The Burnt Goose Pizzeria. It is smack in the middle of Paciano. It is big, with flower-laden terraces right down to the street. It is on the main square and I’ve just never noticed it? How dense am I? Do not answer that.

With Midge and Wiley both on their way to Umbria, I look back on our trip last September. Stories that I had not shared here yet. Just to give you a taste of what kind of unplanned adventures a traveler could expect to have on any given fall day in Umbria. Part three of three loosely connected ramblings

PACIANO, UMBRIA — The grand finale of this day of our trip is going to L’Oca Brusciata in Paciano. The Burnt Goose Pizzeria. It is smack in the middle of Paciano. It is big, with flower-laden terraces right down to the street. It is on the main square and I’ve just never noticed it? How dense am I? Do not answer that. None so blind, I guess. In my defense, the sign is so tiny, the building is so nicely residential, so it could pass for a house?

I’ve never been on so many dates with my daughter. And dates they appear to be. Everywhere we go Eric and or Dante are sure to be. Some times planned sometimes not. A coincidence? I ask you. Like tonight, they are both there. I’m sure we are a strange group. Dante has jet black crew cut, and that clean-shaven, Young Republican, All-American, Boy Scout from California look. He’s wearing a golf shirt and clean jeans. So far we are all pretty much Norman Rockwell in Umbria cover of Post magazine. And then. Here comes Eric the Great Dane – in long blonde hair and beard, Harley Tshirt, carrying an open half liter of Henniken. He has a trucker billfold on chain, biker black boots, bold, tribal tattoos. Eric is ok. I’ve known him for several years. Making Umbrian figs into fig marmaladeHe plays at being shocking to nose-tweak some of the more conservative factions in this fairly traditional part of Italy. He is Danish but speaks perfect American English (he was Born in the USA. In the state of Springstein) and was raised eventually in Panicale. He starts rolling his own cigarettes as soon as he sits down but first asks waitress if its ok and she says no because there little kids at the next table and he pushes the tobacco gear back and sweet as a kitten says but of course, totally fine, I understand. Everyone assumes Eric has brought his own beer into the restaurant to tweak our collective conservative noses a bit. Wiley harassed him about it the next day and sure enough we’d all unjustly put him in that place. He’d bought the bottle from the waitress before he came to the table so it wouldn’t end up on our table’s bill. OK, we all got burnt judging a book by its cover. Typical day in the neighborhood when dad goes dating with daughter.


Here’s how hard it is to make fig marmalade: Not at all. A fig is almost jelly when its on the tree. But know this – your neighbors don’t want to see you go up that tree. If I’ve been told once today, I’ve been told twice (Carla and Bruno, separately) that you just don’t go there. Figs are strong plants and aggressive growers but they are more strong like corn than strong like oak. You wouldn’t climb very far on corn and I guess you don’t want to get up on a fig either. They LOOK like a tree but grow like weeds so don’t grow particularly dense wood. Carla says to Denise, ”Remember Old So and So?” Denise nods in a way that you know the story didn’t have a happy ending. Carla seems to have some sort of nursing background which is why she was consulted on the Australian malady earlier. She says ”I rode in the ambulance with Old So and So when he fell out of his fig tree” she looked at each of us and shrugged ”But he was dead. Poverino” ok, ok, I’ve been up the tree but not going up again. I notice later, sawing up a branch from our tree, that it saws like sheets of Styrofoam when you are doing a craft project. Gulp. Point taken.

Our Umbrian fig tree in full fruitBut I digress. Why am I sawing up a branch of our tree? It spreads its branches up and out to the street above us to share with the people passing by. Bus loads of them are now almost tearing it apart in a fig feeding frenzy. Even when we are in the garden. Turning the other cheek, Wiley will often gather a hand fulls of figs and take them up to the people on the street, just to get them to back off a bit. But still, would you believe the biggest branch was ripped right off the trunk? Weird, but true. Sweet older Italians of all stripes flocking to the tree to relieve some inborn fig deficiency. In the crowd of bus tourists, two old dears waved to us. We could just see their tiny bird like hands and their faces from the noses up above our garden wall. In trembling old-people voices they asked ”dove siamo”? I have days when I wonder what I’m doing, but usually I’m set on where I’m doing it. Afraid that the question is too easy I had to answer a bit tentatively ”Panicale?”no, no they mutter over the top of the wall, Che Provincia? They were in a state, they just didn’t know which one. Heck of bus trip.


I know. If you want figs marmalade, you must harvest your figs. But! Remember, under no circumstances am you to go climbing trees. You must use ladders at all times. The gravity of the situation will kill you. Things fall down. Check. But of course Alec the I am a Yorkshire Man came by at that time to say not to go up that ladder as he had a friend die of that. Chee. This is harder than I thought. Ok, assuming somehow figs have fallen into your hands, we will want them to be big and soft but mature. But try to harvest them before it rains. After rains mature figs split right open into three angry pieces, hideously meat red inside and looking like they are trying out for Little Shop of Horrors. And I’m not eating THAT.
Sunset over Panicale in UmbriaSo. . . Big and soft. But not split open. Bring them to the chopping board and merrily hack to pieces. Skin and all. Smaller the pieces, the smaller pieces in final product. Carla like them cut in only 3-4 pieces each. I like much smaller bits I’ve decided.

Sprinkle with white sugar, leave overnight. That’s it. Maybe cover. Don’t bother putting in frig or anything. The next morning boil long and slow. 2-3 hours max unless it interferes with shopping and gossiping. Then do more or less. Even I, with my minimal culinary skills, can hardly mess that up. Is that a sweet deal?

Well, there may not have been much of a plot or plan but we did have us a time last September and I expect Midge and Wiley will have one equally unstructured and fun time this September as well. My time will come. Thinking October.

Until then —

See you in Italy,



Paulette’s hands guided her down memory lane to total recall moment from her childhood. In short order she remembered exactly how her Italian grandfather had taught her to make them when she was a little girl. I was glad I was there to see her uncover that moment.

As Midge and Wiley get ready to head over to Umbria, I look back on our trip last September. Stories that I had not shared here yet. Just to give you a taste of what kind of unplanned adventures a traveler could expect to have on any given fall day in Umbria. This is part one of three parts.

The Annual Grape Harvest Festival in Panicale, Umbria
DOWNTOWN, UMBRIA — We always get a big bang out of September in Panicale because that is when the Grape Havest Festival is. But that is not the only fun we had in September. Almost everyday this month, Wiley has had a nice hilltop to hilltop walk from Paciano to Panicale. I think that walk became very special to her. Good way to peacefully sort out all the system-overload from two hours of intense, private Italian lessons etc. She can, by the way, and does, seriously string sentences together in a meaningful way now. I think she is pleased as punch. She had a friend from Maine here earlier in the week. Then, a few days later, she was off to see Jenny where she was studying in Florence. They have decided that between them, if they stick together, they can cumulatively say nearly anything in Italian! Wiley made me proud when she went right up to the ticket window at the train station in Chiusi and ordered her own train tickets. Look out now.

Girls enjoying Italian Gelato in Perugia on a fall day in UmbriaThe other day after I dropped her off at class in the morning I got a fresh loaf of chibatta at a bakery, two crooked brick alleys away from her school, and talked to a lady weaving in her shop a few doors from that and bought some samples of the weaving. Then I was nursing a coffee and listening to the stories an American guy I know was telling me at the outdoor part of the café (yes, it appears he has had 1) one Norwegian wife and 2) two Swedes and now lives in Italy with an American wife – number 4) four. And if you think I was going to miss any part of THAT story. . . ) Anyway, deep in Scandinavian lore we were when Ms Wiley and her Professoressa Daniella strolled by us for one of their many coffees of the morning. They were just a-laughing and a-chatting up a storm from what I could see. And she could not have looked more intent when I popped in on them later in the garden back of the school. They were sitting in the Umbrian sun. The green valley stretching out in front of them all the way to the lake. All good, happy and memorable moments.


Our uphill neighbor Youngi was in the café and bought me coffee and croissant. As Wiley says ”it is not a croissant dad, this is Italy, it’s a cornetto. And a cornetto is better.” Right you are. Either way, Aldo wants to know which kind I want: créme or marmalade filled. Apricot marmalade, please. And then, after I’ve chosen, he almost won’t let me have it. He’s got it in his hand, but is holding it back, protecting me from. . . The hideous danger. That is. Hot jam. Can he cut it open? Can I make another choice? Please. He’s alarmed, Youngi is alarmed. Alarmalade Crisis? I assure them I can work my way through hot jam. And did. Yesterday, Daniella absolutely refused to warm up an egg and ham panini because it had mayo on it. I grill Grilled Cheese Sandwiches after slathering them with mayo. Have done so since doing a TV shoot about mayo in the Kraft Kitchens in Chicago. And have lived to tell the tale. Here, today, hot mayo is something out of a horror movie and not to be considered lightly.

Cars were featured in a news paper supplement that Simone, Aldo and Daniella’s son and I are looking at. And relative to that and the herd of Ferraris that have just exited the piazza we have a good car talk.Then, I filmed a bit of Biano at his barbering best and then caught a moment with the Ladies of Linda’s. All the ladies from the grocery store were having their morning coffee clutch and they drug me into the café with them. Earlier Linda’s store and the meat market were jammed to the teeth but now it is just the family and me and the video camera. I was there yesterday and got behind a lady with maybe forty coupons and ordering bedspreads with what must have been the Italian version of Green Stamps and oh my gosh I didn’t think that would ever end. What a long, strange trip that appeared to be.

in an Umbrian garden havesting lavenderPAULETTE GETS OUT OF A JAM.

There are cars with bows on them outside the gate. Aldo had warned me: wedding today. Busy place, just got busier. Now Dante is at the door, asking if I will meet them at Masolinos for dinner. We are celebrating that his aunt, our friend Paulette has been cured. Praise the Lord. Her doctor in California said Cipro and there was Cipro and it was Good. Some places you might need a prescription. Funniest thing. But in Italy you may get lucky and just be able to verbalize it to the Pharmacist. (Do they all smoke here? All the pharmacists?) Anyway, the pharmacist listens to her description of the medicine, takes a couple deep and meaningful drags on his cigarette, exhales thoughtfully, steps over his dog and hands her a sack of Cipro. A day later she was cured — after a week of weakness and misery. She must have been too screwed up to have thought to call her doctor or underestimated the take no prisoners attitude of the ”malatia”. Now she and Wiley are in the garden making interesting little sweet smelling, braided sculptures out of our lavender. Paulette’s hands guided her down memory lane to total recall moment from her childhood. In short order she remembered exactly how her Italian grandfather had taught her to make them when she was a little girl. I was glad I was there to see her uncover that moment.


I woke up to morning bells ringing out eight times in the blue blue skies. Before waking Wiley, I started laundry and put the fig marmalade we’ve made the night before on to simmer for a couple hours. Eventually, Wiley and I made it to Aldo’s for our morning coffee. For several mornings in a row we’ve met Emma and her friend Manuela there too, just on the same general schedule.

Emma and everyone we met that morning is atwitter about the coming fireworks in Panicarola. I Fochi d’la Madonna del Busso. I don’t know how they could beat Panicale’s fireworks, during our fun Festa del’uva. Seems almost disloyal to praise another festival, doesn’t it? When viewed from a distance of a couple car lengths from where they were being set off, filled me with sufficient awe. Totally tilted me off my axis, mouth wide open and making ooooh noises as every explosion seemed to be the finale but then, no it just got wilder and bigger and louder by the minute. What a rush. And yet . . . . they say, ”that weren’t nothing, wait till you see the famous ones from Panicarola. Probably just watch them from the balcony here as Panicale looks over Panicarola.” Finally! Some people with a real fireworks tie in. A solid, logical reason for lighting off some major explosions. The story is that some local fishermen, years ago were out doing it the easy way. Easy, but typically illegal way. The way where you throw a bomb overboard, it stuns or kills everything in the vicinity and you go about scooping up what looks good to you. The local equivalent of the ever-popular ”jacking deer” with spotlights as rumored to be practiced in the wilds of Maine.

Italian fireworks festival in central UmbriaBOMBS AWAY
So it seems that the ”fishermen” were really just ”mad bombers” doing this bit of illegal activity when one of their fish bombs went off a bit prematurely. In their boat. Living to tell about it seemed such a miracle, they quickly founded a church, of course, of course, and named it Our Lady of the Bomb. And now, there is a full blown festival of fireworks in honor of those original bad boys and their fireworks. Being saved from aborted criminal activity seems fairly far off the list of usual saintly miracle reasons to start a church. But, who am I to decide when to start a church?

After coffee and that quasi-religious moment, I walked over to city hall and shook hands around for a minute to remind them I’m here and to not forget about my part of town. When are we really going to repave our street? Wasn’t that supposed to be LAST fall? No pressure, just saying I saw the poster with last year’s date on it and you know, wondered. Again.

Back at the bar, one of the town’s Australians needs a doctor. He does what I do when I have a problem. Go to the bar and tell Aldo, the bar owner and head barista. Steve looks like he might have a a good case of oh, I don’t know, leprosy or something. Nice rash, Big Guy. Whew. Someone is wicked allergic to something. The whole bar votes and decides Steve needs to run off to Pronto Soccorso. Pronto.

More September soon to come. Stay tuned to this spot on your dial.