The Italians are coming, the Italians are coming . . .

What would the world be without an Italy? Discuss among yourselves and get back to me? I was thinking about this after having pizza at a seminar yesterday, penne pasta primavera last night at home and on my way for a shhh-don’t-tell-the-office cappucchino breakout this morning. When! What to my wondering eyes should appear but a brand new Fiat 500. Parked right next to me. What a trick pony that is. The owner was getting his haircut when they saw me taking his car’s portrait and salon emptied and we had a moment there. Fiat execs would have been misty-eyed at the enthusiasm over their new baby. This one is a limited edition. Edition of 500. Wicked cool.
And of course that reminded me that the Italian Life Expo team just got confirmation yesterday that a literal boat load of Italian products got onboard in Genoa. And that ship has sailed! Wines, olive oils, copper and ceramic wares all pointed towards Portland, Maine. The Italians they belong to are probably packing their bags as we speak. The countdown is well underway, let the festivities begin. Got your tickets? June 9-11 on Portland’s waterfront.

To keep up with the details about this happy bit of Italy coming to our shores Follow the Expo on Twitter and/or “Like” their Facebook page

See you in Italy (when Italy comes to Portland!)

Stew Vreeland

Italy vs Spain? In BA, the Spanish sounds very Italian. Can we call it Italianish?


We had a trip that carried us from Miami to Buenos Aires and Uruguay. What an amazing adventure that was. Did you know it is full blown summer down there in the middle of “our” winter? Something about being South of the equator. So, we were glad to be chasing that kind of weather. On the other hand we were mildly nervous about our lack of language skills there. But, you know what? Italian is better than no Spanish at all. Seriously, I know nadda in Spanish. Or so I thought. But I found myself asking where the eggs were at the buffet in the hotel (the waitress said “Sto preparando”), ordering coffee with sugar, asking our waiter for a new white wine from the Salta region, translating things people handed us on the streets. A lot of things were so close to Italian, so in the right context and so blatantly obvious that we learned them on first exposure. (felt like we did!) Whatever we were doing, it was working! It was a total lark. Thank you Years of Italian Lessons, thank you. Oh my. Italian as a portable skill? Who would have thought? Spanish is so omnipresent in the world, and Italian is so Italo-centric. Is that a word? Chi lo sai.

Now, I can be on record as knowing nothing about nothing. Especially, all things linguistic. And maybe because BA has a huge percentage of people of Italian origin, maybe because of that their inflections are Italian. Every Argentinian we met had AT LEAST one grandparent directly from Italy. Che sorpresa. And just maybe I’d be at a total loss in downtown Madrid. But, on the other hand, Italian was as helpful in Miami’s Little Havana as it was in BA. BTW, having hot hot espresso leaning on the outdoor counter with the cool, cool Cubanos at Cafe Versailles? Worth the trip. That is a serious cup o Jose. Doing this back and forth language dance was fun, like a 24 hour word game. And as eye-opening as that Cuban coffee. Could not have been more pleased that our Italian at least cracked open the door to the Spanish-speaking world. In ways I would never have imagined.

Spanish/Italian points of similarity right off the top of my head:
Nadda / niente, Permesso /Permesso, puerto / porto, la cuenta, il conto, agua minerale / acqua minerale, con gas / con gas, sin gas / senza gas, azucar / zucchero, bueno / buono, oltre / altre. Should I go on? Everyone says ciao and ok, ok?

Next month we’re off to where they really speak Italian: Umbria!

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

thinking italian, speaking spanish. trying in ArgentinaPS: But seriously folks, where has the blog been? What can I say? Wandered off muttering to myself? Instead of putting my mutterings on electronic paper? I wasn’t sure if anyone was out there listening or if I was actually talking to myself. A lady from England wrote this morning and said she hadn’t seen any blogs lately and asked if I was OK. Sort of made me put my feet back on the road. We’ll see where it goes. Good intentions and all that. We’ll be in Italy in a few weeks so that will be a good test.

Honey, I’m home. (part six of a series)

GRAY, Maine–Midge, this cute Italian followed me home. Can we keep her? Pleease? Well, we did it. We brought this piece of Italy home to remind us of the old country every time we step out the kitchen door into the garage there. As if we need Italy reminders!
bringing home a bit of italy. an Ape?!
bring home an italian ape. from canada
Could a stranger be forgiven for thinking this part of Maine is crawling with apes? Apes around every corner like we were in downtown Siena or something. Having one in town is just some guy (Paul) being eccentric and leading edge. Two is surely the beginning of a trend, no? I drove it around the yard a bit last night and realized I was way too trippunchy to do that so I bucking bronco’d it into its new home and turned off the key. And went to bed. whew. Going to get comfy driving it this weekend. I’ve never had a motorcycle with hand operated clutch, so I keep moving my left foot around over there. Nope, still nothing there. I’ll get it. Until then, looking into the garage you just want to pinch it on its cheek, it is so cute sitting there.

Before calling it a day, we stopped at our major benefactor’s office, so Bill Goddard could see the whole righteous rig that his valiant Tahoe drug across all of Northern New England and a full Canadian province. Then we showed the STV marketing team the new Company Car and then home. Home. Love the sound of that. By evening I had confused the town hall and the State of Maine as well. They really didn’t have a book sitting around where they could research initial sales prices of one of these. But they kept after it and eventually it worked out, I gave them some money and they gave me a plate.

All’s well that ends well and this may be the end of this part of this adventure. I will try to do one more wrap up with the a photo gallery that shows the Canadian Countryside and the trip adventures in more photo detail. We’ll see how the weekend goes. Thanks for coming along for the ride. Saluti a tutti!

(travel note: the Lavazza Cafe was a giant fun surprise to find on the Mass Pike. Plaza just before Worchester.)

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Things to do on your way to Italy:

midge and margot at de gournay's showroom in London
LONDON–Can we digress? Oooops, too late. One of the joys of buzzing back and forth to Italy is having the Wiley Traveler in residence in London. So, we use her as an excuse to swoop down into Londontown coming or going to Italy. “It’s right on the way” we nod sagely to each other and Bam! Just like that: we’ve rationalized a trip.

Flowers all around us in Italy last fall (especially roses) made me doodle down notes of a happy, somewhat flower-related adventure that we had in London, on the way to Italy. First, a bit of context: did I mention we bought a new house? We love our house in Italy. It is so not on the market. And I thought we loved our house in Maine that much too. We do love it. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it for 22 years. Raised our three children there quite contentedly. It’s a walk to work, walk to church, walk to cappuccino kind of home. It’s a four story Greek Revival captain’s house overlooking the harbor in our picture postcard New England hometown. Like our Italian home, we found our Maine home abandoned and gently, over the years, brought it back to life. And yet, here we are with it finally, finally finished and we are moving out to the nearby Maine countryside. And renovating an old brick farmhouse, surrounded by woods. Are we insane? Project obsessed? Using the restlessness that comes with onset of the empty nest syndrome as an excuse to scratch a “mid” life crisis itch? All of the above? Who can tell. That is the thing about Love. And especially Love at First Sight. You can’t always get it to make stone hard sense. It just is what it is. And now that we are into it, what is it is an adventure. My sister Gin is doing the painting and papering and decorating. Her partner Jim did our first house and is doing the demo and reno here too.

flights of fancy: wallpapers with wingsAnyway, I’m getting to a fun part. We’ve had the usual metric ton of daily decisions to make on that new house as we were running out the door to London and Italy. If we could just pick the wallpaper in the front hall my sister said. Then we could play all the colors in all the rooms around it off that or at least not be in conflict with it. We’d been through stacks of those heavy wallpaper books and weeks later we were still thinking about this one photo in a house magazine. It just shimmered off the page. What the heck is that about? So we called the people listed in the back of the magazine and they sent us a lovely sample. Exotic birds and fantasy flowers, hand painted on pea green silk! They are in downtown New York, at a place called de Gournay. We had just received that nice sample from Melissa while we were in the midst of last minute trip packing details. And she had emailed pages and pages of pdf details to us. I printed them out. Stuck them in my computer bag. And ran out the door.

A few hours later, somewhere over the Atlantic, I was showing de Gournay’s paperwork to Midge and noticed the official address on every page: London. You mean the London where this plane is headed? That one? And the showroom appeared to be a block from the first stop on the Wiley Traveler’s itinerary for us: Victoria & Albert Museum. Kismet or what? That is exactly what we thought.

We worked our way there, surprised how close to our hotel it was and knocked on the locked door to be let in. They knew who we were and let us in anyway. I don’t know if they were just trying to make us feel at home or not, but they had one whole floor under renovation – and it was as noisy as our project in Maine. We quickly tuned that right out and like kids in a candy shop just ate this whole showroom right up. How fun it was to see rooms of these wonderful papers in situ. They are mostly flora and fauna done in a Chinese style and based on classic papers in old English manors. Very other worldly and dreamy/exotic stuff. The sample we have makes us feel like we have brought a shimmering piece of the outdoors directly into the house.

This is something from the art and renovation world that I so did not know about. They paint these papers to order. In China. You can see pencil marks where they have roughed in the design. They make the design fit your exact walls. Allowing for doors, windows etc. Can you believe that? Neither could we. It is like interactive wallpaper. It is not free and if you were doing an entire Manor House in it you could just as easily find yourself in the Poore House instead. But we were just thinking of a bit of it for part of one wall, in one hall and small as that is, we may decide give ourselves a house warming present. Thinking about it and learning about this whole new world of design possibilities was very exciting.

We now return you to your regular Italian programming.

See you in Italy,


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Visiting London, eating Italian

LONDON– But are we really in England? When did London go back to being a Roman outpost again? True, I do gravitate to all things Italian, but that’s lucky for me because it would be tricky trying to avoid Life Italian Style in London today. We have many totally Italian tales from Italy but are going to do a couple Italian in England tales on the way. Bear with me? It all makes sense at some point.

It started the minute the car dropped us at our apartment near Marble Arch. (more about Globe Apts in another blog at a later date. Great cheap excellent way to stay in London). We took the aces day flight Boston – London which was almost empty. But yet as soon as the plane lifted off I saw a concerned dad standing in the row ahead of me holding a pristine, unused airsick bag. Holding it with that aw shoooot. . . tooo late look on his face. That blurr going by? Me. Headed as far away from baby Vesuvius as I could get. Stretched out over yet another five seats across, I drifted off to nap time thinking of the joys of travel with children. Luckily for us, we are traveling to visit adult children rather than traveling with and cleaning up after cute baby children. Yes, the Wiley Traveler is all grown up and living in London for the next year or two. Getting her masters in film direction. She needs us once in a great while so she says she’s actually only two thirds grown up. Regardless, she’s a great excuse to come and visit London and once we’re that far we really might as well drop in on Umbria, right? Hung for a sheep, hung for a lamb.

So there we are. Getting off that lazy flight and thinking happy dinner time thoughts. But by the time we got to our apt we were closing in on full on hunger alert and it was starting to get on the late side of dinner time even for a big city like London. We threw our bags in the apt and shot out to the nearest pub. Too late for pub grub. People throwing back pints at the rail were British from the accent, but all the tables we walked by inside and out were full of people speaking Italian. Stepping out of the pub and glancing around like hungry wolves we see a sign of life across the intersection LOOK LEFT oh good an Italian restaurant. And it is open. They kind of look at their watch and say sure, sit. They clearly are going to feed us as their last customers of the day. And we ate like ravenous kings while listening to Italian musak between snatches of Italian conversation happening all around us. Then off to lovely sleep perchance to dream.


Leonardo and Tuscan Interiors
Hey, its morning already. Lets do something totally British. Lets take the tube to South Kensington and go to the Victoria&Albert, OK? Two shows, no waiting. Choices, choices. Shall we see their show about that famous Italian Leonardo or should we see their At Home in Renaissance Italy show? We’d spent all morning at de Gournays looking at wallpapers for a renovation we’re way into so I guess we will pick “Interiors For 400”, Alex. We may do more on de Gournays at some point. For someone with an artistic bent and a new house to redo, this was a very Kid in Candy Store moment.

Finally, that night we did something non-Italian. The Wiley Traveler has scored us tickets to Wicked the musical pre-quel to the Wizard of Oz. If you get a chance – GO. We got last minute tickets and were almost in the last row and it still swept us away like a Kansas twister.

Apuglian PastryThe next thing we knew it was morning yet again. Isn’t that funny/tragic how fast that rolls around when you have your clock set on Goof Off? Well, it was certainly morning. And you know what that means. Find cappuccino. Find now. We stood on our corner and looked left and looked right and Wait a minute what is that? Another bit of Italy dropped right on our doorstep. A ‘Puglian Pastry Place. Full of Puglians no less. And Pastries. Oh, and what pastries they were. Frutti di Bosco tortes sitting behind glass screaming “Pick Me”, “No! Pick ME!”

Isn’t Bosco a funny word for “The Woods”? When I think of a food and the word Bosco, I can’t help think of the funny kids add-it-to-milk-and-stir kind of drink. Wasn’t that an ad icon on Saturday morning cartoons? But Funny name or not, Frutti di Bosco is a wonderment. I want that on pannacotta – when Stefi makes it at Masolino’s in Panicale. And when I can get it on a tasty looking torte sign me up. Like here at La Masseria. Tiny, tart wild berries in red and blue on the lightest pastry almost floated off my fork. Come back here, you pastry you. Nope. All gone. Again with the Italian music in the air and the staff all chattering away in Italian. I swear, these days in London, if you see someone coming at you on the street talking at the top of their lungs and gesturing madly to someone on their cell phone just assume it is another Italian headed off to yet another Italian coffee or food shop. They are everywhere. Case in point.


The Wiley Traveler and her Daniel have the nicest apt in Golders Green. The town is just out of central London but their apt is pure civilization as it is over an ATM, next to a very quiet very convenient train station and from their bay window you can see not one, not two, but three big cappuccino dispensers in the form of Starbucks, Costa, and Café Nero.

totally Italian, really Italian Piazza Express
Side benefit of owning a house in Italy: People COVETwantDESIRE MADLY what you have. And are willing to trade big for it when you are not using it. There are people we’ve found listed in an International house exchange who live in Wiley’s town. They want to trade. In fact, when we call they can’t show us their house as they are in Chianti. We may just consider doing a trade sometime. We’ve done that in the past with a house in the US and it worked swell. Charming town Wiley lives in: Golders Green. (You saw the bit about the number of cappuccino places.) Most of the stores in town are kosher and many people on the streets are the formally dressed in black hats, beards, prayer shawls etc. And yet. There is a Pizza Express. Ubiquitous in London, like Macs in Moline. They aren’t too bad and they are quick and once again we are starved. And even here in the burbs and in a pretty much kosher burb, in a chain pizza joint, the waiters and their friends are all hanging out, folding napkins and nattering away in fast paced Italian. You can run but you can not hide from Italians in London these days.

Daniels Family in Holiday Mode in Harold Wood outside LondonLONDON TIMES

Except maybe at Daniel’s family party in Harold Wood. What happened to the Great British stereotype we are wondering over food, fun and chatter. Where is the famous reserve, the stiff upper lip business? They even challenge Italians to a bit of a contest with hugs and kisses and singing and carrying on and just having a fine time and making darn sure you are having one too. We are so not in Kansas, Dorothy.

Travel tip. Do not assume because 80 year old grandpa George is here filling a glass with whiskey and water and downing it with great regularity that you can do the same. Or accept a beer every time you are generously offered one. We are rank sissy amateurs thrown to the lions here. These are pros. Do not attempt to go where they go.


A scene I’m glad to replay in my mind is the Grandpa and the Spilled Whiskey Moment. He’s neat as a pin, ramrod straight. Was in the service and you can tell. He carefully set his fifth? fifteenth? fiftieth? whiskey & water down next to his chair and someone walking by knocked it over for him. A number of people went Oh, too bad, bad luck that George. And put a new drink in his hand. And a new smile on his face. Then. And this sequence of things is what is important. Then, and only then, did anyone sort out the spill on the carpet. Jolly good. Lesson learned. Life is all about priorities.

non smoking children welcome in London restaurantAND THE SUNDAY TIMES

And yes, yes, yes, ok, we did have a classic Sunday lunch in a pub. Was it the one with the No Smoking Children’s section or was that from the place we went after the play? Regardless, we spent a lot of time in this beyond classic, dark wood, etched glass pub called the Holly Bush in Camden Town.

This is a long-time Wiley Traveler Favorite Pick from her undergrad days. We’ve eaten there with her in the past and will look for any excuse to do so in the future. It was packed to the gills, we got a bit of nook big enough for one tiny table and we sat and sometimes talked and sometimes kept reading the Sunday London Times and watched the show around us. RobertoVision at the Holly Bush in LondonA Roberto Beninni type was behind me with three, count’em three, girls. One had her arm lolled around his shoulders giving him a happy Isn’t This Fun? squeeze every now and then, but when she would go off for more cigarettes or to “the loo” one of her mates (that blonde ponytailed one) would ever so casually slide her hand into the back pocket of Roberto’s stone washed jeans. And just sort of leave it there till her girl friend would show back up. He’d never bat and eye. And of course, neither did we. There was a mirror over our table and so his act was Must See TV for me. I’d read the paper and glance up and get a bit of RobertoVision and read some more. It was swell watching Roberto smoke and talk and talk and smoke and get hugged and patted, and patted some more, his every word producing tickled responses from all three of his adoring crew. They all needed to get a room already. But they settled for our table when we left.