A lot like being in Italy . . .

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PORTLAND, Maine – If you were at the Italian Life Expo this weekend, this recap is a walk down Recent Memory Lane. If you missed it, well this is a way to see how it went and to see if you want to make plans for it next time. Three days of big fun, Italian in the air and in your wineglass. The video, below, shows most of us had our mouths full most of the time. Full of wine or bread or prosciutto or prosciutto on bread or olive oil on bread or gelato or more wine! The crowd was great the first night and got bigger every night! Gorgeous location.
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Thanks to everyone for their support, enthusiasm and for coming to volunteer or participate in any way. Buona Festa it was indeed.

See you in Italy

But first we need to go to Chicago on Thursday to see our daughter Grayson graduate. Steven Colbert is speaking so that should be fun. and then Fathers’s Day not coincidentally, we are going to see my father. In Iowa. He just turned 92 last week. And then we come back and Italian neighbors are coming for the Fourth of July. OK they are from California and Cuba, but they are our neighbors in Panicale. Let’s roll some bocce balls!

Ciao, ciao,

Stew Vreeland

Kiki finds a couple things to do in Umbria

Maybe a couple times in our Life After Buying a House in Umbria, people have said “well, gee, if you buy one place then you’ll never be able to go anywhere else. And won’t you get, like, bored?” As if. Every time we go to Italy, and this is a dozen years now, we find things we can’t now imagine that we missed. Its just an embarrassment of riches waiting for us to discover.
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That came to mind when we got this fun-filled note from our buddy and co-owner Kiki. We have so much unscheduled merriment there in Panicale that we often teasingly refer to it as Panic Alley. What the heck, same general pronunciation?

If I interject and annotate her note I’ll put my words in Italic and in parens.

See you in Italy!

Stew

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Hey Styooo, (how Anglo Saxonish name Stewart comes out in Latin-ish Italian. Regardless, music. Well, to my ears)

Pix when we can. (Fine, fine. I’ll do mine!) Too busy having fun. Here’s what we’ve done:

Wednesday arrival, lunch at GMB. (over over the top coffee, pastry extravaganza at bargain prices just outside Cast.d.Lago. fotos here hint of same. enclosed is their idea of civilized morning nosh, above, and box lunch, below. BTW, I think the lunch delights came to under $10 USD. Box and bows included.)

Thursday Morning discovered Salvatore’s, the new take-out in Panicale. Best bread ever, plus wonderful seafood lasagna (recommended by Giovanna) and torta di Napoli.

Thursday Night we hit Cortona to visit Kathleen’s Peaks Island friends. Saw Pia! Air-kissed and said ‘hi.’ (that’s Pia of Nando and Pia fame our old friends at Bar Sport by the intersection of the piazzas in the center of town. Just beside City Hall and across from theater) Kathleen’s friends want to buy here, so we told them about seeyouinitaly! (why, thank you) They’re smart, cute and funny. Yet more nice friends to have here.
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Friday, back to Salvatore’s, then Assisi and our first gelato of the season.

Saturday Ikea in Firenze — wait ’til you see my new living room! …

Sunday, back to Salvatore’s, then brunch at Elida’s with Sophia + Anna; Sunday evening dinner at the Peter/Sarah’s with gang of ten others. so good to see.

Monday Siena, so Kathleen could see St. Catherine’s head — and thumb.

Today, Cetona with the Bowers to visit their antiques guy — and have a three hour lunch.

Tomorrow, Rome. Jim is driving us because he wants to see the Coliseum, too. Nice, eh?
(they are back. loved it eternally they said. But, no. They didn’t elaborate. Assumed they were just still having too much fun. Wait, wait “I’ve got mail)

Rome. That’s a riot about the earthquake. We were rather like you, Midge and friends when you were at the Autogrille when the place had been evacuated for a faux bomb scare: innocents abroad. We knew nothing. Jim drove us to Rome to pick up Rob, who slept his whole flight and was plenty rested. We parked near the Circus Maximus, walked to the Colosseum, Forum, Pantheon, Piazza Navona and Trevi Fountain. Had a good lunch — and the most incredible ‘iced’ cappuccino. Lovely. Lots of walking on what seemed like terra firma!
(versus the italian word for earthquake: terremoto)
No time yet to swim in pools, patronize favorite local restaurants or take pix. Definitely will!

What … flood? At the office? (can you hear the roar of the fans? she’s in Italy, we’re here with broken water heater water lapping at our office door. sigh. Almost fixed! YAY.)

Baci, baci.
Kiki

Too much fun. And good intentions too

When we were in Italy in the summer I wrote up a note book full of stories but didn’t match them up with photos and post them. At the time I said, euphemistically, that I was “researching heavily” and I kept right on partying and not posting. And to further dig myself into a hole I said “but as soon as I got back I’d churn those stories right into print and make them visible to the naked eye.” And then we went to Montana, and then to Ontario to get a 1983 Italian Ape. And Nashville for the CMA’s and Iowa for Turkey Day, later, that same year . . . flat out of lame excuses I’m back.

And you know, in the depths of winter is anything more fun than a fond look back at those palmy summer days we take so for granted at the time? So, let’s step back and put ourselves into that warm place called Sunny Italy. And really appreciate it this time!

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umbrian rain on a parade
PANICALE, UMBRIA– on Independence Day. BLAMM! CRACK! BOOMMMMM! What fireworks this year. Except. Fireworks on Independence Day is an American thing. They don’t do that here. These firewords are just Mean old Mother Nature saying Enough Festivalling put it away for another year. The shake-the-house-down drumbeat of thunder and the eye splitting lightning put a wild end to a lovely pastoral day. It was blue skies minutes ago and now I’m running down the cobble stones toward home, and getting soaked.

The day started quietly. With coffee at the bar. Breakfast snacking at home later, we mindlessly wrote friends and sorted photos for a couple hours. We all have our little things that make us happy. Things we do that whisper We’re Off Duty. We’re hanging out, far from home and adult responsibilities. I remember a story in a magazine about this very concept. The writer spent the whole story talking about how much he enjoyed cleaning his expresso maker. the ritual of it all was soothing for him and as much fun as making and drinking the coffee.

Even though we weren’t cleaning a coffee maker we were relishing every lazy second of the day. And any day really worth its salt should have some gardening in it, so I did that for a couple hours. Dig, dig. Weed, weed. Look out at the lake, listening, eavesdropping sometimes I’ll admit, to the chatter of the people walking by on the street above the garden. And since I’ve been multi-tasking, the clothes in the washing machine are ready to hang out in the blazing sun and Midge has lunch laid out in the newly cleaned up garden. She is giving The Chefs of Italy a run for their money this trip.

Last night it was a stuffed eggplant to die for. Fresh ricotta like we can only dream while we are trudging down the isles of the ShopNSave here in Maine. And today’s highlight is paninni with the miracle melt in your mouth Spannocchia salumi. Ok, now. Dust those crumbs off you and head to the other end of town to see the start of this year’s Ruzzolone. The various squadra teams were right ready for action on this very delayed game day. This competitive cheese rolling event is usually the day after Easter. Little Easter equals Pasquetta. But that day was cancelled due to insane rain. Today is fine for rolling cheeses around a course, sun is hot, but in the shadows light as a feather breezes cooled the giocciatori. We tramped up and down the course just outside the city walls cheering lusty “complimentis” when the cheese cooperated and curved round the corners. And made sympatheric groan noises when the cheese dived off the road and into the olive groves ten or twelve feet below road level.
the big cheese rolls on and on in panicale umbria
The wheel of cheese has a healthy rind all over it and is pretty resilient, whacking walls and posts and even making a healthy scar on one tree – slashing it a glancing blow as it buzz-sawed its way down the street. Waves of friends washing by us like the tide as we all tracked the progress of the careening wobbling cheese back and forth like foxes following a round and possibly very tasty gingerbread man.

It wasn’t too long ago one friend told us that there was another version of this as well. The “addizione” was the classic wheel made of wood. Adriano said with a sigh “the streets to the bottom of the hill would be lined the whole way with spectators not like today” Pre-tv and maybe pre cocktails in the piazza I can imagine. Looked like plenty of crowd to me. And I’d rather get hit by a wheel of cheese than a wheel of solid wood anyday.

At a certain point we decided we’d had exactly the right amount of following the bouncing cheeseball and felt we heard a gelato calling our names. Peach Pineapple was the combo speaking to me. Outside the café a local man I know on sight but not by name is hitting a lick on the accordian. Our Swiss neighbor Klaus is a music composer and professor of same. He was loving it and effusive in his enthusiasm for the stance the music was taking. Toes they were atapping. Sandwiches of porchetta were stacked chest high on folding tables. The meat dealt out on slabs of Easter cheese bread on a paper napkin. Wine was poured into plastic cups and then for a food finale, they broke into the 22 pound, tall-as-you-are chocolate Easter Egg. They were handing out chunks of chocolate as fast as they could with glances up at the heavens because its getting very dark very fast.
chocolate easter eggs in panicale, umbria
Hands full of the chocolate that Bruno pushed on me, I was headed up the cobblestones towards home with a bit of urgency in my step, when Andrea waved me into his restaurant and out onto his balcony overlooking the lake. “We’re really going to get it” he said and he was right. Above the lake we can almost always watch weather from on high, seeing it start at the lake and just walk itself up the mountain. “You can see it coming” we nodded sagely to each other, “but you can’t do anything about it.”

OMG! THE LAUNDRY!

Water, water everywhere. Life on an Italian peninsula.

CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO, Umbria, Italy – Not a bad place to be on a sunny day. The “del Lago” part you’ve probably already figured out is all about being right on the lake. Strangest, no – I think the chamber of commerce people would say most unique – geography I can imagine. First, you have this nice round lake in the middle of the Italian peninsula. There are some hilly approaches to the lake but mostly on the far east and some on the north. On the south it is all an agricultural plain around the lake, same with the west where this peninsula, for no reason at all, inexplicably juts straight out into the lake. And there it is. A long, tall rock in the middle of a lake. How did that happen?

I suppose it really doesn’t matter how it came to be there. The point here is that the peninsula is very interesting and when you get up there, the town built there on the peninsula has water on all sides. And you have enough elevation to pull up a gelati and enjoy the view. Look, isn’t that Panicale on that hill over there? If I squint I think maybe it is.
castiglione del lago in umbria, on an italian lake
FURNITURE CAN BE FUN

When you first drive through the main gate you will likely be parking in front of a big palace where there are art shows and exhibitions. That palace is connected to a long skinny defensive corridor to an imposing fortress where the views get really grand and wild. You can sometimes see outdoor movies in the center of the fortress on a summer’s eve. Been there, done that, quite liked that. People smoke, they talk, kids run around, there is a long intermission. Very much not like a night at your multiplex back at the mall in your home town. Meanwhile, along the main, and almost only street, are frame shops, books stores, restaurants, hotels, and pastry and fruit stores of every stripe. And lots of stores with mounted cinghales where you can get wild boar sausage, wine, cheese and other necessities of la dolce vita. And down by one arched entry to the city (you can just barely see it in one of our photos here) is an eccentric “antique” store. Its merchandise is all over the map, just like the owner. He’s tiny and busy as a bee. We usually talk in Italian but every now and then he surprises us with his English. Something about South Africa? I disremember exactly where he misspent his youth. But what I do remember is pushing in through the clutter and inching my way sideways like a crab past decorative farm tools and glass dishes to the furniture cavern at the back and being kind of bowled over by the lofty, seemingly optimistic, prices. I expressed my “concern” over the cost there and the owner said “oh, you need my ‘cose povere’. We have a whole building full of poor things” He herded us out of his building, locking the door behind us, jumped on a long suffering Vespa and motioned for us to follow him. And we were off. The cinder block building he led us to was just a few blocks away, down the hill. And when he opened the doors it was like Ali Baba’s cave to us. Great, fun and funky stuff, dirt cheap. And choices? You bet. This was a nice size place and full to the rafters. In more, shall we say, our price range. We bought things we loved, he steered us to a cousin who is an aces restorer, we picked new marble tops for all of the pieces. That made them seem to match, we had them all stained to match, and a few months later we had a set of bedroom furniture to be proud of. They look old money but they cost hardly any money. And we got what we wanted.

HERE WE ARE AT SEE LEVEL.

Below the walled town itself the ground goes almost to sea level – ok, lake level. And there are beaches and ice cream vendors, and ferries to the islands and parks. And a nice drive around the peninsula. Being Italy, it is a bit of circuitous route with a baffling one way / non one way kind of pattern to it. Someone in their department of transportation decidedly thought about this way too long. But along the drive, on a sunny day anyway, the lake can be an almost unnatural Caribbean turquoise blue. And should a storm come up, I’ve seen that that blue can change to black water and white caps in a flash. When we took these pictures it was sort of an in-between kind of day. Just recently along this lake drive there is a new modern crop of sculptures that have sprung up. Their job seems to be to frame views of the lake the way their ancient ancestors in the city up above have framed their views for centuries. You remember Katia the broker of course. The people shown next to the sculpture are Katia’s parents celebrating life, good health and Italy on a summer day. Wouldn’t mind being there with them right now. Ciao, Mario, Ciao, Angela!

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Gelati. Cortona’s got the A-List

I SCREAM. YOU SCREAM. WE ALL SCREAM . . .
FOR GELATI.

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy – So, here I am walking through the double glass doors of Aldo’s café for the millionth time with yet another burning question on my mind.

Oh, look, American friends. “Hi, Hi”! and oh look over there, some English-speaking German friends “Hi, Hi” some more. Aldo looks up from loading ice cream bars into a cooler, wide eyed, skips a beat and then shakes his head and laughs at himself. “Never going to learn” he says “You all say Hi as a greeting and I’ve heard it over and over but it sounds just like “Ahi” our word for “Ouch!” And I jump everytime.” Foreigners. Its not like we don’t know how to use big words like: Ciao.

I wait till the bar clears and Aldo is squeezing me some orange juice. “Aldo, I’ve been trimming and pruning my garden for days. I’ve got leaves and branches piled high as anything. Know anyone with a pickup?” “Oh, you need Primo.” He says, “You know him?” I nod; Sure, Primo is the mason. He was supposed to fix a wall in our kitchen last winter, and I need to talk to him anyway.

Ever helpful, Aldo knows how to make this happen. “Go ask Andrea. It’s his uncle.” Never knew that. I tromp next door to Masolino’s and say the whole thing over again and Andrea says, “Come back at 1:30. Primo’s here everyday for coffee after lunch.” Didn’t know that either. Can’t believe they gave away his location like that. And of course he didn’t show. “Don’t know where he could be,” Andrea says, looking at his watch. While we were waiting, killing time, talking about this and that, Andrea was polishing glasses behind the bar for a while, and we both flipped through the sports newspaper and admired the view out the open door of his balcony down through the cypresses to Villa Le Mura.
dolce vita, gelati at the gelateria in cortona
At some point the subject of Gelati came up. I’m not all that attracted to ice cream here in the states. I’ll eat it,of course, if you plop it on my pie/cake/empty plate/bowl/outstretched hands. But gelati, in Italy, that’s in the give us our daily bread realm of things, isn’t it? And this is Andrea talking. Andrea’s family owns Masolino’s restaurant and his mother is the ranking chef in all of Umbria. She has an Olympic sized medallion to prove it. Go Bruna! Naturally, when they are on the subject of food, I’m all ears. Holding up his thumb and the nearest two fingers he says “There are three places you need to know. My top three for Gelati – Uno, Gelateria Snoopy in Cortona.” I know that one! It is right next to our friend Nando’s Bar Sport in the epicenter of town. “Due,” he continues, “Quinto Vizio, in Perugia, near Warner Village, the movie complex.” I think he said the name means Five Vices. Can that be right? Can there be that many vices related to Gelati? “Tre, Bar Alise, by the train station in Castiglione del Lago.” I write them all down. Write off Primo ever coming and step out into the piazza. And, there he is. He’d almost slipped into the cafe on the other side of the piazza. He was that close. Aren’t small towns great?

snoopy means gelati in Cortona, italyTHE GELATI CHALLENGE

CORTONA, Tuscany, Italy – The next day Midge and the two girls and I decide to zip up to Cortona for a bit of adventure and gelati. I called our friend Elida to see if she needed anything there or if she wanted to come along and see sites with us. She lives here in Panicale all the time and is always up for an adventure. Ma, no. Not today, she has stuff to do. I mention that Andrea’s top Gelati shop is in Cortona and she agrees that Cortona has the best gelato. Except she thinks it is Dolce Vita. Says she makes the forty minute one way trip to Cortona just to get the gelati at Dolce Vita. Wellll. It is clear what must be done. It seems a taste-off is in order. We’ll do one gelateria on the way into Cortona, one on the way out.

I love having a simple-minded travel goal. So easily amused. We spot Dolce Vita not long after we park the car. It has four seats at a tall table. Each seat is shaped like a giant fiberglass ice cream cone. But it is the gelati that steals the show. Incredo presentation. Incredo. Mountains of each exotic flavor and huge piece of the kind of fruit represented capping each mountain to make it blindingly obvious, even to tourists, what is on offer. Halves of papaya, for example, grace the peachy pink tub of that flavor on the left, and whole bananas sit atop the container right in front of us. Bingo. That is the one Midge has been looking for! She’s in for all banana all the way. Graysie has the purple/blue blueberry and pairs it with the bella papaya. Katie has a nice contrasty combo of dark chocolate and watermelon. I have a cherry swirl thing with frutti di bosco (forest berries, they say, meaning raspberries and blueberries and black berries and such).

Love mine. But, hey, its gelati. How far wrong can you go? Midge is over the moon on the banana. Graysie likes hers but isn’t raving. Katie only likes her chocolate. I, on the other hand, tried her watermelon and loved it. And I’m not a fan of the actual melon itself. I thought mine was great. Especially the very frutti one.
the piazza in Cortona, italy
We fiddled about, shopped – it was market day – took pictures, enjoyed the sunshine and just got a kick out of being out and about. We got some pizza in the piazza for lunch and tried to work up an appetite for Gelati #2. Snoopy is right beside the market, and as it was closing up for the day, we ducked under the awning of a place selling belts and shoes and dresses and checked that Snoopy dog out. I’ve been there before many times but this time we were there for serious research. Midge said she was full, full, full and none for her thanks. Graysie had the green team of mint and green apple. Katie had futti di bosco and lemon. I did the frutti again and put it with Moro (black berry).

First, the gelati here is nothing to look at. Well, they were till I’d seen Dolce Vita beauty pagent of gelati. The tubs of gelati at Snoopy just lay there, great colors, just no art to it. Which is fine, but I missed the over the top Dolce Vita presentation. But, on taste they may have outdone themselves here at Snoopy. Bright, tangy, tasty. Katie’s lemon was sour and refreshing as biting into the fruit itself and my fruits were just knock out. I didn’t think I would like Graysie’s green on green combo, but I did; it was quite wonderful.

Which gelateria won? They were both great, and if pressed, I would have to say we were the winners. To be there in Cortona on a sunny summer day, licking gelati off our knuckles from one end of town to the other. OOOH, can I try a bite of what you’re having?

around Cortona town on a sunny day in Tuscany, italy<img id=See you in Italy,



Stew Vreeland

P.S. Primo and the Pickup ? This whole Italian ice cream adventure started with me looking for a pickup. Well, I really found one. Except it was what a pickup might hope to be when it grows up, a ten ton big rig that had to be backed through a crooked tunnel to get to the street below our place. When I tried to gratefully, happily pay them, Primo’s son Sergio held up both hands in a classic No, No, gesture. I had the money in my hand. I said, “but it is such a favor” and Sergio pointed at me, like I had raised my hand and really gotten the correct answer, and said, “Preciso.” Exactly. You got it. They wanted it to be a favor. And it was. Thank you.