Can I get a witness?

anniversary in Italy, umbriaPANICALE, Umbria–This time our excuse was . . . our anniversary trip. We think it was well deserved. 40 years for us and 40 for our best man, Harry and his wife, Alison. I was his best man and he was mine. I think Sandro said the simple way to relay that complicated relationship status was “eravamo testimone reciprocamente”. Tricky business, since Best Man implies a certain maleness I’d much prefer testimone ended in a clear-cut masculine “o” but no. Its that neutral “e” thing. Which is fine because technically it just means Witness.

We all enjoy Italy and so here we were, celebrating up a storm at GMB pastries outside of Castiglione del Lago. Here’s to many more! Salute! You can tell by the scarves and coats it was shoulder season.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Did we see you at the casino?

CHURCHILL DOWNS, LOUISVILLE, KY – Sandro is our Sardinian Italian Language instructor from the Language Exchange in Portland.

We do private lessons with him once a week when whenever we can. It gets technical. And specific. And then it spins out into wide ranging and freewheeling conversations. We were talking about our trip to the Kentucky Derby and that led to betting. And want to guess what the Italian word for Casino is? That’s right: casinò!. Emphasis on the end.

Depending on the circles you travel with, usually you will hear the word without the ending emphasis. And that’s just a mess. Because without the accent it means “mess.” Well, technically it means “bordello” but somehow “che casino!” or “what a bordello!” has evolved to “what a mess!” Hey, wait a minute, Bordello looks like an Italian word too. See how much we owe Italians?

stewvaleriemidgeThe photo is us with the indomitable Valerie Harper between races.

See you in Italy!

we’ll try not to make too much of a casino.
Full breakdown of the race weekend and videos and glimpses at true party ethic in action

Stew

Having barrels of fun.

PANICALE, Umbria–Yes, there’s a new guy in town. Welcome Paul Turina. He and his wife Betty are our new partners in the house in Panicale. They are on their way to Italy shortly to take romantic vineyard pictures with Paul and Jane of Avis Studio.
That could be one reason why Paul’s smiling. But on the other hand, he usually is. And why not. As he says “I’ve got the best job in the world.” And what would Job Nirvana be for a died-in-the-wool Italophile be? Right, the first time: Importing Italian wine.
paulapebarrelssm
Visiting vineyards, sampling luscious new wines at any and every hour of the day and night? Going out to eat in all corners of Italy with clients who know the best local places? Writing off your tickets to Vinitaly as a business expense? And calling it all work? It is a tough job but someone has to do it.

We just helped him double the size of the Turina Italian Wines site to keep up with his growing stable of select family vineyards. And the first day the new and improved site was “live” Paul was featured again on Fringe Wine This is the third time he and his specialty wines have been featured on this blog!

If you are eating out in Panicale in April and you see some guy at the next table – with an extra big grin on his face, just raise your glass and say “Salute, Paul!”

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Live. And Learn.

typical Italian dinner at moms Panicale, Umbria, ItalyPANICALE, PADOVA, TORINO, Italy–If we live to be a hundred, we will never get to the point on the Generosity Chart where Italians seem to be born. Like a Ferrari, the average Italian has some extra gears they can shift into, at a moment’s notice. They make it look so easy and effortless,

A couple examples. We were in Padova, years ago, at our Italian foreign exchange student’s home for the first time. We were seeing the house and doing the polite, “What a lovely home. Love that painting! Gorgeous flowers here on the balcony . . .” Which was all fine, until we got ready to leave and they had elaborately wrapped gifts for all of us. And after those individual be-ribboned and bowed packages had all been opened, there was one more. A bonus round “for the family.” It was the framed oil painting we’d admired on the wall. You have to be careful out there, admiring things.

And food. Be careful there too. That tide may only flow one direction. We were almost coaxed into a food coma at our friends in Torino’s home. They fed us like Christmas geese. “This is wonderful, but three helpings is fine, please, thank you” didn’t seem to work. And so we were lovely and polite, and kept on eating our way through the food pyramids in front of us.

Later that vacation we invited them to a similar feast in their honor at a place we were renting near Sarzana. They looked at the food we put in front of them, and looked at us like we were a tiny bit deranged. “What is all this food they asked?” They ate a bit of this and a bit of that. You know, normal people portions.

naturamorta italian still life with wine, grapes, tomatoes, melonSo, if you think you can “get even” or return the favor, that would be a rookie move. Here in the states we hear people say “Oh, we owe so and so a dinner. They had us over and we need to pay them back.” This is patently impossible in Italy. Repeat after me: You can not out-gift or out-feed Italians.

We ate so much marvelous food on our most recent trip. But I’m quite sure my favorite was Lunch at Bruno’s Mom’s. She’s ninety, her garden is vast, and lunch was equally so and fit for a king. The home-made tagliatelle was the best ever. I told her so and she waved me off. This? I just tossed this together” They double-teamed me. They had me at the end of the table, between them. When I looked to my left at mom while we talked, Bruno on my right, would fill one of my glasses, with the more of the fine red wine he made from her grapes. If I looked back his way, mom would upend a serving dish of pasta or salad on my still-full plate.

And even though we were all going to a town-wide Festa Dell’uva dinner that night together, Bruno and I still got a to-go box. The grapes are mom’s, as are the tomatoes. The melon? Bruno and I liberated it from a field outside Paciano that had been mechanically harvested. They missed a couple. We didn’t.

pacianopozzo pozzo or well, outside Paciano, Umbria, ItalyMoral of the story: When you are up against the kindest, most generous people on the planet, you cannot compete. To have an Italian friend is to be constantly in debt to them. You can but live and learn. And maybe–if you are good, very good in this life – you may get to come back. As an Italian.

See you in the next life,

Stew Vreeland

The new French Twizy vs the classic Italian Ape.A couple of European flyweights go head to head.

twizyape. renault twizy and piaggio ape, french vs italian mini vehiclesCASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO, Umbria, Italy–Can you really compare these two Lilliputt-putts? Well, no. On the one hand, yes, they can both haul you and your best friend to and from the market, albeit in close quarters. But in an Piaggio Ape, you can bring both your friend AND the groceries home from the CO-OP. With the Renault Twizy, it looks like you have to pick and chose between bringing the friend or the groceries home. So, how hungry are you? The price the dealer told me made me instantly realize I wasn’t going to be able to take it out of petty cash. But I think I remember the deluxe model was like 8,000 euros.

In its defense, the Twizy is full-on electric. But, it is licensed as a four-wheeled motorcycle, with a steering wheel. Five wheels is a lot of wheels. For a bike. Meanwhile our 1983 Piaggio Ape, with only three total wheels (not even a single steering wheel) has an 1,100 lb payload. Plus, room for you and your momma. We bought our ape from Ken Johnson in Ontario. He is the only dealer/renovator we know of. If you go to his site you can see a few of the Apes he has put on the streets recently.

So, what’ll it be, big spender? A shiny new Twizy or an proven-in-the-trenches Ape? They are both cunning European designs. The Twizy is way out of the box, way ahead of the curve, the Ape has been an established mode of transportation around the globe for decades. I don’t know if you can even get a Twizy in the states. When I saw one on a Renault lot last month in Castiglione del Lago (Umbria) I kept thinking I was seeing a prototype, a futuristic, car-of-tomorrow sketch, magically come to life.

They both are taking wildly different, outside-the-box approaches to space, travel and energy use. Noble efforts.

Plus, come on. Are they are wicked cute?

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland