Things to do on your way to Italy:

Midge and Stew use their daughter, The Wiley Traveler, as an excuse to visit Italy. Oh, wait. She lives in London. OK, we’ll stop there too!

midge and margot at de gournay's showroom in London
LONDON–Can we digress? Oooops, too late. One of the joys of buzzing back and forth to Italy is having the Wiley Traveler in residence in London. So, we use her as an excuse to swoop down into Londontown coming or going to Italy. “It’s right on the way” we nod sagely to each other and Bam! Just like that: we’ve rationalized a trip.

Flowers all around us in Italy last fall (especially roses) made me doodle down notes of a happy, somewhat flower-related adventure that we had in London, on the way to Italy. First, a bit of context: did I mention we bought a new house? We love our house in Italy. It is so not on the market. And I thought we loved our house in Maine that much too. We do love it. We’ve put our hearts and souls into it for 22 years. Raised our three children there quite contentedly. It’s a walk to work, walk to church, walk to cappuccino kind of home. It’s a four story Greek Revival captain’s house overlooking the harbor in our picture postcard New England hometown. Like our Italian home, we found our Maine home abandoned and gently, over the years, brought it back to life. And yet, here we are with it finally, finally finished and we are moving out to the nearby Maine countryside. And renovating an old brick farmhouse, surrounded by woods. Are we insane? Project obsessed? Using the restlessness that comes with onset of the empty nest syndrome as an excuse to scratch a “mid” life crisis itch? All of the above? Who can tell. That is the thing about Love. And especially Love at First Sight. You can’t always get it to make stone hard sense. It just is what it is. And now that we are into it, what is it is an adventure. My sister Gin is doing the painting and papering and decorating. Her partner Jim did our first house and is doing the demo and reno here too.

flights of fancy: wallpapers with wingsAnyway, I’m getting to a fun part. We’ve had the usual metric ton of daily decisions to make on that new house as we were running out the door to London and Italy. If we could just pick the wallpaper in the front hall my sister said. Then we could play all the colors in all the rooms around it off that or at least not be in conflict with it. We’d been through stacks of those heavy wallpaper books and weeks later we were still thinking about this one photo in a house magazine. It just shimmered off the page. What the heck is that about? So we called the people listed in the back of the magazine and they sent us a lovely sample. Exotic birds and fantasy flowers, hand painted on pea green silk! They are in downtown New York, at a place called de Gournay. We had just received that nice sample from Melissa while we were in the midst of last minute trip packing details. And she had emailed pages and pages of pdf details to us. I printed them out. Stuck them in my computer bag. And ran out the door.

A few hours later, somewhere over the Atlantic, I was showing de Gournay’s paperwork to Midge and noticed the official address on every page: London. You mean the London where this plane is headed? That one? And the showroom appeared to be a block from the first stop on the Wiley Traveler’s itinerary for us: Victoria & Albert Museum. Kismet or what? That is exactly what we thought.

We worked our way there, surprised how close to our hotel it was and knocked on the locked door to be let in. They knew who we were and let us in anyway. I don’t know if they were just trying to make us feel at home or not, but they had one whole floor under renovation – and it was as noisy as our project in Maine. We quickly tuned that right out and like kids in a candy shop just ate this whole showroom right up. How fun it was to see rooms of these wonderful papers in situ. They are mostly flora and fauna done in a Chinese style and based on classic papers in old English manors. Very other worldly and dreamy/exotic stuff. The sample we have makes us feel like we have brought a shimmering piece of the outdoors directly into the house.

This is something from the art and renovation world that I so did not know about. They paint these papers to order. In China. You can see pencil marks where they have roughed in the design. They make the design fit your exact walls. Allowing for doors, windows etc. Can you believe that? Neither could we. It is like interactive wallpaper. It is not free and if you were doing an entire Manor House in it you could just as easily find yourself in the Poore House instead. But we were just thinking of a bit of it for part of one wall, in one hall and small as that is, we may decide give ourselves a house warming present. Thinking about it and learning about this whole new world of design possibilities was very exciting.

We now return you to your regular Italian programming.

See you in Italy,


Pressing Engagements in Italy

PACIANO, Umbria, Italy– It is a gorgeous day in Paciano as the road winds its way up past il Casale Restaurant toward the frantoio. The olive mill. Manicured green, green stair-step terraces of silver-leafed olives shimmer in the sun and look for all the world like they were done by Disney. Can’t be real. Have to take my word for it. Mouth open. Camera closed. I missed the photo op but lived the moment.

at the olive pressThe view from the hilltop frantoio was resort quality. Lake in distance, Cortona beyond that, very romantic. Inside the mill everything was all business, all chrome and spankyclean, industrial blue, high-tech-looking Italian olive oil pressing machines. You can wax as poetic as you want to. But basically, your hard fought olives go in here and the oil comes out there. In your polished metal can at the other end of the system. I came, I saw, I got it. Fine, ok, lets eat. As best as I can tell, anything potentially interesting is happening inside those machines and they’ll tell you all about it if you ask. People were asking. The answers sounded like machine noise to me. And heck, I’ll take their word for it about how it all happens. My attention wavered in oh, about ten minutes.

Did someone say lunch? NOW, I’m focused.

Steve’s hosting the post pressing party, an Italian tradition, so he’s got a reason to bail out of Machine World and I jump in with him. To help. Well, I offered. He says we’re “Having soup”. Yes, yes we are. Military sized caldrons of it. Plus grilled sausages. And salads. And grilled Italian focaccia sandwiches. And we are so not considering the lunching officially started until the other pressing buddies have triumphantly entered with repurposed wine bottles full of the cloudy green, minutes-old olive oil to drizzle over hot hot wedges of grilled and garlic rubbed bread. Even as we eat Steve keeps slicing and dicing and seasoning and stirring things bubbling, sizzling in various shiny pots. And bringing yet more food to the table. Where is he getting all this? You know the clowns spilling out of the tiny car at the circus? That is Steve with his spotless galley kitchen. Party time Italian Style
Maybe the spotless galley thing is why I didn’t get pressed into asst chef role so much. I was allowed to carry things to the table. Like cheese. How much could I hurt cheese. Did I mention Cheese? Well, I should have because we were covered up with cheese. And bread in loafs and sticks and circles and one loaf is white tuscan bread and the next is dark and heavy and, and its stacked up and down the table next to plates of nibbles and snacks and bottles of wines and we keep eating and passing and passing and eating and OH NO it is FIVE PM and yet, we continue to keep LUNCHING . . . Is that my phone ringing? Is it my stomach calling in a Stop Order? No, no, it is happy Peter and Sarah who have just landed. They’ve flown in from Maine to see the progress on their home’s renovation. And . . . can I go to dinner with them? Dinner? Like, with food? Tonight? At Eight! Dear God in Heaven! Is this Lemoncello I’m drinking while I’m distractedly talking to them on the phone? Am I in the early stages of a food coma? What! Does Steve really have a pan of Tiramisu in each hand and a bottle of champagne under each arm?

Must leave, must leave now. Every man for himself. Maleducato Stew is backpedaling urgently away from the table. With some waves, and hugs of congrats on the raccolta to the proud Mini Oil Barons of Panicale, he’s done and gone. Wave bye bye to Baked Stuffed Stew.

Andrea and Umbrian Truffles
A couple hours later – hours, mind you – the wheel has turned another revolution. Peter and Sarah’s stay here is beginning. And mine is ending. Ending just as it started. With Andrea shaving white truffles over home made pasta at Masolino’s. How I worked up even a morsel of an appetite in a couple hours I do not know. Go home, Stew. Go now. Pack. Close up your soon to be lonely with out you house. Tell it Goodnight. For now. Because even in leaving, I’m thinking about the next trip. And the next time we get to say . . .

See you in Italy