Umbria Jazz starts today in Orvieto!

ORVIETO, Umbria, Italy–from now till Jan 1, 2007! fantastic music. Be there! or check out the site at least! Umbria Jazz

The Boston Globe calls it A New Year’s Eve party disquised as a jazz festival. We’ve been to it and concur. It may be jazz, but it ROCKS.

Happy New Year and Felice Anno Nuovo too!

See you in Italy


Final Holiday Edition of the Kiki Report. Our Reporter checks out.

UMBRIA, TUSCANY, Italy — Kiki is off the grid and beginning her trip back. Her initial holiday reports are from Dec 15th and before, and these right here are her final reports as she was winding up her time there in central Italy and saying goodbye. Sounds like it has been a great trip and her first person reports could be a motivation to anyone who is thinking “Hmm. Italy. Winter Holidays. Wonder how that would be?” She was there Dec 6-28th so that is a pretty good view of the season. As I said before I feel like we are there when I read her emails and thought I could spread that happy holiday feeling around.

the Kiki Report, live from Italy

Villa Envy

OK, so we went to La Porta Sunday in the fog. Completely beautiful. Then,
dear Stew, we were thrilled that the kitchen was still serving at 2:45
(whew, it closes at 2:30.) We had the most delicious lunch: polenta with
melted pecorino and funghi … potato and pumpkin gnocchi with truffles
… fabulous amaretti with marscapone and chantilly … cafe … and a
gratis sherry. When Daria asked where we were staying, we said Panicale,
that Aldo Gallo had recommended her place. We also told her we saw it on
your web site. She said the only people she knows in Panicale are ….
Australian. Then she showed us the promotional piece for Casa Monte. Oh
my. It is so beautiful. Todd now says I have ‘villa envy.’ Sigh.



Nicest Christmas Ever

Dear Stew,

Todd and I are winding up the most wonderful Christmas day. First we
walked through the woods to Paciano … then we had a fabulous meal at
Patrizia’s — perfect … then we went to Passignano chasing the
ever-elusive Presepe Vivente. Missed it but saw a beautiful twilight
over the lake from the castello.

Tomorrow we head to Florence and the Pensione Annalena, which I realized
(after booking in a panic) has mixed reviews online. Could be a hell
hole. We shall see. Report later.

I’ll be signing off the wonderful world of wireless tomorrow morning our
time. Looking forward to seeing you and Midge soon.

Love to all,


beam me up, Styooie

OK, dear Stew, this is my last email. We’re tidying up now and will
leave in couple of hours. It’s absolutely still here this morning. Aldo
is open, but everyone is sleeping in and getting ready to celebrate
another holiday.

Loved reading about, and seeing, your Christmas. Pomegranates and 60 degrees!
Wow. I’m so glad Daniel will be there, too. Perfect. Please say hi to
everyone for me.

More a presto.

Love to all from both of us,



olive picking time in central Italy
PANICALE, Umbria – The sounds of chickens clucking, sheep baaing, happy olive pickers helloing back and forth mix and mingle in the air around us. It was foggy first thing in the morning but now the sky is robin’s egg blue. Could it be olive harvest time in Italy? I think so. We’d bolted our morning ration of cappuccino in Masolino’s this morning and walked out of the village gates and down the white road to our day’s work in Elida and Guenter’s olive grove. Oh, the happy pickers may be from the far corners of Portugal, Germany, Maine, San Francisco, Australia and Vermont – but these silver leafed trees with their coal black fruit are Umbria at her finest. Strange, that we are all stranieri here but Guenter has been trained in olive lore by local friends. And at least we had a plan. On our walk here this morning we saw what can happen without one. A wide eyed older man we know had a wooden ladder set up in the road outside his house, a net below it about the size of his shirt. And he was up the tree with his cane, beating away with a vengeance. By late afternoon when we walked back, there was an olive oil slick where he’d rained fruit down on the road and the piddling traffic had “pressed” his olives for him. Looked like I’d parked an old Studebaker there for the day.
Aussie up a tree in Italy. and he's a pickin'
So, foreign or not, we certainly were miles ahead of at least one local. He’s locally famous, mostly for his prize winning collection. Of 10,000 or so of those tiny liquor bottles like you get on airlines? Steve from San Francisco said maybe the man only needed enough olive oil for one of those bottles. Allora. But what a day we picked to pick. Kids, dogs, nets, ladders, plastic cartons, plastic rakes, let’s go get us some olives!


In this plan, you spread nets under a tree and reach what you can with your rake or your hand. If you have a rake, it is nothing exotic, just an orange plastic one like you would take to the beach in your yellow plastic bucket. Some rakes were modified to be longer by strapping the orange plastic rake onto a stick with some silver gaffers tape. When you can’t reach any more, even with a stick, someone shinnies up the tree or grabs a ladder and we keep on picking and grinning until everyone agrees That’s close enough. Black olives, green olives, pruning sheers Guenter left up the tree last spring, whatever. Get’em down, we’re only going up that tree and setting up this net the one time.
rivers of italian olives
When you are done with a tree you move the nets around, pouring rivers of olives to a low spot in the net. You lift up that part of the net where they’ve accumulated, slip the net and the olives into a big red plastic box and slip the net out. Vwalaala. All pretty low tech and pretty obvious. So, there you are with a red plastic box of olives, some sticks, some leaves. Sort out the big pieces of extraneous non olive stuff and get ready to move to the next tree. And you’ll want your net so you will pull up stakes and pack it up like a careful giant taking down a circus tent for regular sized people.

People come from near and far to do this. You’ve read Tom Sawyer I suppose? Everyone has a story of who they can get to help pick. The only topic of conversation in town. And lots of the pickers are of foreign persuasion these days. It’s basically a math problem. Every one here has lots of olive trees and everyone is harvesting at more or less the same time so everyone is scaring up anyone they can find. Every body is booked and all of those olives have got to come down. Now. Before they fall down by themselves and stay hidden in the grass under their drooping limbs. They say olives are no good after they’ve been on the ground for any time at all. So every year, about when daylight savings time tells you to Fall Back, you start picking olives like mad before the nice fall weather goes away and the winter rains begin. You just don’t pick in the rain.

Maria serves up olive harvest bounty

This was grand. Better than a picnic at the beach. I’ve picked olives on cold, dark and windy December days and I’ll take seventy, sunny and November days – any day. Big fun yakking to the other monkeys up the same trees. And seeing the results of what we’ve done. Our net worth as it were. And of course the owners of the olives have to feed you at some point if they want you to keep on keeping on. At lunch the first day they have covered a table for 12 with salads, pots of soup and a great Portuguese version of Shepards’ Pie called empadas. Add in breads, and cheeses and bottles of wines, waters and of course olive oil and you have a fine reward for an long morning’s exercise. We’re not nearly as productive after lunch. But the days are short and you pick till dark. And then walk home happy and tired.

After dinner that night, I asked Midge what she wanted to do for the rest of the evening. She yawned “Take a bath. Go to bed”. “Sounds pretty good to me” I said stretching and kicking out of my shoes. Pushing up my sleeve I show her my watch. 7:15. PM. Ye Gads. Bed still sounds good. That olive picking is a pretty full body experience. A good day. And a good night to all. See you in the morning. When we’ll do it all over again. Like any good Italian opera, this one isn’t over till the fat lady sings.

Happy Holidays and

See you in Italy,


Our Foreign Correspondent in Italy for the Holidays

UMBRIA, TUSCANY, Italy — Our lucky friend Kiki is in Italy for the holidays. Three weeks this time. (Dec 6-28th) She owns the house there with us and it is a joy to have that in common with her. We like to say that it is her fault we own the house, in the first place. Midge and I were happily renting there in Panicale and Kiki came to visit and after about two days said “Have you seen that house up the street?” Pause, skip a beat, she continues “Lets buy it together”. And we were off to the races and happy ever after. Now she’s deliriously happy with the new wireless broadband in the house and she and her trusty laptop are dropping us a lovely stream of notes, the fun light moments that fill a trip with memories. I feel like we are there when I read her emails and thought I could spread that happy feeling around.

the Kiki Report, live from Italy

Buon giorno styooo

Dear Stew,

I’m sorry about your phone. None of the TIM guy’s ideas made sense. I told him you were here a lot and always charging it with credit. By the way, your telefonini still receives incoming calls; I tested it. Rather like the land line: A telemarketer called the other day (incredible) even though we can’t call out.

The weather has been lovely. Some rain, but mostly unseasonably warm and sunny. We’re trying to hit as many activities as we can. Your Umbria online link (on our Italy Links page, under “Umbria”) has been great.

Let’s see, what’s new in Panicale : Lights on at the Contessa’s … No Gun yet – get some recording that doesn’t sound like her … The bancomat ate my card Friday, perhaps because of that being gone a year and a half thing again. Tried to talk to them today, they said come back tomorrow. Got caught in another Catholic holiday Friday, Feast of the Annunciation. You’d think I’d know. It’s a big one, the official kick off for Christmas, which is really nice (as opposed to pre-Halloween, like us.) Todd and I went to the first ‘Soul Christmas’ event that night. A group from New Orleans rocked the church in Paciano. Very Aretha.

Wednesday we go to Rome for lunch with Massimo and Anna. Then we’re trying to decide about Venice for Christmas. There was a nice write-up in the Sunday Times travel section just before we left with things to see and do. I emailed the two hotels they recommended — and there’s room at the inn! The Chiusi train guy told me there’s a four-hour InterCity from here. Sounds good to me. What do you think? Should we go there before Christmas, and spend the holidays here? Or should we spend the holidays there? I’m concerned that so many places close down starting December 24 at noon — and will be closed the 26th, too.

No motorcycles to rent, thank God. And Todd’s too much of a downeaster for a scooter.

Love to all — and thank you again for giving me the top floor. I love hanging out the window!



The spys who love you

Dear Stew,

I am hooked, hooked, hooked on wireless. Todd is upstairs preparing to grill, yes grill, chicken from the cute butcher’s (Giugliana) over an open fire. Here I am downstairs loving your emails.

We would be thrilled to house spy for you. Will definitely see what we can find out.

Heard from Gun today. She said she’d try emailing you to see if that works.

Oh the Italian words I’ve learned today. Mostly when I walk away from someone and realized all the things I just said, wrong.

More (don’t you just know it?) later.

Ciao ciao,



Major House!

Dear Stew,

We visited today, disposable camera in hand. Gate was locked, but signs of fresh tracks in the wet clay. Todd got in and took pix inside and out. What a spectacular location! On the way out, we met a truck. Hailed the guy and it turns out he’s a worker there. As you instructed, I said we were ‘amici di padrona,’ and told him it was beautiful work (at least that’s what I think I said … I’m so discouraged with my painful Italian.) Asked him if he’s working alone; he said no, there are two or three. Asked him if he’s working on the house, and he said outside — I guess where the new foundation is. Anyway, lots and lots of equipment. The much-envied ‘gru,’ (the construction cranes you see everywhere in Italy) cement mixer and palettes of brick and stone. Something’s clearly happening there.

There are pomegranates drying here in the kitchen. What kind of a report shall I give you?

Definitely feel free to use any words. Did you know that foreign correspondent was my childhood ambition? That and scuba diver, like Lloyd Bridges on ‘Sea Hunt.’

Saluti a tutti,




Oh Stew, I’m so sorry: You could have used my pomegranate update for that gorgeous blog page about pomegranates! It’s beautiful, and I love the writing. I’ll post a comment when I can. Do I really need a password? The pomegranates are burnishing nicely. Mostly golden very firm to the touch. They’re not light as air yet. Does that come later?

Went to Rome yesterday for lunch with Anna and Massimo. How cool is that? It’s been lovely here. The dawns are especially beautiful, soft and misty. Today I have to make reservations. Wish me luck that Masolino’s has room for us Christmas Eve lunch … and Patrizia Christmas Day lunch. The only urgency I have ever heard in Panicale is about booking for Christmas. Very cute. Shows where their priorities are.

Do you know what’s going on with the restauro at the Podesta? Public offices?

Ciao baby,



Hotels, hotels, hotels

Dear Stew,

No room at the Orto(Hotel Orto di Medici, Florence). Panicking, I ran upstairs and snagged your ‘See You In Italy!’ book for hotel picks in Florence. We’re now booked at the Pensione Annalena, which Bon Appetit recommended in May 05 as a ‘best value.’ I’ll give you a true foreign correspondent report on it when I return. 126E, near Boboli Gardens … so a completely new location. I’ve barely been on that side of the river.

Now to see if Antico Noe is aperto dicembre 27.

Chow chow,



Antico Noooooo

Finally got ‘the man’ at Antico Noe. (Called earlier and was told to call back.) He says he may or may not be open on the 27th, our one and only night in Florence and last night in Italy.

In any case, he won’t take a reservation. Artistes. We’ll give it a shot. If that doesn’t work we’ll try one of the restaurants in your fabulous ‘See You In Italy!’ book. Of course, there’s always one of the restaurants in the Cibreo constellation. I ate at the Cibreo trattoria two years ago with Molly and Frank … Steve Siegelman recommended Cibreo recently when I emailed him about his sound system (and oh by the way, Mr. Food Expert, where should we eat in Florence?) … and Massimo did yesterday. Can’t miss, if any of them are open that day …

Chow ancora,


Telefo no

Dear Stew,

I have a new telefonino number. I’m not even going to memorize it. Still heartbroken I lost the old one. Those digits made sense to me.

Know the best thing about going to Rome? Coming back to Panicale. I loved walking through the gate last night after a ‘veloce’ trip on the InterCity. The street lamps were on … soft American jazz sifted
through the loud speakers (Is that a holiday thing? I don’t remember the sound of music here before.) … and endless sparkling darkness off our garden.

Tomorrow night we’re going to Jane Parker’s for drinks, then Boldrino’s. Looks very cute and the couple seem sweet.

They’ve been working in the garden below us. Very structured.

Just had a coffee with Bruno at the ‘club.’ I’m waiting for the farmacia to open. Todd a il rafreddore. Have to get something for sore throat and earache. Jane says the Umbrian cure for earache is warm olive oil and onion … poured into the ear!

Ciao ciao,



Thanks for the heads up on that home cure Kiki. I’m never going to complain of an earache around an Umbrian bearing Onions. Happy Holidays to all!

See you in Italy,


the pomegranates tale
PANICALE, Umbria– True Confession: I was raised on a farm in Iowa. You could tell I wasn’t a native Umbrian? What gave me away? Oh, that accent thing. I’m WORKING on it. But imagine this farm boy’s surprise to find himself watching a big John Deere tractor going back and forth in the distance on a lazy fall afternoon. It is far enough away that I can’t hear its distinctive putt-putting but I know John Deere green and yellow when I see it, even at this distance. But how strange and disorienting. Instead of watching the tractor from a back stoop in Conrad, Iowa, at its level across a wide, flat plain – we’re looking down on the fields and the tractor. We see the Deere almost like a bird would see it from high up in our pocket garden’s terrace.

Even more surprising, it is late October and we’re still in short sleeved shirts and lounging around on lounges we thought had long been put away for the season. The sun is trying to dry some clothes on the line but first it has to work its way through the big fig tree at the end of the garden. FIGS! Can you imagine? I led such a sheltered life that I’m not sure I’d ever seen or tasted a fig outside a Newton, until we found we had a tree full of them in our own yard here. We missed them this year as they are more of a September sort of fruit. They have long since taken that final suicide dive from their high branches, splatting their gooey selves all over the stone terrace there and long since been cleaned up by long-suffering Anna. I do hope she took a few bushels home with her as a preemptive defensive move ahead of the purple rain of fruit. Look at us. We’re half complacent about figs. Yawn, oh, figs. Didn’t we always have a fig?

pomegranate on the bush in umbrian gardenHERE’S A NEW CROP TO SELL AT OUR ITALIAN FARM STAND?

Right next to the fig is this year’s big surprise. Our pomegranate. How the heck did that get there? Is it a bush? Could it be a tree? It is higher than my head and wider than it is high, bent over with heavy, dense, baseball-sized, fruit on every side. I cut the fig back to give the pomegranate some sun last year and the greedy little booger filled that space and more and went on a crazy fruit-making spree. Every day the fruit gets redder and the leaves yellower. Getting closer to the way La Foce’s pommes looked the week before. I know they get more winter sun than we do.

Back to my original question? Where do pomegranates come from, Mommy? One of the best things that has ever happened to us is that Elida knew Nico. And she knew he was an architect and a sculptor and a plant lover. And she further knew he had designs on our garden. In typical matchmaker fashion she threw a dinner party to introduce us and we said Heck Yes, Design Away. He did us a selection of the most wonderful plans I’ve ever been privileged to see. Pure genius what he had in mind for this long, skinny, curved terrace hung between two tiny Umbrian streets. It was hard, but we chose one and said do it just like that. Almost. We took out one sculptural rock – too Zen for us I guess and we took out a single plant. The pomegranate. But yet, we have a pomegranate, don’t we?

box of italian pomegranatesNico objected to both deviations to the plan, but we won him over eventually and proceeded with out those two items. For a couple months. Our frequent guests and long longtime friends, the Traveling Lambarts, arrived about that time. What great houseguests! They even weed! Nico joined them for weeding and pruning a few times that spring when the garden was so young. And before they left they wanted to surprise us with a gift for the garden. They consulted the maestro and who appeared to think about the idea for a minute and then said, You know, I think a pomegranate would look great. Right about here. Under the fig. Of course he was right. It is perfect. Thank you, Nico. Thank you, Lamberts. Thank you, Elida. It took a village. But we got pomegranates.

All the pomegranates in the photos here were grown and photographed in our Umbrian Garden of Eatin’. We ate the one in the title right on the spot. Some friends were over we had some wine and cheese and what the heck will you have some fruit with that? Why yes, we will. And did. The rest of the “harvest” is in that box you see here and hopefully drying out to become guilded Christmas decorations another year. Is that just too Martha Stewart? Thats what I thought, too, but we’re trying it anyway.

Our goal for ’07: to keep thinking warm holiday thoughts all year round!

See you in Italy,