or . . .


at the lancia grill, panicale, umbriaPANICALE, Umbria, Italy – It’s a Saturday. And a civilized, but somewhat early departure. We’re spending the day with Paul and Betty. He’s an Italian wine importer back in the States. They had just blown in from Rome for two intense weeks of wining and dining their way across Italy. And on this particular day we had our tourist plates heaping full. So, chop, chop, let’s go.

We jumped in and fired up the renta-Lancia and . . . WHAT’S THAT NOISE? Better yet, what’s that eerie silence? Key goes in here, turns to the right. Still. Way too quiet. Especially in Lancia Central. No door lights, no seat belt warning ding, ding dings, no radio hum. No, nothing.

Maybe it’s jet lag but Paul’s as baffled as I am. And he has two Prima Donna Lancias he drives daily in Maine. But yet, he throws up his hands at the utter lack of logic here. Did I mention that this car is literally brand new? Exactly zero miles on it when he picked it up in Rome. Zero. Picked it up, turned it on, drove it here non-stop and parked it.

So. There we were. Standing in the shadow of the tower of the contessa’s palazzo, kicking pieces of gravel around the parking lot. And recalculating our finely tuned plans for the day. And thinking of the tone of voice we hope Paul can take with the rental company when he gets them on the phone. About that time, our neighbor Bruno drives by in his 30-year-old, used-to-be red, Fiat Panda. I wave my hi-how’s-it-going, garden-variety wave. I really couldn’t do the omg-save-us! wave. He fixed our howling mad, guest potty two days ago. Gratis. And well, I just couldn’t seem this needy, this soon. Which worked out fine. He waved and kept going, anyway.

There is a God. And he’s got his avenging angel Bruno backing up the one-way street toward us. “Che succede ragazzi?” What’s happening? Where are we off to? Since you ask: We’re headed nowhere, Bruno. Not with this rig. “Open the hood” he says. Ok, I guess we could have gone that far, maybe. He points at the battery, gives us a “What on earth did you do THAT for?” look, rolls his eyes and said “AntiFurto.” Which becomes our new fun Word of the Day and means anti-theft device. And it is what Bruno is calling that iPad sized thing hanging off to one side of the battery, just bristling with important-looking wires. Yes, I was gently nudged out of Iowa State’s Mechanical Engineering program at a young age. It is clear even to me that the idea spot for this AntiFurto to be would on the top of the battery.

gmb pensive Midge castiglione del LagoSo, why was it laying down there in the first place? How did that happen? Which is exactly what Bruno still wants to know as he picks it up, mounts it back on the battery, and cranks its big lever, locking it back in place. He makes that international hand motion sign for “Uh, turn the key?” We do that and it is all systems go. Thanks, Bruno. He shook his head, gave us a sympathetic “good luck” wave over one shoulder and he was gone. Before we can think of some other trouble for him.

And we were left thinking: surely we could have been so much more manly and guy-like if we’d just had coffee first? Yeah, that’s it. So off we go to GMB (in the zona industriale, Castiglione del Lago) to solve that problem. Which, if you haven’t been there, trust me, GMB is sufficient grounds for getting on a plane and curling up with that inflight magazine for a few hours. For me, it is the sweet, pastry-filled center of the known coffee-drinking world.

Happily our truculent Lancia actually got us there. Coffee’d up, there remained the one true test, can it get us back? As it turns out, no, actually. To be fair, it did start when we asked it to. And we were soon barreling up, up the twist-y turn-y hill road past Villa Le Mura when Paul swears he heard a little mechanical “THOCK.” Motivation ceased, our theater went dark. Which was an awkward moment since, as I implied, we going UP hill. Did our AntiFurto fall off again? Is there some sort of fighter jet ejection seat devise that blows this big honking device physically off the top of the battery at road speed?

antifurto italian for anti theftHmm. Did you know they have dayglow roadworker vests in the side pockets of these cars for just this kind of event? We figured that out well after I’d guided Paul backwards down a hill, into a farm driveway totally commando, sans light up vest. Next time, we will use the vest, I think pessimistically.

Safely off the road and parked in the tall grass, we now know enough to pop the hood and sure enough, the rascally Anti-Fur Toe has jumped ship, again. We do what Bruno did, again. It starts, again, and we were soon on the phone telling the rental company to park this one where the sun don’t – oh just get us another one. Please.

havinga-gas-with-lanciaThey were happy to trade us it turns out. But only if we would take life and limb in hand and drag this bad dog to Arezzo. Arezzo?! I’ve been as lost as I ever want to be in Arezzo. It’s an actual town. It may even be a city. I remember well trying to worm my way thru Arezzo to their monthly antique fair a year ago. So, I was tepid about adding this side jaunt to a program that had already taken on shades of Amazing Race reality TV show.

We got there. But only due to Paul being able to drive and coordinate with his smartphone’s nav system at the same time. The system worked. We arrived at the car rental office. We had just talked to them and now the office was securely locked? When we found the operator, and did the key swap, he said, pointing, that our car was “down by the city park.” And yes, yes it was. Right under the Circus Coming to Town billboard was the twin of the Lancia we rode in on. Same color, same model. But yet. We have ignition! The key turns AND the motor turned on.

But, so did the annoying Danger Orange light on the dash shaped like Aladdin’s Lamp. We realized this about half way back across Arezzo, headed out of town. Something new to not relax about. OK, page 22 of the manual, something about that being the Must-Change-Oil-Right-Now light. Oh, good, pop the hood. Well, it’s got oil. Full as a tick, in fact. And you know what? We are so not stopping to change the oil on this back-up rental beater.

Later that same day, by then more closely approximating midnight, we were coming back from a seven course feast at a friend’s osteria in Siena, when Paul said, “Huh, look at that. No more warning light!” To which I was able to proudly reply, “I know. I fixed it” “Where was I?” Paul said unbelieving. “How’d you do that?”

“I fixed it with my billfold,” I replied. He gives me a look. Then looks back at the dash where he notices my billfold propped up in front of the light.”

Another travel problem solved. You’re welcome.

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland
PS: As you can see we did stop to smell the poppies in the midst of all these adventures. Worth whatever it takes to get to that sweet spot, isn’t it?


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


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

Trasimeno at twilight

twilightovertrasimenoPANICALE – Just got this fine iPhone shot of Kiki’s last supper in the garden. Taken by her friend Kathleen. Brava, brava.

And Kiki tells me she now has the full name of the new deli/bakery/take out place she has been raving about in Panicale. In the same way we call Bar Gallo, Aldo’s, Kiki had been calling this new place “Salvatore’s” but thanks to her credit card bills she now knows its official name is L’umbria dei Sapori di Riso Salvatore. As they say when I’m chewing – that’s quite a mouthful.

Speaking of food, Pino of Siena’s Osteria da Divo has a dinner at the Italian Life Expo that is totally sold out. He’s part of the Siena-based Friends of Rick Steves in Tuscany. They wil be at the expo and there are many other events during the expo June 9-11, so we’re telling people to get there tickets while they can. Tourism, copper ware, ceramics, wines and olive oils abound. And these are wines from little-known grapes like some of my favorites the Turnina Marzeminos and their light and lovely Chiarettos of the Brescia region. You’re not going to see these beauties or dozens of other regional favorites from generations-old family vineyards at your local Piggly Wiggly. Sign up and drink up, June 9-11. Salute!

Ok, See you in Italy (or for a couple days in Portland, Maine during the festival. We’ll be the one in the GREEN ape)

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.
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!


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.
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.