Red Ferarris, Pink Wines & Flying Apes

In “the interest of full disclosure” as they say, you know I’m not in Italy this very second, right? I write there as fast as I can between events and then sort everything out when I get back to the states. I know, I know, a blog should probably be of the very moment. I get busy having fun as fast as we can, one adventure linking seamlessly to the next and somehow no time there to do the technology dance required to put it together. Sorry if there is any confusion on that. All stories are from mid April to mid May. If I were really current I’d put in something about the Azzuri going down in shootout against the evil empire of Spain. Sigh. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

apes in italy, ferarris at the gates
CAR SPOTTING. AGAIN.

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–There was a buzz going around town. And it wasn’t just apes (bees) around the flowers. But I did hear it first in the garden and ran up to the kitchen for the camera. And just was able to snap the last of a gaggle of classic bikes with side cars on tour through our street. Always something fun and unplanned. And ho-hum (yawn, stretch) is that another Ferrari? I’m sitting on a bench in the sun leaning back against the warm stone wall swapping lies with Orfeo when a red Ferrari whooshes into the piazza, and parks a few feet from us under the tower of the castle. From Pisa it appears. Orfeo has an old yellow Fiat. I’ve got nothing. Well, a rentacar. But he doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Will I ever learn to be cool, and not impressed by shallow things like excessive displays of wealth? Ignoring the specific car he says the newly redone Boldrino restaurant is pulling in big crowds from all around. And he’d heard good things about it as well. Ok, add it to the list. So MANY things to see and do. HEY! Where’s MY Ferrari?
cantina turina wines from lago di garda
Midge had gone to Siena for a few days but I wasn’t moping around all by my lonesome very long as the Ape man, Paul Turina showed up soon after Midge left with his son David. They are from Maine and were staying with us after his wine importing visit to his wine growing cousins from Turina Cantine outside Lago di Guarda. Up past Verona. Oooooh, look what he’s brought us. He knows we’re suckers for his rose wines and here he comes bringing us a case of all things pink. And a couple of the pinks are bubbly. Pink Spumante Brut a Rose’ from the Cantina Turina. And a Gropello no less. Chiantis? Vino Nobile di Montepulchiano? That’s yesterday news. We’ve got a table full of Gropello and fizzy roses.

In a fun turn of events, the very day Paul was here, his tiny 1982 Piaggio Ape was being fitted with our graphics for his Due Fratelli Importsdelivery vehicle, back in the states. Come carina questa Ape Turina. Is that The Best Italian Wine Delivery Vehicle? All the Ape excitement in the air (you can feel it, admit it) gave us a theme to their short visit. Plus Midge wasn’t there to stop the madness. We about half think an Ape might just fit in our cantina’s double doors. Wouldn’t that look good blocking the clothes washing machine AND the bathroom door? So we were measuring our doors here, and surely confusing any observer as we measured the alley leading to the cantina door to see if we could make the corner and force our way inside.

measuring italian apes in umbria

WE COME IN PEACE. WE JUST WANT YOUR MEASUREMENTS

Armed with metric measurements of our cantina’s door way and a folding wooden metric “yardstick” we attacked Panicale and the surrounding villages like Vikings looking for plunder. We measured every Ape we came across. And there were many. Excuse us signora can we measure your tail gate? They do come in various styles, sizes and shapes, but all of them seem to be at least several cms too wide. The barn in Maine? Allora, we keep measuring. There was one full race screaming red Ape buzzing around town that we could never get to land long enough to shoot, let alone measure. You’d hear it coming, see it and gone before you could get your camera out. That Ape can really fly. The smile on that teenager’s face? Priceless.
spannocchia and their cinta sienese belted pigs
Enough fun for one day. We ate dinner out at Masolino’s and the next day I rode up to Spannocchia with the Turinas. We checked out the Cinta Sienese prosciutto in training and had fun with a big group eating out that night in Siena, just ten or twelve of us. Then the next day, Paul headed north to catch his Milano flights and we headed south back to Panicale with Stephanie. She’s another Mainer, the chef that owns the Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth. And she’s been staying at Spannocchia and recharging her highly tuned chef batteries sampling all the fine taste treats they have there. When you go to Spannocchia, ask to take the pig tour, the one that ends with plates being passed around the table is the best one.

More fascinating details to come, stay tuned

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

GOT ME SOME ITALIAN BLUES

Ok, NOW how many days? 54? Sigh. Trying not to check the calendar more than once a day. Because, I tell myself —in my most logical tone of voice— because Stew, that is just not really helping at all. But. A bright spot is daughter Wiley Vreeland. Living life vicariously through her, for a couple weeks. Her Countdown to Umbria Clock has ticked down to much smaller numbers than mine. She’s closer in number of days, and in geography. The Wiley Traveler should be landing in London in a couple days. So, technically she will at least be on the same continent as Italy. Checking maps again. Yes, same general continent. Anyway she’s seeing her artist/musician boyfriend Daniel in London for a few days and should arrive in Italy mid-April. Midge, baby Grayson and I follow along as soon as Grayson gets back from Costa Rica. She is saving the sea turtles of the rain forest or something equally noble. As I understand it from the brochure, she will be able to easily Save all the Sea Turtles In Just One Two Week Vacation! After all that turtle saving, we finally arrive in Italy late in May. Holding breath, turning blue, till then.

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

I’ve decided the mature way to handle waiting out the days till our departure would be to continue my Haircut Boycott. No more waiting for Godot. Oh no, no. We’re waiting for our barber buddy with the big silver bouffant, Biano da Panicale. He’s our stylish barber and chief news source. Like any good barber, he knows everything that is happening in his town. And, beyond barbering, he’s a darn good photog too. He took the Red Red Ferrari photos on the home page, as a matter of fact. But, like I said, his day job is being the town barber. And our barber. Our only barber since 1998. The gap between our last trip and this upcoming one is about twice as long as usual. Ergo. So is my hair. Vreeland’s head photographer Katherine snapped this hirsute photo while we were in the midst of hanging yet more Italian debris in our office this morning. Poster was an eccentric movie theater sized poster that arrived 20 years ago courtesy of our friend Massimo of Torino. Be honest. Haven’t you always wished you were named Massimo? What? That’s just me? Oh. Regardless, you have to love the promo line they used on that Frattelli Blues movie there in Italy. “The most explosive combination since nitro and glycerin”!

More soon, when we start getting Wiley Traveler reports direct from The Old Country.

Saluti a tutti,

Stew

Typical day in the Neighborhood? Only in Italy

PANICALE, UMBRIA—We are high up on a hill in Umbria, way off the chart or the map in most cases. But it is not even unusual to see car rallies roar into town and surprise us all with a quick half hour car show. We saw a gaggle of classic race cars from the 30’s one time. And we have seen this sort of Ferrari rally multiple times. So not in Kansas anymore, Dorthy. The routes of these rallies are always unannounced, always fun. They are timed and very precise rallies and so they do not let out the schedule till the last second. Die hards would cheat and practice the route ahead of time to get an edge.

I walked into the piazza and was happy to see this visual feast, but at the same time all panicked because, for once, Bad Stew, I did not have my camera with me. My friend Biano, the town barber said No Problem as he was shooting up a storm anyway. A few days later he handed me an envelope of huge 6 x 8 inch glossy prints. Is this a great country or what?! He wrote the details of the extra slick red coupe down for me. So, when you are trying to find the exact thing on eBay later, you will be bidding on the right model. He says it is the classic 1960 Ferrari 275GTB4. Guess-timated value? You know what they say, if you have to ask . . . but here it is anyway: 750,000. And friends that is EUROS.

Grazie Mille, Biano! Tu sei troppo gentile, come sempre!

See you in Italy!

Stew

WILEY GOES HALF NATIVE

As Midge and Wiley get ready to head over to Umbria, I look back on our trip last September. Stories that I had not shared here yet. Just to give you a taste of what kind of unplanned adventures a traveler could expect to have on any given fall day in Umbria. This is part one of three parts.

The Annual Grape Harvest Festival in Panicale, Umbria
DOWNTOWN, UMBRIA — We always get a big bang out of September in Panicale because that is when the Grape Havest Festival is. But that is not the only fun we had in September. Almost everyday this month, Wiley has had a nice hilltop to hilltop walk from Paciano to Panicale. I think that walk became very special to her. Good way to peacefully sort out all the system-overload from two hours of intense, private Italian lessons etc. She can, by the way, and does, seriously string sentences together in a meaningful way now. I think she is pleased as punch. She had a friend from Maine here earlier in the week. Then, a few days later, she was off to see Jenny where she was studying in Florence. They have decided that between them, if they stick together, they can cumulatively say nearly anything in Italian! Wiley made me proud when she went right up to the ticket window at the train station in Chiusi and ordered her own train tickets. Look out now.

Girls enjoying Italian Gelato in Perugia on a fall day in UmbriaThe other day after I dropped her off at class in the morning I got a fresh loaf of chibatta at a bakery, two crooked brick alleys away from her school, and talked to a lady weaving in her shop a few doors from that and bought some samples of the weaving. Then I was nursing a coffee and listening to the stories an American guy I know was telling me at the outdoor part of the café (yes, it appears he has had 1) one Norwegian wife and 2) two Swedes and now lives in Italy with an American wife – number 4) four. And if you think I was going to miss any part of THAT story. . . ) Anyway, deep in Scandinavian lore we were when Ms Wiley and her Professoressa Daniella strolled by us for one of their many coffees of the morning. They were just a-laughing and a-chatting up a storm from what I could see. And she could not have looked more intent when I popped in on them later in the garden back of the school. They were sitting in the Umbrian sun. The green valley stretching out in front of them all the way to the lake. All good, happy and memorable moments.

DANGER. HOT JAM ALERT

Our uphill neighbor Youngi was in the café and bought me coffee and croissant. As Wiley says ”it is not a croissant dad, this is Italy, it’s a cornetto. And a cornetto is better.” Right you are. Either way, Aldo wants to know which kind I want: créme or marmalade filled. Apricot marmalade, please. And then, after I’ve chosen, he almost won’t let me have it. He’s got it in his hand, but is holding it back, protecting me from. . . The hideous danger. That is. Hot jam. Can he cut it open? Can I make another choice? Please. He’s alarmed, Youngi is alarmed. Alarmalade Crisis? I assure them I can work my way through hot jam. And did. Yesterday, Daniella absolutely refused to warm up an egg and ham panini because it had mayo on it. I grill Grilled Cheese Sandwiches after slathering them with mayo. Have done so since doing a TV shoot about mayo in the Kraft Kitchens in Chicago. And have lived to tell the tale. Here, today, hot mayo is something out of a horror movie and not to be considered lightly.

Cars were featured in a news paper supplement that Simone, Aldo and Daniella’s son and I are looking at. And relative to that and the herd of Ferraris that have just exited the piazza we have a good car talk.Then, I filmed a bit of Biano at his barbering best and then caught a moment with the Ladies of Linda’s. All the ladies from the grocery store were having their morning coffee clutch and they drug me into the café with them. Earlier Linda’s store and the meat market were jammed to the teeth but now it is just the family and me and the video camera. I was there yesterday and got behind a lady with maybe forty coupons and ordering bedspreads with what must have been the Italian version of Green Stamps and oh my gosh I didn’t think that would ever end. What a long, strange trip that appeared to be.

in an Umbrian garden havesting lavenderPAULETTE GETS OUT OF A JAM.
BETTER LIVING THROUGH CHEMISTRY.

There are cars with bows on them outside the gate. Aldo had warned me: wedding today. Busy place, just got busier. Now Dante is at the door, asking if I will meet them at Masolinos for dinner. We are celebrating that his aunt, our friend Paulette has been cured. Praise the Lord. Her doctor in California said Cipro and there was Cipro and it was Good. Some places you might need a prescription. Funniest thing. But in Italy you may get lucky and just be able to verbalize it to the Pharmacist. (Do they all smoke here? All the pharmacists?) Anyway, the pharmacist listens to her description of the medicine, takes a couple deep and meaningful drags on his cigarette, exhales thoughtfully, steps over his dog and hands her a sack of Cipro. A day later she was cured — after a week of weakness and misery. She must have been too screwed up to have thought to call her doctor or underestimated the take no prisoners attitude of the ”malatia”. Now she and Wiley are in the garden making interesting little sweet smelling, braided sculptures out of our lavender. Paulette’s hands guided her down memory lane to total recall moment from her childhood. In short order she remembered exactly how her Italian grandfather had taught her to make them when she was a little girl. I was glad I was there to see her uncover that moment.

WHAT MAKES A GOOD DAY: THE KEY INGREDIENTS

I woke up to morning bells ringing out eight times in the blue blue skies. Before waking Wiley, I started laundry and put the fig marmalade we’ve made the night before on to simmer for a couple hours. Eventually, Wiley and I made it to Aldo’s for our morning coffee. For several mornings in a row we’ve met Emma and her friend Manuela there too, just on the same general schedule.

Emma and everyone we met that morning is atwitter about the coming fireworks in Panicarola. I Fochi d’la Madonna del Busso. I don’t know how they could beat Panicale’s fireworks, during our fun Festa del’uva. Seems almost disloyal to praise another festival, doesn’t it? When viewed from a distance of a couple car lengths from where they were being set off, filled me with sufficient awe. Totally tilted me off my axis, mouth wide open and making ooooh noises as every explosion seemed to be the finale but then, no it just got wilder and bigger and louder by the minute. What a rush. And yet . . . . they say, ”that weren’t nothing, wait till you see the famous ones from Panicarola. Probably just watch them from the balcony here as Panicale looks over Panicarola.” Finally! Some people with a real fireworks tie in. A solid, logical reason for lighting off some major explosions. The story is that some local fishermen, years ago were out doing it the easy way. Easy, but typically illegal way. The way where you throw a bomb overboard, it stuns or kills everything in the vicinity and you go about scooping up what looks good to you. The local equivalent of the ever-popular ”jacking deer” with spotlights as rumored to be practiced in the wilds of Maine.

Italian fireworks festival in central UmbriaBOMBS AWAY
So it seems that the ”fishermen” were really just ”mad bombers” doing this bit of illegal activity when one of their fish bombs went off a bit prematurely. In their boat. Living to tell about it seemed such a miracle, they quickly founded a church, of course, of course, and named it Our Lady of the Bomb. And now, there is a full blown festival of fireworks in honor of those original bad boys and their fireworks. Being saved from aborted criminal activity seems fairly far off the list of usual saintly miracle reasons to start a church. But, who am I to decide when to start a church?

After coffee and that quasi-religious moment, I walked over to city hall and shook hands around for a minute to remind them I’m here and to not forget about my part of town. When are we really going to repave our street? Wasn’t that supposed to be LAST fall? No pressure, just saying I saw the poster with last year’s date on it and you know, wondered. Again.

Back at the bar, one of the town’s Australians needs a doctor. He does what I do when I have a problem. Go to the bar and tell Aldo, the bar owner and head barista. Steve looks like he might have a a good case of oh, I don’t know, leprosy or something. Nice rash, Big Guy. Whew. Someone is wicked allergic to something. The whole bar votes and decides Steve needs to run off to Pronto Soccorso. Pronto.

More September soon to come. Stay tuned to this spot on your dial.

Che Weekend. wow.


SATURDAY
I am in a daze. Good daze, but none the less. Saturday Giancarlo and I went to Cortona to see a nice Australian family’s house. Wow. So unusual to find a single family detached home in the oldest highest nicest part of Cortona. Three stories tall, all stone, perfect condition, next to an ancient well and a convent and other nice nice homes. You would have trouble finding anything to spend money on here. It is just most excellent.

And in news around the house, big progress on the woodstove installation here. Still cold enough that I am motivated and it will be ready soon. Can’t wait to curl up with a good book there in front of the fire. Garden still covered with light coat of snow and ice. Very strange for the weather to stay below freezing for a week.

SUNDAY
Way out of control today. Met a bunch of friends in the piazza early for gossip in the welcome sunshine under bright blue skies. Biano, my barber, says “Remember when there was that big group of Ferraris in the piazza? I have printed up photos for you.” He and Orfeo and I then had a long conversation about how cool it is to have friends and that after having your health, what else is there really? Bruno buzzed by and said, “Woodstove progress soon.” OK, good.

At noon after the mass at the church in the piazza, I met some good friends for more coffee and bribed their four-year-old with New England taffy while feeding their baby something spinach-related. He didn’t seem to mind. Suddenly, there was a huge crowd in the cafe, all Americans it turned out. The next thing we know, they are all ooohing and ahhhing at the pretty babies and taking their pictures. Turns out they are all tour guides on a tour of places to consider. We all swap business cards like mad and their guide briskly shoos them out to something less important like a lace-making demonstration. We let them know how hyper cool our friend’s luscious classic Villa Lemura is as a destination for their clients, of course.

STEW AND HOW HE SPENT THE REST OF THE DAYS

Must resort to a mere list at this point:
Left the bar with our friend (and defacto Swedish Godmother) Gun Cesarini and rushed to pick up an American friend who Midge found a great long-term apartment for. One of the Cesarini’s apartments in fact. Had lovely lunch at her house with fire in fireplace, leg of lamb and lovely pastas on plates and great views out the window at her house on the edge of town.

Looked at my watch just before coffee and realized people from Alabama were waiting for me at my house. In town. Yike. Rudely excused myself and drove off down the hill to town.

We saw two very nice Panicale homes. One of them with my friend Orfeo. We met him at the third bar cafe of Panicale, upstairs where all the men play cards, drink coffee and watch sports of any stripe.

FRITTERING AWAY TIME. IN A MOST DELIGHTFUL WAY

After seeing the properties we were walking by Orfeo’s house when he diverted us inside for “a drop”. Turned out to be a drop of Vin Santo. With his wife’s super fritters. Small round-ish fritters about ping pong ball sized, made with flour, egg and honey, lightly fried. Amazing. Four hundred times better than I’d had in any bakery ever. She had made them with her own eggs, her own honey. Fried in her olive oil. That morning. Because it is Carnevale time is should be fried in lard they said but they have no intention of doing that when they have lovely light olive oil to use. The fritter come in different sizes and shapes in different areas and are called different things as well. In Panicale they are called Strufoli.

Being a bit too house proud we then toured our house, almost next door, and yes,
yes we DO have a woodstove and wood and kindling.

I recommend that they try their hardest to get tickets to the theater that is happening this very night. Again with the timing.

Bruno comes by and we light the first ever fire and it is righteous indeed. We celebrate with a drink at the bar. Bitters for him and hot chocolate for me. Too much coffee already. And then we agree to wave at each other at the theater that night.

Even thought the theater doesn’t start till nine pm, there isn’t even time for dinner somehow. Never a dull moment. The play tonight was three separate Neopoliton farces by Eduardo de Filippo. The theater was packed. The best part of it all is waving at all your friends in the floor seats, balconies and boxes and then afterwards the hugs and double-cheeked air kisses. It is my whole Panicale life flashing before my eyes condensed into a few fine moments. We stretch the moment by retiring to the bar AGAIN. and then I hurry home for the midnight (here) kick-off of the SUPER BOWL.

I called my wife Midge at 1 am, 2:30 and 4:30 until the verdict we all hoped for came in. . . Go Patriots! Champions Again.

Tomorrow, your erstwhile roving reporter is taking a road trip to Spannocchia outside Siena.