No. Really. Can NOT decide.

can't decide. pastries or italian sandwichesPANICALE / CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO, Umbria, Italy–I get really turned on and turned around by GMB between Panicale and CdLago. If I go early enough it is less of a problem. Then my body says coffee and a sweet treat. But if we arrive mid-morning then I see those sandwiches and things with salmon and I’m conflicted. The right answer is eat your pastries/paste (pass-thay) and coffee and be happy with it, knowing they have made you a box lunch and tied it with a bow. For later. But what about instant gratification? Which is why we sometimes let the moment get the better of us and we get breakfast and lunch nibbles at the same time. And no matter what we get, or when, there is always a table that has us thinking “WHATZAT? We want what THEY have!” Bad Stew

coffee and pasta at aldos, panicale, umbria, italyAnd two steps from our house, our first love: Bar Gallo. Panicale, Paste, Pastries, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I see the red table cloth, the “croce” with uve pasatte and all of a sudden I’m there, sitting in the sun, letting the day start to swirl around me. And catching Aldo’s eye a couple minutes later, “Un’altra cappuccino per favore, Aldo.”

And the lunch or breakfast or snack issue doesn’t go away there either. Aldo has a way with food and if we want a quick lunch in the sun, he’s the man with the plan. And the pannini, salad, bruschetta, and pasta man too.

In my mind, I’m there right now. Can you see me? I’m the one with the silly grin and a bit of chocolate on my face.

See you in Italy

Stew Vreeland

Italian expression that’s easy to say. Hard to do.

Fair warning, “Chi manga pocco, dorma bene” is an Italian expression. But it really isn’t really a good holiday expression. And with good reason. The expression itself makes infinite sense, because it means “he who eats in moderation, sleeps well.” Who can argue with that logic? But who can remember the expression or the logic behind it when friends and neighbors are so busy spreading good cheer, chocolates, cookies and eggnog?

Which reminds me, eggnog is quite evidently NOT of Italian origin. You know how some English-speaking people (OK, OK . . . Americans) call fried potatoes and egg-battered bread, respectively, French Fries and French Toast? In Italy, they return the favor by calling eggnog Zuppa Ingelese. English Soup!

Cheers! And buone feste!

Stew Vreeland

PERENNIAL FAVORITES: The Umbrian plant ladies and I

“Baa BEAR ahhh” “Baa BEAR ahhh”

Who IS she calling? I am at a drive-by Piante e Fiore garden center place along the lake for the third time this trip. Every time we drive this direction for food or furniture odds and ends I stop for a couple more flats of plants. I was here a week ago and had loaded our Fiat Panda rentacar up with flats and yet more flats of happy spring additions to our garden. But that time, due to too many previous stops, that we were euro-challenged. Sigh. And then I found out – at the cash register – that they take only Bancomat cards (that normal Italians have) and not Credit cards that look just like them (that I have.) My credit cards work AT the Bancomat, when we use them for getting cash. I’m explaining that to the sympathetic-eyed man at the cash register. (Like the foreigner that I was born to be, and obviously ever will be. Allora.)

Yes, we should have gotten yet more euros. Since we merrily shopped our way thru the first batch earlier in the day. But, weirdly, the nursery didn’t care a bit. Money? No money? Apparently all the same to them. My saleslady just waved me off and said “next time you’re going by” To a total stranger like me, 44 euros of product? I said oh, no and started pulling things out of the car and she more or less physically stopped me, really wouldn’t hear of it. Not only did she insist we make off with their merchandise, but she topped off my pile of plants with a big pot of complimentary parsley. A gift to go with everything we’d “bought.”

It’s an hour round trip so, on one hand, I’d almost rather have a few less plants than come back. But on the other hand, in the big scheme of things, that kind of blind faith, do-unto-others attitude is in short supply in the world and really should be encouraged. So, here I am on a return trip, euro/cash in hand. “My” sales lady was effusive and laughing as she made me change, at the register. Happy she had taken a chance on me and been proved right.

In the confusion of my previous daring daylight raid on them, I hadn’t caught the names of some of the plants I’d bought, so I thought this would be a good chance to ask. My lady had tried to tell me the name of one of the plants was “Perennial.” Yes, that’s nice to know, but maybe what kind of perennial?

Beyond perennial, she’s not sure. So, that is why we’re standing outside the shop door and singing “Baa BEAR ahhh” “Baa BEAR ahhh”
The way she’s doing it is sounds so fun, so musical, I can’t help joining in the chorus while shading my eyes and trying to see where we are aiming our collective voices. At a certain point, my eyes adjust to the sun and HOLY SHOOT, BATMAN! Is that a supermodel watering a rack of plants off to the side of the parking lot? In one, slow, motion, she swings her black mane over her right shoulder, cocks an eyebrow at us, turns, and and and starts walking toward us. And walking towards us. Where was I? Italy. Good, good. Plants. Yes! Plants! Something . . . about a plant. Yes, yes, that is it! “Can you tell me the name of this plant?”

Just for the record, we do not get this Hollywood Look at the nurseries I frequent in Maine. I’m pretty sure we do not. Now, I’ve got a plant lady on each side of me. I’m putting on writing glasses, balancing plants, note book, pencil. My blonde sales lady, to my right, is still spelling “Perenni” ok, ok, got that. The brunette, to my left, in the OMG chocolate brown sweater knew what I meant and began patiently pronouncing and spelling the long, long two part Latin name. “C.A.M.P.A.N.U.L.A. C.A.R.P.A.T.I.C.A. . . . C.A.M.P.A.N.U.L.A. C.A.R.P.A.T.I.C.A.” See? Just like it sounds.

You know that thing Italians do? Where they pronounce their written letter “e” like we would pronounce our letter “A?” And when they say “eEE” – at some academic level – we know they mean the letter we would write as an “i” but it still is swirling around in our head as our English letter “e?” Well, I had some that going for me, but with all the other distractions here . . . . allora.

MORAL OF THE STORY: Always, always pay your bills. You will be rewarded in heaven. And sometimes, right here on earth.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Money can’t buy happiness? How about chocolate? How about zucchini pasta? Picking olives with friends? Can they buy happiness?

friends bringing us chocolate from Aldo, other friends torturing us by sending us fun photos of olive harvest, Perugia written up in Traveler magazine

Even faux euros can bring a taste of happiness if they should happen to be wrapped around a piece of real Italian chocolate, hand carried from Bar Gallo.

chocolate from Perugia, Umbria, Italy
PANICALE, Umbria – WILDS OF MAINE–Our friends Bud and Susan just got back to Maine from their adventures in Italy. Their son got married at Spannocchia outside Siena and then they stayed in Panicale for a few days. We weren’t too jealous when they confirmed what all our Italian friends have been emailing to say/rub in – that the weather this October has quit being autumnal and returned to the balmy days of summertime. Nothing but soft breezes and blue skies for days on end. La dolce vita in fatti. So. That didn’t make us jealous. And Bud, a bit skeptically I’m sure, took our advice, got his hair cut at Biano’s and it changed his life, as I knew it would. And they ate wonderfully with all the Belficos at Masolino’s next door to our house and no, no, REALLY, not at ALL jealous. But! Everything was all better when they brought back a stack of our Italian maps, tour books, etc. On top of the stack was the 500 euro chocolate from Aldo and family. With a note on the back of a Bar Gallo card.

All is right with the world. What did we do to deserve friends with candy? We felt missed, we felt the love and we felt the green eyed monster slinking away.

We get a raft of magazines at our office. I really have no idea why we have National Geographic TRAVELER magazine, I didn’t order it, but it seems to be coming and I picked this one (Nov/Dec 2008) up to bring home and read because right on its cover it had this well-I’ve-got-to-check-this-out story hook: “World’s Sexiest Small City (HINT: IT’S IN ITALY) Page 98”. Hmmm. What that is all about? Midge got to it first and looked at me over the top of it and wagged her eyebrows a couple times “Want to guess where it is?” she said. “You’ll love it” Quit teasing me, let me see that! What a treat. 12 full color pages on one of our favorite neighbors, ever-chic, ever-Etruscan Perugia.

I’d love to give you a link to the article but that isn’t how TRAVELER is set up, so you may have to take my word that it is a great and engaging article or find a copy in your local magazine shop. Their web site does let you see some great Perugia photos. And like the chocolate bar from Aldo took me to Panicale, this took me back to my days at the Universita’ per Stranieri in Perugia. In a heartbeat, the soles of my shoes were polishing the stones of Corso Vannucci scuffing my way up that promenade to meet friends for a midnight gelato. Con Frutti di Boschi.
olive harvest in Panicale in Umbria in Italy
Right while I am writing this, our dear friend Elida dropped us an email about the olive harvest. Earlier in the week she’d sent us a couple pictures warning that our wisteria was trying to digest our house. So I wrote Dily at Linda’s store and she told her dad Bruno and he’ll teach that wisteria to mess with Casa Margherita! But back to the olive harvest. When it is nice weather, there is no finer way to spend the day than helping friends pick. And then helping yourself to groaning tables of food for hungry farm workers. She mentioned apple tart and zucchini pasta were on the menu today. I remember picking and eating and eating and picking, walking home and falling straight over into bed and sleeping like the proverbial pascha. At seven pm. Like we did the last time we were picking olives at Elida and Guenters. Oxygen and fresh sunshine overload will get you every time.

Ah, I wish we were there. And in my mind, we are.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

One way to spend a day

9 AM PANICALE— what is that ringing in my ears? Office on the phone, ok. Wait still ringing. Door bell too now. How often does it do that? But it is good fun, while I am still on the line, Midge comes up from the door waving a bottle of wine with a box of Bacci chocolates tied to it with festive gold bow. From the sweet, pretty lady who makes the house sparkle. Why did she do that?

She leaves and the door bell rings again. Hey. I haven’t even had coffee yet. It is Bruno. Cerco Stee—oou. Do we need wood? Heck yes, thank you. Cold spring this year, but we have a fine, fine, mighty fine woodstove. Thanks to Bruno for that, too.

We do not deserve friends in a foreign land that would think about us. And act on the thought, too. Five minutes later, Bruno is back, the rear of his red Fiat loaded with wood, split and laid out in neat, stackable wooden boxes. Kindling tied up with a piece of grapevine. And a bottle of his own white wine that had a fair chance of being grown on that very vine. Grayson says Look, Dad. No label. Well, sure. That is the good stuff. And the cherry on top? Bruno says The his ciliegi are ripe (actually, the say mature) in his yard, and we should come sometime this weekend. Might just do that. Hope I do. So much fun, so little time.


Later that night, reading quietly by the fire. A sharp BANG. Oh well. I look around. Nothing else transpires, so I continue reading my book, totally engrossed in the life of that quintessential bad boy of the Renaissance: Carravaggio. Ignoring the noise that night cost us our primo piatto the next day. The meat dish ran away. We’d been daily washing and rinsing and feeding herbs to our big garden snails. For several days, almost a week. Lumache on their way to becoming escargot in garlic butter.

Evidently, the big bang was a cat tipping over the heavy lid of the collandar of snails on the porch. By morning, all but half a dozen slugabeds had “run off”. So, it was like a week at the spa for all of them. Sorry to have missed out on doing the whole process, all the way through, with Wiley. We had people invited for lunch and everything. Peccato. The last batch was great that she had ready for us when we arrived. Who knew you could freeze escargot from your garden. Oh, we are living on the culinary edge now.


The next day: yawns, bright and early. Sunlight streams in the window (I left it unshuttered for that very reason) and it wakes me up and it pulls me out of bed, vacation or not. Must be first in line at Biano’s for my long, long overdue haircut. Quick, shave, grab Carravaggio and go off at a trot to the piazza. Whew. Non c’e nessuno. Found a sunny spot on the stone bench hard by the door to Biano’s. Not too much sign of pidgeon poop. OK, OK, I’ll sit here. The town is awake and from Google Earth probably appears to be a proper anthill. People pop out of one door and scoot into the next and back out again like a stop action film. One pair of frisky ants was Linda from the grocery store and the lady butcher from the across the street.

The two of them are making a bee line past the fountain, towards Aldo’s cafe when they spot me and wave me to join them for coffee. Oh, no. Grazie mille, grazie mille. Can’t loose my place in line! Biano is an hour—plus process. Get out of line and there goes the day. So. Sorry. They duck into the bar without me and two seconds later, from the other corner of the piazza comes Linda’s husband, Bruno. Stew, vieni, vieni per un caffe. Ok. We’ve been through this. No way. Not deserting the post. Where IS Biano? It is 8:15 already. Giaccomo, sitting outside the cafe, says I’LL watch for you and hold your place in line. Dai (comeonalready), come get a coffee. But, don’t leave me too long, alright?

Zip in, order coffee, apologize to Linda for taking her husband’s offer and not hers. Thank you Bruno! Yike! Why is the coffee so HOT today Daniella. The one day I want to gulp and run. Seared throat and all, I’m back out in the piazza where Giaccomo sees me and points back over my shoulder at the late Biano. There he is, there he is! What’s this? Cunning Adelmo is between me and Biano’s? Crosses his arms and says I’m First. Oh, no. Oh, yes he says Got here at 7:30. Good grief. The rascal is teasing me. Chee. Biano has been wondering when I would give over my mop to his control. I’ve got a folded up photo of the decadent, and nearly deceased Lapo Elkman from a gossip magazine called “Oggi”. Fine role model, Stew I’m thinking. We study the bad boy of Fiat’s photo for a minute, Biano claps his hands, and says No Problem. We can do this. I am an architect, I can build the kind of structure you want. And he did.

Love being at Biano’s. We talk of many things, of shoes and ships and sealing wax. And cabbages and kings. And Vespas and Ferraris . Sitting in the other chair is a older guy, looking out the blinds at the piazza, just observing the scene or reading the pink sporting newspaper or chiming in every now and then, when a subject arouses him from his thoughts. He’s not here for a trim, just for the company. I’m in for both.

In the photo, that’s Biano on the left, some lost Americano, and then Bruno on the right, in the café. Why do I have a plastic bag tucked in my pocket? And yet still let people take my picture? Found a plant in the garden. Weed or not? So I tucked it into a bag, trucked it into the piazza and got opinions one way or the other from anyone I found wandering about. Yep. Weed.


Bruno is still unloading and organizing groceries into the storage room of his wife’s store with a hydraulic mini fork lift. Somehow, we get on the subject of my son, Zak, who is the Invisible Man as far as Panicale goes. People know of him and know he can’t come just yet, Fear of Flying etc. But he did get to visit a bit of Panicale when he met a Panicalesi friend’s daughter in New York, thanks to our meddling slash matchmaking. Now she is back here and we spoke in the piazza this morning. Bruno and I agree she is a complete angel, like lovely saint in a painting. Bruno theatrically wriggles his eyebrows like Groucho and says Her Momma’s not bad either. HEY! WHAT ARE YOU GUYS TALKING ABOUT DOWN THERE? We look around and then, we look up. So. That’s where Adelmo’s house is. He’s hanging out a window and hanging on our every word eves dropping on us. Oh, girls, we say. He says, oh well, I would never do that. Talk about girls. I have the most perfect, the most beautiful wife in the whooole world. She’s right there, isn’t she, Adelmo? (We had to ask) He nods vigorously, Bruno and I laugh and go on about our alleged business. I can’t really say why but these mini moments are, to me, worth the plane fare by themselves. Call me easily amused, call me crazy, just call me when its time to catch the next plane to Italy . . .

See you in Italy,