CENTRAL UMBRIA — Well, let’s see . . . where do I begin? Is today Wednesday? I have to admit the past couple of days– the past week– the past few months have been a blur. But now that blur is slowly starting to become a dream! The blur began with finishing university in London (Yes, I have the papers to prove it!!). And coming home to Maine for SeeYouInItaly boot camp, and now I have landed in Italy again to ––– well–––to begin!
Last week here was a crazy week full of cell phone buying, unpacking and learning how to drive here, there, and anywhere else, my mother and I could think of. But on Monday, lessons finished, and after dropping my mother off at the airport, I officially dropped down the rabbit hole.
First off, driving the three hours back from Rome by myself, with my father’s words firmly in my head ”When you pull out onto a road you are not pulling out onto a road in Maine, you’re pulling out into OMIGOD! ” Well, lucky for me I avoided all ’omigod’ situations on the way back, and only had a little bit of traffic and rainfall! And I have to say, it felt good, pulling into Panicale in my little car, heading to my little house, and knowing I got there on my own. I came in and made myself a big celebration dinner– pasta with pesto (and Italian gods don’t kill me– but I put a little Tabasco sauce in it too– my version of something old, something new,?!) also had some of the great farm fresh ricotta that the Spannocchia girls brought us from their tenuta outside Siena, mmmm was that nice, and yes Mom if you’re reading this, a green bean and tomato salad! Then at about 10:30 crawled into bed and passed out– talk about big girl!!!
GREEN HONEY. AND DATING HABITS OF BLUE HAIRED UMBRIANS
Yesterday I woke up facing blue skies outside my the window and my first day alone– what to do, what to do? Work? Well that would seem like the right thing to do, but luckily I was saved from my own good intentions by our friend Celia, from San Diego. Celia found a house on SeeYouInItaly several years ago, and today was looking for some company– and some BEES!! Sounded like good enough fun to me; so, met Celia in the piazza at noon and promptly got sidetracked!
It’s Orfeo that’ll do it every time. After a brief hello, Celia told him about her quest for a particular hand cream made from bee products – that quickly led to Orfeo running into his house, grabbing his car keys, and leading us down the hill to his friends ”they have the best honey– you don’t need to go to Chiusi! You come to them”!
And so we went and arrived at a large house on a little road off the main hill to Panicale where an older woman was sorting through a basket of freshly picked mushrooms– soon her husband had made his way out, and we had small plastic spoons of honey in our mouths– then slow and heavy steps outside heralded a surprisingly young son (and bee keeper) just as a daughter, grandmother and grandchild came driving in– and in all this mayhem we managed to come away with two jars of lovely dark honey!
After our nice little detour we headed over to Chiusi where Celia’s friend and owner of a fantastic restaurant in the old city, Simoneta, greeted us warmly, handed us wine and quickly saw to preparing us food. No real ordering. Melanzane was the vegetable of the day– so I heard that word being said, other than that– Celia knew what she was doing, so I just sat back and let her. After meat starters, pasta, and a warm bean and tomato salad– all superb– we rounded out the meal with pecorino and honey (surely to keep with theme) . . . Man oh man it was a feast!
Later, as we strolled back to the car, more likely waddled, I noticed a very interesting difference between Chiusi and Panicale– In Chiusi all the benches and door stoops were filled with women, all sitting and chatting, fanning themselves and petting cats, well, as anyone’s who’s visited Panicale knows, in our town this sight is very unusual, it’s the men who take up the benches– but in Chiusi no men were to be seen– am I seeing a dating show? Umbrian Bench Dating, I really think I’m onto something here!
While at Simoneta’s we had discovered the bee shop that Celia had been told was 3 km away was really an hour away– uh oh . . . However! On Sunday I had been to Cetona for the first time with our friends Peter and Shiranee—and at the base of a particularly striking church piazza I had noticed a very strange word–Apinare? I had asked peter–Ah. he said, To do with bees . . . . hmmm well, Cetona was only a touch away and also has a great pottery shop– so, no harm in checking right!
After directing Celia where to go (yeah I remembered! See I can do this Italy Stuff!) We walked into the main piazza in Cetona, a lovely long piazza, very different from a lot of places around this area, and made our way up to the Apinare e Erbologist. It was a small shop with loads of goodies! And a father daughter sales team, who once deciding we were there to buy turned out to be very knowledgeable and very helpful . . . and although they didn’t have exactly what Celia wanted, we both came out ladened with plenty of unneeded stuff! I myself some bee pollen, royal jelly, and some ear candles! Like I said, totally useless, but incredibly fun!
Then we headed back to Panicale, where we caught the last of the sunset– and then onto dishes, and finally unpacking– yes it isn’t all glamour I’m learning!
SOUNDS OF SILENCE. GOOD NIGHT, UMBRIA
And it’s a funny thing, I’ve gone to sleep in empty houses before, but I think there are normally 3 things that can go through someone’s head alone in the dark, the first, being am I safe, well the doors are locked, the windows shut– and oh wait, I’m in Panicale– so check that one off the list. The second, it’s an old house– are there ghosts? Well I distinctly get the feeling that there is no other inhabitant in the house, so that’s alright, but it is strange, not eerie, but strange– there is no noise, none whatsoever, the sound of a buzzing insect can actually make you jump as you read in bed. And if the window is open, there are sometimes voices that find their way in, but it is very serene, but strange– I’m used to wood houses– I’m used to sounds you have no idea what could be making them– I’m used to living in a creaky house in Maine on the side of a noisy highway with four other people—and let’s admit it guys, we’re all pretty loud! Not to mention living in a five person flat in London– talk about loud! And now, suddenly, I’m in bed surrounded by thick stone walls, a sleepy town, and my own thoughts. But somehow it is not a lonely experience– maybe it’s the circular shape of the city or seeing my parents’ touches on every wall or even remembering that on any given day this house has the potential to become Party Central, but it feels like a hug. A great big Italian Nonna hug! And sleep comes very easy.
Today I am Actually Doing Work!! Yeah, it’s all going well, with breaks to do dishes and sweep and weed the garden, and chase the cats! We have two new kittens, one black and one white that have decided that our garden is their home, truth be told I’m assuming they were born here–and yes they are cute– cute as newborn kittens, but, no, our garden is not their home, which is something that not one of the town’s cats understands! And on any given day can be found asleep on our garden posts or in the lavender. Now our cause is really not helped by the fact that our neighbors —we suspect– are throwing food into our garden for them. Now, we could be wrong, but finding a large bone on the stairs doesn’t really help their case! So you can probably find me every few hours running around like a mad woman, chasing a kitten that is too small for you to see from the street– I was always good at first impressions! But apparently I am good at mimicking the action because today at Linda’s market I was able to mime out the whole thing to Linda and the Lillianna and tell them all about the kittens and all the cats, and it was nice to get some sympathy– and know that when all else fails charades work in any language– and in Italy they especially enjoy a little descriptive song and dance!
So that’s where I am now– about to make some nice soup in a bag– they really are great! Watching a Beatles video on German MTV– and trying to figure out what the message my Italian phone just sent me actually means! So we shall see, we shall see, but there is a flamingo sunset on the horizon, and warm stone steps underfoot and although my Italian isn’t anywhere near communicable, a smile will get you far in Umbria, and I have one at the moment that I just can’t seem to wipe off my face.