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

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

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

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

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.