Mauro, the young village muratore, arrives wearing a handkerchief bandanna on his shaved head like a pirate. He is a tall handsome man, and we'd like to get to know him better. With him is a blond man. I say a blond man, because his mane of hair is wild and curly, seemingly growing from beneath his hat like a weed. Roy tells me his name is Giovanni.
They are here to look at the little project at the back of the house. We need to have a little excavating done, and a cement pad poured as a base for the little magazino we have purchased. The storage shed will arrive on palates tomorrow. We'll store it in the parcheggio, speriamo. Mauro will give us a price and a day to start work on Monday. Stefano can't find time to do the work for months, so we're happy to give Mauro some work.
I don't see them until they are leaving, and have my arms full of laundry, fresh from the drying rack on the front terrace. My hair looks somewhat like Giovanni's, but I am not wearing a hat, so have nothing to disguise my disheveled appearance.
Felice leaves a few minutes later, and since he has been here for a while, I am sure he has been working on the tomatoes. Just before he arrived, I picked a large and ripe red tomato. Since yesterday's tomato was a bust, I have lost my enthusiasm for this one, thinking that our heirlooms will be divine as usual. They are a few weeks from being ready to pick.
So it is 9AM, and already we have all been busy. All the roses have been fed, the boxwood hedges have been fed, as have the rhododendrons, lemon and kumquat trees. The sky is overcast, and it may not be perfect weather to take a dip in Tia's pool, but it will be fun to see her anyway. I've made the batter for the zucchini fritters, which she has asked for, so around noon I'll fix them and we'll either reheat them or serve them at room temperature.
Just after noon, the fritters are done, and we pack up and drive to Tia's for pranzo and a swim. This will be Sofi's first experience with a real swimming pool. I'll watch her closely.
As we drive down the long path toward Tia's, Sofi is so excited that she jumps right out of the open window. We are all shocked, especially Sofi, who lands on the road with a thud. I pick her up and calm her down for the last few meters before we reach the cancello. Then we're inside and she's forgotten her little trauma, thinking instead how to keep out of Gioia's clutches. Gioia thinks Sofi is some kind of toy, and wraps her long legs around Sofi until she slides out and runs.
We have a cool pranzo under a gorgeous iron and wisteria pergola, then walk to the other side of the house for a swim. The water is cool and so relaxing. We all get on top of plastic rafts, and the dogs keep their distance, sniffing around the edges of the pool and chasing after lucertoles (lizards).
After a relaxing hour or two, we drive home and get ready to go out with Duccio and Giovanna for cena at the restaurant connected to the Terme in Orte.
This ends up as probably the worst place to eat in recent memory. We like the grounds, which are meticulously maintained, and the pool is constantly regenerated. If we come here during weekday mornings, we can sit under shade trees and Roy may even like that. But the food and the service...
This is a casual place, and soon there will be live music playing through giant speakers. Pizza is the thing to order here, but we order pasta instead. We finish our meal in record time, and drive back to Mugnano for a walk around the village with Sofi.
It is a lovely night, and we walk slowly all around the borgo. We stop for a kiss for Leondina and Marsiglia outside Leondina and Italo's door, where at least ten neighbors sit around on plastic chairs. There are several spots in "Mugnano Basso" where people congregate, and outside Leondina's is one and the bus stop is another at night. During the day, the benches outside Giustino's also have a fair amount of activity.
Duccio and Giovanna are ready to go home, so we agree to meet next weekend and drive to Castiglione to a restaurant we have all heard about but have not tried. Roy and Sofi and I walk up our stairs and after a few minutes on the terrace are ready to call it a day.
Did I mention that Terence and Angie and the girls will come for a visit next Spring? We are very excited about that, and perhaps they will be here for our festa. We may even go with them to Macedonia to visit Angie's relatives. So as we move through the year, we imagine them here with us, and look forward to introducing them to the village. We have been told in no uncertain terms that the nipotini (grand daughters) are to make a command performance for the women of the village. We are thrilled to oblige.
Just after 9AM, a delivery man in a small truck with a gru, or lift, arrives with our prefab storage room on a single pallet. As the driver and Roy maneuver to slide it over to an area near the stairs, I think it may fit on the terrace level right by our raised orto garden. Roy agrees. So at the last minute it is moved. It's not really in the way, and when he's ready to put it together (I'm sure Sofi and I will be part of his squadra, or team), it will be easier to move around the back of the house than if it were still a level below.
The driver gives Roy his card. We like him. He does not have an attitude and is very flexible. He is so flexible that on his business card he lists cleaning attics as well as trucking as his services. We'll surely call him for any work that requires a truck to take things away. And he can fit his camione, or truck, easily in our parking area. Those are things to think about. We are always thinking about the details.
Sofi stays at home again, tonight.
Tonight is the village dinner, held by the Festarolo committee for next year's festa. The concept of the Festarolo is very interesting to us. We don't know of its counterpart in the U S. Every one in the village is logged in some central file by their birth date. The last digit of that number is used to determine who is assigned to work on a particular year. This year, 2005, includes all residents over 18 whose birth date ends in "5".
I am not sure if that means that people born in that year begin their work on the committee or end it. Since my birth date ends in "6", we'll find out soon. And the committee's responsibility is the weekend festa of the village's saint. Ours is the first weekend of May. In some years, it is the second weekend of May.
104 adults attend this dinner, held at tables outside the school. Almost ten children run around, but are not included in the final number. And Basquia, the dog, who barks at every cat. We are pleased that we left Sofi at home, and imagine that she is, too.
The night is warm, with a breeze, and the sky is filled with stars. We arrive late, because we've just watched Madonna's appearance on the Live8 concert marathon. Before the night is through, we'll have watched the end of the concert, too.
There are two seats at Felice and Marsiglia's table, and they tell us they are for us. Also at the table are Italo and Leondina and Silvia (Ivo's daughter) and her boyfriend. Later in the evening, Fulvia arrives and joins us, too, for Mario is on the committee and does a masterful job serving the dinner.
Tonight's meal is not unusual, but is good standard fare. What is the most fun is the long plank used to serve the food. Two people carry it, and another two people follow it and distribute the dishes to the different tables. Roy tells me that inside the kitchen is equally well organized, but Alberto Cozzi tells us that it is 40 degrees in the kitchen (over 100 degrees!)
Antipasti with salami, marinated onion, olives and crostade, then pasta normale or pasta arribiata, then porchetta, then insalada, then dessert and coffee are served. At each table is a bottle of red wine and a bottle of white, as well as bottles of water.
The wine served is a cause for a kind of war. Was it three years ago that people brought their own wine, hidden under the table, so that they would not have to drink the wine on the table? We do not know whose wine it was. But this friendly village was reduced to anger on this night. And from then on it was decided that the wine should be purchased to allay any infighting or jealousy.
Tonight the wine is not very good. And Italo is not happy. So he gets up and leaves, returning a while later with a bottle of his own red. Roy opens the bottle and it almost explodes as the cap comes off. Fortissimo would be a good word to describe this wine. I am woozy after just a small amount, so don't drink much of it.
At 11PM the salad course has just been served, so we decide to leave. Tonight was a wonderful night, and we knew almost everyone at the event. Roy tells me that the number of people who address me by name, instead of "Signora" have grown this past year. We are certainly happy and proud to call this village home.
We drive up to church this morning, because we will drive to Pissignano to the monthly antiquariato right after mass. Sofi stays at home in the shade.
Somehow the subject of our patron saint comes up with Tiziano, and he tells us about the patron saint of Amelia. Her figure stands in the Duomo, holding a barca, or small boat. Some years ago, a local priest let it be known that he felt the saint was not real, but the figment of someone's imagination. He made this information public, and was ostracized by the local bishop. What is funny is that Civitavecchia, a port near Rome, also has this saint as its patron.
We drive to Pissignano, and the drive up through Spoleto takes about an hour. The day is not as hot as we imagined, and there is a breeze. Breezes are dangerous to the owners of the stands, because the breakable objects are held captive by the weather. Maggie's stand is covered and is tied down securely. But she holds onto it as we speak with her, worried that a stiff breeze could topple everything.
She contemplates selling her house and moving back to England. So we have come today with the mission of offering to help her sell it. She invites us to visit her at her home in the next few weeks and talk about it. Now we have several properties in our collection that are not on "the open market".
So we hope that we can help our friends to sell their properties in a sane way. In the next few days we'll look over Rita and Filipo's property in Lugnano. So if anyone is seriously interested in buying property in Central Italy, do get in touch with us.
We arrive back home in time to make a simple pasta for pranzo, and to watch the F-1 race in France. Roy loves these races, and follows them as a kind of hobby. I take advantage of the hot afternoon to take a nap.
When the air cools, we leave Sofi for a few hours to drive to Ann and Mario's 4th of July festa in southern Vetralla at their hot springs. We arrive there and the place is easy to reach, right off the Superstrada. There is a really great live band playing American music, and the party is certainly American in style. We see red white and blue bunting, a large American flag, and although we are late arrivals are told by Mary Jane Cryan that Fulvio just ate his first ever cheeseburger and judged it "molto buono".
The location is a thermal spa, surrounded by lawns, owned by Ann and Mario Bracci-Devoti. Later we learn from Ann that they don't really own the land. The land is owned by Mr. Balletti, the man who owns the Balletti Park hotel in Viterbo. The underground spring, which is by law not possible to be owned by a private party, is on the land. Mario is an architect, and suggested to Sr. Balletti some time ago that they put in a thermal spa there around the spring, with a nonprofit group of members to protect the location.
Next door, the previous owner of Unopiu, the very upscale furniture company near us, owns a piece of land and wants to build a hotel there. He states publicly that his plan is to siphon off the sulfur springs from Sr. Balletti with underground pipes. He and Balletti have a nose-to-nose confrontation and Balletti tells him that if anyone is to build a hotel, it will be Balletti.
So someone is always on the land, ever watchful. In Italia, it is important to be ever vigilant of one's neighbors. Ann tells us that the famous Terme di Papi nearby is a case of people siphoning off thermal springs that did not belong to them. The springs at Balletti's are original sources. We notice in a walk around that there are some really beautiful Etruscan remnants of buildings. Perhaps it has been a spa for two thousand years or more.
So the next time we arrive we will pay an entry fee and will become members. Although we don't like the sulfur smell, we think it is an acquired "taste", meaning that once we are there for a while and get into the pond, we'll change our minds.
The pond is drained and cleaned twice a week. This is such a new experience for us. Today we do not go in. I am still having pains, so we don't stay more than an hour. But we will return. And with this our second visit to a thermal bath in three days, it is a sign that we need to experience it soon.
So while we're there, I'm not concerned with the big display of Americana with the flags and music and buntings, but we notice two Carabinieri vehicles and after awhile see the men outside their vehicles standing at attention with their hands crossed in front of them. It is then that Ann tells us that Mario called a friend who is the Mayor of Viterbo, to tell him that there is an American gathering taking place outside at their terme.
The Mayor sent police as protection for all of us. Ann tells us that we are somewhat targets, and I suppose I don't really pay attention to that. Or I did not before that moment. Now I am worried. I don't want to be there. And soon we bid goodbye to Ann and Mario and are on our way home. After dark, there will be fireworks, but we see so many fireworks in Italia that we've agreed to pass on these. It was a wonderful party, nonetheless.
Felice is already here, weeding and tending the two tomato patches, when I get up just after 7AM. It certainly does not feel like a holiday. There are a number of tomatoes to pick, and I make a fresh tomato pasta sauce for pranzo with sun-dried olives. We are back eating pasta at mid-day. We rather missed it.
The tomato plants look very good, and although the heirlooms are weeks away from tasting, the Italians are standing up quite well in a taste test.
I spend whatever time I can in the studio, painting. There is a fan, but when the sun is high it is very hot in there. After pranzo I spend a little more time, but return to the shade of the house after about twenty minutes, dripping. By the time I have my next lesson on Monday, I hope to have several more plates finished. It is heavenly work, at once relaxing and satisfying.
We change an appointment to look at Rita and Fillipo's house in Lugnano that they want us to help them sell. Wednesday night will be the night that we look it over and take photos for the site.
Tia calls, asking if I want to make apricot jam with her. She has just picked the apricots from her trees and will arrive on Wednesday morning early to cook up a storm with me in our loggia. We have a special large burner and large pot for just such adventures. In the meantime, I check out recipes on the internet and will call her tomorrow with a shopping list. I'd really like to make apricot ginger jam, but find no recipes, so perhaps we'll also stir up some in case it's a good idea, with some finely grated ginger. The fig jam I made last year with ginger was a great hit. Recipes will post soon...
I work for three hours tonight in the studio. I am painting eight salad plates, each with a different design, but all with a similar motif in the center. The designs are mine, but are patterned after Renaissance designs I've seen in books. Perhaps my passion for the grotesque and arabesque designs will be left to my imagination. They are extremely difficult to execute.
It rained a short rain last night, and this morning Giovanni calls up from the street to tell me it will rain today. He warns me because he sees me putting out clothes on the drying rack on the terrace. He's using his cane, and wearing slip-on shoes, so I ask him about his foot. It's not doing well. So I tell him, "Sempre avanti!" (always forward!) and he likes that very much, raising his bastone (cane) and shouting out the words.
Tia and I speak and she'll be here early tomorrow morning to make apricot jam together. Roy gets out the special burners and pots for the loggia, and sets everything up. We are not sure how many apricots Tia will bring, but think it will be a lot.
I am addicted, yes, addicted, to painting ceramics in the studio, so paint there early and late and also in-between as long as I can stand the heat. By the time it is too dark to paint, I've finished five of the eight dessert plates. I am, as they say, "on a roll!" Sofi lays nearby, and I think she likes the studio, too. There is a short shower, but it does not deter me.
What deters me is pranzo and more laundry. Nothing I eat agrees with me these days, so I look forward to the specialist later today.
When we arrive at the hospital in Orvieto, where her office is located, we realize that she is the same Dottoressa who performed Roy's colonscopia a few months ago. We both like her a lot, and although she speaks no English, Roy and I figure out most of what she is saying. She gives me a list of things to eat and not to eat, and tells me to have more tests, which Dottoressa Ofelia will prescribe for me tomorrow in Mugnano.
We are both relieved that it is not serious enough for her to recommend any emergency treatment. But tomorrow we'll see if we can get the tests without waiting a long time. Since the medical system is pretty much managed care, we'll spend some time researching gastroenterological (whew!) maladies and diets. I was hoping it would just go away, but I'm not so lucky. Tomorrow. I don't have the energy to research it tonight. Unfortunately, I had to see her as a private patient because there are no appointments available till September in the public system. So we pay €60 for the visit. Usually the visits to specialist are less than €20.
Tia arrives early, with ten kilos of sugar and tanti albicocchi (apricots), which have already been pitted and soaked overnight. Our outside kitchen is set up in the loggia with a special burner, and the production line is ready soon after she arrives. We are soldiers gearing up for battle.
Roy reminds me to walk up to see Dottoressa about the tests I need to have done, so I leave Tia and Roy after chopping up some of the fruit. The lusciousness of the fruit taunts us to plop a few in our mouths as we cut, its stickiness clinging to our hands and wrists and yes, even trickling down our arms. This is serious business, and we're into the adventure of it all.
A few minutes later, up in the borgo, Dottoressa gives me A mountain of prescriptions. Early tomorrow, we'll drive up to the hospital in Orvieto for a blood test and to make an appointment for an ecocardiogram. In the meantime, there are medicines to take and as she writes out the instructions for me, I am surprised at how much I understand.
While I waited for her with Terzo and Ennio and later Rina, I was struck by the ease with which I spoke with the two men, my arm resting on the back of the chair between Terzo and me as if we had lived in this village for decades. It is as though I have just woken from a long sleep, and step back onto the dance floor, ready to finish a dance begun and interrupted so long ago.
We speak about the beauty of the tiles outside the window, laid in spina di pesche (spine of the fish, or herringbone) fashion, as well as the change in the appearance of the little piazza. Ennio tells me he was born in Rome, proudly adding that his hospital is the one near the Vatican.
Terzo tells me he was not born in Mugnano, but in nearby Soriano. By this time, Ennio meets with Dottoressa and Rina confirms with a nod that yes, Terzo has lived here since 'forty eight. So of course Rina was born in Mugnano. She's like a sentry, quietly and assuredly nodding her head while Terzo speaks.
When I return to the house and loggia where Tia and Roy have been waiting, they show me evidence that the burners have been working overtime. The golden liquid has boiled over several times in my absence, and the burners are surrounded in black residue like the craters of a volcano. Very soon we are spooning the thick jam into sterilized jars.
There is so much jam that we run out of jars, so Roy drives to Attigliano to pick up new tops, and we sterilize the tops and jars. With the last amount still in the pan, I want to try adding ginger. We have no fresh ginger, so I put in about a tablespoon of dried ginger, and the taste is quite wonderful.
Tia packs up and leaves at noon, wanting to be back at home with the dogs for pranzo. We clean up here and the jars will sit upside down in the shade for a day or so. Then we'll take hers to her. She makes a big deal about us keeping half, so we will have lots for crostadas and jams.
All the jam is from one old tree, so we expect as her other trees come into fruit, we'll be repeating this exercise. The loggia is a perfect room for these projects, especially with a breeze, and we love to do it. Soon we will begin to bottle our tomatoes.
Duccio calls in the early afternoon with sad news. Clara fell yesterday in her garden in Bomarzo and suffered a stroke. A friend found her and she was taken to Belle Colle Hospital in Viterbo. He visited with her this morning. We will surely go to see her tomorrow.
A few years ago, Clara's husband of many years died, and she has been very lonely. We are sad for her, and for her loneliness, but hope that a little visit will cheer her. Duccio tells us she will return to Rome as soon as she leaves the hospital. Our prayers are with her.
It is difficult not to think of one's self as we get older and something like this happens to a friend. No matter, for Roy and for me, we will continue to live in dear Mugnano until they take us down the road to the little cemetery.
The phone rings and it is Tia. "How do you get rid of a viper?" Bruce is still out of town, and she spotted a very dangerous viper this afternoon. The viper slid into a hole in a wall. Her afternoon garden worker tried to shoot water from a hose at it, but it did not surface.
We all worry, not knowing where it is. Her youngest dog, Gioia, wants to chase it. So both dogs are confined to the house, and now Tia, who adores her garden, does not want to be outside until there is news.
Vipers are about the most dangerous things one can encounter in Italia. A viper is different from a simple snake, as they are shorter and fatter and have big triangular heads. I don't think I have ever seen one, but am frightened at the thought of it. Men take shovels and whack the heads off them, but I am fearful that they will jump before the shovel comes down upon them.
Some men chase them with sticks or poles. We are sorry but we do not have an answer, except to recommend that she bring in her neighbors. Some Italian men are so macho that they consider it a badge of courage to kill a viper. Stay tuned.
We meet with Rita and Fillippo in the early evening to view their property in Lugnano in Teverina. We have agreed to list the property on our website and to try to help them to sell it. It is a wonderful property, but the house needs to be completely rebuilt, on the existing footprint. We learned an interesting bit of real estate trivia in Umbria tonight. Apparently, for new construction, a piece of land would have to be 92 hectares or 227 acres in order to build a 550 square meter house, which is 5920 square feet, which would be 1, 375 cubic meters (22 meters by 25 meters by 2.5 meters high). This property consists of a large house, a guest house and a basement.
One can build 15 cubic meters, equating to a room size of: 3 meters by two meters by 2.5 meters high of structure to each hectare of land. So to build a house the size of their approved architectural drawings, on a new piece of land, the land would have to be 92 hectares or 227 acres! This makes their property all the more valuable.
"Umbria is dead!" Rita exclaims. It is very difficult to find a contiguous piece of land the required size these days in that province. So for someone wanting a good size house (this one is three bedrooms, three bathrooms, with a separate studio apartment unit) this is an unusual find. Look at our site under properties for sale for photos and email us for more detailed information.
We think the property is very special, and will probably try to post notices in California at editing and other production houses. In the plan is a good size screening room. Of course the drawings do not have to be followed, but this house was originally designed to their specifications, and a screening room was important to them at the time.
Since then, they have purchased a property in Attigliano, near where they live now, where they built a wonderful screening room. Their priorities have changed, and so now this property can be a place where someone else can realize their dream.
The piece of property and casale that Rita and Filipo want to sell is a gem. We look forward to working with them on this.
We leave early for Orvieto, and the experience waiting and waiting is what we expect at a public hospital. But the hospital is clean and the colors are unusual: floors in a peach color and walls in a kind of pale teal blue. The people who come in to the hospital seem to all know each other. We like this hospital. It feels like family.
When it is my time for a blood test, I guide the woman to the best vein in my inner elbow. Drawing blood from me is not easy. But she is such an expert, that there is not even a pinprick scar left when she's through. And I look over to see several vials of blood. There is a lot to test for this time, per the gastroenterologist.
We have a prescription for an endoscopy, but cannot get an appointment until the end of July. That is the bad news about the public health system in Italia. Later we drive to Vezio, our pharmacist, in Bomarzo to see if he can get an earlier appointment in Lazio. (Orvieto is in Umbria.) He cannot.
We drive from Orvieto to Bel Colle hospital in Viterbo, to see Clara, arriving mid-morning. But when we get off the elevator, we come upon three of her nieces, who are waiting in the corridor. Doctors are with her, and we wind up leaving. The wait will be at least an hour.
We return in the afternoon, and when I hand Clara a special sachet of fresh lavender and roses from the garden, she scrunches it up and puts it to her face. Although her left side is paralyzed, she looks quite beautiful, her silver hair against the pillow and a pale blue blanket matching her eyes. She does not speak much, but we think she looks quite good. Tomorrow she will be moved to a private clinic in Rome. We will go to visit her there in a week or two.
Back at home, I'm in the studio, painting away, and Roy does a turn with a tall ladder, deadheading roses on the path. Sofi sits at the top step, just watching.
While Roy works on the path, Mauro drives up and stops. They speak about the project at the back of the house, and although it will cost more than we'd like, we know it's important to do. By this time next week, we should have the project finished, including a cement pour from a big cement truck. If we're lucky and the cement dries, we will put the magazzino together at the back of the house next weekend. Speriamo.
The power goes off after ten PM, and one circuit will not work. After much testing and gnashing of teeth, Roy determines that it is the front gate and the septic pump. Tomorrow he'll see if we need to bring someone in. I don't know what I would have done if I were alone. Roy kept clicking the circuit breakers, and finally was able to keep the lights on. There is something about being comfortable with electrical projects. I suppose I just don't know enough about the concept, although I am able to wire a lamp by myself.
Clara tells us that she thinks the stroke took place as a result of specific medicine she was taking for her cancer. She is in remission, but recalls that there was a disclaimer on one of the medicines. So who's to know if it's important to heed these warnings about possible side effects or not...
I try to reach Lore and Alberto to let them know about Clara, but they are still in Ischia. The best I can do is to leave A message on their phone in Rome.
Tonight is cool, with plenty of wind. We look forward to a good night's sleep. I get into bed thinking about tomorrow afternoon, when we'll drive to see Maria Antonietta in Guardea to pick up some more smalto, or base paint for the ceramics. I have used every drop she gave me before she went on vacation, and want to finish painting more items before my next lesson on Monday. I will definitely have an entire kiln full to fire.
Felice arrives again this morning, and it seems to be part of his routine at least a couple of times a week. He walks down the hill from the borgo and stops at our house, sometimes only to walk over to the tomatoes or bid "buon giorno" to Vito. Then he continues his walk on the loop below us, returning up past his cantina to the borgo again.
This morning, he tells me that Marsiglia has arthritis in her lower back. I tell him the solution is plenty of hugs, and he smiles a big smile. He loves her so.
I encounter him while he's in the cava near the studio, so walk inside and turn on the music, and sit down at the stool and begin to draw designs on another plate. He walks over to the door and peers in. I can tell that he loves the soothing violin music, and silently watches as I draw freehand with my pencil after making a circle in the middle of the plate. I think I don't like to be watched while I work, but Felice is silent and respectful. I find myself enjoying the silent company.
I show him the other plates ready to be fired, and there are many of them. I wonder what he thinks of my new obsession. I say obsession, because even the roses are getting neglected, until Roy does a sweep late in the afternoon and deadheads many of them. It has been almost a week since I've done my regular manicure of each rose bush.
We are scheduled to drive to Guardea to see Maria Antonietta at 4PM, so I spend the day painting the last two plates of the set of eight. We find containers to transport them in so that they won't get damaged, and Sofi stays at home while we drive up through Attigliano.
Maria Antonietta's studio is very small, so she has to do some maneuvering to fit all the plates inside. I gather she is pleased with the quality of the work, and my next lesson will be on Wednesday, when I think she'll have fired all my ceramics now in her studio.
Should I sell them? It's up to Roy. I tell him he can set a price, tell me what kinds of things to paint, and then determine if he wants to approach shops with them, or take orders. Otherwise, we'll just have lots of plates. And since they will be dishwasher safe, that's fine with me.
We pick up a bottle of smalto, the underglaze, from her, and back at home I coat the one remaining plate without smalto and begin to paint the one pitcher I have with grotesques, the motif made famous by Rafaello. His designs are very elaborate and delicate at the same time. The brush strokes are extremely fine. So this pitcher will take many hours to complete. After two hours, I have finished the design in pencil, and have outlined about 25% of the design.
Silvano Spaccese arrives after 6PM, and cannot find anything wrong with the circuit breaker for the cancello and septic pump. Last night after 10PM the power went out, and we had a devil of a time getting it back on. The circuit for the cancello and septic tank would not work. So Roy called Silvano this morning and the two of them tried different approaches to the problem. We'll have to wait and see.
We agreed to give Mauro the job for the back of the house, and he and Giovanni will be here on Tuesday or Wednesday to do the work. Then the cement will take a few days to dry, during which time Roy and I will unpack the prefab. wooden storage room and paint it, piece by piece. By next weekend, we should have the project finished.
I'm able to spend time in the studio, because the air is cool again, and I really love working there. Today, I'm working on a small pitcher. I have found several grotesque designs from the 16th century, and before I'm through for the morning, have penciled in the entire complex design and have outlined most of it, in preparation for the actual painting.
We drive to the hospital in Orvieto for results of this week's blood tests, and I don't see anything out of the ordinary when I look at the report. But the results are difficult to read. Sofi is at home. We took her with us at first, but she was so excited in the car that we turned around and took her home. So we drive up to Oriveto to see if we can find Maria Antonietta's son's shop and also do some ceramics comparisons with the things I have painted, in case we decide to sell them.
His shop is a sweet one, located on the walk up from the Funicular. I hope he does well. For now, he is well stocked with Indian shawls, some purses and a few clothes. We purchase a lovely little beaded shoulder bag for the incredible price of €7, and it is just large enough to hold my sunglasses. I no longer take a purse, and find it very liberating. This bag is all I'll need.
We stop at Orvieto Scalo to pick up marvelous cherries and grapes and figs before driving home to Sofi. For the rest of the afternoon, we work in the garden and the studio. Roy finishes cutting the small wood behind the house, and rethinks where the magazzino will go. I agree with him, and look forward to seeing it in place next week.
Roy calls out from the lower planting area that many tomatoes are ready to pick. I join him with a handcrafted basket, and fill it up with an assortment of red tomatoes of all sizes and hues. We agree that tomorrow we'll do our first batch of canning tomatoes. For the foreseeable future, the burner and big pot will live in the loggia.
Every week, we'll do a round of boiling and canning. Even if it's just five or six jars, we'll be able to have a good crop by the end of the summer. Roy tells me that the heirlooms in the planting area up above are growing, too, although we don't expect to see the first ones until August. We have plenty of jars, and learned last summer that all we need to do is buy new lids for the old jars and they'll work perfectly well. Roy takes a sample jar to the ferramenta in Giove when we need new lids and comes home with plenty at a very low price.
Tony and Pat arrive for a short visit with their son, Chris, and his family. When they leave, I set the pitcher aside in the studio that I worked on this morning, and paint the one remaining plate we have with elaborate vines and flowers. It is a dinner plate, and now I want to paint a set of them with the same design. We'll return to Deruta soon for more plates. I am certainly enthusiastic about this new hobby.
The air is cool at night, and we hear the neighbors outside out windows until quite late. They love to walk down the hill and back below our house, and can be heard laughing and chatting until midnight during the summer. The sounds are so faint that we have to pay attention to hear them. But the sounds are joyous. The people who live in this village surely love it as we do.
Earlier tonight we took a walk up to the borgo, and Vincenzo stood by the mother church as we walked toward him. We asked him when the restoration would begin, and he hopes this fall. The front of the church is full of pots of gorgeous flowers in hues of purples and pinks and whites. He tells us there are three hundred (!) plants. What a labor of love to take care of them all.
Since we first descended upon this little village eight years ago, we have seen many valiant attempts to clean up and add flowers to even the littlest corners of the village. Tonight we see that certain corners seem to compete with others. Hydrangeas aplenty, and cascading petunias and plumbagos are everywhere we look. We admit we have all three in our garden: white petunias (about eight plants) cascading down from the balcony, six hydrangeas in the herb bed in front of the loggia and also inside the loggia, and a wall of plumbago on the far side of the front terrace.
This morning, after mass, Tiziano told us that the Bernardini sisters have been hard at work restoring the Orsini palazzo across from our little church. There were important frescoes to be restored, so they wisely contacted the university in Viterbo, and this fall the restoration will begin. We believe they were even able to get funding for it. Several weeks ago, we watched Tiziano enter the palazzo after mass with one of the sisters, so he is very familiar with the work to be done. We hope to see it one day. Regardless, we are pleased that they care enough to have the work done correctly.
Lore calls, and they are home from Ischia. We will see them in a week or so. The talk was all about Clara, and she has been transferred to a clinic in Rome. We don't think we'll get to see her very soon, so are glad that we could see her while she was still in Viterbo. Our prayers are with her for a quick and painless recovery from her stroke.
My obsession with painting ceramics continues, and I have finished my first pitcher, as well as a small plate, both in grotesque designs. They are quite wonderful. With one dinner plate left, I painted it in the same leaf motif I worked on before starting on the grotesques. Tomorrow we'll drive to Deruta to replenish our stock.
Earlier today, Shelly called to invite us for pranzo. Claudio very kindly made me a pasta with plain tomato sauce and I ate some wonderful vegetables in a vinaigrette. So my doctor supervised diet continues. Roy was able to eat homemade pasta and vitello tomato, as well as a rich dried fruit cake and plenty of wine. Vic and Adie were there, and we have not seen them in years, so it was good to catch up. She is one delightful woman. And Vic is a walking encyclopedia, so always has something to say or explain.
We picked over a dozen tomatoes today, and will do our first canning tomorrow afternoon. There will probably be more tomatoes to pick in the morning. Up above, the heirlooms are not anywhere near ready to eat, but we are not in a hurry. Tomorrow Roy will spray the tomatoes and the peach tree with rame sulfato (copper sulfate). For years, I worried that that was not biologic, but understand now that it is. The solution really protects the plants. And we have just under fifty peaches on the tree, so don't' want to lose a single one to blight.
While walking around the upper garden, we speak about the fig tree. Last winter we cut it back severely. And this summer there is more fruit than we have ever seen on it before, with a few tiny dry figs already fallen on the ground. So we'll have lots of figs to make our famous fig marmellata piccante to serve with cheese. Check the food part of the site for the recipe. We're weeks away from figs, and will enjoy watching them grow.
So much to love in the garden! And next year, we'll definitely plant sweet white corn, with seeds from the U S. Once the potatoes and favas are pulled up, we have lots of room for something. Corn will be perfect. And in Italia corn is fed to the animals. They don't eat corn on the cob. We love eating it typewriter style....don't you?
A short bout of temporales, or thunderstorm, during the night sent Sofi scampering under the bed. But by the time we got up in the morning everything was fresh and clear. A short rain in the late morning covered little Mugnano, but otherwise we had a sweet and cool day.
Our inventory of ceramics is down to nil, so we drive to Deruta for a fresh supply after stopping in Attigliano to sign up for the annual private ambulace service. They will take us to; Bel Colle in Viterbo, Orvieto, Narni or Terni hospitals, depending on the situation. The cost is €10 per family per year. Sounds good to me.
Sofi is with us, but spends the whole time in the car. Once in Deruta, we pick up some dry paint and then dishes, called "green", although they are terra cotta in color. We pick up a variety of things, and I'm going to be doing two different designs: one is a flower and vine motif of my invention, and the second is a variation of Rafaello's grotesques.
On the way back, we stop at the vet in Terni for Sofi's annual rabies shot and a checkup. She's doing fine, and behaves like an angel.
We stop at an Autogrille on the E45 on the way home. Their simple pasta with tomato sauce is really excellent, and Roy also has a thinly sliced cold roast beef with rugghetta and lemon.
Once at home, I'm back at work in the studio, and finish a small plate started last night and design and finish a complete dinner plate with a complex grotesque motif. I hope to have several things finished before my next lesson on Wednesday. Roy thinks that we need to start looking for a second-hand kiln. We can both see me doing this seriously if we can find a market for my work.
Roy wants me to participate in the medieval festa on August 15th in costume, painting ceramic plates. If we get the ok, I'll have to make a costume first. I'm not thrilled with the idea, but love getting involved with the village. Perhaps instead of the two types of designs I'm working on, I'll come up with a simple design of the tower on a little plate. Whatever is it about us that gets us so involved in the very fabric of where we live, no matter where it is? Thank heaven there is no Mountain Play in Lazio!
With a goal of tomorrow morning to finish designing and painting five plates, one pitcher, and two small plates, I'm almost finished at the end of the day. At first light, I'll finish the last pieces, and hope to get everything fired at Maria Antonietta's in the next day or two.
Tiziano comes by and tells us that on Thursday there will be a meeting regarding the August medieval festa. He and Roy want me to paint some little plates with the tower on them and the word Mugnano at the bottom. Tiziano also thinks I should do plates with the Orsini rose on them. Then they both want me to dress up in medieval garb and sit and paint while people walk around. We will see. First, I'll have to see if I can come up with a proper design that will include the tower and a kind of scroll at the bottom for the name of the village. Whatever do I get myself into?
I admit I love the designing and painting of ceramics. I have two styles right now, and think that's enough for now. Perhaps each season I'll a new design or two. But right now I have my hands full.
There is a short rain shower, but that's about it. Lovely clouds keep the hot sun from turning the serra into a sauna. I spend several hours painting and Sofi stays right near me most of the time.
Roy is working on the woodpile, cutting and stacking wood from the parcheggio. When we have this year's wood delivered, Roy hopes last year's wood will all have been moved in advance. This year's wood is always "green". So we have about two years worth of wood at a time. That feels about right.
There is time for a pedicure with Giusy in Orte, and each time I go in to her shop I feel more comfortable speaking with her. She speaks no English.
Tonight we agree to help Tiziano with some research in the valley next Monday on his Etruscan kilns. We both look forward to that. We like Tiziano a lot and it is always fun to spend time with him.
Tiziano has good news. His parents found a woman from the Ukraine to take care of his grandparents. The grandfather likes her, the grandmother is not so sure. So we are hopeful that the situation will work out. Sadly, she is available because another person died last week who she took care of. Tiziano tells us that the woman is almost as tall as Roy but very, very strong. We hope the relationship works out.
Mauro calls late to say that they won't work tomorrow, but will start early on Thursday. Let's hope this is not the start of more delays. Roy wants to get the prefab pieces set up and painted, and we don't want to begin until the workers start to move the earth from behind the house. Meanwhile, I have a ceramics lesson tomorrow and we 'll definitely put up tomatoes. By now we have almost 40, sitting in a big low basket on the terrace.
Is it strange that a woman can feel safe walking around Mugnano, even on the loop below our house, at 11PM in the summertime? Yes, we lock our windows and doors and the gates when we are not at home, but for personal safety we are not concerned when walking around our neighborhood. I think of this when sitting at the desk by the open window just before turning in for the night. The sounds of the people of the village taking their stroll down the hill after dark fills me with joy.
Early today, I finished painting the last two dinner plates for Maria Antonietta. Mauro called last night to say that he will do our little project tomorrow, so Roy agrees to take me to Guardea to my lesson this morning. He packs everything up so very delicately for the trip. Although the plates and pitcher are finished, the paint is like dried paint dust; a jostle will destroy the design. As it is, I need to touch up several of the plates after we've safely arrived at her studio.
There are many plates finished, and it appears that she did not check them before putting the last set in the kiln. So there are imperfections where I did not expect, but overall I am pleased with the results and Roy is pleased.
I am given homework of designing a plate from scratch with a large figure in the center, and a rim around it of grotesques. My next lesson will take place on Sunday afternoon, and in the meantime she will fire all the plates and pitchers we delivered to her today.
Roy suggested a few days ago that we consider buying a used kiln. But after my lesson is finished, I realize the whole process is so elaborate that I don't want to consider the expense or the complications yet.
I meet my teacher's daughter, who will open her own ceramics studio in Orvieto for the making and selling of her own ceramics this Saturday. Roy and I will definitely drive up there for a visit on that day. I ask my teacher what the possibilities are of selling my ceramics and it is as I thought: too many artists selling ceramics and not enough good places in which to sell the finished product. So for now I'll paint for joy, and to have the plates around. If I can sell some, so much the better.
The entire lesson is taken up with learning how to spray cristallina over the top, or dipping smalto over the top and making minor repairs of each piece before placing it in the kiln. Although she praises me for the quality of my work, I am not ready to stop my lessons.
We work outside her little studio in the shade of giant oak (quercia) trees, and the scene is as if we are transported back in time hundreds of years. She dips some of her own handpainted tiles in the smalto, and the designs are definitely medieval. I wonder if we will see them at her daughter's shop.
We leave and drive to Orvieto to pick up the results of my tests. All are in, and there is nothing remarkable to reveal. So I'll continue taking medicine and will see Dottoressa tomorrow.
We are met with a little rain on the way home from Orvieto just before pranzo, and each day this past week we've had a partly overcast sky and a little rain. It has not been a typical summer at all. Each day has been blessed by clouds, a smattering of rain, and today a strong breeze. Lovely.
Today is the day we start to put up the tomatoes, and late in the afternoon we finish putting up nine good-sized jars. This year, we have the loggia set up to do everything there, and with two folding tables we're able to work through the process quite rapidly. And then the bombola stops. So the canned tomatoes did not hold a boil for 40 minutes. So we drive up to Giove to get a new one, and then back to reprocess the tomatoes.
This year, we used the pulverizer to process the tomatoes before putting them in sterilized jars. This contraption operates with a crank and takes out the skin and most of the seeds. What is left is mostly a puree, which means that we won't have to use the food mill each time I want to use tomatoes.
But the results are strange. We use no water, and fill the jars up to the bottom line, which is about 1/2 inch from the top. But after the jars are out of the bath, the mixture separates and it looks like one part tomatoes to two part pinky water.
We have a bunch more tomatoes almost ready to process from our lower tomato orto, so in a few days will make up another batch. In the meantime, we'll check to see if the tomatoes settle down. If not, we'll change our process.
I have an idea for the Mugnano festa plate, but first we want to walk around the village to take photos of the tower from every vantage point. About twenty photos later, including a fun walk all around the borgo and a drive down the Mugnano hill and back again, we've completed our photo research.
I enter the studio, decide to play around with a design, and before I know it, have painted a design on a small plate that we can use at the Medieval festa on August 15th. I have produced a design without referring to the photos after all, conjuring up a scene of a simpler time some five hundred years ago. In it, the Tiber River flows behind the little hill that is Mugnano, and the tower rises up tall as its focal point.
While in the borgo, we dropped in to Ernesta's shop and found out that the meeting about the festa will take place tomorrow night at 9PM. So Roy calls Tiziano to see if he'll go with us to make sure we understand what is going on. If they will allow me to put on a simple medieval costume (which I'll sew up in the next week or so) and sit with my little Mugnano plates and paint while I'm sitting there, with Roy by my side, we will have a public introduction to my new craft. Roy agrees to wear a costume as well. Stay tuned for the results of tomorrow's meeting.
When we walk up the stairs past the credenza in the hallway where the little Mugnano plate sits, I look down at it and I am not so sure that I like the little plate that I attempted. On Sunday, I'll take it to Maria Antonietta and see if she has any ideas to make it less kitschy.
The posters are all up about the Guardea gnocchi and cinghiale sagras, and we'll eat there several times before the middle of August. Also, next week is the Mexican festa at Oktoberfest Pub. Roy can't wait. It's almost unheard of in Italia for a restaurant to serve food that is not Italian. So Roy is starved for Mexican food. I don't care either way, but he's very happy about it and that pleases me so.
So they said they'd start work today, but Roy walks down the hill and gets an excuse from Mauro. A while later, Manuele arrives late in the morning to start excavating. He is a sweet young man, but quite slow. We later learn that he is the son of Marcello, our mailman. Wheelbarrow by wheelbarrow he takes dirt to the selvatico area near the church.
Mauro and Giuseppe arrive around 1PM and they work for under an hour. Then they are all gone, vowing to return tomorrow at 7AM. Perhaps it is the heat. One man does not accomplish very much by himself. But the three of them should be able to finish moving all the earth and get the cement poured by the end of tomorrow. Speriamo!
Roy gives me the keys to the car, and I drive to Guardea, after calling Maria Antonietta to see if she can fit one more plate in her forno before she fires it. This is the sample Mugnano plate for what I think will be the Medieval festa on August 15th. Yes, she will fire it if we will deliver it to her before pranzo. So I drive off with it nestled in a box on the floor. She gracefully takes me to her studio when I arrive, dipping the plate in smalto and telling me it does not need any other touches, other than my chop on the back.
She turns the oven on, and tells me that by the time eight or nine hours have passed, the heat will turn off at a temperature of around 900 degrees. The computer timer starts the process at 21 degrees. Once it is turned off, the ceramics stay in the oven for at least a day, I think. We'll have all the finished plates on Sunday afternoon.
Before I leave, she looks at the new little plate of the tower of Mugnano and tells me that she cannot believe that I am not an experienced painter. She is very complimentary, and I do wish I could understand everything she is saying.
I'm the first to thrash myself, and kind words go a long way with me. I still remember her first guiding hand to me, "Coraggio, Evanne!" It has been with those words that I take a deep breath and relax before attempting a new design. What will come of all this? I have no idea.
From Guardea, I drive to Dottoressa, who has office hours in Chia this morning before noon. She tells me that I have had an infection in my colon that has been cleared up, but I need to return to the gastroenterologist in Orvieto for her prognosis. So my endoscopy is scheduled in two weeks, and we'll try to schedule an appointment with her right after that. Speriamo.
I'm missing painting, and since the Mugnano plate won't be ready until Sunday, I come up with a design and paint a tile for possible use around the outdoor sink. Roy likes it. It has the leaf and vine motif that I have used a lot recently. So now I'll work out a template. We'll need about twenty of them, placed in a definite pattern. And they'll be fired and installed later this summer. It will be an interesting project. There is so much to think about.
Tonight we think Tiziano will go with us to the festa meeting at the school at 9PM. But he cannot attend. So Roy puts a printed copy of a photo of my Mugnano plate in a folder and we walk up to the borgo just before the appointed hour. But it is like a ghost town up there. We sit on a green metal bench facing the valley, under a tree loaded with cackling cicadas, and wonder why we bothered coming at all.
Twenty minutes later, Livio arrives to ask where everyone is. There is something remarkable about the Italians. They never appear on time for anything. But in a period of about three minutes, everyone arrives as if they are all right on time. Tonight they arrive at 9:45. And just as Francesco starts to tell us that the meeting is to begin, his little son, Andrea, has to go to the potty. So he excuses himself and takes Andrea home.
The meeting starts at 10PM, and the notice at Ernesta said that it was a reunion meeting of the festa committee. We later learn that it is a meeting to decide what to do with the €2,500 in the bank left after the last festa. One hour after it began, it ended with €1,500 going to the church and €1,000 to buy benches for the plaza. I lean over to Antonio and tell him I think the entire money should go to buy a defibrillator for Mugnano. Bomarzo has one, but there are enough old people in Mugnano that it could save a life or two. He thinks it is a good idea, but I'm not about to bring up the subject. As it is, we have no idea what we are asked to vote for.
Later, we realize we should not really have gone to the meeting, as we did not participate in the last medieval festa. But as we get up to leave, Roy wants to show my plate, so shows it to Antonio, who likes it a lot and wants Francesco to see it. I stand in the hallway, not wanting to be involved, and hear that Francesco likes the plate but thinks we can use it next year.
So let's talk about the meeting. Francesco is the first to come into the room. There are many chairs against the walls, but Francesco just sits down at the head of the table. Roy starts to put chairs around the table, and Francesco nods his approval. For more than an hour, spirited discussion takes place about what should be done with the money earned from the last Medieval festa. No one takes a lead. There are no Robert's Rules of Order. No one sums up what is being said. We are both thinking of Mountain Play Board Meetings and wish Marilyn Smith could be a fly on the wall.
Everyone in the room has something to say, and everyone is very spirited about their opinion. There is no fighting, but there is a definite dance and rhythm to the cadence. Somehow there is a vote. But just before something is decided, the discussion starts all over again. I tell Roy it is like snatching defeat out of the jaws of victory.
We arrive home around 10:30 and an hour later, Giuliola calls up to Roy. He walks outside to let Livio in the front gate, who wants to speak with Roy about the vote. Livio thinks all the money should have gone to the church. We think he wants Roy to understand what the context of the meeting was all about. But when Roy tells me what Livio told him, I reply that the money is being spent wisely. Not everyone in Mugnano goes to church. But the benches will be there for everyone, and they are needed. A fair amount of the money is still going to the church, probably to go toward the new roof for the Duomo.
This has been an interesting night. I'm thinking that we can take orders for the plate. They'd make nice Christmas presents for people of Mugnano. But that's Roy's gig. I only do the painting. Perhaps next year I'll paint something else with a Mugnano scene. Perhaps it will be a little dish, or a spoon rest, or something small that won't cost too much money.
Several days ago the cicadas arrived for their summer holiday, and since then they have chatter, chattered all the day long. I tell myself I like the sound, and that is the only way I can deal with them. Such a loud cranking sound from such little creatures!
Mauro told us last night that his team would arrive at 7AM to finish their little project. At 6, they would be at Gino's cantina down the hill, taking off the molds for the cement. At 8AM, there is still no sign of them, and the sky is so clear we know the temperatures are starting their steady climb. It will be a very hot day to do much of anything.
They finally arrive after nine, and leave at 12:30. Although we are sure we do not need a permit for their work, they do not want to bring in a cement truck. So they'll do the cement work by hand on Monday morning, possibly with the help of our handy paranco. We'll have to cancel our plans to do an archaeological walk and dig with Tiziano. Hopefully we can schedule that for a morning later in the week.
When they leave, we take a look at the area where they have been working, and it will be quite wonderful. All the rebar is in place.
Roy works on his irrigation project under the shade of the pergola next to the outdoor sink while it is still cool. He wrestles with a big red snakelike coil and although I know he is silently cursing, he proceeds in a piano, piano fashion. "Sempre avanti!" (always forward) as the Mugnanese reply when we ask the oldest ones how they are doing.
He realizes that he has run a water line above ground at about six feet above ground from below the bathroom across the back of the property to the next garden. Now that Mauro's crew has set up rebar for cement, he realizes that this line can now be run under ground. So it is good that they will not work until Monday. Now Roy can run the pipe under where the cement will be poured.
We were not so smart two years ago, when we did all the work on the front of the property. At that time, when so much earth was taken out, we could have put in a cantina underneath the terrace. Now if we want to put one in, it will be more costly. So we're not planning one for now.
I begin preparing my first of the summer batch of cocomero (watermelon) granita, and take apart an entire watermelon with a huge knife. In my mind, thoughts rise up of camp royanee watermelon seed spitting contests and friends laughing and goading each other in another country years ago. What fun we had!
Noreen arrives for pranzo after her trip to the Monster Park in Bomarzo, and pronounces the park a success. She loves Mannerist art (16th century odd changes in Renaissance art forms) and this park is certainly a good example. We talk about the zany park and gardens at Scarzuola, in Umbria, and that we want to try to put a small group together at the end of September for a tour there. We have been there several times, but another visit would be fun.
She warns me about working with paints, even though the ones I use do not contain lead. She also warns me about cadmium ( I am thinking batteries when I hear the word), and I'll ask Maria Antonietta about that. We agree to hand wash my painted plates, but it would be good if I could put on a thicker finish to make them dishwasher safe. So I'll research that. Form and function. Let's make them both work in concert with each other.
No wonder the men did not want to work this afternoon. It is so hot that we eat pranzo inside. Sofi definitely likes Noreen. I can tell because she puts her head back and her big ears stick out like artichoke leaves when she looks at her. Noreen is not particularly taken by her, so Sofi settles down, and we have a long pranzo finished with our first of the season cocomero granita.
After Noreen leaves, we take an afternoon nap with the shutters closed and the fan blowing cool breezes as we sleep. This is known as "dolce fa niente" or sweet nothing, referring to an afternoon nap after pranzo.
When the weather cools off, I walk out to the studio, intent on doing a special platter for my homework, called "competi". My teacher wants me to do a big design in the middle of the plate with a figure or a face, surrounded by sectioned off grotesque designs. I have a thought that I want to draw a chubby angel in the middle, and play around with a pencil over the white chalky undercoat of the platter.
Remarkably, the figure comes out. I use a Q-tip to rub in pale grey wings, and mix a couple of colors for skin tone. I have no idea how I am able to paint it, but like the finished product quite a bit. I have no idea I could draw an actual lifelike form. Then I draw a border and section the plate off. Tomorrow I will plan and orchestrate the grotesques on the four sections of the border of the plate. I am "over the moon" with excitement about painting.
Wendy calls with an invitation for pranzo on Sunday, and it will be wonderful to see her and also their wonderful property. Michael has done a remarkable job with the landscaping, and Wendy's meditation room must be completed by now. We look forward to seeing it, and to seeing them.
The air cools off, and when I walk upstairs to bed and open the shutters, I reach way out to lock them open. Turning my head so that my body is literally looking up at the sky, I am delighted at the sight of all the stars on this clear night. Lights on a plane far above me, probably on its way to Rome, tease me into thinking for a moment that I am looking at a shooting star. I am tempted to go outside and lay back and watch the stars, but it is almost midnight, and I am tired.
It's too hot to take Sofi with us this morning, so she stays on the front terrace while we drive to the Orvieto hospital to make a follow up appointment with the gastroenterologist and then visit Maria Antonietta's daughter's new studio. We are not able to schedule an appointment for six weeks with Dottoressa, but I am feeling better so we are not concerned.
We drive up to Orvieto, and the back parking lot is closed off, because today is a market day. We finally find a place to park and take back streets to get to the new studio and shop. Chiara is the daughter's name, and Tara Chiara is the name of her shop. Inside, we meet her husband, Nicholas, and Maria Antonietta is also there. So we take a photo of all of them in front of the shop.
Chiara's paintings are modern, in a very interesting style. Her husband's paintings are representational, and quite remarkable. He also paints copies of masters. There is a still life that Roy likes quite a bit, and I also like his landscapes. But we're only looking. The shop is on Via dei Loggia di Mercanti, off of Piazza Della Republica.
We arrive home for pranzo and the rest of the afternoon. I take my homework seriously, and since I have a lesson tomorrow, I need to get working on the large border very soon. But it is too hot to work in the studio. So after a delicious cold pranzo of leftovers, I bring in the plate and pencil and stand and then the stool, because it is too high to draw at the kitchen table sitting on a chair.
Roy calls Lore, who is back in town, and asks if we can bring their folding chairs back at 7PM. She invites us for a drink when we bring the last bunch. This exercise is a major one, because cars are not allowed on the new mattone in the piazza.
Roy brings everything up with a hand truck, backing in the car and maneuvering its hatchback right up to the cordoned off iron cord. When we sit down with Lore and Alberto, she continues to speak about how unfair the decision is of not allowing cars into the piazza. I see her side. And I also see the sindaco's side.
We arrive back home and I am anxious to get back to painting. In a few minutes, I am able to work in the studio. So I sit out there until it is too dark to work anymore. I have finished the basics, just needing to tweak the design. I am pretty sure we will want to keep the plate. It has been so much work that I cannot imagine parting with it.
Sorry! We are way behind in posting our photos. We will post quite a few new photos, including a new property or two for sale or rent, this week.
Sofi is not happy, and she hides under the bench in front of the kitchen window while we walk up to mass. Lore and Alberto and Elena and Tiziano and Rosita and Enzo and all the regulars are here. The little church is full on this summer morning.
Outside, Roy asks the lovely Elena, dressed in a long red skirt and black blouse with turned up collar, unbuttoned bravely "down to there" about the jeweled key she wears around her neck. "The key to paradise!" she exclaims, and we all laugh." Lucky Valerio!" Roy leers. She is quite beautiful and so full of life. We like her very much.
She and I speak about her youngest grandson, also named Valerio, and he is about the same age as our grand daughters, so tell her that we hope the girls will be here next May. What a festa we will have!
At home, I have finished the ceramic plate. I can't remember ever looking forward to doing homework, or competiti, before. But this plate, with my version of an angel in the middle and grotesques around the edge, has taken many happy hours to complete.
Sofi knows something is going on, and is very excited when we let her know that we will take her with us to pranzo in Penna at Alan and Wendy's. But it is very hot, and she jumps back up several stairs to the landing to hide in the shade, afraid of the heat. I pick her up and she does pretty well in the air conditioned car.
While driving up the road to Penna, we see big pillows of smoke in the distance. It is against the law to light fires in the summertime. Fire hazards abound in the countryside on these hot days, and if one is to have a fire on their property, one hopes it does not happen on a Sunday. No one wants to work on a Sunday.
The closer we get to Alan's the more we think the fire is on his property. And when we arrive at the gate, we are sure it is right there. The smoke rises high over his extensive grounds, and when Wendy walks out to meet us, she tells us the fire is on the land next door, where a couple of Romans arrive on weekends to work the land.
Roy and Wendy walk right up the fence, but Sofi and I and the other dogs stay by the pool. On the other side of the fence, three goats run with fear in their eyes toward the fence, and Alan rushes forward, topless, sweating and moving like a man on a mission.
We know if there is a calamity, Alan is the best man to handle it. He is an Australian, and a no-nonsense kind of guy, unless you put a beer in front of him and get him telling stories.
On this day, he has been on the property, which he can reach through a small opening, and thinks a dog has died, tied with a rope to an out-building. Wendy and Roy and I are outraged at the possible death of the dog, hoping the owners of the property are arrested. But then we remember that Italians think of dogs as regular farm animals, acting as though losing an animal is just part of life going on. Whatever moved them to tie a dog up for days?
A solitary fire truck is there, but there is not enough water in the truck to put out the whole fire. So it is determined that the outbuilding will be left to burn itself out, and the fireman, who hollers at the top of his lungs to Alan as if the fire is his fault, is obviously miffed that someone has spoiled his tranquil Sunday. In Italia, it is not a good idea to have a fire on a Sunday...
Alan calls Carlo, his workman, to ask him to come right away, and when Carlo arrives, he finds us are all seated by the pool. He tells us the dog is not dead, and we are hopeful someone has taken it to the vet. We are all too afraid to ask, in the event he is left there, for it is not our business, nor can we safely get involved.
Sofi is not thrilled by the dogs. They are all big German Shepherds and Maremannas, except for the little machismo dog, Pagliacci, or Short Stop. All are male dogs, and sniff around poor Sofi, who curls up like a croissant and shivers.
Later in the day, she and the Maremanna puppy, Lagghi, chase each other around and do some nose kissing. Sofi rolls around in the clover, but mostly stays in the shade. When we leave, she hides under the shade of a potted tree, not wanting to get into the hot car.
Pranzo is a beautifully presented feast, and Wendy has worked for hours making this festive meal; a kind of lasagna, veal chops, beans from the garden, salad, fresh fruit and giant pastries. Of course there are many bottles of wine. Alicia and Justin are there as well, and the six of us sit around a large oval ceramic table facing the beautifully landscaped grounds.
After pranzo, we walk up to Wendy's new meditation room, which Alan planned over a year ago. Its position on the top of a rise above the house frames a magnificent view of the rolling Penna countryside. Behind it and to the side of it are shade trees, and Wendy has already experienced a weeklong inauguration of it, letting us know that its functionality as a meditation room is quite good.
It is time to drive to Guardea to my ceramics lesson, and Wendy wants me to remember what Maria Antonietta's response is to seeing the plate. She and Alan take a look at it just before we leave. We will see them tomorrow. Roy asks me if I mind driving to my lesson alone. I do not, understanding that it will be too hot for him to wait for me. Once Roy drives home and he and Sofi get out of the car, I drive on to Guardea.
I like driving the car, and having a little time to myself. I turn on RAI 3, and listen to classical music as well as some conversation. It is important to spend time just listening to Italian conversation. The more I hear, the more words float up into my subconscious.
In Guardea, my teacher's response is quite good. She makes a few minor suggestions, which I agree with, but it is ready to be fired. The plate is set aside for the next firing of the oven. Depending on how prolific I am this next week, we may have another firing soon. Speriamo.
While working on a new design, the pattern from an old book of hers of a horse in a forest, I look up at the sky outside the little studio and thank God for Maria Antonietta. She and I both shed a tear and a hug. We have formed a kind of unspoken bond. Before I know it, the lesson is over, and I take the plate with me to work on at home.
I drive home silently, taking in the sounds of the birds on this hot and happy afternoon as the sun descends behind me and the wind ushers in a cooler evening.
By 7am, four muratores, Roy and Felice are all busy on the property, the muratores figuring out how to take the wet cement behind the house and Roy following their every move. Felice arrives to check on things, and Sofi and I are still getting our morning bearings. But in a few minutes we'll put up more tomatoes, for in this hot weather there is no time to lose.
An hour and a half later, Mauro's crew is still working with the paranco, in order to hoist up wheelbarrows of gooey wet cement. During this time, they installed their larger motor and now can begin to make progress on this little job. Three of them worked on Roy's aluminum ladder hoisting up the motor like the flag at Iwo Jima, while Emanuele looked on.
Later, on the path right outside the parcheggio gate, Roy shows the young man how to use the nozzle on the hose. It has eight settings like a shower nozzie, and Emanuele has never seen anything like it. He tests it and turns each setting on and off as if he is playing with a Game Boy.
It is a good thing we have agreed on a fixed price for the work.
I cut a few Jude the Obscure roses, and place them in the little pitcher I have painted for Marissa to take a photo for her. Soon I will paint a similar pitcher for Nicole. These roses are so much happier on the front terrace. Two in one pot thrive, and one in the second pot does fine. The fourth rose has some kind of blight and we'll take it out today to see what the cause of it is.
Here is Marissa's pitcher, with her initial carved into the front. I look forward to continuing to make ceramic keepsakes for them.
Meanwhile, inside the loggia, the pot boils for the jars and Sofi and I take a basket to pick a kilo or so of fresh tomatoes from the lower garden. After washing them off in the kitchen, I bring them out with containers of salt and lemon juice to prepare for our second pomodori bottling of the summer.
We think we are doing a very Italian job, separating the skins and seeds from the pulp with an Italian metal tomato strainer equipped with a crank, until Giovanni sees Roy taking the boiled tomatoes in jars out of their bath and tells him he does not approve of all the water remaining inside the jars. Roy tells him the solution is just to cook the tomatoes longer, but what are we doing wrong?
I am horrified at the lack of respect this group will now have for us, but Roy takes it in stride. Bella figura; go figure. Dumb Americans, they probably will call us. And we were doing so well! Later in the day Roy has a good solution: when Giovanni is here tomorrow morning to work on our project, Roy will ask his advice on how to put up tomatoes without so much water. Giovanni will like the fact that we are trying to learn and respect his advice. Perhaps we will be forgiven. Speriamo, forte!
The cement mixer droans on and Mauro tells Roy that they'll stop at l'una and return tomorrow at 6:30 AM, so we can meet Tia and Bruce and Alan and Wendy at NonnaPappa for pranzo after all, even if we arrive late. But at l'una, they are nowhere near finished, so we agree to leave Sofi in their care and they will be sure to lock her inside the terrace gate when they leave. As we walk out the parcheggio, Sofi cries, and Mauro gently hugs her and tells her everything will be all right. Mauro calls us an hour later to tell him everything is all right.
It reaches 40 degrees (well over 100 degrees) when we arrive at the restaurant, and for the next hour and a half we are the only six people in the place. Fidelia, the chef, is in Sardinia with her daughter, Carlotta. Pepe, the owner, greets us in his usual gentle fashion, and despite mixing up our orders, we have a good meal and a good time.
Alan reports that the dog next door is walking around, apparently not badly hurt after yesterday's trauma. We are all thankful that the winds did not pick up and carry the fire along the ridge.
Pranzo today is a mellow meal, and we all get up to leave at the same moment: Tia to pick up Monique at the Orte train station, arriving from Paris, Bruce to return to the house to go back to work, and Alan and Wendy have somewhere to go. So Roy gives Tia her apricot jams that we processed a couple of weeks ago at our house, and picks up his Umbria Jazz t-shirt.
We arrive back home to find Sofi waiting at her usual spot at the gate, and a heat so oppressive we can't wait to sit inside. Roy stops to hose off the new cement, and reports that the muratores have done a fine job. Tomorrow they'll probably put up the little retaining wall and the job will be finished.
We want to stain the wood for the prefab room, and Roy takes the instructions with him to Viterbo, to make sure he buys the correct stain. I'm counting the hours before I can go back out in the studio to paint. I think the design for the plate is one I can almost finish tonight.
A dark shade leans across the terrace, bringing with it welcome breezes, and Sofi and I can return to the studio. So we are there when Roy returns, but it is still too hot for him to water. So he waits inside and relaxes for a while. I work more on the plate with the horse in the center and a background of forest, and then think I'll save the rest of it for my next lesson. I want some guidance on adding more perspective to the background.
Instead, I take out a long ceramic tray, and put one of my grotesque designs on it. It does not take too long, so I finish most of it before it becomes too dark to paint. I will finish it in the morning, and then paint four more dinner plates with a different but complimentary grotesque design to the original four. I will probably have them all ready for the forno by Saturday morning, the time of my next lesson.
I am troubled by something that Roy overheard Giovanni say to Emanuele earlier today. When looking at the hose nozzle that fascinates Emanuele, Giovanni refers to the price we agreed on with Mauro for the job. He makes sure that Roy hears him. So what is his problem?
Before the day is out tomorrow, I want to resolve whatever is bothering him about us. Roy and I are both people who are bothered by discord. We see no reason to justify it. In the meantime, I will have a restless night. Both Roy and Sofi are conked out at just after 11PM, so I know they don't share my concern. And I am happy for that.
Soon after midnight, skies open and a Shostakovich symphony plays outside our window, chaos reining in the night sky with its thunder and lightening. I bolt out of bed to shut down and unplug the computer. A few hours later, bursts of rain hit our front windows, meaning that the rain must be coming from the South. That probably means a scirocco, the gritty rain rising from Africa. Usually, after a scirocco, a layer of fine brown sand covers everything. We'll see in a few minutes.
Right now, the sky looks like the backdrop of an Italian religious painting, the bright purply-pink reflection off swirling clouds stirring up memories of Saturday afternoons and walks to St. Agatha's with Pam DiRico. She attended Confession every Saturday, while I sat and studied the paintings and statues on the walls. The paintings inside St. Agatha's were among the first paintings I can ever recall.
Come to think of it, I think of paintings I have seen in my childhood often. Is it a wonder that some out-of-the-mainstream influences of childhood have such an enduring impact? I recall photos of paintings by Breugel that Miss Munch brought to art class at Derby Academy. That would have been during the 4th to 6th grades.
And at around the same time, I first came upon those paintings at St. Agatha's. There were no paintings at the church I attended on Sundays, the First Parish Church in Quincy Square. That was an austere building surrounded in enormously tall pained glass windows, with John and John Quincy Adams buried in vaults below.
But next door to our house, the best paintings were enormous framed canvases at Ed and Kay Delaney's house. Those paintings reached all the way to the ceilings, and there were four of them, I think, in their long living room. I recall figures of tall, languorous women wrapped in filmy cloths. The whole room seemed to move with these lovely creatures.
But the paintings my mother painted, the oily brush strokes learned at a local art teacher's and refined on local landscapes, remain as the most precious to me. They are a legacy of her unfulfilled talent. I wonder what she is thinking now, and if she is painting that purply-pink sky overhead.
The one painting I have of hers hangs in the guest bedroom window, a scene at The Cape, with a little shack on a hill overlooking the beach. She always wanted to live in a shack at the beach, and about a year after she died, we buried her ashes in a hillock on Stinson Beach, California, surrounded by French tulips and facing West. She loved to sing, "I'm gonna get you on a slow boat to China..."
I am deep in thought about my family and my childhood today.
Outside the bedroom window, the muratores have come to work after all. The little retaining wall is the last part of their project to complete, and we hear nails pounding and wood sawing, before 7AM. And then the twice-a-day Viterbo bus can't get past our house, so there must be a truck to be moved. And the noise of the work is brought to a standstill.
A huge cement truck arrives for a pour at Gino's cantina down the hill, and since Mauro is doing Gino's work as well, his entire crew rushes down there as though they are running from a fire.
A few hours later they return, and this time are followed by the truck. Mauro wisely has the truck drop off the remainder of the wet cement that is not used at Gino's. So they unwrap the paranco, which was covered over night, and return to the hoisting of the wheelbarrows. This time, no cement mixer is needed.
When Roy and the boys are having coffee in the requisite tiny cups and morning biscotti, Mauro tells Roy that Sofi cried and cried after we left for pranzo yesterday, until he went over to her and hugged her. Then she followed them behind the house and her little paws pranced over the wet cement. Mauro was able to show us a few remaining paw prints.
Today, everything seems all right with Giovanni. Roy asks him what he thinks we should do with the tomatoes, and he tells him that what is wrong with the tomatoes is that they have too much water content. But when Roy tells him that it's not possible to hold back on watering them if they're not all ready at the same time, he agrees. So he suggests that we use a kind of tamper when we pour the pulp into the jars, to keep the pulpa closer to the bottom and take out some of the water. He reacts as though it's no big deal.
This morning is quite hot, and Roy decides to tackle putting in the little ceramic sink in my studio. But as Stefano suggested, the little room is more like a sauna in the heat, with all the steel and windows. So we keep the fan going while he works, and I help when he needs it, but mostly paint.
When I leave the studio to hang up the laundry, Giovanni and Mauro are at the paranco. Giovanni, always with the better ideas I suppose, tells me that I should move my studio to the nearby tufa grotto, which is cool, during the summer months. Most Italian muratores want to give their opinion, of anything. Mauro, the boss, is more reserved, just watches and smiles. He is a wonderful boss, and treats his men with respect and a sense of joviality. I like him very much and am pleased we are using him for this work.
While I am hanging the laundry on a folding clothes rack on the terrace, and Mauro stands nearby at the paranco, he kindly tells me that this is their last day, and tomorrow we won't be disturbed any more.
I respond with Rosanna Rosannadanna's favorite expression. "It's always something," after "It is nothing". or "Don't worry about it" The words I use are "Fa niente. Sempre qualcuno." He looks closely at my face to try to understand my pronunciation, and nods his head.
I have done some editing of the food section of the web site, trying to organize some of the recipes. Our site does need some work, especially new photos, and I'll try to get Roy to sit down and do them later this week. Because of the heat, the timing is probably very good.
Tomorrow we drive to Bracciano, to take Sofi for her summer haircut and a few hours with her family of basottos, and drive on to Rome for a quick visit at Piazza Venezia to see the Fernando Botero exhibit and also visit the famous ceramics museum. Tiziano will go with us, if he does not have to take care of his grand father.
Tonight, Roy will feast on Mexican food at Oktoberfest Pub in Attigliano. I have chosen to stay home with Sofi. Late tonight I have a conference call meeting with other stockholders of the Boston building, and want to take a nap first. Roy has arranged to meet with Tony and Pat and their family. In a phone call from Tiziano, he is unable to join us tomorrow. Our adventures with Tiziano will have to continue on another day.
This morning we rise early and drop Sofi off at Marielisa's, near Lake Bracciano, for her summer haircut. We then drive on into Rome for pranzo and a visit to Palazzo Venezia. The ceramics museum is our goal, but if we have enough time, we'll also visit the Fernando Botero exhibit in the same building.
Museums are interesting places. Each one has its own distinct character. I think my favorite is the little one-room diocesan museum in Orte, reached just before the main piazza, where exquisitely portrayed characters are displayed like a theatre in the round at the edges of the room.
A few days ago, I read in the New York Times that museums are now finding new ways to make money by renting out their treasured pieces and even selling off some that will never be displayed. There is much controversy about the subject now.
Here is what one skeptic had to say, "With faith goes the delicate ecosystem of charitable contributions and tax-free privileges. Why, the public will ask, do institutions like these reap the benefits of nonprofit status if they service private interests who shape the content of what's on view and/or reap cash rewards?"
My mother always wanted a sculpture of a museum quality horse from the Tang Dynasty. Decades ago, while on a special visit behind the scenes at Boston's Museum of Fine Arts in honor of my parents 30th wedding anniversary, she stood in front of a display case, her arms folded in childlike envy as the horse inside ignored her.
In honor of their anniversary, I conspired with the Director of Development to come up with a novel idea at the time. Knowing that both parents loved art, I thought that a private visit would be an unusual way to celebrate the occasion. My brother and I made a donation that we were told would be used to restore a painting of a little bird, and on the tour were shown the painting as well as the room where the restorations took place. The whole tour ended with a photo session and a glass of sherry with the Director of the Museum.
Everyone won. I don't think the concept "took", but what an idea it was! After the day, I felt even more strongly that art needed to be seen. Closeting it away, or losing it to private collectors who hoard it, not letting the masses see it, is a travesty. Why do I think art needs to be viewed by the masses?
I believe it encourages daydreams and fantasies. I lived in my daydreams and fantasies for most of my life. And now I can say that my dreams have come true. Even my love of tactile pieces of painted clay has found its way literally right into my hands. I now hold a brush and attempt to recreate ancient pieces that in some cases no longer exist. The exercise is heavenly for me. And if I'm able to execute the design well, we'll have a treasure to appreciate for years to come and a sense of accomplishment that thrills me.
Where would I be without Miss Munch's copies of Breugel scenes brought to art class, or Durer's wood cuts viewed at the same museum years before with my father, where we peered into the drawings to find the artist's initials, hidden in the designs?
On the drive to Bracciano this morning, I muse about all this with Roy. Art has had such a profound influence on me, and only now do I realize that each experience, each introduction to another form or image, left its mark by painting another stroke on the canvas that has become my consciousness.
Sofi shakes as Irina picks her up. She is chased by so many dogs. Some are her relatives, the perky little Basottos, while others include Bernese Mountain Dogs, Norwich Terriers and Scotties, with a few Jack Russels thrown in. I know she hates this visit, but loves how she feels and looks after we pick her up.
We take the Aurelia, Highway 1, to Rome. Remember the famous quote, "All roads lead to Rome?" The Aurelia is the first of the major consular roads, followed by the Cassia, then the Flaminia, the Salaria, the Nomentana, the Tibertina, and the Appia.
The Appia, known then as The Appian Way, went from Rome to Puglia, the Aurelia from Rome to France, the Cassia from Rome to Tuscany, the Flaminia from Rome to Rimini, the Aemilia from Rimini to Piacenza, and the Salaria from Rome to the Adriatic Sea (in Le Marche).
The first network of this type of roads was set up by the Romans more than two thousand years ago to manage their provinces and to hinder the ability of the provinces to organize any resistance against their Empire. But a little more Roman trivia:
The Roman Empire, in case you don't remember your Roman history, lasted from 753 B C to the downfall of Rome, during which Nero played his violin, in 476 A D. The Empire was founded by Romulus, the first of the seven Kings of Rome in 753 B C, but the last king was named Tarquin the Proud (Tarquinus Superbus), who was deposed in 510 B C when the Roman Republic was established.
Just a little more:
Every mile on every road was marked with a milestone to tell the distance to the center of this network: Rome. The markers still exist. But they are not what we would call miles.
Here's the difference, according to wikipedia.org:
Throughout history many units of length named mile have been used, with widely differing definitions, originating with the Roman mile of approximately 1479 meters. A Roman mile consisted of 1000 "double steps", or two strides by a Roman soldier. The Latin term for each such double stride is a passus having a length of 5 Roman feet or approximately 4.83 English feet. The word mile itself has been derived from the words mille passus (plural milia passuum), a thousand paces.
Along the roads built by the Romans throughout Europe, it was common to erect a stone every mile to announce the distance to Rome, the so-called milestones. The noun milliarium (plural milliaria), designating a milestone, was also used as a figurative alternative for mile.
The name statute mile goes back to Queen Elizabeth I of England who redefined the mile from 5000 feet to 8 furlongs (5280 feet) by statute in 1593.
We drive close to St Peter's, and park at an underground garage at the Baldo degli Ubaldi Metro stop.
Once we're inside the Metro, it takes us several stops before we reach the Spanish Steps. After we reach daylight, we decide to take a leisurely stroll down shady side streets, leaving the masses on the Corso to swelter in the sun. It is close to 100 degrees.
We cross back to the Corso through an exquisite galleria, the Galleria Alberto Sordi, and upon reaching the other side are just around the corner from Palazzo Venezia. A huge Botero poster hangs outside. Inside, we take a look at the bookstore, but there aren't many books on grotesques, the focus of my quest.
At the reception area, however, an exquisite young woman presents herself as a Botero, and does not see her name on the list to be admitted. She is far too lovely to be characterized by this famous zany artist, whose figures appear blown up by bicycle pumps.
Inside the main museum, my eyes are drawn to panels of grotesques that just knock my eyes out. They frame the paintings on the walls, but the paintings take second place in my mind. Unfortunately, just as we enter, is a large framed notice informing us in no uncertain terms that taking photos is forbidden.
We walk through the rooms, enjoying the painted walls and ceilings as well as the paintings, and come upon a huge exhibit of ceramics, all from Orvieto, dating from the 13th and `14th centuries. We walk past Japanese art and porcelains, but see no grotesques to speak of. Hardly any Renaissance plates are seen at all.
A woman sits by a window, and we ask her if we've seen it all. "No, there is an entire wing closed to visitors." I tell her I am a student of art, learning how to paint grotesques, and want to know how I can learn more. She asks us to follow her around the corner and down some steep circular stairs to the Director of the Museum's office!
We wait outside on an elaborately carved and upholstered banquette, the inlaid marquetry on its wooden collar so beautifully executed that I follow the design for a few minutes until I am drawn to the hand made colored tile patchwork floor.
I start to shiver, realizing that in this building more than sixty years ago, Benito Mussolini held court, causing death and destruction to thousands of Italians and changing the course of history. The walls and ceilings do not appear to have been painted in all this time. I focus on a wonderful clock leaning back against a wall, and witness several people attempting to get Dottoressa's attention through her open doorway.
She is clearly busy, with three people also inside her office, but in another twenty minutes she ushers us inside. Dottoressa Sconci is a tall, grand looking woman with a Patrician profile and long auburn hair, dressed casually but elegantly in brown linen shirt and pants. She looks at me with an expression of intense concentration and wants to know how she can help.
Once I tell her I am a student of grotesque art, having difficulty finding examples to study, she gives us her complete attention. She picks up her telephone and dials, directing the woman who led us downstairs to give us a tour of the rest of the museum, and to stand near us in the event we have any questions. She is also to allow us to take photographs. We are floored by our good fortune.
She and her assistant also offer to email me information about grotesques.
Back on the tour of the ceramics, we follow the woman into darkly draped windowed rooms, where she deftly turns off the alarms and turns on the lights. I am reminded of the opening scene of Angels and Demons, and wonder if a crime will be committed this afternoon...
Before we are through, we have seen at least a dozen more rooms, and have taken photos of at least twenty pieces. The same woman also gains us permission to photograph the wall panels at the front of the museum.
Now it is time to view the Botero exhibit. We have seen many of his fine paintings over the years, and this exhibit claims to consist of paintings of his last 15 years. Does this mean he has stopped painting, or is there more left in that paintbrush he uses to reflect his moods?
Later Roy tells me that he is sure that Botero only painted one face, and when viewed in the context in an exhibit, his work seems, well, redundant. Some of the pieces are wonderful, but some are not well executed at all.
Shelly saw this exhibit a week or so ago and reminded us to go because she was so moved by the Abu Ghraid paintings of tortured prisoners. There is a room full. Botero must have traveled there personally, the figures look so lifelike and hideous. Botero's bold use of color predominates many of them, in a Central American palette of vivid rosey red, bright green, orange and yellow. The browns become pinky, the blacks become grey.
Whatever took him from his scenes of the ludicrous to the scenes of the hideous? I have not read any political statements of his, but these paintings tell far more than any written word could. I don't dally over these paintings. Black and white drawings also exist in the exhibit, mostly with splashes of red to indicate, well, blood.
We are brought back to the present at the display of t-shirts and fat commemorative pencils, and pick up a couple of shirts. The designs and colors are delicious.
Speaking of delicious, we are now hungry. We decide to eat right at the museum, outside on the balcony at a café overlooking palm trees and a garden. The wait people set the table for us "just so", with each paper napkin folded in a triangle, and the fork and knife placed touching each other, with the tines of the fork cradling the edge of the knife. Who says the junior employees don't have a design style?
I eat a simple cooked pizzetta, topped after baking with fresh buffala mozzarella, fresh tomatoes and rugghetta. The pizza is hot, the toppings freshly adorned. Roy eats a coppa salad on a huge white plate. The prices are also high, but we're cool and it's quiet here, and we know our choice is worth the extra cost.
The walk back to the Metro is long and hilly and hot, so we walk slowly and I think I remember stepping on every rough cobblestone. Once in the Metro, it takes no time to reach our stop, and the garage greets us just as we exit. The car is cool. Again, this was a fortuitous choice.
We exit by way of the Aurelia again, and before we know it we're picking up Sofia and driving back through the winding Lazio countryside. Once we reach home, there's just enough time to paint a second Mugnano plate before leaving for cena. I want to present Mauro with the first commemorative Mugnano plate tomorrow morning as a thank you for doing such fine work.
Roy really loves Mexican food, and tonight is the second Mexican fiesta at Oktoberfest Pub. I do not like the noise there when there is a live band, but agree to go anyway.
We're greeted by loud noise, with the band tuning up, and it drives us inside the pub, where Roy eats his chili con carne and Sofi and I sit patiently.
Driving home, we're treated to a full moon and a lovely cool night. We all sleep well, with each of our heads full of visions of our own sugarplums.
Mauro and his crew will arrive soon. Mauro told Roy on Tuesday to whistle when he's up and dressed, and they will walk up the hill from their other project to take down the wooden supports holding up the low cement walls to end the project.
I hear Mauro coming up the hill. "Sofia!" he calls out, and then, "Bella!" as Roy opens the gate for her and she flies down the stairs into his arms to greet him.
I'm out on the balcony, watering and deadheading the white petunias when they return one by one and walk below me around the back of the house. They call up to me and I greet them and wave. I missed them, missed Giovanni's gutteral slang, missed the friendly noise that groups of Italian men make when they are working together.
Owen Edwards, writing in Smithsonian magazine about a project to preserve distinctive sounds, tells us:
"Much of the richness of life is absorbed through the ear. And much of the clash and chaos, too. From a mother's lullaby to the drum roll of thunder from an approaching storm to the cacophony of car horns in a traffic jam, the sounds of our lives help define our lives. In a sense... we are what we hear, and at least part of the sum of ourselves resides in the recollections of the summer hum of cicadas or the distant lament of a train whistle at midnight. ... But sounds once taken for granted can also fade away, never to be heard again."
I can't imagine taking the sounds around us for granted. Countless times during the day I find myself stopping in mid thought and listening...to the wind, to the trees, to the cicadas, to the birds, to the neighbors talking with each other.
We make coffee for the men, and before they leave I present Mauro with a personal gift, my first little commemorative Mugnano plate. What a good idea it was to have his crew work for us.
Later, when I recount giving Mauro the plate, Roy asks me how Mauro responded. "He kissed me."
"On both cheeks?"
"No. One cheek."
"Did he ask you for coffee?"
"No, he just finished his coffee."
"That kiss was a sincere thank you."
Don Francis calls, and he's now in Isernia, having arrived from the U S a day ago. He and Cornelio, his Italian house partner, will arrive on Monday for a few days. We ask Tiziano if he'll call Don Luca to invite him for cena on Monday or Tuesday.
Tia calls, and she's invited us for pranzo on Saturday. Today is so humid that I'm looking forward to a swim in their pool. Just when I think we'll have a quiet summer with no activity, the phone rings and our social life picks up markedly.
Don Luca has accepted our invitation for Monday night's dinner here. It should be a funny evening, with Don Francis taking center stage, acting like an impresario. He is certainly a larger than life character.
Roy finished most of the installation of the terra cotta sink in my studio. It was too hot to paint today, and I really missed not painting. So I hope to make up for that tomorrow.
With the moon past full, we've taken out all the lettuce and I'll plant some rugghetta seeds tomorrow morning. It's time to put in more lettuce, and give it a couple of weeks to come into its own. The red onions continue to grow next to the lettuce, and we'll pull them out and braid them soon. In the meantime, Roy waters nights and mornings and we pretty much lay low during the middle of the day, for the temperatures climb almost to 100 degrees. Welcome to Italia in the summer time.
A breeze greets me outside the front door this morning, but today is hot. I can tell it will be a hot day by the weight of the air as I move about the garden. (Hot to me these days means over 90 degrees.) Tia and Monique and Nicole will arrive later to look at the ceramics and the garden. So we move about, manicuring this and that. Roy and I move the pieces of the wooden storeroom to the back of the house, where he will stain them. He has inventoried the whole lot, and we even have a few extra pieces.
I love the space at the back of the house. It will work out very well for us, even after the little room has been constructed against one of the walls of the house.
Felice stops by, and checks out the tomatoes. I meet him in the lavender garden, and point up to the fig tree, whose leaves now provide sweet shade for his bench. He slowly walks up to sit on the long slab of stone, and I yearn for a photo of him there, but he does not want one taken of him. Some day I'll take one when he does not mind. In the meantime, I will keep the image of him in my mind, sitting there wearing his immaculate short sleeved plaid shirt, with his cap in his hand, looking across at the tomatoes, his eyes full of delight.
Roy is sidelined by the irrigation system, hooking up two more roses on the path between the door to his "office" and the steps to the upper garden. With a few more fittings, we will be able to lay down nursery cloth and gravel. Now I have a better idea of what kind of tiles I want to design for the outdoor sink surround. They will be grotesques, of course, very elaborate and colorful ones, to play off the more formal green and grey of the garden. Soon I will mock up the template. I will need about twenty tiles. The design will come...
We have a number of very special guests arriving in September: Cousin Cherie and Peter, Michelle Berry and Ann and Jack Murphy. So I'll put a marker in my subconscious to get the tiles finished and installed by then. That will give me about two months. I think I can do it. I know I can!
Just before Tia arrives, I take a look at the photos we took the other day in Rome. The exquisite panels of grotesques feature an interesting flower and leaf. Upon closer scrutiny, I realize that the flower and the plant is the passion vine! So I will study the vine we have right outside my studio.
There are no flowers on the vine this year, but I think it is an interesting coincidence. When first looking closely at the design in the museum, I realized that the flower was painted with its "back" facing out. And the closer I looked, the more I realized the cup shape of the flower was the same as those examples of our vine.
When the girls arrive, the ceramics are all laid out in the loggia and in the studio. It is good to show them to people. With each plate, I become more proficient and with each piece I want to attempt more complex designs.
The sink installation is just about complete in the studio, and Roy agrees to put the original brass fitting back on it, instead of the more practical Gardena orange plastic one. I only use it for water for the plant seedlings or for water for the paints, so whatever trickle comes out is fine with me. Instead of installing the bottom cup of the ceramic sink, he uses an antique roof coping tile, one that takes up the entire remaining space from the sink to the gravel floor. It looks caratteristico, and that's fine with me. Bravo, Roy!
Later in the day, I help Roy to move all the pieces of the prefab room behind the house to the cement pad. Roy sets up a table and sawhorses and starts the tedious process of coating the wood with two coats of stain. When it dries, and only then, can we do the assembly.
Now that Roy likes working behind the house, I suggest that he consider doing a kind of switch with the little building in the lavender garden. We can store some of the garden things there, and he can move his workbench and some tools to this room right behind the house instead. He'll see what works best for him, but at least we have an interesting option.
I paint two more little Mugnano plates, and Roy scares me with the idea that he wants me to paint signature plates for all the towns around. I tell him he can take a plate to the Pro Loco (chamber of commerce) of the different towns to see if they will buy them, but that's not really the kind of work I'm anticipating. I applaud his resourcefulness, just the same. Perhaps he's been inhaling the fumes of the stain...
My lesson is cancelled for tomorrow and I'm really disappointed. I need to do more research on grotesques before I paint any more plates or tiles. So unless I can come up with something I'll go back to my writing projects and try to sell a story or two.
After ten PM, I sit at the desk in our room and look out to see the moon. It is hardly visible, hidden by a cloud, and then I look out a while later and it is right there looking at me. The cicadas work overtime in the trees on Pia's property, and it is cool enough that I turn the fan off in our room.
Earlier, Roy reminded me that we live in a village of farmers. Each morning, we are awakened by the sounds of farmers tending their land in the valley below us. This is different than what we think of as being a farmer in America.
Farms there are remote, and people live out in the countryside, surrounded by their land. Here, people of our village live right on top of one another, or side by side in attached medieval buildings, and take their apes, or tractors or walk down to the valley below to tend their plots of land. Everyone who lives here full time is a farmer. I don't count people like Lore and Alberto, who use this as a little weekend getaway from Rome.
The moon is still there, like a giant egg yolk suspended on an invisible chain. Now its surrounded by a rim of haze. I hear the sound of a train in the far distance and the sound trails off until the cicadas alone break the silence of this lovely night.
Sofi wakes us up twice in the middle of the night, throwing up. We spring out of bed like a jack-in-the-box, rushing to her side. She is really not well. These days, her eyes look big and dark, perhaps because she has just had her summer haircut, and looks so little. Her eyes are another story.
I am unable to get back to sleep, and she is clearly not well, so I lift her up on the bed and Roy is not happy. But I think she is really ill, so want her by my side. She sits up just looking out the window. Ten minutes later, she is back in her bed. After getting sick again at around 3 AM, I take her outside. She has little strength, and her body shakes and shakes. Early in the morning, we get ready to take her to the vet. We have no idea what is wrong with her.
I fix the batter for the zucchini fritters early, because it needs to sit for at least four hours. We are expected for pranzo at Tia and Bruce's at l'una, and our zucchini fritters are going to be the appetizer for ten people. So they'll have to be plopped into hot girasole (sunflower) oil at noon. If Sofi does not get better right away, I'll stay at home with her today, sending Roy with the fritters to Tia's.
Doctor's hours start at 9:30, and we are there before 9:15. For once we are the first to arrive. But no one arrives until almost 10 AM, and one of the assistants tells us that hours start at 10. When I show him the sign, he raises his shoulders and tells me it is wrong. He acts as though, "Who reads the sign, anyway?"
Another doctor has the key, and about an hour after we arrive, we are ushered into a waiting room. Giuglio sees us, and just as he starts to look Sofi over, the phone rings and he picks it up. He does this twice, including once while he's trying to put an I V in her, and it upsets me so that when the phone rings again I warn him not to answer it. All the yakking adds to Sofi's nervousness. And Roy and I are so squeamish that we take turns holding her. I look up at Roy when the I V is going in and I think he's going to faint. I just hold her close and we both shake together.
It's been determined that she'll get an I V for about half an hour, while we sit with her, as well as two injections, one an antibiotic and one to stop her from throwing up. By the time we are through and go to pay, it is....€20! This amazing price is probably one tenth of what it would be in the U S. And the quality of her care here is excellent.
There is no way we can take her to Tia's, with ten people for pranzo and two very energetic dogs. So Sofi and I stay at home and Roy will take a big tray of zucchini fritters, which I prepare on top of the outdoor stove in the loggia as soon as we arrive home.
Sofi and I eat roast chicken, one of the things I can eat without shaking up my stomach these days. For the next two days, in addition to not being able to eat fried foods, rich sauces, crunchy vegetables, carbonated beverages or alcohol, I will not be able to eat fruit or vegetables at all. So today I help myself to fruit, but mostly Sofi and I stay in the kitchen relaxing.
I move the potter's wheel to the kitchen table and the stool inside, and work on a new large plate, with an angel in the center and grotesques around the edges. When the weather cools off, we move outside, and by then Roy has arrived home, with a plate of lamb for me and a rundown of the activities at his pranzo.
Sofi is doing much better. She follows me from room to room but mostly sleeps, and after we move back inside, has enough energy to throw one of her toys around the room.
Roy works behind the house staining more of the panels, but this is a big job. So he'll do more of it tomorrow. We hope it won't rain tonight. The panels are all lined up behind the house, drying.
We go up to bed early, but there is a whole crew of people on the street, having a good time. They seem to be congregating right below our house. The voices are not familiar, and a couple of them are very loud voices. It's a warm night, and the villagers love to walk outside on warm nights. Bless them. They have a right to this wonderful village, too.
I walk downstairs, with the intent of walking over to the edge of the terrace to see what all the noise is all about, but see Roy coming inside, and he tells me that a few women are sitting on our bench on the path, but most of the noise has stopped.
But when I walk back upstairs the noise starts again. Now there are more people, including young children, taking a walk.
I return back downstairs, turn on the outside lights, and walk over to the edge of the terrace. Esther, Erica, Francesco are there, as well as others, all sitting on our little stone benches. We bid each other "buona serra" and I return upstairs. The moon is still pretty full, more like a round oval, and its color is a bright pinky yellow. I'll close the front window and we'll nod off soon to dreamland.
Today is Terence's 35th birthday. We seem so very far away on days like this.
The noise of a generator drones on outside our window. Or is it a tractor? It sounds more like a tractor, roughhousing with the land in the valley. I remember a friend telling us about her bad experience renting a house in Tuscany one summer. The villa was located in the countryside, and "What nerve! We were woken up in the morning by sounds of a tractor outside our window! Didn't they know we're trying to sleep?"
We had to stifle our laughter.
I take my little hand fan with me to church this morning, and inside several other women join me. We are like butterflies, fluttering our fans while the mass proceeds. Elena tells me the expression is "airea forte!" or a lack of breeze. Don Ciro is late arriving, and moves through his homily with his eyes all but closed, as usual. Is this to avoid the knowledge that not everyone pays attention? The church is full, with many summer residents.
This weekend is an important one for Mugnano. There was a wedding yesterday; the bride was the daughter of Nicola, one of Roy's confraternity fellows. We see two lovely trees decorated with pale pink roses flanking the front door of the father's house, next to Nando's when we walk up to church. We encounter Luigina as she walks back from the fountain after watering the plants at the bus stop. She is the one who tells us about the wedding.
We know Nicola to say "buon giorno" to, but that's about it. So all the commotion and beeping of car horns yesterday around 5PM was about that. The wedding took place outside Mugnano. Elena was invited, but was not sure of the town. Nicola is from Mugnano, and is Carlo and Giovanna's brother. We see Nicola when we walk back from church, and wish him "Auguri!".
Don Francis' plans have changed. He is having car trouble, and will arrive by train tomorrow without Cornelio. Fa niente. He will be here for pranzo and we hope will stay for a few days. We invite Lore and Alberto for drinks on Tuesday night, and they look forward to seeing our dear friend then.
I spend several hours working on painting the pitcher for Nicole, and don't finish. It will take a few more hours before it is ready for the oven. I do most of the work inside in the cool air during the day. It is too hot to spend time outside.
Tiziano arrives after 6PM to help me to write a thank you note to the Director of the Museo Nazionale at Piazza Venezia, and to help me figure out why we can't read the document she forwarded.
I did not know that when using the search engine Google, if you click on the word Images, you will see photographs of what you want to look up. He helps guide me to open up the page that was forwarded incorrectly, and yes, I am able to find a number of grotesques. My previous search did not come up with these sites.
Once we are through using the computer, we return to the terrace and Roy joins us. He has spent a lot of time today staining the pieces of the magazzino behind the house. It will take many hours to stain all the pieces twice, first with the colored stain and then with the sealer, before he is ready to put it together.
Tiziano draws a little snail, or lumaca, for me. I am going to make a plate for him, really a coat of arms with the lumaca featured in the design. Tiziano told us that the people of Mugnano are called lumacese because they are so slow and crawl into their "shells" when criticized. Is it strange that I think this is a complement? I love the slow life here, and with each day that passes, I withdraw instead of getting into conflicts with people. Conflicts seem so unnecessary. I believe my family problems have brought me to this conclusion. It feels safer to think this way. And safety is my goal, at least for now.
Sofi is having a great day. Her appetite is back, and she runs around the property joyfully, wagging her tail at each of us even more than usual. Roy thinks she is thanking us for taking good care of her yesterday. It is so good to see her back to her old self.
But Roy is sad today. He calls Terence a couple of times to wish him a happy day, and finally connects. He wishes he could spend more time with his son and his family, as do I. Days like these are especially sad ones, but we made this choice to live so far away, and have our November trip to the Bay Area to look forward to. Terence sounds happy. That pleases us so. We then call Uncle Harry, who is doing pretty well, and he is another person we miss a great deal. We'll see Harry and Elaine also on our trip in November.
The night ends as I put my drawings away and Roy goes to bed first to read. The cool night air lulls us to sleep. On these summer nights, I have only to put my head on the pillow to fall asleep.
With neighbors' tractors chugging away in the valley at 7 AM, I know it's time to face the day. The sky is hazy, but I am sure the day will be hot. There is excitement in the air, and I look forward to it all.
I have not made bread in a while, so start some ciabatta and add fresh rosemarino to the dough. There is a temporary glitch in today's bread-making. Bread, while it is rising, does not want to be in the path of moving air. I have just about finished all the risings of the bread and am ready to put it into the oven after sprinkling water on it, but for some reason turn on the fan at the back of the room. The bread instantly deflates. Fa niente. Ciabatta is supposed to be pretty flat, anyway.
By this time, it is close to noon and with all the cooking in the kitchen the room is hot. The shutters are closed, and Sofi and I are starting to drag. Roy is busy painting more of the wood framing for the magazzino in the shade behind the house.
Don Francis calls, and his train is just pulling into the Attigliano station. So Roy drives off to pick him up. Sofi is over the moon when she sees him. She remembers him and can't wait to get hugs from him, Hasn't it been a year since his last visit? She absolutely knows who he is.
It is great to see Don Francis, and these days he sports a wonderfully elegant beard, almost pencil thin and immaculately groomed. He can't wait to change into his shorts, and we sit around in the kitchen for most of the afternoon, eating slowly and enjoying stories. He always has such good stories to tell.
Artusi's ancient recipe of sausages and grapes, cooked in our outdoor kitchen, are delicious, or at least they tell me so. I am on a no fruit and no vegetable diet for two days, and in addition to no sauces and no fried foods, and no carbonated beverages and no alcohol, I make do with pasta and grated cheese.
I ask Don Francis about Don Ciro's homily two weeks ago. I tell him I think it was all about mosquitos (zanzari). He breaks out in raucous laughter, for he knows the homily referred to the gospel, and literally about zizzania, which is a weed that looks like wheat. When farmers wanted to cheat someone, they would add in zizzania, for it looked like wheat, but would not produce grain. My thought was that "things are not always what they seem", and he agrees that that is one way of looking at it.
A conversation with him is always an education, and today he takes advantage of the language fun by adding a new word. Now we speak about garbage. He tells us that lo sfacio is a junkyard. But in our Italian dictionary the closest I can find is spasciare, which means "to go to pieces" or "to smash" or "to lose one's figure". He tells us that spazzaturo is garbage and a spazzaturalo is a garbage collector. All those "z's" give the Italians a sense of levity, I suppose, and a word with a "z" in it is fodder for a good story.
Well, the big news is that Archbishop Levada is expected to take Pope Benedict's old job as the Dean of Cardinals! The two men worked very closely for many years on doctrinal subjects. What a wonderful step for this highly regarded bishop of San Francisco. We hear stories about Isernia, and about Don Francis' parish there. He is still associated with Isernia, even though his present post is with the Council of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D C. His mission is interfaith dialogue with Eastern religions. So of course we want to know how the Catholic Church is working with people of the Islamic faith.
And we also commiserate about our mutual quests to obtain Italian citizenship. He happily tells us that all he needs is his grandfather's proof of naturalization to obtain his. Roy and I look at each other in "here we go again" expressions and explain our endless quest for the same information about Roy's grandfather. Even with his passport, we are unable to uncover the information regarding when he became an American citizen. So we wish Don Francis luck, and move on to another topic.
The weather reaches 40 degrees, and Don Francis takes a "dolce fa niente", or afternoon nap, for a few hours. I try to come up with a good but simple meal for tonight and we agree on: prosciutto and melon, pasta simplice with some of our freshly roasted pepperoni, cold chicken tonnato, heated zucchini fritters, chocolate cake and granita. Surely, there will be lots of red wine.
The table is set, and Tiziano arrives first, with a torta made by his mother of fresh plums from their garden. It looks beautiful. A few minutes later Don Luca arrives, and we sit down to eat, with Don Francis on my left and Don Luca on my right. Tiziano and Roy are seated on either side of the priests.
The meal is a success, with only one Italian food law almost breached. I pass out sliced homemade rosemary bread with the pasta, and don't understand why it is left on the table between Don Francis and Tiziano, until I ask if anyone wants a piece. Once I realize my mistake, I cringe in a kind of horror, but everyone takes it in stride. As I pass each dish to Don Luca, he takes it and serves Don Francis before taking anything himself. I think this is so sweet and quite amazing, until I hear Don Luca's story.
Don Luca has been our parish priest (well, he is in charge of all the parishes in Bomarzo and Mugnano), for approximately four years. Before that, he attended the seminary near Assisi after a couple of years in business. He was also engaged for a short while. When he graduated from the seminary, Don Luca was assigned as an assistant priest in Vitorchiano. One month later, however, he was given the position he now has in Bomarzo/Mugnano. Evidently the priest who was to take the position had a last minute emergency, and the bishop had faith in Don Luca. So he has only been out of the seminary for four years. Don Francis's position parallels that of a monsignor, so once I hear Don Luca's story, I understand the attention and respect given to Don Francis by this young priest.
Don Luca really likes Don Ciro, one of the priests who perform masses in Mugnano, and tells us so. I agree, and tell him that when he gives his homily, he does it dreamily, with his eyes closed. "What do I do?" Don Luca asks. So I put my fingers together as if I am fidgeting, and he laughs. He tells me he'll stop, and I tell him no, that it's a good thing to do. He also turns his gold ring around and around while he speaks. The next time he gives a homily at our church, I'm sure he'll look at us. It is fun to have this secret with him.
So it's time to characterize all the other local priests: Don Bruno who has three sets of glasses, and places them around where he can find them when he needs them, is first. He speaks softly during his homilies until almost putting the parishioners to sleep and then raises his voice almost to a yell. And there is Don Mauro, who is always smiling. Don Luca likes hearing about all this, as a kind of fly on the wall.
Before it gets dark, we take Don Luca out to meet Lulu and Vito and Gina, and as he walks back toward the house compliments Roy on how beautiful the garden looks. I admit we take it for granted. Earlier Roy and Don Francis laughed about my "easy to maintain Italian garden". Roy rolled his eyes.
Tiziano and I really want to talk with Don Luca about our project, researching San Liberato. We tell him what we know, and he tells us that he does not know much more than we do about the saint, but that we should go to the library in Bagnoregio, where the seat of our parish is located, for more information. That building is closed to the public, but he agrees to write a letter to gain us admittance. So we are inching forward on our quest.
He quite enjoys hearing details of our research about the saint, and Roy tells him that one night we may sneak into the church and paint San Liberato's face black. All the legends tell us that our patron saint is from Africa. The statue in our church that we parade around on feast days, however, is white. And then there is that bust of a very different black San Liberato that sits in the sacristy...
Don Luca tells us when he leaves that we can invite him back for meals even when Don Francis is not here. We'd like to get to know him better, so just may take him up on that.
The alarm wakes us early, and I have the preliminary symptoms of a headache. Since one of the reasons for this journal is to document the history and chronology of my headaches, I sadly note that this is going to be a headache day.
I can't take anything for it yet, because this morning we're driving to Terni for my ecografia, or sonogram, a procedure that has taken five weeks to set up. So we leave Don Francis sleeping and Sofi guarding the house, and arrive at the address early. Approximately thirty minutes after the appointed hour, I am ushered into a cool dark room with one man sitting behind a desk, writing on a computer facing me.
A woman older than me beckons me, her red hair piled on top of her head in a 1940's style. She ushers me over to the examining table and tells me to lie down upon it. She sits to my left and, while taking the familiar probe and covering the top with gel, she faces the computer and talks with the man as though he is behind a screen.
Once she rubs the probe against different areas of my stomach, she calls out the information to the man, who responds and then tells her what he is writing. They are a kind of creative writer/art director team, and before I know it my procedure is finished, and the little black and white photos are handed to the man. I am told to wait in the sala di attesa (waiting room), and less than ten minutes later we walk out of the building with an envelope.
One half hour later we are at home having coffee with Don Francis, and soon after that we are on our journey, today to Bolsena to Santa Cristina to show Don Francis the site of the original Corpus Domini miracle, and then on to Marta, on Lake Bolsena, for a fish pranzo.
On the way, we stop at a one thousand year old church just outside of Montefiascone, named San Flaviano. This marvel of a church is one we never tire of exploring.
At Bolsena, Roy waits outside with Sofi, and Don Francis and I enter the church. It has only been a few weeks since Roy and I visited here, but today Don Francis stops at the paintings on the walls, and gives me the special treat of explaining the religious significance of many of the paintings. Just before we leave, he explains the one large painting depicting St. Gregory (I think it's St. Gregory) of Padua's sermon to the fishes. He wanted to preach to the people, but they had no interest in listening to him, so he is seen in the painting giving his homily to a school of fish, which rise out of the water as if to listen to him.
We drive on to Marta, after circumnavigating the lake, and on the last leg of the drive Roy tells Don Francis that the last time we did this we vowed we'd not drive on this road again. Most of it is strada bianca (unpaved road), a very rough strada bianca at that. On our left, here and there, are people standing or swimming in the lake, their little nooks under shade trees a kind of private retreat. I suppose people arrive early in the morning for such prime locations.
Otherwise, there are beaches, namely Capodimonte, where people can sit crammed onto small stretches of black volcanic sand. The lake is supposed to be the largest lake in Italy. It surely is beautiful.
We have reservations in Marta at Gino al Miralago, and Sofi is welcomed there. We sit outside near the lake, and I enjoy eating Scoglio, a sweet white fleshy fish. Roy and Don Francis eat fried fish, and we are all happy with our meals. Unfortunately my headache increases by the minute, and we return home right after the meal, where I take an ice pack up to our room to sleep for a few hours.
I wake up in time to fix a simple cena for Don Francis and Roy, and just as we are through, Lore an Alberto arrive for a visit. It is good to see them.
Since Don Francis' visit will end tomorrow morning, Lore wants him to see her new house, so we walk them home. On the way, we take a detour to show him the new mattone on the square and walk up to the tower. Then it's on to Lore and Alberto's for a tour.
We walk home and sit outside under the stars, and these visits are ones I treasure. For a few hours, we talk about the Catholic Church, and about Don Francis. He is a Canon, which is the designation right below Bishop. In his role at the Council of Catholic Bishops headquartered in Washington, D.C., his mission is interfaith dialogue with people of Eastern Religions. I did not know until tonight, but there is a person at the Council who is assigned to the Orthodox church, one assigned to the Protestant Church, one assigned to the Jewish faith, and Don Francis is assigned to the Eastern Religions.
That means that he advises the Bishops on all things relating to interfaith dialogue with the Islamic and Hindu and Buddhist faiths. He is supremely qualified. If he were to dream up a job utilizing his background, he could not have come up with a better position.
We speak some of Archbishop Levada of San Francisco, who is going to take over the former Cardinal Ratzinger's old job at the College of Cardinals. Don Francis thinks highly of him. Roy and I can't help but wonder if Don Francis will be transferred to the Vatican. Since he now owns property and a little house in Isernia, in the Molise south of Rome, he may just find himself here more than in the U S very soon. We'd love to see more of him.
Silently, I am reminded of my father's brilliant intellect, and of the hours spent with him while growing up, learning unusual things. Don Francis is a teacher and inspirer, and I feel close to the memory of my father when spending time with this remarkable priest.
We rise early today. We turn the living room into a temporary chapel for a short while, while Don Francis hears our confessions. We still are not ready to take our confessions with Don Luca, and love Don Francis. He adds a special character to our private sessions. We are so fortunate to be able to call him a good friend.
Before he leaves for the train to take him back to Isernia, we load him up with a bag of nocciole (hazelnuts). Roy takes him to the train station in Attigliano, while I put finishing touches on the little pitcher for Nicole. Now she and Marissa will have matching pitchers, differed by their initial and the color of the hair of the figures on each piece. When Roy returns, he photos each completed piece and packs them up in the car.
We arrive in Guardea and the morning is beautiful in the forested area where my teacher's studio is located. She looks over my completed pieces, and agrees to fire them this next week. I think she is pleased with my progress.
I work on a new tile, one with yellow leaves, and learn a new technique. We decide how I'll finish the plate I brought to her partly finished, and she sends me home with drawing homework. The time flies by, and it takes Roy walking to the studio and calling out to us for us to descend out of dreamland.
My homework includes lots of drawing on paper, mostly of shapes and also of the human body. The forms I am to draw freehand are called scarimbocci. I feel completely free, without a worry of whether my work will be good or not.
We make reservations for the gnocci festival for this weekend, and hope that Duccio and Giovanna will join us. We will attend at least three times this year, reserving a table to make the evenings more festive and relaxed.
Guardea is the place where Roy was given his Italian name, Dino, last year. He called to reserve a table and the person taking the reservation could not understand him, so we arrived to find a table for Dinos. Roy added an apostrophe and from then on has become Dino. Often he gives that name when reserving something or having to leave his name.
I am not feeling well, still having the vestiges of yesterday's migraine. Yes, I admit it was a migraine. So the three of us sleep for three hours in the afternoon. Sofi is always happy to be right near me on her little wicker bed on the floor.
I take out an interesting book, one that I bought ages ago and never opened, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. The book consists of a drawing course and exercises, and now I have an acute interest in the human form. I am painting figures on ceramic plates in the center, with characteristic grotesque designs around the edges. So it is an important step to learn the human form.
The book gives me a first exercise of drawing a face. It should take about twenty minutes. I ask Roy to sit and model for me. Buy he is a terrible subject, wanting to turn and twist his head and tell jokes. So I ask him to bring down the mirror he uses to shave with, and do a self-portrait instead of my face. The exercise is very interesting. I know my face so well, especially after putting on makeup for so many years. The result is frightening. It is as if I am looking in a mirror.
So many thoughts of childhood creep up into my consciousness. My father was a great mentor with respect to learning and especially art. On Sundays in wintertime, we'd visit museums. I also remember watching him draw, making egg shapes and connecting them and so I learned to do that. Just a little of this, a little of that, and fifty years later I'm remembering the moments as if they were yesterday.
I want to do all I can to encourage Marissa and Nicole to dabble in art and music. Don't know how much help I'll be so far away, but perhaps when they begin to grow we'll dabble together.
Michelle comes by for a beer, and is a great encourager of my painting. She loves the studio, and thoughtfully gives me a cd of an art catalogue, thinking there might be some designs there I can use. When she leaves, we have a message from Lili. We are invited by Giada to the castle at Ruspoli in Vignanello on Friday night. Sounds like fun.
Duccio and Giovanna will join us in Guardea on Saturday, and we'll have a tableful of friends. Here we are again, thinking there's nothing on our schedule and all of a sudden we're booked up for the weekend. We've also told Duccio we'll go with them to Todi to hear Julianno play music on Sunday.
We know that today will again be very hot, so start the process of putting up our tomatoes early in the outdoor kitchen. By 11AM we have finished, with about ten mostly large jars ready for winter. We don't really like our Italian tomatoes, other than the San Marzanos, which are fleshy, have few seeds and delicious even on their own.
So this fall we'll buy more heirloom seeds, and grow only heirlooms and San Marzanos next year. Our heirlooms are not close to being ready, and we don't have all that many plants, but enough for some wonderful summer meals, and more for jars of tomatoes for the winter. With our assembly line in place, we can finish the whole process in a little over two hours, so about once a week we pick our tomatoes and process them. Today we processed our third batch.
When we're through, we drive to Attigliano to the outdoor market, and pick up some fresh fruit, but cannot find the rich cherries we've been devouring anywhere. So we settle for apricots and grapes. It's time to start eating summer peaches, and our first peaches from our tree will be ripe in a few weeks. That will be exciting.
I remember eating peaches from the tree in San Rafael of the house we rented just before we moved, and they were ready all at once. If that is so, we have excellent recipes for peach jam. I look forward to standing over the kitchen sink, looking out over the valley while eating a fresh peach, the juices running down my arms. Is there any better way to eat a fresh peach?
An email arrives from Sarah Hammond, hoping that we'll post more frequently. And I thought I was boring everyone. We really will post photos this week. Right, Roy? The timing of her email is perfect. I remember her so well at our kitchen sink, laughing with me as we ate fresh peaches here late one June. One of these days she'll be back. We look forward to that, and hope she'll bring Alush with her.
By now, the ceramics are being finished at the rate of almost one a day. Along with all the other things in our day, this is quite an undertaking. But I am consumed by the activity of painting while listening to violin music, and now am also drawing. The drawing book I started to study yesterday is really effective. I have just drawn a madonna and child from my imagination, and now want a big plate to paint it on. I'd still like to surround it in grotesques, so we'll return to Deruta in the next week for more plates.
I read that by drawing, one can see things as they really are. As another exercise I draw a kitchen chair, and am surprised at how realistic it looks. I am really encouraged, and feel as if I'm sucking up all my drawing and painting energy as if inhaling through a straw. I am that obsessed with it. Tonight I paint a heart-shaped plate with the twins dancing on it. I am not sure I like the faces I paint, but the bodies come out quite well.
Today is really oppressive, so we stay inside for most of it. And tonight it is so hot that the fans don't really work well. When opening up the shutters in our bedroom, I lean out and turn my body around to look up at the stars. Really, we should be sitting outside until Midnight, enjoying the night air. Instead, I catch up on some writing and climb into bed just as the 28th becomes the 29th. Dorme bene.
I stayed up past 1 am updating the journal last night, so sleep in 'till almost nine. By this time, Roy has been up for more than two hours. At 7 AM, he drove to Orsolini in Attigliano, to pick up cement bases for the little magazzino. Now he's painting the top stain on all the panels.
He seems to have been working on this project for ten days, each day spending at least a couple of hours at the back of the house staining the many panels. Will it be like a house of cards when up? Surely not. It will probably be more like a brick fortress. No wonder "do it yourself" or "fai da te" projects are less costly here, as well as in the U S. Roy wisely took the kit apart and made sure that all the pieces were intact before beginning the project. I think the project has more meaning for him now that he'll use it mostly as a workshop, storing most things in the garden shed.
Roy wants a tuna and ceci bean salad for pranzo, the recreation of a salad he ate in Montefalco a month or so ago. There is a cookbook of Umbrian trattorias that just came out, and we think the recipe is in the book. We want to purchase the book any way, so will put that on our list when roaming the Umbrian countryside. In the meantime, we have all the ingredients: celery (sedano) from the garden, tuna, a can of ceci beans, an onion also from the garden, vinegar, olive oil and a few herbs.
I'm late watering my morning flowers, and decide to groom a pot of white petunias and put it in my studio. White and grey flowers are wonderful in summer. For some reason, they are not bothered by the heat. Once I deadhead and take off the dead leaves, the pot looks spindly, but we will feed everything tonight before going out with concime universale. Hopefully, some nutrients will help our plants during these oppressive days and the flowers will thrive in their new location, out of the line of direct sun.
Today may be the hottest day of the summer so far. Roy takes a nap in the afternoon, to stay out of the heat. I'm so intrigued by my new drawing lesson book, that I draw for a few hours. One exercise is so exciting I have to email Tosca to ask her what it means...
When I was quite young, I noticed a large mirror sitting on the floor against a wall. I sat on the rug in front of it with a book, and noticed how interesting things looked in the mirror upside down. From that moment, I began to teach myself how to read upside down. And to this day, I can read upside down as quickly as I can right side up.
During working years, this talent proved very beneficial to me. When in someone else's office, I could easily read everything on their desk. If it was a boss's office, I could read things about me and have advance warnings of how to react. If it was a client or potential client's office, I could see what they were working on. On occasion, I could see competitive information. Perhaps I could have made a great spy.
Today, there is an exercise consisting of looking at a drawing placed upside down on the page and redrawing it, without turning it around. But as I look at the drawing for the first time, the details of it are so clear that when it is time to draw it, my pencil fairly flies over the page.
I email Tosca, who is a psychologist as well as an artist, asking her what this all means. She responds, " You have a lot in common with Leonardo who wrote backwards etc. Some people have unusual wiring in their brains that give them certain artistic and other skills. For now read up on Leonardo !"
Interesting. I have been a fan of Leonardo's drawings for years. At one time, we even made a pilgrimage to Vinci to see where he was born. I can hear my father now, saying, "Learn EVERYTHING!" And so many pieces of my life are fitting together that it takes my breath away. We have several books on Leonardo and his life. So the drawing will stop for the moment as I'll digress to see what I can learn about this strange artist and what traits I might have in common with him. Not for a moment do I consider myself in synch with this master, or the beneficiary of any of his talents.
Tonight we pick up Lili and take her to the castello in Vasanello for what we think will be cena. Giada Ruspoli invited us to a dinner there tonight, and we look forward to seeing her again. We stop at Lili's for a drink before leaving, and learn that Giada is in her shop in Vignanello and may not be able to come. We are surprised by the turn of events, because we thought we were going to Giada's castello in Vignanello.
The castello in Vasanello looks smaller than Ruspoli, but what do we know? We walk through the gate into an enormous entryway, and are met by women dressed in golden and deep blue and rose colored damask gowns of Renaissance style and headdresses wound around pearls and resting on foreheads. I can close my eyes and see guards standing in stiff uniforms at attention in the empty space, just waiting, and hear the clicks of shoes on the rough pavement, Roy leads us, as if he knows where he is going, down a narrow hallway.
The long winding space appears formed by someone's large hands into a narrow and visually confusing corridor. Walls are uneven and very tall, with frescoes of acanthus leaves far above. I am Alice in Wonderland behind the two others, not knowing what to expect next and then, and then, they are bumping their heads on the top of the doorframe,
When it is my turn to reach the door, I stand my regular height and the door is a perfect fit. I walk slowly down hundreds-of-year-old stone steps, worn and worn by time and circumstance and am guided by tall box hedges that slope gently down on either side and curve in a dance with the steps. "Dance with me, I want my arms about you..."
Below and all around me now is a dreamscape. The shadows of light and shade are more pronounced to me than the others, for my eyes are seeing things through a new lens. This craft of drawing and painting freezes images until the focus puller of my eyes stops and each thing I see is rich with color and texture. Huge trees loom above us, and are deftly lit from below as if we are on a stage set. Ancient urns standing erect look down at us from ancient walls. It appears that we are here for a wine sampling from Falesco winery, and the €10 per person will consist of snacks that complement the wines. That's fine with us.
The sound of a fabulous saxophone draws us to an upper garden, where a lone sax player soulfully renders old standards. A guitarist standing next to him provides extra beats, but it is the saxophonist who steals the show. His moody selections keep time with the trees, whose sounds are like a snare drum brush, softly shaking the leaves and drawing us closer with each breath.
Italian faces always fascinate me. They are so similar, yet so distinctive. Almost everyone here tonight is bronzato (very tan), except, perhaps, the Marquesa who owns the castello, and later speaks to us in impeccable English. While we stand around, a family appears behind us; a couple with three children, all girls. Two of them appear to be twins, and the mother tells us they are "copia"', not "identica" and Roy proudly tells her we are Nonno and Nonna of gemelli who are "copia" as well. These girls appear tiny and delicate at seventeen months.
We are among a group of perhaps 120 people, and when we are seated, Lili hopes out loud, "Let us sit away from all the noisy children." Just then, the couple and their three young girls are ushered to our table. We save seats for Giada and her friend, so at least there is a little space between us.
I admit I fall for the older sister, who is so adult when she sits upright on the white plastic chair to my right that I give her my wine tasting bag, placing it over her shoulders and tying it in back, so that she can have a bag all her own. She smiles sweetly up at me and the bag stays on her shoulders for at least five minutes. I think she is about five years of age.
I am very impressed with this young girl, who later takes her little sisters out to the grassy area between two banks of tables, leading them by the hand. She takes her big sister role very seriously. Her parents sit at the table, leaning heavily on the plastic backs of their chairs, exhausted. The little twins are full of energy. We are missing our little ones, who we are sure would have fun with these girls.
The wine is passable at best, and I am satisfied that I am drinking only water tonight. The food arrives on big plastic trays, with lots of antipasti to pass around. We have white plastic plates, plastic glasses, and packaged utensils accompanying paper napkins inside plastic sleeves. At least the atmosphere and the music have a sense of style about them.
We leave close to midnight, and park right near a lovely tall campanile adjacent to the castle, a restored tower that begs to be stared at. Earlier, we looked across at this structure, noticing the huge beams reinforcing the insides, and admiring the architecture. Walking silently on slate colored cobblestones while a breeze passes by, I am transported back several centuries. I imagine that there are no cars. The silence overwhelms me.
Today is the day Roy gets to put his workshop together. If you recall, it was first to be a magazzino (store room) for garden furniture, and now has been elevated to become Roy's own studio of sorts. If he plans things correctly, he'll have a workshop just for his projects behind the house, and everything else will be stored in the stone gardener's cottage in the lavender garden. Now that I have a ferro (steel) and glass studio of my own, can you blame him for wanting to upgrade his digs?
Roy awakes before the alarm goes off, and by 7:30 he's already sizing up the work to be done. Sofi and I join him just after 8 AM and for the next two hours Roy decides how the floorboards will be laid, then changes his mind, then pulls them all up and starts again. After a slow start and the front of the square is plumbed accurately, the rest of the tongue and groove floorboards fit together quickly. Sofi sits nearby patiently, happy to be near us, putting up with all the nailing noise without a murmur.
Roy works masterfully, but I can't seem to get excited about the project, except that when finished it will be a great work space for Roy. All the measuring makes me nervous. I am not a competitive type, and also get nervous at the thought that if he's not preciso at the very beginning, the boards will probably warp and he'll have a mess. A project of this type would be too stressful for me. I think he likes the methodical manner in which this will come together. I hope so.
Alberto rings the bell and is being sent as a messenger from Lore. She needs presemelo for something she is cooking. We have some growing in a planter by the front door, so give him a pair of forbice (scissors) and let him take whatever he wants. We'll pick up some more plants this next week. He asks us if we're going to Guardea tonight, and Roy forgets that we've already invited a tableful of folks, and tells them to be here at 7:30. We'll be happy to fit everyone in.
Wendy calls from Palermo to confirm their party for Ferragosto, and I have no idea what she is talking about. When I ask Roy he confirms that yes, we'll have a party to go to that weekend. I'd like to bring cocomero granita, but don't think they'll have the right freezer to keep it frozen while we eat the main course. So we'll come up with something else. Perhaps we'll see if we can rig up a portable freezer with ice packs. On a hot day, it's hard to beat that frosty dessert.
Overhead the sky looks menacing, with dirty grey clouds covering the horizon. Earlier, the sky looked clear, but the temperature rose to the low '40's yesterday, and today the air is very humid. So perhaps we'll have a real temporale, or thunderstorm, to clear the air. Speriamo.
Tony and Pat come by to use the phone. They have to cancel on us tonight, because of another commitment with the soccer club of their gardener. It is important to take good care of one's workers, and when invited to a social event, to make every effort to attend. We'll invite them another time. And promise to stop by early in the week for a swim. Now there is plenty of room at the table for Lore and Alberto. Things have a way of working out.
Claudio and Maria Antonietta both cancel for tonight, and we are down to six. So after we all pile in Duccio's van and zip along the windy roads of Alviano and the surrounding countryside, we arrive at Guardea and he finds a place to park right in front. Roy takes the lead and walks over to the plaza. Amazingly, he finds our table almost right away, in a lovely spot, even if it is too near the band. We are gently told that the band is just tuning up and will not play until 10 PM, so have plenty of time to eat and digest our meal before the wailing music begins.
As usual, the food and service are exceptional. We all eat gnocchi, after plates of the best bruschetta I've ever tasted. There are tiny pieces of sedano (celery) in the bruschetta mix, and perhaps that is the secret. We all order cocomero (watermelon) except for Duccio, who orders Pro Secco and biscotti. When the cocomero arrives, it is in huge chunks. There is so much to eat tonight that we are all glad that we did not order second courses.
Back at home, we pile out of the car and Duccio and Giovanna drive home while Roy gets Sofi and we all walk Lore and Albero to their house in the borgo. Everyone imaginable is out, and it takes us awhile to reach our destination, because Sofi is busy checking everyone and everything out.
We leave Lore and Alberto at the top of their steps and see Ivo and his wife and Vincenza and Augusto taking a walk around. Then we run into Marsiglia and Felice, who are walking home from the bench in front of Ernesta's. Felice looks as though he has already been sleeping. We bid them a fond "dorme bene" and return to our own house and turn on the fans to cool the air and get ready for bed.
We close the windows and shutters early, expecting the heat to continue. But there is not enough time to work on Roy's workshop before we walk up to mass. I am wondering if Don Luca will look down at us when saying his homily, or if he will even be here.
We arrive at an empty piazza at 9:15, and as usual, it takes until at least 9:25 for anyone to show up. Then at the stroke of 9:30, people emerge from every side street as if a gust of wind had blown them all in, and the church is instantly full.
So when we enter church, we encounter Anna, a red headed woman who was born in Mugnano but lives in Rome except for weekends in the summer time. She steps into the pew in front of us, and reverently kneels down right at Augusta's spot. Roy and I look at each other and prepare for a confrontation.
To Anna's right is the woman whose name we do not know, but who lately sits next to Augusta, and on her right is Giuseppa, who is Pepe the elder's wife. Rina arrives. Her regular spot at the end of the row in front of us is taken by Giuseppa on this day, but there is a place next to Roy. She wishes us a buon giorno and joins us. Then it happens...
The very devout Anna remains kneeling and prays with her head down directly in front of me, her decidedly carrot colored bob sitting like a halo on top of her head. The air is so still it is as if everyone has stopped in suspended animation. Augusta arrives, holding her little wallet in one hand.
She starts to step right into the spot where Anna is praying. Surely no one would think to sit in her seat. Just then, Anna feels someone breathing down upon her. She looks up, still on her knees in prayer, and takes a look at the very determined Augusta. The next thing we know, she stands up, takes her purse, and moves across the aisle, to sit with Silvana. Not a word is said. Roy and I can only look at each other in amazement. Augusta moves in and sits down in her regular spot as if nothing happened.
Behind us, Vincenza arrives, looking spectacular in a flowing long skirt and brown top with a v-neck. Her beautiful bronzed arms and face and neck have a glow about them. This is one lovely woman. She wants to know why we left Loredana and Alberto's last night just as they arrived. And then we ask her how long they stayed.
Until l'una! It is a good thing we left when we did. Lore is ever the impresario, and she certainly had interested people wanting to follow her every move. With more than a year's worth of construction finally completed in her house, she has plenty to be proud of.
Lore and Alberto arrive, and Vincenza moves over for Lore. Alberto sits against a back wall. Don Ciro arrives, and I worry that he will shoot me "a look" of acknowledgement when he gives his homily, and that he will not close his eyes. I am relieved that he probably does not know about my conversation last week with Don Luca about him. I love the way he closes his eyes, as if in meditation, while he speaks. And this does not change today.
After church, I see that Enzo is here alone, and ask about his father-in-law. He tells me that they are merely waiting for him to die. It is very sad. But the old man remains at home, and that is where he wants to be. Enzo passes us by on the way down the hill riding his tiny old motorino. He looks as if he is riding a child's bicycle, for he is so much larger than the bike. And he wears a black helmet, one that looks as if it belonged in WWII. We like Enzo very much. He is very caratteristico. We like his whole family, and miss not seeing Rosita and Tiziano this morning.
We walk home to a crying Sofia at the gate, and now she is happy that we are with her again, at least for most of today. Roy drives to Il Pallone, the lone supermarket for miles around that is open on Sundays, and it does a fabulous business. The manager is a marketing genius, but why don't other Italian supermarket people follow his lead?
Perhaps it is as Duccio says. If a stupid mother gives birth to stupid children, she keeps on giving birth. This is a loose translation of one of those modo de dire phrases, one that does not really translate. But you get the picture. The Italians do love their Sundays away from work.
Roy fixes a salad for himself made of cold cuts and potatoes and other things. It is a kind of a wurst salad, one that he ate often when stationed in the army in Germany as a young man. I cannot begin to attempt to challenge the ingredients. He then sits on the sofa in the kitchen with the tv controller, getting ready for the Formula 1 race, which will be telecast at any moment from Hungary.
Michael Schumacher, or "Schoomie", has "pole position", and Roy is excited to watch this droning sport, where grown men drive around and around the same track for as many as 70 laps as fast as they can. He won't admit it, but even he falls asleep now and then during the race. For Sofi and me, we are upstairs reading about Leonardo da Vinci and taking what we hope will be a long nap. It is extremely hot, and Roy and I have arranged to meet Duccio and Giovanna at 5:30 in their parking lot. So I look forward to a "dolce fa niente" or sweet nothing afternoon.
Michael Schumacher comes in 2nd in the race, followed close on his heels by his brother. But upstairs, Sofi and I enjoy some zzzz's.
Sofi stays to guard the property while Roy and I drive off to meet Duccio and Giovanna and Giuliano. Duccio drives once we reach their house in Bomarzo. We park at the lower lot in Todi, and for the first time take the funicular up to the town. It is quite easy to do this, and now I realize it's not worth all the gyrations we usually go through to find a parking space in there.
Todi is a beautiful town, although it is overpopulated with English-speaking residents. Property values are so high that only the wealthy can afford to live there. This weekend there is a wonderful arts festival, and we arrive for the last event of the festival. We are especially proud of Giuliano, for his name appears prominently on posters below the name of the singer, Pierfrancesco Poggi.
The show is a show of songs of Jacques Brel. Although tonight's lyrics are almost all in Italian, with the exception of a couple in French, we are able to figure out most of the lyrics. Pierfrancesco's performance is quite incredible, singing with such energy and animation that under the lights we see tiny drops of perspiration shoot out like a Rainbird in motion from his gyrating head. He can't resist inserting a couple of his own songs, and he has such a loyal following, that the audience roars with almost every breath.
I recall seeing the cabaret show, "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well.." in the early '70's in Boston, and the music is familiar. Giuliano does a marvelous job accompanying the singer on a beautiful Steinway. Just the two of them are on stage of this lovely theatre, which has been completely restored as if it were new.
Afterward, it is too late for a real meal, so we eat pizza at a restaurant with a terrace overlooking the countryside on the way back to the funicular. We drive back to Bomarzo to pick up our car and come home to see Sofi. With us is an important gift from Duccio and Giovanna: today's Corre Della Serra article on Tiziano and the Etruscan kilns in the Mugnano valley.
We end the month with a feeling of great anticipation. Tomorrow we will read the article about Tiziano and the Mugnano kilns in depth and will have much to write about. The headline reads, "Mugnano, the work of the emperor; here is the tile that was used for the Colosseum and the Pantheon".
The Mugnano land on which the archaeologist Tiziano's discoveries took place was owned by the mother of Marcus Aurelius, and is located below our house in the Tiber Valley! How's that for ancient land? We are very proud of Tiziano, Roy notices when viewing the photos in yesterday's newspaper article that they used a photo that he took one morning on a visit to one of the archeological spots that Tiziano is proudest of.
Mugnano is a very important village in historical terms. At its peak, around the first century after Christ, Mugnano was a town of more than 6,000 inhabitants. Now in wintertime, we have fewer than eighty full time residents. That number swells to about one hundred and fifty at the height of the summer season.
In the article, Stefano Bonori, the mayor, confirms that he is searching for money to put an archeological museum in the tower. We are counting on him to come through with the money. We live in a very important village, and it is certainly worthy of a little museum.
Back in the more mundane world, we work for most of the morning on Roy's workshop, and the twins and their grandmother watch from the fence up above on Porta Antica, Eduardo telling us that he thinks the little building is "carina". Sofi loves the building, especially since it sits up on blocks just high enough for her to scurry under.
We watch some of the news about the terrorist suspects arrested in Rome. It was just a matter of time before Italy would be dragged into the web of terror. For us in the countryside, we feel immune from most of the anxiety. We move about as usual, not anticipating a trip into Rome during summertime. We do take day trips, however, and know that bombings could take place anywhere at anytime. We're aware of the possibilities, but won't let it disrupt our daily lives.
On a lighter note, this just in...
" If the measure survives its final readings in the autumn, Italy's first Grandparents' Day will be held on October 2, which is also the Roman Catholic feast day of guardian angels.
The bill being considered by parliament in Rome would not create a new national holiday. But its sponsors, from the formerly neo-fascist National Alliance, hope Grandparents' Day will become a widely celebrated event, particularly in schools.
A recent government study found that 50% of Italian couples looked to their parents to supply what is known as babysitteraggio. Ugo Lisi, who spoke for the measure, said grandparents also "played a unique educational function, passing on skills, traditions and principles to young people".
He added that the stimulus that Grandparents' Day could give to the retail sector at a time of recession "really wouldn't do any harm".
Italy has the world's highest proportion of over-65s after Japan.
Senator Franco Pontone, who introduced the bill, said it was an attempt to "recognize the role of grandparents in the family and society". Mr Pontone is 78 and has two grandchildren. He did not say if he was expecting presents."
We see so many grandparents in our village taking care of their nipote (grandchildren), that it's not strange to us that these people are given a
special day. But I was not aware that there is just such a day in the U S. Are we that out of touch?
Roy wants to drive to Urbino and Pesaro tomorrow on a day trip to help me study grotesque ceramics. He calls Tiziano, who agrees to come up and feed Sofi at pranzo time. Much as we love to have Sofi with us, it is too hot, and she'll be more comfortable at home. We'll be out of the house at 7AM.
With Sofi's lunch prepared and waiting in the outdoor frigo, we say goodbye to her for the day and leave at 7 AM. Just as we are about to leave, Felice drops by for a once-over. "Tutto a posto" he assures us. Everything is just fine.
We drive up to Urbino on the E45, and reach our destination by 10 AM. On the way into the borgo, we pass a ceramics shop with grotesques painted on plates and cups and bowls. Yum, We stop to take a photograph, for it is by studying these photographs that I learn about the shapes and designs of these strange creatures, copying and painting them until I am adept at the curves and flourishes and subtle nuances of colors and shapes.
We reach the Palazzo Ducale, and approach the bookstore. A beautiful young woman answers us in very good English when we ask her who we should speak to about gaining permission to take photographs. She steps out from behind the counter, and with a flourish, guides us around the side of the huge building to a little door, where we are to meet with Dottoressa Vastano.
We are now at the back of this vast building, and when we reach the third floor, it appears we are also in the commune of Urbino. We have to wait for a minute at the door to speak with her, but this exercise is far less imposing than our adventure in Rome.
We introduce ourselves and she complies with our request immediately with a big smile, calling the museum and giving instructions that are relayed by phone and then by walkie-talkie to every guard in the building. We learn this last information later.
I then ask her if there are any books she can suggest that I can purchase, but purtroppo (regrettably), she tells me there are not. I breathe a sigh and thank her. We love doing this. It gives our mission a validation and allows us to meet some new people who are always charming and pleased to hear that I am a student of the strange and wonderful art form.
We have paid for our tickets by this time, and are ushered inside a huge courtyard. We know that the grotesques are located on the second floor. (It is really the third, for the Italians don't consider the floor upon which you arrive as a floor, other than by calling it piano terra, or the ground floor.)
Once we arrive at the top of the stairs, we are greeted by a woman who smiles at us. She nods as if she has been expecting us. We cannot hear what she is saying on her walkie-talkie, but it is as though we have stepped onto a movie set. She ushers us into the first room. We walk over to a young woman, whom we later learn is named Elisabeth. She stands by a window, holding a paperback book open with her left hand, as if telling the book she'll be right back.
She nods when we reach her, and asks us to follow her around the corner and down some steps to a small room, where a person is seen viewing the paintings. That person leaves, and Elisabetta carefully backs toward a velvet cord, clicking it open and ushering us into a darkened space, off limits to the general public.
It is there that we look up to see Rafaello's masterwork, the painted grotesques dancing upon the ceiling. She finds a light, turns it on, and with great care and reverence, backs out of the room, leaving us alone to photograph and view everything at our leisure. She stands beyond the cord, not even looking our way, but patiently waiting in the event we have questions.
Once we have taken our photos, we return to her to ask her about other grotesques in the building, but there are none! Although Rafaello was born in Urbino, and many painted grotesques are attributed to painters in Urbino during the 16th century, this is the only remaining room where the grotesques can be found.
We have visited this museum before, and walk around a new exhibit of remarkable paintings, taking a few photos of Madonna and child figures, always discreetly. As we move from room to room, each docent knows who we are. When we reach the last room, a man named Sandro sits in a carved chair, again by a window, and smiles as if he knows us. When we tell him we have been given permission to photograph, he tells us, "Ah. The woman in the red dress. I was expecting you!"
He tells us he loves the huge painting on the wall just as we entered, and sits and studies it all the day long. We tell him he should be sitting in the middle of the room for the best vantage point, and he replies that the middle of the room is for the guests; the edge of the room is for him.
We leave and enter the bookstore, thanking the young woman and buying one book with some good examples of grotesques. Then we are off to Pesaro. It is now noon, and since that museum stays open in the afternoon, we'll have pranzo overlooking the water first. We are reminded that it is just noon by the bells of the churches, ringing out all over town, their sounds reverberating on the hard stone walls of the narrow streets.
It takes no time for the trip, less than an hour, and we're navigating the port, winding around buildings in our little air-conditioned car, until we find two restaurants on the very edge of the beach. We eat at one; one that is shaped in a circle and whose windows face the beach and the ocean. Today's surf is very choppy, and the sky dark, as if a storm is coming our way.
Although there are not many people in the restaurant, they are out of cozze (mussels) by the time we place our order. It appears everyone who arrived before us knew the cozze were a good thing to order. We eat other fish, and it is good, but not great. It is fresh, and that is all we ask. We soak up the smells of the sea and the surf and the wind, and watch the most machismo men in their neon speedos and dark tans, navigating the whitecaps and raising their arms as men do when they are full of joy and love the sea.
Now it is time for the museum, so we drive to a parking area near the entrance to the borgo, where cars are not allowed. We reach the ceramics museum, and it is 3 PM. On the door of the museum are two signs: one indicates the museum is only open during morning hours. They really must correct their web site! But before we are completely deflated we see the second sign, which gives us hope. The museum was closed this morning for maintenance, so will be open at 4 PM.
It is hot by this time, so we slowly walk around the corner and sit on a wide cobblestone street, flanked by enormous shade trees. I see the backside of a duomo in front of us, and decide to find the front door, hoping to see some frescoes inside.
I turn to the right, and find myself in a courtyard where the side of the church meets a row of stone buildings. Looking up, I see that the buildings are three stories high, and two open windows frame the scene inside. a man stands with his hands on his hips slowly surveying the room. He is clearly in the dark, with only sunlight from the open roof as a guide. From above, sun from the open roof reflects off a back wall, one that is in obvious decay, the worm-eaten wood corroded and eaten away like an open wound. Inside, the room looks cool, but I know that to be deceptive. Outside, a bare electrical cord is seen, running inside one of the windows. Surely this flat has not been lived in for decades.
There are several apartments or flats within these buildings, all in a row. I know this, because there are several sets of colored and worn wooden shutters, all open to let in the afternoon light: celadon green, chocolate brown, pale green, blue gray. I am sorry that Roy has the camera. Against the light of the old painted stucco buildings, these colors provide a textural feast for the eyes.
We stop for a spremuta and a caffé and then it is time for the museum to open. The door is one of those huge old wooden facades, where one opens a door inside the larger panel and steps up and inside. To our left is the bookshop and ticket counter.
We are told that we can look around the bookstore, but that to meet Dottoressa Angelini, to gain permission to photograph, we will need to find her upstairs. The office door is locked, but the gentle stairs are well lit, and we curve around and reach the second landing. No one seems to know where Dottoressa is, or if she will be here today.
We decide to take our chances. This museum looks very disorganized, but the people appear very friendly. But oh, the ceramics! Meraviglia! This is by far the finest collection of grotesques we have seen yet.
We photograph the fronts. We photograph the sides. We photograph the backs, for many of the plates are placed on displays in the center of the rooms. We stay out of view of one docent, who moves from room to room. Once we have finished viewing and photographing the three or four rooms of ceramics, we take a walk around to look at the paintings.
I had no idea this would be such a wonderful place to visit. Do not miss Pesaro on your Italian travels. The town is lovely, the shopping is elegant and upscale, and the museum, oh the museum!
It's now about 5PM, and we've left with a book from the museum and a camera full of photographs. It's time to drive home, and we take a route down the coast, turning in just before Ancona, then drive inland until we reach Gualdo Tadino.
We stop for a caffé, and then proceed back through Foligno and Spoleto and reach home just after 8PM. Sofi is fine, and we all relax for the rest of the evening. It has been a marvelous day.
At 1 AM, the heavens open and it is as if we are on a tiny rowboat in the middle of a raging sea. Sofi wails, the house shakes and in a minute Roy rushes down in his sandals to put the unprotected wood at the back of the house under the bathroom. We hardly ever have summer storms, but when we do, they are memorable.
Some time later, at 7 AM, we are awakened after a fitful night by a clap of thunder and lightening so close we are sure it hit somewhere in the borgo. It's time to get up, and we won't have to water tonight!
There is excitement in the air, literally and figuratively.
I try to check in with Dottoressa in the village and show her the results of my ecographia (sonogram), for her office hours here are on Wednesdays, but Ernesta walks out of her little store wearing her white cotton coat to tell me Dottoressa will remain on vacation until the 16th.
So Roy drives me to Orte Scalo instead and we pick up some lattuga Romana and presemelo plants to put in the ground in the next day or so. I'll also plant rugghetta (arugula) seeds, although it's the wrong phase of the moon. We'll see. No one sells this plant, because it's so easy to grow from seed. Let us be the judge of that!
A short visit is next to Giusy to redo my toe nail polish, and she gives me a brochure for the opera at Caracalla, located below Rome, while she works on my toes. Aida will be performed for three days this week, but when Roy calls, only the expensive seats are left, so we pass. We'll try to remember next year.
This morning, while in the borgo, we watch the new wooden and iron benches being installed in the plaza. They are beautiful and caratteristico. Now there are enough benches for every single resident of Mugnano to sit on a bench at the same time!
I get my hair done at Daniele's this afternoon, and he tells us that his snake is shedding its skin. It does so with the phases of the moon. Just thinking of it makes my skin crawl, and I'm sure to ignore its home in a glass box right inside the front door.
Roy works on his building at the back of the house until Tiziano comes for a visit after 7, and we go over his article in the newspaper. It is then that he tells us the real story about the ancient land below our house.
The land was owned by the great grandfather of Marcus Aurelius, at a time before the birth of Christ. By the time it was passed down to Marcus' grandfather and his brother, a stone plaque was installed, and here it is, noting that the land is the private property of the Domitius family.
The grandfather died, the great uncle died, and Marcus' mother became the sole remaining heir. So she owned most of the property in the Mugnano valley.
Her grandfather built the kilns where the tiles for the Panthenon and Colosseum were made. Since Mugnano is situated on the Tiber River, taking the mattone (tiles) down to Rome on barges was an expedient way to build these grand buildings. This grandfather became very rich.
Today, Tiziano tells us that there was one very large villa at the time, located in the valley below our house. He has found evidences of the villa, but not much is left of any significance. All together about 70 tiles with the stamp of the kilns where they were made have been found in the area.
Tonight we speak more about the newspaper story. As a result of the story, the mayor, Stefano Bonori, reiterates that he is working to get the museum financed for Tiziano's artifacts. It is hoped that the museum will be housed in one of the floors of the medieval tower.
There has still not been an inauguration of the village square, after the current mattone has been laid and the benches have been installed, but he tells us to expect that in September. Hopefully we'll have more information on the funding by then. Tiziano certainly deserves a little museum to house all the important items he has found in this valley.
After he leaves, we get ready and walk up to the borgo for a spettacolo, which is held in front of the yet to be restored Duomo. A spettacolo is a show, not always consisting of fireworks, and tonight's is a three-part play. Sitting in front of the Duomo as the sun sets, its peeling and blistering paint is a sad reminder to us that the roof also needs a lot of work. It is as though we are sitting in front of an old church in Sicily. For a village where every corner is neat and well maintained, the front of this Duomo does not really fit. Below the cracking paint, hundreds of flowered plants, mostly hydrangeas, sit proudly, turning the stone steps into a living photograph.
We sit and talk here with our neighbors in Mugnano Alto. Roy shows me that the performers have wrapped the two neighboring street lights in shrouds, letting some light through, but darkening the area to allow for the spot light, a bright light that shines onto the steps of the Duomo from a balcony across the narrow piazza.
Twenty minutes later, the performance starts, with a dark haired woman quietly walking onto the "set", the pavement in front of the first row of seats. She speaks eloquently, but as though she is a character in a Greek tragedy. For ten minutes, her monologue proceeds and then in an instant, as if it is a part of the performance, the spotlight goes out.
For the rest of her performance, and for the performance of the two people following her, the actors perform in almost total darkness. The result is dramatic and effective. For Roy gets a nap, as do a few of the older residents, but generally everyone pays attention.
As the performance ends, there are apologies from a man standing on the balcony, and Roy tells me that it is as if the man holding the lights is our fourth performer. It is time to go home, and we walk down the hill after bidding Felice and Marsiglia and Enzo and Rosita and Tiziano and Rosina and Leondina and a few others a fond dorme bene.
Sofi is happy to be home, and calmly welcomes us. Earlier tonight, we temporarily installed the light we purchased today in Viterbo under the caki tree on the front terrace. When walking home, the glow from below the tree casts lovely shadows on the leaves above. I look forward to its permanent installation soon. Roy tells me Silvano Spaccese will do that this next week.
What's this? I sit writing, catching up on the journal at just before midnight, and hear the sound of a gentle rain outside the window. Earlier, I needed to wear a sweater. It is only the third of August and already the weather has turned. Let's hope this is temporary. But if it is a soaking rain, we'll have another night when Roy won't have to water.
The sky is clear this morning, and we leave the shutters open for a few hours, enjoying the wind and the fresh air that arrived after the rain. On this day, the temperature is in the mid 20's, unlike the normal August temperatures of the mid to upper 30's.While Roy works on the back of the house, Sofi and I move to the studio, and I begin to paint a plate of a madonna and child.
I mixed a beer batter hours ago that has to just sit, and we'll drive to Tia's for pranzo, taking the batter and cooking it there. This time, the zucchini will be dropped in teaspoonfuls onto parchment paper and cooked in the oven. We'll see if the recipe holds up when the batter is not deep-fried.
We take our suits, and just before we leave I check on Roy's project. He now has both doors installed, and the next section will be the roof. Before we know it, he'll be reorganizing everything and moving his workbench and tools into his new workspace. I love seeing him enjoying himself on this project.
Sofi is delighted to go with us in the car after I tell her we'll visit Zia (aunt) Tia. It is still windy when we arrive, and we wind up not taking a dip in the pool after all. Eating pranzo under the wisteria vines is cool and fun. We deem the zucchini to be excellent prepared in the oven, and although I made a double batch, we finish every last one with a salad of tomatoes fresh from Tia's garden.
Back at home, Sofi and I rest for a while, while Roy returns to his project. When I get up, I work with Roy at the back of the house, feeling like one of those women who stand around at a car show pointing at the cars. I hand him a drill, then a screwdriver, then a screw...while Sofi wags her tail and sits and watches. Up above, the sidewalk superintendents consist of Cristian and Eduardo and their grandmother, who love to watch us, no matter what we do.
The sky clouds up, and although it does not rain, we attach a tarp to cover the top of the little room in the event it rains again tonight. The air is cool and noisy, with sounds of crickets and cicadas and birds all breathing in and out in a riot of cacophonous sounds. Otherwise, it is as if we are the only souls on earth.
Although the morning is cool and clear, the afternoon really heats up. Roy and I work on his little building at the back of the house for most of the morning. He does most of the work, I stand and hand him things, and also spend some time in the studio until it is too hot to work.
I have a ceramics lesson tomorrow morning, and want to have some good pieces to take to Maria Antonietta with questions. More work is done on the Madonna, but I'm not sure of the next step. I also start Sofi's bowl, and draw what I think are lucertole (lizards), climbing around and on top and one sits in the bottom of the bowl looking up at her. But I am not sure of the details, so for an hour in the afternoon, Sofi and I parade around the property, looking for lizards.
I find one, on the wall near the zucchini, but can't get close enough to see the details on the top of his head. So I play with the design, put her name on the side, and will also take that tomorrow, as well as a couple of little bowls that I have penciled in.
Shelly calls, asking for a ride to the train, and also tells me she's met a woman who's on holiday, but is looking for tiles to match some delft tiles she now has. She is unable to find them anywhere, so perhaps I can reproduce them for her, hand painting them and having them glazed. This will be a good exercise for me and make us a little money. I look forward to her call.
Roy tars the top of the building, and is just about finished. Tomorrow he'll clean it out and start the reorganizing and installing of his worktable and shelves. He's gone off to take Shelly to the train, and I'm sure will drive to Viterbo from there, wanting to pick up another set of shelves. Boh!
We email Michelle and Cherie and Pete and Ann and Jack Murphy, our September guests, to help them all with last minute arrangements. Next month will be a flurry of activity and fun. Ann and Jack were here for pranzo several years ago, but this will be the first visits for Michelle and Cherie and Pete.
It looks as thought the heirloom tomatoes will be ready to eat then, and the peaches are still not ripe, so just may hold out for our guests. There is nothing in this world as tasty as a ripe peach, eaten while standing over the kitchen sink, looking over the valley while the sticky red juice runs down your arms. I can see Sarah nodding her head and laughing as she reads this.
I do not have any idea what the tiles will look like for the garden sink, so they will not be done before our guests arrive. But perhaps they will all see the tiles as a work in progress. I am not concerned. They will probably be an elaborate grotesque design, with panels running up the sides and front, but I have not seen anything that strikes me yet to pattern them after. If I don't see anything this next week, I'll make up a design myself.
We pick up Tony and Pat at just before six, to attend a sagra in a town I do not know. Sofi stays at home. The town is Avigliano Umbra, and tahe women there are some of the most beautiful women I have ever seen in Italy. As for the men, I'm not so sure.
We arrive early, per the instructions of Tony and Pat's geometra, and we're the first to arrive. We walk around the town, glance in at the church wehre mass is just ending, and there are some beautiful frescoes, partly restored.
Exhibitions of food and handmade items and other things to sell surround the town, but there is nothing much to buy. We walk back to the Taverna, and it is time to eat. First is a homemade pasta, either with a white sauce and salsiche or a red sauce. The white sauce must be olive oil, garlic, cheese and sausages. The red sauce is a marinara with a little arribiata thrown in. Both pastas are delicious.
First is a bruschetta, not as good as in Guardea's, but good nonetheless. And the main course is a griglia misto, with sausage, pork and lamb. It is exceptional. And then cocomero (watermelon) or sliced melon for dessert.
We drop Tony and Pat at home and stop by for a visit, but I can't wait to be home with little Sofi, who seems just fine when we arrive. It's very cool tonight. For almost a week the weather has cooled off at night, and I fear that autumn has come early this year.
Emails arrive separately from Cherie and Pete, (who wants to work when you're planning an international vacation?) and it appears they've booked their Rome leg of their trip. I remind Pete to pack earplugs, just in case.
Now it's midnight. Time to turn in and enjoy the coolness of the open windows and chirruping of the crickets.
At 7a m, a neighbor on a tractor in the valley digs down into the hard earth and turns up, what? It may be Enzo. I can hear him, but cannot see him. I imagine the enormous caterpillar, its gaping mouth chewing up what's left after the harvest has finished and spewing it out again, digesting and shaking even Enzo, who sits in the driver's seat and maneuvers the rocking carriage over the rocky land. It's time to get up.
I have a painting lesson this morning, and after we're through I'm sure we'll spend the day working on Roy's workshop. The sky is clear and it will be hot, I am sure. Summer has returned, if only for a little while.
We take several pieces to Maria Antonietta, and she and I work on a couple of them while I am there. She did not fire the last pieces yet, but we decide to have the next lesson on Wednesday, so she'll fire everything today or tomorrow so they'll be ready when I return.
I work on painting the background landscape of the Madonna and as a competiti (homework) assignment, she gives me a couple of tiles and tells me to paint landscapes with mountains in the background and buildings in the foreground. We also work on the plate with the horse in the bosco (forest) and by adding a paler and yellower green to the leaves and a shadow behind the horse, its perspective changes and it becomes a more accomplished piece.
While I'm with my teacher, Roy calls a young man named Odin, who lives and works in Cremona. We met Odin several years ago at a party in San Francisco, and we wanted to connect with him to see if he could give us some helpful information for Pete, who is an accomplished cellist.
Cremona is a town of violins and cellos, with master carvers and instrument makers in workshops on every street. To know someone there is a great help. So when we're there next month with my dear cousin Cherie and her husband, Pete, this will hopefully be a special connection. Odin is a violin maker himself, and agrees to meet with us.
Guardea, the town in which I have my painting lessons, is a spirited place. When he waits for me, Roy drops into the bar in the main square and orders an espresso. While he's at it, he tells the woman behind the bar, whom he thinks is the owner, he'd like to reserve a table for tomorrow night's gnocchi festival. Without missing a beat, she turns to the girl at the cash register and tells her to write the name Dino down for a table for eight. She has some memory! But then again, Roy is a special guy, and it is not strange that she took note of him. Perhaps the name signifies something silly. We don't know of any Dino's, nor have we ever. Dino Martin? Dino the dinosaur? Is Dino the Italian equivalent of, say, Irving?
Back at home, Roy's workshop is finished enough that he can reinforce the wall behind where the tool bench will be installed and move in the shelves. Yes, he bought a set of metal shelves at Obi yesterday, and I help him put them together and move them inside the room. Marie and another woman look down at us from Porta Antica and call Roy's workshop "carina". They want to know what it is for. It is impossible to mind one's own business in Mugnano.
I work on painting Sofi's dish in the studio, and paint one lucertole (lizard) inside as well as one climbing on top of it, two around the side, and finish with a camouflage background. I'm not sure I like the camouflage effect, but will wait until tomorrow and take another look at it. Perhaps when it is completed Sofi will bark upon finishing her pranzo and we won't be able to use the bowl. But it does look pretty funny, with several lizards crawling in and up and over it.
At 10:30 PM Sofi and I go up to bed. I can hear Roy clamoring behind the house, moving metal shelves and tools and reorganizing, with the streetlight from Porta Antica to light his way. Once he has everything in place, which may be as early as tomorrow, he'll call Silvano Spaccese to run the electrical current to it.
Inside, I'm wondering about the design for the ceramic tiles for the outdoor sink in the lavender garden. Tomorrow we'll have a discussion about whether we'll keep the form of the rustic sink bottom and marble top as it is, or replace the bottom supports and face them with my hand painted tiles. But until we agree on what I will have to work with, it's pointless to decide what to paint. I'm not concerned. I have so many things to paint, that I'll just put the project off until winter or next spring if we both don't feel right about the result.
Under a hazy sky, we rise and get ready to walk up to mass. The wind has changed, and the sounds from the trees are telling us...what? I have a headache, something that started in my neck yesterday, and although I don't want to admit it is a migraine, it is. Roy asks me if I want to start taking the drops again, but I'm going to hold off, hoping I can shake it.
We start to walk up to church as if today is just another day in this little paradise, but Donato's mother walks out purposefully toward Roy when we reach their house. She has a look of great fear in her eyes. What could be so important?
"Leondina e morto!" she tells him, standing very close while she looks up at him, the handle of her bastone (cane) raised up in the air as if to make an exclamation point with it.
Is that a gust of wind that knocks against me upon hearing her words? No. It is death's body blow, warning me that it will return when I least expect it. Leondina sat outside their house last night, talking with neighbors as she did every evening of her life. When it was time to go to bed on this night, she stood up, took the two steps into the house, and dropped dead instantly in the entryway.
Her son, Ivo, was nearby, as was her daughter, Vincenza. They were all here to visit the family for Ferragosto, the mid August holiday that stops all of Italia in its tracks.
Everyone is out on the street this morning as we walk by. As we reach Leondina and Italo's house, neighbors and relatives stand outside the doorway. We enter and walk straight back into the little kitchen, the kitchen where I sat on so many mornings to drink Leondina's espresso. She never drank espresso, but loved making a fresh pot whenever I'd agree to enter.
On this day, women stand back against the appliances, as if holding up the walls. I see Livia, Leondina's granddaughter, and beyond her, sweeping the balcony, a very sad Vincenza. I walk over to her and hold her, and then she starts to cry. I open the door to the balcony and she and I walk out and lean over the railing. I can almost feel hear heart breaking as I put my arm around her.
In the living room right inside the front door, Italo sits by Leondina's side. The room is so small that his wife lays only a few inches away, a gauze cloth covering her, an image of the Madonna hung above her head on the wall.
Leondina's sister, Marsiglia, and Felice sit nearby.
By the time mass starts, we have hugged more neighbors and shared more thoughts. The mass is a blur. For all the days we sat in church studying the women of Mugnano and admiring their strength, we are still not prepared for how we feel on this day. After lighting a candle for Leondina, I pass by Augusta and place my hand lightly on her left arm. I cannot help the tears streaming down my cheeks.
She takes her right hand and places it on mine without saying a word. How do I express the sorrow I feel for Leondina's many dear friends? When we pass Donato's mother again, who sits on her favorite chair outside her house, she tells us that both she and Leondina were born in 1926, five months apart. She will serve on the festarola committee with me in 2006. Leondina will not.
The Gasperoni family is not here, and a little while later Tiziano calls Roy to tell him that his grandfather died this morning. Both funerals are tomorrow morning, so we will pay our respects later today to Rosita, but will of course attend Leondina's funeral in Mugnano and join the procession on the way to the cemetery.
On the way back home, Luigina stands at Giovanna's door, and Giovanna asks us in for espresso. We tell her no, but she will not accept our answer. So we stop for a few minutes and sit with her and her son, Alessandro. Amazingly, the espresso stops my headache. I have heard that caffeine is good for a migraine, and this seems to be proof. Not long after arriving home, I feel much better.
After fixing an early pranzo for Sofi, we leave again, this time for pranzo at Helen and Panis' home outside Macchie. It is difficult to do justice to Helen and Panis' wonderful home, because my heart is heavy. I feel as if I am just going through the motions. On another day, I will write about the people we met today, and of how much we enjoyed their company.
Looking back upon the mid day, I vividly recall David playing guitar and singing wonderful Irish folk songs. As he stands next to me to tune the instrument, I ask him if he knows any Django Reinhart music. He does, but has not played Django music for decades. He plays one piece brilliantly, and I am itching to play the violin again.
How much time is there in the day? I have wanted to play the violin, keeping the music stand next to the desk with music open, ready to be played, for all these months. Now I must organize my days better, fitting in twenty minutes or so each day for the violin. I tell him that I play the violin very poorly, but would love to play some Django music with him. He will be here for a few weeks more, at least, before returning to England to teach at the University. So perhaps he'll come by and we'll see if we can play a piece or two together.
In the meantime, he plays brilliantly and sings poetically. He loves the Irish ballads. I do not know the ones he plays, but enjoy his music and his singing very much. We all do. He plays a Bob Dylan piece, and also a little Beatles, and we all sing along. And then I look at my watch and we really must pay our respects to Rosita, so Roy and I leave. Tia wants to stay, for the party will go on for hours.
We agree to all meet again on Tuesday, in Giove, for pranzo at Lorraine and Francesco's house. I think we will be getting together with this joyous group often.
We call Tiziano from the road, and visit the house of Rosita's parents, to pay our respects. Rosita's mother is tiny, but appears to be a very strong woman. We apologize to Rosita that we are unable to attend the funeral tomorrow, but agree to get together with Tiziano on Wednesday morning at dawn, to work with him on his archeology project.
Once more we stop at Leondina's and pay our respects, this time to greet Fulvia and Mario, who have just returned from Ischia. Fulvia and I laugh at Leondina's great attitude. Spiritosa is a word that is used often on this day to describe this wonderful woman.
On the way home we pass more neighbors, and stop here and there to talk with Maria, and then Francesca. We have cancelled our reservation at the Guardea gnocchi festival for tonight, and spend the next few hours quietly before going to bed and saying a silent prayer for our dear friend.
On this day, as I sat at Helen and Panis' table under a lovely walnut tree, I looked off into space and thought about a way to remember Leondina, and also Tito, who died a few months ago. We will design and plant a small memory garden, with a bench and trees and plants to remind us of those dear to us who have passed away. It will be located on the third level of our land close to San Rocco. This fall, we will begin by planting those for Leondina and Tito.
Leondina shows her remarkable character even at the gravesite late this morning, when she refuses to enter her tomb. Today, the casket stops with about ten per cent of the box remaining outside, unable to budge. I wonder then if the space is deep enough, but it surely is. It takes four strong men ten minutes to coax her elaborately carved casket inside, including Mauro. This is the second funeral we have attended in Mugnano, and on both occasions, Mauro has played an integral role, helping with the casket and closing up the space with a sheet of marble, mortared by his gentle hand.
Don Luca is here for the funeral, his camping trip with the ragazzi (school children) of Bomarzo barely finished. We sit next to Luciana in the church, and ask her whom the woman is sitting next to Marsiglia. It is another sister! She lives in Soriano and we do not recall ever seeing her before.
There are more than a hundred participants today, and the saddest moment for me takes place during the procession, when we pass the little banchina outside her front door. She sat there for hours each day, happily talking with everyone who passed by. When it was my turn, she never failed to give me a big strong hug. Now when we pass, we will blow a kiss to the memory of our dear friend and smile.
As we leave the cemetery, we agree that this week we will make definite arrangements in the Comune for a plot for ourselves. Our plan is to purchase only one, for our wishes are to be cremated, and one space will be plenty. We will find a stone angel for the front to watch over us, and our ashes will be placed behind. Why do I choose to write about this? These are our wishes, and we don't want anyone to have to make difficult decisions when the time comes. Enough said.
Sitting at the bedroom window, I look off into the valley and think that there will be two processions in the village this week. This morning, we walked Leondina to the cemetero. Next Sunday is the feast of the Assumption, and on that day a special Madonna, dressed in a white silk damask dress with pearls and rosary beads for the occasion, will be taken around the village.
I particularly like this statue. When this life size Madonna is brought out of the Sacristy for one week each August, there are two Madonnas in the church, each one flanking one side of the altar. The one we speak of today is lit by a halo of old-fashioned white lights, and the carved and curved wooden background is painted with gold spires ringing her upper torso. The creation is something you would find in Sicily or Naples, and Roy likes her because she is wearing a real dress, with a blue sash. She looks dramatically skyward.
We take a walk at about nine up to the village. I want to walk by Leondina's bench and pay my respects. But the street is clear, with only a few single men milling about. People must be having cena. Up in the borgo, ten stylish graphite-colored metal planters from Unopiu flank the new benches. Giuliola and Livio tell us that inside the planters ornamental trees, probably box, will grow. We look forward to seeing them, and they'll probably be installed this week. By the time we walk back down the hill, people are out and there is a lot of activity.
I begin practicing the violin again, tonight in front of an open window, with the cicadas and crickets for an audience. Life goes on.
These nights are cooler, although the daytime temperatures rise almost to the 90's. I'm able to do some painting, including two tiles to finish my competiti for tomorrow morning. I am to paint two scenes with mountains in the background and something in the foreground. My love affair with painting ceramics continues.
After a couple of days of feeling that I can't paint anything at all well, I have made some changes to the Madonna and like the changes very much. I took out most of the yellow-green background and replaced it with grey. The results are more of a mist on the hills, and this works better with the image I am attempting to create. I'm then able to paint the two scenes on tiles easily. Perhaps it just takes time, and on some days, time away from painting for a new perspective.
Roy adds some details to his workshop, including air vents, and we take an old light up to Bruno outside Giove to rewire. Roy will hang it above the door to his shop. He calls Silvano Spaccese to make a date for him to come to start the little electrical projects, and reaches him in the hospital. I think it is not serious, and we'll see him in a week or so. I hope he is all right. He is a small man, a gentle soul, and we wish him well.
We are invited to Loraine and Francesco's house in the Giove countryside for pranzo, and after reaching the gate realize the property is right next to Suzanne and Dario's, and just around the corner from Prue. What a small world.
We love their property and house. It is the kind of property we would have considered if we had not fallen in love with the place we bought. When leaving, Roy and I agree that the property has a special character to it. There is lots of work to be done, but there is much promise.
Francesco's ceramics studio is located on the property, and I see that he has a good-sized oven. He is presently making some interesting ceramic outdoor lights, similar to those sold at Unopiu for hundreds of dollars more. I give him a few ideas of shops he could take his pieces to.
Tia is there, as is Daniele and David and Gillian, but Helen and Panis are absent. We sit under a pergola of Virginia creeper and jasmine and have a wonderful meal and even better conversation. This is our second pranzo with most of these people, an easygoing group that we look forward to getting to know better.
Next to me, Gill (pronounced Jill) tells us she is so worried about all the things they have to do, now that they have purchased property from Daniele and the construction work is yet to begin. I remember what that was like for us when we first bought L'Avventura. But we were less stressed about what lay ahead of us.
Daniele is Italian, as is Francesco, so we attempt to speak in Italian, but most of us revert back to English more than we should. I also sit next to Francesco, so enjoy trying out my fragile Italian, and he politely bears with me.
Tonight we take a walk up to the borgo, but first stop to see Augusto and Italo and Vincenza. The talk is mostly about Sardegna, a place I never thought of going to. But it is a favorite spot for Italians, and not too far. So some day, some day.
Italo stands with us, but wants to take a walk, so joins us on our walk to the borgo, and sits on one of the new benches with Ivo's wife. There is so much activity! Three young boys, all named Andrea, aged, three, four and five, rush around on their toy bicycles and scooters. They terrorize Sofi until I pick her up in my arms and show them how to quietly nuzzle her. Then they are smitten and don't want to leave her.
Sofi sees the puppy she ran into last evening, and they run around for a bit, then we walk over to Lore and Alberto's and sit for a while. Lore tells us that there is an Italian saying, "When a beautiful shoe gets old, it becomes a beautiful slipper."
One day recently, when dear Leondina complained about all her health problems, Lore spoke that phrase to her, and she liked it very much. Do you know that ciabatta means "slipper"? Lore tells us that ciabatta, which we think of as a delicious and crusty flat bread, is a slipper. It is called that because it is flat. Beats me. So the phrase is, "Bella scarpa... bella ciabatta."
Sofi is all tired out after all her running. So once we're home she's happy to get right into her little bed, and doesn't even wait for me to turn in for her to nestle her head down into the pillow and nod off to dreamland. Unfortunately, fireworks somewhere in the valley boom at midnight, and all the dogs in the neighborhood howl. So she hangs her head over the side of her wicker bed, waiting for the booming to stop so she can return to her visions of...lucertole?
Our friends and neighbors, Shelly and Claudio, want to rent their country house for a year or two. It is available immediately, either as one property or as a house and a separate studio on the property. They are not interested in short-term rentals. Look up their site if you or anyone you know is interested, and tell them you heard about them here.
If you've been dreaming about an escape from your daily lives and are ready to see what it's really like to live in the idyllic Italian countryside you've been reading about, this could be your lucky day...
Shelly is a journalist, and their son has been enrolled in a high school in Rome. So they need to be in Rome starting very soon. They'd also swap for a place in Rome, but have not been able to put that together.
Mugnano is located about an hour by car north of Rome. The next town is Attigliano, where one can take a 47-minute train ride into Rome.
They have a few hectares of land, many olive trees, fruit trees, a place for a horse, and ancient Etruscan caves on the property. Although they'll include a maintenance gardener's service in the rental, one could plant vegetables, herbs, flowers and tend those themselves. For people who want to get away and write and/or paint or just explore the countryside, it's a marvelous spot. We've gone there often for meals, sitting outside their kitchen where Claudio has prepared fabulous meals. And of course we're right down the road.
There are two possible living situations: a studio with its own entrance, and an entire house. Take a look at the site listed above for the whole description.
We've suggested they post on Craig's List in San Francisco and Boston. That site is amazing, and has postings in Rome, so why not?
The mist on the hills this morning reminds me of Ron Vineyard, the artist who painted the Italian country scenes on our kitchen wall when we still lived on Mount Tam in California. We were smitten by Italy for years before we purchased our property.
Ron spent hours painting the mist on our wall, and Roy counseled him on it rising up from the valleys, because Ron had never been to Italy. He painted from the images he studied in our many books about Italy.
Now I find myself painting the same hills and valleys on ceramic tiles and think fondly of that kind man, who told us that he was unable to work any more due to health problems, soon after finishing our project. We lost contact with him and wonder what has happened to him, and if he ever came to Italy.
A cloud has hovered over me today. Maria Antonietta shows me how to paint yellowy-green distant hills, and I'm not fond of the yellow. I prefer a mist rising over the far hills and grey-green colors. So I change what she has painted, but she is all right with that. She does not criticize my work. Why don't I pick up on that?
Upon arriving at my lesson with Roy, who carried the big plastic bin with painted ceramics ready for firing, my teacher turns around with an unhappy look on her face. The oven door is open, but she tells us that almost everything she fired for me earlier this week has been ruined.
I step up to the studio, and Roy stands beside me, right outside the little door. I see his face change by the minute. He becomes angrier and angrier. The expression on my face is one of shock and then of sadness. Plate by plate, she shows me where the paint moved, where the glaze dissolved, where the uneven glaze damaged the design. Nicole's pitcher is ruined. The finish is bumpy and chalky.
These ruined plates and bowls and pitchers are some of the most elaborate designs I have done, and a few of the plates took more than ten hours each to paint. So far, I've completed more than thirty pieces, with only one coming out of the oven just right!
Roy leaves and Maria Antonietta gives me a practice session on applying smalto, the first coat, on plates and tiles. I have been using too much smalto, and this is the first I heard that I am to use a slight even coat. Worse, she has neglected to oversee any problems with my corrections on the plates. Looking back on my relationship with her, she is high on the praise category, almost nonexistent on the critical category. She was good for my self confidence...until now.
Later, Roy tells me he is surprised I did not throw a plate, or at least a fit, at her. She is such a dear woman, and does not have a mean bone in her body, so how could I be upset with her?
Not being a couple that lets grass grow under our feet, we remember that Ivana at Spazio Verde in Terni knows how to paint ceramics, and has a kiln. So we drive to Terni right after pranzo, only to find out that today is her day off. I'd like to get her opinion on what went wrong with the glazes. I really must decide if I will stop taking lessons from Maria Antonietta. If so, who will be my new instructor? And whose kiln will I use to fire my ceramics? I am surely not ready to purchase a kiln of my own.
We decide to attend a music concert tonight in Orvieto with Tony and Pat, and arrive with them in the town just before 8 PM. We walk quickly to the Duomo, hoping I can reach Ciara before she closes her ceramics shop for the night. Perhaps she can refer me to someone. But the woman next door tells us that she closed early tonight. I will let all of this sit for a night and decided what to do tomorrow.
The Orvieto String Orchestra plays a free concert in Chiesa San Francesco, near the Duomo. We think this has been a three week summer session of students. They are mostly high school students. Let's say the concert grew better as it progressed. About half way through, I stood up and walked outside, then stood at the huge open front doorway, taking in the view of the remarkable church and listening to the music. The lighting was so bright and the lightbulbs so bare that I could not really watch the concert from the front. So listening to it from the back of the church, especially as the concert went on, became easier.
After the concert, we walk down tiny walkways and cobbled streets to the main bar, where we feast on exceptional homemade ice cream. Walking back to our car, we run into Frank and Candace, a couple we met a year ago at Tia's and wanted to get together with again.
Before we leave them, Candace and I have agreed to talk, and they'll bring some tomatoes and jars to our house next week, when we'll show them how to put up their burgeoning crop. We look forward to seeing them again.
We drop Tony and Pat off and return home to a very sweet Sofi, who blesses us with kisses and is happy to get back into her little bed beside me as I sit down to write. But at 1AM, fireworks blast the heavens from the town just across the Tiber River in Umbria. Attigliano is very late getting their fireworks going. Tonight is their festa. Sofi hides under the desk, and I hold her until the angry noise ceases.
Outside, when the fireworks cease, there are shooting stars. This is the season. The cicadas chortle and rub their legs against the night sky. A cool breeze blows in the front window, and we look forward to a good night's sleep under our down comforter. Can Fall be far off?
We take the little tree back to Pinzaglia. It is too large for the pot. In return, we pick up, of all things, a lovely little ginestra tree. Ginestra. Scotch broom! Ginestra is the bane of the Marin California countryside, a firestorm waiting to happen. In this country, ginestra is spoken of lovingly, especially around the season of Corpus Domini in late spring, when its tiny yellow flowers are used as carpets on the ground to fashion religious floral displays in honor of the body and blood of Christ. Back at home, the little tree is perfect in its new home; a clay pot carved with acanthus leaves.
We have made arrangements to meet with a family in Porchiano, prospective new clients, about a project to help them with the design and installation of the landscape surrounding their restored casale. We love the house, and the people are delightful. We will meet with them again next week. The Porchiano countryside is lovely. The views are unspoiled by modern houses that trash the Italian landscape with the ubiquitous red tile roofs I dislike so much. Yes, Evanne, do tell us what you think!
Tonight we take a walk up into the village, and it is late. The time is after ten PM. What surprises us is that everyone is out, well maybe not the 96-year-young Gino, but even two year old Valerio walks us down on our return home on the arm of his grandfather, who is also Valerio. Little Valerio reminds me of the baby on the Simpson's with the pacifier in his mouth. He's completely animated, but acts as though the pacifier is a permanent fixture, his little mouth forming a smile surrounding it.
Sofi loves these romps at night into the borgo, and runs with her four little paws so purposefully on the asphalt that she sounds like a heard of buffalo. She's not ready for the children, who race around trying to pick her up and pet her. She hides between my legs, and when I pick her up she licks my face while the children scream with laughter, wishing she'd do that to them. Back at home, she can't wait to get into bed.
There is a young boy who we see in the borgo each evening, who cannot be more than about five. When he sees us speak with some of the adults, he comes over to us and looks up at me in a very purposeful way. This is not the look of a young child. He seems to look right into me, with a curious expression on his face. His eyes are deep brown pools. It is as if I can see deep into his eyes as well, as if we have some kind of a connection.
What does he know about me? What has he been told? Is there some curiosity in his mind about me? Has he been told something, something that makes him look at me as if I am some kind of creature he wants to hold up in a bottle to keep for future use? I will be sure to ask who he is the next time we see him when we are with friends. I believe this is the beginning of a story, a story whose development is yet to unfold.
We'll be up at 5 AM tomorrow to join Tiziano for an archeological work party, so it's time to bid you a fond dorme bene.
The sky is a hazy grey when we wake before 6AM. Less than an hour later, we are driving with Tiziano to Bassano in Teverina, a town not too far from us. We park in the borgo and descend on foot, with Roy holding Tiziano's official long red and white pole marker. Today we are assisting Tiziano on his ongoing archeological expeditions of the area. The goal is to find a medieval tower, and also a medieval vasca, used to make wine.
The weather is perfect, and we are dressed properly, with long pants and boots. I am wearing my MIT baseball cap. To me, it signifies Mugnano in Teverina. I feel as though it is all right to wear the hat, since my father graduated from MIT in 1929!
Down, down, down we walk, along old roads made so by tractors long ago. He has a small black and white geographic map of the area, but is not too sure that the roads we are on are on the map. We trust our instincts, and arrive at an old horse paddock, unused for decades.
Further along, we find what we think is the medieval tower. But it is surrounded by a brutto modern house, abandoned and partially built. All the building supplies remain stacked around the house. The scaffolding lies rusty along the side of the building, as if the workers were halted in midstream, and ran for their lives, leaving everything where it was.
Tiziano takes measurements of the tower. A flock of birds live inside, but otherwise there are no signs of life. We take a break, sitting down on the cement stairs, and share some dry biscuits. It is time to figure out what direction we are facing, and Tiziano takes out his compass, not sure of what it tells him. He then tells us that he has lost eight compasses during his years of searching for ancient signs of life. We ask him why and he tells us that he is always preoccupied; his head is usually in the clouds.
We get up and walk north and west. We are in luck. Somehow we find the vasca, hidden by an enormous quercia (oak) tree. But then, Tiziano is a professional archeologist, and is adept at reading maps and locating signs of previous activity. Or at least we trust that he is so.
The vasca is carved from a huge ancient pepperino stone. If you recall, tens of thousands of years ago, this land sat in a valley where enormous eruptions took place. Pepperino is the result of the first volcanic eruption; tufa is the second. Pepperino is hard and peppery grey in color. Tufa is much softer and pale yellowy brown.
Tiziano believes that the vasca is from the medieval times, and explains to us how the rectangular tub, which measures about two meters by three meters in size, was used to dump grapes and then stomp them. At the center of one side of the tub, a hole is located, where the liquid drained down to a lower trough, also carved from the same stone. From below, the stone remains enormous, and it is only when viewed from the top, after clearing away blackberries and tall grass, that we can see it as it is meant to be seen.
Roy uses Tiziano's roncio, a cross between a hatchet and a machete-like tool, to cut back the oak branches, blackberries and tall grass. Then, because the tree shades the vasca, he sits and waits for Tiziano's instructions. Tiziano makes drawings and writes down dimensions, after placing the red and white rod in the corner and taking photos.
Here is Tiziano, and here are Roy and I, so happy to be joining our good friend on this little adventure.
With both locations found and documented, we walk up and up and up until we hear the sound of an opera singer from an open window in the borgo. We reach right under it, and instead of walking around the building, walk under it and into a courtyard, where we see two men.
Outside the borgo, three sheep appear to be making love to the woman's music. She hits a high note, and one sheep and then another return with a "Baaaaaa!" and then, "Baaaaa!" Sorry, I cannot do it justice. But with each phrase, they reply to her pleading as though they are the Italian versions of Nelson Eddy and Jeannette MacDonald, singing, "When I'm calling you-ooo-o-o-o."
The sounds are so funny we laugh out loud.
The young woman, who we learn is a student of a lyrical opera group, tries again and again to hit a really high note. It sounds as though her mouth is open too wide. She screeches but hits the note. So she tries again. And again.
We read on a poster that the final performance of the summer school will be tomorrow night in the church. So we all agree to return and see if she will hit the note.
On our walk to the car, we encounter two women getting out of their car. They are also opera singers, and one is from Australia. They tell us the woman singing is from Texas. We tell them we'll see them tomorrow night and I tell the woman from Australia, "Bocca lupo." The other woman responds, "Crepi!" And then I ask the Australian if she understands the phrase and the response. She does not. So the other woman explains it to her.
If you don't recall, "Bocca lupo!" translates to, "In the mouth of the wolf." Italians never say "Good luck". It is bad luck. The response MUST be, "Crepi lupo." This means, "And that the wolf dies."
We stop for juice and sit outside at a café. We untangle the web that is the population of Mugnano a little more. Franca and Mario are uncle and aunt of Tiziano and are related because their mother is the sister of Tiziano's grandmother, who was the wife of Tito. Did you get that? Remember that any guests who stay with us get to identify the villagers...for a prize.
I can hardly keep my eyes open, so go back to bed for a couple of hours, while Roy gets a hair cut. After pranzo, he takes a turn sleeping, getting up later in the afternoon to do a bit of watering before we leave to pick up Alan's family for the Guardea gnocchi festival.
Alan's two sisters, one brother in law and his father are here, so eight of us travel in two cars to the festa, where we feast on the usual: bruschetta, suppli, gnocchi with castrato or pesto sauce, grilled meats, wine and beer. We have gelato in Alviano, a medieval town nearby where we sit outside a spectacular castle while eating tiny cups of rich ice cream.
We drive everyone home, and then drive back to Mugnano to leave the car and take Sofi up for a walk in the borgo. But there is a tremendous clatter down the street.
Sofi and I move up first to figure it out. By this time, it is 11PM. What moves toward us is a group of unruly men and boys. There are eight men and ten children, raging in ages from just over one to about eight or nine. One man walks ahead with a video camera, but right behind him is the smallest Andrea, who we swear is Charlie Chaplin reincarnated, the way he walks.
Children hold a variety of wooden spoons and pot tops. Francesco, our Vigili Urbani, has the only instrument, a drum. What a commotion they make! Sofi is so scared she runs back toward the house. When I get her to stop, I pick her up in my arms and hold her until we are safely past the thundering herd.
Up in the borgo, the new benches are filled with women who are enjoying a few moments peace. Before we know it, the children and the men have returned. In a little while, a few of the boys switch to bicycles, and the merriment continues until they children are led away by Mauro on foot as a guise and Francesco and another man rush out to whisk the bicycles away so that the children will go home to bed.
After a fitful night's sleep, we're up and driving to find Bruno, who now works in Amelia at a lighting shop that also makes trophies. Roy wants him to rewire an old light, one that was left with the house when we bought it, and when finished, will be installed above the door to his workshop. We find him at a little negozio near the park, and he'll have the light finished after Ferragosto, which takes place on Monday. Ferragosto is a national holiday, and a great excuse to, well, not do any work. Roy's not in a hurry.
When we leave, we start to talk about the bocce court. Now we know where we can have the trophy made. I'm already designing it in my head. It is time to move forward about the court in a more organized fashion. Mauro will be the muratore, we suspect, but before we do much we need to make a plan. So I research the specs. on the internet, and there is a wealth of free information.
I print out the specs and we will measure the space off this weekend. Then we'll call Jill and Mario's friend, who is very involved with the bocce league in Penna in Teverina to get him over here for a consultation. He has agreed to mentor us in putting in our court. We've also spoken with Antonio, the president of the Universita Agraria about it, and he's on board, too. Now if we can just get the mayor to fix the ripa (bank) and put up a castagno handrail, we'll be ready to move forward. Roy calls the mayor to set up an appointment regarding a cemetery plot, and they agree to speak early next week.
We drive on to Spazio Verde, and take several of my damaged plates cradled in a towel as though it is a swaddling cloth, if you know what I mean. We take them in to show Ivana, who tells us that her kiln is no longer located on the site. She'll finish working there in another month or so.
We show her the pieces and she tells us things I will not repeat here. Let's just say she counsels me to take my pottery elsewhere to be fired. She brings out a painted tile from the back room to show us that tiles can be fired perfectly without much fuss.
She knows and respects a maestro who has a studio in Deruta (now I know he is serious) and will teach a class in Terni at the end of August. He evidently takes the pieces at the end of the three-hour class and fires them in Deruta. She praises him to the hilt. So I'll take some unglazed pieces to him to show and fire and also plan to paint something there. This is a very good option. On Tuesday, I'll call Maria Antonietta to tell her that I have a new place to fire my ceramics and will also have a new teacher. I am sure she will understand.
There is a short rain in the afternoon, and after moving the clothes on the drying rack into the loggia, Sofia and I spend some time in the studio. I paint all the red pottery pieces from our last trip to Deruta with smalto, and brush that layer on carefully. Now those pieces are ready to paint. I have two weeks to try some new designs, and also to repeat some of the designs that were ruined on the plates that have already been fired. I will have to find something to do with the plates that all have imperfections on them. It makes me sad just to think of them.
Shelly comes by for a short visit, and I have run out of time today to practice the violin. These days just fly by. We spend some time with her talking about whether she should rent her property out to one family, or to three different people, since there are three separate entrances. Before we know it, it's time to change and leave to pick up Tiziano and his friend, Alessandra.
We drive off to Bassano in Teverina, and we are early for the concert, which is to start at 9 PM. We know that means probably 9:30.
The concert is one we'll long remember.
There is an American named Steven Roach who is artistic director of the group putting on the performance. We spoke with him at the intermission and will invite him and his partner here for a visit very soon. He remembered seeing Sofi and me at the Orte train station, right after his basotto died, so when we were introduced to him he remembered me and only wanted to talk about Sofi, expressing regret that she was not with us.
The program itself was set up last year, and tonight is the culmination of its first annual classic music session for dedicated opera singers. I think the session lasted two or three weeks, during which time individual coaching played a major role. Look up this site:www.borgomusica.it to learn more.
We heard singers practicing through open windows yesterday and spoke with a woman from Australia then, who told us that she would be one of the performers. There was also a woman from Texas in the program, but everyone else was Italian. Last night, there were eight women and one man, who each sang two pieces.
One woman at tonight's concert sang a knockout piece I have emailed Donna Pizzi to check out. It was Puccini's Suor Angelica "Senza mamma". When the woman sang the piece, she formed the high notes with the sweetest quietest round "O" of her mouth and raised her head at an angle to sing like a bird listening for a refrain.
I loved her style, not forcing any of the notes, even taking the more difficult notes and singing them quieter to make a more dramatic emphasis. I thought of Donna with every note, hearing her sing the same notes in my mind. Chills ran up and down my spine and we all wanted to stand up and cheer when she finished.
The entire concert was wonderful. She again sang the last piece, "E'strano.." from Verdi's La Traviata, and during the piece the only male student in the group sang from outside the open door of the little church in a duet. You probably know the famous piece. It was quite a surprise, for we had no idea this would happen.
Since this was Tiziano's first experience listening to live opera, I told him it was the best possible way for him to develop a taste for the music. He certainly expressed surprise at how much he enjoyed the experience. We would be so pleased if this leads to a genuine interest in his part.
I think it's going to thunder and rain, but the valley is merely covered with a thick layer of fog. By the time we walk up to mass, the sky has cleared, and the warm weather has certainly returned.
Once up in the borgo, we take a look at the new boxwood trees and planters. It is as if the Commune read my mind. I really like the choices of whoever was on the committee. Although the balls of the trees are too small for the planters, they will grow. We complement Livio, and he is pleased.
It is the Ferragosto weekend, and there are many people in the village. Roy walks into church to sit on our usual bench, but I look out for Marsiglia and Felice. They are nowhere around. Francesco sits on the steps of the little house at the end of the walk near their house, and I ask him while standing at the base of the steps to the church if they are coming. He shakes his index finger like a metronome, in characteristic Italian fashion, for it seems they will not attend mass this morning.
I sit inside, and feel unsettled. "Here they are," Roy whispers, turning around to see them both at the door. The church has mostly filled up, with one seat on the aisle behind us, and room for one more on our bench. Franca arrived a few minutes ago and sits next to Roy. So I put my arms around Marsiglia, who does not look well, and guide Felice to the seat behind us, helping Marsiglia to the seat on the aisle next to me.
She is given a flyer with today's mass information, but pays little attention to it, holding her hands over her bastone in front of her and gazing off into space. At one point during the mass, she drops the paper, and Serena notices it and walks quickly over to pick it up and ask her if she is all right. She merely gazes off toward the Madonna.
Serena walks over to her a minute or two later for Communion, leading her in front of us. When they walk around toward the back, they continue to walk outside to the bench in front of Livio and Giuliola's house to sit. Marsiglia is so grief stricken as a result of the sudden death of her dear sister a week ago, that she is unable to act her usual spirited self.
As soon as the mass ends, I walk out to find them. By this time, Felice sits on one side of her, Serena on the other. Her sister in law and Giuliola stand in front of her, and all of us act like coaches, trying to shake Marsiglia from her incredibly sad state. Felice does not know what to do. Of the two, she is the strong one, and he seems lost.
I don't know what else to do, so put my hands on her shoulders, give her two kisses and tell her that I love her. I wipe tears from her cheeks and beam at her feeble smile. It will take time.
Italo sits on a bench at the other end of the plaza, and outwardly seems to be doing better than Marsiglia. We tell them all we'll see them tonight at the dinner, and walk down the hill. All the while, I carry Marsiglia in my heart, praying for her to give her the strength to move on. I don't know what else to do.
At home, I take the enormous zucchini I found in the orto yesterday and shred it for the zucchini fritters. I made a triple batch of the beer batter earlier in the morning, and while it sits, the zucchini will sit in strainers in the sink, sprinkled with salt, to get them to "cry" and shed extra water. Before noon, I wring the zucchini out in a thin kitchen cloth, then add it to the batter along with chopped mint and liberal shakes of Tabasco.
Roy readies the girasole oil in a deep pan in the outdoor kitchen, and for the next hour I make about 120 little fritters to take to Alan and Wendy's pranzo festa, along with a chocolate cake, prepared after arriving home from church.
Sofi will come with us. Although Wendy told me on Friday night that pranzo would start at 2PM, we arrive at around 1:30 and people are already crowded around the table, scarfing up all the food. Our fritters last less than five minutes. That makes me happy.
For some reason, I lost my appetite cooking the fritters, especially since I still can't eat them. So I sit with glasses of water and enjoy the company of Tia and her guests from Rome and other friends sitting with us under the enormous weeping willow tree.
Tia tells me that she wants a set of twelve painted ceramic dinner and salad plates and bowls, so I tell her that if she figures out what she wants, I will paint them for her. This will be a very good experience. And Tia is such a good friend that she'll be my greatest fan, helping me to expand my talents to do work for others. I look forward to working with Tia to come up with a design all her own.
We stay until six PM, for David and Steve and another neighbor bring out their guitars. I am amazed at how many not well-known Beatles songs I remember word-for-word. Rusty Raccoon and Why Don't We Do it In the Road? are two that make me laugh. The Rusty song is sung by Alessandro, a neighbor who does not speak much English, but memorized all the words to this complicated lyric.
We sit on opposite sides of a long table and sing the lyrics back and forth to each other as though we are on opposite ends of a teeter-totter. The day is a great deal of fun, especially since there is a lot of time to sit and chat with quite a few very friendly people.
Sofi enjoys herself a great deal today, especially liking the frizzante water given to her in a plastic cup, her nose just a little smaller in diameter than the vessel itself. For most of the day, she stays near me like the ombra (shadow) that she is.
Back at home, we relax for an hour, then get ready for the village dinner in the borgo. Sofi stays at home while we walk up to be with our neighbors and friends.
Two hundred people sit at long tables of 40 people each. Each person is connected to Mugnano in some way. Although we thought we would arrive early, we are late, and have to find a spot with people we do not know, except for Nando, who sits alone to my right. After a while, we strike up conversations with others around us.
Marieadelaide is back, and is brought a big bouquet of flowers. The village "poet" reads a letter from her in thanks to the people of the village. After we finish eating, I walk over to her and welcome her back, asking when she'll return to her place singing in church. She tells us she is ready. Serena sits to her right, and we speak about Marsiglia. Although I don't understand everything she is saying, we are able to tell each other that Marsiglia is doing better.
After sharing a few minutes with Lore and Alberto, we walk home, and the night is very cool. Augusto tells us on the way home that it should rain tomorrow. It is time to prepare for fall and winter, although we have a month or more of summer yet to come.
I go to bed thinking of Marsiglia and Felice, who we missed not seeing tonight. At the last Mugnano dinner about a month ago, we sat with the whole family. I remember holding her hand during a lot of the evening, and can imagine her thinking back on that night, with her sister sitting across from her, laughing. It is time to move on.
Ferragosto begins with an overcast sky. The weather is perfect for putting up tomatoes. Now that we have a sturdy manual tomato processor, we take a pass at putting up a few jars of tomatoes. Tomorrow, Candace and Frank from Orvieto will arrive to put up some of their own. We expect to be taking on a mentoring role then, letting them do the processing for the first time with us looking on, so it is important that we have a proper setup.
We love the new metal machine, cranked onto the table in the summer kitchen like a vise. When Roy turns the handle, the seeds squeeze out through the round hole of a kind of cone, the pulp pushed out through the metal mesh. This makes the procedure so easy, when compared to our previous methods! After past processing, whenever we'd use a jar of tomatoes, I'd get out my mother's Foley Food Mill and crank away, separating the seeds from the rest of the tomatoes, before using them. From now on, Foley will sit in the back hall like the old Maytag repairman.
We process two large and one small jars, just enough for us to see if the new processor will work. We are now ready for our new friends to experience this rite of passage as Italian contadini.
I am reminded of a conversation I had last night with Nando, who sat beside me on a long bench at the village cena, while his wife, Rita, stayed at home. We think Nando had some kind of office job before he retired, but a few years ago bought a little place right near the bus stop.
At first, he seemed to hang around outside the door of his house, waiting for people to pass by to share conversations, or at least a passing word or two. But as time passed, he obtained a small orto garden, down the hill next to Pasquale's orto, and it was at that time that he seemed to begin to enjoy himself as a pensionato (pensioner), spending time at his orto instead of on his front stoop.
For the first time in his life, he began to plant tomatoes and insalata (lettuces and things for salads, like cetrioli (cucumbers), cipole (onions) and sedano (celery). Someone sold him a little rig, a tiny motorized engine with a container on the back, one that he parks across the street in a cantina-come-garage. And now he can be seen puttering up and down the hill, waving to us as he passes by.
When I asked him about his orto, he responded modestly. This has been his very first experience planting anything at all. I told him we were also new contadini (farmers), looking to our teacher, Felice, for guidance, and we needed quite a bit of that.
He seemed not too happy with the results of his plantings. Perhaps it is difficult for him to ask for advice, something the Italians are so willing to give. I use the term contadino, but we are not contadinos at all, merely dabbling at a little of this and that. This dabbling thing is what stranieri dream of, and the opportunity to doff the mantle for a short while is what the Italian experience is all about. We jump in with both feet. Sometimes we get holed up in the mud. But then, just when we think we've made a mess of the whole thing, someone comes by to guide us out.
I've learned to not eat much at night, so tonight's pasta course is all I have, but Roy does not miss a thing. We speak with people who are visiting from Rome, and one young man wants to know how an Italian deals with the American medical system when taking a vacation to the U S. What a strange turn-around for us! We sadly tell them they are in for an expensive time, if something happens to them and they need to use a hospital.
Life back in the U S seems so unreal to us. We have, however, purchased medical insurance to cover us for our annual trip to see our family. It costs around $600 for a year, and is a world-wide insurance policy. The longer we live here, the stranger the life in the U S becomes. "You will feel more comfortable living in a country other than your own" Ruby advised me ten years ago. She is my astrologer, who I visit each November. With her spot-on accuracy of my future, I consider her a necessary part of each visit.
This morning, we pick a couple of our first heirloom tomatoes. Two of the three are enormous strangely shaped yellow fruits, weighing about half a kilo or more each. They are so big that they seem to grow around the stems, so plucking them off becomes an act of minor surgery. We'll eat them tomorrow for pranzo with fresh buffala mozzarella and basilico from the garden, and Diego or Tia's olive oil.
Just as the tomato-filled glass jars have been processing for thirty minutes or more, we hear a crack of lightening, and for the next half hour experience a downpour of Noah's proportions. It is gorgeous, when seen from the front doorway, the valley becoming a grey fog-like scene, the dry earth thirstily drinking up nourishment. Sofi sits behind me, shaking, until I pick her up and hold her. The noise frightens her incredibly.
Today's rain is so heavy that when later walking across the terrace, we carefully maneuver over water collecting in pools on the gravel, still working its way through the nursery cloth below. Once it has passed, the sun reappears, and we are reassured that we'll have our procession tonight after all.
Two hours before the outdoor mass and procession, the Lotteria takes place in the square. More than a hundred people congregate, holding their slips of numbered paper in the hopes that they'll each win the prosciutto. Now that is not the grand prize, a color TV is, but it is the prosciutto that everyone wants.
We don't win a thing, and the prosciutto goes to a young woman whose mother lives in the village. We do not know her. Tiziana wins a small appliance and Anna Cozzi wins a hair dryer. That is funny, since she is the village beautician.
We stop at home for an hour, and return to the square without Sofi this time. The benches are moved outside, and the altar and the Madonna as well. Roy changes into his Confraternity costume, and we see him a few minutes later, holding one of the four large lanterns, lit by candles. Lore and I sit together.
Roy turned on the Christmas lights that ring the terrace before we left home, and set out ten red votives at the front corner of the property. Our two main trees are lit as well, so although the procession does not proceed all the way to our house, everyone knows we're sending off the Madonna with all the light we have to offer.
After the procession, I see Marsiglia and Felice sitting back on a bench at the end of the path leading to their house, in full view of the outdoor mass, but in semi-darkness. I tell Lore I am going to see Marsiglia, and walk over to her and to Felice to see if I can cheer them up.
She is cold, so I wrap my pashima scarf around her and me, and stand in front of her. She puts her head against my chest. Because I am so short, she merely has to lean forward from her bench. And we watch the remainder of the mass in a sweet embrace. Before I leave them, she reassures me that she is better. Earlier, Felice tells me that I am her "altre mama". Does he mean she is my other mother, or I am hers?
I walk back to Lore and then to Tiziano and Fulvia, while I wait for Roy. We start to make plans to get together next weekend at the Guardea Cinghiale Sagra, and Roy appears. Then the sky opens up and we find ourselves standing in a misty rain. Dorme bene. I put the scarf over my head and we walk home under a misty rain. It is lovely, with the more than half full moon partly obscured by clouds.
So it's clear this morning, and cool. The rain last night cleared the air, and it is only on the far hills that we see the mist, rising in all its dark colorless mystery. But as the day wears on, the temperature rises, and by the time we sit down for pranzo, it is very warm. We know that to be true, for a pesky cicada above us hiding in the caki tree rubs his legs so fast, it must be at least ninety. (We are told that it is an almost scientific fact that the temperature has a direct correlation between the number of clicks of the cicada and the actual temperature.)
Candace (Candida) and Frank (Francesco) meet up with Roy at the Attigliano off ramp and arrive at our house before 9 AM, after picking up jars and lids from Bruno. All the local contadini buy their supplies from Bruno, so it is mandatory that their first experience began at his little shop. We of course have to delay the start of the work party for a bit of espresso and brioches in the cool kitchen before they jump in to their first tomato processing session.
But by ten they are in full swing, with water boiling around empty bottles and lids on the big burner, tomatoes bobbing in the first water bath on the hotplate, and the two of them standing on either side of a folding table at cutting boards, skinning and coring the just blanched tomatoes and plopping them into the big red plastic bowl fitted on top of the processor.
For the next hour, they methodically skin, core and cut through at least one hundred tomatoes, and it is only when they run out of jars (they process at least nine one-liter jars) that they stop. Roy stands by them, pacing them as if they are in a marathon, guiding them and pouring the just finished juicy pulp into the jars, after dropping in the requisite lemon juice and salt into each one.
Frank masterfully pushes the tomatoes down, down toward the bottom of the bowl and turns the crank. Candace cuts and cores and skins the hot tomatoes as if she has done it all her life. We all watch the machine spew out dry pulp and seeds through the hole at the end, juice from the middle and pulp squeeze out of the little holes until it falls or is guided off down into the big plastic pitcher that sits on a stool at just the right height to catch it all.
Quite a bit of juice and seeds remains in the bowl, so Candace ladles some into a separate strainer and strains more juice through it until only seeds are left. They decide to bottle some of the seeds and pulp and juice in separate jars as well. A great deal of compost mounds up, and we bag it for them to take home.
Sadly, Roy is still not interested in composting. (For those of you, who are fans of composting, feel free to email him to try to change his mind. I am sure I can come up with some kind of worthy prize for the person or persons who succeed.)
The lids are tightened and the jars are set inside the boiling water bath with special tongs purchased just for this purpose. The jars boil for thirty or forty minutes, before being set aside to cool and the tops to "pop", letting us know later in the day that they have all taken their seals.
Since the loggia is small, I keep out of the way, walking in and out from the kitchen, adding counsel now and then, providing more freshly squeezed lemon juice, and listening to their stories. Of course we add a few of our own stories now and then, but this is their day, and they take to this like Italians take to pranzo, seriously and wholeheartedly.
Speaking of pranzo, I fix our meal inside, and it is our standard fare: heated zucchini fritters, cold chicken tonnato, sliced heirloom tomatoes with buffala mozzarella and basil and oil, fresh bread, crisp local Orvieto Classico wine and of course chocolate cake for dessert. We eat outside, under the shade of the caki tree and a big umbrella, but there is a breeze, and it is heavenly.
While the tomatoes boil in their jars, we all have time to take a walk into the village, and it is fun to see the activity of our neighbors just before pranzo. Most of the women are seen wearing the requisite aprons, but a few, like Elena, who snaps fresh beans from Valerio's garden while she sits and laughs and greets us when we walk by, sit outside and do what the people of Mugnano do best: observe the goings on of the day.
Our two new friends leave just before four, accepting our offer to return next week to process more, and we settle down for an afternoon nap for Sofi and me and a session in front of the T V for Roy. Later there is a shower, which cools the air and tells us there will be a lovely sunset.
We spend a few minutes with Paola and Mario and Pepe in our joint meeting place between our two gardens, where we agree to see them again tonight in the borgo.
Last night, we took a walk up to the borgo, and just before 10 PM, games that rivaled those of camp royanee began for the children of Mugnano and yes, also for the parents. A relay race took place with three teams, racing across the plaza and around three chairs and back with hardboiled eggs on spoons propelled from their mouths, three abreast.
The adults were shameless when it was their turn, at once every bit as loud as the children, more rowdy, but with no respect for order or fair play. It was all very silly and fun, especially for those of us who sat at the sidelines on white plastic chairs rimming the "stage".
We left when a pi–ata game on a rope with a ceramic pitcher instead of a pi–ata got out of hand. Ivo's son, Andrea, was blindfolded but able to hit the pot with a stick hard enough to break it. a mat was placed under the pitcher, and the broken shards and candy fell to the ground.
A second ceramic pitcher was then hung in its place, and Salvatore was elected to play. After a couple of aborted tries, to assure he would be successful breaking the pitcher, Mauro (his father) taped a hammer at the end of the stick. We could not look after seeing the hammer hit the new mattone pavement...twice. Boh! I wonder if there was any damage.
Sofi was as happy as either of us to leave, rather afraid of all the screaming. We had to admit that the children were adorable. Mauro and Francesco were the obvious ringleaders and full of joy. It was good to see them so happy. The people of Mugnano are certainly a joyous group, with little or no petty squabbling when it comes to their children.
This morning, we are so sad to see an email from Julie Baker, Ernestine Campagnoli's daughter. Joy, Julie's sister, has been diagnosed with an advanced brain tumor. Look up the site: http://www.justgiving.com/pfp/iraceforjoy
to learn more about the disease, as well as what is being done to raise money to combat the disease in her name.
We remember a glorious afternoon here, with Ernestine and her two daughters, Joy and Julie, and loved meeting Joy. Our love and thoughts go out to her and her whole family.
After almost six weeks of waiting for our appointment with our dottoressa at the hospital in Orvieto, the day arrives. On the way, we stop at Maria Antonietta's in Guardea to pick up my unfired ceramics, and to tell her we think we have found a better oven for us, and perhaps another teacher. She is fine with all of it, telling us that when she was first learning, she had three. She offers to give me a lesson anytime, and I hope to see her again. She is a wonderful woman.
We drive on to the hospital, and after a wait are ushered in to see the gastroenterologist we have seen a few times before. Everything on the tests we show her looks fine until she comes to a paragraph regarding colesteroli and her eyes open wide. She asks me, "Didn't you have your gall bladder removed?" I respond, "Yes, in 1985."
"Impossible. This report is so strange. It is impossible to have coleseroli if you have no gall bladder!" And then, "I'll give you a note, so return to them and ask them what this means."
While she is writing the note, I ask her if she is writing a prescription for eyeglasses for the doctor who gave me the ecocardiogram. She thinks it's very funny. I am to return to see her at the beginning of September with the corrected results. It appears I had some kind of virus, one that was taken care of by the use of medicine and a bland diet. So she lets me have a drop or so of alcohol in the next two weeks, and we'll see both our local dottoressa and the people at Terni who performed the procedure on me in a day or two.
Back at home, Roy eats more chicken tonnato, plus heirlooms and marinated alici for pranzo, while I have a plate full of heirloom tomatoes, buffala mozzarella, fresh basilico and olive oil. What's not to like?
Then it's off for a dolce fa niente (nap). After a headache last night I'm so very tired. And it's now so warm I might as well. Roy gets to hang out and watch T V until the temperature cools down.
We've cut back on watering. The tomatoes are showing signs that they are getting too much water. By cutting back on the water a few days before they're ready, we're told they'll be much sweeter. But since they're not all ready at the same time, that advice is dicey. We agree to cut back because we've had rain almost every day.
We have all the specifications for building a bocce court, so plan to walk off the space after the weather cools. But by the time Roy waters and I pick some of the gigantic heirlooms, it is almost dark and we decide to watch a rented movie instead. Perhaps tomorrow.
While sitting down to watch The Aviator, a movie that we've just rented, we hear an explosion. It is Frank's bottle of homemade wine, the plastic pop shooting up from the counter and bouncing off the bottom of the wooden cabinet. Luckily it missed the down light right next to it. Roy tastes it, and it's really not bad, but has quite a spritz. This is not the first time we've had exploding red wine, so think we'll pass on keeping gifts of homemade red wine from friends in the future. We'll have to drink it right away.
Dottoressa Ofelia wants to know how our Dottoressa in Orvieto responded after seeing the sbagliato (wrong) Terni report of my ecographia. She then hand wrote a detailed letter to the lab in Terni, telling them explicitly what she expected to see as a result. Now, it would have been impossible for the woman performing the exam to miss the scar from my gall bladder operation that took place more than twenty years ago. It's not quite as large as the scar that Lyndon Johnson proudly exhibited when he was president, but it's impossible to miss. So our Dottoressa is sure that this is the report of another patient. Boh!
We can't return to Terni today to demand a retest, because they're closed for the week. So we return home for pranzo. I'm feeling better, anyway. Both doctors agree that I probably had some kind of infection, one that was cleared up by medicines and a bland diet.
Later in the afternoon we take a drive to see the people in Porchiano who had called us, asking us to do some garden and landscaping consulting. I had a feeling that they were not serious about a full design, so suggested that they probably just wanted to have someone turn over the soil and put in lawn for now, calling us in the future if they want a more detailed design or project management specifying and supervising the pool installation. They agreed. We'd rather have people happy than try to convince them to do a major project if their hearts aren't in it.
Back at home, we take a walk up to the borgo to Lore and Alberto's, because we don't know which house the man lives in who wants to give us the huge empty wine casks. Lore finds his wife in the square sitting next to Anna Cozzi, and they both come to the cantina and take us inside. It is cool and immaculate. We walk down several steps to a beautiful deep cave, one that has steps descending down another level as well. We are shown the casks, some of which have the original old cord baskets around them.
Next to several of the casks, which we thankfully agree to pick up tomorrow morning, is a very old wooden machine, used to separate the skins from the grapes during vendemmia season. We will put it somewhere in the garden, or in the grotto in the loggia. We thank them and walk back to the plaza, where an elaborate stage is being set up and more than one hundred and fifty plastic chairs are being set up by Alberto Cozzi and F and Mari Fosci.
Tonight there will be a spettacolo, but it will be a comedy. We tell them that we will not attend, for as difficult as the Italian language is for us, joke telling in the local dialect is far worse. "Non capito!" we tell them. Sofi is with us, having just had a run-in with Felix, Lore's wild cat, who sits like the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, just staring. Sofi had run ahead of us toward Lore's and came upon Felix. I don't think Felix lifted a paw toward her, but she squealed as though she was being operated on without anesthesia. We came running nonetheless.
Back at home, we settle down for an early evening in front of the T V. We watch The Company, a Robert Altman film about the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. Then Sofi and I go to bed, with Roy remaining to do channel switching for a while before joining his girls. Outside, the moon is almost full. We are hoping for a quieter night than last, when every dog in the valley howled all night long. But if the moon is truly full, we're expecting the worst.
Italo's fish truck dances up the hill. While its country songs joyously float along on the breeze, his fish bounce along on icy tins inside. We're walking to the studio when he drives by, for I'm about to continue to fashion the design on the top of the torta d'airea (cake plate).
Sofi joins me, resting on her bed under the front counter. Once the violin music begins, I study the beginning of the penciled drawing, and move where it takes me. The design on top is an elaborate one, but one that I really enjoy.
We have one soft shower this morning, the raindrops hardly making a sound on the roof. We ignore the rain, and before we know it the rain has stopped. The sky remains overcast. I fear that summer as we knew it has passed, and so don't hold out much hope for the tomatoes.
Those we've tasted have too much water content. I'll ask Roy to cut back again on the watering. But unless we have more hot sun, this will not be a crop to remember. I'm sure it will make good bottled sauce just the same.
We drive up to the borgo to pick up two lovely huge wine bottles, and Luciana's son in law is waiting for us. He's decided to keep a few of the bottles and baskets, but agrees to give us two. We pass on the big machine, because it has several parts, and we think we won't have the proper place for it in the garden.
I put one bottle on the hand truck, and Roy carries the other, balancing his hand on the bottle resting behind me. We reach the car without incident, which is parked right outside the borgo, and arrive back home quickly. Before I know it, it's time to prepare pranzo, which on these days is a simple affair.
Roy works on publishing the first of the plates on the web site. We've been asked by friends to let them see what I've been writing about. So look on the photos blog for a start. There are many plates and tiles and pitchers, and we'll post a selection of them as time goes by.
After a nap, I return to the studio, and by the time it's dark I've painted all I can on this piece until I meet with my new teacher at the end of the month. Surely he can come up with some fine points to make the piece just right. I'm now ready to move on to something else. Tia calls, and the apricot dipping sauce recipe we've given her is such a hit that she'll bring it on Sunday with sausage rolls. I'll make a panzanella salad. If you like Italian bread salad, look at the recipe on our web site. It is unusual and a delicious way to use great tomatoes. Or even nearly great tomatoes.
Late in the day, with a navy blue sky surrounding us, the man in the moon looks out with a full belly. I love the colors of the moon against the dark blue backdrop. I can surely see eyes and a nose and mouth facing the borgo. All around us the sound of crickets chant, and the lights of Orte wink and blink to the south of us.
We take a walk up to the borgo, but when we pass Luigina's garage on the way, it is open and instead of a car, there is a long table with more than a dozen neighbors sitting around inside. We're invited in, and stop for a drink. Oosten is there, and it is good to see him again. He'll leave next week for a teaching job in Norway, but his heart will remain in Mugnano.
Little Feruccio wants to play with Sofi, but she is not particularly fond of young boys. I think that is because they are so lively. Roy shows him how to feed her a treat, and she warms up a little. Feruccio is the grandson of Romeo and the older brother of Antonello.
We don't stay long in the borgo, only long enough to pass a little time with Ivo and his wife. A group of men are playing cards, which is a new activity that makes me think of the plaza in Attigliano, where the men hang out all day long and play cards. I don't think this will happen here. But over on the steps to the little church, the ragazzi are playing card games of their own. Sofi is relieved. No one chases after her.
The sounds of the night continue, as we walk home under the full moon.
It's cool again, so we spend a lot of time this morning in the garden. I have been neglecting the garden since my love affair with ceramics began. But this morning, I'm methodically cleaning and grooming plants, weeding and enjoying the garden.
I take a break at about eleven, and Sofi and I move to the studio, where I paint a little jar. Later, I sit on the chair in the bedroom while Roy works on the photos of the ceramics for the site, picking up my notebook and drawing new flower designs. By now, they first ceramic designs have been posted, so you can see what all the fuss has been about.
What you'll see on the photos section of this site, are some of the first things I've painted. Right now, I have a dozen or more pieces ready to be fired that are not shown. But until I find the right oven, and the right teacher, they'll just sit in the studio.
When I take my lesson at the end of the month with a new teacher, I'll bring about twenty pieces, hoping not to overwhelm the maestro, who has a studio in Deruta. Let's hope he can help me, and also lets hope he'll fire my pieces, subito! I'd like them to be finished before the first of our houseguests arrive on the 10th of September.
Most of the pieces on the site are based on styles of the Renaissance. When you see the word, "grotesque", it refers to a style made famous by Rafaello, in the 16th century. I have been studying grotesques, and teaching myself their marvelous art form, at once intricate and delicate, their characters patterned after characters that are, well, grotesque!
We have a short rainstorm today while we're in the studio, but other than a dark sky and a few raindrops, there is nothing to speak of. I love working in the studio during rain and hearing the rain on the roof. Tonight, there is thunder in the distance and a lot of wind. We expect a big storm.
Earlier in the day, Felice arrived and warned us about our peach tree. We put up a bamboo pole to steady one of the branches, laden with beautiful but unripe fruit. I suspect they'll be ripe just as Cherie and Pete arrive. Let's hope the birds don't get to them first.
While he's here, Roy asks him about the amarena (cherry) tree. There is one dead branch, a large one, and Felice tells him to saw it off. Roy starts to saw from the top, and Felice tells him to saw "From Roma to Milano". So he moves the saw to cut from the bottom up. Then he moves the saw to cut "From Milano to Roma."
Once he does, Felice takes two branches and brings them together, asking us to give him a piece of twine to tie them together so that they will grow together. Lower on one of the two remaining branches, there is a strong shoot that sends its growth toward the empty part of the tree. So this winter, we'll train it to even the tree out. This old tree may make it after all. Grazie, dear Felice.
The sky is overcast, and we wear jackets to walk up to church. This morning, Don Luca is full of life. But there is an unexpected happening in the middle of mass.
On Sundays, Tiziano usually walks up to read the first gospel. But today, after a short pause, his mother stands up with her eye glasses in her hand and walks up to the podium from her seat in the second pew and starts to read. Tiziano is not in church this morning.
She reads haltingly, sometimes going back to read a few words. I am amazed, because it is as if she wants to get the flow of the words right, in the proper speed, as much as she wants to pronounce the words correctly. She obviously has trouble with the angle of the bible and holds it up so that she can read it better. As she finishes, she begins to say, "Scusa.." but is drowned out by Vincenzo and the rest of us, who loudly sing out on cue.
After mass, she is fuming. We find her sitting in front of Ernesta's with Elena. Elena sits next to her silently. Roy tells me to leave her alone, but I am so proud of her that I want to tell her so. I take her hand, but she almost rises from the bench she is so angry.
We don't know why she is angry. Is it that there is no one else who'd move right up to read in Tiziano's absence? I love the fact that the mass is so important to her that she steps into the void, not thinking if she's ready to read or not. That is one devout woman.
I tell her that she sounded perfectly to me, and although everyone around thinks that's funny, because I hardly understand anything anyway, she continues to fume. We leave to walk down the hill and see Don Luca, who brings to my attention the fact that he did not figit with his ring during his homily, with a big smile. This has been one strange church experience. Could it be the weird weather?
At home, I fix our panzanella salad with heirloom tomatoes and a honey marinade. We leave Sofi at home and drive to Tia's, then follow Bruce and Tia and Michael to the party for Daniela and Jill and David. We love the house, and Jill and David's little building that they are going to restore will be a marvel. There must be fifty people, and we're happy we've brought a lot of panzanella.
Once I finish cutting the tomatoes and drizzling the olive oil and basilico in the kitchen, Roy brings out the huge platter. He stands near it, to see what the Italians will do when they see the strangely colored tomatoes. They think it is a fruit salad, until Roy explains, so he stands there as the line moves. Later in the day, a number of people single me out to tell me how much they like the salad. When we leave, I see one large yellow tomato in our basket in the car, so have Roy wait while I bring it back to the party and give it to one of the Italian women.
Jill tells us before we leave that they love the neighbors so, that they just had to buy the little house. We agree, for we have spent an hour or so talking with them. The location of their house is Cappuccini, in the countryside outside Amelia, and the people are warm and friendly and full of good stories. We so enjoy getting to know them.
It is our turn to do a pranzo for the smaller group, but Jill will leave on Wednesday, Tia and Bruce for a week on Friday, then Loraine and Francesco the weekend they get back for two weeks. I am getting to like the group so much that I hate to let so much time go by. But in the next couple of days, we'll drive to see Francesco. He agrees to look at a few of my unpainted ceramics, and to fire them to see if he can figure out what has been going wrong.
We leave to return to Sofi and for me to figure out what kind of design I can do for Tia on her plates.
We're beginning to admit that summer has passed us by. This may well be a cool August and September. It is surely starting out that way. So it rained last night, blah, blah.
We're up early and leave for the lab in Terni before 9AM. When we arrive and show them our notes from our doctors, the technician does not bat an eye. She knows this could be potentially serious. But without the mighty arms of America's judicial system, she's not too worried. I'm ushered in quite soon, but since I did not fast, they think they're covered.
Disclaimers abound on my new report. We ask them for copies of our doctors' notes, and the doctor asks us why. Roy looks down and says, "I don't know why." So we leave and realize they're wiping their hands of us. Now Dottoressa will probably give me a bad time and tell me to fast and take another test. I'll see her on Wednesday in Mugnano and if she wants me to, of course I will. They tell me everything looks fine and yes, I do not have a gall bladder after all.
We take a walk across the street to Antinucci, the upscale china and gifts shop, to see if there are any interesting plate patterns to get ideas from. There are none. So we bounce around from place to place, doing our errands and basically acting silly and having a good time. We arrive at Tia and Bruce's at about noon, and Sofi is very excited to see her pals, at least for a few minutes. Then the dogs all settle down and ignore each other.
Roy and Bruce begin a glass repair project on a beautiful Murano vase that was knocked over by a cat and damaged. Roy is excited because it means he'll have to buy a new tool or two. After less than thirty minutes, they've taken a break and decided that Roy needs more supplies. They are confident they can repair the glass. I roll my eyes but if they're having fun, that's the most important thing.
We sit in the kitchen eating pranzo, and afterward Tia and I spend a little time figuring out what their plates will look like. She agrees on a little bird design, similar to the sunny Vietri Sul Mar plates in different colors. Bruce thinks the design will take a lot of work. I'm going to see if I can create something similar and have it cost less.
As soon as we're home, I change clothes and Sofi and I move out to the studio, while Roy drives off to Viterbo. After drawing a number of little birds, I decide on one and design a salad plate and a dinner plate. Tomorrow we'll see if Francesco will fire them, to see if the basic idea works and I have the right smalto or glaze as an undercoat. Then we'll drive to Deruta to buy the correct shade of blue and see if we can find some 30 cm dinner plates and bowls.
We've agreed to try one plate to make sure they're what they want and come out perfectly before doing all 36 pieces. It is important to me that she really likes the bird as well. So I'll draw out a couple of different birds. We'll all win on this. Tia and Bruce will get new plates for a great price and I'll have a whole set under my belt, ready to take orders. Very soon, we'll start the business in earnest.
I love working in the studio. When it rains, the sound of the rain on the roof is a wonderful thing. Sofi is happy at my feet, and the violin music on the CD player is all I need to get me going.
Roy comes home, and before he walks into the house, he walks over to the studio. He loves the bird plates, so we'll fire them tomorrow, and see what changes we have to make.
In the meantime, Shelly comes by with a large tile covered with words, it's 20cm by 24cm and sure, Roy tells her, Evanne will reproduce it. It is kind of a stenciling project, unless I want to just try my hand at painting the letters freehand.
I look out the window up at the moon, and it is just past full, with inky black clouds moving across it like smeared paint. It's telling me it is watching me, and that I'd better take these projects slowly. Soon, I hope, I'll have more work than I know what to do with.
Shelly gives me an idea for a proposal to the European Union for a studio involving Tiziano and myself and perhaps a person who works with clay. We are in an Etruscan zone, and perhaps we can even get funding for turning San Rocco into a studio of Etruscan pottery and history. Then there'll be room for Tiziano's museum. The moon likes this idea. It's telling me to go to bed, and to dream sweet dreams about it. I'll let you know tomorrow what transpires in dreamland.
Almost every night, there are fireworks somewhere nearby. Tonight they sound off in the direction past Bomarzo. Some nights, we close the window in the direction of the noise. Sofi usually hides under the bed. But she is very tired tonight. So while I sit at the computer and the fireworks blare, she lays by my feet in her little wicker bed, not making a sound.
With rain and more rain and more rain, Roy has completely turned off the irrigation systems. We don't hold out much hope for the tomatoes of either variety. But we did not plant many, so it's not a big deal. We have put up about thirty jars, so that will do quite well for a lot of the winter. It's not as if there are no tomatoes in Italia...
This morning, we pack up several of the unfired ceramics and take them to Francesco in the countryside of Giove. He does not work much with smalto, although he has a kiln and is a ceramacista by trade. Tia just purchased eight terra cotta garden lights from him, so he's busy filling orders for her and taking on other commissions.
He kindly agrees to give us some time, and mixes up a batch of cristallina and another of smalto in big plastic tubs. What I have been using on the terra cotta plates is not smalto, but some kind of a mix that my previous teacher came up with. I think she is adept at producing medieval ceramica, and her designs attest to that fact. This is a different process altogether. I am encouraged.
We take the several pieces and dip them into a cristallina bath with a special forbice that reminds me of the antiquated tooth-pulling tools of Dr. Venooker in Dorchester, MA. Francesco lets me dip one, and I hold the plate low in the mixture for about ten seconds, then take it out and hold it up on one end, watching the solution dry almost at once. Any imperfections are rubbed off, and the pieces are placed in the open oven.
He then takes a little terra cotta ashtray (boh!), dips it in the real smalto, and gives it to me to paint tomorrow morning. It needs to dry for 24 hours first. Then we'll take it back to him, along with the other pieces that have not been fired, and we'll see what the results are. As far as we are all concerned, any pieces that come out well will be a miracle.
From now on, we're going to use smalto exclusively, which we will purchase in Deruta and will dip ourselves. We are so thankful for Francesco, who is very kind and explains what needs to be done to obtain a glossy, professional looking finish. Now I'll have a lot more information when meeting my prospective insegnante (teacher) at the end of the month.
We arrive at the Bomarzo Commune and visit with Ivo, to ask him about the renewal of our Italian identity cards. He tells us to bring him three photos each before the end of fall, and that's it. By the way, he updates our current status, with merely a word from us that our permessos are to be renewed in 2006. His current records of us show our permessos expired as of 2004. Was it our responsibility to bring our renewals to him last year? We don't know, but will try to remember that next year. It would make perfect sense.
We have an appointment with Stefano Bonori, the mayor, at noon, and he rushes in all out of breath, followed by at least two people, each of which has a problem. He wipes his hands through his bristly short hair and puts his head face down on the desk in mock despair.
This man moves fast. He jumps to the telephone, calling this one, calling that one, making decisions, thanking people, all with the most serious expression. The two women leave, and he takes a big breath and sits back in his chair. He treats us as friends during our meetings, and we are thankful for that.
We are there for two reasons. First, we want to speak about buying a cemetery plot. He shows us a plot plan of the Mugnano cemetery. There are only two spaces left, box crypts located up on the highest most distant corner. He cannot even give them to us. "There is no room at the inn" so to speak. He realizes this is a terrible problem, for with residency, we have the right to purchase two cemetery plots.
We tell him we want to be cremated, and only need one. He still cannot help us, but tells us that in two weeks time, there will be a meeting to find a place for a kind of crematorium at the Mugnano cemetery. He applauds us for wanting to be cremated, because this is a practical solution to the lack of space available. Now he needs to put this into action.
We are moving forward. Slowly. It is important to us that if we die that our relatives will not have to go through any unnecessary arrangements. It was our choice to move so far away. The least we can do is keep their inevitable stress to a minimum. We hope to have a solution within the next few months. What we do know, is that if one of us passes away in the meantime, there are those two open spaces...
The next subject is one that gets him very excited. We tell him that we want to write a grant proposal to the European Union for a new use for San Rocco, including a museum for Tiziano's works, a place for a kiln and a ceramicista in clay (to be determined) and a studio space for me to paint ceramics.
The plan will include an educational component, illustrating Mugnano's Etruscan heritage as a place where important kilns were located, where tiles for the Pantheon and the Colosseum were produced, and more information that will be revealed later. He is very excited, although we all know that the next set of money available from the EU will be for the period beginning in 2006. That is fine with us. We have a lot of planning to do. We have his definite support, and that's all we ask for now. Tiziano will be so pleased when he hears what we have accomplished today.
Back at home, Roy decides that he is going to run the technical side of the ceramics business, and washes all the previously unglazed undercoat off under the sink in the loggia. He is really involved with the work now, and this pleases him. It also pleases me, for all I want to do is design and paint. He's responsible for the technical side, and also for the marketing and sales. Our personalities are the yin and yang of it all. I love having him involved.
We drive up to see Dottoressa with the results of the ecographia, and after waiting more than an hour for her, she is fresh and full of life and relaxed to see us, even though there have been at least a dozen people before us. Everything is all right, although she wants us to contact Dottoressa in Orvieto to let her see the results. We'll do that tomorrow.
Back at home again, it continues to rain, and we get ready to drive up to Oktoberfest tonight for the panocchio (corn on the cob) festival. In Italia, people feed corn to their animals, and we've never seen people actually eat panoccio at this festa at the pub. Tony and Pat will meet us there. I am tempted to bring some German butter, for they serve the corn on the cob hot and steamed just with salt. But it is delicious just the same.
It is just as we thought. We are practically alone in the pub. But the panocchio is delicious. At first, the young woman who waits on us tells us that we can only have it grilled, but we encourage here to ask if we can have it "bollito" and she finds out that we can. She also brings us some butter.
We all drink their delicious beer and Pat and Tony and Roy also eat grilled salsiche and patate fritti. The service is terrible, although we are practically alone. For their sake, we hope the service will improve. We drive back home to Sofi and look forward to a cool night's sleep.
I look out the window and everything I see is covered by a fine mist. I can see the plum and loquat trees on the terrace just below our window, but beyond that, everything becomes nothingness. Although it's raining, Roy tells me to get up to finish my painting by 9:30. We've slept in, and it feels good.
I'm looking forward to working with the new finish on the little piece, but have trouble painting. The brush sticks to the smalto as though it does not want to move. After a couple of aborted tries, I add quite a bit more water to the brush, and am able to come up with a good floral design before we drive off to Francesco's. I can't begin to imagine that I really painted an ash tray!
But first I have an appointment with Giusy in Orte for a pedicure, and that takes no time at all. She stands at the door smoking a cigarette when I arrive, and takes me right away. We finish in record time. This is one of the few times I really practice speaking in Italian. She is very patient with me, and helps me to explain that I am teaching myself how to paint ceramics. Teaching myself: this translates to.... Well, I'm not sure. I'll tell you in a later post.
Once we arrive at Francesco's, we drive up close to his studio, take out our stacked bins of uncooked but painted ceramics, and work with him, both inside his little studio and at the door, mixing the smalto and the cristallina. Well, he mixes while we watch and take instructions. Roy has his notebook, and takes this role seriously, using Francesco's forbice to lift each piece, dip it low in the cristallina, then hold it up at an angle to watch it dry.
He then takes a wet sponge and wipes off the cristallina on the bottommost edge of the piece. I imagine him back in the lab. For some reason, I have always seen him as a sort of chemist. I love seeing him in this role. He is a very important part of the ceramics process, and takes his role very seriously.
We almost fill the entire forno with our pieces, and Francesco agrees to fire them tomorrow. So on Friday morning they will be ready, and we'll return with hopes that this time, we'll be taking home pieces in excellent shape. It's past time for pranzo to begin, so we wish Loraine and Francesco a buon pranzo, and drive home to fix ours before setting out for Deruta.
The rain comes down in torrents, and we decide to hold off on our trip for a few hours. This time, we take Sofi, because she has been frightened by all the thunder and lightening. Roy wants to take a "short cut" that Tony recommended: over the hill to Alviano, through Montecchio and over the hill to Todi. Once in Todi, we'd return to the E-45.
I'm almost sick to my stomach by the time we reach Todi, and Roy admits that this trip is 20 minutes slower. The road is beautiful, but there are so many turnantes (hairpin turns), that both Sofi and I are bilious.
The countryside reminds us of West Marin. We pass several contadini in their apes or tractors, sitting up high wearing their little cloth hats and a two day stubble of beard, smiling as if the world is sweet and there's no place they'd rather be. Sitting in our car, we couldn't agree more. Except for the switchbacks on the road.
Once in Deruta, we purchase our supplies, then ask the owner of Mondo Ceramica where we should buy our biscotto, or terra cotta plates. He gives us a few names, but the shops are closed, so we return to the place we know. The people at this shop are very kind, and the cost for the "green" cotto is so inexpensive, we can't imagine going anywhere else. They remind us that they only close on Sundays, and if we want something on a Sunday, we have only to ring the bell. They live upstairs.
Tomorrow morning, Roy will mix the smalto. It then must sit for 2 days. Then he'll dip all the biscotto and it needs to sit for another 24 hours. So I won't be able to paint until Sunday. Francesco and Loraine leave for a holiday on September 4th, so I'll need to paint everything early next week to get it fired before they leave. He'd like to come to our house to see our operation, so we'll invite them for pranzo next week. By the time our first guests arrive on September 9th, we'll have quite a bit ready to go.
Somehow I am struck by something Francesco said earlier. He makes all his own plates. He does this because he cannot rely on the quality of the biscotto. On a number of our pieces, he points out areas of the clay that do not take the smalto well. This is something that only a practiced eye can see.
So it is possible that we will have to change to another shop to buy our biscotto in the future. For now, we'll wait to see how the pieces turn out of Francesco's kiln. There is so much to learn. And I have no interest in making my own biscotto or buying a kiln. At least for now...
We watch lightening and thunder surrounding us all the way home, but somehow escape the brunt of it. The sky is pink and lavender and grey and white and blue and oh how lucky we are to be alive.
A heavy fog gives way to bright sun. We're outside drinking up its rays like precious nectar. Now that I'm in between being able to paint, I clean up the studio and reorganize. Roy drives off to pick up a few supplies and returns to mix the smalto. It will seem like forever, but on Sunday I'll be able to return to painting again.
In the meantime, there is plenty to clean inside and out, and plenty to do in the garden. And of course there's that grant to the European Union to work on and the setting up of our ceramics business.
Roy returns and we turn the loggia into our ceramics workshop. Like a chemist, he figures out how much of the rutole to mix with the smalto to keep it from turning out bright white. Then he determines how much water to mix with the smalto, to turn it into the consistency that we'll need. I stand by with the hose, and upon command, add the water. He mixes, pours the mixture through the passato and when he's done, synchs it up with two bungee cords so that the mixture will meld for two days.
I fix sausages and grapes for pranzo, also in the loggia (the recipe is on the food blog) and Roy wants a salad of heirloom tomatoes and garbanzo beans. I eat my tomatoes with buffala and fresh basilico and Diego's tasty oil. The loggia has turned into the most wonderful space. We use it for so many things. If we're not frying on a burner out there to keep the smells out of the house, were putting up tomatoes or jams or mixing smalto for the ceramics.
With a big sink as well as multiple burners and a bombola, a freezer and a refrigerator, as well as plenty of counter space, we can utilize every bit of it. And when the weather turns cold and we reach the holidays, we turn the grotto into a presepio, or manger, and use the room like another refrigerator at night. This winter, we'll also do some of our cooking there.
Roy wants a different faucet: one with a spout that turns in either direction. He also thinks we can install hot water, with the hot water heater right around the corner. So we'll add this to our list, hopefully to be done before the end of this fall. We still have not heard from Spaccese, so will have to ask Pepe what has happened with his health.
The afternoon clouds over, but we don't have rain. Instead, Roy and I step out with a big bucket to cut down a big branch from the fig tree. Last night during the wind storm, the branch probably snapped due to all the wind and rain. Today's timing is perfect. There are so many ripe figs, just ready to make that marmelada di figi con zenzero. This year, the fig tree is more prolific than ever before.
Last fall, we cut quite a bit from the tree, shaping it and taking away some of the larger branches. It evidently liked the attention, for this year we will have many more figs. We pluck about one hundred, but there are at least a hundred more about a week to ten days away from ripening. So we'll do two batches of jam, and these will be wonderful holiday presents. Right now the figs remaining on the tree look like Brussels sprouts.
Felice arrives while we're in the middle of our racolta, and joins us, concerned when Roy steps up on the short ladder, worried that he'll fall. He's probably remembering Italo falling from one of his trees last year. He and I look over the pomodori once all the figs are plucked and pick a basketful of them as well. We're ready to put up more tomatoes, probably in a day or so.
For once, Felice asks us if he can borrow something. Si, certo! He wants to borrow a wheelbarrow for firewood. Roy takes it out and puts it on the sidewalk for him, telling him to keep it for several days if he needs to. He also offers to pick it up after mass on Sunday, but Felice tells him he never works on Sunday, so he'll bring it back on another day. We don't call what we do work. We call it life, made so much more precious with people like Felice around to show us the way.
We need more lemons and sugar, but today is Thursday, the afternoon when all the grocery stores are closed. So Roy attempts to find some stores open, with no luck. So we pack one large covered pail with figs, and then two big plastic tubs, storing them in the refrigerator in the loggia overnight. Tomorrow morning he'll pick up what we need and we'll finish the jam before noon. I hope we'll also be able to drive to Francesco's to pick up the finished ceramics.
This afternoon, I make a special shelf available in the loggia to store finished ceramics. We need to either start selling them or build a room to store them. I'm ready to move on to new designs, so am happy to sell what we have.
We're starting to book our calendar for our November trip, and already it appears it will be a whirlwind. We hope to keep as much time as we can free for Terence and Angie and the girls. See our friends and be with our family for Thanksgiving. And watch a few movies on the big screen. Perhaps eat a Manhattan Bagel or two. Or a Thomas' English Muffin. Or a shrimp cocktail.
Roy looks forward to eating Mexican food. Or Thai. Or sushi. I'd like a Canada Dry Ginger Ale. We look forward to a Father Rossi Sunday Mass in San Rafael. Mostly we'd like to hang out with Terence and Angie and get to know the girls. They will grow so quickly.
The weather is now in its foggy period, giving way to sun later in the morning. On these days, Mugnano rises out of the fog like Brigadoon, its craggy cliffs covered in a mossy green skirt, spread out above the flat plain of the Tiber Valley. We're only a tiny village, and not at much of an elevation. And for this we are thankful.
We are sheltered from the most damaging winds, are blessed by the best weather Italy has to offer, and our village was saved by marauders during Medieval times, who could not see our village from lofty Soriano. Many surrounding towns were completely destroyed because they were at higher elevations, and able to be seen from Soriano, where the most dangerous brigands in the area at the time held court. So our tenth century tower rises as a sentinel and at night, is lovingly lit from below, serving as a beacon to us if we're driving home after dark.
We love our little village mostly because its character has not changed in the eight years we have known it. Very few stranieri live here. The little places are bought mostly by Romans, who come here on weekends to get away from the frenetic pace of that fabulous city. I suppose if you live in Rome every day and work there, its pace gets a bit much. But for us, we love our occasional jaunts into the vast richness of this ancient place called Rome.
Mugnano is, well, just Mugnano. There are no cafés for tourists to sit in and watch the people. There is only one tabacchi, where Ernesta sells a few supplies. Even Ernesta caters only to the people who live here. To buy bread, one needs to order it in advance. The few families who were not born here are very protective of this place, making sure our customs and ways of life don't enter into the stream of consciousness that is truly Mugnano.
The people of Mugnano are referred to by people in neighboring towns as lumacca, or snails. Snails are slow, and don't take to criticism very well, for when they are criticized, they revert into their shells. We're happy to be characterized in that way.
If we were to characterize our day today, it would be with one word: Figs! Early in the morning, Roy gets the bombola going and fills the big pot with water, boiling it to sterilize lots of jars and new lids. During the year, we save all our glass jars, and buy new lids. That is the way of the contadini.
We prepare the figs with ginger and cloves and cinnamon sticks and thin lemon slices and sugar and water and let it cook away. See the recipe for Gingered Figs on the food blog of this site to try it yourself. Today, we prepare 48! jars of the stuff. The first batch is spicier but thinner. The second batch, which we finish after dark, is rich and sweet and so tasty we'll make a bishop's cake tomorrow for our dinner at Candace and Frank's in Orvieto and bring a jar of this fig salsa to heat and serve over the top as dessert.
Tiziano comes for a visit tonight, and while we sit in the kitchen the figs cook nearby, the smells tantalize us as we plot the plan for our grant proposal. Let's just say we have a lot of thinking and planning to do, and in the next few weeks each will take on tasks and report our findings. We'll not publish those...yet.
On Sunday, Tiziano will take us to the site of a Roman kiln in the Valley, which he will excavate with a group of other archaeologists in November. He used a special machine, linked up to a computer, to map its location. We look forward to joining him for a taste of what is to come. I can't help thinking about my father watching us from above. When I was a teenager, we plotted together to do an archaeological dig somewhere. Now I know we'll all be involved together, if only spiritually.
In the meantime, we clean up after ourselves in our busy loggia, where a huge covered bucket of smalto sits and settles, 48 jars of figs conserve stand on their heads and tomorrow, a new batch of tomatoes will be put up. The night is cool, and I'm sound asleep before ten, with so much to dream about.
Dogs bark in the valley at 8AM, telling us to get up and get going. The fog clears by ten, and it will be warm. Weed wackers are out in force. After all the rain, the weeds and grasses are gloriously high.
Roy works on the mix for the smalto, but it is not ready. He starts to remove some of the water, but the glaze is not thick enough. So it will be a few more days before I can paint again.
We put up tomatoes, both the Italian and the heirloom kinds, but only come up with three large jars. After we have finished, I realize we have about a dozen more tomatoes that I forgot about in the kitchen. We'll try again next week, and are sure there will be more and more tomatoes then. Hopefully, the sun will return for a few weeks and the rest of our tomatoes will be saved. Today's are full of water. The good news, is that we have the process down to a fine science.
We leave around 5:30 and drive to Diego's for a big can of his fabulous olive oil. When we arrive, we are told that he and Luciana are out by the pool. We have not seen the pool since he was in the midst of construction, so are treated to a gorgeous site. The pool is beautiful, the poolside furniture is very tasteful, the outdoor shower is a very high tech solar heated one. But the view. Oh, the view. In the distance are the calanques. I don't really know how to explain them. But they look a little like the grand canyon. There are huge cliffs and deep ravines. The view is frightening but incredibly dramatic.
We have just missed seeing Diego's daughter, Serena, by one day. She has returned to Paris to finish her last semester at the Paul Boucuse cooking school. After that, she'll travel to the U S, possibly to look for work. I thought she was going to return to Diego's to take over the kitchen. Perhaps that plan will wait.
From there, we drive to Orvieto to have cena with Frank and Candace. We have no preconceived notions about their house, but love the entire experience. Entering from the street, we step into the back entrance, which is right onto a fabulous open kitchen. Beyond is a living room and beyond that steps up to an amazing garden.
The unfinished garden, which one day will have gravel and pathways and small trees lit from below, has a dramatic backdrop every bit as wild as Diego's calanques. It is a sheer volcanic cliff, rising perhaps five or six stories, with a beautifully tufa curved arch. We spend a little time speaking about what they want to do, and then are taken around the house and told their stories of the restoration.
We have a wonderful dinner by candlelight outside, and afterward take a walk to drop off Dawn's plate. Oriveto is a wonderful place to live. It is a small town, a very sophisticated town, with beautiful narrow streets and beautifully preserved buildings. Where you least expect it, are wonderful gardens, mostly hidden from public view.
As residents, Candace and Frank are able to walk everywhere, getting to know neighbors and experience life in this heavenly place. We so enjoyed getting to know them better, and end the evening with a plan to drive to a special vivaio in Volterra early on Tuesday. We'll even take Sofi.
I missed her, and she cries out when we see her. But after a couple of special hugs, all is well.
The air is humid, and we walk up to mass with an umbrella. Roy calls this "assicurazione" (insurance) that it will not rain. The church is full, and when I walk in Roy is already seated, with Lore on his right. Felice is sitting where I usually sit. So I ask him about Marsiglia, and she is sitting at the end of the last row on the other side. Roy is one of the only men during mass who sits with his wife.
On this day, I am worried about Marsiglia. So when it is time for communion, I look around and follow her with my eyes up to the front. She reaches Don Luca just before me, and I scurry behind her to hold her to make sure she is all right for the walk back. Later, outside the church, she gives me her wonderful big hugs and thanks me. Dear departed Leondina, her sister, also hugged me in this way, and we all miss her very much.
Today, everyone in the piazza has something to say. I am able to have conversations with several people, which truly amazes me. Each of them is amazed as well, looking me in the eye and asking me if I understand. It is as if I have three heads. "You DO?" they seem to say. And then they rattle off what it was they were saying anyway.
We planned to meet Tiziano and go to his campo way out in the Mugnano valley after mass. He drives us home so that we can change, and we leave a tearful Sofi perched up on the metal fence watching us drive down the hill.
I make a second bishop's cake, and it appears this one comes out much better. I also fix a potato dish for tomorrow's pranzo. But Roy is not so fortunate.
Out in the loggia, the pottery is not taking the glaze well. It is a good thing Francesco is coming tomorrow. We are hoping he can figure out what we need to do differently. Roy takes bucket after bucket of water out of the mix. He thinks I am acting impatiently. I am impatient, but not with him. I miss painting, but it does not matter when I can paint again. When it is right, I will paint. In the meantime, I am drawing. The practice is very good for me. And on Wednesday, I have a lesson with a new prospective teacher.
Duccio calls, and he and Giovanna have returned from their summer holiday, a month in Alto Adige. I am sure they had rain and rain and more rain. We'll see them later this week.
Roy calls Mario to see if he'll come to do some heavyduty weed-whacking, etc., but something is wrong with him and he can't work until the end of September. Perhaps he has what Silvano Spaccese has...something to do with "It's summer, and we don't want to work." We hope so. We like both these men, and hope it's nothing serious. Hmmm. Who to get to help us?
Loraine and Francesco arrive for pranzo, and we're able to use more of our plates. We especially like the torta d'airea (raised cake plate), and are able to sit outside for the meal. The sky has cleared and the hot weather has returned. At least for a few hours.
Francesco surveys Roy's work, and thinks he's on track. He promises to find out about certifications for the pottery when clearing customs. When they leave, he works more with the smalto, switching vessels that hold it and passing the liquid through the passino once more.
I paint a small tray, and add cristallina to the paint, but don't like what happens to the brush. It doesn't want to move over the smalto. So on Wednesday I'll take this piece to my new instructor and ask him. I suggest to Roy that he comes to the session, and if there are not too many people in the class perhaps he'll take it as well. There is so much to learn.
We decide not to go to Volterra tomorrow, but to Alessandra's special vivaio. So Candace and Frank will meet us here, and we'll take Sofi, deciding to take two cars in case we're all successful in finding great plants. We take photos of the area where the santolina is located, hoping to get some ideas from Alessandra on what to plant there.
Today, we have an adventure with Candace and Frank at Alessandra Orsi's vivaio south of us, and then treat ourselves to pranzo in Otricoli.
They arrive for a small colazione, and we're ready to drive off with Sofi by 9 AM, fortified with espresso and pieces of extra lemony bishop's cake. We take two cars, for we have no idea how much either of us will buy. Alessandra's is a special vivaio, and we enjoy the variety of unusual specimens, no matter the time of year.
After hugs upon our arrival, we begin with a walk down some steps to a back area we have not seen before. And a treat awaits us: hundreds and hundreds of specially grown gourds sit organized in rows and rows of flat plastic fruit baskets. Yes, we see the typical orange pumpkins, but the greens and yellows and oranges and dark greens greet us as if the colors are all thrown randomly on a canvas of gourds.
Our eyes are drawn to bubbles and ridges and lines and curves, wherever we turn. Large ones, small ones, strangely shaped ones, all scattered in harmonious abandon. We each fill a flat basket with our favorites, before walking back upstairs to the main area of the vivaio.
We do take five cinerarias and four caryopteris clandonensis. Sarah, dear, I hope I am spelling these correctly. The cineraria's cobalt blue flowers and green leaves will last into October, sitting in pots lining the lower steps of the parcheggio. When the flowers have left, we'll replace them with something more wintery.
A grey leafed plant that looks like the plant we have below the Madonna, one that we'll have to have Alessandra identify for us at the Villa Lante Garden Show, will be used to replace the row of santolina behind the lavender bed, as more of a gently waving leaf, sitting in front of several teucrium, which we imagine in time will form a hedge. We've given up on clipping the teucrium into balls, after seeing a gorgeous undulating hedge at a vivaio near Orvieto. We hope to replicate that, although expect it to take years. We have the time. Teucrium has tendrils that shoot out straight, as if they are yelling, "Hoo hoo! It's me, over here!" and now they'll grow freely until they are much taller.
Interspersed in front of the grey plants will be several tricolored salvia plants, ones we'll purchase at Villa Lante on the weekend Cherie and Peter are here. In the meantime, we'll get everything else planted, including four caryopteris clandonensis, which will grow near the walkway between the bench and the path next to the lavender.
Roy is prepared to do all the plantings, with my help, and we hope to finish everything and clean the garden up before our first September guests arrive. I still have to clean the insides of the lavender plants, as Tia has recommended that I do. This is a strange and painstaking job, but with the help of a little bench I can move from plant to plant on a cool day.
We will call Shelly to see if she knows of someone who'll come to weed-whack. I won't let Roy near one of those insane machines. They are that dangerous. Perhaps that is how Mario hurt his hand.
We drive to Otricoli, and after a memorable pranzo take a walk up into the borgo. This is a lovely town. With Roy walking Sofi on a lead, he and Frank take a right "a certo punto"(at a certain point), and Candace and I are so involved in conversation that we take a left without realizing the men are not in front of us. We imagine they'll catch up, and find ourselves in tiny churches, down sweet alleyways, all immaculately cared for.
Around a bend, we see a woman sitting on a bench watching us. Another woman, on a lower bench right outside the gate pats the bench next to her and calls out to her grand daughter, "Fare compagnia a me" (come keep me company).
We step up toward a beautiful orange trumpet vine, covering a tall tufa wall. A woman stands in front of it, watering it with a hose. We walk up to her to follow Long under an archway and she tells us, "I know you are not Italian, because you don't speak it well." All this is spoken in Italian.
"Why, I NEVER!" I think to myself. She is a straniera herself, admitting she arrived from the Ukraine 9 years ago. When we leave her, I have to find a bench to sit down upon, my feelings are so hurt. Is my Italian that bad?
The two of us sit and wonder what is keeping the boys and Sofi, but the spot is so lovely and the breeze so fragrant that we don't call them right away. After a few minutes we call them. So they find us and we all walk back down the hill together. By then, we're all hot and in need of a cool air-conditioned car.
After returning back home, it is so hot and humid that the four of us cool down with dishes of icy watermelon granita. It is so tasty we each have two helpings.
Then Candace and Frank leave, with plans to return on Thursday morning to put up more tomatoes in our loggia. This afternoon, we've turned on the huge pot of water to sterilize jars for putting up a few jars of tomatoes for ourselves. I take a walk to both tomato gardens and pick up enough to do three or four jars. Piano, piano, every bit helps.
While I'm out there, I see a few peaches on the ground under the tree, and do a squeeze test with the fruit. Many are almost ready, so those that appear to be ready to fall in the expected storm this afternoon are plopped into the wicker basket. Tomorrow morning I'll put up some peach jam, probably with ginger.
The rain starts, and Roy drives off to pick up more lids for the tomato jars. And back at home, I think we're putting up more tomatoes before leaving tonight for the concert with Francesco and Loraine. But Roy tells me he has to redo the water, so this will have to wait until morning.
The ceramics that Roy dipped yesterday are now ready to paint. He notes that they are very chalky, so I think they are perfect. I'll try to paint one and take it to my lesson tomorrow. The air has cooled off, and it's almost chilly.
Francesco and Loraine pick us up for a concert in Vallerano just before 9PM. Vallerano, Vignanello, Vitorchiano are all towns right near each other. Tonight, Francesco's sister in law sings with a group of very eclectic musicians and singers. The concert is part of the town's Festival Piccole Serrnate Notturne at Piazzale Madonna del Ruscello.
We park at the top of the hill and see the front of the church right away. It is theatrically lit from below, showing purpley red on the bottom half and blue for the top half. We did not know that the concert would be outside, so it is quite cool. I have a pashima shawl over a short sleeved jersey and spend the time wound up like a cocoon in my white plastic chair.
Two men start the concert at the front steps of the church. Italian men and their microphones. I've written about this before. Two of them stand with their legs apart like they're holding something up and their arms folded when it is not their turn with the mic. I can hear Freud chuckling.
First four young girls appear with guitars and play two little pieces perfectly. The sound is so faint we can hardly hear them, but they play each note in unison. Brava!
Next are eight young violinists following their gorgeous teacher. The teacher leads them in two difficult pieces. Everyone in the audience holds their breaths, for it sounds as though there are nine different pieces being played. If Tiziana were their teacher, she would surely have picked more simple music. I can just see myself up there with the little ones. I really must get back to taking lessons....Not for awhile.
The main part of the concert consists of adults: two women and four men. Cantiere Oltremare. We have never heard any of this music before and think the drummer, Gabriele Miracle (what a great name, but shouldn't he be playing a horn?) and Francesco's sister in law, Oretta Orengo, do a fine job. Otherwise, the concert is quite long. We're not back at home until after midnight.
It's as if we're sitting at a mountaintop on these late summer mornings, with the fog rising below us, the distant Tiber Valley hazy on the horizon. I'm so interested in perspective these days, and today the palest colors are those farthest away, becoming darker and greener and blacker until the trees on the closer hills are inky black. Yes, I'll have to paint them, if only for an exercise.
Later today, we'll drive to Terni for what I hope will be a great experience with a new teacher. I'm encouraging Roy to join me.
The day begins for us with the smell of smoke nearby and the sound of the daily bus droning up and down the hill. I get up to close both windows and go back to bed for a little while. Roy has already turned on the water inside the loggia in order to prepare the tomatoes. It takes hours to get the big pot up to temperature.
We're helping friends of friends get married in Italy and have located an interesting web site: www.santasusanna.org. Keep this in mind if you know anyone who wants to do this. The process is a bureaucratic nightmare of sorts, but to be in love and see this experience as a grand adventure, it's worth at least a read.
We put up tomatoes this morning, but only about four jars, and then make peach jam with ginger, and are able to do several of those jars as well. Earlier, when scanning the land for the latest tomatoes to add to our racolta, I noticed that peaches from the tree have fallen in the latest storm. When testing the peaches still on the tree, I noticed that a number of them gave to my touch. So we're able to make a small batch.
Then it is time for pranzo and finally the ceramics lesson in Terni is upon us.
When we reach the location, it is at the back of a large ferramenta (hardware store), one that also sells art supplies.
We are met by Marco, who seems to own the little school, and then a jet black curly haired Renaissance looking fellow names Placido. Placido, whose sopranome (nickname) is also Dino, is the master teacher. He also has an assistant, a young very talented woman, who shepherds me now and then.
The other students are almost all accomplished artists, painting very complicated designs on tiles and plates. One older woman stands working at a set of ceramic tiles three feet high by about six feet long. Today is her sixteenth lesson, and her subject is a Renaissance town, painted all in pastel colors. She stands for the entire session and seems to know exactly what she is doing.
I am rather overwhelmed. I feel, well, naked. Roy does not want to hang around, except to learn about the smalto, but I'm locked in fear. The cacophony of the talking, all loud and fast paced, their sharply sounding words zinging off the metal shelves like bullets, frightens me. I'm given a space to work at, and a white tile. I'm taken over to a set of prepared designs, and pick one. Then the tissue of it is put over the top, and a bag of carbon is whacked over the tiny holes on its surface, creating a template below from which I can paint.
Roy watches, and walks around, and returns now and then to help allay my fears. But the sound calms slowly down, like a windup toy, or probably I am getting used to it. My nerves steady, and I'm able to think back about the things I've already learned and the work is really not so difficult.
Roy learns from Placido that they are using better smalto than we've mixed at home, but we're convinced that our smalto will work fine. When we finish what we have, we'll consider changing. In the meantime, we'll look to him, and also to Francesco, for advice.
The tile I paint is a characteristic grotesque Deruta style, and the more I paint the more relaxed I become. Next week, I'll return with something more complex to work on. It will probably be a grotesque design. In the meantime I'll study my books for something I'd really like to learn. I'll also continue to paint with my own designs. So technique will be what I will learn from them, and Roy will do the same. Placido will fire my tile this week, and I'll be able to take it home after my next visit. I am so very encouraged.
We are greeted by a heavy mist this morning before 7AM. This is the day that Michelle and Claudio's teenage son, Dani, comes to weed-whack and Roy is picking him up at their house with all his gear. I put my foot down at the mere thought of Roy using one of those machines, but Dani seems quite comfortable with theirs, using it fearlessly around their property.
I had thought his parents were very protective of him, but the Italian sensibility is such that in the life of a contadino, a survival of the fittest mentality seems to reign. With Mario still out of commission because of his hand, Dani seems a logical option. This will be good spending money for him, as he gets ready to attend high school in Rome in a week or so.
But as Roy gets out of the shower, we hear guns in a campo below us in the valley. Is it possible that hunting season has begun? I hate the noise. It is such a definite shattering of the calm, as if the land around the exploding gun deflates in submission each time the noise resonates off the surrounding hills.
I've been unable to sleep. Something about the paella we ate last night at Oktoberfest Pub. Roy will jump at the opportunity to eat anything non-Italian, and this previously frozen concoction roams around in our bellies, giving us strange dreams. Don't get me wrong. We love "Italian" food. It's sameness gets boring after awhile, although I work at using the same ingredients in unusual ways and we don't mind it.
Roy drives to pick up Dani and returns with him 45 minutes later. When he arrives at their house, a major breakfast is set up, including soft boiled eggs, coffee, toast and scores of jams, all set up in their outdoor loggia. It would not be civil to dash off with Dani, who merely eats toast with homemade blackberry jam, while his parents sit down for a proper colazione.
So Dani starts at 7:30 and finishes at 9:30 because it is too hot to work any later. Roy drives him home, where he will refit the blade of his wacker with a metal one, and return tomorrow morning. Dani has become an enterprising young man, teaching his friends English and weed whacking. We look forward to seeing him again tomorrow.
Candace and Frank arrive while Dani is still working, and are in full swing with their tomato processing by the time Dani stops and sits on a stone wall in the loggia to drink a Chino and watch the adults work. We are sure he is laughing at us. Surely we are not processing the way the old contadinis do. But he politely sits there and smiles.
We wonder if he tells his father after Roy drops him off how hopeless the Americans are at attempting a simple farm process like putting up tomatoes. Actually, I am proud of our efforts, and Frank and Candace's, too. Today the two of them are more relaxed, feeling sure of themselves with one previous session already under their belts.
I work mostly in the kitchen, making a loaf of ciabatta, a chocolate cake and a potato Florentine dish for pranzo. After they've finished their eight jars or so of tomatoes that sit in a boiling water bath, everyone comes inside to hang out. After awhile, Roy remembers to look at the tomatoes, and they're finished. The day started out cool, but warms up quickly. By 11AM it's actually hot.
In the meantime, I cook the potato dish and as soon as it's done, slide in the bread. It's now cooler outside, under a big umbrella, so we serve everything out there, including Candace and Frank's ceci bean and tuna salad. This wonderful salad is even more wonderful with the addition of fresh tarragon. We love tarragon, and Candace encourages us to grow it here. We have the seeds, so will try it in the studio early next spring. The taste it brings out in the salad is full and almost smoky in its richness. We save a little of it to have in a day or so.
We drink a bottle of white wine, but it is not Orvieto Classico, and by this time we're rather hooked on our local specialty. The whole meal is just great, with lots of different tastes. Oh, Roy cooked sausages and grapes for he and Frank to eat as well. We have lots of food. And when it's time to have dessert, we eat slices of just made chocolate cake inside with cups of espresso and amarena in sambuca. The amareni are from our tree, soaked in liquor. Our friends like the taste so much after dousing it on the cake that we send them home with the rest of the jar, a big slice of cake, a big hunk of bread, and the rest of their salad.
After pranzo, we're noticing hundreds of tiny birds on the telephone lines. We open up our European Bird Book, and as far as we can tell they are martins; small birds with large wingspans, white throats and breasts. This must be the time of the year when they'll make their move south? We admit we know precious little about birds and their habits. But at certain times of the year they descend on our village and the valley. This must be the time. I wonder if that was what all the shooting was about this morning.
Bowls of ripe figs from our huge tree sit in the kitchen, and as soon as it cools off later tonight we'll make more fig jam, this time with fresh ginger. It's just too hot right now. Hot, cold, rain, hot again; are we ever happy? We're blissfully happy right now, even though it is very, very hot, probably somewhere around 100 degrees.
Roy checks the irrigation system to make sure the roses are getting water, and I'm happy, thinking that the hot weather will help to ripen the tomatoes. We have both heirlooms and the standard Italian variety left on the vines in two areas of the garden.
Tomorrow morning, I'll check on the peaches, which will probably be ready to pick. Don't think we can wait ten days for Cherie and Pete to arrive to pick them, for the birds will beat us to the tree if we do. We'll also begin to clean up the soil in preparation for planting all our new plants. By getting up before 7AM, we should be able to get in a couple of good hours of work before it becomes too hot.
Stein and his female companion arrive with a salmon for us from Norway. How sweet of them! They arrived on Sunday, and his two children arrive tonight and tomorrow. We look forward to meeting them, and to spending more time with him this month. He is a delightful man, and his dear friend is very friendly as well. Roy walks them down to meet Nando and Rita, who are holding the keys to Oysten's house while he is away. They need a place for his children to sleep while they're here, and Oysten invited them to stay at his house near us.
After they leave, Roy decides to plant almost everything that we purchased at Alessandra's tonight, and while he does that I clean up the figs and start to cook them. By the time we're ready to bottle a huge pot of figs with fresh ginger and lemon, it's quite dark and we move the pot out to the loggia, where the jars are processed and we just about run out of jars. We will have more than one hundred small jars by the time we're through.
What will we do with them all? We'll give them away and bit by bit over the winter we'll enjoy them in tarts and with cheese and fruit and with other sweets and even on plain bread. Tomorrow we'll cook up more figs and also more peaches.
Dani calls and has a better offer tomorrow, so he and Roy agree to finish his work here on Saturday morning. I'm not concerned, as long as he finishes by the end of next week. I am so excited to think that dear cousin Cherie and her husband Pete will be here for a few days. And after they leave for their cruise Michelle Berry will arrive for a week. And then we'll see Cherie and Pete again when they finish their cruise in Rome. There'll be a few other friends arriving as well, so we expect to have a lot of fun this month.
In the meantime, I have not been practicing the violin, nor have I been painting. Tomorrow I'm going to start a regimen of doing both every day. If I can take the time to write every day, and I do, then I can take the time to play the violin and also to paint. In the old days when I was a management consultant, I'd work up a budget with a client, listing profit as the first item of "expense", and then find a way to fit all the expenses in with what was left. This will be a similar exercise. And it needs discipline. I surely like the outcome, as well as the process. The days just go by so quickly that I sit here at midnight sometimes wondering what we did all day. And then I read the journal and am amazed by how full our lives are.
The morning is so humid that I get up at 7AM and spend several hours with Sofi out in the garden before even taking a shower. I have missed these early morning hours puttering around outside and now that there has been a lot of rain, most of the plants are happier. Even the original boxwood plant that we thought was going to die has come back.
So once I manicure and deadhead about twenty of the roses, I check on the pomodori. The Italian ones are looking a little sickly and waterlogged, Up above, the heirlooms look healthy, but almost all of them are not ready to be picked. That reminds me to take a look at the peach tree, and already there are many pieces of the sweet fruit on the ground. The fruit is so heavy that it's time to get a basket and pick them all. They come off so easily, no wonder a strong wind has shaken so many of them off already.
I'm able to pick about thirty, and stand them on the table by the front steps to mature a bit on their own in the sun. With the batch picked a few days ago, and those on the ground, we probably had fifty peaches on the tree. I think this is good for the first year's crop. After Felice arrives, and walks up to check on the pomodori, he thinks he's going to weed, but does not stay long because it is warm and the bees are swarming around the fallen fruit. He tells us to pick them up after the bees have left.
I ask him about the birds we saw on the telephone wire yesterday, and he points to Lulu on the bench. "Passeri!" he tells me, and I hit my head with the palm of my hand. "Boink!" Where is my memory? The scarecrows are known as spaventapasseri, but you probably remembered that already. It must be all that aluminum. Was my memory this bad before Candace warned us about the dangers of aluminum, possibly contributing to an onset of Alzheimer's?
Roy joins us from the house, and tries to pay Felice, who refuses to accept any money any more. So we give him jars of peach jam and figs with lemon and ginger to take home, as well as two peaches. He won't take more peaches, telling me that Marsiglia buys them from the truck on Mondays. Boh!
Enzo arrives to check on the hot water heater. This is an annual check, and speaking of check, he expects to be paid for the visit. This is a kind of fee, just under €80, and he gives us a receipt for the cash. While he's here, Roy tells him that we want to run hot water to the loggia, and he'll return to do that on another day. So we'll have to find a new faucet, and Roy wants a particular one. There is a plumbing supply shop in Viterbo, so next week we'll probably search for one.
I've given up on the garden for today. It's getting too hot. So the shutters are closed and the fans turned on, and Roy's off to pick up more jars for our preserves. We have put up all the jars so far with jars we have saved or reused from last year with new caps. But we have figs to put up, and peaches, and yes, we'll have more tomatoes. We love doing this, for it gives us joy all year, especially when we can share the fruits of our labors with our friends.
Duccio and Giovanna and Giuliano arrive early to pick us up for pranzo, for Giuliano has not been here before. So we give him a quick tour, and he tells me that he wants to play music with me, once he sees the music stand in our bedroom. I don't think he knows what he is saying. He is an accomplished pianist, and there's no way he'd enjoy bumping along with me. This is a perfect example of the word "magari" (if only it were so).
Duccio drives us all to Castiglione in Teverina to La Boticella, the restaurant we've wanted to visit for years. Daniele's brother and sister in law run it. This is the type of restaurant that deserves every rave it gets. It is simple, friendly, caracteristico, and the food is the best we've had in recent memory. We start with lombrichelli, a local pasta served all over Umbria and Lazio but called different things depending on the locale. It is hand made, using only flour and water and then is cut by hand into strips like tagliarini. Most of us have it served with porcini mushrooms, although Giuliano has his with a sauce of leper (wild hare).
We also have platters of crostini, including Roy's favorite, fegato (liver, ugh). Then for segundo, I order corniglio (rabbit) cacciatore, but this is not served with red sauce and vegetables. It comes simply roasted on a platter with bulbs of roasted garlic and black olives.
There are several servings of faraona, a semi-wild guinea fowl, for everyone else, with a rich sauce. Very interesting. It is named after the wife of the Pharaoh, faraone, because of the elaborate way its feathers are shaped on its forehead.
The weather is very hot, and we agree to have cocomero granita back at our house. But we learn a number of wonderful modo de dires (figures of speech), and they are worth remembering:
Fare la scarpeta - make a shoe. This is used to describe people who take pieces of bread and dunk them in sauce. The practice is very rude, but used universally throughout Italy, and is an act very complementary to the cook. We are guilty of this as charged.
Ho imparato da solo, or non solo insegnante - I taught myself, or without a teacher. This is what I have been trying to say to people who ask me how I learned to paint ceramics.
Mal di tete di cafone - A cafone is a poor peasant worker. It is said that when poor peasant workers came into Naples and were introduced to all the wonderful and rich ice cream, they scarfed it down so fast they had a headache. So mal di tete di cafone is the headache one gets when they eat ice cream too quickly. Now I've been wondering for years how to express that.
And my very favorite, Il cane fare una festa (the dog makes a party) - This describes the way a dog behaves when he greets his owner. Giovanna tells Giuliano to watch what Sofi does when Roy opens the gate when we return after pranzo. Roy walks ahead of us, and as soon as the gate opens, she flies through the air almost a foot off the ground, her ears flying like Dumbo, to greet me.
The temperature remains in the mid 30's, and we can't wait to get inside where it's cool. Roy brings in the pan of granita and serves it around. This is one of the best ways to cool down on a hot day. After they leave, I am still hot, so take a shower and we rest for a couple of hours before attempting to cook the figs and get ready for Tiziano's visit tonight. We have plenty to speak about. modo de dires (figures of speech), and they are worth remembering:
"Fare la scarpeta" - make a shoe. This is used to describe people who take pieces of bread and dunk them in sauce. The practice is very rude, but used universally throughout Italy, and is an act very complementary to the cook. We are guilty of this as charged.
"Ho imparato da solo, or non solo insegnante" - I taught myself, or without a teacher. This is what I have been trying to say to people who ask me how I learned to paint ceramics.
"Mal di tete di cafone" - A cafone is a poor peasant worker. It is said that when poor peasant workers came into Naples and were introduced to all the wonderful and rich ice cream, they scarfed it down so fast they had a headache. So mal di tete di cafone is the headache one gets when they eat ice cream too quickly. Now I've been wondering for years how to express that.
And my very favorite, "Il cane fare una festa" (the dog makes a party) - This describes the way a dog behaves when he greets his owner. Giovanna tells Giuliano to watch what Sofi does when Roy opens the gate when we return after pranzo. Roy walks ahead of us, and as soon as the gate opens, she flies through the air almost a foot off the ground, her ears flying like Dumbo, to greet me.
Tiziano arrives around 6:30, while Roy's at the hardware store, and tells me he needs to change our meeting until tomorrow, because he's working at the former house of his grandfather, which they are getting ready to rent. .
We will have the listing on our site under houses to rent on the Project Management blog soon. Tiziano and I would rather find a way for him to have the apartment himself, but his parents need the money. So for now, it will be good to rent it out. .
The house is on the main street of the town, but below the borgo. There is a lovely view of the valley from one side, and the medieval tower from the other. There are three bedrooms and one and one half bathrooms on three floors. The apartment is furnished, and the rent is €600 a month. Let us know if you're interested. .
I start the figs, but Roy returns while Tiziano is still here and we both want to see the place. The new kitchen is being installed, and there is trouble with the measurements. So Roy takes his tape and I pick up Sofi and we all walk up the short trip to the apartment. .
His mother, Rosita, is sweeping but wants us to sit down at the table. She is always so polite and sweet. We laugh with Tiziano and tell him he should rent the apartment himself, but not the kitchen, promising his mother he'll take his meals at their home. Everyone agrees they need to rent it, so we'll see what we can do about helping them. With Michelle's property also for rent on our site, there are a number of options people will have in this tiny village, Rome is 47 minutes by train from the next town. .
We walk back home and start up the figs again, while Roy works in the garden. Darkness descends, and Roy comes in with some ideas to change the sink in the loggia around when Enzo puts in the hot water. I love the idea. .
The figs are ready and we put up nine more jars in sterilized glass jars. All the shelves are full of glass jars of figs or peaches or tomatoes or olives, the smaller bottles three rows deep! It's too bad we can't bring any back with us when we fly to the US in November. On second thought, it's not. We are not going to load ourselves down this trip. Speriamo. .
I do some research on our San Rocco project, and look forward to our meeting tomorrow with Tiziano. We have some excellent sources to pursue to begin our project, and now that we have the mayor's full support, we are beginning to get excited. .
At around 5AM, I hear something that sounds like fire crackling or heavy raindrops, but when I look out the window in the dark, there is nothing to see. I walk outside and cannot see anything either, so Roy gets up and opens the window and finds a wasp nest outside. Once he knocks that down, we are able to get back to sleep. .
The sound of the man-made wasp, the droning weed-wacker, wakes me a little later, while Dani returns to finish his job. Italians are resigned to the morning noises of the country, but this and the sound of the tractor are all we hear, and the sound of the weed-wacker is not as common as it is in the U S. .
But those wasps earlier this morning have been conspiring, and a few hours later, while I sit on the wicker and wood footstool at the base of the boxwood hedge next to the caki tree in the lavender garden, I reach in to clip some dead box branches and am attacked by two vespi, or wasps, on my left hand. .
A wasp sting is a crazy thing. The sting is fierce, followed by a swelling, and then the pain goes away. But first, my heart beat increases, and my breathing is short. It is a good thing I am not allergic to these stings. I'm angry more than anything else, because I so wanted to get a lot of work done this morning. .
So in a few minutes I'm back at it, with the smell of the vespi spray all around, courtesy of Roy, to save the day. I spend more time on more of the roses, while Roy cleans up the old santolina and clears the space around the teucrium. We plant two smaller plants between the larger ones, hoping for an undulating mass in due time. Interspersed in front are the grey plants, and in front of those will be a few salvia plants. .
While Dani wacks away, Roy removes two of the Cornelia roses from the far property and puts them in black plastic pots. They have not done well on the bank, so we will keep them in pots until we find a better place for them. We agree that the far property is not a good place for roses. I don't know what has happened to the other three we planted on the bank next to San Rocco, and am almost afraid to ask. .
Dani stops again because of some problem with the family weed-wacker, and Roy takes him home. He'll return tonight, hopefully to finish. He's been a help, but we are hopeful that this solution will be temporary. We know that Mario is more experienced, but when he arrives at 7AM in the morning, he's completely done at 9. Hopefully, his hand will repair soon. The job with Dani will take at least 6 hours for the same amount of work. This is a good start for Dani, however, and we like the fact that he is trying to earn money and become independent. .
The day is quite hot, and the harvested peaches sit on the table by the front gate to ripen on their own. But late in the afternoon Roy calls Dani to tell him it's too hot for him to work today. They reschedule for Tuesday. .
Early tonight Tiziano returns, and we start to work on our project together. He takes photos and does technical measuring and documenting of the two ancient pieces of tile we found last Sunday, including rubbings for his album. .
He tells us he cannot stay long, because he was convinced to go to Viterbo to see the Macchina di Santa Rosa tonight. Look at our journal on September 3rd for the past two years to read about the event. We decide to stay at home, and as he leaves we tell him he is in luck. It is starting to rain a fine mist, and he may not have to go. If he does go, we have lent him two little folding stools to use while he waits and waits. .
We learn a new modo de dire: It is better to have one egg in the hand today than one chicken tomorrow. "Meglio un uova ogi che una gallina domani." That's the opposite of wanting to teach someone how to fish instead of giving them a fish. I think we'd be better off with the chicken tomorrow....
After he leaves, Roy wants to burn all the debris we picked up today in the garden, so thinks that because there is a mist and not much wind that he'll be fine. But soon after he begins the wind picks up and blows it toward the village. I run upstairs to close the bedroom window facing San Rocco, but hear women complaining all around us, closing their windows. I'm thinking he did not add much to the compost pile, wanting to burn everything instead. So nature is getting back at him in a teasing way. .
Roy and I talk more about the project, and agree that we'd be fine if we become conduits and really are not integrally involved in it. Our desire is to remain apolitical, regardless. So we'd rather build consensus than have a particular point of view that furthers our own interests. We want Mugnano to win. .
Sofi and I are tired, and go upstairs to read and snooze while Roy channel surfs and watches movies. .
Unable to sleep, I sit at the computer for a couple of hours at 4AM. By about 6:30, I'm tired enough to get back into bed for a couple of hours. Roy decides to get up early again, and is out planting and puttering and weeding in the lavender garden while I catch a few zzz's. I used to be the one who rose at dawn to putter in the garden. These days, Roy is the one who seems to enjoy it the most at first light.
We walk up to mass a while later, and don't see Lore and Alberto at mass. This summer, we have hardly seen them at all. They must be back in Rome. We'll call them later.
Tiziano tells us he is very tired but thought the Festa di Santa Rosa last night was a wonderful event. He and his friends also followed the bier down to the Piazza della teatro, just below St. Rose's church, after it turned the corner at Piazza dell Plebescite, where they waited for her to arrive. We have fond memories of the statue and of how moved we were when she rose above the buildings lit from below and then turned the corner while more than one hundred men moved her from their positions below. But once was enough for me. There are just too many people.
Marsiglia does not come to church this morning, but Felice sits behind me, and the rest of the church is very full. Livio and Giuliola are also not here, nor are Mauro and Laura. Perhaps they are all at a wedding. But no one lights the candles, so the poet, who also brings his white gown and serves as altar boy when he is here, is asked to light the candles on the altar. The row of tall candles at the back remains unlit.
Don Ciro walks out from the tiny sacristy to begin the mass, and there is not a sound.
Here we go.
"Noi canteremo, Gloria a te!" I softly sing out the "Noi..." and everyone else picks up the tune and sings along with me. Roy looks down at me proudly and nods his head. Someone had to start the acapella hymn. All our hymns are sung a capella. I wonder if this is how Rosita felt two weeks ago when she got up to do the first reading.
After church, we walk home, and spend an hour before leaving to meet Alan and Wendy Briggs at their home in Penna. We're first taken out to see the latest developments in the garden, and I am happy to see that Alan has purchased many things from our friends at Michellini. I like the people at this vivaio very much.
The garden is taking on a wonderful shape. It is maturing nicely, and although I am surprised that they planted so many mature trees while it remained so hot, he tells us the trees are getting plenty of water. So we hope that with extra special care that they will all do well.
Wendy shows me roses and roses and more roses, and many trees and flowering plants. They love color, and with proper care will have a glorious garden with abundant flowers all year long.
Alan and Wendy love a particular restaurant near Lake Bracciano, really at Trevignano, and we follow him on a long route on the back road of Orte, through Civita Castellana, through Sutri and up to the lake. Alan's sister, Sonny, is with us, as is a cousin, Jenny, who lives in England.
On the road, we pass hundreds of nocciole, or hazelnut trees. We have two at home that frame the walk to the lavender garden over an iron gate, but the majority of these trees are planted in rows, and the branches fan out from the bottom in characteristic style.
A few years ago, on a day trip to Lago di Vico, also near Bracciano, we watched people scrumping, or picking up hazelnuts on the road outside the fields where they are grown. I think this is an Australian term learned from our backseat friends, for it is not in the dictionary. This year we hardly have any nocciole, but have a huge bowlful from past seasons.
There is a Sunday mercato near the restaurant today, so we take a look around. Then we sit outside under huge rectangular umbrellas, and nine of us sit around a long table, enjoying the warm air and the view of the lake until it starts to drizzle. And then it pours. People scramble under umbrellas, and we move closer to the table, thinking it will end in a minute.
The rain continues, and by this time we have been served our first course, a delicious crepe dish stuffed with ricotta and spinach and a light red sauce. "Pops" (Alan's father) sits at the end of the table eating, and does not miss a beat. He ignores everyone and everything around him. We can't help taking his picture.
This picture is one of Alan and his two sisters, after moving inside to finish the meal. In a week or so, when we have the photo Jenny took emailed to us, we will add it here. It should be a funny photo.
As you can imagine, we all move inside. Alan and I are quite happy to remain, as we are dry, but everyone else has already scampered inside, so what are we to do?
The rest of the meal is great, and after a walk around the pretty town we drive home by way of the Cassia and take a short detour to drive them through Vetralla on the way home via Viterbo. We don't stay long at Alan's, as we really want to get home. But what a wonderful afternoon we spent enjoying these very friendly folk from Australia.
Once at home, we have an email from Duccio that his cousin has agreed to meet with us on our project, so we will call him tomorrow. I am hoping we can meet with him in Rome soon.
At just after 10 PM, Roy calls out, "Come out here!" from the terrace, and Sofi and I join Roy for an amazing sight. Just over the hill where Chia's tiny lights of the town flicker, are flashes of pink and bright white, against a dark and cloudy sky. Without a sound, we are witness to scores of lightening flashes, blazing across the sky at intervals of less than ten seconds each.
The lights flash across the entire hill, taking turns at intervals of perhaps ten percent of the hill's diameter at a time. Again and again they silently flash, and after twenty minutes, they continuing at the same pace. We have never seen anything like it. From the inside of the screened bedroom window, everything appears black, except for the lights of Chia. And then a flash appears, and then another.
Sofi and I are alone for the morning while Roy takes the car to Viterbo and walks all around the old part of town. Drawing and cooking take up the morning, for I'm working on drafts for Tia's set of plates and fix a peach torta and peach sorbetto with the rest of the peaches from our tree. We'll have cena at Tia and Bruce's tonight, and will take sample plates and designs. I really appreciate her faith in me, and look forward to making them a really wonderful set of plates. On Wednesday I return to class in Terni, so hope to be able to do some painting tomorrow.
Roy makes arrangements to meet a young man we met years ago when we visit Cremona with Pete and Cherie. He does not have a violincello in his studio, but his studio mate is still working on one, and Pete will be able to see it.
Tiziano comes for a short meeting on our project, and to make a call to Duccio's cousin, who has agreed to speak with us. I have a story to write and pitch about the project, and I'm full of projects and things to do. I have an idea for a new skirt for Gina, and also need a new shirt for Lulu. After the hot summer sun bleached the colors from their clothes, they need a snappy update. I will make them this week, before Cherie and Pete arrive.
We drive from Lugnano to Mugnano on the curvy Lugnano road after pranzo, and have to stop for two tiny pheasants to cross the road. We have learned that hunting season began on September 1 and until the 17th, hunters can only do their dirty work on weekends. Beginning on that weekend, they can hunt on any day of the week. A car is far less dangerous to these little birds than the hunters. And for the next few days, they can romp about.
Earlier, Roy drove to Alicia's to photograph the house. We hope to have it listed on our site by the time you read this. I have not seen it yet, but Roy likes the house a lot. I think Alicia and Justin will move into a smaller house in the area as soon as it is sold.
Sofi and I remain at home. I'm re-outfitting Gina and Lulu, and wash all their clothes while checking them out for repairs. What's missing is a blouse or jacket for Gina, and I know the blue and gold colors of the skirt, so we'll look for something to work with the material. I think we have everything we need for Lulu. I have a fair amount to sew in these next few days, if we are to finish before Cherie and Pete arrive.
We pick up Tony and Pat for pranzo, but La Divina Comedia is closed today. So we drive on to Il Bearino, also in Lugnano. The meal is so-so, but there is a fun cartoon on the wall, with a great Dane looking down at a tiny dog. The phrase above the cartoon reads, "Abbiate sempre il coraggio di dire cio che pensate!" Or, always have the courage to say what you think! The little dog looks up and says, "Fanculo." (popular curse word)
The restaurant is all done up in blue and gold, with wonderful plaid tablecloths. I keep eyeing them throughout the meal, and before we leave, Roy asks if we can buy one. Sure, for €5! The owner picks over the cloths, to find us a good one, and Roy does not have the heart to tell her it is only for a spaventapasseri.
The sky clouds up, and not long after we arrive home the thunder begins to roll over the nearby hills. We turn off the computer and I move on to sew a skirt and top for Gina. For the first time, I make a blouse out of the plaid tablecloth with sleeves that have gathered tops, and am able to pull it off without even a pattern.
Yesterday, I made a skirt for her out of a polished cotton wipe off fabric of deep blue with yellow and orange fruit. It opens on the side, to show her embroidered linen underskirt and her saucy legs. She looks pretty svelte when I'm done, so some of her old popcorn stuffing is taken out. I wash her wig, her other clothes, and in a day or so she will be done.
Lulu will get a few new things, including a jean jacket for fall, and I think will continue to sit outside in front of the giant olive tree. Gina now is too well appointed for everyday life in the garden, especially with all the rain we expect this fall. So we'll find a place for her inside and bring her out on good days.
The rain stops and Roy and I spend time in the garden. I learned from Tia that in this climate we can still feed the roses in September, so feed them tonight, and tomorrow I'll feed everything else.
While back inside, the sounds of the drums begin in the far hills, and they continue until at least 11PM. There must be a group of them practicing for a medieval procession. The Orte procession is next Sunday, and perhaps it is for that.
When the drums stop, the sounds of the crickets drown out the silence of the cool night. We are very tired, and look forward to a cool night's sleep.
Roy's up early for his blood test in Soriano. His long fast from cheese and dairy are finished for now, and we're hoping to find some answers that will keep him from getting kidney stones in the future.
We have not picked figs for several days, and there are so many I pick two large plastic containers full, but cannot reach most of them. Already we have almost 100 little jars of fig conserve, and we'll just keep going. But when will we find the time to do these? Possibly tonight. We now have fresh ginger, so I look forward to even more experiments with the figs.
I also feed many of the outdoor plants with a new food that is blue. It is a good universal food, without pesticides, but think it is mostly composed of minerals for food crops. It is not what I thought we were buying yesterday. Let's hope it doesn't kill anything. I will be sure to not put it on the finicky peonies.
I stop to pick pomodori from both ortos, and don't like what I see. There are many, but the taste is not as good as it has been in previous years, due to all the rain. They will bottle well, so when? Tomorrow? We'll press out most of the water from now on, even if we wind up with very little at the end. Perhaps it is time to make some tomato relish or chutney.
I work in some time for cleaning, with a detour to iron Lulu's duds and an experiment painting one plate. Roy is right. The smalto, or whitish base coat, is too thick. The consistency of the smalto at our lessons is much better, so I'll take a plate or two to dip and try. We like that smalto for another reason. The process is dip and paint.
The process we use at home takes a day just for the smalto to set. Before we leave for pranzo at Tia's and a ceramics lesson in Terni, I'll have to spend some time with our books to see if there's a design I'd like to copy at the class and want help with. Otherwise, I'll work on the bird plates, doing test designs for Tia.
There is so much going on, that I do a little of this, a little of that, feeling I'm jostling about in some kind of mild tornado. I could slow down, for if some of these things don't get done before Friday evening, that's all right, too. But I love everything, every project. So the days will be full.
We take Tia and Bruce figs, fresh off the tree, and Sofi comes, too. But it starts to rain just as we arrive, and there is a great deal of commotion, because Gioia jumps on top of Sofi in her usual long legged fashion, and the two of them rush to the side door. Sofi squeals out as Gioia gives her a body blow to make sure Sofi knows who's boss and who gets to go in first.
Sofi must watch Inside Actors Studio too much on TV. The little drama queen's tail moves between her legs and she rushes over to me, crying all the while. I pick her up and there is nothing wrong, so we all find ourselves inside and things calm down.
Tia and I agree on the plate design, and Roy and I will continue to search for the correct dinner size plate, one that is 29cm, the largest size that will fit in their dishwasher. After a tasty chicken salad for pranzo, Bruce goes up to work and we leave for Terni in the pouring rain.
Placido did not come to class today, but two of his assistants are here. They are both very talented and helpful. The tray and tile from last week both came out very well. We are learning more about the smalto, and now Roy wants to get rid of our smalto and only use the smalto from Colorobbia. Perhaps Francesco will want ours. What we like best about the new smalto is that we can paint on the plates as soon as they are dipped.
Later in the session I need to do some repair work on my plate, and we take a small brush and smalto and repair and paint it right there. With the smalto we have at home, I'd have to wait a day before working with it. Colorobbia. Pat Ryerson swears by their products, and I will wean myself off anything else and move to Colorobbia for my supplies...subito!
We have brought a small plate that I painted this morning, but the smalto was damaged in transit, so we have to bring it home to repair. It contains rutile, so is not the bright white that the class uses, but a softer shade of white that we both prefer. I decide to work on the dinner plate for Tia and Bruce, and everyone thinks the birds are carina (pretty or sweet). I have brought three shades of blue paint with me, and am not sure how they will turn out, so decide to use one blue on the dinner plate and a different one on the salad plate. Both plates are test plates. Monia greets me, but Marianna spends the most time with me.
Marianna gives me the guidance I need. First she shows me how to find dead center by centering the plate on the turntable and then holding the pencil close to the center and rotating the turntable so that the pencil marks a circle. The center of that circle is the center of the plate. From there, she draws four spokes, and with those spokes I can easily figure out the four "corners" of the 30cm plate.
I draw the birds freehand, as by now I know what to do, but am not sure of the best way to paint the larger sections of blue without making it look as though there are lots of strokes. She guides me in this, and when I'm through the plate looks very professional! Every other person in the room works on elaborate Renaissance designs. I will do that, but first there are some basic things I need to know. I will paint the rest of the bird plates in my studio. Perhaps next week I will start to paint the putti, the little fat angels, surrounded by my favorite grotesques.
The rain stops before the session ends, and it appears to have rained enough that the power is out when we return home. We trip the circuit breaker and are back in business. So tonight we cook and bottle eleven more jars of figs. And with all this rain, there will be plenty more. But that's enough work for one day, so Sofi and I move up to bed, with Roy following close behind. Now that he can eat cheese again, Roy dives into a creamy olive dip with gusto.
The air is rich with moisture, and a gray sky dissolves the far hills. We have nothing specific on our schedule, but plan to be active all day. I've been thinking of Bruce's advice yesterday after a meeting with his tax advisors in Todi. We conclude that, regarding taxes, it is better to never become an Italian citizen.
Although we pay taxes in the U S, if we become Italian citizens, we will have to pay pension tax and employment tax on any income, regardless of whether we are retired or not. So the tax winds up close to 50%! I can hear Ann Bracci Devoti's warning while writing this, echoing Bruce's thoughts. All of a sudden our joy in becoming completely Italian wizens up like a ripe fig lying in the sun.
The humidity slows our steps, but Roy loves to be out driving around. So he drives to our favorite panificio, about 20 minutes away, and returns with a round loaf that can compete with the bread crafted by bakers of the San Francisco Bay area. It is pale like a rye, but has a crunchy crust and wonderful texture. We serve it with cream cheese, rugghetta (arugula) fresh from the garden, and either Stein's sliced salmon or our fig conserve. These are two different tastes, but both remarkable.
Earlier, I noticed that my black shawl hanging over the banister has marks from a snail! Roy takes it to the local cleaner, and Rita Napoli, the owner, tells Roy, "La lumaca fare una passagiatta sopra la scairpa!" (The smail took a walk over the scarf!") Fare una passagiatta is a very common phrase. To take a walk...
Rain off and on all day gets in the way of our multiple loads of laundry, and also our tomato processing. We are able to put up seven large jars, with more than half of them the heirloom tomatoes. This time, we squeezed juice and seeds out before putting the pulp in the mill to crush. It made a big difference, and hardly any water shows on the bottom of the jars after they've been processed in the boiling water bath.
There is a controversy regarding how long to process tomatoes. Americans say for 30-40 minutes, but the Italians say for not more than five or ten. Is it because Americans are lawsuit happy? I think we process ours closer to the thirty minute mark, because we return inside, it is raining, and we forget to check for about half an hour. Fa niente.
I've finished Gina and Lulu's clothes, and they are both dressed. Lulu is back on her bench in the rain. Gina sits like an old grand dame in the living room, come for afternoon tea. She reminds me of one of those old maiden ladies who dress up with too much makeup and their finest clothes to go for an afternoon visit. We'll take her out on good days. Otherwise, she'll keep the living room occupied.
Photos here of Gina and Lulu
We hardly every use the room, except to walk in for a book or put on some music. But we love the room just the same. And one day, if my dream comes true, the room will become a sala di pranzo (dining room), and a little sitting room will be built out from the side window with doors to the garden. I just came across this, and rather like it: "Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them." - John Updike
We are such bad students, that when Giovanna tells us about San Giuseppe da Copertino, we think he must be watching over us. He is the patron saint of "dull" students, and she tells us that he crossed the Straits of Messina in the 14th century "without wings!" His day is September 18th. I associate September with new beginnings, especially at school, and every September as a student I vowed to be a better student. But even when I earned good grades, I had trouble concentrating, finding it easier to daydream.
Today we are turned into cleaning machines, spiffing up the house from top to bottom. Unfortunately, we are unable to do much outside, due to all the rain. The garden looks pretty good, considering. We may have a few roses to greet our guests tonight, but most of them are pretty waterlogged.
Yesterday, I clipped a big branch off the cotinus, or smoke bush. We were told not to clip it, but the branch showed signs of stress, and I cut back to just above the joint where two newer leaves were sending out shoots. I am hopeful. We learn from our mistakes, so if this was not a big mistake, we will see some new shoots.
I am hopeful that the Villa Lante show tomorrow is not rained out. It is such a good show. And I love the hat lady, although I can never find a hat that makes me look jaunty. We're on the prowl for sage and salvia plants. There is a specialist in Salvia plants, so we may be in luck.
We've emailed Mary Jane in Vetralla for some other events for the weekend, in the event we need backup plans. It will be so good to see Cherie and Pete that we don't care what we wind up doing or what the weather will be. It will be FUN!
A mild rain turns into a torrent, and we have little lakes all across the front terrace, turning the gravel into mini swimming pools for the lucertoli (lizards). A crack of thunder hits somewhere between our house and the little cemetery, and before long we lose our power. It goes off and on for a few hours while we continue our cleaning marathon, but as we are finishing the satellite goes out and we think the power will be off for a while.
So we take the opportunity to leave early for the airport, stopping at Orsolini to pick up batteries. Our Mag Lite is probably dead, because of corroded batteries. We have others, and want to stock up.
We leave the house at just before 5PM, and reach the airport at 6:30. Cherie and Pete's plane is delayed for an hour and a half, and we wind up waiting until after 11PM for them. In the meantime, we've parked in the garage, moved the car to the front no parking area, and Roy has come in and out of the waiting area at least eight times. I stood firmly against a pillar, watching each face, each shape, looking for my dear cousin.
Two hours after the plane landed, they still do not emerge. Roy tries, and then I try, to see if the police will let us in to see if our guests are having trouble with their baggage. No luck. An announcement tells us that due to the bad weather, many flights were delayed. There are also delays in baggage retrieval.
Another flight is to come in, and they are on it. We are very relieved, worried about what we would do if they were not on this flight. What we found out is that they were on the ground all the time, in a queue that moved one person at a time, with more than 1,000 to move through the system.
It is so good to see them. Sofi takes to them right away, and when we are finally home, we sit around the kitchen table having snacks of tasty bread, cream cheese, rugghetta and fig conserve and also Stein's cured salmon and cream cheese. Everyone has a taste of my chocolate cake, too, along with tea. We're in bed around 2AM, wondering if we'll really get up to leave for Villa Lante at 10 AM. Fa niente. We'll savor every moment with our dear relatives and see where tomorrow takes us.
By the time we are ready to leave for the day's adventures, we decide to drive to Civitella D'Agliano to the panificio to buy some WWF bread and hopefully, flour. Then we have breakfast at the nearby café, and Roy takes us for a scary ride into the centro storico, after making a turn and going up a hill not made for cars this wide. Yes, sure, another beautiful fountain, another lovely plaza. It's time to move on.
We recall the parking at Villa Lante for the show backstage, and somehow find our way onto the grass and trees just next to the exposition. For the next two hours or more, we slowly work our way around, giving Alessandra a CD of the photos we took at her place a week or so ago, and running into Patricia Brennan, who has a tasteful setup back under some trees, where her ancient iron pots and garden furniture are shown off beautifully. This is her first time at this show, and we hope that she does well. The prospective clients who could use her services will certainly attend this wonderful annual show.
Unfortunately, the weather was so bad yesterday that the show was rained out for most of its first day. The ground is still wet, but the sun comes out and the day is actually lovely, with just a hint of a breeze.
Tiziana from Michellini is not here, and I am disappointed. But Walter Branchi's vivaio is represented, as is Camilla, the hat lady. And Cherie just has to buy me a hat. It is quite striking, and I'll surely wear it on our trip to Cremona.
We buy a number of herb plants, and Alessandra takes us over to another stand where wonderfully aromatic plants are featured. We purchase four three colored salvias, and some other herbs.
We run into Michael and Tia, and then Candace and Frank, but Tia and Michael leave and we meet Candace and Frank at the restaurant a little while later. We like Frenchy's Bistro, and the owner likes Sofi, so we take her off her lead and she behaves really well, even when a female dog names Doris shows up and barks inside.
Pranzo is unusual and tasty. Some of the things we order are blinis with salmon, duck hip, spaghetti with bottarga (fish eggs), tagliatelle with black truffles, and a baked peach dessert in Dolcetto wine with cinnamon stick and sugar and cloves and lemon. This is the stuff that dreams are made of, and we're ready for dolce fa nientes until we throw down cups of espresso.
A drive around Viterbo is next, and although we are unsuccessful finding any bike items for Eli (they are all made in the US and shipped here), we take our favorite private tour, then do a walk through the San Pelegrino district, where Cherie buys earrings from our friend, the glass maker. Near the car is a kind of a flea market under some trees, and we take a peek but don't find anything we can't have.
We drive home and change shoes in time to walk up to the village for Leondina's memorial mass and walk around the borgo. Then home and hanging out until we're all so tired we can't keep our eyes open at 10PM and it's dorme bene for all.
I cannot see outside the bedroom window, but can hear a dog or two and a couple of chickens. Twenty minutes ago, a tractor rumbled across the strada bianca next to the fields below us. Cherie and Pete and even Sofi are still asleep.
The sky clears mid morning. Well, it is still cloudy, but there are patches of sun, and it is warm. At noon, Cherie surfaces, and it is no wonder. Usually the second day after such a long trip takes a toll. Some time later, Peter also arises, and Roy has already been food shopping and I have made a big copper pot full of homemade minestrone. It is the best I've ever made, rich and thick and tomatoey. Then there's a platter of heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella and basilico and the old standby, chicken tonnato.
Cherie is so, well, Cherie, that she is itching to get out in the garden and weed. Although the sky looks ominous, Roy wants to participate in the procession in La Quercia, so leaves just before 3:30 to take the bus with the others. We hang out, I cook, Cherie weeds, and Peter putters around, enjoying himself. He even takes a turn with my violin, and pronounces that it has a great sound. I love to hear the sound of it.
Peter tells me that I am lacking knowledge of the real fundamentals of music, and perhaps that is one of the reasons why I'm so slow to catch on to this fabulous instrument. We'll talk more about this tomorrow.
I check on the laundry and look out to realize that the car is still here, so offer to take Cherie and Pete to the Monster Park. They've just returned from a walk around the loop, led by darling Sofi.
Just before I get ready to go back to pick them up, Roy calls and he arrives to do the driving. Cherie and Pete loved the park, and Cherie recommends that I paint a few ceramic plates with designs of the creatures in the park, and take them to the concession stand at the park to see if they'll take them on consignment. Good idea.
Speaking about ceramics, Cherie is our first customer! She buys nine pieces! I really need to do more tiles and trays and things that people can pack in their luggage. Anything that they bought can be duplicated, but it is encouraging that they were so enthusiastic.
Cherie wants to participate in canning, so we pick a lot of figs, and after we arrive home from the Monster Park we put them on the stove to begin to cook. Two hours or more later, the figs are so rich and creamy that we can't wait to bottle them. This will be the best and richest batch yet. What are we up to, 120? Well, we've scarfed down four jars in the last few days, so it is a good thing that we have plenty more.
When we picked earlier, I also picked many, many fallen and rotting figs. Since the rain, the area is a mess. But Pete tells us that figs break down anything. So we'll have great compost, and Roy is doing a masterful job with the compost.
We will deliver the ceramics to them in Rome later this month after they return from their cruise, but for now we'll have them around in the event anyone wants to see the pieces to order them.
Their visit with us was so short, but so packed full of wonderful remembrances. Cherie wants me to try on a few items of clothing, and it's just like old times. Is it strange that those few moments are among those I'll treasure most? Well, those and the picture of Cherie in Roy's garden hat, strands of her reddish hair blown across her face as she stands up after pulling a mountain of weeds. Peter takes her picture, and I can't wait to have a copy. She tells me, "The next time I come" and that is music to me. I love seeing her here.
Now that she has just retired, she has a look of peace on her sweet face. She has things to dream about, things to do, with no "have to's". These days of people's lives are among the sweetest. Imagine. Getting up when you want to and doing what you want to, without worrying about the alarm clock or work or other obligations.
We're out of the house before 8AM, and after arriving at Candace and Frank's to drop Sofi off, we're excited to be on our way. Sofi rushes out to the garden upon arrival at her new home for a day or so, and we are able to leave without a major dramatic scene. We hear later that she cried for a few hours, then settled down and followed Candace from room to room, throwing Fifi the giraffe up in the air to entertain her new hosts.
We have a long drive ahead of us, but take two detours to hopefully save us from long queues on the A-1. One scene we pass shows two trucks after an altercation: one stops short and the heavy load of the truck behind it shifts and rolls right out onto the freeway. The second truck contains two huge rolls of paper. Traffic is stopped for miles, but somehow we get by without too long a delay.
I am reminded of the time a friend found a washing machine dumped on the hood of her car from a truck that stopped short on the Bayshore Freeway. I would like to see the look on the claims person's face as she called in her claim. That all seems so long ago.
We survive the trip on the perilous Futa Pass between Florence and Bologna, and arrive in Cremona with a few minutes to spare before it is time to walk to pranzo. Odin Bykle meets us and invites us to his wonderful apartment. We could swear he does not live there. It is the most immaculate apartment we have ever seen belonging to a single man.
He shows us his workshop, one that he putters in when he is at home. But after pranzo we are treated to his real studio...one he shares with Loeiz Honore, a young man who also makes violins and cellos, at the back of a house on a side street.
We walk down Odin's street to the main plaza and take a look inside the Duomo before arriving at the restaurant, a really fine one named Trattoria Cerri. It is the right time of year for zucca (squash), so the ravioli stuffed with squash is truly divine. It is also a local specialty. I also have carpaccio with Parmigiano Reggiano and arugula. This is Parmigiano country, so for the next 24 hours we'll have much of it.
After pranzo, we walk a little more, but are surprised at the door Odin stops at. He rings the bell, and we are welcomed into a beautiful home. We walk through to a back courtyard of grass and trees and plenty of sun. And there it is just beyond us, a little workshop, two stories high and enough for two people to work in comfortably. Beautiful wood is everywhere...on the floors, on the walls, and especially on the cello we see standing against a wall.
The cello appears to be finished. It has been crafted by Odin's studio mate, Loeiz HonorŽ, and Pete is asked if he'd like to play it. Only later do we realize that the cello has never been played before. Amazingly, these craft people do not play their instruments. But they know "their" sounds, the unique sounds instruments made by them make. Each person's instruments have their own unique sound. I find that fascinating. Odin tells us that it is a real thrill to hear someone play an instrument that he has made.
Here is a sample of what we've seen:
We say goodbye to Odin a while later, and arrive in Soragna at Locanda del Lupo, where we take a short walk and then have a small dinner. We are still full from pranzo, but have read that the restaurant is famous, so we find room for at least first courses. I eat a carmelized onion tart with a spicy Parmigiano ice cream. It is very rich, so Cherie and I share a bottle of white wine from the North of Italy and have some time to talk.
It is difficult to describe how I feel about Cherie. She is the big sister I never had. She is a true and kind woman, whose loyalty to me moves me profoundly. We have a special bond, a bond we've held all our lives, an unspoken link. I love her deeply and without question. And this short time we've spent together is a time I'll long cherish.
We somehow manage to get up from the table, and take a walk around town arm in arm, stopping on a side street for a gelato. Then it's time to get some rest for our next adventure.
We have breakfast in the dining room at 7AM, and Cherie and Pete arrive to join us. Then it's time to check out of the inn and drive to Bologna, to drop off Cherie and Pete at the train station.
We've been in Bologna several times before, but it is a confusing city, and we take a few passes before locating the station at the far end of our street. I somehow remember that the front of the station is a confusing place, but Roy takes a quick right and we're face to face with two policewomen. Boh! We've entered a one-way street going the wrong way. There was no sign to speak of from our direction.
The next few minutes are a blur, with everyone jumping out of the car, the policewomen flailing their arms and shaking their fists at us. The two luscious and immaculately dressed women arrive on my side of the car, and I rush out with fear in my eyes. Cherie starts to cry, telling us she'll pay the fine. But I have other ideas...
"We are strangers," I begin. "Mi dispiace, I am sorry, " I continue, all the while looking soulfully up at them. Roy resigns himself, taking the luggage methodically out of the hatch back. Cherie throws up her hands in a "what can we do?" expression. Pete comforts Cherie. And then the tide turns.
The Verna Lisi-looking blonde responds to me, "I'm not angry at you. I'm angry at HIM! He's just like them. All Italian men are the same." They are sure I told Roy not to take a right and he would not listen to me. The other policewoman nods her head, and now we know we've escaped. All that is left to do is give Cherie and Pete big hugs and tell them we'll see them c'e veddiamo in another ten days. Then it's off for another adventure.
We drive south to Impruneta, below Florence, for we are told we'll find some excellent terra cotta there. Outside the town, we purchase a lovely thick pot with lots of detail, and I imagine painting it in class. We are directed to another place, but don't find anything perfect other than possible Madonna figures. We'll return to pick up one some other time.
Driving further south, we stop in Greve in Chianti, and walk through the town and have pranzo at Osteria Mangiando Mangiando in the town square. This is a very trendy and touristy place, but we are hungry and it is a lovely day to eat al fresco (outside in the fresh air).
Ribbolita is on the menu. Yes, the days are turning colder and we're starting to think of making winter soups. I have a bowl of it, along with a glass of Super Tuscan red wine. Roy has his crostini with fegato (liver) and a pasta.
Before we're through, a young Australian woman, Felicity Cripps, starts a conversation with us. She's from Melbourne, Australia, and will be working at Il Vescovino, a restaurant in nearby Panzano, for the next month or so with some other Australians, so we'll be sure to let Alan know. The town is also famous for its butcher, so we'll probably take Michelle here for pranzo one day and may even visit the butcher. Michelle arrives at the end of next week.
I've been missing Sofi dear, and so it's time to get back on the A-1 for a drive to Orvieto to pick her up. When we arrive at Candace and Frank's front door, I notice a little glass pet door open to the light, and I lean down to look in and see her standing back in the kitchen looking out at me. She sees me and rushes to the door, putting a wet mark on the glass from her little nose. And then it's all hugs and kisses and a "fare un festa".
Candace and Frank were so kind to take care of her for a day. On the way home Roy tells me that Frank offered to take care of her anytime, so we're comforted that it was a good experience for them. Sofi seemed to love the garden, for it was full of lucertoles. Just like home.
Speaking of home, we all look forward to the gate sliding back and pulling inside. The house seemed to miss us, for when we open the front door we are met by the familiar smells of the place, and the air seems to breathe a sigh of relief that we're back.
Bells ring out and ring out and ring out and someone has died in the village. The throaty sound of the bells now seems like a wail. It is 9 AM, and we are among the last to know. I walk over to the railing and Italo walks down the hill toward me, his bucket in his hand and his crumpled-up hat perched like a saucer upon his head. We wave at each other and I ask him what has happened. He says not a word, for the death of his wife Leondina was not so long ago. Instead, he points up to Gino's balcony.
"Gino!" I exclaim.
"Si, ieri serra" he responds.
"State fortunato" Rina responds to us when we greet her on Via Mameli on our way back home from Gino's house, where we walked this morning to pay our respects. A good way for him to be.
Gino died last night. For three days he could not eat, and I believe it was a result of some kind of renal failure. He was ninety-seven years young, and the oldest person in the village is now Modesta, Ernesta's mother.
We walked up to pay our respects just before noon, and Franca, his daughter, and Mario, his son stood by the bed, along with Laura, who is Francesco Perini's wife and his grand daughter. While we were there we took our last long look at him, stretched out under a traditional embroidered gauze drape.
But now a plastic chin guard holds up his wizened head. Gino lay on the bed in his best suit, probably his only suit, a suit he has probably not worn since the wedding of his grand daughter, Tiziana, eight years ago. In our short time here, we already have so many memories of him.
Back at home, I call Lore, who cannot come for the funeral, but she will call Franca tomorrow. We will see them here in Mugnano later this week.
As life continues, I cut a few more spectacular Jude the Obscure roses, and place them in the kitchen in one of the little ceramic vases I've painted, mixed with sprigs of salvia and mint. The perfume of this rose is rich and heady, and their repeat blossoms have given us joy for months. This is one excellent rose, and thrives in the terra cotta planter that sits in front of the living room window.
Earlier I painted a salad plate with four birds, but I do not like working with our smalto. Roy washes off all the remaining smalto on any unpainted plates. We'll take them later today to dip into Placido's smalto when we are in class in Terni. Our smalto is thick and chalky and the paintbrush drags when I try to use it. I do like the design, however.
With the new key tile of samples of all our colors, it will be easier to discern which paints to use on different projects in the future. Getting everything just right is part of the learning process. Because much of this is trial and error, it reminds me of our garden adventures, with some plantings working and some not. L'Avventura has been a fortuitous name to describe our house and our lives here.
Today is hot and sunny. So we take advantage of the good day and pick a big basket of pomodori and put up five big jars early in the day. We are now at around forty or so jars from this summer. And of course there are the hundred or more jars of fig conserve. Our loggia is happily displaying shelf after shelf of the wonderful stuff.
Roy works on dipping a better smalto when we arrive at my class in the afternoon, and then walks off to keep himself busy for a few hours. The big pot we purchased yesterday in Impruneta is very difficult to smalto. It does not want to absorb the coating, so I spend almost an hour with a paintbrush, painting it on in areas that would not "take". But first, we watch it rise up from the big pail of smalto like a sea creature in Roy's hands.
I spend the remainder of the class working on the pot, but I don't finish, so leave it to finish next time. Roy does not feel good about doing all the smalto dipping while I am in class. He feels we are taking advantage of our teacher, so wants to return to Deruta this next week to buy more for us to have and work with at home. We'll also see if we can do a trade with Francesco, for perhaps he will want the smalto, and we want to continue to use his kiln to cook our painted ceramics anyway.
Ivana is in class for the first time this year, and is a brilliant painter. With her by my side, the time really flies. Actually, the people in our class are a lot of fun and there is a lot of laughter. The more frequently I attend the class, the more comfortable I become. It is a wonderful experience, and I look forward to it each week, although I also paint as much as I can at home in between.
The day ends with the birds reminding me again of Gino. We'll miss waving at him when we saw him walk from his house on Porta Antica for pranzo at Franca's, or leaning out his balcony to tease Sofi. Tomorrow we'll say goodbye at his funeral, and take the walk with him to be reunited with his wife. As I get into bed I remember seeing him at the cemetery on the Day of the Dead last November, placing his hand on the tombstone of his wife, telling us how much he missed her.
On this, the day of Gino's funeral, Roy tells me that yesterday the village became a little younger. The oldest person in Mugnano is a mere 88 or so. We think the oldest person now is either Giustino, Modesta or Pepe. We do not know this Pepe, who lives in Rome most of the time.
Today I'm able to work again in the studio, finishing a ceramic tray with grotesques. But this is Gino's day, and we walk up to the borgo at just after 3 PM to send him on his way.
Don Mauro is the priest, and we follow our neighbors in the procession to the cemetery. The weather is quite hot, and on the walk back we walk slowly. At the cemetery, Gino's casket moves right into its spot. Gino is ready to go, and we know that by now he's safely beside his wife.
Tiziano stops by for a taste of peach granita and a meeting about our conference tomorrow in Rome regarding restoration efforts in Mugnano. We have toyed back and forth with wanting to try to raise funds outside Italy in a sister city program. In such a program, we would use funds to restore San Rocco and the tower, but the thought of turning Mugnano into a mini Cortona turns my stomach.
What is special about Mugnano is the authenticity of the place. There are no cafés, no restaurants. If someone comes to the village and wants a coffee, almost anyone will offer to make it for them in their home.
Although there are a few stranieri from outside Italy, mostly from Norway, every person respects the integrity of the village.
Mugnano's archeological importance is impressive. There are remnants of an old mill in the valley, but what strikes us is the idea that ancient kilns below our house were used to fabricate the tiles used to build the Pantheon, the Colosseum, Trajan's Tomb, and other important buildings. The mother of Marcus Aurelius owned most of the land around us. And Tiziano leads the archeological efforts to preserve the area. We act as his assistants whenever we are asked.
We write up a little proposal for tomorrow's meeting and wonder about what we will learn tomorrow.
This morning we pick up Tiziano and drive to a meeting about our Mugnano restoration project in Rome with Duccio's cousin, who looks remarkably like him. When we meet, he tells us that his father was Duccio's uncle and brother of Duccio's mother.
He is quite friendly, speaking in modulated Italian while smoking a Tuscani cigar, the smoke blowing rings around the big room and out the open French doors onto the branches of a gorgeous plane tree. The tree rises up above the level of the ceiling of the second floor of this elegant turn of the century building.
I think I have seen the ornate polished chestnut capped filigreed iron banister in a movie, but cannot recall which one. You know, those details sometimes stick in the one's subconscious, only to waft out at the most inopportune time. Right now, I'd rather waft off to sleep, but cannot, the memory of that stairwell beginning to haunt me.
The meeting goes well enough, with his offer to see our proposal at the next stage. He confirms the importance of the Comune's participation, but gives us a few ideas to think about while we work up the first draft.
When we meet for coffee afterward, we agree that the next meeting needs to be with the Mayor and Tiziana, who is the former mayor and also Tiziano's cousin.
On both legs of the drive, we laugh and laugh at ourselves, sharing new information. Tiziano learns the English words "burp" and "drool" and we learn, oh, so very much. Look at the blog on this site under Italian trivia for many modo de dire expressions. This language can be so much fun.
We drive back on the Cassia and eat pranzo in Capranica at one of our favorite country restaurants, Zi Titta. One of the specialties is baked potatoes! The potatoes are rubbed with oil and roasted in a hot oven, then opened in half and brushed with more olive oil while they are still hot. Quite delicious.
The woman who waits on us must own the restaurant, and tells us that the potatoes are Viterbese. She also tells us what kind of spuds she plants, for the potatoes come from her nearby orto. This woman is a wealth of information, and even scares me away from drinking decaffeinated coffee after pranzo. She thinks it is dangerous, and gets me to drink Orzo instead. I'm concerned enough that I check the internet for dangers of decaffeinated coffee later, but don't come up with anything alarming.
We arrive back home, change clothes and pick up Sofi and drive to DeRuta, to pick up more smalto and more ceramica to paint. We drive to Colorobbia this time, and Placido has given us the prescription for his specially mixed smalto, which the owner mixes and gives us in a proper amount to use to mix for our ceramics. We also purchase a small amount colored in a more antique color, to be used as a base for old Roman looking tiles for our project.
Tiziano arrives at our house just as we do, and we have tea together while perusing two wonderful art books that he is lending me. I see a design that may become the logo for our project. But Roy will mix the new smalto tomorrow and it will take a day to cure before I can paint. I have lots to paint, and lots of ideas.
Tomorrow is supposed to be cloudy and possibly rainy, so I hope to paint almost all day. On Sunday we'll have an all day pilgrimmagio with others in our village. I'll take my sketch book to draw on the way. There will be plenty of time...
Since Francesco is going to fire his ceramics today, there's room for a couple of pieces. I paint a tray with grotesques, and a medium sized bowl with a test for Tia's bird pattern, using another shade of blue.
But there are figs to pick, and figs to cook, and this time we have a smaller batch and they come out really rich and gingery. Roy puts them up in glass jars while I finish painting, and then it's off to Francesco's.
He's firing some of his big terra cotta lanterns, and our pieces are put in the same batch in the forno. I think it's strange, because I thought I read that the unpainted terra cotta and painted pieces are fired at different temperatures. But he knows what he is doing.
Before first light, we're up and dressed and kissing Sofi goodbye. We're off at 6AM on our pilgrimaggio to Santa Maria in Goretta with other folks from the village. On this day, the bus with 58 seats is full. Who will be left in church?
On the way down, we hear Luigina behind us calling out the names of the people who are left..."Noreena, Lydia..." and I add "Lore and Alberto" to my list. There won't be more than ten at mass at most, including Tiziano and his parents, and possibly Elena. I can hear Lore now, disappointed that we are not there.
We all have umbrellas, and the trip begins in the rain. But before we reach our first stop the rain ends, and it's time for caffé at a rest stop. Then on to Nettuno, a town by the sea, where the enormous modern church built in honor of Santa Marina in Goretti sits surrounded by scaffolding. We enter and are guided downstairs, where a modern chapel is full of pilgrims and the mass has already begun.
When we're through, we walk up to the altar to place a kiss on the glass box surrounding the likeness of the little girl. We think her remains are in a nearby cemetery.
At the end of the nineteenth century, little Maria and her family of farmers lived nearby. She worked in the fields each day, and spent hours in prayer. One day a young man made advances toward her. Her refusal to submit resulted in him stabbing her and wounding her deeply. She lived for one day, and during this day forgave him.
Her death in 1904 led Pope Pius XII later to sanctify her. So she is a relatively recent saint, and one that people in Italy hold close to their hearts. Actually, when everything seems to be going wrong, people are heard often to mutter, "Santa Maria..." and they are referring to this young child. So she is a very important saint, and a pilgrimage here is very popular.
The sun greets us warmly as we leave the church, and we walk along the seawall for a few minutes, before climbing back into the bus. Alberto Cozzi, as priori and head of the group, decides to lead us on a detour to the American War Cemetery in nearby Anzio. We are hardly prepared for what we are to see next.
Although Roy has read many books about WWII in Italy, even he is taken off guard. Seventy eight hundred American soldiers are buried here in rows of marked graves, precisely dug and laid out in long rows, each marked with a white marble cross or even a few stars of David.
Later, in a special room, we view more than 3,000 more names, carved alphabetically and completely covering the four marble walls. These names are of men who died in this three-month battle during 1944 but whose remains have not been identified.
An expanse of impeccably planted and maintained grass seems to go on for miles. Lush mature trees and plants and bushes are laid out and cared for in such order that it is difficult to believe this scene is real until we touch the leaves or the flowers and see that yes, these are living things.
I am moved to tears in this silent monument to men who died in the cause of Italian freedom not all that long ago. Today's trip is an eerie one, for little Maria's sainthood, and this war, took place during old Gino's lifetime. And Gino's death this past week and the days turning toward winter remind me of how real death and dying are, and how temporary life is for all of us.
Roy later tells me that he loves seeing Marina and Erica and another young woman stand nearby a flower grove to ask me if the bodies of American soldiers are really buried here, or just the crosses. So I tell them that yes, indeed they are here. I also tell them about our custom of moving the bodies of the recently departed for a few days in a "casa di funebre" before they are buried.
In Italy, since the dead are laid out in their own homes, in their bedrooms or living rooms until the funeral, I can see the girls' eyes open wide in amazement. And now I think that it is so cold to send a dead family member to a strange building. Here in Italy the reverence for the dead is so real that family members and friends and relatives surround the body until it is time to be put into the casket for the funeral. "Open casket" does not have a meaning here.
How strange and how interesting are the customs of different countries. I think it was a good thing that Marina and Erica thought to ask me their questions. And I look around to see the people in our group so silent. Strangers died in such huge numbers...in assurance that the lives of the Italians would be free.
But earlier, as Rosina sighed next to me upon seeing the rows and rows of graves, I responded to her, "Non capisco guerra." I don't understand war. Does a trip to a place such as this give us a better perspective or point of view regarding the war in Iraq, and the preciousness and precariousness of freedom?
We board the bus silently, and that is a difficult thing for Italians to do. But soon the talk is of pranzo, or colazione. I am so confused. I'm going back to speaking of the mid day meal as pranzo. So there. And the noise level rises. And the bus driver gets lost. So almost an hour later, after arriving back where we started and taking another turn, we arrive at a country restaurant parking lot behind three other buses. Boh!
How funny that we are in a busload of "tourists". We often laughed and made fun of them when we were living in California. And now for the experience of it all, we are taking in the whole experience ourselves.
Now, the Italians take their food very seriously, and in the next four (yes, four) hours, we wait and eat and wait and eat and wait and eat and, well, you get the picture.
While we wait for the first course, a young man who appears to own the place, greets us, asking the name of our group. His slicked curly black hair, jeans and a black and white figured shirt with tall collar pronounce him as clearly Italian, and he spends the next half hour tweaking and then playing an elaborate karaoke setup, the "boom-chicka, boom-chicka" bounding off the walls, his voice crooning against the microphone, his head leaning back and his eyes closed, the same way my mother's dog Jezebel did when she sang "Oooooooo" in our arms.
After singing a few numbers, with the constant pulsing of his speakers moving the walls in and out, in and out, he asks us all over the mic if we like the music. "NO!" the crowd responds in unison. "Too loud?" he asks. "SI!" we all respond. So we've shamed him into taking down his equipment, and I almost feel sad for him.
Since there are over 200 people here in the restaurant today, it is understandable that the service is slow. But there are clean plates wiped clean again with a kind of flourish as an obvious gesture as armfuls of them are distributed one-by-one at each place. Then another set of plates arrives with more forks and knives. The dishwashers move along in overdrive. They must have thousands of plates.
We are served fish appetizers, linguine with fish sauce, risotto with tomato fish broth, baked scoglio, baked tiny crayfish, fried calamari, fried baby shrimp, roast potatoes, green salad with cherry tomatoes, and then a strange thing happens.
"Buon compleanno a te!" is played on a recorded tape. It must be someone's birthday in the room. A cake is rolled out with San Liberato's name on it, and our group, San Liberato, gets to have our photos taken with the cake. Then it is rolled back into the kitchen and slices of a different layered cake with cream and jams is passed all around.
Each other group in the room gets the same piece of music and a cake with the name of their group emblazoned on the top with pink frosting. The song is played over and over, until all four groups have their dessert. Allrightallready! We're all so tired of waiting that we don't have coffee, but stop for it later on the road back to Mugnano.
We arrive home at 8:30 in the dark, and little Sofi seems to have sat on the front step the whole day. She shakes, but wags her tail and we're as happy to be home as she is to see us. Yes, Sofi has a "fare una festa", making a party upon our return. We are sure Tiziano treated her well. But she surely missed us, and we missed her.
We all look forward to getting to bed. It is good to be home.
After a night of rain, we sleep in until Sofi wakes us up. A thick layer of clouds hides the sun from view, and it will be a good day to paint. But Roy tells me that he mixed the small batch of smalto incorrectly, adding fifteen times the amount of salt and vinegar to the solution. He mixed the little bag the same way he was instructed to mix the other larger batch.
I'm thinking that it's possible that everything I paint with this will be ruined. This little batch was specifically formulated to produce more of an antique finish, and is one we're possibly thinking of for the Roman era designs I'm about to start.
Roy's answer is for him to drive (drive is the key word:) back to Deruta and buy more. My solution is to call Colorobbia and ask the man who owns the shop what we should do. He speaks a little English.
The sun squeezes its way through a cloud and the drops of rain clinging on the telephone wire hang down like dazzling gems. Roy calls Colorobbia and the solution is to rinse and rinse the smalto, but that will take forever and we did not buy much. So when we drive to Rome to pick up Michelle we will find our way to a Colorobbia store and buy some more.
But there is more distressing news. Roy drives to Francesco's to pick up the plastic tubs that he mixes the smalto in, and returns with two badly cooked ceramic pieces. I think it is not correct to fire glazed and unglazed pieces in the same batch, but Francesco did not seem concerned. The finish on the bowl is cracked all over on the outside, but the inside looks good. The second piece, the tray with grotesque designs, does not have enough smalto, the red clay showing through the finish in spots. Otherwise, the glaze looks good and the colors are just as I imagined.
We need advice from someone who speaks a little English. So far, Placido's kiln seems to do the best firing. We'll ask advice in class on Wednesday. But in a call later in the day from Pat Ryerson, who is here for a couple of weeks, we learn that the success of applying the smalto is one that is particular, and has to be learned. She'll take a look at some of our pieces next week when we see her.
I finish painting everything that has smalto on it, but do not want to take any of it to Francesco to fire, unless we are surer of the results from his kiln. Roy mixes the large batch of smalto, and it will sit for a day. So tomorrow I can begin to paint again. Pat tells us that humidity is a factor, and we have rain, rain, rain. So I am cautiously optimistic.
We drive to Bruno's after the pranzo break, and pick up seeds for bieta (swiss chard) and tiny lettuce. With the full moon just passing, we can't wait any longer to plant. We want broccoli, but he won't have any plugs until tomorrow. It is too late in the year to plant it from seed. So we'll return on Wednesday to pick up little plugs of broccoli.
In the meantime, we weed and lay out rows of soft earth on the raised bed. Roy sprinkles seeds for the lattuga in a long row inside the tiny greenhouse, and outside for the bieta. We have a large space left for the broccoli, and perhaps will plant something else here, too.
Judith has arrived in Amelia, and brought two of her dogs with her. She will be here for six weeks, so we look forward to seeing her. She tells us that she has a friend who lives near here part time who is a ceramicist, and will introduce us. What a strange and wonderful coincidence!
She also tells Roy she is waiting to hear from someone who owns dogs like hers and lives in Amelia before deciding if she'll join us for cena this weekend. I tell her that if he is not her Italian lover, I don't want to know about him. It is time for Judith to jump in, especially since she will be here for six weeks.
The rain returns, and we lose our satellite connection. We will have the healthiest plants this fall. The ground is soaking up the rain and a few of the roses are actually thriving!
There are few things more beautiful in this part of the world than a long blanket of fog stretching across the valley, with a full moon up above reflecting lights above the silvery grey mist. The lights of Chia twinkle from across the valley, surrounded by a navy blue sky. I stand at the doorway silently taking in the view, as Roy calls out to me from the terrace.
We have another beautiful day, so we begin with some work in the garden. I'm clipping the boxwood on the terrace until I clip off a bit of the top of a finger...just a pinch, but it is as if a dam has burst. Roy bandages me up and I'm good as new.
Dottoressa in the Orvieto hospital (Santa Maria Delle Stelle) has agreed to see me at Mezzo journo (noon), and when we arrive there are at least twenty people ahead of us. After an hour or so, during which time I have my sketchbook and do a fair amount of drawing, she calls me in.
We agree that my problems seem to have passed, but she gives me prescriptions to take for three months and then wants to see me again. Something about my liver not being just right, but it's not a big deal.
We come home for a quick pranzo and then all drive off to Rome to pick up Michelle Berry from the airport. First we stop in downtown Rome to see if we can buy smalto at a Colorobbia Store. There are two, and one does not have the smalto, and we run out of time before we reach the second store.
It's on to the airport, and Michelle arrives in just a few minutes. She falls in love with Sofi, and it is a mutual admiration society. We arrive at her hotel, the Majestic, and it certainly is. The hotel is located on the Via Veneto, and her room is really beautiful.
We stop to have a drink with her in the bar, and she and Sofi and I sit on a banquette. It is so good to see her, and her health appears excellent. Tomorrow she'll have a tour with Karina in Rome, and we'll see her here on Friday for almost a week's visit. We plant to do a lot of girl talk and a lot of cooking and hanging out. And of course we'll take her to see some special things. Can't wait. Neither can Sofi.
A buttermilk sky greets us this morning, and there is sun peeking through dirty clouds. Glorious sun! The leaves on the trees in the valley look all dressed up and shiny for Ann and Jack Murphy's visit to us later this morning. But Sofi lays curled up like a croissant in her little bed, wanting to sleep in a little longer.
Painting ceramics in the studio has been placed on hold for now. We're into guest mode for the present, and there won't be time to spend in the studio for a while.
So Ann and Jack arrive. Has it been three years since their last visit? We walk around and speak about the changes, introduce them to Gina and Lulu and Vito and of course Sofi meets them on the front path. Then it's off to Diego's for a memorable pranzo at Castello Santa Maria in San Michelle in Teverina.
We really like the primi, served after Diego's bruschetta of cherry tomatoes and garlic and his fabulous olive oil. It is called capriccio, or goat cheese. These are little balls wrapped in crumbly pistachio nuts, served on a few spoons of honey. Ann and I think this is what it is all about. I'll try to replicate this this weekend for Michelle, but will add a few leaves of rugghetta (arugula). I think the peppery greens will compliment the soft tastes of the cheese and honey. Look for this as an addition to our food blog soon.
We also are served perfectly grilled fillets with green salads and then housemade ice cream. The vanilla is mixed with candied orange peel and the chocolate is deep dark rich fondante. Bravo to Diego. This is another fine meal from Castello Santa Maria. It is always wonderful to see Diego again.
Ursula and Nino show up to greet us, and it is good to see Ursula again. Soon we have to leave, so say goodbye to everyone and drive on to my ceramics class in Terni.
One of the ceramic pieces from last week has the same bubbly finish. Placido thinks something is wrong with the paint itself. So we'll take samples of the paint back to the store, or at least to Placido to test. Otherwise, it is a wonderful session, and the time just flies by. We come home with one plate, which is not perfect, but has a very interesting edge treatment. We understand why the edge does not have glaze.
Roy shows Placido the results of our smalto mix and Placido thinks it's fine. So I paint a little plate and we have it fired, so if it comes out well, we're well on our way.
Back at home, Tia is on board with the whole ceramics order, and understands that it will take a little more time than we first thought for her set of what has now become 39 pieces. She is a great friend, and thankfully not in a hurry.
I have an idea for a plate for Diego with his crest, so draw it out and will paint him a tile to see what he thinks. I am amazed at how much I love to draw. And of course, to paint. I know my mother is looking down at me and taking this all in. We have one of her painted landscapes in the house, and it is one I've loved all my life of a shack on a beach at Cape Cod. How strange and wonderful my life has become.
Looking back, I am amazed at how significant little details have become in my life. Yes, I won a major art award in kindergarden. Very funny. First prize in the whole town of Hingham, Massachusetts for an art contest. But since then, about 55 years has passed by, and my art has taken a back seat in my life...until now.
Sofi snuggles next to me on the couch, so happy to have us back at home. I'm no longer interested in TV, sitting and drawing while Sofi sleeps and Roy watches tv. We've really settled in to our life here, and with cool days approaching, and fewer hours of blinding sun streaming onto the studio, I'll be able to paint more and more. Once we have the formula for the smalto base figured out, I think the painting will go like wildfire.
There is a soft blue sky, lowering to grey over the horizon and a marvelous sunrise, with soft wisps of fog rising in the valley, dirty grey and yellow from their reflection off the sun. Long crooked fingers of green stick up through the fog and here and there a lone tree stands out on the brown plain, ready to be replanted with...what? We have seen tobacco grown next to the A-1 toward Orvieto, but in the valley think it will probably be some kind of grain. We still need to know more about what is grown locally. The more we learn, the more we want to learn.
I have a pedicure at 9 and plan a visit to Daniele at 11. I'll take my sketch book, for now I draw whenever I have a free moment, practicing strokes, opening my eyes to things I've barely seen before.
I encourage you to take out a piece of paper and a pencil and draw something. Especially if you say that you can't draw a thing. Follow the contours of a leaf or a chair or a sneaker. You'll be amazed at the likeness. And if you do more of it, your eyes will open wider and you will see that things you thought were just ordinary are really just extraordinary. "Extra" ordinary. Why do we take so much for granted? Perhaps because there is so much sensory overload all around us.
In this simple valley, I look out the window at sensory overload. And closer in, at the curve of the gauzy drapes flanking the window...and in front of them two little porcelain pots and a curved piece of paper and an open notebook and a purple pen. I hear two birds chirping in a morse code and now layers and layers of sound and sight tell me it's time to get dressed for the day. Buona giornata!
Today is an excellent Italian-speaking day for me. First it is an hour with Giusy, who gives me a hated pedicure. But she is a real expert, and I keep busy drawing in my sketchbook and talking away to her in Italian. I tell her that she is in this journal, and also that I don't write derogatory things about people here. I try to find out what the Italian equivalent of "catty" is, but cannot for the life of me get her to understand.
After we're through, I run out to the car and Roy looks it up on his handspring. He comes up with four words.... I rush back and she has a good laugh. The closest we come is pettigolo, or gossipy. But that's not quite right. She laughs anyway.
We then drive to Sipicciano, and there is no one waiting. Danieli and Anna Lisa peek into the shop through a curtain over the back door. They are out in the garden with Penelope, their eight-week old puppy. We are told that Penelope is part pit bull, and also that she will be trained to be sweet. Next time we come, we'll bring Sofi. But if Penelope develops typical pit bull traits, we'll keep her away. I'm reserving judgment, hoping that she will be a sweet dog.
I tell Anna Lisa about touching the puppy all over, rubbing her skin and talking to her. I learned that this helps to keep a dog unafraid of being touched when it is older. I know that many dogs hate to have a bath or be groomed, and much of this is because they don't like to be touched. So I hope I passed along something helpful. It also helps me to find something to talk about. So aside from sketching, we chat away, and it is fun.
Roy dips some plates, and I paint this afternoon, with Sofi by my side. I love the new texture of the plates after they are dipped. And I'm becoming more adept at using the paints. I'm going to finish a set of botanical designs for salad/desert plates, as well as more Mugnano plates. But for the next few days the painting will have to take a back seat.
Michelle arrives tomorrow morning, and in the afternoon we have an archeological dig in the valley, in nearby Bassano in Teverina. The weather is cool, so it should be fun. All three of us look forward to Michelle's visit. We have a lot planned, although Michelle and I really want to hang out.
We go to bed early, for in the morning I'll make a new big pot of minestrone, bean dip and homemade bread with the World Wildlife Fund flour. These are standard treats for us, but we hope they'll be special for our great friend.
The day begins with putting the pot of beans on to cook. They have been soaking in water all night. Then I begin the first phase of the bread, mixing the flour with olive oil and water and kneading it with curved metal paddles. It sits in a big oiled glass bowl under a wet cloth for a few hours, and now it is time to start the minestrone soup. Step by step the soup builds in the grand copper stockpot my mother gave us years ago from Williams-Sonoma. In a grand crescendo, after the soup has cooked for more than two hours, the strained and cooked beans are added and the bread is ready for the oven.
By the time Roy returns from the Orte train station with Michelle, the hot bread is out of the oven and the minestrone is ready to serve. We eat outside, and it is a lovely warm day, sitting under a big umbrella on the front terrace.
We start with goat cheese balls rolled in pistachio nuts, arranged on a ceramic plate with rugghetta (arugula) leaves and spoonfuls of honey. With a glass of red wine, we are ready to sit and talk for hours.
Hours later, after we take a walk with Sofi to the borgo and walk all around whispering to Sofi while the villagers nap, we arrive back home in time to greet Tiziano. He first drives us up the hill to Bomarzo, through the intersection leading up to the borgo, and the men sit on benches on either side of the road in their matching light blue shirts and navy vests, like birds sitting on a telephone wire. I am so reminded of the birds in front of our house just a day or two ago.
Today, we are Tiziano's "slaves", and he drives us to two digs in the countryside outside nearby Bassano in Teverina. Under his direction, we comb areas of the freshly turned soil, made bumpy by lots of rain. There are a number of pieces that we find for Tiziano to identify and catalogue, and Roy helps him measure off the spaces.
We drive to the next place, and a man in the next property calls out to us. He arrives a few minutes later, and Tiziano tells him we are merely measuring the space. He invites us back to his house to show us an enormous tile, 59 cm square, with a perfectly inscribed description from the kiln where it was made.
Tiziano documents the signature tile and translates the words from Latin to Italian. The man and his wife are surprised and thrilled at the age of the piece, and also that they now know more about this piece. Tiziano is invited back anytime.
It is dark by this time, and he rushes us back home through Orte and then the superstrada. But on the road his mother calls and wonders where he is. Michelle stares up at him wide eyed from the back seat while Tiziano tells her he'll be home right away. Tiziano is very close with his parents, and he is late getting home for cena.
We are sorry that he will not be with us on Monday, but he has to finish his dig in Amelia next week, so will be working all weekend and into the nights each day next week to finish documenting their latest project. After all these months on the same project, the Superintendent decided that they must finish subito! So any meetings or adventures we want to schedule with him will have to wait at least a week.
At home, Michelle and Roy take a flashlight out to the huge fig tree and pick a bowlful of ripe figs. We sit outside under candlelight and snack on prosciutto and figs, grapes, red wine, homemade bread and cream cheese, fig conserve and chocolates.
Of course Michelle and I have a long talk inside on the couch while Sofi sleeps between us, and end the night before midnight wishing everyone a dorme bene.
Today is clear and cool at first, but by mid morning we turn on the air conditioning in the car. We're off to La Quercia to buy tasty things to cook. Michelle loves gourmet cooking and eating, and what's not to like?
Yesterday's tasty bread made great toast, and there were more figs, but now we're on the prowl for whatever looks great. First at the gastronomia we buy a sheet of straciatella, the thin crispy rounds of bread, and a ciabatta. This place has divine prepared foods, so we purchase two tiny pork loins, which have been butterflied and rolled with prosciutto and sage and some kind of cheese, tied with string and baked. We also pick up Ricotta and a Pecorino cheese.
At three different fruit and vegetable stands, we pick up a melon, apples, grapes, flat beans, a fennel bulb, two long shiny eggplants, lemons, tiny ripe pears. And then we drive into Viterbo to the Enoteca we like, and pick up several bottles of wine.
We drive back just in time to go to Bruno's to pick up the broccoli plants, but we think we've picked up cauliflower instead. Cavolfiore di Decembre. We asked for broccolo. Michelle tells us they're from the same family, but they certainly taste differently. I somehow recall someone telling us that there is a way to make cooked cauliflower taste like mashed potatoes.
We have more room for broccoli, so we'll continue our search.
At home, we sauté the flat beans with tiny chunks of pecorino and olive oil after steaming them. The sliced eggplant is brushed with olive oil and grilled, then we add balsamic vinegar, garlic and a little more oil. The roast is truly divine, especially when matched with spoonfuls of our fig conserve. With a bottle of wine and peach ice for dessert with slivers of our chocolate cake, we are in heaven. Did I tell you that we did not eat until at least 3PM, and before we know it it's time to leave for the concert in Bassano?
We arrive early, get Roy's usual fabulous parking space, and run into Alvaro. I ask him what passages will be acted from the Divine Comedy, because Tiziano lent us the books in Italian, but he tells me that it's useless, because the actor will be so animated, and it will be impossible to follow. I don't realize until later that we'll be in the dark in the audience, so sit there transfixed by his masterful acting and enjoying the show.
Steven's piano playing is beyond wonderful. Roy especially enjoys seeing him practically levitate from the piano bench when he's at his most animated. The pieces from Liszt are a tour de force. We are moved by his performance. Really, we are moved by both performances. It is so amazing that these free concerts are frequent in little towns all over Italy. Michelle takes it all in, despite not knowing more than a few words in Italian, but we think she really enjoyed herself.
And then it's time to go back home and eat some more. This time, it's a ricotta and saffron and parmesan cheese flan in a pastry crust. We later add salvia and lemon thyme and the taste is divine with some more red wine. We're not able to finish. It is too rich. But we hear lots of noise from inside the borgo walls, so put our plates in the kitchen and walk up to see what all the commotion is all about.
We think it is Erica's birthday, because there are about fifty teenagers walking around in jeans, yelling in the little building that we use for meetings and events. We see no adults around. So we take a walk to the tower and then walk back home. The village is a ghost town except for the teenagers, and it's rowdy with all the commotion. So we sit on the terrace and watch the stars. Then we're so tired we go up to bed.
It has been a lovely day, and we loved sharing it with our great friend.
On this lovely morning, the layers of trees and hills in the early mist are just waking up. Across the street, two workers begin their cleaning up of the sand dumped just inside Pia's gate. We'll see what they are able to accomplish today. Now that the structure on the little house has been finished on the outside, what area will they take on next?
Inside, we're all just getting ready for the day. Sofi puts off getting up until the last minute, lying like a croissant in her little wicker bed by the desk.
We walk up to mass, and Don Ciro is today's priest. The church is full with the regular folk, including some of the weekend residents like Augusto and Vincenza and Fulvia, and afterward Michelle is able to meet some of the people we have been describing all along in this journal.
We pick up Sofi and drive to the antique mercato in Soriano, where we walk around and show Michelle yet another little town.
At home, Michelle fixes fresh pasta sheets with porcini. We also eat a shaved fennel and lemon salad and peaches in wine. Of course, we drink more red wine. And then Pete and Annie visit. Michelle has now met every sibling in Pete's family.
There's just enough time to change and drive to Tia's for a glass of wine. Then we all drive to Judith's in the centro storico of Amelia to meet up with Cesare and Michella and show Michelle her flat. We all walk down to the "Slow Food" cena given in the courtyard outside the archeological museum in Amelia.
The evening festivities begin with the sound of drums. Young men with bandieras (flags) greet us, and we are entertained with an excellent exhibition of this medieval craft of flag waving and throwing. Ah, young men in tights again. Dressing up in medieval garb is a very macho thing to do in Italy. It makes me laugh to think of a young American man agreeing to do the same.
Italians are so into tradition, and to be invited to participate in this way is so important, that young men look forward to any possible involvement. I am sure that their training began years earlier. And that drum sound we hear across the valley late at night is just such a sound. Boom! Boom! I will imagine this scene at night in the future when wishing the sound would go away.
The food is served, slowly, slowly, just as the name of the association implies. Although the food is excellent, we've had so much to eat already that we're tired and just want to go to bed. The main course is served after 11PM, and Roy agrees to take us home at 11:30, although it is before desert even arrives. It is all we can do to drag ourselves up the stairs to bed.
Today is our 24th wedding anniversary, and it begins with a lovely dewy morning. By the time 8AM rolls around, Roy is already at the train station in the next town to pick up Cherie and Pete. Other friends arrive right on time, and we drive off to Fabro, where we meet more friends.
Again, right on time, we leave in a caravan of five cars and drive through rolling hills flanked by rows of vines ready to explode with fruit. This year, there are so many grapes that it will be impossible to pick them all, and many growers find that it costs so much to hire enough workers that by the time the wine is sold it won't make any money. That's the groan of local growers. But I'm sure the larger growers do just fine. There will be lots of grapes on the tables this year, and perhaps we'll think of some way to preserve them. Look at the food blog here for some ideas for what to do with grapes.
It feels so good to sit next to Cherie and get to know her all over again. Spending time with them now is such a luxury, and we'll see them again in a few days in Rome. What a treat!
But today, nineteen of us meet at La Scarzuola for a tour given by Brian Pentland, a friend and sacristant of the little church and caretaker and major domo of the whole complex.
We begin our tour with the little pink walled church, and I'm moved to tears when we enter, for we were married here in a tiny Catholic ceremony at the beginning of January in 2003. Confused? Originally, we were married in the Orthodox Church in American in San Francisco on September 26, 1981. So we celebrate our anniversary today, instead of in January.
I'm particularly enamored with Brian's collection of antique religious vestments, and when it's time to enter the little room where they are stored, I'm right by the door. The collection numbers almost three hundred, and we believe it to be the largest collection of antique vestments in all of Italy. Brian is also a restorer, and many of the pieces have been restored by his loving hands.
I remember Don Francis practically levitating on that day in January, 2003, when Brian picked out a vestment for him to wear while officiating at our marriage ceremony. Speaking of levitating, this church is very important in church history, for there is an original fresco depicting San Francis levitating. The church is a consecrated church, and there is a Mass said at least one time each month to preserve its status.
Once we've left the church, Brian leads us on a tour of the rest of the grounds. The day is so lovely, with a soft breeze but plenty of sun. And aside from several lovely gardens and an Italianate maze, the rest of the complex consists of an amazing folly garden. Here's a sample of what is on the tour:
She is so shocked! Can't you tell?
Then we drive home, to relax, and end the day remembering all the fun and how wonderful it was to share it with so many dear friends.
September is one of the loveliest months of the year, especially in Italy. Cool temperatures greet us at dawn and dusk and the air is filled with rich smells of grapes ready to pick and burning leaves and earth full of moisture under foot.
The deep throaty sound of a dog in the valley calls out, a big hound-y dog, telling us he's wagging his tail and greeting his master. Passeri, the little local birds that scarecrows are named after (spaventapasseri), chirp in little homes close to the house. A rifle shot in the valley tells us it's time to get up.
Today, I lay in bed a little longer, reading luxuriantly, for there is nothing I have to do this morning. I usually read at night, often not remembering what I've read, and can't complete more than a few pages. But this morning, I'm able to read and read while Roy sleeps next to me. Then Sofi jumps out of her bed and I can hear her tail whoosh-whooshing against the silk taffeta bedskirt. She's under the tall bed frame, playing hide-and-seek, and full of playfulness.
Today is Michelle's birthday, and after a breakfast of croissants with apricot jam that we made with Tia earlier in the summer and a ripe melon, Michelle wants to be busy. So I send her out with a big container to pick ripe figs. She has participated in putting up tomatoes, and today we'll show her how to make our fabulous fig conserve with ginger. She sits them in front of the loggia on the gravel, because first we're going to have a special pranzo.
I am especially proud of my risotto prowess, and today prepare lemon risotto. We serve it with a bottle of Isabella Mottura's Amadis, or Lazio Rosso. This one is a blend of Sangiovese and Montepulciano grapes. and that's another story...
Earlier in the morning, Roy zips out to buy bread at the bakery we like so much in Castiglione in Teverina. On the way, he stops at the tiny cantina (winery) of Isabella Mottura, daughter of Sergio Mottura, who is famous for his Orvieto Classico. His wine is sold in the Bay Area with a label depicting a porcupine.
She is not at the winery today, but her uncle Alex is, and he spends some time with Roy. They wind up talking away, and he tells Roy they want to invite us for cena sometime. That will be fun. Roy tells him I want to paint a wine coaster that they might want to use at the winery, and he thinks it's a good idea. So Roy comes home with a brochure of the coat of arms of the winery.
We eat and eat. After the risotto, we have the rest of the stuffed pork loin from a few days ago, and then a salad of breseola (thinly sliced air dried beef), rugghetta fresh from the garden, shaved parmesan cheese, Diego's olive oil, salt and pepper and most important of all, squeezes of fresh lemon.
Michelle wants peach ice for dessert, with cookies from the bakery and pieces of a special dark chocolate bar. We open a divine moscato wine to serve with it, just sweet enough to blend perfectly with the not too sweet peach ice and the dark, dark chocolate.
We're all in heaven, especially Michelle and me, until the moscato hits us. Bang. We're loopy, for all the sugars have converged at the same moment to practically paralyze us. So for the next couple of hours we zone out. Bravo to Roy, who's fine and cleans up.
He takes off to buy a brush to clean out the huge olive oil jars, or demijohns, that we have around the property. The other day, we saw Luigina's husband washing a big demijohn out with a huge long brush, and this is the season he'll be able to find one at a local hardware or farm supply store. He finds two in Giove, and this weekend, he'll begin to clean them out.
Then Michelle wakes up from her nap and he takes her for a short ride to take photos of Mugnano from the main road below us. Here's a photo of the village.
I put a cutting board out on a table in the loggia, and while Roy sterilizes the jars, Michelle cuts the washed fruit and plops it into the pan. Then we take the pan into the kitchen, where she heats the figs, adds plenty of sugar, and stands and stirs it until it is ready.
Just before we take it outside to ladle into jars, I add more ginger. I still don't measure anything, but think what has been cooked is not spicy enough. Now it's ready. They are able to put up nine jars of conserve. This brings the total back over one hundred. We'll send Michelle home with two jars, but will have plenty left. The tree still has more fruit to ripen.
It's time to start to empty the frigo. We take out a wonderful very soft cheese from Puglia to eat with fresh tomatoes and basil and rugghetta and olive oil and grainy bread from the bakery. More fig conserve comes out to have with the bread and cream cheese, and macaroons to dip in red wine.
Before we know it, it's 10PM, and Michelle decides she's going to walk down the street to take the garbage. A couple of minutes later, she's back with the news that the carabinieri just sped past her on the way to the end of our street. Of course we want to find out what's going on. So I scoop up Sofi in my arms and we walk down the steps to the parcheggio and out the gate.
There's not a sound. It's a lovely warm evening, but no one is out. At the end of the street is the police car, blocking the road, and the Marciallo stands there in the dark speaking with Francesco, our local policeman.
When we come up to the car, the Marciallo, Zampone, greets Roy by name, and when we ask if everything is all right, he responds with the standard, "Tutto a posto" (everything is in place, everything's fine). Now that we're there, we might as well walk up to the village. But no one is out except a little dog who likes Sofi a lot. We don't remember his name. His is new in the village, and lives with his master near the little church.
We walk back home to the sound of drums beating in the valley, practicing for a bandieria festa. We still don't know if they're coming from Bomarzo or Chia...or where?
Michelle's visit ends in the morning, and she's been a wonderful guest. We think she's had a chance to experience many things a tourist would not ordinarily see, and for this we are especially pleased.
We all rise early, and the fog completely surrounds us. We're to have a Rome adventure for the next two days.
Packed and ready, we take off for the Orte train station and then Rome. We loved having Michelle as a houseguest, but now we're all off for new adventures.
We give Michelle a big kiss goodbye and then are on our way. Before we know it, we're navigating through the windy streets of Rome and find Valerie with no problem at all. She lives way up above Piazza Milvio and the enormous houses on either side of the windy road to get to her are impressive. At one gate, even Carabinieri stand guard with their machine guns.
But Valerie is in a post-war modern apartment building, with an enormous deck reminiscent of Lore and Alberto's. She's so very sweet and takes to Sofi right away. We're able to sneak off before Sofi starts to cry, and drive down the hill toward Cherie and Pete's apartment.
We reach Trastevre before pranzo, and love, love, love the apartment. I'd recommend it anytime to one or two couples who get along. It's small, on two levels with two bathrooms. The bedroom is small, it's on a kind of mezzanine, and the second bed is a divano con letto (sofa bed) in the living room. Yes, it's noisy, but this is Rome. It is very tastefully decorated, and although we don't sleep much, would stay there again. Let us know if you're interested. It runs about €200 a night for a one-week rental.
We walk over to the restaurant, and they have never heard of Dino. What? We've eaten there before, and made reservations here before. But they are not full, so find us a table. What's this? They've changed their phone number? It appears that a cousin started a new restaurant in another part of town and took the phone number with them. So later in the afternoon we take a walk over there and find out it's the same menu.
After a delicious pranzo, we take off on an adventure to find a particular store way 'cross town. We need bus tickets, but the machine is broken and Roy loses €5 as the machine eats up the bill. We walk around the side of the kiosk and a man who works for the bus company just shrugs his shoulders when we tell him what has happened. So for the rest of the trip we're not paying a blasted thing. Let them check us out. We'll give them a piece of our minds!
Several free bus rides later, all jammed in the back of each bus, we arrive at the store we want to find, but the clothes are really poor quality. So we're very tired by this time and manage to find our way back to the apartment on a couple more buses. Then we walk up the 33 steps to the top floor, and we're bushed. But an hour later we're out again, walking on more cobblestones, this time in homey Trastevre, across the Tiber from sophisticated Rome.
After walking some more, we see someone standing over a pizza oven, and stop to have pizzas there. The pizzas are terrible, but we have fun anyway. Who said there is no bad Italian food in Italy? The crust is too thick and doughy, the sauce tastes canned. Where are the Italian food laws when we need them?
Back at home, Pete's asleep before his head hits the pillow, but our mattress is only a couple of inches thick, and sleep is a real effort. It's great to lie down, however, so we read for a while and then it's off to dreamland. In the meantime, Cherie does her last minute packing, and she's one impressive woman.
Totally in control, Cherie knows how to find room that does not exist in their suitcases, Pulling out little plastic bags, finding corners of totes, rearranging all manner of objects, she finishes and now she can go to sleep. Buona notte, dear ones. We've been able to see them on three separate occasions on their three week trip to Italia! What a joy this has been.
The morning begins while it's still dark, and Cherie and Pete put the finishing touches on their packing, then hug us goodbye until we see them in California in late November. We're on our own for the day in Rome.
We rise and walk down the streets of Trastevre for caffé, then drive across town to St. Peter's. I think Roy is crazy to try to drive here, but his parking karma is still intact and an amazing place opens up just a short distance from the exit to the Vatican Museum. We sit outside at a café across the street, and Don Francis arrives right on time as if on cue.
We cross to the place where our tour is to begin, and enter the EXIT door where we pay for out tickets to the Vatican Garden. We've been told that often these tours are cancelled at the last minute, but today we are in luck. There is a tour in English for about twenty of us. All the emailing we've done in the past two weeks seems to have paid off. We are admitted to the tour after all.
Fifteen thousand visitors tour the Vatican Museum each day, and by the time we enter, the line for the museum continues around the block. Claudia Tucci is our guide to the 120 acres of lawn and trees and flowers and plants surrounding the Vatican. I imagine the pope taking silent walks on these same pathways, long after the last tourist is shown the exit.
We are directed to the Umbrella Pines, which I call The Pines of Rome. These trees host enormous pinecones, said to represent fertility. We are told that this garden is what is known as a "secret garden" as opposed to the floating and almost wild looking style of English gardens. I think of it more as Formal Italianate, but it is only formal in spots.
My favorite area is the building called Villa Pia, constructed at the time of Pius IV. I think almost all of the Vatican Museum was constructed in the year 1500, or at least begun at that time, to house the art collected over the previous centuries.
Villa Pia was studied by Michelangelo, Rafaello, Da Vinci and other notables. These famous painters also studied Nero's Tomb, which is known as Domus Aurea. We have not visited Domus Aurea, but that is the subject of another tour on another day. Below the surface of the tomb were grottos, beautifully painted with elaborate scrollwork and fantastic figures. These came to be known as grotesques, the art form I particularly love. And on the outside walls of Villa Pia are mosaics in the design of grotesques. They are quite beautifully done.
Here's a sample:
The last building we pass on our way out has an inlaid mosaic tile to the side of the door that stops us in our tracks. It reads, "Fabrica di San Pietro". How funny. There is a modo de dire that is the same, but it is used as an expression instead of a description of the work inside. It refers to a construction project that takes forever to complete. "Ah, fabrica di San Pietro!" we exclaim when speaking with an Italian about his house restoration, a project that has taken longer than it should. Everyone then nods silently.
Ci mancherebbe is a new modo di dire we learn from Francis today. It means, "it would be lacking" or better yet, "If we didn't have it, we would miss it."
We speak to our dear friend about his future, perhaps even in the Vatican, and he corrects me on Archbishop Levada's new title and role in the Vatican. The Archbishop is now President of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith", and yes, this was Cardinal Ratzinger's "old" job, before he was made pope. But Archbishop Levada is not Secretary of State, as we thought. We walk by his building when we leave our tour of the grounds.
After a tasty pranzo at Quattro Sciavi (four slaves) of linguine vongole...Oh, we should speak about that. A few days ago, when looking at Isabella Mottura's family crest, I noticed a face that was blindfolded as an integral part of the motif. I wondered what it was. Now I know it is the face of a slave.
Isabella's "slave" looks straight out, but the four slaves on the crest of the restaurant all look to the left. We don't know the significance of the direction they face, but the idea is very sad to me. Is the family proud of the fact that they had slaves, or is slavery an integral part of the family's history? I surmise the former.
Later, we walk Don Francis to a store to buy a shirt, and the man in the shop remembers him. We also meet two priests from New Jersey, here for the ordination of a friend. The priest from Kearny, a town a former boyfriend of mine was from, is entirely too serious. He seems to have a permanent frown on his forehead, no matter the levity I try to enter into our conversation.
Don Francis finishes his meeting with Stefanie. a woman who interviews him for a film she is doing on exorcism. We bid her goodbye, and drive to Trastevre, where Roy ends his search for red leather sport shoes (yikes, size 12!) and we're treated to walks to two remarkable churches.
One is San Francisco a Ripa in Piazza Di San Francesco. Don Francis notes an old monk, sitting at the back of the church half asleep, and decides to engage him in conversation. We look around the church, which includes a Bernini statue, a magnificent carving of a woman lying with her head on a pillow, in some sort of divine ecstasy.
Once Don Francis finishes his conversation, we walk back toward the apartment and see a rather plain faŤade of another church, and we decide to see what it's all about.
What greets us right inside the very plain doorway is a shock, as if a blast from an organ ricocheted off the walls as we step inside. This church is named Santa Maria del Orto! Can you imagine she is the patron saint of gardeners and fruit and vegetable vendors? Every space of the large church is covered with gold cornucopias, floating cherubs, magnificent paintings, and no matter how much we crane our necks, we cannot take it all in.
Under a door, we are drawn to a sign of the Universita De Pizzicaroli (fruit vendors). "Everything but salsiche!" Don Francis exclaims as he notes the different flowers and vegetables that are praised on an easel at the front of the church. The third Sunday of October will be her day. Why don't we know about her?
My head is full. We've learned so much today. And my feet. Oh, our feet. After walking for miles on cobblestones, we so look forward to sitting down. So we reach the apartment, "strike the set" and drive off toward St. Peter's. We drop Don Francis off so that he can have an adventure or two of his own on this lovely afternoon, and return to pick up little Sofi.
I really missed our little dog, and she sleeps in my arms on most of the drive home. She seemed to take to Valerie quiet well overnight, and we are relieved. When we called earlier to say what time we'd pick her up, she was asleep in Valerie's lap.
We're all so happy to be home, and just as we arrive the phone rings and it's Tiziano, telling us that everything was tutto a posto while we were gone in Mugnano, and they're looking forward to seeing us tomorrow night.
Sofi's zonked at my feet. It's humid and cool and we feel as if we've been away for a week. There's no place like home, especially for three (or four!) sets of tired feet.