A new taste of Italy

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–New web site to send your way. From our very talented friend and Panicalese neighbor Diletta. This is in our neighborhood. In fact, our house is just above her in the photodiletta of panicale, italian shopping site. The site is brand new, a work in progress, the English version will be up shortly. Watch for that, but in the meantime there are plenty of fun photos and a sense of good things to come. Say you have a desperate need for saffron, fresh from Italy, well, this could be for you. Or olive oil, or many other things that help awake fond Italian Memories of all things Umbrian.

NEW, NEW VITI TRASIMENO SITE. The site, for the moment, is all in Italian, but never fear, there are big pictures of the products and a link to email where you can write in English or Italian and ask Dily any questions you have about the products, about ordering. Her English is all inclusive, very fluent.

Allora, ci sentiamo and in September we hope to . . .

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

Italian expression that’s easy to say. Hard to do.

Fair warning, “Chi manga pocco, dorma bene” is an Italian expression. But it really isn’t really a good holiday expression. And with good reason. The expression itself makes infinite sense, because it means “he who eats in moderation, sleeps well.” Who can argue with that logic? But who can remember the expression or the logic behind it when friends and neighbors are so busy spreading good cheer, chocolates, cookies and eggnog?

Which reminds me, eggnog is quite evidently NOT of Italian origin. You know how some English-speaking people (OK, OK . . . Americans) call fried potatoes and egg-battered bread, respectively, French Fries and French Toast? In Italy, they return the favor by calling eggnog Zuppa Ingelese. English Soup!

Cheers! And buone feste!

Stew Vreeland