Saturday, January 06, 2007

TIME TO START THE NEW YEAR

Here it is already the seventh of January, so I guess I’d better do a bit of catching up. Even though the holidays officially end today, at least here in Italy, these last few weeks have been pretty quiet.

Today is Epiphany…the twelfth and last day of Christmas. How many of you didn’t know that the twelve days of Christmas actually started on Christmas? I didn't know it for many years. Epiphany is the celebration of the day the three wise men arrived in Bethlehem to present their gifts to the baby Jesus. Anyway, not only is this day the official closing of the Christmas season, it’s also the day Befana arrives in Italy. Befana is a witch who brings sweets to the good children and coal to the bad children. So, here in Italy, January 6th is a big day, combining both religious aspects and pagan aspects…sort of like Easter when we celebrate the resurrection and the Easter bunny. Strange how these traditions get mixed together. As I write this the church bells are ringing furiously.

Since all I did was put up our tiny Christmas tree…small enough to need only one short string of lights and maybe ten or fifteen of my favorite ornaments, taking it down and putting everything away wasn’t the headache that it can be. We talked to our family on Christmas Day, but still it was a little sad to have the house so quiet. I’m thinking next year I might want to be in Louisville for the holidays, but that’s a long way off.

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The weekend before Christmas we attended our first bingo party in Italy! ‘Tombola” is what it’s called here, and although we could see the similarities, there were quite a few differences.

Since we’d been specifically ‘invited’, we didn’t feel as if we could refuse, so at the appointed hour (9 p.m.) we walked down to the community hall next to the church. A few people were milling about, and as we walked in the door we had to make a decision: one card for €4, or three cards for €10? Obviously we took the 3 for 10 deal, being Americans who know a good bargain when they see one! I assigned the extra card to Art because his Italians better than mine, altho I do tend to do much better with numbers. In the end it didn’t matter, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

The room was filled with many rows of folding chairs, separated by a center aisle. At the front of the rooms was a table with 2 men, a laptop and a traditional bin with a handle containing the bingo numbers. Behind the table, and running the entire width of the room was a red curtain. Of course we had no idea what might be behind the curtain, and just figured it was covering up things that were being stored in the hall, maybe more tables and chairs.

There weren’t more than fifteen people already there, but of course when they say nine o’clock it really means nine thirty, nine forty five, maybe even ten, so we found two seats in the third row, which would give us a good view of the caller. We were also hoping that the laptop, now simply projecting it’s desktop onto the curtain, would be used in some way to help us keep track of the numbers.

We sat and tried to figure out the cards we’d been given. Unlike Bingo cards in the states, there were no letters across the top of each column. There were only numbers, random numbers, filling the three rows of ten columns. Hmmm, how did this work?

Someone came up to advise us, and from what we understood, all we had to do was to match two of our numbers in any row. In addition to our card we’d also been given a pencil and were told that when a number was called out, if we had it on our card we should draw an ‘X’ through it. That sounded a little too easy, but still, how hard could it be? We’d just wait til the game started and see what happened.

Over the next fifteen or twenty minutes the hall began to fill. At first it seemed to be mostly men, which we thought was a bit odd. In the states I would imagine that most bingo halls are filled with women and with children if they’re allowed. Eventually I decided that because of the time, most of the women were probably still at home, putting away the remains of dinner and washing the dishes. Whether or not that’s true I’ll never know for sure, but eventually the women and children DID arrive…and in droves. A U.S. fire marshal would have had a fit as more and more people filled the hall. All the seats were taken, more chairs were set up, and the back of the room was now standing room only.

Around 9:30 Adamo made an announcement that we would wait for a few more minutes to begin, making it nearly ten before the festivities got under way. Eventually the curtain was pulled back, revealing a large “tree” with gold-covered, coin shaped chocolates hanging from every branch, and also with large pieces of paper, which were the gift certificates for the prizes.

An old lady was at the front, standing next to a huge easel which held a poster containing the numbers from 1 to 100…or was it just ninety? Anyway….She was dressed as Befana, which I thought was a bit strange since this was the week before Befana arrives. When the number was pulled out of the bin and called out, our friendly Befana would “X” the number off the sheet, making it easy to keep up with things.

Of course I don’t know if there are different ways to play this game or not. As we explained to the Italians sitting near us, American bingo allows for a ‘bingo’ when the line is filled vertically, horizontally, or diagonally. Obviously this wouldn’t work with our three rows of numbers in Italy. What we did find out was that this game was progressive. At first only two numbers within the same row we required to win, then three, then all five, then eventually we had to have the equivalent of a ‘cover all’ to win the last and best of the prizes….an €80 gift certificate to Davide, the large macelleria (butcher shop) in town.

Our cards were duds from the get-go. I had only one number for the longest time, and even though it took quite a while for someone to claim the grand prize, neither of us was ever in the running.

A short intermission was held just before the grand prize, cover-all began. Befana and her helpers began to take the chocolate coins down from the tree branches and to throw them to the kids in the crowd. Eventually the kids went up to the stage to receive the candy directly, and although it was frantic with the candy being thrown into the crowd, none of the kids went crazy. No one pushed or shoved, there was no aggression, just happy anticipation, and in the end, every child in the hall had several pieces of candy, even those who were too shy to approach the stage. For the shy kids there were people passing out candy in the crowd, and everyone made sure that the shy kids got some treats too.

Before the game resumed Adamo, who seems to be the master of ceremonies at most of these events, reminded everyone that there would be food and drink after the tombola was over, and made a special note of the fact that I’d brought “dolci Americani”…American sweets! I’d brought chocolate chip cookies, knowing that they’d be a hit, and I’d also brought peanut butter cookies with chocolate chunks.

Probably the strangest cookies I brought were the cut-out sugar cookies. Last Christmas when I was unable to find food coloring in Italy I’d ask our friend Shelly to bring some on her next visit. To make the cookies a little more festive I’d dyed half the dough red, the other half green, and then decorated them with sprinkles. I didn’t think the colored cookies would be that strange, but apparently it was an idea they’d never seen or heard of before. Of course the proof’s in the pudding, or in this case, the cookie, and everyone seemed to like all the cookies, even the red and green ones! Maybe I should start selling American-style cookies on the side…..

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Belinda and Giacomo drove to Sicily for Christmas, then drove back north to fly to Australia for the month of January. Since winter here is cold and damp, and since it’s summer in Australia, Belinda and Giacomo take this opportunity when Belinda’s not working anyway, to visit her family down under. They called yesterday to wish us Happy New Year. I could hear the birds singing outside their window as we spoke, and they told us they’re house-sitting for some friends….in a six million dollar house overlooking Sydney Harbor Bridge! Wow! What a way to welcome the New Year!


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We had our first showing of the house last week! A couple who live and teach in Rome drove up to see it, and I really need to write to them to get their feedback. We tried to get everything as spruced up as we could, and altho we’ve sold houses on our own before, it would still be nice to have some feedback.

Although I’ve decluttered some, due to limited storage space it’s just not possible to a large degree, and also due to the fact that we expect the sale to take a while, I don’t want to live in a house devoid of all personal mementos and family pictures. This is a tough decision, because I know from watching all the house-for-sale shows that are on how hard it is for some (most!) people to see beyond the décor, beyond a purple wall color, an outdated kitchen or a style that’s not to their liking.

I remember when we bought our last house in the states. It was a condo that hadn’t been touched since the owner built it as her retirement home in the 1970’s…complete with shag carpeting….long since worn flat, flocked wallpaper so dry it was falling off the wall, and the piece de resistance, the complete 1970’s style kitchen with harvest gold appliances (including trash compactor), a harvest gold countertop, and dark, dark cabinets. My daughter took one look and thought I’d lost my mind! Six month later with new paint, new flooring and an entirely new kitchen, I’m not sure that even she would have realized it was the same place if she didn’t know we lived there!

We hope that the people who look at our house are able to envision themselves living here, surrounded by their own furnishings and mementos.

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We tagged along with a friend to look at an apartment in Orvieto the other day. Unfortunately the apartment wasn’t actually in the city, but on the road that leads up to the city. There was no outside space, and the only view was of the rock upon which Orvieto sits. The place was really more like a borgo, just four apartments in one building, right on the side of the road, no charm, no view, and the only way to get to the city was to go UP…..altho it wasn’t far, it would be a very steep walk, and not fun when carrying groceries. It was a quick and definite “NO” for our friend.

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We finally got to see Wendy’s new place, and WOW! what a place. It’s a former stable, charmingly converted into a three bedroom, two bath apartment full of character…stone walls, fireplace, great furniture, arched doorways and a cute little loft area.

We had a nice dinner with Wendy, her brother who’s visiting from the states, and her new boyfriend. This was the first time Wendy had ever cooked for us, and now that she has her own place I told her we have to start alternating! She’s a great cook! After years of not having her own kitchen, she can now start cooking again, something that she really enjoys.

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We met with a new expat friend yesterday, Tina, who’s from Seattle. She’s been living in Perugia for several months, attending the University there, studying Italian. For whatever reason our paths had never crossed before, and we were finally able to arrange to have lunch her in San Venanzo. Tina rode the bus from Perugia, which is quite a scenic ride along the SS317, and we promised to take her back to Perugia after lunch.

Art had been wanting to have a pesto lasagna for several weeks, so I decide this would be a good dish for lunch. I sautéed some pancetta, then threw in some mushrooms. I coated the bottom of the pan with a thin layer of pesto, the started layering fresh pasta, pesto, some of the pancetta/mushroom mixture, and grated parmesan cheese. When the pan was filled to the top I dusted the last sheet of pasta with parmesan then slowly poured milk into the side of the pan until the milk was just barely covering the pasta.

Once baked the pasta absorbed the milk and by using milk instead of the more traditional béchamel the dish was much lighter. I’ve found that when I use béchamel the dish is just too rich and too heavy, and this idea of using milk, which I read on the SlowTrav message board, works perfectly every time.

For a more traditional lasagna using a meat sauce (ragu), I’ll do the same, although I will add a little mozzarella or ricotta to the layers, depending on what I have in the frig. The only thing you have to remember is to use fresh pasta, or if you’re using dried pasta, cook it first, at least for a few minutes.

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2007 promises to be a year of changes for us. Keeping my anxiety in check will be a challenge, and although I know that “che será, sera” (what will be will be), it’s the lack of control throughout the journey that makes me crazy! My resolution will be to savor every moment we have here…to enjoy our house, our park, our town and our neighbors. Even if we buy something else in San Venanzo we’ll have new neighbors and a new perspective on the town. And then of course there’s also the possibility that we’ll take this opportunity to explore a new town, maybe even a new part of Italy! The choices are unlimited!

If you know of anyone who might be interested in our house, please direct them to our blog! Selling a house in Italy isn’t quite as simple as selling a house in the states. Although it’s certainly possible that an Italian or an expat living in Italy could buy our house, we have to think globally, and to market it to as many people in as many places as we can. Most of our potential buyers are far, far away…in North America, in Australia, in Great Britain or in other EU countries.

For these people, just reading about and seeing pictures of our house on the internet isn’t enough….of course they want to see it in person, and this means scheduling the time for a trip to Italy! Pleasant as that may be, for many people it still requires some planning, and it may take them six months or longer to arrange to visit. We ask for your help in passing the word and for your continued support, whether it’s in the form of prayer or simply good thoughts and wishes.

3 Comments :

At 1/06/2007 12:56:00 PM , Anonymous Tina said...

I can still taste the lasagne, that was great!

Thanks again for a great day. We'll get together again before I head to Buenos Aires...

 
At 1/07/2007 04:49:00 PM , Blogger Bob and Rosemary said...

Hi Art & Barbara: Loved reading the posting about bingo. It reminded me of all the years we played Pokeeno at Rosemary's mother's house at Xmas time. It sounds like the same game only with cards of images of playing cards instead of numbers. The pay-offs are the same. It was a great game for all ages.
Happy/sad to hear that you are having showing of your house, sure wish things could be different. Keep up the good attitude. Buon anno. Bob

 
At 10/30/2016 10:27:00 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been cooking peppers and onions in the skillet on the grill a lot lately. I'll have to add jalapenos next time. Yum. I like cooking bacon that way too, although hot fat + open flame adds a nice element of danger. I used to get flank steak, but my husband got me to try the carne asada cut from our local market, and I prefer it. Not sure if it's thin-cut flank or skirt (I'll have to ask), but it looks like this 

 

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