Having barrels of fun.

PANICALE, Umbria–Yes, there’s a new guy in town. Welcome Paul Turina. He and his wife Betty are our new partners in the house in Panicale. They are on their way to Italy shortly to take romantic vineyard pictures with Paul and Jane of Avis Studio.
That could be one reason why Paul’s smiling. But on the other hand, he usually is. And why not. As he says “I’ve got the best job in the world.” And what would Job Nirvana be for a died-in-the-wool Italophile be? Right, the first time: Importing Italian wine.
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Visiting vineyards, sampling luscious new wines at any and every hour of the day and night? Going out to eat in all corners of Italy with clients who know the best local places? Writing off your tickets to Vinitaly as a business expense? And calling it all work? It is a tough job but someone has to do it.

We just helped him double the size of the Turina Italian Wines site to keep up with his growing stable of select family vineyards. And the first day the new and improved site was “live” Paul was featured again on Fringe Wine This is the third time he and his specialty wines have been featured on this blog!

If you are eating out in Panicale in April and you see some guy at the next table – with an extra big grin on his face, just raise your glass and say “Salute, Paul!”

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Live. And Learn.

typical Italian dinner at moms Panicale, Umbria, ItalyPANICALE, PADOVA, TORINO, Italy–If we live to be a hundred, we will never get to the point on the Generosity Chart where Italians seem to be born. Like a Ferrari, the average Italian has some extra gears they can shift into, at a moment’s notice. They make it look so easy and effortless,

A couple examples. We were in Padova, years ago, at our Italian foreign exchange student’s home for the first time. We were seeing the house and doing the polite, “What a lovely home. Love that painting! Gorgeous flowers here on the balcony . . .” Which was all fine, until we got ready to leave and they had elaborately wrapped gifts for all of us. And after those individual be-ribboned and bowed packages had all been opened, there was one more. A bonus round “for the family.” It was the framed oil painting we’d admired on the wall. You have to be careful out there, admiring things.

And food. Be careful there too. That tide may only flow one direction. We were almost coaxed into a food coma at our friends in Torino’s home. They fed us like Christmas geese. “This is wonderful, but three helpings is fine, please, thank you” didn’t seem to work. And so we were lovely and polite, and kept on eating our way through the food pyramids in front of us.

Later that vacation we invited them to a similar feast in their honor at a place we were renting near Sarzana. They looked at the food we put in front of them, and looked at us like we were a tiny bit deranged. “What is all this food they asked?” They ate a bit of this and a bit of that. You know, normal people portions.

naturamorta italian still life with wine, grapes, tomatoes, melonSo, if you think you can “get even” or return the favor, that would be a rookie move. Here in the states we hear people say “Oh, we owe so and so a dinner. They had us over and we need to pay them back.” This is patently impossible in Italy. Repeat after me: You can not out-gift or out-feed Italians.

We ate so much marvelous food on our most recent trip. But I’m quite sure my favorite was Lunch at Bruno’s Mom’s. She’s ninety, her garden is vast, and lunch was equally so and fit for a king. The home-made tagliatelle was the best ever. I told her so and she waved me off. This? I just tossed this together” They double-teamed me. They had me at the end of the table, between them. When I looked to my left at mom while we talked, Bruno on my right, would fill one of my glasses, with the more of the fine red wine he made from her grapes. If I looked back his way, mom would upend a serving dish of pasta or salad on my still-full plate.

And even though we were all going to a town-wide Festa Dell’uva dinner that night together, Bruno and I still got a to-go box. The grapes are mom’s, as are the tomatoes. The melon? Bruno and I liberated it from a field outside Paciano that had been mechanically harvested. They missed a couple. We didn’t.

pacianopozzo pozzo or well, outside Paciano, Umbria, ItalyMoral of the story: When you are up against the kindest, most generous people on the planet, you cannot compete. To have an Italian friend is to be constantly in debt to them. You can but live and learn. And maybe–if you are good, very good in this life – you may get to come back. As an Italian.

See you in the next life,

Stew Vreeland

Italian funk, American Country Music and the Queen Mother of all Apes

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–That’s right. You got it on your first guess. It was Festa dell’uva time in Panicale again. Always exuberant, always eccentric, often unpredictable, but always fun. This year, the parade was short and not nearly as many floats as usual. But the music venues and the wine tasting booths were many and all killer-good.

SIDE NOTE: I don’t care what anyone says to the contrary. . bottlers put some dang thing in wine before it hits my glass here in the states. All I have to do here is stick my nose in a wine glass and I’m growing a headache. In Italy, I do everything but brush my teeth with it. And wake up smiling and ready to try it again. Just another in a long line of my excuses to go to Italy.

All over town were wooden arrows pointing you to the next pop-up wine tasting venue. Ten of them. (That is our rascal restaurant friend Andrea Belfico of Masolino’s freelancing an 11.) I tried each night to pick up, numerically, where I’d left off the night before and just do them in some sort of order. And every night I would fail terribly, distracted from that quest after a couple tastings by a whole host of other shiny objects. Usually food-oriented. With big side orders of MUSIC!
pfunkfest. p-funking, masolinos, ape Calessino, vespa, Wine festival, panicale, umbria, italy in SeptemberThis year they really pulled out all the stops on the music. P-funking. Remember that name. See them if you get a chance. Type that name in on YouTube and stand back. Everybody loves them. The town was abuzz about them for days. Serious crowd-pleasers in the parade and in the piazza afterwards. Link above is P-Funking playing in Panicale, Italy. And that was just a part of the music available in the afternoon.

At night the big band era sound was in play one night and almost, what disco, maybe another night? All the music groups had hundreds of people of all ages dancing till midnight both nights after the town-wide “cena sociale.” Meanwhile at the other end of town, in the Kids’ Area (college age people, plus or minus) there was rock one night till two in the morning and then country from a whole other country: Italy. Wild and talented bunch of fringed-leather-jacketed, stetson-wearing cowboys. From Gubbio, Italy. Great trio of musicians. They could hit a lick. You could take them and their guitars and banjos to Nashville or Amarillo and do fine. Except for the they-don’t-speak-a-word-of-English thing. Which they told me in Italian. Even though they
ONLY sing American Country songs. In perfect American English! Watching people learn to line dance on a summer night under the spot-lit tower of the Countessa’s Palazzo was one of my trip’s memorable moments. I don’t know. Just stuck with me and made me smile.

And then. Speaking of smiling! And then. . . there it was. The Ruler of The Planet of the Apes. The mother, as it were . . . . of all Apes. The Ape Calessino. The folding top, four-passenger Ape. By Piaggio. They are brand new, but look 60’s retro and really hit the mark. I’ve read about them, seen them in fancy house / spa magazines, articles. But never. Until now. And they claim they would even let me rent one. From the slightly oddly named Umbria in Vespa. Everyone said the company was started by a nice English lady but the “in” in their name doesn’t seem to quite make sense in English. I know, I know, it makes some sense in Italian, but still. Sure, but I’m thinking there is a dual-language answer. Anyway, those are really show stoppers and I can’t believe you can actually rent them. I don’t think I would rent one of these to me. And I have hours and hours behind the “tiller” of an Ape. Just saying. Glad they do, I want to say I’ve done it.

Apes aside, as usual, the festa was a hit. I didn’t get to sleep till two or three in the morning Wed to Sunday if I recall and I don’t, it went by in a blur. And every morning after, I was right back at the gardening. No rest for the wicked / Having fun as fast as we could. Both policies in effect.

The weather was grand. A good time was had by all. Check your calendar for next September!
(Always the weekend of the third Sunday in September.)
See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

No. Really. Can NOT decide.

can't decide. pastries or italian sandwichesPANICALE / CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO, Umbria, Italy–I get really turned on and turned around by GMB between Panicale and CdLago. If I go early enough it is less of a problem. Then my body says coffee and a sweet treat. But if we arrive mid-morning then I see those sandwiches and things with salmon and I’m conflicted. The right answer is eat your pastries/paste (pass-thay) and coffee and be happy with it, knowing they have made you a box lunch and tied it with a bow. For later. But what about instant gratification? Which is why we sometimes let the moment get the better of us and we get breakfast and lunch nibbles at the same time. And no matter what we get, or when, there is always a table that has us thinking “WHATZAT? We want what THEY have!” Bad Stew

coffee and pasta at aldos, panicale, umbria, italyAnd two steps from our house, our first love: Bar Gallo. Panicale, Paste, Pastries, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I see the red table cloth, the “croce” with uve pasatte and all of a sudden I’m there, sitting in the sun, letting the day start to swirl around me. And catching Aldo’s eye a couple minutes later, “Un’altra cappuccino per favore, Aldo.”

And the lunch or breakfast or snack issue doesn’t go away there either. Aldo has a way with food and if we want a quick lunch in the sun, he’s the man with the plan. And the pannini, salad, bruschetta, and pasta man too.

In my mind, I’m there right now. Can you see me? I’m the one with the silly grin and a bit of chocolate on my face.

See you in Italy

Stew Vreeland

FAILURE TO LANCIA . . .

or . . .

HOW RENTING A CAR IN ITALY TAUGHT ME TO SOLVE PROBLEMS. With my billfold.

at the lancia grill, panicale, umbriaPANICALE, Umbria, Italy – It’s a Saturday. And a civilized, but somewhat early departure. We’re spending the day with Paul and Betty. He’s an Italian wine importer back in the States. They had just blown in from Rome for two intense weeks of wining and dining their way across Italy. And on this particular day we had our tourist plates heaping full. So, chop, chop, let’s go.

We jumped in and fired up the renta-Lancia and . . . WHAT’S THAT NOISE? Better yet, what’s that eerie silence? Key goes in here, turns to the right. Still. Way too quiet. Especially in Lancia Central. No door lights, no seat belt warning ding, ding dings, no radio hum. No, nothing.

Maybe it’s jet lag but Paul’s as baffled as I am. And he has two Prima Donna Lancias he drives daily in Maine. But yet, he throws up his hands at the utter lack of logic here. Did I mention that this car is literally brand new? Exactly zero miles on it when he picked it up in Rome. Zero. Picked it up, turned it on, drove it here non-stop and parked it.

So. There we were. Standing in the shadow of the tower of the contessa’s palazzo, kicking pieces of gravel around the parking lot. And recalculating our finely tuned plans for the day. And thinking of the tone of voice we hope Paul can take with the rental company when he gets them on the phone. About that time, our neighbor Bruno drives by in his 30-year-old, used-to-be red, Fiat Panda. I wave my hi-how’s-it-going, garden-variety wave. I really couldn’t do the omg-save-us! wave. He fixed our howling mad, guest potty two days ago. Gratis. And well, I just couldn’t seem this needy, this soon. Which worked out fine. He waved and kept going, anyway.

There is a God. And he’s got his avenging angel Bruno backing up the one-way street toward us. “Che succede ragazzi?” What’s happening? Where are we off to? Since you ask: We’re headed nowhere, Bruno. Not with this rig. “Open the hood” he says. Ok, I guess we could have gone that far, maybe. He points at the battery, gives us a “What on earth did you do THAT for?” look, rolls his eyes and said “AntiFurto.” Which becomes our new fun Word of the Day and means anti-theft device. And it is what Bruno is calling that iPad sized thing hanging off to one side of the battery, just bristling with important-looking wires. Yes, I was gently nudged out of Iowa State’s Mechanical Engineering program at a young age. It is clear even to me that the idea spot for this AntiFurto to be would on the top of the battery.

gmb pensive Midge castiglione del LagoSo, why was it laying down there in the first place? How did that happen? Which is exactly what Bruno still wants to know as he picks it up, mounts it back on the battery, and cranks its big lever, locking it back in place. He makes that international hand motion sign for “Uh, turn the key?” We do that and it is all systems go. Thanks, Bruno. He shook his head, gave us a sympathetic “good luck” wave over one shoulder and he was gone. Before we can think of some other trouble for him.

And we were left thinking: surely we could have been so much more manly and guy-like if we’d just had coffee first? Yeah, that’s it. So off we go to GMB (in the zona industriale, Castiglione del Lago) to solve that problem. Which, if you haven’t been there, trust me, GMB is sufficient grounds for getting on a plane and curling up with that inflight magazine for a few hours. For me, it is the sweet, pastry-filled center of the known coffee-drinking world.

Happily our truculent Lancia actually got us there. Coffee’d up, there remained the one true test, can it get us back? As it turns out, no, actually. To be fair, it did start when we asked it to. And we were soon barreling up, up the twist-y turn-y hill road past Villa Le Mura when Paul swears he heard a little mechanical “THOCK.” Motivation ceased, our theater went dark. Which was an awkward moment since, as I implied, we going UP hill. Did our AntiFurto fall off again? Is there some sort of fighter jet ejection seat devise that blows this big honking device physically off the top of the battery at road speed?

antifurto italian for anti theftHmm. Did you know they have dayglow roadworker vests in the side pockets of these cars for just this kind of event? We figured that out well after I’d guided Paul backwards down a hill, into a farm driveway totally commando, sans light up vest. Next time, we will use the vest, I think pessimistically.

Safely off the road and parked in the tall grass, we now know enough to pop the hood and sure enough, the rascally Anti-Fur Toe has jumped ship, again. We do what Bruno did, again. It starts, again, and we were soon on the phone telling the rental company to park this one where the sun don’t – oh just get us another one. Please.

havinga-gas-with-lanciaThey were happy to trade us it turns out. But only if we would take life and limb in hand and drag this bad dog to Arezzo. Arezzo?! I’ve been as lost as I ever want to be in Arezzo. It’s an actual town. It may even be a city. I remember well trying to worm my way thru Arezzo to their monthly antique fair a year ago. So, I was tepid about adding this side jaunt to a program that had already taken on shades of Amazing Race reality TV show.

We got there. But only due to Paul being able to drive and coordinate with his smartphone’s nav system at the same time. The system worked. We arrived at the car rental office. We had just talked to them and now the office was securely locked? When we found the operator, and did the key swap, he said, pointing, that our car was “down by the city park.” And yes, yes it was. Right under the Circus Coming to Town billboard was the twin of the Lancia we rode in on. Same color, same model. But yet. We have ignition! The key turns AND the motor turned on.

But, so did the annoying Danger Orange light on the dash shaped like Aladdin’s Lamp. We realized this about half way back across Arezzo, headed out of town. Something new to not relax about. OK, page 22 of the manual, something about that being the Must-Change-Oil-Right-Now light. Oh, good, pop the hood. Well, it’s got oil. Full as a tick, in fact. And you know what? We are so not stopping to change the oil on this back-up rental beater.

Later that same day, by then more closely approximating midnight, we were coming back from a seven course feast at a friend’s osteria in Siena, when Paul said, “Huh, look at that. No more warning light!” To which I was able to proudly reply, “I know. I fixed it” “Where was I?” Paul said unbelieving. “How’d you do that?”

“I fixed it with my billfold,” I replied. He gives me a look. Then looks back at the dash where he notices my billfold propped up in front of the light.”

Another travel problem solved. You’re welcome.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland
pinkpoppie
PS: As you can see we did stop to smell the poppies in the midst of all these adventures. Worth whatever it takes to get to that sweet spot, isn’t it?