What to do what to do?

Friends dropping into our garden, painters painting the house, Paul Turina’s wine, flag throwing in Cortona, the great Lombard/Umbrian sausage cook-off

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PANICALE, Umbria–What is there to do on a typical Italian weekend? People will once in a great while say to us, “Oh, I could not imagine having a vacation home in the same place all the time. I’d get so bored, Don’t you run out of things to do?” Maybe if we were in Old Overshoe, Nebraska, but not in the middle of Umbria. It’s consistently crazybusyfun here.

We must be in better shape than I thought. We’ve been partying from dusk to dawn. Well ok, not so much on the dawn part, unless the sun is coming up around ten AM in Italy. Could that be? Regardless we are sleeping like pashas and keeping up with the prevailing party attitude here. And in the last couple days we had done what almost constitutes “heavy lifting” – for tourist’s anyway. Because it is all going by in such a blur, I had to check my hurriedly scribbled notes. Calendars and watches are just annoying distractions to tourists on holiday. Because we had done so much, in so little time, on this sunny Sunday siestatime we were sitting back and basking in all our accomplishments. Lets see, we’d been to a town-wide wedding in Panicale, and seen costumed flag throwers in Cortona, and an airshow in Castiglione del Lago. cortona italy in full costumeAnd a motorcycle show in the piazza yesterday. Don’t forget that. And half of what we’d done had been unplanned and extra wonderful for falling into our hands just for being here. Almost as much fun to look back on as it was when it was happening in real time.
prosecco kind of afternoon in Panicale Umbria


What is that I hear? It sounds like Midge talking to someone in the garden and the voices getting nearer and nearer. Houses and society are so open here in Italy, sound travels in strange and new ways. Our windows, sans screens, are usually thrown wide open. Where are the bugs? I really don’t know. Once in a great while a harmless bug will fly in but its not enough to make us shut the windows. And even when it’s too bright out we close shut the wooden shutters but still leave the windows open to let in the fresh air. And the sounds of Italian life passing by on streets on both sides of our house. Amazing what snatches of conversation you can pick up in the time it takes for a conversation to fade in and fade out as it passes by.

Because this conversation, with Midge in it, is almost upon me, I hit “save” and poke my head out into the garden where Midge is opening the door to the garden for some new English friends. He’s a veterinarian back in the UK and thanks to our web site and its match making powers, they have bought a home on some lovely private acres outside the city walls and just past some other friends’ home. So, they are going to be our neighbors in Panicale!

Perfect excuse to pop the cork on another of Paul Turina’s pretty in pink sparkling rose. Hey, it is almost five. Somewhere. And wait, what is that on the horizon of the garden? Buildings block the lake view through most of the town, so the spot on the street above our garden it is the first high place where you can actually see the lake. Which is why people so often stop right there to pose for pictures of themselves or to snap shots of Lago Trasimeno. It’s rarer to have someone setting up a canvas on an easel.
bills painting on the street in Panicale, umbria


Oh, it’s Bill the painter, another New Englander, who’s earning the money for a several month long stay by painting up a storm of paintings on commissions from all his friends back in the states. Clever boy. Friends give him an agreed upon amount each, he then owes all of them a certain number of paintings and when he gets back to the states, he throws a party and by lottery his patrons chose their paintings. He says it works swell and everyone is as tickled as he is. Note: you have to be a good painter to get away with this. And he is. We’ve seen his work around town and his lucky friends are getting lovely things. “HEY, Bill!” I yell with a wave toward the house “Come get some bubbly” But he’s trying to work so he declines. So, fine. I point the bottle up at him and pop it and darn near wing him. He’s a marvelously fast and efficient painter and he did his work and still caught the end of the bottle. We were inside toasting his new work when I heard Bruno calling me from the calling spot above the garden. Did I understand, he wants to know, that we were invited to the special town dinner tonight? Whu? Missed that memo. Wasn’t the entire town eating together at the wedding feast, last night? He says invite all those people too, pointing at our guests. But, I’m not at all sure what we’re getting into here so I’m leary of that. Should have. Bad, timid Nordic anglo Stew. Loosen up already. It’s Italy and food, how bad can it be?


A few hours later, we were still stuffed as Christmas geese, from the feast the night before. But yet, here we were headed for another food oriented event. Traipsing down the coliseum-like steps of the amphitheater to the town’s canvas-sided and canvas roofed Party Barn “sotto la pizza” as Bruno describes it. This is a tall town and a lot of things, like the party barn, are under and over other things. Houses are piled high like a wobbly stack kids’ building blocks. The houses are almost on top of each other other but because of the steepness of the hill so many people have so many great views. Our skinny house, for example, has five levels. Our lower street, Via Grossi level where our cantina is. That level leads up to the garden by one set of stairs, the first set of stairs in the garden leads up the level of our kitchen and living room and then the next set of garden steps takes you up to the Via del Filatoio level. At that level we have bedrooms and bath and entryway and then, through a door that can be locked or not, usually not, you come to the entry hall for our friend Kiki’s apartment. And on wards upwards, always upwards you follow her wide, curved scala nobile to her lofty perch with its fifteen foot tall ceilings. Whew. From her lakeside windows it is a dramatic five stories down but, from her windows on the uphill side of her apt you are looking at Klaus’s garden. And his place goes up another five stories from there.
italian campers from lombard dueling sausages with umbrias in panicale,
Where were we? Oh, yes, “under the piazza” at the party barn. We could smell and hear the sizzling sausages before we rounded the corner and saw them on the industrial sized community grill. There’s Bruno’s wife Linda, Aldo and Daniela too. Shouldn’t the Gallos be in a coma somewhere after hosting 500 of their closest friends last night at that epic wedding party? Nope, nope they area fresh as a pair of Margherita daisies and ready to party and be social again. Turns out this is a cross-cultural dinner for the throng of Lombards campers parked next door to the Party Barn their RVs lined up soaking in the view in Panicale’s award wining and way user-friendly Camper Park.

This is to be a Lombard vs Umbrian Food Fest. Dueling Sausages etc. Some of the Lombards’sausages are almost pitch black and are simply called Nero. We’d call them blood sausages? We’re sitting between Aldo and the new lady mayor. She’s one of the few people in town I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever laid eyes on and she will talk to me, but only sort of, warily. I’m sure she’s wondering who the heck I am. Aldo tries to tell her but she is distracted, thinking of her welcoming speech which, after taping on a glass, she gets up and gives to us and the Lombards. They respond with applause and toasts of their own and thank her for hosting “this bunch of gypsies.”


The speeches stopped, the plates of food start coming and about that time Midge said “I give up. WHAT is going on? Who IS that lady beside you and who ARE all these people? And why are the sausages black?” You have to know Midge is a much better listener than I am. In any language. No one needs to translate for her when we’re in Italy and though she usually lets Gabby Stew do most of the talking, she is great at that too. When I’m not around. I find her in stores and piazzas in Italy and she’s always right in the middle of a fine conversation. But tonight, with all new food, new people, their accents etc. she’s really washed up on a foreign shore. In her home town no less. So, she and the mayor were pretty much both wondering What are we doing here?
lorena serving proper cappucchino in Panicale, umbria, italy
The food, in general, wasn’t wildly different that the Lombards brought. Rice instead of pasta was the most obvious difference and it is actually a difference that you notice. When I think of Italian food I think of porcinis and panacotta sure, but it is pasta I think of first. But they started off with a rice, bean and cheese combo that was very good. About half way through the list of every dish ever cooked, the Sainted Aldo excused himself saying he needed to get up to Bar Gallo to spell “the kids.” After their big, long, late night, wedding celebration, they had opened the bar at six or seven in the morning and been on their feet for another fourteen hours slinging coffee. With a smile on their face, no less! What vitamin supplements are they taking and can I have some, please? I’m in awe of their social/work ethic but not going to make any attempt to mimic them. Not in THAT good a shape.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland