Ferraris and Carabinieris. Like pb&j they just go together.

PANICALE–Umbria, Italy. Our friends the Lambarts of Colorado have been in Panicale many times and now they are there celebrating their daughter becoming a Di Maria. You can’t beat that for an Italian last name. They are having such a good time and have been so great to share their good times with us. Here they are in their own words and pictures. Their garden pictures stopped me in my tracks. Dear Plant Diary: June = Jasmine, Jasmine = June. Must remember that. Oh, if only the white bloomed jasmine shown here were Scratch and Sniff.

Here is a June peek into Panicale.

See you in Italy,

Stew and Midge Vreeland
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Stew and Midge-

Must have been fun to put your mind on rewind and be at another N.U. graduation again! (our daughter Grayson graduating from Northwestern, outside Chicago, many years after we both did) … We expect full report on graduation, festivities and Colbert, when we see you at BC/NU game.
So, trying to keep up with Vreeland standards, and having fun as fast as we can….Arrived Friday night, and had wonderful dinner at Simone’s osteria, then Saturday morning cappucini at Aldos, who has asked Jeff about playing him in Briscola, then Ceremony to open the retired Caribinieri club in Panicale (Aldo says shifts around each year, this year for one year in Panicale)…Multi multi Caribinieri!

Then, last night had dinner at Logetta in Paciano, meeting new owner from Roma and his wife the cook, and then this morning walked to Paciano for express at little bar in center, ran into Margaret, then the Ferrari tour through Panicale, before finding GMB for awesome lunch (and dolci). Oh, ran into Andrea, (Masolino’s) who says Ferraris are “Italian Art, and Adriano, who Jeff used to play Briscola with, getting ready for rematch.

”Whew!….resting under your pergola again this afternoon, practicing our Briscola before having pizza from new Sicilian bakery/take-away shop outside Porta Perugina. Also , met Fernando (older gentleman who now lives here), and he is tutoring Jeff in Italian each day.
Attaching some photos of our adventures with Panicaleese

And some pics of garden, in mid-June. Still can’t get used to all the people who stop above on street to look over garden and ohh and ahh.
ciao-Harry

In Italy, cielo really is heaven.

We had a clear clear blue sky here in Maine the other day. And Kiki says it is just blue skies and clear sailing, seventy degrees in Italy every day. She sends pictures of the roses doing their blooming best. As did our fiend Dily. She sends pictures of the roses Plus a sunset sky full of rondini (swallows.)

fotoWhich reminds me. . . when we were just there in Panicale we may not have deserved it but, we were treated to day after day of early April clear blue skies. It just got in that pattern and stayed there. Thank heavens. And speaking of heavens I’ve always been interested in the fact that Italians call sky and heaven the same thing: Cielo (chee ay low). So when, for example, Sant Franicis says “Ave, Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore è con Te Lodatelo, cielo e terra …” of course he’s talking about heaven and earth.

But when you run into a friend and point up in to the clear blue we can rave about heaven or sky. And can say “Che cielo!” and not be far wrong. But, if it really is one of those spotless blue sky days there is a way to take it up a notch. And standing by the fountain the other day on such a day, Lorena wanted to know what it was. We’d already done the “Che bella giornato.” and other pleasantries. And now, she tipped her head down a bit and looking up at me. Fixing me to the spot . . . ? OMG. Yes, wait wait I know this. She and Simone taught me this a year or two ago. Hard fought knowledge it was. And now, Simone’s stopped what he was doing and leaned back and crossed his arms, waiting to see how this will play out. They are both looking at me expectantly. Neurons misfiring left and drawing blanks to the right, the spot light sun bearing down on me, was I sweating like this when I got here a minute ago? Where can you hide in the middle of a sundrenched piazza? Cielo, cielo, something obscure, that I made even harder . . . foto1Cielo TERSO!

Grazie a Dio di nuovo. We all sigh a big sigh of relief. I wicked didn’t want to let them down, remembering how they had to almost beat it into me the first time. How do you say slow learner in Italian: Sytoo? In my defense, it isn’t hard, just subtle. TerSo is, well was, a word I had never heard of. TerZo sounds, to this American, exactly the same. Ok, ok, bit more of a “t” sound to the “z” of course. But in that same spot in the same piazza a year or so ago I just couldn’t get past terZo. Which, means third and I figured if we could say Seventh Heaven, maybe they were saying “Third Heaven?” Ma, no. TerSo means cleaned, polished, spotless. And when it is truly perfect, that is what you call Heaven. Cielo Terso.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Two daughters. Two weddings.

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Well, yes. But then again, no. Yes, in the sense that both of “our Italian daughters” did visit us and we did go to two Italian weddings that same week, but no in the sense that neither of our daughters got married during that week. Not that we know of.

But still, we did two major Italian weddings in 36 hours. In two different towns–in two different provinces, even. Yes we can. And yes we did.

SIENA, Tuscany. We had a lovely cup of coffee with our Italian daughter from Torino, Roberta, and her boyfriend, Stefano. Then they took off for a day cruise of Lago Trasimeno and the islands. And Midge and I fooled around in the garden and did laundry in the hot sun and the next thing we knew OMG it’s time to leave for the long awaited wedding at Spannocchia. Our friend Erin Cinelli is the director of the foundation there and we’ve known her since she was Only This Tall.

They started this wedding right, with an awning over tables of Prosecco. Then a beautiful sunset ceremony at one end of the rose covered villa. The bride and groom said their vows and strolled through their friends and family as newlyweds and the wine began to flow and the food too. Very fun food. They had an almost happy carnival like device that fried every kind of fresh vegetable, zucchini blossoms on down. They were served in paper cones for your walking and talking pleasure.

I said sunset didn’t I? But somehow it was really more than that. This was a nuclear powered sunset. Must have been something in the air this particular week because once again on this trip we were brushed an unreal shade of gold. Literally living in a gilded age. The perfect end to a perfect day. But wait. There’s more? A sit-down dinner in the lemonaia and white tents stretched out around it. The tables were set up in white linen and a sort of tan tapestry brocade on the chairs. But the luxury of this was wonderfully broken by the skirt under the linen flowing down to the ground. It was made of burlap. Just the right textural touch. This IS a working farm. Sure it’s a farm with villa and chapel and towers from the 11th century, but make no mistake, Spannocchia is a working farm. Texture was a knockout. And so was the infinity of food and good company.

Wedding dinner in tuscan limonaia complete with swallows. In the air. Not on the menu.
Wedding dinner in tuscan limonaia complete with swallows. In the air. Not on the menu.

DINNER AND SWALLOWS

We happily shared the gastronomic moment with resident swallows who flitted in and out the whole night like they owned the place. Which they really do. After all, they are here saving the world from bugs one mosquito at a time, every day of the year. I’ve given up mouth-open dives off castle heights hoping to catch fresh nutrients on the wing. You can be in the same room with them. They aren’t like gulls. We really don’t compete for the same food. So they were just lovely visual ornaments for a dinner that needed none at all.

The bad news was we had to duck out early, pre-dessert even. Being Italy, that meant about 10:30 or 11. About that time we decided that if we really were going to go to another wedding that started first thing in the morning – in another province, we’d better get going.

Working our way across the lawn we came up a set of stone stairs to the door of the villa, whose hallways we’d follow out and to our car. My hand touched the massive studded doors and I said to Midge, “Oh, we have to stop a moment. Look at this. Look where we are.” A sky full of lucky stars. Cypress in full moonlight. White roses reaching almost to the top of the villa’s roof bathed in the light. The musicians were just out of sight around a corner of the tent, we could see their silhouettes through the white canvas and could hear the squeak of the accordian and the whine of the violins tuning up for the dancing on the lawn that was about to start. And that we’d be missing. Drink it in, lap up as much as we can. Appreciate every moment.

Now lets get in that car and get back to Panicale before the next wedding starts. Like most of our “rest and relax” times in Italy, we’re having fun as fast as we can. Stay tuned. Wedding Two is the next blog.

Food and Wine comes to Panicale

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PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–Our friends Peter and Sarah are packing as we speak to head off to their lovely, newly renovated house in Casamaggiore, in Umbria. They just called last night to ask if we had seen the March ’09 issue of Food And Wine Magazine. It features our Umbrian hilltop castletown of Panicale. Sarah is a great and inspired chef and baker so she has a subscription. It isn’t in the newsstands yet. We’ve checked. But the How to Cook Like You Own an Italian Villa article IS online already.

Matt Molina, a chef at L.A.’s Osteria Mozza stayed at his boss’s house recently. That would be the Panicale home of Nancy Silverton. She is a co-owner of Osteria Mozza and the story line is about Matt’s food adventures all around this part of Italy. I’m getting hungry just reading about Panicale. And all nostalgic as well. But, we are taking action!

LOOK OUT ITALY. HERE WE COME. THE $700 CLUB?

We have plane tickets in hand and happy to have them. We chased prices up one side of the internet and down the other. We’ve made this trip hundreds of times and it’s an adventure buying every time. This time we found very good and reasonable $700 something on Alitalia. Boston to Rome direct. An overnight flight is an overnight flight. Direct flights makes life so much simpler and so much less room for that “Oh, sorry your connecting flight couldn’t wait and oh look there it goes without you” business. Plus, this non-stop flight gets into Roma at 7 AM. I’m good with that. Landing at say 10 or so after pulling an all-nighter finds me much less coherent than at 7.

Our car rental charge for three weeks were in the low $700 range. We went through, as we usually do, Auto Europe. No, this is not an ad. I WISH I got paid for mentioning them! Alitalia? Same non-lucrative deal. Anyway. We ran through our car needs and the bottom line kept coming in just under $900 – for three weeks. Part of the problem, one issue, was that we were coming into the country at 7 AM one day and leaving at 10 AM on the way out of country. So that Three Hour Day became a full day’s charge. Talk about not enough hours in a day. I could pay the charge or hang out watching the clock for three hours. After being up all night? I don’t think so.

So I called Auto Europe back and said “But what if we put our early-morning, post-arrival time to use and headed North by train to Chiusi. And picked a car up there at the train station? Chiusi is easy to get to by train and only ten minutes from our house. No sweat, they were all about that. That not only chopped a day off our bill, but they said they were also able to take off a “Rome airport delivery charge.” That was a new one to me. And in the “That Doesn’t Make Any Sense, But I’ll Take It” category they then said if I picked their car up in Chiusi I could return it to Chiusi or at the Rome airport-–for the same price. Our choice. Here’s what I got out of this exercise: I asked a few questions, had them email a couple written proposals to me, and didn’t take the first rate they gave me. And after a couple five minute phone calls, I had somehow saved almost $200. Highest and best use of my time all week!
springtime in Siena, Tuscany and Panicale, Umbria
LA PRIMA VERA IN ITALIA.

MA! Va le la pena. As they say. Umbria in Spring. In my mind I can almost see it, touch it, feel it. Whatever effort it takes to get us to the promised land is worth it. So, now that the airline and car rental planets have been so nicely aligned, we are holding our breaths and happily counting the days until our mid April touchdown.

Spring is one of the best times in Italy and we can’t wait to see our all our friends there. What a breath of fresh air it will be after a bundled up winter of snow to see the Umbian countryside in all its many shades of green. The fruit trees will be in bloom. And dozens of kinds of flowers, the early bloomers. We especially love the forty-foot-long yellow rose bouquet our house and garden set out on our pergola to welcome us home at this time of year. Grazie, grazie infinite, Casa Margherita.

Non vedo l’ora and I can’t wait, either.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

The purple and white spring flowers shown above are from Spannocchia outside Siena, Tuscany and the yellow ones are from our garden in Panicale, Umbria

OUR ITALIAN DAUGHTERS

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PANICALE, TORINO, PADOVA–I like saying “Our Italian daughters.” It just fills me with happy memories. Twice, years ago, we had the good fortune to have lovely Italian girls come to live with us for a year at a time.

Roberta from Torino came first, and a few months after she left Alexia di Padova arrived. We have visited both of them at their homes in Italy and know their families, and we keep in touch by email and see each other as often as we can when we are in Italy. It is an easy four or five hour drive to either of their home towns from Panicale. This trip they both came to see us! The same day almost. alexia arrives in panicale from padova
And both came bearing serious boyfriends we hadn’t met yet. Both girls looked great, were happy with their jobs, their lives and we loved their guys. What are the odds of all that? Maybe it is me. I know I was a terrible territorial you-bums-aren’t-good-enough-for-these-girls dad when they lived with us in Maine. But I’m so much more mellow now? Dunno. Something is different.

Alexia was renting a villa with 10 friends to have a week-long birthday party so we were really glad she would leave her posse and squeeze in a leisurely lunch and a lazy afternoon with us. We relished catching up over Porcinis and panacottas at Masolinos and some later some Proseccos like her dad taught us to drink, in the cafés of the Venato in another galaxy, far, far away.

TAKE THE BRIDGE

Our friend Steve from San Francisco arrived that evening. To bridge the gap between Alexia’s leaving and Roberta’s arrival. Just in time for Labor Day. Yes, it has only been FIVE days since the last national holiday. But hey, who’s counting? Other than me. So we went right back to Masolino’s. That is just what people do when they want to connect or re-connect with Mother Panicale. A good place to start is a place at her table. A place with your name on it. I’ve figured out that if Andrea even hears we might be arriving in town, he puts a gold Reservato sign on a table because he knows. It’s a heart-melter to feel that warm welcome even before the hot, out of the oven, comfort food hits the table with a grin and a flourish.tractors in the piazza for labor day in panicale in umbria, italy
The next day, killing time was killing me, waiting for the next wave of buddies to party with so, post-coffee, we were glad to be well distracted by tractors in the piazza? I have not seen that before. Shades of Iowa in Umbria. The ancient 14th century fountain in the middle of the piazza surrounded by modern, noisy, house-sized pieces of farm equipment and angry rise-up-oppressed-workers speeches. Which segued abruptly to happy, almost cartoon-y music, wine in paper cups and the ever popular porchetta sandwiches in the piazza.

And then, enough stalling around, Roberta was here! Baci, baci, and was unloading a huge azeala for our garden and introducing us to her Stefano. And before you knew it we were in the garden admiring her pink azeala over some of Paul’s pink rose’. Salute Azaela, salute amici. from torino to panicale umbria. its roberta
We grabbed a lunchtime snack in the sun outside Aldo’s and rushed off to Castiglione del Lago to check out ferry schedules for a day of island hopping later in the week. What crowds. The parks around the ferry stop below the fortress were almost shoulder to shoulder full this happy holiday. The ferry and its dock were mobbed too. Especially for a Thursday. Sure, it’s a holiday, you might say. But it is partially because of the bridge.

golden glow of umbrian sunsetWhat bridge? That last holiday a few days ago, it was OK. But being on a Friday the best you can hope for there is a three day weekend. But Labor Day this year! That is on a Thursday. Italians shrug and say “ponte” making a small bridge shaped arch with their thumb and pointing finger. With an optional wrist rotation. Usually accompanied by a “Not MY fault they put that holiday on a Thursday” look. They put on a look that says they are serious/sad, concerned at how this all turned out. Like there was nothing further from their mind than ditching work Friday. Until you put that annoying Thursday holiday on the calendar. And forced their hand.

Up in the town, above the dock we strangely found a parking spot and not so strangely found the first gelati we could wrap our soon-to-be sticky fingers around. And then we took a nice hot, mad dogs and Englishmen sort of tramp around the vertigo-inducing parapets of the fortress.

And then back to Panicale. No moss growing on us. This is a movable feast and we took the next bite up on Steve’s top floor balcony. The sun was setting, the prosecco popping, swallows doing boomerang cartwheels around us. You could feel the breeze they made going by us. Hey, we all look like we were poured out of molten gold, is this lighting great? How do they do that? Glasses clink. Now drink up me hearties, because it’s time to Sagra.

But that is another story. Stay tuned to the next edition of . . .

See you in Italy, The Blog

Stew Vreeland