Monday, October 01, 2018

Oops, I Did It Again!

Back in the '70s and '80's, I had wall art that was probably like everyone else's - a beautiful landscape over the sofa, a nice floral on the wall, some pleasing, generic something-or-other's flanking the bed. You know what I mean - the sort of stuff they sell at BB&B, or Target, or Michaels. It's pretty, but it doesn't really mean anything, doesn't have a personal connection.

And then I started to travel. Back in the day when we still used film in cameras, I quickly learned to added a few hundred dollars to the budget for the developing and framing that followed every vacation. Sometimes I'd buy posters, or even postcards that I found interesting. Once, following in the footsteps of my son, I ripped a concert poster off a wall in Prague to bring home as a souvenir. I bought ceramic plates to hang rather than eat from, and took every photo with the thought that this could be the one!

Now, every single thing that hangs on my walls, or sits on my shelves, has a story, has meaning, and brings back memories of the place, the occasion, and the people. Anyone who's seen our house knows that the walls are pretty full, and I promised myself I wouldn't buy anymore art on this trip, but I've failed miserable.

At first I started small.  I bought postcards and greeting cards with beautiful scenes, thinking that I could frame them, or not - if I didn't, I hadn't spent a lot of money, but at least I had the option, and at least the picture was small. But then my collection grew. A couple of prints from Ireland. A few more from England. A tea towel from Sussex to hang on the kitchen door. A charming scene of Innsbruck, bought directly from the artist. And now, quite a few more from Italy.

I bought a print from the same man we bought an original from last year, 'just in case'. I found a charming scene, already framed!, from a local artist who'd set up a temporary exposition in a nearby town. And today, while visiting a tiny little village here in Umbria we walked past an exhibition of paintings that were absolutely breathtaking. The artist, a small man named Rolando, welcomed us into his studio. A speech impediment made conversation difficult, but what he's unable to express in words he's more than made up for with his artwork. (And later he'd gift me a book of poems he's written!) How could I NOT buy one of his pictures?

Deciding on just one, and a small one at that, was difficult, but in the end we choose one that depicts the town we were in, Ferentillo, and the two towers that watch over it. I really wanted the large one with the field of poppies in the foreground, and the one with sunflowers - and I LOVED the one with the simple vase of flowers, but unfortunately not only are my walls full, I also have to consider my suitcases for the trip home.

The best part about these purchases is that in the end, I don't feel guilty at all - I know once I get home I'll remember exactly where we were, exactly what the artist told me about his work, and I'll instantly be transported back to that moment in Ireland, England, Austria or Italy.

Ferentillo - If you see it, you'll love it.

Rolando Lucidi

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Something Old is New For Us

Last year when we discovered Vincenzo Martini's delightful works in his shop in Assisi, we had no idea what, or even who, had inspired his work.  All we knew was that we loved his depiction of Umbrian hill towns, their terra-cotta colored roofs, and the playful Franciscan monks scattered throughout.  This year, after visiting Sig. Martini again, we learned more about his inspiration:  Norberto Proietti.

Commonly referred to by his first name only, Norberto was a local, born in Spello in 1927. Norberto was inspired by the frescoes of Giotto and Pinturicchio, and began expressing his artistic talents around 1951. He painted and sculpted, and his works show a variety of interests and styles.  My favorites are of course the Franciscan monks, especially when they're picking olives! 

I was quite surprised to discover that Norberto was the creator of the statue that stands in front of the basilica in Assisi - a statue that seems sad and forlorn, and very touching, and one that I've photographed many times.

In Spello there is a gallery displaying many of Norberto's works, and it's well worth seeing.  Don't be fooled into thinking that the few works exhibited on the the ground floor are all there are - go downstairs where you'll discover many more works.I hope you'll be as charmed as we were.

Norberto died in 2008, and many artists continue to paint the playful scenes he was known for. Here are some pictures from the gallery in Spello:

Friday, August 31, 2018


You just never know how the day will turn out, do you? Yesterday had its ups and downs, but when you're surrounded by this much beauty it's pretty much guaranteed that something will happen to put a smile on your face. Today certainly proved that theory to be true.

We weren't sure what we were going to do today, but started off with our usual walk near Deruta. We could hear the drummers practicing in a nearby parking lot – there's a festa tonight in Deruta, complete with medieval costumes, and the drummers always add a touch of drama as they march through the city gates.

After our walk we decided to stop by Tassi, our favorite ceramics shop, just one block over from where we walk. We need to order a piece, and with so many choices of shapes, sizes, patterns and colors, we knew we needed to start early. We're here until the beginning of November, but that will be here before you know it.

Valeria and Sara were at their stations, painting away, and Marco was happy to show us various pieces and make suggestions on color changes and combinations. As we got ready to leave he asked: “What are you doing today for lunch?” Last week at the porchetta festa in Costano, he and Valeria had told us about Valeria's cousin, who supplies the porchetta for a place in Santa Maria degli Angeli, and had asked if we'd be interested in going with them for lunch one day. We had agreed, but hadn't set a date. We had no plans for today, so sure!, what time should we meet?

Marco then suggested we leave then (it was about 10:30), and have a walk through Assisi before lunch. Never ones to refuse a visit to the beauty of Assisi, we agreed, hesitantly, because we were still in our walking clothes. Marco said it was fine, he was just in shorts and a t-shirt as well, and we all agreed that we looked like the perfect group of tourists, so off we went.

On the way we discussed many things, including St. Francis. Marco asked if we'd ever been to the Eremo, the small cave up on the side of Mt. Subasio where Francis went to meditate and spend time alone, and we admitted we had not. This was the perfect time, so off we went, up the hill around Assisi, then off to the right, up a road we'd never taken before. And up. And up. And finally we arrived at a small parking lot filled with cars – obviously a popular place. As we walked into the complex – the small cave and chapel used by St. Francis have been added to over the years - signs warned us to be quiet, to respect our surroundings. The quiet was blissful, the only sound was the crunching of our feet as we walked down the gravel path. The air was much cooler and a nice breeze was blowing. Trails led off in every direction, either steeply up or steeply down. This walk in the woods is no walk in the woods – stamina and skill are necessary.

After wandering down the main path, enjoying the silence and the views, we headed back downhill to find the restaurant in the Bosco di San Francesco just below Assisi. A friend had just eaten at the restaurant a few days earlier, and we were happy for Marco to show us where it was.

And then it was off to Santa Maria degli Angeli, for lunch at Porcellino Divino. The porchetta is supplied by Valeria's cousin from Costano, which is famous for it's porchetta. The place is legally a butcher/wine shop, with a case for meats and cheeses, bottles of wine along the back wall, tables set up in two rooms, and a sign stating that table service is NOT available. The sign is only to maintain the illusion that this is not a restaurant, that it's 'just' a butcher shop. Luckily, the powers-that-be appparently realize the incredible food is worth bending the rules!

 We watched as the maestro expertly sliced the porchetta into paper thin, perfectly even, intact pieces. A generous serving of porchetta was placed on a sliced section of torta al testo, topped with some sundried tomatoes, then grilled. In addition to warming the sandwich, the torta now had a nice crunch to it, and the conversation slowed.  Occasionally one of us would say (again) “this is soooo good!”, but we mostly concentrated on eating and enjoying another simple, simply perfect meal. Art and Marco had a glass of red wine, but I stuck to water, afraid I'd nod off in the car - wine at lunch tends to do that to me!

 On the way back to Deruta we stopped in Passagio di Bettona, at one of our favorite gelaterias, Dulcinea. If Art and I had been by ourselves, we wouldn't have stopped because we were so full. Not uncomfortably full, but just nicely full, completely satisfied. But, when Marco pulled into the gelateria, neither one of said no! The dark chocolate gelato was about a rich and as decandent as you could ever wish for. There was no banana today, so I chose hazelnut, making my own creamy version of a Baci with gelato. Wow. This was certainly the perfect ending to an unexpectedly perfect day. Umbria's like that.

Post Script: On the way home we discussed what day we should meet for our next meal, at the next festa, the onion festa in Cannara. Stay tuned

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 is 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.