October through December, 2004

October 1
We wake up early, but the debate is on at 8AM, rebroadcast so that we are able to watch it. Evidently, Bush had no control over the podiums. He looked as though he was holding on to see over the top, while Kerry stood ramrod straight and his podium seemed to come up waist high on him.

If you are a Bushie, you think he won the debate. If you are in Kerry's camp, you think he did. Whatever.

After watching the debate, we drive to Orvieto to meet Suzanne, her friend Susan Ross, and Cindy Churchill Kelly and her husband Bill Kelly. After 40( !) years it is good to see Cindy. We catch up on each other's lives a little in a café, and I take them all to a few favorite spots undiscovered by most tourists, before Roy takes Cindy and Bill to the train so that they can continue on to Rome. The four of us and Sofi walk around, checking in with Ciara at Giacomini, our favorite ceramics shop, then eat pranzo at Asino D'Oro, our favorite restaurant on a little back alley.

I eat a remarkable budino of gelled red pepperoni and then vegetables covered in a kind of chocolate sauce as my main meal. I am curious, but cannot really eat the course of chocolate over a mélange of veggies.

Others eat gnocchi castrato, wonderful salads of lettuce, capers, anchovies and cheese, broccolletti and a housemade pasta with an unusual pesto sauce.

Afterward, we pick up their luggage from LaBadia, where they stayed last night, and take them to Amelia with a detour of Mugnano and our house.

Stopping in Amelia to take a photo of Suzanne with the poster announcing her concert.

We drop them off at Judith's, and come home to fiddle with some garden projects. I weed and clip lavender and santolina while Roy gives the pomodori garden a haircut. We are trying to coax the remaining pomodori to ripen by clipping off any superfluous leaves and branches that might obscure the sun. I also take a few minutes to watch the pundits rate the debate. Then we return without Sofi for a little meal at Judith's and a walk next door to Palazzo Petrignani for Suzanne's concert.

First, Lisa and a friend perform a selection of wonderful samba music. Lisa sings, almost a capella, and a pianist plays background music. She has a remarkable voice and Latin flair and surprises us; or rather, she captivates us.

When Suzanne comes on and sits at the impressive black grand piano on a raised dais, she begins to play and immediately the piano takes on a life of it's own. It seems to swell and open its arms as if to say, "Yes, I was made to be played like this!" She works the keys masterfully, and is able to do this without nervousness, telling us before that she never practices before a performance. Tonight's playing is merely a practice for her!

The room is filled with people, and they love her music, as do we. Afterward, she graciously speaks with anyone who wants to meet her. We take down a poster for her to keep as a memento, and drive home under a waning moon to little Sofi, who by now is full of pep and wants to play.

We now have a new friend, Susan, who we look forward to seeing again when we arrive in the Bay Area next month. She has invited us to stay at her house for part of our visit. We think we will be in Terence and Angie's way, with all the activity going on with the new babies, so will probably take her up on her invitation when Susan is in San Diego.

October 2
This is another lovely day, cool in the early morning hours, then almost hot at mid day. Roy drives off to do errands and Sofi and I work in the garden. I weed a little, but mostly clip lavender and santolina into round globes. There is so much to clip that I am busy all year long with more than a hundred evergreen plants to work on. The bees are still active in the huge rosemary bush nearby, and on the front terrace I see some of the big black bees, hovering over the rosemary in the fiorieras that I am told can be quite poisonous. So I keep my distance.

Inside I work on the dreaded clothes project, taking out summer clothes and exchanging them for winter ones. We always have storage challenges.

We drive up to Bomarzo for the 5:30 mass because we will be in Rome tomorrow, and love the tiny Misericordia church. It is small and long in shape, and a few hymns that we love are sung loudly by a group of women who seem to try to out-sing each other. They all frown at us until we greet them, and then break into gracious greetings. When it is time to greet each other in church, everyone wants to shake our hands.

Don Luca presides over mass, and he takes these women very seriously. Outside after mass we see his hot motorcycle parked on the little side street right by the door.

Tonight, the owls are back. Hoooo. Hooooo. We feel as though we are in the Wild West and Indians are sending up smoke signals and calling out across the valley. No, I am not smoking something, but an owl right outside our window is howling. Yes, howling.

October 3
Roy wakes up with a terrible head cold, but wants to drive to Rome, anyway. Sofi and I are fine. We all leave the house at 9AM and are parked at Ponte Milvio by 10:15.

The look and the smell of Rome are unlike any other place on earth. In a way, the light of the city reflecting off the buildings on this sunny morning reminds me a little of Venice. Perhaps it is the ocher walls of many buildings, crumbled and looking like proud old men, with that air of city elegance about them. The dirt from years of pollution is excessive, but the buildings are still beautiful.

The sidewalks and streets are another matter, altogether. Garbage, broken bottles, animal droppings are everywhere. The sidewalks are not hosed down, as they are in the smaller cities and towns. Romans seem to feel their city is above it all; that we are lucky to be able to walk in it at all.

On certain Sundays, it is possible to drive into the center of Rome without being given a huge fine. Today is one of them. During the week and on Saturday afternoons, driving is prohibited, unless one has a residence permit. The pollution is so terrible and it is so crowded that the city has had to resort to this.

At around the turn of the last century, Rome must have been the place to be. Many of the most beautiful apartment buildings seem to have been built around that time. I see the Roman numerals counting out the year of construction on several and they are built around the same time, the colors lighter than those of Perugia or Bologna. Gorgeous curved corner buildings, with balconies open to the sun, pedestals with statues or urns holding evergreen plants, profusions of colored flowers falling like ample breasts hanging over iron railings.

We are at Ponte Milvio for the antiquariato mercato held there on the first Sunday of each month. I can only describe what we see as eye candy. I play a game in my head, buying this piece of furniture, that silver bowl, this painting...Fifty years ago, Pamela DiRico and I played a game with her mother's fashion magazines. We'd sit on her mother's claret colored velvet divan with our legs straight out, tiny feet reaching just past the edge, and Pamie would take one page and I the facing one, describing our lives as if we were the women on the pages, wearing stylish clothes, sitting in the finest restaurants, with the handsomest husbands, with the most beautiful children, going home to the most exquisite homes.

Today, we come away with out spending a dime, but I do see a four-piece set of incredible red velvet fringed divani and two chairs in perfect condition that I would snap up in a moment if we had the right client. Also a pair of navy blue deco chairs with pale wood trim, right out of Architectual Digest. And then there are the paintings, in old frames, of Italian scenes. There are so many people walking by that we don't dawdle. But I always look for the little square plates with proverbs on them, and Roy looks for his black and white dogs. There are no plates. They are almost impossible to find anymore. And no dogs the right size for Roy.

We are in Rome really on a mission to find t-shirts of one style with the word Italia printed on them for the nine grandchildren in California to wear together. On Thanksgiving Day, there will be photos galore of them. One special photo will be of them sitting on a divan, smallest to tallest, all in their matching shirts. This is a one-time photo of this generation. Terence's generation was the last, with Iolanda buying the shirts then at A Cavalli in North Beach in San Francisco. After a lot of chasing around, we find the right stall near the Colliseum and just the right ones in a wonderful shade of blue.

God bless dear Iolanda and Leo. Last night at the mass at the little church named Misericordia in Bomarzo, a young woman was the reader. Listening to her reminded me of Iolanda reading at the Saturday evening mass at her church in Carmel Valley, Leo and Roy and I so proud of her. We are proud of her, still.

We stop for a panini at an outside café, because tonight there will be a big dinner at Loredana and Alberto's. We think Tiziano and Rosina and Enzo will also be there, with Enzo's leg bandaged. Tonight we'll find out what happened to this latest member of Mugnano's walking wounded. At a certain time of day, they are always out, strolling or limping along.

Roy's cold is much worse by the time we return home, and after sleeping for a couple of hours, he is not much better. I sit and write and he decides to get up to see if he will be able to rally for dinner.

Outside there is so much activity. It is time for the vendemmia of the grapes, and the village tractors arrive back in the village with their lugs of grapes. All the cantinas are open, with everyone helping their neighbor with this year's harvest. Some wine will be better than others, but there will be enough to last to fortify the cold winter months before the fire. Roy wants to help Mario and Pepe, so he'll call Paola to find out when they'll have their vendemmia.

Roy does not want to miss the cena, so we drive up and park in the square. Enzo and Rosita do not join us, because Lore only has room for six people, but Tiziano arrives. I meet Tonino for the first time, and he is a lot of fun, arriving like a whirlwind and having so much to say that he hardly touches his food.

Roy tells Lore that his new nickname is Dino, and she asks him if he is Dino Saurus. I think that is pretty funny, but Roy is not THAT old. Lore invites us right in to her kitchen to sit down.

Lori first serves sliced prosciutto and figs; the figs from the specialty shop in Viterbo. The figs are big and black and very tasty. Then we have ravioli stuffed with ricotta and walnuts from our favorite pasta shop in Bagnaia with salvia from our garden and a little butter. Then she serves a tender sliced beef with dishes of pepperoni and cipola that have been prepared earlier and are served at room temperature. The cipola are delicious, and I will definitely try to replicate this dish. Everything is tasty.

We finish with cookies from Il Fornaio in Viterbo and coffee, and I can imagine Alberto doing his errands the day before. Lore sends him out and he always knows just what to buy. We are served the wine that we brought and the Sagratino is quite delicious. I never know if we are bringing the correct wine. Alberto is such an expert. But they are always gracious, and meals there are always fun, with plenty to talk about.

I venture forward with stilted conversations in Italian, and even get a kudo from Tonino that he understands what I am saying. So although I know I am butchering the language, I am working on it. Tiziano sits next to me on the banquette, and we laugh to each other when we tell the others that Tiziano is our insegnante, but we mostly laugh during our sessions.

Tonino wants to see Scarzuola, and we agree that we will put together a group of about fifteen, so that we can have a special tour. Otherwise, they won't want to admit a small group. Roy will call this week to set something up before it gets too cold. We revisit our Catholic wedding ceremony held there on January 2nd, 2003 and Tonino cannot wait to see the fantastic creations of the former owner, a famous architect of the '50's named Buzzi.

We arrive home before midnight and Roy goes to bed, but Sofi and I stay up to watch the original version of The Italian Job with Michael Caine. It is still a fun movie. Sofi looks up at me a couple of times wondering if I'll ever go to bed, but we finally do at around 1AM.

October 4
We've decided to drive to see Uncle Harry and Aunt Elaine when we are in California at the end of next month, and I send cousin Cherie an email to see if we can stop there for one night on the way.

But Roy wants to take a photo of the shirts to make sure we have a great turnout of relatives on Thanksgiving, and we get ready to send it to everyone, with a "picture your little ones here" note.

Here's the photo:

Figs and figs and more figs, are ripening on the tree, dropping on the ground. Roy likes them with thicker skin. I like them best when they're so ripe their shape is lopsided, with the weight at the bottom. This year, our huge tree is plentiful with green, luscious figs. We cut down the second huge fig tree that grew great black figs last year. It was growing up the back wall, threatening the huge tufa outcropping behind our house.

So what to do with all the figs?

The easy answer is, "put them up in jars!" So I find a recipe for gingered figs and I think I'll try that one, changing it a little to have our own characteristic signature. Later, later, I am always thinking. They are great eaten fresh off the tree, but what happens later, when we want something tasty and the same old, same old Italian menu gets tiresome? If Roy feels better later this afternoon, he can drive to get some more caps to top our collection of little glass jars. At 5 cents each, that's a small price to pay for little gifts and tasty treats for the two of us.

But both Roy and Sofi are under the weather. Last night, before going to bed, Sofi climbed up on the chair to peer over at our bed and make sure that Roy was all right. I came to bed sometime later, after finishing watching a movie.

Today, after our photo project for the shirts, Roy is lethargic and takes a long nap. Sofi does, too. She has a warm nose, and her eyes look shinier than normal. But I am fine, and after I pick a whole big glass bowl of figs, realize that I can't reach most of them. And now I conjure up things to do with the figs...

Felice comes by, and we walk together to the pomodori garden to discuss the fog in the morning and whether the remaining pomodori will mature. I bring out Livio's handmade basket and we pick the mature ones together. Then I follow him into the cava, where he asks me if we can use Sofi's old wicker bed, which she has outgrown.

He lays the little tomatoes down on the bed gently, filling up one layer. Then he stands it on top of an old plastic barrel, and finds an old small rope mat that fits perfectly on top and closes the opening with a big slice of cardboard, folded over. I think he wants us to check on it daily, but the tomatoes will probably be drying out by themselves. We will see.

I have another new burst of energy, and take out another glass bowl to pick more figs. I find a great recipe for fig jam, so might as well make a lot of it. Roy wakes up and comes downstairs all dressed, and offers to go to the hardware store to get new tops for some little jars.

When he walks out to pay Felice for the month of October, Felice asks him if we want to

work his grape vendemmia with him on Saturday. Si, certo! We may also work on Wednesday for Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano, so may become star workers. We hope so. And Felice makes the best wine in Mugnano, so we look forward to the "spoils". And of course we'd do anything for Felice.

Roy stays awake for the rest of the evening, and after feeding him some melon and prosciutto, we decide to walk up to take a bag or garbage. Pepe and Livio and Giuliola are there standing by the old fountain across from the bus stop, and Pepe asks us if we have heard from ENEL. We have not, and he will call them in the morning to find out why. We are hesitant to ask. We'd rather wait longer for a lower preventivo.

Roy asks Giuliola about our costumes for Friday and Saturday nights, and they will be ready on Thursday. To say that I don't like my costume is an understatement, but if we don't find a better one to borrow from Orte, I will be resigned to be a muslin-draped peasant for our medieval event this weekend. These nights have been really warm and lovely, and I hope that this weekend has more of the same weather.

Last year, it was really cold in Soriano, but we lasted through one night of it. This year, there are two nights, back to back. Groan. Whatever do we get ourselves into? Those of you who know us know that we always volunteer to help our local community. This is The Mountain Play all over again, with cold weather and us dressed for Palm Springs while the fog rolls in....

October 5
We face a sunny morning, and Roy and Sofi take me to Amelia for a session with Alice. Ouch! The muscles behind my right shoulder are very taut. I have not used a heat pack on my shoulder as she has counseled, and really must do that, or the sessions will be for naught. But here's an interesting concept:

Alice tells me to take a box of sale marino grosso (the big chunks of sea salt) and heat them in a dry pan, then put them in a towel surrounded by a pillowcase. Then the salt will conform to any part of my body that is in pain. She thinks it's better than a heating pad.

I have an idea to use one of those cloth greens drying bags. In the states we bought them from Williams-Sonoma, but they are available anywhere. Roy drives to Viterbo to meet with Massimo about our computer problems, and I heat up the salt and put it in a greens bag, then hang it on my shoulder. Gee it is hot. So I take it and hold it away from my back and then close to my back, until I can stand the heat of the bag against my skin.

After awhile, it cools off, and I reheat the salt in the same pot, then repeat the same process. Afterward, I throw out all the salt, but it works wonders.

In the afternoon, I have a burst of energy and rake the long loquat leaves from the gravel on the front terrace. The weather is mild, but not too hot. I walk over to look down at the pomodori, but they do not look much different from yesterday. I hope that some of the Gold Medal pomodori will ripen. I also will attempt to dry some of them, and think that that is what Felice is trying to do in the cava with the ones we picked yesterday.

Tonight, I slice a really delicious wedge of pecorino nero, a juicy apple, and lay the slices on a wooden board. Then I spoon yesterday's fig mixture into a white ramekin and some of Shelly's honey into another. Roy arrives home and we snack on this for cena. He loves the fig mixture, so I will really put the recipe on the web site this week.

October 6
Fog greets us as we roll out of bed. Literally roll. Our mattress sits on top of a 54cm high iron frame that was made for us by Dario DiMauro six years ago. I always wanted a bed high enough that I could see out the window at the view below. And we feel as if we are sitting on a cloud. But it does take a little gymnastic vault on my part to get up onto the bed...

The temperature is mild, and by the time I walk up to Dottoressa to get the prescriptions I forgot to ask for last week, the sun has almost cleared upon the valley below. From a distance on these days, Mugnano appears like Brigadoon, rising out of the fog. All we need is John Scaman standing on the tufa rock behind our house in a kilt to transport us to another time, another place. I think often of our days behind the scenes working at The Mountain Play in Marin County, CA. There were so many plays, so many adventures, so many friends.

We hear on the news that Vioxx has been recalled, as it has caused a number of heart attacks and strokes. It is a good thing that I no longer take it, and this morning Roy throws all the boxes out.

While waiting for Dottoressa, a jolly group ensembles: Marieadeliade, Ennio, Terzo, Escanio, Franca, Rosita, Enzo. The talk is about Enzo, who stands but tells us that his leg is better. He fell after he cut down a tree. Roy tells me he fell on the cut wood. I tell Enzo that when they looked at his cut leg, they found wine instead of blood. Everyone laughs. I think they want to make me feel a part of them, even if they don't think what I say is funny.

Roy and Sofi arrive at the door of the waiting room, and wait for me outside. He checks with Enzo about the vendemmia, because Tiziano called us this morning and told us it would be Thursday or Friday. We can work on Friday, but not tomorrow.

Enzo tells us that the vendemmia depends on whether the little street in the centro storico leading to the tower will be paved. His cantina is on that street, and he cannot do his crush unless he can get to his cantina.

I ask Dottoressa about our flu shots, after hearing that there won't be much vaccine available in the US this year. I think it has something to do with the supplier, who has incorrectly mixed the formula last year. But she is not concerned, and tells us that she will have our shots for us when we return from the U S at the beginning of December.

We see Stefano and Enzo working outside Elena and Valerio's house, but the rest of the street looks the same as it did ten days ago. The vendemmia is very important work for country people, and not being allowed to do the crush is a very big deal. I am sure there is a lot of talk going on at the commune. When we walk home, we see Francesco speeding by us on his way to the Commune in his official car. He is probably taking red hot comments from the villagers to Stefano, the sindaco.

At home, I take an hour and work on the roses on the path. They still thrive, even in October, and I am able to take in about ten beautiful roses after clearing up the plants. In the midst of it all, Ennio and Bastia come by, and I let Sofi off her lead to run over to her little friend for a friendly greeting.

Roy does errands, and returns with some sausage meat to use for pasta. We have not eaten meat for a long time, and I welcome the chance to do something with it with what we have.

Standard fare at pranzo these days includes a green salad. Lattuga Romana (romaine) and rugghetta (arugula) from our orto, thinly sliced cetriolo (cucumber) if we have it, and grated cheese and capers and diced anchovies, all coated lightly with olive oil and vinegar.

I feed Sofi penne from a few days ago, taking it out of the sauce and cutting it in small pieces. Dogs in Italia love pasta, and that is the mainstay of an Italian dog's diet. Sofi gets a bonus of a little plain red sauce to coat hers today. The actual sauce consists of heirloom tomatoes put through a food mill, yellow peppers and sliced shallots.

I take a red onion from our garden, one that has been resting in a braid in the loggia, and thinly slice it, then sauté it in olive oil. The sausage meat is added next, and when it has cooked through I add the pepper and shallot and tomato mixture left from the pasta in the frigo. I add a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a pepperoncino and about eight minced salvia (sage) leaves. Just before the pasta is ready to take out of the pot, I add a tablespoon of butter.

We don't eat pasta sauce smothered in a starchy, heavy red sauce. I think that is American fare, and never liked it. I do like to experiment, and think that less sauce is more when it comes to coating pasta. Americans seem to like the dish to taste more like a stew, with the long noodles dredged in lots of sauce. And I recently learned that if one makes a sauce with olive oil to drizzle a little on the plate before serving it. And the same apples to butter. Although today I mix that advice up and add a little butter. before serving the pasta with freshly grated cheese on top.

I can't wait to get upstairs to sit near the open window facing the valley and write. I love the sounds, whether it is Roy walking down below on the gravel to his little workshop, a lone car driving up to the village, birds in the loquat and caki tree on the terrace, or a tractor in the field.

After awhile of writing, with Sofi making little sleeping noises in the chair behind me, she bolts out of the chair with a shrill bark and looks up at me as if to say, "Let's GO! Someone is coming in the gate!" It is Felice, and I am not ready to stop writing, so I tell her to go but she does not want to move without me. She barks and barks, and rushes down the stairs while Roy exclaims at the foot of the staircase, "Mamma Mia! What a racket!"

Felice comes to work on the land for about an hour, and in that time does some weeding. But Roy goes out to see him and they work on the cherry tree together, and then the old olive trees, opening up more space so sun can come through. These days, every bit of sun is important.

I tell him I want to dry figs, and Roy gets out an old screen as well as a shelf from one of the bakers' rack shelving we use backstage. We put the rack on top of the marble table, then the figs, then the window screen on top. Felice thinks we can put the figs right on top of the screen. He does not think birds will get to them.

So when he leaves, Roy and I pick about twenty figs. The rest are too high up in the tree to reach easily. We'll see for the next week or so what happens to these figs. Another simple project to do with the things already existing on our land.

While Felice was still here, we brought out the bags of broccoli and agretti, and confirmed that we will plant the seeds at the end of this month, in the space where the pepperoni were planted earlier in the summer. Roy has a cover worked out so that we can grow things there during the winter.

We are starting to watch some Italian language TV. The velocity of the speech is beyond our comprehension, but we start to understand why our various Italian teachers have told us not to worry about understanding every word. We should follow along to get the gist of a sentence. That is getting easier. I remember back to the first year of going to church and not understanding a single word. We are much further along than that. But I cannot dream of taking more lessons at this point.

Tomorrow we will go to a hospital in Terni so that I can get a mammography. That will be an experience. I am sure that I will have an opportunity to try my feeble Italian out on strangers, and we'll see how far I can get.

The wind whips up quickly and before we know it we are closing the windows and hunkering down before the TV. Soon it will be warm enough for a fire, and soon our firewood will be delivered. Then a whole new chapter of our lives will begin...another Fall and winter in Mugnano.

October 7
Every morning the fog continues and it is cool, but by eleven AM or so the fog clears and the sun is bright. This morning we drive to Terni to the hospital there. I have an appointment for a mammography. Have not had one for almost three years. But all seems to be well. Yesterday I received an email from a friend with the request to click on the following site each day:

and click on the "free mammograms" button.

Put this site in your favorites in your browser and click on it every day, at least in October, to help get mammographies for underprivileged women in the U S.

We spend the morning in Terni, between visits to the auto dealership and the hospital, but it is good to be at home in the afternoon. Across the street, Marino is clearing the land with his tiny backhoe, and Pia arrives to watch. The little building is torn down, so they must be ready to start to build. We hope it is a sweet little house...

Livio comes by to drop off our costumes for tomorrow night, and Tiziano calls to tell us that his father's vendemmia starts at 8AM tomorrow. Roy calls Duccio to tell him that we will be working for the next few days picking grapes, and he tries to think of the term to call us...Ah, yes. Migrant workers. So we'll pick all day tomorrow, then volunteer until late tomorrow night at the festa in Soriano as poor vegetable vendors. Then on Saturday we'll be migrant workers again for dear Felice to help him with his grapes and volunteer again Saturday night.

By the time Sunday rolls around, we'll be walking wounded. But then again, Tia calls to tell us there will be an antique car show in Amelia this weekend, and Roy would love to see that. But more importantly, she calls to say they have a new female Brittany Spaniel puppy, to go along with Charlie, the one they picked up last week. This little puppy is only 6 weeks old and has not had her shots yet. The Italians are known to get dogs this way, and although it's not a good idea, she wants this puppy and will take good care of her. When she has had her shots, Sofi will surely want to visit. But not until then.

October 8
This morning, we drive with Sofi to our first Mugnano Vendemmia at Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano's land. Tiziano is off at work digging at an archeological site in Amelia. We know that he does not much like this work anyway, so is probably glad to have to leave early.

We start behind the house, and Sofi stays near us, but in about ten minutes she is covered by birrs and brambles. I did not want to leave her at home, but realize this was a mistake. Tomorrow she will stay at home and I am sure will be relieved.

For months I have been calling Tiziano's grandfather, Gino. His name is Tito. So there is just one Gino in the village, who is 96. Tito is a spry 92. Valerio is here, but Rosita stays in the house until we finish the vines in back and move to the front of the house. She tells me that she loves the vendemmia, and picks just enough before she has to go into the kitchen to prepare pranzo for us all.

The work is not hard, but it is messy. Roy and I each have our cutters, called forbice, and I am wearing my rose gloves. I know that it is warm, but I am better protected with these. All the while, I look out for Sofi.

When we finish the vines in front of the house, Rosita leads us down the strada Bianca toward our house to another area of land. While working there, Enzo and Valerio spend most of their time on the tractor, bringing big plastic buckets up to his cantina in the centro storico. Tito and Roy and I plug away slowly and surely.

I look up and Sofi is nowhere to be found. But Valerio returns and spots her scurrying down the street toward our house. I run over to the bank and call out to her, and she turns around and stops. But her expression tells it all..."Don't you want to go home...NOW?"

Poor Sofi. We call her back and she spends the rest of the time lying by Tito's feet as he clips away at the grapes.

We are really tired by the time 1:30 rolls around, and Tito and I drag ourselves to Enzo and Rosita's house slowly at the back of the pack.

Later, sitting under the trees next to the pink house, I describe to our friends about Sofia's reaction to the first time she was scared by Nando's cat. She sounded like a car alarm, "Whoop, whoop, whoop, whoop" Enzo cannot contain himself, he thinks it is so funny. And later he laughs at me again when I tell him about Loredana and Roy and Adolf Hitler with the same birthday. I put my right index finger across and under my nose and stick my other arm out straight to confirm that the name Hitler translates directly into Italian.

When we arrive back at their house, Elena, Valerio's beautiful wife, comes down the stairs stylishly dressed. I truly feel like a migrant farm worker, dirty, no makeup, tired. She kisses me anyway, and we all sit outside for a long pranzo of: antipasti, pasta, salsiche, insalata, torte and plenty of vino. Tiziano arrives just before dessert, and we tell him we have saved one row of grapes for him to pick before he can have pranzo. But he laughs and tells us that he has already eaten.

He sits with us and by now we are so tired that we are having trouble keeping up the conversation. We leave and come home to brush Sofi and rest a little. But we cannot find Sofi's comb, so Roy leaves to find one. I sit with her on the sofa in the cuccina and gently, gently, separate the birrs from her, hair by hair. Her little beard is matted almost beyond hope. But I let her put my finger in her mouth to bite it and instead she gives me a kiss. I am so gentle with her that she is not afraid, and rolls over onto her back and just lies there patiently.

By the time Roy returns almost an hour later, her beard is totally restored and I am making good progress on her stomach. The comb helps, and in less than another hour she is back to normal. But I am SO tired. I climb into bed for an hour, but before I know it I am dressing for tonight and we are leaving Sofi to rest while we become actors in tonight's medieval performance.

Roy's parking karma is in good stead, and we arrive in the square early. We help set up the booths on either side of the street, in front of the barricades and rows of bleachers. Many of Roy's confraternity members are with us, as is Antonio, Francesco and his family, Livio and Giuliola. Antonio gives me the bags of verdura, and I set up my cart with beautiful vegetables and fruit, in Livio's handmade baskets.

We forgot how much we like these two nights, acting as silent actors on a stage that fills the wide main street of the town. The whole event is masterfully staged, with the microphones expertly set up to fill the square.

Tonight we, the poor street merchants of Mugnano, have brought our wares to Soriano, a much bigger town. But in the midst of our mercato, there is a trial of a witch, or strega. Bleachers are set up all along both sides of the street, and our hand crafted wooden stands with wooden wheels are set up in front of barricades that separate the actors from the crowd. We are all in medieval garb.

When it is time for the strega to speak in her own defense, she also sings a beautiful song. She is held by costumed men and tries to get away, but they hold her by ropes attached to her wrists. We think she is the same woman who performed in this role last year. Everyone takes his role seriously.

I am moved by tall Mauro teaching his young son about the strega and the tradition of his family's involvement in this pageant. He kneels down by Salvatore's side, and they are now about the same height. This is Salvatore's first costume, a claret red cloak, with navy tights and navy slipper-shoes, with a triangle detail on the back. His older sister, Erica, wears a rose colored dress and cap, and looks lovely.

So although all the other merchants and people strolling about yell at her and call her names and take vegetables from our carts to throw at her, I stand back, my muslin dress covered on my head and shoulders by a black shawl. My head is down, and I walk behind the others. At the very end, as she is burned at the stake, my hand raises and I cover my mouth with my shawl. Drama. Iolanda would be proud of me.

I have decided that I believe the woman is not a witch, but am the only person who believes her. (As Roy would say, this is my motivation. I recall this the first time he was dressed as a rich merchant for a formal procession in Orte. "What is my motivation?" he asked with a straight face to Alberto, who just snickered.)

Franchesco's sister, wife, daughter are all in costume, as is Francesco, complete with his walking sticks. During the trial and beating of the strega, he holds a huge black cross in front of him, facing her. When she is "burned" at the stake, he raises the cross high in celebration, showing the crowd and dancing with it.

We are silent bit actors, and most of our group throws lettuce and soft vegetables at the strega. Before, our stand was beautifully laid out. But as soon as we learn that the strega is to be on trial, most of the Mugnanese take handfuls of veggies to throw at her. I remain quiet and stoic in the back, watching, as tho I believe she is not a witch.

We walk out in the dark to music and drums, while people in the bleachers surrounding us applaud.

The lights in the town turn completely off while the actress is taken off the stand and instead a fake doll with a wig is hoisted up and the pine boughs around her are set on fire. Strangely, when she is brought in, the wind dies completely down, and it is only after the entire staging that the wind returns. Otherwise, the night is comodo. Coming home Roy tells me it is still 17 degrees, quite comfortable.

October 9
Danilo's wedding takes place at the commune in Bomarzo later today. Today is also the last day for the vendemmia, as rain is expected on Sunday.

I wake up before 3AM for the debate, and later when describing to the people at pranzo that Bush acted like a pit bull, Alessandro, Felice's grandson, compares Kerry to a Labrador Retriever. I like that comparison very much. I learned nothing new upon watching the debate, other than to verify that there are very few undecided voters. So it is up to the voting machines now. If they are all working and the votes are all counted, it will be a fair election. Why do I think that our elections are not any better organized than those of third world countries?

I wake up at 8AM and we quickly shower and get dressed, before saying goodbye to Sofi on the terrace and walking down the hill to Aqua Puzzo, where Felice's land is located. Like Enzo's, the land is not contiguous, but it is quite large. Later Felice tells us that there are several hundred grape plants, none of them new.

We arrive at 9AM, and already seven or eight full barrels of grapes have been picked. He has a crew of about six beside the two of us. Felice's son and grandson put an old hand operated machine over an empty black bucket, and the picked grapes are thrown on top and worked down the chute into the bucket by a hand crank. The operator pushes the grapes and stems through at the same time.

At yesterday's vendemmia for Enzo and Rosita, this work was done in Enzo's cantina. He and Valerio rode on Enzo's tractor to the cantina in the centro storico each time we filled up ten or so big black plastic buckets. They did this more than pick the grapes, looking and acting more like young boys playing cowboys and Indians. laughing the whole day long. Valerio rode sidesaddle, asking Enzo to open the door when they reached the village. Later we all laugh when he recants the story.

Felice's wine is some of the best local wine we have ever had. Perhaps it has something to do with the position of the vines. But Roy confirms with me that Felice spends a lot of time tending the vines during the year, to make sure they are opened up to get the maximum amount of sunlight. Many of his grapes are so full that they hug the vines, wrapping themselves around each other as if to keep warm. The skin of the red grapes is a bright dark blue in color, the skin of the whites a pale yellowy green.

I don't want to compare yesterday's experience to today's. Each is wonderful in it's own way. Today's is more silent, with Felice's happy countenance evident all about. How we treasure this man. Today he is dressed in dark blue cotton pants, a checked shirt, brown wool v-neck patched lovingly repaired on the back by Marsiglia, and a wool cap with a brim, although sometimes the brim is turned backward like a Hip-hop singer. The growth on his beard is always a few days old. He must use Don Johnson's razor.

We finish and tell Felice we'll arrive at his house in 20 minutes. He tells us, "Presto, per che io fami!" (Hurry because I am hungry!) Walking up the hill at around 1:30PM, before pranzo at Felice and Marsiglia's, we look up to see our pomodori turning fall colors. Many of them are still tiny. But I notice that in Felice's very large orto, he has many pomodori that are still green. So the view from the street is nothing to be embarrassed about.

Since Roy clipped most of the leaves off the pomodori plants to open them up to more sun, they seem suspended in mid air, like notes on a music staff. The melody is rich and somewhat salty, bursting with fat notes plunked here and there.

"Piccola? Piccola?" Roy walks in front of me up the long steep hill, and tells me not to call out her name again. She is standing on the ledge just before the front copper pillar caps. He reaches the gate before me, and in a few seconds she is racing down the gravel path at me, her ears out like two leaves of an artichoke. Her tongue finds me first, giving me a big wet kiss while she piddles on the gravel. She emotes a string of high pitched cooing sounds, repeating them so that I know she is telling us that she missed us so and is so happy now that we are home with her.

I am sorry to say that we only stay at home for twenty minutes or so, long enough for me to feed her and for us to change into clean clothes before abandoning her again on the terrace while we walk up to Felice and Marsiglia's house in the centro storico.

This is the first time we have entered their house, up a steep flight of stairs. Pranzo today is for seven of us: Italo, Felice, Marsigliia, their son and grandson. We all sit around a big table in the living room that also serves as a sala di pranzo. Pasta, pollo, carciofe, pane, torte...lots to eat and it is all delicious. We are really tired, and decline coffee, wanting to take a nap before tonight's excitement in Soriano.

We greet a frantic Sofi at home, knowing we have a busy night ahead. So I take a shower and drag myself into bed for an hour or two, and then get up to get dressed and ready for the grand finale of the Soriano Castagno Festa. Roy does the same, while Sofi looks over at me on the sofa as if to say, "You're leaving me alone again, aren't you?"

We leave the house before dark, and it is warm and windy. By the time we arrive in Soriano, which is located very high on a not too distant promontory, the wind is howling. We take our time to get to our destination, by walking through a medieval mercato, and have plenty of time to help get the stands ready before the show begins. We are asked again and again about the festa, about directions, and are able to answer a few. One man starts to ask Roy something but then realizes somehow that he is not Italian and turns to his friend and says so, and then asks someone else.

"Why I NEVER!"

An old man comes up to us with a handmade basket over his arm. In the basket is a beautiful gallina (hen). He asks us about the cheese man, and we tell him that he is not here tonight. His son got married today in Bomarzo. But he sticks around. I think he tells us that his wife sent him to buy cheese. And after he walks over to someone else, I say to Roy, "Did his wife ask for cheese, or do you think the gallina is his wife?" The man strikes a strange figure.

Later, only later, do we realize that this old man is one of the stars of the show. He returns in costume with the gallina in her basket, and has a speaking role, with the spotlight shining on him. The crowd roars and loves him. After he walks off stage, we are told to follow him up over the wooden moat and inside the city gates.

Tonight the show is the annual story of Soriano and its history during a significant time in local medieval history. In the story, told off stage by a man with excellent elocution, a different man is tried by a three man council and then beheaded right in front of us. (The lights are turned off at the final moment and he is taken away bent over in the back of a wooden wagon, with his head obscured by a castagno wooden pole and the grim reaper standing over him.)

It seems that the Orsini family is an important family in the history of Soriano as well as in Bomarzo and Mugnano. After the old man and his gallina speak, and after the beheading, we are led out of town. The drawbridge is then raised, as men enter from nearby Vignanello, and fighting breaks out. There are bonfires, and much fighting with swords and fists. But the men of Soriano save the day by killing off many soldiers from nearby Vignanello. We are brought back out and the "dead bodies" are dragged off and put in another wooden wagon. The crowd roars again, "Bravi! Bravi!" This audience loves blood and gore.

So the story ends happily, with children prancing around with maypoles and us back at our stands trying to make a living. During the beginning of the program, there are processions of drummers and also processions of flag throwers. It is all rather elaborate and impressive, with most of the musicians and flag throwers in the Orsini red and blue costumes.

The whole undertaking is extremely impressive. This whole weekend has been unforgettable. To think that we, two people from California, would be welcomed enough that we are invited to participate in a truly Italian historical recreation is incredibly moving to us. Of all the weekends of the year, this is probably my favorite, with a combination of mild but not too hot weather, vendemmias with two different village families, and bit parts in Soriano theatrical events on two succeeding nights.

October 10
We walk up to church under an overcast sky, and when we arrive, Marieadelaide is just coming out from her house behind the little church. Livio waves down from his stairs and arrives a minute later with the wine and water for the priest, uncovering the plastic drop cloths covering the altar and turning on the lights.

We notice that a few neighbors actually come over to greet us before mass. Marsiglia arrives just before mass without Felice, and tells us that he is busy in his cantina, getting all the grapes ready to ferment for the next week. On Saturday we'll probably go to his cantina to see if we can help.

After mass, we see the women of the church walk around back behind the church and walk up the little alley on the way to Pepe and Serena's house. We ask Tiziano if they are going to a meeting to plan some kind of coup, but he laughs and tells us that there is a little reception for the ladies that Carla is giving. This is the morning after her son Danilo's wedding.

We start to walk down the hill back home, and Serena calls out to me from Carla's balcony, inviting me to come up. Of course Roy comes, too. The little living room is full of women by this time, and once I call in, "Permesso?" Carla welcomes us.

Roy is at home as the solo man in this gathering, where there are sweets galore laid out on a table against the wall, as well tremezzini (finger sandwiches with the crusts cut off), which are so popular in Italy. We try a ginger soft drink, which is quite tasty, and a taste of the sweets, but mostly look at the gifts. We are told by at least one woman to eat, eat now, and then nothing for pranzo. I think it's a little early for all this food.

We are drawn to the sets of glasses, with a label of Miss Sophie, and for the rest of the day refer to our little dog as Miss Sofi.

After a minute or two, we thank Carla, wish her "Auguri" and leave to pick up Sofi and drive to the mercato in Terni.

We arrive in Terni at about noon, and are able to greet Serena, the jewelry seller, who told us about this mercato yesterday. Most of the booths are crafts. A large number sell decoupage items, a craft which has taken on a life of its own in Italia. Some items are better executed than others.

It takes us less than 30 minutes to see the whole show, and are able to get back in the car just before the rain begins with earnest. We make a quick stop at Cibus, a really terrific gourmet food shop with creative breads and pizzas and roast takeout items.

Back at home, after a small pranzo, I am tired and have a dolce fa niente with Sofi until the rain wakes me up and we go downstairs to watch TV and eat pizza and a salad with Roy.

October 11
I wake up with toothache. Roy calls Dottore Chiantini, and we have an appointment on Wednesday in Rome, after meeting with Marielisa near Bracciano.

For the weather, we have rain off and on all day. Felice arrives and we pick tomatoes. Roy is in Viterbo, and so we carry on like a couple of children. I show him the green zebra tomatoes, and try to explain what a zebra is. I do not know the Italian name for zebra, so describe the black and white stripes, and that the animal is like a horse but not so big. He asks me if I am speaking about a muca (cow). Madonna mia! Anyway, we pick a whole basketful of different types of heirlooms, and a few stray san marzanos as well.

The figs we have put out to dry are getting eaten by the vespe, so I pick them up from the table and pick some more figs from the tree. Inside, I slice lemons and make more marmellata picante di figi with fresh ginger and spices. We finish with ten tiny and one large jars. Then I skin and core tomatoes but am too tired to finish. It takes me at least two hours at the sink, just for the tomatoes. Tomorrow we'll cook and put up about six more glass jars. This process never seems to end, but we will be happy to have them this winter.

Roy confirms that Sofi has the only child syndrome. She plays wildly with her toys, throwing them up in the air and catching them herself. In the meantime, Suzanne calls and one of Judith's dogs, Louie, rummaged through Suzanne's handbag and ate a handful of chocolate. Roy gives them the vet info in Amelia and the vet is ready for them when they arrive. Inside the vet gives Louie something and he throws it right up. He's saved for another adventure. Suzanne leaves tomorrow and we'll see her in November in the U.S. Judith will be here for another week, and now knows of a vet nearby in case she has any more adventures with her dogs.

October 12
The morning sky is overcast, and the air feels like a wet blanket.

I am confused by so many Italian words. Perhaps that is why I asked during pranzo at Enzo's on Friday, "Why is there no negotiating in a negozio?, " Negozio is the Italian word for store. It also refers to the act of negotiating. When asked, the Italians tell me that tanti anni fa (many years ago), a store was the place you went to in order to negotiate for something you wanted to buy.

On Saturday, I told Marsiglia that her carciofe (artichokes) were deliziosa. Wrong. Her grandson corrected me to say that that means delightful, but the Italian dictionary agrees with me. So even when I am right I am wrong.

Tonight we'll prepare the tomatoes for more glass jars. When I look down at the pomodori orto, there are still plenty of green ones hanging on the vines, hoping for sun. So we'll still be picking them at then end of October! Next year, next year, Roy tells me we'll plant fewer, and none of the little ones.

We'll be moving the tomatoes up above the lavender garden next spring, to the spot where we planted potatoes in February. Potatoes. We have hardly eaten one since harvesting them, and they sit in lugs in the cava. Let's hope they are still good when we're ready to eat them. Somehow, this planting thing seems overwhelming. "Later, later" we're always saying. Why don't we want to eat them all up when we harvest them and they're at their freshest?

October 13
Marielisa emails us that she thinks she has sold her next door property to an ex-carabinieri from Rome. She welcomes us anyway today to look at it and speak with her about helping her to market it, and Irina is ready to groom Sofi. I love Sofi's casual cut, but Marielisa told us at her party in September that Sofi looks like she is wearing pants. So late this morning she'll be shorn like a sheep and leave there sleek and elegant...

We are ready to go early, and the car starts right up, although it rained quite a bit last night. We stop at Fedora's on the way up the hill in Bomarzo for coffee, and the car is dead as a doornail when we get back into it to drive to Rome. Roy admits that the car may look stylish, but he agrees with the pundits who say that an Alfa Romeo is just a Fiat with a sexy body.

Being Leo's son, Roy surmises that when the truck delivering milk that is parked behind us moves, we can back down the hill, turn the car around and it will start on compression. So the milk truck, facing in the downhill direction, drives off, and we put the car in reverse and coast down after it like the roller coaster at Revere Beach. When we arrive at the intersection, Roy gets out with the door open, turns the wheel hard, and luckily a kind man coming down the hill on foot walks quickly over to help. But whoop! A car pulls right up to the stop sign not looking, and we barely miss its back end.

How about that? Roy maneuvers us into the downhill direction and before we know it the car starts and we are on our way. The speedometer goes crazy, the lights flash, but we are able to keep things going until we arrive at the Alfa/Fiat dealer outside Viterbo. One hour and a new battery later we are good as new, and speeding on our way down the Cassia on the way to Marielisa's, with a new favorite dealership to take the car to be serviced.

We arrive at her house almost on time, and tour around, seeing three rental apartments as well as the property for sale. She also has a wonderful apartment in Rome that she wants to rent near Palazzo Panphili in Trestevre, and we agree to go there with her next week and take photos for our web site. She asks that we help her to market all four places.

We are becoming a jack of all trades for our slowly growing business. We check out Italian rental properties for Americans, scout for houses and apartments to buy, list rental houses and apartments, restore properties, manage and work with local contractors on restorations, design the landscaping and implementation of gardens, design and purchase interior spaces for clients, shop till we drop for various and sundry items to furnish homes or apartments, and pretty much take the bureaucratic angst out of living and enjoying Italy for English speaking folks. It appears that soon we may have our first Italian client, who wants to restore a property in lower Tuscany and put it on the market. Yum.

Sofi looks elegant and slim with her new winter cut and short nails, and we leave Marielisa and drive on down to the dentist in Rome located near Piazza Del Popolo. He is a great guy who studied at Boston University and wants to develop an English-speaking clientele. As soon as he has a web site, we will add a link to him. In the meantime, if anyone needs a great dentist in Rome, just email us and we'll give you the referral.

I have nothing wrong with my tooth, but he gives me a cleaning and Roy as well. So we can cancel our appointments that we made earlier for two weeks from now. Roy is intent on finding another little filing cabinet to work in the bedroom that does not look too functional but works well. So we drive to the EUR section of Rome, that ugly city within a city designed by Mussolini as a city of the future. It looks like lots of cement to me....

We find the store we are looking for, but have to park on a corner, and Sofi and I wait in the car while Roy checks out the store. While he is gone, a big truck tries to drive by and turns the corner right where we are parked. It is millimeters away, and almost clears us. Sofi and I are sitting inside with our mouths open. But before I can reach for the keys to turn the ignition on and open the window and pull in the rear view mirror on the driver's side, the truck starts it left turn and knocks the mirror right off it's mooring. Yikes!

Luckily, the truck does not get far. On these narrow Roman streets, it is difficult to make much headway. Right in front of him is another truck, parked for delivery. Two people stand outside a bar across the street and stare silently at our damaged car, and at me. I get out a pad and paper and write down the license plate, then see Roy sauntering down the street toward us.

"Hurry, hurry!" I motion with my right hand, Italian style, and he speeds up like an accelerating Cuisinart. I point to the mirror, then to the truck, and hand him the paper and pen. He runs over, motions a lot with his hands, and comes back with a business card and information on how to contact Fabio's trucking company to pay for the damage. The driver is so new that the manager does not even know his last name.

We drive to another office supply store, a bigger one this time, and find some packing tape that we use to tape the mirror to the side of the driver's door. Now we look like we are driving a real Italian car. Roy tells me that when parking on a narrow street, Italians often fold their mirrors in, to avoid situations just like these. Another good tip for stranieri to file away.

We wind up driving back by way of IKEA, and find a simple cabinet there that matches the one we bought a month or so ago. And then we stop at Autogrill on the way back up the A-1 for a plate of pasta.

At home, Roy can't wait to put the cabinet together, but Sofi and I try to rest because in a few hours we'll get up to watch the last debate on TV.

That reminds me. While in the dentist chair, Dr. Chiantini and I carry on a conversation about George Bush. Much as I love to talk about him, the kind doctor almost has to push me back down a few times when I want to give my opinion. It is very difficult to carry on a conversation with dental implements whirring around in a person's mouth.

I do get off a comment that Bush thought that the war in Iraq would finish with the Iraqi people acting like the Italians did after we conquered them in 1944, welcoming us with arms outstretched. He likes that. Whatever was Bush thinking? Why did he not have a plan on how to deal with Iraq after we conquered them? Isn't that 101 in War planning? What did he think the Iraqis would do...sit on their hands until we figured out what to do? And now, the Iraqi police and army that we train go into battle and more times than not, defect to the other side.

Of course they need security. Then why did we just fire all the police and have to hire them all over again? I could go on and on, but if he did not have a plan to make Iraq safe, what kind of a plan does he have for homeland security? What is he doing to secure our ports? Our planes? Why don't the cargo holds of planes get searched? Why don't vessels coming into U.S. ports get searched? What is the PLAN? Don't get me started. Oh. Sorry. My engine seems to start all by itself...

October 14
I get up for the debate before 3AM, and stay up until almost 6AM, then get back up a little over an hour later to go to Soriano for a blood test. I bring a little jar of urine to be tested, and one of the men in the lab coats asks me if I have brought him a gift of olive oil. Those guys are characters, and their attempts at English are pretty funny. Now I know how stupid I sound when I talk about dates and times and mix them all up. I am hopeful that every time I speak I get just a tiny bit better.

Alice advises me to read out loud in Italian, and that makes a lot of sense. Later in the day Roy has me translate a letter back to English out loud, and even that helps.

After we finish in Soriano, we drive to Attigliano to the weekly mercato and pick up some fresh persico, to bake with olives and fresh tomatoes later in the day. Much later. We will have a bigger meal tonight, because it is all I can do to fall into bed for several hours.

I am watching a segment of ER while the rain comes down in torrents. We never watched ER when we lived in the U S, so all these old programs are new to us now.

The fish is a big hit. The dish consists of thinly sliced potatoes, pitted green olives, fresh San Marzano tomatoes that have been skinned, cored and seeded, fillets of Persico (perch) garlic, olive oil, anchovies mashed and sautéed to a fine pulp, and olive oil. The recipe will go on the site soon. We have enough for another meal.

Sofi is full of pep, and does a race with one of her soft toys, dragging it in and out of the house, across the gravel and back again, as fast as her tiny legs can run.

October 15
Karina arrives for a short visit for one night, before Alice arrives, also for a one-night visit. With a little house, this creates a lot of excitement. We have not seen Karina for months, and when she and Sofi and I take a walk around the loop, the neighbors like seeing her again. It is after 5PM, and everyone is out on the street. At this time of day, everyone wants to walk, if only to get the latest news of the village.

Felice arrives to check out the garden and is delighted to see his old friend again. We hear later that Felice told Karina when she lived here that he must call her Signora Karina. The word carina means "dear" and it would not be proper to call a single woman "dear". That reminds me of the time our dear friends Donna and Phillip arrived. When introduced to Felice, he was very confused to be introduced to donna Donna. The word "donna" means woman. He could not understand why a parent would name their child "woman".

There is a lot to talk about with Karina, and we love catching up. In the middle of our visit, Shelly calls for Karina, and Roy asks her if they need help picking their olives. Yes they do, and next weekend will be the time they will begin. So we will have a busy weekend, and will pick both days, probably both in the morning and the afternoon. I like the idea of picking olives when the weather is not freezing, as it has been when we pick for Tia and Bruce.

Photos arrive from Angie and Terence of the babies, and they surely are cute. Look on the photos blog for their latest pictures. We look forward to meeting them next month and to getting to know them.

October 16
Peter, Karina's brother, arrives on the train from Rome, and Roy takes them both to the Technocasa in Giove to see if they can find a little place to live in Attigliano. It appears that Karina's house in Mugnano has finally been sold. I call it Karina's house, because she still thinks of it as her house until she has been fully paid by Karen. Hopefully that will happen on Saturday, when the house is sold to another party. Right now, there is a little bidding war for the property, with two hopeful buyers offering cash.

Roy and Sofi and I drive to NonnaPappa for pranzo to meet Tia and Bruce and little Gioia (pronounced joy-ah). She is seven weeks young and had her shots this am. We hope this will be the start of a wonderful friendship between Gioia and Sofi. Tia and Bruce also bring Charlie, their two year old rescue dog who we have not met. He is also a Brittany Spaniel and very sweet.

There are only two other couples in the restaurant when we arrive, and that is a good thing. For before we are through, Sofi has found her way over to the two tables and I find myself apologizing to them for out little dog, who noses around under their tables, looking for food. One woman tells Roy she is afraid of dogs. Tia brings a soft bed and toys to our table for Gioia, who is really cute, but at seven weeks her body is almost as big as Sofi's.

The jury is out regarding the two female dogs, but Charlie is obviously enamored with Sofi. Sofi likes him, too. Charlie spends most of pranzo in the car, but before dessert, when the other couples have left, we let him come inside the restaurant.

Now I know this all sounds very strange. But at this restaurant, Fidelia, who is the chef and owner, her father and mother and sister all love dogs. So they welcome the dogs, and their little daughter, Carlota, brings over a big water dish for them all. She sits with the dogs between Tia and I and is very good with them, giving each female attention. I don't think Sofi is jealous, but she doesn't seem to understand the little one's behavior.

We leave after agreeing to come to Tia and Bruce's in a couple of days, and drive home to meet a house guest and friend of Linda Sartorio's named Alice. We arrive home, Roy drives out after 5 to pick up groceries, and Alice arrives while he is gone. When Alice arrives, I am watching the end of the movie The Jackal with Bruce Willis and Richard Gere, and we agree that I should call Roy to tell him, "The eagle has landed!"

Alice brings wonderful pecorino cheese, a marmelata and an excellent bottle of red wine. So I cut up an apple and add a few salsa picantes of our own and we have a wonderful time hearing about her adventures taking Italian lessons all over Tuscany. We all enjoy sampling the cheese and salsas and drinking the wine, while Roy and I prepare the lentils and sausage.

While we are talking the phone rings, and it is Shelly, looking for Karina. Karen has agreed to sell her house to a Norwegian diplomat, and one of the conditions is that all of the things that have been stored there by Peter and Karina are taken out before Saturday. Roy is given the mission to call them both and does so, repeating each time, "Don't shoot the messenger!"

We eat lentils and salsiche and a green salad and chocolate cake and drink plenty of our local red wine and before we know it it is time for bed.

October 17
We leave for church thinking that everything is fine, locking the front gate and walking up the street. Before we know it, Sofi races up the street right in front of us! Roy takes her back to her little prison on the terrace and realizes that the side gate was not totally closed and she pushed it open, then raced down to the parcheggio, sliding her sausage shape of a body through one of the iron circles placed low on the cancello and racing up the street to find us. Roy closes the gate tightly and meets me on the way up the hill. Was it just yesterday that I concluded that she could not fit her little body through those circles in the cancello?

The centro storico looks wonderful. There are no cars, and barricades are up, but the ground is just dirt, making the village look very old, which it is. The fogna (sewer) will be connected soon to all the houses, and an antique pavement will be installed. We think will be a spina di pesce (spine of the fish, or herringbone) design.

Inside the church, Lore seems impatient with the work being done on the plaza. Their house next door to them is also slowly being completed, but they have lots of time to finish. Tomorrow the window sills will be installed and the windows themselves soon after that. It is a wonderful house, and everything will be tastefully done. Perhaps they will keep it for visitors to use. Or perhaps they will rent it out. But for now, it is a big project for them. She seems anxious to return to Rome.

As we leave the church, I take Leondina's arm and help her down the front steps, then think we should walk her home. When we get to the street that descends from the centro storico, we see a blue car attempting to drive up into the village, but someone tells them to turn around. Roy speaks to them for a moment while Leondina and I walk down the hill, and he tells us that the couple is English. He thinks they are visiting someone in Mugnano.

We leave Leondina at her door, telling her we cannot come in for coffee today, for we have ospite (a guest) waiting at our house. As we walk home, the English couple has parked and are now out of their cars, looking around. We invite them to come to our house for coffee. Their names are Jock and Jane.

After coffee and a tour, we agree to meet again. They will close on their house in a week, and will be moving in today and tomorrow. Their house is near Diego's, and we look forward to getting to know them.

Roy gives Alice ideas on the best route to take to her next stop, and we all wish her well and say goodbye. She will travel around southern Tuscany before starting a new language course in Firenze on Sunday. Then Roy spends some time working on the roses on the side path, installing another line of wire to train them up and over the side wall of the parcheggio. I get ready for pranzo as I watch the changing skyline. Today is a bright clear day, with just a few clouds in the sky, and the temperature is mild enough that we can spend time outside in shirt sleeves.

October 18
Today is mostly overcast, but it does not matter. The sheets dry on the rack on the terrace, and I am able to take them in smelling sweet and fresh. I iron the cases and the top sheet because of the embroidery, and when I do so, the fragrance reaches my nose and I am off to dreamland. In the U S, we always had a dryer, so this is new for us. I think the sheets and towels last longer, but the towels are not soft and fluffy. It is a small inconvenience, that we forget after we've used a towel the first time.

We are thinking of making some changes to the web site. I want to have a general home page, and to encourage people to contact us through the site. My latest idea is to publish a booklist of suggested reading about Italians, and about life in Italy. We will encourage reviews and additions from people who read our site, and later will publish some of the reviews. Perhaps we will even have a scoring system to rate the books.

I finally speak with Tiziana, and my violin lessons will begin again next week. She has a big contract to teach in Spoleto now, in addition to Orte, and her business is really taking off. She is a fine musician as well as a good friend and wonderful teacher. I look forward to playing again, now that my shoulder is a little better.

Felice comes by, and tells Roy that he will have 1,200 liters of wine from his vendemmia! How wonderful. His wine is always delicious. Roy asks him if he needs help but he does not. He tells Roy that the grapes are sleeping until November 11th, the feast day of San Martino di Tours. On that day, everyone has his first taste of this year's harvest. We will surely be around for that.

We walk up to the village at 6PM to see what has been done on the street project, and Mario, Ernesta's husband, asks Roy if he is doing a "controllo", or making sure that the work is done correctly. We laugh and realize that we are never in the centro storico at this time of day. But it is the best time of day, because everyone is out, talking and walking. Sofi loves sniffing around, and this time ignores Brik, who she regards as a dirty old dog. She wants nothing to do with him and snubs him.

We walk home to a fire and hot homemade bread with yesterday's lentils and sausage. With a glass of local red wine, we are settled in for another night in this our little paradise.

October 19
We spend a quiet day today, with a visit to Alice, and then the rest of the day at home. We beat ourselves up by watching FOX on the TV, but there is not much U S news other than on Fox. I am fascinated by the election, and cannot fathom that elections are better run in third world countries. But they are. We've had four years to figure out what's wrong. But it seems that the position of Secretary of State is a very powerful position, and that person seems to have control over how the elections are run in a particular state. Bush seems to be getting ready to slide into home base, sadly.

Outside, we pick more greens for salad, and it is time to plant some more plants. This time, Roy will build a cover to protect the lettuce and arugula from the frost. We have been having a small fire in the fireplace each night, and welcome the cool nights and mornings.

I mix yesterday's homemade tomato soup with a container of minestrone that has been in the freezer, and the combination is delicious. I think we'll have many uses for the tomatoes as the winter progresses.

That reminds me. The cachi (persimmon) tree in the lavender garden has fruit that is quickly ripening. The bees are all abuzz. So I'll make a steamed pudding soon. It seems very early for persimmons to ripen. I wonder if we'll have a wet and cold winter. It seems so.

October 20
We walk up to see dottoressa in the village, but she is not there. Pepe the elder tells us something about her being in the country when we see him at the bottom of the hill, but we don't know what he means. Roy calls her on his cell phone, and she tells Roy she is at Leondina's, so we walk down the hill and her door is open.

"Permesso?" "Si!" Leondina sits at the tiny table inside her kitchen with a blood pressure monitor on her arm as if she is waiting for it to bake and the kitchen timer to go off. In the meantime, Serena is there chatting and dottoressa is standing up, while drinking a cup of coffee.

We ask dottoressa if she is hiding from Ida and Ennio, but she is not. There is such a mess in the village with the pavement all broken up that she seems to have her Wednesday visiting period here today.

She checks out my blood test results, and everything is ok. But she wants to give us our flu shots on November 3rd. She definitely wants us to have them before we go to the U S. It appears that there is no shortage of vaccine in Italia. And it is free! Brava!

Karina calls us while we are walking home, and is in town for a few hours from Rome but needs a ride to the train station in Attigliano. So much is going on in her life. It appears that she and Peter and Annie want to buy Karina's house back from Karen. But Karen is arriving today from California and has verbally accepted a cash offer from some minister from Norway.

We hear that that deal may not go through, so Karina may have her house back after all. Someone will have an appointment with the notaio in Viterbo on Saturday. Until the papers are signed and money changes hands, we have no idea who will take over the house. Anything is possible.

Shelly calls and speaks with Roy to tell me that she will be putting up quince jam tomorrow. I don't think I'll join her. There is too much going on between Claudio having some reaction to his new medicine and Karen's deal. Both Catharine and Shelly have brought possible buyers to the table, meaning that depending on whose deal is accepted, one or both of them will be entitled to some money from the deal. That's the way it goes in Italia. I think it's best to stay as far away from this group as possible until everything is sorted out.

I pick a basketful of pomodori when Sofi and I are in the garden in the afternoon. Those tomatoes will not stop growing! The Juane Flame and Gold Medal and even the Black French Tula must like the climate here. I don't think these latest ones are as good as those ripening in August. They seem to have a higher water content. So I core and peel them and put them through the food mill. Then we bottle and freeze several liter bottles of it for use in soup or sugo or whatever.

Tosca emails us statistics including the latest presidential polls. It will be interesting to see how close they come on election night. I plan to spend the night on the couch in front of the TV. Being 6 hours ahead of the east coast, we're sure we'll be well into the morning before any real results are evident...if then. Our choices on TV are CNN International or FOX. Not much of a choice.

Judith calls and there is a flurry of activity here, as she is expecting a fax to come in here. When it arrives, she wants to come and pick it up but cannot find her keys. After 10PM she finds them, and drives on over while we are watching Suddenly Last Summer with Montgomery Clift, Liz Taylor and Katherine Hepburn. In the meantime, Roy sees Mila, Tiziano's dog, in the village when he walks up to take the garbage. So he calls Tiziano to let him know. That is why there has been so much barking tonight. And to think the moon is only half full. What a strange day and night we have had!

October 21
The day begins with a thick fog. Late in the morning there is a strong wind from the west, and it seems to blow the fog away, giving us a summer-warm afternoon. Judith gave us some onions and eggplants last night, because she leaves for the U S on Friday. So I attempt Lore's onion recipe by first boiling the onions in their skins and then letting them cool.

While I'm doing that, I skin all the eggplants, cut them in smalls chunks and put them in salted water for an hour or two. The latest advice from Italian experts is not to salt them and put a plate over them to sweat, but to put them in salted water to take the bitterness out, then dry them on paper towels.

So I make a kind of a pasta sauce with olive oil, slices of garlic that I remove when they're golden, and then the eggplant. After it has cooked for awhile, I put a whole bottle of yesterday's heirloom tomato mixture and let it cook down for awhile.

We have some of it with pranzo, and will save the rest to make a pasta sauce for later. I then finish the onion recipe, but although the onions look and taste great, they do not have the caramelized top that Lore's did, so I'll ask her.

We do the pranzo dishes, and it is so warm that I ask Roy if he wants to take a walk. Earlier in the day, I heard a tractor and a chain saw down in the valley, and thought I saw the tractor near the beautiful trees at the Rio's edge. I want to see if we can see where the trees have fallen, and if these are the trees that will be the firewood we have ordered. If so, they will be very green.

We don't see the logs, but see some logs down by the Rio. Then we walk up toward Karina's old house, and the gate is open. Kees and Catherine and Karen are there, and we stop in to say hello.

Karen asks me if I want to look at the bedding, and she generously gives us two down comforters and a bedspread and shams for our bed. I ask her how she is doing and she tells me that she is very stressed about the house deal. She has made a deal with a Norwegian man, but no money has changed hands. Last night, Karina called her to tell her that she could come up with the cash to buy the house back.

I try to be objective, but it is hard to do. I want to find a way to help everyone involved. So because I know the details, I tell her the story of how Karina found a way to come up with the cash. Before we leave, I ask Karen if I have made it any easier. No, I have made it more complicated. Roy tells me that that is a good thing.

Several hours later, Karina calls, and she has spoken with Karen. Karen and her husband have told Karina that if she can come up with the cash before the meeting with the notaio on Saturday, that she can have the house. Now Karina needs advice on how to get the money out of all the banks on time. That means tomorrow. The banks are closed on Saturday.

We give her Paola Berlinghetti's phone number in Todi. Paola is a very experienced person when it comes to real estate transactions. So we wait for an answer. In the meantime, I fill Roy in. We plan to go to Florence tomorrow, so Karina can call us if she needs us...

Earlier in the evening, I clip some more lavender. When we first planted our lavender, they seemed easier to clip and keep round. Perhaps I am just forgetting. But they don't want to behave, and their centers are open, the branches drooping. Perhaps if we get some more sun in the next few weeks I can clip them into submission without cutting back to their wood.

October 22
I can hardly believe that today is Friday. The days all seem to collide. Unless we have an imaginary marker to identify the day of the week, like an appointment with Alice or a violin lesson, we are not sure what the day is.

Today we are up while it is still dark, and leave as the sun is just beginning to peek its head over the horizon. We are at the Orte train station and Roy's parking karma gets him the last space in the regular lot in front of the station.

Inside, we have a quick coffee and then walk down and over and up to the third track to wait for the Florence Train. We watch station men gabbing with each other while jumping off the platform and crossing the tracks. And just before another train leaves, a couple rushes across the tracks just before the door of the train closes. This is so dangerous.

I remember when the Attigliano train station had a wooden ramp, so that people could walk across the tracks to the other side, instead of taking the stairs down and under and up again. About a year or two after we first started coming to Italy, they pulled up the wooden ramp, making it very difficult for people to cross over the tracks. I don't know if I'd ever do that. I remember too many Southern Pacific accidents with its commuter trains to the San Francisco Peninsula.

We think we bought tickets for the express train to Firenze (Florence), which takes two hours instead of the regular three. But when the conductor comes along, he chastises Roy and makes him pay €20 extra. On the way back, we stop at the station and buy the supplement there, saving us €8.

The ride is sweet, the seats are comfortable, and Sofi is able to sleep in my lap. We arrive and decide to start at the Basilica of Santa Croce. Beyond the sacristy of the Basilica is an old dormitory that once housed Franciscan friars. Today this dormitory serves as the Scuola del Cuoio, or School of Leather, where we are invited to watch as artisans demonstrate their exceptional skills of cutting, crafting, and gilding leather with 22 carat gold. We find a really beautiful wallet here for Terence, and watch while it is embossed with his initials.

The School was founded after World War II by the friars of the Monastery of Santa Croce and the Gori and Casini families, These two families were Florentine leather artists and the school was started to give war orphans an opportunity to learn a trade. The techniques of ancient leather working were taught so well that clients have been buying the school's finished goods since the 1950s, with no end in sight. We highly recommend this shop as a place to buy leather goods. It is not the cheapest, but the quality is exceptional, and if buying a wallet, the person's initials can be embossed for no extra charge.

It turns out to be a gorgeous day, not too hot, and so we take a leisurely walk across town, stopping for coffee at Piazza Santa Croce, near the shop where we bought our carved wooden kitchen chandelier. Inside, we meet Karin Whalen and her husband Bart from Portland. Bart talks with Roy and tells him that his wife is a tour leader who comes to Italy every year, and this year he decided to join her.

She asks Roy why we decided to move to Italy, and he responds, "Why do you come back each year?" She works at Reed College as an art historian, and probably is a neighbor of Donna and Phillip.

We walk down a side street and a few minutes later Roy hears someone calling out to him. It is Karin, acting as a pied piper in front of a group of travelers. What fun to meet new friends and then see them again!

We nose around shops, pick up a couple of calendars, and before we know it we are in Piazza San Lorenzo. Now most people know this Piazza as the spot to buy leather coats and belts and hats, and also scarves and other goodies to take home.

But the real star of the piazza is the San Lorenzo Market, two stories of an out of this world food emporium that sells everything from fresh Porcini mushrooms to dried herbs to fresh fish...But there is not a place to eat.

We walk around it for a while, and the place is definitely eye candy. And it makes us hungry.

So we walk back toward the train station, thinking we'll get the 2-something train back, and find Café Rose, surrounded by tall boxwood hedges, and a touristy-friendly waiter, who acts as though he's had too much coffee this morning. He offers Sofi a big steak. Instead, she settles for a little tin dish of water. Later, a woman from inside comes out with a piece of ham, which Sofi inhales so quickly I wonder if I have imagined it.

Roy eats pasta and I eat a salad, and we walk some more before heading to the train station. Sofi is not able to go into the churches, and sentries stand at the doors, so we decide we'll just enjoy the walking around today, and perhaps come back some day on our own. It is so easy to just pop up on a train for half a day's adventure.

While we're walking around, a man beckons us over, and tells us that he has two basottos, one of which he purchased from Marielisa! He is restoring a small hotel on a side street near the station, and tells us that there will be a special room for Basottos in his little hotel. He has one or two others, in Rome, and I ask him if there will be a special room there, too. He tells us that if someone stays with a basotto the dog will have to stay at his house. He clearly loves these dogs.

But what is funny, is that he also owns what he calls a storage building on the highway just north of Attigliano. We realize that it is a very very old stone building that at one time had a picture of a jet airplane on one side. We thought that meant that Roberto Vittori (Italy's only astrounaut who went into space with the Russians) trained there. Roberto's father lives at the corner of the road that leads to Mugnano. We'd surely love to see inside. Howard tells us that it is made of stone, but there are no columns inside. Very interesting.

We receive a text message that Karina has given up on buying her house back. Karen has not given her enough time to have her funds transferred. It is as if a giant blimp has been deflated, and we are sad for her. But when we get home, we find eight messages from Annie and she wants to come to see us tomorrow. Of course.

Legna and legno are two words I mix up. But today I understand, and think I can separate them in my mind. Legno is wood to build with legna is firewood. After picking up the car at the train station, Roy wants to drive to a yard outside Soriano where he thinks we can buy firewood for this year. The firewood (legna) from our local association is not yet ready, and Pepe confirms that it will be green, or not yet ready to burn.

The place is neatly organized, but we see nothing but castagno (chestnut). Roy asks him for firewood in small pieces, and he shows Roy a pile in the distance, that he can not get to for about ten days. It will be €80 for the amount Roy thinks we'll need. He tells Roy to come back a week from Monday. But what about castagno to burn in the fireplace? We will have to find out this next week.

It is good to be home, as much as we enjoy the sights and the smells and the excitement of Florence. Our little house and plot of land look so good to us. Roy calls Shelly and the olive oil picking will take place on Sunday. So we have tomorrow to play around the house. And I'll dust off the violin, set up a stand and start to play again.

October 23
We wake up to a thick fog as birds send messages to each other in the trees outside our bedroom window. They certainly have a lot to say. I can pick up a conversation with two tiny ones, but of course have no idea what they're chirping about.

Yesterday we received emails from Chris and Helena, a couple from England who found us on the internet through our web site. They want to move to Northern Lazio, and we hope we can help them.

Roy wants to research firewood, and the internet comes up with what he needs. No, we should not buy castagno for firewood. And definitely not use poplar. I think I see the poplar trees near the river being cut down. So if those are what the locals will be sold, no thanks.

Roy tells me that Kees told him there is a place in Giove for legna. So while I am working on the cataloguing of Italian books for our web site, he drives off armed with better knowledge of what we are looking for.

Annie calls, sad and angry about the house deal that fell through, and asks if she and Pete can come today for a visit. Of course, they can. Pete has come to Attigliano to see if he and Karina can rent a place across from the train station to store things now in the Mugnano house. But Annie is afraid to drive in the fog. I tell her that the sun is trying to come out here, but at noontime there is still a thick cover overhead. Perhaps today will not clear after all. If it does not clear tomorrow, we probably won't pick olives then either.

The house is full of books, in stacks in three rooms. While I'm cataloguing we've decided to resort them, so this is a good day to do this. I expect it to take days to finish my list. I love books; especially those with hard covers. I think of reading as a delicious escape, and love the feel of a solid book in my hands. Although I love to read at night before going to sleep, I can't often recall what I've read the next day.

Karina arrives for a surprise visit and stays for the night. It's always like a pajama party when Karina stays over. She is so much fun and so relaxed. She even watches Roy's TV programs with him. But she is stressed by Karen and Mike's nonpayment of the significant money they still owe her. She must wait until Monday and meet them at the bank in Rome. We are so sorry that this worked out so badly for Karina. She certainly did not deserve to be treated so badly by Karen and Mike. But if she is paid back the money she is owed on Monday, she can look back at a big lesson learned. Speriamo, big time.

Just before going to bed, I check email messages and here's what I opened up...What fun! Sean Patrick's baptism must have been last Sunday. We look forward to giving all these cute babies and young girls and boys big hugs and kisses next month.

October 24
The fog lasts until l'una, and by that time we are back from church and Karina and Roy have walked up to the village. Karina needs to see if there is a magazino for rent anywhere close by in the event the rental place in Attigliano falls apart before next Saturday. For Karina, there is so much to think about. But she tries to keep calm, only thinking that tomorrow she must meet with Mike and Karen at the bank and hope she can retrieve the money they owe her before they return to the United States.

We have such wonderful neighbors. When they began their walk, Pepe and his father and Fulvia were on the street, and before they were through Pepe the Senior came up with a place for her to have for free for a few months, right across from Ernesta's Tabbacchi. He takes them up and cannot find the key, so they walk to Pepe the Younger and it takes until Pepe comes home and picks the correct key right off the wall to be able to get inside. Karina calls Sasha to see if she can hire his truck and two workers for next Saturday and Sunday, and things begin to settle down.

While working on finding a magazzino, Karina and Roy learn that at one time Mugnano was far larger than Bomarzo, with eight hundred people jammed into this treasure of a village, which was then a real town. Church friars lived in Pepe's house, and there were two churches busy full time. Perhaps little San Rocco was busy then, too. Eight hundred people. How amazing. But then Fulvia reminds them that on the historical map in the Vatican, Mugnano is listed, but Bomarzo is not. When did the tides turn?

I can just hear the cacophony of eight hundred people milling about on this tufa hill, living with pigs and chickens and who knows what else. Today, the birds are everywhere, and the weekenders from Rome are enjoying the beautiful weather. Pepe tells Roy and Kari that there is wild senape (a mustard grass) growing between our land and Pepe's garage. So he suggests we cook it with garlic, olive oil and vinegar. Roy picks a big bunch, and I prepare it for pranzo, with a frittata of potatoes and shallots and chives and a green salad with olive bread.

By the time we sit down for pranzo, the sky is so clear that it seems more like spring. When we are through, I return to my book project and Karina and Roy decide that they want to go up to Shelly and Claudio's to pick olives. I am sure that there will be lots to pick next weekend, too, so let them go without me. Sofi and I work away, blissfully enjoying the big open windows and dreaming - Sofi mostly dreaming and I a little of both.

This morning, Don Luca brought me to tears at the end of the mass, at the singing of the last acapella hymn. I studied him closely today, and noticed that he sang with his whole heart, raising his eyes and opening his arms in a way that endeared all of us to him. I noticed that every person in the tiny church sang with their hearts open in full voice. Our priest does something to us...every one of us. His love of us is so enormous that it is all we can do to sing with him and embrace him with our eyes. He is the most remarkable young priest I have ever met.

October 25
Are we really in London? The fog is so thick this morning in Mugnano that I expect to hear fog horns. It does not clear until noon. In the meantime, we drive to Orte, passing Michelle and Karina, who are driving in our old BMW on the way. Michelle is dressed in a pin-striped suit. She means business. They are driving to Rome, hopefully to meet up with Mike and Karen at the bank. Speriamo and a little bocca luppo thrown in for good measure.

Oh, how happy I am to be taking violin lessons again. Tiziana has moved her piano and music room upstairs. Downstairs now is taken over completely by dancing and gymnastics, two things Tiziana does not teach. But the school is becoming very popular.

New scales, new things to play, and a few of the old ones. I remember seeing the little ones play Can-Can in a sing-songey way at a recital, and take note of that while I play that strange tune. But the Borodin piece is much more to my liking. I am so happy to be playing that when she starts me on arpeggios and sharps and flats I can hardly wait to practice. "Can we play this again?" is a refrain she hears from me often during my lessons. If I am not happy with the way something sounds, I want to play it again and again until it sounds good or I am too weary to keep going.

My shoulder is all right, but I have been doing Alice's arm exercises. We take it slowly today, and I am grateful for that. But I love to play with Tiziana, and she is very patient with me.

We stop to pick up some more lattuga Romana plugs to plant. The ones we have are getting too leggy and we want to have them planted before the first frost. Roy knows he needs to get going on the little protective cover for them. The little shop is near the Orte train station, and we also go in to buy a little red collar for Sofi. Her old one is looking ragged. An elderly man inside speaks a little English. His bicycle is parked next to our car across the street. He asks me how old Sofi is, and is very gentle with her.

We find a collar, and the shopkeeper asks us if we are German. He seems happy that we are American, but surprised that we are living in Mugnano. Mugnano? Hardly anyone knows of anyone in Mugnano. Sounds good to me.

Roy takes on the role of Mr. Fix-it and finds a part for the kitchen sink and repairs it in a jiffy. He likes these little projects. But the searching projects, like finding firewood, prove more daunting.

On the way back from Orte we take the back road, and six prostitutes stand in different spots along the road. Two of them are fighting for a particular spot; most of them are dark skinned. Since being driven out of Rome, many of them take up their positions on back roads leaving cities. I don't know how they survive.

Late in the afternoon, Felice arrives, and he suggests that we take down the bamboo supports and get rid of the rest of the pomodori. That is fine with me. It has been so much work to skin and core and put them up that I am thankful the crop is at its end. But what's this? We still have almost a whole basketful. So tomorrow I will work on them, thankful that this exercise will soon be over for the winter.

I put together a little bag for Felice to take home, and see him standing under the cachi tree that is located near the big olive tree. There are many ripe cachi, so I walk over to him with his little bag and he picks three to take home. It is always a joy to be able to give him some little thing from the garden.

Roy wants us to have our own medieval costumes to wear to the different festas when we are involved. Since our village colors, and those of Soriano, are both red and blue, I want a mostly blue costume, perhaps lined in red. Tiziana recommends a woman to help design and make ours, and we walk to her house to meet her, but she is not at home. So Tiziana will contact her and let us know. We have until the first weekend of May to have them finished. They will also be fine for the Soriano Castagno Festival in October.

Roy hears from Kees that there is a good place in Giove to buy firewood, so he leaves Sofi and me at home and drives to Giove. When he comes home he is really happy. The firewood will be delivered to us on Friday. He sweeps up some of the gravel and we plan where it will be stacked in the parcheggio. If we accept the wood from the village, that will be stored in the parcheggio, too. We suspect that the Mugnano wood will be green, so we'll store it there for a year before we can use it. But this wood will be hard, mostly oak. Bravo, Roy! Bravo, Kees!

October 26
At around noon the sky clears and it is as if we have never had fog. But when we go out in the morning the air is wet with dew. Alice does incredible work on my shoulder, finding her way down to the tendons. When she finishes, I can move my shoulder better than I have in years. I am supposed to have a hot salt pack tonight, but of course I forget until now. I'll see what happens in the morning. Perhaps that won't be too late.

Roy takes me to a stone yard to show me a marble step with a bull nose, to use as a simple bench outside our cancello over two tufa bricks. It is wonderful, and very cheap. So we put it in the car and drive home with it. Roy starts with four tufa bricks under it, and that makes it look like tweedle dum wearing a tiny hat. So I scowl and he knows he must change it. I don't say a word, so he tries two tufa blocks on their end, and the result is a dear little bench that looks as though it has always been there.

I stand nearby cutting away dead leaves on the closest rose plant, and Italo starts to walk toward us. Roy beckons him over, telling him the bench is for the paisani on their way up the hill. He asks Italo to try it, and Italo plunks down with a big sigh. He loves it. A grand idea. He is walking with a new bamboo pole, very green, and then gets up and gives me some advice on the rose. He wants me to feed it, but I don't agree. It is too late in the year to feed a rose. The rose will sprout flowers and then there will be frost. The roses appear anyway, with no thought to the time of year. We will have blossoms into November, I am sure. I love these Lady Hillington roses.

Tonight Roy takes me to the hospital in Terni for my gynelogical exam. I have not had once since we left the U S in 2002. Everything is fine, says Dottore Mascaffe. I ask him if his cousin's name is Decaffeinato. This is another doctor who is paralyzed. He sits behind a little desk, with a woman by his side. When it is time for him to examine me, she has to help him stand up, put his arms in the metal crutches and help him over to where he is examining me. He seems to know what he is doing, and is more interested in asking me if I am going to vote.

I am reminded of Nemo's first Vet outside Amelia, who worked in a wheelchair. I wonder what going to medical school was like for both of them. They are both very gentle men and do fine work. I have William H. Macy on my mind. Yesterday we watched him star in The True Story of Bill Porter. I wonder why he did not win an academy award for his role. Perhaps he lost out to Jack Nicholson for "About Schmidt".

At home we decide to put all the Italian books back, and Roy has a great idea of how to sort them. I take them in my arms, stack by stack, and put them in alphabetical stacks. Then I alphabetize each letter and hand them up to Roy, who places them on the book shelves in the living room. It takes less than an hour. It is good to be organized, and better to have it done than to think about it for a year or two and never get it done. Now we know where we can find a book if we want to look something up.

Roy leaves early for the auto dealer in Terni to take care of some maintenance thing that is bugging him. I really respect his attention to the car. He makes sure it is running correctly. Is it a guy thing? I don't know, but strangely enough, I have only driven the car once. Those old days of speeding around Mt. Tam in my BMW are almost forgotten.

Washing clothes, cleaning, you know, the usual stuff happens here in paradise, too. I have turned the bedroom upside down and am working on making a bed skirt out of the silk taffeta Tia brought back from India last year for us. There are 17 meters of the stuff, and before I drive myself absolutely crazy, I realize that we bought a sewing aid that will do the trick.

It consists of 3.5 meters of gauzy strip, with two strings inside. I sew the strip onto the material where I want to shirr it, and pull the strings. We have two packages, so when we drive to Rome tomorrow to go to Marielisa's apartment that she wants us to help rent out, we'll come back by way of IKEA and pick up several more packages.

The sky starts clear, but before Roy returns for pranzo, everything grows dark. I hang the laundry up in the loggia, and start to cook. When Roy returns, he tells me that the wood will be delivered if it does not rain. It rains at around 5, just a shower, and when it stops Roy gets the call about the wood. It arrives and the truck backs into the parcheggio and unloads it in about a minute. It takes about an hour or more to stack it, but we are ready for the winter.

Roy arrived back with a lovely surprise, another piece of marble to stack on two pieces of tufa, and we have two dear little benches, right at the start of our walk outside the cancello. We look forward to seeing people stop there for a rest on their way up the hill from the cemetery or their orto gardens.

Sofi does not like the competition of watching me play the violin, but I really love practicing. She makes her silly noises on the chair, and lets me know if I hit a wrong note. Hey, that's not fair. She's supposed to cheer me on. Whatever.

October 28
We're in the car and heading for Tragliatella to meet Marielisa. From there we'll follow her to her apartment in Rome, which she wants us to help market. She is looking for a long term lease. The apartment is really wonderful.

We follow her there, and do errands on the way back, stopping at IKEA for pranzo and a few small things. IKEA is always mobbed. It is the only place where people can shop in one place for ordinary household things, like plain dishes and glasses, small rugs, curtains, material, etc. We never shopped there in the US, but it is a different story here. There are no Pottery Barns or Crate & Barrels, or Smith & Hawkens.

On the way back, Roy wants to stop in at Fiano Romano at the trucking company who owes us money to repair the mirror they sheared off the drivers side a couple of weeks ago. No one is there, but Roy reaches the owner by phone, who tells him the Insurance Company has the claim and it will be another week. "Tranquillo", he suggests. Roy agrees to hold off a little longer, but will go to the Carabinieri if he does not get action soon.

We find the local Carabinieri, just to make sure, and then go into the town itself. What a beautiful town. I think that any foreigners wanting to move to Italy could take this or hundreds of other towns or villages to stake their place out. But we hope they stay away from little Mugnano.

We arrive home under an overcast sky, and Roy spends a little time stacking firewood in the parcheggio. It was such a good decision to turn the property out the way we did. The space where we store the firewood is perfect, and we can bring it up on a paranco (hoist) with a hidden pole between two rosemary bushes.

This Christmas, we will set up the paranco and string lights in the shape of a Christmas tree. We'll buy the lights next week and put them up the day we return from the U S.

October 29
No fog for a change, but the air is heavy and remains overcast all day. The wind rages, and I put out the clothes to dry, hoping the wind will whip them into shape.

Today is the day we begin to make the steamed pudding with persimmons. Roy brings in six huge ones, and we make two regular ones, plus two little ones in ramekins. Those little ones we eat with tiny spoons and they certainly are delicious. Another recipe for the web site...soon. I'm going to make a couple more tomorrow. The recipe indicates that these can be frozen for up to four months, and when defrosted need to be heated up. More holiday gifts! We surely have plenty to give our neighbors. But none for our U S trip. Glass jars and customs officials portend a less than easy landing at SFO.

We walk the garbage up, and the sky is clear, showing off a jolly big moon. Oosten comes out to do the same, and tells us that he knows the Norwegian man who bought Karina's house. He is not, as Shelly suggested, a Foreign minister of the Norwegian government. He is a minister, a protestant one. We look forward to meeting him.

I peel and core and cook and process the very last of the tomatoes. These are put in bottles, sitting in the refrigerator for a few days until I come up with something to make with them. No more processing in boiling water baths. What a job! We like the results, however.

October 30
Yesterday's steamed puddings were so delicious that we've decided to keep on making them and freezing them to give for holiday gifts. So we make a double recipe this morning, using all four burners on the stove and also the oven. It takes two hours for the puddings, or budinos, to steam, and once they are taken out of the oven they are a deep dark earthy brown. Today we have two tiny ones, and over the top brandied cherries and their juice. The cherries, which were picked from our tree and pitted and bottled this August, are divine.

While we are steaming away, Catherine arrives to pick some cachi. She and Kees eat them on top of their breakfast cereal, something that makes Roy gag just to hear it. She takes a bag full, and calls Kees while she is here to ask if he has heard from Peter and Kari.

We overhear her and give her Kari's cell phone number. Still in Attiglilano, they have not called her to tell her they will be late. A few minutes later, Peter and Kari and Annie and Barbara arrive here. We think Kari is expecting coffee, but we cannot oblige, for all our burners are working on the stove, steaming the pudding. Some how the urgency of the situation evades her, and she tells Catherine that they have the lease and key to the apartment in Attigliano, but have been unable to secure the truck.

They leave to go to the house so that Catherine can determine which things they will take, and next week a truck will be hired to move Peter and Kari's things to the apartment in Attigliano. But Kari will be in Berlin with Sergio, so we have no idea how her things will be moved. She does not seem as concerned as Catherine. We are learning to stay away from these emotionally charged events, unless we can clearly make a difference. The answers seem simple to us, but then again, we are not in Peter and Kari's shoes. All we can do is to give them our love and send them on their way.

Tonight we set our clocks back, and spend a lot of time in front of the T V, listening to the politics and the war news and the "spinning" of the different factions.

October 31
This morning is incredibly windy, and we walk up to church, practically levitating with the wind to our back. Inside the church the cacophony is loud, with the church filling up quickly on this holiday weekend. Giuliola walks from row to row, quietly and gently instructing the people not to rest their feet on the kneelers. Livio has worked so hard to refinish all the pews that she urges us to be kind to them. The pavement outside has been cemented, but the street and piazza is still full of debris and lots of sand.

As she finishes, and new people come in and sit down, there are silent stares, with the knowledgeable parishioners looking to see if the new entrants put their feet up on the kneelers. A tall woman comes in and sits next to Roy and puts her feet right up. He uncrosses his long legs and sits back so that Giuliola can see her. No way will Roy mention it. But she walks by and the woman continues unaware of the rest of the people sneaking glances at her.

I turn around to walk to the front door of the tiny church to help Marsiglia in and Noreena puts her arms out to welcome me until I am right in front of her. She thinks I am someone else, but smiles and hugs me anyway. Fa niente.

Marsiglia walks slowly in and hugs me tight, whispering a secret, or is it just to ask me how I am? "Tutto a posto?" Felice stands back and lets me help Marsiglia into her seat across the aisle from me.

The church is packed. The cacophony bounces off the walls of the church and all of a sudden everyone stops speaking. There is a long silence and then whispers and then loud talking again. Roy turns to me and says, "I thought you were supposed to be quiet in church." I ask him who the Monsignor was who came up with that edict. He does not know.

I tell Roy that this is like one big family in the church, with everyone knowing everyone else. Naively I tell him how wonderful it is that there are no factions in this village. Roy tells me that Fulvia told him last week not to be so sure. On the surface, everyone gets along. But behind their closed doors, you would not believe what goes on!

Don Cirio arrives and quickly puts on his vestments. He is about five minutes late. Vincenzo opens the little door to the right of the altar and rings the bells, then steps back inside and rings the little bell next to the entrance to the sacristy to start the mass.

Yes, we are still mystified regarding what this young priest has to say. But it is a time of reflection, and I say my little silent prayers and wonder if I am a good person in the eyes of the Lord.

In the front row on the other side of the little church sit Elena's daughter, Frederica, her husband and three little boys. The boys are what Iolanda would call "darling". They all look alike, although are about a year or so apart from each other. Every few minutes at least one of them turns around to smile at their grandmother, Elena, who is the most glamorous woman in the village, and so sweet.

After mass, we see Lore and Alberto outside. They entered late and sat in the back. They invite us to see the latest changes in their new house. But before we do we all look at the marvelous job Livio has done restoring the front of their house. The door to the cantina has been completely restored and stained. The door is framed in beautiful flat tiles. The cemento on the front of the whole bottom floor has been chipped away, and in its place is a mosaic of stones and mattone, crafted brilliantly and cemented with grey grout. The corner pieces of the building are either huge white squared off stone or rows of mattone. The overall look is very old. Don Cirio comes over to look, too, and we all praise Livio.

Roy tells Livio he is going to put all the local muratores out of work, as well as the fallengnames (woodworkers). I ask him if he can work on teeth, and as everyone chuckles he says he can pull them out but not put them back in.

Lore and Alberto's house is coming along. Pepperino frames are installed around the windows and steel beams frame the inside where the stairs and balcony and bathroom will be. They are hoping the house will be finished by Pasqua. We are sure it will be handsomely done.

We walk home and Sofi is waiting at the corner of the terrace, so excited to see us. We stay at home for an hour, then pack up a steamed pudding budino and a glass jar of our own pitted cherries in sambuca. Tia is fixing a Finnish pranzo, and if she has something else for dessert, they can have ours later.

The dessert is perfect, and is served after homemade blinis and an assortment of sausages and tiny sliced lean pancetta as well as two different jams and maple syrups and a professional whipped cream canister that spurts out beautiful sweet whipped cream flowerets. Of course there is plenty of wine, as well as two kinds of grappa as well as coffee.

But the real treat of the afternoon is Sofi and Gioia and Charlie, who race around after each other after a few minutes to get to know each other. Little Gioia is now 9 weeks old, and a tubby little bundle of white fur, with a tawny patch over one eye and freckles. She is a wild little thing, and becomes a wild playmate for Sofi. We think that Charlie really likes Sofi. His stub of a tail wags and wags at the sight of her, and Tia tells us he is so happy to have a break from Gioia, who bites him all day long and won't leave him alone.

There is much talk about the election, with not much decided. Tia's brother and his wife are here for a visit, and they mostly watch. They speak a few words of English, but no Italian. Tia and Roy and I get out our cameras and take dozens of photos of the three of them. Most of the photos are erased when we are back home, but a couple are worth saving. Tia will be sure to have Angie Good bring Sofi over to play when we are gone. It is great exercise for all three dogs.

Back at home, we check in with Terence and have a quiet evening. Sofi is so tired she just lays on the couch and goes to sleep. We practically do the same, ignoring the fact that it is Halloween. I read yesterday that tonight at dusk is a perfect night to go to the Monster Park in Bomarzo. We'll save that for another year...


November 1
Today is a national holiday in Italy, known as Tutti Santi, or Ogni Santi or All Saints Day. There is a mass this morning in our little church. Outside our bedroom window there are shots fired which sound very close. The hunters are out, and I am wearing an old fall colored linen coat to church that is a trendy looking version of camoflauge. Really it is dark purple and rust and shades of green leaves on an olive background. This is my version of "blending in". Sofi growls and barks, and I tell her, "Via! Via!" or she'd stay with me just growling until I walk downstairs with her. She is a very loyal dog, that Piccola!

"Unless you're lucky enough to have a hearth." I read this morning on the Italian food website we recommend. It has been too warm to have a fire these past couple of weeks, but the newly purchased firewood is safely stored in the parcheggio under a blue tarp. I still don't have the answer to why all tarps are the same bright shade of blue, in Italy, too!

Anyway, I look forward to bringing our Tuscan grill into the kitchen to cook chops and vegetables in the raised fireplace. We are so busy with projects getting ready for winter and our trip to the U S that the days just fly by. We probably won't do the grilling until after we return.

The church is full when we step in the door. Our priest is Don Luca. This is the second of three masses on three days in a row. I like sitting in the little church, where we all sing the same four hymns a capella and the mass is repeated for this special day. Don Luca names a number of saints that I have never heard of. I'd like to find out more about them, but only recall San Liberato and San Giuseppe, two priests that are very important to this village.

After mass, we spend a few minutes with Lore and Alberto, who sit on the other side of the church today. But the big news is that we're invited on November 11th , San Martino di Tours, for pranzo at Felice and Marsiglia's to taste this year's wine. How wonderful that they want us to join them. I tell Felice that we'll bring a budino di cachi, and will probably tell Marsigla that the next time I see her.

Annie meets us as we reach our gate and comes in for coffee. She tells us that on Saturday when they went with the owner to register the apartment rental, no one was in the city hall, or commune, in Attigliano. They walked around and around and finally located the mayor, who called someone on his cell phone to come in and register them. He was afraid that he would do a bad job, 'brutta figura", so called a local policeman who did the work. On Saturday mornings the commune is supposed to be open. No wonder Italian city workers like their jobs!

So what's with registering the apartment? It's called Legge Moro, and refers to the kidnapping and killing of Aldo Moro decades ago. He was hidden in an apartment for months by people who did not rent the apartment they kept him in before he was killed. The government thinks that if everyone has to register it will cut down on crime. We don't know, but any person staying more than three days at one place in Italy has to be registered with the local police. That is one of the reasons a passport or identity card is required by Italian hotels when people check in.

November 2
This is the Day of the Dead in Italy. Sounds scary, coming right after Halloween, but it is the annual day to honor the dead, especially those who passed away during this past year. We walk up to the little cemetery in the afternoon for the mass, and it seems full of people, but when we stand beside one of the tiny buildings and look around, there are less than 50 people, most of them the regulars.

The day is lovely, with hazy clouds and a soft blue sky. Sofi is patient when we leave her on the front terrace, and joyous when we open the gate. I sit on our little bench at the foot of the walk and she flies down to greet me, with about six women stopped to watch her as they walk toward the centro storico after the mass.

We greeted Felice at the cemetery before the mass, and asked him if he came to clean up his headstone, After the mass he again proudly showed it to us, as he did last year. We are thinking of our own mortality, and year by year become more attached to this little Mugnano.

Years ago, when Augie died in the U S, he wanted his ashes to be scattered on his property in Giove. Prue had to hide his ashes to get them back here on the plane. Charlie then came and scattered them on the riverbank behind their house. Roy said last night, "Augie must be in Rome by now..."

Now there are new laws more kind to the idea of cremation in Italia, partly because there is not much room for all the people who are dying in this little country. It is even legal to keep someone's ashes in a house. So we look around, and one day this next year will have a conversation with Don Luca to ask him where our ashes can be kept in a couple of urns. We won't need an entire casket space, although we see that there are some available. It is important to plan for these things, so that the loved ones we leave behind won't have to. This is a good day to have a conversation about it.

We plan to have a rest early in the evening and get up around 1AM to watch TV for the U S Presidential election returns for the rest of the night. We'll have to get up before 10AM tomorrow to walk into the centro storico to get our flu shots from Dottoressa, but don't expect to be doing much of anything else tomorrow, except, hopefully, having happy dreams.

We have no idea what to expect, but think there will definitely be some real surprises. I have made out an excel chart with each state, listed from East Coast to West, with the number of electoral college votes needed, a box for Kerry and one for Bush and one for Undecided, with running totals. I'll be sitting up with a pencil and the chart on my lap, Sofi asleep at my feet. Roy hopes to join me, for at least part of the night as well. I find the process fascinating.

Roy tells me I have been calling the body who actual decide the election the "electrical college", and perhaps that is closer to the truth. The whole process is quite complicated, actually.

But before we "bed down" for a short nap, there is time for another round of steamed puddings. Today we stocked up at the Coop in Amelia, and I'm energized, because they taste so great, even if they take a lot of time to prepare and cook. Roy makes more room in the freezer in the loggia and we'll have all our gifts ready for whenever we need them during the holiday season.

November 3
So we stay up almost all night, and both feel numb. It appears that Bush wins the presidential election, with the Ohio vote still coming in. Even the air feels heavy. Perhaps we are just tired. But as Tosca emails us just now, it is amazing that over half the electorate votes against their own best interests. It appears to me that the country is either more conservative than I thought or most of the electorate are not gutsy enough to vote with their conscience.

I hear a tractor outside, and the villagers move along as though it is just another day. And then I remember that we are here and not there. I inhale deeply. The sweet-swelling nespola tree in flower outside our bedroom window intoxicates me, and I forget.

We walk up to the centro storico to get our flu shots from Dottoressa. She has our flu injections in a little "happy holiday" tote bag, and makes me laugh just thinking about how she moves and how full of life she is. She opens the package, squeezes the syringe to get the air bubbles out, reaches for my arm, and proclaims "Pronti!" while thrusting the needle into my arm. I can hardly feel it, but have to keep from laughing. Roy sits near me, wide eyed, as though it must hurt. I laugh at him and before we know it we're done.

And the injections are free. Dottoressa just has to fill out a form with the reason she is giving us the injection. Last year, when preparing to give me a flu shot, she said in a forceful voice, "Give me your leg!" I laughed from the bottom of my stomach and corrected her. This year she knows better, and my arm is ready for her before she is ready for me.

She writes prescriptions for Roy to get a few tests that he has not had since before we moved here in 2002. The process is simple. She writes out a prescription, Roy drives to the farmacia and they call the appropriate hospital and make an appointment for him at some date a week or a month later. For one, Roy has an appointment on Friday November 12th in Orvieto.

Some times we drive to Viterbo, some times to Terni, some times to Orvieto or Orte, depending on what the test is for. On the day of the test, we will drive to the hospital, pay a small fee (between €16 and €34), and wait until it is our turn. The doctors are always very friendly. When the tests are ready, we pick them up, take them to Dottoressa to discuss them, and otherwise file them at home with the rest of our medical records.

So far, we have had no real complaints about the medical system. Dottoressa is helping us to navigate through the difficult parts. We have had two less than adequate experiences with doctors in the two years we have lived here, but once we told Dottoressa, she found a new place for us to go for the same treatment and that worked out fine.

While waiting for Dottoressa today, the regular cast of characters wait with us: Ennio (with Bastia hooked to the railing outside), Rina and Terzo. Shelly arrives and asks us to help her appeal to the mayor and possibly also to the provincial government for additional recycling canisters and also for better signage. She no longer has her digital camera, so we tell her we'll take the photos of what recycling containers we have now in Mugnano, what they have in nearby in Bomarzo, and then email them to her. She will speak with the mayor and whomever else she needs to to get signage and more recycling containers for the village.

Shelly has a good heart. She constantly searches for the right thing to do. She is also incredibly persistent. So we'll see what she is able to accomplish. It will be good to have newspaper recycling, and better signage for the batteries, old medicine and plastic. We have recycling for glass bottles only now, although we put our plastic in with the glass.

We know that is all right, although there are no signs indicating the container is also for plastic, because we watched a huge open-topped recycling truck drive by below us early one morning and it was full of plastic bottles. Shelly tells us the women of the village yell at her when she puts in plastic, because they don't know they can. Italy can be so backward, or so progressive. There is usually no state in between.

We also ask her what's up with the olive picking, but it has been too wet. So we probably won't be able to pick olives for her this year. We are spending time getting ready for our U S trip and don't have much extra time.

Roy has another of his missions on his mind today, and we may drive to Viterbo this afternoon to see what we can find out. He needs a better long white beard and wig for his Babbo Natale costume. When we arrive back here in December, he'll be busy with his Babbo duties, and won't have time to find this part of his costume then. We also want to see if we can find the outdoor holiday lights, so that we can set them up as soon as we return.

When we drive to the place that sells and rents costumes, they have nothing except complete Babbo outfits, with flimsy beards and white curly hair attached to a cap. The store has outside lights, and thankfully Roy knows enough not to buy the kind that self distructs if one of the little lights malfunctions. We leave there for Obi, the Viterbo mini version of Home Depot, but all their lights appear to be manufactured by the same company. We'll try Spazio Verde in Terni this next week. Still no Babbo wig.

We pick up a couple of gifts for the twins, and start to research again about finding an affordable internet connection. Shelly tells us Wind has a promotion, but when we arrive they tell us the promotion finished three weeks ago. We will have to reseach options online. Again, this is really not the U.S. when it comes to buying consumer items or services.

November 4
Today is some kind of strange holiday. We do not realize that it is until we drive up to Orvieto, and the place is mobbed with people and carabineri. In the first shop, the young man behind the counter has no idea what is going on, but when we stop in to see our pals at Giacomini, Ciara's daughter tells us that today is a throwback to Mussolini's fascist years in celebration of the Carabineri, or branch of the Italian police. If there is a parade, we miss it, but on a little side street run into some women from the U S and strike up a conversation.

The woman I first speak with is an American nun, or suor, living and working in Rome for the Mother Superior of the Order of Notre Dame in Rome. We invite her to take the train up one day to visit us, and she does the same, telling her we can stay with her in Rome near the train station.

I am so interested in this woman, that I forget to tell her about two of our favorite places, the building with the faux finishes on all the walls and ceilings at the foot of the street we are on, and St. Francsco, the tiny one-room church around the corner. So while Sofi and Roy and I are walking away toward a Bancomat, I remember and walk back with Sofi to tell them. This is just Ann's second trip to Orvieto, and now that she lives here, she'll want to be able to show people some unusual aspects of Orvieto. We look forward to seeing her again, and to getting to know her. Something about her drew me to her.

When walking back down the street, we stop at Galli, the real estate office where Diego's property is supposed to be listed. There is a wonderful photo right out front, so we hope he is getting some response from the advertising. He is such a wonderful man that we hope we can help him in some way.

We leave Orvieto after finishing all of our U S gift shopping, and drive to Diego's new place to take more photos for our web site. No one is there, but the chain is down on the hill, so we drive right up. Today is beautiful and warm. The landscaping is done, with cypress trees and many blooming roses. We are able to take more photos and look at the foundation of the second house, which will be poured soon.

We drive down the hill and Roy now wants to drive to Sermugnano to see if we can find Jane and Jock's house. It is a lovely little town, perhaps a little larger than Mugnano. We think we find their yellow house at the end of the road, but are not sure. We think they are back in England, so will email them later to see how they did on settling in.

From there, we drive to Lubriano, and it is a wonderful, wonderful town. The views across the canyon toward Civita di Bagnoregio are spectacular, and the town is quite large. It has a centro storico with beautiful churches and rustic charm, and outside the centro storico are plenty of newer houses. So there must be an active population in the town. We'd recommend this town to anyone looking for a house in Italy.

We drive into Bagnoregio, and on to Diego's castello. Ulla is at home, doing crafts in her garden, and we stop for tea. Sofi spots her two ducks, jumps over a little fence, and races after them. We are in shock, because she cannot even hear us. She bounds over the grass toward them, and they flail their wings and make a huge commotion. Roy jumps over the fence and runs toward her, picking her up in his arms and bringing her back. They surely would have killed her.

We sit down for tea with Ulla, and she tells us about her brother's film, which is entered in a New York film festival, where he has won a best director award. It is an avant garde film, we think called Das Musikill, and she will fly to New York to join him. We are sure she will have a wonderful time.

Diego drives by on his tractor, with many barrels of olives, for his press is right up the drive. We wave to him and Roy sees him when he walks up to see the progress of Diego's swimming pool. Roy tells him about the photos he has taken a few hours ago.

We tell Ulla that we need to pick our olives soon. We only have 6 trees that have olives. Two do not, because we did not water them enough this year. We did not know that olives that have been planted during the first year need lots of water. Anyway, she tells us to bring our olives up to his press.

We had thought we would just cure our olives, but think we will do this instead. Diego won't mind, and we'll have some of our own olive oil. We will pick the olives and drive them up next week before we fly to the U S. This will be a new adventure; one we thought we'd never have. Usually, unless you have a substantial amount of olives, it is impossible to find a place that will press them for you. If the weather does not stay mild, we will pick after we return at the beginning of December. We hear from Diego that he will continue to pick until the end of December, so there is no great rush to finish. We have so much to do.

We speak with Tia, and Charlie is really creating quite a stir. He is not ready to be spayed, but is having raging hormones. She ties him up, but he breaks out of his chains and runs away for hours. The vet told her he'd operate on Saturday, but since Charlie is at least two years old, it will take some time for those hormones to calm down.

Chaos continues to reign at Casa Lara. We will see Tia and the doggies tomorrow night. We're having cocktails there, then going to Il Ponte with Wendy and Alan. Bruce is in the U S for a business trip; then his family arrives for Thanksgiving soon after we leave for the U S.

November 5
The fog continues in the morning, but clears by early afternoon. We are told that this has been the mildest Fall on record so far. The roses confirm it, blooming all over the garden.

We have had very few holiday decorations during past years, and decide that we must have a few lights outside and a little tree. So we pick up most of what we need at Spazio Verde in Terni. Roy then finds his Babo Natale wig and beard at a costume place in the center of Terni. The place mostly rents costumes, and the costumes are battered examples. But the wig is new and from a catalog.

We do some scouting for Chris and Helene from England for a house, and then drive with Sofi to Tia's for cocktails before cena at Il Ponte. We love their fish, and on Thursdays and Fridays the specialties are fish, fish and more fish. Cold appetizers, risotto and some fried calamari and we are all full.

Before going tot he restaurant, Sofi and Gioia reacquaint themselves and are adorable. Gioia wants to be alpha dog, jumping on Sofi's back and falling over, but Sofi will have none of it. They rush around and around in and out of room by room, Charlie wanting to get into the fun, but finding himself more comfortable on the sofa behind Wendy and Tia and me. He is really a woman's dog, and still craves affection. But evidently he ran off this morning and found a willing female, so came home relaxed. Tonight he is calm.

Sofi stays in our car while we are in the restaurant, and Gioia and Charlie stay in Tia's car as well. The evening ends calmly, with all of us agreeing to meet at Alan's on Sunday for pranzo. Tomorrow we'll make a big steamed persimmon pudding and bring it with some of our brandied cherries to pour over the top of each serving.

November 6
I wake up with a hangover. The wine at the restaurant last night did not agree with me, and I spend the whole day in a fog.

We meet with a realtor in Soriano in the morning, and find one really wonderful property for Chris and Helene. We have a lot of scouting to do before we leave for the U S in a little over a week, but we think we can really help them with some advance work on our part. We look forward to meeting them the next time they are here.

I keep forgetting to write about the lovely tiny pink cyclamen that grow wild on the bank facing us on our downhill drive from Bomarzo to Mugnano. I don't remember seeing it anywhere else. The little flowers are not more than a half inch long at the very most. But hundreds and hundreds of them hug the steep bank as though they are about to fall off.

When we arrive back home, Mario's tractor is parked in front of our cancello. Somehow attached to the back is a little "caboose" containing old metal scrap items that he is taking to the dump. He asks us when we are leaving for the US and reminds us that there will be a cena at our house in December after we return. That will be fun.

In the afternoon, Gianfranco comes by and tells Roy that there is an event in the village where the Confraternity is needed. Roy agrees to go, but Sofi and I stay home. I am still not feeling well. We noticed Italian flags up in Bomarzo this morning, and evidently there is some commemoration honoring Italy's involvement in WWII. Ah, the 60 year anniversary.

When Roy comes back, he tells me that it was a wonderful event. There were three confraternity members: Gianfranco, Enzo and Roy. The mood was such that a lot of townspeople were out in the square, waiting for the band to arrive. The local band members started to gather and tune their instruments. Gabriella and her daughter and Gabriella's sister were leaning out of three huge tall windows from the Orsini Palace.

Giovanni and Tito acted as the WWII war heroes carrying the wreath to the Caduti monument.

Marshallo and the Little King and another Carabinieri were there from Bomarzo.

Francesco ran about in his full dress uniform. The mayor, the vice mayor and Tiziana (former mayor) and members of the town council were there. The corteo formed haphazardly because Don Luca was not in charge. People just seemed to fall into place.

The bank played its usual march, and then the wreath was placed below the Caduti monument. While that ceremony finished, Roy and the others heard a band from below playing a rousing Italian march, heading toward them up the hill. Looking over the balcony railing of the village park, the band was easy to spot.

The formation was five abreast and six deep, with the band members all wearing formal Italian military costumes including broad brimmed black caps with large black feather plumes. The first row consisted of five women, each one in a different period military costume, Each woman in the front row stood and marched proudly and elegantly with her head held high. The entire group marched double time while playing this rousing march. All the instruments were silver, and each trumpeter held his head back, pointing his trumpet up in the air. They made our local Polymartium band look like a grammar school band. Not a note was out of tune. Clearly this formation has been rehearsed and rehearsed. Of course, the group was from sophisticated Viterbo.

Once the Viterbo band arrived, it stopped, turned around, and faced back down the hill. Then the Polymartium band played the Italian National Anthem and a lone trumpet player played taps. Don Luca said a few prayers. Roy's group carried the San Liberato banner, but Roy tells me they were there just to add "local color".

The Viterbo band then marched double time down the hill playing until they were out of sight, stopping somewhere near the garbage dumpsters, to rousing applause from people hanging off the iron fence rail of the park above. Don Luca asked Roy and the rest of the confraternity to continue to Bomarzo, so everyone piled into their cars and raced up the steep hill, past the Parco dei Mostri to Bomarzo.

A second procession and corteo formed in a small piazza near the intersection where people turn to go up to the Duomo. This group consisted of everyone and everything that was in Mugnano times two or three. This included representatives of the Bomarzo Confraternita of San Anselmo, Ivo and other members of the Pro Loco with their banners, representatives of the police dept in Soriano, as well as both bands.

Again, the formation was haphazard, and everyone except the Viterbo band marched 300 meters up the hill to the Bomarzo caduti monument. The Viterbo bank stayed out of site in the piazza where the march began.

Once everyone was assembled at the monument, the Viterbo Brass Band was given a sign. They started to play and stomped their feet again, marching double-time up the 300 meters to the monument, all the time playing marching music. Because there were so many more people involved, it was even more spectacular than it was in little Mugnano.

At the caduti monument, Stefano, the mayor, spoke about the dead from all the wars starting with WWI to the present day in which Italy has been involved. There were two elderly veterans selected, who stood on either side of the monument, each holding the end of a rope. The ends of the rope were attached to a long Italian flag covering the plaque on the left commemorating the WWI fallen and on the right a huge plaque honoring the WWII fallen.

When the mayor finished, the flags were pulled down and the mayor read each of the names off both plaques of the fallen soldiers. The Viterbo military unit, before each name was read, barked in unison, "Presente!"

Don Luca said a few prayers and gave a blessing and as happened in Mugnano, it was just "over". As he did in Mugnano, the mayor took off his tricolor sash, and that was the sign that the event was finished. For all the pomp and circumstance, the finish was like a balloon being popped. It was just over.

As the participants headed back down to their cars, a long line of traffic continued all the way past the Parco Dei Mostri, with people in cars honking, people waving their hands in Italian fashion, doing their traditional hand signals as though they were practicing making hand puppet s on a wall.

Once back to his car, Roy drove to Attigliano and ran into Maria. She told him that Mario hurt his hand picking olives and she has been helping him every day. So on Monday Luciana will come to clean, probably without her.

We have already started another batch of steamed puddings. One large one will go to Alan and Wendy's tomorrow for pranzo, and we proceed to make another two medium and six tiny ones. We are both tired, and keep forgetting parts of the recipe. Everything is finally finished at 9:30 and we are able to watch an old West Wing and an old Sopranos show before we climb up to bed.

November 7
I'm still not up to par, so sleep in and we do not go to mass. At around 8AM, we hear Marino moving around in his tractor across the street, but he does not stay for long. When we do get up, we see that a lot of Pia's land has been cleared for construction. We expect that the project will be well under way by the time we arrive back next month. We are hoping that it is a sweet little weekend house for Pia. We are not concerned, because it does not get in the way of our view. We only see it when we stand right up to our front fence.

We leave for pranzo at Alan and Wendy's with Sofi. There will be six dogs running around today, but there is plenty of room for them all to scamper about. As we arrive, the sun comes out and the air is fragrant after last night's rainfall, a rain that did not reach nearby Mugnano.

The dogs are all outside except for Charlie, sitting in the back of Tia's car after yesterday's little operation. Gioia may be little, but she is frisky, and barks right out at Lupetto, the huge German shepherd, who seems to reel back and blink his eyes as if to say, "What was THAT?"

Sofi and Gioia have fun out on the grass, unless Rusty or Lupetto or Short Stuff try to move in. Short Stuff is the Alpha male, scaring Lupetto half to death and snapping at his muzzle later in the kitchen.

The day is lovely, with a walk around the property, a talk about Alan's next landscaping project, and a great meal inside. We leave with a basket of huge olives that we will start to cure this week, and will see them for another visit after we return but before they leave on December 10th.

We stop to do a little more scouting in Bomarzo, and come home with the promise of a property coming up in the next couple of months for Chris and Helena. But the sun has begun to come down, the sky is cloudy and the air is cold. We will definitely have a fire tonight.

November 7

I'm still not up to par, so sleep in and we do not go to mass. At around 8AM, we hear Marino moving around in his tractor across the street, but he does not stay for long. When we do get up, we see that a lot of Pia's land has been cleared for construction. We expect that the project will be well under way by the time we arrive back next month. We are hoping that it is a sweet little weekend house for Pia. We are not concerned, because it does not get in the way of our view. We only see it when we stand right up to our front fence.

We leave for pranzo at Alan and Wendy's with Sofi. There will be six dogs running around today, but there is plenty of room for them all to scamper about. As we arrive, the sun comes out and the air is fragrant after last night's rainfall, a rain that did not reach nearby Mugnano.

The dogs are all outside except for Charlie, sitting in the back of Tia's car after yesterday's little operation. Gioia may be little, but she is frisky, and barks right out at Lupetto, the huge German shepherd, who seems to reel back and blink his eyes as if to say, "What was THAT?"

Sofi and Gioia have fun out on the grass, unless Rusty or Lupetto or Short Stuff try to move in. Short Stuff is the Alpha male, scaring Lupetto half to death and snapping at his muzzle later in the kitchen.

The day is lovely, with a walk around the property, a talk about Alan's next landscaping project, and a great meal inside. We leave with a basket of huge olives that we will start to cure this week, and will see them for another visit after we return but before they leave on December 10th.

We stop to do a little more scouting in Bomarzo, and come home with the promise of a property coming up in the next couple of months for Chris and Helena. But the sun has begun to come down, the sky is cloudy and the air is cold. We will definitely have a fire tonight.

November 8
Yesterday, we turned on the heat for the first time. Winter is finally here. This morning in Orte, the wind howls fearfully in the Centro Storico's plaza. It pushes against me like a big bully no matter what way I turn. I jump out of the car in front of the Duomo just before 10AM and reach into the hatchback for my violin and music.

I literally race down the dark alleys to Tiziana's sunny piazza, and up the steep stairs to her rehearsal hall. The tone of the big bell outside her front door sounds icy cold as it clanks against the clanger.

I love my lesson today. Tiziana shows me how to play a strong sound on the "e" string that is not shrill. Playing this instrument is all about relaxing. I am so excited at the sound that I practically holler out, "Brava!" And we both laugh. I tell her to never put me in a concert, because if I play wonderfully well I will shout to the rooftops and raise my arms to let everyone know how wonderful it feels.

So we play the Polovetsian Dance. (Do you recall the music to "Take my hand, I'm a stranger in paradise?" That's it.) I learn how to breeaaatttthhhhe with the bow and relax. This is a far cry from lessons with my first teacher in San Rafael. Each lesson I waited for her to wrap me on my knuckles with a ruler. She was that kind of teacher. Tiziana smiles at me, laughs at my silliness, and plays facing me like a mirror image of what I should look and sound like.

We talk about the benefit concerts Roy and I want to organize next year to raise money for a roof for the big church in Mugnano; a church that has sat sadly for decades, unused and lonely. Tiziana will surely be involved. I realize that Lazio has funds to do this, and we are on a quest to find out how. Surely we will find a way.

While I am playing, Roy and Sofi run into Patricia Brennan, a woman who came to my lavender lunch last June and lives in Orte. She owns an antique shop in Rome and is a dealer, so we will be sure to work with her in our growing business. We ask her about apartments in Orte, and she comes up with one that will be sold privately. We look at the outside of it, and in the next week will go to see it in person, before referring it to Chris and Helena.

We also walk to Patricia's apartment for coffee, and to meet her dog Lino and little kitten named Ginger. Her apartment has ceilings that must be 4 meters high. She has done quite a bit of work and it is a wonderful restoration. She will be fun to work with.

We want to be sure to go to the wonderful bakery for the best rosette rolls in all of Lazio. The bakery is owned by Mauro do Pizzichini, and it appears to be a family affair. Mauro is probably the very old man in the back room standing with his coat and hat on, watching every little step.

By this time in the day, all the baking is done, and it is a matter of the "front office" doing all the work. He appears to be about ninety. The rolls are so inexpensive that we have no idea how a bakery like this can stay in business, but it has for decades, and a long loyal line of customers follows us as we wait in line for our turn.

Back at home, we put a fire in the fireplace, and today I will not do the gardening I had hoped to do. It is just too cold.

November 9
It is very cold this morning. The dirty sky seems to strangle the air above us. Without warning, a bigger-than-life weather door slams shuts right in front of our balmy week with a thud. NOW, the sky tells them, you are mine and this is winter. The fields look like old rusty nails after this afternoon's rain; a rain that started at 3 P M and will not let up.

Earlier in the day, Roy decides to make a pasta sauce. I am upstairs ironing a duvet cover and working in the guest room to reorganize things before our trip next week. He is playing in the kitchen with onions, sun dried mushrooms and fresh pomodori sauce when the front bell rings. It is Italo, and Roy and Sofi greet him. Or Roy greets him and Sofi stands at the top of the stairs and barks like a windup toy.

Felice is in the hospital! Italo tells Roy that he was taken to Bel Colle in Viterbo on Saturday with high blood pressure. It must be more than that, but that is what Roy hears. We did not go to church on Sunday, but we knew that Felice was not in Mugnano to take the memorial wreath at the afternoon ceremony. I remember that Roy told me that Giovanni and Tito carried the wreath, but it did not make me worry. We will certainly go to see him today.

Now I am worrying about everything. For the past two nights on ER (we never watched it in the US and this is probably a repeat of the first season), one of the doctors does not get to say goodbye to his mother who dies, and the next day he sits next to a dying man with aids and holds his hand. I cannot fathom losing Felice. I just can't. I won't.

We drive to Bel Colle in the rain, and it is dark when we arrive. Once we drive under the hospital's nameplate, Roy tells me that the hospital name should be Brutto Colle. Once out of the car, the wind practically blows my umbrella inside out. This is a strange place, made more so by the dark and dreary night.

We have no idea where Felice is, and there is no directory. Whenever we ask, attendants seem to think that idea is too complicated. So we start in Cardiology, and are told to go down a corridor and up to the fourth floor. We follow a sign to the accensore (elevator) and it leads us outside and in the next door to our left. But that door has red and white tape that has been broken. We step inside and the next set of doors is chained shut.

Someone in a bright orange neon jumpsuit and coat and hat guides us back inside and we find our way to the elevator. But when we look up at the floor signs inside the elevator, "cardiology" is written in with pen next to "Gynecology". We wish we had a camera to capture the horror of this sign.

No, he is not in Cardiology. No, he is not on the next floor in the men's general area. So what's left is Neurology. We are sent through another wing and arrive at a closed door with no open window. Roy tries it, and we are able to continue down another corridor. Then the nurse who tried to help us five minutes before decides to help us find Felice. And she walks in front of us to a little office and yes, Felice is in room 516.

Roy opens the door to a big room with four beds and Felice is standing next to someone's bed decked out in beautiful green pajamas. He sees Roy and gives him his big Felice smile. "Madonna Mia!" he cries out. And I enter the room behind Roy. Felice is standing just as he stands in our garden, leaning back a little on his heels, his shoulders back and his head raised just that much. And what a smile! It is so good to see him looking good, if not a little thin in the face.

We walk up to him and both hug him. Roy gives him the cachi that he holds in a little plastic bag, and I take a little dark green bag of lavender and stick it in his pajama pocket next to his handkerchief. He nods, yes, and this is the right thing to do.

In another minute or two, Felice's son walks in, in fatigues, straight from work. He teaches in the army base located near the hospital. Roy and Felice are deep in conversation about the lemon tree. Roy tries to be funny and asks Felice if he should cover the lemon tree tonight, after giving him a description of today's weather. Felice then goes into a detailed discourse of exactly how he should proceed tonight. His son and I look at each other and smile. Felice is doing well. He will be home soon.

I think before we leave that he apologizes for Thursday. We don't really know when he will be released from the hospital, but his celebratory pranzo will undoubtedly not take place. Fa niente. We will celebrate just to have him back in Mugnano.

Earlier in the day, we plop Wendy and Alan's big apple green and eggplant-colored olives into the huge glass container that Roy found this morning in Orte. First we pour bottled water halfway up and then a generous handful of sale marino grosso. The container is just large enough, and we screw the lid on tightly. We will ask Angie to change the water once a week while we're gone.

We love these little projects based on products from the land, and seem to find new ones to do month after month. Oh, we forgot to plant the agretti and broccoli and now it is cold. Perhaps we will try to do that in the next days, hoping we can sneak them in before Mother Nature comes down with a hammer on them. Speaking of hammering, Roy has finished hammering his stakes into the ground on the raised planter bed, and just needs to add the mesh material on the top. It looks like a mini airplane hangar, but actually is quite attractive. I am so proud of him.

It's time to drive to Sippiciano to get our haircuts, and when we arrive we spot a building for sale in prime position right outside the centro storico. Danieli does not know who owns it, but Roy calls the number and we will find out more about it when the man calls back later. Sippiciano has a caffé with the best gelato for miles around, there is a centro storico that has money to restore the whole borgo, and Donatella, Duccio's impresario of a sister holds court there. So it is worth checking out for Chris and Helena.

We also hear from Patricia about the building in Orte, and Roy will call the owner. So we will try to see both buildings before we leave to rule them in or out for Chris and Helena. For now, they are so jazzed about the Soriano property that we email them about Fabiana Togandi, our notaio, in the event they want to speed ahead before we return.

November 9

It is very cold this morning. The dirty sky seems to strangle the air above us. Without warning, a bigger-than-life weather door slams shuts right in front of our balmy week with a thud. NOW, the sky tells them, you are mine and this is winter. The fields look like old rusty nails after this afternoon's rain; a rain that started at 3 P M and will not let up.

Earlier in the day, Roy decides to make a pasta sauce. I am upstairs ironing a duvet cover and working in the guest room to reorganize things before our trip next week. He is playing in the kitchen with onions, sun dried mushrooms and fresh pomodori sauce when the front bell rings. It is Italo, and Roy and Sofi greet him. Or Roy greets him and Sofi stands at the top of the stairs and barks like a windup toy.

Felice is in the hospital! Italo tells Roy that he was taken to Bel Colle in Viterbo on Saturday with high blood pressure. It must be more than that, but that is what Roy hears. We did not go to church on Sunday, but we knew that Felice was not in Mugnano to take the memorial wreath at the afternoon ceremony. I remember that Roy told me that Giovanni and Tito carried the wreath, but it did not make me worry. We will certainly go to see him today.

Now I am worrying about everything. For the past two nights on ER (we never watched it in the US and this is probably a repeat of the first season), one of the doctors does not get to say goodbye to his mother who dies, and the next day he sits next to a dying man with aids and holds his hand. I cannot fathom losing Felice. I just can't. I won't.

We drive to Bel Colle in the rain, and it is dark when we arrive. Once we drive under the hospital's nameplate, Roy tells me that the hospital name should be Brutto Colle. Once out of the car, the wind practically blows my umbrella inside out. This is a strange place, made more so by the dark and dreary night.

We have no idea where Felice is, and there is no directory. Whenever we ask, attendants seem to think that idea is too complicated. So we start in Cardiology, and are told to go down a corridor and up to the fourth floor. We follow a sign to the accensore (elevator) and it leads us outside and in the next door to our left. But that door has red and white tape that has been broken. We step inside and the next set of doors is chained shut.

Someone in a bright orange neon jumpsuit and coat and hat guides us back inside and we find our way to the elevator. But when we look up at the floor signs inside the elevator, "cardiology" is written in with pen next to "Gynecology". We wish we had a camera to capture the horror of this sign.

No, he is not in Cardiology. No, he is not on the next floor in the men's general area. So what's left is Neurology. We are sent through another wing and arrive at a closed door with no open window. Roy tries it, and we are able to continue down another corridor. Then the nurse who tried to help us five minutes before decides to help us find Felice. And she walks in front of us to a little office and yes, Felice is in room 516.

Roy opens the door to a big room with four beds and Felice is standing next to someone's bed decked out in beautiful green pajamas. He sees Roy and gives him his big Felice smile. "Madonna Mia!" he cries out. And I enter the room behind Roy. Felice is standing just as he stands in our garden, leaning back a little on his heels, his shoulders back and his head raised just that much. And what a smile! It is so good to see him looking good, if not a little thin in the face.

We walk up to him and both hug him. Roy gives him the cachi that he holds in a little plastic bag, and I take a little dark green bag of lavender and stick it in his pajama pocket next to his handkerchief. He nods, yes, and this is the right thing to do.

In another minute or two, Felice's son walks in, in fatigues, straight from work. He teaches in the army base located near the hospital. Roy and Felice are deep in conversation about the lemon tree. Roy tries to be funny and asks Felice if he should cover the lemon tree tonight, after giving him a description of today's weather. Felice then goes into a detailed discourse of exactly how he should proceed tonight. His son and I look at each other and smile. Felice is doing well. He will be home soon.

I think before we leave that he apologizes for Thursday. We don't really know when he will be released from the hospital, but his celebratory pranzo will undoubtedly not take place. Fa niente. We will celebrate just to have him back in Mugnano.

Earlier in the day, we plop Wendy and Alan's big apple green and eggplant-colored olives into the huge glass container that Roy found this morning in Orte. First we pour bottled water halfway up and then a generous handful of sale marino grosso. The container is just large enough, and we screw the lid on tightly. We will ask Angie to change the water once a week while we're gone.

We love these little projects based on products from the land, and seem to find new ones to do month after month. Oh, we forgot to plant the agretti and broccoli and now it is cold. Perhaps we will try to do that in the next days, hoping we can sneak them in before Mother Nature comes down with a hammer on them. Speaking of hammering, Roy has finished hammering his stakes into the ground on the raised planter bed, and just needs to add the mesh material on the top. It looks like a mini airplane hangar, but actually is quite attractive. I am so proud of him.

It's time to drive to Sippiciano to get our haircuts, and when we arrive we spot a building for sale in prime position right outside the centro storico. Danieli does not know who owns it, but Roy calls the number and we will find out more about it when the man calls back later. Sippiciano has a caffé with the best gelato for miles around, there is a centro storico that has money to restore the whole borgo, and Donatella, Duccio's impresario of a sister holds court there. So it is worth checking out for Chris and Helena.

We also hear from Patricia about the building in Orte, and Roy will call the owner. So we will try to see both buildings before we leave to rule them in or out for Chris and Helena. For now, they are so jazzed about the Soriano property that we email them about Fabiana Togandi, our notaio, in the event they want to speed ahead before we return.

November 10
Last night the rain packed a wallop. Thunder and lightning pummeled the earth as we slept, and Sofi whimpered until things calmed down. This morning, the winter sky continues, with the earth slushing around until the rain settles in. Roy did not cover the lemon tree or move the kumquat inside the loggia last night, but will this morning, now that the rain has stopped. The lemon tree and the little kumquat tree are more precious now that ever. With Felice in the hospital, we must make sure that they all come through the winter in the best of shape.

Felice. Felice. He is ever on my mind, now that he is in the hospital. I don't know his medical history, but at eighty-two or three he seems very strong. I remember the afternoon we were introduced to him. "Io sono Felice, sempre felice." He introduces himself this way whenever we have a new guest to for him to meet, usually tipping his wool cap. After Giustino's antics, Felice is a welcome relief.

We have grown to love him. And yes, he is always happy. Even yesterday his face beamed when he saw us. We think he was telling a story to one of his friends who sat up in a bed across the room from him when we entered. The room seemed like a dormitory, with the other men acting in a friendly way. It is difficult not to be friendly in the same room with Felice.

Just as the coffee announces it is ready with a bubbly sputter this morning, the front bell rings and it is Serena. Marsiglia asks her to come to tell us that pranzo tomorrow will not take place, since Felice is in the hospital. "We know," Roy replies, "We visited him yesterday in the hospital." I ask her in for coffee, but she makes an excuse that she must rush off.

Most of the people of the village are still shy with us, because they do not speak our language. And I am shy, because I still do not speak theirs well. These days I am more impatient with myself. I must find a way to speak more phrases and sentences. Last night, Felice corrected me by using the word, "detto" as past tense for "diga" (from the verb, dire, which means, to tell). I am so slow in picking up the language.

Later we drive to Amelia, on the back road we love behind the Attigliano train station. If we did not love our house and village so, I would want to live in a house on this road. Once on the main road to Lugnano again, we stop at Tony and Pat's gate, and Roy jumps over the low front wall to take a look around. The little wall before the garage has been built, and there is an iron railing around part of the pool. So at least something has been done. We'll email Tony and Pat later to check in with them and let them know.

Once in Amelia, we walk up into the centro storico and buy our first Italian novel, Il Dolore Perfetto by Ugo Riccarelli. I saw it yesterday at Giusi's, and will work my way through it as a different way to learn the language. Recently, we looked back at some of our books and realize that we are picking up more Italian than we thought. So we really are understanding more.

While coming out of the bar in Amelia after a quick caffé, Roy sees Patricia Brennan walking by. We greet her, and she asks us if we have spoken to the man who owns the building in Orte. We have not, but call him later, and he agrees to see us tomorrow at the bar in Orte, and we will see if his property is worth showing to Chris and Helena.

We tell Patricia we want to introduce her to Giorgio, whose family owns a large palazzo in the centro storico. Tiziana tells us that they are beginning restoration. Perhaps he has furniture to sell, or will need furniture for the palazzo. She has been very helpful and friendly, so we hope we can return the favor.

Roy picks up a shoe that needed repair at the shoeman, and finds out that he can probably order his black soft boots from the Bandiera, the official costumed flag throwers of Amelia. What a great idea! These are the boots Roy wants to wear with his Babbo Natale costume and also with his medieval costumes. He'll call them soon.

Back at home for pranzo, it is so cold that we have a fire in the fireplace. With plenty of wood, there is no need to scrimp on firewood. The rest of the house remains very cold.

With all our cachi's ripening and plopping down from the tree in one of the side gardens, we've had a great time perfecting the adage, "If you have lemons, make lemonade!" In this case, we've a wonderful steamed pudding recipe to make with ripe cachis and it is possible to freeze them for up to four months.

So we've been steaming and steaming until our freezers are full. We also have lots of cherries from our sour cherry tree that we pitted and soaked in brandy or grand mariner or sambuca in little glass jars, So we're eating some and getting the rest ready for late in the season and for holiday gifts. So our neighbors and friends here will have the benefits of a bountiful harvest.

November 11
Gino looks so very old when we drive by him, as he shuffles from Ernesta's tiny store to his apartment on Porta Antica, which is located just above us. He stands bent over as though he is huddled into himself, trying to protect him from the inevitable. He doesn't even look up, unless we stand right in his path. Is he afraid of who will stare him back straight in the eye and say, "We're ready for you?"

I remember Sarah's experience meeting him on the street one day. They stood and looked at each other, the same determined pale blue eyes staring back and forth at the same height. He was mesmerized at the sight of her striking black hair and blue eyes. I think he thought about her for days.

I am reading Notes From an Italian Garden and drink in every word as though living the dream is not yet a reality. The author and her husband bought property in 1964 in Northern Lazio closer to the coast. How brave they were. The area at that time was a vast wasteland. I find myself nodding, "Yes. We found that, too. Or no, I did not know that." I'm learning new words, more about the land, from this book. A few days ago, Giusy commented, "You read a lot, don't you?" And I do. We both do, every night before we go to sleep. Roy is reading Malaparte's Kaputt and we find ourselves reading even more as the days turn too cold to work in the garden.

It's about time that we demystify the Italian male. Yes, the stereotype arrogant self-absorbed philandering mama's boy exists. But there is another Italian male, a country man, diligent, creative problem-solving man who loves the earth and his craft and truly appreciates the natural gifts bestowed on all of us in this land we call home. Stefano the muratore is one. Dino the fallegname-muratore-ironworker-chef is another. Mario who works our land is another. And of course there is Felice. Sempre Felice.

These days, Stefano the muratore is on cloud nine, with the birth of his daughter Corinne ten days ago. He is gentle soul, hardworking and creative, and we would not undertake a project on our house without him. We have not seen him lately, other than when passing him in his little white truck on the road. But we miss him. Thanks to Stefano, houses and properties are now being restored in Mugnano and Bomarzo in what Lore calls "a proper way".

November 12
Finally, we wake to a morning without rain. There are clouds overhead, but also a hint of blue sky, and not much fog in the valley. We hope for a few mild clear days so that we can work in the garden to get it ready for winter before we leave for the U S.

We arrive in Attigliano early to meet with Alessandro regarding our house insurance renewal. He shows us a new policy, but we'll hold off until Spring to take him up on it. So we pay up and then drive to Orvieto to pick up a couple of last minute US gifts and then get to the hospital for Roy's ultrasound.

Finally, we've come to a clean modern hospital. Its signage is even color-coded by departments. The paint inside the hospital is cheery, and someone obviously had a good time choosing colors. We like it here, and will see if Dottoressa can send us here for specialists instead of back to Viterbo or Terni. Actually, this hospital is probably closer to us than either of the others for an emergency.

Roy has a good experience here, and makes an appointment to come back at the beginning of January for the second part of what he has to have done. We've always been good at following up with medical issues. So we hope we won't be faced with any major surprises. The medical system here is, once you get used to it, quite good. And it's amazingly inexpensive.

I read a recipe to grill porcini mushrooms while I wait, and Roy likes the idea, so on the way back out of Orvieto we stop at a truck parked along side of the road. For four very big porcinis, the cost is €10. That's a little on the expensive side, but almost right next to the seller stand two members of the feared Guardia Di Finanza, or tax police, in full dress uniforms. So the seller writes out a receipt and we make sure we take it. He then looks at me sitting in the car and winks at me. So the next time we go back, the price will be lower, we are sure, but given out with out a receipt.

Most of Italy's money is earned by the tax charged on almost everything. At 20%, the Italians do whatever they can to buy things "under the table", so they won't have to pay the tax. If caught, both the shop owner and the buyer are in a heap of trouble. Receipts are mandatory, and are randomly checked. Although Italians like to find their way around laws, and look forward to new laws so that they can creatively find ways around them, we do whatever we can to be honest. And this law is one not to mess with.

At home, I follow the recipe of chopping garlic and Italian parsley up fine, and add plenty of olive oil and breadcrumbs, then dip the sliced porcinis in it and get them ready to grill. Roy does not like most mushrooms. He thinks they are slimy. So the idea of grilling them sounds good to him. Unfortunately, the oil makes an incendiary mess, and he comes back in from the grill with charcoal porcinis. We agree to try the recipe again tomorrow after finding more porcinis, but will try grilling them on a flate plate grill on the top of the stove. We also have a recipe for deep frying them, and might do that as well.

Now that we are getting ready to leave for a couple of weeks, Roy is interested in Porcinis. I even hear him, say, "I love porcinis!" They'll probably be around when we get back, too. Since he's growing to like them, I'll come up with more ways to fix them.

November 13
What a beautiful day! It is warm, and although there are clouds in the sky it is blue overhead and we just know it will be wonderful for at least the first half of the day. Today, we are able to finish the project of the protective structure over the lettuce and because it is so nice we also plant agretti and broccoli. Agretti is one of my favorite winter vegetables, and actually is ready at the end of winter. It looks like chives standing tall, and is wonderful with a vinaigrette. Broccoli is, well, broccoli, but it is one of the vegetables that Roy will eat. We want it to be finished before we leave so that Felice will see that we have done good work in his absence. I am worried about him, and we will go to see him on Sunday after mass.

We have been trying to find a duvet cover and another set of sheets for our bed. Finally we find something at Coin in Viterbo, but they do not have the correct size. They aren't equipped to call other stores, or perhaps it is not customary to do this in Italy. We find them in Rome after calling around, and Angie kindly agrees to go to the store on her motorino and pick them up today. She'll be here tomorrow to begin house sitting with Sofi.

She tells Roy to NEVER drive into the center of Rome with a car. Roy must have winced when he heard this. We no longer drive into Rome because of the very expensive tickets given out like candy in the heart of Rome. But the most interesting thing about these sheets is the color. The color is a blue-grey, and in Italy the color is called carta zucchero. Translated, that means a card of sugar. We are trying to figure out the derivation. Giusy tells me that she does not know, but the Airforce uniforms in Italy are carta zucchero in color. She also thinks that Italians use the word, "caramella" for "brown", so there might be some relationship.

When we are finishing the white cloth cover for the vegetables, Rosina walks out on her balcony and confirms that we are putting a bedspread on them. I am embarrassed, but don't know what phase of the moon we are in. So we may be planting out of phase. Fa niente. The reason to plant in phase, is that the moon has it's greatest pull when the moon is full, and that is supposed to help the seeds get germinating and grow.

I'm trying not to make a big deal out of getting things ready to pack because of Sofi. She gets very nervous at the thought of us going away. So Roy and I take turns putting things together in the guest bedroom. We're going to pack very light for ourselves, but will have at least one suitcase full of gifts, plus the baby violin.

Lore calls, and she and Alberto will come by tonight after cena. We miss not seeing them more, but we both seem busy all the time.

At the appointed hour, the doorbell rings and Lore and Alberto arrive for a visit. Lore is wearing a fur jacket that is striped fur and wool cable knit. I ask her if she is wearing Felix, her old cat, and we all laugh. I have a still-warm chocolate cake, and we eat little slices of cake served with glasses of Santa Cristina 2000, a very good but inexpensive merlot. With a fire crackling in the fireplace behind us, we are able to catch each other up on the latest happenings of their building project, the paving project in the centro storico and our trip.

We are really happy with our kitchen, which from the first day became the center of our lives here. We love it most of all in wintertime, sitting on the green damask cotton pillowed sofa, with a fire glowing from the corner of the firebox. Now that we have plenty of firewood stocked for the winter, we make a fire almost every day.

November 14
Although winter is surely here, Roy does not wear a coat to mass. Inside the church, the neighbors greet him and exclaim, "Forte!" with their arms up like a pugilist, showing how strong they think he is. I smile broadly and make a signal with my hand back and forth as if to say, "Quasi", or so-so. Everyone else is warmly wrapped. I get up and stand by the door to joke with Tiziano. He is feeling better since our meeting about his exam this next week, or at least he tells me so.

Marsiglia and Felice enter the church as though they are royalty. Everyone watches them, and wants to help them into their seats. Felice looks a little thin in the face and pale. He also looks a little unsure of himself. Now that Marsiglia must be strong for him, she walks over to her seat with help only from her bastone (cane).

I put my arm around Felice, welcoming him back to Mugnano. He stands inside the door, not knowing what to do. I walk him over to his regular seat, right behind me on the aisle. He thanks me. Then I walk over to Marsiglia to give her a hug and listen to her. Some day. Some day I will understand everything she is whispering.

Don Mauro is the priest for today. Tiziano tells me that he is from a wealthy family in Viterbo, and that his brother is also a priest. I get a kick out of Don Mauro. He seems to want to catch the congregation falling asleep during his homilies. His voice is soothing and gentle, unless he is making a strong point, and then it rings out like a church bell, rousing everyone.

After mass, Felice asks detailed questions about when we are leaving, when Angie is arriving, and Marsiglia tells us to travel safely and have a wonderful time. Elena asks us when we are leaving, and Lore and Alberto wish us well. Then it's home to finish packing and greet Angie, who arrives to take over sentry duty of the house with Sofi, who stays by my side like a shadow.

Earlier in the day, for pranzo, I cut up the stems of yesterday's porcinis. In a large sauté pan, I add olive oil and butter then sauté sliced garlic, then a yellow onion, then a fennel bulb, sliced thin. Onions cook better with a shaker of salt over them, so salt and pepper go on next. While the water is boiling for thin spaghetti, called bavette #11, I put a soupcon of dry white wine onto the mushroom mixture, and turn the heat up. About a half cup of chopped Italian presemelo goes on next, and the onions and fennel have caramelized. As soon as the pasta is al dente, I shake it into the sauce. With freshly grated parmesan cheese, this is a really great pasta.

So of course we drink a little red wine, and the rest of the day is spent enjoying the fire and looking forward to enjoying an evening with Angie and sweet dreams on our last night here for a while.

November 15
We are up and out of the house before 5:30, and arrive at the Orte train station in plenty of time. Sofi knows something is up, but before she knows what is going on, Angie whisks her away and takes her back home for a treat and a nap. We hear from Angie later that they've taken two long walks, and everything is fine. Angie and Sofi are such good friends that we know Sofi will be happy on this little vacation from us.

The flight is very long, but uneventful, and when we land at SFO, it is like culture-shock, with lights and noise everywhere we turn. But people at the airport are cordial, and we are able to pick up our luggage and move right through customs so quickly that the landing is almost a pleasure.

It's wonderful to see Terence, and at his house the little angels are still awake, dressed in terry cloth sleepers and full of joy. Marissa is the larger of the two babies, with rosy red cheeks and blue, blue eyes. Nicole looks so much like her great grandmother Iolanda that I cannot stop thinking about how remarkable life is, and how fortunate we in the family are to have a sweet reminder of that great lady right here on earth.

Marissa will surely be an athlete, showing me how well she can do the swim, even at five months. Nicole is more pensive and thoughtful, taking the events all around her in stride. Their smiles are joyous. When we pick them up in our arms we are sure we are touching a little bit of heaven. Angie is a devoted mother, relaxed and clearly loving the experience. We are sure this trip will be over before we know it.

November 16
Today there was a bloodbath in little Mugnano. Angie Good reports in that on one of her walks round the "loop", she and Sofi ran into Felice and Marsiglia on Aqua Puzza, who were both in Felice's chicken coop wringing all their chickens' necks. This action is a necessity. With Felice's weakened state after his stroke, it is too much for him to do to walk down twice a day to feed the chickens and take care of them in addition to his other responsibilities. I am sure he is sad, but resigned to living in a simpler way.

It makes me think of the abandoned chicken coop across the street next to Pia's. Earlier this year, the elderly couple who lived in the village for years and drove down twice a day to feed their chickens there, also abandoned their chicken coop. I would like to have chickens, and we even have a little "coop" that Roy calls my "office" on our land. I don't know if I could commune with these little creatures and later eat them. Perhaps it would turn me into a vegetarian. But then, why have the chicks in the first place? Oh, for the eggs. Felice used to bring us beautiful eggs, still warm to the touch. When the egg was cracked open, the yolks were huge and orange like the sun setting on a hot day.

Back at our house, it is such a lovely day that Sofi bounds around the lavender field, then takes a nap on the front step. Angie putters around and weeds, looking for something to do. So later she drives to Attigliano to reacquaint herself with Marino, the butcher at Sappori Due. She tells Marino about her famous rabbit (corneglio), moved from freezer to freezer as she hops from job to job, and Marino agrees to cut it up for her once it has thawed. He and his wife, Marina, are very sweet people. We like to buy chicken and fillets from them when we need them. And Angie fits right in. She loves making new friends, and we love having her take care of our house and little dog while we are away. She and Sofi guard the property like two sentries on watch.

Here in California, we do some errands and feel as if we are on sensory overload. There are so many stores in this East Bay neighborhood, and the selection is so varied that I cannot wait to be done with our errands, so that we can spend the rest of our time with our grand daughters and friends, far away from the stores.

Tonight I make the Swiss chard and Rice soup, whose recipe can be found on our site under Food, and with a salad and sour crusty bread from Andronico's. We are happy to share this simple evening with our family.

Roy is happy here, because he is doing little projects around the house, and sharing time with Terence. Angie gave him a list of things to be done, and he's happily checking them off the list, one by one. Just as I turn in tonight, he is finishing installing a towel rack in the kitchen.

November 17
There are no calls to Italy today, so we work around Terence's house hanging pictures and doing little projects. Tonight Terence and Angie host a monthly family dinner, with Angie cooking up a wonderful Macedonian bean soup, and everyone else bringing favorite side dishes.

Patty Diner and I talk about how proud we are of our families, especially the next generation, who are very close with each other. When Iolanda was still alive, we wondered if the family would still want to get together as often. Now the family gets together at least once a month, with some cousins and their families getting together once or more a week. And their babies are so much fun, with most of them under two years of age.

We'll see most of them except Chris and Bernadette and their children, Ryan and Sean, who are in San Diego. We'd love to include Robin and Jay and Jon and Leslie and their spouses, too, but they are in Oregon and Texas, and we'll have to resort to emailing photos this year. Leslie and Clay are expecting a baby in January, and we'll have to email them when we get back to Italy.

Leslie and Clay will be the next users of the baby bassinet, first bought for Adrian in 1939. So far, forty-seven babies have used the bassinet since 1939, including family and close friends! The last users were Terence and Angie, and Marissa and Nicole are the third set of babies to use it as members of the third generation.

The highlight of the evening is the passing out of the Italy t-shirts for the young cousins, and a dress rehearsal photograph, to mirror the photograph Leo took a generation ago with Italy t-shirts Iolanda bought at A. Cavalli in San Francisco. Here they are:

We take back all the shirts after this melee, and will distribute them on Thanksgiving Day, when the real photo session will take place. Justin has an idea of how to get the photo taken in a more organized fashion. We'll see. He'll be the one to doctor the photograph to get Ryan and Sean included, too. Their shirts will go in the mail to them tomorrow.

November 18
In a call to Angie Good in Mugnano this morning, she notes that all is well, and Sofi continues to have her rollicking playtime with her toys after dinner.

We spend the day babysitting. The babies are wonderful.

Tonight we visit Mona and Jean at Mona's house in Martinez for dinner.

November 19 to 30
>Please note: Angie Good is our house and dog sitter. Not to be confused, Angie Diner is our daughter in law. We speak about both Angies often this month and next in this journal, and love them both!

Every place we look we see eye-candy. There is so much to buy in the U S, and products are so well marketed that it is difficult to resist the temptation. We are determined, however, to not bring another suitcase back with us. So that means we don't have room to buy anything that is not essential.

We play the eye-candy game of picking up beautiful things, admiring them, showing them to each other and then putting them back.

Today in Mill Valley there is so much to look at that I cannot wait to leave town. Mill Valley is so trendy, so very trendy. People jog by with their baby strollers, wearing baseball caps and sweats from The Gap, all looking the same. In the cafés, everyone speaks the same language, laughs a little too happily, treating each other in a too-too chummy way. We feel as if we have just landed from outer space.

When we leave a shop we feel guilty: guilty for buying, guilty for not buying. But when we arrive at Susan's house in Tiburon overlooking the water, we sit quietly on the deck, and our peace of mind is restored.

Up on the mountain, our old house is for sale again. We peek in the window, because no one is home, and all our cherished lighting and paint finishes are still there, except for the addition of one huge crystal chandelier over their black baby grand piano, as staging elements to help sell the house.

The view of the tall redwood trees and the top of the mountain is still breathtaking. I stop for a minute to just look out at our old view. I am not sorry to live elsewhere, but it feels good to spend a moment reflecting on the wonderful years we spent there. Next door, we chat with Mary, and then drive on to Inverness for lunch with Judith.

Back at Susan's, we open the door and hear the surf rushing against the short beachfront directly in front of us. This is such a lovely place to land for a few days. We watch the gulls and the other birds and the weather is lovely.

For the next several days, we steal away from our errands to experience the sound of the water lapping up against the rocks below the house and to watch the hundreds of birds flying in formation on the glassy bay in front of us. When sitting down to write, we look out at mounds of erigeron, the tiny pink and white daisies on the bank. Sarah Hammond loves these flowers, and we'll plant them at our house when we return to Mugnano as a reminder of these special days here, and of course of Sarah. We do miss not seeing her on this trip.

We invite Bob and Lindsey and Linda Sartorio for a cracked crab dinner the night before Thanksgiving, and although we misplace the keys to Angie's car and the house, our days here continue to be fun.

On Thanksgiving morning, we discover that Linda put our keys in her purse by mistake, and it is an excuse to see her again before we leave for a family get-together in San Francisco.

We bring our baked carmelized onions for Thanksgiving at Christopher and Patty's. along with the Italia t-shirts, for the "formal" cousins' photo. We think the photo needs some work. Perhaps we'll take one next year when the littlest ones can sit up by themselves.

Here is this year's photo:

For the rest of the month, we're babysitting in between errands and then take off for a drive down the coast to cousin Cherie's for a night. Then on to Uncle Harry and Aunt Elaine's in Borrego Springs for two days.

On the drive back, which takes ten hours (yikes!), we drive out to the Salton Sea and past incredible rock formations. Near Borrego Springs we stop at an outcropping near several motor homes perched on the edge of a mini Grand Canyon. The view is right out of a post card, or the last scene of Thelma and Louise.

We are really happy to have driven to see Cherie and Peter and Eli and then Uncle Harry and Aunt Elaine. The drive was long but there were portions of it that we really enjoyed. I think the most surprising drive was that from Tehachapi to Arvin, after driving along the north rim of the Mojave Desert. Up and around the mountaintops, the scene was reminiscent of Carmel Valley and also the hills of Italy, with blankets of clouds between layers of green hillsides, dotted occasionally by evergreen trees.

The grand daughters are delightful. They are sweet and full of joy. We will remember their sweet smiles and how wonderful it was to hold them in our arms. They could not have more loving parents, and we are so proud of Terence and Angie.


December 1-7
The trip is over before we know it. We tried to keep out of Terence and Angie's hair, with Roy doing projects around the house and I cooking some of the meals. We also took two different trips so that we were not with them all the time. But I'm sure they would rather have been by themselves for most of our visit. We were sad to leave our little family just the same. Roy was especially sad to leave Terence. But they spent some good time together by themselves, while I helped with the babies and shared some time with Angie. We hope we were not in the way.

December 8
It feels SO GOOD to be home. We loved being with Terence and Angie and the sweet sweet babies, but Auntie Em was right. There's no place like home.

Our train arrived in Orte at around 5PM last night. Roy walked ahead of me with most of the luggage, and was the first to see Angie Good and Sofi waiting right outside the main door. When I reached the door dragging two suitcases and a shoulder bag, Angie carried Sofi in her arms toward me. Before I had a chance to squat down with my arms out, Angie handed her to me as Sofi cried and cried.

All the way home Sofi continued to cry and kiss me, while Angie filled us in on the latest news. One 81-year-old man, we think the father of Gino Pannucci, died. We don't think we knew him. The paving has been partially completed in the centro storico, two walls of dirt have come down on the road, and it rained and rained and then rained some more. One lantern is out on the side of the house, and Spaccese is to return with a longer screwdriver to take it apart. Otherwise, everything in the house is fine. She has not seen Felice much, so we will have to check on him.

Everything at the house looked wonderful. The house had its familiar scent, at once homey and reminiscent of the old Italian houses we've visited over the years. Perhaps it is the old stucco, but I don't recall the scent in any American homes. A very proper fire had been laid in the fireplace, and it did not take long to get it going instead of putting on the heat.

We went to bed early, after calling Tiziano to find out that mass today will be at the regular time. It is the Holy day of Obligation.

We wake up and get ready for mass and walk up to the centro storico, leaving Sofi whimpering in her cage. The sky is overcast, but it is warm. As we greet people, we hear "bentornati!" everywhere we turn. Pepe, Mario, Argentina, Terzo...We arrive at the little church and are greeted by Livio, who confirms that Babbo Natale will repeat his last year's tradition on Christmas Eve after mass.

Marieadelaide, Giuseppa (elder Pepe's wife) welcome us back, and then Marsiglia enters and comes over to give us big hugs. Felice is in bed this morning, and is taking things slowly, so we will see him later. Then Giuseppa, Lucia, Gianfranco, Augusta, Rina, Franca all greet us, followed by Tiziano. He is smiling from ear to ear because his exams are over.

So I walk back to Tiziano a minute or two later. He is standing by the door at the bench at the very rear of the little church. I am confused by something Marsiglia said. I think she asked us how the little meatballs were. I know she was referring to our grand daughters. Polepetta. That means meatball. Is there a word in Italian, perhaps a nickname, which refers to babies? I later look it up, and the closest I find is coccola, for darling baby girl, or cypress berry. That must be it.

When I ask Tiziano, however, he begins to laugh and we stand there practically crying we are laughing so hard. He starts by telling me that a polpetti is a little "piece" of meat, but then sees how ridiculous that connection is.

I return to our bench and sit down, telling an amazed Roy that our little girls have new nicknames. Don Luca arrives and Vincenzo rings the bells, so another mass begins. I am able to understand a little of the homily. Don Luca uses the word "ave" to refer to Mary, and then "piena di grazia" (full of grace). The words we use while walking in our village processions include this, and now I begin to understand the meaning of the words we chant.

After mass, there are more greetings. Dina is there, so after shaking Italo's hand I go over to give her a big hug. We begin the walk home and encounter Antonio, who tells us he is working on a project with Mario in Mario's garage, so we'll see him soon.

"Bentornati...bentornati" are the words we hear all the way home. Marino, Giovanni, even Donato's mother greet us with smiles. At home, I fix eggs and toast and coffee, then cook up some chicken for Sofi for her pranzo, while Roy starts another fire. All of a sudden I feel exhausted, and Roy feels the same. By 2:15 we are back in bed until 6PM. Then it's crocante for Sofi and baked chicken and rice for us, after Roy has his evening scotch. We are back in our old rhythm.

Is it possible to "love" a house? We surely love the place where we live. I walk outside earlier today with Sofi, noticing that the loquat trees are now in full flower. Trees are bare, the roses and plumbago are ready to be cut back, but the boxwood and cypress and rosemary and viburnum are as lush as ever. More and more we love the design of our terrace and gardens. We have work to do, but the structure of our property looks good even on the dullest and coldest of days.

Inside, there is more to love. The flow of the gauzy drapes on the bedroom windows, in their long Italian window style, held back low below the base of the windows, add a grace to the rooms. The house looks to us as though it has been this way for decades, and we like that. We passed on buying the lined taffeta panels in California because of their steep price, so we'll take our time and see if we can find something comparable at a better price here.

For now, there will be no spending except for necessities until we can get our business going on a steady basis. There is more work on the web site to do, and that is Roy's job. In the meantime, I'm determined to spend more time on the violin as well as make some serious headway on the book.

Oh. While we were gone, we decided that we want to turn our chicken coop into a greenhouse. We want to do it for very little money, and Roy is excited about the possibility. It will be small, but will enable us to germinate seeds outside and perhaps do more growing from seeds than we do now. This will be a fun research project. I will design the building, and Roy will build it. I see a medieval looking structure made of tufa and old roof tiles, but with a big window in the roof facing south, and some kind of clear panels for the sides above the tufa, hopefully glass. It will take some work, but "form and function" will definitely work in tandem on this our latest project of love.

December 9
The day starts with a stop at the hospital in Orvieto to change Roy's appointment. Then it's on to the Perugia hospital for a checkup with my migraine headache doctor. Everything is fine, and I'm starting to lower my dosage of medicine each day. For pranzo we stop at a trattoria outside a man-made lake in Perugia, after looking for ideas for the construction of our greenhouse. We drive back through Fabro and Chiusi, then on to Terni to stop at Spazio Verde for more lights. Roy sets up the lights on the outside Christmas tree, but the tree looks more like a sailboat. It looks as though we need two more sets of lights to perfect the design. It looks good, just the same.

December 10
We're home for most of the day, with Roy taking a short drive up to see Vezio Franceschini, the farmacist in Bomarzo, to give him embroidered baseball caps from his Franceschini cousin in California. Now that we're out, we drive on to Viterbo to find a star for the terrace Christmas tree. We are in luck, and the size of the star is just right. Now the lit tree looks like a Christmas tree instead of a sailboat!

December 11
We're out of the house early, and reach Tia and Bruce's around 8AM. Sofi and Gioia and Charlie romp around for a few minutes, and then we pile into their two station wagons to drive to Northern Umbria to buy fruit trees from a very special "archeologia arborea".

Following Bruce down their back road, dry leaves on the ground fly up into the air in gusts in front of us, as tho it's still fall. Well it is, although it feels like winter. Pranzo takes place in at Monte Santa Maria Tibernia at Oscari after the vivaio Archeologia arborea. We arrive home after dark to see the terrace fully lit, thanks to our timer. We take a second look at our chicken coop, soon to be a greenhouse made of ferro )iron) and glass, thanks to Michael's suggestion. Bravo!

December 12
We are finally back to normal, without jet lag, and walk up to church on this lovely cool and clear day. Don Luca presides at the mass, and makes a point of asking all of us questions regarding the homily. We still can't really understand him, although the phrases are becoming more familiar.

After church, we greet Marsiglia without her bastone (cane), and when I ask her why, she puts her arm through Felice's to tell me he is all she needs. The joy has left his face for these past weeks, with fear creeping in like wisps of clouds, changing his sure-footed countenance to that of a weakened man. I ask him if we can plant our new trees today, and he smiles, showing us a little of the familiar joy we love to share with him. "Dopo Natale", he tells us. It is too cold. Huh? These days are warm, and after Christmas it surely will be very cold. I put my hand on his shoulder, confirming with those around us that he is our teacher, and that we rely on his knowledge to take care of our garden. So we will wait.

We are invited for pranzo at Lore and Alberto's today, and are joined by Tonino the architect from Rome. His father lives near Bracciano and he spends weekends there, so comes to Mugnano now and then to visit his good friends. The meal is excellent, starting with a soup of tiny wheels of pasta and lentils in a thick meat broth, followed by sautéed miale (pork), a creamy potato with garlic and fresh parmesan cheese, and Lore's baked onions. We bring a steamed persimmon pudding with our cherries marinating in Sambuca for dessert, and of course there is Orvieto Classico, a merlot from Umbria and spumante before dessert. Lore seems to miss having New Year's Eve in Mugnano, so we may see her here this year. Otherwise, we'll have a quiet evening at home.

Back at home later in the afternoon, Roy cuts down boughs of laurel, while I work to fashion a long garland to frame the front doors. When I am through, Roy hangs them up with a tall ladder. He calls Silvano Spaccese to tell him we'll be home tomorrow morning, so he can come then to fix the outside side light that needs repair. While I am working on the garland, he rigs up the last two sets of lights, and the lights on our front terrace are finished. Bravo! We take a little walk with Sofi after 5PM, when the lights automatically turn on, to see how they look. Wonderful. Our neighbors thank us, and tell us they love the lights. We look up while approaching the parcheggio to see Rosita's balcony framed in blinking tiny white lights. It is fun to see people happily gearing up for the next few weeks.

December 13
"This is a rest home," Elena comments, pointing to the bench in front of Giustino's house, with Giustino, Alcide Mariani and Leondina taking up a bench between two grand rose bushes growing in characteristic terra cotta pots. "Giustino's house?" I ask. "Si, ma sempre Mugnano!" So all of Mugnano is a "casa de reposo" or rest home. Elena is younger than me, walking arm and arm with Rosita, Tiziano's mother. Both women laugh and nod in agreement. There is probably no better way to describe our happy village.

But in a moment, the peacefulness of the village is shattered. What happens next is the latest chapter of an ongoing war on this, the main street of Mugnano. Ennio, wearing the bright red cap Ada bought him, follows his dog, Bastiano, who pulls on his lead. Bastiano wants to reach Sofi before Brik does, and reminds me of the Energizer Bunny. He is very angry, and wants to claim Sofi as "his", bouncing up and down on the black pavement while he barks at the top of his lungs. Brik saunters over to me, ignoring the little black dog, which by this time is out of his mind with jealousy. Ennio pulls him away, and walks him over to the benches across the street in front of the bus stop till things calm down.

Sofi and I arrive from our house. I just finished making a holiday wreath from the leaves of our giant laurel tree to give to Leondina and Italo. A few minutes ago, I saw her across the street, looking out over the valley. We do want them to have one of our wreaths. On Saturday, we gave Felice and Marsiglia our first wreath when Felice arrived at our house to say hello. Leondina is Marsiglia's sister.

The day is so warm that everyone is outside, walking up and down and enjoying the beautiful weather. Leondina gets up from her bench and takes my arm to walk back to her house at the other end of the short street. Sofi leads us, and when we get to the door, Leondina insists that we come in and have coffee. I try to tell her that if I drink coffee I will not be able to sleep tonight, but this is a fruitless exercise.

So she lifts her tiny metal pot out of the metal cabinet and in a minute or two the little pot brews a potent and delicious coffee. I take a little cup, and she decides to join me. In the meantime, she shows me the olives that have just been picked, sitting in bags hanging loosely over the stufa, or wood stove. I think they are there to dry.

She tells me there are three "c's" to sharing coffee: "comodo, caldo and compagnia"... "tre C's". So comfort, warmth and friendship are what's important in daily life. She agrees that this is a modo de dire in Mugnano, but not just in Mugnano. We will ask Tiziano what the whole phrase means. This coffee is truly tasty. She thanks me for the wreath, telling me that it is good fortune to hang up such a wreath on the front door. Should I have responded, "Bocca lupo?" This is another question left unanswered for now...

Leondina then shows me a bowl of tiny black olives, that have been sitting in a mixture of garlic, olive oil, salt, orange peel and wild fennel leaves. I taste one just-picked olive, without marinade, and it is very bitter. I then taste one from the marinade. It is delicious. Leondina tells me that if I cook with them, they will be excellent, using the same marinade for her "cured" olives, even if I don't let them sit for a week or more.

When we arrive home, Roy cannot believe that I ate non-cured olives. There is really so much we miss by not understanding the subtle nuances of the language. But olives in the mixture of olive oil and herbs are truly delicious. Roy and I agree that we need to cure our large olives for one more week before putting them in a marinade. He puts them in a fresh bath of salt and bottled water, after draining them in a colander.

Earlier in the day, Roy drove up to the centro storico to look for his baseball cap. We are sure that it was left on the back of the chair in Livio and Giuliola's kitchen yesterday. But she has not seen the cap, nor does she know where Livio is. She shows Roy a hat that Livio owns that looks similar to his, but it is clearly Livio's. But when they walk outside, Roy sees Livio standing on the balcony outside Ernesta's store, wearing Roy's cap!

Roy calls out to him and he cannot figure out what all the excitement is about. Then he takes off the hat, looks at it strangely and realizes he is not wearing his own hat. At this moment, Francesco, the Vigili Urbani, appears, and Roy tells him to put handcuffs on Livio. Marsiglia and Giuliola stand there and laugh. Everyone gets along so well that it is easy to make a silly joke of it.

I have finished the wreaths for the front door, and also one for Shelly and Claudio and Dani. Just after pranzo, we drive the wreath to their house, thinking that they could use some holiday cheer. Claudio has been in three hospitals during the past month, being shuffled from Viterbo to Orvieto and now Rome. His kidneys and lungs and heart are all causing problems. Shelly does not know what to do. He is not well enough to have a stint, because his kidneys cannot take more anaesthesia right now. So he is waiting, waiting. If she brings him home and something happens, she does not want him taken to Bel Colle Hospital in Viterbo.

We borrow a net to use tomorrow to pick our own olives, and come back home to continue to work on our little projects. Roy calls the table by the front door "Santa's workshop". I stand there for most of the day, off and on, clipping laurel from the cut branches and making wreaths to give for presents. The front doors are framed in a long expanse of laurel, and one small laurel wreath hangs in the upper panel of each door. I suspect that our holiday photo will be taken here in a few days.

Inside, I do a check of the Babbo Natale gifts for the Mugnano children and grand children, now that we have the complete list. We need a few more for tiny children, so the next time we are in Viterbo we will pick them up. Otherwise, we have no shopping to do for Christmas. Bravo! With all the jams and steamed puddings we have ready, there is nothing to do except put them in little holiday bags and sign the cards. This is truly what Christmas is all about.

Now I'm starting to collect old clothes that we can use for scarecrows. I am designing the figures, which will be stuffed with hay from Victor's barn. I have saved some things that no longer fit. Tosca's long sleeved t-shirt with a red body and white sleeves from last year's open studio ran in the washing machine and is now pink, so the "mother" will wear that under a flowered shawl. There will be at least one child scarecrow. I think we may have one adult and two children. One will stand guard near the peach tree, and the mother and second child will stand nearby in front of the two new fruit trees we are planting after Christmas. I am very jazzed about the plan for how they will look, and can imagine their painted faces and clothes much better than I can imagine the design for the greenhouse. That little "office" of mine remains "a puzzlement".

After dark, when the holiday lights are lit, we drive to pick up Maurizio to take him to the hospital in Terni to visit his wife, Umi. Umi fell a few weeks ago, and last week was taken to the hospital. She did not think she was badly hurt, but as time went by she was in such great pain that she agreed to go. The prognosis was eight broken ribs!

Umi looks happy to see us all. We bring her a little bag of lavender and dried roses, not knowing what else to give her on short notice. When we arrive at her wing of the hospital, we are pleasantly surprised. The floor has been renovated recently, and looks clean and modern.

We sometimes picture ourselves in local hospitals, wondering if we will enter a kind of hell if something happens to us. Some hospitals seem in good shape, others, like Bel Colle in Viterbo, scare us. We do need to get that private number of the ambulance service in Attigliano in case of an emergency. Roy and I are very good at organizing ourselves for medical things. We are tested when it is time, and now we need to prepare ourselves in the event one of us winds up in a hospital. Soon we will pay our €380 annual fee for our combined medical care!

We arrive home to see our lights shining and the front door welcoming us with its display of laurel and ribbons. Inside, Roy lights up a small fire in the kitchen fireplace, a fire that smells sweet with the skin of a few clementines for good measure, before coming up to bed.

December 14
Roy's new Babbo costume needs some work on the hair and beard. When trying it on, Roy looks like Bob Marley in shock. So we asked Danieli in Sippiciano this morning if he was up to the challenge of taming it down, and we return there late in the afternoon after picking our olives.

We heard of a house for sale in Sippiciano a few days ago, and viewed it this morning for Chris and Helena, but when we took a look at it we knew it was too new and not characteristic enough for them. So we decided to drive up to Orivetto for a stroll while the sun hid behind a blanket of fog, postponing the olive picking for a few hours.

While walking from our car we run into Brian from the church at Scarzuola. It has been almost two years since our Catholic marriage ceremony there. He is with a neighbor from Australia, and we share information, hoping to connect in the future. We share information about a local antique dealer, and Brian tells us to go to see his warehouse, so we add this to our growing list of sources. The doors to our bedroom armadio came from that dealer, as well as the small coffee table in the living room and the lamp on our desk. So we'll surely visit it after the first of the year.

We stop in to say hello to Ciara at Giacomini in the square, and Roy is able to change the belt we purchased for Terence a few weeks ago for a different size. We hope to have it arrive before Christmas. Because we don't have shopping to do for the holidays, we stroll about, stopping at our favorite café for an espresso. We also stop for some freshly roasted coffee beans nearby.

When we walk by Galli's "houses for sale" listings on the street, where a photograph of Diego's house is shown proudly, we meet Galli himself a few minutes later. He tells us to be patient. Houses don't sell right away in Italia. In an email received today from Ann Murphy in Mill Valley, however, the housing market there continues on a steady climb. This is a whole different world, and we bless the difference.

The sun clears and we return home for pranzo and some time to pick our olives. We hope to take them to Diego's this afternoon to see if we can crush them there.

We only have six olive trees. One is almost as tall as our house, and sits in front of the gardener's cottage. It is truly beautiful, and this is the first year we have picked its olives. Sadly, we did not know to water the two new trees we planted last spring, so there was no fruit, and they are barren. We'll surely put them on the watering system this next year. The three that came with the property are full of olives. With Shelly and Claudio's net, Roy picked almost all of them before pranzo. He started at noon.

After pranzo, I join him on the last tree. I ask him if we have enough empty lugs, and he is not worried. After joining him, I can see why. On these four trees we picked enough for probably one small bottle of oil. I suggest curing them Leondina's way, but Roy wants to crush them, just for the experience. I save a handful to marinate, and the rest is put into the back of the car.

The experience of picking olives on a fragrant and sunny day is a wonderful thing. Although Roy has a plastic rake, it is easier to shake the tree, and then to pull off the olives branch by branch, somewhat like milking a cow. The process is dreamy and satisfying, with a big net to catch the olives and slide them into the plastic lugs. I like the silence of it all.

Out of the corner of my eye I watch Sofi, who bounds up as far as the wooden gate above the tufa wall. This part of our land is wilder than we like it to be, but in all the rain while we were gone the grasses and weeds are almost ten inches tall in spots. I worry about snakes, and ask Roy to call Mario to get him here to weed-wack this next week.

When we are finished Roy takes the lug, which is only one third full, to the car. In the meantime, Sofi has climbed all the way up the huge tufa outcropping above the area where we planted the potatoes, and sits there shaking. I think she is afraid to come back down.

I call Roy and ask him to come right away to get her down, but by the time he is able to come up the stairs, Sofi has turned herself around and finds her way back down on the same steep quasi-steps she took going up. Later, Roy calls her Tumbelina, and I am grateful that she did not fall. It was as if she had suction cups on her little paws. Somehow she did not slip on the steep tufa, and came rushing over to me for a big hug.

Danieli works on Roy's wig, all the while entertaining the other people in the shop, and when we leave it looks much better. This Babbo Natale thing has really turned into a real gig. Now Roy is thinking of renting himself out for holiday events. He wants to talk with Diego this afternoon when we go to crush the olives.

But when we arrive at Diego's, he is not there. Nor is Ulla, and we leave her holiday gift of jams at her door. She calls us later to invite us to come by tomorrow and yes, we can crush our olives. The men are through in the field at 5PM and then the crush takes place. We'll see what Diego has to say tomorrow about it all.

Tia calls later in the evening and speaks with Roy. Her worker, Gino, told her not to plant the trees that will arrive this week from the vivaio we visited on Saturday. We told her that Felice told us not to plant ours now, either. So Tia is confused, and will call us tomorrow after speaking with the woman we bought our trees from, to see what she has to say.

Speaking of the trees, I've decided on the placement of the trees. I think the apple tree will stand in line with the two newer olive trees, but be placed not far from the bottom of the tufa stairs in the far property. That way, the tree will be right in the line of sight from the open gate. The plum tree will be planted up on the higher bank, on the other side of the fence from the peach tree. Roy still wants three more olive trees, and I can see that we have room for two. We'll see how it goes after we plant these two later this month.

December 15
All day the fog has been intense as the English moors. Tonight with the lights on the terrace reflecting off the pale gravel, I am drawn to it and step outside while Sofi gambols, feeling the cold mist on my face. Silence surrounds us, and I am at peace.

Diego calls us to tell us that they are having problems with one of their pressing machines, but call tomorrow to confirm that we can drive there to process our olives. I know that every day we delay after the olives are freshly picked, the quality of the oil will diminish, but we'll have so little anyway that it won't make much of a difference. The whole idea of it is rather comical anyway, with so little fruit.

Earlier in the day, I finished wrapping all the Babbo Natale gifts. There are more than twenty of them this year, although most of them are for grand children who come to visit Mugnano. That is fine with Babbo, and as his photo-taking elf, it's fine with me, too.

I have a pedicure every five weeks or so, and today bring Giusy a little wreath as a holiday thanks for her great work. She works wearing a white coat and uses a big magnifying lens, not at all similar to the pedicure salons in California. When she looks at the bottom of my right foot, however, she sees a black spot. She thinks it may be a melanoma, but it is so small it is almost invisible. Not to worry, we will watch it to see if it grows.

Now if I were in California, I am sure that anyone who did a pedicure for me would not be inclined to notice anything like that. I really trust Giusy, and if it needs to be looked at, I will ask Dottoressa next month. Oh, Roy visits Dottoressa today in Mugnano, who tells him that the state of Italia no longer gives complete blood tests each year. They seemed unnecessary anyway. But she gives him preliminary information for his colonoscopy next month and it seems similar to the prep work for the same procedure in California.

We still have not turned on the heat, for the fire in the fireplace keeps us warm for most of the day and evening, and at night we're under a cozy down comforter. At night we watch repeats of the popular US television program, ER. Funny, but neither of us ever watched it when it was so popular in the U S. That is a good thing, for there is not much to choose from on Italian satellite TV. That encourages us to read more.

Roy is still reading Kaputt by Malaparte and I am reading Prisoner of the Vatican by David Kertzer. Both are non-fiction. The Prisoner is slow going. I am trying to understand all of the historical data surrounding the Unification struggles of the mid 1800's. Characters include Pope Pius IX, Garibaldi and King Victor Emanuelle II. If we are to really immerse ourselves in Italian culture, it is important that we understand the historic significance of different events. We enjoy the learning process, and even find ourselves retaining some of it!

December 16
The nespola trees steal the show outside our bedroom windows each December, just in time for Christmas. All the while the fruit trees on the property stand shivering and bare, as though they are shamefully wrapping their arms around their naked bodies.

Today the wet fog continues all about, while Roy drives to Terni to check out the quirky messages on the car computer. Sofi and I sleep in late, and she rests in her wicker bed with her head down, eyes peering out at me in a "don't see me" expression while I get dressed.

Roy returns with a courtesy car. They want to check the car out until tomorrow afternoon. In the meantime, Angie calls and asks if we want to meet her for pranzo at Roscio in Attigliano. Si certo! Sofi will be "over the moon", to use Angie's expression, to see her.

When we arrive, Angie is there waiting at an out-of-the-way table. Lidia greets us, as does the manager, who we know but don't know his name. This restaurant has really changed and has a wonderful menu. It has always grilled meats wonderfully well in the fireplace, but now they serve delectable sformatos as appetizers and well as excellent Italian standards.

The sformato I try today is cheese and egg based, with a crown of porcini mushrooms. The taste is rich, and I can tell there are eggs and cream and cheese and Italian presemelo. I will try to make it because it really intrigues me. It cannot be too difficult, but the taste is truly memorable.

We have such fun getting together with Angie. While we're laughing and talking a young man comes over to us and asks if we speak English. He asks if we know how he can get to the Parco dei Mostre in Bomazo. There is no bus, nor is there a taxi service, and we tell him we will take him after pranzo.

Then we have a funny discussion of Roy's lorry business taking people to and from the Attigliano train station. I wonder if he will wear his Babbo costume during the holidays while he drives. So Roy gives Lidia our card, and tells her to call him if tourists come wanting a ride to the park. I think it is a silly business, but fun to talk about.

Angie sits next to me with Sofi between us at our feet. Talk about the animals she takes care of and the folks of Mugnano who we all love is always fun, and we laugh about the jealousy between Bastiano and Brik over Sofi. We agree that Brik saunters rather like John Wayne, with his bowed legs. It is great fun to imagine the dog talking out of the side of his mouth. But then "dog people" are like that, aren't they?

We ask her if she wants us to do a web page for her, and a link to her from our site, but she is so busy that she would not have time to monitor it. If she did have a site, she would say that she ably takes care of any kind of animal, as long as it is not human. We conjure up situations where people leave their mother in laws behind, or grand mothers, but she has luckily escaped all that.

Today it begins to rain while we leave the restaurant, and although Timothy is from England, we don't' suspect his walk around the park will be easy. I do think that the park is ideal to see on a day like this. The huge carved animals of tufa will seem to emerge from the fog...

After dropping him off and telling him we'll return in an hour to take him to the train, we drive home and stir the embers in the fireplace before Roy returns for his "lorry drive". He tries a "trial close" on Timothy, who has no reaction at all, nor does he offer to pay Roy for the trip. It is as if Roy thinks he is part of Bomarzo's Chamber of Commerce.

December 17
The fog clears by noon, and after pranzo it is warm enough for Sofi and I to take a real walk around the loop. We encounter Leondina and Italo outside their house, and Leondina follows us to the end of the street. Italo continues up a hill to a garden, and since Sofi is off her lead, she runs after him.

Then I hear his "Chi, chi, chi" calling her and the next thing I know, she runs down the hill after me, ears flying, body hop, hop hopping. He has frightened her, but laughs anyway. She comes right up to me, and then rushes by down the hill to find Brik.

I learn that the dear little building sitting on a tiny plot of land surrounded on three sides by the strada bianca belongs to their son, Ivo. This is the house Karina wants to own. But Karina told us that the owner will never sell the land. Now the pieces fit.

Sofi continues to bound down the strada bianca known to all of us as Aqua Puzza after Brik. I have a half of a biscuit for him, so he turns around to take it from me. Sofi looks up at me and I give her one of her tiny ones as well. When they finish, Brik leads her down the road. When the leaves are wet and slippery, I walk slowly, and she stops to make sure I am behind her. Once she seems too far ahead and comes back to me. She is a very good dog.

I clip the lead back on her collar when we turn the second corner to walk up Via Mameli. Brik turns around to make sure we are behind him. He continues his John Wayne saunter up the hill, waits for us, and then meanders on his way.

Felice comes by in a couple of hours, and we show him the new trees and where we want to plant them. He tells us we can plant them now, so tomorrow Roy will dig the holes and we'll add the decomposing persimmon leaves on top, with possibly a little hay, to protect them during the coldest nights of the winter.

There is something different in Felice's expression. A kind of fear has crept into his eyes, and I see them clouding up. When he gives us a wave goodbye and walks down the stairs to the gate, I quietly walk over to the edge to see him walk down the path. He turns around when he reaches the street to look up at our property, and I make sure that I cannot be seen. A cold gust of wind rushes through me.

December 18
Yesterday, we had a discussion about whether it is fair to ask Diego to start up his pressing machine for the small amount of olives we need to press. Roy agrees that if he is starting the machine up just for us, we will pass. I am hoping this will be so, because I really want to cure the olives with Leondina's recipe. Roy agrees that if we cure the olives, we will go to her house to get her guidance.

When Felice was here yesterday, he also asked us about the melograno tree. We still have to pick that up. A melograno is a pomegranate. Today during the day after leaving Diego's we will probably go to Michellini to pick up a melograno and also a few white azaleas, two salvia plants and two thyme plants to put in the herb garden.

The presepio in the cave in the loggia is all lit, and there are lights on the kumquat tree right next to it, looking similar to the loggia decorations last year. It is so pretty that we need to clean up the herb garden with a few plants to bring the whole area back to life before we plant herbs for the bed in the spring.

OK. So we drove to Castello Santa Maria and arrived there just at 9AM. Ulla welcomed us, and I watched as she mucked the stalls for the geese and chickens, chatting nonstop all the while. While this went on, Roy walked up to the Castello to see Diego, give him one of our steamed puddings with amarena in brandy and to tell him that we would not need him to press our olives.

It will be warm clear weather today, so his crew will pick olives and he will press before mass at the Castello tomorrow morning at 11:30 instead of today. Behind the magazzino where the olives are crushed is a kind of a dormitory for the temporary workers, and I can hear music coming from inside the window when we walk back to Ulla's pretty little house at the entrance to the Castello.

Back at Ulla's we tell her we are going to cure this year's olives and have a real crop next year to pick. She is disappointed, but has us stop for some holiday cookies that she baked and stored in tin boxes on her shelves in the kitchen. The big news is all about Serena and her new love. She met him while studying at the Paul Boucuse school in France. His family owns a restaurant in Lebanon and expects him to come back and run the restaurant.

We suspect that many restaurant owners send their children to this famous school, hoping they'll come home to run the family businesses. But it is possible that love and other circumstances enter into the equation, and in this case, causes an unforeseen temporary calamity.

The two of them arrived at the Orvieto train station, as sort of a surprise for Diego. I won't get into the rest, except to say that the young man is supposed to be charming and Ulla thinks he is sweet but Diego just keeps busy when Ulla asks him anything about Serena's suitor. We are sure this is very difficult for Diego, especially the events happening right under his nose that he has no power to do anything about.

We leave the scene to drive to Viterbo for plants, but on the way find an unmarked vivaio with beautiful plants, especially boxwood in amazing shapes: a guitar, a table with chairs, the usual animals. But no azaleas or salvia or timo. We drive on.

On to Michellini and they have no azaleas or the herbs we want either. The melograno trees are very expensive if we want the regular sized pomegranates as fruit. The hunt continues, so we find another vivaio nearby and settle for some white primroses, at about 30 cents each.

We have the most fun of the day in La Quercia, a delectable town between Viterbo and Bagnaia, the home of Villa Lante. First we walk to the macelleria, where we buy two

turkey slices (tacchino is very popular in Italia), four thick slices of pork to cook like chops, and six sausages. The cost for everything is less than €8.

Then to the fresh pasta shop for 2 "ette" of saccotini stuffed with meat, 8 large ravioli and one lasagna to freeze. This cost less than €6. At the fruit e vedura stand, we find eight large clementines with the stems and leaves still on, a braid of onions, ruggheta and a small bunch of presemelo, for less that €3.

The last stop is the panificio for a half loaf of just baked ciabatta and a half loaf of crusty pane con sale, plus 6 cookies, all for less than €5. At each stop, the conversations with the people standing near us and the shop owners are more important than what we buy. We love this town, and will be sure to shop here more often. As you can see, the prices are amazing for the quality and freshness of the products.

After a great pranzo, we take a walk to Leondina and Italo's for the Mugnano version of curing the olives, but there is no answer at the door. It is 3PM, so perhaps they are asleep or perhaps they ate lunch at Marsiglia and Felice's. So we continue walking up to the centro storico to see what new areas have been paved. On the way to the tower, we come across Pepe sweeping the just completed walkway to his front door. He invites us in for coffee, and we accept. He can't wait to give Sofi a big hug.

Inside, Serena makes a little espresso pot of coffee, and we talk in front of the fire. Pepe and Serena have cured olives, and she brings down two metal containers of olives: one cured just in salt and one cured in salt and garlic and fennel seeds and orange peel and extra virgin olive oil. We love them both, and think we know how to do the recipes.

So the recipe is a standard one. Starting tomorrow, we'll set aside two containers. We also ask about the olives drying by the fire, and aren't quite sure what that is all about, but perhaps we'll take a small cotton bag and put olives in it and hang it on the side of the fireplace opposite the corner where we make our fires.

Before we leave, Serena and Pepe tell us that they want to organize a dinner with the same folks who attended our dinner in the fall. It will take place sometime in the next two weeks. That will be fun. We leave there and get ready to go to Soriano to hear Tiziano at his important lecture. The lecture is excellent, and Tiziano speaks to a full house. We are so proud of him.

After Soriano, we drive to Amelia to meet Bruce and Tia before attending the Teatro della Opera to see their latest production: Hansel and Gretel. Only when we walk in the front door of the theatre and see Giorgio do we find out that Simona, Tiziana's sister, is one of the stars of the play. We find Simona's parents and Tiziana and greet them before the play begins, but after it is over we don't see them again.

The play is fun, but the part of Hansel is played by a woman, so it seems out of place. The singing and acting are fine, and Simona plays her part extremely well, and is in excellent voice. The four of us and Helen and Panis all got a big laugh out of the writer of the play, Engelbert Humperdink. No, "Please release me, let me go" is not one of the songs. It appears that chap took his stage name from this author of over a hundred years ago.

Bruce asks us, "Do you know why this opera is so popular? It is because it is so short." There is no intermission, it is completed in two acts, the play started at almost 9:30 and we are home before eleven.

We look forward to coming home and being greeted by our holiday lights on the terrace, but just before we arrived the timer went off and we came home to a dark house. A cold and dark house, but warm inside and full of love.

December 19
Don Luca is our priest for mass this morning, and we continue to be moved by his genuine love and sensitivity for his church as well as everyone around him. Although his parishes in Bomarzo are bigger and grander, he gives us every bit as much attention as the people in Bomarzo. I know he loves Mugnano and its people.

And after the mass, when he reads announcements, he also speaks about Tiziano and his accomplishments, for him and for his family as well as all of us in Mugnano. Tiziano is right behind us, and when I turn around to see him, Tiziano beams at me as if to say, "Wow!" He must be relieved that his exams and this presentation are over. The whole village is proud of him.

December 26th is San Stefano, a national holiday. But Don Luca tells us that Saint Stefano will forgive us, but this year December 26th is to be celebrated as holy family day. I think about my family, about Roy's family, and about the families in Mugnano. I think that the day will be a day of reflection for us, and perhaps that is what it is all about.

I love the mystery of the church in Italia. I love not knowing just what to do all the time. I love knowing there is so much to learn about the place in which I live. I chose to turn my back on the U S and take up another culture, perhaps more about a quest for learning than a means for escape. And the more complex life in the U S becomes, the more I feel a need for the simplicity of life in our new home.

Walking home from church, Luigina stands outside her front door and asks us to come in for coffee. Roy tells her no, but I think we should, so we do. She has invited us so many times. So she takes out a pandoro and a panettone and sits with us for a little while. Luigina has a wonderful cookbook that she takes down to show me, and in it is a salsa di mele, or apple sauce. So Italians do make it. I think I'll give her a little jar of ours to see what she thinks of it.

She explains more about who she is related to in the village and then we speak about the many children who will be greeted on Friday night by Babbo Natale. She cannot believe the number, until we show her the list. Her house may be the first he visits, and will be full of family. The Italians have a seven fish dinner on Christmas Eve, and Babbo will arrive around dessert to hand out gifts and have photos taken by his elf.

Tia tells us that we must pick up a bread machine from Lidl. They are €39, so at this price it is really a good idea. Roy drives to Narni to pick one up, and Sofi and I stay at home. I turn on Christmas carols and make homemade applesauce and Potatoes Anna and a zucchini dish to have with pork for pranzo. When Roy arrives back, he takes out a special bottle of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and we sit around for a long time eating and talking and enjoying the fire.

Although it is cold, we decide to take a walk with Sofi. The olives will wait another day. I think this week I will take some material and make cotton bags to hang in the fireplace away from the fire. These will be used to dry the black olives. I think they need to dry for a week. We are not so sure. This week we will get advice from Leondina, Marsiglia, Luigina and Pepe again, and perhaps a few other local folk.

I know to use garlic, olive oil, finely minced orange rind, fennel seeds and marinate them for a couple of weeks. But the mixture, and if we need to hang them up for awhile first, is something I am not sure about. I am sure that I want a village recipe. So I'll not check the internet on this one.

Tonight we get out the bread maker and try it out with a rye flour. The maker makes two little loaves, and we can order one big loaf maker. So we mix the ingredients incorrectly at first, and set that amount aside to see if it will rise on its own in a glass bowl with a wet cloth over it by the fire.

We measure again, and the machine does all the work. It takes at least three hours, but in that time the little paddles inside move around in very specific fashion. Before we know it, the ingredients have been blended and by the time the timer goes off, we take out a beautiful tiny loaf of rye bread with fennel seeds. The seeds are the only transgression from the written recipe. To taste it is delicious and crusty, just what we hoped.

Roy knew enough to go to the company's web site and download the instructions in English. Tia is fighting with the Italian instructions, so Roy forwards her the information so that she can print out a set for herself.

Now that it's over, and Sofi and Roy and I have tried it out, we will make the next loaves a little differently, taking the bread out from the little metal paddle before it's last rise. When we tried to take the bread out, it was quite a chore. So we'll clue Tia in on this as well. Now we'll try different flours, seeds, recipes, all keeping with the basic amounts of ingredients. Well, maybe we'll vary that, although the instructions warn us not to.

Sofi has been an angel all day, keeping by my side and doing a lot of sleeping. I think she likes to curl up in the cold weather. So do we, and we enjoy another day in front of the fire. Yesterday and today, we burned two large pieces of one of the old fig trees. We are in good shape for wood.

Next month Mario will prune the trees, and those prunings will be great fodder for fire starters. So Roy will bring them all behind the house and cut them in manageable pieces, then store them in lugs in a tiny tufa building next to his "office". Below in the parcheggio is enough wood to last the winter, neatly stacked and covered with a blue tarp. Why are tarps always that strange shade of blue?

It is cold tonight, and I look forward to getting in bed and taking out my latest book, Prisoner in the Vatican, to learn a little more about Rome in the 1870's. The more we absorb about this country's history, the more we can understand the way the people think and react to things around them.

December 20
Mario is here, and has just carved a dozen steps into the side of the highest bank in the olive field, inserting tufa blocks as characteristico steps. It will make it much easier for me to get up to that upper level now.

Earlier this morning, he planted the apple tree right in the view between the gate to the olive field and San Rocco. Then he planted the special plum tree in line with our peach tree on the uppermost level. We hope to have fruit this year, but will have to use some kind of spray early this spring for the plum and the peach trees.

There is a curly leaf disease that preys on these trees each spring. If we are early enough, we will be able to protect the trees. I look forward to our first harvest of apples this fall. Now there is just room enough for one more olive tree, so Roy wants to plant a tree with big olives, so that we can cure them as table olives.

The whole curing process of the olives puzzles me. We have a glass jar of large olives given to us by Alan and Wendy and have been curing them for the past six weeks in a brine of salt and water, changing the water once a week. While we were gone, Angie dutifully took over the project.

Today, we rinsed them off and put them in three glass jars. Roy ate a few. liking them just as they are. I made a marinade of chopped orange rind, chopped garlic, chopped fennel seeds, chopped fresh fennel fronds and sea salt. We mixed the marinade with the olives in a large bowl. The olives and the mixture were then put into the three glass jars.

In one jar, I poured some of Diego's wonderful olive oil. The jar is now put away in a cool, dark place, although I know Roy will be hunting it down almost immediately. The second and third jars are going to get a bath of water that has been boiled with a couple of small bay leaves.

When the water cools down quite a bit, we'll pour the water over the olives in the last two jars, and top it off with a coating of olive oil. Those will be put away for a couple of months. We're not sure which ones will be best. In a day or so, we need to figure out what to do with our little black olives, which were picked last week. I opt for the Mugnano mix, but we'll see.

Speaking about experiments, we made our first loaves of rye bread with the new bread machine. The first batch was not put in the machine in sequence, so we had to start all over again. We took that first batch, put it in a glass jar near the hearth with a wet towel on the top to let it rise by itself, and then started again, with the ingredients in specific sequence. We did not mix a thing.

Inside the bread maker, we turned the control to Normal, and the machine started with a few beeps. For the next three hours, the little paddle inside the mold swirled around and we walked over to the machine every few minutes to watch it mix and then set and then rise. The machine only started to cook during the last forty-five minutes. We liked the result a lot, except that the little paddle did not want to disengage the loaf from the pan. We wound up making a hole in the bottom of the loaf to get it out. Next time, we'll take the paddle out before it does its last rise. Now we are thinking of different recipes to try.

In the meantime, the bread by the hearth was left alone overnight. This morning, I put polenta flour on a pizza stone and heated the oven, then cooked the bread on the stone in the oven for 45 minutes. We ate sausages sauteed with grapes, a great dish to serve with just-made bread. And actually we liked the bread from the oven even better.

So we think the bread maker is still a good idea. We're now going to experiment with whole grains and pumpernickel and caraway seeds.

December 21
It's the first day of winter, but it seems as though we have been in the midst of winter for weeks. I don't really like the cold weather, but love sitting in the kitchen by the fire.

Earlier today we were all outside working. Although it is cold, under the bright sun it seems warm. There is a solution called "Acido" and Roy tells me it is a dangerous chemical called muratic acid. This is a commonly used product for taking stains out of tile floors.

A big grease stain on the new loggia floor tiles has stared up at me since we gave the big fish dinner here last fall, when the loggia was used as an outdoor kitchen. Today, Roy poured the stuff on the floor and hosed it off. The spots disappeared, but we hope to not have to use this acido often.

Italians are fanatic cleaners, and I have a lot to learn about different cleaning solutions from them. At the store I never know what to buy. I'd love to know if there is something to take grease spots and mildew off fabric, like heavy cotton duck material. But I have a difficult time explaining what I want in Italian. Some day...

The ground is wet and soft, and I take out a hoe from Roy's office. It neatly hangs on the wall inside the door. I manage to weed an entire row of lavender. I now have six more rows to go. If I tackle one row each warm day, the weeding won't seem so daunting.

Sofi thinks her paws are suction cups. She loves to climb up to the top of our steep tufa outcroppings and somehow manages to get back down without falling. I think it is useless to tell her not to go. We just need to find other things of more interest to lure her to. Usually she's happy to just stay near me.

I love looking at our two new trees. One big olive tree to be purchased next year will be just fine as our last addition to the trees on our property. Speaking of olives, we take all the black olives picked from our trees inside. We rinse them and take off all the remaining leaves and stems. Then we find five or six large and deep ceramic containers, separate them and put handfuls of sale marino grosso on them.

The next step is to place them on the top of the big armadio in the kitchen, where it is warm. Roy covers them with dish towels and each day for the next five days we will take them down, rinse them off, add more sale marino grosso and return them to bleed the moisture out of the olives.

On Christmas Day, they'll be ready to put into glass jars with marinade and be stored backstage in a cool dark place. We'll then be done with garden food projects until late January, when we'll finish the scarecrows to guard the fruit trees.

Tia calls. She has not had as much luck with her bread maker. Somehow hers seem to overflow in the bread maker. We'll have to figure out what is not working. We're waiting until we drive to Viterbo tomorrow to buy more flour and caraway seeds before making the next loaf. The rye loaves we made are still delicious, and tasty with the remainder of the sausage and grape sauté we made yesterday. We've added that really simple and memorable recipe to this site under Food and it's worth trying.

December 22
Victor, Shelly and Claudio and Dani's horse, is for sale. We'll be posting the information on our project management blog in a few days. Since Claudio's heart problems have surfaced, it is too much work for Shelly to take on. Dani agrees that Victor must go to a new home, and the price is a very reasonable €2,000, including the saddle and other related items. The horse is a beauty, and we hope it will go to a good home. Let us know if you have an interest.

Tia is putting together a Christmas Eve dinner that will be exquisite, I am sure. We've just received one call from her to help translate a Martha Stewart recipe, but we both realize that she knows more than I do about how to handle it.

Tia and I love something that we buy here called Pasta Sfoglia. It is puff pastry sold in the refrigerated department of a local supermarket named Eurospin. Once we unroll it we are able to put fillings in it and fold it over, roll it up or bake it with fillings on top. Roy and Sofi and I will bring a kind of appetizer made with this that we'll bake at their house for the second group of people who come after dinner. We're arriving for dinner at 4PM and leave around 7, so that Roy can do his Babbo Natale transformation in our village at around 9PM.

We drive to Viterbo this afternoon while Maria and Luciana are here to do their regular cleaning, and stop at the International Store to buy caraway seeds and poppy seeds for making bread. We cannot find the ingredient to make pumpernickel bread. Sounds like a quest to undertake during our January Rome trip. Tia tells us that Lidl will discontinue selling bread flour and thinks we need to stage a protest. I tell Roy my reaction is that I look forward to hearing what happens when she's through. Those rabble-rousing days are behind me, thankfully.

Tiziano came by tonight for a visit and to bring a couple of gifts. We sat around the fire laughing and talking. His latest interest is applying for a special grant to do an

archeological map of the area between Amelia and Orte and possibly as far as Mugnano. There has not been an accurate one done and published. It will take about three years. We would love to work with him on it. So we consider this a real possibility early next year.

Before he leaves he tells us that he'd love a photo of him taken with Babbo, so he'll find us in the village Friday night. It's time we have a photo of him on this site, so stay tuned for out next posting. We show him our presepio in the cava inside our loggia, and he asks us to take a photo of it for him to use on the cover of the holiday church bulletin next year that goes to every household of Bomarzo and Mugnano!

December 23
On this day we send you our warmest holiday greetings, and wishes for a peaceful new year. Here we are on our front doorstep with Sofi in the cold noonday sun.

This has been a joyously tranquil season for us. Many of our "fatto a mano" jars of preserves and packages of steamed persimmon (caki) puddings and brandied cherries, made with harvests from our garden, have been distributed to friends and neighbors with our warm wishes.

Our laurel tree is now immense, and we have also handed out wreaths as gifts. It is fun to walk by a neighbor's house and see our wreath on the door. In Pepe and Serena's case, their wreath hangs in their living room over a beautiful pepperino doorway facing the fireplace.

Now there is time for reflection and hope. How have we acted toward our fellow man this year? What are the lessons learned? What can we do to be the very best we can be this next year?

I have a hope that my family in Boston can be reconciled. That is a lot to ask. I can only hope that we can put past injustices aside and start to live with each other one day at a time. I am so far away that I don't know if my hope is realistic. But it is a start. Why is it so easy to judge members of one's own family in a harsh way?

So I wish that those we love will put judgmental thoughts behind them. A few weeks ago, when I held Marissa and Nicole in my arms, I thought, "I so cherish these moments. Their lives are so new and full of hope and wonder. Whatever we can share with them as they grow will be memories we will hold ever close to our hearts." And so our wishes that a new generation of family members on the East Coast will be welcomed joyously and be shared by their whole family.

In California, Terence and Angie continue to be such loving parents and loving children that we honor them and wish every happiness for them and their little angels. View their photos on our Photos page to see how the little ones have grown.

December 24
Today dawns very cold with a sky announcing we'll have rain or even snow. This would be early for snow. We have one day of snow a year, but hope that it will hold off until Babo Natale and his elf do their work later tonight.

We drive out to do errands, and to our favorite local town, La Quercia, to do shopping. In a frutta e vedura shop, the woman asks me if we are Italiani. What a compliment! When we tell her we are Americans she grins ear to ear, telling us she has friends who are Americans in Vitorchiano. Surely some day we will meet them.

Back at home, I make another laurel wreath, this time to surround the cheese ball I have made for Tia's festa. Then I make a kind of a tapenade to spread on pasta sfoglia and bake for the second set of guests that she anticipates tonight, while Roy tries on his Babbo costume to make sure he has everything.

We arrive at Tia and Bruce's and before we know it, Sofi and Charlie and Gioia are racing around after each other. The dinner is small, with Mario and Jill and baby Pia the star guests. Tia makes a great roast ham and Finnish potatoes "to die for", cooked in the oven for hours with molasses and a little flour. Her dessert is also delectable, a kind of gelled mardarin oranges with whipped cream. And of course Bruce serves the best red wine, an Antinori Tignanello.

New guests arrive for the cocktail hour starting at six, and we stay for an hour but have to leave to get ready for Babbo's big event.

Roy went to see Alice yesterday regarding an ongoing pain in his neck. She worked wonders, as usual. The plan was that he'd call me as soon as he came up the Mugnano hill and I'd go out to meet him. Then we'd drive up as planned to visit Marsiglia and Felice. We were due there sometime after three.

But at about 2:45 they arrived at our gate. I suppose there was some kind of mixup, and I could not reach Roy on his cell. I invited them in and made Orzo (a hot non-coffee drink) for them, pleased that they would come for a visit. Roy arrived in a few minutes and we served them steamed persimmon pudding.

Roy wanted to know from Marsiglia about her nickname for our grand daughters. Did she really call them little meatballs? Yes, it appears she did. This is a kind of modo de dire of Marsiglia's. The babies are small and round and pink. So I did hear her correctly. I wonder how Marissa and Nicole will feel when they get older being called "little meatballs". Somehow I hope that name won't "stick".

I recall that, upon seeing me right after birth, my Uncle Herb called me "Peachie" because he thought I looked like a little peach. That nickname stuck with me, and for many years I just hated it. So I want to be sensitive to the girls' feelings.

Marsiglia made us wonderful cookies with white wine and flour and sugar and eggs. They are not too sweet but crunchy, and we'll enjoy them along with a bottle of Felice's wine from this year's harvest. We love his wine, and we love them.

Marsiglia told us about a music concert in our little church in Mugnano yesterday at 5:30. Funny, but there was no notice anywhere. Perhaps it was a reschedule of the one in Bomarzo last Sunday that did not take place. So at the appointed hour we walked up, leaving Sofi to guard the house.

Elena and Valerio met us at the door to the church, so we walked inside with them and sat with them in the third row. Five people showed up to play: two singers, a keyboardist, a man who played both the flute and the sax and one man with a portable base who looked amazingly like his instrument. We enjoyed the concert, introduced by Stefano, our sindaco, especially the Gershwin and Gospel pieces.

It is said that people look like their dogs. In this case, the base player's nose was long and straight, mirroring the long neck of his instrument. His tiny deep-set eyes and the way he held his head angled downward mesmerized me. He and his base were one.

On the way back down the hill, we came upon Vincenza, who had just clipped some evergreen branches from a nearby tree. With her arm firmly around mine, she asked us in for coffee. So we walked into their warm kitchen and stayed for a while. Before we left, Augusto walked downstairs to greet us. He was not having luck putting out his holiday lights on their balcony, and when we left showed us that only one set worked. As in the US, some lights won't work at all if one tiny light is burnt out. And of course you don't find that out until the last minute...Fa niente. Their house looked beautiful anyway, and we look forward to getting together with them during this holiday season. Augusto likes to talk with us about American politics, and you know how I can go on about that subject....

December 25
Christmas. A day of dance-of-the-sugarplum-fairies-remembrance and a day of what-

should-I-do-now now that the presents have been opened and it is not time to start cooking the big meal.

I'm stretched out with my slipper-boots balanced on the little kilim footrest reading Vanity Fair. My eyes dart back and forth on the column of words as if I'm a droning bee, not really lighting anywhere.

Out of the corner of my eye the fat hunk of fig tree sizzles in a corner of the fireplace while dancing flames send off their hoarse haunting of the fig, which begins to drool in the intense heat bouncing back from the iron plate of embossed blackened cupids.

Roy stands on a kitchen stepstool, reaching his long arms up to take the ceramic bowls of salted and shriveled black olives down from the top of the armadio, one by one, after lifting their bedspread of thirsty towel. And then I hear the swoosh of the sale grosso marino like an Olympiad downhill skier rushing over the moonscape of olives before they are sent back to sleep under cover for another day.

Last night, at the appointed hour of 2100, Roy stood in front of me with his chintzy Santa pants pulled out at the waist to suck up the bottom of his Michelin-man red jacket so that it would not show. Rolly polly round, his long licorice black plastic belt synched up his coat and then it was time for him to bend his head down to slide into the Bob Marley-wild white plastic locks and lift back his head, then slip the elastics around his ears to set his long white beard in place.

"I can't see", was the next thing I heard, while his fogged-up glasses sent a portent of what was to come. Taking a deep breath, he found his mouth and blew out a breath. And then our baskets of gifts were ready.

"HO HO HO" he practiced as he waddled down the slick wet steps. And then we were alone on the black street, a fog-mist holding our words in the air. The silence felt deafening. "What are we doing?" he asked, and then before we knew it he was at Donato's door, knocking loudly, HO HO HO-ing and calling out "Buon Natale".

"Chi e?" a voice from inside called out. "BABBO!" And then the door opened to bright lights and everyone standing around the staircase, with young boys Luca and Francesco wide-eyed and parents and grandmother and great grandmother beaming behind them remembering Christmases of so very long ago.

"Luca!" and then "Francesco!" and then we were all jammed in the entryway while I turned on the camera and everyone stood back as if hit by a cold blast of wind. Santa crouching down with Luca and Francesco at his side, and then a wave and a "C'e veddiamo!" and before we knew it we were out the door and turned around to walk across the street and up the steep stairs to Luigina's.

"I can't see anything." became Santa's mantra, while his elf reached into his basket to take out gift after gift, reading the next names as though we had planned it this way all along. "HO HO HO!" "Michela!" "Riccardo!" and then it was time for another photo. No, Santa had no time to stop for food or drink. He had many houses to visit, many people to see...

At the bottom of the stairs, a stunned Giovanni stood feet wide as if to balance to keep from falling over at the sight of Babbo on this dark night. And then we took a photo of him with Babbo, too. Giovanni is one of our two living WWII heroes in this village.

House by house, street by street, the two of us made our silent way, Babbo feeling his way behind his fogged glasses. At the end of Porta Antica, twins Cristian and Eduardo met Babbo at the door. It was as if the children all knew he was coming. A cousin stood nearby, but we were prepared with a bag of little candies for him, too. Another photo and a HO HO HO and back up the little street we walked, full of love in our hearts for this precious village.

We arrived at the centro storico to find no one at home when Babbo rang the bell at Francesco's, so we walked around to Nonna Franca's house, and they were all there. "Andrea!" "Ester!" and to Ester, "Ultima volta!" as her father nodded yes, she's getting too old.

Up and down the ancient cobbled street, and then Livio saw us walk by his house, and before we knew it he joined us, walking right by our side, navigating the alleyways and pointing to the next house to visit.

At Elena and Valerio's, the three young boys stood for a photo before youngest Valerio broke down in tears. Before leaving, the oldest, and then his brothers, each wanted to shake Babbo's hand. More photos with Elena and then we were off to walk down another vicolo.

At the end, less than an hour later, we were through, with only three gifts left in the basket for children not in the village with their parents and grandparents tonight. We left Livio to stop at Pepe's to see if we could drop off Ivo's son's gift.

We found Brik curled up on the rug outside Pepe's house at the end of a long tiny path, and inside a cacophony of voices welcomed Babbo and his elf. Pepe, Serena, Paola, Mario, Fulvia, Livia, Candida, Italo, Leondina, Augusto and Vincenza sat around a long red table eating their holiday meal. Babbo undressed shamelessly in front of them down to his jeans, and we stopped for glasses of water before leaving to walk to mass, promising to return.

Inside the almost-empty church, we sat down to cool down. The mass began with a favorite still unnamed priest presiding, with less than a dozen folk gathering. But before the mass was through, the little church was almost full of drowsy parishioners and many children. The highlight was the placing of two baby Jesus statues in their mangers, one at the foot of the altar and one in the display to the priest's right, the figures carved in characteristic Napolitano fashion.

Once out into the night we strolled back to Pepe's, greeting Brik at the door and then spent an hour or so of laughter, eating tasty treats while sitting among our friends, watching them open gifts from each other. We were even presented with our own gift, a beautifully crafted glass olive oil pitcher, just perfect for Pepe's oil, given to us a few hours earlier at our house by Paola.

Leondina whispered to Roy that the special Christmas sweet pasta was made by her. This dish, comprised of spaghetti and cinnamon and chocolate and baked till it was crisp was served to us at room temperature. We later learned that Vincenza actually made it. Perhaps Leondina took credit for the recipe. Nonna Candida served a similar pasta on November 1st, Paola told us, so we'll find the recipe and post it. We loved sharing the end of the night festivities with these friends, enjoying it even more with a walk to our door with Paola and Fulvia and Brik and Ubik, before greeting our little sugarplum Sofi inside.

December 26
The noise is deafening outside our windows, with hand towels placed on the window ledge sponge-wet from an angry storm raging early this morning. We must seal the front bedroom window better. Roy opens the window and closes the shutters. Early this morning the firmaments raged all over Europe and Asia. An earthquake of 8.9 shook Thailand, a tsunami thundered across the ocean from Phuket below Bangkok to Sri Lanka, where many thousands are believed dead. In India, flash floods killed thousands.

We dress and take out the atlas, wondering what has happened to Kathryn, Tia's friend who is taking a holiday in Sri Lanka. We call Tia and she cannot get through, but her brother and his wife, staying near Phuket, are fine.

Most of the humanitarian aid will come from the U S, as usual. But it's difficult for Americans to identify with this part of the world, whose cultures are so different. Here in Europe, there is so much world news that we are more accustomed to learning about other countries, and the news is almost always quite interesting, with the cultural differences we learn about enriching our view of the world around us.

The rain continues unrelenting, and we drive up to mass to find messes of watery sand on the still to be finished streets of the centro storico. Cars are parked in strange formations, but Roy finds an opening in front of the agraria building, turning the car around to face out, in the event more cars drive up and are left willy nilly.

Livio walks down his steps and opens the door to the little church for us. When Roy arrives, Livio asks him where we were yesterday. Roy told him we would go to Christmas mass. We stayed home, since we attended mass late on Christmas Eve.

Marsiglia arrives and tells us that Felice is not well. He is staying in bed. The church on this day, the festa della Sacra Famiglia di Nazareth, should be full, but it is not. I am able to read something that I love in the missal: "Cosi sara benedetto...per tutti i giorni della tua vita." This means that there are blessings for every person for every day of their life. There is also a blessing from Pope John Paul II today for all the families of the world. He blesses the sacrament of marriage, and when we turn around we see Fulvia and Mario, the village newlyweds, celebrating with all of us on this day.

When the doors are opened after mass, the sky has cleared and sun finds its way between the stone buildings. We drive home for a quiet day, and consider later attempting to drive to Bomarzo to the commune to attend a Christmas concert.

Before mass, we started the process to bake another loaf of rye bread in our bread machine. This time, we add caraway seeds, bought from the International Store in Viterebo. The bread is finished at around 2PM, and since we ate a late brunch of scrambled eggs, we're not going to have pranzo today. So just a taste of the hot bread with our olive/creamcheese/bluecheese spread on top. Yum. This time we managed to take the loaf out before it finished its last rise. So the tiny rubber paddles did not keep the bread from coming out of the bread mold.

We learned a few new words today: mansuetudine (shyness or meekness) sopportazione (endurance) and I'm reminding myself about rivestire (to cover or to hold) and bonta (goodness, kindness). The words still come slowly, slowly.

We're so relaxed that we watch a bad movie on the DVD instead of going to the concert, and fall asleep in front of a crackly fire.

December 27
Kathryn Thomas may be among those missing in Sri Lanka. She is a good friend of Tia's and an acquaintance of ours, living in Italy. She and her boyfriend had just finished building a home in Galle, Sri Lanka. We know she was there yesterday when the tsunami struck, but Tia has been unable to reach her.

So this makes us remember the San Francisco earthquake several years ago. Soon after it struck, we decided to contact someone outside of California to be a captain to relay information that we were all fine. Perhaps this is a signal to have an emergency plan in place in the event a disaster strikes any of us. For us, we'll contact Terence and Angie in Martinez, CA. We feel so helpless regarding Kathryn. We don't know her well, but shared meals with her and attended parties with her and at this point don't know what to think. The news is all so terrible.

I email Alan for ideas and he emails us back to remind us that when we are out of the country for more than three days that we should check in with the embassy in Rome. We know we should but just don't do it. From now on, we'll try to do that. But lets hope we never need a reason...

This morning, the doorbell rings and it is Vincenza and Serena, who come in for coffee and invite us to cena at Serena and Pepe's house on Wednesday night. That will be fun. We will bring two budino di cakis' and the amareni in brandy. I love seeing them together. Over coffee, Vincenza confirms that the Duomo will be restored, including a new roof. Funny, but I never thought of the old church as a Duomo, thinking that description is used for grand churches. But in the dictionary duomo means cathedral. Later we find out that the Duomo is the main church in a town or city and a Cattedrale is the church where the Bishop is located. That makes sense.

We visit with Tia later in the day at her house and the talk is all about how to reach Kathryn, whose cell phone and land line in Sri Lanka do not answer. Sofi is over the moon, roughhousing with Gioia and Charlie, or rather Gioia jumps on Sofi's back while Sofi holds her own and Charlie looks on with great satisfaction that Gioia is not after him for a change. She is adorable, but one wild dog. Sofi loves her.

Tonight we dress up for a festa at Patricia Brennan's flat in Orte, while Sofi guards the house. We love Patricia's flat, one with enormously high ceilings and beautifully proportioned rooms. Under candle-light the whole place looks twinkly and joyful. We meet at least twenty new ex-pats and a couple of people we already knew.

We get to spend some time with Elizabeth and get filled in on her family. And at least several sets of people we hope to see again. When we leave, Patricia sadly asks us why we are leaving so early. It is 11:30 PM. I tell her that a wise friend told me once to "Always leave on a high note." We love the party, and hope to get to know Patricia better, but it is time to go home to a patient and welcoming Sofia.

December 28
Kathryn and her family are safe. She calls Tia after waiting in long lines to get to a phone. We cannot begin to imagine how difficult this catastrophe is for tens of thousands of people trying to locate friends and loved ones in this terrible natural disaster.

Here in little Mugnano life continues to be peaceful. We take a short shopping trip to La Quercia and then come home to cook for Eli Adler and his family from California. Eli and his friends Rob and Harry shot our wedding video in 1981 as one of their first gigs. It has been many years since we have seen them and it is fun showing his family around.

While we are speaking about "old times", Eli reminds us that the house we rented to have our wedding reception in was owned by an Alberto Orsini. We are stunned to hear this, and then remember that it was so. The Orsini name is one of the most important in the Mugnano area, and the only important palazzo in our little village was built by the Orsini family!

Pranzo at our house is so much fun, and we serve our current favorite dish, sausages and grapes, along with a batch of homemade apple sauce after a first course of just-made ravioli with butter and sage. The Italians make a salsa de mele, a kind of apple sauce, but it is not the same, nor do we know of anyone who has actually eaten it.

After pranzo and a walk through the village we all drive up to Orvieto. The holiday lights are all lit, but unfortunately the Duomo closes at 5:30. So we walk around and window shop and then it is time for their train and a c'e veddiamo. We don't expect guests now for a while, but tomorrow we'll be taking a day trip with Duccio and Giovanna and that should be fun.

December 29
When Italians want to explain something that they have to spell, they use a wonderful set of phonetic alphabet abbreviations: "A" for Ancona, "B" for Bari, "C" for Cremona, "D" for Dormodosola and "E" for Empoli. Today, we experience a wonderful adventure with Duccio and Giovanna...We drive to Empoli! Some people have a life list of birds to check off, we have the phonetic alphabet of Italian cities and towns...

Roy loves to drive, so he and Sofi and I pick up Giovanna and Duccio outside their wonderful home in Bomarzo. Their building is extraordinary. It was built as the guard-house for one of the huge Orsini castles in the area. The castle itself now contains the commune, or city hall, and the rest of the building is used for other civic activities. Duccio and Giovanna painted their little building a wonderful Italian pale pinkish-brown, and restored an exquisite fresco on the ceiling of the entry room.

Anyway, we pick them up, and Duccio sits in front with Roy while the "girls" all sit in back. Roy wants to drive a different route, thinking we'll get to Empoli in just as short a time as staying on the A-1. NOT! The drive is lovely, but it takes three hours: the A-1 to Bettole, then Sinalunga, Siena, Poggibonsi through Certaldo and on to Empoli. By the time we arrive, it is after 12 noon and the Museo della Collegiata di Sant'Andrea has just closed, not to open again until 4PM. We're here, so decide to stick around until it reopens.

The idea of a long slow meal appeals to us, so we ask an interesting looking woman on the street where we should go. Giovanna tells us always to ask a middle-aged or older person for restaurant suggestions or directions, assuring us that young people usually don't care or don't give accurate directions.

The woman we ask kindly tells us about Café de L'Academia, which we highly recommend. Because we are going to a big dinner tonight at the Foscis', I order a faro soup and a small sformato of asparagus. The soup is so filling, with its addition of tomatoes, that I cannot finish. Roy, however, eats the soup plus pesce frito misto. Duccio and Giovanna have sinful desserts with melted chocolate. Of course we have a bottle of local red wine.

We still have lots of time left, so walk back to the car and drive close by to Pontorme to see the parish church of San Michele. It opens at 3PM, so we have coffee at a bar and read the paper. A note next to the buzzer at the church says to not ring the buzzer until 3PM. The priest must be bothered all the time to open this magnificent little church.

The church is open when we walk back, and we witness a beautifully restored apse, as well as a famous early painting by Jacopo Carrucci (1494-1556) consisting of two panels: one of St John the Baptist and the other of Archangel Michael. These panels, thought to have been painted around 1519, have also been expertly restored. We must study this artist and see some of his other works. We know at least one exists in a church in Florence, so we'll go to see it on our next train ride there.

At four o'clock, the museum that we came especially to see is open. This is one of the oldest ecclesiastic museums in Italy. Founded in 1859, it exhibits many authentic masterpieces of Tuscan 14th to 16th century art. It is full of Della Robbias, or really works done by the Della Robbia school and many 15th and 16th century paintings and sculptures, including a small Maesta by Filippo Lippi. Giovanna brings me over to a tall baptismal font and has me tiptoe up to see three marble fish carved in different spots around the bowl. Roy and I are taken by two life-sized sculptures made of wood at the inner entrance to the exhibit.

There are many other things to see nearby, and we will surely return. This city reminds us of Lucca and also of Verona. But on the drive home we take a direct route, and although the mileage is about the same, it takes one hour less to arrive home!

We're at home for less than 30 minutes when we leave to go to cena at the Fosci household in the centro storico. We bring our budino di caki for dessert with the amarena in brandy. When we arrive, we see Pepe standing on a stool in front of the stove, stirring polenta in a tall pot with a long wooden stick that had been smoothed on the edges. Roy later tells me it is a piece of an unpainted window frame!

Perhaps one day we'll bring him a real olive wood polenta spoon from Sorano. The long one we use is strong and a must for stirring authentic polenta. The stool Pepe stands on is fashioned from the root of a tree, sanded and polished and quite beautiful. We remember seeing Pepe sitting on this stool by the fire on Christmas Eve, so it must be his special seat. I think Pepe is a Renaiassance man in some respects. He loves to do things in an authentic way, and does them with pride.

When we arrive, Candida is holding court on the couch, with Italo next to her on a side chair. They are playing Scopa, a popular Italian card game, and Candida loves to play cards. I sit next to her, forgetting some of what I remember about the game. But sometimes she hands out four cards instead of three, and each time Italo pretends he does not see and hands her the card he does not want. "Furbo!" Italo is a cheat! Everyone knows this, and even Italo shrugs his shoulders. Candida laughs. Italo wins and Candida walks away from the table, happy to have a partner, anyway. All the while Leondina sits and stares, not looking very happy that her husband has been playing cards with another woman.

Polenta is served three ways tonight: with a strong smelling fish, with red sugo and sausages, or with gorgonzola and walnuts. Roy has the sugo and I have the gorgonzola. Everything is really tasty, and each person is served on their own rectangular wooden tray. There is a green salad of curly leafed lettuce in a vinaigrette and then our dessert.

But our dessert is one of many: fresh sliced pineapple, Vincenza's Mugnano cookies, homemade Cantucci cookies, homemade amaretto cookies, several other kinds of cookies and clementines. Yes, there are two kinds of homemade wine (Italo's and Pepe's) and a spumante with dessert.

Somehow we find out that Serena and I were both born in 1946. We put our arms around each other, and I am so pleased. She is the first person I found whose birth date ends in "6". The significance of that is that in the year 2006, she and I will work on the village festa committee. She claims she will be too busy, but by then we'll put together the team and make it fun. Roy won't have to be on the committee until 2011. I suppose that is one of the reasons why people's birth dates are printed in the list from the Agraria.

We love the whole evening, and just before we leave are treated to the experience of watching Candida get ready for bed with her "prete" or priest. That is a wooden framed object that looks long and somewhat like the inside of a canoe. The center part has a plate of metal on the bottom facing up, and on top of this is placed a small open pot of red hot cinders from the fireplace.

Here is the drill: The top sheets and blankets are folded back, the "prete" is placed on the bed, the little pot of cinders is placed in the prete and then the bedding is put back on top of it. In 20 minutes or so, the prete comes out and the person gets into a toasty bed.

I tell Candida that Roy is my "prete" and although we have had a wonderful evening we are tired and I look forward to coming home to my own prete. We bid everyone "buona notte" and "buon anno" and slowly drive down the hill to our beautifully lit tree on the terrace and little Sofi waiting inside.

December 30
Last night when we were at the Foscis', Tia called in a panic. Gioia had just eaten a red ball from their outside holiday tree. This was a ball that had been soaking in rain-water for three days. Tia was on the phone at the time and when she turned around she said, "It was as if O.J. was here...everything looked like blood." Thankfully it was just red dye and water.

I told her to make Gioia throw up (her vet told her to use salt and water the last time she ate one of those gas soaked fire starters), and to give her liquids for whatever she did not throw up and to call us if things changed. That little dog is a real terror. Roy told Paola that if Gioia survives to adulthood she will be one strong dog. This morning Tia tells us she is fine.

The power goes off after Roy steps out of the shower this morning, and when he walks down the stairs to find out why, there is smoke drifting out of the transformer linking to the doorbell, or campanello della porta. He takes out a ladder and investigates, but is unable to find the solution, other than replacing the transformer. He calls Silvano Spaccese, Pepe Fosci's cousin who lives in Bomarzo, who agrees to arrive around noon.

Silvano is a kind of "jack of all trades, master of none". Most of the time he does a good job for us. He shows up just as he promised, and before pranzo they have found a solution; we cannot run the bathroom heater and the hair dryer at the same time. That works for us, and for €10 and an "auguri" and a "buon anno", Silvano is on his way home for pranzo.

People like Enzo, our hydraulico and Stefano, our muratore, don't consider him credible, but his work is usually fine and he is a really sweet man. If nothing else, he is good working with Roy to solve some of these strange problems. I think of coming up with an excel chart of our little electrical system, in the event we have a problem in the future, but am distracted by an interesting email.

Shelly forwards a memo from an atty. to his staff regarding preventing identity theft. Although this is our journal, I'm enclosing the information. It's worth copying and printing out in the event any of us has to use it. Here goes:

When having checks printed, only put your initials before your last name. The bank will know the checks are yours, and the thief might not be able to find out your first name to sign a stolen check.
Put your work phone, not your house phone, and a P O box, if possible as an address, protecting your home address.
When paying credit card bills by check, only put the last four digits of your credit card number on the description line of the check. The credit card company will know it's yours.
Keep toll free numbers of all credit cards.
Make a Xerox copy of the front and back of everything in your wallet and keep that in a safe, easy to access place.
If your wallet is stolen, file a police report in the jurisdiction where the theft took place. Call the toll free numbers of your credit card companies to alert them to the loss. But don't forget this last step. It's very important.
Call the four numbers below as a fraud alert.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian (Formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Social Security Admin. Fraud line: 1-800-269-0271
We hope you never have to use this information, but it is a good year-end protection for you and those you love.

Tonight we begin to rinse the olives and make the Mugnano marinade of sale marino grosso, minced garlic, fennel seeds ground in a mortar, orange and lemon rind chopped fine, and fresh fennel fronds, chopped. All of this is placed in a large bowl and mixed with the rinsed and dried olives. The mixture is then put into glass jars, excellent olive oil is poured on top, the jars are shaken to make sure there is enough olive oil, and Roy takes the sealed jars out to the loggia for the cold winter months. If there are any olives left in the Spring, they will be put in the outside refrigerator. We are told they should keep until we have our next batch next year.

In the meantime, we're making bread from Tia's pumpernickel flour and our own rye flour, this time without any seeds. It is very crust and really delicious.

December 31
We're able to open the windows wide today, perhaps because the sun is strong, although the temperature is cold all around us. We face South, and even on cold days we can walk out on the terrace in shirt sleeves. I don't hang the bed clothes out in the window every clear day as Italian women do, but on good days now and then I hang ours out over the balcony above the front door. When I do, I think I am acting in a television commercial for fresh breezy laundry detergent.

We all drive to La Quercia, to pick up year-end goodies. I am sick of cooking and eating it, but told Tia we'd make sausages and grapes for her tomorrow. At Biscetti, the wonderful panificio in the main square, Roy takes a number and then walks across the street to meet me buying fruit and vegetables at our favorite tiny shop. The woman always bids us, "Bye, bye!" when we leave.

When we cross the street and enter Biscetti, the queue is three rows deep, but everyone is in a good mood. They also sell some gastronomia items here, and when a man asks if the cooked lentils are for primi or later, the man behind the counter responds, "Depende" and everyone laughs. We still have to wait our turn, but those behind us are twenty numbers back.

On the road, we pass Sacha, who beeps at us and we back up to speak with him. He has a big palazzo for sale with a panoramic view in Bomarzo, and we have two sets of people who may be interested in it. We agree to look at it after the first of the year.

Felice stops by and his eyes look better. He tells us it is cold, and we may not see him at church this afternoon for Ringraziamento, the year-end mass of thanks and remembrance. He wishes us "Buon ultimo journo, buon anno, buon primo journo" and I respond, "Buon tutti giorni nel anno." I know my grammar is probably deplorable but how about that for covering all the bases?

Today we rinse off all the olives, make the Mugnano marinade and put the olives out on the table on the terrace to dry in the sun for a few hours before mixing them in the marinade and putting them in jars to store in the loggia. All that's left to do in the garden is weed until late in January when we clip back the roses and set out the scarecrows, known to the Italians as spaventapasseri.

We walk up to mass in the mid-afternoon and we are a small group inside. Don Luca is the priest, and before mass Livio passes out the words to the Te Deum. I remember reading about the Te Deum in my current book, Prisoner of the Vatican, set in the 1870's. The pope at the time, Leo XIII, only allowed the Te Deum said at certain times. I ask Tiziano what the significance of the Te Deum is, and he does not know, but will find out. Don Luca expresses such sadness in his homily that I believe he is crying inside. Sadness for so many people dead, so many people in the world left helpless and homeless after this week's earthquake and tsunami. We share his grief.

Tonight we have a quiet evening, finished off by the noise of fireworks all around the valley at midnight and Sofi shaking in her little bed. This will be an end to an extraordinary year, with both highs and lows, with two grateful hearts for our care and to those we love.

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