony.

We take a ride around the island, and although we think we'd have pranzo on the other side of the island, the restaurant we read about in a guide book does not look very inviting. So we walk around town and find a beautiful place called Capriccio. Food is the best we've had in recent memory, with an antipasto of agridolce eggplant cut in small cubes, under a sun-shaped fan of marinated alice. The combination of sweet and sour tastes is remarkable.

We're drinking white wine on this trip, for we eat fish, fish, fish, and all the wine is quite good.

There are a number of real estate agencies, and all are open, but the agencies only rent. Properties do not turn over in Ponza. So we think we might like to rent a place for a week, and for two couples realize it won't be expensive, especially at this time of year.

We walk around, wondering what part of Ponza we'd like to concentrate on, and find ourselves walking toward the lighthouse, with a view of the harbor and a view out to sea. It is quiet here, with most of the nighttime noise down below at the harbor itself, where our hotel is located. Fantasizing, we find a locked gate with an untended wild patch of green facing the ocean. "Here's your orto, Candida!" we tell our friend. And then we walk back down to the harbor.

After a rest at the hotel, we walk out again, and Dino and Frank are ahead of us. Candida and I tell them that we're going to rent a place next year, and if they'd like to come, they're welcome. We make an appointment with a woman to see a few places in a few hours, and while we're still there, the men take off on their own. They tell us they'll find something.

Before we know it, we're walking back toward the lighthouse, and Dino and Franco are already speaking with Angelo, a man they saw tending his garden a few minutes ago and called up to him. He owns and rents out two adjacent apartments with an incredible front terrace and view, and Candida and I arrive to find Franco and Dino negotiating with their new best friend.

From that moment on, we're telling Dino what things we'll need to bring next year. Yes, we'll bring a car. Can we drive on the island? There's a place to park just below the steps to the rental, but can we get a permit to park there? There's even a barbecue and a covered corner spot with a thatched roof reminiscent of the movie South Pacific. It couldn't be more perfect.

Here we all are on the terrace with Angelo, minus Dino, who's taking the photo. Won't we have fun! The rest of the trip takes on an added dimension.


We have dinner at our hotel, and although a well-circulated guidebook told us this is the best restaurant in town, we're sorely disappointed, both with the wine and with the food. We're all tired by this time, and after a walk under the moonlight, turn in.

Let's take a minute to talk about guidebooks...So far, we've taken the advice of two, and they've been equally mediocre. So I suppose the use of guidebooks are similar to stop signs in Italy: a suggestion, but use your own judgment. Enough said.

April 21
We've slept with the windows open, but it's been noisy. We are situated in a hotel located just across the little street from a bar that stays open well into the night. At some point the noise stops, and now it's just the sound of birds and lapping water on the beach below us that we hear at first light. I can't wait to get up and take a walk.

We take Sofi for a walk, after discovering that the handsome glass shower front leaks, the tile floor turning into a pool of water. Fa niete. The bed is comfortable.

After a leisurely walk and stops at a few shops, we eat pranzo at a restaurant recommended by a local, and it is amazing. There are only about four tables, and Mama does the cooking. The man who waits on us seems a bit lazy, but he's friendly just the same. Sofi is hungry, and we don't have food for her. But what's this? Sofi has fallen in love with...pasta!

Here's Sofi eating her first pasta.


She's sitting patiently at my feet, even though we fed her before our pranzo. I slip her a piece of spaghetti, which she actually inhales. She wags her tail, and it is so funny, that I feed her another piece, by holding the strand of pasta up in the air over her head and lowering it slowly to her mouth. She opens up and daintily sucks the strand as though she's a little vacuum cleaner. Because the pasta is served with fish, the added taste is yummy. Sofi and I both love our pranzo.

Earlier, I stopped at a jewelry shop just across the path, and asked if they pierce ears there. Most jewelry shops in Italy do this. Two men were working inside the shop with hammers, and as they were closing for pranzo, one man told me that they did not offer the service.

They must have watched us enter the restaurant, for five minutes later the other man arrived at the restaurant with plyers and a hammer, offering to pierce my ears on the spot. Candida responded, "Find me a potato!" Earlier she offered to pierce my ears using a needle and a potato. I think she was kidding, and I decide to wait for another alternative back on the mainland...

The food is good enough that we'd come back tonight, but as the day wears on we change our minds. And when it's time for cena, we eat right at the restaurant near our hotel, and have pizza this time. It's good, and we think the fish is probably wonderful. Next year...

We've tried the island's gelato, but have not found it to be very good, and see a place near the hotel that has "artignale" (made by an artisan) gelato, so that's another place to try next year.

After another moonlight walk back toward next year's place, we're all ready to turn in. All the fresh air and good walks have us ready for a good night's sleep, listening to the lapping of the gentle surf on the beach. We have been told that the island is mobbed during July and August, and Judith tells us that it's fun to sail to Ponza then, mooring three and four boats deep at the harbor.

"We never go ashore when we sail there. It's one big party!"

April 22
We hate to leave, but then there's the garden show at Villa Landriana, south of Rome, so we take a walk with Sofi early and then meet with Candida and Franco for breakfast and say goodbye to our hosts.

We're on the hydrafoil and it's fun, taking half the time of the ferry. Whoosh! As we leave the island, we take a look at the place we'll rent next April from the sea, and it looks like a cottage on a Greek island. Already, we're making a list on Dino's Palm Pilot of what we'll need to bring to make the week special. You know, hand-painted plates, tablecloths, candles, the usual stuff.

The ride to Landriana begins with a stop at Sperlunga. What a wonderful beach town! Candida and Franco walk ahead and zoom up to the top of the town on foot, while Sofi and Dino and I meander around the side of the town's cliff. We find the beach, and call our friends on the cell phone. We've found the restaurant Peter recommended, L'Angolo, and Sofi leads us on a wooden plank walkway across the sand to the restaurant.

They give her a big bowl of water and we feed her pranzo at my feet, just before Candida and Franco arrive. It's a lovely day, just warm enough to walk around without coats. I eat grilled spada (swordfish) and the others each have a seafood dish, somewhat similar to a cioppino, and quite tasty. Then it's a walk up to the borgo for artisan ice cream and a walk to the car.

We almost forgot we're going to Villa Landriana next. So Candida gets into the driver's seat of their Volvo station wagon and Dino navigates from the back seat, with Sofi riding shotgun. We arrive at the place, and although it is difficult to find, we've been there before. Dino is like a homing pigeon: he can find his way back almost anywhere, even after just one visit. I'm too busy enjoying the scenery to remember.

Since the logo of Landriana is a dog, we know Sofi will be welcomed...and she is. We split up, and an hour or so later regroup. Dino and I have only purchased one little kumquat tree to replace the one we purchased several years ago that suddenly decided to lose most of its leaves. Franco and Candida purchased several special plants, and there's room for all.

We're back home while it's still light outside. So we hug our friends goodbye and take a walk around the garden. In only a few days, we've seen many changes...all good. But most of the pomodori still lag behind the dozen or so in the serra.

It's good to be home.

April 23
I wake up early and open the window to hear birds singing in the fog. There are decisions to make, and I've been tossing the alternatives around for hours in my head. So before 7AM I'm dressed and writing down my thoughts. The sounds of Sofi and Dino dreaming nearby lull me like water gently lapping against the side of my little boat in the water. I'm determined not to sink...

I have decided to redo the painted tiles covering the bottom of the garden sink project, and to remove the top tiles and add a thin border of blue tiles between the white tiles and the marble sink. I like the basic design of the pillar and vase of flowers in the center of the top tiles, but the white of the tiles conflicts with the grey/white marble sink. What was I thinking? I knew all along that the marble sink was not quite white. So why, oh why, did I use white smalto on the tiles?

It's possible that a delineation will work, and we have the pencil-like tiles that I can smalto and paint to use as a colored border.

I am also not at all satisfied with the painted designs of the tiles on the bottom. Strangely, the base paint used later in the project is better than that done by my teacher in class on the early tiles. That gives me some reassurance that I can smalto and paint new tiles in the correct manner. But this time I need to use a broader design, or a border design, to have the tiles looks less, well, industrial.

Candida gave me advice on Saturday that really helped. "It's not a big deal to take the tiles off and repaint them if you're not happy with them." They surely are not right. And I am not content. These days, I don't even look over at the sink when I'm working in the garden, even if I am close by.

Walking through the Landriana garden show yesterday helped me with more of my decision-making. There were three exhibitors who exhibited ceramics, and when looking over their designs I came to a few conclusions: one, that there is very little money to be made painting ceramics, so it must be a labor of love; two, nothing seems to sell very well at these shows, and three, there is no reason I should exhibit at all. It's just to stressful.

So I'll paint the blue border tiles this week and take them to Elena to fire. Stefano will take off most of the tiles, re-install many of the top tiles after the border is ready, raising the structure less than an inch to accommodate this border, and when all the tiles are repainted he'll install them and finish the project.

Or so I think. Dino wants the tiles to stay. He's sure the tiles will be damaged if they're removed. He may be correct. I am not sure what to do, so will think about it for a while longer.

Late in the morning after mass, we drive to Pinzaglia for annuals for the parcheggio steps and the balcony. But this vivai (nursery) is too crowded, and as usual, the selection is not very good. Should we drive to Viterbo? Dino does not look happy.

"Let's drive to Orte Scalo for coffee." I suggest. There may even be a few flower shops open. Perhaps we'll not have to drive to Viterbo after all.

And so it is that we have coffee at the bar, pick up five peach colored geraniums for the stairs, and the owner agrees to pick up the fourteen white petunias we need to cascade from the balcony. "Come back at 6PM tomorrow" she counsels. We'll see if she can find what we need. If not, we'll find them later in the week. This is the season.

We do grocery shopping in Il Pallone, then drive back and stop to see Elena. She's doing well, and agrees to give me a lesson in making ceramic fruit. I really liked the ceramic fruit that we saw at the ceramic shop in Ponza, and Guillermo, the owner, told me that the process is easy. I like that. We pick up the last of my tiles, and drive home for pranzo and so that Dino can participate in his favorite sport...watching Formula 1 auto racing on TV.

Tia calls, and the Montecastrilli market is...today! She tells us it's too busy now, to go tomorrow morning, so we'll call Candida and Franco and tell them the date has changed and will somehow fit that into our plans. They'll have the white petunias there, too.

This Montecastrilli market is a very important part of our spring growing and planting season, but it is surprisingly early this year, and without Tia's call we would have missed it altogether. Now we can drive to Tuscania's market next weekend. There's always something to do.

Yesterday was the anniversary of my father's death. So I raise my hand and gently blow him a kiss. My parents are in my mind more these days for some reason, and I'm more aware of shadows in the midst of light.

Just now, I glance toward a kind of mesa across from us that sits looking down atop the Tiber Valley. The sky looks clear from my desk, but I think this mesa casts a long shadow across a line of trees, where I would have thought there would have been bright sun. It is really just a patch of shade from a long arm of white clouds just out of sight. And now fingers of mist sit behind the shadow. It's time to clip some boxwood and tend the roses. See you later.

There are box plants to clip, roses to inspect, grass and leaves to rake and tomatoes and hydrangeas to fertilize and water. The rosa banksia is in full bloom on the arch leading to San Rocco, and the rose arch on the front terrace is full for the first time with bunches of tiny buds of Alistar Stella Gray.

But my favorites are the Paul Lede, their flowers just coming into bloom. It is possible that the star of the show this year will be the pink cloud, a new rose growing in a big pot in the center of the lavender garden. Lucia at Michellini loves this rose, and told me it will flower all summer. There are certainly lots of large buds, but although I am hopeful the flowers will be pale and cloudlike, what I see so far is a pretty vivid pink.

This morning, two blooms from the Madame Gregory Staechlin plant open, and the bloom is very unusual...large and pale pink on top and darker rose pink on the underside. It's a big and healthy plant, stretching over the ugly wire wall between the cardi plant and the far garden. This is a decidedly good addition.

With many fava beans growing long and longer, we'll have plenty to fix for friends on Tuesday night. I have a few fava recipes, and will try at least one of them out. It's also time to make more bread, and a pork and fennel and tomato stew that I've conjured up after reading a number of diverse recipes. There will be nine of us, and I'm ready to gambol that this will turn out all right, possibly spectacularly. We'll buy the pork shoulder from Sgrina in Giove tomorrow.

We take a look at the photos of our trip, and included in them are a few of the view from the house we may rent next year. Paola tells us that Vincenza knows someone who owns a couple of rental houses in Ponza, but we think the one we found will be just fine.

I'm already thinking of cooking there, making bread in the outdoor oven, grilling fresh fish, eating salads on the terrace, drinking local wine...I told Candida that the journey, the planning of the trip, will be almost as fun as being there, and will last an entire year.

We'll be up early tomorrow to drive to Montecastrilli, so after watching a Helen Mirren/Robert Redford movie, The Hostage, we turn in. But Sofi should be whimpering soon, for the fireworks in Bomarzo in honor of their festa are starting to pop. Let's get into bed and watch them from bed through the west window.

April 24
I wake with a sore throat and a cold, but it's a beautiful day. There is a mist in the valley and soft thin clouds float by under a pale blue sky. We're out early to drive to Montecastrilli, a town located on the way to Perugia, to pick up our annual plantings.

We know the drill. Hoping to find a place just near the spot where we'll buy our plants, we drive on past the parked cars, to find the road blocked. But there is a place close by, so we walk up and pick up some of the plants we want.

The vendor who sells the aromatic herbs is not there, but he has a display of plants we'd surely like to try out. We walk around for a while, for Monday is also market day in Montecastrilli and the stalls seem to stretch for miles. But when we return he is still not there. So we drive home. Tomorrow, Dino will return to pick up white cascading petunias for our balcony. The seller we purchased our pomodori from will have them waiting for him.

At home, we putter around the garden, and I cook for tomorrow. But first it is time to pull up fava beans, and we take turns running our hands down the plants and snapping the beans. It is a wonderful experience for me, but for Dino this is just another task.

Before the night is through, I've made a pork stew that Dino rates as excellent, as well as a sautéed fava and fennel side dish. These are both for tomorrow.

Expecting that I'll not attend the Palio unless my cold improves, I get into bed just as the fireworks blast from Bomarzo. But they don't last long...Is their budget small this year? It's such a short program that Sofi sleeps right through it.

April 25
So what's Liberation Day all about? Dino tells me it's a celebration in honor of the partisans who rose up on this day to end the war in Milan in 1944. Partisans are an interesting lot; at least they seem so based upon books I have read. And I think there is some partisan in almost every Italian even today...except for the Fascists, but that is another story for another time.

Italians seem to not care about the political situation in their country, and take a dim view of the bureaucratic wranglings, although they love to talk about them. Doing something about the politics is something else altogether. So instead they use their creative wiles to finesse their way around Italian laws, shrugging their shoulders instead of making changes.

In today's paper the Prodi/Berlusconi situation is not good. It is thought to be reminiscent of the days of Andreotti, whom I read was a major thief disguised as a government leader. He served as Prime Minister at least twice, if only for a year each time.

On this day, I am feeling terrible, and spend a lot of the day in bed. We're having a number of people for cena tonight, and I find a way to fix most of the things in advance. When they arrive at 3PM so that we can all go together to the Palio in Bomarzo, I decline, and spend a few hours in bed while they are gone.

There is no clear winner at the Bomarzo Palio, as usual, and one horse and one rider are taken away by truck and ambulance. Later, the word is that both are fine. The pageantry is wonderful, as usual, and the group has a lot of fun, with Dino seeing lots of friends and neighbors to say hello to. I am sorry to miss the event, but a few hours in bed is just what I need.

The evening is a blur, but everyone seems to have a good time, and the weather is good enough that we can eat on the terrace by candlelight.

I excuse myself early and Sofi and I go up to bed.

April 26
Today I'm not much better, but in early afternoon I'm up for an hour for some rice and toast and tea. The rest of the day is spent in bed, although the sky somewhat clears and Dino drives to Viterbo to pay our road tax.

He returns to get ready for Enzo to arrive and work on the loggia sink and solar panel problems. But Enzo never arrives, so the day ends with rain and Sofi and I snoozing upstairs.

April 27
I'm tired of being sick, so we decide to drive to Formia to have pranzo at Zi'Anna and see if we can purchase some striped fabric for the loggia at a huge store we passed last week when returning from Ponza. Formia is a town where ferries take off for Ponza, and so we think it's the kind of place where "beach" and "summer" people will buy fabric.

Or at least that is what we hope. We're enticed to return because of a huge 70% sale sign on the front of the shop. If all else fails, we'll have pranzo at the restaurant that a journalist thought served him his best meal in Italy. We'll see if we agree, but based on recent recommendations we're not so sure...

The sky is mixed, with some clouds, some sun, but overall the ride is not bad. We arrive in the town in just over two hours, and find a fabric that is, well, suitable. It's not perfect, but then the choices in Italy are certainly not what they are in the U. S. The stripe is a dark blue and off-white heavy cotton fabric, suitable for outside. Since the painted tiles for the loggia are dark blue-grey and white, I am hoping the colors will work together.

I was hoping for a paler or greyer blue, but no matter. The price is excellent, so we walk around the weekly mercato and Sofi has fun meandering around. She loves to putter around in the midst of activity, and smells are heavenly to her. Her long tail bobs as she does her little waddle and we walk to the restaurant.

So we are seated a table right at the window overlooking the water, but the windows are closed and it feels a little claustrophobic. I am distracted, however, by an excellent seafood antipasto, and then spaghetti vongole (with clams), although we ordered it with cozzi (mussels). Yes, we'd come here again. But is it the best meal we've had in Italy? I'd save that honor for Il Capriccio in Ponza, for my memory is not that good. I am sure we have had other great meals, but this is a good meal just the same.

On the way back, we take a detour at Valmantone and pick up a fresh buffalo mozzarella. But there is a town on the side of a nearby hill that Dino wants to visit, so we drive up to Artena, and walk around a little. This is a really undiscovered town, with cobbles on the street, and nothing trendy around. The streets are steep and narrow, nothing is painted, and its people seem to be lost in a time at least twenty years ago.

On the way back, there is a mist over the distant hills, and the mountain of Montecassino looms dark and dreary. What a sad place. What a sad reminder of one of the saddest bouts of fighting during WWII between the Allies and the Germans. As the story goes, the exquisitely built and maintained Abbey at the top of the mountain was agreed to be off limits by both the Germans and the Allies...at first.

Then the Allies were told that the Germans were held up there, and from that vantage point could really do a lot of damage down below. So the Allies decided to "take" Montecassino. And most of the Abbey was destroyed. The Germans were not even there, hiding instead partway down the mountain.

A year or two ago, Dino and I drove to Montecassino, and much of the Abbey was restored by the Americans, I think. But it's not the same. It's difficult to look up at it without sadness.

Rain greets us off and on, but we arrive home before 6PM, and Dino plays around in the wet garden, checking on his potatoes, while Sofi and I sit inside. He's quite excited about the two batches of potatoes he's planted, and although it's getting very late in the season, he's going to plant another batch in a day or so. Remember that he's planting the potatoes all in big tubs. So they'll be easy to dig up.

I'm rather sick of the fava beans, not liking the fava and fennel sauté I fixed on Tuesday at all. There is something metalic-tasting about the favas, and when they're blanched in boiling water the water turns black.

No wonder. I think my dislike of them goes back to my school days at Derby Academy in Hingham, MA., where we were served creamed chipped beef and lima beans often for lunch. The mere thought of either of them turns my stomach even today. So we'll give the favas away, or turn them over in the compost and in the tomato fields.

We know that favas are the very best thing to use as a rotation crop for tomatoes. And the plants make us look as though we really know what we're doing when the villagers look down on our land from the little street up above. So we'll continue to plant them, just not eat them ourselves.

April 29
It's too rainy to drive to Tarquinia today for the annual mercato. So we'll stay at home and in between the raindrops I'll spray the roses against aphids and worms. I know. I know. But roses take a lot of attention, and the results are worth it.

Here's a little of what's going on in the garden, even though it's been dreary for several days...


I give up on spraying the roses. Instead, I pick off the leaves that are forming the dreaded...worms. It won't do any good to spray today. So Dino drives off to do some errands, and while he's gone he picks up some of those round pots that disintegrate after they are planted. Or at least I think they disintegrate. I want to use them to repot the pomodori seedlings.

By the time I'm through repotting and counting the number of plants, I am alarmed to discover that we have seventy. 70. I just don't know what to think, there are so many. Dino will probably want to take a table at an agri market in the middle of the summer to peddle our fabulous heirloom "fruit".

I think I'd like to stand back and see the reaction and take some photos. It might be a funny garden story to sell to the IJ or the Chron, after interviewing Italians to find out what they think. They mostly think we are crazy, until they take a taste. Sigh. I just have too many ideas.

I remember that a number of years ago, Patti Smith (then Kemp) and Joan Waters came for a visit and Joan was enamored with the mosaics of Nikki St. Phal. She convinced us to visit her fantasy garden, called Il Giardino dei Tarocchi, near Tarquinia. Now that I'm interested in coming up with an interesting project to transform the garden sink into something I can live with, I'm thinking of turning the project into something that may become art worthy.

I'm thinking of taking off all the bottom tiles, breaking them up, putting a tufa colored intonico on the base and installing a variety of mosaics and pieces of the tiles in an interesting design. I want the look to have a hint of Roman style, some classic elements, and also somewhat of a contemporary look. There is just too much white as it is, and the current style does not blend in well with the back tufa wall.

I'm just too darn busy. What's this about sitting around and enjoying the moment?

So this afternoon I've also sewn half of the new fabric for the loggia, washed it and hope that it's fine. I'll sew the two remaining smaller pieces tomorrow. In the meantime, the pomodori have been returned to their sunny window and 24-hour-a-day light. There's a hour or so left before we meet our friends for dinner, so we take a power nap and read...

Tonight we join Tia and Bruce and Wendy and Alan and some others at NonnaPappa, and I'm sorry that we won't bring Sofi, for Fidelia loves her. But she'll be happier at home tonight.

When we arrive, we see Helen and even Judith! They've come with Tia and Bruce. So there are about ten of us, and after seeing the friendly little dog Fidelio, we're sorry we did not bring Sofi. With hugs for Fidelia and her young daughter, Carlotta, we sit down for an excellent meal. Everything is good at NonnaPappa. We return home at midnight, and Sofi's ready to play. Dino watches Hotel Rwanda, and I go up to bed.

Yes, my cold has just about run its course, and I am thankful for that. Being sick is a real drag. I check on the fabric, and it has shrunk! Luckily we have enough to redo the two panels, and I'll wash the rest of the material tomorrow before doing any more sewing. Live and learn...

April 30
No fair. The month is up already, and May promises to be very busy with the garden and ceramics and parties galore. I really do want to slow down. How to do that? Take on less? Less what? I've already given up taking a booth at Villa Lante in the fall, but Spring is always busy here. And the garden is really so lovely, even with the enormous amount of rain that soaks our favorite roses.

I am feeling quite good, and after mass tell Tiziano that we have information that he can use to search on the internet in Latin about San Liberato. He'll come by later today so that we can search together.

There is no sun, and without sun the garden remains waterlogged. We wash the rest of the new material and will measure and cut the rest of it and resew it. We purchased enough even if the first two panels won't work. But after hanging the first sample up, I'm distressed. It looks like a circus tent. Just as I imagined, the color is too dark.

After a discussion, we agree that we'll take a sample of the fabric to Rita in a few days and see if she can dye it a softer blue. Dino suggests that I take a small sample and soak it in bleach to see what that will do. We have enough fabric to do a few tests, but I'm not about to cut any more from the longer piece until we figure it out. So the rest of the sewing will have to wait. Since the plumbing, hiding the pipes and installing the smaller painted tiles in the loggia has not yet taken place, the fabric sewing can wait.

While I'm sort of on a roll, meaning Dino is starting to see things my way, I suggest that we take off a row of the tiles just below the garden sink, and we take them off together. Well, he chips them off while I stand by to pick up the pieces. Many of the tiles come out intact, which means they can be reused for my tray project later.

I am formulating a design for the row of tiles, with a blue-grey color at the top, delineating the grey/white sink next to the tiles, and a more elaborate design in the middle of the tile. We'll need thirteen of them to rim the bottom of the sink.

While we're at it, Dino suggests we chip off any of the other tiles that I don't think have the correct background. That's four or five more. I'm anticipating the project will be finished mid-June, and that's all right with me. I want it to be correct, no matter the time it takes.

In addition to the remade tiles, we agree to smalto and paint the pencil shaped mattone to rim the top design. I can finish those next week, but they'll need to be cut first. So that depends on Stefano to cut them and determine where they need to be cut and then smaltoed and painted. I am beginning to have empathy with Italian craftspeople who seem to take more time completing projects than clients think they should.

Back in the house, the phone rings, and it is Catherine, asking if the men have arrived to bring up the tree from the valley for the annual village tree raising. We just about forgot, and I walk out to hear them coming up Via Mameli.

"Come right down!" I tell her. "There already here!" and Dino rushes out with the camera, while Sofi and I lock up and get her harness and lead ready.

They're already at the bus stop, with a tree about twenty two meters long. The men have stopped for drinks of local wine and a break. After about fifteen minutes, they're ready to pick up the tree again. Many of the young men are from Attigliano. The older men are from Mugnano, but there are younger men who are relatives and friends of the Mugnanese, too. And of course there are the young children, the wives, the girlfriends, the mothers and grand mothers, all standing around and watching the goings on.

Paola comes by for a hug, and it is then that she asks the significance of the light in our guest bedroom window. It's on all night, and she is concerned that she woke us up the other night when she rang the bell at 10:30.

After explaining that the light is for our pomodori seeds, she tells me that Enrico asked her the same question. So we agree that if we find him tonight we will give him the correct answer. Let's hope the pomodori are memorable enough to warrant the cost of the continual light for three months time in the window...

Back to the action: The tree is carried by about thirty men, and before they are through, the tree is jockeyed around the tornante (hairpin) bend in the road, aimed head first down into the little parking lot and three separate metal ladders are positioned underneath to move the tree up bit by bit, as these same men have done for years. And this year they remember to tie the symbolic Mugnano bandiera in red and blue near the top before hoisting it skyward.

Slowly, slowly, they move the tree. I turn around to see Felice behind me, and ask him if he used to be a part of this group. "Si, certo," he responds. Three years ago was his final year to participate, and he positioned one of the ropes that year.

Today he's in the back of the crowd, only partly recognizing the scene, but he takes my hand and squeezes it tightly, just the same. Marsiglia finds a place to sit at his side against a wall, taking in the goings on and not missing a thing.

Salvatore asks me if he can take Sofi up to the borgo a few meters away and I agree, but he brings her back a few minutes later. She sat patiently at my feet for a long while, but I know she'd be happier in my arms. Sofi now lies limply as I hold her, like a spoiled child, but is so sweet that I don't deny her this comfort.

I ask Paola what the significance is of the tree raising. She tells me it means three things: 1) The real beginning of Spring, 2) The fertility of women, and most importantly, 3) It's time to do the annual planting of the ortos.

I remember Maypoles, with children running around them with pastel ribbons as a young girl. And now I imagine people all over Italy, and all over the world, blessing the warmer weather and blessing the earth that is such an important part of everyone's lives here.

The tree is up, and Dino suggests to Francesco that he takes a group shot of the men who carried it. Here are a few photos of the event.



As soon as the tree is securely up, the group photo is taken and the men move down past the parking lot to the community hall to eat porchetta, drink wine and beer and tell stories. Dino and Sofi and I walk home. I make a delicious pizza with the buffala from the other day that is still good, and while it is in the oven, Dino readies the group photo, making copies to share. When we've finished the pizza, he walks up to the borgo.

As he enters the club where the eating is taking place, a round of applause fills the room, and he distributes the photos and sits for a glas of "red" with the men. Later, we talk about the event while we enjoy the photos. Hope you enjoy them, too.

The month of April is up, and tomorrow I'll post and a day or so later will enter the planting calendar for May. It's now almost midnight, and that means it will be time to utter, "Rabbit, rabbit!" as my first words after midnight. This is a superstition I have followed for years. Who knows if it means anything, but I imagine that when I speak these words before any others on the first day of a month, that month is a lucky one for me.

Dorme bene.

MAY 2006

May 1
It's 10 AM before we get up. What a way to begin a holiday! Today is the workers holiday in Italy, and everyone loves to celebrate.

The skies clear, and we spend most of the day in the garden. It feels good to be outside in the cool, clear air. I start to clip boxwood, but know that we need to spray the roses, so Dino fixes a new spray bottle and I work on the roses, one by one. Before I finish the front terrace, I know I have to cook. So the rest will have to wait.

I've soaked a variety of beans for minestrone overnight, so I finish making a soup and add a jar of tomatoes from last year's larder. There are also chocolate cupcakes to make from scratch. There was a recipe on the cupcake tin, and I decide to follow it.

There are also eggs, so I fix egg salad, and it's about 2PM before we sit down to eat. Everything tastes great. And now we're ready to spend the afternoon outside. It's been rainy for so long that we're anxious to see how everything is doing.

I feed the roses. I feed the hydrangeas. I feed the rhododendrons and the new kumquat bush and the lemon tree. And the rest of the time is spent working on rose by rose, including those on the front path.

Because some of the roses have grown too high for me to reach, Dino joins me and clips the spent roses at the top. Many of the roses are waterlogged, but there are plenty left after we've deadheaded back two sets of leaves on the five rampicante roses in their planters.

Each time I walk into the serra, I look around, including at the gravel floor. Today I do not look at the ground, but after I leave I reenter to find a huge snake...or is it just a huge pink worm on the gravel, curled around near a shelf where some of my ceramic tiles are stored.

For some reason, I am not frightened. I am more relieved that when I walked around the little room earlier that I did not step on it. I was that close. From now on, I'll surely look closely. But what to do?

Dino to the rescue. He's upstairs and I call to him, telling him what I've discovered. He arrives and, with a hand rake, walks in like Inspector Poirot, to tell me it is "morto"! While we're working on the path with the roses, many of our neighbors walk by, and a few of them stop. When Rosita, Elena, Miriam and their friend from Spoleto walk slowly up the hill, I offer that they sit on our stone benches to rest.

They are such a lively group, and laugh and chatter away while they find room for each other on the two little stone benches. Sofi and I walk down to them, and I tell them the date for this year's lavender festa. I hope they'll all come.

A little while later, Felice and Marsiglia come up the hill with a bunch of wild fennel, and I sit with them on the stone benches. Marsiglia is resigned to Felice's absentmindedness. He is really not aware of most things these days. But while I sit with Marsiglia, he walks down the path toward Dino, and seems to enjoy himself.

Felice and Marsiglia have been collecting wild fennel, to use with coniglio (rabbit). This Sunday, Marsiglia will prepare it, and tells me that they'll keep the finocchio (wild fennel) in the refrigerator until it is time to prepare it. I offer to give them more from our garden at the end of the week. It grows wild all over the far property, and its fragrance when it is cut is similar to licorice.

They walk back home just before Augusta, Maria and Giuseppa walk toward me. I have just cut three Lady Hillingdon roses for the kitchen, but instead walk up the hill toward them and present one to each woman. Giuseppa stops to chat with Rosina at her orto first and then joins us, putting her arm around my shoulder and telling me she stopped to gossip. They stop to sit on those popular stone benches, but don't stay long, for they want to put their roses in water. I'm happy to share our roses with them.

Tiziano arrives for tea and chocolate muffins, and we strategize about our research on San Liberato. To be fair, we agree that we'll also add San Vincenzo and San Rocco to our project. Catherine has given us a website about saints that we'll check out, and then in a few weeks we'll drive to the library in Bagnoregio owned by the Curia to begin our formal research. Yes, I know. I was going to slow down.

We speak about the results of the Palio last week, and there was a lot of anger on the part of the Bomarze. A great deal of money was spent to build the track, and one corner of it caused two accidents, so the people from Sienna are not happy with the track. Dino thinks it can be smoothed out easily. So we don't know if there will be trouble getting the Palio back here next April. We'll let you know.

There is also some talk about this year's festarolo committee in Mugnano, and this next Sunday Don Luca will put up the list and I'll be on it. It will be interesting to see what happens. I'm looking forward to working on the committee this year, and hope it will be fun. I think so. But it will be a lot of work. Yes again. I'm tired just thinking about it.

So the festarolo committee is designed to coincide with the residents' birth years. Since I was born in 1946, that puts me on this year's committee, as well as people born in '26, '36, '56, '66, '76 and '86. I'll find out on Sunday who else will join me. Already I know Mario Lagrimino, Mauro the shorter, and Anna Cozzi will be included.

Tiziano leaves and we settle in for a quiet evening. I'm tired. It is a good tired. I look forward to a good night's sleep.

What I do not know is what will happen to the garden sink project. The options are endless. Do we take off the rest of the tiles or just paint a few more? We'll see what Stefano has to say next before I make any more decision, But I've designed a new tile to use as the border between the sink and the bottom tiles, so at least there's some progress.

Now Candida and Franco want to see Niki St Phal's mosaic garden on the coast, so by the time we've seen that, we may opt for a more elaborate design. I like the yin and yang of it. What I don't know at this writing is which way to go. Time will tell.

May 2
We drive to Dan and Wendy's house in Umbertide for pranzo, and take them my prized bean dip and tortilla chips and a bunch of fave beans.

But Enzo arrives first at 8AM to work on several plumbing projects with Dino, and Dino thinks Enzo has taken a liking to us. Enzo likes the painted tiles, and he likes the fact that Dino gets involved in trying to resolve some of the plumbing issues. So even if we can't understand his dialect, Dino thinks they're "bonding".

Dino decides that I can drive myself to Daniele's in Sipicciano while he works with Enzo. That is a shock. Imagine me. Driving. Since moving here, I've driven all of about five times. I admit I miss my racy BMW that we sold in California before moving here. But now I have no interest in driving. But I do want to get my hair done. So let's see if I can navigate a solo.

We need to have photos taken soon, for our permessos renew this month. That is always a funny scene. It's about time that they renew for a longer period of time than two years, but with terrorist scares, we were told two years ago that there are no long-term permessos issued in Italy.

I think the trick is to arrive late, around 11AM, and we can walk up to a window and get waited on. In past years, we'd arrive at 7AM, and the rush to get the first fifty numbers resulted in us going back for several days in a row until we received a low number. Now we think that is for people who don't have their first permessos yet. We'll let you know.

I arrive in Sipicciano with no trouble. Actually, I enjoy the drive. I wait a few minutes, but after Daniele arrives, I'm the only one in the shop for the next few hours except for his snake, who huddles in a glass type of aquarium near the door. Daniele knows I am afraid of the snake, so he takes my jacket and hangs it up for me. I pretend the snake is not there.

I have been thinking about the snake I saw yesterday, and so ask Daniele to tell me if he thinks the long pink thing was a snake. He asks me if it had a narrower tale, how thick it was, and if it had a triangular head. I know it did not have a triangular head. It looked like a long pink worm.

I won't go into it all, but today I learn that snakes change their colors depending on the season, and that it was probably not poisonous. So I ask him if I encounter a poisonous snake, known as a viper, what to do. He tells me that it will probably rear its head up and face me.

"When that happens, should I freeze, or run?" I ask.

"Run!" he responds. He won't chase you. I always wondered about that. The snake in the glass box snores away. I am content. Now if Sofi only had the same information to protect her if she ever encounters one on her own...

I'm back home just after 10 AM, and Enzo's son and the other worker are still there. We leave for Umbertide soon after that, and when we arrive home they have left but it looks as though the work is not finished.

We arrive at Dan and Wendy's just after l'una (1 P M) and spend the next several hours eating and drinking local wine and relaxing and going over the changes they have made to the property. It is a fine house for them, and they are settling in well. Dino especially likes the clothesline they rigged up behind the house out of an old wood framed umbrella.

Sofi has a wonderful time bobbing around, and the weather cooperates. We are able to eat outside and are even treated to views of their neighboring horse and a beautiful cow. ("One each, just enough," Wendy tells us.)

We drive home in not much more than an hour and some of the plants are drooping. So it has been a warm day here, too. We are hoping for some good weather for the rest of the week.

May 3
We work around in the garden, and the weather warms up. It is almost hot when we leave to drive to Viterbo for some errands. When we arrive at Michellini to pick up four large lavenders, they are out, and expect them on Friday. So we'll return to replace a few that aren't doing well. Our lavender field is precise enough that a few lavenders out of place really show. So I tell Tiziana the day of our lavender festa in June and we agree to come back in a few days for our plants.

I've decided to finish the tall ceramic vase I've worked on for a couple of weeks today in class, but first Dino waits with me to see the torta d'airea (cake plate) that I painted last week, but it is not ready. It has not even been fired. So what will we do about Saturday, when we've agreed to take one of my painted ceramics to use to raise money for the Italy chapter of the Mediterranean Garden Society?

Marco gets the plate back while I'm painting in class, and when Dino returns from picking up some tiles, we try to reach Elena on the phone to see if she'll fire the plate tomorrow. Marco rigs up a very interesting carton with a rigid metal pole and tape affixed to the box top, and cotton at the bottom of the pole, sitting in the center of my newly finished vase. I worked on it all during class, and think it came out fine.

This is a brilliant engineering marvel to make sure that we can transport painted ceramic pieces to Elena after class. Dino has some ideas of his own to alter the box design, but likes the concept. What's not to like? It works, for the piece does not move while we drive half an hour to Elena's shop on the Superstrada and then the back roads of Bomarzo.

We cannot reach Elena on the phone, but when we reach her studio she is there, and kindly agrees to fire both pieces tomorrow. They'll be ready Saturday when she opens, and then we'll drive north to Tuscany after going to a mercato on Lago Trasimeno to pick up a tablecloth similar to the one Dan and Wendy purchased last week. You know me. I am all about fabric and tablecloths, just as Dino is all about toys and tote bags.

At home, we change and walk with Sofi up to the borgo for the beginning of the village Festa week. Bright red and green and white lights are illuminated in a Victorian scroll design, beginning at Giustino's house. Closer to the borgo is a heart design, and in the borgo is another more modern design.

It appears that throughout Italy there is some department responsible for rotating festa lights for cities and towns, and each year we get a different set. But we are disappointed that the "San Liberato" sign has not been strung up. Where is it?

In the square, a stage is set up, and in characteristic fashion the show begins thirty minutes later than scheduled, complete with bright lights and four microphones and a video screen. Don Giusy is the entertainment, and he is a religious singer, one of those "wave your arms and clap and sing" types. As the concert begins, all the young teenagers from Bomarzo file out from behind the stage and stand behind the plastic chairs. I think they are part of the show.

Sofi is with us, and we sit on one of the four wooden benches, far enough back so that we can leave early. Pia arrives and asks us if we like her lights. Tonight she lit her lights for the first time. Let's say they are bright, and there are a lot of them.

She has one dog, Carlotta, on one arm, and her larger dog, Laika, on the ground held by a lead. Sofi is not polite, trying to snap at Carlotta, so I pick her up. Speaking of lights, she tells us something about needing our permission for the festarolo committee to bury the power poles under ground. Huh?

We'll get Tiziano together with her as soon as we can for him to translate. If that' s all it will take to get the power pole on the street in front of our property buried, and she says it will not cost us anything, we'll do it right away. What good news that will be if it is true!

I'm bored, the music is loud, and we walk home. Inside, Sofi cries when she hears someone practicing with the fireworks display. It is not scheduled until Sunday night, but she makes sure that I know that the noise frightens her mightily. I give her a big hug and luckily the noise does not last.

. Tomorrow we'll show Judith Palazzo Rosa in Amelia. This palazzo is an incredible property with a proper garden inside the walled town. It will be interesting to see what she thinks of it. We surely like it, but it is not the most practical property we have listed. It does have: fireplaces, original paintings and restorations, a four hundred year old provenance, the bones of an exquisite formal Italianate garden, a studio, a huge tiled cantina big enough for a huge dinner party, views, frescoes on many of the ceilings...

May 4
The sky looks as though a huge cigarette has been lit, and the smoke from it creates long white clouds over the blue expanse that is the sky beyond Mugnano. Once I'm up, I look out our bedroom window to see Dino already peacefully watering the box hedges in the lavender garden below with a hose. It's time to join him.

We spend the morning in the garden, fussing around with this and that, until we leave for an appointment in Amelia. Today, we're to show Palazzo Rosa to Judith, and seeing the place for the second time is more delicious than even the first. I dearly love the garden. Although Judith sees it as lots of weeds, I see gravel and box and a wonderful view of the hills beyond.

Judith has brought her two dogs, and by the time we're through with the tour she thinks she'd like to see it again. We leave her at her apartment after looking at the work done on her terrace, and really like the work she has done on her apartment.

Judith looks lovely and full of hope. She seems to be enjoying her Italian life, leaving this afternoon for a visit with friends in Spoleto. We'll see her on Sunday at Alan's.

After a stop at Agrifair in nearby Fornole, where we pick up two kinds of hanging lobelia to plant in planters just below the hydrangeas, we drive home, and spend the afternoon in the garden again. The hydrangeas now live in pots below the little building outside the living room where we store wood, and because the area is covered by the shade of our giant nespola tree, we know they will do well. Dino gives them lots of water.

Tonight, Dino works as one of the two Confraternity members assigned to Don Luca at the first mass of the festa week. After the mass, we sing the hymn to our patron saint, San Liberato, and I really love this hymn. The words stretch out when they are sung, as though we are trying to push a few extra syllables into each line. And then the mass is finished, and Don Luca beeps his horn to us as we walk down the hill and he speeds past us on his silver bullet of a motorcycle, all dressed in black.

During the mass, Don Luca watched me as I took a really good look at the bust of San Liberato, placed directly in front of the altar. He knows just what I am thinking. To my left is the huge statue of another man, who is taken around the village each year as if HE is the real San Liberato. But by now, most everyone knows that he is some other figure.

When I ask Felice why we take this other statue around when he is clearly not San Liberato, he smiles and shrugs his shoulders. "Don't make waves," I think he is suggesting. But how silly this is. Why don't we just take around the bust? As our research on San Liberato progresses, the answers will become clear. In the meantime, this other figure will have to do.

We try to soak bleach on a sample of the blue and white striped fabric we purchased last week, but it does not change the color one iota. So next week when we're in Rome we'll return to Piazza Argentina where we purchased the original blue and white cotton fabric years ago. I can't imagine they'll have more of it, but who knows?

May 5
Dino's up early, for he'll meet with Stefano at Stein's to go over some work to be done. The day is partly cloudy, and I'm going to work on some new tiles this morning.

We have test results to pick up at the hospital in Orvieto, for my neck exam and Roy's colonscopia findings. As the hours pass, I think the weather is changing. Sunday will probably bring a big rainstorm, and I'm wondering if Alan will rent a tent for his big festa. It would be like him. We're hoping the skies will clear for him.

At the hospital, we pick up my results with no problem, but Dino's are not to be picked up for another hour. When we enter the waiting room for his results, it is full, and Dino decides to walk right in past the waiting room into the corridor. He tells me that we must learn to be pushy, like the Italians, to get anything done.

We see a man we recognize, who tells us to wait a minute. There is a lot of chattering about us going on in the waiting room. Fa niente. And then an older man walks up to us in the inner hallway and asks if we're waiting for results. Si. He leans against the wall next to Dino.

The man dressed in a green orderly uniform (why is it called orderly?) tells us to wait in the waiting room. So we walk out to a gaggle of laughter. They are laughing at us and I am miffed. So while Dino decides to wait in the waiting room, I see a number of more comfortable couches in the hallway and don't want anything to do with those gossipy women. So I wait by myself and read a book I don't really like by Tim Parks.

A few minutes later, Dino calls me in, and we go in to see Dottoressa Franciosini. She is a lovely woman, and is pleased to tell Dino that his results were so good for his colonscopy that he won't need another for three years. Yay! She also recommends a doctor to see for our bone problems, and we'll call him soon.

We pick up some plumbing supplies at Acquilanti, and while Roy is doing that, I see samples for ceramic tiles and we ask if we can borrow a couple to "try". At home, I copy the designs, but decide I don't really like them after all.

We've promised Carol something to raffle off to make money for the local branch of the Mediterranean Garden Society, so I ask Dino if he wants to pick something of mine out, in the event the new torta d' airea is not ready. We agree on the teapot, and he wraps it up. I can always paint another.

I smalto thirteen tiles, to replace those tiles just below the garden sink, and paint the top a grey/blue, with flowers further down on each tile. The design is my own, and Dino likes them. Each one is a little different, but they are interchangeable. They'll be ready to give to Elena tomorrow morning. If they're ready next week, Stefano can install them then. That's if I like them. If I don't, we have plenty more tiles and I'll come up with another design.

Tonight The Godfather is showing on TV, the entire sequence, starting in 1901. But it begins in Italian, and although there is some English weaving through the dialogue, we decide to go to bed and read instead, for tomorrow we'll leave early for a long day in Tuscany.

Earlier today, we worked in the garden, and I spent a lot of time on the boxwood, clipping them one-by-one with kitchen scissors. Dino wants to try the new electric hedge clipper on the boxwood, but I'm not ready to try that yet. Perhaps I'll let him try it on the row of oval boxwood next to the lavender garden. But not today.

We think that there will be an election for the Agraria tonight, but Dino checks and that is not the case. We decide not to attend mass, as it is not mandatory, and instead I design and paint the thirteen tiles for the garden sink.

Earlier, Dino also spoke with Stefano. With Lore and Alberto in town, Stefano is afraid to move away from their project. They watch his every move. So when they return to Rome, he'll come by next week and work on our project, and also Stein's.

Duccio calls to check in, and with Don and Mary arriving next week, we'll certainly all get together for a meal or two. I really need to get going with Duccio's stemma, now that I have the photograph of the entire eagle. It will be fun to paint.

I really look forward to seeing our friends from the Mediterranean Garden Society tomorrow at pranzo. Our hotel reservations in Provence have been accepted for the general meeting in October, when Angie will house sit with Sofi, and we'll have lots to talk about. I look forward to getting to know a number of the people better. We liked them a lot when we met them in Tivoli earlier this spring.

May 6
The sky looks mostly clear, so that threat of rain may have passed. We drive to Bomarzo with fourteen painted tiles to fire, and have to wait a while until Elena arrives to open her shop.

When she arrives, she presents us with my torta d'airea, and it looks lovely. For a moment I don't want to give it away, and then realize the design was Monia's, I only did the painting, so I'm ready to donate it to the cause. We leave the tiles and drive North.

Passignano, on the North shore of Lago Trasimeno, is our first destination, to pick up an inexpensive table cloth of a particular design that we have been looking for. We arrive and there is one. But the owner of the stall tells us he'll have more next week. At €5 each, for a cloth of more than two meters, we want more. I'll make curtains to go below the sink and we'll also have more to use outside when we have large parties. The price is amazing.

We take the superstrada almost directly to our pranzo destination, and the house is lovely. Actually, there are two houses and a pool, with plenty of lovely flowers, including many peonies and hydrangeas on the shady side of the house where we eat pranzo, at two long, long tables.

Dino gets involved selling raffle tickets for my plate, and collects more than €100 for the local chapter. A very nice woman wins it, who is very happy. We enjoy this group, and sitting with us are a number of people we are starting to get to know, almost all living in some area or other in Tuscany.

We purchase two boxwood plants at €5 each, an amazing price, from the plant sale, and since Sofi has been crying in the car, we take her to Lucignano, a lovely oval walled town nearby, and walk it from end to end.

We've been wondering about the outlet mall in Bettole, near Sinalunga, so take a short walk around, and it is very strange. There are a number of stores, but the prices are mostly quite high. I don't think they understand the American concept of Outlet Malls yet. And then it's time to drive home, in time for the festa in our village.

Lore calls us as soon as we arrive to ask us where we have been. "We have been waiting for you!" she tells me on the phone, so we take a walk up to see what is going on. There are a lot of cars on the street...and a bus!

We missed a really interesting musical program...a group of men and a couple of women, all dressed in formal green military uniforms with black plumes rising out of their hats. We're told they RUN! in formation when they play their instruments, and after hearing them play while waiting for the bus, we know they're quite good. So when we arrive at the piazza, Dino buys one of their CD's, to play later.

Lore and Alberto are just walking home after collecting their annual porchetta sandwiches; sandwiches distributed to all the villagers from a porchetta truck near the school. I think these treats are dreadful, very spicy, but they are popular.

We say "C'e vediamo!" to our friends and walk home with Sofi, who loves the smell of the porchetta. I take a taste and give the rest to Dino...with a taste or so to Sofi, and eat a fresh peach instead. The peach is not quite ready...it's too early in the season. But it's not bad with a little red wine...

I sit down to begin Dante's Divine Comedy...The Inferno. And what a task it will be to actually read the three volumes. It's worth a try, however, as I've finished my last book and this is a good challenge.

We watch a Hercuile Poirot movie, and it is quite good, especially the little fox terrier who steals the show. Sofi barks at him at first, and then sleeps by my side, bored by it all. I'd like her to learn the dog's trick: pushing the tennis ball down the stairs and running down to catch it as it reaches the bottom. Oh. Sofi is not to do stairs. Well, it's a good dog trick, anyway.

May 7
How humid it is this morning! We're surrounded by fog, and when the canons blast out from the valley at 8AM, I'm already in the shower. Because this is the main day of our annual village festa in honor of our patron saint, San Liberato, there are many guests in the village. So it's important to get in and out of the shower before the water pressure drops to a trickle.

Late last night, Chia celebrated its festa with a fireworks display across the valley, and Sofi cried so loudly that I put her in bed between us. Like a sausage, she did not move, hoping she could stay there all night. But a few hours later, I nestled her back in her little bed on the floor. While I'm in the shower, she hides under the bed until the noise of the announcing canons finish. How strange to see these bursts of light in the midst of the fog.

It is now almost 10 A M, and the Polymartium Band from Bomarzo starts to tune up near our house, where they have parked their cars. We love the sounds of them tuning up. The sound is about the same as the actual music, partly off-key. No matter. We love to have them as a part of our lives.

The band parades down every little street in the village. Here they are just above us, with Roberto Pangrazi, our geometra, and a man who looks as though he's right out of the Blues Brothers. What do you think?


I completely forget to wear my blue A C scarf this morning. Dino takes his confraternity getup, and changes in the sacristy of the church while I stand around talking with Tiziano and Pia. And now there is a new wrinkle in our adventure with the pole on the street in front of our house...

It appears that before we purchased our house, there was a contract between ENEL and the previous owners to run the electrical service from the pole we're trying to get buried to our house. We knew nothing about this when we purchased our house. ENEL paid some money to ratify the contract, so we have a mess. When Pia contacted ENEL to have the electrical work buried in the ground, and the pole removed, they reminded her that they could not, for they have a contract with us.

There is a new law on the books that states that all new electrical work must be buried underground, but there is not enough money to bury every existing line underground now. So ENEL tells Pia that if we pay €6,000, they will bury the line. That is the same figure they gave us years ago when we approached them to do the same. But this is the first time the contract has come up.

So I have two ideas: First, to research all the legal papers from our notaio regarding any possible contract to see if we can nullify it easily without spending a lot of money. Second, to ask ENEL to attach a new electrical line at the back of the house from the street above and have them remove the one at the front of the house, because we will then no longer need it.

Then Pia can deal with them directly, for the pole will no longer be needed. Nor will the electric wires run from our house across the street to the pole. Dino thinks it's brilliant, and so do I. Ta DA! I think we are learning how to work around the system, and it feels good.

I greet Candida, Paola's grandmother, as she walks down the little street from the tower toward me, and it's just before the blessing at the caduti monument to the fallen soldiers from Mugnano. Felice is the only living soldier from WWII that we know of. A few years ago, he and Giovanni placed the wreath at the monument.

But today he stands by my side, and I walk him down so that he can see. The band plays a wonderful hymn, something about the snow, and I can see him stare straight ahead, steely-eyed and expressionless. Marsiglia sits on a bench in the square, waiting for him.

I lead him back as the music continues to play, and many people are already seated on the pews that have been moved outside for this outdoor mass in the piazza. There is a place saved for him on the aisle, and I tell him to sit, but he asks me if I'd like to sit instead. I give Marsiglia a hug, and it is then that Miriam beckons me to the front row, where Candida has saved me a seat on the end.

So Dino marches to the front in formation with his brothers, about twenty-two of them today, and I watch him sit just in front of me on the stage. Livio walks up to me and asks me if I'd take the A C banner in the procession! Si certo, but why me?

At the proper time, I walk to the back of the pews and into the empty church where the Confraternity members are gathering. Dino has been given the bust of San Liberato to take in the procession. What an honor! Serena steps into the church, and she gives me the banner of the Madonna to take. She follows me with the A C banner, and directs me where to stand. I am sorry that I do not have a camera to record this double honor for our little family, but there will be other occasions, I am sure.

The church is in shadow, but as I step outside onto the steps, Dino walks toward me with San Liberato in his arms and is visibly thrilled for me. I hoist the banner up and the band begins to play in a slow, sing-songy beat, ever so slightly out of tune. It is heavenly.

What is wonderful about an Italian village is that when there is a procession, everyone gets involved. So as Lore told us one year, "Once a year, San Liberato takes a walk. " And once a year, everyone in the village walks with him.

There are two exceptions, Giustino and Donato's mother, who sit by their doorsteps listening and watching the rest of us walk by. They are close enough to each other to have a conversation, but we don't think ever say a word to each other.

The procession finishes, and Serena and I stand near the front of the stage, holding our banners. The mass ends, and Don Luca makes announcements. It is time for the announcement of the Festarolo committee. Drum-roll please...

The Festarolo committee is made up of members of the village whose birthdates end in the same year...So this year its members were born in a year ending in "6". "There was no one born in 1936, " Don Luca tells us with a laugh, and others laugh, too. Later I find out that Donato's mother was born in 1926...She was not even mentioned.

Then Mauro is named, as well as Anna Cozzi, Anna Farina, Mario Lagrimino and Diner, Evanne Brandon. I think we were all born in 1946. But no one in '56, '66, '76...Well, he mispronounces my name, but it is a valiant effort. Everyone turns to me and smiles. They all know who I am. But he is not finished with me yet...

He tells us that I am an American, but have been embraced by the people of the village and am a member of A C. My husband is a member of the Confraternity and carried San Liberato today during the procession. (I have no idea what the significance of that is, other than for clarification in the event people don't know who Dino is. But that's silly. Everyone knows Dino.)

It is a fact that when a member of a family is put on the festarolo committee, the whole family usually gets involved. But Anna Cozzi tells me she won't have anything to do with the committee, and later Anna Farina tells us she won't be on the committee, either, but will agree to do some work. Sigh. The first meeting of the committee will be Friday night in Bomarzo, so we'll see what it's all about then.

The event ends, and Serena and I walk back into the church to stand our banners against the wall. And I thank Serena, telling her it has been an honor for me. It surely is.

Dino changes and walks over to me, telling me that Enrico and Federica have announced their pending marriage. They will be married in July, probably in Rome. We are very happy for them. Earlier, Dino stood by Franca, Enrico's mother, and Giuliola as they looked at the bans posted on the wall inside the church. "Finalmente!" Dino exclaimed to Franca. She nods in agreement and they all laugh.

We walk home and just in time put our bean dip in a dish and meet Franco and Candida to drive to Alan and Wendy's for their festa. It has turned into a really beautiful day, sunny but not too hot, and their property is perfect for a large gathering. The long tables are arranged under the huge weeping willow tree, and there is food galore, from appetizers to three kinds of pasta to three or four kinds of meats to all kinds of desserts. We taste a little of this and that, but mostly enjoy getting to speak with friends we have not seen in a while.

Sofi does quite well at this gathering, and loves scratching her back on the grass. Mostly she stays very close to me, and as a reward gets two tastes of pasta. Her food was mostly eaten by the larger dogs. There is too much excitement for her to eat much today.

We meet a couple who are looking for property in the area, and will try to help them. If they don't find anything this week, they may hire us to do some property scouting for them. They are looking at Kate's property in Massa Martana today. Mostly, they live in London and in Australia. They are friends of Matthew and Terri.

Bruce's parents are here from Maryland, and Prue is here, as is her friend, Nancy, from San Francisco, as well as Judith, from Amelia and Inverness. And then there is the usual cast of characters. But today the stars are Brianna and Ben and Lilliana. Brianna is their daughter, and Lilliana is the new grandchild, Wendy's first. It is a great day for all of them.

We leave on the early side, for there is a music event back in Mugnano at 4PM. Franco and Candida have their own car, and linger awhile. We don't want to miss the action back in our village...

We arrive at the fountain at the foot of Via Mameli to see about fifty men, dressed in bright yellow and blue costumes with hats and headdresses and the silliest collection of musical instruments. This will be fun. La Frustica is their name.

Dino walks upstairs to retrieve Sofi's harness and she and I walk up to the piazza while he stays behind to burn a CD for someone who wants photos of the tree raising last week. He'll meet us there.

It's just about 4PM, but there are few people around. But in the next half hour, it is as if the band calls them all out into the street with a blast of noise. They are loud. And there is jubilation in the air...

Soon there are over one hundred people in the piazza. The stage is still set up, and Dino takes advantage of that to take a few pics. of the goings on. Village children and grandchildren are a major part of the entertainment, dancing and fooling around. But what's this?

I'm horrified by tiny Marcello, who holds a real-looking gun in his hand! He runs around aiming it at people, but no one seems to take much note of it. I ask Otello's wife, seated next to me on a bench outside the church, why he is allowed to have a gun, but she shrugs. Lore arrives a little while later and she is not pleased, but does not get as upset as I do at the site of it.

Here are a few photos of the goings-on...



Later, I ask Mauro, the muratore, about the gun. I tell him the connotation in America, but he tells me the Italian sensibility is different. There is nothing to worry about with a young child having a gun as a toy. I wonder...

The band is really wonderful. This is the Napoliatano music we've tried to find since we moved here. The band is quite good, and even Elena gets into the act. One man who is a Pied Piper type, sweeps her off her feet and she dances with him. Little does he know that she is a former champion ballroom dancer. Then a little later Elena's daughter Federica takes a turn on the stage! Take a look:


A few minutes later, another Mauro stands on the steps of the church. We are to become good friends this year, for we are both on the small and growing smaller Festarolo committee. He tells me not to worry about the size of our committee. He thinks Donato can be roped into working, and that will help.

Lore and Alberto invite us back for a drink, but it's cool, and we decide to walk home, instead. We walk down the hill following the band, the sing-songy Italian melodies ringing in our heads...

Fireworks? They'll blast off at 10PM, but we expect to be asleep by then...

May 8
A heavy sky greets us, heavy and humid. Grey as a dull nail, it pushes down, down, and we are slow to rise. As the morning wears on, we're working in the garden, and Dino methodically figures out how to wire his shop. I'm deadheading roses, and notice that the Pat Austin rose is blooming, its flowers much prettier than I recalled last year.

The first of the Jude the Obscure roses are blossoming, but they do not like rain or humid weather. So their cuplike blooms are stingy, although the heady fragrance is noticeable from several feet away. I walk out with my Felco shears and clip some from each bush, dropping them in a shallow basket.

Inside, they look lovely in a painted pitcher. I'm not obsessing about painting, but later this week I'll paint some more. Surely I'll repaint several tiles so that the sink can finally be finished. I'm ready to move on.

Outside, the Buff Beauty roses have finally come into their own. These are rampicante roses, and grow up as well as cascade down. So they are perfect for the tufa wall surrounding the stairs and rose arches to the upper garden. I had thought that they were small roses, but they open up to a pale creamy yellow, almost three inches across.

They are so prolific this year that we're figuring out how to stretch wires to the gardener's cottage to help them to grow up and across. They already cascade down the tufa wall toward the lavender.

Dino has trouble affixing something to the wall of the cottage to attach a guide wire to, so perhaps we'll wait a few days until we see Stefano and Luca and ask them to drop a little cement in the space where we want a rod to anchor the guide wire, just behind the sink. Anything's possible.

We hoped to start some spring cleaning laundry, washing curtains and things we don't wash all the time. The washing machine washes load after load, but an intermittent rain causes us to change our plans. The present towels and rugs will take days to dry at this rate.

Dino goes to the doctor to renew some prescriptions, and I call Claudio to see if we can give him some favas. Yes, he likes them very much. We're sure he's sorry he is unable to do any planting this year. He's nursing his wrist, and at least he can enjoy the favas...

Dino takes two big bags full, the other is for our doctor, who appreciates the thought and likes favas very much. He acts like a country doctor, and always seems pleased to see us.

Dino is becoming more countrified every day. Today he tells me he wants to eat some favas with pranzo, and when we are eating he asks me if he can have cherry tomatoes in his salad. Of course he can't, we don't buy them because he has told me as long as I've known him that he hates them.

But he tried them at pranzo on Saturday, and admits they are tasty. "Perhaps we can grow some next year, " he surmises. Mellow, mellow, mellow. It is so true with us that as we grow older we take more and more in stride.

Silvano Spaccese finally arrives to look over the garden and work to be done, and we agree to hire him, for now by the hour, and he'll begin work in the garden intermittently on Thursday. We send him off with a bag of fava beans, and he is very pleased, telling me he looks forward to eating them with chunks of Pecorino cheese.

So he'll mostly do heavy weeding and weed-whacking, with help to Dino when the tomatoes need planting. We'll see how it goes. Sofi does not mind him and that is good. For she hates the sight of Mario, and when he is here she barks loudly at him whenever he gets near her.

I'll still take care of all the boxwood globes and all the roses, and Dino will take on the special watering and projects. There is always a project to do, and he loves to putter. Now that we'll have someone to do the heavy weeding, it will make his life easier. I've already given up on doing any work with my right arm that takes any strength.

Late this afternoon, we meet with a new client, and will list her wonderful property later this week. It consists of one main house, three guest houses that are income producing, a pool, an Etruscan grotto and about 100 olive trees, just outside the center of Amelia in Southern Umbria.

Tonight we return to Mugnano under a partially cloudy and somewhat rainy sky. The moon appears like a strange, bloated, over-ripe red tomato, ducking through clouds. I see it as we drive through Giove, and then it's gone.

I'm cold when we arrive home and ask Dino for a fire. I think it's strange to have a fire during the first week of May, but who knows what weather is in store for us this summer...In terms of weather, the month certainly is starting out strangely.

May 9
The start of the day is very cool. Not only that, it's thundering, the cypress trees are thrashing about, and the "whoo-oo-ing" of the wind whipping across the valley gives me the chills. While I'm in the shower the house shakes and the reverberation of the thunder puts a spring in my step. I'm out of the shower in record time.

With a nasty morning, we won't get anything done in the garden, so drive to Orvieto and then across to Viterbo by way of Montefiascone. This is such a lovely drive. A property with a view of the Duomo of Orvieto would be dreamy. For someone else. We're happy in little Mugnano.

Today we arrive at the Questura in Viterbo to renew our Permesso de Sojournos at just before noon. We think we know the drill: arrive late, walk to the side door and get the attention of the man in the formal uniform. He takes a look at us, at our paperwork, and tells us to wait. He asks us if we have a number, and we do not. He tells us to wait anyway, and lets a woman behind the counter know that Americans are waiting in the lobby.

To get a number, one has to arrive well before 8AM, for there are only 50 numbers given out, and there is no queue. At just before 9AM, the entire group storms the door. For our first and second permessos, we went through this nightmare, and on the second renewal were told not to take a number, but to arrive late and wait. It seems to work.

A woman walks out from behind a locked door to tell the people in the lobby that if they don't have a number to leave and come back another day to get a number. We ignore her comment, for we were told by a man we think is her capo to wait.

A man named Pietro is told to wait on us, once almost everyone has been served. We do not have our bolos, or stamps, for we were not sure of the amount. We thought we'd arrive first and figure out what we need to do. So Pietro takes a look at our paperwork, and asks us if we have copies. We do not. But we do have the requisite photos. So amazingly he takes our documents and makes the copies himself. Even better, he pulls out two stamps, known as bolos, and we are able to pay him for them on the spot!

He hands us our temporary permessos, telling us to return in a month or so for the final ones. We've only to come back within the month with a copy of a bank statement. They want to be sure that we will not become dependent on the state for our survival. That's it.

Now we need to research whether it is better to have permanent residency or citizenship. We know that we won't have to renounce our American citizenship. But whether or not we should become citizens is a question we'll need to answer.

We are so buoyant that we decide to stop at McDonald's (!) for pranzo. I can count on one hand the number of times we have eaten fast food in Italy, but I'm up for a chicken sandwich and fries. And Dino loves the idea of a Big Mac. Sofi sleeps in the car in the shade and waits.

By the time we arrive back home the sun has returned, and we spend a few hours in the garden. The roses continue to amaze us with their growth, and Dino rigs up wires to encourage the Buff Beauty roses to grow across toward the gardener's cottage. Standing back near the boxwood hedges, looking at the pink and peach Paul Lede roses on the rose arch, followed by the Buff Beauty roses on the arch on the top of the tufa stairs reaching toward the sink, I realize that the two types of roses do actually complement each other.

While we're clipping away, Stein and Helga arrive for directions to a mattress store in Viterbo. They promise to return for fave and pecorino, and soon after they leave, we are visited by Prue and her friend Diane. Diane is visiting from San Francisco.

I walk Diane around, giving her the garden tour, and then Dino shows her the house while I talk with Prue. We sit outside until the wind blows, then move into the kitchen. We learn about Diane's life in San Francisco, and also have a chance to spend a little time with Prue before they leave for dinner.

After they leave, Stein and Helga return, and by the time we go to bed we've shared stories and laughed with our two good Norwegian friends, promising to visit them tomorrow morning to give them ideas about their kitchen remodel. Dino helps them when they're away with construction management projects.

We love the peaceful life we have here, interrupted by occasional bursts of activity with friends dropping by. Each set of friends has different reasons for loving their lives here. But what happens next is at once frightening and unsettling...

Tia calls to tell us that our favorite restaurant, one that we have written about many times, has burned to the ground. When we ask her what happened to Fidelia at NonnaPapa, she tells us there is talk that the fishermen at the campo sportive next to it were unhappy with them somehow. We don't know the details.

We love Fidelia, Carlotta, her parents, and are so sad for all of them. I've called and emailed around to find out the story, as well as what we can do to help. Stay tuned...

May 10
The day begins bright and sunny, and we're up early to appreciate it. Sofi is carried downstairs by Dino when I'm in the shower, as if on a bier, in the laundry basket, and doesn't quite know what to make of it.

This morning we visit Stein and Helga, and Dino goes over a project with them that he is to supervise in their absence. The property surely looks beautiful, with the most extraordinary roses, gigantic things that stand so tall we hardly have to reach down to touch their petals.

Marco calls to say that there will not be a class today, but to come to Collesciopoli this weekend for their festa. In the afternoon he will display the artwork of the students in the ceramics class, so I should bring anything I'd like to display. Perhaps the latest tall vase with acanthus leaves, if it is finished.

We drive to Viterbo for errands, stopping to see Elena. She has not fired the vase yet but will tomorrow, and it will be ready on Saturday morning. She also agrees to teach me how to work with the raw clay, and I'd like to learn how to do that as well. That will happen in June.

We buy a dozen plugs of lettuce, the cappuccia (round heads) and also the lattuga Romana (romaine lettuce), but leave some room in the raised bed for some mixed seeds that came as a gift when we bought our heirloom tomatoes. We plant close to the surface this time, about ten plants in one row. So there will be lots of salad this summer.

Now let's talk about the pomodori. Except for a couple of dozen already waiting in the serra (greenhouse), the forty or so upstairs under constant light are not doing as well. They are, well, puny. I let them dry out pretty much, for think they have been too wet. When reading an organic garden magazine someone gave me this week, I learned that we may have planted the seeds too deeply, and also may have been watering them and feeding them too much.

The garden is looking good, and I take the time to deadhead roses and pull a few weeds. Without class this afternoon, we can putter around and relax.

May 11
With an overcast sky, I think its just fog, and we're out of the house to drive to Rome soon after 8AM. We stop first in Attigliano at the bank, and it is market day. So while Dino is in the bank, Sofi and I watch the goings on.

Italo is here, as is Nando. They are looking at things to plant. I don't know why I forgot that we can buy our lattuga plugs here. We really do like to buy locally. But today we buy nothing, for we are driving to Rome to buy fabric and also visit our favorite dentist, Dr. Chiantini, to get our semiannual tooth cleaning.

There is some traffic once we're in Rome, but move well on the Salaria. We open our Roma map book, but Dino knows a number of neighborhoods, so we follow his lead. We park along the Tiber just across from the Jewish "Ghetto", then walk through it, and Dino sees a sign in a shop window reading "McKosher"! He asks me if the Jewish merchants settled here and stayed, hence the many fabric stores nearby in and around Piazza Argentina. Sounds logical.

We start with the large shop right on the Piazza, but the sales people are not particularly friendly, nor do they have the same striped fabric we purchased several years ago. So we leave, and search in shop after shop.

Just as we're about to give up, I remember one small shop on a corner just before the first shop, and we walk around the block and step inside. The shop is tiny and no, they don't sell cotton fabric, but walk halfway down the block and turn inside the building between those two tall columns.

We like this adventure, but are running out of time. It is now 11:15 and our first dental appointment is at noon. Inside the shop, they tell us they don't have what we need, but when we ask them where to go they tell us to walk down the hallway into another doorway.

This shop has several stripes, each more perfect than the next. The fabric is better quality than the fabric we purchased several years ago, won't shrink, won't stain, and we're out of there before you can say "tessuti!".

Remarkably, we are on time for our appointment. The dentist is so kind that he does not give either of us a bad time about our gums. Sorry, Adrian!

Sofi's been on a walk, had some food, and now we drive to the new IKEA. We're in time to have pranzo, and salmon and meatballs look good to us. Then we walk around and pick up a mattress pad and some cookies. For Italians, shopping at IKEA is somewhat like shopping at COSTCO in the Bay Area. We get out of there for less than €20.

Across the plaza is a huge DIY. (The Brits call home improvement stores DIY, which stands for Do It Yourself, and since we watch a fair amount of British TV, think of this shop in this way.)

We purchase more fabric, but will be back here soon, for this looks like the best shop of its kind yet. And we're almost home when we call our Italian friend and dog sitter, Angie, to wish her happy birthday.

She's driving back from Orvieto, and stops to leave something for Tia about dog shelters. It's great to see her. I mean, "IT'S GREAT TO SEE HER!" Sofi is over the moon with happiness to see her dear pal waving as Angie walks down the street toward us.

After a fair amount of cacciaratta (gossip), Angie leaves and we get a call from Elisabetta, who went to eat at NonnaPapa the night it burned down. She has plenty to say. A day or so after the fire she spoke with Fidelia's father, Pepe, who said that Fidelia was not in the restaurant on Sunday night, the night it burned.

He smelled smoke, and called in the Vigili Fuoco, who also smelled smoke but could not find anything. An hour after they left, the restaurant burned down to the ground. It was thought there was something on the roof or inside the insulation.

So how can I write about this? Well, I don't think I can write more. There are many stories, but I don't like any of them. I am somewhat fearful of writing about them as well. Let' s just say that little Carlotta's Confirmation on Sunday will take place at an agritourismo on the way to Amelia, and we hope it goes well.

Elisabeth tells me that they lost their lovely dog, Panda, two months ago and she needs a dog! I immediately call Tia, who is on the phone to her right away, but Elisabeth needs a dog that will...guard chickens? The abandoned dog at Tia's is an abandoned hunting dog, so this is not a good match. Nice try, anyway.

Monique arrives for a visit with Tia on Monday and we'll certainly see them next week. But tomorrow Tia's busy, busy, for Helen's friends who are magazine writers and photographers have come from London to do a garden story about Umbria, and Michael and Helen and Tia are going to be front and center in the story...We're sure they'll all have a great time and will hear all about it next week.

May 12
Those darn Felco shears. Wherever are they? I have been wondering if I am suffering from short term memory loss, so take a quiz on the internet and I think I should take more vitamins and get more exercise, but am not ready for a nursing home yet. A nursing home is called a casa di riposo.

The morning is lovely, so we move a pot of roses, Gislane Feligonde, to the center of the lavender garden, moving that Pink Cloud rose to the far property where we originally planted a white lilac that immediately died. It sits to the left of the tufa steps to the Etruscan caves, and looks quite good there.

This morning, we have a visit from Felice, and are thrilled to see him. He encountered Silvano the other day weed whacking, and probably wanted to know what's going on in the garden. It looks great. We send him home with a bunch of roses and snapdragons, and plant three of the four new lavender plants, moving the old ones near the big olive tree. If they survive, good. If not, fa niente.

Dino drives off to buy the iron to make the rose support for the pot in the lavender garden. The other potted rose seems to love the framework, so we'll duplicate it. Subito!

We've washed the new fabric, measuring it before washing it. Now that it is dry, the measurements are....not the same! Well, the width is the same, but it has shrunk 5%. I suppose that is not so bad.

Dino returns, makes the new support and anchors it in the rose planter. He has really come up with a wonderful design by bending these metal poles and painting them with anti-ruggine (anti-rust).

Candida and Franco arrive, and they follow us to San Gemini. Tonight is the night of the Mille Miglia, the 1,000 mile race of antique cars. Dino loves seeing these cars as they drive through the tiny main street of San Gemini, north of Terni. He'd like to be a co-driver one day, and fantasizes about it.

Perhaps this year he'll contact them and see if he can pass the qualifying steps. He tells me on the way home that all he'll ask if he gets to be a co-driver is that he wants to drive when the car drives through San Gemini.

The cars are quite remarkable, and tonight many of the people in the fabulous cars have very ruddy complexions. The weather must have been quite warm. But we note that some of the cars are so tiny that the two inside seem glued to each other. Watching them is fun, nonetheless.

Here are a few shots. There are more than 300 cars, and in the time we waited and watched, saw less than one hundred. But the ones we saw were memorable, with many Bugatti's, early Alpha Romeo's, Ferrari's, Maserati's, Jaguars, Mercedes Benz's to name a few.


We have a cena reservation at 7:30, so although we arrive early at the best spot in town to watch the cars drive by and brought our little stools, we have to eat and leave town by 9PM. Tonight is my first Festarolo committee meeting in Bomarzo.

Cena is good, and Candida and Franco are fun to be around. We leave them in the parking lot and arrive back in Bomarzo to meet with Don Luca and Mauro. Anna Cozzi arrives later to tell us she will not be on the committee. We think Donato will help, but the pickings are slim. This Festarolo committee, to plan the village social events for the year, is getting off to a rocky start.

We agree that we won't put on any dinners, and will begin our collecting in another week. Don Luca wants us to enjoy ourselves, and suggests that we keep our schedule simple. I want to make sure that we keep the spirit of Mugnano alive. We'll come up with some fun things that won't take a ton of time. And we all like the idea of not having to plan and serve 100 people dinner at one time.

The moon is almost full, and we're sleepy when we arrive home. Dino waters a little and we watch a little TV before turning in. I'm reading a very interesting book about Hadrian VII, who was an English Cardinal, and it is right out of The Accidental Pope. I like it very much.

May 13
We leave early for the mercato at Passignano, but the man we saw last week does not have our tablecloths. We agree to come back next Saturday, so let's see if he has them then. After a walk around the mercato, and a look at the lake, we drive across wonderful S71 to Tuscany.

First we stop in Cortona Scalo, and find the last package of cavolo nero seeds (Tuscan black cabbage). This is one of the most important ingredients for ribbollita, although other green vegetables can be used. We'd like to see if we can make it as well as the great ribbollitas we've eaten on day trips to Tuscany. Yum.

We drive to Montepulciano, and walk up the hill that is the town. After a walk around, we stop at a café and have excellent soup...Dino eats cece bean soup and I eat...ribbollita! Complementi!

There is a fabric shop in Montepulciano, so of course we pick out something to use as a throw on our kitchen sofa. It's a pale background with pomegranite leaves, and I'll sew the borders if it works. You know me and fabric. A real love affair. We really need an armadio just to fit all the fabric....

In the afternoon, we have another showing of Palazzo Rosa and the garden is more wonderful each time we look at it. We don't know if this is the right fit, but it certainly is a remarkable property. You can see it on our Real Estate Properties page.

From there, we drive to Tia's house to give her information from Angie about abandoned dogs in Italy. Her house looks great - especially the three Catherine Testout rampicante roses growing up against the house.

It is still early enough to pick up my ceramic vase at Elena's in Bomarzo, but there is a problem with the tiles I painted...probably the paint is too thick. Blue is a difficult color to paint for ceramics. There is something complex about what happens when it is fired. I have decided not to stress about this sink project. It will be finished...some day.

But I do have a headache, so go to bed with an ice pack. This has been a very busy day.

May 14
Our windows have been open, and there are so many birds singing outside our window that I get up early to take a walk around in the cool morning air. The sun is out, and although my headache persists, I look forward to a look around. I love our garden. Our choices of flowers and roses are white, pinky-white, pale pink, salmon and yellow.

With our roses and peonies, the field of lavender coming into flower next month, and the mounds of evergreen hedges and box, we have the garden of our dreams. Here and there, we have a rose of a color that does not work, such as the vivid pink cloud rose, and those are moved to the far property. I suspect we might trade them with a friend who likes the more vivid colors in their garden.

I look up at the old rosemary bush groaning down against an old tufa wall and just want to get rid of it. It's a monster, and Dino thinks will damage the wall, but bit-by-bit I'd like him to hack away at it. I'd rather see the old wall. The other rosemary bushes growing in the fiorieras are past their prime as well. Has it been that long that we need to replace them? They look woody, and this winter will take them out. But the white roses planted with them are lush and happy. He agrees to take out the old rosemary.

May 15
The other day, Philip mentioned something about our robbery. The event took place three years ago tonight. Considering how many people we know who live here, I am thinking that the countryside really is very safe. We do not know of anyone who has been robbed and gassed other than ourselves.

Stefano and Luca won't arrive today, because Lore and Alberto have returned, and with them in their house, Stefano won't dare do work for anyone else, even for a short time. So as long as they remain in Mugnano, we will not see Stefano. It's not a real problem. I'll just keep working on the tiles for the garden sink and when he eventually arrives, perhaps he can finish all the work at one time.

When I'm out of the shower, I can hear a loud noise from the back of the house. Surely Dino is working on something major. He does love his tools, and I love to see him happy.

With the exception of the Lady Hillingdon roses on the path, which have spent their blossoms and are taking a rest, all the roses are in flower. Strangely, the white roses are the healthiest and loveliest. After yesterday's rain, the pink roses are dragging.

Just when I think we have all the roses we need, I realize we need one Jude the Obscure to replace one that died a year or so ago, one to grow up through the large olive tree, and two to replace the two roses in pots that are not colors that work in the garden. There's always something to think about in the garden.

We see Stein and Helga twice today, once at Stein's lovely house in the morning, and once late in the afternoon at our house. We surely like them a lot, and look forward to spending more time with them when they are here for longer periods of time.

Stein told us a funny story about San Francis of Assisi and the Pope. He has a wonderful way of telling a story. His stories always sound so fresh and innocent. What a joy of life that man has! And Helga, well, she's an incredible woman, lighting up the room when she smiles.

Dino works with Spaccese later in the afternoon, and they are able to wire his workshop. After dark, Dino takes me out to show me his work of art. He can now work out there when it is dark, and his little 6 dwarf figures in their little grotto are now lit whenever his workshop is lit. I can hear them singing to him now..."Whistle while you work, whistle while you work..."

May 16
It's Sofi's 3rd birthday! And not only that, three years ago today we woke up to the shock of a robbery. Visit the archives on this site to read about it, if you're into gory details or forgot about this sad story. It all seems so long ago.

But Sofi, dear Sofi, is a joy. We have a day planned for her that we hope she'll like, starting with new toys, a trip to the coast and spaghetti with fish sauce for pranzo, fed by mommy one strand at a time.

Trees are being felled in the valley, and are being cut into precise logs before they are hauled out on a large truck. Each morning at 6AM, the sound of the sawing of wood reaches our bedroom from the clearing across the lane from the Swede folks' house. It's rather annoying, and reminds me of a business friend of Dino's, who complained about a visit to Tuscany one year, where she rented a house.

"Can you imagine!" she complained. "The sound of tractors early in the morning! Don't they know I'm trying to sleep?"

Sofi must know something's up. She's full of joy this morning, and wags her tail while we sing, "Buon compleanno a te, buon compleanno a te, buon comple-ANNO a Sofia, buon compleanno a te!" I'm deadheading roses all over the place, and turn around just as I land at the foot of the stairs next to the garden sink to see Felice walking toward me. What a delight to see him!

I think he's here to work, but he does not take out a hoe. He says something about the pomodori, but I ask him to look at a couple of plants in the raised orto bed above the parcheggio, and after he reassures me that they are weeds, not vegetables, I walk back to the rose arch to continue to work on the roses.

And then he is gone, without even a goodbye. I see him wearing his cap and walking up the hill toward home as if he had never been here. Dear man. I think he forgot why he came. I did remind him that he is always welcome here.

Dino returns from his errands and in a few minutes Franco and Candida arrive. We drive off for Orbetello on the coast for pranzo, and eat at I Pescatori, which strangely is open today, although the sign indicates that it is only open on weekends. There is a big group sitting on the deck facing the water and we must eat inside, but we are placed right inside the door, so our view of the water is excellent just the same.

Sofi and I eat a spaghetti with a Spigola (like a sea bass) and red sauce, quite good, and the others eat pici (a fat long pasta) with bottarga (local delicacy, a sea roe). There is an antipasti and we share a couple of orders of Orata (another white fish somewhat like the Spigola. The food is pretty good. Not great. But Sofi loves it.

We take a walk into the town for a gelato, and then drive off to Niki de Saint Phalle's mosaic folly garden. Look up her site on the web: www.nikidesaintphalle.com. The place is quite fantastic.

Here are a few photos, in case you don't get to it:


On the way back, we see a town in the distance, one of hundreds of Italy's lovely hill towns, and decide to find it. It is called Capalbio and we park near the top of the town.

"Always go up!" Franco advises us. So up, up, up we walk. One church has some important frescoes. One figure holds a black iron grate, and Franco tells us that this indicates that he is a martyr, burned on the grate like a barbecue. Yikes!

Around and around we walk, finding a narrow ledge to step up on to continue our walk around the town. It is quite an amazing passageway. Then we start to walk down and find ourselves behind a little Ape pickup truck with about twenty handmade willow and olive wood baskets piled in back.

To our left, sitting in the dark by an open garage door is a man we find out is Natale. He has one eye, is missing one hand (covered in an old and long patina leather sleeve), and fashions the baskets with his one good arm and hand and the remainder of his other arm.

He tells us that he was in Croatia during WWII. Born in 1923, he was injured in Croatia before being sent home. After moving to the town in 1940, he somehow took up this craft of basket making. And we cannot believe our luck. We pay for a couple of incredibly heavy and beautifully crafted baskets, then walk back down the hill swinging them on our arms as if we're singing nursery rhymes.


About five minutes later, we find ourselves outside a huge vivai (nursery) and of course have to stop. After a couple of purchases of things like rose food and supplements and a plant for Candida and Franco, we're back in the car and this time drive right home.

Our friends come up for a drink, and then they're gone, with us settling in with a few tomatoes and fresh mozzarella and Diego's olive oil while we watch a movie and then go to bed.

May 17
There's no class tonight, but we'll drive there, anyway, and I'll smalto some tiles and a big bowl. I've talked with Candida about the tiles I need to repaint, and we agree that an old looking geometric design will be the right thing to do on the garden sink.

There is a great deal of noise nearby. I wonder what the commotion is all about. Oh, they're just cutting the trees in the valley again. I wonder if they're planting new ones, or just raping the land. Tiziano will know. We'll have to ask. Perhaps we can do a seeding program to replace those felled...Wonder what that category falls under...

Giusy gives me a pedicure and we have our usual disjointed philosophical discussion. I ask her if Prodi's vote tomorrow by Parliament will hold, and she replies, "He was elected, so..."

Regarding the new president, she thinks that he is quite old (80), so it does not matter if he is very good...He won't be president for long...

My idealistic thinking gets the better of me here. I ask her why the Italian people seem to care so little about who governs them. Great leaders and a populace that embraces change for the good will certainly help the lagging economy. She lowers her head in resignation.

"The Italian people have gone through so many leaders, so much corruption, that they resign themselves to living this way. "

So living in black (not paying taxes) whenever they can get away with it, and letting the politicians play their corruption games is just a part of the underbelly of Italian life. Now that we have lived here for a while, we see that the high taxes of everyday goods to try to compensate, and the corruption in government, continues to erode the fabric of the country. I leave with a continuing sense of doubt.

We drive to Viterbo to pick out one more rose plant. Just one....This time it's an Ophelia, a rampicante rose that will grow through and around the big olive tree. Since it will be located between the Madame Alfred Carriere rose and the Paul Lede roses, it will be a lovely complement. It is a re-flowering rose, and already stands so tall that when we stand it next to the tree it reaches the bamboo roof of the pergola outside the gardener's cottage. Dino wants to plant it...subito!

The day is warm, and our attention is drawn to pranzo, and then after a little puttering around in the garden, we drive to Terni. Marco called this morning and there is no class again this afternoon. But we have tiles to smalto and other objects I want to paint. So we load them up and there is only one woman in the room, sitting and painting.

I don't know her name, but like her a lot, and she seems to think I am one of her clan, for when another woman arrives with her husband to take out two doors that the woman has finished with elaborate decopage, she smiles at her, but when the couple leave she rolls her eyes...Evidently, she does not look at this form of artistic expression with much respect.

And then she turns back to the grotesque curves she is painting on a lampada, a large lamp to complement two other small lamps she has already finished but does not like very much. No matter. They are gifts for her son's wife. Ha. Ha. I ask her if her daughter-in-law has seen the two finished smaller lamps and she has not. We give each other a knowing look. I feel like a member of the conoscenti.

Ah. You do not know of what I speak? Well, many years ago, when I was probably a teen-ager, my father came up with the word during a conversation. As somewhat of a closet intellectual, he often came up with new words thrown into a conversation as if they were spent kleenex. We had no idea what they meant.

Conoscenti, he told us, means "the chosen few", and often he'd speak of us in that manner. Looking back, I knew we did not "fit in" and instead of feeling left out, he made me feel as if we were very special. And I feel very special now. I feel a great warmth toward my classmates, perhaps because their culture is so different from my own. Perhaps some of it is that their language is still so mysterious. And they never make me feel as an outsider.

We load up the car with freshly smaltoed tiles and ceramic pieces, and drive to Amelia for a meeting with a realtor for a client. He has another special property to show us next week, and we're looking forward to it.

We drive home and watch a movie on T V, and then before we know it it's midnight and the sweet smell of the May roses and Philadelphus (mock orange) lulls us to sleep.

May 18
It's time to stop reading and send us an email. You've stalled long enough. The weather is beautiful here, and we have more than twenty wonderful properties looking for new owners. Whenever we come to the U S, we hear from friends and people we meet that someday, some day, they will want to buy a property in Italy. This is your wake up call.

Dino wakes up early, and before I'm dressed and out the door, he's planted the new rose. What a great job! The rose has three strong branches, and we have three strong main branches of our olive tree, so they seem made for each other as the rose branches undulate over and around the branches of the tree, almost serpent-like.

Today is quite warm, and I deadhead and deadhead and deadhead roses some more. May is the best of all months for roses, and I'm wondering as I clip off spent blossoms why we can't keep everything in flower all summer. Each year I tell myself that THIS YEAR will be the year our roses stay robust through the summer months, but am resigned to the fact that that is just not possible. Fa niente.

Tia and her friend Monique from Paris arrive, for a tour of the garden and my ceramics. Tia looks closely at the Madame Alfred Carriere rose and we discuss how far back to clip after a rose blossom has died. Tia leans in as if she's a doctor looking down a child's throat with a tongue depressor. We like clipping back more than two sets of leaves on this plant, for otherwise it gets too "leggy". What do you think? I love to hear from people who have opinions about garden details.


We lead them to Botanico Moutan in Vitorchiano, the extraordinary Peony Vivai, and see that half of the acres and acres of peony bushes have already blossomed, the hundreds of rows of peonies looking uncared for, with weeds growing in between the rows. How strange. And then our eyes are directed to the other side of the vivai...These are the bush peonies. The tree peonies bloom early, mostly in April. The bush peonies bloom in May and sometimes June.

We meet the caretaker, and ask him about what to do with the seed pods that sit on the plant after the blossoms have finished. These are sterile pods, he tells us, so take them off. Actually, look down the long shoot and find the Y where the next set of leaves appear. There will be a tiny emerging spot that will become next year's flower. Interesting.

Brava, Tia. She does not buy one thing. Nor do we. But we are hungry, and Sofi is ready to get back in the car. So we drive on to Frenchy's Bistrot, just before Viterbo and take a right between two impressive stone pillars. After 50 meters or so we arrive at a parklike area to put the car and are met by Saverio the owner, his wife, Paulette, and their tiny dog, Doris. He remembers us, and remembers Sofi, who noses around Doris and, after a mutual agreement, follows us to our table under a shady loggia.

Our wait person is Antinea a lovely young woman who speaks Italian, French and English (and is learning German). Today oysters (Ostriche) are on the menu. They are from England, and Tia and Dino and I certainly have them. It has been so long since we've eaten fresh oysters, and these are excellent.


But oh the smell of the sea greets me as one reaches my mouth. The sound of the road traffic changes to the sounds of the surf, and I am transported to the sea. With a glass of cold Orvieto Classico, I'm in heaven.

Sofi is also in heaven, for I order a pasta with fava and mint sauce, and we both entertain the others with her spaghetti slurping trick. She sits straight and silently, her head back, open just so. And the long strand of spaghetti lowers down, down until the tip of it touches her nose. Then my hand moves closer and closer as the strand disappears into her little mouth. I know. I know.

The meal is wonderful, and we love Tia and Monique. And how could I forget to tell you about Antinea the daughter of the owners, Saverio and Paulette, who is in town for two weeks before she returns to Switzerland for work. We ask her if she knows Diego's daughter, Serena, for they are about the same age and went to the same middle school in Viterbo. Serena is now in Paris working at a restaurant. But she does not know her.

Monique speaks with the family in French, and we discover that the family who own the restaurant actually live in Bomarzo! As if that coincidence were not enough, they also want to sell their house, and we look forward to meeting with them soon to list their property on our site. What a small world...


We lead Tia and Monique to the Superstrada, and drive to the Questura in Viterbo to drop off our bank statement. Dino is able to give it to Pietro without too long a wait. And then we embark on one of our shopping expeditions, to find wooden folding chairs. We don't want to continue to rely on Lore for chairs for the Lavender festa, and after a search of about eight places, find them at a really great price. We pick up six, and now think we can seat almost fifty people, either on benches or on chairs.

It's time to come home, and when we do, the new rose leans like a drunken sailor against the olive tree. We have a transplanting medium, and Dino sprinkles it around the base of the rose and adds more water. We think it will be fine. It's just the momentary shock of the transplanting, we hope.

Tonight is cool and clear. Did I tell you we rearranged the table and chairs and benches on the front terrace? We like the new look and the next time you come for a visit you can see for yourself.

I'm sitting at the computer and two calls come in. They are both telephone cold calls. This does not happen often. The first is a woman who speaks as rapidly as the FEDEX salesman on the T V commercial we all remember. I stop her in mid sentence, and repeat loudly into the telephone, "PAR-LA IN-GLE-SA?" I ask.

Silence...and then a nervous laugh. "No. Parla Italiano." I laugh. She laughs. And then I say, "GRAH-ZEE. AHHH-RHEEE-VAH-DER-CHEE!"

I hang up and howl with laughter . So when you receive one of those night time calls, just respond, "Parla Italiano?"

Fifteen minutes later, the same thing happens. The voice sounds similar. This time, the woman wants to sell computer schooling. After horsing around, pretending to only speak English, I tell her I know how to use a computer, and laugh again as I hang up the phone. Let us know what happens when you get a call like this and ask the person on the phone if they speak Italian. Or Greek. Or Russian.

May 19
Dino wants to know, what is Madame Alfred Carriere's first name? Someone went to all the trouble to name a very important rose after this woman, but did not let anyone know her name...Who cares about Alfred? Dino's been vexing about this, now that he's getting to know all our roses on practically a first name basis. He really takes good care of the garden.

In the middle of the night, I woke up with the chills, so took some medicine, and feel better this morning. I think it's one of those 24-hour things.

It's overcast this morning. I wake up before 7AM and get the bread started. That way, it will be ready before noon. Mary and Don will be here around then, and I'm hoping for a relaxed pranzo.

As the morning wears on, the sky darkens, and we even have a spot or two of rain. Sigh. I'd really like to eat outside. But just before our guests arrive the sun appears and the wind dies down enough that we can begin our pranzo outside. And it's nice enough and sunny enough that we later even need to open a big sun umbrella.

We really enjoy getting to know Mary and Don. And they seem to enjoy their house in Tenaglie a great deal, even having coffee with the neighbors and getting to know everyone's name. They tell us about a number of big glass demijohns inside their original old baskets that they found right at the garbage bins near their house, and we're so excited we follow them home to try to get them into the car. We manage to fit in four of them, and Don and Mary set the two remaining ones in their carport for us to retrieve later.

The whole exercise is fun, because we walk from Don's house to the garbage bins, past a group of neighbors sitting against a wall in the strangest positions. One woman about twenty years older than me has her shoes off and her feet up, as if warming them before a fire. She's facing the street. Facing her is another woman, who actually seems to be facing a cement wall. And then there is one man and another woman as well. They are all friendly and Don lets them know he remembers their names. Everyone is impressed. Especially us.

Gaetano, the old man who looks a little like an elf, sees us and walks over to greet us. I think he left his teeth at home. We'll be sure to take his photo soon. He is a great looking character.

Before we leave, Don takes me upstairs to show me the sheets on his bed. They are pink sheets, embroidered with the sweetest daisies. What a lovely thing the previous owners have done by leaving these. When Don and Mary arrived, not only did they find the beds from the previous owners still there, this bed was made up with these pretty sheets. We'll be sure to tell Lilly and Rosalba how moved Don and Mary are.

I asked Don what his stay has been like, and he shows me his battle scars...ripped garden gloves and calloused hands. His garden area is very neat now, only missing some tender loving care. But since he won't be here much for a while, it doesn't make sense to plant much of anything.

Shelly and Claudio come for a drink, and bring a jar of fava and carrot and pea vegetable dish that is a local specialty. We'll heat it up tomorrow and if it's a winner I'll post the recipe. We're growing weary of these beans, and have so many left we don't know what to do with them all.

It's been a lovely day, and as we get into bed, it's Dino's time for a stomach ache. So I get him some enterogermina, a local remedy, and he starts to feel better almost right away.

We've moved the sweet peas outside near the Pat Austin rose, and tomorrow will plant the Cavolo Nero seeds before we drive back to Passignano. We're agreeing that we both like to get up early in the moring and work in the garden for an hour before breakfast. We think we will settle into that routine soon, for the weather is steadily growing warmer, and we look forward to it.

May 20
This day is a non-event, other that to say it is the first day I recall that both Dino and I spend the entire day sick in bed with a flu. Don't even bother to cue the traveling music. Dino is able to get up around 8PM and does a little watering in the garden, but I'm no use whatsoever. Sofi stays silently in her bed all day, just watching. Bless her.

May 21
I spend almost all of the day in bed. This is getting old.

Dino is able to get up and walks up to church. This is the day we are to begin our Festarolo duties. Did I say, "We?" I'm the one on the committee, and already feel guilty. Dino has agreed to join the committee, and on this day he walks around to collect money for the year's activities from the residents with Mauro and Livio.

When they are done, they have collected from 31 households, with only three declining. That's pretty amazing, considering this is not a particularly prosperous village. Even the "cat lady" chips in. Everyone is happy to see the group, and a few households take them around to show them the insides of their house.

After a tour around Palazzo Orsini by one of the Barbarini sisters, Dino tells his partners, "Well, at fifteen minutes a household, we should be done after dinner tonight!" That gets them going.

I get up around 6PM and stay up for about three hours, and after watching a 2005 Robert DeNiro mystery that is not as bad as the reviews, go back to bed. Again, Sofi follows my every move.

May 22
We're alive! Finally we're both feeling better, and with the woodchoppers' chopping starting at 6AM and the birds clamoring to be heard above the steady motor of their enormous flatbed truck, we're up early. Stefano and Luca may arrive today to do the loggia tile work. But what will we do for a shelf above the sink?

We agree on wood, but need to find iron supports that will be sunk into the wall first, so a trip to OBI is on the agenda, as is a trip to the mercato in Amelia. Dino thinks we may be able to find the elusive tablecloth there without traveling to Lago Trasimeno every Saturday. But he decides that we should drive to Viterbo, instead.

What is wrong with us? Everything in Viterbo is ALWAYS closed on Monday mornings. We drive right into the OBI parking lot and it is only when we encounter a couple of grumpy old men with the same idea that we realize we're going to get nothing accomplished.

So we drive home and do a little gardening, but I'm mostly tired and we eat a light lunch of Maria's fresh eggs scrambled. One is an enormous duck egg, and I admit I am afraid to open it. So Dino does the honors and I'm astounded at how beautiful the yolk is and how enormous the inside of the shell turns out to be.

We drive back to Viterbo in the afternoon, for although Stefano told Dino he might be here, we see Lore's windows open, and know she'll be guarding him like a hawk to get their job finished before he goes anywhere.

But first we have an appointment to see another house just outside Amelia, and it is a beautiful restored casale 2 km. from Amelia. We'll keep it in our inventory but not list it on the site. That's two new properties in two days, with another property from a week ago that is not listed yet and should be in a few days. We certainly have a wide range of properties to offer interested buyers!

We stop in to see Judith, who is still thinking about Palazzo Rosa and other possibilities, but that idea needs to sit a little longer. She's really enjoying her life here, and with two of her dogs in tow has met a lot of people and seems to fit in quite well. We're happy for her.

Back at home, Dino decides to put the poles for the pomodori in the ground by himself. He finishes about a dozen before coming in for the evening. In a day or so we'll actually plant the first twenty or so. I'm not sure how many we'll actually plant in all...possibly about 40. I don't know what we'll do with the others...Many of them are still quite small. I think it would be fun for Dino to try to sell some ripe tomatoes later this summer at a farmer's market, just for fun. That's up to him.

We need more time in the garden. The roses have finished their first burst, and many of them are looking haggard and ready for a new bout of food. Some of our roses go through cycles that are stronger than I'd like. I'd like them to flower gracefully and consistently, but except for the whites and the icebergs, and possibly the buff beauties this year, the others seem to act as if they are on steroids.

And oh, the rose in the olive tree is not going to make it. We will probably drive to Michellini tomorrow with photos. We have done everything correctly, but if it won't survive I want them to replace it with another of the same variety, perhaps with fewer open buds.

I am accepting of a little transplanting shock, but we used a transplanting medium around the plant, dug a big hole, watered correctly, the weather was not too warm, and the plant did not recover. It has been almost a week. Very disappointing.

I'm looking forward to Dino getting out the shredder tomorrow and turning the fava plants into shredded compost. I expect to see "feathers flying" (pun, of course), but it's a great little machine, even if we don't use it often.

This just in from our dear friend, Peg, from California: She subscribes to a Real Age website, and the information is encouraging. Listen to this: "If you'd like to build strong bones without joining a gym, consider planting a garden. In an analysis of several different physical activities, only yard work and weight lifting turned out to be good bone builders. In fact, raking mulch, planting bushes, and pulling weeds -- or doing whatever your green space takes -- were even better for bones than jogging. Researchers suspect that the digging, squatting, lifting, and pushing that yard work entails easily equals a weight workout. RealAge Benefit: Exercising regularly can make your RealAge as much as 9 years younger." We must be getting younger...especially Dino.

May 23
Under an overcast sky, and with the droning of the wood-choppers sawing through the open window, it's time to get up. Today we'll begin to harden off the tomatoes. That means that they'll be put outside for an hour today, two hours tomorrow and so on. By the end of the week, they'll be hearty enough to survive outside on their own. I start off with such good ideas...

Rosina looks down from her balcony to tell me that today will be bruto all day. She hopes there won't be rain, but the sky is overcast and the sun only appears as if it's running down a hallway, peering into open doorways as it passes, with our little village the recipient of it's light only a flash at a time.

I love having a neighbor or two to wave or greet now and then from our property. Our neighbors are especially friendly, but not overly so. When little Federico arrives back in Mugnano after school and Rosina takes care of him until his father picks him up, we enjoy watching him gain confidence, day by day. Today, he imagines he is a rooster, calling out to the hens from the balcony. Mostly it is quiet.

I take the largest trays of tomato seedlings out of the serra and deposit them on the edge of the raised planting bed, right in front of the lattuga to let them take a look at their companions. Sitting on the natural tiles, I don't pay attention that there is a breeze. And a few minutes later I look over to see them all on the ground in humpty-dumpty fashion.

Two have bent main branches, one is snapped off halfway up, but amazingly they all survived their first foray into the wild world. I put them back in their trays and gently return them to the serra. This time, I add a few thin poles to sturdy the tallest ones, and amazingly the two that bent are upright and doing fine.

I love the acidy smell the plants leave on my hands. It makes me feel as if I'm not just a window farmer. But today I feel like a real klutz. Let's see if I can bring them out for an hour later this afternoon, this time setting them on the ground...

I set out five little cavolo roso plants where they will be planted later tonight, in the planting bed. I have grown them lovingly from seed for the past several months in the serra. Last year I fantasized about their explosions of lush grey-green-purple leaves and round globes, filling out the raised planter as the summer turned to fall.

This year, there will be five of them. If they survive, they should look quite spectacularly. Behind them we have planted seeds of Tuscan black cabbage, and that will be used for the famous ribollita next fall and winter. This is the first time we've planted a variety of squash and two kinds of cabbage. Each year, we attempt to augment what is easy to grow with something new. If all goes as planned, we'll have lots of fresh ingredients for great soups this fall and winter.

I move on to work on some of the roses, spraying for aphids and deadheading. This time I'm doing major work on the buff beauties, clipping them back so that the majority of their growth will cascade down the old tufa wall instead of back toward the upper planting area.

While I'm doing this, Dino is hammering in stakes for the tomatoes in the lower planting area, and we've agreed that there is room for 36 tomato plants there. Up above, behind where I've just been working, there may be room for a dozen more. We'll start planting down below, in shifts every couple of weeks, so that we can stagger the maturation time of the tomatoes.

Each time I water the tomato seedlings, I have to give extra water to the two "giganti". One already has tomatoes ready to pop out! These two will be the very first to be planted. As I recall, one tomato can feed an entire family...

Tia calls, and we discuss the various conditions of our roses, and how far to clip them back. She trucked in one massive amount of horse manure this spring for her roses, but we have had none, so she may not feed hers again this summer. I'll be feeding ours regularly with something from one of the "agri" stores. But what is that component of the food to get the blooms big and healthy? Oh, it's potassium. There is nothing like "Maxi" or Miracle Grow here in Italy that we know of.

When we drive to Michellini to talk about the sick Ophelia rose, we'll ask them if we should feed the roses extra potassium to get the next burst of blooms. I've been writing about the roses for three years, and still do not have confidence that I understand them.

Tia tells me that I have had a virus that has been going around, both she and Helen have had it, so it should pass in a day or so. I decide not to go to the doctor, but to wait it out. I'm really feeling much better, although the air is sticky and I don't have a lot of energy.

The good news is that Tia has finally found a home for the last remaining stray dog on her property. This old dog has been with them for more than two months, we are sure. Tia worked so hard to find this dog a home. God bless her. She finally went back to her vet, who gave her the name of a hunter who owns twenty hunting dogs. She was told he is a good man. So he came to pick up the dog and she thinks he will take good care of him.

Tia loves animals. She even told us last week that she researched opening a canile herself to help abandoned dogs. Everyone she spoke with told her not to do it, so she is giving her support to existing caniles. I think it's so great that she has something important to do that she believes in.

The sorry state of abandoned dogs in Italy is one that needs to be addressed. With Judith and with Tia around, I think they will put some real intelligence and aggressive action behind changing things locally. We'll support them whenever we can, in whatever way we can.

Last night while reading Hadrian VII, I read a passage that referred to Italians as a people who choose to view life as if through a mist, never really seeing what is going on. Perhaps that is why the dreamy state works best here. Too much reality is difficult to take.

May 24
I've just heard from Sarah Hammond, our definitive garden expert, and she recommends to clip the Madame Alfred Carriere rose back to three nodes, about 6" from the lateral, after it has flowered. That way, the flowers will be strong and healthy all summer and fall. Brava, Sarah! She surely loves their lives in New Mexico. It saddens me to think that unless something changes, we may never see Sarah and Alush again. They hardly, if ever, visit California. And our visits are only once a year. If not, I have wonderful, sweet memories of them, and surely love it that she keeps in touch.

This morning, I wake early, almost in anticipation of the wood-choppers. But there is only the almost delicate chirping of the little birds in the garden. Only when there is loud noise do their sounds increase to compensate. It's been a warm and humid night of sleeping, with the first use of the standing fan of the year. So let's work on the Lady Hillingdon roses on the path. Sofi will surely like that.

It's a warm day, sultry and delicious. I have more energy than I've had in a long time, and spend time clipping back all the roses on the path and wondering why they aren't ready for a second bloom. Sofi is hot, and wants to sit on the terrace. So I carry her there and she whines until I bring her back with me while I sweep the stairs.

When we get down to the parcheggio, I'm sweeping where the car parks, for Dino is out somewhere. I turn around to see...a good sized mouse...and it's meandering around near where Sofi is sniffing. So I give her an "Andiamo!" and pick her up where she's nosing around a big mound of gravel. The mouse seems slow to move. It's black, with a roundish nose, and not what I would expect a mouse to look like...about five or six inches long. Sorry.

That's the end of my sweeping. Upstairs, I see Rosina on her balcony and ask her if it is a mouse. She tells me it probably is, not to worry, but to squirt soap on it and then hit it over the head. I don' t think so.

Just then, Luigina walks down the hill to feed her chickens. Rosina is so happy that I have called her insegnante (teacher) that she can't wait to tell our neighbor that she has been speaking with Signora Eee-vahhh-naah. She must wonder where the heck I was brought up that I don't even know what a mouse looks like, or what to do about it.

Dino returns and investigates, but can't find it anywhere. So we let the subject go. By this time, I'm working on more roses, and have also set the pomodori out for their daily suntans right on the gravel in front of the raised orto bed. They've had about three hours today and look fine, so in a day or so about twenty of them will be planted where the fava beans grew so happily until a few days ago.

While they're sunning themselves, I take advantage of the added space to clean the serra, and thankfully it is a cloudy day, so I'm able to clean all the windows, too. While I'm up on the orto bed, I pull weeds at the back and notice how pretty the lattuga and pepperoni and cetrioli and squash and herb plants all look, each surrounded by rich dark soil.

The other day, we purchased a package of very very thin pancetta, and it look so much like thin bacon that I decide to cook it up on the loggia cooktop. I have been longing for a B L T. We have ciabatta rolls, and that will do. We used to love the BLT's at the Depot Cafˇ in Mill Valley. We don't have toasted sourdough, but enjoy our quasi-American pranzo just the same.

In class this afternoon, Monia helps me with the design of a new torta d'airea (cake plate), and I study her brush movements closely. In a few minutes, I am able to paint. She finishes a section and guides me, then moves off to help someone else. All around me my classmates are laughing and joking. They are very kind to me, even though they don't speak any English. Fausto knows enough to ask me how things are in the U S.

"Do I like Bush?" he asks me, to get me involved in their conversations. I roll my eyes and give him my "index finger-moving-like-a-metronome" reply. But mostly I just work, and the time passes so rapidly that it's time to join Dino and Sofi in the car before I know it.

We take a walk near Porto Romana in Terni, for we have parked the car and it is a pedestrian-only area. First it's time for a little fabulous gelato at Porta Romana Bar, then we become a part of the passagiatta. If you have never participated in a passagiatta in Italia, you're in for a treat when you do. For it is more like a stroll, with women arm-in-arm, men telling stories, and on this afternoon two women give a third woman a bad time for she is pushing a baby stroller with no baby inside...just groceries. She's older than I am. Actually, I think what she's doing is not that bad an idea.

Terni is rather a stylish town, surprisingly, and I am very underdressed in my painting clothes, but no matter. The day is lovely and we don't have to rush home. Sofi loves all the smells and the people, and even gets to meet a long-haired basotto. But she's happiest at home, as am I.

May 25
Cachi count: 150
Today begins sunny and warm, still with no sound of the wood choppers. Perhaps they have finished, or have cut down all the wood to be had in the valley. I can see no sign of fallen trees from our land, so the forest they cut from must be very far back. Is anyone replanting? I sadly doubt it.

Sofi guards the house this morning, and we drive to a new client's house to take photos of yet another characteristic property for our site. When we arrive, we're met by seven rollicking six-week old Golden Retrievers, at least several of them still for sale, and we think we're in Mill Valley. I have never seen a Golden Retriever in Italy. The owner has several left to sell, and has a strange story to tell...

She posted her notice yesterday in a popular area of Rome, and received a call from a woman who wanted to know how big the dogs were. Well, Golden Retrievers are medium to large dogs when full grown. No matter. The woman wants one as a puppy and will give it away when it is six months old!

Of course she is not to get a dog, and is given a lecture instead. So the women yell back and forth at each other, but it is no matter. The few puppies left will remain until the owner finds proper homes for them. If we were in Mill Valley right now, she'd have people lined up down the driveway with resumes and references.

They're going to be sold for €500, with all shots, chips, and registrations. I think that's a very reasonable price. Come buy her lovely property just outside Amelia for €790,000 and if you contact us very soon you can also have your very own Italian born Golden Retriever!

We return to Michellini with photos of the sad rose in the olive tree, and Tiziana asks us if there were problems with the roots of the rose when it was taken out of the pot. Dino does not think so. So there is not reason for them to take the rose back. It is not their fault. They recommend that we cut off all the flowers and wait for the second growth. Do not feed the rose at all during this time, they tell us, but water it regularly.

After pranzo, Dino drives off for an errand and I clip all the buds and yellow leaves off our sad new Ophelia rose. The plant looks better already. For the other roses, our friends at Michellini have recommended something called Nitrophoska Gold. It must be similar to Maxi. But we have trouble finding it. This is what we are instructed to use to feed the roses at this time of year. I am never sure. Dino finds it back at home in the cave, so we'll use it this week.

Franco calls to say they miss us, and invites us to join them at a festa on their street this weekend in Orvieto. It sounds like fun. What is not fun is my afternoon project...changing our storage of winter clothes to summer. We do not have enough storage space, and twice-a-year agonize through this ordeal. We are overdue. It's also time to donate clothes, and I'm amazed how long I keep some of my clothes that I never wear.

Before the afternoon is out, I have a large pile of summer clothes that we will just donate. Just do it. I'm in a paring down mood, so perhaps will throw out more things. Italy does not seem to have garage sales, or what the English call car boot sales. Just as well.

May 26
I wake up early, for it is sunny and I'm hoping Stefano will arrive. But I am almost sure he will not. No matter. I look forward to working in the garden. For some reason, I am able to climb up a short ladder and finish the clipping of the Alistar Stella Gray roses on the rose arch. The first flowering has...finished. This climb happens while Dino is out at the store, picking up a fresh mozzarella, bread and fruit for pranzo.

For me, this climb is a major event. For I have had a fear of falling for more than twenty years, from the time of a serious fall and related injuries. Something in my subconscious wants me to take these steps today, and I take them without much fanfare. Nothing happens. I don't fall. I'm careful to reposition the ladder several times so that it will be steady. And then I move on.

I have just moved about two dozen pomodori plants outside and set them against the wall of the raised orto bed. If they all do well today, they'll be planted tonight. It's been several days since I started to harden them off, and now they will be ready to be planted and spend the rest of their lives outside. The rest, and there are many, are still too small to plant. They'll live in the serra and be taken out each day to see if we can get them ready to plant soon.

Dino seems to be enjoying himself in the garden this year, initiating projects instead of solving problems, satisfying his curiosity about specific watering patterns of certain plants, and now he has a new annual activity...the counting of the felled cachi (persimmon) flowers from the giant tree outside our kitchen window. Yesterday he picked up the first 150. He thinks it's time that he knows how many he has "felled".


The Mother of All Cachi's

Let's have a competition to guess how many!
The winner, meaning the person who guesses the number closest to the actual count of the cachi flowers fallen from this tree, will win a hand painted ceramic plate. Deadline is June 20th.

Just click on the "contact us" button of our site and email us your entry, which needs to consist of: your name, address, telephone number and email address. And don't forget to tell us the number you choose. Your telephone number is for delivery purposes. In case you have not visited here, the tree is almost as tall as our house, and for a hint your number should be more than 500. Boca lupo.

We hope to announce the winning entry on June 24th, depending on Dino's schedule and how motivated he is. I think he'll be very motivated if we get a good response. We pledge to post our journal at least twice a week until the contest is finished, and will post the latest number at the top of each day.

Snail-mail and in-person entries are also accepted. There are no rules. Expect this to be somewhat disorganized. And we hope a lot of fun.

Today is the beginning of Memorial Day weekend, a long holiday weekend in the U. S., but we don't celebrate it here. I'm thinking of my uncle Cal today, who I am partly named after (huh?). Dino is sure his name was really "UncleCalWhoDiedInTheWar".

The closest we have to a memorial day in Italy is April 25th, which is Liberation Day, or the day the Americans liberated the Italians from the Germans in 1945. We celebrate on that day each year at the Palio in Bomarzo. So this weekend is a non-event. But I do hear military helicopters flying overhead for some strange reason. It sends a chill down my spine.

There is a slight breeze today, but it is hot. We decide to eat outside anyway, and I fix the first of this year's zucchini blossoms, in a light batter. They are fried in girasole oil, and afterward we don't feel all that well. We're not used to a lot of fried foods, and for the rest of the day are sorry we ate what we did. That's the last of the fried blossoms for us for this year...

At six, we're planting the pomodori, but only plant fifteen this time. The planting area is almost all shaded at this time of the afternoon, and there is a breeze. Dino leans back against the wall to steady himself, and between the two of us we somehow put them in the ground. There is still plenty of room for many of the others. I think we'll plant more in one week, and hopefully more in a couple of weeks. So there will be tomatoes into October, if we do well.

Dino waits to get the call from the mattress people from Viterbo. He's going to supervise a delivery for a client who had mattresses made for an antique bed. There is a very good company in Viterbo that makes them to order. Now in the U S, there is such marketing of big name brands, that I don' t know if it is even possible to order a special size mattress. But here it is not uncommon. Recently, Lore ordered a sofa bed in a dimension that will fit perfectly in her sitting room.

Invitations have been emailed for my ladies lavender lunch next month, and I look forward to seeing everyone. It does not matter any more if the lavender is ready. I have the celebration in honor of the harvest, just the same.

Dino has a new place to take the men for pranzo on that date, for they are not invited until 4PM. Instead, a number of them get together and have pranzo "alla Romana" at a good restaurant. In years past, it was held at NonnaPappa, but since they have closed, Dino has come up with a new location.

May 27
Cachi running total: 150. See May 26th for contest details.

Dino wants to visit a famous garden south of Lake Bracciano, Castel Giuliano, and for some reason I don't really want to go. But Sofi and I agree and we leave early, stopping at Fedora's bar in Bomarzo on the way. A woman sitting outside the bar greets Sofi, but we have no idea who she is. Sofi is well known "in these parts". We say hello anyway.

The drive is lovely, on the Cassia, and we arrive without much traffic. I am so happy that we came. The garden and grounds are lovingly tended, with several of the purveyors we know well located in an area near the front gate to sell flowers and books and other objects.


We ignore the organized tours, finding our way instead on paths away from the main house. There is not one spot that is not perfectly manicured. What an undertaking it must be to maintain this property! We look up at the windows on the top floor and imagine what it must be like to stand inside, looking out at the view. Dreamy.

Intricately hemmed drapes lean across one window, and I imagine what it would be like to hold one in my hand. I am a fabric lover, and love the feel of sumptuous fabric in my hands. But it's time to see what is being sold at the plant mercato inside the wall.

Today is the day of the roses, and I think that's strange, because it's the end of the month, and most of the roses have already unfurled their first blossoms. But there are many, many roses here today. We leave with two small plants to fit below the hydrangeas under the tallest nespola tree, and they are quite lovely, technically known as variegated glechoma hederacea.

We stop at a gastronomia in Oriolo Romano, and arrive home around pranzo time. So we sit outside and eat salads until Dino itches to move inside to watch the preliminaries for tomorrow's Grand Prix at Monte Carlo. I remain outside and draw a new design for some ceramic tiles. I still do not have the final design for the border tiles of the garden sink, but hope that I will before June 24th, the day of my lavender festa.

On the drive down and back, we discuss ideas for designing a shady area on the far property. We've agreed to move the newer olive and fruit trees late this fall, for during the summer the grounds are so hot that we need a shady area to lounge around in other than right in front of the kitchen. We have plenty of time to work on the plan, for we can't afford to start for a while. So now is the time to do research, and to learn more about trees.

Dino reminds me that this week we have our appointment with Tiziano to drive to the Diocesan library in Bagnoregio. So we've agreed to research all of the churches, including the Benedictine monastery that has fallen down near the cemetery, San Rocco, the Duomo and our regular church. First on our agenda is the reconciling of the real San Liberato, but San Vincenzo is also our patron saint, and with the little San Rocco church next to us, we need to add San Rocco into the equation.

After a late pranzo on the terrace, we do more work in the garden. We plant ten sets of basilico plants, three plugs each, in the first row of pomodori. We read that basilico is a good companion plant for pomodori, and planting it between pomodori plants enhances the taste.

Regardless, we never have enough basilico during the summer for all the tomatoes we eat, especially at the end of the season, when it is difficult to find basil anywhere. We'll probably have ten more basilico plants or so before we have finished planting the tomatoes. Another ten or more pomodori will be planted this next week, but most of them are still too small.

At around 7PM, we drive to Orvieto to Candida and Franco's street festa, on Via Della Cava. First, we are treated to an array of appetizers including melt in your mouth eggplant, baked simply with garlic, olive oil, pepperoncini and presemelo and a local goat cheese. Friends arrive with their beautiful baby daughter, and we all walk up around the corner to a plaza where cars are usually parked.

Our attention is drawn to a "No Parking" sign that causes great laughter. Assoluto! is the word following No Parking. This is not to be confused with a sign that reads, "No Parking!" "No Parking Absolutely!" means, "Don't even think of parking here!" I'm not sure I understand, either.


It's around 9PM, and already most of the tables are taken. So we commandeer one and Dino brings plates of fried tiny laterine (lake fish) and batter fried zucchini flowers in a beer batter that is better than mine. We are introduced to the head chef, who explains that they use no egg, no milk, in their batter.

Candida and I don't really like the fish, and she eats them sensa tetto (without the head), lining up the little heads like beads on a necklace at the edge of her plate. Franco dutifully pops each in his mouth, as if it is a right of passage to eat them. I eat a few, heads and all, but they are not hot enough, and I'm just too tired of fried foods.

But there is much more going on. First, we are introduced to Massimo, their neighbor and friend, who must be one of the best dancers in Southern Umbria. He sits next to me and talks across to Candida, seated on my other side. In the midst of conversation, a couple walks up to Candida and they look suspiciously American. This is a couple which will be here for about a month. Wonder who they are?

Penny! For the past two years, we've heard about Penny and Bob Weiss, who love Orvieto and visit here each year. Last year, we tried to connect them with Candida and Franco, although we only knew them through friends in Mill Valley. The four met through other connections, and we have not heard from them in a year. We have never met in person.

But now I hear her name and instantly stand up to greet her like an old friend. While the music plays on, we chat away, but Penny does not want to miss the dancing, so excuses herself to see what's going on over the other side of the police barricades.

The next thing we know, a slight man named Romano steps out from the dance floor to ask her to dance. She follows him into a kind of circus ring, surrounded by barricades, and the two of them whirl around as if they've been dancing together for years. Above them, a woman sings, accompanied by an accordionist and a drummer. Boom-chicka. Boom-chicka. They're actually quite good.

Bob stands all by himself as if jet lag has just hit, and I rise to join him. He is not to be outdone. I take his hand and we're on the dance floor, too. Bob is a great dancer, and thanks to him, we don't dance badly. Back at the table, Massimo is itching to dance, but no one wants to dance.

I get his attention and tell him I'm not afraid. So he and I step out on the dance floor and I'm in the arms of a real pro. I'm learning new steps, and ask him if he'll give me a lesson. He holds me, looking seriously at some imaginary spot on the landscape, feeling the beat of the music rise up within him like an imaginary apparition. When he is ready, the lesson begins:

"Keep your body stiff, and move your legs" he tells me, and I feel like a marionette, flipping my feet up below the knee, keeping my body stiff, and bending in time with the music. The feeling is exhilarating. It is like a drug. Massimo is done with me and lets me go, his eyes already looking for a new partner.

It's Penny this time, and later Candida, and they whirl around the floor while twenty or so people of all ages rock back and forth to the Hully Gully. Italians never tire of this old tired dance. Penny and I even step in for a few turns while Massimo and Candida twirl around the edge.


The musical group is very good, and they'd do well playing in Mugnano. I am a member of the village Festarolo committee, and we're always looking for live music. Dino takes their card, and we'll see if they're busy for Ferragosto. It's not too late to book a band, but let's wait until we meet with Mauro.

Penny and Bob want us to see their apartment, so invite us up for dessert and tea. They are renting an apartment "on the wall" with a beautiful view, and it's just perfect for them. We make plans for Candida and Franco to bring them to our house for pranzo later this week.

It's past midnight, and a sleepy Sofi greets us. She'll meet our new friends in a few days. We'll be up in a few hours to begin a new day...What fun we've had!

May 28
Cachi running total: 493. See May 26th for contest details.

We walk up to church on this sunny morning. Neighbors are out early for church, and when Don Luca arrives, we're just getting settled in our regular pew.

By the time we have sung the last hymn, the temperature is very warm. So when we arrive back home Dino checks on the pomodori that were planted in the ground a couple of days ago. All are well. A dozen or so more will be ready to plant soon.

I spend a few hours working on new designs for a couple of painted tiles. I'm not sure if the design will work below the garden sink. I'm actually doubtful, but finish the tiles just the same. We'll use them somewhere else, or give them as gifts. It's a good exercise, just the same.

Tiziano arrives late in the afternoon to help with a couple of translations, and to fill us in on Festarolo history. He likes the idea of the ASTA we're planning for Ferragosto. We're probably going to hire a professional auctioneer for some of the larger items/services, and keep a silent auction for many of them. Tiziano has donated two walking archeological tours of Mugnano and Bomarzo, and thinks his father will donate a morning with his tractor...His mother does wonderful embroidery, so we'll think of something for her to donate, too!

May 29
Cachi running total: 760. See May 26th for contest details.

It's the anniversary of my mother's birthday, and with every passing month I am aware of how much I am like her. It never ceases to amaze me. Bless you, Mom!

We arise late, and it is warm. We have no fruit this morning for Dino's favorite cereal, but when we sit outside to eat, the fruit and vegetable truck drives below us sounding its horn, and I ask him if he wants fruit..subito! He declines, and on this warm and windy morning he's more concerned about the number of cachi that have fallen in the wind. He picks up hundreds more to work off his breakfast. It takes about fifteen minutes...

I want to paint, and am going to try painting leaves for the tiles that will hang just below the sink in the garden. I've painted about six before pranzo, and before the end of the day paint almost fifteen tiles, more than we need to finish the project. I'm hoping Dino will take them up to Elena soon.

Dino drives to Giove for a meeting with the owner of a real estate agency, and Sofi and I stay home. I'm aware of how much I'd rather stay at home and paint than do almost anything. The silence of the landscape, with the sounds of the birds and an occasional car on the strada bianca (white road) in the valley embrace me.

Dino's back, and has also viewed another house, a very nice one in Narni. We're really building up quite a repertoire.

We learn that we cannot visit the library in Bagnoregio tomorrow, for two women who occasionally work there must be present when we are. So we'll find out when we can go on Thursday. No matter. I'll paint tomorrow, and perhaps we'll take many things to Elena by the end of the day.

There has been quite a bit of wind today, but it is welcome. Although the temperature has risen above 80, it feels cool. Tonight while Dino is watering, he hears a couple speak English on the path below us. One is a man whose mother owned one of the little houses near Gianfranco, and he's here with a girlfriend to tell her about the village. "About eight people live here full time" he tells her, and thinks Dino is one of them.

Dino clues him in that our village has more than eighty full time residents. We're quite a metropolis! We don't expect to see them again, for they don't intend to spend time here, so the stranieri count in our village remains low.

May 30
Cachi running total: 981. See May 26th for contest details.

It's time to pick the cherries, but we're not sure about the recipe. So I review our past journals, and discover that we prepared our best-ever sour cherry preserves in 2003. In 2004 and 2005, our tree produced smaller crops, probably because the birds knew just when to harvest, and we ignored the signs. Today we'll pick every one!

I'm happy we'll be at home today, and Dino and I bring buckets with us to pluck the ripest cherries. He works on the upper branches, and I station myself under the tree, pulling the fruit like taking milk from a cow. The sticky sweet juices run up my arms. As delightful as the task seems, I am relieved that we have only one tree.

I'm a person who grew up in more of a city, so feel a childlike wonder at the miracle of plucking ripe fruit from a tree. With each passing season I am introduced to new activities in the garden, and from picking fruit to planting seeds to putting up preserves to feeding roses I feel blessed to be able to experience these simple tasks on our own land. Dino feels the same way.

By the time we are through picking this morning, and have washed and pitted the fruit, we have three kilos of cherries. There are more left on the tree, perhaps even as much as two kilos. But they are yellow and pink in color, so it will be at least this weekend until they are ripe. Will the birds pick off the rest? It depends on what's happening in our schedules for the rest of the week. With a holiday and guests arriving on Friday for pranzo, we'll surely be distracted.

The loggia kitchen is still not functioning, but with Lore and Alberto back in Rome, Dino will try to track down Stefano to see if we can get him here on Thursday to lay the tiles in the sink and reinstall the faucet. With a holiday on Friday, I'm not expecting him.

We cook the cherries in the kitchen in two pots, adding sugar, lemon juice and pectin. The first batch is finished in the afternoon, the second just before dark. When the cherries are sufficiently cooked, we take the pots out to the loggia, where Dino has sterilized the jars. And we fill the jars up at a table and stand them on their heads to make a proper seal. I have yet to design the label, but will do so this week. Now that we have our first preserves, I must put a rush on this little project.

I call Tiziana in Orte, and we drive down to meet with her at her school. Her father stops by when we are there, and it is good to see Renzo, too. We have missed them. Today, we speak about musical events for Mugnano, and Tiziana and I discuss a few ideas for Ferragosto and also for September. Dino and I will present the ideas at our Festarolo meeting on Thursday night.

Back at home, we speak with the band who played in Orvieto on Saturday, and may hire them for Ferragosto. This Festarolo work is getting to be a lot of work, but we hope also a lot of fun. What a wonderful idea to have a committee responsible for fun for the community! Each year, new people get to participate. It shares the work, and hopefully shares the fun.

May 31
Cachi running total: 1,035. See May 26th for contest details.

The weather is changing. We're expecting rain, and over night my allergies and head have taken a beating. It's cool this morning, so I hope the weather, especially the barometric pressure, will settle down.

Mauro calls and Monia is sick, so there will be no class this afternoon. I can sit and paint at the studio, but without Monia for guidance, I might as well paint at home. That's just what I do, and before the morning is out, Dino has taken seven trays of ceramics to Elena to fire. But she is in Paris until Saturday. The woman who owns the fruit and vegetable shop next door has a key, so she lets Dino in to drop off the ceramics.

I have painted all of the replacement tiles for the garden sink, and although I am not sure that I like the design for the tiles that will be installed just under the sink, it's worth experimenting. I can always paint more.

Dino drives up to the village to find Stefano, and finds him unloading sand from his truck. He's so very sorry that he has not come to finish our work, but is paying for scaffolding at Lore and Alberto's project, and it will be taken away after Friday. So we'll see him early next week.

I am not concerned, although we'd like to have the loggia finished, especially to be able to use the sink again. We will need him to come back when I am sure which tiles to use for the garden sink, however, and that project really should be finished before June 24th. Speriamo.

Pia's windows and doors are delivered across the street, and they look beautiful, with frames of a soft oil-stained pale wood. I suggest to Dino that we speak with the people who are installing them for new windows of our own, but he will not hear of it. We are not ready to redo our windows yet, so he thinks it's a bad idea to speak with someone about it now. He tells me that there is no such thing in Italy as standard windows, or standard sizes. Sigh.

The amaréna jam is very good, and we've prepared eighteen jars. We design a label, and display our latest treasures, the first of the season's larder, in the loggia against a wall in an old giant wooden box frame. On the tree, more of the sour cherries are ripening, and if it does not rain tomorrow, we might have another batch. This is Dino's favorite jam, dark and sweet with a tartness that is delicious on toast. Overnight it thickened, and it's consistency is now fine.

The air remains cool, and the forecast is for rain, but there is only one large cloud in the sky as the sun begins to set. I'm ending the month early, for I can't shake my headache, and turn in to bed with an ice pack on the pillow and Sofi lying in her wicker bed by my side just watching.

So it's going to rain. I don't pay much attention to the forecast and move the thirty little pomodori plants from the serra to a spot up against the raised orto wall. They all lean back at the same angle, huddled together as if in fear of an oncoming wind.

I want them to build strength, performing what is called "hardening them off", by sitting them in the sun for more and more hours each day. That way, they'll be strong and happy when planted in the ground in a week or so.

I forget to take them in before we do our food shopping for today and tomorrow. Tomorrow is a national holiday, and all stores will be closed, reminiscent of the old Massachusetts Blue Laws. I grew up accepting these laws as if every store in the world was closed on Sundays and holidays.

Times have changed, except in Italia. Sofi is left to guard the little pomodori plants, and she stands by the cachi tree watching us leave with a resigned look in her eyes.

We drive to Sipicciano first to meet with Walter, but on the way, drops of rain plop on our windshield. Darn. We hope the little plants won't have to take a downpour. Speriamo. Speriamo.

Walter won't be back until mezzogiorno (noon), so we finish our other errands and return to see him sitting outside the bar, relaxing with friends. We ask if we can speak with him, and yes, he can arrange to have a portable gelato stand in Mugnano one night during the week of ferragosto. We talk about logistics and will return to meet with him on Monday after we've met with our festarolo committee.

We arrive home and rush upstairs to take in the little plants, and they are all fine. But less than five minutes later, the skies open with a shout and a clamor, as if someone dropped a few pot lids on a stone floor. We hide inside for the rest of the afternoon.

It's even chilly, and this is very strange weather for June. In years past, June marked the beginning of a hot, hot summer, with temperatures every day into the 90's. Not today.

Unable to do much gardening, we clean inside the house, and reorganize. We're not any different from most people we know, in that we need more storage. Storage. Whatever do we buy that we build up so much...clutter? I look around me and start to imagine spaces free of things.

Later in the evening, the first official meeting of the festarolo committee convenes in our kitchen. Mauro, Laura, Valerio, Tiziano, Giuliola and Livio all join us around the kitchen table. It is only when the meeting has finished around midnight, and everyone has left, that I realize how many ideas we had to contribute. We think they like them all.

Mauro is very organized and quite conservative in his approach. He takes detailed notes, studies them, and educates us about taxes, the Comune's involvement, and we take his advice respectfully. Dino likes the idea of shopping for lottery items and asking for donations. I will surely stand by silently while he cajoles people into sponsoring or donating things.

Here we go again. Is there a place in this world where the two of us don't get into the thick of things, whether we're volunteering at working, organizing, building consensus?

Every five years, we'll probably do this. On years ending in "1", Dino will be on the festarolo committee, and in years ending in "6", it will be my turn. So while we are able to, we'll have fun with the people of our village, and hope to bring value and camaraderie to whatever we do.

June 2
Cachi running total: 1,156. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

The sky is overcast, and we're not expecting a good weather day, but I hope that it does not rain for our guests, who arrive just before l'una. Penny and Bob Weiss are here with our pals, Candida and Franco from Orvieto, and Sofi has two new friends.

Sofi's eyes are all on Candida, who she loves dearly. As the day proceeds, Franco finds his way into Sofi's heart by sneaking pieces of the ricotta and saffron torta that is served mid way into the meal. Candida remains her favorite amica around.

We're able to eat outside until the main part of the meal is finished, and move inside for caffé and dessert as it starts to rain. My cannellini beans, though overcooked, are a hit, for they've sautéed too long in the padella with olive oil and garlic and rosemary, and have become almost crunchy. At least they're not soggy.

Franco thinks we are wimps.


Candida's snow peas, freshly picked this morning from their garden are terrific, marinated with walnut oil and toasted sesame seeds. Franco loves to cook, and his choice of how to prepare these tasty greens is a hit. Candida and I agree that food from one's garden tastes so much better than anything from the store. And can you imagine? From seeds! Brava, Candida!

I admit that I'm over the moon with this dish, but mostly because it is covered in the thickest piece of aluminum foil I have seen in recent memory. The aluminum foil is soft as paper towels in Italia, and fingering this foil gives me pause. I know. It's the unsuspected things that get me going.

I've prepared one of my chocolate cakes for dessert, but as a twist have also prepared sliced fresh strawberries marinated with balsamic vinegar, caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon to serve on top. It's a big hit, the tang of the balsamic vinegar and lemon cutting the sugar and sweet berries like a knife. The contrast is memorable.

When we have guests, I really don't pay attention to the food, but today I admit I am pretty thrilled with the mozzarella, from Campania. Coincidentally, Franco purchased this same mozzarella from Coop last week, and served it then as part of a fresh, uncooked sauce for pasta.

We'll remember to buy this...often as the summer moves along. Finally we've found what we consider to be the best buffala mozzarella around. The local brand is Francia, and it is packaged in a plastic tub, containing no less than eight small egg-shaped moons of buffala.

Americans are usually all agog when they arrive in Italia, and today's guests are no exception. Penny and Bob have come to Italy for years, and the romance of it all is fun to hear. So many reactions are familiar to us. Before the afternoon is over, we've walked up and around the borgo, met a few neighbors, and introduced them to our friends.

But Penny's conversations are still mostly about The Redwoods and her job, so it will take another few days or so for her to acclimate. Before they return to America, she'll surely be talking all about her experiences here instead. Bob is wishing he brought his saxophone, and next trip he surely will. We look forward to hearing him play.

This weekend is the vote for the Universita Agraria, and everyone is running unopposed. We're looking forward to voting, and Antonio tells us he and Paola will come for a visit tomorrow to talk...about what? It will be good to see them no matter what. We later see Paola with Fulvia, and look forward to their visit.

Our friends leave and we clean up, getting ready for a concert tonight in Orte. We are to watch a dance group of children who we might hire to perform in Mugnano in August. So we're hopeful they are as good as their teacher, Tiziana, tells us they are.

We arrive at the auditorium and the room is filled with mostly relatives of the children. Renzo is at the front of the auditorium, and when he sees us he gives us his chair right in front and then finds another for us.

Walter is a friend of Tiziana's and we think he is also head of the Orte Scalo Festarolo Committee. He announces ever piece of music in characteristic Italian fashion before it is played, reading from the same program we all have in our hands. Italian men surely love speaking into microphones, and almost always take advantage of their captive audiences. Tonight is no exception.

The power shuts off twice. The second time, however, Walter shows his mettle by walking over to the side of the darkened stage after about five minutes and flipping a switch, turning the house lights back on.... In the meantime, all the technical "experts" scurry around like little mice, turning switches and hoping, hoping that some kind of miracle will occur and that suddenly, the power will turn back on of its own accord.

The show lasts almost two hours. There are seventeen numbers and almost fifty students. Some of the pieces are really quite good. But I'm less than convinced that this show would play in the United States.

Remember that Italian sensibilities regarding showing young girls in alluring poses and dance numbers is very different than American. I think we'll see the show again, as well as the orchestral show planned for this next week, before making any decisions regarding bringing them to Mugnano. But the pieces in praise of Madonna are, well, too over the top.

The show must work. Otherwise, it does not make sense to have them appear. And the logistics for mounting the same show seem formidable, with speakers, special music, backdrops, special lighting, a stage... So much technical work is needed for this to succeed. There is much to think about.

We are both worried about Tiziana's health, for she is having trouble with her balance and also experiences a lot of pain at the back of her neck. She'll see a number of experts this next week. So we'll stay in touch with her, and I mention tonight to her that she might want to visit my doctor at the Neurological Department of the hospital in Perugia. She's not much over thirty, and this kind of pain is not a good sign. So we drive home silently, and she's foremost in my mind.

Earlier, Dino told me that Penny asked him what a normal day is like for us. "Read Eva's journal!" he told her. We have no idea what normal means. With each day so different, it is not possible to come up with a general description or a typical day.

We're both happy about that, even though I see myself becoming more and more of a hermit, wishing to spend more time at home, more time painting and just puttering.

"Beware of what you ask for!" I remember being told years ago. And I think of my mother, telling us that she wanted to be left alone in a shack by the beach during her later years. I'm not sure I really understood her then. But I understand her now, oh so clearly.

There must be a silence somewhere deep inside me, a tune in a minor key, one that strikes the same chord somehow. It is the silence that I seek, with only the sounds of the birds or the trees in the wind, and an absence of human voices in conflict. I so love it here.

June 3
Cachi running total: 1,156. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

We drive across the countryside past enormous randomly placed hay bales, thrown against the land as if their fields are chosen as living art canvases. From the fields, farmers transport the bales on huge tractors. Italian men drive fast, really fast or slow, really, really slow, whether they're driving their apes (three-wheeled trucks) or their Fiat Pandas, or in this case, their tractors.

Pandas are those boxy little bug-like cars that seem to bounce instead of glide on the roads, and perform as the car of choice of most contadini in rural Italia. Diego has one, and on a ride one afternoon to a property we were to later list, he maneuvered up the steepest hill in the tiny car as if it were a donkey.

We call Dan and Wendy and ask if we can drop by after our regular Saturday drive to Passignano on Lake Trasimeno in search of our tablecloths. Sure, we're welcome to come by.

After a beautiful drive toward Sienna and then across to the Lake, we arrive at a very busy Passignano, and locate the tablecloth vendor. He has our tablecloths...in a strange blue. This search is really getting old. Those €5 tablecloths will be very expensive by the time we're done. And if we cannot pick them up on Wednesday, I'm ready to abandon the search. They're not THAT nice.

We take the Truro road over the hill to Dan and Wendy's, and drive up their hill past the alpaca farm, turning in between their posts and calling out to our friends. They're all inside, because today is also very cold and overcast.

We meet one of their daughters, Morgan, and drink a little tea to warm up, before following them to a nearby Agritourismo. The menu offers an English twist. The husband is Italian and the wife, the chef, is from England. Just before we order dessert, Patrick, our waiter, asks us if we'd like to see the bread just as it is put in the oven. In a flash I've stationed myself at the opening to the kitchen.

Alberto, the chef, speaks some English, and before we leave at around an hour later, walks out with his notebook and sits down next to me. He recites his bread recipe as though it's a prized poem, to be recited before the whole school. But first he shows me the dozen or so recipes that he tried first that did not produce the bread he likes. "This one is just right!" he tells me with a proud raising of his shoulders.

So he agrees to be my insegnante, or teacher, and I'll try his recipes and bring him a loaf of bread to critique. I think I'll also try to use some of the Sourdough starter we brought from California last December, as well as some WWF flour, so that he can judge a variety of breads, as well as my cooking prowess.

We leave our guests and drive south on the E45, arriving home for only a few minutes before leaving Sofi and driving to Bassano in Teverina. We're here for a concert of five chorale groups, always on the lookout for possible music for our Festarolo committee.

Steven finishes the program by conducting all five groups in the last performance piece of the evening, and he is a remarkable conductor. While the concert moved along, I thought that a wonderful evening in Mugnano would consist of several choral groups all singing gospel music, with Steven at the end conducting them all in a finale.

I want to find the same gospel group in Rome that came to Bomarzo several years ago and rocked the Duomo to its foundation with its hymns. Italians love gospel music, and the villagers will love having them right in Mugnano. The search for the best groups will be fun.

June 4
Cachi running total: 1,156. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

This is a day of clouds, both in the sky and in our hearts. Life is never quite what it seems.

The day starts with a promising sky, and although there are clouds, they are pale, with plenty of blue sky. When we arrive at the piazza for mass, the Italian flag is flying at the little building where the Universita Agraria office is located, and also where our doctor has his visits. We are early for mass, so let's vote for the unopposed slate of our neighborhood agricultural association, the Universita Agraria.

Inside, there are a few people we know, including Alberto, Luigina's husband and Laura, Francesco's wife. There are an equal number of people from Bomarzo. But on the list of people eligible to vote, our names do not appear. There are 71 people in Mugnano listed as eligible to vote. We are confused.

Several people crowd around the list. We ask them to check, and we'll return after mass. Mass itself is confusing, as Marsiglia and Felice talk through part of the mass to each other until they are asked to "sshhh" by someone behind them. I think Felice has no idea what is going on around him these days. It is sad just watching them.

Before mass, I encounter Tiziano entering the church and tell him there is a tragedy about to take place. I recount our dilemma. He wants to ask his father what is going on. But when his father arrives, he is as mystified as we are.

After mass, Paola and Antonio stand outside the church, and we realize they are waiting for us. "Come for coffee," Paola tells us, and puts her arm around me, guiding us to her father's house. The temperature is very chilly, and she lends me a shawl, for it is lovely but cold in the garden where we are sitting. The chill I am about to experience is not just from the weather...

Antonio holds the list of the members of the Universita in his hands, then lays it out on the table to explain what is going on with our inability to vote. We are not on the list, although some years ago we applied and have a letter officially admitting us to the membership of the association. So the story begins to unravel like the unfinished edge of a sweater.

I remember going through a phase many years ago when knitting sweaters were all the rage. Invariably, when knitting away almost at the completion of the sweater, I'd lose my place or find a stitch out of place, and hours of work were then undone in order to finish the sweater in a correct way. I'd have to repeat a lot of work. The sad thing about unraveling your own work, is that it feels like watching a bad film moving in reverse, only at a faster pace. I think that is what Antonio is feeling right now.

We should not have been accepted into the Universita Agraria years ago. Their roster is taken from the roster in Bomarzo, our Comune, and unless the roster matches, something is amiss. Today, we see that we're the ones who have been eliminated from their official list.

Other than a group of old friends who are deceased like Leondina and Gino, and a number of individual people who are transferring from the list, indicating that their main addresses are now located in some other part of Italia, we stick out like sore thumbs. We're on a list called "Eliminated", respectively at #1 and #3.

In Italy, there is a substantial property tax assessed for second properties owned by the same persons. In order to own more than one property, but to avoid paying the substantial second property tax, the first piece of property is owned in one name, and the second or third property is owned in another's name from the same family. Tiziano is now listed in Viterbo, for example, for they own an apartment there. And Lore's name is listed on their second house in Mugnano.

But where someone's name is listed is where they are eligible to vote. It is one of those Italian laws that is ineffective, for Italians are masterful at maneuvering their way around the law. It is somewhat of a national pastime. But we have no way around this snag in our lives here.

We cannot blame our friends for this mishap. No other stranieri we know, and we know quite a few, have any interest in getting involved in their local communities. So a neighborhood organization taking in someone who is an immigrant is unusual. Very unusual. And the answer is painfully clear. We must become Italian citizens.

We'll be able to apply for citizenship at the end of 2007 through regular channels, and it will take up to two years after that for the paperwork to go through. So we'll see if we can get some help in shortening the cycle, but look for two new Italian citizens no earlier than 2009. We had almost given up on becoming citizens through Dino's grandfather, for no records of him have been found in the United States.

But now I have another idea. Let's see if we can resurrect his grandfather's records. If he never renounced his Italian citizenship, for there are no records of him in the United States, perhaps we can become citizens here before ten years. It is a complicated process, but worth revisiting. Dino agrees to find the records and start the search again. And then we remember that he had to be born after 1948 for the rule to apply to him. So we give up on that.

We've been depressed all day. Looking back, we've loved this village for almost nine years. Mugnano has been at the center of our existence for all this time. We've been so well treated by our neighbors, and yes, even the Mayor and the other politicos. But with an immigration problem so severe in Italy that the subject has polarized the country into factions, we feel that we're in the middle of it.

We're immigrants, no better than some who arrived last week from Asia or the Middle East without a penny to their name. On a walk early this evening in Bassano in Teverina to scope out a musical group, we walked by a headline of a local newspaper. "40,000 immigrants looking for work in Tuscia" it read.

We live in Tuscia, an area of central Italy near the western coast. And although we are not looking for jobs, we stand in the same lines to obtain our residency permits with all the immigrants. Will there really be 40,000? Many of them will have to begin their search at the same questura we register in Viterbo.

With terrorism scares all around us, all immigrants are treated, well, the same. It is a sad feeling. So we can begin to imagine what it must be like to come from an oppressed country and need to find a way to survive. On the news, one man from Africa said that he'd rather die in the ocean trying to escape Africa than have to live in Africa. It is a sad commentary.

Earlier this afternoon, when shopping in nearby Il Pallone, a young man who appeared to be from somewhere in Africa, stood by the entrance to the market with towels and tablecloths for sale draped over a shopping cart. As people exited the market, he followed them to their cars. Two young men yelled at him to go away, and a shouting match ensued. I felt so badly for the man with the cart.

We have never purchased anything from these men with the carts, but have no quarrel with them. They are only trying to survive. So the next time we see one, we'll see if we can use a tablecloth or a towel. I feel a strange kinship with this man now.

We volunteer many hours each year for our local village and local church. We're hopefully model residents. But we still are not citizens. And now becoming a citizen is something we both feel we must accomplish. Dino has always wanted dual citizenship.

Voting has always been important to us. We understand the privilege. And not being allowed to cast our vote, even in this case in our village when no one is running opposed, brings us such feelings of helplessness.

Now we also know that it is possible that the little Universita Agraria might be pitted against the more powerful Comune in Bomarzo for its very livelihood. So we're going to do whatever we can to help Antonio and his group maintain their independence. We live in such a complicated world.

Tonight, while standing at the kitchen window for three hours pitting the sour cherries from our old tree, I wonder what new challenges life has in store for us. The evening is cold and damp. I fear before this adventure is through we'll be faced with even more daunting challenges.

So for now it's enough to stir the cherries and sugar and lemon and pectin on the stove and pour the sour-y-sweet mixture into glass jars and stand them on end in the loggia.

We stopped to see Elena earlier tonight at her studio on the way home, and asked her if she will give me a lesson this summer in making glazed pie plates. The material we'll have to use is a particular type of argilla, or clay, and it is different from the regular terra cotta that I've been painting. It needs to be sturdy enough to endure repeated sessions in a hot oven, for why create a pie plate if it cannot be baked in the oven repeatedly?

I look up what I think is agila, and agile is, well, agile, meaning nimble or prompt. But argilla is the word for clay. The words are so close. Again, I will remember these two words. I will remember them because I'm using them in a sentence. At this rate, I'll be well over 100 before I've used most of the words in the Italian language and committed them to memory. So I might as well not stress about the language. I'm just not committed to going to school to learn it.

Elena will work with me in July, and our jars of cherries and other preserves will be wonderful given with my ceramic pie plates during this holiday season. If I only knew how to export the plates successfully...

June 5
Cachi running total: 1,156. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

We wake to the familiar sound of trees being felled and raised into a long autotreno, or tractor trailer, where they'll be driven off somewhere to build those ugly modern houses with the red tile roofs.

I have a sinking feeling, as if little Mugnano has become a version of Tufitalia, that deep, deep tufa mining cavern near Civita Castellana. At Tufitalia, a man told us a few years ago that they will be able to dig out twenty more years of tufa before the cavern will be barren. It gave us pause then. And it gives us pause, now.

Yes, we've peeled back another layer of the onion that is the civilization of Italia, and the onion is beginning to smell. For now, we consider the sound of the felling of the timber necessary, just as I am trying to condition myself to hear the infernal clicking of the cicadas in the heat of summer as music to my ears.

The forest is located around a back side of Mugnano, not visible to us here. It is probably visible from the South, and perhaps we'll take a drive one day in the valley to see if we can see it. I'm not so sure I want to know what it looks like now.

I'm hearing music in my subconscious, and it is the soulful words and music of an old Negro spiritual: "Tell them, to let my people go..."

Is it cold this morning, or do I have a sense of impending doom? I see the look on Antonio's face yesterday, and we must help him. He is the face of good, the face of honor and kindness. He wants to save Mugnano from the jaws of development, to keep the land as it was meant to be kept, only for agricultural purposes.

But in Bomarzo, its world-famous Sacred Grove of Bomarzo, is also known as The Monster Park. And will the monsters rise up and snatch little Mugnano like Fay Wray in the hands of King Kong? Let's be sure to not let that happen.

We drive to Pinzaglia, a local vivai, to pick up a few annuals for the herb bed in front of the loggia. I'd like it to be full and colorful for the festa on June 24th. With the roses on hiatus, this area of our garden will become more of a focal point as summer wears on.

Dino picks our first potatoes, and I fix his favorite potato salad with vinegar instead of mayonnaise. It is wonderful, and we can look forward to many more of our own potatoes all summer.


The flowering sage we purchased last fall is now enormous, and one of its stems is growing out of control, with a papery lavender flower undulating in the breeze. I'm ready to cut back much of what's in the raised bed, including at least half of this sage, and will plant a number of annuals this week. Once it has been planted, we'll show you a photo.

It rains a little, but we're not daunted, expecting to plant this afternoon. I'd rather be painting, but it's just too humid. So we'll try our luck including planting some more of the tomatoes. Yesterday, Dino planted three American corn plants, gifts from Catherine and Kees. They've been planted in the upper garden near the zucchini, and the more we plant, the less room there will be for the last of our tomatoes...

While we're working in the garden around 5PM, Anika and Torb from Sweden walk down the path. They arrived this morning, and expect their daughter to call at any moment from Orte to have them pick her up. We catch them up on news of Mugnano and I ask Anika if the wood choppers are very noisy, right across the road from their house.

"They are not too bad, for they are not chopping wood today, just loading it into the big trucks." Let's hope the activity is not too noisy for them. We look forward to meeting their daughter tomorrow.

The night is upon us, and we still haven't planted more tomatoes. Perhaps we will do so tomorrow. After most civilized people are in their homes sleeping or reading or watching TV, the doorbell rings, and it is Mauro, Virgilio and Livio to talk about the Festarolo committee. It's 10 PM. Don't you think that's pretty late to show up at someone's house unannounced to have a meeting? Luckily we're still downstairs watching TV.

"Have you signed up any sponsors yet?" Mauro asks. Hey, it's only been one day! Mauro has been busy laying the groundwork for what we want to accomplish, and we're to have a meeting on Saturday in the Commune with Tiziana and Francesco Perini and the Vice Mayor. They seem to want to help, and will lay out the guidelines then for what we can and cannot do. We're especially interested in what we can do for Ferragosto.

We're actually amazed at the intensity with which the members of our committee have moved forward. They're all positive, like all the ideas, and hopefully we'll have a lot of fun.

It's a very cool night. What happened to the usual sunny and warm spring weather?

June 6
Cachi running total: 1,262. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

There are a few wisps of clouds in the sky this morning, and my thoughts are all about the lavender. Due to all the rain this past winter and spring, it will be ready to cut early. So I'm also thinking about Karina, who loves to make wands from the freshly-cut stems and flowers. We'll have to call her to invite her for a visit.


I'm also thinking about Corpus Domini on the 18th, and our lavender will be ready then to distribute little bunches to all the people in the village. That means the major work will be done...soon.

Now that we have an electric hedge trimmer, the job will be easier. Either Dino or Silvano Spaccese will get the job of clipping each plant into rounds, not cut as far as the wood.

We drive to Amelia and pick up our business cards, and when we return home the power is not working and two ENEL men are driving up the street regarding...what?

Earlier, we walked over to Pia's property across the street, and she showed us around. Her land is probably too small for a swimming pool, but she has orchestrated a very good job, both in the work and in the landscaping. She wants to have an English garden, so I tell her that she can come over anytime and look over our many garden books.

While we're getting ready for pranzo, the power remains off, and does not come back on all afternoon. The workers leave, and we call ENEL, but it is almost five before we realize that we must have someone come out to see what's going on. ENEL is only responsible for hooking up the power. They are not able to do any work inside someone's house. Someone calls us back and apologizes. We'll have to find someone privately to come to our aid.

So we call Silvano Spaccese, and he arrives just before 7PM, flips a few switches and everything is fine. Dino is not sure of the sequence of his switching, but I'm hoping he'll find out. Dino had no luck flipping the switches all afternoon.

We drive down to Annika and Torbjorn's house, the white house on the corner in the valley, and already the Gasperonis are there. We have lent our Swedish friends a 3-meter table and two long tablecloths, and when we arrive we see that everyone is getting along quite well.

The number and quality of the fruit trees in this garden is remarkable. Trees are spaced perfectly, with plenty of room in between. Fig, two peach, two pomegranate, almond, plum, apple, persimmon, apricot...I tell Annika that if the fruit is ripe and they are not around, we will hop over the fence and make jam with the pickings. It seems a shame to let the fruit die without being picked. Perhaps they will come more often, in tune with the ripening of the various fruit.

I have the stemma of Mugnano on my mind, and cannot imagine that one does not exist. Every city and town in the country has one. So I ask Tiziano, and he tells me that yes, there surely is one, and Livio and Giuliola have a stamp of the stemma in their house.

I am quite thrilled. In addition to the stemma, we think that there is also a phrase to use with the stemma, "percusus elevor", which loosely means that even if you knock me down I will get back up. I like that very much. Dino does, too.

I tell Tiziano that Mugnano needs to promote the stemma, and that I will make ceramic plates with the stemma. We'll also design a flag, or bandiera, that the Confraternity members will take around. Now we're getting somewhere.

Tiziano also suggests that we can make some money selling the flags and plates. Yes, the Festarolo committee can make some more money, but I'm more interested in replacing the figure of San Liberato on the flag than making any money.

Swedes eat potatoes the way Italians eat pasta. So there is a potato salad and whole boiled potatoes and two kinds of salmon as well as herring. It is all quite good, and not heavy. We finish the meal with Rosita's prune torta, and when we leave Dino thinks that Annika and Tord are to be congratulated for a brave effort. As new residents, inviting neighbors in for a dinner is quite ambitious.

We like our new neighbors very much, and look forward to getting to know them. And when Stein and Helga are here at the same time, we know they will all get along famously.

It is good to be home, and the weather is quite cool. It's good sleeping weather, but I am mindful that some of the lavender is ready to be picked. So I'll try to get up early and start clipping before the bees start buzzing. We've called Karina, who loves to come and make lavender wands, so she'll arrive sometime this next week, probably for an overnight.

June 7
Cachi running total: 1,262. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

I can't sleep and wake up at 6:30 to cut lavender. Thankfully, after clipping two bushes, Dino arrives and takes over. I move the lavender to my summer "station" under the bathroom at the back of the house. With a tall tufa wall behind me, it's cool and shady. I set up shop here, with tables and a drying rack of iron grating. I tie each bunch of lavender with a small piece of raffia and suspend it to dry.

That way, when the lavender has dried for a day or two, I can stand it in baskets in the house. Otherwise, the lavender will slump over and all the work we've done will be for naught. The lavender that is not put in baskets will be used for little bunches for the people of the village and guests as the lavender lunch.

I've had an idea to make baskets out of lavender stalks, but after a search on the internet that comes up dry, I give up on the idea for this year. Perhaps I'll ask Livio for some advice. He makes the most beautiful baskets out of something that looks like willow. Making baskets out of lavender stems would certainly be interesting.

There is so much to do in the next ten days that I won't even have time to make any of my lavender wreaths for the house or gifts. Since it is difficult to gauge when the lavender will be ready to cut each year, I can't really plan a lot in advance. So we do what we can, and the rest is just not important. There's no reason to be stressed.

Dino finishes clipping for today, and I continue stripping and hanging the "spaghetti" strands of lavender until noon. Then it's time for a break to fix pranzo. I'm back out working on the lavender until we leave for class, and I've cleaned and hung the lavender from the two plants I cut early this morning. It took all this time to work on just two plants.


There are about fifty or more plants left to strip. Dino has clipped about fifteen plants, so tomorrow we hope to clip the rest. But we'll save two plants for Karina, who arrives for a day on Sunday to make lavender wands. Lavender wands are best when taken from just cut lavender. We surely can accommodate her!

After class, during which I paint a tile I like quite a bit for the border below the garden sink, we come home and watch an old movie on TV. We are both really sore from the bending and clipping and all that. We look forward to more of the same tomorrow. June surely is the hardest physical work month for me in the whole year. But it's enjoyable, and running my hands down the lavender "spaghetti" is a joy.

A domani.

June 8
Cachi running total: 1,362. See May 26th in the journal archives for contest details.

"Per la ULTIMA VOLTA...!" the grandmother cries out to the gemelli (twins) living above us. "For the LAST TIME!..." And I'm six again, not paying any attention to my mother as she speaks what I now know is a timeless international modo de dire, or figure of speech. How small the world is...

Dino sets his alarm early, but is awake and in the shower even earlier. At 7AM, he's already out clipping lavender. And before he's through, there are only about eight plants left to be cut. We'll leave most of the eight until Monday morning after Karina arrives. She loves to make lavender wands, and to do that one needs freshly cut lavender "spaghetti".

Sofi barks and then Felice shows up at the gate. It has been at least a week since we've seen him here. So I walk him around, and he walks as if in a fog, only remembering clearly about the flowers on the olive trees and what to do, and the lemon tree. Felice is quick to tell me that he no longer works, as if he thinks I am going to ask him to do something. I feel sadness mixed in with my laughter.

When I show him the planted pomodori and the basilico plants, he asks me, "Why do we plant basilico between the tomatoes?" I tell him it is to make the tomatoes taste sweeter, and also because we use a lot of basil in the summer. At the end of the season we can never find fresh basil in the stores. I laugh at the fact that there is something he does not know about the kitchen garden.

By this time, Silvano Spaccese arrives to work on a little electrical job on the terrace. He's sitting on the bench there working when Felice and I walk by, and Felice greets him with a nickname we do not understand. We tell Silvano that Felice does not remember much anymore, and he nods his head as if it's a part of life that when one reaches 82 it's to be expected. Felice leaves with a present of lavender for Marsiglia, and Dino and Silvano finish their work.

I notice that there are more cherries to pick on this very prolific tree, and bring out the ladder and a plastic bucket. I am amazed at my continued lack of fear when climbing this short ladder. And have a feeling of accomplishment as I maneuver the ladder under branches and up around the tree, mindful of the placement of the lavender plants below.

I've picked almost all that are left, and Dino later tells me that I did the correct thing by leaving three. Oh. That's what one does on an olive tree. Perhaps the symbolism is the same. Later I'll stone the cherries and put them in brandy for next winter.

For most of the day, I'm holed up behind the house, under the bathroom, in a cool and shady spot where I can strip the stalks of the lavender and hang them in bunches. They are suspended at an angle from the metal grillwork Dino rigged up for me last year. I stand for two hours, and my back is so sore that after pranzo I move the stool from my serra out there, and the work proceeds more quickly while I sit.

I admit in the three years we have had Sofi with us, I have never had the opportunity to really watch her just be herself for any period of time. Perhaps I'm always busy with one thing or another. But today, after raking a pile of lavender droppings into a bed for her nearby, she sits for a few minutes but is more interested in something on the tufa wall behind us. What? lucertoles (lizards), of course.

While I strip the lavender, I'm able to watch her at her favorite sport. First, she sees one and follows it with her eyes. It has moved too far up on the tufa wall for her to reach, and lies there in the sun, just torturing Sofi, it's feet little suction cups stationing it at an unnatural angle.

But the little dog can jump up on the short cement retaining wall (about eight inches high), and from there noses around a number of branches stacked there to dry and for Dino to cut when he has nothing else to do. The lizard has left, but she is sure it's still there.

She jumps down to the back of the little wall, under some weeds growing out of the tufa, in case the lizard is there. She stands there silently for some minutes. And then, as if we're silently listening to Peter and the Wolf, she darts over the little wall and pounces into the leaves at my feet.

Her nose goes THERE! and THERE! ever so quickly and forcefully. "You're not going to get away from me THIS time!" I can almost hear her. In the leaves, a metallic looking thing seems to squirm, and I think it is a tiny serpent. She's sure it's a lizard. Before I'm even able to be frightened, I step on it and it's a goner. As afraid as I am of snakes, my motherly instinct is stronger. The little snake is tiny, so I have nothing to fear. But if it bites Sofi, I don't know what will happen to her.

Sofi's not happy. She is sure it was a lizard, but where is it?

Dino has been out shopping for parts for a lean-to to be built on the side of his little workshop to store all the summer chairs. He's also picked up a tiny jackhammer at a price so low there is no dissuading him. And besides, he shopped without my cautious eyes. So when I ask him to scoop up the leaves with the little snake, he complies without a word.

While he's been shopping, I've listened to the talking up above me, trying to understand the dialect and see if I can make out some of the words. Amazingly, I understand a little bit. So much of life amazes me here.

With a design I'm sure about for the border just below the sink, I stop the lavender stripping for the day and move inside to paint tiles until I'm bleary-eyed. I really love the design. It's my favorite acanthus leaves, in my own design. After doing a more elaborate tile a week or so ago and having it fired, I don't like the method I used to paint the blue in between the leaves. So I ask Monia to paint a tile, showing me some new technique and how to mix some of the paints for the right effect.

She and I agree that I should use a tiny sea sponge to dot the blue instead of painting it. I'll show you the design when they have been fired and you can see what I mean. If I'm in luck, I'll have them all painted and Stefano will install them before the lavender lunch on the 24th. It's now the 8th. Let's see if we can pull that off...

Earlier in class, I also painted six new tiles with roses for the achingly long garden sink project. The six I painted at home and fired at Elena's were lovely, but the smalto was the WRONG SMALTO! It was from a bottle I had at home, and unfortunately the smalto was opaque instead of glossy.

We've just about run out of tiles, and are about two short, so we'll have to drive to Deruta this next week before class to pick the few additional ones up. Then I'll smalto and paint them in class and perhaps we'll arrange with Elena in advance that she'll fire them right away.

That will give us a week to play with Stefano's schedule to get them installed. If everything goes awry, I'll just cover the sink and call it a work in progress for the party. I'm not going to be stressed. It's not a big deal. But we do know that Stefano will channel in the back wall of the loggia and install the wonderful blue and white tiles I've finished weeks ago above the loggia sink. That will definitely be done before the party.

Dino is really happy these days. He loves puttering in the garden, and enjoys projects that he takes on and actually finishes. I'm proud of him, and wish Leo could be here to see what great work he can do. Now I'm not sure what he intends to do with that little jackhammer, but I can't help thinking of the "contractor" we hired when we lived in San Francisco on Bush Street. He brought in a worker and told him to jackhammer the cement stairs leading to the back garden of our old Victorian house.

I can still seem him now, as I stood with our dogs, Huntley and Brinkley, watching him poised halfway down the stairs. Without thinking of the consequences, he began jack-hammering away until we heard an enormous crash as the worker and the cement stairs imploded like Humpty Dumpty in a cloud of dust. Let's hope Dino has a plan before he takes it out of the box...

I'm going to bed early, while Dino watches The Day of the Jackal on TV for the umpteenth time. Well, we've seen the ending many times, but never the beginning. Sofi and I are bored by it all, so head up to bed. My bones are weary, and tomorrow I hope to put in at least six hours stripping lavender stalks. This is one of those projects that is much more enjoyable after the fact. Ten years from now, I wonder how much I'll enjoy having lavender in June...

June 9
Cachi running total: 1,957. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

Do you want to know how to make a lavender wand?

For each lavender wand, you'll need about twelve to fifteen lavender flower stems. Measure the stem from the bottom of the flower bud, and the wand must be at least six inches long. You'll also need ribbon or twine to tie.

For each wand, take the bunch of lavender flowers and ribbon or twine in your hand. Half-inch ribbon is easy to use. If you use narrower ribbon, it will just take longer to weave.


Gather the flower stems, allowing them to wilt until they are flexible. That means don't even think of using dried lavender. You'll see why. Stagger the flower heads a bit to avoid bunching and to lengthen the flower bud shape. Tie a 40" piece of ribbon just below the flower heads, leaving one end of the ribbon about 10", and the other end about 30" long. If you use a narrow ribbon, use a longer length.

Take one end of the string and wind it clockwise around the lavender flowers, ending at the top. Take the other end of the string and wind it counterclockwise, also ending at the top. You will only need to go around the flowers two or three times, Tie both ends of the string together and trim the remaining ends.

Fold the shorter length of ribbon up into the flowers, then fold all of the stems up and over the flowers.

Begin weaving the longer ribbon in a simple under and over pattern through the stems. You will need to keep the tension even, and to adjust the placement of the stems to keep them evenly spaced, especially on the first two rows of the weaving pattern.

Push in the loose ribbon end and any stray lavender buds as you work, increasing the tension as you get toward the end of the flowers to close in the wand.

When you have finished weaving, tie the two ribbon ends together to secure it. You can now finish the lavender wand in a number of ways. You can tie a bow using the two ends of the ribbon and even off the stems. If you have enough ribbon left, you can wind it around the stems in a spiral, bringing it back up to tie in a ribbon with the shorter ribbon end. Or you can tie the ribbon in a long loop for convenient hanging.

To make a basket, bend each stem up and over the flower heads. Try to get the stems fairly evenly spaced to create a "basket" effect. Tie the stems together just past the end of the flower heads with string or narrow ribbon, finishing with a small bow. Cut the stems evenly and hang the wand to let it dry out completely.

This morning, we're up early. Dino picks more lavender, and there is still some left to pick on Monday for Karina. I'm back stripping lavender after first doing a spray of the roses. Most of the plants are taking a deep breath, getting ready for a second bloom, and the aphids are out.

So a mixture of denatured alcohol and liquid dish soap and water in a spray bottle works wonders. We will have a second bloom of roses, and if I'm in luck, it will be around the time of the festa. But I'm not counting on it.

Speaking of blooms, for the first time the passion vine growing on the front and over the top of the serra (greenhouse) has flowers. They have not opened yet, but I see six or so bulbous pods that should open in the next ten days. It will be interesting to see what variety of passion vine we have. Last year, the year we purchased the plant, there were no buds, and we cut the plant back almost to the ground last winter, thinking it had died. What a surprise!

The Pierre de Ronsard roses from Peter Beales are just about ready for their first bloom. Cream color with pink edges, I think. But with the lavender lying in wait for me, there's not much time to linger anywhere...

It feels as though I'm running in a marathon, but I'm just working with the lavender, stripping the 55 or so plants after they've been cut and hanging them to dry. If we don't strip them right away, they'll dry in a mess of tangles. So we keep them in the shade, and I work in my little workshop at the back of the house under the bathroom while Sofi chases lizards nearby and lounges on the growing bed of lavender clippings near my feet.

I stop to fix salads for pranzo, and then move back out for a couple of hours before changing to drive to Rome. Candida has a showing of her mosaics with her other class members this weekend, and it's at Villa Torlonia, the former residence of Mussolini. We've never seen the place, and this is a good time to take a look. Franco will go tomorrow, but we're so busy that this afternoon is the only time we can go.

We take the Salaria into town, then the Nomentana, and stop at a place that sells Colorobbia things, but they have no idea what I am talking about. We're out of unglazed 15cm tiles, Marco has none, and to finish the garden sink project before the festa, we need to locate at least several.

Candida's tile of Pan is wonderful, and I can understand why it takes so long to work meticulously in mosaics. Some of her class members dash the pieces into a form and some are excellent, but Candida chooses to work in a precise manner, and the result is evident. Brava to our dear friend. She must finish this summer, but will do so at home, and we look forward to watching the progress.

With so much to do at home, we only stay for an hour, and don't take a tour of the grounds because they are bruto (ugly). Work is being done on the landscaping, but the designers and the workers are not craftspeople. Beautiful old trees dot the landscape of this small park, which also includes a structure that looks like the Winchester Mystery House, turreted and paned with stained glass in all directions. We choose not to view that today and tell Candida we'll see her a domani (tomorrow).

We are still on our hunt for unglazed tiles, and have a list of Colorobbia shops, but no phone numbers. We realize it will be easier to drive home via Civita Castellana and buy them there. We call, the shop will be open for another hour, and they have the unglazed tiles. But can we get there on time surrounded by Rome's boisterous Friday night traffic?

Never daunted, Dino drives like a house afire. I love the Italian drivers, and while we're maneuvering across town, have an idea for the Italian government to save a bundle of money. Stop painting lines in the road. Italian drivers ignore them, anyway. These drivers can find a way to make a three-lane road into five lanes. If you have been here, you will agree. Yikes!

Well, Dino pulls into Civita Castellana at about four minutes before 7PM. The road he usually takes is closed, so I jump out of the car and run around a few blocks to the store. A woman sits sleepily behind the counter. The tiles are there, and the price is right. So we leave with them and drive home.

I call Tia, for I have not seen or heard from her in at least a week. And she gives me a great idea about the lavender. Take a newspaper, put it on the floor and lay the lavender on top of it. Let the air circulate and if the lavender is completely flat, it will dry in a week or two. Then the leaves will fall right off, and they can be put into baskets easily.

I'm half thinking the idea is great, but a little suspicious. I remember that dried lavender is a mess if the flowers are not all aimed in the same direction. So for the lavender that I don't get to, I'll just not stress. But I'll keep stripping the lavender until I drop...at least for a few days.

June 10
Cachi running total: 1,957. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

Yesterday was the twins' second birthday, but when we call we cannot reach them, so leave a birthday message. We'll call on Sunday for a report on the festivities. We surely miss this type of event, or any event for that matter, in their lives.

I'm up before 7AM to work on the lavender, and it is cool. By 9AM, Stefano has arrived and pummeled the wall above the sink in the loggia in such a precise fashion that it looks like a picture frame.

Before the end of the morning, he's added intonico on top of the bare tufa in preparation for laying the handmade blue and white tiles that have been sitting around for over a month. We have no idea when he'll install them, but are hopeful he will return sometime in the next two weeks.

We have a meeting with the sindaco (mayor) and others in the Comune regarding the festarolo committee, and Mauro waves to us at about 9:30, instructing us to meet him at the parking lot. We leave Stefano and drive up to the Comune in Bomarzo. Once we're out of the car, we look up to see Duccio at his window and wave. We'll stop by after the meeting.

We're still used to U S ways of working and meetings, and are frustrated by the turn the pre-meeting and actual meeting takes. As the main meeting unfolds, we meet with Francesco (the Vigili Urbani), Tiziana (another Tiziana) who is the former sindaco (mayor) and Stefano Bonori, the present sindaco, as well as Mauro and Livio, while Sofi guards the car.

Stefano spends the entire meeting on the telephone, either looking at it and waiting for a call or talking to someone on the line. The vice mayor brings things for him to sign, and in a funny childlike way, Stefano takes Tiziana's pen that she is using to write notes or to sign a few things. And she takes the pen back when she needs it, for these two are sharing the pen as if they are Mo and Jo.

Mo and Jo were the partners of MOJO, the ad agency I worked for years ago. They shared the same office, the same desk in their headquarters office in Sydney. It seems another world away to me. But back to the meeting... All the while, Francesco is very present and even interested in what we have to say. Well, we think he is interested.

No, we cannot have the ASTA, or raffle for services that we have been planning. In English, Tiziana tells us, "It is not impossible, but it is a very long road to travel to make this happen." It's just too difficult to press on with this, so I/we relent.

We know that we must work in concert with the plans already made by the Comune for any dates in August, and there are many. A few dates in August remain open, and one by one they either approve or nix what we want to do. The best thing to do is to "piggyback" on what they are doing, to save money and also gain their agreement. It is now clear just how the process works.

Both Tiziana and Francesco have young sons, and Tiziana tells us they want to have two days of Bimbomania, or free-for-all's for children in the plaza. Children are known as bimbos in Italy. The American connotation is from...where?

They agree to the fashion show, ice cream and pizza, but these events will be orchestrated differently than we imagined. We are getting into the rhythm, and even enjoying the lack of "take charge" initiative expected in the U S. We will have fun working on this committee, and isn't that what it is all about?

The pizza will be cooked by...us! This means using the portable oven that we thought no longer works (Francesco tells us that it does), and we'll sell Pizza al Taglio, or pizza by the slice, in concert with a number of local volunteers. No, we won't be the only ones to cook...

A few years ago pizza was served at a village festa, and the event was a disaster. People put their orders in and in some cases had to wait almost three hours to be served. We'll be sure that doesn't happen this time. Perhaps selling pizza by the slice will make it easier than by the whole pie.

What we have now learned is that it's better to be good volunteers, good workers, than try to come up with great new ideas and try to get them passed. Our ideas were so time consuming that I'm actually relieved.

There are many things to work out, but our lottery is going well, and the cheeses will be won based on the national lottery on June 20th. Do you want me to explain how the Italian lottery works?

There is a national lottery held periodically, and the winners are announced on television. A number of cities are designated (I am aware of Rome, Napoli and Milano) and five numbers are pulled under each city's name.

For Mugnano's lottery, we have sheets with ninety squares and sequential numbers on each sheet. On the top of each sheet is listed the name of the city that sheet corresponds with. Dino and I have Milano to sell. Mauro "sold" Rome and Livio "sold" Napoli.

For each sheet, there will be a first, second and third prize. That means, one two-kilo round of cheese, one one-kilo round of cheese, and one one/half kilo piece of cheese. Mauro will buy the cheeses from a place where he can get a good price, and on the 20th of June, the numbers will be called out on live television. The winning numbers of each city are chosen and we are to distribute the cheeses to the winners. Are you still awake?

I think that lotteries are held all over Italy under the same premise. So local cities and towns can raise money this way, without having to pay taxes on what they collect. That's the Italian way again, maneuvering around to avoid paying taxes.

Don't shoot the messenger. We're just putting our heads down and doing what we're told. We'll have numerous lotteries as the year goes on, and this is our first of the '06 festarolo committee of Mugnano.

I want to locate the stemma of Mugnano, and Francesco affirms that there is one, and that it is located in the Universita Agraria building. We'll ask him, or ask Antonio, to let us in to take a photo. But the slogan, Percussus Elevor, is not for the stemma. It is for the Orsini stemma. So although I'd love to use it, we cannot.

I'm hoping we can use the stemma on our publicity for any events. Dino wants t-shirts. I want plates. The committee wants calendars for the end of the year, showing an ancient photo of Mugnano and a current one. I can tell you're really excited about all this.

We stop at Duccio and Giovanna Valori's house on the way out of Bomarzo, and I ask Duccio what the story is about the 40,000 immigrants that were headlined last week in the local newspaper. The story is that Italy agreed to allow about 40,000 immigrants into the country and for those spots 450,000 people applied. Well, he tells us that most of them are already in this country illegally anyway.

The story is that in order for someone to be here legally, a company owner must agree to apply for that worker, and prove that the worker not only has a job but a place to live. Duccio thinks the law is a mess, but somehow Italy will let most or all of the people stay.

Italy is one of the easiest countries to get into, he adds. And from there, it is easy to get travel anywhere in the European Union. I'm not sure I understand. Do you? But for us to obtain citizenship...that's another matter, entirely. After all, we're immigrants, too!

There is new life in Mugnano, and it is the ucellini (tiny birds) chirping in a hole in the tufa wall on the front of Gino's house. While I'm stripping the lavender this afternoon, I hear them, and see two birds fly into the hole. With the house abandoned, one bird sings from the balcony. Wonder how many days before the little ones are pushed out. I'll let you know. At this point, they're pretty noisy.

I tell Rosina about it, and she'll be on the lookout. She can hear the noise from her balcony. Earlier she told Dino that I'm afraid of all the animali. She's taking a big sister approach to me, I suspect. And that's fine with me.

While I work away at the lavender, Dino takes on the task of cleaning and re-staining all the garden benches. What happened to all those visits when we sat in the lounge chairs with our cocktails and looked out over the valley?

When he takes a break, he clips more cachi. Have you emailed us your number yet? See the May 26th entry in the archives for the whole story and contest details.

Mauro is on my mind, and I want to speak with him tomorrow. He is doing such a fine job managing the tiny festarolo committee, and I've been too exuberant. I need to settle down and just take orders. I'm so used to ideas being important and getting things done, that I need to remember that this is Italia, and the best way to assimilate in this village is to happily agree and just do the work.

I've already spoken to Mauro about the image of San Liberato on our publicity, requesting that we use the stemma instead. So perhaps I'll let it go, and quietly paint the stemma and see if it is embraced. Until Tiziano and Dino and I finish our research on the real San Liberato, it's important to let things continue in our little village as they have for decades. Piano, piano...

The Italian experience is very complicated. For us, it's not only a matter of buying a house and living here. It's assimilating into the local way of life that is important to us. And we've learned some valuable lessons today. We surely don't want to change things here. There is enough "Americanization" in the world as it is.

The day is cool and mostly sunny, but I've been in the shade for most of it, with Sofi lying in a bed of lavender clippings nearby, when not chasing after a lizard. With summer not far off, I wonder if we'll miss spring altogether.

While Dino is working, I take a look at the lettuces and move a few little plugs that have grown from seed. This is our first ever lettuce from seed, and we're looking forward to watching it grow...and eating it!

I've laid the thirty tomato plants out near the raised orto again, and ask Dino to plant them. Many remain very small, but I'm ready to let them either grow or die. This is the time of the month to plant, with a full moon not far away, so let's get it over with. And we'll plant more basilico soon, too. And, oh. I'm behind on the "Planting by the phases of the moon" for May, and for June. Perhaps this weekend it will find its way onto the site...

Sofi supervises planting the tomatoes...

It's windy late in the afternoon, so I have to stop the lavender clipping. Time for a cocktail... Tomorrow is another day.

June 11
Cachi running total: 1,957. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

Oh how difficult it is to get up this morning. We're both really tired. Dino is so tired that he's not going to participate in the procession tonight in Bomarzo. That is really something, for in the three years since he has become a member of the Confraternita, he has not missed a single occasion to help out.

His back is bothering him, and the walking up and down from one church to the Duomo is not something he's ready to do tonight. I'm pleased that he decided himself to not do this. But I am sorry that he is in pain. With the Formula 1 race today, I'm hoping he'll take it easy and watch TV instead of work outside all day.

Lore and Alberto are in church, and invite us back to their latest property to take a look. We only have a few minutes, for Livio and Mauro want us to do a giro to all the houses in the village to sell lottery tickets with them. First, we take a look at Lore and Alberto's property, and Stefano and Luca have done their usual exceptional work, including redoing the outside of the old building.

An enormous amount of scaffolding is being used, and so I am beginning to understand their insistence that Stefano work there every day. Renting that much scaffolding must be very expensive. In addition, they have to pay rent on the public areas where the scaffolding sits.

We have no idea when the job will finish, but Lore thinks soon. So I give up hoping that Stefano will do anything for us before the festa. Life goes on. It will be done...one day.

Our giro is funny, with Livio loving cajoling the neighbors to ante up lottery money. He has taken our lottery sheet, and will also keep it tonight in Bomarzo, dropping it off on the way home, hopefully mostly filled out. We stop to collect from a few people, but the giro is very casual, and by the time we reach Giustino's house we realize that this walk is not very serious.

We've seen the raffle prizes at Livio's, except for the color TV, which Mauro will pick up on Friday. So we tell them we're going home, and confirm that this week's job for us on the Festarolo committee is for Dino signing up sponsors. Then the tickets will be printed for the August lottery, and we'll begin all over again to sell tickets.

Both before and after pranzo I work on the lavender, and stop to eat as well as watch a little of the Formula 1 race that Dino is addicted to. But Sofi and I spend the rest of the day outside in the shade. Sofi continues her search for lucertole (lizards) just outside Dino's workshop, and I sit and work at a little table nearby in the shade.

At just before 6PM, Karina arrives for a visit, and I stop work for the night. I'm hoping to plant more tomatoes, and Dino agrees to work with me to plant at least nine. So the largest ones are planted. In the next days, we'll plant the little ones, too, anywhere between ten and twenty of them, depending on whether Dino thinks we can plant any in the upper orto. I have no idea if the smallest ones will really grow, but perhaps we'll have them to eat in the fall if they do.

It's great to have Karina for a visit, and I make a pot of pasta e fagioli for cena. That's a cece (or garbanzo) bean soup with small pasta. It's always a big hit, and tonight Karina raves about it, her eyes open wide like a kewpie doll at the first mouthful.

Tomorrow she'll make lavender wands, while I continue to strip lavender. It will be fun to have her work side by side with me, and it is always fun to gab with her. She has such an interesting view of the world, and the subjects she likes to talk about are always fascinating. Tonight she wants to talk about immigration in Italy, and about the people she meets while giving her tours.

I can't keep my eyes open past 9PM, so Sofi and I turn in while Dino and Karina continue to chat away in the kitchen.

June 12
Cachi running total: 1,957. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

We're all up early, and I invent a kind of sweet roll using the pasta frolia that is used to make pizza. Using raisins and fresh peaches and brown sugar, I roll it up and cut it in slices, then drop the stuffed dough into muffin tins. After baking, they actually taste great. And now we can move outside to the lavender factory behind the house, where we work until we eat pranzo at 1PM.

Karina joins us for pranzo and a continuation of the conversation we've enjoyed this morning. We love her visits. She knows so much about the house. After all, she helped to manage the property when we first purchased it, and did so until we decided to move here permanently four years ago.

But the talk is not just about the house. I admit that I miss the "girl talk". Dino and I are alone here most of the time, and although I am blissfully happy here, do miss the somewhat idle chatter with others on occasion. And then there are the serious discussions.

I miss those, too. It will be some time before I'm able to have a real discussion in Italian with any of the women here. But I look forward to that. There is so much to look forward to!

Dino takes Karina to the train station, and she'll strip the bunch of lavender we've given her in a bag while she waits for the next train back to Rome. I can just see the lavender trimmings all over the floor in the waiting room...

Karina really is adept at making those lovely lavender wands, and will probably make five or six or more with the lavender she has with her. I'll see if I can find some time to make a few wands before the rest of our lavender is too dry. But that will have to wait until after Sunday and Corpus Domini.

While I'm working on the lavender, Carol calls from the Mediterranean Garden Society, and has a BBC crew wanting to shoot a story about native plants in this area. Do we have any special locations where wonderful plants thrive in the wild? We tell her we'll call her tonight with an answer. What fun this will be!

We pick up Tiziano and drive to an adventure we've been talking about for over a year. Our research on the patron saints of our village is about to begin...

"We are just a few meters from the truth," Tiziano tells us as we stand outside the biblioteca (library) in Bagnoregio. Without knowing what to expect, we meet the two young women who work part time in the library, and they invite us in.

The smell is what I expected. You know, the musty smell of old paper, ancient books. There is no lighting available in the library, just the windows facing the front of the building. So as the afternoon sun fades, our quest gains added momentum. While we still have light, there are many folders to take down from the tall shelves and many handwritten pages to turn.


Almost three hours later, Tiziano is sad. We are unable to find the manuscript that he is sure is here, all about ancient Mugnano. There is only one copy of this manuscript, and he has his heart set on finding it. We take a few notes, a few photographs, but find little of real interest, although we do find a book by the same writer he is searching for.

The young women suggest that we speak with the old local priest, who they think knows about the manuscript. Earlier we found him entering the old church next door, and he remembered speaking with Tiziano on the phone. But he did appear rather dotty.

We are not encouraged, but Tiziano agrees to ask him anyway. He'll return one morning by himself and take another look around. We love Tiziano's positive attitude.

While we are inside turning the pages, we open a large piece of ancient linen, folded in four sections. When we open it, we find a notice of an excommunication in Mugnano of two men who stole grain from the property of the priest. The notice even has a seal affixed to the bottom left hand edge. It is approximately three hundred years old.

Otherwise, we move through hundreds of documents written in just as many different scripts. The calligraphy of many of the documents has me wondering about the level of the residents' education at the time in this poor village, and about the ability of the residents to write in a proper way. But some of the calligraphy is extraordinary, with writing lined up so precisely that I cannot imagine how someone could write in such a perfect way.

When we leave, we realize that we must find a way to get into the Vatican library. This will not be easy, so we'll try our various connections. Without more historical information, we're not able to ascertain much about the patron saints, other than to know that both San Vincenzo and San Liberato are mentioned in many documents, some as early as the 1700's.

There was an ancient monastery near the graveyard in Mugnano, as long ago as the tenth century, and there is a mention of it, and an indication that it was run by Capucin monks. We had thought the monks were Benedictine. Its just more information to add to our meager beginnings.

We return home by way of Monte Casoli, because we want to scope it out before taking Carol there on Thursday morning as a preliminary to the BBC crew. It's past the famous Bomarzo Monster Park, down a strada Bianca about fifteen minutes by car.

The road is reminiscent of back roads on Mount Tamalpais above San Francisco in California, and the plain that Monte Casoli sits on reminds us somewhat of Mount Tam. It's really lovely, and at 7PM, a perfect time for a walk.

With numerous varieties of wild orchids grown on the land, there will be much to see. But without tall boots to navigate the tall grasses, we're not interested in seeing much detail. That will come on Thursday.

At home, I call Carol to fill her in, and invite her for pranzo afterward. It should be a fun morning. We see Annika and Torb walking toward home, and invite them up for a drink. Tomorrow they'll try to pick up a washing machine at a place we recommend. It's difficult to own a house without one, especially in the summer time with guests coming and going.

With more lavender to strip, I'm hopeful tomorrow will be the last day of it. This morning with Karina, I was able to strip more in several hours than I have in an entire day. While she sat nearby to make lavender wands, I worked away, while we chatted about the world and about ourselves, mostly waxing philosophically.

She's a philosophical kind of woman, and no matter the subject, has an interesting and observant slant on it. I love her curiosity, and she is curious about everything.

Did I tell you she fell in love with a certain pitcher in the kitchen, and when I told her she could take it, had no idea it would be gone when she left and in its place see €10 floating on the shelf? It makes me happy that she likes it so much.

June 13
Cachi running total: 2,360. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

June is such an exhausting month...but fun! The sound of the woodchoppers boring through our window tells me I might as well get up. It's not yet 7AM, but there is plenty of work to do.

Around noon, we receive a call from Angie that she's near Fabro, and has the lavender oil we asked her to pick up for us in Rome. We have plenty of food, so invite her for pranzo, and she's happy to spend a few hours here before driving to Amelia to sit for Tia and Bruce.

After stripping lavender like a house afire this morning, I've made a chicken salad with curry and coriander and grapes and the first celery from the garden. We eat al fresco on the terrace and it's a warm and lovely day. Sofi cries and cries when Angie opens the gate, but after her initial cooing, settles down and goes back to chasing her lizards.

Speaking of lizards, Angie confirms that the bright green large lizards are everywhere this year. They are beautiful, almost iridescent in color in a luminous bright green. That's all we know about them, but are sure they are harmless.

A woman she knows who rescues dogs, will have a fundraiser near Chiusi at the end of the month, somewhat like a white elephant sale, and I give a number of my early hand painted ceramic plates that I want to get rid of.

I don't like looking at them, and if they can fetch 50 cents apiece, that's fine with me. I don't have a sentimental attachment to them. But there are a few that we keep, even with some flaws. These are the ones with some sort of sentimental value.

I'm looking forward to painting again, and hope to finish the tiles with acanthus leaves tomorrow in class. But I hope Angie's friend can make a little money with the donated plates, and admire her greatly for her love of the dogs and hard work on their behalf.

I return to work on the lavender after Angie leaves, and stop for the night at around 7:30. I have not finished stripping and hanging the latest batch, but it was cut recently enough that it will be all right for another day if I keep it in the shade with plenty of air circulation.

There are still several plants to cut...well, perhaps more than several. But I'm not ready to cut them yet. I don't want to get too far behind.

With Corpus Domini on Sunday and the special procession, we'll give the people of the village little bunches of lavender. I love doing that. Once the lavender is dry, I will make tiny bunches with ribbon and place them in a large basket to distribute after the mass.

But the work will stop temporarily, for Dino calls to confirm that the tablecloths are ready, and tomorrow we'll drive to Castiglione Del Lago to see if they really are.

Earlier, the sindaco called to tell Dino that he has found a nature expert for the Monte Casoli interview on Thursday, so we are all set. She'll be able to identify the native flowers and plants, and that's very important to Carol.

I'll stay behind in the morning to work on the lavender, and Dino will take Carol to the Comune to meet the woman and then on to Monte Casoli to show Carol what we have found. If she likes it, she'll bring the BBC crew in the afternoon to scope it out for a July shoot. July shoot? It's too hot and dry in July to see anything of value in a wild garden. We're skeptical, but no matter.

Dino picks up six tomato plants from the Gasperonis, as if we don't have enough tomatoes already, and plants them right in the upper orto. These are winter tomatoes, and will be ready to eat in August.

I think they're the vine grown tomatoes that are hung in cantinas all over Italy. Without a real cantina, where will we hang our winter tomatoes? We'll worry about that...tomorrow.

I tell Dino that I'm ready to plant still more tomatoes, so he'll stake the front row of the lower orto and we'll have room for twelve there. I have thirty seedlings not yet planted. Hmmm. I have not looked at the upper orto, but there probably is very little room left there.

Perhaps we'll just plant the twelve, for that will give us 34 heirlooms and 2 gigantis and six winter tomato plants. I'll try to give the eighteen that remain away.

Already, the four squash in the raised orto bed are flowering, and pushing little round squash out from behind the flowers. There are lots of flowers. Lots. I think we've planted too many squash...four. Speaking of prolific, the passion vine has flowered. The first two flowers are really remarkable.

The new Pierre de Ronsard roses are flowering, and there are three healthy bushes that were planted in between the iceberg roses on the wall above the path. These are huge pale pink roses, and very healthy.

I am convinced that Peter Beales roses are excellent and very reliable. After the nightmare ordering from the Netherlands the year before last, I wondered if ordering roses on the internet could work. But these are proof that it can.

I'm not sure if I am crazy about the rose, but once it has settled in, think I'll like them growing side by side with the iceberg roses.

I'm so tired that I turn in early. We'll have a long day tomorrow. But while I sit at the computer to update the journal, I receive an email from the woman who won the raised cake plate that I painted for the Mediterranean Garden Society lunch a month or so ago.

She's experimenting with making pots and has a potter's wheel, so has invites us for a visit. She and her husband live near Tivoli, East of Rome.

I'm intrigued, and if she'll allow Sofi to join us, think we'll go. I really do want to start making and painting ovenproof pie plates. Elena will give me lessons next month, but this may be another source. I am excited, but don't know if Dino shares my enthusiasm.

June 14
Cachi running total: 2,402. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

It's flag day in the U S. The Italian flag has been flown for the last few days all over Italy, but it is in honor of Italy's entry into the World Cup (Soccer) in Germany. We don't fly a flag, although we have a flagpole. On our festa weekend in May, we fly a large bandiera with the red and blue Mugnano colors from the flagpole. But nothing hangs today from our flag pole.

I remember in the U S that we always had a flag. Dino made sure that there was a light shining on it and wherever we lived, a flagpole was about the first thing we set up when settling in to a new place. Are we proud to be Americans? Sure. Are we proud to be residents of Italia? Si certo! We won't fly an American flag here, and somehow flying the Italian flag does not seem right, either. Not many people fly flags in Italy. I'll let you know when I figure out why.

We leave early, very early, for Castiglione del Lago, where Mauro is supposed to have our tablecloths at his stand. Last night he confirmed that he had them, and to find him near the Ospedale (hospital). We arrive at this lovely town located above Lake Trasimeno and there are stands all around the town. Which way to the Ospedale? Well, there are many streets nearby.

Dino walks ahead while Sofi noses around and he finds a stand where there are about a dozen of the tablecloths we want. We ask the man where Mauro is, and he is in Sardinia. We confirm that we spoke with Mauro last night. How strange. So we buy the tablecloths and leave, not thinking anything is strange.

And then we find Mauro, at a stand right near the ospedale. What? We show him the tablecloths and tell him that the man at the other booth told us he was in Sardinia.

"What else would you expect?" he replied. "He is from Naples!"

I am miffed. Although Mauro was responsible for us coming several times to pick up these tablecloths, he did order them for us. He takes it all in stride. But when we walk back to our car a few minutes later, I let Dino and Sofi walk ahead, and walk over to the man who sold us the tablecloths.

"Vergogna! Vergogna a lei!" (Shame! Shame on you!) I tell him, shaking my finger at him. He tells me that he has a cousin named Mauro, and doesn't really care. But I make my voice heard, so people around can see what a crud he is. And then I walk off smugly, as if to say, "So THERE!"

We stop in Orvieto on the way home, for Franco has called, and a friend is closing her linen store. Of course we have to see it. Everything is on sale for 40% off. On the way, we run into Penny and Bob Weiss, who join us. They surely are having a great trip.

We leave the little shop empty handed after wishing Penny and Bob a good trip and return home after stopping at a fresh pasta shop in Orvieto Scalo for ravioli. Fresh pasta shops are everywhere in Italia, and these ravioli are delicious, served with a fresh sauce of our heirloom tomatoes...These are one of the last couple of jars from...2004!

We drive to class, and I am on a marathon to get the 13 tiles completed to be set just below the garden sink to finish the project. I don't finish, but then Elena is not ready to fire them anyway. It will take a few days before she's ready to fire again.

On the way home, Dino calls Stefano, our muratore, and finds out that he probably won't be able to do any work at all before my festa. So I'm resigned to having the loggia unfinished, and the garden sink half finished as well, with finished tiles lying around as though we're a warehouse. It's not the end of the world.

Livio and Mauro stop by after 10PM, and we're watching a 2004 movie with Charlize Theron and Penelope Cruz. Dino goes out to talk to them, and they want us to pick ginestra with them tomorrow for Corpus Domini. I don't go out, but later tell Dino that it's too early to pick ginestra for Corpus Domini. It needs to be picked on Saturday morning and kept in the refrigerator to be fresh.

So what will we do for our Corpus Domini flowers in the street in front of our property? I wish that lavender did not look so drab on these street designs. We'll come up with something, and I'll have all the bunches of lavender for the people of the village ready on Sunday morning before the procession.

Yes, I'm running out of time. The next three days will be very busy. But we're having fun, and who needs a lot of sleep, anyway?

June 15
Cachi running total: 2,402. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

We're up very early. I have a quite a bit of lavender to strip, and Carol is coming for pranzo and for an introduction to Monte Casoli, so there is a lot to do.

By the time she arrives at 9:30, I'm proceeding rapidly on this last batch of lavender. I stop for a short visit, and then Dino and Carol are off for the Comune and a visit to the stark and beautiful Monte Casoli. She may return there this afternoon with BBC producers of a show about eighty gardens in the world.

They want a "garden" location that is selvatico (wild) to shoot that is also located in a volcanic area. In addition, they want it located in the same zone as Villa Lante in Bagnaia. This location should give them what they want, although a garden photo shoot in mid July seems strange. Whatever...

I finish the lavender and prepare the pranzo, so that we can eat early. Carol must leave for a meeting with the producers at Ruspoli Castle in Vignanello at 2PM. As if it is clockwork, she and Dino return just at noon and she is "out the door" at 1:15, with a four course pranzo and a few glasses of wine to fortify her here in between. We have no idea if the Monte Casoli location will work. Carol will call us in a few days to check in. We hope we have helped.

We are both weary, and sleep some of the afternoon away. It is hot, hot today. Perhaps the summer has begun....

Later in the afternoon, Dino drives to the questura in Viterbo to pick up his permesso di soggourno. He does not remember that I must be there to sign my name to pick up mine, so he returns with his. This next week, perhaps we'll pick up mine.

While he's away, I paint at the table on the terrace, and although it is hot, there is a breeze and it is heavenly. I finish the thirteen border tiles, plus one for good luck, but Elena's closed when I'm through, so we store them in the loggia. Tomorrow they'll go to Elena to be fired, hopefully in a few days.

Earlier this afternoon, Stefano drove up and as he walked up the path, we could see he was in real pain. Last Sunday, he injured his back at the beach. So he'll have an MRI on the 26th, and until then will either not work at all or just do easy work. So I don't know if he'll arrive to install the loggia tiles.

Although this would be an easy job for him, he is in pain. So I don't hold out much hope, wanting him to be well for his own sake. He is such a dear man, and this can't be good for his business.

Tonight we drive to Orvieto, and meet Candida and Franco on the Corso. There is a passion play about to take place, and some of it is boffo (funny).

I do not know what to expect, but the performance is so beyond any expectations. It's billed as "Bible, Liturgy, Show, Art" and yes, it is all of those.


The performers are all dressed in linen: white and some light tan and white stripes. All wear black high-top leather shoes. The "angels" wear tall wings cut from raffia mats. This is an exceptionally finely crafted performance, one lasting for nearly 3 hours in and around six locations in Orvieto.

Performers lead the audience from place to place like a kind of pied piper parade. It is marvelous...Just marvelous. We've never seen anything like it.

June 16
Cachi running total: 2,402. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

I spend several hours stripping lavender, and Dino tells me he thinks we are in the home stretch. If I can only get ahead of myself, I'd like to try making wands. We have the ribbon and the lavender. I just need to get to it before it dries... With all the work for Corpus Domini ahead of us, don't think I can risk it before Sunday afternoon. And by then, the remainder of the lavender may be too dry. We'll see.

We've both noticed that Italians love the word "capito" which means, I understand. Italians also ask the people they are speaking with if they understand, and they do this often. I suppose it is similar to the English slang, "Do you get it?" It's hot today and humid. Dino continues his excellent work sanding and re-staining all the wooden benches and tables, while Sofi lies near me at the back of the house, curving like a croissant on spent lavender cuttings. Did I mention that the lavender doesn't have much smell this year? Perhaps it is all the rain, and not much sun.

Dino drives to Montecchio to figure out property tax information for a client, and also stops at the Comune. No matter how many times we figure it out, we still confirm that our property tax is sinful it is so little. No wonder Italy is in such bad financial shape.

We still have not planted the rest of the tomatoes. Each day there is so much going on that we just don't get to it. I think it will be Sunday night before we do. Dino fears we won't have good tomatoes anyway. They are much smaller than ever.

June 17
Cachi running total: 2,442. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

It's a beautiful morning, and I can feel the warmth of the day even before stepping outside. Filtered sun streams through a dirty sky, but I'm confident it will not rain. It's a perfect morning to clip the rest of the lavender, and I'm clipping the newest plant in a pot, as well as the oldest lavenders languishing under the giant olive tree.

And then they're all clipped, with a flat basket of them on the table in my "workroom" at the shady spot at the back of the house. I'll strip these tomorrow, after they've laid flat for a day, away from any sunlight.

It appears that we will have a second flower of most of the roses, and perhaps we will be blessed on our lavender festa day, the 24th. Speriamo is a good word to use here. We do hope so.

Our uncooked tiles are ready for Elena to bake, and we take them to her. There is an outside chance that she'll cook them today and they'll be ready on Sunday. If she does not, they won't be ready until next weekend. I am so relaxed about it, since Stefano is not doing well, that I am resigned to not having either sink project finished for the festa.

I've thought about picking up more hydrangeas, known here as hortensia, and remember that we purchased the few we have from a wonderful tiny vivai on the outskirts of Vetralla. We return and buy two large blue hortensias with a purplish cast and lacy centers, as well as some special food. The owner gives us a few pointers, and we're happy to take any advice he's willing to give.

"Leave them in pots" he tells us. "Next year, replant them in larger pots, and clip them "here", close to the ground, in the wintertime. Keep them away from any frost. In the growing season, feed them a little bit of dry food each week. " We can remember all that.

We also purchase two lantana and two little pink flower plants, all for the greenhouse. I want the space to look festive next weekend. Today I begin to clean up the greenhouse, including taking out a number of ceramic pieces that aren't my best work.

Angie's friend wants all of them for her sale. We're happy to help, and I'm happy to be rid of them. It seems amazing that I have been painting for just over a year. Now I think I am getting into a kind of rhythm with my designs.

I admit I am distracted by the idea of forming plates and bowls from argilla, or clay. Not that I want a potter's wheel. I'd just like to try to see what I can come up with. And I do want to make ovenproof baking dishes.

It's hot today, and before I work on the lavender I feed plants and flowers and deadhead roses, even the nasty Mermaids with their very sharp and woody thorns. I like the teucrium plants less and less, for they grow in such a haphazard way, as though they're flinging their arms out every which way. We have three, and two of them are quite large. So I clip the two large ones back to oval globes. (Can a globe be oval? I don't think so, but you can figure out what I mean.)

By the time I'm ready to work on the lavender, Dino tells me I've been out in the sun too long and asks me to go inside and cool off. So we do. But I'm anxious to get the lavender project finished, so spend a few hours working before pranzo, a tasty ahi tuna on the grill.

Earlier, we clipped flowers from the squash plants, and there are so many of them that we clip back quite a bit. It was a mistake to plant them where we did. Next time, we'll plant them up above. I don't think it is a good idea to move any of them now.

So I clean and stuff the squash blossoms with buffala mozzarella and time them like little sacks with strands of wild mint. I put them in the oven after drizzling them with olive oil, and they come out in a mess, but taste great just the same.


After I've finished stripping almost all of the lavender, I switch to making tiny bouquets with lavender ribbon for the people of the village. It's now after 7PM, and I'd like to make more than one hundred of them.

The bell at the gate rings, and it is Emanuela Appetiti and her husband and mother and Marina. I stop working for a few minutes, because Emanuela and her husband are here from Washington, D C, visiting her mother. But as soon as they leave, Dino performs his nightly watering ritual and I return to the lavender.

I stop at around 9PM with 80 bouquets finished, and we go over what we will do tomorrow for the Corpus Domini display at our parcheggio gate. I want to participate in the procession, so we agree to put the display outside the gate, hoping that Francesco will be there to guard everything.

Tonight I fix a pizza, and it is the best pizza I've ever made. We make it on a pizza stone, although I'd love to have a pizza and bread oven one day. I'm sure that will happen sooner or later. But for now, the pizza is so very tasty right from the oven. It is so easy to fix, that we might make this a Saturday night ritual.

Speaking of rituals, we have not taken a walk up to the borgo, or a walk anywhere at night for almost a year. I miss that, and hope that we return to a little walk at least a few times a week. Slow down, slow down, I tell myself. But there is so much to do. There are so many creative things to explore. And we are like children wanting to learn more and more and more.

Earlier Lore and Alberto left the borgo just as Dino walked up to meet with Livio and Mauro about his festarolo activities signing up sponsors. As they left, Alberto embraced Dino as he whispered, "Forza Italia!"

They are returning to Rome to watch the soccer match between Italia and the U S. We try to turn the match on, but it is on Pay TV. So we'll hear about it tomorrow. We are routing for....well, who do you think we are routing for?

June 18
Cachi running total: 2,442. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

Italy and the US tied in soccer last night at the World Cup. The game was a big deal here, but not much of a splash in the U S, we are told. When we speak with Terence, he tells us that he watched the game. But then, he played soccer as a young boy, so has knowledge of the sport.

I admit I don't share the Italian fascination with the sport, and Dino's all about watching Formula 1 races. Vroom, vrooooom... I can just hear the German national anthem as Michael Schumacher wins another race...But not so fast.

This year, he's placing, but not winning. So there is more excitement, even for me. I admit I watch part of almost every race. But I don't think I've ever watched a whole race. Sixty or seventy laps around a track don't hold my interest.

I'm feeling the stress of hours of working on the lavender, especially on my back and neck. But we're in the home stretch. I work on tying forty tiny bunches of lavender with ribbon...last night's eighty sit waiting to be placed in a big square basket.

Centoventi. One hundred and twenty are ready when I'm through at around 8:30 AM. Dino readies the parcheggio, sweeping up, moving the huge empty wine casks as backdrops and arranging a white table with white linen cloths on top.

Yesterday's hydrangeas are placed in pots framing the tufa pillars outside the gate, and the altar is set up inside. So when Dino leads the procession, he can click on his automatic opener and "voila!"

It rained for about fifteen minutes just after 7AM, but not enough to do any damage. The morning is still cool, so it is good weather for the procession. In past years, we've suffered through very hot weather... but not today.

The streets are covered with flowers, and although we were not able to participate, see that the volunteers, led by Giuliola and Livio, did a great job. We're even a few minutes early, so as the Confraternita congregates (there are twelve today), we sit on a bench outside the church.

I sit with Candida until the procession, for she will sit in the piazza while the rest of us walk about. Our altar is the second of the day, the first is located outside the unused Duomo. Its restoration should start this year. When we leave our parcheggio to resume the procession, Livio gives me a "thumbs up". Dino did a great job putting it together. What do you think?



The children of the town throw flower petals along the streets, and it's hard not to think they are all adorable.

We see Erica holding the Accion Catolica flag, her mother is not here, and she is tall and statuesque. We have seen her grown from a little girl to a young lady in the years we have owned our house. It's so interesting to see the changes in the village, the changes in the people, over time.

Don Luca apologizes later, but forgets to tell the people in church about the lavender. After the mass, I take the basket from below the altar and walk toward the door, as people come to take their lavender. People seem to like it, and I offer more than one to whoever really likes it.


We return home with about thirty left, so will need more for next Saturday, but that's not a big deal. I like doing this each year if we have a good harvest. It's a low-key way of sharing our lavender with our neighbors.

Later, Dino tells me that in the sacristy, Livio told Don Mauro, who officiated today with Don Luca assisting, that the lavender bouquets are a tradition in Mugnano. How kind of him.

There is a small group today. "Poci", Mauro concludes after the mass and procession. We sell more lottery tickets, and have already raised quite a bit of sponsorship money. Mauro is a very good lead of the group, conservative and not authoritarian.

We agree to not hire the Attigliano musical group, but perhaps will use them in May if we have lots of money to spend. It's too early in the year to be anything but frugal.

I look forward to being home, and go up to bed with an ice pack for a few hours after a simple pranzo. Later in the day, I fashion five or so lavender wands. The work is relaxing, but the lavender is drying, so I'll move back to stripping what's left and putting it in baskets.

All afternoon while I slept and Sofi snoozed nearby, Dino worked outside on the terrace. Today, he paints the iron railings a charcoal grey. If he has time before Saturday, he'll also paint the chairs. He certainly has Leo's ichiness to keep busy, and likes these little projects.

Looking back on the mass and procession, it's interesting how people take it in as something they look forward to, as markers in the year. Now it's something we feel we have done all our lives. Haven't we?

I will say that it's difficult not to be teary eyed when reciting the prayers in unison with our neighbors as we step in tune with the cadence of their voices. I can see Dino at the head of the procession with his elaborate lantern, and it makes me proud to be from this little village.

June 19
Cachi running total: 2,442. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

Sofi gets a haircut today. It's been so hot that she's like a little waddling oven. Although she hates the process and cries during most of it, she loves her short cut and how good she looks. She knows she is "carina" (pretty), so we all look forward to being back at home after the long drive to a location just above Rome and back in the morning. We definitely need to find a place nearer home.

Elena told Dino yesterday morning, when he stopped by on his way to do some grocery shopping, that the tiles will be cooked and ready on Wednesday. We have no idea if we'll see Stefano or not, but I'm thinking to only ask him to do the tile work in the loggia. That's pretty funny. The chance that he'll actually come to work this week is pretty slim...

We're on the A-l, taking a new route to Sofi's groomer, when Stefano calls and wants to work this morning. We tell him we'll be home this afternoon, and he arrives after pranzo to install the blue and white tiles over the sink in the loggia.

But first, we have a wonderful drive to Tragliata, where Sofi's breeder lives, and sit for an hour while Sofi has a bath and haircut. The dogs are so very cute, and there are so many of them, that I scoot from group to group, patting and playing with as many as I can.

Marielisa is a well-recognized breeder with many, many trophies, and her dogs have wonderful dispositions. Irina is the groomer, who treats Sofi like a long lost daughter. When she rushes back to us, she looks about five pounds lighter.

Dino wants to return by way of Lake Bracciano, and Anguillara, so we take that detour and smell a rose or two. There is a mercato going on, and in seaside towns there are many summer mercatos, selling everything from sandals to bathing suits to cookware and on and on. After a walk around, we return home in time for Stefano.

Although he is in back pain, he's ready to work, and he and Dino and I install the tiles. He adds grout, and will come back in a day or two to finish with what is called intonaco around the edges. I'm really pleased. Tomorrow Dino will install the faucets and well have a photo to show you of the finished sink. I think Stefano may even return before Saturday to finish installing the tiles in the garden sink. They will be ready on Wednesday.

I did not expect to see him, so consider this afternoon a real gift. We're slowly working our way down to the end of the week, and slowly, slowly the place is coming into shape. Even the roses are starting to bloom. But I notice the Paul Ledes, my favorites, are blooming too soon." Slow down!" I croon to them.


But for the rose arch, I give it an extra spurt of water, other than the regular drip from the irrigation system, hoping that the rose food will dissolve more quickly and convince it to bloom. Already the leaves are red, telling me blooms will follow shortly...But how soon?

I'm a little groggy from this weekend's headache, but feeling better. By tomorrow I'll have my strength back, and will strip the remaining lavender and put it in baskets in the house. Today, I play with making lavender wands, for I just can't keep still.

Dino takes a walk to the borgo to find Livio. We have not bought lottery tickets yet, and the winners will be chosen tomorrow. But when he reaches the piazza, Livio is nowhere around. Instead, he sees Franca sitting by herself on one of the benches. Last week she took a terrible fall, and has her arm in a cast.

He sits with her for a few minutes, and when he returns to tell me, I feel so badly that I want to take lavender and lavender wands to her. I will tomorrow morning. I don't know her well, but like her so very much. She is one of the truly kind and sweet women in the village, who don't speak too much, but are full of wisdom.

So about Stefano and the installation of the tiles...

I love the tiles, love how they look, and Stefano lets me be his "helper". Actually, I just pass the tiles to him, one by one, making sure that each one faces the correct direction. The tile design is inspired by an ancient Spanish tile of Stein's. These are handmade tiles painted in white with a darkish blue-grey motif. You'll see them soon.

We keep Stefano from bending over, and laugh as he looks for some sort of tool. Every time, Dino has just what he needs. "Casa di McIver", I tell Stefano, and yes, this is the place.

Early in the installation I see Dino fit his drill with a monstrous bit, and the bit is one he purchased for drilling circles into the handmade tiles. We need holes in two tiles for the rubinetto, or faucet. Stefano holds each tile and Dino bores down into the cooked clay. Each one is cut perfectly, although I have painted eight extra tiles, just in case. The extras come in handy during the actual installation, as we change two tiles that are either too angular or too thick.

We stand on the terrace looking into the loggia, and after Dino installs an old piece of wood as a shelf above it, we're both very pleased. Stefano will come by later this week, we hope, to finish the surrounding intonico and fill a couple of holes in the wall.

Dino will paint over the intonico and we'll clean up and put up the new blue-grey and white striped material. This has been a long time coming. What a big deal we make out of a little project!

The evening brings a lovely breeze, and a call from Dino's best friend in the world, other than me... Patrick! After the call, when Dino and I are standing over the sink eating ripe cherries, I tell him that I'd love to see the two of them hanging out here. When the time is right, he will come. Or we will see him during our trip late in November.

Tomorrow Mario will arrive at 6AM to begin weed-wacking. I feel as if a marriage is about to take place this weekend, but it is only my lavender festa. You know, without an event, these projects could take forever.

Now we'll have the painting of the gates and railings and chairs done, the benches refinished, the lavender cut and in baskets, the roses in bloom, the boxwood clipped, the loggia tiles installed, the garden sink tiles installed, the new material sewn for the loggia, perhaps even a reworked scarecrow or two...all done so that we can enjoy the summer....

Bring it on!

June 20
Cachi running total: 2,442. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

Today is the last day of spring, and what a weird spring it has been. The weather has been rainy and cool, with only a few hot days this past week or so. What will the summer bring?

With an overcast sky, Mario arrives at 6AM to cut all the grass and weeds. Dino is outside early, and starts to burn the weeds growing through the gravel with a kind of torch he learned about from Bob Smith back in California.

I look forward to a pedicure this morning, and a philosophical discussion with dear Giusy. Who knows were the rest of the day goes...

June 21
Cachi running total: 2,442. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

It s hot, hot this morning, and we've had trouble sleeping. So it's easier to get up and see what's going on in the garden than lie there and try to get more rest. Sofi's already staring at me, just waiting.

I take the time to pick over the spent white petunia blossoms cascading over the balcony, for I've been putting this off for weeks. It's just as easy to pluck off twenty as it is to pluck off one or two. I finish half of the balcony, and perhaps will finish the rest tomorrow.

Before breakfast, we're outside, and I'm clipping the roses from the front path, with Sofi by my side. It's already hot. When we are back on the terrace, I'm aware that the tomato plants are all gone. Either they're planted or they're morto. Dino does not like the fibre cups that the seeds have grown in. I like them, like peeling them back like a cornetto.

I work with Dino to put the cover on the lettuce and arugula plants. The cover is a marvelous invention, with zippers front and side to peel back like an eisenglass curtain, "in case there's a change in the weather...". Here, it's to protect the growing greens from the hot, hot weather. And today it reaches 42 degrees...which is well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Sofi tries to be peppy, her tail wags back and forth, but the temperature is a little much for her, too. She lolls around, looking like a hotdog stretched out and waiting for its roll.

I make a curtain with the rest of the new striped material, and then a big tuna salad for pranzo. Dino drives off to pick up cleaning and the cooked tiles and yes, they are fine. More than fine, they look great. Until he drops one and an edge breaks off. It is as if a dam burst. My fury is wild, and for the next minute or two I'm relieved that the neighbors do not understand English. And then I apologise, and Dino apologizes, and we decide that the broken tile will work at the edge of the sink, hidden by the back wall. Life is too short to be angry for long.

We stop at Stein's on the way to class to take a kitchen measurement, and I notice two lavender plants in flower. If we have time tomorrow we'll clip them and I'll make a couple of wands for Helga.

At class, I finish a torta d'airea, an elaborate one, and Monia shows me a trick to repair smalto on the edge of a round tall plate. I ask her if she'll repair it, and she does. Before the end of the session, she'll smalto a large bowl, and next Wednesday I'll work on it.

Sadly, next Wednesday will be our last class of the year. I fear it will be her last class, and have no idea what to expect in the fall. We'll drive to Mondo Ceramica in Deruta to ask them for help. If Monia is not available, I don't have a reason to return. Marco is just not knowledgeable enough.

We take the torta d'airea to Elena, and she's just loaded her oven. She is so busy these days that her ovens run nonstop. That is great news for her. I ask her when she will have a class for me to attend. I want to learn how to work with argilla (clay), especially to make baking dishes. She thinks some time in July, but she is very busy.

So it dawns on me, and I offer to be an intern for her for no pay. She thinks the idea is interesting, but does not understand having me work for no pay. So we leave her with something to think about. I'd like to work a morning or two a week doing painting, and learning new aspects of the craft.

She can also teach me how to use argilla. So we can both win. We'll see what happens in the next few weeks. She certainly knows about my proficiency, after cooking all of my ceramics for the past several months.

We're home just in time to change for cena with the Gasperoni's and Annika and Torg and her mother and one of their adult daughters. The evening is a delight.

We've been worried about Tiziano's health since he was bitten last week, and he fills us in on his visits to doctors and hospitals in Viterbo and Terni. With his bug bite swelling, he's worried. The hospital in Viterbo has given him strong medicine, stronger than the medicine given to him at the hospital in Terni, and he seems all right, with no side affects. On Monday, he'll have the results of the tests.

In the meantime, he opens a gift from us, a battery operated mosquito zapper in the form of a tennis racket. We all laugh, and he is able to zing a few bugs with it while we're there.

Tiziano and I sit side by side, and while he's not swinging at a bug in the air, he and I verbally swing at each other, laughing all the while. He tells me that a certain family in the village will spread a rumor about me that I am mentally deranged if they decide they don't like me. What?

It is as if we are in Renaissance times, with families hating each other and old wounds still sore. But we continue to like everyone, as that is our nature. And we'll see what we can do about spreading honey around, if you know what I mean.

Annika and her husband, Torb, and her mother and one of their daughters are with us, and Rosita cooks like a house afire, standing at the bright red metal pizza oven to the side of their pink house. Potato, tomato, zucchini, mushroom, eggplant...the pizzas keep coming and we like every one.

We're home before midnight and spend a fitful night; the hot and humid weather hangs heavy on us like a wet sheet.

June 22
Cachi running total: 2,555. See May 26th, 2006 for contest details. .

With steamy weather continuing, we're up at 6AM to work on the lavender, sculpting the plants into rounds, as Sarah taught us. We use an electric clipper, sorry Sarah, for it's just too much work to clip each plant by hand. We're mindful not to clip back past the fresh green shoots. New growth comes from the green shoots, and we have at least five more years of this crop of lavender before we'll need to replace them.


Although we were told that lavender only lasts seven years or so, those plants that seemed especially healthy were moved to other spots, amid the roses or under the big olive tree. And several of those original plants from about eight years ago or more still look good and produce lots of lavender.

A few of the plants have dead spots, especially underneath, so we clip those back. Dead is dead. Overall, the garden looks great.

My favorite Paul Lede roses are hanging on, and we'll have some roses for Saturday. Not a lot, but a few. We drive down to Stein's for some consulting, and I clip back their two lavender plants for them and will make a few lavender wands. Next year, Stein hopes to retire here, so he'll be able to enjoy the bounty of his land all year.

Back at home, I'm cleaning up the serra, and picking weeds with a vengeance. Dino thinks the tomatoes we've planted may take, and six of the corn plants that Catherine gave us are thriving. We love corn on the cob, but Italians only use corn for feeding animals, so although we've both grown up loving corn in the summer time, we don't have much here. Hopefully we will now.

Dino picks up a veal roast, and I prepare the marinade (white wine, bay leaves, cloves, sage), then will let it marinade for 24 hours. It's for veal tonnato, the dish I will prepare for the lavender lunch. On Saturday morning, Dino will take the cooked and cooled roast back to the butcher to have it cut in thin slices. I'll prepare the tonnato sauce for it, and it will be a good dish to have, no matter what anyone else brings.

Dino works on the loggia, and it is really taking shape. No sign of Stefano, so we'll probably have an unfinished garden sink. But I'm not concerned.

With no garden mentor at hand, I search the internet to find out how to clip the tomatoes. I remember watching Felice last year take out side growth, and see that I should concentrate on the main stem, taking off some of the side shoots, but no shoot larger than 6 inches.

I recall seeing the tiny shoots coming out of a "y", and pinch those out. We need rame sulfato (copper sulfate) and that is not considered a chemical, but will protect the tomatoes. So I ask Dino if he'll spray tomorrow, and he's not happy. But he'll comply, for he doesn't want me to spray. The day ends with me making a quadruple recipe of watermelon granita. It will sit for a day in the refrigerator, with the tastes melding, then will go in the freezer tomorrow.

We all take a little walk to drop off garbage. You know, this little activity is actually a treat. There's always someone sitting around at the bus stop late at night. It's usually too hot for people to sleep.

The temperature is cooling down, and we see some blue sky. So although the forecast is for a 90 degree high on Saturday, I am hopeful that that's an exaggeration...If it remains really hot, the granita will taste really, really good.

June 23
Cachi running total: 2,574. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

We have no idea how the day passed, other than it was spent mostly in the garden and the loggia. It is as if the Queen is coming for a visit...

The loggia is finished until next year, when we extend and heighten the roof, speriamo, and install a bread and pizza oven. It looks really good, and Dino thinks it is "divertente" or fanciful. We'll show you a picture or two tomorrow.

Big baskets are stocked with freshly (?) dried lavender, and Tia's idea is excellent. The "spaghetti" stands straight, and letting them dry some before stripping them eased the process and makes them fit the baskets better. After seven years, I'm still learning.

Hedges are clipped, but before I told Dino not to clip the tall oval box behind the single row of lavender, he does some clipping. It's too late in the year to clip, for the edges of the tiny leaves burn. I'm sure everything will be all right, just the same. But oh, the heat is oppressive.

Lulu gets a makeover and here she is in the big olive tree, her sneakers off, strung over one limb of the tree.


I cook the veal roast after it has marinated in wine and herbs for 24 hours and then let it cool before placing it back in the refrigerator. Tomorrow morning early, Dino will take it back to the macelleria to be sliced thin for vitello tonnato.

Because it is so hot, I make a large pan of watermelon granita, and we're sure it will welcome tomorrow afternoon. We are expecting heat in the 90's, possibly even 100...

My very favorite rose, the Paule Lede, is in flower, and tomorrow it will cascade down the steps and right side of the black iron rose arch in the lavender garden as though it's a ballerina taking a bow. I have been speaking to it for weeks, and it heard me.

With Stefano definitely not here, the garden sink will not be finished, but as a work in progress it still looks great. The tiles for it are wrapped in raffia in the serra, just in case a guest fancies them and thinks, "She won't miss just one." Unfortunately, we'll need all 13 for the rim just below the sink.

I've cleaned the serra, and when I do, notice one yellow squash the size of a bowling ball sitting on the tufa just outside. We will have tons of squash this summer and fall. I mean tons. Whatever possessed me to want four squash plants?

Today, the squash and the celery plants are drooping, so Dino places an umbrella in front of the celery. It is that hot. The lettuce and arugula are all doing fine. It's time to plant more lettuces from seed. The arugula is almost tall enough to start to use.

We set up all the tables and tomorrow we'll arrange the cloths. We have enough seating to handle almost 50 people, although we have no idea how many will come. It is so hot I think that people will be crazy to want to come here anyway. We'll see...

June 24
Cachi running total: 2,606. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

The tables are set, flowers are picked and arranged, the loggia is prepped, the tonnato sauce is made, drinks are set up and ice cubes ready. Sofi knows something is going on, and about a quarter to one, Duccio and Giovanna arrive with a little brown pot full of wonderful tiny meatballs. The pot is ours to keep. How thoughtful! And Ducco follows right behind with a book.

Before we know it, guests begin to arrive, and there are many women. Incredibly, they bring platter after platter of wonderful salads, homemade desserts, delicious bread. The men leave for pranzo in Castiglione in Teverina, there are almost ten of them. The women keep coming.

From the village, there are Rosita, Rosina, Marsiglia, Vincenza, Giuseppa, Elena and Miriam. An hour later, Felice wanders by, but he is always welcome, and we place a chair right next to Marsiglia. He looks up at me and tells me I am like his second mother. What?

I ask him, "Don't you mean like your second daughter?" and he answers, "No. I think of you like a second mother. It is a term of respect. "

And it's too hot to cry, but I almost do, right there.

The antipasti and primi are set out, as well as the vitello tonnato, so the women take their first servings. Carol arrives with a huge dish of lasagna that needs to be heated (!) for thirty minutes, so be it. Italians expect pasta anyway, so we'll keep them happy. I tell them while they're eating the first courses that next will come lasagna and then dessert.

It's a funny thing, but on this day, the women love to eat, and eat, and eat. There are so many tasty things to try, that it's fun to try some different things. Perhaps some day I'll attempt a cookbook of these treasures... or perhaps not.

What I do know, is that this will be the last year that the festa will be held at pranzo. The weather is just too hot. So next year, it will be a cena, and I'm thinking out loud that it will probably include men, even if the women want to sit at different tables.

Mai Elin from Norway and Annika and her daughter from Sweden, who are new part time residents of Mugnano are here, sitting right in the midst of women from Mugnano. Annika holds court, for her Italian is excellent, and it is a wonderful thing for the existing women of Mugnano to be introduced to their new neighbors in this way.

Giusy arrives with a friend, and I'm so happy she is here. I enjoy moving from table to table, spending just a little time with each guest. Since she does not know anyone, I spend a little more time with her. Next year, I will surely have some help, so that I can spend more time with the guests and less time making sure every thing is just right.

The men return later in the afternoon, telling us they had a wonderful time. The conversations continue, the beer and wine flows, and it's time for granita. Even though we've been sitting under umbrellas the whole time, the weather has not been kind.

The total count is somewhere around forty or forty-five, so we have plenty of room, plenty of places to sit. Our €5 tablecloths look great. A week or so ago, we purchased eighteen basilico plants to plant between the tomatoes, but they remain in pots for now, so I put them in baskets and used them as centerpieces today. Everything worked out.

After the last guest leaves, we realize we can rest for the remainder of the summer, just picking up and doing a little here and there. The major work in the garden and the loggia is finished.



Oh...the canning of the tomatoes... We still have to buy a processor, so that's on the near horizon. But we agree to keep the loggia looking good, so on those days we'll be doing processing, the wonderful blue and white striped cloths will be taken down. And then there are the figs in September to put up.

We look forward to all of it. I look forward to making and painting ceramics, Sofi looks forward to following me around and chasing lizards, and Dino looks forward to puttering and watering here and there and to entertaining.

Life is good.

June 25
Cachi running total: 2,606. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

After mass today, we have a giro to collect for the Festarolo committee. I wear a white linen dress fashioned like a cassock, and we walk up to church as the villagers begin to come out of their houses like popups in an advent calendar.

Have we ever lived anywhere else? It seems unlikely. There is hardly a person we do not know in the village, if only by sight, and we greet everyone we see with at least a smile and a wave.

Once in the piazza, there are hugs for: Candida, Giuseppa, Elena, Laura, Giuliola, Marsiglia and Felice. Everyone waits outside until the priest, Don Cirio, arrives. Once inside, Marieadelaide is not here, so Don Cirio begins each hymn for us.

He is the kindest priest, and tells us at the beginning of the homily with a smile that he's sure every Italian would rather be at the beach. Italians are obsessed with the beach...

After mass, we check in with Tiziano, and yes he is worried about his leg. He lifts the cup of his pant leg for a few of us, and the swollen leg just above his knee looks sinister. Tomorrow evening he will have the results. We'll stop to see him tonight. But now, it's time to begin to collect for the Festarolo Committee...

We begin at the Orsini palazzo, and the inside courtyard has a fresh coat of intonico on its walls. The stairs are hundreds of years old and look it, so we walk carefully upstairs, making sure we don't slip. The stones have been polished by thousands of feet over hundreds of years, indented so that the place where our feet rest are like carved bowls. Once inside, we see that much of the restoration has been completed. What a remarkable building! The sisters are doing a fine job. Perhaps there will be a festa here when it is finished.

House by house, we're invited inside for caffé, but have to keep moving. It's SO HOT! Once we reach the steps outside Carla's we see the door is open and she invites us in. She is busy in the darkened kitchen making...gnocchi!

I see a huge bag of flour on the square wooden table, and long snakes of pasta rolled and ready to be snipped. Further back on the table in the center of the room are dozens of fingertips of gnocchi smothered in flour.

I thought that gnocchi is made with potatoes, and that the individual pieces are made with the tines of a fork. This must be "Mugnano style". Perhaps one day I'll ask her if she'll give me a lesson.

Everyone is friendly, and almost every person we meet gives us at least €5. We collect every month, and there is a short list of people who give once a year, but some of these people who do not have very much money are still generous when it comes to the Festarolo committee. I love greeting and getting to know every last person.

For the houses outside the borgo and Via Mameli, Dino takes the car out and turns on the air conditioner. We drive first to Michelle and Claudio's, then down to Annika and Torb's, finding them not at home. Then on to Paolo and Paola's, who have a wonderful property past the Gasperoni's on the right.

This is an old farm property, and Paolo appears to be quite an inventor. He makes a spectacular grappa with lemon (how about that, Lindsey), not too strong, and will give us bottles to sell for the Festarolo Committee. If anyone wants bottles at €5 apiece, let us know.

It is so very hot that we drive everyone home and then return to a very teary Sofia. For the rest of the afternoon we stay inside by the fan, eating cold vitello tonnato, wonderful salads and desserts. Even Sofi eats vitello today, and she loves it.

After a quiet afternoon, we do a giro for a few stranieri outside the borgo for Festarolo business and also just to say hi. Sofi guards the house as we leave after the Montreal Formula 1 race finishes just before 9PM.

We have a short visit with Annika and Torb and their daughter, Anna, during which Annika tells us her "a certo punto" story. Someone gave her directions the other day, and during the giving of directions inserted the phrase, which I have told her means "at a certain point."

It really means, "I have no idea where to go from here, so you'll have to ask someone else when you get there." And they told her when she came to a fork in the road with three roads, "a certo punto," "Take the middle one." There was no middle road...

After eating ripe plums from their tree, we leave to find the Gasperonis not at home. So we visit with Mai-elin, confirming that both families will come for cena on Tuesday evening. Earlier, Dino spoke with Don Francis, who arrived in Italy for vacation a day earlier, and we hope to see him here this week, too. If we can, we'll put together a cena with Don Luca. What's this about Dino liking entertaining? No problem. We'll keep it simple.

June 26
Cachi running total: 2,738. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

I feel so lazy sleeping in, but why not? It's hot, and we expect the weather to continue for the next two months at least. So we might as well enjoy it.

We do a very little gardening, but the daughter of our Swedish friends comes by before noon. We offer to take her to see Maurizio in the next town. He's a Renaissance type, a sculptor and he and his wife Umi work out of their house.

After scouting Vallerana for a travertine quarry and meeting with the people there, Anna wants to learn more. So we take her to meet Maurizio, and before we're through, Maurizio has given her an earful. There is alabaster near Volterra for the taking, and outside Carrera so much marble is literally thrown into the sea that one can obtain free smaller pieces of the stone, as long as they have a way to take it away.

The yard in Vallerana offers to Anna that she can work there as a sculptor, and take the smaller pieces of travertino that are not needed. It sounds like an interesting possibility, for she can live in Mugnano and drive there to work. Wonder what her husband back in California will think of all this...

With nothing critical on the horizon, we settle into a tranquil summer, composed of early and late gardening and the middle of the day snoozing or lazing around. I'm realizing that it will be fun to paint in the loggia, for the serra is too hot to work in during the summer.

Wednesday is my last class of the summer, puor troppo, so we'll be buying smalto powder from Deruta and mixing it here, and I'll be painting and taking the pieces to Elena in Bomarzo to fire.

Late in the afternoon, we drive to Orvieto, which is just as convenient for us as driving to Viterbo. On the way, we're shocked to see the sunflowers rising taller than the cars on the A-1. Was it just days ago that all we saw were green shoots rising out of the earth?

With a blazing sun engulfing us this past week, sunflowers all over the region have chosen this day to begin to stretch themselves like penguins, all at the same angle, toward the sun.

I suppose it's time for the blasted cicadas. Oh yes. The trick is to like them, to like their clicking sounds. "Music to my ears?"...Not at all. But if I can trick my subconscious into liking the sound, I won't be distracted by it all summer. I do love the sound of the birds, and I think even the birds take flight when they think they are being drowned out.

At first, eight or so years ago, I chased into the bushes and trees with a bamboo pole after these green or brown grasshopper-like creatures. They'd stop for a few seconds, only to alight on another branch of another bush and shriek away at me. It's as if I'm in the South, lying under a tree sipping a mint julip. So might as well enjoy the diversion.

We meet with Mauro and Valerio and Laura at their house late tonight, for a meeting of the Festarolo group, and move forward with our plans for Ferragosto. Valerio gives us a lesson in Italian lottery. It's possible to win up to €12,000,000 if one chooses all five of the winning numbers for a particular city for the present lottery. Probably, it is the poorest people who buy all the tickets...people who can't really afford them.

We'll start selling our lottery tickets for the Festarolo committee on July 20th, 30 days before the lottery winners will be chosen. There are 1,999 tickets to sell, so if you are reading this, get your money ready.

We walk home under a humid sky, hearing the lonesome clicks of a train far away, and the sound of the circling fan in the kitchen as we enter the house. It's almost midnight, and time to tuck in for the night.

June 27
Cachi running total: 2,842. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

There are new recipes to add to the site, because before the end of the day we've tried them on our guests to great success. Tonight we have a cena for Annika and Torg from Sweden, who own the white house below us, and for Mai-Elin and her husband and son Christopher, from Norway. They live near Mauro and Laura, facing Via Mameli.

We have wanted to introduce them at an event, and so now they have had a chance to get to know one another a little. Although they are not always here at the same time, the couples seem quite simpatico. Actually, I find it quite fascinating that their languages are similar, and they can understand each other.

Tonight, we start with slices of pecorino cheese with bunches of green grapes and little dishes of fig conserve from last summer. Then, a torta of zucchini and olive and Parmesan under a pastry crust, followed by a cold salad of small ribbon pasta, swordfish, spring onions and red grapefruit sections. Finally, there is an upside down torte of peaches and mixed berries with pear sorbet. Not too bad. And all are served either cold or at room temperature, which works well on this hot evening.

Before the guests leave, we take a walk out into the lavender garden, and I am sorry to say we have not spent one evening out there since we have owned the property. But it is lovely and tranquil there. Dino tells me he'll put a light under the cherry tree, so perhaps we'll want to sit out there on a bench on warm evenings.

It's still very hot when we walk inside to go to bed. With the days slowing down, we are grateful that most of our heavy garden projects for the summer have already been accomplished.

June 28
Cachi running total: 2,842. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

Dino has picked nearly 2,900 cachi to date, and there are thousands more left on the tree. The number is higher than even we imagined. Soon he'll begin his ladder climb to snip those left on the tree, with me steadying below.

Last night he opened an umbrella near the table, so that our guests would not get "boinked!" At this time of year, the little fruits are like bocce balls, they are so heavy.

Ah, bocce. I think Dino misses not playing, but not enough that he'd drive out to find a court and people to play with. Those evenings in San Rafael playing on a team were some of our fondest memories just before we moved to Italy.

At the time, it seemed as though we'd be gearing up to play bocce here. But life takes strange turns, and we're so occupied with daily life here that we don't think much about it.

As if on cue, we receive an email from Carol Podesta, Dino's bocce team captain back in California, telling us she's worried about us. We haven't posted for a couple of weeks. So what could have happened to us? Whatever made me write about bocce just before her email seemed to fly in as though through an open window?

Today in class, I work on a huge bowl, with grotesques framing a woman dressed in a long costume and holding what appears to be a bunch of palm leaves. Since this is our last session of the year, we bring the bowl home. I'll finish it in the next few days. I love the design, and think it may provide a framework for a whole group of plates with corresponding designs.

The design is taken from a plate on display at the ceramics museum in Pesaro. I love the plate, and took a photo during our visit that we use for the basic pattern. We'll show you as soon as it's painted and baked.

The news from Tiziano is that he's almost all cured, with a visit to the hospital again in Terni at the end of the week to see if they can figure out what bit him. The battery operated tennis racket/bug zapper was surely a perfect gift for him. At least it made him laugh, which is something he is not doing much of these days.

The temperature rises about 100 degrees, and little Sofi does not do well in the car, even though Dino stays with her and keeps the air conditioning on while I'm in class. Her nose is cold when we drive home, and at home she goes up to bed early, so we're reminded again not to take her out during the hot weather...except tomorrow, when we'll take her for her annual injection in Viterbo.

June 29
Cachi running total: 2,986. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

The heat continues, and the garden bravely stands up to the heat. There is a breeze today, so it does not feel like the 100 plus degrees on the car thermometer. We're off to Viterbo to take Sofi for her annual injection.

This vet's waiting room is much cleaner than Dr. Cristalli's, but when we arrive around 10AM, there are about six sets of people and dogs ahead of us. Three German Shepherds, one Basset Hound, one puppy just hours old that has been abandoned, lying on a towel on a woman's lap, one terrier mix breed, and Sofi!

Our little dog shakes as though she's sitting on a moving train, her tail between her legs. But the vet is kind to her, and when we finish gives us the name of a place in Viterbo called Scooby-Doo who are experts at stripping Basottos. We have been looking for a place closer than Marielisa's to take Sofi every few months to have her coat stripped.

We find a cool place to park the car while Sofi waits for us. We walk around the corner to the Questura and Dino looks through a side window at the capo to get his attention. He motions Dino to the front, and a woman acknowledges me and then finds my permesso right away.

I sign it and we leave, as the rest of the room full of people from all corners of the world, mostly the third world, stare at us, wondering whatever we did to get such special treatment.

Once back at home, we spend a quiet afternoon until Peter and Annie and Karina come for a short visit. It's cooling off, so after Dino waters the side yards, we sit for the first time in years on the bench in the lavender garden and listen to the sounds of the birds. It is lovely sitting in the garden as the evening wears on, and we'll place a light below the cherry tree soon, so that we'll be able to sit out there after dark.

June 30 Cachi running total: 3,098. See May 26th in the " Journal Archives " for contest details.

After today, we're going to stop publicizing the daily number of cachi cut. Hopefully they will all be down and counted in July. See the May 26th journal entry in the archives for details.

With the Garden Calendar finally updated, we're ready to post for the month. This has been such a busy two weeks that we've not posted, and are starting to receive emails from people who actually read the journal who want to know if we're all right. Sure, we're doing fine.

We speak with Terence early in the morning and wish them happy anniversary. Nine years ago, on the 29th, they were married in Southern California, and what a wonderful time we all had then! They're driving to Milicia and Nick's house for a few days.

For us, we'll be having a 4th of July cena with a few friends here, including Mai Elin's family from Norway, Tiziano's family from the valley below us and Candida and Franco from Orvieto, formerly from San Francisco.

We've warned Tiziano to tell his father that there will be no pasta served, but an all-American menu of hotdogs, hamburgers, veggi-burgers, cole slaw, potato salad, potato chips, beer and soft drinks ending with slices of cold watermelon and homemade cherry pie! Dino wants to play a c d of marching music, but I think that is a bit much. This might seem a pedestrian menu to you, but to us it is a once a year feast!

Do we miss these American holidays? Do they make us nostalgic? Yes, but not enough to want to live in the U S. We do miss Terence and Angie and the girls, cousin Cherie and Pete and Eli and our friends quite a bit, but we've chosen this life, and it has been an excellent choice. We'll visit the U S in November, and until then look forward to this little gathering to remind us of our former lives so far away.

Dino meets with Mai Elin and her family at their garden early this morning, for consultation and project management work, and I finish updating the journal, although I'm itching to get downstairs to work on the large ceramic bowl I started in class on Wednesday.

I'm hoping to take it to Elena before the day is out. She usually fires on weekends, and if there's some sort of miracle and our timing is right, might have it out of the oven to use on Tuesday night.

Check the site for new photos, for we've added quite a few. And don't forget the garden calendar, which is a general garden guide as well as another journal of what we work on during each month of the year. Hope it's helpful. And if you have any recommendations regarding the calendar, do let us know.

Oh. It's Friday. We want to bake two chocolate cakes for the children's walk from Bomarzo to Mugnano with Don Luca. He takes such good care of our village. Even though there are fewer than a dozen students and little children from Mugnano, he includes our village in every special event.

This walk is an annual trek from Bomarzo, a long walk on a hot day. Everyone receives special t-shirts and the women of Mugnano prepare pizza and sweets and drinks. As the temperature rises, I prepare the cakes and while doing that come up with an idea for a cold pranzo that Dino will like.

We all walk up to the borgo around 11AM, and sit with Marsiglia and Felice on their favorite bench in the shade, while a few of the women prepare the food for the children on a long table in front of the Orsini palazzo. Before long the whole lot of them arrive, and Dino takes photos of them all arriving with their leader and pied piper, Don Luca. Dino stands at the little park above Via Mameli looking over the railing.

Ninety children are here today. Don Luca tells us there were 120, but the rest are on vacation. They're well behaved, and he organizes a game with a soccer ball that they all love.


While standing around, I mention to Laura and Rosina about my idea for a pasta making competition for the people in the village. Laura thinks the idea is great, so we might try it during the bimbolandia festas on the 5th and 6th of August.

It would be a competition to see who could finish making a particular type of pasta first. I got the idea from an old Italian movie we watched yesterday afternoon, while hiding from the heat.

Back at home, I use the rest of yesterday's cold roast chicken to make lettuce wraps with a peanut sauce, mint, and our first cucumber from the garden. Served with a cold melon, it's a great hot weather pranzo.

But it takes almost an hour to prepare. By the time we sit down for pranzo, I'm ready for a dolce fa niente (nap), so while Dino drives to Viterbo later to do errands, Sofi and I rest upstairs in front of a fan.

Earlier, I took an hour to paint the bowl in the loggia, and really like working there. But before allowing myself to return to paint, I must update the garden calendar for the web site. We're behind by two months.

Interestingly enough, when doing the research, I learn new ideas to use in our own garden. For instance, did you know that when growing cucumbers, you must cut off all the male flowers or the inside of the cucumbers will be hard and sour? I hope the calendar contains helpful ideas for you, too!

There's one more task: picking the most recent photos to use to update the journal and the rest of the site for this month. It's actually fun to do, and a chance to revisit some of the fun places we've been and see photos of things we've grown in the garden.

Dino wants to watch the soccer match tonight between Italy and Argentina. So it's a good time for me to paint...with lights in the loggia, I can paint away, while he watches men boink each other and holler. What a funny sport.

But I relent, and watch some of the second period of the game instead of painting. The Italians win the game over the Ukraine, 3 to 0. There is some fancy stepping and great goal tending on the part of the Italians, but the Ukranians play brave ball. So it's on to play Germany in the next round.

With that, Sofi and I go to bed. Tomorrow, Stefano may arrive at 8AM to finish the tiles on the garden sink. I am looking forward to that project finishing, and to getting back to painting ceramics in the loggia. The big bowl is so much fun to paint.

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