Red Ferarris, Pink Wines & Flying Apes

There was a buzz going around town. And it wasn’t just apes (bees) around the flowers. But I did hear it first in the garden and ran up to the kitchen for the camera. And just was able to snap the last of a gaggle of classic bikes with side cars on tour through our street. Always something fun and unplanned. And ho-hum (yawn, stretch) is that another Ferrari?

In “the interest of full disclosure” as they say, you know I’m not in Italy this very second, right? I write there as fast as I can between events and then sort everything out when I get back to the states. I know, I know, a blog should probably be of the very moment. I get busy having fun as fast as we can, one adventure linking seamlessly to the next and somehow no time there to do the technology dance required to put it together. Sorry if there is any confusion on that. All stories are from mid April to mid May. If I were really current I’d put in something about the Azzuri going down in shootout against the evil empire of Spain. Sigh. We now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

apes in italy, ferarris at the gates

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–There was a buzz going around town. And it wasn’t just apes (bees) around the flowers. But I did hear it first in the garden and ran up to the kitchen for the camera. And just was able to snap the last of a gaggle of classic bikes with side cars on tour through our street. Always something fun and unplanned. And ho-hum (yawn, stretch) is that another Ferrari? I’m sitting on a bench in the sun leaning back against the warm stone wall swapping lies with Orfeo when a red Ferrari whooshes into the piazza, and parks a few feet from us under the tower of the castle. From Pisa it appears. Orfeo has an old yellow Fiat. I’ve got nothing. Well, a rentacar. But he doesn’t raise an eyebrow. Will I ever learn to be cool, and not impressed by shallow things like excessive displays of wealth? Ignoring the specific car he says the newly redone Boldrino restaurant is pulling in big crowds from all around. And he’d heard good things about it as well. Ok, add it to the list. So MANY things to see and do. HEY! Where’s MY Ferrari?
cantina turina wines from lago di garda
Midge had gone to Siena for a few days but I wasn’t moping around all by my lonesome very long as the Ape man, Paul Turina showed up soon after Midge left with his son David. They are from Maine and were staying with us after his wine importing visit to his wine growing cousins from Turina Cantine outside Lago di Guarda. Up past Verona. Oooooh, look what he’s brought us. He knows we’re suckers for his rose wines and here he comes bringing us a case of all things pink. And a couple of the pinks are bubbly. Pink Spumante Brut a Rose’ from the Cantina Turina. And a Gropello no less. Chiantis? Vino Nobile di Montepulchiano? That’s yesterday news. We’ve got a table full of Gropello and fizzy roses.

In a fun turn of events, the very day Paul was here, his tiny 1982 Piaggio Ape was being fitted with our graphics for his Due Fratelli Importsdelivery vehicle, back in the states. Come carina questa Ape Turina. Is that The Best Italian Wine Delivery Vehicle? All the Ape excitement in the air (you can feel it, admit it) gave us a theme to their short visit. Plus Midge wasn’t there to stop the madness. We about half think an Ape might just fit in our cantina’s double doors. Wouldn’t that look good blocking the clothes washing machine AND the bathroom door? So we were measuring our doors here, and surely confusing any observer as we measured the alley leading to the cantina door to see if we could make the corner and force our way inside.

measuring italian apes in umbria


Armed with metric measurements of our cantina’s door way and a folding wooden metric “yardstick” we attacked Panicale and the surrounding villages like Vikings looking for plunder. We measured every Ape we came across. And there were many. Excuse us signora can we measure your tail gate? They do come in various styles, sizes and shapes, but all of them seem to be at least several cms too wide. The barn in Maine? Allora, we keep measuring. There was one full race screaming red Ape buzzing around town that we could never get to land long enough to shoot, let alone measure. You’d hear it coming, see it and gone before you could get your camera out. That Ape can really fly. The smile on that teenager’s face? Priceless.
spannocchia and their cinta sienese belted pigs
Enough fun for one day. We ate dinner out at Masolino’s and the next day I rode up to Spannocchia with the Turinas. We checked out the Cinta Sienese prosciutto in training and had fun with a big group eating out that night in Siena, just ten or twelve of us. Then the next day, Paul headed north to catch his Milano flights and we headed south back to Panicale with Stephanie. She’s another Mainer, the chef that owns the Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth. And she’s been staying at Spannocchia and recharging her highly tuned chef batteries sampling all the fine taste treats they have there. When you go to Spannocchia, ask to take the pig tour, the one that ends with plates being passed around the table is the best one.

More fascinating details to come, stay tuned

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

A day in the life: a Friday in Umbria

San Feliciano is Right smack on the lake. Boats tie up along the park and then there is one small street faced with one seafood restaurant after the other. We like Settimino’s there but today we are so going to sit in the park under an umbrella and watch the world go by. There is a nice stand with all kinds of food, bathrooms, and oh, my God look at the Gelati.

PANICALE, SAN FELICIANO AND BEYOND — Don’t want to waste this one sleeping so I ducked out quietly and headed to Biano the Barber’s hair cut and gossip salon. I saw him yesterday – almost finished with a client – and I said, give me two minutes. Came back and he’d given me two minutes but he’d given the chair to a guy who was positively gloating to have aced me out of the chair. I win I win. His smile seemed to be saying. So, that was yesterday. I pouted and determined to be first in line today. Now, where is that silver haired rascal?

While I’m waiting for him, I get to watch the town come to life. It is only 8 AM but it is already a hot one in the sun of the spot I’m guarding. In this corner of the piazza there is nothing but sun right now. Being Friday, there market is in town and big trucks are unfurling tent awnings off all sides and setting up racks and racks of stuff I can’t imagine buying. Tshirts and dresses, mud boots, hose clamps and flashlights. Mostly clothes related things.

There goes Andrea from the restaurant on his new new Bee Emmay Vooo. BMW to you. That is him in the photo on his restaurant balcony later in the day. A grocery truck stops in front of me and the driver loads his groceries into a tall wire rack with wheels. And then pushes it, noisily up the cobblestone street. Street is too small for his truck. Its about a block to the store. He really has to lean into it. I did that one time for our friends in the store and it is a picturesque way to break your back or bring on a heart attack. Hey, this guy is young and he does it several times. No fat on him anyway but wow what a workout.

Uh oh, big tall friendly guy in swim trunks and a tshirt is strolling my way, aimed right at Biano’s door. MY Biano’s door. the one I’m staking out. The iron gate is up and usually that means he’s open. He smiles and points at the door and says Chiuso? I shrug Sembra. Closed? Seems to be. He walks off and a couple minutes later returns with long arm draped around diminutive Biano. Am I aced out again? But no. Fabrizio (the tall guy in trunks) and I both tease Biano about being late and then we launch into the cutting of the hair. Hour minimum chair time.
Fab, as he says Americans all call him, stands right by my chair during the process and we just all have a fine chat. Wicked nice guy, low key, engaging. He leaves and Biano quickly says, Harvard MBA, third largest cement company in the world, his company, lives in Cairo, digs classic cars, has the best racing green Jag and some other fun stuff. The guy in the swim trunks? Just when you think here we are, tiny town stuck up on its hill in the middle of Umbria.


Had coffee once I had it twice I had it once again. totally equal opportunity coffee buyer. My second cup was at Masolino’s and I noted that all the family was there which is rare in the mornings. They’ve all been up till whatever hour closing the restaurant and here they are again. Ran home to tell Midge this is the time to give them the pancake mix. So we ran back bearing Bisquick to go with the Maine Maple Syrup we brought them last trip. What you should know and appreciate is that Italians are pretty blasé to indifferent about food if it isn’t Italian. That is my experience. They are wild and passionate about Italian food. Other foods? Not so much. Well, hey, I like Italian food too but I really need some Morroccan or Mexican or ’Merican Apple Pie every now and then too. Not Italians. Not in my experience. If momma didn’t cook it I don’t need it seems to be the song they sing.
One exception: Maple Syrup. They don’t know what the heck that is or what you are supposed to do with it but if they get a taste of it their eyes light up like Christmas. That was fun and got all kinds of cooking stories going.


And then we got up from our panicale pancake round table discussion and had to really get cooking because Midge needed to see Corciano. Our friend Kiki said that if we had only seen the industrial strength shopping chaos part of Coriano we had missed something. She said the town proper is way up above the commercial sprawl and was really worth the trip. Some times we get all involved in fussing in the house or the garden and forget to be the curious tourists we should be. Resolving to be better tourist in future.

Now, it’s the usual time problem that confronts people shillyshalling about getting long haircuts and drinking too many cappuccinos and chatting on and on: too late for lunch and too early for afternoon shopping. What to do what to do.

Lets head to Corciano (lower right corner of Lake Trasimeno) but stop before that in San Feliciano for a snack to tide us over. San Feliciano is Right smack on the lake. Boats tie up along the park and then there is one small street faced with one seafood restaurant after the other. We like Settimino’s there but today we are so going to sit in the park under an umbrella and watch the world go by. There is a nice stand with all kinds of food, bathrooms, and oh, my God look at the Gelati. JeemenyWhiz! I, I, I, don’t believe that collection of swoops and mounds and ice cream flourishes in every color in the rainbow. So we munched something but our minds we clearly on the gelato prize waiting in that display case. Hugely engaging latin music playing, boats gently rocking at anchor, bikers biking, breeze rustling lightly in the leaves ok, enough of that get me an ice cream cone!

I swear I may only be partially right in remembering how they spelled my new taste treat. Agreto ? di Sicilia. All the citrus of Sicily in one. Pink grapefruit, oranges and lemons. So I had that with cantilope melon flavor. Well! I am a new and better person now. Don’t take my word for the taste or the spelling, get over there and get you some! We must have mindlessly passed the time there, just being, just hanging out for a couple hours. True happiness and hardly any expense. Quiet day in the park. And like I said, it had bathrooms. Always a plus on a tourist itinerary.

Eventually we tore ourselves away and got down the road and up the hill to Corciano. Damd, that town is PINK. Wheeeow. Good pink, pale pink admittedly, but still pink. The stone in every town is a different shade. Our town is more brown. Some like Cortona are golden hued. Corciano is bunny pink. Looks good on it.

Very well kept and pleasant place. And there must be a town bounty paid on pink flowers. Every balcony and doorway was awash in pink geraniums and other fun flowers. They all clearly got the memo. Lots of neutral jasmine too. The whole town is very much of the same fabric and it works. Must have been a bit religiously zealous at some point in time as it was solid covered with churches and bell towers. Now, I’m from Iowa. Well, born in Florida. But FROM Iowa. And if we have two church steeples in town that means we have two churches. Two denominations even. You might have your Presbyterians over here and your gasp oh no you wouldn’t let your daughter marry one of those Methodists over there. Ok, but see, those are two nominally different churches.

This is Italy. Rumor has it that all the churches here have the same label. Very Catholic brand. So how in the world can I stand in one place in a town the size of a strip mall and see seven or eight bell towers? Each one attached to a church-sized and church-shaped stack of stones? Mystery to me. But sweet mystery because it is scenic as all get out. But really. Fund raising must have been a bit less userfriendly than it is today.

We had to leave sometime. So we did. Someone had been looking for the perfect porchetta sandwich so we remembered that on the way back out of here we wanted to go by one and we would take a photo to show them. Well, now I have the photos but don’t remember who cared. But choices? You bet. Play Pig? Or King Pig? I not sure which of them we liked best – but there were a whole lot of police cars around Re di Porchetta and more streaming in as we went by so I’m betting I would try that one first.

Back at home we had a couple hours of pre sunset garden duty. Reading, totally distracted by the changing colors of the long lazy sunset spectacular. How many days can we just go wow, look at that color, did you see those swallows, are they extra bright colors tonight, are the swallows wilder than usual?

But today for the third day running the cherry on the ice cream cone has been the Renaissance flute music wafting, no I mean it, real wafting, over the garden. Its just too, I don’t know, wonderful? for words. It comes and goes out of lower limits of your ability to hear.

One minute very soft but clear and obviously and then it wafts away and you think Did I really hear that? And then there’s more and it is just so nice we had to go check it out at the source which isn’t all that hard as the church is only right over there, a part of a block away.

They were doing a course and some students were inside walking around the Baroque interior lost in their music and every now and then one would step out to a stone bench overlooking the lake, just outside the door, and practice a little piece for awhile and then duck back into joint the group. Even when they were all inside the door was open and we could hear them at some almost subconscious level.

Then it was to dinner at Elida and Guenter’s. Perfect way to end a perfect day. Picked up some dessert wine like the bottle that we had enjoyed together the other night at a restaurant, and strolled out to their place outside of town. Midge had been there earlier in the day. Cleaning squid? Yes, so she claimed. Here’s my rule, if Elida cooks it, I’m eating it. No questions asked, even if it is squid big enough to have eaten Capt Nemo’s cat. Elida worked over the big industrial range and the rest of us drank her wine and sat in the garden and told lies and watched the chickens pecking whatever they peck in the lawn. And then when the sun had set, we went out on their stone veranda under the grapes with little Christmas lights in them. Strangely and totally wrongly these grapes are somewhat my doing and I’m kind of proud of them in an abstract sort of way. Blind leading the blind will actually work out a certain per cent of the time you might say. This would be one of those times.

Our neighbor Carlo in Maine told me I had to plant some grapes and to raise them right I had to feed them lard. What do I know. I didn’t even want any darned grapes so I didn’t care if they choked on the lard or grew world class Vino Nobile. He kept coming over and bumming beer from me and waving his cane at me till I agreed to DO RIGHT, mind him, get grapes and don’t forget the lard. And. I have serious grapes. Thanks to lard evidently. So, a couple years ago Guenter asked me if I knew anything about grapes and I told him Yes, Lard, Yes. And he, in this land of ancient vines and ancient vintners, took my Iowa/Maine word for it and is presently covered with grapes. Lard. Who knows. So we sat under the extra healthy carnivore grapes of Panicale the Christmas lights twinkled, glasses were filled and clinked, the painted ceramic plates were passed, and we ate some darn stuffed squid. And a potato salad with fish in it. And because we cleaned our plates, we got to have a lovely semi-freddo made with another guest’s fresh apricots. The stars came out, the time went peacefully by and we walked home without saying hardly a word. We were tired little teddy bears. Passing through the gates with home in sight and the tower bells striking twelve I thought You know, I’m pretty happy to be right here right now.