Tuesday, July 06, 2004


JULY 4, 2004

Where to begin? How about with just a little background information. Enrico and Wilma Biscotti are the Wild West, American Indian aficionados that we met last fall. Enrico is the brother of Gino, who owns the hardware store in Marsciano. Enrico is also the president of the Italian branch of the Texas Longhorn Association, and an expert on American Indians. We’ve had dinner with them twice before, once at their house, and once at our house. We also spent the day with them a few weeks ago, attending a festival in Perugia and one in another small town.

Enrico and Wilma live in Ospedaletto, a tiny little town that’s about ten kilometers past San Venanzo, heading towards Orvieto. We know that they have a ranch, but we’ve never seen it. Today will be the day! Enrico has told us of his plans….he wants to recreate an old West town on his ranch, and bring Americans over here to see what like is like. We’re confused by this…leave America, come to Italy and see…. Dodge City?

We were supposed to have lunch with them last Sunday, but Wilma called us on Saturday and cancelled, telling Art (he thought) that Enrico's brother had been killed, and that Enrico was with his mother, planning the funeral. We then drove down to Marsciano to offer our condolences to Gino, and to see when the funeral would be held. Once we spoke to Gino, we learned that it was the brother of their GRANDFATHER, and furthermore, he had been buried over a week ago! Gino encouraged us to go to Enrico’s, but we told him that Wilma had cancelled.

We had been surprised not to hear from Enrico the following week, but then we decided that he must be consoling his mother. On Thursday or Friday he finally called, and asked if we could come to lunch this Sunday, and said he would also call Wendy to see if she and Giuseppe were free. Since Jill was still in the states, he asked us to see if Larry would like to come too. Larry had other plans, but Wendy and Giuseppe were free, so we agreed to meet at the bar in Ospedaletto at noon on Sunday.

Of course I had to figure out what to take as a small gift. My flower idea in December had been a disaster, and since we were going to the ranch, I didn’t think flowers would be appropriate this time. I asked Wendy for advice, and she told me to bake some chocolate chip cookies. I think this was so SHE could have chocolate chip cookies, but that was okay too. As it turned out, I had to bake two batches, since my oven is such a piece of #$%!, and the first batch looked terrible. Wendy wasn’t at all upset, since she knew she would get to take the ugly batch home with her!

We decided to ride up to Ospedaletto with Wendy and Giuseppe. Wendy had to go back to the agriturismo where she works on Saturdays, to straighten out some problem. She needed to leave Ospedaletto by about 4:30, so we figured this would give us an easy excuse to leave. Enrico is nice, but he can also be a bit overwhelming. He’s sort of like a puppy, who gets excited and never gets tired.

We met at the bar in Ospedaletto and had a drink since we had to wait for Wilma to arrive. We would later find out that she had been working at the ranch. Since Enrico had his Jeep, he suggested that Art and I ride with him, so that Giuseppe’s car wouldn’t ride too low over the unpaved road. We all got into our cars and headed for the ranch.

When we turned off the main road, Art and I immediately realized where we were going for lunch. We were going to Maria’s, the same place Enrico had taken us before. Maria’s is w..a..y back a long and dusty gravel road. There is no sign to indicate that a restaurant is hiding at the end of this road, but everyone in the area knows that it’s there

At the end of the road sits a large two story building. It looks like someone’s house, but there are lots of cars parked out front. Giuseppe is not happy. His car bottomed out several times on the road, despite having a lighter load. Hopefully there was no real damage done. Wendy asks if we knew we were coming to a restaurant. We tell her we had no idea until we turned down the road.

We walk around back, where there are tables in a semi-enclosed area, and more tables under a roof.
We are surrounded by the forest. We wait as our table is prepared, then take our seats. Everyone on our side of the table leans slightly to the right, and everyone on the other side leans slightly to the left. What we need is a glass of wine to even things out. Wilma is sent to get the wine.

I’ll first describe the meal itself, and then get into some of the topics we discussed. Some of the conversation was so interesting that I might forget to talk about the food.

We had red wine in liter pitchers. Enrico told us that there were two red wines…one average wine for the average customer, and a better wine for special customers. We of course, were having the better wine. Bottles of fizzy water were brought to the table. Art and I should have asked for a bottle of water without gas, but we never did. The wine was continually replenished, and I guess we drank about 6 pitchers in all.

The antipasti consisted of wedges of delicious cantaloupe, paper thin slices of prosciutto, and hot off the grill pieces of torta al testo, a flat bread that’s baked on a stone. Everything was delicious.

After the antipasto, the pasta dish was brought out. Penne pasta with a delicious tomato sauce was served, and a bowl or freshly grated parmesan was passed around. I think everyone had two helpings of the pasta.

Next we were asked if we wanted cinghiale, the wild boar, or roasted meats. We decided to get some of each, and the cinghiale was brought first, along with a large dish of spinach. The meat was delicious…tasty without being too gamey for a city slicker like me. After we had finished the cinghiale, we were served a platter of roasted chicken and grilled meat…beef I think. Am I being too repetitive when I say this was delicious also?

After the meat course, a simple green salad was served, already dressed with oil and vinegar. After a reasonable amount of time for our meal to settle, we were served a trifle… a light dessert consisting of fruit, cake and pudding. Coffee was served, and for the grand finale, grappa or limoncello was available.

Since all this food was spread out over the course of four hours, we were full but not miserable. We had known to pace ourselves, and were thankful that we had. For me especially, the wine could have easily gone to my head early on, and I might have slept through one or more delicious courses.

As to the conversation, well, I’m pretty much going to have to ramble. Although I can cut and paste, I think for the most part the order in which things were discussed is unimportant, so I’ll just try to remember everything that was said. And I guess I should also note that we were joined in the lunch by the two men who work for Enrico. I don’t know their names, and for the most part they didn’t speak much. They had worked for six hours that morning (Sunday morning!), and Enrico had invited them to lunch.

Enrico had been anxious to speak with Wendy about his plans to bring people from the United States to Umbria. He wants to do this without an agency as a middle man. He reasons that this will help to costs lower, and will allow more people to come. I think Wendy and I both had the same question…how will you advertise and promote this? Enrico never did address this question, but I think that he thinks he’ll get most of his business from the Texas Longhorn Association, and won’t need to advertise.

Of course we got to listen to the “Umbria is the true Italy” speech again, including such favorites and “for me, Italy ends at Terni” and of course, the ever popular “no slang” diatribe. Enrico is definitely not shy about sharing his opinions, and he has many, many strong opinions. Since Wendy and Giuseppe are also self assured and opinionated, this made for some lively conversation!

Wendy tried to tell Enrico that Americans didn’t want to come to Italy to see a re-creation of America…that they wanted to see Italy! Yes, maybe they would want to see quaint, old-style Italy, and yes, modern conveniences would be nice, but she and I both tried to explain that Americans wouldn’t want to travel all the way to Italy just to see some Old West buildings. I don’t think Enrico agreed.

Enrico told us that Larry Becker, the president of the Texas Longhorn Association, would be coming for a visit in September. This really excited him! He wants us to call Mr. Becker, and said that he would pay for the phone call.

I guess this is as good a time as any to mention that Enrico NEVER addresses me. Now it’s not as if he ignores me, because he doesn’t. He responds to me and listens to me, but he never addresses me. Every time he has something to say, he says “Ar-tour!”, and then proceeds with his thought. I know that he knows my name, because Art gave him another one of our cards, and both our names are clearly printed on the card. I don’t know if this is the same sort of mentality that has Wilma fetching the wine and doing all the work, or what.

Speaking of Wilma, I don’t know how it came up, but we found out that Wilma and Enrico have been married for TWENTY ONE years. Wilma was only FOURTEEN YEARS OLD when they got married, and Enrico was eighteen. Oh yeah, this subject came up when Enrico was telling us about a serious accident that he and Wilma had been in, and that their families had not visited them in the hospital.

I asked Enrico if Wilma’s family didn’t like him, and he said, well, just barely. This is when we found out that they had been married for twenty one years, and I asked if they had finally accepted him. This is when we got the story about their wedding. Wilma was fourteen and Enrico was eighteen, and they ran away to get married. I have no idea what the legal age for marriage is in Italy, but apparently it’s older than fourteen.

Once they came back home, they both told their parents what they had done, and said that if the families tried to keep them apart, they would just run away again. And here’s where it gets really interesting…. Apparently Wilma’s parents were still not willing to give their consent, so Enrico’s parents ADOPTED Wilma, so that they would have the authority to give her permission to marry. Meaning of course, that Enrico married his sister!

We also learned that neither is close to their families now, and unlike most Italian children, they chose to live on their own, rather than live with either family. Enrico’s father is now dead, and he doesn’t seem to be on the best of terms with his mother. She wants him to buy some land that’s in the family…land that he should already own in part, but his mother wants him to pay for 100%, rather than the 66%, or whatever share isn’t his. He says he’ll do this, just to keep the property and the peace.

We also found out that he and Gino aren’t that close, which really surprised us. Since they’re both Wild West aficionados, we figured they must enjoy their hobby together. Enrico told us that contrary to popular custom, he and Wilma had chosen to live by themselves…on their own…not in the house of their parents, or next door to their parents. Enrico said that despite their families’ lack of support, they now have more money than both families put together.

We know that at one point they had a restaurant or bar in Florence, but that it was sold to buy the ranch. We also know that at one time Enrico had a Ferrari, but that his wild and crazy days are now over. Enrico now sells tiles that look like marble or antique stone, but are in fact, man made from marble and/or stone dust. They look just as beautiful as the real thing, but cost a lot less. Enrico also has some sort of construction or remodeling company.

Enrico told Wendy about the ranch, and she relayed a lot of the details that we missed. One of the things she told us was that he had buried all the wood that he had cut down on his property. She couldn’t figure out why, but we later found out the reason: just as we aren’t allowed to cut down the trees in our own back yard until the forestale people give their permission, neither is Gino…or anyone else, for that matter.

On his ranch, though, Enrico feels that he has the right to do what he wants, since it IS private property. So, on Christmas Eve, December 24th, when he knew no one would be around (especially any officials), he used his bulldozer to clear those sections of his ranch that he wanted to clear. He then dug a huge hole and buried all the evidence!

Communists are big on Enrico’s list of things to complain about. He says that San Venanzo is run by Communists, and that they have made it difficult to get the proper authorizations to make his ranch into the vacation destination he wants it to be. For the record, the Communist Party is still alive and well in Italy, and has candidates running in every election. It’s hard for us to imagine that anyone still believes that Communism can work…history seems to have proved otherwise, but apparently there are those who still think it has a chance!

As proof of the incompetence of those in charge, Enrico tells us that recently he decided to trim the weeds growing along the edge of his property by the road. Since this is the job of the commune and not a job for private citizens, he has been given a fine! We don’t know how much the fine is, or IF he will actually pay it, but we thought the situation was certainly interesting, if strange.

One of the reasons that Enrico wants to build this ranch into a vacation destination is because he says the Americans (and other foreigners) are usually over-charged for most things in Italy. He told Wendy he was sure that we overpaid when we had our house remodeled, but she reassured him that she had gotten several estimates, and had checked with her boss, who also has a building company. Once her boss told her that Mauro had given us a very reasonable price, she hired him. The fact that he lived in San Venanzo and had previously worked on our house was only icing on the cake.

And the lunch went on like this for four hours, with Enrico pontificating, but also with Giuseppe and Wendy disagreeing or questioning him on various topics. He tried to make some sweeping generalizations about Americans, and for the life of me, I can’t remember what they were. All I can remember is replying, “But that would be like saying that all Italians belong to the Mafia!” I was glad that I was able to understand most of what he said, and was also glad that Wendy was there to give us the details.

When it was time for Wendy to leave, we told Enrico and Wilma that we would have to leave too. Enrico protested, saying that he wanted to show us the ranch, so with the promise of a ride back to San Venanzo, we left Wendy and Giuseppe and headed for the ranch.

The ranch was located just a few minutes outside of Ospedaletto. The entire property seems to be fenced, and I wish I knew how much land there was. We walked up the long “driveway” to the main part of the ranch. The land sits elevated above the surrounding land, and the views are spectacular. We could see all the way to Perugia, and could see Mount Subasio, over by Assisi.

Enrico is building four or five small houses to be rented out. The first of these is about halfway finished. It will have a covered terrace in the front, and the living room, dining room and kitchen will share one large space. A large fireplace is in this room. The bedroom has a large window, and Enrico said that he’ll clear away the brush so that there’s a great view outside of this window. He repeated more than once that he respects the land, and that he’ll maintain the beauty, not destroy it.

He’s putting in large bathrooms in all the houses, because he’s sure that this is what Americans like. I think another bedroom is planned for this unit, and then a small garden in the back. Although this unit will be very close to other structures, it’s still tucked away and will feel very private.

As we walked around the corner and up to the next level of land, we saw the horses and stables. There were several horses…Appaloosas, Pintos, and others, as well as a donkey, a dog and….his pet cinghiale!!!!! This is the same pig he told us about last winter, the one he had found as a baby! I don’t know how old the pig is, but he’s HUGE, and when he put his front feet up on the door to his stall, I had visions of all being trampled and gored! Luckily Enrico quickly closed the top half of the door!

Enrico showed us the site of two more houses here, and also where the bar would be. He also plans for tennis courts, a bocce ball court, a billiards room and a swimming pool. We kept walking higher and higher, and the sun was beating down on us. Neither of us had had any water for lunch, and we were both parched!

Enrico told us that the land we were standing on was once covered with trees, but that he had removed them. Since we know that we can’t cut down any trees in our yard with permission from the forestale people, we asked him how he was able to get permission.

This is when he told us that he waited until Christmas Eve, December 24th, when he knew no one would be around…especially no one official! He used a large bulldozer and just cleared the land quickly and easily. And to hide the evidence, he dug a huge hole, and buried all the trees and brush! This definitely won’t work for our trees!

We walked onward and upward, towards the show ring for the horses. Enrico said that this area is where the re-created Wild West buildings will sit. Just beyond the ring, the woods begin, and we followed Enrico down a pathway into the woods. Since he has to dig trenches for the water lines, he’s also burying the electric wires, so that the view won’t be spoiled. He plans to have the trail into the woods lighted, so that people can take walks in the evening.

We passed by one area where Enrico plans to keep cinghiale. He’ll let his pet, a male, loose in this area so that he can have a constant supply of cinghiale for sausages. He also plans to have cattle, and will electrify the fences surrounding them to keep out the wolves.

Once we were deep into the woods, he showed us the location for yet another house. This one will be the most secluded and private. Since this site wasn’t even cleared, I asked Enrico when all of this would be completed, when he told me by December, I was astounded! He said that one of the small houses can be built in a few days, and that the land is easy to clear with a bulldozer.

He was quite proud of the fact that these houses were built to modern standards. Not only will they have the expected modern conveniences, they will also be earthquake proof. The best thing, though, is that they’ll LOOK old and rustic, with all the charm of a small old house in the country. At least that’s his plan.

For the pool he’s not going to dig an in-ground pool, but build an above ground pool with the sides covered in wood, to blend with the surroundings.

We finally worked our way back to the car, and Enrico told us that we had only seen half his property…the other half was across the street! He promised to show it to us the next time…and the next time I’ll bring a bottle of water!

They drove us home, and once we arrived in San Venanzo, I asked them to wait. I went inside and got a Ziploc bag. I still had the chocolate chip cookies that I had baked, and wanted to give them to Enrico and Wilma! Enrico said that he wanted to schedule another get together for the end of the month when Larry and Jill could attend. Maybe I should take a small tape recorder so that I can remember more details!


At 10/06/2004 02:59:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lunch with you guys are great your pasta's looks great I would come to your show if I could because your food just looks wonderful.

Thanks for listening

At 10/06/2004 02:59:00 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lunch with you guys are great your pasta's looks great I would come to your show if I could because your food just looks wonderful.

Thanks for listening


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