Friday, June 23, 2017

I Heard It Through The Grapvine

As I've said before, Italy is all about connections.  Rather than setting out on your own it's always advisable to ask a local for the best place to buy anything, for the best restaurants, plumber, or doctor.  Additionally, Italians are definitely not shy about sharing their (unsolicited) opinions on any and everything.

Art and I both needed haircuts, so of course we asked around and decided to try the shop in nearby San Niccolo in Celle, just down the hill from us.  We stopped in Andrea's shop one day to make an appointment, then returned on the designated time and day, hoping we'd be able to communicate our wishes.  The first visit to any hairdresser is always challenging, but when trying to communicate in a foreign language, the challenge is even greater.  And yes, I will admit once again that my Italian leaves much to be desired.

The shop was small, but Andrea was assisted by a young woman and I was called to sit in the chair after only a few minutes, despite the fact that there were 3 other women already in various stages of cutting and/or coloring.  Because my hair is so short there wasn't a lot of direction needed, so I just put myself in Andrea's care and began to chat - more or less.  I can usually get my point across because I'm using the words I know.  If I use an incorrect verb tense, as I'm sure I do on a regular basis, the Italians are very kind and understand what I'm trying to say.  My problem begins once they respond, using words I don't know, often including contractions and dialect, in addition to verb tenses I don't recognize.  Reading a foreign language is so much easier than listening - nearly every word ends in a vowel and I rarely know where one word ends and the other begins.  But I persist!

Canalicchio_3247 Somehow the conversation took a turn and Andrea asked us if we'd ever been to Canalicchio.  No, we'd never heard of it, what is it, and where is it?  Andrea told us it was a small borgo that had been restored by a group from Rome, that it was beautiful, and that it was just above Deruta.  He told us to exit the E45 at Ripabianca and head towards Bastardo until we saw the signs.  Okay, our curiosity was piqued!

Relais Canalicchio_3288
Relais Canalicchio
A few days later we decided to check out Canalicchio for ourselves.  The drive up up up the hillside above Deruta was beautiful, and once we were almost there we spied what we were sure was Canalicchio - there was a medieval tower, surrounded by attached buildings, right at the top of the hill.  Wow!

The entire borgo is now a luxury hotel,RELAIS CANALICCHIO, and we just began wandering through the maze of buildings.  A few people appeared, members of a group that wa staying there.  Some were artists, others were walkers, and each group had found the ideal spot to pursue their interests - Umbria has something for everyone!

Here are a few more pictures from that day, and as always the whole album is available on our FLICKR PAGE

Relais Canalicchio_door_3254Relais Canalicchio_3260Umbria_Italy_3292Relais Canalicchio_3255

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Sunday, June 18, 2017

Do You Know Sagrantino?

Before we moved to Italy in 2003 I knew very little about wine.  What I did know was that it was usually expensive in restaurants, which kept me from ordering it, because the only other thing I knew about wine was that I had no idea what I liked.  Other than Chianti, I don't even think I knew the names of any wines, grapes or regions.

Although I now know a little more about wine - with the emphasis on 'little', the things I've learned are important.  Probably the most important thing I've learned about wine is that wine improves food and food improves wine and they should always always always be enjoyed together.  While I still can't tell you which wine pairs best with what food, I'm learning.

Cantina ChiorriWhen we lived in Louisville we enjoyed the wine tastings at Westport Wine and Whiskey.  In Italy there are so many wineries, ranging from tiny local home-based places to large, international companies, and many, many regional cantinas where you can fill up your 5 liter fiasco from a gas pump style hose for €1 per liter.  We recently visited Chiorri to take in the view and enjoy a refreshing glass of grechetto on a warm summer's afternoon.  Being able to have this wine by the glass let us sample, which led us to buy 5 liters to enjoy at home.

Those of you who know a bit about wine may know that Tuscany is famous for its' Brunello, and that Piemonte is known for Barolo and Barbaresco (And if you're interested,HERE is a link explaining the differences between those two wines, both made from the Nebbiolo grape.)  Here in Umbria there is also a very regional, very delicious and not as well know wine, Sagrantino,  There are about 50 producers of Sagrantino, and its production is strictly controlled to ensure the highest quality.

If you're visiting Umbria this year - and if you're not already making plans, start NOW! - the best way to see the beauty of Umbria and sample some of these great wines is to hire a knowledgeable guide.  We highly recommend GUSTO WINE TOURS.  Run by an English couple, Mark and Giselle Stafford, Gusto Wine Tours lets you meet the producers, mostly small, local places, sample the wines, not have to worry about driving,  enjoy the beautiful countryside, enjoy an authentic Umbrian lunch and spend the day with Mark, who is as knowledgeable about the wine as he is charming and witty!

Sharing the joys of Umbria, and of Sagrantino with the world is something we love to do.  If you've been putting off that trip because you're worried about earthquakes, please let me reassure you - Umbria is up an running, with little to no damage from earthquakes that occurred in other regions!  Come to Umbria, enjoy its' food, its' scenery, its' people and its' wine!  Book a tour with Mark and Giselle at GUSTO WINE TOURS for a truly special, unforgettable day!

You can also find Gusto Wine Tours on FACEBOOK.  

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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

More Of Umbria

Because Kim and Bill's time in Umbria was so short we tried to maximize every moment.  Our first day together was spent in Orvieto, my favorite Umbrian town, included a fabulous lunch, then a visit to Todi.  The day ended with our arrival at La Locanda del Tramonto Infinito where Kim and Bill experienced the love, warmth and generosity of the Italian culture.  They instantly became part of our extended Umbrian family, and we wanted to make sure that this experience continued.

My previous post was about our morning in Deruta, visiting Tassi Ceramiche.  There we experienced warmth and generosity from Marco and Valeria, and although brief, I think during our time there we made friends for life.

We wanted to continue the Umbrian experience with as much tradition as we could, so we stopped for lunch at il Testone in Santa Maria degli Angeli. Il Testone is known for their torta al testo, a flat bread made on a hot griddle, cooked over hot coals.  Hot coals are also placed on top of the torta to ensure even cooking, then quickly brushed off when the bread is ready.  A raging fire provides a continuous supply of hot coals, as seen here:


The hot, flat bread is cut into wedges, then sliced horizontally and filled with meats and/or vegetables.  I think the most traditional filling for torta al testo is grilled sausage and cooked spinach, but there are many, many options, including prosciutto, which is what Bill chose.  And yes, when you're in Italy, is really IS all about the food.  And the wine.  And the people.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Typically Unbrian

We picked Kim and Bill up bright and early on Monday morning and drove to Deruta.  We knew Marco and Valeria's day started early, and we were anxious to spend as much time with them as possible.  Introductions were made and Kim was overwhelmed - where to look first?  What to ask?  What to discuss?  The fun had begun!

Marco's English is excellent, so he was able to answer all of Kim's questions.  Valeria understands some English, so she usually understood what Kim was asking, and was happy to let us all watch her paint.  I hate having someone look over my shoulder when I'm typing, so the idea of having people watch while I paint is terrifying - but of course Valeria, as well as Sara, took it all in stride.

Kim had questions about preparation, technique, brush strokes, types of brushes, and more, most of which were complete Greek to me.  The time Marco and Valeria spent with Kim was amazing - never a hint of impatience, simply joy to be sharing their passion with another artist.  If you stop in Deruta to buy ceramics, I highly recommend visiting a shop like Tassi where the artists will show you how your piece was created - they'll even custom design a piece just for you, using specific colors, or maybe even a special design.  Working directly with the artisans is definitely the way to go for a piece that will last a lifetime.

Here's a short video of Sara painting a cake plate:

The finished plate will look like this:  

After watching and learning about how the terracotta is transformed with paint, glaze, firings and a little luck, Marco asked us if we'd like to see the pottery being thrown.  Tassi doesn't throw their own pottery, they buy it from their neighbor Roberto Barcaccia, whose shop is just two doors down.  

As we walked in Roberto was just finishing up a large urn, which we later decided would become a lamp.  (Well, it was Kim who figured it out, I never would have guessed!)  Roberto's been throwing pottery for 40+ years, and makes it looks so simple.  

Amazing, right?  And all this before noon!  

I bought this beautiful bracelet from Roberto,  
 but I haven't yet decided which (or how many!) pieces we'll take home with us from Tassi.

You can see all our photos from that day by clicking on the Flickr link in the right-hand column."Albums" to find the ones you'd like to view.  The videos are on our YouTube page, also accessible via the link on the right.

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Thursday, June 08, 2017


Our new friends, Kim and Bill, spent a few days in Rome before taking the train to Orvieto one Sunday morning.  Perhaps this is the time to talk about how we first met them.

One of the most difficult things about moving is that you lose all your history, all the moments you've shared with friends over the years, all the secrets, all the pain, all the joy.  We've met a few wonderful people since we've moved to Florida, but like many people of a certain age, most of them already have their circle of friends and their routines.  True friendships are formed over time, involving multiple interests and shared memories.  Just because we share a love of food, or a love or Italy, or even agree on politics, building friendships takes time.  But you gotta start somewhere, right?

After the Women's March in January we wanted to continue to do something physical like marching and demonstrating.  I was a little too young - and a little too clueless - to march back in the 60s for civil rights and women's rights, but I was ready to make up for it.  Our Republican Senator, Marco Rubio, had gone into hiding (after failing in his presidential bid, he'd returned to the job he'd said he hated) and hadn't held a town hall meeting in well over a year, Indivisible Tampa decided to hold a demonstration outside of his Tampa office and Art and I showed up the first week - and every week thereafter.  Needless to say we saw many of the same people week after week, and we struck up many conversations.  

One day while demonstrating, Art found me and said,"Hey, you've got to meet this woman!"  That woman was Kim.  She'd arrived that day wearing a Beatles T-shirt, and Art had on a ball cap with "Italia" on it.  They'd struck up a conversation and discovered that she and I shared a love for Paul McCartney AND Italy, AND that she and her husband (that would be Bill) would be in Italy at the same time.  Email addresses were exchanged and we visited each other's homes for planning sessions, trying to figure out how best to maximize Kim and Bill's time in Italy.  

Kim is a potter - she throws her her own pieces, then paints and fires them.  Her work in incredible!  You can see some of her pieces here: Kimberli PotteryOne of her must-sees during her time in Italy was Deruta, where they've been making majolica for centuries.  (If you're wondering about the term "majolica", That's has a great, easy-to-understand definition HERE).  My last post was about our search to find studios for Kim to visit. You can read it HERE.

So - back to Orvieto.  Art and I drove up and over Monte Peglia to Orvieto on a Sunday morning to meet Kim and Bill at the train station.  We'd made reservations for lunch Trattoria del Moro Aronne,  and we had plenty of time to wander through town, visit the cathedral and absorb the charms of Orvieto.  The views, the architecture and the many ceramic shops were as enjoyable for Kim and Bill as they always are for us.  Click on the link to see our ORVIETO PHOTOS.

After a wonderful lunch - and if you plan to go for Sunday lunch at Trattoria del Moro Aronne, be sure to make reservations! - we drove back over Monte Peglia, drove through San Venanzo to show Kim and Bill where we used to live, then went on to Todi where we enjoyed the flower show - dozens of stalls selling all kinds of plants, from roses to bonsai. Much like Orvieto, the views OF Todi as well as the views FROM Todi are spectacular.  You can see our TODI PHOTOS by clicking on the link.

At the end of the day we drove Kim and Bill to La Locanda del Tramonto Infinito, their home for the next two nights.  We had promised Bill the best pizza he'd ever eaten, and he was not disappointed!  Marco and his family greeted Kim and Bill warmly, and they instantly felt at home.

We continued to share stories and learn more and more about each other over dinner.  By the end of our first day together it had become obvious:  this was indeed a friendship that would endure.  Our common interests were the beginning, but the time spent together over the next several days would be the beginning of the kind of shared memories that all friendships must have.  I know Kim was inspired by her time in Italy in general, and in Deruta specifically, and I can't wait to see what new pieces she'll create.  I also can't wait to start planning for our next joint trip to Italy, hopefully in September, 2018.  I guess I'll have to title that post "Old Friends and Old Places"!

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Sunday, June 04, 2017


I honestly don't know if I'll make the time to blog much over the summer, but I'll make the first attempt.  Being back home in Umbria is always strange because we're home in our hearts, but don't have a physical home here anymore, so we rent or stay with friends.  it's wonderful to have friends who welcome into their homes, it IS their home, not ours, and as such we're always searching for something:  the right sized bowl, an extension cord, an extra blanket for the bed.  We've been here for two weeks now, and slowly, slowly, it's starting to feel like home.

Our first week here was spent gorging on Marco's pizza at La Locanda del Tramonto Infinito and researching various ceramic shops in Deruta.  Let's face, I'm spoiled when it comes to pizza, and Marco's is simply the best!  Regarding Deruta, our friends Kim and Bill would arrive by train in Orvieto on Sunday, and we wanted to have the perfect place for Kim to watch Italian artisans make and decorate the majolica Deruta has been producing for hundreds of years.

Having a network of friends is important no matter where you live, but in Italy it's more than important - it's everything.  Before doing, buying or selling anything, ask around.  Ask for suggestions and recommendations, and before long you'll have a confusing, overwhelming list of choices, but with careful research you'll be able to find the perfect solution, and that's just what happened when  we asked for recommendations for ceramic shops.

Kim is a potter.  She throws her own pottery, then paints it herself, so she was very interested to talk with artisans who shared her passion.  We set out one morning to visit several shops that had been recommended, based on our criteria:  some English had to be spoken, we had to be able to watch the artists at work, and they had to be willing to spend some time talking with Kim.

Our first stop, Tassi (Via della Tecnica, 24, 06053 Deruta PG) turned out to be filled with beautiful ceramics, and with beautiful people as well.  We introduced ourselves to Marco, telling him we had been sent by a mutual friend.  He repeated our names, stopped for a moment, then broke into a huge smile.  "Art and Barbara!  I read your blog!  I love you!"  Needless to say, that broke the ice!  How Marco  - whose English is perfect - discovered my blog is beyond me, but chalk it up to the wonders of social media.  

Marco introduced us to his wife, Valeria.  Her father had opened this studio nearly fifty years ago, and Valeria proudly carries on the tradition.  It's a small, three person operation, with Sara also painting the ceramics.  The pieces are bought already made, ready to be decorated.  Marco told us if Kim would like to see the pottery being thrown we could walk down the street to visit his colleague, Roberto.  Even better!  We left Tassi after being given an educational lesson in how the pieces go from baked terracotta to beautifully decorated plates, bowls, pitchers and more.  Kim would probably know most of this, but for us in was a much-needed and much appreciated lesson.  We told Marco we would return with Kim and Bill bright and early on Monday morning, and commented that Kim might be happy to spend the entire day talking, watching, learning and sharing with Marco, Valeria and Sara.

Photos and videos from Tassi are posted on FLICKR


Friday, January 08, 2016

A Pain In The Foot

I've always had problem feet.  Narrow feet are hard to fit, and a AAAA heel makes wearing almost any slip-on style shoe nearly impossible.  I also have very high arches, and after years of suffering,   finally discovered that prescription orthotics are worth every penny.  Luckily I am also a very practical person, who places comfort above fashion.  For this reason I don't mind not being able to wear high heels, and am only occasionally sad about not being able to wear cute sandals and flats - alas, my orthotics just don't work in anything less than a lace-up shoe.  Not a big deal, really.

I'm very picky about the way my shoes fit.  After years of aching arches it wouldn't be right to have my feet hurt in others areas too, like getting bunions from wearing too tight shoes.  I love to walk and having feet that work with me instead of against me is a wonderful thing!

About two years ago, after being unable to walk at our usual place, the crushed-limestone walking trail at E.P "Tom" Sawyer State Park, for nearly 3 months during the winter, Art and I resumed our daily walks in March, 2014.  As we resumed our walks I noticed my left foot was bothering me.  It felt as if my sock were scrunched up inside my shoe, rubbing on the area at the base of my toes.  I repeatedly took my shoe off, but never, ever, found my sock to be where it felt like it was.

I trip to my podiatrist ultimately revealed that I had a Morton’s Neuroma, caused not by high heels and narrow shoes, but simply by having narrow feet, and probably by the very orthotics that were helping my painful arches.  There were treatments available, including surgery, but I didn't want to be laid up for 6-8 weeks, so I decided to try a series of three injections of cortisone, which I began in the summer of 2014.  None proved effective, but by this time I had learned how to manage the pain: I learned that I could initially walk for 1.5 miles before the pain began.  Removing my shoe and putting it back on was all it took to walk for another mile, so I simply stopped after each mile.

Unfortunately as the bones rub on the nerve, causing the neuroma, the neuroma just becomes larger and larger, so the problem will never go away, never get 'better', and will almost certainly get worse.  Although a second podiatrist had been able to replace my orthotics with ones that would not exacerbate the problem, the neuroma was still there.  It was time for surgery, which involves removing the neuroma, and the section of nerve surrounding it.

I should have had the surgery last winter, when we were still in Louisville.  The gray, cloudy/snowy/rainy days of January and February could have been spent snuggled on the couch, fireplace roaring, while I watched movies on Netflix or did research for our next vacation.  Unfortunately, and for reasons I still don't remember, I did not have surgery last winter.  I knew it had to be done sooner rather than later, and I also never there would never be a 'right' time, so I had the surgery last Tuesday.

We haven't been in the house a month yet, the Florida room is still a bare shell, there are still many things packed away in boxes, and I'm about to lose my mind, sitting here on the couch, a virtual prisoner in my own home.  Except it doesn't even feel like home yet!  I am, however, determined to stay off my feet for as long as possible.  To keep my foot elevated about my heart, and to keep an ice pack behind my knee.  One of the worst things about getting older is that things take f.o.r.e.v.e.r to heal!  I do not want to hinder my recovery in any way, so I've been camped out here on the sofa, watching "House of Cards" on Netflix, renting moving from Redbox, and fast-forwarding through all the commercials.

The doctor said I must have a high tolerance for pain, but that is NOT true!  I am an absolute baby about pain, which is why I began taking my prescribed pain meds not long after I got home from the surgery center on Tuesday afternoon.  I took one pill (rather than two) every four hours that first day, and never felt any pain.  I sat a pill next to the bed in case I woke up in pain in the middle of the night, but that never happened.  I took the pill first thing on Wednesday morning, thinking that the pain would kick in now that the anesthesia had completely worn off.  But the pain never came.  I didn't take a pain pill after Wednesday morning.

Because the doctor told me my neuroma practically jumped out of my foot, I thought the lack of probing might be the reason for my lack of pain, but the doctor doesn't seem to think so, noting that my skin, muscle and nerves were still cut, which should equate to pain, especially for me.  Weird, huh?  Unfortunately all this sitting has made my backside sore, and I guess because I have my foot propped up, my lower back is killing me!  I resumed taking my pain medication this morning, and I'm trying a different position on the couch.  I figure the sore bottom is inevitable, but if I heal my foot only to have screwed up my back I'll be very, very unhappy.

I see the doctor next Tuesday, but the stitches don't come out until the 19th - by which time I expect to be feeling pain from the pull of the stitches if nothing else.  The pain in my backside and in my lower back are only enhanced by the pain of only being able to look at the disarray of my new home without being able to do anything about it!  This is an exercise in patience, which for me is a real pain in the....foot!