AN ITALIAN EXPERIENCE - Journal Archives
Janurary through March, 2007

JANUARY 2007

January 1
We arrive home from our Cappo D'Anno festa around 2AM after cleaning up with the group, and it takes until almost 3AM to get into bed. So although our intentions are honorable, we forego this morning's mass at 10AM with Don Fabio, recently returned from his work in Romania.

Today is a special day for Romania and also Bulgaria, for they have conditionally been admitted to the European Union. Every six months they will have to report, as if to the principal, the progress on a number of financial and economic fronts. For now, I imagine the two young Romanian women in our village, here as caretakers of elderly residents, are celebrating.

We arise at around 11AM, and return to the "club" at l'una for pranzo, consisting of Gigliola's delicious homemade ravioli and a special salad, plus leftovers from last night's meal. Most of the meal is heated up on the tiny stufa in the main room, so not everything is hot. But it is tasty, and with a few additions to our group, a lot of fun.

After pranzo, with Sofi resting in my arms like a portable heater, we stand at one of the windows facing the street, and look out at the valley, all dark and grey, with not a person to be seen. The world outside seems to be sleeping...the beginning of a long rest. Overhead the clouds are dirty and dark and menacing. Inside it is cold, but outside it is not so. With lots of wind, I expect a winter storm as a harbinger of a very cold winter ahead.

We drive home for a few minutes, and to drop off Sofi, and then drive on to Viterbo for a concert in the Teatro. There is not much traffic, but the doors are full of women dressed in minks (Italians love their furs) and as we enter the lobby there is much pushing, pushing.

Italians, especially Italian women, think they must push in a crowd. The experience is frustrating, and many times we just let them through. I have never seen an acknowledgement, for the expression is always the same...a blind focus on the final destination as if it is some kind of valhalla.

"Mine! Mine!" they seem to say to themselves. Women are seen with hands on their husbands' shoulders, pushing, pushing. I cannot figure out why there is a need to push; when the doors open there'll be plenty of time to sit before the performance begins.

Pia has kindly given us tickets, and we sit in boxes to the right of the stage, leaning over on velvet cushions. There are no guardrails at this theatre, and we're wondering who will join us in our box. A few minutes later Pia arrives by herself, and the three of us chat and then enjoy the performance.

Tonight's performance is the Sinfonia Giovanile di Viterbo, with an important guest director from Vienna, Eduard Melkus. Our friend Daniela is first chair of the cellos, and it appears that tonight a number of "pros" are joining the group of young musicians.



The program is a program of Strauss waltzes, fitting for New Year's Day. And tonight's recital competes with last Saturday's musical performance in Orvieto, the Viterbese holding up their classical repertoire against the jazz of the more sophisticated Orvieto's.

Tonight's final piece is the Radetzky-Marsh, and everyone knows to clap along with the chorus. Following right on the heels of the Blue Danube, the audience already clapping, we know just how to clap, and the clapping gets faster and faster with the Director egging us on.

And then it is over, with everyone walking off the stage and a "brindisi", or toast, ready for us downstairs. Upon recalling the scene of people cramming around earlier, we choose to leave, so thank Pia and find our way to the car.

Earlier, during the intermission, Pia suggests that we have a Carnevale festa in Mugnano. She enjoyed last night so much that she thinks we should continue in party mode. For the rest of the performance I am wondering what costumes the Festaroli would wear. I'm already sure that we should wear costumes in a group, and then figure it out: we will be a field of sunflowers.

I already know how I will make the costumes, with wires and crepe paper and fun little caps. We'd enter the door from the kitchen en masse, and perhaps we can get young Valerio to dress as a bee. My mind is racing, as usual.

So after a few minutes at home we scoop up "piccola" and take her to the "club", where Mauro and Laura and Livio and Gigliola and a few figli and a couple of friends are already enjoying the leftovers, mostly cooked on the little stufa in the main room.

Everyone is crowded around the little stove, for it is cold, and wood is brought in and shoved inside every few minutes. The drapes are closed, to keep out a little cold, and we sit around eating bruschetta with liver pate, except for Giuliola and me.

I won't get near the liver and eat plain bruschetta with green olive oil. Gigliola just sits by the fire next to me, dreaming of staying in bed all day tomorrow. There are leftover lenticche and cottechino and salsiche and plenty of panettone. Laura tells us that we can't leave until it's all finished.

We ignore her gentle threats, telling her to throw the rest of the food out, like the Italians throw their old washing machines out the windows on New Year's Eve. I think that custom has passed, and that there are even laws prohibiting that crazy custom.

We love getting to know the paisanis, and there are many in this village, as well as friends who arrive to spend time during the holidays. I can't get an image out of my mind of one particular woman, very sweet, who eats food from a plastic knife in one hand and a fork in the other, shoveling one after another into her mouth almost daintily, as if what she is doing is perfectly correct. That sound you hear is Galateo thumping as he turns over in his grave. I can hear Loredana gasping in horror, just at the thought of the woman daintily thrusting a knife laden with food into her opened mouth, her "pinky" raised as if it's all very proper.

We say goodbye for now and walk home, looking forward to a night of sleep and hopefully no pain for Dino.

January 2
After sleeping in, we stop at Fedora's for "capuccias" (cappuccinos) and drive on to Viterbo to drop off food containers at the caterers, giving them high marks for the excellent food for this Sunday's festa. We'll surely use them again.

Nostalgia overcomes us, and we shop across the street at the same COOP that we credit as the first supermarket we shopped at nine years ago, for pots and many things for our house that we still use. Those were memorable days, full of excitement and wonder at this strange culture, strange language, and even stranger bureaucracy. We take most of it all in stride now.

We stop at Klimt for a roll of drawing paper and gesso. the chalks I'll use for pastels. I'm not a fan of pastels, but Marco wants me to experience the style. We pick up a set of them, and I'll experiment with them this week.

At home after pranzo, I set up the easel in the kitchen while Dino drives to Soriano to pay for our annual medical insurance, but the office is closed. He returns to find me drawing away, two ballerinas in a studio.

I want to draw the toe shoes and the ballerinas show up as an afterthought, then I draw in the barre and long mirror along one wall. Now I'll have to figure out how to draw the mirror images....That will be fun.

I'm not afraid of drawing faces or hands or feet, but don't really like human subjects. Since Marco wants me to do a still life and pastels, I think I'll draw a red caftan on a hook, flanked by one on either side in duller colors. It will give me the excuse to practice drawing and then painting folds of fabric.

After thumbing through a magazine, I notice the door of the cabinet beside the sofa partly open. I move my arm to shut it and instead fling it open. Dino asks me what I am doing.

My eyes are drawn to the gray inside of the door, and six or seven pots and measuring cups and funnels and forbice hanging from hooks. What an excellent still life that would make!

And then in the magazine, a luminous and fat radicchio rests against a cabbage and two heads of lettuce, the light reflecting behind them from a lamp on a nearby counter. Another idea. And then a simple dark wooden table with a basket piled high with oranges. There are so many things to paint. Now people seem boring compared to the wondrous colors of nature.

Not wanting to overtax my shoulders, I stop for the day, filling my brain with images to dream of. Tomorrow let's draw and then paint the caftans and then the vegetables in giant sizes, big and bold and beautiful.

Dino calls Paola and makes a date for tomorrow night to meet with Antonio and Paola about our ideas for the bringing together of the disparate groups within the village as winter turns into spring and our year on the festarolo committee comes to an end.

I'm thinking I want to return to San Remy de Provence, and if Candida and Franco still want to go to France, we can rent a house for a week there so that I can paint and Dino and Candida and Franco can ramble about. They we can take a few days to travel about.

After running the idea by Dino he agrees so we think we'll do that instead of traveling to Puglia or Sicily, taking trips there some other time. We already have the dates booked with Angie, so why not?

That reminds me. I need to call Pascale. I will surely take at least one lesson from her. Perhaps Candida will want to do something as well...

I have a flash about the May festa, and Dino and I talk about featuring a rally on the ring road below our house with apes and tractors, decorated for the occasion. The viewing stand would be at the bus stop.

And did I tell you that I think there is room at the back of the ex-scuola (club) for a small bocce court? Why not get that built this spring and unveil it the first weekend of May with the other events?

The village is ready for it, the people so thrilled by the changes in the old school building. If we can share our enthusiasm with others, anything can happen! Come no?

January 3

Yesterday was our wedding anniversary! We were married in the Catholic Church in Italy by Don Francis three years ago! Let's celebrate! Yes, we were originally married in 1981 in San Francisco, but no matter...

We wake up to sun, so bright that the sky outside our front windows seems a pale yellowy-gray instead of blue. There it is, facing west, a clear blue sky. I'm looking toward Orvieto, and that's where we're going this morning.

There is an art exhibit close to the Duomo and also at Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, a church at the other end of town. The artists are: Signorelli, Simone Marini and Francesco Mochi, and we're looking forward to seeing both locations. We'll also walk to the art studio of a man and woman who are friends of Candida and Franco.

I'm hoping that Olga will be willing to give me a lesson on painting San Vincenzo's face. I cannot seem to replicate his expression, nor can Marco. From what I have seen, she's an excellent representational artist.

But we hear she is expecting a child at the end of the month and that she also may have pneumonia. So our chances are "iffy". She's Russian, and I'd like to meet her, anyway.

My hope is to take the canvas from Marco's studio on Friday and bring it to her some time next week before my next class. Remember, anything is possible!

The gallery is closed, and we never get around to calling them today...perhaps tomorrow. We view both exhibits, and the first at Palazzi Papali is quite remarkable, as is the structure itself.

Architecture in Orvieto is a wonder of tufa, either set tightly without mortar or in wondrous checkerboard designs. I'm quite taken by the angels, especially their wings, so expect to see some angels and some angel wings in upcoming flights of my own fancy on the canvas.

We drive to Soriano to make sure that our medical insurance costs the same this year as last and it does: about €370 for the two of us! Brava Italia!

Dino's pain continues, this time also in his thigh. But the drops work well, especially if he doesn't wait too long to take each succeeding dose. Next week we'll have some answers. For now, Dino at least is able to sleep at night and not have a lot of pain during the day or at night.

Paola stops by tonight on her way home for a short visit, and although she and Antonio get along with everyone in the village, she thinks that the schism will continue with the older generation.

I'm losing interest in putting on Carnevale, thinking instead that we'll put all our efforts into the other planned events for the spring. Life is too short to knock our heads against a tufa wall, although we'll continue to do all we can to get the warring sides together.

Next week when we get together with Paola and Antonio we'll see what we can do about getting more activities planned for the "club".

The nights are quite cold and damp, and it's time to start clipping the hydrangeas and roses back. It's also time to bring Mario back to dig a big hole in the far property for our existing plum tree now growing on the front terrace.

Then we'll have him dig the plum and the loquat trees out, give away or cut down the nespola (loquat) and purchase two special apple trees to grow in the places where the loquat and plum are now. I've wanted apple trees on the terrace for some time. This is the month to purchase them, too.

January 4
On a trip to Klimt in Viterbo we run into Marco, and he agrees that we should purchase a few of the softer pastels. Why are they called pastels? I have no idea.

I am imagining a red for the center cape that is so vivid it appears to bounce off the page in a three-dimensional kind of image. When I worked with the other pastels, the white of the paper kept showing through. There are so many lessons to be learned for even the smallest detail; and it is those details of life that are the most interesting if one stops to notice them.

I work at home in the kitchen, and the two side capes come out just as I had hoped, the folds and intonations working well, the subdued colors giving the flanking capes a kind of cornice for the star in the center.

I have the courage to make the call to Olga, an artist in Orvieto and friend of Candida and Franco, to see if she'll work with me on San Vincenzo's face and expression. Marco and I just can't seem to get them the way I'd like.

Olga is expecting a baby in a week or two, and after two conversations she agrees that she cannot give me the time, even two hours in her home. So I'm left to figure it out myself or find someone else.

Tomorrow we'll lay the "capes" in the back of the car with the back seats down, and Sofi will stay at home when we drive to Marco's for my lesson. I have this piece, as well as the ballerinas, to work on, even if we don't begin San Vincenzo.

On the way back from Viterbo through Bagnaia earlier today, Dino points out that there really is a San Antonio d'Abate church here..of course. That is why there is such a huge bonfire each January in the square. We have even stood on its front steps to watch.

But like the Macchina di Santa Rosa event in September, the crowds are not fun. So I hold the memory, trying to forget how uncomfortable the actual standing was.

January 5
We wake to the sounds of wood being cut by a moto-sega, and it feels warm somehow. Since we've had a full moon and lots of light at night, it seems fitting to have it all followed by a balmy day.

Why should I be depressed at the thought of a beautiful day in the midst of winter? Global warming, that's why. For every hour that is warmer than it should be this winter, we'll surely suffer this spring and summer. This also means a host of other woes, but I won't linger on them now...

Instead we'll enjoy the warm weather, and I find myself in shirtsleeves changing the water of the olives in the loggia. I think we're another couple of weeks away from being able to taste them.

We toast banana bread for breakfast, and Sofi and I take a walk around the loop, greeting Gino's father, Argentina and her girls, Luigina and Vincenza, who calls out to me from her balcony. The air is wet with last night's fog, but it is so warm that I don't even wear a coat. There is hardly a sound on our walk, and not even one car passes us. The village is still asleep.

The lentils are cooked, sausage is cooked in the loggia and added to the pot, and they are delicious. Since I've not made them with any salt to speak of, they are not over-salty. There's plenty more for tonight's snack and at least one more meal.

With a holiday this weekend, the stores will be closed for two days. So we pick up some lievito, because it is too late to buy good bread, and I'll start some in the morning before mass.

I have a good session with Marco and almost finish my pastel. But I need a couple of better colors, and Dino picks them up for me while I'm working away, and we decide to leave the piece at Marco's for a week.

I'm learning about pastels, now. For any mistake I make, I just spray the paper with strong hair spray (really), and as soon as the area is dry I can rub right over it with a new piece of colored chalk. Marco hardly makes any changes, but gives me counsel regarding the understanding of light and shadows. I am growing more confident by the minute. Next week the piece will be finished.

I also begin San Vincenzo, and work on the first two houses at the bottom, mixing colors to replicate tufa bricks. The house I finish with is the original Gasperoni house on Via Mameli, and I wonder about the provenance of it.

Perhaps Tiziano will know something. Tito was born around the turn of the 20th century, and I don't know if he was born in that house, or how far back the family goes in that house. Tomorrow in church we'll ask Tiziano.

I'd like to be accurate, but Marco suggests that I follow the copy of the painting. Although Dino has taken detailed photographs off all the cantinas and buildings on our side of the borgo, I decide to follow the print instead.

The air cools off, and by the time Dino picks me up it is cold again. With the hot and cold, hot and cold weather, the flowers will not know whether to bud or not. I'm hoping they'll all wait. But if it is mild tomorrow, I'll work on the roses.

That reminds me. I think we'll get rid of a few of our roses, keep the stronger ones, and look at paring down the number of plants. After viewing photographs of properties in Provence in a local magazine, I'm sure that less is more.

So we won't replace any lavender, and if we purchase any plants they will be sempreverde, or evergreen, meaning probably box or vibernum or pittisporum, of course all guided into rounds.

I remember liking Sarah's arrangements of rounded orbs in her Bolinas garden, and as we thin out the lavender the remaining areas will be similar. Bless you, Sarah and Alush.

It's time to finish painting the background of Pascale's Bull, and this week I shall. Perhaps by time of the Mugnano festa in May I'll have a number of canvases to show. And I've determined the design for our dinner plates, so once the weather warms up in March or so, I'll smalto and paint those after we pick up the raw plates in Deruta. It all depends on whether the vetrina is finished...

January 6
Today is the day of the Befana, or old ugly witch, who leaves presents for children all over Italia. I'm not a fan of the Befana, but the idea is fun for the children. Tonight we'll attend a live presepio in Tenaglie, and it will be fun to see some of our friends there. We expect to spend more time in Tenaglie as the year progresses, supervising the restoration of Merrit's house.

This morning we walk up to mass, and Marsiglia and Felice arrive late. I am increasingly worried about Felice, for he does not seem to know what is going on. After mass Marsiglia asks us to join them for coffee, so we do, following them up their steep stairs and sitting in their kitchen to talk.

First they have photos to show us, of Lorenzo, their first great grandchild, who was born on December 19th. He is very cute. Then we're treated to coffee and Marsiglia's famous cookies. She gives us a few to take home, wrapped up in a Christmas napkin.

Felice seems better, telling us a few stories and sharing his new shoes with Dino, although Dino's feet are a bit larger...quite a bit. Dino now wants a pair, and we'll visit the shop in Bomarzo where he purchased them next week.

I am determined to understand the face of San Vincenzo, and spend a few hours trying to capture the same expression. But I set it aside to go out and clip roses and herbs, for it's a beautiful day and I am ready to clip, clip, clip, readying our garden for spring. Unfortunately, with so many buds on the trees, I fear an early blooming and a later freeze. We'll see.

I remind Dino that we need to measure the space in the cemetery that Francesco tells us is too small for anyone, and Sofi leads us up the hill. The hill is steep, but the women of the village take the walk every day, at least once.

With measurements and photos in hand, we walk back down the hill and back to the house, where Dino continues to download music to our IPOD from our CD's and I work on the drawing again.

It's time to go to another mass, this time the blessing of the reliquaries. We are not able to go to Tenaglie tonight, for Dino is needed to dress up in his confraternity garb and help Don Luca. Don Luca overtakes us on the way to church, and asks us if we understood that he spoke about Babbo Natale today in his homily. He is always very kind to us.

I love this service, although it is a little ghoulish. There are about twenty or so reliquaries, and each one is more beautiful than the next. Most of them are silver. But what I love the most is that the reliquary of San Liberato is inside a bust of the saint, and he is clearly black skinned and very handsome.

The bust itself must be bronze, for I can't imagine he is gold, but who knows? Don Francis assured us on a previous visit that we have a grand collection of saints' fingers and bones in ornate containers. That is what a reliquary is, in case you did not know.

On the walk home Dino is back on the trail of the real San Liberato, and we have research to do on the internet and also at the Vatican Library. It's time for Dino to pick up the mantle and make it a project.

Tonight is cold, and I'm hoping tomorrow will warm up so that we can continue to cut back the roses and plants to ready them for the spring. Perhaps tomorrow we'll study the far property, to determine how many trees we need to buy, and where to put them.

Dino is ready to attack this project, as am I, and this week I hope we'll be able to buy at least the apple trees and get Mario over here to prune some trees and move some others, as well as plant the new trees. But with the mild weather, it's probably not a good idea to cut back any trees...

There is always something to do...

January 7
It's time to take down all the holiday decorations, including our Christmas lights. Dino wants to keep the rim of white lights up, but since we'll probably only use them once before next winter, it seems silly.

I want to use them for our lavender festa at the beginning of July, since the party will be held at night this year. I'm hoping I can convince him to take them down.

I'm really in a paring down mode. I want to rethink our plantings, and take out whatever lavender plants that don't look well, perhaps replacing them with box or vibernum or other evergreens here and there.

It's cold this morning, and we never get around to taking down the outside lights. Dino packs up some of the inside things, but otherwise it's a mellow day.

We take a walk out to the far property to talk about trees, but it's too cold and windy. So that will have to wait for another day. We start to talk about a late April trip to Provence, but won't plan anything until we hear if Candace and Frank will want to travel with us.

With but five cachi left sitting in the loggia, I have two sessions of cooking and steaming for the year. With two of the orangy-red orbs, I make three puddings, and they steam away on the top of the stove in two pasta pots and one large dutch oven.

But when I'm through with them, I can't turn off the light over the stove. The steam for all my puddings has warped the fan and the light and they are both jammed...Dino to the rescue.

After a bit of wrangling, he takes the whole installation apart, and we'll see if we can replace the fan and light with a newer smaller fixture, to be reinstalled under the piece of furniture fitted over the stove. There's always something. I could throw out the three last cachis....

This morning, Gigliola thanked me for their steamed pudding, telling me it was "magnificent"! That's quite a complement, and I do admit they are really tasty. So I'm not ready to throw them out...yet.

Dino wants me to paint his grandfather sitting at a kitchen table peeling an apple, with an open door in the background. The finished painting is to be hung in the kitchen above the sofa, so I might as well give it a try. He'll have to wait a little. I have San Vincenzo and a couple of others to finish first.

Tonight we measure for the painting, and I think it will be 80cm high by 1 meter wide. Can I "pull it off?" If not, we just won't hang it. I'll start to draw it out soon, looking for some old photos of "Nonno" to start with.

Dino's leg is still painful, but we have the doctor's appointment tomorrow morning, and that is encouraging. But what is really exciting is the possibility that Terence and Angie and the girls will come for a visit in May, in the middle of their trip to Macedonia to visit Angie's relatives. How joyful that will be!

Soon we'll be able to tell the women in the village, each of which will want to meet the girls. And then there are the twins who live above us for them to meet...Christian and Edoardo. The thought of them meeting is, I admit, a little scary...

The visit gives us both plenty to dream of, and on this cold night we climb into bed early...

January 8
The morning is cold and foggy, but we drive to Orvieto to make an appointment at the hospital for me with Dr. Franciosini about my hernia and then to the doctor in Orvieto for Dino's leg. The computer is not working at the hospital, so after a wait we decide to leave.

We have better luck with Dr. Shfer, who is German but speaks very good English and is quite a nice guy. He seems to be a good diagnostician. Since he does not do surgery, he performs acupuncture and a host of other things, including chiropractic medicine.

At one point, Dino is lying on a gurney and he's wrestling with the doctor as if it's a Laurel and Hardy routine. It appears the good doctor has him moving to and fro to get his mind and body relaxed and...wham! He pulls Dino's leg as if it's a rubber band. Yikes!

I ask him in passing about my shoulder, and before we're through he tells me it's my rotator cup that is causing me the pain, and that it is a degenerative thing. Unlike Dino's maladies that want to cure themselves in time with rest and exercise, he thinks I need a cortisone shot but that I'll never completely heal.

I do want to play the violin again, although I don't know when I can fit in the time. He does say that if I choose to play again, I'll have to work up to it slowly, doing exercises at first and stretching before really playing. He tells me I'll have to see him in Rome, for his expensive equipment is there, and he'll inject me while doing a kind of ultrasound. Perhaps, one day...

These days all seem to end the same way, with the weather cold and none of us wanting to gambol about. So it's inside with us by the stufa and a fire.

But at 9 P M we're told to visit with Livio, for the winners of the raffle are announced on T V. With our lotteries, we use the city names of Roma and Napoli. Each week, on TV, the winners of local lotteries are announced where the city names are followed by key numbers.

We arrive at Livio's under umbrellas, and in their kitchen learn that both lottery prizes are won by...Mauro's brother in law! How embarrassing for Mauro!

After some nudging, Mauro calls and finds him at home, so Livio and Dino and Mauro and I drive to Bomarzo to deliver the goods. He's such a sweet guy, and can hardly believe his good fortune. Va bene!

January 9
Dino travels to Montecchio for projects for a client and I roast the defrosted bones and meat left from our Christmas roast with carrots and tomatoes and rosemarino and thyme and, why not, some balsamic vinegar.

It makes an unbelievable sauce for wide noodles, and there's some left to make something with rice for tomorrow. Dino loves leftovers, and this pork is truly yummy. I've also made a roasted red pepper sauce, and that will be added to tomorrow's fare.

I complete my last drawing of San Vincenzo's face. This time I map out the face I'm to copy from into quadrants, and I still am not happy with the result. I'll take the 28 examples to Marco on Friday. In the meantime, I research San Vincenzo on the intenet, and come up with two paintings that show his face and hair not unlike that in the painting.

Since he was martyred in around the year 300 A D, it's interesting that there are depictions of his face. Father Francis told me that the first patron saints dated back only a few hundred years, but my internet research tells me differently, that patron saints go as far back as, well, San Vincenzo!

Both photographs that I have from the internet show him in prison with a rope around his neck and a big ring of cement. What a way to go! I think Don Francis told me he was killed because he kicked over a pagan altar. Anyway, I've just learned that he's the patron saint of roofers, and of viticulturers, or winemakers. The villagers will love that.

January 10
Dino drives back to Montecchio for business with the bank and at the Comune, and I decide to sew the last panels for the "club". There are eight of them, and I finish the sides and the tops, waiting for a final measurement to finish the bottom hems.

I finish as Dino arrives back home and put on a pot of rice. Pranzo is even better than yesterday's, with the pepper sauce added to the roast pork mixture.

We have an appointment with Diego in Roccalvecce, and it is good to see him again. How good he looks! After his second back operation he has recuperated very well, and walks with no pain at all. After twenty minutes or so of sharing pain and remedy options with Dino, we talk about his properties, and about his castello. Take a minute when you can to look at his place. It is remarkable, for a meeting site, for a special occasion, or for a week's sojourn.

It's time to do some serious research about trees, and so we visit our friends at the Vivai Michellini in Viterbo. Sofi especially loves roaming around the place, and we take a look at some different trees, then look through some books with Lucia.

We want shade trees for the far property, five of them, and two apple trees for the front terrace. We find apple trees that will work, they are about six or eight years old each, and that's a good age.

But I'm not really happy with the ideas she comes up with for shade trees, and we agree that we'll do some internet searching before returning to them again. The only trees she suggests that I like are the Prunus Autumnalis. Those are quite lovely, and although they won't be trees we'll really want to sit under for shade their look will be lovely. Huh?

The others include Paulownia tormentosa, Sophoroa Pendula and Catalpa Bugie. I dislike all three. I'm also suspicious, as the first she suggests, the Paulownia Tomentosa is invasive, with thousands of pods that explode sending their seeds everywhere to propagate.

This has been an unsettling visit. We're to map off the area we have to work with and do a lot more research. We see two rows of trees forming an arch, or kind of pergola, over the top, with the view of San Rocco in the center at the end.

The more I think of it, the more the plum trees will work the best. But I'm concerned about the bank, about the long-term strength of it all, and we agree to get Stefano in to give us a price for a tufa retaining wall.

But before we can do anything, we'll have to meet with the mayor and push him to repair the front wall and front path. Otherwise, we won't be able to plant anything out there. Since we now have photos of our proposed cemetery plot, we're ready to meet with him about both subjects. So let's make that happen.

While I've been sewing this morning, I've come up with the idea to do a short workshop on the morning of the Festa della Donne in March. So many women wanted to know how to make the topiaries that we used as centerpieces, that we'll put together a package for each participant, and guide them in making them. I think it will be fun, as long as we limit participants to adults.

January 11
We never do get up to the "club" today to measure. Dino works on our brochure and I work on the design for our far property, including sketching out a number of possibilities. After a lot of research, I think that we want to soften the two "banks" and make the area more of an undulating rise and fall, with trees here and there for shade.

I remember that on a Mediterranean Garden Society tour last year, we were both struck by the beauty of "underplanting" olive trees, so perhaps we won't have to move many of the olive trees already there.

Since we no longer want to install a bocce court on the lowest property, realizing the best place is behind the "club", we can consider the whole three levels as one space. I email Sarah to see if she wants to advise us before looking for someone locally for a little guidance.

Either way, we'll probably purchase a few trees this month, so we'll need to bring Mario back to do some digging and moving. We're also both encouraged and rather tired of the rows and rows of lavender.

So whatever plants are dead will come out and not be replaced. That means there won't be any more distribution of lavender to the people of the village, but I don't think they sit around and wait for their little bouquets...

I think the neighbors will really be excited about meeting our grand daughters in May, and they certainly are "grand". Hopefully in the next week or two Terence and Angie will have firmed up their plans and dates.

I'm itching to paint, and there is another canvas sitting around, ready to be used. So I place it on the easel and outline several huge zucca. In less than two hours Dino walks downstairs and laughs at me.

I'm well on my way to finishing the basic design, now working on the light and shadows and tones. I really love to paint, love to experiment with dark and light, and will have something to take to Marco tomorrow to look over.

Dino drives off to Soriano to pay for our annual medical insurance, but returns telling me that they think we should have each been paying that amount each year. We'll need more advice, so I email John Murphy of the Informer, and he responds by telling me that I am correct. He forwards a site that explains it all, http://www.stranieriinitalia.it. I encourage Dino to take this information back to Soriano and press them to comply. He agrees.

Tomorrow Dino will pick up supplies for at least two more paint canvases, and I think I'll ask him to help me to stretch the canvases. My hands aren't strong enough to do the work myself, but I like knowing that I have something to do with making the frame and preparing the linen. I think Dino will like the process, too.

Each week I'll work on the painting of San Vincenzo, but at home will work on something else. Tomorrow I'll probably finish the pastel of the three capes in the closet.

"Where will we hang them all?" Dino asks tonight. Sure we'll sell them to anyone who wants to buy them, but in the meantime we'll find places to hang them up on our walls. Now that my violin playing is looking a bit doubtful, I'm delighted to have a backup plan.

January 12
What has happened to Don Francis? It appears we will not see him this trip. We hope that he had a restful two weeks in Isernia and that he is enjoying his house there. He calls this morning from the airport in Napoli, and encourages us to contact his friend at the Vatican regarding San Liberato. Great idea!

The fava beans are starting to come up, but isn't it early? Although it's a sunny day today I don't know if I should be happy about it. Might as well enjoy it. The weather patterns have probably changed forever...

Sarah encourages us to bring in an expert for changes to our landscaping, but we'll let her "look over our shoulders" just the same for her endorsement. I couldn't imagine it any other way.

This morning I'm going to paint again, and take out the canvas I began with yesterday. After a few hours I set it aside to fix pranzo. It's too wet to take to Marco's, so I'll continue to work on it at home. There is plenty to work on at his studio.

On the way out of town we stop to drop off refuti (garbage) and see the name of Maria Monghini on a death notice across the street from the recycling canisters. Hmmm. Monghini. Her maiden name was Natali. We wonder if she is related to the Monchinis, and if the Monchinis are related to the Natalis. Surely this year we will figure it all out...

Most of the studio time this afternoon is spent on the pastel, chalk images of three capes hanging on a wall. Part way though the session I think the piece has been ruined. The red cape at the center has too many black lines, delineating shadows and curves in the fabric.

Spray and rub again. Spray and rub again. Over and over I work on the piece, first spraying the surface, then reapplying the red and black and yellow chalk.

Marco wants me to use just red and black, but there is too much black, and after a lot of finessing I take out about half of the black lines and replace them with red tones. It looks much better, and I finish with some white and yellow chalk, rubbed in to make highlights where the light most likely reflects off the fabric.

With a final spray and my "firma" or signature, I'm done, and return to San Vincenzo. I'll need glass over this piece and will have to frame it, and Marco encourages us to buy the supplies and frame it ourselves.


Since I probably won't be rushing back to do another pastel any time soon, think we should take the piece to the woman in Amelia who frames all our work. She is very reasonable, and can finish within a week, I think.

But we make arrangements to return to Marco's in the middle of the week for a short time to mix the fixative we'll need for my next two canvases. He cannot give us a definitive calculation of the formula. Dino purchased the linen and gesso and colla di coniglio, and Marco lends him the tool he'll need to stretch the canvas. We'll work on them this weekend.

Dino wants to know how to make the stretched canvas frames, and this is a good way to do it. I'm so pleased that he takes such an interest in my artwork. He also makes me so happy by his comments and reassurance about the quality of my work.

Duccio calls and we'll visit them tomorrow in Bomarzo. We have not spent much time with them lately, and want to catch up on all the goings on.

We hear that this weekend will be very warm, and I'm resigned to just enjoying it. During a pause in class, Alessandra talks with me about her fruit trees. And I'm reminded that it might be a good idea to pick up spray for the peach and plum trees from Bruno tomorrow.

We always wait too long to spray the peach tree, and have not had a good harvest of peaches yet. Perhaps this year, if a late frost does not ruin it all.

January 13
Sofi does not want to get up this morning, and since we're surrounded in fog I don't blame her. When we all do get up, we drive to Bomarzo for a visit with Duccio and Giovanna, taking them a budino di kaki (how many ways have I spelled this fruit?).

Dino tells me that Michelle recanted her Christmas kaki story to him yesterday. With a house full of guests, she decided to serve our budino, which we had given to her the day or so before. People made sour faces at her and loud noises against wanting any, but being a very strong willed woman she decided she would serve it anyway.

It appears that everyone, yes everyone, loved the dessert. I admit it is an amazing dessert. And almost no one likes kakis, those round orange orbs that hang on their trees around Christmastime like ornaments, their leaves fallen long ago. Somehow they are transformed when mixed with the other ingredients and steamed for two hours.

With only two kaki left in the loggia, I'll probably make one large pudding and freeze it for a large gathering. (I'm reminded of the Noel Coward line..."Let's join the ladies and make one great big lady!....or was it Cole Porter?)

We arrive back from Bomarzo and take a last look at the pastel. After agreeing what the upper border will be, I add a little chalk, then a lot of fixative, and when it's dry I sign it and we drive it to Amelia to the woman we like so much who is an excellent framer.

She has the funniest name, Luciana Quadracchia, and when Dino comments on it she makes a frown, agreeing that it is a good name for her but telling us that it is an ugly name.

It translates more or less to "ugly frame", but we tell her that she receives pieces when they are ugly, and when they leave her shop they are beautiful. She beams and thanks us, telling us it will be fifteen days or so until our piece is finished.

On the way home we discuss names for the piece, and Dino reminds me that she commented that it looked as though the subject was located inside someone's closet. So I think we may call it Diego's Armadio.

Why Diego? Well, we have two friends we like a lot names Diego, and the name needs a kind of flourish. Dino thinks the owner of the capes would be a "swashbuckling" kind of person. Huh? We'll figure out what to name it when we put it up on the back wall of our kitchen.

We've decided that that will be the test wall for my paintings, and except for the first one, which we agree we'll never part with, I'd be happy to let the others find new homes.

I expect to paint one painting a week at home, and to work on San Vincenzo at Marco's. Dino has wanted a painting of his Nonno sitting at the kitchen table peeling an apple for as long as I have known him, so I'll start to sketch it out, and we'll set up a still life on the kitchen table and Dino will be the model.

Now Nonno was smaller than Dino, but we have a few photos of his face, and I can play around with that. I have no idea when I'll feel confident enough to actually tackle it. I suppose it depends on the success of San Vincenzo.

We drive to Viterbo in the afternoon for more paints, and to pick up the gola di coniglio to set the linen after it is stretched. We try to buy tenaglie (forceps looking things used to stretch linen on frames) but our regular shop does not have them in stock. They also agree to custom make the frame for Pascale's Bull, and we'll give them the exact measurements on Monday afternoon.

The frame will be difficult to make, for the canvas itself is not large, and the painting covers most of the canvas. We're working out how to make it work, and I'm confident that we will, even if we have to offset the cape toward the left, which will be fine, for the design moves toward the right of the canvas.

I know you don't need to know all this, but remember: the reason for this journal is for us to refer back to it when we need to. We're happy if you gain some enjoyment in the meantime. My memory continues to drift. I'm thankful I can remember anything at all...

On the drive back from Viterbo we meander through Bagnaia, and dozens of young men put finishing touches on the huge bonfire for Tuesday night in honor of San Antonio d'Abate, the Patron Saint of Animals.

Earlier, Duccio taught us that a Patrono is a Patron Saint, not to be confused with a Padrono, who is the owner of a property. He gives us another connection in Rome regarding the research we are about to do about San Liberato, and we'll give that information to Tiziano tomorrow. Let's hope we can travel to Rome soon to find some answers.

January 14
This forwarded by neighbor and journalist Shelly: "A Canadian study shows bilingualism has a protective effect in delaying onset of dementia by four years." "Here's the gist: Researchers at the Baycrest Research Centre for the Brain have published a study saying that in a cohort of 184 elderly patients, 134 showed signs of dementia. But the ones who spent their lives speaking more than one language-there were 25 languages in the group-started showing onset something like four years later than the ones who only spoke one language. Salient bits of the press release:

"What's just as likely (though much less comforting) is that everyone gets the same memory and cognitive deficits as they get older, but some people have innate abilities that let them trick their way around them for longer. And those same innate abilities let them hold more than one language in their head."

Thanks, Shelly.

So, noodling around with Italian is going to help us figure out where we've left our keys longer...I do think that the effort we're taking slogging through this strange and wonderful language is keeping us young longer...And we recommend it highly.

That reminds me. It's time to get off your duffs and come over to seriously consider picking up a little piece of paradise for your very own. We're continuing to add new properties and have lots to talk about. Hope to see many of you in the new year.

With another foggy morning greeting us, we attend church with the locals and intend to ask about the death notice of the woman whose cognomes (family names) are familiar in this borgo...Natali and Monghini.

Celestino Natali built our house, and is now in the local cemetery with his wife, but the only Natali in the village is Norena, who lives mostly in Rome but visits here for the warmer months.

Antonio and his mother Giuseppa live in the village. Antonio is the president of the Universita Agraria, but their cognome is Monchini. Tiziano will surely have all the answers...

We walk up to the borgo in the mist, and find Tiziano waiting outside Ernesta's for his family. But our talk is all about our San Vincenzo research, and about his former teacher.

We tell him the good things that have been said about him, passed on through Duccio. He is a very good friend. We love to see him beam, and beam he does.

A few minutes later, while waiting for the priest to arrive, I ask him about the woman who passed away a few days ago. She lived in Giove with her brother, but owned the house where Franco and Giovanna now live, across from Luigina. We think that Maria might be the mother of Franco, who is a Monchini.

But what's with the spelling of her last name? It was sbagliato (wrong)! Can you imagine the final notice of your name after death spelled incorrectly? I tell him that in English it would be an indignity, and ask him what it would be in Italian...Indegno. It surely was that.

During the liturgy and after the homily, I read hastily in my horrible Italian that civil authorities are not afraid to help immigrants who profess to be Christians. What?

Today's mass honors immigrants among other things (don't expect me to understand it all:), but is this the stand of the Catholic Church? I will certainly ask Tiziano after mass if this is true.

I am reminded of attending Summer School as a child one year in a nearby town, and it was a Catholic Summer School. I was brought up as a Protestant, and recalled that the nuns treated me as if I was extra special. It was not until years later that I realized that they probably treated me differently because they wanted me to embrace their religion and become a Catholic. They will never know that their prayers were answered after all...

But immigration is a "hot topic" in Italy. Italians want to be friendly and open and welcoming, but don't what their jobs taken away, their services lessened and their homes robbed. They are fearful of all of this and more.

After mass, I show Tiziano what is written, and he tells me that the Church is open to immigrants who are not Catholic. I breathe a sigh of relief.

There will be no Fuoco di San Antonio d'Abate in Mugnano this year. Perhaps the fire we had a few years ago was a fluke. Dino thinks there are not enough priests around to make everyone happy. So I sadly concede that we'll take Sofi to Bomarzo for her annual blessing in a few days as we did last year.

Tiziano also translates a notice from the mayor, telling us we need to behave ourselves. We first think that he is telling us that we cannot burn leaves and trimmings on our properties, but what he is saying is that we can't throw large items, like old washing machines, away on the road.

There is a specific place where we can take them at a specific time each week. The fines will range from €25 to €500 for each offense. Sounds good to me.

I give Mauro an idea for us to hold a workshop on the Saturday of the Festa della Donna in March, where we show people how to make topiaries out of walnuts or hazelnuts, etc. Laura thinks it's a good idea, Mauro thinks it's fine until I tell him he can make one for Laura. We laugh and I tell him he'll probably have to go to work that morning.

At any case, Laura confirms that she and Gigliola and I will sit and be waited on at the dinner that evening and not work at all. Since the meal will be catered, there is not a lot to do, but perhaps some of the men will chip in to help. We'll find out...

I want to make the kitchen curtains for the "club" a little different, with tabs at the top, and we unlock the door and hold the fabric up on one of the kitchen windows. There is a knock on the door and Tiziano wants to come in, amazed because this is the first time he has seem inside the building since the painting was finished.

We ask him why the club is no longer open on weekends, and he tells us that it was too difficult to get people to work there. With an idea of taking turns, and having it open for several hours each day of a weekend or holiday, we think we can turn things around. There is much to talk about, and people seem interested and happy that there is a clean place in which to congregate.

We walk home and I fix a pork loin roast, using part of a recipe from a Marlene de Biasi cookbook. I make more warm apple sauce and roast vegetables and the meal is very tasty, although the 1997 Brunello we open is a disappointment.

We remember purchasing the wine from a small winery in Tuscany with Mitch a couple of years ago. It is strong and acidic, and at a price of more than €30, it is not one we would recommend.

I roasted the bones along with the meat, and have enough to make a couple of meals from it. Perhaps we'll freeze one container.

Dino has made a roaring fire, and it is beautiful. It is so beautiful that I have to take off one of my sweaters and we open the window. This is a lovely winter afternoon, although there is no sun, and we're enjoying sitting around in the kitchen as the afternoon turns into early evening.

January 15
Fog persists, but it's not too cold for Sofi and I to take our little walk. The silence is unbroken only by a few passeri chirping about above us. Not even a car drives by when we turn the corner and finish our walk on Via Mameli, Mugnano's "main street".

I return to sewing the kitchen curtains for the club, and since I have taken on the time-intensive project of making tabs for the top of the curtains, I work in the guest bedroom with Sofi taking a nap nearby.

We're determined to get to the bottom of our medical insurance controversy, but the person Dino has to speak with is in Viterbo, so we will save that for another day.

Dino stretches three canvases with Marco's ancient metal stretching tool and does a good job. We also mix the cola di coniglio or glue that is to be painted on the top of the linen, but it is to sit for twelve hours. I'm not sure the canvases are tight enough, so we'll wait until we see Marco tomorrow so that he can take a look.

January 16
We are ready to return to Marco's, so after I've sewn for a while we drive through the back roads of Bagnaia. Tonight is the fuoco del San Antonio d'Abate (bonfire in honor of the patron saint of farm animals), and we want to escape the crowds. We'll drive to Bomarzo tomorrow instead for Sofi's blessing in honor of San Antonio.

We arrive in a blanket of fog and while taking the stretched canvases out of the car I'm drawn to the view: trees and undulating meadows turned grey, the images clearer the longer I stare.

The scene reminds me of McIver's Morning Cart, a painting I've loved since a childhood visit to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston with my father. The longer we'd stare at the image, the more detail we were able to ascertain. It would be a dream to be able to paint such a scene. There I go again...

Marco thinks Dino has done a fine job, and there are just a few spots to re-staple. He thinks I'm a bit crazy to insist that the staples be placed on the back of the canvas instead of the sides. I think it makes a difference, for perhaps the canvases will be hung without frames, and who wants to look at the staples? The devil certainly is in the details...

We heat the gola di coniglio in a bagna maria (double boiler), making sure that the water does not boil. Dino brushes the gola onto the canvases as I search some of Marco's books for subjects with lots of folds of fabric.

He lends me one, and now I'm interested again at working in pastels, thinking it will be a good exercise. I show him an example and tell him I'd like to paint it with oils, but he tells me it is very difficult.

While I think to myself, "Come no?" he tells me that the shading of light and dark is very difficult to obtain with the medium of oils. I'm exasperated, but don't let it show. Some day I'll paint these very images.

We have to leave the two large canvases, for they are wet, but take home the little one and the gola, for we have work to do on re-stretching the little canvas, and we'll buy another frame since we have enough linen to do a second canvas.

Tonight is a re-showing of the Golden Globes on TV, and although we know a few of the winners from the news, we sit down to enjoy the show and the antics of the stars. What a plastic and unreal scene this Hollywoodland, a world within a world that people all over the world can't get enough of.

January 17
Rain today greets us; a gentle, lazy kind of rain, juicy drops weighing down the hearty nespola leaves. Weight of the heavy drops causes the edge of the leaves to bounce ever so slightly as the weight pulls one and then another down for just an instant while the tree rocks back and forth in a steady sigh.

Dino drives off to Viterbo to stand firm against the bureaucracy. We've information online that tells us we need only to pay for Dino's medical insurance as I am his dependent. John Murphy of The Informer confirms we are correct, but the folks in Soriano, where we pay our annual fee, have changed their mind this year. Perhaps the rain will bring Dino good luck.

I sew a little and spend time looking for images in Marco's figure book to copy, images of people wrapped in cloaks of fabric, in scenes of several hundred years ago. I'm going to work on these images until I can "draw them with my eyes closed".

Dino has agreed to pick up another frame from Klimt and also pick up a few pastels so that I can study and then paint new subjects. The squash painting sits in the dining room, and I return to it almost each day. The intonations need more work, but it should be finished before I return to Marco's next Monday.

Tonight is the fuoco di San Antonio d'Abate. San Antonio d'Abate is the patron saint of farm animals. Italians put their domestic pals in the same category and on this night we take them to be blessed outside by a bonfire.

The most spectacular around is that in Bagnaia, but it is so crowded and the wait is so long that we drive to our little Bomarzo instead. Right outside the circolo (club), on the way to the Comune, is a little plaza where a respectful sized fire blazes, an old man faithfully stoking it with a long wooden stick.

We arrive just before five P M, and have to pass by a man holding a huge black Rotweiler on a chain. The Rotweiler lunges at little Sofi while I gasp and stand between them. The man does not look me in the eye, but yanks the dog back and leans against the stone wall.

We enter the plaza and stand to our left, against another stone wall. There are perhaps six or seven dogs of all sizes at this point, and a man with two caged doves and two women with little rabbits join in. Within a few minutes Don Luca arrives and jumps up onto a metal bench to begin, right outside the circolo.

He tells us, or at least I think he is telling us, that San Antonio was really the patron saint of pigs, but the designation was expanded to include all farm animals. It may have had to do with health reasons. How do you like that for stretching a story farrrrrr????

The benediction goes off without much fanfare, just a sprinkling of holy water all around, and Sofi's ready to face another year.

January 18
We have Dino's first acupuncture treatment today in Orvieto, plus a meeting with the sindaco (mayor) and a jaunt to Viterbo to slay the medical insurance dragon...

First we stop in Attigliano to fax a document and our eyes are drawn to a headline outside the giornalista: "Jewel Heist in Central Orvieto!" We pick up a copy of the paper, and I scour it while juggling Sofi on my knee. Dino drives toward Orvieto, where we expect the whole town is buzzing.

The story in the paper tells us that someone wearing a Carabinieri uniform entered a jewelry store right after noon in yesterday's rain to empty the contents of the safe and escape through a back street. I believe there were two accomplises.

We arrive at Dr. Schafer's and he knows nothing about it. But his wife is at the Thursday market, so when she arrives she will know. We seem to know more than anyone in Orvieto, for the doctor has seen two patients before Dino, and no one mentioned it.

His wife arrives, and knows nothing about the robbery. So I wait while she reads the paper and shrugs her head. I'm dismayed by it all. It seems inconceivable that someone could pull off a robbery on the Corso in Orvieto. The newspaper indicates this is the first time a robbery of this kind has occurred in Orvieto.

When we return for Dino's next appointment, the doctor will have more knowledge. It is a shame that Franco and Candace are not here. They have their ears to the ground about everything happening in Orvieto. We stop by their house to make sure everything is fine and exit the town to return to our little hamlet and pranzo.

First on the docket for our meeting with the sindaco this afternoon is the conversation about the plot we have picked out at our little cemetery. The sindaco had told us that there were no places left, but Francesco, the Vigili Urbani, thinks no one owns the space we found on our own some weeks ago and hope to purchase.

Periodically I read the New York Times online, and today there is a funny feature about funerary urns for ashes. The artist featured speaks about walking by the urn where her mother's ashes are placed and "giving it a spin". Ha!

I have to laugh. For more than a year Hildegarde's (my mother's) ashes sat in a Chinese urn on top of our television in Mill Valley, CA, until I took "her" to Stinson Beach and buried her where she wanted to spend her days, in a modified "shack on the beach"; this time I buried her over some French tulips in a mound of sand facing the sunset.

Now I think cremation makes a lot of sense. In the article one man agrees with me, but for the strangest reason: "I've always disliked the idea of spending a lot of money to throw people into the ground...One you're gone, you're gone. But at least (funerary) art brings it up one level and blends in with your dcor." Boh!

We'll be the first to be cremated, I suppose, in our little cemetery, but with the numbers of cremations in Italy rising, we may start a whole new trend. I think for a moment or two about designing and making two urns for us, then change my mind, thinking it's all too grotesque.

But if we are to be cremated, what then? Might as well design the whole shebang, including the architecture of the space, have it built and make or purchase the two urns. Let's see how today's meeting goes.

But the main purpose of our meeting is to look down the edge of our pinc nez glasses (we don't wear them but I'm imagining the drama of it all) as the sindaco sits before us and while looming over him give him a little puff and see if he falls over.

I'm being dramatic, but we're intending to push him into getting the Comune or the Region to repair the wall and the path below our house on the way to San Rocco. We've met with him three times about it, and now I'm hoping we'll do a verbal pushing of his desk against the back wall as he faces us, somewhat like the way Sofi puts her long nose into her basket of stuffed animals and bones on the floor and moves it about...

If it bears noting, the mayor is the person who is to marshal our citizenship papers, so we have to be a little careful. Although there is a bill in Parliament to lower the number of years of residence to five, if it does not pass we will be ready to apply for citizenship next November. (The present waiting period is ten years, with the application permitted six months before the ten years have been reached.)

Five hours later... Well, the little mayor did deflate, but seemed to deflate all on his own. In a nonstop diatribe seemingly against his own government, he rambled on about examples of people whose houses are so destroyed they cannot leave them, abandoned dogs being financially supported in caniles, and we found ourselves ready to holler "'nuff!"

So there is no money to do anything. For the first time in memory I sat dumbly without speaking a word, while Stefano directed his entire conversation solely to Dino.

The subject of the cemetery plot lasted less than two minutes, with him nodding his head and asking for a formal request in writing from us. That we'll do within the week.

He seemed uninformed about the citizenship issue, yet confirmed that we would be working with him. That reminds me. He finished his diatribe by saying that in two years he can wipe his hands of the whole deal, for he will no longer be sindaco.

What may well be happening is that the regional government is looking for reasons to move the Comune from Bomarzo to Soriano. It makes no difference to us, as long as Mugnano will be treated with respect. With the government in financial shambles, Prodi is doing what he can to pare down and raise taxes.

We can't blame him. We pay less than €8 a year for property taxes, so how can a government support itself with that kind of taxation?

So we move on to Viterbo, and talking about the government trying to support itself, we're fighting the change in medical costs per year for us. For the last five years or so, we've paid less than €400 a year for the two of us. Now it appears we may be paying twice as much, which is still very inexpensive but more than our advisors tell us it should cost.

We step inside the brand new ASL office, for today is its first day of operation and everyone stands around preening about his new digs. We're directed to a man who tells us, yes, come around behind the counter.

He walks to the telephone, dials a number and hollers out to Giuseppe, who sits in an office less than twenty meters away. One by one people walk over to listen to what is going on.

Italians are a very nosy lot. There is much debate, with at least half of the people telling us we need to pay more, but one woman who seems to have experience in this area telling us that we should both be covered at this price. Single coverage would be much less money.

It's decided that we'll return on Tuesday morning for the verdict, and we leave not feeling very good about it at all. The man who is to decide is the man who instructed the people in Soriano last week to charge us double. The saga continues...

January 19
We have not given up about the wall repair, the path repair, or the San Rocco restoration. I have been thinking, thinking and Dino tells me I'm scaring him. He does this with a smile, for he knows that I "dare to think "big" dare to dream even "bigger"; and he knows that nothing will happen at all without a dream, and with a dream anything, yes anything, is possible. Sorry for the bad grammar, but the word "big" is the only one that seems to fit tonight.

I can't tell you about my dreams right now. I'm formulating my ideas, and when they take on a semblance of reality I'll tell you then. Just know that something's afoot.

This morning is very warm, and we drive on to Rome to meet with a new commercialista. His office is near the Via Veneto, and Dino pulls the car over to look at the Rome map. "Where are we? " he asks. We look over his shoulder to his left to see a sign "Via Porta Pincio" and we're right on the correct block! So we park and Sofi sleeps while we enter a huge building, resplendent with rococo front and beautifully maintained chestnut doors.

There is a very old elevator in the middle, and so we decide to take the stairs until we realize that was not a good idea. Several flights later we find the office, and it's only a moment or two before we meet our new friend.

Roberto is our new commercialista, and although he does not speak English, he can read and understand it. He takes us under his wing and tells us what we have been doing wrong, not been doing, doing correctly, and we realize we are in good hands, at least for the time being.

We leave with a few assignments, and will be back in touch with him shortly. Outside the office it is so beautiful that we pick up Sofi and take a walk over to Piazza Buenos Aires, which exhibits some amazing architecture.

A building on one corner is full of detailed mosaics. The dates on a number of the buildings date back to the 1920's. The style is Liberty, ornate and voluptuous. It is all eye candy, and just delicious!

We find a place to eat outside, and Sofi is thrilled, sitting by my side watching people walk by and staring at me to try to get me to share my seafood risotto. The day is so balmy that we want to take our coats off.

After a walk around we drive to IKEA, where we pick up more pure linen to use for canvas stretchers. IKEA has the best price around for linen. With no luck finding a parking space around Piazza del Popolo where the art stores are, we'll try some of the art stores in Florence tomorrow, instead for the tenaglie (pincers) to pull linen across the stretchers. Dino seems to thrive on these projects, and takes on his role with gusto.

If the weather holds, we'll return soon by train on a mild day. We both miss walking in Rome. It's a treat not to be missed. For a few minutes or an hour or a day or a year there is always something captivating about this city.

We return home to new information about our San Liberato search, and on Sunday we'll share it with our good friend, Tiziano. This is the best lead yet to the source of all the information.

The office is called the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and we think it's located right in the Vatican. But first we'll need a letter from Don Luca, which Tiziano will be happy to write. The journey continues...

January 20
It's warm this morning, and we're expecting the same weather as yesterday on our sojourn to Firenze. Dino takes Sofi to Annika's for the day, stopping at the post office to pick up what I hope will be a bunch of books that Terence shipped to us six weeks ago.

Unfortunately, it is something else. Actually, it is a tax invoice. So we'll have to wait a little longer for the books. It is the first set of books. We're waiting to see what happens with this shipment before asking Terence to send the others.

Duccio and Giovanna pick us up and we drive to Orvieto to take the Inter City train to Santa Maria Novella in Firenze. We have our doubts about Duccio's interest in parking in Orvieto, but decide to go along with him as it was his idea to take this trip together in the first place.

After a long but pleasant train ride, Giovanna finds a place for us to have pranzo. She keeps restaurant receipts...forever. This one dates back to 1986, and although the name of the restaurant has changed, the manager/owner knows the former owner and tells us where his restaurant is now located in the Tuscan countryside.

We think Giovanna is so funny with her old red Michelin guides, and receipts folded in the back flap of places they have been. She is a low-tech version of Dino, who includes every restaurant we have ever been that is good, alongside comments that will jog our memories.

The food is good, it is inexpensive, and we're out of there just before 3PM when the first church we are to see opens up. It is Santa Felicita and the paintings inside are pretty miraculous, especially the Assumption right inside the door.

We visit the art exhibit around the side of the Uffizi, and it is pretty good. The exhibit consists of paintings that are hardly ever shown. These will be returned to the "warehouse" at the end of January. I'm not really intrigued by any except one, where a number of women lean over a railing, their opulent clothes alight with color and tone. I ask Dino to take a photo of one woman's draped elbow. Yes, that's me, fixated about fabric again.

Before we're through for the day, we've purchased a taffeta silk shawl for less than €30 in a tiny shop. I test it by scrunching it up on the table, looking at the light and shadow reflecting upon it. The clerk does not know how to respond when I tell her it's to use as a subject to paint, but she willingly takes Dino's euros just the same.


Duccio, Giovanna and Eva at Ponte Vecchio

A while earlier we passed a shop where a woman hand makes hats and shawls, and after asking her if she will sell me a piece of black yarn so that I can repair a hat, she reaches into a basket under her desk and hands me a handful of black yarn. She refuses to take any money and I give her a hug instead. Some people have such generosity of spirit, and she is surely one.

We purchase a biography of Michelangelo at the train station before returning home, and I read quite a bit of it on the train. Duccio's ancestor Valori is mentioned twice, once regarding his loyalty to Savanarola just before being killed. Duccio reads the passage and shrugs. Duccio is light to his ancestor's shadow. I cannot imagine him related to this dark character we've been reading about.

We arrive home and then drive to pick up Sofi, who has had a wonderful day but is very happy to be back with us. We stop in Attigliano to pick up a couple of pizzas, that we keep warm and polish off with a glass of wine and a toast to the 26th anniversary of our first date!

January 21
It's really humid this morning, our clothes feeling heavy, the air stifling. By the time we reach our little church, the temperature cools off. And by the time we reach home after our festaroli giro, it's almost noon and the skies flirt with sun, but settle on clouds and a little wind.

On today's giro, Dino writes down all the family names as we walk from house to house. Livio tells us he has done a tree for the families in Mugnano, and we'll compare "ours" to his on Saturday night, when we walk up there to prepare the snacks to be served after the movies on Sunday.

Many people are confused, thinking that we should be celebrating San Vincenzo's birthday today. But since it is tomorrow, Mauro tells everyone that Don Luca determined that the celebration would be next Sunday. So that's that. San Vincenzo is our "second" patron saint in Mugnano.

Back at home, Dino opens the Viterbo phone book, and marks off those people who live in Mugnano. He makes a list, and when Tiziano comes for a visit tonight, he takes out the pages and pages of names, taped together. Tiziano helps to add some names and the research will continue.

I'd like to have something to pass out about San Vincenzo, so Tiziano will ask Don Luca this week if there is something that we can distribute on Sunday. But tonight's visit is mostly about the letter we'll need to do the research in Rome about San Liberato.

Dino and Tiziano want the letter to state that we want to do research on two saints. I let them finish their rationale, then offer that if we express that there are some real problems with the statue we use as our patron saint, the drama of it all may engender more attention. Once we are safely ensconced within the group, we can broaden our search. They agree.

We determine that the bishop might have some connections in Rome, and so ask if Don Luca can use his influence to help us to gain access to the records we need. These meetings with Tiziano are always fun and we continue our meeting with conversations about our patron saints and local research.

There is much to be done, and Tiziano is very busy with his research. So we offer to help him take archeological measurements, and he'll take us up on our offer soon. We're always happy to help him.

I've not been able to paint for a few days and surely miss it, so tomorrow morning while Dino travels to Orvieto for his acupuncture treatment, Sofi and I will stay at home and I'll paint.

I'm really tired, so tonight I'll get into bed early and read more about the life of Michelangelo. Tiziano confirmed that he listened to the talk of the man who claims that Michelangelo was responsible for the design of the Monster Park in Bomarzo.

We're all skeptical, and I'd like to know the dates. For I have a list of the things he worked on, and after he became well known his backlog of projects was so deep that he disappointed many people. When, oh when, did he have time for this project? The only curiosity I found was that his brother lived in Viterbo, at least for a while as an adult. I suppose anything is possible.

January 22
Sofi and I take an early walk, because Dino is in Orvieto getting an acupuncture treatment. We walk down toward Aqua Puzza and Tomasso and Paolo drive up the strada bianca toward us.

"Stop!" I call out to Sofi, and Tomasso screeches on his brakes, the gravel underfoot spitting every which way. Sofi runs away from the car and I run after her. Once I catch her I return to apologise, but they smile and Tomasso utters, "Niente!" (It is nothing.)

Otherwise, the only person we see is Italo, who looks up at the blue sky and tells me it's "...sempre Primavera" (always Spring).

I have an art lesson, and we decide to take the painting I've been working on of the four large zucca (squash). This self-teaching has lots of minefields, and I'm sure it is taking me longer to learn, but I'm enjoying the experience.

At Marco's we re-tool the painting, and I work from right to left making changes. By the time I leave four hours later I'm well on my way to finishing it. Next Monday I'll be done with it.

Poor San Vincenzo sits against an easel, waiting for me. It's his day today, and I don't even give him the respect of taking him out and painting his canvas a little. Next week I'll spend most of the session just on him. I promise.

We talk with Candace and Frank in San Francisco, and don't know if they'll join us in Provence at the end of April. Either way, we're going, and will book a place before the week is out. That reminds me. I'll have to call Pascale soon to tell her we're coming and to make plans for at least one lesson.

The wind starts up, and by the time we reach home we can tell that bad weather is on its way. Today the temperature reached 70 degrees, but in the next 48 hours it will drop 20 degrees or more mid-day. Our freezing nights are about to return, and with it a major rain storm. We're ready...

January 23
Wind whips across Mugnano throughout the night, and at first light we watch three cypress trees next to the lavender leaning, leaning...

Closer to the house, the smaller nespola (loquat) tree shakes its sturdy leaves, seemingly up and down, as if it's a medieval woman shaking out crumbs from her skirt.

We've been warned to expect a storm, and although I can't see rain, there are tiny drops sitting against the south-facing window. Sticks that are the branches of the plum tree bounce about as if to say, "Help us! Help us!" I can see just a few of them, for the shutters are partly closed and locked, showing only a few inches of light.

And then it begins...first with the tiny clicking sounds of rain against the glass...followed shortly by waves of it ...again and again and again. And all the while the fragile branches of the plum tree call out, "Help us! Help us!"

While Dino returns to Viterbo for a showdown about our medical insurance, I work on sewing tabs for the kitchen curtains for the club, but the bobbin jams and I can't seem to figure it out.

This is another of my "self-taught" follies, and I am not an engineering sort, so the mechanics of it all drives me to distraction. When Dino returns, he'll fix the machine for sure. I can only sigh.

Might as well do more searching the internet for places to rent in April in Provence. I try to call Pascale, but can't get through to her. Might as well start the English muffins. Yes, English muffins. Dino loves them and we can't buy them here, so I have a recipe and I'll fool around with it, adding some sourdough starter we bought in the U S. Why not?

Today is a day of false starts. I never get to the English muffins, but do find a way to fix the sewing machine myself by locating the book (in Italian) and figuring out that I need to adjust the tension. Dino chimes in with an offer to help, but before he's able to begin I've fixed it. I sometimes amaze myself.

While I'm sewing away at the tabs for the curtains, I wonder how curtains can be sewn in a cost effective way that have tabs. There must be some kind of automated process, for the darn things take forever.

I need about sixty tabs for the six curtains, and all the while I'm sewing I'm hearing Dino's words, "Why ever do you do this to yourself? The curtains don't need that much detail."

Yes, Dino is absolutely correct. But since I have no other winter sewing project, might as well tackle this and see if I can pull it off. Some of the insane things I do I do just to test myself.

The final disposition is really not all that important, other than to complete the task, although whatever I'm working on must be done very well. Give it a break, I tell myself, rolling my eyes at...me!

Dino returns just before pranzo to tell me that he has been successful at ASL (the regional medical insurance office in Viterbo). The woman he met with called the same capo as the others did on other occasions, but presented her case to him and he agreed to let me continue for another year as Dino's dependent.

I'm not sure if I understand all of this, but we now have coverage until our permesso di sojourno (residency permits) expire in May of 2008. Confusing, but let's not rock the boat. Ordinarily the dates of these certificates are on a calendar year basis.

I think I have been given a "gratuita" or gift of this. The actual details are somewhat flimsy.

This afternoon in the rain Dino ventures out to visit Bifferoni, our local doctor, for more prescriptions. Prescriptions are doled out like candy from the teacher, but in Italy they're given out by the local doctors.

Later this afternoon we drive to Viterbo to visit my gynecologist, and I'm not looking forward to the visit. She is expensive and usually spends about three minutes with me. This woman is not on the regular Italian medical insurance, for we are unable to find a good gynecologist who is.

The last doctor on the state system who gave me a gynecological exam was an elderly handicapped man who was unable to get around except by metal crutches. I won't go into the details, but lets just say I don't look forward to seeing him again.

This doctor is a "keeper", although she's a bit remote. She sees me and examines me and tells me I'm fine in about three minutes. One hundred euro later we're out the door to pick up a few prescriptions. She took care of me so quickly that I forgot to ask her for a recommendation for a general practitioner in the zone.

Frank and Candace will join us after all in Provence in April, so we continue our search....

January 24
We all drive down to Rome this morning, to find an art store near Duccio's house. We find an almost-legal spot right across from his house and Sofi guards the car while we follow him a few blocks away to one of the many art stores in Rome.

They do not have the wooden components for the frames, called telaio, in the size we need, but we do find the tenaglie (metal pincers used to stretch the canvas) and buy one as well as a book on making icons.

Stein and I have spoken about making icons, and a friend of his is an expert at making them. So he has invited his friend for a week sometime this spring, and this will be a good advance primer for us. If the friend does not come, perhaps we'll be able to make one or two anyway.

After leaving Duccio and wishing he and Giovanna a happy wedding anniversary, we stop at a famous panificio for bread, and Dino picks up two loaves as well as goodies for pranzo.

We drive home under a mixed sky, with plenty of rain and here and there plenty of sun. After pranzo we continue our research for our Provence trip, and agree on a place to rent. Tomorrow we'll reserve the ferry, but are in for a slight shock. We will take the ferry to Toulon but will have to return from...Barcelona!

We have to laugh, and agree to not let a small thing like last year's major robbery in Barcelona daunt us. We'll just drive right to the ferry and wait at the dock until it's time to board, having pranzo somewhere on the coast way before we arrive in Barcelona. Our adventuresome spirits don't let a little bad news get the better of us.

Tonight we have cena with Alan and Wendy and a friend at Nonna Papa, and enjoy getting together with them and sharing stories. Their property sold amazingly quickly, and with plenty of profit in their pockets they are returning to Australia in March with new projects and new houses to work on. What a wonderful and profitable five years they have had here! We've enjoyed getting to know them.

January 25
We've had no snow overnight, but last night was cold enough, and it was windy enough, that we expected a real storm. The morning brings sun and little wind, so we're confident that the latest storm has passed.

Last night while driving down the Bomarzo hill to Mugnano in the dark, Dino was unable to put the car into second gear. We drove down that hill and up the Mugnano hill in third gear.

Under a streetlight in front of our house he looked down and found...a big flashlight blocking the gear shift! Earlier we lost power twice in the house and left with the flashlight in case we needed it.

For a few minutes we each silently pondered the possible replacement of the transmission of our beloved Alfa. Now we could laugh at ourselves instead.

Dino drives off this morning to Orvieto for an acupuncture treatment, and I fantasize about making costumes for the grand daughters. I have wanted to make angel wings, reminiscent of a costume I wore when I was three in a dancing recital. The wings were made of crepe paper, and the body of the costume was made of fifties-dusty pink satin.

Did I tell you about our idea about a rally/parade around Aqua Puzza during the festa weekend in May? Participants would be dressed in costume, or their "rigs" would be decorated, with a panel of judges located at the bus stop. If for some reason Terence and Angie and the girls will come then, the girls will have angel costumes.

There will be a grandparents' section of the rally/parade, with Nonno in the center, flanked by each grand daughter dressed as an angel. Dino would either be a farmer or a devil, depending on his "motivation". If for some reason they don't come then, they'll have the costumes anyway.

I'm itching to draw, and to paint, and sketch a figure that I will transform into a pastel. I'll show the basic drawing to Marco first next week, then complete the pastel at home. He counsels me to begin a project with him, then finish it at home.

This subject is a man in a big cape and a hat with a large brim, worn back on his head. He is seen mostly from the rear, and holds a staff in his left hand. He's probably a shepherd. It's in my "folds of fabric" mode, and although I initially thought I'd do it in pale brown and beige and white chalk, now think I'll do it in a darker green and brown.

We've found a place in San Remy for our April vacation and sent the contract back, have made our reservations on the ferry, Angie the dog sitter from Rome is booked, so all the preliminary work is done for our vacation. All that's left now is the dreaming, and I'm always ready for that.

Planning and pondering about vacations are wonderful activities. Anticipation can be a wonderful thing. I recall how we loved to plan and dream about our lives here before we actually moved, and now I love dreaming about our week in San Remy, a town we love.

In many respects, life here really is a dream. After working for so many years, retirement is a joy. Retirement in this little piece of heaven is all we could ask. But sometimes a change of scene is fun, too.

January 26
Dino views a very special property nearby, and we'll return to see it again before posting it on the site.

While he's gone, I've drawn an old man in a long cape, and it comes out so well I've decided that I'll complete it in three mediums: drawing in pencil, a pastel, and an oil. Because I've been reading about Michelangelo and his "cartoon" drawings as preliminaries to paintings, I have a real respect for the initial drawing part of each painting. This latest subject is based on part of a painting known as the Lodovico Carracci Madonna. What fun I have!

I'll draw a second copy, one that I'll use to outline the oil painting and then use chalk to do what is called a pastel on top of the outline. I don't know why the medium is called a pastel, for the chalks are not always a pale color. I have renewed excitement about my craft. There is always, always something new...

We hear from Helga and Stein, and the message is so funny I have to laugh. He's moving into a new house in Finland, and has so many glasses to put away that he tells Helga to break some if they won't fit. I can hear him laughing now, his big belly of a laugh and his blue, blue eyes. We really miss them.

The curtains for the "club" are finally finished, and what an undertaking they became! It is all for a good cause, especially if Antonio agrees to lead a group to clean up and paint the kitchen. With the feast of San Vincenzo this weekend, we'll have another opportunity to use the hall, and will certainly see if we can drum up enough interest to move forward on transforming the kitchen.

We're both hoping that we can also convince Antonio that we need to build a bocce court behind the building, but one step at a time...

The day is cold but not so dreary. My January blahs have ended, and I'm happy to be drawing and painting. Tomorrow we'll pick up the pastel of the capes, framed by our favorite framer in Amelia and Dino will hang it in the kitchen. What fun! Tia asks us to stop by on the way home so that she can see it. Come no?

He now wants me to do a series of capes, and that's fine with me. Let's see how this first one looks up on our kitchen wall behind the sofa. Dino wants me to paint his grandfather sitting at a kitchen table peeling and orange with the open door in the background. Sure. Some day.

January 27
With sun streaming in through the partially open shutters, we're all ready to face the day. After a trip to Viterbo to pick up baby pink crepe paper for the angels' wings and a few more pastels and paint, then a stop at Michellini to look at apple trees (we're still not certain we have picked out the correct ones), we drive on to Amelia to pick up my first pastel, "three capes in a closet", from the framer, then stop for a minute at Tia's so that she can take a look.

Here it is:


Back at home I fix pranzo while Dino hangs up the "capes", and the news is good and bad. The good news is that we can look over at the wall and see the reflection of the beautiful view. That's also the bad news. Later in the day we decide that the piece will stay where it is for now. I like the piece, just am not mad about it. It is a good first effort, I suppose.

I work some more in the afternoon on two drawings, and stop for the afternoon, deciding not to do any more until I meet with Marco. I need to finish the squash painting and get some advice about these pastels, but I really must move on to the painting of San Vincenzo.

Tonight we drive up to the borgo, spending a few late hours making panini at Livio and Gigliola's with Mauro and Laura and Livio and Gigliola. We're really quite a squadra (team), this festarolo committee a certain success. By the time we're through, we've made hundreds of the little paninis and have eaten one of my persimmon puddings as a treat. We're all really tired.

It's a beautiful clear night, and we're happy to return home to little piccola and get right into bed...

January 28
Today Mugnano celebrates the feast day of San Vincenzo, for he is our patron saint along with San Liberato. Right at 8AM the first cannon blast reverberates across the valley. There are four or five blasts, fifteen seconds or so apart, and this is the traditional way of announcing a saint's holy day. Sofi is less than happy, rushing under the bed and whimpering.

We're dressed and walking up to the club by 9:30, passing by a growing number of musicians from the Bomarzo Polymartium band. All together there are twenty-five of them plus their leader, and their winter costumes come complete with black baseball caps with their insignia emblazoned on the front. "Batter-up!" I think to myself. The hats seem out of place.

We lay out food and drinks for them, and after they've serenaded every street in Mugnano, they stop by for a drink and something to eat. Only one opts for a little homemade wine. We leave the building open for them, and walk up to church, where Dino puts on his confraternity garb and I take my blue Accion Cattolica scarf.

Laura comes over to sit next to me, helping to straighten my blue A C scarf over my coat. The mass begins, this time embellished with fifteen members of the Confraternity plus the adult choir from Bomarzo plus Don Renzo and Don Luca.

I do love the procession after the mass on these holy days, and take Candida's arm after she tells me she wants to take the walk. Marsiglia is at home preparing pranzo for their son and family, so I join my other favorite villager while Dino holds the banner of the Confraternita and walks up front in the procession.

So let's talk about the procession. For people who dream about Italy, dream about experiencing a slice of life in Italy, taking in a religious holiday with a procession and participating in it is a wondrous thing to do. Here's an idea of what to expect:

At a certain point near the very end of the mass, the men in costume walk quickly down the main aisle to the door of the church with the things they are to carry, followed by the priests and then the women and then the men.

People form two lines, with space in between for one designated confraternity member holding a wooden staff, I believe to designate his authority, and a woman holding the Accion Cattolica banner. These two are flanked on each side by single lines of women, and then men.

The band remains outside, and leads the procession, followed by five or more confraternity members with the Confraternita di San Liberato banner, two lanterns, and a huge crucifix under a kind of satin awning. Here in Mugnano, Otello always takes the crucifix, for he wears a leather strap around his waist to help hold the heavy structure in place.

I asked him one day how many years he has carried the crucifix, and I am sure it has been more than twenty...I don't think anyone else wants to take on this difficult but honored task.

Further back in the procession are the remainder of the confraternity members, in our village from six to twenty of them, depending on who is in the village at the time.

One priest walks with a microphone, and there is at least one, usually two or three priests, chanting the Ave Maria or other sacred prayers.

The band conductor raises his baton to begin, and we proceed around the Orsini Palazzo and down the hill across Via Mameli. Once we reach Giustino's building near our house, we return up the hill.

On San Liberato's feast day, and on August 15th the procession winds around every street, but today we're just walking down Via Mameli and back.

Our steps are slow and practiced, in time with the beat of the horns and drums. It's a sing-song-y walk, and because there is silence except for the reciting of certain prayers, it is time for reflection.

I think about the rationale of having a patron saint, and recent research has confirmed that the reason for a patron saint is a practical one. It is a reminder to the people of the town or village of the saint's holy and reverent examples of living a spiritual life. It brings people together and hopefully encourages them to treat each other with kindness and good will.

Today, the procession ends with Don Renzo holding the reliquary of San Vincenzo at the steps of the little church while each parishoner steps up in turn to kiss the glass.

Behind the glass we can see what appears to be two pieces of bone, purportedly those of the actual saint. We are told that there are religious orders that deal with the reliquaries of saints, but that is a story for another time...

I walk over to Tiziano and ask him if he's written the letter to Don Luca and he apologizes. I respond, "fa niente" (it is nothing), then ask if he'd like to ask Don Luca right now if there is any special wording that should be included in the letter.

Tiziano thinks it's a good idea, so we walk inside the church and wait until Don Luca walks out of the sacristy. Don Luca is not in a hurry today, and lingers with us, talking about the fact that this statue that we have is really not San Liberato.

Vezio, the bronze artist, appears, and we walk into the sacristy all together to look at the bust of San Liberato, which clearly shows a black-skinned saint. I offer that Vezio might be commissioned to make a body in bronze to go with the bust, but don't know what material the face is made of.

Vezio touches it and tells us it's some kind of lightweight metal. Sounds like my idea is not all that good. But Vezio is a bronze artist, and we are lucky to have him. If we could only find a real image of San Liberato, perhaps we can have him make a statue for the village.

Don Luca thinks that writing the letter is fine, and Tiziano will write it for his signature. So we continue, like turtles, on this slow process. At least we're moving forward.

Dino and I walk home and I fix a pasta sauce that Dino loves, but is in a way a little strange. I start with onion and carrots chopped and sautéed in olive oil, then add two bottles of heirloom tomatoes, a cup or so of sun dried mushrooms that have been heated in broth, several frozen cubes of basil, a little sugar, some oregano, and some rich broth. It cooks down somewhat and really makes a tasty sugo after sautéed meatballs have been added.

Later we walk up to the club to put out benches for the neighbors to watch the movies. Don Renzo brings the movies, as well as the equipment, and we begin only twenty or so minutes late. There are sixty or so people in the room, and we have plenty of benches. Between the second and third movies, Livio walks around with tiny plastic cups of popcorn.


The movies are really great, each about thirty minutes, and Don Renzo stars in them all. They are a series, shot about a year apart, consisting of Don Renzo as a friar in Bomarzo, who was asked in the film to disguise himself as a carabinieri to find a mafia figure in Sicily who has murdered a paisano.

Italians make fun of carabinieri the way some people joke about blonde women...or worse. "How many .... does it take..." We think carabinieri also laugh at themselves, for this clearly is a story within a story, a story of redemption and a story of goodness.

Interspersed are boffo Carabinieri characters, and the dialogue in these films is spoken in a local dialect. Don Renzo later tells me, "No one can really understand the dialect; it is not spoken in Italian." Does that mean that the people watching the films are as foggy about the actual conversations as we are?

After the three films we bring out more food; this time it's panini and sweets and drinks, and for a few hours or more it's time to socialize. We're tired, and after a while we leave, agreeing with Mauro that we'll clean up tomorrow. Italians love to sit around and talk, and it will be hours before the last person leaves, hopefully with the remaining food...

It's good to be home. It's good to have this event done without a hitch. Earlier, before Don Renzo left, he picked out the winning number of the day's lottery, and Valerio and Elena won the prosciutto. So we have more money for the festaroli coffers, and two friends go home with the prosciutto.

There are a little more than three months left to our festaroli year, and we expect to include before we are done: the festa della donna, pasquetta (the day after Easter), and then the big festa at the first weekend of May. It has been a lot of work but a lot of fun...so far.

January 29
Dino has an acupuncture treatment, so leaves early. He does not know if the treatments are working, but will follow through for a few more.

I have a class this afternoon, and complete the zucca painting. We bring it home and it is still wet, but I'd rather have it at home. Here it is. What do you think?


Marco laughs at me. I give myself competi (homework) and always have something I've started that I need guidance on. This time it's the figure from the Lodovico Madonna painting in Bologna. I tell him I want to complete a pencil drawing, a pastel and an oil, all with the same design.

He nods, and shows me what I need to do to fix the figure. We have never had an actual anatomy lesson, but he shows me how to draw the basic figure first, then add the clothes. That makes sense, and of course I've done it backward.

I have too much fabric, and the body is not aligned correctly with the head. So this week I'll redraw the drawings, there are two of the same, and next week we'll use a sheet of carbon paper to trace one onto a prepared linen canvas, then use that same drawing to complete a pastel, with chalk. The third I hopefully will have completed at home to his satisfaction, and mine and will be ready for framing.

In class I must return to San Vincenzo, for each week there is something that keeps me away from it. The zucca have taken a long time, longer than I thought it would take, but I am satisfied with the result.

Also in class Marco sees that I have not completely cleaned my brushes, and gives me a lesson on how to do that correctly. I ask him if he is going to send me to the corner, and he does not understand until I tell him that in the U S that bad children are sent to the corner for a "time out".

Everyone in the room laughs as he sends me to the sink in the back corner of the studio to wash the brushes carefully and completely with white soap and hot water. I am confused, for I thought only turpentine is used. But I am not correct. The sink is now called "Eva's corner", and when Dino arrives I am still there, so of course he is let in on the joke.

I like this group very much, and also like the free form of learning. It is a good thing I did not choose the other instructor in Viterbo, for I learn that his methods are very different: each student paints the same subject and one painting can take as long as a year. Marco knows I would not last long there.

I ask him if there is a problem with the speed in which I paint, and he tells me that no, he paints as rapidly as I do. I am progressing, and that's enough for me. Next week, when I return to San Vincenzo, I am sure that I will slow down markedly, for the detail in this painting, and the complexity of it, will take a great deal of concentration.

We return home with the painting, and one of these days may replace the three capes on the back wall in the kitchen with it. Now it needs to dry, and sits on the main easel in the dining room. Tomorrow it will get its first viewing, with Don and Mary here for pranzo.

January 30
Dreary fog wakes us, but we're not deterred. We'll revisit a new property this morning, then pick Don and Mary up from the train and fix them a welcome pranzo. They'll be here for a week, as Don tells us "to experience winter in Umbria." Yesterday Dino turned on their heat for them in Don's house, so the cold won't be quite as bone chilling.

It really hasn't been all that cold this winter, or are we finally adjusting to it? On occasion, nighttime temperatures have dropped to freezing, but that's about it. Winter in this part of Italy should be stormy, rainy, windy, but we've had very little of that so far.

Perhaps in the next few months we'll be hit with late winter storms, destroying the crops and the flowers, for buds have popped out during these past two weeks in all the warm weather.

That reminds me. It will soon be time to start the pomodori seeds in the guest bedroom. Wonder when the next full moon will appear....? The new property is wonderful, and it consists of two homes, to be sold separately or together. The couple that own the two houses loves their home, and will consider selling if they find one wonderful home to replace it.

In the meantime, we're treated to a tour of their two lovingly restored houses, full of Matisse-like art and color, touches of antique carved wooden pieces and old beams. The bathrooms and bedrooms are simple and stylish, the views are lovely.

One huge table and benches are to remain in the house. They were originally beams from the porchiao and are so heavy that they cannot be moved. Placed in the loggia on the second floor overlooking a lovely view, I can imagine wonderful meals and days and nights sitting out here with friends.

We finish our tour just in time to pick up Don and Mary. Poor Mary has a baby stroller that she uses to balance a suitcase, and superman Don carries two or three huge pieces of luggage. At the train station, Dino walks down the stairs and up on the side where they exit the train, to help. I walk down the same stairs to find Mary and to help her. It's so good to see our good friends here again.

Off we go to our house, and Sofi greets us with customary joy. Then it's simple bruschetta with Diego's superb olive oil chicken risotto, a salad and the budino di kaki before a roaring fire. The day clears, and by the time we take them home to Tenaglie, the sun is as high as it's going to be and Don marvels at the heat rising off the brick columns outside the house.

Don buys six of my ceramic plates, and I am so happy that they will be able to enjoy them. I think my days of painting ceramics will be more of an afterthought, so look forward to selling what we have. I will make a set of dinner plates for us to use when the weather is better, but for now am pleased to lower the inventory.

We love showing our friends my latest paintings, and the painting of the zucca is growing on me. I think it will hang in the kitchen soon, although Dino likes the capes hung there now, for the reflection off the glass gives us another view outside our kitchen window.

Dino gives Don's car a charge, and it starts right up. But we're drawn to the artichokes thriving in their garden, along with a few marigolds. They will have fun in this house, we are sure. We'll see them in a day or so.

Back at home, Dino walk up to Dottore Bifferoni for some prescriptions and to show him the results of his latest tests.

Before going up to bed, Sofi and I take another look at the zucca painting, and I love the roundness of the vegetables and how the shadow behind each one helps to emphasize their roundness.

I think I am not finished painting zucca. There should be a series of them, but for these I think I can paint them myself at home. Marco's pointers have left their mark on my brain, and I'd like to attempt a few more to see if I can capture the light and shadow and perhaps even some odd shapes.

January 31
I'm so tired that I don't want to get up, and at about nine I stuble out of bed. With another cold day ahead, I'm going to work on a drawing as well as make a big pot of vegetable soup.

Dino leaves for the Comune to drop off our request letter for the cemetery plot, but neither Francesco nor the sindaco are around. We don't know how long we'll have to wait for our answer. Stay tuned...

After working on the drawing, based on Marco's suggestions, I realize what he is doing. and think I might need to do some anatomy studying. Since I'm rereading The Agony and the Ecstacy, a story about Michaelangelo, I understand how important the anatomical form is to any picture of a person.

After pranzo, Dino and I hang the zucca painting in the kitchen, and the capes are relegated to the dining room. I really like having this painting in the kitchen. It fits well here.

Since this is the end of the month, we'll get ready to post, for we do try to post at least twice a month, no matter how busy we are. We look forward to hearing from you, and I especially want to hear what you think of the paintings...

That's it for January, 2007. C'è vediamo.

FEBRUARY 2007

February 1
Yesterday, I called my gynecologist to get some advice about a prescription that she gave me last week. She was not available, and when she called me back could not understand what I was asking her. She was unwilling to try to understand my feeble Italian. So I'll call the office and see if she can fit me in between patients.

This is a good example of what a new resident would have to go through who does not speak the language well. Our pharmacist thinks there is a woman who works at the ASL office (Italian Health Dept) in Viterbo who can help us find a doctor who speaks English. I'm hoping we can speak with her today.

The subtleties of what I am trying to communicate are a frustration both for the doctor and for me. I know I should take the time to learn the tenses and the verbs and the conversation, but I just don't think I have it in me. I'm going to take my chances...for now.

The best thing I could do is to find someone nearby who would be willing to speak with me for an hour a day in Italian who also understands a little English. But in this village no one speaks English. Well, Paola does, but she's young and works in Rome. She is not a candidate.

Dino speaks Italian much better than I do, and in cases where he's dealing with muratores or bureaucrats, he manages just fine. We're able to slog through just about everything here, or at least Dino is. This particular challenge has given me pause...

And beside...I'd rather paint. The wood we have ordered to make a couple of special sized frames has come in, and we'll pick that up to make some new frames. One was specially ordered for Pascale's Bull, so I'm anxious to frame that one.

Once it has been framed, I'm going to paint some shadows in the corners to set it off better. And we need more gesso. Dino is so happy with the results of my painting that he tells me to not worry about anything...just paint.

We've agreed that I will paint a series of capes similar to Pascale's Bull, and perhaps the next one will be red and fire-y with possibly also a sword and the arm of the bullfighter. So what does a bullfighter's cape look like? After a little internet search I find out that I should, and will, paint it in magenta, with a yellow lining.

Something to remember if you're coming to Italy for a trip and will be driving around...There is less traffic at the end of most months on the main roads. Italians who rely on their pensions, and there are many, run out of money at the end of the month and don't have money to buy gasoline, which is very expensive in Italy.

This strange bit of trivia seemed true these past few days on the road. Now if you're coming to Italy during the late spring and summer months, you'll be joined by other tourists, so all bets are off then...

It's late morning, so back to my language adventure. The original medical appointment with this private doctor cost €80. I hope to not have to pay this same amount again just because the medicine she prescribed had a side effect. It was not her fault, not my fault, but paying another €80 to speak with her for three minutes does not seem reasonable. Allora...

I call the office, after Dino leaves for an acupuncture treatment in Orvieto. Corragio (courage) Eva, corragio!

An assistant answers the phone and dottoressa is not in the office. I am somewhat relieved. Yes, I am really a wimp. I tell the woman that during a telephone conversation yesterday, I used the wrong word to tell her what was wrong. I told her I had a temerio, which is an adjective and means hasty or rash. Today I tell the woman I have an eruzione, or rash. Yes, the word I want to use is a noun. Boh!

I am concerned about the money, and when she asks me if I want to speak on the phone or to "pass by", I tell her that dottoressa would rather see me in person. Is there a charge if I make an appointment? Yes. Well, it's only to speak about the medicine. All right. Well, come by this afternoon at a quarter to five.

I call Dino on the cell and I can see him smiling. He congratulates me on my effort, an effort that still has its doubts. In the meantime, I clip some roses, for today is an exquisitely warm and lovely day.

Two rose plants sitting on the ground in pots have long and droopy branches, and I think they'd be wonderful sitting on top of a wall, draping over the side. Which ones are these? I believe they are named Cornelia. I clean them up, but leave many of the branches long.

It's still early, so I do some drawing. This afternoon the art store will be open and we will purchase the wood for the frames. Then Dino and I will do the stretching of Pascale's Bull, for the paint is dry enough.

There is a big pot of tomato vegetable soup, made yesterday, and it's a good day for soup. I'm to not eat too much tonight and nothing tomorrow morning, for my hospital procedure is just after noon. Let's not think about the procedure and just enjoy the beautiful day...

As the day turns into evening, we drive to Dottoressa's and after about thirty minutes she agrees to see me, telling me she doesn't understand that I might be allergic to her prescription. Take the second medicine just the same and good luck.

I don't feel particularly warm and fuzzy, especially since she took about twenty seconds to give me her diagnosis. We really need another doctor.

We drive to ASL in Viterbo to find the woman who speaks English, but the office is closed for the day. We won't be able to return until Monday, but that's fine. Instead we drive to Klimt to pick up the special frame we ordered and magenta paint. And then we drive home, under what looks like a full moon...What?

In February, we need to start our seeds under a full moon. Does that mean we should start them now, or at the beginning of March? Since many of last year's tomatoes died on the vine with the rains in September, we'll need to start the seeds...now.

At home I take out all the seeds, the special coco-powders, root innoculant, special fertilizer....all purchased in the US and brought back on the plane in December. For the past few years we've purchased our seeds and related products from Golden Harvest Organics online. So we'll stick with them this year, too.

I soak about fifty seeds in bottled water and fertilizer for 24 hours, and tomorrow we'll rig up the planting in the guest bedroom, including the fluorescent light. This time, for the first time, we'll plant the seeds in their final pots, instead of transplanting them from tiny pots to medium pots to the final pots before they're put in the ground. Whatever does not take, does not take. If half of them sprout, we'll be fine. If more "take", we'll have plenty to share.

We wonder why we can't do all this in the serra (greenhouse) and I'd like to, but the temperature needs to be around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and for the next couple of months that won't be possible. Nights drop close to freezing, and the best days don't rise much about 15 degrees C.

We could purchase a heater, and program it to be on at night in the serra, but don't think we're there yet. The serra really doesn't work for us, after all that planning. The southern exposure is great, and we have electricity there, so perhaps an oil heater on the ground will work after all. We'll see. Come no?

Just as I begin to think we'll have a few slow months ahead of us, I have a feeling that things are going to "heat up" instead. And as we get ready for bed, Shelly emails us that there is ADSL being offered in the area. Sounds too good to be true, and it looks expensive. We'll have to check it out....

February 2
Today is Groundhog Day, Saint Blaise, and the Blessing of the Throat this afternoon at mass...I need the blessing this morning, for I have a procedure around noon with a tube stuck down my throat....Yikes! I'm hoping they'll knock me out first.

The day begins with bright sun, and Dino is sure to spray the fruit trees. It's important to spray them before they begin to bud. We have never had luck with our peach tree, for there is a blight that is particularly common in this area that attacks fruit trees, especially peach trees. But then again, Dino has never sprayed early enough. There is so much to remember. Is today early enough?

I long for peaches from our own tree, golden and sweet, the red juice rolling down my arm as I stand over the sink devouring a ripe one. Yes, I think of you Sarah, and of the peaches we ate one summer here in our kitchen, looking out over the Mugnano valley.

I'm keeping myself busy this morning, hemming some lovely material purchased in Provence last fall to make a tablecloth for the long table outside the front door. I have to put my sewing projects away, for the seeds will take center stage in the room later this weekend.

While it's sunny, I rinse the olives that have been soaking in a bath of sea salt and water since November. I can't try one today, but Dino does and tells me they're great. So I rinse them off, put the back in a bath of sea salt and water and this weekend or early next week will put up the olives. Since we don't have a tremendous number of trees, this seems to be a fun and enjoyable way to process them.

At noon we leave Sofi in the kitchen and drive north to Orvieto on the A-1. The trip is mostly silent, with me concentrating on the view, the trees, the Oasi, the hills, the buildings...Everything seems so clear today.

At the hospital, we know just where to go, and to wait. The wait is around twenty minutes, and right at one o'clock I'm staring at a clock on the wall in a procedure room. I'm here for an "endoscopia digestiva" to determine if I have a hernia, and if I do if there are any problems.

I know in advance to ask to be given an injection to "put me out", similar to what they give when one gets a colonoscopy. I'm a little nervous, and don't like the idea of a tube being stuck down my throat. So I ask. And the momentum around me stops short.

Yes, I can have something. The doctor and a woman next to him who will be performing the procedure somehow think I am Russian, and ask if I can speak English. Ha. Ha.

I show a woman the best spot in my inner elbow to find a vein, for my veins are difficult to locate. It takes her a while, and everyone stands around and waits. I am given something like valium, mixed with something else, after I'm asked what medicine I take and if I'm allergic to it. I remember putting my head down and turning over on my side. I'm fully dressed, except for my glasses and my shoes.

The next think I remember is a tugging after the tube is in my throat for a bit, and I'm feeling squeamish. They seem to jog it right and left and hey, can't you keep it still? I start to get squeamish and then I can't really remember a lot. I can't remember the tube coming out. There. That wasn't too bad.

Remember, this is my journal. You won't be tested so you don't have to read it:) .

Dino comes into the room and the gurney is moved into a quiet room next door. After a while, we're able to leave, and tomorrow we'll return with a signed paper and a biopsy will be done and returned to the hospital within fifteen days.

Biopsy. I read the report and it doesn't look all that bad. Now I'm interested to find out what I have and what kind of treatment I'll need to have.

I'd like a milkshake, and on the way home we stop for ice cream and milk. Dino mixes one up for me while I fix us scrambled eggs. In the meantime, Don and Mary arrive for a visit, and we chat for an hour until it's time to leave for mass.

Today honors St. Blaise, and the mass is known as the blessing of the throat. Don and Mary leave and Dino walks up to mass. I'm not feeling well enough to go, so Sofi and I stay home and watch T V.

Dino returns with "salutis' " from the neighbors, and we settle in for a quiet night. My throat is sore, but that's to be expected. I'm happy to have the procedure over with, and we both feel very good about the hospital and the quality of the care. I think the procedure cost €45. Multiply that by 100 for what it would cost in the U S...

February 3
In one of the bureaucratic processes that drives Dino nuts, we stop at the Attigliano post office to pay for my biopsy to be done, then with the receipt drive half an hour to the hospital in Orvieto to turn in the receipt.

On Monday, the biopsy will be sent somewhere else for processing, and in ten days or so we'll have the results. Why can't we pay at the hospital? I really have no idea. But we can't.

At the COOP in Orvieto I see a package of cece flour, I assume made of cece beans, or garbanzo beans. I remember reading a recipe somewhere that used this flour, so we pick up a package.

We're really here for Total "0", which is the closest approximation to sour cream that is available in Italy. I'm wanting a crispy baked potato for pranzo with our vegetable soup. Dino opts for a steak with his potato. Some American tastes remain...

Back at home the sun is so bright that temperatures soar. We're in shirtsleeves and vests, working on the terrace. Dino brushes two coats of golo di coniglio on two large canvases. He's getting very comfortable with the process.

Along with a grilled steak and baked potato for Dino and a potato and vegetable soup for me, I mix the cece flour with water and fry up some fritters in a little pan. I've mixed minced rosemarino and added sea salt and grindings of pepper and they are really tasty, especially with the fake sour cream. I love experimenting, and these cece things are worth repeating...

It's time to get the heirloom pomodori seeds from the U S planted, so we take two bricks of coco-peat and mix the fiber in a bucket of water. Once it becomes fluffy, I set it out on the table in front of the kitchen and fill fifty-two full sized pots with the stuff, leaving more peat for...whatever.

Once the pots are full, and I've cleaned off a bit, Dino walks out to the fence and hears "Ciao, Roy!" from the front path. It is the twins, Edoardo and Cristian, and we take Sofi down to say hello. But they're spiritoso (full of energy), and push open the gate and bound up the stairs, then into the front hall, checking out the kitchen and dining room until Dino moves them back outside.

These twins are all over the place like a basketball in motion on a court. Their grand mother calls up to them, but they tell her they're helping me plant seeds. Come no?

I bring out the tiny seeds sitting in a fertilizer and water bath, and show them how to poke a hole in the center of each pot of peat and insert a seed. They like the poking part, but have no patience for the tiny seeds.

Cristian tells me he'll poke while I put in each tiny seed and close up the soil. At least I think it's Cristian. I cannot tell them apart.

Edoardo tries to get Sofi to play ball, and she runs after the ball but they're still a little too wild for her. All the while the grandmother stands in front of Augusta and Maria who are sunning themselves on our little stone bench at the end of the walk, not knowing what to do.

After a while they run down to her. I'm sure she'll give them at least a verbal thrashing. I like these boys very much. They are sweet and fun, although a little rambunctious. I look forward to showing them the plants as they grow. I ask one of them if he likes the life of a contadini and he smiles and tells me he does.

They are just starting to learn English, so Dino asks them how they are and although they are both smart, they're too full of fun to be serious. We'll have fun with them as they learn more and more words...When the granddaughters arrive, we are sure they will be here running around with them. By then they'll know a few more words...

With the pots moved upstairs to the guest bedroom South-facing window, that room is now our internal greenhouse. If Annika stays here in a couple of weeks, she'll undoubtedly stay in our room, unless she really wants to commune with nature. By then there'll be a tableful of plants learning toward the sun...At least we hope there'll be sun...

It's still warm, so we take Pascale's Bull outside with the newly made frame, and I hold it while Dino stretches the canvas around the frame. It really works well, the oil paint dry enough so that it won't come off, but not too dry so that it will chip. The staples are affixed to the back of the frame, so that the sides are painted and become part of the art.

Dino tells me that he has seen frames that are made so that a canvas can sit inside them, so that the edge shows, meaning that none of the front of the canvas is covered up. If we frame Pascale's Bull, we'll want that kind of frame.

Until we decide where to hang it, we lean it above the fireplace against the wall. I think I'll add some shadows to three of the corners, but for now I am happy. That is one painting that will never be sold. It is my first, and I am very proud of it.

It's olive time, and after almost three months in water and sea salt baths, changed about once a week, the olives are ready. So I rinse them off and make a brine of vinegar and water for most of them. They'll sit in a dark spot for a few months.

For two of the jars, I make a marinade of olive oil that is heated and seasoned with minced rosemary, minced thyme, lemon rind, pepperoncini, crushed garlic, crushed peppercorns, mustard and more olive oil. Before the mixture is poured on, I take the side of a large knife and crush each olive a little (some more than a little...sorry) to allow the marinade to sink in.

So the olives are done for the year, the seeds have been started, and I tell Dino that it feels as though this year has "begun"....from now on there will be something to do in the garden, or for the garden, almost every day....

Late next week, Silvano promises to strip and restain our front door, if the weather holds. We wonder what has happened to winter. This morning was very cold, but there is no rain and this afternoon is very warm. And now I read that the White House refuses to do much about global warming...I'm sure that will change...

I've had a sore throat from yesterday's procedure, but Dino bought a very thick solution for me to take three times a day and it is already working. What a guy!

We go to bed early, for tomorrow after church Don and Mary will be here, for a visit to our favorite monthly mercato in Pissignano outside Spoleto. We'll then eat at our favorite restaurant around there, and I'm sure they'll serve ribbollita. This twice-cooked soup famous in Italy and served almost everywhere during the wintertime is made with beans and black cabbage.

Since our vegetable soup is almost finished, I'll make some ribbollita myself this next week. We have some cavolo nero (black cabbage) that we planted this fall, but it is very puny. It must have been planted too late. There are still plenty of leaves, and we'll have enough to make at least one big potful.

February 4
Sure it's cold, but there is plenty of sun, and we're up and walking up to church with our coats open. It is warm for this winter day.

Gigliola greets me inside the door of the little church and tells me that she did not see me in mass on Friday. She is so comfortable with us, knowing that if there is a mass, we'll be there, that she asks. When I tell her about my procedure in the hospital that kept me from attending, she hugs me and tells me she had the same procedure last year and the result was fine.

Hugs all around to Marsiglia, Felice, Candida, and as Rosina passes by I ask her if Sofi has been behaving. She nods that she has, but thinks we've been gone all weekend. I think that watching us from her balcony is one of her favorite pastimes.

I ask her because I want to be sure that Sofi has not been barking "up a storm". I know it is terrible to have a barking dog mouthing off all the time. When the weather is warmer and Sofi is outside more, we'll see...

Right after mass we walk down Via Mameli to find Don and Mary getting out of the car they call the "Lamborgini", a 70's variety cinque-cento. Mary thinks it is made like a tin can, but it does get them around.

With Sofi in the back seat between Mary and me, Dino driving and Donald next to him, we take off to introduce our friends to our favorite monthly mercato in Pissignano, which is located above Spoleto.

I think they're nifty, for I love to use tongs for many things in the kitchen as well as serving, so negotiate the owner down to €8, and wind up paying 50 cents more while he looks for change. I love them, Dino will love them, and we'll use them often. That's the only purchase of the day, although each of us comes close to digging in our pockets a number of times.

There are so many unusual finds at this mercato! I don't see Maggie, who sells antiques here, but Dino does, and introduces Don. Mary and I are lagging behind. We wind up only viewing the things on the right side of the long exhibition, for Dino tells me we should get to the restaurant instead of walking back to the car, so he picks us up. Fa niente.

There is nothing we need. I'm adding interesting picture frames to our searches, along with old easels, for we can stretch and prepare a canvas for just about any size, and interesting frames for my paintings might be interesting. But there's really nothing we need.

We have made reservations at our favorite restaurant outside Spoleto, Da Piero, and really enjoy the meal. Mary and I eat grilled vegetables, I share a pasta with Dino, Mary and Don eat tortellini and Dino eats castrato, which he thinks is just great.

There is a conversation today about parents, and I tell the others that there is so much I want to know about my parents, especially my father. I want to know how they became the people they became as adults, and how they felt about growing "up" and growing older...

It's a curious thing, this interest that many adults have about their departed parents. Perhaps it's a small part of the reason why I write a journal. Some day, perhaps those who come after us will want to know about us, about how we feel, about how we react to certain things that happen in our lives. Or not. If they do, there is a place they can turn to find some answers.

We drive into Spoleto after we're through to find a café for espresso and dolce, and after we're done with that and back in the car, Mary starts to nod her head. So we drive on home. The weather was perfect today and everyone had a great time, especially Sofi, who lies on her side between the two women on the back seat, almost with a smile on her face.

After saying c'è vediamo (see you again) to our good friends, we walk up to Mai Elin's house and have a short visit with her. She'll spend part of the day with us tomorrow, before she returns home to Norway on Tuesday.

After a short spurt of drawing, and an hour or two in front of a roaring fire, we turn in to read. It is so strange that we spend so much time reading, and so little time in front of the T V. We both like it that way.

Before turning in, Sofi and I take a look at the pomodori in their temporary home and say goodnight. No, there's nothing yet to see. We'll let you know when there is...

February 5
On this sunny morning we take Mai Elin to Orvieto with us. Dino takes us for coffee at Frank and Candace's favorite café and we sit with Eva and Sylvia while we down cappuccinos. Dino leaves and Mai and Eva speak away in some kind of language that Swedes and Norwegians use when conversing with each other. Then we take a little walk.

After treating Mai Elin to a few of my favorite secret spots, we run into Dino while Mai Elin is purchasing pecorino to take back to Norway tomorrow. Then we stop at COOP for a few things and I cook up a simple risotto and fix a salad.

Dino takes me to class and then walks with Mai Elin to her garden. He will be supervising a project for her while she's gone to repair some of the garden support walls. Stefano has promised to finish before May. Magari (if only that were so)....

I work on the San Vincenzo painting for the entire class and in the midst of painting learn that I have a new nickname. Marco tells me I am like a train, my painting is so swift. So he calls me the Eurostar, after the Italian train.

The four other women in the class spend most of their time gabbing and standing back to look at what they are doing. I sit or stand at my canvas, totally fixated by the image, not paying attention to anyone. Perhaps that is why I work more quickly than the others.

Marco gives me some helpful guidance here and there, and I like the way we work together. He leaves me alone unless I need help, offering helpful suggestions and showing me how to perfect certain aspects of the craft. There is so much that I want to learn how to do.

Just before I leave, and after I've cleaned all my brushes so that they're immaculate, he looks down at me and asks me what I am going to do for competi (homework). I am the only student who has homework, and it is self-imposed.

He knows I love to draw and paint at home, so I tell him I will work on my drawings and also begin another squash painting. He nods in approval with a big smile. Earlier he approved of the drawing of the friar and showed me how the shepherd needs retooling. Yes, I understand. Mille grazie.

Dino has a cold, and this is the season. He's also signed up for more acupuncture treatments. Not knowing if they've made a difference, his calf feels better, although much of the pain remains. I'm doubtful, but if he's happy with the treatments, that's fine with me.

The cold returns as the sun fades in the winter sky, and although we've had no rain, the weather grows cold enough to freeze tonight. Perhaps rain is on the way.

February 6
With frost on the window, we're off to Orte for a pedicure. I like Giusy quite a bit, and when I arrive at the salon she's in a chair getting her hair colored "sale e pepe" (gray...salt and pepper).

Any day, her daughter-in-law will give birth to her first grand child. So she'll be a nonna, and is delighted. I tell her that it's a good idea that the baby will see her with nonna hair from the beginning. It's a celebration of her new status, and she's thrilled.

We drive to Viterbo to pick up a piece of carta grafita, which is like our carbon paper, but can be erased. I will use it to transfer a design from a sheet of white paper to a canvas. I'm ready to transfer the friar drawing, but the canvas is not ready yet...perhaps in a few days. The first friar drawing is finished and ready to be framed.

Dino also has a little work to do on the larger canvases, and I'm ready to begin another still life of large and smaller zucca (squash). Tomorrow I will do...something...I'm itching to paint.

We drive to Tenaglie for pranzo with Don and Mary at Don's house, and eat in the kitchen in front of their huge roaring fire. On this very cold day it's toasty inside, and pranzo is delightful.

Before we have coffee, Dino takes Don to see one of our newest properties in Tenaglie, and it will be posted by the time you read this. It is a great property for two owners, and can also include, for a very little more, a lovely large mature olive grove.

So for not a lot of money, one or two couples could purchase this property together and use it for vacations, or rentals, with two sets of living quarters, a lovely garden and a panoramic view. €175,000 for both living floors and the garden and €10,000 for a large campo of more than one hundred mature olive trees.

On the way home, we drive to Sipicciano and Daniele is alone, so I have my hair done and later Dino gets his hair and beard trimmed.

We stop off at Sacha's and agree on the design for the dining room vetrina. It will be made to our specifications and won't be ready for three months. In the meantime, perhaps our stash of ceramica will dwindle...

The garden must be happy, for we've had rain in Mugnano, but not very much rain, so I'm hoping for more in the next few days. The garden really needs a good soaking.

With not a peep from the pomodori, I spray with C-spray and move them around under the fluorescent tube in the South-facing window. It will be a week or more until any green appears. We've started early, but that's a good idea. Now we have only to wait...

February 7
There is a mix of sun and clouds this morning, but I'm hoping for rain. A friend asks if our winters are gray and drizzly. This year I'd answer no. I think of New England winters as grey, with no leaves on the trees and a feeling of barrenness, the soil rock-solid, the land as stiff and stubborn as the character of many of its inhabitants. But I suppose that is the New England I remember from childhood.

Here in this part of Italy, there are many oak trees, so many umber-brown leaves remain on the trees throughout the winter. I think it is an interesting phenomenon that oak trees, at least oak trees here in Italy, do not shed their leaves in the wintertime.

How would I characterize winter here? Ochre and shades of gray and caffé latte brown, tufa and stone and evergreen cypress and laurel, if we are speaking about colors. When the sky is clear, it is often what I call a catholic blue; that pale blue depicted in religious paintings of the catholic churches I visited as a youth, with pale clouds drifting by, their smokiness adding texture and drama. I think attitude "colors" the scene, especially in wintertime, hence the joyous description.

We're at home until noon, then drive to pick up Don and Mary in Tenaglie and take them to the train station in Attigliano for their trip back to England. We sense a little sadness in their eyes, for this has been a delightful week for them, the coldness of the weather not dissipating their joy in living a week as quasi-Italians.

After taking them right to the binario where they wait for the train, we drive home and Dino notices that Mary left a bracelet in the back of the car. There is plenty of time, so he drives back to the station.

Now that little rope bracelet is surely an omen, for after Dino gives Mary the bracelet and starts to drive off he notices a death notice next to the station. Arterio Perla, the man who owned Don's house and sold it to him, died yesterday at the hospital in Amelia. I say that the bracelet is an omen, for we had several times to see the notice, but it takes until Dino returns a second time to the station to find it.

Dino stops and walks back to tell Don and Mary the news. Arterio was a dear man and we'll surely attend the funeral in Attigliano tomorrow. We know that Don and Mary would have attended if they could have stayed. But the train arrives and they're on their way.

We want to make sure that Maria, the next door neighbor in Tenaglie, hears the news, but we do not have her telephone number. A few hours later Giuseppa rings the doorbell to give us the news, and we tell her that we have seen the notice.

We knew that Arterio suffered from leukemia, and unfortunately had a painful last few days. His dear wife, Fernanda, has not been able to leave the house in Attigliano for all the time Don has owned the Tenaglie property, so we don't imagine we'll see her tomorrow. If we don't, we'll go to the house to pay our respects.

Dino and I stretch two more canvases at home, and he paints gesso on the two older canvases. One is ready for me to paint, and I think it's time to paint a cape again, so a magenta cape will be what I will paint tomorrow. I outline the cape, and painting it will be fun.

This canvas is be twice as large as Pascale's Bull, and I don't know right now if I will paint anything in addition to the cape. Let's see how it looks by itself. I'd love to paint the dressed arm of a bullfighter, but don't really want to paint a sword coming out from under the cape.

I'm not a fan of violence, so although I love the fabulous costumes of matadors, don't think I want to represent my art in a way that glorifies violence.

Silvano Spaccese is due to arrive tomorrow morning to refinish the front door, but later in the evening it begins to rain, so we will see if he arrives, and if he'll want to work. Regardless, I will paint in the kitchen after breakfast.

We receive an email about possible doctors, and think the general doctor the woman suggests will be fine. We'll call to make an appointment to meet him soon. But the gynecologist is another story.

I have to go to a clinic at Belcolle hospital next Tuesday to find the "prof." and can't tell if it's a man or a woman. Then I hope to have a meeting to see if I want that person to be my gynecologist. Sigh. I understand why many people don't visit doctors at all...

February 8
Well, it's clear this morning and Silvano arrives, 45 minutes late but at least he arrives. Sun warms the front terrace, so he's able to work here in just a sweater.

The process to refinish the front doors is quite simple, or so I think. It begins with a thorough sanding of the doors, which he completes one at a time. He just has to refinish the fronts of the doors, for the backs are fine. After he finishes sanding the fronts, we notice that some repair work needs to be done. So he tells us he'll go to Viterbo this afternoon to pick up some special product to fill in the spaces and make the repairs.

That's just as well, for we have Arterio's funeral at 2:30. So we eat pranzo and then drive to the next town to the funeral service. The church is a modern church, and although not our style, seems to work well. The pews are set at angles to the center of the front of the church, probably the priest's style. Several marble figures grace the altar, and although they're modern they appear to be quite well done.

Now that I'm reading The Agony and The Ecstacy for the second time, I'm interested in studying marble sculpture. The sculpture to the right of the altar is that of a tall young woman, and she holds the tabernacle inside a glass box, with carved marble in the design of a piece of cloth lifted up to unveil the treasure beneath. I don't know what I think of it.

The service is very slow, probably because the priest seems to be suffering greatly. Either he was a great friend of Arterio's and his death moved him greatly, or he is ill. He speaks very quietly, and talks to us for about twenty minutes before the actual service even begins.

This is our first Italian funeral mass outside Mugnano, and except for a few of our Mugnano friends, who are mostly Arterio's family, everyone seems to be from Attigliano.

We drive home after the mass, and Dino brushes a layer of glue on one of the large canvases. There is much prep work to do on the canvases.

Earlier today I began a second cape painting, this one in magenta, but I'm not happy with the surface of the canvas, which shows some lines that won't absorb the paint easily. We'll have to take the canvas to Marco on Monday to see what he thinks.

I draw the outlines of the cape and then paint, with dark blue serving as the shadows and magenta as the front of the cape. It comes out quite well, so I think I have mastered the basics of the cape design. Once this painting is done I'll probably move on to something else. But I need some advice on the shadowing, for I'm using dark blue and then magenta for the bright areas of the cape.

Dino prints out the paint chart of the colors that we purchase at our art store, as well as the key. There are three types of colors: transparent, semi transparent and opaco (opaque). Marco has not explained which types of paints to use when or where. So knowing that will help us in our purchasing of the paints. We'll take that on Monday for an explanation.

The more paintings I see, the more I want to paint faces and hands and feet. But I'll leave those ideas for now, sticking to the capes and zucca and other still lifes to paint at home and San Vincenzo at Marco's workshop.

February 9
Yes, we need the rain, so we'll have to wait for Silvano to finish the front door. At least the old dark stain has been removed.

Something is not right with the canvas I am painting on; either the paint I am using is not correct, or the canvas needs more layers of gesso and glue. So after an hour or so of frustration, I stop painting for today.

Instead, this is a day to clean, to reorganize the dining room and the guest bedroom. Dino is out shopping and searching for things; he certainly is a hunter-gatherer type and looks for any excuse to be out in the car.

I've soaked cannellini beans, and will make ribbollita, the famous Tuscan soup, but need swiss chard, so when Dino returns I'll make the soup. It will need to meld its flavors for a day, so tomorrow we'll have the first of it.

There's no swiss chard around, so although we cook the beans, we'll look around tomorrow to see if we can find it. If not, we'll improvise.

We meet new friends, from the U S and Australia, and show them around the area, including one property. We have more to show them next week, and perhaps they'll find something they love. Even in the rain the area looks good. I think wintertime is a good time to look at properties, for with no leaves on the trees it's easier to see everything.

I'm hoping Dino will work on the newer canvases tomorrow morning, for I've set the cape canvas aside until Marco takes a look at it on Monday.

February 10
The forecast is for rain and dark skies. We have the dark skies, but no rain. We even have some sun mid day, which gives me the chance to work on the roses. It's a long process, but I'm happy to have finished six plants today. Bit by bit, I'll have them all cut back and ready for spring.

Dino kindly works on three canvases, adding glue and then sitting them out in the sun to dry. I am so itching to paint, but there are no canvases ready, and the one that I have started on needs some guidance from Marco.

Today is the day to fix ribbollita, that twice-cooked soup famous in Tuscany and actually all over Italy in the winter time. Cooked in the big copper pot, and left to chill in the loggia overnight, we'll have it served over toasted bread drizzled with olive oil tomorrow.

This is the first time I've made this dish, which is really not a soup after all, but a kind of "pap", very thick and nourishing. There are plenty of vegetables left over, so I'll fix something else in a day or two with one half a Savoy (dark) cabbage, half a bunch of swiss chard, one huge leek, a carrot and celery.

After pruning roses, I clip back a large fragrant geranium, taking the cuttings and throwing them on the burn pile, while Sofi gambols across the far property. It is warm, and filtered sun streams across the grass. I stand out there for awhile, pondering San Rocco, the fallen wall, the olive trees...

After all our planning, we won't purchase trees this year because of the damage to the ancient front wall near San Rocco. We don't want to plant anything out in the far property until the area is stabilized. I'd still love two apple trees on the front terrace, but we'll just move the plum tree and cut up the nespola...we have two others.

Angie comes by for a visit and to return a book, and it's always great to see her. We walk down the path to meet her, and Sofi is head over heels thrilled to see her. But after Angie comes into the house and sits with a mug of tea, Sofi looks at me in a worried way.

The little dog puts her little head on my hand, telling me she does not want me to leave. As much as she loves Angie, her arrival usually means we'll be going for awhile. Not this time, little one.

February 11
Today, after a week in fertilized soil, the day begins with seven tiny green shoots rising from the pomodori plants in the guest bedroom. But the time we're getting ready for bed at midnight, the count has risen to sixteen!

Now two of the plants have two shoots, and I find it hard to believe that there were two seeds in each of those pots, but who knows? At some point, we'll have to separate the plants, but not yet....it's a great beginning.

February 12
By the end of the day, we have twenty-five little shoots. But as we go to bed the wind is howling and sheets of rain pound against the window. It is cold.

Earlier in the day Silvano spent a few hours on the doors, despite cold wind and smatterings of rain. With Dino in Orvieto for an acupuncture treatment, I introduce Silvano to a Mag Light...one of those wonderful long flashlights. He's simply amazed, and wants to unscrew it to find out if it takes regular batteries, or is one of those strange wind-up kinds the Italians use.

After Dino's return, we load up two canvases in the car and take them to Marco. The canvases meet his approval, but the magenta paint on the cape does not. The color is a transparent color, and he shows me that on the list of paint colors.

It's not a problem. He recommends that I begin by painting the entire canvas white and then reapplying the magenta. These transparent colors just won't work on an unpainted surface.

I work for the entire session on San Vincenzo, concentrating on the village houses and the Palazzo Orsini. The palazzo was depicted wrongly in the painting as one flat surface, instead of a perspective of five differing angles. Marco sits with me to advise me how to redraw the building to obtain the proper prospective. It looks much better.

By the time Dino arrives later to pick me up, I've finished painting all the pepperino bricks at the base of the village and Palazzo Orsini. Later I surmise that many or all of the bricks were really tufa, but Dino tells me this is to be my artist's interpretation. I will think about it.

February 13
Thirty tiny green shoots greet us this morning in the guest bedroom window, including one that is grey and may not make it. But we will have plenty for a good crop of pomodori this year...sicuro (surely)!


After a rainy night the skies are clear, but Silvano will not be here to work on the front doors. He is going to the hospital in Orvieto for some medical appointment.

We drive to Viterbo to find this Prof. Dott. Palla in Bel Colle hospital. He/she is somehow connected with the Gynecology and Obstetrics Department of the hospital, and Dottoressa Natalini in Viterbo suggested that we contact him/her. We have been looking for a gynecologist for me who is "in the system", so that we won't have to pay privately for care.

Not knowing who this person is, we ask in the Ambulatorio and find out that we are looking for a man, and he is located on another floor of this enormous building, a building constructed so poorly years ago that it looks as if it will fall over in a major wind storm. We are undeterred.

Upon reaching the department, we are told that he will return this afternoon at 3PM. So we drive home for a pranzo of ribbollita, which tastes very good when it is reheated, just as the name indicates. Ribollita means reboiled, and the melding of all the ingredients improves day by day.

We return at 3PM, and after a comedy of errors in locating his office, are ushered in almost without any wait at all. The Prof. is a tiny little bird of a man with a handsome mane of short white hair and the usual white coat.

Sitting down as if he's cemented to the chair, he looks up at me and asks me what I want. I show him Dottoressa's email, and he only wants to know my name so that he can scribe it onto the open page of his book.

When I ask him if he speaks English he replies with a somewhat blank expression on his face..."Yes. I speak excellent Italian!" I tell him that I need a gynecologist and with the same straight face he raises his arms as if to shout. In a gust of energy reminiscent of Peter Sellers in one of his movies he exclaims,

"I"

am a gynecologist!

He writes his office and cellular phone numbers down on a piece of paper and hands it to me as if to say, "So THERE!" And so it is that Prof. Palla becomes my gynecologist, as he bows with a flourish and motions to his examining "chair" so that he can examine me.

When the short exam is over, he writes something down on a piece of paper and hands it to me, this time with his hand on my shoulder and a smile on his face as if to tell me that now we are great friends. E fatto! (It is done!)

With plenty of time before our meeting with the geometra in Guardea, we drive to Sofi's vet in Viterbo for her annual rabies shot. We are somehow in luck here, for the first time. There is only one woman waiting, and we're able to take care of Sofi's needs in just a few minutes.

Before we are through, however, we do tell the vet that his recommendation of Scooby Do for Sofi's hair stripping last fall was a mistake. The price, and exorbitant €50 for one hour of grooming was certainly "highway robbery". He gives us another name, and perhaps we'll just return to Marielisa Zanmatti's near Rome after all.

We have a successful meeting with Antonio, the geometra, who is easy to understand. I sit back and watch the two men play with the three bids and pour through the information to determine answers to critical questions. They like one muratore, who is the lowest bidder and can also begin soon. It is like magic.

The permit is ready, we'll email our client tonight and Dino will "pull" the permit later this week in Montecchio. The project we have been itching to start will begin!

Dino likes working with this geometra and we're looking forward to this interesting project, restoring an old house and making it livable for its new owners, who will arrive mid June and expect to sleep in their own bed...Sicuro! We feel very good about the schedule.

Tomorrow is Valentine's Day, and if all goes as planned, we will drive to Terni to do a few errands. Saint Valentine is Terni's patron saint, so perhaps we will have pranzo at an Indian restaurant there. Each year, hundreds of couples get married at Chiesa San Valentino in Terni. Perhaps we'll check out some of the festivities....

February 14
Forty is today's number of tiny pomodori plants. With only fifty-two pots, that's an excellent number, with the possibility that we'll have more in a few days.

Today is the most beautiful day of this quasi-winter, with sun raising it's bright banner all over the Tiber Valley. We're up early, Silvano arrives to work on the doors in the warm sun, Dino drives to Tenaglie to measure for windows and doors, and Sofi and I take our walk, all before mid morning.

After turning the corner at Aqua Puzza, we walk about fifty meters and are met by the most wonderful sight of Pepe and his Uncle Pepe walking up the hill with Ubik bouncing beside them.

The sight of Pepe the Younger conjures up a painting as my eyes flash on today's raccolta (harvest). An enormous hand-made basket sits against his shoulder, mounted on a hand-carved wooden pole. Wearing tall boots and a short grey jacket, the colors of the radicchio, bieta, cavolo, ciccoria and assorted greens are a photograph, just waiting to be taken. But I am without a camera.

Sofi rushes down the strada bianca to sniff at Ubik, race around her friends, and collect a big hug from her pal, Pepe. The men walk up to meet me and I look into the basket, the greens fresh and dewy and glossy.

"I am the supermercato today," Pepe tells me. He's going home to wash them all and to make a tasty pranzo. I wish we could join them.

I turn around to watch the two men and their little dog walk steadily up the hill, the shadows reflecting off the white stones beneath their feet. I ache to paint Pepe with the basket over his shoulder, his little dog at his feet.

The road near Felice's campo is muddy, but I follow Sofi as she navigates around the mud, searching here and there for patches of green. We reach Stein's, and I begin to think of how wonderful it will be for our friends to return to our village. We'll have to let them know about the Festa della Donne. They'll be here for it, and it will be fun to have them join us.

Around the bend Pepe the Elder's wife, Giuseppa, is trying on a jacket, for today is Mugnano's market day, if you could call it that. Only the man with the clothes and the porchetta truck are here, for the vedura trucks come on other days. It's good to have a little today, a little tomorrow. Mugnano spreads the events around so that there is something to do here almost every day.

Elisa stands with her cane against Natalino's scaffolding, and I think she is enjoying the sun. But as I come up to her she wants to talk, wants to cry.

She is so sad, with one eye operated on two years ago with problems, and a cataract in her other eye. She can hardly see. Life is very difficult for her these days, and she tells me about one son long dead in the cemetery and her husband dead eight years ago.

I think she is telling me she is ready to join them. I put my hand on her shoulder and tell her I am sorry for her sadness. She is a very sweet woman.

Sofi and I walk back home, and all is bright and joyful when we reach the terrace. But Elisa is on my mind. So I search for the basket of lavender wands, and pick out a bright one. Then I take Sofi in my arms to walk down the parcheggio steps to return to her.

But she is standing at the edge of the parcheggio, and I take her over to our little stone benches at the beginning of our walk and we sit in the sun and talk.

I show her how to rub her hands over the wand, releasing the fragrant oils of the lavender, and hope it will bring her some comfort.

She's happy to sit here, and wants to tell me that her uncle was Celestino Natale, the man who built our house in 1935. She confirms that he died in 1940 and no, she does not have any photographs.

But she tells us that there were many sheep in the valley, and cheese was sold in Chia that everyone said was made in Mugnano. But Elisa laughs and tells me that no, it was always made in Chia.

These days Vincenzo has sheep and makes cheese, but we don't know who the shepherd is who grazes his sheep in the far valley. We hear their bells clanking, their bleating, on warm winter days such as these. I tell her c'e veddiamo as she slowly returns up the hill to her house.

Dino wants to drive to Terni for pranzo and to see if we can celebrate a mass at Chiesa San Valentino this afternoon. But we're waiting to hear from a client to show them Donatella's house on their way out of town. And Silvano wants to return this afternoon to put a second coat of stain on the front doors. They really look wonderful.

Tomorrow he wants to paint the sealer, and if we're not around this afternoon that will be all right, too. We're curious to see what Terni makes of their patrono, or patron saint, San Valentino, and have been told that on this day in Terni hundreds of marriages take place. What else?

But first we're going to feast on Indian food at Maharajah, and although we arrive late with no reservations, the restaurant is practically empty. The food is delicious, with strong spices of India exploding like tiny stars in our mouths. It's a heavenly pranzo, but then we're easy to please when it comes to non-Italian fare.

Stores seem locked and dark and we assume that it's because it's still pranzo time. So we get back in the car to drive to Coop and Coop and find...it's closed! We look at each other and realize that everything is closed today. It is Terni's festa day in honor of their patrono! What is wrong with us?

We're curious to see what happens at Chiesa San Valentino, so drive there to find a carnevale-like setting with vendors selling huge balloons and plastic toys everywhere we look. Nothing interesting appears to be happening. Let's go home and let Silvano work on the doors....

The sky overhead is now menacing, which assures us that rain is on the way. But it's dry enough for Silvano to apply a first coat of stain and to work on the transom.

Once he leaves, Dino climbs up on a ladder and paints the iron curlicues that guard the transom. He's able to paint them from both directions, with the window itself set on saw horses to be finished.

We leave to check out a new source for windows and doors for our client project, and come away with a couple of interesting catalogues. But we'll do some comparison pricing with other vendors we've worked with in the past before recommending anything.

The most challenging issue will be the doors and windows. Universally in Italy, window and door openings need to be finished before any windows and doors are ordered. For each one is made to measure. It is very different than specifying in the U S. We don't have the specific dimensions yet, and can't have the muratore work around them. And the lead time is sixty days. Magari....

Luckily, the permit is ready, the contractor is ready to begin in a week or so, and the basic walls of the house are in place, so we can specify that the window and door openings are an immediate priority. That will give us plenty of time for their delivery...Yes, that's me with my fingers crossed.

The starry skies of last night are covered with clouds, and we drive home to gear up for a very interesting project. Now Dino will have something he can sink his teeth into while I continue to paint.

February 15
Forty four pomodori sprouts search for light on this dark morning. Dino drives to Orvieto for his acupuncture treatment and I work on a pastel of a friar. I do not like working in pastels (chalk). It is messy and the results are never what I can achieve with oils. After an hour, I set it aside to think about it...

We have made our reservations for our fall trip to California, including reserving Angie to stay with Sofi and take care of the house. We have enough "miles" for a few more trips, and then...who knows?

Silvano arrives to work on the front doors, but it is overcast, so he does not stay for long. We drive to Viterbo for our first meeting with our prospective new general doctor. This one speaks excellent English, and even studied for an advanced degree at Yale. He's a very smart fellow, and appears to be an excellent diagnostician.

We have been spoiled in San Francisco by Doctors Keroes and Geoffrey Quinn, and in Mugnano by Dottoressa Onofri. But now we think this new doctor will be up to the task. He spends one hour with us (!) and has some very good ideas about my hernia and my migraines. On our next visit, he'll spend time with Dino to go over his sciatica problems.

With new medicine to take, even before the biopsy results are returned, we agree to return with the results and also my records from the Perugia migraine center. We leave there relieved, and drive to ASL where we officially transfer to this new doctor.

In Italy, in the state medical system, one registers with a doctor, and the doctor is paid for his patient load by the state. But if one wants to change doctors, he/she need to file their change request with ASL, the state health department office, and receive confirmation, which can be done at the same time.

Yes, we've safely navigated more Italian bureaucracy, and are feeling quite confident that we understand at least the medical goings on of this remarkable country where we choose to live.

February 16
Today we have forty-seven little pomodori shoots, and we have sun, and we have birds! The ucelli have returned for the year, as they compete with each other for who has the loudest chirp.

We're driving to the Tenaglie property to make accurate measurements of existing doors and windows, do an inventory of what's there to decide what to throw away and what to keep, in advance of our Monday night meeting with the muratore who is to begin to work very soon.

What treasures we have found! We waited for a good day with sun to comb through the last of the dark rooms in the ground floor, and have come up with some wonderful items for our clients, to add character and charm to their already special house.

We have a false start, due to the recommendation of the geometra, that there are plenty of ready-made windows and shutters available at Castorama, a kind of Home Depot in Italy. Not true. Ordering their windows and shutters takes a ninety-day lead time. Yikes!

This is a lovely property, and while waiting for Dino I begin to clip the few roses on the front of the property. These are old hearty roses, and we're sure will be in full bloom in June, just when they need to be!

We're ready for the project to begin, for demolition to begin, and once that happens we'll get to see what the "bones" of the house look like, and if there will be any exposed stones internally. We hate to leave, but have other things to accomplish...like picking up my biopsy report at the Orvieto hospital.

Biopsy is a frightening word. It is used often in Italy, where the word "culture" would suffice just fine. When we're finally able to see Dottoressa Franciosini, she tells me everything is perfect, and I have only to continue my existing course of medical treatment. What a relief!

February 17
Forty-eight pomodori raise up toward today's bright sun, and we're going on an adventure!

The day is cool but we're prepared, and pick up Duccio and Giovanna in Bomarzo, then drive to Clittuno to visit an ancient church.

While there, we look down upon a sorgente (spring) and a four-star hotel complex, complete with a white and a black swan, who swim back and forth for our viewing entertainment. Perhaps the white swan is Anita Ekberg reincarnated. See below for the explanation...

Sofi is especially captivated. Here she is trying to get the best view:


Staying on the road, we drive to Trevi, and we ask Duccio and Giovanna the significance of the Fontana di Trevi. I thought that the stones were shipped from Trevi, but they tell us that the water is from Trevi, from the sorgenti (stream), where we just visited. So we are told that a part of the film, La Dolce Vita was filmed nearby...

We return to our favorite nearby restaurant, DaPiero, where we have reservations. The corner table has been saved for us, and we are all happy.

Dino gets his liver crostini, Duccio has a special omelet, Dino and Giovanna eat a castrato (tender meat from a castrated (ouch!) lamb, and I have tagliatelle al tartufo (with truffles). For dolce, I eat a marvelous ricotta torte, and it's so light that I want to find a recipe and make it myself. It's served with berries.

Dino eats little fried pop-in-the-mouth sweets for carnevale, called castagnetti, but they are not made with chestnut flour. I don't find them particularly tasty, but then these are only served once a year.

We call the restaurant Da Piero, but when we're served coffee, it comes with sugar packets that have drawings of "Al Palazzaccio da Piero". The owner is making fun of the building, calling it a kind of run down palace, which we suppose it is. We like it very much, just the same. On the way out, we show our friends the wonderful pergola in the back, where we eat often during warmer months.

Soon we'll be able to eat outside, for it's possible that we will not have a winter at all That is quite frightening, don't you think?

We love the meal, and are all tired. So Dino drives us home and we wish our friends a happy weekend, planning our next trip soon.

February 18
"Forty-nine!" Dino exclaims at the end of the day. He is as excited as I am at the great "turnout" of pomodori shoots. I can't help smiling.

Early in the day we woke to a dreary cold sky, but did not think to take umbrellas to mass. Don Renzo officiated today, and he spoke so clearly that I could understand most of what he was saying.

Today is the mass of loving one's fellow man, and it's a good use of the Italian vernacular. "Sbagliato" means "wrong", but the use of "s" before a word makes it a negative; think of .

Righting a wrong is what I'm left with today, and I find myself wanting to look at people in a more charitable way, not judging them at all. It is a good thing to practice "for lent", and we are almost there. After mass, we ask Don Renzo if he'll come to the festa della donne cena, and he responds by telling us that it is held during quaresima, or lent, so of course he won't come.

Mauro and Dino and I look at each other and roll our eyes in unison. What are we doing putting on a dinner during quaresima? We are acting as a quasi-committee of the church as the festarolo committee, but admit we had no idea this was not a good thing.

So if not during quaresima, when would the festa in honor of the women be held? Is that why "Mother's Day" in American is held in May?

We're sticking to our plans, but as we walk across the piazza to begin our monthly festarolo giro, we are surprised by rain. I'm sure we're being punished like school children. Livio rushes home and brings out umbrellas for each of us, and we commence our giro, not deterred.

Since today is both Giustino and Felice's birthday, with Giustino reaching 95 and Felice 83, we send wishes home with Maria for Giustino and bring a bottle of wine for Felice.

Once up Felice and Marsiglia's steep stairs, we see Marsiglia in great form, for ten days ago she was operated on for cataracts in both eyes, and now sees very well.

We find Felice as happy as ever, and leave with hugs for them both. As we walk across the village on our way home later, we greet Renzo, their son, who we are sure is here to help them to celebrate Felice's special day.

The giro seems to take forever, for there are three things to speak with neighbors about; regular monthly donations, reservations for the Festa Della Donne dinner in March, and a list of people in the village who have an interest in gaining high speed internet access.

We need thirty houses to sign up, and have a way to go. But we are moving forward, and will furnish the names and phone numbers to Shelly, who is the "capo" of this undertaking. If anyone can make this happen, she can.

I somehow conjure up a risotto and salad for pranzo; then we heat up a budino di kaki for Mary Jane Cryan. She is giving a talk in a private Vetralla museum about the history of stranieri (foreigners) in Italy, so we take it to her and tell her to keep it for herself.

This is the first time Dino has seen her house, and it is magnificent, with enormous rooms and ancient artifacts wherever we turn. After meeting a number of new English-speaking residents and friends of Mary Jane's, we walk to the museum and are treated to a talk by our friend. She thrives on educating people about the treasures of our area, Tuscia. Give her web site a look: elegantetruia.com.

Rain lasts for most of the day, and we return home to do some work on the restoration project, redrawing rooms and talking about ideas. Tomorrow night we meet with the geometra and muratore to schedule the start of the work for our friends; work that must be finished before June 15th....magari!

Sofi is ill, throwing up and not doing well at all. I keep her near me and we go to bed early. I'm not doing all that well, either.

February 19
The day is lost to a headache, and Sofi and I spend the day in repose...The headache lasts into tomorrow...

Dino meets with the geometra and the muratore, a rock star looking Albanian with black curly hair down to the middle of his shoulders. He works with his three brothers; each has a specialty, and the brothers have done fine work for the geometra and others in the area. I look forward to meeting them.

The project will begin this next week with the roof finished before the rest of the work commences. "What if there is rain?" Arshi the lead muratore asks, concerned about his deadline and penalty clause.

Dino responds, "Once the roof is on, you won't have any problems, for you'll be working inside..." So they all agree to proceed as-is. Let's hope that the next two weeks are clear...

Sofi is ill, throwing up and not feeling well. All during the night she is sick and we're surely worried. Perhaps Dino should cancel his car appointment for maintenance and we should take her to the vet. But there's not much the vet can do, so he leaves and Sofi and I take it easy.

By the time Dino returns she is more lively, and with each hour she gets better.

February 20
My art workshop has been moved to today, and although I'm not completely better I really want to paint. Since it is "Fat Tuesday", the day before lent begins, I bring a warm budino di kaki and it is a big hit. There is no one who does not like this dessert. Sicuro!

I work mostly on painting the Orsini palazzo, for it is this part of the painting with the rest of the village that will receive the most scrutiny. It is also interesting to paint, thinking about what life was like in this village a few hundred years ago.

February 21
We hear from Mitch Woods that he's returning for a week for a couple of "gigs", so perhaps we'll see him. I cut back the plumbago, and take a half-hearted attempt at clipping more roses. I am less and less interested in the details of the garden, wanting more gravel, less earth (weeds), more pots of box and more of a French classic style.

I'm somewhat better, after a lot of sleep and quiet, and think it's time to return to the living. So I get up and go to the doctor in Viterbo with Dino. We are holding at 49 little pomodori shoots, with several of them two-in-a-pot, so as soon as they are a little stronger, I will divide them. We have room for 52 plants, so this should be an excellent heirloom harvest year. Speriamo!

The doctor answers our prayers. We did not think we would find anyone as fine a diagnostician as Geoffrey Quinn in San Francisco, and this doctor speaks excellent English. He is intellectually curious, and also sounds as though he's very current of new medical concepts and ideas.

He wants to spend half an hour on each of us next time...This is totally amazing...in ANY country. And for this we pay less than €400 a year for the two of us.

After our short appointment, Dino takes me to the local Superconti, a chain of grocery stores. It is very large and full of variety. So we slowly walk the aisles, picking up things we would not ordinarily purchase. An Asian rice salad, a glass vase for €2, tiny ceramic cups for the nipotini when they come for a visit...

When driving up the Mugnano hill we see that Loredana and Alberto have arrived for a visit. They have not been here since before Christmas, so we hope that we see them this afternoon at mass. If not, it's because Lore is "cleaning, cleaning...".

When Lore comes to clean, she cleans every inch of the house from the top of the ceilings into each corner and closet, each piece of silver...If only I could find the same joy in cleaning that I do in painting. I suppose I am my mother's daughter after all...

Today is the mass of the cenere, and I remember last year that Don Luca sprinkled the ashes on top of my head. This was a great disappointment, for I loved seeing the ashes on my forehead. I'll let you know what happens at today's mass...

It's now late evening, and I can recount that the "dusting" of cenere, or ashes, is possibly forever going to be on the top of one's head. I'll have to ask dear Don Francis about that.

The mass was otherwise uneventful, except for Giulia and Federico who acted as altar servers in their white robes, rimmed in red. They are, well, adorable, wide-eyed and unselfconscious as Don Luca goes about his tasks at the altar. Tiny Andrea sits with his grandmother, talking away, fascinated by his friends. Perhaps in a few years he will join them.

And then I think that Andrea is about the age of Marissa and Nicole, and we wonder what it will be like for the twins to meet the children of our village. I think Dino wants to have a barbecue, for we think they'll arrive for a week in June instead of May and it will be warm and fun to be outside.

There is so much to look forward to.

February 22
With Dino in Orvieto for his acupucture treatment, Sofi and I stay at home and I work on painting the magenta cape. It is big and dramatic....

We're doing kitchen and bathroom research and specifying, so drive south to Orsolini. We meet with Alessandro and run into Alberto, who walks around with us. He's worked there for a week. It's a good job for him, and we're happy to make contact with him again.

Back at home, Dino takes Silvano to Stein's to look at the outdoor lighting problem. We're hoping he'll repair the whole lighting system before Stein and Helga return in ten days or so. it will be SO GREAT to see them!

My shoulders ache in a kind of headachy pain, so Sofi and I go to bed early with an ice pack.

We're not expecting to sign the construction contract tomorrow, for the geometra has not sent us the original in Italian. We need to translate it and get it to Merritt for his review before we sign it. So we're hoping it won't move the project back.

With assurances from the geometra that all is fine and we will meet on Tuesday to sign, we receive the contract and translate it.

February 23
Oh how I miss our old friend, Jim Bolen. The years we worked together in his interior design business were full of hilarity, inspiration and learning. I think of him often, of course with a smile, or is it a smirk?

Today we drive to Tenaglie and on a walk in front of the little general store, we pass by a man and wife sitting on the front steps of a beautiful stone building across the street. We acknowledge each other and he asks Dino if he is a real estate agent. Dino explains that he is a "procacciatore di affare" or "hunter for properties" and before we know it he's asked us to sell his house for him.

The house consists of about 360 square meters of space on three floors, with a wonderful view, back garden with forty olive trees and a couple of outbuildings, including a former pig sty.

Why is it that these "former" animal buildings conjure romantic notions? I suppose once they've been fumigated the old stone sinks and angular spaces convert exceptionally well to what an American or English person thinks of as an Italian casale, or farmhouse.

Actually, this house was built just after the war, and the wife was born in the house. She is ill and unable to climb the stairs, so wants to find a smaller place, an apartment, perhaps, all on one floor. But first their house must be sold.

Back to the house we are working on, we clean out any remainders in the house, and move any things we want to save to a locked room in the back. We open up all the windows and take a fresh look at the windows, and make some adjustments to our earlier plans.

On the way back, we take a few detours across rolling hills and white roads. Coming across a VENDUTO sign on a little cotto roofed building, we ask around and come up with possibly two more properties. We're on a roll. But at the bottom of the hill we decide to visit the fallegname, or wood-worker, to see if he wants to quote on the windows and doors. We'd prefer to give the business to someone locally.

The two brothers are friendly and their little Jack Russell Terrier, Leo, is friendlier yet. A four-month old puppy, he runs circles around Sofi, who takes a while to want to romp around with him. We'll return in a few days for their quotes, and for Sofi to have another visit. Leo is lonely, with no dogs around to play with, so perhaps they'll become "an item".

"Findanzata"? one of the brothers looks at me hopefully, referring to his hope that Sofi will become Leo's girlfriend. I shrug my shoulders in Italian fashion and smile. Sofi has a mind of her own and will have to decide for herself.

We eat a delightful pranzo of a fish pasta at the local trattoria, then come home. With a "buttermilk" sky reminiscent of my New England girlhood, I am sure that stormy weather is on the way. Let's hope it arrives and leaves before Wednesday, when the muratores begin to work on the Tenaglie roof...

February 24
Today there is a little work in the garden. But just a little. Tia chides me at pranzo that I'm a month late clipping the roses. Well, most of them are done, but there are a few monsters, like the Madame Alfred Carriere, that take a lot of work. Sigh.

I admit I love our property, and our garden, but am so tired of the darn weeds and the constant maintenance in the summer time during the hottest days of the year. So we've agreed to put down more gravel and nursery cloth and delete some of the plants.

We're calling it a little "natural selection", for some of the lavender are not going to survive, and we're no longer going to worry about the precise lavender bed in precise rows. I always wondered about them; why they appeared as one giant flowery mound when in full bloom instead of the graceful long rows of lavender we've seen in France. No matter.

Sarah did a masterful job putting our initial garden in place. Since she's a big fan of making gardens simpler, I think she'll be pleased that we're going to simplify ours yet again.

Provence is ever on my mind when I think of our garden. I thought "formal Italianate" was the style of garden I dreamed about. And now I realize it's more of a formal French provencal garden that makes my heart soar.

Gravel, gravel everywhere, with box, box and more box in rounds and ovals, a few viburnum, a few smatterings of roses (well, I guess there are a lot of roses), rambling and undulating around trees and a few in pots, stachy's big ears in mounds on the ground, a pergola or two, banks of iris in the wilder areas, a number of graceful olive trees amid a wild grassy area just in front of San Rocco and that's about it.

Silvano will arrive one of these days to help us to lay out the nursery cloth in the lavender garden and poke the plants through, then add more gravel and perhaps even add more nursery cloth and gravel. "Weeds begone!" is the cry of the gardener, and we're hoping they'll be easier to control in this fashion.

Today we are invited to NonnaPappa for pranzo. It is Alan and Wendy's goodbye pranzo, and they surely added a lot of charm to the local stranieri group these past five years.

I comment to Wendy that in ten years, she'll be sitting with her grand children, saying, "Your grandfather and I spent a lovely interlude for five years in Italy..." We will remember them fondly and wish them every happiness. And now Alan is ready to tackle another building project, another grand garden, in their new home in Perth, Australia.

Terence calls, and we'll see the four of them on June 15th for about a week, after a week in Macedonia. What a time we will have! Now that we know their dates, we can plan outings, events, visits with friends. And I must not forget the angel costumes with fluttery wings that I told myself I would make for them.

Dino will be working on another restoration project in Amelia this spring, and our lives continue to be full and happy. With renewed good health and a very good doctor watching over us, we're looking forward to each day.

And as Sofi and I come upstairs to go to bed, we take a look at the little pomodori, growing ever so slightly in the guest bedroom window. I rub the tiny leaves between my fingers, as I am told that it releases some kind of healthy something that is good for the plant. Perhaps I should play a little Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony for them. Maybe tomorrow...

February 25
With Sunday's arrival, I want to make a lemony torte so sour it makes our mouths pucker. I'll fix the dough and let it sit in the refrigerator while we're in church, then roll out the dough and bake it to serve for dessert. I had wanted to cook a roast because...come no? (why not?), but then again we forgot to pick one up. So perhaps Dino can pick one up at Il Pallone. We have no guests, but the roast and pie will last for days. Thankfully, Dino has no problem eating the same thing or variations on the same thing, for a few days in a row.

We're studying the contract for our restoration project, and have a phone meeting with our clients from the U S, who are delightful to work for. We uncovered some amazing treasures in their house that they have not yet seen, and it's all I can do to keep from telling them about them.

We'll be sure to email them and send photos almost every day of the project's progress, to share our excitement with them. It's a good thing that they will arrive in June to a house ready to move into, but it's also fun to watch the progress as I unfolds.

Mass is uneventful, but we do a giro to make sure that we have the deposits we need for the Festa Delle Donna on March 10th. There are about seventy people so far for the dinner, so it is a great success.

We drive to Il Pallone to shop, and stop at the café across the street for cappuccinos. This is a wonderful bar, staffed by well-trained barristas in trendy uniforms. The owners certainly take this business seriously.

Then it's on to shopping, and the market is mobbed. Since this is the only supermarket open on Sundays for miles and miles, it's always crowded, and the prices and selections are excellent. Then it's home and I put together a pasta with sautéed fennel, pepperoncini and a bottle of our heirloom tomatoes. It's a simple and very unusual sauce over pappardelle noodles. Yes, it's a complete surprise, a real experiment based on something right at hand.

Later in the day we have a phone meeting with clients about the restoration project about to begin, and everyone seems pleased. We really like this project, really like the property, and are sure the clients will love living here, even if only for a month a year for now.

It's oscar night, but we think we'll watch the rerun tomorrow night instead. I may stay up for the red carpet show, but will certainly turn in by 1AM, before the show itself begins. We have only seen two films, anyway, so it's difficult to get excited these days about movies.

I make a lemon custard-y tart, and its something I've never made before from scratch. We like lemony things, and although I'm not supposed to eat lots of citrus I decide to try this anyway. There is a lot of dough left, so I make turnovers stuffed with a jar of apricot jam that we made last year. and they are really good.

February 26
No, we did not stay up last night to watch the Oscars live. After staying up all night last year, I decided it's not necessary. We will watch the "reruns" tonight on SKY. Sure, we'll hear the winners today on TV, but surprise is not as important to us anymore regarding these awards.

Dino drives to Orvieto for his acupuncture treatment. He's almost through with them, and thinks he can move around much better these days. I'm really so pleased for him. He has gone through a lot of pain and we're hoping he will be pain-free, for at least the foreseeable future. It's hell getting old...

I clip more roses, and Angie arrives for tea while Dino is out. Sofi is "over the moon" seeing her old pal. And when we walk Angie back to her car, she greets any of the nearby neighbors who are out in the bright sun. It's always so good to see her.

Dino takes me to my art workshop, and I begin to work on the clouds and the background. By the time the session is through, San Vincenzo really does float above the rest of the painting. We're finally making some real headway, although it will be weeks before it is finished.

Back at home, Dino wants to heat up the sugo from yesterday's pasta and serve it with rice. While we're eating he asks me, "Don't you want to write down what you did to make this sauce? It is really remarkable!" So of course I will right here. It's really an invention based on things I had at hand.

Do you remember that late last summer we made a roux of fresh basil and lemon juice and olive oil and put the mixture into ice cube trays and froze it? Well, three of the cubes are an important ingredient in our recipe. If you don't have basil and lemon cubes sitting in your freezer, perhaps you can substitute fresh basil and lemon juice and add a little extra olive oil...

Pasta with Fennel

1/3 head fennel, sliced thin
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 large jar heirloom tomato puree
grindings of salt and pepper to taste
1 pinch of caster sugar
1/4 tsp pepperoncini flakes
3 cubes frozen basil and lemon and olive oil
meatballs, browned (optional)

Sautée slices of fennel in olive oil just until they lose their crunchiness. Add pepperoncini, basil cubes, tomatoes and a pinch of sugar. If you like, add meatballs that have been browned in a separate pan.

Put a pot of water on to boil, adding a tbsp. of olive oil and a pinch of salt. When boiling, add pappardelle, or your favorite, long pasta or noodles.

When the pasta is al dente (firm to the taste), add it to the sauce with a little of the water from the pasta if the sauce looks too thick.

The sauce is even better the second day. Enjoy.

Tonight, we watch the rerun of the Oscars. It is fun to watch, but some of the magic has worn off. Now that we don't see many films, we're not very aware of what is going on in the movie world, nor do we keep up on the films. How life has changed for us!

February 27
It's a lovely spring-like day, and we work on tieing up the roses on the front path and yes, clipping them a little. I feel somewhat guilty that we did not cut back every single rose plant perfectly. We'll see later this year what the repercussions are...

It's fun to work together on the path, stopping now and then to wave to neighbors who pass by. Everyone waves or honks their horn. We love our neighbors, and they seem to like us, too.

Anna Farina stops with an armful of mimosa to take to the cemetery. I walk down to give her a hug, and she shows me that she has two kinds in bloom, with yet another variety blossoming in June.

I take a serious look at them, for I need to paint a branch of them for the handout at our festa on the 10th. Dino wants me to paint just one and he'll print other copies from that. Sigh. I suppose I won't have time to do individual paintings for each woman (perhaps up to fifty) at the dinner.

Tonight is the night of the contract signing, and it's the first time I'll meet Arshi, the lead muratore. Outside Antonio Canale's office, we see him standing beside his car. And as we walk inside the office we see that it is full of the men there for the meeting. Here's a photo of them, all sitting around the geometra's desk. From your left is : Dino, Tani (one of the muratore brothers (a better shot of Tani is in the INSET, TOP LEFT), Giuseppe (electrician), Arshi (lead muratore), Roberto (plumber) and on the other side of the desk, Antonio Canale (geometra).


The contractors are young, serious men, who all get along very well with each other. The geometra is the technical expert and is responsible for keeping all the contractors in line and dealing with specific technical issues. He begins the meeting, and the young men stare intently at him, for they know he has recommended them and he means business.

This has been an excellent meeting. While the contracts are being signed, Dino tells Arshi and Tani that his daughter in law has relatives in Macedonia and that the family will be visiting them in June.

The brothers lean forward on their chairs, telling us that Bettole is near the Greek border, but near a lake, and the area is beautiful. They are from Albania, as is the plumber, who is the young men's cousin.

Yes, I take a deep breath when hearing the word, "Albanian" and how unfair of me. It is too easy to fall into the trap of bigotry when referring to a group of people one does not know, especially when we are told that a group of their countrymen robbed and gassed us a few years ago.

It's the same feeling we have when realizing that we'll be returning from our Provence trip through Barcelona, where we were also robbed in September. No, all Barcelonans are not thieves, but our hearts do skip a beat when recalling that shocking afternoon not so long ago.

I imagine that many Iraqi people feel that way about Americans, or Brits. It's all so "out of context". We know we're not terrorists, but their only experience with Americans or Brits might be those who are in their country killing many of their loved ones. Oh this war business is so sad. We can't hide from it, for its aura is everywhere.

Back at home we're anxious to finish our specifying for our clients' project and moving on with the work.

February 28
We are about to sign up yet another property, this time in the countryside just outside Roccalvecce, which is near Viterbo. It has "just enough" land, 130 perfectly groomed olive trees, a southern exposure, a tiny two-room outbuilding perfect for a studio or guest apartment. We'll probably list it within another ten days or so.

On the way back, we stop at Civita d'Agliano, and ask for two fillets from the macelleria. We're told this is an excellent butcher, and are struck by the sight of an entire "side of beef" hanging just inside the door to the back room.

A woman waits on us, and turns to tell a man who appears to be the capo (boss) that we want two fillets. He's wearing a white coat and a white paper-looking hat. I think he's bowing to the beef, but he takes out a long thin knife and, as though he's cutting through velvet, deftly carves around a perfect fillet. We stand speechless. This gives the term "made to order" a whole new meaning...

On these winter days, we are able to discern the oak trees lining the roadways. Oak trees do not lose their leaves during winter. Instead, they turn a dusty brown with a pale orange cast. I'm amazed that there are so very many oaks in Italy, and they are beautiful in all their strange forms.

We return to one of our possible suppliers for windows and shutters, and the little Jack Russell terrier, Leo, jumps all over me, looking for Sofi. "A la prossima volta!" (next time) I tell him with a big hug. The owner of the shop lives in Tenaglie and I am hoping that he gets the bid. His timing is excellent..only forty days if we order soon. That's an incredible schedule...

Has this month really come to an end so soon? "What's happened to the pomodori?" Dino calls out from the guest bedroom. They don't seem to be growing. All I can say is that this is probably the wrong side of the phase of the moon, so the gravitational pull is its weakest. But what do I know? They are watered, so we'll hope for the best.

MARCH 2007

March 1
This month breezes in with another mild day, and clouds give way to sun and temperatures of fifteen degrees!

We begin our day in Orvieto with Dino's acupuncture treatment and then do some searching for items for our new project. Specifying and buying items for a home in Italy is no easy task. The myriad choices in the U S do not exist in Italy.

So it takes some real digging to uncover special items. We nose around a number of places we know outside Orvieto until it is time to drive to Fimucino to pick up our dear friend, Frank, who arrives from San Francisco.

At the airport, there are places to park right outside the terminal! What a shock! We find a spot and Frank's plane is not more than a half hour late, so we're on our way back in no time.

Deciding to take a picturesque route back, we show Frank a special place outside Viterbo to purchase old stone tiles for their back grotto. It has been some time since we have been there, but they remember us.

Sadly, they remember Jim Bolen, too, for he wanted to set up a kind of business with us, where we would find special items for his U S clients and ship them to the U S. I think of Jim so very often, and it's difficult to believe that he is no longer with us.

Frank is enchanted with the place, and we'll return when Candace returns from San Francisco later this month. So we drive on to Orvieto through the back roads of Montefiascone over the ridge. The drive is a painter's dream, with a row of cows meandering across the ridge in a straight line framing the sunset. The image remains in my mind. Everywhere I look is a scene I want to paint...

We've stopped to shop at IPERCOOP in Viterbo, and when we drop Frank off he convinces us to walk up the hill with him to have a small cena at his favorite enoteca.

"Cinzia", aka Buzzi, joins us, and we'll get to know her much better soon, for this week she "closes" on an apartment in Orvieto, one she wants to rent out. Let us know if you want a place to rent in Orvieto and we'll put you in touch with her.

We're looking forward getting home, for early tomorrow we begin our renovation project in Tenaglie, and later in the day will pick up more quotes for windows, doors, persiani (shutters), kitchens, bathrooms, flooring, etc.

We arrive home to an almost full moon. Wonder how the pomodori are doing? They sure look puny, after about a month...

March 2
And so it begins, with excitement in our hearts as if the property is ours. Restoring a special piece of property is an emotional experience, with all the highs and lows of new love (as well as the hopeful expectation of a lot more highs than lows).

As I shower and put on stiff, newly-washed jeans, I hear birds outside. Birds chirping give me a feeling of safety, as if they're telling me about what's going on and warning us if there's something not right in our world.

We are the first to arrive at the house, and three of the muratore crew arrive after the geometra, who has a set of plans and tells us that he's on his way to the Comune to pick up the permit.

Big goings on are happening at the Montecchio Comune, for the engineer is being sued by at least five or six different parties for a variety of reasons, mostly for delays in issuing permits. But we're assured ours is fine, and the geometra has something in writing to verify it, so we're not worried.

I do a bit of rose clipping while the group walks around the house, giving ideas, asking questions and learning about the challenges they'll face. There is not much in the way of surprises, and we expect that the ponteggio (scaffolding) will be put up this weekend.

After they leave, we run into Gaedano and we ask him if he knows of any casales in the countryside that are for sale. We have a client who is anxious to find one with particular characteristics. "Sure!" he tells us, and we invite him to lead the way.

He climbs into the back seat and motions with his hand to follow a strada bianca ("white" unpaved road) for about ten minutes into a remote and gorgeous area. We stop below an immense stone house without windows and get out of the car next to a temporary standing a fence. There is a "Vendesi" (for sale) sign on a nearby tree, and we romp around, looking inside the property. It is truly grand, but very large.

Antonio, the geometra, takes us to look at a wonderful Villa in Guardea with a beautifully maintained garden. We're hoping to get inside soon. If we were here for the first time looking for a property, "THIS WOULD BE IT!" Stay tuned for the listing in a week or so. In Italy, everything takes time...

He tells us that the big property we have seen earlier this morning with Gaedano will probably never be completed, for there is a road going through the property and some kind of funny business...

We drive to Amelia to visit a muratore who is working on another client project, and our job is to specify particular items. After a walk through, we have our list confirmed and are ready to pick out special pieces and supervise their installation.

So it's time to visit one of our favorite vendors, and we spend three hours confirming information and adding new specifications for one new client. This specifying work takes an enormous amount of time.

We are quick to make decisions, and even we need time. So we can imagine how frustrating it must be to work with people who can't make up their minds.

We drive home and later in the evening have a meeting with the festarolo committee at Livio and Gigliola's house in the borgo. After making some decision about the May Festa, Mauro and I agree that we'll be ready to celebrate after the festa weekend is over. It's been fun this year, but a lot of work. Now we'll have five years' rest before it's Dino's turn on the committee.

March 3
Yes, it's a good idea to bring sheets from the U S when settling in here. We wind up tucking our "U S purchased" fitted sheets in as though they're flat sheets, for the U S sizes don't match the Italian mattresses.

Strangely, the sheet quality in the U S is also far superior to those in Italy. There is no such thing as thread count in Italy...at least in the normal stores. We have not checked Frette for some time so can't speak for them. But prepare to pay more at Frette for fine sheets.

There is just one large size here, and it's called "matrimoniale". It's wider and shorter than a queen and a very strange size. Also the pillowslips are pretty small. The matrimoniale size fitted sheet will, however, fit over two single Italian mattresses as well as a matrimoniale bed.

Our matrimoniale size bed is 190cm (74.8"long) x 160cm(63" wide). That is standard. Shopping here is an experience you won't soon forget. But there are places where you can have a mattress made to order, so with a little extra searching we can find what we need for our clients, and for ourselves.

One of our biggest surprises after purchasing our house in 1997 was that we had trouble finding any reasonably price furniture made by Italian artisans. We even found things on the internet that were "made in Italy" but we could not purchase them in Italy.

Most Italian furniture is "made for the American market". In one instance, we would have had to purchase the item in America and it would have been shipped from Italy to America and then back to us in Italy.

This is a very strange and funny country. Enjoy the strangeness and don't expect much of it to make sense. Everything seems to sort itself out, but those "anal-retentive" folks moving here from America seem to have a bit of trouble at first until they find themselves fitting into the "groove". We still find it all somewhat amusing.

We're back to specifying, this time for the kitchen and some verification of bath items. The detail is mind-boggling, and it's a good thing we're both good at the details...

On our way from Tenaglie to Orvieto for a cena at Frank and Candace's, we stop at a vivai (nursery) in Baschi and pick up five white azalea plants for the parcheggio stairs. They will work well until the heat of June calls for something more heat resistant.

We also pick up a white clematis, and will replace the passion vine over the serra with it after we apply roundup to the passion vine. We'll have to wait a couple of weeks before planting the clematis and change all the soil, but think that this will be a better choice.

The passion vine has seemed more like a wild junky vine, with few or no flowers. Sometimes things in the garden work, sometimes they don't. The more I think of the clematis, the more I want to rip out the four jasmine over the gardener's cottage pergola and replace them.

. We have a fun dinner at Candace and Frank's, although we miss Candace, who is still in the U S taking some medical treatment. Frank is a great chef, and has fixed, "the signature dish of Sicily", which consists of a bucatini pasta with raisins and other surprises. We've had so much going on that I have not had time to make a lemon torte, so bring a budino di kaki, and it's delicious as usual. Only a few remain in the freezer.

Two women friends are with us, Erika and Cinzia. Cinzia, aka Buzzi, is the friend who has just purchased a property in Orvieto, and Erika is a woman who has lived here for forty-nine (!) years, just outside town. We look forward to getting to know the women better. But we miss Candace, and look forward to seeing her back here soon.

March 4
There is a small group in church, and Don Renzo officiates. We'd like him to put his musical group together for an event during the May festa, and after the service enter the sacristy to speak with him about it.

He has an idea about a kind of play with music, and will let us know more about it. But we're hoping he can perform for us, for everyone in Mugnano loves him and he seems to like us, too.

We ask Livio if he can arrange to have our house blessed on the 20th instead of the 19th, and he will do that. By then, I'm hoping to have had two four-hour sessions working on the San Liberato painting and photos to show the priest.

We look at a house that we think will be perfect for Alicia and Justin, and on Tuesday we'll all get to see it. It's really a sweet house, and although it needs work on the upper floors, there is an apartment on the ground floor that is finished and ready to move into.

We also take a look at a property in Penna, and although it's a wonderful property, we think it is over-priced. We'll keep it on a list of properties that we don't list on our site, but are aware of.

I want to paint a bird on my latest cape painting, this one 70cm by 100cm, and after doing some research find a black and white bird that is found in this area. It is a kind of little woodpecker.

Standing in the kitchen, I draw the bird in free form. Dino thinks it should be on the large side, and although I am skeptical, paint it the size he recommends. And the size works.

After a while I ask Dino to come down to take a look, for a second set of eyes to judge if my rendition of the little bird works. It really comes out quite well and Dino beams when he sees it. Now I have only to take the painting to Marco's to have him give me some council on the translucent paint I am using on the cape. Then it will be finished. Speriamo.

We work together on the interior design of the Tenaglie house and budget. A new friend who has purchased an apartment in Orvieto emails us for help. She is having trouble finding things for her place, and wants to be able to rent it out.

IKEA is the place most people go to to furnish rental properties in Italy. For some basics, like kitchen items, IKEA is very good. But for a characteristic house in a beautiful town like Orvieto, we think it's sad that someone would furnish it from IKEA.

One of the reasons people resort to this is that it is so difficult to purchase furniture in Italy that is characteristic. Everything is modern or overly elaborate. We were so spoiled in the U S with the myriad choices in every part of the country.

The weather is beautiful, actually hot, and Sofi and I take a walk after pranzo. She is such a good dog, and loves these walks so, that I love taking her; love noticing small details on the side of the road that are only visible when on foot.

Gianfranco's old car is parked near Felice's orto, and I am sad that our dear friend can no longer tend it. There's not a sound around, so Gianfranco surely is out with his hunting dogs. Sofi meanders on, sniffing everything in sight so happily.

There's so much to do in the garden. It is unruly, and Mario will come in a few days to prune the trees, better late than never. I'm tired of the work, weary of being ruled by the garden, when I'd rather paint. So we plan to get Silvano back soon to help us to recraft the lavender garden with more gravel and nursery cloth.

We are not great gardeners. We want our garden to look well, but don't want to be slaves to it. The French seem to understand our thinking, and the more we are in Southern France the more we want to use more gravel and box and less grass and places for weeds to thrive...Simplify, simplify...

March 5
I spend most of the day in bed with a horrific headache, with Sofi by my side. My art workshop is cancelled, and Dino drives to Viterbo to have the car worked on, after looking at the Tenaglie house and seeing Arshi, the lead muratore, working with an American flag tied around his head as a sweat band. Funny.

The ponteggio (scaffolding) is rising up around the house, with several workers able to get a lot done. On his way to the house Dino drove completely in thick fog; but as he reached the outskirts of Tenaglie where the house is located, the houses sat in sparkling sun.

The scene reminded him of our house on Mount Tamalpais. located above San Francisco. The house was situated just high enough that when San Francisco and Southern Marin were shrouded in fog, our house sat like Brigadoon above it all.

March 6
We're at the Tenaglie house before 8AM and already workers are putting up scaffolding. There is time for us to work in the garden clipping roses and clearing out the potting shed. Then we're off to see two houses, both of which we will add to our inventory, one of which we show to an interested client.

It's a sweet house that is not finished, but is "abitabile", or habitable, including one apartment. How much will it take to finish the house? We're not sure, but a builder will arrive to visit the client later this week and we'll know more then.

We have a doctor's appointment in Viterbo, and we like this Dottore Stefano Bevilacqua very much. He is everything one would want a primary care physician to be: kind, amiable, smart, an excellent diagnostician, and keeps up on all the current medical advances.

Fluent in English, he takes plenty of time with us instead of rushing us through a kind of turnstyle the way most doctors do. He seems to treat his profession as an art form, and he's very good at it.

We leave there with a prescription for my blood tests, and we're both doing well. After my tests he may put me back on laroxyl for my headaches, but otherwise isn't changing any of our prescriptions.

We have a devil of a time finding ribbon, or nastro, for the sprays of mimosa that will be given to the women at the festa della donna dinner this Saturday. Finally we locate some at a party store in the industrial area near Le Clerc.

Tonight we visit Stein and Helga, and are treated to an egg dish with slices of prosciutto, ravioli and cheese and fruit. They are so happy with their marvelous house, and we are happy that we could supervise a few projects for them here and there in their absence. We'll be seeing them often for the next three months, and that delights us.

Well, Helga will be here for half of the time. They are truly marvelous people and Mugnano is fortunate to have them. Sofi loves going there, loves being part of the festa atmosphere, too. Our little dog is truly a treasure.

May 7
Our Italian language assimilation continues on its rocky course. Today, the derivatives of the verb "asciugare" bounce back and forth. "Asciugare" is the verb meaning to dry, dry up, or drain (as in a glass).

But if one speaks about a clothes dryer, they speak about an "asciugatrice". We are specifying a clothes dryer for a client; clothes dryers are not used by the locals, but by Americans who can't live without them.

They are expensive to buy, expensive to run, but oh, how convenient they are. For ten years we have done without one. Our towels aren't as cozy and soft as we'd like, but they do smell fresh from the wind and the sun.

Back to the "asciuga" words:...An "asciugacapel" is a hair dryer, an "asciugamano" is a towel, and an "asciugamano spugna" is a Turkish towel. Have you had enough for one day?

If not, you'll be happy to know that there is another kind of "dry" and that is "secco", which also means "lanky" or "sharp". Then there's also "arido" which doesn't mean dry at all...it means boring. A dry cleaner is a lavare a secco or pulire a secco. I hear you...Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Do you know that in Italy the clothes dryers do not have air vents? The air somehow ducts right out of the machine to...where? Dino talks about a "y" coming out of the back of the American dryers, and the woman at a Viterbo shop stares at him blankly when he tries to figure it all out for a client. Sigh.

Today we woke to a lot of rain, dark skies, and of course no Mario. Nor did he call, nor did he answer his phone. With the bad weather continuing, it will be at least until next week until we can corral him again. In the meantime, we're coming closer and closer to not being able to prune the trees at all.

Last night, Helga and Stein showed us that his vines on his terrace "bleed" when he tries to clip them back. If he continues to clip them, they'll "bleed out" and die. It is so easy to skip right by important dates for the orto. So what else have we screwed up?

Since the weather was so bad, we drove first to the house and of course the workers were not there. So we drove on to Daniele for both of us to get our haircuts, and also a tint for me. Unfortunately, Daniele left the tint on my hair too long, and as a result I have welts across my forehead, top of my head and my neck.

So we drive to our pharmacist, who tells me to take another Azomyr pill. Azomyr is what I take for allergies to pollens and tiny animali that like to take bites from me as soon as spring comes around...They are early this year.

We pick up another quote for a client's windows and doors, and the fellow is a man we used many years ago to make a cabinet in our kitchen. He's really showing his age tonight, and has a funny way of quoting jobs. Like the muratores, he quotes by square meters, with a minimum price per window.

But the minimum price is the same as the measurement for our largest window, so his quote will be high. I can't imagine what it would be like to buy property here and not have anyone to help navigate these murky waters.

When we were first here we had our friend Karina to at least translate for us. We called her our "lucky charm". And now that we can figure out the language for ourselves, we're mystified as to how we were able to accomplish so much during those early days.

We're picking up repeat project business, because people who buy here and don't live here give up on the frustrations of having to wait or not being able to find what they want. "Boots on the ground" is what Dino calls us, and although I don't understand the military term, think he's pretty much on target.

He loves the project management. I don't mind it, but would rather paint, which is what I do whenever I can. This week I'm not painting, and will have a double painting session next week with Marco. I'm doing all I can to be supportive of Dino on his various projects this week, each of which is in a critical detail stage. It's really fun, actually.

So the letter has come in from my attorney in Boston. For those of you who have been supportive of me during these past four years, the family lawsuit has been settled. Once the stock certificates have been reissued and filed, we'll be able to close this very sad chapter. And now I wonder if the rash has something to do with the whole thing rearing its ugly head for what we hope will be the last time.

March 8
Today is the Festa della Donna, Italian's take on International Women's Day. In Orvieto there is some kind of weird goings on where men will be stripping for the women. Since Orvieto is a pretty conservative place, we're wondering if it's some kind of nightclub scene. Sounds like an idea concocted by a man. Is that really what women want?

Here in little Mugnano we'll be celebrating on Saturday night, with many of our neighbors at a special dinner. But tonight we have a little celebratory cena with our dear friends, Stein and Helga.

This morning, we drive to Tenaglie, and there is sun in Tenaglie even when there is fog in the Tiber Valley. It reminds us of our house on Mount Tamalpais in California, almost always above the fog...

We arrive around 8:30, and the crew has demolished a wall, exposed an area where we can view ceiling tiles and beams, and a few other surprises. Yes, we can expose some lovely stone in the walls of the piano prima (first living floor, what the Americans would call the second floor).

And we tell them to certainly take out the ceilings of the master bedroom and bath to expose the beams. This is just what we had hoped for. Arshi give us some good ideas, and we can tell that he is very happy to be working on this project.

The geometra arrives with his laser tool, and gives us accurate measuring of ceiling heights. We're all in sync and leave with the project in good hands. All around us the scaffolding continues to rise.

We have a little cena for Stein and Helga, and I can't help imagining that this is what our lives will be like, laughing and sharing meals and adventures with our new close friends.

March 9
It looks so warm and sunny that I don't bother with a coat, and later I'm sorry. The wind picks up and it is one of those cold March days with lots of wind. But there is plenty of sun.

We stop at a yard of remainder tiles and bathroom fixtures and find lots of very good things for Merritt's house. Perhaps the flooring will come from here...the prices are certainly excellent and their turn around time seems half the time of the major vendors. What's wrong with this picture?

We stop at Sisters' Bar for cappuccinos and then it's on to the house to talk with the muratores. Gee, it's windy. At the top of the Tenaglie hill the houses do get a lot of wind. The boys continue to work their way up the sides of the house on the scaffolding, and it's taken a few days to finish it.

We need to speak with the geometra, for the muratores show us that there is a major beam below the piano prima that will allow us to take the steel beam out of the first floor. It appears it was put in as the bottom of the wall separating the two rooms. Now that that wall is gone, there are two levels, and we want to level the floor. We may not know until Monday, but that's all right, too.

The stairs are gone, and soon the steel beam that remains to anchor the previous stairs will be replaced as well. The great news is that the South wall is...stone! We'll have exposed stone, at least on the South wall and around the front door. That's great news.

We visit the bank in Montecchio and ask if anyone knows of a contadini who can work the olive trees and land. We're referred to two brothers in a nearby town, and we drive to their house, but they are not at home. Dino will call them later...

After pranzo Mario arrives at our house, and for the next several hours all three of us work on clipping branches, taking away wood and branches and talking about the trees. He surely knows a great deal about trees, and tells us that this will be an excellent year for fruit. How does he know? ...the warm weather?

He convinces Dino to put special wooden plugs in the apple tree to ease its branches out instead of letting them grow up. He follows us to Stein's to look at a project there, and then goes with us to Tenaglie to look at the olive trees.

Lucky for him, the muratores have spoken with the retired marshallo who owns the strip of land next door. He is there to prune his olive trees. And tomorrow he'll return to talk with Dino about doing Merritt's trees...at least for now.

We're waiting to get engineered drawings for the Giove house, to see if it makes sense for a client to consider it seriously. We can't seem to figure out the floor plan, but otherwise the property is really sweet and may be a perfect solution.

At home, Dino sits at the kitchen table looking at his Palm Pilot and reaches out his hand. "Take my hand," he tells me, and when I do he tells me that little Brinkley died six years ago today...

Poor little dog...she was so sweet and frightened all the time. Looking back, she and Huntley were two funny and adorable dogs. What is there about having dogs that just sweetens one's life? When Brinkley died, someone told us that it's impossible to "own" a dog. We're just caretakers for as long as they're with us. That's certainly true.

March 10
The pomodori plants are taking forever to sprout, or at least that is what it seems. Only two or three are showing their second set of leaves. Perhaps I am too impatient, but it has been almost six weeks since the tiny seeds were planted in the soil.

Today is sunny, but windy, and when Dino drives to the Tenaglie property to help move some rubble that is taken away by the crew, he really notices the force of the wind on that hill. We're suspecting that this is an unusual wind, for we have been in Tenaglie many times and never experienced winds of such force.

Later in the day we return to the house, and the wind continues. The crew is not there, but we pass them on the road. They work six days a week, and live nearby in Guardea during the week. Home to them is Perugia, about an hour away.

While he was there this morning, Dino pruned the big olive tree at the corner of the front garden. The muratore told him that the neighbor would prune Kate and Merrit's olives, and another man will till the soil. So we have a fix after all, if only a temporary one. We'll continue to search for a long-term solution.

I make a chocolate cake for tonight, and while it's baking clean up the front terrace from yesterday's clippings. I move them to the other side of the terrace, where Dino will clip them in preciso (precise) fashion and put them into lugs to store for next winter's fires.

Livio comes by, and agrees to pick up the mimosa himself from a tree located just after the cemetery. He returns some time later and the branches look a little past their prime. But we have enough for little bunches for each woman tonight, so after he leaves I clip and tie and ribbon 48 bunches with little memento cards of tonight's festa. We are really looking forward to this festarolo season's finale in May.

With more bids coming in for the Tenaglie house windows and floors and kitchens and bathrooms, we're close to being able to make purchasing decisions. It will be good to get that behind us, and move on to the construction and finishing phases.

I have a headache, but rest awhile while Dino drives off with Mauro to pick up the food from the caterer. He picks me up on the way up the hill and I somehow go about serving and mixing with the neighbors and cleaning up, arriving back home after midnight. I think my head is about to explode, and return to bed with an ice pack.

I am hopeful that I will rally tomorrow morning, so that we can drive to a Sunday mercato in Avellino with our great pals, Stein and Helga. Speriamo.

March 11
After using three or so ice-packs during the night, I rally and we're off for an adventure for the day. Avellino is a town in the Abruzzi, east of Rome, and Serena told me last week that on this day there is an interesting mercato in the town. So on we drive, with Sofi and Helga and I in the back, and Dino driving, "With God as my co-pilot!" he tells us, jesting to our priest pal, Stein.

It does not take more than an hour and a half to reach the town, but the weather is overcast and it is cold and windy. Stein comes away with a secret package that I'm sure is a tea set of magical proportions, as well as a lovely old wooden level for his daughter, who has just graduated with a degree in Architecture. What a great gift!

We drive on to Sulmona, the "confection capital of Italy", but it is raining, and the one restaurant that has been recommended is closed. So we drive around and find another, Sul Muro, which is actually quite good.

After plates of ravioli and entrecote and grilled meats and grilled vegetables, we ask about the special confections the town has to offer. But there are none, except for a little store in the main piazza, where we pick up some little candies.

These two towns are good to visit once, if you catch my drift... It has been a fun day in any case, and we arrive home in time to have our conference call with our U S clients. We'll see Stein and Helga in a day or so.

March 12
Finally the books have arrived! We sent them book rate in a big sack on December 1 from California. Fourteen weeks is a bit much, don't you think? At least they arrived. There are about twenty of them. That will get us through the summer, we are sure....

So I have logged them in. That means I have added them to one of the two excel charts we have, as an inventory our books: one is for books with any kind of connection to Italy and the other consists of everything else. For some reason, they also include ISBN numbers. Why I've taken on this strange project, I have no idea.

Early in the morning, before picking up the books at the Bomarzo post office, we drove to the house, but found no one there. We re-measured a few things, and there are challenges, but Dino has been ruminating about them and now has solutions. When he meets with the geometra and muratore later, Antonio is impressed that he has a solution that even he cannot top.

In the afternoon, Dino drops me off at Marco's studio, with the latest cape painting, for I need some advice about the transparent paint I am using. Marco tells me the painting is very difficult, and we agree that I'll never pick transparent paint again. There are no complaints about the little bird perched on top. He really is special.

I spend the entire four hours standing at the canvas and working on shading. But by the time Dino arrives to pick me up, Marco and Dino are both impressed with the voluminous cape. Alessandra shows me some fabulous gold paint, and now I am thinking of picking up a tube of silver paint that will act as a shadow behind the cape, lighting it up from the back.

Tomorrow I'm going to return to Marco's, but will work only on San Vincenzo for the next two sessions. I want to have something to show to Don Luca, in the event we agree that I should donate it to the Duomo once it has been restored this summer.

March 13
With a pedicure from Giusy, she is basking in the joy of grandmother-hood, her new grandson now about two weeks old.

Afterward, we work on the restoration and also do some additional pricing of doors and windows. It is a beautiful day, but there's no time to work in the garden.

I have the art workshop this afternoon, and today work on more clouds surrounding San Vincenzo. After next Monday, we'll have a photo to show Don Luca, to see if he wants the painting for the soon to be restored Duomo.

We take home the cape painting, and I have an idea to surround the cape in bright silver luminous paint. Perhaps there'll be clouds, now that I think I know how to make them look as though they're floating.

I really don't like what has happened to the color of the cape. It is quite luminous, since the magenta is a transparent color, but the depth of it works quite well. Perhaps we can find a magenta paint that is not translucent. The cape is now at home, and I'll consider it a work in process until we're happy with it. I consider Dino my art critic, so it will have to pass muster with both of us to be willing to sell it.

March 14
This is a day of discoveries.

After picking up Stein and Helga and driving to the hospital in Orvieto, we're able to pay right away and I'm able to get my blood drawn without any wait at all. In Italy, it makes sense not to go first thing in the morning when everyone else does. Arriving around 10AM seems to be the way to go.

It is, however, expensive, for the ticket is for almost 45 euro, although it includes tests for just about everything conceivable. Compared to Dino's colonscopy at 36, it seems a strange price. No matter.

On the way out, Dino takes us on a short detour to Ciconia, where there is a tiny British war cemetery. Sadly, it appears to be a memorial for a one-week period in Italy in June, 1944, where about one hundred men were killed. With a view of Orvieto and the Duomo, we're silenced by the awesome thought that so many men gave their lives on this week in a foreign land and now rest in this spot.

We drive to Orvieto Scalo, where we find a car for Stein and Dino works his wonders, making sure that the registration is fine and that Stein can pick up his car tomorrow. When we were first in Italy we were told that "anyone can buy a house or a car in Italy, but getting a telephone is another issue..."

Without a Permesso di Sojourno, we are not sure if Stein can purchase a car after all. So we're leaving it up to the car dealer, Stein's atty and Alessandro, our insurance agent, to wrestle with it. The car is a fine VW Polo at a very reasonable price.

We drive away happy, and will pick it up tomorrow...Speriamo.

It's on to the house in Tenaglie, and although the workers have left for pranzo, we're able to show the property to our friends, who are mightily impressed. Then it's on to one of our favorite trattorias for a celebratory pranzo, on to our favorite gelateria to pick up gelato, and back at home to sit in Stein's garden and enjoy the late fternoon sun.

With the entire olive orchard cleaned up, Sofi is free to roam, and for some of the time I follow her around the olive trees, getting a good look at the land and the view, while Stein and Dino and Helga sit and chat over their gelato.

Mario and Dino (from Attigliano) are at work putting in new copper gutters, and we share our gelato with them, as they continue to work and chatter, chatter away as workers do.

These workers speak loudly and with more than a little bravado. Dino (the one from Attigliano, not our Dino) has a very healthy ego. He is an excellent craftsman, and wants you to know it. He's a good man, just the same. And Mario...then there's Mario. We have a special affection for this man, who has a love of the earth and a genuine affection for both "our" Dino and Stein.

After a while we return home, and it's time to walk out into the lavender garden and talk seriously about what we are going to do to alter the design. Sorry, Sarah, but just the weeding of it is an interminable effort in the hot sun.

Dino takes out three plants that are looking especially woody, and he asks me what I am thinking about the space. With ten or more smaller boxwood sitting in pots on the terrace, I think we might make groupings of the box with the lavender and surround the groupings with nursery cloth and gravel. The look will be similar to what we have seen in Provence, and it will be easier to take care of.

As you might imagine if you've been reading the journal, we are very tired of the work in the garden. I am unable to do the hard weeding and bending over, and Dino can't really do a lot of it, either.

So we are opting for a more simple design, and nursery cloth and gravel that will allow us to plunk up airborne weeds with a spade and not have to turn over the soil often.

I've clipped back the roses, some more than others, and this year some of them will have some wildness to them. The mermaids, the Madame Alfred Carriere, especially, will be left to go their own way.

The teucrium is finally growing into its own, with two larger plants looking good in their clipped form. Two smaller ones in between will take a few years to catch up, and that's fine. We've seen four plants at a nearby garden that form an undulating hedge of teucrium, and that is what this will be.

There is a sweet looking (is that possible?) weed that thrives in rock walls, and we're going to let that be. It is a pretty green, and other than clipping it short we're not going to obsess.

Yes, we're beginning to sound like old folks, and with another number adding to my years this Friday, I'm settling down into the realization that things just happen more slowly.

Earlier today Helga remarked, "We'll give him five more minutes, and then I'd leave." She's impatient that the car salesman is with another customer. So I remind her that we're in slow pokey Italy, and perhaps we should let some time go by.

Inside the front of the showroom is a mirrored wall, and Stein jokes that it looks like a dancing school rehearsal hall. We stand in front of the mirror doing pirouettes (Stein is a very silly man), and I show the others the five ballet positions. It's only been fifty-five years or so since I've done them, so I suppose some things just stay imbedded in the brain.

March 15
"Beware the Ides of March!" So what will today bring? With lovely sun and birds and birds and more birds greeting us, it's difficult to stay in bed.

Dino leaves to pick up Stein to meet with our insurance agent and I'm thinking I'll take Sofi for a walk and we'll meet everyone at Stein's a little later.

We walk down to Stein's and the gate is unlocked. Dino (from Attigliano...we must find another name for him) and Mario are putting in new copper gutters and continue their chattering. Helga and I sit watching the view and chatting until the "men" return.

We leave to drive to Viterbo, where we do errands, including a stop at Klimt for advice about paint. The owner tells me that there is no magenta oil paint that is not translucent, but I can mix the magenta with a drop of white and that might work. So the painting will be set aside for a while but I will try her advice. The solution sounds reasonable.

We find another source for ceramic tiles and faucets and sinks, etc., and so now we need to take the time to cull through all the information we have gathered. But still we have no decision about the doors...

We take Stein and Helga to see the house and the crew is working on the roof. It is a beautiful day, and half of the roof has its first layer laid down. The roof will be finished by next week, and with this weather we'll finish on schedule.

Then it's on to Orvieto to the auto dealer and Stein now has his car. We are hopeful that the technical details can be worked out, and they drive off to meet us in Attigliano at the insurance office. With those details done, we all return to Stein's and the workers have finished. So perhaps everyone can settle down.

Dino still wants an old Panda, and he finds at least one a day. I'm thinking he'll find one "with his name on it" soon. Where will he park it? "On the street", he tells me. I see him moving all the neatly stacked wood and finding a way to get it into the parcheggio...

March 16
Yes, it's my birthday, but before the day is done Dino has found three more Pandas to look at seriously. I hope he finds a white one so that I can call it "Frigo!". He does so much driving around that we're putting too many miles on the Alfa, so it will be interesting to see how practical the Panda will be.

He tells me that most of the Pandas have very little miles on them, even though they are at least ten years old. They were driven mostly by contadinis around town. "Dino the contadino". This will bring him one step closer to being accepted by the locals. Perhaps he'll need one of those paper hats given away free with the brim turned up supplied by the local feed dealer...

The day begins with picking up Helga and driving to Viterbo to drop off her rental car. Now that they have their own car, the rental car is no longer needed. After a stop for cappuccino, we drive down the Cassia to Sutri and Ronciglione and then Capranica, where we hoped to find antique tiles for our client.

The yard has been picked clean, and there are no tiles. So although we'll continue to look for old tiles, they will be very expensive and difficult to find.

Yes, it's my birthday, but Dino finds a lovely carved wooden dog for his dog collection. I find four long cast bronze pieces that when laid together will make a beautiful cornice (picture frame). Later we decide to make a mirror out of it.

Pranzo is in Trevignano on Lake Bracciano and the weather is balmy. Helga tells me that on one's birthday the weather is a sign of how good they've been all year. The weather is hazy and warm, with patches here and there of clouds.

March 17
No one here pays much attention to St. Patrick's Day. It is cool and foggy this morning, and we have a meeting with the geometra at the house.

There is concern about the beams under the roof line, until Dino comes up with an idea that will not increase the cost of the work and provide extra support. The geometra had a "purtroppo" attitude, and it took Dino to think it through and brainstorm with us to suggest that they move the support beams that originally were used for the false ceiling, which has been demolished, to reinforce the smaller cross beams inside the roof line.

We're working diligently to cut costs in the budget, and it takes time. So most of the weekend we are working on doing just that.

Saturday afternoon we take out some time to clean up the raised planter in front of the loggia and plant the little violas that Helga gave me for my birthday. We have a passino and also a kind of bean sorter, and between the two sift through the soil and add some new soil before planting the new plugs.

While we're in the midst of all that, the Barbarini sisters who own the Orsini palazzo in the borgo come by to ask us if we'll help to find them people to have events at the palazzo. So we've decided to expand our "Places to Stay" part of this site to include "Places to hold events", and that area will include their Mugnano palazzo as well as Diego Bevilacqua's Castello Santa Maria and Diego Costaguti's Palazzo in Roccalvecce.

Stein is so enamored with Castello Santa Maria that he is planning a touring event for people from Norway, and twenty four of them will stay at the castello in September. We don't have anything to do with booking events, but are pleased to refer people to any of these places for events.

It was fun to have the sisters drop by for a visit, and although we were tearing up the front of the loggia, it was fun to stop and chat. While they are there we ask them if we can use their palazzo ground floor to stage a mercato for the artisans of Mugnano on the Festa Di San Liberato in May. We think that will work out fine. And now I am nervous, wanting to finish the painting of San Vincenzo in time for the festa...

Perhaps we should ask Tiziano if he wants to set up an exhibition of the archeological finds of Mugnano, too. That will have to be locked up, but we'll ask him what he thinks. Come no? In a way he is an artisan, too.

March 18
Dino wants to go to the mercato in Viterbo, but there's much to do at home, so we pass on it. Most of the afternoon we'll have to continue to work on the Tenaglie project in anticipation of our weekly phone meeting.

And oh, yes. We'll have to clean the house. Tomorrow is the annual blessing of the house by the village priest. Last year it was performed by Don Renzo, but it is usually Don Luca. Dino thinks it's too soon to talk about donating the painting...

We're invited to have a brindisi (toast) to Pia's mother on her 88th birthday. Pia is having a pranzo for her across the street, and when we walk over there we notice that the table and chairs set up outside are in a protected cove that is attractive and free from the wind.

We remember that Felice told us that Pia's mother was a special woman, and perhaps this summer we'll have an opportunity to get to know her better. Pia is her usual generous self, showing us around and making us feel welcome.

We sit with Erica and her grandmother, Renata, and like Renata quite a bit. Since she's the best cook in Mugnano, I'm looking forward to looking over her shoulder some time in the kitchen.

When we return home, one of the Marias, Augusta and Elder Pepe's wife Giuseppa are sitting on our stone benches next to the parcheggio. We thank them for acting as sentries to guard the house and show them where the third stone bench will be installed later this week.

The bench was installed near the Madonna in the garden two years ago for Felice, but he only sat there once, and now that he does not come around anymore, this is a better spot for it. The women are so pleased. I am sad that Felice will not return to sit, but happy the bench will be put to good use.

The roses on the path are thriving, with yellow buds ready to burst...and it is only March!. Really, all the roses look good. This should be a good season for roses. It's also time to clip the boxwood, and now I clip only those branches that droop. Tia asks me what I use to cut them and I use a small pair of scissors! Sarah always pinched them back with her fingers, but I like using the scissors. I'm not thrilled about the exercise with the blue cloth underneath the plant to catch the clipped leaves, but that's how it goes. With about 120 boxwood plants, this is the time of year to clip them.

I notice in a few magazines that some people clip the top as rounds but leave the bottoms a little wider. It's an interesting look, one that I think I'll emulate this year. There are about a dozen little box in pots that I think we'll plant in the ground, and now I'm working out in my mind where they will go and what the configuration will be. I'm thinking they'll be in raised planters with stone sides. Tufa makes the most sense, but I like the look of stone against gravel. We will see....

March 19
We're off to Tenaglie to measure the windows. then order the clawfoot tub and the pavimenti. We' re also going to get quotes for some fancy granite, and then the client will decide if they want fancy granite, travertine or plain granite. We told them yesterday that Travertino is the local stone, and even that there is a travertine yard not far from their house. So perhaps it will have an impact on their decision.

Yesterday we washed the curtains that were left in one of the bedrooms and they are honey colored with a grey detail. They'll be great in the guest bedroom. I remember that Kate and I loved them when we saw them hanging in the house the only time they visited.

With the window open they floated in the breeze. There are two large curtains, filling the whole wall. But now that we'll put in another window, perhaps one can cover each window. The color is perfect.

We never get to ordering the tub and sink, but do pick up some fabulous bread by the artisan baker in Civitella D'Agliano. After pranzo March 20
Candace arrives at the Rome airport tonight, but today we take Stein and Helga to the Comune and then to Viterbo on his permesso adventure. They are always willing "subjects" and act as though the finalization of his permission to stay is all in our hands. Nine years ago we had a completely different story to tell...

First, at the Comune, we think we can change the name on the water bill to Stein's, but Sr. Mario Curzi tells us that no, it is all done now in Viterbo. We ask him about registering Stein's house so that he will get the lower tax rate allowable on one's first house, but he tells us it's not worth doing until Stein has his permesso. Since we're already at the Comune, we peek into Stefano Bonori's office and introduce him to Stein and Helga.

The sindaco (mayor) always looks like a darling little boy sitting up straight behind his father's big desk, dressed in brightly colored crew neck sweater and shirt, not a hair out of place. This is actually a very powerful man, so don't mistake him for a person to trifle with. He is to spearhead our citizenship next year...

We enter Francesco's office for the first time downstairs...he's the Vigili Urbano (local policeman). Sitting behind an ACER computer (what does he have to do in an office behind a computer?:), we ask him about the cemetery plots, but he tells us he'll take care of posting an announcement that we're interested and it will have to be posted for fifteen days. Or at least we think that's what he tells us. Otherwise, they'll have to come up with some new place, perhaps by extending out of the back side of the cemetery. We've waited this long...

It's on to Viterbo, and Stein and Dino walk into Telete, a consortium of local water companies in the Provincia di Viterbo, the new office building while Helga and Sofi and I stay outside to chat. The weather has turned rainy, and here and there we've had hail storms.

When they return, Stein's eyes are wide. Lorella, the young woman who helped him had such a lovely "balcony" that he judiciously handed her one paper at a time so that she would have to get up from her desk and walk across the room to copy it while the two of them gazed at her like school boys. Ah...

Outside, Helga and I laugh at the retelling, admitting to ourselves that the young woman's "balcony" was every bit more mesmerizing than our "terazzos".

Then we stopped at the Questura, at the Dept. of Immigration, to see about starting the process of obtaining a Permesso di Soggiourno (permission to stay) for Stein. We now realize that it is necessary to have this permesso in order to buy and register a car in Italy.

But now we know the drill. Don't show up at 6AM to line up for the 50 numbers given out at 7:30 A M each day. Instead, show up around 11:30. One of the capos knows us, and we're able to get to a window without a number. And it is there that we are given the list of things Stein will need...

Photographs. Copies of bank statements and a confirmation letter from him to prove that he will not rely on the State for support. Evidence of health coverage. A copy of the atto. for the house, proving that he has a place to live. His passport, for them to copy.

Dino will take his photo at home and print the copies in the correct size. So we'll return with him later this week. And we're hoping that then he will receive a receipt and that the permesso will be issued before he leaves at the beginning of June. In the meantime, he will renew his 30-day temporary ownership document for the car. All this red tape is beginning to make sense to us after all...

We are taken through the secret tufa drive in Viterbo that everyone loves, the tufa rising up twenty feet or more to our left and right as we navigate the ancient curvy road. And then we drive to Tre Croce for a pranzo at La Taverna Del Burano.

I've learned to stop after the pasta course, but the three others continue on to a tagliata (like a flank steak) and of course Stein must have a taste of grappa.

While Dino and Helga and I sit and talk, Stein takes his narrow smelly cigar outside, then returns to pick up his grappa to have with it. This is a man who knows how to appreciate little moments of life, and to him everything is a little moment.

The rain and hail continues all day, and after we drop our friends off at home, return for a short while before driving to Tenaglie and then to Orvieto to pick up Frank and drive to the airport for Candace's arrival at 10 P M.

We're only home for a short while, then drive on to the house in Tenaglie to see an incredible vista facing East, where the thick stone wall is opened, and much pietra bianca is saved for a possible garden wall. The local white Umbrian stone is lovely. We take a "movie" to email back to our clients, with the window opening and the view, while young Zeni jackhammers through the thick stone wall...

After driving to Frank's, I take the car home with Sofi riding "shotgun", and the boys are not far behind me in Frank and Candice's Volvo station wagon. It's been so long since I've been behind the wheel, and on this rainy night on the A-1 I'm not really enjoying the ride.

With Dino behind the wheel, Frank by his side and Sofi and I in the back, we drive on to Fiumucino airport near Rome to pick up Candace. There is hail, rain, and the edge of the roadway near Rome is actually rimmed in snow. Snow. We've not had snow for a few years, and although we can see lots of snow on the Rieti mountain peaks, have not even had a dusting in Mugnano. Perhaps this month...

Candace arrives soon after the appointed hour, and we're home by midnight. We look forward to getting together with them soon, and have missed them.

March 21
After sleeping in a little, I prepare a squash soup that is really tasty, spiced with ginger and coriander and doused with a little cream and a squiggle of olive oil at the end.

We drive down to Stein's and Dino talks with them about installing the washing machine. Tonight he'll bring the parts that are needed and by tomorrow they'll be able to do laundry.

We drive to Deruta to pick up unglazed ceramics for me to paint; I'm hoping to have a number of them finished before we leave in three weeks for Provence. Four of the plates are to be our signature plates in honor of our week together in San Remy.

We sit around with cups of soup, plates of pasta, a plate of cheese with our home made fig and ginger preserves, coffee and a local grappa made with the nocciole from local Monte Cimino. It's fun to relax in front of the fire, even though Stein mischievously fed Sofi some wine and grappa and she hangs like a dish rag over his knee. Let's hope she has sweet dreams...

March 22
I'm determined to paint, to do my "competiti" (homework) for Marco, and with an inexpensive canvas purchased from Klimt, I'm hoping to understand the light and shadows of painting a profile.

Sofi has a hangover, and I think she'll stay clear of Stein's antics feeding her wine and grappa. It's really not very funny, but he doesn't realize he is making her ill. He is a child at heart, and a very dear man.

While Dino takes Stein out to meet Bruno the lamp "fixer", I sit and paint. I am serious about my "competiti" (homework) and finish one face of a young girl and decide there is room on the canvas for two more. So there will be faces and shoulders of three young medieval girls on the canvas that I bring to the Monday workshop.

I am feeling more confident about painting shadows and light on faces. Skin tones are really interesting to paint. I wonder what kind of student I would have made in art school? I will never know...

This morning we drive to the house, and no one is there. It is just before pranzo, but we know the crew has been working. We return by way of Tessacini, the marble yard, and take a look at the swirly granite, but Franco is not there to give us a quote. The more I look at the various granite choices, the more I think that Travertine is the way to go for Kate and Merritt. But we will get the options for them anyway, for it is their choice after all.

After pranzo we drive to Terni to a specialty shop for Iron. We have a design for appliqus (sconces) and need someone to make them. Perhaps we'll go to a local fabro (blacksmith) with our design and see how much he will charge.

The design is a simple roof coping tile, rounded side on the front, and the back is a back iron support against the wall, with one up light and one down light, and two small brackets on the bottom to hold the coping tile in place. Once we have the design perfected, we'll offer the light on our web site. The lights will look terrific on Kate and Merritt's walls...

We're ready to order the pavement, but know that our clients don't want a standard installation design. So at home tonight I map out a diagram and Dino plugs in the "spina di pesce" (spine of the fish) design with rectangular tiles, and square tiles as the border around the room of the piano prima. To order, we'll have to know the number of each kind of tile. It's a good thing we thrive on details...

It's cold, very cold tonight, or perhaps it's just the wind. We have a fire in the fireplace, and I'm thinking that winter will last another few weeks at this pace. I feel badly for the muratores, who are still working on the roof in windy Tenaglie.

Speaking of the roof, the cement underlayer is done and it looks really wonderful. The workers have done a fine job. Perhaps they weren't at the site when we arrived because they are out picking up the insulation and the new tiles to be laid under the old coping tiles. They are using new tiles on the bottom, old tiles on the top, so that the look is still characteristic but that the security of the roof is assured.

We bring back a piece of old wood, for I want to paint an Icon, and want old wood for the background. Now I need to figure out how to treat it and prepare it for the painting. There is a woman in Rome who knows how to do them, but she's not able to help. So one of these days I'll sit with the Ikon book and see if I can figure it out.

I have no idea when I can actually begin...perhaps this summer. I love the idea of it, and will love traveling to Sienna with Stein to view the Siennese icons, to get some inspiration. He'd like to make one, too, but will only be here until June 1st. I don't think I have time before then to begin. There is always so much to do!

March 23
After many days of cold and windy weather, we wake to birds singing, bright sun and...Mario! The groan of his weed-wacker on the path tells me to get up.

Visit with Stein and Helga and a trip to Tenaglie, to see the roof progressing nicely and the old tile floor on Piano Prima taken up, revealing...the mattone for the ceiling below! There is more searching for tiles and a drive to our original supplier to revisit the choices we've made. We realize we need to draw out the plan for the piano prima floor, so that we can decide how many of which tiles we'll need.

So back at home on a graph pad we slowly lay out the design, and will suggest a rim of squares around the edge of the room, with a modified "spina di pesce" (spine of the fish, or herringbone) design. We take turns, and finally figure it out.

March 24
With rain all around us, we're not looking forward to tomorrow's giro. I tell Dino I won't walk in the rain, and he tells me he'll do it anyway. Fa male. I don't have the stamina I used to. Let's hope the weather clears up.

We stop at the Sisters' Bar in Alviano Scalo for "capuccia" (cappuccino), and then have a meeting with new clients who want us to list their house in Pozzo Ciolino, just below Tenaglie.

It's listed on the site at €180,000, and includes: two bedrooms, two baths, a new modern kitchen, a flat garden, a separate building with a summer kitchen and downstairs storage and cantina and grotto, a waterfall, at least thirty olive trees and a panoramic view. It's a very good price, for the owners want to sell the property...subito! We hope we can help make that happen.

We drive on to the house and Tani is clearly visible on the roof, laying the 5cm insulation. It will be covered with guino, a kind of tar paper, and then the coping tiles will be laid on top.

The crew will be late on Monday, for they spend Sundays in Perugia and on Monday will pick up supplies for the job there before returning to Tenaglie. We tell Tani that although he is going to use new coping tiles on the bottom and the old ones on the top for the roof (the new ones for strength, the old ones for looks), we tell him we'd rather have him pick up the more yellowy tiles for the bottom. They'll work well with stone on the South side of the building and the mustardy color of the house.

I strongly dislike the modern red roof tiles, thinking the sight of them is a blight on the landscape. He thinks we're a little strange, but will buy what we choose. It is a good thing we've been able to speak with him. Last night we met for a few minutes with the geometra to confirm a few items and get his opinion on some of the choices we're making. It's all good news.

This afternoon we drive to Viterbo and pick up a new paint color for the cape painting. I'm going to rework it after all...

We also order the claw foot tub for our clients and take a spin around Ipercoop. My, it is wild there on a cold Saturday afternoon, with families yakking and pushing shopping carts around the enclosed mini mall.

I comment that an Italian mall is very different from an American one, in that the noise decibels are much higher. The Italians are very expressive people, and in a crowd love to raise their voices.

At the checkout, the young girl behind the counter rolls her eyes at all the noise and we laugh together with her. When I tell her that this is the first time we've been there on a Saturday afternoon she replies, "Mai ancora!" (never again!) and we laugh again.

March 25
It's a terrible day, cold and wet, and I'm not looking forward to going to church, or to the giro afterward. Somehow we walk up to the church. By the time mass has finished the thought of a giro is not so daunting.

But as we start the giro we hear that fire engines are here from Viterbo to take down an enormous pine tree that is bending toward the street below. So I make an excuse and stand with the women while Dino and Mauro and Livio take the giro around the borgo.

They come over to us when they're through, and watch for a while. It's about the most exciting thing that's happened to Mugnano in weeks. All the men are out, posturing, of course, and telling stories.

There's Antonio, president of the Università Agraria, who is the boss, but then there's: Francesco, Enrico, Italo, Augusto, Donato, Otello, Terzo, Tomasso, joined by our very own Dino and Mauro and Livio...

Then there's Alberto and Marino and Pepe...finally we have someone whose name does not end in an "O"...

Dino suggests that I walk home to fetch Sofi and the camera, and that's just what I do. But there is a firefighter who is such a "looker" that he belongs on a calendar...While Dino takes photos and little movies of the tree chopping, I convince him to take a photo of the fireman, who clearly is on to us and does not want his picture taken.

What month do you think? March?

Livio wants Dino to take photos of the Duomo in the process of restoration, and tells us that when the job is finished there'll be photos of the before, during and after conditions of the old church.


But we're drawn to Anna's grand daughters, "coppias" or fraternal twins, and they are two years old, named Aurora and Annalisa. We tell Vincenzo, the great grandfather, that we'll have a festa in June in honor of the three sets of Mugnano twins...That will be the Sunday when our family from San Francisco will be here and there will be ice cream in the borgo for everyone to introduce Marissa and Nicole and Terence and Angie to our neighbors.

In addition to Aurora and Analisa, we hope to have Cristian and Eduardo, who are in Rome most of the time but will surely be here in June. We are excited just thinking about their visit.

There's another giro next week, to take reservations for the picnic pranzo on Pasquetta, the day after Easter. Then there's just a couple of weeks before our village festa in May and our personal celebration that this year has come to an end.

The sun has come out and after pranzo I work on a little painting for the nipotini. It is really fun. I've been painting and painting, wanting to have a good representative sample of my work for our festa weekend, when the artisans of Mugnano will have an exhibit. When warm weather returns for a few days, I'll dip the ceramics and start to paint those, too.

But we spend some time working on the design of the Tenaglie house, and then have our weekly phone meeting with the clients. They are wonderful clients, and by the time the meeting is through we have our work cut out for us for the week. There is a lot to do, and the project is still on time. So let's be sure to get the orders in, as much as we can, this next week.

March 26
The day begins with full sun and expectations that it will be a beautiful day. But as the hours pass, clouds form overhead and we have some surprises.

Lorenzo the fabro is not at his shop, and we have a bee design to take to him that I drew out this morning after much research on the internet. If you're interested in bees, here's some trivia...

"The bee is a sign of industry, creativity, wealth, diligence and eloquence. The Egyptians used it as a symbol of regal power. In armory, it is used to represent well-governed industry. The Emperor Napoleon gave the bee considerable importance in the French armory by adopting it as his personal badge. They also appeared on the mantle and pavilion around the armorial bearings of the empire, as well as on his coronation mantle. The bee is undoubtedly the most popular insect found in heraldry, and even the beehive occurs often as a crest."

We're close to the house, so drop by, but there is no one working. Perhaps they've not returned from their weekend in Perugia. So we decide to drive on to Orvieto by way of Lago di Cobara, I'm bilious, by the time we arrive at the hospital in Orvieto to pick up my blood test.

My heartburn symptoms have returned, and we make an appointment for later in the week with our doctor to review everything. Something's not quite right. With the medicine, I feel fine. Without it, the heartburn returns. It's such a mystery.

We return to Lugnano to meet with Franco at the marble yard to speak about pepperino stair treads, and to confirm that our clients want travertine counters after all in the main kitchen. Perhaps we can put in granite in the downstairs kitchen, which will have a smaller counter. Upstairs, the travertine is an excellent choice.

After a quick pranzo at the bar in Vitorchiano, Dino drops me off at my painting workshop and drives to Tenaglie and back to Viterbo, where he has a new set of tires installed. He is late picking me up and I am worried, although it's daylight savings time and still light when he returns.

While he was gone, the sky clouded over, and we had bouts of driving rain, then hail (grandine), followed by thick snowflakes. The snow was so thick that when Dino arrived there were a few inches around the car park.

Dino watched several cars skid off the road...but only the road coming up to Marco's. Everywhere else was practically dry. In fact, on the way home we looked over at Tenaglie when approaching the superstrada and found it bathed in sun, although clouds formed shadows over the rest of southern Umbria. What a strange weather day!

We're in a quandary regarding our window orders, and will re-measure tomorrow, then return to two of the possible suppliers to see who will get the order. We've not been able to order windows yet, but need to do so...soon.

Mauro arrives to tell us that there will be a Festarolo meeting on Wednesday night for the Festarolo committees of both Bomarzo and Mugnano, and then a Confraternity meeting for Dino on Thursday. I really hate these late night meetings, meetings scheduled for 9:30 that don't end until midnight.

March 27
It's cold and clear this morning. When we drive through Aliviano Scalo and stop for our "capuccias" at Sisters' Bar, we run into Italo the fishmonger, who is dressed in regular street clothes. We're just coming out of the bar, and he'd like to share coffee with us.

Knowing that he lives nearby, we'll join him another day. When Dino asks him why he isn't in his truck at 9AM, he tells us that life is important, and he'll get into his truck, but now it's time for café...Come no?

At the house, Tani goes over the important window measurements for Piano Primo, and there is always something to reconsider when working on an old house. Today we're mindful of the height of the windows on this floor, and ask him how high the windows can be and still have room for a steel header right under the ceiling.

Window measurements are difficult. To have a window of the size one would want, 100cm by 80cm for example, we'd have to measure fifteen centimeters above and below, and on the sides an additional six centimeters on each side for the window casings. So 100 cm becomes 142cm and there's not much room left on the wall...

The fireplace on this floor (there is also a fireplace on Piano Terra) has been torn out, except for the pillars on both sides, which are strong and consist of bricks laid one on top of another.

After some talk, I tell them what I'd like to see when the fireplace is complete, and that includes: one of the large beams from downstairs sandblasted and used as the mantel, as well as the beautiful Umbrian pale stones intermixed with grout (a light grey) surrounding the bricks. Above, although most Italian fireplace slope back, I'd like to see the area above the mantle rise straight up, reminiscent of some of the wonderful fireplaces we've seen in Carmel.

I'm imagining the house looking rustic and authentic, with not too much ornamentation. A black iron chandelier over the eating area, our coping tile sconces, the antique cherry cabinets in the kitchen area with some glass fronts, stone-looking pavers on the ground, and honey-colored walls.

There is much to specify, and we make an appointment for tomorrow to order much of it. In the meantime, we finalize our window ordering arrangement, and the windows and doors will be made in Romania. We feel good about the timing, and good about the supplier. But windows are always problematic, and so we measure and measure and remeasure, and our vendor comes out to measure as well.

I realize that Dino wants no part of the translation document for the Bomarzo Palio, so spend a few hours on it this afternoon. Tomorrow Tiziano will look over my shoulder to straighten out some of the difficult translation phrases. I'm the last person to translate a document from Italian to English, but it's helping my language acuity, and when it's done I'll be relieved. So let's get on with it.

I go to bed early, with more heartburn, but the reassurance that we'll meet with the doctor on Thursday. It can't come too soon....

March 28
"A gift of Spring!" Dino calls it, when he tells me about something he learned from Stefano the murature during a meeting on a client project early this morning in Mugnano...

While in the client's lovely garden, Stefano plucked a few tiny buds off an almond tree and popped them in his mouth. When Dino asked him what he was doing, Stefano told him that the tiny buds were delicious. So Dino took picked one and ate it...His reaction was that it was a bit "agro", or sharp. Now Dino is thinking about the life of a contadino, and of how the understanding of each bud of a tree, each new phase of the growing season brings on new tastes and smells to savor. I don't know if he'll ever be a real contadino, for he has too many interests, but he does love these tiny little surprises, the tinier they are the more he seems to relish them.

On this beautiful but cool day, we drive to the house after stopping for cappuccia's at our favorite bar. Dino asks the barista about a singer named Baglioni, whose music concert has been cancelled. The young man tells us he is the finest singer in Italia, so we'll have to pick up a CD. But I fear he will be a "pop" singer, and believe that Italian pop is like bubble gum...sticky sweet with not much to savor.

We return to the car and we approach the rise just before the house we can see Tani laying the coping tiles on the roof. We stop to take a little movie to send to Kate and Merritt. They love these movies and we admit we do, too.

It's a beautiful day for them to work outside on the roof, but we're concerned that the window opening for the kitchen window must be prepared, including installation of the overhead steel beam, before tomorrow afternoon, or we'll have to postpone the kitchen measuring at the house.

Dino climbs up onto the scaffolding to get a good look at the roof, and he is very pleased. Down below, I've determined a detail for the near part of the stairs and now the near side will be covered with local stone, a beautiful detail.

We really enjoy this restoration work; Dino the daily challenges and changes and me the design details. There's plenty to keep both of us interested.

After pranzo we return to Il Magnifico at Orsolini, but after more than two hours of details, we have to leave and still are not ready to place an order. Dino will go over the printout and on Saturday morning we'll place an order for many items, speriamo. The details are mind-boggling...

As we are getting ready to leave Orsolini, we come upon Signor Ivo of the Comune, and ask him about the timing of the translation document. As if from heaven, he tells us there's no hurry...May or June is fine, for it is for the main brochure of Bomarzo that is passed out during the year. No need to finish it this week.

Tiziano arrives to go over my translation of the documents, and we get through one of the five in about two hours. In advance, I've spent about ten or so hours, and still the documents need a lot of work. With his archeological background and knowledge of local history, he is able to dispel incorrect information and help me to discipher phrases that I cannot understand. Week by week we'll finish the other documents.

I notice that there are four pages about Mugnano in the brochure, so we'll see if there is more information that we can add to the document. That will be fun!

Tonight we have a festarolo meeting in Bomarzo with the Festarolo committee of Bomarzo. Wonder what it's all about. We surely hate these late night meetings...

Well, we dutifully attend the meeting, which is led by Fabio the missionary in the meeting room of Cristo Risorto church in Bomarzo.

We leave the meeting less than two hours later resenting the fact that we were "told" to attend. The life of a missionary is indeed a difficult one. But to subject us to a lecture seemed out of place.

The members of the Festarolo committee this year are about as devout as one can get in this parish. So why are these "converted" forced to attend a sermon with a missionary? Why isn't he "walking the streets to preach the gospel or love of one's fellow man?" It's beyond our comprehension.

We return home to little Sofi a little disoriented and out of sorts. Although Dino is a member of the Confraternita and they have a meeting in Bomarzo tomorrow night, we believe it is more of the same and Dino comments that he won't attend. Enough is enough.

March 29
I'm feeling particularly, well, lousy, and I won't go into it except to say that it's an acid-reflux thing. Dino drives to the house and meets with Tani early, talking about the window opening in the kitchen and the fireplace. Tani agrees that we'll wrap the fireplace front in old Umbrian stones. But the downstairs fireplace needs to be rebuilt, too. We'll deal with that later...

Dino arrives back home and we pick up Stein and Helga to take Stein to the Questura. He is dressed up complete with what Helga refers to as his "dog collar" and looks particularly saintly.

At the Questura Helga and Sofi and I sit in the car and chat, while the boys descend upon the offices of the stranieri, and Stein is able to process his permission to stay quite easily. But there is a very funny catch.

Stein lives on a street that the locals refer to as Aqua Puzza, or Dirty Water. It has something to do with the fact that in past decades the street was a smelly one, particularly before sewers were installed. So when the woman behind the counter goes through his house documents, she asks for his address, and Aqua Puzza appears on one.

Luckily she's able to find the correct address on the atto, but Dino and Stein look at each other in amazement, not saying a word about the silly street name. And a few minutes later they're back in the car, full of smiles and stories and Stein is closer to finalizing the documents he'll need to really own a car in Italy.

After a quiet pranzo at home, Sofi and I take a snooze, and then we meet with the kitchen supplier back at the house to take measurements.

As we drive over the Tenaglie hill we see the roof, almost finished on the West side, and it looks beautiful. By tomorrow they'll be done with the roof and on to the major demolition inside the house. It's all so exciting.

While the kitchen people measure, we confirm that there is not a straight angle in the house...perhaps it was built by the family who sold the house to them. Many houses in the early years of the 20th century were built by their owners, bit by bit, of local materials. At least the walls are thick and the beautiful Umbrian stone and old bricks were used as fillers in the walls. We plan to use a lot of reclaimed materials.

The fabro sends us a very professional email with quotes for his work. We are definitely going to use him, and will meet with him in the next couple of days to confirm some measurements and to let him know. We are very pleased to have found this local artisan and that his work is so superb.

The measurements complete, we drive to Viterbo to do some other specifying at new shops, and find some faucets and towel bars and even sinks at even better prices. So we'll come back to her, perhaps on Friday, to look at more. But for now we have a doctor's appointment.

I'm really dragging, and when we are able to get in to see our favorite doctor, Stefano Bevilacqua, he gives my heart a check and tells me it is in good shape. What I have is acid reflux, and he prescribes more medicine, telling me I don't have anything to worry about my cholesterol. He even tells me to stop taking the medicine.

He takes Dino's blood pressure, because Dino asks to renew a prescription, and his pressure is high. He tells us he is worried about me, but I'm going to be fine. So he'll recheck his pressure at the pharmacy in a day or so and if it's still high he'll get a different prescription.

We really like this doctor, and will certainly invite him to Mugnano as the weather gets warmer. Although it's the end of the day and he's been very busy, he is kind and thoughtful and extremely caring. We could not ask for a better doctor, or a better diagnostician.

Back at home, we fix up some scrambled eggs and pancetta and are in bed early. I'm looking forward to feeling better, and to seeing our pals Frank and Candace tomorrow.

March 30
The night brings another headache, but I'm determined to ignore it. Up at early morning light, we're looking forward to seeing Candace and Frank at the house and to placing the door and window order. With the kitchen measured, that order will go in within the next three days as well. We're chugging along...

I have let the ceramics projects slip from my mind, and with our trip to Provence approaching, I need to work on the plates this week. So if we have a couple of clear days, I'll dip and paint. With my change to oil painting I'm not as enthusiastic about the medium, but don't want to abandon it completely, especially since there will be a mostra (exhibit) at the San Liberato festa in May.

Dino and I are able to do quite a bit of garden cleanup at the house while we wait for Candace and Frank. After they arrive we take them around, then leave for pranzo at the nearby restaurant we like so much.

The fish is amazing, and we eat pasta with different kinds of fish, mussels in a spicy red sauce, grilled calamari, grilled vegetables, and everything is remarkably good. Even better is the company, and we're happy to be with our great friends again. They've invited us to a seder on Monday with good friends of theirs who we have yet to meet, and that should be fun.

We say goodbye and return to the house to meet up with Ovidio, who remeasures some windows and doors and brings us a sample, actually a set of shutters for the sojourno window that need staining for a "prova". The quality is quite good, but we ask him to change some of the hardware and approve the paint stain.

The rest will be ordered from Romania and should be here by the time we return from France. Now if the window openings are ready, we'll be in terrific shape with our timeline. But we know that in a restoration in Italia there are plenty of surprises. And we are ready....

We're standing outside the house at a bench on the side of the road, inspecting the shutters. Tani joins us and just then it begins to rain...and rain...and rain.

Ovidio follows us to our house to measure for our new shutters, and the rain by this time is practically torrential. It lets up, they finish measuring and then we have tea. Tomorrow he'll finish his preventivo and we'll sign contracts for all the work he is to do for us, and for our client.

We're excited about our new shutters, which will be painted a pale blue-grey, to match the pale yellow on the house that is still a dream...We have a house or two to sell until we can have the house painted, but at least we'll have the shutters...

March 31
Yikes, the month has flown by. I'm still not up to par, but we're out of the house on this foggy Saturday morning and sitting at Alessandro's desk just after 9AM at Orsolini.

We're still there three hours later, and although we're decisive and move quickly through the process, specifying kitchen and bath items for two kitchens and three bathrooms takes an inordinate amount of time. We're not complaining, but wonder what people do who have trouble making up their minds....

We find a really lovely blue-grey tile that we'll use in the master bath with white, and a totally different mix of tiles and shapes in the first floor bathroom. All the while, we're trying to bring prices down, keep quality high, and come up with innovative results. I think we're succeeding. We really hope so.

One of the muratores yesterday sent us to Castorama in Terni on the lookout for fake beams that can surround steel beams and when stained, look authentic. They don't have them. But they do have great prices on screens, so we'll buy a bunch early next week and have someone cut and mount them. Having screens made to order is just too expensive, and every fallegname wants us to let them provide made-to-order screens.

We stop at the Autogrill on the way back for plates of pasta, and then have a meeting with a stranieri couple who want to talk to us about one of their properties. But we find out that they want to rent it, so give them Lorraine's number, to see if they can work something out together. We're not interested in getting involved in rentals..."The tub leaks...Where is the bank?...What can we do today..."

We rush to Amelia to finish the window and door ordering, then drive back to Giove to put finishing touches on the main kitchen on the Piano Prima. We're finished and out the door on the way home twelve hours after we started.

This next week will continue on this pace, for we're getting ready for our Provence trip, and then there is the Mugnano festa weekend when we return, as well as installation after installation of tiles and finishes and kitchens and bathrooms...all for a June arrival of our client.

Among all these adventures, I'm finding time to paint. With one hour more of daylight each day, I think if I get up really early I can get something done, but each day starts earlier and earlier. Tomorrow we don't' leave for mass until after 9AM, so if I can get up early I can sneak in an hour or so. Come no?

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