VOLO ! The Flying Bruno

“Bruno, hey. No heat. What do you think? What? yes, of course, I’ve tried turning it on.” He and I are leaning on the glass pastry counter, having coffee at Andrea’s Masolinos in Panicale.

“Bruno, hey. No heat. What do you think? What? yes, of course, I’ve tried turning it on.” He and I are leaning on the glass pastry counter, having coffee at Andrea’s Masolinos, in Panicale. His usual “sacco di cose da fare” list seems especially long today. He’s being roundly teased for his wardrobe and is taking time to model for his latest invention: a found piece of string just over his tummy holding the left and right of his suspenders together. High fashion on low budget.

“But, Bruno can you help me, can you take a peek at the silly caldaio?”

He holds up a finger says “technico,” pulls out his telefonino and using the same finger, starts punching numbers in to it. Walking out into the street for better reception, he is talking loudly into the phone saying “This American here in Panicale says he doesn’t have heat, can you come look at it? No, it doesn’t have to be today. Ho un chiave e entro come un uccello. (I have his keys, I can fly in and out like a bird.)”

And with me, at least temporarily out of his hair, Bruno’s off to his next adventure. Running off to left, toward the piazza, while I’m heading to the right, to the house.

A few paces apart, I turn and say to his back “Grazie per il cafe!” He doesn’t say anything or turn, or break his stride, but his silhouette raises one hand in mute acknowledgment. A few more steps, each going our separate ways, I hear him calling me. He’s still in the dark shade of Via Filatoio, but he’s almost at the piazza. The bright sun is there, behind him. He raises his arms up and down, parka flapping. He’s laughs and says


Slow Food? Funny, it doesn’t last long on my plate.

“Oh, waiter, table for sixty, please. And could we sit outside?”

Cavolfiori does these marvelous dinners all around Italy. this one was at Spannocchia outside Siena.

This is where I was a couple days ago. And a world away. May Day Celebration of Spring and an Italian Slow food event at the 1,100 acre non-profit AgriCultural estate of Spannocchia. It is just outside Siena in Tuscany. And only an hour from our house in Panicale, so we find ourselves there often. There are several mini videos below of the festivities so you can enjoy the sights and the sounds of Springtime in Italy.



Cavolfiori does these marvelous dinners all around Italy. Check their site to see where their next event is. Come hungry.



Farro, asparagi, fave e uova.
With Bianco Toscano 2008 vintage grown right there at Spannocchia. As were all the other ingredients for this course. Farro is an ancient type of grain grown here that has been rescued from obscurity in recent times. They told us there is something about this grain’s tassels that tickles their tusks or in some way bugs the wild boars and those cinghiale won’t eat farro any more than kids will eat broccoli. Big benefit / built in defense system for farro.
Isn’t it interesting how they sliced the asparagus long ways and made it look so different? At a glance it seems to be something else. It looked fantastic and with a hint or two of lemon it just took you away on this sunny day.

Crema di borragine, ricotta di pecora, with more white wine
Borage is basically a weed, harvested by a New Zealand lady staying at Spannocchia. We sat with her at the table and went on a plant identification walk she led after. Oh, the blue flower is the borage flower. And the green is the warm borage colored, potato-based soup you pour around the sheep ricotta. Sure. We eat like this at home, too. Pretty much. In our dreams

Coscia di Suino Cinto nel forno a legna insalata di campo.
Full leg of Spannocchia pig (The famous cinta senese. They are black with white belt like a Belted Galloway cow) slow cooked in a Spannocchia wood oven with Spannocchia wood, too. With a red 2007 Spannocchia wine

Brownie, yogurt e mele
and there were tiny flowers involved, tiny pale yellow flowers. If I knew what kind of flowers they were, I’ve forgotten now. Note number of wine courses. Forgive, forget.

2006 Vin Santo dessert wine from Spannocchia.
Very light, very drinkable. We did. See above.

The whole meal presentation was a thing of great beauty. Afterwards we went on a forage-for-borage walk-about with the lady from NZ who sat with us. She harvests whatever greens she needs from whatever woods she’s in. She was an inspiration. And a font of logic. Made it all sound so reasonable. Biggest tip on eating weeds? Shouldn’t have to actually say this but . . . tiny bites. And, remember “no mushrooms please.” Just don’t. We ate tons of what she had harvested at the meal. That crème of borage soup was wonderful and bright, bright green poured around fresh white ricotta and garnished with the ever helpful borage’s blue flowers. Startling colors of white blue and green on my plate. I was so surprised it was warm and served in glass pitcher. I’ve got to get out more. Really, I do.

The photo of the camera is mine. As are the clunky videos. The luscious food photos were by our buddy Paul Avis. He is a pro. I’m a pro too. But just at eating all the food they put in front of us. Slow Food group was doing this food fest two days in a row there. All sold out. We just barely got squeezed in. glad we did. What a day. Roses in bloom up to the top of the third story of the villa. Wisteria all about, lemons on the trees in pots, grass was green green. Fine, fine, memorable moment

About the camera that sat on the table next to me. Its owner was Francesco, a Roman from Naples he said. His wife from Sardinia. Tan, with slicked back, pewter gray hair, black wrap around sun glasses, articulate, wry sense of humor, very sociable, laid back. I can see him contentedly filling his pipe from its leather tobacco pouch. I want to be him when I grow up. Just dying to be cool I think Mick Jagger might say. For contrast, I had my rats’ nest of iPhone, italian cell phone, Flip cam and old pocket camera. All of which are disposable at some level. He had this show piece. The word pristine does not do this 1957 Leica justice in any way. He bought it new. The case gets polished. The camera is more pristine than the case. And he had little accessory leather covered parts. Separate but right at hand. Right there. How does this happen?

Anyway, this is a case where the camera does tell a story.

The mid afternoon in seventy degree breeze and the sun and the food made for a day that was off the tracks good. I was like Where ARE we? I knew but it was a kind of out of body experience.




And to go backwards, just in time. Let’s talk about the May day celebration at Spannocchia that happened just before the Slow Food lunch. Everyone in folk costumes, bandanas, woven hats with flowers in them, and even one with tomatoes. hopefully fake. There were flowers in baskets, flowers growing up the walls around us. No question it was spring and we were all glad to see it and celebrate it. Farm manager Riccio’s merry band started entertaining at ten in the morning. From Spannocchia they headed out and entertained in towns all over the region. Coming home at ten that night well fed and can you say well drunk? Not really but just happy, lubricated and probably ready for a long night’s well deserved sleep. The videos here are a snatch of folk singing and then a quick view of the chaos around the snack table right after the singing but pre lunching. The fun never quits at Spannocchia on May Day.



Ok, party on,


Coffee Rules – Italy


cappuccinoHere’s a link to The Rules of Coffee Ordering and Drinking in Italy. Saw it on a Twitter and think it says it all. Italians take coffee so rightly seriously. And of course if you want a cappuccino after lunch or dinner, and it makes you happy, by all means I say, Do It. If your barista was to give you a look, which they won’t, just shrug and say “Scusi, sono straniero.” That covers oh so much ground. Use it freely in almost any situation. Italians will happily accept our money. Along with our foreign idiosyncrasies. Goes with the territory?

Except maybe for Daniela.

Reminds me of a late night, coffee-like story:


We’d had a fine mid-day eatathon that day. And how we could even consider eating again, I do not know, but after an extended siesta/nap/fall-down-and-be-quiet thing, we did a walking tour of Panicale and then had a most excellent but light dinner at Masolino’s. Sans wine. But, then, to make up for that momentary lapse into the dark world of abstemiousness I found my lips forming the words “Nightcap, anyone?” All hands were raised and we wandered post-dolce to Aldo’s next door and had the Wiley Traveler’s Special. It tastes like a nice, late night coffee would. But it is coffee imposter, caffeine-free Orzo, brewed up like a cappuccino and topped off with Bailey’s. How easy was that to say? Orzo with Bailey’s. You might think so. But you’d be wrong. At least in Panicale’s Bar Gallo with Daniela in charge on a busy night. Elegant Daniela, who suffers fools hardly at all, decided I needed to be taught how not to drive her crazy. After a couple false starts over a week’s time, (practice, practice) we got me to parrot these words back to her:

“Orzo corretto con baaay-lees in una tazza grande”. Say that, like that, and you’ll get your foamed and frothed up Orzo in a cappuccino-sized cup with good shot of Bailey’s. At least from Daniela. I’d think in a place we didn’t know we’d have to specify. Maybe add “fatto come un cappuccino” or such. Be that as it may, we had to go around the horn a bit to get to this Daniel accepted version of ordering as I thought the “corretto” part would mean Grappa would be added. Turns out coffee can be “corrected” with any liquor of choice. I dare say if you don’t specify you will Get Grappa’d.

Regardless, it is as fine a sleep potion as I’ve ever come across. And a marvelous way to end a marvelous day. About a euro in your local bar. Sogni d’Oro/Orzo to all and to all a good night.



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, well trained?

UMBRIA, TUSCANY, Italy— Be not afraid. Trains are no big thing at all in Italy. In fact, trains and training are a good thing. Look at these happy trainers. And why shouldn’t they be smiling. There are no Audis and Alfas bearing down on them. They can sit back and gossip, doze off, read their guide books, just be one with their inter tourist. The Italian trains have had a lot of of practice over the years and they almost run on time and they are a good value for the money. And the time saved over parking and driving as such makes them well worth the price and the effort. Being Italy, they do things how they do them there. Not always how we would do them in the perfect world where we ran everything. And we just need to get over it and adapt. The best part of the Italian train system is the Web site for Trenitalia Get it? Treni (trains) + Italia (Italy) = Trenitalia. Very nice contraction. Anyway, everyone in Italy takes the site as nearly gospel and refers to it constantly. It seems very dependable. Go to the English language section and it too is pretty bullet proof. Someone with English for a first language is vetting it and it seems to be entirely lucid at all times. Even for us foreigners!

Can you say “andata”? Can you say “ritorno”? Can you say “andata e ritorno”? That means round trip. Ask for it by name. If you are coming and going. Or just say “solo andata” if you are just going and never coming back, for example.

If you get a ticket for a specific time and date and it is in a cabin, just read the ticket carefully and you will see a train car and cabin and seat number. In the example shown here, to get back to our house in Umbria I was going from Rome to Chiusi on May 26th, leaving at 2:09PM. 14.09 in Italian or military time parlance. With this particular ticket, I was on train 586, car 6, seat number 53, in the middle of three seats. It makes sense after awhile.

We generally don’t get cabins but just get a generic ticket to Rome. Trains leave for Rome more or less constantly and you can go whenever you want with the generic ticket. Tickets are good for a long time.

Here is the only tiny trick. Which I conveniently forget fifty percent of the time: stamp the ticket. Stew. Are you paying attention? Like I said, the ticket has a long shelf life, but because of that if you don’t stamp it and the conductor doesn’t check it, you could use it again. So, they want you to stamp it in one of the yellow boxes that are all over all the stations and the platforms too usually. Either end, just slide it in the slot and it will make a bit of click and there will be really faded almost out of ink impression that only conductors care about. Says the date and time you stamped it. Then, after this stamping, the clock is running and the ticket/biglietto is only good for a finite period of time. An hour? I do not recall. Something like that. Just stamp it before you get on and everyone goes away happy. I’ve seen Italians who “forget” to stamp their tickets get yelled at. Of course, they yell right back. The conductors usually figure silly foreigners are hardly worth the effort so we play the poor blissfully ignorant tourist depending upon the kindness of strangers in a strange land and they just sigh meaningfully at our boneheadedness and write Who knows what the heck on the back of my ticket and shove it back at us with a world weary sigh of what is that? Pity? Disgust? Oh, well.

Do as I say. Not as I do. That seems to be the message here, doesn’t it?

See you on board,

See you in Italy,