Wednesday, July 30, 2008

NOT OLDER, JUST RICHER

We celebrated Art's birthday last week, and although we're both pretty philosophical about age, sometimes we think "How (and when ) did all this happen? How did I get to be XX years old?" And so this week Art has been muttering from time to time "I can't believe I'm 62!" And he didn't mean it in a good way, as in "I'm so glad/relieved/surprised I made it to 62!".

Since 62 is the magic age when (reduced) Social Security payments can begin for the majority of us, I, for once, tried to put a positive spin on things. You're not older, your richer! I told him! He's still not buying it, but I'm trying to stay upbeat, and not express my personal (negative) feelings about the money. Not surprisingly, I'm just thinking about how much of that money will be lost in the exchange rate, my usual glass-half-empty attitude. Anyway, at least we do have additional funds coming in, or we will in September when the first payment arrives. Thanks to over thirty years of working two jobs, we're now enjoying the fruits of our...er...his, labors!

WHERE THE BUFFALO (DON'T) ROAM

After making several trips to Citta di Castello to buy fresh mozzarello di bufalo, someone mentioned that there was a farm just outside of San Venanzo with water buffaloes, and therefore, fresh mozzarella di bufalo cheese. Somehow weeks passed and we never took the short drive towards Ospedaletto to check it out. We'd been told to turn right on the road just before the bar, and after that, just keep our eyes open!

Finally, mostly thanks to our friends from Canada being here, we decided to drive up the SS317 and see if we could return home with some cheese. As we approached the road, we stopped to ask some people waiting for the bus if they knew where...or even if, the farm was. Unfortunately they were only tourists, so we stopped at the bar to see if the farm did exist, and to get more specific directions.

The barrista didn't know anything about a water buffalo farm, so after a quick coffee we decided to go back home. If the bartender didn't know about the farm, it surely doesn't exist. Never one to give up, Art saw someone we knew from San Venanzo pull into the parking lot, and asked him about the farm. No, this man didn't know anything about it either, and believe me, in a place this small, if there was a water buffalo farm turning out fresh cheeses, everyone would know about it.

I guess for now we'll resign ourselves to buying our mozzarella cheese at the weekly market, at least when we want the really good stuff with fresh, delicious summer tomatoes. Of course we can always find a variety of mozzarella cheeses in the grocery store, and believe me, none of it, even the least expensive, tastes a million times bettter than that rubbery, flavorless stuff they mass-market in the states!

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

SAN VENANZO ON THE MOVE!

The other day while getting my hair cut I happened to mention that my favorite band of our three night festa had been the one from the last night, La Macchina del Kapo everyone in the shop chimed in approvingly....it seemed to be a given that La Macchina del Kapo was far and away the best band, the most energetic and the most fun. The young woman who was sweeping up told me that they were going to be back in San Venanzo in September. When I asked if we were having yet another festa, the answer was yes! I commented that it was amazing how much San Venanzo was growing, but of course everyone there is well aware of that fact.

Later in the week I stopped by to ask our neighbor Adamo about his vacation. I knew he'd gone to the sea for a week, but then he'd left for another short vacation. His housekeeper wasn't sure what cities he was visiting, only that they were north of Florence. Adamo is very well educated and very interested in history, so I was hoping he'd visited some interesting places (as if there are places in Italy that aren't interesting!).

Adamo told me he'd visited Parma
and Mantova (aka Mantua).  He told me about the Farnesi palace and the fact that Montova is a medieval city, home to the famous Gonzaga family. He told me it was an easy drive straight up the A1, and recommended that Art and I consider a visit. This area, Emilia Romagna, is known for it's food. Parma, not surprisingly, is home to Parma ham...and Parmesan cheese.

I told him that at the moment the dollar was continuing it's downhill slide, and the conversation turned to the economy. As we discussed the mortgage disaster in the states and rising costs in Italy, Adamo pointed out to me that San Venanzo was less affected by the recent price increases. Of course San Venanzo is a farming community, and everyone or their brother has an orto, or vegetable garden. People raise chickens and someone in the family makes wine, or cheese. If a family member doesn't raise their own cows, or sheep or goats, then a neighbor does, so the supply is not only close, but also cheap.

When I told Adamo how much we loved San Venanzo, and how we were hoping someone who loved it as much as we did would buy our house, he nodded in agreement. He said one of the things that makes San Venanzo so strong are the families. Grandparents are here, if not in the same house, then just around the corner, offering childcare for the grandchildren while the parents work. The children of San Venanzo are also an indication of the town's life...a town with no small children is a dying town, and San Venanzo has plenty of children to keep it lively and interesting.

We talked about how new businesses are springing up in San Venanzo...the news agent has just move into a larger shop, the ironmaker opened his new shop last year, the bakery is expanding, and soon Giacomo's real estate office will be open across from the church. The restored palazzo that houses our comune is now surrounded by the restored park, a place where we can once again hold town functions with room to spare. (During the restoration of the comune and it's park the functions were held in the church hall and adjoining church yard, but space was definitely at a premium.)

I did tell Adamo that we'd love to explore the area around Parma and Mandova, and shared with him our idea of making an extending vacation once the house is sold. He asked if we preferred to sell to Americans, but of course I told him it didin't matter to us, and that because of the dollar perhaps the house would sell to Europeans. We have lots of Dutch and German tourists in this area, and of course the English discovered Umbria many years ago.

Anyway, in the meantime, we'll continue to enjoy our life here, and look forward to yet another festa in September.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

IL POGGIO DEL LUPO OPENS FOR BUSINESS!

il Poggio del Lupo info


We get our information about local events in a variety of ways: from notices posted in the bar or at the comune, from billboards posted in towns and along the roads, from other expats, or message boards, or simply from internet searches. Getting information about local events is still difficult at times….people just seem to know, maybe from word of mouth or maybe it from years of years of tradition. Anyway, whenever we find out about a local event before it happens rather than after. A few days ago I found another unexpected source for information: the local beauty shop.

I’d stopped in at Orieta’s shop to make an appointment for a haircut. Roberta, Orieta’s daughter, who usually cuts my hair was there, and she told me she was Had something to take care of on Thursday but that she could cut my hair on Friday morning. We set the time and I turned to leave when Roberta handed me a flier. A new agriturismo was opening near San Venanzo, just by Civitella dei Conti, and they were having a grand opening celebration complete with food and wine. The festivities were set to begin on Wednesday evening at five o’clock, so we thought, “why not?”

On the drive up to the agriturismo, called
il POGGIO del LUPO, I found an answer to a question I’d had for several years. On the road up to Civitella dei Conti we had seen stations of the cross along the road, but I had counted less than fourteen….so where were the rest of the stations? Now that we were on the other road that led up to the castle, I saw the rest of the stations. We’d never driven up this road, not really knowing where it went, thinking that it might just be long driveway to a private home.

Umbrian Hills_0001Once we arrived at il POGGIO del LUPO we were stunned by the almost 360º views! Beautiful sunrises AND sunsets were guaranteed, and on a clear day you can see forever. The owners, Fabrizio and his wife Elena greeted us and encouraged us to have a look around.




Il Poggio del Lupo
The table inside was groaning with food, beautiful food, and so of course I had to ask: who’s the chef? Fabrizio claimed the honor, and I complimented him on the variety of summer salads…faro and orzo salads and bean salads, as well as cheeses with marmalades or honey, some breads, and of course, some sweets. A sommelier was there to help with the wine, and later we’d also enjoy bread with Fabrizio’s own olive oil and tomatoes from the garden.

Iron BedFabrizio showed us the rooms and told us a little about the history of the house. It had once been used as a church, and the chapel still remains, although now it’s equipped with surround sound and internet connections. There are three guestrooms, all ensuite. They’re small and simply decorated. One room has an antique cast iron bed and overlooks this beautiful oak tree.Oak Tree














The beamed ceilings are something we love.
Beamed Ceiling


















The later it got the more crowded it got, and eventually the tiki torches were lit and everyone ate and drank and talked…then bottle of vin santo were passed around, along with plates of cantucci to dip in the vin santo. The kids ran around while the adults talked….in Italian, English, German, Dutch and French…yes it was quite an international event!

In addition to the three rooms for rent,
il POGGIO del LUPO will also have space for campers, and will also operate a restaurant! Dinner will be by reservation only, and because of the small size of the room, I’m sure every dinner will be quite intimate and special. Fabizio is certainly an imaginative and talented chef.

We wish Elena and Fabizio the best in their new business! What’s good for them will be good for all of San Venanzo!


See all the photos on
OUR FLICKR PAGE in the folder named....Il Poggio del Lupo.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

A DAY IN MY LIFE

People often ask what we do all day, if we get bored. The time seems to pass quickly, and boredom is never a problem, but when you're retired each day can take care of itself without too much planning.

By nature I'm a night person, but I've tried to change my ways. I usually go to bed around 11 p.m.. If I don't go to bed by 11 I'll miss half the day because I really, really really love to sleep, and if I don't get at least eight, preferably nine hours I'm just miserable. Art keeps telling me that as you get older you need less sleep, but so far I haven't experienced that. I try to get up at eight every morning, but of course if we've been out late the night before, all bets are off.

Sometimes I walk down to the bakery for bread, usually foccacia. Art will usually walk down to the bar for a coffee, often taken the recyclables with him. Sometimes he checks the mail for our Canadian friends or refills the phone card while he's out. I water the plants in the back yard, and check the orto (vegetable garden) at Adamo's house. Since I only have basil planted this year, the orto is much easier to look after!

One morning last week we got up early to take sunflower pictures. Although the field we were going to is just outside of San Venanzo, I wanted to get the early morning light, PLUS I wanted to avoid the heat! Because we're in hilly Umbria, taking photos in a large field of sunflowers means getting right in the middle of the field, or getting to the bottom and shooting up at rows and rows of golden yellow flowers. And walking down the hill means that eventually I'll have to walk back UP the hill, and once the sun is out, it doesn't take much to get hot!

On Saturday mornings we drive down to Marsciano for the farmer's market, and then again on Monday mornings for the big weekly market. We usually try to do most of our grocery shopping in the afternoons around two when the rest of the town is eating or napping.

Yes, here in Umbria almost everything shuts down for lunch...which in Italy is one p.m. sharp. Although Italians are never in a rush and don't feel the same need tor punctuality as we Americans, lunch at one is something you can set your watch by.

Art tapes the NBC and CBS nightly news each night during the wee hours and once he's fixed his coffee this is usually his first project of the day. A quick email check is also done early in the morning, and now that we have ADSL and unlimited time, we just leave the computer on during the day, checking in from time to time.

Very ofter lunch is a big part of our day. For us and our fellow expat friends, lunch is often preferably to dinner. We have more time to relax and enjoy the day, and no one has to worry about driving home on dark windy roads. Quite often we also have visitors...usually friends from the
SLOW TRAV MESSAGE BOARD. Over the past few months we've seen Ray and Donna, Jan and Ken, Marcia and David, and we have plans to see many more slow travelers while they're here in Umbria on vacation.

My mornings and early afternoons are often spent in the kitchen. If I've picked a bunch of basil I'll make and freeze pesto. If we've been to the grocery I'll package the meats for the freezer, clean the fruits and vegetables., maybe freeze some green beans since they won't be around forever and I probably won't be able to find them canned during the winter. It seems that there's always a new recipe to try, so I'm constantly experimenting. Sometimes a recipe is a keeper, sometimes not. Art likes to experiment so he doesn't mind being my taste tester.

Over the past few weeks Art's been helping a neighbor's daughter with her English grammar. Elenora has been coming twice a week for an hour each morning. She's shy and quite hesitant to speak English, but Art's been speaking (mostly) English to her. Most kids here learn English, but rarely have a chance to speak it, and usually speak it with many mispronunciations since they've been taught by native Italian speakers using the Italian rules for pronunciation: bird becomes beerd, because in Italian "I" always sounds like "eye".

Art's enjoying lots of baseball this summer since SKY is carrying the
NASN – the NORTH AMERICAN SPORTS NETWORK. Not surprisingly, an afternoon of baseball often ends with a nap, but that's just fine with Art. While Art's watching baseball I busy myself at the computer, editing pictures, writing for the blog, catching up on my email, or just surfing the web.

We still eat at the very American time of six o'clock. We just don't like eating Italian-style at eight or later, even though we do make dinner our lightest meal. In the evening we sometimes catch up on American TV shows like "Brothers and Sisters", "CSI" or "NCIS". Most of these shows run about six months behind the states, so we're still waiting for the season finales! If a local festa is underway we might go down to enjoy the music and watch the dancing, or we might just take a walk after dinner, which is the typically Italian thing to do. Italians don't seem to care about having a yard since they tend to congregate in the bars or piazzas, especially in the evenings. Since no one has air conditioning, people sit outside well into the night, just talking and enjoying the evening.

For us there really is no 'typical' day. Each day brings new opportunities and new challenges. I think we'll drive up towards Ospedaletto this week to see if we can find the mozzarella di bufalo farm that we've heard about. I'll have to make sure we have tomatoes on hand because if we do find it, a caprese salad will definitely be in order!

Friday, July 25, 2008

WE'RE RENEWED!!!

Moving to a foreign country involves more than the courage to leave familiar people and places behind. It also requires lots of paperwork, and once in the foreign country, the paperwork, although lessened, still continues. For us this means that once every two years we have to renew our permesso di sogiorno, or permit of stay.

This process used to be relatively simple, at least for us. Other expats who live in provinces with more foreigners and fewer resources dread a trip to the questura. It usually means getting up well before dawn in order to stake a place in a long line. Once the doors to the office open, numbers are then handed out, and depending on your number (and how many foreigners wielding strollers you've had to elbow back into the line BEHIND you), the REAL wait begins. Once you finally make your way to the clerk, your paperwork is reviewed and if you're lucky, everything will be accepted and your renewal process is underway.

The cost for this service used to be the cost of one marca da bollo (a tax stamp), and of course the time and gasoline it took to get to your designated questura. We lucked out when we moved to San Venanzo, which is located in the province of Terni, rather than the other Umbrian province of Perugia. Friends who live thirty minutes or more south of us must drive into Perugia, well north of here to wait in long lines and face inevitable delays.

We always enjoyed an excuse to spend the day in Orvieto, and the last time we had to renew our permessi, it took us less than forty five minutes to complete our renewal, and that was including the time we needed to make some extra copies I didn't realize we needed. The cost for the marca da bollo was €14.62 each, and we didn't mind the time or expense for the trip to Orvieto.

About eighteen months ago this process changed, and now permessi must be renewed through the post office. This new procedure was a disaster from the word go. The forms were very often not available at local post offices. When they were available no one really seemed to know how to fill them out. Once completed, the process was now much more expensive: in addition to the tax stamp (€14.62), the envelope itself cost €30 to mail (although this does include being sent a registered letter to set up your next appointment), and €27.50 for fees...so a total of €72, or about $115...EACH...and we only got to visit Marsciano, which is nice enough, but it's certainly no Orvieto!

After scouring the
EXPATS IN ITALY website for information and tips, I found instructions in English and dutifully printed them out. We'd stopped at the Post Office in Marsciano to pick up the forms because the Post Office here in San Venanzo doesn't carry them. Unfortunately the Post Office had run out of the bolletini, the money order type documents used to pay bills through the Post Office. Oh well, they told me the bolletini would arrive soon, so I took the forms, and after several days of hesitation, I finally sat down to tackle them.

Of course I ended up having more questions, so I had to post them on the message board and wait for the responses. Eventually I thought I had the forms completed correctly. Now I had to make copies. I had to make photocopies of each page of our passports, then I had to copy every page of the deed to our house for both of us. I also had to print out copies of bank statements for the last several months to show that we had a continuing source of income. Because we're here on elective residency visas, we're not allowed to work and must show that we have adequate income to support ourselves. I also had to make a copy of our current permessi, and to include module 2, which covers work details and income. We were told by others to include this module even though it's blank....whatever.

We asked at our local comune (city hall) if the office for foreigners would be able to help us with the renewal forms, but they told us no. The mayor's secretary called Marsciano, and they gave us the times when we could come for help. From what others on the
message board had told us, we expected to be sent to a union office or possibly to the office of one of the political parties for help, but that didn't happen.

After finding the office for foreigners, which had been moved to the lower level, we waited while a Moroccan family completed their paperwork. The clerk seemed friendly and patient, and when it was our turn we asked her to just take a look at our forms, just to be sure. As expected, she did find a few errors, mostly things that hadn't been explained in the English-language directions. I also told her that I was worried that some of my numbers and letters would be misinterpreted and that our new permessi would come back with incorrect information. The clerk carefully went over everything, adding little flags to the tops of the 1s and making sure I'd put a slash though all the 7s.

I'd bought the tax stamps at the tabaccheria in San Venanzo that morning, so except for the bolletini we were ready so return to the Post Office and mail everything to Rome....and then we were prepared to wait. We hear horror stores about people having to wait months and months for their renewals to be processed. In the case of the initial permesso, which is only good for one year, sometimes the year would pass without ever having actually received the permesso before it was time to renew it!

As we knew, and as the clerk told us, the wait time for Terni was much shorter than the wait time for Perugia. And then she walked to her filing cabinet and returned with the bolletini...and proceeded to fill them out for us! This went well above and beyond the call of duty, and I have to sing the praises for this wonderful woman who seemed to help everyone with kindness and patience rather than rudeness and arrogance which is so often the case with government workers in many countries.

She told us to wait about a month, but that we could check online to see when our apointment for the new, digital fingerprints would be scheduled. We'll also be notifed by registered mail, so now we just have to wait. In the meantime, once our permessi expire in September, the receipts for our renewals will serve as our permessi, should we need them. So far we've never been asked to show them, not even when we've returned to Italy from the states...but I still always have copies with me, just in case.

I was hoping that we wouldn't need to renew our permessi at all, that the house would sell quickly and that we'd be travelling throughout Europe this fall, but no. At least now we'll be good for 2 more years in Italy!

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

PATIENCE IS NOT FOR ME

Those who know me will agree that I'm impatient, and I'll readily admit it. Now that our house is for sale and we've made the decision to return to the states, I have to admit that I'm having a hard time. I feel stuck in between two worlds, and it's not that I don't enjoy our life here in Italy, but now that we've decided, I'd like to start planning, because in addition to being impatient, I'm also a planner.

Planning a trip has always been as much fun as the trip itself. I love leafing through guidebooks, searching the internet, asking questions, and often discovering places that I never would have known about without a good deal of research. I love trying to maximize my time, to figure out what to do on Sundays, or on days when most of the museums are closed. I like figuring out what route makes the most sense...sometimes you want the most scenic route and other times it makes sense to take the overnight train. I do try to have several options when traveling, knowing that unexpected surprises, some good, some bad, often require last minute adjustments.

So, now that we've made the decision to return to the states, we had to decide where. After much discussion and thought, we've decided to return to Louisville for many reasons. Of course if money were no object I'd live in the Big Apple, but that's not quite in our budget. Louisville has always had a reasonable cost of living, which works to our favor now that we're retired. Of course Art still wants to work at Churchill Downs from time to time, as much for the social aspect as for the money.

Living in Louisville will also allow us to relax a little, in that we won't have to learn our way around, find the shortcuts, or know which store is best. After five years of having to learn our way around Umbria, the mostly straight roads will also be a pleasant change from the windy, windy roads here in Italy.

So what's the problem, you might be asking. Well for me, there's just not much planning or preparing I can do right now. I don't really have a place to store boxes, so I can't start packing stuff. At least if I were packing I'd feel as if I was doing something productive. I also can't plan much for our move, or for our travel plans after the house is sold.

We thought that once the house was sold we'd take some time...4 weeks, 6 weeks, maybe even longer, to do some of the traveling we haven't been able to do. Since we now have a car we planned to drive north, visiting the Piemonte region, stopping in Switzerland, a country we both love, maybe even getting to Belgium for some waffles, beer and french fries with mayo! Unfortunately, our itinerary will be determined to some degree by the time of year. If we're going to be traveling in January, perhaps we'd go south towards Puglia and on to Sicily instead of going north. Depending on the time of year maybe we'd drive to Ancona and take the ferry over to Croatia. If I tried to plan for every contingency I'd be up to my ears in print-outs and brochures, so I really need to wait until things are a little more settled.

We also thought it would be a cool idea to cruise back to the states, but ships from Rome to the states aren't as common as ships between England and the U.S., and are limited to the times when the ships are repositioning. If this works out, great, but again, it's a matter of timing.

Art still looks at the real estate listings in Louisville, and even the used car ads, but honestly that just drives me crazy! Yes, we have a general idea of the areas we'd like to live in and what type of car we'd like, but until we're actually there, cash in hand, it doesn't really do much good to see what's available today.

So yes, I am trying to enjoy my time in Italy....if you've been reading the blog recently you'll know that we have been having lots of fun, but still, the next phase of our life is just around the corner and I'd like to be planning for it, dreaming about it, making some decisions, but I can't do anything...and it's driving me crazy!!!

With the slow housing market we know we could be here for a while, and that's fine. Although we don't have tons of money it's not as if we have to sell quickly, so we'll just wait for the right buyer. The fact that I love Italy, Umbria and especially San Venanzo makes it soooo frustrating that we haven't yet found the person who will recognize our house and our town for the gems they are! For me, the impatient planner, these are trying times!

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

LUNCH IN THE GARDEN!

The idea seemed simple enough: we'd get together with friends for lunch one day in May while the roses were still in bloom in the hostess's garden, and before the heat of summer drove us back indoors for the afternoon. And then the weather went from weird to weirder. After a mild winter we'd had very cold weather in March and April...we even had snow on Easter Sunday. April proved to be not only cold, but also wet. May thought it was April, and the cold and wet continued. And continued. Every time we'd have one nice day I'd think "Here it is! Summer's GOT to here this time!"....and I was wrong again and again and again.

And then one day in June it got hot. Hot as in HOT...so hot that the leaves on my rosebushes, having no adjustment period at all, just crisped up like toast! And with the heat came humidity, a rarity here during the summer, and definitely not pleasant. We sweated and complained, but still couldn't arrange lunch. After weeks and weeks of rain, everything was overgrown and unkempt, then the heat and humidity made the idea of sitting outside very unappealing. And just as suddenly as it had come, the heat lessened, the humidity dropped dramatically, and cool breezes blew through the trees. Lunch might be not only possible, but downright pleasant!

Judith was our hostess, and if you read her blog, called "Think On It" you know that she's a trained chef and cook extraordinaire. Art, Shelly and I all knew to expect delicious things for lunch and of course we weren't disappointed! It only took me one bite of the cous cous salad
 and I was asking for the recipe! Judith assured me it would be on the blog, and I think it's a great summer salad. Just click here for the recipe and Judith's comments.

The main course was a spicy Peruvian chicken dish, one that Judith was able to make using spicy peppers that Shelly had brought to Italy from Texas. While I might not have the peppers to make this dish, I still want to add it to my collection, and I'm hoping Judith will share that recipe in the future.

Desert was a plum cake, one that Judith called easiest cake you've never made. Quick and easy is always good, and the fresh tart golden plums were great in this cake. As an added bonus Judith also let us sample her combination of zucchini bread and bran muffins. She calls the recipe zucchini bran bread and says it's fabulous hot from the oven covered with butter.  I'm sure the calories in the butter will be negated by the nutritional benefits of the zucchini and bran!

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

SUNFLOWERS JULY 2008

We've been out several times to take sunflower photos, as if I needed more! As usual I took pictures of sunflowers from the front Sunflowers_6969































Up Closesunflower_6868



















And from a distancesunflower field_6876

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

SURPRISES IN SAN VENANZO

Last fall we celebrated the re-opening of the building that houses our comune (city hall). The Villa Faina underwent a three year restoration and the end result was stunning...restored frescoes, beautiful woodwork, and at last, the public garden surrounding the villa was once again full of life. Except for the area behind the villa, which remained locked away behind a tall fence. I wasn't sure what continuing work was going on, but was afraid that it would continue for three more years. What a pleasant surprise to find out I was wrong! Suddenly one day the fences came down, revealing a new dance floor and areas for tables and tents....San Venanzo was back in the festa business!

Arch_0001Even a small town like San Venanzo can hold some surprises. One night on our way up to the festa we stopped to ask the workman about this new archway. The tiny room connecting the two buildings has been there for as long as we've been here...five years...but the man told us that the arch was simply "phase two" of the project. Apparently funds weren't available for the archway when the connection was added. We asked if the comune was paying for the arch but were told no, the casa dei anziani (the old folks home) was paying for everything. What a charming addition to the neighborhood!


At the festa I asked our neighbor Franco if I could snap a picture of him at the grill...Grillmasters















antipasti_0005Someone in San Venanzo decided to try a progressive dinner for Saturday night's festivities. Each course would be served in a different area, and accompanied by wine from a differnt area cantina. The antipasto course was the only one I remembered to take a picture of! We had panzanella ((tomato bread salad), a farro salad, and two slices of bruschetta, one topped with fave beans and the other with truffles. The wine for this course was provided by the cantina Colli Perugini.

For the next course we moved to the courtyard of the villa for two incredibly delicious pastas and again, red or white wine from Cantina Giovagnoli, which I'd never heard of before.

For the meat course we moved to the area in front of the volcano museum and received a platter of assorted meats and cheeses, and wine from one of our favorite cantinas, Busti.

After all the food and wine, dessert was simple: watermelon and cantoloupe, the perfect ending to a great meal....and all this for only €15!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

CROSSING LINES FOR MUSIC


The region of Umbria is divided into two provinces: Perugia and Terni. For us, the fact that San Venanzo was in the region of Terni meant shorter lines and fewer delays when we first arrived here and had to apply for our permits of stay. Now that the provinical offices are no longer handling this procedure, the benefits of being in the province of Terni are less clear.

I couldn't find a map showing both the two provinces AND some key cities, so I'll do my best to explain the map above. The green part of the map is the province of Perugia, and the blue section is the province of Terni. I'm going to generalize and say that each city sits in approximately the position where it's name is printed. San Venanzo sits at the northeastern edge of the province of Terni, and is separated from it's closest provincial neighbors by mountains and winding roads. The closest city to us, the one we frequent most often, is Marsciano, just over the border into the province or Perugia, but much closer than any other city in our own province.

Of course I have no idea why or how the provincial lines were drawn, but as puzzling as it is, it can often be frustrating when doing business. Our friends in Todi and Massa Martana, physically close to Terni, must drive into Perugia to deal with any bureaucracy...and deal with larger numbers of people. We've never minded the longer drive to Terni to take care of business, because in the end the time we saved standing in line and dealing with various offices more than offset our drive time.

For our daIly lives though, most of our goods and services seem to come from Marsciano and/or the province or Perugia, and most of the events we attend are also within the province of Perugia...but getting information about goods, services and events can be quite frustrating! We'd love to have a phonebook from Perugia, and if it weren't for our friend Wendy, we probably wouldn't have one. Of course we have a phone book for the provice of Terni delivered, but aside from people and businesses in San Venanzo, we've never needed any of the phone numbers it contains. We want to have info about the local sagre and feste, but nothing from the district of Perugia seems to get posted in San Venanzo. At least we drive into Marsciano on a regular basis so that we can check out the billboards for information.

I doubt that the provincial lines will be redrawn anytime soon, but this summer common sense has prevailed and San Venanzo has joined the music festival promoted by the city of Marsciano. This festival,
MUSICA PER I BORGHI, offers a series of free concerts set in the various 'frazione', or small towns that are part of the comune of Marsciano. This year San Venanzo participated, and on Friday night we played host to Fabizio Palma and Grazia di Michele, who apparently are well know from the Itaian show "Amici". (yes, that's "Friends"!)

Due to the event being publicized all over the area via posters and newspaper articles, it was standing room only as the band finally began to play, nearly an hour after the schedule start time. Of course when did ANY concert ever start on time, then factor Italy into the equation.....

The group was interesting, funky, jazzy, with a great saxophone player. After the frist few numbers a singer came onstage accompanied by tow back-up singers. This singer...was HE Fabrizio?...talked as much as he sang, which I found annoying. thankfully he did have a great voice for types of cabaret/jazz songs he sang. And then he stepped over the line, doing a terrible, overly dramatic version of "Yesterday", that had me rolling my eyes and shaking my head.

I'm not sure what the many older residents of San Venanzo thought of the performance since we left before the concert was over. Early mornings and late nights are hard to do unless you take the tradtional Italian nap after lunch, and I'm just not a napper, so I was ready to call it a night before midnight. I hope the event was successful for all concerned and that San Venenzo will participate again next year...and maybe even join in other Marsciano/Perugia events as well.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

THE CANADIANS AND A BIRTHDAY

In 2006 we received an email from a family in Canada who'd just bought a house in San Venanzo. They introduced themselves and told us they'd be arriving in the spring...would we like to get together? Of course we said yes, and from the moment we met Virgil and Jean, along with their two adult children Damon and Rachele and their families we've had so much fun.

Last year we missed the Canadians completely since they visited while we were in the states, but this year we're all here at the same time. Damon is a landscape architect, so we'd introduced him to Giacomo and Belinda who were just beginning their building project. Damon was thrilled with the idea of having a project in Italy....who wouldn't love to say to a potential client,"Yes, I've just been working on my design for some clients in Italy."????

The Canadians arrived at the beginning of July but Giacomo and Belinda were busy organizing activities for Larry and Shelly's guests, so we weren't all able to get together until Sunday. Giacomo was returning from Holland after picking up his two children, Santi and Mara, and Mara's cousin who'd come too, because after all, when you're a teenage girl you need someone to talk to and giggle with, right?

We'd been anxiously waiting to take Damon, his wife Jamie and their son Marcus up to our favorite San Venanzo eatery, Angelino and Peppa's. It's one of those places where you sit down and the food just starts arriving, course after delicious course. The wine flows and before you know it you're so stuffed you can barely move...but the food is so good you're still sorry you couldn't eat more!

Belinda called us on Sunday afternoon, and surprised us with her questions: did we have any birthday candles? Unfortunately we didn't, but whose birthday was it? Giacomo's!! We wished we had known, and I offered to bake a cake myself, but Belinda had already taken care of that, and just needed to find some candles.

The Canadians followed us up the road towards Ospedaletto until we came to Angelino and Peppa's, which sits on the side of the road. Our table was ready outside, surrounded by the pine forest. We sat down and the food began to arrive immediately. Our waiter was Stefano, the son of the owners, and he brought us bruschetta with tomatoes, crostini with chicken liver pate and with porcini. We had tagliatelle with fragrant truffles, so delicious and tender, yet we had to remind the Canadians (and ourselves!) to go slowly...there would be lots more food to come, including a second pasta dish.

After the second pasta...this one with a simple tomato sauce, the grilled meats arrvied....fat sausages, chunks of grilled pork and pieces of grilled lamb. Spinach was served as a side dish, along with hot torta al testo, a local bread similiar to pita. We'd chosen not to have a salad knowing that we just woulnd't have enough room for birthday cake if we ate any more!

Giacomo with  cakeI'll admit I was lax in the camera department. My only excuse is that I was just enjoying the food and the company way too much, but I did mangage to get my camera out just in time to snap Giacomo's cake with sparklers on top! The cake was surprisingly good, and Belinda told us she'd had it made at the Coop in Marsciano. Umbrians aren't the best when it comes to baked sweets, but this one was really good.

Giacomo and friendsBy the end of the evening, after food, wine, water, cake, champagne, grappa and coffee, it was hard for any of us to think about ever eating again. Damon was so excited by everything...the food, the setting, the unbelieveable prices! I think we paid €18 euro per person for our magnificent feast...all made fresh that day, from the bread to the pasta. The meats had been raised locally, the fruits and vegetables grown right in our town. The wine was Angelino's own, served in bottles with no labels. Everything was served family style, and before you could say "basta!", your bowl was filled to overflowing...but we somehow managed to persevere!

We absolutely LOVE to bring guests to Angelino and Peppa's because it's so much fun to watch their faces as they taste the food, and as they realize how much food there is to sample! Maybe they've had good food before, but never in such quantities, never with such quality and freshness, and never served with such obvious pride and joy! This evening was no exception, and we had the added bonus of being able to celebrate Giacomo's birthday with him!

I'm betting that when the Canadian's return to Canada this evening will be one of the highlights...until tomorrow night's dinner when we all gather at Giacomo and Belinda's house for yet another fabulous dinner! Buon appetito!

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

AN ALL AMERICAN FOURTH - IN ITALY

Our friends Larry and Shelly host an annual 4th of July Texas-style BBQ, and as usual, this one was a delicious success. Let's talk about the menu first, since Larry and Shelly bring many tradtional American goodies packed in their suitcases, and with the lower weight limits on luggage, this is no small feat!

Of course there were hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, and barbequed chicken bathed in KC Masterpiece barbeque sauce. We had our choice of dill of sweet pickle relish...items that are certainly NOT to be found on any Italian grocery store shelves! There was also potato salad and cole slaw, and baked beans....another item that's not typically Italian.

For me the highlight of the day was the tortilla chips....chips that Larry fried here in Italy, made of course from tortillas that had been brought to Italy, then cut into triangles and fried! Of course chips need something ON them, and miracle of miracles, we had QUESO! Velveeta cheese and Rotel tomatoes with chilies.....yes, it might seem decadent to some, even unhealthy to others, but to me it was like a taste of the states, a guilty pleasure that many of us found quite addicting!

I made brownies for the occasion, and Judith baked a peach cobbler and an apricot crumble that were both baked at Larry and Shelly's house right before they were served...meaning they were still warm! Wow!

In addition to the usual group of expats and visiting family members, this years group also included many of Larry and Shelly's friends from around the world who had made the trip for the anniversary party on Thursday. As a bonus, they were also able to share the 4th with us in Italy, and except for the lack of fireworks, I think we really had a very tradtional 4th of July!

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Thursday, July 03, 2008

CELEBRATE!

The next few days will be very busy for us. Our week long festa here in San Venanzo has begun after a stormy beginning on Monday. Each night there will be food, music and dancing, so we'll be there as often as we can. On Thursday we'll be celebrating the 10th anniversary or our friends Larry and Shelly, then on the 4th we'll attend their annual Texas-style barbeque. I've been baking brownies for a week as my contribution to the event.

The party will be held at CASTELLO di CASIGLIANO, at their restaurant, "Il Re Beve" (The King Drinks"). From what I've read on their website, this former borgo just south of Todi has been transformed into a private village, and I'm looking forward to having a look around, in between lots of food and fun! Hopefully photos and videos will follow.

This year's BBQ promises to be (in true Texas style!) even bigger than usual since about THIRTY friends and family members have flown to Italy for the anniversary party and 4th of July celebration. These in addition to Larry and Shelly's Italian friends and of course other expats like us. This should be fantastic 4th of July in Umbria!

Saturday our friends Keith and Janine will come to our house to watch the women's finals at Wimbledon, and in true British style we'll have some bubbly as well as strawberries and cream. After the match we'll finish the evening with some traditional Italian food and maybe even a little dancing at the festa.

This week will highlight one of the benefits of our life in Italy: we can enjoy the best of all cultures, good food from around the world and friends who enjoy life as much as we do. Whatever you're celebrating this week, be it Canada Day, the 4th of July, or just the relaxed pace of lazy summer days, we hope you have good food and good friends to share it with!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

A DAY WITH FRIENDS

On Friday we had lunch with Marcia and David, SlowTrav friends we'd met last summer. When Marcia emailed me to say that they'd be staying near Orvieto and planned to drive over to Bevagna, a stop at our house seemed like perfect timing. We were able to follow them on their travels from Rome to Sorrento and Pompeii through MARCIA’S BLOG.

Marcia also contacted Mary, and other Slow Traveller who we'd also met last summer at the big get together near Assisi. At that time Mary had just opened her beautiful country inn,
GENIUS LOCI. The pictures we saw of the inn were gorgeous, and Brad and Palma, who'd decided to stay at the inn in order to be closer to the get together had told us how wonderful it was. Although Art and I had tried to get together with Mary and her husband Maurizio during the winter months, somehow it never happened, so this would be our first time to see the inn in person.

David and Marcia arrived at our house on Friday morning and we had a great relaxing lunch, nothing fancy: melon with prosciutto, tomatoes and fresh mozzarella, then spaghetti with pesto. For dessert I thawed out the last of the fresh strawberries and tossed the juicy sweetened berries with cubes of a shortcake I'd made the day before.

Normally when I serve strawberry shortcake I make baking powder biscuits, just as my mom did. This time I decided to see if I could find a recipe for pound cake, since of course I couldn't possibly have company without at least ONE new dish!

Most of the recipes I found required sour cream, or heavy cream, and I didn't have either one in the house. Because it was Thursday afternoon, the grocery stores in San Venanzo were closed, and I just couldn't justify a drive down to Marsciano for just one ingredient. (Note: we don't have sour cream in Italy, but I use Greek yogurt instead with great success)

Eventually I found a recipe for strawberry shortcake in my trusty BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS COOKBOOK. This recipe sounded like a cross between a cake and a biscuit, and was baked in an 8" cake pan. I would have preferred to make individual cakes, but the dough was way too slack for that, so I baked it as directed, then planned to slice it horizontally.

Once the cake was baked and cooled, I decided to use half the cake freezing the other half for something else....cherries? peaches? Anyway I cubed the cake and put about a third of the cubes in a clear glass bowl, then added some strawberries (and the yummy juices!), then repeated the process and refrigerated it. Of course while it sat in the frig the cake absorbed all the strawberry juice but still held it's shape. When I served the dessert I simply scooped out a spoonful or two and topped it with some whipped cream. Yum!

The four of us enjoyed our lunch while we got to know each other better. After lunch we gave them the nickel tour of the house then headed out towards Bevagna to visit with Mary.

We'd passed the sign for
GENIUS LOCI several times but had never turned down the road for the inn. We were quite surprised that it was just a short distance down the white road, but the setting made you feel as if you were miles away from the rest of the world! Off in the distance we could see Montefalco, Spello and Mount Subasio. Foligno and Bevagna were down in the valley, and the hills in between were covered with shades of green...the grape vines, olive trees and fields of various crops were spread out in a beautiful panorama! Wow!Genius Loci view


Genius Loci Fireplace

Mary was waiting to greet us, and once we stepped inside the inn we were all wowed again! the interior was charming and quaint and absolutely beautiful. Mary and her daughter Mar, who was visiting from Pennsylvania told us about the three, or was it four? year renovation of the old farmhouse into a gorgeous inn. Stone walls, huge fireplaces, vaulted ceilings with beams.....this place is everything you dream about!

We sat on the covered terrace enjoying the view, and later Mary's son Michael, who runs the inn, stopped by to say hello. Wow! Another amazing view! This guy is gorgeous! After working in the hospitality industry for many years Michael is now dedicated to making Genius Loci a special place...and I think he'll succeed. His good looks are matched by his friendly and helpful personality, much like his mother.

Genius Loci Wine Barrel seating We were treated to a tasting of their very own Sagrantino wine, and even though I don't know much about wine I know what I like and boy, was this wine yummy! Maybe yummy is too frivolous a word to use for such an impressive wine, but I'd highly recommend this wine to anyone who loves a delicious red. I think I may have to grab a few bottles of this for a special occasion.

If you'd like to know more about the inn you can click on this link for
GENIUS LOCI, or to keep up with Mary's life, which of course includes the inn, you can check out MARY’S BLOG.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2008

SUMMERTIME

Despite the sudden arrival of HOT weather, Umbria's still green, thanks to all the rain we had this spring.

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