The Paper Chase: Italian Style.

UMBRIA, Italy–It is a cultural thing. Italy is famous for its paperwork and bureaucracy. Just part of its elusive charm. How to get thru the system. Like when you’ve finally gotten comfortable being able to get a cup of coffee at an Autogrill. It just seems so counter-intuitive to go look at the treats on offer and not be able to buy them, then and there. But eventually, memorizing the long name of a sandwich and then going to the Cassa and saying the name out-loud and paying for it and taking the scrap of paper they hand you Back to the sandwich guy, makes a tiny bit of sense. Well. If you are hungry enough. But at the end of the day we just enjoy the difference and say “Quando a Roma.”
receiptsitaly3
So that is on the one hand. On the other end of the scale: imagine what happens when you buy a house. After you’ve worked your way thru the system and delivered all your paperwork, proved who you are, your income, passports, etc and handed over the price of a house . . . you get . . . nothing. At all.

Gulp. What the heck? Way back when we bought, Italy still ran on lira and we paid in cash. Which because of banking hours versus closing ceremony time, meant we hung out all day in Perugia, shopping, eating out etc while carrying a paper shopping bag. With about twenty pounds of lira in it. We got to the notaio’s office, signed things like crazy, certified, attested, when necessary. And at a certain point, the notaio looked at me and smiled politely. And I’m like “what?” Our Swedish friend who had introduced us to the notaio, nudged me and said “He’s ready for the money.” I’d left it under the chair in the waiting room.

I ran out and got it. Passed it to the notaio. He took it and passed it on to the sellers, stamped a couple more things for good measure. And stood up and shook our hands. And gave us that “We’re done here, thank you” look. Receipt please? No. Xerox of some of that stuff we just signed? No. Really? Really.

Eventually, something gets sent from his office to the appropriate government office and everyone agrees you own a bit of the peninsula. But that’s it. Little purchase, paperwork. Biggest purchase you can make, zero.

So, now you now. And you don’t have to be as surprised as we were.

OK, Ciao4now,

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

SHOPPING. FOR A MOM. ON A RUN UP TO MOTHERS DAY IN ITALY.

MONTEPULCIANO, SIENA, ETC ITALY – We paid for this holiday in many ways. Do not go shopping with a mom at this time of year. Especially if she is your wife. Not on the day before Mothers Day. The operative phrase seemed to be “well, tomorrow is Mothers Day” What can you say, facts are facts. You might as well release your grip on your credit card for a minute and start picking bags and Sherpa-ing them to the car. That was our day in Montepulciano. And Siena, too, now that I think of it. Glorious, non-stop sunshine kind of day.

saintmadonna, poggi, umbria, italyThe actual day of Festa della Mamma dawned dark and sort of stayed that way. So we took a trip to nearby Poggi to see friends’ reno progress. Their house project shares a painterly and pastoral hilltop at the edge of Poggi with a tiny temple-like brick church. Its always been closed the many times we’ve been there. But this day it was open. They shouldn’t do this when tourists are loose in the area. You know what they say? Permesso? And in they come.

From the outside, this church-ette has a quietly abandoned look about it. But inside it is somewhat grand and ornate and seems ready for business. In fact there had been a baptism that very day. Which was why it was open. The church’s cleaning lady in no nonsense black apron, much to the annoyance of her leather jacketed son, ran and got us laminated Virgin Mary cards oblivious to her sons dark looks, beetled brow, the motor running on his car, just outside the door. The two of them perfect cartoon characters. A brooding devil and a beaming angel. One for each shoulder. We said our “la ringrazias” and backed out.

The next day, back in Panicale, our cleaning lady and good friend Anna had her purse’s contents spread out on our madia, rifling thru papers of all sizes and shapes, searching for the one with the hours she had worked for us written on it. Like a card shark dealing from a familiar deck, she moved past receipts, souvenirs, and what is this? Yes, it is a laminated Saints Card, not unlike ours. Which she held up for our edification. I pulled down our card from where I’d stuck it into the edge of the mirror frame and handed it to her. Whereupon it was promptly and affectionately kissed.

Nice to have cards like the other kids.

Here’s the card, and what Stew thinks it says. This is our translation, we welcome yours.

saintpreghiera, card from church in Poggi, Umbria, ItalyOUR REQUEST, OUR PRAYER

Remember, o most pious Virgin Mary, that there is not anyone in the world that ever has turned to you for your protection, implored your for your help and asked your sponsorship, that has ever been abandoned.

Spurred on as I am by this confidence, I appeal to you oh Mother Virgin of all Virgins, to you I come, eyes full of tears, heart full of sins, prostrate at your feet, begging for pity. Mother of the spoken word please do not despise my voice, but gently listen and grant my wish. Amen.

Indulgence of 300 days granted, every time. Limit one per customer, per month. Now, with new ecclesiastic approval. Collect all seven cards today!

Ok, that last bit was Stew-ified a small amount.

All best to all,

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

CHECK FOR MORE PICTURES AS THEY GO UP STRAIGHT FROM IPHONE TO YOU ON SEE YOU IN ITALY’S INSTAGRAM PAGE. If you haven’t tried instagram, oh, try it! We love, love it.

ALWAYS IN HOT WATER. ONE WAY. OR ANOTHER.

PLUMBING SUPPLY OUTLET, SOMEWHERE IN PINETTA, UMBRIA ¬–Yes, in many ways, life is easier when your wife is a witch.

A good witch granted. One Darin could imagine himself kissing as he went off to his job at the ad factory. We’ve always had our time in the ad game in common, Darin and I. And I’ve always felt it went deeper than that.
shower panicale italy
Except instead of being on 1960’s TV, in an American suburb, we are in downtown Umbria. Ergo, we have company. Fun, lovely company. Then we traveled, came back, had more. Do not try being us without a calendar in hand. Both companies, plural, were in the same upstairs apt, just at different moments.

The second set are wonderful friends and neighbors from Maine, and Paul is one of the handiest people I have yet to meet. He can make anything out of any other thing almost as a party trick. Marvelously handy. But he couldn’t make hot water come out of that apt’s shower. And if he couldn’t make it work, it was well and truly fried. He could with the right tool. But it was the weekend. And then they left.

But with more company on the horizon, it was quickly falling to me to Stand and Deliver. Which means call the plumber. And bathe in the withering glare of his famously handsome but nevertheless, cold, ice blue eyes. Eyes that, as soon as I could find him (please allow a week to ten days) would be saying “a preschooler with half a brain, hint, hint, and the proper tool, a tiny pre-schooler could do this. I have massive, important castles and business people of great import to stare down, and yet you bother me.” So. I could go that route. And, or, I could be that tiny pre-schooler with the proper tool. And just do this thing.

As always, before any trip to a foreign land, say, an Italian hardware store, I take copious photos, and any visual aids I can break loose from the battle site. In this case, the tub faucet on which was written in script “Nobile.” All of which I packed off to the giant plumbing supply place. Where they gave me the same look I could have gotten from the plumber. And then they gave me what was even obvious to me, the wrong tool. And advise that was even wrong-er. Which boiled down to “Oh, llustrious client, Mr. PreSchooler yourself, please buy this wildly expensive pair of regular pliers and pull on that thing, there in the middle, pull like your wife depended on it. And then it will miraculously come off in your hand, and you will have no water at all in your home until you bring that part back here. And we’ll see what we can do. Maybe we’ll have one like that. Maybe.” And then he added “Semplicissimo.”

Hmmm. Ok. Like Scarlett I will think about that Domani. showerview panicale italy

Domani came, Midge left. For a Girls’ Day Out in, and surely involving a glass of, Chianti. But before she left she said “You know how I like to think that things left alone can fix themselves?” Yes, yes I do know that. But being someone who went to an actual engineering school for a couple semesters, that is really not fixing the actual faucet here.

After waves goodbye, I shut down the water supply right at the street. And cautiously approached the surly tub. New pliers in hand, I grabbed the thing they said to grab, it stuck, I wrestled, and immediately purpled the pointing finger of my left hand. At which point I realized I needed professional help. In oh so many, many ways. Because this valve thing isn’t going anywhere if it depends on me and this particular tool. And I can’t get any other tools because our car is cavorting in Chianti.

Friends? Already used Bruno to do a gratis repair in this bathroom, earlier this same week. And company still coming tomorrow. What to do now? What. If. I. Just …what if I just try, not the shower, slowly carefully try the tub faucet, just one more time?

In a scant few moments you could poach eggs in the water coming out of the faucet and you could hear the comforting roar of the gas heater. I’m more of a tub guy but I’m going for the gold now. I flip the lever to “Shower.”

Sure enough. She fixed it.

See you in Italy,,

Stew Vreeland

PS the landscape is the view out the window of the bathroom. To keep everything in perspective. That is the important bit! Hey, we can shower when we get home, right?

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.
gmbreakfast
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

——————————
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.
gmboxlunch
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

PERENNIAL FAVORITES: The Umbrian plant ladies and I

umbrian-plant-ladies
“Baa BEAR ahhh” “Baa BEAR ahhh”

Who IS she calling? I am at a drive-by Piante e Fiore garden center place along the lake for the third time this trip. Every time we drive this direction for food or furniture odds and ends I stop for a couple more flats of plants. I was here a week ago and had loaded our Fiat Panda rentacar up with flats and yet more flats of happy spring additions to our garden. But that time, due to too many previous stops, that we were euro-challenged. Sigh. And then I found out – at the cash register – that they take only Bancomat cards (that normal Italians have) and not Credit cards that look just like them (that I have.) My credit cards work AT the Bancomat, when we use them for getting cash. I’m explaining that to the sympathetic-eyed man at the cash register. (Like the foreigner that I was born to be, and obviously ever will be. Allora.)

Yes, we should have gotten yet more euros. Since we merrily shopped our way thru the first batch earlier in the day. But, weirdly, the nursery didn’t care a bit. Money? No money? Apparently all the same to them. My saleslady just waved me off and said “next time you’re going by” To a total stranger like me, 44 euros of product? I said oh, no and started pulling things out of the car and she more or less physically stopped me, really wouldn’t hear of it. Not only did she insist we make off with their merchandise, but she topped off my pile of plants with a big pot of complimentary parsley. A gift to go with everything we’d “bought.”

It’s an hour round trip so, on one hand, I’d almost rather have a few less plants than come back. But on the other hand, in the big scheme of things, that kind of blind faith, do-unto-others attitude is in short supply in the world and really should be encouraged. So, here I am on a return trip, euro/cash in hand. “My” sales lady was effusive and laughing as she made me change, at the register. Happy she had taken a chance on me and been proved right.

In the confusion of my previous daring daylight raid on them, I hadn’t caught the names of some of the plants I’d bought, so I thought this would be a good chance to ask. My lady had tried to tell me the name of one of the plants was “Perennial.” Yes, that’s nice to know, but maybe what kind of perennial?

Beyond perennial, she’s not sure. So, that is why we’re standing outside the shop door and singing “Baa BEAR ahhh” “Baa BEAR ahhh”
The way she’s doing it is sounds so fun, so musical, I can’t help joining in the chorus while shading my eyes and trying to see where we are aiming our collective voices. At a certain point, my eyes adjust to the sun and HOLY SHOOT, BATMAN! Is that a supermodel watering a rack of plants off to the side of the parking lot? In one, slow, motion, she swings her black mane over her right shoulder, cocks an eyebrow at us, turns, and and and starts walking toward us. And walking towards us. Where was I? Italy. Good, good. Plants. Yes! Plants! Something . . . about a plant. Yes, yes, that is it! “Can you tell me the name of this plant?”

Just for the record, we do not get this Hollywood Look at the nurseries I frequent in Maine. I’m pretty sure we do not. Now, I’ve got a plant lady on each side of me. I’m putting on writing glasses, balancing plants, note book, pencil. My blonde sales lady, to my right, is still spelling “Perenni” ok, ok, got that. The brunette, to my left, in the OMG chocolate brown sweater knew what I meant and began patiently pronouncing and spelling the long, long two part Latin name. “C.A.M.P.A.N.U.L.A. C.A.R.P.A.T.I.C.A. . . . C.A.M.P.A.N.U.L.A. C.A.R.P.A.T.I.C.A.” See? Just like it sounds.

You know that thing Italians do? Where they pronounce their written letter “e” like we would pronounce our letter “A?” And when they say “eEE” – at some academic level – we know they mean the letter we would write as an “i” but it still is swirling around in our head as our English letter “e?” Well, I had some that going for me, but with all the other distractions here . . . . allora.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Always, always pay your bills. You will be rewarded in heaven. And sometimes, right here on earth.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland