Wednesday, August 27, 2008

VEGETARIANS - STOP RIGHT NOW!

Or even those of you who are slightly squeamish...or who think all that meat in the grocery store just magically appears on styrofoam trays! This post is about the reality of life in a farming community, and about the entire circle of life, which is sometimes just a little gruesome for some of us!

Living here in Umbria, and specifically in San Venanzo, we know that almost everything we eat is fresh. So much of our food is locally grown, and what was on the vine this morning will often appear on the dinner table tonight, even for those of us who don't have gardens. In addition to the fruits and vegetables, animals are also grown here...chickens and ducks, pigs and sheep, cows and....pigeons.

We all have our comfort zones, and our ideas of what's edible and what's just gross. I'll eat pork all day long (and my oh my do they know how to do pork in Umbria!), but don't even think about asking me to eat something that was inside that little piggy! No to liver and tripe (stomach lining...ugh!) and tongue and brains. No to testicles from any animal for sure! No, I don't eat bunny rabbits, but I will eat lamb. I can't give you any logical reason for any of it, but that's just the way it is.

Our neighbor Armando raises pigeons, and not to carry messages. He raises them to eat. Seems like a lot of work for such a small meal, but that's okay with him. The other day he brought some pigeons back from the coop and was cleaning them in his garage. I don't know (or want to know) how he killed them, but I do know that just like chickens, and all other fowl, you have to dip them in boiling water to loosen the feathers. After that it's just pluck pluck pluck until the feathers are gone. The finishing touch is the blow torch to singe off the remaining feathers, or stubs of feathers.

Armando said that Giulda (his wife) would clean out the birds and bake them in the oven like chicken, and that each bird would serve two people.

Here are some pictures of the process, well down the page, giving those who don't care to see the pictures plenty of time to click away.....




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Friday, August 22, 2008

RENEWING OUR PERMITS OF STAY - PART 2.5

A week or so ago I wrote about seeing our appointments to continue the renewal process listed online. I hadn't been checking every day, and the first day I saw our appointments listed was on a Monday, and the Monday before ferragosto at that. Still, I hoped that whoever was inputting the info onto the website was coordinating their efforts with the person who'd be putting the registered letters advising us of the appointments into the mail. We'd paid for, and had receipts for the registered letters, but still no letters arrived. I felt sure that we really did have appointments scheduled, and knew that if push came to shove we could always print out the page from the internet site but still.....I wanted the letters to arrive!

This morning I thought maybe I'd go back online and check the status of our renewals again. Could a problem have been found? I didn't think that could be the case but still..... San Venanzo Postmark And then the door bell rang and it was our postina with the registered letters! Hurray...and finally! Interestingly enough, the postmark on the letters said "San Venanzo"...and had today's date! Obviously I have no idea how the registered letter system works in Italy, but it's quite different than the system in the states. Whatever.

We now know that after our visit to Orvieto we will NOT receive our new permessi that same day. I guess the fingerprints and photographs will have to go back to Rome for further processing. The questura in Orvieto should give us yet another receipt and a date to return for our permessi. For some this wait is months and months in the future. We hope that for us, in the province of Terni, rather than the dreaded province of Perugia, things will go a little faster. (Note to those thinking of moving to Umbria: the bureaucracy in Terni is MUCH less complicated than it is for Perugia! check carefully before making that final decision!)

Tomorrow we'll stop by the photo booth in Marsciano to have our photos taken. We're making progress, slowly but surely! More updates after our appointments on September 1st!

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

BUYING A HOUSE IN ITALY - DECIDING WHERE

It wasn't easy for us to verbalize what we wanted when we first decided to live in Italy. It's easy to say "I want to live in Italy!", but a little harder to decide where. The big city will offer different options than country living. Life in southern Italy might be a little cheaper than life in northern Italy, but what are the trade-offs? And for new retirees like us, what would we do to fill our days? Art worked two jobs for more than thirty years, and never had the time to develop any hobbies. Although I only worked part-time, I didn't really have any special hobbies either, so we were at loose ends.

During our first trip to Italy we'd really fallen in love with Umbria, and it seemed much more affordable than Tuscany. Additionally Umbria is halfway between Rome and Florence, two of our favorite cities, with Orvieto, another favorite, at the edge of Umbria near the Tuscan border. the location seemed to be right in the heart of everything we loved about Italy.

Because travel has always been what we enjoy most, we decided that Umbria would be a great fit. We were within an hour's drive of so many fantastic places: Assisi, Perugia, Todi, Bevagna, Orvieto, Cortona, Lago Tresimeno, and on and on. We could be in Rome in about two hours, and Florence in a little over two hours. We could explore Umbria, Le Marche and Tuscany by train or by car....take day trips or spend a night or two for a more in depth visit. Once the Perugia airport started service with RyanAir we could easily (and cheaply!) visit London...and beyond, or Barcelona. The ocean was about two hours away in either direction. We could arrive in Italy at Fiumicino airport in Rome and be home in just a few hours.

Although the whole of Italy offers history, tradition and a variety of options, we knew that Umbria was the perfect fit for us...and we'd like to suggest that it might be a perfect fit for you too! You can read through our blog to see what we've been doing over the past five years...to learn about our town and the people we've come to know and love. Umbria is called "the green heart of Italy", but for us it's where our hearts are.

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

A PEFECT DAY IN AUGUST

Once again we combined friends and food with stunning views and mild temperatures for the perfect summer's day in Umbria! Although JANE, Ken and Casey have been in Italy for two months (as opposed to last year when they spent a full twelve months!),Mary Michael and Maurizio we hadn't yet had a chance to get together with them. We were so glad when we found out that their last few days would be spent in Umbria, and best of all, at the GENIUS LOCI INN, run by our good friends MARY, Maurizio and Michael.


ST gtg lunch
JUDITH drove down from Citta di Castello, RITA and LINO drove over from Tuscany, and including Michael's friend RHIAN who was visiting from London, we had quite a diverse group. Lunch was simple....fresh tomatoes, sliced meats and cheeses, eggplant, bread, more tomatoes, great wine from Tuscany, then more great wine from Genius Loci (good work Maurizio and Michael!), finished off with some all American treats for dessert.

Umbria viewThe time seemed to fly, and just watching the sun change the hills in the distance was fascinating. Art said if he lived at Genius Loci he'd never have to turn on the television...just watching the view was entertainment enough! We skipped the wine tasting since we'd done that in June, so while everyone else went to learn about the fabulous Sagrantino, Art and I enjoyed the breeze and the view. We also bought some Sagrantino to take home....some lucky person will be getting a special gift this Christmas!

I'm so glad we had the chance to see Jane, Ken and Casey this summer....Casey's gotten so tall! As always Michael and his parents were the perfect hosts, and we're looking forward to our next visit to Genius Loci
, hopefully sooner rather than later!

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

GELATO IN MASSA MARTANA

Massa Martana_0012The medieval town of Massa Martana, just across the E45 from Todi, is a town we discovered back in 2002 when we came to Italy to find the perfect place to live. Most of the walled city was destroyed during the earthquake of 1997, and only recently was the restoration complete. The town now looks like a medieval jewel, retaining its character, but with completely updated facilities like new plumbing and wiring, and anti-seismic protection built into the structures.

For whatever reason we'd never visited Massa Martana during it's annual Sagra del Gelato, and we decided it was about time we did! We met up with our friend Shelly and her friends Milena (and Milena's husband, whose name I don't remember!). Dinner was simple, and since the feature of this sagra is gelato, simple is a good thing. We had our choice of torta al testo with sausage, prosciutto, pancetta or cheese. We each made our choices, ordered a bottle of wine, and went to our table to wait for delivery. Because we were there pretty early in the evening the food arrived quickly and we all savored our food. Once again, the simplest of foods are the best!

After dinner we took a stroll around town. Many of the shops stay open during the sagra and we found quite a few realy nice art galleries, as welll as a muscc museum set up in an old church. The moon was nearly full, the temperature was perfect, and off in the distance we could hear music....that polka/accordian music that could be Italian...or Swiss/German/Austrian. At the end of the street we found the band, and of course swirling dancers filling the piazza.

Massa Martana Gelato_0002Eventually we made our way outside the city walls for the main event" GELATO! There were several types of sundaes listed, and I found one that I liked...except it was made with gelato. When it was my turn to order I asked if I could have it made with gelato instead of yogurt and with a puzzled look the woman told me that it was made with gelato. I told her that the sign said it was made with gelato, and after a pause she told me that "yogurt" was a flavor! Oh...okay. I explained that in the states we have frozen yogurt, but I'm not sure they really 'got' it. Anyway, we each ordered our gelatos and once again waited at our table for them to arrive. Within minutes we were happily slurping away, lost in the decadence of a warm summer's evening and a bowl of gelato.

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A MEDIEVAL NIGHT IN ROTECASTELLO

The festa in Rotecastello has undergone some changes in the last few years. Previously the dinner had been served on the soccer field which sits below the town. There was a kitchen and a giant grill for preparing the food just above the field, and the young people who served it didn't seem to have any problems running back and forth between the kitchen and the field.

Last year things changed. Apparently there were new health regulations in force, or someone decided to enforce the existing ones...here in Italy it's hard to know. We were told that the food couldn't be served on the soccer field, but perhaps the problem was with the cooking facilities. Whatever the reasons, Rotecastello eventually got around the problem by saying "okay, we won't have a traditional festa, we'll just have a dinner for the members of our association", which must have meant that different rules apply. Again, things work mysteriously in Italy. Still, the food was not served on the soccer field, but up in Rotecastello itself.

Everyone who came to Rotecastello last year for dinner was required to join the "Friends of Rotecastello" association. You didn't have to pay a membership fee, although that was certainly appreciated if you felt like contributing. Each 'member' was issued an official membership card, and even though everyone still had to pay for their dinner, things were now legal.

The one good thing to come out of this was that people got to be up IN Rotecastello for a longer period of time. Previously if you came late to dinner then walked up into town for the entertainment, chances were that it was already dark and you wouldn't be able to see much of the town....not that there's much to see, but still, it's cute and takes less than ten minutes to see the entire village.

Tables were set up in several different spots, all near the town oven. We thought the system worked well, and were surprised when it was changed again this year. We later found out that the people who owned some of the land where the tables had been set up were unhappy with the mess that was made/left on their property. Our friends who live in Rotecastello say that there was no mess, that everything was cleaned up promptly, so maybe the landowners were just looking for an excuse to deny the use of their land. That seems a little strange to us since the entire festa is manned by volunteers, many of whom are in Rotecastello for a short time....on their vacation. It must be a labor of love, but perhaps this particular family just wasn't feeling the love.

This year tables were scattered throughout Rotecastello, a few here, a few there...a few more just around the corner or up the stairs. Food was also prepared in a variety of locations, and the servers were kept busy running from kitchen to kitchen, then table to table, and in the end there were quite a few complaints about poor (or even non-existent) service. Yes, I know it's a new system, and problems were inevitable, but this new system seemed like a disaster waiting to happen.....and it did, to quite a few people we know. I hope next year the system is a little more efficient.

On the final night of the festa, the night of the medieval procession, the dinner was a set menu, and after paying for your meal and selected drinks, you then took your ticket to a table that was set up outside the kitchen of Rotecastello's wonderful restaurant, La Locando del Borgo
. After a short wait your name was called and you received your entire meal at once....how very un-Italian!

For €12 we received generous portions of panzanella (tomato bread salad), beans with tomatoes, farro salad, foccacia bread, loads of porchetta, veal, and to end the meal, cantucci with vin santo. Jugs or bottles of wine were available along with water and soft drinks. We ordered two jugs of the red wine )€5 each!) for our table of seven and several bottle of water.

After dinner we walked to the piazza to see if there were any seats left. Luckily, we found two seats on the side, and settled in. We've discovered that the only thing that ever starts on time is lunch, and knew that the 9:30 start time for the procession wouldn't happen. As usual Anna welcomed everyone to Rotecastello and gave us a brief history of the borgo, so we knew we wouldn't be waiting too much longer.

rotecastello_0008Sometime after ten, we heard the drums, signalling the arrival of the procession. The drums faded away as the group marched around the city, then came booming around the corner as the group approached on our right. As usual every class of people was represented from the peasants on up to the nobility.

rotecastello_7028Once everyone had arrived in the piazza the main characters made their way to the stage and presented a short play. Jesters filled the piazza with music and laughter, and eventually everyone marched back down the hill, led by the drums steady beat. Everyone we spoke to agreed that the medieval procession is a wonderful way to end the festa.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

AUGUST HOLIDAYS

As I wrote previously, august means vacation, and if one day of the month symbolizes this, it's August 15th, called ferragosto. The word ferragosto is a contraction of two words: ferie, meaning holidays or vacation, and agosto, meaning August. For those not fortunate enough to be able to take the entire month of August off, ferragosto may signal either the beginning of a two week break, or the end of a two week break. For the really unfortunate, ferragosto might just mean a long weekend break, especially when it falls like it does this year, on a Friday.

As anyone who lives in Italy knows, services are dicey during the entire month, and this particular week even more so. On Sunday, when our water softener started making a clicking sound and refused to cycle, I was really worried. Our water here in San Venanzo is very hard, and when we visit friends without soft water I can really tell the difference.

We unplugged the water softener, pushed a few buttons and hoped that the problem would correct itself, but of course it didn't. We weren't even sure there would be anyone in the office of the technico, the technician who works on the water softener. Art called on Monday and yes, they were there! He told them the problem and the woman in the office said she'd have someone call us. We figured that meant sometime next month, and I was on the verge of calling Fabio, our plumber here in San Venanzo. I knew he was still here because we'd seen him at the festa in Rotecastello.

And then, amazingly, the phone rang on Tuesday afternoon. It was the same woman Art had spoken to, and she asked if it would be okay if the technico came on Wednesday morning between 8:30 and nine. Certamente! Certainly! What a shock!

On Wednesday morning, just as promised, the technico arrived, looked at the water softener, then told Art he'd have to take it back to the shop to repair it. Unfortunately I'd just filled it with salt, and Art offered to scoop some of it out to make it a little lighter, but the technico said no, it was fine. He disconnected the water lines, drained the water into a bucket (which he promptly knocked over!), then left with the water softener. He said he'd return one day next week, so our fingers are crossed. My skin is already feeling dry. Time to grab some lotion.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

FUNKY ROTECASTELLO

This past weekend was the festa in ROTECASTELLO. We didn't go on Friday night, but were there for Saturday's festivities. The menu listed lepre (hare) on the menu, so our friends in Rotecastello extended their drinks-before-dinner invitation to include dinner itself.

Rotecastello Festa 2008 Terrace_0006Our flight attendant friend (that's her on the right) was flying into Rome on Saturday morning, and after a flurry of emails we convinced her to come to Umbria for the day and join in the fun with us. We picked her up in Orvieto, fed her lunch, then sent her off for a nap so she wouldn't crash during the festa!


Rotecastello Festa 2008  terrace_0005As usual, Keith and Janine's terrace was the perfect place to enjoy some drinks and good company. Many of the people who only come to Rotecastello during August were there, so it was nice to catch up with them and to meet a few new friends as well.




Perugia Funking Band_0018After dinner we walked around Rotecastello, and ended up marching into the main piazza right behind the PERUGIA FUNKING BAND. It was clear from the beginning that the entertainment would be lively!


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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

RENEWING OUR PERMESSI - PART 2

As I've written before, keeping up with the bureaucracy required to live in a foreign country can be complicated and confusing. Now that our permits of stay are renewed through the mail, it's even more worrying, wondering if all the documents were acceptable, and wondering if everything arrived safely.

Luckily Italy is slowly coming into the digital age and it's now possible to check the status of renewals online. I checked after a week but found no information. I checked after two weeks and read that no irregularities had been found in our documents, and hoped that was good news. If it was just another way of saying that our documents had been received but hadn't yet been examined, then we'd still have to wait to see if anything changed. You know me, why wait to worry?!

Today, just three weeks after we mailed our renewal packets to Rome, I discovered that we have appointments for the next step! We're scheduled for September 1st, and even better, we get to go to Orvieto for the renewal! This will be six weeks after we mailed in our packets! What a relief! We were hoping that we'd be able to complete the renewal in Orvieto and not have to drive all the way to Terni. Although the drive might not be much longer, we enjoy Orvieto so much more than Terni, so we'll have a nice day out.

When we go to Orvieto for our appointment we'll have to take copies of our documents just in case they want to verify something. We'll also have to take four passport size photos, our original (ready-to-expire) permessi, and our passports. We'll also get re-fingerprinted, this time digitally, which won't be messy like the first time
, when our hands were covered with black ink.

I'm not sure if we'll receive our new permessi that day or if we'll have to wait until our fingerprints/photos are processed, but for now I'm just relieved to be one step closer to completing the process. The new permessi will be good for two years, so hopefully this will be the last time we have to go through this process! (Rumor has it the the system will change yet again, and that in the future each commune will handle their own permessi, but who knows when or if this will ever happen?)

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Thursday, August 07, 2008

BUTTERFLY ON BOUGAINVILLEA

Our friend Keith took this great picture of a butterfly sitting on the bougainvillea on his patio. Isn't it amazing?

Butterfly on bouganvilla

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Monday, August 04, 2008

MORE FOOD, MORE FUN

Art's birthday fell on a day when most of our friends were out of town. Although we really enjoyed our lunch with those who were able to come, we also wanted an excuse to get everyone together, and and excuse to try out a pizzeria in Fratta Todina that we'd heard about.

By some miracle everyone was free to meet for pizza on Friday evening, and Belinda had even invited the Canadian girls to join us. I hadn't been sure if they'd want to spend an evening with the 'old folks', but either they were too polite to say no, or didn't find the idea too disagreeable.


In all there would be ten of us, and we'd given general directions to everyone to meet at the pizzeria. We didn't know the name of the place, but the location was pretty easy to describe, along with the words "Pizza" in large letters on the building. We were the first to arrive, and the building looked closed....maybe even deserted. Hmmm, not good. Maybe they were closed for vacation. We called Belinda and Giacomo who'd told us about the pizzeria, and they made a few suggestions for alternate locations. After phone calls to Keith and Janine, Wendy and Shelly, we eventually settled on Wendy's suggestion to drive up to the restaurant in Motecastello di Vibio. There was sure to be a breeze and a view, so as long as this restaurant was open, everything would work out.

In August it's hard to know if places will be open or closed. To our American way of thinking, being open in August is a great time for a restaurant, gift shop or other tourist related business to rake in the bucks. Of course the Italians don't look at things the same way Americans do, and the almighty dollar, or euro in this case, doesn't always rule. Our first two choices had been closed, but hopefully this next restaurant, LO SCUDIERO, would open since it was connected to a hotel, il CASTELLO.

Yes, the restaurant was open and we had a wonderful dinner....a great mixed antipasti platter to start, then pizzas all 'round. The breeze and the view were both wonderful as expected, and of course the company was the best! During the course of the evening someone asked the Canadian girls how they were passing their time, and when it was discovered that they had no television Wendy offered to lend them one of hers, along with a DVD player and some movies. I'm not sure how much time the girls will spend indoors watching television, but at least they have some options now during the heat of the day or after their evening passiagiata.


On Sunday Wendy delivered the electronics, then she and the girls came to our house for lunch. When the girls rang the bell, Art and I were both surprised to see the beautiful flowers they'd brought as a gift! Of course here in Italy you NEVER go to someones house without some sort of gift...a bottle of wine, flowers, a plant, maybe some sweets...but we certainly didn't expect a gift from two teenage girls, even ones as mature and thoughtful as these two!

Lunch was simple: a pasta salad to use up the last of the peppers, tomatoes from Armando's garden with fresh mozzarella, and grilled eggplant, again thanks to Armando. Dessert was Sicilian pastries that Giacomo and Belinda had brought back from their last trip. Nothing too fancy, but delicious none the less. Once again, simple food and good friends made for two very enjoyable days...but such is life in Italy. It's a tough job, huh? ; )

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Saturday, August 02, 2008

AUGUST MEANS VACATION

 For many, if not most Italians, August means vacation. Those who live in the mountains head for the sea, while those who live in the big cities seem to head for the cool relief of the mountains. Many shops and restaurants will close for the entire month of August, and services will be limited. When friends recently went to an office in the comune they discovered the one and only person who can perform the service they needed is on vacation for the entire month of August. No one is replacing the vacationer, so the paperwork will just pile up until he returns. What a system!

Our neighbors left today for a week at the beach. I'm guessing the reason they won't be gone for the whole month is that they're retired and living on a fixed income. Our other neighbors, the ones who own the other half of our house, should be arriving soon. They live in Bologna, which is hot and humid in the summer. For them the breezes in San Venanzo and the chance to catch up with friends and family will make this month go much too quickly.

Our neighbor Adamo has already completed his vacation for the year...apparently some companies, including the health care industry, are now letting their employees take vacations in months other than August. Some enjoy the chance to save a bit of money and to visit during less crowded times, but I'm sure for many others, whose families still vacation in August, this presents a problem. Although medical facilities remain open in August, I wouldn't want to schedule an elective procedure during this time, just in case I ran into some doctor, nurse or technician who'd been 'forced' to take their vacation outside of the 'normal' time frame!

For us August signals the beginning of the end of summer. Yes, the fruits and vegetables are at their height, and everything is plentiful and cheap. but unlike Kentucky, where summer seems to last well into September, and often October, summer here seems to know that once the page turns from August to September, summer is really over. I love the idea that the new olive oil will be here soon, and the idea of cool nights, but the shorter days are not something I look forward to, or the cold wet days of winter. Okay, enough of that.....for now it's August...time to savor the long hot days of summer while we still can!

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Friday, August 01, 2008

OLIVASTRELLA

Olivastrella signAfter writing about the grand opening of il POGGIO del LUPO, it seemed only fair that I write something about an agriturismo on the other side of San Venanzo. heading up towards Ospedaletto, just past the public pool. We've been talking about checking out OLIVASTRELLA for months, but we just never seemed to get there. Our friends had told us that this agriturismo had more than rooms, they also had exercise facilities. These facilities, including an indoor as well as an outdoor pool, could be used by anyone willing to pay a fee, just like a health club.


View from Olivastrella The other day we drove up the white (gravel) road just off the SS317, and before we knew it we found the pool and the panoramic views of San Venanzo and beyond. The housekeeper was kind enough to show us around the public spaces: a large meeting/cinema room, a chapel, a game room, the indoor pool, hot tub, sauna and an exercise room complete with treamill and all the other machines you'd expect.

Olivastrella FireplaceThe restaurant was large but still felt cozy thanks to the comfy-looking couches near the stone fireplace. The restaurant opened out onto a huge terrace, again with panoramic views.

Although we didn't see any of the guestrooms, judging from
OLIVASTRELLA’S WEBSITE they look a little larger than the rooms at Il Poggio del Lupo, and the whole property has a much more luxurious feel.

The owner returned home and came out to talk with us. He explained about their organic products: the olive oil and honey, the Chianina beef, and the pigs, sheep and goats they raise.

As I wrote previously, I really think that San Venanzo and the surrounding areas are really up and coming as more and more businesses open and more and more tourists discover the joys of 'the green heart of Italy"....Umbria!

As usual, more pics on
OUR FLICKR PAGE.

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