OK, Where’s the Party? My place?

PANICALE, Umbria— That’s what they say today’s holiday is. Festa Nazionale. Off to a funny non-typical start for a holiday in Umbria. Well, at least one in June. Its dark and chilly, but the clouds parted a bit late in the afternoon and sure enough a tent went up in the piazza. They were selling local olive oil. Wiley says Katia’s family’s oil is part of the brand that gets sold with the town logo on it (the painting by Perugino of St Stephen). We got a tin of it for our Italian American neighbor Carlo, back in Maine. Always take presents that are heavy and/or breakable. Our one firm, unbendable Vreeland Family Travel Rule.

We are so slow on the uptake. The festive carved watermelons in town might have been a hint? It appeared to us that the one tent in the piazza was the sad sum total of the Festa. But some patient person took pity on us, took us strangers in a strange land, by the hand and pointed out there were galleries and cantinas open down every alley in town. How did we miss that? Always surprises us when these fun places open up. Day in and day out they present blank, ancient wooden faces to their alleys and we mindlessly walk by. Nope nothing there. Nothing to see here folks. Keep moving. Then, a couple times a year they unbar those doors, swing them open and start slinging wine and bruschetta at you in one and olive oil and local fagiolini (broad beans) in another and so on right around the town. Some are old wine storage places with ancient wine presses or wooden casks left behind for ambience. Some are proper pastel painted galleries with modernistic Italian lighting in their arched ceilings and views over gardens. Totally changes the feel of the town in the Where Are We sense. Once the light bulb went on in our tiny brains we knew where all these cantinas often are and passed ourselves from one to the next buying bottles of wine, jars of saffron, more wine. One place had a fish-based bruschetta which sounds rather odd but tasted rather divine. Benefits of an open mind and, in this case, open mouth. We came, we tried, we liked!

What a fun and revealing trip around town. Can we really be this blissfully unobservant? Our house sits between two tiny stone streets. We get use to using our top street. Its where our main doors are, its just the logical path of least resistance and makes the smoothest, easiest entry. But we do have an entry on the lower back street, our back alley in Panic Alley, Umbria. The trip we took through our lower street today to see all the local products on display was a real eye opener. Something has happened here. Can’t fool me. We looked away for a minute and What the Heck, we done got gentrified down there. I’d heard that Patrizia (of elegant restaurant Lillo Tattini, right on the piazza) had a rental place in town, just didn’t know where it was. Today the massive doors that close it off from the world are open and it is chic, chic, chic. But what am I talking about, the whole street is looking great. Che shock. I think it is our downstairs Roman neighbors relentless application of flowers and more flowers followed by liberal application of lace curtains and polished wood doors. We have one double set of doors there and we are polished wood and lace curtains and our garden looks ok from that angle too now that I look up at it. But Massimo and Stefania da Roma really put us to shame with red geraniums spilling out of every door and window opening. When we bought our house our “door” on that street was a mangled mess of old wood sort of shielding a dirt floored stack of moldy junk from view. Sort of. A place where soft hearted neighbors slipped in plates of food for the wildcat swatter residents of Casa Margherita. Not now. Less Cat. More Chic. The things you can find. Right in your own back alley.


Anyway, what with all this activity we shill-ied and shall-ied a bit too long and Masolino’s was fully booked so we decided to stay in and nosh. Salads, cheeses, bread and the Wiley Traveler’s outrageously fine escargot. So successful and tasty and unusual that, since it has been raining off and on all day, we went out in the garden and scooped up several dozen more latent escargots candidates (lumache) to start the next slow food event! Our garden isn’t big but it is like a game preserve for the local lumache. Big honkers too. See typical Garden Variety Big Game next to euro bill in photo for size. They are all that big. Luckily this game is somewhat slow moving, so hunting and tracking them is about my speed. The preparation is the really amazingly slow part of the process. Six days from snail to snack! Wiley is writing the story of the preparation, but now that I think of it she’s being slow too, isn’? Hmm. The ultimate Slow Food, indeed?

We settled down for a fine night by the woodstove, playing Scopa!, teaching my brother and his wife the fine points of this fun Italian card game. And somehow . . . it made us a bit thirsty and we sampled all the wines we had carried around from the festa until oh no. All gone. How did that happen?

As early sixties writer, H. Allen Smith might say “These photos illustrate the type of work the Vreeland brothers do”

Until next time,

See you in Italy!