Fall for a parade.It’s grape harvest time in Italy

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy – Ah, yes, it is that time of year. La Vendemmia. Grape harvest time in Umbria. Most fruits, nuts, etc are gathered and you use the Raccogliere verb in Italian when you are gathering. La raccolta di . . . Not grapes. They have their own word: Vendemmia. And in Panicale, surrounded by vineyards they also get a parade. And a week of festivities. There is music in the air, and garlands of grapes and vines hung all through the town. Surprise bodegas of arts, crafts, olive oil and of course, wine, open up all over town in cantinas that seemingly exist only for this once a year purpose. This celebration goes back to time immemorial. And the parade sometimes surprises us with its pagan-ness. Which is a fun surprise – that here in modern Italy, that ancient rascal Baccus is very much alive and well.
wine harvest festival in Umbria in Italy
Katia, our friend at See You in Italy, is a broker, but first and foremost at this time of year, she is a proud, flag-waving citizen of her hometown of Panicale. She took these pictures of this year’s parade last week. Thank you for sharing, Katia! Looks like a good time was had by all, as usual. How far wrong can you go when parade floats are required, yes required, to dispense vino? It’s a wonderful life, isn’t it? The floats are fun and full of wine and puns. My favorite combination. They say “word jokes” – Giocchi di Paroli. A play on words.

A couple shown here include vinquisisismo, versus inquisisismo, a Vino Power Fiat 500 and my favorite concept this year: a VinoMat. Which, unlike a typical bancomat (ATM) that merely dispenses filthy lucre, this one dispenses healing quantities of primo vino. Life is good. Midge says she wants one in our house.


The parade is so good and the town is so small. What to do, what to do? The solution is classic. They go around the town walls once. Usually very decorous and PG. But what goes around, the first time, isn’t always what comes around the second time. If it is going to go ribald Act Two is when that will happen. Keeps the crowd on its toes. Sometimes it is obvious visually but often its just that the play on words changes for the worst sort of a one, two punch and it makes you want to have all your vocabulary at hand. And stand near your Italian friends who will ‘splain it to you. I’ve had Italian friends almost gasping for air at the audacity of some of the puns that were going right over my foreign head. But if you go, and you see someone doubled over laughing at a parade float, just ask.

Harvest festivals are just another reason to fall for fall in Italy. It is such a delicious season all around, weather is usually stupendous, summer’s frenzied crush is over, people are bubbly and effusive in the bounty of the harvest. And it’s not yet time to dig into the heavy lifting of the olive harvest that always seems to be racing the coming winter’s clock. All in all, the best of times.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland


PANICALE, UMBRIA— Today’s fun was hanging with a group of Australians in the piazza. Saw Emma and Luca going by after church let out and finally got to meet ”la contessa” Luca’s cool, Mamma from Sarzanna. Our table is positively full of Sunday morning Prosecco drinkers, . . . and . . . here comes reinforcements! Oops. One hits the ground. Aldo? Dropping a glass? Later, instead of letting him clear off the tables we decided to be really helpful and brought our glasses in with us and Wiley tumbles one. Here comes the broom again. Aldo laughs and sweeps us all toward the door — Everyone go home to lunch! Please. Which we all, obediently, do.

Now, lunch over, I’m in the garden, but I’m going to put down my pencil and just doze in this patch of sunshine. Just. Sit. Very. Still. Like my new role model. That lizard on the plum tree’s branch a few feet away. He thinks I can’t see him. And I barely can. But it is just the two of us. Absorbing the absolute last bit of today’s solar energy.

Ten minutes later:

Pssst. Wiley. Wiley? Want to go for a late afternoon walk after your nap? Wiley? Guess that would be a no.


More Cuckoo. Less Swallow. Actually, no swallows at all. They are so omnipresent in Summer. Hard to think of them as seasonal, fair-weather tourists, like us. Their visual acrobatics are nicely replaced by the gentle coo-coo’ing of the cuckoos that you hear but never see. Oh. There is Wiley. Did I wake you up?

Early evening, the weather still grand, we took a lap around town, took a couple sunset photos of the town. Happens every time. We walk, we get thirsty. We end up at Aldo’s where he pours us some drinks as we lean on the polished metal bar. Fresh squeezed combo of orange and grapefruit juice only, I promise! Finally, the crowd has died down and it is just us. And Aldo is in his cups. In quiet moments he is washing up a lifetime of Sunday coffee cups, when one jumps straight up out of his hands and does a suicide swan dive onto the hard, cruel floor below. Not again. What can we say? It has been a funny, full moon kind of day. Well, funny unless you happen to be one of Aldo’s coffee cups or Prosecco glasses, of course. And I guess you would have to say, it been a smashing day for them, too.

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!


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.

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.


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. . . .


Caro Signore, che abita in cielo: Avete fatto bene, bene, bene. Che giorno oggi. Grazie infinite.


Oh. Please don’t let the sun go down on this one. Twilight. Cuckoos cuckooing in the last bit of pale afternoon light. I am nostalgic for this day already. And not complaining, or ungrateful, in any way, about the nights here in autumn, either. Sleeping under covers, in these silent Umbrian nights, with the windows wide open is a kind of heaven itself. Perfect temps have followed us every day. Blue, blue skies. Coffee at Aldo’s with Italian friends competing to buy us coffees. And then, after coffee, an early trip to Cortona.

We started out with a gauzy haze hanging low between the hills all the way there. We saw an artist’s dream house and had an engaging talk with her and ooohed and aaahed over her home and her picture postcards views. Took a twisty viccolo the few steps up to Bar Sport where our friends Nando and Pia made us smiley face cappucchinos. And then met new friends at Bar 500. They have a strictly old Fiat 500 theme and, well, you have to respect that.

And then back home as the sun starts to reach its delicate, almost wintery rays into our garden. It comes later every day and for less time. And that is my garden time. So much fun. Especially because Wiley is recovered from her accident. We are even more thankful for her now. Every day. To spend this time with her healthy and happy is a miracle.

Thank you for all the happy moments in this garden. And in this life. In these days, when so many have so little, I feel guilty to have so much. I know that a certain amount of life does depend on luck. And that the rain falls on the just and the unjust and even marketing people. But, please, always count me appreciative. Amen.