Home coming. Soon

MAINE, LONDON, ROME, PANICALE, PADOVA, TRIESTE. Well, that is how we see it now. Leaving tomorrow, Thursday for London to visit our Wiley. See the sites there, something about a play with Danny DiVito. And then Sunday all three of us hit the easyJet counter and wing our way to Rome. Non vedo l’ora.


ci vediamo in Italia e

See you in Italy,


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.



the art of living the moment. brought to us by friends in Cortona who are masters of the moment. oh, the food, the wine. the lovely walk about. we need more walking. too much fun eating.

When last we met we were in Siena at the Tenuta di Spannocchia. We met our friend chef Stephanie of Sea Grass Bistro in Yarmouth, Maine there and headed to our home in Umbria. But first, we were going right by Cortona. Let’s swing in there. Note: no I am not in Italy right now. I sketch out stories in Italy and put them up when I’m back. That way I get more adventures per minute while I’m there.

SIENA, CORTONA, PANICALE– Cortona has always been so civilized. But sometimes you almost can’t get there from here. Now they have a new parking garage subtly tucked into the hillside, lower down the hill from the usual top spots. It would be a bit of a straight up hike but you can cheat and take an escalator up there to “Centro.” But on this day we didn’t even need that and just cruised into a good spot like we owned the place. See, Stephanie, this is how we do Cortona. Now, lets go see our friends Nando and Pia at Bar Sport. “Hey, Luca!”, we yell at their son who is almost the first person we see on the street. He’s on a mission so we only talk for a minute, and he says his parents are up at their bar and he’ll catch up with us there. We keep moving that direction against the current of the always-busy main shopping street.

But oh, no. Luca didn’t mention the bar was closed today. Their day off we’ve learned is Friday and today is Wed. We peek under the sad, prison-gray, half-pulled-down metal doors and said “C’e nessuno?”
Street seen in Cortona, Italy. Day in Tuscany
Yes, you Italophile film buffs, did catch that cinematic reference. The opening line of Di Sica’s “Garden of the Finzi-Contini” is “C’e nessuuuuno?” As you remember there, all the tennis playing teenagers are swirling about the gates of the villa waiting to get in. But here at the gate to Bar Sport in Cortona what, to our wondering eyes, should appear but our own version of Babbo Natale, Babbo Nando. He’s a happy, non-judgmental Santa. Cortonese through and through so I’ve always suspected he doesn’t really care if we’ve been naughty or nice.

We all hug and I offer him, Mr Barista, a coffee. This could be good. He always buys us coffee because he has the bar full of beans right at his finger tips. He and Pia seem to think that since we brought their folkloric team of flag-spinning, crossbow-shooting Men in Tights to Maine a decade ago that they owe us. The reverse is true in our mind. But, look, he says “buon idea” to our coffee shop thought and HE’S going to coffee with US and points us back down the street we just walked in on. We’re marching arm in arm nodding and joking with all the citizens in our wake. Because Nando owns the central bar in town and seems to be Capo of every event, when you are with Nando in Cortona it is like being with a celebrity. The seas part and we are soon drinking espressos and eating to-die-for chocolate macaroons. Poor Nando. He’s swapped his one day off for this day because of a festival that starts on his regular day off. And here comes the tourists. Us. No warning, we just show up.

Can’t blame them for not wanting to be closed Friday as that will be a great day for their bar. It is not only Italian Independence Day for the whole country, it is also the festival of Santa Margherita, the patron saint of Cortona. We’ll be back and will cover that in another episode.
doing a walk about in Cortona, Tuscany, Italy

We sip that frothy coffee, my favorite indoor (and outdoor) sport, talk of things of great import and stroll back to dark Bar Sport to find the ever-chic Pia. She is often decked out as the queen to Nando’s king in local events. We have dropped in out of the clear blue Tuscan sky ON THEIR DAY OFF and without a blink of an eye, or a minute hesitation spelling “oh, crap” they are all about maximizing this moment and are planning what we can do together. Oh, please Zen Master, give me the ability to ever be this full of life and style and grace. Whatever they had planned and deserved for their day off is off the table. Gone forever. So. Here’s the new plan. We’ll walk, we’ll talk, we’ll see sights, we’ll come back to our now “private bar” for prosecco and looking at photo albums of past festivals. Then, when it is sufficiently mid-afternoon, we’ll do a lunch, then more walk and more talk. How’s that sound to you?

Some part of me hates them dropping everything on our behalf. And, in our defense, we have had this miracle happen before if we unintentionally drop in on their day off. So, we were quite totally fine coming on a Wednesday for a coffee, a hug and back out on the street. Fridays we do on tiptoes because they have given us their Fridays until we figured out that is what was happening. Not premeditated at all.
the hunter restaurant, Cortona, Italy. il cacciatore served us an ocean of seafood

Yes, yes. Lame old joke. Regardless of intent, this was a spontaneous in-the-moment joy to spend the afternoon with Nando and Pia and their two grown sons and bar partners. Very cool and relaxed. Except for the bill-paying part. I wish I could win this battle more often. At the coffee place we went AT MY INVITATION by the way, that owner was all “no, no, you are with Nando, your money’s no good.” Later, at the restaurant, the charming owner again said “ I can’t take your money” Pushing past me Nando said “they only take Cortonesi money here” and that was, unfortunately, that. They did, we note, let us be the boss of the money when they came to our town. Complicated system when you don’t always get some of the cultural rules in play. But even with that, Stephanie and Midge and I had a grand time of it eating an ocean of seafood. The restaurant was named “the hunter/cacciatore” but in my mind it could have easily been “pescatore.” I can remember at least clams and shrimp. And eel! With more wine and more grappa. This is lunch! What were we doing drinking Prosecco before lunch? Give me strength. But you can see why we did have to treat ourselves to a lazy siesta as soon as we all got back to Panicale.


How we could think of eating out again, ever after that fine mid-day eatathon, I do not know, but after that 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 caffeine-free Orzo brewed like espresso 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 Bar Gallo with Daniela in charge on a busy night. Daniela, who suffers fools hardly at all, decided I needed to be taught how not to drive them crazy. After a couple false starts over a week’s time, 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. Went round the horn a bit to get it as i thought corretto meant 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 another marvelous day in paradise. One euro in your local bar. Sogni d’Oro/Orzo to all and to all a good night.

N.B. if you want to jump in to the Cortona lifestyle as a native, we did just put a brand new listing up on our “This Just In” section.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Learning the language of Dante in the land of Ben & Jerry

Some of my favorite memories are Jenn and I, together, being able to hold a single conversation with some unsuspecting Italian.

culture vultures decend on Perugia, umbriaCiao, Ciao, Amici,

As the Wiley Traveler I have had the good fortune to collect a bunch of Wiley Friends over the years, from Maine to Switzerland to Italy and London. One of my oldest and dearest friends, Jenn Corey, is also one of the best travel buddies I have yet to find. From drives-across-America, to giggle-fits on the Cutty Sark in London, to Panicale on its Umbrian hilltop, Life is always an adventure with Jenn.

I remember returning to Panicale after a long weekend in Florence with Jenn and it felt like: A) three days had been turned into three jammed packed weeks and that: B) That the Rapido I had just gotten off of had run me over – yes, always an adventure.

I was spending a year in Umbria when Jenn was in Florence doing a pre-architecture term through Colby College by way of a Syracuse program. Every day that I was there visiting her she would (literally) drag me out of bed as soon as the sun peeked over the stone window sills and then she would proceed to walk me miles and miles from this cheese stall to that mountaintop monastery, to those Bobolli gardens, to that secret hole in the wall restaurant, to God-knows–where. And back.

At night we would go to members-only jazz clubs or funny kitchy disco-teques. And between the two of us we would stumble merrily through conversations with just about everyone we would meet. And we met a lot. From Sicilian boys (and their sisters!) to the lovely Valentina who rescued us from a lecherous Aussie by spilling beer on us and swooping us away to the ‘bathroom’ which was really the free drinks and good conversation end of the bar that she and 20 other Fab Florentines were inhabiting. Yes we can get ourselves good into trouble.

We got A for effort, but Language was always an issue. Some of my favorite memories are Jenn and I, together, being able to hold a single conversation with some unsuspecting Italian. My half of this two headed being had a better vocabulary (at the time) and Jenn’s half had the grammar; so I would start shooting out five or ten words that made some sort of descriptive sense and she would rearrange them and interjecting prepositions. Maybe two heads actually are better than one. Maybe it only works with a certain amount of wine.

cgelatiagogo.jpgHopefully, now, a few years later, I have gotten better at Italian. But with Jenn, there is no question. After graduating from Colby with an Art history/English double major she decided that perhaps architecture wasn’t her bag after all and that English might well be. And to go to grad school for English – you have to know two foreign languages- oh the irony!

Well, between getting ready for grad school and planning to teach abroad, Jenn found the Middlebury Language Immersion program. This is the poorly kept secret of all college language professors- the ultimate quick fix set against the backdrop of a Vermont summer- go figure.
It is a non linear and maybe completely unexpected way to become fluent in Italian. But is there really a bad way? Regardless, Jenn’s Italian has come out- dare I say it- better than mine, and in very short order. This fantastic program, replete with its exciting/daunting absolutely No-English Policy is rightly famous. And Jenn was nice enough to share her insider’s view and we thought we just had to pass it along.

Ciao, a tutti,

Wiley Vreeland


MIDDLEBURY, Vermont — Aspetta! Unhand that mouse! Credi sulla parola, you are in the right place. My cursor is taking us back to the states, but—as I discovered this past summer—really not so very far from Italy. In fact, given the rolling hills and aggressive pastoral pride a Tuscan could feel almost at home in rural Vermont (trade pecorino for cheddar). And, as it turns out, on Middlebury College’s small liberal-arts campus, could carry on a conversation quite nicely.
italy goes to vermont. italian immersion classes
It may seem counterintuitive to look for Italian immersion in perhaps the only state to rival Maine in cultural diversity—we can’t count the cows—but every summer for two months Middlebury works to convert a collegiate bubble into a small international globe: something akin to Disney’s Epcot for the academically-inclined. The much lauded program enrolls around thirteen-hundred students from a mélange of backgrounds, a sprawl of future hopes and dreams. And by week seven—waking in bed with your textbook from the night before (come si dice: osmosis?)—more often than not those dreams are coming through on an Italian frequency.

But many conjugations before you start dreaming in translation, there is much work to be done. Living the everyday in a foreign language can make even reality seem somewhat less than lucid; it’s amazing what the inability to name things does to the mind. However, when I got desperate enough, I found myself a regular Petrarchan poet—reeling off fourteen lines just to court one elusive word (I can picture it on the vocab list: it was between the Italian for “to do aerobics” and “fishmonger”), and after dealing with my problem for about eight phrases, I usually probed a creative solution. But, as a beginner speaker with a severely limited verbal toolbox, sadly, sometimes the mot juste just would not come—usually because I was working in literal translation. But how to purge all those lovely, native, idiomatic phrases that made my writing—for instance—so blog-worthy? It was a genuine, if incomplete, process of deconstruction. And eventually I got my stubborn English self out of my own way and did my best to tinker with the Italian I knew I must have…somewhere.
more italian immersion. learning the language of dante in the land of ben and jerry
Philosopher and sometimes lingual theorist John D. Caputo said, “Whenever deconstruction finds a nutshell—a secure axiom or a pithy maxim—the very idea is to crack it open and disturb it.” And what better way to take apart your own language than to chink away at it with another? Right? Unfortunately, I am allergic to nuts. But when in doubt in life, food is (almost) always an good place to start. What goes into your mouth may be the single thing more important than what comes out of it. Hence, I found out how to get back to basics at the language school dining hall. Everyone always has something to say about food, particularly—you may have heard—Italians. And the constructions are usually simple. The Pizza Regina pleases me. The gamberetti with the faces still on them do not. I would really prefer a Florentine bistec. Even the occasional idiom from the other side of the isle: the pasta was usually way past al dente—count yourself lucky if it stayed firm to the fork. So while even the mensa had the best of intentions (replete with green roof, in fact…oh, Vermont), sometimes the better classroom was the mondo vero.

And it was in the spirited moments outside classroom walls that my Italian came forward to realize itself—Middlebury knows what it’s up to. The program offered a host of extracurricular distractions: movie nights, theatrics, tango lessons, soccer games, our very own Sistine facsimile from the resident fresco expert. No doubt many students found their Italian between their toes on the tango floor. However, I have two left feet….or, case in point, ho due piedi nello scarpa (two feet, one shoe).

italy goes to vermont. italian immersion classesFor me, all it took was an improvisational step outside into the verdant Vermont summer and you couldn’t help but comment. Italy has its own graces, but here the sights (green, heaving mountains), the smells (manure that makes you remember where dinner comes from), the sounds (OK, maybe bocce practice, maybe birds) gave you a sense of immediacy that I couldn’t help but think of as Italian.

In a childlike embrace of experience the passato remoto tense felt a little bit less important, and, thus, left you more free to remember it. With good company and a good picnic blanket I was able to say all that I needed, without stress or urgency. The word sentire issued in full force: to taste, to smell, to hear, to touch—to feel.

So many more words in English than in Italian. Striking that a single verb could mark the spot where such distinct, refined senses coalesce; deliverance from a muddled mind back to the world that makes those thoughts worth thinking. Complex categorization simplified by basic need. Watching La Dolce Vita (1960) to suss out the Fellini of Amarcord (1973). Looking for Italy in Vermont and, on some level, actually finding it.

Jenn Corey, 2007


Thanks Wiley, thanks Jenn! And now that you are all so fluent, lets get you all on a plane to Italy already! Think of the times you will have!

Ci vediamo, a presto

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

The Wiley Traveler vs Really Slow Food:Food she found crawling out from under a leaf in our Umbrian Garden

UMBRIA, Italy— Escargot have always intrigued me. My first memories of them are warm. Everything is warm. I remember it being summer in Maine and sitting on the porch, the rough wood under my outstretched legs and the warm sun cutting shadows across the tops of those baby legs. I remember bare feet and my Aunt Ginny sitting in a chair above me, laughing. Then my mother would back out of the screen door calling something into the house and carrying a dish in each hand. And I was excited. Somehow, even at six, I new that escargot was crazy. For starters we ate them off the special round white dishes that were for boiled artichokes only! Then just to add to the mayhem we prodded them out of their shells using the minature ceramic ears of sweet corn shaped prongs that were only for, uh – ears of sweet corn! Now add to this that my big brother has told me that these little chewy buttery bites were SNAILS?! Do Mom and Dad know? They’re really giving us snails? Is that ok? I just kept my mouth shut and hoped they didn’t notice what they had done while I savored the warm melty garlicky snack.


Flash forward to Italy almost 20 years later and here I am after a few spring rainstorms with a garden teeming with lumache (snails, in Italian). They must be rappelling down our back wall. After a rain they are everywhere. Chrunch. Opps. Another one bites the dust. I have heard from people in town that you can prepare them, and again I am intrigued by these cute little buggers- I can prepare snails myself can’t I? Well, lets just see about that.

I had thought about DIY snails for days when it became necessary to sweep the garden steps of the drifts of Wisteria petals; but in every step corner are groups of lumache and without thinking I grab a bowl and don’t stop until the bowl is full and I have about 45 snails. It’s only then that I realize I have no earthly idea what to do with them. I leave the bowl and race up to the computer to figure something out.


There are actually lots of websites with recipes for lumache. And they all agree that before being cooked they must ’be prepared.’ This involves a fasting, so the snails can get any bad guck out. Normally this takes around two weeks, but as my snails have been in a garden without pesticides it will only take six day. ONLY six days! Ok, didn’t I tell you these suckers are crazy?

“The first three days the snails are kept in a white non-acid box with drainage and fed only dill and thyme for flavor.” Well, after trying wooden fruit boxes and baskets that the snails keep climbing out of; I find a site that says that breathable plastic is acceptable and easy to clean. So I settle on a plastic cutting board covering a plastic strainer and set on top of a flower stand. Ok, now that the escape routes have been covered what about that dill and thyme- ok yes – for escargot that’s great, but these are lumache and my garden is filled with sage and rosemary- so I guess that’ll do.


For three days I take the snails, wash the strainer and each snail individually and give them more herbs to eat (I feel slightly like the witch in Hansel and Gretel, but I placate myself with the knowledge that otherwise the cats get them or they’ll be thrown out with the garden clippings). From the 4th-6th day I continue the daily washing, but stop including herbs.

Then comes Sunday- the day of reckoning. I am following the traditional garlic and butter snail recipe, but can someone tell me why something so ultimately simple has so many steps?

First, the snails are boiled for 3 minutes. Then you remove the meat from the shell (interestingly most of the meat still holds the spiral of the shell). The meat is then left for an hour in cold water saturated with salt, while boiling further disinfects the shells.

During this time I prepare the “Court Bouillon”. (Editor’s note: there must, must be a reason for this title. Do not know what it is. The Wiley Traveler is traveling right now. Will ask her to explain the royal terminology later) I will be simmering the snails in a mixture of: white wine, water, carrots, onions, garlic, shallots, sage, rosemary hot peppers and the kitchen sink, for an hour. The mixture is beautiful to look at and lovely to smell and I wish I knew something else to do with it, besides boiling snails.

While it is simmering (mind you this is now onto the 3rd almost 4th hour) I am creating the garlic butter, by kneading finely chopped garlic, shallots and Dijon mustard into sticks of butter. Once that is done I place a small amount of the butter inside each of the empty shells that are now on a cookie sheet. I then place a single lumaca in each shell and with each one I realize too late that I have pushed too much butter in the shell and that I have no real idea which one should go in which and the butter keeps squidging out everywhere. But once I finally get them all in I cap each one with more butter. The tray is then placed into the oven (along side crusty bread I have toasting and vegetables I have roasting) for all of 3 or 4 minutes, long enough to make the butter bubble and the kitchen smell like heaven.

And then after 6 days and 6 hours I sit down and eat my snails. I’m on our terazza in Italy, not our porch in Maine. And I am not laughing as I take the first bite- I am praying that it was in some way worth all the time and effort- and feeling as though my crazy gene has won and understanding why they cost so much at restaurants and here goes the first bite… and… they’re good. And yes, after a week of preparation they are slightly anticlimactic, and I need the ooohs and ahhhs I get a few weeks later from my family to really send the point home; but they are good, really good in fact. I wish they were a little chewier but I’m probably the only one who wants anything chewier. And I think the step of saturating the snails in salt is a bit much for something that takes on flavor so easily, but come on; garden snails? Butter? Garlic? How wrong can you go?!

Whether I’m telling friends in the States or in Panicale they look at me like I’m nuts, the Italians think I’m saying the wrong thing and desperately search for what I could possibly be going on about; but you know, it feels good to use our city garden for sustenance. In the fall it’s figs and in the spring it’s Lumache and although you can tell me I’ve lost my mind no one’s gonna tell me that that’s not the way it should be!


This is a photo of the big decorative plate that hangs over the mantle in our kitchen. We are suckers for the colors of the Contrada Chiocciola in Siena. The neighborhood of the snail. This is the symbol that our friends at Spannocchia rally around for the madcap, bareback horse race through the Campo every summer. When I think of all the names I could imagine wearing on a sweatshirt, I think Panthers, Tigers, Broncos, Cowboys, Patriots. Even the Mighty Ducks. But The Snails? Don’t know if I would ever come up with that. I will admit snails really make a plate.

See you in Italy,