Fall for a parade.It’s grape harvest time in Italy

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy – Ah, yes, it is that time of year. La Vendemmia. Grape harvest time in Umbria. Most fruits, nuts, etc are gathered and you use the Raccogliere verb in Italian when you are gathering. La raccolta di . . . Not grapes. They have their own word: Vendemmia. And in Panicale, surrounded by vineyards they also get a parade. And a week of festivities. There is music in the air, and garlands of grapes and vines hung all through the town. Surprise bodegas of arts, crafts, olive oil and of course, wine, open up all over town in cantinas that seemingly exist only for this once a year purpose. This celebration goes back to time immemorial. And the parade sometimes surprises us with its pagan-ness. Which is a fun surprise – that here in modern Italy, that ancient rascal Baccus is very much alive and well.
wine harvest festival in Umbria in Italy
Katia, our friend at See You in Italy, is a broker, but first and foremost at this time of year, she is a proud, flag-waving citizen of her hometown of Panicale. She took these pictures of this year’s parade last week. Thank you for sharing, Katia! Looks like a good time was had by all, as usual. How far wrong can you go when parade floats are required, yes required, to dispense vino? It’s a wonderful life, isn’t it? The floats are fun and full of wine and puns. My favorite combination. They say “word jokes” – Giocchi di Paroli. A play on words.

A couple shown here include vinquisisismo, versus inquisisismo, a Vino Power Fiat 500 and my favorite concept this year: a VinoMat. Which, unlike a typical bancomat (ATM) that merely dispenses filthy lucre, this one dispenses healing quantities of primo vino. Life is good. Midge says she wants one in our house.


The parade is so good and the town is so small. What to do, what to do? The solution is classic. They go around the town walls once. Usually very decorous and PG. But what goes around, the first time, isn’t always what comes around the second time. If it is going to go ribald Act Two is when that will happen. Keeps the crowd on its toes. Sometimes it is obvious visually but often its just that the play on words changes for the worst sort of a one, two punch and it makes you want to have all your vocabulary at hand. And stand near your Italian friends who will ‘splain it to you. I’ve had Italian friends almost gasping for air at the audacity of some of the puns that were going right over my foreign head. But if you go, and you see someone doubled over laughing at a parade float, just ask.

Harvest festivals are just another reason to fall for fall in Italy. It is such a delicious season all around, weather is usually stupendous, summer’s frenzied crush is over, people are bubbly and effusive in the bounty of the harvest. And it’s not yet time to dig into the heavy lifting of the olive harvest that always seems to be racing the coming winter’s clock. All in all, the best of times.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland


rose colored glassesMONTEPULCIANO, Tuscany– OK the calendar says Fall. Late Fall. I checked. And the lazy November sun was punching in later and checking out earlier – every day. But! When that sun is out and about, so are we. We spend our days strolling about in short sleeves. And our nights sleeping with the windows wide open. And according to my Plant Diary, it was exactly like this last year at this same time. In Maine, the colors have run away and left us with shades of grey. But here in Umbria? Things are just starting to get their autumnal glow. When we got to Umbria on the 24th of October, I noted the left behind vines of recently harvested grapes were still rather green. The next week they went momentarily golden and now they are turning nut browns and drifting down to the still warm ground.

Almost insincere shades of lush bright green cover hillsides. And flowers mix with red vines climbing up and over walls in the village center. And there are bright blue skies overhead every day. It all puts me in high spirits maybe higher than on a summer’s day. I’m tempted to stay home and laze about. But it is just too nice. You have to be out. And coffee at “our local” is not a bad idea either so we’re off to the piazza for a soft launch into the day. So many people to meet and greet, so little time. This morning we saw at least Paulette, Susan, Mauro, Gigi, Biano, Adelmo and was that all? Light day but excellent.

the bellringer of Montepulciano, TuscanyToday we are blessing Montepulciano with our presence and buying a few Christmas presents while we are at it. The town is abuzz and people are in their Sunday best. Which is maybe as it should be since it is Sunday after all. Looks like there are more than a handful of End of Summer neighborhood festivals, a chestnut festival, public dinners (you can hear and smell the sizzle of sausages being grilled, mid-day bells ringing, there is accordion music in the air outside one festival. Way too many stores are open so our progress is slow as we roam up and down the steep, stone streets. We dropped in the Osteria di Borgo that Paulette spoke of in glowing terms, and it is way up at the apex of the town. The better to see your view, Montepulciano. One of a million vantage points with panoramic vistas here in this crows’ nest of a town. After awhile, incredibly, you just start to take the fabulous overlooks in Montepulciano for granted. An embarrassment of Tuscan riches? Yes, indeed.

And the best part? The crazy clock on the village tower says it is LUNCH TIME! And we are in Italy. And, and, we are eating outside. In November!

La dolce vita, in fatti.

so many good things to eat Italian and Tuscan style


We had many things at the Osteria – including a rosé Prosecco that I really liked. But then, there really isn’t a bad Prosecco. Not in my unsophisticated way of looking at the world. I expect Prosecco to be good and it almost always is. But the cheese plate we had here and the ribollita WOW they were both real Dear Diary entries. Montepulciano is famous for its Vino Nobile but they love to Say Cheese here, too. And we had an especially nice collection on our sampler plate, and the sauces to dress them with were serious fun, too. Green, red, mahogany brown, they were representatives from all over the color wheel. The green pepper sauce you could sort out for yourself but the almost purple black one, I had to taste it several times before I caught its onion origins. There was one spicy, spicy one I really liked but really never pinpointed the principal ingredients. The ribollita soup, on the other hand – it was brilliantly obvious what it was made of. Perfect texture, not just a big old mush, which I also like just fine but this one was visually attractive with bright primary colors clearly defined the full range of the Vegetable Kingdom. Did I say it was great? Hey. Hey, get your own bowl!

write on stew. right on about ItalyHUGS AND KISSES

To hug or not to hug? Being from the Midwest, it is a curious thing to me – all this hugging. When I was growing up on the Great Plains, physical contact was pretty much limited to football practice. In my life to date, I’ve gotten along fine without an overabundance of social hugging. Well, I think I have. Who knows if I would have been a better or a worse person with more or less hugging?. Even though I’m a native of a relatively hug free environment I’m finding I’m rather OK with all the hugging going on around here. Maybe the times are changing. Is it me or are people, even in middle America and New England, huggier that they use to be? Hard to put a stake in the ground and compare. Here, in central Italy, it is really almost not all that optional. You may have noticed. You see an Italian friend, their eyes light up, their arms open wide and the next thing you know you are sure enough hugging. And there is the option when a handshake becomes, of all things, the double kiss option.

So, now look. . . if you are going to get sucked into this whirlpool of hugs and air kisses I say you may as well do it Right. Literally. See the kissee’s head? You go to the right. Your right. Airkiss. Then go left. Repeat airkiss. But it all starts to YOUR right. It’s not the end of the world if you don’t go to the right first, but it does throw everyone off a bit. So get out there and practice, practice, practice. Kiss. Kiss. XXOO

See you in Italy,


Happy HALLOWEEN.It came early in Umbria this year?

No, this isn’t Halloween, but a WileyReport recap of the Grape Harvest Festival. Who knows what the theme was this year, but it was crazy costumes and wine-dispensing floats as usual. Just another day in the neighborhood.

No, this isn’t Halloween, but a WileyReport recap of the Grape Harvest Festival. Who knows what the theme was this year, but it was crazy costumes and wine-dispensing floats as usual. Just another day in the neighborhood. Digiphotojournalist: Paulette of Frisco.

PANICALE, Umbria—After all the excitement of the Road Trip to Rome, the night before- we are ready for the Festa!!! Yeah, go party people! But it is chilly, and rainy and party people are dropping like flies. But Celia and Paulette and Daniel and I are set to go to the cena- and go to the cena we will!

Its absolutely packed and after a long line with loads of women coming through with heaving trays shouting permesso! Are appetites are totally whetted and soon we are sat down on at big plank tables and for 20 odd Euro we are getting bruschetta’s with beans and crostini, garlic and olive oil, tomatoes . . . spaghetti with wild boar sauce . . .grilled pork and veal . . .salad . . .bread . . .wine . . .wine . . .wine . . .oh sorry got a bit lost! And finally grapes with blueberry pound cake and vinsanto. Well . . . that’s wasn’t hardly enough and after all that we made our way to Aldo’s where we met up with Anna Maria a Danish art expert and former dentist and indulged in Cappuccino’s, Proseccos, and Limoncellos . . .yes completely overkill . . . but absolutely incredible . . .oh and gelato!!! We also took many a turn at the Pesca…a charity draw type of thing where you pay a euro get a scroll, and get the prize that matches the number on the scroll . . . we ended up with an ashtray and matching Limoncello glass, an air gun, a fanny pack, a change purse, and a kitchen knife- so some excellent finds!

On Sunday it was a bit rainy and fireworks and parade were cancelled: (BOO!) But, oh well, we had our little blue feed bags that hold wine glasses, that you can get in town to sample local food, wines, fabrics and art. Well, of course the wine was phenomenal. The ostrich meat and salted beans could make you weep… and the biscotti and pecorino with honey just well . . .left you speechless. Now you’d think Paulette and Daniel and I would have been fine with all that, but we had reservations at Masolinos- and you just don’t break reservations at Masolinos- especially with Steffania’s deserts- no way! So we sat in a warm little food hole eating — just about everything! The taligata (thin slices of beef covered in arugala and parmigian) as the absolute show stealer, with the umbrechelli (thickly rolled pasta) with peperoncino, garlic and tomatoes, an easy second place. Wow! And then another bout at Aldo’s- of course- it wouldn’t be Sunday night of the Festa without say a grappa and maybe a cappuccino with amaretto, right?!

These fine festival fotos are from the famous Paulette of San Francisco. The parade was put on when the weather cleared, a few days after the originally scheduled, but rained out date. The float themes are always puns on the word Vino. Vinocchio instead of Pinocchio, etc. but what the Cadillac, discomania theme line was, no one seems to remember. Still researching. Of course with the observers all dutifully on the grape, their testimony is somewhat suspect anyway.

Later that same day, word in from the coast: The Vampire? The Castello of Count Drac-uva. Dracula=Drac-uva. Uva means Grape. Ugh. Italians are less prone to puns than some cultures. But they will stoop to them and they even have a word for them: Giochi di Paroli. Word Jokes. Still waiting for resolution on the word joke based around the disco theme.

Umbria in Autumn. What to do, what to do?

PANICALE, Umbria— In the previous blog (below, scroll down) I wrote about my intention of seeing the Folk Traditions Center in Citta della Castello this fall. OK, fine. But what else will there be to do in Umbria during the season? Wait till your see the list I just got in an email from our good friends Francesco and Alison at Umbria Rentals. You will be in shock how much there is to do — just in and around the town of Panicale. This Umbrian Calender of Events, below, is totally typical of the level of cultural activity there in every town all year round. At some level we know that. But to see some of it all written down in one spot, it does seem overwhelming. They have waaaay too much fun there. As my wife’s sweatshirt says “Life is Too Short Not to be Italian”. Of course, like most Vreelands we are not Italians, but just forever wannabes.

Francesco’s web site, from the very dawn of the web era, was the reason we first “discovered” Panicale and shortly thereafter discovered we could not live with out it. As the Eagles said in Hotel California: We could check out any time we wanted, but we could never really leave. And sure enough, the next thing we knePANICw we were buying a house. So, beware. Umbria may be habit-forming! Here is their autumn 2005 calendar:


September 10, 14, 20, 24
Moliere’s The Miser (L’avaro, Panicale’s theatre)
Ever wondered what it is like to be transported back in time a few hundred years, take your place in the box of a 18th century theatre, restored to its former glory, and enjoy a few hours of comedy by Moliere with Panicale’s theatre group. This is not to be missed!

September 11
Renaissance Music, San Sebastiano Church (Panicale)
Come and listen to renaissance and baroque music enjoying in the San Sebastiano church, where typical background curtains have been replaced by a fresco by Perugino, himself.

September 15 – 18
La Festa Dell’Uva (The Wine Festival, Panicale)
This is another event not to miss, as the various quarters of the town (neighborhoods) compete to make the best float as they give thanks for the years grape harvest. Parades are on Friday night and Sunday evening. As you may imagine the wine flows and the evening feasts are plentiful, so book your tickets early.

September 18
Paciano e Sapori (Tastes of Paciano, Paciano).
At a five minute drive from Panicale, Paciano has its own food festival, specialising on tastes of the palate –Food and wine, that is.

September 20
Classical Guitar Concert, (Panicale)
A locally organized String Guitar concert will be held on the theatre.

September 24 –25
Festa Dell’Agricoltura (The Agricultural Festival, Panicale)
If Umbrian farming interests you, you can find out all about it here as the latest technology is proudly on display and stalls are set up with local produce.

September 25
Concerto Iberiano, (Iberian music concert, Panicale)
At 9pm, in conjunction with the agricultural festival, do nor miss an Iberian music concert with music and instruments from the 900s. It will be held in the charming St. Agostino church.

September 28
Concert of Organ Music, (San Michele Church, Panicale)
At 9pm, come listen to Francesco Cera, one of the best organists in Europe take over the San Michele church with his music.

October 1
Voci e Strumenti (Contemporary music, Panicale)
A concert of contemporary music for voices and instruments will be held in Panicale’s theatre at 9pm, blending in modern sounds in ancient settings.

October 1 –8
The Festa Della Castagna (The Chestnut festival 1, Piegaro)
If you can’t make Panicale’s Chestnut Fest then you can eat chestnuts and drink Mosto a few days earlier in nearby Piegaro. Two festas no waiting.

October 23
The Festa Della Castagna (The Chestnut festival 2, Panicale)
This one speaks for itself. The fires are lit and the chestnuts shared around amongst friends with the Mosto, the fermented grape juice which is used to make wine.

* Special Offer for Last Minute Bookings

Between now and April 2006, we are offering everyone who books less than 4 weeks prior to arrival a 10% discount on our rates, with prices as little as 388 Euro for the first week. The condition is that the whole balance is paid in full when booking. The offer is not valid for the Rocca, which has an excellent last minute discount, or the Masolino Hotel, which already has ridiculously low prices. To see our last minute availability, check out our calendar at :
Umbria Rentals

Combine your stay with one of the winter events described in this news letter taking place where Umbria, Tuscany and the Lake Trasimeno meet.

* Special Offers for 2006

We have now started accepting bookings for 2006 with some apartments filling up fast! We will be raising the prices on some of the properties for 2006, but for all bookings made prior to November 1st 2005, we are accepting this year‚s prices. Low season discounts of 20% up to April 9th 2006, and starting again October 15th 2006 are as always in place. On top of that, for all seasons, there are incremental discounts ranging from 10% – 50% for stays longer than a week. Visit all our short term properties at
Short Term Umbrian Rentals


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.