Two daughters. Two weddings.

we did two major Italian weddings in 36 hours. In two different towns in two different provinces, even.

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Well, yes. But then again, no. Yes, in the sense that both of “our Italian daughters” did visit us and we did go to two Italian weddings that same week, but no in the sense that neither of our daughters got married during that week. Not that we know of.

But still, we did two major Italian weddings in 36 hours. In two different towns–in two different provinces, even. Yes we can. And yes we did.

SIENA, Tuscany. We had a lovely cup of coffee with our Italian daughter from Torino, Roberta, and her boyfriend, Stefano. Then they took off for a day cruise of Lago Trasimeno and the islands. And Midge and I fooled around in the garden and did laundry in the hot sun and the next thing we knew OMG it’s time to leave for the long awaited wedding at Spannocchia. Our friend Erin Cinelli is the director of the foundation there and we’ve known her since she was Only This Tall.

They started this wedding right, with an awning over tables of Prosecco. Then a beautiful sunset ceremony at one end of the rose covered villa. The bride and groom said their vows and strolled through their friends and family as newlyweds and the wine began to flow and the food too. Very fun food. They had an almost happy carnival like device that fried every kind of fresh vegetable, zucchini blossoms on down. They were served in paper cones for your walking and talking pleasure.

I said sunset didn’t I? But somehow it was really more than that. This was a nuclear powered sunset. Must have been something in the air this particular week because once again on this trip we were brushed an unreal shade of gold. Literally living in a gilded age. The perfect end to a perfect day. But wait. There’s more? A sit-down dinner in the lemonaia and white tents stretched out around it. The tables were set up in white linen and a sort of tan tapestry brocade on the chairs. But the luxury of this was wonderfully broken by the skirt under the linen flowing down to the ground. It was made of burlap. Just the right textural touch. This IS a working farm. Sure it’s a farm with villa and chapel and towers from the 11th century, but make no mistake, Spannocchia is a working farm. Texture was a knockout. And so was the infinity of food and good company.

Wedding dinner in tuscan limonaia complete with swallows. In the air. Not on the menu.
Wedding dinner in tuscan limonaia complete with swallows. In the air. Not on the menu.


We happily shared the gastronomic moment with resident swallows who flitted in and out the whole night like they owned the place. Which they really do. After all, they are here saving the world from bugs one mosquito at a time, every day of the year. I’ve given up mouth-open dives off castle heights hoping to catch fresh nutrients on the wing. You can be in the same room with them. They aren’t like gulls. We really don’t compete for the same food. So they were just lovely visual ornaments for a dinner that needed none at all.

The bad news was we had to duck out early, pre-dessert even. Being Italy, that meant about 10:30 or 11. About that time we decided that if we really were going to go to another wedding that started first thing in the morning – in another province, we’d better get going.

Working our way across the lawn we came up a set of stone stairs to the door of the villa, whose hallways we’d follow out and to our car. My hand touched the massive studded doors and I said to Midge, “Oh, we have to stop a moment. Look at this. Look where we are.” A sky full of lucky stars. Cypress in full moonlight. White roses reaching almost to the top of the villa’s roof bathed in the light. The musicians were just out of sight around a corner of the tent, we could see their silhouettes through the white canvas and could hear the squeak of the accordian and the whine of the violins tuning up for the dancing on the lawn that was about to start. And that we’d be missing. Drink it in, lap up as much as we can. Appreciate every moment.

Now lets get in that car and get back to Panicale before the next wedding starts. Like most of our “rest and relax” times in Italy, we’re having fun as fast as we can. Stay tuned. Wedding Two is the next blog.

Che Festa! An Umbrian Wedding Feast

Simone and Lorena are married. if you have ever been to Panicale you would remember Simone. He’s our buddy at the bar, Aldo and Daniela’s only child and heir apparent of Café Bar Gallo. That is the institution that is the lifeblood of the town. 500. as in dinner for 500.
che festa.

italian wedding day in Umbria

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy–Simone and Lorena are married. You saw their engagement announcement right here. And, if you have ever been to Panicale you would remember Simone. He’s our buddy at the bar, Aldo and Daniela’s only child and heir apparent of Café Bar Gallo. That is the institution that is the lifeblood of the town. They serve good coffee and good cheer and spread caffeinated sunshine all over all of us who wash up on these shores, local or foreign.

Lorena is from Sicily and they were really married a week ago there in 80 degree temps. People in the wedding party were swimming in the Mediterranean! But now everyone is back and taking the celebration local. So they had a dinner for a few friends.
wedding food in Umbria, Italy porchetta etc

Imagine having five hundred friends over for dinner. It happened at La Lupaia outside Panicale for this “wedding of the century”. Food and wine flowed in great waves. Nine piece band with a singer and a brass section. The party started at seven pm and by 7:20 when we got there, there were already tons of cars and people. And food. What starts at seven in Italy? And on time? Now we know. Big old wedding feasts. Aldo met us at the gate and told us to get eating and get drinking. Several entire hogs were raised for and met their demise in service of this event. Aldo introduced us to a big, cheerful mustachioed guy named Mario who raised those pigs specifically for this. And so, without further ado, we literally stepped into hog heaven. Multiple porchettas, sausages at the grill sending smoke column up into the sky. Cooking staff in matching shirts, red aprons and traditional straw hats were carving up a storm and trying to stack up as many panninis as they could in advance of the rush.
table talk at an italian wedding in Umbria
Oh man, look what we have here: fagioli. Beans with bacon! Wow. At the bar this morning (yes, back at work already) Bella Siciliana Lorena was saying “Beans? Everyone was so excited they were on the wedding menu and I thought why ARE people going on about them. Beans, at a wedding? OK, fine. THEN I tasted them. I GET IT NOW.” Killer beans. Sausages were really something too. Made locally for the occasion. Mai ho mangiato altre piu buono. And the pasta, and plates of meat of every stripe. Huge tables full of everything being served by staff of La Lupaia, but they ran steaming plates of it around until you couldn’t see straight. Yes, Lupaia means wolf’s house named for the nature preserve the restaurant is set in. And wolf was almost the only thing not on the menu for this feast. Four foot long loaves of bread or three foot wide round ones, were hollowed out and filled with panzanella that rang Midge’s Panzanella Meter.

OMG. Just shoot me! You would have to probably shoot me to keep me from going back for more or saying yes to the servers forcing their wares steaming hot upon us. The prosecco servers were doing a fine job distributing their wares as well. Plus red wine, plus white wine, plus water plus stop stop stop, ok, one more. More food than truly imaginable and it was stellar.
wedding cake at an italian wedding in umbria, italy
And the cake. So good it caused a fine feeding frenzy. The same bakery that makes Bar Gallo’s daily pastries made this snow white mountain of a cake. Now, Italians have always seemed to me, to be passively disinterested in dessert as a food category in general. I’ve always thought they could take it or leave it. Not last night. No leaving anything during this special night. It was like a lifetime of cake deprivation had set in, prisoners rushing the gates at liberation. A cake stampede you had to throw yourself into at great risk of life and limb. Huge wedding cake stripped to nothing in moments. Other cakes without number being cut and carved as fast as the servers could fling them. Oh, the plates of cake were flying. Everyone came away smiling. All good. The happy couple beaming, their friends and family excited for them, the party a massive success and an inspirational way to start a married life.


Hmmm. What is that ringing noise? What time IS it? Where’s my sunglasses? Going out for coffee this morning I’m like what the heck. Lost in the confusion of the evening. Sunny out when we arrived more like midnight when we got home. Slept till ten when door bell rang. Sorry. Maybe later.

Went back to the location of the party (scene of the crime and all that) and one person who seemed to be the boss of the place knew exactly where my glasses were. Favorite glasses. Office present. Found them and found a new baby lake with walking paths by the party place.

Wandered home (a mere five minutes) and the town around our gate was choked solid with every kind of motorcycle or ATV ever made. Wonderful show. Does the party ever stop here?!
motorcycles, planes and flags oh my, an umbrian, italy weekend

And we haven’t even talked about the Santa Margherita festivities yesterday in Cortona with hundreds in costumes and pomp and splendor. Nor the airshow in Castiglione del Lago. What a 24 hours. We’ll serve up other photos and stories later. Simone gets his story first. He was up till who knows when last night and was slinging coffee by early light and when we came in said “when will we see the pictures on the blog?” Since he is the purveyor of the life-giving nectar around here I’m thinking he has the lowest number and is being served right now. Complimenti a tutti!

A presto,

See you in Italy!


Happy Independence Day

They celebrate their Fourth of July on April 25th. The Ruzzolone is an afternoon event and that leaves the whole evening free and we might go catch the beginning of the third leg of this festaday. The two day Santa Margherita festival begins tonight in nearby Cortona.

independence day in italy, umbria

PANICALE, Italy, Umbria–They celebrate their Fourth of July on April 25th. It is much more recent history here as this is their Liberation from the big war. Hard to imagine this languid, pastoral countryside covered in rack and ruin and everyone scared and hungry. Try not to think about it but there are monuments in every town, so the liberation from those dark times is something to celebrate.

When we pulled our Rent-a-Fiat into a parking spot under the countessa’s palazzo yesterday, this poster was under our car’s nose. I’d been describing to our friends at our design and marketing company how Italian sometimes use the exaggerated photo dot as a graphic element so this got my attention first. But the words worked very well too. We used the same big dots devise in the art for Paul’s delivery Ape. Photos just arrived!
Due Fratelli Ape Art
This festa today is a good example of the feared multi-tasking that we sometimes get ourselves into, it’s a festival three ways that we know of. First, Independence Day and supposedly everyone is off work. But there was Linda and family in front of their store as usual. Yolanda too. “What the heck?” was how I believe I phrased it to them. Oh well, there were 30 camper trailers washed up on Panicale’s hilltop, full of happy campers. Until they found out they were about to starve because it was a holiday. So, Linda implied they HAD to open for that opportunity. I do confuse easily, may have this right or may not. All I know is everything is supposed to be closed and it is all open.

Second, Happy Easter again. Sort of. Remember this time last year when we talked about Pasquetta, the day after Easter, when the magic of Cheese Rolling happens? It is called Ruzzolone. Big Wheel. Wheel of cheese tossed merrily down a course at the edge of the town. I guess Easter this year was a three day storm of biblical proportion. People’s eyes go wide with respect as they describe mighty rain, wind, snow, lightning. Basic end of the world sort of unrelenting storm to celebrate the coming of spring. That was over a month ago. They put it way off in hopes, eventually, of finding a peaceful spring day. And I think they have found it.

Still quiet in town. The happy couple Simone and Lorena are back from their wedding in Sicily where people were swimming in the balmy mid 80’s temps. Everyone came back sunburnt and full of seafood. The renewal of their vows is tomorrow and that is all anyone can talk about. There will be dinner in a club out in the country. For the entire town. Dinner on the house. As Simone’s father, the legend that is Aldo, as he says, “from six till . . .” and then he just makes that horizontal slow drift off of his hand. Can’t wait.

But lets talk about today. The Ruzzolone is an afternoon event and that leaves the whole evening free and we might go catch the beginning of the third leg of this festaday. The two day Santa Margherita festival begins tonight in nearby Cortona. Midge’s middle name is Margherita, the nearby piazza where we park is Piazza Regina Margherita. Our house is more or less officially Casa Margherita. Midge’s favorite flower is her name sake the Margherita (daisy). We have bought a ton of flowers from the also nearby Daisy Brothers nursery. Filli Margheritti. So, we’re fired up to do a bit of celebration in Cortona as well. Gosh we haven’t seen our friends Nando and Pia in Cortona for, what, two or three days (have written that trip up but not put it up. Forgive sequence aberration) so it would be fun to get up there and get in the middle of that festival too. We’ll see how that goes.
lavender buying trip to angela's greenhouse
I’ve got a bunch of gardening to do in between events as well. Planting beds of lavender which we love. Yesterday, we skipped Margheritti Bros and went to lovely Angela for our lavender. Do you believe the view from her green house? That is Lago di Chiusi past the petunias.

Happy Festivaling

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

In Breaking News from Bar Gallo . . .

When we are in Italy you can usually find us there on Via del Filatoio. Our end of the street is quiet, reserved, great views, but it is mainly “four cats” and us. But the other end of the street – that is where the action picks up.

PANICALE, Umbria, Italy – The wheel turns. Another revolution. And a new generation comes to town. To our favorite town in Umbria, Panicale. I have to admit it is not only our favorite but it is also our “home town”. When we are in Italy you can usually find us there on Via del Filatoio. Our end of the street is quiet, reserved, great views, but it is mainly “four cats” and us. But the other end of the street – that is where the action picks up. We often find ourselves referring to the piazza as if it were an extension of the long standing village café/bar. This bar is the first place open in the morning and the last place to crank up its awning and stack up its chairs every night. We say, “Lets go to Aldo’s” and we sort of mean lets go down to the piazza. But have a cup of coffee first. All the stores, restaurants, the hairdressers, are right there. So is leaning against a sun-warmed stone wall or licking a gelati sitting on the fountain’s steps waiting for friends to come by. Just part of the texture of the place. And the focus here, as in many villages, is the village café by the gate to the city.

In the winter months, the bar closes one day a week. Monday. And it is a Blue Monday when that happens. Lost souls sit in the sunshine in plastic chairs in front of the locked metal doors looking for all the world like there has been a death in the family. I suppose I am exaggerating a bit, but people do know when Bar Gallo is closed, and the piazza seems a bit quiet, off balance, disoriented. I can promise I am all of those things and more.

love is in the air in Umbria, italyThe café is often just called “Aldo’s” (a photo of it is captioned like that on an internationally published calendar we bought here in Maine), but its true name is Bar Gallo. And it really is a Gallo family affair. Aldo and his bright, shiny penny of a wife Daniela seem to have been there smartly dressed six, and more often, seven days a week for more years than we’ve been coming to town. They were legends when we washed up on these shores ten years ago. Sister-in-law Leyda comes mid-afternoons and gives them a break. And more and more the last couple years, Aldo and Daniela’s son, Simone, has been swept up into the business. Building us our lifesaving morning cappucchinos, noonday proseccos, late afternoon gelatis and our after dinner, after theater, after whatever, night caps. Bailey’s and Orzo and Goodnight, Goodnight. Sogni d’Oro indeed.


And what is this? Simone’s found a honey. Look at that rascally smile on his face. Is that the cat that ate the canary or what? It looks to be young love in full bloom. Young and wired. And not just from the high test cappucchino. We may all be way up on top of a hill in Umbria but we’ve got broadband. And that is where Simone met his lovely Siciliana Lorena. On the internet. Isn’t technology grand? If you saw Simone in June you knew there was a Lorena countdown. At the bar, every morning. “Only five days.” “Will you be here Tuesday?” “ Four days. She’s coming Tuesday, you know”. And the next thing we knew, there she was behind the bar, dishing gelati and local gossip with the best of us – like she’d been here forever.

If a medieval village of brick and stone can be said to have a heart, it is surely its piazza. And the heart of Panicale’s piazza is right there under its striped canvas awning, right between its ancient marble fountain and the old town gate where the drawbridge used to be. And now Bar Gallo not only has a great family history, it also has new blood. The beat goes on.

Complimenti, complimenti pure. And happy congrats to Simone and Lorena and Aldo and Daniela and everyone sitting in the sunshine of Piazza Vittorio Emanuele.

See you in Bar Gallo,


Tripping through Italy

DON’T EVEN ASK— It is true, I have been out of town. And out of touch for awhile here. Had a computer “issue”. Then a digicamera “issue”. But here is the deal: I’m back and have I got stories to tell!.

Remember all the crazy stuff we did when we first got to Italy? Before unpacking? Early trip to Rome airport to meet a flight that came in seven hours late, boating and swimming in the lake, dinner out with friends on a lakeview hilltop almost as soon as we got off the plane and on and on? It settled down somewhat after that. The trip to Rome gained us a brother and a sister in law. We grabbed them, their bags, headed for Panicale and life continued to be very good.

Part of our company’s welcome was finding a bouquet of our neighbors’ roses on the dining room table. It is interesting to me how this works out. Our neighbor’s garden is right in our face, we don’t have to do a thing and our windows stay full of flowers. And don’t they reflect nicely on the glass table.? The funny thing is that looking out the windows on the other side of the house, it is five stories down to the tiny street below. And on this side of the house, we have roses – above us. That, right there, is when you know you are on a HILL.


One of the first things we did when we got my brother released from the clutches of the bad Rome airport and safely in peaceful Panicale, was to stop into Masolino’s and ask Andrea if we could come for dinner in a couple hours. And maybe sit on the tiny geranium bedecked balcony. Please? It was pretty dreamy. On our way there later (it is two steps from our house) we went the other and opposite direction. Typical. But it is only an equal two steps out of our way and we had to sneak over that way because we were just drawn Pied Piper like by the music we could hear coming out of the church’s open doors. Earlier, sitting in the garden, they were warming up for this night of classic sacred music by banging out You Can’t Always Get What You Want on the massive church organ. So we had to at least take a peek. We tiptoed in, took a couple pictures, stood and listened to a song or two and then slipped out for dinner al fresco al balcone.

From our perch on Masolino’s balcony we could see another in a string of outrageous sunsets over Lago Trasimeno and Villa LeMura. And we could hear totally different kind of music coming from the Villa. Less church. More modern, jazz-ish music. Perfect dinner music to complement the balmy night breeze there on the balcony. Andrea says it is some rich foreigners’ wedding and that there are people from all over the English speaking world for the event, England, New Zealand, America, South Africa etc. The villa is maybe a half an hour walk away but the night is so still and bright and clear that the sound travels well and the music is gently all around us and occasionally you can hear hints of laughing happy voices mixed in with the music.

Our company almost asleep in their pasta bone tired from the long long and many hours late trip from Iowa. They thank us for picking them up at the airport and trundle off to bed. Except. They no more than got into their quiet room when BABABABOOM. Are we under attack? No, the fireworks have started. From the wedding at the villa below the town. Because they are starting low and we are sitting higher on the hill, the fireworks were straight in our faces and the Booming was echoing off the church and the colors of the explosions washing over the church as well. The wall of explosion went on uninterrupted for maybe half an hour. Except when they were punctuated by the town bells ringing eleven o’clock. Lovely. Wonderful. Magic. Unreal. In between salvos you could hear the wedding guests ohhhing and ahhhing. Wiley and I were leaning out our windows doing the same as the finale went on and wonderfully on. From his window above us came the laconic very Roger voice saying You really didn’t have to go to all this trouble just for us, you know. Ok, NOW, good night, weary travelers, good night.


They are all good nights here in Umbria. This sunset by the lake was from the night before. At a friend’s house above Lago di Chiusi. And what you don’t see is lovely too. In all of these sunset pictures, taken at this time of year, you have to quickly sketch in the swallows doing their twilight acrobatics.

I could sit. And watch. Forever.

See you in Italy,