The morning begins with Stefano arriving to work on the garden sink. Weeks ago, I removed a number of newly painted tiles surrounding the sink, leaving holes at the base of the structure looking like gaping wounds.
In the mounting heat of this summer day, he's not very happy. It is a difficult job to repair and reaffix new tiles. First, he will chip away at the intonico. Then he must chip away at the stucco beneath the intonico. But when he does, some damage to the stucco occurs.
Dino remains behind the house, working on another project. I think it's better to leave Stefano alone right now. So I walk to the loggia where the large bowl sits on a wooden stand to continue painting. I love this bowl.
The design is based on a plate displayed at the ceramics museum in Pesaro, a museum I highly endorse visiting. Pesaro is a delightful coastal town on the Adriatic, located a few hours from us. The plate is several hundred years old at least, and the design is a grotesque featuring two voluptuous women. You'll see it soon.
Dino calls to me after a few minutes, for somehow Stefano miraculously fixed most of the underlying problems. He is ready to affix most of the newly painted tiles, except for a few to be located right under the central section of the sink. The stucco there must dry for a few days before adding any weight to it.
The remainder of the job proceeds quickly, and the result is very good, so everyone is happy. Stefano may return on Monday afternoon to: finish affixing the tiles, adding a wash of white stucco to permeate all the spaces between the tiles, cutting and laying a marble shelf above the upper part of the sink, as well as laying 0ld rectangular tiles on top of the wall.
The final tile design is just as I imagined it might be. Because filtered sunlight dapples the area around the sink, the rose vine design is seen as a delicate, rather than predominant, feature. A single row of tiles just below the sink itself is of a particular design of mine similar to acanthus leaves, setting the roses apart from the sink itself. It's not a perfect design, but a good one, and I'm ready to move on...
The top third of each of the tiles in this row are a sponged blue "sky" with a green vine design. The lower two thirds of the tiles remain plain white. The upper design works against the marble and the rest of the area of the tiles sits against the white painted flower tiles below. Perhaps a photo of it will appear on Monday or Tuesday's journal when the work is finished.
In the meantime, I'm painting the bowl in the loggia, and actually finish the design before pranzo. Later this afternoon, I'll re-smalto a few of the edges and in the morning paint a rim around the top.
Dino loves the design, but the more I think of it, the more I want to work on the yellow painted part, adding more of a dusty peach color to the top to give the piece a more ancient look. It may not be finished tomorrow after all.
I can't stay away from it, so just after pranzo I return to finish the basic design and add my signature. In the morning, when the repaired smalto is set, I can delicately smooth off the extra smalto and finish the rim.
This afternoon we pick up Duccio and Giovanna in Bomarzo to attend a museum exhibition in Orte. We arrive to find that it is really a tour from the biblioteca. First, we are led down the steps to the right of the Duomo to the edge of an ancient bath. We have seen this before, but on this day welcome the decidedly cool temperature.
Next, we are led to the "house of Judah", which is really the front side of Elizabeth's house. We have been inside, and remember a strange holiday dinner with the woman who lived there, who is now estranged from Elizabeth. Perhaps the building has strange karma. We would not be surprised.
From there, we walk to the ancient garden across from Tiziana's school. Once inside, we come upon an ancient turtle, and Giovanna rushes to find a hose to give it a bowl of water.
We are led down some stairs to a tufa cave, and although it is cooler down here than on the street level, I'm not anxious to continue the descent. I remain on this level with an elderly man who speaks English, while his wife and Dino and the rest of the group follow the group leader.
The man's name is Nazir, and tells me stories about his life and his property that sits between Orte Scalo and Gallese. He'd like us to come for a visit, and we may one day. I suspect he is somewhere around eighty years young, and among his stories tells us that his father was Prime Minister of Iraq four times. Those are heady statements to make, so one day we will discover if the stories are true, or if the oppressive heat of this summer's day is just getting to us.
Dino and the man's wife Ellen, and the remainder of the group return, and Dino thinks they were led to a kind of baths, or a pleasure palace of some kind. Carved into tufa rock, these sixteenth century rooms certainly have a history to tell. We'll ask Duccio and also Franco and perhaps even Alberto Roverselli what they know about this underground cave. There is some reference to a ninpheo. I believe it's some kind of bath house from the time of the early Renaissance, perhaps it was even a pleasure palace.
From the outside, we can see the holes where Dino told me the "windows" were, when driving down by the Padre Pio statue near Giusy's salon. There are so many remarkable places to see in Italy, many right in our own neighborhood!
Tonight, we're invited to Candida and Franco's for cena. They've also invited Penny and Bob Weiss, who are stopping by on their way back to the U S and Mill Valley. What a wonderful trip they have had!
We pick up Sofi and on the way stop at the girasole (sunflower) field at the edge of Mugnano, we think belonging to Vittori , the father of the Italian astronaut.
Here is a photo of Mugnano from the field.
These giant flowers are so tall that they lean back against the wall as if dinner guests leaning back to take a slow drag of a cigarette.
Cena is held outside with a view of the enormous tufa wall at the back of their garden, and the temperature remains hot. We have a chance to spend a little time with Penny and Bob on their last night in Orvieto before returning to the U S, and tell them we'll see them in November.
The bowl needs another touchup of smalto before church, so I hope to finish it in time to take it to Elena.
We walk up to mass and see many of our good friends. A few wait outside until the priest arrives, for it is hot inside. But what's this? Don Mauro has been inside all the time, so the few women who were outside rush in after the opening stanza of the first hymn.
After mass, we walk up to the Università office, where they are taking orders for firewood. We are signed up, and take a photo of the stemma of Mugnano, while discussing the huge map on the wall with Gianfranco and Enzo. The stemma is incredibly elaborate. I don't know if I'm happy or not with the actual design. It's quite beautiful, but will be difficult to render.
My thoughts are of hotdog relish, for we are having an American Fourth of July cena on Tuesday and don't know if we'll be able to find any. I'll find a recipe on the internet and make it from scratch if I can.
Earlier, Rosita confirmed that they'll come for cena on Tuesday, but is dismayed that we don't want her to bring a dessert. We tell her everything will be American, and ask her if she is afraid. Enzo has been warned that there will be no pasta.
The heat continues. At 8AM, when Sofi and I step out on our little balcony to water the white petunias that cascade over the sides, we can feel the sun already blazing.
While Dino drives to Montecchio on an errand for a client this morning, Sofi sits near me in the loggia. I paint a tray with a bird grotesque, a copy of the one given to Don Salter a few weeks ago, and set it aside to take to Elena's when she returns.
Last night, I painted a tray with roses and also a small plate. Even in the heat of summer, there is a breeze in the loggia and the room is safely out of the sunlight. So while Dino works on projects or snoozes by the fan inside, I can paint away.
We have many smaller plates and other items ready to paint, their flaky white smalto sitting heavy on the terra cotta surfaces. I'll finish them all in the next week or so, then move on to new things, especially the baking dishes I hope to make soon.
I'm doubtful that we will be able to find hamburger and hotdog relish for tomorrow's cena, so check out some recipes on the internet and plan to buy the ingredients if we can't find it in Viterbo. We plan our menu, and it will be fun, as well as the dˇcor. You know the colors...
Stefano will not arrive this afternoon, so after pranzo we drive to LIDL in Viterbo, the German discount supermarket, for supplies. Yes, they have hamburger and hotdog buns, but no relish. So we buy cucumbers (the long English kind) and other supplies. We look forward to the celebration...
I'll not continue to write about the heat unless there's something new to talk about. The days continue with highs over 90 degrees, with weather the same every day. Yes, it's too hot. The garden suffers, but our garden is mostly composed of evergreens and a fair amount of gravel, so this design remains excellent for the weather in this part of Italy.
At 7AM we pick up Tiziano to drive to the archeological site at Carsulae in Southern Umbria. Wendy is working for an American team there and agrees that we can come for a short visit early in the morning.
We find them in a lower field, actually on the outskirts of the town of San Gemini. Each quadrant is marked off by string and metal poles, with young people in shorts and t-shirts working industriously on excavating different parts of the same site.
Jane, the supervisor from Georgia, thinks that the site was previously a kind of bath, perhaps more of a place to take a "cure" from the source of the water in nearby San Gemini. The site probably dates back to the early Renaissance.
Tiziano's field is the archeology of the Etruscan period, from 4th century before Christ until the 4th century after Christ. So this area is "new" to him. He is interested in it in any case, and enjoys getting to know other archeologists. So when walking around the site, we think he takes in small details that are lost on us.
Here are a few photos of our visit:
He asks if it will be a problem for him to look "just a little" at the World Cup game tonight between Italy and Germany. No problem. If everyone wants to eat in the kitchen, that's fine, too. Dino drives off to pick up a few things, and returns with an Italian flag, one that he sticks in the big planter at the corner of the property facing the village.
"It's Independence Day!" I comment to him. In his way of massaging a result so that it works, he tells me, "Yes, we're independent to live anywhere we choose!"
I make potato salad and coleslaw, and Dino pronounces them both excellent. So, other than doing a little "party setup", my work is done.
Dino drives off to find sunflowers in a nearby field. I clean up leaves on the terrace, then work on the loggia. Before we know it, the guests start to arrive, and we're in party mode.
Without knowing what to expect, I tell our guests that in America people stand around and talk or mingle for a little while before cena. In Italy people sit down as soon as they arrive, and the meal begins. Tonight, we have dips and chips, some from Norway and some from Orvieto, a takeoff on the old American standby, sour cream and dried onion soup mix dip.
Candida and I think the recipe is such a riot that she makes a version of it. After all, we want to be quintessentially American on this night, even though we are flying the Italian flag in honor of the semi-finals of the World Cup, with Italy playing Germany in an hour or so.
Tiziano and I explain to our Norwegian and Italian guests the meaning of Independence Day, 1776 and all that. Then I bring out a diagram to explain how to make a hamburger, and we talk about what kind of things are usually placed upon it.
In the loggia we have dishes lined up with all sorts of things: pickles, minced onion, homemade relish, sliced tomatoes, blue cheese, hot peppers, lettuce, two kinds of mustard, ketchup...
And then we all line up and take our pick, after Dino arrives with the grilled cheeseburgers and veggie burgers and hamburger without cheese.
It's fun, after taking the process of making a cheeseburger for granted all these years. And after a cheeseburger, I have a hotdog with squeezed mustard and some of my homemade relish. The bun is dreadful but the rest is pretty good.
Back to the menu, after we finish the main part of the meal, the soccer game starts, but most everyone remains outside. For dessert, we have the cherry pie with ice cream and then slices of watermelon and then coffee. The cherry pie is so rich that the little pieces we are all served are more than enough. And the pastry crust worked out fine.
All we are missing is fireworks, but inside after the guests leave except for Candida and Franco, we watch the remainder of the soccer game. Italy scores two goals in the final minute or two of the game to win 2-0. We aren't exactly soccer enthusiasts, for it's too stressful a game to watch. But watching the World Cup is a little more interesting. And there certainly are fireworks, both on and off the field.
Fireflies! I'm opening the shutters and see them dance across the lavender garden just before going to bed around midnight. Now summer is really here. I'm really tired. In a few hours, Stefano will be here to work on the garden sink.
Thanks, Dino, for all the great work. We find ourselves in bed a few minutes later, tired and happy.
Stefano arrives, adds the four remaining tiles, and does some finish work, but there is more to do. The tiles need to set for a few hours, so he tells us he'll be back this afternoon to add white stucco and begin work on the framework of the top and sides.
While setting the last tiles, Stefano needs two pieces of wood to prop up the structure. With "McIver to the rescue," Dino surfaces from the gardener's cottage with the perfect wood for the support. Those two could have their own T V show.
We bottle the relish from last night, after giving it a short re-cook and boiling small jars. Now we have six jars of "Salsa Americana" to give to friends. I notice that two beautiful yellow pepperoni remain in the kitchen as well as a couple of zucchini, so we could make more. We'll see.
But the cherries we purchased yesterday are already almost too ripe. So I pit them instead over the sink, and will make something for tomorrow's dessert at pranzo. Don Francis and two of his friends will be here for a few hours.
While putting our special labels on the jars, Dino looks up at me from his little stool and asks me what I have planned for a menu for tomorrow. We've had pranzos and cenas so often these past few weeks that I think we're settling in to a summer of cooking and entertaining, in between sessions of putting up preserves...and don't forget the ceramica! The repainted and tiled loggia is a perfect summer kitchen as well as a lovely place to paint. Could anyone imagine a better life?
Pranzo on this day consists of a cornucopia of delicious salads, and Dino likes his all displayed in one bowl. "Donburri", he calls it, reminiscent of the Japanese meals we loved in California.
Afterward, Dino drives off to show a property to a client and I work on the Mugnano stemma. First I have to trace the design onto thin tracing paper, put tiny pin pricks where the lines have been traced, and then use a carbon bag to pound the design through the tracing paper onto the smalto.
The design is complex, and I'm not able to finish the drawing and pin pricking before stopping for the night. The archaic-sounding method of transferring the design has worked for centuries, and until there is an easier way, I work "the old fashioned way". It's tedious. But by doing this, I have a more intimate knowledge of the actual design.
I roast yellow peppers for tomorrow. Although I bag them in plastic to let them steam after roasting them under the broiler, it is difficult to wind up with pristine looking yellow pepperoni when I am done. I put them in the frigo for tomorrow, when I will make a special salad with olives, Leerdammer cheese, the peppers and a creamy dressing.
I'm not so sure I like the cherry clofouti I baked tonight for tomorrow's dessert. We were out of milk, so I used cream and water, and the mix was so watery I added more flour, which was a big mistake. Tomorrow I'll try a crunchy crust with butter and sugar to hide the floury taste. If all else fails, we have plenty of watermelon left.
We watch the calcio (soccer) game between Portugal and France. Or at least I watch half of it with Dino. Then Sofi and I go to bed. It's still hot, and Dino decides to water early tomorrow instead of tonight. I put off the gardening I wanted to do tonight again, so perhaps will garden in the morning. I'm tired. Let's go to bed instead.
Don Francis and his friend Danny arrive around noon for a visit. It's humid and hot, and we're expecting showers and possibly thunderstorms. There is a breeze that makes the sitting out on the terrace for pranzo bearable, even quite nice. So that's what we do.
Our guests want to see Orvieto, so take off for a few hours, while Stefano and Luca add a tufa colored intonico panel as a kind of cornice (picture frame) on each side of the garden sink. It ties the structure in visually to the tufa walls next to the sink, and repairs some of the old tufa wall.
Their first mix of color is not good. It is a dark purple-y color, and is from some earlier project of Stefano's from home. Then they mix a little brown, a little yellow, and come up with the perfect color.
When I call them Michelangelo and Leonardo, Luca responds with a "Giotto!" and yes, that's a better name. They consider themselves artists, and they surely are. I cannot imagine their counterparts in the United States, can you?
It begins to rain a few drops here and there and we are all hoping that the rain is not much more than that. They'll return tomorrow for a minute or two to take off the wooden supports holding back the intonico until it dries. Otherwise, they are finished. We're all pleased with the result.
Don Francis and Danny return for a cena under the stars of pasta and salad. The pasta is a grated zucchini and onion and a touch of fresh mint over penne, quite good. The clafouti is not bad, and that's what we have for dessert before turning in.
Tomorrow ENEL turns off the electricity at 8AM, so we'll be up early. Our guests drive to Ascoli Piceno and we drive to Deruta to pick up the argilla and plates for next Tuesday.
Dino is the first to arise, but we're all up before ENEL shuts off the power. Don Francis and I have time for a philosophical chat in the lavender garden before the skies turn dark and big juicy drops of rain plop, then turn into an actual rain shower.
Our friends leave, with Don Francis studying maps while sitting at the intersection of the main road out of the village. We pass them and wave, heading south to Orte and then across and north to Deruta. The skies clear and then darken, before an enormous storm pelts the asphalt, steam rises, and the air cools off at least ten degrees. Sofi remains cuddled in my lap.
We pick up the plates we need, as well as plates for Paula, and drive to Mondo Ceramica for the argilla, but they are...out! A new shipment will arrive this afternoon, so we must find a way to stall for time. We call Salvatore, who is selling real estate outside Assisi, and agree to meet him in Santa Maria delle Angeli just after l'una for pranzo.
We arrive early, park in the shade, and find a lovely new patch of grass near the fountain, where Sofi rolls around in ecstasy, her own version of "splendor in the grass". She is clearly in some kind of trance at the soft coolness of the grass against her warm coat.
Her activity looks so enticing that I'd love to join her. There is nothing like rolling around in pristine grass, freshly cut. But the location is far too public for me. Instead, I smile at her, and watch her have such a good time.
Salvatore arrives and drives us to a nearby restaurant, with prices up with the Angels on the Duomo, but we agree to eat there, anyway. Sal eats salmon carpaccio, I order tuna carpaccio, and Dino eats a crostini plate and then pasta.
We talk about his real estate business, and other entrepreneurial attempts, and wish we could help him. Tonight, he'll meet with Danny and Don Francis. It would be fun to be a fly on the wall to see his expression when he finds out we had lunch with Sal...today!
We leave Sal and drive back to Deruta, but it takes another hour for the argilla to arrive. Then we drive back through a blinding thunderstorm and hail so large we are afraid the windshield will break, with rushes of water crashing against the side rails of the autostrada. A large truck in front of us scatters the ice from the hailstones between its large tires, and it is as if winter appeared in an instant. It makes a swath of ice at least three feet wide.
Trucks and cars turn on their rear lights, moving forward in formation, with many of them pulled over to the side of the road as if an accident has just occurred. I am sure the storm has frightened many people on the road. Turning to look at Dino, I can see that he is frightened, too. He confirms he has never seen a storm like this one.
Just before arriving in Terni, we are routed north back to San Gemini and across to Narni. We stop in Amelia for a meeting with a realtor, then drive home through Lugnano on the newly repaired road.
Once home, Dino drives off again to pay for the auto insurance, but we have no power, so I light every candle in the house, open the front window to watch the rain and do what every normal person does in the rain... I play solitaire.
Before he left, Dino called ENEL and a recorded message indicated that power would be turned back on by 7PM.
Shelly calls before Dino returns with an alarm that there was an earthquake last night centered between Terni and Viterbo. That means...here! So I check on the ansa.it and also usgs websites and am unable to find nothing. The weather is so weird today, anyway.
I'm thinking and hoping that the garden meeting tomorrow will be cancelled. Although Dino checks and our tomatoes are still all right, I'd like to stay around and work on the garden. With this alarming rainfall, there is much to secure and pamper, to make sure that the garden doesn't just...rot after all the rain.
With a clear sky and cool temperature, we awaken early. Dino wants to go today, so when he calls Carol to confirm and she tells him that all is well in Tuoro, we agree to go. A few hours later, we're on the road, stopping at Orvieto to meet Franco's sister Rita and then driving to Carol and John's house, near the top of the hill overlooking Lake Trasimeno.
Dino thinks we're back in California on Mount Tamalpais, looking through the trees at the scene below. They've landscaped beautifully, and have a lovely house. But Sofi encounters Charlie, their 8 month young puppy, who wants to bark and play. It takes a while for them to settle down, for he chases her in and out of the house, while she wants none of it. By the time we leave for pranzo, they've relaxed.
Pranzo is fun at a local restaurant, again the scene reminiscent of Mount Tam. Afterward, we drive to the garden of friends where there is a mostra as well as walking paths through their unusual garden.
The garden is close to Lake Trasimeno, located also in Tuoro, and is eye-popping in its "over the top-ness". The two who own the property are garden experts, and each year replant the entire garden with annuals! There is also a perennial garden, but it is located way at the back near the space where cars are allowed to park. So I only see it from a distance. They're obviously not into perennials...
Alessandra Orsi exhibits at the mostra, as does the woman who sells fragrant geraniums. A man who sells roses features Pierre di Ronsard and Jude the Obscure, two roses we have and love. Well, we're not so sure about the Pierre di Ronsard, for it is our first year with them. But they look lovely here.
Candida tells us that there was indeed an earthquake last night, centered somewhere around Orvieto. Candida felt it, and later we hear that Tiziano felt it in Mugnano as well. We felt nothing.
Later that night, we walk up to town and see Augusta and Luciana sitting on a bench in the little park. I hear a cicada, and ask them if they like them. They do, and tell us it is a sign that summer is here. Grilli, they are called, and I don't look forward to their racket. They are so loud that I can hear them at night through the screen window, although they are probably located in a tree below on the terrace.
The skies are clear, the weather is cooler, so cool that I don't anticipate a very hot day. Dino drives to Il Pallone to shop before mass and pick up some fresh bread for pranzo. Occasionally, we have bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches for pranzo with salads, and although you think this is not a big deal, it is to us.
We have located a pancetta that is sliced very thin, so thin in fact, that when Dino cooks it on a padella in the summer kitchen, he sometimes cooks several pieces together. But when assembling the sandwich, the pancetta has a wonderful, almost smoky taste. We're reminded that we will want to go to the Book Depot in Mill Valley when we travel to America this fall, for their BLT's.
We're almost late for mass, but when we arrive there is no priest. People begin to gather inside, and Tiziano and I walk outside to the steps to gab while we wait. Everyone else waits patiently inside. The air is still. We're laughing outside and turn to see Don Cirio rushing across the piazza, his vestments hung over his arm.
"Slowly, slowly"...we tell him, and then,,, "Breathe!" He gives us a sheepish laugh and disappears into the little church. After mass, while Dino talks with a neighbor about a house Mai Elin wants to buy, I walk to Paola's to get Antonio's key for the Università Agraria building. We need another photo of the stemma, for a detail is very cloudy.
Tiziano joins us, always curious about everything, and tells us that the stemma I love is not the original stemma of Mugnano, although admits it is a fine one. The original one has two keys above it and the wording, "Sindaco di Mugnano" or mayor of Mugnano. He thinks the picture and other details are somewhere filed in this room. So we tell Paola later that we'll need Antonio's help to find it.
Back to the stemma we're taking a photo of today...
Tiziano tells us it is the stemma of the Lante family...of Villa Lante fame. Many, many years ago, the Lante family owned all of this area. So for now, we'll use this stemma, until we see another that we like better. It is quite marvelous.
I tell Paola that I want to make something special for her and also Antonio as a wedding present. They will be married in a very small ceremony in a few weeks, and by then their house will be finished. It is quite wonderful, with slate steps at the entrance, and a number of fine features. We wish them every happiness.
This will be the second wedding of the Fosci children; the first was Mario's wedding to Fulvia a few years ago. Both marriages are between people who grew up in Mugnano, so we think the bond is extra special.
I'm noticing in the garden that some of the roses are re-flowering, and that pleases me greatly. This second blush is not as robust as the first, but the Paul Lede's are so lovely that it does not matter. The Ophelia in the olive tree still has not come back, so perhaps it will take another year. I am hopeful. Here and there, roses pop out, giving extra color where I least expect it.
I love our garden, for I planned that it will be very evergreen, so that whether or not we have a lot of flowers it will still look fresh and lovely. It does. And now Dino is close to finishing the gravel around the garden sink and leveling that off. There's always something to do.
For me, I'm thinking mostly about ceramics and painting. The obsession continues, and I hope to have a number of pieces ready to take to Elena by the end of the week.
By the end of the day, I have almost finished the painting of the stemma. The temperature outside did heat up, but I spend a few hours sitting in the loggia listening to opera music while painting. It is a lovely place in which to paint, with the view of the terrace and the valley below right in front of me. Sofi spends much of the time resting at my feet.
The moon is almost full, the sky is clear, and the air is fragrant and cool once the sun lowers on the horizon. Tonight is the final game of the World Cup in Germany, between Italy and France. I watch part of it, but am frankly bored, so when the game is tied and continues into overtime, Sofi and I go to bed.
So Italy won the world cup, with Zidaine from France making a fool of himself by head-butting an opposing player, causing him to be thrown out of the game. But amazingly, he is awarded the "best player of the games award"...
On this warm morning, I finish the stemma of Mugnano while sitting in the coolness of the loggia. I am so happy with this piece, and look forward to placing it somewhere in the house after it is fired at Elena's.
Before I paint another stemma of Mugnano, I have other pieces to finish. And by that time, we'll be mixing more smalto. I am truly at peace when painting these elaborate pieces, and have so much to look forward to. Now that I have no real interest in selling anything, I can just paint for love.
I look forward to tomorrow, and a lesson on working with a potter's wheel with our own clay. I am hopeful that I can master the technique, but have no real expectations. With no knowledge of the craft, I take out a book on tile making, and it gives me some basics to consider.
Sofi will stay with Candida and Franco and his sister, Rita, for a day or so, depending on how late we get back from our trip tomorrow. We take her to their house in Orvieto, then drive on to Tenaglie to visit with Don and Mary who are here for a visit, and then drive on to Pat and Dick Ryerson's house below Montefalco for an early cena.
Don and Mary are not here yet, so we drive on to Montefalco after dropping Sofi off. While she scurried around in the garden after lizards, we left silently, wanting to make sure we did not have an emotional exit.
I miss her by the minute, and luckily am distracted by the number of sunflower fields we encounter on the drive to Casale and then to Montefalco. At Pat and Dick's, we start with prosecco and before we know it we have to leave for our reservations at The Alchemist, their favorite restaurant in the square of Montefalco.
Sitting outside with Noreen joining us, we are amazed at how few people are out on this lovely night. The food is always remarkable here, with Pat and I having a kind of sformato of fava beans (I know they're no longer officially in season, but they're tiny and the dish is divine.)
There is an involtini of eggplant, a cece bean salad, and I cannot resist having scrambled eggs with shaved truffles. The owner tells me they are prepared only with eggs, a little olive oil and then the shaved truffles. It is a dish to dream about, simple as it may seem, and taste marvelous at any time of day.
We drive home under a full moon, and are in bed just before midnight. Tomorrow will be a long day. But I look over where Sofi usually sleeps and she is not there. I do love that dog!
We're out of the house by 7AM and arrive at Paola and Alessandro's so early that we drive around for a while and look inside a local church before ringing their bell at 9AM.
This is a place with so much family history that I cannot begin to compare anything we might speak about when they come for a visit. Paola is lovely and they are both so warm and welcoming that we feel as if we have been there many times before.
While changing into my work clothes, I am introduced to Angela, a tiny woman who has worked for the family for years. "Tata", she is called, for she worked as a nanny for the children years ago, and later we are shown her little cottage. An exquisite blue hydrangea covers the front like a woman in a ball gown taking a curtsey and I can just imagine her leaning out the open window.
Paula has invited five other friends for pranzo, all of whom we like very much. Under the shade of a wonderful kiwi covered pergola, we sit at a long table and are served the most wonderful meal. The menu consists of a Napolitano pasta in the shape of a pie, typical of something served at family picnics in Italy.
It can be cooked in the morning and served at room temperature. Cooked in a pie plate, it is served in wedges. Cacciotta is the soft cheese layered inside, mixed with tiny pieces of prosciutto, the crunchy crust of the spaghetti holding it all together.
There is an eggplant dish called Melanzanie alla Picchio pacchio, meaning, "quick, quick!), a pepper dish, and later Paola's medley of homemade gelato. I ask for the recipes, which Paola generously agrees to send.
During pranzo, Rory shares an excellent observation regarding gardening in Italian clay soil. He tells us that if a plant is able to take root in the soil and get its bearings, it will do wonderfully. Clay soil contains lots of minerals. It gets me thinking...
I spend quite a bit of time wondering just what it is that makes me feel so at home in this strange country. And when Rory gives the description of the soil, a light bulb goes off in my head. I think I am like a plant that grew but never thrived in its garden until it was transplanted far away in totally different soil.
With a little sun, and our new surroundings, I seem to thrive. For all that is wrong with this country, so much is right that I feel rooted deep in the earth here. I can't imagine that anything could uproot me. But then again, I never did fit in anywhere else...
Later, after the other guests have left and we are ready to leave ourselves, Alessandro tells us that Paola's year is taken up by projects depending on the weather and the state of their garden. Summer means gelato, winter means chocolate, ceramics are plunked in between, and I wish I could remember all the other projects she lovingly takes on during the year. But the day is so full of wonder that it's difficult to concentrate on what we came here for.
Since Paola has worked with ceramics for ten years, she has put together a wonderful studio. Yes, there is a potter's wheel, but it is a hand-operated one, and I try crafting my first piece by pumping the wheel with my right foot, while attempting to mould the mound of red clay on the turntable with both hands raised almost shoulder height.
It is a difficult process, perhaps because it appears so unwieldy, but with Paola's expert hands, we are able to craft an interesting large pie plate with undulating sides. Yes, that's the way to get around not being able to form a perfect cylinder. The stand is just too high for me, and I imagine the whole thing zooming off the turntable like a boomerang before we stop and decide to work an easier way.
Paola also has a kind of machine that turns the clay out somewhat like running clothes through an old-fashioned washing machine ringer. Actually, it also looks a little like a mimeograph machine, with spokes on the side to turn it.
"It's like making pasta," Paola tells me, and yes, it surely is. She places the wad of clay on the table. Then we slowly crank the spokes all the way across the table and back. We now have a piece that is about 1/4 inch thick, so take a wooden rolling pin and thin the disc of clay out a little. What happens next is so much fun...
Paola has saved hundreds of forms from polystyrene containers to old plastic cups and plates. "Take your pick!" she offers, and I start with a regular round plastic pie plate, imagining a simple form with handles. Remember these are all to be able to use for baking in the oven when they are finished, so I imagine serving pies and all sorts of bubbling cheesy concoctions on my own painted dishes.
First, an old plastic bag is placed over the dish or the form, and the clay is plopped down on top. I then form the clay into the shape of the container, smoothing it out and adding the handles. Now and then I dip my fingers into water and smooth out the crevices of the clay, adding small pieces here and there where the form is not thick enough. On a few pieces, I add cut pieces made into the shapes of leaves or little animals.
Paola sets those aside, and asks me to choose another form. Before pranzo, I have finished three, with about half of our clay left for the afternoon. Paola leaves to organize the meal, while I get to know her good friend, L,,, who used to craft ceramics with Paola before injuring her hand. Later we see the frogs she has made for the garden. What fun they are!
We call Candida and Franco for a report on Sofi and Franco tells us that she has been an excellent student. They agree to keep her until tomorrow. So we drive home, with me missing little "Piccola" so very much.
When we arrive at our parcheggio, Candida and Rina are sitting outside on our little marble benches, with Mauro and Laura standing in the street talking with them. I tell them where we have been all day and what we have done, and they are so curious.
Sure, they'd love to take a look, and peer in through the car windows until I open the trunk and lift the newspaper from one and then another of the boards. It is fun to share with them. Now they tell me they want to see the finished products. I like their boldness, their direct responses.
Rina, the oldest woman, knows the plant that Paola put in a pot for us, telling us all that it is "molto invasivo" (sp?) but agrees it is lovely. So I hand a tiny bud to each of them and they walk away cackling like little hens, expecting to have big plants in just a few days.
We give the ceramics a thorough going-over, and there are a few cracks due to shrinkage, which I expected. So I add a few pieces of clay and smooth them over the cracks, then place wet newspaper over the top, as Paola instructed.
"They will change as they dry," Paola told me earlier. It is a good thing that I did a little reading before coming today, so thought this might happen. The splits are not too bad, and Paola made sure that I had extra pieces of her grey clay in case something like this happens. I have plenty of red clay left, for Dino only packed a portion of what we purchased the other day in Deruta for today's trip.
We change and drive to Oktoberfest in the next town for some German beer and a snack, and then it's time to go to bed. Tomorrow we'll pick up Sofi in Orvieto and work on the ceramics some more. There is much to think about...
It's hot early, and we're both watering outside and then getting ready to leave. I find a wasps' nest on the balcony, and we agree to leave it until tonight when Dino will destroy it. We drive to Sippiciano so that Dino can get a haircut, then we stop at the best panificio around, Le Torre in Civita D'Agliano, for loaves of WWF bread. Two loaves are purchased for Candida and Franco, one for Don and Mary in Tenaglie and one for us. There's too much going on these days for me to bake, but in the fall I'll bake bread again. In the meantime, we take advantage of our route to Orvieto to pick up our favorite breads.
Sofi can see me through the little dog window at Candida and Franco's front door once we reach Orvieto, and we have a real "Fare una festa" (the dog makes a party) when Franco opens the door and I rush in to make sure she does not run out on the street.
After a short visit, we leave with Sofi to drive to Don and Mary's in Tenaglie. They have only been here since yesterday, and Don greets us with cutoff jeans and a childlike wonder as he recounts all their adventures.
Mary is still trying to get over the drive and train ride from England, sitting rather dazed in the kitchen and thankful for the chance to speak with someone in English. The woman on one side of them only speaks Italian; the family on the other side is Maroccan. We agree to a girls' gab-fest next week.
We drive home and it's too late to make any of my elaborate salads for today. I remember that tomorrow we'll drive to Tia and Bruce's for pranzo, so I'll make a salad for them later tonight or tomorrow morning after roasting the peppers purchased from the weekly outdoor mercato in Sippiciano.
Don gave us a sweet wooden bread dish that reads BREAD on each side, so I decide to make two ceramic labels to sit on top of the words that Dino will screw in. They will read MANGIA on one side and BENE on the other. I like the dish a lot.
Now that I am getting comfortable with making things, I fear I'll be like Paola, painting almost everything that moves. I take a cloth to the loggia and a wooden rolling pin, roll out a piece of grey clay and cut out the shape of the two labels for the bread tray, poking a little hole at the ends of each one. They are set out to dry in the shade with the other pieces, after being covered with wet newspaper. All the pieces will take a week to ten days to dry thoroughly enough to cook. And several times each day I'll need to recheck to make sure there are no cracks...
After pranzo, I return to work on the purchased ceramics and the smalto, rubbing the extra smalto off the piece I painted some days ago with the Mugnano stemma. This piece was smaltoed so many months ago, that I do not recall if it is covered in the same smalto. Only after it is cooked will we know. So later today we'll start to check in with Elena, to see when she'll be ready to fire some new pieces.
I don't know if I want to buy powdered smalto this summer, so we'll also ask her if she/we can smalto some pieces there before they are painted here at home. We'll take one of the pieces we purchased in Deruta last week for use in the oven, to ask her if we need a different smalto, or different paint. It's a good thing I keep a journal....
While driving along the road between Orvieto and Tenaglie we pass a hill of bare turned-over clay, surrounding a lone cypress, stark and still in the quasi-wilderness. I think about Rory's comments yesterday and wonder if I am like that tree, rooted in the bare earth and still.
The summer heat drags on after a cool night. Sofi is happy back at home chasing lucertoles that have found refuge behind her little house on the terrace. She stands there wagging her tail, just looking toward the opening made by the extended roofline of the back of the tiny "house".
She cannot reach back there, for we have stacked river stones, and these are what the lucertoles love to scamper around. When Sofi takes a break and waddles into the kitchen, her long tongue is dragging as if it's a piece of pink bubble gum stretched out as far as it can reach.
The pie plate I was sure was warped beyond repair has survived! Just as Paola told me, after a bath in water and a slow dry, it is malleable and I am able to add more argilla. I like the final form even better now, and add little handles that are held up by garden stones covered in pieces of plastic and wet newspaper. As they dry, they will crack under the weight unless supported. So I'll check on all the pieces every few hours or so, and we'll see what kind of results we get. For now, the original piece formed on the wheel looks, well, almost spectacular, the undulating sides waltz-like and even, with not a single crack.
I fix my new favorite salad, with pepperoni, matchsticks of Leerdammer cheese, olives in a cream and olive oil sauce. With Dino's encouragement, I add a few drops of Tabasco and even a spritz of vinegar. It is to be served at room temperature along with Tia's gaspacho and Bruce's steaks from the grill at their house for pranzo.
Sofi loves "Zia Tia", although she's not so sure about Gioia and Charlie, their dogs. It will be fun to let her scamper about anyway, for the dogs pretty much leave each other alone after Gioia finishes doing her "alpha dog" exercise with Sofi, nestling our little dog between her long legs to tell her who's bigger. Sofi has an independent streak, and is not particularly fond of this kind of treatment. So she goes off on her own, the two dogs of the house gamboling around to find...lucertones!
Cinzia is the name of the woman at the little shop in Amelia where I purchase my makeup. I like dealing with her very much, and she carries the makeup I use, but I have never asked her name, nor has she asked me for mine until today.
We hug Italian style, and I tell her to call me Eva. The bond between people who share their names and embrace in Italy is like a sorority greeting, much like using a secret handshake. She knows I'll never shop anywhere else. Little do I know that somewhere in the next hours I'll lose the expensive lipstick we just purchased.
We arrive at "Zia Tia's" and eat under the wisteria pergola. It is lovely at that spot. So we all talk about whether we should have a kiwi pergola or a wisteria pergola, but we agree that it should be anchored to the house. Tia confirms that we really need a pergola at the front of the house. It is just too hot and uncomfortable to sit out there during warm weather.
It's Thursday, and stores are closed this afternoon except in Terni, but we drive there to find a merceria, where we can buy more ribbon to make lavender wands. Tia has more lavender than she needs, so invites us to take some. We borrow a basket and plunk most of the cuttings of two plants, and I'll make more wands tonight and tomorrow night.
I like having them in the house, but ran out of time before I was able to make more when ours were ready to harvest. Tia's garden seems to bloom a couple of weeks after ours. It is interesting to compare the different weather zones, although we're actually quite close to each other.
It's warm at home, and I change and put on an old summer skirt. When putting my hand in the pocket I find...my watch! I actually have liked not wearing a watch these past few weeks, so don't know if I'll put it back on or not...I really don't care what the time is anymore.
We're up with the birds, with an adventure ahead of us. We pick up our pal, Tiziano, to take him for his birthday outing at an agritourismo on the other side of Viterbo, closer to the coast. There is an Etruscan cave on the site, but the owner has to fix the front entrance, so we'll have to return in a week or so. He gives us a tour, because we are there, and it is an amazing place, a great place for people to stay, and a lovely location for parties and weddings. The owner's design sense is impeccable.
We agree that we'll return in a week or so to visit the site and pick up a bottle of his olive oil before driving on to Capodimonte for pranzo. Sofi is able to join us in the restaurant, which winds up not being remarkable, but the company is fun.
We return home and I return to making wands with Tia's lavender. They're drying quickly, so I don't think I will be able to make many. I start the pasta dish, make a few wands, and it is time to go to bed.
I also continue with the ceramics in the loggia, not giving up on the smaller one. The larger pie plate still may be all right, but the leaf dish still cracks. I decide to break it in two to reseal it with argilla between the two pieces, then add plenty of wet newspaper and now a mesh-like box tops with wet cloths, to slow down the drying process. It seems to work. The loggia is really too pretty for such work, but it's what we have.
Here's how the loggia is looking these days, especially the tiles over the sink:
I mix the cold spaghetti and cheese with beaten eggs, five of them to a box of cooked and cooled pasta. In a large padella, I put butter, then half of the spaghetti mixture, then layers of prosciutto and cacciotta cheese. Paola tells us that mozzarella is fine, as is just about anything else. "The more you add, the more you have!" she tells us. I then add the rest of the pasta and press it down.
Cooking it slowly on top of the stove, it turns a golden brown on the bottom. Then Dino flips it over onto a huge round platter. We slide it back into the pan, cooking the other side until it is crunchy as well. Once it cools, we can serve it at room temperature. Sounds pretty easy.
I work on the ceramic plates in the loggia, and only one is really a problem. I think the others will work out all right. So we take a photo of the offending dish and send it to Paola to inspect and critique. I'm ready to throw it out, then remember that Paola told me on the first pie plate to sit it in water and then reform it. That plate will come out fine, I think. So we'll see. We'll wait to hear from her before making any rash decisions.
Merritt and Kate arrive, and after we talk for a while, tell us that there is a house on our site that they are interested in. It's another house in Tenaglie, so we call the owner and agree to take them after pranzo. It's been four years since we've seen them, but they've kept our information, so thought to call us yesterday from Orvieto, at the end of their trip.
What is funny is that they probably speak Italian better than we do. Kate was extremely serious about learning the language four years ago, and they took a more advanced course after the one in Perugia where we met. But we're the guides today, so we'll see how we all do with the language. We seem to do fine speaking English....
We stop to pick up the key and a nephew, Riccardo, accompanies us. He is very cute. The property is even prettier than I remembered, with a tiny little garden house and garden to the side, more than a hectare of land, olive and fruit trees, a grape arbor and pergola, a pizza oven, a summer kitchen and separate apartment on the ground floor...That's even before we get to the house. The main house itself needs less work than I originally thought, and the view, especially at sunset, is remarkable.
We realize Don and Mary may be at home, so we walk down the street and introduce them. "You may have new neighbors" we tell them all, then on the way to our car, introduce Kate and Merritt to old Gaetano, the old man who sits on his front step down the street, watching everything that goes on.
"When is little chiesa San Rocco open?" I ask him, and his eyes twinkle. He puts his hand in his pocket and tells me, "Whenever you want. I have the key."
The street where the property is located is Strada del Ministero, and since Merritt is an Episcopal minister, there may be a little divine providence in this encounter. Perhaps Merritt will take on tiny San Rocco as his own parish of sorts. San Rocco is a saint always depicted with a dog at his side, and Merritt likes that. He loves his dog back in the U.S.
"How do you feel when you stand on the property and look out over the hills?" I ask Kate, and later Merritt. They separately give me "the look", the look that tells me that they are home. I remember just how they feel. So whether or not they buy the property, they have had a great experience.
Dino and Sofi and I sit in the loggia, watching the rain. We talk about how strange it is that some people are so wonderful to deal with, while others are not during this process. These two are a delight, and we look forward to getting to know them, whether or not they become quasi neighbors. We think Don and Mary would love having them as neighbors as well.
Something is amiss, and my head begins to feel hazy. It is the barometric pressure, I fear, and a headache comes on like a fast moving windstorm. I look at the weather on the internet, and see that the barometric pressure is high, at 30.1. I'll check it again daily, to see if in fact I am a human barometer. It has been weeks since I've had a migraine. Dino wants to purchase a barometer, and now I think it's a good idea.
We take a walk out to the garden sink, and Dino has prepped the earth for a large section of nursery cloth, followed by more gravel, to surround the front of the sink area. Perhaps tomorrow we'll finish it. It looks wonderful.
He then moves inside to fix the bottom drawer of the stove. So much like his father, he has trouble sitting down unless he is watching a Formula 1 race, then he can watch that for hours.
Tomorrow is another race, so he'll have a lazy afternoon. It will give me time to do some painting, and I've missed it. We don't know when Elena will return, but I have a number of pieces for her to cook.
Sure enough, a migraine arrives and I finish the evening with an ice pack, not looking forward to the drone of it all...
The migraine continues, it's throbbing like the sound of an air conditioning system...puttering, puttering.
It's a clear and lovely morning. I close the shutters to the lavender garden, and it's difficult not to smile at the lovely site of clipped lavender orbs all in rows, oval boxwood framing the west side of the lavender path, cypress trees...while the shade of the house hangs like an umbrella over much of it in the early morning sunlight.
Back at home, I spend much of the day in bed. Sal arrives to watch the Formula 1 race with Dino, but Sofi chooses to sit by me and wait...Much later in the afternoon we get up for a visit with Sal before he leaves.
Dino gets up on his ladder to pick cachi, and there are thousands, thousands still there. At this time of year they are actually dangerous, falling with hard bumps on anyone or anything below them. He's picked over 3,000, and we've given up on the contest, for it will drag on and on. Today he picks almost 400.
Tiziana arrives for a short meeting about the entertainment on August 5th for the village, and we walk her up to the borgo to take a look. She loves the way the main piazza looks and why not? It is beautiful, with spina di pesce tiles laid throughout. The evening is warm, with people walking about or sitting in groups in front of their houses, and of course everyone is friendly...and curious.
We introduce her around as we take our "giro" up to the ancient tower and back, and agree to speak again in a few days to determine the actual program. Tiziana continues to have problems with her neck, and we agree that the rise in the barometric pressure has caused pain for her as well as for me.
"Do we hide when it is high?" I ask her. No one seems to know, other than when the barometric pressure is high, it can cause many difficulties with muscles and pain in general. This is the part of getting old that is really not much fun.
The barometric pressure stays at 30.1, but I'm thinking my migraine is on it's way out like a storm that sits on top of us and then decides to move on. I'm still a little hazy when I get up. It's early, but someone wants to show us a house nearby at 9AM, so we're all up early.
We look at two properties and agree to list them. You'll find them on the properties page of this site. One is near us just over the border in Umbria, and is a lovely characteristic house in the country, one that can be divided into two separate living quarters, with a garden and many fruit trees.
The second is an apartment with a little garden in Alviano, with a panoramic view. It is totally restructured, and actually quite pretty. It's called a "chiavi mano", or what we in the U S call "turnkey".
Later in the day, an alert comes in from the U S Embassy in Rome. In the event you've never seen what one of these alerts is like, here it is:
"The U.S. Embassy in Rome informs citizens that on July 17, 2006 there will be two demonstrations protesting the escalation of violence in the Middle East. The first demonstration, a torchlight procession protesting war in the Middle East, is scheduled to begin at 2030 (8:30pm) in Piazza San Marco. The procession will march from Piazza San Marco past the Roman Forum to the Coliseum. The second demonstration, a candlelight vigil promoting solidarity with Israel, is scheduled to begin at 2230 (10:30pm) in front of the Jewish Synagogue located on Lungotevere Cenci. The number of participants in the two events is unknown. Both demonstrations are in support of a peaceful resolution to the Middle East conflict and are not expected to be violent in nature. We wish to remind American citizens that even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. American citizens are, therefore, urged to avoid the areas involved with the demonstrations and to exercise caution if within the vicinity. "
We're worried about Don Francis, who is in Jerusalem and other parts of Israel for a week. Our prayers are with him, and I email him to check in with him. We have not heard from him since he was here about a week ago. Being so close to the Middle East, the happenings there seem right around the corner. It is all so sad.
The phone rings, and dearest Uncle Harry is very close to death. Terence calls, and then we call the hospital to speak with Aunt Elaine. Adrian, Christopher, Jed and Laurie are on their way to Rancho Mirage on the next available plane. Wish we could join them. But our hearts are there, and we send our prayers for Harry's comfort during this difficult time.
Harry is 91 years young, and on the phone Aunt Elaine speaks about the most wonderful ten and one half years that they have had together. They certainly lived each moment. We were always so taken by the tenderness they showed each other.
We end the night with prayers all around and with trepidation regarding what tomorrow might bring.
The church bells peal their mournful cry and someone is dead in the village. I feel air filling my lungs and take a big breath. Dino and I look at each other silently, and our minds fill with fear. Where are Marsiglia and Felice?
I rush over to the area below Rosina, and she is not there. Marie looks over the balcony and tells me the sound is that someone is dead. She does not know who the bells peal for.
Some minutes later I am able to reach Rosina, after calling up to her a few times. She comes out to her balcony, leans over with her hands on her knees and smiles kindly, knowing we are worried. "Don't worry. It's someone I don't really know. They were born in Mugnano but don't live here. " The 9 A M bells peal whenever someone has died. Tomorrow morning there will be a funeral. But for today, our friends are all safe, and Dino and I continue to go about our day as usual, although sure that tonight we'll take a walk up to the borgo to check in on our friends.
We decide that we do want to attend the open air opera at Narni after all, so put together a group and later today we'll drive there to see the configuration of the arena before purchasing our tickets. Dino always does that. You know, he gets the "lay of the land", even before making dinner reservations at a restaurant.
"I'd like to make reservations at table 11," he'd say when calling the restaurant. Most people are floored. But it is quite a good idea.
We're out in the garden. Dino finishes the gravel around the garden sink with a little help from me, and the area is so sweet. I imagine him sitting under the shade of the little pergola, snoozing away...but not today.
Stefano stops by and we talk about a couple of future projects. The one we both are enamored with is the pergola on the front terrace. He tells us that if we want to have columns built instead of using castagno or iron poles at the base where the kiwi will grow, we'll need a permit. That's not a really big deal. It will just take time. We'll get that going very soon.
We ask him about the continuing humidity problem, and he tells us about a company below Viterbo that sells a product that stretches and is used under paint. We've read about it, especially in the U S, and now it is available here.
So this fall we'll check into that, and also into getting the house painted. Before we install the iron pergola, we'll have to have the house painted, or painters will have trouble putting scaffolding around the house.
Don and Mary arrive before noon, and after a chat inside where it is cool, the boys drive off in Don's car to the faggetto, the beechwood forest above Soriano at Monte Cimino. It's very cool there in the summertime and Dino likes the place a great deal.
I've prepared a number of my favorite salads, and Mary and Sofi and I sit in the kitchen just talking for the hours we're alone. I enjoy getting to know her. It feels so strange coming from me, but I give her a few tips regarding phrases to speak in Italian. She wants to be able to speak with their neighbors in Tenaglie and until now, Don has done all the talking...
Before we're through, she's armed with a few: "Fa niente" (it is nothing) is her favorite, but then there's "Boh!" (untranslatable) and the good old standby, "Si, certo!" (of course!) as well as a few others.
Phrases are what people should be taught at first when learning the language, other than vocabulary. Getting bogged down with verbs and all the fourteen tenses turns the learning process into a strangling wrangling headachy enterprise. Boh!
Dino and Don return, and we have my cold lemony meringue pie for dessert. It's from a mix, and surprisingly very good. We all get into our cars, then lead them to Guardea. We show them the two ferramentas (hardware and paint stores) and the park where Don can run, and then drive to Narni to buy our opera tickets.
Some day we'll get him together with Marilyn Smith. They are cut from the same cloth. He's wide-eyed with love about this undertaking, and his passion is infectious. If you're in Italy or plan to be during the next two weeks, be sure to attend this opera. Aida will be staged this year and the sets are almost finished. It will be a treat to sit under the stars and listen to the music.
We return by way of Spazio Verdi, the vivai nearby, and pick up six small boxwood plants, to be used in pots in the area in front of the living room window. At home I take out a few books with photos and the solution for the pergola bases jolts me.
We won't have columns; instead we will have beautiful big square Tuscan-looking terra cotta planters. Big square rods of iron will run from the centers up to the intersection with the cross pieces, which will be curved. Kiwi vines, whose bases look like tree trunks when they are mature, will grow out of the pots, and we'll have our shade in no time. During the winter, when there are no leaves, the beautiful shape of the iron pergola will still look wonderful. The cost will be substantially less, and we won't need a permit.
Dino's thrilled, and loves the idea. The design will be characteristic but unlike any we've ever seen. We'll have Carlo in Ripabianca make the pots to order with no bases, so that there will be plenty of space for the earth and kiwi to grow, and will plant them this fall. This plan has unfolded like a child's picture book, suddenly appearing in Technicolor in my mind's eye.
We take a walk up to the borgo and welcome Loredana and Alberto back to Mugnano. They'll be here for a month or so, and we'll see them often. We stop for a drink of their favorite, spumante, under the stars and as we're walking back through the piazza see Marsiglia and Felice. We're so relieved they are both well. It is not until I give them each a big hug that I am sure they are safe.
Back at home, we call the U S, and Uncle Harry is actually rallying. Go Uncle Harry! Our thoughts and prayers are with dear Uncle Harry, Aunt Elaine and the whole family.
Silvano Spaccese arrives at 8AM. We are way behind in tending the tomatoes, mostly because it has been so hot. So he's here to see what he can do about getting them back in shape. We're sure he'll be thinking, "Well, they're stranieri, so of course they don't know what they're doing!" We do know what we're doing, sort of, but the days just run away with us.
A rooster crows on the other side of the tomatoes, as if it's laughing at us with Spaccese. I get dressed and move the ceramics into the corner of the living room. It's been so hot that they will never dry correctly in the loggia. Let's see if a longer drying process will help them. And I'm itching to paint again.
"La mia ombra!" Lore corrected me when I told her last night that Sofi is my shadow. I have been saying, "Il mio ombra" and she tells me that that is not correct.
This morning, la mia ombra and Dino and I walk down the steps across the street to stand in the shade of the giant olive tree. The funeral procession slowly moves by, and Sofi sits in my arms patiently. For just this once, she does not bark at Rina, who stands beside us. It's too hot for Rina to continue the walk today to the cemetery.
A few minutes earlier, Francesco drove his police car toward us from the borgo, stopping to talk. He appreciated it that we're standing in respect to his uncle, although he did not say so. Once the procession passes, we return to the house, where it is cooler. Cooler.
We have realized that we don't really appreciate this property in the summer time because it is so very hot in the sun on the terrace. So the pergola idea will change the way we live here in the summertime. We're both looking forward to that.
I'm vacillating between wanting kiwi vines and wisteria to cover the pergola. Either will work well. I'm just not sure which will look better during the months when there are no leaves. I also want to be sure that the kiwi doesn't just form a tangled mess.
I think wisteria is more delicate. But then again, the kiwi fruit has a luminosity to it and the fruit stays on the vine after the leaves have fallen. So it will be attractive as well. We have a couple of months to figure it out before the planting takes place.
Tonight we walk to Mauro and Laura's to talk about Festarolo business. We appreciate this chance to get to know them better.
Dino has designed a pergola for our terrace. He loves that kind of detail work, with measures of every possible angle. We drive to Unopiu to have them mock up a suggested pergola, knowing that it will be too much money, but wanting to get their perspective anyway.
They have a number of interesting pergola units, but not just what we want. We come home with some ideas, and as we drive up the hill and open the cancello, we find Sofi standing outside the gate waiting for us! However did she get there?
She does not seem frightened, and I'm wondering if she's been there for some time. We check, and the gates are all closed. We remember seeing her right by the front door when we closed the side gate. Dino thinks the side gate is too high for her to jump, and her head is too large to fit through the squares of the fence.
Did she dig a hole below the fence? We can't seem to find one. But now we know she must be left in the house when we're gone. It's too hot to take her with us in the middle of the day. Poor Sofi. We're so relieved she was not hurt by a car in our absence.
We have an appointment to look at a house in Tenaglie for a client, and the owner and his muratore go over what needs to be done before an offer is made. We find a number of very characteristic things in the house, all of which the owner agrees to leave.
Room by room, we uncover treasures. If the client buys the property, they're suggesting that we oversee the restoration, so that they can return in June to a finished house. That's a potential dream assignment, and now the details of the house and the possibilities float through my subconscious as if it's our property.
Yes, this is what the Italian experience should be about. And we intend to make the transition a wonderful one for our clients, if they move ahead after hearing the details of the preventivo from a prospective muratore to do the work.
The muratore is a character right out of the Renaissance. His name is Pierluigi and his dark olive complexion and black long hair are only two of his many incredible features. The rest is for you to imagine, unless you are buying the house and can see for yourself...
We stop at Don and Mary's house down the street, and Mary knew someone was at the house, for she saw the open windows. "L'airea parla" (the air speaks), we told her when we confirmed that we were right around the corner.
For the rest of the evening, we debate about how Sofi got outside the gate this morning. Even after doing a test where Dino opens the gate and I walk down to sit on the bench outside, with Sofi on the front terrace crying for me, we can not figure out what she did. She just sat inside the gate and cried. So for now, she has to stay in the kitchen if we leave without her.
Tonight we all go to Oktoberfest for their Mexican festa, and Pino and Julia and Giada are there from Brazil. Unfortunately, Kenya did not join them. The young girls are growing up and beautiful, or perhaps we're just growing old.
The night is warm, and we are tired of the incessant heat. But we talk a little more about the pergola, and agree that we will use wisteria instead of kiwi vines and that Silvano from Amelia or Virgilio will make the supports. If we can, we'll move ahead with getting a price to paint the house first, for once the pergola goes up, it will be difficult to put scaffolding around the house.
Did I tell you that my newly made ceramic pieces from last week finally all look fine? They sit on a side table in the living room under wet kitchen towels and wet newspaper, and hardly a crack is evident on any of the pieces. This is the way they are to dry, slowly, slowly. It will be another several days before I'm confident that they are dry enough to take them to Elena. For now, they're taking their sweet time, and that's fine with me.
It feels so good to "sleep in", and this morning I do so until after 8 A M. Without anything on the agenda today, we can spend a "dolce fa niente"(sweet nothing). This phrase is usually used to describe the afternoon snooze that Italians love to take after pranzo. And it allows them to stay up late, very late at night and eat late, too. We're sliding into that groove without even realizing it.
All right. So we've agreed that we're going to plant wisteria on our pergola on the front terrace. Depending on the final outcome of the pergola design, we may even replace the cachi tree as well as the giant laurel. So for those of you who are gasping, here's why...
The laurel tree is as big as the house. It is uprooting the foundation under the loggia, cracking the side wall, and that's only what's transpiring this year. I love the shade, which has become predominant in only the last couple of years. But its time will come when we replace the loggia roof. That will probably be next year.
Regarding the cachi, we love the shade, but the fruit is monstrous. This year's count will be well over 4,000. If not pruned now, we will have 4,000 sloppy orange pools of goo each November and December on the terrace gravel.
Friends here concur that it's just too hot to sit outside here in the summertime unless it's past 8PM. So a pergola with a prolific vine is the answer. The trees will stay until we are sure about the pergola and its effectiveness.
So we've decided on a pergola and a vine on the side of the terrace in front of the kitchen. For a few weeks, we vacillated between kiwi and wisteria as the vine. Wisteria has won out, because it is so very beautiful, its pendulous shapes so delicate. Kiwi is a good idea, the fruit looks lovely until December even after leaves have fallen, but the leaves begin to look too overbearing.
Now that we've chosen wisteria, there are three types to choose from, and we are in a quandary. There is Chinese wisteria, which is the most fragrant, the most invasive and winds around from right to left; then there is the Japanese, which is less fragrant, more delicate, and winds from left to right.
Finally, there is the American wisteria called Amethyst Falls, which is smaller, will still grow 20-30' in length and has smaller leaves and flowers. Its flowers cascade like a waterfall. The American variety is less invasive. A number of sites tell us not to buy wisteria plants unless they are in flower, for many don't flower for years, and a flowering plant is one way to assure that the plant will, well...flower.
Some sites indicate that the American and Japanese wisteria flower later, which I think is good. We don't need May flowering, which is what the Chinese type provides, for the rest of our garden is in flower then. What we need is flowering in July, which is now, when it is hot and the roses are not as prolific.
So the latest decision is between the Japanese and the American varieties of wisteria. So perhaps we'll see some nurseries to see if there are some wisterias in bloom. Now we need to choose the color of the wisteria. I'm leaning toward a pale blue-lavender. When our house is painted and we finally have our wooden windows and shutters, the house will be painted pale yellow and the shutters a pale blue with a touch of lavender. We're getting closer...
Perhaps a trip to our pals at Michellini is in order this week. In the meantime, Dino continues to draft the design for the pergola, which will be iron, and we talk and talk and talk about the actual dimensions, the overall design, how wide it should be, how tall it should be, how long it should be.
Stefano tells us we won't need a permit if we don't build pillars for the wisteria to grow against. So we've come up with the idea of having Carlo Berti make beautiful pale terra cotta square planters from which the plants and the iron will grow. We'll insulate the iron poles that will go into the earth, and the poles themselves will be square and substantial.
The top of the pergola will probably be at least 270", with an arched top and x-bracing that will look beautiful during the winter, when there will be no leaves on the wisteria. Hanging pendant lamps will drop from the center of each of three x's.
The pergola will stand on its own, with nothing anchored into the side of the house. After reading today, I'm thinking that none of the plants will be planted next to the house either, for they might tear up cement and even the foundations of the house. Originally, we planned to have two or three planted against the house. Not now.
We usually have great success with our projects, for we work slowly and methodically on them, brainstorming and saying a lot of "What if's?" and doing a lot of research before we've committed to a final design.
The next steps are to take a look at some nurseries and choose the particular color and type of wisteria, based on the color and size of their blossoms, and to bring in the painter, who needs to give us a preventivo for painting the house before we build the pergola.
Dino will build the pergola like an erector set with Stefano, and our friend Silvano in Amelia or Virgilio in Bomarzo will supply the pieces. Last night, while sitting on a bench on the terrace after dark, I mused that it would be great to have all these projects done so that we could just rest and enjoy them.
With that, Dino looked at me in dismay. It is the thinking about these projects, and orchestrating their completion, that brings him the most joy. Perhaps he lived at the Winchester Mystery House in a former life.
Earlier this morning, Dino picked up four pieces that Elena finished firing.
I'm much happier with the ceramics that are drying in the living room too, for they are drying slowly, still damp, and the cracks are just about gone. Elena agrees that we should take up to a week more to dry these, then all the pieces will be fired.
My latest quandary is with the smalto, the dreaded smalto. Elena seems to use a sprayer to spray smalto on her ceramics before painting. Do I have her spray the ceramics, do we call Marco and drive to Terni to have me smalto from the bin where I smaltoed most of my pieces before, or do we purchase smalto in Deruta and do I dip them myself here?
I'm not in favor of the third option. So for now I'll continue to paint the smaltoed items we still have, and then we'll decide. I have no idea which way to turn. None of the options are just right.
Yesterday, Silvano Spaccese came to work on the tomatoes, and told Dino that they all look good. He smiled when Dino told him that we'll eat the tomatoes from the smallest plants in December, which is how long they'll take to mature.
Who knows what went wrong with those heirloom seeds? We still have not eaten any fruit from the first of our 36 plants started from seed in February. We are way behind our harvesting from years past.
He also agreed to refinish the front door. Finally we have someone to take this important project on whom we can trust! He tells us which products to purchase in Viterbo, and before September he'll take the wood back down and build it up again.
Why Anselmo, the man who made the door in the first place, chose to restain it incorrectly when coming back a year after it was finished, is beyond us. He did not want to return a second time to repair his mess, so we've given up on him. But it has taken over four years to arrive at this solution.
Every stranieri family living in Italy needs a Silvano, a Stefano and a Mario. These are the three craftspeople we rely on to give us great counsel, and to perform exceptional work with joy and heartfelt enthusiasm. I cannot imagine their counterparts in the U. S. That is one of the reasons we love living here so much.
With Sofi in the kitchen on this warmest day of the year so far (well over 100 degrees), we drive to Tony and Pat's for cocktails and then to the Alviano Scalo sagra di cinghiale (wild boar). Yesterday Dino was told we don't need reservations.
We surely don't need reservations, for there are plenty of tables. The food is really good, with each of us scarfing down pappardelle al cinghiale, and the others eating dishes of cinghiale cooked like a kind of stew without the stew, melon and prosciutto and a grilled maile (pork) chop for Dino, plus wine and beer.
Afterward, we walk around the dance floor and watch ragazzi on rides and trampolines. Italians seem to feel that nothing can happen to them. Americans think, "It better be safe, or I'll sue..."
We drive our friends to Walter's bar in Sipicciano for gelato and then drive them home. Before arriving in Mugnano, we stop at Oktoberfest to see if we can locate the fellow who we might want to hire for our Ferragosto music. He's available, but not cheap. We'll figure it out tomorrow.
It's still very hot when we arrive home to a relieved and happy Sofi, and I open the shutters wide in the bedroom to find a sky full of stars. It is a really lovely night.
Yesterday was the hottest day of the year so far, with temperatures soaring to 104 degrees. The forecast continues to be hot, with today's temperatures in the region expected to reach 100.
This morning the wood choppers have returned, and we're awakened to the sound of their clattering. Since Dino waters in the mornings these days, he's late getting up, and needs a nudge. Usually he's up before 7AM, puttering around the garden. We have a number of irrigation systems that he has put in place, and they all work well, but there are still some plants not on the system.
Antonio stops by on his vespa and tells Dino that we'll have our wood delivered very soon. So the sounds this morning were Antonio and Mario stacking the wood to deliver it to the residents of Mugnano, not the Romanian men, who by this time have probably returned home.
I recall that the deal that Antonio struck with them, as president of the Università Agraria, was that they would leave enough cut wood for the people of the village. Dino will ready the angle of the parcheggio for the stacked wood, a spot designed just for this purpose.
We remind him to stop by tomorrow with Paola to discuss what they would like me to make for a wedding present. They will be married in about ten days, and we are so happy for them.
The ceramic dishes that I made two weeks ago and stored in the living room look quite good, with not many cracks and the forms drying slowly, as we know they must. I add more wet newspaper as a kind of blanket, and a wet kitchen dishtowel to each one. If it takes another week, so be it.
In the loggia, I start to paint the already smaltoed items. I remember that there was one chalice that I painted months ago that still sits in the serra on a shelf, unfired. Now I paint the companion chalice, in the event Paola and Antonio want them. But I am not so sure about the smalto, because these two pieces have sat around for some months. If they want them, I'll do two more in the event these don't fire perfectly.
When painting, I feel more accomplished, more sure of my brush strokes, more sure of my ability to paint. And I so love to paint. While Dino drives to Viterbo to pick up a roast chicken and do errands, Sofi and I sit in the loggia while I paint. It is very hot, although there is a breeze, and I play the Pearl Fishers on a little CD player behind me.
By the time we have to get ready to go out, I've painted five pieces. I don't like stopping, but look forward to the evening ahead. I'm sorry Sofi won't be able to join us.
Matthew and Terri invite us for pizza by the pool, and it is a magnificent pool on an incredible estate, Villa Maddelena in Amelia. Many of our expat friends are there, and a band playing music right out of Terri's New Orleans rocks the night away.
Yes, there is pizza, but there is a groaning board of many, many appetizers beforehand, and plenty to drink. We're served individual Baba ah Rhums for dolci, and Dino does not remember eating one of these Napolitano treats before.
I remember them from my childhood, when my father would take me to the North End of Boston on a Saturday night after the store closed, and we'd eat supper at Gino's and then have baba ah Rhum at Cafˇ Roma on Hanover Street. Tonight is a very different scene.
I imagine a toga party in this setting right out of an ancient Roman villa, and Terri likes the idea. I'm not referring to a frat party, but to an authentic Roman party. Wonder what it would be like?
Well, I'm bowled over, for Dino actually asks me to dance. It is a Rolling Stones piece of music, I think called "Brown Sugar". He's so cute on the dance floor, and it's been so many years since we've danced a fast dance together. We leave about midnight, and drive home while it's still hot. Sofi bounds out of the house and settles right by me once we're upstairs. It's still so very hot and so very good to be home.
Sofi stays in the kitchen while we walk up to church, passing by some of the neighbors who sit on benches in the shade or in front of their houses. They nod their heads, not wanting to move in the heat to save energy.
Don Bruno leans over a pepperino balustrade in the little garden at the top of the hill to the borgo, deep in thought. We pass him, and then wait outside the church with other parishioners until the very last moment to enter.
I stand at the back of the little church to speak with Tiziano for a moment, with Dino moving forward to sit in the last pew. Visitors have taken up our regular seats. Then Franca arrives with little Andrea and before we know it, they've taken my seat next to Dino. So I sit with Tiziano against the back wall.
This is a good vantage point to take in the entire congregation. A low shadow crosses the pews from a high window, and in several spots, colored fans click silently back and forth, moving like little butterflies in a field.
I bring the large fan with Chinese lettering that Giovanna purchased for me in Rome last year. But it is noisy, so the creak, creak of it as I move it geisha-like with my eyes downcast causes women to turn their heads to zero in on the location of the sound, as if I am a bumblebee.
"The lord is my shepherd, I shall not want..." When translated to Italian, it becomes, "Il Signore il mio pastore, Non manca di nulla."
In this case, the stanzas seem to lose their sense of poetry. So is it in the imagination of the Italian that the poetry of these lines comes to life? I wonder, since there are so many fewer words in the Italian language to express thought. This is a conundrum.
And I wonder on a deeper level if the conscious and subconscious levels of the Italian mind are essentially more lyrical in character. It is a subject for discussion with someone who speaks both languages fluently. Perhaps I'll speak with Duccio on Friday about it.
Outside church, Felice asks us where we were on Friday morning. He came for a visit, telling us Sofi was there to greet him, but that we were gone. And then a light goes off in my head. That's how Sofi got out!
When he opened the gate to leave, she snuck out. He is not very attentive these days, nor can he see that well. So it makes sense that she could have run out of the front gate while he was turning to close it and put the lock back on.
We don't mention it to him, but look at each other with great relief. The garden remains a safe place for Sofi, although on these days if we leave without her it may make better sense to keep her inside with the fan working away.
Mauro and Livio agree to the performer for the 14th of August, and Dino will call him to book him today. Tomorrow the poster for the Ferrragosto manifesto will be printed.
We stop at Paola's and are wide-eyed at the modern style of the house, juxtaposed with the ancient stone. It looks very interesting, with chatreuse kitchen tiles, black iron stairs with castagno steps and glass sides and parquet floors. They'll come tonight for a visit and I'll have to do some research about making them something very modern for their new house. It's an interesting challenge, and one that I'll enjoy.
The day warms up and up and up and I don't even want to know how much. Thunder arrives in the distance, and dirty dark clouds, but there is no rain. The sky remains heavy and humid.
Paola and Antonio arrive for a visit, and we sit out on the terrace. Dino wants to make t-shirts from an ancient drawing on the map of Mugnano, and shows Antonio the design. We'll drive to Viterbo tomorrow to the place he recommends, and perhaps the Festarolo committee will have them made for Ferragosto. Dino is happy.
Dino is also happy that Mauro and Livio agreed on the entertainment Dino came up with for August 14th, so he calls and confirms the date. Tomorrow the posters will be printed, and our work is done...for now.
Antonio wants me to exhibit during Ferragosto, along with a couple of other artisans of Mugnano. I agree, now we'll have to pick up some stands for the dishes and the big bowl. I'm hoping the stemma of Mugnano will be finished, and that it will look all right. Now I want to finish the plates I've made and paint them in an elaborate way. Not that I want to sell them. I'm not sure how I feel about standing around while people gather and stare. It will be a good experience, I suppose.
There is a design I saw in a magazine, a kind of acanthus leaf scroll, set at an angle, and I decide to draw it in my sketch book, but at the correct angle. It is quite elaborate. Once I have the design finished well, I decide to draw the mirror image of it on the facing page of the sketch book. Later it will become an elaborate design that I will copy and trace and draw on something ceramic.
Now, I am aware that I don't have the kind of brain to be able to draw mirror images in detail, other than to know that I can read upside down and backwards. But I want to train my mind to do that, so work slowly and the design begins to unfold.
So about this aptitude of mine to read upside down and backward...
When I was a young girl, I sat on the carpet in front of a tall mirror leaning against a wall in front of me. I looked in the mirror and saw writing. Deciding to figure out what it said, I took my time with it and then became obsessed with the idea of being able to read upside down and backward.
I somehow acquired the skill, and in later years could read what was on someone's desk whom I came to visit. It was a very interesting trait to have. And now I turn the design upside down to see if it will help me to decipher it. It is a very good thing to be able to do for the drawing I do in preparation for orchestrating an elaborate design on ceramics.
I feel as if it is stretching my brain, and that's a good thing. The more creative outlets I have, the happier I am. And this week, I want to paint and paint and paint...
Today is Terence's birthday. We're sorry we can't be with him, but called him yesterday to wish him well. We also called Uncle Harry, who is back at home but not doing well at all. He has hospice care, and Aunt Elaine right by his side. We think it's hot here at around 105 degrees until Aunt Elaine tells Dino that it's 120 degrees there in Borrego Springs. It's balmy here, compared to that!
Kisses to you, dear Uncle Harry.
On this hot and steamy day, thunder rolls through the valley while Dino shops in Viterbo, and I rush around the terrace closing up umbrellas and chasing the lighter ones across the property. Thunderstorms in Italy arrive with a vengeance, and drops as big as dimes plop, wind howls and it's as though we're in the hurricanes of my youth.
The temperature cools off, but the storm continues long after Dino returns. He has found a place to make t-shirts, and they'll have a test one ready for him tomorrow. We have the design for a Mugnano t-shirt, and he wants to have them for Ferragosto. The suppliers similar to those he used in the U S are difficult to locate. But then again, we're not talking about a large order.
I've painted every last ceramic piece that has smalto upon it, and have also repaired each one to make sure they are all ready to fire. Tomorrow we'll take them to Elena. And then we'll probably call Marco in Terni to see if we can dip the other pieces we have there. I'm sure it won't be a problem, especially since we'll pay him.
We have nine 20 cm tiles, so I paint them as a set of flowered tiles, not knowing where they'll go. I'm now interested in doing some complex designs, as well as the stemmas for a few close friends, so look forward to starting something new soon.
There's no news of Uncle Harry as we go up to bed, so we say a prayer for him as we turn in.
We wake to a clear sky and fragrant smells from yesterday's storm. The view is blindingly bright. Leaves on the trees reflect the sunlight like a sunscreen, so glossy from the drops that lingered that the site of it all leaves me squinting.
Old Vito lies curled up on the gravel, blown off his little chair by last night's wind. I first notice his lifeless form when closing the shutters upstairs to protect us from this afternoon's sun. Lulu's safe in the olive tree, looking a little bedraggled and wet, but in better shape than the old man. We've had no real damage from the storm.
Tony and Pat arrive for some advice, medical and opera related. They will attend opening night at the Narni opera tonight, and will let us know how it goes. Our tickets are for later in the run. They are worried about their seats. We are worried about our friend Giovanni Destilo, who is producing the event and has a lot on his mind with the surprise rain last night. We hope the sets are all right.
This is a day of remembering events and places we loved. With the rain, we think of the many years we worked behind the scenes at the Mountain Play on Mount Tamalpais above San Francisco. Rain meant a disastrous situation financially. We always gave away more tickets to future performances and often refunded money. Arts groups are almost never prepared for bad weather, no matter what they seem to say.
During one performance day of The King and I, those of us on the board who were present huddled a number of times with the director before the play began. Should we cancel? We held our breaths, and kept the performance intact. Early in the performance, with the youngest performers huddled in blankets while they waited between their scenes on stage, we prayed. And then there was THE MOMENT:
"And Buddha told the sun to come out..." the King extolled, his arms raised wide... and at that moment the sun actually did. The audience roared and applauded, literally stopping the show. We knew at that moment that we did the right thing by not canceling the show. And then there was the day of the bomb scare. And the rainouts...Those events, those experiences, those friends whose lives we shared, we will never forget.
So Giovanni is on our mind today, but I am distracted. Although we've dropped off the rest of the ceramic pieces to be fired at Elena's, we need to return to put a drop of smalto on one of the chalices. So we decide to drive to the Faggetta, the Beechwood forest above Soriano, for a couple of paninis for pranzo and will stop at her studio along the way.
After Tony and Pat leave, we take our smalto and also a happy Sofia, and leave Mugnano by way of the street we call Acqua Puzza, or dirty water. We run into Anna and her husband, Mark, visiting here for a few days. Her parents are the Swedish couple that bought the white house below us. We ask them if they'd like to join us, and off we all go.
First we stop at Elena's, and she advises me how to repair the uncooked dishes that keep cracking. She has six of ours to cook, but three of them are still at home, and no matter what I do, the cracks keep coming back. She wants to fire them all together.
She advises me to make a mixture of argilla (clay) and white wine vinegar and water. That way, when the mixture begins to seal, it will eat away a little at the argilla and somehow makes a seal instead of crack. Otherwise, the clay will continue to dry just as it has all along, with cracks appearing here and there. So I bring a container with a little argilla, a bottle of vinegar and she mixes the consistency, so that I can see what the percentage of vinegar to water and argilla are.
Elena is so patient with me. On Friday all the pieces except for the ones that need their first bake will be ready. That's over twenty pieces. I know we give her ongoing business, but her shop is so small that I worry that some day she'll turn us away. And I really don't want to have my own oven.
I really don't want to make my own pieces, either. I'm not really enjoying this exercise. So if I make a few more pieces, I'd like to do it in her shop with her supervising, so that this drying process won't be an issue. I recall that the first dish I made came out perfectly. So I'm aiming for a little more perfection.
We arrive at the Faggetta, the beech wood forest, and it has the smell of Mount Tam. The trails are loosely defined, the trees enormous, with pale lacy leaves dancing in the sunlight. Near the parking lot is a huge moving rock, and we want to know more. It is enough for us today to know that we can rock it a little by moving a castagno pole stuck under it. We're feeling a little like Jack under the Beanstalk.
Then we walk around the silent forest for a while, the only sound that of cicadas high above us. The smell is the smell we remember of Mt. Tam, especially fragrant after yesterday's rain. Here we are remembering again. So when we are missing those walks on our beloved Mount Tam, we can come here and walk.
This is a lovely and peaceful place. On the way out, a walking stick leans against the trunk of an ancient tree. Someone has abandoned it, and it appears made for Dino. He takes it and walks with it, telling me it is the perfect height. It seems to say, "Take me, Dino!" It will be a wonderful memory of this day.
We eat panini (sandwiches) on wooden picnic benches, but our pranzo is cut short by the bees (apes) that are so aggressive that many wind up in our drinks. Then we drive home by way of Vitorchiano, so that our friends can do a little grocery shopping for the rest of their trip.
When we drop them off, we notice that our firewood is stored in the open field across from their house. Not much is left, and Pepe and Dino are supposed to bring ours up in Pepe's tractor one of these days. So I ask Dino if he'll see Pepe later this afternoon to confirm.
I'd hate to have our firewood disappear before we're able to pick it up. And I'd love a photo of Dino on Pepe's tractor. I know he'd really love to drive the tractor himself, but it's enough for me to get a picture of him standing tall, our firewood stacked high behind them.
We'll walk up to the village later to find Pepe, and perhaps Paola and Antonio's wood floors have been delivered, so there'll be more to see at their new house. I want to speak with them about making modern dessert plates for them to match their color scheme of chatreuse and black and white.
I've not painted anything very modern before, so it will be an interesting exercise. Perhaps I can borrow one of the green tiles to match the color.
Dino keeps our schedule on his palm pilot, but for some reason did not check today's schedule. We missed my pedicure with Giusy, and I am so very sorry. It is terrible to miss an appointment, especially when the person could have given the appointment to someone else. I call to apologize, and her colleague thanks me for calling. I will reschedule.
I have nothing to paint. My hands are itching. So I add some of the newly mixed argilla to the leaf platter, and later will do the same with the two pirofila dishes. I do an inventory of the other dishes we have that need smalto before being painted, and perhaps that means we should call Marco in Terni to see if we can dip the pieces there soon.
We agree that I should make a set of dinner plates for us. I know the shape of the plates we want, so perhaps we will do that this next month, if we agree to smalto them at Marco's. First I'd like to paint all the other pieces we have stored in the serra, and then make a stemma for Duccio, a stemma for Helga, and a special plate for Franco and Candida. That will take us up to the time of the trip to the U S, so there will be more pieces to make for that trip. Our dinner plates loom farther and farther away.
Right now, I'm doing a lot of drawing. I'm practicing forms, elaborate figures, and think I'd like to take a private lesson or two from Monia. I have a picture from our Madonna calendar of a Madonna and Child from June that I think is lovely. I've watched other women in the class paint elaborate figures of women on ceramic plates, so perhaps I'm ready to give it a try. We'll call her the next time we drive to Deruta.
Dino drives to Viterbo to pick up a t-shirt that has been made with the Mugnano design. He has a second one made with a different imprint, so we may have t-shirts ready to sell at Ferragosto after all.
The phone rings, and it is the call we have dreaded. Dearest Uncle Harry passed away early this morning. We call and call to reach Aunt Elaine, finally reaching her close to midnight our time. She is such a gracious woman, so full of love.
These are the times that are so difficult when we are so far away from those we love. So we can call her often, and we will. For now, she wants to stay in Borrego Springs. Time will tell whether she will move closer to relatives. But for now, she has guests with her, and the love of her family, which is immense.
Here's a photo, taken earlier this year. It is one we love of dear Uncle Harry going for a walk with Marissa and Nicole:
Earlier, I told Tony that when we have attended arts performances that were cancelled, we usually donated the tickets back. Tony's back stiffened right up. He told me they donate to many causes in Cleveland, but when it comes to tickets, he wants his refund! All I can silently say is, "Boh!"
The air is so heavy when we arise, that we're hoping the fog will clear. We can see that the sun is trying very hard to dissipate what appears to be a thin layer of fog. How hot will it be today?
Giusy forgives me when I call to make a new appointment. From now on, Dino agrees to set an alarm on his Palm Pilot for any future appointments. My memory is spotty at best these days, and that's just how it is. So I agree that this is the way to assure that we won't miss anything in the future. It's so weird getting older.
Dino picks up a tomato processor at a really good price, so we're ready to go to work putting up tomatoes. But none of ours are ready yet. Last night Rosina told us that we took our fave beans out and planted the tomatoes a little late. So Dino told her and the women she was with, that that's fine. We'll have them for Christmas! No one expects us to know what we're doing in the garden. After all, we were not born in Italia...
Tony calls to say that he switched his Narni opera tickets for another night, after arriving at the amphitheatre an hour early for last night's performance to spotty showers. We check on the weather, and no showers are expected today, but we do have them in the afternoon anyway.
Actually we have a lot of rain, and a power outage. Dino likes to call ENEL when this happens to find out when the power will be restored. In California, PG&E had a recorded message. Here a man answers and tells Dino not to worry. The power will be restored; just don't worry about it.
Mauro arrives for a short meeting of the Festarolo Committee and likes the t-shirt design. We show him by candlelight. Tomorrow Dino will order 50 of them. Once they're gone, he will take orders to determine if we should order a lot more. They are really a wonderful design, taken from the 1810 painting on the wall of the Università Agraria of Mugnano and the surrounding area. Here's the sample shirt worn by our friend and neighbor, Andrea.
While opening the shutters, there is a thin pink horizon under a clear navy blue sky, with two stars looking down on us. Cicadas click away as if they're snoring, so we might as well go to bed.
I wake with a start because I'm sure I hear Pepe on his big tractor. I'm imagining he's driving it down to pick up our firewood, and wonder if Dino will join him. It's a guy thing, so I don't ask.
I've finished drawing an elaborate design for a large round plate, so it's time to check in with Marco about the smalto. I still have to transfer the design to tracing paper and then punch the little dots in it. Isn't there an easier way?
When I ask different artists, they all tell me the same thing. This is how it has been done for hundreds of years. After I've punched the tiny holes, I lay the design over the smaltoed ceramic and then use a piece of cotton sock filled with carbon dust, bouncing the bag over the design so that the tiny flecks of carbon fill the holes.
The carbon dust makes the design, which I then paint, and since the carbon dissolves in the firing process, it all seems to work out. Perhaps that's why I'd rather paint the design freehand. This design is very complex, so I don't trust myself that I'll be able to line it up correctly. And we have time, since the plate still needs a dipping of smalto.
I finish the tracing, punching the dots, and Dino agrees to call Marco so that we can drive to Terni to smalto some of our pieces. I can't seem to stop working on the ceramics. Now that our life is fairly simple, I like having something to look forward to, something I can work on creatively.
For their wedding present, Paola and Antonio agree that I should paint them six dessert plates in a geometric pattern, and I've not painted anything modern, so it will be a stretch for me. I like that. I think we'll pick up six modern dessert plates in Deruta first, hopefully in the next week or so. But my next things to paint will be another stemma and a large round platter, with my latest design.
We're about to have rain this afternoon, and a thunderstorm or two, so I shut down the computer and we have a dolce fa niente after pranzo, reading our latest books. It's such a sweet life.
The sky clears and we have no rain, but the humidity has us dragging. We have an early night and check email to see that Mitch Woods is in Rome and will be around for a few dates. We'll see if we can catch up with him to hear a little boogie-woogie.
I wake with a full-blown migraine, but check the barometric pressure on the internet and it has not changed markedly. So that reason for the migraine does not hold up today.
The heat holds up, however, and it is sunny. We should have good weather for tonight's opera. Let's hope I can shake this monster before the day is out.
With a snooze off and on, I'm still not able to shake the migraine. The afternoon sky clouds over, but there is no rain. The air feels heavy and full of moisture just the same. And we get dressed and leave with Candida and Franco, driving to Duccio and Giovanna's.
Duccio drives us all to the opera in Narni Scalo, and Dino and I sit in the back of their six-seater van. We find a place to park right near the outdoor theatre, but in Italian style, can't enter until fifteen minutes before the performance. At the appointed time we file in Italian style, about a dozen people across, and hand over our tickets.
Despite many tickets from Tuesday's opening night opera exchanged for tonight's performance due to rain, the theatre is less than half full. It is a balmy evening, and we like our seats, right in the middle three rows up from the orchestra seats. At least we like them until the orchestra starts up, for they are difficult to hear.
The orchestra is placed right under the stage, their sounds muffled. Although the conductor thrashes his arms to get his players to play with gusto, it remains difficult to hear. In this theatre, as well as the famous arena in Verona, there are no microphones or speakers. The sounds are more natural, but not easy to hear. We resign ourselves that we'll not be able to enjoy the music itself and decide to concentrate on the visuals and the voices.
We're relieved to find that the voices of the singers are perfectly audible, the sets inventive and the dancers marvelous. Actually, the performance is marvelous and completely professional. There are, however, a few things that catch our eye.
Tonight, the choice of Radames, the hero in love with Aida, looks a little, well, a lot like Jackie Gleason. His voice almost makes up for his portly appearance. Almost. But when he turns and walks across the stage he's like an apple on a stick. It is a pity. His voice and his actions are every bit the part.
Aida is on the heavy side, which helps the few scenes with the two of them in romantic poses. Her voice is grand. She is an excellent choice, and when the two of them lie in a heap together on the stage at the end, we're sad. This is a very sad opera, no matter the size of the actors. But a signature opera of many of the opera companies in Italy? We can't figure that out.
The drama of opera reminds me of the words of Jim Dunn, the director for years of The Mountain Play on Mt. Tam in California. "Play it big!" he'd tell his actors. In opera, especially outdoor opera, characters play it big to get their point across.
Billowy long costumes help, too. Each time an actor wants to exclaim, they whip their costume to the right or left, turning in pivot fashion. When we see a pivot, we know to expect drama. Especially when we don't really understand what they're saying.
We love the dance sequences, the choreographed fighting, with characters seemingly suspended in mid-air as they thrash about. What magnificent form these characters take on!
We're able to speak with Giovanni during one of the many intermissions, and he tells us that most of the important dignitaries on hand for opening night returned tonight. So he is happy. And with Hermelyn by his side, he just beams. She's so lovely in her "about to be a mother" gown, and he's very happy, no matter the number of seats that have been sold.
We give him great marks for this first year's opera, and hope that he can continue this opera on an annual basis. We'll certainly attend next year if he does. Our friends also agree. So we arrive home very, very late but happily so. It's been a lovely evening.
My migraine is better, not completely so, but better enough that we can drive to Terni to Marco's shop to smalto some of my greenware. Dino lines it up and on the way, we stop to wrap up some of the small items. They won't be included today.
We'll just have to take the next step soon and buy our own smalto, dipping the pieces at home. I'd rather not, but we find that Marco charges so much to smalto the pieces we have that it's not worth the time or the trips back and forth with the ceramics.
Marco tells us that we just missed the Terni outdoor opera. This year they performed Carmen, and we would have loved that. Marco sang in the chorus, and we're sorry about missing the performance. It just slipped off our radar screen.
Marco's very helpful, dipping some of the larger pieces and giving me pointers when I take a turn. I get a bravo or two from him as well for my efforts, so agree with Dino that we'll buy the powder soon in Deruta and mix it up in the loggia.
I'll have to email Paola. She told us when we were there that she has a thermometer to use to gauge the amount of water needed for the mix to be accurate, so I'll ask her about that. Then we can be sure of what we are doing.
I always love hearing Dino talk about anything that has to do with chemistry. With his film lab days behind him, he still has the ability to solve this kind of challenge easily. And he enjoys doing it, too. He's my technical advisor on the ceramics, especially with the smalto, or undercoat.
We stop at Iper Coop, the large supermarket in Terni, and it's a really good store. I'm not really in the mood to shop, but like seeing all the good produce, all the choices. It's not always so in Italy.
Dino watches the time trials while we have pranzo, and the skies cloud over, with thunder and a shower or two. We take an afternoon nap, and when we awake the rain has passed, and we're left with a cooler, if humid, afternoon.
Mitch Woods emailed us yesterday that he's performing not too far from here, but I'm not really feeling up to another late night drive. So we pass, and perhaps we'll see him while he's still in Italy.
I'm looking forward to starting to paint on a big round platter, and that's just what I think I'll do. But when I arrive downstairs the phone rings and it is Maria in Tenaglie. Don left the bathroom window open in his house last week, and the shutters have been blowing in the rain storms. We tell her we'll be right over.
We thank her for her kindness, Dino shuts the window and we check to make sure everything is all right. Since we're in Tenaglie, we stop at another client's house and ask about the muratore's quote. We have clients who want to buy his parents house nearby.
But the owner tells us the muratore is on vacation until next week. It's these little details that Dino is so good about. And it's why it sometimes takes longer than someone would like to buy a property in Italy. We're happy we can help make the transition smoother.
We stop to pick up some lattuga Romana plugs, and Dino plants them when we arrive home. Mauro arrives a while later, and we catch up on festarolo business. It's not as much work as we originally thought, and a fair amount of fun. With Dino's Mugnano t-shirts almost ready to sell, he'll have another activity to keep him busy with the villagers.
I'm itching to get started on my large platter. Now I'm imagining it will be all in blue, mostly pale with outlines of darker blue on a white background. We are really needing a store room....
But first we need to have the outside of the house painted, and Dino agrees to call the painter next week. He is anxious to get the pergola started this fall, so we have to paint first. There's always something.
The heat continues, and so does the humidity. We walk up to church knowing that we'll be doing a "giro" to collect for the festarolo committee after mass. Dino wears his Mugnano t-shirt, and when we walk around the village he stands there with his chest out, not saying anything. He takes orders for 17 shirts...They'll arrive tomorrow or Tuesday.
It is so hot it is an effort to breathe. Whenever we can, we sidle up to the side of the street to hide in the shade while we ring doorbells. Livio loves to sell raffle tickets, and has a way about him. He could probably sell all 2,000 of them himself. Our sales are modest, but we're thinking Dino's idea of the t-shirts will make as much money as the raffle.
The shirts look great, and although Mauro only wanted a small order, we'll probably place a second order at the beginning of September. Once a few people start to wear the shirt, everyone will want one. I think it will be funny to see everyone in the village wearing the same shirt, somewhat like a staged movie scene.
Antonio gives me a tile from their kitchen, and Dino thinks I should paint one of my early designs on the plates. I want to do more research, but am happy that I have the correct shade of green for the plates...
At home we can't wait to change and sit by the fan. We are so "small town" here, that we don't have air conditioning. It has not really been a problem, but temperatures over the past two weeks have hovered around 100 degrees every day.
I get my wish, and after pranzo sit in the kitchen painting a huge round platter. Six hours later Livio and Giuliola arrive to place a t-shirt order, and I've just about finished the piece. It's blue on a white background, quite elaborate, and a design all my own.
It's really a thrill to know that I have actually learned something from Monia after all those weeks in the workshop in Terni. We'll take the piece to Elena tomorrow and hope to have it back before Ferragosto. I'll paint another Mugnano stemma starting tomorrow or so, wanting some larger pieces ready in the event I have to put an exhibit together in a couple of weeks.
We might drive to L'Aquila on Tuesday to meet up with Mitch Woods, who has a gig there at a blues festival. We've never been to L'Aquila, so look forward to it. We don't, however, look forward to leaving Sofi for a long time. We'll try to get someone to watch her...
We're posting twice a month these days, and it's easier for us to do it this way. I can't really imagine that people read the journal, but they do.
The swallows (rondine) have returned, and on a visit from Felice and Marsiglia this afternoon, they tell us that it means that we'll have a thunderstorm soon. Good. It's so hot and humid that I'm hopeful it will cool things off.
I paint most of the Mugnano stemma on a large square platter today, and it brings back my migraine. Dino thinks it's a neck thing, and that I spend too many hours painting at one time. First it's my shoulder, so I can't play the violin. Now it's my neck and my headaches. I'm feeling like a rag doll, with no part of me in control.
I've repaired the smalto on the big round platter, and I hope it will be ready to take to Elena tomorrow. The three other pieces that are drying in the living room all look fairly good. Perhaps we can take those, too, although they need a few more days to dry before firing. Perhaps Elena can sit them all in the forno while they wait. We'll see if she thinks that's a good idea, and if she has room for them in her little studio.
The month ends with me wondering if my migraines are back, or if it's just the really hot weather that continues unabated. I've had at least two this month. We'll see the doctor in Perugia in September, so we'll see. In the meantime, I'll slow down on the painting, slow down on just about everything.
The day ends with the cicadas so loud outside our windows that the room seems to bulge and shrink as though we're characters in a cartoon, all in step with the rhythm of their scratching legs...
The slow, lumbering days of summer continue, and I drag myself out of bed, sure that I'll not miss Giusy's pedicure this morning. My head feels as if it's locked in a vise, with some floating monster above me cranking it every so slowly now and then. I'm a determined one, determined not to let Giusy down, so let's push on...
Sofi stays at home, hiding behind a planter next to the front door. It's so hot she does not want to go out, anyway. But she hates being left alone. Sorry, dear one.
I bring Giusy a little painted ceramic dish, feeling so badly that I missed last week's appointment, and she rushes up to hug me when she sees me. She's taken by the little present, and I could not ask for more. It's a gift of affection, for I like this woman so very much. And as she studies the detail, I'm remembering painting it, the shadows on each leaf helping it to reflect my thoughts at the time.
She turns the lights of her studio down for me, and gives me a pillow to lean against while she works on my toes under the light of a kind of microscopic plate that magnifies her work. Today we don't have any philosophical discussion. The room remains silent, and when we're through she sends me away with another hug until next month.
At home, I take an ice pack and lie down until pranzo. Dino has an appointment in Amelia and returns with a roast chicken, which we eat with a salad. I'm feeling better, and although I asked Dino if he'd go without me tonight, think I can rally.
He's happy about that, and when Franco and Candida arrive we learn that she's not feeling so well, either. Candida and Sofi and I sit in the back seat for the drive, while the men chatter away in front and the air conditioning keeps us cool. Sofi lies happily between her two best girl friends.
L'Aquila is the provincial capital of the Abruzzo, as well as the regional capital, and it is a large city, about 750 meters above sea level. We expect it to be cooler than home, but it's still above 90 degrees. There is a breeze, and we think we'll all be able to walk around for an hour or two before we meet Mitch for cena and his concert.
Dino drives us around the centro storico to get a lay of the land, and then we look for the 99 fountains, where the concert will be held. It is near one of the city gates, and as we drive up to it we see Mitch walking around with his camera right inside the gate.
Candida and Sofi and I get out to talk with Mitch while Franco and Dino park the car. Mitch is like a teen-ager, in love with life and in love with Italia. He is an interesting man, so unassuming and gentle, wide-eyed and interested in everyone and everything.
It is not until he is on the stage that he jumps into another character, boisterous and wild, his zoot-suit echoing the boogy-woogy style of his music, his behind gyrating and, once or twice, his foot finding its way up on the keyboard, a la Jerry Lee Lewis. He can REALLY PLAY that keyboard, heating up the keys and not missing a beat.
He loves his music, he loves the crowds, and they love him, too. Italians are not particularly good audiences, for they don't generally get involved with the music. Mitch gets them up on their feet, gets them dancing to his music, and it's hard not to want to wiggle to the beat of his band.
His band is "The Red Wagons" and he is the headliner at this opening night of the Blues Festival Under the Stars. The group is from Rome, and whenever he's in Italy, he plays with them. He'll play with them in Ancona at the end of the month, but leaves for San Francisco tomorrow for some U.S. gigs in the meantime.
Earlier, we have dinner with him in the garden right above the stage, able to stand up and look over at the remarkable fountain behind the spot where Mitch will play. There are 99 different faces, each of which spouts water. The surround is made up of squares of the most beautiful pale pinky-brown and white laid in a checkerboard fashion.
We talk and eat while the sound check goes on below, the sounds blaring and Sofi whimpering at my feet. She's pacified by tastes of turkey and salami and beef, then full enough that she quietly rests beside me.
The configuration of the clouds change, and one particular very dark group of them have followed us all afternoon. We fear Mitch will be rained out, but just as he leaves to change, the skies clear and he's given a sendoff from on high.
I'm not feeling well, so Dino walks Sofi and me to the car, where she and I sit with the windows open, listening to the music. Dino and Candida and Franco sit in the audience after finishing cena. My head rests back against the seat with my eyes closed, and I hear Mitch call out, "This one is for my good friends, Dino and Eva..." and he plays Solid Gold Cadillac. I can't help smiling.
I think Enzo has arrived to finish hooking up the hot water to the loggia, and I wait until he's finished to get up. Later I find he's just here to collect his annual fee for making sure that the water heater conforms to standards....
Last night, Franco told me that I should not sleep with a pillow if I have a migraine, and I'm willing to listen. So last night I took an ice pack and laid like a corpse on the bed, with only the ice pack under my head. I must say it's a new way of sleeping, and although I don't particularly like this new pose, think Franco is probably right. I'm feeling a little better this morning, so it's worth a try.
I think the big plate is ready to go to Elena, but it still has smalto problems around the edge. We've decided not to take it until the smalto is perfect, so it will sit another day while I add more touches to the edge.
I'm thinking of abandoning the three other dishes fashioned in Palestrina a few weeks ago, all of which have problems with their under sides. I'm thinking that I'm not adventurous enough to follow Paola's unorthodox method of making ceramics in her studio near Palestrina, although I really love working with her and would like to do it again. I have such great respect for what she has been able to accomplish on her own.
Tomorrow I'll see if Elena will set a date for teaching me to make some pirofila dishes for the oven. We break up and throw the three dishes away, doubtful that I'll really be able to resurrect them, after about a month trying to salvage them.
Paola thinks it's just been too hot, and the pieces may have dried too quickly at the outset. It was an interesting lesson, just the same. Today I spend more time painting the stemma on a large square platter, while Dino drives off to Viterbo to pick up the first order of Mugnano t-shirts.
When he brings them home, we'll bag them, keeping one of each size out as a sample, called "campione". The word campione is an interesting one. Campione. Champion...One set aside....If you're interested in words, as Dino is, you'll see that the derivation of the word "champion" makes sense. So why do we call it a "sample"?
We bag the shirts, and Dino decides to take a nap after Lore arrives for a visit and to pick up three shirts for children who are staying with her for a week. While he's snoozing, Livio rings the bell, nervous as can be. I let him in to the kitchen, and he stands there staring at the box of shirts, clutching a tiny piece of paper with names on it.
He reaches into the box and pulls out a large, and I ask him why. I then explain that we have samples of each size, and he's worried that the size for little Andrea, who is Francesco's son, won't fit. He squints at the clipboard with the shirts already ordered and starts to ask questions. It's time to set things clear...
"Tonight," I tell him, "...We'll come to Mugnano "Alto" with the shirts and the samples, and people can choose from the samples then." He's still not sure, until I promise him we'll come to his house, first. For someone who did not want us to order too many, he's certainly nervous now that we might not have enough...
Dino wakes up and makes a batch of guacamole, chuckling at Livio's visit. We set aside the pre-ordered shirts and smile just thinking of what fun tonight will be. Lore told us that I should design stemmas for all the neighborhoods of Mugnano, and one stemma with all of them on it. She loves my ceramic bowl, but tells me I must put my name in big letters on the back. I don't agree, but leave her to her advice.
So I think there should be a committee to decide what the neighborhoods, or riones, of Mugnano should be called and then I'll work with them to design the stemmas, as well as a new stemma for Mugnano as a whole. The elaborate stemma for Mugnano that I have already finished is just too elaborate for this silly little village. I say this with great affection, but you already know all that.
Regarding my signature, it is small, two little "e's", and I like it that way. When I was a child, I remember that my father took me to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on several occasions, and one of our favorite games on those visits was to find Albrecht Durer's initials hidden in his woodcuts.
So although my little letters aren't hidden, I don't intend that they will be a distraction. Life plays funny tricks, and now I know that those trips to study Durer's work had more than a passing significance. Thank you, dear Dad.
I scoop up little Sofi and we walk up to the borgo with our box of t-shirts (magliette) after nine P M, walking over toward Livio and Giuliola's house. They are already waiting for us, and bring down a little table, which we set up right at the foot of their stairs.
In an hour we sell twenty of the shirts. With a dozen or more already set aside, we have very few left. So it looks as though we'll order more in September, and this may be a big hit.
Before we leave for home, Vincenza asks us if we'll return at 11:30 PM to serenade Paoletta. Paola and Antonio are getting married tomorrow, and it is an Italian custom for the groom to serenade the bride on the eve of their wedding. We take Sofi home and walk back under the moonlight. It is cool and fresh, not at all like the sweltering days of summer in this little village.
It is probably midnight before we enter the garden of Paola's family, and even longer until the serenade begins. All is dark inside, while Antonio and Bruna's grandson stand at the corner of the garden in view of the unlit balcony.
Giuseppa, who is Antonio's mother, comments that we are "always present" at Mugnano events, and I am sure it is a complement. She loves her son, and loves Paola, so I am sure this is a special time for her. It is bittersweet, for her husband is not alive to join them tonight. She smiles gently just the same, looking a little bit sad.
After a few minutes, there is a cheer. What's this? It's ....Candida! Candida is Paola's grandmother and she wants to hear what is going on. Paola follows in a minute, and Candida stands behind her grand daughter with her arms around her. It's a very dear thing to witness, with friends and relatives standing around the garden and Paola leaning over the side of the balcony, drinking it all in.
Paola and her grandmother stand there in the dark, with only the reflection of a light from the garden to highlight tomorrow's bride and to watch her lovely dark eyes light up.
Tonight, Antonio sings his heart out, with arms raised and his head back, so full of joy that we can't help be infected. He has waited many years for this moment. The lovers have known each other almost all their lives.
Bruna's grandson plays a keyboard equipped with Napolitan music, you know, the music that has many verses, some of which are conjured up as the evening wears on. The songs continue on and on, with Paola applauding Antonio with her arms raised on high after each one.
I tell her about the American custom of a bride having something old, new, borrowed and blue and yes, she has all of those things. So she will have a fortunate day tomorrow. We'll be there with a camera at 6PM when the mayor, Stefano Bonori, marries them in the Comune, and look forward to seeing these two special young people share their vows.
Dino takes me to Daniele's to get my hair done, and then drives on to Civitella d'Agliano to the best bread bakery around, for a loaf of bread. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area it is difficult for anyone to imagine how difficult it is to buy great bread. It's too hot to make it from scratch during the summer here, so we've found Nirvana in this little shop.
We drive home to pick up my two latest ceramic pieces and drive them to Elena with a small jar of smalto. No matter what I do, I can't seem to repair the edges correctly. And Elena tells us that the only time they can be repaired correctly is soon after they've been smaltoed. BOH! She takes all the pirofila pieces and will fire them soon. All the pieces will be ready Sunday morning.
I can't begin to tell you how frustrating this is. Every single piece I've painted has had some problem, and I have never been given this advice before. I think Elena is the best we've encountered so far, so I make an appointment for a lesson with her to craft dishes for the oven after Ferragosto. She is so very kind and understanding.
But my frustration regarding smalto mistakes continues. A week or so ago, Marco even smaltoed many of my pieces and did not tell me that they needed to be repaired in the next hour or two. Vergogna! (Shame) on him.
Dino wants me to take lessons from someone in Civita Castellana, so I'll see if anyone there can speak a little English. I hope to not return to classes in Terni in the fall if I can find someone better locally.
On the drive home we see Paola driving toward us, full of joy and not noticing anything around her. Last night, the experience was one we'll never forget. The scene of Antonio serenading his love to her was the essence of romance; can you imagine what it would be like to be serenaded by your fiancé in the moonlight on the night before you were wed?
Dino is so very kind. He suggests that the solution to the smalto problems is to paint a rim around every piece. Aha. Perhaps that is why many pieces have a rim of color around them. That way, touchups aren't noticed. Bravo, dear Dino! It's not perfect, but is a good next step on the pieces we've already smaltoed.
Soon we'll return to Deruta and purchase the powder to make our own smalto and a densitometer to gauge the level of water needed to maintain an accurate mix. Here Dino is, back in the "lab" again after all these years.
Livio arrives around noon, and again just as we're sitting down for pranzo, to pick up one and then two more t-shirts a little while later. We're down to four remaining, and I think we should see if we can get more printed for Ferragosto, recommending that Dino try a place in Terni next. The shirts are a real success.
We drive up to the Comune for the wedding, bringing a t-shirt for the sindaco (mayor), and we're in an elaborate room of the Orsini palazzo adjacent to the Comune. Stefano Bonori, the mayor, arrives and puts on his elaborate sash in green and white and red stripes over his suit. Dino gives him the shirt and he tells him he'll wear it the next time he comes to Mugnano.
The mayor does an excellent job, his eyes lighting up at his friend, Antonio. The ceremony takes less than fifteen minutes, and all we can say is "e fatto!" (It's done!) The look on Paola's face when she looks at her new husband after the ceremony makes me melt. It's not like her to show any emotion, but at this moment she's clearly moved.
Here are a few photos of the ceremony.
We've been invited by Vincenza to join them at a wine tasting sagra in Castiglione in Teverina, but there is a rain shower and we stay at home fixing grilled cheese sandwiches instead. Dodging rain during cena is not our idea of fun, but it was sweet of her to invite us. Perhaps another time...
We're out of the house early, for an appointment at a magical palazzo in the village of Roccalvecce. Diego, one of the owners, traces his lineage back five hundred years. We agree to list it on our site under Places to Stay, so look for it soon. Don't be confused with our other local friend and owner of Castello Santa Maria, Diego Bevilaqua.
Diego is delightful, and we are hopeful we'll get to know him better. He knows the owners of a number of exquisite private gardens in the area, and we're encouraging him to put tours together. People would stay at his palazzo for a week, and each day they'd be taken to private gardens and see local towns of interest, including Orvieto, Bolsena, Civita di Bagnoreggio, Viterbo, and on and on.
Since we're not tour guides, nor are we interested, we're happy to give him the business. Just check in with us first and we'll talk with him about arranging it for you.
For a friend, we speak with him about a possible wedding in April of 70 to 80 people, and most of them can stay right in the palazzo in really beautifully restored rooms.
I personally become distracted, for everywhere I turn I see something else I'd like to paint. His family stemma is first, but then there are other stemmas. Once we've seen the facilities, he takes us around his garden. For the next ten years or so, he'll be restoring a secret passageway from the garden to the bottom of the palazzo. The spot really is, well, delicious! My imagination races at the thought of it all.
In the past decade or so, they've replaced hundreds and hundreds of box in a formal garden not unlike Ruspoli, but on a smaller scale. You know me and formal gardens; I just love boxwood sculptured in a labyrinth just crying out, "follow me!".
Behind the garden lies an abandoned lemonaia with the most beautiful original curved windows. He's going to turn it into what he calls a "clubhouse" because it's near one of the two swimming pools and can be used as a cabana and outdoor bar.
This is a really wonderful place to stay, with elegant accommodations, dreamy vistas and peaceful surroundings. I think the food must be wonderful, too, for his cooks prepare simple local fare, and he waxes ecstatic about a local cheese vendor, so we know he's interested in using local produce and meats and other foods and introducing them to people from other corners of the world.
We're still on the prowl for printed t-shirts (magliette) for Ferragosto, but everyone is closed for the long holiday. We hear of someone in Bassano in Teverina, but she's closed after today, and when she opens she does not do the type of printing we need. So on we go...
After the afternoon break, Dino drives to Amelia to meet with a realtor about a property for a client and also to meet with a printer who may have a source for the shirts. This time, we'll print more, and hopefully they'll have a black background. At €10 a shirt, even the folks from Mugnano can afford to buy more than one.
I have stemmas on the brain, and it's time that Mugnano has a worthy stemma. The Lante stemma is so very complicated, that I think I need to design a new one. We've had comments from local people recommending that we have stemmas for each neighborhood, but I'm wondering if this little village wants to do that. We're just family. Once we separate the areas of our village, I wonder if we'll become competitive. I'd hate to see that.
So I'm looking for advice, and perhaps there will be an advisory committee set up soon, comprised of people from all different viewpoints and all streets of this little village. I'd like the history represented. Let's see if we can do this in a friendly and expansive way. Usually with these things, there is a lot of heated discussion with not much resolved.
I'm thinking the best thing to do is to paint one stemma that represents all of Mugnano, and if we later have neighborhoods, or riones, I can design different ones for them then. We'll see. Yes, there is always something...
We take a walk up to the borgo at around ten, and of course everyone is out on the street. Paola and Antonio have a new mailbox, but it looks as though they're not at home. But when we stand outside Ernesta's talking with Marsiglia, Paola walks up and we're able to greet her as Signora. Before her wedding, she was a signorina. She looks beautiful and radiant.
"Do you want to see the house?" she asks us, and of course we do. So we're given a tour of the tiny jewelbox, ultra modern Italian throughout the main and upper floor. We do not see the cantina, which has the pizza oven and we think will be more rustic.
Imagine yourself in a current design magazine, glossy black, chartreuse, and white with pale wood floors. The black iron supports on the side of the stairway will have transparent glass panels, the tall frigo is glossy black, cabinets are white, the dishwasher and washing machine hidden behind white panels. Tiles are chartreuse, with embossed square details, and my thoughts are bouncing around my head.
I have offered to make them a set of dessert plates, and although have one of the kitchen tiles, the palate is clear and no design comes to mind. I am not sure what it will be. If they have a painting, a figured something to play against, that would help. Perhaps I'll do some dreaming and see if I can imagine my way into a design. This is a new challenge for me, but one I look forward to.
We walk home with Sofi totally ignoring Basquia and all the neighbors in Mugnano "Basso" calling out to her. She ignores them all, choosing instead to sniff all the smells on the way, and there are many.
Dino rises early to water in the garden. He chooses to water early in the morning, for this time of day is indeed the sweetest. In the distance, I hear a cock crowing and although I'd rather sleep in, I can't seem to. It's a beautiful day, and the temperature seems a bit cooler. Let's get up!
It's been days since we've eaten pasta, so for pranzo I'll fix pasta with an uncooked sauce. Cooked penne pasta will be served with a marinated mixture of chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, one half of a clove of garlic, grindings of sea salt and pepper, left for two hours to meld the flavors. Over the top will be grates of fresh buffala mozzarella left to melt on the freshly drained pasta.
This morning, Dino returns to Amelia for another meeting with an estate agent. A client wants to make an offer on a property, but have they waited too long? The anticipation builds. It may take up to a month or more to see if this offer is finalized. There may be another buyer in the wings.
But is it a smoke screen to get the client moving? The real estate business in Italy is as mysterious as what happens in an oven with my ceramics. The results are left to a higher power, I'm afraid. So might as well not worry about it.
I'm thinking of painting a harlequin on Paola and Antonio's plates, juggling objects in the air. So I play with a design, and Dino likes it. Since there will be six plates, I think I'll paint part of the figure on each plate, with different versions of the juggling act on each one. I do set up challenges for myself, don't I?
We drive up to Paola and Antonio's reception, for it is raining a fine mist, and park not far from the entrance to the borgo. Pepe's garden is already full of people. Loredana tells us that they only time she sees everyone is at a funeral, so it's nice to have a happy event to see everyone in the village.
It seems they have been together for all the time we have owned this house, and now they are one. "E fatto!" or "It's done!" is what we say with a smile, now that they're settling down. But I ask Candida if she will miss her Paoletta, and yes, she will. One of my fondest memories of the wedding is the night before the wedding, with dear Candida standing in the dark behind Paola as Antonio serenades her from the garden.
The maglietta (t-shirts) are such a big hit, that we're having trouble getting more printed for Ferragosto. Everyone is closed for the long holiday, but the locals would really love to buy more shirts. Tomorrow Dino will try some other sources. If not, they'll be printed in September. This time, we'll print black shirts with the Mugnano picture on the back, and the tower and church on the breastplate. That's Dino's idea, and it will look, well, carina.
I'm ready to do research on the stemma, and Tiziano and I agree that I'll do a stemma that represents the whole village. If later we want to have neighborhood stemmas, that's fine, too. We'll be doing a lot of research during these days, for now we hear that we will be able to obtain our citizenships before ten years. The law was just passed, but it has to go through the Senate. We have no idea how long that will take, but in the meantime, we need to get our papers in order.
We distribute the remaining shirts and walk home, where I make a pasta frittata that is more than delicious, using fresh buffala mozzarella, a little prosciutto, and yesterday's cold pasta with fresh tomatoes and basil. I also make a cold lemony meringue pie.
Today I work on a fruit colander, and it takes a few hours to paint. It will be taken to Elena tomorrow, for the pieces Dino wanted to pick up today were not ready. They'll be ready tomorrow. So I'll continue with the pieces I have until they are all painted, then we'll purchase more smalto and mix it ourselves.
I spend some time looking up our citizenship records, and find the complicated document we need from the Italian government mixed in with the file for Dino's grandfather. We tried to obtain citizenship through his grandfather a few years ago, but no one could find any records of him in the U S! After going around and around with the U S Immigration Service we gave up.
Now that the law will be passed sometime this next year that we can gain Italian citizenship before ten years, we will get our papers in order. This is really good news.
Mario arrives at 6AM tomorrow to weed-whack, so we slip into bed and ready early. Dino is reading a terror novel about global warming, and I wonder what it will take for people to wake up and do something about it. An old story on 60 Minutes airs tonight. If we don't do something about it in the next ten years, the repercussions will be irreversible.
I'll happily do less driving around, and will go through the list of what we can do to start to make a difference. I'm sure without much effort we can all make a real difference. And on that note, I get into bed and hopefully won't keep myself up all night worrying about it....
The weather has cooled off, and this morning is really delightful. I set my sites on painting, and have a new design to work on...the painting of pears. So until I think I have them perfected, I'll be painting them on all sorts of things.
I am somewhat distracted, because I've researched how to design a stemma or family crest, and want to involve the residents of our village in the decision before designing and painting it. So I draw up a kind of ballot listing the choices.
There are about one hundred characteristics to choose from, and I'm looking for the top twenty or so. Yes, artistically they must work together, but I like all the choices. It will be fun to see if people want to participate, and what they'll have to say.
A stemma is used to describe a person or a family. It is a coat of arms, and the characteristics that the residents choose will be interesting. I hope to have it finished in September, based on ballots turned in by the end of August.
Dino continues to try to track down resources to print t-shirts during this vacation period. He's not having much luck. If he can't get them printed, he can take orders for shirts that will be ready at the beginning of September.
He drives up to Elena to bring a couple of pieces, and returns with the big blue and white plate. Other than a few smalto issues, the plate is very good. What do you think?
There's a zucchini sitting in the kitchen from the garden, but our two zucchini plants have not done well this year. Neither have the tomatoes, but we have two tomatoes from two plants that we can't identify, and I think one is a Brandywine.
That's enough for me to whip something up for pranzo, so I put a pot of water on to boil for the penne pasta, then slice the zucchini very fine after soaking it in water for thirty minutes.
In the loggia, I fry up the zucchini in batches in girasole oil, and they're so thin they're like chips; then blot them on paper towels.
In the kitchen, I dice up the fresh tomatoes and a bunch of basil growing next to the tomatoes, along with some fresh mint from the garden. Mint is wonderful with zucchini. Dino grates Parmesan cheese. When the penne is al dente, I mix everything together in a big bowl, adding grindings of sea salt and black pepper. The taste is fresh and light and perfect for a summer's day.
Dino is working with a realtor in Amelia for a client, and the negotiations give our lives an added sense of adventure. I try to stay out of it, choosing to paint instead. And paint I do.
By the time I'm done for the day, and the sun is low on the horizon, I've painted every last piece that we smaltoed with Marco. So tomorrow it's off to Deruta to purchase more pieces, our own smalto and a densitometer, after dropping the six newly painted pieces at Elena's.
I'm painting pears and pears and more pears, and perhaps I'll paint pears on Paola and Antonio's dessert plates. There are two little bishop's plates left to paint, so I paint Mugnano scenes with the Mugnano-in-T. lettering at the bottom.
I've moved my painted signature to the back of each plate, and below it, the name of the village. So no longer will you see my "ee" on the front of any piece.
Dino clips more cachi, and he's at around 4,100 by now. The fruits are big and hard, easier to see but harder to clip. Will he have another thousand to clip? I don't think so, but there are at least a couple hundred more lurking behind the leaves.
Wonder if the tree has any idea of how much longer it will continue on our front terrace? We're planning its demise, ever so slowly, to be taken up by a luscious black iron curved pergola and wisteria vines.
At Paola and Antonio's party the other day, I asked a friend if she is doing any writing. She responded by telling me that her book is not finished, and that the craft of it is so hard. "It's not like putting your thoughts down in a journal. It's very difficult!"
That exclamation point is mine. I have no idea why anyone would consciously act in such a condescending manner, but then she is correct. Writing in the journal is not difficult. Thankfully, I hear from enough people that they follow the journal that it must be interesting reading for a few folks. And when I completely lose my memory we'll have something to read about what we did and what it felt like. Sigh.
The sound of the rain tonight through the open window gives me an image of the side terrace below, although my back is to the window. I can hear a drinking sound as the rivulets of water cascade down the dry bank; so thirsty, so thirsty after all the summer heat.
Yesterday the weather changed. It just changed. Dropped by ten degrees, it did. All day I waited for the oppressive heaviness of the air, the tiredness of my body as I'd drag myself across the front of the house to the loggia and back. It never came.
Today was full of activity, and Dino and Sofi and I fairly danced through our adventures, windows down in the car, Sofi's ears flapping in the breeze as her nose faced the side mirror, full of delight.
With the new hydraulico a "no show", and Dino unable to reach him on the cell phone, we're not about to wait. We stop in Amelia to drop off an envelope at a real estate agency, then drive on through the back side of Amelia to the E45 and on to Deruta.
Vania is closed for the holiday, but Mondo Ceramica and our other little ceramic shop are open. We purchase a sack of smalto powder, a big white tub and then a fallegname (woodworker) is called in to cut a piece of wood to sit on the top. We have it in twenty minutes or so, so pick up a densitometer and a few pieces next door.
Francesco sees us and his eyes light up as though we are old friends. He waits on us, making sure we are well taken care of. Then we're on out way home.
Dino asks if anyplace around can make t-shirt transfers, and we stop at a little shop, where Simone takes our information and the image and tells us his father will call this afternoon. We won't give up this search for the Mugnano shirts, and tomorrow we'll return to Viterbo to the place where Dino first ordered the shirts.
Giuliola's daughter tells Dino that the shop is open during August. And perhaps we'll also stop to see the workshop down the street from Rosario in San Pellegrino. We're told they give painting lessons, and what fun it would be to attend a workshop there!
With a stop at the Autogrill for a quick plate of pasta, we're home by 2PM, and as we drive up the Mugnano hill the village looms dark as a scary movie. An hour later, the wind whips up and we're closing the kitchen window, the basil plants rocking back and forth as though they're on Noah's ark in a storm.
Tomorrow or so, we'll mix the smalto, and then it will sit for two days before we can dip. I'm looking forward to that; looking forward to using the densitometer to be sure that the mix of water to smalto is accurate. I even have a white lab coat!
Hopefully soon I'll be an expert at dipping the "greenware" into the breach. I've practiced quite a bit in class in Terni, including stirring the smalto with the long oar to make sure everything sitting on the bottom whooshes around in whirlpool fashion. We'll see if I learned anything.
I read up some more about the citizenship issue, and we are to begin the search by meeting with the mayor. So once we are sure we have all our documents, we'll make an appointment with him.
But this afternoon I'm itching to paint, so I sketch my new favorite subject: pears. I have all kinds of ideas about pears that I want to paint. Before I'm done, I've sketched at least ten of them, each one more fun for me than the last. I really am enjoying myself, and by the way Dino and Sofi look over at me, they're enjoying themselves, too.
When I turn in about ten, the rain continues strong and steady. I love the sound, love how it feels to sleep to its soft serenade.
My garden "guru", Sarah Hammond, recommends two types of Japanese wisteria, W. floribunda "Macrobotrys" or W.f. Longissima for our pergola on the terrace. Depending on the time of the flowering, we may plant the Japanese. There's no need for a May flowering, as everything else flowers then. We're hoping for a June or July flower, when everything else takes a rest. Yes, I am an optimist.
So the planning of the pergola marches on, with the height of it moving up and up and up...
Dino drives to Orte to have an xray of his problem knee and then we're off to Viterbo. Sofi sits hidden behind one of the big vibernum pots to the right of the front door, so tiny it is as if she wants to disappear until we return. It makes me ache to leave her, but the car is just too hot for her if we are unable to take her into a shop.
On the way to Viterbo, we stop at Elena's to drop off the last of my ceramics that have been smaltoed and painted, and she wants to show me something. Walking to the back of the little shop, she brings out tiny vials of special paint. She counsels that I smalto some objects in plain white, fire them and then paint them with this new type of paint. Then they will be fired at a lower temperature.
She believes that with my use of tiny brushstrokes, that I will be able to achieve better results with this method, and I am moved that she offers to guide me without being asked. My thoughts soar!
Once in Viterbo, we are able to change the placement of the t-shirt design and to order a few more shirts, but the only shop open is unable to provide us with the black shirts we'd prefer.
We learn something more important: to transfer a design onto black, the design will disappear as soon as the shirt is washed. So we add the tower on the breastplate of the front of the shirt, move the Mugnano design to the back, and we'll be able to pick this current order up on Saturday. We will have shirts after all for Ferragosto, but they will be white.
With the t-shirt idea seeming to be a big success in our little village, we probably will find a better vendor in September and silk screen the design. Then we'll be able to order them in black. Dino's project management experience in the U S will be called upon, so perhaps we'll print more than just shirts. This is his project, so it's up to him to decide.
We stop at an art supply store to pick up Kaolin. Remember Kaolin? That is the natural mineral found all over Ponza. It is also an ingredient in Kaopectate. Now it will be an ingredient in our smalto, and the owner tells us it will make the solution stronger and more lucido.
We're near San Pellegrino, the marvelous Medieval section of Viterbo, and walk by Rosario's glass shop. "Turno subito" the hand printed sign in the window tells us. But a man sitting outside another shop leaning back against an ancient wood and cane chair laughs when Dino comments, "Sempre turno subito!" Later the shop is open, but Rosario won't return until the end of the month. Fa niente. We have another mission on this day.
A ceramics shop is located a few doors down, offering characteristic medieval designs. We think this may be the place where ceramics painting is taught, and it is. We ask for Luciana, but Dino thinks that one of them tells him that she purchased the shop from her.
Could she be from Naples?(To understand this, you need to understand the Napolitan mentality. Look up our adventure on June 14th in the archives to see what I mean.)
I'm taken by some of the shapes of the jugs, and some of the colors of the smalto. The course offered here is more expensive than my workshop in Terni, but I sign up for four lessons. I will learn some new techniques here, and love the shape of some of the pitchers. I can envision my pear design featured prominently on at least one...
In the meantime, Dino looks up the name that Giuliano gave him at Mondo Ceramica yesterday. It is Luciana and he calls the number. The woman answers and yes, she will give painting lessons, but her shop is not in Viterbo, but in a nearby town.
I have a feeling that she may be a master craftsperson, so want to meet her. Her workshop won't begin until October, so I can take the Viterbo workshop first and see where I'll go from there.
In the meantime, I'm thinking I want to take painting lessons from the Russian painter in Orvieto, so I need to remind Candida and Franco to introduce me. There are some subtleties of design that I want to understand, a few fundamentals.
We return home to an anxious Sofi, and spend the rest of the day lolling around.
Each day, I've begun to pick a tomato or two from the garden. Today I pick two more. The basilico plants are growing wildly, and I pull off a few stalks, ignoring that fact that many of them are in flower and I should really deflower them all before they go to seed.
I've come to realize that I am really not much of a gardener after all. Painter, yes. Gardener, probably no. I want the garden to look pretty all year, but don't obsess about it any more. Perhaps it is the heat that keeps us inside during the middle part of each day. Strangely, Dino spends more time in the garden, and now enjoys his early morning puttering around. That pleases me greatly.
Tiziano arrives for a visit around six, and we have a meeting about the stemma of Mugnano. I show him the memo I've drafted, but he is enchanted by the Lante Mugnano stemma I've painted on a flat piece of thin tile. "You should sell it!" he counsels, but I'm waiting to see what the same stemma looks like on the large square plate first.
He agrees with my suggestion that the people of the village be allowed to vote on the characteristics that the stemma will embody. So we try to arrange a meeting with Antonio. He will be responsible for carrying out this part of the process, and writing the memo to the residents of the village.
After Tiziano leaves, I do some more sketching of pears in my sketch book, liking the concepts very much. Dino walks out to the loggia to stir the smalto, and check its density. We have one more day to go until it is ready to use. Then I'll dip a few items and have Elena fire them before using her paints to paint in a new process.
We are more than a week away from my first lesson with her, so perhaps I'll do some painting of a few of my things then. For now, I'm waiting for the smalto to mix and keeping myself busy sketching.
Dino has been tracking a FEDEX letter from the U S and it has arrived in Viterbo. So he drives over to pick it up, calling me on the way back. He wants to deliver it to the estate agent in Amelia and for me to view a possible new property for our site with him. So he picks me up and we drive to Amelia.
Summer is full of feast days and sagras all over Italy, and Amelia is smack in the middle of its summer festas. There is hardly a place to park anywhere. Dino of course finds a place on a back street, and we deliver the offer and are taken to a new location near Piazza Marconi.
The apartment is really lovely, more than 200 square meters, consisting of three bedrooms and two baths, a large living room and good-sized kitchen. But really there is only one real bedroom, with the other bedrooms functioning better as a loft and as a den. I see it as a really smart rental unit, and as an occasional place for someone from Rome or from the U S to use, with little or no maintenance needed.
There is no garden, nor is there a terrace, but there is plenty of light. It needs no work, and we believe the furniture will be included. It is an excellent investment. We hope to offer it on our site soon.
At home after pranzo, I do some more drawing, and Dino checks the densitometer on the smalto. Tomorrow, tomorrow...
My last two large ceramic pieces will be ready on Saturday morning, and we'll take a few dipped smalto pieces to be fired before my lesson next week. Starting tomorrow, I can paint again!
The green striped tomatoes that Paola loves are ripening on the vine, and should be ready this next week. All the tomatoes are ripening slowly. Is it possible that we have neglected them except for making sure they have lots of water?
They are growing pretty willy-nilly this year, and we've just let them be. Perhaps tomatoes are like compost...they just happen. Speriamo. Candida tells us from over the garden fence that no one's tomatoes are doing well this year, either.
Yesterday I had another bout of forgetfulness. I thought I had my regular eye glasses with me all the time we were in Viterbo, but when I reached the house I had no idea where they were. It took Dino some real searching to find them on a bench on the terrace. I put them down to hang out some laundry, and totally forgot where they were.
I mean, my mind just blanked. He wants me to try to buy some drug store glasses, you know, the inexpensive kind. It sounds like a good idea if I can find ones that will work. I will mention this again when we meet with Dr. Alberti this fall about my migraines.
The moon is big and jolly tonight, and that may be why Sofi acts so strange when we take her up to the borgo for a walk. On the way, all our neighbors in the first row of houses on Via Mameli are having dinner out on the street on a long table.
They make room for us as we walk by, bringing us glasses of local vino and ciambellas cooked right in Luigina's cantina. After they're taken out of the hot oil, she rubs them in castor sugar and Dino's eyes light up.
He loves ciambellas (donuts). So of course he has one. We sit for a minute, then excuse ourselves because we're doing our "giro" up to Mugnano "Alto".
Felice sits on the bench in front of the Università Agraria, yawning and trying to keep awake. Marsiglia sits with Giuliola across the piazza. Not many people are around tonight. Although it is summer, and the weekend before Ferragosto, many people are "at the beach".
I'm able to speak a little, and we share with the people who are around that we'll have some shirts on Saturday. Dino thinks we won't be able to sell many more shirts, so we'll see.
Our little events for these few weekends will be sparsely attended, so they will be easier to work at. I admit we approach this festarolo business with a modicum of trepidation. So following along and taking orders is what will work for us this year. We really like all the people, and it is a great way to get to know everyone.
We're happy that our village is small. We love Amelia. It is a grand place to live. But it is a little too active for us. Mugnano is more our speed. That reminds me. I don't have a lumaca (snail) anywhere on my list of characteristics for the Mugnano stemma, and that's for the best. It's better that it be a silent joke than a reality. We may be slow, but I think we're still lovable.
The current terrorist plots unveiled in England remind us that we're several months away from flying to the U S. Without a book or anything to read on fifteen or more hours of flights, I hope there will be lots of movies. It will certainly affect what we bring to the U S and back again. But this is a small inconvenience when mirrored against the possible threat.
Last night Attigliano shot off a round of fireworks, and Sofi's cried were heard by two very sleepy souls. I picked her up and brought her into bed with us.
After joyously romping around for about ten seconds, she planted herself in a spot, curling up like a croissant, in a "Don't see me" mode. She was sure that if she did not move that she could stay there all night. Not so.
A few hours later, I plopped her back in her own bed. For the rest of the night she slept quietly, probably dreaming of her former spot on the high mattress.
Today is windy and somewhat cooler. While Dino is off to Viterbo to work with the printer on a t-shirt "snag", Sofi and I work in the garden. I admit it is lovely, and on this cool morning I enjoy deadheading roses, clipping here and there and performing the last rose feeding of the season.
I'm tempted to begin to clip the box, but am sure it is too early. Clipping boxwood when the weather is too warm results in burned edges. So they'll get a little leggy.
What's this? Rain? I'm writing away and hear the tingling sounds of rain on the shutters, but with nothing outside to get wet, it's not a problem. Down below, there is much calling out. We are all surprised at the storm that strikes even before pranzo, and know that our neighbors are rushing to get under cover, returning to their homes for pranzo earlier than usual.
Dino returns with the sad news that although he found a printer willing to work this week, the printer is unable to...print! The Ferragosto t-shirts will not be a reality for Mugnano until at least September. We're pleased that the villagers like the idea of special t-shirts, but now feel a real responsibility to deliver. The printers here don't make it easy.
I've deleted a day's worth of journal entries by mistake, but hopefully can recreate what 's gone on. In the afternoon, we take a trip to Tenaglie to meet with the owner of one of the properties we are trying to help him sell. We tell him that we are unable to reach the muratore who worked on his house.
He then calls with no luck, but will try again. Perhaps if he puts some pressure on, the muratore will work on our quote as soon as he returns from vacation. Vacation. This country virtually shuts down in August. It's time to remember that we're not in America anymore.
We return by way of Sipicciano and have one of Walter's special gelatos. He owns the bar in the square, and a visit there in the heat of the summer is a treat. All the gelato is made right inside, and it is agreed to be the best in the region.
Before returning home, we drive out to another property we have listed on the site, and take another look at it, as well as the neighborhood. It is located in an area called "the hill of chestnut trees" or poggio castagno, and although the property is the most inexpensive on our site at €51.000 (thousands are indicated with a period instead of a comma in Italia), it comes with approved plans for a good sized house.
What's most remarkable about this property is the ancient grotto, which could possibly be Etruscan (think two thousand years ago). The old stone house on the property is more than a hundred years old, and only the shell of the stone house remains.
That means that one could use the stones to rebuild the house in characteristic fashion. My imagination comes up with a very sweet house and a fabulous outdoor kitchen made into the grotto. Think about it...
Back at home, a pain in the back of my neck becomes a bona fide migraine, and I'm in bed before 7 P M with an ice pack. Five hours and four ice packs later, I'm ready to shoot myself, the pain is so intense. Somehow I survive, and the night ends.
I'm a little groggy, but feeling somewhat better. Dino wants to drive to Sorano but I don't have the energy. It all works out, for Enzo calls and arrives to finish the project in the loggia connecting the hot water. When he's through, Dino talks to him about Stein's project, but he looks at us in dismay. He is alone, his son is in Spain, his assistant is on vacation. When they both return, he has a big project in Bomarzo, and will be completely unavailable.
Dino convinces him to go to Steins with him on the spot. He at least makes a mental note of what he will have to do. So who knows if he'll do the work in September. Here's another case where August pulls the legs out from under any project we attempt to undertake.
We smalto a few pieces and take them up to Elena, who gives us back most of the pieces she has been given to fire. Pears, pears and more pears. They are looking good. Dino is pleased that we are doing our own smalto now, so at least we'll have more control. Once we know what we are doing, perhaps the smalto issues of the past will be behind us.
With the addition of kaolin to the formula, Elena tells us the surface will be quite hard and durable. This is also an element of porcelain. It's not the method she uses, but she tells us it is a variation. Each person who does this kind of work needs to find a formula that works for him. So we'll see if this is "the one".
I work on smalto-ing some pieces, and then take a nap. Dino gets a call from Ane, Stein's daughter, and he brings the keys to her. We'll see them all tonight at the Guardea gnocci festival.
Earlier Dino called to increase the reservation, and each time he calls the person answering knows just who he is. It will be funny to see what is written on the tables when we arrive. If you recall, this festa is the place where Dino got his name...
I am disappointed to let you know that the three tables reserved for us were in the name of...Diner. Everyone seemed to know Dino, so perhaps he needs to change the reservation to just that. We'll attend another sagra there this summer, so let's see what they do with this new/old information.
Twenty two of us have a marvelous meal, and seated near us are other Mugnano folk. I sit next to Tiziano and his family and Elena and Valerio, and Dino sits closer to the middle of the group with Tony and Pat and Franco and Candida. Tia and Bruce and their guests, along with Alan and Wendy are seated next, ending up with Stein's daughter, her boyfriend and his family. It is a jolly group.
Most of us eat gnocchi with a castrato sauce. If I told you what castrato was, you'd think it was not very appetizing. But it is. There is spiedini, grilled lamb, grilled pork, french fries cocomero (watermelon). I remember how filling the gnocchi is, so stop at that.
Elena and Valerio and Rosita and Enzo stay to dance, but everyone else leaves, including us. Candida sends us home with a big bunch of lemon basil, and the perfume of it is really incredible. She brought seeds from the U S last winter, and this is the result. We'll have to remember to add this to our seed list of heirloom tomatoes. Yes, we still plant those, still love the taste.
This morning when starting our walk on the flat part of Via Mameli, Alberto glides his little tractor back out of its garage and Dino tells me it reminds him of jockeys guiding horses out of their stalls to get ready for a race.
It is that kind of affection that a paesano has for his tractor. Alberto smiles at us, but does not speak. He is a shy man, and his wife, Luigina, often speaks for both of them.
Don Luca is our priest today, and he speaks about grain falling from heaven. I do believe I understand some of the words. So at home I'll look up the 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time, version B, and see what I can learn.
On the way back from church, Giovanna's husband, Franco, stands with a heater somewhat like a hair dryer poised over a panel of his front door, which lies on its back on two wooden saw horses. That's all he uses to remove decades of paint off the door.
When asked, he tells us that the wood is fir. Later when we walk by again, the door is reinstalled and a castagno (chestnut) stain permeates the finish. It is quite a good job.
Dino and I silently think of our front door and wonder if Silvano will arrive when he said that he would, before the end of August, to refinish ours. It looks easy enough that if he does not, Dino might take the project on himself.
I spend most of the afternoon napping after making a grand chicken salad in one of our newly painted bowls. Candida's lemon basil and estragon (tarragon) fresh from the garden add to the tastes of the roast chicken and grapes and walnuts and other good things.
But it's so cool that we're wondering if we should have had soup. A migraine wants to shake me up, and I'm oh so very tired. So I'll see if I can sleep it off. Sofi joins me, lying in her bed with her head hanging over the wicker side, just watching...
Dino calls from the borgo at around 6PM. Gelato is being served by Mauro and there are people milling all around. So Sofi and I walk up there and the piazza sings with happy people, milling around.
Mauro "the taller" brings out a plastic table and the men sit in front of the Università building until they realize there 's too much wind. So they move the table and chairs in front of the little church, and begin to play cards.
It's taken all this time for the people to really settle in to this new piazza, and now Francesco leans back in his chair and comments out loudly so that everyone can hear. He's like a little boy, saying, "Look at ME! I'm a big guy now!"
Ten years from now, the same people will be seated in the same chairs, and I'll be thinking back to the first times we all settled in. Yes, this is how it should be.
Inside Giuliola's cantina, she stands tall at a portable burner, cooking the small and puffy pizzas one at a time in hot oil. After they come out of the oil, they're salted or sugared. This is a Mugnano specialty, and I want to get in on the action.
So later in the evening I ask Laura if she'll teach me how to make them, and she beams. Earlier, I watched her roll the dough. She used a small rolling pin, flipping part of the dough over the pin and pulling the underside. I'll stand next to her tomorrow, bringing my own rolling pin and getting into the thick of it.
Lore and Alberto stand near the Università building, and when I go over to greet her, she tells me I smell of pizza. Boh! After a minute or two I return to the women, cutting off paper towels and watching. Music is playing and the women are dancing, Elena throwing her ball of pizza dough up in the air and even Rosita swings her hips to the music.
The dancers are setting up for their performance, and it is to be a ballet performance, the dancers quite young and very accomplished. The music on the cd player begins, and it is the famous Rachmaninoff concerto....
I'm transported back to my childhood, lying on the dining room carpet in front of the Webcor phonograph. Hour after hour I'd play this same record, mesmerized by its haunting tones.
Tonight, I'm thinking that I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined that I would be standing here tonight. Although I dreamed and dreamed while that record played and played, my dreams were never like this.
And at this moment, Rosita looks up from her rolling pin and pizza dough at me and smiles big, letting me know she's happy I'm there. My eyes well up with tears. I'm overwhelmed, as I have been so very many times in this little village. And it is enough for me to stand there silently and take it all in.
The dance troup of ten are mostly around twenty or so years young, but so professional I'd rate them close to any group I've ever seen. It is a truly marvelous performance, and after it is done we cook them cena.
While Dino and Livio set up a long table and chairs for the eleven of them, I slice melon and make plates of prosciutto and melon. Laura and Giuliola serve homemade pasta with sauce, then the prosciutto and melon, followed by a plum torte and coffee and plenty of wine and grappa. We are met by cheers from the group, who are all tired and happy and full after their successful performance. The group, from Napoli, moves on to Viterbo for a performance tomorrow night in San Martino Nel Cimino.
It's a lovely morning, and Dino's already out trading our bombola for a full one. Tonight it will be working full time to cook pizza biancas in the piazza. We are wondering if the man we hired to provide entertainment will be worth listening to. We'll soon find out.
Dino cautions me against painting, so I make a lemon meringue pie, roast peppers in anchovies, and slice some eggplant. After Dino grills them, I make a marinade of chopped basil, chopped garlic, olive oil and salt and pepper. There's chicken to grill, so we have ourselves a little feast, after which I take another nap.
Secretly, I pick Sofi up and let her lie next to me on the bed. She does not move an inch, afraid I'll take her off. But in an hour I've rested enough, and she's happy to be put back on terra firma.
Dino acts as though tonight is my movie premiere, so what am I missing? I'll be standing in the alleyway between the little church and Giuliola and Livio's, rolling dough with four or five other women, and will bring my rolling pin. After looking at Laura's, I understand that mine is too long.
For these little pizzettas, the proper rolling pin is about eight inches long. There won't be high expectations of my performance, so I am not worried. It is enough for me to attempt an admirable performance. So on we go...
The sky is clear, the temperature warmer than last night, and we arrive in the borgo with Sofi in tow, at least for the beginning of the evening. The church doors are open at first, and women come from all directions, entering one by one.
Earlier Dino delivered our outdoor burner and bombola, and I realize that there will be a mass tonight before the music. So Dino takes Sofi home, and while he's gone I decide to enter the church.
Half of the church is filled with women, reciting the rosary, with Giuliola in the front row in loud voice, her cadence smoky-sounding in a kind of drone. The women know just what to respond.
I sit against the back wall, my head leaning back on the cool surface. My neck and upper back have been in a lot of pain lately, and this morning I began to take magnesium tablets. Franco sent me an internet article on solutions for migraines, and I'm ready to try something new. Magnesium tablets are one of the suggestions.
It is also possible that my current migraines come from a pain in my upper back. Dino thinks it's because I paint for too many hours with my neck in the same position. There are as many prognostications about migraines as there are stars in the sky.
I close my eyes and enjoy the spiritual experience, just sitting there. After awhile, Don Luca arrives, and soon afterward the rosary finishes, and men begin to join the women inside.
I move to the side aisle against the wall, and later Dino comes to sit next to me. Laura sits on the other side of me against the wall, and I am mesmerized by her voice as she recites the Lord's Prayer. She is such a reverent woman, so involved in her mass experience, that when I hear the sound of her voice, it seems to come from somewhere deep inside her, the words stretched out as though she wants to bring the most out of each one.
The mass ends, and Dino sets up the second burner inside Giuliola's cantina. But it's structured to set higher than Giuliola's, and does not heat the pizzas as well. Rosanna is anxious as her dough does not bubble up as quickly as Giuliola's, and each woman in the little room has a different solution.
Mauro the muratore arrives and places a brick of clay under the pipe leading into the burner, and raises it just enough to work. The women all stand inside this little room tonight, and there's no room for me to roll the dough. I'm clipping paper towels to drain the pizzas until we're almost through.
All the while, Renata has been working like a house afire, attacking the 7 kilos of raised dough in a big plastic bin until it is smooth, kneading it back and forth with her strong short arms, back and forth, back and forth...
People begin to mill about, pizzas are handed out and money collected, and the ritual begun last night of waiting in line for four or five or ten to be ready, then dropping the euros into the Festarolo basket and walking home to eat, begins again.
The music seems to start early, and the first piece is Fabrizio singing Cole Porter's "Night and Day." I look for Dino, but he is nowhere around. In the moonlight, I'd love to take a turn with him on the beautiful mattone tiles of the piazza that serve as tonight's dance floor. Instead, I walk back inside and rock back and forth in time to the music.
Work slows down to a turtle crawl, and Renata finishes almost all the rolling of the dough. So I ask her about it, and she hands me a ball of dough, telling me to watch her.
"Boom!" She crashes the short pin smack in the middle of the dough, moves it quickly and surely forward as though she's a steam roller. It is the sure-footing of the roller that is so very important, and as I try to imitate her, I realize that it's not so easy to do.
She stops when she has a perfectly round pie shape, about 1/8 inch thick, and thwacks the palm of her hand right in the middle. Then she whacks it, takes the tines of a fork and punctures it all around, picks up the feather-light disc and places it on paper towels, where it rests until Giuliola is ready to slip it into the hot oil.
Outside on the dance floor, tiny Andrea Perini is the first to dance with his Charlie Chaplin bit, and Andrea Filiberti follows with his version of a break dance, rolling around on the ground like a coffee cup not able to find it's bottom.
In a minute, Salvatore Ferrigno hops forward wearing bright red high-top sneakers, followed by Andrea Romoli. These children are totally uninhibited, and make it easy for the adults to follow.
Elena and Valerio arrive on the dance floor as the first adults, weaving in each other's arms in a kind of tango, expertly moving around and around like windup dolls, perfectly angled here, and there.
Nando and Rita join in, followed by Luigina and her husband Alberto, then Loredana and Alberto Roverselli all practicing their steps. Vincenza and Augosto join in, smoothly dipping to and fro. Fabrizio is so welcoming and friendly that people start to come out of the little houses as is their custom moments before a Sunday Mass is about to begin.
But tonight, there's another reason to appear, and it is as if Fabrizio's sounds waft into each house and mesmerize the residents to come and see what is going on.
Sure, many people just want to sit and watch. I walk over to Felice and Marsiglia and put my hands on Felice's shoulders, asking him if he'd like to take a spin. "Dieci anni fa!..." (ten years ago) he responds, nodding his head to say no. Marsiglia sadly nods her head to agree. Ten years ago, you would have seen them on the dance floor. They'll just watch tonight, as will Candida and Augosta and Luciana and Maria...
The type of music that is played tonight is called "liscio" or smooth. That means, the acid rock, hip-hop blaring won't be a part of his repetoire. Dino and I are relieved that Fabrizio is not only good; he is...terrific!
Tango, samba, polka...he plays it all. With a polka in full swing, Mauro the taller dances into the audience and drags a few of us up on the dance floor...including me. It's fun to be out there with the neighbors, frolicking around. I sit back down and a few minutes later Ivo leads me around the floor as if we're a whirling dervish. I am having a great time.
"Where's Dino?" we ask each other, and he's moving a bench, not seeing us yet. "Will he be jealous?" we muse, knowing this is all in fun. He sees us and smiles, knowing he'd rather have Ivo dance me around than have to dance himself.
It is not until later when they play the tune, "Y M C A", that he just has to get into the act. By this time, there are perhaps forty people gyrating on the floor.
What's funny about this tune, is that it's played karaoke style, and when the letters are to be sung, Fabrizio is silent, so the people on the dance floor yell out the letters. Since there is no "Y" in the Italian alphabet, the result is somewhat garbled. Dino always dances to this silly tune. I think it's a "man thing".
It's midnight and the dance floor is so full of people that one would think this was happening in another village, any village except Mugnano. I am told that in memory, this kind of participation has not happened in Mugnano. It is customary for the floor to be rimmed with people sitting back with their arms folded, just staring. Tonight there is none of that.
The night ends with a dozen or more people standing behind Fabrizio and following the karaoke words to some of their favorite old songs. What is wonderful about Fabrizio is that he really has a good time. At one point earlier in the evening, he even left his seat and went out into the crowd to dance with Elena. Tonight was fun for him, and that made the experience even better for all of us.
While his partner shut down the set, I thanked him and told him that he had performed a literal miracle. He could not believe me, thinking that people in Mugnano always acted this way. So perhaps from now on they will...
We provide cena (dinner) for the entertainers, but this time there is only Fabrizio and his friend. So an impromptu group of Mugnanese take it upon themselves to sit at the tables that Dino and Mauro have set up. "What the heck?" as Dino would say. We add more sauce and more pasta, Dino walks home to get some more wine and we have a 1 A M dinner for about 30 in the Piazza. It is great fun!!!
Ferragosto. The iron day of August. Traditionally, it the hottest time of the year, but today there is coolness in the air, and we sleep in just a little.
My back is in real pain, and I think that we might be able to get a massage at Terme dei Papi, the resort on the other side of Viterbo. We wondered about it for years, and Dino calls to make an appointment. We'll have to check in and make one on the spot, so we drive there and are able to make an appointment for about noon.
In the meantime, we take a ride to explore some back roads, and find ourselves in Tuscania, a really remarkable Etruscan town.
There is a little time to walk around, so we park and look into a few shops. A man whom I think is Antonio Iachini welcomes us to his shop, which winds up being three shops on the same side of the little main street. His restoration work is extraordinary, and we're able to see some inlaid restoration of a table. The craft of inlaid wood is certainly an amazing skill.
A little further down the street, we walk into a shop and meet a woman named Mai (pronounced May), whose son makes a very unusual type of frieze made of a type of cement. It appears to be like a resin, but it is not. The cost is very inexpensive. On the walls and the tables are other pieces, statues and objects.
Mai herself speaks English, and sits inside at a table happy to have a conversation other than in Italian. Not as enamored with Italy as we are, she sighs at some of the high costs of living here. We see the glass as half full.
She tells us that there will be an American University nearby this fall, and suggests that I might want to teach painting ceramics. I have to laugh. Flattered by her suggestion, I think instead of our good friend, Tiziano, who we might suggest contact the school. If anyone could teach a great course in Archaeology to English speaking people, it would be Tiziano.
We've run out of time, and tell her we'll return again. Back in the car, we arrive at Terme dei Papi in time for me to have my massage with Gianfranco. He is a tall man dressed in white, with pale hair, pale eyes, pale skin, and a gait as light as if he walks on air. Unfortunately, he is not one of those practitioners who give a deep massage, but he speaks English and is able to do some good work.
When he finishes, I ask him for some neck exercises, and he tells me an interesting thing. "Study animals", he tells me. "Study the way they move. Think of the tiger..." He makes a very funny movement with his head, and it is as if I am looking at a tall chicken, pecking at some grain.
We play at making some animal movements, and I am at once a chicken, hearing "Pick, pick, pick, pick a little..." from Music Man in my head. It's strangely easy to do, and although I don't like yoga, he tells me that the stretching of that exercise would help me, too.
Downstairs I make another appointment for a few days from now, but he is busy, so I make an appointment with someone else. Perhaps this new man will be more forceful. Once this next session is done, I don't anticipate going back for a while. It's too costly except for a once in a while thing. And now I have some good exercises to do.
He believes that my neck problems have to do with a stationary position of my head for the many hours I paint. So now while I paint I'll be like a chicken, or a tiger, or a cat, stopping now and then and stretching my neck muscles. It sounds like a plan.
The remainder of the day is quiet, and I do some painting. Although I have not had much sleep, the massage has relaxed me. And darkness descends and it is time to walk up to the borgo for the mass and procession for Assumption.
Dino lights candles on our front path, telling me that Luigina reminded him to put on our terrace lights. But he took them down earlier in the year, and did not have enough time to put them back up for tonight. We'll make a note to put them up next year.
On the way up to the borgo, both sides of the street are lit with tiny lights. Family by family, a salute to the Virgin Mary is raised. Once in the borgo, the center is set up for an outdoor mass. Dino joins eighteen of his Confraternity buddies, and during the procession carries the San Liberato banner. I walk in single file with the women.
As the procession finishes and the mass ends, Don Luca tells us the money has been raised for the Duomo restoration, and it will begin in October. There is much applause, and much work to be done. I'm thinking it would be wonderful to paint something to donate to the Duomo, so we will see what they need. There is plenty of time.
We walk home in the moonlight, and it is cool enough that a shawl is almost not warm enough. But it is wonderful sleeping weather, and tomorrow we'll begin tomato processing. We're late, but have our new processor, so look forward to what tomorrow brings.
It's humid, and there is much to do before Candace and Franco arrive with their tomatoes. We set up a long table in the loggia, and the bright green cloth that Cherie and Pete sent us a couple of years ago is perfect. We take off the blue and white striped fabric, draping it over a chair outside. I don't want the room to be too prissy for today's work. There may be tomato juice all over the place.
Candida and Franco arrive, with not too many tomatoes, but what they have needs to be done. So they work with Dino in the loggia while I make a zucchini and carrot sformato. It's a complicated dish, and takes an hour to prepare, almost an hour to bake in bain marie fashion (the dish inserted in a pan of water). It takes no time at all to process the tomatoes, and Candida takes a walk in our tomato and basil garden to check on the progress, while Dino and Franco sit outside and gab. I am embarrassed to say that I have been growing basil incorrectly all these years, taking leaves of the bottom of the plant instead of pinching it at the top.
It all makes sense. Pinching them at the top encourages side growth and bushier and healthier plants. Hello? I've known that all along. So why have I treated these basil plants this way?
With a lesson on what to do, and a big bunch of basil in the kitchen, I'll make pesto this afternoon after everyone leaves and freeze it. But now there is pranzo to finish.
Dino grills some meats and I fix a tomato salad with a wonderful dressing. The tomatoes from our garden are juicy and pulpy and sweet. Growing them next to basil has really enhanced the flavors.
Pranzo under a big umbrella on the terrace is a joy. And so we talk about a pergola that Candida and Frank want to build, showing them an Unopiu catalog for ideas. We tell them about our plans for our pergola, and laugh about how much we all spend inside our houses, when the outside of our houses is where we really want to spend time.
Why don't we? Well, it's just too darn hot in the summertime. So shade is incredibly important. With our pergola on the terrace, I no longer fear losing our cachi tree, or the bay tree for that matter. Once the pergola is mature, I think we'll enjoy being outside during the summer months even more.
Dino shows our friends the sample of paint he has tried on one of the shutters, and we realize that we won't be able to paint them ourselves. It's just too much work. So we'll investigate having them painted, and even replacing them.
After pranzo, we sit around for a while with our two modo de dire books, picking out phrases for me to paint on the little square plates I love so much. And now we determine that I'll put a whole section on the website under trivia about these phrases. They surely are fun. Before the month is up, I'll start to share them with you.
Ane, Stein's daughter, her boyfriend and his family from Norway stop by to say goodbye over a bottle of prosecco. It's been fun to see them a few times, and we look forward to seeing them again.
Later in the evening we take a walk up to the borgo, for it is a night of games and a little performance by the two teenage girls and their four friends. Their dance is done to the music of a cd, and it is very modern and hip. Esther and Erica are really growing up before our eyes.
The rest of the evening is certainly a lot of fun. There are as many people as on Monday night, about one hundred, and the festivities start with a bicycle race for the children on a kind of racetrack made by red and white striped caution tape and plastic water bottles. After that, it's a relay race with adults and children jumping in potato sacks, a spoon race with raw eggs, a kind of piñata game using a ceramic pitcher suspended on a high string, full of candies and coins.
Children take turns blindfolded with a long stick to try to knock the pitcher down. A few adults are put in the mix, and of course they try to cheat. I am reminded that these games are universal, held all over the world, so who came up with them the first time, and how did the idea spread?
Candida and Giuseppa especially like this blindfold game, telling me that this is the same game they played as children. But Candida's game has an interesting twist. In her version there were three ceramic pitchers. One held water. One held candy, and the third was empty. That sounds like a lot of fun.
The final game is a large canvas painted with a cutout face in the middle. Valerio sits behind it and in front of it ten feet or so back, children are given water balloons to try to hit him. There is a lot of laughter, and Valerio is a very good sport. But we're tired and it is midnight and we walk home to the sound of cicadas while chaos takes over in the borgo, with water squirting all around.
Earlier in the evening, a neighbor told Dino about a big hornets nest at the front of San Rocco. He walked down there with a spray can of insecticide, and after we returned home tonight walked down again with a large flashlight. Evidently hornets' nests are not the same as wasp nests, and he's going to have to use some diesel fuel to get rid of the nest. Sorry, but there's no other way.
The air is very humid and it is warm, so the hot weather is probably returning, and this time accompanied by a lot of dampness. As we get into bed, we hear fireworks from a nearby town. The Italians are crazy about fireworks, and they are very expensive to mount.
We'll have to have fireworks next May, but by then hope to have raised a "sacco di soldi" (lot of money). With our raffle to be held on Sunday, we should be on our way.
The humid weather continues, and it is really oppressive. We're out of the house by 9AM, stopping in Orte to pick up the results from Dino's knee x-ray. Then we drive on to Termi dei Papi for a massage for me. This time it's with Lello, and his little room is located in the middle of a maze of hotel rooms. When I arrive, he's standing outside the door dressed in white.
Let's stop for a minute to talk about this place. Terme dei Papi. It's as organized a resort as any I've been to, and we recommend it for anyone coming for a visit to this area. It is strange that this week has been our first visit.
A few of the people speak English, but the word massaggio will get you by for a regular massage. A massage of twenty- five minutes costs €30, and a longer massage costs €55. A wonderful pool sits on the property, and it is very popular, with a chair rental at €5 and seating on the grass surrounding the pool at €3. With a restaurant next door, it's a way to spend a day, or part of one. Their internet address is: www.termedeipapi.it.
Lello gives me the best massage I've had since Alice was here. She's living in Seattle now, but is sorely missed. I mean that literally. It was a joy to have a massage from her, and to be her friend. So now she must be making many people in Seattle very happy.
We leave making another appointment with him for the beginning of next week, and drive home for pranzo and a little dolce fa niente (afternoon nap) before attending a concert in Bomarzo by local children.
Eduardo and Cristian have asked us so many times if we'd attend, that we just can't say no. Here are photos of the two of them. Thanks to Photoshop, they're shown together, although each young boy sang his own solo.
I'm very aware of proverbs these days, and have more than seventy lined up for the modo de dire plates. They really take a long time to smalto and then paint. No wonder they are no longer made and sold in Deruta. They're just not worth the effort. I will attempt to do some, however. I just can't physically paint enough to give them away to friends and relatives, or to sell them. So I am in a quandary.
We leave at the first intermission, for the boys have both sung their solos, and drive to Oktoberfest Pub to thank Sondro for his recommendation of Fabrizio. He tells us that Fabrizio has already called him and told him that he had a great time in little Mugnano and liked the village very much. We are pleased.
The evening ends on a very humid note. These days have been very uncomfortable, and will probably continue for several days more.
The humidity continues, and Dino drives me up to Elena's in Bomarzo with a big container of pirofila argilla. Another woman is there working on a project. Her name is Cinzia, and she is accompanied by her little pug dog, named Margot, who will not leave her side.
Sofi is at home, and that is a good thing. The little studio would really be in chaos with three adults and two little dogs. It's time for a special lesson.
Elena tells me we have time today to make three pirofila dishes, and I am surprised that that is all we can make. But the making of them is time intensive enough that we don't finish, and I'll return tomorrow morning to do that.
The process is time-intensive, and we begin by using a tall table with wheels at both ends of the center pole. At the edge of one wheel is a measure to determine the desired thickness of the clay when finished. Elena turns it to 2cm the first time, then 1.5 the second and 1.2 the third.
The center pole is metal, with tiny grooves. Under the pole is a double thickness of heavy duck material, and in between the two thicknesses, a hand-softened large chunk of pirofila clay is hammered down and then wrung out, turning the spokes of the wheels and pulling and guiding as we go.
To make the oval shapes I want (the sizes will nest, so that I can take back three together to the U S, each one wrapped individually but hopefully protected from the battering of the airplane,) we use a large platter of Elena's for the largest one, and on a tissue I outline the shape. Then the tissue is cut, placed on the flat pirofila and with a wooden tool I carve around the shape.
Once that's done, I mark off 4 centimeters inside that shape for the next one, and 3.5 inside for the smallest one. The process reminds me of the tracing of designs for painting. These methods have been used for centuries, and don't seem to change.
So I am in Renaissance mode, working away and thinking I could have done this five hundred years ago in another life. Yes, I believe in past lives, but that's a story for another time....
I'm interested in smaltoing some more plates, and we have a few more, so I spend an hour or so in the loggia stirring the smalto and using a densitometer for the first time to measure the density of the liquid. The process is quite interesting. The densitometer is dropped in laterally, and it just finds its spot, indicating how dense the mixture is.
With a measure of 46, which is an acceptable number, I dip seven plates that come out pretty well, although I do some repair work, which is a real pain. Elena recommended that I hold the plates in the solution for a longer time, to assure that the smalto adheres all around. I hold most of them down for the "count" of twenty. It works better than before.
The "first cooked" pieces, which I smaltoed and gave to Elena last week, are finished, and look good, but the new special painting process is difficult, so I'll need another lesson from her, just for that. Va bene.
We're to work for the Festarolo committee today, so Dino walks up at 5PM to lay out plastic chairs for tonight's comedy, and I prepare a cold lemon meringue torta for the cast's dessert. We'll be up in the borgo tonight, but not for the performance, for we won't be able to understand any of it. But oh how the Mugnanese love silly comedies. It is not until later that we learn that a comm.èdia is not necessary a comedy, but it is also the word for a drama. Go figure.
While Dino's up in the borgo, Marsiglia asks him why he has a bandage on his knee. He tells her his knee is older than he is, and Italo chimes in to say that's because Dino's knee was born earlier. That must be one of those Italian proverbs. I'll take a notebook up with me tonight to begin to jot some more of them down from the folks in the village. It's becoming a kind of hobby, and a fun one at that.
We walk up to the borgo with our torta, and tell Giuliola that it is just for the committee. Livio places it in the frigo in their house. We arrive around 9 PM, and although Cenerentola (Cinderella) the play, will not begin for an hour, people have begun to arrive and take their seats. This night is an "offerta", meaning that the performance is free, but it would be nice if you would donate. Most people donate €5 or so per person, but a few folks drop in ten cents or so, and a few also slip in looking in the opposite direction, so that our eyes won't connect. That's fine, too.
We are understanding that the word, "Commèdia" does not apply just to something that is funny, or divertente. This play has some moments of laughter, but generally is not what we call "boffo" or funny. We understand very little of it, even though we know the story, and stand around in the back, watching people come and go. We also take a walk around the backside of the borgo, and sit for a few minutes at the tiny park at the base of the tower.
A very old olive tree was planted in the center of the park before it was repaved. It is meticulously cared for, and the evidence of many olives are evident. Sitting on a bench facing the tree and the tower lit from below, the scene is magical. We never encounter anyone here, and believe it to be a secret jewel of the village.
Once the play has ended, long tables are set up for the cast and crew, which surprisingly includes our friends Rita and Filipo from Attigliano. Inside Giuliola's cantina we serve them pasta with a sugo made by Anna Cozzi. Even though she tells us she does not want to be on the Festarolo committee and she should, she generously makes a big pot of marinara sauce for tonight and tomorrow night. Grazie, Anna. We really appreciate the effort.
After the pasta, there is a wonderful salad made by Laura, then a roast pork and olive spezzatino made by Giuliola. It is very tasty. Cakes are served with wine and grappa and with thanks all around, we retire upstairs for our lemon meringue pie. It's after 1 A M, so we walk home, and it is an hour later before we're asleep.
Dino wakes with a start and it is 8:30 A M, so we get up and have a quick coffee before returning to Elena's to finish the oven dishes. I'm amazed that it takes more than two hours to just put the final finishing touches on them. And at that, we have to take them home and let them dry under plastic inside for a day, then do a little finish work and add my signature to the bottom.
This is an interesting session, with Elena working away at her projects, and me working steadily to clean up the finish of my three dishes, using barbonchina (white wine vinegar mixed with pirofila clay in a small plastic glass) to lightly brush on the finish. I believe the vinegar eats away at the clay just a little, and the liquid helps to smooth it out.
I paint numbers on the back of the modo de dire plates that Elena lovingly places directly in the oven. These plates do not have a coating of cristallina. Dino asks me why these don't, for Elena sprayed the coating on previous objects. I have no idea. We'll have to ask another time. She'll fire later today, and if not in two days. So if I have time to paint, which I don't, we'll bring up a few things and perhaps they'll be ready soon.
Elena will be exhibiting in the September week-long Orte festa, and this will be a wonderful opportunity for her to get added exposure. So she has very little time for any lesson, or for me to make any more pirofila plates.
She relents and tells me I can return next week, but first I need to trace the forms and get them ready. I can do that, and in fact think it's a very good idea. I will just use her studio for the rolling out of the clay on the roller, and then use the other machine to squeeze out the rolls of colombini that are used for the sides.
She's given me a little of the barboncina mix and the finishing tool, and I'll do all the rest of the work at home. It is a good plan. This way, I can do more pieces. They'll have to dry for as long as fifteen days before they can be fired. Yes, I'll have a few pieces to bring back to the U S in November. The process will take a long time, but it's now still August.
We have pranzo, and the tomato salad is an exquisite thing, with our special dressing, fresh basil and presemelo, feta cheese and the exceptional pomodori gigante. We heat up a little lasagne from yesterday, and then I make two torta ciocolatti, for the cast's dessert tonight.
At four o'clock, we walk up to the borgo for a meeting with Paola and Antonio about a new stemma for the village. I present Antonio with a large square plate emblazoned with the old Lante Mugnano stemma, and they love it. I also give him a copy of the photo of the stemma taken from the huge map on the wall of the Università Agraria.
The existing stemma is very complicated, and is really a stemma of the Lante di Rovere family. At one time, the Lante family owned all of Mugnano. But we are a simple village, and I think need a more simple stemma.
We discuss it, and Antonio agrees that we will present our idea to the officers of the Università next week, along with Tiziano, who will help us to translate. The project will take a long time, for I suggest that the people of Mugnano have an opportunity to choose one or more of the characteristics to be emblazoned on the stemma.
In the meantime, we'll study a book in the Comune that includes photos of stemmas of all the surrounding towns. Strangely, Mugnano is not represented. This research will be important in the event all the other stemmas have a common shape or characteristic. He confirms with me that I will be the one to produce the stemma, and he will take the plate to the meeting as an example of my work.
We thank them for their time and move to the square, where we reorganize the hundred or so plastic chairs by number, and then lay out the grid. Tickets for tonight's performance are sold by specific seat number. When we're done, we walk home, for a short rest before leaving for a cena with our stranieri friends at NonnaPapa.
The restaurant is new, and in a much better location. When we arrive, some of our friends are already there. The restaurant is right out of what I would think would be the Seychelles, a place Fidelia loves to visit. Bright colors and contrasting fabrics are evident throughout, and the menu is similar, with all of our favorite dishes from the former restaurant and a few new ones as well.
It is impossible not to order our favorite "saccottini con pere" (little sacks of pasta with pears, cheese and walnuts inside). There is much wine, many plates of antipasto, much more food ordered, and all the food is wonderful. But I'm anxious to leave to get back to Mugnano.
It seems as if we're in another world. And although English is spoken throughout the evening, I feel more comfortable when I don't completely understand the language these days but am in the familiar surroundings of our village. In good time, we drive home and take Sofi and our two chocolate cakes and walk up to the borgo.
By this time, the Commèdia is just about finished, and then the palcoscenico, or stage, is struck. This is a very elaborate undertaking, and many men work to strike the set and move the parts of the set and the stage into trucks and transport them back to Bomarzo. We wait for a while and them commence our usual cena preparations in the cantina next to the church.
There are two sets of people for this cena. The first are the people in the cast of the show, and we set up and feed them at a long table in front of the church. Once that is done, and the rest of the palcoscenico is struck, we prepare a second cena for the local workers. By this time it's almost 2AM, and Dino asks if they need our help.
"No," Mauro confirms to us, "Unless you'd like to eat." We're happy to walk home, and it's another hour before we're asleep. In a few hours, we'll be getting up again, so let's hope we can sleep...
Rain. The slow, steady, steamy stream wakes me up early, and I feel as if I'm a character in a Somerset Maugham play. With visions of the Seychelles in my head from last night's restaurant experience, the limey green, reddy pink, yellowy colors of the chairs floating by in my dream-state settle over everything in a beelike drone. I go back to bed until the last minute, resigning myself that I'll go to church with a mop of wavy curls on my head and pretend I'll really like it.
The rain has stopped, but the sky is a dirty towel, ready to be wrung out. We're late walking up to the borgo, and on the way meet Mauro and Laura. By the time we all reach the borgo, the opening hymn is under way. So we slink into the church one by one, and the open doors of the little church tell us we're still welcome.
The little church is filled with summer folks, but no children. Even children don't want to move in this weather. I'm thinking of ice clinking in glasses of freshly made ice tea, lemons dancing around while I swirl a spoon. But it will be hours before I can have a taste. Now I must concentrate. It is an hour of reflection, made more difficult by the still air.
After the mass is finished, and we're all standing outside, I turn around and wish we had a camera. The statue of Maria I love, rolled out into the church for one week each year at this time, sports a halo of tiny white lights, reflecting off the shade of the room. Sun streams in from the doorway, and fingers of light angle across pews as if forming a path to the statue, the church engulfed in a kind of fog.
It's time for the monthly "giro" to collect money for the village festas, and we have twenty-seven lottery tickets left, out of 2,000. Before an hour passes, there are none left. This afternoon at 6PM, the drawing will take place. But now people are lounging around, waiting for our visit and handing Mauro and Dino €5 or €10. We are so very thankful for their contributions, which come without any effort on our part. In fact, the people look forward to our monthly visits. Everyone is so appreciative of our work.
I admit I don't finish the giro. The last part of the giro, which takes place above our house at Porta Antica, is finished by Dino and Livio and Mauro. They don't seem to mind that I let them finish without me. Sofi greets me with her usual joyous hopping around, and then settles down. We'll have a very relaxed six hours or so before it's time to do the drawing. And then we'll have a rest for almost a week. On Sunday, there is a ballet in the square in front of the Duomo, with preparations for a small dinner afterward for the cast. Until then...
Dino returns with five fresh eggs from Maria the Sarda (from Sardinia). She shows him a big bucket of fish that Marino just caught from the river. There are tiny fish that he cannot identify, but also a few catfish and an eel that is very long. He notices that the catfish and the eel have the same shape of their heads.
A dog barks and barks in the valley, but we have just had a scramble of Maria's eggs with chopped cheese and prosciutto and fresh herbs and a tomato salad, and we're lying down for a dolce fa niente. Dino sets his alarm so that we will not oversleep. In a few hours we will raffle off the prizes at our lotteria. And amazingly we have sold all 1,999. tickets! Bravi!
We walk up to the borgo, and Sofi is with us. She's her usual self, happy to be allowed to join us. It's so darn hot, and the humidity is so high, that we're dragging. Marsiglia and Felice sit on a bench facing the street up to the borgo, and she pats the seat next to me, asking me to sit with them.
I have brought a list of proverbs, and go over them with her. Ivo walks by, and Marsiglia and Ivo quote a few we have, and one or two we do not. I ask Ivo if he'll write it down, and his writing is impossible to read. But we figure it out, and I'll add it to my list that you'll be able to read soon.
The prizes are brought down from Livio and Giuliola's living room, and Francesco sits at a long table facing most of the people, with Livio at his side. They work out a convoluted scheme for picking the numbers, but the process assures honesty, and that's fine with us...
No one claims the other four prizes, so the numbers will be posted in the square, and we're sure the prizes will be redeemed soon. But our attention is drawn to Sofia, who lays under the long table and looks up at me in a strange way. She does not seem to be able to move.
Everyone in the square watches her. It is as though the little dog is paralyzed. I convince her to stand up, but she does not move, just looks up at me with a sad look on her face. Everyone is worried.
I pick her up in my arms, and different people tell us where the local vets are located. I hold her all the way home, and she does not move. When I place her on the top of the stairs, she just stands there, looking up at me. Inside, on the sofa in the kitchen, I put her down and she does not move.
Dino calls the vet and gets the on-call person, who thinks it's not serious, but call her in 30 minutes if Sofi is not better. We get in the car and drive to Viterbo, just in case. But when we let her out of the car in a parking lot to check her out, she seems fine. So we arrange to take her to the vet tomorrow. It is an incredible relief that she is all right. Perhaps the terrible humidity and heat affected her. Or too many people. All I know is that I'm so happy she is all right.
We take a ride to Sipicciano on the way back, stopping at Walter's for gelato, and to ask him a few questions about his property. We have people coming to see it in the fall, and he assures us that there are good muratores in the area who are inexpensive and reliable.
We drive back to the borgo, and pick up the television, telling Franco and Candida that we'll deliver it tomorrow when we're to have pranzo with them at their campo. And back at home, it's not too much longer before Sofi is snoring in her bed. What a difference a few hours can make. I keep thinking of little Brinkley, the last dog we cared for in the U S before we moved, and hope that a similar situation is not about to recur. I think the word "own" is strange to use for a pet that one loves. Our dogs are treasures to us, and if anything, we consider ourselves caretakers. Let's go to sleep and have sweet dreams.
The cock's crowing in the valley, and it's 8 A M. We're all awake, and Sofi lies in her bed for her morning scratch, wagging her tail. It is so good to see her back in good health. In a few hours, we'll have her checked out at her vet.
First, we have an appointment with Lello at Terme dei Papi for a short massage, and now that he knows me, I can have a deep massage. The tendons in my right arm are what have bothered me all along, and he knows how to relax them. He tells that the tendons have been "sleeping", so if we can find someone closer and more reasonable in price for regular massages, I think I can get rid of the pain. But for now, this session will work for at least a few weeks.
We drive to the vet, and have to wait more than an hour, but when we are admitted in, Paola checks Sofi carefully and tells us that she has a herniated disc in her back. For the next few days, we must keep her quiet.
It is only later that Dino tells me that while in the borgo yesterday, Sofi raced up the steep steps at Giuliola and Livio's house to find Dino, who was bringing the raffle prizes down to the square. So when I found her under the raffle table unable to move, that is the reason. It makes perfect sense.
We all drive to Orvieto to deliver Candida and Franco's raffle prize, the color TV, and travel the back way, by way of Montefiascone, past the wonderful San Flaviano church, and over to Orvieto. After delivering the TV, we pack up pranzo and drive to their Orto, which we see for the first time.
It's a special place, and hopefully won't be sold any time soon. For now, Candida can have her orto garden there, and can use the little house and grounds all she wants. We are served a special pranzo, with goat cheese appetizers, Franco's eggplant parmigiano, a big salad, wine and Candida's lemon meringue pie.
Back at home, Sofi has very little energy. She lies on the couch until I take her upstairs. We are all tired, so we're turning in early tonight. The late nights have taken their toll.
I am so worried about little Sofi. During the night, she came over to me and whimpered, obviously in pain. So she spent a lot of the night close to me on the bed. I know we could not have avoided her little accident on Sunday, but surely want her to be well.
Sofi stays at home while we stop at Elena's to drop off three pirofila dishes. They'll sit and dry for at least fifteen days. And on Thursday, I'll go in to use her roller and also her colombini machine to make more components, for we have plenty of pirofila clay left.
I'd like to make ten more, but don't know if that will happen. We'll see. The work will be done at home this time, instead of in her studio. She will be so busy getting ready for her Orte show that I don't want to get in her way. I feel good about making them entirely myself now, especially with the method of construction she recommends.
One of the Jude the Obscure roses blossoms before we leave home, and I take it up to her. She loves it, and who wouldn't? The fragrance is amazingly strong; the leaves are so very beautiful. She places it immediately in one of her vases.
"Cóme no? " (Why not?) This is a phrase used often when we're standing in a shop and ask for a billete di visita (business card). After leaving Elena's we stop at a few places in Viterbo that are now open after the summer holiday. We want place an order of t-shirts by this weekend. We hear this when asking for a card, and think it's a wonderful phrase. Italians are so accommodating.
At home, Sofi is happy to see us, but not quite as peppy. I'm overly sensitive to her back pain, but she is a good sport. I take a couple of Osso Bucco bones out of the freezer, for she loves them. And for an hour at least, she's still on her little rug, eating away at the marrow and chewing on the bone.
I pick more of the tomatoes, and they are summer-delicious. With fresh mozzarella, Candida's lemon-basil and a marinade, we have a wonderful salad, alongside a roast chicken and some rice. Perhaps tomorrow we might preserve some tomatoes. We're still not at full tomato strength.
So perhaps they will mostly ripen in September. That depends on how much sun we'll have then. It's possible that all the tomatoes may not even ripen. This has surely been a strange year for tomatoes, but even the taste of one is one of the high points of the season.
Dino returns to Viterbo to place the t-shirt order, and they'll probably be ready on Saturday. That is wonderful news. These shirts will have the tower on the breastplate of the front and the Mugnano drawing on the back of the black shirts. We'll only have 40 for the village, but they'll sell like hotcakes. I think we should order more, but Dino is conservative about it, and it is his project. Va bene.
A client emails us, asking if someone can buy a house for them with a power of attorney. Yes, that is definitely possible. It is very easy to buy property in Italy. That is so strange, considering how many things here take so long to accomplish. I do believe that Italy is emulating the U S in many respects, becoming more organized, more sophisticated.
Now even more of the grocery stores are open all day long. That would have been impossible just a year or so ago. It makes me sad, actually. We've adapted to the old culture, now they're adapting to ours.
Italian children all wear the same type of school uniform, but in different colors. The uniform is similar to an artist's smock, with a round collar, and comes down to the child's knees. Dino loves them, and last year wanted to buy them for our grand daughters. Now that Melissa and Nicole are going to school for the first time, we pick up pink and white checked smocks for them, with embroidery on the front.
They'll be good to wear over their clothes to play in, or for anything. We just want them to have them, even if they don't wear them. The thought of it holds them close to us, even if we cannot...We sure miss everyone in the U S and look forward to seeing everyone we can in November.
While Dino is in Viterbo, Sofi sleeps and I paint Duccio and Giovanna's stemma (family crest). It is Duccio Valori's family stemma. Duccio's family goes back more than 500 years in Florence, and a direct ancestor is mentioned often in a book I've recently finished, Romola, by George Eliot. It is difficult to imagine being able to go back five hundred years to know whom your direct ancestors are.
With a tiny cross-hatch background, the stemma is particularly difficult to paint, but now that I've finished it, I'll paint another. I'm going to paint two copies of each stemma each time I paint, including one for us, and ours will be painted on large square plates that will be hung in the stairway. I have about a backlog of six stemmas to paint a duplicate of, before I've even begun this latest round of stemmas.
I'll also paint duplicates of the little modo di dire plates, and they'll begin to cover an entire wall in the living room. Not that I've really begun, but once I get the hang of painting the lettering, I'll paint like a house-afire. Wonder what modo de dire would correspond to a "house afire?"
So if you've been given a modo di dire plate from us in the past, it would be great if you'd email us with the saying on your plate. I remember that we gave them to friends and relatives a couple of years ago. Those were the old modo di dire plates, the ones that are no longer available. We're collecting the phrases, so any you'd like to share we'd appreciate and will share on this site under Italian trivia. Thanks. A few have already come in from Don Francis, and they're fun.
We're surrounded by fog when we wake up, but it should clear by ten. From a distance, Mugnano appears like Brigadoon in the fog, and I imagine the bagpipes being played on the tall tufa outcropping next to San Rocco.
I'm hearing "Cóme no?" all the time now. It's interesting that understanding a popular phrase helps to pick it out from a chain of otherwise undistinguishable words. Why not?
Dino's at an appointment in Amelia with a realtor, and Sofi and I sit in the kitchen, while I paint and paint and paint. Every day I feel a little more secure about my painting abilities, and this morning paint a Mugnano scene on a little plate and pears on a little jar with a lid as well as pears on a platter. It's all quite a lot of fun.
While I'm painting, I listen to a story on Euronews, our new preferred TV channel for news. Our choices are: BBC, Euronews, CNN, Fox. It's interesting to see how few choices we are able to get, even though we have a satellite. Perhaps one day we'll be able to pick up U S channels, but why? It's the American news and viewpoint that drives us crazy. So we're better off, at least for now.
On this channel is a story about a new migraine solution. It consists of a minor (?) heart operation with local anesthetic. Just writing about that makes my skin crawl. Anyway, it tells about poisons in one chamber in the heart that affects migraines being able to travel to another chamber in the heart. The operation closes up the hole between the two. All very complicated. But it is news. I don't know if it will help me, but we'll ask Dr. Alberti during our next visit.
Dino picks off a few green pepperoni in the garden from a branch that has blown over, so I decide to make a pasta with basil and peppers and butter and cheese, from one of Marcella Hazen's remarkable cookbooks. It's simple and very delicious.
But we need copies of official certificates from the U S, and some of them are from Boston. I also need Apostilles of each copy, which is a special certification of official documents that are used outside the U S. I'm thinking that red tape in the U S is not so different than that from Italia in many respects.
Dino wants to go to the last night of the sagra in Alviano of the cresciola, the fried dough with pizza toppings on it. I'm not a fan of the stuff, but for Dino, cóme no?
Get used to it. "Cóme no" (Why not?) is one of our new favorite sayings. While we're seated at the sagra at the outside plaza in Alviano , before Dino spills red wine all over his pants and the evening is ended, he's convinced me that I need to write a treatment for a play to be held in Mugnano next May.
I already have the name: "Cóme no?" It will be a medieval story about the people of Mugnano, mentioning each of the current residents by name. The star of the play will be Natalino.
Of course the play will be in Italian, and the Vice Mayor of Bomarzo is a comedy writer. So I'll finish the treatment, and perhaps give it to him after it is translated, to see if we can put on a one-act play next May during our village festa at the end of our Festarolo term. The theatre group from Bomarzo, who just finished playing in Mugnano, will act it out. I've never written a treatment before, but "cóme no?"
It's humid tonight, and Sofi is happy to lie in her little bed by my side. I should have the draft of the treatment done in a day or two. Why do I get myself into these things? Perhaps because I love life, love new ideas, love stretching my mind. Mostly because I love the people of our village, and on Saturday night I'll cook for our Festarolo committee. Since the t-shirts will be ready on Saturday, that's something else to celebrate.
With a short session this morning with Elena, I'll be rolling out pirofila for as many baking dishes as I can fit on our wooden boards. Since she'll be busy getting ready for an exhibition (mostra) at the beginning of September in Orte, I'll be taking everything home.
Last night I wrote for an hour to begin the treatment of the play for the May festa. The words just rolled off my fingers, and the concept is clear in my mind. So clear, in fact, that I may finish the first draft before the weekend. That is, if I can finish all the pirofila dishes first. They are the priority, for I don't want them to dry before I've finished crafting them.
It takes less than an hour or so to roll out the pirofila for ten baking dishes. Elena takes out the colombini machine, which looks like a cross between a machine gun and a catapulto or a cannon. She jams the pirofila in handfuls down into the long chamber and out comes three fat tubes of pirofila, snakelike as she curls them around and gently places them into a plastic tub of ours.
The colombini are used to layer the outside borders of the baking dishes, and are to be kept soft and moist until the dish has reached its final shape. It's very hot in the studio today, for her ceramic oven is just cooling down, and the electric fan does little to lower the temperature.
I'm tired and hot, my hair looks like my finger is stuck in an electrical socket, and I must look horrific. The work is exhausting, for I want to get out of there as quickly as possible so that she can continue to work. I am very aware that she has a lot to do to prepare for the Orte mostra.
By the time Dino has loaded our ten bases for oven dishes into the car, I'm so very tired. But there's no time to waste. I must finish the dishes before they dry. It's the same old story, but this time I'm more sure of the method and the system. I'm confident, and enjoying every minute.
Back at home, I stop to fix pranzo, which is rather a disaster, because I've picked too much basil and it ruins the salad. Dino is like a child, picking out the leaves until he realizes there's not much left to the salad of tomatoes and tuna and basil and fresh mozzarella. He's a good sport, so I clean up and let him watch TV while I move a little table into the kitchen and a stool and begin to work on my dishes.
After several hours he looks down at me with a very unhappy look on his face. I've spent too long working, and he's worried about my headaches, my back. "Just this one. I'm almost finished!" I plead, while I'm about done with the sixth dish. With four left to do tomorrow morning, I'm making excellent progress.
So after 24 hours have passed, I'll pick up each dish, fix the bottom edges and inscribe my "ee" and the words, "Mugnano-in-T." on the bottom. Then they'll stay on a palate in the living room under plastic and wet towels for fifteen days, until Elena has finished with her Orte mostra. Then they'll be taken to her shop for their first firings. It' s all very exciting...at least to me.
I hear neighbors practicing drum beats in the valley, and it must be time to practice for the Soriano Castagno fest. Or perhaps it's the Bomartians, as Duccio calls the people who live in Bomarzo. Must every city and town has residents who dress in costume and march around on special feast days with their drums. The noise drives Sofi crazy.
Sofi's feeling better, but we're very cautious, making sure she does not climb any steps at all for some time. I don't think we want to give her pain medication, at least not yet. Tia offers the name of the medicine they used to give their dog, Ivy, but I want to stay away from that as long as possible. And Sofi still is a very young dog.
I'm too tired to work on the treatment of the play, but Dino encourages me, and the more we talk about it, the more fun I have with it.
We're expecting more clients to arrive in September and in October, and the real estate activity is picking up. So Dino will be getting busier, and I'll help when he needs me to. Today he spoke with the owner of one of the houses we are trying to sell, and the muratore who works for the owner will have our client's preventivo next week.
That means they'll be able to decide very soon if they're to buy the next Tenaglie property. It's a very special place, so if they decline, we have other clients who we think will be interested. There's much to ponder as I climb into bed to the sounds of drums rumbling in the valley below.
Dino's traveled to Terni to the eye clinic. Now that he's 65, he can get laser eye surgery for free if they think it is warranted. So a procedure that would cost $5,000 or more in the U S is a possibility. I think I can also have the procedure done, and it won't cost much. So first Dino will go through the steps, and then it will be my turn...perhaps.
But when he arrives he can only make an appointment, and he'll have to persuade the clinic that his need for the surgery is not cosmetic. So he leaves with an appointment in hand and does some grocery shopping, then returns home with the news that the t-shirts will be ready at 6PM.
I'm able to finish three more pirofila dishes, but the work is exhausting, so I leave the last little square one for tonight, stopping instead to salt and water the cubed eggplant, which I then make into a sauce for penne pasta for pranzo. I'm so tired that I spend a few hours in the afternoon resting. During pranzo, Dino reminds me that tonight there is the meeting of the consigliore of the Università Agraria to discuss my proposal for a new stemma for the village.
The meeting is postponed, for not enough people are around, and that's fine with me. Instead, Dino brings in the t-shirts and we catalogue and fold them and put them into individual bags. I don't really like the design, for it is a transfer, and the design of the village is on the back, with a little tower on the breastplate. The front is "carina", just the same.
But the shirts are black, except for the shirts for the smallest children, and there are only about forty of them, so we should sell them anyway. I'd prefer silk screening, but we're expecting to receive a shipment in late fall from a Confraternity member of Dino's who is arranging to have them donated. So perhaps those will be silk-screened.
We take the shirts up to the borgo on a hand truck, but hardly anyone is around. We drop off one with Francesco and Laura Perini and take one to Antonella Fosci. The others will be distributed this weekend, speriamo. The weather forecast for Sunday is for rain, but if it is clear there will be a ballet performance in the borgo in front of the main church, and we'll set up a table there.
On the way down the hill I tell Dino I feel like a rag picker or a reddle man, going through town hawking my wares. But the silent little streets of the borgo are interrupted on this night by the loud sounds of television, and the juxtaposition of it all is a marvelous thing.
At home we go to bed with the sounds of crickets outside our windows and a cool breeze to tell us that summer is almost at an end.
The humidity continues, but it is not too hot. We're having the Festarolo committee here for cena, so Dino picks up a leg of lamb that has been butterflied, and I marinate it. I also fix a potato dish that is served at room temperature, somewhat like a potato salad, with crispy prosciutto as an added treat. There are tomatoes and tomatoes, so I fix a roast tomato appetizer, a kind of bruschetta, and the recipe will be posted on the site soon, speriamo.
Some of the pirofila dishes are ready for me to finish off the bottoms and add my signatures, so I finish six of them. The others are still too wet, so will have to wait another day.
Our guests arrive, and we've decided to eat outside. Dino has put up an umbrella. Somehow, eating under an umbrella, even at night, adds a more comfortable ambience. The weather is perfect, with no wind, and it's cool enough that I don't need a sweater.
How well is our food accepted? The lemon risotto, which is about my favorite thing to cook at any time of year, comes out perfectly. I do believe I have mastered this dish, and the secret is to keep the temperature on the stove pretty high, so that the rice does not become mushy.
Since it takes a while to grill the lamb, the bruschetta is served as a second primi, at room temperature. The mixture of marinade is honey and vinegar and olive oil and minced garlic, with grated parmesan cheese baked on top for just a few minutes. Then pieces of tomato are served on top, with a little arugula, salt and pepper and drizzles of olive oil. It's pretty delectable.
Our heirloom tomatoes are beginning to be plentiful, so although it's not de rigeur to serve the same thing at two courses in a meal, I bring out a platter of sliced tomatoes in various colors as a kind of salad after we serve the sliced lamb and the potato dish.
By this time. we've eaten quite a bit. With more wine and then Giuliola's prune and cherry torta and my chocolate cake, we're done. Oh, that' s except for the lemon grappa, flavored with orange. It's a gift from Tia's cleaning lady last winter, and is like fire water; tasty and potent.
While I sit at the end of the table looking for reactions from our guests (I'm sure they were wondering what strange things the Americans eat), I notice how comfortable we all are sitting around the table for at least an hour after the meal is finished. And I'm relieved that the meal can be called somewhat of a success, although our guests probably would have been happier with the choices of food they always eat.
The maglietta (t-shirt) project of Dino's is also somewhat of a success, although the transfer of the image is not what we had hoped. The committee can't at this point justify paying for silk screening and keep the price of the shirts down, so for these forty or so shirts, we'll see if they sell.
Once everyone leaves, we put things back in place and clean up. We have a cool night to sleep, and look forward to it.
Tonight is the last activity of the Festarolo committee for Ferragosto, and it consists of cooking a meal for the four dancers of tonight's entertainment. That won't be difficult, with Giuliola and Laura doing the cooking. We'll set up and serve, and then can relax...for a few weeks. In September, Mauro wants to organize a "giro". That is a bus trip, with some kind of religious significance, so we'll call Brian to possibly return to La Scarzuola and also Abazia Monte Oliveto near Sienna, a place that Don Francis recommended. This week, we'll drive to Monte Oliveto to check it out. Perhaps the last weekend in September we'll do the giro. That may mean that we'll probably forgo our 25th wedding anniversary celebration, so we'll celebrate in the South of France a week or so later.
We walk up to church with a hand truck full of magliette (t-shirts), and stash them in Giuliola's cantina. Loredana is breathless after mass, telling me that she's been entertaining every day and after today will return to Rome. She loves to entertain, and probably will have Ivo and his family, including Vincenza and Augusto. Ivo returns to Parma today, so we won't see him for a while.
Ivo does want shirts, and buys several of them. As we're walking toward the tower to deliver a few special orders, we're stopped along the way by Antonio, Roberto Ippoliti, Miriam and others, and the men stop in the little street trying on the shirts. We leave for home having sold most of them, so the next round will probably not be until October, when a new lot of them will be donated by a Confraternity member who works as a city manager in Tuscany.
Tonight we'll take the shirts we have left, and that will be it. Our next project will be Mugnano calendars as well as aprons with the Mugnano design for sale at the end of the year. Of course you'll know as soon as we do how much they'll cost.
I finish the pirofila dishes. Now they'll rest until September 10th, when Elena returns to fire them. This week I'll finish painting all the pieces we have after doing another round of smalto. Last night, Laura asked me if I'd sell the ceramics. I suppose so, for we don't have room to keep them all here, and the number is growing. I would rather not take special orders, but will see how many things we can take back to the U S with us in November.
Antonio reassures me that the meeting of his group to discuss the Mugnano stemma will probably be this Friday. Enzo and another member last Friday were not able to attend. I have plenty of time.
We walk up to the borgo at around 9PM, to see chairs set up in the middle of the piazza, not near the Duomo as we have been told. And soon we find out that there will be no dancing, but a kind of a play. A little while later, it begins, with the backdrop a computer image against Annarita's building, next to the place where I think the fictitious Bar Daedalus should be located.
The scene is the Titanic, and the image transposed against the old tufa stone wall is very interesting and textural. The opening scene begins with calliope music, and turns into acoustical sounds played by an electronic guitar. The images appear as if through a fog, and the effect is quite interesting.
We can understand a little bit of it, just enough for me to get distracted by the neighbors sitting on the 60 or so plastic seats, every one in rapt concentration. Either that, or asleep. The people of our village like to turn out for any entertainment, and seem to appreciate just about anything. Especially if it is free, and tonight's entertainment is paid by the Comune, so they're very happy.
Little Giulia races by in a short skirt and denim jacket, and she looks so grown up, although she's not more than seven or eight. The band of children in our village are all growing up before our eyes, and somehow the changes in them reflect the subtle changes in our own lives. I wonder if we'll appear differently to our friends and relatives when we return in November.
We've been expecting dancers, so I'm disappointed. The entertainment ends, but people remain seated, as if we're at an intermission. There has been some kind of fight between the singer who is to perform next and someone else in the small 2-person cast, so she sits in the audience and, well, nothing happens.
Fifteen minutes later, we send Gino's daughter Nicoletta to tell them that the entertainment for tonight has come to an end, and in a very matter-of-fact fashion, they stand up and walk home.
Remember, the entertainment is free. In Giuliola's cantina, we prepare the prosciutto and melon, penne pasta with sauce, bread and torta, all as if we're a little café with the same menu every night. We set up a table right outside Giuliola and Livio's house, for it's cool tonight, and as the three people sit for cena, a few neighbors join in, like Augusto and Vincenza and Francesco and even Dino and Mauro.
It's almost midnight before we return home, just in time to watch the end of a golf tournament on T V. We see so little current programming on T V that we sit up to watch it. It really takes very little to entertain us these days.
And it's time for bed, because we'll be on a trip tomorrow to Monte Oliveto outside Sienna with a borrowed car, while we have our timing belt (gulp!) changed on the car.
It really seems like fall, for the weather has turned decidedly cooler. Those poor pomodori will never ripen. But the figs will, and have! Although the ground surrounding the giant tree is a mess, it is not in anyone's path. Later we'll have our first raccolta of the juicy fruit. Will we make fig preserves? I hope so.
We're in Viterbo quite early, to drop off our car for the day. Today it will have its timing belt replaced. We're given a loaner car. Well, really it's not a car, its some kind of a van-like thing. With only 3,000 kilometers on it, we're rambling around on scenic back roads to the Abbey Monte Oliveto and Dino has a strange look on his face.
He likes the van, likes it enough that I can see his "wheels" turning. I think he wants to turn our "car" in for this "sport vehicle". I do like our car very much, but if this is what he wants to drive, so be it.
The drive past Montefiascone, where we stop at a bar for coffee, and on the back roads past Aquapendente are deliciously curvy, and I admit I can really see the view from "up here". I spot a ceramics workshop on the side of a little road, and convince Dino to "smell the roses".
I love the laboratorio, the factory where the clay is molded and fired and painted, and we pick up a few special uncooked pieces for me to smalto and paint. Best of all, I've found the perfect terra cotta tile to paint the stemmas on.
I'm sure this is my new favorite place to buy special unglazed pieces, and soon will return to pick up at least a dozen more. I think we'll wait until the first stemma is finished and cooked to make sure. He'll be around. I'm not in a hurry.
On the road, we begin to talk about our November visit to the Bay Area, and yes, we'll happily accept Betsey and Penny's offer to host some kind of "Italian Experience Night" for us. I'm starting to mock it up, and think it will be fun. After all, we're living the dream, and why shouldn't we share it?
How to do it, pitfalls, ideas, food, recipes, properties, restoration stories, ceramics to buy...will all be a part of it, and we'll certainly give away a special ceramic piece...There's much to think about. If you live in the Bay Area and are wondering about anything that you'd like to talk with us about, let us know and we'll try to work it in.
I do love Tuscany, although Dino does not. I love the bareness of it all, the sensuous photograph in almost every direction. It's a natural kind of performance art to me. Would I like to live on a bare high hill surrounded by dry clay-like earth and a few cypress trees...especially in the heat of the summer? Probably not. But the fantasy of it all is appealing even to me. We're in Tuscany today, although we live in Northern Lazio, just a freeway stop below Orvieto. So let's take it all in...
The Abbey is the object of today's road trip, to scout it out for a possible pilgrimage for the people of our village at the end of September, organized by our Festarolo Committee. Don Renzo, the Franciscan friar who often officiates at mass, is available one weekend late in the month, and our goal is to see if this is the place we want to visit.
When we arrive, we see that on Sunday mornings at 11AM there is a mass that includes the wonderful Gregorian chants. Yes, let's do that. There is a restaurant here, so perhaps we can eat here as well.
It's almost noon by the time we reach the bottom of the Abbey and find a friar to ask. Yes, our Mugnano priest can also perform the mass, yes, we can also have a tour, and yes, the man to speak with about a guided tour is named...Dino!
We walk around just a bit, buy a book of the place, and wish we had more time. But we're convinced this will be a wonderful place for the pilgrimage, so ask a woman in the restaurant if she can plan a menu for us, and if she can accommodate us.
No, she cannot. We can come on Saturday, but there will be no Gregorian mass. So we'll drive to Buonconvento to see if we can find a trattoria for pranzo and then return for the tour in the afternoon.
In Buonconvento we find a trattoria run for years by a husband and wife. The family has operated the same trattoria for eighty years. So Anna and Giovanni talk with us about a menu, and there is a room in the back big enough for everyone.
Today's pasta is a homemade tagliatella al tartufo for me, and tagliatella al ragu for Dino. They bring us an assortment of dolci, all made by Anna, and they can give us just what we want at the price we have to spend.
The strange thing about the date, is that it's just before our 25th wedding anniversary. We had thought about planning a big "do" with our friends, but think this pranzo will do just as well. It's funny how one's perspective changes in life. Last year our anniversary party was every bit what one would expect of a special occasion. Held at the marvelous La Scarzuola and then at a nearby trattoria with even cousin Cherie and Pete, it was a memory we won't forget. So who needs a big "do" this year?
This year, without Terence and his family with us, we'll celebrate with our Mugnano family, and that will be wonderful. It also won't be difficult to organize. In fact, the organization is almost all done. Tonight we'll speak with the tour guide, and Mauro knows how to make the arrangements for the pullman. Ah, life is good. Simple is better. Perhaps we'll be able to get a blessing from the Abbey as well.
Later in the day, when driving back home, I realize we're sitting higher up in this vehicle than regular cars surrounding us, and I can see much more of the view. Dino does not want to drive back by way of Viterbo, telling me that he wants to drive home first to determine if the van fits well in the parcheggio.
That's a trial close if I've ever heard one. And after we see that it fits, he makes some excuse to take the loaner vehicle back by himself. I'm sure he's going to talk to a sales person about it, and sit up here at the computer laughing to myself, while Sofi snores nearby in her little bed. When he arrives home, yes, that's just what he did.
We walk over to Mauro and Laura's later in the evening to give them all the information about today's gita (trip), including the menu, the costs, the idea, and now Mauro has to run the idea by Don Renzo, who is a resident priest staying at Don Luca's house in nearby Santarello. We like Don Renzo a great deal, and hope we can make this pilgrimage work. When we leave Mauro's, Dino comments, "Que sera, sera." (What will be; will be...Thanks, Doris:)
Tonight it is as though the drummers from Soriano are rumbling in the heavens, just over the ridge toward Bomarzo. They seem to move over the ridge from left to right faster than human feet can actually take them. Boom. Boom. Boompettyboombettyboombettyboom! And then they disappear, only to reappear a few minutes later.
At 7AM the roosters crow, a neighbor weed-wacks in the near valley while Brik serenades him with an incessant low bark, and another neighbor stops on the road just below our house in his very noisy put-put tractor, probably to re-steady the load of wood from his campo. With cooler weather already here, it's time to get the fireplace ready to burn wood. I thought I'd loll around in bed, but this is not the day.
Dino is up, leaving to meet Enzo at Stein's to begin his plumbing project, and I'd almost like to be there. For as long as we've owned our property, we've been aware of the plumbing mess at that house. Originally owned by our dear friend, Karina, the house was a plumbing nightmare.
Once Dino had the opportunity to take a good look at it with Stefano, they determined the root (ha!) of the problems and figured out a solution. With the roots of a tree jammed (well, you really don't want to know)...except to say that the roots will be taken out, a toilet and sink and the floor replaced in the downstairs bathroom. When hooked up to the village sewer, Stein's house will be in excellent shape.
Kudos to Dino, whose relentless calling to Enzo resulted in the work starting before Stein returns next week. Now that summer is over and workers have returned, Enzo has begun a massive project in Bomarzo, but steals away to do this small job.
It makes a real difference to have Dino working on Stein's behalf. Whether Stein was here or not, without the knowledge of a local to cajole the workers, it still takes a long time to get work done in Italia.
Dino's project management experience makes him a natural. I'm bored by the whole thing, except to sit on the sidelines and applaud his mastery of the workers, his attention to detail. I can work on ceramics while he works on his projects. It's a marriage made in heaven. Yes it is. And twenty-five years later, we're still singing the same song.
I bake a squash from the orto in the oven, and think it's a butternut. When soft, I cut it up and put it into a soup pot with sautˇed onion, fennel, zucchini, celery. I add finely minced fresh ginger, mixed chicken and beef broth, and put it through a processor, just as Dino arrives home for pranzo.
It's as though he's a worker, and only has an hour before he must return to Stein's. This morning he cut back brambles, fixed grape vines, worked with the plumbers and generally was on hand to answer questions and make decisions.
One he made was to go out and buy a new inexpensive toilet instead of taking all the time to separate the old unit from the cement and tiles below it. He expects the whole job to finish today, and what a wonderful surprise that will be for Stein, who has not been able to use the room since buying the place a couple of years ago.
Stein and Helga have been on my mind, and today I'm going to smalto more pieces and paint Helga's two stemmas. Yes, two. She is from an important family in Norway. Perhaps the stemmas are from both sides of her family. They're interesting stemmas, one is quite elaborate, and I hope to have them finished before she arrives later next month.
Tonight is the festa di pannocchia at Oktoberfest, and it's corn-on-the-cob cooked perfectly. This is the only time of the year when we can find corn cooked this way, so we plan to attend at least once this week. It is also impossible to buy corn-on-the-cob here for some reason. We have no luck growing corn ourselves, so consider this a real treat. Yes, this is one of the things we miss from the U S.
Or so we thought. Sofi practically jumps over the crescent moon at the thought that we'd take her with us tonight. The more we take her, the calmer she seems to become. But when we arrive, there is no pannocchia to be found. The brochure indicated that the festa begins tonight, but in reality it begins tomorrow. So we stay anyway and share a salad called a "snob", consisting of artichoke hearts, gorgonzola, walnuts, celery and lettuce. Of course we wash it down with a couple of their great Bavarian beers.
We drive back home and I finish the Valori stemma on the large handmade tile of mattone. It is the first of many, and will be hung in the hallway on the way up the stairs. When I have painted six or so, we'll replace the four botanical prints with them.
Each time I paint a stemma, or family crest, for someone, I will also paint one for us. Ours will be painted on these heavy tiles, and each one has a story, or the name of a friend. As soon as Duccio and Giovanna return from their summer holiday, we'll have their plate ready for them, and look forward to presenting it. We're sure it will be a great surprise, and aren't those the best gifts?
Grilli rub their long legs somewhere outside the window, and the sound is exactly the same, as if they're breathing in and out, in and out, in that high pitched extended creak. But they are LOUD!
On this cool morning, we're out of the house and stop at the local Autogrill for a quick espresso and a cinnamon roll before driving to Franco and Candida's in Orvieto. Once there, Candida drives us all in their big Volvo station wagon, and she's a woman on a mission, or at least that's the way she drives. Candida is a woman with no fear behind the wheel.
Franco cajoles her all the while, criticizes her, and we make a joke out of it all by saying that "should" and "just" are words to be banned from the English language. That severely limits his comments about her driving.
We take the Cassia to lower Tuscany, and the ceramicist who makes our new large flat square tiles is closed, so we'll try him later on the way back. Candida wants to go to a place in Aquapendente to renew a prescription for eye glasses, but it's on the Italian medical system, so there are about thirty people ahead of her. She gives up and we drive on searching for a place for espresso instead.
We reach Pienza and then drive on to a factory on a side road in the countryside to pick up two terra cotta seats for the garden. We've seen them in Candida and Franco's garden and love them. The shop is very reasonable and Dino is able to put them into the back of the car with no problem.
There is a famous (think expensive) ironworker with a sophisticated showroom right down the road, and we take a look around after we arrive. Really, we are looking for iron holders to hang up the pieces of mattone that I'll use to paint the stemmas on for the hallway. They are 28cm square, and quite heavy. I have an idea of what I'd like, and the owner tells us he can make them but does not have anything on hand. I think I can design one and Virgilio in Bomarzo can make them at a good price. This man wants to charge €35 for three small pieces of iron welded together!
Candida drives us on to Bagno Vignoni, where we eat at Osteria del Leoni, seated at a corner table in the garden under a huge umbrella. The town is small, so small in fact, that another restaurant offers garden seating right next to us, with a tall wall in between. We know that, because the wind picks up, and we can see one of their huge umbrellas rise up and fall right over. The umbrella above us is attached to a very strong wood shaft in the middle of the garden. So we are safe.
The meal is memorable, with a sformata, pici with ragu, tragliata, carrot soup and excellent local wine. By now, if you've read the journal faithfully, you'll know what all these words mean...
Sofi's very well behaved, but earlier had a bout of dry heaves. While walking her, she headed over to some grasses and ate a bunch of weeds, mostly grass. A few minutes later she was ill. It was as if she knew all along what to do to make herself sick. Who taught her? We certainly did not.
But I remember the night Sofi hurt her back and I thought she had eaten something that made her ill. Pia told me to make sure she ate lots of grass. It would make her throw up. So perhaps Sofi took this all in, remembered it and knew just what to do. Life is certainly amazing, don't you think?
On the way home, the pottery shop is open, and the owner welcomes us back, apologizing for the door being locked, but he's getting ready for a tombola (card game) in the town tonight. (What does one do to get ready to play tombola?:)
We pick up a mattonelle, and discuss the way I want to hang it. He shows us a light backed with iron that is similar to the design I'm looking for. We'll be back for a dozen or more pieces of mattonelle so that I can continue to paint the stemmas for our hallway. Once the first one for the Valori family is finished and fired, we'll buy the rest, which we'll have made without the two holes at the top.
We drive to Orvieto, say goodbye to our good friends, and drive home, just in time to leave Sofi for a few minutes and walk up to the borgo. Tonight, we welcome Ken and Pam to Mugnano. They arrived today from New York, and we are happy that they invited us as their first guests. They are tired, so we don't stay long, but stay long enough to ask for Ken's advice about getting a high speed internet connection in the village.
ADSL is probably not going to happen, but he thinks he can set up an ISP in the village, and while he's here this week perhaps he'll know more. That is very good news. While we're standing on the balcony, we see Rosanna next door, and introduce them. She's such a funny woman, and I'm sure will be a great neighbor.
I've asked Linda Webster in Boston to help me obtain an official document that I'll need for my citizenship application, and it has been a real challenge for her. After returning from Ken and Pam's, this funny message arrives:
"iT'S 3:40 pm ...i FAXED YOUr COPY TO THE cOURT...THEY SEARCHed THROUGH THEIR MANUEL FILES AND FOUND IT ...it was never put in the computer...anyway they have the copies ready for a pick-up tom'w at 8:30 am.....i'm getting excited about this now........you're one step closer to being an Italian Citizen.....what does that entitled you to ????????? I can only imagine bowls of pasta, fresh tomatoes and fields of lavender....not a bad future...love you"
I can hear a train pass several kilometers away, for on certain evenings during the summer, when the wind is just right, we can hear the trains. It does not happen often, or for long, but when it does we love the sound of it. Otherwise, there is not a sound anywhere except for the grilli and a snore or two from Sofi. That's enough for me to get into bed and hope for a few zzz's myself.
With a new prime minister in place, the government is earnestly working to find new ways to come up with more money. Prime Minister Prodi's idea, and it is a good one, is to look at the taxes that are paid on each property and assure that the valuation is correct. Italians are all anxious, for properties are valued at a much lower price "for tax purposes" than the price they paid for them originally.
We've always thought that the Italian "way" of ignoring many of the laws was silly. As an outsider, one might think the practice is a quirky aspect of living in a foreign country. Instead of living as outlaws, paying for many things "in the black", why doesn't the Italian government tax people in a reasonable fashion for reasonable amounts?
Italians tell us that the avoidance of paying taxes is practically a national pastime, and the practice of it has gone back for so many years that it is practically impossible for them to change. The economy in Italy is terrible, but if this chicken-and-egg impasse can be overcome, I think the government and the people will all be better for it.
In the meantime, people are rushing to sell properties, buy properties, before the new laws go into effect. It's time to list more properties on our site. Right now, we have around twenty on the site and about five that we do not have listed for a variety of reason. So next week we'll go a-hunting. Although that's really Dino's area, he likes to have me with him to give an opinion at least at the outset.
A Soriano property that we have loved has just sold, and the owner tells us that it is a sad story of a family torn apart by an inheritance. The property was owned by a single woman; a woman who willed it to seven nieces and nephews upon her death.
Seven families fought for the money, wanted to sell, and it took more than a year to sell. A person came along who wanted the property and they finally sold it to him. But unfortunately the family continues to bicker. The couple we were introduced to is lovely, and we are happy for them that they are out of this mess. We hope to get to know them on a more relaxed basis.
We're going to work on the tomatoes this morning and cut a lot of the basil to freeze for winter, as though we are chipmunks. The month ends with me thinking of dreams, and a wakeup call to myself. This garden of dreams has been left untended except for Dino's checking and extra watering and my spotty hours here and there. The days just fly by, and the summer has been too hot for us to work outside. But before another day goes by, I'm going to make some headway.
Dino and I begin working together on the tomatoes, and although the crop has not been very good so far, there are a lot of tomatoes as well as flowers left on the vines. The vines need tending, so we work on either side of each row to tie them up, pull off shoots and weed under foot.
We pick enough tomatoes to use in the kitchen as well as to put up three good-sized jars. Dino does most of the work in the loggia with our new processor, which works wonders and makes the job quite easy. But no matter how much squeezing we do of the juice before putting it into the pulper, water sits on the bottom of the jars below the pulp. That tells me there is too much water in the tomatoes. We'll read up on this...this winter.
When looking around the loggia, I notice that we have plenty of jars left from last year, so I'm not worried. I think the tomatoes need more tending, and suggest that Dino call Silvano Spaccese to do an expert job some time next week. With a warm September, we still may have plenty of tomatoes ripening in the next few weeks.
But what about the figs? We have lots of them, and need to start picking and eating them, then making jam. I think we'll have figs and prosciutto tonight until I remember that we'll drive to meet Tony and Pat at Oktoberfest Pub for pannocchia (corn on the cob.)
I've collected a huge basket of basil and yes; some of it should have been picked earlier. I bring the basket into the kitchen and stand over the sink while I pick it over, clean it, then put it in a food processor with a little lemon juice and water. When it's pulverized, I drop it into ice cube trays to freeze. Once frozen, they'll be popped into "Ziplock" freezer bags to use during the winter. I'm feeling a little like a Contadina, but only a little.
Did I tell you that the past two days have been heavenly? Cool mornings, warm mid days and cool breezes in the afternoon and evening have had me singing with joy. I've cleaned up some smalto on new pieces, and feel confident about my ability to smalto. So now I'll spend a few hours painting.
Here's Duccio's stemma, just painted on a plate for him. What do you think? The family crest goes back more than 500 years!
We meet Pat and Tony at Oktoberfest for their sagra del pannochia (corn on the cob) tonight. It's tasty, but not as good as corn in the U S. We're about the only people there until we leave at around 10PM. Fabrizio is playing there tonight, and is just warming up. We greet him as we are leaving, and memories of our evening with him playing in our borgo while the whole village danced play in my head.
I'm cold and ready to get into bed and read as another month as well as the hot temperatures of August come to an end.
A cool start to the day gets us both up early. Then it's time for some puttering around, including plucking squash that is growing quickly. Dino takes out a ladder so that he can climb right up on the raised orto, and hands me about eight, including one enormous one. The colors are extraordinary. What do you think?
"I did not know you were such a professional!" Duccio exclaims. Aside from the fact that the cross in the center is Maltese, which gives his family an added honor, he thinks it is well done.
We take them to see the squash, and although Duccio won't eat squash, Giovanna picks out the smallest one for herself. We speak a little about the different colors, and I learn that they cross-pollinate when they are close to each other.
I think that is what makes the wonderful different colors and stripes. They've been planted by four seeds: two orange, one yellow and one green, and they were planted so close together that of course they will pollinate!
Last year, Franco and Candida went with us to Alessandra Orsi's to buy her colorful gourds. We won't need to this time. We move them to the marble table between the two tallest cypress trees, but I think they need to be moved inside, protected from possible rain. Dino suggest they be moved to the loggia, so we'll do that in a day or so. Right now, they look great just where they are.
Dino takes out his Europe map book while our friends talk about their recent driving trip from their holiday home in Alto Adige to Bavaria. Since Dino spent three years there in the early 60's, he knows the area well, and it is fun to share stories. They leave to take his sister, Donatella, to her birthday lunch at Lake Bolsena, so we look forward to seeing them the next time they return to Bomarzo.
After they leave, Dino takes off to find the local house painter, who is the person everyone uses and Stefano recommends. He does not answer his phone. This is one of those situations where competitive quotes just won't happen, so we're hoping he'll be fair and that we can afford to use him. We also hope that he can begin work in the next month or so, before the winter rains make the work impossible.
I also ask Dino to drive to Virgilio with the mattone and ask him for two iron brackets to slide them into that will hang on the wall in the hallway. Virgilio will need ten days before he begins. Only when we are sure that they are just right will we order another ten or so. And it will be months before I've finished enough to hang the first six.
Dino returns to tell me that Elena is open this morning, although she has her show in Orte tonight. So he returns to pick up the second Valori stemma and delivers it to her to be fired. In the meantime, I've repaired the cross on the Valori stemma, so that it is no longer Maltese. These details count!
While Dino's gone, I return to the tomato orto and clip away at and fill an entire basket of basilico. I also pick about eight tomatoes, some of which still need ripening. I place them on a table on the terrace in full sun.
The remainder of the morning is spent over the kitchen sink, picking off basil leaves, dropping them in the sink, washing the lot and pulverizing it with pine nuts and lemon juice and olive oil. Then the mix is put into ice cube trays and frozen. Yesterday's basil is already frozen, so they're popped out of their containers and put into ziplock bags, then returned to the freezer. It is a good thing that this tedious job only happens once a year.
I save some of the best basil and make a fresh pesto. I use less garlic than in Marcella Hazen's recipe and add lemon juice, as I did for the frozen mixture. The basil is excellent on fusilli pasta, but a little too buttery. Next time, I'll cut down on the butter, but it's a nice change of pace from regular sugo. I don't think I'd like pesto as a steady diet, however. Dino agrees.
After pranzo, Dino leaves for a real estate appointment in Amelia, but returns in an hour to say he'll return later for another appointment, this time with the realtor and the attorney. I've begun another vegetable soup with zucchini and squash from the garden. Candida and Franco arrive to put up their latest tomatoes, so Dino helps them get started, then drives off.
While the tomatoes are processing, I open a bottle of Primitivo (a close relative of Zinfandel) an excellent red wine from Puglia, and the three of us sit around and gab. They're both excellent chefs, and since Candida is a vegetarian, her opinion of the soup counts. It's very good.
Dino calls after they leave to say he'll be late. He will pick up the geometra's proposal from Tenaglie.
We are up early, and drive toward Orte to Annika's house, one she is moving from in a matter of days. It is a lovely stone house, on the grounds of a Marquis who owns many, many hectares and numerous houses. No, he has no intention of selling any of these stone wonders.
Sofi takes to her right away, and rushes off to chase one of the toys we brought, so we quietly close the door behind us, hoping she won't cry. In a few minutes, we're on the A-1 North, driving to Carol Smith's house in Tuoro sul Trasimeno for the first part of a two-day Mediterranean Garden Society meeting. On the way we exit the A1 at Chiusi to pick up Jenny, a MGS member who has trained up from Sicily.
We reach Tuoro sul Trasimeno right on time. We enjoy our new friends in the Mediterranean Garden Society quite a bit. The members are generous with their time and knowledge, willing to share any seed, any plant, without much prompting.
This morning, we visit an American's garden, landscaped by a local designer, in an uncharacteristic part of Tuoro. It' s well landscaped on a slsop not unlike Mt. Tamalpais, but we've not picked up any ideas.
While driving along the road, I am drawn to a "slow, children crossing" school sign, posted outside a school. Jenny notes that when comparing school signs in different countries, the difference is surely divertente (comical). German children stand stiff on their sign, French children are depicted holding hands, and Italian children are shown running....
We have pranzo at Carol and John's, and I'm happy that Dino scouted out seats in the shade. The day is sunny and hot, perfect temperature to be out on a boat. But this afternoon we're returning to the Reinhardt's garden, the same garden we attended in July. This garden is over-the-top chocka-block full of plants, the chips underthem imported from Switzerland and smelling yummy. They are chips from the cocoa bean (think chocolate).
Although I like the look of the olives and plantings, I don't think it's something we would do in our garden. Since it's very warm, we don't stay late, thinking instead we'll drive home and go out tonight, without worrying about Sofi. We're sure she's having a great time and taking walks and seeing new things.
Tonight we drive to Orte, and meet Tiziana in the square in front of the Duomo. Then we walk over to the Choistro where Elena is exhibiting along with about eight other artists. We introduce them, and I tell Elena that she is the person to make Tiziana's bed and breakfast sign. Tiziana is off to Venice for a week with some children for music lessons, and we'll get together with her when she returns. I miss her.
We're hungry, so drive to Giove to eat pizza at a trattoria on a busy street. We eat while cars speed by, feeling like we 're in a commercial where our hair stands on end in the whoosh of the cars going by.
I miss not looking over in the morning and seeing Sofi curled up like a croissant in her wicker bed. She' s with Annika and I hope having sweet dreams.
Carol Smith, the outgoing Executive Director of the Italian branch, is starting her last day in the position, and beams like a new bride. It is no secret how relieved she is to be leaving it all behind. A couple from the Pisa area will take it over for a year, and they have good ideas. So there will be changes.
Regardless, we'll still come to events, still find a reason to get together in between with this and that member. It's a wonderful way to get to know people who have some of the same interests.
This morning's garden is off the map spectacular; so spectacular that I tell Carol as well as Cali, the President of the whole shebang from Greece, that visiting this garden is worth the annual membership. To a person the reactions are similar.
There must be more than sixty of us all together, in two groups, and the woman who has designed and grown this garden for the last thirty years takes me by the arms when I tell her she's remarkable and tells me that gardeners are never satisfied. Never.
Here are a few photos, which don't begin to do the garden justice.
We'll return later this fall to our friends located above Umbertide to purchase two special apple trees. Where will they go? I've convinced Dino to take out the nespola and the plum trees on the front terrace. The new apple trees will sit side by side, and when grown tall they'll arc against each other. I think there are three meters between the spots where they'll be planted, so the spacing should be fine. We'll do some research.
Dino is not so sure he wants to wait five or six years before they'll turn into anything that we can enjoy. So I remind him that our beautiful round marble table and the pair of cypress trees as tall as the house, as well as the nocciole (hazelnut) trees framing the gate to the next garden, are all nearby. During the hot months, we have cascading plumbago as well, so there's more than enough for the eye to follow in the general area.
Visiting a new garden in a new location usually provides fodder for our own property design ideas. And this trip provides lots and lots of inspiration. We're moving on to the loggia now, deciding to break the raised herb bed in two, with steps going from the terrace up to the loggia, with bedding plants on either side, probably hydrangea.
Better yet, we've agreed that we're going to cut a door from the kitchen to the loggia, raise the roof of the loggia and build a new tile roof. Then the open space leading to the side of the loggia will change. It will be closed off, and wall-to-wall glass front cabinets will be hung against the side wall of the house inside the loggia, leading to the kitchen doorway.
We need storage, and have so little, that this will be a great use of the space. I have it all designed in my head. And the iron grate for the door will match the parcheggio gate in design, and will slide, so we'll have safety protection as well.
In a week or so we'll travel to Carlo in Ripabianca to order the four large square pots for the wisteria. But in the meantime we just have to find a way to locate the house painter. For he'll have to get going and paint the house before we have the pergola built.
The wisteria can be planted with tall metal rods inserted through the pots and anchored in cement below the gravel. So even if we don't install the pergola for six months, the wisteria can get its start. Yes, we know it's better to buy wisteria in the spring to assure that we have the kind and colored flowers we want, but instead we'll buy from Michellini, the vivai we trust, and the plants will have six months or so more to acclimate themselves.
I'm also inspired to make some different ceramic treatments, and think we'll buy some more clay in Deruta soon. This time it won't be pirofila, but I will ask Elena if I can roll it out in her studio. I want to make a few flat circular pieces for the wall, with raised designs. I also want to do some different dipping into paint.
I think our trip to the South of France in October will tip me right over the edge. I am already sure that I will love French pottery design. So I'm working on an amalgamation of Italian and French methods this week, starting by dipping parts of the pitchers into the smalto and then a mixture of paint. I'm beginning my set of four ceramics lessons in Viterbo this week, so expect to see some very different designs soon.
Did I tell you I want to get rid of the green in the kitchen? We're going to recover the sofa, and Dino wants to repaint the glass front armadio in a pale blue-grey with the same gold leaf detail. So the kitchen will become yellow and blue and white. I've never really liked the green. Now I can get ready to paint our kitchen dishes, not that I have any idea when I can begin. Perhaps in January...
After leaving this extraordinary garden, we drive to a ferry landing and walk onto our own boat, where we eat a buffet lunch on the way to Isola Polvese. Today is another warm one, the balmy breezes a welcome addition. Once we reach the island, we are led on a tour up to the top. The island is damp and humid, and they island is famous for its ancient garden, which we don't appreciate as much as most of the others.
I think we've been spoiled after this morning's feast for the eyes. We're tired of tours, so after the group walks back to the boat and we putter along to the second island on Trasimeno, Isola Maggiore, we decide to leave the group and hang around by the pier.
We're not alone, for after walking along the side of the little island where the shops are, we see other members of our group enjoying gelato outside a little bar. Sounds good to us. Actually the island is one we would consider staying at overnight, with a few good looking bed and breakfast places along our walk.
Back on land, we say goodbye to Carol and our other friends, and drive back to pick up Sofi. We take a different route, by driving to Montoro and taking the high white road back toward Orte. The land and the view are exquisite.
All we can see for miles is land that is privately owned by a Marquis, who has no intention of ever selling. This is a real shame. Anyway, Annika and Sofi are at the gate, and our little dog is as sweet and adorable as ever. She's had a wonderful time and Annika has taken very loving care of her. We'll surely use her again.
It's so very wonderful to have our little "piccola" back with us. She is happy as can be, loving the new experience, loving her new friend, but happy to be home. Sofi has matured, and has lost a lot of the insecurities she showed on previous visits away from us. Now looking down at her laying on her little bed, it's as if we never left.
Last night, Mauro came by to confirm that our pellegrinagio will go to Rieti later this month. The research we did last week will be utilized at the end of April. The cost of the bus is more money, so we've decided to do this trip first. Later in the year, the Festarolo committee will have more funds, more leeway to do more expensive events. Bravo, Mauro, for spearheading this result.
I'm looking forward to painting. It's been many days, and now that we see that Elena also works in the studio during the day, even though she is exhibiting in Orte at night, we can take pieces there as soon as they're finished.
It's a lovely cool morning, and Dino's off to Tenaglie to meet with a geometra. Sofi and I do some gardening, and I pick up a huge bunch of wild fennel and put them in vases and hang them from pale raffia in the kitchen. The smell is subtle and strong at the same time, and the dusky green and mustard colors are perfect for the beginning of fall.
I also work around in the pomodori patch, and the basil is settling down. After picking about ten tomatoes in various stages of ripeness, I do a little weeding and some laundry and take a good look at the loggia, picturing in my mind's eye what it will look like with the changes we're hoping to orchestrate.
Stein should arrive today, and also May Elin, and Dino thinks we should see if Terence and Angie and the girls can stay at May's house, down the street next May. We'd love to have them here, but think they might want some privacy. It's exciting to think they'll really come for ten days or so, before moving on to Macedonia to visit Angie's grandmother.
I study the apple tree, and think about how difficult it will be to take the two trees out of the front terrace. I suppose if we do it, it will be a dress rehearsal for removing the cachi and also the bay trees. We really do take on amazing projects. I suppose we could leave things alone, but it is the rethinking, the maturing of one's tastes, that make this journey of life so interesting.
I paint the tile with the two little girls on it, but don't really like it. I suppose it's all right. I also experiment with a pitcher, making a solution of colored powder and water and trying to dip the top of it in. But the result is a disaster, with the pitcher coming out as if it is covered in boils.
I play around with the new texture, and realize that I cannot dip in a water based solution after the smalto has been dipped. We'll let this one dry several days and then see what it looks like after it is fired. I paint a spray of herbs in a little cornice (frame) on the front, so we'll see how the details come out.
We're tired tonight, and I don't really know why. So we turn in early, and look forward to another sweetly cool night with the sound of cicadas lulling us to sleep.
On these cool mornings, the smell of burning leaves fill the air. I like the smell, although I'm aware that it is a harbinger of winter. Leaves from the plum tree lie on the step to meet me when I open the front door. They've already yellowed and won't stay long on the tree. Dino takes me to Giusy for a pedicure, and we have a laugh talking about Italy's version of "George Washington slept here". Italy has San Francisco di Assisi, and the phrase I learn is a response to "How are you going to get to..." and the response is, "Con il cavallo di San Francesco" (on the horses of St. Francis, meaning on foot). This afternoon we have an appointment with the geometra in Tenaglie to re-measure and talk about the things that a client couple wants to do to the house if they buy it. I love the house. Really; especially the ground floor with its ancient animal feed trough and big fireplace. I also love the old stone outbuilding right next to the pergola of grapes and roses. Without all that much expense, this can be an exceptional property.
Everyone connected with this property is friendly. It is owned by two brothers, and they are both delightful. The geometra is so on the ball that he called us at 8 A M this morning to follow up and arrives right on time. We'll have his preventivo and report by next Tuesday or so.
On the way out of town, we see Gaedano sitting on a step, and drive up to him to greet him. He's really younger than I thought. Perhaps it was his hat that made him look like an old man. Or his lack of teeth. We like Gaedano, and like everyone we've met in this town.
So we decide to drive on to Montecchio for a cold drink and walk around a bit. It is hot, but the stores are open, and a signora helps me to four tiny precious pears. I'll paint them, then we'll eat them with a pecorino stagione we purchased before pranzo.
Also before pranzo, we reserved a room in an inn in the South of France (why isn't it called South France?) at the beginning of October, on the way to the Mediterranean Garden Society Annual Meeting, and an artist owns it, so we've signed up for a half-day painting class.
I'm over the moon happy about it all. We'll also be searching out French ceramicists, so that I can see what I can learn about how the French make their ceramics and paint. I do love their finishes.
Dino and I agree that we love the countryside of France, the furniture, the fabrics, the gardens of France, but we're not so sure about the people or the food. So having France not so far away is a good thing. We're sure this will be the first of many visits.
I'm already sketching out what I might be painting in the class. The teacher told Dino I'll leave with an oil painting that I've finished...so I think I'd like to do a still life. We'll take some photos of pears and cheese and wooden chopping blocks and things for fodder, just in case. And of course there's always my growing number of sketch books.
What will Dino do while I'm in class? Well, he'll be driving around finding interesting places to visit, meeting new friends. I don't remember what we've signed up for at the congress, but don't really care now. It's been an excuse to visit Provence.
But back to Italia, we're thinking about the property we're working on now, and I love it more each time we visit. Today, I stood under a pergola of sweet tiny green grapes and plucked a few while little bees buzzed around. Behind the house is a tree with black figs, almost ripe.
The geometra thinks the kitchen can easily be moved to a different wall, one with a view of the olive trees and a picturesque nearby ruin. There's so much to love about it.
Back at home, we pace off where the pots for the wisteria will be situated, and tomorrow we'll drive to Carlo Berti in Ripabianca to order the big square pots, with half of the bottoms open for roots to grow into the ground. Dino still can't locate the painter, but we'll need the pots anyway.
It's been very, very hot today, but tonight we're blessed with cooler temperatures, even if there is no breeze. So we'll go to bed with the fan chugging along.
We leave the house for a meeting with Gaetano in Amelia for a client, and then drive off to Ripabianca to see Carlo and possibly also to Deruta. We need to order the four large square pots for the wisteria and also one large strawberry pot for herbs. We stop first at Carlo's, but he doesn't have any planters large enough. That makes us sad, for we love to buy his pots. We drive back toward the other shops and at the first one find just what we are looking for.
We'll have to order them, and they will make them in the lighter color and also with half of the bottom cut out for the roots of the wisteria to grow into the ground. Best of all, they have a very large order for Unopiu later in the month, and will deliver our pots free of charge.
There is an option to place their stemma on the pots, and it is a very attractive one. I ask that they do not put their name on the stemma, and they agree to leave it off. The price is lower than Carlo would have charged...without delivery. So we drive on to Deruta very satisfied.
In Deruta, we stop at the first shop where we purchase a lot of our "greenware", and pick up twenty modo de dire plates and a few other pieces. Dino sees a tall strawberry pot outside, and the owner tells us it's €80. We tell him that if he'll sell it for €60 we'll take it, and he agrees. We are good customers and he probably has had the pot there for a year. Everything worked out well...
We don't have time to stop at home before driving to Viterbo for my new class, but when we arrive find out that the class starts later than we thought. We're just about to leave when we see Cinzia, and she leads me into the big room where the workshop will be held. I meet two other students, Patricia who owns an agritourismo in Bomarzo and Ida who is Danish and lives in Montefiascone.
There's plenty of help, and I paint a medieval pitcher. After that, I paint a still life of grapes, but it is more complicated designs that I want help with, so agree that I'll bring what I want to paint next week. In advance, I'll bring a tile or a plate that they will smalto, and will also pin prick the design onto tracing paper, so I won't have to waste the time in class.
By the time Dino arrives to pick me up, I think I've learned a few things. These workshops are good, but I need some real hands-on guidance. So I'm looking forward to the painting class in Provence next month. They'll send me home with a painting, so I'm thinking about doing a still life and will take some photos this month for ideas.
I'm itching to paint, and before the day is through I've painted one small vase and both of the medieval pitchers. This morning, Dino drove to Viterbo to pick up the Verde Rami (copper green) and Manganese (brown) colors, characteristic of pottery from the medieval times. Since the two pitchers are so characteristic, I want to be sure to paint them with the proper paint.
This morning Sofi and Dino and I work in the garden early, but it is just too hot. Today reaches 100 degrees, so summer has clearly returned. Stein comes by for a visit, and we serve a huge bowl of just picked figs. Tomorrow we'll make our famous ginger fig preserves. This afternoon the stores will be closed, so I won't be able to start today. I think they'll keep another day...Speriamo.
More figs remain on the tree but are too hard to the touch. So it will be next week before we'll have another batch of figs to put up. And of course figs to serve with gorgonzola or with prosciutto. They really are tasty.
Dino moves the planter for the herbs onto the terrace and fills it with five bags of soil. There are six places on the sides for herbs (it's like a large strawberry pot) and one large space on the top. On Saturday at Villa Lante we'll pick up herbs to fill it. It's found a home under the cachi tree, and we're sure we'll make good use of it.
It's a luna piena concert on a terrace near the tower in the borgo tonight after ten, with the grandson of a neighbor playing his keyboard for several of the older women in the village. I do love those Napolitano songs.
Not many people are out in the borgo. Earlier Dino returned home after an errand to tell me there were two death notices...one frightened him because the man's first name was Felice. But it was not OUR Felice. We don't know either man, and that is some relief. But we agree to walk up to the borgo to pay our respects.
On the way, we stop and ring Mai Elin's doorbell. She is there, having dinner with a friend, and we will stop there for coffee tomorrow morning. She and her friend have been here for three days...out shopping all day every day. So each time we've stopped they've been gone. Today they visited Tuscania and spent time at the beach. Mai Elin is tanned as if she lived here full time. But Norway is her home, so she takes advantage of every minute in the sun.
Its summertime hot, even though the mornings are a little cool. We've picked our tomatoes, and picked our figs, but must put them up - subito!
I put a pot of quartered and washed ripe figs on the stove with thinly sliced lemons, fresh ginger cut up in tiny pieces, sticks of cinnamon, cloves, sugar and water. While those are cooking, Dino works in the loggia, a room the Italians call their summer kitchen, boiling water to sterilize jars and blanching the tomatoes. It's as if he's a midwife, getting the boiling water and towels ready...
Mai Elin wants us to come for coffee at 10AM. We turn the heat under the figs off, but have time to squeeze the juice and seeds out of the tomatoes and pulverize them in our tomato processor before walking the two blocks or so to her little house on the backside of Via Mameli.
Dino has prepared the jars for tomatoes, and they stand waiting until he puts lemon juice and salt in each one and then pours the mixture inside. After he cleans off the top of the jars he places the lids on tightly and lets them sit until all the tomato mixture has been poured. Then he puts all the jars back in the bath to cook until they are sterilized.
A few minutes later, Mai Elin and her girlfriend serve us coffee, and she takes me into their bedroom to show us all the clothes they have purchased in Salzburg and also Viterbo. How those two love clothes!
May Elin has the figure of a model and is quite pretty. We like her very much. I describe her as very "present" whenever we are together. Her blue eyes seem to drink in everything she sees, and she loves being in this little village as much as we do. We've asked her if Terence and Angie can rent her house next May and she agrees. As soon as we have the dates, we'll email her to confirm.
Since she returns to Norway tomorrow, we won't see her until at least February. But if she wants to come back in the meantime by herself, she can stay with us. We hug them both goodbye and return to our cooking.
We need more jars, so Dino drives off to pick them up and to deliver our pirofila dishes to Elena. Her mostra has been going well and she likes the dishes. So within the week they'll be ready to smalto and paint. Yes, Michelle, these are the oven dishes!
While he's gone, I take the last pitcher I painted yesterday back into the kitchen to paint "Cura ut valeas" on the front. This is the difficult part. Translated the phrase means, "Take care, so that you will be well." If you recall, it is one of the phrases written by Cicero to his friends. The second phrase is "If you are well...I am well."
That reminds me. Dino brings back about ten of the modo di dire dishes I have painted, and now I can say that I have painted the first four in the collection. There are numerous copies of each one, so I can sell them, but one copy of each stays here, and will be hung on a wall. Will I bring back some to the U S? I think so.
I prepare pranzo, and while I do the phone rings and rings. Duccio has hung his stemma on the wall of their Bomarzo home, and I think likes it. I have painted the same stemma on a big plaque that is being fired at Elena's, and it is the first to be hung on our staircase wall. We do not have it back from Elena yet.
After pranzo Mario comes by to pick up Dino and they drive down to Stein's to look at some work that Mario is to do on the property. "We've had quite an adventure," Dino tells me from the front door when he returns, so of course Sofi and I can't wait to go downstairs to find out what has transpired....
Mario and Dino bounced down to the road in front of Stein's on Mario's Suzuki Samarai, a car Dino later renames Mario's Kamikazi to his friend's delight. The tiny lane behind the property runs off the street we all affectionately call Acqua Puzza (dirty water), and as they roll down it on the 4-wheel drive, the car slides off and Mario finds himself sitting in a ditch.
What to do? They cannot roll it out, so Mario stays to ponder and Dino walks up the hill to the borgo, hoping to find Vincenzo or Pepe, who can pull the car out with their tractor.
With a roll of thunder in the early morning hours, I lie in bed remembering that for the past two nights the sounds of cicadas have vanished. A pale but full moon sent them on their way as if following ET on George Lucas' bicycle.
Summer ends as it began, but the start of a headache foretold all this yesterday. I countered by popping Paracetemol tablets, not imagining that it would really rain on the annual Villa Lante plant exposition this weekend.
Thunder and lightning follow like gunshots, the cool rain bouncing off the crusty earth until there is so much of it that it opens up in gulleys to watch the water rush by. It's dark, so dark that we cannot believe it is really 8AM by the time I have showered and returned to the bedroom to check email messages. I plug in the phone line but do not connect the power. The storm is too close, the chance of the computer being zapped too certain.
I scoop up Sofi and we drive up to Bomarzo, stopping at Fedora's for espresso. She has ceramic mugs painted by Elena lined up on the back of the bar, and painted leaves surround each one in a pale apricot range of colors. We agree that Elena is talented and a good woman. I hope that her mostra in Orte has been successful.
When back in the car, Dino tells me that Elena will try to get some information from the metal sculptor showing near her this past week. His figures are really unusual, and Dino wants one for the garden to sit in the middle of the lavender.
The rain continues off and on, but when we arrive at Villa Lante and park there is hardly a drop. It is a lovely setting, and we're admitted for free, I suppose because we do not come in the front gate and because we do not have to have a directory. I only find this out later when we are driving out.
We pick up plants to grow in the big terra cotta pots below the wisteria, and the colors are pale green and grey....quite subtle and lovely. We also pick up five herb plants to grow out of the big strawberry pot, and two lavender pepper plants, which will be showy and fun until the first frost. We'll think of an evergreen after we return from France next month to replace the peppers.
So with not much of a dent to our pocketbook, we drive home and plant at least the herbs, then stop to pick up Stein and his two pals to lead them to pranzo at Frenchy's Bistro.
We eat outside, for the large overhang is a real wooden roof. Their tiny dog, Doris, and Sofi get along fine, and Sofi is able to ramble around and play with Doris while we have fun. Candida and Franco bring Anik, a French friend from Orvieto whom we have not yet met. She is lovely, and we look forward to getting to know her.
The food is really great. I order risotto with pears and gorgonzola for the first time. It is very good, but quite rich, so I think trying it once is just about right. The dessert is a wonderful baked peach in red wine with cinnamon, nutmeg and raisins, served at room temperature. I'll see if I can replicate it.
Everyone loves his food, and the price is not any more than last night's mediocre meal, so we consider this meal a great success. We ask the woman who is one of the owners if she will cook us a Vietnamese meal, and she sighs about the lack of ingredients available. So Franco and Dino cajole her, telling her we'll bring her ingredients from San Francisco, the South of France, wherever...
One of these days we'll surprise her with a basket of Vietnamese ingredients, then will look forward to a great meal. In the meantime, we'll check around locally to see what we can find out. There's not much talk about the house, which we are trying to help them to sell. I don't think she is in a hurry.
After pranzo, we drive to Viterbo to pick up some tiny disposable plastic work gloves for me and to meet with Tiziana Michellini, but the Vivai is closed on Saturday afternoons, so we'll return next week. I want to have a conversation about purchasing wisteria and planting it in the fall. Every suggestion online suggests that we should not purchase a wisteria plant until it is in bloom in the spring. I think that if Michellini has suppliers that she can trust, the plants will do better if put in the ground in the fall. We'll let you know next week what she thinks.
As soon as we reach home, although the temperature is very humid and still warm, we decide to tear up the house and rearrange the furniture. Starting with the guest bedroom we move the beds, tables, desk, and then decide that one of the sofas in the living room will come upstairs, too, in front of the front window.
Somehow the two of us manage to maneuver it end-over-end and as the perspiration literally drips from us, we turn the fan around and sit on our newly moved prize to cool down. Tomorrow we'll do some more rearranging, and are really pleased with the early results.
Tonight we leave Sofi at home and drive to Tenaglie to watch Don in his town's religious procession. We join him in the dark on the softly lit street, with each woman carrying a candle. I walk in the back with the men, and we walk in two rows single file.
On our right are a row of enormous chestnut trees, the pods prickly but not yet ready to burst their outer shells. The reflection of the leaves in the moonlight is dreamy.
Paolo, GianCarolo's brother, sees us and is really moved that we would attend. We're really there to support Don, who is dressed elegantly in a jacket and tie. He walks with his hands behind his back as the others do. We leave after the procession ends, with a hug for Don and a promise to see him in the next days.
We're both hungry, and stop at Attigliano to pick up two hot pizzas to go, and eat them in the kitchen while we watch Anthony Bourdain on Television talking about eating in Paris. We're hungry for our France trip, which is now four weeks away.
It's warm as we walk up to church, and the street is bustling with activity. By the time we reach the borgo, many people are already seated inside the little building. We sit in the last row, behind Argentina and her two Romanian helpers, who sit where we usually land.
The woman sitting next to Argentina strokes her hair lovingly. She really wants to make a good impression, as this is the first time she's been seen inside the church. We have no idea where here previous helper is today. Argentina seems to lose her perspective more each time we see her, but she clearly loves the attention.
Stein and his two visitors arrive late, and sit against the back of the church. Don Bruno is today's priest, rushing in wearing boatmocs and a short-sleeved sport shirt. Later Stein rolls his eyes at the priest's dress as well as his method of delivering his homily. More about that later.
After the service, we see Annika and Torbjorn and their youngest daughter, Karin, walking around the borgo, so introduce them around. Our Swedish friends will be here for a week, so we'll see if we can get the Swedes and at least Stein together. They are all so happy and jolly to be here.
Annika tells us that their figs are ripe, but not much else. I offer that they can make jam at our house, but they will be busy touring around. We almost forget that at the beginning we traveled around quite a bit, too. Stein seems content to just "be" in Mugnano, loving every little detail.
Stein invites us for coffee, and he and Gaer walk ahead to prepare something to eat, while we take his other guest, Einar, around the village for a tour. Dino leaves us after the walk around to go home to pick up Sofi, and by the time we're seated on Stein's terrace under the luscious grape vine, she rushes in all excited, followed by Dino, who gets out of the car with some peach jam from our larder for Stein.
We're treated to thinly sliced salmon from Norway with perfectly cooked boiled eggs on what Dino calls "toast points" that are not really toasted, nor are they pointed but you know what I mean. The yolk of the eggs is still dark but not runny, almost buttery.
Stein also serves us blue/black grapes, also from the pergola, and they are as sweet as tiny wild strawberries. There are also black figs. Served in a blue and white bowl, the dark purple-y-blue, almost black colors of the figs and grapes are a painting.
The scene is an inspiration, with thirty olive trees in our view, the land clipped of weeds and although dry, a dream to walk through, which Stein and I do while the boys rest in the dappled sun and Dino drives off to Il Pallone to do some Sunday food shopping.
But before Dino leaves, Stein can't wait to serve us his mint drink. It is an emerald green thick substance, poured into champagne flutes and topped with sparkling water. The taste is very fresh, and we think of telling him that we could call it "Mugnano mouthwash", but save that for another time.
I think one could make a very interesting cocktail with the mint liquor, but am not sure what, or how. We'll come up with something and pick up a bottle to try a few things out.
While Stein and I walk the property and look back up at the ten-century old tower, I think of dear Karina, and wonder why she ever sold the property. Although we miss her, are so happy to have this gentle new friend, who is a delight to be around. We look forward to seeing him a lot while he's here, and to getting to know him very well next year when he moves here full time.
Stein insists on driving Sofi and me home, for it is very, very hot by now. While we're driving down Via Mameli everyone turns their head and waves, but we are sure their tongues are wagging. I make sure not to give Stein a kiss when he drops us off. Dino is, of course, not around...
When Dino arrives, he can't wait to watch the Formula 1 race, held today in Monza. More than forty years ago, Dino and an army buddy attended the Monza race, and I can see his eyes light up at the thought of it. Today he's not able to watch the whole race, leaving with about ten minutes to go.
This afternoon is his procession from Viterbo to La Quercia with his Confraternity pals and hundreds and hundreds of other men from Confraternities all over this part of Italy. I'd go, for I did one time and it was grand, but it's not much fun to do alone, as there is a lot of time standing around in crowds just waiting.
Dino instructs me to call him on his cell phone with the results of the race, and I dutifully sit in the kitchen watching the end, as Michael Schumacher wins and, Kubica, a Polish fellow, racing for the first time this season, comes in third.
While I give him the news on the phone, he repeats it, nodding his head as if everyone in the bus leans forward like the people in an old stockbroker's commercial. We're so out of touch with America that I can't even remember the name of the company. Dean Witter? No matter...
I start some fig jam, slicing lemons and figs, dicing up fresh ginger into tiny pieces, and wonder if Dino will be in any mood to pick more figs when he returns. I do know that he will want to continue to move furniture around in the living/dining room. From now on, we won't refer to it as a living room.
Stein's friends drop by to say goodbye, and I give each of them a pot of jam and take Gaer's photo with Sofi, telling him we'll send it to him. He loves her, and she loves him. Next to Pepe and of course Dino, he is her favorite male friend.
I have not written about Gaer, or have I? He is the gentlest, sweetest man, and I think is some kind of a nurse for older people. Some years from now, when Dino and I sit around drooling and staring off into space like Argentina, he is the perfect person to take care of us. Wish we could snap him up now; wish we could afford to bring him here to live. But who knows what tomorrow will bring? No sense of being THAT practical now...
I start to work on one of Helga's stemmas, for she will be here in a few weeks. Earlier, Dino brought back our first completed stemma for the staircase from Elena, the Valori stemma, and it looks wonderful. I'm inspired to move forward...subito! Don Francis answers my email request regarding the Latin phrase on one of her stemmas that translated says, "Thus I am really manly!"
How funny. I've emailed her to see what she has to say about it. My hand is almost poised with a brush on the first plate, but I'm wondering if that's such a good idea. This is really strange information.
I've been thinking of what to paint in the workshop on Wednesday, and realize I have the perfect thing. It's the young boy whose image sits above one of the doors of the piano terra (ground floor) of the Orsini Palazzo in Bomarzo. I print it out, now will trace it and make the pinpricks. In the next day or two, we'll need to buy a large tile to paint it on...this is very exciting.
Dino returns and we start to move furniture. By the time we're through a few hours later the bottom floor of our little house looks very different...and much better. It's almost like living in someone else's house. Tomorrow we'll move the remainder of the pieces of furniture and begin to sort/donate/throw out things we don't use/haven't worn. Wonder if it's the phase of the moon. I like it!
On this humid morning, we're working on revamping the furniture placements, and like the changes a great deal. But Dino drives off early, so I make a pot of espresso anyway and enjoy it while looking out at the view from the terrace.
Dino has Mario and his friend, also named Dino, working on a project for Stein, mostly taking down the back fence and replacing it. He returns to tell me that everything is working out fine, and convinces me to go with him to Civita Castellana to pick up a mattone to paint on Wednesday. I already have picked up the design I'll paint.
But first we finish the figs that have been left on the stove. We need more lemons and more small jars. So we finish and altogether count 65 jars in two sizes. With more figs still on the tree, I don't know if we'll make more, but the gingered fig jam is certainly remarkable. So it depends on how busy we are later in the week.
We can't find a large handmade tile when we drive to Civita Castellana after pranzo, so opt for a 25cm by 40cm industrial tile, and that will work fine. I'll paint a demilune (half round) outline on it before working on the figure. Tomorrow we'll blow up the picture and I'll do my tissue work, so that on Wednesday I can just begin.
We drive home for pranzo. Yesterday at Stein's the boiled eggs were so tasty with the salmon that I boil some up and serve them with salmon, crostini, cream cheese, and sliced heirloom tomatoes with mozzarella. Heavenly.
After pranzo we drive to Viterbo to the art studio that gives my Wednesday workshop, and they like my two medieval pitchers. I also give them the mattone, for they will smalto it to have it ready. I'm hopeful I will learn something new from them, or will only finish the four sessions and then be on my own, at least until my painting class in Provence at the beginning of next month.
We're both very excited about the trip to the South of France, and want to take a ferry to Barcelona one way, probably on the way back. Stein comes by for a visit tonight with his last visitor and confirms that the ferry is the way to go. The drive from Genoa through Provence is full of tunnels and people driving very fast.
I think Dino likes the sound of that. For me, perhaps I'll try to sleep. The thought of miles and miles of tunnels does not appeal to me. But Dino does not want to do a round trip ticket on the ferry. He thinks it will take too long.
Tonight I can hear the train roll by at just before midnight. I can only hear the train on certain evenings in the summertime. It must have to do with the wind. Usually it is very, very quiet here at night, with only the sound of the crickets or an occasional howling dog.
The weather forecast is for rain, but it's a lovely morning, and we put up figs and figs and more figs. Altogether we have sixty-five jars of it, and are sorry we can't bring some back to the U S, we don't think transporting glass jars of gooey food is a good idea in the event a jar breaks in our suitcases...so you'll just have to come for a visit to taste it!
I finish the first stemma for Helga and when Stein and Einhold come by for cold lemon pie after pranzo, Stein tells us that he loves it, especially the detail of the leaves on top. I'm hopeful that the finished plate is just as good.
Speriamo. You know, we use that word often. Hope. The use of this word is an interesting thing, and reflects the attitude of most Italians we meet. They are hopeful but somewhat reflective, and don't count on much of anything.
I'm talking about the people who lived during WWII, the number of which is quickly declining. That period must have been a terrible time. Then, all they had was hope. When reading about Italy during the war, there was so little food, so few services, that I imagine the people spending much of their time waiting, waiting...
I think the waiting and not knowing is worse than receiving bad news. And so now the use of the word speriamo has a touch of doubt, as if to say, "Don't count on it."
The weather is starting to change, and as the day progresses a full-blown migraine throbs in my head. Sofi and I go to bed early, and Dino stays up to work on possible property purchases with two clients. Hurry up, and wait. Hurry up, and wait. The process of buying a property in Italy is full of drama. Speriamo....
It's warm today, and very humid. Dino drives off to pick up a geometra's report in Guardea, and I trace the image that I'll start to paint in class this afternoon, popping holes in the tracing paper so that we can thwack! the carbon bag over it and leave an impression as a guide.
But what I learn later is that the image needs to be transposed, so that the flat part of the paper rests against the ceramic piece when adding carbon. That way, there is no space between the paper and the plate. My attempts so far have proved less than perfect, but I am able to paint much of what I do freehand.
In class, I realize that this method makes everything easier. So tomorrow I'll retrace Helga's second stemma and do it correctly. It is a complicated stemma, so I look forward to it.
While Dino is out, I pick more tomatoes and basil, and decide to make a pasta with pesto sauce. The last pesto sauce came out quite well, so we'll see if Dino likes this one. He never seemed to like pesto before, but perhaps with basil from our own garden it will taste better. Speriamo!
The tomatoes are, well, good and not good. I think many of them will "die on the vine"...literally. I pick about eight, and some have to ripen a little more in the sun.
Dino loves the pasta. I cut the amount of garlic down by more than half of the recommended amount and add an ample squeeze of lemon and half the butter. It's really good.
While we're sitting down to eat, Don Salter appears, but is full from a pranzo in Attigliano at Arterio and Fernanda's house (he bought their house in Tenaglie). He planned to just stop by, but they insisted that he stay, so he adds another note to his Italian adventure.
Don's time has been spent repairing wood rot, and he is so proud of his efforts that he brings two slices of wood from the project to show us. He wants to follow us to Viterbo so that he can buy a vacuum cleaner, but we lend ours to him instead, so he sits around and gabs until we have to leave.
My headache continues in waves, but I've been through this before, so just push on. I'm not about to miss painting class. Today I add a few touches to the grapes I painted last week, and spend the rest of the time on the young boy who sits over a doorway in the Orsini Palazzo in Bomarzo. I love the image, stopping to gaze at it each time we enter the building.
As I wrote earlier, Cinzia shows me that I have traced the image backward, but we're able to pummel the carbon just the same. For the three hours of the class, I outline the images and then paint the first layers. Cinzia thinks this is complicated, for the piece is painted in only two colors, green and brown, with the exception of the skin tones, and the tonality of it is vast.
I'm here to learn more about shadows and tones, so this is a good piece on which to learn. Having a good image to refer to helps, and Cinzia works with me to study the colored sample, painting slowly and delicately back and forth over the different tones of brown on the boy's garment.
Dino picks me up, telling me that Sofi has been a great companion, not fussing around as she does when I am in the car. Do I incite such agitation? Or does she just love the attention?
We stop off at Annika and Torbjorn's, for they leave tomorrow, and say goodbye for a few months. We told Stein we'd stop at his house, but his gate is locked, so we hope he's off to another adventure. I'm happy to be going home.
With two properties see-sawing into the closing process, there is plenty of excitement over the phone and in email. Dino methodically moves through the process, with me on the edges. This is "his thing", just as the ceramics are "mine", so we each have our adventures.
I'm happy to help him when he needs help, but he seems to work better on his own, so I wait for his colorful reports and we both enjoy it more that way.
Dino reaffirms that what he wants to do is to help people take on the Italian "experience", without the hassles, so counsels a couple who will not be here for the close to be on a speaker phone to listen in. He has a notaio in Terni whom he likes a lot, and he's available for a meeting tomorrow afternoon, so Dino will sit with him even before one of the properties is sold to see what he can do about obtaining a very fast close. We're talking a week, which is pretty amazing. Let's see what happens.
I go to bed early again with a migraine, and think the barometric pressure has a lot to do with it. It will surely be foggy tomorrow morning. I can just feel it. Dino stays up to talk with clients nine hours behind us. It feels very good to understand the properties, the process, and to be able to answer questions based on sound information.
Would we have purchased this property if we had someone like us to help us through the experience? ...possibly not. Well, sure we would. It would have been a different experience. Today we feel more like pioneers, being able to help those coming after us to know the pitfalls. And thanks to the European Union, some of the infrastructure of government is more tidy.
Yes, we're greeted by thick fog. My migraine is at an end, speriamo. Yes, that is a good use of the word. We are sure that we will have a few days of very rainy weather, and that's fine with us. We've picked most of the tomatoes, about all of the figs and now we're on to other things.
I spend most of the day painting Helga's second stemma, for it is quite elaborate, but the result is quite good. My headache returns, but I try to ignore it, and when Dino suggests we drive to Oktoberfest Pub for their last night of Paella I agree.
Earlier in the day, Dino drove from place to place working on real estate details for clients. He's so good at this project management stuff, and thrives at it. When people buy property, there are always stream of consciousness questions, especially when buying in a foreign land. Emails and phone calls come in and he's led on interesting twists and turns with notaios, realtors, property owners, clients.
When we purchased our property, many of these same issues arose, but we had to find our way usually by ourselves. Now that we know how to navigate the twists and turns, we're turning that knowledge into a valuable service. And Dino certainly loves it.
So here we are, sitting in the village we love, in the house we love, each pursuing our dreams. Simple. Sweet. Isn't this the way life was meant to be lived? The cacophony of sounds and sensuous rhythms of our daily goings on lacks the stress of our former lives, lacks the loud noise and complications of life in America. But there are complications...
A latest challenge is the obtaining of official documents from the U S for our application for dual citizenship in Italy. Linda Webster helps us with my birth certificate information from Boston, Terrence and Angie with Dino's in California. But it is the marriage certificate that has us laughing and shaking our heads.
First of all, all official documents coming to Italy have to be accompanied by Appostiles. The California Secretary of State provides authentication of public official signatures on documents to be used outside the United States of America. The country of destination determines whether the authentication is an Appostille or Certification. In Italy, we need Appostilles. We were married in the Orthodox Church in America in San Francisco twenty-five years ago this month. Was it really that long ago? The ceremony in tiny Holy Trinity Cathedral, complete with accapella singing from a Russian choir on high, was one we'll always remember. The parish priest has moved on, and the latest priest, Father John Takahashi, is sadly out of touch with what has to be done.
For over a month we have waited for him to find the two certificates, and he writes asking us for guidance! He cannot find either of them, and when we fax him a copy he can only provide one, telling us about the other that:
"...the one with the seal of California, it is usually issued by the priest who performed the service so I do not know what to do. Now, if there is any way I can help, please inform me."
Our pal Don Francis to the rescue...He tells us that the Office of Vital Statistics in San Francisco can provide it, so we ask Angie if she can find out. This is one time that we believe that red tape has a virtue.
Once they have all our California documents and send them to us, we'll meet with the mayor and begin our citizenship journey. We're actually looking forward to it.
Rain comes down in such volume that we're met by pools of water standing on the gravel as we leave under the light of the front door to have paella at Oktoberfest Pub in the next town. The meal is its standard mediocre, but the food is spicy and not Italian, so it is a change. We're not complaining.
Back at home, my headache returns with a vengeance. Yes, it is probably the change in weather. But what to do? An ice pack and bed is all I can figure out. Dino works on projects, happy to be busy.
With a six hour or nine hour time distance ahead of our two current clients in the throes of purchasing properties here, email is very important. So we're hoping that in all this rain that our connection will remain. We always have telephone, and with very cheap telephone rates, can always call. But we like the written documentation.
A new friend emails us asking about what the challenges are of moving to Italy. While writing back and reading the copy, I find it interesting that we have learned so very much in these nine years. The task seems so simple and straightforward (well, let's say we know how to navigate).
My headache won't let up, and I spend the day intermittently in bed with ice packs, Sofi lying nearby just watching. When Dino runs into Tia in Coop in Amelia, she thinks my migraine is due to the weather change. There it is, the barometric pressure thing.
But now that we know that's the root of them, we have no idea of a cure. Dino tries again unsuccessfully to make an appointment for me at the clinic in Perugia. We'll probably have to drive there just to make the appointment.
Tomorrow the painter will arrive to look at our house to give us a quote. We're hoping he can paint this fall, can paint soon in fact, before the pergola is built. But it's possible he won't paint, because the rains have already begun...We're hoping at least he'll show up. Dino has been trying to reach him for weeks.
Dino has more appointments today, including one with the notaio, and the first "close" will be postponed until the end of the month. We're becoming well versed in using FedEX, picking up any envelopes sent to us at the local courier SDA in Viterbo, saving at times a full day.
The drummers are drumming tonight, their sounds wafting on cool breezes, sweet from an afternoon downpour. They play somewhere in Bomarzo, the sounds bouncing off the tufa rock holding up the town.
We're expecting Helga's arrival Sunday night. It will be good to see her, but sad that Stein will leave one day later. We eat snacks of his salmon tonight, and note that we really must buy dill packets. Dill is not grown here, but we'd like to have it for many things.
Rain, rain and more rain. We're expecting a great deal of it in the next few days. Dino calls Perugia but cannot reach Dr. Alberti, so tries again with no luck. He also calls Luca, the painter, who tells him he'll be here after pranzo.
We process at least eight jars of heirloom and giganti pomodori, then call Stein to see if he wants to take a trip with us to Civita Castellana. There is a ceramic mostra there, and I think we can pick up two terra cotta large plates to paint for the brothers in Tenaglie before Kate and Merritt's close at the end of the month.
Sure, Stein relishes the idea of avoiding cutting the grass and working on the property to get it ready for Helga's arrival. We pick him up and he hands me a bunch of bright blue grapes, so sweet, from his pergola. Sofi gives him a big kiss and in a few minutes his eyes redden. We must find a pharmacia to pick up allergy pills. Sofi jumps onto the front seat and sits patiently in my lap for the rest of the rainy ride.
In the town, we pick up two plates, but Dino has trouble parking. This is a holiday weekend in the town, and most of the parking is outside. Yes, he finds a place, but by the time he does, Stein and I are walking through the mostra in a courtyard.
Some of the ceramics are interesting, but the building is really exceptional, with original painted frescoes and grotesques on the ceilings and over doorways.
We walk back to the Duomo, where a high mass is taking place, and Stein takes his first look at this very elaborate church, full of people celebrating mass. After a few minutes, we leave, for I have pranzo to fix and the painter will arrive at 2;30.
I put together a quick pesto with basil fresh from the garden and tomatoes also from the garden with creamy buffala mozzarella and olive oil and basil. It's a simple meal, served with a premetivo wine from Puglia that we like a great deal. I stay away from the wine, for my headache is still droning on, but I think it's on the way out.
The painter's partner arrives early, and we'll have the preventivo on Wednesday or so. He knows we want to start soon, of course when it is not raining and yes, there will be scaffolding around the house. Let's hope the price is good.
We must meet with Diego before Kate (Don Salter's daughter) arrives from London to look at places for her wedding next April. We've suggested that she sees Diego's, but she won't have much time. So we're going to visit and do the preliminaries this afternoon.
Sofi stays at home to guard the house and Stein joins us. It is a good thing, for he falls in love with the place, and Diego even lets him play the remarkable organ in the little chapel. The conversation immediately goes to Stein and his group staying here at the end of September instead of in Orvieto.
I see Luciana's family crest inside the church, and it is her uncle who was a cardinal, not Diego's, as we first thought. I surely will paint her stemma. It is Diego's stemma that is very difficult to do, with so much detail and fine lines that the design is almost obscured. I apologize, telling him I will still paint it for him, and now that I have finished several elaborate stemmas, think I can tackle it. But when?
Diego plans a cena for Stein and his group. They agree on the rooms the guests will stay in, and we will pick them up and have breakfast with them before taking them for a tour of Scarzuola later this month.
That done, Dino meets with Diego to get prices for Kate, while Ulla engages me in a mostly one-way conversation, bringing me up to date with her latest saga with Nino, her boyfriend. After dishes of incredibly delicious house-made gelato, we leave, and drive on to Roccalvecce.
Another Diego, Costaguiti, is one of the owners of a remarkable palazzo that takes up most of this little town. The church nextdoor is open, for a wedding has just taken place, and we are able to walk in and take a few photos. This is our third church visit today, and Stein is very happy, taking photos and loving all the details.
We're unable to go into Diego's building, but thought we'd take Stein to see it, and also to determine how long it will take us to arrive here from the other Diego's later this week with Katy. She will be on a time crunch, puortroppo.
While on a drive home over lush countryside, the rain soaking in everywhere, Dino tells me we need to be prepared for mudslides. Yes, we probably have had too much rain for this time of year. I have a flash that San Rocco, the deconsecrated and dilapidated little church next to our property would be a wonderful church for Stein to take on and restore and install an organ.
It gives him food for thought. Being a dreamer, as I am, he now can think of how he will spend his days in a new way once he retires to our village next year. Drizzle follows us home, and we drop off Stein, agreeing to meet him tomorrow and have an adventure before picking up Helga at the airport.
It's good to be home, and I'm wide-awake. I do some repair work of the smaltoed items I've done a day or so ago. They must be repaired in the first 24 hours or so, so I do a once-over, telling myself to be sure to re-look at them tomorrow morning before church. It will be Monday before I'll be able to paint again, but Elena will be ready to fire, so I'll try to smalto the plates for the brothers and get them ready first.
It's raining off and on, and we meet Stein in our church, just before mass. He's already sitting in the last row, because Argentina and the two young Romanian women are sitting in the row we usually occupy again. I think they've commandeered it for the foreseeable future.
No matter. Argentina loves them both. You can see it in her eyes, eyes that light up as she smiles at them, smiles at Don Ciro. She's losing her mind but seems happy about it all. Hope we're just as happy when we're old and dotty.
On the way down the hill, Stein is stopped by a man who calls himself Pietro. He is Stein's next door neighbor, the man whose kind wife looks like Blanche Pastorini of Blanche's Restaurant in San Francisco. Stein's Italian name is "Pietro", so Pietro and Pietro shake hands. We've no time to join them for coffee, but tell them another time.
By this time we're in front of our house, and we agree that the people of our little village couldn't be friendlier. We are fortunate to have such kind and friendly neighbors. We surely appreciate it, and look forward to getting to know all of them.
We come home to scoop Sofi up and drive on to Rome, for a day of adventures as little lambs of Stein, the Rome expert and Lutheran priest we like so much.
Our first stop is at the church of Santa Prassede is just up the Viminale hill and across the piazza from Santa Maria Maggiore. This is one of the oldest churches in Rome. The second century church was built above the house where Prassede hid persecuted Christians. The gruesome story is that twenty-three of them were slaughtered in front of her, then she sponged up their bolld and put it in a well where she was later buried. Also in this little church is a broken column of jasper against which Christ was said to have been beaten.
From there, we walked to Santa Maria Maggiore, a ceiling of such elaborateness and gold that it is said that Christopher Columbus brought the gold back from the new world as a gift to the pope. Such fantastic stories! Can you imagine how heavy the gold was? What other "gifts" did he bring back?
We walk back tot he car and drove to the Pantheon, where Stein and Sofi and I wait out front while Dino works some magic of his own finding a parking space. We walk to one other little church, down some stairs, and it is full of families of people from the Phillipines! What joy exudes from every pore of this ancient church, said to be one of the very oldest in Rome.
From there, we drive across to Trastevre and eat at Stein's favorite little hostaria, La Nuova Capannia. He's greeted at the entrance as if he's a long lost brother, although he has not been there for a long time. We're also greeted as "family" as well, and Stein can hardly wait to take us inside to show his picture on the wall with Enrico's father.
Stein has been eating here for thirty-five years, since he spent a year in Rome studying just before becoming a Lutheran Minister. After this picture was taken, Stein returned to present it to the family, and the brothers cried. Their father had died the previous week. So he will always be welcomed as a brother. And after a pranzo of abbacchio and other delicious treats, we take Stein's picture with the brothers in the kitchen, a photo that will later be added to those on the walls of this tiny place.
It's been raining off and on, sometimes a downpour, sometimes a light dusting of fine drops, but Sofi endures it all. After pranzo, we're taken to Hadrian's Tomb, a monstrosity of a modern building that I turn my nose up at and refuse to enter. It's just his tomb. Dino and Stein go in, while Sofi and I wait outside until we notice a bookstore inside the front door...Oooooo....
In this bookstore are marvelous books all about Rome. I pick up one art book, with inspirational ideas for painting, but we'll come back for more books when we visit our dentist next month nearby.
There's time to visit St. Paul's "Outside the Walls" and it's the fifth largest church in the world. I had no idea what to expect, but it is so very different from St. Peter's. We enter after 6 P M, and the darkness of the sky, the rain, add to the solemnity of the visit.
We're cold, it's raining, but we have just enough time to drive to pick up Helga at Ciampino airport. This is our first time there, and it reminds Dino of Oakland airport. If we travel within Europe we'll probably go through this airport. It seems quite easy to navigate, especially when compared to Fiumicino.
We drive home and after trying three restaurants that are all closed, NonnaPappa is open, so we drive back to Soriano. Sofi sleeps in the car until the end of the meal, but Fidelia wants to see her, so we let her come in and roam around.
The meal is excellent, as usual, We're all tired, and after dropping off Stein and Helga come home and settle in for a cool night's sleep.
Dino still cannot reach Dr. Alberti, nor is he able to make an appointment on the phone. He is, however, able to locate the man who has the key to the dump in Bomarzo, and when he's out the man comes by and I tell him to go down to see Helga. He can take some of Stein's things to the dump in his little ape.
Dino (from Attigliano) calls and comes by. The cost for the pergola has risen again. It will be so large that the structure will have more iron, the poles will be larger in diameter to support the wisteria. We take it all in, not able to move forward anyway until we have the painting completed. He understands. The cost is so high that we should ask Virgilio to quote on it. He does so much work that he can probably do it much cheaper, can buy the supplies cheaper. We'll see, although I'd like to give Dino the work.
We go to say goodbye to Stein, and find Helga and Stein tired after a full day of cleaning the garden. They've done masterful work, with Helga taking over the terrace and removing more than we thought possible for one woman. She's loving the property, and who wouldn't? We'll see her often with her girlfriend and brother for the next two weeks.
They really want us to come to Norway for Christmas to witness Stein's final mass, but the airfares on the internet are high. They're already planning our schedule. So if we can get good fares, and if we can find someone to stay here with Sofi, we'll do it. It will be an amazing experience, and we are moved that Stein wants us to share his last mass after thirty-five years as a pastor with him.
I finish painting the first of the two Tenaglie stemmas, one for each brother who is selling the house to Merritt and Kate. We will present them to them at the atto (close).
I'm tired. Dino is tired. Sofi, too. So we go to bed early, luxuriating in the cool air coming through the windows. Fall is here...
We have not posted for this month, and we're sorry. Somehow the month just got away from us. We think about it, and then move on to something else. Perhaps tomorrow...
Still no luck with the hospital appointment in Perugia, but I walk up to see Dr. Bifferoni on his weekly visit to Mugnano, and he gives me a prescription for the appointment. He's a very nice man, and arrives a little late to find the waiting room full of people. On the walk up, I see Giovanna locking her door and walking toward me. She is going to the doctor, too, so we walk together and sit together.
She thinks Mugnano is "tropo tranquillo", with the only sound the sound of the little birds. I think it is paradise, but you know all that. I tell her that our next property will be in the cemetery and she looks at me with horror. I can tell she is superstitious. She does not want to speak about the cemetery.
So when I tell her there is no room for us in the Mugnano cemetery and that the mayor has to find more room, add on more room, she tells me that as long as we don't have a place in the cemetery, we have nothing to worry about. Hmmmm. Perhaps we should not rush to meet with the mayor about it...
I finish the second stemma for Tenaglie and also paint one for Palazzo Rosa. Earlier today, Don Salter came by for a visit. Dino was out looking for the geometra in Guardea, so Don and I had tea in the kitchen, surrounded by my little table and paints. He wants a Tenaglie stemma, too, but there is no hurry.
There is a shower in the afternoon, but the fog cleared by late morning and the temperature reached about 80 degrees today. I love these fall days, even if it is not technically fall yet.
In the doctor's office, Enzo was waiting and told me that his vendemmia will start at the beginning of October. I tell him we'll be happy to pick, but will be gone for a week starting on October 3rd, so if the weather is good, we'll pick on the first or the second of the month. He wants our help, and the experience is hard work but so much fun that we'll hopefully do it. Last year, Danny and Wendy were here from California, and joined us, all having a wonderful time.
The painters come to measure the house, and we expect their preventivo tomorrow. I like them a lot and hope we can afford the work. It is important to provide a "skin" on the outside of the house for weather purposes, so we're hoping to paint the back of the house as well.
What color do we want? The painters ask. I point to Sofi's little plastic water dish under a wooden bench. "Come questo!" I tell them as I pick it up. Sofi turns her head to one side, wondering if I'm offering Luca a drink.
The color is a kind of manila yellow, quite pale. The shutters will be pale blue-grey, if we can paint them, or replace them. Right now, they are a pasty dark brown. In the meantime, they'll look fine with the new paint job.
Dino takes me to class, and this is just the kind of class I've been wanting to take. The painting of the young boy is very complex, with many folds in his garments and many intonations of color. I want to be able to paint folds of fabric, wonderful intonations of color. The three hours fly by.
As we drive home, Dino tells me that he stopped to see Helga and her friend while I was in class, and they are doing fine. They'll come for drinks on Friday, and we look forward to that. We're also considering whether or not to fly to Norway for Christmas.
I've started to write postcards to our grand daughters. We'll send them every week or so, from different places in Italy. We have some in the house, so I start our little project with cards from La Verna, Assisi, Rome, and Niki St. Phall's garden. They'll have a chance to look at the map where the places are and decide where they'd like us to take them when they visit next year. Speriamo.
The air is fresh and on these nights we usually have a shower or two while we're asleep. It's great sleeping weather, and that's just what we look forward to.
These nights and mornings are muggy. Is that a New England saying, or is it used everywhere to describe a great deal of humidity in the air? Now that we've lived here for four years we're starting to forget things that are common in the U S. "Umido" is how we describe this weather here. It's actually very warm in the middle of the day, and that warmth has some humidity to it as well.
Dino loves fall weather the best of all, but I am not so sure. I am somewhat fearful of it, for it tells me that winter is on the way, and I do not like cold weather, unless I'm curled up on the sofa in front of a roaring fire. And then that puts me to sleep. Give me the days of early spring, the first blossoms bravely pushing out their petals, the first warm days that tell us new life is about to burst everywhere around us.
On this day, Katie and Julian arrive around 8AM for a trip to the two Diegos to look at possible wedding reception locations. The first Diego is Diego Bevilacqua, at Castello Santa Maria, and he gives the couple an exceptional tour. We're treated to some new rooms we have not seen before. Every year, Diego surprises us with his innovations.
We expect him to exude old world elegance and conservatism, but he seems to thrive on new ideas. On this day, he shows us his pool robot, an amazing contraption that costs more than €3,000 and works nonstop in the immaculate pool, cleaning, cleaning, cleaning back and forth, up and down. We stand transfixed at the pool's edge for a few minutes, just watching it. Diego laughs.
Before we're through, Luciana takes me aside and asks me if I know someone who can teach her English. She does not want to take lessons at the British School in Viterbo, but needs to know how to answer the telephone and have conversations with people who call. I give her the idea of writing up the phrases she wants to learn and I will translate them for her and then spend some time with her role playing.
Not that I am very good at Italian, but I can help her with English...at least for now. As the years go by, I see myself losing English and interspersing Italian. Ha. Then I won't be able to speak either language. What then, I muse to myself?
We drive off to the other Diego's, and are met at the bottom of the red-carpeted front stairs by Diego Alfan di Rivera, a good looking Jerry Colonna type including the mustache, or perhaps because of the mustache. Diego is a charismatic man who speaks very good English.
With Flaviano by his side, his "right-hand" man and former chef, they guide the couple through his remarkable palazzo, ending at the garden with its labyrinth of tall box. Katy loves it. I am more enthralled with the place the second time around.
What a great place for a wedding...or anything! I can see it as a place where people would stay for a week, taking day trips here and there and returning for one of Flaviano's meals. Look up www.castellocostaguti.it and see for yourself.
While sitting around an elegant oval table to discuss the menu, Diego tells us about a dish called sartù di riso, and I am on the edge of my seat. Flaviano fixes this in a ring mold, and he tells me that they need a special long grained rice, because it is cooked first on the stove and then in the oven. I am intrigued. Flaviano leaves us to find the rice and returns with...Uncle Ben's! I'm still intrigued.
On the way back, Katie tells us we've thrown a "spanner" (wrench) into their plans. These two locations are very different from what they had planned, but they like each one. And in the next week or so they'll determine which location is "the one". It does not matter to us. We only wanted to put the couple together with our friends to see if we could help.
The painters return with a scaffolding person to do a quick measure, and they'll return tomorrow with the preventivo. We are getting worried. Might as well think about something else. We can't do anything about it.
The phone rings again, and it is Roberto from Lazzari Terrecotte, who has our pots ready, and they will be delivered on the way to Unopiu late tomorrow morning. We have an important document to pick up for Kate and Merritt's atto in Montecchio first, and it is ready.
So we will drive to Montecchio first thing, then stop at the house in Tenaglie to pick the apples that are starting to fall on the ground. Kate sent me a great apple torte recipe with pecorino cheese, so I'm itching to make it.
But what about OUR apples? There are about six on them on the lowest branch of the apple tree. Tomorrow we'll see if they're ready to pick. How terrible it would be if we forgot about the tree and found them rotten on the ground! This, our first crop, should be eaten when they are crisp and juicy. We'll let you know...tomorrow.
We feed Sofi and then drive to Rome for the signing of the compromesso with the brothers. They agree to meet us at Gian Carlo and Ernesta's. We've just enough time to stop at IKEA for a mediocre meal of Swedish meatballs and roast salmon, left too long on the heat table. But it is a change. And change is good.
After a little meandering around, and a good look at our Rome map book (how we miss Nora the Navigator, our navigation system in the Passat) we arrive at the apartment building. This is one of those many, many blocks of apartment buildings in Rome. A good friend described these unattractive cement buildings to us the other day as soldiers marching into Rome....Hup! Hup! Hup!
What wonderful people these brothers and their wives are! I meet Catarina, Paola's gregarious wife, and their granddaughter, who refuses to get down from Ernesta's arms. The women sit with me while the men sit at the round table and conduct their business. We've brought fig jam to them both, and Ernesta tells us how much they loved the amarena (sour cherry) preserves we brought them some weeks ago.
We're treated to a light and airy torta, quite good, and juices, then say goodbye. We're home before we know it, for the traffic is not all that bad. And we check in with Terence, who is about to pick up our marriage certificate from Father John. We can't wait to hear what happens.
Tonight I research the sartù di riso in our cookbooks and find it. I think it's something I'll try. On the internet, I also find it, on an interesting site called www.cookaround.com. You can find English translations of the recipes, but I am unable to find the dish in English.
Perhaps I will find it on this site in English with some patience, but I am tired tonight. I'll return to this site again, and realize that I think I can cook from the Italian recipe. Perhaps I am learning the language by osmosis. I understand more of it than I think I do. The mind is an incredible thing.
Sofi has been a remarkable dog all day, wanting to be with us and not complaining each time she had to wait in the car. At the Costaguti palazzo she was invited in, and behaved beautifully. Otherwise, she spent most of the day in the car, which could not have been much fun. As I write this she sleeps like a croissant in her wicker bed, almost smiling as she drifts off to dreamland.
Yesterday I looked at the church bulletin, and noticed that on Sunday morning there will be a special mass for us. Well, along with every couple who is celebrating their 1st, 5th, 10th, 25th, 50th, 60th wedding anniversaries. This is probably like the mass earlier this spring in Viterbo, but we'll certainly attend.
We are to visit Helga, but first we drive to Montecchio to pick up an important paper for next Friday's ATTO. There will be no ATTO without it, that is how important the document is.
Luca arrives with his partner to take more measurements for the scaffolding, and instead of receiving his preventivo, we see him. Perhaps it will arrive on Monday. "Measure eight times, cut once!" is the motto of the fallegname (wood worker) in Chia. Wonder if that relates to a house painter...
Tonight Helga and her friend from Switzerland arrive for a visit. Her friend has a little dog that looks like a Boston bulldog, but with lots of skin above her eyes, folded in wrinkles. Her name is Sissy, and she sits quietly in a basket, just staring at her owner.
After Sofi gives her a once owner and tries to play, she gives up and sits next to me, just staring at my every move. It is not easy for a dog to share its property with other dogs.
Mario has still not arrived at our property or hers to weed-whack. Dino calls him and he makes some kind of excuse. That is not like Mario. So let's not worry about it for now...
Dino drives Sofi to Annika's early in Bassano in Teverina, and before I'm on the bus he's returned and is walking up the hill. We're congregating at the bus stop, sixty or more of us, and with a population of 80 or so, the village will be like a ghost town for the day. We can count the people not coming. Let' s see. There's Donato's mother, and across the street, Giustino, Giovanna and her husband, Terzo, Nando and Rita, Noreen Natale and that's about it for the whole of Via Mameli! I won't bore you with the borgo list, but if the bus goes over a cliff, this will be a very empty village...
Don Renzo is a Franciscan monk, and knows his monasteries, especially the Franciscan ones. He is in great spirits, and carries on a running commentary from the front of the bus with Rosanna at the back. Rosanna is so lively and, well, loud, that Lore spends most of the trip talking to herself about her neighbor.
Luckily, we're seated around the middle of the bus, so the antics in the back are not a problem for us. But by the end of the day, it is as if someone has put a hex on Rosanna. Stay tuned...
We drive South to Orte, East past Terni and into the Rieti Valley. There are four sanctuaries of Saint Francis, and we are to visit three of them today. Before pranzo, we've seen two, and after a long pranzo. seated with Lore and Alberto, we see one more.
We end the day with a trip to Rieti and a walk down the corso to the Duomo, which I just love. The frescoes are elaborate, the colors remarkable. I'm particularly drawn to a chapel, whose ceiling is the most interesting dark blue, a background for more remarkable grotesques.
Just before we enter the Duomo, Rosanna just has to stop at a crepe vendor, who sells crepes with Nutella, that strange chocolate and hazelnut cream. And then, on the way home we are late, because Rosanna stops the bus to get sick. Twenty minutes later she's back on the bus, and we arrive home more than an hour late.
Don Renzo has the most fun of anyone on this day, and as the bus drives up the lower road toward the village, he forgets who is on the bus and starts a talk about the history of Mugnano. Everyone laughs.
We drive to pick up Sofi in Bassano and love Annika's little house. It is truly a "find" and find it she did, by walking around the town, asking a geometra about the property, finding the owner and calling to ask her in Germany if she'd be willing to sell. "Come no?"
We drive to Cristo Risorto church in Bomarzo today, for the mass celebrates wedding anniversaries, especially those of 25 years and more. On Tuesday, we'll be married twenty-five years, and today before the mass are asked if we'll bring up the gifts. While we're waiting, Ivo walks by and asks us if we'll translate the Palio brochure into English. Sure, that will be fun.
While he's leaning over me to speak with us, we tell him we'll visit him soon because we've heard that the law has changed regarding the amount of time one needs to be a resident before they can apply for citizenship. Not so fast, he tells us.
It's still ten years, but the government is researching it. Fa niete. When we have our documents, we'll still meet with the mayor, hoping that our documents will be ready as soon as the law changes. I want to be sure that the documents don't sit on someone's desk and get lost...
Just before the mass began, Don Mauro asked all the children to come up and sit on the altar steps. The scene was fun, and chaotic. Of course, all the grandparents loved it.
The service is an emotional one, and I'm teary-eyed. This mass in Cristo Risorto is as close a mass as we've seen to that at St. Rafael's with Father Rossi. We'll have to check to see when Father Rossi's masses will be when we're in the Bay Area in a couple of months. I surely miss them.
There are many couples with significant anniversaries today, but when the anniversaries get up to 50 and more, the congregation applauds for each one. There are a couple of folks who cannot even stand up, but Don Mauro and Don Luca come down to them to give them their blessing just the same.
For those with shorter times to celebrate, we're drawn to the way many of the husbands ignore their wives and prance up to the altar by themselves to get their gifts. It would be funny if it were not so sad.
Italian men, for the most part, are an egotistical bunch, with a lack of sensitivity toward their wives. But then again, they are so kind and generous to their mothers. Go figure. We admit we know of many exceptions. But they are exceptions, sadly.
After mass, we drive to Elena's to pick up some of the finished ceramics, and Judith's stemma is finished, as are Helga's two. Since we won't be going to Norway for Christmas, we're going to give her stemmas to her here.
From Elena's we drive to Caprarola, but there is a detour past Viterbo because of an auto race, so we have to drive all around Lake Vico to arrive at Caprarola. We promised Stein we'd organize a private tour for his Norwegian friends next weekend, and there is no phone number to call, so Dino speaks with someone at the gate and then goes in to get a booklet of private tour guides.
On the way back home he calls one who lives in Caprarola, and she agrees to do a private tour. But later that night, she calls back to say there are only a few tours allowed in each day, and she is already scheduled to do a tour in Italian that morning.
We'll tell Stein they can have an Italian tour with a guide who can also speak English. There is also the tour to Scarzuola and two pranzos for Stein's special guests. So it takes until the evening to get everything sorted out. But we do.
We arrive home just in time to change and drive to Tenaglie to Gian Carlo's house. This afternoon we're to work at Kate and Merrit's house, organizing and getting things ready to be taken away that our clients won't want. Several times they have told us to just tell them what we don't want. But today Gian Carlo thinks we're taking care of it ourselves. And it takes Dino to show him the compromesso for him to remember that he agreed to it. We're earning our keep, surely!
I'm especially mindful of the sensitivity of the occasion. Gian Carlo was born and grew up in the house, and although he is young (66), he is unable to move around much. So he sits outside next to the pizza oven and little stone garden building while Dino and I take a walk through room by room, sorting, moving, throwing out items onto a huge pile at the back of the house.
I ask him if he's sad, watching his life move by in front of him, and he really is. He loves the house, has very special memories, but has no use for the house anymore. Later, in a back room, he opens a polished wood piece of furniture to show a foot-operated sewing machine, the case of inlaid wood.
We ask him his mother's name, and it was Teodora. She guarded this sewing machine closely, so when he opens it up to show us, he moves his hands gently over the case as if he's caressing her still. I cannot imagine the emotion that must be coursing through his veins.
We find a number of very special things, including wooden chests and an extraordinary wooden wheelbarrow, as well as an incredible portrait of the brothers. I think showing this to Gian Carlo and asking him if we can have it almost puts him over the edge.
But we want to frame the photos for Kate and Merritt. I tell them how special the house is to our friends, and that they want to treat it with reverence, including this photo of the brothers in a fitting frame.
Gian Carlo drives down the street to his home, and we follow in a few minutes after taking these pictures.
We had no idea selling houses was such hard work!
See Dino overwhelmed at the end of a long session to get the property ready for its new owners.
I did not bother Don Luca today with my Three Priests from Mugnano idea, for the church scene was chaotic to say the least. But I will do something this week, promise.
We're both tired, so turn in early. This will be a busy week ahead...
We're about to have rain for a couple of days. Dino drives off to meet with Alessandro about Kate and Merritt's insurance on their soon-to-be new house, and I begin a minestrone.
I'll make it a rich soup, so take one of the big zuccas from the garden harvest a few weeks ago and put it in the oven to bake while I sauté the odori (onion, carrot, celery chopped up finely). The last two tiny zucchini appear in the garden, so we'll add those, too. It's a gloomy day, if a day here could be considered gloomy.
Here are the two stemmas for Helga, picked up yesterday from Elena. The one on the right is a family stemma that goes back hundreds of years. The Latin inscription on the left, from her father's family translates, "Yes, we are virile." How funny translations are.
I'm itching to paint, but think I'll decline this week, concentrating instead on getting the house and garden ready for Angie's visit and our trip to France next week. And then there will be a possible visit of a childhood friend of Dino's from California to grind things to a happy halt...
I painted tiny cups and saucers for our granddaughters, for a little tea set. Normally espresso cups and saucers, these cups were left in the serra for a couple of months and the outside air got to them. So they would not smalto well. The butterfly images came out anyway, so they'll be fine for them to play with, even break. And they were very much fun to paint.
Most of the day is spent in bed with a migraine. Sofi lies in her bed the entire time, just watching. Later, after a visit downstairs, we return to bed and are greeted by a flying green bug, known as a "stink bug". They're medium green flying things that sound like army dirigibles, don't bite, and only stink if you squeeze them in your fingers (boh!).
Dino to the rescue with a flyswatter. "Morto!" he exclaims, after a swat that would make Roger Federer proud. Sofi watches from her bed, confused by all the commotion.
We've emailed Don Francis to see if he is all right. His work is to promote interfaith dialogue between the Catholic Church in America and the Eastern Religions. He works for the Council of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D C.
He sends back a message not to worry and no, he will not attend the meeting today outside Rome. Here's his thinking about the Pope's remarks and their repercussions:
"I was on the radio in NY on Saturday about the "controversy" which, the more I think about it, was seized upon by some Muslim leaders who have been waiting for something from Benedict XVI that they could "pounce on" to create problems for the dialogue and especially to keep him from going to Turkey.
"This is just a personal opinion and you will note that the protests and so forth fizzled out rather quickly when it became clear that a deliberate misunderstanding was being noticed by editorials in various papers in East and West.
"You will also note that many good Muslim leaders have been saying the same things the Pope said about the West: and that the West, if it really wants this dialogue of cultures and civilizations, needs to make room in its thinking and acting that includes religious faith. Otherwise, it is a continuous source of irritation to the Muslim peoples of the world, and we will have continuous conflict and aggression." I like to check in with him on occasion, for believe that it is healthy to be open to various viewpoints. I don't envy him his work, but it is undoubtedly the most interesting assignment a person of his extensive background and education could have. I am sorry my father never met him. That would have been an interesting dialogue...
Our car has something wrong with it, and after a lot of running around, which by now you know is Dino's specialty, he found a proper mechanic in Vitorchiano who gave him a "loaner" car until Thursday, when the car should be repaired. It needs parts, so we have a "mechanic's car", which probably means it smells and is old, till then.
The problem is a clicking sound that we could not identify, and has something to do with the drive shaft. I always think of the movie, A New Leaf, with Walter Matthau and Elaine May when I hear of these things. "...carbon on the valves..." was the phrase the mechanic used when he'd take in his Ferrari, only to see another mechanic drive it out the back door..." We're not worried the mechanic will want the car for his own joyride...
We have rain all day, but by late evening it is only the grilli (crickets) that we hear. Let's hope the rain has passed. By now it should be on its way to Greece, where Tia and Bruce are vacationing. Bruce is a world-class sailor, but they'll have an adventure ahead of them, just the same.
Today is our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. It seems as though we have been married forever and at the same time as if we were married only a short time ago. We are a good match, and although we're very alike in some ways, the differences are what save the day. We'll have cena tonight with Franco and Candida in Orvieto at one of our favorite restaurants, L'Asino d'Oro.
A couple that is buying the house in Tenaglie wants insurance coverage, including earthquake. So when Dino met with Alessandro yesterday, he learned that the Italian government covers earthquake damage, and that is one of the programs that is causing the Italian economy to go down the drain. We'll write more about it once we have the details. Add that to your list of reasons why you should live in Italy instead of America....
"Managia Garibaldi!"...Kate from Cambridge tells us it denotes great frustration. That is what's happening to them on their end with forwarding some information regarding their property. Garibaldi was a great Italian patriot, so there must be many stories about the phrase. We'll find out...
We both get our hair done at Daniele's in Sippiciano, and Donatella tells us she can find some new plots of land to go with her house that is for sale. We'll take a look before we leave for France.
Helga drives by and she's alone until tomorrow when she picks up her brother from the airport. We invite her to have pranzo with us, and love her company, love getting to know her.
I'm not feeling all that great, but get dressed up for our dinner in Orvieto tonight. Dino even wears a sport coat, and looks really terrific. We arrange to meet our friends at the restaurant, but it looks as if the restaurant is not ready to open, so we step into the little shop across the alley and find some things for the girls.
Franco and Candida appear and we find out that the restaurant is closed tonight. The chef is not there. He's getting ready to open a restaurant in Rome. Sigh.
Our friends take us to a restaurant we have not been to before, and it is run by a mother and son, It is called Osteria San Patrizio and is located quite near the Funicular stop. This is one of Frank and Candida's favorite restaurants, and we can see why. I'm not at all sad at not being able to eat at Asino D'oro.
The meal and company are delightful, and we're back at home at around midnight. It's been a perfect anniversary...not too much work, a good meal, great friends and each other. We're so very fortunate.
We wake up early, for we've a meeting in Amelia with a client. The meeting lasts for two hours with an engineer, who looks over the property and answers everyone's questions. The property is a very special one, with an ancient garden that could be spectacular, if not over-landscaped. We hope she's very happy there.
We've just enough time to stop a the macelleria in Attigliano and arrive home to put together a special pranzo for our guests. We think they'll arrive at 12:30, for they have rented a car for the day due to the train strike, but they don't arrive until almost 2:30. I fix a risotto and Dino grills the meat and we're still out of the house by 3:15, in time for my art workshop in Viterbo.
We all drive to Viterbo, and while I'm in my art class, they walk all over town with Sofi by their side. Before they arrived, Dino sat with a sad face waiting for them. He so looked forward to getting together with Frank, his childhood friend, that I'm really happy that they arrived.
After they leave, Dino gets teary eyed, thinking about Frank as a young boy and about his parents. We're both really tired, and Dino is coming down with a cold, so we turn in early. The sun has been out for most of the day, so we're hoping the good weather will continue. We look forward to a day tomorrow with no appointments or things we have to do. What a luxury.
The great weather is back, and although I want to pick more tomatoes, the day runs away from us and they don't get picked. We're hoping we can pick enough to put some up before we leave next week.
I do get some painting in, actually eight plates, and we'll take them to Elena tomorrow morning when we pick up the Tenaglie plates for the brothers. The ATTO, or close on the property is tomorrow night in Terni, and I want to give each brother a special plate to commemorate our relationship and the selling of their family home to Kate and Merritt.
We drive to Viterbo so that Dino can pick up whatever he needs to be able to use his cell phone in France and in Spain. He comes out with a list of laws in both countries that includes: 1)a passenger must have one of those orange emergency vests as well as the driver in the event of a breakdown, and it must be inside the car itself, 2)In Spain, if someone wears corrective lenses, one extra pair must be left in the car (this is so weird).
In Viterbo, we also drive to the shop where I took the art workshop, and tell them that we'd like to take the painting home that I have worked on for three weeks. It's just about finished, and we'll take it to Elena tomorrow morning. If I work more on it, I'll probably do something to ruin it. We also determine that I'll not continue, except as on an as-needed basis. Both Donatella and Cinzia are very supportive, and I also pick up the three pitchers I painted there.
I can't say I'm pleased with the pitchers, but my displeasure has more to do with a communication challenge. The work is fine. I would have appreciated understanding more about the use of the color "rame sulfato" (a medieval copper color that is green). If I had understood more, I would have used a finer brush and would have outlined the rame with dark brown. At least now I'll know.
This painting has been a real eye opener. Since I am mostly self-taught, my learning is a kind of "tough-love" approach. I seem to figure out what is wrong by doing things wrong the first time, and whatever instructor I have seems to want me to find out the hard way. Whatever. It gives me more of a sense of self-reliance, so it's a good thing. The experimenting is marvelous.
Dino drives to Guardea and Tenaglie this afternoon while I paint eight more plates. I'm feeling inspired and know that today is the last day I'll be able to paint for two weeks, so have a good old time.
Dino meets with the geometra on the Tenaglie property and also stops by to see if the things have been picked up that we threw out at the back of the property. In a conversation with the brothers, during which he asks for copies of utility bills so that we can have them changed, GianCarlo assures him that the things will be moved on Saturday.
We take a walk after Dino returns to see Helga and meet her brother, but they are not home. It will be Monday before Mario can come by to do some weed-wacking, and the grass both at Stein's and at our house is growing quite tall with all the rain.
We walk back home and settle in for a quiet evening. Tomorrow Angie will come for a visit so that we can go over things to be looked after while she's here next week. It will be a wonderful surprise for Sofi, who's already asleep in a new bed that we picked up for her today.
Last night our friendly owl was back, and he hooted and hooted to all his friends in the valley. This morning the fog clears early but it is cool. We're expecting a warm day with clear skies, and as I look out the window I see a few spots of red in the pomodori garden. Later in the morning, after all the dew has evaporated, I'll pick tomatoes and also basil. If I'm energized, I'll pluck off basil leaves and freeze them for the winter.
There is still no sign of Luca with his preventivo or the big planters. Mario, after much prodding, agrees to come and weed-whack early on Monday. The people in Ripabianca tell us we might have the planters on Monday. I'm thinking "magari" (if only it were so) instead of "speriamo" (I hope so). Even living in paradise requires a little prodding now and then, mostly now.
I'm the slacker now, for the apples are still sitting in the loggia in the same baskets we picked them in last Friday. Tomorrow, tomorrow, looks like a good day to make torta de mele con pecorino...
We drive up to Elena's and pick up the two plates and a little vase that are just coming out of the oven. Here they are:
We leave mid-afternoon, with Sofi staying at home, and pick up Simona in Amelia. The brothers are waiting for us in the square, and follow us to Terni to the notaio. Our appointment is at 5 P M, but by the time the English translation is reworked and all the documents are ready, it is almost 7 P M. By this time, the hallway is full of unhappy people, all waiting their turn.
Let's talk for a minute about the Notaio. This one, a Gian Luca Pasqualini, is a man we like. He was the notaio on Don Salter's house. A handsome and friendly man, he arrives in the conference room to the sound of a silent, "Ta DAH!" Everyone stands to shake his hand and greet him, as though he is a visiting prince.
The position of Notaio is passed down from generation to generation. This is a "cash cow" kind of job, where the office workers do the research to make sure the title is passing correctly, and the Notaio himself arrives to read the documents and pass them out for signatures.
Notaios make a minimum of about €2,000 per transaction, the amount regulated by law based on the selling price of the property, and by the looks of the groups waiting in the hallway think he must be a very wealthy man.
The signatures complete, we all leave, but Dino and I are called back to meet with the Notaio. The others leave, not knowing what is about to come...
Earlier he had to tell the client that the whole Atto may have to be rescheduled, because one of the checks has a misspelling of one of the brother's names. During the Atto, the brother showed the check to the notaio, but Paolo was more concerned about the check being written out in English, although it was written on a Bank of America Milano check in Euros. The notaio was not concerned about either thing.
We are holding our breath that the brothers will be able to cash the checks on Monday in Rome. Perhaps we'll have to throw our schedule out the window and drive to Rome to be there with them to make sure everything works out. Things are never smooth in real estate, no matter how many details one works out in advance.
Our car is not ready, either. It won't be ready until tomorrow morning, and Dino has told the brothers he will show up to help them throw out the things at the back of the Tenaglie house in the morning. Somehow we don't feel particularly pleased about today's events, wanting to make sure everything works out at the bank before we can feel that our role is finished.
It's still warm when we arrive home and the night is peaceful. We don't hear the owl, but the Soriano drummers are drumming, so dreamland begins with the rumblings far off in the valley.
The valley is hidden by fog, but it is warm as Dino gets up to pick up the car from the mechanic in Vitorchiano. First, he wants to watch the Shanghai trials of the Formula 1 race for this weekend. It's very rainy and dangerous on the track. When Dino leaves I turn off the T V, deciding instead to make a minestrone and work on the summer clothes.
The soup takes the entire morning, with a huge squash first cooked in the oven before added to the other vegetables in the tall copper pot. With only one and one half liters of water added, the pot is still full of vegetable juices and vegetables, which I have pureed in the food processor half way through the cooking process.
We'll have plenty for Angie, plenty to freeze. When making a pot of minestre, "come no?" (why not?) Dino calls the soup, "frigo pulito", for every vegetable and herb in both frigos are chopped and added, including: carrots, celery, onion, parsley, fennel, cabbage, plus borlotti beans which Dino loves and a jar of our heirloom tomatoes from last year.
Tony and Pat are about to return to the U S, so we stop by to chat. They are almost ready to put their house on the market, and since they have a beautiful pool and great view of Lugnano, we're ready to add their property to our site.
We bid them goodbye until the spring, and drive on to Stein's to see if he and his group have returned from their whirlwind tours of the Farnese Palace in Caprarola and Villa Lante. Helga waits for them, but they are still in Viterbo.
We drive home to pick up Sofi and return just in time to see Catherine stop by. It has been months since we've seen her, and she seems happy to be getting on with her life. She and Kees have sold their Giove apartment to a next-door neighbor, but will stay on there for a while. We'll look for a little casale and plot of land for them.
Stein and the other three walk down the hill, and we're introduced all around. Benta and I get into a conversation about John Saladino, who Benta worked for in New York years ago. On Tuesday the famous designer will join her at her house in the South of France. We'll probably wave as we drive by on our way to Saint Remy. (Sarah, I can hear you chortling.)
Sofi is a very good girl, and once she settles down at my feet everyone else feasts on a fun snack of Walter's exceptional gelato just picked up from Sipicciano. It's time to go home, Catherine has left, and the rest of the group is off to Diego's at Castello Santa Maria. We see them drive by in their rented Mercedes van as I'm clipping boxwood, and everyone waves.
"See you tomorrow!" Stein hollers out the window.
"A domani!" I reply with a wave back.
I begin to work on the boxwood again, for the weather has cooled. When it's very warm, I don't clip the boxwood, for the edges of the leaves burn. But now they all need work. The ones in pots are moved one by one to the table, where I clip them back to round orbs, no longer afraid to give them a real going over.
The sunset is lovely, an ice cream sky of vanilla with strikes of raspberry and a little blueberry thrown in for good measure. All during the day we watched neighbors driving their tractors up the hill with barrels of grapes for the vendemmia.
We are truly sorry we are unable to help anyone this week, for we love the hard work of it, getting our hands and arms and hair and everything else dirty and full of the sticky stuff. We enjoy the process and also the pranzo for the workers more than we enjoy the drinking of the local wine.
That reminds me. Gian Carlo and Paolo will take the olives from Kate and Merritt's trees this year, giving them a few liters of olive oil in return. Giancarlo also offers to clear their land anytime with his red tractor. I'm thinking Dino would love to get his hands on the tractor. Perhaps it will happen this winter. Perhaps. Beware of what you wish for....