April through June, 2009

To read the CURRENT month, go to ITALY JOURNAL

We post to the journal several times a month, so if you'd like to be notified each time we post, send us an email: evanne@lavventuraitalia.com

Special Note: Thank you to all who have emailed us concerned about us and about the people of the Abruzzi, who are at the heart of the recent earthquake and aftershocks. We are fine and only felt tremors here.

APRIL 2009

April 1
In some ways, Italy is far ahead of the US. For example, we're able to take advantage of the Italian government's subsidy of €3500 toward a new Italian car. In addition, we're able to pay the balance off at 0% interest for five years! We're turning in our Alfa Romeo, purtroppo, but the new FIAT Panda we are buying has received very high marks. Yes, it's a new life in many ways.

Yesterday, when sitting side-by-side with one of the USA players in the World Women's Bocce Championship in Bevagna and Foligno, I was able to share some information about moving from the US to Italy. Yes, it really does cost less to live here. But enough about that for today...

After a good deal of rain, the garden looks beautiful. Take a look at our most robust tree peonies; several of its blossoms have already appeared!

One wisteria in the middle garden is in real flower, the racemes growing down as pendulums and the tiny buds stretching to open. It's a miracle of a plant. Although the other two have not begun to flower, one is better than none. This next week, we hope to purchase one more for the fourth corner of the pergola, and the variety will of course be another macrobotrys.

With little more than one month until the exhibition, I need to move back to painting. Two of the canvases still need work, and one has not been started. Only Felice hangs on the wall ready to go. Let's make it fun, or not paint at all. Nothing is worth additional stress.

There is also the journal to update for the bocce tournaments on Monday and Tuesday. Although the drive was long, the experience was memorable, and we are proud of the USA team, although they lost out to Russia last night, and so did not make the semifinals.

Don stops by to say hello, and since Dino is in Viterbo doing shopping, asks me to have him look at a stufa for him for his house. He and Mary will come here for pranzo tomorrow; but first Don and Dino will return to Viterbo to look at stufas there. Mary and I will hang out, and that will be fun. I still have not returned to painting...

Sofi and I take a walk, and run into the usual suspects. Quintillia is at her front door, and we send our hellos to Giannino, whose health is failing.

On the way back on Via Mameli we run into Italo, and I ask him if he'd like to see our tomato plants. Is that a "come-on?" I later gasp to myself. But at the time, it's not a big deal.

Italo follows Sofi and me along, and once he sees the tomatoes, thinks they should be in the ground. I'm now thinking seriously about that. Once Mario comes to turn over the earth, we probably will.

After a walk around the garden, he marvels, and I tell him that he is welcome to come to hang out anytime. But at that, he looks darkly at me and scowls. "NO" he replies, "Mai a solo!" (Never when you're alone.) L'aria parla (the air talks) I say to myself.

Italo walks carefully down the parcheggio steps to leave as I thank him for the consultation. I'm sure that no busy eyes that peek through their windows will think I'm telling the truth...

April 2
When Dino returned yesterday afternoon, he agreed to ask Italo to come by when he's here regarding the pomodori. I'm increasingly worried that on one or two plants, their leaves are beginning to turn yellow.

As an interim step, we'll see if the little serra fits onto the counter of the outside serra. That would be ideal, for we could open the door to the serra building during the day and close it at night. If it won't fit, we'll wait a week, then move the plants to the serra counter, without its moisture cuccoon.

Don and Mary arrive at 10AM; then Don and Dino drive in Pandina to Viterbo to look for a stufa for Don and to see if Mario has our car ready. We might be able to pick it up as early as tomorrow. I surely will miss the Alfa, but the new little Panda will be fun.

Mary sits while I make a cake and prepare pieces of a frittata I fixed last night for antipasti. Last night I also prepared a pasta "al forno", so it will be ready to put in the oven just before the boys return.

Of course they arrive with a stufa for Don, a British Racing Green one that will work very well in their kitchen in Tenaglie. In the afternoon we drive over to deliver it to them and Dino calls Tani to arrange for a consultation in order for him to drill into the walls and into the fireplace so that the fireplace and stufa can vent together.

We run into Mario on the way back from Tenaglie and he agrees to come within the week to weed-wack and to turn over the soil, but confirms that we should not plant the pomodori until after Pasqua (Easter). Va bene.

The sun came out before noon today, and if the little serra won't fit in the outdoor serra, we'll put the plants out anyway, just add more gravel to the bottom of the plastic tubs and more water for the plants.

Later we realize that the serra won't fit on the shelf by itself, so we take the tubs to the outdoor serra, close the window and door, add more gravel and soil and water and hope for the best. I'll monitor the forecasts closely and perhaps the plants will be fine. Speriamo di si (We hope so).

April 3
We're waiting to hear if our new car is ready, but in the meantime it's painting time for me, after checking on the pomodori and opening the door to give them fresh air. They look fine.

But since I have a headache, I realize that painting will still have to wait. It is a lovely day with a cacophony of birds reverberating throughout the valley as if we have hundreds of residents. One particular bird's call is especially pronounced, as if it's sounding a Morse Code.

Dino takes a short trip to nearby Attigliano and stops at Bruno's to see if he sells sunflower seeds for smaller flowers to use in front of the giant ones we are about to plant. But Bruno has a different take on planting girasole (sunflower) seeds, and although he does not sell seeds, he takes a scoop of his seeds and hands them in a little bag to Dino.

Bruno claims that sunflowers feed off each other as they grow...the closer they are planted to each other, the taller they will grow. Now Al Gore's Internet tells me the opposite...Plant giant sunflowers three feet apart, the smaller flowers closer together.

Since we're in Italia, we'll take Bruno's cue, although we'll still buy different seeds later today in Viterbo as well. That means we'll also plant seeds in the upper orto where we usually plant the overflow tomatoes. I never thought we'd have our own "field" of sunflowers...now we will! Speriamo!

"Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi" (When in Rome, do as the Romans do).

The proverb is often attributed to Saint Ambrose (c.340-397), whose advice to Saint Augustine read: "Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more; si fueris alibi, vivito sicut ibi ('When you are in Rome live in the Roman style; when you are elsewhere live as they live elsewhere')".

I'm upstairs writing while Dino putters below on the terrace. He calls up to me, "What?" and we both laugh. Maggiolino, one of the donkeys in the field below, has just let out a loud honk, and he thought I was calling out, "Dino?" What a funny life we lead!

The persimmon trees are finally showing signs of leaves, and everything is happily growing in the spring sunshine. We're not worried about the wisteria on the front terrace not showing flowers; for that space, covering the pergola is of primary importance for protection from the hot summer sun.

Expert horticulturist Alan Titchmarsh tells us it may take 5-7 years for a new wisteria to flower. I'm wondering what he means by "new plant"; either way, it's not worth worrying about.

The car is not ready, but we'll drive to Viterbo this afternoon just the same, to sign papers and look for seeds. Perhaps we'll even stop at Michellini, our favorite vivai, to see if they have a flowering wisteria. Now I realize how important it is to purchase a wisteria plant already in flower...

Word to the wise, or "verbum sat sapienti" is the modo de dire, but the translation literally is, "A word is enough for a wise man"...but who ever said we were wise?

I love Latin idioms, or latin "modo di dire". So I'll try to include more as the journal continues. At one time, I thought I'd try to speak only in "modo di dire", but realized that was a foolish thought.

What is your favorite? Mine is one handed down by my sometime wacky mother, all in English: "Useless to talk, said the French spy". No, I don't think you'd find that anywhere in a book.

We view a press conference between Barack Obama and President Sarcozy in Strasbourg, France with great optimism. Although the US has been badly criticized for its role in the world-wide economic nightmare, it is appearing that world powers no longer expect the US to stand on its own when facing challenges in other parts of the world.

Just now, Sarcozy emphasizes that France will not only agree to take prisoners from Guantanamo, but will actively work with the US and other European countries regarding Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon as well as terrorism in general. He reiterated that if there is to be a terrorist strike, it is more likely that its aim will be a target in Europe instead of the US due to proximity.

What a difference a year makes! Who could have imagined a Bush administration taking this kind of diplomatic stance? Yes, when a door closes, another one opens. "Omnia mutantur nos et mutamur in illis." (All things change, and we change with them.)

We drive to Viterbo this afternoon, with Sofi staying behind. It's really quite warm, and we're happy to find seeds of two different varieties of girasole (sunflowers). Since we're on a roll, we stop at Michellini to see if they have a wisteria macrobotrys in flower. They have the wisteria, but it is not in flower, so they tell us to come back in two weeks. I tell Lucia to call me if one of theirs flowers in the meantime.

I can't help it; I ask if they have a rampicante Paul Lede rose. It is my very favorite and they do...We take one home, and it will complement the other Paul Ledes on the pergola going up to the upper orto in the middle garden.

Tomorrow we'll go to a book-swap in Civita Castellana and there is a big vivai there; if we are in luck, we'll find the wisteria there. Since we have only one wisteria in flower of the seven we own, we're not about to buy the last one unless it is just right.

April 4
We're off to the book swap, and have twenty-two books to swap. Yes, we love to read, and these books are all in English. I know, I should try reading in Italian, but it is so very difficult, especially when I read just before going to sleep. At least it's better than watching the TV...

The swap is at Alison's in Civita Castellana, on the main street. She has a wonderful palazzo, with a mix of very old and new. It is good to see her again, and I am reminded that we don't see our "stranieri" friends as often as we might.

Pat Smith is also here, and we talk about writing for GB (she is also a Contributor) and about painting. She agrees to take a look at Vincenzo and Occhi Pinti, because I am having trouble with Vincenzo's eye. Thanks to email, I can email her images and get her advice that way.

While we're here, we meet Louis, who is also a part-time painter, living in Florence. He's agreed to be the subject of an I N story regarding his job as a restorer of fine art sculpture. Va bene! What a great excuse to travel to Firenze!

We're still on the lookout for that glicine (wisteria) Macrobotrys in flower, and one vivai on the Flaminia is closed, the other has many glicine, but not ours.

I really miss Sofi, and she's so dear when we arrive back home. She helps me take a look at the pomodori in the serra; this morning I opened the door and this afternoon put in more water and turn the tubs around. So far, they are acclimating to the new space.

I have an appointment with Daniele at 3, but in the meantime I sew a cloth hanging for Don's fireplace, one that will hang on a spring rod, and am able to make a tablecloth with the material that is left. Dino will take them to him while I'm at Daniele's.

It's a lovely hazy day.

It's not exactly Steel Magnolia's, but Daniele's on Saturday afternoon is bustling. He has a varied customer base...Young macho men, Nonnos and Nonnas (grandfathers and grandmothers, the women with their tight perms), a sprinkling of thirty-somethings to get their hair colored in the latest shade of red...and then there's me.

I count Dino in with the Nonnos, for he has what Nicole calls "Grandpa kitty hair"; it's a few centimeters long, and soft. Each time I arrive, I tell Daniele to alter the color, for the very front of my hair needs stronger solution so that it won't turn red-gold.

Usually my hair looks fine except for the front. Today, I explain in detail, and he loads me up with solution, "Piu cenere" (more ash), and this time I think he's on track. My hair is quite long, past my shoulder, and I tell him to cut it "un po" (a little).

I apologize that you had to read all this, and hope that you've skipped over it for something more interesting.

Back at home, I give the pomodori plants in the serra more water and notice that there are some yellow leaves. I'm wondering if they are in some shock from moving them to the outside serra or too much sun, but the sun has been intermittent today, so they should be fine. We have to use a little "tough love" with them, and next week they'll be in the ground. C'mon Mario...We need your weed-wacking...subito!

I admit that I love lying down in the late afternoon and hearing the farmers on their tractors in the fields below. There are so many sheep around, and on the way back from Alison's in Civita Castellana we saw a herd of sheep all lying at the base of a huge olive tree.

Senape, or mustard flowers, are growing everywhere. Fields and fields and fields of it; on the banks, on the sides of the road...everywhere. It reminds me of the land in the wine country in Northern Calfornia. I'm wondering about harvesting mustard seeds, and this spring will do a little. Why not? If you have any ideas of how to do it or anything else, let us know.

After the village festa at the beginning of May, Patricia Smith has invited me to join a couple of other people with her to paint in watercolors. I've never done it, so it should be fun. Since I want to do some landscapes, this is a great way to give it a try.

April 5 Rosemarino, viburnum, wisteria macrobotrys, peonia, teucrium...that's the sequence of flowering in our gardens so far this Spring. It looks as if the rosa banksia will be next, with just a bud peeking out from my very favorite, Paul Lede rose. I'm hoping that Dino will plant our new Paul Lede this afternoon. After all, it is truly a bella giornata (beautiful day).

It's Palm Sunday, and here in Italy people use olive branches instead of palms. We walk up to church empty-handed, for there is something special about bringing a branch home from church.

Sad news on the way...a notice that Argentina Mariani died on Friday at age 80.

Her last name was Mariani and her maiden name was Bellachioma. Those are both very Mugnano family names. Since mid February she has lived in Bomarzo at Myosotis, the local nursing home, in an advanced state of Alzheimer's. For two years or so, she has not known who anyone is. Now she's in "another world", as Italo would say, and we'll attend her funeral this afternoon.

I always thought her name was unique; perhaps we'll ask someone where the name came from. I remember before he died that she had a kind of sweetheart for a year or so in Giovanni; we'd see them sitting silently together on a bench at the bus stop during late afternoons. By the time he died I don't know if she remembered who he was, but the romance was so sweet; of course it was also the talk of Mugnano.

Dino and four others are dressed in Confraternity garb this morning and help Don Luca with the procession and mass, which begins in the little church and follows to our larger, usual one.

He asks Don Luca if he wants two confraternity members to help him with the funeral procession this afternoon. He does. Cue Dino and Valerio.

During the mass, there is a wind whistling through a fan high up in the church. I think it portends change is coming...

Lore and Alberto are here; I confirm that they went to Arezzo yesterday, for the first weekend of each month they love to look around the antique market the town is famous for. Today after mass they return to Rome.

She asks about my paintings, but I tell her she cannot see them until the festa weekend next month. I'm in mini-seclusion for the rest of this month, hoping to finish Vincenzo and Occhi Pinti, Gino and Tito, whose painting I have not yet begun. If I run out of time, we'll exhibit the first three. We'll see.

It is a glorious day, and Dino can't wait to get home to see the start of the Formula 1 race. For me, it's time to change clothes, feed the tomatoes a liquid fertilizer, put in the potatoes to bake and catch up on some writing. If I can paint this afternoon, I'll do that, too.

But at 3:30, there's Argentina's funeral, and Ecomuseo will have a walk after that. Looks as though Gino and Vincenzo will have to sit it out another day. Dino has left his Confraternity garb in the church, for the afternoon service.

In a day or so we'll fix a frittata with our asparagus volunteers. I have no idea how asparagus grows...wild ones, that is. Perhaps they will continue to grow in the existing space in front of the loggia, unless we plant too much basilico there.

After pranzo, before the funeral, Sofi and I walk out to the middle garden to spray roses with a solution of denatured alcohol, soap and water. While I'm spraying the Paul Ledes, my favorites, I see Gianfranco up above with his tiny granddaughter, Elisa. So how old is she? (about one year)...Better tell Babbo.

I wake Dino, aka Babbo (Natale), from his nap and ask him, but it's news to him. Better find out, Babbo!

Young men on dirt motorbikes are raising a ruckus on the stradabianca heading toward the Rio. It really is a revolting sound, as if they're making gas on purpose, which they are...It reminds me of Sundays on Mount Tamalpais, above Mill Valley, CA, where we lived in a previous life.

We walk up to the borgo for the mass, and Dino walks ahead to dress. There is milling around outside the church, so I walk inside, and soon Candida joins me, taking my hand. It's strangely comforting to sit next to her.

After the mass, we all walk outside, and the women form two lines. When we reach Ernesta's store, Elena walks next to me and asks me in Italian, "Shouldn't we be in front?" I respond with a smile, "I don't know. YOU'RE the teacher!" Then I follow with, "Va bene. Se tu andare, io seguire" (Good. If you go, I will follow.)

Are you impressed with my spontaneous response? I have no idea if the grammar is correct, but it feels good to say it!

The two of us walk ahead and take our places behind Rosina on one side and Anna Cozzi on the other. By now, all the chants are familiar to me, and it's a lovely afternoon, so we walk slowly to the cemetery and to Argentina's gravesite, chanting all the way.

As Dino and I leave the cemetery, her caregiver from Romania stands at the gate with Maria, Giustino's caregiver. She tells us she's now working in Viterbo, for a 73-year young woman. Those women can always get work. Good for her.

Dino and I took a walk around to see if there is a photo on Vincenzo's grave. That might help me with his painting. The photo is a bit younger than when he died, but it may help. We also walked to our spot, and reminded ourselves to drive to Soriano one of these days...I showed him a beautiful stone angel in the cemetery, and told him we will have one as wonderful as that to watch over us one day. Why not?

On the way home, we stop at Valerio's campo and he shows us around. It's a lovely spot, with 23 olive trees and a little building, fun for summer festas. Since the new house is on the property next to his, he takes us to the fence and tells us the owner is a relative of Annarita's, and that they want to open an agritourismo there.

That's a real surprise. So they'll probably put in a pool, and if you come to visit us you can stay there. Now that the guest bedroom is now my studio, visitors can stay close by. Perhaps they'll have a trattoria! We can only hope.

I take a walk with Dino out to see the wisteria in flower, and before I return to the house I see a little hummingbird buzzing around the teucrium. Spring is surely here, even if Terzo tells us there'll be a change in the weather in a few days.

April 6
There's some word that molecules have been discovered that can unlock the secrets of memory loss and of addiction, which is a learned behavior. The medicine for it is called ZIP, and it's only been tested on animals, but I'm feeling zippy just thinking about it.

So we'll be able to block out unpleasant memories and change negative learned behavior. Perhaps we could form it into a mushroom cloud and have it descend over the Taliban.

During the night, at 3:32 AM to be exact, we awoke to a feeling as if we were sleeping on a waterbed...the house rolled forward and back for what felt like at least 15 seconds, and then stopped. The people in the area in and around L'Aquila (la AK-we-la), a city in the province of Abruzzo, suffered the most, and as of now at least 50 people are dead and 100,000 homeless.

We are fine, although I think we need a plan for the village if an earthquake strikes here. I suppose people could camp out on our far property...

I went back to my studio this morning after checking on the tomatoes, and a friend in the US has asked for photos. So here they are..all 15 of them.

Dino is going to plant our heirloom tomatoes in both the upper and lower campos, teepee style in each place. I've just heard from dear friend Sarah, who tells us to plant the plants 2/3 of the way into the ground to make very sturdy plants. I answered that we'd have to dig part way to China! I do know that if you plant part of the stem under the earth (plant it partly sideways), the plant will be stronger, but I like this idea even more. Thanks, Sarah and Alush!

This weekend, we heard about a solution to mix with oil paints to add luminosity to the finished painting, so we picked that up this afternoon at Klimt. That should work well on all three faces I am painting.

While in Viterbo, we drove to Bonucci, our house paint store, to purchase paint of a lighter color for our shutters. When we purchased them last year, they were poorly painted, and did not have a protective coat. So we'll sand them down one by one and repaint them in a color closer to the color of the flowers on our rosemarino plants.

We spend an hour here and there listening to the RAI channel, and it's an education in the language as well as a tragedy of epic proportions. Now 150 people are dead, 50,000 displaced, 10,000 evacuated, and that's just in the first fifteen hours...I'll continue to report, although the news everywhere in the world is covering it.

The weather is beautiful and we're looking forward to continuing to work in the garden. No one has wisteria macrobotrys in fiorita (in flower), so Dino tells me that if we can't find one on Thursday afternoon in Viterbo, where we've been assured they'll have them delivered from the main growers in Pistoia, we'll drive up in the new car to Chiusi on Friday to Margheriti Brothers. Va bene. The seven we have are growing so fast that from now on we'll be able to watch them grow.

April 7
Yes, the wisteria plants are growing quickly now...

...so Dino can begin his daily tending of them, which he loves. The tomatoes are continuing to grow, and Dino agrees that we'll take Sarah's advice: she's just emailed us to tell us that she and Alush plant their tomato seeds in big pots, then plant them with 2/3 of their growth under soil. That way, the plants grow very strongly. We'll plant them deeply, for sure. Thanks, dear Sarah and Alush.

While Sofi and I are taking our giro, we pick up three different flowers, none of which we know. Take a look:

We also see that Maria Elena is here from Norway for a week. We stop at her house and she follows us home. Dino then walks with her to her garden, to help her to plan a gate.

We think we're picking up the car today, but at the last minute there is a telephone message that we need a special letter from our Comune to verify that we are residents. Dino calls Sr. Ivo at 12:30 and he agrees to write the letter for us...subito! Dino drives off to pick it up and returns in time for pranzo.

Yes, if you want to buy a car in Italy, or have a fixed line telephone, you must not only be a resident but have an authorization letter from your local Comune as well (where records are kept).

We decide to pick up the car tomorrow, so I return to painting this afternoon. Dino takes Maria Elena to see Lorenzo about making her gate, and takes photos of our gates with them in case she wants to use one as a model.

It's an "earth-quaky" day; what I mean is that the air feels close, the sky is hazy, and everyone seems a bit uneasy. Anyone who lives in an area in or near an earthquake zone will understand. We are not in an earthquake zone, but our neighbors in nearby Umbria are...Umbria is just across the Tiber River from Mugnano.

As of now in the area of the earthquake in and around L'Aquila, more than 200 are dead, thousands are wounded, and photos show people in the same robes they wore on Saturday night when they rushed out of their homes.

Prime Minister Berlusconi stages a news conference at l'una (1PM), and while we're eating our pasta along with millions of others all over Italy, we listen to him.

His expression scares me. Let's say he has no expression; his eyes are dark and expressionless. With the worldwide attention focused on him, he's in his element, fiddling with the two microphones to be sure they are transmitting everything he is saying.

When we view news coverage of people being fed from food vans, we're reminded that Italians won't stand in lines...here they huddle around, not that I'd blame them. They need food, clothes, blankets...and then what? Hundreds of portable tents are put in place in an astoundingly short time, and the operation seems quite organized.

I remember that when people were forced out of their homes during the Assisi quake in 1997, portable buildings were erected for them to temporarily live in. Many of the people refused to move back into their homes unless they were restored perfectly.

I don't know how long it took, but on a recent drive through Foligno, where enormous damage was also suffered, there are still sections of the city that have not been rebuilt.

If you have not yet subscribed to Italian Notebook, shame on you. Take a look at the story about the earthquake anyway; it will make you laugh and cry:


Dear friend Michelle writes from San Francisco that local restaurant in the financial district, Paola de Asti, is organizing a relief effort for the Italian Red Cross. Wherever you live, there is probably a way you can get involved, if you choose.

It's wild asparagus time, and we're about to become foragers...hunting for asparagus is fun, although one has sprouted up in front of the loggia where we grow our basil and lettuces. Although it likes to grow along the side of the road, hence the people stopping their cars any old where and snooping in the grass, it will grow and re-grow in the same spot year after year. Tonight I'll make a frittata with the ones we have, hoping more will pop up nearby.

Speaking of foraging, I still have not found out what the wild flowers are that grow in abundance on the giro (walk) that Sofi and I take below our house. Email us and let us know if you know them.

As I write, we have an aftershock. I'm sitting by the computer and the house rocks back and forth for the longest time. As soon as we discover more, we'll let you know.

Well, in less than half an hour, the news comes in that it's an aftershock at the level of between 5.3 and 5.7, nearly as strong as the quake a day and a half ago. This one really has me shaking.

Some people ran out of their houses at the first sign in L'Aquila, and lived to tell about it. So who's to know if the quake or aftershocks will cause damage? Let's go to bed and try not to think about it.

April 8
The weather continues warmer than usual with a profound heaviness in the air. "Yes, it's earthquake weather," confirms Maria the Sarda (Maria from Sardinia); since she's a fearful sort, shaking her head. "Non va bene!" (It is not good!) I reply in my fractured Italian and she nods.

This morning we drove to the local vivai for our glicine (wisteria), and although they had dozens and dozens, most were unmarked and none marked Macrybotrys. I wonder out loud why they are not marked, and Dino surmises, "People just want wisteria. They don't car what kind."

We ask "Gianni Picolo" (Little Johnny) what a particular wildflower is called and he tells me it is an "erbaccia" (weed). It's lovely, and grows all over the giro where Sofi and I walk. So I look it up on the internet, but can't find the name of it.

Now that we know better, we understand why it is counseled not to buy a wisteria until it flowers. Seven that we have may never flower...I don't really mind if it takes a long time for most of them to flower...we have plenty of flowers in the garden and the terrace and mostly want it for its cover. That's the optimist in me.

The pessimist has me wondering if we should take Frank's counsel and pull them out and replace them with ones that flower. Several years from now we'll take another look.

Today we drove to Marina Fa Mercato in Orte to look at covers for the parcheggio, and found one that we like. It has a pole, however, in a spot where we don't want it, so Dino took photos of it and Lorenzo counseled us that it's not a problem to alter that one pipe.

Don and Mary invited us all for pranzo, and laid out a lovely pranzo for us. We love getting together with them; the more we see them, the more we love them. Sofi was, well, Sofi, and spent most of the time by my side, as a lovely fire glowed in the fire place, the material I sewed for them fitting well to keep the smoke inside.

After pranzo we stopped to see Lorenzo in Guardea, and to meet his Black Lab puppy, Thelma, who towered over Sofi but was quite shy. Sofi was not thrilled with her, so they need more time together.

On the way home, we stopped at Pietro's to see Mario doing his fine weed-wacking in the garden. When our dear friend returns on Pasquetta (Monday), he'll have a lovely sight.

It's time I helped you with some more Italian words, especially if you look up an Italian website for news about the earthquake and its aftermath.

terremoto = earthquake
sfollati = evacuees
dispersi = dispersed, scattered
bilanco = balance/budget
crollo = collapse/landslide
scossa = shake
saccheggiare = to loot
saccallagio = looter
colpite = blame
tendone = tent

One that stumps me is "dopo l'urto", which stands for aftershock, but urto translates as a bump or a hit. That makes sense.

To date, in L'Aquila and the area, there are 250 dead and 10,000 buildings yet to be searched before/or if their residents can return. 1,000 people are in serious condition, so we expect the death toll to rise. It does not make sense to editorialize, for you know how badly we feel. The loss is really unimaginable, and yet people say that they will not move away.

We know we must carry on with life, not knowing what the grand plan is, and Dino returns to Orte to order a cover for the parcheggio. Last year's tarps worked, but pulled away from the tufa walls and wound up not really being waterproof. We really need some kind of cover for the oppressive summer heat there. It really is like an oven.

There's a discussion about the new car's name. Oh. We cannot pick it up until Thursday afternoon or possibly Friday. It all hinges on the targa (license plate). Only when the targa has been issued and the number faxed to Alessandro, our wonderful insurance agent, can we obtain insurance and take possession of the car; hence all the delays. When rereading this month's journal, I note that day after day we thought, "today's the day!" only to be disappointed. It's really not a big deal.

It doesn't matter to me when we pick it up, although Dino is anxious to "get on with it". I'm more philosophical...I remember that when a salesperson tells us "oggi "(today) or "pomerrigio"(this afternoon), it only means "forse" (perhaps).

So about the car's name...we've always had names for things. Since Pandina is Dino's Panda, this Panda he tells me is "Eva's" (although I may hardly ever drive it). Since it is a pale yellow, I consider the name giallina (little yellow), but that sounds too much like gallina (hen). I'd rather it be a pulchino (chick), so I think I'll name her Pulcinetta.

Oh, no. a pulcinella is a buffoon, a pulce is a flea...

Did you ever want to "put a bug in one's ear" figuratively? You'd "mettere una pulce nell'orecchio di..." We're back to pulcinella, which is a buffoon, but is also one of those characters that I paint from Naples with the masks and white cap and clothes which play tricks on people. No, I don't like the sound of that.

I think in honor of dear departed Leo, who named his cars "the brown job" or "the green job", I'll name her "Gialla" (yellow). Since "gialla" also represents mysteries or detective stories, I think that will work, since most things having to do with cars are mysteries to me and that's just what I want them to be. Let's go back to "Giallina"(little yellow) after all...

While Dino is gone, I can hear the tractors in the ortos below, and it is a comforting sound, along with sounds of hundreds of birds. He remembers to order the abbacchio (Spring lamb) for brodetatto, our Pasqua (Easter) pranzo.

April 9
There were three aftershocks during the night; we felt two of them. We're still out of danger here, so not to worry. Dino has his confraternity work tonight at mass, so we're hoping it won't conflict with picking up the car. That means we may have to wait until Friday.

There is a distressing story in England's newspaper, The Independent, with a date of April 4. In it, there is an Italian transport company accused of "apartheid" policy over dual service. What that means is that a bus company in Foggia, southern Italy, has set up a parallel bus service for immigrants, one that has different stops and different routes.

It further goes on to say that "would-be migrants from the north coast of Africa, who cross the ocean in leaky boats, arrive in Italy to an uncertain welcome. Those who can be positively identified as coming from countries with which Italy has reached agreement are sent back, but those who can legitimately claim to have fled from war or civil strife in countries such as Sudan and Somalia are given leave to remain until their asylum claims are settled. "

Part of the problem stems from the fact that the immigration camp, set up to handle 200-300, is jammed with more than 1,000 people.

"The Democratic Party talks about integration: when is it going to happen?" The consensus is that it's pre-election political myopia. How very sad.

We're in a quandary whether it's too early to plant sunflower seeds. With the luck we've had germinating them, we're going to start with seed germination on paper towels, keeping the towels damp and keeping them in the serra along with the pomodori. Since tonight is a full moon, it's the optimal time to "plant" seeds because of the pull from the moon. Or at least that's what we think.

With 275 dead, the people in the Abruzzi wander around, not knowing what to think, what to do. In Italian fashion, food is plentiful, including buffala mozzarella and panetonne. There is even a computer setup in the camp, where people can log in and find out where their neighbors are located in the tents.

L'Aquila sits in a bowl, with mountainous terrain on all sides. If there is a thunderstorm, that will be unfortunate, for showers and storms are forecast all over central Italy.

Here, the air is heavy with moisture, but there is no rain. A spotty sky dances with brilliant white clouds across an azure blue; there are so many people focused on the sky that our Maker must know He is in everyone's thoughts.

This is a time when hope and belief in something grander and more important than us brings solace to the believers. I am sorry for those who do not believe, for without hope, for without belief in Something, slogging through life's challenges must seem pointless.

There is a conflict about the car; Dino is to be on the altar at mass at 5PM today, Holy Thursday, and the car will finally be ready at 4PM. With many offices closed tomorrow in respect for the lives lost in the earthquakes and their collective national funeral, we fear there won't be anyone to give us our registration. But in a call to our friend Donatella at ACI in Viterebo, she assures us that people will be there tonight and tomorrow.

You remember Donatella; she was the woman who became a good friend when our car was stolen in May of 2002 and pulled strings to obtain a rental car for us for thirty extra days. Luckily, this time the news is all good.

This morning I worked painting Gino's face, thinking that his clothes will be a luminous dark blue; it is a joyous painting. We are moving so slowly, that I think we should forego Tito's painting for the May festa; there just isn't time to do it justice. I'm sorry, for I'd really like to have Tito join the others, but there will be more paintings of the people of our village, and he surely will be the subject of one.

We pick up Giallina, our new yellow Panda, from Mario in Viterbo.

Dino likes it, it's cute and will be a good car for us. Yes, we miss the power of the Alfa, but this car is just fine. Our great insurance agent takes care of the insurance, but we have a little detail in that we cannot find the "certificato di proprieta" of the car we have turned in.

That's a document from ACI (the Italian version of a Pink Slip) to prove we owned the Alfa, and we think ACI never sent ours to us. Who would have known that we had to be on the lookout for it? If we had, Dino would surely have been monitoring its progress. So buying a car in Italy is more complicated after all....If someone steals the car and this paper is inside, they can claim ownership of the car! Beware!

April 10
Today is a day of reflection for me, and I greet it with a profound sense of melancholy. We do what we can to blend in with the Italian "landscape" (the customs, the way of life of our neighbors). But even here, in the country I would think would be among the most pious on earth, there is controversy about what the word "fasting" means on Venerdi Santo (Holy Friday).

Dino looks it up on Al Gore's internet and tells me we can have two small meals and one main meal smaller than usual. If we are believers, and want to honor the day... I want to spend it in silent reflection and not to eat, except for taking regular medications. That thought has been amplified in a book I read this past year, The Cloister Walk, about a woman who spent a great deal of her life in meditation.

Maggiolino must be a non-believer, for he's honking like crazy in the valley below us. It is a really beautiful morning, with plenty of sun and an almost colorless fog lifting, lifting... Yes, the day begins with hope, although there is a dark spot in the back of my mind that tells me to remember the terrible scene that took place on this day almost 2,000 years ago...and not all that far away.

Dino drives to Viterbo to sort out the car papers and sign Giallina up with ACI (Automobile Club of Italy), while Sofi and I stay here and I pretend to paint. We've decided that I will do a painting of Tito after the festa, so I am not as overwhelmed finishing the last two paintings in just over two weeks. It's a great sense of relief. And today I don't feel like painting at all.

Am I the last person who ever lived in the US to read Steinbeck's Travels with Charley? People who have read it have extolled it with comments such as, "Wonderful, wonderful...I've read it three times;" I've never seen anyone who has read it show me anything but a smile on their face when the name of the book is mentioned.

And yet...I'm left at the end with a feeling of sadness. The scene in the South, especially in New Orleans, has me shaking my head. The last part of his trip changed the tone of the book markedly, and when I read the last page I sat up from the bench on the terrace and looked across at the valley as if I were a complete stranger. And yet...

Jay Parini, in his introduction to the book, tells us, "In a poignant moment...Steinbeck says that he went out to find the truth about America and found it. But he knew better; he understood that no single "truth" can ever be found."

Steinbeck tells us "What I found was closely intermeshed with how I felt at the moment. External reality has a way of being not so external after all." Perhaps that is why so many of us try to identify with the main character in every book we are reading.

Parini also tells us that "Steinbeck's story is a classic example of the heroic journey, the archetypal myth that lends an essential structure to so much narrative literature.

"In the traditional myth, a hero - whoever he might be - abandons his safe haven and pushes forward into the wilderness...in order to test himself against the odds; in the course of this testing, he either discovers his own rich resource or comes into contact with higher powers that assist him. The story inevitably involves a returning, which completes the cycle; the point being that, upon returning, the hero has been immeasurable strengthened by the knowledge gained in the course of his difficult journey."

As one can easily imagine, I'm trying to identify with Steinbeck with a twist; this Mugnano IS my home, with no thoughts of ever returning to live in the US. What have I learned, and what am I continuing to learn about my place here on earth? Perhaps some of that is better left unsaid in this public journal.

I will say, that as a first generation American, I'm wondering if my story is the story of a person whose real character was not determined at birth but much earlier, in the hills of New Brunswick or in a village in the Ukraine. How wondrous and yet frightening one's speck of life is in the context of the universe!

This afternoon, we drive Giallina to Chiusi to Margheriti Brothers, to the huge vivai (nursery). Now Dino is skeptical that we really have three glicine (wisteria) macrybotrys. People in the office tell us it's too early for this variety to flower. Yet Tiziana takes us in their little golf cart to two separate areas where the glicine are located, and in the second area we find some in flower, looking just like the flowering plant we have at home, and we pick out a healthy and straight one that just fits in the new car.

Dino plants it back at home and then fiddles with the car, adding door guards and a luggage rack. It really is a cute car, and earlier Augusto told Roy that he emphatically approves of his choice, especially because of the natural gas (metano) capability!

After an extended bout of weeding this morning, I do develop a migraine, and take a cocktail of medicine in the afternoon. I lie down for a quick nap before church, and once I'm up I feel better. We walk up to church with an umbrella, for Dino thinks it will rain and we won't have a procession.

Don Giampietro is our priest, and does his usual remarkable service. There is no rain and there is a procession, made less solemn by the group of ragazzi (children), acting like, well, children.

Here in Italy parents don't give their children a bad time; children are to be coddled. No wonder they don't have respect for many things we adults consider appropriate. Oh, to be a ragazzi again...On second thought, no thanks.

Thanks to Ingrid from the US, here is information about earthquake emergencies, not that you don't already have it. We'll talk with the Ecomuseo folks in Mugnano about it, since the Aquila earthquake has everyone on heightened alert.


April 11
We wake to birds, lots of birds, and a blue sky hazy with filmy clouds gently wafting by. It's the same sky in L'Aquila, 120 miles or so to the east, but the tragedy there, and it is a tragedy, is that Italians view the cultural treasures where they live as part of them, as much as the air they breathe.

For them, the sadness is beyond loss of life or loss of a place to live; it is the ancient buildings that, over time, are a part of the stages of their lives that they now have to find a way to live without.

The New York Times describes it well:
"Abruzzo is rich in its own heritage, which is priceless to the people here..." Even Silvio Berlusconi, the Prime Minister, echoes the feelings:
"Italians feel proud of the culture that comes from their own towns, their own regions. And when we restore a church or a museum, it gives us hope. This is not just about preserving museum culture. For us, it's about a return to normalcy."

Last night, while walking in the procession in front of the empty black wooden cross and the statue of Jesus in repose, more than a hundred of us were solemn, and many of us prayed to give strength to our neighbors in L'Aquila.

This morning is a new day. We drive to Il Pallone to shop for Pasqua and Pasquetta (the day after Easter). Almost every year it rains on Pasquetta, which sadly is the day Italians love to go for picnics. Of course, markets are closed, for even people who work in Italian markets have holidays, too!

We stop on the way home at Annika and Torbjorn's to see their daughter and her family, and invite them to come by to see Sofi and the garden this afternoon. Yes, painting will take a back seat today, but then I'm in no great rush to finish the last two paintings. How relieved I am!

The warm spring weather is here, and I hear Sofi panting by my side in our bedroom as I write in the mid-afternoon. It seems early to have such warm weather, and there are plenty of aphids and other animali to attack the roses. So I spray often, but not in the most intense sun.

The sunflower seeds in the serra are doing...nothing. I don't have high hopes for their germinating when it's hard to keep the paper towels damp. At the least, they'll be put right in the ground. You see, it's another experiment.

Tonight the mass at 9 PM is glorious, with Dino and two of his Confratelli on the altar. At just the right moment, Fabrizio and Dino went to ring the bells of the church, joyfully, exuberantly. I felt warmed by the village's embrace, as if we've always been here, shaking hands with our neighbors and saying "Pace" (Peace). Fabrizio takes the ropes for the two smaller bells and Dino is left with the rope for the main (heavy) bell. They are both pulling away and the bells are pealing...after a minute or so of pulling , they hear the big ring of the main (Dino's bell). "What?" Dino says - I've been pulling frantically for a minute or so and this is the 1st GONG! Fabrizio restates, "I told you it was heavy!!"

April 12
Pasqua! It's not completely sunny, but who's complaining? It's a day for abbacchio brodetatto (leg of lamb in a lemony broth). But first I've whipped up a sformato asparagi (asparagus flan).

Don and Mary arrive with wonderful wine and we feast, it seems, for hours. Don and Dino sit outside afterward to decipher some paperwork, and Mary and I walk into the middle garden, sitting on the bench, talking about birds and owls and answering back the cuckoo somewhere.

After they leave, I take a nap and Dino, thankfully, cleans up. This time I'm too tired from all the preparations to help. Earlier this morning, Dino and his Confratelli did a giro (walk around the village) to collect money to build stairs to the choir loft, and Paola won the first prize, a giant dark chocolate Easter egg. Brava!

Too much chocolate was had by all, but it was a fun day...

April 13
We're up before 6AM to drive to Civitavecchia to pick up our good friend, Pietro and his guest, Lillian. Upon arrival at the port, we only wait a few minutes before they disembark from the ship, and another hour or so later we're back in Mugnano.

Since we purchased twice as much abbacchio than we needed for the Easter pranzo, I saved half and made the pranzo again today. By cutting down on the flour and browning the meat before adding the white wine, the taste was more flavorful. Today we so enjoyed our guests, and getting to know Lillian, whom I am hoping will paint with me later this week. She likes acquarello, water painting, and since I have not tried it, would like to.

The sky is partly overcast, and the roses are showing signs of stress and little worms here and there. So it's back at it again with the spray of denatured alcohol and soap and water. The roses will begin to open in the next days, with a few brave ones here and there already showing color.

The sunflower seeds in the serra are a bust, but we'll plant them anyway. I spray the paper towels holding them several times a day, and several times a day the paper towels dry up. I'm thinking of nicking the seeds with the edge of a nail file, the way I did with the tomato seeds. It's worth a try. Tomorrow...

This afternoon I do a bit more spraying of the roses, at least on the terrace, for the sun is on the middle garden and it's not a good idea to spray while sun is directly shining on the plants. By the time the sun goes down, Dino and I have moved to working on the Lady Hillingdons on the front path. I surely love these roses. Take a look:

How could anyone not love these roses? Sarah tells us they're best grown against a wall. The mixture of the dark leaves and large creamy yellow flowers are just beautiful against the south facing tall tufa wall. Almost every neighbor walking by when I tend them comments on how lovely they are. They are also repeat flowering and are surprisingly vibrant throughout the hot summer.

April 14
I have a pedicure with dear Giusy, and she reminds me to ask a doctor about the poor circulation in my toes. I am sure that means I am really getting old. The next time we have an appointment, which will be in a couple of weeks, Dino will remind me to ask him. How boring for you! Sorry.

Today is the first day we've felt really hot. At 3:15 in the afternoon, I check local weather, and it's about 22 degrees or so, which is warm, but not hot. Hot weather doesn't usually begin until June.

I work on both Vincenzo and Gino this afternoon, and I like working on two paintings at once. The studio works well, with Sofi in a wicker basket near my feet. I can't imagine not having her by my side. She's an angel, wanting to be near me and cheering me on when I need it.

Outside, people work in the fields below us, the birds very loud and yakking to each other about their territories. While at Giusy's I finished my latest book, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini, who also wrote The Kite Runner, and I recommend both if you have not read them.

At the end of the book, the author explains that he was chosen Goodwill Ambassador to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. If you'd like to learn more, or what you can do to help, look up the site:

I'm left with an emptiness inside, thinking about the women of Afghanistan. I'd love to do something, but don't know what. So I look it up online...and have an idea for anyone reading this journal. Here's a great way to express your love to someone this Mother's Day, and if you donate by May 6th, the card can arrive on time. Please at least take a look at the site. Thank you.

The irrigation system needs some new additions, and Dino is intent on finding what he needs. With no luck at Brocci in Guardea, he calls to tell me his next stop is Spazio Verde in Narni Scalo. Do I want to go? No, but he can pick up some osmocote, a food we use for the roses in addition to Nitrophosca Gold. I'll stay here and paint...

I'm enjoying painting this afternoon. With not a lot of time left before they'll be unveiled, I'm enjoying working on the fine points of their faces. I'd like the luxury of being able to paint many, many canvases of the people we are so fond of in our village. There I go, dreaming again...

Could it be? I think I hear a wretched cicada. Is it possible that we have them so soon? Looks as though we need to do some more spraying (denatured alcohol, soap and water in a spray bottle) while Dino is away doing errands.

An email has just come in, and it is from truthout.org. An Afghanistan woman who has championed women's rights was gunned down as she left a meeting. Please. If you have not looked up the site above, do so now, as well as the following site which tells more about the murder...Thank you.

April 15
I'm now praying that we won't have the thunderstorms that are expected this week. Yes, we need rain, but why dank thunderstorms while the roses are just beginning their first, and best, flower?

Sofi and I take our giro on this glorious, cloudless day, and as we walk down the parcheggio steps, Vincenzo approaches on his way to the cemetery. We walk together until the turn, he and his bamboo pole clicking on the pavement with Sofi gamboling ahead and me by his side.

I ask him the name of the flower on the left in front of a cantina, one that we know as Iris, and he tells me it is it is Giglio. He asks me, "Prendete?" (Do you want me to take it for you?) I tell him no, "C'e la tanti" (we have many), pointing to the many iris on our bank. Many years ago, we moved most of the iris in our garden to the bank in front of our house leading to San Rocco, and they are beautiful there.

Look back at Vincenzo's question to me..."Prendete?" This one word takes nine in English to translate. It is a good example of the Italians' penchant for frugality (at least the older ones); there are far fewer words in the Italian language than in the English language; that is good and bad. A word can mean many things in Italian; it depends on the context. Hence, the quizzical look you'll receive when trying to use one of their words now and then.

I look up the translation for Iris in the dictionary, and Vincenzo was incorrect; a giglio is lilly. Poor Vincenzo. The word for Iris is Iride. Come to think of it, he may have given me the correct word after all. Perhaps the word "poor" is a better description of me. Am I really losing my memory?

On our walk, I pick up samples of two of the wildflowers that the Italians know as erbaccia (weeds), but if they flower and the flowers are lovely, so be it! I have a sprig of mint, in the event Pietro does not have it, and we walk down the stradabianca (white road).

No one is at home at the white house, so we take a left and walk up to Pietro's. The car is there, they are home, so we ring the bell and we're invited in. Yes, he has mint in his garden. In a minute we are driven up the hill to the Wednesday market in the village, where we say goodbye and walk home. Pietro is moving like a train, intent on buying special things for his garden, now that everything is coming into bloom.

Rosina is there at the tiny market, near the porchetta truck wearing her apron, and comes over to give me a kiss and tells me she loves the roses on our arch below her house. This week they are beginning to flower, and it brings her joy. Va bene.

Signora Elisa sits in the shade in front of her house on a little wooden folding chair. I walk over for an embrace and she gives me the same little kisses that Marsiglia would give me; these are kisses that are meant as kisses, and that the person really cares for you, not the "bussing" that Italians do without meaning anything except hello.

I don't give her a chance to tell me a sad tale; instead, I stand up straight, raise my arms to the sun and tell her it's a beautiful day, so let's think "Sempre avanti!" (always forward).

We walk on, and an old man who never spoke with us before is trying to make his way up the hill. I greet him and he stops to catch his breath; it appears his mind has begun to falter. He's not sure if he knows me, but greets me just the same as Sofi and I walk into the parcheggio and up the stairs where Dino is there to greet us. I should have offered to have him sit on our bench...next time I surely will.

We've arrived back home with wildflowers, and although I have yet to determine what they are, other than erbaccia (weeds), can't tell. Perhaps one fine day I will know...

Dino has our US taxes to sign, and the news is not as bad as we first thought. I sign the form; that done, he leaves to send it in and Sofi and I move upstairs to paint and loll around until Dino returns. Earlier in the garden, I cut more of the dead flowers off what is becoming a giant vibernum near the fence leading to the far property. When it's shadier I will sculpt it in either an oval or a ball, like the large box next to it.

Sarah, you are so right about the box. It's so much handsomer pinched back than clipped. When it's clipped, the partially cut leaves burn at their ends. So I'll just sit with them, one by one, gently pinching the ends back. Since we have more than eighty, and possibly one hundred, I'm not concerned that it will take a long time, several times a year. Piano, piano (slowly, slowly).

The cacophony of birds never ceases to amaze me. When going about my day, I am not conscious of them, but when I stop for even a moment, the sounds surround me; there must be hundreds of calls at many different levels. Amid them is that silly cuckoo with it's double call. Is it an embarrassment that I can't identify even one other bird? Not to me, although I'd like to know more about them.

Dino works on the roses on the front path, and has to replace each of the five connectors for the five rose planters standing against the wall. Apparently the old ones were quite small, and in the hot summer sun, just broke down. Now we have larger connectors, and hopefully the flowers will cover them with leaves.

As we get ready to post, the NYT has an article that enrages me. If you're following my support of Afghani and Pakistani women's rights, take a look at this:

I don't think we can continue to stand by and let women of the world be treated in such a brutal way. I'm anxious to see what Hillary and Obama have to say about it, aren't you? If so, find Google and type in: Obama and women's rights in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

There is plenty written about it, and isn't this issue the reason the United Nations has placed such emphasis on what is going on in the region? Stop and think about it, even for just a moment. If women worldwide are given respect and treated on par with men, won't that do a great deal for peace in the world as well as economic growth?

Secretary Gates thinks Obama is taking on too much, and that he should steer clear of this when trying to talk with moderates (is it possible) in the region, especially since a new law in Afghanistan confirms that it's all right to beat your wife.

Here's just a tidbit from another site, in case you don't have time to look any of these up:
"Afghan women rank at or near the bottom in almost every conceivable world ranking: life expectancy, maternal mortality, access to education, access to health care, suicide rates, domestic violence, and more. In short, Afghanistan is just about the worst place in the world to be a woman".

Email me and let me know what you think. If you think I should steer clear of this and only talk about our life in Italy, tell us that, too. Thanks.

And oh, God Bless Susan Boyle! Look her up on Google, if for some reason you don't know who she is. She lives in England. It will be worth it.

April 16
On this cool and windy morning, the sun groans as it tries to break through a dirty sky. It's too windy to spray the roses, but this is the kind of weather those tiny white and also rust colored bugs love. I inspect and all is well so far, so return to the house.

Don and Mary will be here for part of the day. But first, Dino takes a couple of childrens' Mugnano shirts down to Annika and Torbjorn's grand children. There are only a few left from the year we came up with the idea for the village and had a few dozen printed.

Don will help Dino to assemble the pergola in the parcheggio and take out the front seat of Giallina to install the armrest Dino ordered from Mauro. Mary and I will stay inside and perhaps she'll join me in the studio so that I can continue to paint.

Last night on a walk, we passed Rosina turning over the soil in her orto, next to Pepe's. She does the work herself, and good for her! I love the joy with which she raises her spade and lops it into the earth; soon she will have pomodori and insalata to feed her son and his family.

Pepe is also in his orto, preparing it for his tomatoes and whatever else he plants. Although it is a gloomy, windy day, with rain here and there, these hearty neighbors are not deterred. This work is a joy, a welcoming of long sunny days and evenings sitting out with neighbors and family under the stars.

I ask Dino if he has what he needs to irrigate the pomodori, and he thinks he does. Perhaps this will encourage him to begin to lay the plastic pipes down.

I think the pomodori plants in the serra have been "hardened off", just by their placement there. But I will take them out for an hour and then two hours and then an afternoon before Dino puts them in the ground, hopefully burying 2/3 of each plant in the soil. They are so tall that they will still look healthy.

If you don't think Afghani men should be able to tell a woman how to dress, can rape them at will without consequence and can confine them to the home unless they are wearing a burqua and are accompanied by a man, read this:


We are told the law that Karzai signed is not yet law, for it has not been published and can be changed, but people who are for the law say that it was studied and adopted by scholars and approved by the President, Hamid Karzai. When governments around the world hollered "foul", the insiders said that what was really driving the dispute were the foreigners who loomed so large over the country.

"We Afghans don't want a bunch of NATO commanders and foreign ministers telling us what to do."

President Obama commented: "We think that it is very important for us to be sensitive to local culture," he said, "but we also think that there are certain basic principles that all nations should uphold, and respect for women and respect for their freedom and integrity is an important principle." So how are the women of Afghanistan to overcome this? If we use military might, is that the way to make a positive change? Karzai is running for reelection, and wants to court the Shiite minority, who only represent about ten percent of the population, but remain in favor of this law. Moreover, if it becomes law, this can open the door to more laws discriminating against women.

Do tell me what you think.

Don and Mary arrive, and Mary sits with me while I fix pranzo, while Don works with Dino in the parcheggio. By the time they come in for pranzo, the basic framework is done. It will work well, although the jury is still out regarding the style. How do we marry a medieval style with something more current? It's at least simple, which is good, and made of black iron, which is very good.

Mario and Dino stop by after Don and Mary have left, and complement our Dino on both the structure and La Giallina. Earlier, Italo corrected Dino on the name of our new car. It is "La Giallina" (the little yellow one). We stand corrected. Thanks, Italo.

They are working on a project for Pietro, and it includes the same type of gravel that we have here. Since we need more, they tell Dino that they'll need four truckloads (Dino has a little truck), and we ask them to do a load for us as well while they're at it. They'll dump it in the front of the parcheggio, so we'll need to shovel it to the side and then bring it up by paranco, but we're old hands at that.

I do need to paint, but seem to be finding excuses not to. Since we'll be at Frank and Candace's tonight having a "movie night", I do need to squeeze in an hour or two of painting in the meantime.

Oh. My story in Italian Notebook on San Lorenzo Antico appears today. What? You haven't signed up yet?

The movie we watch tonight is The Strange Case of Benjamin Button. It's long, about three hours, and interesting, but just that. It's good to be with our dear friends again, and we'll have the next movie night at our house soon. For now, we can only think of getting home to bed.

April 17
The sky is bright, although there are clouds. Dino drives to Viterbo to get the IPOD hooked inside La Giallina, and Sofi and I get ready for our giro. Rosina stands on her balcony, and she thinks we'll have rain...later. I ask her if she likes the roses (Madame Alfred Carriere) that are reaching toward her and she leans over the balcony and smiles. Soon she'll be able to reach out and almost touch them.

Leaving the gate open at Dino's instructions, in case a load of gravel is dropped off at the edge of the parcheggio while he's out, we walk down the hill and turn left at the fountain, continuing until we hear sounds of children. Sofi rushes forward and the gate is open at Annika and Torbjorn's; the grand children are laughing and having fun. At the sight of Sofi, the little one is a little frightened, then gains courage and calls out "wuff, wuff!"

We stay just to say hello and then continue up the hill, stopping at Pietro's to say hello to Lilliann. Below, Mario and Dino from Attigliano have prepared the area that is to be graveled and laid nursery cloth. Soon Mugnano will have five small truckloads of gravel in our particular color of beige and size (fairly small); one at our house and four at Pietro's.

After greeting Liliann, who is alone with Pietro in Rome for the day, I ask her if she'd like to paint with me and she walks home with us. Her English is sparse, and my Norwegian is even sparser, but she joins me in my studio and I try to fix her up with watercolors, although I only have pencils that can be used with water.

She stops and watches me paint for a while; then we walk in the garden before she continues home. The next time we see her perhaps I will have learned some Norwegian. We're told that it is a language close to English, and I'm wondering how that could be. The sounds are so different. But we have a growing number of Norwegian friends, so it's good for us to learn at least a few phrases...

Earlier, I put the pomodori out on the ledge of the raised orto, and they've been out for three hours. Tomorrow they'll be out longer, and then on Sunday we can plant the fifteen, as well as basil nearby, and this next weekend we'll pick up the gigantes(huge) and other Italian tomato plants at the Montecastrilli market.

Truthout.org has something to say about the women in Pakinstan. Why do I care? It's important to not only think about our lives, but of other people in the world. It's not all about us. Strange. I typed in US accidentally. "It's not all about US."

After reading that book about Afghan women, I'm encouraged to read what truthout.org has to say about their women's protest march on the government:
"Afghan women have raised their voices and they proved this isn't what the international community is imposing on Afghanistan, these are the demands of Afghan women," she said. "People threw stones at us, some people were hit with sticks, and they called us bad names, but what can you expect? These people are the same as the Taliban. There's no difference."

It appears the Taliban are also relying on class struggles in Pakistan to recruit soldiers, demanding that one son from each family be given over as a potential soldier. I wish we were back in the '60's when the youth thought about love, not war.

How fortunate we are that we can live peaceful lives in this little village, where there is seldom an unkind word and a love of the land and one's family effuses from every house.

Chewing gum? I dislike the whole idea of it. Today during pranzo Dino asked me if I noticed how many people chew gum during mass. Huh? This is new to me. I suppose while I am trying to decipher what the priest is saying, especially when Dino is on the altar as a Confratello, he has the opportunity to look around.

Who and what does he see?...Federica, one of her sons, Salvatore and all chewing gum. What do they do with the gum when they line up for communion? I hesitate to think. It's a strange sight to see Italians chewing gum, I do admit; one I don't see all that often. I'm not about to ask...

Dino returns from Viterbo, and of course installing the IPOD in the car is not all that easy. He bought the connectors today, and will make an appointment with an independent private installer for next week. In the meantime, we can still plug it into the cigarette lighter.

Dino from Attligliano arrives with a small truckful of gravel, and it costs even less than before. Our Dino will rake it to the side and when we are ready for it will either bring it up in buckets or we'll bring them up with the paranco.

Dino tells our Dino that if he were living in America as long as we have been living in Italy, he'd speak English better than our Dino speaks Italian. He's pretty direct, don't you think? Of course, our feelings are hurt.

For now it's back to painting for me; I'm determined to find that special expression for Gino. Layer by layer, paintings change, expressions change, and at that certain moment, when I think I have added a certain touch that has him looking real, I'll be finished.

With two weeks left, there's still a lot of work to do on both paintings of Gino and Vincenzo and Occhi Pinti. Let's hope I can finish to my satisfaction in time. Magari! (if only that were so...)

After several hours I'm too tired to continue, so sit in the middle garden while Sofi chases lizards. Her tail wags so that we know she's having a great time. Later, when I'm back inside writing, she rushes upstairs with her tongue hanging out for a hug and to let me know she's having a wonderful time. Va bene!

Never one to sit still unless he's inside watching tv, Dino sits with me for a few minutes; then is distracted by something that needs fixing in the garden. Soon he'll have the irrigation system hooked up most everywhere, but for now it's an hour or so of watering a day, unless we have a good rain storm. He really enjoys puttering around in the garden and enjoys the fruits of his labors. Bravo, Dino!

I'm strangely very tired, so take a difmetre cocktail and sit for a few hours, letting my eyes doze here and there. Perhaps I will have stopped a migraine from descending. The weather is sultry; perhaps it's a biometric pressure thing.

By the time Sofi and I go to bed, I'm feeling better. Brava, difmetre! But as I open the window an owl begins to hoot. Is he calling out to us to say goodnight? He's probably telling me to turn the lights out...

April 18
It's Formula 1 in China trials, so Dino gets up early to watch them at 8AM. We'll attend mass in Bomarzo tonight so that he can watch the race tomorrow morning instead of going to mass in Mugnano.

On the side of the Ferrari cars, there is a love message for the people from Abruzzo, the site of the recent earthquake and aftershocks: " cuore Abruzzi" This is the time when the victims wake up to the fact that they're no longer world news; "Sempre avanti" (always forward) they'll say to people who ask how they are; life goes on.

I've just turned the corner on Gino's painting, thinking I might have fixed the unusual blue of his eyes. We've run out of black paint, for I use quite a bit for the background of each one, and Dino offers that we can drive to Viterbo this afternoon to pick more up. Klimt won't be open again until Monday afternoon.

Tonight we're invited to cena at Pietro's; Helga has just arrived and we're celebrating birthdays: Helga's, Pietro's, Dino's and mine (all within 6 weeks of one another). Sofi is always welcome there with us. Va bene.

Tonight I'll tell Pietro about the dream I had last night about his garden; instead of creating steps in the middle of the walkway moving down to the graveled area, the dream had him fashioning a hedge as tall as me (not very tall?) from the side steps of his terrace. It formed a kind of labyrinth, through which people would walk to enter a secluded area where the gravel is now.

We stop by at Pietro's house and he is there. Our cena (dinner) at his house is tomorrow night; Helga does not arrive until too late tonight, but we'll have fresh Norwegian salmon, delivered in person! Brava dear Helga!

This afternoon I return to painting, this time back to Vincenzo and Occhi Pinti. The sheep is a yellowish color, and I think he should be whitish. I also think I will attempt to paint white eyelashes on him. If they don't work, I can just take them off with a brush. I'm far enough along that I will be tweaking the two paintings from now until May 3rd.

The white eyelashes work, the new color highlighting Gino's eyes work, and I turn him on his side to paint the unpainted left edge. I'm out of black paint, so Dino and I drive to Viterbo to pick it up.

While we're at KLIMT, I ask one of the owners about beginning watercoloring, which Italians call acquerello. In the meantime I'm wondering, "what will I paint next?" I'd like a diversion, perhaps a landscape, perhaps based on the subject of an acquerello (water color). That is, if I join Pat Smith one of these days...

I'm naively thinking I can pick up an inexpensive set of paints to try out. The pure colors that are used to paint watercolors are almost €50, so I sadly settle on a set of acrylic, or synthetic paints, for just under €20. If I like it, we'll decide if we are willing to splurge on the real thing.

Since I've decided on my next painting, it will be a 140cm x 80cm painting to be called Moona Lisa in Mugnano, with a cow in the foreground dressed as Mona Lisa, with her hooves crossed in front, a trail winding up to Mugnano and its 1,000 year old tower in the distance. I've wanted to paint cows for a long time, and this may be my first of many cows, allowing me to divert from my human neighbors for a bit. I also envision a series of "holy cows", but cows of the Renaissance will be first.

We return to Bomarzo and attend mass there at the tiny church at the foot of the hill to the borgo. I love this tiny church, where the women love their church and pour all their love and attention into this weekly celebration. Don Bruno speaks about Tomasso (Thomas), one of his favorite religious people, and one of the twelve apostles.

The name Thomas derives from the Aramaic "Teoma" meaning "a twin." In the Bible, Thomas was one of the twelve apostles who doubted the resurrection of Christ, giving birth to the phrase "doubting Thomas," indicating a skeptic or doubter.

Pina, the choir leader of the Bomarzo chorale is here, and she passes out typed folders that include their hymns. One is called Tu sei la mia vita (Simbolum 77) (You are my life) and I love it. Let's see what the words are and what they mean...

Oh, they are lovely. I have them now, as well as a translation line by line. So I'll use it as a way to learn Italian better. Written in 2007, it was considered the most performed song during Public Worship in Italy.

Back at home I take a few photos of the Madame Alfred Carriere roses above the parcheggio. I'm sure we'll have rain, and there's nothing worse missing the first flowering due to rain. So if we do, I have at least a shot.

Do you ever think about what the militant situation in Pakistan and Afghanistan means in general and could mean to you? Truthout.org has an interesting story today:


Perhaps we felt isolated from all this wretchedness when living in California; here, we are so aware of different cultures, different beliefs, that at least I take it seriously. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, different militant groups with different beliefs share resources to fight against the American people and anyone who is not Islamic.

How sad that the Islamic religion has to enter into it, for after all, isn't Islam supposed to be a religion of love? When Dino reads A Thousand Splendid Suns, perhaps he will think about it more. He's about to begin the book soon, and I enthusiastically recommend it.

I'm in a quandary regarding how to help the women of Afghanistan, as well as women of the world in poverty who need even a little bit of help to help their lives and the lives of their children, and think sending Mother's Day Cards is an interesting idea. Take a look:


I've found that I can help at least one woman in Afghanistan after all, and am looking into it. In the meantime, I've sent a mother's day donation. In their thank you letter, they write about what they do. Here's an excerpt:
"We deeply appreciate your support. If you chose to honor a special woman in your life, a Mother's Day card will be mailed on your behalf to your honoree by May 5 to arrive in time for Mother's Day. "Regardless of where they come from or what their circumstances may be, mothers everywhere share the same hopes and dreams: to have the means to take care of themselves and their families, to live with dignity and self-respect, and to leave the world a better place than they found it. "At Women for Women International, we help women realize that dream. We help women in war-torn regions rebuild their lives by giving them financial and emotional support, job skills training, rights education, access to capital and assistance for small business development. Thousands of women survivors of war in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda and Sudan will participate in our programs this year. "I encourage you to visit our website at


and learn more about our Mother's Day program and to honor more special women in your life. "Thank you again for your support. By creating strong women - strong mothers - we are building stronger nations."

Here's an interesting tidbit:
Letter to the Editor, New York Times, "Afghan Women's Progress" "The fact that women are making significant progress in some parts of Afghanistan is good news that confirms our own experience in the country. "The province of Bamian will benefit from women taking on new roles as breadwinners, peacekeepers and government leaders; indeed, the area's relative stability indicates that it already has. In many other areas the change is far less visible and comes in small but significant steps, with women learning skills and finding opportunities to support their families." Women for Women International

April 19
We're at home so that Dino can watch Formula 1 race in Shanghai. We don't attend church, for we attended last night. The skies are still overcast, but there aren't more animali on the roses, and I take that as a surprising good omen.

I take the pomodori out of the serra for three hours, thinking they are ready to plant. While Dino watches the race, I then spend time in the studio, repainting all the black backgrounds on both unfinished paintings. It helps the characters themselves to really stand out.

This is my current "style", and it's similar to that of the Movie in the late 80's "Reds", where people were interviewed with black backgrounds.

Dino works on the roses on the path, and I continue to paint. Although we were going to attend a music concert at the Comune, I'm too tired, but I'm not too tired to do a watercolor (my first) of an iris for Helga's birthday. It's more delecate work than with oils, but I find it interesting.

Helga likes it very much and will take it home and put it up in her "cottage" in Norway, which must be a remarkable place. We do want to visit our friends in Norway one July, when it is hot here and cool there.

The meal is a wonder; Pietro takes me out to the kitchen to show me the steamer he purchased when he had a house in Spain. It's a huge round contraption, with sections for different kinds of things; quite remarkable.

Of course the salmon is incredible, served with a very light sauce, steamed potatoes and carrots, all from the same stovetop cooker. Without the sauce, it would be a perfect way to diet, poaching everything.

We are served lots of wine and vin santo and lemoncello and sauterne and grappa, but for some reason I don't develop a headache. It's good to spend time with Helga again, who told us it was as though she never left.

April 20
It's Dino's birthday, and he wants the crispy potatoes I fixed the other day and a meatloaf and Toll House cookies. Va bene. I prepare that happily, while he takes the big roller and works with it on the tomato field.

I take the tomatoes outside for a few hours, although the sky is overcast, for I think the sun will try to come through. But after Dino leaves the air fills with the tiniest mist, so I move the laundry into the loggia and the tomatoes back into the serra.

Did I tell you that the lobelia seeds I planted a couple of weeks ago seem to be thriving? There is no sign of blue color yet, but plenty of little green leaves. That's encouraging!

I'm supposed to stay away from fruits and vegetables for the next couple of days, and tomorrow night I'll have four hours of drinking a nasty liquid to prepare me for Wednesday's colonscopia in Terni. I'm looking forward to Wendnesday afternoon, when it will all be over.

If you're over 50 and have never had a colonoscopy, it's really nothing, and could save your life. Why not pick up the phone and make an appointment now? Thanks.

This next story is from ANSA, dated April 16th, and in it, Prime Minister Berlusconi tells us that the mafia will be kept out of the reconstruction of L'Aquila and neighboring towns devastated by the recent earthquake. If his actions are as grand as his ego, it will be an amazing thing...Here's what he has to say...

''There will be extremely strict controls against the Mafia and against property speculators,'' the premier said as he visited the region to inaugurate the first school set up in three tents in one of the camps housing quake survivors.

''We will rebuild in six months, keeping out speculators and Mafia,'' he added.

Earlier in the day National Antimafia Prosecutor Piero Grasso said he was considering instituting a special task force of magistrates and criminal experts to help L'Aquila avoid Mafia infiltration during the rebuilding phase.

Grasso also proposed a list of ''clean'' companies who should be involved in the reconstruction.

He stressed that he was not suggesting Mafia infiltration was already rife in the region but that lessons had to be learnt ''from past experiences''.

On Tuesday Grasso cited the massive 1980 earthquake in Irpinia, near Naples, after which much of the reconstruction funds ended up in the hands of the local Camorra Mafia.

But Abruzzo Governor Gianni Chiodi continued to play down concerns of organised crime in the area, repeating that the region ''is not mafioso''.

Berlusconi said the government intended to build new towns close to existing ones with the aid of each of Italy's 100 provinces.

''The new houses will be technologically advanced and super-safe because they will be built on a plate separating them from the ground. Any kind of earthquake can take place but nothing will happen,'' he said.

''I have long experience as a builder, I've built a number of cities, and we will also make houses that are aesthetically pleasing,'' said the premier, who was involved in the construction business before becoming a media mogul.

"The premier said survivors who lost homes in the quake could instead opt to rebuild their houses where they once stood, explaining that the government would help with 33% of costs as well as providing a loan of up to 50% of the value of the property."

Yes, Prime Minister Berlusconi seems to be doing a fine job. After all the criticism, we do need to give him credit here. Let's hope he can keep his cronies out of the reconstruction effort. I'm not saying that he is in bed with the mafia, but the varying arms of the mafia seem have a choke hold wherever there is money to be made.

Let's get back to life in little Mugnano...Dino loves the meal and his cookies, and we put most of them in a tin to have later. Since he was not given a working telecommando to lock the car, he's driving to Terni to pick one up and to ask service people about some of the quirks of the car.

My left arm really gives me a "pain" and when we return to the doctor I'll ask him about it. I have little strength in my left arm, but take it in stride.

After a little work on Occhi Pinti in the studio, I sit down to write and to listen to the birds. Last night a bird sang for hours, seemingly from a tree behind the house, where there is no tree. I do love their sounds. This afternoon the cuckoo hiccups as if he's trying to find a place in the cacophony that is today's musical warbling theatre of sound.

April 21
Dino prepped the lower tomato field and planted and watered our fifteen heirloom tomatoes, sinking them 1/2 way into the ground. This is deeper than we have ever planted tomatoes, and in combination with their growth to date in the serra, we know we will have extremely strong plants.

I merely took each plant out of its pot and handed it to Dino, who is now the pomodori demigod. I loved nurturing these plants from seed, but am happy to pass the baton to Dino, watching him sink them low in the earth and then water them. Soon the irrigation will be in place. From now on, he'll monitor them, although I'll be happy to lend a hand when he asks.

While I took the four liters of medicine this afternoon to prepare me for tomorrow's colonoscopy, Dino drove the Palio quip from Italian Notebook to Sr. Ivo at the Pro Loco (chamber of commerce) when picking up the nine tickets.

The prep was not all that bad, but it did take my appetite away. Since that is the worst part of the procedure, I expect tomorrow to be easy...that is, if they will put me to sleep first...But what do I ask them? Hmmm.

April 22
Grey clouds are painted across a wintry sky. Sofi is shaky; somewhat nervous thinking she'll be left alone; or is she worried about me? We'll take her with us, for sure. Dino and I are both relaxed, not anticipating any drama at the clinic in Terni. But how do you say, "Put me to sleep?" Devo dormire durante la colonscopia? (I must sleep during the colonoscopy?)

As weird as that may sound to them, I'm sure they will get the point. I'm not even going to worry about it, although I insert the card for Beata Colomba, Patron saint of Perugia and Rieti, in the book I am reading, just in case.

What happens next in Terni is a total surprise...
We find our way to a waiting room. When the door opens, although there are many people who have waited longer, I am called in. Dino waits outside, while I am called into the office of a quite friendly Dottoressa Andreina Leonardi. She speaks a bit of English, and we laugh about the papers she is reading about my last colonscopy in the US.

"No, Signora, mai in Terni!" she responds to my assertion that I must be asleep during the procedure. "It is bad for your liver, and besides, we just don't do it!"

She looks over at me as I freeze in fear. "Don't worry," she tells me, leading me into the nearby room where two other women dressed in white walk around laughing. They spend the days working with ghastly tubes and machines on a very unglamorous task. No wonder they spend the day telling jokes to each other.

I won't describe what happens next, other to say that it is totally humiliating, merged now and then with bouts of real pain. I ask them to stop and they ask my why. I tell them I'll have the procedure performed at another hospital where they will give me the I-V. They don't intend to stop, and for the next twenty minutes or so it is, as the good Dottore Bevilaqua warns, "A pain in the ass". Sorry.

If there is good news, it is that every five years the procedure is done for free. So we are returned the €35 and leave. Later I look up liver damage as a result of an I-V and can find none. I am sure that there is some practical and financial reason for not making it an option. At no time was the procedure explained to me in advance. Welcome to Italia.

The rest of the day is uneventful, although I am not as hungry as we had anticipated. After a quick pranzo, we pick up Don and Mary and take them to Ciampino to catch their flight back home. We hope to see Mary in July, but know we will see Don. They will return to better weather in England than they've had here, fortunately.

Candace arrives soon after we arrive home, and we lend her the big roller that, when filled with water, can be used to level dirt. I can't explain it, but you can ask Dino if you want to know more.

Happily, we end the day quietly in front of the TV.

April 23
The day begins without a cloud in the sky, but as noon approaches, clouds and a flat grey sky overhead take away the warmth of the morning.

I must paint. Today is really the last day I should paint, for both paintings need to dry before May 3rd. That's the good and bad of it. So after pranzo, I will paint Gino's hands, which I love to paint. Or at least I loved painting Felice's hands. Let's see if my ability to paint them well is true.

I'm still trying to see what I can learn about helping women in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and there are two things to read if you share my interest:



Right at noon, the cannon explodes telling us it's the beginning of Bomarzo's festa. As expected, Sofi cries out, wanting to be hugged. I don't blame her.

Outside, Dino preps the upper garden for the tomatoes we will buy on Saturday morning. On the street below, Luigina's husband Alberto drives their little tractorino (?) up the Mamelli hill with Vincenzo sitting on the back, holding onto one side. Oh how I wish I were down on the path...Vincenzo is one of the people I want to paint, and that might be a good location for him.

On this day, the sounds of birds are strangely drowned out by the tractors in the valley, and later, when the school bus drives up the hill, the hollering of children free for their holiday from school until Monday, diverts my attention from the sounds of the birds I love.

There has been a small amount of rain, which should continue tomorrow, but will hopefully clear for Saturday's Palio in nearby Bomarzo.

April 24
Dino spends the morning driving for Pietro and his friend, who want to visit Caprarola. Pietro tells Dino he wants to sit in back and chatter with his friend from Norway, but I think it's a little "bella figura" for him to have someone to drive him about. Dino loves to drive, so everyone is happy.

Sofi and I take a giro at around ten, and while we are jaunting down the stradabianca, Sofi rushes ahead and meets up with a big red car. Luckily the car stops. Then Sofi stops, right in front of it and...pees, as though there's no one there. Driving the car is Annika, and we have a good laugh, but this is unlike Sofi and it frightens me. Annika drives on and we continue on our walk.

The usual cacophony of birds leads us on our way, and when we reach Pietro's gate, it is open and the car is gone. Of course, Dino is driving Pietro and his friend to Caprarola. Sofi and I walk inside to say hello to Helga, who joins us on our walk up the hill and back home.

I introduce Helga to Signora Elisa, who bids me a "buon festa!", and I suppose Bomarzo's festa is ours as well. Perhaps that is why our lights decorating the street have been hung. We probably get a cut rate by having ours hung when Bomarzo has theirs.

What is difficult during these days is the noise of a profusion of fireworks. At 8AM, and again at 11 AM, cannons announce the festa, and at 11:15 there is a burst of fireworks, as though someone let a match to the whole shebang. If this was done on purpose, it seems a waste of fire power, for we see lights glistening on the Bomarzo hill, but it's mostly noise.

Last year, I wrote a piece for Italian Notebook about things that make noise; Italians almost always invented them.


I suppose that's why they see no reason for not raising the height of excitement of these next few days. Fireworks cost a lot of money, and our dear sindaco (mayor) tells us they have none to repair our wall or other necessities. It's a good thing these fireworks come from another budget. When we were on the festarolo committee in Mugnano, our piddly fireworks cost €4.000, so this little burst must have been good for at least €800!

Sofi cowers under the bed, and there is no cajoling that will ease her fears. But now, while I try to repaint Vincenzo's face, the birds' high pitched warbles drown out any silence we may have had this morning. It's strange that there are no tractors working the land on this beautiful morning. Perhaps its an excuse to...do nothing.

We will have guests for pranzo tomorrow, so I'll fix a pasta dish and have it ready to bake; that way there won't be a lot of preparation or cooking while they're here.

When Dino returns, he wants to work in the garden, and by the time Pietro and Helga and their guest, Pettra arrive, he's leveled the rest of the space under the garden pergola and now it's ready for nursery cloth and gravel. All that's left is the big pepperino table, which will come one day when things are looking up for us. We're not in a hurry...

Our friends come and take a walk around the garden, then show us a DVD of the friend's garden in Norway. Perhaps it's time we learned some of the language, we are gaining so many Norwegian friends. Luckily they almost all speak English. Am I lazy? No. But I think it's important that I learn the Italian language fluently first, and that will take some doing...

Five kiwi a week, all on one day, is the recommendation of the doctor in Terni for what ails me. I eat them all at one sitting for a late cena, and once a week I'm happy to do that, especially if it works. Some things about getting older are not fun, but I'll try to make this one enjoyable at least.

April 25
It's Italian Independence Day, and we don't celebrate it with a cookout, but with the Bomarzo festa in honor of St. Anselmo, and their Palio. We've attended for several years, perhaps every year since we moved here, although two years were rained out. Today's weather is promising, and there are nine of us meeting to watch the procession and the antics at the track built just for this event.

Pepe drops by to give us two general palio tickets, but we're not sure who would want them. It's so kind of him to do this, with all the friends in the borgo he could give them to. Perhaps that's why...how could he give tickets to one family without causing anger from another? We're a safe bet..

Patrick Delaney and his friend, Peter, join us for a visit and for pranzo. The day is so lovely that we eat outside on the terrace, the sun partly obscured by the fast growing wisteria.

By the time three o'clock comes around and we've downed one bottle of prosecco and a couple of wine, plus grappa with dessert, they're both thinking the Palio would be more fun than looking at a partially built house that needs work.

They leave us, but later while we're sitting on the steps in Bomarzo at the top of the hill, we see them drive up. They know how to put their priorities in order, evidently...

Annika and Tobrjorn, Stein, Helga, Petter, Candace, Frank, Roy and I find each other on the walk up, and watch a marvelous procession. We recognize the same people each year in the same costumes, but they are wonderful just the same. Thanks to Torbjorn, here are some photos to give you an idea, if you have not yet seen my story in


As the procession nears its end, we walk through the arch for the cavallo(horse) entrance and are seated in our reserved seats, thanks to Signor Ivo. Yes, he has seen the story and is very relaxed. This year, he does not walk in the procession; instead he's in charge of our section of the reserved seats.

There are flag wavers and brutes from Soriano, who stage a fight with swords, half of them on the ground at the end, as well as forming a pyrimid three persons high.

The Palio itself does not take long, except for the four false starts and the inability of the horses to line up when and where they are supposed to. The man in black and gold is the same man who won last year, and he and his horse keep turning around, and at the same time making eye contact with the jockey in green and yellow, who is the fifth jockey to line up. This last jockey waits and waits until the others, at least the jockey in black and gold, are distracted, then races forward and the race begins.

On this day, all jockeys stay on their horses, and the jockey in black and gold is the winner, from the Riune Dentry, in a close race. There are no announcements, no cup to the winner here, but we know he will be hoisted above his contrada members and he and his horse will be blessed in the Duomo.

Pietro and Petter did not attend the palio, for Petter had to catch a train in Orte. So we gave his seats to Patrick and Peter. When the last horse refused to line up, Patrick said, "If he doesn't move forward soon, I'll get on that horse and ride him myself!"

This year's Palio is won for the second time by black and gold from ...Dentro!

We return back at our house with most of the bunch, sitting around the kitchen drinking lots of red wine, with Sofi looking on.

Our evening ends with wonderful sounds of birds warbling in a black sky. The sounds are refreshing and at the same time, curious. I've had no reaction to last night's five kiwi.

April 26
We oversleep but find ourselves in church after a rainy ride up the hill. Don Bruno is late, and as we wait, Augusta turns around and shows me the bandage over the cut on her thumb. She tells me she cut it on a glass. I notice her hair is short, not really combed as she usually does, and she is somewhat not like herself. I can't explain...

During the service, before we take communion, Dino and I kiss and we shake hands with the people behind us. I turn around and put my hand on Augusta's shoulder to let her know I am thinking of her, for she sits silently in front of Dino, facing ahead. She turns around to shake my hand and collapses in a faint.

A huge sigh ensues, made up of the breaths of all the women around her, and Livio rushes forward, convincing her that we need to lie her down. She's helped to lie on the bench in front of me, and while Laura runs to get her blood pressure monitor, I hold her hand as she lies patiently.

Her blood pressure taken, she is all right, with her son, Mauro, to her left not knowing what to do. Mauro has called her doctor, Dottore Fagioli, who says he'll be right here. He only has to drive from Bomarzo.

Don Bruno, who has been sitting behind the altar all this time until things quiet down, coaches us to "say an Ave Maria for Signora", which we all do with great feeling.

As soon as the mass ends, Dino wants to rush out to make sure his car is not in the way of the doctor or a possible ambulance. We meet the doctor in the piazza, and direct him to the church. I want to bring her a lavender wand, and we'll see how she feels in the next day or so.

I'll miss her not sitting on the bench in front of our house each afternoon with Zio Pepe's wife, Giuseppa, who sits next to her with her arm around her now, trying to encourage her that everything will be all right, while they wait for the doctor.

We drive to Il Pallone, have our usual capuccini and glassatas (cornettos with a sugary glaze) and then join the pandemonium at the Super Conti. This must be the most successful store in the chain, and it's stock is pillaged and refilled hour after hour as people spend their last hours before returning to their hectic lives in Rome and we all chatter while waiting in line at this lively supermarket.

After pranzo, we watch the Formula 1 race, and then Duccio and Giovanna come by for a visit. We give Duccio his birthday present, a Life magazine dated the week of his birth, which Giovanna reads page by page while telling us stories of Checkov and Duccio tells us a few stories of his own.

It's been a rainy day, but the rain stops just long enough for us to take our good friends for a walk in the garden, and then they leave, promising to attend the event next weekend where the unveiling of my paintings of three contadini will take place.

There's still trouble with Vincenzo's face, and with Dino's critical eye, I confirm some of the things I am not happy about. So for a couple of hours I work on it, and by the time it gets dark, I decide to stop. I'll take a fresh look in the morning, and hopefully will be done. I'm looking forward to saying "E fatto!"(It is done!)Magari! (If only that were so..."

April 27
The weather has been overcast for the past week, and today is windy; I expect a storm before the day is out.

Dino drives off to pick up chicken for pranzo, while I continue to work more painting Vincenzo's face. This is the most difficult painting I have ever done, and it will be a miracle if I finish it to my liking in the next 24 hours; otherwise, it will not dry enough to take it to the borgo on Friday for exhibition.

I write and submit an Italian Notebook story about the tree raising each April 30th in our village. If you search our archives for this date in past years, you'll see plenty of photos. We're happy to share this event with others, as one of the events that makes our village so special to us.

Today' is Pietro's birthday, so we visit him tonight to celebrate and share a bottle of bubbly. Pietro and Helga perform a silly Norwegian song and dance meant for children to sing on their birthdays, complete with turning around and jumping up and down. Yes, that's how birthdays should be celebrated!

April 28
The weather certainly has been rainy, with short bouts of sun here and there. I check the roses, and there is not an infestation of tiny aphids, as I have feared. It makes little sense to spray with denatured alcohol and soap and water if it's still raining.

I spend a lot of the day on Vincenzo's face, and just have to stop. I am worried that the painting will not be dry enough for this weekend's exhibition, called Contadini di Mugnano, Part 1.

Dino tells me that after checking the manifesto (poster) in the borgo, the exhibit will start on Friday and continue until Saturday, during the day. I'm concerned about how we will get the paintings to the school in all this wet weather, especially since two of the paintings still have wet paint on them. Somehow everything will work out.

April 29
We have an appointment with our good doctor in Viterbo this morning, and he's always insightful. I'll let you know what he has to say about my experience in Terni last Wednesday.

I'm happy to be done with painting for at least a week or so, and now I can catch up on Italian Notebook stories and cleaning up the garden, including the poor boxwood, which have shown a great deal of growth this past year and really cry out for hand pinching to get them back in shape. Let's hope the weather clears, even a little.

Our doctor tells me I have tennis elbow and I can use Dino's pain medicine (Medrol) for that, and otherwise he thinks I'll live. So let's enjoy the partial sun and a little wind and do work in the garden. He is surprised that the women in Terni would not give me anesthesia for the colonoscopy and shakes his head.

Dino buys a kit to make a cavaletto (easel) for me to use this weekend for the third painting, and we put it together after pranzo. He also wants to make the pergola in the parcheggio stronger, and is going to try some lightweight wood as arches within it, which will give, he hopes, just enough. I get such a kick out of Dino, for he is always thinking. No wonder he cannot sleep at night!

Tonight we have cena with Annika and Torbjorn, and that will be fun. With nothing hanging over my head, and knowledge that GB will not publish my story of the tree raising, I work on some of the boxwood on the front terrace. After about an hour I give up on it for today; there is plenty of time to return to it before the weather is too hot to groom it.

The garden smells so beautiful; is it the Philadelphus, the roses, or a combination of sun and wind after lots of rain? Yes, this surely must be paradise. Dino drives to Tenaglie for an appointment, and Sofi and I hang out until he returns.

April 30
The last day of the month begins with fog, but in this tiny Brigadoon hilltop, sun appears mid-morning while Giuseppe from the Comune weed-wacks Via Mameli in preparation for this weekend's festa, after a bright haze.

Dino drives to Tenaglie for a meeting while birds gab and warble to each other here in the garden. There are so many roses, and more than a few are in bloom. Sadly, the excessive rain has dampened the Fantin Latour on the corner of the house. Since this is a once-blooming rose, its delicate pink tries its best, but is not able to present itself as it had hoped.

The Lady Hillingdons on the path will hold onto their blooms for the weekend procession, while the wisteria on the terrace continues its mighty march across the pergola to the front of the house. Before summer has called it a day, we expect to see it reaching up to the balcony and of course filling in the entire pergola space. That means that next year we may even have flowers...magari!

The box continues to thrive, and needs pinching. I am able to do about a dozen at a time. The rose arch is beginning to explode its Alistar Stella Grey small yellow roses, the whites on the tufa planters holding back until some of the other roses have had their turns. They will continue to flower all summer, so I'm not worried about them.

Lavender Lassie will flower in about a week; the Jude the Obscure will take a little longer, but reflowers all summer and has a wonderful scent. Despues Jean is in flower, and has been for a week or so, as are the Buff Beauty up above where the Italian tomatoes are growing.

Teucrium is forming an undulating hedge in front of the tufa wall below the Buff Beauty. Madame Gregory Staechlin is in grand flower; unfortunately it will only last another week or so. It is possible we will move it this winter to a more prominent position. Now it grows near the peach tree, where fruit is already growing. None of the other fruit trees show much in the way of fruit yet.

Lady Silvia and Caroline Testout are at the very beginning of their first flower, and I like the size of the buds a lot. Of course, the Paul Ledes are my favorite, and the new one still shows signs of buds. The older ones have suffered from the rain and black beetles, which love to next inside.

What else? Pierre di Ronsards are about ready to blossom, and the Ophelia is already in bloom, growing through the branches of the giant olive tree. Its flowers are large and in the palest of pink. If we thin the tree a little, it will be happier.

Since I've learned to leave the rampicante roses alone, the Madame Alfred Carriere happily grows over the roof of the gardener's cottage in one direction and toward the nocciole (hazelnut) arch in the other. There's a peachy-orange rose we bought at Landriana one year; I'll have to look it up in the journal archives to figure out what it is. It stands in front of the gardener's cottage.

The six hydrangeas grow in pots on a ledge under the tall loquat tree, but I don't expect them to blossom for a month or so. Oh. There are two or three Chapeau di Napoleon roses, which are fun; they form a three cornered "hat" before pink blossoms squeeze their way out.

Two large bushes of Philadelphus, or Mock Orange, have been in bloom for two weeks. Then there are the two flowering wisteria (Macrobotrys) and two non-flowering as yet (same variety) over the new pergola in the middle garden.

There are ten small lavender, forming a row in the shaded area of the middle garden, and in the fall we will move every other one to let the other ones grow. We still have about eight old lavender, which are quite large and somehow have thrived during sun and rain and drought. Another twenty or so small box are nestled here and there and eleven taller box groomed as tall ovals seem to shield the garden from winter winds from the South.

There's the Rosa Banksia (white) evergreen and thornless roses that cover the arch to the far property, and have just begun to bloom. These roses only bloom once, but their dark green leaves thrive all year long. Dino clips it back in an orderly fashion, so that it always looks beautiful.

Here and there are cardi, a kind of mock-artichoke with nothing edible but the stalks; that is if one wants to take off the outside of the stalks and cook them in milk and water. But once a year, in late June, there are beautiful purple artichoke looking fuzzy flowers.

What used to be a lavender field is now the wisteria pergola, with pale gravel underneath and lavender and box and roses planted in groups here and there. Some day there will be a large pepperino stone table. There are a few rosemarino plants here and there, plenty of herbs, including those growing out of spaces between tufa bricks set in a half-moon of tufa bricks below the giant olive tree. The bricks are high enough to sit on, the herbs, especially lemon thyme, grow between, so that one can put their hands on either side of them when they sit and bring their hands up to smell their fragrance.

In addition to the basil planted between many of the tomato plants, in front of the loggia are about a dozen more; various winter lettuces are also there, as is a wild asparagus plant. I've just planted seeds of arugula with snap dragons behind them, for there is plenty of room there for flowers and herbs.

In the raised planter in front of the serra we are growing carrots, Walla Walla onions, three giganti tomato plants, as well as sunflowers to bring up the rear. Since there is nothing happening inside the serra, the sunflowers will probably hide it from view in July.

There are a few unnamed roses here and there, cascading rosemarino growing between the White roses in the tufa planters (yes, their name is "white" and they grow all summer), and oh, yes. We have those nasty Mermaid roses as an "anti-furto" (anti theft) hedge nestled between thorny osmanthus along the side of the property facing Pepe's orto.

Purple daisy-like flowers that are said to thrive in hot weather are in the pots leading down to the car. Here and there in the raised orto and in pots we are also growing succulents, but those with interesting flower shapes (echeverias and similar varieties).

Sarah and other garden voyeurs, I hope you can take pleasure from this minimal description of our garden. Send us emails if you want to ask any particular questions or see more photos.

We're off to the tree raising, although for a while the skies clouded over and there were threats of storms. For now, they have held off.

One of Donato's nephews goes out of his way to say hello to me; I think he knows who Babbo is, and that I have great affection for Elisa, his grandmother. I consider this as another abraccione (big hug) between the villagers and us. The feelings I have for these people brings tears to my eyes, and tomorrow will be another interesting chapter in our love affair.

Dino takes his camera while I put on Sofi's harness and lead, and we walk up to the spot outside the borgo where the tree will be "planted". Some years it stays all year in the ground, but on other years it is cut down before winter winds can thrash it, causing damage to nearby cars and buildings.

This tree, Nando tells us, is 27 meters tall. We ask him if he is sure, and he tells us he has measured it. We think that's about the tallest we've ever seen, although it is magro (thin).

Dino takes a few shots, but not as many as before, since there is a professional photographer who will have an exhibition of the tree raisings of this year and last this weekend.

While standing with Vincenza next to the caduti monument, I notice her father, Italo, holding the rope as Felice did the last year he participated, too old to do more. Italo's face is always tanned; he is always smiling or wide-eyed in exclamation. Yes. I will paint him soon.

He is 89 years young, so why not? Perhaps he will be holding the rope, just as he is now. Dino helps me by taking a number of photos of him from different directions. I tell Vincenza that I will paint him, and she is thrilled. The list of people to paint continues to grow...

As the tree is lowered to the ground with the help of three specifically rigged metal ladders to lift it and nearby trees to stabilize it, the bells of the little church ring out in celebration, everyone applauds and new caps made for the carriers, dark blue with red Mugnano letters and the year 2009 are thrown in the air, as if a graduation has taken place.

We ask how long this tree raising has been done, and it has been done as long as Italo can remember. He tells us that he thinks Mugnano is the only place around that has a tree raising; this proud tradition is a great beginning to a weekend celebrating the village and its people. We look forward to being a part of all of it.

MAY 2009

May 1
What a lovely way to begin the month; there is a clear blue sky and nothing we have to do. Later today we'll unveil the latest three paintings of local contadini who have passed away. I do love these people from the village, and it will be an emotional experience for me. For the family members, I am hopeful they won't be upset to see the images of their departed loved ones.

Last night, Pietro told me I could have sold a painting to Petter the other day, if I would only change it to please him. What? Isn't a painting an artist's representation? I told Pietro his friend should purchase Hildegarde instead; it would be more in keeping with the man's Nordic nature. It does not matter to me...

This morning Dino and Sofi and I work on the roses on the path. They are the Lady Hillingdons, and flower all summer, giving joy to the neighbors who pass by on their way to and from the cemetery. We have little stone benches near them, where tired folk can rest on their way back up the hill.

While we are weeding and clipping and feeding the roses, neighbors walk by and comment on the roses; it is a validation and warms my heart. After Rosina walks up the hill and talks about the rose arch below her balcony that she loves, a rose branch snaps off by mistake and I walk it up to her while she is sitting in the shade near Donato and Elisa's house. She'll probably try to root it, and wouldn't that be wonderful if it "took" and she grew it on her balcony above us!

For the first time in memory, I sat in the middle garden the other day, and then on the terrace, and read a novel: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. It is beyond me that it has won a Pulitzer Prize. Night after night, I'd slog through it, and now that I'm nearing the end it has captured my attention.

The book is full of family chaos and disagreement, and I can relate to that. The folks on my side of the family are certainly a judgmental lot, suing each other, including me for good measure ("it's not personal, Auntie Vanne") and my brother emailing me that he loves me but does not like me.

What does it all mean? I have to just shrug my shoulders as the locals do when they are questioned and don't know the answer, to keep myself sane; we live so far away from them that I choose to blow their snarls away with a gentle kiss and wish them all well. When it means enough, some day they may change their minds. I am a patient soul these days.

Let's talk about life here, instead.

This afternoon, Dino takes the three cavaletti (easels) to the ex-scuola (they really need a new name for this building where all the community socializing takes place), and Alberto Castori and Francesco Perini set up the slide show about Ecomuseo. Dino returns not knowing much about when my paintings will be unveiled.

An hour or so later we drive up with the paintings, which have been covered over with thick sheets of paper. We come across Paola, who tells us about her San Diego trip, and then Otello rushes up to Dino, telling him they need someone else to dress up in Confraternity garb and serve at the altar at tonight's mass. Tonight is the second of three masses (the Tridui) in honor of San Liberato Martyre, one of our patron saints. I won't attend.

Dino drives home to pick up his costume, sadly interrupting Sofi, who sits in her little gabbia (cage), and as he is about to dress in the sacristy, Ivo appears, so Dino decides not to dress and participate after all.

Paola and I, in the meantime, have walked to her father Pepino's house, where we have coffee with some of their relatives, including dear Nonna Candida. This house is always full of people and good cheer. Dino joins us and after a while we walk down to the place where the Ecomuseo meeting and later festivities will take place.

What is Ecomuseo, you ask? Briefly, it is a love of the village and a concerted effort to embrace its past and cherish its memories through efforts to educate its residents of its wonders and preserve its character for future generations.

There is a pause, for the meeting is rescheduled because of the mass. So, in tempo Italiano (Italian time), the meeting finally takes place. Alberto, as President, gives the slide show, which outlines what people like and think we should change about Mugnano.

He is a statistician, and has prepared an excellent study, complete with wonderful ancient photographs of the people and the borgo and countryside, based on the questionnaires many of us filled out a month or so ago. What was most memorable was that 22% of the respondents did not want to change anything at all about Mugnano!

In Italian fashion, Roy is called instead of me, and that is our cue. One by one, we set the three easels and paintings up along the front wall, and one by one I lift the paper to unveil Gino, then Felice, then Vincenzo and Occhi Pinti.

I am not nervous now, but want the people of our village to know that these paintings are an expression of how much I care for them. When I lift up the paper in front of Gino, I asked the audience who it is, and Tiziana, in the front row, calls out, "Nonno!" So we unveil the two others, and then there is applause...a lot of it. I walk over to the painting of Felice, saying that he was our first insegnante (teacher). I look at Renzo, standing at the very back of the room, and catch his eye, and I think he smiles. Soon afterward, he and his wife leave.

After more applause, Antonio speaks and then the group breaks up to walk outside for drinks and cena. I stand in the front of the room while neighbors, especially the older women, come up to greet me.

Franca tells me I have captured the very blue of her father Gino's eyes, and we embrace. Of course I will continue painting the people of Mugnano, but now want to paint people who are young and old, but people who are alive now.

During the cena, Salvatore walks up to me, acknowledging me by name and thanks me for the paintings. He is such a wonderful young boy that I tell him that I want to paint him, too! "Are you sure?" he asks me, and to be sure he returns and asked me again. "Si," I reply, "ma posso piu giovane." (Yes, but possibly when you were younger.)

People to add to the list of paintings to do are Donato and his mother, Elisa. Miriam tells me I should paint Modesta, who will turn 100 this next year, but I do not know her at all. If I paint her, Miriam will lend me photos and I would want to spend some time with Modesta, studying her. "What did she like to do?" I ask Miriam. "Everything, but she loved to serve coffee." Perhaps she will sit at a table with an espresso pot. We'll see.

Tonight, when people want to speak with me about Felice's painting, I tell the story of his body lying in the mortuary below the hospital with his dear wife, Marsiglia, at his side as she showed me where he broke his nose, where and when each "ding" in his face occurred, while I studied the face carefully; then we went home and added the details from memory.

Tonight's cena, set at long tables under a beautiful dark sky, is full of joy; sitting across from us is Marco, who bought Felice and Marsiglia's house and travels around the world as a photographer. Next week we will invite him for pranzo and to share ideas about photography and painting.

Tonight I find him especially interesting; a couple staying in Pam and Ken's apartment from Canada sits with us, and Marco shows Angela how to eat fave beans like an Italian. She and her husband, Mike, will be here for a month, and we look forward to seeing them again.

Back at home with dear Sofi, we sit on the terrace in the moonlight, just marveling about our lives here. Earlier, when talking with Donato and a man I did not recognize who told me he was born in Mugnano, I told him that I was Mugnanese; I was reborn here in my second life. That is all so true...

May 2
The morning is spent in the garden, surveying the sights and the fragrance from the Philadelphus, or Mock Orange, and the roses, which take their turns opening their buds to the many birds and bees that feast on their nectar.

All over Italy, we are aware of the sights and the heady smells of the Pseudo-Acacia trees, those wild weedy trees with beautiful teardrop shaped leaves, forming two columns on each frond. I think these trees are truly beautiful, and ignore those purists who tell me they are weeds and not worth paying attention to.

This afternoon, in the bright sunlight, we watch the ancient ruzzolone game played by several teams, on the straight and sometimes curvy stradabianca of the village. Dating back to the time of the Etruscans, the area's forebears, the game was originally played with rounds of very hard Pecorino cheese!

Now there are ruzzolos made of wood, strapped with a kind of hemp to give the thrower some "lift". The first team arriving at the "y" at the end of the road in front of the Gasperoni's pink house wins; running back, the finish line is near Pietro's gate, with plenty of twists and turns and falls into the thick grass on either side of the road. I write up a story for Italian Notebook, so you may see it soon.

At night, while feasting on free porchetta sandwiches and local wine, the winners win rounds of...Pecorino cheese! Tomasso and Enzo are a few of the older fellows who recall playing the game as young men; Tomasso even has photos to show us of him in the field as a young man, getting ready to toss.

The paintings seem to be attracting a lot of comments. Daniele, Vincenzo's son, gives me a hug and tells me not to change a thing; his father's nose is fine. What touches me is that different people come up to me and comment on the essence of each man; there is something in each painting for everyone. What greater compliment could an artist receive?

Pia asks me to do a painting of her; yes I'm happy to do a commission, and she tells me that it is my choice how to depict her. I recall her costume for the Soriano chestnut festival, a velvet and cloth wrapped headpiece in dark purple complimenting her auburn hair. I see her painting similar to The Girl With The Pear Earring. I will ask her what she thinks.

Tonight the paintings are moved to the front of the school, while the music plays, then they are returned inside. We walk home with Mike and Angela, Pam's sister and brother in law and Torbjorn, Annika and Pietro. Back at our house we have porchetta sandwiches, potato salad, ricotta cream desserts and plenty of red wine before returning to see the children dance in front of a stage in the village square. Yes, I will put the dessert on the site, for it is easy and delicious.

A few couples dance, like Nando and Rita, Enzo and Rosita, but people mostly sit on the sidelines. We leave and walk down the hill, sitting outside to enjoy a beautiful night under the stars before turning in.

May 3
At just before 8AM we put Sofi on the bed, for the fireworks burst, announcing the major feast day of our patron saint, San Liberato.

A while later the band begins to play, walking up and down each little street, serenading the villagers. We hear them above us in front of Pasquale's house, and stand in the garden to listen to them. Here they are after playing for us...

We walk up to the church, Dino preceding me to change. I stand in front of Ernesta's store with Augusta and other women as the neighbors begin to congregate. First is the band playing a salute to the Caduti Monument (for fallen soldiers, especially those from WWII).

Afterward, I walk to the church and find a place in the last pew. There are confraternity members dressed from both Mugnano and Bomarzo, with Renzo dressing in his Mugnano confraternity costume, although he is Priori of the Bomarzo Confraternity di San Anselmo.

As we file out to begin the customary procession, Livio asks me to take the Italian Flag and Accion Cattolica banner. Yes, of course. I stand between the two rows of women, lined up behind the band. In front of the band are Confraternity members, including Dino, who carry the lanterns and crucifix.

Behind the women stand the rest of both confraternities, the mayor, Tiziana who represents Mugnano in the Comune and Don Luca and the deacon. Following up the rear are the men. It is quite a show.

I think it is a thrill of a lifetime to be able to participate in an Italian procession. As a young girl, I always wondered about them when I saw them in movies or in the Italian section of Boston on summer feast days. Now I know. Thanks to our pals Annika & Torbjörn of Mugnano and Sweden for the photos.

Back at the church, we sing the hymn to San Liberato, raise our flags and banners and cheer.

Dino and I visit Maria Elena's garden, for Dino is supervising a project for her garden. Then we walk home to fix pranzo and in the mid afternoon, take the three Norwegian women to Tenaglie to show them a few properties.

I can't help feeling some of the excitement I felt the first time we looked at properties in Italy for sale. There is something indescribable about owning a place here, even if one only comes for a visit now and then.

The worse the worldwide economy becomes, the more I sense that people will want to move here. For us, socialized medicine is a godsend; we could not afford to live in the U S at anywhere near the level we did years ago. For people wanting a simplified life, it is a dream come true.

Earlier I laughed when one of the women asked me if house prices are lowering. "Not really," Dino said, Italy has been in the grips of economic chaos for years, so the current economy is nothing new for Italy. Perhaps that has something to do with the proposed merger between FIAT and Chrysler, with FIAT emerging as the stronger partner.

We bring the paintings home, and until or unless things change, they will live here, which is fine with me. At the stroke of ten PM, fireworks blast outside our front window. We're sitting on the sofa in the kitchen watching a movie, and Sofi scrambles between us, not looking up at them but just being near us. This time, she does not shake a bit.

Outside the fireworks are so close that we don't even need to stand up to see them. They last for about fifteen minutes, and then the silence of the night returns, the birds hiding somewhere in the dark, Pietro sitting on his terrace smoking a cigar right below them, thinking next year he must have a party...

May 4
This is the last day to renew our Italian medical insurance, and we're both a little worried about whether we will be charged the €400 or so a year. For the last couple of years we did not pay a thing, thinking it was some kind of fluke, for someone in ASL, the Italian Health Association, thought we each should pay that amount; when all was done, we paid...nothing. Who knows what to expect today?

After gassing up at the metano station, €7 fills the tank! Since we have two tanks, and the other is gasoline the savings are considerable.

There is more good news in Viterbo: our health insurance is renewed at no cost. We drop the certificates off at our doctor's (he's paid by the number of patients who have signed up for him) and then do a little food shopping.

The major stores are closed as usual on Monday mornings, but LIDL and some of the smaller stores are open. This will change, we are sure, until there are supermarkets all over Italy open seven days a week, as they are in the US. In a way, it's a sad commentary about the people who work in these stores and what they have to look forward to...

Back at home, we heat up the pasta al forno and I take a walk around the garden. Dino wants to hold a garden open house on Sunday afternoon if the garden still looks good. I am fine with that, as long as the house is not open for visitors. Italians are a curious lot, and that is fine, but not inside our house...that's a little too close for comfort.

We can decide at the last minute, but it is a good idea, for we will work this week to put the garden in optimal shape, rather than take our time with it. That way, the irrigation will be finished and our ongoing work in the garden will be less. Yes, we always have something going on.

I am reading a book by Annie Hawes, and her style is a little too flip and silly for me. Having said that, I like reading about her life and her enthusiasm for her neighbors and their culture in Liguria.

I'm introduced to a women near Bracciano who has worked in Afghanistan for the World Food Program through Italian Notebook and although her name just fell in my lap, I hope we are able to meet. I do want to find a way to help the women of Afghanistan.

May 5
What starts out as a lovely and mild morning turns into...rain!

Friends come by for caffé and then we take them to see a few properties, one of which they like very much. People who look for properties in Italy usually look for sun, sun and more sun, but not too much, maybe a place in the shade to read and loll the hours away, of course a view, some characteristic charm and a bread oven really helps...not that anyone would actually use one.

Could I imagine myself in one of these properties, and if so, what would I be doing? I ask people these questions, and it gives some perspective. Although we wanted quiet places to read when thinking about whether or not to buy this place, our reading is usually done in the dark of night under a bedside lamp.

After pranzo and before the rain sets in, we work on the gravel and nursery cloth under the new pergola, but don't finish much before I have to run to the terrace and take the laundry in from the clothes rack. As I do, Rosina laughs down at me, and I laugh back. My laugh is a hearty one, for I could not imagine anything more wonderful than doing something as simple as this and loving every minute of it.

It's raining under a sunny blue sky, so Dino decides to drive to Viterbo to pick up some irrigation and hardware fittings. Once he has left, I notice his wallet sitting on the bed, and when I finally reach him he is at the checkout counter in Viterbo.

"Did you have a nice ride?" I ask him. "Look in your pocket." And beyond him I hear the sound of a cash register as he groans. His pockets are empty!

Back at home it's sunny, and I'm ready to return to the weeds and boxwood pinching and flower deadheading.

May 6
It's foggy this morning at 7AM, and that's the perfect weather for Mario to weed-whack the path in front of our house, the west land and various places around the garden. He tells us that when it is foggy, the grass is damp and cuts easily. Va bene.

By 9AM he's on his way, and in a day or two we'll rake the cut grass and weeds and burn them. We think we have at least until the end of the month to still be able to burn. After that, it's probably fire danger time.

There is a moaning across the valley here and there, for others agree with Mario, and take this opportunity while it's not too hot to take care of their grass and weeds.

Through it all, a cacophony of birds greets us. Is it strange that unless I listen for them, I am not aware they are there? I'm reminded of people in San Francisco who lived on the cable car tracks. When the tracks were stopped for two years for restoration, people complained that they could not sleep; it was the droning of the tracks that lulled them. Here it's a friendly reminder of the joy we feel just being here.

The news on TV is terrible; I fear the worst is coming in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Do people in the United States feel somewhat isolated from it? I hope not. To us it is a reminder that terrible things are brewing.

While having coffee, we speak about the Taliban, and what they want to achieve. Being pretty religious and a Christian, I ask Dino, "What if Christ arrives in the midst of this? What will HE do?"

Dino thinks that unless the Mullah renounces violence, which he certainly will not, it's only a matter of time before the Taliban and Al Quaeda get hold of Pakistan's nuclear weapons. So in the meantime, listen to your birds and bless each day...

While Dino drives off to do errands and pick up pranzo for me to fix, Sofi and I spend a couple of hours in the garden. There are many roses to deadhead, and it's a joy to walk among them, enjoying every bit of it.

Sofi is happy to be with me, but feels some kind of calling when a lucertole (lizard) is in sight. If she sees them, she feels a need to "do them in"; I don't know that I'll ever understand the wildness of a domesticated animal, but she seems to enjoy the "hunt", her tail wagging back and forth as she sticks her nose between the boxwood globes to sniff them out.

The garden is at its best now; if the weather holds, we'll open the garden to our neighbors on Sunday afternoon. I like the idea of it, letting people meander around the property and enjoy it. That means we'll have to make sure our orto looks respectable, with lettuces and herbs growing. I'm sure they'll have lots to comment on, and that reminds me.

Mario thinks the pomodori look a little weak, so we'll feed them today and hope they pick up. Since they've been put in the ground they have not seemed to grow. He thinks we planted them a week or so early. I like hearing from Mario about our orto and would welcome ideas from our neighbors. Perhaps we'll have Italo and Pepino come by. Neighbors always love to give friendly advice....

I read the NYT online, and am horrified by the flogging of a young woman in Pakistan. If you read my journal regularly, you will recall that I am a supporter of the women of Afghanistan and Pakistan and want to find a way to help them. Here's the story:


I'm also a great fan of Richard Holbrooke, the US Envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and have been for years. When able to meet him in Belgium last year and listen to what he has to say about the world situation, my opinion about him was confirmed.

He's tough, can be abrasive, and knows how to get warring factions to sit at the same table, having done so successfully in the Bosnian conflict. I think the women of that region have a friend in him; a man who will fight for them diplomatically. Just the same, the future for Afghani and Pakistani women appears bleak.

We spend most of the afternoon weeding and working on the gravel under the pergola. While on the terrace, Luigina calls up to me and I invite her to see the garden. She advises me that the plants we thought were cardoons are really carciofi (artichoke) after all, but they are a tiny variety, so pick them within the next week or they'll get spiny thorns and not be good to eat. Now what should I do with them? Dino counts them and finds about ten.

We say goodbye and she tells me she's walking to their orto; her husband will pick her up on the way back. While walking in the garden, she tells me that she was born in Mugnano and lived in Vittori Vittori's house (he's the father of the Italian astrounaut and yes, I think that's his name) before getting married and moving to the house on Via Mameli where she lives now.

We continue to work in the garden throughout the afternoon. At about six, Dino calls it quits, and I'm happy to do so as well. We drive to Pietro's and visit with Pietro and Helga on their terrace, drinking prosecco in wine glasses with Aperol and slices of orange; quite tasty.

We can't stay for more than an hour, for the irrigation system is still not finished and that means that Dino has a lot of watering to do. Pietro's drink give me a headache, so it's a different cocktail for me before we turn in.

May 7
Dino leaves early, spending the morning on a project for a client in...you guessed it, Tenaglie. He leaves there for Viterbo, for he is a shopping machine and knows just where to shop and for what.

Back at home, it is a glorious morning, with full sun. Since Dino likes to eat inside and I do not, I fix a piece of toast made from the bread I made yesterday with organic flour from Natura Si, and sit on the terrace with an espresso, drinking in the sights and sounds and smells.

The combination of roses and several cascading Petti d'Angelo (Philadelphus, or mock orange) are heady. I could sit like this for the rest of my days, but I want to get some sun and the best way to do that is to move around and garden.

Last night at Pietro's, there was a big laugh at me. His friend who worked in the church in Norway where he was priest, heard me say one evening to Sofi, "What do you think, Sofi?" and thought I was rather mad. Pietro describes me as being "a little special". Yes, I am a dreamer...and I do talk with the little dog, who doesn't pay much attention to me, either.

Of, of course she loves me and yes, considers me as "a food source", but follows me everywhere, and these days I don't worry about her running off. While deadheading roses on the front path, I let her be, and her search of the ever-present lucertoles (lizzards) keeps her happy. At one point she is too hot and moves inside to drop on the cool floor after taking a drink of water.

But I, ever the dreamer, walk about with my clippers and bucket to tend the Lady Hillingdon beauties on the front path. Luigina and Anna walk up the hill and I tell Luigina that if the weather holds, we'll open the garden on Sunday afternoon. Anna won't be here on Sunday, So I invite her in for a walk.

Anna Farina was also a niece of Celestino Natale, who built this house in the 1930's, and remembers that there was not a bathroom in the house until 1995. There was a fountain where the loggia now stands where water was used to take care of the garden.

She does not remember the war, for she was born in 1946, so does not know if Germans took over the house, which appears to be a local tale. We wonder if that was so, because there is an iron holder on the balcony for a flagpole. I tell her that there is really only one family in Mugnano, and she laughs.

Anna lost her husband two years ago, and for the past year has seemed to become more content; during the first year I would see her walk up to the cemetery each day with such sadness in her eyes. Now her eyes light up, and I think life is better for her. Speriamo di si (we hope so).

Weeding and weeding and more weeding this morning is not difficult for me, with the help of Medrol. I'll take it off and on for the next few months, as Dino did when he had a lot of arm pain. He no longer has pain, and this is the time when we work diligently in the garden, so if the pain were to return, this time of year would bring it on.

Work returns on the nearby restoration/agritourismo and it sounds as if wood is being sawed. The building looks quite characteristic, and if you come to visit you might be able to stay there!

We've wanted to make a Mugnano family tree, and Sunday may be a fun time to get everyone to participate. Each person who wants to can take a piece of paper and draw their family tree, and we will put them together in some interesting way. I recall seeing the Costaguti family tree on a wall at Diego's castle in Roccalvecchi so it gives us something to think about.

We visit with Pietro and Helga and Pietro's young friend, here for a week, and take them to a property for Pietro to see. But we can't stay long, for there are things to water in the garden. Until the irrigation system is fully in place, Dino is a kind of slave to it; we hope that won't be for long. Earlier this afternoon we drove to Spazio Verde to pick up a couple of mature lavender plants to fill in a couple of areas, two cascading plants and some little succulents.

Dino continues to bring buckets of gravel upstairs, and we're just about finished with the garden. Now we can spend our time weeding away in areas without nursery cloth, and pulling up erbaccia (weeds) which have sprouted through the air and are easy to pick up.

The evening is mild, and I begin to fix deserts for Sunday by making piecrust dough and putting it in the refrigerator. If I find the right recipe, I'll continue to make this instead of purchasing ready-made piecrust that only needs to bake. I'm going to experiment with a lemony rice torte...and then something chocolaty. Come no (why not)?

I end the evening worrying about what is going on in Pakistan. I know that I can't do a thing about it, but the women in Pakistan and Afghanistan really need our support. I don't know what, but I am going to find a way to help them. I hope you'll join me...

At that note, I turn in, while Dino stays up for awhile to watch TV.

May 8
Dino has an appointment in Tenaglie, and when he's through, a client's stufa has been installed, and will work very well to heat the house in the colder months.

We drive to Viterbo, for Dino thinks we should buy a table for the middle garden, and I humor him. I know we will have a large pepperino table one day, with stone from Franco's pepperino quarry in nearby Vitorchiano, but there is no harm doing research.

Back at home, we visit Pietro and Helga, but don't stay long, for Dino wants to do more watering. Soon the irrigation system will be complete and his summer watering work will diminish. Va bene!

I fix the rice torte mixture, and tomorrow will make the piecrust. Although Jamie Oliver's recipes look great, I read that he is not as good with ingredients. Beware!

Dino posts the notice about our giardino aperto (open garden) on Sunday for the neighbors. It will be interesting to see who visits.

May 9
The weather is perfectly lovely. I forget to write, for the day is spent in the garden, weeding and deadheading roses and clipping boxwood globes.

Dino attaches bamboo to the top of the pergola in the middle garden, and the "room" is instantly transformed. Now if only I can persuade him to eat meals outside, that will be wonderful. In other words, magari! (If only that were so...)

I attempt to make Jamie Oliver's piecrust, but it is so buttery that the beans I add to the top of the crust while baking for ten minutes or so stick to it! What a mess. I think I'll talk with Candace to learn how she makes her piecrust. She is a master at making lemon meringue pie.

In the meantime, I fix brownies, and since marrone is the Italian word for "brown", I will call them "marronees". May 10
It's Festa della Mamma, or Mother's Day, in Italy, too. This afternoon we will have a "giardino aperto" (open garden) for the neighbors.

After church we check with certain neighbors who have not visited our garden, and then we walk home and change. For the next several hours, Dino tells me that I work "like the Energiser Bunny", but fix pranzo, and stop to eat it while Dino watches the Formula 1 race on TV, then return to the garden.

Just before the gates are opened, I stop what I am doing and cool off. The first visitors, Tiziana and her husband, don't arrive for a while, and when they do, she tells me about living in her Nonno's house above us as a child and walking to their orto (vegetable garden).

I've an idea to make a Mugnano family tree, and each family who arrives today is asked to participate by writing down their particular geneaology. This stirs up lots of conversation, and everyone leaves with competiti (homework). Three or four families have dominated this village for at least a century, so let's see what we can learn...

Since the founding of ECOMUSEO, we've been able to participate in a number of activities that acknowledge and document the history of this dear village. As the warm weather continues, there will be many opportunities to gather more information, and we look forward to all of it.

Here are some photos of today's visitors. A few couples ask Dino to take their photo under the rose arch, and Loredana thinks we should rent the garden out for events, possible in conjunction with the Barberini sisters who own the Orsini Palazzo in the borgo. It's worth looking into, but for today, Festa della Mama, it's more fun to sit around and laugh and enjoy the company of our neighbors.

When it's all over, we sit inside and talk about the day, happy beyond measure with the Fates who have plunked us here...

May 11
I note on Facebook that things are gearing up for next weekend's class reunion at Thayer Academy, where I attended high school. It sounds like fun, although I'd much rather be here. I would like to see old friends, especially Patience, who I have not seen since soon after college. If you read this, Patience, why not come for a visit?

It's about time...I feel tightness in my chest and am sure that I have to change what as well as the way I eat. The condition lasts all morning, and while Dino drives off to shop for pranzo, I begin to worry, but soon forget all that.

I have not done any stressful work, just deadheading roses, but while Sofi snores by my side as I write, I acknowledge that things have to change.

The weather continues to be beautiful, and I want to spend the day in the garden. Yes, I want to paint, but while the weather is mild, I think I'll be a little lazy. I hardly ever just sit around, but today I think I will.

Somehow I convince Dino to eat outside and we do just that. For all the years I dreamed about it, today we actually sit around for an hour in the garden eating under the new pergola and I continue to stay outside and read afterward while Dino putters around.

Mid afternoon, Dino drives to (where else?) Tenaglie. We will add another property to our site and a realtor will first give an evaluation. Italians are a funny lot; there are no "comps" in Italy; instead, people put a price they want for their property and sometimes sit around for years until they get the price they want. Here we think the client is more savvy.

Outside the work continues on the property we think will be an agritourismo, I think leveling off the land, for the windows have not arrives. The basic shell appears to be in place, so we will take a walk there, perhaps this week, to find out more.

We are sure that the village will remain tranquil, no matter what. Sofi, on the other hand, is anything but tranquil, nosing in and out and around the boxwood and lavender and herbs. Today she lands on a grillo (grasshopper), a big bright yellow-y green thing, and walks away from it shaking her head as if to say, "Yuk!" and then, "E fatto!" (It is done!)

I used to think grasshoppers were romantic little things, until I saw what they ruined in the garden. Somehow they take big chomp marks out of rose leaves and all kinds of beauty. Sorry, Jiminy...

What is the US doing using white phosphorus in attacks against the Taliban in Afghanistan? I can't believe it is true. If it IS true, what kind of an army uses chemical weapons that will certainly maim people? Who is responsible for it?

Use of this chemical, or any chemical, certainly cannot be approved by the Geneva Convention. I hope you are as upset as I am, and that you will rise up and do something about it. I know you expect me to write only about our lives in Italy, but this insanity is not a part of any world I want to live in.

May 12
Dino drives off to do a small project for a client, while Sofi and I listen to the birds and enjoy the sun. I spend the morning reading a good book about life in Italy and learning things I don't know about the culture (which are many).

I can find no new information about the chemical weapons used by the US troops in Afghanistan, so for now my thoughts are brought back to Italy.

Speaking of Italy, ANSA gives us some information regarding illegal immigrants. Thankfully, we are legal immigrants, but I feel for their plight. If you care, here's a bit about it. Yes, there is some xenophobia in Italy...

(ANSA) - Rome, May 8 - Italy stuck to its new policy of sending rescued migrants straight back to Libya Friday despite concern on asylum rights from the United Nations, human rights groups and the Vatican.

As a boatload of 77 migrants headed back to the North African country in the wake of Thursday's first shipment of 227, Interior Minister Roberto Maroni hailed the policy as ''a new phase in fighting illegal immigration'' and rebutted claims that it might put lives at risk at sea or expose refugees to the threats they had fled. ''The lives of people desperately trying to escape poverty or war comes before any other consideration for us,'' he said.

''This principle has always inspired the search and rescue activities that the police and navy carry out in the Mediterranean, often in waters that are not Italy's responsibility,'' he stressed.

Maroni firmed up the new policy Wednesday after the latest in a string of disagreements with Malta over who should take migrants located in disputed waters.

Under the policy, which sees a key part of a landmark accord with Libya implemented for the first time, migrants are rescued in international waters and taken back to Libya where humanitarian organisations can vet their asylum Defence Minister Ignazio La Russa, a leading member of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, said the new policy was ''the best solution to illegal immigration because it's the only way to make people realize it's not in their interests to try to land in Italy''.

Addressing critics of the new stance, he said ''either you accept that migrants will end up in holding centres, with useless suffering, or you want people to break the law''.

There's a second story that catches my interest, especially since Dino's grandfather was a tailor in Lucca before emigrating to the U S...

ANSA) - Rome, May 8 - Once the preferred outfitters of the international jet set, Italian tailors are a dying breed, according to artisan association Confartigianato. Nearly half of the 1,810 new tailors, seamstresses, pattern makers and hatters required by the industry to keep pace with demand are nowhere to be found, a recent report showed.

After an early pranzo, we drive to Montefiascone and to Lake Bolsena. Dino wants to pick out a new spot for pranzo later this week, since our favorite restaurant is closed that day.

We're able to take a number of photos so that I can submit a number of stories to GB, and sadly learn that he will not be able to join us at Thursday's Barabbata in Marta. We want him to spend time with us in Mugnano, anyway.

Many things are closed today, including the "Re di Gelato" (king of icecream) in Capodimonte; we stop at the Tourist Bar in Marta for gelato, for they advertise it is artigianale and fatto a casa (artisan and made right there), but now that we've had a lesson from Walter in the proper making of the best gelato, I think there is too much cream in this gelato. It's tasty, just the same.

Back at home I wonder why we ever leave here; it is the "chocolate" time of day...gentle breezes, lower light on the horizon toward Bomarzo and soft light on the garden. There's time to feed the hydrangeas and the citrus trees before Dino waters everything, and I find that we have something special to use on the hydrangea leaves that turn a little yellowy in a striped kind of way. I'll use that tomorrow in a spray bottle, right on the leaves.

Tonight I'll make that ricotta and caffé desert again and refrigerate it for 24 hours. I'm also going to make two kinds of foccacia tomorrow, one with potatoes and cipolle (onions) and calamata olives and a kind of flatbread with rosemarino and sea salt. Tomorrow night we'll have a simple cena with Candace and Frank and it may also include Pietro and Helga and their young friend visiting from Norway.

Out in the garden, one giganti pomodori plant is showing flowers, which means fruit will follow soon, and Dino tells me that the heirlooms are growing rapidly. Perhaps we'll even have our first harvest in June. I know that's optimistic, but the plants are really huge.

May 13
I'm wondering about focaccia, so today fix two different kinds. Both are made with potatoes. This is my first attempt at making the bread, so I might as well make two different kinds; if one is terrible the other may salvage the day.

Tonight Candace and Frank are expected, along with Pietro and Helga and the young man from Norway. Since It's completely a vegetarian affair, Candace will be happy but I'm not sure about the Norwegians. Plenty of wine will help.

Yesterday I fiddled too much with the coffee and ricotta dessert, so Dino suggests I put the little ramekins in the freezer. A little of this, a little of that...I'm experimenting with food, using easy ingredients to see what I can make with them. I do love to experiment.

Earlier, while deadheading roses on the spectacular rose arch (two Alistar Stella Gray roses planted several years ago, now in robust bloom), I felt somewhat sad. Although I love roses, they bloom too quickly; as a life that blossoms and then coasts downhill. In this case, the buds turn to paper. I am ever so mindful of the fragile nature of life.

Dino fixes fajitas and they are excellent! He works around the piles of dishes in the sink from this morning's focaccia beginnings, and since I'm not finished, I'll begin again after one is finished in the oven and the second finishes its second rise.

I finish three foccacias and whatever else we are serving in the afternoon, and have time to deadhead more roses. There are hundreds of them to deadhead; luckily there are many hundreds more in bloom or ready to bloom. Hopefully, many of the best ones will flower again.

Most of the lavender is quite long, so in a couple of weeks we may have another open garden afternoon. Since many of the roses need a shot of food to reflower, in the next couple of days we'll do just that.

Tomorrow morning, however, we'll leave early to attend the Barabbata celebration in Marta.

May 14
We wake up to sun and clear skies; by the time we leave for Marta, with Pietro and Helga in La Giallina, it's 8:30. Once we arrive, it's all about waiting. Almost no one is there at La Madonna del Monte, but here's what the outside of the church looks like this year:

We've attended once before, and the story about it has been published in Italian Notebook,

Now I've learned how to spell the festa with two "b's" (Barabbata) in the middle and it's just as wonderful the second time around for all of us except for Sofi, who has trouble with the noise. That's sad, for we really like to take her with us, and although she loves people she's anxious and shakes and shakes When there is too much confusion.

Pranzo afterward at Il Pirata (the pirate) is a treat, seated right at the edge looking out to the water of Lake Bolsena. Helga thinks she's in heaven; Pietro, however, is sure to tell us we're only on Earth. We all wanted to eat at Il Purgatorio, but even Dino's persistence did not convince the owner to be open for business today; he's always closed on Thursdays.

Dino and I eat roast corregone, the popular lake fish, but Dino begins with moule (mussels) in a lemony broth. We all wish we had last night's focaccia to dunk in the broth.

Afterward we drive to the next town, Capodimonte, for gelato at The Re di Gelato, and it is worthy of his name, although we are loyal followers of Walter in Sipicciano. Since stores are open, we return by way of Viterbo, and even though it is Thursday and on Thursday afternoons grocery stores are supposed to be closed, IPERCOOP is open and we shop before returning home to tranquil Mugnano.

We had fun today, but Sofi and I are especially happy to be home, enjoying the terrace and garden as the light begins to dim.

May 15
Dino drives to Tenaglie while I put Sofi on the bed and we loll around lazily until ten. I finish a book I'm readying about life in Liguria so that Roy can begin it as soon as he finishes the very heavy A Thousand Splendid Suns, a book that has changed my thinking about Afghanistan.

The morning is overcast, and rain falls softly as I clip rosebuds that have turned to paper on the glorious rose arch. Up above me, Tommy and Rosina have a debate concerning something I cannot understand, while her grandson's immaculate white laundry hangs on the balcony.

Italians are living television commercials, the way they exhibit laundry on their balconies. Perhaps it is a pride thing. Do you remember that when Berlusconi hosted the G-8 in Genoa that he asked all the residents to take in their laundry, and the people responded by hanging out everything they could find instead?

An email arrives from Gretchen, the woman from Rome who is the person who spent more than a year in Afghanistan. As I surmised, she erased my email by mistake and asks me to send it again. Si, certo!

I have two humorous stories to tell you about biancheria intimo (underwear):
Some years ago, 1994 to be exact, we were staying in Bellagio on Lake Como, and since we had already been on our trip for a week, we found a place on a side street that advertised on the window that they did laundry. So we took a bagful of our underwear and magliette (t-shirts) to the shop since we were staying at hotels for the whole trip.

Two days later, we walked by, only to see our own underwear hanging in the window to dry! When we picked it up a day later and brought it back to the room, it smelled of cigarettes, for the woman who owned the shop smoked nonstop.

Marie, who lives in one of the places above us, often drops her laundry, or clothespins, onto our property while hanging out her clothes on her balcony. On one occasion she dropped her panties, and we were not sure how to deal with this delicately. She leaned over the balcony the next day to comment on our rose arch, and I did a mime act, showing her what she had dropped.

"Magliette, va bene," she responded, and we agreed that we'd put it in a bag and hang it on our cancello (gate). Well, magliette is a "t-shirt", so perhaps Italians are more gentile (polite) in the way they express personal garments. I have later learned that the word for undergarments is "intimi". Those Italians certainly are a practical lot; when I learn a new word of the language, it almost always has a Latin derivation, as do most of our words.

Sofi is content to sleep today while the weather is gray, but I stand at the doorway and marvel at the subtle scene and the not so subtle sounds of the birds. Today they seem somewhat hushed; perhaps it is the rain that keeps them from chirping at their highest decibels with their mouths wide open.

There's minestrone soup, just defrosted, and it will be perfect for pranzo with what' s left of the focaccia and a cold roast chicken. Yes, this afternoon I will make a breakfast focaccia, now that the Pugliese variety is such a big hit; it is light and not thick, with a crisp crust and plenty of salt in the dough. I'll lessen the salt by half.

Dino thinks it will make a great breakfast treat, although I wonder why, if he's to smother peanut butter and jam on it as he does with toast. So I'll make something with cinnamon and brown sugar; perhaps that will dissuade him.

There's an email back from Don Luca, thanking us for congratulating him on his 9th anniversary as a priest in Bomarzo/Mugnano. He writes, "Grazie di cuore per il pensiero e ricambio nella preghiera" and we think it means that he thanks us for the wish and sends us a prayer in return. Here is the message, translated correctly by our good friend and priest, Don Francis:

"Heartfelt thanks for your kind thoughts and [I promise] to remember you in my prayers [as you have offered to pray for me]"

On the way back from showing a house, I realize we do not have sedano (celery) planted in any of our three orto locations, and we use a lot of celery in the summertime. We stop at Bruno's, and the man we think is Bruno's son shows us what he has left: eighteen plugs, most of which look as though they are on their "last legs".

It's a good thing we do not know his name, for we can tell you he's usually ubriaco (drunk), and since many of the plugs are wilted, he gives them to Dino for free, for Dino did not have proper change. Poor Bruno!

He has me thinking of the English proverb, "While the cat's away, the mice will play". In Italian, the modo de dire translates, to "Quando il gatto manca, i topi ballano." "When the cat's away, the mice dance".

Italians do more with fewer words than we do, and more poetically, at that...

Hello to all of my Thayer Academy friends who spent this weekend at the reunion in Braintree, MA, especially Patience, with whom I am thrilled to be back in touch.

May 16
The forecast is for rain, and since we are showing a couple the way to Tenaglie around noon, we cancel plans for a jaunt today. Instead, I feed the roses, while Sofi does her usual lucertole dance in the garden. While I'm walking around, I see that the hydrangeas are getting ready to flower, so add some bluing crystals made just for hydrangeas to make sure their blossoms are blue.

I've wanted to return to painting, at least to drawing, so when I have the chance I do just that. May 17
We have totally missed Sofia's birthday, and for that I am sorry. Her birthday was May 15th and she spent the whole day with us, which is what she likes to do.

This morning after Mass, Luciana hands me her paper, a handwritten list of all her relatives. It will be interesting to sort out. Augusta is not here today, and Luciana tells me she likes to stay at home these days, and I miss her. I tell Luciana I miss not seeing them sitting on the bench below our house during the afternoons.

Time will not stand still..for you, for me, for anyone. So treasure special moments, and hopefully many moments in every day are worth cherishing. Whether Augusta returns to sit on the bench in front of our house or not, I will remember those times fondly.

Don Giampietro is our priest today, and we have a wonderful mass. Italian priests, I think, reference the bible more than American priests do during their homilies; from what I recall, the emphasis that priests we knew used were just as much tailored to individuals as they were to families; here, families are everything, so the references in our village are almost always about family life.

We drive to Il Pallone after mass, having our favorite Sunday morning "glassatta" (glazed cornettos of the lightest, freshest kind) and cappuccinos, before shopping at the nearby market. I fantasize that I will take a class from the master here to learn how to make them, but then we enjoy coming here, so let's fantasize about something else..

Pranzo is eaten outside under the bamboo shade of the newest pergola, and it is hot, but there is a breeze. Since we'll travel to Franco's as well as to another Pepperino yard to get quotes for our outdoor table, Dino wants to have the specifications in his head when we walk in the door...Good idea.

Since there's a "cantina aperta" all over Italy at the end of the month, that's a great subject for an Italian Notebook story, so this afternoon, after the light is not focused on the marble table located between our tallest cypress trees, we set up a few bottles of white and also red to use with our story. If GB is to use the story and you subscribe to italiannotebook.com, perhaps you will have seen it already.

If you're in Italy at the end of the month and enjoy wine, this is an opportunity for you to taste some of the finest wines in Italy, and at cellars that are not usually open to the public without appointments.

This is Helga's last night before returning home, so we take a bottle of prosecco and a tub of fresh strawberries to Pietro's to raise a toast to her. This afternoon they are driving to Caprarola, for she has not seen it, and we're sure she'll long remember the day.

We stop at Pietro's for a toast to Helga, then come home to water and to mark the space for our proposed pepperino table. Are we dreaming, or is it possible that since pepperino quarries are all around us that we can afford one after all?

May 18
We have an appointment with Franco this morning, and I do my best not to look at him as if he is a god; he is that handsome and that kind. I don't think he's how you'd imagine a typical Italian man to be. If Grey's Anatomy has its McDreamy, Lugnano has its Il Sogno.

The price for the table is below anything I could have imagined, in a polished pepperino, so we'll be able to find a way to have our dream table after all. The weight is the problem, for four men will have to lift each of the pieces up the steps and across to the middle garden.

In total, the tabletop will be 240cm by 130cm in two pieces, with three pepperino pieces as the base in the form of an "H" to hold the tabletop up, and plenty of room for people's feet.

Dino has given Franco an idea that will make the table more stable with less weight, and that's the project manager in him, always fiddling with details to lower the price and give us a better construction. He's my McDreamy.

Back at home, I fix one of Dino's favorite pastas, and it's hot enough that we close the shutters and eat in quasi darkness. This is the first day I remember being uncomfortable, but it is only mid-May.

Dino takes Pietro to the geometra to talk about a piece of property he may buy, and then back at home we work on the land below the pergola to make sure the earth and the guina (nursery cloth) are level. After the bases have been laid down, we will lay the gravel around them, but we want to be sure of a solid base underneath. The first pieces will arrive later this week.

After about 6 in the evening, any winds seem to die down and the sky turns soft. Dino and I think these are the sweetest hours of the day, so we work together on the terrace tying up wisteria fronds, in both pomodori ortos tying up plants (their growth is amazing, thanks to the serra this spring in the house), and Dino waters while I deadhead roses. I've begun to receive a number of things from my new best friend, Gretchen, about the women in Afghanistan. I'm going to give them my all, and perhaps that means write a competitive analysis to submit to book publishers for one woman in particular. Do write to me if you want to be involved in any way to help these women.

I've written to Gretchen that I can either work with an Afghan woman on a competitive analysis to use with potential book publishers or do a large oil painting of either an Afghan woman or a couple of children (my preference), with a soft background. Once the painting is finished, it can be auctioned off, with the proceeds to benefit the women in Afghanistan.

I'm now in touch with the woman who heads up Women For Women International in Afghanistan, and am reading her thesis. Soon I'll have some direction from women who know more about the situation than I do; either way, I'll give it my all. This is a cause too important to just file away...

The temperature was as high as the low 90's today, and the forecast for next week looks warm and sunny here. What joy to work in the garden! Perhaps we'll buy more Cosmos seeds, for the ones we planted yesterday are past their "use by" date. Since they should sprout in the next few days, perhaps we'll wait and see...

May 19
Zalmay Khalilzad, a former ambassador to Afghanistan, could assume a powerful position in their government, according to talks he is having with Afghan officials. An American citizen, he is in talks with Karzai, but now that I am reading a thesis from an Afghani woman about women's role there, I see that it is a mistake.

I may consider a separate blog about women in Afghanistan, so do forgive me this transgression when you're wanting to know more about everyday life here.

I have a pedicure this morning, and am thankful to have someone nearby as good as Giusy. I ask her what to do about the sun spots on my arms and she writes something down, although tells me if the farmacista asks who recommended this, say it is a friend.

People who give pedicures are not allowed to give prescriptions, nor are they allowed to recommend things from the pharmacist. I think that's strange, so when ours asks who recommended the lotion, I tell him it was a friend. We wind up getting something else that he thinks will work well. Remember that pharmacists in Italy are among the highest paid workers in the State.

I look at the outside thermometer, on the east side of the house, and it registers 40 degrees in the shade (more than 100 degrees Farenheit, just after noon. So we have closed the shutters and the windows and yes, it remains cool inside.

Frank brings the roller back so that we can level out the area below the new pergola before the heavy pepperino bases arrive in a few days. He texts Franco for the dimension of the bases, and we mark off the places where they will sit, so that Dino can later level them off.

There's a baseball game on TV, so Frank and Dino watch it while I continue to read the thesis on gender issues in Afghanistan. I learn something I'd like to share with you...

"There remains an underlying hostility among many Afghans regarding Arab involvement in their country. This geopolitical oversight did not bode well with Afghans and reflected a poor knowledge of the context."

"This was further exacerbated by the reference to Afghans as "Afghanis". While this may appear to be a common mistake, even the briefest time spent in Afghanistan will reveal that Afghani is the currency." The people are undoubtedly Afghan.

So the next time you have an intellectual discussion about the people, you'll know how to correctly refer to them. I suppose it's similar to people referring to San Francisco as "Frisco"...geez that galls Dino.

Deadheading continues in the garden, while Dino levels the ground...

Just before going to bed, I read a truthout.org article about permanent war. It's worth readying...


I'm studying war these days, especially its impact on societies at large, and specifically those of Afghanistan and the United States.

It's dark outside, and a lone dog barks in the valley; it must be tied up somewhere, its owners ignoring it. One of these days we'll speak with Tiziano to see if it's his family's dog. Ahhh... There's finally silence. Probably the owner has opened their door and welcomed the dog inside.

Dogs are precious to me, and although I'm not particularly happy with what Piccola did with the just planted Cosmos seeds in the long planter set under the dining room window, I can't punish her. She really cannot comprehend the fact that I may not be happy with her, watching me silently and staying by my side. How simple and yet complex,...the relationship between dogs and their protectors.

May 20
I don't document the headaches anymore, but medicine for another last night had me dreaming the most Dali-esque dreams.

Dino drives off for a client meeting and Sofi and I enjoy a visit from Angie Good. It is so good to see her. She tells me that Sofi has lost weight and looks fine, so that pleases me to no end. I show her the long planter where I found Sofi yesterday and all the turned up dirt.

She responds that Sofi probably found the soil cool, and lay there enjoying it. I remember that when she digs, she digs long narrow holes. It makes sense, but now we'll need to get Cosmos seeds from the U S...

After a quick walk around the garden, we sit inside and have coffee and some of the heated sweet bread I made the other day. She likes it so much that I give her a piece to take back to Tia's, where she is dog sitting.

We talk about the white spots on my arms and she tells me that she thinks as people age, they lose some of the substance that helps their skin tan; instead the skin forms white spots. "Stay out of the sun, my dear" she tells me. Yes, we should see the doctor and absolutely should go to Capranica to ask them.

I read on the internet that my melanin producing cells have probably reduced in number, as well as the overall thickness of my skin has been reduced. Oh, all right.

Here's a strange story with a stranger ending:
(CNN) -- Military personnel threw away, and ultimately burned, confiscated Bibles that were printed in the two most common Afghan languages amid concern they would be used to try to convert Afghans, a Defense Department spokesman said Tuesday.

The unsolicited Bibles sent by a church in the United States were confiscated about a year ago at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan because military rules forbid troops of any religion from proselytizing while deployed there, Lt. Col. Mark Wright said.

Such religious outreach can endanger American troops and civilians in the devoutly Muslim nation, Wright said.

Earlier, Angie and I talked about the importance of giving back and my latest passion: helping the women of Afghanistan. "Well done, YOU!" is her response.

Angie drives off with Tia's dogs Charlie and Gioia, and we agree that we'll visit Marsiglia together soon. I look forward to seeing more of her.

There's more from the Afghan front:
(CNN)"The data, obtained from incident reporting from February 2003 through the present, show that insurgents have stockpiled and used white phosphorus against personnel in both indirect fire attacks as well as improvised explosive devices," the military said.

The Taliban has alleged that U.S. forces used the chemical in fighting insurgents May 4 in Farah province and injured civilians, but that assertion has been denied by the U.S. military.

"We've checked our reports again, and no munitions containing white phosphorous were used by coalition forces in Farah," a senior official said. "It is U.S. military policy to employ white phosphorous for illumination, marking targets or destroying buildings, but to abstain from using it against people."

After writing earlier that I was distressed to hear that Americans used the chemicals, I'm now a believer that we did not. I wish I could say the same about the Taliban...

Why do I write this in an Italian journal? The more I learn about people's dignity being taken away and about the abuses of power anywhere on earth, the more I want to do something about it. The dignity of every single person on earth is important, and I hope you believe that and want to do something as well. If I come up with a grand idea, I'll let you know...

It's a hot day, and clear. So I stay out of the sun, sadly, except to hang out a little wash and help Dino with the small refrigerator, which he's defrosting on the terrace. He's discovered why it won't freeze correctly; something to do with water flow. I give him so much credit for sitting down with manuals and figuring out what's not working correctly. He translates what he needs to on Google, but otherwise figures it all out. C'e meraviglia!

Sofi has the chance to play with some ice cubes, but she's not so sure what they're all about. For some reason, she stays by my side, even if I'm writing upstairs while there are lizards outside that are more fun to chase. I never knew there could be such an incredible dog. Looks like I'm surrounded by greatness!

My story about Bullicame, Viterbo's answer to Viagra, is today's story. In case you don't subscribe, here's how to read it:


I unpack the sewing machine and do some sewing. The results are so good that I'm feeling confident enough that I'll work on slip covering two chairs. Well, I'm remaking the slipcovers, which were originally made for chairs we owned in the US, but I love the material. So I've taken one apart, turned it inside-out, and will work on it bit by bit.

These days, little projects are worked on with joy; we are not in any rush to complete any of them. That is why, when Franco tells Dino the bases of the pepperino table will be delivered with the top, but it won't be for another week, we're fine with all of it.

At around noon, I look out the bedroom window and see Pepino working away in his huge orto in the valley. It's much too hot for him to do this work in the middle of the day. We've been hoping he'd be in his little orto next to us so that we could get some counsel from him on the pomodori.

Since we have a meeting at 5PM with a neighbor in the borgo who wants us to help him sell his house, we may come across Italo on the way up or back, and may ask him instead. It's all about pinching off certain growth of the tomato plants, for they're growing like....well, weeds. Every couple of days Dino has to retie them higher up on the bamboo poles that support them. It's all quite wonderful.

The news on CNN about our former home, California, is anything but good. What a mess the state is in, with no real promise of change. I don't want to rub it in, for you already know how much happier we are here than we would have been there. It's strange, the way our lives have been played out.

I'm about two-thirds of the way through reading the thesis on gender in Afghanistan, and it's such a remarkable document. I do hope to meet the writer soon. In the meantime, I read on the NYT that the Taliban want the US out of Afghanistan as a condition of further peace talks.

What I've been able to glean from the thesis, is that many women of Afghanistan felt their lives were better under the control of the Taliban: they forced order and control. But at what cost? Now we're hoping the counter-insurgency, where soldiers will live among the residents, will show the people that we want to improve their lives.

The way in which the US wants to go about it does not complement the way the Afghan people live their lives, however. Women will be given a stronger role in the US concept than men, a strategy that takes away any feeling of masculinity the men have and makes them even angrier and more violent.

Strangely, during wars there is less violence against women. What Afghan women want is equal parity. Their constitution gives it to them, and now they want food and job opportunities for everyone. When everyone is treated equally and they have food in their stomachs and some way for the country's citizens to make a living, that will be what they want, resulting, they believe, in more respect and less violence.

I'm ready to return to painting, and will begin with a drawing of Moona Lisa di Mugnano. We have taken photos of local cows, and Dino is working with Photoshop to superimpose the cow's face onto Mona Lisa's.

I'll then draw it out, and add a winding trail in the background leading to Mugnano's ancient tower. We'll blow up the image to the size of the painting I will do, as soon as we drive to Rome to pick up a new canvas.

We meet a new client in the borgo, and now have a property there for sale to talk with you about. It's a two bedroom, one bath in a converted 16th century convent, ready to move into but needs complete restoration to make it special. We'll list it in a day or two at €78.000.

There's much deadheading of roses to do with all this hot weather, but I'm not in the mood; instead, we'll both tend the roses in the early morning.

Tonight before going to bed my eyes start to water, and Dino asks me if I think I'm getting another migraine. Speriamo di no! I don't know if this tearing is an effective precursor to a migraine. We'll have to see...

May 22
After an all right night's sleep, we realize that recent nights have been as warm as those in summer. So we enjoy the days outside by getting up early and then staying inside for the hottest part of the day. When the sun lowers in the sky, it's a pleasure to work in the garden again at the end of the day.

Since the roses need work, Dino agrees to help me on the front path with the Lady Hillingdons, clipping the highest spent roses while I work on those lower on the wall. Sofi romps to and fro, looking for lucertole (lizards), and Dino and I finish with the rose arch at the top of the stairs, still very leafy and green, but with few buds from the two Alistar Stella Gray roses.

Italo and Vincenzo walk up the hill toward the borgo and say hello while Dino stands on a ladder by the rose arch. Italo sports a magnificent handmade garden tool, and Vincenzo tells me it looks like a vescovo (bishop)'s staff.

I ask if I can take their photos, and before they have a chance to think about it, I've run inside, snatched the camera and run down to the street. These men are so wonderful, so very wonderful, that I certainly must paint them.

So I take their photos, and although I might paint Italo with his hands in the air exclaiming (which he does often with a laugh), I'd like to paint Vincenzo holding the staff. For as long as we've known him, he's stood by the entrance to the sacristy during masses, reciting the "Alleluia". These days, he does not always attend mass, prompting Livio to take his place now and then.

I see the name of his painting as Sogno di Vincenzo (Vincenzo's dream), for he studied in the seminary and I am sure thought at one time of becoming a priest...and then some.

I suppose it's worth it for their spectacular blooms at the beginning of May, but thought when we purchased the Alistar Stella Gray roses a couple of years ago, we were told that they'd bloom again. A search on the web tells me that they are repeat-flowering, so I need to study the pruning that the plants need now.

Other than cutting back to a five-leafed split, I've probably never deadheaded correctly. But since Sarah reads the journal faithfully, I promise to read up on it and take the proper action...Hello, dear Sarah.

Friendship is such a cherished thing; I treasure my friendships with Sarah Hammond and Alush, and we do our best not to do anything with the garden that would make her groan. She and Alush have a real stake in our garden, since putting the "bones" of it in place the first year we owned the property. If the gods are with us, we'll see them in November.

We drove to Viterbo to a doctor's appointment, leaving Sofi at home; it's too hot outside for her to be by herself in La Giallina. While sitting in the waiting room, Dino takes out his Palm and I ask him to translate a word on the wall that has to do with a kind of medical specialty...it is 20 characters long! Dino puts the word in his Palm and Otolaryngologists translates to ENT! (ear, nose and throat) I know that's not 20 characters, but can't remember the actual name on the wall...

Here's an example where the English description is far shorter than the Italian...

Dr. Bevilaqua is in a great mood, telling us he has to hurry for in twenty minutes he has to leave to pick up his daughter. He finishes with us in no time, telling me the spots on my arms will go away...when it is winter, but go ahead and use the salve the pharmacist recommended.

When we tell him that's it, he tells us, "I have another five minutes...what do you want to talk about?" What a funny guy. So I tell him about the Puzza del Diavolo story in Italian Notebook and he looks it up while we sit there.

I tell him we're always looking for stories to write about, and he gives me a good idea, one that has to do with Vulci, where his family owns land. Yes, he does have an Etruscan looking face, for the Etruscans settled in Vulci and other places in Central Italy, and we'll do the story...I can't tell you about it now...You'll have to subscribe to italiannotebook.com.

Back at home, I feed Sofi roast chicken, which she gobbles with glee and then gets sick. I am sure her stomach turned upside down when staying alone this morning for a couple of hours...What are we to do to not make her worry so?

There has been a crime spree in little Mugnano. Six years ago our car was stolen and last night two cars were broken into, and one pair of sunglasses taken. Sends shivers up my spine just thinking about it, but now that we have mighty Sofia Maria with us, we know we will be safe.

I make a dessert for tomorrow's pranzo and refrigerate it, only for Dino to discover that the temperature element seems to be roto (broken). We have two frigos, both under-counter types, so the larger one in the kitchen is taken out to the loggia, and we move what we have to into the old frigo, now in the kitchen.

Since we have guests for pranzo tomorrow, Dino won't be able to do anything about it until Monday. I think we can manage with one frigo until we can afford another, so we will see.

These days I've lost my appetite and am losing weight, so food doesn't appeal to me anymore. I poach chicken to have with a tuna sauce (pollo tomato) and there's room for that, too.

Dino decides he'll take the frigo to a repair place in Viterbo, probably on Monday. We take a short walk to drop off garbage, running into Vincenzo, Augusta, Livio, Gigliola, Laura, Mauro, Valerio...It's Valerio's car that had the eyeglass theft, but he's mellow about it all.

I think we're looked at in the village as the ones with the major break in (7 years ago last week) so perhaps May is a good month for crime. Where is Columbo when we need him?

Candace told us that she finds her snails when it is dark outside, so I take a look in front of the loggia, and find about ten, lopping them over the fence and into the street. Unfortunately, I have terrible aim, so half of them fall into the boxwood globes flanking the inside of the iron fence. With a little practice, I think we can win this war...

May 23
We both wake up early and putter around the garden. Since we only have one small refrigerator, I can't fix too much more in advance, so we'll play it by ear. Thankfully, many things have already been prepared.

I'm feeling very relaxed, spending the morning weeding and ironing, and our guests are quite relaxed, so the afternoon is a pleasure. We look forward to getting to know Patrick and Joan, who are building a house outside Montecchio, and to sharing our tomatoes with them when they return in July. Anyone who comes for a meal during tomato season had better like tomatoes, for we expect to have plenty.

The pranzo lasts until 4PM, although we're expected at Pepino's house to begin bread making. We arrive after the dozen or so loaves are all sitting under a woolen blanket to rise on a long board. It's the same kind of board we have in the loggia, and I suppose if we ever build our bread oven, we will use it then. That means we'll need to return next time for the beginning part of that story...

After studying Pepino's oven setup, which Stefano the muratore made for him, I'm thinking of redesigning the entire loggia. That's me, dreaming again. I've just agreed with Dino that we can buy a larger refrigerator and keep it in the loggia and now I'm eating my words. Who knows when we'll be able to build it, anyway, but it's so much fun to dream.

After making a dozen or so pizzas that are cut up and served with the most tasty pecorino we've ever had, we realize that Pepino made the pecorino, so there's another story...Pecorino di Mugnano.

His cousin Spaccese, who has done work for us, arrives and he and his wife make ricotta...The first pass is the lightest non-cheese tasting product, eaten with a spoon; the final pass, after water drips from the cheeses down a special wooden board to drain, is the real thing.

I remember making ricotta myself on one occasion, and it was not bad, but this is the ideal, I suppose, from sheep's milk. Since we don't have much refrigerator space, I can't offer to take some home and make ricotta coffee desserts as thanks; next time. The recipe is on our site and is very simple, if you want to give it a try.


I sit with Vincenza on one of the benches in the cool back room while we enjoy Pepino's pecorino and the simple yet memorable pizzas, and ask if her father is coming tonight. No. No explanation; is there a rift between Pepino and Italo?

I ask what her father eats while he is alone, and she tells me nothing for pranzo except for a dolce. If he eats a meal, he eats only pasta with sugo, pasta with sugo. She sighs. When she is here, she is busy all the time, cleaning and cooking, cleaning and cooking. Her eyes light up when I tell her that we'll have a cena and invite them soon.

Sempre vicini (always neighbors), that's what we tell each other, for our spaces in the Mugnano cemetery are right next to each other. Don't be put off by this; we're old enough that we need to be realistic and not so gloomy when anticipating what's to come.

For me, I'm hoping it will be in winter; the weather is so lovely now that I find myself basking in it, whether in the shade or the sun. "I hope You won't want to take me now," I say silently.

It's been a wonderful evening watching Pepino and Giuseppa work together to form the flour and water, shape it into ovals and slide them into the oven that has been properly heated with wood and brushed with a scopa (broom) of sambuca leaves. I've watched Pepino closely, and now know how to make such a scopa; that is, when we have a bread/pizza oven of our own.

Sofi behaved quite well, although she loved the cheese and pizza so much (I only gave her a few small pieces), that she sat under the table making eyes at anyone who might feed her. Back at home, she wanted to be by my side, and we came up to bed to read while Dino sat and vegged out by the tv. Some things never change...

May 24
The doorbell rings at 9AM, and it is Pepino, with a loaf of bread from last night's baking; he told us that the bread needed to sit to cool overnight, and now it is ready to eat. He moves over to his orto, but it looks as though there will be no pomodori there. Since he's told us that he knows nothing about tomato plants, he's affirmed that Italo is the one to ask.

Dino has a meeting with clients to talk about a piece of property, and later will spend most of the day by the tv, since this is the Grand Prix de Monte Carlo, his favorite race. I wake up late, and do not attend mass.

Dino takes half of the loaf to his meeting, and Sofi and I play in the garden until Dino returns. It's another deliciously warm day.

Dino picks me up and we have our usual Sunday glassata and cappuccinos, then shop for pranzo at Il Pallone. Back at home, he's so enamored with the chicken tonnato I fixed yesterday that he tells me it's the best tonnato sauce ever. This is a perfect dish to serve on a hot day.

I'm not interested in Monaco's Formula 1 race today, especially since Lewis Hamilton races in last place. We do watch the beginning with Dino, then spend an hour or so upstairs researching porcelain. Dino encourages me to learn how to paint on porcelain, for I have a design for a set of dishes for us and would like to learn how to perfect this new craft.

There are several courses in Rome, but I'm concerned that the ferrovia (train) service will be cut drastically to and from Rome. There is to be a fast train to and from Milan to Rome, but those of us in the middle will have a long and crowded trip to the big city. I'll see what Candace thinks, for she's finishing a course on mosaics in Rome and is worried herself that she won't be able to continue.

I will speak with Elena in Bomarzo. Perhaps she can show me the way and do the firings in her shop. Porcelain is fired at much higher degrees, but I think it may be the same technology. Wouldn't it be wonderful if I could use those pure pigments purchased last year in Roussillon, France? I'll let you know...

There is a tiny bird sitting on the wire when I walk out at 4PM to take in the laundry. He sounds like the old FEDEX man who spoke so rapidly, finishing each batch of chirps with a series of clicks. He sports a white chest and a dark blue coat, turning black as his wings turn into tailcoats, low below his belly, I'd love to paint him.

US and Pakistan bombing are making new terrorists with every strike. Read here to learn more:


Unless we use more counter insurgency, this will surely become Obama's Vietnam. Open his eyes, Richard Holbrooke...

I am reading a really touching book, The Red Tent. By Anita Diamant, it's really worth a read, especially if you are a woman.

I notice an ear-ringing silence this Sunday evening, for not even a dog is barking. Earlier, I sat out in the terrace on one of our favorite old sling chairs and read. Sun no longer stretched its light across the gravel, and in the gray light the words fairly lifted off each page.

During a walk later to drop off recyclables, Lydia and another Giuseppa talked about Mugnano being "troppo morto" (really dead). What a strange and funny expression! "But Signora really likes it, doesn't she?" Lydia continued to Dino. Everyone knows I'm in love with the village and its inhabitants.

Earlier, while Anselmo and Stein and Dino waited for someone to come to a meeting, Anselmo talked about the factions in the village. There are factions in the borgo, he tells them, especially in the square which Ken and Pam look out upon on those few days they are here.

There are also factions on Porta Antica, he tells them, but not on Via Mameli. Yes, we are all friendly with each other on this street. The men also confirmed that Dino should take the frigo to Viterbo; they are sure he can find parts to make it like new.

Sofi is the perfect dog for this property, for on the terrace she scoots between the boxwood plants, sculpted into full moons and does not disturb them. She knows better. I'm still laughing thinking about finding her stretched along a rectangular planter of newly planted earth, cooling off.

Yes, she mixed up the tiny seeds just beneath the surface, but perhaps they will still grow. Our family tells us that they have not been able to find white Cosmos seeds anywhere. I imagine them growing tall in the planter staged below the living room window facing the terrace.

Dino and I walked to the loggia to discuss our dream for reconfiguring the room and adding a pizza/bread oven as the main focus. After a short discussion, Dino tells me he does not want to talk about an open canvas there. "Just do your dreaming and tell me what you come up with and I'll see if it will work.

Sigh. I hoped he would be excited by the prospect of making a wonderful space there with me; instead, he'd rather keep things as they are with a few modifications. I'll look back at any old magazines/books I have for ideas. I'm not daunted, even if we have no money to do any of it...yet.

May 25
The weather continues its hot spurt, so we close the shutters at about ten and drive to Terni. We make a call first to a vivai (nursery) and are told that all stores are open this morning (many stores in Italy are closed on Monday mornings). Upon arrival in Terni, however, the one we specifically wanted to visit was...closed.

We do some shopping and do find Cosmos seeds, although not those produced by Franchi, the huge Italian grower. We've wanted to plant cosmos because they love the sun and grow tall. We'll plant them in planters in three places and will let you know if they meet expectations. Let's hope Sofi does not want to lie in them as she did last time...

We're home for a late pranzo and then drive to Viterbo in the afternoon to take in the frigo for repair and pick up birthday gifts for the nipotini.

There's a Captain Black, stationed in Afghanistan, there to train local police, who has come under attack for trying to obtain the release of a man who he believes is a case of mistaken identity. It makes me recall how easy it is to think someone is really someone else...

Some years ago, I sat as a juror on a murder trial, and was shown photographs of ten men. I identified the wrong man as the man on trial, due to the profound change in his appearance with a different head of hair and facial hair. How easy it was to mistake the person I was trying to find.

Does mistaken identity pop up more often than we'd like? I'm afraid so. I also think that many of the men in jail suspected of terrorism are later actually becoming terrorists by being locked up twenty-two hours a day with no idea of if or when they'd be released. Think about it.

A story of mine in italiannotebook.com tells about the Cantine Aperte (Open Cantinas) of Italy this weekend; on Saturday and Sunday. Wineries all over Italy, some 800 of them, will be open for wine tasting. This is a time when reservation-only wineries set aside their reservations and it's a great opportunity to taste different kinds of wine, as well as purchase the ones you like.

Today is quite warm again, and we've been able to find more Cosmos seeds. Dino tells me that the ones I planted last week are showing signs of life; perhaps Sofi lying on a bunch of them helped them to germinate as if she were a hen sitting on her nest. Animals surely are strange creatures...

In a shop in Viterbo, we find just what we are looking for to send to the girls. We meet a woman who owns a two-year old basotto, just like Sofi. The dog was purchased from a breeder near ours, but the parents are not the same. She gives us the name of a man who specializes in grooming basottos and is in Viterbo, so we will meet him one day and perhaps he will be Sofi's next groomer.

We stop at Pietro's to check in with him, and he gives us a list of people who will visit him in the next month before he returns to Norway for the hottest part of the summer. We will surely miss him, so let's see as much of him as we can until then.

May 26
I begin the day wanting to make more bread, and it is so tasty that we want to share it with you:


Since the days continue to be quite warm, we close the shutters and in the cool early morning air Dino waters a few things not on the irrigation system.

As I begin to mix the flour and lievito(yeast) and water, Paola calls and asks me to write something for Ecomuseo to use on their website about what I have done for Mugnano and the reasons; can I write it today so that they can have it for their meeting tonight? Si, certo! (yes, of course!)

As the bread rests for its first rise, I wonder how to express my feelings about Mugnano: "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." Oh. That has been used before.

It takes no time at all to write what I have to say, and I wait for Dino to return and to give it his blessing before emailing it to Paola, who will translate it. E fatto! (It is done!)

"Oh, for the love of God!" I think when watching news that hundreds of thousands are walking away from their homes in Pakistan, the center of major fighting between the Taliban and the Pakistani army, with our drones slicing through the air and killing scores of civilians. "Obama, remove those drones!" I pray.

As we are located in Southern Europe, we are acutely aware of wars not all that far from us. The Taliban are infiltrating the population, using innocent civilians as human shields.

American soldiers with their drones are killing perpetrators as well as civilians and are as unpopular as the Taliban. Now is the time for help to arrive at those refugee camps. Once the Taliban infiltrates the camps, young men and women will join them against all of us.

I remember that when I was in college, and even in high school, I wanted to make this a better world. In college I participated in sit-ins, non-violent protestations of the war. I hated war then; I hate it now.

Unless everyone in the world realizes that a world conflagration is not that far off and does what they can to spread peace and bring help to Afghanistan and Pakistan, we are in a sorry state.

Waiting to hear back from Gretchen about two of my ideas outlining the ways I can help the women of Afghanistan, I return to the kitchen to put two loaves of bread into their second rise. They will be ready for pranzo.

The breads are a wonder; the second one is sliced through its depth, as it is a kind of ciabatta, and we have grilled chicken sandwiches and just made potato salad. My lack of hunger continues, and for that I am so happy.

Dino receives a call that the frigo is completely rotto (broken). The shop agrees to dispose of it and he's already shopped around for the best model at the best price.

This afternoon we expect to have a new one, placed in the summer kitchen. The old smaller one will remain in our main kitchen. It's the smaller models that are more expensive, so this is a sensible next step, and we do need more refrigerator space.

I'm so ready to begin painting Moona Lisa di Mugnano. If only we could pick up the next canvas when we drive to Fimucino to pick up a guest of Pietro's...Otherwise, we'll have to make a special trip.

I love our garden, as well as our lives, so much that the days pass one after another in a kind of bliss. Yes, this is what life is all about. But if we came to Italy when we were in our thirties, would we have had the life experience to cherish it as we do now? perhaps not. We were into the hard work and consumer madness that everyone around us shared, and yet there was something profound missing in our lives.

My mind wanders back to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and a good report give us a clue of what is going on:


We've done checking in three places again today for the new frigo, and return to the first place we purchased appliances in Bomarzo, and pick out a SMEG. We like the brand and have had good luck with it. After doing errands in Viterbo, we return to them and they follow us home.

There's just enough time to set it in place before we all drive off to have cena with Tony and Pat in Attigliano. There is a big lawn at La Fossatte, and Sofi has a grand old time romping in the grass and chasing lucertole in the plants that rim the space. We say goodbye to these friends who live in Lugnano part time, and will see them when they return in July.

It's another beautiful night in Mugnano. Soon I will have an assignment on behalf of Women for Women International in Afghanistan, and I look forward to that.

May 27
Our good doctor recommended that I take Medrol for arm pain. Dino has taken it himself in the past for arm pain. So for the second month in a row, I take one pill a day for seven days and then 1/2 pill each day for seven more, before going off the medicine for two weeks or until the pain returns.

Internet research indicates the following : Medrol is a corticosteroid. It works by modifying the immune system response to various conditions and decreasing inflammation.

I think it is an amazing drug. Yes, it is a steroid, but I have been losing weight, although the side effects indicate that that may be the opposite. I never finish a meal anymore, eat half a portion, and have no interest in eating. Nowhere can I find evidence that it causes people to lose weight, but for me it is a wonder. I cannot remember not feeling stressed about eating... ever before. I'm probably a strange case, so don't run out and buy Medrol without checking with your doctor.

This morning, Dino wants to redo the cabinets over the freezer and loggia storage, so we do just that. He has all the tools he needs, and I watch with awe as he changes the way the freezer and refrigerator doors open. Now I'll make a hem in one of the pieces of material below the counter and we'll be back in business, plus have the use of much more refrigerator space.

I'm still dreaming about that bread oven, but now am seeing that it should be somewhat smaller than Pepino's dreamy setup. After all, it's only for our use. Pepino makes a dozen or more loaves of bread each week. Since our outdoor kitchen is beautiful, I want to keep it that way. So let's design a more modest bread oven, but one that will be large enough for plenty of pizza, too!

We spend a lot of the day inside, and although it is a day of hooliganism in Rome with the European Football final between Barcelona and Manchester United, we don't turn it on. European football, which we call soccer, or calcio in this country, is an acquired taste, with plenty of yelling. Loving solitude these days, I'll take a pass.

Back to Pakistan, CNN reports: "As retaliation for the military presence, the Taliban carried out a series of deadly attacks, beheadings and destruction of girls' schools."

I want to bow my head in prayer; this is so impossible.

CNN continues: "As part of the pact, the Taliban was allowed to impose sharia, or Islamic law, in the valley.

"Under the Taliban's strict interpretation, the law prevents women from being seen in public without their husbands or fathers. But the deal soon fell apart, after the militants took control of the neighboring Buner district."

I will meet the woman who spent three years in Afghanistan in a few days to discuss what I can do to help the women who really need it and will report as soon as I have something concrete to say in case you want to join me...

Although the forecast was for sun all day, it rained in the afternoon and also later at night. Going to bed hearing the rain on the windows is a wonderful sound, especially for Dino, who won't have to do any watering...

May 28
It's a beautiful morning, but the sky is colorless on the horizon and that means it will be hot. We're ready!

We begin the day at Pietro's, helping to move a giant wooden barrel, originally used for wine making but now to be transformed into a hot tub...how bohemian!

It takes no time at all for each of them to lift opposite sides of the huge barrel with hand trucks and me to steady it as it is moved from the terrace to a more secluded spot surrounded by fragrant jasmine. All Pietro needs now is a few peacock feathers.

If you were aware of all the hot tub chatter of the 1960's and 1970's, especially in California's Marin County, just north of San Francisco, you will know what I mean. We lived in Marin for about ten years beginning in the 1980's, but were never really bohemian, although it would have been fun.

Dino mixes some blue powder with water and white paint and stains the new wood for the loggia/summer kitchen. These easy projects keep him happy; in this way he is so like his father, who was always puttering.

"Puttering, what's that?" Pietro asks me, when I ask him if he likes to putter around his garden. "Putt-putt" I answer as he smiles and nods, and now he has a new expression.

Dino is reading the book by Annie Hawes called Ripe for the Picking. She uses examples of what she calls local customs, but customs have become traditions all over Italy; they are more of the way of living a rural life. So ways of working and cooking and eating and relaxing are similar everywhere in Italy. It is the food and their preparation and the local dialect or ways of speaking that are regional.

This afternoon, we turn the studio back into the guest bedroom, for Angie's parents will arrive for a visit for two days, beginning June 6th. We really look forward to that, and to getting to know our "in-laws" better. One could not hope to have better parents or grandparents for Terence and Angie and the twins.

We "Skype" the twins tonight, and they are in silly moods, but not too silly to show us their latest artwork, and stickers on Marissa's arm that she calls her tattoo. She's full of life tonight, but Nicole sits back on the couch and does not seem in the mood. I'm wondering when they'll not want to talk with us, or be with us. Perhaps we'll have about seven years until that begins. 'Till then...

There are two parts to a beautiful old door that were on the property when we first looked at the house in 1997. I've always wanted to do something with them. Now we may be able to use them as if they were shutters on either side of the opening to the loggia, or summer kitchen. Dino tells me they are just a little too tall, so he'll take out the saw horses and tomorrow we'll work on that.

The guest bedroom has been turned back into a bedroom, with most of my art things put away. I am very happy to say that I drew out Moona Lisa di Mugnano freehand, and when we take Nick and Milica to their cruse, we'll drive into Rome and pick up the next canvas. This is a short diversion from the folks of Mugnano, but I've wanted to do it for a while.

It is cool when we go to bed. People are out taking walks and talking at this time of year, even after ten, and tonight is no exception. We love having neighbors use the stone benches on our walk, and I can hear a couple of the murmuring as I get into bed.

May 29
Today is the anniversary of my mother's birthday, so we should do something zany and flamboyant.

In our email inbox is the premier edition of the Ecomuseo Informa (newsletter), and it contains the entire piece I wrote for them about my/our love of Mugnano and its residents, along with a photo of the garden and Felice's painting. It's called "Our Italian Experience". Luckily, Paola was able to translate it better than I ever could. My heart does a little dance to see it there.

Here's how to access it, albeit in Italian (the newsletter (("informa")) is probably a download.)


We're thinking about posting the comments I wrote and photos somewhere on our site, but aren't sure where. Perhaps by the end of this month (two days?) we'll figure it out and let you know.

It's another beautiful day. We spend a lot of the morning in the car, traveling to Tenaglie and back home, then to Viterbo for a number of stops before we return home for pranzo.

We've come up with a way to use an old wooden shelf made a few years ago for the loggia; it will become the top of a new table for the front terrace. We've used a folding table there for a couple of years, so it's about time. We find turned wood for legs, buy wood for a frame, and have plenty of stain in the gardener's cottage for any color we'd want to use to complement the old wood.

We also stop at Bonucci, the specialty paint store in Viterbo, and purchase cans of two different colors. We have other colors at home. My task is to faux the front and sides of the house where cement replaces the old stucco where electrical and plumbing repairs have been done. If you have not been here, the house has a kind of pentimento effect, and we love it.

"What is pentimento," you ask? The dictionary tells us that it is: 1) "the technique of removing a top layer of paint to reveal a painting or part of a painting that has been painted over"; or 2) "a painting or part of a painting that is revealed by pentimento". In this case, the house has been painted beige, medium brown, pink and pale yellow at different times during it's almost eighty year life, the last being the pale yellow, but plenty of pink shows through.

Get the picture? Dino will spray clean the front of the house with a pressure hose, then I'll paint the surfaces here and there with three or four colors using sponges. If you've seen our kitchen here, we were able to re-faux two sections of two walls so that the old is indistinguishable from the new. Thanks, Patsy, for your original great work on our kitchen walls. Come 'on over for a visit and see what's happened since you were here.

The whitewash on the new shelf in the loggia looks so good that I want to whitewash the two pine pieces in the bathroom as well. Will we finish it all by next weekend? Who knows?

I'm very excited about Moona Lisa di Mugnano and love the cow, which I've drawn freehand. Now I'm fiddling with the background that includes someone on a tractor plowing a field, two sheep munching and a little house, plus a fence. Is there room also for a dash or two of the Tiber? We'll see.

We'll pick up the canvas for Moona in Rome after Angie's parents have left for their cruise, so I'm not painting inside until then. I will continue to work on Moona's drawing, we'll blow it up, and perhaps in ten days or so I'll return to working in the studio on another big painting. In the meantime, there's plenty of paint washing and gardening to tend to.

Three children have their first communions on Sunday in Mugnano, and we'll be able to attend and share the joy. Communions have always been held in Bomarzo, but it is possible that the entire service will be held here in our main church. We think a great deal of Federico, Giulia and of course, Salvatore and Dino will be in confraternity garb, so I'll take a few photos to show you.

There's a story on truthout.org about the United Nations finally putting together a major program for women in underdeveloped countries. It's being voted on soon. Now if you've been a regular reader, you may recall that there could be major problems implementing any program about women. Almost unequivocally, lip service is given to these programs and officials show up to have their photos taken, but after they leave the programs are usually in shambles.

With respect to Afghanistan and probably Pakistan as well, unless programs are put in place to help the entire family, women will be hurt more than helped. Why don't diplomats, who live in these countries and study their ways of life, realize that an American form of democracy won't work for every country?

Do you remember that after a war, especially when women are given jobs and men aren't, the women return home often to be beaten by their husbands, who have nothing to do except feel a loss of their masculinity? I hope you'll do whatever you can, if you have the opportunity to do so, to influence the ways in which this money and these services are handled.

Back to Mugnano, Dino takes a nap after lunch while I make a watermelon's worth of granita and put it in the frigo to set for a day.

When Dino gets up, we install a panel of an original door from this place on the side of the opening to the logia facing South. It's really "caracteristico", with a rusty handle, but I love it. I surely will put a wash on it and we'll have it until it, well, falls apart.

We drive up to Sipicciano to take another ice cream photo, and this weekend I'll finish the two gelato stories and we'll submit them.

Tonight Dino tells me he's neglected the pomodori, except for being sure they've been watered, so he'll put in the time tonight and during these next weeks. I see many San Marzanos already forming their long shapes in the upper orto, but the pomodori grown from seed down below are behind.

May 30
We're up early and leave for Rome for a visit with my new friend, Gretchen Bloom and for Dino to pick up a friend of Pietro's at Fimucino airport. Sofi comes along for the ride.

I meet Gretchen while she's standing on the rim of a fountain in a piazza not far from Duccio and Giovanna. She's tiny and full of spirit, and takes me to her favorite café, where we are joined by her husband, Peter and gab while we drink wonderful cappuccinos and they eat what looks like marvelous brioches.

Back at their home, a 4th floor walkup with amazing views and two terraces, Gretchen shows me photos and opens up the web site of her son's clown organization. They play all over Afghanistan to wild applause. Some of the young people dress up in clown regalia as well, and I'm shown photos of one young woman who got up on stilts and would not come down for four hours.


How can this troup travel all over Afghanistan? Gretchen and Peter's son, who is the mastermind of the troup, went to the middle east some years ago, got rid of his documents and asked for immigrant status; I'm not sure I comprehend the entire chain of events, but he wound up in Denmark as an immigrant, met up with a woman who helped him to start the circus, and off they went.

Gretchen, I'm sorry, I'm sure I have only half of the story correct, so when you clue me in I'll report again in the journal. Suffice it to say that I'm duly impressed with the family's excitement and love of their fellow man.

Soon Gretchen will introduce me to Afghan women, who will work with me to do something special for Afghans. She thinks the idea of me doing a painting to be auctioned off at a fall Gala in Washington, D.C. will work, and soon I'll have found a subject to interpret.

Does that mean Moona Lisa di Mugnano will have to wait? Not necessarily. I'll continue working on the drawing, in between doing faux work on the front of the house, to fix some of the cement work done in repairs over the past few decades and putting a wash on two pieces of pine in the bathroom.

This afternoon, Dino paints the whole bottom of the house a pale manila color, and tomorrow I'll begin using more colors with a sponge to see what kind of treatment I can come up with that will enhance the look of the front of the house without looking funky.

Late in the afternoon, we attend a meeting of Ecomuseo in the borgo, and Alberto Castori mentions that Dino and I want to do a genealogical family tree for the village. Since we want the people's support, members are encouraged to give us their information soon. Francesco lets us know that Sr. Ivo has information on Mugnano's residents, he thinks going back more than 100 years. It will be fun to sit in his office for a few days to see what we can come up with as well.

I envision a tree covering one whole wall of the ex-scuola. That reminds me: there is some agreement between the Consorcio and the Comune to rent them the building for 20 years and somehow a good deal of money has been found to restore the building so that it can be used for the entire community on an ongoing basis. Tonight's meeting is held outside, and that is fun. But in colder months, we'll need a warmer place to meet.

Although there is a dinner tonight, we leave and have pizza at La Fossate, then stop at Pietro's for a short visit before coming home to Sofi.

May 31
We end the month on a somewhat surprising weather day...it's cloudy and cool.

Dino thinks we won't be able to put a white wash on the two wood pieces in the bathroom, for there may be a coat of furniture wax on them, so we'll do a test there. The outside of the house, however, is ready for me to begin to faux the repair work to work better with the patina of the old paint.

Pentimento is the name I think we should have named the house instead of "L'Avventura", and I wonder if it's bad luck to rethink the name of the house, even though our experience remains "L'Avventura"(the adventure). It does actually not make sense naming a house "the adventure", so perhaps whoever is the house naming god will allow us this subtle "clarification".

I will always think of the house as Pentimento, so that's what counts. Is naming a house similar to naming a pet? Italians don't name their pets with people's names, for some reason. Did you ever hear of a house named "George"?

With the promise of rain, we drive up to mass and Sofi stays in the car. It's cool, and she'd rather wait for us here.

Today's mass is a marvelous one, a reenactment of the First Communion of three Mugnano children: Salvatore, Giulia and Federico as well as a number of children from Bomarzo. Their official communion was held last Sunday in Bomarzo, but since there are three from our village, the decision was made to celebrate it here, as well. Bravo, Don Luca!

Afterward the parishioners gather in the tiny plaza outside the church, with food to share and photos to take to remember the event.

Here are some we'd love to share with you:

Luigina tells me after mass that she has not forgotten the family tree project, and that is good. Soon she will hand me a paper with her family's entries. Dino asks me what I envision as the design of the tree, and I have visually formulated something in my mind. It's important to receive more information before spending much time thinking about it.

Since there is more rain expected today, there is no possibility of working on the outside of the house. Bad weather is expected for most of the week as well, but Angie's parents will see sunshine this weekend.

Rain arrives on the ride to Guardea on a mission to buy a pair of sandals or slippers. Guardea has a Sunday outdoor market. But when we arrive, there is so much rain that we hide under the flimsy market overhangs. We are able to pick up an inexpensive pair of sandals and the food market is open, so shop there and return home to a gloomy afternoon of rain, rain and more rain.

Outside the wisteria is showing another growth spurt; it's such an amazing vine. We'll surely have shade from it on the terrace this very summer!

JUNE 2009

June 1
It seems as if it's been raining for forty days and nights. Luckily we live on a hill. I finish reading The Red Tent, and it is a very interesting historical novel. If you have not read it, imagine the Bible being written by a woman...It's a book to share, and that means I'll send it to Cherie, my dear cousin in California. I imagine her reading it and sharing it with all her women friends and relatives there.

I begin to whitewash the bathroom credenza, and Dino takes over to finish the bottom section. It looks very French, and now I'm thinking we should whitewash the armadio built around the sink...Since he's a busy type and rain persists, he walks around like a master painter with a bucket of plaster and slaps and then smoothes holes here and there.

When the grand daughters were here, they created chaos in what was their room by rolling themselves up in the gauze curtains and pulling them off the wall, giggling all the time until their mother opened her eyes in horror as she found them lying in a ball of gauzy cloth and fallen poles and hardware...

We had to laugh at the time; it looked like so much fun. Surely we must fill the holes and re-hang the rods for their other grandparents' arrival...

June 2
We awake to rain, and I remember that I have not written in the journal for a few days, so I try to jog my feeble brain to remember, "Just what has been going on here?"

Somehow we piece it together, and are able to post last month's journal as well.

The day remains cool, with rain in the morning and clearing in the afternoon. Since sun is in the garden later in the day, there is shade on the terrace, and I spend a couple of hours with a sponge and different colored paints to try to make the house look more presentable. Dino likes the results, but I think we're one color short. So tomorrow in Viterbo we'll pick up more and I'll see what I can do.

Unable to bring in a professional painter to paint the whole house, we're doing the next best thing. Will I continue to cover the cement repairs on the second story? That will take scaffolding, and Dino thinks I'll not be able to handle the height.

If the bottom part looks great, I'll want to carry on. In my mind, perhaps Stefano the muratore (stonemason or contractor) will lend or rent us one set of scaffolding some weekend. Aren't I brave? Or am I just crazy?

That reminds me. Pietro tells his most recent houseguest about a past guest's opinion of me...rather dotty. I playfully said to our dog one day while the woman was here, "What do you think, Sofi?" and the woman thought I was serious. So now whenever Pietro is with us and we're questioning something, we'll say, "What do you think, Sofi?"...and laugh.

Rain seems to have left, and the latest forecast is just for showers tomorrow, then cloudy and sun. A new client of Dino's was having great trouble getting his muratore to show up, so it looks as though steady Dino will get involved in their project.

The evening air is fresh, and I've fed the roses, so if we have sun for the next week or two after all this rain, the garden will be back at full strength. With some of the lavender about ready to cut, I think we need to wait for sun, for they are too wet to clip now....or am I just procrastinating? It's a messy and detailed job. We'll see...

June 3
Cillit and Sporco Ostinato are two words that appear on a product known here as Bang! That stands for "kill it", for there is no "k" in the Italian language and "stubborn or obstinate dirt". I think the sounds when speaking those last words just roll of the tongue as if one is a character in a grand opera, raising one's arm and pointing their index finger while singing..."Sporco Ostinato!"

We're up early and drive to Viterbo for more paint for the front of the house and a few small things and are back before noon.

It's such a lovely day that I weed in the middle garden and notice how beautiful and bright blue-violet many of the lavender flowers shine in the sun, complimented by a Monarch butterfly lighting on a flower. Yes, Dino, we can cut two of the largest bushes before the table is delivered later this week. That will make the delivery to its final destination easier.

After a full day of sun the lavender will be dry enough. Sigh. That means a lot of work for me behind the house to strip each one and hang them upside down to dry in the shade before they're ready to plunk into baskets.

A number of plants are not ready to cut, and that is fine. It indicates that the garden changes day by day, week by week, and not everything has to be finished at once.

As I might expect, clouds roll by and a quick shower descends upon little Mugnano. Time to run in with the laundry and just as we do the rain stops. Dino finishes another small project for the guest bedroom and it's time for me to return to working on the front of the house. Let's see if the new color to be added in layers with the old will give the front wall the needed subtle contrast.p> With only one short shower breaking "the action", Dino and I work on the front of the house. I love "painting" with a natural sponge. Using several colors, I paint drifts, somewhat similar to those seen in marble. The reason for the painting in the first place is that there are many colors on the front of the house, and cement work done during the last ten years has left wide gray lines running here and there.

I love the color of gray, and use it in combination with two shades of yellow, one shade of brown, one shade of pink and a tiny bit of white. At different times during the past eighty years, the front of the house has been painted: beige, pink, brown and yellow, one color at a time. At first, I feathered the colors so that they tied in with the old. That meant the front of the house looked mostly brown.

Since we painted the bottom of the house that is a made to be a border a light to medium color that is not manila, nor is it light yellow, nor is it peach, nor is it mustard, but a tone somewhere in the midst of all four, the rest of the house looks too dark. So layer by layer, I sponge color after color into drifts, and tomorrow I'll take another look to see how it looks.

With guests arriving on Saturday for a couple of days, we have many projects to complete. I'll work some on the house tomorrow, then put the paints away until next week. But while I'm painting away, I'm thinking that yes, I can do this for other people. If I pick up a couple of jobs, I can be paid in art canvases and supplies, so that I can continue painting the people of Mugnano.

I love to paint, but you know that. What fun it could be! Hire me! I'll also be available to work on small jobs while we're in San Francisco at the end of November.

With Obama set to make a major speech tomorrow in Egypt, I'm hoping he'll not only say the right things, as well as do the right things for the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I love what Richard Holbrooke's attitude is about any statement that Bin Laden has made:

(CNN) "The idea that anyone is responsible for the refugee crisis other than al Qaeda and the Taliban and the other people who have caused such tragedy in western Pakistan is ludicrous," he said. "This entire problem begins with al Qaeda and its associates, and everybody in the world knows that, and it's silly to even respond to such a ludicrous charge." Bravo, Mr. Holbrooke. You're our guy...

The weather has changed to mostly sunny, and although we have a fair amount of wind, it's not too warm...yet. A change in weather is probably coming soon, but for now we'll enjoy every single moment of this mild Spring weather.

June 4
Mario arrives before 5AM to weed whack. Sorry, neighbors. He loves to cut when the grass is wet; it's easier that way. Might as well get up, Dino muses, and he's soon out in the garden beginning projects.

He's cut a few of the large lavender bushes to make room for the delivery of the pepperino table, which is quite large, although it will arrive in a few pieces. Now I know that I cannot go back to painting; I must strip each piece of lavender and hang them upside down in bunches behind the house. I really don't like this job, but, like Dino, feel good talking about it later. Let's do it.

Oh, there's pranzo to fix and Obama's speech from Egypt at noon. Lets do a little of this, a little of that. The wind picks up and it remains cool.

If you're one of my friends who wants to stay apprised of what's going on in Afghanistan, take a look:


Elizabeth Gould and Paul Fitzgerald's new book, "Invisible History: Afghanistan's Untold Story," sounds very interesting. I'll probably order it online.

Here are a few of the authors' central recommendations to President Obama:

1.) Stop bombing innocent civilians. It's unconscionable, and it makes terrorists out of the people whose support we need.

2.) Stop destroying the poppy harvest. This also alienates Afghan civilians, as many of their lives depend on the sale of poppies. Create financial incentives for farmers to grow other crops, and consider purchasing the rest of the poppies for the legal manufacture of pain relief medications, of which there is currently a worldwide shortage.

3.) Get serious about reconstruction efforts and the effective deployment of desperately needed humanitarian aid. Gould and Fitzgerald interviewed an aid worker in Afghanistan who said that the US would have been more successful if we had just flown over the countryside and dumped money out of the window. Afghanistan needs schools and streets to function. Apportion more money for these purposes and less for weapons. Fire corrupt and inept private contractors.

4.) Bring fresh voices to the table. There are some disturbingly familiar faces in President Obama's circle of advisers. The very same people who led the crusade to arm terrorists and destabilize Afghanistan 30 years ago should not be in charge of disarming terrorists and stabilizing Afghanistan today. Ditch the coterie of failed thinkers who - through their hegemonic delusions and addiction to war - have led us to this ledge.

5.) Realize that what is good for the people of Afghanistan is also good for the people of the United States. As Gould and Fitzgerald explain: "Cosmopolitan and friendly, [Afghans] are beautiful, funny, proud and smart. Think of them that way and how they can be helped to make the country safe again." All actions should emanate from an understanding of this basic principle.

The world is changing, so let's change with it. I feel that more than ever after watching Obama's speech from Cairo University in Egypt.

Dino takes me to Daniele for him to do my hair. I like Daniele and I also like going to his house. In the spacious back room set aside for his work, there are usually a couple of women there, having their hair washed or permed. His mother and his father come and go, and it's a friendly place.

On this day, I watch a woman with the most beautiful silver hair have her hair done. When she's through, I comment on the beautiful color. "It's hers!" her friend tells me. She smiles gently and tells me her hair has been gray for thirty years.

They already know where I'm from and yes, people from our village are old, not so smart, and keep to themselves...perhaps that's why I love them so. Mugnanese are known as lumache (snails). Va bene!

We call Pietro, who arrives with a blessing and a Christening of the pepperino table in our new outdoor room. It's lovely sitting there, so private and so quiet, with only the sounds of the birds and each other. That's where we'll be sitting when you come for a visit.

Pietro leaves and a headache begins; most prosecco does not affect me, but on this night a headache erupts. I take the regular medicine and on this night have the usual wild dreams. Headache medicine is very strong, and has that effect on me.

June 5
It's pretty windy this morning, but we are full of joy and look forward to the arrival of Nick and Milicia tomorrow. There's not need to stress, although we'd like to finish more projects before we pick them up at their hotel in Rome.

I decide to travel with Dino on his errands instead of weeding; what gets done, gets done. We stop at Franco's to pick up a bottle of a protective coat for the pepperino table, and it has to be mixed with a diluente nitro (you've got me here) before it can be painted on. If we have it here, I'll check on the container, but it must be strong, for he counsels Dino not to mix it in a plastic bottle...is there acid in it? Brrrrr....

We do errands and arrive home for a late pranzo, and more projects. Oh. The lavender is still lying on a table under the bathroom waiting for me. Yes, yes, I'll spend a couple of hours on it....now.

Dino does have what he needs for the pepperino table mixture, and mixes and paints it. Voila, e fatto! (It is done!)

After pranzo I spend a couple of hours on the lavender and it is really boring. I put together about forty good sized bunches and hang them upside down in the shade under the bathroom on a grate. There is more lavender lying on the table, but since I did not work on it right away, it is drying and curving. So perhaps we won't have enough for four or five baskets. It's not a big deal. Let's quit the project until next week. Ciao!

Nick and Milicia's plane arrives early at Fimucino, so perhaps they'll get a little sleep before spending tomorrow morning and afternoon walking around Rome. Weather will be great for walking (cloudy and not too hot).

June 6
It was windy and difficult to sleep last night; Dino tells me he watched the three cypress trees in his view sway back and forth hula style. I'm amazed by these trees; they never seem to fall over.

Nick and Milicia are at their hotel; after a long flight last night we're wondering if they'll have a lot of energy to walk all around Rome. If they do, they'll have perfect weather...mild and cloudy.

There is a story about treatment of women in Saudi Arabia in the NYT. If you have not read it yet, here's the link:


"Give it a rest," you say? Peppered throughout my journal I will continue to reference timely stories about people being treated with a lack of respect, no matter their age, no matter their gender.

"What is my mission on this earth?" I ask myself now and then. I believe it's to be the best person I can be, to treat everyone I meet with great respect and kindness, and to do something good for another person every day. That takes work and constant attention.

I blunder so, continue to trip over my own words; and yet I believe I'm encouraged by some force outside myself to keep working at it. Some days are better than others. "Sempre avanti" (always forward) I tell myself when I screw up.

It's a cleanup and prep day, fixing cena (dinner) for tomorrow night and weeding in the garden. Late in the afternoon, we drive to Rome to pick up Angie's parents.

I should have known that I'd have an aura, which forewarns of a migraine, due to the high winds. So I take the medicine cocktail before the start of pain, and I'm a little groggy. The barometric pressure must be going haywire...this weather is so very strange, almost ominous.

It's timely, and online I find some data: CNN "In a new large-scale study published in the journal Neurology this week, researchers found that higher temperatures and, to a lesser extent, low air pressure, influence severe headaches.

"But researchers aren't sure how temperature influences headaches, and others say that a slew of other factors could be involved in the connection."


There we go again. The causes of headaches, and especially migraines, are so complex that I may never know what's behind them.

We drive to Rome, and once there, Dino shows his amazing ability to navigate this grand city's streets. We arrive at the hotel more than an hour early and find our con suoceri (in-laws) there. They've had a great day walking and touring the Vatican, but are quite tired. No wonder. It takes days for one's sleep pattern to adjust.

With plenty of time before tonight's festa, we drive home and the weather continues to be windy, but there is no rain. Sofi spends the entire trip nestled between them, with Nick's protecting hand holding her close.

On the way up the hill we pass the farm where the Barberini girls and their husbands have transformed a section into a parking lot. There is a wedding today in the village, although the bride is from Montefiascone, so we'll walk up to see the bride.

Once settled at home, we walk around the garden and then walk up to the borgo, where the usual suspects line up against the wall of the Tabacchi and sit on the benches, just waiting for "la sposa"(the bride) to appear. We walk to the church, where the guests congregate on the steps, and introduce Milicia and Nick to our neighbors.

Now that we have the term "con suoceri" down pat, it's easy to introduce Milicia and Nick around. Everyone is friendly as usual. With no sign of the bride, we decide to walk home, only to find her arriving and Dino at the ready to take her photo. She's tiny and quite lovely, smiling to us as she exits the car. Everyone applauds.

We walk home and it's time to drive to Orvieto. Once at the outskirts of the city, Sofi perks up and becomes excited. She knows where we're going and loves Candace and Frank. Poor Nick. She's abandoned him, fickle thing, now excited about seeing her "godparents".

We've brought watermelon granita, and there are two kinds of lasagna, salads, plenty of cheeses and more desserts, plenty of Prosecco and wine. With a full moon overhead, we eat outside and marvel at the stage, set under an enormous tufa cliff. Sofi gambols on the lawn.

The highlight is Bob, who christens the stage with it's first ever performance. Earlier this Spring, the stage was built right against the tufa wall, and it is an amazing place.

Here we are enjoying the first ever performance in this venue.

Driving home, Nick and Milicia tell us how much they enjoyed the people tonight. Nick especially enjoyed speaking with Frank, who wanted to know the Macedonian perspective on Alexander the Great...That's some cocktail conversation!

As we exit the autostrada, we look at our little Mugnano, bathed in inky blue under an almost full moon.

June 7
Dan Eggen, The Washington Post: "As Obama and congressional Democrats work to hammer out landmark health-care legislation, they face increasingly noisy protests from those on the left who complain that a national program like those in Europe has been excluded from the debate."

No wonder. We are so pleased with the Italian medical system that we could not imagine living anywhere else, especially the US, with its horrendous premiums and other costs with often less than optimal coverage.

Breakfast around the kitchen table leads to a drive up to the borgo and Sofi waiting in the car while we walk up to church for mass. Don Luca, Don Bruno and Don Cirio all get out of Don Luca's car, and we introduce them all to our con suoceri. Don Cirio is here for two days from Calabria, where he is one of two priests there to cater to a parish of 200 children! No wonder he loves to come back to tranquil Mugnano.

After mass, we drive to Viterbo on the back roads and then to Lake Bolsena, for pranzo at Il Purgatorio, where we all eat steamed cozzi (mussels) in a presemelo (parsley) and garlic and white wine broth, followed by corregone, the local lake fish. Of course we finish in Capodimonte at the Re (king) di Gelato, sitting out in the sun before driving home.

We SKYPE with our nipotini (grand daughters) and Angie, for Terence is still asleep. It's their 5th birthday tomorrow, so we email them a photo of the five of us, taken at Lake Bolsena.

Back at home, we sit on the terrace for a while, then drive to Orte to visit to the torrefazzione (coffee roaster) where we buy our coffee. Unfortunately, when we purchased the coffee earlier this week, we forgot to ask them to grind the beans! Although this is also a bar, it is closed today.

Tomorrow we'll have them grind half of the beans the regular way (for espresso) and half ground very fine so that we can have Nick's special hot coffee blend (fresh coffee grounds, sugar mixed in a paste and then added to heated milk). We have some coffee that may have been ground enough and Nick will make his special coffee tomorrow for breakfast.

We call the nipotini and Angie to wish them a happy birthday, singing to them before we're through. The girls really are growing up, and Marissa seems to be more relaxed these days. I so look forward to painting with them this fall.

We have our first cena at the new table in the garden, and it is wonderful, although takes a bit getting used to, since the table is so wide. It's a meal of chicken tonnato and fresh tomatoes with buffala mozzarella and fresh basil from the garden. We watch the full moon rise over the Chia hills, and then return inside for granita and cookies. It's a bit cool.

It's after 11PM our time when we turn in, except for Dino, who stays up to watch the rerun of the Formula 1 race held earlier today.

It's been a wonderful opportunity to get to know Nick and Milicia, who we like very much and look forward to spending more time with them as the years float by.

June 8
On this lovely morning, we are like brothers and sisters with Nick and Milicia.

Nick prepares what we will now refer to as Nikaccinos and no, it's not a sneeze. It's his very special way to make coffee. I'll have to have his approval before sharing the precise recipe for this heavenly coffee drink with you.

We drive them to Civitavecchia to board their cruise ship and it is docked at the old port of Rome. What a port! While driving through, we could just imagine living in Rome two thousand years ago, much of the construction still visible. It's a good way to say c'e reviddiamo (see you again) to our con scuoceri (inlaws), whom we loved getting to know.

From the port, we drive in to Rome itself, parking in Trastevre to pick up my next canvas, this one for "Moona Lisa di Mugnano". It's time for some humor, and I still have to finish the drawing, which we'll have blown up tomorrow in Viterbo.

Back at home, Dino is a bit tired of all the driving, and the skies cloud over, but there is no rain.

June 9
It's the nipotini's (grand daughters') birthday, and although their birthday presents have arrived, they're sitting at the post office. At least they have arrived on time...

Dino takes Pietro to the bank to translate for him, and later we'll drive to Viterbo. But the drawing is not finished, so although I procrastinate by writing an Italian Notebook story instead, I return to it before Dino returns. The sky is overcast, but will it rain? The forecast is for "partly sunny", so I suppose that's an optimistic way of looking at the weather.

There are a few drops, but I finish the drawing, submit another story to Italian Notebook and we drive to Viterbo to blow up the drawing. Since the canvas is all ready to paint, I'll trace the image when we return and begin to paint again in my studio.

In a couple of days we'll take a train to Naples and a ferry to Capri with Pietro, who has been hired to do a wedding in that jewel box of an island. We've not been there before, and it is quite touristy, but with Sofi having her own trip to Orvieto to stay for a few days with Candace and Frank, we'll be on our own to walk around and enjoy ourselves.

We'll only stay one night, for we have work to do back here on Sunday, so will take the ferry and train back late Saturday night. I'm hoping we'll be able to see Axel Munthe's garden on Anacapri, but it doesn't really matter. We love walking around a new place and exploring on our own.

On the way to Viterbo, we pass field after field with bales of hay, wrapped up and placed as if they've been thrown across the landscape by some enormous being. There's something comforting about the regularity with which we see them, and it is this hay that the farm animals eat as if it's a meal prepared by a Michelin star chef.

Then again, Sofi eats whatever I give her (tiny diced chicken for pranzo and small crocanti (dry food) at night). I think it's because we feed her less, wanting to be sure that her back does not suffer from too much weight in her stomach. Then there's the occasional dog treat when we're in the car and Dino has left us together for a minute or two now and then. She'd rather be with us than at home in her gabbia (cage), and if the weather is not hot, we happily comply.

Dino spray paints a metal table that needs work, and now the color is just right; it's the color of a happy blue sky. Although today has been cloudy, we expect sun for the next ten days and not too much heat.

Pietro and a houseguest come by for Prosecco and cheese, and I show his guest the cartoon of Moona Lisa di Mugnano, since she's an artist. I think it's pretty funny, and tomorrow I will begin to work on it.

We try to watch The Kite Runner on one of the movie channels, but it is in Italian with Italian subtitles. For the first time, we think we understand the dialogue, which is helped quite a bit with subtitles.

But I'm tired, very tired, so Sofi and I go to bed while Dino continues to watch the movie. Dino comments that he doesn't remember the plot, and neither do I. We just remembered that we enjoyed the novel.

I try to stay awake to see if I am inspired by the scenes and the costumes, but I cannot keep my eyes open. Now that the cartoon of Moona Lisa di Mugnano is finished, I have only to spray it with hairspray to lock in the lines, and then I'll be ready to begin.

June 10
Will we have sunny weather, as forecast, or more rain? Today is cloudy, but there is plenty of sun, and I cut some lavender from one large plant, putting it in bunches as I go, then hanging seven large bunches behind the bathroom where it is cool and dark.

Dino does not want baskets of lavender any more. Does it sound strange that I'm bored with lavender? I like its look, before and after it's cut, but the whole process of dealing with it is something I have no real interest in. I'd rather paint.

Inside, I begin to paint Moona Lisa, starting with the old tower and church and then her eyes and face. I'm going to limit myself to four hours a day so that I won't have headaches from the stress in my neck. Let's see if that works. Life is too short.

Dino drives to Amelia to learn how people can plug in their computers when they're here. When we figure it out, we'll let you know.

We're both suffering from some kind of stomach thing, but this too will pass. In the afternoon Dino drives to Tenaglie to work out some kind of plumbing problem. Sofi and I sit around listening to the birds. It's humid and I'm feeling lazy.

We're having trouble finding a place to stay in Capri; places are expensive and require a two-night minimum. Is it worth it to go if we don't have a reservation? I think not. Let's see what Dino has to say.

June 11
Dino and Lorenzo the fabro (artisan ironworker) install Maria Elena's gate at her beautiful and now private garden. She'll be here in a few weeks and we look forward to spending time with her.

I awake with a headache, not quite a migraine but something close to it. Yes, painting yesterday must have had something to do with it. Am I allergic to the solvent, or the oil paints? I hope not, but have no intention to stop, or to change to another medium. I love painting with oil paints.

We're both having intestinal problems, but that won't stop us for a minute. It's the most beautiful day...birds, blue skies, mild weather, plenty of sun, plenty of flowers. The lobelia are so very happy, stretching to the skies. Soon they'll cascade against the front of the house and over the side of the planter that balances on the top of Sofi's little house.

I research the internet, and see that we have Chinese wisteria in the front of the terrace, for it winds counter-clockwise. Perhaps we should feed it potassium based food; that's what is advised to encourage flowering.

While I'm on the internet, I come upon an interesting finding on CNN regarding consequences of abuses of women by their spouses/relatives.

"Four out of 10 Turkish women surveyed said they have been beaten by their husbands, according to a recently-published Turkish government study." "By Ivan Watson and Yesim Comert CNN

"ISTANBUL, Turkey (CNN) -- Lawyers say the winner of a landmark case that makes governments responsible for protecting women from domestic abuse is living in hiding, terrified that her ex-husband will hunt her down and kill her.

"In 2002, Nahide Opuz's ex-husband, Huseyin Opuz, shot and killed her mother in the southeastern Turkish city of Diyarbakir. Prior to that, he ran over the two women once with a car, and in a separate assault, stabbed Nahide Opuz seven times with a knife.

"Police detained the assailant after both incidents and then released him after fining him. Huseyin Opuz remains free after serving six years for the killing of his mother-in-law.

"Nahide Opuz won a case in the European Court of Human Rights on Tuesday against the government of Turkey. The judges unanimously ruled that Turkish authorities failed to protect her and her mother from domestic violence.

Nahide Opuz has refused requests for interviews, her lawyers said, because she was terrified she could be attacked again.

"She is constantly on the run, she is changing her location," Mesut Bestas, her attorney, told CNN. "She is really happy about the decision. She said if this decision is going to contribute to women's rights, she will be happy."

"A court spokesman said this was the first time the court ruled a government had violated Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights, which prohibits discrimination in connection with a domestic abuse case.

"The ruling is pretty clear," said Stefano Pidimonte, a court spokesman. "If domestic authorities know about this type of situation and don't do anything to prevent them, to protect the people, they're likely to be brought before our court and it's likely the court will rule in a similar way."

"The decision has implications not only for Turkey, but for other European governments that are signatories of the European Convention on Human Rights."

I will continue to include cases of domestic abuse in my journal, wherever I see news about them, wherever they are. Respect for one's fellow man/woman is so important, that whatever I can do to encourage others to speak out about it is what I will continue to do. I am sure that we are all equal in the eyes of God, so elitism and class distinctions are irrelevant, as far as I am concerned.

In trying to figure out whether we have Chinese or Japanese wisteria on the terrace, I believe we have the Chinese variety, because they grow in a counter-clockwise manner; however, there are 13 leaves, which makes it a toss up.

It's merely a curiosity, for we don't care either way. The shade it is already producing in its second year on our front terrace is a marvel and yes, we know that it will try to "take over" the house. That's for the next generation to figure out, for in our years here, the news can only be good.

My story is published today on Orvieto,


and it's a coincidence that we're about to drive there to drop off Sofi for her weekend vacation from Mugnano. She'll have her bed and toys, but will enjoy Candace and Frank and their garden as a change of scene. It's a holiday for all of us. Sofi knows something is about to happen, and I think she knows what's about to happen is all good.

When I walk up to bed and sit to write, I miss Sofi a lot, miss not having her by my side, although it's only been a couple of hours. She's such a dear little dog and I'm sure is having a great time.

At Candace and Frank's earlier, I heard the wonderful warble we hear at home, and Candace tells me it's from the black crows. Somehow I have never associate crows with those beautiful sounds.

There is one little one in their garden, probably fallen from a nest, and when I took Sofi out to "do her business" I kept her on a leash to make sure she did not bother the bird, but she ignored it. Let's hope there is not a confrontation while Sofi is there. Stop worrying, Evanne...

We're off to Capri early tomorrow morning for an overnight. C'e reviddiamo!

June 12
Pietro picks us up early, and we're at the train station in Orte in plenty of time. I'm missing little Sofi, but am sure she's having a great time.

After two train trips and then an aliscafo (hydrofoil) from Napoli to Capri, we're finally here. With the sweetest breeze and dark blue water, the white buildings provide a sharp contrast, but one that we've seen in every Mediterranean country we've visited. It's lovely.

Our B&B is right in the center of Capri, down some steps, along a dark stone walkway and another walkway to their garden. The room is just right, with a little terrace located outside our room and a table and two chairs poised for our breakfast tomorrow morning.

We're encouraged by a person at our B&B to eat at Capri's, on the main street, but it is overpriced and the waiter is overly chummy. Food is not bad, but it's a shame to eat here if you ever come to Capri. We feel taken advantage of, and hope that you never are...

We walk around a little, and then find the Gardens of Caesar Augustus, which has a fabulous view of the sea over steep cliffs (Capri is surrounded by cliffs). I will do a story for Italian Notebook soon. I spend our visit walking behind Dino and Pietro; they're quick as if "on a mission", and I hold back, smelling roses and taking visual snapshots of lovely snippets as I pass.

Since Pietro has "work" to do with the families of the bride and groom, we walk around ourselves, take a bus to the Marina and eat simple pizza and vino at an outdoor café right on the water. After feeling "taken" at pranzo, we're not interested in an elaborate meal; the food is just right, the sounds and the smells of the marina are fun.

We take a bus back up to Capri and walk around some more, then turn in to our air conditioned room. We really needed the cool air this afternoon, but the evening is pleasant with a sweet breeze. There are so many people in Capri, and there is such an emphasis on shopping, that we're happy to be going home tomorrow.

June 13
We've slept well in this B & B located close to the heart of the island. Breakfast, served right outside our room on the terrace, is less than fair, but the price for the room makes up for it. After sips of coffee, we walk off to survey the shops and meet Pietro.

We all take the bus to Anacapri, and it's a good thing we're sitting on the right side of the bus facing out...The road is so narrow and the precipice so rocky that I don't want to look.

Anacapri is another town full of shops, and it appears that this is one of those places where shopping is the highest priority. Last night I took a walk into a heralded sandal shop, and it's a great disappointment, with high prices and gaudy styles.

We walk straight up stone steps to a marker signifying an arrow to the left. Soon we're at the entrance to Axel Munthe's garden, and is it ever a wonder! Even if one comes to Capri to shop, do set aside an hour or so to meander through this brilliantly designed gardens and walkways. I love his book, and will Dino read it soon to amplify his recollection of this lovely place. Do read the book, and do come here for a walk, even if you don't do anything else in Capri except...shop.

I'll not give it away, other than to say I'll write a story about the garden for Italian Notebook. Oh. One has already been written. No matter. Afterward, we walk around Anacapri and come across a really sweet little shop where Antonio sits making sandals. Yes, he's a great marketer, as is his adorable young son, Antoniono.

I find a sandal that is perfect for me, but it is too big. So we arrange to pay for it and they'll ship it to us within two weeks for no extra charge. After reading about another sandal maker on tripadvisor.com, I'll certainly comment on this one as the one to search out. But before doing so, let's see if it arrives when the young man says it will.

The three of us meander through the back streets of Anacapri, and come across a tiny trattoria with a table under an umbrella in a corner adjacent to a large church. We're waited on by another handsome young man, Antonino, and are introduced to his wife, Irene, who is without a doubt one of the great beauties of all time. Born in Barcelona, she's a vision, walking back and forth in a short dress and extremely high heels so that all three of us feel our eyes are glued to her every movement.

Yes, I'll write a story about love in Capri, and guess whose photo will be included? I almost forget to talk about our pranzo, which is fishy and just perfect. Carpaccio of swordfish, salmon and anchovy, linguine volgole, a tuna salad, are all perfectly prepared. We stop at coffee, thinking we'll have gelato on our walk.

We take the bus back to Capri central, and leave Pietro by the clock tower to prepare for his wedding ceremony. He loves to do Norwegian Lutheran weddings in Italy. We've left our luggage at a central office to watch it, and walk around some more, then pick up our suitcase and leave for the marina, where we board the aliscafo for Naples. After an easy ride, we're in Naples and take a taxi to the station.

We take a train from there to Rome's Termini station, where we take another train to Orte, and are home just after 9 PM. It's good to be home, and on this mild night we're missing our little Sofi. Tomorrow after the procession we'll pick her up.

June 14
On this warm and sunny morning, we're all in a procession around the village with our favorites, Don Giampietro and Don Luca. There are not as many flowers on the street, and we have decided not to make an altar at our gate, but are sure the people in the procession are happy not to have to walk even a few steps more to our cancello in the heat.

Dino and Valerio lead the procession with matching lampione (lamps), while Enzo carries the Cross of Christ. Otello is not here today, or would have done it himself. Rosita carries the Accione Cattolica banner, so I have nothing to do. Va bene.

Sofi returns home, dropped off by Candace & Frank, who tell us about her "time out" when their cleaning lady arrived. We're not concerned, for Sofi knows her duty is to protect those she loves, and she was doing just that. She was put into her cage and cried, and then when Candace admonished her for barking some more at the poor woman after she was let out, she ran back into the cage through the open door on her own. That's one funny dog.

Otherwise, Sofi was her usual angelic self, loving the Corpus Domini procession in Orvieto. We're sorry we missed it ourselves, for next to Bolsena, the processions on Corpus Domini must be the best in Italy.

Duccio and Giovanna are back in Bomarzo, and tell us to meet them during the procession from Cristo Risorto to the Duomo. We find them right at the turn to go up to the borgo, and walk along home with them for a short visit. Duccio looks quite good, quite thin, and Giovanna admits she is now always vigilant.

We pick up Pietro, who tells us of his traumatic happenings this morning, and are all happy to be home in little Mugnano. Yes, Dorothy, there is no place like home.

At home, all is mellow, and we begin to map out the last (?) pergola, this time to be located in the middle garden. Shade is what we seek during the hot months, for we face South-Southwest. We'll do all the work ourselves, with possible consultation on the wooden beams that will be inserted into cement footings.

Oh, how I love the look of wisteria-covered columns on a long walkway. It is as if I had dreamt about them, for any time I see them, either in a photo or in real life, I'm taken in by them as if I've been drugged.

In the postcard from Axel Munthe's San Michele garden in Capri, his walkway has a curve,

just as ours will, following the contour of the land. The more I think of it, the more our columns need to be round cylinders of a substantial size. There's bound to be a debate, mostly because of the cost...

June 15
I wake with a migraine; I really have had it for most of the night, but have been blessed by headache-free day upon day for some time.

Dino leaves for the Comune of Montecchio, to verify the ICI (property tax) for a client, who is not a resident. If one owns property in Italy but does not have resident status, they must pay property tax. This is such a corrupt law, enacted by Berlusconi to appease the multitude. I cannot think of a better example of the Italian penchant for skirting the 30,000 or more Italian laws on the books.

In this law, property tax is "0" for Italian residents on their first home. It is as if the people have been planning for this all along, for one's "ownership" of a property is always in one person's name. If there is a second or third property purchased by the family, each succeeding property is listed in another person's name in the family, thereby skirting the necessity to pay any property tax at all.

I can just imagine the people working in the property tax offices of the government snickering about the poor sods who actually pay the tax. Here's yet another reason why even the mere sound of the word "family" in Italy embodies significance in every respect.

The Italian government really needs to raise additional money to support the many services available for its people. In our case, the €3.50 each of us used to pay each year in property tax (our property is listed in both our names, American style) is negated. We purchased our home in 1997, when the dollar was worth so much more than the lire then.

What's wrong with this picture?

I put out the clothes rack in the sun to wait for the towels spinning round in the washing machine in the summer kitchen, as Rosina wishes me a "Buon giorno! from her balcony above us. She is a joyous woman, always friendly, and the few words I reply are always taken in with a smile. There are no noisy tractors in the countryside early this morning; it is as though the farmers are all "sleeping in" after a night of drunken wild abandon.

The only noises are from the birds, and as I close the shutters to keep out the heat from the sun, Sofi and I return inside to a quiet so noisy our ears seem Dumbo-like, listening for the tiniest sounds.

I'll fix a chicken salad for pranzo, and Dino will travel to Viterbo this afternoon to pick up our favorite buffala mozzarella, but this morning all grocery stores are closed. Viterbo, and most of Lazio grocery stores still remain closed on Monday mornings.

I think about writing stories about Capri for Italian Notebook, but will do none of that this morning. Instead, we'll rest in the scented silence wrapping us in its cocoon behind closed shutters.

After pranzo, I play around with sewing a fanny pack...what a weird name for something that sits on the waist! I have some wonderful material and would like to have something to wear with jeans in the summertime that would not put pressure on my shoulder.

I have an idea or two, and now we'll see what kind of stores in Viterbo can help. Yes, that's me, working on my own projects. The guest room is now central station for painting and sewing...

June 16
Dino awakes early to tie up the tomatoes and to weed between them. There are plenty of flowers and some fruit, so we will have heirloom pomodori in July. These days, we eat caprese (tomatoes with buffala mozzarella and fresh basil) at each pranzo, and in a few weeks we'll be eating our own pomodori! Wonderful!

I close the shutters and windows to our bedroom, for it will be hot today, and we have cappuccinos at the bar in Bomarzo. I no longer eat breakfast, except for a piece of fruit or yoghourt, and it seems to be working.

I fixed a chicken salad yesterday with fresh tarragon and walnuts, and we liked it so much we'll have sandwiches today with the caprese. Where did the phrase the "salad days" come from? I'm not sure, but these are surely what they are.

It takes no time at all for the pedicure, but I always enjoy sitting with Giusy. She gives me a postcard of "Il Cristo Velato" (1753), an amazing sculpture in the Museo Cappella Sansevero, and one of these days it would be a challenge to paint. It is as if a fine white silk cloth, almost transparent, was laid over Him.

The thick pillows on which He rests His head are uncovered, and the view I have of Him is dramatic beyond belief. It's a definite reason to view the sculpture in person in Naples, and Pietro wants to travel there with us this fall.

Back at home, I'm finishing the journal so that we can post, and the doorbell rings. It is Gigliola and Livio, with a remarkable document: her family tree, reaching back to the mid 1700's!

Now if only the rest of the people of the village were as responsive...No matter, we'll see if we can work with the villagers during Ferragosto (the Iron Days of August) when everyone is on vacation, and plenty of relatives are here.

Dino drives off to send a fax and to meet with someone, after taking a good look around the ground floor to see if he can find the source of a strange smell. I fear it is a dead mouse, and have no interest in going into the kitchen...

We can't find it, but later we'll take the house apart and clean every nook.

On television, there have been demonstrations for days over the elections in Iran. I expect them to escalate, even though the supreme leader has called for an investigation. Iran is another country where equal respect is not given to everyone. How did this foment, and how can we change it? Perhaps the young people at the universities can use their passions in a constructive way. I'm hopeful, but not overly optimistic.

Pietro arrives for a visit, and we open a bottle of rose and serve it in our new bubble glasses. I really like them and Dino likes the idea that they can be washed in the dish washer...va bene.

I sit with the two while working on my new purse. Dino thinks it will be a new business...Hand crafted marsupial bags sewn with drapery or other interesting fabric. I pull some of the stitches out and continue to fuss with what Italians would call a campion (sample).

I'm not sure that I want to, but if people see them and want them, why not? A few days ago we passed a wipe-able fabric in dark blue with luscious red apples. That would be a very good material to use for another.

Why do I bother? Well, I can't find any interesting bags of this style anywhere. They may be trending out of fashion, but since I don't have to sling these purses over my shoulder, that's a good thing. We'll post them on the site and you can see for yourselves...

June 17
We're up before 7AM and working in the middle garden before the sun spreads its fingers above it at around noon. There are lavender to clip, baskets of old lavender to throw out, shoots from the old cherry tree to cut, roses to deadhead and leaves with black spot to throw out; let's not forget to throw any black spot or other diseased leaves in the garbage, not in the burn pile.

It's sunny and hot today; yesterday someone here on vacation asked us if it's always hot here in June...Si, certo!

Dino and Pietro are agog at the marsupial purse I am making and think I should go into business ...zzzzzzzzzzzz. I return to it while Dino shops for tonight's cena with Candace and Frank. It's to be a baked fish with potatoes and olives and anchovies in a tomato sauce (recipe on the site), so I have hours to do other things, except for the lemon torta to fix and put in the new frigo. I will prepare it as soon as Dino returns with the great lemons that Italy is famous for.

Sofi is her usual precious self, following me from garden to garden, room to room. I know I should decide about putting the lavender into baskets, but the thought of it bores me. Let's change our attitude; instead, think of it as a season's bounty and face it with joy.

If I finish putting the dried lavender that has been hanging behind the house into baskets before Dino returns and they look good, we'll have them. Otherwise, there is plenty of lavender yet to blossom so that I can change my mind later. Yes, I am superstitious in a humorous way...it's like a game that makes life more fun.

I fill up just one basket with all the lavender hanging behind the house, so the lavender cut this morning is hung to dry. Dino puts the one basket back in the kitchen, but it will be days before the second basket is ready. I don't know if it makes any difference in the scent of the kitchen, but we've always had the baskets, so I'd miss them if we did not have them.

We close all the shutters and have a cleanup day inside the house. I still have not returned to painting Moona, and it does not look as though I will today. If we do not travel to Rome tomorrow I surely will then.

Dino drives off for a meeting. Was it so long ago that he could not participate in a meeting held solely in Italian? The stakes are high, he is convinced he is in the right, so we'll see who has to compromise.

Dino returns with the news that another meeting will take place in a few days. Va bene.

Candace and Frank and Pietro arrive and we sit in our new outdoor dining room and enjoy a meal and conversation with our good friends. The "room" feels just right, and although there were a few drops of rain and the skies are overcast, the evening continues to be very humid and still.

No matter; we're ensconced in our secluded room with only the sounds of birds and our conversation to interrupt the passing of the night.

June 18
In my continuing quest for peace in the world, here's the latest, a Bill Moyers program that we can't receive here on TV, about women in Liberia. Why women? To me, peace in war torn regions begins with them...

"Instructed by a dream and organized in prayer, Leymah Gbowee and thousands of everyday women in Liberia - both Christians and Muslims alike - confronted warlords and a corrupt president to successfully fight for peace and dignity in their war-torn nation. "I realized that every problem we encounter on this journey, I'm going to rise above it and lead these women because they trusted me with their lives and their future," says Gbowee".

Unrest anywhere can be disheartening; in news of Iran's presidential election results, we wait to hear the latest outcome, while thousands of protestors silently march through the main city.

What is it that women can interject that can stem the tide of war?

We have a painting of mine called "Fortezza" hanging in our front hallway.

Searching for its extended meaning, I find guidance from the masters of Tarot:
"In an uncultivated field a young woman holds the open jaws of a lion, which sits to her right, but is partly hidden behind a thorny, wild rose bush. We cannot tell whether she is trying to open or close his jaws. Though the lion looks ferocious, the woman has an expression of calm confidence. Indeed, a sword lies unused on the ground nearby.

In simplest terms this ... represents fortitude, that is, strength, vigor and courage. However, fortitude appears on two levels. The lion represents the strength, vigor and courage of the primitive elements of the psyche, the fiery vitality of one's animal nature. The lion is noble, even regal, but potentially savage, uncontrollable, destructive and devouring.

"The young woman, Andreia, represents the anima, which mediates between the ego and the beast. She symbolizes fortitude of a different kind, for she has a magical control over beasts of all kinds, directed not by a wand, but by her eyes and hands. Her power is strong and she has the courage to use it to control animal nature.

"Though Andreia is skilled with the sword, she has set it aside, because it's ineffective for training the beast. The sword represents rational discrimination, but this task demands a gentle eye and the physical application of compassionate hands. For Andreia does not want to kill the beast; she knows it will be better for both of them if he is tamed and trained. In this way they can cooperate and both will win new freedom. No longer will consciousness be forced to flee the beast; no longer will the beast be driven by its instincts.

"Andreia is manipulating the lion's mouth. She may encourage the beast to close its mouth and cease its primitive roaring; or she may encourage him to open his mouth, and help him to articulate his needs and desires. In this way Andreia and the lion can help one another, and live happily together - for he is her familiar.

"In all early Italian sources, the card is called la fortezza, which (apart from the irrelevant meaning of 'the fortress') can only mean 'fortitude.'" Fortitude (Greek andreia) is one of the four cardinal virtues (or excellences), which were enumerated by Plato ... as the basis of all other virtues, and which were analyzed by Aristotle ... the other three are temperance (sophrosune), justice (dikaiosune) and prudence (phronesis).

"In Latin, fortitude means both physical strength, vigor and courage. It derives from fortis, which means strong, vigorous, healthy, sexually vigorous, robust, brave, bold and heroic... The corresponding Greek word, andreia, is literally manliness, but was also applied to women ... This apparent inversion of sex roles is characteristic of rites of passage; it's a key feature of the myth of Apollo's marriage to Kurene ... and several similar myths...

"The lion itself is a symbol of courage and strength, but also of the danger of untamed nature ... In classical times, demigods (such as Hercules) were often depicted defeating lions, a symbol of the triumph of human nature over animal nature...Therefore, in ...Fortitude we see personified human strength and courage taming animal strength and courage ...

"When the lion peeks out so that only its head and open eyes are visible, it symbolizes vigilance...The nymph Kurene (Cyrene) was the daughter of Hypseus ("Highest," referring to the sky) and the Naiad Creusa (a water nymph). She was known as a virgin huntress who used her skill with sword and spear to protect her father's herds. After Kurene had defeated the lion, Apollo proposed to her, which is notable, since gods are usually content with rape or seduction...In this he followed the advice of Chiron, the wise centaur, who represents complete integration of human and bestial vitality.

"Kurene the virgin huntress reminds us of Artemis, and indeed Kurene's story was probably originally a myth of Artemis, which was transferred after Artemis came to be thought of as a virgin goddess rather than a mother goddess, as were many stories...

"Artemis, the Lady of Wild Things ... is certainly an appropriate goddess for Fortitude ... here we see her in relation to deeper levels of the unconscious.

" It is interesting that most tarot decks depict Andreia as a cultured and refined woman, which stresses that it is not by brute force that she tames the lion, but by empathy and subtle influence ...We may call her "the Lady of the Beasts," or even: "the Beauty of the Beasts," with all the multiple meanings of "Lady" and "Beauty" intended.

"Andreia exerts a magical influence over the beasts, but her power is in her hands, not in a wand like the Magician's; her magic is conveyed through physical contact and personal relation.

"You can't reason with a lion, but you can love one, and it can love you. Logos must defer to Eros. For taming lions, the woman's magic hands are more effective than the man's sword or wand, for she brings strength and experience to the taming of beasts. Hers is a diplomatic role, for, as the anima, she must serve as a mediator between the ego and the primitive elements of the psyche. She is a mediator between the external authority represented by the Emperor, which addresses community needs, and the instinctual authority of the beast, which pursues the needs of the individual.

"Like Artemis she must tame the animal nature and train it, and so channel its vital energy, which is self-fulfilling, pure and uncorrupted, but irrational. She does not dominate the lion in a masculine way, but like a rider well attuned to her horse, she forms a cooperative bond with the beast. The result is liberating and empowering for both: consciousness is no longer driven by unconscious, irrational instincts, and the animal vitality is no longer condemned to inarticulate, instinctive behavior. Both benefit, and neither destroys the other.

"The lion, of course, is Leo, ruled by the sun and representing fire and the fiery principle, golden Sulphur; that is, the lion is the fiery life-power. Andreia tames the beast and unites him with the alchemical Mercury, which is the self-conscious mind."

More and more I am finding new keys to unlock my subconscious; this painting, as well as the earlier painting of Hildegarde,

speak of my quest for strength to help me to overcome the challenges of life. I'm learning more and more about the character of my mother and am so sorry that I did not know these things while she was still alive; I now find clues when remembering how she reacted to challenges, and so admire her now.

Does it make any difference? Can she hear me? I think she can, but I will never know...

It is as if we are in a cocoon, with shutters closed to the heat of the midday sun and plenty of time to dream or to paint or to write or read. Now it's time to return to more orderly things, and I'll stop for the present to fix pranzo for Sofi and Dino.

Do you have a journal yourself? Perhaps one day you will want to read what your life was like, how you felt about what was happening around you, and if this is an impetus to begin to write...for that, I am happy. As you can read at the foot of any of our emails, as Cicero wrote to his friends,

"Cura ut valeas. Si vales bene est ego valeo.." This is Latin for: "Take care so that you will be well...If you are well, I am well."

Another Italian Notebook story of mine is published today:


and I hope you enjoy it. We're so casual about the place, a place that people travel from all over the world to visit. But then, it's right down the road...

The evening ends warm and humid; summer has really arrived. I've sent in another story to Italian Notebook, but feel as if I'm not accomplishing anything these days. Might as well relax...I have no deadlines. Let's see what tomorrow brings...

June 19
No more procrastinating; I return to painting and have so much fun with Moona Lisa's head that I don't know why I put painting off for so long. Since I'm having more headaches, I'll only paint for two hours at a time. Earlier, I told Dino I'd only paint for two hours a day, but after a pranzo of salade nicoise, I creep back upstairs to play with the image some more.

I don't imagine that I'd have the same philosophy as the Chinese government on anything; but agree with them that what goes on in Iran's politics is their own business. The U S government is really wonderful, but it's like a meddlesome aunt who just can't keep her hands off any of the young children.

We're not about to prevent them from having a nuclear capability, so whom are we kidding? In the coverage we hear more from people who want their votes to count than who would be their leader. After all, it isn't as if the president makes the major decisions there anyway.

Someone writes to ask us about whether it's easier to buy a house for an Italian citizen than an average Giuseppe (Joe). No. Anyone from anywhere can buy a property in Italy; it has to do more with the amount of tax one would pay upon purchase. For us, we purchased our property in 1997 without any status and paid the lower rate, but were given one year to obtain residency, which we then did.

We are having a small dinner party tomorrow night and invite Duccio and Giovanna, who tell us they must stay in Rome for some kind of referendum. Lore and Alberto, however, who also state their primary residence as Rome, are happy to come.

Duccio is a great example of how wonderful the Italian medical system is. He is recuperating from heart surgery, and we believe has paid nothing at all for any of his procedures. Once someone reaches the age of 65, almost everything connected with medical procedures is free in Italy.

So except for missing relatives, why should anyone who loves Italy or the lifestyle here live only in the U S? Even though there is serious consideration giving to overhauling the medical system in the U S, I don't think we'll see a vastly improved system in our lifetimes. Perhaps I'm just too happy with the system we have here to think much about it.

We have new friends arriving this afternoon whom are interested in property in Italy, and look forward to spending time with them and serving them some cocomero (watermelon) granita. It's quite hot today, so what better treat to dole out to cool off...that is, if one does not have a pool, and we do not.

Have I ever wanted a pool? No, not really. I love swimming pools, but have never had the right space for one, nor do I like the amount of maintenance. I'm also a bit afraid of the danger...especially with little Sofi, who could fall in. When our grand children come next year, perhaps we'll purchase a rubber wading pool, or better yet, take them places where they can swim.

That said, people who buy properties here often want a pool, or space for a pool, and that makes sense. Dino can supervise the installation of any pool and knows quite a bit about what can go wrong. Often, that's a big help. Putting in a pool in Italy can be fraught with challenges.

June 20
Rain! We're expecting thunderstorms and rain for the next few days, so what about our cena outside? It looks doubtful...

Dino takes a family to see a few houses while I ponder a change in menu...

Sofi sinks down and moans; she's afraid of the thunderstorms and winds about to arrive. Since animals often know about bad weather before we do, I'm ready to hunker down with her and if we could cancel our cena here tonight, I surely would. There's not much fun in a gathering hiding from storms and wind.

There is a backup plan, and that is to cook in advance or in the summer kitchen, which is about the most important room in the house. Well, it's not "in" the house, but right next to it, and is used every day, whether to wash clothes, remove things from the larger freezer or frigo, or work on garden projects. One day, when we put a new roof on it extending to the house, we'll also put a door in from the kitchen. But that can wait...

My mood is like the weather, dreary. I'll prepare the main course for the cena early, then heat it up in the summer kitchen while we're having our first course.

I realize it's not the best idea to prepare most of the main course in the afternoon, then finish it off just before it is served, for the temperature needs to be quite high to cook the fish (450 degrees) and it takes too long to heat the oven up after the first course is served.

Everything works out fine, however, with guests exclaiming the at the fish is "ottimo!" (excellent, the Italian highest rating). I'll take that, si certo!

Almost all of the conversation is in Italian, and we're able to keep up, although it often feels as though we're treading water. The excuse of checking in the kitchen and serving gives us both time to take a breath or two.

Vincenza and I agree to work on a project together while they're here for the month of August and some of July. I come up with the Mugnano family tree, and she will help me to go to each family to ask them about their Mugnano relatives. I am sure there are wonderful stories about the past, but I'm not the one to interview our neighbors, unfortunately. Perhaps someone else in ECOMUSEO will take that on.

As the evening ends, we're exhausted, but clean up before going to bed. I'm sure I'll sleep in, and not go to church tomorrow. Sorry.

June 21
Dino is not as fortunate as Sofi and I are; he rises and leaves for Bomarzo mid morning to participate in the procession to "bring San Anselmo home". That means San Anselmo is to be taken from Cristo Risorto, high on the hill, to the Duomo, where he will lie in a glass domed altar. Today, the custom includes a walk to the altar, so that everyone in Bomarzo can view "the real thing". By now, he's rather wizened, but dressed "to the 9's" just the same. Buon riposo (good rest)!

I am so tired that I sleep until after eleven with Sofi by my side. She's on the bed because there have been cannons and fireworks in Bomarzo, reaching us a few kilometers away and she is frightened by the noise.

The morning remains overcast, with rain holding off until just after the start of the Formula-1 race in England. Of course, you know where Dino is for the race...on the sofa. Afterward, we drive to Merritt and Kate's house, to help them get into their storeroom.

But I'm tired; "stanca morta" (dead tired), for some reason. After a nice visit in their bottom unit, which I am partial to, because we completely designed and restored it from scratch...we return home in the rain.

Sun and rain, sun and rain; this weather is a mystery.

June 22
I work on Moona this morning, realizing that her neck is quite long; she's looking more like a hermaphrodite. I look up the word to be sure, and love one of the descriptions: "somebody or something that combines two very different elements or qualities, or seems to belong to two different classifications at once. " Perfect!

My next "Moona" painting may have a shorter neck, although I'm becoming quite attached to this one. Yes, I'm going to take commissions for "Moona Lisa", set in the foreground of any setting one likes: North Dakota, Rio, Cape Cod, someone's back yard...you name it.

Dino wants me to drive with him to Viterbo to look at a unit for the outdoor kitchen. Our cemetery plot is on my mind, and I remind him to call Renzo to get the name and phone number of the person who designs boxes for grave sites; if something happens to one of us, the actual burial will be a bit complex if it is not already constructed. Let's not leave any decisions to our loved ones.

The more we hear and read about what is going on in Iran, the more I worry about people the world over in war-torn regions. Yes, I fear Iran is on the brink of real internal strife. It's not as if the people living in Iran really care who is in power; it is that every four years they'd like their vote to count.

What is wrong with this picture? I think the notion is somewhat contradictory; they know they're ruled by a dictator, but want a smidgen of choice now and then.

Let's hope Iran's young people will want to make their own decisions in the future. Their challenge is that there really is no one who can represent them fairly. I'm wondering about Moussava's wife; her demeanor seems to be profoundly different from any Iranian woman I have ever read about or seen on TV.

Tomorrow we'll drive to Rome to take Pietro to the airport, and Dino asks me if I'd like to do anything in Rome. Si, certo! I'd love to go to a museum or two, and dig up the Boncompagni Ludovisi Museum for Decorative Arts as well as the National Museum. Let's see if we can visit at least one of them. What a treat!

I return to studying Moona before changing clothes to drive to Viterbo. The sky remains overcast...

June 23
We're up early to take Pietro to the airport; now we can drive in to the City and visit at least one museum. I've a hankering for more formal inspiration...

After dropping Pietro off at the airport and parking the car, we walk up the 72 steps to the entrance of the National Museum in Palazzo Barberini and it's worth the climb; I'm inspired in every room. Dino loves these jaunts as well, telling me he's much more aware of things around him since I've begun to paint seriously. That's my guy!

Now, why is it that I can't find a book or a course to take here that will train my eyes with respect to light and shadow and folds of fabric? I purposely do not have a notebook, or I'd spend the entire day in just one room, practicing the folds and memorizing the panoply of colors. Now about that word "panoply": it refers to a full suit of armor or, in this case, any magnificent color or array. Now How did that word pop out of my feeble brain? It's use is perfect here.

Since we've worked at training our brains to learn a new language and to use it, we're more aware of words and their derivations. Dino looks up a word, and then studies the word listed before as well as the word after the one he's looking up in his Palm dictionary. I'm not that curious, but admire him for his interest.

Do we want an iPhone? Sure...probably. But for now, the Palm works fine, especially since the iPhone is probably "locked", meaning we'd have to use a specific telephone carrier, and that means signing up for Vodaphone, which is expensive here. We're not in a hurry.

I do remind Dino a couple of times to call Renzo to locate the man who is to design our burial crypt in the cemetery. I'm looking forward to "checking off" that item on our continuous list. Yes, we still keep lists; perhaps that is why we're pretty organized and not stressed about life in general. He calls during the evening and no one is home. If we're in luck tomorrow, we'll learn more.

We're expecting a big storm in the next couple of days; so we'll postpone that cena here tomorrow night until Thursday.

I remain tired, so go up to bed around 9PM. It's still light outside, so that's a good thing. But I don't like the idea that the days are getting shorter. We have not had bright sunny weather for many days this month. We are certainly due, so let's not fret; by August we'll be praying for this weather...

June 24
Roy wakes me up after 9 and yes, I've been lazy. The day is quite lovely, not overcast as we had thought, even though there are clouds in the sky. I'm happy to have another day before we entertain again.

As Dino drives off to do errands, the GREST group arrives on foot from Bomarzo. GREST stands for Gruppo (group) Estate (summer) and consists of school children, usually more than one hundred of them. On this day, I'm in the house painting and don't even see them. No, I don't take this annual trek for granted; I suppose I'm just more interested in painting my cow at the moment.

Our story on "Ruzzolone" is published today on Italian Notebook. Hope you enjoy it. What? You don't subscribe? No matter. You can find it on italiannotebook.com and type in "ruzzolone".


CNN asks online if Silvio Berlusconi's flirtatious life is affecting his ability to govern, and the majority votes no. This is such a funny country. Bill Clinton must be shaking his head if he reads the question and answer.

I am about to faint. I've just viewed the most amazing web site. It's


. If you are a painter, or even interested in art, do take a look. This Brit living in Provence does a painting a day and posts it on his site. His talent is extraordinary, his prints very inexpensive. For me, studying his work will be a boon to my artistic development. Perhaps I'll never improve, but this has certainly inspired me.

I'm upstairs writing but can hear Dino clinking the metal ladder around on the terrace below, working on his beloved glicine (wisteria...Pietro calls it hysteria), tying up ends, encouraging them as if they are jewels, which they really are.

It's difficult to concentrate, so I'll sign off and return to my cow; perhaps I've been inspired to put even a dash of paint on her.

June 25
We postponed our cena outside until tonight, thinking we were going to have thunderstorms, but the weather forecast moved back its projections, indicating yesterday that they would appear today instead. Luckily, we wake up to sun and the storms are due...tomorrow. Happily, the hot summer weather has not begun. I'm so mellow these days that it does not really matter to me either way.< p> Cena will be a simple one, although I'll include the focaccia that everyone loves, not beginning it until this afternoon, so that it is just out of the oven. While living in San Francisco, the focaccia we could find in North Beach was doughy and thick. The type I fix is from Carol Fields Italian Baker cookbook, and is crunchy and not doughy at all.

We've just received a tree peony from our pal Don Salter, and are surprised and delighted. We're not sure it's a good idea to plant it so late in the growing season, so will let it soak in water for a few hours and then plant and keep the pot in a shady spot. We'll plant it in the fall, probably above the parcheggio somewhere where it will have morning sun and room for the roots to grow. I love this information from Al Gore's internet:

"What to Expect
"Tree peonies, like most perennials, take about three years to become established in your garden. They follow the well known truisms - first year sleep, second year creep, third year leap - or first year roots, second year shoots, third year flowers. You can often expect small flowers on first or second year tree peonies but gigantic flowers you are looking for typically come in the third year. Tree peonies will grow five to ten inches a year. The new green growth will become next years extended woody branch. Tree peonies typically reach their full height in ten to fifteen years."

Fifteen years...what will our property look like then? Where is the best spot for this treasure? What will we look like then? Will we know it's there? I certainly hope so, but for now it will live in a pot.

Sofi is groomed today by Silvia, the woman in Civitavecchia, and looks wonderful. Silvia returns every three months or so, and now Sofi will always look her best. We're commended for Sofi's svelte shape, and I'm really pleased. It has to do with her health, although she's always hungry. I have to hold myself back from giving her treats or more than a small amount of food, but she's a tiny dog and full of pep, so I think we're doing the right thing. Silvia commented last time that she was a little heavy. When we take her to the vet soon, we'll see what he thinks.

Neighbors gripe about the weather, and we can't understand why there is so much rain this late in the year. The plants and flowers look great, including the lavender, which blossoms at different intervals, depending on each plant's age, I suppose. So far, we've cut and not done anything with more than half of the lavender. We'll not do baskets this year or anything else, I suppose. That's me, feeling lazy.

The menu tonight is simple summer fare, and the focaccia turns out just right. I enjoy the Pugliese style of focaccia better, but this was a good attempt, just the same, and we send what's left home with Merritt and Kate.

We so enjoy entertaining in our new outdoor dining room, and although the weather is a bit windy, it's still fun sitting under the sliver of a moon and enjoying our friends. There's plenty of room with seven of us around the big table.

June 26
Dino wakes up and leaves early for a meeting and then drives to an appointment with the Genius Bar at Apple in Rome Est. Sofi and I stay home and relax, cooking the second focaccia which did not rise well yesterday, doing a little painting and a little sleeping.

When Dino comes home, he hates to sit around, so we plant the peony and place the pot in the loggia with access to some sun and shade until it is acclimated. We won't plant it in the ground until fall. Thanks so much, Don.

Today is very humid, and a kind of sleepy day. We put the tarp away that Dino put over the pergola in case it rained last night; it does not show as it is on top of the bamboo. Now that we have it, we probably won't use it. But in the fall and winter, we just may want to sit outside, so we're happy it's here.

Dino does research for a couple of clients regarding possible properties, permissions to build, etc, and this keeps him occupied and content.

June 27
The weather continues to be un-characteristically overcast. There is some sun, some rain, high humidity, and everything has a heaviness about it.

I spend a good deal of the morning painting, and add the view toward Giove and it's infamous castle in the background of the painting behind Mugnano. An American "B" grade filmmaker named Band worked out a deal years ago to purchase the town's castle at a rock bottom price, and in return agreed to do a number of things for the town. He's since escaped town, leaving artisans and suppliers on the hook for everything, doing virtually nothing for Giove. Creep.

We drive to church in Bomarzo tonight, and try to write down the name of the man to design our mausoleum from the door of their office on the way out of town. But we can't find it. So I suggest to Dino that we "let our fingers do the walking" and look it up in our phone book. The place is called Il Paradiso" and sounds like a title for a novel instead of a mortuary. I'm not sure what to call the boxes we'll be living in at "casa eternal" (the cemetery), either, but should complete the project...subito!

We forget all about it once we're at home, but while we were in church it rained in torrents and little Sofi waited in La Pandina in a nearby parking lot, one rear window of the car open a few inches. So during the mass, Dino and I kept looking at each other while thunder raged outside the little church. I had visions of Sofi treading water and shaking. But when Dino opened the door there was little or no water at all inside the car.

Of course there was not rain when we arrived at home. Dino thinks the rain is a result of his watering...every time he waters these days, he stops just before rain returns. Enough, already! Dove estate? (Where is summer?)

But here's an online article that talks about just the opposite...Experts say that Southern Italy faces a severe risk of drying up!
"Deserts crossing Mediterranean
Experts say southern Italy faces severe risk of drying up (ANSA) - Rome, June 25 - The Sahara Desert is crossing the Mediterranean, according to Italian environmental protection group Legambiente which warns that the livelihoods of 6.5 million people living along its shores could be at risk.

''Desertification isn't limited to Africa,'' said Legambiente Vice President Sebastiano Venneri.

''Without a serious change of direction in economic and environmental policies, the risk will become concrete and irreversible.'' A recent report by Legambiente estimated that 74 million acres of fertile land along the Mediterranean were turning to desert as the result of overexploited land and water resources.

"Legambiente said that southern Italy was at severe risk in addition to the islands of Sicily and Sardinia where 11% of all arable land showed signs of drying up. ''Semi-arid coastal regions like southern Italy are prone to the effects of desertification due to farmers' dependence on water from underground aquifers instead of rainfall,'' said Legambiente spokesman Giorgio Zampetti. According to Zampetti, pumping too much fresh water out of these underground deposits can result in seawater leaking in to replace it, effectively poisoning the groundwater.

"As an example of the long-term consequences, Legambiente pointed to Egypt where it said brackish groundwater had compromised half the country's farmland.

''The south of Italy isn't the only part of the country at risk,'' added Zampetti. ''Aquifers around the Po Delta in northern Italy have also begun showing signs of saltwater contamination.'' Experts said that the Po River, which is Italy's longest waterway and nearly dries up in parts when industrial consumption peaks, is one of the most visible examples of desertifying climate change in Italy. Italy is not the only country in Europe losing fertile land.

"Legambiente estimated that desertification affects more than a fifth of the Iberian Peninsula with early indicators also present along the French Riviera.

"Across the Mediterranean, Legambiente said that countries like Libya, Tunisia and Morocco were losing 1,000 square kilometers of fertile land every year.

"Legambiente experts predict that between 1997 and 2020, desertification will have forced over 60 million people in sub-Saharan Africa to leave their homes, many of whom will head north to Europe.

"The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in Rome ranks desertification among the chief causes of worldwide famine.

''In addition to destroying the biodiversity of ecosystems and exacerbating the problems related to global warming,'' said Sebastiano Venneri, ''desertification causes people to migrate, perpetuating a vicious cycle of social strife and overpopulation that has placed mankind's survival at risk.'' To turn back the tide on desertification, Legambiente is calling for drastic water conservation measures, particularly with regard to agriculture where it says flood irrigation is a chief culprit behind the exhaustion of local reservoirs.

"Simple measures like collecting rainwater for use during drier periods could make the difference in protecting water resources, according to Legambiente.

"In the household, it listed a number of novel steps Italian families could take to reduce waste, including recycling water used to boil pasta to degrease pots and pans or to water house plants.

"It also urges homemakers to wash fruits and vegetables in a basin with a pinch of baking soda instead of under running water."

We expect that soon they'll encourage showering with friends...this IS Italy, after all...

June 28
Dino picks up a client from the Orte train station and drives her around to look at properties. I decide to stay at home with Sofi. If the woman is really serious, we'll know a lot more about what she's looking for once the visit is over. Is this just a game? We hope not. We've been fortunate that most of the people we've taken around who were on vacation in our part of Italy were serious.

The woman is lovely and we look forward to getting to know her. It gives us a chance to check in on old friends who have properties to sell, and perhaps we can put a couple of these folks together soon.

Driving back from the Orte train station we're aware that sunflowers are beginning their summer burst. Due to all the rain this spring they are a little late, but it's a treat to see them, whenever they pop up. Fields and fields and fields of them are seen in undulating profusion, between fields of grain.

June 29
Dappled clouds greet us, and the weather is mild. Yesterday we continued our chant to the vicini (neighbors), "Dove estate?" (Where is summer?)

Today is Terence and Angie's twelfth wedding anniversary; was it that many years ago that they were wed? It seems forever ago...so many things in all our lives have changed...

There is a strange character emerging in Iran: former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani -- a key Iranian cleric -- on Sunday he called out "suspicious sources" who are creating a rift between the public and the Islamic government. He leads a group of influential clerics whose job it is to decide if the Ayatollah is to remain or go. So far, there has been no talk of that, but...

He seems to feel that the will of the people is important, and if he is to prevail the election vote count will be in question.

The U S must continue to stay out of it...

The more I read and learn about what is happening in the Mideast, the more I realize that one bad apple at the top of the pile can rot all the way down unless the apples that are not yet ripe at the bottom disrupt the pile...

Since Iraq is now allowing foreign companies to bid for projects, I am hearing Dick Cheney getting the last laugh. Halliburton is certainly at the beginning of the queue.

Back to Italia...

Dino is leading the latest ducklings (I recall a favorite book as a child, Make Way for Ducklings ) to their rental at Merritt's place, while Kate and Merritt continue to enjoy whatever unit is not rented at the time. We all especially love their downstairs unit and it's fun visiting after designing and restoring the unit to see how well it functions. They want to sell either one of the units, so if you'd like to know more, let us know.

I'm looking at others' works of art to gain knowledge of how I can add new life to my paintings. This is how I learn, as I realize that the most I gained from Marco's bottega was watching him sit with my paintings and adding a feature or a brushstroke to add depth and contrast. I'd then practice the strokes and gain confidence.

One day I'd like to attend a workshop somewhere, but my days at his bottega are probably over. The cacciarata (gossip, or constant buzz) drove me crazy, although I like the women quite a bit. I am a solitary painter, enjoying the sounds of the birds or the tractors or classical music while I paint. I enjoyed Marco a lot, and he was a great help. But for now I continue to learn on my own and enjoy that process quite a bit.

Today I'll work on painting the path, or the road up to the village, adding tone and texture. Since the timeframe of my Moona Lisa di Mugnano was centuries ago, I'll probably add ruts in the road with grass in the center. See you later...

I'm taking a break, and while I wait for Dino's return and fix pranzo, the sounds in the valley are yes, music to my ears. My senses are heightened here, perhaps because there are not a lot of things clouding my mind. Dino feels the same way, and it thrills me to know how much he enjoys puttering around the garden. Then, he is his father's son, always keeping busy.

I'm taking Medrol for pain in my arms, for the second month in a row. I take the medicine for about ten days, then hold off for three weeks. What is interesting about the drug, is that I lose weight while on it. I have no interest in eating. So let's look it up on line and see what it's supposed to do...

Boh! Medrol's contraindications include weight gain, but when taking it I lose my appetite and also weight. I think it's a wonder drug. This is my second month taking it, after doing without it for three weeks. It is an on-again, off-again drug; first entire tablets for one week, then half tablets for another, then nothing for a couple of weeks.

I hear Pepe's tractor trudging up the hill to his garage next door; he must be returning for pranzo. Many of the farmers don't really eat pranzo, just a piece of bread or so. Italo, who is 89, does not eat during the day and when he eats only eats pasta with a particular simple sauce. His daughter, Vincenza, sighs when we speak about it. He seems very content, so that's good. Italo takes "a simple life" very seriously. He'll probably outlive us.

It's time to find out about this Maurizio from Il Paradiso, so we drive to Soriano to his office and call him. He returns in a few minutes and we tell him what we want. Within the week he'll have a drawing, which he tells us Pangrazi will stamp on the spot without going to the Comune for permission to build it. Va bene.

We're talking about our gravesite in the local cemetery and the tombs, or boxes of pepperino to be constructed. There will be a spot at the top for an angel, and now we have to find one, or a photo of one that we can have made to fit in. I know what it would look like, so soon we'll have it done and you won't have to read about it any more. Va bene.

June 30
Venice gets its first female gondolier, a mother-of-two, who breaks into the 900- year- old "club."
(ANSA) - "Venice, June 26 - Venice on Friday got its first official female gondolier when a married mother-of-two passed her test, breaking into one of Italy's last male bastions.

"Giorgia Boscolo, 23, passed a gondolier course introduced by the city council in 2007 to become the first certified woman gondolier in the lagoon in nine centuries.

"While she waits to finish her apprenticeship, Boscolo will be able to ferry passengers around as a sort of 'second captain'.

''I'm immensely happy and proud but today my day starts like every other, taking the children to school,'' she told ANSA.

"Boscolo inherited her passion for navigating Venice's canals from her gondolier father, Dante, when she was seven.

''I've always loved gondolas, and unlike my three sisters I preferred to punt with my father instead of going out with my friends''.

"She dismissed concerns from male gondoliers that she isn't strong enough to handle the 11-metre-long, 500-kilogramme boats, saying ''childbirth is much more difficult''.

Boscolo's father said he was happy for his daughter.

''I still think being a gondolier is a man's job because it requires a lot of physical effort,'' he admitted, ''but I'm sure that with experience Giorgia will be able to do it easily''.

"Dante's colleague, Roberto, said: ''Giorgia deserved it because she worked really hard, coming along with us in her free time to learn the trade''.

"Before the establishment of the 'school' for gondoliers, the profession was passed down from father to son.

"There are 40 places on the gondolier course, which lasts six months. It includes 400 hours of instruction in using the distinctive single oar that is used to propel a gondola through the water.

"Students must learn how to steer the banana-shaped boats from the back and the front. They also have to take English courses, study sailing law and demonstrate perfect knowledge of Venice's canals and landmarks."

There's more big news this week from Italy:
"Italians in Alzheimer's discovery 'Control room' gene found in major breakthrough (ANSA) - Rome, June 26 - Italian scientists say that new research offers hope for sufferers of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson's, Alzheimer's and Huntington's that currently have no cure.

"A team of researchers at the Telethon Genetics and Medicine Institute (Tigem) in Naples has discovered a gene that regulates the breakdown of toxic material in cells, the accumulation of which otherwise leads to neurodegenerative diseases.

"The breakdown of cellular waste in cells is carried out by enzyme-containing lysosomes, which are present in every cell and transform toxic products into harmless substances.

"For the first time the Italian research team, led by Andrea Ballabio, have discovered a 'control room' for the lysosomes - the Tfeb gene - which regulates their activity.

''This lays the foundation for a new therapeutic approach to the illnesses caused by the accumulation of toxic substances in cells,'' said Ballabio.

''Our hope is that by promoting breakdown activity of the cell we will manage to avoid the accumulation of toxic substances and prevent neurodegenerative disease with a pharmacological and non-invasive approach,'' he said.

"The team said they will being experimenting on mice and hope to start clinical trials in around three to five years.

"The dean of Naples' Federico II University, Guido Trombetti, congratulated the scientists, saying: ''This is a day to celebrate - finally Naples will be talked about because of a great discovery and not just for negative things''.

"In Europe, over 6.5 million people suffer from Alzheimer's and a million from Parkinson's".

This is worth noting, for the ability to break down toxic cells could be the discovery of a century...But then, would you want to live to be 200 years old?

With another warm and cloudy day, we drive to Viterbo to do errands, returning to Mugnano and following Pepino up the hill on his tractor. We saw him way out in one of the fields earlier this morning, wondering if he's making a ruzzole path for the ragazzi (children). He parks his tractor and walks back to his garage while Sofi rushes out for a hug. He loves our little dog and she loves him right back.

No, he has been cutting wheat for grain to make bread, and he cuts it by hand with a falce (scythe). Dino asks him if he uses a big one, and he replies no, those are for cutting weeds and brush. We ask him when he'll return, and it will be this afternoon, so we'll follow him back for photos. We'll soon be ready to write the Italian Notebook story about making bread. This story has been long in the making...

On the way out of town we talk about the term O.K., and Loredana will never use this slang, preferring to use the grammatically correct "all right". Dino returns a message from Fabrizio that he will not attend the big confraternity meeting tomorrow night because he won't understand much of it, and Fabrizio answers "O.K." Italians also use the slang, "Va be" (short for va bene!). I can hear Lore gasping...

The internet tells us that "O.K." is short for "oll korrect". More than a century ago, the term "OK" caught on permanently when political supporters of Martin Van Buren - whose nickname was Old Kinderhook - turned it into a pun and popularized it in his successful 1840 presidential campaign. I also read that in the American Civil War when returning from fighting the soldiers would read on a large blackboard "0k" for zero killed.

There has been a terrible train wreck in Viareggio, near Lucca, including deaths and lots of injury. You've probably hear about it by now on the news. We're sorry for everyone involved; this is the first we have heard of a train accident in Italy in the many years we have lived here.

On a much lighter and insignificant note, I've wanted interesting placemats for our outdoor eating table that we can wipe off, and ask Dino if there is a place in Viterbo that can laminate. Yes, so why not take the old map of Mugnano, have it copied and cut; the copy to use as laminated place mats.

Dino may be always busy with his hands and feet, but as you can tell, I'm usually busy with my imagination, coming up with new ideas that need implementation, which Dino loves to do.

Speaking of maps, Dino has made a new map for me of Mugnano from Google Maps, and I find that I don't have to change the road a lot to make the Moona Lisa painting visually correct. I have more energy and less pain today, thanks to Medrol, and we'll return to Viterbo this afternoon to do the copying and laminating. Come no?

We've finished pranzo and the weather is hot and steamy. We climb into the car and drive down the hill, wondering if Pepino is really cutting the wheat in the broad field on the way out of the village, as he said he would be. Yes, there he is, but how do we reach him?

We take a right onto the dirt road that winds around Mugnano; I have never been on this road before. After about 50 meters, just when Dino thinks we'll never find a way to reach Pepino, we see tracks to our left probably made by his tractor, which rests in the shade way out in the field behind a tall and bushy tree.

Pepino is a thin and wiry little man, and we see him stooped over with his falce (scythe), clipping wheat. He picks up his head and waves to us, beckoning us forward. We park the car and agree that I will hold Sofi, for the foxtails in the dry grass are dangerous for her.

Pepino guides us, especially Dino, over to the wheat, stacked in huge bunches, leaning against each other to hold each other up. He has cut a wide swath of the stuff, and Dino takes a full range of photos.

In the midst of it, I realize that this is how and where I'll paint our friend, hopefully from one of today's photos as a guide. He's wearing a marvelous straw hat, and when I comment on it he takes it off to show me how open it is to air in the warm months. Dino snaps away.

Pepino explains that it is the very tip of each staff of wheat that is "ottimo" (the very best), and shows us how he cuts the wheat with his falce and twists it around to hold itself together.

How does this process begin? Well, in November he buys special seeds from Tuscania and plants them. He doesn't water them; doesn't feed them. Nature takes its course and in late June of July the wheat is fully grown and ready to clip.

This is the first step in Pepino's bread making, and the field, although owned by Otello, produces enough grain for him to feed bread to his extended family for a year. The wheat is taken by tractor to Pepino's garage, located right next to our property, where he grinds it into grain. Those first steps are the steps we did not document some weeks ago when he and Giuseppa made bread.

I remember Vincenzo the shepherd sitting at the entrance to this garage, grinding the grain and looking down at the process peacefully. Since Vincenzo is no longer with us, we can look at our painting of him with the same expression as he looks lovingly down at Occhi Pinti, his favorite sheep.

We're happy to share photos of Pepino and his wheat with you; which ones do you think I'll use as a guide for his painting?

As the month ends, we bring you our latest vision of sunflowers, in a field outside Alviano; these images dance in our heads as well as in the distance wherever we travel these days. See you next month in the journal, or here if you're visiting....

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