Wednesday, December 10, 2003


Boy, have we been busy! As mentioned earlier, we were invited to dinner on Monday evening. We would be going to the home of Enrico and Wilma. Enrico is the brother of the guy who owns the hardware store in Marsciano, and is also the president of the Italian branch of the Longhorn Society. He is a diehard fan of cowboys, Indians and horses. He teaches cowboy-style, cattle-ranching style horseback riding. He speaks very little English. We were terrified and curious.

On Monday morning, we stopped by the flower shop to buy a plant to take with us. Wendy had told us that a plant would be safe, and we followed her lead and bought a poinsettia. Of course the lady at the flower shop wrapped it beautifully. We took the plant back to the house before heading to Marsciano for the Monday market. The temperature was COLD and the wind was biting, so after a quick, and unsuccessful, look around for a metal bucket for ashes, we left. We were numb with cold, and looked forward to the warmth of enclosed shopping at Collestrada.

At Collestrada, we joined the hordes of people who were enjoying the day off from work. December 8th is the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, for those of you who weren’t raised Catholic, or who may have forgotten. In Italy, this is a big holiday. I think this day must be similar to the day after Thanksgiving, because the stores were packed, and everyone’s shopping carts were over-flowing! I needed some Christmas wrapping paper, and a few odds and ends. We found what we needed, stopped for lunch at Ternana’s, then headed back to San Venanzo.

Enrico had told us to call him on Monday, so Art called early in the afternoon. Enrico said he would come to San Venanzo to pick us up at 5 o’clock. Since we had originally been invited for dinner at 7:30, we weren’t sure if the plans had changed or not…after all, this wouldn’t be the first time that we were “UN-invited”! Although we knew that Enrico and his wife, Wilma, lived in Ospedaletto, which is just past San Venanzo, we had no idea where…they could live IN town, on the outskirts of town, or on some remote road. Street signs are not common here, so we were both relieved that he would come to pick us up! We did decide that we would follow him so that, if things got really bad, we could leave when we wanted!

Art was so nervous about this dinner…I think he felt very pressured to carry on a conversation. For me, since my Italian is so bad and so minimal, there really wasn’t anything to worry about. At 5:00, Art suggested we get in the car and drive down to the church. He then tried to call Enrico on his cell phone, to let him know that we would meet him there, but we got no answer. His home phone just gave us the answering machine. I suggested we just go back to the house and wait there. Luckily for us, when we pulled up to our house, there was Enrico! We told him we would follow his Jeep, and off we went.

Ospedaletto turned out to be a bit further than we had remembered, and we never would have found his house without him. He told us to park on the street, since his driveway was quite steep and he was afraid that there might be ice. It was only when we walked up to the house that we realized it had snowed in Ospedaletto! The snow was still in the grassy areas! We had wondered why Marusca had asked us if we had snow in San Venanzo when we had lunch at Ternana’s. Now we knew….it sure didn’t miss us by much! Just a dusting, but never-the-less, snow!

Once we entered the house, it was no surprise to see that it was filled with Indian memorabilia. There were also a few very nice and very old pieces of furniture, and Enrico, whose last name is Biscotti, told us that his family had been in the area for a very long time. He told us, for the first of MANY times, how Umbria and Tuscany were the REAL Italy, because of the ancient Etruscans in the area. He told us that the people in the south had much darker skin, due to the Mediterranean influence, and that the people in the north had much lighter complexions due to the German influence. But, since ancient times, the REAL Italians lived in this area.

The house was nice. When we walked in the door, the living room and dining room were one large room, and there was a fireplace in the corner. Wilma was there, barely. Now that I am writing this, I had to ask Art if she was even there, and he thinks she was. She quickly disappeared into the kitchen and closed the door. Enrico then showed us into the family room…in the corner stood a life-size mannequin, dressed in Indian garb, complete with headdress! The room was decorated with tomahawks, knives, guns, statues, pictures, posters, an American flag AND a Texas flag.

Since neither of us knows much about the Indian culture, many things he showed us were new. I never realized that the handles of the tomahawks doubled as pipes! Also, many of the metal heads were obtained from the English, through bartering. Enrico showed us the framed certificate from the president of the U.S. Longhorn Society. George Bush is also a member of this organization, as are Tom Selleck and Sharon Stone. He gave us a typed sheet with his biography on it, and showed us several magazines that had written articles about him. His story is this:

He was born in 1964, and as a child always loved cowboy and Indian movies from the United States. John Wayne was a big hero to him. He took riding lessons as a teenager, and discovered how much he liked horses. In 1985, by chance, he attended a show that was put on by American Sioux Indians in Italy, and this re-kindled his interest in Indians. Through people he met at this show, he discovered that there are a lot of Germans who are also interested in the Indian culture. From there, his interest and knowledge grew, and eventually he ended up selling his business to buy a “ranch” and live as a cowboy. Today he is known as one of the best reproducers of historical American Indian culture, and works with museums and private collectors around the world. He also has a great interest in the “horse whisperer” style of horse training.

Any worries that Art had about not being able to carry on a conversation were quickly forgotten…Enrico hardly let us get a word in! He talked and talked, mostly in Italian, and we listened…HARD! I think we got the gist of most of what he told us. We heard many times about how the Umbrians and Tuscans are the original Italians, and how the use of slang and dialect are very wrong. He stated over and over again that he doesn’t speak in dialect. For us, the different dialects are very confusing…this is more than just an accent…different dialects use very different words for the same thing.

He asked us about George Bush...he knew that he was the President, a member of the Texas Longhorn Society, and also thought that he had been born in Texas. Anyone who knows Art knows that all you have to do is mention the name Bush, and off he goes! We both attempted to explain, as best we could, why we did not like Bush, or the policies of his administration. We explained that generally, the Republicans are not as environmentally conscious as we would like, and that they tended to support policies that would benefit big business. Enrico compared him to Berlusconi, and from what little I know this may be close, although I think Berlusconi is also criminal and dictator wanna-be!

During this discussion, Wilma appeared briefly to bring us Prosecco, and a plate of sausage and bread. Enrico told us that the sausage was made from cinghiale, the wild boar. He then told us the story about his pet cinghiale, the one he raised from a baby (cinghialette? Cinghialino?). Since these wild boars are known to be ferocious, we were both very surprised. Then I asked the most important question: was this sausage made from the pet? Luckily, no. The bread we had was not bread, Enrico explained, but torta. It was the same torta we had eaten last Easter, and I think it’s specific to this area. It’s made with cheese, and of course, it was delicious. Enrico was kind enough to note that this was only a snack, and that dinner would follow shortly. Good, at least now we knew we hadn’t been “uninvited”!

Occasionally, Enrico would yell something at Wilma, and she would respond from inside the kitchen. I thought about going in to ask if I could help, but decided that with my lack of Italian, I would have been more in the way. We would see her come out of the kitchen long enough to put another log on the fire, or bring something to the table. Then she would disappear into the kitchen and close the door again. The fire made the loudest POPS! We have ever heard, and Enrico told us later that the wood was castagna…chestnut.

At one point, Enrico asked about our house in San Venanzo, how long we had been in Italy, etc. He was amazed that we were now living full-time in Italy. He said, “No house in America?”, and “Sempre?” (Forever?) He just couldn’t get over the idea that we had chosen to live in Italy. He was surprised that we were going to visit the U.S. for six weeks, but we explained that we used to live in America and visit Italy, but now we live in Italy and visit America. We also explained that we are NOT rich Americans, and that in order to buy a house in Italy, we had to sell the one we had in the states.

Enrico searched through a drawer and found a pin that he gave to Art. It was sliver, and had a horseshoe and riding crop. It also had a push-type pin to attach it, so that Art can wear it as a tie tack. Enrico apologized because it wasn’t really “Indian”, but for Art, it was perfect. Earlier he had shown us his collection of knives and guns, including a Colt 45. I thought that he gave one of the knives to Art, but I wasn’t sure. Later, Enrico made sure that Art took this knife…it HAD been a gift, after all! And for me, he found a piece of antique turquoise that had been used for a necklace or collar. The holes in these pieces of stone are so incredibly tiny; I can’t imagine how they worked with them. Enrico is restoring a headdress and has tons of these beads...I would need a magnifying glass and steadier hands…detail work is NOT my strong suit.

After about two hours of Enrico talking, us listening, and Wilma cooking, dinner was ready. We sat down to a beautiful table and Wilma served the first course…small canapés, I would call them. They looked like pieces of crustless bread, spread with mayonnaise and assorted toppings. Enrico poured the Prosecco, which was about his only contribution to the dinner. Wilma did EVERYTHING. She even got up each time the fire needed another log, and she also carried in the space heater from the family room. It was quite cold by the front door, and Enrico explained that he didn’t use the radiators. He was quite proud of this fact, and poor Wilma just looked forlorn. He told us that if it was warm in the house, when he went out into the cold, he would get sick. I mentioned the fact that his brother owned a hardware store, and he could probably get something to put on the doors to stop the drafts. I told him I agreed with Wilma, and that I refused to be cold in my own home. When Wilma wasn’t serving a dish, or taking away the dirty dishes, or putting another log on the fire, she usually took a few bites of her dinner and then stood in front of the fireplace. I told Art I wouldn’t mind coming back in another life as a man in Italy, but now that I think about it, I really would hate to think that I would be that selfish and inconsiderate and think that it was normal and acceptable. But please, God, don’t let me be born a woman in Italy!

Our second course was pasta, of course. A delicious ravioli with tomato sauce. This was followed by potatoes and meat…I’m not sure what kind of meat it was, beef maybe. As usual, it too was delicious. Enrico did acknowledge what a good cook his wife was, and told us the meat was so good because it was cooked with balsamic vinegar. This was accompanied by more torta, and Enrico was careful to explain that this was NOT bread, but torta. I will try to figure out the differences later. I do know that it is made on a hot stone in the fireplace. For this part of the meal we had red wine. I was surprised that we didn’t have a salad after that, but dessert was next…a beautiful fruit torte, served with a sweet fizzy red wine. I would love to know what it was! By the time this meal was over, we were stuffed! Wilma is certainly a wonderful cook, and a dutiful wife. During the course of dinner she did participate in the conversation, when she was there, of course. This was a relief for me, since I was afraid that she might be just a timid little mouse.

After dinner, we gathered around the fireplace because by this time, space heater or not, our toes were frozen. We talked for about an hour, and then Wilma excused herself. She had to get ready for bed…I’m not sure if it was for work in the morning, or if she has to get up and feed the chickens and chop the firewood for the day! This was the perfect time to leave…we hated to “eat and run”, and aren’t sure what length of stay would be considered “proper” by Italians, so this worked out perfectly. We explained that we too had to get up early since the plumber and electrician were due to arrive at seven a.m.

We told Enrico that we would like to have them for dinner at our house in February, once we returned from America. Since they will be visiting Fort Worth again this March, we told them that at OUR house, we will speak English, so that they can practice. Enrico seemed to like this idea, but I’m sure Art and I will both want to practice our Italian. We were glad to see that there had been no more snow for the drive home. What an evening! We laughed and talked about it on the way home and for the rest of the night. Enrico certainly likes to talk, and he WAS a very interesting person. We both felt sorry for poor Wilma. I wonder what they will think about us after they have dinner here? I plan to cook things that they are familiar with, but I also plan to have most of it ready to go, and I will participate in the cocktail hour festivities. Art will also surprise them, I’m sure, with the amount of help he gives me. I would love to hear their comments!

This was a big day for us…our first dinner with an Italian family! WOW! From what I’ve heard, this sort of invitation is not to be taken lightly. We both feel very honored to have been invited, and hope that we didn’t embarrass ourselves!


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