Marketing, Italian Style

CITTA’ DELLA PIEVE, Umbria– Aren’t Saturdays grand? No work and all that. What a great concept. Wait just a minute we’re on vacation. Everyday is Saturday on vacation. Even better concept.

Lets make a list of what we want to do today: Get up late. Check. Go for leisurely coffee with friends in the piazza. Check. Decide on spur of the moment to go to Citta’ della Pieve for market day.
citta della pieve market

And, thats enough list making for one vacation, we’re in the car and headed down the hill. Its only what? maybe 20 minutes from our house in Panicale so we’ve been to Citta’ della Pieve, lower left of map, a few times and eaten at Piccolo Eatin’ (ok, purists may spell the restaurant: Piccolo Eden) and rented cars from Signore Giorgi at his gas station there. Things like that. But we’ve never just, you know, what IS the Italian word I’m looking for? Hung out. That’s it. We’ve never done that there. Shirt sleeve weather surprising everyone here in late fall, we’re able to stroll from shop to shop up to the city center where the market stalls are set up displaying hardware next to x-rated undie sets, costume jewelry next to collandars and everything in between. All the non necessities of life. Half an hour later we have bags and I can hardly think what is in them. Fuzzy, flowered purses and neon stripped socks figured in there somewhere.

TO MARKET, TO MARKET, TO BUY A FAT PIG SANDWICH

Tried, at 11:30, to get a porchetta pannini. I know they probably are not like health food. But can you smell that? The stand is right there, the guy in the white paper hat and apron is there behind the glass counter, but the pig is gone. Oh poop. So, we trudged down the street, heads hung as low as sunflowers in a winter field. That rejection pushed us into a pasticcieria for a paninni and mineral water break. Ohhhh Shiny objects, sparkly candies, fruit tortes, Sacher (Looks like a big old loaf of dry Tuscan bread but inside it is a super moist and creamy, fruity kind of cake. When the guy behind the counter said it, it sounded like how we’d say “soccer”) More coffee and a plate of those cookies to go, my good man! We’ll be back to Stefania’s pasticceria. We were literally like kids in a candy shop here because well, it IS a candy shop as well as pastry and coffee shop.

citta della pieve carSTREET SEEN

The car shot? That is for Steve. No, not San Francisco Steve, not Palms Springs Steve, not cousin Steve from Maryland, not Aussie Steve. Yet another one. One from Yarmouth. Some days it seems like half the people we know are Steves. And you know, Stew, as a name, isn’t exactly a giant leap away from Steve, is it? Regardless, I just put the Shiny Black, Non-Candy Item in here so Yarmouth Steve would know it was actually all very civilized over here on that side of the pond.

Speaking of that side of the pond, our friend Kiki is there in Panicale right now, so if you see her and Todd, be sure and wave. They will be there through the holidays curled up by the woodstove doing wireless emails on the newly installed broadband. Talk about civilized.

OK, think Happy Holiday thoughts.

See you in Italy,

Stew

Witchy Woman, part two: We all get the blues.

How rude of me. When last we blogged, I had left you, mid-party, in Citta’ della Pieve. Picking up the pieces of the party here, where we left off.

. . . the discovery that we were partying with a third generation witch was naturally an unexpected twist. And, what fun, Wiley had just done a short film on Modern Witches. And imagine, yes, she does have the prerequiste yellow-eyed black cat, in addition to the decorative Maine Coon Cat, but she had never heard of Strega Nonna series of books by Tomie dePaola. Does every American, with kids, know these books? Well, we did. But the Italians didn’t. Not even the one sitting beside me who actually had a real live Calabrian Strega Nonna in her family. But she was soon trading emails and business cards with Wiley and making plans for meeting the next week to film an interview and have yet more Witchy Woman fun. And fun we were having. And then the food starting coming. And coming. The most excellent wine, which we’d already been liberally sampling was Vino Rosso Doc CORNIOLO Duca della Corgna ”Cantina del Trasimeno” Castiglione del Lago. Super slick wine. But look at this souffle’! with pomegranite in it. And chunks of parmigiano with balsamic vinegar on them for side garnish. I said I had never had a souffle’ in Italy and our new best friends said they had not either! Oh, Waiter! This bottle seems to have gone empty.

The restaurant staff has given up on the remaining two people scheduled for our table and have taken away their place setting now that we are though one course already. But what’s this? Another very pretty blonde and her big, tall guy. “Are THESE the long lost Americans, mayhaps?” I whisper to our new best friends? But the angelic blonde is asking Permesso and launching into a ferocious description of why they are so late in warp speed Italian. We all sort of exchange glances again and say Sit, sit. Hi I’m Daniel says The Big Guy. Which explains ever so much the US link. Finally. Code is broken. The American has arrived. But for a Texas guy, he speaks really eloquently. And does so in actual English and actual Italian.

So we carry on as we had been. In loud noisy Italian and totally bring them into our circle of new friends. Now, the new girl, was not a witch. But her name was Sabrina which she doesn’t think is a witch name, so we had to explain the Teen Age Witch Thing on tv. And to re-explain the title of Wiley’s Witch movie, which was Out of the Broom Closet. Try that in Italian sometime when you can’t remember the name of, you know, that tiny room where you keep the broom? Big times. And then the food started up again. A thick chick pea and tiny postage stamp pasta, then a collection of golden yellow, big, thin Tortellis, evidently a specialty of the town.

And in between courses the experts went on talking about the wine. And we went on drinking it. They swirled, they smelled, they talked about hints of vanilla. Don’t have to tell me twice how good it is, I’d already figured that out. Hey, Waiter, I said again, holding up the most recent casualty.

And then there was duck. Supreme Duck Imperial, it said, to be specific. I have never been served so much supreme duck or such good imperial duck. And all of it exquisitely and decidedly Non-Fat Duck. To add to the magic, it was served on a bed of incredible vegetables. . Vegetables that weren’t, I don’t know, not fried not anything I recognized. If they were fried, it was in a new way to me. Delicate, thin, crisp, almost transparent, every piece a different size and shape and color. The menu said they were ”glassate”

By this time, Folco Orselli the blues singer is at the ivories or guitar, accompanied only by a trumpet player. Cameraman with a huge news camera is filming him right from the start. And we are all stunned how good he is. Think Tom Waite, Bruce Springsteen, Paulo Conte, Zucchero Fornace all rolled into one. What an artist. Raspy voice but young and playful. He seems to be checking out the young witch, peering around the trumpet player to give her a smile after every song. Flapping the cowl collar of her black sweater she said It is getting a bit warm in here, isn’t it?

Blame it on nerves, or incompetence, or the wine with the long name, but my brava mini recorder totally failed me. Or I, it. But, I find I have nothing when we boot it up after getting home at 1 am or so. Nothing. But here is a sample of Folco Orselli’s music I found on the web. Click on it, in a few beats the music starts and then stand back, because in a few more beats, the singing starts. Folco can flat out hit a lick. I want that new album, now.

Then desserts, multiple desserts. Then coffees, then fond good nights, and we paid our 25 euros and we headed back, happy as larks at what a fine night this turned out to be. Thank you DOVE magazine, thank heavens I can read enough Italian to get us here, thank you Trasimeno Blues. And i think we need to especially give thanks that they were only celebrating the red wines of Umbria that night!

SOMETIMES, YOU HAVE TO JUST JUMP IN.

CITTA’ DELLA PIEVE, Umbria— C’est la vie say the old folks. Goes to show you never can tell. Sometimes you just have to jump right in the waters. Instead of forever testing them. One thing is certain, you will never know unless you try. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Two nights ago, it didn’t. We took off for a restaurant not too far away because we had heard friends raving about it. Not our night. Cook must have been MIA because it was not up to usual Italy standards.

But last night! We decided to try to call for very last minute reservations at an event we had read about in DOVE magazine. Part of the Umbrian wine and music series cleverly called Bianco, Rosso and Blues. Why, it almost sounds Patriotic and American. But no, it is part of the Trasimeno Blues this autumn.

This particular night’s event was in Citta della Pieve starting at 8pm. At 7 pm Wiley had just woken up from a cozy late ”afternoon” nap. Too early a depart time for Cortona this morning and too many late nights, both of us hunched over our respective computers doing web things. It finally caught up with us. The nice voice on the phone said all the tables were sold out. But, they could squeeze us in with some people at a non-full table. OK, sign us up and we’ll be right over. Gosh, Citta della Pieve IS as close as Wiley said it would be. How about that? We are early. Early as only uptight foreigners can ever be. Too easy to get to. Piccolo Eden’s name was on two successive signposts as we pulled into town and there we were. Oh, no. it’s a rather boring looking medium-sized hotel, and it is well outside the historic center of town. Sigh. Turn around? It is 8 pm, starting time. And. No one there. Us. What have we gotten into Now? We hemmed. We hawed. Or at least I did. So we killed some time reading a brochure about the night’s entertainment that we picked up off a counter in the totally empty hotel reception area. Nothing but corn. ”Musical Voyage, mix of theater and concert, is it a dream or is it reality?” the more we translated, the deeper in corn we got. Then we thought, what the hey. Got to eat anyway, right? OK. We stay.

PARTY TIME IN CITTA DELLA PIEVE
Hey, wait, this might work out. This is good! The staff in the dining room was expecting us and waved us to one of the many, many empty tables. Empty of people, but decked out in linens, metric tons of silverware (how can one get a spoon THAT sized in one’s mouth?), bottled water, bottles of red wine. They were seriously expecting company. And us. They told us we were welcome to hang out on the terrace by the pool or whatever we liked. Which we did. Eventually, it started to fill up inside and we made our way to our table. Way in the back, by the kitchen and as far from area set up for the music as physically possible, without being in the hallway. What did we expect at last minute? Exactly. They waved us again into a couple seats at a round, six person table and gave us the happy news that the other Americans would be right along. Oh. No. They’ve sequestered us the other foreign dogs. Poverini.

So, we just grin and bear it and settle in to wait our table mates, and Fate. But it was a full moon that night. And Miss Fate was in that kind of playful mood she can get in when you least expect it. Why, Look. It is our waiter, again. Parli Italiano? He asks. Sure, why not? Good, he said. Follow me. I look at Wiley. She looks at me. Both shrug. And follow the nice man in the black pinstriped apron with flashy red zipper pockets. He led us to a table right next to the improved sound stage. Coool. I guess. But our being here seems to have irritated the mamma/head bouncer/owner lady. We say We’ll sit anywhere. Really. No, no. Stay, stay. Ok.

HERE COME THE AMERICANS?

Funny. They don’t look particularly American. A serious, slender blonde and a bouncy auburn-haired imp glide up to the table, and say ”Possiamo”? pointing at the empty seats. Well, yes, of course, we responded. But are you Americans? Ma, no. We live here in town. I teach Italian to foreigners. And my friend is a photographer. So, where are you from in America? Oh, you’ve never heard of it, I said. The State of Maine. Ma Certo! I have a Maine Coon Cat! Get out of town!

We are soon looking at cell phone photos of the feline in question and there is no question. He is a big silver Maine Coon Cat. The coincidences of our lives just went on and on and we decided we were at least long lost cousins of some degree. Destino! They both said. We were destined to meet. One of the many highlights was when I was being the annoyingly proud father that I am and was ”mentioning” that Wiley was a new graduate from college in London, with a degree in Broadcasting. Complimenti! And what sort of things have you done there? She mentioned her biggest film project to date which was about witches. Modern Witches of London and Salem, MA. And, at that our new table mate said Brava, and did Wiley know that she, Galezia, was a witch, too? As was her father. And his Calabrian mother, was an especially good witch. Wait! A real Strega Nonna? Che coincidenza. Ok, let us do the rest of this story tomorrow. To be continuted. . . .

A July in Umbria


Whew. Made it. Arrived. Just ahead of a dramatic summer squall. Dark trees in waving seas of sunflowers. Bathed in bright sun one moment and dense shade the next as white clouds traded places with black ones every few seconds. Changeable as our rental car radio. It’s a Lancetti. Well that seems properly Italian now doesn’t it? But it is a Daewoo. And the radio just comes on full blast whenever it feels like it. If I could only find the off button but it all seems to be in Braille and you know how it is when you jetlag yourself off the plane and first insert yourself back into polite society. More airline stories later.

We are so easily amused. Or another way of putting it is that small pleasures are often the best. One of our great treats in Italy is to arrive dog tired and stay awake long enough to get to Masolino’s restaurant and have the Belfico family cover us in comfort food and then go climb into blissful sleep coma and get two night’s sleep in a row almost and gently get acclimated to this time zone.

When we arrived at Masolino’s on Sunday night there were a couple tables full and then ours with the tiny gold Reservato on it waiting for us. I asked our friend Andrea if it had been a busy summer for him. Over his shoulder he said ”non ti credi”. Within five or ten minutes I saw what he meant as the place filled solid including the outdoor balcony. Which was grand for everyone until the mother of all summer storms hit with wild wind wild rain lightening all at the same time. Waterfalls pouring over the awnings drove balcony dinners running into the already full restaurant with their plates in their hands and napkins flapping like speed streaks behind them. And no place to go till they set up places for them in the bar. We have eaten there a million times (conservative estimate) but never had Mamma Brunna’s Sunday lasagna special and special it was. A drop of prosecco please and lights out.

NOW ATTEMPTING RE ENTRY INTO EUROPEAN TIME ZONES

I can’t really make sense or talk the first day back so seeing houses and trying to take pictures immediately is almost counter productive so I gardened like a maniac the whole first day and got everything how it wanted it. I can garden and prune in my sleep. And sort of did I suppose.

The next two days Midge and I went around like crazy seeing houses with Katia from Citta della Pieve in the south to Cortona in the north. What a fun whirlwind and you will eventually see the results in This Just In and on the web pages. One townhouse in Cortona really rings my bell. Neither words or pictures will ever do it justice. 490,000 euros and well, just totally down town and just stupendous, classy, chic. Architect designed and finished with such good taste. And views out to Tuesday that include high lake views. Won’t tease you any more with that till I have all my photos organized.

MORE MORE PERFAVORE
(more MO ray, pear fa vore ray)

Before gardening the first day we needed artificial stimulation in the form of our morning cup or two of cappucchino our favorite caffine delivery system of choice until they invent a convenient IV drip system for home use. Good trip. Between cafe Masolino and cafe Bar Gallo (they are four doors apart) we got two dinner party offers and one was for that very night. Life is good.

Post gardening Midge did the right thing and took a siesta. I did what was right for me and went for gelato. What’s this? Looks a new flavor to me. MOray. OK, Moray. I’ll bite! And lick too. Black berry is written ”more”. I can remember a yogut in a store with the engaging headline ”piu more” which I kept wanting to translate as more more. But in reality is more blackberry.

This is my flavor du jour for the trip. Must totally be the season. I have at least one blackberry gelato a day and love each new one as much as the first one. That is Aldo at the top of the page handing one of many. Last night I completed the MOray Trifecta. Totally by accident. My favorite dessert is Stefi’s famous Panacotta. Cooked cream never tasted so good. She can do it with chocolate, with a carmel or my favorite Frutti di Bosco. Wild berries. And at this season that means more MOray. Say it with me now! MOray. MOray. And after dinner Andrea brought us complimentary after dinner drinks and asked what we tasted in it. Midge got it on the first try MOray. More more more. I really can’t get too much of this good thing. And the Recioto della Valpolicella classico Domini Veneti was a very good thing.

TUTTO E’ POSSIBILE

Everything is possible in Italy we have found to our delight. The culture is so accommodating. I feel guilty admitting how often our friends here fill needs we didn’t even know we had. We are undeservedly covered with kindness. Just yesterday a neighbor passing by our house noted our highest figs seemed mature and that we needed to harvest them. I agreed in concept and (trying to get out of manual labor) said my ladder was too short.. A couple hours later Bruno was calling over the garden wall with a gigantic ladder and was soon up in the tree. But first he whipped out a bright red train engineers oil can and oiled all our shutters’ tie back mechanisms. When we got to our terrace we saw he had delivered, unasked, a waist high pot of basil. I protested we were only going to be here, as he well knows, a couple more days. He just shrugged and smiled. The next night when we got home, this bouquet of artichoke flowers was on our coffee table. Not for you. For your wife, Bruno said with a wink. Is this a great country!?!

MUSIC IN THE AIR.

We can see a baroque church from our house and today we could see it and hear it. A group of flutes was practicing for a concert later in the afternoon and their notes were wafting magically through the air over our garden and into the streets for anyone who was quiet enough to separate them from the swallows and cicadas. Another day in Panicale. Or. We have died and gone to heaven. Watching the literally unbelievable pink pink Hollywood sunset over the village church and the lake a couple hours later, we started believing that maybe we had slipped off terra firma and into another more peaceable kingdom.

HIGH. AND DRY?
Up in the air over the wide, wet Atlantic. And surrounded by water. In the plane. In the airport. In sport bottles of every size and shape.

Water water everywhere indeed. When did this start? Did I NOT get the memo, again? Every person, on every plane I’ve taken lately has had a bottle of water ready for their use at a moment’s notice. Bottles in their hands, sticking out of pant’s pockets, snugged into special holsters, hung on belts and on all sides of back packs. Ok, how incredibly under-hydrated am I? There are drinking fountains in the airports and places to buy and drink water all around in the airports. And on the plane the waitresses in the sky are handing out drinks rather non-stop. Water, coffee,tea, and excuse me, excuse me. Must step over sleeping giant on aisle seat to go to the bathroom. Now. After 20 hours of being forced fed liquids almost constantly, if anything I’m feeling OVER hydrated. And my hands are full. I would so sit on my bottle and look more out of control than usual.

Lance Armstrong. Middle of France. On a mountain. Several hours into the ultimate aerobic exercise. Now, HE needs a water bottle. I saw whole families with a bottle bolted to every member from baby to teenager to parents with their hands and arms full of strollers and diaper bags. But if we crash into the Sahara, then who will have the last laugh?

SPEAKING OF ALL WET. HERE’s A REAL CORKER

We landed in London. Lines for passports, lines for shuttles. And then we had some off line time waiting for our gate to be announced.

A nice looking middle aged man pulled his bag over and sat across from us. Business man? Manager? Computer technician? Who knows.
As soon as he pulled out a plastic bag and began rooting through a minor league cornucopia of candy and chocolate odds and ends. Wait. now what’s he doing? Yes, I think he has just pulled out a wine glass. A glass wine glass. With a stem on it. Short stem, ok. But a stemed wine glass. Now he is polishing it intently with a Kleenex it appears. And out of a grocery store shopping bag comes a half full bottle of wine. The cork is sticking partially out. He pulls the cork, pours himself a glass of red, crosses one knee over the other, swirls the wine around takes a sip like he is on the Via Venato on a summer evening. Except this is Heathrow. At 5:15 a.m. I was a bit sleepy and confused at the time. But I really don’t think I could have made that up. Later, I thought, do you think maybe he started out by having a sport bottle habit and just took it up to the next obvious level?


IF YOU ARE IN THE MOOD FOR SOME BOLOGNA

Wow. This Grisham book is quite different. No court rooms. Just barely any lawyers. And surprise. It is all in Italy. Just like we are. Full of Italian dialog and characters and places.

It gives the sense that Grisham himself is in the midst of learning the language and the rhythms of the streets as he is writing this. And like his character in a witness protection program, changing into and becoming a real Italian. Good summer beach chair ”thriller” or ”giallo” as they say. (three layer and ja al low. That comes close to how you say them. Well, in StewWorld.) OK, it is not Shakespeare, but it kept me turning the pages much later in the night than I may have intended.

Allora, I hope this stream of consciousness wasn’t too random and maybe gives a peek at one tourist’s week in Umbria.

See you in Italy!

Stew