Sunday, October 22, 2017

Buy Local, Maybe Make A New Friend!

No matter where you travel, or if you don't travel at all, buying local is one of the best things you can do.  It's good for the local economy, neighbor helping neighbor.  It's good for the environment, not paying transportation costs to have your food/clothing/whatever shipped hundreds or thousands of miles. It's also very satisfying, finding that cool shop hidden on a side street with someone creating jewelry or throwing pottery, discovery a local farm making unique cheeses.  You make a personal connection, talk with the artist/farmer/whoever, learn their story, help pay for their kids braces, maybe even make a friend.

We've had many such experiences here in Italy.  Our best friend in the world started off as our translator when we bought our house. The Testatonda family, who own La Locanda del Tramonto Infinito, have become our Italian family.  The sisters who own our favorite gelateria, Stefania's are like old friends.  Just this year we've become friends with Marco and Valeria who own Tassi, the ceramics shop in Deruta. Just taking the time to talk with the vendors at various festas helps us to understand how various products are made.  Artists are always excited to share their passions!

Last week we met an artist while wandering in Assisi.  I was looking for a gift for my sister, and stuck my head inside a shop to take a closer look.  Once inside I discovered an amazing array of artwork.  The scenes were Italian,  Umbrian hill towns, populated with Franciscan monks.  Some scenes were playful, others just everyday scenes, but all incredibly interesting and serene. The artist, Vincenzo Martini, was on hand, ready to share his passion with us. We told him our story about living in Italy and about our love for Umbria. We laughed and chatted and got to know each other, not as seller and buyer, but as people getting to know one another.

Honestly, I do NOT need more artwork - I really am running out of wall space! - but something in these works of art just spoke to me.  Sadly, the painting - plus framing  - just wasn't in my budget, so I thanked Mr. Martini, and we left.  No pressure, no guilt, but I have to admit I was disappointed.  And then, just a few days later, we returned to Assisi to spend the afternoon with my daughter and her friends.  I took Angela into the shop because I knew there was an item she'd want to buy for herself.  As she paid, I introduced her to Mr Martini and showed her the picture I'd fallen in love with.  Once again we left the shop, but this time I was a little more accepting of the fact that no, I really couldn't justify spending the money for a picture I didn't even have space for.

After a wonderful lunch with my daughter, Melanie, her friend-since-grade-school, and their significant others, Angela announced that we were going back to the shop because she was going to buy the painting for me!  Wow!  To say I was thrilled in an understatement!  And so now I have it, safely rolled in a tube to transport back home, signed by the artist, dedicated to me.  I'm thrilled to have an early Christmas/birthday present, a memory of Assisi and a wonderful day with my daughter, and a new friend.

Today after lunch with a friend we returned to the shop once again, to buy another gift, but also to snap a photo of us with the artist, our new friend, Vincenzo Martini.  If you're ever in Assisi, stop by and say hello.  You might even make a new friend.

Some photos below, and you can find Mr. Martini on Facebook and see his work on his website: Vincenzo Martini

Friday, October 06, 2017

Busy Busy Busy

With the cooler temps we've been able to get out more, and the plethora of fall festas has been a blast.  From the porchetta festa to the onion festa, the pasta, celery and chestnut festas, we're enjoying them all.  Our time here is quickly coming to an end so we're spending our days driving through the beautiful Umbrian hills.  Even though most of the fields are brown, we still love the patchwork hills and the ever-changing light.  We're also organizing long, lazy lunches that last nearly until dinner, spending time with friends who we don't see nearly often enough, yet we all stay connected through our love of Umbrian food, wine, and people.

As I've written about before, I've been trying to decide on what ceramics we'll take back to the states.  I have to admit that I really don't need any more plates, or serving bowls, or knickknacks, so what I'm really buying is a memory.  Having something that was made by our friends, something we can see and use every day, is very special. Most of the artwork in our house has a story, and I smile every time I look at the poster from Rotecastello, the photo from Zermatt, the miniature cottages from England or the various other trinkets we collected over the years.

I'd been checking in at Tassi on a regular basis to see what new designs and color combinations Valeria has on display.  As soon as I saw these plates I knew I was headed in the right direction.  We're moving a television out of the living room and will have an entire wall to fill, so we ordered 3 plates in 3 different sizes.

Valeria and Marco were so patient and so helpful, showing us various designs and lots of different color combinations.  I wanted the plates to complement one another, but not be exact matches, but unfortunately I just don't have the imagination to 'see' what the finished product will look like, and that's where Valeria and Marco came to the rescue.  I thought I knew what I wanted, but as we began to discuss, I realized there were things I hadn't considered - but they knew the right questions to ask.

We also ordered a small key rack - a ceramic piece, framed in wood - to hang our keys on as we come in the back door.  Once again, Marco and Valeria helped us figure out what colors to use for the ceramic piece, then what wood tone for the frame.  They showed us sample after sample, allowing us to see a variety of colors and combinations.  Although I still can't 'see' what the finished product will look like, I have complete confidence in Valeria's skill, and I know I'll love our pieces when they're ready.

One of the pieces Marco showed us was done in a beautiful turquoise blue.  I asked him about the pattern, just assuming that it was a traditional design.  As it turns out, Valeria had seen the design as a carving on a piece of furniture.  She fell in love with it, took a picture, then drew the design for these ceramic tiles.

Ceramic tiles_1658

Small Plates_Before_1656Large plate_Before_1655   We also saw our plates, not yet fired.  They'll go into the kiln on Saturday!  I think it's so cool to be able to see a 'before' shot of our ceramics!

As always, all our travel photos are on Flickr - Just click the link in the right-hand column!

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Deruta Ceramics Museum

We've been hoping to get together with Marco and Valeria to tour the ceramics museum in Deruta.  Marco emailed me a few weeks ago to suggest that we meet at the shop (Tassi, which I've written about HERE and ALSO HERE.  Because they're a small shop they don't have the time or personnel to maintain a website, but here's a Google maps link.)

Due to the good quality clay in the area, Deruta has been a major ceramics producer since the Middle Ages, and I was sure the museum would have many beautiful pieces.  The museum is free for artisans, who are free to study both the ceramics themselves as well as an extensive catalog of books, drawings and plans.  Although all of the ancient designs are known, today's artisans use the old designs for inspiration, tweaking traditional designs, using non-traditional colors, you know, being creative!  For the rest of us, admission is a reasonable €5, and the fact that information is available in both Italian and English, makes it well worth the price.

Properly called the Museo Regionale Della Ceramica (Regional Museum of Ceramic(s)), this collection of over 6000 pieces, housed in a former monastery, is a treasure trove, with every room leading to another surprise.  And because art is ever-evolving, there are many pieces done by local contemporary artists, so it's not just a staid collection of 600+ year old designs and pieces.

We were lucky to have Marco and Valeria to answer our questions and to point out interesting things we might have missed.  Having not just a local, but also an artisan, as a guide made the day even more enjoyable.  Once again, Marco and Valeria's kindness and generosity was overwhelming, and very much appreciated.

All the photos are in the Deruta Ceramics Museum album, on my Flickr page, and you can see all our photos by clicking on the "Our Flickr Photos" link in the right hand column of the blog.


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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

A Morning Walk

For years we've walked in the morning.  When we lived in Louisville it was so convenient to walk to Tom Sawyer Park.  Although Louisville is hot and humid in the summer it usually cools down at night (below 70ºF), and even on the hottest days, as long as we left the house before 7 it was still cool enough - and we still had enough shade - to make the walk tolerable.  The walking path at the park is crushed limestone, so it was gentler on my joints than walking on pavement.

When we moved to Florida, everything changed.  The first big change was that all the walking paths are paved, or at least the ones near us.  Walking in the grass is impossible in Florida - the grass is so deep and so thick it's like walking on a sponge, and it's impossible to tell if there's a hole or even a dip in the ground.  The second big change was the temperature.  In the summer - probably six months out of the year - the temperature NEVER dips below 75º, and of course the humidity is always high.  This means that even walking before the sun comes up is hot, sticky and just plain miserable.  

Not being a morning person, it's always challenging to get up early enough to walk.  It's actually more difficult here in Italy because there seems to be a festa every night, and even going out for a pizza means that dinner never starts before 7:30.  And a three hour dinner is pretty common.  And I really, really want to get nine of hours of sleep.  Yes, nine. I really love my sleep, no apologies.  And of course it's even harder to sleep when it's so hot and there's no air conditioning.  So yes, I really think I deserve a medal for getting up at seven to walk.  

Walking Path_4310 Initially we were walking at San Martino in Campo, at a flat, oval walking track. The problem with this track is that it was probably 60% sun, 40% shade when we arrived, and the later it got, the hotter the sunny parts were.  Walking earlier would have helped, but when it's this hot, getting to sleep before midnight is nearly impossible, so  that wasn't going to happen. I'd noticed a long, shaded, elevated white road near Deruta, and one day we decided to check it out.  Both sides of the road/walkway are lined with large birch trees so it's about 80% shaded, and stays cooler longer.  We walk up and down this road eight times, and based on how long this takes us we estimate the distance to be about three miles.

Tobacco and hay
There's a field - part tobacco, part bales of hay - on one side, and a parking lot - mostly deserted - on the other, with views of Deruta in the distance.  One end stops at the roadway, protected by a guardrail, and at the other end is a water treatment plant, or at least that's my guess.  There's no odor - no stinky or chemical smell at all, and when the water is being agitated it looks absolutely black.  It's not the most scenic part of the walk, but we don't have to look at it for very long.  

There seem to be quite a few other 'regulars', the shirtless man with the dachshund, the two women with their Jack Russell terrier, the man who drives up to the end of the road, parks his car by the water treatment plant, lets his dog out for a walk, then leaves.  We also see a young woman with a beautiful Dalmatian, and an elderly couple who walk single file.  She walks in front, wearing what my grandmother would call a housedress, and he, even shorter than his wife, trails behind. Oh, and the guy who rings his bell as he approaches on his bicycle.  Weekends are busier, of course, and most of the people we see walking don't go back and forth like we do, but rather walk one length of the road, coming from and going to parts unknown.

People here are friendly, and everyone nods, smiles and says 'Buon giorno' as we pass.  We stopped to chat with the two women who walk with the Jack Russell terrier, and they proudly told us one of their sons is now touring the United States with his girlfriend.  They told us he was an engineer who speaks excellent English.  They of course were curious about us, about where we were staying, and where we lived in the U.S.

Horse and buggy_4294 On Sundays we see people with their horses, but out on the main road, not on the trail.  Because my camera was in my purse, which is put safely away when I get into the car at the house, not at the walking path, I was only able to get a shot of one of the horses and this small, two-person carriage.  We also saw a larger wagon being pulled by two horses, and two individuals on horseback, all on the main road, all being passed slowly by passing cars so as not to startle the horses.  Just another Sunday in the country.

Water_4293 Often on our way home - if I'm not starving - we'll stop in Sant'Angelo to get water.  The water here is very, very hard, and it doesn't take long to see the mineral deposit build up on any glass or container.  These fairly new water dispensers, now found in almost every town, offer water, still or with gas, for 5¢ per 1 ½ liters.  Again, another opportunity to talk to people, which this summer consists mostly of talk about how hot it is!

We also stop at a local farm in Sant'Angelo for all our seasonal produce:  tomatoes, beans, eggplant, celery, lettuce, peaches, nectarines, onions, garlic, zucchini, cucumbers, peppers, fresh eggs and even home-made wine for €2.25 per bottle.  If I need fresh basil - mine's just not growing very well due to the extreme heat - the girl who's usually there, the granddaughter of the owner, will simply walk around back and cut what I need.  I'm sure the offerings will change with the seasons, and I can't wait to see what else they sell.  Pumpkins maybe?  But not for carving, for cooking!  Probably apples in the fall, and who knows what else.

Thank goodness it's cool in the mornings, and that we found a shady place to walk because in this heatwave we've mostly stayed indoors, reading, napping, discovering new television shows, staying cool within the thick stone walls of our little house.

You can see these and all our photos by clicking on this link to our FLICKR PAGE.


Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Tassi Ceramics, Again!

The other morning we stopped by our favorite ceramic shop in Deruta, Tassi.  We wanted to pick up something for the Umbrian gift basket we're preparing for our hosts in Switzerland, and we also wanted to have a look at what's new in the shop.

Every time we visit we look at the designs, the shapes,  the colors.  We discuss where we could put each piece.  Maybe we could hang this one on the wall.  Or how about putting that one on a stand on the sofa table?  Or maybe that one would look great in the china cabinet.  We're not ready to make a final decision yet, but with wall space and display space being limited, we're hoping to make the right decision.  We both know we'll love whatever piece(s) we choose, and the process is so much fun!

Here are some of the pieces we saw today.  Right now we're leaning towards the "Grigliata" design, but I love love love the gray/gold/terracotta design as well.  The blue and white patterns are a custom order, and that's something we could have done too.  Decisions decisions!

I think clicking on the photos will allow you to see them larger - at least I hope so!

  Tassi_Grigliata_4280 Tassi_Grigliata_4284 Tassi_Grigliata_4283 Tassi_Grigliata_4281 Tassi_Gray_04 Tassi_Gray_01 Tassi_Gray_02 Tassi_Blue_02 Tassi_Blue_01 Tassi_Blue_03


Monday, July 31, 2017

Celebrating Summer

Summer in Umbria, and probably in all of Italy, means being outdoors in the evening, taking your evening stroll (passeggiata) to see and be seen, having a gelato on the piazza, or visiting the local sagra or festa. A festa is just a big party, but a sagra will usually feature food as a theme. The food might be something the town is famous for, something that's being harvested now, or simply an excuse to eat a favorite local dish.

Most of the feste around here run Thursday to Sunday, but some of the larger ones run every night for ten days, encompassing two weekends. Advertising for these events is limited – apparently enough locals know when they are, so if you're in Italy be sure to keep your eyes open for posters both large and small, advertising these local treasures.

 When we arrived in Italy in 2003 we mistakenly thought the feste and sagre were similar to church picnics, but we quickly found out how wrong we were. Instead of being held during the day and running into the evening, an Italian festa rarely starts before 7:30. There are of course, exceptions to this rule, but for the smaller, local feste, 7:30 is pretty standard.

The first order of business is food. Well, maybe the second, because after all, it's all about socializing, so a quick turn around the site to see who's there, as well as where you want to sit is always a good idea. If you're ordering your food at a central location, you'll definitely need to know your table number so that the locals (usually teens) know where to bring it. On rare occasions, like the other night when we were in Fontignano, near Lake Tresimeno, people came around to the tables to take our order, and menus were conveniently supplied on each table. In San Venanzo you read the large posted menu, which might vary slightly from night to night, then pick up an order form and pencil. After noting how many of each item you want and what you want to drink, you add your name and your table number then proceed to the cassa (cashier) where you pay. Drinks are usually available at a different stand, and the choices are as you might expect: water, both still and fizzy, red or white wine, usually very local and very reasonably priced, and for the kids, the standard assortment of sugary drinks. Coffee for after dinner is also available. There may also be beer, but since that's something I never think about, I honestly don't remember. I would guess it is, because in addition to the more famous national brands like Peroni and Moretti, artisanal beer is also very, very popular now.

Music and dancing is also a traditional part of every sagra or festa. The music doesn't start until 9:30 or so, and is usually a local group playing traditional music. The music is well-suited for two types of dancing: line dancing, which is extremely popular, and waltzes that have everyone swirling around and around the dance floor. Normally everything is over by midnight, but we do have to think about driving home on curvy, unlit two-lane country roads, so we usually leave before the final song. It was so easy when we lived in San Venanzo and could just walk up the street!

I was a little disappointed when I discovered that the Street Food Festival – definitely a break from tradition! - in Marsciano wouldn't have as many trucks as the one in Foligno a few weeks ago. There, the trucks had been not just from various regions of Italy, but also from Spain, Greece, Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and one, while perhaps not from the U.S., featured American-style barbeque. Marsciano featured trucks from several regions of Italy – Sicily, Abruzzo, Piemonte, Calabria, Lazio, Umbria and Tuscany. There might have been other regions I'm forgetting, but there was a good selection of food (except for the truck offering horse meat! Neigh!!!). The only international truck there was one from Spain, so we knew we wouldn't be eating BBQ and/or Mexican.

I had a huge American-style hamburger and Art had a burger made from the pork of the Cinta Senese pigs, a particularly flavorful pork. Both were delicious, cooked fresh while we waited, and Art enjoyed sampling a few Sicilian beers with our friends to go along with his burger.

 And then, off in the distance I heard a very surprising, but very distinct sound: bagpipes! I turned my camera on and walked towards the sound. It was dark by this time, but eventually I saw them coming down the stairs from the hill above, and once in the parking lot where the festa was being held began walking through the crowd. I would later learn that this was a Palestinian group called Bagpipes For Peace.

We knew there would be another musical act, presented in conjunction with the Musica Per i Borghi program, something that's been bringing diverse music to Umbria for many years now. The large stage was set near the road, with way more chairs than I expected to see. The first act, who I heard but did not see, was a woman who sang exclusively in English - “My Heart Will Go On”, and other similar songs. I think there must have a different woman, or women who sang after her, and we heard both “Imagine” and “Hey Jude” - another surprise! After that another act was introduced. I could hear the announcement but wasn't really paying attention, so when I heard a lot of drums I immediately jumped up. Bagpipes, Beatles AND percussion, all in one night?! The act was a drumline – eight boys, and a man playing a regular drum-kit.

We left shortly after that – we had ridden with a friend who needed to get up early the next morning, but I have to say the night turned out much better than I expected. I knew we'd have good food, and I knew we'd enjoy the company of our friends, but to have these musical surprises was really the cherry on top. You just never know what's going to happen in Italy!

Update: The following day, Saturday, we joined friends for a festa in tiny San Faustino, just outside of Mass Martana. Although the village is small, the festa, called the festa of good eating, no less, was amazing. On the menu was melon with prosciutto, goose (oca), pork shank (stinco), tagliatelle with tartufo, guanciale, torta al testo, and on and on and on. Everyone shared bites and we all groaned as we left the table. We walked down to the dance floor to watch and listen, and met more friends along the way. Another delicious evening!






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Sunday, July 23, 2017

Four Days In Rome Part 2

Rome_Italy_Vittorio Emanuele Monument_3754We slept late on Sunday morning and missed breakfast at The Beehive, but in Rome – or anywhere in Italy – a coffee and a croissant are as close as the nearest bar. We stopped at a bar near Termini for a quick breakfast then once again walked down the via Nazionale,
towards the Vittorio Emanuele Monument, nicknamed “the typewriter” or “the wedding cake”. The street in between the monument and the Coliseum is pedestrian-only on Sundays, which makes the area feel a little calmer, and certainly less dangerous when crossing the street!

 Although there were no cars there were lots and lots of people. Despite the heat, a beautiful summer day in Rome is not to be wasted, and the street, and the steps of the monument were crowded.

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_Piazza del Campidoglio_3902

We walked around the monument and up the broad stairs that lead to the Compodoglio, the piazza designed by Michelangelo at the top of the Capitoline hill. The two buildings that house the Capitoline Museums face each other across the piazza, and are connected by an underground passageway. Although the museum is quite large, and you might be tempted to see one building and skip the other – DON'T!

 I say this for several reasons, but first let me say that yes, I do understand that for most of you, your time in Rome is limited. You want to see the 'big' sites: The Forum, the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish steps, St Peter's and the Vatican Museum. Spending time in a museum, even a smaller one like the Borghese, might not be on your list, and I get it. However, if you've been to Rome more than once, try to expand your list, add something new. Additionally, sometimes it rains when you're on vacation. Sometimes it's miserably hot. For these times it's always nice to have an alternative, and a museum can save the day. Be sure to make note of the closing day (usually, but not always, Monday), and if you plan to visit a large museum like the Capitoline, pace yourself!

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_View of St Peter's_3946 One of the nice things about the Capitoline Museum is their restaurant, which includes a terrace with a view of the dome of St Peter's. We reserved a table at the restaurant's covered, protected, outside area, but either things have changed dramatically, or, more likely, I'd just forgotten how outrageously expensive it was. Next time we'll grab our food from the cafeteria-style counter (inside) and eat our meal inside, then walk out to the terrace to enjoy the view and snap a few pics. To add insult to injury, the waiter we had in the outdoor section was arrogant and condescending, so, lesson learned. The nice thing for a larger museum like this is that you can easily break up your visit with a meal, or just a snack, then continue your visit refreshed.

Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_View of Forum_3954Another tip: when walking through the underground passage connecting the two buildings, don't miss the corridor (accessed up a small staircase) that will give you an incredible view of the Roman forum. It's easy to miss, but well worth the diversion!

Although not every piece is marked in English, most, if not all of the exhibits and explanations are in English, so you can read as much detail as you want – sometimes it's too much detail, but it's always nice to know some of the history of the pieces you're seeing. 

The first building you visit, the Palazzo dei Conservatori, is filled with sculptures and artwork, while the second building, the Palazzo Nuovo, is a work of art unto itself.  The rooms!  The ceilings!  The chandeliers!  The frescoes! Much like the Borghese, the rooms in the Palazzo Nuovo were designed to impress, to dazzle and to amaze, and they do all that and more!
Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_Ceiling_Chandelier_3971
Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_Chapel_Ceiling_3898Rome_Italy_Capitoline Museum_Ceiling_chandelier_3892

Walking around on hard surfaces all day is tiring. The heat is tiring. Trying to absorb all the art, history and beauty is tiring. Pace yourself! We stopped in the mini Eataly in the Piazza della Republica.  Yes, it's a great place to find food items from all over Italy, but I didn't see anything I couldn't live without.  In retrospect we could have bought some snacks for dinner, but at the time we weren't sure what our plans were.  Later we walked up to the bar near Termini and bought two panini, some fruit and a small bottle of wine for an alfresco dinner on our tiny balcony.

Mondays can be tricky because many (but not all!) museums are closed on Mondays.  It was way too hot to go wandering around the Forum, Coliseum and Palatine Hill, so we decided to take the advice of a fellow traveler from the Slow Europe Forum and visit CineCitta, founded in 1937 by Mussolini (!), and made famous by Federico Fellini.  CineCitta is home to such blockbusters as Ben Hur and Cleopatra, and the spaghetti westerns of the '60's.  Martin Scorsese filmed "Gangs of New York" here, and more recently HBO's "Rome" ☺was shot here.  It's an easy Metro ride to the studios, which are located right next to the Metro stop, about 15 minutes from Termini.

Cinecitta_Rome_Italy_movies_3985We had a little over an hour to wander through the exhibits, housed in two buildings.  We saw costumes, posters and read about the many, many films that were made here.  Our guided tour in English through the lot was scheduled for 11:30.  The meeting point was the gift shop/cafe, where I found the souvenirs, like this clever fan, to be out of my price range.  (The fan, designed to look like strips of film, cost €23)



The lot tour took us to a large soundstage, then to various sets, all very realistic until you tapped them or took a look behind them to see the scaffolding that was holding them up. We saw sets for "Gangs of New York" and "Rome", as well as a production in progress.

At the end of the tour we took the Metro back to Termini, and walked down to the new Mercato Centrale, a huge, modern food court which has just recently opened.  There are many, many choices for food here.  We selected a table, chose a pasta restaurant, ordered our food and watched as it was being prepared.  The plates were handed over the counter to us to enjoy.  Servers came around, circulating from the large bar that's in the middle, taking drink orders.  We shared our table with a couple from Sicily who now live in Milan, so yes, all roads do lead to Rome!

After lunch we walked back to the Beehive to retrieve our bags, then walked back to Termini to catch our train back to Umbria.  Due to increased security, you must now show your ticket before being allowed to enter the boarding area for the trains.  Unfortunately our train was delayed 35 minutes, which affected our connection in Foligno.  We could have stayed longer in Rome and taken the direct train back to Ponte San Giovanni, but it's impossible to predict something like this.

We had a great time in Rome, and despite the heat I'm glad we went.  There is always something new to see in Rome, whether it's a newly discovered/opened site, or something we just haven't gotten around to seeing before, and of course there are old favorites like The Borghese, The Vatican, The Forum and Coliseum that can be visited again and again and again.  Rome is indeed the Eternal City.

Click on the link for all the photos from the Capitoline Museums: Capitoline Museum, Rome Italy 2017

Click on the link for all the photos from CineCitta: Cinecitta Rome Italy 2017