Italian Views:
Of the Garden. From the Garden.

figs and storms over umbria lake
PANICALE, Umbria–There is no question about it. A garden ups the “degree of difficulty” of a home away from home by a factor of “lots.” But when it’s good . . . its very, very good. It is a happy place. With so many fun distractions. Much as I try to zone out and read and catnap, the Iowa farmer in me wants to study this year’s fig crop futures. Or to pinch off those two renegade weeds in amongst the wild strawberries. Or to lightly prune the plum. Or maybe check out . . . that bunch of clouds rolling up over the lake. Midge! Grab the magazines. I’ll get the laundry off the line!

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

You can’t have one, you can’t have one, without the . . . other.

MAY IN UMBRIA, Panicale–Our favorite month in Italy is probably always going to be May. Why? Short answer is Roses. The longer answer is everything is so green, so full of hope, promise of sultry summer days and swallows and sunsets. roses and umbrellas
But every now and then in May, you may want to know where your coat and hat are. And absolutely your umbrella and even gloves might feel good. Every moment of running back from Aldo’s with a coat over your head hiding from a sudden downpour is worth it, if for no other reason than for the roses. Whatever it takes to keep our new roses happy. One small bush, when seen from a walk by in the garden, seems a poor, underwhelming plant with no flowers to its credit at all. But, not so fast. Let us not judge this book by its cover . . . turn the page, move in closer and what the heck, it is over-producing. Its flowers are so dense and heavy that they point down like divining rods. Once we saw that, we just cut and then cut them some more. Roses for everyone. Roses on the house! Vases in every room.


Bruna, (on left, below) of Ristorante Masolino fame, has been the ranking chef, with the most seniority and history in Umbria for years. She lives a few steps from us one way, and her restaurant is a few steps on the other side of us. So, we see her coming up or down the street in front of us regular as the tide on Casco Bay. You can see she’s wearing an umbrella and a parka. And trust me, she needed both. For that moment at least. Look past her on the right of the photo. That is the top of our garden wall. In the other companion picture, at another moment, is Midge at the bottom of that wall, basking in the sun albeit in one of my sweaters. We’d be in the house and all of a sudden we’d see the sun was out and in a flash we’d be in lawn chairs and feel like we were in a solar cooker. At that point “someone” would “be up anyway” (gardening) and get sent in the house to fetch sunglasses. And before they could get back, the world would turn black. The theater would go dark. Summer would become winter.
umbrian umbrellas, beach chairs, umbrian spring weather changeable in italy. roses
Ma, va le la pena and worth the trouble too. In fits and starts, a chapter here, a page there, books were read, big thoughts mused, weeds met their final match. Glasses and spirits were lifted. And we put it to a vote, and we decided all was very right with the world.


Stew Vreeland

Picture Italy on instagram.

CORTONA & rosescortona350, cortona, italyEVERYWHERE, ITALY– You say you want more pictures of Italy? See our latest instagram shots That gallery is growing.

Instagram is too fun. Latest app for our brava iPhone, seems wicked user-friendly. I mean, if Stew can do. So can you.

Just add wi-fi, it’s a snap. Click the picture, adjust it, caption, send. Ta da!

This picture was taken just before a shower, running to the car in the parking lot at the foot of the escalator in Cortona. OH, you don’t know about the escalator parking trick there? Makes Cortona even more of a dream.

See you (on instagram) in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Let the good times roll…

PANICALE, Umbria – Friday was Good Friday, Sunday was Easter, Pasqua. But did you know Monday in civilized countries is also a holiday? Yes, yes it is. Pasquetta, or little Easter is an official day off/party day/celebration of Spring kind of thing. Panicale handles it by throwing out the first cheese. Ruzzolone is what they call this unique sport where they race a wheel of cheese around a prescribed Race Course. Someone wrote and asked how long it lasts. No idea. It goes on and I’m all about it for an hour or so and inevitably music starts up in the piazza and fickle, next shiny object person that I am, I wander off. Usually the piazza is totally jammed, bands playing music, tables of wine, paninnis, recently sacrificed giant chocolate eggs, all the food groups represented.
ruzzolone in panicale for pasqua
These pictures from Monday were sent to us by our good friend Sarah Bowers knowing it would help us get busy and get packing for our trip to Umbria later this month. She reports it is bright and warm every day, with just enough light April Showers to get everything green and flowery. Exhibit A: her shot of the wisteria just starting to bloom by the warm sunny wall overlooking our garden. Non vedo l’ora. This is our favorite time of year in Italy.

If you’d like to see more photos, here’s a link to stories and pictures from a past year

We’re penciling in Padova and Trieste on our trip plans. Never been to Trieste. Any recommends there? Our friend Enrico of Milano who owns Paciarino here in Portland rolled his eyes heavenward and said “Oh, Trieste. You will love it. Greatly overlooked and one of the best best cities in Italy.” (speaking of loving it, my Ravioli Goat Cheese al Pomodoro was stellar. Complimenti, Enrico) If anyone has any Must See/Do things they think we should put on our Trieste list, let us know. So far, the only absolute is Piazza Grande and il Castillo di Miramar, Maximillian and Carlotta’s fairytale castle in the harbor.

We’re really ready now!

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

Ah spring. When the first tiny Fiats pop up.

Midge and her Fiat 500C come out on a spring day

It is a sure sign of Spring in Maine when motorcycles and convertibles peek out from under their winter covers. Last week, inspired by day after blissful day of seventies and sunshine weather, some of us even took the snow tires off our daily drivers. And coaxed their little red Fiat and little green Ape out of the barn where they’d been happily hibernating.

And, of course, it snowed and snowed last night.

But all those early, and fleeting signs of spring, certainly do have us counting the days until we arrive in Umbria. Look out Panicale, here we come, ready or not.

By the way. We ARE ready!

We miss our roses when we are apart. And, in truth they do only come out for a week or two. But what they lack in longevity they make up for abundance and punctuality. They spread out over the pergola in a sea of yellow, regular as clockwork on May Day. And this year, on May first, we’ll be there when they come out.


Here are our Lady Banks Roses on Display on a typical but magical May day a year or so ago in Umbria.

And here is May Day luncheon outside Siena (with our buddy Al Fresco and a few of his fair weather friends) at the Spannocchia estate in nearby Tuscany.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland