Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Our life in Italy is really pretty quiet. We spend a lot of time at home, just enjoying our garden, our (new) park, our neighbors and our town. If we had a ton of money we’d probably take a lot of road trips, but for now that isn’t possible. The days somehow seem to fill up without us being bored, or maybe we’re just boring people who don’t need much stimulation.

Over the last three years we’ve had a few visitors, but not a lot. Honestly, most of our friends and family just don’t ‘get it’, and consequently haven’t rushed to make their reservations to Italy. For most of our friends and family we’ve visited them in the states enough to satisfy their mild curiosity, and a trip to Italy isn’t something they’d be interested in, with or without a stop in San Venanzo. We try not to think less of them, and realize that we didn’t have much interest in Italy either until my son was stationed here.

So, after three years with only a few visitors and a relatively quiet life, things have recently changed. First my sister was here for ten days in September. Then our friend Nedra was here for a week, during which time we had the grand opening of our park. After Nedra left we had the sister city celebration, made a day trip to Chianti to visit Jane and Ken, then welcomed Mike and Angela, our friends from Atlanta, for a whirlwind 5 day visit.

Art, Mike and Angela went to high school together in Jacksonville, FL, at Paxon High School. After many years, other marriages, divorces and moves, Mike and Angela re-met, fell in love and got married a few years ago. They now live in Atlanta, and we were lucky enough to visit with them a few years ago when we were flying out of Atlanta on our way back to Italy.

Angela emailed us probably a year ago to tell us that they were taking a cruise starting in Venice and finishing up in Rome. After a few days in Rome they planned to travel to Umbria for a few days with us. We all looked forward to it, and after much planning and waiting, they finally arrived in Orvieto last Thursday afternoon.

Angela, who has Italian heritage on both sides of her family had been to Italy before, but only for a short visit, and it had been quite a few years ago. Mike had never been to Italy, so they were determined to cram as much into their short visit as possible.

Our first order of business was to visit Perugia and to see one of the paintings done by Bartolomeo Caporali, a relative of Angela’s on her father’s side of the family. The last time we’d visited the church of San Domenica the painting had been covered. I don’t know if the painting itself was being restored or if there was work being done on the chapel itself, but we were optimistic that everything would be finished by now. As an added bonus, Eurochocolate was in progress, so we planned to take a walk through the city and maybe buy a few goodies.

We parked in the free lot at the Ponte San Giovanni train station and took the train up into Perugia. The advantages of using the P.S. Giovanni station are many: not only do we avoid the hassle and the cost of parking in Perugia, we also avoid any possibility of driving down the wrong street and getting an €80 parking ticket like we did last year! Additionally the train from P.S. Giovanni arrives at the Santa Anna station, just a short walk from the centro.

We did find the painting at the church of San Domenica, but not because of any help from the signs inside the church. Although most of the paintings had information about them, the one that we THOUGHT was by Caporali didn’t list the name of the painter!

We made a quick call to Bob and Rosemary who confirmed that the chapel we were looking at was the right one, and an internet search would later confirm that yes, the painting of San Vincenzo (St Vincent) was indeed painted by Bartolomeo Caporali.

Eurochocolate wasn’t as jam-packed as it would have been on a weekend, and other than the dozens of school groups, it really wasn’t too bad. Amazingly we even found a few places giving samples! Although we bought a few things, given the choices and the quantity, we really didn’t buy much at all. It’s sort of overwhelming to be faced with so many different varieties of chocolate in so many different shapes, sizes and forms.

We had lunch in a little out of the way restaurant that Art and I had discovered when we were in language school then we took the train back down to the P.S. Giovanni station to get the car and drive to Assisi.

The day was cloudy but we didn’t get any rain, so although it could have been nicer, it also could have been a lot worse. We parked at the top of the city and walked down to the Basilica, passing all the cute shops along the way. Mike and Angela try to buy shooter glasses as souvenirs, and eventually we found some in Assisi, although it was apparent that these weren’t high demand items.

We tried to stop at one of our favorite wineries, Scacciadiavoli
, but they were closed for the day by the time we got there. We decided to push our luck and stop in at the newer Terre De La Custodia winery. We saw cars in the lot as we drove up the hill, as when we walked in the door we saw that the large room had been transformed into a beautiful dining room. Five or six tables were set for dinner, and we found out that a group was having dinner there a bit later.

The woman remembered us from the visit we’d made with our friend Paul back in the summer, and was most helpful. We sampled several different varieties of wine and eventually settled on several bottles of the Collezione wine, a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Sagrantino grapes.

On Saturday morning we started out early, again taking the train from P.S. Giovanni, but this time all the way to Florence. Angela had been married at the Palazzo Vecchio and wanted to see the city again, and to share it with Mike.

Unfortunately the weather went from bad to worse, and the rain continued all day long, sometimes just a drizzle, sometimes a heavy rain, but at least we’d brought our umbrellas. 
We walked from the station to San Spirito where we bought tickets to see David, then walked down to the Duomo. Because it was such a dark dreary day, the inside of the Duomo was dark and dreary as well.

The area directly under the dome was blocked off, hopefully just a temporary measure, and on the outside scaffolding was standing up one side of the church and around the top of the cupola. The difference between the areas that have been cleaned and those that are still covered with soot and exhaust fumes was dramatic.

We walked back down to the Academia, arriving just in time for our scheduled entrance. An added bonus for Mike was the display of musical instruments. Mike plays the cello and told us that some of the instruments on display, including some by Stradivarius, were priceless.

Our next stop was Mario’s for lunch! Because we weren’t waiting when the doors opened we did have to wait about thirty minutes for a table, but of course it was worth it. I had a side order of beans and the other three enjoyed a bowl of ribollita, the thick Tuscan vegetable/bread soup. After that the four of us shared a deliciously tender bistecca Fiorentina….what a treat!

Angela wanted to see the Ponte Vecchio and the Palazzo Vecchio so we headed in that direction as the rain continued. Because we had travel-sized umbrellas, we were all getting wet but Art seemed to get the worst of it. The only thing to be happy about as far as the weather was concerned was the fact that it was still relatively warm.

We strolled back to the train station, searching for shot glasses which we eventually did find. The train ride back to P.S. Giovanni, two and a half hours long, only served to remind us how tired we were as the train lulled us into a relaxed state.

We stopped at Nestor’s for a pizza, and of course Mara and Giuseppe were thrilled to hear that our guest had Sicilian heritage. We tried to determine if there might be a connection, but came up empty-handed. Perhaps if Angela and Mara search further back in their family trees they might come up with a connection.

Sunday was our day of (much needed) rest! We slept in and our only plan for the day was to have lunch at Peppa and Angelino’s little restaurant located just a few minutes outside of San Venanzo on the road to Orvieto. We figured they didn’t open until one, so we left the house just a few minutes before one o’ clock.

As we approached the restaurant, we saw lots and lots of cars, and LOTS and LOTS of hunters! It looked like a hunting convention, and I was afraid that they’d booked the restaurant en mass, which would have left us out in the cold! Luckily we did find a place to squeeze in our car, and we walked nervously up to the restaurant.

A large group of maybe 20 people was already seated and eating and several other tables were set as well. They did have a table for us! Hurrah! Our server recognized us from previous visits and asked if we just wanted him to bring the food. Of course we said yes…that’s the fun of places like this…just let them bring you whatever it is they have, knowing that it’ll be delicious.

While we were eating our antipasti another group started to arrive, filling the long table on the other side of us. This turned out to be a couple celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. Although we didn’t recognize the happy couple, we did recognize Father Jerry, the Irish priest, Don Matteo the retired priest, and the current pastor in San Venanzo whose name we don’t know.

The courses came at a leisurely pace….first the antipasti…bread with chicken liver pâté, bread with salami, slices of prosciutto, and of course hot torta al testo. After that chicken livers in sugo were served…not my favorite, but I did take a bite…quite an adventurous move for me!

We then had lasagna, which we thought was made with pesto because of the green color, but we should have known better. Pesto is a northern Italian invention, and although people from our area might know what it is and might even enjoy it, it’s not really what one would expect from this very traditional mom and pop restaurant, especially when the mom and pop are close to eighty years old.

The lasagna turned out to be made with peas and zucchini and was quite good. I’m not much of a pea-eater, so this was a pleasant surprise for me. After the lasagna we were served tagliatelle with sugo (sauce)….a true Italian meal with multiple pastas…how do they do it???

Luckily there was a nice long break in between the courses, so I took the opportunity to wander towards the kitchen. The owner/cook invited me in to see the fire where the meats were grilled.  I saw some sort of cooked bird and asked if it was a chicken or a turkey. It looked too large to be a chicken, too small for a turkey, but I just didn’t know what else it might be. Oca! A goose!

When the meat course was served there were three meats….grilled pork (my favorite!), pork sausage, and of course the goose. The others thought it tasted rather like liver, but I thought it tasted more like the dark meat of a turkey. Anyway, an interesting new taste. Spinach was also served along with the meat course.

After the meat course a mixed salad was served…..and thankfully that was the end of the meal….or so I thought! We still had coffee, limoncello and crostata to go! And the cost for this seemingly endless feast? €20 per person! And of course throughout the meal we’d had water and homemade red wine. After hearing about some of the meals Mike and Angela had eaten in Rome, not only was this meal cheap, it was also of the highest quality. We were all ready to go for a walk, or maybe just take a nap, but Art had other plans.

We needed to get gas for the car so he decided to drive to Todi past Fratta Todina, then to come back via the E45. Mike was fighting a cold and probably didn’t see much of the scenery, but we did get to show Angela a little of the beautiful countryside we love.

On Monday our plan was to drive to Orvieto, see a bit of the city, then put Angela and Mike on the train back to Rome for their last night in Italy. They were staying at the Savoy, near the Spanish Steps and hadn’t been overly impressed with the room, the bed, or the overall quality of the hotel. Mike travels a lot in his business and we had to tell him that yes, most European four start hotels are NOT what Americans would consider four star. Often the location alone seems to merit a higher rating.

At least the sun had finally come out for our day in Orvieto! After packing their suitcases again we loaded the car and drove up and over the mountain. We strolled into the city, toured the doumo, enjoyed the views and had a nice lunch. We made our way back to the car at a leisurely pace then drove down to the train station.

Art went to the window with Mike to help him buy the tickets, and we discovered that there was a train leaving in just five minutes, rather than the later one we’d planned for. This would give Mike and Angela a chance to relax in Rome, to retrieve their stored luggage and to hopefully find a nice restaurant in Rome for their last supper.

Now that our guests have left we have to turn our attention to our upcoming trip to the states. I need to clean out the garden and to take the last of the annuals out of their pots. Giacomo and Belinda have asked us to help harvest their olives on Friday and Saturday.

After what I’m sure will be a busy two weeks in the states we’ll return here on a Thursday, then take off for Montalcino on Saturday to share a traditional American-style Thanksgiving dinner with our friends Paul and Mer from Boston. Paul and Mer will visit us in San Venanzo for a few days before heading back to Rome. After that the Christmas season will be here and we’ll be busy staying warm, buying some new oil, visiting some Christmas markets and maybe we’ll even have some time to relax.

Last year we gathered a group of friends for a Christmas dinner but that same group doesn’t exist anymore. Even before Shae died her husband moved back to the states, we haven’t heard from Jack and Suzy in months, and of course we don’t even know what’s happened to Anna and Ramon….someone said they’d gone back to the states, someone else said no, they were still here, but wherever they are, their plans certainly don’t include us anymore.

We feel so blessed to have each other and to be together in Italy. Friends may come and friends may go….friends may choose to visit us in Italy or not, throughout it all we have each other, and after three years of constant togetherness, that’s really saying something!


At 10/27/2006 11:20:00 AM , Anonymous Annie M said...

Barb, you and Art have your priorities right - your relationship and your lovely life in San Venanzo speak for themselves :)

At 10/28/2006 12:32:00 AM , Blogger Bob and Rosemary said...

A fun read, as always. We're glad you guys found the painting and were able to confirm the artists was your friend's relative! How wonderful for her to see that. Sounds like you've been having a wonderful, whirlwind time of it. We're sorry our paths couldn't have crossed a little better this time but hopefully we can get together at some point during our stay on the Amalfi Coast. (we finally found a place to live!!)
Ciao, amici! Buon viaggio!


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