October through December, 2006


October 1
On these early fall days we're surrounded by fog when we awake. It is a fog that slowly burns off so that the village sits like Brigadoon on top its tufa cliffs by mid morning.

On this morning we're up early, but the car won't start. We're dressed and out of the house at 7:30, and Dino rolls the car down the hill to start it. This is a very bad sign. Perhaps we need a new battery. Perhaps something was disconnected when the work was done on it this past week.

The car starts by compression, although the manual indicates that rolling it down the hill in neutral starts it "by inertia"...doesn't sound very inert to me, but what do I know about cars?

We pick up Helga at Stein's and arrive right on time at Diego's Castello Santa Maria. After an Italian breakfast of homemade croissants and jam and fruit and yoghourt and coffee, we walk up to the chapel and participate in a service, with Stein wearing a black vestment at the altar. But just what is he wearing?

His black "robe" has a hood, and only later do I learn that he picked it up somewhere on his travels. Diego turns on the automated organ to begin the service, and by mistake the Mendelsohn Wedding March plays. Stein looks at us, and it's probably his little joke, noting our 25th wedding anniversary this past week. I have to hold back a laugh.

Stein's group follows Helga and now Ulla in the car with us, while Sofi sits on my lap in the front. After a long ride, we arrive at La Scarzuola, and I can almost give the tour myself, we have been there so many times. Unfortunately Sofi has to remain in the car, with two of the owner's big dogs wishing they could climb inside with her.

New sculptures have been built since our last visit, meticulously crafted based on architect Buzzi's outlandish designs. The grounds, which Brian calls "The sacred and the profane" are even more preposterous, but we still love to take people there. Roses and scented flowers flourish in a secret garden near the exit, and the two-hour tour seems to finish in no time.

We say goodbye to most of our friends, and are able to start the car by coasting it down the hill again. The speedometer stops working, the air conditioner stops and then starts, and then the speedometer decides to work again. It must be the battery.

Tomorrow first thing I'll help Dino to push the car out of the parcheggio down the hill and he'll return to the mechanic. If it can't be fixed right away, we'll rent a car for our trip. We are not to be daunted...

After dropping Ulla back at Castello Santa Maria, we drive to La Boticella in Castiglione in Teverina. Luckily, we're able to park on a hill. After a meal of homemade papparadelle and lepre (wild hare) and tartuffo (truffles) we drop Helga off at Stein's and say goodbye until December. They hope to return for a weekend after we return from the U.S.

I really will miss her, and already miss Stein. They have become such good friends that we feel a void now without them here in the magic house formerly owned by Karina and then Karen. Helga will leave narcissus bulbs for us, and we'll plant them around as a reminder of our good friends.

Everywhere the vendemmia is in full swing. Mario calls to tell us he cannot come tomorrow to weed-whack, and we surmised as much with the continued warm weather. So the grass and weeds will just continue to grow until we get back, with Sofi kept out of the tall grasses on the far property.

There is word from San Remy de Provence that the other participants in the painting workshop on Wednesday have not confirmed, so I may have a private lesson. I spend a few hours sketching clothes hanging up on pegs on a wall, for it is folds of fabric that I want to learn how to paint.

Dino and I have a conversation that it is possible that I might graduate from painting ceramics to canvas after this trip. A Russian painter in Orvieto whom I can take lessons from is a good friend of Franco and Candida. We will see...

There is so much to look forward to, and so I turn in with dreams of painting women rustling about in taffeta ball gowns and luscious drapes, crinkled and mussed and images of light and shadow, all in sepia tones...

October 2
This is a dress rehearsal for tomorrow, with everyone up early. I follow Dino to the car, and stand behind it with the gate open, helping to rock it forward and down the hill to start it. Dino will be waiting when the mechanic arrives for work in Vitorchiano. We're hoping it won't be something major.

On this foggy morning, Sofi sleeps while I switch clothes in the armadios from summer to winter, using the opportunity to throw out some of the things I've worn for years. I really don't wear many of the things I own, so perhaps should donate most of them. That would be a good way to give us more room, and Angie's friend who runs the dog rescue operation needs lots of things that she can resell.

I take the opportunity to lay out clothes for the trip, and won't pack much for this, either. The weather forecast is for rain...

Dino calls and yes, we have to buy a new battery. The folks from Ripabianca will be here just after pranzo, and with a meeting with the geometra at the house in Tenaglie at 4 P M, we're hoping they'll be on time.

The planters arrive late, they are not correct, but they are close enough that we accept them. Only one has a cut out on the bottom, and each of the medallions is on the wrong side of each planter. They do look wonderful just the same. So Dino and the owner of the factory take them out of the truck and stack them in the parcheggio. Later, Stefano will cut out the holes that we need in the bottom of three of them before moving them up to the terrace where the wisteria will grow.

In the meantime, we need to make room for scaffolding, for the quote has come in from the painter, and it's very expensive, but we need to have the work done. So I ask Dino if Luca will include painting the interior hallway, since there will be scaffolding all around. No, it's not the right kind of scaffolding, but we'll ask him anyway.

We're resigned to moving ahead, and that should happen in a couple of weeks, just in time before the winter rains. So we drive to Tenaglie to meet with the geometra, and do some more cleaning out of the house, with Sofi along this time to see what all the fuss has been about.

The geometra sends two young assistants, so we let them measure and give them a little guidance here and there, telling them where the kitchen will probably go, where the bathroom upstairs will be situated.

There's time to say hello to Gaedano and to meet his sister Ottavia, or at least we think it's his sister. Or is it his wife? He does not introduce her, so we introduce ourselves and Sofi runs over for a sniff.

"Were you the eighth child?" Dino asks her. Very often in Italy children are named by number, and she laughs, telling us that she was the seventh child and they had no intention of having any more.

We spend a while at the bank waiting for the manager, and when he's free he tells us what we have to do to set up a bank account for someone else. A notaio in Boston can provide what we need and include an Appostile, and he gives us the wording and list of things to include. It 's painless enough, and we forward that to our friends in Boston.

The day is humid, we're hot, and with only a few daylight hours left before we leave for a week in France, we drive home and begin to get the house ready for Angie, who'll arrive tomorrow to stay with Sofi.

The postings this next week will be brief, as I won't be writing a journal while we're gone. I suppose it will be a vacation from YOU. See you!.....

October 3 to 10
I did not keep a journal for our trip, which took us from our house to the South of France with a quick drive down to Barcelona and ferry ride from there to Rome and then home.

So here are some highlights:

October 3
As you know, Dino loves to drive, so at just before 7AM we drop Sofi off at a woman's house a few towns away. Sofi will be picked up by our regular dog sitter, Angie Good, later today. Sofi loves Annika, who sat with her a week or so ago, so it's not difficult to drop her off this time.

We're on the road and for the next ten hours Dino drives like a machine up the A-1 and on and on past Genoa, through the tunnels and along the southern coast of France.

I don't know what I expected, but after we reach France the landscape changes. Sarah and Alush are on our minds. I can hear Sarah extol the rocky landscape and evergreen mounds and am inspired. After all, it is the evergreen mounds and gravel and stone and roses that I love, each of them in profusion in the province of Provence.

Mapquest misses its a fork in the road it does not tell us to follow the highway sign. Instead we take the road less traveled, and it takes another hour to find the road we have been looking for.

We arrive in San Remy Du Provence and it is a marvel of a little town. I suppose it is a Mill Valley type of town, but one that is a little "down at the heels". We reach our little hotel, Under the Fig, and park on pale gravel outside an arbor of wisteria. Again, I am inspired.

The room is fine, but I'm worn out, with a headache in full swing. While I try to sleep it off, Dino takes a walk through town and returns with a tube of an amazing gel made in the U S called Biofreeze from the farmacia.

He tells me to put a dab of it on my temple where the worst of the ache throbs. It fires up like tiger balm, and less than thirty minutes later I'm up and dressed. This is an amazing product.

We'll have to pick up more and tell the farmacista how amazing this product is. If you have migraines, or aches of any kind, this is the stuff you need. Look it up online and try it.

We've confirmed my painting lesson for tomorrow and it will be nearby, so walk into the center of town just a few streets away.

What is wrong with this gem of a town is that it is noisy with cars driving very fast along the little streets. All day, all night, the sounds of the cars break through the tranquility of the marvelous setting.

I try to ignore the noise as we walk by centuries' old buildings in ochre and beige and pale yellow, their pastel shutters open to the light.

Speaking of the light, there is a kind of glow, perhaps because the sun sits a little lower in the sky on these fall days. I can't wait to paint...

We stroll around and find a brasserie on the main street, where we sit on a banquette and take in the scene. It is just what I imagined, with less smoke. Yes, people smoke in restaurants here, but that will end next year. The statistics are that almost eighty percent of the people think it's a good idea. That surprises me. I thought the French would rebel against this.

After a good meal, we walk around a little. Did I mention the plane trees? They frame the roads, frame the little streets, and on these fall days are what I will most remember about France.

Sun dapples the pale and spotty bark through elm-like leaves, and we're able to crunch just a few leaves underfoot. I love almost everything about this place.

What was it that Americans griped about? The people are very kind and helpful, even if they don't speak a word of either English or Italian. Can you imagine that we'd feel comfortable if they only spoke Italian? How far we've come!

October 4
Today is a day I will long remember. It begins with a quick breakfast of coffee in big ceramic cups and warm homemade croissants and jam in the dining room. I'm anxious to paint, but the lesson is not until 2PM. So we walk up to town.

But what's this? It is a huge marketplace! Stalls all over town draw us closer like the smell of just-made bread. For the next few hours we're drinking in the colors and textures of fruit and vegetables so fresh the dew still remains.

And there is fish! And there is such profusion and in so many shapes that it takes willpower to not stand in line. Dino is not a good person to buy bread and cheese and fruit and wine and sit on a blanket to enjoy it. So I dream about it instead, stopped in my tracks by a stand of beautifully quilted fabric coverlets.

We find a coverlet perfect to drape over the couch in the kitchen, but it's the first stand we've seen, so can't really haggle for it yet. As the morning wears on I'm drawn back to this man from India; his coverlets are the best in the market. And we succumb.

There are dresses for the grand daughters, a pair of wool pants for me, tablecloths and tablecloths and more tablecloths; and lots of fabric. I somehow hold off, knowing that the enormous market at Uzes this weekend will have the same.

We stop at a small café for a quick pranzo, for I don't want to be late for my class. And we walk over to the studio, arriving at 2PM and are met by Pascale. She speaks English and there is a surprise.

I am alone. The lesson is private, and she is to be paid by the hour. So for the next four hours this woman and I embark on what is to be a special friendship.

Dino drives off and does not have as good a time as I do. He backs into something, damaging his side door. It is not a big dent, but injures his ego. So when he returns to us, he is very sad. He's taken it to a garage and we'll leave it there until tomorrow morning. I feel so badly for him, his downcast face reminding me of our old cocker spaniel, Huntley.

I, on the other hand, am fairly levitating upon his arrival. I have finished the major part of the painting, and it is to be called "Pascale's bull". Here is the story...

Because I am an inquisitive sort, I want to know about this kind woman and her life. Her studio is called Atelier Blue, and her use of the color we call "French blue", which is fairly bright and has a touch of lavender in it, is evident in each painting around the studio. Many of the pieces are really finely crafted.

Pascale speaks English, and she knows that I want to learn how to paint folds of fabric. So she stands a tall easel in the center of the room and places a large piece of heavy linen over it, folds undulating just as I'd imagine.

I think this exercise will consist of painting the folds of linen, and she mixes some colors of paint. First she outlines the shape with a stick of charcoal, then begins with the blue. The color is too bright for me, but she's not worried. It is easy to change the color, to paint over what she began.

This process is so unlike painting on ceramics, where each brush stroke has meaning and mistakes are difficult to correct. I feel light as air; her deft strokes are like notes in a violin concerto, long and smooth and sweet.

I take up the brush and as I stroke the canvas with my brush, making sweeping movements as we talk, she begins to tell me the story of her life...

What is important here, is that she met her husband in San Remy some years ago, settled down and had two children. He became abusive and selfish, her life so difficult with his continued unfaithfulness, that she left with her children and found a small place for the three of them to live.

Because the story is private, I cannot recount it here, other than to say that in her own way she found the courage and will to survive with the children she loved. Her work in her studio helped them to move on. What is important is that she is a kind woman, choosing to face the challenges of life in a positive and gentle way, so different from the attitude of her former husband.

As the hour becomes two hours and then three, the painting transforms from a piece of linen to a blue matador's cape. All of a sudden we both realize the cape now has a name...Pascale's bull.

Instead of a sword underneath the cape to hold it in the air, Pascale wants a butterfly. So she walks upstairs, returning with a dictionary. Under the word "butterfly" are about twenty different ones, and we agree on a particular one of a vivid green and black.

Dino arrives about fifteen minutes before six, in time to take a photograph of the two of us before the painting. Later I will paint the background and have the canvas stretched, but for now we are all so very pleased with the result.

Did I tell you that the light and shadows of the folds seem to float off the canvas? Before we leave we agree that we'll return for a week in the spring, and perhaps even rent a little house next door from her.

With a hug we agree to keep in touch, and walk back to the bed and breakfast to protect our new treasure. I fairly float back to our room.

For the next few days, we attend a few events of the Mediterranean Garden Society. Since I'm writing about it some days later, I don't really remember a lot, other than to say that many of the people are enjoyable and the gardens are interesting as well. We meet a couple from Italy we like a great deal who live in Le Marche, and we'll see them after we return home. But now we have other adventures ahead of us...

October 5
We spend more time walking through San Remy, and it is really noisy. Cars drive as though the drivers are practicing for Formula One racing. The plane trees, however, are tall and so very soft in color and texture. Their white bark is dappled with ochre, peeled off and spotted; the result a wonder.

Everywhere we look is soft and grey and pale and creamy yellow, except for shutters here and there of bright lavender-blue. The town is rather "down-at-the-heels", although prices in the shops are not cheap. It is a "shabby-chic" marvel of a town.

I'm now inspired to draw and paint everything in sight, my eyes visualizing each thing I focus upon in a new light. We purchase the paints we'll need for the rest of the painting, for it will take six months or more to dry, and I'll certainly want to finish it soon.

We pick up a brochure from the Chamber of Commerce, with rental houses to study for our next trip, in the event Pascale's place is not ready. And we end the stay with another Vietnamese meal, so enjoying the exotic flavors we remembered so well from our life in the U. S.

We say c'e vediammo to San Remy and drive North to Uzes. We love our hotel, situated right in the main part of town, again with those huge plane trees framing the main boulevards.

The owner speaks English, and we think the whole little hotel is occupied with other members of our group. Thankfully we have a room at the front of the hotel with a balcony, overlooking the tiny side street and a bakery just across from us.

We eat a dinner at a local brasserie and it is fun. I love beef stew, and the French are masters of it. The meal is nothing fancy, but very tasty. All the while, my painting stands in a protected space behind the desk in our room. The owner has seen it, and agrees to put the word out to anyone cleaning the room not touch it.

Back in our room, we're determining that there will be a mercato on Sunday near the coast, and instead of attending the annual meeting of the MGS, we'll take a jaunt there instead.

These French markets are marvelous. Our new friends from Le Marche tell us which ones to visit, and there is one in the town of Pezenas which is a twice-a-year event. Sounds great. Let's go!

October 6
Well before dawn, we awake to smells of fresh baking bread wafting through our balcony window from the boulangerie across the street. It is as if we're turning pages of a book, the smells exactly as one might imagine when reading a French novel. But it's before dawn, so we lie in bed for another hour or two, loving our room and the big tub. We're not big on bath tubs, but this one even entices Dino.

After breakfast, we attend the tour of Fontchateau, an elegant eighteenth century estate owned by a couple of Dutch art collectors. It has been meticulously restored, and although we are not invited inside, I can see the husband working away behind a desk and imagine the wonderful fabrics we would see if we were invited to venture inside.

In front of the garden lies an interesting labyrinth of Vibernum, and we're told that Vibernum is the most popular evergreen found in southern French gardens because it is so "adaptable". We have a number of Vibernum plants at home, chosen mostly by Sarah, although I don't think a labyrinth is anything we'd undertake...

After pranzo at another garden nearby, we are treated to a delicious tour of Pierre Berge's garden. Pierre is the director of the fashion house of Yves Saint Laurent. I've anticipated seeing manicured formal gardens and gravel, as well as fabulous fabrics.

The property is just outside of the town we've just stayed in for two days, San Remy. Pierre wanted a place so close to town that he could walk in to pickup his bread and newspaper in the morning. But once he purchased the property, he found himself driving the few blocks to pick up his purchases...So much for his fantasy...

There are extraordinary and wonderful, magical views wherever we turn. The best part of the tour on this lovely, lovely afternoon is being able to languor away on benches and chairs in the garden, dreaming as if the place is ours...

We return to Uzes to have dinner with Carol Smith and a few others from the group on the other side of town. And then we return to our room to await the delicious smells of bread wafting in our window in a few hours...

October 7
It's just before dawn, the smells of freshly baked bread competing with sounds of trucks and men unloading tables and objects to sell at today's famous market.

We can't have breakfast early enough, and no, we'll not attend any of the events today until this afternoon, when we'll visit the factory of the famous vases at Anduze.

For the rest of the morning, we walk and walk and walk some more, picking out fabric and gifts and at least one cashmere sweater. My beloved taffeta is not to be found in the color I'm dreaming about, but I do pick up a few meters of striped silk, to use as a guide when painting those shadows and folds.

The French love purple and bright rose colors as well as those muted greys and browns. I believe my design sense is French, but would love it transported to Italy. So we pick up a few tablecloths at reasonable prices and place mats. Nothing extravagant so far...

We get in the car and drive around and around, looking for characteristic ceramics, but don't find any unpainted ceramics that I can paint myself.

We drive to Anduze ourselves, hoping to pick up some finds before the tour groups arrive. We pick up one old pitcher and a couple of small pieces, but don't especially like the vases that are used in Versailles. They're just too frilly.

Inside, during a tour, we're able to ask some intelligent questions, based on our previous knowledge of baking ceramics. The tour is interesting. What's most interesting is the amount of space that must be used to let the vases dry before they are fired. No wonder they are so expensive.

We return back to Uzes for a quiet dinner at another Vienamese restaurant. It's expensive, but the only game in town for such exotica. And very tasty.

October 8
It's Sunday, and the boulangerie is closed. So no tasty smells this morning. We have breakfast and ride South to Pezanas. This is a big market. We're always looking for kitchen chairs, and on this trip hope we won't find them. We do find a lovely ikon and a very old coverlet for the bed, as well as two little old metal dogs for Dino's collection.

When it's time for pranzo, we eat outside at a local brasserie and sit in the sun, just enjoying the day. We've passed on any number of chairs as well as a few easels, but loved the eye candy and beautiful furniture from stall after stall, shop after shop. We'd like to return next year, to this market, to San Remy, to Uzes, perhaps to rent a house for a week...

We attend the closing night of the Mediterranean Garden Society at a local chateaux, and thankfully a wonderful woman sits next to me from Paris. I'm aware that Dino and I are really a solitary pair, so used to being by ourselves that we no longer have a great gift for gab with strangers. We look forward to getting back to our room right after dinner and to leaving the next day on the last part of our trip.

Oct 9
We're looking forward to driving down to Barcelona, thinking we'll take our time and arrive for a late pranzo, then board the traghetto for the twenty-hour trip to Civitavecchia and then home.

The drive is uneventful, with the landscape changing as we move from France to Spain. Just before reaching Barcelona we stop at a rest stop and there is a tourist office there with someone who speaks English.

By now we have a lot of things in our car, and we ask him if the car will be safe parked outside while we have pranzo. "Yes, nothing to worry about" he tells us. We think nothing of it.

He gives us a map of Barcelona and tells us where the restaurant is, and that we'll be in the port area of the city. We're not any more cautious than usual, so when we find a place to park just about one hundred meters from the restaurant we've been recommended to try, we think nothing of it.

The restaurant, is a Jack's kind of place, with characteristic old black and white tiled floors, banquettes against the wall, and fish dishes as specialties on the menu. We order paella, after a salad of languostinos on a puree of fresh tomatoes that is divine. The paella is overcooked and tough. But the scene is just what we expected, and we enjoy the overpriced meal just the same. We have an extra hour or so, do take a walk around the neighborhood, stopping in shops and picking up a scarf here, a pair of shoes there. The area is somewhat seedy but characteristic, and some of the shops are very interesting.

It's about a quarter to four, and it's time to board the traghetto. So we get into our car and pull out of the spot. But what's this? We have a flat tire. So Dino drives around the block and parks in a bus stop where there is plenty of light and there are plenty of people. So we think we are safe while he changes the tire.

He's at the back of the car while I stand in the street on the driver's side, ready to hold the tools he'll need. Someone comes up behind me on a bicycle and pounds once against my shoulder blade. When I spin around, he points in another direction to tell me where we can get help.

About three seconds later he is followed by another man on another bicycle. We find out much later that this man is wearing gloves with razor blades sewn into it, and he reaches out and grabs Dino's borsello from around his neck and slices it off in less than a second. It happens so quickly that Dino is not aware his purse is gone until at least a few minutes later.

By now, Dino is thinking that the borsello is in the car, but it is not. He finishes changing the tire and rushes off to the shops we've just been in, in the event he left it behind. I'm waving at passing cars, looking for a police car, and finally one pulls up.

The driver is sure someone ripped Dino's borsello off him, and tells me to go to the local police station to get a denuncia. He won't wait for Dino to return, nor will he show me where the station is, just tells me to take a right here, a left there.

They drive off, Dino returns, and we drive off to find the police station. We're on a main road with no place to turn, and it takes twenty minutes to find the station. We're then told to wait for almost thirty minutes, only to find out that we can't get the report at that station.

Time is running out. It's twenty minutes past five, and the traghetto leaves at 6PM. With no money, and no id or phone or credit cards, we cannot stay over night. SO we spend fifteen minutes looking for the station, and then give up.

We arrive at the traghetto and walk into the office, where we have to wait about fifteen minutes. It's now twenty minutes to six. We reach a woman behind a window and when it's our turn I burst out crying. I don't know if I'm really upset or I think the drama will move her or a little of both.

We have a confirmation slip that we have paid for the voyage, so she agrees to let us board, even though we have no identification. She tells us she'll let us board, but we may be prevented from entering Italy...

Once on board, we find our cabin, and I have a bag of two oranges and a few crackers to last us for twenty hours. We decide to see if we can find the Commissario, and at last we have found our angel.

This man is a wonder. He speaks English and agrees to write up a report, so asks us to write down everything that we have had stolen. He then gives us a chit for dinner and offers to cover us for breakfast and pranzo as well. I go back to the room to calm down, while Dino stays with him. The two of them have a good time laughing and talking and sharing stories. Somehow the evening ends, and we even have a good night's sleep.

October 10
Early in the morning the traghetto crosses between Crete and Sardinia and it's a very smooth sailing. We eat our oranges, not wanting to take advantage of our new friend's generosity.

He finishes the report, which is not a denuncia but is the next best thing, and ushers us to the Civitavecchia police station upon our arrival in the port, where we are questioned and a quasi report to let us disembark is written. With a bad tire and driving on a spare, we have no money to repair it, so have to drive home, where Angie is frantic, worried about us. We've had no money to call her to tell her we are all right.

We arrive home and Dino calls the credit card companies. The night ends with us relieved to be at home, with more adventures still ahead of us, but with the knowledge that we can no longer have the house painted.

We have had €2,000 in cash stolen, and it was half of the deposit needed to begin the painting job. We had planned to pay it as soon as we returned. So perhaps we'll recoup some money from somewhere and will be able to paint the house in the Spring.

October 11
We meet with Alessandro first thing at his insurance office in Attligliano. He gives us a list of what we need to find; he'll nowstart the process for the claim.

Then we drive on to Rome to the American Embassy. It's right smack in the middle of the high rent Via Veneto area, so Dino drops Sofi and I off on the corner, but the building is guarded with many police, who won't let Sofi inside. So we wait for Dino and then he takes Sofi back to the car while I begin the process. We're finished in time for pranzo and decide to have burgers at Hard Rock Café, Roma. come no?

We start the rounds...ACI in Viterbo for a duplicate membership card, but they need a denuncia to do anything about a driver's license. Really, the carbinieri need to write a denuncia first, so we drive there and see the Marshalo and one of the regular Carabinieri who agrees to write one up tomorrow. First we'll need our Italian identity card numbers from the Comune. Then with photos they'll arrange to get our drivers licenses for us.

We're both really tired, mostly from the emotion of it all. I start one of my headaches, but a small application of the magical gel stops it.The night is cool, but the days have been warm and lovely.

Our tomatoes are ready to rip up. Many remain on the vine but look as though they have a kind of pox on them. I don't really care about the crop, about much of anything. I'm still in a fog.

We pick up my mezzolune painting of the young boy and it's quite good. What do you think? Oh. I forgot. We have no camera....Well, when we have one we'll post a photo. So don't look for photos for at least a week. And the photo we took with Pascale of me and the painting is gone, as are all of the photos of our trip.

It's a good thing we have a lot of minestrone frozen from a few weeks ago. I don't have the energy to cook.

October 12
There is a meeting this morning with Diego Costaguti, to view 4 houses and 2 apartments in the castello and the surrounding borgo. It will be interesting to work with him, for we like the properties very much. He is also very friendly and we believe an honorable man. We look forward to getting to know him.

There is a possibility that an apartment in the castello will be offered for sale, with pool and housekeeping services included. If you're interested, contact us for specific details. There will only be one of these apartments for sale in the entire castello, and we've been given the exclusive right to offer it. At this point it's in the formative stages, but quite exciting.

We've a lot to do to catch up on our lost documents, so drive on to see Ivo at our Comune. We give him photos and our ID cards (Carti di Identita) will be ready in a few days. He gives us a copy of this year's Palio magazine, for we've offered to translate it into English. We have some time...

Next we drive over to meet with the Carabinieri to fill out the denuncia for the robbery in Barcelona. We hand over what we have, and tell him we'll return in a day or so with other information he needs.

Dino begins research on a camera to replace the one that was stolen, and we will find a better camera at about one third the price of the last one. Technology surely changes quickly.

I want to return to painting again. Perhaps tomorrow things will calm down in the afternoon...I want to paint the six dessert plates that are the wedding present for Paola and Antonio. I have two more to paint as well as a serving plate, so will probably give them the six plates and keep two small plates and the serving plate in case we want to paint them for someone else. They'll be pears, in the chatreuse green to match their kitchen, in a modern square-ish design.

There are many things to smalto and paint before we go to the U S at the middle of November. Or I can just take some things we have. But I'd like to take some of the baking dishes I've made this summer, so without exerting any pressure on myself, I'll see what I can do. It should be fun.

October 13
Mario cuts through the early morning fog with his weed wacker, spewing blades of grass in a Moses-like swath. It's easy to convince myself to get up with that droning noise outside our window. Our normal schedule has resumed...

Before the day is through, he's finished working on our property and also at Stein's. Tomorrow we'll rake and do some garden cleanup if the warm weather continues.

Dino pulls up the tomatoes, and it's too bad that many died on the vine. There is not enough sun for the tomatoes this late in the year. All in all, it was not a good year for tomatoes. We think we have plenty put up in jars in the loggia from the past two years. I do need to pick the rest of the basil and freeze it. Perhaps tomorrow...

We spend much of today in Tenaglie and then Viterbo, first looking at a new property to list in Tenaglie with a great view. Dante shows us the property, which had been owned by his aunt, and then takes us to his house and also a wonderful centuries old house he is restoring with a view of the ancient ruins.

When he shows us in the first house we remember that today is Friday the 13th. We ask him if he knows the significance, and he does not. Italians view the 17th as their unlucky day.

We learn that the construction equipment is at the ancient ruin on the hill across from Tenaglie because there is to be a grand restoration of the whole place, which will make Don's and Kate and Merritt's properties even more wonderful...They all have great views of the site. We'll have to meet the owner and learn about the history and what is being done.

This is all really exciting, and something that Don will want to investigate. We'll see Don and Mary late next week but will email them now. The news is too exciting to keep quiet for that long...

We stop at the Comune regarding our identity cards and then drive to Viterbo to pick up new codice fiscale cards (tax id cards). Surprisingly, the person who waits on us tells us that he'll get our medical id cards to us, too. So we've taken care of everything, and now we have to do some waiting.

I forgot to mention that when we stopped at the cleaner's we found out that we won a suitcase at some Attigliano fund raiser. We'll pick it up tomorrow. What fun after so much bad news!

In Viterbo, we research replacement digital cameras, and Dino is sure that we need one with a wide-angle lens. We find one, but it takes three more stops at other shops and a search on the internet to confirm that the first camera is the one to get. So tomorrow we'll be back in business and able to take photos again.

Sofi now seems to be comfortable waiting for us in the car while we do our various errands. She likes to be with us instead of at home alone. So since it is no longer hot we take her with us everywhere. She gets sweeter by the day.

Perhaps tomorrow I can return to painting again. I have a backlog of things to paint before we return to the U S next month and look forward to diving in.

October 14
The sun is up early, with no sign of fog. Dino wants to pick up the new camera first thing, so off he goes while Sofi and I hang out in the garden.

It's amazing how much the garden misses us, even for a week. We can't imagine asking Angie to water as Dino waters, so as I walk around I see a number of plants in distress. It's not a big deal.

So I sit next to an enormous fragrant geranium and clean it up from below, then clip the geraniums on the parcheggio stairs way back as well. Geraniums are the only plants that can survive the very high temperatures there in the summer. They're boring, so one of these days we'll change them.

Sofi acts strangely, and on two occasions stands as if she's frozen. She must be in pain. Earlier she was nowhere to be found and when I called her she came down the stairs. She knows not to do that, and descending the stairs took their toll. Later, her back seems to be fine.

I clip most of the remaining basil plants and make a pesto to freeze in ice cube trays. There is still enough to make another batch in a few days, so perhaps we'll have fresh pesto instead. Dino likes it now, since I make it with more lemon and less garlic.

He's back with the new camera, and we drive off to meet with Donatella in Sipicciano, where she shows us a new property. Walter tells us that his property may be for sale again, and he'll know on Monday. So when Michelle and Enrique arrive next week, we'll have many excellent properties to show them.

I'm excited about the timeshare we will put together with Diego Costaguti, for presentation to our Mill Valley friends at the end of November. It will be a spectacular offering, and only one of a kind, in his 500-year-old restored castle.

We're thinking it will be one two bedroom, two bath suite, instead of two smaller units, and will include pool and hotel privileges (maid service, food service, etc.).

Let us know if you're interested and we'll be sure to fill you in on the details. Since he has many weddings on site, the suite or the timeshare can also reap rental income. Interesting...

Since we have several new properties to put on the site, Dino will be returning to take photos with his new camera. Perhaps we'll wait until the 23rd, when we'll show Michelle and Enrique around. There's plenty to do in the meantime.

Our pal Franco is nowhere to be found, and we're suspecting he's with friends, although we call around and no one seems to know where he is. Candida returns on Tuesday, and we're hoping we can get together with him before then. He is a funny guy, and is probably partying around.

Orvieto is such a friendly town, and he has many friends there. Since today is market day, he'll undoubtedly be in a café somewhere, chatting away.

It's the most beautiful day to be out in the garden, and we get plenty of work done. Dino puts the tomato processing equipment away for another year, and while he does that I paint Paola and Antonio's plates. We'll take them tomorrow to Elena on the way to a client's house to photograph the new intonico on the outside. It's good to be painting again.

Dierdre calls a couple of times to make sure we don't bring anything for pranzo tomorrow. She tells us that the English believe that if a guest brings something he thinks the food won't be good. So we tell her we'll bring wine. That's ok, but she wants a recipe for cornbread or pita bread. She's allergic to regular flour. I'll see what I can find on the internet.

October 15
On this lovely morning we're back at our little church for the first time in several weeks. "Bentornati!" the women tell us when they see us. It is good to be back, and really feels like a family in church on Sunday mornings.

We pay for our firewood, which was delivered some time ago, and drive off to a client's property in Bomarzo to take a few outside shots. On the way, we drop off eight small and one large plates painted with pears with Elena to be fired. They'll be ready in a week.

This next week I'll be back to painting, committed to painting everything that is already smaltoed. Then I'll smalto the remaining baking dishes and we'll get ready to make another trip to Deruta. We're expecting to take a number of things back to California in November, so I've plenty to do, and look forward to every minute.

This is the first time I've seen the Bomarzo property, and photos do not do it justice. It is the Paganini house, the owners run Frenchy's Bistro outside Viterbo.

The grounds are beautifully landscaped, and the view of Monte Cimino is grand. This is a large villa whose entry is flanked by ancient olive trees that are on someone else's land. That's good news: a great view with no responsibility. Take a look at the photos on our Properties for Sale section of this site.

From there we drive to Dierdre's in Capitone for pranzo with Ruth and a new acquaintance named Michael, who lives in Giove. Dierdre's house is still for sale, but this is the first time we've eaten outside in her garden. The weather is beautiful, and the afternoon fun. It is good to see Ruth again. Dierdre's property is still for sale.

We drive home through Amelia and Lugnano, stopping at Dawn's property to see how she's getting on. Finally she's there, and as we step inside for a short visit, see Kees and Catherine inside painting away. Dawn will move in in a couple of weeks, and we wish her well. The house is wonderful.

I want to take Sofi for a walk, but we arrive home too late, so definitely we'll take a loop in the morning while Dino introduces Judith to Alessandro, our insurance agent.

October 16
The grand weather continues as Dino drives off to meet with Judith. Sofi and I work around in the garden, and prepare a yellow pepper and basil sauce for a pasta at pranzo. One of the peppers is even from the garden, but its skin is not thick and fleshy.

What are we doing wrong? Our peppers never match up to those in the local markets. I suppose we're not really obsessed with the garden, so don't spend enough time on any one thing.

Perhaps that is why a Mediterranean garden is right for us. With a concentration on gravel and boxwood and cypress, we don't spend lots of time in the garden, except when we're taking care of the roses in springtime. I'd rather paint...

Dino has another meeting this afternoon, so I do some work on a plate that Don has ordered with the Tenaglie stemma. I'm hoping it will be painted and out of the oven while he's still here this trip.

We've enticed him with the news about the ruin in full view of his property being restored, and this just adds to the adventure of owning a property in Tenaglie, a town we love. More and more neighbors are calling us to list their houses, so we're becoming experts of this lovely little town.

Sofi and I take a walk around the Mugnano loop, and it's just enough exercise to get my heart pumping. It also tires her out, but she is so happy. It is important for both of us to do this walk every day, and we both like it so much. Let's see if we can get back in the habit, at least on clear days.

October 17
I'm tired of the journal, of writing something every day. But like the walk with Sofi, it is good for me/us. There are a few clouds in the sky, and Miriam told us on Sunday that bad weather is on the way. What does that mean? A little rain, a little chill in the air? It's still paradise to us.

I admit I'm still reeling from the robbery in Barcelona, so hoping that the magic elixir called time will take care of that. Alessandro has worked his wonders, and we're receiving the maximum allowable on the claim. It's not full coverage, but with most of the loss in cash, it's no wonder.

Alessandro is a very good agent, and his company pays its claims. So remember that when you purchase insurance of any kind, especially in Italy. Alessandro is with Fondiaria SAI. It's not always the cheapest insurance, but when you need them, they pay. That's more than I can say for SARA, who treated us as though we were third world refugees when our car was stolen three years ago.

We're still holding our breath regarding the Italian credit card. It will take the rest of the week until we are clear. Do you know that if you have an Italian credit card through a bank that it takes several days for transactions to clear and during that time if any charges have been made, although the account has been "frozen", the cardholder will be liable for the charges?

In the American system, once a call is made to a credit card company the account is frozen and all future charges are frozen. Not so here. But Prime Minister Prodi is rapidly working on catching least with respect to taxes. He's making new laws right and left and they are being enforced, with a lot of grumbling going around.

Perhaps that means the law will finally be passed regarding citizenship. Currently it is a ten-year waiting period after becoming a "resident", or obtaining a permesso di sojourno. We are at 8.5 years. The new law under consideration is for five years. So we're getting all our documents in order in the event the law passes soon. We're looking forward to having dual citizenship.

Today we look at some new properties and take photos of the outside of the houses in Roccalvecce that we'll list next week.

We run into Diego and he's in real pain. He expects to be operated on within the next week and we're hoping he'll be feeling better really soon. It will probably take him a lot longer than he thinks to recover. But at least the pain will be gone, and that's a good thing.

We look forward to seeing Dan and Wendy and one of their daughters tomorrow, and possibly even Duccio and Don and Mary. We're hoping that the good weather continues, so that we can eat pranzo outside.

October 18
Dino makes a quick trip to Amelia and I get ready for pranzo, making a cake and preparing for risotto and spiedini for our friends. It will be a simple affair and hopefully relaxed.

I guess it will be another day or two before I can work on Don's plate, but I do want to have it done for him before he returns to England in ten days or so. I think I can do that if Elena will fire in the next week or so.

The day is mild, and we're ready early, so sit for a few minutes on benches on the terrace. We sit so seldom, that it takes friends arriving for us to relax.

We meet Dan and Wendy's youngest daughter, Kate, and have a wonderful afternoon. They are taking a Grimaldi ferry to Sicily, so have plenty of time to relax and then drive the coast road to the ferry terminal in Civitavecchia.

We aren't very good conversationalists about what is going on in America; we just don't relate to the politics or the scene any more. These friends are very anti-Bush, very liberal, and we like the liberal thinking, especially Kate's.

When we get together with Americans, there is always a lot of grousing about the politics and the War. After a while, I interject that a better use of time would be to find a positive outlet, for all of us to be catalysts for change.

Kate tells us that she and her friends are hopeful but don't seem to find any way to make positive change. With some words of encouragement, I suggest that they come up with some small thing that they can be successful at, and then build on that.

I'd like to suggest that we put a pile of money and resources behind educating young people around the world to affect change in a positive way. After all, this will be their world. Looking back, the world has gone through rises and falls in thinking and acting. I can't believe that the youth of today is sitting back waiting...

I take a walk out to the far property with Kate and Wendy, and can't figure out why we don't spend more time out there. We'll have to check in with Sarah and see what she thinks we could do with some trees to give us some shade in the hottest months out there. We believe she has some emotional "ownership" of this place, and her counsel means a great deal.

Dear Clara, who had a stroke last summer, is ready to sell her very special property in Bomarzo, and we'll go to meet with her on Friday. She wants to sell the property but have the right to spend time there whenever she wants until she dies. For someone who doesn't want to spend lots of time in Italy short term, this may be a very good investment. We'll learn more on Friday.

Next week, after Michelle and Enrique visit, we'll be posting five or six new properties. Each one is characteristic; and we'd enjoy working on any or all of them. Clara's doesn't need a thing; most of the others do.

October 19 Dino spends the day in Amelia and Terni and Judith now owns Palazzo Rosa.

I paint Don's stemma, he and Mary come for tea, and Sofi and I spend the afternoon in front of the telly while it rains outside. I'm not used to spending a whole day without Dino and miss him.

He returns with stories of the ups and downs of challenging ATTOs. Finally both parties agreed at the notaio's office and Judith can now commence work on her beloved garden. I think what I would do if the garden were ours, but since it is not, let those thoughts fly out of my head like butterflies.

I restrain myself from opening our books on formal Renaissance gardens, realizing we have so many things to think about that I should let Judith alone with her dreams, knowing full well that she now can make them all come true. What a property! Meraviglia!

With rain continuing outside, we go up to bed.

October 20
We sign up another property this morning, and it is dear Clara's, situated not far from the Monster Park in Bomarzo. She owns about a hectare of land, many very old olive trees, and the house has two bedrooms, two baths, and a separate summer kitchen.

This is a property anyone would love, facing Southeast, with many mature trees and two terraces. It was built around enormous Etruscan tufaceous rock formations, and they're evident all around the property.

Clara is doing well after her stroke, and has a woman living with her full time, but is not able to have the use of one hand and arm, and experiences difficulty with one leg. She is a brave woman, loving the property and doing her walking exercises even while we are there. We will post the property this weekend, but it is on the market at Euro325,000, a really good price.

If Clara had not had her stroke, the property would surely not be for sale. So we are hoping to help her, and that the transition will not be too traumatic. We'll show the property for the first time on Monday.

We meet with the geometra in Guardea to make some suggestions on the preliminary plan for Kate and Merritt's property. Then we have a delicious fish and pasta pranzo at "I Gelsi", a restaurant at the crossroads between Alviano and Tenaglie, and talk about what a great property Kate and Merritt have purchased. We look forward to turning it into an even greater property before they arrive in May. Speriamo! It depends on the slowness of the Comune in Montecchio....

We drive to Tenaglie to meet with Dante, and agree to take on his Aunt's property as well. It is not as old as Clara's, has a small back garden that needs to be graded, but a wonderful view. Dante and his brother agree to throw in two separate plots of land, for a little more money, one of which is flat and is fenced, perfect for keeping a horse. The other has many old olive trees.

The two plots of land are a few minutes' drive from the house, in the countryside between Tenaglie and Guardea. The house needs updating, and is a two-bedroom one bath house with a large ground floor used most recently as a garage and workroom. We have listed it at Euro 115,000.

We drive on to Viterbo, do a few errands, and then come home, for a quiet evening watching T V.

October 21
We have an appointment in Guardea with the geometra for Kate and Merritt's house, and go over the diagrams with him so that he can prepare them to present them to the Comune. Once he is ready to present them, we will forward the draft to our clients, and then we'll work with them to finesse the plans into what they want.

I've changed my mind from suggesting that they look online at IKEA to put in a simple and inexpensive kitchen to thinking that we can help them to stay within their modest budget and still come up with something very characteristic. Perhaps we'll look at all the options. The property is magic, and we look forward to working on transforming it.

We drive to Tenaglie to meet with Dante, who tells us that if we want to see his parents' house on Monday with clients, we have only to visit Loredana who lives across the street for the key.

"Loredana!" he calls out from the front door, and in a nearby window a woman moves a plant out of the way. She sees who we are, and agrees to be ready if we come to see her on Monday.

This house is not yet on our site, for it is not particularly characteristic, but has a very good view, a back terrace that could be graded for a garden, and plenty of room to transform the space into something characteristic. The price is good, but it needs work.

We stop for a minute to see Don and Mary, and Don has taken off for a run...even in the rain. We stay just for a minute, and promise to get together with them this next week. Hopefully Don's stemma will be ready then, too. They are loving living in Tenaglie, love getting to know their neighbors.

Under an overcast sky, we drive on to Sipicciano for an appointment to see another piece of property, but the owner is ill, and does not show up. Perhaps tomorrow.

We drive home and I make curtains to hang below the sink and a tablecloth, from material purchased in France. But while I'm figuring out the measurements, I realize we don't have an inch to spare. Abastanza, but no more.

The doorbell rings, and it is Vincenza and Augusto. What a wonderful surprise! They bring a gift for our wedding anniversary, and we don't know what to say. The card is very dear. As the years go by, we know we will become closer. The language barrier still holds us back, so we are not completely comfortable having long conversations with them, but we like them so very much.

We invite them in for espresso, but I evidently have the little pot on too high. Augusto has no faith in an American making their espresso, so two times he reminds me about it. Since he makes no comment upon drinking it, I am sure I am a failure at making it; just what he expected.

Since our neighbors don't speak a word of English, we putter along in Italian, telling them about our Barcelona folly. Italians love to hear drama, so the discourse is mostly about that. Ever the knowing one, Augusto sits at the far end of the table facing the window and helps us through our minefield of a story.

Vincenza does not speak a great deal, but wants to speak about dancing, and about exercise. When her parents, Leontina and Italo were young, they danced all the time. Evidently Mugnano had many dances throughout the year, and many people looked forward to them. Now they mostly sit at the edge of the dance floor, dreams of their youth floating by.

She asks me if I want to go to the gym (palestra) with her twice a week, but there is nothing nearby. So we talk about walking and yes, I wrote about walking but am not doing it. Today the bad weather is my excuse.

October 22
Will it rain? Probably. We're shrouded in mist as we walk up to church, and again Argentina and her two young helpers from Romania sit in our pew. "Our" seats? We settle into the last row behind them, and wait to see if Don Luca will be performing the mass.

We are in luck, for he arrives and I tell Dino this is the day we tell him about our idea for the fundraiser for the restoration of the Mugnano duomo. As the last hymn is being sung, I nod behind me to Tiziano, and across to Mauro, to tell them that we'll proceed to the sacristy subito!

I don't think any of these men want to approach Don Luca, so I stand in front of him and look up into his eyes as I slither through the Italian language, grasping at words and phrases here and there.

"We have an idea for a way to raise money for the restoration of the Duomo," I blurt out. He looks down at me and smiles. "Three priests from Mugnano!" I tell him. "An evening of gospel and then some."

"Singing? No! Not me! I can't sing." is his response. So for the next few minutes I try to cajole him, tell him that Don Renzo wants to do it, that they could do it at Cristo Risorto and get the audience to sing along with them. He does not like this AT ALL, but smiles just the same.

"If you have other priests to sing, I will be there," he follows, after I tell him, "Discorso non finito." I mean to say that I'd like to continue to speak about it some other time, but instead he turns around as if to comply with me as he's leaving the sacristy. Oh Lord, I do not mean to be disrespectful of this kind priest. No one else says a word. I feel as if I'm standing on a hill with a cold wind whipping around me. Every single person seems afraid to speak, afraid that what they say will be the wrong thing.

Don Luca then explains some very interesting information. Regarding a CD, he cautions that people from Bomarzo won't spend money on anything, and certainly not for a CD to support Mugnano. People from Bomarzo do not especially like Mugnano, and probably think we are a drain on their resources. I can accept all that.

Frankly, it does not matter if the concert happens or not. The idea is what is important, and as a member of the festarolo committee this year, it is important for me to present ideas. If some of them are successful, great. If not, the attempt is admirable just the same.

As Mauro and I walk out the sacristy together, I tell him I have another idea, and the kind man does not roll his eyes, as most people do. This time, I tell him that if we have an event on New Year's Eve, perhaps we can get the Barberini's to let us hold a dance in the Orsini Palazzo. Next week we will have a giro, and Mauro agrees that we'll ask them then.

I'm not sure whether it makes sense to have a festa on New Year's Eve. It will have to be catered, and the cost may be prohibitive. So we'll try to find some caterers and take it from there. I'd rather stay home, but it is an important festa night, and since we're the festarolo committee, at least we can try.

October 23
The day is spent with new clients from New Mexico, showing them a selected list of properties. With highs and a few lows, as well as many surprises all around, we're delighted with their openness and willingness to consider many options.

At least one seller will be very disappointed, but her property does not appeal to our clients. With only one rejection among eight properties, we're feeling very good about the range of properties we've shown them.

They leave us at the end of the day with a booklet of photos and descriptions, and lots to think about. We'll have a cena here for them in a few days, and aside from a risotto that I will cook, they will prepare the rest.

Cooking is something they love, and they'd love to be able to make a living doing special dinners for people and catering along with both Diegos. We tell them that stranieri are starved for non-Italian cooking, so we'll be treated to something different from them later this week. We're inviting Franco and Candida to join us, and will see what they have to offer. It will be fun!

With an offer to manage any restoration work needed, we're looking forward to helping them narrow their decision making process, and confident that we can bring them great value once their decision is made. It will be interesting to see if there is a definite "pull" from any particular property, and we will learn that this week, we are sure. There is so much for them to think about.

October 24
I'm very, very sick all day. Possibly it is an allergy to white wine. Nothing is worth this. This morning I take a giro with Sofi on the Mugnano loop. It is clear and mild with just the right amount of wind to blow the fog and moisture of the past days away. Sofi stays with me all day, even when I'm upstairs lying down. Patiently waiting for hours, she does not leave my side even when I open the bedroom door to give her the freedom. The magic gel, Biofreeze, does not seem to do anything this time. Late in the day I try a major amount of it and lie down again.

October 25
The morning's fog persists until almost noon, but I spend most of the day with ice packs in bed. I really must be allergic to white wine. I drank only two short glasses on the evening of the 23rd, but whatever was in the wine attacked me with a vengeance. I feel like a street drunk, promising, promising... "I'll never touch the stuff again..."

October 26
I wake up early, and although I'm as foggy as the mist outside our house, I'm feeling better. So Dino wants to find Scooby-Doo, the pet groomer south of Viterbo. It is in some out of the way town, and it takes us over an hour to find it, but we do.

The groomer is really a breeder of wirehaired terriers and boy, are they cute. She's grooming one, another runs around the room, it's nose just reaching to the window where we're standing.

Sofi will have none of it, and assumes her Raggedy-Ann stance, like a wet rag, resigned to the fact that she's about to enter a chamber of horrors. Marlena is the groomer, and she can take Sofi in the afternoon, but must leave at 4PM, so we agree to leave her in the meantime. C'e veddiamo, piccola!

We drive to Scarpa Mondo (shoe world), an enormous shopping center with three stores, none of which have much of anything. It opened earlier this week, so to give it credit we'll wait a few weeks. It will probably take a trip to Nordstrom's in San Francisco to find the shoes I'm looking for, anyway.

These huge shopping centers are copies of those in America and we are sorry to say they are as popular to families here as video games...So what's in store for the local "mom and pop's"? Purtroppo. We all know the answer.

I'm seeing myself talking to our grand daughters many years hence about things that used to be. Sigh.

So my nieces' lawsuit against my brother and me seems to be coming to a close, and I'm hoping we'll settle soon. It 's been nearly 4 years!!. I'd like to take the high road, feeling sorry for my nieces and also for my brother.

They are a judgmental lot, each fighting for tiny pieces of a pie, with me in the middle ducking unsuccessfully for cover. What happened to the unbridled exuberance we all felt toward each other not so very long ago?

Betty Pircio, a friend and accountant in Boston, reminded me that when a matriarch or patriarch dies in a family, the siblings seem to turn on each other. It's like sharks in the water, and I want none of it.

So I blow them each a kiss and wish them peace in their hearts. The experience has been so very painful for the past several years, but my scars will heal. I fear theirs will take longer...

With the fog lifted, today turns beautiful and sunny. Annika from Sweden comes by for a visit; her husband, Torbjorn, arrives tomorrow. On this trip, they'll visit Assisi. I like it that on each trip they visit another town. Earlier Stein calls from Oslo, and tells Dino he feels guilty for recommending that we drive to Barcelona to take the ferry to Italy.

We're happy that experience is behind us now and no, he has nothing to feel guilty for. We're missing him very much and look forward to his short visit in early December. Dino reminds me, "Let's make sure to keep the schedule clear!" We love spending time with Stein and Helga.

We're reminded that Annika and Torbjorn have what I call "Insta-hots" attached to each sink. We don't, and they're not very expensive. So I ask Dino if we can pick two up and have Enzo hook them up soon. It usually takes two minutes or so to heat up water to take a shower or to wash dishes. What a waste of water!

October 26
We have a conversation about Halloween, and it's an American holiday, made into a "shop till you drop" scene in Italy. Last year, local children and their parents made homemade costumes and arrived here to surprise us after dark. Luckily Dino had plenty of tiny candy bars to give them.

This year I want to have a "bobbing for apples" bowl on the terrace. Annika tells us that in Sweden the "bobbing for apples is done during the year at childrens' parties. Dino thinks I should show them how it's done, since it's my idea.

He tells me he'll be inside. Won't it be fun to have this for them to try? I've never done it myself, but Francesco and Mauro will certainly be up for it. Stay tuned...

I wake with sharp pains in my neck and back and right shoulder, so Dino drives me to Terme dei Papi, where Lello takes me and gives me the best massage I've had since Alice was here.

We drive on to Tenaglie to say hello to Don and Mary, and then move on to Montecchio for some client business.

October 27
I'm behind on my ceramics, so put on my work clothes and stir up the smalto in the loggia, Dino has opened up a large table, so everything comes out of the house and there are a lot of things to be covered with the white stuff.

After a thorough stir, I do the dipping, and an hour later I am finished. Well, finished dipping, now it takes another half hour to clean up. In the next day or two I'll have to fix any mistakes, but now I must move everything inside to the dining room, for the fog each evening and morning would really ruin the work.

We start to look for long vetrinas (cabinets with glass fronts) for the ceramics, and try all the usual places in the area. We visit six before we're through, with no real solution.

October 28
We drive to Terme di Papi to make an massage appointment with Lello for Monday AM, for I'm still in pain. It's impossible to make an appt. on the phone, so we take care of that and while we're having coffee a man next to us calls out to the barrista that he'll have a "capuccia!" (a little hat). The next time we're in the U.S., we'll try that and see what response we get. (It means cappuccino!)

Then it's on to Giusy for a pedicure, and we realize I have something in my toenails that won't ever be perfect, so agree to use polish now instead of cream every day. That works for me.

I forget that Dino told her about our robbery, that is why we changed my last appointment, so she can't wait to hear all about it. I like testing my Italian in philosophical discussions with her once a month or so, but today she'll have none of that until I tell her everything.

While we're talking away, I make up a new phrase, or quasi modo di dire. It is..."bella figura dei parole..." and it means making a good impression with the way you speak. I certainly will never be accused of that. In fact, Giusy admits that my Italian is pretty ugly, although she understands what I am trying to say.

After all, I am just a poor country woman. I don't expect to be dressed in Armani any time soon....

Once I'm through, we drive to Viterbo to the fairgrounds, where a special antique mostra is taking place. Perhaps we'll find an easel for me, and perhaps also a vetrina. But first we have to have pranzo, and their cafeteria dishes up some amazing food.

Once we're full, we begin our walk by visiting our friend Patricia Brennan, who has a few exceptional pieces, none of which we could probably afford. We tell her what we're looking for, in case she falls over one....

The mostra is full of really exquisite things, nothing perfect. One that we stop to look at is managed by a friendly Tuscan gent, who tells us that his vetrina is inexpensive, only five thousand euro! Boh!

We drive around some more, and after a few more places, stop at a friend's warehouse nearby. When we don't find what we want, he offers to make us just what we want. So we drive home and Dino spends the evening drawing out the piece in detail on graph paper. He loves doing this, and does it so well. In a few days, we'll take it to him for a preventivo.

I go to bed and lie there thinking of how expensive the piece will be. Dino will have to do some pretty fast talking to get the piece built at a price we can afford. Perhaps I can become one of the man's "lavorai" (workers) to paint it once it's built.

During the night, Dino puts a couple of treatments of Biofreeze on my back and shoulders and neck. The air is not cold, so I almost enjoy the cool menthol feeling against my sore muscles.

So about Biofreeze. Look it up on the internet. It is made of Ilex and camphor and menthol and here's what the internet has to say about it.

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Phone with questions: 1-800-643-0333

October 29
It's Sunday, so we walk up to mass and it seems we are late. Everyone but us is already in church. While we sit in church, Don Ciro arrives and as the mass commences I'm drawn to the thoughts of Enrico and of his death.

He became ill on Sunday night, so ill that it was decided that a helicopter was needed to transport him to the hospital. But the fog was so thick that it could not land. He died in the ambulance and the funeral, we were told, was also on Monday.

Dino remembers hearing the sound of a helicopter, and I think I recall it, too. I remember asking him about 9AM, while we waited for Michelle and Enrique to arrive, about the bells. They announce (is that the correct word to use?) the death of a villager and yes, the old customs still remain here.

My thoughts fly to the cemetery, and we still have not met with the mayor to secure our plots there. Dino reminded me yesterday that we have to visit the cemetery to see the small spot Augusto told us about. We've been told that it is too small for a casket or two, but might work for us. We only need a spot for an angel and two urns.

Sorry, this subject may seem macabre to you, but it is important to us. Perhaps that is a sign that we are old. We hope it is a sign that we are considerate of Terence and of each other and want to secure these spots in the event of an untimely passing of either or both of us.

When we return to the U.S., I want to visit the cemetery in San Rafael where Peggy and I used to walk, and to visit an angel there that we both loved. This time, I'll take a photograph of her. We'll possibly visit Maurizio to see if he'll carve us a similar one.

If the site is available, and affordable, we'll have the proper frame built of stone and the angel installed. So now let's talk about something else.

Mauro is ready for a giro after mass, and so we commence the walk house by house. Before we are through we have collected €240 and that's not bad. Mauro also asks each person or couple if they would consider attending a Capodanno (New Year's Eve) dinner. First, we ask the sisters who own the Orsini Palazzo if we could use their space.

Elsa shows the bottom space to us after mass, but since they are still in the throws of restoration of the entire building, she believes it is too disorganized. Once it is done, they'd be pleased to have us use it. Perhaps we'll be able to do something there for the May festa. So we're agreed that we'll hold the dinner and music in the school building.

I ask Mauro to confirm that Dino and I will be in charge of the decorations. He and Livio and Giuliola want to use someone in Viterbo for the catering. But we'll have to pick the food up and to serve it.

That's all right. It's part of the drill. But the decorations are something else. I'd really hope the place would not look "carina". So Mauro assures me that we can do that as long as we don't spend too much money. Va bene.

After the giro, I put together a pasta after looking at a Jamie Oliver cookbook, varying it a little. Dino loves anchovies, and we don't have much that is fresh today. So it is a sauce of anchovies and pine nuts and raisins and tomato puree and separately sautéed crispy bread crumbs.

The bread crumbs are sprinkled liberally on top at the end. I remember not to mix the bread crumbs with the sauce. An earlier attempt resulted in a gooey mess.

It's actually quite good, but we're on a roll. So without taking much time to eat, we drive off to pick up Mary and Don in Tenaglie to take them to the castagno (chestnut) festival in Melezzole.

Now Dino and I don't like chestnuts. But this may be a characteristic festa, and there will be local foods displayed and sold. Sofi is so happy to be with us.

We pick up Don and Mary and drive through Montecchio and across beautiful rolling hills until we reach the outskirts of the town, where we are stopped in our tracks. There are buses and people wearing colored vests that insist that we park "here", even though Mary is disabled and we have her disabled parking sticker. Sigh.

We load into a bus and find Mary a seat, but the three of us and Sofi have to stand. The bus careens around turns on a rocky strada bianca and I'm sure we'll not live to see our destination. Was it really a good idea to do this?

I'm musing about a large grove of enormous olive trees planted on a steep incline right below us as we lumber by and call out to Don to look. A practical thought comes into my head and I tell him that the owners of the land probably slide their hands down the branches and let the olives roll down the hill, with nets staged at the bottom to catch them. What a great idea!

With the weather about to turn, will our olives be ready to pick before we leave? And will we take them to Diego to have him crush them for us? He offered to do this, and it's rather silly, for he has 3,500 trees, and our five or so trees that have olives won't even make up one lug. But it will be fun to taste if there's a way to do it.

Melzzole is a very beautiful and small Umbrian hill town, with some buildings a couple of hundred years old or more. The town is immaculate and we imagine fairly well to do. Our little village is povere, povere in comparison.

Don buys roasted chestnuts in a rolled paper container, and Mary takes a few of the charcoaled treats and skins them. We look at what she is doing with no thought of trying one, for we share the dislike of the strange and rich taste. Wherever we go we find discarded shells like fallen leaves on the pavement.

We arrive at the main piazza while a band/choral group from the town of Ferentillo is performing. They are singing and acting out a wonderful ancient folk song from their area.

There are hundreds of people congregating today in this remote town, mostly pushing against each other Italian style. Now you probably know by now that this behavior drives me crazy.

Italians push. It's "Me, me, me, let me in..." unless you physically hold someone back who is trying to push in front of you. And I'm only talking about the women and young girls here. The men are a different species....

The Italian men are mostly so spoiled that they ignore anyone else when maneuvering in a crowd. One tall man in a handsome suede jacket tries to edge around me and I take hold of his arm and stop him. He looks at me in shock.

Now that I've stopped him in his tracks, I tell him that I am helping a disabled woman (Mary, with a cane) down the hill, but he can certainly make us wait and push right in front of us.

He is embarrassed and although he tries to come up with something relevant to say, his mouth opens and nothing comes out. I roll my eyes and we continue our walk.

There is nothing to buy, the clothes are really second rate market day finds, and the food is available in other towns nearby. Mary and I pick up a couple of lovely satin lavender sachets. I like the way they are made, and will make some with our lavender. Otherwise, we're empty handed.

Sofi is happy to get back into the bus, and we're thankful that the ride back is on an easier and shorter route. After dropping Mary and Don off in Tenaglie, we drive home, happy to be back in our little piece of heaven.

October 30
After a few coatings of Biofreeze last night, I'm still in pain, but we arrive at the Terme for my massage just before 9AM. Each time I visit Lello the massage is better. I think these people get to know their patients' bodies.

Today I'm in more pain when I leave than when I arrived, but recall that when I had a lot of pain before, Alice would work on me for up to several sessions to loosen the tight muscles before I felt better. Later in the day I lie down for a while, with more Biofreeze. It helps, if only momentarily.

Earlier we met with the geometra in Guardea to go over Merritt's plans, and after a conversation with him later today we'll approve the plans to go to permit.

We're hoping we can go out for bid at the end of the year and begin by the first of February. That will give us at least three months to work before Kate and Merritt arrive in May.

We then are taken to see three new properties, each of which we agree to list. They range from a sweet one-bedroom weekend house in a tiny borgo to a small house with an attractive piece of land for gardening and landscaping.

Finally there is a fabulous borgo with great views, including the entire borgo with the exception of one house that has been beautifully restored and faced with beautiful white Umbrian stone. I think we're talking 20,000 square feet of buildings....What a fun project to develop!

Back at home, we eat pranzo and Dino drives off to Montecchio to meet with the bank for a client, and runs into Don and Mary, in town for a gelato. Dino gives him his copper blow pipe to use in his fireplace. It is a little gift we give to all our friends and is very practical.

Sofi and I stay at home and actually I read a little and then take a short nap. Silvano Spaccese wakes me, for we've had a problem with our electricity all day, and he and I mess around with it until Dino returns and then between them they figure out what has possibly gone wrong.

Electrical problems are frustrating, for they are usually loose connections or something that fix themselves. So it's not as if we really know what went wrong. But everything seems to work, and it costs all of ten euro for almost two hours of work.

The pain continues, and by the time eight o'clock comes around, I'm ready for bed. Sofi joins me, and we say goodbye to another glorious day, fearing that this has been our last warm day for the year...

October 31 It's Halloween, and tonight we have no idea what to expect. But I'm wanting to buy a bag or two of little apples and have trick or treaters bob for apples, if a group shows up as they did last year.

First it's a massage with Lello, and I'm hopeful this will be it for a while. By the time I finish the massage I am in real pain. He has done a masterful job of opening up all kinds of things in my shoulders and back and neck, and as a result I'm dreaming of drugs. Not that I'd take them, but perhaps some extra strength Tylenol will do.

We drive to LIDL for candies for any trick-or-treaters, for Dino nixes my idea of apple bobbing, and I'm too out of it to put up a fight. One of our favorite and easiest things to buy is a roast chicken, and Coop in Viterbo has them every day. So rice and chicken are an easy way to get through the mid day pranzo ritual.

The day is still warm, although we've been hearing about a change in the weather. Dino checks the septic system, to see if that's what triggered the electricity to go off yesterday. The pump works, but the light that is visible in the kitchen when there is a problem does not work. So Dino calls Silvano to have him come back.

Earlier Dino took his masterful drawing to Sacha for a preventivo. If he can do it for a realistic price, we'll have him make the vetrina in the dining room. I really want him to do it, for it's just what we need to store ceramics on top and linens in the bottom behind closed doors.

I'm back in bed for a few hours, taking a dolce fa niente and hoping the pain will go away. Tonight we'll stay up late, in the event any neighbors show up in costume.

Not a single trick or treater arrives, but Dino puts out smudgepots on the front walk after dark. At around 9 P M he walks out to see three cars full of children driving down the hill, he suspects toward Attigliano, where there is better "picking". More little candy bars for Dino...

While we wait, Dino practices with his camera, sitting at the table while Sofi sits on the couch frowning at him and growling at the little clicking sounds the camera makes while its registering the shot. After a while she becomes bored and curls up like a croissant, waiting for me to take her upstairs.

I'm bored, turning off the T V and reading an old New Yorker magazine. I'm no longer entranced by this magazine; finding it all too "in" and too sophisticated. I do like a Woody Allen story and the cartoons, but some of the writing is just too smug for my current taste.

What has happened to me? I've become unsophisticated, countrified, unimpressed by any trappings of wealth or status. I'm even nervous about our trip to the U S in a few weeks, wondering if I'll shrink from the Pottery Barn, Gap, Cost Plus, Whole Foods merchandising mania.

I turn on an old Italian movie and find comfort in it, even though the comprehending is tough going. On another channel, a slick, hip twenty-something story seems to lack depth of any kind, a twinkie compared to a slice of home-made ciabatta.

With no children at the door, Dino puffs out the smudge pots and brings them inside, while Sofi and I come upstairs to turn in. I look forward to tomorrow, to each day here. And now to a cool night's sleep, fortified by a couple of Extra Strength Tylenol.

Burt what's this! It's the doorbell. Francesco and Andrea and Mauro and Salvatore arrive for their trick or treats. Mugnano celebrates Halloween after all...

"Buon Alloween!" they call out as the float down the path in their black capes...


November 1
After a foggy walk to mass, we sit among our friends and have a chance to think about the family we are a part of in this little village. With Enrico dead last week of a stroke, we realize we hardly knew him.

He was a man who kept to himself, and we really only saw him driving by or when he and his wife Anna dressed up in their marvelous medieval costumes for special events.

I look more closely at our neighbors now, wondering, wondering and wanting to make sure that we secure our places in the cemetery soon. I suppose these thoughts come with age, and I'm not so afraid of what is to come.

I just want to make sure we don't put a lot of pressure on Terence. After all, it was our choice to move so far away. It's the least we can do to take care of the arrangements in advance as much as we can. But enough of that.

There is a moistness in the air, and a chill. After mass people complain about it, but when Dino asks Lidia what time the rain will arrive, she laughs at him and bats her hand at him while leaning over a planter at her front door. The rain never arrives after all.

I spend most of the day painting after repairing a couple of pieces. After finishing two pieces I decide to stop. There's no reason to rush. And Annika and Torb stop by for a visit and to invite us tonight for a drink. Si, certo. That will be fun.

Tiziano arrives at 6PM for a slice of cake and a meeting. ENEL (the Italian utility company) has given us a whole raft of papers we don't understand, and he and Dino wade through them. Tiziano is so conscientious and also so honest that we know we're in good hands. What he does not know he'll ask his father about.

Earlier, Fabrizio drove up the hill while we were walking home from church, and handed Dino a flyer. There is to be a meeting of the Confraternity on Saturday, November 18th, but we won't be around. It is to discuss the restoration of the Duomo. We'll get the lowdown from Tiziano when we return from the U S at the beginning of December.

We scoop up Sofi after Tiziano leaves and drive down to visit the Swedes and have a drink in their comfortable kitchen. Annika has made little pancakes, and serves them with our cherry jam and our fig jam. They are very tasty, and an interesting idea to serve them while sitting around the table having a drink.

I limit myself to one glass of red wine and will take Tylenol before going to bed. I'm really pacing myself, making sure those headaches won't return. My shoulder is doing better, and the neck stretching exercises really help. I'm hoping we won't have to return to Lello before we leave in a few weeks for the U S.

November 2
The sound of Pepe on his tractor, plowing the land directly below us in the field, is comforting. I often think of one of Roy's partners in his last business when I hear our neighbors working nearby. She rented a house in Tuscany and was outraged because she was awoken by the sound of a tractor in a nearby field. "Don't they know I'm trying to sleep?" she exclaimed. Sigh.

I can only roll my eyes when watching even a snippet of the American political system in action. As much as I dislike Bush, and I dislike him a great deal, I am sure that Kerry is an imbecile. Sorry for this political interlude...

I think he agrees with me, for he apologizes for his latest gaffe and stops all his immediate campaign plans. There is no comfort in watching our country in such disarray from afar.

There are more properties to see, and now the locals in Northern Lazio and Southern Umbria are calling us to come to take a look. We have a reputation of trust with the Italians, and that means a great deal to us.

The day is lovely and warm, with sun warming the pale gravel on the terrace, and shadows hiding behind rows of box. I love the formality of our garden, the simplicity of it all.

And after seeing Annika and Torb's roses, left by previous owners and full of buds, I'm convinced that we'll strip out many of our silly delicate roses, replacing them with hearty Italian stock, in bloom in the height of the summer sun, and still blooming during the early days of November.

After eating a vegetable soup made this morning with squash and zucchini and ginger and a loaf of just-made bread with sunflower seeds, Dino drives off to take Don and Mary to the train.

The mass in the cemetery, honoring the dead, is at 3PM, and I walk down the path as Vincenza and Augusto arrive to walk with me. I give them the thank you card for their anniversary gift, a card that Tiziano translated for us last night. Dino will meet me there later.

Elena and her daughter Federica get out of Valerio's car further down the hill and there is talk about Federica's hair. I tell her it is lovely. She tells me it is not really black, although it looks pretty black to me. I ask her if it is "fondente" (dark chocolate) and she laughs and repeats the word. "Si. Fondente."

I walk through the gate of the cemetery and Vincenza asks me to follow them around to the right. We follow around to see their crypt, two spaces high for two caskets. And there is an open piece of land next to it. Augusto motions to me. It stands in the center of the far wall, and is larger than we need. But it is right next to them.

"One day we'll all sit around and play cards, " I comment, and they both smile and nod. I'm old enough to start to joke about all this...

"Are you sure it is still available?" I ask them. "Ask Francesco. He will know," Vincenza responds. Perhaps even if it has been sold we can purchase it from the current owner. Yes, we really must do this soon. The next time we see Francesco across the street, Dino will go over to speak with him.

I follow them over to Leontina's grave, and watch while Vincenza pours water in all the vases with a plastic watering can. The mass begins, and we walk over to where Don Luca stands.

I lag behind, and stand above and to the rear of Don Luca, listening to the wind at my back. Although the afternoon was warm, there is so much shade in the cemetery that when the wind picks up it is chilly and somewhat eerie.

Beyond Don Luca and the congregation I can see the edge of the empty plot of land that may be ours one day. I look back at the people speaking in unison and realize that we'll all be here one day...all of us. It's not such a frightening thing to imagine, just strange.

When I walk down to take communion Dino is there, so I walk over to him standing in the sunlight and take him over to the space next to Vincenza and Augusto.

The space is larger than we both imagined it would be, larger than we need. But if we are able to purchase it, we will have Maurizio carve an angel and the structure for the two of us. Today is a day to speak of such things.

It is cold now, and we drive home and light the stufa as well as a fire in the fireplace. There is a lot of smoke in this first real fire, but once it settles down we're resigned that winter is around the corner and we'll be keeping warm here during the next months.

November 3
Today is Friday, but it seems like Thursday. With a holiday in the middle of the week, I'm off track. With sun in the sky and no fog, the terrace is warm. We have an appointment with a Signora Giubini to see her house in Tenaglie.

Sofi is ready, as usual, for a ride in the car. We park next to the tiny San Rocco with Sofi at the door, looking out. Signora is lovely, and stands waiting for us with a wool scar draped over her shoulders. I want to hug her, but we have just met. She shows us the house and cantina, and it is indeed a good house for us to help her sell. Galli in Orvieto had the listing for four years and did nothing. I think it's a house for the American market, so speaking with us is the right thing to do.

There are views from both floors as well as the front area, which is shared by the connecting houses. It looks down toward Kate and Merritt's, but has a big view from the hills behind Montecchio to Orvieto and beyond.

This is a small house, two bedrooms and one small bath. But it does not need a lot of work. Downstairs is an immaculate cantina with plenty of space to work.

She also has a 4,000 square meter piece of land .6 kilometers from the house on a strada bianca, and it is a fine piece of land. So both are on the site for an asking price of Ř62,000. This is a very good price. Because we are in Tenaglie so often for other clients, we could easily manage any work to be done here for people who live outside Italy.

We stop at her house afterward for caffé, and I'm drawn to her, so drawn to her that I want to find an excuse to come back to visit her. The house she and her brothers have to sell is a house belonging to relatives; no one has lived there for three years. So she'll be rather relieved to sell it.

Two items are worth mentioning: the marble sink in the kitchen, which is very old and special and can be used, and a lovely old painted chandelier in the larger bedroom. There are balconies outside each bedroom, one faces southwest and one faces northwest.

We drive home through Guardea and run into Paolo outside the fish truck. We pick up a bag of tiny clams, for we'll have pasta vongole for pranzo. It's been a long time since I've fixed this tasty dish. And we walk to the market with Paolo, for his wife and daughter are inside.

With hugs all around, we agree to visit them after we return from the U S. We like them a lot. Actually we like every person we've met from Tenaglie. And the people of Tenaglie are getting to know us, too.

We're learning about each neighborhood and of different branches of the Giubini family, the most populous family in the area, and a family that dates back five hundred years. Wonder what the family tree looks like? Or the stemma? We'll have to ask.

The sun on the front wall is lovely and strong, and before pranzo Sofi and I walk down to the path to deadhead the Lady Hillingdon roses. This is a wonderful rose for the front wall, its blossoms full even in early November. This is one rose that will definitely remain. But as for the others...we'll be taking a good hard look and pulling out a lot of them this winter.

The squash is still prolific, so look what we've been able to pick today!

We have a full weekend ahead of us, with Arezzo planned for Saturday and Pissignano on Sunday after mass. I'm hoping to find an old easel, and if Sacha's price for the vetrina is too high, we'll be looking for one of those as well.

In the afternoon we drive to Poggio del Castagno near Sipicciano, and there is another piece of land, with an approved permit to build a 2,500 square foot house on two levels and more than twenty olive trees on a beautiful piece of land. The price is really excellent...€39,000, so we're happy to help them.

Back at home, Sofi and I stay by the fire while Dino goes to Sacha. We think the price is more than we want to spend for the vetrina, so want him to come to see ours in the kitchen to see if he can find a way to make it for a lesser price. Never give up...

November 4
Today's the first Saturday of the month, so it's the weekend of the Arezzo antique mercato. We have not been here for a few months, so let's see if we can find a cavaletto (artist's easel) or a vetrina.

We stop at Bomarzo at the post office to check on our package, and it has cleared customs and appears to be somewhere in Viterbo. That's all we can determine. Hopefully it will be delivered on Monday. Now that it cleared customs, I think we can expect it at the beginning of the week. If not, we'll have to cancel all our credit cards again and have them reissued.

We arrive in Arezzo and park in our usual lot. It is cold...really cold. Trying to walk on the sunny side of the street, we find our way along until we reach the first stalls. This is a really special market, with up to two hundred or more stalls each month. It is a market for professionals; one has to have a license to exhibit here, and if you come be sure that you get a receipt for any purchase; the Guardia Finanza (tax police) monitor this mercato in plain clothes...

We purchase a small oval wooden bucket for papers to stand near the fireplace, but that's about all. There are no vetrinas at affordable prices, nor are there cavalettos for sale. But the eye candy is really worth the walk.

We run into Lore and Alberto, who always look for very old ceramic pieces, but they don't leave with anything today. We leave in time for pranzo, and eat at a restaurant that doesn't mind if Sofi joins us. We feed her outside and she sits by me while I order osso bucco and Dino eats liver crostini and an excellent pasta.

We run into a couple with a large basotto, and the woman is willing to give us information about a surgeon who has operated on their twelve-year old dog a larger size than Sofi. Since Sofi may have back problems, we want this information for the future. The doctor is in Rome.

So Dino gives her our card, and perhaps she'll email us. It's always fun to run into people who have dogs that look somewhat like Sofi. We've never seen a dog like her in the U S, but they are fairly common in Italy.

We're home in less than an hour, and it's time for a fire in the wood stove. But there is a lot of smoke, and Dino is not happy. Perhaps it is because we've not had a fire in it this winter. With weather this cold so early in November, wonder if we'll have a really cold winter...

November 5
With clouds forming a kind of dirty plate above us as far as we can see, we're sure it is cold outside. Once we're both up and dressed, I fix breakfast while Dino hangs out the freezing cold clothes on a drying rack on the terrace. It's 4 degrees, C.

We've learned that we can save money on electricity if we turn our dishwasher and washing machine on between 8 P M and 8 A M, so Dino decides we'll wash clothes while we're asleep (a load here takes almost two hours) and hopefully they won't freeze as the night turns into morning.

Old people do some crazy things to save money and I guess we're getting old. I have to laugh. We save money on the funniest things. He's signing up for this new service, so we'll see if our bills come down some. Electricity is expensive in Italia, as is gasoline and...cheese!

This is the first time this year I've donned my UGGS (winter boots purchased in the U S) and they've lasted for three years so far. It is COLD!

We drive up to church with Sofi in the back seat wearing her winter-lined raincoat (it's really a piece of lined cloth with elastic for the legs and a belt and collar). Since her recent haircut, she shivers in the cold. So until her hair grows out some, she'll need a little help. She waits for us in the car during mass.

We are the first to arrive in church, and return to our regular bench. Don Luca arrives with Don Renzo, and walks over to us. Someone told him we went to the anniversary mass at the end of September and that we celebrated an anniversary, too. So we are to contact a couple in Bomarzo and they will arrange for us to be given a special commemorative certificate.

We're both moved, and tell Don Luca so. It appears that we appeared in photos at the anniversary mass and someone remembers us telling them that it was our twenty-fifth anniversary. They told Don Luca and voila! I suppose it is good sometimes to stand out in a crowd, and we certainly do. People are so very kind to us here.

Marsiglia arrives late as we're singing the opening hymn and comes over to give me a kiss as she always does. But she is alone. So I welcome her to sit between us, and she and I hold hands. Life is very difficult for her these days.

Dear Felice sleeps most of the time, and is not very lucid. We will definitely walk up there for a visit tomorrow if we can. It's really important. She needs our friendship. As Iolanda used to say, "There but for the grace of God..."

Immediately after the usual cacciarata (gossip) outside the church with Tiziano and Lore and Alberto, and we ask Marsiglia what she is cooking for pranzo (roast chicken), we drive off to meet with Dan and Wendy at our favorite outdoor antique mercato in Pissignano, near Spoleto.

We don't arrive until almost 11:30 and as we get out of the car a soft mist begins to fall. So under an umbrella we walk along, and meet up with Dan and Wendy and their friends Nigel and Margo and Susan an hour or so later at a restaurant right in the middle of all the action.

Pranzo is fun, and good. Dino eats "stinco dei maile" (a braised shin of pork) after pappardelle al cinghiale, and I eat the same pasta with a salad. Margo sits next to me and orders lentils and sausage. That's one of Dino's favorite winter meals, and it's time to prepare it again.

It's always fun to talk with Wendy, and we talk only a little about the sad political situation in the U S. It's much more fun to talk about life in Italy, and I enjoy getting to know Margo, who sits between us, and hearing about what it's like to have a property full of animals (turkeys and chicken and many cats and dogs).

I'm especially curious to know about living the life of a vegetarian, which she was for ten years or so until settling in Italy with her husband, Nigel. On the few times I eat alone, I almost never eat meat.

So I am curious about the practice of being vegetarian. One woman we know accuses people around her of "Eating FLESH!" and we agree that this is not a proper way to behave around people who do not share one's culinary tastes. But just what causes someone to become vegetarian?

I'm particularly curious, and not at all judgmental in asking if she's able to eat an animal that they have nurtured. She cannot, she tells me. Chickens provide them with eggs, but as for the turkeys, they have three or four. When tiny, turkeys look like guinea hens.

Nigel purchased one guinea hen and three turkeys a few years ago, thinking that he purchased all guinea hens. What to do? They took the turkeys, when grown, to a neighbor and that was that.

Margo tells me that they did not want anything to do with killing them, or with eating them. I think I would behave somewhat the same way, although I think I'd like to have chickens. Well, I love the idea of fresh eggs, but don't know if I'd be good taking care of them. I really sound like a city mouse, don't I?

My mother and Margo's mother, who were born around the same time (1913 and 1918 respectively) had the same experience with baby lambs. Each had a baby lamb as a dear pet when very young, only to find it on the table as Easter dinner. So they never ate lamb their entire lives. What a gruesome tale!

How matter of fact must someone become when living the life of a contadini (farmer)? Is it like being a soldier in a war zone? Does the taking of another life for a purpose, any purpose, have a just cause?

Tonight we hear the sentence of Saddam Hussein, and it is to be death by hanging. Dino tells me he believes in the death penalty, but I do not. I believe that no life is to be taken by another, thinking instead that Saddam should be treated like a petty criminal, given no special care, and that perhaps a life in solitary confinement will be the best thing for him. But this journal is not about preaching, or about politics.

We always come away from this mercato with something special. Today, Dino buys a lovely small marquetry wooden box with tiny Scottie dog faces on it for his dog collection. We also pick up one modo de dire plate for €4, but later pass on four more because they are €10 each, and that's too much to spend.

Later, we see that three plates have been sold. Although we collect them, there's a price that is too high, and Dino thinks we should pass. So we do, spending the same money on a beautifully hand crafted old wooden polenta tray.

We've run into Maggie, who always exhibits here, and we have her property on our site to sell. She's not in a great hurry, so if she gets the price she wants, she'll sell, but not before.

We love her property, thinking that several couples could go in on it and take turns living in the big house, while building two additional smaller houses on the land where two outbuildings now sit. There are nine hectares of land altogether, with only two hectares developed, the rest being forest and streams. The price is €420,000. and we think this is an excellent opportunity.

We hear from people all the time who have the same idea we originally did of sharing the cost of a part time property in Italy. We were able to find a property for very little money at the time and turn it into something special. What's more, we wound up living in it full time.

But for the many couples that want to own a stake in Italy but not live here full time, the property is a great one to share. Contact us if you'd like more ideas of what you could do with her property.

Back at home, Dino fires up the wood stove, and then drives off to spend some time with a client who has some serious building problems. Ever the resourceful one, he'll manage a crisis with a local plumber while the client vacations for a week in Turkey.

We purchased our sweet little stove at the end of last February, when the worst of the winter was over. Yesterday, when we had our first fire, Dino was unhappy with it, for there was a lot of smoke. But now that it's been fired up a second time there is very little smoke, and I'm able to stoke it into a roaring fire while he's been away.

We'd both like the idea of a pellet stove, but they look too modern for our taste. In addition, the popcorn-like sounds constantly make the stove seem too artificial. So we're not good environmentalists, we admit, but enjoy the fire and the heat. With plenty of wood, we're not worried about running out.

It's so warm, in fact, that we've now opened the kitchen door to let the warmth climb up into the bedroom. I do admit to enjoying the coziness of a winter's day. And it's not even officially winter, yet.

November 6
Our visit to the U S is worlds away in terms of distance as well as sensibilities. This trip, I want to have my ears re-pierced, and think it's a really simple thing. Until I start to ask, and no one knows where to go. "Look it up online", Michelle recommends.

So take a look: Industrial Strength Tattoo, Godspeed Tattoo, Cold Speed Tattoo, Black and Blue Tattoo, Zebra Tattoo and Body Piercing, Dungeon, One Shot, Bloodlines...Mom's Body Shop. On second thought, let's think about it another day...

Yesterday Dino and I talked again about my keeping up with the journal, even if we just post it once a month, which will probably happen. Here's the real answer...

I want to see if my writing changes if I start to lose my memory. I suppose I'm fixated about Alzheimer's, but why? It's not in my family history.

The package finally arrives from the U S. It was sent by Terence through the U S mail's special courier service and although it was difficult to track, the cost was almost $100 less than sending it by FEDEX or UPS. I admit I was skeptical.

The courier arrives and asks me to follow him to his truck. I sit on the little stone bench we've installed at the foot of the path as he takes the package from his truck, and as Quintillia and her husband come up the hill on their tractor, I sit on the bench and sign my name.

This morning I pull out all the squash. All the rest of the basil has frozen in the field as well as the remainder of any squash leaves. A couple of squash survive, and I look forward to using them for soup or risotto this winter. We probably had a real freeze last night. Strangely, the plumbago is still hanging on, its pale blue flowers still growing against an old wall.

I cook some red peppers and also two eggplant, and make an omelet and a baked eggplant dish for pranzo, using my usual mix of recipes with what we have lying around. Everything comes out well. But I'm itching to paint.

So after pranzo Dino drives to Amelia to solve a plumbing problem for a client, while I get going on the baking pieces that will possibly go to the U S with us next week. It depends on how heavy the suitcases become.

I've painted several pieces by the end of the day, but won't be able to resume painting until Wednesday. So hopefully I can get in a whole day of painting then and Elena can fire the pieces to have them ready for the trip. I'll continue to paint, giving her pieces to fire while we're gone, so we can have them upon our return.

Sunflowers are my latest interest, and I paint them on a number of dishes. I keep trying new things, teaching myself and experimenting. These sunflowers have white leaves instead of yellow, but I'll try some yellow sunflowers as well. Actually, how can a flower be a sunflower if it is not yellow? Oh yes, it's that artistic license thing again.

This afternoon, just as I've moved all the paints and tables into the dining room to be stored, Annika and Torb come for a visit. We sit in the kitchen while Dino fires up the stufa. They'll leave tomorrow to return to Sweden and we won't see them again until they return in the Spring. By then Stein will be here and we'll all get together. I surely miss Stein.

The day is warm and sweet, with the kitchen window open all day. But after the sun goes down, the temperature drops considerably, so the little stufa does its job and before I know it the room is warm.

I make some crostini with rubbed garlic and Diego's fine olive oil with the rest of our homemade sunflower bread from a couple of days ago. I'll make another loaf on Wednesday. That reminds me. We purchased a powdered sourdough starter from Sur La Table last fall, and don't know if we've even used it. We'll have to check the date on the container.

This is the time to make a list of things we want to bring back from the U S. I'm hoping that other than a few items of clothing we'll not be bogged down. Oh. I forgot I always want to buy books...I agree I am hopeless. But I do love to read...These days Dino has taken up my reading hobby as well. So books it will be.

November 7
Dino has an appointment in Terni early this morning to see about getting laser eye surgery. Since he's over 65, we think the procedure will be free! I'd like to get the surgery as well, since the cost won't be very much. So we'll find out what it will take to pass the criteria.

Panais tells us that the place is a kind of factory, the doctors very interested in doing the work. Sounds creepy. But we'll see. He thinks the doctors are all fine.

Now I don't have either my Italian or American drivers' if Dino can't drive after the appointment, then what? I suppose we'll have our denuncia to show any police who stop us. But it will have to be pretty serious for Dino to allow me to drive. It's a guy thing, I suppose.

We're hoping to drive on to DeRuta, so that we can pick up a few ceramic pieces to smalto and paint, and Dan and Wendy want to meet us there for pranzo.

So we arrive at the Terni hospital and after a while Dino is seen by the doctors. It takes no time at all for him to get his eyes tested but no, they won't do the surgery for him. He is not "a candidate". I think he's rather disappointed, so does not feel like asking about me. It seems like a lost cause.

We drive on to Deruta, and his eyes are fine. After a little searching, we find a wonderful easel (called a cavaletto) for me from Francesco, who works at Mondo Ceramica. We load it into the car and then visit Vania, who does not have the bishop's plates I want.

We drive on to our other favorite place, but they don't make the plates, either. We pick up one that will work fine for my next stemma, but it is not exactly what I am looking for. So we will continue our search.

We meet up with Dan and Wendy as they are leaving Ubaldo's fine building halfway through town. This is the place where we think the best artisans are located, and Ubaldo ships to most of the high-end shops in the U S (Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, etc.).

I have a conversation with Ubaldo and he is very generous with his time. He tells me to take photos of anything I'd like, and to come back after 2PM for a tour. At that time I can speak with a few painters about my smalto issues. That's great.

So we have pranzo with our friends at Locanda del Bracconieri, a place even Ubaldo thinks is a good idea. There is plenty of food, and it is all good. We recommend it as a simple and friendly place to eat in Deruta.

We say goodbye to our friends, and possibly we'll see them in the U S. Back at Ubaldo's factory, we are given a tour and it is now that we learn that the bishop's plates we want are no longer available. The ones we have lining our side kitchen wall are old.

To have flat sides of the round plates, instead of coming out at an angle, the weight of the clay must make it difficult to keep the plane of the plate flat. So we're told they are no longer made. It's not a really big deal. I'll just rethink the stemmas I paint for friends and on commission.

We drive back to Amelia and stop by to see Tia and Bruce and their new back garden. It is a wonder, and a lot of work. Dino especially loves the red tractor. He goes up to visit it while Tia and Sofi and I walk into the kitchen. I imagine him stroking it lovingly. "Nice doggie."

We've recommended our dentist to Tia, and she has an appointment right after us on Thursday! Since it's just before pranzo, we all agree to meet for pranzo and have a feast. So we'll drop Sofi off with Valerie in Rome for a few hours and pick her up in the afternoon on the way home.

Sofi has been wearing her little red lined raincoat in the cold weather, and she seems to like it. Since she no longer has a full coat of her own, she'll need to wear it until her hair grows out. By then it will be spring and time for another haircut.

We're starting to get ready for our U S trip, and Tia wants to see our ceramics. So I'm going to paint and paint for the next few days and we'll have Elena fire everything to get it back to us by Wednesday. Then we'll have a little show and tell early on Wednesday evening. What we do not sell here we'll consider taking to the U S.

Another woman calls us from Montecchio who wants to sell her house in the borgo. Dino will drive there tomorrow to view it. We'll be sure to bring photos of all the houses we have with us when we go to the U S. We now have plenty of inventory, just in time for our trip.

November 8
Today begins like many others, with cold and fog. Later in the morning the fog clears and it's warm outside, until the sun begins to lower on the horizon.

I spend the entire day painting or getting ready to paint. The process to get the pieces ready to paint is painstaking, and after I've spent quite a bit of time dealing with the fine powder that literally gets blown off each piece before I'm ready to begin painting, I have an idea. How about a compressor?

I don't' really know what a compressor does, other than probably compress air. So if a small machine could be used to suck up loose powder from the top of the pieces, that would be great. I'm afraid I'm inhaling too much of the stuff while I'm attempting to blow it off each piece on the terrace.

I know this because I look as thought I am covered in powdered sugar, and Dino tells me my mouth is white. So I'm sure I'm taking in some of it. I don' t think it's dangerous, but it can't be good for my lungs. Dino will see if he can fashion something for me.

By the end of the day I've painted a dozen or more pieces, and many of them are pieces that can be put in the oven. I promised dear Michelle that we'd bring her a piece to go in the oven.

I think she wants a pie plate but I don't have one that is just what she is looking for. There are a number of baking dishes, however, so I'll pick out one that I think she'll like and pack it away.

Tia wants to see my ceramics, so she'll come by on Tuesday or Wednesday before I pack any away for our trip in case she wants any. Elena tells Dino that she'll have them all ready by Tuesday, and I'm so lucky to have her nearby.

But Dino is not happy with me. He thinks I've worked for too many hours painting. The time just flew by. I think it's so strange that I am a fearless painter. I just am. If I make a mistake on a plate, I'll just paint another. And since it is impossible to really tell what a piece will look like after it comes out of the kiln, I think it's useless to fret.

Betty at Ubaldo's yesterday suggested that I take notes. Perhaps I'll do that some day. I just like painting the pieces, and remember what I've done if they come out well. On this batch, I'm painting sunflowers and onions and carrots as well as other vegetables like garlic and squash and spring onions and beans and mushrooms.

There is just one large tray left to paint, as well as Stein's stemma, so I may smalto Stein's plate on Friday and paint that and the tray then. They'll be ready on Tuesday, and I'll not paint again until we return in December.

I think I'll fill the tray with sunflowers, masses of them, with their funny and awkward green leaves. Stein's plate will be ready when he and Helga arrive at the beginning of December.

Dino went to see a woman who has two apartments in the castello in Montecchio for sale. He wants me to see them when we return in December. There is also use of a sweet garden. We have so many good properties, but not enough traffic on our web site. So perhaps we can get some good advice when we return to the U S about reaching the many people who are looking for places to buy in Italy.

I am looking forward to seeing our little grand daughters, and of course Terence and Angie and Dino's relatives and our friends. The trip is just enough time to visit some and see a few movies and eat some non-Italian food.

But right now I'm looking forward to bed, as Sofi snores by my feet on her little pillow.

November 9
We drive off to Rome in the morning fog, and my head is a little foggy as well. I suppose it will be a good idea to find out if any of that powder I've ingested as dried smalto is going to cause me problems. I'll have to pay a lot more attention to the process, including wearing a mask during that phase of the process.

I'm excited to see the new pieces, and on Wednesday we'll invite friends to stop by for a quick viewing before we pack select pieces off for the trip. Most or all of the pirofila baking dishes will remain here, for they are heavy, and there is a weight restriction on our luggage.

The water in the shower smells like onions, and I'm reminded of our first trips here, when the same smell frightened and delighted me. Nine years ago, the water filtration plant did not exist in Mugnano, and we had brown colored water after major rainstorms.

That is no longer the case, but I am starting to remember incidents "in the old days" that we viewed as characteristic descriptions of our little medieval village. In these short years, we are starting to see many changes that make our lives easier, yet are affirmations that the country is slowly abandoning its old ways.

I want to hold on, hold on. So we cannot take our time getting to know the villagers, and I need to spend more time with them, less time painting. What I like about our life here is that I've become a sort of hermit, not interested in traveling around, but even more curious about life and lives in our village.

After appointments with Dr. Chiantini, our favorite dentist, we walk to the restaurant where we are to meet Tia and Bruce. While in the dentist chair, I ask advice about whether I should take some nose drops for the ingested smalto of the past few days. He gives me a name, and we pick it up at a local pharmacy. The solution is a sea water from...Cinque Terre!

Pranzo at La Campana is fun, especially the fried artichokes, and we drive Bruce and Tia back to their car in Orte before driving home.

November 10
I wake up groggy, but as the day wears on I'm back to my old self, with merely a foggy head. As the sun rises and the temperature rises, I'm feeling much better. I should remember to expect to have a headache twice a year after a teeth cleaning. It must be something about rattling my head around in the dentist chair, although Dr. Chiantini is very gentle.

We drive to Viterbo and stop at Klimt, the art supply store, and I ask about having my canvas stretched. The manager wants to do it himself, but I am looking for an artisan-type, really an artist who also teaches painting and perhaps stretches canvas on the side.

The manager comes up with two names of potential teachers, and one in Bagnaia also speaks English. For me, it is very important to have someone I can speak with about the nuances of what I want to paint. So I call Marco, and we'll meet with him on Sunday. We'll have the canvas with us to show him as well. There. I feel better about that.

The process of learning to paint, whether on ceramics or on canvas, is a very interesting one, especially the search for maestros who can mentor me. I do wish that Pascale lived nearby, but she's a great excuse to travel to San Remy du Provence now and then.

Back at home the weather is so warm that we walk out to the far property to take a look at the olives. They are glossy black and ready. While I'm inside working on the last tray to paint before our trip, Dino picks all the olives.

I say ALL, but there aren't many trees: one large on and five smaller ones. We have less than one half a lug when he's through, not enough to bother Diego about. So we'll cure them, and that's fine with us.

Franco and Candida have invited us to a restaurant tonight in Orvieto along with a group of friends. Tonight is a fish dinner, with so very many courses. The friends are a lot of fun, and before we're through we've eaten: carpaccio of swordfish with carpaccio of pineapple (very tasty), an assortment of dishes with calamari, shrimp, orata, rombo (turbot), salmon, mussels, clams, risotto, fettuccini. Then there's a salad and dessert. All this and plenty of wine and bottled water and coffee for €30 each!

Tomorrow is San Martino Day, or the tasting of the novello wine. So we've told Franco it must be "open cantina" day all around, as well as at their house, and he agrees, once we tell him what it's all about. So we'll drive up to go tot he Saturday market, then will stop by to taste his wine.

November 11
We love the Saturday market in Orvieto, and that's just where we venture on this bright November morning. Even Sofi is wide awake before 8 A M and ready for an adventure. Since today is the feast day of San Martino, we'll be knocking on Franco's door to taste his Novello, the wine from this year's grapes.

Really they are Matthew's grapes, but Matthew took all his vines out, and Franco rushed to pick the grapes just before he did. Let's see what the wine tastes like.

Last night we teased Franco, who I realized was a little sensitive about it, about the bottle of wine he gave us that exploded, sending a gusher of red froth across the kitchen floor. It had been resting on its side on the wine rack. What appeared to be a gunshot went off, followed by a real mess. Franco was quick to respond that none of his other bottles have ever exploded. Perhaps it was the way it was stored?:)

We drive off to Orvieto and park outside Franco and Candida's wonderful house on the back side of Orvieto. In a few minutes we're all scampering up the hill to stop at different shops, including Dino's favorite leather craft shop, where the owner sews him up a leather case for his replaced Palm Pilot on the spot for €15.

Then it's on to see what's going on at the Saturday market, but not before we stop for "capuccia's". Cappuccinos are called after those little caps, and come no (why not)? ...very tasty.

We stop to visit friends who own a very upscale jewelry shop, and they've moved to a spot on Via Del Duomo in the heart of all the action. Business is brisk, but Tiziana has enough time to chat with us. She tells us about the four phases of picking olives, and let's see if I get it right: The first phase is the Imperitor phase, when olives are picked in September/October, when the olives are green and supposed to produce the best oil.

The second phase is the Nobili phase, in November, when the olives begin to turn color.

The third phase is in November/December, and is known as the Patrizi phase, when the olives are mostly black and the oil is good.

Finally, the fourth is the Cadum phase, when the olives have fallen on the ground and the result is mixed.

I thank her for this information, and tell her we'll put a description on our site about her jewelry. She'll email it to me. When it arrives, we'll let you know. They speak English, so it's a good shop to stop at for visitors, and they craft the designs themselves. Be prepared to spend some money here, but the jewelry is really memorable. The shop is called Orogami, and it is located at Via del Duomo, 14-16.

We pick up a grilled chicken and Candida picks up so many vegetables that we're not sure when she'll be able to use them all. But back at their house we're served a really special broccoli soup and salad and we slice up our chicken for Franco and Dino and me.

Then we had the first taste of Franco's 2006 wine!! It's got promise!!

Sofi loves their house, loves being with all of us together. She can't seem to stop wagging her tail or rushing around. Earlier we introduced her to a dog his owner calls "Salsiche" and he's a basotto a little larger than Sofi. Sofi darts around him for a minute or two, then would rather sniff around the ground and be with us.

We're home just a while before Duccio and Giovanna come for a visit. There's some talk about Prodi, and Duccio thinks he's a rather good man. We talk about taxes and the precarious financial state that Italy is in. Unfortunately the Parliament is comprised of people who vote themselves raises every two years, and people who are in the parliaments of other E U countries envy the Italians.

Do you recall that in the years since WWII, the government has changed hands more than fifty times? Well, each time the government has changed hands, scores of new politicians have entered the government. Government employees have lifetime pensions, so just think of that.

Berlusconi had a coterie of 31 people guarding him while he was in office, and now continues with that same number, for the rest of his life. Even the farmers in China are revolting at the land grab. Why not the Italians?

I offer that the media could publicize all the actions the parliamentarians are taking, but Duccio is dubious. He thinks Prodi will next try to tackle the pension problems, but that will be an enormous bridge to cross.

As Duccio and Giovanna leave, the Bomarzo couple that has our wedding anniversary certificate stops by for a visit and a few photos of us. We're amazed that they had three photos of us, even though we thought no one really knew us! We're sure they checked with Livio, who clued them in. We're moved by the certificate and photos. This is certainly a wonderful place to live.

After everyone leaves, we work on the dining room, turning it into a mini mostra for my ceramics. Tomorrow we'll bring in a long table in addition to the dining room table and two smaller tables already flanking the East wall. I want to have everything out.

Everything is for sale. Franco and Candida and Tia will stop by in a few days, and perhaps some others. Whatever we don't sell we'll store in the vetrina, which we have no idea what it will look like, or when it will arrive. We'll have to check in with Sacha tomorrow.

November 12
It's a cold morning, and as we reach the little church for mass, we're about the last to arrive. Don Ciro glides down the center aisle with a smile, and before we know it the mass has ended.

We're on our way to meet with Marco Zappa, and find him in Bagnaia on the way to the canile. He's a gentle sort and we like him right away. For about an hour, he takes us around the studio on his property, and we sign up for an ongoing workshop. I'll be studying oil painting with no more than three others at a time, so there will be plenty of time to learn from him.

We chose Marco because he speaks a little English, and also because he is an accomplished artist. Two days a week he works in Milan, but he's here teaching on other days. He tells me to keep the canvas I painted in France and to finish painting it before it is stretched. So we'll buy a piece of wood and staple gun it. I'll paint it at home, and then will have it stretched and framed.

I'll begin a few days after we return from the U S, and I'll either paint San Liberato floating above Mugnano, from a copy of a painting done long ago and owned by a man in Viterbo, or a kind of an elf figure from the rear, with a Renaissance garden in the background. The canvas will be large, and I'm looking forward to a great sweep of canvas, taking my two years of mostly self-teaching to a new level.

In the meatime I'm itching to paint, so I draw images that catch my fancy whenever I sit down for a few minutes here and there. There will be a lot of time waiting around in the airport this next week, so I'll be sure to have a sketchbook with me.

We leave Marco and return home for a while, then drive out again for an appointment with Cesare to talk about listing his house. Cesare lives in the outskirts of Amelia, and has what we call a sleek and sophisticated property with a marvelous view. As we arrive there is a family with a big net picking olives, and they stop to stare at us and smile.

Once we're on Cesare's property, he comes out to meet us and tells us he's waiting for someone to arrive to pick the olives from his eighteen trees. He's like many Italians, who would rather look at the olives than pick them himself. After a walk through and conversation, we agree to list his property. Take a look on our properties section and let us know if you'd like to take a look in person.

The sun is low in the sky on these fall days, and as we drive home we pass family after family standing under their trees and harvesting their precious olives. I'm very aware of the importance of family in the Italian culture, as we pass literally scores of families out on this sunny day. I will say that I miss not picking olives, and perhaps next year we'll pick for the Gasperonis or the Fosce's or some other neighbors.

We stop to see Sacha and ask him to come for a visit and to negotiate a good price for the vetrina that his workers will build for us. He comes by but can only stay a minute. So we show him our vetrina in the kitchen for ideas and then he agrees to buy our dining room table. The size does not work for us, so in the spring we'll find an old one that is just right. Finally, we'll have the dining room we've wanted for years, to entertain when it's too cold to eat outside.

November 13
We return to Roccalvecce to take photos of the apartment we want to help Diego to sell, and will list it before we leave in a few days. It is a very unusual property, a two bedroom, two bath apartment in an historic palazzo that includes membership in a kind of country club, with tennis court, two swimming pools and more...

Then it's on to Viterbo in the afternoon to pick up a food processor. After nine years our $30 food processor has given up. We shop around, for most of the models are big and awkward, choosing an inexpensive model that is sleeker and will fit in our storage cabinet better.

At home Dino works on the photos of my ceramics, for he encourages me to have a kind of "open studio" before we leave.

November 14
It's time to have my hair done, and Dino drives off to work on projects until I'm through. He had hoped to work with Stefano at Stein's, but Stefano can't get away. For the past days he has done some work at Stein's, so at least the current bathroom project is on the way.

The rest of the day is spent at home, with me cleaning and Dino working on the photos of the ceramics. By the time he is through, he has documented 128 pieces! We're expecting friends to stop by for the next couple of days, so perhaps those numbers will dwindle. I admit I'm not very good at selling my own work.

After a visit to Elena to pick up the last of the glazed pieces, she counsels me regarding a different kind of sponge to use before smalto, to avoid getting little pits in the finished product. Sigh.

Dino wants to pack but I'm leaving that for tomorrow. I always think we'll pack light, and then find out that we take too much. With one suitcase of gifts, I'm fantasizing that we'll just take one more suitcase between us. Ha. Ha. Let's see what tomorrow brings...

November 15
It's foggy on this last day before we leave, and Dino drives off to Viterbo to pick up a few last minute items, like the packets of zafferano (saffron) that everyone loves. It is so strange that it's cheap in Italy but very expensive in the U S. It's only a matter of time before someone catches on and finds a way to import it cheaper.

Tia comes by and takes back two pirofila (oven dishes) with girasole flowers painted on them. I hunker down in the kitchen making a loaf of banana bread while Dino shows her around. The day is lovely and warm, and after she leaves we set about putting up the Christmas lights, so that they'll be ready to turn on as soon as we return.

I'm not sure if we'll hook up the paranco...It is better to have a few men put that up, for it is very heavy. We can finish the tree lights when we return if we don't get to it today.

Dino is ready to pack, and it takes me just a few minutes to put out the things I want to take. This will be a record, with only two suitcases for the two of us, and one full of gifts. So I'm sure we'll pack a suitcase in a suitcase in addition, because we always bring back lots of things.

Sofi takes today in stride. She's used to the occasional trips and surely loves Angie. With the journal finished for this month today, we have plenty of time for odds and ends. It has never been like this. We're always in a flutter, with so many unfinished things to do. We're so ahead of ourselves, that I pull out the arugula, for it has become overgrown and we did not plant any new. Planting and the garden will just have to wait for our return. So have a lovely Thanksgiving and if you're in San Francisco we may see you. This is the last posting for this month.


December 1 - 4
We end our annual trip to San Francisco to visit our family and friends, arriving at Fiumucino, aka DaVinci, Airport early in the afternoon.

We've left our car at the long-term parking lot, and this seems the best way to deal with taking a long is relatively inexpensive and handy. With a drive North on the coast and then inland through Tuscia, we're home before 5 P M.

On the way home earlier, just past the airport, Dino sees a whole field of sunflowers in full bloom! Are our eyes playing tricks on us? Whatever is going on with the mild weather? I fear global warming is taking hold sooner that I ever thought possible. But someone must have planted these seeds in the fall. Otherwise, how could they have come out like this? I do admit it is the 60's (Fahrenheit).

Just as we arrive in the village, Angie rushes by in her little car with Sofi, taking her to a local spot just over the Tiber to run a little for her last daily exercise before we greet her.

Yes, Sofi remembers us, and the homecoming is grand. Do you remember the term, "il cane fare una festa?" Well it means that the dog makes a party, or gets all excited at the sight of its owner. We really miss not being here; miss the simple little things that make this our home. After catching up on local news, and Angie knows all of it, Angie leaves, and Sofi won't leave my side. I'm strangely wide-awake, and can't seem to settle down.

December 5
We drive to Viterbo to do errands, with Sofi by our side, and drop off some American coffee (Peet's of course) for Elena. She loves the stuff, and loves her Mr. Coffee type coffee maker. Go figure.

We pick up my art supplies at Klimt, a shop in Viterbo, and also a simple black plastic paint case at OBI. Once we're home I call Marco, who tells me I can begin my painting lessons on Thursday. I've signed up for ongoing lessons, and the first lesson I think will be spent preparing the canvas.

I have two designs to think about, so if he leaves it up to me I'll begin painting a stone cherub-type in the foreground from the rear, and a formal Italianate garden in the distance. What about all those folds in fabric? I want to paint that, too. We'll see how things go. I'm really looking forward to a new phase of learning.

I've taken a walk with Sofi this morning on the loop, and neighbors greet us, welcoming us back. There's Terzo, Pepe, Tomasso, Quintilia...

Little wildflowers seem to welcome us, the ground is wet and fragrant, and Sofi wants to sniff it all. I begin the walk with my new warm jacket, but on the last few meters I'm very hot. So once we reach the gate, Dino comes down with clippers for me, and I take off my jacket and work on the roses on the front path.

It is strange that the roses are still blooming this late in December. Sofi frolics on the path toward the church, while I clip away. It's still not time to take all the leaves off the roses, but they do need deadheading and cleaning up.

I stay awake until 1:30 AM reading...yes, jet lag has struck. And then it's a fitful few hours before dawn.

December 6
Sofi and I take another walk this morning, and Brik walks some of it with us. Giovanna greets me with a "bentornati!" and a hug, and then we come across Italo, whose ruddy face and Don Johnson beard beams as I walk up and give him an Italian "buss" on each cheek. He's standing across the street at the door of his cantina, just moving about his day as he has for decades, although these days he's mostly alone.

I suspect he takes his meals with Felice and Marsiglia and yes, I miss them. Tomorrow or Friday I'll try to walk up with Sofi to have a visit with them.

We continue on our walk, and Sofi meanders down the lane, a lane that becomes a "strada bianca", or white road (unpaved). I love this walk, especially the section where the chickens flutter on one side right outside their little coop.

The always-closed cantinas on the other side of the lane have me imagining people sitting in their open doorways, whittling or cutting wood or working with their grapes or olives in the winter's lowered sunlight.

I have never seen anyone at these cantinas, although one day a few years ago I found Felice at his chicken coop around the corner. About a year ago he ended the lives of all his hens and chicks by wringing their necks, thereby ceasing a continuous supply of fresh eggs.

Some mornings he'd come around the bend and up our stairs, handing me three or four eggs still warm from the pocket of his worn woolen sport coat. I ache to think those precious moments are now merely fleeting memories. Felice never stops by anymore...

I grew up in New England, loving the turning leaves and fall colors of red and yellow and gold and ochre. In Italy, there are hardly any red leaves, so the colors that are left are paler and softer. I love the gold and ochre colors, framed by evergreens, colors that last well into January. And then before we know it it's February and the blossoms tell us that spring is on the way. But let's not get ahead of ourselves...

Further along the lane we hear Gianfranco's poor dogs barking. He is a neighbor who now takes care of Felice's property, the lush old olive trees groomed after their winter harvest. Taking care of all his trees has been a lot of work, and these days Felice probably does not even remember them. I am sad for him, sad for dear Marsiglia.

We are alone for the rest of our walk, and I've dressed in lighter clothes today, for it is warm. I am sorry for the warm weather, although the days are very comfortable, especially in the sunlight.

I don't know what the weather will be later this winter or next year, and it is the weather that controls our garden and our meager crops. So each morning I listen to the forecast, hoping for some normal weather.

We have three beautiful yellow peppers, and I make the pasta we like with basil and freshly grated cheese and sautéed peppers for pranzo. Dino also eats a sandwich and we have the first persimmon puddings of the year. I've made a couple of individual ones, and after heating them up we linger over them, remembering how delicious they are, even though they are a real pain to prepare.

I am sure that in the next days we'll find a better solution for the steaming of them. That is what is so frustrating. It takes two hours to steam each one on the top of the stove. Dino is such a practical sort that I'll be sure to give him this project, and you know how Dino loves his projects...

Sofi acts strangely all day, keeping very close to me and acting very needy. She must be having some kind of separation anxiety after our trip, so I give her lots of attention. That is easy to do. She is so very sweet.

We both turn in early, but aren't quite back to our normal strength yet. Sofi cries and cries during the night, so I put her on the bed with us, and she's silent immediately. Early in the morning Dino puts her back on the floor, and she returns silently to her bed until I'm ready to get up.

December 7
It's foggy again this morning, and it takes until we reach Bomarzo for our car to rise out into the sun. But everywhere else is full of sun. We're on our way to Marco's for my first art lesson. I've packed all of my paints and supplies, and believe we'll begin by preparing the canvas and stretchers. I'm not sure of the subjects I'll paint, but we'll know soon enough.

It's warm outside his studio, so I take off my sweater and coat, and yes, we work on the piece of linen and the wooden frames. He shows me how to put the stretchers together, how to use the staple gun and stretching tool to keep the piece of linen taut.

I ask him what painters used in the years before staples were invented, and he tells me that painters used nails. Choidi. Choido di garofano are cloves, and that's how I remember the word for nails. I remember words in Italian by association, and keep cloves above the stove, where I use them mostly in the wintertime. So this association is easy.

He uses the word "tirare" or pull, to describe what he uses to make the linen taut. I think he means "stretch" and he agrees. Tirare also means to stretch. Telaio is a stretcher for a painting. Yes, he's using that word, not "tirare", although the words are similar.

I met Leona, Gabriella and Michella, the three women who share Marco with me on these days. They are all young and vibrant. In a conversation with Gabriella and Marco while we're working on the canvas, we agree that all painters are a little "pazzo" or crazy.

I feel at home here. Each woman works on her own project: one on two copies of a mask of her grandfather, one on a painting of a woman reclining on a blanket, and another readying two panels to paint pastels.

Marco does not care what subjects I use for my first painting, but he tells me that the young man who sold us the wood for the stretchers did not include the cross piece, a piece that is needed for larger frames.

Since Dino is driving around Viterbo, we call him to ask him to return to the art supply store to pick one up and while he's at it, pick up another set of wood for another frame. We have enough linen for a second, and might as well prepare two as one. He returns soon with everything we need. Marco has called ahead to confirm with the owner of the shop just what we need. Thanks, Dino.

So we finish putting together the two frames, and I paint a layer of colla, or glue on top of each. I hear them speak of "colla di cogniglio" and that means glue of the rabbit. It makes me ill to think of it. "E vero?" I ask them, and they nod their heads, as if they don't want to speak of it, either. Sigh.

The session ends with me agreeing to return on Monday. Then I'll paint the gesso on top of the canvas, and it will take about an hour. So for the rest of the time he suggests that I draw, or paint something. Since I have yet to finish "Pascale's Bull", I'll bring it and work on it there, at least for Monday.

Back at home, Dino fixes fillets and we have the steamed persimmon pudding for dessert. It is certainly worth the effort. And below, Mario has been cutting the wood so that we can use it in the stufa as well as in the fireplace. He's worked on it most of the morning, and we see him there again, splitting the logs like he's done it all his life. "Thwack!"

Dino tells me that Mario does not like this work. He thinks we have paid too much for this wood. The Universita Agraria does not charge us much for it in the first place, but it is delivered in large pieces, and by the time we pay Mario to cut it into the sizes we need, we are paying more than if we purchased it from someone in Giove. Next year we'll all be happier. So we won't need the local wood after all, even if we do become citizens and then members of the local association.

Before he leaves, Mario readies the front tomato "orto" for the planting of fava beans. This is an important rotation crop, and it supplies needed nutrients for the soil, readying it for the annual tomatoes. I prepare a bucket of concime (food) from the cave behind the serra and hand it to him.

Mario sprinkles the soil with the concime and makes little pockets in the soil, precisely four rows across. I follow him with the open box of favas, dropping three beans into each hole.

By the time we are through there are favas left, so he takes them and drops one in each hole. We're bound to get something out of each hole. Last year we planted three seeds each, and every single one sprouted. So we had three plants sprouting from each hole.

Mario tells us that we are a month late planting, but agrees that since the weather has been so mild, that it's probably fine to plant today. With a full moon two days ago the planting day is perfect. I ask him if he agrees to plant by the moon, and he does.

Dino will make a note in his Palm to plant next year before we leave for the U S for our annual trip. So we thank Mario and he won't be back until February, when he prunes our trees for spring.

Dino has begun to light the tree on the terrace, and I help him to string the lights, then watch him as he sets the star on top. Luigina walks by and waves, and I ask her when we should begin the lights for Christmas. "Stasera" (Tonight) she tells us. Dino asks us if we'll get the award for the most lights in Mugnano. I think Luigina will probably have a better display. But we're not competing. It's all fun.

I'm back in the kitchen working on the damn persimmon puddings, not happy at all with the annual cooking of this seasonal dessert, a present we give to many friends and neighbors, now that the other tree is full of cachi, or persimmons. On Saturday (Tomorrow is a holiday all over Italy) Dino promises me we'll get the proper inserts to make more puddings.

At ten o'clock we're still working on the last set of the day, and luckily will need to pick up more raisins and walnuts and eggs before we prepare any more.

Earlier Dino went back to Stein's to clean up after Stefano, and to drop off a welcome basket of fruits and goodies for Stein and Helga. They'll arrive tomorrow and we really missed them. It will be good to see them for the weekend.

Sofi is alert again, and I think is back to her old self. She pulls all her toys out of the basket in the kitchen, and races around with me, wagging her tail and giving me kisses now and then.

It's so good to be home.

December 8
It's Friday, and we oversleep, but the weather is cool and foggy, so why not? We're expecting to hear from Stein and Helga, so Dino drops off some fruit and chocolate and milk. Then we're off to Tenaglie to meet with a new client who has three properties for us to list! Three properties in this little town! Actually, one is in the centro storico of Montecchio, the town next door.

We arrive at their home outside Tenaglie, and get to meet the entire family and extended family. Then we drive to Montecchio, where we see an apartment that is actually two, one we recommend that we market as one, for they are both small.

Dino thinks I won't like it, but I like it very much. It would be perfect for a single person who wants to live in a medieval borgo, without a garden.

Patrizia was born here, and as we walk through the borgo, which dates back to 1300 in the oldest part, 1500 in the palazzo where our apartment is located, people greet her as family.

On this day, an Italian holiday, little shops in the borgo are open for it is an olive oil tasting day. There are also local products, and I'd love to stop, but we have work to do. First we measure all the rooms and take a few photos, so that Dino can prepare the listing. Patricia has invited us back to their home for pranzo and later olive oil tasting in Montecchio, so she needs to get home to prepare...We've declined, for we're expected in Bomarzo at noon.

We drive on to another two properties on the southernmost part of Tenaglie, and Dino has had his eye on this house for some time. It overlooks fifteen mature olive trees, a garden and view of the valley. We learn that this building really consists of two apartments, although it can be converted to one home. Again, we take photos and measurements.

Patricia is behind schedule, so introduces us to a neighbor, who shows us land nearby that is a large campo with 130 olive trees and a great view, as well as a small outbuilding. There is a house on the next property, that is lovely, and we're wondering if it might become available.

This land would be perfect with the adjoining property, which has a lovely position and great view. The owners live in Northern Italy and only come here once a year. They're not ready to sell...yet. If we have a buyer, we'll see if we can make a connection. We certainly have the local respect of the property owners.

We're on to Bomarzo, where there is an art mostra (exhibit) and a concert. We're late for the concert, but sit behind Duccio and Giovanna. My art teacher, Marco Zappa, is exhibiting, as well as several artists we know. I'm asked if I'd like to join the local art association in Bomarzo, so why not? We'll look into that later...

After a little schmoozing and the concert, we drive home for a few hours. Dino calls Stein to find out that he's overwhelmed with commitments in his local parish, leading up to his final mass on Christmas Eve before retirement. So we won't see him this weekend. Puor troppo.

Candida and Franco arrive for a gospel concert tonight in the Bomarzo Comune, and Sofi stays at home to rest. The concert is a gospel concert consisting of an enormous maestro and twenty women. The room rocks, but it is too small a room for this type of music. Gospel music really belongs in a church, or perhaps that's just my view of it all.

But this group is a possible contender for a gospel concert in Mugnano in the spring, so I introduce myself to Charlie Cannon, the group's maestro, and also meet a few of the singers. During the concert I admit I yearned to be performing with the singers. Gospel music really stirs my soul.

We stop at Duccio and Giovanna's for a drink, then come home for the evening and all spend it in the kitchen with Sofi. We have missed our good friends, and enjoy sitting around just gabbing with them.

After they leave, we tuck ourselves in and before we know it, we're fast asleep. Jet lag is still with us....

December 9
I wake up with a start and it's after 9AM. It stormed all night, the wind blowing our clothes around in the loggia and all the plants in the garden drinking in needed moisture.

We drive up to Orvieto to meet with Franco and Candida, but it's raining, so after a few minutes in their house, Sofi rests in the dry car and we walk up to the Saturday market under umbrellas.

After cappuccias in their favorite café, where we plan what events we'll attend at Umbria Jazz at the end of the year, we embark on an expedition to find the perfect bag (borsa) for Dino. After much back and forth from store to store we find the best one at the best price, then walk on to for pranzo.

Candida chooses a flaky fish, which looks great, Dino eats venison, Franco chooses a tasty pork in apples and I eat a stew made of chinghiale (wild boar) with polenta. With a bottle of local read wine, we're happy. And we've all come to a big decision.

This April, we'll forego our trip to Ponza, deciding to all go with Stein and Helga to Sicily. We'll take about ten days, and Angie is already booked to stay with Sofi. So once Stein plans the itinerary, we'll share it with Franco and Candida to see if there's something special they'd like to include. I'm very excited, and can't wait to let Stein know. He and Helga wanted us to go to Sicily with them this next spring, so it's perfect!

We leave our friends and drive home for a few minutes before returning to Bomarzo for tonight's gospel concert and a walk around the mostra, which will continue until tomorrow night.

The rain has ended, and the strong winds have blown the fog away. So we have a beautiful pink and lavender sunset. It's lovely and not too cool.

With Duccio's borrowed umbrella under our arm from last night, we run into them on their way to church. Perhaps we'll see them at the concert.

Before the concert there are many friends to greet: Vezio to tell him how much we like his bronze statue of the horse, to be presented to the winner of the Palio each April. Then Antonio is there as a sommelier, pouring wine at a wine tasting. We ask him if we can meet him this week at the school, with ideas for dressing up the place, especially for New Year's Eve. Then Paola is there, as well as Tiziana Lagrimino, who tells us that we have only to choose which gospel group we want for Mugnano, and she'll arrange to hire them for us for May. We're on a roll.

So about the concert. It's only a trio...a jazz singer, guitarist and pianist, but the music is so loud and the arrangements so boring that we only last for three songs. That's two more songs than Duccio and Giovanna, and our saving grace is that we're sitting in the last row.

We drive on home to Sofi, and a quiet Saturday night. Have we only been home for five days?

December 10
Mild weather greets us this morning, and we return to our regular seats at mass. Dino brings his two favorite photos of the nipotini (grand daughters) and of course everyone loves them. This is a day of children, for the first time Julia and Salvatore and Federico assist at mass. When we arrive, Salvatore is trying to turn on the microphone, bellowing "Prova!" when Livio turns the switch.

The three children are about eight years young, and wait in the sacristy until Don Cirio arrives and changes. Then they follow him out one by one and sit on the chairs at the altar beside Don Cirio. When it is time for the homily, he speaks to them in a most gentle way, telling us that this season is all about children and blessings.

Each one looks up at him in amazement. I notice that Federico has a difficult time concentrating, for he fidgets, but tries his hardest to sit still. I cannot see Salvatore, but Julia sits quietly at the far side of the altar. When the mass has finished, they follow the priest in a line, bowing and then finishing in the sacristy. It is a lovely mass.

Felice and Marsiglia are not in church today. I hope they are doing all right. After mass, Mauro borrows the key for the school from Livio, and we walk over to survey the sorry site that is to be the location of our Cappo d'Anno Cennone (New Year's Eve Great Dinner).

Now we have about thirty five people signed up. We may have double that number or more before we're through. I think we'll have to talk it up, for last year the dinner was a disaster, the catering done by the people who serve the food at the nearby old age home. What a disaster that meal must have been!

Once inside the school, we review Dino's idea for suspending short chains from the ceiling and draping filmy material, to make the affect tent-like. But the walls look terrible, with nail holes, broken plaster, and old white paint.

Mauro likes Dino's idea, especially if we don't have to pay for the work. So we'll all meet with Antonio on Tuesday night to see if we can convince him to go along with it, and to pay for it. On the way home, I convince Dino that the walls also need to be painted, and suggest that Antonio organize a work party and buy some paint, and I'll fix a dinner for the workers. Come no (why not)? Dino takes his usual Sunday drive to Il Pallone, the grocery store that gives double points on Sundays. So Sofi and I take a giro, walking the opposite way we usually walk on the loop. When we come around the steep bend, Felice is coming out of his cantina, so we greet him and give him a hug. He's here to pick up a little firewood. It's always wonderful to see him.

We continue our walk home, then I roast one of our squash for soup. I will make two soups, one that Candida can eat tonight, and the other for us. We will always have something tasty for Candida. I remain worried about her health, and hopeful that she will seek treatment on her trip to the U S next month.

Franco is locked in some kind of church meeting in Orvieto and Candida expects he'll be there for most of the day and evening. So she drives down to meet us in Mugnano, and we all return to the Comune for the last gospel concert.

When we arrive upstairs to save seats, we enter a room full of people and see the mayor squeezed between a woman and a man behind a draped table, the woman droning on and on about the Parco dei Monstre. We stand against a windowsill and hear the name Michaelangelo Buonnaroti. Could that be?

Tiziano and his parents are seated in the last row, and when the meeting breaks we ask him. Yes, it appears that someone did some real research on the background of the famous local park, and it appears that Michaelangelo Buonnaroti designed the park!

I noticed that there is a street in the nearby town of Sipicciano named Via M. Buonnaroti. Perhaps he traveled here on the way to Rome. Anything is possible. Now there is renewed excitement about the town and the park.

But what's this? The park was bought some time ago by a private company, and the park is, well, private. People complain that entry frees are high, but there 's nothing to do about it. So it's not as if the Comune can take advantage of the new found notoriety.

Mary Jane Cryan is here, for she attended the meeting and knows the editor and author of the new book. It's in Italian, or we'd buy one... subito. When there is a translation, we'll surely want one. Is this a project for Mary Jane? She's not sure, but tells me that she's happy and busy just the same.

She brings up a very interesting point about writing books and research. She's critical of the many writers who do little research on their topics, and perpetrate untruths written by previous writers. The information gets passed on and on like the children's telephone game, until it has entered the public consciousness. "Now" she affirms, we will learn some authentic information.

"Michaelagelo and Orsini were both heretics", she continues, and "those were dangerous times". I imagine them good friends, or at least Orsini was Michaelangelo's patron of sorts. Orsini was known to be somewhat of a character, as anyone who visits his park will agree. Oh to be a fly on the wall, I fantasize...

So about the gospel group: Charlie Cannon returns, as does Davide Pistoni. These are two remarkable characters from previous weekend performances, joined by Desiree Mohammed, Orlando Johnson and Joy Garrison. We love the performers, and the concert, and I'm not sure if one of these three groups are the right groups to sing in Mugnano. It will take some thought and further research.

We drive down the hill and sit around the kitchen table with Candida at home, eating soup and relaxing for the rest of the evening. And then Candida leaves for home and we're ready to turn in.

December 11
We wake up late, but are still at Marco's front gate on time. But he has forgotten, and arrives about a half hour later from Viterbo. I'm his only student today, and we finish preparing the two canvases, and I finish the painting done in France, a painting I affectionately call "Pasquale's Bull". It will dry for a week or so and then we'll stretch the canvas. Stretching a canvase after the fact is not ideal, but it is what we have. From now on, I'll be sure to prep each canvas before painting.

My first painting with Marco will be my interpretation of an earlier painting of one of Mugnano's patron saints, San Vincenzo. It shows him floating above Mugnano, an angel holding a wreath of laurel over his head.

First I'm to draw it the size I will paint it. I cut a sheet of white paper the size of the finished canvas, and begin to draw in the characters. This is an interesting exercise.

Dino arrives and we agree that we'll purchase two wooden boards that the drawings will be tacked upon, and this afternoon we'll pick them up in Viterbo. It has been a very fruitful lesson, and now I'm going to take home the drawing and work on it this next week before my next session with Marco.

After pranzo at home, Dino tells me of his adventures this morning in Montecchio with the bank and with client projects. He loves his projects and I love my painting, so we're both full of life. We pick up the wood in Viterbo to back my drawings, do some food shopping, and return home just after dark.

I look forward to a day of drawing tomorrow, as well as taking down the Christmas things from storage. We don't decorate much, but whatever we have, we'll use. Christmas cards are beginning to come in, and we're actually enjoying reading the Christmas letters.

December 12
It's sunny and cool, but warm enough in the sun that Sofi lies sleeping on the gravel as though she's at the beach. Dino drives off for an appointment with the geometra in Guardea and I'm going to draw after going through the Christmas box that Dino took down from storage.

But it's beautiful outside, so lets' go for a walk instead....

With Dino off in Guardea and Tenaglie, Sofi and I scamper around the loop below the house, returning to work on the painting while Sofi sleeps in the sun on the terrace, leaning back against the house as if she thinks it's a reflector.

Since we've blown up the image I plan to paint next to the same size (100cm by 70cm), I section it off into sixteen sections and then do the same with the blank sheet of the same size. This is my idea, but I want to understand the composition and also size the figures correctly. It's a good way to do it, for I can take a ruler and find myself becoming much more accurate.

I start the project on the kitchen table, with the sample leaning up against the vetrina, but Dino suggests that we bring the easel into the kitchen and that makes the work easier yet.

After a tasty pranzo, including a side of celery root, my favorite vegetable, I go back to working on the sketch. Marco tells me that I can go right to the painting, but this will be a good exercise for me. It surely is.

Dino finds excuses to come into the kitchen and look over my shoulder. He sits on the couch and tells me that he imagines me as a Normal Rockwell type, with my brush poised in the air "just so".

I don't think so, Dino....

I spend a lot of time working on San Vincenzo's face in semi-profile, wanting to get his expression "just so". I'm not there for some reason, so I'll ask Marco for his advice on Monday. Until then I plan to do a really excellent rendition of the subject and to learn about the nuances of his vestments and the village buildings. This is a very exciting project.

Tonight we have an appointment with Antonio to talk about making cosmeting changes to the school, in preparation for New Year's Eve. Ever since we purchased our house we've been aware of the terrible shape that the school is in, believing that a coat of paint and curtains would work wonders.

We stop at Mauro and Laura's on the way, and they join us as well as Valerio. We meet up with Antonio and Paola at Pepe's house, and are greeted by Candida at the door. Inside Giuseppa is also there, and they have just finished cena. If we had come alone, we were to be given roast potatoes on the rotisserie spit cooked in the fireplace. They look wonderful, and we've taken a rain check. How sweet that family is to us!

We walk over to the school and before we've finished, Antonio thanks us for our ideas and tells us that the Universita will pay all the materials. They will call Luca, the painter and their friend, to have him look at the work to be done inside and to give us a list of what we have to buy and where to buy it. Tomorrow Dino and I will drive to IKEA in the outskirts of Rome to price material and iron curtain rods for the five windows. We'll come home with a preventivo for him and the work will begin on Saturday. I've agreed to sew any curtains needed and to cook for the workers this weekend. Antonio thinks it will take two weekends, but we'll see what we can do in one. The walls look just terrible, with nail holes and chipped paint everywhere.

I suggest that after we do our work that the school be rented with an additional cleaning fee to cover any damage to walls, etc. and that can be used to make sure that the building is maintained well.

Dino has an idea about tenting both rooms with fabric, a rather elaborate scheme with turnbuckles and material pulled tight. I'm happy with the simpler concept for now. I do believe we'll be able to pull this off for New Year's Eve. We'll see....

In any case, we walk home under a very cold sky, knowing that we're going to be helping our village, and that's important to us. I look forward to seeing everyone's expression when they enter the school for New Year's Eve. I'm not particularly looking forward to the work, but it will be fun to be with our neighbors, and to ring in the new year with them.

We're expecting frost tonight, and as we walk past Nando and Rita's house, we see that the plants outside their front door are covered with nursery cloth. It's time we think seriously about doing a better job of covering our lemon tree...Soon, very soon, we'll have an answer. Perhaps tomorrow when we drive to Rome we'll visit a few places and see what kind of cloth we can come up with to wrap it.

December 13
With temperatures about freezing, we get up and drive to IKEA outside Rome to shop for fabric and curtain rods and material for the school. Dino dreams about their Swedish meatballs. Sofi just dreams.

Italians are crazy about IKEA, and I admit it is a well tooled "machine". There are so few places to shop where one can buy reasonable and attractive every day things for the home. But after repeated visits I'm bored by even that. Dino does love the Swedish meatballs, so we stop for pranzo while we're shopping for possible curtains for the school. Next door is a store that stocks many fabrics, and we find a plaid that would be fun. We pick up 3 meters to do a "prova" or test for a window, and do find black iron rods in IKEA. So I'll sew up a set and we'll see what Antonio and his committee think. If all goes well, we'll be back to buy enough material for five sets of drapes for the windows, which I will sew.

Let's talk about the "school". We really need a better name for the building that used to house students, until, well, there weren't any. Now students travel by school bus to Bomarzo, and there aren't more than ten all together.

The building is used for dinners for the people of the village, and is owned by the Universita Agraria. We've looked sadly at it for all the years we have owned our home, for it is sad on the outside, sad on the inside. It has looked dirty and chipped and unloved all this time.

I've had it in my head that if we were to do anything for the festarolo committee this year, it would be to clean up the school, paint it at least inside and put up curtains. We'll have our wish, and it won't even be the end of the calendar year!

We've recommended to Antonio that we arrange a work party, for at least this weekend and possibly also next, and he likes the idea. Let's see how it goes after he gets Luca to take a look at the work to be done inside the building and tell us what to purchase to prep and paint it.

Back at home we wash the fabric and hang it out to dry. Tomorrow I'll sew it and we'll hang it up for Antonio to approve. I start to work on the topiary trees for New Year's Eve. They're Styrofoam balls covered in noccioli (hazelnuts) with a newly purchased glue gun, and after all we've harvested these last three years and not eaten, we run out after making six large ones. So we'll buy walnuts for the four smaller ones and little terra cotta pots to stand them up in suspended on wooden dowels.

December 20
Cold, cold again. I sew the drapes, and we drive up to the school to measure to make sure they are correct. The length is not great, for the ceilings are taller than we imagined, so I sew a false hem at the back of the top, and leave the bottoms to pin in place. But the look is very dramatic.

The good news is that three of the windows are shorter, so the one finished set can be hung on a shorter window. They look really good just the same, and in a meeting tonight at the school, Antonio approves. The colors are really good in the room, and we're hoping that we'll get approval to paint the walls a light yellow.

He takes the curtains with him to get approval from the rest of the officers of the Unversita, and we hope to hear from him tomorrow with a go-ahead for the curtains.

Earlier in the day I have time to work on the full scale drawing of the painting of San Vincenzo. There are problems with the dimensions of San Liberato and of the angel, and so I have drawn a few sections with two sets of lines, so that I can go over them with Marco on Monday. I know that this painting will be my artist's interpretation, so I take my time with it, pondering as I work. I really enjoy the exercise, taking it up each day for at least an hour.

The next days will be very busy, so I may not have much time to work on it until Monday. That's fine.

In the meantime, Dino clears out the loggia and sets up the presepio in the grotto. It always looks wonderful, and this year is no exception. Tonight Paola and I agree that we'll cook pranzo on Saturday for the work party. There is much prep work to be done inside the little school before it is ready for painting. And we hope we'll have a dozen or more people to work.

December 15
We drive to Orvieto to meet Candida and Franco for coffee and then return to their house so that Dino can wire a lamp for them. I'd like to return to Rome later today to purchase the rest of the fabric for the school project, but we have to wait to hear from Antonio...

Yes, we have the go-ahead, so drive on to Rome and we're going to exit 25 on the Gran Raccordo. That means lots and lots of traffic, and it takes us more than two hours to reach the store we are looking for.

Nope, their inventory information is incorrect, and we are unable to purchase all the material we want at that location, so we drive on back toward our house, reaching the second store and finding what we want.

Now Italy has a way to go in terms of customer service. We were able to receive a 20% discount at the first location, because we purchased more than ten meters. But since we purchased all they had and wanted more, if the store was an American store, we would be able to take the same discount to the second location. No luck.

We find ourselves on a newly painted road, and the Italians love it. With no lines yet, they make up their own queues. I do think the Italian government could save a lot of money by not painting lines at all. You've heard that before here. I'm quasi-serious.

It's dark, we're on our way home and I think out loud, "If we were in San Francisco, we'd be stopping somewhere for a pizza and beer." Somehow the Italian countryside is not conducive to stopping in for a pizza. I know that sounds strange. But it's a full meal deal that the Italians expect, even for cena (dinner).

Dino tells me that we should find a place wehre we can have just what we want, and there is a place in nearby Giove. It is a regular restaurant, but they'll accommodate us. Dino is in the mood for a "Cappreciosa with two eggs". I always order Margherita. Simple is better I believe. Dino gets a kitchen-sink kind of pizza, with those two eggs sunny-side up in the center.

It's a good way to end the evening, and Sofi lays patiently in the car 'till we're through.

December 16
This is a work party day at the ex-school in our village, with still more volunteers working at the Duomo. The Duomo is ready for it's restoration, finally, after all these years. So some of the folks who Antonio expects to help are not around. Our job is massive, or so it looks at first.

I've finished one set of drapes, and bring them by for Dino to hang and test. There will be five sets of drapes, and two of them will be longer than the other three. Since the material is a plaid, we agree that all five will have to line up at the bottom. Since I'm not a particularly adept sewer, I'm of a mind to measure many times, asking Dino to put them up more than once as soon as I finish another panel.

There's much talk about the paint. I suggest that we paint the main walls a creamy yellow, for the background of the plaid is yellow. But there is a greenish yellow in there somewhere, and just about everyone else wants the walls to! Mamma mia! I respond by saying that it's known that green walls are not conducive to good digestion. How's that?

A few of the people actually think I'm onto something. There will be some kind of a democratic vote, so I'm sure the walls will be green. Later I'm actually hoping they'll be green, for I don't want to have that kind of influence on the paint color.

I am a straniera. I will always be a stranger in our village. My interest in suggesting and sewing the drapes is just because I love these people and want to give them something that they will love. What I like is irrelevant. And later as I'm at home sewing away, I'm ready to call Paola to tell her to buy the green. I would hate to think that they chose yellow to placate me.

Now it appears from our color research over the years that Italians love bright colors. They love it everywhere. So mentioning the contrasting green in the plaid was a normal response. It will be interesting to see what happens, and what the final look will be. I am sure it will be good, regardless.

I'm at home and at the school, back and forth, and bring up the lasagne and salad around noon. Paola cooks it in her oven, and then we set a big table in the kitchen of the school. Pranzo is fun, with local wine, freshly sliced prosciutto by Laura and Mauro's special slicer, and lots of conversation.

Pepe always slices the bread, and does it against his chest. "Durante il guerro..." he begins (during the war...) and he slices a very thin slice of bread at an angle, telling us that it's sliced that way to make the pieces look bigger. Those days were very lean ones for the Italians, and they never forget it.

After pranzo I return home with Sofi and sew for the rest of the afternoon and early evening. My back is sore, there is a lot of material to sew, but it looks good. By the time I stop I have the third set of drapes almost finished. Hopefully I'll finish the whole five tomorrow.

Tomorrow we'll be ready to paint, and it's conceivable that we'll actually be finished by the end of the day. The morning call is for 8:30 so no, Dino won't go to mass. I'll sew at home until it's time to walk up, go to mass and then check in on everyone. Paola will fix a pasta pranzo, so I'll have no work to do in the kitchen. Speriamo.

Antonio is unhappy with Enzo, who appears to have worked at the Duomo instead of with us. We'll find out more about that tomorrow. Mauro and Livio were able to work at both places. I'm interested to see what is going on at the Duomo, and what kind of team of restorers they will have to work with.

We're both tired, and for about six days in a row I have recurring heartburn. SOoI'll go to Dr. Bifferoni on Tuesday. It's obviously a hernia think. It's a drag getting old...

December 17
Dino decides to forego mass, choosing to join the others at the painting party at the school. I walk up before mass and say hello, then tell them I'll return to help in an hour.

Once inside the church, Felice sits so far at the edge of a far pew that I think he'll fall into the aisle. Marsiglia is not with him today, so I walk over to him and give him a hug, then tell him I'll sit next to him. He smiles but is somewhat unaware of what is going on.

Don Ciro arrives and the mass begins. But just after the collection has been brought up to the altar, there is a commotion on the other side of the aisle, and Argentina is having a stroke. She's surrounded by women, the young Romanian woman who cares for her cries out in horror, Laura stands in the back of the church and weeps and Livio rushes up to her and the women surrounding her put her down on the narrow bench and Livio holds her feet up high. He seems to know what he is doing.

On "our" side of the aisle, Giuseppa stands quietly in the aisle and watches. I'm next to her standing in the aisle, with Felice stone-faced on one side of me and dear Candida, Paola's grandmother, on the other.

"Menache!" she cries out under her breath, and I hold her hand tightly. Enzo and Tiziano are the only other men in the church, and Enzo rushes out to bring their car around. Tiziano stays put by the door.

All the while, Don Ciro looks somewhat stunned that his mass has been turned upside down. No one had any intention of returning to the mass. So he steps down in his purple vestments and stands over Argentina.

At this point I am thinking I am Argentina, just waking up and looking up and seeing the priest looking down at me. As dear as Don Ciro is, he is not whom she wants to see...

Argentina is straightened up and taken out of the church as if she's a wounded football player being gently escorted off the playing field. I watch Enzo drive off with Argentina on the passenger side, and three women sitting in the back. Giuliola closes the doors to the church and the mass continues without comment.

Everyone in the church is somewhat shaken. We know that Argentina has some kind of Alzheimer's disease, but no one was ready for this. The mass ends and we all file out silently. I walk over to the school to find Dino painting away and fill him in on all the excitement.

I stick around and paint, and join in all the fun of the group at pranzo in the kitchen. There are ten of us, and I am reminded how much fun it is to work on a project with Italians. There is always a buildup in the morning and a crescendo at around 1PM when the pasta is brought in and served on long tables with local wine, prosciutto and cheese, salads and desserts.

Pepe slices the bread again, and this time Sofi is not around. So I return home after pranzo with a "doggie bag" from Pepe, consisting of pieces of the ends of a piece of cheese and a few slices of prosciutto. She's been very patient, and loves her meal. Aferward we move upstairs to the guest bedroom, where I sew away until Dino returns some hours later. I'm exhausted and so is Dino. This time, his spine and the back of his leg are in pain. He's going to need an injection for the pain, we are both sure. It's an early night for all of us.

But just around 6 PM the doorbell rings, and it is Oysten, our Norwegian friend who lived here for a few years but has returned to live in Norway. He's back for a quick visit, and we're happy to see him, so we sit around with a glass of wine before the fire and chat.

I'm later sorry about the wine, for a headache rears it's ugly "head", continuing for more than a day.

December 18
I know we have not posted this month, but we've been so busy and I'm really not in the mood to write. So I slog along, knowing that we'll want to read all about what we've done later....

Today I work in the morning on making topiary centerpieces for New Year's Eve, and they consist of Styrofoam balls with hazelnuts glued on, then sprayed, mounted on sticks and standing tall in terra cotta pots. On New Year's Eve I'll add fresh greens and ribbons. No plastic for this girl...ever, if I can help it.

We have an early pranzo, and my headache continues, but it's not so bad that I can't go to my art lesson. So Dino drives me on, and Marco is impressed that I would section my drawing off in quadrants. We are alone for at least an hour, and work through some of the problems I am having. There are major inaccuracies in the original, so he shows me how to work around them. There is much work to be done.

I am thinking that this is just an exercise, but there is very good news. This is to be used as a template for the actual oil painting. Marco brings out a roll of carbon paper, and it will sit behind my drawing when I'm ready. I'll then draw over my pencil lines and it will be transferred onto the actual canvas.

Here's a scan of the picture that I'm starting from:

Marco tells me that "tanti anni fa" (many years ago), artists used the hole pinpricks that I use for transferring designs on my ceramics to achieve a similar result. This is all very exciting, the hours and hours I've put into this drawing making a great deal of sense.

Dino arrives after dark to pick me up, and Marco explains what is going to take place. So although I will not have another session with Marco until the end of the year, I'm to take my drawing home and finish it. That's a lot of work, but it will be very interesting. I'm excited about the process.

At the beginning of today's session I admitted to Marco that I was not satisfied with my "Pascale's Bull" painting, telling him that I want to paint light and shadows in the background. He agrees that I should take it home and work on it, for the paint is still pretty wet.

I have much to do in the next few weeks. First, I'm committed to making all the drapes for the school, now numbering some ten windows. Then it's Christmas pranzo. Then work on the painting, and work on the drawing, and make more of those damn persimmon puddings for holiday presents. Then it's helping Babbo to get his presents ready, and of course the distribution on Christmas Eve. I'm sure more things will come up, for this is the season, but I'm enjoying all of it.

December 19
Today I have a pedicure with Giusy, and it's great to see her again. But on the way we drive by a man standing with his back to us on the side of the road. Come on. These Italian men get a real charge out of going to the bathroom on the side of the road. I can't believe it's not illegal. I can't imagine seeing someone do this in the U S, or anywhere else. What does it all mean? I'll have to report back after doing some investigating. Does anyone we know partake of this grotesque antic?

We drive on to Viterbo, for we're on the quest for red and blue grembulie (aprons) for the festarolo committee. There are six of us, and we have a real time finding any that are not "carina" and full of colors and patterns. Finally we find what we want, and the price is very cheap. So Dino knows of a woman who can stamp a design on it, and we drive over to convince her to do the six for us before New Year's Eve.

That done, we tell her we'll do the design at home and bring it camera ready for her. This has worked out better than I though. But Dino is in real pain, so we drive on to Narni, and he has his medicine from his past problems in a little case. When we are let into an entryway, we tell the nurse that we have the medicine, but need some instructions.

After a short wait, we're ushered in, and an attractive woman shows us where to mark Dino's butt on each side so that I can inject him with a combination of two drugs to dull his pain. We're to do this each morning until the pain goes away. Last time, more than a year ago, it took five days. I think this time it will take less.

We're soon on the superstrada and stop for a little pasta at an Autogrill. These side-of-the-road rest stops are marvelous. I can't imagine anything as good in the U S. Italians are so serious about their hot meals at the middle of the day. And there is always a wonderful pasta, served up quickly while we stand in line.

We're back in the car and home in no time, and then I'm working back on the topiaries for New Year's Eve. Dino drives off for errands, and I move on to work on the drapes for the school. He returns home and we go over the drapes, figuring out that two of the drapes need a little reworking. That's not bad out of ten so far. So I work on them while Dino works on the design for our aprons. Tomorrow he'll take the artwork to Viterbo to be stamped.

Tonight we drive up to the school, where painting and cleaning is in full swing. I 'm not dressed to paint, so stand around with a little tool helping Dino, while he does some touchup. Paola asks me if I'll come back tomorrow night to clean, and of course I will. We leave after a while, and it's a cold night. Although I am not a fan of green walls, I think the finished project will work out well.

While we're standing around, Tiziano tells us that the last time the school was used as a school was over twenty years ago, when Antonio was ten. Antonio agrees, and he and Tiziano try to name the students. Now that the building is freshly painted, perhaps it's time for a reunion.

It's good to be home, and it's late, almost midnight. Perhaps with Dino's drugs he'll be able to sleep tonight. And as I turn in I hear Sofi snoring away next to my side of the bed. At least one of us will get a good night's sleep.

December 20
Sun! Finally it's a lovely day. During this time of year my thoughts are of those darn cachi's (persimmons) that we turn into steamed puddings for friends and neighbors as holiday presents. Yes, we still give jams and the fig and ginger preserves that everyone loves, but this treat is especially tasty.

On these days, Dino ventures out at least once, if not twice a day, usually to Viterbo or Amelia or Tenaglie and Montecchio to do errands and shop. Today he returns back overwhelmed by the sites in the huge grocery stores.

The stores are mobbed, and no one is buying food. They are buying cheap gifts, you know, those six-foot tall blowup dolls and cute little nothing presents that find their way to the trash bins before the year is out. Italy has adopted the very worst of America's consumer mania.

I hate all of it. Aside from the Italian planting calendars that we give to a couple of close friends who love to garden, every gift we give is something that we have made. We don't give gifts to each other, nor do we shop for gifts for the holidays, except for the Babbo Natale presents for local children on Christmas Eve. The season seems more spiritual, less stressful.

When I'm not at the sewing machine today making the drapes for all the windows of the ex-school (we still don't have a name for the village community center), I'm making persimmon puddings for gifts or table decorations for New Year's Eve. I'm hoping we can have a celebration without any plastic decorations, and since we've asked to be in charge of the decorations for the festa, we'll see if we can carry it off.

I'm so tired by the time Dino changes into work clothes to go up to do more painting and cleaning, that I'm not joining him tonight. He'll tell Paola and Antonio that I'll clean tomorrow during the day. I don't have the strength to work tonight. So Sofi and I go up to bed while Dino drives off to meet the neighbors and do some more painting. They should be about finished, depending on how dry the doors are and how many coats they'll need.

The good news is that all the drapes for the main rooms are finished, as are the three windows in the vestibule. The bathroom curtains are almost finished, and I have only to sew the kitchen curtains and the tiebacks and I'll be done. We're thinking we'll hang them up on Friday during the day as a surprise for the rest of the group, and they'll see them in the windows when they drive home after work.

Tomorrow I hope to finish the drapes and make at least six more persimmon puddings. Since they take two hours each to make, and we have room on the stove for three of them at one time, it should take the better part of the day. Until the persimmons run out, I'll keep making them, so perhaps we'll still be making them after the first of the year. That depends on how many persimmons are left on the tree near the lavender garden. I'll take a look tomorrow and we'll pick what's left on the tree, letting them ripen in the loggia instead of falling on the ground.

The new hernia medicine is easy to take, and I'm feeling better almost right away. Dino is better also, this morning's injection helping a great deal. I'm thinking he'll only need a couple more daily injections until he's feeling completely well. It really helps to be able to give him the injections when the pain flares up.

I turn in while Dino's gone, sure to be asleep when he returns. Hope he does not work too late painting and cleaning up. But once he arrives, there is so much spirit and camaraderie going on that it's hard for him not to get into the rhythm of it all. This is a truly delightful village and we're happy to help whenever and wherever we can. It's also a lot of fun.

December 21
"Someone really needs to take up the task of promoting interreligious dialogue in Italy with the unique spiritual vision of Archbishop Di Filippo. It was not just diplomacy or politics; he saw interreligious relations as a way to advance human spiritual development..." This just in from Don Francis, and it's an interesting commentary. There is much talk about immigration in Italy, and about "stranieri". We are thankful that we are accepted as part of this village, but we will always be stranieri, or strangers. But then, people who were born in the next town are also thought of as stranieri, so that gives us some comfort.

As for spiritual dialog, we are a long way from being able to converse on such topics. It is the innuendoes that flummox us. Dino tells me that if he does not understand the very beginning of a dialogue, he is unable to comprehend any of it. It is the context of life here that is important. We seem to "get" the context pretty well, it is the details that we stumble upon.

Dino is in real pain, so after his morning injection, he rests awhile. As the day goes on, he spends most of it on the couch, and I venture out in the car for groceries. Let's see. This must make five times that I've driven the car since we moved here in 2002...How life has changed!

I manage to get the car back in the parcheggio, although I drive it in front first. Dino loves to maneuver the car around so that he backs in, making it easy to drive out. I'm hoping he'll be better later today so that he can take the car out and at least back it in. If I have to drive it again, I'll just back up slowly, hoping that no one is speeding down Via Mameli out of the village....

Today I make six more persimmon puddings, and freeze five of them. One will go to Diego tomorrow. I am SO SICK of making them, but they are such a good gift.

I take Sofi for a jaunt around the village on our favorite walk, and take a bag to pick up things left by the side of the road, mostly spent cigarette packs. Little "Piccola" runs hard on the pavement, sounding as if she's a herd of elephants. She so loves to run, stopping dead in her tracks whenever there is something really smelly in her path.

Italo is in his cantina cutting firewood, slowly, slowly, with a hand saw. It gives him something to do. It's bright and sunny, but not many people are out. I stop to say hello to Argentina, who is sitting with the girls and Giustino in his garage. She comes over to me and I give her a kiss. I don't think she knows who I am, but she is very sweet, and it seems to give her pleasure.

Dino is ready to go up to the school, so we drive up and take Sofi along. We're there by ourselves, and the rest of the crew has done an admirable cleanup job. There is more to be done, the bathroom needs some plumbing work, but the main work is done, with the exception of the bright blue doors, which need another coat or two.

We do some cleanup and some painting and I take more curtain measurements. I'm almost through sewing, and after we buy some more hooks we'll be ready to put them up. Saturday will probably be the day...

December 22
Dino is in real pain. After his injection he tells me he is getting shooting pains in his lower leg. He wants to go to the hospital, but since it is a tendon thing, I tell him they have nothing to tell him. So after breakfast he goes onto the internet to find out that he needs to rest, put some cold on his calf, and to do more walking until it hurts, each day walking some more.

I'm sewing away, and he gets organized on his Babbo Natale gifts, setting them out and writing out the gift tags. We have something for every child on the list and a few more. There are usually one or two surprises, so we keep a couple of blank gifts on hand just in case.

We take a walk to the village, for he does not like the "strada bianca" or white road, below the village. And up ahead of us is Italo in his fish truck, parked near the bus stop. Yes, fish would be great for pranzo today. Why not linguine volgole, and why not mussels as well?

Even Sofi is happy to see Italo. She loves sniffing around the fish truck, and usually Italo has something special just for her. While I wait in line (Christmas Eve is a traditional seven-course fish cena) Marie orders Ř80! worth of fish. Whoever will she cook for? There are only three of them.

I love to watch these women ordering fish. There's always a discussion, and her 24 prawns become 28 and then Italo walks behind the truck to another door of the truck and comes out with an enormous eel. It looks like a snake and when he takes it out of the bag I think I am going to faint.

"OOOOOOOhhhh!" the women swoon. Is it because it is so ugly or because it will taste so good? I ask Marie if she is afraid, and she agrees that she is. I ask her if she will turn her head the other way and just chop at the thing with her knife? She tells me it is ugly, that it looks like a serpent, and I start to lose my appetite.

But it is my turn, and I choose a bag of vongole (tiny clams) and then just have to have a sack of cozzi (mussels). I'll fix them together with garlic and olive oil and white wine and steam them until they open, then take them out of their shells before the linguine is finished cooking. Otherwise, the pasta will be cold before the meat is out of the shells. Italo throws in some fresh presemelo and also a piece of white fish and a piece of perch for Sofi. We're all happy.

Dino has walked up to the village and back while I have waited and the flower truck has arrived, so he picks up five stalks of lilies to have in the kitchen for Christmas Day. I'll keep them out in the loggia in water until then.

On the way back, we come across Donato's mother in the middle of the street in front of their house. I ask her how she is and she tells me she is not good. She is losing her site (just like Giustino). One eye is totally blind and the other she tells us is inoperable for I think a cataract. I like this woman a lot and perhaps this is a sign that I need to make a better effort to spend time getting to know her. She is surely lonely.

Although he's in pain, the walking has done him good, so he starts little project, fixing connectors, electrical outlets, things he can work on with a screwdriver at the table, while I'm cleaning the clams and mussels and making the sauce.

Sofi and Dino both love their pranzo. After we're through, Sofi wants a taste, so I give her some fish broth. She's in heaven, but will probably be drinking lots of water later. She's ready for a nap out in the sun.

I have more sewing to do, this time the tiebacks for the main rooms of the school, and before I'm done Dino wants to return to the school to paint. He must be doing better.

So we drive on up and I wash the front and side windows of the building even outside on the front window, although it is getting rather cold with the sun low in the pink and purple sky. Candida walks by with Ubik and does not come up to me. She's afraid, I think, to comment, thinking it's so strange that I would be washing the outside of the school window.

Dino continues painting the inside door trims, sitting down for the lower work. I do some kitchen cleanup, but really lose interest. The green in the main rooms is really hideous. I am hoping that the group will want to work on the kitchen after New Year's Eve, as it is the most important work room in the building, and if the kitchen is done, perhaps we can get renewed interest in using the building more.

Years ago the kitchen served as a kind of bar on weekends. It would be great to have the building used a lot, so a little effort may be worth while. We will see. Luigina's husband walk in while we are working away and is amazed at the work. He tells us that he was the President of the Agraria (or was he the Festarolo capo?) some years ago, and during that year there were nonstop dances and parties and bocce ball playing....He waxes nostalgic, telling us that it was a lot of work and the interest seemed to die out. I think he has lost hope. I'm hopeful he's in for some good surprises...

Livio and Valerio come in, and Livio tells us he worked alone last night. What a worker! He and Valerio work on putting the door handles back on the five inner doors, and I ask him about the broken window in the kitchen, hoping he'll be one of the interested people in getting it fixed. Magari!

With Sofi waiting in the car, we put on our coats and drive back home. I think we're settling in for a quiet evening, but Dino has renewed energy, and wants to return to the school to work tonight. I wish him a "bocca al lupo" (in the mouth of the wolf) and wait for his response "crepi" (and that the wolf dies")...but the phone rings and it is Terence.

I work on the tiebacks in front of the T V with Sofi, and Dino has a cocktail, then gets ready to return for another round of painting. For my part, I'll work on the drapes for the kitchen in the morning.

Did I tell you that this morning Dino was in such pain that he cancelled our pranzo with Diego? He really was in agony. But now he is full of life, so I think those injections are really working after all.

December 23
Merry Christmas and happy holidays! We wish you and those you love a peaceful holiday.

This photo was taken on our recent trip to San Francisco, where Babbo Natale purchased new duds. The girls were not particularly impressed...

Back here in little Mugnano the village is busy getting ready for Babbo and also for Capo D'Anno, or New Year's Eve. I've finished all but the curtains in the school kitchen, Dino and Sofi are at last asleep, getting a few winks before facing a new day. I've given the old guy today's injection, and he's still in a lot of pain. I'm encouraging him to get up and out, for as the days wear on and he walks around he seems to feel better. It's hell getting old....

With the unveiling of the drapes in the school to take place today, I'm actually excited. Now that we know that the kitchen window panel will be replaced and the kitchen cleaned and painted, I'm sure that there will be a real effort to use the building more.

Mauro told Dino last night that there may be a Festa della Donna in March and a Pasquetta (the day after Easter Sunday) dinner, so I wonder who he thinks is going to cook all this with such a small festarolo crew? Usually the men do all the work for Festa della Donna, but I'll of course get roped in, and that's fine with me.

I have lavender sachets to sew with the wonderful fabric we purchased in France. They're to be given to Donato's mother, Candida (Paola's grandmother), Marsiglia and Giuseppa. Otherwise, we've only to make gift tags and add a little ribbon and our gifts of persimmon puddings for our neighbors are all ready...

If you're hassled because of Christmas shopping, you may want to heed our advice. Our holidays are so much more joyful with the lack of shopping for gifts and the efforts placed on making things to eat and to dream on instead. Whatever you choose to do this holiday season, we hope that you will find peace in your hearts and the joy of feeling a generosity of spirit toward those around you.

December 24
With a sleepless, painful night behind us, Dino wants to return to the Narni hospital after mass to seek some relief from his nighttime agony. I'm ready to give him his injection, and after a few minutes he's acting peppy and silly. I just don't know what to think.

But today is Babbo's big day, and I'm hoping to do most of tomorrow's cooking today except for the pork roast, which Italians call arista, along with the sewing of the sachets for a few friends. We remember that we must do a "giro" with the tiny festarolo committee after mass, so it will be noon before we leave for Narni. The day is racing ahead of us and we have only begun.

Don Ciro is our priest today, and he glides in the front door of the little church at 9:35 for a 9:30 mass. We're still finished at around 10:15, and I'm anxious to start the giro, although it's quite cold in the shade.

What I seem to forget is that the giro is all about the conversation, a little time spent at each house talking about this and that. So what we think will be an hour takes two and a half and then Dino and I leave Mauro and Livio to finish, for I think Dino wants to get to the hospital at Narni. The boys are happy to continue on their own, secure that their wives are busy at home preparing their pranzo for whenever they arrive.

Dino has second thoughts about going to the hospital, and I am relieved on two counts; I'm really pleased his leg seems better, and I have so much to do before Babbo distributes his gifts tonight. But I realize that he wants to go after all and tells me that he thinks he can drive by himself. So I agree.

Meanwhile, I cook up some meatballs and prepare pasta shells al dente, then make a béchamel sauce and add it to lots of fresh sage and grated cheese. I pop it all into the oven until the top is crispy, and just as it's about ready Dino calls to tell me he's almost home.

The hospital gave him something to coat his stomach, I suppose for the effect the injections take, and I recall that Gigliola asked Dino recently if he is taking something for his stomach. He' s to return in a few days to see a specialist. In the meantime, we'll continue the shots and I'm encouraging him to take more walks.

After pranzo, we work around the house and Dino gets Babbo's gifts ready for the children. I'm working on other projects and late in the afternoon take a little time to sew up some sachets with the beautiful silk taffeta we purchased in France, with lace we purchased in San Francisco and fill them with lavender. I run out of energy after about six of them, and determine that number is fine for tonight. They're really quite lovely.

I've made stuffing for tomorrow's arista, cooked carrots with ginger, snapped string beans to serve with cashews, steamed asparagus, fixed home made apple sauce and taken one steamed persimmon pudding out fo the freezer for tomorrow's dessert. Tomorrow morning we have only to cook the pork loin and finish the stuffing, steam the beans, and add some finishing touches to the vegetables.

Before we know it it's time for Babbo to get dressed, and I take out the steamed puddings from the freezer to give to certain neighbors. I wrap each one and Dino writes the tags. He finishes getting dressed, and we kiss Sofi goodbye for a while and head out the door with Babbo's new strip of leather with it's jingly bells.

The night is mild, for there is no wind, and we have three baskets full of goodies. There are twenty children and thirty nine adults who get their pictures taken with Babbo.

Before the giro is through, we've left a few at doorsteps or with relatives for children to come a day later and agree to return to Vincenza and Augosto's after mass.

We're at home just long enough for Babbo to take off his costume and poor Sofi is left alone again in the kitchen. We're back in church just in time and Don Luca is the priest, with Julia and Salvatore and Federic0 as altar servers.

The mass is really sweet, with Federico wide-eyed, gaping around at the presepio right next to him and making faces at Salvatore, who sits on the other side of Don Luca. The mass is over in no time and we walk down the hill to Vincenza's, where the dinner and passing out of gifts is still going on at just before midnight.

We're given a very sweet candle and special coffee from Castroni in Rome. It is so aromatic that Dino can't wait to go home and try it. That will definitely have to wait until the morning. There is also an ornament from Paola, and lots of conversation about the local desserts, a carameled almond treat that is very crunch and delicious and a sweet pasta made with think pasta, baked with cinnamon and sugar. I'll put the recipe on this site after the first of the year. We are told it is a local traditional dessert for Christmas.

Vincenza asks me how I am feeling and I am very tired. So she teaches me a new phrase, one that becomes a favorite. I am "stanco morto" or "dead tired". Hearing it in Italian is almost shocking, but very funny.

Back at home, I cannot wait to get into bed. With most of the work behind us, I'm reminded of how tired my father was at Christmas Eve each year. He worked so very hard, and on those last few years, after he had a number of small strokes, I could see him struggle to walk up the stairs to his room. Christmas really took a toll on him.

I love to hear Christmas Carols at this time of year, but as I hear them now on our iPOD I think of working at one of my father's stores during the holidays, and of the one Christmas record that was played over and over and over again until it drove me crazy. I have to smile. That was so very long ago and so very far away...

December 25
After Dino's injection I'm up and ready to get to work, decorating for...Christmas! No, the wreaths were not put up before today, nor was the little tree decorated and put up in the entry hall. Nor was the kitchen decorated. But I have ideas....

Since most of the meal was prepared in advance, I'm not worried. While Dino hangs the wreaths on the front door and lights the presepio, or manger, I decorate the front hall, the tree, and a very big arrangement on the middle of the table in the kitchen where we are to eat.

The arrangement is so big that it dwarfs everything on the table, but it's just what I wanted to prepare. With greens from the cypress trees and laurel tree, and an assortment of: clementines, lemons, apples, pears, bananas, grapes, artichokes, red peppers and lilies in a black wroght iron container, we'll have to move it after our guests arrive.

There are also the last of the roses...really. In the garden, a trio of Pat Austin roses pops out just in time to put them in a vase, as if we don't have enough flowers on this day....

I almost forget to put the roast in the oven, but have been cooking the stuffing to get it crispy, so at just before noon the roast goes in. Dino asked me to not get stressed, so I determine that we will eat....whenever. Candida and Franco are bringing the first course, a soup, and we'll have plenty to eat. Since Candida is a vegetarian, I am determined that she will have lots of special things to eat.

They call to say they're late, and that's fine with me. By the time they arrive the roast is still not done, but they bring a delicious farro soup to have first and we're not in a hurry.

The afternoon rolls on in a leisurely pace, and everything turns out wonderfully well. There is so much to eat, that we all agree it would be a good idea to take a walk to the school so that they can see the result of all our work. So we saunter up the street, introduce them to neighbors, and on the way back I'm able to tell Italo that I'm "stanco morto". I love this new phrase. He bursts out laughing when he hears it.

As our guests prepare to leave, we look across to Chia, where their living presepio begins tonight. It is such a special treat that we recommend that they go. We've gone before and are just too tired. So they drive off to see this magical event, and we settle in to make phone calls to the U S and to just hang out in front of the T V.

It's been a lovely day, and as we close this chapter on another Chirstmas, Dino reminds me that this is our ninth Christmas spent in Mugnano. We look forward to many, many more.

December 26
I'm no longer "stanca morta" (dead tired), for it's nine o'clock when I get up to take a shower. Today is Santo Stefano, the day after Christmas, and as Laura tells me later, many people don't eat pranzo at all today, after all the food for the past two days.

We're having Dino's favorite, left-overs. But first we take a walk up into the village to distribute photographs. It's pranzo time, so most people are at home, and it gives us an excuse not to join our neighbors.

We do stop at Ken and Pam's, and Ken tells us his plan to get our village connected to the twenty-first century, technologically speaking. He thinks we can get a T-1 line. I know, you're laughing, as you ramble about the internet on your ADSL connections, or something even spiffier. We're thankful for anything we can get, and are told we will never get ADSL. So we're searching for the next best thing.

After pranzo I work for a few hours on the painting, detailing the drawing until I have the angel just as I want him. The face of San Vincenzo is still a puzzlement, but I have a few more days to get him right.

Just before 5PM we walk up to the borgo and into the Palazzo Orsini for a chamber music concert. There are seventy chairs set up, and before the concert starts there are more than one hundred people wanting to get in.

We have seats, and speaking of seat these are black wooden ones with red cushions, just perfect for our New Year's Eve gala. As soon as the concert finishes, Dino walks over to Tiziana and asks her if we can use them. Puor troppo, the Comune will be using them on New Year's Eve. So it's back to the benches we started with in the first place.

We walk home and encounter Pia, who tells us about a special concert on New Year's Day in Viterbo. It is very thoughtful of her to think of us. We have not been to a concert, or anything else, in the theatre in Viterbo, so it should be fun. But she'll be at our dinner the night before, so we'll see her then.

After a short while at home we drive down to the Gasperoni house to share some time and to exchange gifts. Most of the conversation is about the painting I am doing, for I've brought the original photo to ask Tiziano questions.

Enzo is able to see his family house in the photo, and Tiziano explains that the wording at the bottom relates to the priest at the time of the painting. So he will ask Don Luca to find out the approximate date.

We tell them that it is my hope that I will finish it in the not too distant future, and perhaps it will find its home in the newly restored Duomo.

We again agree to go to the Comune with Tiziano after the first of the year to research stemmas, and there is yet another stemma on the bottom of my painting. This one has two cypress trees...

Speaking of cypress trees, the two trees surrounding the caduti monument have to be taken out. They are uprooting the pavement. Enzo tells us that he warned the people who planted them that they were the wrong kind of trees, and when I suggest that they be replaced with two cypress trees, his eyes light up. Yes, that is the correct type of tree, for it's roots grow straight down. That is why they are so adaptable in cemeteries.

We drive home and it is still above freezing. We have not wrapped our lemon tree, and it has a lot of fruit on it. We keep forgetting. SO I write a big note on the kitchen table as a reminder for Dino. Perhaps he will get to it tomorrow.

It's late, and as I walk into the bedroom my eyes are drawn to the image of a jolly moon outside our window, seemingly leaning back and rocking as if it's less than half a cup. Ion this cold winter night it looks cozy and happy.

December 27
As I write today's date, it is the anniversary of my father's birth, 101 years ago. I know that he is smiling down upon us, and send him a kiss.

Dino wakes up with pain, as usual, but we are out of medicine for his injections. Yesterday he started using Volteran salve on his calf. Later he'll call a new doctor in Orvieto. I am hopeful.

We drive to Sipicciano to Daniele for my hair treatment, and while I'm there Dino drives to Viterbo for errands. We drive back home for pranzo, love those leftovers, and later in the afternoon Angie pays us a visit for tea.

We love spending time with Angie, and these times are few, for she is mostly here to take care of Sofi in our absence. She is full of stories about friends we know and pets she loves. Sofi seems content to sit on my lap after a big "fare una festa" to welcome her good friend.

This morning Dino called a German doctor who works in Rome and in Orvieto to set up a medical consultation, but he'll not return from a trip to Germany for a week or two, when Dino will meet with him. In the meantime, he has given Dino instructions and names of medicine to take to hold him over. We are both encouraged, especially since he'll be able to converse with the doctor in English.

We have planned to go bowling (!) with Franco and Candida this week, for fun, but between Dino's leg pain and our schedules, we're going to postpone it until their trip back from the U S.

I've been able to spend a couple of hours on the drawing of San Vincenzo, mapping out the village buildings at the bottom. Tomorrow I hope to finish a lot of the other details, including the saint's elaborate vestment and the clouds.

Marco calls to invite me to dinner on Friday after art class, but I call him back later to decline. Dino muses to Angie, "Oh, sure. First it's an innocent dinner with her art teacher. Then it's a weekend at some art conference and then...You know these art teachers and their pupils!" I tell Marco I am unable to attend, even after Dino's silliness. All Marco's other students appear to be beautiful young women....

December 28
Dino is in real pain after a sleepless night, so locates our local doctor and gets a prescription for enough injections to last until our visit with the specialist in Orvieto in a couple of weeks. They agree that he should get his injections at night before bed, and we'll try that for a while. Once he's up and about each morning he's feeling much better.

I encourage a walk, and this helps a lot. We all walk up to the borgo with the last of the photos from Babbo to distribute. One is for Livio and Gigliola, and Livio has prepared a wonderful Auguri! sign to greet the revelers at the club on New Year's Eve. It's lit up in bright colors and...come no?

We've finally wrapped the lemon tree, and there are plenty of lemons, perhaps more than we have ever had in the past. We use the entire roll of fabric, and I'm hoping that by wrapping it closely and well the leaves won't move, so they won't burn as they have in the past.

I am able to spend a couple of hours on the drawing, and send Dino back to the borgo to take photos of the little caves along Via Mameli. Once the painting has been finished, all the locals will be very interested in the detail at the bottom, namely, the details of the houses and cantinas in Mugnano.

So the detail is important. Tomorrow Dino will need to take better distance photos of the cantinas, with the borgo behind them. Many of the buildings are several hundred years old and are in the painting, so I'm agreeing to take more care to be sure that I am accurate. I have no idea what that means for my lesson on Friday.

What I do know is that Dino agrees that we'll bring the painting home from class each time I attend, so that I can continue to work on it at home. Since the painting will take some months to complete, I need to spend as much time as I can on it. There is so much detail in it that I am sure I won't become bored. I am just hopeful that I can do it justice.

I've told Dino that I won't finish the kitchen drapes until the kitchen project has been completed at the club. That way there will be more impetus to finish it. Let's hope the work takes place in January.

The new recycling cans have been installed in the village, and they are big and cheery and colorful. We saw them on our walk today, and of course Dino had to open them up and look inside. He found...nothing. So let's hope the villagers comply. For at least the present, the old metal trash bins remain nearby.

Dino gets his injection tonight, so we'll see if it will help him to sleep, help us both to sleep. Sofi seems to do fine either way.

December 29
No, Dino does not sleep much, and he's going to call his new doctor who is vacationing in Germany. "I'm going to take things into my own hands" he tells me. I don't blame him. Once he's up and about he will feel better, I am sure. So I send him to take more photos of the Orsini Palazzo and some of the older buildings in Mugnano to match up against the painting I am doing of San Vincenzo. "Take Sofi with you," I tell him, and put her on her lead.

I work on more of the details of the drawing and feel that I've gone as far as I can go without consulting with Marco. Dino returns and works on the new photos, then wants to cut and paste them into a long montage. By the time he's through, I'm in the midst of fixing pranzo, so give up on the whole project for now.

It's been ages since we've had a stir-fry, but we have fresh broccoli, the pork, and I find some basmati rice backstage. With onions, a few green beans and cooked asparagus, some corn starch and soy sauce and cashews, I put together an excellent dish.

I've forgotten the fresh ginger, but it tastes great just the same. Dino likes the way I find things to do with left-overs. I think he likes meals the second day even better than the first. Go figure.

We drive to Marco's, and I have an hour or so alone with him until the rest of the students arrive. Strauss waltzes are playing, and I feel like dancing, but I restrain myself. I'm in heaven, as we discuss the painting and work together to make changes to San Vincenzo's facial features. I can't say I'm satisfied, but agree that we can stop.

The next process is to work on the canvas, and he takes me outside with a piece of sand paper, and I sand down the finish until it is smooth. Then I bring it back inside and he takes out a huge piece of carbon paper, lying it on top of the canvas carbon side down and placing my drawing on top of that.

He gives me a ballpoint pen and tells me to draw the major lines in with a heavy stroke. So for the next two hours I do that, and the process is tiring. Then we take the carbon paper off, put the canvas back up on an easel, and he gives me a pencil to draw in lines that did not show through.

I'm thinking back to the artists of the Renaissance, who used pinpricks and a carbon bag to do the same thing. Marco tells me I've done a lot of the hardest work, but I am thinking that I have not even begun. Dino arrives and Marco takes out some spray that smells like hair spray and sprays the whole canvas.

I've decided to leave the canvas at Marco's for a week, and he gives me another assignment. "Take the second canvas, " he tells me, "and before using that do a sketch in pastels and then transfer it to the canvas."

I watched Giovanna do a still life in class today. She started drawing on a large sheet of paper, after she and Marco and Michela organized a teapot, a bottle of wine, a cup, a partially peeled orange, two strawberries and a large white cloth inside a large box with a light. After copying it onto paper, she took out pastels. I think she'll then paint the same with oils.

So will I paint a still life? Yes, I'd like to do a still life with a big piece of fabric undulating under a plate of fruit. But I am thinking of another subject: I have wanted to paint my first toe shoes, and I have them right here in the house. They are more than fifty-seven years old, and were only used for me to play in. Once I actually became adept enough to dance in them, they were much too small.

So I have an idea of a pastel of a young dancer, Degas-like, who is sitting down and bending over to put on her toe shoes. One shoe sits nearby on the floor, the ribbons carelessly askew. The dancer's face is not shown, just the back of her head; her head tied in a chignon, her skirt a costume of stiff taffeta over tulle.

Once New Year's Eve is through, I'll have plenty of time to draw. We'll pick up some pastels in Viterbo, or in Orvieto tomorrow when we're there for the Umbria Jazz Festival. Perhaps Candida knows where we can find some.

I'm really tired, and look forward to coming home after my lesson to "veg". After watching a few shows on TV, I take Sofi upstairs. Stanca morta: that's what I am. And Dino is not doing so well, either, although he has spoken with his doctor and has picked up some new medicine to try from Vezio, our pharmacist.

Tomorrow we'll finish making the decorations for New Year's Eve. They are looking good, and consist of ten topiaries made with hazelnuts or walnuts in terra cotta pots, the nuts sprayed gold, with fresh greens and ribbons coming out of the terra cotta pots.

We also have two dozen little pots sprayed gold, with colored flat candles inside. The decorations will be used on the center aisles of the long tables, and there won't be much...Fresh greens and candles and topiaries every so often. Our little Christmas tree with lights will be placed above the music stand, and I'm thinking we'll be able to get away without any "carina" plastic flowers and gaudy ribbons.

Dino picked up our grembuli (aprons), and they are fun, with all six of our names and the Festaroli di Mugnano 2006-2007 emblazoned on the front, with the outline of the tower in the middle. I love them, and they'll be aprons we'll use forever.

The aprons will be "unveiled" on Sunday night and yes, I'm looking forward to the event. Everyone is so appreciative of our efforts, and the event will also be the first time that the villagers have seen the new décor inside the building. Perhaps we'll see if we can come up with a new name that night, too.

December 30
With one day to go before our New Year's Eve festa, we join Candace and Frank in Orvieto for an Orvieto Jazz pranzo at San Francesco with the Zydeco Hell Raisers. I think I see the man who is the head of the jazz festival and want to tell him that we miss Mitch Woods, but the Hell Raisers are so wild that I decide it 's not the best thing to do for Mitch, although it would be great to see him again. I do not like this place as a venue for loud music. The walls are ancient stone walls, the room long and on the narrow side, and the room is not conducive to the music we listen to. But the fellow who heads the group and plays the accordion is out of this world.

We drive on home for a few hours and time to spend with Sofi before returning to Orvieto for tonight's concert in the Teatro Mancinelli, a tribute to Domenico Modugno. What? Are you wondering if he ever did anything except..."VO-LAH-REH! O-O"?

Well, he did, and his jazz arrangements are really fine. Since falling in love with the arrangements of Ahmad Jamal years ago, I play a lot of attention to arrangements, and Domenico was a really accomplished musician, albeit "over-the-top". Actually, the pieces I like the best are those with a quick tempo and a lot of action and horn playing. I'm not sure it's enough for us to want to go out and buy one of his cd's, but the concert is a treat.

We sit in box seats, unfortunately not with our friends, but I'm able to rest against the velvet curb to look down at the seven performers. The man who plays Domenico is a funny looking character with a flat hat, skinny as a rail, his body reminding me of a pipe cleaner, the way he flings his arms about.

The audience just loves him. As the concert begins the stage is dark, and we are hearing Domenico being interviewed, a few bars of "Volare" playing in an un-appealing way in the background. So as the concert commences, I am sure everyone in the audience is thinking, "So when are they going to play" Volare?"

The concert goes on and on. The piece that we think is the last one is one of the wildest jazz pieces I have ever heard, the drummer and the alto sax player and the horn player wringing wet, the audience worked up into a frenzy...

Just then, the "Domenico" type returns to the microphone in silence and begins to sing the opening stanza so quietly that we can hardly hear him. Everyone in the audience moves forward in their seats....They all know the words.

But just as he is about to sing the famous chorus, he raises his right arm and his hand opens up toward the audience. He looks out at us and cocks his head like a bird...and then...

"VO-LAH-RE! O-O!" It s US! We're all singing it! He doesn't say a word, just raises his arms to lead us in the refrain.

I love these moments. They are theatrical marvels, those never-forget kind of moments, like the time Carmine Coppola led his orchestra during a live performance of Abel Gance's film Napoleon at the San Francisco Opera House when the film broke...

or the edge of our seats feeling we experienced at the Rome Opera on the night we heard a young tenor in L'Asir D'Amor's standing ovation after the signature aria and the orchestra conductor helping him to gain his composure to repeat it again as the opera stopped short to hear him repeat his remarkable aria. He was so moved he could hardly open his mouth, and then...

Umbria Jazz goers are excellent audiences. They love their jazz, or the music that is played at these festivals that some call jazz. They are not the typical Italian sit-on-their-hands audiences. So we enjoy these concerts. It was fun to attend two events today, and afterward we stop for a drink at one of the many bars in Orvieto to wind down. We'll miss our friends Candida and Franco, who will be in the U S for two months.

It's late when we get home, but Sofi is happy to see us, and although I go to bed with a headache, Dino asks me to rub the blue stuff on my forehead and temples and it actually helps.

December 31
I'm feeling somewhat better, but Dino is markedly better, taking drops several times a day that are opium based for his leg pain. I imagine him sitting around in a robe smoking from a hooka, and then realize that's not Dino. These drops are not supposed to be habit forming, so let's drop the drama, Eva.

Bit by bit we get ready for tonight, and take a first look at the building around noon. It's completely cleaned and the tables are set with white paper. I've only to finish putting the greens on the topiaries and the window sills and Dino to blow up the balloons and hang them from the lights.

After making a chocolate cake for later and Dino grilling steaks for pranzo, we drive up to work on the details. The balloons are hung, the topiaries finished, the Christmas tree and the speakers and the iPOD set up. We're ready to go with time on our hands and return home so that Dino can download more music.

Dino drives off with Mauro to Viterbo to the caterer, and I walk up to the school, but no one is there. I find Gigliola and Laura and we all return to the building, readying the kitchen for the arrival of the food.

Dino and Mauro arrive with the food in heavy Styrofoam boxes (guaranteed to keep the food hot for three hours), the music plays, and we put on our aprons. On a roll, we take out long planks and set up the antipasto, all the while laughing and moving in harmony with each other. The food looks surprisingly good...

People start to arrive, and most of them walk right to the bathroom to take a look, amazed, simply amazed at the transformation. We surmise that this room has always been thought of, well, just a pit, with the lack of care, lack of even a toilet seat. In all its simplicity, it is now a sign that we're all serious about making this building a place to be proud of.

When they enter the main rooms, they are wide eyed, as if they're young children on Christmas morning. And then more people arrive and the drinks are served and before we know it we're serving and people are talking and enjoying themselves.

The topiaries are a very big hit. So is the décor. Our committee receives many "complimenti!" about the food and the festa in general. Here are some photos:

At midnight we hear a loud banging sound and it's the antics of locals setting off firecrackers. No one gets hurt, but this is a dangerous sport. No fireworks for us tonight, our first of the season will be of the official sort for San Vincenzo in three weeks.

People begin to leave, Dino cuts down balloons for the children, who have had a great time trying to reach the ones hanging in the hallway while the adults partied. As the group thins out, we can finally hear the music, and end the evening cleaning up to Latin dance music. It's been a fitting end to another memorable year.

Buon anno!

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