Kiki goes to prison. And gets a haircut.

alcatrazDay 43, Dateline San Francisco – Went to Alcatraz and loved the scenery. Had big plans to get a makeover in fabulous Dubai. Instead I got a haircut in a California strip mall. Flying home tomorrow Virgin America, which Erich tells me is very cool. But does it compare with Cathay Pacific Business Class Hong Kong to San Francisco?

How’s the weather there in Maine?

Stew Note: And then a few hours later . . . .
Sigh. But you know, Stew, of all the places I visited these past six weeks or so none is more beautiful than Italy. E vero. Nice to be home this morning, going thru my mail and watching jumbo snowflakes drift away, Love, Kiki

Incredible India. Dance Video.

DAY 25 DATELINE, COCHIN, INDIA- We disembarked to music and bare-chested men and assorted gods and goddesses dancing, had a harrowing ride (is there any other kind in India?) in a tuk-tuk and saw beautiful Hindu temples.


Many Vreeland/Italy connections here: the tuk-tuks are like your Italian Ape, right? Your cousin Max Holden who stayed with us in Panicale, was my Cochin travel consultant. And our Panicale buddy Diletta Cuccinetti did a yoga retreat here!

A big thrill just now: watching the little pilot boat speed alongside to let two Cochin pilots disembark. They did it by ladder as the huge QM2 powered out into the Indian Ocean. It looked harrowing but they were sharp in their white Bermudas!

Stew note: We’ll get to the crazy good Ape videos in the next blog!

Man about town. A brush with passion.

PANICALE, Umbria–To say Bruce likes to paint while he’s in Italy, is like saying The Pope has a bit of a religious background. Bruce has stayed at our place in Panicale before and I’ve always admired his painting of Panicale. But, I’ve never been there when he was there. It was fun to catch him in action. And easy, too. Here’s why: Panicale is small. And he’s out on the street, in one spot, painting until he’s satisfied he’s got it right. And that was true every day unless it was pouring buckets. And we knew when night had fallen, because he would actually come home then.
manabouttown Bruce Kidman painting up a storm in Panicale, Umbria, Italy
But lunch? Not so much. We’d be eating something fun, basking in the lunch-time, garden sun, plucking a fresh fig off the tree to nibble on while reflecting on the flowers close at hand or the lake in the distance, when I’d realize Bruce was MIA. “No problem” Kiki would say, with a dismissive wave of her hand “he’s painting.” She was right, he could not be lured away from his art. It didn’t matter if he was a few houses away, or on the other side of town, he made it clear, he’d much rather paint than eat. He’d pull a candy bar out of his pocket and keep on painting up a storm.

I so admire the passion. And the paintings that are the tangible results of that persistent passion. Complimenti, Bruce, complimenti, pure.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Italian funk, American Country Music and the Queen Mother of all Apes

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–That’s right. You got it on your first guess. It was Festa dell’uva time in Panicale again. Always exuberant, always eccentric, often unpredictable, but always fun. This year, the parade was short and not nearly as many floats as usual. But the music venues and the wine tasting booths were many and all killer-good.

SIDE NOTE: I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary. . bottlers put some dang thing in wine before it hits my glass here in the states. All I have to do here is stick my nose in a wine glass and I’m growing a headache. In Italy, I do everything but brush my teeth with it. And wake up smiling and ready to try it again. Just another in a long line of my excuses to go to Italy.

All over town were wooden arrows pointing you to the next pop-up wine tasting venue. Ten of them. (That is our rascal restaurant friend Andrea Belfico of Masolino’s freelancing an 11.) I tried each night to pick up, numerically, where I’d left off the night before and just do them in some sort of order. And every night I would fail terribly, distracted from that quest after a couple tastings by a whole host of other shiny objects. Usually food-oriented. With big side orders of MUSIC!
pfunkfest. p-funking, masolinos, ape Calessino, vespa, Wine festival, panicale, umbria, italy in SeptemberThis year they really pulled out all the stops on the music. P-funking. Remember that name. See them if you get a chance. Type that name in on YouTube and stand back. Everybody loves them. The town was abuzz about them for days. Serious crowd-pleasers in the parade and in the piazza afterwards. Link above is P-Funking playing in Panicale, Italy. And that was just a part of the music available in the afternoon.

At night the big band era sound was in play one night and almost, what disco, maybe another night? All the music groups had hundreds of people of all ages dancing till midnight both nights after the town-wide “cena sociale.” Meanwhile at the other end of town, in the Kids’ Area (college age people, plus or minus) there was rock one night till two in the morning and then country from a whole other country: Italy. Wild and talented bunch of fringed-leather-jacketed, stetson-wearing cowboys. From Gubbio, Italy. Great trio of musicians. They could hit a lick. You could take them and their guitars and banjos to Nashville or Amarillo and do fine. Except for the they-don’t-speak-a-word-of-English thing. Which they told me in Italian. Even though they
ONLY sing American Country songs. In perfect American English! Watching people learn to line dance on a summer night under the spot-lit tower of the Countessa’s Palazzo was one of my trip’s memorable moments. I don’t know. Just stuck with me and made me smile.

And then. Speaking of smiling! And then. . . there it was. The Ruler of The Planet of the Apes. The mother, as it were . . . . of all Apes. The Ape Calessino. The folding top, four-passenger Ape. By Piaggio. They are brand new, but look 60’s retro and really hit the mark. I’ve read about them, seen them in fancy house / spa magazines, articles. But never. Until now. And they claim they would even let me rent one. From the slightly oddly named Umbria in Vespa. Everyone said the company was started by a nice English lady but the “in” in their name doesn’t seem to quite make sense in English. I know, I know, it makes some sense in Italian, but still. Sure, but I’m thinking there is a dual-language answer. Anyway, those are really show stoppers and I can’t believe you can actually rent them. I don’t think I would rent one of these to me. And I have hours and hours behind the “tiller” of an Ape. Just saying. Glad they do, I want to say I’ve done it.

Apes aside, as usual, the festa was a hit. I didn’t get to sleep till two or three in the morning Wed to Sunday if I recall and I don’t, it went by in a blur. And every morning after, I was right back at the gardening. No rest for the wicked / Having fun as fast as we could. Both policies in effect.

The weather was grand. A good time was had by all. Check your calendar for next September!
(Always the weekend of the third Sunday in September.)
See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

The Paper Chase: Italian Style.

UMBRIA, Italy–It is a cultural thing. Italy is famous for its paperwork and bureaucracy. Just part of its elusive charm. How to get thru the system. Like when you’ve finally gotten comfortable being able to get a cup of coffee at an Autogrill. It just seems so counter-intuitive to go look at the treats on offer and not be able to buy them, then and there. But eventually, memorizing the long name of a sandwich and then going to the Cassa and saying the name out-loud and paying for it and taking the scrap of paper they hand you Back to the sandwich guy, makes a tiny bit of sense. Well. If you are hungry enough. But at the end of the day we just enjoy the difference and say “Quando a Roma.”
So that is on the one hand. On the other end of the scale: imagine what happens when you buy a house. After you’ve worked your way thru the system and delivered all your paperwork, proved who you are, your income, passports, etc and handed over the price of a house . . . you get . . . nothing. At all.

Gulp. What the heck? Way back when we bought, Italy still ran on lira and we paid in cash. Which because of banking hours versus closing ceremony time, meant we hung out all day in Perugia, shopping, eating out etc while carrying a paper shopping bag. With about twenty pounds of lira in it. We got to the notaio’s office, signed things like crazy, certified, attested, when necessary. And at a certain point, the notaio looked at me and smiled politely. And I’m like “what?” Our Swedish friend who had introduced us to the notaio, nudged me and said “He’s ready for the money.” I’d left it under the chair in the waiting room.

I ran out and got it. Passed it to the notaio. He took it and passed it on to the sellers, stamped a couple more things for good measure. And stood up and shook our hands. And gave us that “We’re done here, thank you” look. Receipt please? No. Xerox of some of that stuff we just signed? No. Really? Really.

Eventually, something gets sent from his office to the appropriate government office and everyone agrees you own a bit of the peninsula. But that’s it. Little purchase, paperwork. Biggest purchase you can make, zero.

So, now you now. And you don’t have to be as surprised as we were.

OK, Ciao4now,

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland