October through December, 2008

PROPERTY OF THE MONTH - NEW FEATURE! Each month in the journal we will feature one of the properties for sale on our web site.

This month's selection is a rare find. A beautiful large town house with a garden, terraces and views in the Historic Center of Amelia in Southern Umbria, one of Italy's oldest and most charming towns. The house is on 3 levels, not counting the grotto/cantina. It has 3 bedrooms, 4 bathrooms, huge kitchen and living room, two fireplaces a studio and a large improved loft that has two large rooms and a bathroom. Take a look!


October 1
Do I need to remind you that I am a bit superstitious? For many years, I've tried to remember to utter the words, "rabbit, rabbit" as the first words out of my mouth on the first day of each month. I suppose that is to ensure that I will be fortunate that month. I remember this morning, as I turn over to remind Dino. His response is, "Ah, rabbit, rabbit". Now about that word "ah". Will it count? We'll find out as the month progresses.

There are clouds above a foggy Mugnano as we wake, but before we leave the house much of the sky overhead has cleared. We're traveling to Viterbo to visit the Prefectura about applying for Italian citizenship.

First we stop in Bomarzo at Quatrofoglio for cappuccinos, and it is a very attractive bar. It's the first time I've been inside this new bar on the outskirts of Bomarzo since we tried their pizza there just after it opened.

We drive on to Viterbo and Dino has his usual luck finding a parking space in a small lot located a block away from the main government building. Strangely, there are two cars waiting, but Dino drives right up and there is a space they have probably not seen. Va bene.

There is no wait at the Prefectura! Inside Mario sits behind the desk facing the door, treats us cordially and opens up his file of forms, showing us what we need to do. It does not look difficult. Dino thinks that is because the regulations for the Permesso di Sojourno, or permit to stay, are much more difficult. We're out of there in less than five minutes with our homework assignments.

There's wood filler to purchase for the new castagno poles of the pergola, which is not easy to find. Centro Legno does not have it, but OBI does. We stop to pickup a few groceries and then return home so that I can make ceci and pasta soup, which Dino loves. Now that it is fall, soup season is upon us.

This afternoon we are about to drive back to Viterbo to look for the cinque cento for Pietro's son. But Pietro calls to tell us they'll put it off until his next visit. So I change clothes and work some on the cestino (basket) in the painting standing against the fireplace in the kitchen. It is almost too tall to stand on an easel, at least for any painting of it with the exception of the lowest portion, and that part is finished.

I attempt to mix the "cocktail" that I drink every night...ten gocce (drops) of Laroxyl in a glass of water. But the dropper does not work, so I imagine that since the little bottle does not have much left in it, I can easily take the dropper off and measure an amount into the glass. I remember hearing that even with 25 drops, I probably won't have a problem.

What is Laroxyl anyway? Well, the doctor tells us that it's a preventative measure to keep migraines from cursing my life as often as they used to. So I pop off the dropper and pour what I think is a good amount into the glass. It tastes weird, but I follow it with a glass of water and think I will be fine.

I'm not really interested in TV, so turn in early and read only a few pages of my book before wanting to turn off the light. But in the next fifteen minutes I begin to have a reaction from the medicine, and by the time an hour is up I think I am having trouble breathing. Sorry for the drama.

Roy asks me if I want to go to the Pronto Soccorso (Emergency Room) at the hospital in Orvieto. I do, and somehow we arrive there to an almost empty department. I'm asked questions that I think are absurd: "Why did you take too much medicine?" is one I recall. No, I am not depressed.

A fellow in an orange jump suit comes in and mixes a charcoal cocktail that I am to drink. It's pretty terrible, but so what. They then put an I V tube in my arm and tell me to lie down on a bed that is as hard as a rock. When the drip is finished, we're told we can leave, and in another 25 minutes we're back home in bed.

Lesson learned? The dropper is on the bottle for a reason...

October 2
So about saying "rabbit, rabbit" early yesterday morning. The gods are laughing down at me. We get up on the late side and I'm feeling all right but a little weak.

I'm not too weak to pick the last of the tomatoes in the upper orto, and some of the remaining ones below. Dino drives off to buy more jars and tops, and I work on the painting. It's rather mindless, painting this woven basket design, and I stop after a while, thinking I'll return to it this afternoon. My work on the basket will definitely be finished before my return to Marco's bottega on Monday.

GB has determined that October 15th will be the date of his anniversary party for Italian Notebook, so if you plan to be in Rome on that day, join us at 10 AM at Galleria Alberto Sordi for a cappuccino.

Down in the valley, Spillo is asleep lying on the ground with his mother watching over him in the morning, but after pranzo he is full of pep and running around the pen. Maggiolino must be loose, for he stands next to the fence of the pen, and it appears a big water trough is there. He is wagging his he shaking of flies or letting Priscilla know who's boss?

I don't have a lot of energy, so take an afternoon nap, with Sofi in her bed by my side. When I wake up an hour later, I look up ANSA to see what they think is news in English, and cringe when I read what has prompted the City Council of Venice to crack down on trash in St. Marco's Square.

"Among other things it has employed so-called 'City Angels', a band of young women, to tell tourists to put their shirts back on, stop putting their feet in fountains and have their picnics away from the most popular sites." Read the entire story:

While I've been resting, Dino has finished bottling our last batch of tomatoes for the year, and we'll have thirty jars to last us through the winter. If it had not been for eating so many of the tomatoes when they were ripe, we would have had more jars. It was worth it, certainly.

Tonight Dino measures out the drops of Laroxyl for me into a glass, and now understands that the dropper really does not work. I'll just take more time with it in the future and everything will work out.

October 4
We decided to get up to watch the U.S. Vice Presidential Debate at 3 AM, and it was worth it. There were no gaffes, Sarah Palin was her usual folksy self, but Joe Biden did as good a job as he needed to.

We've become friendly with a group of muratores who are Albanian and yes, they are integrating into Italian Society. Here's a bit from the NYT, in case you'd like to read about them. In the Italian popular imagination, Albanian immigrants are more often depicted as scofflaws than as upstanding members of society. Anti-immigrant sentiment runs high, and many Italians blame foreigners for what they say is a rise in crime. In recent months, there have been several highly publicized cases of violence against other immigrant groups.

But amid the turmoil, families like the Murrizis are quietly integrating into middle-class life in ways that Italy is only beginning to acknowledge. Like new shoots grafted onto an old vine, they are fast becoming an essential part of the country's most valued traditions, including winemaking.

The Murrizis work full time for the Salcheto winery, based in nearby Montepulciano, planting in spring, pruning in summer, picking in fall and preparing the vines in winter.

They are the new face of Italy, and Italy is slowly recognizing them."

Speaking of immigrants, we have an appointment this morning with our new commercialista (accountant) in Avigliano Umbro. When we drive into town, we see a sign that says the town is known for its embroidery, and ask Alessandro what that is all about.

He tells us that many years ago there were some grandmothers who made beautiful embroidery, but now there is hardly anyone who does anymore. The town is the brunt of jokes from neighboring towns. I read that The Filo d'Oro Avigliano embroidery association was founded in 2003 with the aim of safeguarding the strong local tradition in embroidery founded in the 1930s. Sister Giacinta runs embroidery classes from May through to September. Info: Associazione Filo d'Oro Avigliano Corso Roma, 50 á 05020 Avigliano Umbro (TR) á Italy Tel. 0744 933600 á Cell. 338 7788084. When we come home, I look up the town, and although there is a claim that at least Sister Giacinta keeps up the tradition, something else catches my eye...

In the forest outside Avigliano Umbro there are about fifty large tree trunks in a fossil forest, discovered in part during the 17th century. Origins place them back two million, yes million, years ago. Let's return with Tiziano for a tour and a notebook story.

I fix a stir-fry for pranzo. Is it my imagination, or does the Asian food not interest me any more? Perhaps it is the soy sauce, but I'm actually wishing I had made a pasta. Was it the Laroxyl or am I becoming Italian?

We stopped at Nando's earlier to find out about the castagno poles that will top off the pergola, and they won't be ready until late this afternoon. There will be nine of them, with a palombello on each end. It is all I can do to wait a week to drive to Chiusi to pick up the four wisteria. Perhaps I can convince Dino to drive me there earlier...

Dino does return to Viterbo for the screws, and if he takes Pandina he might just return with the wood and the screws before dark.

No, the wood is not ready. It will be ready tomorrow morning, so I won't be surprised if the pergola is finished by tomorrow afternoon. Unfortunately, the measurements are almost always wrong. So we'll let you know tomorrow.

I have Italian Notebook stories to write that I've promised, but Felice is waiting for me, and I must finish the cestino before Monday. Earlier this evening I counted twenty-five stories for the Italian Notebook. I have another fifty in the pipeline, with more ideas every week. This is such an incredible country, that researching the nuggets of gold hidden around almost every corner makes me happier and happier to be living this dream.

Of course, an hour in front of the TV watching Congress make a mess of the U.S. Government adds to my disappointment of all of the politicians. The revised bailout plan is so full of pork-barrel spending that they should all have their heads examined. But it finally passes by a good margin, and those taking credit for it are probably wondering, "What have we done?"

October 4
With the weather forecast "partly sunny", I see plenty of clouds overhead. As the morning wears on and Dino drives in Pandina to pick up his nine palombelli that are 3.6 meters long each, it begins to rain.

Dino returns and moves the wood to a spot near the pergola, and then comes in out of the rain. What follows is thunder and lightning, plenty of wind and cries from Sofi. She's really afraid of the loud noise.

Inside the kitchen I work on the cestina, and am sure that I will be finished enough with it to go over the design with Marco on Monday afternoon. After more research I've painted over his eyebrows and will repaint them with a very fine brush. My first attempt was not accurate enough. Perhaps I'll work on them tomorrow.

I'm sure Dino is very disappointed with the rain, for he'd love to screw the palombelli onto the top of the pergola. There's not a chance that that will happen. And this afternoon I have an appointment with Danieli. So I'll possibly finish my latest book. It is a wonderful day for reading.

After pranzo, Dino drives me to Danieli's and the price for coloring my hair is quite remarkable: €30. In Mill Valley, a similar procedure would cost $105. He works out of a room in his house, and that's all right with me. Today he moves the TV into the room and we watch National Geographic as well as the last inning of yesterday's baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the California Angels. It's a strange juxtaposition of cultures, but I leave smiling.

There is a big news story about people having difficulty renewing their Italian Permits to Stay. That is probably why we are having trouble renewing ours. The latest is a financial statement requirement, as we are pensioners, and we hope to have that cleared up in a few days. Otherwise, we have no idea what the delay is, but are not particularly worried. GB tells us a friend of his waited 19 years for his permit, so what's the hurry?

The Barberini Sisters have a wedding reception booked in Mugnano's Palazzo Orsini, probably today, and it's too bad that the weather is so bad. At least it is not raining when we return at 4 PM, but as of now we don't see any cars parked in their lot next to their land on the flats below the village.

We walk with Sofi up to the borgo to take a look at the sposa (bride) walking to the church. We think she is at Bruna's house, on the little street leading to the recently restored main church. We're like our neighbors, and laugh to each other about the times we've seen locals in other towns standing by the churches before a wedding, to get a look at the people dressed up for the wedding. It feels natural to now be one of the "locals".

The time for the wedding passes and we're bored, so walk home and Dino builds our first fire of the year. It is cold and damp outside, and the fire is beautiful. We celebrate it with a glass of the red wine from Cetona.

Sofi and I go to bed early; I'm strangely tired. But during the night a headache returns, and I think I remember having a headache last year after the first fire. It has something to do with smoke. Migraine headaches are strange, and there are a number of root causes. I know smoke is one, as is a change in the weather.

October 5
I still have a migraine in the morning, and Dino walks up to church without me. Afterward he takes Pandina to Nando's to load up on free firewood. Outside the lumberyard is a stack of free wood; they're remainders after poles and planks of wood are cut from the trunks of castagno trees and sold.

We're watching every penny these days as our savings dwindle, and the more we do the more I feel at one with the Italians of yore, who learned how to stretch a lira during the difficult days of WWII. This worldwide financial crisis has become a new war of sorts. "Sempre avanti" I tell myself. "Always forward".

It's a Brigadoon morning in Mugnano; bright clear skies at first light give way to a blanket of fog overhead at 9 AM. It's like this often during fall, with Mugnano rising from the fog like Brigadoon late in the morning; by noon it will be clear and Dino will be in the garden, screwing the new castagno poles to the top of the pergola.

Elsewhere, an emergency meeting of the heads of France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy has taken place. Sarcozy of France issues an interesting statement: "We want to put down the foundations of a capitalism of the entrepreneur and not of the speculator. We want transparency; we want moralization. We want the creation of value. We want people to have confidence," the French leader and summit host said.

"He called the crisis "an opportunity to build something," and said EU leaders hoped it would open the door to "a new world that has fewer of these things, these problems." Italy acts as if it is void of any banks with real financial trouble, and we're told the country may come out of this relatively unscathed. But its people, at least the older ones, are gearing up to be ready for it just in case.

I'm an optimist, so am hopeful that what Sarcozy has to say will bear fruit. I'm really disgusted at the financial mess in the U. S. and can imagine what people living there are thinking. We're invited to a Norwegian dinner at around 4PM at Pietro's, so snack at l'ora di pranzo and then Dino returns to the pergola. By now it is clear and cool, and he's in shirtsleeves taking on the final part of the project.

Inside, I finish the first pass at painting the cestino, and except for the handle and rim around the top it is finished enough to take to Marco tomorrow. So tomorrow morning I'll work on Italian Notebook stories. There are plenty in the pipeline and plenty to finish.

We're thinking that Americans are sick of all the campaign ads on television, but we actually search for them, for there are none here on Italian TV. Can you imagine? This is a real difference from living in the U. S. We also receive almost no "junk mail" and no catalogues. It's as if we're living in another world. Well, I suppose we are.

We've just returned from the most marvelous meal, a Norwegian lamb and cabbage dish, with meat so tender it falls off the bone. Pietro, ever the dreamer and ever the creative thinker, made a dessert of figs, grapes, plums from the garden in a mélange served over a very soft piece of creamy cheese. Heavenly.

We've received the most moving thought provoking email from a friend, and would love to share it with you. Do take a few minutes to read and listen to it.

When people ask us why we are here, this message answers much of it. Every day and in almost every way we are mindful of the gift of living here, our passion to be here and we are always happy to share what we have experienced. When you have listened to "the five secrets", do email us and tell us what you think of what you have just heard. I don't know about endorsing the book, but I do endorse the message.

October 6
You probably know about all this, but we've just heard from friends in Rhode Island: "You are so lucky to be away from it all. On the day of George Bush's exit the nation is planning a "Synchronized Flush". Everyone should flush their toilets upon his exit!" Well, what time will that be in Italy? It may be a worldwide flush...

Back here in Rome, according to the Associated Press, " Pope Benedict XVI's "In the beginning" started off a weeklong Bible-reading marathon on Italian television Sunday." This televised marathon Bible reading featured more than 1,200 people reading the Old and New Testament in over seven days and six nights, including Oscar winning film director, Roberto Bengini.

It began with the Pope reading from Genesis with the opening verses about the creation of the world and ends when CardinalCardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican's No. 2 official, reads the last chapter of the Apocalypse. Wonder if we'll all then disappear in a puff of smoke...

Addressing faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square, Benedict noted the televised marathon would run parallel to a worldwide meeting of bishops on the relevance of the Bible for contemporary Catholics. The meeting of 253 bishops, known as a synod of bishops, will run from Monday through October 26.

A very bright sun breaks through a thick fog, and with an ample wind I watch the fog dissipate and only cotton ball tufts of fog remain. The day looks promising.

The cestino does not look bad, but we'll see what Marco has to say about it. Since he's hardly ever complimentary, I'm not optimistic. With work to do on Felice's face, the handle and top of the basket and the artichokes, I'll surely be painting it until just before we leave for the United States.

I'm pleasantly surprised by Marco's reaction to my latest round of work. He comments that I have spent a lot of time on the cestino (basket) and gives me an idea of how to make the right side of it look better. Today I work on Felice's face and neck, and before I'm through we've redrawn his cap. During the next two weeks I'll put more artichokes and leaves in the basket, with some spilling over the front and finish the details on the basket itself. I am not to work on his eyebrows until the forehead is completely dry.

Felice stands in the living room tonight, for we're burning free wood and Dino wants to see if it's worth picking up more of it. It is. The wood is castagno and burns slowly. So we think we've saved a bit of money on that front. Since I paint in front of, or next to, the fireplace, it's not a good place for the painting to rest.

Invitations are in for the first year anniversary of Italian Notebook, and we'll certainly attend it at Galleria Alberto Sordi in Rome at 10 AM on the 15th of October. It should be fun and you're invited.

October 7
Bob Herbert of the New York Times writes an interesting Op-Ed: "What we haven't paid close enough attention to for many years ... is the fact that there haven't been enough good paying jobs to sustain what most working Americans view as an adequate standard of living. This is a fundamental flaw in the U.S. economic system."

But what is "an adequate standard of living"? These days it appears people in the U.S. are still expecting to live the lives portrayed in television ads. I think we've all been thinking that somehow "it" (the economy) will just get fixed.

Back here in the Roman countryside we're getting back to basics, and it's a life less complicated. Although we live on U.S. dollars (sigh), living a simple life really does appeal to us. And because we're not of the demographic U.S. advertisers seek, we have no idea what "pitchmen" are hawking these days.

In the near valley, Pepe is chopping firewood, and a buttermilk sky (yes we have the sky, but cannot find buttermilk anywhere in Italy) above. Silence is broken by the sound of a kitten and a cacophony of birds.

I'm to cook a few slices of thin pancetta (47 cents) in the summer kitchen and then make a spinach salad served with a few slices of pork loin (a package of six slices for less than €3) and a little of my gingered figs on the side for pranzo. Substitute bacon for the pancetta and it's a meal I'd also fix in California.

So it's possible to live a simple life in the U.S., although we chose to live ours here, away from the "shopping, shopping malaise" we were battered by at every turn. We'll be confronted with it again next month when we return to San Francisco for Thanksgiving, and are gearing up for the anxiety.

We do miss our family there very much. Dino will spend a lot of time with our son and I will spend time with the girls and painting a few canvases, but there will always be the temptations. We'll be staying quite near San Francisco's Stonestown Mall. The good news is that we're now traveling Economy Class and will only be able to take one suitcase each. That will severely limit what we can indulge ourselves with.

Time these days is spent writing Italian Notebook stories and painting. If I did not have these activities, what would I do? Probably walk Sofi more and...I can't imagine not dipping into some kind of project. I don't see myself sitting around in the afternoons as the women do in our village. But when my sight is not good and I don't have much energy, I suppose that is what I will do. Let's not dwell on it now....

My story on Roman Aqueducts is published today in Italian Notebook. To satisfy frenzied readers who can't take more than a minute or two to read a story, the stories are all very brief, giving the reader a small tidbit. But when I write a story there is lots to tell; most of it never finds its way to the Notebook.

Today, for instance, I write a piece about Villa Lante in Bagnaia , located about twenty minutes from us. Although it is one of the most famous Italian gardens in the world, I decline from mentioning more about the wonderful table built of pepperino stone, its center carved out so that water could course through it.

"Both sides are decorated by masks, pouring out water that is channeled below along the sides of the table. At the center at the same level of the table itself sits a long narrow tub by which the viewer's gaze is drawn toward the fountain of Giants that provides a backdrop and links the different levels on the natural slope." This information is provided by signs placed strategically off to one side.

Now my gaze would be drawn to the water, coursing through the tub at the center. What an incredible table to sit at and have a meal. "Pass the salt" would not be practical here, for it would wind up "in the soup". That reminds Dino, "Is the tub in the middle for people to throw things in that they did not want on their plates?" The idea of it is all quite fabulous.

Let's get back to Cardinal Gambara (translation: shrimp!) I have no idea if he was a man of some stature or not, and wonder if he was teased by his name...probably not. Remember that Pope Pius IV made him a member of the Inquisition in charge of heretical literature...

We are told that he loved to entertain, and loved to eat al fresco (outside); hence the spectacular table. He went rather overboard, however, with his family crest, which looked more like a lobster or a scorpion than a shrimp and showed up everywhere, including at the top of the watercourse, with its two claws poised to grab something from the water as it flowed down hill.

A nearby sign tells us that the chain for the movement of water was formed by velutes that all joined together by water that bubbled out from the gills of a shrimp. Is this what you expected to hear about Villa Lante? Its exquisitely designed box formed partierres and its centuries 0ld plane trees moved and seemed to hold out their arms Halloween-style; these are the stuff scary stories are made of.

Earlier, on the drive up to Villa Lante, I spoke with Dino about the lovely wild ciclamini (cyclamens) that grow on the shady banks of the roads, and sometimes even on the ground beneath some of the metal protective barriers on the sides of the roads.

So on the way back, he keeps his camera open in one hand, ready to stop for a photo. Here is what he found:

I'll have to stop writing for a minute, for the power is off, and Dino walks down the street to find out if anyone else has no power. There is no power, but one neighbor tells Dino that he saw a puff of smoke coming out of an electrical pole near the tower.

Being a good citizen, Dino calls ENEL to report it. A man at the other end asks him his client number! Dino fishes out a statement and reads it to him, but the fellow cannot locate the number. Following is a heated discussion between the two, in which the fellow tells him that he has not called ENEL Energia. "Io c'e la fattura. Detto Enel Energia." It's so "f..!@#$%%&$! up" Dino steams...It has to do with the deregulation of the energy system in Italy. He calls the number back on his fattura (invoice) and hears a long recorded message; then hangs up and decides to return down the street, probably to commiserate with our neighbors. Thankfully, it is not yet 6:30 PM and the sky is still bright. Get out the candles and turn off the computer. Bye....

Dino finds Donato, whose power is off, and Donato calls the report in. Evidently Donato is not on an energy saving program. Here and there houses are on or without power. Luigina, Nando, Donato are all out, as is Giustino and our house. Maria up above has power.

Twenty minutes later, as the sun begins to set, it is as if the cavalry have arrived...Imagine the sounds of the introduction to Hopalong Cassidy and you have the picture, although today it's a white van with smoke pouring out its exhaust. Dino walks up Via Mameli with a flashlight, just in case the technician can't see what he is doing.

"Don't damage my roof! " the man with the big dog calls out, as a technician climbs up to find the damaged wires. In ten minutes Dino returns with his flashlight, and as he builds a fire in the fireplace there is a click and our power has returned. Just in case, Sofi will not miss her evening meal; she dines by candlelight!

So little Mugnano has had its excitement for the afternoon, and if you ask me it's enough excitement for a whole week.

October 8
We did not watch the U.S. presidential debate at 3 AM our time, realizing that it will be played back numerous times during the next few days. When I am in the kitchen at 8AM, I turn on the TV in the midst of one of its replays.

Although it appears to us that there was no clear winner, meaning Obama will probably get the credit in the national polls, good ole FOX declares McCain the winner by 85% to 15%, based on listeners emailing in right afterward. So why do we watch FOX? That's easy. We only have FOX and CNN here via satellite and no mainstream U.S. channels, and CNN does not even replay the debate. Let's see what the pollsters have to say...

"Guasto!" Dino hollers out to the technician from ENEL just as I am making a zucca(squash) and tomato soup with zenzero (ginger). Take your pick. The word he chose could mean either: ruined, spoiled, wrecked, a breakdown, corruption, discord. Although he's telling the fellow that our corrente (power) is off, it seems an apt word to use for the worldwide financial crisis, or for the government of Italy.

While the power is off again today, I continue to repair the things on the painting that aren't just right. I've altered Felice's hat and will be spending the next week reworking part of his cestino (basket). Marco has told me that a major part of it is quite good, so that's encouraging.

Power miraculously returns at the stroke of 1 PM, or ora di pranzo, so that the workers can go home to mama for their pranzo.

A CNN poll states that 54% of watchers said that Obama "won", while 30% said that McCain won. We don't really care. Dino tells me he is excited about Obama and I ask him why. "Hope" he tells me. Since I am a dreamer, I like the idea, but whatever practical sense I have about me wonders about whether he has the right team to implement his lofty ideas.

Elsewhere in the world, financial markets are in upheaval, although U.S. markets seem steady. We seem so very far away from all of it, as Maggiolino honks and honks so loudly that we're more interested at this moment at what is going on in Pepe's campo below.

The weather has cleared and it's a really beautiful day. Other than hanging out some laundry, I've spent the major portion of the day painting. This afternoon I tackle designing and painting leaves dropping over the front of the basket, as well as the handle, and am really enjoying this part. These paintings really are a labor of love, although I look forward to having this one hung in the back of the kitchen where we can look at it as a constant reminder of one very special friend.

October 9
I have no idea what day of the week it is, but it's Thursday. Dino leaves early for an appointment with an electrician in Tenaglie in the midst of fog.

At 9 AM the fog clears and it turns out to be another beautiful day. I have an idea about reworking the cestino in Felice's painting, and for the rest of the morning do just that; it certainly takes a lot of time for the detail, but I'm hoping it's worth it.

In the background is FOX news, and although I don't agree with them at all, I can't figure out why Obama won't address the Bill Ayers charge by McCain. His spokespeople try to divert the attention to the economy, and although that's the correct direction, some straightforward answer is needed, more than just "He's in my neighborhood".

But what do I know?

In the back of my mind is the next major painting, and I think it will be of Tito, Enzo's departed father, sitting on a tree stump sharpening a tool. He was the sweetest of men, without even a tooth but the grandest grin.

I think the first time I saw him was during a festa weekend, and he was hanging over his little balcony near the bus stop, watching the action on the street below.

Tiziano tells me that he thinks they have photos of him, and since he was Enzo's father, I can get Enzo to pose for me some day.

I am imagining four of these paintings; the third of Vincenzo sitting in his orto with a white handkerchief shielding his beautiful white hair and head from the sun, on a seat at the base of a pear tree that swings out into the street.

The fourth is of our dear friend Pepe, walking up the Aqua Puzza hill with a basket of freshly picked vegetables from his orto behind him on a long castagno pole. But that one will have to wait, for I'm weary of the extensive detail work on Felice's basket and look forward to a break painting something else for a change.

Will I ever complete all four, especially since the very first one is so complicated? I don't know, but it should take the better part of two more years, at least. This one has taken several months so far, and I hope will be finished before we leave for the U.S. next month.

I see them all the same size, and when the last is completed, they would all be exhibited together somewhere as The Contadini of Mugnano". That's a dream, but a dream worth striving for.

Isn't it late for mosquitoes? I'm bitten while I paint by one of those tiny gnats. That's the bad news about the continued good weather, weather that is expected to continue for at least ten days.

I have artichokes on my mind, and it is not the right season. I need to study artichoke leaves for the painting, and realize that at Campo di Fiori in Rome and at many of the Roman morning markets, they'll probably have them, even though they are out of season.

We'll be in the outskirts of Rome twice in the next week, so why not take a detour to see what we can find? I'd like a few "specimens" to arrange coming out of a basket. Without the real deal, I'm left with images from web sites. Let's see what we can come up with.

October 10
We wake to bright sun, and it's time to buy the wisteria. I know, Sarah, you have told us to wait until Spring to make sure that the color is correct. We do trust Vivai Margheriti, and will see what they have to say when we arrive. If we get them in the ground before the cold weather sets in, they'll be that much further ahead next spring. Then again, that's the optimist in me.

Dino calls them first to be sure that they have four of the same. Yes, they have all of the floribundas, or Japanese wisteria. I'm recalling Sarah recommended the Macrobotrys for their long scented flowers.

Dino thinks the light is just right this morning for him to tell what parts of the pergola still need staining. The reflections from yesterday afternoon's light were too bright. That's fine with me. I think I need a break from painting. The good news is that I have not had a headache from the concentrated hours of painting the cestino.

So we've been counseled that once the wisteria gets going, it is almost too hearty, somewhat like the rosa banksia growing over the gate to the far property. But Dino likes clipping back the rosa banksia, and we're more than happy to keep the wisteria in check. We can also ask about what to do to encourage flowering. We've had our four wisteria on the front terrace for more than three years and have seen no flowers or pods yet.

We drive to Chiusi to Vivai Margheriti, and are driven around by Mirella in a little golf cart. Well, they do have wisteria, but we're not convinced we want the Issai, a variety of which they have a lot. I'd like Sarah's favorite, Macrobotrys, which grows long flowers in a kind of pendulum, some almost one meter in length! They're also pale violet. We hunt around and find three, although they are the next size up, 7 to 9 liter containers each, and Dino sits in the back holding them up until we reach the car.

He miraculously finds a way to get them into the car and we carefully wrap them with a beach towel. Sofi and I squash in the front seat, with the plants between Roy and us and we reach home without any police action.

After a pranzo with a quick sauce of shredded zucchini and heirloom tomatoes, we're back outside and soak the plants in a root innoculant for ten minutes and then plant them. They are tall enough that some of the tendrils even reach over the top of the pergola, so we decide not to wrap them around the four poles. After they have settled in a bit, in about a week, we'll re-look at how we've tied them and make sure they are secure. It's all really exciting.

I'll now admit that I've wanted the Macrobotrys all along, and that is why I encouraged Dino to make the pergola as high as possible. I think the height will be fine. It is all working out. Later on the internet I read that this type of wisteria is rated as one of the great garden plants of the world and that the Issai, which we did not choose, does not grow quickly. Good news all around.

My favorite Italian Note was published today, Noise, Italian Style, and I wrote it after prompting by Duccio and Giovanna. I even voted for it. If you're subscribers to Italian Notebook, do vote your favorite Note. There is a little contest and an award at the Anniversary Festa on Wednesday Morning in Rome. Hope you can join us, at least in spirit.

The noises outside the window this afternoon are all man-made. They sound like tractors, and probably there are even some last minute vendemmias. It is a truly beautiful day, with lazy wisps of clouds in a pale blue sky.

We're trying not to get too wrapped up in the financial chaos around the world and centered in the U S, but it's difficult to miss.

October 11
We're driving to Rome to pick up our good friends, Don and Mary, why flew in late last night, and I'm hoping we'll divert to the center of Rome to one of the great morning markets, to see if we can buy some out of season artichokes and leaves. I think I need to study them close up to paint them coming out of the basket correctly in Felice's painting.

After picking up our good friends, Dino drives into Rome and double parks at Nuovo Mercato Esquilino near Termini while Don and Mary and I walk in. In the back of my mind I recall a sign at the outskirts with that big red circle...Will we receive one of those terrible tickets a few months from now? No matter...we are already here.

As we get out of the car Dino sees a woman leaving with an armful of artichokes and tells me she probably bought the last ones. But since Rome is famous for its artichokes, I'm hopeful.

After walking around by myself, I see a stall with a man and woman behind it. A beautiful Stefania walks over to me as I tell her I am a painter and am looking for artichoke leaves. She looks at me blankly and pulls out six.

I thank her and then pick out three artichokes and she charges me €3. For the bunch. It's a little expensive, but artichokes are out of season. I'd have paid more, actually. I really need to study them.

We drive Don and Mary back home and Sofi and I sit with them while Dino walks down to Merritt's to put a second coat of polyurethane on their terrace. He thinks it will help to seal the tiles and prevent water leakage into the laundry room. Let's hope so.

We have to drive to Terontola this afternoon to go to a clinic so that Dino can get an MRI. So we drive back to the Food Court in Orvieto Scalo for plates of pasta and then up to Bettola on the A-1 and over to Lake Trasimeno, where the clinic is located. We first think it is a hospital, but a neighbor standing in his driveway tells us there is no hospital in the town. Yes, there is a clinic, and he gives us his "a certo punto" (at a certain point) directions, but we believe him anyway.

We find the clinic, and although we are about two hours early, Dino and I know that these appointments are given for blocks of people, and if we come in earlier we can get tested earlier.

Our assumptions are correct, and while Sofi and I are walking outside he returns. The test results will arrive in the main. Va bene.

We drive by a cultivated field of the tiniest cypress trees imaginable. So since I am writing an Italian Notebook story about Cypress trees, we stop so that he can take a few photos. Look for that story to appear sometime.

Back at home, the weather is still lovely, but it is getting dark. So the artichokes come out of the car and are put in a bucket of water. It's too late for me to paint tonight, so tomorrow I will for sure. The leaves will be a great help. Now I'm not sure I like the look of the artichokes I've painted without any real subjects. We'll see.

October 12
Don Giampetro is our priest this beautiful morning, and I'm quite taken by his expressions of joy. If he's as sincere as he seems, he's quite a man. He speaks to us while standing in our midst, and since the church is still full of flowers from last weekend's wedding, he chooses to speak about dressing in white.

He uses the example of a bride and compares it to a young woman in her first communion dress; for both, it is a rebirth, a new life, a new chance to be committed to one's faith. He also tells us that today the Pope gave us four new saints. Let's see who they were:

"VATICAN CITY (AP) -- Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday gave the Roman Catholic church four new saints , including an Indian woman whose canonization is seen as a morale boost to Christians in India who have suffered Hindu violence." This in from CNN. Here's some more:

"Benedict's predecessor, John Paul II, had beatified Alphonsa during a pilgrimage to India in 1986. Beatification is the last formal step before sainthood, the Church's highest honor for its faithful. Alphonsa, a nun from southern India, was 35 when she died in 1946. The other new saints are: Gaetano Errico, a Neapolitan priest who founded a missionary order in the 19th century; Sister Maria Bernarda, born Verena Buetler in Switzerland in 1848, who worked as a nun in Ecuador and Colombia; and Narcisa de Jesus Martillo Moran, a 19th century laywoman from Ecuador who helped the sick and the poor."

I can't help wondering what is going on with the possible beatification of Pope Pius XII. I think there is too much of an outcry against the pope in power during WWII, and am personally relieved that he was not on this list.

At home, I take out paints and work on the artichokes, after moving the bucket into the kitchen and placing them in a basket. The more I work on the leaves, the more I like what is happening to the painting.

Now the part that I do not care for is...the artichokes, painted before I had models. It's conceivable that I will use white paint to paint them out and begin again. That probably means we'll need more artichokes, for I won't be able to paint this afternoon after pranzo.

This morning Dino drove to Nando's to fill up on castagno remainders. This is how we will stock our firewood larder this winter. The Indian man who does some of the best work is there working today, and comes out to talk with Dino. He's working on a rush project that must be sent to Milano tomorrow. Yes, some people work on Sundays...although this man is not Italian...

Dino works outside and when I look out the window at the far property, the grass has grown and the landscape looks better than it ever has. With the exception of some burnt viburnum and the apple tree, the space looks quite good. What do you think? The photo on the left was taken the day of the fire, September 5th and the one on the right was taken yesterday!

October 13
"Italy's Attacks of Migrants Fuels Debate on Racism" Yesterday's New York Times tells of attacks that are fueling a national conversation about racism and intolerance in a country that has only recently transformed itself from a nation of emigrants into a prime destination for immigrants.

Xenophobia seems to be on the rise in Italy, and people are fearful. Why do we do this to each other?

This morning we drive to Civitavecchia to pick up Pietro and Helga, who have taken the ferry back from Palermo to Rome. She tells us that the ferry was full of people from all walks of life, and we imagine many of them slept in chairs all night instead of paying for sleeping rooms, eating food brought onto the ferry in plastic bags.

When we opened up the parcheggio gate early this morning, Pepe was just arriving at his garage next door. It was still dark outside at 6:30 AM, and he came by and waved. He was getting ready to get onto his tractor to work in his orto in the near valley.

Soon the sun rose in a bright sky, promising another warm and beautiful day. Now that we're back home, I'm pained, thinking about the people of this world who are scorned for seeking a better life for themselves, even in Italy. We feel some of this in the bureaucracy surrounding our quests for continued Permesso di Soggiornos (Permits to Stay).

Are we any different than those immigrants when it comes to think of it? We have come here for what we think is a better life. It is a strange juxtaposition to people who are not from the US; they can't imagine any life better than one in the US.

News is worse in India. Some Christians there are killed if they don't give up their faith and embrace Hinduism, or at least that is what the New York Times wants us to hear.
I can hardly believe it. Isn't that a religion of love and tolerance?

We're happy to be at home on this gloriously warm and clear day, and Dino begins the task of refinishing some of the benches on the terrace with a wire brush and cleaner and stain. He's like his father; he is happiest when busy doing something, and for that I am eternally grateful.

I happily spend about three or four hours painting the artichokes on Felice's cestino, and since I'm working on leaves hanging over the basket and the artichokes, I'm happier painting these things, including light and shadows, than almost anything else. The afternoon flies swiftly by.

Dear Mary has given me a book to read, and although I have hardly begun, I am really in love with it. It is The Tenderness of Wolves by by Stef Penney. Her writing is really fine. Do look for it if you're looking for a good book to read.

I am on a strange high, and don't know why. Perhaps some help I sent to someone a day or so ago gave them a new lease on life, and for that I feel rewarded more than I can express.

I'm ready to submit my latest Italian Notebook story on Italian Cypress trees, and now have to select the photos. See you later.

Sempre qualcosa (It's always something). One of the photographs to be used with my latest notebook story has been corrupted, so it will take Dino to the rescue to figure out which one and if we can fix it. Perhaps he will fix it by tomorrow. No matter.

Dino fixes the photo, submits it for me, and GB likes it. So look for it soon as an Italian Notebook "note".

October 14
With a pedicure this morning, I'm looking forward to spending an hour with my dear friend, Giusy. She's the only person I know who can spend an hour with me who does not speak English. We'll probably talk about xenophobia or something of the sort.

It's as if I'm losing my balance and am about to trip, but somehow stay on my feet. That's what my iteration of the Italian language must sound like. Dear Giusy puts up with me without judgment. She's a wonder.

It's a very bright morning with a colorless sky. Tomatoes are ripening in the brown paper bags alongside bananas. We now have plenty of ripe bananas, so after I return from Giusy's I'll make banana bread. Since Philadelphia Cream Cheese is popular in Italy, it is easy to find and delicious spread on slices of bread fresh from the oven.

"That's not very Italian" I can imagine you saying. Yes, the American culture thrives in Italy, well, at least their version of it. And I suppose I can make a torta with ripe bananas, but that does not sound very appealing.

On the way home from Orte we stop in Bomarzo for a head of lettuce. Ours in the garden are not large enough yet to use. I wait with Sofi in the car and Dino rushes back to tell me that Marsiglia is in the market. So I get out of the car and wait with her until Dino picks up a head of lettuce.

Marsiglia and I walk back to her apartment around the corner while Dino and Sofi drive to meet us. We stop twice along the way for her to tell me something, but she loves to talk and that is what she does. She looks very good, and although she is sad, she seems to be at peace. Sempre avanti.

Pietro comes by after pranzo to ask if he can arrive with gelato and prosecco at 4 PM. Si, certo! We'll have a little festa that will include Don and Mary, who are expected here then anyway. We'll also serve banana bread because...why not?

The Corriere Della Serra publishes that there have been 67 entrants to the competition for the design of the next Macchina di Santa Rosa . The first prize is €10,000, and Marco hopes to be the winner. Dino tells me his design looks like the action figures he has been collecting, and that makes sense. If he is the winner, perhaps everyone in the bottega will get involved to help.

I've been noticing some small red and black bugs, and perhaps those are the bugs that have done so much damage to Tia's garden. I don't remember seeing them before, but say goodbye to three of them found on a screen in our bedroom.

Outside on this beautiful afternoon, Dino sands another bench, one on which he will later put a coat or two of stain. We have about four more, so as the warm weather continues, he'll probably move from bench to bench. That's my guy...Inside, Sofi snores by my side in her little bed.

We hear from our new commercialista (accountant) that he has taken care of a permit we asked for but never used. There will probably be a fine, but it won't be much. So now we feel we have a good person to advise us about our finances in the event we need one. It is a great relief.

Pietro and Helga and Don and Mary arrive for a visit of prosecco and gelato and slices of just baked banana bread. It's the first time the four have met, and we look forward to dinners with them all together. It depends on their schedules.

Don and Mary have given us a remarkable book about churches in Russia. I am even more inspired to paint an Icon, but after we show them a few pieces of incredible old wood, he tells me I cannot use any of those, unless I want to paint a fake Icon. Think decoupage. Sigh. When the time is right I'll ask Marco. But for now I'm sticking with Felice.

The artichokes need work; they are fine in form, but need more realistic paint. Unfortunately I will not be able to paint again until at least tomorrow afternoon.

The sky has been bright and strange all day. Temperatures have been mild but I am wondering; is rain far behind? Earlier, Mary asked when the wonderful weather will end; spoken like a true Englishwoman? I love her dearly and look forward to a long visit with her, perhaps next week. We'll push the fellows out and sit together.

I'm relaying a bit of yesterday's news, because it speaks volumes about what I refer to as the underbelly of Italy...

"Mayors, mobsters in 'Ndrangheta operation; Five arrested in fresh Gioia Tauro swoop (ANSA) - Gioia Tauro, October 13 - Three Calabrian officials and two suspected mafiosi were arrested Monday as police continued to break the grip of the 'Ndrangheta crime syndicate on this huge southern container port.

Gioia Tauro's former mayor and deputy mayor, Giorgio Dal Torrione, 64, and Rosario Schiavone, 32, were arrested on mafia charges. The pair had been forced to step down in April when the city council was dissolved on suspicion of mafia infiltration. Also arrested Monday was the serving mayor of the nearby town of Rosarno, Carlo Martelli, 68.

An 'Ndrangheta kingpin, Gioacchino Piromalli, 64, was arrested along with his nephew, also named Gioacchino Piromalli, 39. The mayors were accused of giving work to the younger Piromalli, who is a lawyer.

Police believe the legal work was a front to enable the Piromallis to try to regain a slice of the business generated by Gioia Tauro, one of the largest container ports in Europe.

In July police smashed 'Ndrangheta's stranglehold on the port in an operation dubbed One Hundred Years of History which netted 18 mafiosi and businessmen and ended a bloody turf war between the Piromallis and their former military arm, the Mole' family.

Two months earlier, in May, a Calabrian politician, Pasquale Inzitari of the centrist Catholic UDC party, the same as Gioia Tauro's ex-mayor, was arrested on suspicion of helping another clan. Also arrested in May was the veteran leader of that clan, Domenico Rugolo, the father-in-law of a local businessman, Nino Princi, killed by a car bomb in April.

The turf war started in February when Rocco Mole', 42, was gunned down in the countryside outside Gioia Tauro. Control of the Gioia Tauro container hub allowed the Piromalli clan to dominate not only the illegal drug trade but also arms and other contraband smuggling. The Mole' family is one of the oldest in 'Ndrangheta.

They have always been allied with the better-known Piromalli family, which in recent years has turned the syndicate into a modern and even high-tech criminal organization.

Investigators said that within the Piromalli organization the Mole' family was responsible for drug trafficking operations and handled relations with 'Ndrangheta branches in central and northern Italy as well as with Colombian drug cartels.

According to a 2006 report from Italy's national crime bureau DIA, 'Ndrangheta holds a virtual monopoly on drug trafficking in Europe, especially for cocaine. It also has branches to operating in Latin America, Canada and Australia, the result of emigration from Italy during the 20th century.

Some investigators believe 'Ndrangheta is now the most powerful mafia organization in Italy and is even more ruthless than Sicily's Cosa Nostra and the Camorra in the Naples region.

It gunned down a prominent Calabrian politician in November 2005. As part of another 'Ndrangheta feud, six people were murdered in the German city of Duisburg in August 2007.

There have been several arrests in connection with that massacre, the last on September 18, but the reputed perpetrator of the murders, 29-year-old Giovanni Strangio, is still at large. 'Ndrangheta is considered by some experts to be stronger than its Sicilian counterpart because the families involved are fewer and more closely knit, thus making infiltration and betray more difficult.

Its name derives from the Greek word andragath’a, which stands for heroism and virtue."

Pat Ryerson writes to correct something in our journal. She tells me that it is Italian Surnames, and not names of towns, that relate to the A.E.I.O.U. story. So people from the North of Italy often have names ending in "A"...ending with Italian Surnames from the southernmost part of Italy often ending in "U". That is why people claim they can tell where a fellow Italian is "from". To Italians, the world ends at the Italian border...Thanks, Pat.

October 15
We leave early for Rome, for this morning at Galleria Alberto Sordi there will be an anniversary party for Italian Notebook . I hope the festa brings GB plenty of people. He's an extraordinary guy, and I love working with him. Who knows what the future of our association will bring?

We arrive about ten minutes late, ala tempo Italiano, and meet some new friends and see some old ones. The galleria has a bar at each end, and at one of those, G B holds court. We're able to meet Yolanda, his lovely mom, and a man falls in love with Sofi. He's been without a dog for about a year and is almost ready for another, so we give him Marielisa's information. She's the best basotto (wire-haired mini daushound in our case) breeder we know.

We walk back to the car and since it's 'ora di pranzo, stop at an Autogrill on the A-1. This one, not far from Settibagni, is about the worst Autogrill we've ever had the misfortune to visit. My pasta is cold, the olives taste as if they've been lying around in lye. It's also the first dreadful meal we've ever had at an Autogrille. Needless to say, we're happy to arrive home.

Dino sits around watching the Redsox-Tampa Ray baseball game. I sit for about an inning and can't take more of it, going upstairs with Sofi to get rid of a headache. Could it be that Rome is just too chaotic for me?

Mary Jane told me this morning at the event that I've misspelled the name of one of my stories, the festa di Barabbata. After doing too little internet research last year, I picked up an English explanation, one that also misspelled the name of the festa.

Since barabbata also stands for "fast talker", I fall on my sword instead and let GB and Mary Jane make up their minds about what should be done about it.

I continue to share some Italian "underbelly" news with you... Gomorra writer 'death sentence' Camorra 'wants Saviano dead by Christmas' (ANSA) - Naples, October 14 - Roberto Saviano has been placed under a death sentence by the brutal Camorra clan he exposed in his worldwide bestseller Gomorra, judicial sources reported on Tuesday.

The Naples anti-mafia bureau has opened an investigation into the new threat to the life of the writer, who has lived under round-the-clock police protection since his book came out in 2006.

According to the sources here, the probe was opened after a policeman received a tip-off from an informant.

The threat has been put into a bulging file containing other threats the author has received, they said.

Security has been heightened around the author, whose expose' gained further prominence when it was turned into a Cannes-winning film, Gomorrah, now bidding for the Oscars.

Rome daily La Repubblica reported Tuesday that the informant was a former member of the Clan dei Casalesi, the bloody crime family featured in Saviano's book.

The daily said the informant told police a Casalesi boss had ordered Saviano and his five-man escort killed ''by Christmas''.

The policeman who took the tip-off was quoted as saying; ''That book created too much noise, it became a phenomenon''.

Saviano was quoted as saying: ''What am I supposed to do about it? All I can do is what I was doing before: resist, resist, resist''.

The daily also reported that Giuseppe Setola, the fugitive head of a Casalesi killer gang suspected of some 15 murders over the last five months, is seeking a detonator for a bomb.

It said the news came from one of three members of the gang arrested last month for the August 18 massacre of six west Africans and an Italian.

Seven more arrests, including a youth who played a bit-part in the Gomorrah film, were made in connection with the massacre on Sunday but Setola was not among them.

The 29-year-old journalist and writer has not been seen in public since an appearance in September 2007 at an anti-Camorra rally in Casal di Principe, the town north of Naples that gives the clan its name.

He exhorted youths present to ''reclaim their lives'' and denounced Casalesi bosses by name. On Tuesday the Italian political world rallied to Saviano's side and the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), Walter Veltroni, said the PD would stage a rally in Casal di Principe on November 15 ''against the Camorra and in defence of Roberto Saviano''.

Saviano gave an interview to La Repubblica Tuesday in which he expressed doubts about whether, if he could go back two years, ''I would have come out with the book, knowing what I know now''. ''Life under siege has changed me for the worse, turning me into a suspicious, taciturn recluse,'' he said, revealing that he had also seen ''an important relationship'' crumble.

But he also said he'd had time to devote to cooking. ''I've come up with quite a few recipes. Given time, I could become a good chef,'' he said.

Saviano said life in the witness protection program was made more bearable by boxing sessions with the agents he calls ''my boys'' and who refer to him as ''captain''.

In another recent press interview Saviano said: ''Boxing saves me from everything: life in a box, the impossibility of a love life, continual transfers from one hiding place to another''.' It's only in the ring that I feel like my old self''.

After his detailed expose' of the Casalesi clan's criminal empire, Saviano started received death threats from several of its chieftains.

But he still continued appearing on national talk shows to denounce the clan, whose recent spate of murders has led the Italian government to send the army to its fief.

Because of his courageous stance, Saviano is considered a national hero by important cultural figures such as Umberto Eco.

Gomorra, a play on Camorra and also the name of the Biblical twin city of Sodom, has been translated in 42 countries.

It has appeared on the bestseller lists in Germany, Holland, Spain, France, Sweden and Finland, among other countries.

The New York Times rated it one of the most important books of 2007 and The Economist included it among the hundred Books of the Year. Saviano is the only Italian to have been placed in both lists.

Gomorra was made into a film directed by Matteo Garrone which won the second prize at this year's Cannes Film Festival and has been chosen as Italy's contender for the Best Foreign Film Oscar."

That's enough mafia news for the month.

After an afternoon snooze, my headache is gone, and we drive down to Pietro's to wish Helga happy trails. She's returning to Norway tomorrow. Pietro has an ever-changing stream of guests, so he must like entertaining. He surely is a wonderful storyteller and exceptional host. Whenever we stop by he breaks out the Prosecco. We're fortunate to have him so close.

These days Pietro is looking for someone to come to pick his olives. Whoever picks them can have almost all of the oil. We tell him he has until January to get them pruned, and suggest that Dino take him to the cooperativa in Bomarzo to see if anyone is interested.

On the way home Dino tells me he's not about to pick Pietro's olives personally and I am relieved. There are too many stories of men falling off ladders and I'm always concerned about dear Dino. We have six trees and that's more than enough for us. Perhaps we'll take Diego up on his offer to crush our olives at the castello.

October 16
I'm so looking forward to painting, and will work on more light for the basket and more realism for the artichokes today. By Monday a great deal of the painting will be finished. Perhaps Marco can show me how to paint the background a better black; one that does not show paintbrush lines. There is always something new to learn.

I've only spent about an hour painting when Dino tells me he's ready to drive to the Procura in Viterbo for a "prova", or a dry run, regarding the documents we'll need for our citizenship application. Since we've been residents for ten years, we are able to apply.

We are not alone in the little entryway outside the main office, but it takes no longer than thirty minutes to have our turn. Mario's desk is empty, but an attractive woman looks over our documents and tells us we do not need to have our tax returns translated. We are not sure if she is correct, but we'll see.

She does tell us that we need an Apostille (formal statement that the document is verified) for our FBI check, but last year in the United States we were told that the FBI will not provide them. She tells us they are not allowed to deny us this, for there is an international convention stating that we can get them. But then, we asked this from the police station that issued them. We'll see if our new friend in the San Francisco Consulate can be of help.

The woman shakes her head, telling us she is perplexed about our desire to become Italian Citizens. We suppose she sees the worst of the bureaucracy from her position; let's see how difficult it will be for us to become citizens after all.

At home later today I'll begin a list of contributions we have made to Italian society in our village and in Bomarzo for the Sindaco (mayor) and our priest to include in letters on our behalf.

We may be ready in the next month to turn in all our records, and if we still need that Apostille we can work on it while in the U S. The laws here are constantly changing, the people regarding most of them...

The sky is partly cloudy and cool, and we're able to do more grocery shopping and pick up our usual pollo arrosto (roast chicken) to eat for pranzo. These chickens are roasted in great numbers each morning in may markets throughout Italy and ready and hot just before noon. They're great to eat and don't take any work.

Today's Italian Notebook includes photos of all of us, except Sofi, who is at the end of the lead on one of my hands. Duccio was right. The San Galgano story was one of the most popular, as was the story about Italian Road Signs.

I liked the story "Noise, Italian Style", but perhaps I am the only one. One in the pipeline is about the Italian Cypress Tree, and I like that quite a bit, too. Then there is the story about the violin makers of Cremona, but GB is holding off on that one for now, too.

Back at home after pranzo, I return to painting the artichokes, and the three still standing in the bucket of water won't last much longer. I look forward to Monday at Marco's, when we may be nearing the last stretch of Felice's painting.

Will it be finished by November 2, the Day of the Dead? If so, what painting will I embark on next? It will probably be either Tito's or Vincenzo's. We'll see if we find Vincenzo in his orto some morning and walk down to ask him. I'd like to begin his next, if he agrees.

Today, a bar price freeze throughout Italy was unveiled...
Coffee and brioche cuts, ice- cream cone back to one euro; (ANSA) - Rome, October 15 - Italian bar prices are to be frozen for the foreseeable future to lure stay-at-home customers back, the country's main retail association Confcommercio announced Wednesday.

''Bars are feeling the pinch of the economic crisis,'' said the head of Confcommercio's retail division Fipe, Enrico Stoppani.

More than 40% of Italians have cut their bar visits as salaries have failed to match inflation and a recent poll suggests they'll be followed by 35% more this year, Stoppani said.

He said the drop in consumption had been ''glaringly obvious'' to bar staff despite the fact that many of the items on offer cost less than a newspaper, or one euro. (Obviously no one here has heard of Starbucks.)

Some 15 million Italians still go to the bar at least once a day, Stoppani said, but ''fully a third are getting their coffee elsewhere and only dropping into the bar two or three times a week''.

The Fipe chief said the price freeze would be accompanied by promotional deals on coffee, capuccinos, brioches and soft drinks. Bars will also be encouraged to bring the price of the smallest ice-cream cone back down to a euro.

The government's price watchdog, Antonio Lirosi, welcomed Fipe's drive and said it could spark a ''virtuous cycle'' of imitation in other sectors.

Bring them on!

Here's another story based on statistics:

(ANSA) - Rome, October 15 - Around 7.5 million Italians, or 13% of the population, are living below the poverty line on less than 600 euros a month, Catholic charity Caritas said Wednesday.

Caritas Italy Vice-President Francesco Marsico said the same number of Italians lived just above the poverty line with 10-50 euros extra per month, meaning that a total of 15 million people - or one in four - were affected by the phenomenon.

The poverty line is currently fixed at 970 euros per month for a family of two based on spending in 2006, the most recent data available from national statistics bureau Istat.

Marsico said Italy's measures to prevent poverty were among the least effective in Europe.

So I suppose we are doing well, compared to, well, many Italians. But for some strange reason, Berlusconi's popularity has risen to 62%. Who was asked? Certainly no one we know.

We're told bad weather is on the way, but it's clear today and Dino is outside re-sanding and re-staining our outdoor benches.

I continue to work on painting the artichokes, but by now those standing in water in a bucket are well past their prime. So Dino takes them outside and now I'm on my own painting them on the canvas. After several hours I am bleary-eyed and set the paints aside until tomorrow. I'm enjoying this project quite a bit, so look forward to continuing each day until I return to the bottega on Monday.

October 17
I'm making Franco's favorite lemony cake this morning, for he and Candace and Henry, a friend from S.F., will stop by this afternoon for a visit. He does not want to celebrate his birthday tomorrow with a party, but certainly won't mind a glass of prosecco and a piece of cake. It will be good to see them again.

Dino tells me he's looking forward to Candace seeing my hair in a braid. She is my braiding mentor, for until she convinced me to wear a braid, I thought it would never be possible. Now I can't think of wearing my hair any other way.

Surely I will paint, too, and today it's time to paint additional light on the cestino (basket), now that I am sure that I know where the source of the light comes from. Light is about the most important characteristic of a painting, and how light plays on the canvas makes a great deal of difference to me and to my paintings.

With a headache this morning, it's probably about the barometric pressure and the oncoming wind and rain. There is not a sign of it, but there are clouds. Since it is warm, let's blithely stroll along ignoring it until the drops fall or the wind picks up.

I've added more light to the cestino and more leaves to the artichokes; perhaps now I'll leave it alone for a few days until returning to Marco's on Monday.

Frank and Candace and their friend Henry stop by, so of course we break out the prosecco. With a small celebration for Frank, we sit around the table on the terrace and catch up. We have not seen our good friends in weeks, and it is good to be with them again.

With a peek at the second persimmon tree, we notice that there are not many persimmons on the tree, and what there are are located around the rim of the tree. That means not many steamed persimmon puddings for our friends as holiday gifts; actually there are still a good number on the main tree on the terrace, so Dino will have to pluck them out during the next few days. As fall turns toward winter, the fruit turns pumpkin-like; this year we'll make the puddings in the outdoor kitchen, so they will be easier to control. Speriamo.

As we sit in the kitchen after dark, I realize that the artichokes in Felice's basket are too small. So tomorrow I'll make a few changes, and at least lengthen them. The artichokes we purchased last week were longer and narrower, but then there are many kinds of artichokes; they are not all round as grapefruit.

October 18
I can't sleep, so wake up at first light as we're surrounded in fog; I sit at the computer while a dog barks outside at a rooster and birds chirp away in a nearby tree.

Roosters are funny birds. Often when they crow in the morning they sound as if they are clearing their throats; at least those in Mugnano do...

Perhaps Pepe can't sleep either, for he's out in his tractor before 7; there really is a racket outside this morning! But the skies are so beautiful, with blankets of soft mist floating like plops of marshmallow on a cup of hot chocolate at the edge of a deep blue-green forest.

While Dino watches this morning's Formula 1 trials, I work on the artichokes. As I continue to paint, he leaves for an appointment in Amelia, then returns for pranzo.

He's off in the afternoon again, this time for a project at Pietro's while Pietro is in Rome. There is more sun in the sky, but the temperature remains cool. We're attending mass in Bomarzo tonight, for tomorrow's Formula 1 Race is in the morning in Shanghai.

We'll miss our regular Mugnano church service, but also enjoy the Saturday afternoon mass at a tiny church near Duccio and Giovanna's house in nearby Bomarzo. Unfortunately, they are not here this weekend.

Dino attends alone, for I'm in bed with yet another migraine and have no idea what brought it on.

Later in the evening we watch a program about Czechoslovakia during WWII. It's just after watching coverage of McCain bashing Obama again, and I'm thinking about that bad word, socialism.

Here in Italy, where we are residents, we're able to take advantage of their extensive health system. Since Dino is over 65, everything for him is covered for free. For me, it's not much more. The doctors are excellent if one pays attention, and the waits for procedures are not as long as one might think.

For Dino's recent MRI, we were able to find a place for him to have one for free (we understand the co-payment for a MRI in the US is about $3,000.). What's so bad about that?

Yes, there are plenty of things wrong with the Italian government, but health care is not one of them. So before raising your hackles about an Obama plan, ask us some questions about our state medical plan here and you may be pleasantly surprised.

Now getting back to Czechoslovakia during 1942: no matter how badly the citizens were treated, they were unwavering in their support of their country. So what is it about people in the US thinking we are more patriotic than people in other countries? I'm wondering if the sheer act of patriotism stirs something in someone, giving them added momentum to look up instead of down.

I don't think "Americans" are more patriotic or better people than people in other countries. Perhaps we just talk about it more, and it acts as an affirmation. Yes, we've moved here from California, to answer your questions. Our glass is almost always half full. On that note, buona notte.

October 19
Dino wakes early, and when I come downstairs he's already poised with his telecommando, making sure he has the correct TV station for his Formula 1 race from Shanghai. Va bene.

After breakfast I walk up to the borgo to attend church alone, and Lore meets me in the square, concerned that they came by at 6 PM last night and no one answered. Once I tell her about my headache and that Dino was in Bomarzo attending mass, she moves on to a stern conversation with Giuliola, her neighbor.

Lore and Alberto are putting in some kind of strong iron fence in front of one or more of their restored properties on the backside of the borgo, and wants her to know about it. I am surprised by her tone, for she is somewhat angry with people who walk by and perhaps drop things. Yes, Italians have the "dropsies"; many Italians don't pick up after themselves and litter the countryside with their cigarette wrappers and more.

I tell Lore I am going to church and walk up to the main church with Giuseppa. After some fog, it's a beautiful morning and it gives us plenty to smile about. Don Giampietro rushes by with a big wave, not wanting to be late for his own mass.

I love his masses, and during his homily I am able to get the gist of what he is saying. It's a small group today, and I sit next to Nonna Candida, comforted that she's doing well. Felice and Dino's godmother, Sheila, are on my mind and I imagine Sheila floating toward heaven in a gossamer gown. She was a lovely lady and passed away this past week. Yes, blow her a kiss.

Back at home, I'm able to watch the last eight laps of the Formula 1 race with Dino and Sofi. Dino then returns to his loud project of sanding benches, and since the weather is clear and mild, it's perfect weather for it. It's too bad it's so noisy.

Don and Mary come by right after pranzo with Enzo and Ornella, their house guests from Napoli, who are very enjoyable. We sit on Dino's restored benches on the terrace and chat, and after they leave Don and Mary sit for a few minutes, before driving back to Tenaglie. We'll see them in a couple of days.

Dino does some watering; he is tired of working on the benches today. He'll return to his project tomorrow, for there are two more benches to clean and sand and restain. They really look good. So if he does a little work on them each year, we'll have them for a really long time. Good idea.

Pietro and a houseguest, Freude, surprise us with a visit, and we sit around drinking Prosecco and hearing about their Rome adventure this past weekend. Since Freude will be here until Thursday, we are sure we'll see him again.

It is always a treat to spend time with Pietro, and as they leave, Dino leaves with them to show them the work he has supervised in Pietro's absence. We think he will love his new doors.

We watch a little election coverage tonight, and I wish November 4 was here already. These last two weeks will be nerve-wracking. I'm already planning to go to bed early that night (we're 6 hours ahead of the East Coast) and get up at 2 A M to watch the returns, once the polls have closed. It's always such an interesting few hours.

October 20
With a session at Marco's this afternoon, I'm wondering how much longer it will take to finish Felice's painting. In church yesterday I watched Vincenzo, and wondered how he'll react when we ask him if we can take his photo and do a painting of him, sitting by his pear tree in his orto.

Dino takes out the two-story ladder to cut down what appear to be many more cachi (persimmons), turning orange and getting ready to plop on the gravel. When he stops for pranzo, we both have the looming thoughts that we have not reached them all...

I don't paint at all this morning, as heavy fog lifts and we are treated to another exquisitely mild and sunny day. Instead, I watch an old movie, Good Morning Vietnam and am left somewhat sad at what we are continuing to do in the name of Democracy around the world.

I'm hoping that the worldwide economic crisis is going to result in the US committing fewer troops abroad, leaving more leadership responsibility to other democratic countries for a change. Colin Powell's endorsement of Barack Obama and a guest of Pietro's asking him to stay involved in a leadership role of a Norwegian cultural position remind me to give others a chance...

It's not always the people who have been in a role for a long time who are the best people to continue the previous policies. Those people who are about to leave, whether they have done an exceptional job or not, give new people and new opportunities a chance. It is often better to give a person with little or no experience a role to see if they can present new and perhaps even better direction. We hope so.

But again, since no one ever listens to me, I don't imagine what I have to say will make any difference.

The session at Marco's is a good one, and I spend the entire time working on painting Felice's eyebrows and eyes. His expression has now changed, and Dino thinks there is still something wrong with it; he tells me that tomorrow we'll study it together and see if we can come up with that illusive something.

Marco tells us that he is one of about five serious contenders for the next Macchina di Santa Rosa, and has no idea when the decision will be may be as late as February. If he wins, we'll try to volunteer to help him with it.

October 21
We drive Sofi to Viterbo for a haircut, and since we're there decide to drive up to Marta, on Lake Bolsena, to take some photos and do some research for Italian Notebook stories. Before we leave the house I have two stories almost ready to submit about the lake, but by the time we return to pick up Sofi I have two more to add.

Thick fog gives rise to another day so beautiful it is difficult to describe. I believe this is the best time of year to visit Italy, with temperatures mild and the countryside so full of life.

On the way out of Mugnano, Dino asks me if those are kiwi that are planted at the bottom of the road by Vittori, the Italian astronaut's father. Yes they are; their wide leaves form a kind of blanket over the fruit that I believe are planted espaliered in rows.

A number of years ago when visiting Paola and her husband outside Rome, we sat under a pergola of kiwi and almost thought of planting kiwi ourselves. I am relieved that we did not, for I truly love our wisteria.

It's about 9 AM, and we're driving on the road to Marta. We begin to talk about the fishermen of Marta, and once we're at the lake, stop at the Borgo di Pescatori (fishermen's neighborhood). A few men sit around on benches near a row of simply constructed fishing boats.

We ask them if they can tell us about the ancient wooden fishing boats used on the lake more than one hundred years ago. Fishermen stood up in them with one oar used for propulsion and one oar to steer.

We're given blank looks, and then one stands up and decides to speak with us. They're a peaceful group, and it is only later that we learn that they fish from 3AM to about 5:30 AM and that is that. No wonder they are so relaxed.

After they all agree that there are none of the ancient boats around, a light goes off in this one man's head and he directs us out of town (I'm thinking he's playing a joke on us) past the AGIP distributore (gas station), across an intersection and along an asphalt road. "On the left," he tells us, "you'll see one sitting in the field."

"Are you a fisherman?" Dino asks him, after I decide that today I'll write a story just about him. "Come si chiama?" (What is your name?)

"Io? Pesci."

"No, come si chiama?"

Dino repeats. "Pesci. Ce la tanti Pesci in questa zona." (Fish. There are plenty of people named Fish in this area.)

He smiles as he takes out his old wallet and shows us his drivers' license. Yes, his name really is Pesci - Ivaldo Pesci.

Dino tells him I'd like to write a story about him and he complies, standing first by the tree in front of him so that he can have his picture taken with Lake Bolsena in the background.

"Dove la sua barca?" (Where is your boat?) Dino asks him, and then takes another photo of Ivaldo, who is now our friend, leaning over his boat. The boat is named "Michela", after his grandchild.

We ask him what he fishes, and he tells us that he fishes for Coregone and Latterino. Coregone are a kind of trout and Latterino are a tiny sardine-sized fish, usually fried and popped in one's mouth, head and all. He walks across the street to his cantina, unlocks it and opens an almost-empty refrigerator.

Inside is one of the most beautiful Coregone we have ever seen, shiny and silver, luminous in the dark as he holds it up for us. It's of course what he will eat for pranzo, probably with the only other item in the frig - a bottle of vino!

He tells us that there is a beach we can reach by climbing some nearby steps, with a wonderful view of the lake. Sofi is not with us, and it's a beautiful morning. So we decide to climb up and yes, there is a lovely view and yes, there is a private-looking beach on the other side. Another day...

As we walk back down, we laugh at the graffiti on the side of the wall: "Cacatoio per cani"(poop-ery for dogs) is written, and we're sorry Sofi is not here. We can hear birds laughing at us. Usually, everywhere there are signs telling us "non introdurre cani" (dogs can not enter), but here the locals are laughing at the idea that dogs can really be expected to behave....

So we drive out of town and do find the old boat. I don't know what we expected, but it is...just a boat.

We are ready to drive back to Viterbo, so while we're on the road I'll tell you a little about the old boats, but this is really only for the real history buffs:

For a thousand years, fishing boats for the lake were built by craftsmen using turkey oak or acero (maple) for the fonno (bottom) and sponda (sides) and olive-tree wood for the top. Top? Well, I'm not sure it's the top, but the word is "cocte" or matee. So we've asked Tiziano...

I think they may be the oar locks.

The boats had simple rectangular sails that leaned against two masts that were used as auxiliary oars. Are you with me? I'm not sure. The oars were tied up with old fishing nets.

There were two main oars, in asymmetric position. The front oar was called the r rje-mo, or remo, and the rear oar was known as the rocta, or rosta, which worked as the helm. Before the boat had a motor, it was equipped with two other oars, called the r rjemo de mezzo(middle oar) and the r rjemo de punta, used in case of a storm or even better, for a race.

For the past thirty years, mahogany has been used for the wood, which has more flexibility than the turkey oak. Now the cocte or matee are made of iron so that the have a higher motor resistance. Of course that must mean that they are the oar locks.

Now that you've been so patient to stay with me through all this, you don't need to know any more. All the fishing boats for the past twenty years have been made of...fiberglass, with little motors. That makes them easy to maneuver, easy to take care of. No wonder the fishermen of Marta all appear so mellow.

On the way back to Viterbo, we think, why not write a story about those free sulfur baths; you know, the ones surrounded almost in a circle by campers as if they're in the American Southwest hundreds of years ago, hiding from wild Indians.

This time, we're in "Bagnaccio" on the outskirts of Viterbo. We take a right on a really bumpy road and come upon an oasis. This one is a quasi-private club, as many are, but I don't think they'd drive you away if you drove up and wanted to climb in.

A sign tells us the spring is made up of a complex mixture of thermal alkaline sulfur bicarbonate. I'm amazed that there is no smell, and when we peer down into the stream, it appears that a white chalky substance sits below the clear water. Let's get out of here...

We've had enough fun for one morning, but stop on the side of the road to take a few more photos of really amazing structures, that could even be Etruscan. People who live in this area love to say things are from the Etruscan period, but that means 2,000 years or more, so we're not going to stick our necks out.

Dino takes a photo of one ruin, perhaps of an old church, stuck in the midst of a field being plowed by a tractor. "Oh, that old thing!" we're imagining the tractor driver saying.

We're back in Viterbo, and Sofi is happy as can be, looking like a very different dog. She's ready for the winter, and until Spring will grow her old coat to help keep her warm.

Back at home after pranzo I'm sitting at the desk, remembering how it felt this morning standing outside the bar in Marta. The only noise came from the cars, driving over ancient cobbles. I'm imagining this town before cars, horses plop plopping on the cobbles and no other sound. Nothing. Think about it.

Tonight we have pizza with Don and Mary at our favorite I Gelsi, and of course I order Pizza Margherita. Yes, you know the pizza was named after a queen, and the chef made it in red, white and green ingredients in honor of the Italian flag.

It's always a treat to be with our good friends, who sadly return to Newcastle on Friday. There is never enough time to spend with good friends, and these are two very good friends.

October 22
We stop at Sisters' Bar in Alviano Scalo for excellent cappuccinos, and Luca, the barista draws a little cup and saucer on top of the foam in cocoa powder. Carina!

After a stop at the bank in Montecchio and another or so in Tenaglie, we run into Emiliano the developer, who wants to meet with us. Evidently he has made some kind of a pact with the city fathers and in return will develop quite a bit of Tenaglie into tastefully built casales in the characteristic Umbrian style.

In his office in the borgo, he shows us some of the quality finishes he is going to use, and it is difficult not to like this young man, who will employ local craftspeople for doors and windows and iron gates for the properties.

He's asked us to show them on our site, so soon we'll be able to show you some photos. Let us know if you'd like to know more.

Although the world is in turmoil, somehow none of it sticks to Berlusconi, Italy's Prime Minister.

The unthinkable happens while we're being shown around unrestored portions of the borgo. Emiliano tells us that just twenty days ago, Berlusconi signed papers to purchase the castello in Tenaglie!

We don't know what to think, other than Tenaglie will become an important address, and with Berlusconi owning the large castello, which was on the market for €6.000.000 (six million euros), the town will probably be given many advantages, if you know what I mean. The approved airport in Viterbo will certainly not hurt the development, either.

I have a headache.

After we leave Tenaglie we have an appointment in Viterbo with our excellent Dottore Stefano Bevilacqua. I aks him about the medicine Alex recommended to me, Xeristat, and he thinks it's a very good alternative to Laroxyl for migraine headaches.

Since I've had a cluster of migraines during the past three weeks, his belief is that the Laroxyl is not working. So he gives me a prescription to try for a month, and tells me about possible side effects, mostly agitation. I can handle that, especially if that will mean no headaches.

Dino brings his MRI to read, and the doctor tells us that he has osto-arthritis in his cervical (C4-C5) ; there's nothing to treat it with now, but if it gets worse, he'll refer him to a neurosurgeon, but does not recommend surgery. He also promises to ask his colleague about laser surgery for Dino's eyes.

We're proud of our good doctor, who has come in second in a local golf tournament, and applaud him for his continued interest in the game. It is a difficult sport, but we think a rewarding one. Unfortunately for us, our golf attempts were more of a Keystone Kops episode each time we played. Golf courses all over the world are better places when we stay away.

Back at home after pranzo, I'm looking out our bedroom window and thinking about the tranquility of this place. Will it change? Will we have any power to do anything about it? We have no idea. So let's bless these silent moments and gorgeous fall days and think of something else.

I work on the blackest black of my painting, the background to set off Felice and his basket of artichokes. The artichokes need to be larger, and perhaps tomorrow I'll work on them. We still cannot determine what it is that is keeping Felice from looking like Felice. Give me a sign, dear friend...

I am moved by the subject of today's Italian Note, for it is mine, written about the magical trip Dino and I took with Cherie and Pete a few years ago to Cremona. Bless you, dear Pete, in heaven; hope you are smiling down on us and remembering that wonderful trip. I hope the photo is not too difficult for Cherie and Eli, but it is a memory we will never forget.

Dear GB, the major domo of Italian Notebook, calls this morning to be sure if it is all right to publish the note today. We'll get together before the end of the year to talk about Italian Notebook and where GB would like to take it next. I'm all for anything he chooses to do. He's a special young man. No wonder he has so many "girlfriends"!

October 23
I forgot to ask Dr. Bevilacqua if I should discontinue difmetré if I have a headache, and I awake with one. He told me to stop taking the laroxyl drops and I did, only to have an agitated night's sleep. Weather is overcast, but it is warm. I'd like to spend time in the garden, so we'll see.

With the economic situation in a sorry state, there is a bright light in San Francisco. Our son Terence, who loves automobiles so much he is an automobile broker and sells previously-owned cars; his business is booming. Pietro comes for a visit just before pranzo, so I rustle up a chicken risotto and we sit around and gab about his houseguests. He is alone for the next couple of weeks, which suits him fine.

My headache continues all day and all evening.

Early in the evening we drive with Sofi to Frank and Candice's in Orvieto, where Frank cooks up a wonderful fish and rice dish, served in a really special large ceramic pot with a lid. He places it in the center of the table and we serve ourselves, or each other; I sit next to Chubba, a man of great kindness and generosity of spirit.

There are eight of us, and usually on these evenings there is an argument or at least a spirited discussion about the American presidential race. I seem to throw water on the whole thing by saying that it is a sad commentary with no candidate really measuring up. So we move on to more interesting subjects.

We're not home until midnight, and are happy to get into bed. With the windows open, the temperature is 17 degrees, very mild for this time of year.

October 24
What is an apostille?
An apostille is a special seal applied by an authority to certify that a document is a true copy of an original. Apostilles are available in countries, which signed the Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization of Foreign Public Documents, popularly known as The Hague Convention. This convention, created in 1961, replaces the time consuming chain certification process used so far, where you had to go to four different authorities to get a document certified.

Why do I need one?
If you open a Swiss bank account by mail, the bank will not see the original of your passport. The people who process your application in the back office will have to check that the copy is correct. Each bank has devised its own way of establishing whether a passport copy is acceptable to open an account. Some banks will accept a passport copy if it has been authenticated (legalized, certified) by a notary public, but most will require that the document bears an apostille.

Where can I get an apostille?
Each country party to the Hague Convention designates an authority within its territory that can issue apostilles. For example, in the USA, it is the office of the state's secretary. In practice, you should contact a notary to get an apostille. Please note that some notaries may not be familiar with this procedure - they may propose you an ersatz that they are more familiar with. If it does not bear the term "APOSTILLE" in big, that's not it. Also, you don't have to explain why you need an apostille when dealing with your notary - just tell him what you need. Finally, please bear in mind that there are some countries that did not sign this treaty yet and thus no apostilles can be obtained.

What are apostilles normally used for?
An apostille can be used whenever a copy of an official document from another country is needed. For example for international marriages, adoptions, inheritance, but also for plain contracts. The apostille is an official certification that the document is a true copy of the original. It does not certify that the original document's content is correct, however.

I awake with a headache and it continues all day and into evening. After an early pranzo we drive to Tenaglie to pick up Don and Mary and take them to Ciampino. There is talk about Berlusconi changing the face of the neighborhood of Tenaglie, and that means property values will rise.

So should Don sell his house? We think he'll decide to stay, and instead of complaining about the three casales being built on the hill above him, he thinks they might befriend the owners and be invited to use a pool. It's amazing what happens when faced with a challenge. Bravo to Don for taking the high road. We hope they'll continue to love their short visits to Tenaglie; we certainly love having them around.

We're back at home just in time for Dino to get a haircut, but Daniele has forgotten, so he'll return tomorrow morning. He drops Sofi and I off, so I'm in bed when he returns, and sleep for several hours, after which I join him in the kitchen to watch some TV.

By the time we're ready for bed, I'm about to finish my current book, The Tenderness of Wolves and recommend it.

October 25
Work is beginning on the property on the hill near the cemetery. Perhaps we'll take a walk there later to say hello to our new neighbors...strangely they are our "next door" neighbors, for there are no houses on Via Mameli at all before us, and they are on the little path that begins near the lower fountain, just at the turn that begins Via Mameli.

Some time ago we walked through the property, and although it is just below some big power lines, there are some exquisite caves, caves that must be Etruscan. Dan and Wendy had some interest, but we found out about it after they purchased their property near Umbertide. We'll have to ask around to find out what the story is about this new owner.

I'd like to make corn bread muffins, so while Dino is out getting a haircut and then picking up yet more stain for the last bench at OBI, I'm slowly coming back to life. The book finished, I'm going to put the muffins in the oven, but not for another hour or so, so that they'll be hot when Dino returns. It's always a gift to have a muffin right out of the oven...well, a few minutes after some of the heat has dissipated.

So I have no baking powder, and Al Gore's internet (ha) tells me for each tsp. baking powder to use 1/4 tsp solvay bicarbonato (baking soda) plus 1/2 cup of yoghourt. So let's give it a try....

Why corn muffins? Well, polenta is so popular here in Italy that I'm always looking for a different twist to traditional ways of using popular Italian ingredients.

(ANSA) - Vatican City, October 23 - The Vatican pointman on Pope Pius XII on Thursday rapped an Israeli minister for saying the controversial wartime pope should not be beatified. Father Paolo Molinari, the so-called 'postulator' of Pius's cause for sainthood, said Israeli Social Affairs Minister Yitzhak Herzog's statements to the Israeli daily Haaretz amounted to an ''interference in the internal affairs of the Catholic Church''. Herzog told Haaretz that plans to beatify Pius - one step from sainthood - were ''unacceptable''. He reiterated the view held by many Jews that Pius did not speak out clearly against the Holocaust. The minister, who is also responsible for relations with Christian minorities, accused Pius of betraying the Biblical principle of ''not keeping silent when blood is spilled''. ''During the entire period of the Shoah the Vatican was well aware of what was happening in Europe,'' Herzog said. Father Molinari reacted by citing prominent Jews including former Israeli premier Golda Meir who praised Pius as well as the British historian Martin Gilbert, author of an authoritative account of the Holocaust, who went to Jerusalem to ask for the removal of a plaque denigrating Pius. Pope Benedict XVI recently praised Pius for saving Jews but gave no indication when he might sign a decree advancing the WWII pope's progress to sainthood. Molinari said the pope's failure to set a date might be a a sign of a reluctance to ''hurt certain false sensibilities'' and increase the likelihood of Benedict making a long-desired visit to Israel. I suppose my thoughts that Pius XII is not worthy of sainthood won't matter much to Pope Benedict XVI. I found the story of his life and his education interesting reading, and the book Hitler's Pope horrifying but riveting. It's worth a read, if you're interested in historical writing.

Dino continues sanding the last bench, and he's doing remarkable work. What's next for him? Painting the cancello on the front steps as well as the sliding cancello in the parcheggio. I suppose before he's through he'll paint all the railings and iron fencing on the terrace. He is a wonder, finishing staining the last bench in the loggia as rain comes down outside.

I anticipate beginning to make persimmon puddings for Christmas, but Dino tells me to wait another day. I'm not even going to paint. What is it about the wonder of living here? I wonder if we're afraid to just sit and take it in. Instead I stop now and then to silently look out as I move from project to project. Today I mostly sit.

After sitting around and watching television, a migraine returns and I return to bed at 9 PM. I sure hope those new meds kick in soon...

October 26
Clocks were turned back last night, purtroppo, and before dawn the sound of gunshots rang out in the valley. One-two and then silence...a few minutes later, two more. Eleven shots in all during the next twenty minutes, moving from the valley below us to the ridge near Shelly's property.

Birds cluster near the house, calling out frantically. It is as if we're hearing "Peter and the Wolf"...I can hear the music, but there is no "ta DUM da DUM..." Was it a cinghiale(wild boar) that was shot? No matter, it is hunting season.

I am happy, so very happy, because I am back among the living, with no headache. With no fog and lots of sun, we're on "tempo solare", vs "tempo norma-le"; Elena tells me this on the way up the hill; it's a practical change, for the farmers, because earlier it's "troppo buio" (very dark). What we'll have now, is more sun in the morning and more cold dark skies in the late afternoon. I suppose va bene.

Nonna Candida sits on the aisle of our row waiting for us in church. I give her a program, which she clearly can't read, for she looks at pages other than the ones we're reading from and then nods off a few times. I put my arm through hers and we laugh secretly. She is a love. Don Giampetro reminds us that "you can't take it with you", and he's so right. What he also tells us that a spiritual richness is more important than the trappings we all obsess about. It's funny what a lack of money will do to boost one's spiritualism.

Pietro met us before church at the curve, wearing his Norwegian black cloth jacket, with a kind of bib in the front and raglan sleeves. This is his country minister jacket, and he wears it today without a collar. He's not happy that he is not allowed to take communion, and we quite agree with him; the Catholic Church seems one of exclusion, and for that it is losing a lot of the faithful.

Tiziano gives his oral exam this Friday, and we promise him a grand cena to celebrate. He has waited a long time for this, and now knows the information so well he is bored with it. Now if only he had a great project to work on...I'll have to get back on writing a grant proposal for him for his dig in "buco nera".

The day is somewhat joyous, even though the fellow with the little house above the bus stop and the big dog thinks we're voting for McCain. We tell him we are not and he makes some kind of snide remark.

On the way home there is a big blue bow on Luigina's door. Her son Stefano and his wife have had a baby boy, and Donato and his mother think the child's name is Lorenzo. There is at least one other Lorenzo in town, less than a year older, and we wonder if they are both named after Lorenzo, the vescovo (bishop) in Viterbo.

This naming is not unusual for Mugnano; seven or eight years ago there were three boys named Andrea. The boy to girl ratio remains unbalanced, with 80% of the children and grandchildren males. So there are not enough girls to go around to make sufficient Mugnano marriages fifteen years or so from now...especially since the two oldest ragazzi are teenage girls, Ester and Erica.

Dino is up to speed on all the children, and adds Lorenzo to his Babbo Natale list. Instead of shrinking, the list is growing. Yes, the season is coming.

After pranzo Dino returns to working on the benches on the terrace, putting another coat on the already beautiful seating. The benches clearly look better than they did when they were new.

I sit outside and read, not ready to tackle more persimmon puddings today. Perhaps tomorrow I'll cook and paint again. Today I finish five stories for Italian Notebook that have been unfinished and on my mind for some time, and one needs one more photo. Perhaps tomorrow or Tuesday we'll drive to Marta at 4 AM to photograph our fisherman friend, Signore Pesci, bringing in his catch.

But at around 9 PM a headache returns, and Dino recommends that I take both the Tachiprina and the Difmetre. I also take a tablespoon of a liquid for my stomach. This is getting over the top. We'll surely call the doctor in the morning.

October 27
This morning we receive a photo of us taken by our pals, Pat & Dick of Larkspur and Montefalco when they visited us in September. Because Dino is always taking pictures, he is never in them. So this is a rare event....

Somewhat remarkably, I awake with no headache. Perhaps the side effects of stopping Laroxyl have run their course. Early this morning there was a gunshot or two in the valley, compounded by a barking dog and birds that seemed to call out in fright. But soon the gunman went home and tranquility returned to little Mugnano.

I've been wondering what Sarah Palin's talent was in her beauty contest, since politicos always seem to have a side love...just look at Mike Huckabee...So here's Sarah:

Obama and Biden are taking a beating in the right-wing media, and are hoping that MaCain can't pull the victory out of a hat. I'm nervous, although don't know if an Obama win will be a win after all. I just don't know, although I've voted for him.

With mixed skies, Dino putters and works on Sofi's doghouse and the parcheggio gate. I fix a cece and pasta soup and paint, taking a first pass at Felice's two-day beard and making a change to his eyes and mouth. Each time I work on the painting I'm seeing more. I do hope I can finish it for this weekend. Sunday is the Day of the Dead, and I'd like some of his family to stop by and see it. Or at least I think I would...

Tomorrow morning at 4 AM we're returning to Marta to take photos of the fishermen coming in with their catch. We also need one photo to turn in the story about the free termes near Viterbo.

October 28
Under mild skies and after a night of rain, we leave Mugnano at 4:30 AM for an adventure to Marta. We're hoping to take photos of the fishermen arriving with their catch.

We've been taken...When we arrive at the beach, the boats are all tied up as if they remain fast asleep. All the activity we can see is behind a Roby Pesca truck, where a woman (Signora Roby) is sorting the lake's coregone and latterino into Styrofoam boxes that will placed in their "fish market on wheels". Otherwise there is not a sound around...

"Where are the fishermen?" Dino asks. "Come back at 7 AM when they take their boats out," the woman replies.

We've been had. This was all a joke planned by Ivaldo and his cronies. So we take a few photos of the lake's coregone and latterino and drive home, for another few hours sleep and a somewhat different story than we had planned...

Sofi's doghouse is restained and moved nearer the cachi tree, where she can chase all around it in search of her lizards. Dino is ready to move on to repaint the gate, although a bit of a mist does not look promising. After pranzo he returns, undeterred.

I rewrite one story and send five stories to Italian Notebook about different aspects of Lake Bolsena that have been sitting in draft form.

Not ready to paint, I sit around and read and look at the latest stories about the US election. Why won't Obama delineate more clearly what his stance is about taxing the middle class and small business?

I'm somewhat worried about whether he can take the reins of the economic downturn and streamline some of the wasteful spending. He's smart enough, but is he going to be bowled over by Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid? Is a spirit of hope enough?

October 29
After a wild night of rain and wind, during which Sofi hid on top of the bed and shook, sun appears and there is enough wind to blow the clouds away. But if this continues, it will be too windy to make any persimmon puddings in the outdoor kitchen.

I'm working on Felice's beard, but the paint on his skin must be dry, so I'll wait another day and work on the artichokes in his basket instead.

Dino intends to continue painting the cancello in the parcheggio, weather permitting. It does not, so that will have to wait for another day. Today rain and wind continue.

My story on Villa Lante is published today in Remember that if you look it up after today, you'll need to look in the site's archives to find it; better yet, subscribe.

I write another story, this time on Matera, our favorite Italian town. I've wanted to write about Matera for a while, for it is the most memorable town we've been to in Italy and frankly, we look forward to going back. I think it's the simplicity of the place, the ancient architecture; we felt we'd been transported back 2,000 years in time and so enjoyed walking around and drinking it all in.

There is a storm blown in by a ferocious wind. With a wild rain and thunder, I hear a crack! Not knowing where it is, I wait until Dino returns from Pietro's house. He realizes it is the modem for our internet connection, and that it is "rotto" (broken). Sigh. Frustrated, he tries to find someone on the phone who can help. He's told there are a few places in Viterbo and Civita Castellana and Tarquinia who have them but it is too late to drive to any of them.

October 30
Well, Obama may have purchased time on several channels, but we could not find any of them last night. Even Fox did not have it; at least Fox International did not.

I got up at midnight, for thought it would appear at 1AM out time. Dino got up around 1 AM to watch the ball game. Since the election is getting closer, I'm interested in how things may be changing. This will be an interesting six days or so...

I remain up with Dino to watch the end of the ball game, and then come up to bed. It's 3AM, so sleep until 9 or so; Dino is already up, trying to make sure it is the modem that is broken. He is trying to arrange a "dialup" in the event we will be without a modem for a number of days. Somehow, even though we have cancelled the ARIA DSL service, it has not been cancelled, so we can still get our email.

Yes, here in Italy things that are broken and need to be fixed, especially relating to phones and technology, continue to be a problem. Dino's Italian is quite good, for he's had plenty of practice. So he does not worry about calling around to different service centers.

After pranzo he remains on the phone, and while I'm in the midst of cooking another batch of persimmon puddings, he comes down to tell me he's going to drive to Tarquinia. We can't go with him, for the puddings are half cooked. So we send him off with kisses and wait.

While he's gone the sun comes out, and I'm hoping he has a safe trip. It's at least an hour each way to Tarquinia. Life in Italy remains a challenge when things break down, but don't they present problems in the US as well?

I watch the election coverage on FOX and CNN, which is all the coverage we have here in Italy, and the race is tightening. I have always feared that McCain will win; now I realize it doesn't matter much to us. That is why we are here, in our own little world.

Yesterday we sat in the kitchen and talked about how happy we were; how much we love our simple lives. But the idea of seeing our San Francisco family is a wonderful one, and we look forward to our visit there next month.

Sofi has become sweeter, if that's possible, but more dependent on me. I worry about her; she follows me from room to room, inside and outside, and when I write or paint she lays by my side and just waits. When Ingrid comes here I'm sure the two of them will have a grand time, but hate the thought of being without our little dog.

October 31
There really aren't many persimmons on the far tree, and on the tree in front of the kitchen, only a few remain right over the front wall. I'll ask Dino to put out the ladder and see if he can pluck them off before they're ripe one of these days.

Otherwise, we'll not be giving them out for Christmas to many friends and neighbors. I will admit that they're much easier to fix now that the steaming is done in the summer kitchen. What a wonderful room that is for us, all year long!

It's Halloween, and yes in Italy this night is big. For the past several years Italians have embraced this holiday as if it's their very own. Usually we have one group of about ten adults and children from the village; sometimes they come, sometimes they do not. Otherwise, we'll end the month quietly.

I know I need to work on Felice's beard, but in the morning I can't get enthused. Perhaps I'll paint in the afternoon, so I read a book instead. If I don't paint today, and that seems likely, anyone who comes to see Felice's painting on Sunday after the service in the cemetery will see it as an unfinished work, as it is. Va bene.

Outside it's sunny and cloudy and raining, all at the same time. Dino has gone to Pietro's, for Ovidio is to install his refurbished front door, and Dino is always around to help him if he's needed. Pietro is like family to us, and we like having him nearby.

In the Vatican, the usual insular politics grind slowly forward. The issue of gay priests I am sure is a strange one; if a priest vows celibacy, does the "gay" moniker suggest the man is not celibate after all, or does it suggest he has gay leanings? If a man is an honorable and celibate priest, so what?

There is some suggestion that a kind of inquisition may take place within the ranks of the Church, a psychological Sturm und Drang stifling that seems misplaced and a waste of effort. How many non-gay priests have been convicted of pedophilia? And for those, shuffling them to different dioceses was thought to be a sufficient answer. How about bringing the Vatican into the 21st century?

There are major demonstrations going on in big cities in Italy, especially Rome. Berlusconi is miffed by the outbursts; the numbers of young people are in the millions, calling out against cutting school budgets and teachers.

In elementary schools, there will be only one teacher per subject, which is obviously very archaic and ineffective. Of all the areas of government Berlusconi believes are important, education does not seem to be one of them. How sad.

Dino comes home for pranzo and returns afterward to Pietro's to supervise the re-installation of his front door and to work on moving an electrical switch. Before he leaves, he puts out two smudge pots on either side of our front stairs, in anticipation of trick or treaters later. I'll light the pots after dark if he does not come back first.

Dino returns early, but there are no visitors all evening. Tonight's rain and wind probably have something to do with it. Well, there was one visitor, who arrived uninvited while the door was open...

Dino walked into the entryway to go outside for some kindling and a thin snake slithered in the open front door and was on its way backstage, "possibly to his treats". Dino to the rescue!

With his grandfather's walking stick, he reached back and pushed the snake outside, kicked it with the pole down the stairs, unlocked the front gate and the snake scurried out.

I suppose there's always a first time. I do admit I've never seen a snake in Italy, and Dino confirms this was a harmless garden snake, long and thin, about 3 feet long. But still, it gave us all the creeps.

Happy about a fright! Now we'll keep the door closed all the time...

PROPERTY OF THE MONTH! Each month in the journal we feature one of the properties for sale on our web site.

This month's property is a beautiful home with guest houses on a few acres of olive grove with swimming pool a few km. from the pre-Roman town of Amelia in Southern Umbria. Great for a large family estate or a B & B!

Take a look!


November 1
With a mixture of overcast sky and a few drops of rain, Dino wakes up to find one of his tarps in the parcheggio torn from the wall, probably from the wind. He decides it's time to fold them up for the season. Good idea. They don't really hold water, anyway.

We have breakfast and walk up to mass, where Don Luca talks about All Saints Day and tomorrow, the Day of the Dead.

There is a reverence in Italy for people who have died; the dead are not forgotten as they usually are in the US. I read that people hardly ever visit cemeteries in the US any more; that's another reason I'm happy to be living out my life here.

I don't worry about Dino. If he dies before I do, I will be a dutiful widow, bringing flowers to his grave and visiting him daily. I'm sure his life will be fine if he survives me; he is a survivor and will carry on and find new happiness. He'll know when it's time to move on...

After I'm gone, even if no one comes to visit my grave here in Mugnano, neighbors will come and will have a thought or two about me, and that will be enough. We don't fly into Boston without driving to my father's cemetery plot in Bourne, and I find peace with that; these days, sadly, there is no other reason to fly in to Boston. My mother's ashes were planted on a knoll in Stinson Beach, CA; we'll pay a visit there this trip, too.

When we visit San Francisco, we always visit Dino's parents' grave, and that is a good thing to do. Dino has quite a remarkable family. Each month there is a family dinner, and different generations get together at other times as well. Leo and Iolanda would be proud of them all for keeping the family together...we surely are. It will be wonderful to see everyone again later this month.

The church fills up this morning with the friends and neighbors we know, and we sit with Nonna Candida on the bench we think of as "ours", although we're happy to sit elsewhere if someone arrives and sits there first.

Tiziano has passed his exam, and now has a second graduate degree. We invite him and his family for a dinner on Friday to celebrate and then walk down to Pietro's for coffee and to look at his newly installed front doors.

The doors are more than handsome, with old nails forming perfectly straight lines as if they were crafted by an accomplished artisan. These doors are old, beautifully made and beautifully restored.

We walk home past a dead rane (frog) and it has been these few days of rain that have brought out all kinds of creatures. Lives, deaths; winter is coming and the changing light acts as a metaphor for another of life's passages.

Dino wraps up the tarps, and I get ready to make more puddings this afternoon if he can pluck a few more cachi from the tree. We find a couple, and while he's watching Formula 1 we'll do another batch. Va bene. We decide not to make them today after all; I'll make them tomorrow for sure.

The sky looms dark at 5 PM, the hills in the foreground deep with mystery. Although winter does not officially arrive for more than a month, the mild days of fall have probably retired for the year.

We sit by a fire in the fireplace and watch a few movies on TV, after the Formula 1 trials. The race is tomorrow late afternoon our time in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Either Massa or Hamilton will be the world champion. Either way, it is Dino's last race of the season. Perhaps now he'll change to watching basketball or football or calcio (soccer).

"Just when things were going so well..." is a phrase Dino likes to say when things go wrong. We're watching the movie, "Stardust" and a headache appears, "just like that". There are never any warnings...So I take my old "meds" and go to bed instead of watching the rest of the movie. We'll see our doctor on Monday for flu shots, and I'll speak with him more about my new medicine, Xeristar (Duloxetine hydrochloride). Sigh.

November 2
We drive to the cemetery, for today's mass is at 10AM, and Don Giampietro and Giulia and Salvatore stand behind an altar presented to Mugnano some years ago by a Festarolo committee.

I've been dreaming about angels, and since we made the decision to purchase the cemetery plot in Mugnano, we've been thinking about finding an old angel to put on the structure that will hold our coffins. Now we're both imagining a different angel; this time more than one angel, painted by me behind the altar in the cemetery on the blank wall.

On the way home, Dino tells me he's been thinking the same thing. We'll ask Marco what he thinks is the best medium tomorrow; Dino thinks perhaps three wooden panels, but there will have to be a tetoio (roof) of some kind to deflect water. Angels; Renaissance Angels, float around in my brain.

We both watch the Formula 1 race in Sao Paolo, Brazil. Massa runs a great race and wins to the joy of his home crowd. More dramatically, however, Lewis Hamilton wins the world championship in the last curve of the race; it appears someone in front of him may have moved over to give way to him.

Either way, is it a harbinger of things to come? He is the first black man to ever win a Formula 1 World Championship. I can see Lewis Hamilton and Barack Obama standing arm and arm, but I'm getting ahead of myself...especially since I have a nagging fear that McCain will win the US Presidential election.

November 3
A Brigadoon fog leads way to stiff winds that blow the gauzy curtains out like sails on a stormy sea. We drive to Viterbo for flu shots, but our doctor has forgotten about us; after an hour we make another appointment for tomorrow. Let's go home.

I locate another piece of pure linen, iron it and Dino agrees to pick up stretchers for it while I'm at the bottega.

Outside our window, I watch Vincenzo walking up the hill with two green bags of insalata and vedure. Is this the last of the fall vedure for him? The more I think of it, the more I will have to wait until Primavera (Spring) to take his photo in his orto in order to paint him. If the fates are with us, he'll still be well.

Will Friday night mark the beginning of Tito's project, with Tiziano's grandfather sitting on a stump, polishing a farming tool? It depends on the photos they have of him, but we know his son, Enzo, can pose sitting against a stump for his body...

Dino drives me to Marco's and I work on painting Felice's face; when I leave, his face looks decidedly more like our old mentor. I think I may be able to finish the painting on my own now...

Dino spends most of the afternoon at Pietro's, supervising Ovidio on the outside doors and working on a lighting project. Pietro is still not back from an overnight to Tuscany, and arrives at our house after dark, even before driving home to see his new doors.

Pietro shares a bottle of prosecco with us and talks about a story he has just heard about the Cuban Missle Crisis. He tells us that the Pope had something to do with it; it's an inside story from his friends in Toscana, one of whom worked for MacNamara, JFK's Secretary of Defense, and is very interesting.

We have been thinking of the project for the Mugnano cemetery, and will talk with Don Luca about it in the next week or so. It's a fresco or two, and Marco thinks it would be a great project for me. Since it's for the outside, it will have to wait until September.

So we'll go through the permit process and work on the design/s. Marco tells me I can do a smaller one as a test, but I'm not sure what I'd do it on. Marco suggests a wall, so perhaps our hallway? He wants to work on it with me, so now I have a new project to think of, and know it will include angels watching over little Mugnano.

A fresco! The idea of it seems daunting, but with all painting projects, they seem more daunting until the details of how to do them are laid out. I remember that a fresco must be painted wet, one small area at a time, so it's a great project to dream about on cold winter nights.

November 4
After a sweet rain, we wake up and drive to Tenaglie to attend Gaetano's funeral. Rain has left the streets shiny, the leaves falling and brushed in piles in the towns, but left to wander along lazily in the countryside.

We park on the lane leading to the church, for we are early. In front of us is a white-haired man wearing an orange jumpsuit; he's raking and sweeping leaves, then shoveling them carefully into the back of a blue ape.

The leaves are a metaphor for little Gaetano; he is swept up and returned to the earth, although on this day he'll be riding to his destination in a shiny black hearse. His wife and son drive behind the hearse in a black BMW.

Before the service, Dino walks up to the man we think is Gaetano's son, and gives him the part of this photo showing Gaetano, looking sweetly gnome-like, which is how we always thought of him. Gaetano was the first person we met in Tenaglie years ago, before Don bought his house. On those days, whenever we'd drive into town, Gaetano would be sitting or walking over to greet us.

On the day we took this photo, he told us about a large partly restored property back in the countryside. We had asked him if he knew of any interesting properties for sale. Something must have been wrong with this particular piece, for it remains abandoned, as if a muratore froze mid-strike in his demolition. We never did find out what happened to the property, but less than a year later Gaetano had a heart attack and spent the rest of his days in the house.

There is not a large turnout today, but his wife makes sure to come over to us and gives me a kiss, calling me "Brava Signora!" I have no idea why, but by now the photo is being passed around and relatives can't get enough of it. We are sure he was dearly loved by his family.

Inside the church, Tenaglie's strange priest seems to sigh his way though yet another funeral, but the son holds the photo to his heart, and for that we are quite moved. The coffin appears tiny to me, but then Gaetano was always childlike. It is fitting.

Standing by the hearse outside the church are four Carabinieri, including one Marsciallo, so it's probable that Gaetano had been one of them in his younger life. They salute the hearse and then follow the line of cars to the cemetery.

We leave to move on with our day, coming home for pranzo and then leaving to return to the Questura for our permessos and belated flu shots from our doctor.

Ah, the Questura again. This time we're number 30, and while we wait for our turn, comment about how frightening this process is for so many immigrants who must have their permits to live and work in Italy.

We're feeling somewhat relaxed, for we think we have everything we need to complete our permits, thanks to our new "friend" at the Consulate who has faxed us the completed documents.

We're told it will take "un paio di messe" (a pair of months) or so. That's a problem, for our deadline is later this month and we need to renew or extend our ASL (medical certificates).

He pulls out a document and stamps one for each of us, extending the period another six months. Does this mean the period of our next permessos will begin as soon as this one is approved? No. The original date will still apply. So as soon as we finish this one, we'll need to begin the process again.

That is why we are ready to begin the citizenship process as well, hoping it might be completed by the time the next renewal is up. Confused? If you're in Italy long enough, you'll begin to understand. Think of it as dancing a waltz, with a few missteps along the way.

We have to wait an hour for our doctor, but have our flu shots and a new prescription for Xeristar for me. We're out of there within ten minutes.

Everyone wants to know if we have voted, and if we have, whom have we voted for? "Ah, Obama!" our good doctor muses. He agrees he will be a great choice. All over the world people have been hoping for Obama, and we realize that he will change the way the world looks at the United States overnight. We hope so.

It's voting day in the United States, so we watch some of the TV coverage and then go to bed early; we're expecting to get up at 1 AM our time to watch the returns.

November 5
I do get up just before 1 AM, for I cannot sleep, and sit on the couch for two hours before waking Dino. Returns come in slowly, with a few of them for McCain, and I am wrestling with my inner self. "Remember!" I say almost out loud. "Don't worry about the earliest polls, when the counting has not been finished. Later, the tide swings toward Obama, with all the Northeast States turning "blue" (Democrat).

Dino rises about 3 AM, and in less than two hours it is all over, with Senator McCain giving a very honorable concession speech. Then it is Obama's turn, and he is as eloquent as ever. Yes, there has been a sea change, but this time we are hopeful that this president will bring the world closer together. He has a daunting task ahead, and his somber tone strikes the right chord in my book.

When CNN's Wolf Blizter interviews Michael Ware, who has served in Iraq for four years, we are given another perspective. "Perhaps Obama's view from the Oval Office will be changed due to the new information he will receive" Wolf suggests. Michael agrees.

So I'm wondering if Obama can convince other countries to take on more responsibility in Iraq so that troops can be shifted to Afghanistan, or better yet, come home. I think we'll find out soon.

Pietro comes by at 9 AM to hear some of the coverage and to share a coffee cake with us. He and his Norwegian friends are so happy about the news, and after he leaves we settle down for a quiet day.

Well, it won't be all that quiet after all, for Pepe has his moto-sega out at just after 10 AM, probably cutting logs up for his fireplace. Dino drives to Attigliano for paint thinner, and since it is a beautiful day he'll finish painting the gate, Mugnano's version of Tom Sawyer, I suppose.

Earlier, while Pietro sat next to me, the painting of Felice stood behind him and I noticed that Pietro's eyes and the eyes painted on Felice were the same shade of blue. That will not do, so perhaps later I'll tone them down to gray. If I have the energy, I'll work on the artichokes, but don't count on it.

Instead, I make a passatto with the remaining heirloom tomatoes and fix a pasta with red peppers and anchovy. Dino thinks it's heavenly. But do we rest? No.

Right after pranzo, we take out a lug and two barrels and begin to harvest our olives. I begin with our giant tree in the middle garden, but there are an enormous number of olives on just this one tree.

Dino wants to jump in, so he gets up on a ladder while I work out in the far property on three of the five trees that have olives. They are short, and perfect for me. Sofi gambols or sits by my side, a sentry in the sun.

What a lovely afternoon! The sky is clear and warm, and I'm in short sleeves, so happy to be alive and picking our very own olives. Each year we've processed our olives in a salt and water brine and put them in jars, never to open even one. So this year we'll take our lug to Diego, for he has told us he will process them. We hope he remembers. Perhaps there'll be just one pint of oil, but it will be ours...

With the few olive trees we have, there is just one lug of olives, but it is beautiful and full. We are able to walk it to the loggia side by side, where it will sit until tomorrow afternoon when we visit Diego. He wants to meet with us anyway, so we'll accomplish two things at once.

No, I have not painted, but will tomorrow while Dino and Pietro are in Viterbo. I promise. I'm strangely not too tired, and instead begin research on Renaissance angels while Dino continues painting outside, happy to be finished with the olive harvest. If you have any ideas about the angels, do let me know. Thanks.

November 6
Surprisingly, it will be lovely day. So while Dino drives to Viterbo with Pietro to buy supplies for a new project for him, I paint a little and do some laundry, happy to put our clothes out on a drying rack in the sun. We never miss having a clothes dryer...well, perhaps on cold rainy days we do, but just a little.

I work on Felice's eyes a little, but they are still not gray enough, and begin to do more work on the artichokes. I'm thinking it will take another visit to Marco's for a final sign-off.

After pranzo we drive to Diego's for a little meeting and to ask him to press our cestino full. The varieties are: leccino and frontoio and one other. There were olive trees on the property, but the olives look like leccino. The olives on the very large tree are frontoio.

On the way to Diego we saw men picking very green olives, and asked him if they were ready to pick. Yes, he told us, but they are a different variety (we're presuming second-grade, since everything Diego does is first-rate).

Our olive oil will be ready by this weekend, and even if it is a small container full, we will be thrilled. This is so much better than processing olives in a salt and water brine that we never open....

On the way home I ask Dino to humor me and to stop at the cemetery so that we can see the "view" from our plot to the wall/s I'd like to fresco. When we park, Renzo's car is there, so after we walk to our plot and determine what part of the wall we can "see" we walk over to Felice's grave and Marsiglia and Renzo are just leaving. There's time for big hugs and for Dino to find out from Renzo that his mother is doing much better. She looks very good and I'm relieved.

Pietro has lent us an Ed Asner movie of Papa Buono (Pope John XXIII). It is in Italian with Italian subtitles, and this is a very good exercise for us. We think it was a made for TV serial, for it is quite long, and if we can find it in English when we're in the US we'll surely rent it. It was very interesting, and Ed Asner's performance was excellent.

November 7
We wake up to a mountain of fog, and Dino sets out to navigate it when he goes shopping. Tonight is the celebration for Tiziano's second doctorate, and his family will be here along with Pietro.

It's a day of puttering and going through winter things and reorganizing. I admit I'd like to get rid of a lot, for the older we get the less things we want to have around. I'm hoping that means we won't bring much back from our US trip later this month.

Sun only dances around a low ceiling of clouds, not really willing to appear, but in the forest in front of us the colors of fall abound; it's a dappled hill, so mysterious and yet so close. I often wonder about it, wonder if we'll ever explore the range behind Tiziano's property.

Its expanse seems so foreboding and yet strangely welcoming, like a long-nailed creature bidding us over for a visit. A riot of dark rust and yellowy green colors lean out from the deeper black recesses, the broken tufa cliffs just above the half moon of golden poplar trees framing the rio below. For most of the winter we'll continue to see it covered in evergreens.

Later, Pietro and Tiziano and his parents come for cena and a few hours on conversation. Pietro seems transfixed by Tiziano and his knowledge; this is the first time we have seen him so. After Enzo and Rosita return for home, Tiziano brings out the maps from his car that show the areas he has studied and explored these past two years, all three hundred and eleven locations. He is a treasure of a man. We are fortunate to be his friends.

"Soon.." I tell him, "Soon we will begin to apply for grants for you to return to your dig in the valley. Raising money is a daunting task for archaeologists, but those of you who have been here and know him know how talented he is. So if you'd like to be put on the list, let us know.

Dino calls Duccio, and learns that on Sunday he will go into the hospital for an angioplasty. When Duccio asks him how he is feeling he responds, "Good for a man who has not had a cigarette in five weeks...." Our thoughts and prayers are with him.

November 8
I have been reading The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris, and am more interested in ever to find out more about the lives of people who live in cloisters, especially the Benedictines. There are ruins of an ancient Benedictine monastery near the cemetery, Tiziano has told us about it, and after we return from the U S we'll take a walk with him to learn more.

This morning I read about "le point vierge", and since I don't sleep well, I am conscious often at the moment during the night, just before first light, when the first birds begin to speak. Thomas Merton, in his Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, wrote about it. I read that it is a time that artists prefer for the access it gives to the unconscious. No wonder...

"The first chirps of the waking day birds mark the "point vierge" [the virgin point] of the dawn under a sky as yet without real light, a moment of awe and inexpressible innocence, when the Father in perfect silence opens their eyes. They begin to speak to Him, not with fluent song, but with an awakening question that is their dawn state, their state at the "point vierge." Their condition asks if it is time for them to "be." He answers, "Yes." Then, they one by one wake up, and become birds. They manifest themselves as birds, beginning to sing. Presently they will be fully themselves, and will even fly. "

I slept so deeply last night that I feel renewed, and don't take on any major project while Dino is working at Pietro's on his door. Instead, my senses are acutely aware of the sounds and visions around me. Although fog surrounds us, I feel at peace.

Dino returns for pranzo, and moves the painting of Felice into the living room so that he can build a fire. Va bene. I will paint...tomorrow.

This afternoon and evening are quiet, reading near a fire in the fireplace with a blanket on my lap, Sofi by my side. The weather forecast tells me that we are approaching winter temperatures, with highs of between 10 - 15 and lows around 7 or 8.

It's early for that drop in temperature, so it's probably almost the end of the flowering plumbago, whose leaves and flowers die off at the first sign of frost. It's been a good run with them, just the same.

November 9
It was said that Jesse Jackson commented that the darker the night, the more one is able to see the stars. I think that's as lyrical a comment about our new president as we've heard.

The "pointe vierge" has been on my mind, and now I look forward to waking at just that moment early each morning. There is so much to reflect on these days, especially as we agree that life has slowed down for us, and for that we are most grateful.

We arise to so much fog that the Bomarzo band at the caduti monument just before church is almost hidden from sight. November 4th in Italy is the remembrance of those who died in WWI. Afterward we walk up to church.

These days, the larger church is the one we use all the time. The little church in the main square has not been used since the restoration of the main church was completed. It may be easier to heat, so in the coldest part of the winter we may change.

Nonna Candida sits with us in church, and it's always so good to see her. Later, after we return from a grocery shopping trip to Il Pallone, we drive by Brik, who sits back on his butt in the grass, waiting for...someone. It's good to see him looking healthier these days, but he must be at least twelve.

I take a nap, for I have a headache, and its been coming on for days, the pain moving up my shoulder and neck. But after an hour or so, I'm feeling better.

The rest of the day is lazy, mostly in front of the TV, and we end the night with a James Bond film, shot partially in Italy. It is Casino Royale, and has nothing to do with the earlier spoof with our friend, Barbara Bouchet as Moneypenny. I do like the new actor. Sorry, Sean.

November 10
After what feels like a chilly night, it really is time to return to Felice's painting. But first there are winter clothes to sort and freezers to defrost. Some tasks are the same around the world.

Those tasks done, I stop to take a look at the sunlight beaming against the tall poplar trees on the Rio and at Maggiolino munching away in the valley. Warm temperatures have returned and only a few clouds remain to the South and West.

But little Sofi is in pain, and we can't tell if it is her back or her stomach; later we realize it is her stomach and give her a dose of Enterogina in her water dish. She is a little bundle of heaven, and we can't bear to see her shake and look away from us in obvious discomfort.

I never do get to the painting...

November 11
We're surrounded in fog, and it feels cold. Sofi is back at full strength, and we leave for a drive to Terni. There is a shop there that sells beauty supplies to the public, and once a year or so I pick up a giant sized shampoo.

It is Veterans Day in the US, but we celebrated here in Italy last Sunday, when a wreath was laid at the caduti monument. Today is a day when I think of "Unclecalvinwhodiedinthewar". That is how Dino tells me he is named. He died before I was born.

I also think of my grandmother, who, for a few years, was the oldest living Goldstar Mother in Boston. She was a wonder. I loved her then, and I love her still, with memories deep of the many weekends we spent together and the hymns we sang at the Stoughton Street Baptist Church.

Dino thinks Sofi smells funny, so we pick up a dog shampoo and give her a bath in the bathtub after pranzo. She's really quite good about it, making a game about getting dried off with a big towel. I'm not a believer in bathing dogs too much, for I think it takes the natural oils out of their coats. Today, everyone is happy.

It is cold, and even though I spend a few hours painting Felice's hand while Dino picks up our olive oil from Diego, I am sure we will have a fire tonight, and move the painting back into the living room.

There's time to send in two more submissions to Italian Notebook: Giardino Giusti in Verona and the Blessing of the Animals, celebrated at churches all over Italy in January. Dino and I both enjoy the experience of visiting these places, as well as sharing our visits with Italofiles all over the world.

November 12
It's a rainy day, so I stay in and paint. Since I am nearing the end of Felice's painting we are looking at it with new eyes, making changes here and there.

Now that I know my next painting, Vincenzo the shepherd with one of his sheep on the evening of the last blessing of the animals in Mugnano, Dino drives to Viterbo to pick up the pieces for the frame. We have the linen, and in the next week he will work on putting it together and the applying the coats on top to get it ready.

It's a quiet day all around, the leaves gently falling off the persimmon tree and old movies on the TV. Angie calls to check in, and to tell us that if Ingrid has any questions about Sofi while we're gone, she's happy to help. We love Angie and miss not seeing her. She promises to come by for a visit after we return, and we will take her down to meet Spillo and Priscilla and Maggiolino.

November 13
I paint all morning as Dino drives off for one errand or another, and since he wants to make a fire I realize that I can paint by resting the canvas against the armadio. That means I can paint all winter while we have fires in the fireplace. Va bene!

After pranzo I do just that, and Dino gives me some feedback regarding the areas around Felice's eyes and the shadow under his basket. Since he works so hard to prepare the canvases, I enjoy his involvement and critique. After all these years, we're still a great team.

November 14
We wake to a buttermilk sky with no fog today. The dark clouds wage a battle with the sun, who pushes through at every conceivable opening, telling us blue skies are "just that far" away.

Felice leans against the kitchen armadio, standing on a step stool, and the blowup of his face is taped right behind the painting. So I work back and forth, moving his right eye inward and adding more shadows. Now all that is left is the pupil in his eye.

Since he had cataracts, the pupil of his eye was cloudy. So I'm thinking of calling Marco and stopping by on Monday just for five minutes so that he can take a look and tell me what he thinks I should do. In the meantime, if Don Luca is our priest on Sunday, I'll begin to speak about the fresco in the cemetery, to see what he thinks about the idea.

Sofi had a bad night, and her stomach is making noises, so I put Enterogina into her water, but she does not want to drink. Perhaps she has a delicate stomach. It would be a shame if at the age of five she needs to eat specific food. We are quite careful with what we feed her, anyway.

Dino visits Pietro, and will help him install a strip light in his cantina, the room that has become his workshop. Our dear friend is so in love with his life here that he does not want to return to Norway. We are hoping that he will stay until Christmas and that his son will join him. That would be so wonderful all around.

We subscribe to, and read that the US Supreme Court is studying whether to give permission for domestic abusers to be able to buy firearms. Those of you who know me know that I feel strongly about the tragedy of domestic violence. There is a strange wrinkle in the existing law.

A person who commits a domestic violence crime that would be construed as a felony is often given a lighter sentence (a misdemeanor) in return for pleading guilty. Since felons are not allowed to purchase firearms, there's the rub.

The leaves in Mugnano continue to turn. The rust of the persimmon leaves against the yellow of the wisteria call me outside in the cold damp morning, just to look at them. With the fruit picked, and six of them sitting on the outdoor table asking me if I'll make any more puddings, I'm not about to answer.

Here's a sample of "fall in Mugnano".....

It appears we're out of time to move the plants under the new pergola; that will have to wait until we return from the US, for we also need one of Dino from Attigliano's little truckfuls of gravel.

We're not in any hurry these days to do anything. I'm hoping that will continue to be the way we live our lives. There is so much to be thankful for, and I know that it is important to stop and take in the wonder of life around us, even more often than we do.

Since we're joining the Mediterranean Garden Society tomorrow morning for a tour of the gardens of San Liberato overlooking Lake Bracciano, I will write a story for the Italian Notebook and do a little research. We've wanted to see the gardens there for some time, and look forward to it.

With Sofi crying off and on for two days, we take her to the new vet in Attigliano. He finds nothing wrong with her, but gives us prescriptions for compresse (pills) for her to take. If she's not doing well on Monday, we'll take her back for blood tests.

She seems peppy and fine, and I am imagining her "sickness" is worry that we are leaving...She weights 6.5 kilos, so we could take her on the plane, but think she's happier staying at home. The travel itself is so stressful for us that we can't imagine what it would be like for her to add the noise of the plane engines and all the airport chaos.

Dino checks at the Attigliano farmacia, but they don't have the meds. They do have what is called a "contegocci" (eyedropper, that's one for your dictionary, eh) and Dino finds out because the person in front of him in line asks for one. "I'll have one of those" or "anch'io" is probably what he said to the pharmacista. Now we have one, in case we need to feed her liquid medicine.

I'm looking forward to seeing a fire in the fireplace, and think I have finished Felice until Monday, except for a few touches on the leaves. I'll call Marco and see if he'll see me for 5 minutes then, so that I can get some guidance on painting the pupils of his eyes.

Since Felice had cataracts for several years before he passed away in September, it's impossible to figure out how to paint the iris, since the center of his eyes were cloudy. Otherwise it's ready to frame, but we will hold off on that for a while.

I'm hoping Dino will work with me to make the frame for the painting of Vincenzo and his sheep and then staplegun the linen on the top and sides. I'll have to look in the archives to find the sheep's name. Then Dino and I will mix and paint the coats of glue and sizing on top of the pure linen to prepare it for paint. The blowup is finished, and it looks great. I'm going to see if I can do the painting completely by myself. Why not?

We have a new property for our site, and it is located in the countryside in a new area for us, Calvi d'Umbria. With five bedrooms, four baths, we'll see it tomorrow on our way back from Bracciano. Stay tuned.

November 15
We drive to Bracciano this morning to meet our Mediterranean Garden Society friends and take a private tour of the gardens and church of San Liberato. We have wanted to visit this private garden for years, and today is the day.

This is also the last day of the season for the garden to be open before spring, and as we drive up there are young men collecting olives on the trees that flank the road. All over Italy at this time of year the tradition of picking olives is shared by almost every family, whether they have one tree or one thousand. In Diego's case, it is more than 4,500, and he and his crew still pick their olives by hand. None of those machines for them.

Once inside the gate, at the parking area we say hello to old friends. Soon Claudio, our guide, takes us around. Although the tour is given in Italian, even those who don't speak any Italian are able to take it in. Remember, tree names are all in Latin, so garden aficionados learn a smidgen of Latin, at least enough to remember the names of trees and plants they admire and want to own for themselves. Today, many people take notes. This is a serious bunch of real garden lovers.

So why take a garden tour in November? Well, this garden, oh this Russell Page garden, has so many trees from all over the world that even the colors of the leaves today are a wonder.

The view over Lake Bracciano on this mostly clear afternoon is broken in some spots by magnificent trees; one woman tells us this is her second visit, yet she remains "aghast" at Page's planting of trees along the view of the water.

I can only chuckle to myself, remembering that when we lived on Russian Hill in San Francisco with a clear view of the Golden Gate Bridge, after a few weeks we even forgot it was there. Perspective is a funny thing.

We traverse lanes of slowly falling leaves of the most vivid colors: coppery and rust and yellowy green. Some of the women pick up leaves and pods and pinecones to take home or to forget once they're put on the seat of the car...

We do not join the others for pranzo, instead stop at a Tavola Calda in Bracciano for a snack. On the way back, the Signora who has the keys to our latest property calls us and we meet her at Calvi dell'Umbria, then follow her to the house.

This property is newly on our site, and is an excellent value: 5 bedrooms, four baths, two fireplaces, 6.5 hectares of land for under €500,000. Take a look:

We drive home and stop at Pietro's to pick up Dino's hat and look at the new doors (beautiful) and to help him rearrange some furniture. I tell him about my angel idea for the cemetery and he tells me that he knows where we can view really beautiful angels.

Pietro is now my angel advisor...Hopefully tomorrow Don Luca will be the priest and I will begin my conversations with him about painting frescoes in the cemetery.

Now that we have photos, tomorrow I will write an Italian Notebook story about San Liberato and send it in before we leave for San Francisco.

At home Dino builds a spectacular fire and we sit around until it's time to turn in.

November 16
Last night Sofi had a difficult night, crying for most of it, even when I picked her up early in the morning and put her on the bed. Then she shook, not happy at all until we both got up. She is clearly worried about our leaving on Thursday, although we've worked hard to downplay it.

She has to wait in her little cage while we go to church, but afterward she and I play a little in the garden before I return to painting. She sits right by my foot and follows me from room to room.

After pranzo Dino and I make the frame for the next painting, tape it on one side and then Dino staples the linen on it. Before we're through we have an appointment at Paola and Antonio's to take up the family budino di cachi for the holidays.

Sofi and Dino and I visit with our young friends, and Sofi is friendly with them but wants to sit right by my side. She is worried; no matter how much attention anyone gives her.

Antonio gives us some just made bread to take home. Pietro has invited us for drinks at the bar at Il Pallone, where there is a weekend buffet. I am not an aficionado of buffet anything, and am worried about Sofi, so Dino drives to Pietro to do a few projects and then the two of them do "the man thing" going themselves. Once in every couple of years Dino gets together with one or another friend to go out, so he'll have his fill for another year or two after tonight.

Sofi and I spend time catching up with writing (well, she sleeps in her bed by my side while I write) and then I delete 242 photos from our hard drive. Dino tells me we are overloaded or will need a new drive. This deleting of duplicate and less than good photos seems a more practical solution. When Dino gets home he'll tell me how much space we've saved.

Dino returns to tell me the "buffet" was just as I imagined, so I'm really glad I stayed home.

It is dark, so I forego returning to Felice's painting, but will do the few things I need to do to it tomorrow morning, then will take it to Marco's for one more question. That should take about five minutes, then I have an appointment with Daniele for my hair. Things are falling into place during these last few days before we leave.

Oh, great. I just cracked a tooth and will probably need a crown. So should I have it done in Rome or in Mill Valley on our trip? We'll see what our favorite two dentists have to say, a world apart in distance but both great technicians. Let's see if it's better to have it done in Italy...We'll know more tomorrow...

November 17
We've heard back from both dentists, so will keep the appointment on Wednesday. In Rome we'll pay approximately €1000 for a crown, and in the U S, approximately $1,300. So the price is similar after the exchange rate. Sigh.

Here, the dentist tells us he'll charge €200-300 for a filling, so we'll have the work done here, hoping I won't need a crown.

Dino thinks I've fixed the irises in Felice's eyes, so there's no need to drive to Marco's. I spend time making a change to his hat and finishing the leaves while Dino drives to Tenaglie to check on the house and meet with the developer. We've added the listing to our site, so if you're looking for a beautiful and characteristic turnkey property, signing up soon could enable you to benefit from a good sized discount. The developer is on schedule to finish them next June.

Although it appeared to be the start of a sunny day, clouds abound mid morning and Dino calls to tell me he thinks it will rain. So yes, I take the laundry inside.

When Sofi and I walk out to bring it in (Sofi with her wagging tail is always a help), we're surrounded by so much beauty that I have to stop and take a deep breath, as if I'm breathing it all in. The colors remind me of the grounds of San Liberato we visited on Saturday. What a treasured life...

I continue to paint, putting finishing touches on Felice. Tomorrow afternoon I'll make the changes to Hildegarde, and Dino will hang everything up. It may be the first of the year before Felice is framed, but by then I hope to be well along on Vincenzo the shepherd.

I'm itching to begin the next painting, but first we need to finish stapling the linen in the corners of the frame (we've already taped the frame to make sure that the fabric won't stick to it) and apply the many coats of cola di coniglo (don't ask) to make a smooth white surface. We already have the blowup and the carbon paper, but don't think the surface will be dry enough before we leave to begin.

I have an appointment with Daniele, and then Dino shows up for a haircut. We're both through in a little over an hour and drive home for more painting and puttering around.

November 18
Sofi has calmed down and slept without crying for the past two nights. But in the middle of the night a migraine appeared. This morning Dino tells me that he got up in the middle of the night and watched TV for a couple of hours in the kitchen, while stoking a fire. He thinks there was some smoke and perhaps that's what jogged it.

At around 6 AM I get up to take the medicine, and by the time I take a shower before 8 AM, I'm feeling somewhat better. By then Dino has left for an appointment, and returns to take me to Giusy for a pedicure.

After pranzo I make the changes to the painting of Hildegarde, and we both like the painting quite a bit now. I see something of myself in this one, perhaps it's her expression, and hope to find the right place for it. For now it will remain in the living room/dining room on an easel, hopefully out of Ingrid's way.

It's a beautiful cool day, and Dino hopes to pull out the bamboo stakes from the tomato ortos and turn over the soil, but he probably won't get to much of it. Earlier we ran into one of the two young men who work for the Comune on outdoor projects, and Dino asks him where he can take the old barbecue and frigo.

He arranges to meet up with him this afternoon to find a place in Bomarzo, and after he leaves I organize the paints and brushes I will take on the plane. I've done this before with no problem, but it is possible it all will be confiscated. We'll see.

There are things to get ready to pack, and since we'll be in Rome all day tomorrow and bring Ingrid back, we really have to pack today. I'm aiming to pack the lightest I've ever packed, for traveling stress is not worth getting anxious over. We'll see.

Duccio calls when Dino is out and he's a little better, but we can't visit him tomorrow, for visiting hours are only between 4-6PM, and we'll be coming home from the airport with Ingrid then. So I send him big hugs and tell him we'll see him in a few weeks. Our prayers are with him.

Dino gets to half of the bamboo stakes in the tomato ortos, and that's fine with me. We can still plant the favas when we get back, even if it is a little late. We don't eat them, anyway, just plant them to add nutrients to the soil for next year's tomatoes.

That reminds me. We won't buy any more seeds, just use those we have that are sleeping in a refrigerator in the loggia. That means no coco-peat, so we'll see if they still thrive without it.

We're packed and go to bed early. Thinks are mellow, thankfully, and our bags aren't that full.

November 19
We're out very early, for have a 9:30AM appointment with our dentist and then hope to visit Duccio before driving to Fimucino to pick up Ingrid.

But we cannot visit Duccio, for his visiting hours are only when we are not able to go, so we will have to see him when we return. He remains in our prayers.

Our good dentist, Andrea Chiantini, is more than accommodating, telling me that I only need a filling and then charges us €165, which we think is a great price. So our fears that I would need a crown have been allayed.

Dino drops me off at Feltrinelli bookshop and tries to get a parking space, finding a garage who will let him park on a ramp with Sofi inside and take the key. Usually parking garages insist on taking the keys, which makes it impossible to leave Sofi in the car, for even a short while.

We walk down to Palazzo Esposizione on Via Nazionale, but don't have enough time to visit the Etruscan exhibit or anything else. So we agree we'll return before the end of January.

We arrive at the airport on time, and Ingrid finds us before we find her. In the meantime, Sofi is so happy watching all the people greeting people and hugging that she wants to get in on some of it.

Back at home after a little jaunt around, Ingrid settles in, Tiziano arrives for a visit, then we have cena and sit around the fire and gab. We think Ingrid will enjoy herself, and after Sofi gets used to us being gone, she will enjoy her new friend.

We bid you a c'e reviddiamo in a few weeks and a happy Festa di Ringraziamento (Thanksgiving), with plenty of tacchino repieno (stuffed turkey).


Jet lag continues....

December 1 to 15
We've been visiting the US for Thanksgiving and our California family, returning on December 8th with a real dose of "kiddie flu". If you've ever caught a cold from a young child, you'll know what I mean. Maybe if it's from twins it's twice as bad.

While I'm in bed day after day, there is a very big event taking place along the Tiber River, especially in Rome. There is a full moon, although Dino thinks it's irrelevant, and the river overflows its banks. One young man from Ireland stands up on a bank holding onto a tree limb to take a photo from his cell phone. The branch snaps and he's carried away by the roaring current.

Outside Mugnano, the Tiber is also flooding. Here are a few photos to document the local scene. We are thankfully higher up on the hill and have no problems with our property.

After seven full days in bed, I return to the living and am feeling like my old self. But that means no journal entries for the first half of December.

The trip was our best trip yet since our move here in 2002, staying with son Terence and his wife, Angie and their twin daughters, Marissa and Nicole.

So we're going to share some memories: Thanksgiving Day, Terence and Angie and of course the twins, Marissa & Nicole as well as Kirsten, the Au Pair.

Beginning on the 16th I'll return to writing the journal.

December 16
We're up early for a change, and leave mid-morning in the rain for Viterbo, hoping that we can pick up the renewals of our Permessos. Although we were told that they would send us notification in the mail, we're hoping we can circumvent that.

Unable to find a parking space (I know, what's with Dino's karma?) I walk up myself to find out that no, they won't speak with us about them. We'll have to find out on the internet if they're ready.

So we do some shopping at IPERCOOP and return home to search Al Gore's internet. is the site, and our numbers are not included in their eight pages of numbers. Sigh. Until we have our renewal, we can't apply for citizenship.

I fix pranzo, and since I have not eaten much at all for the past week, I'm still not interested in food. One bite of roast chicken, a few tablespoons of cottage cheese and one small ginger cookie are all I can handle. I talk to myself incessantly about how wonderful it is that I don't want to eat, hoping that this attitude toward food will stick. The weight is dropping and I'm hopeful. Don't nix it....

Someone new wants us to list their property in Tuscany and our latest prospects have postponed their house-buying trip until after the first of the year.

I'm anxious to return to painting, but Dino has to work on the canvas. The rain stops and I'm hoping he'll work on it in the loggia, even though the air is damp. He's still not ready to put up the holiday lights, so if things are dry tomorrow, we'll do them then. If not, it really does not matter.

I think we're about ready for Babbo Natale's Christmas Eve passagiatta, and on Sunday will check with Livio about who will be in town that night.

I'm also beginning to plan a Christmas dinner, but since it will only be for Candace and Frank, it won't be an elaborate deal. I don't have the energy for it, anyway. It will be good to see them again.

Poor Frank. While we were away, he drove to Viterbo with friends and after getting out of the car someone drove over his foot! He's in a cast, unhappy as can be. Candace was not there at the time and the scene was right out of an Italian Keystone Kops...

The man stopped after running over Frank's foot; then insisted that Frank go with him to his insurance agent - not to the emergency room? - Frank complied; the report was written, but the fellow would not give Frank a copy of the report.

Did Frank obtain the driver's name or phone number or information about the insurance agent? No. He was somewhat dazed at the time. I don't need to tell you that his chances of filing a claim are pretty remote, but the scene is all too Italian...Be sure to keep your wits about you if your foot is ever run over in Italy...

We're giving Sofi doses of medicine, for her stomach is gurgling again and the Attigliano vet gave us pills for her to take for ten days. We'll see if she has some kind of virus. I would not be surprised. Otherwise, she seems fine.

We're settling back into our daily mode, but Dino is not happy that he can't spend time outside. We have lovely fires in the fireplace and do a lot of reading, but aren't getting exercise or any fresh air. Perhaps tomorrow.

December 17
Yes, it is a beautiful day, but I'm having trouble getting to sleep at night and now can't seem to get up before 10 AM. Today, there appears to be plenty of sun, so let's just make it happen.

While baking giant potatoes for pranzo, Dino leads the effort to string the holiday lights for the outdoor "tree". By the time the potatoes are baked, he's finished stringing them and replacing the two broken bulbs. Now we've only to wait until dusk to see the results.

Maggiolino has plenty to say out in his field, and it's wonderful to hear him. We're outside in shirtsleeves (well, Dino is in shirt sleeves...I'm wearing a sweater). A cat arrives to tease Sofi and it's as if we're in the center of a cartoon, with the cat flying around the house and Sofi charging right after her. Dino whips his head around to see the cat zoom around the front corner of the house, Sofi no more than a meter behind it.

Dino races behind them down the stairs, and luckily the gate is closed, so Sofi gives up as the cat jumps through the gate. I hesitate to think what would have happened if Sofi caught up with much for afternoon excitement.

Dino drives off for errands, and I work on the Christmas eve presents, although there is not much to do until we have the updated list. I hope that Dino will call Mario to come to turn over the tomato ortos and plant the fave.

It's late to plant them, but they'll be fine, growing just enough before we have to harvest them to plant our spring tomato plants, that is if we can get Mario to come and work a few hours. This year we'll be using seeds frozen from past years and no coco peat or special fertilizer for the tomatoes. It will be interesting to see if there is any real difference in the plants themselves.

What I do hope is that we will build some kind of incubating room within the guest room to give the seeds a better beginning. This is a time to do research, so let's see what we find out.

Just before we go to bed at around 11PM, we open the front door to take a last look at the Christmas lights on the fence and the tree. How wonderful it is to see these lights again.

I'm remembering the blue spruce tree in our front yard growing up, and how tall it became, lit with pale blue bulbs. On my way home from college for the holidays I could see the tree standing on the tall hill way off in the distance, and it never failed to bring a tear to my eye. The feeling tonight is like that, and I'm hopeful we'll continue to have it each year as we grow

We leave early for Rome to visit Duccio and Giovanna, and although there is a lot of traffic on the Salaria, we arrive just a few minutes after we've planned. Holding Sofi in my arms, I walk up the four flights of stairs while Dino looks for a parking spot. Amazingly, he finds one, as Duccio and Giovanna watch for him on their balcony.

It's always an honor to visit our dear friends in this classic Roman flat. "Let Sofi roam free!" Giovanna tells us, and we sit in the salone while Duccio catches us up on his surgery and recuperation. He really looks very good, and although a little weak, is the same Duccio we've known and loved.

Dino wants to know things about the Italian perspective of WWII and the occupation of Central Italy, and I'm particularly curious about Duccio and his family and Duccio's recollections of his earliest childhood.

For the next hour or more, we're given a different view of many things, for Duccio is always happy to share his deep knowledge of all things Italian.

Before we know it, we must leave. But as we reach the door to the flat, Sofi has left...something on the carpet. I am aghast, for Sofi is usually so well behaved. The woman who works for Giovanna is there right away with a plastic bag to take it up, and she shares my discomfort. Giovanna and Duccio are unconcerned.

With a c'e veddiamo we leave, and I realize that all the while Sofi has been out of the room, she has been sitting at the door, waiting for us to let her out. What a dunce I have been!

We change gears and Dino wants to find a good place to take our Christmas photo, so we find a place to park near the Palatine Hill and while Dino balances the camera on the car, a young man asks if we want him to take our photo. We take one of him with his camera as well.

Dino is not convinced that the shot is right, so wants to drive to the Orange Garden, with a different view of Rome in the background. Others have the same idea, so we have our photo taken there, but now think the first photo will be just fine.

While we're there, why not walk next door to Santa Sabina, a church we've been to with Lore and Alberto years ago. It's a marvel. Perhaps I'll write a Notebook story about it, so we take a few photos. In fact, the first paved road in Rome was the road in front of the church. There's a bit of trivia for you.

We drive to Trastevere for plates of pasta and gnocchi at Il Torre, then it's time to visit GB's mother off the Cassia and drop off their Budino di Cachi (Persimmon Pudding).

Although GB is off skiing for the day, we visit with Yolanda, his mom, and she offers us homemade chocolate chip cookies. Yes, Dino yearns for some, so I'll make them during the holidays.

As the sun lowers in the sky, we say goodbye, and hope to get together with her family soon. We're home just after dark, and are greeted by the lights of our tree and iron fence. Soon we'll be enjoying the evening in front of the fireplace.

I suppose it's a man thing, but Dino really wants a flat screen TV. He's been planning how to reorganize the kitchen to accommodate one, and I'm wondering how we're going to pay for it.

While he talks about the plan, I realize the ceiling is beginning to drop pieces of paint. The more we look, the more we realize there are more cracks in the walls, and Dino agrees we need to have Stefano come in to take a look. If some money appears, we'll have some repairs made; repairs that will probably entail re-fauxing the walls.

I'm ready for it, for we were able to do a seamless job of repairing the existing work after repair work was done to the front of the chimney and over the kitchen door. So after fires in the fireplace are a thing of the past, I'm thinking we'll take on the challenge of cleaning the walls and ceiling, repainting the ceiling and walls, and perhaps laying five castagno(chestnut) beams on the ceiling below where the steel supports have been laid and covered over with paint. Yes, there is always something to do.

But I offer a suggestion to Dino that completely floors him: Should we consider redoing the roof? We have been told that the muratores from Giove who redid our roof several years ago put too much weight on it, causing at least some of the cracks. I don't know why Italians don't use the lightweight pink feathery insulation we use in the US; they use cement blocks instead.

That will entail having our geometra come by to look and give an assessment, along with Stefano. But of course we can't do the work, at least not until we win the lottery. So let's watch TV or think of something else instead...

I open Duccio and Giovanna's book of Roman Art, and it is a wonder. There is much inspiration to be had here, and even an angel. That reminds me; I need to draw out a plan of how the cemetery fresco would look. That means we need to take panoramic photos of Via Mameli in the next days so that I can draw in the buildings, and above them the angels.

December 19
It's another bright sunny day, and while Dino drives to Tenaglie for an appointment, I get up and putter around until his return. After pranzo, we work on the canvas for Vincenzo's painting, brushing a layer of gola di coniglo (don't ask) for sizing. The canvas is then left to dry for an hour, then brought inside. If it's dry tomorrow we'll continue adding layers until it's ready to work on. I so look forward to painting again.

Dino drives to Viterbo to pick up our prescriptions, and Sofi and I have a mellow afternoon. The evening ends as most do, before a fire in the fireplace and movies on TV.

December 20
We awake to bright sun, and spend the morning cleaning the kitchen from top to bottom, including rearranging the furniture. This is the room we spend most of our waking hours in, and after spending three weeks with our son and his family and enjoying their flat screen TV, Dino subconsciously wants one. I believe in at least one of his sleepless night he rearranged the furniture so that one would fit just fine.

We're not about to buy one...yet. But in the meantime, the new design makes it easier to watch TV comfortably. The rearrangement far exceeds our expectations, and I'm wondering why we waited so long to try it.

We've also uncovered the little modo de dire dishes that we've put away, and that pleases me greatly, for I feared they were lost for good. The house is showing its age, but for now we'll just enjoy it. Perhaps we'll wait until the first of the year to bring Stefano in to talk about what repairs need to be done. We're not in a hurry.

I continue to research angel images, for I need to come up with a scheme and preliminary design for the cemetery frescoes, hopefully in the next few weeks. In the meantime, Dino sands the canvas for the Vincenzo painting and puts another coat on it. He'll continue to sand and put coats on it until it is ready to paint. I'm hoping to begin painting again this week.

December 21
On this the shortest day of the year, we walk up to church in the sun, greeting the regulars in church and spreading a few hugs around. The presepio in the side room across from the sacristy is sweet, and Salvatore shows it to us. He is a serious young man, and we look forward to watching him grow.

Don Giampietro arrives and greets us, welcoming us back. He is obviously comfortable as our village priest, although he only appears for mass; our village seems pretty self-sustaining.

Dino makes arrangements to meet with Livio and Gigliola this afternoon about the children expected to be in Mugnano on Wednesday evening for Babbo Natale's festa walk. We walk up there after pranzo, and now have our list to work from for Christmas Eve.

December 22 Before he leaves to shop in Viterbo, Dino sands and puts another two coats of gesso on the canvas. It's been another beautiful day, so the canvas dries well in the cool sunny air. He'll do another blowup of a cabbage and I'll paint that while waiting for Vincenzo's canvas to be ready.

Inside, I work on a drawing of an elderly woman. I saw a photo that moved me, and in my quest to keep practicing, keep drawing if not painting, I'm back at work, and really enjoy it. Later in the day, Dino tells me the drawing is a haunting image. I'd like to draw more; it depends on what else is going on in our lives. I like the mix of drawing and painting, and there is always something to work on; there's inspiration wherever I look.

IMAGE OF THE WOMAN HERE Dino wants Toll House cookies, and I agree to make them. A few days ago we ate chocolate chip cookies at a friend's house, but something was missing. Yes, it was the brown sugar. So I look up the original recipe to be sure. Tomorrow I'll make them and store them in a holiday tin...well, for a few days at least.

December 23
I've recommended that Babbo try on his costume to make sure that he has everything he needs for tomorrow night. We're expecting very cold temperatures, so he'll probably gear up under his costume like a Michelin Man. We have plenty of gifts for the children and grand children of the village, so will work on the tags tomorrow and then we'll be done.

Dino must be pretty confident about his costume, for he sets the idea of trying it on aside. Va bene.

I finish the drawing I began yesterday, but there is applesauce to make and Toll House cookies to bake. Tomorrow I'll prepare more food for our Christmas pranzo with Frank and Candace, for we'll be tired and the more I finish in advance, the more festive the day will be on Thursday. There remains a good possibility of snow.

Dino still has not spoken with Pepe about taking Spillo around with us on Wednesday night, but surely will in the morning. We'll be out doing errands and stopping at Tony and Pat's in Lugnano; they are here with their whole family as a last minute Christmas surprise. What a great idea!

Tiziano stops by tonight with Prosecco and a beautiful cake made by his mother. We send him home with fig and ginger jam, for their persimmon pudding was given to them before we left for Thanksgiving.

December 24
This is Dino's big we begin by checking the list a couple of times and organize the children's gifts for tonight's passagiata for Babbo Natale.

Then it's on to Tony and Pat's to visit with their family and to invite them by in case they want to take a look at any of the paintings.

We first drive up to the borgo to find out if Valerio and Elena and their family will be here. It appears not. But we come across Pepe, who agrees to let us take Spillo with us tonight when Babbo distributes the gifts to the children of the village.

Pepe's particularly concerned, for he's going to be cooking cena tonight for his family, so will let us babysit (donkeysit?) for Spillo, the six month old donkey. "Yea, sure. You worry about him!" we think he is saying to himself.

Paola calls us and tells us that perhaps Antonio will help us tonight with Spillo...will he carry the shovel? What fun it will be! Perhaps next year Pepe and Antonio will help us put a sleigh together. Everyone in Mugnano now gets into this Babbo Natale event. We confirm with Luigina and with Franco that their children and grandchildren will be here. C'e veddiamo!

As we reach the "flats" of Mugnano, there are almost one hundred sheep of all ages grazing in the field to our right. Dino takes a few photos, and I have to take a breath when I see the tiniest ones. No wonder my mother never ate lamb. Her best friend as a tiny girl was a lamb, who wound up as Easter dinner. It's enough to make one a vegetarian.

PHOTO OF MUGNANO SHEEP HERE. We're on the road to Lugnano. About two minutes before we reach Tony's we are met by about ten more sheep, which are just bouncing along the road as if it's a normal thing to do. Later we find out that they belong to a shepherd who lives at the bend in the road, confirming it as we drive back behind them and watch them gambol up the hill to home for pranzo.

After a fun visit at Tony and Pat's, during which Sofi gambols all around the house and is cuddled by the women, we return home to a pranzo of sausage and grapes, the famous Artusi recipe from the 19th century. It's really tasty.

I cook a few dishes for tomorrow's pranzo, and hope to have a little time to work on a new cabbage painting. It will probably have to wait...

There is pumpkin bread pudding and potatoes Savoyard to make for tomorrow's mid day meal. It's so much easier to cook in advance than to be stressed on the morning of a meal. With a big night expected tonight, we hope to sleep in late tomorrow. We'll see.

At just before 9 PM, Babbo Natale arrives downstairs, and I have only to fix his hair and hat. He looks great. Tonight he won't wear his glasses, and tells me he'll rely on me to give him the gifts for the children. Va bene.

We leave Sofi to guard the house and wait downstairs in the parcheggio for Spillo and Pepe to arrive from the campo. We hear the donkeys and in a few minutes all three donkeys arrive! Pepe and Maggiolino, Mario and Priscilla and Antonio and Spillo as well as Antonella wearing a Santa hat and bringing treats for the animals. The donkeys are particularly frisky and appear to drag their handlers up the hill toward us.

It was a great night with many Mugnanese on the streets following Babbo and the donkeys and their handlers, Pepe, Mario, Antonio and Antonella thru the village.

During the walk, Maggiolino decided to race off down Porta Antica, dragging Pepe behind him. The donkey ran to the right, causing Pepe to fall against a car. He told us he was fine, but we are not so sure. Now we know why he was not so confident about taking this big animal. We hope Pepe is all right.

We walk home and Babbo retires for the year. Dino changes clothes and we walk back up to the borgo to attend mass. Inside the church, we're about the first to arrive. I walk back to one of the side doors to greet Giuseppa with Italian kisses (one on each cheek) as she opens the side door, and then behind her is Rosalba and then Augusta and then Rosina, so I seem to act as a reception line, greeting and kissing almost all the ladies who enter.

Don Giampietro conducts a lovely mass, with Giulia and Salvatore as altar servers beside Enzo and Dino (yes, Dino is working his second job as a Confraternity member on the altar tonight).

The priest speaks directly to little Jacapo and Andrea about Jesus, asking "C'e e? No si vede!" (Where is He? I don't see Him!") Jesus lies under a white cloth, and the boys are encouraged to lift the cloth, after which we all applaud to welcome Him.

Once the mass is through, we walk down the hill, our Christmas lights welcoming us home. With the growing number of villagers following us around with the donkeys tonight, it surely was our favorite Babbo Natale event yet.

December 25

We're pretty tired, sleeping in until eleven, although I jumped out of bed at 8 AM to rush out to take the persimmon pudding out of the freezer to defrost for today's dessert.

We continue with our Christmas music, for have 187(!) songs on our IPOD from all the years we've been collecting Chistmas CDs. Somehow we never seemed to get rid of any of the holiday music.

This is a retro kind of day, with retro music and a retro menu for our mid-afternoon pranzo. But first we begin the day with toasted pannetone and cappuccinos.

There's stuffing to make (my mother's recipe), the pork to stuff also with small pieces of garlic here and there. But what takes the most time is sectioning off all the grapefruit sections and taking their "skins" off. It takes more than an hour just to finish two. The salad is also retro...grapefruit and avocado, this time with pomegranate seeds.

Our friends Frank & Candace arrive, and we begin with glasses of prosecco and stuffed celery with my mother's cheese spread (pimento stuffed green olives, cream cheese, butter, blue cheese, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, a little Tabasco). Then the pork, homemade apple sauce (also my mother's recipe), potatoes Savoyard, pumpkin bread pudding, broccoletti from Candace, full bodied red wine.

After the main course, the salad and dessert of steamed persimmon pudding flambé. A little coffee afterward and we're all ready for naps.

Frank remains in his cast, but is in good spirits. They've watched a program about botox injections to cure migraines, so encourage me to research it. Tomorrow...

Once they've left, Dino comments that not one thing is put in the dishwasher. He's not complaining, but it takes us a while to clean everything and put the dishes and glasses away for another day. There is so much Christmas music that we continue to listen happily, with not one repeated piece of music for days!

Before the fire, we watch a movie or two, and then turn in. The weather cooperated until dark, but for the rest of the evening a cold rain continues. It's been a lovely day.

December 26
I have no interest in going to mass, and it appears Dino shares my thoughts. So we sleep in until about 9AM, then lazily toast panettone and have cappuccinos. It's been fun to open up holiday messages from friends all over the world.

We are running out of Toll House cookies, so perhaps I'll make more in a day or so. In the meantime, there are plenty of leftovers, and Dino enjoys that kind of eating the most.

It feels very cold today, so Dino wraps the lemon tree and takes in the two smaller kumquat trees. They'll spend frost season in the loggia. The natural light is too low to paint, although I copy the cabbage image on a small canvas. I'd like to begin painting it tomorrow morning, but Angie Good will be here for a holiday pranzo, so that will have to wait.

It is so much fun to hear from friends from near and far. Perhaps this catch-up is one of the best parts of the holiday.

December 27
Happy birthday, Dad. I always think of him on this day, although he passed away eighteen years ago. He is in my thoughts quite a bit lately, for I am reading The Given Day, an excellent book about life in Boston during the early 1900's.

My father arrived in Boston from the Ukraine (at that time Russia) in 1912, and as Russian immigrants settling in the North End of Boston, the family must have had some real difficulties assimilating. The "teens and twenties" in Boston were times of police demonstrations and Bolshevik uprisings, the details seeming to rush right off the pages of the book. Now we'll never know...

I am so sorry that I did not take the time to find out more about my father's youth. I do remember that he spent a lot of his time reading, while his younger brothers were out in the streets doing things that boys do.

What I do have are letters between my father and mother in the early 1940's just before and during the first part of their marriage while my father served in the army. These letters are very interesting and telling, but those and the camouflage maps that my father somehow saved and were in our back room growing up are all that I recall.

If I had it to do all over again, I'd spend more time with my father taping conversations about his life. I'd be so interested to know how he felt during different phases of his life. WWII, being a Jew married to a Baptist, life during the depression after graduating from MIT in 1929...I will never know. I do have some recollections of my mother's, but very little from my father.

It's a "wake up call" to any of you who have parents and grandparents alive to take the time to learn more about their lives. How did those who came before us influence our lives? What attributes have been passed down to us? While there is still time, do make an effort to learn these things, especially how they felt at different significant times in their lives. You'll be thankful later...

While we were still living in California, I did some volunteer work for the Coalition for Battered Women in Prison. At the time, Pete Wilson was governor, and we worked to get sentences of some of the women commuted. For some reason I'm particularly moved about the causes of battered women. If you share my view, here is something current that you might be interested to read.

Angie Good arrives for a holiday pranzo, and I'm feeling badly that I have not visited Marsiglia recently. If Angie stopped by before coming here, we'll ask about her and will try to stop by soon. I hear she's very sad without Felice. I do know that it's far too soon for her to see his painting. But I do greet him each morning and love having the painting of him in our kitchen.

December 28
It's quite cold, and we wake up to...snow! Perhaps it is our "once a year" dousing...well, we can see snow on the top leaves of the loquat tree outside our bedroom window facing west, but there is not much on the ground.

We're excited nonetheless and drive up to church, for afterward we will drive through Bomarzo and surely there will be more snow on the ground.

The usual group shows up, but where is Don Giampietro? He calls Livio, and will be late. So Livio and Mauro wring their hands and try to find a couple of people to do the readings. We decline and Tiziano is not here, so the two of them do the readings and still no Giampietro.

At the end of the quasi-mass, parishioners are angry. It is the first time in memory that a priest has not shown up for a mass in Mugnano. We take it in stride, realizing our good friend and priest, Don Francis, arrives this afternoon for a visit. Perhaps he'll want to do a mass tomorrow morning, and what a welcome surprise for our village after this morning's fiasco.

We drive over the hill through Bomarzo, and there is plenty of snow. In Il Pallone, where we shop for groceries on Sundays, there is even more snow. But on the way back, we pass a frane (slide) and huge boulder on the road just before the tornante (hairpin turn) between Bomarzo and Mugnano, and see Francesco as we turn into our driveway and let him know. He's on his way up to Bomarzo now, and as our Vigili Urbano (local policeman), will take care of it. Va bene.

We pick up Don Francis in Orvieto, and Sofi and I wait in the car while Dino waits inside for our good friend. It has been raining, but there is no snow, thankfully.

Don Francis arrives and does want to do mass tomorrow morning, so a few hours later we are able to get through to Livio, who agrees to open the church for us. Will he let anyone know? Probably not, but as you know in Mugnano "l'aria parla" (the air talks), so even if people miss the mass, they will know it took place.

After a good afternoon and evening talking and sitting in front of the fireplace with a warm fire, we introduce Don Francis to Mad Men, one of the few programs we watch on TV on an ongoing basis. It is a program about advertising people, and probably consists of old re-runs in the US, but it is new for us, and we all laugh at the program and its nuances.

December 29
We're up early and have breakfast before mass. The walk up to the borgo is warm and sunny, well at least it is sunny. Only Tiziano arrives, along with Livio and Gigliola, but it is a lovely mass and Don Francis sings beautifully, including a number of pieces we have never heard. Since he was my mentor in joining the Catholic Church years ago, he watches me in the event he has to give me guidance. Afterward, he tells me I did all right, and we are both relieved.

While walking home we come across Franco, and compliment him on the excellent painting that he finished and donated, sitting in the little church in the square. I ask him if he has any interest in painting angel frescoes with me in the cemetery, but he does not seem convinced that the results will be sustainable due to the open positions of the walls in question. I'm beginning to lose interest, as I've perceived that it is a project fraught with bureaucracy and politics. We'll let the idea sit for awhile.

Back at the house, Don Francis and Roy walk around the property, while I fix pranzo. I had wanted to paint, and he had wanted to watch me, but there is no time. By the time pranzo is ready, it is 1 PM. Before we know it, it is time to take him to the train for the continuance of his trip to his Italy home in Isernia.

Perhaps we'll see him again before he returns to Washington, DC, where he works for the Council of Catholic Bishops. Perhaps some day he will be a priest in Italy...One can only hope.

December 30
On the way out of town, we come across Paola and Antonella. Paola has a book of cocktails with her, so is going out to buy ingredients for tomorrow night. Thankfully, we'll spend the night quietly at home. But for them, it will be fun. Wonder what kind of drinks they will make?

I have a pedicure this morning with Giusy, and look forward to seeing her again. It has been a long time since my last appointment. With my toenails sparkling like silver bells, I join Dino and Sofi on the short trip back to Mugnano, via the side road through Bassano in Teverina.

This road, although a lovely one, never ceases to depress me. There are three black prostitutes, young and probably from Africa, sitting along the side of the road. It is cold and shady in the three places where they sit; what kind of a life is this?

There is mail from the Questura, and our permessos will be ready to be picked up on January 15th. That's a wait of three months. So we look forward to getting that taken care of during the first month of 2009, speriamo.

It's time to return to painting, so I'm beginning with another cavolo (cabbage), similar to the one I painted for Cherie while in San Francisco. Once it is done, the large canvas will be finished and I can begin to paint Vincenzo and the pecora (sheep).

When we saw Paola this morning, she told us that Pepe is in the hospital in Narni! On Christmas Eve, when Maggiolino galloped off down the street and Pepe fell, he broke two ribs and has some liquid in his lungs, I think, although the doctors don't seem worried. Paola was not concerned; she told us he may come home today. Mario will feed the donkeys in the meantime.

Narni is the hospital to go to in the area for anything that has to do with bones. That is worth knowing if you live here. Outside Rome, the best general hospital is in Terni, although most neighbors wind up in Bell Colle Hospital in Viterbo, the place locals refer to as "Brutto Colle" (ugly hill), for its outside construction reeks of inferior workmanship. Inside the hospital is not bad...

It's good to get back to painting, although I don't really enjoy painting the same subject more than once. Finishing this present canvas should not take more than the end of the week, however, and the larger canvas still needs more layers. I nudge Dino and perhaps he will comply, for it is sunny on the terrace and won't take all that long to sand and apply another layer. Ah, I hear him sanding, so let's return to painting in the sunny kitchen.

December 31
Could today really be the last day of the year? It does not seem possible.

I wake early and read a little while waiting for Dino. The dark spot in the vision of my right eye remains, moving from right to left, and although the optometrist told me in November not to worry, I think there may be more than one spot. This is just to document it for the future, in case we need to know. I am not concerned.

We drive to Montecchio, stopping at Sisters' Bar for cappuccinos. It is strange, but there is a cornetto (called a croissant in some countries) made of integrale (whole wheat) flour and containing a spoonful of miele (honey) that I've just discovered. It's quite tasty, and not as greasy as the standard ones available throughout Italy.

At an intersection we are stopped by two Carabinieri brandishing machine guns, and we notice that we are not concerned at all these days when we are stopped, for these stops are routine. When first here, we were white-knuckle worried when asked to pull over, thinking we may have done something wrong.

Today, both men want to speak with us, asking where we are from. One even speaks a little English. The younger one is Mario and Angela's oldest son. These men are usually very friendly, curious and probably a bit lonely, wanting to make their time standing outside in the cold weather pass more quickly.

We think it is a good idea that there are frequent road stops. Perhaps it is a reminder to Italians to keep their auto insurance and registrations up to date. Otherwise, Italians would probably never renew theirs...But then, you already know that this is some crazy country!

The weather is cold, just a degree or so above freezing, and as Dino walks to the bank, Sofi and I walk around the town. Aftere the bank, we drive on to Viterbo to the vet we really trust, to get Sofi's nails cut. Her thumbnails are particularly long. Sorry.

Although there is a line of people, we're taken almost immediately. A young doctor clips Sofi's thumbnails (?) but won't cut the rest, reminding me that asphalt will file her nails, unless I choose to do it with my regular nail file. The nails themselves are too dark to be able to tell how much to cut. We really must take more walks around Mugnano. I know. It's good for Sofi and good for me. Va bene.

Sofi bounds out of there happily, and we drive home after confirming that Klimt, our art supply store, will open on Friday or Saturday in their new location. The pads of papers I use as a palette, throwing a piece away after I've finished mixing paints on it for the day, are packed in the new location and not available. Va bene. We'll return on Friday or Monday probably to pay our annual ACI (Italy's version of AAA) membership and will pick one up then.

In the meantime, I paint some more on the cavolo (cabbage), and although I could finish it today, think it needs to be finished in 2009. So I set it aside, knowing that tomorrow I can finish this painting and also start on Vincenzo and the pecora.

How do I feel about the year and my place within it? It's been eventful and illuminating. Reading The Cloister Walk inspired me to spend more time in quiet thought. I've begun to think about spending time in a monastery, but can't bear being away from Dino. Setting that aside, I feel centered and at peace with myself, although the world is just too chaotic for me to really find my place within it.

Dino and I are closer than we have ever been, and I think these past few years have been the best years of our lives. Perhaps it's because we don't expect much and do bless each day.

I'm thinking seriously about the act of Confession, and really don't believe in it. Does that make me a bad Catholic? On the contrary, I do spend the time thinking of how to become a better person each day and think I do act consciously more than not. So I suppose I'll be judged at the proper time, and continue my life as before.

We'll have a festive evening at home, with Prosecco and a cena of shrimp scampi. Will we stay up to watch the fireworks in all the towns around our little hill? We're not sure. What we do know is that we look forward to 2009 and whatever it brings.

Buon anno a tutti (Happy New year to all)!

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