Checking out. Italy and NYC

Since last we spoke I have checked out several new properties and now I am checking out of Casa Vreeland too. Taking flight out of Rome this time but only because I will have a co-pilot and navigator. I am covered with new properties to describe in great detail and have an ocean of photos to sort as well. They really cover the waterfront from small 100 square meters (1,000 square feet plus or minus) attached homes with gardens to regal town houses fit for a duchess. Well, a duchess that does not mind having a few projects going on. Some assembly required as they say. But a great selection to work with. Stay tuned to this channel for more details. Going to have to really hold my feet to the fire to get them all up on the web site here right away. Starting the process Valentines Day.

In local weather, it is fine in Italy and we even saw a bit of melting of the snowcap here at the end of the trip. Maine on the other hand has been swallowed whole by one enormous snowbank my wife Midge tells me. How much snow I asked? “Oh I don’t know”she replied. “Three or four feet?” FEET? Yikes. Can not wait to see that. She closed our office early one day and completely closed it for the whole next day. All the schools were closed and even the ski mountain! It was more about the roads to the mountain than the mountain I am sure.

OK, New York City in a week or so to visit family and check out Christo’s Gates. Then off to California for a couple big Spannocchia fund raisers in LA and San Francisco. And back to Italy at the end of April to see more properties and to see how our garden has weathered the winter.

Until next time, we will wave goodbye and say

See you in Italy,


Little Piggies of Siena

Four ravenous foodies nibble their way across ancient Tuscan town

SIENA, TUSCANY, Italy— If we were not actually putting food in our mouths yesterday we were looking at ceramics to put food on or in. We did leave for Siena to be pretending to be cultured types heading for some of the many art shows in town. It turns out one of the best shows in town was after in Miccoli’s deli on your way to Il Campo or the Duomo as you come in to town from the Porto San Marco. This fine deli on Via di Citta is right near the Palazzo della Chigiana. It has a strange old 60’s bicycle outside all made of cane and bamboo. And a boar’s head wearing bifocals. Ok, Ok, that all sounds sufficiently corny when I write it down, but relax and enjoy the show. We did. We must have come at a slow time but we spent over an hour of high spirited fun here on a cold winter day. Never unintentionally eaten so much fine food in any one place. My travel companions were three serious cooks and food fanatics and this place just rocked them back on their heels.

We laughed and ate and ate some more and every few minutes with high comic timing that we never saw coming the owner, Antonio, would deadpan “Hai Fame? Are you Hungry?” even though he was feeding us non stop like Christmas Geese. And there before us would be yet another sample of wine or sausage or cookies or oh my gosh stop the madness.

The store is packed to the rafters with delicacies and just prime photo ops every where glance. Not the least of which is Antonio with his awesome old world Van Dyke beard mustache combo that you rarely see outside Victorian tintypes. Anyway there are signs everywhere No Photos. So we didn’t. Our hands were too sticky with honey dripped over pecorino to really operate light machinery like a spy camera. And we saw why he says no. Dooofus older American tourist came in and bought next to nothing and said Photo Please. Antonio said no. And then relented and said OK. One. And picked up a big loaf of bread and posed with his arm around his plump happy Hai Fame amico and straight man. Meanwhile the tourist spends 10 minutes, I swear, posing one picture. Of the proscutti hanging from the ceiling. Moving customers out of the road. Telling us Americans he did not want any of us non-local people in his shot. THEN he asks to take a picture of the owner. No. Not now. He clearly shot the wrong ham first.

HAM HAM and more HAM
We then spent the rest of the post-deli portion of our day on a marvelous tour of our friends Tenuta Spannocchia just outside town. In fact from the time you leave the center of town headed towards San Marco to their farm you are constantly in Contrada Chiocciola. The Neighborhood of the Snail for all you Palio horserace fans.

At the farm we saw them raising their fine black and white belted Sienese pigs (an old native breed nearly extinct 20 years ago). Then we callously watched some of their recently departed brethren being stuffed into sausages and being salted down for next year’s prosciutto.

Then, under a stuffed and mounted wild boar head we had wine sitting literally in a huge fireplace snuggled up to the fire. And then we sat down and ate prosciutto. Followed by porcini soup to die for. Which we followed with a perfect hot creamy polenta and then SURPRISE, roast pork. This time in the form of some of Spannocchia’s cinghiale wild boar. The tenuta (Italian for estate) is a stupendous 1,200 hilltop acres. It is a non profit, self sustaining farm. They heat with their own wood in high tech wonder furnaces, they grow their own chestnut beams and rescue ancient breeds of farm animals and crops while preserving the old Mezzadria sharecropping lifestyle that was in place here for 800 or so years until after the last war. We have been coming here for 15 years and it just keeps getting better. It is an ocean of work and I could not respect them more for what they do. The fact that their organic food is all marvelous is just gravy!

By the way, it was actually fairly ok that we were “pigging out” on this particular day as it was the very last day, Tuesday, of Carnivale (carne va le meat go away get it?) Mardi Gras indeed.

Italy is still locked in a freak cold and now I have managed to get a bit of a cold too. I am presently using that excuse to stay low for the day, make soup and sit by the fire. By the fire in my new woodstove. Everyone who is tired sick and tired of hearing about it please raise your hand. Ok, only one more: it takes place upon arriving home last night at midnight after Our Day of Pork. I came home to an empty house but with a fire glowing in the stove. Bruno could not bring him self to trust me with the bigger wood until the stove was properly broken in but earlier that night he evidently brought in some of the big stuff and lit off a good one. A wonderful warm Welcome Home.

I know, after all the exotic food yesterday how how how could I stoop to a Bag O’Soup? Was it the catchy, ironic homage to Dean Martin: That’s Amore? Hmm. Maybe that factored in but the main thing is that this is a seriously good soup. Frozen soup in a bag. Yes, true. Just add water and in ten minutes you can serve this to company. Fair warning, I do.

Che Weekend. wow.

I am in a daze. Good daze, but none the less. Saturday Giancarlo and I went to Cortona to see a nice Australian family’s house. Wow. So unusual to find a single family detached home in the oldest highest nicest part of Cortona. Three stories tall, all stone, perfect condition, next to an ancient well and a convent and other nice nice homes. You would have trouble finding anything to spend money on here. It is just most excellent.

And in news around the house, big progress on the woodstove installation here. Still cold enough that I am motivated and it will be ready soon. Can’t wait to curl up with a good book there in front of the fire. Garden still covered with light coat of snow and ice. Very strange for the weather to stay below freezing for a week.

Way out of control today. Met a bunch of friends in the piazza early for gossip in the welcome sunshine under bright blue skies. Biano, my barber, says “Remember when there was that big group of Ferraris in the piazza? I have printed up photos for you.” He and Orfeo and I then had a long conversation about how cool it is to have friends and that after having your health, what else is there really? Bruno buzzed by and said, “Woodstove progress soon.” OK, good.

At noon after the mass at the church in the piazza, I met some good friends for more coffee and bribed their four-year-old with New England taffy while feeding their baby something spinach-related. He didn’t seem to mind. Suddenly, there was a huge crowd in the cafe, all Americans it turned out. The next thing we know, they are all ooohing and ahhhing at the pretty babies and taking their pictures. Turns out they are all tour guides on a tour of places to consider. We all swap business cards like mad and their guide briskly shoos them out to something less important like a lace-making demonstration. We let them know how hyper cool our friend’s luscious classic Villa Lemura is as a destination for their clients, of course.


Must resort to a mere list at this point:
Left the bar with our friend (and defacto Swedish Godmother) Gun Cesarini and rushed to pick up an American friend who Midge found a great long-term apartment for. One of the Cesarini’s apartments in fact. Had lovely lunch at her house with fire in fireplace, leg of lamb and lovely pastas on plates and great views out the window at her house on the edge of town.

Looked at my watch just before coffee and realized people from Alabama were waiting for me at my house. In town. Yike. Rudely excused myself and drove off down the hill to town.

We saw two very nice Panicale homes. One of them with my friend Orfeo. We met him at the third bar cafe of Panicale, upstairs where all the men play cards, drink coffee and watch sports of any stripe.


After seeing the properties we were walking by Orfeo’s house when he diverted us inside for “a drop”. Turned out to be a drop of Vin Santo. With his wife’s super fritters. Small round-ish fritters about ping pong ball sized, made with flour, egg and honey, lightly fried. Amazing. Four hundred times better than I’d had in any bakery ever. She had made them with her own eggs, her own honey. Fried in her olive oil. That morning. Because it is Carnevale time is should be fried in lard they said but they have no intention of doing that when they have lovely light olive oil to use. The fritter come in different sizes and shapes in different areas and are called different things as well. In Panicale they are called Strufoli.

Being a bit too house proud we then toured our house, almost next door, and yes,
yes we DO have a woodstove and wood and kindling.

I recommend that they try their hardest to get tickets to the theater that is happening this very night. Again with the timing.

Bruno comes by and we light the first ever fire and it is righteous indeed. We celebrate with a drink at the bar. Bitters for him and hot chocolate for me. Too much coffee already. And then we agree to wave at each other at the theater that night.

Even thought the theater doesn’t start till nine pm, there isn’t even time for dinner somehow. Never a dull moment. The play tonight was three separate Neopoliton farces by Eduardo de Filippo. The theater was packed. The best part of it all is waving at all your friends in the floor seats, balconies and boxes and then afterwards the hugs and double-cheeked air kisses. It is my whole Panicale life flashing before my eyes condensed into a few fine moments. We stretch the moment by retiring to the bar AGAIN. and then I hurry home for the midnight (here) kick-off of the SUPER BOWL.

I called my wife Midge at 1 am, 2:30 and 4:30 until the verdict we all hoped for came in. . . Go Patriots! Champions Again.

Tomorrow, your erstwhile roving reporter is taking a road trip to Spannocchia outside Siena.

Casamaggiore indeed

What a good day this was. After coffee at Aldo’s I went around with Giancarlo and a nice Dutch couple and saw many fine properties. The one he had been sending me pictures of in Tavernella, I was a bit cool about. Giancarlo takes good pictures but from the pictures he’d sent me, I just didn’t see the attraction. But wait. In person I got it in a heartbeat. The pictures here? That’s just a couple random shots. Of the barn. The villa rocks and could be a B&B easily. The options here are just infinite. Almost in town but up on a hillside over the town really. Lots of room. Makes me want to get out the pads of paper and start sketching who gets what rooms and where the pool should go. Big fun.

Speaking of Big! In the afternoon we went to see a new listing in the aptly named hamlet of Casamaggiore. Some fine, fine big houses in this tiny village, a five-minute walk from Gioiella. This one looks classically well-aged, shall we say, from the exterior. But inside it’s totally livable. By any number of people. Over five thousand square feet with a fenced garden and nice neighbors. The picture here is a tiny piece of the front and then a shot of a room off the sunny, well-kept garden. Quite swell. One of the members of the family showed us around. And around. This house is like a town, we just kept opening more doors and finding more baths, kitchens, fireplaces, there is at least one grotto for curing meat. We didn’t go in. There is a rooftop terrace. Above the third floor. Stairways are wide and noble and arched at their tops. Sometimes the arched ceilings intersect in crosses. Details abound. Old light fixtures, some walls decorated with painted panels. It is quite a find. We were all fascinated with it. Very engaging house. A lot of personality.

After all that fun I came home and locked myself out of my house. Linda? Do you have one of my keys here at your store? Oh, that’s right. We did give it to your husband. Bruno, do you have a spare key to my house? His hands were full so he told me where to find it in his car. And then as long as we were that far along, he decided to drop whatever he was doing with buckets of cement and to go up my chimney and see what it would take for us to hook up our woodstove tomorrow.

The main event tomorrow is that we may be taking a trip to Cortona. Stay tuned. One property there sounds especially good.

Avoiding Megane Headaches

Would have done more this evening but friends called and painted a lovely picture of the mountains of fun food we would be consuming. Believe there was mention of two kinds of fish, fresh bread, bean soups and multiple desserts including, but in no way limited to, poached pears. Oh yes, we grabbed a coat and away we flew.

Here is your helpful travel hint of the day: at some point early in your rental car experience, note whether the car they give you is gasoline friendly or more of the diesel persuasion. This trip, they gave me the same general Renault Megane Diesel I had last summer. Which I then suavely filled with gasoline at the first opportunity. Leaving me and three 14-year-old girls stranded by the side of the road. Sigh. It all worked out fine. Happy to report this slow learner is much older and wiser this time. Not fooling me twice by tucking that Diesel label way around where you literally can’t see it. Well, not until your wife and the tow truck guy (who are both tasked with rescuing you) helpfully point it out. Actually a very nice car, big and roomy and behaves very well under all circumstances. Other than the aforementioned operator-error incident.

Saw this interesting house near Gioiella today, the first of many to hear Giancarlo tell it. We did a drive-by preview of two others and seeing yet three more tomorrow. This one had nice sunny exposure, good views; intown Gioiella is always a plus for me. Was renovated and ready to move into. Details to come.
Will be busy getting pictures up as soon as digitally possible. Would have done more this evening but friends called and painted a lovely picture of the mountains of fun food we would be consuming. Believe there was mention of two kinds of fish, fresh bread, bean soups and multiple desserts including, but in no way limited to, poached pears. Oh yes, we grabbed a coat and away we flew.