Kiki takes the cake in Umbria. New taste treats hit Panicale

PANICALE, Umbria – Kiki’s birthday was yesterday and she was telling us about the cake she got as a birthday gift from her new best friend, Salvatore in Panicale. Here she is in words and pictures below. Kiki, Kathleen and Salvatore. Clearly La Dolce Vita goes on as usual in Italy.
Discovered Salvatore’s, “Sapori dell’Umbria” the new take-out in town. Best bread ever, plus wonderful seafood lasagna (recommended by Giovanna) and torta di Napoli.

Salvatore is from Napoli. He makes the best bread in Italy. Crusty outside, soft inside and a bit salted. Yummm. Salvatore is across from the post office, where the grocery used to be. Just past Aldo’s. We … love …. it.

Styoo! Of course we’ve been to Aldo’s. The first morning Salvatore bought us coffee there. The second morning Nico bought us coffee. Today Rob experienced the scene — along with Daniela in fish net stockings. Wow!

We went to Castiglione del Lago today for lunch … visited Fabio the framer to get Francesco’s painting all dude’d up … then hit the lake so Kathleen and Rob could swim. They loved it.

Ciao, ciao,



Side note: It appears from initial conversation down-loads that Kiki accidentally asked Fabio to marry her. She was ok with that, in general, but her intention at that moment was just asking him to “dispose” of a box. Who knew? She figured “disposare” was close enough in Italian to “dispose” in English. But of course “sposare” is to marry and well, I’m sure that is how some dream matches have been made.

That is the latest in Italian News for now.

If you can’t get to Italy this Spring – and you happen to find yourself in New England – remember the Italian Life Expo is in Portland, Maine, June 9-11. Yes, the Bad Monkey (as we affectionately have named our Vespa-made 1982 Ape) will be there. With loud speakers on, blasting Italian music and generally calling attention to itself. Prima donna is Italian and fits this monkey to a T. If you are feeling adventuresome, come pat our little green Ape on the head during this fun waterfront weekend. Paul Turina’s baby blue, hard-working ape (Good Monkey?)The Turina Italian Wine Ape will be there too.

See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

In Italy, cielo really is heaven.

We had a clear clear blue sky here in Maine the other day. And Kiki says it is just blue skies and clear sailing, seventy degrees in Italy every day. She sends pictures of the roses doing their blooming best. As did our fiend Dily. She sends pictures of the roses Plus a sunset sky full of rondini (swallows.)

fotoWhich reminds me. . . when we were just there in Panicale we may not have deserved it but, we were treated to day after day of early April clear blue skies. It just got in that pattern and stayed there. Thank heavens. And speaking of heavens I’ve always been interested in the fact that Italians call sky and heaven the same thing: Cielo (chee ay low). So when, for example, Sant Franicis says “Ave, Maria, piena di grazia, il Signore è con Te Lodatelo, cielo e terra …” of course he’s talking about heaven and earth.

But when you run into a friend and point up in to the clear blue we can rave about heaven or sky. And can say “Che cielo!” and not be far wrong. But, if it really is one of those spotless blue sky days there is a way to take it up a notch. And standing by the fountain the other day on such a day, Lorena wanted to know what it was. We’d already done the “Che bella giornato.” and other pleasantries. And now, she tipped her head down a bit and looking up at me. Fixing me to the spot . . . ? OMG. Yes, wait wait I know this. She and Simone taught me this a year or two ago. Hard fought knowledge it was. And now, Simone’s stopped what he was doing and leaned back and crossed his arms, waiting to see how this will play out. They are both looking at me expectantly. Neurons misfiring left and drawing blanks to the right, the spot light sun bearing down on me, was I sweating like this when I got here a minute ago? Where can you hide in the middle of a sundrenched piazza? Cielo, cielo, something obscure, that I made even harder . . . foto1Cielo TERSO!

Grazie a Dio di nuovo. We all sigh a big sigh of relief. I wicked didn’t want to let them down, remembering how they had to almost beat it into me the first time. How do you say slow learner in Italian: Sytoo? In my defense, it isn’t hard, just subtle. TerSo is, well was, a word I had never heard of. TerZo sounds, to this American, exactly the same. Ok, ok, bit more of a “t” sound to the “z” of course. But in that same spot in the same piazza a year or so ago I just couldn’t get past terZo. Which, means third and I figured if we could say Seventh Heaven, maybe they were saying “Third Heaven?” Ma, no. TerSo means cleaned, polished, spotless. And when it is truly perfect, that is what you call Heaven. Cielo Terso.

See you in Italy,

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



Meanwhile back on Planet Earth we’re still stuck with using our new Garzanti Hazon dictionary. Which is interesting because instead of being lets say “English/Italian” it was more of an “Italian/English” thing. Which is not surprising since we bought it in a book store in Umbria. And it had a feature I’ve never seen in a bi-lingual dictionary. It is called “False Friend.” Just like that, two words, in English and they were call outs in blue boxes on nearly every page

thealone2ESTATHE. The small plastic cup spins around in my brain. I stare at it again. That doesn’t look right. But there it is, perched on a skinny shelf in a Formica cupboard over our stove. Next to the breakfast cereal and a box of pasta. We are in the midst of a ruthless search and destroy cleaning frenzy. Things left in closets, under beds, behind doors, things left alone for years were now being looked at with suspicious eyes. Especially food.
As we all know, in a cleaning situation, any distraction is a good distraction. So, Even though I knew this was a ready to go cup of tea, I got to thinking about its name. And thinking what incredible hoops we poor Innocents Abroad have to go through to digest this. Funny thing about language. We’ve been looking at Italian words for years before we started studying them. Usual suspects, pizza, piazza, paparazzi, these are all words that are so popular and omnipresent that they became bigger than Italian and spilled over into English. There are dozens and dozens of them.


And then you have words in Italian that you don’t really have to learn, you just pronounce them a bit different. “Idea”, for example in Italian, or French for that matter, looks just like “idea” in English. It just sounds different. But you still see it and get it. Same with aeroplano for airplane. I can kind of work out words like that out for myself on a good day. Words like these give you hope that maybe, just maybe, you could kind of wing it, bluff your way to fluency. But when you wake up from that dream, you notice that for every airplane (aeroplano) there’s dozens, no thousands of works like “seat” (sedia) that don’t ring any bells of recognition at all. You just have to grab a sedia, somehow force it into your memory banks and use it until you own it.

And, of course, keep a dictionary nearby. We’ve bought any number of them over the years. But couldn’t find a single one in the house this trip. I could not for the life of me parse out a couple of the lame, round about, pun-based jokes Groucho was making in a new Dylan Dog comic. (My idea of a fine Italian text book. I know, grow up Stew) Very hard, I’ve found, to bluff your way around subtle, double entendres. So we buy another dictionary. Maybe in the false hope that by having the right word in our hand, that that by itself would make us more fluent. You know how getting a health club membership conjures ups vision of friends asking if you have been working out?

booksalonert2(Have you seen, for example, the trailers for the new Di Nero movie “Limitless?” The hero takes a new potent pill and suddenly he can do almost anything. He’s quick, he’s smart, he’s rich. Girls coo “Since when do you speak Italian?” He shrugs modestly. Where can we GET these pills!?! In the movie the pusher friend says they are “fda approved.”)


Meanwhile back on Planet Earth we’re still stuck with using our new Garzanti Hazon dictionary. Which is interesting because instead of being lets say “English/Italian” it was more of an “Italian/English” thing. Which is not surprising since we bought it in a book store in Umbria. And it had a feature I’ve never seen in a bi-lingual dictionary. It is called “False Friend.” Just like that, two words, in English and they were call outs in blue boxes on nearly every page, in both the English and Italian halves of the dictionary. I thought that was funny too. But it’s clearly presumed both English and Italian readers would grasp the concept of a False Friend. Made quickly sense to me and soon found myself looking for these small blue islands of clarity in a sea of words, words, words.

False Friends’ main job is to make you pay attention. And not go off thinking you knew a word when you really are just making a quick leap, a logical assumption.

Take the bookstore in Castiglione del Lago where we got the dictionary for example. Book stores and libraries have a lot in common at some level, no? What with both of them being full of books and all. Guess which one is a “Libreria?” That’s right. Not the Library, but the bookstore. Accident / Incident strangely enough don’t equal Accidenti / Incidenti at all but in fact are double-dealing False Friends of the best sort. They mean exactly the opposite of what you might logically expect. In other words, when in Italy, you have car incidents instead of accidents.

Which brings us back to the plastic cup. A cup of what is evidently by context a cup of “THE.” Italian is truly a wonder to pronounce, as it is perfectly phonetic. See a letter, pronounce it the same. Every, single time. Once you get the hang of it, it is not at all impossible to see a page of Italian and rattle off a few sentences at normal talking speed. And not have the least idea what you are saying. But still be pronouncing somewhat as if you had a clue.


But then there is the letter “H” It is consistent, I’ll say that for it. But consistently silent. It sometimes affects other letters near it, but even then in a regimented way. Ci is pronounced chee but chi with an allegedly silent “h” is suddenly “key”. But, here, in this word, “THE” it is just plain silent. So the word “the” could just as well be spelled “te” but that word is spoken for and means You in a familiar sense. But “the” with an “h” in it means tea in Italian. And ESTATHE is a brand and a cute play on words. (Giocchi di paroli) Pronounce the “esta” and “the” and you have a word that looks like estathe but which, because of that silent “h” in Italian, sounds like “estate.” And despite how that word may look, it doesn’t mean your ancestral home in the country. In Italian “estate” simply means “summer” and what could be better in the summer than a nice iced tea?

Cheers, and See you in Italy,

Stew Vreeland

Italy vs Spain? In BA, the Spanish sounds very Italian. Can we call it Italianish?

In Buenos Aires, Italian is better than no Spanish at all. Thank you Years of Italian Lessons, thank you. Oh my. Italian as a portable skill? Who would have thought?


We had a trip that carried us from Miami to Buenos Aires and Uruguay. What an amazing adventure that was. Did you know it is full blown summer down there in the middle of “our” winter? Something about being South of the equator. So, we were glad to be chasing that kind of weather. On the other hand we were mildly nervous about our lack of language skills there. But, you know what? Italian is better than no Spanish at all. Seriously, I know nadda in Spanish. Or so I thought. But I found myself asking where the eggs were at the buffet in the hotel (the waitress said “Sto preparando”), ordering coffee with sugar, asking our waiter for a new white wine from the Salta region, translating things people handed us on the streets. A lot of things were so close to Italian, so in the right context and so blatantly obvious that we learned them on first exposure. (felt like we did!) Whatever we were doing, it was working! It was a total lark. Thank you Years of Italian Lessons, thank you. Oh my. Italian as a portable skill? Who would have thought? Spanish is so omnipresent in the world, and Italian is so Italo-centric. Is that a word? Chi lo sai.

Now, I can be on record as knowing nothing about nothing. Especially, all things linguistic. And maybe because BA has a huge percentage of people of Italian origin, maybe because of that their inflections are Italian. Every Argentinian we met had AT LEAST one grandparent directly from Italy. Che sorpresa. And just maybe I’d be at a total loss in downtown Madrid. But, on the other hand, Italian was as helpful in Miami’s Little Havana as it was in BA. BTW, having hot hot espresso leaning on the outdoor counter with the cool, cool Cubanos at Cafe Versailles? Worth the trip. That is a serious cup o Jose. Doing this back and forth language dance was fun, like a 24 hour word game. And as eye-opening as that Cuban coffee. Could not have been more pleased that our Italian at least cracked open the door to the Spanish-speaking world. In ways I would never have imagined.

Spanish/Italian points of similarity right off the top of my head:
Nadda / niente, Permesso /Permesso, puerto / porto, la cuenta, il conto, agua minerale / acqua minerale, con gas / con gas, sin gas / senza gas, azucar / zucchero, bueno / buono, oltre / altre. Should I go on? Everyone says ciao and ok, ok?

Next month we’re off to where they really speak Italian: Umbria!

See you in Italy!

Stew Vreeland

thinking italian, speaking spanish. trying in ArgentinaPS: But seriously folks, where has the blog been? What can I say? Wandered off muttering to myself? Instead of putting my mutterings on electronic paper? I wasn’t sure if anyone was out there listening or if I was actually talking to myself. A lady from England wrote this morning and said she hadn’t seen any blogs lately and asked if I was OK. Sort of made me put my feet back on the road. We’ll see where it goes. Good intentions and all that. We’ll be in Italy in a few weeks so that will be a good test.