Che Weekend. wow.

I am in a daze. Good daze, but none the less. Saturday Giancarlo and I went to Cortona to see a nice Australian family’s house. Wow. So unusual to find a single family detached home in the oldest highest nicest part of Cortona. Three stories tall, all stone, perfect condition, next to an ancient well and a convent and other nice nice homes. You would have trouble finding anything to spend money on here. It is just most excellent.

And in news around the house, big progress on the woodstove installation here. Still cold enough that I am motivated and it will be ready soon. Can’t wait to curl up with a good book there in front of the fire. Garden still covered with light coat of snow and ice. Very strange for the weather to stay below freezing for a week.

Way out of control today. Met a bunch of friends in the piazza early for gossip in the welcome sunshine under bright blue skies. Biano, my barber, says “Remember when there was that big group of Ferraris in the piazza? I have printed up photos for you.” He and Orfeo and I then had a long conversation about how cool it is to have friends and that after having your health, what else is there really? Bruno buzzed by and said, “Woodstove progress soon.” OK, good.

At noon after the mass at the church in the piazza, I met some good friends for more coffee and bribed their four-year-old with New England taffy while feeding their baby something spinach-related. He didn’t seem to mind. Suddenly, there was a huge crowd in the cafe, all Americans it turned out. The next thing we know, they are all ooohing and ahhhing at the pretty babies and taking their pictures. Turns out they are all tour guides on a tour of places to consider. We all swap business cards like mad and their guide briskly shoos them out to something less important like a lace-making demonstration. We let them know how hyper cool our friend’s luscious classic Villa Lemura is as a destination for their clients, of course.


Must resort to a mere list at this point:
Left the bar with our friend (and defacto Swedish Godmother) Gun Cesarini and rushed to pick up an American friend who Midge found a great long-term apartment for. One of the Cesarini’s apartments in fact. Had lovely lunch at her house with fire in fireplace, leg of lamb and lovely pastas on plates and great views out the window at her house on the edge of town.

Looked at my watch just before coffee and realized people from Alabama were waiting for me at my house. In town. Yike. Rudely excused myself and drove off down the hill to town.

We saw two very nice Panicale homes. One of them with my friend Orfeo. We met him at the third bar cafe of Panicale, upstairs where all the men play cards, drink coffee and watch sports of any stripe.


After seeing the properties we were walking by Orfeo’s house when he diverted us inside for “a drop”. Turned out to be a drop of Vin Santo. With his wife’s super fritters. Small round-ish fritters about ping pong ball sized, made with flour, egg and honey, lightly fried. Amazing. Four hundred times better than I’d had in any bakery ever. She had made them with her own eggs, her own honey. Fried in her olive oil. That morning. Because it is Carnevale time is should be fried in lard they said but they have no intention of doing that when they have lovely light olive oil to use. The fritter come in different sizes and shapes in different areas and are called different things as well. In Panicale they are called Strufoli.

Being a bit too house proud we then toured our house, almost next door, and yes,
yes we DO have a woodstove and wood and kindling.

I recommend that they try their hardest to get tickets to the theater that is happening this very night. Again with the timing.

Bruno comes by and we light the first ever fire and it is righteous indeed. We celebrate with a drink at the bar. Bitters for him and hot chocolate for me. Too much coffee already. And then we agree to wave at each other at the theater that night.

Even thought the theater doesn’t start till nine pm, there isn’t even time for dinner somehow. Never a dull moment. The play tonight was three separate Neopoliton farces by Eduardo de Filippo. The theater was packed. The best part of it all is waving at all your friends in the floor seats, balconies and boxes and then afterwards the hugs and double-cheeked air kisses. It is my whole Panicale life flashing before my eyes condensed into a few fine moments. We stretch the moment by retiring to the bar AGAIN. and then I hurry home for the midnight (here) kick-off of the SUPER BOWL.

I called my wife Midge at 1 am, 2:30 and 4:30 until the verdict we all hoped for came in. . . Go Patriots! Champions Again.

Tomorrow, your erstwhile roving reporter is taking a road trip to Spannocchia outside Siena.

Casamaggiore indeed

What a good day this was. After coffee at Aldo’s I went around with Giancarlo and a nice Dutch couple and saw many fine properties. The one he had been sending me pictures of in Tavernella, I was a bit cool about. Giancarlo takes good pictures but from the pictures he’d sent me, I just didn’t see the attraction. But wait. In person I got it in a heartbeat. The pictures here? That’s just a couple random shots. Of the barn. The villa rocks and could be a B&B easily. The options here are just infinite. Almost in town but up on a hillside over the town really. Lots of room. Makes me want to get out the pads of paper and start sketching who gets what rooms and where the pool should go. Big fun.

Speaking of Big! In the afternoon we went to see a new listing in the aptly named hamlet of Casamaggiore. Some fine, fine big houses in this tiny village, a five-minute walk from Gioiella. This one looks classically well-aged, shall we say, from the exterior. But inside it’s totally livable. By any number of people. Over five thousand square feet with a fenced garden and nice neighbors. The picture here is a tiny piece of the front and then a shot of a room off the sunny, well-kept garden. Quite swell. One of the members of the family showed us around. And around. This house is like a town, we just kept opening more doors and finding more baths, kitchens, fireplaces, there is at least one grotto for curing meat. We didn’t go in. There is a rooftop terrace. Above the third floor. Stairways are wide and noble and arched at their tops. Sometimes the arched ceilings intersect in crosses. Details abound. Old light fixtures, some walls decorated with painted panels. It is quite a find. We were all fascinated with it. Very engaging house. A lot of personality.

After all that fun I came home and locked myself out of my house. Linda? Do you have one of my keys here at your store? Oh, that’s right. We did give it to your husband. Bruno, do you have a spare key to my house? His hands were full so he told me where to find it in his car. And then as long as we were that far along, he decided to drop whatever he was doing with buckets of cement and to go up my chimney and see what it would take for us to hook up our woodstove tomorrow.

The main event tomorrow is that we may be taking a trip to Cortona. Stay tuned. One property there sounds especially good.

Avoiding Megane Headaches

Would have done more this evening but friends called and painted a lovely picture of the mountains of fun food we would be consuming. Believe there was mention of two kinds of fish, fresh bread, bean soups and multiple desserts including, but in no way limited to, poached pears. Oh yes, we grabbed a coat and away we flew.

Here is your helpful travel hint of the day: at some point early in your rental car experience, note whether the car they give you is gasoline friendly or more of the diesel persuasion. This trip, they gave me the same general Renault Megane Diesel I had last summer. Which I then suavely filled with gasoline at the first opportunity. Leaving me and three 14-year-old girls stranded by the side of the road. Sigh. It all worked out fine. Happy to report this slow learner is much older and wiser this time. Not fooling me twice by tucking that Diesel label way around where you literally can’t see it. Well, not until your wife and the tow truck guy (who are both tasked with rescuing you) helpfully point it out. Actually a very nice car, big and roomy and behaves very well under all circumstances. Other than the aforementioned operator-error incident.

Saw this interesting house near Gioiella today, the first of many to hear Giancarlo tell it. We did a drive-by preview of two others and seeing yet three more tomorrow. This one had nice sunny exposure, good views; intown Gioiella is always a plus for me. Was renovated and ready to move into. Details to come.
Will be busy getting pictures up as soon as digitally possible. Would have done more this evening but friends called and painted a lovely picture of the mountains of fun food we would be consuming. Believe there was mention of two kinds of fish, fresh bread, bean soups and multiple desserts including, but in no way limited to, poached pears. Oh yes, we grabbed a coat and away we flew.

What IS that ringing noise?

Today’s photo is my idea of a truly acceptable day of winter. Jasmine with a hint of snow. Note the jasmine is still green. This snow, unlike Maine snow, is just a temporary aberration. Spring in Italy will be right back in a moment. And so will I.

PANICALE, Umbria— Walking down the cold empty street thinking to myself, “What strange music someone is playing.” And the town SO quiet. Except for that. Yet. Somehow. Familiar? Later that same century the light she dawned on me. My cell phone ringing frantically at me from the depths of my parka pocket. Just had not heard it since September. What an idiot. I am better now. Nothing like a fine 13 hours Rip Van Winkle episode to cure even the finest of jet lags. “Hello, hello? Much better. Thank you.”

Last night we were in the piazza listening to our “heeelllooo” echoing off the walls. Linda at the grocery said “it’s nothing but us and a pair of cats in town, is there?” and we agreed it was kind of fun for the moment. And it is a lovely quiet. But still. This morning hugs all around at Masolino’s and Mauro the tax man jumped to his feet and bought me a cappuccino. At the bank there was a line to get at Mario, just like in summer. I talked to an old Italian friend who passed me like a good piece of gossip to a British friend (whose house is on the site) to our American friend, a writer of all things culinary, from California. And so on, back down the street to Aldo’s and Nico who passed me back out to Orfeo. Oh, my gosh, the grocery is about to close and anything I have in the house is from September. Got to run.


Either way, I slept like a baby last night. And the dining that happened before the sleeping was really a delicious way to start the trip. Even sleepless zombies have to eat don’t they? Four, most excellent, cheery German friends invited Alec of Yorkshire (who was decamping) and I, who had just stumbled off a plane, to dinner out. Conversation swirled about the table in Italian, English and German with wee bits of Chinese. Alec is a linguist and Chinese is his language du jour. The Chinese and German trains of thought pulled in and out of the station without me on board. I came to eat. Well actually my intentions were to nibble sparingly and drink not a mouthful of wine. Best laid plans. We were the only clients at the great fun il Casale. Seated by a roaring and welcome fire Giuseppina, the owner, had us clearly in her sights and basically made us clean our plates and empty our carafes between courses.

My fellow Americans, and non-Italians everywhere. . . Please take note of this special announcement: I have discovered the cure to the common headache. Well, the wine kind.

It is the Silly Sulfites in the wine we get. I think it must be. Here the Italian wine doesn’t need a preservative. It’s not going anywhere. It’s not going to last that long after being pulled off the vine. It’s going to be put to good use. And soon. In the US I find even a tiny glass of wine requires almost equal volume of aspirin to counterbalance the aftereffects. Last night I will tell you it was sweet dreams sans medication of any sort and waking to a sunny day fresh as any daisy in Piazza Margherita. But what a dinner we were treated to. Every kind of antipasto I had never heard of. Fennel covered ones, fish, olive, faro croquettes (faro and cheese and to die for) grilled polenta with rosemary. And a hot, thick bread/faro/bean soup by the aforementioned fire on a chilly night in Italy with a table full of interesting friends? I surely don’t deserve it. But I will happily take it!

Today’s photo is my idea of a truly acceptable day of winter. Jasmine with a hint of snow. Note the jasmine is still green. This snow, unlike Maine snow, is just a temporary aberration. Spring in Italy will be right back in a moment. And so will I.

See you in Italy,


We have really arrived

UMBRIA, Italy— We are here in Bella Umbria. Easiest trip. The Maine to Umbria connection often runs 20 hours door-to-door. Certainly it does by the time you factor in arriving early for international flights, trains, buses to the airport, rent-a-cars and all. But this time we cut it really thin, thin, thin in Paris and made the whole trip in 18 hours. In spite of an adamant Air France ticket taker going, “non, non, non”. We were looking at (and I will admit pointing at) the bus getting ready to take our planeload of fellow passengers to the plane and we kept saying, “yes, yes, yes, please, please, please.” I think eventually, having no checked baggage convinced him letting me on the plane was a good call. Whew.

I always like an aisle seat and I have that on file with our travel agent. But for the short hour and a half early early a.m. hop from say Paris to Florence I am thinking of changing the request to window seat forward of the wing. Sunrise over the Alps in winter when you find yourself sort of dopey from being up all night is a rather out-of-body experience. One minute you are in a foggy little sleep coma, and the next, you suddenly wake to dramatic blue gray mountains of granite pressed right up against the windows, long dark shadows on snow whites and the pink rays of dawn poking between the peaks and spilling out over sky and snow.

Arrived to the town bells ringing twelve noon and to a warm and toasty home. That is a welcome in and of itself. Our friend Anna has the house spotless and has turned the heat on for us a day or two in advance. Her cousin-in-law is our good friend Bruno and he was one of the first people we saw. And snapped. I have been in town for one quick loop to the cafe to wave hi and try to convince my mouth/brain to remember how to form Italian-like words in my sleep deprivation state. Got updated on many business, health and gossip fronts already. And have already been invited to dinner tonight. Must have said something right