Monday, April 12, 2004



Okay, where to begin? The garden is a work in progress. We put down the six bags of the mulch that Judith recommended to us on the SlowTrav message board. Interestingly enough, it turned out to be the same stuff we had bought previously to use for drainage in the bottom of a pot without a drain hole. This mulch is clay pellets, so I assume they will absorb and hold some moisture. The look is also exactly what I wanted. In deciding what to do with the patio, Art and I had been at odds.

In the first place, I really didn’t see any need to re-do the patio at all. Art absolutely HATED the patio and couldn’t wait to get rid of it. Since he goes along with so many of my ideas, I have to give in to his every once in a while. So…we had to decide what type of stone or blocks we would use. Our stop at the local hardware store was interesting…they told us for such a small area, we should just go to the factory in Corciano. We have an area that is three meters square, and want to stay within the concrete “framework” that is already there. The material we were looking at was large concrete squares with various designs and colors. For this, I really didn’t see the point of change, especially when the patio will be filled with a table, chairs, and potted plants…really, how much of it will show?

We mentioned to Wendy that we were looking for some new patio stones, and she said she could take us to a few places…the company she works for, a real estate company, also builds houses, so they have contacts with various suppliers. The first place we looked only had terra cotta stones the size of bricks…quite a labor intensive project, and, as it turned out, quite expensive. The second place we looked at had natural stones, in odd shapes, and when we discovered that the cost was only about €20 more that square concrete blocks, we were sold. For our small area, the stones cost €69. And they said they would deliver them at no charge if we weren’t in a hurry, whenever they happened to have another delivery nearby….good deal!

Okay, now we figure we need some sand, and then Art starts kicking around the idea of having the stones mortared in. Ever since he saw the stones that Gioberto laid in front of our house and garage, Art has wanted something similar in the back yard. His chance had finally arrived! Originally, I wanted to use small stones in between the larger stones. When they re-did the tiles over the bathroom area, they put down lots of gravel to help with the drainage. This gravel strip is about three feet wide, and runs the width of the yard, along the edge of the tile. The patio will butt right up to this gravel, and I thought it might be nice to have this “natural” look. Of course I knew sand would need to go under the stones, but thought we could put small gravel in between the stones. The consensus is that Art’s idea of mortar is better, and since Art had mentioned the idea to Armando, our neighbor, and Armando had promptly produced a neighbor who could do the work, that seems to be what will happen.

The nice thing about the mulch we bought is that the color will coordinate with the stones for the patio, and I will still have the look of gravel in the yard. This product, called Laterite, was invented in Scandinavia somewhere, and is used primarily by plumbers, I guess for drainage. We bought ours at the same plumbing supply house where we got the small sink for the garage. I would think that it might be cheaper to buy it there, but of course I don’t know for sure. A large bag cost €3…certainly not expensive, especially when you consider that it will last for more than one season. Judith told us she had just finished a three year test of this mulch alongside “traditional” mulch, and that the Laterite had won, hands down. Good enough for me!    (Post script:  Do NOT use laterite for mulch!  I ended up having to remove it when I realized that it drew/held all the moisture to the surface, rather than letting it soak in to the roots!)

Art took up the patio stones the other day, and is thinking of re-using them along the walkway in between our yard and Armando’s apartment building. For some reason he was talking about mortaring these down also, but I’m certainly not in favor of us paying for this project…I thought it would be nice to use them as stepping stones, but that’s all I’m willing to do. We’ll see what happens with that project.

Yesterday we both worked on the patio area, digging out more of the dirt…we need a nice base of sand for the stones, and although we don’t really know how deep we need to go, we’ve at least made a start. Of course, as expected, we dug out many, many rocks. Drainage should never be a problem in our yard, based upon what I’ve seen so far. For the sand, Art THINKS Mr. Rellini, Mauro’s father, said that we could use their sand, then just pay them for what we use. We need to verify this, but it would sure be convenient.

On Thursday we had company for lunch! Patrick and Marilda, who live in Cetona, about an hour away, had recently found SlowTrav, and also our blog, and had contacted us, since we seemed to have many things in common. Patrick is English, but had lived and worked in the U.S. for about twenty years. Marilda is originally from Brazil, but has lived in Italy before, and most recently in the states. They’ve been retired and living in Italy for about a year and a half. They have children and grandchildren back in the states, just like we do, and just like our kids, their kids don’t get it either!

We had a nice visit, showed them the house, took a walk through San Venanzo, and promised to visit them in Cetona for Easter. Marilda speaks fluent Italian, but Patrick is still struggling like we are, so it was nice for all of us to be able to express ourselves without straining! Speaking Italian is such a tiring process…thinking about every word, conjugating verbs in your head, thinking of the sentence in English, then trying to figure out how to turn the words around to be correct in Italian, well, it just wears you out! Additionally, I just realized that in English, you have many, many more options. You can express your feelings much more precisely…Italian must have fewer words…the word for “hear” and “feel” is the same word, if that gives you any idea.

We had also been contacted by another American couple who had also found us through the SlowTrav website. Larry and Jill are both around 40, and they have just moved to Italy to live for a year! They just quit their jobs, sold most of their stuff, and headed to Italy. And people say that we’re brave! Wow! What we can’t figure out is how they are going to be able to leave when their year is up!

They arrived just a week ago, and for now are staying in an agriturismo, but are looking for an apartment to rent long term. They have begun the long and difficult residency process in Perugia, and are going to start Italian classes soon. Since they had been following our blog, they wanted to see the house in person, so they arrived on Saturday afternoon, and we gave them the standard house tour and city tour. We really liked them, and when the afternoon turned to evening, we asked if they would like to go to Ternana’s for dinner. Because of the blog, they knew about our love of Ternana’s, and eagerly accepted.

We walked down to the centro storico in Marsciano, because we think this is such an overlooked gem. Although San Venanzo is “our” town, we go through Marsciano almost every day, and do much of our business there, so it feels like “our” town too. The centro storico is rather hidden away, and since the renovations have been completed, it really looks wonderful. You could easily imagine yourself back in medieval times while standing in these streets.

And then….Ternana’s! The place was really busy; in fact, we had been surprised that almost every business was open on Saturday afternoon/evening. We had thought most places would be closed because it was the day before Easter, but that must have been the reason they WERE open. In the usual Italian style, people were gathered everywhere, talking and visiting.

We recommended Marco’s pizza as the best there was, and each of us ordered a different one. I think I’m safe in saying that Larry and Jill weren’t disappointed…there wasn’t a crumb left on anyone’s plate. Marco stopped by the table to ask if we had liked the bottle of local wine he had recommended. Since it was the same wine we buy at the local cantina, we had known we would like it, and we told him yes, it was very nice. As we sat there and talked with Larry and Jill, the time just flew by. I looked around and noticed that the place had emptied out, and that it was getting late. I was sure Marco and his family wanted to close up and begin their Easter holiday. Rita had told us that she was going to the sea for three days. Since Ternana’s is closed on Tuesday, and since most places are closed on Easter Monday, I think this meant the whole family would take a mini-vacation. When you own a business like this, vacations are hard to come by!

As we gathered up to leave, Marco calculated the bill. I told him that Larry and Jill had just moved to Italy, and would stay for a year. Rita helped me with my grammar, and Pino told me the correct word to use. Somehow we mentioned that they were looking for an apartment to rent, and immediately Pino said that he knew of something…would we like for him to call right then? Sure, why not?! Unfortunately, the person who owned or knew about the apartment wasn’t home, but we’ll check back with Pino later. We asked Marco to take a picture of the four of us, and then I took one with the other three with Marco and Marushka. Then Larry started thinking about an idea…I know he’s a photographer, but he must also be a writer, and he said maybe he could write an article about Ternana’s for a Seattle magazine. Wouldn’t THAT be cool! Larry took a few pictures of Rita and Pino alongside Marco standing in front of the wood-burning oven. (All these photos are on the blog posted before this one, which means they are AFTER this blog.)

And today, I received an email from Jill saying, in effect, are we crazy, but we’re thinking about selling our condo so we can buy something here! Well, they may be crazy, but if they are, who are we to criticize!? Italy just has that effect on many people…we’re the proof of that!

Today we were supposed to go on a picnic with our neighbor, but it was cancelled because of the rain. Mr. Farnesi’s sister was just getting into her car as we walked to his house, and she told us that the picnic would be held the following Sunday, IF it was a sunny day. The picnic will be outside, near a small river, surrounded by trees If the weather was still bad, it would be postponed until the following Sunday, and so on. We are hopeful that next Sunday is sunny, because we won’t be here for the next four Sundays after that! The bad news is that we now have a large container of chocolate chip cookies!

Yesterday we drove to Cetona, which is just across the border in Tuscany. It’s larger than San Venanzo, and quite a charming city. The designer Valentino has a large villa there. Patrick and Marilda’s friends were opening a new ceramics shop, and were holding an open house on Easter Sunday, complete with food. Patrick and Marilda have a small apartment right in the centro, and a small, detached apartment for guests or renters.

The ceramics shop had some BEAUTIFUL stuff…many different styles and designs. The food was overwhelming too…hard boiled eggs, prosciutto, breads, crostatas, chocolates, and later, they would have porchetta as well! They could have fed the whole town AND all their guests! We took a walk through the town…not only is the town charming, there are some GREAT views! I took a few pictures, but as usual, a photograph just cannot do justice to the scenery. As we talked about this and that, we somehow started talking about taxes, and discovered that we are allowed to deduct the interest we pay on our mortgage here! Boy, will that be nice!