Sunday, January 30, 2005



DECEMBER 13, 2004

As we leave the train station, it’s a beautiful day in Umbria…not a cloud in the sky. Why couldn’t we have at just ONE day like this when my sister was here?

Although our luggage weighs a ton (olive oil, wine and chocolate are HEAVY!) we managed to heave it all on the train and luckily found seats right next to the door. We think that we may have found the best way to get to the Rome airport. Because our flight leaves at 10 am, we didn’t want to get up at 4 a.m. to drive into Rome or to ask someone else to get up even earlier to drive us there. We also didn’t want to risk any traffic delays, which are all too common, especially the closer you get to Rome.

Our plan is to drive to the train station in Ponte San Giovanni, and leave the car parked in the lot. Later in the day, Wendy, who works just down the street from the train station, will move the car to a secure garage.

At this point we’re not sure whether we’ll take the train back to Ponte San Giovanni once we return to Rome or not. This will depend on how much luggage we have, and what the train schedules are. Assuming we do this, Wendy will leave the car for us at the station, and we’ll pick up our extra key from her within a day or two. Should is be necessary for Wendy to pick us up, she’ll already have the car key, so that’s not a problem either.

Our plan is to spend the night in Rome, then take the Leonardo Express from Termini to FCO in the morning. We’re going to stay at a hotel close to Termini, but even so, we had originally planned to check the three larger bags at the train station and pick them up in the morning. Our plans changed once Jill emailed us with the cost for storing luggage at Termini….3.70 euro for the first 5 hours, then 20 centissimi for each hour after that. With three bags, that would cost us about $23-24!

Because we have so much heavy luggage, we need to take the Leonardo Express, which costs about $13 each. If we didn’t have much luggage we wouldn’t mind taking the cheaper train to the airport, but that would require us to either take the Metro from Termini to Tibertina station and change to the train for FCO, or I guess we could take a regular train to Tibertina, but we’d still have to transfer, and for the extra money, at least all we’ll have to do is get our luggage onto the Leonardo Express and take it off once we arrive at FCO. Additionally, we won’t have to worry about how long the train stops in the station…something that can be very important when you have to change tracks, go down stairs, back up stairs, and then heave the luggage onto another train. So with the cost of the train to FCO, we just don’t feel we can afford to leave the luggage at Termini. Art also mentioned that if there was a line at the luggage storage place, or if no one was there, it might take us longer to retrieve our luggage, and who knows what delays will await us at the airport?

This is the longest we have ever been away from the states. It’s been 6 ½ months, and we’re both really looking forward to seeing friends and family. The funny thing about leaving San Venanzo this time was that it really felt like we were leaving home. We turned off the water and the thermostat, unplugged the water softener, closed and locked all the shutters, and told Armando that we’d be back in six weeks. We hope our mail gets held at the post office.

This morning Art read our electric meter and called in the setting to Enel, our electric company. Normally, our gas, electric and water bills are estimated, and we receive a bill once every two months. The bill will tell us when the next billing date is, and what they estimate our reading to be. We can call our actual reading into the company in the three days preceding the cut-off date. Since our current electric reading is actually LOWER than the ending amount they estimated last time, we should have a very small bill. We’ll still have to pay some sort of minimum service charge, but hopefully the total will be small.

Since the new billing period starts on December 16th, and since we’ll be in the states for the next six weeks, hopefully the bill after that will be small also. The only electricity we’ll use should be for the refrigerator, the answering machine, and the clock on the microwave.

We’re still trying to get an accurate estimate of our monthly utility expenses. Last week we filled out a form when we were at Collestrada, our local mall, to have an energy audit and to begin having our bills equalized over the year. We had this plan in the states, and found it to be very convenient. Since we don’t have air conditioning, and since our heat is from radiators, I don’t think there will be a significant difference in our electric consumption from month to month. Now if they’d just come up with a similar plan for our gas bill!

We were surprised when we went to Ternana’s the other day. Marco had asked us to come in before we left of the states. He told us he wanted to give us a bottle of his olive oil, so we were very excited! We arrived around 1:30 on Sunday afternoon, and Rita was there with Leonardo, Marco’s youngest son.

Art was really hoping to have one of Marco’s pizzas before we left, knowing that for the next six weeks our only pizza would be poor imitations. Rita told us that they don’t make pizza on Sunday, but she had made eggplant lasagna and told us it was “molta buona!” How could we argue with that?

As expected, it was delicious….lasagna in Italy is so different from lasagna in the states…it’s much lighter. The pasta is wafer thin and is complemented only by a simple tomato sauce, thinly sliced eggplant, and some parmesan cheese. Molta buona indeed!

Marco arrived a few minutes later, bringing with him a HUGE basket filled with goodies. Not only did he give us a large bottle of his olive oil, he also gave us two bottles of his own wine, and several jars of homemade goodies…fig jam, strawberry jam, canned green beans, artichokes, green beans and zucchini. Additionally, there was a box of dried figs, two small traditional cakes, and a few pieces of chocolate scattered about. WOW!

We were overcome…..what a nice family the Testatonda’s are! They have been so nice to us from the first day we stepped into their pizzeria. We can’t wait to try everything in the basket, and even brought a bottle of the homemade wine with us. We have a friend who likes to make wine, and we’ll serve this one night when we have them for dinner.

On the way home, Art and I talked about Marco’s dream of opening a bed and breakfast, and serving typical Umbrian food. We hope that his dream comes true, and we hope that we can help him in some way, maybe by helping with an English translation of his website and advertising, or by spreading the word through various websites.

I told Art that when I wrote a review of the bed and breakfast and/or the restaurant, I would have to disclose that we were friends, but the warmth and friendliness these people have shown us over the past year more than proves to us that they’ll be the perfect hosts. They’re all so friendly, and always take time to talk to us…and to everyone who comes into the pizzeria for that matter. They laugh and joke while they work, and serve some of the best food we’ve ever eaten. I’m absolutely certain that my review will be glowing!

Later that same day we went to Enrico’s house for dinner. We had bought him a bottle of wine as a Christmas gift, and had also printed several pictures that we had taken over the past few months. Initially we called him to see when we could stop by with the gifts, and he invited us for dinner. Initially Art declined, but once Enrico told him that the menu included fish, he just couldn’t resist.

We arrived at this house around eight o’clock, and were delighted to find another couple there. They’ve been at several of the lunches we’ve attended with Enrico, but neither of us can remember the woman’s name! The husband is Sandro, and the little boy is Alessandro. The next time we see Enrico and Wilma, I’ll have to apologize and ask them.

Enrico showed us several of his latest acquisitions…..a longhorn skull, complete with horns, of course, that had been painted with an Indian picture. We asked if he had bought it in the states during his recent visit, but he told us no…it had traveled from the states to Canada, then to Germany, then to him. As we knew, there is a lot of interest in the Wild West in Germany.

Enrico also had a new Stetson, and he told us a little about the hats. Apparently the hats are rated with stars. A three star hat is at the low end, and a really fancy (and expensive) Stetson can be rated up to one hundred stars! Enrico’s new hat had a rattlesnake band, complete with the rattle. This one was rated three stars, and cost $500-$600! He said a hat with one hundred stars could cost up to $10,000! Unbelievable, at least for us!

He also had a new pair of boots. The top was leather but the lower portion was snakeskin. They were beautifully tooled, and cost about $500.

When it was time to sit down for dinner, Enrico told us that is was very important to sit in specific places. Once we were seated, he told Art to look under his plate. One Art lifted up both plates, he saw a silver ring that had been hidden under the edge of the plate. The head of an eagle was in relief on top of the ring, and the words “born free” were inscribed on the side. Art was able to wear this ring on his little finger, although I worry about him catching it on something and ripping his finger off!

Next Enrico told me to look under my plate. I was surprised and touched to see a beautiful necklace. The chain was silver, and there were a few beads on the chain. A small silver arrow pendant hung from the chain. Enrico told me that this necklace was made by the Hopi Indians. It was beautiful…very simple, yet still uniquely American Indian.

Sandro’s wife found a pair of silver earrings under her plate, but Sandro and Alessandro must have already received their gifts.

Once this little ceremony was over, dinner began. Wilma brought out small thin pieces of bread, spread with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon. A plate with green and black olives and pickled peppers was also served. Enrico opened a bottle of white wine, and everyone but Wilma sat around the table eating and talking.

After a while the next course arrived….pasta with shrimp. Art was delighted to see the shrimp, but I asked for just a small serving of the pasta. These shrimp were small but whole, and those little beady black eyes looked too weird. The dish smelled wonderful, and the pasta was delicious. Art said the shrimp was wonderful too.

As we sat around the table talking, Wilma came out of the kitchen and went to the fuse box. The lights went off, but no one seemed to act as if anything was wrong. After a few minutes more, Wilma came out of the kitchen again, and told Enrico that there was a problem with the oven. Since it’s electric, it had apparently overloaded the circuit, or tripped the circuit, and she couldn’t get it fixed. Waiting hadn’t helped, nor had resetting the switches. Enrico wasn’t making any move to help Wilma, and she was getting a little upset.

This was of course the reaction I would expect from Enrico. Yes, he’s a very nice person, and has always been very generous to us. And yes, he and Wilma have been married for twenty years. But despite the fact that they aren’t your typical Italian couple (neither is close to their family), he is still an Italian husband and she is still an Italian wife.

There are just some things that are the way they are…like the fact that Wilma does all the cooking and serving, and Enrico sits at the table and holds court. I realize that this is Italy, and isn’t all that unusual, but I did think that Enrico might be concerned enough about his dinner to get up and help Wilma….but he didn’t.

Eventually Alessandro went to help Wilma. He’s a plumber, and apparently very handy with mechanical things. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t seem to get the circuit to work, and our next course needed to be in the oven! Eventually they brought extension cords to hook up the lamps, and then Wilma brought the food out and set it in the fireplace to finish cooking.

All of this took at least thirty minutes, and of course Wilma was frantic….I can’t imagine how spastic I would have been if I had guests for dinner and then couldn’t even cook the dinner…or if I didn’t even have lights! And if my husband had been sitting calmly while I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, I think I would have strangled him!

The next course was mussels served with more pasta. The smell was absolutely incredible! I did try a few of the mussels, but I have to confess that seafood isn’t my strong suit. I’ll eat salmon and most types of mild white fish…cod or perch being my favorites. I don’t like shrimp or clams or lobster, or octopus, which is served a LOT in Italy.

To finish the meal we had not one but TWO desserts! Needless to say, they were both wonderful.

About eleven the party started to break up. Alessandro had school in the morning, and we of course had to close up the house and take care of last minute things before we left for the states. We wished everyone a Buon Natale (Merry Christmas) and headed home. As usual, our evening had been interesting and amusing. Enrico wants to hire Art as his interpreter when he goes to the states…..a job Art would be happy to do, once his Italian improves significantly! More motivation!


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