April through June, 2011

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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

APRIL 2011

April 1
We begin the month with forecast for sun. Skies are swathed with clouds, but we remain positive. Cristina the gardener arrives and Dino shows her the loquat tree growing above the area just inside the secret garden gate and brings her a small ladder for her to clean the dead flowers, which sit in dirty brown bunches instead of falling on the ground.

Since I spend a lot of my time cleaning gravel, I've asked Dino for this help from her, and he agrees. Afterward, she will prepare the grassy area on both sides of the curved walkway and plant trifogilia (clover). I think the word, literally "three leaves" is fun, and look forward to seeing it cover the small expanses, and to Sofi wiggling around in it to scratch her back when it has grown. In the meantime, Sofi will be kept on the terrace until the clover has grown a bit.

Speaking of clover, tonight we will have pizza with Tony and Pat at Bar Quadrifoglio (four leafed clover, remember Italians and their penchant for luck, or lack of it).

Last night, Dino sent our good doctor an email, since today is the fourth day I'm taking a half dose of Xeristar 60mg after another headache last night. Is it too soon to tell, or do I need to revert back to the 60mg. dose?

I want to sew this morning, and concentrate on the first cushion, after making ten meters of pink piping with the cord purchased yesterday. With tension problems on the machine, I stop sewing to do a little raking of leaves with Cristina working nearby near the new path and Dino at the peperino table, cutting kindling from this year's raccolta (harvest, well it's not really a harvest, but the cut branches from the trees to make kindling for fires in the fireplace and the pizza oven).

Silvia arrives and turns little Sofi into another dog! Sofi's not thrilled with the stripping of her hair but is happy as can be when she's done, gamboling all around and giving everyone kisses. What a dog!

Cristina continues turning over the soil, and it is quite hot. Alas, the life of a gardener. Before she's through I'm hoping she'll plant all the trifoglio. For the first time in quite a while the loquat tree is pristine and a bit smaller.

Dino now wants another hydrangea (blue, of course) for the cave, so all six under the giant loquat on the west side of the house will remain there in the shade. He wants another rose for the side of the house, since the rose we purchased yesterday is going to live in a pot below GianFranco's house, between the two new lovely arches. We're using the pot from the bougainvillea that was planted in front of the serra; both bouganvillas died over the winter, and I'm not sure we'll replace them.

My two favorite roses are the Paul Lede and Jude the Obscure, but don't think either will be just right there. Perhaps a clematis, to flower when the rose does not...Someone suggests Clematis Henryi to compliment the climbing Zephirine Drouhin rose and perhaps that's a better idea than another rose.

Our good doctor emails us back to return to the 60mg. of Xeristar and return to him to search for other options. We will. In the meantime, Dino wants another pot from our friends in Ripabianca for the rose, and I am not sure why. We'll leave early in the morning, to hopefully avoid some of the Saturday traffic. Weather should be beautiful.

I cut the cushion foam a bit smaller and now they will all fit better on the chairs than the original ones from Unopiu! It's difficult to stop myself, and while Dino walks up the street to do something for a neighbor, I return to the first cushion for just a bit and then stop myself. I tell myself to sloooow down...and I do. Oh. We're going out for pizza with Tony and Pat in an hour. That will be relaxing and fun, with not a thing to prepare.

Boscaiolo is the pizza we both like; Pat picks Contadina and Tony chooses...Viagra! Yes, that's the name of a pizza that is hot and spicy.

I drink a glass of house red wine, diluted quite a bit, but it gives me a headache. So I take a medicine cocktail before going to bed; quite tired of this headache routine. Aren't you?

April 2
Do you know that if you're in driving distance to Ripabianca or Deruta, you can buy pots for your garden there much cheaper than you can locally? A pot for €95 in the next town is probably twice as much as one from our friends in Ripabianca. We're looking for a large half-round, for the rose, and want to get it in the ground subito. The rose is too large for the pot in front of the serra (greenhouse). That means, we're off to pick one up, as large as will fit in little Pandina.

Oh, how I love the garden, although it takes a lot of care. An entire day with Cristina working here yesterday was great, but there is so much more to do. So why did we buy another rose, and why are we buying a Clematis and another hydrangea? Beats me.

These days, I'm all about sewing, and now that I've made a template for the cushions, I'm hoping it will go easier, although each one will be a little different.

But first, we're up very early with birdsong and sweet smells of morning dew and leave to have prima colazione on the road, probably at the same place where we had pizza with our friends last evening.

Back to 60mg of Xeristar, my headache is possibly just the remains of last night's; I soldier on, happy on this beautiful day just the same...

We do drive to Ripabianca, and then Deruta, before deciding that the pot we want in which to plant the climbing Zephrin Douhin rose is back in Attigliano after all. Better news yet; although they bring the original price down a bit, when turning the pot over Dino finds another price written, and holds his ground until he gets the pot he wants at a price we want to pay.

On the way back we stop at a merceria (notions store) so that I can buy Velcro. Now all the pillows will have Velcro fasteners on their sides. The woman at the shop knew the word Velcro, but preferred to speak of maschile/femina taking me over to the wall where the different widths were displayed. I leave with 5 meters of it, plenty to even do a long bench cover as well my current fantasy of sewing cushions continues.

Oh, what a wonderful drive to Deruta and back, with plenty of luxurious green grass and sheep grazing on the hills, hundreds of trees in flower, and not the traffic that Dino expected.

I'm anxious to finish pranzo to get back to the studio, with windows wide open and screens doing their work while I teach myself (I think) how to sew Velcro successfully.

I do not like the result with the Velcro; it makes too much a footprint on the cushion. So tomorrow I will try to make a cushion the same size with a pocket to take the cushion in and out.

April 3
Did I tell you that the weather is just great? We love being out in the garden and on the terrace during these early Spring days, before the mosquitoes arrive.

Don Angelo is our priest today, and it's a sweet mass; afterward we have a conversation with Tiziano about staying in our house for the week no one will be here. We think he'd welcome the experience, and he tells us that he will make arrangements to give our keys to the family who will be here for ten days while we are at their house in Meze, France.

When greeting his parents and asking how they are before church, they respond with a characteristic Italian refrain: "Tutto a posto; niente in ordine!" (Everything's fine; nothing is organized!)

Dino puts in the rest of the trifoglio seeds after watering the earth and turning it over a bit, while I sew a new cushion without using Velcro. I do not like the way the Velcro seemed to take over the side of the cushion. Later I will make a companion cushion of the same fabric using a pocket instead.

I do like sewing these days, especially if I know what I am doing. In the midst of it all, I take the needle out of the machine and can't get it back in. Dino to the rescue, and soon I'm in business again.

We see Nando filling up the water jugs that he transport down to his orto vegetable garden. This is a daily event for him, but this time he is also transporting his grandsons!

Stein's son Thomas and his girlfriend, Toya, arrive for prosecco on the terrace, and it's an excuse to stop working; this time we're putting grommets and wire on the wall between the two arches on which the new rose will grow. I'm loving this area, and soon we'll put stone slabs for this intimate area atop tufa bricks; we have them sitting right here in what Dino called "the corporation yard", but this could turn into a very pretty spot in which to sit when sun on the other side of the house is too hot.

April 4
I did not paint the smaltoed tiles or tray yesterday, but will this morning, and if Elena is in her shop, Dino will drop them by to cook. I hope to sew a cushion or two. Dino drives to Todi to pick up a few specific floor tiles for a client that are made there.

A couple of days ago, when buying bias tape in Viterbo, I did not know what to call it, but Italians call it piega; meaning a fold or a pleat. Prendere nella bruta piega is to take a turn for the worse. Let's not do that...

That reminds me. Sofi had a bad night, with rumblings in her stomach, and we'll take her to the vet later when Dino returns. She is so silent, that not even Marie can rouse her to a growl as we talk about the new rose and the flowers. Marie's fine with the rose growing up under her window. Va bene!

In the meantime, Sofi's right by my side as I take out part of a cushion; the part with the Velcro, and replace it with fabric. If there is time before Dino returns, I'll number the tiles for the pizza oven, optimistically thinking that Stefano will arrive by tomorrow to install them. There's always plenty to do.

Yes, I'd like to paint the three smaltoed pieces in the summer kitchen, but don't think there will be time this morning; it does not matter, for it's Monday: Elena should be closed.

What about the weather? Well, it's glorious! While checking on the little flowers on the East side of the summer kitchen, blue muscari have sprouted, as have four dark purple-y blue anemones. There will be more of each, as well as white anemones and blue and white muscari, or at least we hope so... Magari!

But as for the lobelia, boca di lion and other seeds, they are sleepy and don't seem interested. Flowers on the lemon tree are budding, and we must pick up special food for it, and for the kumquat, today. Don't forget! The >trifoglio (clover) at the entrance to the middle garden (no longer a secret) is showing signs of life, after just a few days. It's all a wonder.

What is the mysterious anemone all about? I do some research:

Anemones have a lot of symbolism tied to them. Thought to represent anticipation and unfading love and good luck, they also are thought to protect against evil. As a gift, these flowers could represent different meanings, from presenting them to someone stepping into a new stage of life, to telling the recipient that you will always love them. I love having these flowers here, and ours are blue and, hopefully, white, although the white ones have not yet appeared.

Peppino weed whacks our common path, and sits on our step as he gives Sofi a hug. The asiniare gone, and he is using their campo for his summer plantings, leaving the orto next to us for winter lettuces and other plantings, that he will begin to cultivate in August.

I ask him what he'd like, now that his dog has died and the asini are living elsewhere, and he does not say. I think he's ready for a new dog, but what do I know?

I never did get to painting ceramics, although I numbered those tiles for the pizza oven this afternoon after taking the cushion apart one more time. Now I'm working on a third one, and from now on think they'll be easier to do.

Tonight is Coro practice, and it's a lovely afternoon, so I'll definitely walk, at least home. Dino is back on his watering routine, and I applaud him for that. We don't take Sofi to the vet, for she seems to have perked up, especially after pranzo, although I did put a half pill in her food; one we're to continue for a week in the event she had some kind of intestinal bug.

I've begun a third cushion, and made some blue piega (binding) for it, but need to pick up some more cord. Tomorrow we'll pick up cord and don't forget the lemon food!

Pia and her mom arrive across the street below us; Pia to cut the grass and her mother to visit; it's good to see them back.

April 5
No clouds; no rain, but plenty of birdsong!

Dino drives Thomas and Toya to the train in Orte, while I take a cold shower. Dino is not happy with our water pressure, and water in the shower does not stay hot. This has all happened since Enzo and his workers were here to do other plumbing things. Since I wake with a bit of a headache, the cold water feels good, but not for the whole shower!

Fiat 500 debuts in USA

Thumbs up from dealers and press

04 April, 18:19 (ANSA) - Milan, April 4 - Fiat's remake of a tiny car with an oversized reputation - the 500 - has made a big impact on the streets of the USA.

"They don't buy it only because it is stylish, elegant.

They buy it also because it makes them feel good. They find it fun, easy to drive, safe," the dealership's Bill Golling told ANSA.

"I think that for the American public the Fiat 500 is the real news for the small (car) segment. There is no typical client. Clients here have been of all ages, men and women, young and old. First of all they get curious because they find it small and 'lovely', and then they are surprised when they try it. When they get out of the car they all say the same thing, 'It makes me feel good'," Golling continued.

Golling himself was "enthusiastic" about the product, and added that clients were surprised by its roominess and performance, even in the snow and on wet roads.

"In addition, American clients are finding out for the first time how fun it is to use a stick shift. Here everyone is used to the automatic, but on a 500, it is much more fun to 'play' with the gearshift," said Golling. He added, "It's still early to say whether it will become a trend, but I am convinced that this way of driving will become more popular".

Dog foils pusher's rabbit, python to find drugs

Labrador 'was fearless,' police say

(ANSA) - Genoa, April 4 - A police sniffer dog foiled a drug pusher's bid to use a domestic zoo including a cat, rabbit and python to put him off the scent, police said Monday.

Umos, a labrador trained by Italy's tax police, was unfazed when he found a large dog, a cat, a rabbit and a python facing him when he was led into the flat of a 22-year-old near La Spezia.

The police dog leapt over the large dog and the other animals to face off with a royal python measuring almost two metres, which the pusher was using like his other pets to cover the smell of his marijuana.

Umos "soon turfed out the snake and we found the man's cannabis as well as equipment to process it," police said.

"He was fearless".

The pusher went to jail while his animals ended up in a dog pound, cat shelter and local zoo, police said.

Berlusconi, Maroni meet Tunisian leaders on migrant crisis

Negotiations underway, agreement sought by Tuesday

(ANSA) - Tunis, April 4 - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni discussed anti-immigration measures with Tunisian president Foued Miebazaa and transitional government prime minister Beji Caid Essebsi in Tunis Monday.

The event marked the first encounter between government heads of the two countries since the 'Jasmine' revolution earlier this year led to the ouster of president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali.

"We are in an friendly country and we are looking to resolve our problems with a spirit of collaboration and friendship," declared Berlusconi before entering the government building housing Tunisia's provisional government for the meeting.

Upon exiting the building, Berlusconi stated, "We are working for the possibility of repatriation. The Tunisian government and ours have the will to do so in a civil way".

He continued, "There is an absolute will to find a solution. The Interior Minister is leaving a commission of technicians here to work, and tomorrow will return to verify the work done and to underwrite an agreement.

"There are 800 new immigrants that arrived during the night in Lampedusa. We need to find a solution and we are studying one," Berlusconi added.

A flood of boats packed with North Africans headed for Europe via Italy's southern most borders - primarily the island of Lampedusa - has pushed Italy's capacity to cope and process the human tide to the brink.

Ships sent last week to empty Lampedusa of over 6000 immigrants, as the island faced severe over-crowding and food shortages among arrivals, reduced the headcount to under 1000 as of Monday, despite new arrivals from the 11 boat landings since Sunday.

Thousands of immigrants shipped away from Lampedusa in recent days to detention centers in Southern Italy have not always been acquiescent.

Unrest has been particularly acute at tented, temporary detention centers in Manduria in the heel of Italy's boot, near Taranto and Brindisi.

Roughly 900 immigrants Saturday trampled the enclosure of Manduria's Camp 2 to occupy the road leading to its entrance.

Authorities managed to persuade the immigrants to re-enter their quarters Saturday, but were less successful Sunday, when about 300 immigrants broke loose from Manduria's Camp 1, again occupying a road to the entrance.

About 100 of them spent the night in the open air, protesting delays in obtaining temporary visas and demanding asylum, despite efforts of Taranto police chief Enzo Mangini to negotiate.

More than 3600 immigrants have been shipped away from Lampedusa in the last 24 hours to camps in southern Italian destinations like Trapani, Catania, Napoli and Taranto.

An Interior Ministry plan calls for setting up camps in every region in Italy except Abruzzo, which is still struggling to recuperate from a devastating earthquake two years ago.

However, Italy's northern and central regions, with the exception of Tuscany, have so far failed to do so.

Tuscany has created centers outside Florence, Livorno, Grosseto and Arezzo for a total capacity of 300.

Roughly 20,000 immigrants have landed in Lampedusa since violent protests led to regime change in Tunisia earlier this year, and balmy weather led to ideal navigating conditions.

Ideal weather conditions and flat seas lead authorities to expect more embarkations Monday.

During the night, Italy's coast guard intercepted seven boats packed with immigrants off the coast of Pantelleria, Italy's other island near Tunisia.

Italy may give North African migrants permits to roam Europe

Repatriation 'main solution' for Tunisians, says Berlusconi

(ANSA) - Rome, April 1 - Italy on Friday threatened to respond to an alleged lack of cooperation from Europe in handling its migrant crisis by issuing the North African arrivals with permits that would enable them to roam its neighbouring countries.

The Italian government has repeatedly bemoaned a ''flagrant'' lack of assistance from Europe in dealing with some 20,000 mostly Tunisian migrants, singling out France for criticism after it blocked Tunisian migrants at the French-Italian border.

The French government said it has the right to stop undocumented migrants fleeing turmoil in North Africa from entering its territory without breaking the Schengen Agreement that abolished border controls in much of mainland Europe.

But this would no longer be the case if Italy issued the migrants with temporary papers. ''In cases where the migrant declares their intention to go to other countries, we could grant them temporary residence permits with the right to freely circulate around Europe,'' Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi told a press conference.

Berlusconi, speaking after a meeting with officials and regional governors on relocating migrants amid efforts to end an emergency on the swamped southern island of Lampedusa, said many of the Tunisians wanted to be reunited with family members in France and Germany.

Interior Minister Roberto Maroni said issuing temporary permits would be a ''way to make Europe realize that we have a legislative instrument to apply the principle of solidarity when faced with a total refusal to cooperate''.

Italy won support Friday from European Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom, who reprimanded France for turning back the migrants at its border.

Malmstrom added after returning from a visit to Tunisia that the EU was ready to do more to help, while stressing that it had already made a contribution.

''Italy has received a considerable amount (of European money),'' she said. ''We have already told Italy that more money remains available.

''We are ready to talk about other funds when this money runs out and discuss what can be done for the future''. She also announced that Tunisia was willing to negotiate on repatriations and that her home nation Sweden had offered to take a ''few hundred'' refugees to have fled conflict in Libya.

Aside from the option of giving migrants papers to travel elsewhere in Europe, Berlusconi stressed that Italy saw repatriation as the ''main solution'' for the Tunisians ahead of a visit to Tunis on Monday.

The premier told Friday's meeting of officials and regional governors, which failed to reach an agreement for a series of temporary camps to accommodate the migrants meaning another had to be set for Tuesday, that Italy was aiming to repatriate 100 Tunisians a day, sources at the meeting said.

At the press conference, however, the premier said that a final decision could not be made until Monday's meeting with the Tunisian government that assumed control after Zine El Abidine Ben Ali's regime was ousted in January. He added that a credit-and-aid package for Tunisia worth 100 million euros will open in two weeks following an agreement reached last week with the new Tunisian government to help stem the tide of migrants to Italy's shores.

''We are committed to (providing) credit lines and equipment to the police working on migrant control for a value of around 100 million euros by mid-April,'' Berlusconi told a press conference.

On Friday efforts to transfer around 3,900 migrants left on Lampedusa were temporarily suspended because of bad conditions at sea.

But around 1,700 migrants who had been transferred to the mainland were taken to a huge camp at the southern town of Manduria, near Taranto.

Interior Ministry Undersecretary Alfredo Mantovano, who is from those parts, tended his resignation Wednesday evening in protest at the number of migrants being moved there.

Vatican braces for 300,000 for John Paul beatification

'But we'll be able to cope with even more,' pilgrim body says

(ANSA) - Vatican City, March 29 - The Vatican is gearing to handle an estimated 300,000 faithful flocking to Rome for the beatification of pope John Paul II on May 1 and says it is ready to cope with even more.

"Some 300,000 pilgrims are expected but the figure might change," said Father Cesare Atuire, CEO of the Vatican pilgrims' organisation Opera Romana Pellegrinaggi (ORP).

"The city can manage any number of faithful," Father Atuire said Tuesday.

"Our mission is to make sure all those who want to come to Rome and take part in this great event will find the city open and ready," he said at ORP's presentation of the beatification.

Father Atuire denied that estimates of numbers had dropped from an initially circulated two million pilgrims.

He said the earlier figure had been based on the total number who came to Rome during the two weeks of John Paul's last days through to the election of Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. There will be an estimated 300,000 on each of the three days of the upcoming event, he said: a vigil at Circus Maximus on Saturday, the ceremony in St Peter's on Sunday, and a thanksgiving mass on Monday. "So in fact the overall number rises by quite a lot," the ORP chief said.

Father Atuire added that there would be "no clash" with Labour Day celebrations.

The cost of hosting the event will be 3-4 euros per visitor, paid for by private institutions, said ORP President Msgr Liberio Andreatta, stressing that the Italian state will not have to foot any of the bill.

ORP has set up two websites, www.jpiibeatus.org and www.operaromanapellegrinaggi.org to give people all the information they need for their trip. The sites, available in Italian, English, Spanish, German and Polish, tell John Paul II fans how to get to Rome, where to stay, and what initiatives are planned, as well as providing real-time updates on road congestion.

There is a multimedia section where events will be streamed as well as links to other sites including one on canonization and others belonging to municipal and regional organizations aiming to help make the beatification as successful as possible.

Hotel and transport reservations are on offer as well as a pass for getting into and moving around Rome and visiting a number of sites with a packed lunch provided, the Special JPII Pass.

The pass also gives discounts with a raft of retail and catering associations as well as healthcare coverage.

The pope was put on a fast track to sainthood amid a clamor calling for him to be made a saint straight away with calls of "Santo Subito!" from crowds outside the Vatican when he died in April 2005.

His successor Benedict in January recognized a miracle involving a French nun's recovery from Parkinson's disease, the requirement for beatification, the second step on the way to sainthood.

Another miracle will have to be recognized to make the Polish pope a saint.

Rome hotels are already said to be full around the beatification date, when the pope's coffin will be moved up from the crypt of St Peter's and put in a chapel near the entrance.

The white tree peonia (peony) is in flower, as is one little pink one, with two blossoms. Another is ready to bloom, but the fourth plant will not this year. I recall we had six...did two die? I think one was in the center of the garden....oh, let's look for it!

Purple glycine (wisteria) are flowering under the pergola in the middle garden, pink glycine are beginning to flower in front of the house. We think nine of ten plants will flower, and that's not bad; and the tenth will probably survive.

This afternoon after pranzo I begin spraying the roses, and not many aphids have appeared. We expect sun for the next five days at least, and in the next couple of weeks the dish soap and denatured alcohol and water spray will hopefully coat the flowers and leaves and keep any animali away. I've also sprayed the five Lady Hillingdon roses growing on the front path.

While the spray bottle is out, I take a chance and give a strong soapy spritz to houseflies hanging around the chandelier in the summer kitchen. They hate it and try to get away from it. I'm hoping that if we do this often, the flies will find another house to haunt. At least they're not diverting into the main kitchen...

We purchased a storage piece for the bathroom this morning, and Dino installs it; it will work for extra towels and things and fits right in.

I hear chugging in the valley as I write, and contadini are taking advantage of the lovely and not too hot weather to do work in their ortos and fields. Dino gets ready for Stefano, who will install the hood above the cooking units in the summer kitchen; on Saturday or Sunday he tells us he will install the tiles. Va bene.

Now that I have the cordolo I need to make the piega (bias tape), I'll spend the rest of the afternoon sewing right here, with windows wide open and classical music and birdsong and an occasional chug from a tractor to serenade us. Sofi thinks its time for a nap.

After an hour or two, Rosina arrives with a disc for me with our Coro music copied onto it. It helps to hear the music when learning it, especially for the women who do not read music. I welcome her and call her my sorella grande (big sister) and she nods in agreement.

Rosina and I then take a walk around the garden, and talk about all kinds of things. I'm reminded that I'd love to spend time with her, just talking about life and learning the language and local lore about our village. That will come, I am sure, if I'd only give it a nudge.

I admit I am a solitary soul, so in love with life and its simple pleasures, and can't seem to get enough time to enjoy them all. No, I'm definitely not complaining. Dino loves to be immersed in his projects, too, and we love having each other around.

Stefano arrives to put the vent in the summer kitchen between the hood and the roof. While Dino waited for him to arrive, he made the hole in the roof all by himself. It made Stefano's work much easier, and as you know, I'm really proud of him.

The clover is already coming up here and there; how wonderful it will be to have two small and winding beds of it!

I finish a cushion and begin work on a fifth...why not do covers for the smaller chairs as well as benches? It's really a lot of fun, especially with cord in a contrasting color made with the piega to cover a kind of twine that is 4mm (?) in diameter.

April 6
The lightest clouds barely float across a pale blue sky, but it will be lovely today, we are sure of that. With nothing on the schedule, it will be gardening, sewing and who knows? Dino will work on the acciaio inossidabile (stainless steel) covering the vent to the roof of the summer kitchen, also known as inox and why is it called stainless?

Well, Al Gore tells me it resists tarnish and rust. It's been a long time since I've written about Al directly, but that old joke is that it is told he claims to have invented the internet. So be it. I'm not about to judge.

Dino uses the saw horses to hold old pieces of wood, which I stabilize one by one as he makes cuts through them to use later for firewood. In Italian fashion, they are cut "just so", and this is Dino's kind of project: it is practical, it cleans things up, makes the place look better, and takes a bit of machismo. Back upstairs to pull out and re-sew part of a cushion, I stop first to catch up with you and begin to swoon; in the background, Miles Davis' "Sketches of Spain" plays on SKY's classical music channel, and it transports me somewhere up in the clouds. You would think I'm in love with Spain, but aside from a bit of slow Flamenco, there is nothing to remind me of the place in the music. It's more of a sketches in my mind feeling.

Curt Weldon has some interesting things to say about the state of Libya, and is meeting with people there other than Kadafi himself to consult with members interested in a democratic government and new elections. He writes in today's New York Times about it, and it's worth a read. Although we're happy living in our own little womb of Mugnano, it's not possible to ignore things outside our community that could have an impact on peaceful coexistence for all mankind.

A story in Italian Notebook today,


...is about San Pietro Martire, the saint I studied for the painting commission south of Rome that became such a struggle that I gave up on it. It's just as well, for I'm busy enough these days just enjoying life that the project is better for a younger and more adaptable person. It would have been a real adventure, just the same.

Trees in the forest across the way are developing new leaves and appear in the distance like yellowy-green puffs of cotton. I'm still sewing, now interested in expanding my repertoire of materials for cushions. Why? I have no idea; I just like making them.

Dino continues puttering, and the weather really agrees with him. He even did our taxes in record time, and now we're relieved that we're not into the U S govt. Here, we have until June 15th to file, but why not file now, with all the others in the U.S.?

April 7
We're having prima colazione (breakfast) and going over brochures for our various appliances, in view of a house swap later this spring. I open the one for the micronde (microwave oven) and read the information on how to use it.

"Rapid defrost!" I exclaim. "That's ridiculous. Why would you want to defrost a microwave?!" Hello, Gracie. Dino puts back his head and howls with laughter.

Back upstairs, when looking out a South-facing window, various tonalities of trees across from us appear as striking images when viewed basking in the morning sun, the newest foliage paler and brighter. If I concentrate, I can even make out black in its deepest recesses. How alive things appear when not taking them for granted...

A bit earlier, the glycine on the terrace began to flower, and in ten days or so will be breathtaking. How long will the blooms last? I'll be sure to let you know. In the meantime, Stefano will put up the painted tiles above the pizza oven, so as the leaves grow and the flowers end their blooms, images of them will continue all summer, albeit a memory cast in paint as a reminder of how lovely they were. I want to think of them merely as shadows...

Dino drives to the bank and to mail our tax return, and Sofi and I remain in the studio; Sofi sleeps while I contrive a ruffle on a cushion.

Children dead, 250 feared missing off Italian coast 06 April

Up to 750 people have gone missing in the Channel of Sicily so far this year as migrants keep attempting the hazardous crossing on rickety boats following turmoil in North Africa.

Over 20,000 migrants have landed in Italy, many arriving at Lampedusa, which is nearer to Tunisia than Sicily.

Most of them have come from Tunisia and the Italian government reached an agreement with the Tunisian authorities on Tuesday for them to stiffen controls to stop the flow of migrants and repatriate new arrivals in exchange for aid and assistance.

Italy has been relocating migrants who had been packed on the tiny island of Lampedusa in miserable conditions to camps on Sicily and the mainland over the last week. On Wednesday Italy is set to approve plans to grant six-month visas to Tunisian migrants already on its shores, which would enable them to travel to other parts of Europe with many wanting to be reunited with family members living in other parts of the continent.

This move comes after France blocked Tunisian migrants at the French-Italian border, saying it had the right to stop undocumented migrants without breaking the Schengen Agreement that abolished border controls in much of mainland Europe.

But this probably would no longer be the case if Italy issued the migrants with temporary papers, although the French government is reportedly looking at whether the measure would comply with Schengen regulations.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini has repeatedly complained about a lack of solidarity from Italy's European neighbours in dealing with the migrant crisis, which it has taken the brunt of because of its vicinity to North Africa, singling out France for criticism. Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy will meet in Rome on April 26 to discuss the migrant situation, government sources said.

Yikes! Regarding what's next, don't shoot the messenger...please!

ANSA English > News

Camorra 'garbage king' assets seized 'Extraordinary success' says justice minister

* ANSA) - Naples, April 6 - Italian police on Wednesday seized some 13 million euros in assets from the suspected 'garbage king' of the notorious Casalesi clan in the Neapolitan Camorra mafia and a businessman who acted as a front for him with waste company offices in New York, Brazil, Australia and Turkey.

Cipriano Chianese, 57, from a town near Caserta, is alleged to have led the waste-disposal operations of the Casalesi, exposed in the bestselling book Gomorrah, for decades.

Franco Caccaro, 49, a businessman from Padua, is accused of being the legitimate cover and outlet for the trade.

His TPA company has over the last few years become a world leader in making machines to handle waste.

Among the assets seized were luxury villas at the exclusive resort of Sperlonga between Rome and Naples, mansions near Caserta and industrial warehouses around Padua.

Justice Minister Angelino Alfano hailed the operation as an "extraordinary success" and said it had "inflicted a hard blow to the finances of the Casalesi clan and, in particular, to the interests of an entrepreneur believed to be a protagonist of the largest Camorra penetration in the waste sector and the ecomafia system in Campania".

Environmental group Legambiente said the assets "represent the real strongbox of Waste Incorporated, a trove accumulated since the start of the 1990s thanks to a perverse link-up between white collar crime, Freemason businesses and crime groups which managed illegal waste trafficking".

It said Chianese was "the real eminence grise of the long history of the Garbage Connection, with his double role: a lawyer for the clan and a specialist in waste disposal for the Casalesi".

The group said it was partly thanks to its reports of the multi-million-euro business that the police had moved against Chianese and his associates in a waste-disposal triangle north of Naples.

The criminal empire of the Casalesi was described in Roberto Saviano's book Gomorrah, later turned into an award-winning film of the same name.

The writer is under round-the-clock police protection because of death treats from the clan.

* This next seems quite unbelievable...

Conservative Senators aim to lift ban on Fascist Party Senate Speaker 'aghast' (ANSA) - Rome, April 5 - A group of conservative Senators have presented a bill aiming to lift the Italian Constitution's ban on reforming the Fascist Party of Benito Mussolini.

The bill was presented by five members of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom (PdL) party and a Senator from a breakaway centre-right group, the FLI. Senate Speaker Renato Schifani, of the PdL, was said to be "aghast" at the initiative. The largest centre-left opposition group, the Democratic Party, called the bill "unacceptable" while the Italian Communists' party said it was "disgraceful".

This next item is an extraordinary one, worthy of a novel...

Mona Lisa tomb hunt set to start

Experts optimistic they'll find DNA at ex-convent in Florence

(ANSA) - Florence, April 5 - The hunt is set to start for the tomb and possible remains of the model for Leonardo's Mona Lisa in an ex-convent in her home town, Florence.

"I'm sure her tomb is in there," said Leonardo scholar Giuseppe Pallanti, who in 2007 said he had traced the burial place of merchant's wife Lisa Gherardini to the former Convent of St Ursula, in the heart of Florence.

Radar scans have located a crypt under one of the ex-convent's two churches and the search will begin in earnest on April 27, experts said Tuesday.

Once the DNA of the woman thought to be Gherardini is found, they said, it will be compared with that of two of her children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church.

Despite its central location, the ex-seat of the Ursulines is now an extremely run-down, almost dilapidated building.

The sprawling three-story Sant'Orsola building dates back to 1309 but ceased to be used as a convent in 1810, when it was turned into a tobacco factory.

It was used to shelter WWII refugees in the 1940s and '50s before housing university classrooms in the following decades and then falling into disuse and becoming a dump.

The site has stood semi-derelict with its windows bricked-up since building work to re-develop it as offices for Italy's Guardia di Finanza tax police were abandoned in 1985.

Despite Pallanti's confidence, the chances of finding the tomb of merchant Francesco del Giocondo's wife are slim, according to British experts cited on the Internet.

"Hopes of tracing her tomb have been dashed after it emerged that building works at the site in the 1980s saw its crypts wantonly excavated and their contents destroyed," the experts said in October.

But Italian experts who are set to start combing the site think there is reason to believe the tomb might have survived "in natural rock cavities that may have housed a small graveyard on the margins of what were once the cloisters".

"This will be the prime focus of our search," they said.

Pallanti said the excavations were the "natural prosecution of my archival work".

"I've pored over thousands of archive pages and I'm convinced the remains of Lisa Gherardini were buried there".


Pallanti has said his research has wiped away all doubt about the identity of La Gioconda, as the Italians call the Mona Lisa because of the surname of her husband, Giocondo.

"It was her, Lisa, the wife of the merchant Francesco del Giocondo - and she lived right opposite Leonardo in Via Ghibellina," Pallanti said when he unveiled his findings in 2007.

Most modern scholars have now agreed with Pallanti that the Mona Lisa sitter was Lisa del Giocondo, who according to the Italian researcher became a nun after her husband's death and died in the convent on July 15, 1542, aged 63.

The couple were married in 1495 when the bride was 16 and the groom 35.

It has frequently been suggested that del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo to paint his Mona Lisa (mona is the standard Italian contraction for madonna, or "my lady,") to mark his wife's pregnancy or the recent birth of their second child in December 1502.

Although pregnancy or childbirth have frequently been put forward in the past as explanations for Mona Lisa's cryptic smile, other theories have not been lacking - some less plausible than others.

Some have argued that the painting is a self-portrait of the artist, or one of his favourite male lovers in disguise, citing the fact that Da Vinci never actually relinquished the painting and kept it with him up until his death in Amboise, France in 1519.

The most curious theories have been provided by medical experts-cum-art lovers.

One group of medical researchers has maintained that the sitter's mouth is so firmly shut because she was undergoing mercury treatment for syphilis which turned her teeth black.

An American dentist has claimed that the tight-lipped expression was typical of people who have lost their front teeth, while a Danish doctor was convinced she suffered from congenital palsy which affected the left side of her face and this is why her hands are overly large.

A French surgeon has also put forth his view that she was semi-paralyzed, perhaps as the result of a stroke, and that this explained why one hand looks relaxed and the other tense.

Leading American feminist Camille Paglia simply concluded that the cool, appraising smile showed that "what Mona Lisa is ultimately saying is that males are unnecessary".

I make no judgment about Camille Paglia or her comments, and have no idea what Mona Lisa is thinking; knowing about DaVinci's life as I do, it probably has more to do with him than men in general...but what do I know?

Have you been bothered by houseflies that just hang in the air and wish they'd find another place to loiter? Well, we have the answer for flies in our summer kitchen, which hang around the bottom of the chandelier, probably to escape from the sun.

I spray them with the pump bottle I use to spray the roses, full of denatured alcohol (a glass or so), a couple of spritzes of liquid house soap and water. It drives them nuts and if I stand where I do not want them to go, facing the open part of the room, they disappear. Some return, their wings full of soap, but I think it will work on an ongoing basis. It's worth a try.

Today is the first really warm day of the year, and although I'd like to work outside, will wait until things cool down a bit later this afternoon. Dino takes me over to see the seeded trifoglio (three leafed clover) growing on either side of the new path to the middle garden. It is taking root, if that's what you'd call it, and although it is not appearing everywhere, the idea of planting it seems to be working. Dino waters it twice a day, to help.

I finished sewing a cushion, and it's not perfect, but will work and has a ruffle made with remainder of a pale blue fitted bed sheet we're no longer using. But instead of sewing more, I'm going to paint those three remaining pieces to have Elena cook. One is a tray and two smaller ones will fit together in a tray we have that has space for two tiles.

Sofi lies on the cool marble tiles at my feet, panting. She's seen a lizard that looks like a tutara lizard, but when I look it up, thinking it's a thorny lizard, I'm incorrect. It's definitely not a gecko, is darker than the usual ones we see, but I don't need to know more.

Let's paint. I finish a small tray and two tiles; then Dino takes them up to Elena's to cook. Cleaning and putting special brushes away with the little paint tubs is next; I don't plan any additional painting for now, but one never knows, especially if you read the journal.

April 8
We three leave for Rome at just after 9 AM, after Dino waters the trifoglio. It's popping up in a few places, but just barely visible. There is an excellent parking space, just down the street from our great dentist, Dottore Chiantini, and as we walk up the street there is a quite mature bank of trifoglio, right outside an office building. We have seen it for years, and always thought it was beautiful.

Dino walks over to it and puts his palms down upon it to test to see if one could walk upon it. His conclusion is that it is not a great idea, but if one walks quickly by, the clover can pop back up. Va bene.

This dentista (why is it feminine? ...the word must be one of those exceptions) is truly my hero. He is the one who recommended last year that I get a mouth guard, and although grinding my teeth has caused most of my headaches for more than forty years, even the world experts in Perugia were not able to correctly diagnose the cause.

Here is a photo of my hero, along with his assistant Lizabetta. He is counseling me after finishing the cleaning of my teeth. If you or anyone you know need a dentist in Central Italy, this man is a wonder, and speaks excellent English. He studied in Boston and has all the latest technology, but what I like most about him is his gentle nature. You're my hero, Dottore Chiantini! Dino likes him, too.

Afterward, we are invited for pranzo at GB's apartment, full of exquisite light, just like him! There's much to talk about, and although his lady, Renata, cannot join us, we spend a couple of hours relaxing and eating Italian style, with delicious cheeses and olives and breads and salads and vino. It's time to move on, this time to Leroy Merlin at a shopping center on the way back, so Dino can buy a hand truck with strong wheels. He wants to modify the hose reel, and finds the perfect one at a good price. That's my McGuyver!

We're home in time to feed Sofi and change clothes just in time to leave again to pick up Candace and Frank to go to a new friends' house for cena. We're on the lower Orvieto road, stopping for metano, when Candace calls from her car, in tears. One of Frank's sons has suddenly died, and they are in shock. We're at their house in about ten minutes, and strangely we're both dressed in black.

After a while, Brian and Antonella arrive, for we're all to go to cena together, but Frank and Candace don't join us. We are so sad for them; we are all so sad, and at the beginning of the meal our host asks for a moment of silent reflection for Frank.

The evening is pleasant, just the same, with new friends to meet and get to know and a few we already know. Since these hosts are not dog lovers, Sofi stays in the car, but is happy to see us at the end and romp around outside for a few minutes for those guests who love dogs, especially Sofi.

Frank and Candace are in our hearts as we drive home under a starry sky and get into bed.

April 9
Mario wakes us up with his weed-whacker at 7 AM, and we expected that; it is today's alarm clock. Within another hour Sofi and Dino and I are all up. There are roses to spray, instructions for Mario (stay away from the peonies!), tufa bricks to move for a base for a hose reel...

The new climbing rose we thought had died seems to have survived. There are soft leaves looking very alive. It did go into shock; we're hopeful just the same. The biggest surprise is the trifoglio, which is sprouting all over the area where the seeds were scattered in tiny pin drops, but green all the same. Hooray!

In a walk around the garden with my spray pump, roses look pretty good, with not many aphids, and those little critters I see look dead. This is the time of year spraying roses with denatured alcohol, soap and water is most important.

The lemon tree has flowers, and although I'd like the big pot turned around, it is so heavy that as it is, new leaves will reach out to the sun anyway, so there's no need to turn it. Don't fret! Feeding the lemon and kumquats did the trick; the garden is happy. But oh, the glycine! It's as if we're on a Southern Plantation, the flowers on the terrace are so prevalent Dino thinks he will count them. Good luck.

Even the two newest glycine plants look good, and one of them shows a few buds. In the middle garden, only one glycine plant does not look good, but I have been looking at one reddish dot, thinking it is alive. We won't worry about it...now or ever.

Next to Pia's property, standing on the road, is the son of the chicken farmers we loved to see who are either in a casa di riposo (nursing home) or in the cemetery in Rome. Their son is here with a worker and a scary looking pump. Is it insecticide? He wants a great deal of money for the plot of land; the chicken coop and the chickens are long gone. At any rate, the land will probably be cleaned up before the village festa on May 8th. Magari!

I remember seeing his parents arrive every morning and evening, feeding their little pulcini (chicks) and hens and taking away the eggs. They were sweet and quiet people, and I have wonderful memories of them, just as I do have memories of old Gino on his motorized ape with his wife sitting on the back wearing her babushka, her thin legs hanging over the side. I only met her once and am sorry we did not know her. I also remember Gino, sadly wiping the front of his wife's nameplate in the cemetery on the Day of the Dead, missing her so. I fear these four are all gone.

Let's not be sad; today is bright and sunny; it's difficult to remain inside with all the birdsong beckoning me; Sofi and Dino are already meandering around outside.

Since it's Formula-1 weekend, Dino wants to watch the race, which will be at 10 AM tomorrow. He wants to go to church in Bomarzo tonight, so va bene.

While Sofi tries to search for a lucertole (lizard) under her dog house, Dino comes up with a way to frame the painting I did in Provence last year that I like, better than using a formal frame for it. I like the idea.

Weeding and raking nespola (loquat) leaves continues, although it's difficult not to stand and stare at what our dear friend Pietro calls "hysteria". Wisteria (known here as glycine) we saw yesterday in Rome was so prolific on one gate that it seemed to take over most of the block, so tendrils in our middle garden reaching toward the fence are a great idea...some day our middle garden may be framed by them. Come no? (Why not?)

Our Narcissus bulbs are wilting and turning brown. I think I recall the shoots need to stay for six weeks or so, but is there a reason the dead flowers should remain? They don't look pretty, and focus one's attention instead of at the rest of the garden, where there is plenty to see.

While I'm looking it up, I find that the word Narcissus is derived from the Greek word narke, meaning numbness or stupor. Some attribute the naming of the flower to its narcotic fragrance while others debate that it is associated with the poisonous nature of the Narcissus bulbs. Did you know that?

Here's what to do with your spent narcissus in the ground:
* Cut off the flower heads from the narcissus plants when the blossoms begin to wilt.
* Leave the foliage in place until it dies back naturally, usually six to eight weeks after bloom. Remove the dead foliage by cutting it off at its base.
* Dig up the bulbs and break them apart in summertime. Divide narcissus bulbs every three to five years.
* Discard any shriveled or rotten bulbs. Replant the healthy bulbs at the proper spacing.

* The Romans were a busy bunch, spreading ideas and customs and yes, even plants, as far north as Britain. Daffodils /(Narcissus) were brought to Britain by the Romans, who thought that the sap from Daffodils had healing powers. Actually the sap contains crystals that can irritate the skin. Perhaps they thought the irritation was a sign of some other cosmic power.

Dino wants to find out if the time for mass on Saturday afternoon has changed, so he calls the new priest, Don Daniele, who tells him 6 PM. I suppose he's the best one to know. That means neither of us will go to church tomorrow. I almost can't bear being away from the house, wanting to watch every anemone, every trifoglio leaf, appear, not to mention the roses. Dino has a Formula-1 race at 10 AM.

Stefano won't be here until Monday evening, so on Monday I'll lay out the blue and white tiles for two walls of the summer kitchen. The other tiles for the front of the pizza oven are already laid out. I have no idea how long it will take him to put them up, but they need to be done, especially since Don and Mary will dine here on Friday.

I'd so love to have the tiles up for them, appearing like a mirror with their painted glycine flowers, located right next to and under the real glycine.

Regardless of the summer kitchen tile installation timetable, these pizza oven tiles will go up first, and I'll stay right next to him for guidance on placement, for I've moved a few tiles, so there are a few number changes.

Off to church and then pizza at Il Girasole; should we first do our food shopping at Il Pallone? Their parking lot is full, and I see that the entrance to the wonderful peony garden is right across the street. No need to go there this year; we have five peony plants from there that are doing well, three of which are flowering.

We're driving on metano fumes, if that's possible; no, we're using benzina and since we drive on metano all we can, it's time to fill up with methane gas. Sound strange? It's a much more economical way to drive.

Pizza bianca boscaiolo with cheese and mushrooms, is what we order, and it's so thin the crust pops up in places full of holes. This is the best pizza around, I am sure, and no longer will I order pizza with red sauce; it's always too heavy.

Sofi has guarded the house brilliantly, and is happy when we open the door and greet her, rushing outside and sliding on the gravel as if she's sliding into home plate. It's always great to see her.

April 10
Since we went to church last night, we're free as birds, and as Dino gets ready to watch Formula - 1 in Shanghai, I play around in the garden with Sofi. What a luxury to have nothing to have to do!

I paint a large tile, which Elena had smaltoed and I forgot about it, and Dino will take it to her after the Formula-1 race. The race makes me nervous to watch; Dino loves it. So I rework some cushions and do mending and laundry while listening to classical music.

Earlier, we were awoken by neighbors who are out doing their morning walks and working in their ortos. Imagine life in a community where your neighbors have lived nearby all your lives, and each day brings new conversations composed of variations on the same themes. Here it is joyful. Dino tells me he's never bothered by garden noises; they don't bother me, either. It's part of living here, and with a background of birdsong, who could complain?

I've told Don Francis I'm not going to worry any more about the politics in his parish regarding the painting of the walls of one of his churches. When he has it sorted out, he has agreed to keep me in the loop. Now I can completely take stress out of my vernacular. It's quite incredible, actually.

The race over, Dino fills me in on the drama, and it appears he likes the drama, the excitement, more than who wins or places. I'm happier to be upstairs with the windows open listening to the birds and classical music while sewing.

I have a top I'd love to sew for one of the girls, but without current measurements, I'll put that aside until mid May, when I'll have to make haste to finish all their costumes in time for their birthday...if new measurements are not in by then, I'll add length to what I'm sewing and play it by ear. Angie is so busy with her life that I don't want to add any stress.

Did I tell you the white tree peony and the glycine flowers are amazing? In another week, the glycine will be truly breathtaking, and we'll be sure to include a photo before we post for the first half of April.

I've turned into a dressmaker for an hour or two, shortening a longish dress that is fun to wear on cool summer evenings. That's enough of that; I'd rather be in the garden, and so would Sofi, so let's join Dino!

Crushed eggshells work around some plants, not others. I keep telling myself I'll go outside when it's dark and nab the snails, or whatever they are, for the little pansies must be delectable treats for them, but never seem to remember...

If you're ever considering buying a nespola (loquat) tree, think twice if falling leaves and dead brown blossoms bother you. Not a day goes by when I am not picking them up from our three trees. The trees were here when we bought the place. Occasionally, we even eat the summer fruit, although it is mostly pit and little fruit; tasty just the same.

The glycine in the middle garden is a dark purple, opening to palest lavender. It is called Macrybotrys, recommended by dear friend Sarah. Two of them are in merry bloom, one has no bloom but leaves, and the last one looks quite sad; we'll have to replace it. There has been no growth since last year.

Today's skies were a bit strange, with no real blueness, and a bit of wind. It seemed a solitary kind of day, happy just the same. Weather is sunny; perhaps it's an optimist's version of sun. No matter.

April 11
There's a bit of fog in the valley, but skies are clear and the garden is glorious! Weeding through the gravel is not really a chore; those weedy things were airborne and are mostly easy to just pluck up. Temperatures are a dream.

Dino has placed the roses and rosemarino plants in the tufa planter, now that it has had a couple of weeks to recover from its herbicide to get rid of that dratted grass from hell. This morning he then plants them and sets up the irrigation system for the planter. It's irrigation time, so this week he'll probably concentrate on putting it all in place.

He's trimming the box on the terrace with a hedge trimmer; a tarp under several of them at a time. For years they were my babies; each one was trimmed into a globe as though together they formed the corps du ballet. More than sixty of them, they are now more of a family, undulating together to form more of an imperfect hedge on either side of what were the front steps; now the area encompasses another seating area with a box hedge on either side. It's a more manageable change as we grow older and need to find less taxing ways to keep the garden looking lovely, but oh, how I loved the ballerinas!

I can't wait for pranzo to finish, so that I can put first coats of varnish on paintings of the figs and also our dear Felice. It takes no time at all for the first coat; to dry is another thing. We are to stand them up, face inward, against a wall, but Felice's painting has much black, and Dino contrives a kind of hook to allow it to dry against a wall without marring the varnish. Once the first coat is dry, I'll then do second coats of each painting beginning at a corner, perhaps to catch any "holidays" where varnish did not hold. It's quite exciting. Tomorrow I'll do second coats. If those do well, then it's on to the grapes and the paintings of the neighbors, one by one.

Using varnish is a good thing; this varnish is brilliant, but on some paintings I'll use a more satin finish. There are so many things to varnish, now that I think of it. I want to take my time to be sure that I like the finish before moving on to other paintings. What joy! Yes, life is a joy here. It's so difficult to slow down, although many of you write to ask us why we are so active.

The new rose near the arches is perilously close to not making it. We can only hope, and each afternoon and evening it is in the shade, gaining strength, we pray.

A woman who worked with Dino years ago in San Francisco is coming with her niece and nephew for pranzo on Wednesday. We have so much going on that there's no time to put pizza together, so risotto, being my signature dish, will be on the menu, as will fiori di zucchini in a batter, if Dino can find them locally.

An interesting story appears today in I N: http://www.italiannotebook.com/local-interest/sheep-gates/...I'm reminded how often we see sheep grazing in meadows all over Italy and what a beautiful site it is. Have you ever seen sheep meandering in tall grass? Never. They're self-propelled tosaerbe (lawnmowers!).

Spring cleaning takes place here, room by room, including a file of my horoscopes! Reading back over them, some 30 years old, is interesting, but they wind up in the burn pile. Yes, they were quite prophetic; I have certainly mellowed. Now all that's left is to smell the roses...

Tomorrow we'll spray roses again; just to make sure any remaining aphids have left. This is the season, and for the next month or more we'll have lots to love in the garden. Dino continues his graceful shaping of the hedges on the terrace. Don't fret the loss of the rounds; there is so much else to love and the hedges will be lovely.

I'm looking forward to varnishing the second coat of the two paintings tomorrow, and wish I could varnish them all at once, but it's better not to hurry. I do miss dear Felice so very much, his broad grin lighting up the path during afternoons when he'd come to look everything over, even when he was too old to do much work. So his painting, taking over the prime wall of the kitchen, delights me even now, pretending he's still right here with us.

A few hours later, after we've weeded some more and watered the trifoglio again, we turn the paintings around that are leaning against a wall in the summer kitchen and they seem to pop off the canvas. Va bene! Tomorrow I'll paint the second coat of varnish and on Wednesday we'll hang them up.

Stefano arrives late in the afternoon and no, he's not here for the installation of tiles. He'll come tomorrow afternoon and can stay work until it's dark, for there are bright lights outside where he'll be working. Poor guy...he's pulled hither and yon... Each day he works a client asks him to do "one more thing" and he can't get away. Wednesday for sure, he will be here at the very latest.

April 12
A pedicure is on the docket this morning, after we drive to a client's garden to be sure that Cristina has the correct instructions. I like having her around and she likes the work.

It is another clear and beautiful day; and so welcoming! I hate being away from here, especially in spring. Birdsong reminds me, even when I am not thinking about it.

It's time to take out the summer fans; no, we do not have air conditioning and don't want to put it in. It seems to work for us, and although it's pretty old fashioned, we're happy to keep life simple.

While going through old papers, I came across an old horoscope that told me I'll live until at least the age of 77. Many of the other things it told me about myself were true, so if that is the case, we have more time to put in the cemetery chapel...Let's talk about something else.

How weird that it spoke about a tendency for falling; hence my disastrous fall at MOJO and the fall last November at Terence's on a wet day wearing new shoes. There have been more times, but let's not digress.

After a great pedicure from dearest friend Giusy I return to catch up with you, and although I should be preparing pranzo, I'm stuck to my chair as Sketches of Spain plays on SKY's classical channel. Again, it takes my breath away.

Once it has finished playing, I return to put pranzo together, including slicing potatoes, putting them in the microwave for four minutes and then making a hot potato salad with plenty of vinegar. Dino likes it that way.

Right afterward, I put the second coat of varnish on the painting of dear Felice, and decide to let it sit on the table for an hour before standing it up against a wall to dry completely. For the second coat, I paint out from the corner, instead of from top to bottom, but also in parallel lines. Only after it sits for a bit will I be able to pick it up and put the second coat of varnish on the smaller painting of blue figs.

Dino takes the little frigo in the main kitchen under the counter outside to defrost. It's so full of ice that we can't use it for anything... Spring cleaning continues...

Stefano arrives with his daughter, Corinne, and for three hours he puts tiles above the pizza oven. He'll finish tomorrow; then work inside the summer kitchen on the tile project there. I'm certainly looking forward to having it all put away, although I admit it was interesting watching him put the tiles up above the pizza oven.

I'm not sure how I feel about them, but once the roof is extended, they'll just be something else to look at for a moment or two while waiting for pizza. Come no?

The drummers in Bomarzo are back, and it's been so long since we've heard them at night. Since their big day is April 25th, it's about time they returned to practice. We love the sound, the "bah-da-bum, bah-da-bum..."

April 11
What's this? ...Overcast skies and showers? The bottom of the cloud cover (!) is quite dark when we rise, as though it's almost touching the forest across from us. No matter. Dino prepares to take junk we've accumulated to the scarico (dump) in nearby Soriano, and loads old Pandina with it, just as he receives a call that folks will be here in 30 minutes to figure out what is not working with the water heater.

Telling me he'll be right back, Dino leaves, as a nervous Sofi sits by me, her stomach gurgling. Changes of any kind make her nervous.

Sara Chase and her niece and nephew will arrive for pranzo after visiting Rome for a few days. I'm making a cake and will serve risotto for them, and if Dino can find zucchini flowers when he's in Viterbo picking up prescriptions from the doctor's office, we'll make battered fiori di zucca for them, too.

Dino tells me Stefano cannot work outside if it's wet, so I'm hopeful weather will clear; otherwise, he can work on the tiles in the summer kitchen.

Hooray! Sun, bright sun arrives by mid morning. Dino calls from Viterbo to say there are no fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) to be found, so he'll pick up Portobello mushrooms to grill instead. That makes me very happy, and lessens the work.

The new rose is alive, and perhaps its trauma will make it stronger in the long run. Is that a good use for the word, magari! (if only that were so)? We'll let you know.

The rondine (swifts as they're called in England) soar around the skies, and it's the first time I recall seeing them this year. They make one feel joyous, watching them, wondering what it would be like to soar freely up in the sky, just like them.

Dino tells me that when he went to the dumps, he was told that the station for scarico on the road of out of Mugnano will be taken out in a couple of weeks. The fellow was angry about it, saying that people misused it, using it as a place to dump anything, anywhere. From then on, it will be curbside use, only. So what if people don't use their bins?

I respond to Dino that it's a subject for Ecomuseo to bring up on Friday night. Don't think we'll be at the dinner, but it's important, just the same. How sad that a few people are ruining it for everyone else. I'll email Paola to let her know what Dino found out.

Sara arrives with three teenagers, instead of two, but no worry. There is plenty to go around. Everyone likes the meal and it's a lot of fun sitting around chatting. I love hearing from young people about their ideas about changing the world.

Yes! Change the world! Do it all! Dare to live your dream!

Dino takes them to the train station at Orvieto for the funicular ride up to the town. What fun they will have! Sofi and I wait for Stefano, while I clean up in the kitchen. Stefano arrives and finishes the main work installing the tiles on the pizza oven. He's too tired to work in the summer kitchen, but will work on one wall tomorrow night, we hope.

Annika and Torbjorn arrive and it's so great to see them. We sit around the kitchen table polishing off a bottle of prosecco, and why not? They are here for a couple of weeks and when they're here in June we'll have a big pizza festa. We'll see them for sure tomorrow, and Torbjorn the great and wonderful photographer will take photos of the glycine at night tomorrow night if the weather is right. We'll put any photos on the site...soon! (Probably the end of the month.)

April 14
We're off to pick up Don and Mary from Fimucino Airport at around noon, then drive them to Don's house in Tenaglie. It will be so good to see them; they are treasured friends who live in England, or should I say Great Britain? I will ask them which is correct to say.

The next comes from CNN, and the author, Sarah Joseph, expresses views that are also mine, regarding turning the wearing of a Burqa into a crime in France. I have to hold myself back from making a judgment, and will let you do that for yourself....

Burqa ban turns a right into a crime

By Sarah Joseph, Special to CNN April 13, 2011 -- Updated 2110 GMT (0510 HKT)

Editor's note: Sarah Joseph OBE is the CEO and editor of emel Media. She is a regular contributor to public and governmental discussions pertaining to Islam and was listed by Washington's Georgetown University as one of the world's 500 most influential Muslims.

London, England (CNN) -- The ban imposed by French President Sarkozy on wearing a face-covering veil, or niqab, is simply dangerous gesture politics, representing little more than pandering to the far right in France.

The full force of the state is coming down on fewer than 2,000 Muslim women out of a population of 6.5 million French Muslim citizens. For what purpose? We are told it is for security, the preservation of "French values" and to alleviate the oppression of women.

For security purposes, women who wear the veil should be ready to remove their face covering in places where security and identity checks are necessary, such as airports. The argument that criminals could abuse the niqab is not compelling enough to deny the fundamental freedom of religious expression to a group of French citizens -- or indeed visitors to France.

I find it startling that a country of 65 million people with strong democratic traditions is so threatened by a tiny number of women that it chooses to engage the might of the state to criminalize their apparel. And the irony and hypocrisy of claiming the ban protects women from oppression is glaring: Freedom must be "protected" by denying women their freedom to choose how to dress. Patronizing at best, but more like doublespeak. Has anyone asked these women whether they are oppressed, or is the state, in some grotesque Hobbesian way, imposing what it knows best?

The full force of the state is coming down on fewer than 2,000 Muslim women out of a population of 6.5 million French Muslim citizens

Some will say the state already dictates what we wear in certain situations. That is correct; indecent exposure is a crime in most societies. But the French are banning over-dressing. It is not the function of the state to prescribe how its citizens dress; thus the saffron robes of the Buddhist, the turbans of the Sikh, the yarmulke of the Jew are -- and should be -- permitted in a modern liberal democracy, along with the Mohican of the punk, the black dress of the Goth and the leathers of the Heavy Metal enthusiast.

The plurality and liberalism prized by Western societies requires all citizens to accept behavior that doesn't conform with a single perspective. The argument has to rise above whether I, as an individual, approve of or understand something, and has to revolve around principles: the fundamental principle of the right to choose. Now, whether that's on the streets of Tehran to choose not to wear a chador, or the streets of Paris, to choose to wear a niqab, we have to give credence to a woman's ability to think for herself.

The authentic narrative in the Quran is that "there can be no compulsion in religion," and it is our freedom to choose that gives our actions validity in the sight of God. There is no moral validity in an action that is not freely made.

Some people might believe that fanatical husbands and fathers force the veil on women. But evidence exists that English soccer fans engage in greater domestic violence after England loses a match, so should soccer be banned? How absurd that would be.

In a case when dress is enforced on a woman, we must support and empower her, just as we would a victim of domestic violence. In the case of the niqab, the women whom I have talked with over the years who choose to cover in this manner are articulate and headstrong and cover, often despite opposition from their families. It is part of their religious journey, an expression of their sense of piety and their relationship with their creator. Their decision has little or nothing to do with sex, fear of men or any of the other stereotypes thrown into this debate. Should we deny the right of a Carmelite or Benedictine nun to wear her habit or to take a vow of seclusion?

Most of us do not choose to honor our faith in this way, yet that does not diminish the sincerity of those who do. Such choices might seem strange, but discomfort on our part does not justify a draconian ban. Such a ban institutionalizes anti-Muslim discrimination and panders to far right, xenophobic and racist discourse. That discourse does not have a future for the Muslims in Europe, which is of course what many feel is the ultimate aim of this ban.

State power, unless wielded with discretion and wisdom, can be brutal and tyrannical. Many Muslims believe the West is always lecturing them about freedom and liberal values, as in the case of the Danish cartoons, but then denies them their own free choice. The consequence is a feeling that such freedoms are not universal, but are reserved for the selected; that such freedoms are actually fragile and perhaps even a lie.

The French ban feeds the extremes and does nothing for the center ground. The ban will increase the polarization of opinions and the isolation of Muslims. This is the last thing that should happen if France truly wants to enable its Muslim citizens to become engaged in society. European politicians have got to stop pandering to the far right to prop up their fading parties. Such cynical politics is dangerous; it has done Europe no favors in our history, and it will do us no good in our future.

I just came across something that describes living in Italy as a foreigner in an interesting way, worth pondering: When you've lived here for 2 years you think you've figured it all out. And then you live here a little longer and the longer you live here the more complicated you realize they really are.

We're still waiting for our citizenship papers; I wonder why they are sitting on someone's desk to sign and whose desk and how we can nudge him/her to just sign them. But the road is long and the proper documents could be sitting anywhere, although the last time we checked we were told they were almost ready...

Is that similar to the saying "A certo punto..."? (At a certain point...which means don't pay any attention to what they say after the word point). Hmmm. Then there's that phrase, "A punto!" (To your point.) More to ponder...

After picking up Don and Mary, I ask Don that when I refer to the country in which he lives, I should say, "England, Great Britain, Britain, or what?" He responds by suggesting the word Britain, "Leaving out the word Great"; but then I wonder, why would someone want to leave the word "Great" out of the country in which they live unless they thought it was not so...? Don loves his country, so don't blame him...he's a linguist at heart, and always has a few twists on any phrase.

Today, he defends his use of the phrase "a few years time" by saying that adding the word "time" gives the sequence a bit more attention, and I respond by saying that it's not unlike the "20-somethings" using the word "like" when explaining something. I suppose the "60-somethings", of which I am one, used the word, "Umm" to stall so that one could collect one's thoughts, and isn't that what these extra words are all about?

My story is published in Italian Notebook today; take a look if you don't subscribe. I am crazy about the inside of the church:


Tiziano comes by this afternoon to go over house details, for he will be staying here for a week or so when we are away, and I love it that he used the word "We". Love in bloom is such a glorious thing, and we're thrilled to see him so happy.

Annika and Torbjorn also come by, a bit later, and although it begins to rain and rain comes down hard, we sit in the kitchen and laugh for a bit, while they and Dino drink a beer or two. They bring us a wonderful calendar, with photos mostly by Torbjorn. It's too rainy for a glycine photo, but the blossoms don't seem to fall.

Rain in April means that as soon as it ends, I need to spray the roses to keep the aphids away. That means at least until tomorrow afternoon and no, Stefano did not come to lay more tiles on the wall of the summer kitchen, nor did he call. Perhaps tomorrow night....and I'm not about to add that "m..." word.

There is much stress in my neck and upper back...could it be the cold and rainy weather all of a sudden? Tachirina and difmetre should help. A domani.

April 15
Surely there is a change in the weather, and there is plenty of fog. Dino leaves for Guardea, for sometimes the automatic payment feature at Italian banks has a glitch; this time, a client's account has a problem. To the rescue!

Don and Mary arrive for pranzo...since Don is a quasi-vegetarian, we keep it simple, and the simplest for me is another risotto. Yes, I am the risotto queen, and if you want to know how to make it better, keep the temperature high as you add hot broth to the rice, stirring as you go. Most people make it without the high temperature and it comes out mushy.

There is no rain, but as our guests leave I inspect leaves on the roses near the parcheggio, and there are plenty of aphids forming. With rain forecast for tonight, I'll get a spray bottle ready for tomorrow morning, when it is supposed to be clear and beautiful.

As Don drives out of the parcheggio my heart sinks; I do love Mary so, and her health continues to fail. She's had M S for decades, but now her continued lack of strength is causing her added stress. She would so love to be an independent woman. I love her, however she is, and any little thing I can do to bring her joy I will certainly do. She is a tremendously courageous woman and I am honored that she considers me her dear friend.

April 16
Last night we spent several hours searching for our passports; with no luck. I clearly remember taking them out of the wallet and holding the two in my right hand. Somehow I was distracted, and that is a dangerous thing. My short term memory is a growing problem, and there is a blank space in my brain in the area where my memory used to be so sharp.

We have not written about getting ready for our trip, in the remote possibility someone nearby will want to take advantage of our absence to break into our home. We leave this morning.

I had thought we'd leave around dawn, but there are roses to spray, and at dawn there is too much mist on the roses. Since today's drive should not be much more than five hours total, there's no real reason to leave early.

Although I always promise to pack light, I'm not sure about the laundry situation where we'll be, so take extra things.

We finally leave, without the passports, but on the A-1, we realize they may be in a vest...If they are truly missing, we'll find our way to Rome to replace them when we return. Since France and Italy are both in the European Union, we do not need them here. Magari!

The drive is pleasant, especially using the iPod and all the stories (podcasts from NPR) we have to listen to. There I am again, ending a sentence with a preposition. Sorry.

Our place to stay, La Locanda del Melograno in Moncalvo di Asti is better than good as an inn. We have just missed mass, which is at 6PM. When we arrive, it is already 6:15 PM.

There is a recommended place to eat, Corona Reale, and they welcome Sofi, so she loves it here. An ad on a wall of the restaurant reads, Purche sia...Light or dark, as long as it's beer! The translation is "whether it is...". That's a good thing to remember to use in conversation ...except for the beer part!

Our first evening out is fun, followed by a walk around town. The town is worth a stop, especially because it is in the region of Dolcetto vino, which we love and drink tonight.

Will I write an Italian Notebook story about the town? You'll have to wait and see...

April 17
It's time to leave for France, and we're downstairs, eating a bite before 8AM. On the road early, we drive up past Torino and across into Haute (Upper) Provence. We look forward to returning to the town of Forcalquier, and the same apartment we stayed in last September, but wonder about the second apartment in the town the owners now own. Will we like it better? Is it an option available to us?

Karen greets us as she's walking down the hill from the garden that we also have access to, and she appears even taller than I recall. We like her quite a bit, and it's like old times.

Karen shows us the new apartment, but by now we're recalling our last visit and the first apartment fondly. Although this apartment has a great view and the other does not, we keep our reservation, as it is, bid her goodbye and settle in.

No need to spend much time of our Italy journal writing about France, although it's where we come for vacation. For Dino, we must be somewhere else for vacation; otherwise, he'll continue to stress about things to do about the property. It is a good idea to be here for many reasons, not the least of which is that the area inspires me to want to paint. Perhaps its time to do some landscapes...

April 17-April 30
I'm on vacation from the journal, although some observations are worth noting. If you're not interested in our observations or in reading about Southern France, the remainder of this post won't mean much to you. Sorry again. Skip this and wait 'till May if you're all about Italia...

I'm continuously awed and inspired by the Southern French countryside. Fields of mustard seed blowing in the breeze, not unlike that of the Napa and Sonoma Counties (California wine country); miles and miles of closely cropped lavender in rows and rows and rows as if they're little hedgehogs; stone and rock formations and gravel and boxwood groomed into rounds...this is heavenly landscape to me.

I used to obsess about French pots, and for all the times we've come here have tried to find them. Anduze has interesting pots, but those aren't what I'm looking for. (Whoops, another preposition at the end of a sentence again!)

I frighten myself about my obsessions, and this trip am realizing yet another one...I'll spend at least an afternoon on this trip working in a French boulangerie learning how the French make their fabulous baguettes and croissants and, well, bread in general. Where did my obsessions for learning new things begin?

When Dino and I were married for about twenty years, I fell in love with the sound of a violin and, at age 54, borrowed Dino's Uncle Harry's violin and began to take violin lessons, never having played before. Oh, how physically painful it was! Violin playing is not for wimps who don't work out their upper arms and shoulders...

My right shoulder ached for the four years I played it almost every day, taking lessons at first from a woman who did not like me and in her own way let me know during each session. No matter...at home I'd bring myself to tears of joy as I serenaded anyone who would listen to my crooning.

Not to be deterred, I found a woman in Italy to help me in a more receptive way, and after we moved here I continued to play until the pain in my right shoulder was too great to bear.

I turned to painting ceramics, took lessons in Terni each week, depressed at the change in each piece as it came out of the oven. The smalto (under-glaze) was often not well dipped; the colors often changing during the cooking process, and although I spent hours and hours at home practicing, after a few years I gave up on that, too, turning to painting in oils on canvas.

To this day I love to paint in oils on canvas, and we have picked up more natural pigments in the town of Apt on this trip to use at home, this time to mix with a poppy oil before painting on the canvas. I've not used the natural pigments before and it should be an interesting experience.

On this trip it has also dawned on me that the pots I love that are not in vogue any more in France and are sold only in expensive antique shops, could be ours for the making...is that yet another obsession creeping up on me?

Elena in nearby Bomarzo dips any ceramics I then paint; she cooks them, too. What's more, she also makes ceramics, and I can learn to make the specific French style pots I love from her, I think, if I show her the photos. So this trip it will be all about photographs, and soon you may read about me at the potter's wheel in Bomarzo.

Perhaps I'll begin to make pots in an ancient style and it will be my fortune! They're just not available anywhere we've searched in Southern France but are quite extraordinary, although simple in form and glaze, with no complicated designs. I especially like the ones that were dipped upside down from their tops, turned over when not quite set and drip just a little...

April 18
We'll attend today's Monday outdoor market in Forcalquier, the Tuesday outdoor market in Apt, the Wednesday outdoor market in Sisteron, the Thursday outdoor market in Roussillon, and that's about it for French markets for this week. Oh. After a break on Friday, Dino wants to attend the market in Digne-Le -Bains, weather permitting or not, so...come no?

In the meantime, Karen our landlady here has arranged with her favorite boulangerie for me to intern there in the back room. Not understanding what the owner meant when we met him on Monday morning, we return at 6PM to his boulangerie, only to learn that there is nothing to do; the instruction was to return at 4PM - we misunderstood about the time. So Thursday is the day I will try again.

There is a young French man who works for the owner who speaks some English, and after my session on Thursday (I asked him to tell the owner to work, work, work...me), he tells me he will give me the instructions in English. I'll be sure to have my notebook.

But as I listen to him explain the process of this afternoon's work on Monday, I clearly see that there is a machine that pops the little rounds of risen dough out; does that mean I won't be able to make bread without a big machine? Perhaps the French cookbook we picked up this spring, Rapailles, will teach me how to do it by hand.

April 19
Today's market is in Apt, and it is small, but there is a marvelous woman named Elizabeth who sells special plants here at a table, and we purchased some of our favorites last year from her in San Remy. Today, she invites us to visit her at her home nearby, and this afternoon we pick up several more.

On the drive back from Roussillon late this Tuesday morning, where we drove after the Apt market, we return to a shop in Apt that sells natural pigments. Here, we can learn from a professional who speaks a bit of English how one paints the outside of the house using natural pigments mixed with stucco or sand.

Roussillon and Gault and Apt are at the center of the area where French natural pigments in the most wonderful colors are used for paints and made from local stone. Dino will explain it all to our muratore when we return home.

We buy enough for one outside wall; the one above the summer kitchen and surrounding the sidewall to the studio, and if it works, we can order the paint online for the rest of the house, although I do like our house's existing natural patina.

This will be a job for our muratore, Stefano, and while we've been at it, Dino purchased two old special muratore tools at one of the outdoor markets; as soon as we're back we'll begin to cajole Stefano to return to put up the rest of the tiles and now do this painting.

April 20
We get in the car and drive South to Manosque, where Dino has a special birthday pranzo at a four star restaurant and it is a marvelous meal. The chef even makes a special dessert for Dino!

Sofi loves this trip; loves meandering down all the back streets and sniffing at new plants and new dogs and women who want to give her a bit of attention. But what she loves most is being by our side, and we like it that way unless we need to shop in a grocery store or have an occasional meal to ourselves.

April 21
It is difficult to keep the days straight, since I don't sit down to write every day here. I don't remember Sisteron well, except to say that we liked it quite a bit, even if there was nothing exceptional to buy at the market, other than remarkable cheese and bread. Time to go back to Forcalquier and taste the treats we've found to eat.

This afternoon after pranzo, English classical church music plays from an apartment nearby; through the open window I can hear the horns and the singing and smile to myself.

On the ledge of the apartment where we are staying the first week, are a dozen or so plants to take home and plant in the garden: two different thymes, basil, euphorbia mysinites, saponaria ocymoēdes, iris unguicularis (winter iris) and coronilla glauca 'Citrina'.

I email Elizabeth, whom we purchased them from, to be sure of the spellings, although she wrote them on little white tags. She responds with the correct spellings. I so want to let you know what they are, dear Sarah.

Dino, always wanting to be doing something, drives off to do a load of laundry, while I write and sketch with Sofi by my side. Perhaps in another few days he will be content just relaxing....Magari! (If only that were so...)

This afternoon, this time at 4 P M, we return to the boulangerie, where my training begins...

Although we were told it would take an hour and a half, after two hours I'm still running around the back room like Lucy Ricardo in an I Love Lucy show, flour everywhere and the young man who guides me calling out, "Hurry! Hurry!"

Bakers work at a fast pace, for the flour is a living thing, and while working it changes; letting it sit too long unless it is in its rising stage will result in it losing its shape, I think. Work with me here...

I am told I am doing a good job, and that I am the eighteen-year young's best student, until he laughs and tells me I am his first student, after which we both laugh...

I love the experience, and learn how to use the base of my palms to roll the dough against the table. I'm left to do a few steps on my own as the young man rushes around plopping dough into the machine and rolling from the center to the ends of each round plop of dough as it drops down onto the table below. Yes, it's just as Lucy Ricardo would do, but this time with skill. "Hurry! Hurry!"

While Dino and Sofi wait outside, I hear we're on time to slide the shelves into the refrigerated room and watch the young maestro close the door to let the bread rise overnight. I don't like the idea of Dino waiting over an hour past the scheduled time to finish, so give everyone kisses and have Dino take a few photos.

...and then leave with my two loves to take a walk and enjoy the rest of the day, albeit I'm quite tired. It's been a great experience and no, butter is not used for regular bread making in France after all. I'm still not sure how the croissants taste so buttery, but that lesson and ingredients are for another time...this time there are no notes to take....

April 22
On Friday, I think no more markets are planned for the rest of the trip, although we know we'll visit some. We sleep in, walk down to our now favorite boulangerie for breakfast treats and see the owner putting baguettes in the oven, so I open the door and watch him score the plain ones first, and then put the ones I plopped into containers of sesame seeds and poppy seeds yesterday! How amazing! Here they are!

I left yesterday really wanting to keep my apron, and Dino figures out the translation for me on his iPhone and I ask him if I can buy one. He is such a dear man and tells me yes, can we wait a few minutes?

He comes out with a new one for me, with the proud saying "Artisan Boulanger" on the front, and I ask him the price. He looks at his wife, and the tells me nothing, so I give him a kiss on both cheeks and a big hug and he tells me to be careful my husband is looking and thinks the kisses are a good payment. He laughs. What a lovely man! His smile is as big as the moon.

Dino wants to take a Rick Stein photo of all the workers lined up in front of the shop, but they're so busy getting ready for Easter that it's not really fair. The next time, for sure.

Here's a photo of me with my mentor, 18 years-young, who has trained here for four years and loves his job.

I began painting a copy of Van Gogh's Irises for Karen, the owner of our apartment here, and finish it this afternoon, while we spend a couple of hours at the garden under sunny skies. It's from a kit that we purchased in Marin County, CA last November, and I have been saving it for her. Unfortunately, its paints are all acrylic and I don't like the medium, but for this little gift it turns out pretty well. Or not. What do you think?

While I paint in the shade of the garden, Dino reads and Sofi gambols about. Dear Sofi loves the garden, Dino loves reading his book about the next area of France we will visit beginning on Sunday (Languedoc), and I then take a short nap outside in a garden sling chair, the smell of lilacs wafting across the garden.

Yes, we want to plant another lilac plant, although the first attempt in our Italy garden years ago did not succeed. Dino wants it planted in the middle garden, perhaps near an irrigation outlet, and that's fine with me. Blooming lilac plants are everywhere here. Perhaps it's better to wait until fall for the planting.

I've been impressed with the flat stones that are used in planting areas to surround little plants here. Dino tells me we can find them easily in Italy near the house, and they will look lovely used in the same manner, especially in the raised area next to the summer kitchen. I find these trips to France an inspiration, giving us ideas of new things to do at home.

We meander through town, have a glace (ice cream in sugar cones) and since the sky has clouded over and the wind from the South has us putting on another layer of clothes, we think a storm is on the way.

Here are some Forcalquier photos to remind us of our stay here, which ends on Sunday morning.

Later, after watching a too long DVD movie on TV, we eat spring rolls and breaded shrimp hot from the oven and dipped into special sauces, alongside basmati rice. Basmati rice (!) you say. Yes, the Italian rice is good for risotto, but otherwise this rice is our preferred choice, for it's lighter in texture.

After a bottle of local rose wine with cena serenaded by a CD of the Andrew Sisters (!) while Sofi and I dance around the kitchen, it's time to turn in.

April 23
Saturday morning is clearer and warmer than we expected, and we decide to visit Digne-les-Bains for its market. On the way, we stop at an artisan boulangerie, and a delightful young woman sells us a baguette covered with what I think is flax seeds. She uses the word lino, so that must be it, although I know little about flax used as something edible. How little I really know!

Digne is noted for being a town where there are thermal baths, and people seem, well, ancient. Its town gardens are beautifully groomed and displayed. The inspiration continues...

The market, however, is from another world, with more things than not made in China. This is a downscale market for clothes, although the food market nearby on a higher street has plenty of beautiful and fresh things to consume.

Since we're driving to Meze tomorrow morning, today is a "clear out the frigo" day; our last two meals are at home, and I've managed to prepare things for multiple meals from leftover market foods. We'll have food to take with us, but not a lot. Still, the little car will be full.

The afternoon and evening are rainy, as they are in Northern France where our house exchange family lives most of the time, in Meze and in our village in Italy. We check in with Tiziano and all seems well at home.

We spend the afternoon and early evening lolling around in bed reading about Languedoc and the places we'll want to visit beginning tomorrow. But this is Easter weekend, and tonight we'll attend the Easter vigil service at 9 P M, while Sofi waits for us nearby in the car. She seems more comfortable waiting for us in the car than in the apartment, and although I hate to leave her alone, she'll be fine there for an hour or so. We put on her little sweater, just in case.

The Easter Vigil takes two hours, and we understand little of it. We were expecting Notre Dame, the ancient Gothic church in the town square to be huge and full of people. On the contrary, although its ceilings are very, very high, it is not large, nor is it full. The mass is interesting just the same, with beautiful voices of the three priests who remain on the altar in gold robes.

Sofi is fine when we pick her up, and we walk home on our last night in this lovely town, looking forward to our trip tomorrow to the sea.

Sunday, April 24
Easter Sunday arrives, and we pack more than I had imagined in the little car and drive down to the boulangerie for pastries and baguettes and to say au revoir. Dino has wanted to take a Rick Stein type of photo for a long time, so here are the bakers on this busy Easter morning.

We thought we would arrive at our destination mid afternoon, but it's an easy drive (such a good idea to break up the trip) and we're in Meze and finding the house by about 1 PM. What's to do but walk 50 meters to the beach and find a spot for mussels? The wine is cheap and cheerful, until I've had my fill and need to spend a bit of the afternoon wearing it off in bed.

We like the place, and although it is much more beach house than ours, we love living for ten days in a town, and are thrilled to hear that our new French friends love our garden.

Why were there not more photos on the Geenee website of the house? We now know...the listing is fuller than the actual accommodations. No matter.

April 25
Wanting to make sure the family is fine at our house, we call them on Monday to give them a nudge to go up to the procession before the Bomarzo Palio takes place, only to find out that a mother cat snuck into the summer kitchen and gave birth to five kittens.

Cats! Yikes! Cats don't figure into our lives, and now we're trying to figure out how to get them all out of the place without disturbing our guests, learning that one of the girls loves cats.

Dino is practicing what to say to Tiziano to get he and his father to go up there tonight under the cover of darkness and sneak them all out of the summer kitchen and out of the property. Well, we know cats love our property, and Sofi finds one or two most nights and rushes out at them, we think chasing them away. There must be some kind of cat smell that we cannot detect. No wonder she spends so much time in the summer kitchen sniffing around!

While we're happily driving and walking about Meze and Sete, rain pours down in Sete and there is a bit in Meze but not a lot. Cats are on our minds. We will never be cat people, and Dino practices what he will say to Tiziano tonight on the phone to get him to remove them from the property.

Directions here in Meze for separating trash are for black and yellow garbage bags, be set out at night by 8 PM. The more I think about it, the more civil it is to separate your garbage than let you take it to one central point and just lop it into whatever container is not full, although Dino faithfully adheres to the local instructions. Italians are a wily lot, sometimes not to be trusted for their ability to get around the law in creative ways.

I suppose when we return we'll adhere to the directions and put the specific recycling bins out each day. Everyone needs to cooperate, and this is not a time to sneak around and dump garbage where it does not belong. Perhaps the Italian government is going to make honest recyclers out of its citizens after all. We'll let you know....

We have a mix of French music on our iPod and listen to it at night after a cena of French treats (salads and breads and pate for Dino)...and of course French rose wine, which makes me umbriaco (drunk) with the romance of it all. I love French style, French landscaping, but the Italian people of the countryside are my favorites. For one or two times a year, I get a fix of French style, only to return and want to paint some more. The visits really inspire me.

Dino has just taken one black (food) and one yellow (everything else) bag out to hang on hooks outside the door to be picked up. We've called our pals Candace and Frank, who will drive here tomorrow from Orvieto to spend as much as a week with us. What fun we will have!

I can't wait to have the oysters at Bouzigues (I call it Bou-si-goo-si), where it is known that the best oysters in France are to be found. Perhaps tomorrow, after we've traveled to Montpellier for the morning market we will return to scarf them up. We're checking towns around so that when our pals arrive we'll be able to introduce them to some things we know.

We've been reading two books to learn about Languedoc, and there is so much to see in this area. Wanting to make sure our pals' bedroom looks chic, we've spent a little money to fix up their room, and I'll sew rings on fabric to hang on windows facing the church of the Penitents in Meze, across the square where we are staying.

But that will have to wait for tomorrow; while they're driving to us, we'll have time.

Dino asks me if I see any changes to Sofi; I do; she is more mellow, with a few grey hairs on her mug. Our little dog is painfully sweet, and I can't bear to leave her, even for a few minutes. I'm thinking long and hard about our November trip to the U S, when Frank and Candace want to take Sofi to be with them in Orvieto...

Dino calls Tiziano, who thinks the situation with the cats in our summer kitchen is funny. He thinks Elizabetta and Marina and Maria like cats, and suggests they might take them. I want more than a suggestion; will he ask them tomorrow?

It is more than a nightmare to imagine them living there when we return. Cats and Evanne do not mix, in any form. I'm not judging them; I just want to be sure they live their lives apart from me and those I love.

I think Dino was not firm enough and we have a few words with each other; that saddens me. Tomorrow he offers to call Tiziano again. We will see...

I silently take the matter into my own hands, and email two friends who are avid dog and cat rescuers; one even pays her own money to spay abandoned animals. These women are marvels...If it is meant to be, they will have the answer...

April 26
It's Tuesday, but I think it's Wednesday; no matter. We're up early after sleeping well and stop for pastry and caffé in the town (Meze). It's a day to explore Montpellier, and we have instructions to drive not quite all the way there and get a day pass for the tram. What fun it is! The trams are modern, brightly colored as are most French things, and there is usually a place to sit inside.

This is vacation week from schools all over France, and parents and children are gamboling or grumbling about, depending on the relationships and whether everyone has had enough sleep.

Sofi gets plenty of exercise, and the weather turns so warm that we're peeling off a layer; good thing Sofi recently had a hair clipping. There are so many scents! She loves them all.

We're noticing that she has become decidedly mellow; when she has to stay in the car while we shop in a market she hardly ever barks at us. Today, she has so much exercise that she flops down on the little couch in the kitchen soon after we return. Oh. What about Montpellier?

We're here to do a dry run before Candace and Frank arrive and don't expect to visit any museums. We spend a lot of time walking and looking at the map, only to find the area we want (Beaux Arts) is right near San Roch, where we stopped from the tram.

We find a great place to eat, and I'm happy to eat a chicken Caesar salad, while Dino returns to his old passion, steak tartare. It comes with a broken open egg (just the top of it is open), the rest of the shell sitting atop the red ground meat and spices. He claims this is the best he's had, but it's been decades, we think, since he's eaten this dish. Should we worry about salmonella poisoning? Several hours later he tells me that he would be sick by now, if the meat or egg were bad! We're adventuresome ...just a bit. He tells me it was worth the risk, especially since nothing happened.

The plane trees...oh, the plane trees. I love them, I do. Brilliantly groomed and landscaped paths and gardens are all here, the giant trees forming rows on either side of sandy paths. Dino wants me to buy a new French painting smock, one reminiscent of 19th century painters holding their oval easels as they paint. The one we purchased a couple of years ago in France is covered with...paint! He thinks I should be ashamed to wear it. The one art shop tells us there is another location that has them, but we'll have to drive to it.

Dino also thinks there is a place in Montpellier that sells metano for Giallina the FIAT, and since France hardly has any stations that sell it, we decide to take the tram back to the car and look for it, as well as the paint supply shop, which is supposed to be in a shopping center in a town somewhere right outside Montpellier.

We find the metano station, but it is for members only, and one has to have a commercial license for it. A man there "gassing up" tries to help, but there's nothing he can do. Well, we can cross that off the list.

Since we're right near the town where the art supplies are, we drive around and find it. I find the smock and a few other things as well. Since this countryside inspires me so, during the next week I'll try to paint something...like French tulips...But we can't find any of those, even in rows of flower stalls in Montpellier. Ha!

You know what I'm looking for...those long languid ones that flop over in the morning after standing up and shouting all night long. In France they don't just call them tulips, for tulips are sold everywhere...the short variety. I'll take my chances that we'll find them before we leave France...

While we wait for Frank and Candace to arrive, we find a pair of wonderful drapes that don't work on the window of the room that will be theirs, so we buy needle and thread and white rings and I sew them up while we wait for our good friends to arrive.

Did I tell you that there is a Mamma cat and five newborn babies in our summer kitchen in Mugnano? They were born a day or two ago and Dino tells me not to think about it, so I respond that's fine; he'll have to take care of it when we return. Dear Sofi, hope you enjoy yourself; you'll be furious when we get home and you find your territory smelling of....cats!

When I ask him if he has called Tiziano he tells me he sent him an e-message and has not heard back. I know what that means...

Our friends arrive after driving straight here from Orvieto! We'll surely have plenty of adventures in the next several days with them.

April 27
It's Wednesday morning, and we're up early. By 9 AM the five of us are walking to Rose Marie's Boulangerie for breakfast, and then a walk home before getting into the car and driving to Sete, where the outdoor market begins at Les Halles at the city center.

We're met with stalls of...junk; lots of junk and no French tulips! But later on, we come upon stands of marvelous cheese and bread and sausages that we heat up and eat with sliced seeded grapes for Artusi's famous recipe of salsice and grapes. confit to have with strong cheese; another more mellow cheese to have with fruit and crusty bread from the market as well as Frank's confit di citron, bought from an old woman in Meze. The jams were in a basket outside her window; Frank knocked on the window and she showed her face.

The rest is history; Candace feels the seal of the jar is not sufficient; we all think it is fabulous tasting. If we're not sick after naps, we'll let you know. Oh. There is a wine tasting at pranzo with three rose wines, and we're very mellow, judging the wines, but will we purchase any?

We're saving bottles and wine corks, for there is a woman in the town who will sell us rose wine at €1.50 a litre. Sometimes the cheapest wines are the best. We'll let you know.

Dino picks up two striped fisherman's shirts, and he looks just great; think Bruce Willis goes Picasso. What fun it is to go on vacation with things one wants to concentrate upon; mine are all about French tulips, but all I can find are ordinary tulips...Dino's "In France they just call them tulips" doesn't apply here, and I am sorely missing them. How I'd love to paint their long pointed striped flowers. Instead, it's time for a nap.

We're awake in a couple of hours, take a walk around town; watch some folks playing boule (French version of bocce, with no borders), then return to drink and eat from the marvelous things we've purchased in various markets: sautéed sausage and grapes (a la the 100+ year recipe of Artusi...see the web site), Vietnamese cold spring rolls and baked ones as well with small shrimp inside in a cold dipping sauce; salad of greens, Roquefort cheese, endive, walnuts, navel orange in a mustard vinegar dressing; tapenades and olives stuffed with almonds; morbier cheese; another soft local cheese; a crusty local baguette; fresh melon and strawberries from today's market and plenty of rose wine.

See you tomorrow!

April 28
We're awake early, showered and walking to our favorite spot for little cups of coffee and breakfast sweets. Walking back, Frank buys more conserves from the lady at her window and we pick up a dozen fresh eggs from a man setting up for today's Meze market wearing an old beret. He looks sooooo....French!

After noisettes (espressos with a splash of foam in little cups) and pastries, we walk back to the apartment and then drive to Narbonne, the first Roman settlement outside Italy, and Dino thinks the Romans just took the Grimaldi ferry to the first place they could find and that was it! Without a canal, what else could they do?

Frank thinks the Roman general fell in love with a local maiden. Whatever is the real reason, we don't really care. We're here for the outdoor market, and it is a lovely town with a more relaxed market, in two parts of the central town.

Flanked by plane trees, the central area is a beauty, even if some of the stalls are not. We're more interested in the food for pranzo and cena than for the other things, but do pick up Spanish flamenco dresses for the grand daughters and a few other things.

Wanting to see the old town, we walk down narrow streets and find a place for pranzo under the trees; it is excellent, with a lamb dish and couscous for three of us and salade nicoise for Candace. Crème brulee for dessert is an added treat, and yes, ordering the special meal is always a good deal in France and almost always cheaper.

We walk back through the town and drive back, by way of a couple of wineries. At a tasting room of two of them, we find wines we like quite a bit and pick up more for our nightly repasts and to take home.

Back at home in Meze, Sofi is really tired, not even wanting cena. But after we eat chips and my bean dip, sausages from a local vendor and omelets of asparagus in a caramelized onion and Greek cream dip with dill and butter, finished under the broiler and served with a bottle of rose, we're ready for a walk, although Sofi has been out like a light on the couch.

We wait to clean up and instead wake up Sofi and take a walk around town; we like the town a great deal and Frank can't resist looking at real estate listings and possible buildings to buy. It is his hobby...

Back at home, we're all tired, and ready for a good night's sleep and hopefully a clear day ahead tomorrow in Beziers for tomorrow's market.

April 29
We drive to Beziers with Candace and Frank; walk around town to the indoor and outdoor markets and eat pranzo at a great restaurant overlooking the esplanade flanked by two rows of giant plane trees.

Our waiter at La Compagnie des Comptoirs is by far the funniest we've ever had. In case you want to know where to eat when in this lovely town, this is the place.

Again, we arrived at the main church a bit earlier at just before noon and were not let inside. At least the folks at the restaurant made us feel welcome. Be sure to arrive at the church earlier in the morning if you don't want to be locked out.

Since we've taped the Royal wedding of William and Kate back at home, we're not worried about seeing it live. On the way back we find a fabric store, where I spend thirty minutes picking up fabric for the grand daughters to make wonderful costumes for them. No one in the car is happy with me.

I seem to redeem myself by making a dinner of fresh scallops with breadcrumbs, butter, shallots, lemon and parsley to have over basmati rice.

Sofi is in heaven, since we picked up a wonderful polka dot bed for her along the way, padded on all sides so that she can lounge around upon it. When back home, she eats her crocanti and then goes to sleep while we sit around and drink more rose wine and have dinner.

Afterward, we find time for a walk, but don't stay up late, for tomorrow is a big day in Pezenas at the giant market, and Candace and Frank leave for home on Sunday morning.

Back in Mugnano, it's raining; the tree raising has been postponed a week, and we're so happy; we'll be home to see it in plenty of time.

Weather here seems to cooperate, with the only real rain last night while we slept. How fortunate we are!

April 30
We wake to another day or sun, with no clouds in the sky. After coffee and pastries from our now favorite boulangerie and café, we drive to Pezanas, the location of a remembered wonderful town with plenty of antique shops and hundreds of stalls of old treasures.

But the brocante (antique) market is tomorrow; instead, there is a normal plein aire (outdoor market), albeit with hundreds of stalls. With no tulips around, except for one bunch of yellow ones that aren't the type of which I am searching, Candace is still able to pick up ten tomato plants and several herbs and other plants for her garden.

Dino finds a tapas restaurant and bar, and we agree to meet up there. It's another really wonderful meal, one we'd be happy to repeat. But since it's their last full day with us, we think we'll drive on to another town.

Instead, we look for the winery that produces the rose wine we've enjoyed so much at today's meal. Around and around we drive; finding ourselves following signs to places we think are tasting rooms; instead they are the locations of the vines, themselves. The actual tasting room for the wine in the town of Magalas is closed!

Thinking we'll find some local source for wines of the region, we follow more signs and find ourselves at the signpost indicating what appears to be an interesting winery; alas, it is closed for inventory. Inventory! How strange!

Frank, friendly sort that he is, gets out of the car and tracks down someone; it is a woman whose husband manages the property. She rouses her husband and the owner of the winery. They are not doing inventory at all; the owner is watching a rugby match on t v.

Agreeing to give us a tasting, what happens next is one of those life-affirming events. We're so charmed by the people and their extraordinary wine that I decide to do a painting for them. None of the four really speak English, but a young woman does who works for them and will be at work on Monday morning. We'll return then to see if they have photos I can study.

Sadly for Frank and Candace, they have to leave tomorrow morning for home. So they stock up on wine and we all say goodbye.

While waiting around during the tasting and purchasing process, Dino's phone rings, and it is Tia, who has jumped over our front wall in Mugnano with Judith and is looking for the cats.

"How do we get out when we find them, and where are they?" she questions Dino. He give her instructions, but does not really know where the cat and kittens are, other than in the summer kitchen.

Dino tells her he'll call the woman whose family is staying at the house and will call her right back; she is unavailable by cell phone, so he calls Tiziano. Tiziano knows nothing about the cats, but has four of his own his family would like to get rid of.

Dino calls Tia back, they're now leaving Mugnano with all the cats, and Saint Judith is probably making arrangements on the phone at the same time to spay each one of them...subito! Judith and Tia are two wonderful women in Amelia who love dogs and cats and do all they can to rescue and spay those whom are abandoned. Sadly, Italians are known for abandoning domestic animals, and the Italian men do not believe in spaying...especially any hunting dogs. Judith and Tia...to the rescue!

Dino and I are extremely relieved. As much as I love Dino, I did not want to wait to return home to expect him to deal with the cat situation. I took matters into my own hands and sent the women each an email last night asking for their help.

Exceptional bottles of wine from this winery will be our small tokens of thanks for all they do to rescue animals. If you're moved by what they have done, consider making a donation to a dog or cat shelter or spaying program where you live. It's a wonderful thing to do.

Dino has a piece of paper with the name of the best place to eat oysters in Bouziguez, and we drive there to make reservations for tonight. After driving around and then asking locals we find it, and make a reservation for about an hour from now, giving us time to get to the house and change clothes and feed Sofi.

Earlier in the day, I lost a large filling near the front of my mouth, and will probably need a cap when we return home. There's no pain, but I'm not really hungry. My misfortunes seem to continue tonight at the restaurant, when our waiter treats me rudely for some strange reason.

I am really afraid of eating a fish when it is served to me with its head attached; its staring up at me gives me the willies. So when prawns are served to me this way, I ask him if he will kindly remove the heads. He takes my plate away, gets into some kind of drama, and dances around with the plate, then returns it to me; turning away and disappearing, ignoring me. Later, when the plates are cleared, he leaves mine. I'm now irritated, and since my dish was served with cold pasta to begin with, I've had enough; wishing I were a restaurant critic, I'd love to give the place a piece of my mind. It's name is La Palourdiere, so be forewarned if you are in Languedoc and are looking for a place to eat well and enjoyably.

And so our month ends, with us away from our blissful Mugnano for just a bit longer.

Here's some news from Italy:

Roman mausoleum found under illegal waste dump

Decorations and stucco under tons of toxic refuse

(ANSA) - Naples - An ancient Roman mausoleum has been found under an illegal toxic waste dump near Naples.

The sprawling 2nd-century AD tomb, complete with stucco work and decorations, was discovered under tons of so-called 'special' refuse illicitly piled up in 17th-century ruins at Pozzuoli, site of the ancient Roman seaside town of Puteolanum.

Police with diggers cleared away the top level of garbage and unearthed an underground tunnel leading into the mausoleum, which archaeologists from the nearby town of Cuma described as "of extraordinary interest".

The owner of the site and the man who leased it from him have been cited for crimes against the environment and Italy's cultural heritage.

The Naples area is dotted with illegal waste dumps, many of them managed on the sly by the local Camorra mafia.

Pozzuoli, a pretty fishing port whose Latin name meant 'malodorous' because of the presence of sulphur vapors, has the third largest Roman amphitheatre in Italy.

Fake blind man caught driving

Naples 'invalid' claimed 60,000 euros in benefit

22 April Bottom of Form (ANSA) - Caserta - An Italian man claiming benefit for blindness has been caught driving a car and arrested.

(ANSA) - Assisi - The tomb of St Francis of Assisi has reopened after a seven-week restoration, the first in its long history.

St Francis, Italy's co-patron saint (along with St. Catherine of Siena), was buried in a rough-hewn stone sarcophagus in 1230 and lay there until the Catholic Church decided to move his body to an elaborate bronze urn, complete with the seal of the Holy See, in 1818.

This was placed in a newly enlarged crypt under the main altar of the Basilica Inferiore in the saint's home town.

The stone of the crypt and the metal of the urn have been scrubbed and burnished in record time since they were closed for the start of the restoration on February 25.

"This work of extraordinary maintenance was carried out through the night too, to keep the time of closure as short as possible," said church press officer Father Enzo Fortunato.

The technical details of the operation will be illustrated Saturday, he said, as Franciscan chapters from all over the world gather for a Mass presided over by Italy's top bishop, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco.

A votive lamp will also be relit in front of the tomb.

It is fed by olive oil donated, on a rotating basis, by Italian regions on St Francis's feast day on November 4, also a national day of peace.

The unnamed man, 67, had claimed some 60,000 euros in benefit since 2003, tax police said.

The man was stopped at a spot check near Naples and countersigned a fine for not having his license on him, without realizing he was on a police database of people suspected of invalidity fraud.

ANSA English > News Restored tomb of St Francis reopens - Work completed 'in record time'

Bottom of Form Carpenters nabbed trying to cash in on Medieval coins

Pair failed to report worksite find, wanted to make million

op of Form (ANSA) - Milan, April 8 - A pair of carpenters is in hot water after trying to make a fortune from a treasure trove of Medieval coins they found by chance at a worksite on the outskirts of Piacenza.

Having verified the authenticity and value of the 635 pieces, instead of reporting them to the authorities, they tried to sell them to Italian and foreign collectors and traders for around one million euros.

But traces of the efforts to sell the find via Internet were detected by Milan tax police, who tracked the duo down and seized the coins.

The pair have been charged with illegal appropriation of archaeological goods belonging to the state.

The trove includes a set of silver pieces minted by the Milan House of Visconti, Republic of Pisa pieces and money from other Italian cities dating from between the 12th and 15th centuries and in excellent condition.

The police said they will now be put in the hands of a museum so that everyone can admire them.

ANSA English > News - Italy sets world record with heart surgery on 100-year-old

'Procedure never before used on person of that age'

(ANSA) - Rome - Italy has claimed a world record in the field of surgery with a lifesaving open-heart operation on a 100-year-old man.

The unnamed patient, a former doctor, was saved with a procedure never before used in a person of his age, Florence medical experts said.

The operation, involving the implantation of an artery-widening balloon and three stents, was carried out at the Tuscan capital's Careggi Hospital.

The patient, an ex-urologist born in February 1911 who worked until he was 80, was said to be "doing well".

Why is it that Italian news is so entertaining? You tell me! Italians are great storytellers, and often laugh at their own telling, even if the quip is something silly.

We're missing Italy...or rather, the Italians, as well as little Mugnano that we love so. But here, the trip is full of adventures and fun. So we're taking it all in happily....

We're still in France for a few more days...

May 1
Before our good friends leave us in Meze to drive home to Italy, we walk into town for a petit dijournee (breakfast...how about a little French?) at the bar I call Frank's bar, after picking up pastries from our favorite patisserie around the corner.

The day is another divine one, with a bit of a breeze. Skies are clear, and we know the rest of the day will be marvelous.

After Dino helps our friends pack up and leave, we return to the Meze market, with 100 or so stalls, and pick up a few things to eat and walk around. We find ourselves back at our now favorite bar, hanging out for an hour or two while our laundry washes and dries in a Laundromat down the street.

We eat a panini from the place on the corner where teenagers congregate, and its ham and cheese, abbastanza buona... (good enough, at least the bread is great).

We take a nap, for there has been plenty of sun, and we're ready for one, although outside a parade of silly revelers continues on this local holiday...

Afterward, Dino wants to take a ride, and does not tell me where we are going, but he has found a town in one of the books we are reading on Languedoc, and it is Saint Guilhem Le Désert.... Yes, it is a lovely town, but hundreds of other folks have found it, too, and it's a good thing it is almost 7 P M. Earlier in the day, we know it was mobbed by tourists, not unlike us, wanting to view all the beauties of their trip without other tourists around....

We drive back to Meze and take Sofi for a walk, but are tired, so retire to our bed and read while the night sky turns dark and before we know it we're asleep.

May 2
Yes, it's beautiful again, and we walk up to what is now our regular patisserie and sit at our favorite bar for café au lait.

Because we're due at the winery at around ten, we drive there and the employee who works in the office speaks excellent English, although she was born in Paris. No, she never wants to return to Paris, living nearby and loving the area and her life here.

We copy photos onto our computer key and download them onto our computer. Later this summer I'll do a painting of grapes for them. Why not pick up a six-bottle case of rose wine while we're at it?

We drive back to Narbonne for pranzo, but really to find a gift for Tiziano for overseeing the house while we are gone. We're able to find an Orange store (Telecom), where Dino can update his French internet access and eat at an outside café where we have salade nicoise, which here includes beans and canned corn, rice and tuna, but no potatoes. It's quite good.

We drive to Meze from there, begin to pack up our things, and have a frigo cleaning supper, which is quite good. We've picked up a refrigerator tote at the market and have freezer bags chilling, so tomorrow morning we'll pack up those perishables that we want to keep. Tonight everything else is thrown out, including glass bottles; we take a walk down alongside the beach after we eat to the giant recycling bins and drop in all the bottles.

It's a lovely mild night, with no breeze, and is so clear that Dino can't help taking this view of the harbor.

We're back at the house, and since there is no T V, look for stories about the death of Bin Laden; when it happened we had no idea, and until we connected tonight with our computer did not know about Obama's speech announcing it.

It seems whenever we leave the country for a vacation, some important figure is killed: Anwar Sadat, Diana... now Bin Laden. We leave tomorrow for home, a day early, and look forward to watching some of the news on television when we return. Hope it's good...

May 3
This morning we leave France, driving to San Remo. The city is a disappointment, as it's so very noisy. The place where we stay, Villa Sylva, is quite lovely, as is our room with a large balcony, reminiscent of our trips to lovely Bellagio, so long ago.

It's difficult to believe that our love affair with Italy began in September 1994; actually we've individually loved all things Italian since our youngest days.

Dino grew up in a house where Italian was spoken now and then and his grandfather was born in Lucca, immigrating to the US in 1904.

My father emigrated from Ukraine to Boston in 1912, living in the Italian section of Boston, known as the North End. I recall fondly those visits as a child with my father to taste the zeppola (fried dough with sugar on top) and tamarindo syrup there; poured over a little cone of crushed ice on hot summer days, I can still recall the taste. Could it be Coca-Cola without the spritz?

So the Italian language and culture are an important part of each of our heritages. We walk around the town, toward the beach, and find a new place for pizza; yes, now that we're back on home soil, it's time to return to the favorites.

May 4
We leave early, not interested in the hard rolls for breakfast, and drive to the highway as soon as we can. It's another long day of driving, but thanks to the iPod, we listen to programs we've downloaded as well as music. The soundtrack for Big Night has us singing along as we find our way to the A-1 and home.

It's wonderful to be back home in Mugnano; the last two glycine on the terrace are in bloom, and they are dark purple! They were obviously incorrectly marked, but are blooming now, so we forgive the mistake, deciding to keep them located where they are.

There's plenty to clean up to get rid of the cat...well, you know. At least the cats are gone from here. All the flowers and plants are lush and happy and the wisteria is so expansive that the kitchen is even dark inside; it's also very shady under the pergola in front of the house. What a change! We'll surely welcome the shade on hot summer days and evenings.

There's much to catch up on, including the wedding of William and Kate, and we watch the ceremony and then turn in. Things here look strange, and yet they look comforting. We've been gone long enough that we need to settle back in, but oh, how we love it here! Here is a photo recap of the last part of our trip to the Languedoc region of France.

May 5
I can't wait to get up. While putting a load of laundry in, I clip spent blossoms on the rose arch and determine that yes, it is at its best now. The rose is an Alistar Stella Gray, and I think of it as Frank's rose, for he loves it. Tomorrow he and Candace will be here and perhaps we'll have our Christmas photo taken under it. Come no? Rosina welcomes us back and tells us she thinks the weather will be wonderful this weekend for our village festa...."Speriamo!" (We hope so...) we say to each other.

Dino begins to clip the spent blossoms on the glycine (wisteria) in front of the house, and I remind him that these garden tasks are the ones we love most; he agrees.

We're on our way to Rome to the dentist this morning; I'm expecting some pain and to roll my eyes when we find out how much it will cost. Remember, we spend in dollars, so everything is more expensive here. The good news is that we don't spend much on everyday things, but still...

Following are comments from our dear priest friend, now in Isernia in the Molise. He has some wise things to say about the death of Bin Laden on Sunday:

I still fundamentally believe that non-violence motivates us toward the virtuous life and the civilization of love. When I say 'motivates', I mean that the difficulty of living non-violently is precisely the hard edge against which we must test our presumption of virtue in order to make sure we are not fooling ourselves. - Fr. Francis Tiso That reminds me. I heard that there is an app (application: software download) from the Catholic Church, whereby one can ready themselves for confession by typing in their sins as they go. I at first thought the idea was brilliant, until I realized that just typing in the sins does not permit a Catholic to avoid going to confession.

Dottore Chiantini, aka my hero, does quite a job on my tooth. Although telling us a cap is the best way to fix the tooth, he tells us that at about one quarter of the cost, he can fix the tooth and put in a synthetic polymer to cover what is missing.

With two doses of Novocaine, there is no pain, and we're back home by mid afternoon, in time for me to get ready for mass at 5 PM. I walk up by myself and there is mass as well as Coro practice afterward. It's good to see everyone again, and oh, so good to be back home.

No deaths in the village occurred while we were in France, and for that we are thankful. Dino stays home, organizing and unpacking, and just after I arrive home from the borgo, good friends Annika and Torbjorn arrive for a goodbye glass of prosecco. They'll return in a month or so, just in time for pizza .

The night is a lovely one, and our home seems more welcoming than we imagined. It's difficult to leave here, especially in the spring when life begins again outside and trees and flowers are so lush and fragrant. The lavender, which by now is quite mature in some areas, has thrust out its delicate shoots and in a month we'll run our hands through them as we walk by. The new deep purple glycine is lovely, too, and we'll be able to enjoy it's flowering for the next few weeks.

May 6
We think that if Dino drops me off at the hair salon in Attigliano at 8 AM (they don't accept appointments), I'll be ahead of the pack. Magari! (If only that were so!) Seven women sit on the long bench and two women are being washed and set and "perm"-ed as I walk in. These women are almost all older than me, and welcome me to join them. At least I have a book.

Two and one half hours later I am just sitting in the chair when Dino arrives with my telephone. I tell him two hours more, and call him just before my hair has been combed out. Dino likes the result, and I do as well. Perhaps we have found the right place to do my hair, but we'll have to wait and see. If it's the right place, I'll remember never to arrive on a Friday morning...

After pranzo, we work in the garden. Dino continues to clip off the spent blooms of glycine and I walk down to the front path to deadhead the Lady Hillingdon roses...five of them. I finish two of them, and pull up some weeds through the gravel there as well, and stop for the day. It is quite warm, and I need Dino to help me to tie back the roses to the wall a bit. No hurry...

We don't hurry these days; there's no reason to. Bit by bit, the garden is groomed and weeded and fed; although Dino needs to repair the irrigation system on the front path, he'll be turning it all on soon, and I'm hoping that will make his daily routine easier.

Outside, we hear contadini (farmers) on their lands, driving a tractor or two. While I'm working on the roses, Peppino and his cousin drive to his garage in his ape (three wheeled tiny vehicle) and I call out to say hello. He responds quite matter of fact-ly, and I assume he is preoccupied. But in five minutes or so, I see him rushing toward me, as if he's running from a fire. He comes right up to me and kisses me on both cheeks, asking me how I am and how Dino is.

He wants to tell me about the guests who have been at our house while we were away. Several times, he tells me, he tried to greet them, but they stayed inside the gate or drove off; never walking up to the village! I told him they were a French family, and he made some comment about the French not being friendly. We're so sorry to hear that; we know that the guests would have loved walking around the village and the residents would certainly have welcomed them.

I get ready for mass, and Dino stays home to work in the garden. I tell my Coro buddies that I'll be cattiva (bad) afterward, because I won't stay for Coro practice since we have ospiti (guests) at our house. No one gives me that look....

I move quickly out of the church after our last hymn, and see dear Vincenzo sitting on the bench near the caduti monument with Italo, and we wave to each other. I walk over for the customary buss, which is a kiss on each cheek, and Italo moves over to make room for me in the middle. I shake my head and tell them that I cannot; Dino will be geloso (jealous) and they both laugh. They are each ninety years young.

Italo's laugh is a wonder, like the snort of a tuba, and he laughs even more when I tell him we have purchased our next casa . I point to the cemetery and they laugh again. Confirming again that we will always live here, I walk down the hill and to our house, in time to do some weeding before our friends arrive.

Erbaccie! (Weeds!) There are plenty growing through the nursery cloth, and I concentrate on those that have foxtails on them, for they can be dangerous if Sofi gets one that punctures her skin. After picking up a bin full of them, I stop. In this garden, there is always something to do.

Candace and Frank and their ospiti (house guest) arrive to see our garden and we'll go out for pizza with them for cena afterward. It appears they won't be around for the tree raising tomorrow, so we'll join our neighbors for that and for the entertainment at night.

This is our village festa weekend, so of course we'll participate. Oh. The tree project looms...I'm hoping this weekend will be the last for our research, and then I'll paint the tree with the names we have upon it. I'd like to do it for Ferragosto in August, but it all depends on a number of things. Let's think about it tomorrow ....

May 7
I know we're late posting for April, but we're having a lot to do to settle back in, especially with Coro and mass each afternoon this weekend.

It's another lovely and cool morning, and after our first prima colazione (breakfast) here in many weeks, we turn outside to do more garden cleanup.

Dino loves the rosa banksia arch, and cleaning up its shape after the bloom. There are still some blooms, but most of them crumble in my hand as if they are transparent paper. While he cuts and drops their canes into the large basket, I clip a few of my very favorite Paul Lede blossoms and this year Caroline Testout blossoms, several cuts of teucrium and look for other things to add to a spring bouquet in the house.

What I find when walking over to a raised area next to the living room window is an injured bird on its side. I jump back and call Dino, who tells me to take Sofi inside. He turns two iron garden chairs over on their side and brings out a dish of water. Not able to find a dropper to use to feed it water, he substitutes the turkey baster.

My heart is sad as he tells me it will not survive. Making sure that Sofi stays away from it, he puts up an umbrella to keep the sun from causing it more pain. When Sofi is not at my side, I walk over to it and am enveloped by a dark cloud. The dear little thing tries to be courageous, but it lays on it's side and when I try to put the dish of water up to its mouth it jumps in fear and falls over on its side again.

I have such a feeling of sadness, but Dino will have none of it. He checks on it again, and in a while tells me he has moved it off our property, but has not done anything to it. I am hoping that somehow it will repair itself or have a quick ending to its life. Dino believes there is a nest in the tall nespola tree, and perhaps it fell or was pushed by its mother.

Do I believe in reincarnation? I am not sure, but how difficult it would be to come back as a bird. I so love their music, but am told they chirp to claim their territory. Perhaps my romantic dream of their lives is just that.

There is much to weed, but on this lovely morning I concentrate again on the weeds that produce foxtails. I'm soon bored by it, so as the morning continues, I return inside to catch up with you.

There's time for a little sun on the terrace while I stare in amazement at the glycine above the pergola, reaching up and over the balcony railing. Inside the kitchen, it's really dark!

Every summer we have lived here we have sweltered in the sun, closing the shutters on the front of the house to keep ourselves a bit cooler. Now the glycine will take care of all that.

This place is really a joy. One would think we lived in Southern France... for the gravel and blue shutters and style of everything, which is definitely inspired by all things French.

Why don't we live in France? That's an easy answer. We love the Italians! There is no place on earth we would choose to live other than this little spot of paradise. Hope the place where you live is your heart's desire, too!

The annual tree raising is to take place this afternoon, and Dino will not attend mass, choosing instead to take photos of the team of locals who drag the tree up to the village and raise it on high. Since I did not attend practice last night after mass, I really need to behave myself tonight. In the meantime, perhaps there's time for a short nap....

Dino and Sofi and I walk up to the borgo, but the men and the tree are nowhere around. It's time for church, so I leave a distressed Sofi with Dino and walk with my two sorelli (sisters), Rosina and Anna. Rosina is 77 and Anna will be 65 in August, so Anna is our sorella piccolo (little sister). Later, here we all are on the terrace near the caduti monument (monument to the "fallen" during WWII).

Meanwhile, the mass takes place with a quite serious Don Daniele. We'd like him to feel comfortable with us, but it's his first year, and perhaps it will take some time. He obviously takes his job extremely seriously.

As we three "sisters" walk down the street toward the piazza, Sofi rushes almost all the way to me, her ears flying in the air as if she's a mini-Dumbo. What a dear! Now that we're together, she's a bit better, but as the afternoon proceeds, unfortunately cannons shoot off in the countryside below Mugnano and the noise must hurt her ears.

Sofi loves people and crowds, but hates change; even more, she hates loud noises. For the next thirty minutes or so, she's a wreck, and I walk her past the men and the long tree as her little body shakes in my arms.

Once we are past the men and the tree, I put her down and walk her home. Once we are inside the gate she relaxes a bit, but in the house she first runs to the back of the kitchen, under a table. When she knows I am in the room she rushes out, and I take her upstairs, where she lies on the floor under the desk while I write to you.

Even though the goings on are lots of fun, Dino will take photos and will bring them home, along with three panini di porchetta (porchetta sandwiches on characteristic rolls), provided as part of the festaroli (village celebration) program.

Later, there will be music and dancing, but I don't know if we'll attend. No matter. We're home with our neighbors, and the festivities will continue tomorrow, with the important procession.

Here is a montage of this year's Alza Maggio:

May 8
Today is also festa della mama (mother's day) in Italy, as we celebrate our padrono (patron saint), San Liberato here in Mugnano. We walk up to church and Dino is greeted by one of his confratelli, Mario Colteluccio, who tells him that with his tan he looks un po Obama . Here in Italy there is little class distinction between colors of skin, so the comment is pretty funny.

Our Coro sounds good, strangely, perhaps with Don Daniele accompanying us on his Yamaha piano. Happily, Don Renzo is our priest on this special day, and we all have missed him so. He gives each of us in Coro a hug and a laugh, and we miss him even more, not that we don't respect and enjoy Don Daniele.

The procession knocks me out, as it always does. I will write about the processions for Italian Notebook. In the meantime, I must stop to prepare pranzo , while Dino gets ready to watch Formula 1 on TV.

So what is it about processions in our village that makes me shiver? To me, the horn and the tuba stand out (they're funny, when they're not high drama) but in concert with the rest of the instruments of the band, the effect is palpable. For many years the music even brought tears to my eyes. This afternoon the band will perform for us as part of the weekend festivities, and we will ask the band leader the name of the first piece; the one that is the most dramatic.

I'm sure you've watched a procession in a movie; other countries have them as well. When I do the research for the story, I'll let you know more...

Oh. Sofi and I take a nap after pranzo , and Dino joins us after watching the Formula 1 race on TV. We wake after the festa entertainment begins, deciding to stay at home instead. We know their music, and don't imagine we'll be missed. It's the locals who love being with each other and their families, especially with children running around, that makes any entertainment fun here.

Our dentist told me to let him know if there is pain in my mouth, and today there is. I take migraine medicine and send him an email. Sempre Avanti! (Always forward!) Life goes on.

Tonight we watch TV with little Sofi next to me at 10 PM while the fireworks erupt right below our house in the valley. I rub her stomach and put a hand over one ear as she lies next to me, and the brave little dog does not shake. The fireworks are loud, but don't last long. Perhaps this year's budget is smaller than usual. It's all over in less than fifteen minutes, and we can go to bed tonight not worrying about the noise.

May 9
Mario arrives at 6:30 AM to weed whack. Skies are clear as Dino takes herbicide to spray weeds on the front path after Mario finishes there. It's not our property, for it belongs to the Comune, but they don't take care of it and we tend the five Lady Hillingdon roses growing against our front wall, so need to walk there.

If you've been a reader for a long time, you'll recall that because the Comune has not taken care of the path to the deconsecrated church of San Rocco, it has slid and our 800-year front wall of huge stones fell upon it several years ago. The stones sit on our far property, with the last sindaco (mayor) agreeing it is their responsibility but telling us there was no money to fix it. We have yet to commence our pleas to the present sindaco, and he is a very good and serious man, but we are not sure of the outcome.

Knowing that there are things to put away from our trip, I also know that it is time to take out the summer clothes and put away the winter ones. Why is it that clothes last forever? Long after styles change, our things are still in good shape, so the chest in the studio is opened and winter things move here from our bedroom.

We leave early for the weekly Montecastrilli market to pick up our giganti variety of pomodori plants, and since we were away for the annual farmer's market in that town, call the grower and he has these waiting for us. Well, not waiting for us, but he knows we want them. We pick up eight of them, since Dino thinks we'll have room for fifteen plants this year, with basilico plants in between. That means we're looking for seven or so heirloom tomato plants...good luck!

It is so windy this morning! I'm not dressed for cold wind; well, it's not a cold wind, but wind plus mild temperatures makes one feel cold. The grower thinks this weather is a disastro (disaster) for him, for many people won't come to the market in this weather. Huh? Aren't farmers a hardy type?

He has no heirlooms, or tomato plants from other countries, so where do we find heirloom tomato plants in Italy? I learn more than I want to know in a February 2011 article online:

A Probe Launched To Investigate The Role Of Mafia In Italian Tomato Trade

In what could stun food lovers in a country where everyone takes food seriously, A Probe has been Launched To Investigate The Role Of Mafia In Italian Tomato Trade. Role Of Mafia In Italian Tomato Trade is not something common we hear every now and then, let's find out the inside details with this article.

Mafia row in tomato trade: The debate about Role Of Mafia In Italian Tomato Trade started when host of popular daytime show, Occhio alla Spesa, Alessandro di Pietro urged the buyers to stop buying Sicily's Pachino tomatoes since they have become mafia tomato now. The presenter alleged mafia row in tomato trade that resulted in higher Pachinos prices. Pachino tomato is a small, sweet and juicy variety grown in Sicilian town Pachino and is considered the best variety of tomatoes in the country.

Why Pachino prices higher? Di Pietro further explained that the shoppers pay 11 times higher than what growers sell to traders, clearly showing role of mafia in Italian tomato trade. Where does all the money go? He answered that this is because mafia controls the distribution of Pachino tomatoes, making them mafia tomato.

Row deepens: Mafia row in tomato trade further deepens when Sicilian growers criticized the TV anchor for boycotting calls over suspicious role of mafia in Italian tomato trade. They warned the government that such accusations would indirectly affect 5,000 Pachino tomato growers in Sicily region. Responding to the fury, Italy's Parliamentary Anti-Mafia Commission announced to investigate the Role Of Mafia In Italian Tomato Trade.

The mafia row in tomato trade has also upset the ministers, prompting Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo to instruct state media RAI to withdraw the presenter's comments on mafia tomato.

I found this article from ifood.tv, so don't shoot the messenger...really. I still can't find the tomato plants...

Since we're out working in the garden, I don't know what to do with the spent anemone flowers. So I look up the flower on the internet. Interested?

The name Anemone comes from Greek and roughly means wind flower, which signifies that the wind that blows the petal open will also, eventually, blow the dead petals away.
The Anemone plants are perennial herbs with an underground rootstock, and radical, more or less deeply cut leaves.
The elongated flower stem bears one or several, white, red, blue or rarely yellow flowers. There is an involucre of three leaflets below each flower.
The fruits often bear long hairy styles, which aid their distribution by the wind. They produce cup-shaped yellowish, white, purple, violet, or red Anemone flowers.

I plant lobelia and boca di leone (snapdragon) plants around, and take the potted peony plant into the summer kitchen to keep it out of the wind. It's a glorious day, but the wind is more than is pleasant, so we're hoping it will find its way somewhere else...subito!

There's more nettle than we'd like...it shows up everywhere and is an "ouch!" a minute. I pull whatever I can from the raised bed next to the summer kitchen, but still can't tell which are weeds and which are growing from seeds I've planted...Let's look up the seed packets...I can't even remember what I've planted except the beautiful blue anemones....

There's cavolo cappuccino blue cabbage (I love the color), lupine, antirrhinum majus (snapdragon), as well as both blue and white anemones. I see no cabbage popping up at all, but the container shows that it should appear this month. There must be lots of weeds, because nothing in the bed looks like any of these. It's a good thing we purchased snapdragon and lobelia plants this morning...

Since Cristina should be here by Friday, I'll make excuses and stall until she gets here. She'll certainly know what to do. In the meantime, Dino will probably have me working with him to plant the tomatoes....but where will we find heirloom plants?

I email everyone I can think of in Italy for ideas. It's funny that we can buy special buffalo mozzarella and all kinds of basil in Italy, but the tomatoes all seem the regular kind. How can we make the best caprese (sliced tomato, buffalo mozzarella cheese, fresh basil, salt, pepper and the best olive oil drizzled on top) without it?

My sorella grande (0lder sister), Rosina, and my sorella piccolo (little sister), Anna, come by so that we can have a sisters' photo taken underneath the roses, and they stick around after Dino leaves; he wants to do some errands, or just be away from the gabbing. It's really fun to have girl friends to hang out with, and I look forward to having them visit us here as the good weather has everyone living outside.

When they leave, I turn back to the six large planters on the terrace where the glycine (wisteria) plants grow, where I take the terra cotta volcanic balls out and put them in a pail, and put the new bedding plants we've purchased this morning on top. When Dino returns, he can add more soil and the new taupe colored volcanic balls and the result will be lovely colorful flowers under the shade of the glycine (wisteria), already full and lush overhead.

How dark it is in the kitchen! We will bless this on hot summer days, I am sure. For now, I put on the lights and walk around speaking softly, as the darkened room has me wanting to whisper. It's all good.

May 10
We'll remember fondly these cool mornings and evenings when we're in the midst of summer heat waves. This year for the first time we'll have a blanket of glycine leaves over the front terrace nearest the house, and it will be interesting to see what it feels like as the sun beats down upon us. I drink in the sweet air as if I want to save it in a bucket. The birds outside our windows must have been up for hours...

There's a pedicure to have this morning; then I need to get going on the harem pants for the nipotini (granddaughters) and perhaps another outfit for the summer. This is the week to do it, if they are to arrive for their birthday.

Dino has the irrigation system to re-hook and alter to make his life easier. I notice that the roses need more water...perhaps they need the steady drops the irrigation sysem supplies them.

I think of these as "the salad days", and I don't know what the metaphor comes from, but Wikipedia tells us:

The metaphor comes from Cleopatra's use of the word 'green' - presumably meaning someone youthful, inexperienced, or immature. ... "Our love for each other was stronger than ever, but I preminisced [sic] no return of the salad days." ... Salad days" is an idiomatic expression, referring to a youthful time, accompanied by the inexperience, enthusiasm, idealism, innocence, or indiscretion that one associates with a young person. More modern use, especially in the United States, refers to a person's heyday when somebody was at the peak of his/her abilities-not necessarily in that person's youth.

I'm surely to hear from friend Don about this, and yes, these certainly are our salad days in many ways. Add joyousness to the list, for we are certainly joyful.

It's so cool in the kitchen that I put on another layer while fixing pranzo. Cristina arrives afterward, and works here in the middle garden for the rest of the afternoon, preparing the ground and planting the three plumbago plants to cascade over the front wall there. Yes, that's me again with more blue in the garden...

Enzo and a person from the caldaia (water heater) repair company check our water pressure in the bathroom, and have turned down the temperature. That means we won't use a mixer when taking a shower. Speriamo. It's hopeful that that will take care of the water pressure problem. They will return early tomorrow morning. While they're trying to determine the source of the problems, I hear an in un attimo! (in a minute), and that phrase is a good thing to learn.

Paolo arrives to measure for a screen door for the summer kitchen. We want it to keep cats and mosquitoes out, and don't feel a need for winter doors; in wintertime, we don't spend much time in this room, so won't need it; or at least we think we won't...His estimate is high...we're not sure what we'll do, but need at least another estimate before moving ahead.

Dino plants a big lobelia plant that we purchased as a plastic hanging planter on the front wall of the house; he's taken it out of the plastic and repotted it and yes, it is really beautiful...yes, we now have even more blue flowers...

I'm strangely tired; almost feeling weak, so lie down while all about me folks putter around, but it won't work; so I get up and putter in the garden with Dino and Cristina. She's prepared the tomato garden for planting, and tomorrow afternoon will arrive to work with Dino to plant the ones we have. Perhaps in advance we'll pick up the basil plants to insert between each two...

Tonight Sofi and Dino and sit on the couch, with Sofi resting beside me; my hand on her tummy. I dearly love that sweet dog; earlier Cristina locked her in the gardener's cottage by mistake, and when the door opened she rushed into my arms. It's as if her reason for living is to watch over me...We've never had a pet like her, and perhaps never will again. I bless each day, and as many as ten times today I gave thanks for being here in this place, loved by Dino and Sofi and oh, so very content.

May 11
Dino has an appointment at the hospital in Orvieto for the first of four appointments to check his eyes for glaucoma. When we were in San Francisco last November, he had his eyes checked and was told he needed to have them checked against the possibility of developing glaucoma, so we have been waiting to get an appointment here.

The machine is brand new; so new, in fact, that after checking one eye, it malfunctions, and they call in a technician. Well, they call for one, but the person won't arrive for half an hour. We decide to wait, and as we leave the examining room are face to face with a main sitting on a stool, wiping his eyes. What stuns us is that there are three policemen with guns guarding him, and he is strapped to one of them with a cord. Yikes!

We walk out to the car and Dino returns to wait, while Sofi and I wait in the car, with the door open for air, the sun reflector guarding us from the sun's rays. In less than an hour Dino returns, with this exam proving to be a good one.

We stop on the way out at a shop that sells pomodori and other vegetables to plant in the garden, and this is where we pick up scatalone di Bolsena, which we are told is a red striped fruit, available only to select growers, as well as yellow tomatoes and black cherry tomatoes. We now have about twenty pomodori plants, and I am not sure what Dino will want to do, since he wants to irrigate enough space for fifteen only, and we purchased eight of the gigantivariety on Monday in Montecastrilli.

We also pick up fifteen or so basilico plants and a package of rugghetta seeds, as well as a dozen or so of a type of lattuga (lettuce) called cappuccia, which is round in shape. We'll plant these in long terra cotta pots, setting them high off the ground so that we can reach them easily and hopefully keep snails from chomping away at them.

Back at home, we have a hasty pranzo and the afternoon is filled with garden work: laying irrigation for the pomodori and basilico and planting them and planting the lattuga in the terra cotta pots, then tying lengths of thin copper wire around each pot to deter snails.

What about the planting area outside the summer kitchen? We've determined that it will be a rock garden, with the taupe lava balls, large rocks and types of cactus that look more like flowers...I love echeveria, and there will be some of those, and other things. For now, no tree will be put here. Oh. There will be six or seven pomodori plants...why not?

When Cristina the garden helper leaves, we give her two huge rosemarino plants to take with her. They've been hanging over the tufa planters above the parcheggio and are looking seedy. So we'll replace them with new ones one of these days.

We've rearranged the area right next to the balustra outside the front door, and now some of the herbs from France will sit right outside, easy to pluck. Somehow this estragon (tarragon) plant's providence was Russian instead of French or Italian, and it is bitter, so we're replacing it with the French variety and using the same pot.

It's always good to have plenty of herbs right outside the door, and that's what we now have. We will also buy more basilico plants, other than those that will grow between the tomato plants, and will put them in a big pot on the terrace.

It's sometimes too far to walk to pick up basil for summer caprese (sliced tomatoes with sliced buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil) where the pomodori are growing. So why do we plant them also between the plants? Well, we are told they help the tomatoes taste sweeter. Come no? (Why not?)

Come no? is one of my favorite phrases. It's such a great response to a silly question of why we are doing something, and does not require that we know the answer.

May 12
We have an annual Mediterranean Garden Society Meeting this morning, and it sounds oh so snobby. It's really not; members of the Italian branch are like the Italians; they like to have fun and socialize and tell stories as well as look at wonderful gardens and buy great plants at even greater prices. The international branch is oh so much more rigid. What do we want in our branch? It will be interesting to discuss it at the meeting.

Candace and Frank will take Sofi for the duration, and we'll drop her off beforehand and return in the late afternoon. She loves them; they're her god parents; but she wants to stay by my side. We're hoping it won't be a problem.

I hate leaving the house; I'd rather be here working in the garden, although I really have to sew those costumes for Marissa and Nicole to get them to them for their seventh birthday. It will all work out...

We drop Sofi off at Candace and Frank's. Although we wanted to attend Orvieto's Thursday morning market before dropping her off, we purchased all the pomodori plants we have room for yesterday, also in Orvieto. There are two blacks, two yellow, two or four red striped, as well as the eight gigantis we purchased last Monday in Montecastrilli. So we're "all set".

We find the private garden, and it is a marvel, with about 150 varieties of roses. Helga Brichet takes us a wonderful tour of her her property. Her garden was featured in an Italian garden magazine a couple of years ago, and some of the members remembered the article once they arrived at the place. She even had my favorite rose, Paul Lede, growing around a cypress tree.

A number of roses are grown around cypress trees here; she tells us that the roses just need a little prompting while they are newly planted; afterward they love their new home. She also has borage plants all over the property, interspersed among more bush roses. We learned that after borage flowers and the flowers die, there are plenty of seeds to take off the flowers and plant them where you want the borage to grow. Good idea! We have wild borage growing in the wilder part of our property, and if they have not all been weed-whacked, we'll do that.

Sofi has been having a grand time; Candace and Frank took her to friends' house with a big garden, and she had a great time running around. So when we returned to Orvieto she was a bit slimmer and happy and tired.

After a short visit, we drive home and settle in, watering herbs and plants and deciding that instead of buying a blue (really purple) bougainvillea, we'll put in a deep pink rose that will climb to about ten to twelve feet, hopefully a Pink Perpetua.

I have had strange splitting nails for several days, and asked Candace and Frank our advisors on all things medicine and herbal related and are told that I am missing magnesium. So they give me a supply to try out for a couple of weeks. Come no?

May 13
Friday the thirteenth is not unlucky in Italy; it's the seventeenth that is unlucky when it occurs on a Friday.

This morning we drive to Viterbo to pick up more material for the nipotini costumes, striped linen for a cover for our sofa in the kitchen, a shoe stretcher, prescriptions and a rose plant from our friends at Michellini. Sadly, Michellini does not have the pink perpetua rose that we want to purchase.

I look online and find other vivaios (nurseries) in Italy, but none close. Even the huge Margheriti Brothers in Chiusi does not have it. It makes no sense to order it from England, so we'll continue to look, and if we don't find it this season, we'll purchase it as a bare root rose next winter.

We invite Tiziano by to give him a few things to thank him for looking out for the house while we were gone, and learn more about his life. He's just returned from vacation with Alessia to Pisa and Lucca.

Dino leaves to meet people who will be renting one of the properties in Tenaglie, and Sofi and I stay home. Earlier, I spent an hour or so sewing a hem on the linen fabric for the sofa, and now it covers the sofa in the kitchen, looking just right with the blue walls.

We wanted to plant the remaining pomodori plants, but tomorrow we'll do that; beginning with taking out all the herbacia (weeds) and little plants from the raised planter next to the summer kitchen and designing the structure that will hold eight plants.

It's a lovely evening, mild and light even at 8 P M, with a pale pink haze over the hills. Perhaps tomorrow I'll begin to make the harem pants and tops and turbans for the girls...Must get them in the mail!

May 14
It's after ten A M when we've finished breakfast, and how delightful to not push ourselves to work on project after project, beginning early in the morning.

This morning, after taking a look around the middle garden and seeing that the Pierre D' Ronsard is healthy and growing within our big olive tree, we support it in two places and I smile as I watch three of its ebullient blossoms hang over the "y" in the tree. It's a far prettier rose than I first thought.

With lots of sun overhead and not too much heat, Dino and I measure for the irrigation for the tomatoes we'll plant next to the summer kitchen, and he digs out whatever we've planted there. So much for the lupine and blue cabbage that did not take off from seed.

There are six of one kind (I think small black fruit), and one yellow tomato plants. With basilico planted between each one, we should have plenty for scrumptious summer caprese; now if we could only grow buffala mozzarella!

Twenty three plants will give us plenty to eat and plenty to put up for winter sugo (sauce).

I'm quite happy with the blower (sorry) that we use to clean the gravel; now if I could train spent leaves to blow into a leaf bag...Dino is happy because they blow under the boxwood at the front of the terrace, creating mulch.

Powdered lievito or refrigerated and fresh; It's time to study what is better to use to make pizza and bread. Yes, I do want to begin bread making...

However, before getting into any new projects, I really must make the outfits for Marissa and Nicole and get them in the mail. The fabrics are really over the top, and they may be a hit. I'll have a great time designing them and will let you know how it goes.

As usual, I'm distracted by Dino wanting to get the raised garden next to the summer kitchen prepared to plant the seven remaining pomodori plants, now sitting in pots in the sun.

We also need to cut back the Madame Alfred Carriere rose that grows against the stone wall next to the space. I deadhead the roses, going back at least to the next node with five leaves. Once that's done, Dino puts eyelets in the wall to secure the branches of the rose, moving them as far down as possible. One main branch begins to split, and we adjust it and tie it securely in two places with plastic twine. Sarah dear, is there something we should put on the spot to help it to heal?

I continue to deadhead fallen and dry blossoms from the Alistar Stella Gray roses growing over the iron gate leading to the parcheggio. It is really an amazing rose, and there must be thousands of blossoms. I know this, for I deadhead hundreds each day; it makes me a bit sad to think their time on earth is so short.

I fix a salatone (big salad) for pranzo, and although Dino loves to eat this way, I'm already bored by the salad I fix.

Sofi happily follows me around afterward, wanting to chase lucertoles (lizards), but wanting to be by my side even more. How fortunate I am to be surrounded by such love!

I'm in the studio, figuring out designs for Marissa and Nicole's outfits, and when the sun is lower on the horizon, we'll plant the irrigation system and the seven tomato plants. It's possible we'll even return to Bruno to pick up a dozen or so basilico plants to plant in between each one.

We don't make it to Bruno's, but do plant the pomodori. Perhaps six will be yellow and one small black. I continue to deadhead roses, and we re-tie one of the Madame Alfred Carrieres...the one against the outside stone wall of the summer kitchen. It has had its first bloom, and I think I'm supposed to cut any spent roses on the plant back to where there is a five leaf cluster. We've done all that, so tell me, dear Sarah, if I need to cut more.

Tomorrow is the memorial for Roy's brother Jim, aka James, aka James Paul, aka JP. He died one year ago, and we're very sorry we cannot fly back for it. He and the family will be in our thoughts, as they are as we go through the day.

It's a really beautiful day here, with a few streaky clouds that appear more like contrails in the sky. Wherever we look, there is something interesting to see and think about.

In the midst of it all, Sofi gets sick to her stomach and for the rest of the afternoon her head is down and she moves very slowly; albeit always nearby. Unless she ate something weird in the garden, all she ate was roast chicken, so nothing particularly difficult for her stomach.

I complete one set of harem pants with the exception of the hems on the ankles, for I need another measurement. If I have no word by tomorrow, I'll begin on the other set and sew what I can. I know Angie is so busy, but hope she can ask the au pair to help. Soon the girls will be able to give me the measurements by themselves...but not too soon. I love to watch them as they grow and mature.

That's all for today, folks.

May 15
Will it rain? Skies are a bit "iffy" but it's not cold. We drive up to mass with Don Angelo, and he talks about the gates of heaven and Jesus guarding the gate and us as his flock the way a shepherd guards his sheep. Am I crazy, or is it the border collies or Maremenna dogs that are the guards of the sheep and the shepherd walking along, guides them with his staff and hopefully inspires them to go where he wants them? It's worth thinking about.

There are people to greet; Miriam is back, but not joined by Gino here on this day. It's good to see her. Tiziano and Alessia are here, laughing with me about the tiny "Alessia a bordo" (Alessia on board) shirt that we gave him to put up when she is in his car. Finally, Lore and Alberto are here, and she's quite angry with me, she tells me out loud before the mass begins, because she thought we've been back for a long time and she called on April 23rd. By the time mass has finished, I think she's no longer angry; she now realizes we were in France at the time. Speriamo!

We have prima colazione (breakfast) at Nando's Bar and shop at Il Pallone, then drive home to Sofi and the rest of the day to relax. I'm so tired, and as the rain falls gently outside, Sofi and I take a long nap in the afternoon.

Duccio and Giovanna come by for a visit, and we learn all sorts of things. This week Duccio will speak in Rome about the privatization of the water system, and he is against it. We thought privatization would be a good thing, but his perception is so well thought out and researched that we have to agree with him.

He thinks privatization will cause chaos and high prices and that a kind of bond can be issued whereby the government will give people loans that they don't have to pay back; instead they will get a kind of dividend, and can later sell their shares. It will give the municipalities the money they need to redo the infrastructure.

There are water problems everywhere in Italy; perhaps one of the reasons is that the pipes that were put in a century or more ago are damaged and need of replacement; the result is arsenic in the water in some places, and some water not fit to drink. It's really serious.

There will be a kind of referendum, and the government does not want the system to be public, so it does not put the vote up on the day when people are voted upon for public office. Instead, they spend lots of money advertising for another date just for that one thing on which to vote, and to succeed, 51 per cent of the electorate must vote for it. This is one of those "yes" means "no" votes. Italians don't show up for these referendums, or whatever they are called, so these things never win.

No, we're no closer to becoming citizens; I want to visit Signor Ivo at the Comune to find out if the documents are on someone's desk to sign, as the web site seems to infer, at least for his documents, and Dino tells me we should wait. Yikes, he's becoming more Italian by the minute!

We love seeing our good friends, but they'll return to Rome, and perhaps we'll see them when niece Erin arrives in Rome in a month or so to supervise her school choir.

The rain has stopped, and Dino's happy he does not have to water, so we dabble a bit updating the website and spend the evening by the T V. Boring? For you, maybe...

Those of you who know me, or read the journal, know what a fan I was of Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, and have been for more than a decade. His passing this past year was sad...for all of us.

I'm ending this night with an article written about his views of Pakistan, and it's worth thinking seriously about what he said:

What Holbrooke Knew

By NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF Published: May 14, 2011

When he was alive, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was effectively gagged, unable to comment on what he saw as missteps of the Obama administration that he served. But as we face a crisis in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, it's worth listening to Holbrooke's counsel - from beyond the grave.

As one of America's finest strategic thinkers and special envoy to the Af-Pak region, Holbrooke represented the administration - but also chafed at aspects of the White House approach. In particular, he winced at the overreliance on military force, for it reminded him of Vietnam.

"There are structural similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam," he noted, in scattered reflections now in the hands of his widow, Kati Marton.

"He thought that this could become Obama's Vietnam," Marton recalled. "Some of the conversations in the Situation Room reminded him of conversations in the Johnson White House. When he raised that, Obama didn't want to hear it."

Because he was fiercely loyal to his friend Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Holbrooke bit his lip and kept quiet in public. But he died in December, and Marton and some of his friends (me included) believe it's time to lift the cone of silence and share his private views. At this time, with Pakistan relations in a crisis and Afghanistan under review, our country could use a dose of his wisdom.

Holbrooke opposed the military "surge" in Afghanistan and would see the demise of Bin Laden as an opportunity to go into diplomatic overdrive. He believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban, Marton says.

"Reconciliation - that was what he was working toward in Afghanistan, and building up the civilian and political side that had been swamped by the military," Marton recalled. "The whole policy was off-kilter, way too militarized. Richard never thought that this war could be won on the battlefield."

His aim, she says, was something like the Balkan peace agreement he negotiated at a military base in Dayton, Ohio. The process would be led by the United States but include all the regional players, including Pakistan and Iran.

"He was dreaming of a Dayton-like setting somewhere, isolated, no media, no Washington bureaucracy," Marton said. "He was a long way from that, but he was dreaming of that."

Vali Nasr, a member of Holbrooke's team at the State Department, puts it this way: "He understood from his experience that every conflict has to end at the negotiating table."

Nasr says that Holbrooke's aim for Afghanistan was "not cut-and-run, but a viable, lasting solution" to end the civil war there. If Holbrooke were still alive, Nasr says, he would be shuttling frantically between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to take advantage of Bin Laden's killing to lay the groundwork for a peace process.

To do that, though, we have to put diplomacy and development - and not 100,000 troops, costing $10 billion a month - at the heart of our Afghan policy. Holbrooke was bemused that he would arrive at a meeting in a taxi, while Gen. David Petraeus would arrive escorted by what seemed a battalion of aides. And Holbrooke would flinch when Petraeus would warmly refer to him as his "wingman" - meaning it as a huge compliment - rather than seeing military force as the adjunct to diplomacy.

As for Pakistan, Holbrooke told me and others that because of its size and nuclear weaponry, it was center stage; Afghanistan was a sideshow.

"A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential," he noted, in the musings he left behind. He believed that a crucial step to reducing radicalism in Pakistan was to ease the Kashmir dispute with India, and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.

Holbrooke was frustrated by Islamabad's duplicity. But he also realized that Pakistan sheltered the Afghan Taliban because it distrusted the United States, particularly after the United States walked away in 1989 after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. And renewed threats of abandonment won't build trust.

Rather, Holbrooke poured his soul into building a relationship not only with Pakistani generals but also with the Pakistani people, and there were modest dividends. He helped improve C.I.A. access to Pakistan, which may have helped with the raid on the Bin Laden compound. And he soothed opposition to drone attacks, Nasr noted.

"He was treating them as a serious player, not as if you're just having a one-night stand but as if there might actually be marriage at the end of the relationship," Marton said.

It's a vision of painstaking diplomacy toward a strategic goal - peace - and it's what we need more of. President Obama said wonderful things at the memorial service for Holbrooke. But the best tribute would be to listen to his advice.

Please don't forget that wars are not ended on battlefields. I thought President Obama was a firm believer in that. So in the spirit of peace and respect for one's fellow man/woman, may all good things come to you in this lovely month, wherever you may be.

May 16
We're not ready to post this journal, although it is time, so do give us time to get things in order...

With plenty of clouds in the sky, and after a night of rain, every living thing in the ground should be lush. It's a day to work on the harem pants and tops and turbans for the nipotini (granddaughters), and I'm looking forward to it, figuring a way while we slept last night to figure in the new measurements of the girls' growing legs.

Sorella grande and sorella piccolo walk below the house back toward the borgo after their morning cemetery visit. They are cousins in the famiglia Farina. Think flour. The name is as characteristic as life in Italy, for what is life in Italy without flour and then, bread?

This afternoon, I will experiment with farina (flour), letting loaves rise overnight in the frigo and baking them tomorrow. I find myself consciously spending my time thinking of ways to insert projects into the hours of the day. Today I feel rested and content.

When I'm downstairs, I hear Rosina call out, for Sofi is in the midst of the pomodori plants below her balcony. Sofi means no harm; she's merely curious. So I pick her up and put her on the ground and she's happy to follow me, inside or out. Although she'd rather chase lucertoles (lizards), she'd really rather be by my side.

I alter the pant legs of the first pair of pants, adding more to the bottom as a kind of detail. The longer they are, the better, for they will form more of the balloon shape they need to be to be real harem pants.

That done, I fashion the second pair, using the filmy material I was going to use for a turban as a second layer. I then make lavender colored strapless jersey tops, and will add ties to go around their necks, but need more material. I have one "jewel" for one turban, but also need a second. We're not quite ready to mail the package...

The bread project never does happen. Perhaps tomorrow...

May 17
Since a great friend from high school will visit us tomorrow for a day and an overnight, I'll begin the bread tonight, letting it rise in the frigo while we sleep.

There's an email from Serena from Castello Santa Maria, thanking us for introducing a couple to her for cooking lessons. We're happy to do all we can to help her. If you'd like to know about her and about the Castello as a place to stay and to eat, as well as to take a cooking lesson or two, here is the site:


Two men from Talete, the private/public water company, arrive to find out why we don't have good water pressure, when a year or so ago, Dino could water one side of the terrace from the other end with the nozzle of a hose, the pressure was so strong.

They admit it is their responsibility, and will return this afternoon to determine if they need to dig up the street a bit, to see if they can find the problem.

In the meantime, while Luigina and Giovanna walk by, I ask them if they'd like to come to look around the garden. It's fun to show them where the front steps were relocated...to make a garden fountain!

After a walk around I give them some chives from a pot. When they leave, Dino and Sofi and I drive to Attigliano to pick up a pot to plant more basil by the front door. During summer months, we use a lot of it with slices of buffala mozzarella and pomodori. As soon as we're back at home; Dino plants it. We now have lots of basil, and as long as we pinch the leaves from the top, and not the bottom, we'll have plenty to last all summer.

Years ago, I took leaves from the bottom of the plant, resulting in a leggy thing; now I pinch from the top, which encourages lots of growth. It's funny how such a little change in habit can make such a difference.

I spend almost an hour slicing grapes and taking out any seeds, but it is worth it; the recipe for sausage and grapes, sautéed on the stove, is from an old Artusi recipe. Dino tells me as we eat it that it's difficult to find a better dish for a meat eater. Try it and let us know what you think.


As we wait for the Talete people to arrive again, Joan and Patrick arrive for a visit. They want to see what changes have taken place, and after a walk around we sit in the middle garden and catch up with each other's lives.

When we're alone again, it's back to projects, mainly getting the studio ready for our guests to use. With plenty of birdsong and clear skies, it's a lovely afternoon.

There's lots of news from ANSA, so if you want to hear what's been happening in Italy recently, here it is. As before, skip down past the italics to return to our journal.

Draghi to be new ECB chief

Bank of Italy governor is Euro Group's single candidate - 17 May

(ANSA) - Rome, May 17 - Bank of Italy Governor Mario Draghi has emerged as the single candidate to replace Jean-Claude Trichet as president of the European Central Bank (ECB) later this year.

Finance ministers from the 17-nation euro area unanimously nominated Draghi for the ECB post late Monday at a meeting in Brussels.

Draghi's nomination became a shoe-in last week after German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear her country had lifted any reservations on the candidacy of the MIT-trained banker.

"I know Mario Draghi. He is a very interesting person of vast experience. He is very close to our views in regard to the need for stability and solidity in economic policy," Merkel said in an interview published last Thursday by the Die Zeit weekly.

Italy experiences freak cherry harvest -Phenomenon seen as sign of climate change

(ANSA) - Rome, May 17 - For the first time in living memory, cherries are maturing at the same time up and down the Italian peninsula, a phenomenon some observers see as a further consequence of climate change.

Italy usually enjoys a two-month cherry season with the harvest gradually moving from the south to the north to traditionally end on June 24, the Feast of St John.

This year, however, it's already harvest time throughout Italy with the season now expected to last only a month.

According to the gastronomic-environmental group Slow Food, the reason for this is that for the past two months or so temperatures highs in Italy have been consistently, over 50% of the time, greater in northern Italy than in the south.

The good news is that the quality of this year's harvest is very good throughout the country and prices have already plunged below last year's highs.

Earlier this month, cherries in Italy were mostly from Spain and cost as much as 15 to 20 euros a kilo, depending on their quality.

Today, the flood of domestic fruit reaching the market have pushed prices down by 50% or more. Cherries are selling for between four and five euros in Verona in the north as in Bari in the south, while those from the premium area of Vignola in Emilia Romagna are going for five or six euros and Italy's prize cherries from Pecetto, near Turin, are fetching in the neighborhood of 10 euros a kilo.

Cherry prices generally bottom out at the start of June but this year they are not expected to drop much further, since they are already rock-bottom.

Prices are expected to pick up in less than a month's time when this freak harvest will be over and the only domestic fruit available will be from the colder northern mountain areas.

What remains to be seen now is the behavior this year of the 'giuanin', the worm which invades mature cherries, making them impossible to eat. The name is Piedmont dialect for John and is in reference to the saint.

Berlusconi looks set for election setback - Centre-right candidate 'lags in Milan'

(ANSA) - Milan, May 16 - Premier Silvio Berlusconi appeared set for a surprising setback in local elections Monday as his candidate for his home city Milan lagged an upstart leftist in exit polls and early projections.

Letizia Moratti, the incumbent Milan mayor of the premier's People of Freedom (Pdl) party, was 4-5 points behind the ex-Communist candidate of the largest opposition group, the Democratic Party, (PD).

Although Pisapia appeared unlikely to reach the 50% mark needed to win in the first round, pundits were taken aback he was ahead at all.

"It's very surprising," said James Walston of the American University in Rome.

Walston said a PdL loss would have a "big impact" on government dynamics because the Northern League, its key partner, appeared to be doing much better in Italy's business capital.

"They (the League) will probably start lobbying for more ministerial posts and an accelerated push towards devolution," he said.

On the eve of the vote, political economist Franco Pavoncello went so far as to predict that a loss in Milan "would bring down the government".

"It would be a catastrophe," he said.

The Sunday-Monday vote by almost a quarter of the Italian population was the first electoral test since Berlusconi was hit by four corruption, fraud and sex proceedings. It will be the last before general elections scheduled for 2013.

The voting in other battleground cities appeared to be going as expected, with the PD looking likely to keep Turin at the first round, to hold Bologna on a second ballot, and to lose garbage-strewn Naples where the centre-left vote is split.

Turnout was a good two-three percentage points down on the last local elections, something which Walston saw as indicating that "a lot of people are fed up with politics in general".

He said voters appeared to have been turned off by the pre-vote sniping, which included Moratti claiming Pisapia had a criminal record and Berlusconi saying the centre left didn't wash enough.

Palestinians to have ambassador in Rome - Napolitano announces move during Mideast visit

(ANSA) - Bethlehem, May 16 - Italy is to raise the status of the Palestinian National Authority's representative in Rome to ambassadorial level, President Giorgio Napolitano said on Monday.

Napolitano announced the change at a joint media conference with PNA President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem Monday. "It is my duty to announce the decision of the government, which I have greeted with great satisfaction, to elevate the diplomatic delegation of the Palestinian National Authority in Italy," Napolitano said. "As a result, the leader of the diplomatic mission will be credited with the title of Palestinian ambassador to Rome." The Italian president said the decision was "of great significance" while the Palestinian delegation greeted the announcement with applause. Abbas called the news "another gift" from Italy.

Boost cooperation on paedophilia says Vatican - Mandatory reports to authorities under 'zero tolerance' norms

(ANSA) - Vatican City, May 16 - The Catholic Church must boost cooperation with civil authorities to prevent and punish paedophilia, the Vatican's sex-crime watchdog said Monday.

Writing to bishops worldwide in the wake of global scandals that have rocked the Church, the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith reiterated that bishops had a "duty" to give "an adequate response" to cases of sexual abuse of minors by priests.

This response must "bear in mind what is laid down in civil laws," the Congregation said.

Bishops, furthermore, must be ready "to listen to victims and their relatives".

The new 'zero tolerance' policy makes it mandatory for Church authorities to report paedophile priests.

Bishops, who have sometimes been accused of cover-ups, will be asked to take "greater responsibility" on the issue.

Individual dioceses will work more closely with civil authorities on the training of priests, and guidelines will be drawn up for a "coordinated approach" to the problem.

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the new rules were aimed at "encouraging Church members to face the problem promptly and effectively, with clear instructions, adapted to suit local situations". The instructions from the Congregation were issued in seven languages, Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Portuguese and Polish.

The Vatican's fresh move to crush paedophile priests came amid reports that a northern Italian priest, Father Riccardo Seppia, allegedly gave cocaine to young parishioners in exchange for sex.

The recommendations from the watchdog follow a hardening of the Vatican's line on paedophilia last July.

The statute of limitations for paedophilia was lengthened from 10 to 20 years in a new, updated version of a 2001 list of canon law Delicta Graviora (Major Crimes).

This has been a key demand from victims' groups who say too many cases have been allowed to be 'timed out'.

There will now be the possibility of immediate defrocking in the "most serious" cases.

According to Msgr Charles Scicluna, who handles abuse cases at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, some 20% of the cases that reach his desk each year are deemed to fall into this category.

Lay Church members will be allowed to sit on canon law trials.

Sexual abuse of the mentally handicapped was put on a par with the abuse of minors and child pornography was added to the list.


After an initial response to the scandals that some depicted as defensive, Pope Benedict XVI has been increasingly open about sex abuse and has prayed and wept with victims on recent trips overseas, including to Malta and Britain.

Last June he issued an unprecedented public apology, telling priests from all over the world in Rome that "We insistently ask for forgiveness from God and the persons involved". The 84-year-old pontiff vowed to "do everything possible to make sure such abuse can never happen again", vowing to weed out possible future predators when priests were selected and trained.

Alluding to cover-ups, he said "conduct unworthy of the priestly life cannot be tolerated".

The Catholic Church has been riven by a series of sex abuse scandals and has had to fend off allegations that the Vatican covered up a number of cases.

Paedophile scandals have hit the Church in the United States, Australia, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, Austria, Germany and Italy.

Benedict has repeatedly pledged to root out abuse but some victims groups have said they want to see "more concrete" steps.

Italian museum gives tourism a sweet scent - 3,500 roses create 'romance in everyone', says owner

(ANSA) - Modena, May 16 - For centuries roses have been synonymous with romance and have captivated poets from Yeats to Goethe. The Victorian writer George Eliot once wished for the sky to 'rain down' their soft petals.

Now a little-known Italian museum near the northern city of Modena is inviting those with a passion for the popular flower to come and see 750 different varieties.

The museum was created by designer Roberto Viti and his son Riccardo who were looking to escape the noise and pollution of city life in nearby Modena and live in the country.

"We decided to buy a place for a change of life," Riccardo Viti told ANSA. "We already had a passion for garden and plants but this is a totally different thing. We left a garden of 500 sq meters and created 43 hectares." There are 3,500 flowers on display at the Museo Giardino della Rosa Antica (Garden Museum of the Ancient Rose) many of them emitting their legendary perfume.

Viti said he had grown to appreciate the flowers so much he could not decide which was his favorite variety.

"It is difficult. It is like having two or three children and having to decide which one is your favorite," he said with a laugh. "It depends on my mood".

And is there an element of romance in his work? "Of course! Working with roses brings out the romance in everyone"! Every year the museum attracts around 500,000 visitors, around a quarter of the estimated two million people who choose various types of gardens and botanical visits as a holiday destination in Italy.

The museum is located in rolling hills in Serramazzoni, 25 km from Modena, and is open from the beginning of April to the end of October The Vitis have transformed the site since they took over an abandoned valley and artificial lake in 1995.

They left the site untouched for seven years before planting their garden with traditional varieties of roses as well as 20,000 other plants.

"For 15 years we have been using natural methods to manage the garden, without any chemical substances, to create a habitat presupposed by the real biodiversity of the place," Viti said.

This rare museum also runs creative cooking classes for food lovers with advice on which types are best suited for cooking from the Cardinal de Richelieu to the Marie de Blois.

Many recipes date back centuries and include pastas with rose-flavored sauces, risotto using the classic York and Lancaster rose, rose-flavored chicken and salmon, and rose ice cream. "Ancient civilizations like the Romans and the Egyptians used roses in their cooking and in their oils and creams," said Viti. "These recipes are very old but they are now in fashion". The museum also runs botany lessons and conferences for enthusiasts.

On May 21 it will feature one of Italy's best-known botanists and gardeners, Libereso Guglielmi, at a special event and guests will be invited to sample rose tea and a dinner infused with rose flavors.

The museum has become a popular point of reference for botanists and rose lovers from Italy as well as the United Kingdom, Europe, Taiwan and Israel.

Gaddafi regime's 'hours numbered,' says Italy - Signals from 'inner circle' in Libya, claims Frattini

(ANSA) - Rome, May 16 - The end of Muammar Gaddafi's 40-year rule in Libya is imminent, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said Monday, adding that the besieged Libyan leader is seeking a safe haven.

''The (Libyan) regime's hours are numbered,'' Frattini said on Italian television.

''Messages are starting to arrive from the inner circle of the regime''. Frattini said close aides to Gaddafi have said he was looking for an ''honorable exit'' and ''a place where it is possible to retire in a dignified way and disappear from the political scene''.

The minister added that Italy viewed this as desirable in order to bring the three-month conflict with Benghazi-based rebels to a close.

''We are working with the UN to find a political outcome that takes the dictator and his family off the scene and makes possible the formation of a national reconciliation government,'' he said.

Over 1,200 migrants arrive in Lampedusa, Gaddafi blamed - Frattini says Libyan regime using 'criminal instrument'

(ANSA) - Rome, May 13 - Italy accused besieged Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi of people-trafficking on Friday after around 1,200 migrants from North Africa arrived on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa on six different boats.

Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told Corriere della Sera's website that the migrant arrivals were a ''criminal instrument used by Gaddafi's regime'' against Italy for being part of an international alliance that is supporting Benghazi-based rebels.

Frattini said he expected the regime's alleged role in organising people-trafficking to be included in a dossier the International Criminal Court is preparing on Gaddafi. How deadly crossing the Channel of Sicily can be was highlighted by United Nations refugee agency UNHCR Friday, which estimated 1,200 people had died in the Mediterranean this year trying to flee conflict-hit Libya. Most of the around 30,000 people to have landed in Italy this year following unrest in North Africa have arrived in Lampedusa, a favourite destination as it is nearer to Tunisia than Italy.

At first the majority of them came from Tunisia.

But the flow from that country has been largely stemmed by an agreement Italy reached with the new government in Tunis offering aid and assistance in exchange for stiffer maritime checks and repatriations.

It is still not clear whether the six vessels that landed in Lampedusa on Friday included one that launched an SOS call in the night before all trace of it was lost.

NATO said it had rescued another boat carrying around 150 people that was in grave difficulty during the night near Tripoli. The migrant crisis has caused diplomatic friction between Italy and its European neighbors, especially France.

Italy has accused its European partners of not doing enough to help before angering them by issuing many of the migrants with temporary residence visas that enabled them to move freely within the 25-state Schengen area.

The tension has subsided after Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed at a bilateral summit this month to seek changes to the Schengen Treaty to allow for the ''temporary reinstatement'' of state borders in certain cases. These changes were accepted at the European level.

But Italy still feels it has been largely left alone to handle the problem and Frattini and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni both called on the EU to do more Friday.

''A month ago Europe promised initiatives that still have not been adopted and refugees continue to arrive from Libya,'' Maroni said.

Berlusconi turns local elections into confidence vote -'We need win for new energy' PM says in last stump speech

16 May

(ANSA) - Rome, May 13 - Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi has turned local elections across Italy Sunday and Monday into a confidence vote on his three-year-old government amid a string of sex and corruption cases against him, pundits say.

"We have to win to give new energy to our national government," said the 74-year-old premier on Friday, the last campaigning day in Milan, Naples, Turin, Bologna and seven other big cities.

The premier has been saying for weeks that a strong showing by his People of Freedom (PdL) party, especially in its stronghold Milan, would be a personal triumph and a blow against the prosecutors he earlier this week called "a cancer on democracy".

He has regularly upstaged Milan's PdL incumbent mayor, Letizia Moratti, appealing to the Milanese to vote for him personally.

In Naples too, where the premier has staked a lot of his credibility on ending a garbage crisis, Berlusconi made a characteristic last-minute sales pitch, vowing to forgive illegal construction in the chaotic southern city.

"Ever since (he entered politics in) 1994 he's turned every vote into a plebiscite, for or against him," James Walston, political scientist at the American University in Rome, told ANSA Friday.

"This time it's basically a referendum between him and the prosecutors".

Berlusconi is implicated in four cases, three of which have come to trial.

Two of these are for allegedly bribing a witness and for tax fraud on film rights and the third, and potentially most damaging, is for allegedly paying an underage prostitute for sex and getting her out of police custody on an unrelated charge.

Walston doesn't believe the scandals will play as big a part as many commentators think, however.

"Basically most people have made up their minds already, they're either for him or against him".

What could be a blow, however, would be a weak turnout in the Milan fief or the possibility that Moratti has to face a run-off in two weeks instead of winning cleanly first time round.

"Moratti not beating (leftwing candidate) Giuliano Pisapia at the first ballot would be a serious problem. That's why Berlusconi has been pulling out all the stops," said Walston.

Many pundits see the PdL's key coalition partner, the Northern League, making a better showing than the premier's party.

"If the League wins big then they will be aiming for a much bigger say in policy decisions, especially on devolution, and also angling for more government posts".

Another commentator, John Cabot University political scientist Franco Pavoncello, said it was "unthinkable" for the PdL to lose Milan.

"If it did the government would fall," he said, pointing out that the League is expected to make "a big announcement" in the aftermath of the vote on May 16.

But he said the chance of Milan falling to the Left for the first time in 20 years was "close to zero".

Unlike Walston, Pavoncello said the scandals might loom large on voters' minds and show whether the premier's popularity is closer to the 50% rating he claimed this week, or the all-time low 30% independent agencies have been showing.

The vote calls almost a fifth of Italian voters to the polls in more than 1,000 municipalities countrywide but the battleground cities, aside from Milan and Naples, are Turin and Bologna, usually fairly safe leftwing bets.

Neither Walston nor Pavoncello expected these to turn right but Walston said they would be "a major barometer for the general election", expected in 2013, if they went into a second round, while Pavoncello said the divided centre left would be concerned if it lost them.

Another potential bellwether which is usually overlooked in the bigger scale of things is Latina, a city south of Rome reclaimed by Benito Mussolini from swampland 80 years ago.

The city, some of whose inhabitants look back fondly to the Fascist days, has never returned a leftwing mayor since WWII.

But this time the field has been widely split with a record 13 mayoral candidates and a popular Italian author, Antonio Pennacchi, leading a highly unusual 'Fascio-Communist' slate.

Pennacchi is allied to the so-called 'third pole' born from a split within the PdL that threatened the government's survival in December, but has said he will vote for the centre-left Democratic Party if it comes to a run-off. Though somewhat overlooked by the pundits, Latina was where Berlusconi chose to wind up his campaigning Friday night.

Cinema: Allen to give Benigni 'big part' in new film - 'Interlocking stories' in Bop Decameron

(ANSA) - Cannes, May 13 - Woody Allen has decided to give Roberto Benigni a big part in his new Rome-based film inspired by Giovanni Boccaccio's 14th-century collection of bawdy tales, the Decameron.

"Roberto Benigni won't just have a cameo, he will play a major role," Allen told ANSA.

The veteran US filmmaker said he would update Boccaccio with "a lot of interlocking stories against the backdrop of contemporary Rome" in the film, entitled Bop Decameron.

A Hollywood A-list of stars including Penelope Cruz, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page and Alec Baldwin has already signed up for the July-August shoot while Benigni is the only Italian to have been named so far.

"But a lot of other Italian actors will be in the film," Allen told ANSA, adding, on the back of rave reviews for his Cannes-opening Midnight in Paris: "I hope it will be very funny".

Gelato university offers foreigners 'sweet success' - Scholarships for business pioneers

(ANSA) - Bologna - A Bologna university dedicated to gelato has found a new way to export the much-loved Italian ice cream to the world.

Carpigiani Gelato University is offering scholarships to foreigners who take part in Gelato Pioneers, a course that teaches aspiring chefs how to make ice cream as well as business skills.

At the end of the four-week course, the ten most talented and motivated students will be reimbursed for the course and have seven days' experience in a gelato shop, as well as business mentoring and machinery discounts.

The university was founded in 2003 as a training division of the Carpigiani Group, which produces around 70% of the world's ice cream machines. It offers 9,000 courses around the world.

Company managing director Andrea Cocchi said the project had so far been aimed at Italians but the company wanted to do more to promote one of Italy's favorite foods around the world.

"In 2012 we will launch Gelato Pioneers for foreigners to bring the artisanal gelato culture abroad and develop a start-up model at a time when the recession has shown you have to invest in yourself and your values," Cocchi said.

The university is based in Bologna in northern Italy and has large cooking laboratories equipped with 40 of the latest machines. It offers courses in 10 languages.

Praxi, an international consultancy and training company with over 40 years' experience, is also involved in the project and will help graduates who want to open their own gelato shop anywhere in the world.

"The project involves a double challenge," said Cocchi. "First, spreading the culture of home-made gelato around the world and secondly, accomplishing what so many Italians dream of doing by developing a start-up model".

The university has 20 experts with expertise as ice cream makers or pastry chefs and students travel from the United States, Australia, China, Lebanon and Africa to take part in its programs.

While student numbers fell during the global financial crisis, enrolments for the current academic year have increased by 60% compared to last year. "Carpigiani has decided to invest in people with the talent and motivation to win this challenge and is willing to place the strength of the international network that distinguishes it worldwide at their disposal," Cocchi said.

Carpigiani estimates there are more than 2,500 Italian gelato shops in Germany and the immigration of Italians has led to a growing passion for home-made Italian ice cream in Brazil, the US and Argentina.

The university runs six courses, from beginner to advanced, and says producing the perfect gelato is a "delicate balancing act" between the fat found in milk and cream, which hardens as it freezes, and the sugar in fruit.

Hemingway's culinary 'cure' served up in Venice - After air crashes, writer went for scampi, Valpolicella remedy

(ANSA) - Venice - Ernest Hemingway's favorite hotel in Venice is giving visitors the chance to try the culinary 'cure' the literary giant prescribed himself there after suffering serious injuries in two air crashes in Africa.

The writer spent several months at Venice's famous Hotel Gritti Palace in 1954 recovering after a crash during an air trip with his fourth wife Mary over Murchison Falls and an explosion the following day on a flight to reach medical care.

The accidents, which initially led to reports he was dead, caused burns, a fractured skull and damage to his kidney and liver.

But Hemingway told reporters in Venice, in the year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, that he was spurning medical treatment in favor and using Italy's wine and gastronomic delights as his therapy.

''Ernest Hemingway announced he will stay in Venice to recover from the injuries incurred in the well-known African accidents, with a powerful cure based on scampi and Valpolicella,'' read an article in Il Gazzettino Sera dated March 24, 1954. So after doing some detective work, the Gritti Palace has recreated a seafood-based dish he loved to tuck into there, scampi risotto with crustacean bisque.

It is serving it up this month as part of a menu entitled Ernest Hemingway's Cure to mark the 50th anniversary of his death.

''We devised this menu by looking at archive documents from the time and speaking to people who spent time with Hemingway while he was here,'' Liana Quagliotto, the outlet manager of the historic luxury hotel, told ANSA.

Quagliotto said these eyewitnesses included Hemingway's friend Gianfranco Ivancich, a Venetian nobleman.

He is also the brother of the late Adriana Ivancich, who, according to many, Hemingway had a platonic love affair with that started from a previous visit to the Lagoon City in 1948 and was the inspiration for Across the River and Into the Trees, part of which was written at the Gritti Palace.

The four-course menu, which costs 88 euros per person, is served with two glasses of Hemingway's beloved Valpolicella or of Soave wine. The second course is ginger- and honey-flavored duck in aged port sauce.

''We chose this dish because when Hemingway was here he used to love to hunt for duck and wildfowl with the local nobility in nearby valleys,'' explained Quagliotto.

The dessert is a special creation of chef Daniele Turco, a chocolate cigar in bourbon sauce, a tribute to Hemingway's love of Cuba and of good whisky. The final course is a portion of Friandises biscuits.

Hemingway was a lover of Venice and Italy as a whole after serving on the Italian front in World War I as a Red Cross ambulance driver, an experience that formed the basis of one of his masterpieces, A Farewell to Arms.

Andrea Gritti, one of the Doges who ruled Venice during its 1,000-year spell as a republic until 1797, commissioned the construction of the Gritti Palace in 1525.

The palace hosted many generations of Venetian noble families and their guests and had a spell as the residence to the Vatican's ambassadors to Venice before becoming a hotel at the start of the 19th century.

In addition to Hemingway, who stayed in a suite overlooking the Grand Canal, other famous guests to have visited include John Ruskin.

According to the hotel, Ruskin wrote his influential treatise on art and architecture, The Stones of Venice, there in the early 1850s.

Italian scientists 'show how we remember dreams' - 'Theta waves' key to recollection

(ANSA) - Rome - Italian scientists have found out how we remember dreams.

A team from Rome, L'Aquila and Bologna universities discovered that people will recall their dreams only if they experience a certain sort of electrical oscillation during the well-known phase of sleep associated with rapid eye movements (REM).

"Only if the cerebral cortex is flooded with slow oscillations called theta waves will the person have any recollection of his dreams when he wakes up," said the coordinator of the study, Luigi De Gennaro of Rome's La Sapienza university.

According to the experts, whose work has been published in the US Journal of Neuroscience, the same phenomenon is at work when, while awake, we form solid memories of events that are "more real" to us than others.

This mechanism is called 'episodic memory'.

"When you ask someone to remember important facts or situations," De Gennaro said, "the presence of electrical oscillations in the frontal cortex makes the recollection possible.

"If that does not happen, the memory of the event will apparently be lost forever".

The study also demonstrates something that was hitherto not thought possible, that dreams are formed outside the phase of REM sleep.

"But here the mechanism is different," De Gennaro said. "In short, we don't really know why we recall or forget dreams, but we have finally identified how we recall or forget them". The discovery came a few months after another breakthrough on dreams by the same group.

In October De Gennaro's team said they had managed to pinpoint areas in the brain that enable people to remember vivid dreams.

"We've found the parts of the amigdala and hippocampus that are linked to bizarre and intense dreams, the ones people remember," De Gennaro told the journal Human Brain Mapping.

In that study, the Italian scientists used the latest neuro-imaging techniques to get down to the "deep microstructures" in the two key brain areas.

"We think we've cracked why some people never remember their dreams and others have such a detailed memory you might almost call it film-like," De Gennaro said.

"It was possible to show that the volumetric and ultrastructural parameters of the two deep nuclei of the brain predict the qualitative aspects of every individual's dreams".

ANSA.it > ANSA English > News Mona Lisa dig unearths tombs and a crypt - Experts aiming to reconstruct face of Leonardo's sitter

(ANSA) - Florence, May 12 - Archaeologists digging for the remains of the sitter for Leonardo's Mona Lisa have unearthed two tombs and a brick vault underneath a floor in the former convent of Saint Ursula.

Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, who died in Florence in 1542, is believed to have modeled for Leonardo's celebrated portrait, now hanging in the Louvre. Overseen by Tuscany's archeological ministry, the dig in the former convent's church employs light, low-impact tools such as shovels, trowels, rakes, brushes, and sometimes just hands.

A preliminary operation this week removed part of the church's floor, made up of a 36-centimeter layer of modern reinforced concrete, unearthing a layer of ancient, 90-centimeter wide bricks. These are thought to belong either to the stairs or the vault of a Renaissance crypt.

"The finding is consistent with our records," a spokesman for the dig, art historian Silvano Vinceti, said. "We should be where the altar once stood, and where a trapdoor led to the crypt we saw on the georadar scan." Vinceti has found the bones of Caravaggio and reconstructed the faces of other artists based on their skulls.

Archeologists have also found some 15th- and 16th-century ceramic fragments and some small bones, perhaps belonging to animals.

They were led to the site by references in historical documents and by georadar scans. The aim of the dig is to find Mona Lisa's remains, compare her DNA with that of two her children buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church, then reconstruct her face and compare it to Leonardo's painting.

If found, Mona Lisa's body will be examined by archaeologists, art historians, anatomic pathologists, anthropologists and biologists. The sprawling three-story Saint Ursula building dates back to 1309, and was turned into a tobacco factory in 1810.

It sheltered WWII refugees in the 1940s and '50s before housing university classrooms in the following decades and then falling into disuse.

The site has stood semi-derelict since plans to re-develop it as offices for Italy's Guardia di Finanza tax police were abandoned in 1985.

Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti has argued that the former convent "must be" the last resting place of La Gioconda.

Most modern scholars have now agreed with Pallanti that the Mona Lisa sitter was Lisa del Giocondo, who according to the Italian researcher became a nun after her husband's death and died in the convent on July 15, 1542, aged 63. The couple was married in 1495 when the bride was 16 and the groom 35.

It has frequently been suggested that del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo's portrait to mark his wife's pregnancy or the recent birth of their second child in December 1502.

World experts have advanced a number of theories over the years about Mona Lisa's cryptic, tight-lipped smile, strange posture and oversized hands. Leading American feminist Camille Paglia simply concluded that the cool, appraising smile showed that "what Mona Lisa is ultimately saying is that males are unnecessary".

So that's it for Italian news for now.

May 18
Karen and her daughter, Alissa arrive on the train from Naples to Orte, and as I walk into the station, Karen arrives at the top step with her arms out wide. What a joy to see her!

Sofi is all a flutter at the thought of more girls around, and we put everyone and the luggage into our little car and drive home. What should we do? I want to go to Purgatorio on Lake Bolsena for pranzo and everyone thinks it's a good idea.

The restaurant is closed, so we drive to Marta on the lake and eat at Trattoria Yolanda, right on the water. The magical sound of water lapping against the pier and clear mirror-like surface of the lake has us watching a few mallards swim around, Sofi wishing she could jump right in.

After a wonderful meal, including marinated trout and salmon and roast fish, we drive to Capodimonte for gelato at the Re di Gelato (king of ice cream), and no one is disappointed.

We stop on the way home at a free sulfur bath to show our friends what these baths are all about, with people sitting in the water against volcanic stones and enjoying the warm water; that is, if the smell of sulfur doesn't bother them.

It's time to drive home and sit on the terrace before taking a walk around the village, so that we can introduce our friends to everyone. Our neighbors love to meet our guests.

With such a busy day behind us, I decide to hold off on making risotto, and instead we sit around some more and then drive to the next town for pizza at Girasole, our favorite pizzeria. Their pizza crust is so thin! Sofi sits on the banquette right next to me and waits for little tastes now and then. She's a very good dog and yes, she's quite spoiled. At least she does not whine...

It's wonderful to have guests here, and we turn in knowing that tomorrow we'll be up early to take them to the airport. The visit is too short, but it's a lovely visit, with time to gab with Karen, whom I re-name Karina (the name means pretty in Italian).

May 19
Lovely weather continues as our friends leave with us for Fimucino Airport in Rome. We hate to say goodbye, but soon they are in the terminal and we hope they will have a safe and uneventful flight to Boston.

We find a metano station in Rome and then drive home; I've bread rising in the frigo in the summer kitchen, and we agreed to bring bread today to Patrick and Joan's for pranzo

. It's a recipe I have not used before, but want to experiment to see how to make bread with a French flair. We use a heavy Le Cruset Dutch oven type pan with a cover, spritz the oven three times during the first ten minutes of cooking, take the cover off for the remainder of the bake, and the loaf turns out brilliantly, cooked just enough. It's a bit hit, and I've added a tablespoon of lemon honey while mixing up the dough.

Vowing to take notes of the bread and how I prepared it, I'll experiment with other flours and other ingredients to find the best breads. It's not as if I don't have enough projects upon which to work.

Pranzo is great fun, with most of the folks either neighbors or Irish folks here visiting. With the bread getting high marks, I vow to the group that we'll have a pizza meal soon, and it will be a meal for the "Irish"; Joan guards the bread, and tells me she won't give me any of the leftover bread to take home. That pleases me that she really likes it.

We drive home through Guardea and run into renters at one of the Tenaglie units so stop there to have a spremuta (freshly squeezed orange juice, available at most Italian bars) and to talk about their trip.

Sofi lies by my foot, and soon we're home, where she lays on her little bed in the studio, snoring away. She's had an eventful day.

May 20
Don't know what the weather is like where you are, but here it continues to be glorious, with bright skies and mild temperatures and the scent of a breeze.

The construction crew is here to try to find the water problem, and finally realizes that if our neighbor across from us and lower on the hill has great water pressure, perhaps the pipe to her property can be traced toward us.

Dino spends some time with Pepe in his garden next to us. They are discussing - at length - the water pressure problem. Pepe seems not to have any faith in the crew. But, we do. While he is in Pepe's garden - he sees a nice perspective of our casa and takes this pic.

When they leave they are not finished, but hope to find the answer and close things up on Monday. We've waited so long that a few days won't matter.

Meanwhile, we're out this morning and tonight I can't seem to remember where we've been. Concentrate ...concentrate. Dino reminds me that he took us to Viterbo this morning to pick up the bits and pieces of fabric I need to finish the costumes for the grand daughters, and then he visited a computer shop that specializes in the Mac, to figure out whether Outlook and Entourage are basically the same software.

We do love the pollo arosto (roast chicken) from IPERCOOP, and when we are there Dino shows me the salvatempo (save time) monitoring wands that we check out with our Coop card and use to wand our purchases; then check out ourselves without waiting in the long lines always at that big supermarket. It really is an innovative and wonderful system, and I'm wondering if any stores in California use it.

Not so fast... One items advertises that it is 30 cents less than what shows up on the monitor after we wand it. What to do? There is a woman at the special checkout areas and now things get complicated. She calls over a worker and they take Dino with the bottle of wine to the spot where it was picked up to confirm the price difference, and then tell him to go to the Information booth at the front of the store.

We wait there and when a woman asks us if she can help, we explain; then she types into the computer screen in front of her, makes a telephone call and then speaks with a supervisor and then does some more paperwork and then makes two copies of the paperwork and then has Dino sign one copy. We're given a piece of paper with a 30 cent credit. L'avventura continua(The adventure continues...)

There's plenty of gardening to do in the afternoon, as well as finish the costumes for the girls, and now all that's left is the instruction sheet to go with the package and the mailing, which will take place on Monday, we hope in plenty of time to arrive for their birthday.

May 21
We still have not updated the website for the first part of May. Thank you for your patience.

We leave the house early for a book swap just outside Izzalini di Todi, and the hostess is a really kind woman who evidently plans pranzo as well. Since we were given the flyer by Patrick and Joan, who are now back in Ireland, we did not know, nor were we officially invited for the meal. Sofi is the only dog and is welcomed by all.

No one monitors how many books we leave or how many we take. We certainly left many more than we took, but hope that our books find their ways to happy readers.

We stay for an hour, during which time we learn from one person who has filed for permanent residency and, despite suing and winning her case, is yet to be granted the permanent residency. She thinks we are not wise in applying for citizenship, so on the way home we agree to return to our commercialista (accountant), who advised us that unless we make money in Italy, our income from the United States which is Social Security, is not to be taxed.

Why is it all so unclear? Well, it has to do with the province one lives in, as well as the local procura. Let's write about other things...it's too pretty a day to worry.

On the way home, we stop first at the vivai below Todi and then at Spazio Verde, but neither nursery stocks the Pink Perpetua rose. We pick up a rose to plant by the main gate that should re-flower all summer, thinking that we'd order the rose we want next winter from England. The rose has no special name, but is a good size and a vibrant pink. We also pick up two cascading rosemarino plants to replace two that have dried up, and Dino tells me we'll plant all three tonight. Va bene!

We're back home in time for Dino to watch the trials for his beloved Formula One race, but RAI 1 and RAI 2 have the Giro di Italia and a basketball game on their stations. Not about to give up, he finds it on a channel marked 1007!

Dino is worried about the room remaining on the hard drive on our computer, so while he watches TV, I delete 8,000 SENT emails on our computer, although I'd rather be puttering around outside in the sweet air. It doesn't seem to make much difference on the information about the computer. Sigh!

Earlier, there was talk at the swap about Iris bulbs in the garden, and the hostess tells me that iris do not need to be separated each year; it's more like every three years, when they stop flowering. I'll have to ask Al Gore...(that's what I call the internet, which some say he claimed to have invented.)

That reminds me. I think askalgore.com is a great name for an internet information site, but it is not taken. I suppose you'd have to have "been there" to realize how funny it was for him to imagine that he actually invented the internet.

I record our new books (I log each new book in an excel format. It began as an innocent project, and now I can't stop...somewhat like the journal that I threaten to stop writing until some stranger emails me that they are big fans.) I then spend a lot of time erasing old emails and photos, although the space on the hard drive does not change as much as I'd hoped.

The girls' costumes are finished as I sew hooks into each pair of harem pants to close them at the front. So I write the instructions on how to wear and use them and Dino will mail the package on Monday. We're hoping they'll arrive in plenty of time for their June birthday.

There was time for a nap this afternoon, and in the midst of it, while we all slept, a healthy rain storm deluged the earth and the flowers with plenty of rain; no watering tonight for Dino!

Instead, we watch a Prime Suspect program starring Helen Mirren, and each one lasts two hours. They're not new shows, but the series is excellent, and since all the movies offered tonight we've already seen, it's a good way to end the evening.

May 22
Cool temperatures have us wearing long sleeved shirts when we drive up to mass. But I wear sandals, and my Coro pals point to my feet and exclaim that I'll freeze!

Don Angelo is our priest, and is really a kind man. We in Mugnano have been fortunate to have priests here who treat us kindly and with love. Isn't that at the heart of religion, anyway?

I still remember Nana's minister, Reverend Hamer, when I was a child, who raised his arms in his black robes like a vulture, looking down upon all of us like a creature in a Disney movie. His voice...oh, how he frightened me! It seemed to come from the very depths of his soul and; yes, he put the fear of God in me. The fear of God? Do we do what we do because if we don't He'll send us to Hell?

After mass and a trip to Il Pallone for caffé macchiato and cappuccino and a glassatta for Dino and then food shopping at the nearby Superconti, we take the painting of Italo and Vincenzo and Augusta up the street to give to Vincenza and her family. We walk by Italo, who tells us after looking at the painting of him that his hair is really not white. Ha! He's ninety!

Vincenza is inside and shows us her knee, which is swollen. They will return to Rome this afternoon so that she can have treatments for it. I tell her the painting is for her, and that I hope it brings her joy. She wants to find a place for it on the wall in the Mugnano house.

She also tells us that there was some sort of accident at their house on Friday evening when a pipe burst and their lower level was completely engulfed in water. An emergency crew came out and will repair the work. She's sad about all the work they did to restore the lower level of the house; work that is for naught. We're so sorry for them.

Back at home, we gear up for pranzo and Dino's watching of the Formula 1 race on TV. I've finished the girls' harem outfits and story, and tomorrow Dino will mail them.

With nothing to sew for the moment, I put the sewing machine away as I wonder about the Mugnano family tree project. I'd like to paint the tree to have it finished for Ferragosto (August 15th; the Iron Days of Summer), but if we don't meet with the Ecomuseo folks soon, there won't be enough time.

Dino and Enzo and Maria meet for their first Festarolo meeting on Monday night. They all get along well, so hopefully they won't have a difficult year of planning festas for the village.

Dino told Enzo on the way to church this morning that he thinks the money raised this year should be used to remove the growing fico (fig) plants getting bigger and bigger in two places at the top of the tower, probably from seeds dropped by the wind or by birds several years ago.

Is there no need to say that the weather is wonderful here? Until it is not, I'll try to think of something else. On this morning, I work with Dino to put stakes into the plants in the tomato garden; all the tomatoes and basil plants look great.

We have not staked the six plants next to the summer kitchen; perhaps we will this evening. I take advantage of the cool morning to deadhead roses and continue to pick up fallen leaves from the nespola (loquat) leaves before they turn brown and dry up into bits all over the gravel. Yes, I'm attempting to keep the gravel somewhat clean.

There is a weed that is easy to pick up, but it is attractive, spreading across the earth with only one root going into the ground. I think we'll leave those interspersed and growing with the trifoglia (clover) in the new area and see how it looks.

May 23
The workers do not arrive, so we suppose they are taking the day off or think it's some kind of holiday. Up above we hear angry talk from Via Porta Antica above us, and we learn later that the garbage has not been picked up from each house, after all the regulations that forced the residents to sort their refuti (garbage) and put only certain things out on certain days. They do arrive mid morning, but later we receive even more rigid rules.

BROWN Container: organic waste
BLUE Container: Plastic
GREEN Container: Glass, aluminum, spray cans, bottle caps
YELLOW Container: Paper
GRAY container: Dry waste - not included in the others; i.e.clothing, adhesives, Q-tips, plastic glasses, buttons, photos, light bulbs, etc., etc., etc....

Further: the organic (food) waste MUST be in a bio-mat bag, not plastic. Dino hates this, because the bio-mat bags do not hold wetness - they leak - hence make a small mess in the container. Why can't a bio-mat bag hold wetness? Maybe this is right up there with Apple Computer's inability to make long life batteries.

Warning: If you do not follow these guidelines, you could be fined between €100 to &euro500!!

Our friend Duccio (half joking) doesn't believe any of this; for he's seen trucks empty it all into the same landfill. Welcome to Italia! It will be interesting to see what he does now...Could Italy really be at the forefront of recycling? It appears other countries in Europe are not banning plastic bags as Italy is, although it demands that plastic bags be used to bag...plastic!....

I'm feeling a bit nostalgic while I spend time at the computer erasing and re-filing old emails. A couple of them I'd like to share with you.

The first is something I received a year ago and included then; since it's been a year...here it is again, with no need to send it on to someone you trust...unless it is what you want to do.

"May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you. May you be content with yourself just the way you are. Let this knowledge settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love. It is there for each and every one of us."

The second has me writing to a priest friend in the United States and expressing my opinion about going to confession. I think that if I am able to communicate with God directly, which I believe I do in my own way, there doesn't seem to be a need to go to confession, especially if I'll be told to repeat a prayer a certain number of times. Will that make any difference? Here's what the dear priest has to say...

Thanks for the update and sharing--lots to think about and discuss. Two things for me--I know when I go to the Sacrament of Penance, it just makes me feel better---it helps me realize that the consequences of my sins and wrong-doing have social implications and allowing my priest/confessor to share in my confession, sorrow and forgiveness from God helps me to see the social nature of grace and sin--in the midst of the Church--God's family. Also, I appreciate the notion of original sin--I just look in the news each day and see the propensity people have for causing division and separation by our own narrow vision of God's desire for us to be a reconciled and healing people, universally, no matter what creed or other distinguishing characteristics/descriptions which we may attach to ourselves and others. All this is for some good discussion and reflection for a future visit somewhere along the line.

Here's a second comment from him...Now I think I'd want to go to confession with him...for there's so much to learn about understanding one's inner self and relating to the world...

Why would you disappoint me? And even if you were to disappoint me, which you don't, that would be my issue and not your own...no, I just see all of us on this journey of life and faith doing the best we can, and sometimes we do well and sometimes we don't---human nature. There are times we don't even know why we do what we do. Some days I can be up with people and some other days I am down on humanity--guess, for me, it depends on my own moodiness and maybe the weather!!!!

What a guy!

I wrap up the girls costumes individually and Dino puts them into soft packs purchased from Alessia at her shop in Attigliano this morning. When it's time for pranzo, he'll take the box with them inside to the post office; this is the best time to go to the post office...for everyone is home preparing or eating pranzo then.

I fix a pasta with basil and red and green pepperoni (large peppers) and butter and cheese for pranzo and it's divine. So why not have a glass of wine with it?

The sewing machine is put away, so perhaps its time to read or nap after pranzo and/or read in the conch shell on the terrace in the shade. It really is beautiful here and a delight to lie on the terrace and listen to the birdsong, but that never happens. Gardening and weeding take precedent, with six hydrangeas and lots of roses to feed and spent rose blossoms to cut back to the next five nodes.

Roy's acceptance for Italian Citizenship arrives, but mine does not. We'll wait a while, although while checking on the government internet site, mine is not quite ready. Since both were applied for at the same time, we're anticipating hearing soon.

Is a party on the horizon?? You'll have to wait and see...

In the meantime, what was all that about the great weather here? Clouds form overhead and there is plenty of thunder and wind in the late afternoon, but no rain. The forecast, however, is for showers tomorrow, so it serves me right for being even a bit smug about it.

Roy's festarolo meeting is cancelled; the priest was at the dentist, so the meeting is rescheduled for tomorrow night. Rosita calls to let us know, and I'm wondering if Enzo will recruit her to help him. Of course I'll help Roy this year as he's on the festarolo committee of the village with Enzo.

May 24
There was no rain last night, but this morning is a bit humid, with those colorless skies again. The water company workers arrive, and there are four of them.

I fix the workers' coffee at 10AM, but only two want it. I also send down apple cookies we picked up at a supermarket in France. They're still quite good, in a sealed package, so why not share them?

Dino spends a lot of time with them this morning, wearing a hat to protect his Picasso-esque noggin, and this is a good thing to do; workers are curious and in Italy it's all about relationships.

Dino loves to form good relationships with workers; because it's fun and also it helps down the line to assure work is of the best quality and is done with a sense of pride. Yes, here it is all about family, and a good relationship makes people feel as if they're members of a kind of family.

I sit in the conch shell and read a bit, and this time it's a book five years old with a keynote speech included given by our priest friend in Italy, Don Francis. While living in the U S, he worked for the Council of Catholic Bishops on interfaith dialogue between the Catholic and Eastern religions. Here's a comment from him:

...a different voice at the table of interreligious dialogue, the voice of women activists, turns our attentions away from preconceived goals and programs to the more enduring question of method, of process, and, ultimately, of how dialogue transforms those who open themselves to it.

I have no idea why women have a tendency to look within while men have a tendency to look on the surface of an issue. It's not a negative attribute in my mind on either side, but the opening up of a subject gives us a choice to think and to question "outside the box", and perhaps that's why wars that end at the bargaining table are more enduring than those that end when one side crushes the other.

As I read, I'm mindful of my efforts of not judging any one. It certainly lifts my spirits. When judging others, a person is often described as being "tightly wrapped", and for me it is as if a filmy cloud has drifted on by while I go about my life; it will not return if I can help it.

I've deadheaded lots of roses while Sofi meanders nearby, and as I write she's a funny picture, lying on her back in the little wicker bed, paws up, head back, the white of her left eye showing as if it's a long pearl...her gaze is aimed somewhere toward the front window.

No, there's no staking of the tomatoes this morning, but tonight we'll certainly plant dill seeds and deep magenta sweet peas in pots...well, that depends...

Back to Don Francis's speech, what he tells us reminds us how important our relationship is to us with people in our little village. He tells us:

(by dialogue) a person is persuaded that knowledge can be obtained by means of relationship with another person; it also means that the relationship involves not only respect, but also affinity, friendship, and affection. There is a sense in which this relationship is long-term. Like the term "dialogue," it suggests that people learn best through cooperative interaction, careful listening, critical thinking and interactive problems solving...however deep the divide may be between two or more ...traditions, the human element in dialogue works best when each participant is willing to have a favorable view of the other participants.

In this vein, getting to know our Coro and Confraternità members has helped us to feel real members of our community. I'm not sure that becoming Italian citizens will change that. Time will tell...

"We have water!" Dino calls up to me, and enters the house to check the water pressure. When this project started, the water pressure leaving the meter was about 1.8Bar. Now it is well over 4.0Bar. We have NEVER had pressure that good! Perhaps it's time to close another chapter in our l'avventura italiana (Italian adventure) as the two technicos leave and the other lavorai (workers) stay to close up the street and the wall in front of our property owned by the Università Agraria. We celebrate with tuna salad sandwiches since there is no need for Dino to leave to shop and we have all we need.

Niece Erin emails us that the kindle we ordered has arrived at her school and she will bring it with her to Rome when we meet her there in a couple of weeks. She is chaperoning the choir of her school on a trip here, and we'll attend a mass where they'll perform near Duccio and Giovanna's house.

Dino calls our commercialista to make an appointment and we'll be there after pranzo. He'll tell us what the tax situation here will be, if any, and if becoming Italian citizens will change how we address our lives here.

Saudis Arrest Woman Leading Right-to-Drive Campaign

Published: May 23, 2011
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - The government of Saudi Arabia moved swiftly to extinguish a budding protest movement of women claiming the right to drive, a campaign inspired by uprisings across the Arab world demanding new freedoms but at risk Monday of foundering.

Cars at a checkpoint near a mall entrance in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. A national protest supporting the right for women to drive is scheduled for June 17.

Manal al-Sharif, 32, one of the campaign organizers, was detained Sunday in the eastern city of Dammam for up to five days on charges of disturbing public order and inciting public opinion by twice driving in a bid to press her cause, said her lawyer, Adnan al-Saleh.

Ms. Sharif was arrested after two much-publicized drives last week to highlight the Facebook and Twitter campaigns she helped organize to encourage women across Saudi Arabia to participate in a collective protest scheduled for June 17.

The campaigns, which had attracted thousands of supporters - more than 12,000 on the Facebook page - have been blocked in the kingdom. Ms. Sharif's arrest was very likely intended to give others pause before participating in the protests in a country where a woman's public reputation, including her ability to marry, can be badly damaged by an arrest.

"Usually they just make you sign a paper that you will not do it again and let you go," said Wajiha Howeidar, who recorded Ms. Sharif while driving on Thursday. "They don't want anybody to think that they can get away with something like that. It is a clear message that you cannot organize anything on Facebook. That is why she is in prison."

The revolt that overthrew the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, and similar efforts in the Middle East gained crucial momentum online.

Saudi Arabia is the only country that bars women from driving. But the topic remains a highly emotional issue in the kingdom, where women are also not allowed to vote, or even work without their husbands', or fathers', permission. For religious puritans, the ban on women driving is a sign that the government remains steadfast in the face of a Western onslaught on Saudi traditions. A political cartoon here once depicted car keys attached to a hand grenade.

Even before the arrest, the debate was raging online, on television and in the streets between supporters and opponents. One argument endorsing the change is that women drove donkeys in Koranic times, with a television cleric noting in recent days that handling a donkey was actually harder than driving a vehicle. Supporters believed that the changes sweeping the Arab world made it the right moment for women to seize the initiative. An online petition addressed to King Abdullah, asking him to free Ms. Sharif and grant women the right to drive, gathered signatures from more than 600 men and women after it was organized by Walid Abu al-Khair, a Saudi lawyer and human rights advocate. Saudis are often reluctant to publicly attach their names to political actions.

Many opponents were religious puritans who object to the very idea of women being exposed to strangers outside their homes by driving. The ban is rooted more primarily in religious fatwas, nonbinding decrees by clerics.

In the new online battlefield, conservative clerics have been deploying their own Twitter accounts to call on the religious police to be extra vigilant against the prospect of women drivers.

Some women were opposed, too, because they said that driving remains such a social lightning rod and that raising the issue is likely to set back efforts to gain more fundamental freedoms like voting or ending the legal guardianship that allows Saudi men to control virtually every aspect of women's lives.

But Ms. Sharif and others decided to take to the roads in May to encourage a higher turnout for the national protest. Saudi newspapers have been filled with articles in recent days detailing a rash of women taking to the roads - publishing confessions of women who drove their children to school, a father to the airport or themselves on errands.

One of the arguments for allowing women to drive is the economic cost. There are some 800,000 foreign drivers in the kingdom, and the roughly $350 monthly salary needed to hire one is considered an economic drain on the middle class.

Ms. Sharif, an information technology specialist with the state-run oil company Aramco, has a reputation for pulling stunts to highlight the lack of rights for women. Such was her renown that certain myths about her circulate widely as fact-like the false tale that she once rode a donkey down a main Riyadh shopping street until the religious police stopped her.

She took her drive on Saturday with her brother Mohamed al-Sharif, who was initially detained with her by the religious police and then released. The local police returned to her house after midnight to arrest her again.

"That was a mistake," Mr. Saleh, her lawyer, said in a telephone interview from Dammam. "It is not considered a big crime in Saudi Arabia - it was not smuggling drugs, nor murder, nor rape - it was a girl driving a car."

The Middle East appears to be a fulcrum these days; a fulcrum in which the course of history will change the way in which all people are treated... with respect or not. Watch closely and let your voices be heard. It is only when we open our arms and freely communicate with each other that we'll all be able to live in peace and harmony. The option is too terrible to bear.

Workers return after pranzo to finish their jackhammering and closing up the walls and street. Water pressure is higher than we expected, so this chapter has a happy ending, with water spurting out of the tap when we turn it on. When we leave for our appointment with our commercialista, they are still working.

There's good news from our commercialista about taxes. Our status won't change with our impending Italian citizenship, because we earn no money here. If there were to be a law change where we'd have to pay tax on our home (first homes in Italy are not taxed), we would have to file. We file in the U S and do not have to file here. He will email us a copy of the law, so we're relieved. Why do all our friends tell us that's not true? Simple. They make lots of money and we do not.

We research flights for Thanksgiving to San Francisco, and they are more expensive than we imagined. We "bite the bullet" and will fly with Swiss Air in November. Should we have waited to book? It's too late for conjecture...might as well enjoy what we can, and look forward to seeing our San Francisco family this fall.

Dino walks up to the borgo for his rescheduled meeting with his Festarolo pals and the priest, Don Daniele. Let's hope his year on this committee will be fun and not a lot of work...

May 25
Yes, it's another lovely day. Perhaps May is the loveliest month of the year here. We're certainly enjoying every minute! With plenty of birdsong to greet us, I note another farfalla (butterfly), landing on a mound of strikingly blue lobelia, and it's a moving painting in itself.

Sofi rushes out of the house, right to her dog house, and is sure there is a lucertole (lizard) under there; she's more interested in them these days than in eating, and that's an amazing thing when a dog finds something more tantalizing than food.

No, we don't stake the tomatoes, for Dino drives to Tenaglie and then to Orte Scalo for two different objectives and we'll have chicken breasts and fried fiori di zucca (zucchini flowers) stuffed with buffalo mozzarella and anchovies in a flour and beer batter.

Oh. Flour. Tonight I'll experiment with another bread recipe. Karen's is quite good, and it's similar to that in the Tartine Bread book from San Francisco. But instead of leaving it out at room temperature, I'm enamored with the idea of refrigerating the dough to rise slowly overnight. Yes, I'm starting a notebook because I'll never remember on my own.

Last night in the garden, I asked Dino something for the second time, and then said to him, "It must be frustrating for you to have to repeat yourself because I cannot remember.." He agrees. Some things I cannot control, so there's no use getting upset over it. I am sorry, just the same.

For quite a while, I've tried to return to the computer several times a day to jot down happenings. That's probably why the journal's postings are sometimes quite long. If you know me, you'll know I want to recapture the moments, just as a vision of something wonderful becomes an instant photograph; in this case, it's something to read later when I can't remember any of it. Because a growing number of you like to live vicariously here in Italy through us, I suppose it's fun for you, too. I hope so.

Our niece Erin, Christopher's daughter, arrives in Rome in a couple of weeks as a chaperone for her San Francisco prep school's choir, (Sacred Heart Cathedral Prep.) who'll perform at a mass at Santa Maria Maggiore. She is a dean at the school. I have a silly thought that perhaps they'd like to stop in Mugnano on their way from Rome to Florence to do an impromptu concert here in the borgo, with the ladies providing refreshments. We send her an email to offer, but it's a long shot.

There's lots of Italian news to share. Skip all the italics if you're not interested...

Population up 0.5% 'thanks to foreigners

(ANSA) - Rome, May 24 - The Italian population rose 0.5% last year "exclusively" thanks to immigrants and babies born to them, Istat said Tuesday.

As of December 31, 2010, Italy's resident population was 60,626,442, an increase of 286,114 on the same date in 2009, the statistics agency said.

The boost from immigration was 380,000.

Among the native population, births were almost 7,000 down. More than two thirds of the population rise took place in northern Italy.

The number of households was just over 25 million, with an average 2.4 members in each.

'Italy must cut debt by 3% a year'

Fresh bout of fiscal discipline needed
- (ANSA) - Rome, May 24 - Italy will have to cut its debt by 3% a year to comply with new European Union norms, the Audit Court said Tuesday.

That will amount to about 46 billion euros, it said, calling for a bout of fiscal discipline like the one that enabled Italy to join the euro.

Italy has one of the highest public debts in the world.

Financial crisis 'set Italy back 10 years'

Quarter of households facing poverty says Istat -
(ANSA) - Rome, May 23 - The international financial crisis set Italy back almost 10 years and recovery is yet to get up steam, Istat said in a report Monday.

Between 2001 and 2010, the statistics agency said, Italy had the worst GDP growth of the European Union countries, with an average 0.2% compared to 1.3%.

To keep up spending, households have been forced to eat into their savings and the propensity to set something aside is down to a 20-year-low at 9.1%.

The crisis has hit employment hard with the number of those in work down more than half a million in 2009-2010, Istat said.

The hardest hit have been the under-30s, with 501,000 out of a job.

The job crisis has been worst in the poorer south of Italy but the north has not been spared, Istat said.

Technically the recession is "over" but consequences on social harmony are still "strong".

"About a quarter of Italians are facing the threat of poverty or marginalisation," Istat said.

Mafia 'eats up' 20% of GDP of Italian south - 'Increasingly intermingled' with Mezzogiorno's legal economy

(ANSA) - Rome, May 17 - Italy's four main mafias "eat up" the equivalent of "15-20%" of the GDP of the southern regions they infest, ex-interior minister Beppe Pisanu said Tuesday.

Pisanu, a top Senator for Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom party, said "mafia investments and speculation have spread to every economic sector in the Mezzogiorno and are increasingly intermingled with the legal economy".

The former minister was citing details from the latest report from the parliamentary anti-mafia commission on Cosa Nostra in Sicily, the Camorra in Naples, 'Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Sacra Corona Unita in Puglia.

Gore says Murdoch pulled Current to please Berlusconi - Nobel winner calls on Italians to protest

(ANSA) - Rome, May 20 - Al Gore has accused Rupert Murdoch's News Corp of pulling his independent liberal TV channel Current from Sky Italia to ingratiate itself with Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi.

The Nobel Peace Laureate and former United States vice president suggested the dropping of a channel that has broadcast documentaries critical of Berlusconi and his government was dictated by News Corp's ambitions to enter the digital TV market in Italy.

At the moment, Sky Italia broadcasts on a satellite platform here.

He said News Corp's attitude to Current had changed after the melting of the friction between Murdoch and Berlusconi following Sky Italia's arrival on an Italian market previously dominated by the premier's Mediaset empire and state broadcaster RAI.

''In the past Berlusconi's men pressured Sky to stop Current transmitting uncomfortable programs (for the premier) and Sky defended us,'' Gore, who narrowly lost the 2000 US presidential election to George W. Bush, said on RAI.

''Since there has been talk of new contracts, the pair (Murdoch and Berlusconi) have become closer and this was a factor that led to us being closed down''.

Sky Italia denied this, saying the decision was caused by Current doubling its carriage fee.

Current responded that it had asked for an increase of about 33% in line with higher ratings.

Gore called on Italian viewers to protest.

''There are 14 TV channels in the Sky bouquet (in Italy) that have lower audiences and are given more money than us and they have not been closed,'' he said.

''The Italian people must make themselves heard. Call Sky and send emails threatening to cancel your subscriptions if they do not go back on their decision''. Gore claimed that Current's decision to hire liberal TV anchor Keith Olbermann, who has had a long-running dispute with News Corp's Fox News, also contributed to the channel being pulled.

Clooney Canalis split rumours denied -'They're always together', friends tell ANSA

(ANSA) - Rome, May 19 - Rumours that George Clooney and Elisabetta Canalis are on the verge of splitting are untrue, friends of the couple told ANSA Thursday.

"They're always together. When he's working she follows him onto the set, always surrounded by very tight security, sources very close to the couple said.

The Hollywood star and his Italian actress companion recently spent time off from filming Clooney's latest movie, Alfonso Cuaron's Gravity, at Cowth Park, a beauty spot in the London countryside, they said.

Talk of a break-up was started by E! Online's Awful Truth column which said Clooney wanted to "clear out some clutter now he's turned 50".

This allegedly included the Italian beauty, it said.

"According to friends in Clooney's inner circle, the actor is SO ready to move on. But he can't pull the trigger just yet," the columnist said.

Berlusconi party setback 'won't affect leadership' - 'No consequences' after surprising second-place showing in Milan

(ANSA) - Rome, May 17 - A surprising electoral setback for Premier Silvio Berlusconi's party in its Milan stronghold will not affect the party leadership, national coordinator Denis Verdini told a press conference in Rome Tuesday.

Berlusconi staked a lot of his credibility and vote-catching charisma on the Milan mayoral race for his People of Freedom (PdL) party, turning the contest into a vote on his policies and against the Milan prosecutors he says are hounding him, pundits said.

Regularly upstaging PdL candidate Letizia Moratti, the incumbent, he called the prosecutors a "cancer on democracy" and questioned the personal hygiene of his centre-left opponents.

Experts said the strategy backfired for the first time since the media magnate entered politics in 1994, with Moratti, expected by many to keep the city in the first ballot, instead lagging by six points to centre-left Democratic Party (PD) rival Giuliano Pisapia going into the run-off in two weeks' time.

Italian dailies hailed the result as "a surprise" (Corriere della Sera), "a defeat for Berlusconi" (La Repubblica) and "a turning point" (Il Messaggero), amid claims from PD leader Pier Luigi Bersani that "we have turned the tide against Berlusconi in the North".

Reporters waited in vain for a response Tuesday from the premier, who has been embroiled in corruption, fraud and sex trials and whose share of the Milan vote was halved in the Sunday-Monday ballot.

Speaking for him, Verdini would only say that "there will not be consequences on the (party) leadership".

Asked if he himself would feel duty-bound to resign if Milan were to fall to the Left for the first time in more than 20 years, Verdini replied "certainly not".

The PD was also basking in the success of its candidate for Turin mayor, ex-minister Piero Fassino, who swept into office in the first round, and its Bologna candidate, Virginio Merola, who squeaked home.

It did not appear too upset about its third-place finish in garbage-strewn Naples and vowed to swing its support behind a former anti-mafia prosecutor, Luigi de Magistris, who was some 11 points behind the Pdl's Giovanni Lettieri going into the run-off. According to most newspapers, the leader of the PdL's key ally the Northern League, Umberto Bossi, was "livid" after the Milan result.

"What will Bossi do to the government should Milan fall," asked political commentator James Walston of the American University in Rome, amid speculation there might be a reshuffle or even more dramatic consequences.

Based on the above, things look a bit bleak here in Italy, although we blissfully ignore things we cannot change, doing what we can to make our little world a better place. Locally, the government has done a good thing with its recycling programs, and Dino and I adhere to its stringent instructions faithfully.

It's really quite nice to have someone pick up our garbage from the curb each morning and no, I don't agree with Duccio that it all winds up in the same landfill, especially since we've seen the Soriano recycling center's huge clearly marked containers.

May 26
With Dino gone and nothing much to do, I sit in the conch shell and read a bit of Bengal Nights, while serenaded by birdsong and Sofi nosing around the plants for...lucertoles.

Is it because I'm reading about steamy India, or is it humid here this morning? Although there is a gentle breeze, I feel the humidity in my hair and the back of my neck; it is as if I am transported to India as this possibly "over the top" drama unfolds before me.

The phone rings and it's time to prepare the zucchini flowers before Dino returns and to feed Sofi, who ever patiently lays in her little bed while I check the internet for beer batter recipes.

The batter I choose is a disappointment; perhaps its better to use egg and flour instead; next time I'll not use the beer. But I do leave the paper container of "00" flour out on the counter, for tonight I'll return to experimenting with bread recipes.

With Dino's return, the humidity seems to disappear. Voluminous clouds in the sky seem right out of the religious paintings of my youth from Saint Agatha's church in Milton, MA. Was I a Catholic then? No, but each Saturday we girls walked as a group to the church, so that my friends could offer confession. I spent my time there enraptured by the glorious images and lofty clouds in what I thought at the time were the church's enormous paintings.

We take a nap after pranzo, thinking it will surely rain while a stiff wind slams windows shut, but nothing doing. Wish it would rain and get over it...

Stop writing about it already, you think to yourself, as we finally put the last stakes in the ground for the remaining six tomato plants. The rest of the plants, including the basil, look healthy.

Dino checks in with Peppino, whose orto is next to our property, separated by an unnamed path owned by the Comune which we, as well as two other property owners, use. Peppino's water pressure for his orto is now lower than before, and the workers have not done anything to fix his water pressure, although the street has been opened up in two places to work on our water pressure problems, one right at the end where our two properties meet. Dino will call the person at Talete tomorrow to find out when the workers will return and what they intend to do about his water pressure. We're all in this together, and Peppino is dear to us.

May 27
I awake from a terrible dream that had me walking around and around an office where I worked years ago with a new office and no way to find the key. The good news is that we're both awake here in a place where we find great happiness and the key is that it's the place where we had dreamed we'd be happiest; and here we are.

The morning is humid, but we're out in the garden just the same, puttering, puttering...Dino calls Talete and the person he speaks with thought the project was finished; he'll come next week to see what needs to be done about Peppino's water pressure. So what about closing up the street? Perhaps that's another crew. Stay tuned.

The rose growing up the grotto wall is doing well, although there are no flowers. I give it a spritz of denatured alcohol, dish soap and water as Marie opens her window and comments happily about Sofi.

In a minute or two, Rosina opens her shutters and comes out on the balcony, and when I ask her how she is, she holds out her hand and twists it back and forth. That is a sign to tell me she's just "so - so". I ask her why and she responds by pointing to her head. I counsel her to stay in the shade.

As the morning continues the humidity seems to rise with the sun's rays, and while Dino putters in the garden, I move back inside to catch up with you, while Sofi lies in a little wicker bed, staring up at me. Oh, how I wish I could be inside her head; she seems frightened at the world and then falls asleep. What? Do we spoil her too much? Do we love her so much that when we leave her alone here or in the car for even a little bit she seems to think the world will come to an end? How I wish I could dash her fears away.

When Dino leaves to do errands, Sofi and I will return to the garden, where I will sit in the shell in the shade and read while she searches between the boxwood globes for lizards.

Dino wants a salatone (big salad) for pranzo, and likes all sorts of things in a big bowl, so we'll boil eggs and look around at what we have in the cupboard.

I definitely will return to bread baking this afternoon; I think I keep putting it off because I work outside with Dino in the garden when I should be preparing the dough to rise. Let's see if late afternoon means we'll work in the kitchen instead, where it is mighty shady, and experiment with Italian "oo" flour.

The bread making begins again, and now we have a special notebook to write down each bread recipe, each variation, include a photo and comment on how we and others think each loaf tastes.

This time, I take Karen's recipe and mix it with the dough hooks in our hand mixer and then cover the dough with cellophane wrap and put it in the frigo for at least twelve hours. While it's rising slowly, I write down both recipes and comments on the first loaf. I won't bore you with details of each loaf, unless you want me to and send me an email to let me know.

I will say that this loaf is made with Italian "oo" flour, as opposed to the first loaf, which was made with French #55 flour, and Italian dry lievito yeast. The first loaf was made with fresh Italian refrigerated yeast. They're both made in a dutch oven, (this one a Le Cruset), and this is important in a residential oven, as it traps the steam inside and makes an exceptional loaf of bread.

Skies aren't pretty early tonight, but no matter. Dino has continued pain in one knee, but otherwise he is fine. There is not a headache in recent memory for me, and I thank you, dear Dottore Chiantini of Rome for advising me to wear a mouth guard at night, and dear Doctor Dorothy Slattery, our Mill Valley dentist who made the guard for me last November. After more than four decades of migraines, I'm almost free of them. Never say, "Never!"

We're waiting to hear back from niece Erin about the possible concert in our village, and it would be fun, we are sure. We love having our family come to visit and to introducing them to our neighbors, who are always curious and warm and welcoming to those we bring here.

Last night's batch of dough in the frigo was not a hit; it did not rise at all, despite sitting in the cold temperature for fourteen hours. So it's now sitting on the counter, and we'll see what happens as the day progresses. Time to get out the bread making notebook and record my latest folly.

Dino was right. I found the material we purchased in January to make costumes for the girls in a spot where we did not expect to find it; in the studio where extra pillows and blankets are kept. Why did I put the bag there? I have no idea, but it's time to take out the sewing machine and make something with the white embroidered silk we purchased at a plein aire (outdoor) market in France several weeks ago. The girls' outfits will be designed and sewn before we return to San Francisco in November.

I intended to make a white summer dress with the embroidery at the bottom, but after reading Bengal Nights, I'm going to make white raw silk pants with a tunic of the same white; the tunic embroidered below the hips and also along the shoulders and arms. Perhaps I should paste a jewel onto my forehead when I wear it. Yes, I'm feeling pretty silly right now.

While organizing the material to sew, with Dino sitting next to me on the computer, we have a married people's interaction that is at once funny and eye-opening.

I suggest to Dino that as each month progresses, that he take the opportunity to prepare photos for the journal, so that when I have finished writing for the period, that his work is quite simple. Instead, he grits his teeth, in that expression that he uses when I say something more than once. Sound familiar to any of you who are married women?

A few days ago I wrote that men seem content to see things on the surface and women want to explore inner feelings. That's not a bad thing either way, I am sure.

Now I laugh at Dino, for he tells me that this discussion comes up each time we post. I see him stressed as all the work of the month or half-month crashes down upon him at once each time we post. He responds that he has always been a procrastinator. A HA! So it's not me explaining why, which he tells me is over-selling, but his procrastinating that causes me to feel depressed at our disagreement.

It is as if that heavy cloud has lifted again, and I laugh out loud. Dino smiles, and the only tension in the room now is of Sofi, who hates disagreements and stares up at me to make sure everything is all right. It's better than all right, as Dino gives me a kiss and then leaves to shop for pranzo.

The sound of loud music begins, and it is the flower vendor, for this is Friday morning, and the village neighbors buy their flowers from the man's truck to take to the cemetery each weekend.

These days we are more than happy. Enjoy each moment, I remind myself, and it is at these times that the birdsong surrounds me. At other times, I'm unconscious of its lovely music.

We'll let the bread dough sit on the counter until tomorrow morning when it's hopefully cooler and bake it then. I do need to find out what the story is about yeast in Italy...there are cubes in the refrigerated section of the market and packets that are not stored in the frigo. I think the dry is not a good option, as evidenced by this dough not rising.

I email Serena at Castello Santa Maria, who has studied in France under Paul Boucuse and specialized in pastry. She will certainly have the answer!

Today is the first day of the season that we have used a fan in the house, and while we tried to doze a bit in the afternoon it kept us cool. The weather has been humid and warm all day, with no sign of rain to break the spell.

May 28
With cooler temperatures and a bit of wind, the morning begins with me rising before 7 AM to put the bread in the oven before the day warms up. It's in and baked before 11 AM, but we're downloading an upgrade on the computer and don't know how effective we'll be sending a photo of the finished loaf to Karen to see how her recipe turned out. Out...up...I'm still ending sentences with prepositions. Is it the popular vernacular that has me on my head, somewhat similar to the use of the word "like", as in "it's like...", which has my attention, but not in a positive way?

The CNN weather forecast shows that it is two days behind. Perhaps everyone at CNN is celebrating Memorial Day, which I think is only celebrated in the U S, although people all over the world have relatives or ancestors involved in the wars to which it relates. Let's ask Al Gore's internet to see if that's true...

Here's what Wikipedia has to say:

Memorial Day is a United States federal holiday observed on the last Monday of May (May 30 in 2011). Formerly known as Decoration Day, it commemorates men and women who died while in military service to the United States.[1] First enacted to honor Union and Confederate soldiers following the American Civil War,[2] it was extended after World War I to honor Americans who have died in all wars.

Memorial Day often marks the start of the summer vacation season, and Labor Day its end.

Began as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the civil war, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory, as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not. It also became a long weekend increasingly devoted to shopping, family gatherings, fireworks, trips to the beach, and national media events such as the Indianapolis 500 (since 1911) and the Coca-Cola 600 (since 1960) auto races.

It's also Angie's birthday, so let's let her know that we are thinking of her! That done, Sofi has a snooze while Dino is all wrapped up watching the Formula 1 Monaco trials on TV. I spend time in the conch shell reading Lawrence Durrell, who is quite an interesting writer, and this time he writes about a tour to Sicily. That's a place I'd like to visit someday, and although Dino visited the island when he was stationed in the army, I'm sure he'd love to return.

Dino leaves for Orvieto and Tenaglie to meet folks renting for a week or so, and the reading continues a bit, until the sky grows dark overhead and I'm sure we'll have a shower. I'm able to put the last load of laundry back in the summer kitchen to dry and take up dry laundry from two other loads. But what I really want to do is return to fashioning those white silk pants and embroidered top, and that's what I do, with Sofi under the desk nearby.

May 29
Happy Birthday, dear Mom. Are you watching from heaven? I think of you so often; perhaps it is because you and Dad are in my life somehow, even though you have both passed on. I note in myself characteristics of each of you and wonder which ones are from a previous generation. The only person I knew well was Nana, and I think of her, too.

There are four Coro members in church on this morning, and we sing some of my favorites. Rosina continues her headache and thinks it is from her elevated blood pressure. I check her temperature and she is cool. After mass I tell her to take care of herself and stay in the shade. "Meglio in umbra." (It's better in the shade.)

Lore and Alberto stand outside, and as we greet each other she asks me how I am. I tell her fine and she responds that I look very happy. It is then that I tell her that for the past two years I have consciously worked at not judging others and their actions, and the realization that I am now doing that almost unconsciously has lifted a heavy cloud over me, and I am at peace. It is true.

Lore talks to me about her concern about her neighbors, especially the young people of the village, who play on their property when they are not here, even though it is fenced. She called an official in Viterbo to complain, and investigators arrived to see her space, as well as another corner of the borgo; one that is badly treated. She thinks the newest regulations about refuse are probably a result of her calls. The ending is a positive one for her.

Since they'll be here for a week, they'll visit us soon for a brindisi (toast, with a bottle of Prosecco) in the garden. We look forward to that.

In the meantime, I'm interested more in the church service, and want to take the time to read the substance of what is written and spoken and understand it. Don Francis counseled me some years ago and as a result I have some books in English that I will find and try to read before attending mass each Sunday.

There is always so much to learn, but I recall that I took so much from the homilies of Father Paul Rossi at San Rafael's in San Rafael, CA that I do want to understand more about what the priest is saying to us. Perhaps even translating the written word afterward will help. Even though I mostly keep to myself here, it is a good thing to understand those around me, so I will take the time to learn to understand the language of Italian better as time goes on.

Yes, I am truly at peace with the world. It is a magnificent feeling in my heart, and I wish that for you, dear friend, although I don't wish for anything for myself.

As Dino continues his festaroli giro (walk around the village to collect from the residents for the annual festas) with members of his squadra (team), Sofi and I relax at home until his return.

Cocomero (watermelon) is not at its best yet, but we purchased a slice yesterday and I return to our salad of it with feta cheese and fresh mint. It's still good and a welcome change for me from the green lettuce and gorgonzola (blue cheese) that Dino loves.

While Dino watches his beloved Formula-1 race on TV from Monte Carlo, and tells me it is the best and most dangerous race of the year, I watch the first minute or two and then return outside to the conch shell and read more of Sicilian Carousel by Lawrence Durrell.

Durrell writes about the tour he took years ago around Sicily with strangers, and although he was skeptical of traveling with strangers, it appears that in a tour, by the end, most of the participants end up as lifelong, or at least long term, friends. Are you nodding your head, yes, about the strange phenomenon?

I'm doing some elaborate white embroidery on an already embroidered piece of silk purchased at a plein aire (outdoor) market in France. My effort is to make a pair of lightweight summer pants and a top, with the top embroidered both on the front and back panels as well as a panel covering both sleeves and the very top of the front and back. I made a cut a while ago that substantially alters the design, so am working my way around it.

In summer, the temperatures here are so hot that I'd like an outfit or two to wear that is pretty. Perhaps I'll wear it to our citizenship party, if that ever happens, with a headscarf modeled from one, again from a trip to France, with wire inside and made of green and red. Red, white and green are the Italian national colors. The outfit may not happen, but tomorrow we'll drive to Viterbo to the Prefettura (office in charge of citizenship) and ask what the problem is with mine if Dino already has his letter and ours were entered at the same time. The website answer about mine has not changed for a while.

While we're there, we'll return to a fabric store for white lining for the embroidered panels and some kind of seam binding and stiffener for the top part. I'll continue to teach myself sewing as I proceed, loving the creative process, although there is probably an easier way to do it. There's no hurry...about anything these days.

Dino also wants to go to Talete (the water company) to find out why Peppino's water pressure is worse than before they fixed ours. We're quite brave, especially since lots of places are closed on Monday morning in Viterbo. But are we smart? We'll let you know.

Dino has downloaded a new software program and now our email has completely changed. It's going to take a bit to have it all synch, but using Entourage is not a good option for us any more.

Later this afternoon we garden together, including deadheading Lady Hillingdon roses on the front path. "What do the Italians call "dead-heading?" he asked me. I responded that term was probably a practical one. "Lui e morto!" (He is dead!) is what Dino said earlier when he stood over a housefly that had gone beyond. The Italian-English dictionary was not a help there, either. While trying to figure out how to refresh the weather on CNN's site, I found this, and Dino will note it in his IPhone for the next time we travel to Rome:

A disappearing Roman tradition
Grattachecca is a classic Roman summer treat made with shaved ice and fruit syrups. There used to be grattachecca kiosks all over the city, open only in the summer, but nearly all of them have disappeared.
When I was a child, my father took me to the North End of Boston on Saturday nights and Sundays, which was where he spent most of his early years and loved to revisit. We'd stop at a soda shop on a corner, where he'd order me a tamarindo, and it would be a little paper cup, pointed at the end, full of shaved ice with this syrup poured over the top. It tasted like Coca-Cola without the bubbles. I don't recall the name grattachecca, but would love to try it again.

Serena emails me back to say that the refrigerated lievito is popular, but when we meet I'll learn more about bread making and will let you know.

May 30
Sometime in the last day or so, Dino and I saw many, many fields of plants growing, and he suspected they were tobacco, with their large leaves. Is the Italian government subsidizing tobacco? There's that underbelly of Italy again, and I can't really believe it. So I check it out and find out interesting information about the Italian agriculture industry that I'd like to share with you. But oh, we determined this morning that the plants were girasole (sunflowers), and we're greatly relieved. I can find nothing online about subsidies currently. Stay tuned.

The agricultural sector employed only 5.5 percent of the working population in 1999 and contributed only 2.5 percent of the GDP in 2000, with an output of over US$36 billion. However, in the southern regions of Basilicata, Calabria, and Molise, agriculture accounts for just over 20 percent of local employment. The decline of this sector in terms of employment and the GDP is, however, compensated for by ever-accelerating productivity. The agricultural profile is in line with all other Western European countries and is due specifically to the effects of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the European Union (EU). It is impossible to examine Italian agriculture without taking CAP into consideration since CAP is the basis for agricultural support across Western Europe. This EU policy ensures that subsidies and incentives are offered in order to sustain prices and guarantee a certain level of income to farmers. Thus, prices are artificially maintained, and if agriculture were to be liberalized in full, the sector would collapse throughout Europe. CAP was launched in the late 1950s to improve efficiency and as of 2001 accounts for most of EU expenditures, a staggering US$45 billion.

The CAP was not very successful in Italy in its initial stages because subsidies did not cover several traditional Mediterranean products such as olives, tomatoes, oranges, and lemons. When these were finally included, the more positive aspects of the policy emerged. First, it provided the necessary capital for mechanization, and Italy underwent rapid mechanization during the 1980s. Second, it offered an incentive to merge and thus enlarge the average farm. Through CAP, the EU buys up surplus products and, as a consequence, larger farms can be very beneficial to the economy. Finally, CAP ensures that all traditional Italian agricultural products are given some protection against cheap competition, with export traders subsidized to supply cut rates. Unfortunately, CAP seems to have favored northern farmers, but the government is attempting to correct the effects of CAP by offering grants and tax breaks to small farms in the south.

With only 5 percent of the land under cultivation, Italy is not self-sufficient in agricultural products, yet it enjoys an abundance of agricultural resources. Despite a negative balance of trade in agriculture, productivity is high, and the Mediterranean climate ensures that a variety of products are available both for internal consumption and external markets. Italy is a world leader in olive oil production and a major exporter of rice, tomatoes, and wine. Moreover, BSE, or "mad cow" disease, caused a major drop in beef consumption, while an increasing number of consumers turned towards organically grown produce.

The Italian government has always been a staunch defender of its national agricultural sector when it comes to negotiating production quotas with EU partners or seeking grants to defend the sector from decline. Funds to buy machinery, to compensate farmers for over-production, and to pay EU-imposed fines were constantly made available by the government. However, the Italian government was unable to stop the most recent CAP reform of 1997, which caused spending on Mediterranean products to decline in favor of increased spending for northern European dairy farmers.

In addition, Italian agriculture is suffering from changes in the climate and very poor management of the land. Large-scale farmers in the north live reasonably well, particularly in comparison to their counterparts in the south. The regional disparity is due partly to the effects of CAP and partly to organizational differences. In northern and central Italy, co-operatives has dominate. These farming co-operatives provide widespread support, both socially and economically, for their members, and help in rationalizing production and distribution. In the south, farmers have no production and distribution networks on which they can depend, and the smaller scale of their operations, combined with their isolation, curtails their ability to compete in the market.

Meat has never been a major Italian product, and most of the meat consumed in Italy is imported from other European countries, particularly Ireland and Germany. Italy is also quite weak in the dairy farming sector, although it exports a handful of distinctive cheeses such as parmesan, mozzarella, and gorgonzola. Fruit is grown almost exclusively in the south, with most of the oranges and lemons coming from Sicily. Apples grow in Trentino Alto Adige. But the real strength of Italian agriculture is the production of olives, wine, and tomatoes.


Perhaps our friends at FAO (Food Agriculture Organization) based in Rome should share some of their knowledge right here in Italy. What a wonderful thing that would be if the citizens knew more about cultivating their land and producing the food they extoll and love to make possible a healthy and even better standard of living, understanding universally how to make the land more productive.

I forgot to start making bread last evening, so we don't have bread to take to Movie Night at Frank and Candace's tonight. There is a WWF (World Wildlife Fund bread) loaf in the freezer, so we take it out to defrost it, but think we can buy a fresh loaf in Civitella d'Agliano. We drive there to see.

What is wrong with us? It's Monday! There is usually not much to offer on Mondays, and of course there is no WWF bread to purchase. So we purchase a loaf of pane con sale (bread made with salt), for most Italian bread is made without salt in this area. The reason goes back to the time of the salt tax, and the area began making bread without salt and grew to love it; for a slice of bread is usually married to something tasty with plenty of flavor.

That reminds me. Don't serve bread to Italians when you serve pasta. It is a "no! no!", since bread is considered a pasta as well; both are made with flour. I've had my hand figuratively slapped twice, once by a priest we served here at cena one evening and once by a family coming here another night for cena. Ouch!

The WWF bread defrosts quickly outside, so we'll bring it tonight, but will also make more borlotti bean dip and bring it tonight with chips, and use the bread purchased this morning as a kind of bruschetta with tomatoes and basil served as well as tuna as well as other things I find in the frigo for pranzo.

I'd like to do an Italian Notebook story about colors of Italy that represent the Italian Flag; we find them all along country roads in displays of wild red poppies, which also appear in fields of green. The list continues to grow...

Since it makes no sense to drive to Viterbo today (we can only visit the Prefettura on Tuesdays and Thursdays), I spend an hour gardening, aka weeding, and we plant a jasmine vine behind the conch shell on the opposite side of the little gate to the secret garden from an old jasmine that we cut completely back but is happily growing again. I love the sweet smell of jasmine while reading in our tiny shell retreat.

We're off to Orvieto for movie night with Candace and Frank and also Penny and Bob, who just arrived for their annual month in Orvieto. But first, I finish reading Lawrence Durrell's Sicilian Carousel. It's now on a shelf ready for a book swap, and stirs once again the urge to visit the strange island...for a week or a month with dear Dino.

It's a fun evening, and great to see Penny and Bob here again. We'll certainly see them in ten days or so here for pizza, so we'd better figure out that pizza recipe soon...

May 31
On this last day of the month, we drive to Viterbo to the Prefettura to find out what has happened with my application for citizenship. We wait outside the usual office and are sent upstairs to see Signora Altissimi, and although alto means tall, she is quite short. I'm sure she makes many people smile, just at the mention of her name. Come no? (Why not?)

Dino gives her his letter confirming that he has been accepted as an Italian citizen, and his bollo (stamp), purchased at a nearby Tabbacchi (stamp and tobacco shop, where these stamps are purchased and later put on official documents).

Signora Altissimi is a lovely and kind woman, who takes her time methodically checking Dino's file and making yet one more set of copies of his passport and carta di identità before putting official stamps as well as the bollo he purchased onto his document. He is asked to answer a questionnaire about why he wants to become a citizen, and it does not seem to make a lot of sense to him, but with the Signora's help, he finishes and we bid her a C'e reviddiamo. (See you again...)

Dino has six months from today to make an appointment at the Comune in Bomarzo and have his swearing in ceremony.

We then ask her about my status, and she can see all my documents are on file, for they have been scanned. There seems to be no reason for delay, but the application must be signed.

With a shrug of her shoulders, we understand that we need to wait some more, and Dino wants to wait for his signing in ceremony as well. He has until the end of November to meet at the Comune, or his application and acceptance will be invalidated. I thank him for his kindness, and for wanting us to become citizens at the same time.

Skies are overcast, and we're expecting rain tomorrow, which is unusual for this part of Italy at this time of year. We think today is the last day to burn leaves, so Dino starts a fire right after pranzo and watches it burn as I fill you in on this morning.

Before the Prefettura, we returned to the fabric store, where I purchased fodera (lining) for my embroidered white outfit that I am making. This afternoon, it is all about sewing and keeping my mind off the citizenship application.

It feels a somewhat strange way to end the month and this post, but perhaps it's like a TV series, when one does not want to wait a week to see the next episode. All I can repeat to you is, "Stay tuned" for our l'avventura italiana (Italian adventure).

June 1
On this humid morning, the month begins with a rain shower; does this portend an un-sunny summer? Dino walks up to the weekly Mugnano market to order his jeans while I sew in the studio. Outside, Sofi meanders around and eats grass; she soon gets sick. What is it about dogs and eating grass?

Yesterday, in the NYT, an Op-Ed Columnist wrote:

Non Means Non
Published: May 31, 2011,
Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times
In Woody Allen's "Midnight in Paris," an American writer clambers into a yellow vintage Peugeot every night and is transported back to hobnob with Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Picasso, Dali, Toulouse-Lautrec and Gertrude Stein in the shimmering movable feast. The star-struck aspiring novelist from Pasadena, played by Owen Wilson, gets to escape his tiresome fiancé and instead talk war and sex with Papa Hemingway, who barks "Have you ever shot a charging lion?" "Who wants to fight?" and "You box?"

Many Frenchmen - not to mention foundering neighbor, the crepuscular Casanova Silvio Berlusconi - may be longing to see that Peugeot time machine come around a cobblestone corner.

Some may yearn to return to a time when manly aggression was celebrated rather than suspected, especially after waking up Tuesday to see the remarkable front page of Libération - photos of six prominent French women in politics with the headline "Marre des machos," or "Sick of machos."

"Is this the end of the ordinary misogyny that weighs on French political life?" the paper asked, adding: "Tongues have become untied."

In the wake of the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal, as more Frenchwomen venture sexual harassment charges against elite men, the capital of seduction is reeling at the abrupt shift from can-can to can't-can't. Le Canard EnchaĒné, a satirical weekly, still argues that "News always stops at the bedroom door," but many French seem ready to bid adieu to the maxim.

As Libération editor Nicolas Demorand wrote in an editorial: "Now that voices have been freed, and the ceiling of glass and shame has been bashed in, other scandals may now arise."

After long scorning American Puritanism and political correctness on gender issues, the French are shocked to find themselves in a very American debate about the male exploitation/seduction of women, and the nature of consent.

Nicolas Sarkozy is trying to reverse his spiraling fortunes by shaking off his old reputation as a jumpy and flashy Hot Rabbit and recasting himself as a sober and quiet family man. One newspaper noted that the enduring image from the G-8 summit meeting in Deauville was Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, in white smock, showing the other leaders' wives her baby bump.

The French president wasted no time jettisoning a junior minister - also the mayor of Draveil - who was accused of sexual assault by two former employees. Georges Tron resigned on Sunday after the two women in their mid-30s said they had gotten the courage to come forward after the Strauss-Kahn arrest.

Tron, it seems, liked to give foot massages and sometimes more. It got to the point where some women would wear boots if they knew Monsieur Masseur was coming to a meeting.

"Yes, my client is a reflexologist," riposted Tron's lawyer, Olivier Schnerb. "He's never hidden it. He has given conferences at the Lion's Club. It's a healing treatment." In Le Journal du Dimanche, Valérie Toranian, the editor of Elle, wrote about the puncturing of France's "Latin culture of seduction": "We laugh about our Italian neighbors, but the stone today is in our garden." (She probably didn't want to use a shoe-on-the-other-foot metaphor given the foot fetishist on the loose.)

On Tuesday, Libération presented interviews with a parade of women who poured out long-stifled grievances about their paternalistic culture: How they feel they must wear pants to work to fend off leering; how they're tired of men tu-ing instead of vous-ing and making comments like "O.K., but just because you have pretty eyes"; how they're fed up with married pols who come to Paris three days a week and sleep with their assistants; how, as Aurélie Filipetti, a socialist representative, complained, male pols and journalists squat on 80 percent of the political space.

Filipetti remembers hearing a male representative say during a ceremony, in front of three female representatives, "Hunting is like women. You always regret the shots you didn't take."

Corinne Lepage, a former environment minister, talked about the de trop dirty jokes, recalling how once, when a female representative mentioned a rape, a male colleague called out: "With her face, it's not going to happen to her." Nicole Guedj, a lawyer and former minister, said wistfully of male colleagues: "One thinks, 'I wish you wouldn't just look at me. I wish you would listen to me.' "

Roselyne Bachelot, a government minister, warned about lechers: "Something important has happened in these last few days. The lifting of a very real omertą, which had been reinforced by a legal arsenal that protected private life. I think that public men have understood that the respect of privacy now has some limits."

Getting French men to change will still, she said, be pushing up "le rocher de Sisyphe."

Let's get back to Italy and the grass eating dilemma: Why do dogs eat grass? Don't know, but they must think it tastes good. I do some research and learn that it does not mean anything. Sofi is sick, just the same. As she ages, her stomach must be getting more delicate.

It appears the next week or so will be mixed, weather-wise. Lore and Alberto come for prosecco tonight, but we don't think the weather will be garden weather. No matter. It's always good to see them; to learn more about the lives of real Italians.

Aside from a risotto per pranzo (Italian rice dish for lunch), I'm in the studio all morning and afternoon, figuring out the complicated details of a couple of things to make with the white embroidered material.

I'm not going to make bread for a while, to try to shed some pounds (if nothing else will, seeing a photo of oneself will do it!) I'm not stressed, but need to fit in some walks and different things to eat and drink.

The challenge is all that pizza we need to learn how to make for friends who will come for meals. I'm not about to think about it for today. That's me...the farfalla (butterfly), with my unreliable memory flitting about, happily going through the days and nights, no matter what's on the world stage...or any stage for that matter.

Take a look:

Friends are emailing this about, but I'm not sure it's funny; we make fun of the guy, but what will we all do when he's no longer in power? Who will take over?

Lore and Alberto arrive and we walk around to show them any changes since their last visit (they have not been in Mugnano for many months), then sit under the glycine and toast each other with flutes of prosecco.

Lore and Alberto tell us that our property was in disuse for many years before we purchased it; no one seemed to want to have anything to do with it. Now, with our changes, they tell us that it has become the property it should be. It is as if the place waited for us, I muse.

I can't help revealing to Lore and Alberto that this was a place where lovers came, so perhaps people look upon it with silent memories of their own. Either way, we'll join the neighbors in putting out the Italian Flag for tomorrow's Festa , another of those famous bridges that make it possible for workers to extend holidays past the weekend. This time, it is the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. Can you imagine that this country was really comprised of many little countries of sort, before 1861? Perhaps that is why it does not matter who is the Prime Minister; family is king and President and Prime Minister rolled into one.

So I ask Dino why Napolitano, Italy's President, did not attend the G-8 summit in France recently, but Prime Minister Berlusconi did. We're told that Berlusconi is campaigning to become Italy's President. Whatever does that all mean? We'll have to dig into it with our friends and neighbors and let you know what they tell us...

June 2
Buttermilk skies overhead and plenty of birdsong greet us; it does not feel like a holiday; or does it? Every day is a holiday here for us. Stores are closed everywhere.

One bird brazenly sits on a branch of the cachi tree in front of me just now, and then hops over to a wire. Identifying it should become a bit easier with our house swapping folks writing down the list of birds seen here last month. We've found the European Bird Book, and now we're trying to crosscheck the names with photos. Oh. Another thing to add to the list of things to do and to learn.

It does not matter if I take out the book or look over the list of birds seen from our house a couple of weeks ago...I still don't know what this little one is. Dino blows the photo up, so can you identify it? Do let us know if you can! Thanks so much.

"So what will you do all day?" our friends asked us in 2002, just before we moved here. Magari! I tell myself, loving each thing to do here; acting as if we have plenty of time to do it all.

I return to sewing for several hours, after a little weeding and checking on newly planted seeds; the aneth (dill) came up quickly, but I am not sure about the others. Other seeds we planted a couple of weeks ago did not like the conditions near the summer kitchen, so all the hard earth will be turned over and we'll make it a rock garden with echeveria, a succulent plant I really love that takes little care.

Three pots sitting on the steps to the summer kitchen with no new growth as yet will be tended for a couple of weeks; I remain hopeful. Behind the rock garden will be the six or so tomato plants, and behind them, three older viburnum plants in pots, with lobelia growing over the sides of two of them. There is easy access from behind.

I continue to think about the bread, and Serena made an interesting comment; she compares "o" Italian flour to #55 French flour. I'd use this Italian flour to make sweets, but it's an interesting option. The next loaf I bake will be made with "0" type flour and will sit in the frigo; then be cooked in the Le Cruset Dutch oven. Am I in the mood to begin it tonight?

June 3
Some days ago I wrote about plants "growing like Topsy", and had to defer to my expert in all things grammatical and literary, Don, to learn who Topsy was. He tells me that Topsy was a character in the book Uncle Tom's Cabin, whose hair grew in all directions.

I'm sorry I used the reference. The story's depiction of her is so unfair.

This morning, as we getting in the car, we hear Peppy nearby and Dino asks him why the garbage men came by and took the glass, but not the plastic recycling containers.

"Imbecili!" (Those idiots...imbeciles!) he responds, and comes over close to us to tell us why quietly, after giving Sofi a big hug. The plastic recycling was picked up on May 31st, as indicated on flyers that were passed around that we ignored, since we had the specific details without this fine print that were distributed earlier. In very fine print, they noted four days of this year during which the recycling would not be picked up. Yesterday was one. Peppe thinks Sofi could be a better leader than the politicians who run this province, or this country.

We drive to Viterbo and have a busy morning. We're not able to find a Dutch oven in any kitchen store, but we do return to the folks who quoted on a screen door for our cucina estate (summer kitchen) to keep flies, mosquitoes and cats out. He tells us cats and dogs will scratch the bottom of the screen and ruin it, so we have him quote on a set of French doors, with 1/3 glass at the bottom and 2/3 screen on top of each panel. Meglio di niente... (better than nothing), I tell myself.

We'll get the estimate on Monday or Tuesday. I thought we'd be able to see a wide expanse looking in from the terrace, but it does not really matter. We can open the doors whenever we choose to and that's not a time when cats will be on the property. We're hopeful cats will not return to the property once they're unable to get inside the room and lounge around when we're asleep.

I return to the fabric store and to do the trim, one of the women there tells me to use a zig-zag stitch on the machine and I'm a bit wary, not having done that before. I'll test it on another piece of fabric. The pinking shears are fine, she tells me; I just need to cut one piece of material at a time. Since I had two pieces together when I tried to use it yesterday, the bottom one always slipped. Live and learn.

We drive across the province and shop for pranzo in Guardea, then do an errand in Tenaglie before returning home for pranzo. A sudden rainstorm strikes after we're home, but just for a few minutes; afterward it's merely cloudy and warm.

I've wanted Dino to take photographs of wild red poppies in the countryside fields of green and white to emulate the Italian flag. Once we have a good photo, we'll show you where we think the idea of the green and red and white colors of the flag came from, ignoring the gobbledegook lore about Napoleon coming across the French border with a flag... These days, Italian flags flow happily everywhere we roam.

"Una calabrone!" (hornet) Paolo tells us, after he arrives mid-afternoon to re-quote the porte zanzariere (screen doors) for the cucina estate. It's really big...more than an inch long, and he tells us it's "molto pericoloso. Se puntura le collo, va molto male". (If it bites your neck, it's very bad). Yikes!

Dino wants to get out the wasp spray and a ladder before Paolo leaves, but he tells Dino it's better to wait until evening, for during the day it could get very angry. I watched it fly into a hole between the cement and the wood and Paolo tells us it makes a nest inside the soft tufo (local stone).

I ask what if the calabrone flies out during the day and is not there when Dino sprays. He's going to use silicone to close it up. I'm hopeful he will spray first, then immediately spray the silicone. In ogni modo, c'e molto pericoloso. (in any case, it's very dangerous).

I look it up on the web and find that it is very dangerous indeed:

Individuals have a female gender sting, whose bites (resulting from a defensive reaction of the animal) can be very painful for humans. As in the case of wasps and bees, after the poison is injected, there are only local and transient effects for most people, but for some it can result in severe anaphylactic allergic reactions (sometimes fatal).

Oh...what about the doors? Paolo will give us a quote on Monday and then if it's ok we will have Stefano build a wooden frame for it and he'll re-measure to make sure it's perfect. We really want to use him; we trust him. What's more, we like the doors he has prescribed.

Sofi and I return upstairs so that I can continue to work on the white silk outfits, and Dino stays outside. I hope he's not getting into trouble... Overhead, three Army helicopters fly westward in a straight line, perhaps back to Viterbo. They are very loud, but we know their work is serious and we appreciate them. These days, Italy's army is on alert, thanks to the activity in Libya.

Later, Dino plugs up the hole with silicone, and for now things look fine. With warm weather and the beauty of the land around us comes life of another form...bees and hornets and mosquitoes and ants sharing our spaces; that doesn't seem a problem when weather is not optimal.

June 4
Sofi is not herself this morning, wanting to stay by my side; the space between two nails on one paw a bit red and swollen. Has she been given a bite from a mosquito? I don't think it's a foxtail, for there's no sign of it. Do we take her to the vet?

She's able to move around; just doesn't care to. So when I return to the studio to sew, she follows me upstairs, not afraid to take the stairs, but happiest in the little wicker bed by my side listening to the birdsong.

Rosina is better; she tells me from her balcony that her headache continued for ten days, caused by her elevated blood pressure. I tell her I am sorry, and am happy she is feeling well now. I also tell her we'll be in Rome for two days, and she tells us she'll watch our house. Va bene. Grazie, sorella grande! (Thank you, big sister!)

Sofi guards the house while we drive to Il Pallone to shop for groceries. On the way back we stop at the Farmacia for a few things. One is for a painful callus between two toes, and I'll be sure to ask Giusy if I need to see a doctor. In the meantime, I'll try the salve.

Back at home, I spend time sewing, and after pranzo return to the studio, followed by Sofi, while Dino takes an afternoon nap. Unless I'm really tired, I'd rather be sewing these days. I'm working on two outfits at the same time, all made out of the white embroidered silk remnant we purchased at a plein aire market (outdoor market) recently in France. There is a lot of fabric, and the embroidery is wonderful. So one is a low cut dress and the second is a pair of harem pants with a tunic. Will I ever wear either of them? Who knows, but for €4, the silk was a real find, and I'm having a lot of fun designing as I go.

I'm noticing a growing contentment in Dino, and that pleases me greatly. He smiles more and is less stressed about daily living. Giuseppa is a model for us all; we see her walk down to her orto with a gentle gait; the same gait she uses when walking back up the steep hill or taking the collection plate around during mass. There's no need to rush these days.

Dino calls niece Erin, whom we thought just arrived in Rome, but her plane is stuck in Paris; she should arrive late this afternoon. She arrives safe and sound at 9PM and must be tired. We'll meet her around noon tomorrow, after she's had a morning tour, and look forward to seeing her and to welcoming her to Italy. I think Sofi's health will be fine, and she'll be with us except the time we're in mass on Monday morning.

June 5
It's mightily humid this morning, as we get ready to drive to Rome to meet niece Erin. Dino is happy there's been so much rain things will be fine while we're away. I notice a large lavender plant in the middle garden fairly flattened from the center, but it is a hearty one, and will fill out again when things dry out a bit.

Temperatures are in the 20's; quite warm. We rendezvous with Erin at Piazza Navona, and take her to pranzo, where we spend time learning about each other's lives. She is a dream of a young woman; feet firmly planted on the ground and ready to take on the world. She's open to anything we want to do with her for the next few hours, so we take her to the keyhole and to a church she has probably not seen. Here are some photos...

June 6
We like our hotel room, as does Sofi. We walk around a bit and drive early to the church, to find Sofi a spot in the shade to wait for us while we're in church with Erin and her choir.

The group is really wonderful ; so wonderful that I put my arm around Erin as we watch them sing; tears brimming from our eyes. All the while, Dino takes photos...

When the mass ends, we leave after saying goodbye to our dear niece; she'll be on a tour of the Vatican, and even though the day is rainy at times, they'll be inside for most of it. We're sorry the weather is not better for them, but they'll all have a great time, just the same.

Driving home, we stop at Roma Est for a few things while Sofi waits in the car, then pick up panini at an Autogrille and eat in the car on the way home. Back at home, there is no need to water, for there has been plenty of rain.

It's great to be home! I suppose we really are country bumpkins after all.

June 7
Dino watched the three cypress trees in his view from our high bed facing the hills between Mugnano and Bomarzo during the night; all the while a soft rain descended. Smiling to himself, Dino thought, "I won't have to water today".

We awake to more rain, descending straight down, so our open windows let us listen to the rain falling softly, although there is no birdsong.

A bit later, while we are having prima colazione (breakfast), thunder appears and the rain descends with more force. Thunderstorms are expected, so we will shut down the computer before driving to the Pronto Soccorso (emergency room) in Orvieto. Dino's leg pain continues, as does the pain in my foot. He'll tell them that his pain has increased in the last few days.

I look online to find out what to do about the calluses between my little and 4th toes on one foot. Since I don't have great circulation, it tells me to see my doctor, for the over the counter remedy could cause problems. Next week we'll do that.

Thunder continues, so goodbye for now.

Bread, bread, bread...Tonight and tomorrow we'll serve fresh bread, and I continue to experiment with flour and leavening, whether to refrigerate the dough to rise or set it out on the counter overnight. At least I keep track in a notebook and Dino takes a photo of each loaf.

The weather is very humid. We drive to Orvieto to Pronto Soccorso (the hospital emergency room) for Dino's knee, which continues to hurt him. He tells the dottoressa that he hurt it while carrying a large lug up some stairs, and it has hurt ever since. She has a simple recommendation: ice it! She tells him it is a tendon, and although it's not a dramatic story, it means he's going to be fine. We have plenty of ice packs that we purchased in the U S and brought here, so after pranzo, we both take a nap while he ices his knee.

I get up and bake another loaf of bread, forgetting to score it and it comes out like ciabatta. No matter. It will be warm to take to Annika and Torbjorn's tonight. Dino wants to clip errant glycine (wisteria), and has me spotting them from the studio window. "What have we wrought?" he laughingly muses.

Our somewhat gentle life is lovely here, and as the sky clears, birdsong serenade us. I've had a bit of an ache in my shoulders and neck and have taken a medicine cocktail, for I don't want a migraine to attack. The rest helped. It appears I use a hand mixer for the bread and hold it too high for my short frame, putting the bowl on the counter. We need to find a lower place for me to do this work.

I'm disappointed by the bread fresh out of the oven, although it is a lovely color and should be crusty and good. Speriamo (We hope so.)

Showers are expected tonight, so we'll probably eat inside at Annika and Torbjorn's, and it would be a good idea for Sofi to stay home. I don't think she'd have a good time. The Gasperonis are there, including Tiziano with Alessia, whom Annika calls his fiancé, and it's wonderful to see our good friend so happy.

The wedding date is announced, and the couple is joyous. We are so happy for them. I do remember what it felt like the months before we were married; it was as if we were on a cloud. I do remember those feelings, and thought it has been thirty years, the feelings are not possible to forget, nor would I want to. Dino tells us he cannot remember anything. He was in a fog...I remember that.

We sit outside and the rain holds off; the eight of us have a funny evening, although three of us only speak Italian. The rest of us converse mostly in Italian, and it is the hand gestures that have us laughing. I ask Enzo, who sits across from me, to cross his wrists and then try to speak. He is unable to, and laughs.

We also talk about the expression that I would spell, "Boh!" (a sort-of I don't know). The Italians spell it, "B" "O". I explain what that means in English (someone has "body odor"), and the Italians think it's quite funny.

Back home, Sofi is delighted to welcome us, and lies by my side as I catch up with you.

June 8
Bread cooks in the oven after I pop in a cake and raise the temperature. Outside there is steamy weather with plenty of clouds and sun. Dino clips glycine from balcony after grilling veggies; Judith and Tia arrive for pranzo, in thanks for rescuing the cat and kitties from our summer kitchen while we were in France. After they're here, I fix my favorite summer risotto: lemon. The basic risotto recipe is on the site. I add grated lemon zest and lemon juice. Take a look:


With plenty of clouds, we eat inside, but no matter. For a few hours we catch up with each other, including learning more about the 50th Thayer reunion. Judith and my brother were friends in high school and in the same class.

Tia tells me we have too many seeds in our aneth (dill) pots. No, more is not good. So later I take out seven small pots, put in dirt, and distribute the seedlings around in them. Thanks, garden mentor, now that Felice watches down from heaven.

"You look happy" is what they tell me and yes, indeed I am. So at peace with myself; I am so at peace with the world, no matter what happens. What a gift we have been given to have this life here; even if it lasts for only a day. Every one should feel this at least once in their lives. I am sure that these are my "salad days", notwithstanding the e coli outbreak in Germany.

Tonight, after researching various modes of pizza dough making, I settle upon one, a Pizza Romano, and it is quite simple to make with the portable mixer, although it later gives me a lot of pain in my right shoulder and neck. I make enough for eight pizzas, and put the balls in the frigo overnight to rise. Tomorrow night we'll inaugurate our pizza oven.

June 9
It's Marissa and Nicole's seventh birthday, and this afternoon we will call them to wish them a happy day; a happy year. The package arrived yesterday, just in time. Wonder if they'll open it while we're on SKYPE with them.

I feel pretty terrible, and after prima colazione take a medicine cocktail and sit in the conch shell on the terrace to relax a bit and wait for the medicine to take effect. Dino drives off to find falegnames (woodworkers), where he thinks he will be able to pick up wood scraps to use in the pizza oven to not deplete our firewood stash.

Torbjorn and Annika arrive to check email, but there is something amiss with the connection; when Dino returns we'll try again.

Don emails me about last month's posting, in which I recall tamarindo and a fried dough, which I misspell...it is tzeppole. I want to learn more. Tamarind is the fruit of a shade tree grown widely in India, often referred to as an Indian date. The pods contain small seeds with a sweet-sour pulp that's used as a flavoring when dried. The flavor resembles a tart cola.

To make a cool, refreshing Italian soda, use one-part syrup to six-parts sparkling water. I'd like to try it sometime over shaved ice, so...come no? (why not?)

It's midafternoon, and rain appears for half an hour, so we call around and everyone can make it tomorrow night for pizza instead, although Dino has put up a tarp in front of the pizza oven and is indomitable, in the event we can't reschedule.

The cake is made, the pizza base is in the frigo, and a couple of toppings are being prepared, but we think things will all be all right until tomorrow. If there are a few blunders, these guests are all our pals, so fa niente (no matter).

I love the word indomitable, even though I do not spell it correctly here the first time. It means: unconquerable, strong, resolute, determined; but it also means stubborn, doughty (what?), invincible, tough, spirited, steadfast and staunch. That's my Dino!

There is a question regarding the real pizza boscaiolo (hunter's pizza), and they type we love best has no tomato sauce or bacon, but does have mozzarella, mushrooms, sausage and herbs. I look it up online, and there are so many variations. Dino thinks the sliced mushrooms should not be sautéed in advance with garlic and olive oil, but I am sure they should. Recipes back me up. I want to cook the water out of them, so that they're not slimy, but not enough so that they're too dry. We'll see.

Sofi has been a wreck all day. First her stomach rumbled loudly. She would not eat her pranzo. And when the rain came down she began to cry out loud, hiding under the sink. Thunder brought her to me, and now she's in her little bed in the studio, just by my side. It's the noise that frightens her most. Perhaps we'll get into bed and I'll read while she snuggles on top of the quilt. We now have a day with little to do! Hooray!

How will the dough be if left in the frigo one more day? I'll let you know. See you later...

We call Nicole and Marissa to wish them happy birthday. They have tried on the harem costumes that I made for them and they fit "perfectly". Angie will mail us a photo of them wearing them, but then we've agreed to SKYPE with them in a day or so. What would Nicole like me to sew for her? A black dress with spangle fringe!

I make the dough, and with the reverberating action of the handheld mixer, it makes my shoulders and neck ache. Darn. I make two large recipes of Pizza Romana dough, form them into balls, cover each ball with cling wrap, then in a cotton towel, then put them in the frigo. Wonder if we open the frigo later that we'll have a scene out of I Love Lucy?

Dino rigs up a tarp in front of the pizza oven in the event it rains, and it does rain a bit. He calls around and we reschedule the cena for tomorrow night.

June 10
Tonight's the night, and I'm feeling a bit better. I do put together a chart for the participants tonight (eight of us), listing each pizza and its ingredients. I come up with nine pizzas...but don't have room for the potatoes. I love potato pizza, the slices crispy out of the oven. We'll save that for another night.

Dino drives to Viterbo, and this afternoon he'll begin to start the oven. It's a really lovely day. I want to form the pizzas in advance, perhaps two hours in advance, but don't know if that's a good idea. I'd form them over parchment paper and sit them around the kitchen until it's time to add ingredients and slide them into the pizza oven after guests arrive.

I determine this is a bad idea, so about fifteen minutes before guests are due to arrive I'll stretch and form the first one. It will be a gamble, but these are our friends. The toppings will be set out in advance, easy to ladle and tong. I do need to practice the hand over hand thing, forming and stretching the dough, and look forward to it, especially if I do it well. I'll be sure to use lots of flour, and Dino will take photos to show you.

Better rest up...

Yesterday, I softened butter in the microwave for the lemon cake, but forgot about it, and there is no butter in the cake at all! How did I find out? Well, Dino saw the dish in the microwave hours later! To compensate, when I made the frosting, I used all of the butter. The cake will probably be dry, but by the time we're ready for dessert we'll all be mellow and it won't really matter, especially with a very rich frosting. Life can be so funny if one does not take the miscues too seriously.

There are a moderate number of clouds in an otherwise blue, blue sky, but we're not concerned. Dino's tarp is still up right in front of the pizza oven, and he'll decide much later if it should come down before guests arrive. He's more interested in measuring and buying the last wooden beam from Soriano for the far edge of the final roof of the summer kitchen above the last wisteria. Stefano will arrive to consult on the measurement early this afternoon.

In the meantime, the quote has come in on the screen doors, and after a bit of back and forth, a price is agreed upon and we're hoping the supplies are ordered. It should take ten days (magari!) and then the doors will be installed. The good news is that it's either here or it's not, for the installation won't take all that long and the supplies are stored off site.

Stefano arrives and is a bit ashamed that he has ignored us for so long. I hope that means he'll return next week to continue our work. I can only hope. I later learn we're not his next project. Sigh.

The evening is so very much fun. A lot of work... I don't look at it that way. I love every bit of it. The inauguration of our pizza oven is viewed as a creative effort by... "yours truly". I try to imagine things I'd love to eat upon a pizza. Not sure if we'll have enough dough for eight or nine pizzas, I work out a chart that everyone can fill out afterward regarding what they liked and did not like. It will help us next time, and we're thinking this will be a way we'll entertain all summer; all year. Come no?

Here are the pizzas:

* 1 - Margherita: tomato, mozzarella, basil
* 2 - caramelized onion and fennel, calamata olives and goat cheese
* 3 - Boscaiola: sausage, sliced mushrooms, mozzarella
* 4 -red and yellow peppers, edamer cheese, fresh thyme
* 5 - shrimp, anchovies, mozzarella, zucchini flowers
* 6 - shaved grilled asparagus, minced garlic, parmesan cheese
* 7 - blue cheese, sliced granny smith apples, walnuts, mozzarella

The two we don't have enough dough for are
* 1 - zucchini and feta and fresh mint, and * 2 - marinated eggplant, goat cheese, oregano and lemon zest
The consensus is that there are no failures...except perhaps the sliced granny smith apples. I'm wondering about Jamie Oliver's simple recipe for pizza dough, and tomorrow we'll take a look while the oven is still warm and perhaps see if we like his better, or as an alternate. It will take far less time...

The scores and comments are taken seriously...or are they? I do like to know what works and what does not, for future reference.

We trundle up to bed at midnight, after all the pizzas, the lemon cake and plenty of beer and wine have been consumed and we've cleaned up. What fun we've all had!

June 11
We sleep in longer than almost ever...till almost 9:30, when Cristina stops by with a question about a friend's garden. Might as well get up.

We do try Jamie Oliver's pizza recipe, one for boscaiola with the addition of calamata olives and one with zucchini and feta cheese and mint. Dino loves the taste of the feta cheese, and always loves the boscaiola. We make a change; after working the dough out under my closed fists, I take out the rolling pin and roll the pizzas out thinly and evenly. Unfortunately, the first one breaks with not enough flour on the paddle, so Dino cooks it in pieces; it's still good, although the oven is not hot enough (210C degrees instead of 250C).

Next time, we'll try Jamie's recipe, but use the hand mixer a la Pizza Romana as before, but use the rolling pin to roll it out after using my fists, and use plenty of flour underneath. We'll mix the dough in a bowl on the balaustra (balustrade) just outside the front door. It's lower off the ground and easier on my shoulders and neck when using the hand mixer. Va bene!The experience really has been a lot more fun than we imagined.

Dino drives to Tenaglie to check out a property, while I sit in the conch shell and read, with Sofi playing nearby on the terrace. A while later, unfortunately, while Dino is getting ready to put in the first pizza, he sees a serpente (harmless garden snake), about one and one half meters long, sliding past him and taking a turn near the little dog house, with Sofi not far behind.

He yells at her and she stops; he then tells me to pick her up. I walk out and pick her up, not able to see the snake. "Did you see its head?" I ask him. He did not. It's probably a harmless garden snake, but I can't imagine what we'd do if Sofi were bit by it...or any snake. I keep her close to me for the rest of the afternoon. She's always happy by my side; dear doggie.

In case you do not know, a serpente is harmless, but a vipere (viper) is very poisonous, and can be quite short, but has a triangle shaped head. There are few of these around; some have never seen one, but it is good to be somewhat knowledgeable and aware.

There is music tonight in Orvieto at the Magnolia with good friends Bob and Penny vacationing here as they do each year from Mill Valley; Bob Weiss will be soloing with his alto sax, so Sofi will stay home. But in a conversation with Candace in the afternoon, she tells me that she's sitting inside the car at the campo, and rain is pouring down. She'll call us later if the rain does not let up. If the rain is heavy, we're hoping they'll reschedule.

Clouds move toward us, and as I catch up with you clouds are quite dark. We've done two loads of laundry, and perhaps this last one should come inside...at least to the summer kitchen.

Sofi gently enters her cage and, without a murmur, guards the house when we drive to Orvieto in somewhat inclement weather. Overhead, skies open as we're about halfway there; no matter. We have umbrellas.

We reach the bar next to the Magnolia, where Penny and Bob stay when they are here. Bit by bit, we commandeer tables right outside the door to the café, where Bob will play his wonderful alto sax in a bit.

The owners of the place have been trying to figure out how to put the loud music played at the bar across the little strada out of business, for at least the night, and asked Bob if he'll play for an hour. We're here to cheer him on. One must have a permit to play live music, and the Magnolia has it...for tonight.

This is a pedestrian area, at least for tonight, and plenty of folks dressed in their most stylish passagiatta outfits parade by. A dozen or so of us drink prosecco or beer and even aquatonica (me) and chatter with Bob and Penny, who is here with her camera to capture the images. Here are a sample of Dino's:

Bob begins to play, and serenades us with his a great alto sax. He's even more accomplished than last year, and was very good then. In my dreams I'd be able to play my violin again, a la Stefane Grappelli, and we'd jam.

Frank tells me to just take my violin out and play, but some things are just not possible. Dino would have to turn into some kind of masseuse, working on my shoulder and neck every day, or I'd not be able to play it. Instead, I sit in the studio at home in the afternoons and Sofi and I listen to classical music on SKY while she naps and I write and sew and sometimes even sketch or paint.

We stay until Bob finishes his gig, and it's been a blast for me; I have listened to jazz since childhood, and know the names of just about any piece that has been recorded and sung. I'm stumped when he plays pieces without words, and he does some fun improvisations.

Since he plays with a group in Marin County, CA, back in the U S, he can't be away for too long, or he'd lose his place in the group, and he loves to play with them. Bob's a treasure of a guy, with or without his sax, and we're happy to have him visit nearby Orvieto with his joyous Penny for an extended stay each Spring.

We are the first to leave, but it's time to go, and arrive home to cloudy skies that soon open up to give Dino one more day without a need to water.

As we sleep, there is plenty of rain...

June 12
There'll be a Formula-1 race tonight, so you know where Dino will be...In the meantime, skies are clear and I'm able to pick up a bunch of loquat leaves with Sofi by my side on the terrace and middle garden, as well as send a few snails through the air to join their friends elsewhere.

Sofi stays here while we drive up to church, and Vincenza sits by my side on the front row as we sing some of our favorite hymns. Don Angelo is our priest, and before the mass shakes my hand and tells me that one day we'll have a mass in English!

Why, I ask him. There is no need, for we are waiting for our citizenship, and when that is done we'll be real Italians. He smiles and nods. I'm wondering what he'll think of my opinions of the Act of Confession...

Don Angelo faces me and speaks right to me for some of his homily. I think more and more about what he would think about my attitude about The Act of Confession, and know that I read about a priest who agreed that one can confess directly to God; Come no?

Before mass I have a chance to embrace dear Nonna Candida, who sits with Dino near the back of the church, and also thank Giuseppa, who sits across the aisle from me at the front. I thank Giuseppa for being my inspiration for slowing down and gently going about my day. Her movements are surefooted but slow and it is as if she glides through her day. She smiles her lovely smile, as much in her calm eyes as the rest of her face, and it's difficult to not embrace her whenever I see her; in fact, I usually do!

After mass, we drive to Nando's Bar for something for Dino to eat and drinks, then across the street to shop for food. We're home before noon, and after a pranzo of grilled fillets and salad, Dino watches the end of the 24-hour Le Mans race while I catch up with you.

I play a bit with the white embroidered material, working on a top for the strapless dress. I hardly ever sew something for myself, but why not? This glorious fabric from France was probably a filmy embroidered curtain in someone's house; soon it will make two outfits for yours truly. I especially like designing details when I sew.

Life surely is a joy. Growing up it was no so, but I'm so blessed that I lived this long to find my true place in life. "You'll live in a country other than your own"...comes back to me so often. Earlier today, while Don Angelo spoke, I reaffirmed the fact that I like being in a country where I don't speak or understand the language perfectly; it is as if it doesn't really matter. What matters is that I love living here; love my neighbors and this village and this part of Italy.

Also earlier, Dino asked Tiziano about the referendum being voted upon to privatize some public services in Italy, including water distribution. Referendums here are somewhat a "Yes means No" decision.

"Will things change immediately?" he asks our good friend. Tiziano laughs. It really does not matter what the decision is...things may just stay the same!

I ask Paola to please arrange an Ecomuseo meeting subito (right away), so that we can get going on the Mugnano family tree. If we can't have a meeting soon, I won't be able to paint the tree for Ferragosto (August 15th). There are decisions to be made before Dino and I do more work on the project. In the meantime, I'll continue as usual. Sempre Avanti! (Always forward!)

After a short nap, we work outside on the terrace and in the garden. Dino's tarp in front of the pizza oven comes down, but we're amazed at the somewhat ferocious growth of the glicine (wisteria), or should we call it what Stein calls it, hysteria? Latching onto each other as well as the house, it's as if the fronds are marching, marching...along. This week there are even a few flowers on the newest, although darker and decidedly purple, wisteria

No matter. Perhaps tomorrow I'll spot Dino while he clips away. Tonight is a Formula-1 race in Montreal, and I fix tiny pizzas for him in the oven, while he's watching. There are plenty of ingredients left, and a bit of dough that has been sitting in the frigo since yesterday, so come no? (Why not?)

Friends Merritt and Kate arrive on Monday to stay in their house in Tenaglie for a couple of weeks, and we'll invite them some night for pizza along with Don, who will be here from England with a couple of guests, or are they relatives? I don't recall.

June 13
We so wish that Marissa and Nicole could come for a visit this summer, but they have to be fifteen to fly alone. Dino thinks they could come nonstop from Los Angeles to Rome. Wish we knew someone who'd be their chaperone!

It's time to revisit what is going on with women in the Middle East...

Farzaneh Milani, chairwoman of the Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Virginia, is the author of "Words, Not Swords: Iranian Women Writers and the Freedom of Movement."

Gender apartheid is not about piety. It is about dominating, excluding and subordinating women. It is about barring them from political activities, preventing their active participation in the public sector, and making it difficult for them to fully exercise the rights Islam grants them to own and manage their own property. It is about denying women the basic human right to move about freely.

That is why the women defying the ban on motorized mobility are in fact demanding an eventual overhaul of the entire Saudi political system. They want not just to drive but to remap the political geography of their country.

On June 17th, there will be demonstrations by women about this. We're expecting trouble, and I wish I could do more. Don't you?

This morning there are some clouds and it is cool. The weather is lovely; lovely enough that I spend a lot of time weeding through the gravel above the parcheggio, spray the new rose growing over the new arches above the mangiatoio with denatured alcohol, dish soap and water, and then return to the studio to sew and catch up with you.

Meanwhile, Dino measures for the beam and drives off to Soriano to pick it up; he thinks he can install it himself (what?) but will ask Stefano if he needs to. Then Paolo will return to take final measurements. Strangely, we have not seen cats return during these nights. Perhaps it was the female cat that slept here, and she is now gone from Mugnano, thanks to Judith and Tia's rescue efforts. I'm sure they'll find some good homes.

The men at the first place Dino visits for the beam won't cut it as he needs it to be cut at an angle at one end. He then visits his friend Nando in Bassano in Teverina, who tells him it will take until the end of the week, but he will do it. I recall that work at Nando's shop often has to be done two or three times, and often takes longer than it should. Stay tuned.

Back to sewing, I'm making a bolero top to the low cut embroidered dress, but Frank calls to give me places to look up on the web for our joint September trip. He wants to go to the Dordogne, but it's further away than Languedoc.

I tell him Dino won't want to drive for four more hours each way, but he presses me on. So we'll look up the places and will talk with them later. I admit I'm somewhat dubious, thinking as a option that they might want to stay there for a week; then join us in Languedoc. We'll see...

There's still no word about my pending Italian citizenship application, although Dino's has been approved....

June 14
This morning I have a pedicure with my pal, Giusy, and there's an hour or more to talk about spirituality and not judging others. It is something she's practiced for a long time, so of course she's right on my wavelength.

This woman is a marvel; not only is she a fine pedicurist, her heart is full of joy and love. Of all the people we've met here in Italy, this woman touches me to the core of my very being more than anyone I know.

I show her the callous between two toes that has softened with a new salve, and she works on it and tells me to call her right away if anything changes. I find it interesting to learn that what we do to our bodies over time affects changes that we have power to control.

Dino wants to drive to Viterbo afterward to do errands and so we do. While he's waiting at the doctor's office to pick up prescriptions, Sofi and I walk to the merceria (notions store) and pick up snaps for my white embroidered dress. They don't have white, but do have clear, and I purchase a dozen or so, although wonder how they will fare if we have the dress cleaned.

Dino picked up our favorite rosettes(characteristic rolls in the shape of a flower) and it's a tuna day, although Dino fixes himself a tuna melt. I have never eaten one, but they were popular when he was growing up. No, grazie. It's been a while since we've shared a photo of our village with you. Things don't change much here, except for two fig plants growing out of the top of the thousand year old tower...There is scaffolding at the bottom of the tower for some work, but can't imagine it's for the fig removal...but who knows?

By the way, the rondine (swift) flying across the photo or one of his pals may have been the culprits for dropping figs or fig seeds on the tower. We have plenty of birds and birdsong in Mugnano, but these rondine are probably the most prolific.

The afternoon has me sewing and finishing the bolero top to the embroidered dress and doing a bit of reading. Paola calls and wants to schedule an Ecomuseo meeting tonight to discuss the albero geneologico (Mugnano family tree), for this is the only time everyone will be available. Va bene.

Dino's comments are a bit direct in his opinions about my view of the project, so I ask him to think beyond the box and give the project an overview. There are two sections: 1) the software and computer part, developing a program through which residents can learn about their genealogical history and their relationships to others in the community; and 2) the artistic part, where I turn the data into a visual encapsulation at one point in time.

We all walk to the ex-scuola (the building still has no name, although we use it for all activities), and Paola and I follow, while the others determine the best wall and I agree with them. It is a wall that one can stand back from and see the entire tree (or will it be a grove of trees, each one representing a major family)? Dino advises that the tree come down no lower than table height, for viewing when we have cenas there.

That done, we return to the office, in the little building at the top of the stairs in the main square of the borgo.

Roy has a software program that he has been using and will work, but it is only available in English. Is something available in Italian? Or, better yet, can this software be transferred to a different program in Italian? Roy has a new source that he will check on this week.

Antonio would like to see a touch screen, and calls a friend to learn that it will cost €1000 (one thousand euro). We'll all continue to research options. In the meantime, we tell our friends that we need them to help us to collect any remaining information before the end of the summer.

We agree that we will have a little kiosk (possibly a table with an umbrella), where Dino will sit after church each Sunday for half an hour or so with his computer. He'll take down information from people on the spot.

It's recommended that a few specific families be chosen instead for the first Sunday, and that the rest of the residents be asked to do their homework in advance and bring it to the next Sunday morning kiosk; a kiosk that will be available each Sunday morning for the rest of the summer. After that, the taking of information will end, and I will then work out the design and framework.

Dino remains skeptical of my ability to work out a framework; I am confident, although don't have the exact scheme in my head. It will be more of a jigsaw puzzle game to work out with pipe cleaners or some kind of pliable objects that I can fit together and can cross over one another. I'm sure it will be fun.

I'm seeing the project as a labor of love for the people of our village; one that may bring any disparate factions closer together and will be a teaching tool for young people to appreciate their family histories in this special place in which we are fortunate enough to live.

Before we leave for home, Salvatore and Andrea arrive to see what is happening with their fathers, who are in the meeting. Salvatore is already taller than me, and how soon will Andrea be able to say the same? You tell me!

June 15
It appears to have rained last night. That makes Dino happy.

Editorial - Bias and the Beholder
Stephen Jay Gould, a prominent evolutionary biologist, gained broad public attention for exposing how scientists' biases can skew their research. In one celebrated case, he charged that a famous study of human skulls in the mid-19th century had been manipulated, probably unconsciously, to support racist notions.

The skulls had been collected by Samuel George Morton, a physical anthropologist. He measured their cranial capacity by filling them with seeds and later with lead shot. Caucasians had the largest brain volume, followed by Asians, with American Indians and Africans trailing.

Dr. Gould, who died in 2002, re-analyzed Morton's results and concluded that he had selectively reported data and manipulated subgroups to fit a preconception that Caucasians had bigger brains than Africans and were, therefore, more intelligent. Dr. Gould found no important differences among the races. He did not measure the skulls himself.

Now a team of six physical anthropologists has filled almost half the skulls with pellets and concluded that Morton's data were generally reliable and not manipulated. Although the team acknowledged that Morton often reported results in a "highly racist fashion," in this case it found no evidence that Morton believed brain size was a measure of intelligence or was trying to prove it.

The team expressed admiration for Dr. Gould's body of work in staunch opposition to racism, but, in this case, it accused him of various errors and manipulations that supported his own hypothesis. "Ironically, Gould's own analysis of Morton is likely the stronger example of a bias influencing results," the team said. We wish Dr. Gould were here to defend himself. Right now it looks as though he proved his point, just not as he intended.

Reading this has me thinking about one of my first jobs, during the early 1970's when, working for J. Sterling Livingston, I learned about the Management Consulting Guru's "Management by Objectives", and wonder if this article has more to do with a scientist knowing what he wants to achieve and manipulating the findings to his benefit than in the search for objective findings that could help mankind.

It's a lovely day, not too hot, with plenty of blue sky and a few clouds floating by. I putter around on the terrace, picking up leaves, and really will try to feed the roses tonight. There's no need to spray, for they all look quite good.

After a simple pranzo, I return to the studio to work on the white dress, while Dino puts together the preliminary pieces for the air conditioning/heating unit. Yes, we will purchase another for the kitchen, as soon as the shop has more in stock.

Tomorrow Stefano Basili will do the work. At that time, he can also survey where the second unit will be mounted in the kitchen. We agree that it should be mounted above the door to the summer kitchen, with the compressor to be mounted outside the back wall, as the first unit will be.

Now that I'll have three or so white outfits to wear, I have no idea where I'll wear them, for they are a bit dressy and no events are really dressy here, unless it is a wedding, and wearing white to a wedding is not a good idea. Perhaps I'll mix the outfits up with some things that have color in them.

Lemon yellow harem pants for the tunic... a yellow top to wear with the harem pants and the bolero top... the white dress by itself with a gauzy paisley shawl?

Knowing we'll have cool temperatures inside beginning tomorrow is a dream; what will we do with the fans?

No matter. The sweet little drawing with the paragraph that grand daughter Marissa wrote about me now stands in clear view facing the desk in the studio. Do children have any idea what these statements of love mean to the person they write about?

I'm so surprised that she chose to write about me when Marissa has two other grandmothers. Hopefully, she writes about them, too. I am not a competitive sort, and there's plenty of love to go around. The last thing I want to do is play favorites, or to have them do the same. Still, looking at her artwork and at what she likes to do with me when I sit at the desk during the day puts a smile on my face.

Is it time for a nap and to read from my new pal, the Kindle? After an hour, Peppino wakes me up with his tractor marching across his campo. With a nudge, Dino is ready to clip away at the wisteria. Will that make it grow in other directions?

Instead, he wants to drill a pilot hole in the top of one of the closets in our bedroom for the installation of the air conditioner tomorrow.

I take a look out the west facing window and wonder, is there an easier way to clip and dry the lavanda? It's ready to clip in many areas already! As soon as I finish this dress, I'll put my sewing away and have Dino cover the windows with brown paper. We'll use drying racks from which they will hang.

We'll clip lavender plant by plant instead of all at once. If you clip lavender, be sure to make the cuts above the woody area to encourage further growth, I'll take a large bunch and secure it with a rubber band, a couple of inches down from the cut.

Then I'll take a paperclip and hang it from the rack. For the next couple of weeks they'll hang here, making the room sweet and fragrant, albeit a bit dark. Then it will be arranged in a few baskets, but only a few, for Dino hates the mess.

That sound you hear is Dino grumbling. He would like to forget bringing any of it inside, but there is no good place outside to dry it.

With that, it's a good time to end this post for the first half of June. Let's see what Dino has to say once he's read this...

June 16

From the International Herald Tribune - June 15
Afghan Women Most Imperiled, Report Finds - By KATRIN BENNHOLD

PARIS - Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan are the three most dangerous countries in the world for women, according to a panel of gender experts assembled by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Women live perilously in many developing countries today, but on top of the list is Afghanistan, the experts said, with one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world, minimal access to basic health care and education and scarcely any economic rights for women and girls. Eighty-seven percent of Afghan women are illiterate and one in 11 dies in childbirth, Unicef estimates. As many as 8 in 10 face forced marriages.

In Congo, vastly different threats prevail for women. According to Keshat Bachan of Plan International, a private organization specializing in child poverty, the levels of sexual violence and rape there "are simply the highest in the world." On an average day, 1,152 Congolese women are raped, according to estimates published in The American Journal of Public Health. A married woman is powerless to sign any legal documents without her husband's authorization. The experts ranked Pakistan third, based on religious traditions that are harmful to women. More than 1,000 women a year are victims of so-called honor killings and many more are victims of acid attacks, child marriage and abusive punishments, including stoning, human rights activists report.

Thomson Reuters asked more than 200 aid professionals, academics, health workers, policy makers, journalists and development specialists from five continents to rank countries on their overall perception of danger for women as well as by six risk categories, from health to violence to religious and other factors.

My heart continues to go out to the women around the world who are repressed and in danger. Why when we lived in the womb of the United States did we feel somewhat immune to the real issues of the world far from our shores?

On the other side of this coin, why is it that the United States spends so much of its money on foreign aid while many of its own are left to fend for themselves? I'm not judging; just asking the question. The world seems so out of balance; yet it keeps spinning, spinning.

On this yet another lovely day, the forecast is for clouds, but there are none in sight. Beginning tomorrow, there is to be sun and lovely temperatures for the next ten days.

June 17
After a night with an ice pack and pain in my neck and head and a medicine cocktail, I am feeling much better. Dino thinks I spend too much time concentrating on sewing. Perhaps I should not spend more than an hour or two on any one activity. On this morning, I catch up with you after an hour or so working with the white dress. Sofi is happy to lie by my side in her little wicker bed, listening to classical music.

Stefano the electrician arrives to put in the air conditioning unit, and he and Dino work together to finish the project. We're waiting for another unit to come in to the store where we purchased the first one; they were so successful that the units have sold out, but they tell him they are expecting more and will honor the same price. Va bene!

I've agreed with Dino to dry the lavender on clothes drying racks in the studio, but do need him to cover the windows and to pick up more rubber bands for the project. He grumbles about having baskets of lavender in the house, but not a lot. I don't really enjoy the project of cutting and drying the lavender, but do like the fresh smell of lavender in the house during the warm summer months. Perhaps we'll cut tonight.

Not wanting to put more strain on my neck and shoulders, Sofi and I will spend time outside, with me reading in the conch shell and the little one playing nearby.

But first, there is a distressing article I'd like to share with you that addresses the fact that some people win debates and arguments because of rational ideas and the ability to debate successfully, not necessarily resulting in a successful search for the truth...

Reason Seen More as Weapon Than Path to Truth - By PATRICIA COHEN
For centuries thinkers have assumed that the uniquely human capacity for reasoning has existed to let people reach beyond mere perception and reflex in the search for truth. Rationality allowed a solitary thinker to blaze a path to philosophical, moral and scientific enlightenment.

Now some researchers are suggesting that reason evolved for a completely different purpose: to win arguments. Rationality, by this yardstick (and irrationality too, but we'll get to that) is nothing more or less than a servant of the hard-wired compulsion to triumph in the debating arena. According to this view, bias, lack of logic and other supposed flaws that pollute the stream of reason are instead social adaptations that enable one group to persuade (and defeat) another. Certitude works, however sharply it may depart from the truth.

The idea, labeled the argumentative theory of reasoning, is the brainchild of French cognitive social scientists, and it has stirred excited discussion (and appalled dissent) among philosophers, political scientists, educators and psychologists, some of whom say it offers profound insight into the way people think and behave. The Journal of Behavioral and Brain Sciences devoted its April issue to debates over the theory, with participants challenging everything from the definition of reason to the origins of verbal communication.

"Reasoning doesn't have this function of helping us to get better beliefs and make better decisions," said Hugo Mercier, who is a co-author of the journal article, with Dan Sperber. "It was a purely social phenomenon. It evolved to help us convince others and to be careful when others try to convince us." Truth and accuracy were beside the point.

Indeed, Mr. Sperber, a member of the Jean-Nicod research institute in Paris, first developed a version of the theory in 2000 to explain why evolution did not make the manifold flaws in reasoning go the way of the prehensile tail and the four-legged stride. Looking at a large body of psychological research, Mr. Sperber wanted to figure out why people persisted in picking out evidence that supported their views and ignored the rest - what is known as confirmation bias - leading them to hold on to a belief doggedly in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence.

Other scholars have previously argued that reasoning and irrationality are both products of evolution. But they usually assume that the purpose of reasoning is to help an individual arrive at the truth, and that irrationality is a kink in that process, a sort of mental myopia. Gary F. Marcus, for example, a psychology professor at New York University and the author of "Kluge: The Haphazard Construction of the Human Mind," says distortions in reasoning are unintended side effects of blind evolution. They are a result of the way that the brain, a Rube Goldberg mental contraption, processes memory. People are more likely to remember items they are familiar with, like their own beliefs, rather than those of others.

What is revolutionary about argumentative theory is that it presumes that since reason has a different purpose - to win over an opposing group - flawed reasoning is an adaptation in itself, useful for bolstering debating skills.

Mr. Mercier, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, contends that attempts to rid people of biases have failed because reasoning does exactly what it is supposed to do: help win an argument.

"People have been trying to reform something that works perfectly well," he said, "as if they had decided that hands were made for walking and that everybody should be taught that."

Think of the American judicial system, in which the prosecutors and defense lawyers each have a mission to construct the strongest possible argument. The belief is that this process will reveal the truth, just as the best idea will triumph in what John Stuart Mill called the "marketplace of ideas."

Mr. Mercier and Mr. Sperber have skeptics as well as fans. Darcia Narvaez, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Notre Dame and a contributor to the journal debate, said this theory "fits into evolutionary psychology mainstream thinking at the moment, that everything we do is motivated by selfishness and manipulating others, which is, in my view, crazy."

To Ms. Narvaez, "reasoning is something that develops from experience; it's a subset of what we really know." And much of what we know cannot be put into words, she explained, pointing out that language evolved relatively late in human development.

"The way we use our minds to navigate the social and general worlds involves a lot of things that are implicit, not explainable," she said. This "powerful idea," he added, could have important real-world implications.

On the other side of the divide, Jonathan Haidt, a psychology professor at the University of Virginia, said of Mr. Sperber and Mr. Mercier, "Their work is important and points to some ways that the limits of reason can be overcome by putting people together in the right way, in particular to challenge people's confirmation biases."

This "powerful idea," he added, could have important real-world implications.

As some journal contributors noted, the theory would seem to predict constant deadlock. But Mr. Sperber and Mr. Mercier contend that as people became better at producing and picking apart arguments, their assessment skills evolved as well.

"At least in some cultural contexts, this results in a kind of arms race towards greater sophistication in the production and evaluation of arguments," they write. "When people are motivated to reason, they do a better job at accepting only sound arguments, which is quite generally to their advantage." Groups are more likely than individuals to come up with better results, they say, because they will be exposed to the best arguments.

Mr. Mercier is enthusiastic about the theory's potential applications. He suggests, for example, that children may have an easier time learning abstract topics in mathematics or physics if they are put into a group and allowed to reason through a problem together.

He has also recently been at work applying the theory to politics. In a new paper, he and Hèléne Landemore, an assistant professor of political science at Yale, propose that the arguing and assessment skills employed by groups make democratic debate the best form of government for evolutionary reasons, regardless of philosophical or moral rationales.

How, then, do the academics explain the endless stalemates in Congress? "It doesn't seem to work in the U.S.," Mr. Mercier conceded.

He and Ms. Landemore suggest that reasoned discussion works best in smaller, cooperative environments rather than in America's high-decibel adversarial system, in which partisans seek to score political advantage rather than arrive at consensus.

Because "individual reasoning mechanisms work best when used to produce and evaluate arguments during a public deliberation," Mr. Mercier and Ms. Landemore, as a practical matter, endorse the theory of deliberative democracy, an approach that arose in the 1980s, which envisions cooperative town-hall-style deliberations.

Championed by the philosophers John Rawls and Jürgen Habermas, this sort of collaborative forum can overcome the tendency of groups to polarize at the extremes and deadlock, Ms. Landemore and Mr. Mercier said.

Anyone who enjoys "spending endless hours debating ideas" should appreciate their views, Mr. Mercier and Mr. Sperber write, though, as even they note, "This, of course, is not an argument for (or against) the theory."

It is, however, an argument for those of us who feel that an idea is wrong, although we can't always pinpoint the reason/s. After just having spent time reading about the citizens of Pakistan who are angry with the policies of the U S, I'm realizing that the world is full of complex ideas and ideologies, and I have so few of the answers.

This article has me thinking of one of the articles I wrote about here yesterday, - Bias and the Beholder. Is summer a time when newspapers print more stories encouraging readers to be more philosophical?

At 8:30 PM it's still sunny outside, with much of the color gone from the sky and rondines (sparrows) flying about as if they're at play. Hope you've had a good day, too!

June 18
We drive to Viterbo to a fabric store, then look all around for a collapsible gazebo for Ecomuseo. We find it at the first place we look, and after driving around and around to make sure we've found the best one, we return to buy it. Later Dino picks up a new tall ladder for us in the next town.

We're invited for an impromptu cena with friends Kate and Merritt, here from Cambridge, Massachusetts for their annual summer stay, and sit on their terrace, watching a beautiful sunset and eating fresh ravioli. It's a treat. Mosquito season is here, and these creatures love me. Despite covering myself with citronella smelling cream, I'm a target. No matter. It's a lovely evening, and the moon is just about full.

June 19
Don Angelo gazes down on we Coro members from the altar; he lowers his head and smiles. We've made a bit of a mistake on the first hymn, and he does not judge us. Ah. There's been something I have been unable to define about this little place, and as the days grow into weeks and years, I learn that the people here are all such good friends that they do not judge each other, with few exceptions.

Perhaps that is why they love gatherings; to be with each other's families and treat them as good friends. The same people have sat on the same benches all their lives in this village, and today's is a continuation of yesterday conversation between good friends.

It's one thing to treat each other as part of one's family; it's another thing to treat each other as a really good friend. For a true friend, a person would want the best for them; not judge them. I suppose we love these neighbors collectively as great friends, as they seem to love us. What more could one ask?

The life's lesson continues. It is this lack of judgment that brings the truest happiness...and so I wish this for you on this day and on this year and forevermore.

Is it possible that I was given my name for a reason? Am I an evangelist? The dictionary describes an evangelist as a writer of Christian Gospel and a Christian who converts others. Perhaps it is more than that.

Let's turn back to my life at age six. It was then that I invented my own religion, Evanneism, in which I existed in harmony with God; there were just the two of us. I'd take walks alone, knowing I was not alone. I'd look up and speak of things I could not understand about how people treated each other and my place in my little world at the time. It was not necessary for anyone else to share my belief. I knew I was somewhat of a loner, even then, and I did not understand sarcastic words uttered about or toward someone else. Family members thought sarcasm was fun. I copied them, not sure...until later. Now it's the farthest thing from my mind.

This morning after church, we set up the sign for the Albero Geneologico di Mugnano and do not set up the gazebo, for it is windy and there is plenty of shade on the bench outside the Università Agraria building. There's no need for a formal setup now, for we're able to add good information to what we have, and it's worth the time we spend here with neighbors offering to sit next to Dino and tell him about relatives and dates when they can.

I sew a bit, but we spend most of the day trying to find a place to stay in Languedoc for a week in September. Tiziano and Alissia will spend the time honeymooning at our house then. We're not successful...yet.

Early in the evening, we drive down for drinks at the roof terrace of Annika and Torbjorn and their guests. We walk up the narrow winding circular staircase to the top, with Sofi in Dino's arms, her tail tucked snugly between her legs in nervousness.

The stone balustrade all along the circumference of the roof becomes a kind of playpen for Sofi. She loves it here, cleaning the balustrade with her little scopa (broom...beard) between each finial as she sticks her nose through to see what's and who's beyond. For most of the time she lies on the cool stone beneath our feet, under my chair or just nearby.

We are so fortunate to have this wonderful couple from Sweden as friends and part time neighbors, and tomorrow evening they'll come to our house for cocktails, and perhaps some of my prized bean dip and chips.

Look up the bean dip recipe on this site and enjoy!

June 20
We're greeted by the sound of Mario, here to weed whack at 6 AM. Surely the neighbors won't be happy...

I put Sofi up on the bed while Dino works on the Rosa Banksia arch above the gate to the far property; he supervises Mario to be sure he does not cut the trifoglia (clover) too closely in the one area where we consciously have green underfoot. Skies are sunny and clear; birdsong abounds.

Mario is someone Sofi really does not like; she barks at him when he is nearby and perhaps it is the sound of his weed-wacker that hurts her ears. Dino takes Mario to Maria Elena's afterward, and the path is so high that they both have to work to cut it back. Our dear friend who is here part time from Norway will be here soon; it will be wonderful to see her again and Sofi dearly loves her.

Dino works on the wisteria after breakfast and I spot him from the front studio window, with Sofi in my arms on the inner ledge behind the screen, wagging her tail. There's such a profusion of wisteria stalks, and we think it's important to keep after them. With Dino's love of keeping the rose arches neat and the wisteria cut back, perhaps he was a barber in a former life?

I spend a few minutes catching up with you, and my nervousness earlier at not writing for a number of days is allayed when I realize I have the September calendar open next to me on the desk instead of that of June!

Is there a devil lurking somewhere around me, taking a jab now and then to tease me into thinking I forgot something when I really did not? That book by Norman Mailer, The Castle in the Forest, has me thinking that those devils who preyed on the characters in the book may be here, too.

We drive to Orvieto for an appointment at the hospital again for Dino's treatment for his eyes. Is glaucoma a possibility in his future? We hope not. He finishes an hour or so later while Sofi and I wait in the car under the shade of a tree, and then pick up paninnis (sandwiches) at an Autogrille on the way home, for it's late.

There's still no decision on a place to rent in France, despite more work in the afternoon while Dino takes a nap.

I fix two recipes of dough to rest in the frigo overnight, for tomorrow is a pizza night with guests.

There is Coro practice in Attigliano with their Coro, for we'll all sing in honor of Italy on the 29th in the ancient part of Attigliano in the stone theatre. Dino waits outside, hearing us singing, and we'll be learning all the words, although I'm somewhat disappointed that there is no news about my pending citizenship application.

June 21
It's the summer solstice, and I caramelize onions for tonight's pizza. There are mushrooms to sauté, sausage to cook, zucchini to grill and more. It will be fun, although Dino wants me to stay away from knives, since I punctured my left palm with a sharp knife a couple of days ago and he has to wash my hair for me this morning in the kitchen sink.

After pranzo there is more house rental searching in France, with no positive outcome. It's not easy to find rentals on the internet that are characteristic and charming and not too much money in Languedoc, where we want to stay for a week in September.

I catch up with you and soon will work on more fixings for tonight's pizza. At about 5 PM we take the dough out of the frigo, to let it rest until it reaches room temperature. I'd like to have the fixings all ready, and in many cases we can do that.

Unfortunately, there is no asparagus available, although Dino tried three markets this morning. So we'll use zucchini flowers and anchovies instead. Va bene.

It's a great evening, with some new surprises. I'll try to write down the various ingredients we use, including a garlicy béchamel under the shrimp.

It's the evening of the summer solstice, so why not celebrate?

We begin with marinated and grilled zucchini, crumbled feta cheese and fresh mint. Because we've set the table up a little differently and put a tall chair there for Dino to watch the fire and the pizzas cooking, everything works better. We're becoming a well oiled machine!

It's a big hit, and is followed by our trusty boscaiola with buffalo mozzarella, mushrooms and cooked sausage meat, with a space for Merritt without any sausage. Everyone likes this.

Next is a wild one, contrived with help from the internet and some ideas of my own: first a garlic sauce that is a kind of a béchamel is made on the stove inside, covered the top, then small cooked shrimp are scattered, then zucchini flowers are laid out in a flower pattern, an anchovy is laid across each one, and buffala mozzarella is sprinkled over the top. Wow!

After a short break and some good conversation, with the two Protestant ministers side by side facing out and the rest of us surrounding them at the table, we try thin pancetta (bacon), precooked in a pan in the kitchen. After a thick tomato puree is spread over the pizza top, the crumbled bacon is evenly scattered and then chopped basil and walnuts for a pesto-type flavor, with grated Parmesan cheese covering the lot. It's also good.

The fifth pizza topping consists of white caramelized onions in butter and olive oil, chopped calamata olives and more buffalo mozzarella.

We follow all this with a refrigerated lemony cake with a brown sugar cracker crust and fresh lemons sliced paper thinly on top.

The garlic-y shrimp dish is the biggest hit, although the others are all given high marks. Watch for some of the same and some variation on the pizza toppings as the summer progresses, but the base for the pizzas will remain somewhat the same. I'd like to find a way to maintain the round shape and allow the edges a bit more height to hold in the sauce, although we don't use a lot of sauce per se. Everyone loves the taste.

We don't make it to bed until just before midnight, and we're both tired from standing up so long. Fa niente. It appears Sofi is the only one who's really tired, for she waits patiently for us to go to bed herself.

June 22
It seemed to take forever to clean up late last night, but Dino and I worked slowly and steadily together as a team, and finished before the witching hour. There are three pizza balls to use today and more toppings, so I hope that by putting the three balls back into the frigo overnight that we'll be able to use them today.

We make some mistakes, but the basic crust is excellent. We both enjoy the efforts, as well as the new setup of a long table not far from the pizza oven to prep pizzas and to cut them and serve them when they've been cooked.

This morning online there is a sad story about Venice. Look it up:

Battling to keep the 'real' Venice afloat - By Laura Allsop for CNN - June 9, 2011 Is tourism killing the city? There are too many tourists; there is too much water; there is an ever-increasing surge of those making money from tourism destroying the fabric of once glorious Venice, and hearty Venetians too tired of the mess are decreasing in number.

We'll keep our memories alive of the place, but want to do our little part to not add to the sad state. Some places are better left in dreams...

It's another lovely day; so lovely that Sofi rushes outside as soon as she arrives downstairs. Only later does she return to the cool darkness of the kitchen, shaded by the bank of wisteria leaves from one end of the house on the South side to the other, a 10 meter expanse, not including the Summer kitchen.

In a walk to check out the East part of the property, butterflies quiver above the nepeta (catmint) and all the roses are happy. Flowers on the lemon tree abound, and there are already little tomatoes in evidence on one plant, but they look small in size. Does Dino need to revisit his dislike of the little orbs? I think it's the thick skin of the ones he's tasted that causes a big "pop" in his mouth as he bites down. We'll see.

He tells me that it is not a pizza day, so do I make bread with the remaining dough? If so, that will have to be tonight, for it's too hot.

While catching up with you and the fan spinning in the studio, Sofi is again at rest. She waited patiently for us until almost midnight last night, awaking tired. So now she is curled up like a croissant in her little wicker bed by my side.

Did I tell you that we finally have found a place to rent in Languedoc, France in September for a week? Good friends Tiziano and Alessia will honeymoon here at our house then, and we'll return by way of Lucca, birthplace of his maternal grandfather to celebrate our 30th wedding anniversary. Late this afternoon they want to arrive for a visit to look at our wedding photographs for wedding ideas. What?

Tiziano is ill, so their visit here will have to wait.

On Monday evening the copies of the music we were given were so unreadable that I need to research the words and print them out for my two sorelli (sisters) and myself. Tonight we'll have our own copies to follow. Still no word on my pending citizenship application...

Elsewhere, WantedinRome.com tells us:

Italian voters have voted overwhelmingly in favor of the four referendums. Not only did the turnout reach 57 per cent of the electorate, well over the necessary quorum of 50 per cent plus one vote, but the votes in favor of the referendums reached over 94.5 per cent in all four cases.

Italians have therefore voted resoundingly against the government's program for the construction of nuclear sites, against further privatization of water distribution and its pricing and against the law which allowed the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, to plead a "legitimate impediment" not to appear in court in trials against him when he could prove more pressing government business.

The results, following on those of local elections at the end of May in which many important center-right city councils were defeated, is a clear message that the electorate has had enough of Berlusconi in particular and his center-right government in general.

The fact that the quorum was reached so easily, especially in mid-June when many families head off to the sea, also means that the three million votes of Italians living abroad will not be called into question. Had the overseas votes been necessary to make up the quorum this would have opened a can of worms, making the present political scene even more difficult.

Whether or not the prime minister can survive the voting remains to be seen but changes of some sort, either in the leadership of both governing parties - Popolo della Libertà and the Lega Nord - or in the composition of the coalition itself, now look inevitable. The prospect of early general elections also looks more likely.

So, will I be able to vote in the next elections? If there is no news soon, Dino should move forward with his citizenship. Let's check again, online....

ANSA English > News More than 400 migrants land at Lampedusa
Rights group concerned about child migrants in detention - 22 June
(ANSA) - Lampedusa, June 22 - More than 400 immigrants, including women and children, landed on the southern Italian island of Lampedusa overnight.

The migrants, believed to be from countries in sub-Saharan Africa, arrived on two boats that are believed to have left from the Libyan coast.

One boat, which had 24 women and a child aboard, was intercepted by Italian police 15 nautical miles from Lampedusa and escorted to the port. Soon after, a second boat carrying 253 people including 35 women and two children arrived.

Around 30,000 migrants, who mostly departed from Tunisia and Libya, have arrived in Lampedusa since January.

Premier Silvio Berlusconi has been under pressure from his anti-immigrant coalition partner, the Northern League, to take more action to stop the influx. The Italian branch of the children rights' group, Terre des Hommes, has expressed concern about the safety of unaccompanied migrant children in detention at Lampedusa.

"We are seeing most of them are in a poor state of mind, in particular psychologically and emotionally," said Federica Giannotta, who is responsible for children's rights at Terre des Hommes.

Giannotta's statement followed reports on Tuesday that several children had injured or mutilated themselves while in detention.

Frattini calls for 'suspension of hostilities' in Libya

NATO should clarify guidelines, says minister
22 June
(ANSA) - Rome, June 22 - Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini on Wednesday called for an immediate suspension of hostilities in Libya to allow humanitarian aid to be delivered to the war-torn country.

In a speech to the Lower House of parliament in Rome, Frattini said that a ceasefire was the main "priority" and the first step in any negotiating strategy.

The foreign minister said "an immediate humanitarian suspension of hostilities" was needed in Libya.

Frattini said NATO should also provide data on the results of its bombing campaign and its targeting guidelines after it admitted a bomb mistakenly fired a missile on a house in Tripoli at the weekend, killing nine civilians. "With respect to NATO, it is fair to ask for more detailed information on results as well as clear and precise position on the dramatic errors affecting civilians, since this is clearly not NATO's mission," he said.

On Monday Frattini warned that NATO risked losing the propaganda war to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi with air strikes that killed civilians.

Frattini expressed his concerns, while calling for more to be done at a diplomatic level to end the military conflict and warned Italy's involvement in the bombing of Libya "has a clear limit: that of September set by NATO. However, I think that aside from the issue of bombing, a solution must be found long before September".

The Northern League, the main coalition partner of Premier Silvio Berlusconi's People of Freedom Party (PdL), has been pressing for Italy to reconsider its involvement in the Libya mission.

The League, which opposed the mission to support rebels against Gaddafi's 40-year rule in Libya from the outset, blame the PdL for recent electoral setbacks, including the defeat of a left-wing candidate in the contest to be mayor of Milan.

ANSA English > News -
Rubbish set alight as Naples crisis flares

Firefighters called to 25 fires amid street protests 21 June

(ANSA) - Naples, June 21 - Protesters set trash alight, overturned street bins and blocked traffic in Naples as the city's rubbish crisis flared overnight.

The protests eruped in Via Toledo and Via Imbriani in the center of the city and other areas late Monday and into the early hours of Tuesday amid concerns about stinking rubbish and rising summer temperatures across the southern city.

In the town of Acerra, 20 km north of Naples, two rubbish trucks were set on fire and train services between Naples and Caserta were suspended after garbage bins were placed across the railway tracks. Firefighters were called to 25 separate fires as rubbish was set alight.

The newly-elected mayor of Naples, Luigi de Magistris, called emergency talks late Monday and Giovanni Romano, the councilor for the environment in the region of Campania, and Tommaso Sodano, the deputy mayor of Naples, were meeting on Tuesday to try and resolve the crisis.

According to a statement released by the Campania region, authorities have transferred around 1,040 tons of rubbish to treatment plants while around 1,500 tons is still on the streets of Naples.

Weeks of clashes and rising trash piles brought Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi to the city in early November last year.

It was then that the premier, who won plaudits by sorting out a similar emergency in 2008, made a vow to clear the streets in three days.

But the problems have returned partly because of technical failures in local incinerators and the lack of investment in other landfill sites.

The issue is further complicated by the role of the local Mafia or Camorra and claims that they have infiltrated waste management in Naples and dumped toxic waste on the sites near residential areas.

ANSA English > News - 'Holy Shroud made by Giotto' -
Hidden number 15 key to authorship and dating claims expert -
09 June

(ANSA) - Rome - The Holy Shroud of Turin, one of the most venerated objects of Christianity, was made by Italian pre-Renaissance artistic great Giotto, an Italian expert says.

Luciano Buso, who has written a book on his sensational claim, says several veiled appearances of the number 15, hidden in the fabric by the artist, indicate Giotto created the shroud in 1315.

This would coincide with carbon dating, contested by religious experts, which dates the shroud to the early 14th century, Buso contends.

"I have examined extremely clear photos of the Shroud and spotted a number of occurrences of the number 15, in the face (of Christ), the hands, and in one case even shaped to look like a long cross," said Buso, a painter and art restorer from Treviso.

The great late-Gothic artist did not mean to perpetrate a hoax when he created the Shroud, Buso contends. "He wasn't trying to fake anything, which is clear from the fact that he signed it 'Giotto 15', to authenticate it as his own work from 1315".

Countless pilgrims visit the Shroud, believed to be the sheet Christ's body was wrapped in after the Crucifixion, in a Turin church every year.

ANSA English News -
Female skeleton found in Mona Lisa search -
Experts hoping to reconstruct famous face - 06 June

(ANSA) - Florence - A skeleton found in the former convent in Florence where archaeologists are searching for the remains of Leonardo's Mona Lisa may have belonged to a woman, experts say.

"Based on preliminary analyses of the cranium and the pelvis we're tending towards the hypothesis that this was a female," said Bologna University anthropologist, Giorgio Gruppioni. He said that the skeleton was whole and connected, but had partially collapsed under the weight of the earth. Further excavation will be needed to confirm the hypothesis, Gruppioni said.

Archaeologists have been searching for the remains of Lisa Gherardini Del Giocondo, who died in Florence in 1542, and is believed to have modeled for Leonardo's celebrated portrait, now hanging in the Louvre. The skeleton's bones have become fragile due to the humidity of the earth. They emerged slowly as archaeologists removed surrounding dirt with brushes and a small vacuum cleaner.

Only a battery of scientific tests will prove whether or not the skeleton indeed belonged to a woman who was a contemporary of Mona Lisa, said art historian Silvano Vinceti, who is overseeing the project for the National Committee for the Enhancement of Historic, Cultural and Environmental Assets. These include a carbon-14 test to determine the skeleton's historical period, a hystological exam to determine its age, and a test to compare its DNA with that of two of Mona Lisa's children, buried in Florence's Santissima Annunziata church.

The objective of the dig is to find Mona Lisa's remains, then reconstruct her face and compare it to Leonardo's painting.

Leonardo sleuth Giuseppe Pallanti has argued that the former Ursuline convent "must be" the last resting place of La Gioconda.

Most modern scholars have now agreed with Pallanti that the Mona Lisa sitter was Lisa Gherardini, whose married surname del Giocondo led to the Italian name for the painting, 'La Gioconda'. According to the Italian researcher, she became a nun after her husband's death and died in the convent on July 15, 1542, aged 63.

The couple were married in 1495 when the bride was 16 and the groom 35.

It has frequently been suggested that del Giocondo commissioned Leonardo's portrait to mark his wife's pregnancy, or the recent birth of their second child in December 1502.

Archaeologists were led to the site of the dig in the sprawling three-story Saint Ursula building dating back to 1309, by references in historical documents and by georadar scans.

Southern Italy's City of Stone: Matera's Sassi -
From caves to homes and luxury hotels

(ANSA) - Matera- Like many ancient European towns, the southern Italian town of Matera has a fortified castle perched on a hill. Its imposing, round crenellated tower was built in the beginning of the 1500s by Count Tramontano.

But the castle offers only a page mark in the town's history. Count Tramontano was a transitory figure, assassinated by townspeople in 1514, and his castle never finished.

A more important story was unfolding in the town below, as it was around this time, from the late 15th century through the 16th century that the town's famed Sassi - meaning "stones" - largely evolved from pastoral cave dwellings to an urban maze of yellow and grey limestone buildings encrusting the jagged walls of the rocky gorge, fueled by population growth and relative prosperity.

Cobblestone lanes zigzag around buildings with thick walls and vaulted ceilings, up steps and into blind alleys, crafted for feet, hooves, and carts.

Scrubby, arid plants spring from the stones of eroding homes and the stony ground between them. A stream tinkles at the bottom of the canyon. On the other side, primitive caves pock scrub and rock.

Matera's "City of Stone" is a timeless sedimentation of nearly continuous human dwelling from deep prehistory to modern times. Mel Gibson filmed "The Passion of the Christ" here for the resemblance of some areas to old Judaea.

Fifty stone churches - many Byzantine - have been found in the Sassi, plus another hundred or so carved into cliffs of surrounding areas.

In his book "Giardini di Pietra", Pietro Laureano reckoned Matera's complex water collection system captured enough rain and condensation to foster a thriving pastoral economy, terraced gardens and remarkable density for many centuries.

Laureano helped secure the Sassi's status as a UNESCO heritage site in 1993, and was one of the first to resettle in the old stone city in the mid-1990s, when it was a ghost town, abandoned since the 1950s.

As late as 1595, the chronicler Eustachio Verricelli described Matera as "endowed with salubrious air" and "inhabited by ingenious men", but by the end of the 18th century, over-population and increasing disparity between rich and poor had transformed the Sassi into a purgatory for peasants.

By the mid-20th century, Sassi residents were still packed in damp, cramped cave dwellings with their animals, and were plagued by crushing poverty, disease, hunger, high fertility and extreme infant mortality. Nearly 20,000 residents were evacuated to government housing in the 1950s.

Public incentives passed in the late 1980s and the efforts of local cultural pioneers like Laureano led to repopulation of the Sassi through the 1990's and early 2000s.

The Sassi are again nearly fully occupied - this time by a few thousand of the town's cultured class - and all of its spaces spoken for, many snapped up by Japanese visitors. The area is dotted with picturesque bed and breakfasts, luxury hotels, restaurants, shops, cafés and even a virtual golf course housed in a massive cistern.

The Sextantio Albergo Diffuso Le Grotte Della Civita - located in the suggestive, semi-subterranean former homes of deeply impoverished families - offers five-star luxury in historically sensitive, aesthetically austere spaces, furnished with rustic period pieces, elemental contemporary design, and archetypal ambience.

The 22 rooms of the Locanda di San Martino were once separate addresses, including an apothecary and a potter's kiln.

The conference and lounge area formed a carpenter's shop, and fossils can be spotted in the ceiling.

The breakfast bar of the Locanda di San Martino is nestled in a grotto with a low, uneven ceiling. Its former residents passed by once to visit. When they saw it, they cried.

Italian scientists 'show how we remember dreams' -'Theta waves' key to recollection

11 May
(ANSA) - Rome - Italian scientists have found out how we remember dreams.

A team from Rome, L'Aquila and Bologna universities discovered that people will recall their dreams only if they experience a certain sort of electrical oscillation during the well-known phase of sleep associated with rapid eye movements (REM).

"Only if the cerebral cortex is flooded with slow oscillations called theta waves will the person have any recollection of his dreams when he wakes up," said the coordinator of the study, Luigi De Gennaro of Rome's La Sapienza university.

According to the experts, whose work has been published in the US Journal of Neuroscience, the same phenomenon is at work when, while awake, we form solid memories of events that are "more real" to us than others. This mechanism is called 'episodic memory'.

"When you ask someone to remember important facts or situations," De Gennaro said, "the presence of electrical oscillations in the frontal cortex makes the recollection possible.

"If that does not happen, the memory of the event will apparently be lost forever".

The study also demonstrates something that was hitherto not thought possible, that dreams are formed outside the phase of REM sleep.

"But here the mechanism is different," De Gennaro said.

"In short, we don't really know why we recall or forget dreams, but we have finally identified how we recall or forget them". The discovery came a few months after another breakthrough on dreams by the same group.

In October De Gennaro's team said they had managed to pinpoint areas in the brain that enable people to remember vivid dreams.

"We've found the parts of the amigdala and hippocampus that are linked to bizarre and intense dreams, the ones people remember," De Gennaro told the journal Human Brain Mapping.

In that study, the Italian scientists used the latest neuro-imaging techniques to get down to the "deep microstructures" in the two key brain areas.

"We think we've cracked why some people never remember their dreams and others have such a detailed memory you might almost call it film-like," De Gennaro said.

"It was possible to show that the volumetric and ultrastructural parameters of the two deep nuclei of the brain predict the qualitative aspects of every individual's dreams".

Now how do we figure out how to do that ourselves? Do you ever want to remember a dream, or remember part of one, and can't seem to remember the rest? Stay tuned...Italians are a resourceful and inventive lot, don't you think?

I decide to take the balls of dough out of the frigo and make bread with them, or perhaps rolls. They're not very high, but the pizza was great made with the dough, so I heat up the oven and use the Le Cruset dutch oven again, taking out the top handle and inserting aluminum foil. I'm not sure if it will be all right at the highest temperatures.

I wind up not using the highest temperatures after all, and the three breads come out looking pretty good. Dino is watering in the garden, and I'm looking forward to having him join me in the kitchen before taking the three sorelli to Coro in Attigliano in another hour or two.

The bread tastes quite good, and I make a little of my mother's cheese spread that includes: cream cheese, blue cheese, chopped green olives, Worcestershire sauce. Hers also included butter, but I don't think that's necessary. The recipe goes back at least to 1950, if not before. If you try it and like it, wave up on high to her and say, "Thanks, Billie!"

While waiting for the Coro practice to begin in Attigliano, I stand by Rafaele, who plays the keyboard for all of us and has a really great tenor voice. We banter a bit, and he asks me something about the word "ano" and asks me what I think it is. I point to my backside and he nods and laughs. The three towns included in this Coro performance all end in "ano": Lugnano, Attigliano, Mugnano. Per che? I ask him. Why not Attiglione or Mugnino, and he really can't tell me why. I'll have to let you sleep on that and let me know if you know why. No one else seems to know.

Dino and Sofi are waiting for us, and Dino drives us all home. He tells me he has an idea to move the thermostat, and it's always been right inside the front door, which is never a good idea. He wants to move it outside the bathroom, and that's fine with me. So now he has another project to think about.

In the meantime, I can't find my wallet. I never use it, and look in all the normal places. He finds it where I did not think of looking, and I tell him that we both need to know where it is. I don't have much faith in my memory; that is why I pay attention to writing to you as much as I can. There's no need to spend any time worrying about it, just as there's no need to spend time worrying about a fluttering now and then in my chest. All I can say is, Sempre Avanti! (always forward!)...and with that, I bid you a good night.

June 23
On this lovely morning, Dino and I putter around in the garden. Dino clips back wisteria and hand waters on the terrace where we have not installed irrigation, and I weed and plant salvia (sage) plants where Italian tarragon (which Frank thinks is Russian tarragon and has no flavor) lived in a pot by the front door.

Sofi scampers around, and does not join me when I walk inside to catch up with you...it's irresistible outside. As we grow older, gardening becomes a quiet and mostly simple task, deadheading and adding soil where needed. The ruccola that had germinated almost immediately is planted in three longish planters with more soil. Now if we could find a good place for the pots where they would not be descended upon by snails...Perhaps Dino's copper wire around each one will do the trick.

I find myself a bit uneasy, the slowly growing changes in me have me wondering but not anxious of things to come. Since I've made bread last night, there are two roundish small flat loaves that we can use for panini for pranzo, with more potato salad.

I need to practice last night's music, and perhaps will download the pieces so that I can study them. Rosina's shutters are closed to her balcony, so we cannot sing to each other. Perhaps later...

After pranzo and a short nap, I read a bit more in the conch shell, but it's too hot to do any gardening. It's time for mosquitoes and other little things that bite, and one has its pick of spots while I read.

June 24
How funny! La mia sorella grande(my big sister) Rosina and I gab; Rosina from her balcony and I from the East window of the studio. She calls me mezzana sorella, which I think means the middle sister, , but when I look it up, I find that di mezza eta means middle aged and mezza morta means half dead!. Since mezzo/a means half, di mezzo/a, it also means middle, and the ...ana at the end of the word? I am not sure. What do you think, Emanuela?

Emanuela is a former resident (as a child) of Mugnano, who now lives in the U S, and reads the journal as soon as it's posted. Buon giorno, Emanuela!

A bit earlier, Dino and I spent time in the garden, before the bees were at full strength and the heat drove us inside. I'm closing shutters these days on the upper windows on the front and West sides of the house, to keep it cool inside.

Dino works on the pomodori below the middle garden, but it's not a task he enjoys. Cristina will come next week to do some basic cleanup work for a day, and she'll do the things that are difficult or not fun for us.

I continue to play the back end of the game 52 pickup after Dino cuts branches of the giant loquat tree that give too much shade to the hydrangea plants and leaves; and lets them fall on the ground. Did you ever play the game as a child? My brother taught it to me and thought it was funny, flying the deck of playing cards in the air and giving me the task of picking them all up. These days, it's not so bad, but I'd rather the branches and leaves drop in a basket.

Sofi loves running around and rolling in the trifoglia (clover) in the spot at the front of the middle garden, just inside the gate. The plumbago, a plant I love, begins to grow, and soon it will cascade over the front wall.

She is joyous, just as the old phrase implies. When I'm too hot to continue deadheading one of our prolific Madame Alfred Carriere roses and pulling weeds, especially those that become foxtails, I return inside to catch up with you and to sew a bit.

That white dress still lies unfinished on the ironing board. I'm unhappy with the hooks, choosing instead to use snaps, which will make a neater close. Dino tries a couple of times to reach the woman who has emailed him from the U S Embassy in Rome, but at 9:30 AM, the phones ring off the hook there, for they only take calls for three hours, starting at that time.

Giving up for now, He leaves in pandina to pick up the beam, which is ready, and to check in on Cristina at Mai Elin's garden. If he waits too much longer, the temperature will be too hot in the car.

He returns with the beam and smaller pieces that he ordered, and Guerino and Cesarino arrive to help bring the pieces up before they leave for pranzo. How many changes have taken place since they were last here! Perhaps soon we'll have the fountain hooked up, and will hear the sound of it cascading as we lie in bed.

We found a fun place to stay in Languedoc for a week next spring, or it found us, and perhaps we'll reserve it now. By the time we decided on our September jaunt for this year, many of the characteristic places were already booked. We definitely want to be here when the glycine (wisteria) is in full bloom next time. We missed most of it this year.

Turning away from our lives here for a minute, I hope you'll read what follows, especially if you recall Peter Benelli. Don't wait to tell anyone who is important to you how much you care for them.

When I went to Thayer Academy in high school, Peter Benelli was our football coach, and my brother's love of playing football brought them close together. Some years later, Pete became the school's headmaster, and Dino and I saw him at a roving Thayer Reunion around the country when we lived in San Francisco. I think I remember hearing that he contracted lyme disease, but heard nothing more about him until today.

Pete has an advanced stage of Pancreatic Cancer. His days are short. If you know him, if you knew him and loved him, do let him know how special he is to you. I have his direct contact information, or you can contact the Thayer Academy Alumni office. Thanks so much.

All of a sudden, the world seems quite small. As those around us here and there reach the end of their lives early, we hopefully realize how important it is to connect with those we care about.

What is early? I'm not sure. I do know that whatever we can do to be the best human beings we have the power to be could change the world. It's not too late to stop judging others, to reach out to help someone else, to connect as if your life counted on it. It may...

We work out in the garden early tonight, and it's a New England kind of humidity...after an hour or so I'm too bitten by bugs to stay out longer, but have fed roses and pulled a lot of weeds. Dino continues along, tying up tomato plants (it seems all the tomatoes on the side of the Summer kitchen are little ones) and plucks the first three.

Coro practice in Attigliano is late tonight; it takes at least 20 minutes for Italians to get anything started, for there is so much happy gabbing. That means any practice lasts at least half an hour later than it is scheduled. Yes, we're getting used to it, until we're late for something and that's the one time it starts on time.

The big doings are on Tuesday evening, June 29th, when the Coros of Lugnano, Attigliano and Mugnano put their backsides together (all the ano's) and we'll sing our hearts out for Italia. Earlier today, Dino spoke with a woman at the American Embassy in Rome and no, we won't lose any of our Social Security benefits when we become Italian citizens.

I think women love to sing, especially together, and that's a lot of what Coro is all about here. I love to sing; I love to dance (or at least I used to); I love to laugh with my girl friends. So there are no mouths here with turned down corners; there is no fear. Instead there is pure joy. I am so blessed...Thank you, dear Lord.

June 25
Our friends at Ecomuseo send out an email to ask the neighbors and all members of their association to help us. Here's what they say:

L'albero genealogico di un'intera comunitą (The family tree of an entire community)
The Eco-museum of Teverina calls everyone to lend a hand to close one of its most ambitious projects: the complete family tree of an entire community!
...and we would be the first in Italy!
...and much work has already been done!
un ultimo sforzo collettivo ci Ź richiesto dai soci Evanne & Roy che hanno coordinato il progetto fin dall'inizio:? (a final collective effort is required of us by the members Evanne & Roy who coordinated the project from the beginning) They then give the dates and times when we'll congregate in the piazza to collect the remaining data.

I had no idea we'd be the first in Italy to undertake such a project, but...Come no? (Why not?)

On what feels like a hot and sunny morning, we're out early; Dino to work on the beam that is standing on metal uprights on the terrace, which we agree is a great place for him to do projects, as long as it's not too hot, and me weeding. He puts up a large umbrella for shade where he is working (under where the roof extension will be), and needs longer screws, so leaves for the local hardware store in Attigliano, while I continue to weed until my head feels the pressure of too much sun and you are a great excuse, so why not come into the studio to catch up with you?

See? You are a part of our l'avventura italia after all...Remember the phrase, "If a tree falls in the forest and no one is there to listen..." I can't remember the rest of the phrase, but you get the picture.

Sofi can't bear to be away from me, so joins me, lying on the cold stone tiles underfoot.

A few minutes earlier, Rosina appeared on her balcony, to tell me she is fine, if God wills it, and that she will spend most of the day inside in the shade. I tell her she can join us anytime in the shade under the wisteria.

My sorella grande (big sister) tells me I look elegant dressed in black. I'm wearing a little string cotton top, exposing my arms and then some, to get a little sun. I respond thanking her and comment when she watches us that we're always doing something. She tells us as long as we keep moving, we'll stay young. Oh, those Italians are such philosophers! She is a dear woman and I look forward to our little talks...there should be more of them...

Now we know where and when we'll go to France next April. I want to be sure we're back to see the glycine in full flower this time, and Easter is quite early. This year, Easter is late, and Corpus Domini is tomorrow. We'll not do any flower paintings on the street tomorrow at dawn, nor will we have an altar for the priest to bless, but there will be plenty of altars around the village. It will be a hot passagiatta (walk), in the processione but quite moving, as it always is.

I remember the first time we participated in a procession in Mugnano; I wept as we walked along, so moved by the experience. I'm still moved by it; like falling in love, the first days are the most emotional, but as love grows and time passes, the experiences take on different hues, a kind of pentimento (a painting technique, in which a painting is restored to reveal other painted things beneath). If our house was not named L'Avventura, it would surely have been named Pentimento .

I have downloaded two of the pieces we will sing next Wednesday night in the anfiiteatro (outdoor amphitheater) in the old part of Attigliano, and we'll all be dressed in black, so there must be some kind of dramatic lighting, especially when we sing Il Pensiero (a piece of music we remember well from watching Verdi's opera, Nabucco, in Verona). There will be sixty or so of us...will we sing in one voice? We'll surely try. Wish you'd be here to see and hear us, but Dino will capture it on his camera.

Do I try on the white dress and work on the snaps or practice Il Pensiero and Inno di Mameli (the Italian National Anthem)? There's time for both, but we won't do either until we've hung out the laundry and put in another load... Aspetta un attimo! (Wait a minute.)

Oh. Sidetracked again...as Hildegarde, my mother, would say, "What else is new?" I am sure that I was meant to live here...I am such a dreamer. So I dared to live my dream. Will you? And if not, why not? Email me if you want to talk about it.

It's a good time to take some photos of the place, so here are a few updates. The lavender? Dino hates the mess putting them in baskets; I hate the drying process but love the smell of the lavender in the house...Perhaps tomorrow, Scarlet.

Dino returns with what looks like a top and a string; it's not a child's toy, but surely could be. What is written on the package is:Kit piombo a pera (Dino tells me it's a plumb-bob.) Thanks to Wikipedia: A plumb-bob or a plummet is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom, that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line, or plumb-line.

The instrument has been used since at least the time of ancient Egypt to ensure that constructions are "plumb", or vertical. It is also used in surveying to establish the nadir with respect to gravity of a point in space. They are used with a variety of instruments (including levels, theodolites, and steel tapes) to set the instrument exactly over a fixed survey marker, or to transcribe positions onto the ground for placing a marker.

After pranzo, we take Stein and Helga to the train, then do food shopping, for tomorrow morning we'll hold court in the borgo, inserting more information into our family tree project for the families of the village.

We have a challenge, and that is that the software we are using is not available in Italian. We've gone to an Italian heritage site to see if they can help us. In the meantime, we're up to date and look forward to what tomorrow will bring.

This is Corpus Dominiweekend, and although we'd love to go to Orvieto to take in their fabulous processions and reenactments, we have services of our own here, and it will be hot. No matter.

Dino walks up to the borgo to find Francesco to see who can help him set up for tomorrow. Sofi and I stay inside the cool studio and don't want to venture out anywhere. Francesco is not to be found; we'll see what help we can get tomorrow, for the get together is later in the afternoon, after the Formula-1 race, so there's plenty of time to set up the gazebo...or is there?

Paola and Antonio and Peppino will not be able to join us on July 3rd for our annual American Independence Day festa, and I'm wondering if the American food is getting a little boring for the Italians. Well, we'll invite some who have not been here before, and perhaps the celebration has had its day. Perhaps we're better off doing pizza nights. After all, it's the Italian heritage we're embracing, not that of another country.

Thank goodness for Sarna lotion. I feel eaten alive by little insects; they're not even mosquitoes, and Sarna seems to take the itch away after five minutes or so. I have not found any lotion to use before going out to work in the garden; I'll make an extra effort to do that this week.

We take a photo of one of the lettuces growing in long planters on a marble table. It's worthy of a painting, so add that to the list...Come no?

June 26
Hot, hot; we're expecting a very warm procession around the village on this Corpus Domini. Dino leads the procession with his glass faceted lampione (lantern), and after several of his confratelli (brothers), women follow, including the Coro, then the priest with four men holding up the portable canopy cloth above him, suspended on four poles, followed by the rest of the folk.

Watching from the door to a cantina on the street, are little Lorenzo and Matteo.

I'm walking between sorella grande e sorella piccola, and see many familiar faces. Actually, all but a few are familiar. Federica leads us in song; she becomes upset and shakes her head when we don't end a piece the way she wants us to. She then makes a mistake, but everyone smiles, so perhaps she'll not take it all so seriously. Well, we all take it seriously, but mistakes are possible. Tomorrow evening we'll have Coro practice, and then she can work with us on our mistake. All will work out.

The beat to the procession is so familiar; but for Don Daniele, the new priest this year, he seems distant. Perhaps he's feeling his way with us.

After the service, Dino takes his lampione (torch) to the small church where it is stored, but when he and Mauro lower it to take it into the sacristy, two of the pieces of glass fall out and break on the floor of the altar; the front of it a bit distorted. Mauro is a muratore, so he and Dino figure out where to get the glass and how to restore it. Outside I laugh with Laura, and instead of dwelling on the two that are broken, we talk about the two that are fine and all is well. It's a far better way to look at life, don't you think?

Back at home all is well, and a cold salad followed by prosciutto e melone is just right, with cold iced tea con ghiaccio (with ice). What a great drink for a hot day!

Dino watches Formula-1 and Sofi and I spend time in the studio, where I tell you about the morning and work on the white dress. She and I will follow Dino later, at about 5 P M, when we sit in the borgo and Sofi runs around while we interact with folks about the albero genealogical di Mugnano.

I had no idea that we would be the first group of residents in Italy to fashion such a project. I suppose I should write about it for a magazine or newspaper in England or the US. Add that to the list...I'm not sure how far down it will find itself. These days, I don't worry about much of anything, for there's no need to. I've about given up on my Italian citizenship application, and later this summer we'll just move forward on Dino's. Let's move onto something else.

Dino drives up to the borgo, for he has all his things for the gazebo setup in the car, and Sofi and I follow some half hour later by foot. She is on the lead, but once we're in the borgo, I let her roam free, for there are no cars allowed in the borgo and she'll stay nearby.

While folks come by, or are asked to sit and give us more information on each of their families, Dino and I show them what we have in the binder, and he makes changes and additions right on the computer.

The only person who won't agree to be included is Mario I., and we think that is because his sister-in-law, Rosanna, does not want to be involved. Otherwise, everyone wants to see himself/or herself in the tree, and to learn how their families relate to one another. This project is our gift to them, so if one family does not want to be included, that's fine, too. We like them just the same.

Miriam walks over, pats Sofi and talks to me about my lack of Italian. I tell her it is difficult for me, for I'm usually at home doing projects and Roy is always out shopping or working with contractors, so is forced to learn the language. I respond that I'd like to spend more time speaking with people in the village, and perhaps the next time she and Gino are here (they live in Rome and are here on weekends), I'll invite her for a visit.

We return home with lots of new information and nothing to do, for all the work was done right on the computer as people sat by.

Sofi has been good, but is happy to be home, where we spend the rest of the evening relaxing.

June 27
Cristina arrives to do a major cleanup and to cut lavender. I want to put a tarp down in the living/dining room, and perhaps just closing the linen curtains will block out the sun enough to dry the lavender, hanging from two drying racks we usually use for laundry.

I'd also like her to clean out weeds in places that are difficult for me to reach, but working on the pomodori garden is very important...There's always so much to do.

Did I tell you that our good friend Tiziano has morbillo (measles)? We do hope he will be all right very soon, and that Alessia has not contracted them as well. What a time to catch them! In about a month they are due to be married, so perhaps they will have to reschedule. Whatever they choose to do is fine with us, not that it matters.

We've cancelled our 4th of July celebration, and are both relieved. There is so much going on here, and our friends aren't all that excited about eating American hamburgers anyway.

Cristina works "like a house a'fire" and I have to get her to slow down; to take care of herself. She wants to know how to make a lavender wand, and I have her sit in the shade and show her. She wonders why she can't take several strands at once and realizes it's a detailed process. Her response after watching how detailed it is: "Better to do the sacks of lavanda!" and for her that will be fine. I finish a wand and there are so many other things to do that I put the ribbon away.

I love Cristina's sense of the garden; she loves to work here and understands my sense of design, offering here and there an idea, which we always love. It's so sunny and hot today that I suggest that she go home and come back after 6 P M when it will be more comfortable to work. She just can't stop her project, and afterward agrees she will stop. Va bene.

We've found a bed and breakfast inn to stay one night on our way to Languedoc in September and yes, bed and breakfast places have cropped up all over the world. It's an inexpensive way to see different parts of Italy.

Dino's leg really bothers him, so he does no work in the garden, choosing instead to work on the short crossbeams for the summer kitchen, so that Paolo can measure for the screen. Still no sign of Stefano and still no word on my pending citizenship status.

I work on the lavender under the shade of the wisteria in front of the house, but there are too many bees. I'd like to slow down, so after fixing a salatone (big salad) for pranzo, watch a little of the tennis at Wimbledon and then lie down on our bed in the darkened room. I've covered the lavender as much as I can with the tarp, and when weather cools later this early evening, I'll return to it until it's time for Coro practice in Mugnano tonight.

We've set up the dining/living room with a tarp on the floor and a drying rack, and I've begun to tie bunches that have been cleaned with thin rubber cord and have hung them on the rack. But until the bees leave, the rest of the lavender will have to stay in the shade; unfortunately it is quite hot, so the lavender stalks will begin to dry out as they are. It's not worth a bit of worry. We have plenty.

The groomer arrives for Sofi and Sofi loves her, but rushes to my side, for she's not looking forward to what's ahead. I pick her up and give her little kisses, then bring her downstairs to Silvia, who is as kind and sweet a woman as can be. With her is a little cannikin, the size smaller even than Sofi's nano and the dog has given birth to quite a brood, as evidenced by her underside. She's sweet and has the same good looks as Sofi, but is almost black. Her name is Lisa.

I hand Sofi over to Silvia and return inside. For the next two hours, I must stay out of sight, for she'll be watching for me and will cry out if she sees me. Ti voglio bene! (I love you), I whisper with a kiss on her snout and Silvia takes my little one in her arms. They're under an umbrella, also under the shade of the wisteria, and there is a breeze, so no need to worry.

Little Lisa scampers about, but returns outside, and we close the door to the cucina estate (summer kitchen) to keep her outside. A bit anxious, I return to you for a bit, then lie down with my Kindle and read.

There's so much lavender to ready to dry for baskets. I'm sure much of it will be thrown out, for it's really a lot of work. I promise myself that I'll do whatever I can to turn the stacks on the outside table into bundles to dry before walking up to Coro practice tonight. That won't be helped by Cristina's return to cut more of the lavender, but it needs to be cut anyway. Perhaps now she understands how to cut it into round balls instead of sloping hills. Fa niente. (No matter.)

Tonight is Coro practice in the village at 9:30 P M, and I walk up by myself, joined by Giovanna just as I walk past her house. We all congregate in front of the little church and wait for Federica, who is late, no matter. Inside, there is plenty of cacciarata (small talk), and some choices are made for Ferragosto, which does not take place for another six weeks, so what's that all about?

Finally, we begin, and a certo punto (at a certain point), Federica looks at Laura and I hear her say, La Americana and almost begin to cry. I moan, not quite sadly, and everyone looks at me and laughs.

Federica walks over to me and I rest my head on her shoulder as I cry, I continue to wait for my Italian citizenship; it has been two and one half years; Roy has been granted his, but I'm still waiting...Mamma Mia!.

What was she referring to when she spoke about me? Federica said that she thought I had a fine soprano voice, but had some trouble with my Italian pronunciation.

When we then sing a piece where a particular word must be sung with a particular Italian inflection, Laura looks over at me and when I hit the note, I am spot on. She raises her arm in praise, and it is then that I beam as we continue to sing the rest of the piece, facing each other. I've just proven that I'm not a total oddball. Phew!

We'll practice tomorrow night again, this time in Attigliano with the whole group from Attigliano and Lugnano (again those "ano" towns, what does it mean?) and I'll surely take particular care with each word I sing.

Well, when using the present tense in Italian, ano is the third person plural (think "they") of verbs ending in are. Some research indicates that ano can also mean a member of a larger group, hence Mugnano as a frazione (neighborhood) of Bomarzo. A mullino is a mill (how strange that we lived in Mill Valley, CA before moving here!), a mullo is a mule, a mughetto is the flower lily of the valley, but this one may be the real one: muggier (to low or to moo, to bellow or to roar). "Beware the mouse that roared!"

Perhaps we're really just mulli o asini mules or asses after all...

This is one funny country in which to live. We could not imagine living anywhere but here; each day we find another reason to reaffirm our life in this spot; in this tiny heaven on earth. Bless you, Mugnanese (the people of Mugnano).

June 28
Cristina returns for half a day to work on the remaining lavender, which she will now cut from under the plant first, to assure she cuts them in rounds. Not to fear, dearest Sarah!

In the meantime, I continue to weed, which seems to be my life's work, at least these days, when I'm not recovering from the bites on my legs which bother me more than being stung by an ape (bee). I'm not kidding.

O.K. I found these little wormy things on the white Medilland roses in tufa planters that cascade over our parcheggio (parking area). I love these roses, for they grown and bloom all summer, no matter how much heat we have here.

After a search online, I realize these worms are not good, and spray the roses with our regular mixture of dish soap and denatured alcohol and water in a spray pump bottle. I've wondered what seems to chew the leaves.

La mia sorella grande (My big sister) wiggles with her arms wide to the sun from her balcony to greet the day, and it's wonderful that we have such a loving friendship. Her grandson, Federico, peeks out from behind her and I bid him a Buon giorno! and ask if he'll sing what he has in his hand. No, he's too grown up for that. (Is he ten?) Soon he'll be on the bus to Bomarzo for Grest, the summertime day camp for children.

We missed the annual Grest walk from Bomarzo to Mugnano last Monday. See the archives for a previous year to see the group and the photos. All the children look so grown up now...

Dino drives to Viterbo to shop and make a doctor's appointment for each of us (Dino for his leg pain and me for my allergies that make my skin crawl when bitten by insects). I catch up with you and look over Cristina's work, which has now taken her to the pomodori planting area. Dino really can't do this work down on his knees and it is surely worth hiring her to do it.

Today is really hot; Cristina works in a bathing top and long pants, while I open most of my top to the sun, while dodging mosquitoes and apes (bees); the latter lighting on the lavender under the wisteria, which I had planned to use to make wreaths of it to dry and use in the house.Va bene o va male, depende. (Good or bad, depending...)

I continue to weed, but this time also spray roses with my formula of denatured alcohol, dish soap and water in a pump spray bottle to rid them of the little green worms that can destroy these roses in a flash.

Cristina and I do a little dramatic stone work under the lavender plants; when they've grown a bit leggy in their old age, we prop up the bottoms and put large Umbrian stones underneath for a dramatic effect, along with little vases of box; this time as a pathway toward the ultimate secret in my secret garden. You have to come here to see what it is. There are hints, but not until you are well inside will you be able to see what it is.

Right after pranzo, I walk outside and for the first time hear the cicadas. They are not in our garden...yet. Instead, they perch across the street and in the valley below, their croaky breathing in and out a sign that yes, hot, hot weather is surely here.

Rain and cooler weather are forecast for Thursday; that means that our outdoor concert for Wednesday evening should take place with clear weather. Speriamo. We'll practice tonight in Attigliano, and yes, we are studying the words and music, not that I'll have the opportunity to sing the words soon once the concert has finished. I'm a bit downcast about my pending citizenship status, but not enough to depress me.

Each and every day, I feel as if it is important for me to reaffirm my belief in becoming an Italian citizen. It is also part of how I feel about the importance of helping others. Last night, Anna, my sorella piccolo (little sister, for she is five months younger than I), asked me if I'd give her the words to Magnificat, in Italian, of course, for she does not read music. It's too difficult for her to read words that are surrounded by music. Va bene.

This afternoon while Dino sleeps in our cool bedroom, I find the words to the hymn and make a document for her, and a couple of copies for others as well. Come no? There is one I have not sung, because I missed a practice. It is Magnificat, sung at vespers. Wonder when we will learn it? It sounds wonderful, but in fact is for Ferragosto (August 15th, the iron days of summer).

Boy is it every hot. It's to hot to work on lavender, make wands, do anything outside, but Cristina returns early and works away in the tomato orto for a couple of hours, weeding away with a kind of a trowel. She seems to not mind working in the heat. Mamma Mia! Bless her.

There's Coro practice tonight in Attigliano, for tomorrow is the concert in the outdoor ampiteatro . We're all to be dressed completely in black, down to our shoes. Va bene. I give Dino a copy of Inno di Mameli (Italian National Anthem), for he wants to learn it and can practice it in the car while he's waiting for us and we're singing it.

In the meantime, Cristina has gone home; she's surrounded and bitten by mosquitoes in the tomato orto, and can't take any more. I don't blame her; I hide inside the house until the last minute before going to Coro practice.

Perhaps the pharmacy has something, for nothing really works. I appear to be allergic to: dust, cat dander, tiny bugs in the garden; I brake out in hives from my scalp to my toes and feel as if I'm jumping out of my skin. Enough of that!

Angela is an excellent Coro director, leading a number of local groups, this time three insieme (together). She tells us to look at her; not look at the music. Since I am the only straniero (foreigner), I hold up my music and read it and watch her at the same time. Tomorrow I will rehearse and rehearse to learn all the words to...Fratelli, Italia...etc.(The Italian National Anthem).

Dario, who made our bed frame, walks into the practice and after I greet him can't seem to stay away from me. Serena, on the end of the row next to me, gives him a steely look to keep him at bay. After practice concludes, I show him where Dino waits for me, and then he's found a new friend. I think at one point, Dario was also the sindaco (mayor) of Attigliano. He's really a kind man; someone whose feet don't really touch the ground any more. Fa niente.

I can't seem to sleep, and read on into the night; the air conditioning keeping us a bit cooler.

June 29
I wake with a headache, and it's really warm outside, even at 8 in the morning. We close the shutters, and see that a wasp nest formed over night on one of the shutters. Better wait until tonight to knock it from its perch.

Outside, six wisteria flowers blossom on either one or two of the newer plants, framing what will be the roof extension of the summer kitchen.

Nearby, the cachi tree takes its time extending its leaves. It looks more like a modern art sculpture than a full tree, probably because Dino cut it back severely last winter. He does that to discourage fruit, which worked, as we only saw four pieces of fruit so far, and those fell on the ground a week or so ago. One year we counted more than 4,000(!) pieces of fruit, and considered chopping it down. These days, we're not so sure, for it does provide shade. We'll see...

The Jude the Obscure rose, or roses, do not bloom, so perhaps those two planters will be emptied out and new roses will be planted this fall. It's better not to plant anything during summertime. Today's temperatures are expected to reach the high 80's F (30 degrees C).

Dino drives to Tenaglie for a meeting with a painter and forgets to take Kate's birthday present. We'll take it to them the next time we see them. My headache persists, and after catching up with you, Sofi and I snooze away to let the medicine do its work, helped by an ice pack.

Tonight I'll dress in black from head to toe, and have a great top to wear, purchased in France and quite lovely. I need to learn the lyrics to the music, but perhaps later. It's better that my voice is drowned out than I don't take care of my headache. I hope you don't suffer these migraines; they're quite difficult to endure. Sempre Avanti! (Always forward; life goes on!)

What a dog! Sofi wakes me up exactly at noon! She somehow can figure out (by looking at the clock facing the bed?) when it's noon, time for her pranzo. I get up and fix her meal, just as Dino returns, and we fix our pranzo together, then Sofi and I return to bed.

I'd really like to study the lyrics, and to download the two new pieces of music, but only if I'm feeling better. Serena won't perform in the concert tonight, but there's no way I'll not be there, headache or no headache. Since Dino wants to learn the national anthem of Italy, he and I might practice later. See you later, alligator.

Stefano and Guerino and Cesare arrive and put up the beam of which Dino has worked.

We're ready for Paolo to measure, but he's not at the shop. I've slept a bit and tried to spend time with the music, but am not really doing well. On this hot evening, I'll wait until the last moment to get dressed all in black.

I never make it to the performance, as the heat and my headache drag me down. Perhaps it is fortuitous: I am not yet a citizen, so my singing of the Italian national anthem is a bit premature.

Instead, I sit with an icepack, and then another, to try to dull the pain until it's time to turn in.

June 30
On this last day of June, I have no strength; my mind and my hearing are in a fog, a high-pitched sound rings in my ears. After trying to read a bit on the terrace, I give in and return to our room, attempting to read while wind picks up outside and the promise of a storm seem to fade.

There has been a round of emailing from Thayer Academy, where I spent my high school years, and it's former football coach and headmaster nears death. I email around to any of my contacts with his information, in the hopes that others will contact him to share a memory and brighten his last days.

Here it's a quiet day, with birdsong drowned out just now by the sound of a large tractor, grinding along its path on the paved street below us, throwing up dust as it comes too close to plants growing by the side of the road. On its way toward the borgo, who knows its destination?

La mia sorella grande (my big sister) Rosina telephones, and asks me if I know who is on the other end of the line. Sorella grande? I respond. She asks about my health, and when I ask her about last night's concert she tells me it was wonderful and lasted until midnight! I have mixed feelings; sad that I did not attend but glad that I did not because of the way I felt. I also feel that without my citizenship looming on the horizon, I did not want to sing, "Fratelli, Italia..." until it's time.

Dino fare un giro (makes the rounds) of the Bomarzo shops, even though we have food at home for pranzo. Outside, I clip lavender too woody to keep around, and even that taxes my strength. So Sofi and I return to the house, and she rests while I read.

All around us there is rain, but here only a few drops descend, making it necessary for Dino to water on the terrace. Friend Serena has a bellydancing recital in Vetralla, but as much as we'd love to attend, I need one more day to return to health.

We end the month with overcast skies, humid air and a forecast of cooler weather. We're so looking forward to next month's arrival.

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