Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A trip to Perugia

The Duomo in Perugia
I love the contrast of the nuns and the guys shoelaces to the right

You have probably noticed that I have not put any historical, artistic, or geographic information on this blog.  I will deal a bit with the last one.  Umbria, and Umbertide. Where exactly are these places?  Umbria is right in the middle of Italy and Umbertide is right in the middle of Umbria.  Umbria is  often called the green heart of Italy, the green because of the agriculture and the heart because of St. Francis of Assisi.

To put my town in context, Umbertide is north of Rome and southeast of Florence.  Probably most Americans are familiar with Umbria because Assisi, as in St. Francis of, is located in our region.  Umbria is one of 20 regions in Italy. It is the only region without a border of the sea or a foreign country.  This isolation, for me, has created a magical place time that forgot.  For others, it has created a place that needs to get with the 20th century.

Umbria is further divided into 2 regions.  Perugia, which is where Umbertide is located, and Terni, which is closer to Rome and where Orvieto, famous for white wine is located.. The picture above is a "normal" day in Perugia.  You can see young people dressed in yellow dancing with white sheets to the right.  They later changed into costumes of animals and danced around.  We have no idea who they were or why they were dancing.  Why is a question I have started to give up on since being in Italy.  It usually evinces a shrug and a slight roll of the eyes.  I think the nuns were on tour. They were very happy and giggling.

Perugia is a university town, that unfortunately is now known because of Amanda Knox, the American girl in prison here.  This trial is as divisive between Americans and Perugians as the OJ trial was for blacks and whites in the states. Most Americans think she got a raw deal and most Italians think she is guilty.  I have no clue, as I have not really followed the case.

Vista sull'oliveto
Vocabolo acquavigna 3
05032 Calvi dell'Umbria - Umbriƫ - Terni


To find Umbertide, look above Perugia, under SS219.

We went to Perugia as a little holiday gift to ourselves for our 24th wedding anniversary. This is the sweet anniversary card he remembered to pack to give to me. I have it on my book shelf in the apartment.  When the Italians see it, they look at the Stoic One and mist up.  He is earning more points to become the saint of the Piazza.


 Can you believe that I have put up with him for 24 years?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Silence after guests

Our friends Adelle and Michael have left.  We drove them to the train station at Terontola and they are on their way to Rome and then on to the long trip back to the U.S.  It is a trip we will make ourselves next week.

There is a silence that settles into the apartment now that the Stoic One and I are alone. We miss the spirits of our guests and their observations of life here in the Piazza.  The silence of the apartment reminds me of the Italian sounds I have come to know and love.  The chatty tweeting birds. The men who are playing cards, their cries now muffled by the large lemon colored umbrellas that have just appeared. Their murmurs rise to crescendos as the game progresses. Car doors being slammed in the lot down the street.  The sharp sound of metal as the windows are covered and locked for the night.

Until we came to live in the apartment, I did not realize that the Piazza is washed every morning.  It is washed by something that looks like a zamboni machine, but the driver only goes in curved curlicues around the Piazza.  I wonder if he learned this in Piazza washing school.

The nonlinear sweeper
The cat has found a safe place to nap, away from the black and white dog that likes to torment it.

Summer is coming, and with it another season of life on the piazza.

The Vespa Club

Sunday morning with the Vespa club

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Ristorante Calagrana

Adelle finishing off the steak

Alberto at the grill

Ely in the kitchen

Little girls in waiting for dinner

Dinner coming our way

Susan and the babies
Interior of Calagrana

Michael and Adelle
Michael and Adelle leave for the states tomorrow so we wanted a special Sunday meal, not difficult in this part of Italy.  We decided on a Sunday at Calagrana, a wonderful Agriturismo up in the hills. An agriturismo is a farm that gets special tax breaks if it is a farm and a B&B.  Calagrana is run by Alberto and Ely a wonderful couple. We had a terrific meal, as you can see.

A trip to Marmore Falls

With our friends Adelle and Michael, we decided to do some "physical" things other than eat and nap.  Michael is in excellent condition and the 65 stairs barely winded him.  We looked in our guidebook and discovered Marmore Falls.  A world famous site.

We asked Mani about directions, mistake number one.  When giving directions,  Umbrians are thinking about where they are going to eat when they are on the road; therefore their directions include the roads where you are most likely to eat well whether it is a direct route or not.  We read on the internet that the falls are man made, by the Romans.  Those Romans were very busy people.  I am sure that they must have all migrated north to Switzerland.  Anyway, here is a link about the falls.


The odd thing about the falls, is that they are turned on and off.  They were on from 12:00 to 1:00.  We started out at 10:30.  Mani said it would take us an hour and 20 minutes, so we thought we were in good shape.  Things went swimmingly until we got to Spoleto.  The Stoic One, who was driving, thought we should continue on to Terni.  He was correct.  He had however 3 navigators who said, no get off at Spoleto and go through the old center of town and then get on this little road and then.....We got hopelessly lost.  The Stoic One was Stoic.  The rest of us were curious as to how we could have gotten so lost.  We ended up far afield.  I got out of the car at a patisserie and asked the young women behind the counter the direction of the falls.  Hmmmm.  When Italians put their hands together like they are praying and then wave them up and down, it is not a good sign.  Neither is it a good sign when they take their right hand and start shaking it in a gesture that makes you wonder if their wrist is broken.  We finally found a kind man who told us to go  back the way we had come and go the way the Stoic One wanted to go.  It was a silent way the rest of the drive.

We reached the falls at 1:05.  Did I mention that they turned off the falls at 1:00?  We decided to walk down the stairs anyway as part of this was for exercise.  To our amazement, we saw water in the fall, and they were beautiful.

I understand that the falls are more full and wonderful during the time that they are turned on, but these were also wonderful to see knowing that the Romans had created them more than 2,000 years ago.  These things are staggering to me.

So we keep walking down the stairs, to get to "lover's leap" which Mani told us had been closed because so many lovers leapt.  Let me tell you there were way more than 65 stairs.  Here is a picture of us at the bottom looking at going back up.  Note the happy look on Adelle's and my face.

The good news is we made it back up.  The bad news is we were too late for lunch.  The good news is we ate gelato instead.  All in a day's work in Umbria.

10 Things to Do to Spoil Your trip to Umbria

An extraordinary occurrence...the piazza with only 2 people in it!

For those of you contemplating a trip to Umbria, I thought I would post some things to help with your trip.  There are many ways you can spoil a vacation in Umbria, but these are my top 10 as of today.  Will  welcome any comments from you!

10. Pull the cord next to a public toilet thinking it is a flush mechanism because you can't see anything else.
(In Italy these cords are required by law in case you fall or are in trouble.  They are connected to alarms in the main office and once set off tend to annoy the proprietor, unless of course you are in trouble.  The flush is either on the back of the tank, a little button under the tank up towards the ceiling or on the floor.)

9. When greeting an Italian, go to your right to air brush the person's cheek.
(In the U.S. we generally go right, Italians always go left.  If you go to your right this can result in smashed noses or mouth kisses with a toothless old man.)

8.  Go into the Italian breakfast place, the local "bar" and order a Denny's grand slam.
(You could perhaps order this at 8:00 pm at a restaurant, but breakfast for Italians is a "cornetto" and a capuccino. Italians are night people and don't function very well before 10:00 am and become nauseous at the thought of meat or eggs for breakfast.  They do feed their children cereal but I think this has been influenced by American advertising.)

7.  Go to the fruit and vegetable section of the local grocery store and hunt for tomatoes, melons, or anything like we do by squeezing it, smelling it, putting it back and then putting the one you want in your basket. You wonder why the produce people seem unfriendly.
(In Italy you need to look for plastic bags and then under the plastic bag is a plastic glove that must be worn as you select vegetables.  They are phobic about germs.  Oddly this does not apply in the open market where you can pick up what you want.  Once you select your fruits or vegetables, you must remember the number of the bin and then go to a scale and weigh it yourself. If you don't do this, all chaos will break out at the check out line.)

6.  Have a lovely lunch that finished at 2:00 and then make plans to go shopping, into the museum, go to any site that you have marked in your guidebook.
(Unless you are in Milan or Rome, nothing will be open between 2:00 and 6:00.  Also every restaurant is required by law to be closed one day a week.  Although this law is not always followed, it is always good to check the "orario" for you restaurants.)

5. Get on the autostrada and drive like an American.  Meaning, drive in the left lane about 10- 20 miles an hour above the speed limit, passing the slowpokes on the right.
(If you do this you might potentially be killed.  The left lane is meant for passing only unless you are a huge Mercedes that goes 200 km an hour or faster! I mean this literally)

4.  Have specific goals of things you want to see, times you want to see it in and length of time you think it will take to see each thing.
(This is bound to make you feel desperate, want to pull out your hair, and jump out my piazza window. Nothing in Italy goes on a plan although they talk about organization constantly, and there are certain patterns that are never broken.   If you can not control your "J" MeyersBriggs tendancy to make to do lists and then cross them off when accomplished,  make short trips to Switzerland or Austria to break up any Umbrian visits.)

3. Sit down with the card playing men in the piazza and ask them who is winning.
(I have never had the courage to do this myself, but I can not imagine that it would have a good outcome.)

2.  Come to a "T" intersection with 20 signs in a vertical row pointing all directions and in a nanosecond expect your navigator to tell you which way to turn.
(This can result in the mother of all fights right up there with a trip to Ikea.  The driver will think you can look at all of this data and glean some relevant information from it.  They are mistaken!  When you come to one of these signs just shout out "right" or "left".  You have a 50% chance of being right.

1. Begin to compare everything you experience with what you have experienced in the US.  Commenting on the plumbing, the internet speed, the lack of road signage that has any relevance.
(Umbria is one of God's gifts to the world. It has exceptional physical beauty, delicious food, sweet people and talented crafts people.  In living here, it is best, if you want to keep your sanity, to have a glass half full point of view.)

We or some of our visitors have done all of these things with sometimes maddening, often hilarious results.  Buon viaggio!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

A Trip to the Hospital

Let me start with the news that we are all ok.  My friend Adelle arrived on Monday with her friend Michael.  She had a huge bandaid on her chin and was barely able to talk.  She had been in Paris with some female friends celebrating a special birthday.  She was to meet Michael at the airport in Paris.   They were to fly on to Rome together, take a train to Terontola, a city near us and we were to pick them up.

When Adelle got to the airport in Paris, she exited the cab quickly, so as not to be run over by the nutball Parisien cab drivers.  As she briskly walked toward the door of the airport, she tripped on a loop of plastic that was lying on the sidewalk and fell with full force on her face.  According to Adelle, there was blood everywhere. She was stunned and embarrassed by the fall.  A very kind French man offered her his handkerchief to stem the bleeding, and she is still worried that this kind man's handkerchief was bloodied. If you know Adelle, this will make perfect sense to you.  They paramedics appeared and they tended to her, and put a bandaid on her chin and told her to see a doctor.  She met Michael as planned, they flew to Rome, and then took a train to Terontola, where we picked them up.

Because Adelle fell on her mouth, she couldn't close her back jaw, which meant she couldn't chew or eat anything.  As you have been following our adventures, you know this is a huge tragedy! I wanted to take her to the emergency room that night, but she was too traumatized and tired to agree to go.  She thought she needed a dentist as it seemed her front tooth was loose.

The next morning, our friend Simona came by.  Simona is a vet. and she thought Adelle was ok but needed to go to the dentist.  We made an appointment to see the dentist at 5:00 but I was worried that Adelle had dislocated or broken her jaw, so we walked off to the hospital in Umbertide. Our first experience with Italian Health care.

First the good news.  It is true that medical care in Italy is free.  That's the good news.  So we go into the  emergency room, "Pronto Soccorso".  It was Soccorso but not very pronto.  The first different thing is there was no one to greet us, take our paper work, ask us to fill in documents, ask for our insurance identification, nothing.  There was a waiting room, and a hallway where they were bringing people in from an ambulance.  The hallway had a yellowstriped line down the middle.  I, of course, paid no attention to the stripe and went to find someone.  I found a very handsome if scowling medical technician.  He asked us in Italian what had happened.  No one, by the way, spoke English.  We explained the best we could and he told us to go back and sit down.  We were not to come across the yellow striped line. I noticed a sign above our head that graded the traumas from red to white.  I think we were a white ( not good as far as timing is concerned.)  We sat and waited, and waited.  Then, finally,  we were called into the office of the doctor jerk of all time.

So we go in, and he asks us what happened.  We tell him.  He asked when it happened.  We tell him it happened yesterday.  He pushes against Adelle's jaw and asks if she has pain.  Ok, you need to remember that Italians are like me, hypochondriacs.  If an Italian doctor asks you if you are in pain, you need to start yelping.  Ow, Ow, Ow.  Adelle is not Italian and she didn't yelp, and she said she had no pain.  So Dr. Jerk goes to the computer and asks us very important questions.  When was she born?  Where was she born? Where does she live?  These questions are asked in Italian at the level you speak to someone who has feeble hearing in one ear and deaf in the other.  We respond.  He doesn't take her temperature, he doesn't take her blood pressure and he doesn't ask if she has any other symptoms.  He hands us a piece of paper and we are told to go out into the hall again.  We wait.  This waiting stuff happens in American hospitals too, but you have a general sense of what is going on.  In a foreign country, in a hospital where no one speaks English, the waiting is particularly anxiety provoking.

We are taken into the lab, and they tell Adelle they are going to take some xrays.  This is good.  They won't let me stay with her. They have her stand on a machine that without warning whisks her up in the air and rotates her around in order to take her xrays. Not liking ferris wheels, this sudden movement scares the hell out of her.  They send her back to the hall to wait again.  We go back to Dr. Jerk who barks at us that her name has been an "r" in it.  We know that.  He then says in a disgusted tone that there is a mistake in the computer.  I want to say, "Look buster, whose fault is that?"  I don't.   He spends more time filling out a form, gives us the form, then tells us to go upstairs to talk to someone else.  I read the form and it says that she has no evidence of broken bones or dislocation.  He doesn't talk to us or explains anything to us.  I don't know if this is because we are foreign or because we had the bad luck to get dr. jerk. I suspect he acts the same to everyone.

We next go talk to a very nice female ear, nose and throat doctor.  She examines Adelle and tells her she is fine and she needs to see a dentist.  I ask her how she knows that her jaw is not dislocated.  (I have, after all, looked up her symptoms on the internet and am sure her jaw is dislocated.)  The nice doctor says if her jaw were dislocated she would have more pain and not be able to open her mouth so wide.  The doctor tells Adelle to go home and eat pasta and ice cream for 3 or 4 days and relax.  Just what the doctor ordered! We leave the hospital without paying anyone, or checking out. Adelle is hoping she won't be arrested at the airport for nonpayment.  I assure her this is highly unlikely.  All in all the treatment was probably the same as what you would get in the US for a couple thousand dollars, but it is really hard when you don't know the process and you don't know the language.

We did get to the dentist, who filed her teeth to get them back into shape and refused to accept any payment.   The dentist is a friend of Mani.  He is a treasure.  We have been to him before.  The Italians say he has "mani bianche".  White hands, meaning he can go in your mouth and not cause pain.  She thinks she might be able to eat a steak in a couple of days.

Our friends, Adelle and Michael. Adelle is much better having survived the wicked fall.

We all forced ourselves to eat strawberries and ice cream, with meringue in sympathy with Adelle.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Italian Ice Cubes??

Okay, so you know how you are in Italy and it is hotter than the devil and you ask for your diet coke with lots of ice and even learn to say the Italian word for ice and almost pronounce it correctly (ghiaccio geeahcho)
and then your drink comes and there are 2 little puny circles floating in the middle.  I now understand why.

We bought a refrigerator/freezer and we thought we will have no problem making ice.  Right?  Wrong.  Problem number one is the freezer did not come with ice trays, or so we thought.  Problem number 2 there were no ice trays at the Coop, the main grocery store.  We were talking to our friend Laura, who owns the restaurant downstairs and asked her where we could buy ice cube trays.  She told us at the dread Fromica...more on that store later.  Then she said, wait I will give you one.  Great, I'm thinking.  So she comes out with a box that looks like it holds sandwhich bags.  I looked at it and said how does the water get in there?  When you ask Italians these kind of questions, they always look dumbstruck like you can't really be asking this.

Anyway, here the the Stoic One filling the "ice trays"
Once we understood this is what ice trays look like, we found the "ice trays" in our freezer.  They are in the pullout part of the freezer drawer and look like egg cartons.  The idea of an ice maker machine is not exactly part of the syntax here.  Too much energy, too much cost just for ice.  Now I get it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Police Arrive

As I told you, I bought some lovely little flowers, pretty yellow things, to put in the window, so the apartment would look more festive.  (I moved them onto the outside sill thinking they would enjoy a little fresh air.)
This evening was another "casino" a word we and Italians use all the time. It is a word that means something between a big mess, a big confusion, and what else can you expect?

Ok, so the boys arrive to put in the chandelier in the dining room.  The Milanese has recovered himself, and he arrives to translate the putting in of the chandelier.  Mani is here because he is very curious to see what the chandelier looks like hanging up.  He has never seen one like this before, not a good sign.  (Mama called and told him he needed to get home to go to his son's school concert.  He was in no big hurry.)  In the middle of this casino, we look out the window and there is a policewoman, Francesca at the bottom of the stairs.  The Stoic One goes down and returns. He informs us she is jabbering away in Italian, and is very pretty.  We all look to him for further information, but there is none.  Have I mentioned the Stoic One is a man of few words?

Mani looks over the railing and says, oh no, it is the crabby police lady.  The next thing, I hear the policewoman telling Mani that there is a big problem with me having my flowers on the outside windowsill because the flowers could fall off the sill and bonk someone on the head.  I must say it is not a bad point. We are, after all, 65 stairs up.  While she is jabbering, I quickly removed the offending flowers and put them on the floor. Mani tells us she is a pain in the you know what.  Mani and the Milanese are beside themselves laughing.  They say they have lived here forever and not had the police at the door.  I am here for one week, and already the police are calling.  I look a little downhearted, and Mani says not to worry.  He said his office worker, Paolo, had gotten 3 traffic tickets in one day from her.  Mani said everyone in town says she is crabby because she doesn't have a boyfriend and the whole town is looking for one but it is difficile because she is difficile, if bella.  Mani shrugs, what can we do?  Put the flowers in the back window he says where she can't see them.

Then we get into a discussion about how to clean the floors.  Mani says a mop and a broom, The Milanese says there are water vacs that are much better.  (The Milanese has to clean the floors, so he has a vested interest.) Mani thinks his job is to look after us at all times, so he tells the Milanese the mop idea is fine. We don't need to spend the money for a fancy machine.  I am on the side of the Milanese on this one.  He has lived in the US and understands our preferences, as in living in the 21st century.  The discussion continues, The Stoic One is paying attention to Andrea the light installer, watching how it is being installed, and he thinks it is too low.  All attention moves to that.

Putting the chandelier up is not going well.  First of all it has about 100 different parts.  Andrea is doing the work with white gloves.  Then he decides he needs to go up into the attic and pull the wires through. For the first time we see the ladder pulled down.  Note the drying rack under the stairs. It is not my real dishwasher, and it does not drain over the sink.

Thankfully, the Umbrians are petit little people, and Andrea scampers up the ladder.  We wish him well, as he disappears from view.  The Milanese can't stand it.  He decides to climb up the ladder as well and inspect what it going on.  He thinks he is in charge of managing us. (This makes 2 Italians who are sure it is their job to manage us.  I haven't mentioned to them that I have extremely low scores on manageability which is why I am a consultant.)  The Milanese tells us it is "bello" up there.  The Stoic One and I are not curious enough to climb the stairs, and so we watch.

Andrea returns from the attic and says he can't turn the light on because we don't have another button, and he will return tomorrow.  I pout.  I say I am so "triste" sad not to see the light tonight.  Mani shrugs, the Milanese tries to comfort me and says it will be done tomorrow.  I keep pouting.  Andrea goes up to the attic and the light is turned on.

Ok.  You know how you are in a store and you fall in love with an object and you don't think of context or how it will all fit in and you are tired of listening to the Stoic One?

So, this light has only one small light bulb.  It is a technological wonder.  I fell in love with it in the store.  It was with many other lamps and it looked spectacular.  When Andrea turned it on, the light bounced off all of those plastic pieces and the light from it could light up the entire Piazza.  The Italians and I are stunned. It has clearly been designed for a concert hall.  The Stoic One thinks it is fine.  The Italians are mesmerized.  "Ma guarda...." but look.  I am looking.  I bet Sally can see it from her villa across the way.  Andrea says he will return tomorrow to put in a dimmer.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


So today, we drove down to Deruta about 40 minutes south of here.  What a zoo or "casino" as the Italians say.  They are repaving the center of the Centro Storico this means parking which is always impossible has now become a true game of wits in the hands of 3 year olds who need a nap.  Fortunately, the Stoic One was calm and persistent, 3 circles around town and we found a primo parking space.

We were picking up plates that we had ordered several months ago from an Albanian artist. Really.  If you have ever seen a piece of Italian pottery it probably came from some nest in Deruta before it sprung wings and flew away.  We have lots of Italian pottery, and I wanted something a little different this time. The Albanian does a Monet type motif to the pottery.  I liked the colors very much, and we ordered 8 sottopiatti, or plate chargers.

 Here is a picture of the lovely plates.

Because there was no parking any where near the store, we had to trudge up a mountain side with tiny little stairs made for munchkin sized feet.  Fortunately, it was a curvy climb so I couldn't tell how much farther we had to go.  Huff and Puff.  Going up and down those 65 stairs has not helped with my stamina.  Anyway, once we got to the store, the artiste was oh so happy to see us because people had wanted to buy our plates, and he was getting ready to put them in the back.  The Stoic One said this is great, I'll go down and get the car, we can put the plates the in car and drive on.  I said, but what about shopping? We're here in Deruta the center of all ceramics, and I am sure there is something that we need I haven't thought about.  Unfortunately he was hot footing it down the path to the car while I stayed and chatted with the Albanian.  A very nice and friendly man.

To reward me for not whining,  we stopped in at Tre Vaselle in Torgiano for lunch.

The food here is exquisite.  We started with Zucchini blossoms stuffed with fresh ricotta cheese, with tiny cherry tomatoes cool on the outside on hot on the inside.  They were cooked in a tiny bit of olive oil and and a little bit of thyme.  Heavenly. Here it is.

The Stoic One ordered tagliatelle with duck sauce.

These dishes are so light.  No cream, very little olive oil.  Just the best ingredients blended masterfully together with the right amount of sauce.  Italians think we use too much sauce.
For dessert it was some kind of sorbet with berries.

Enough of the food.  Remember how I didn't have any mirrors, well the mirrors showed up for bathroom number one, our bathroom, today.

I finally have a place for all of my stuff.  After the scorpion incident, I was creeped out about my things on the floor and asked the Stoic One to give my basked a good kick before I got any of my things.  He  did with great gusto.  I wonder if this means anything?

A friend of mine and her friend arrive on Sunday.  The men are back playing cards beneath the window screaming at one another.  All is well in Life at the top of the Piazza.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The apartment

I thought perhaps you might like to see the inside of the apartment, not just photos of the outside. This is the entryway to the apartment.  I am standing in the dining room to take the picture.

The photo above is the dining room. The window is to the right.  If you looked out there you would see the Tiber river and a beautiful mountain behind it.

 This is our kitchen.  It is in a little niche off the dining room.  It is generally the territory of the Stoic One but since I have been here I have baked one apple pie, which I gave to Mani's mama and a sausage bean casserole.  Delicious.  There is a refrigerator to the left with the freezer on the bottom and a dishwasher to the left of the oven.  Very compact.  Nicely designed.  We would take it with us if we moved!

These are the ceilings that have been restored.  They are in the living room, dining room and guest bedroom.

These are the floors that have been restored and took forever to put in.

This is the window I look out to watch the adventures in the Piazza.

This is the guest bath.  Small but serviceable.

The Stoic One goes to Ikea

The trip to Ikea was not pleasant.  It started with confusion over directions.  The GPS said to go one way, the Stoic One said to go another way and Google map on my Iphone said to go a third way.  Unfortunately we did not have a paper map (Note to self, never go anywhere in Italy without a paper map.)  So we did what any reasonable American would do, we followed the GPS until it didn't seem reasonable, and then we got completely lost and then we followed directions from the phone and then we lost cell coverage and then we landed in the middle of traffic in Florence.  The Stoic One was not happy.  I was blithely talking away about how well he was doing and not screaming at anyone, and he was still not happy.

We found a gas station and then the Stoic One said he wanted to go home.  Not back to California but back to Umbertide.  He was tired, we were lost, it seemed hopeless and we should just come back another day. Wait, wait, I say, the Iphone has come back on line and says we are really only 10 minutes from the store.  GRRRRR.  Ok.

We found Ikea 30 minutes later.  We had lunch.  We ate the tiny little Swedish meatballs people told us to eat.  Then we shopped and the mother of all fights began.  "What are you going to do with that?"  "I don't think that will fit."  "We don't need to be buying things just to be buying things."  I, at my wits end, stomped off the bathroom.  On the way back to the basket section, I heard several Italian couples having the exact same argument that the Stoic One and I were having, except they were both on the cellphones talking to Mama, telling her what a no good lout the other person was.  Luckily Mama's in Italy are the best of psychologists as you could tell from the expression on the faces of their wayward children saying "ma...ma..ma....si. mama." But, but, but, yes, mama. They hung up, smiled at one another and continued on their shopping adventure.

Me not having an Italian mama, decided to be my own and make up with the Stoic One.  We ended up selecting baskets that did indeed fit on the shelves and were better than the first ones I had selected before I stomped off.

Some of you have asked how we get around here.  We rent a car and drive depending upon Stoic One's frame of mind.  Mostly, we walk every where in our village.  The alimentari, little grocery store is just beneath our 65 stairs, as is the hardware store, the 2 coffee bars, and the wonderful restaurant.  The weather here as been beautiful.  Cool, blue skies, about 70 in the day 50 in the evenings.  We did have the one bad day of rain, (we have still not heard from the Milanese) but this week has been gorgeous.
By the way, the Stoic One figured out how to do the wash and the dryer and program it for one event.  It only took 4.5 hours for the combo.  I can't imagine our electric bill.  Utilities in Italy are 4 times the cost as in California. I think we will go back to the idea of hanging clothes out the window once we get the electric bill.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Deciphering an Italian washing machine

I know, you're all thinking, we've been through this. We've seen Italian washing machines.  What's the big deal. So they're slow.  They take 4 hours to wash the clothes, annoying but understandable.  By the way, I am personally convinced that this is caused because the barrel of the machine goes slowly clockwise and then for no apparent reason, changes and goes slowly counter clockwise.  Why can't the machine just go wish, wash, like a normal machine?

Anyway the machine that I want to introduce you to is no ordinary Italian washing machine.  It is a thing of beauty.  It has a very innocent looking little face as you will see from the photos below.  It doesn't take up much floor space.  It is a soothing color of white.  At the top of the machine it is fitted with a large benign looking circular dial with red settings to the left and blue settings to the right. It you think this has significance, you would be wrong.   This one large dial has tiny little incomprehensible icons to the left.  I know you are thinking,  once you figure out the little icons, non c'e' problema.  Well my friends, welcome to laundry hell.  Not only is this a brand new Italian combo machine a washer and a dryer it is also fitted with computerized controls, designed by the very people who bring you the road signs that say "tutte direzzion" (all dirctions when you come to a dead end street and are trying to decide if you should turn right or left.)  As my friend Michael says, lots of data no information.

The Stoic One decided that he should try out the washing machine to give feedback to Mani on whether or not it worked.  We looked at the instructions, all in Italian.  He started inputting the instructions into Google translate but decide it was too hard. I looked at it and fell asleep before I could even reach my dictionary.  I can't stand to read washing machine instructions in English much less Italian.  I said, "Do your best, dear," and off he went into the broom closet. 5 hours later, the Stoic One remarked that he wasn't able to locate the dryer. I smartly remarked that it was in the same machine as the washer and perhaps he should use the red settings to the left instead of the blue settings.  He said he used the red settings to start the washing machine and nothing was moving the dryer forward when he tried the red or the blue markings.  Oh.  Well, I think it is much nicer to hang the clothes gaily about the apartment and forget the dryer.  He looked a bit petulant I must say as we hung the clothes on the end of the iron bed.  We must look for a "stendino" drying wrack to you in case all else fails.

Tiziano and Mani show up about 7:00 to see how things are going and to give us instructions on all of our machines.  The water in the back of the fridge is not a problem.  See how there is a little piece of plastic to catch the water?  Normale.  I am told to keep the fridge at number "2" no matter what.  Even in the summer, the fridge could cycle on and off and on and off and then "boom".  Boom is not good in either Italian or English.  I learned that there is an icon on our oven for piazzas, and there is another icon for baked gratin dishes and another icon for bread, as if....So I said where is 350 and what do I push for a normal casserole type dinner.  They smiled and we moved on to the broom closet to look at the washing machine.

 In this tiny space of a broom closet,  3 grown men stand stooped over staring at this poor little critter as if it were a rabid monkey.  Tiziano decides to get the instruction book.  Mani says let's wait for the Milanese to show up he has excellent English and can explain this. Tiziano says what is he going to explain when no one knows how the machine works.  Mani shrugs.  Mr. Stoic tries to point out how he got the washing machine to work yesterday but not the dryer by using the red settings.  This is not possible they say.  I love when Italians tell me something is not possible when it has just occured.  Do you suppose this has something to do with the subjunctive tense?  Anyway, I say , well I don't do the laundry.  Mani says perhaps Gary could go down to the river Tiber and do wash on the rocks and Tiziano looks perplexed.  He fiddles with the dials.  Incomprehensible icons show up on the computer side of the machine.  Tiziano says the machine does not match the picture.  Mani says we should wait for the Milanese.  The Stoic one says he knows how to use the washer it is only the dryer that is the problem.  After an hour of this, we all decide we must have dinner and they leave.  I find all Italians are as intrigued with technology as I am but there intuition is also about as good as mine.  The Milanese at least has a degree in agriculture.  Maybe that will help.

Tomorrow we go off to the Ikea store outside of Florence.  I am looking for a trash can for the kitchen, some candles, a basket or two.  Would you like to guess how much we spend and if you will ever hear from me again?

Monday Morning on the Piazza

Here is a cast of characters you need to keep in mind.  Stoic Onc= Gary, Mani= geometra=general contractor, Giuseppe= cabinet maker, Tiziano= furniture guy who sells kitchens, Simone= the Milanese guy who speaks great English having graduated from San Luis Obispo with a degree in agricultural management.

So the Milanese calls this morning and sounds very sick.  He tells us that because of the torrential rain last night, the water caused a mud slide that went through his fence and then his sheep escaped and then he had to go and fetch them all during a downpour and then he got sick with a cold.  He never gets sick when his clients are in town and he is oh so sorry but we will have to go and sign the contract without him. It is not so very important, something we could do 2 years from now, but maybe we should do it now.  "What contract, " I ask innocently.  "The one to buy your apartment.  Gary said he wanted paper work showing that you own the apartment and so there is some additional paper work that needs to be signed and documented."  Ok.  So the Milanese says just go over to Mani's by yourself, if there is something that you don't understand, just make a note and we will talk later."With that he said he had to have some hot, organic lemon tea and go to bed.

So Stoic One, do you know anything about signing a contract today?  No?  What did you think we were doing at the meeting?  Unsure.  Okay we walked over to Mani's apartment, through the Piazza, across the road, across the railroad track and down into Piazza San Francisco.  According to Mani, his Piazza is the most important Piazza because it has 3 churches whereas out Piazza only has one.  Whatever.  So we go to see Mani, he has my comforters, and sheets, happily he has not sold them and we sit down for a talk.  It is all very confusing but some paper has to go to Perugia and then has to come back to our Commune so that the official people can say that our apartment is now "habitable" which means that we can live here and pay tax.  Joy.  So I tell Mani about the scorpion and he says,"What good luck, you are living in the middle of the city but it is like living in the country.  My wife Barbara calls me when there is a scorpion in the vasca (bathtub) and I tell her turn on the water and it will go down the drain."  ok. Then I relate the story about the pigeon in the bathroom.  "But, how did the pigeon get in the bathroom?" "Through the open window, " I respond.  "Well then it went out the window didn't it?"  Gary smiles and says yes the bird flew back out the window.  I say, we need screens.  We all nod..this means nothing will happen.

I also mentioned to Mani that we had no mirrors in the house which made it difficult for me to put on my trucco (make up) and for Gary to shave.  He looks at Gary who does look a little scruffy and says, yes we need to get mirrors.  We will make an appointment this afternoon.  This clearly will happen.
So score one for bathroom mirrors and 0 for the screens.

Sunday on the Piazza

As crazy and noisy as Saturday night was (I found our from Sally that the Italians were hooting and honking in the Piazza because Milan had won some soccer match, like who cares??) Sunday morning was that quiet and peaceful.  No one in the Piazza, no dogs, no children, no card playing old people, no baby carriages, no chattering Italians, no one.  The morning started in total silencio! I was at peace once again.

Unfortunately, in our apartment at the top of the Piazza,  there was not total silencio. First of all I went into the bathroom to pick up the small rug to give it a good shake out the window, when I saw a small black scorpion fall out of it!  Aaack.  You can imagine my scream bouncing off the stone floors, cement walls and stone ceilings.  Gary, thinking I was on the verge of death, slowly got up from the couch to check on me. For those of you who don't know Gary, the Italians say he is "taciturno" that puts it mildly.  Picture Gary Cooper and dial it down a notch.  Anyway, he successfully disposed of the creature while I researched on the web scorpions, antidotes in case of bites and likelihood of survival once bitten, fortunately which is high.  So then as we were drinking our coffee and the Stoic One says to me, "Oh, by the way, last night when I went to the bathroom there was a pigeon snoozing on bathroom counter."  What????!!!! Is this guy nuts, like who casually mentions this over coffee.  As I stared at him incredulously, he said, "Don't worry, when I came in the pigeon woke up and flew back out the window." Glad to know the idiot bird is no longer in the house. As you know, we don't have screens on our windows, no one in Italy has screens on their windows, but we WILL have screens on our windows before long....sigh....

To calm myself, I paced the apartment, looked out the back window by the river, and there were all of the Italians!  They had left the Piazza to go fishing.  I have never seen anyone fishing the river before but there they all were.  Long fishing poles, matching navy blue chairs, and ice chests next to them.  Needless to say, there were no women.  Around noon, the Piazza slowly started to fill up.  The card playing men now had on coats and ties, oh yes, church!  There was no card playing, only people sitting, chatting quietly (!) and drinking their coffee. I must say they don't look particularly happy, but I am sure that the card playing will resume tomorrow.
In the afternoon it started to rain, and the Stoic One and I took it upon ourselves to have a meaningless couples' quarrel.  The content went something like this. Stoic One,"If we are going to live here, we will need to get used to the noise so we don't have to close the windows when it is hot." Me ever reasonable, "I knew you didn't really want to come here.  You think it was a mistake don't you?  What are we doing here in the middle of nowhere without any friends or family, and it is raining and if we were home we could go to a movie but we are in Italy and the nearest theater is probably in Rome.  Boo hoo.  The Stoic Onc says, "I think we need to get double pane windows."  sigh
In the evening, we went out for another lovely dinner.  There is no problem so big that a good Italian meal won't cure.  I had "stinco" which means shin bone in Italian.  We had a lovely evening, the weather was cool and it was quiet.  We slept well and woke up refreshed.
(BTW to people following along, I updated the beginning to explain more how we got into all of this.)

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A lovely lunch and then chaos

It started out as such a perfect day.  I got an email from my sister Sarah that said she had been accepted into graduate school.  400 applications and 30 were accepted.  She was elated.  Also she was chosen as a graduate assistant to work with 2 year olds.  My idea of hell, but her idea of paradise in Italy.  In addition we may get an offer on the farm from someone whose name is the reverse of my father's.  Miracles unfold!

On to Italy.  We decided to go to Montone for lunch. It is the closest hill town to Umbertide (Umbertide is very flat) and one of our favorites.  It is like walking through a museum but normal people are living there.  The view from the town down into the valley is stupendous with green patchwork fields below and undulating hills on the horizon.  Google the town if you want to take a look.

Anyway, we usually go to a restaurant called Erba Luna, but I convinced Gary to try another restaurant that had gotten great reviews called Locanda del Capitano.  It was phenomenal.  One of the best meals I have eaten in Italy.

I started with a salad in a formed baby parmesan basket, very petite and lovely, with warmed slices of pears and honey on the side.  The salad was dressed perfectly and the pears were soft and delicious with the honey.  Gary had grilled scallops with pumpkin puree.  The look on his face would have told you the story.  Those were the appetizers!
Gary ordered ravioli with ricotta inside with a duck orange ragu sauce on top.  I had mezzaluna (half moons of pasta) with burrata mozzarella inside and the most delicate of lemon sauces over the top.

Sigh.  We were so happy.  We told the waiter that we would just have coffee but then we looked at each other and I foolishly said, do you want to spit a secondi and of course we did.  By this time we were ecstatic with our eating and the wonderful wine we were drinking,  so you will get no more photos.  We let the owner of the restaurant, Giancarlo, who has a TV show, choose.  We had the most delicious slices of rare steak over raw baby spinach and baby chard.  The amazing thing was he gave us these little tiny bottles of olive oil, like the free perfume you get.  The olive oil was cold pressed and then frozen.  He said hold it in your hands and watch it.  It changed into the most gorgeous color of green and liquefied.  This was poured over our steak.  OMG.  I can't even tell you how delicious it all was.

Of course we had dessert because we were no longer in our right minds.  Gary had tiramisu in a little jar and I had a lemon tart, with a pie crust like I bake that was similar to a key lime pie in consistency.  We were sated. The only good news to tell you is the portions were small and remember the 65 stairs that awaited us.

On the terrace above us we could hear American English. As I went to the bathroom, I stopped and introduced myself.  (Time out for some observations.  As a tourist one is not particularly happy to run into Americans but as someone who lives here, finding Americans is fun.) Anyway they were Bob and Anne from Oklahoma.  They were staying in Montepulciano, a 2 hour drive from the restaurant.  They said the restaurant was their favorite in all of Italy and they drove for lunch no matter where they were.  We told them of our apartment buying story, and they had found a house they had fallen in love with but were hesitant about buying it.  They were retired attorneys.  We'll see.  I told them to read Retirement without Borders.

After lunch we stayed and talked to the owner/chef Giancarlo, who told us he had earned a 1 star from Michelin this year.  He is from Puglia, which is probably why he is so friendly.  He also had dinner porcelain from our friend Matteo, from whom we bought the apartment.  Life in Italy is very connected.   We congratulated him on his superb restaurant and told him we would return and waddled back to the car.

We got back to the piazza to discover a wedding taking place.  She was a little long in the tooth, he was bald, but she had on the biggest, ornate wedding dress you can imagine.  It made Dianna's wedding dress look like a simple frock.  Anyway, the men returned for card playing and stayed all afternoon.

Gary and I watched our show, Foyle's War, a great BBC series if you haven't seen it and settled in with the loud chattering in the background.  Children were running around, the old ones were out, dogs were out, everyone sitting, yelling, at the cafe, no one ordering, chaos.  OK.  Charming, now when will they go home????  3 young boys under the age of 10 were playing with each other and screaming at the top of their lungs.  Picture the stone, echos, no mama, just dad and a grandma.  Lord.  Ok it is now 11:00 time for them to go, right?  No.  More people show up.  People with baby carriages, more dogs, more grandmas, more young people.  The piazza has more people in it than I have seen since we arrived.  Gary goes to bed, and to sleep!!! Who can imagine, then at 11:45, I kid you not, everyone goes home.  At the stroke of midnight, the piazza is empty.  If you ask Italians why this is, you get one of those looks like they don't even know what you are asking.

Up on Sunday morning, the piazza is totally empty.  No men playing cards, no dogs, no kids, no one.
Gary and I will need to change our routine or get ear plugs.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Friday night at the Piazza

When last we talked, Sally our English friend, was going to stop over and look at the apartment.  She made the climb, heaving a bit as she reached us.  I grabbed to hug her and she carefully pointed out that she had brought us freshly laid eggs.  I can't wait to eat them this morning.  They are of different sizes because different hens lay different size eggs. Who knew?  I never thought about it before, but it makes sense.  It is just so weird to see one large egg, a little egg and then medium size brown speckled eggs in the same carton.  The things that I haven't thought about that have been automated in our food production. Fortunately for you, I  won't go on a Berkeley rant about that.  

Sally loved the apartment but thought we should look at buying a little cottage in the country, and sell this since it was so lovely.  Hmmm.  I told her Gary hated the out of doors work, started sneezing when he got near anything green, while I loved to look at the out of doors, but being in it made me hot and itchy.  She thought perhaps a city apartment suited us.

The card playing in the piazza takes on a different tempo on Friday night.  First of all, they play later, not finishing until 7:00 rather than 6:30.  Then we had the floozies show up, well one floozie and one wannabe.  So I was looking out the window at the theater unfolding beneath me, and I was trying to define how I could detect an Italian from a foreigner.  As I was trying to piece this together, two women walked into the piazza and down towards our apartment and the men below. 

One woman had on a white dress with large black printed flowers, a black patent leather wide belt and black stilettos (how do they do it?) She had large black sunglasses, "done" black hair and a saucy walk.  The other woman looked like she climbed out of a rag bag but was also definitely Italian.  Mismatched prints, top and bottom, brown sunglasses, brown limp hair.  Thinking about it she may have been Albanian :) The two sat down at an empty table where the men were finishing up and "miraculo" 3 Italian men of 70 plus years, some of the younger crowd,  sat down with the women and bought them drinks.  One man had on a lavander shirt, unbottened for 3 buttons down, another man had on a wide blue and white striped shirt, ( with a sleeveless red vest) and the other man had on white pants, and a beige shirt with some kind of blotchy print on it. 

Watching the men compete for the one woman was hilarious. 
 Am not sure how funny Miss Mouse Hair thought it was,  but she got a free drink out of it.  The men leaned into the aging beauty touching her hand and arm.  As they fawned over her, she leaned back and laughed and then leaned in to talk. This back and forth movement seemed to mesmerize them, kind of like a cat playing with a mouse.  She had a bandaid on her arm and the men all made over it.  At one point one man looked like he was going to kiss it for her, but I think thoughts of mama and germ phobia prevented him. 

 I  couldn't hear what they said, which was just as well as I am sure I could have written better dialogue for them than what was going on.  Eventually they all got up and the man with the lavender shirt, ( who had on tassled loafers while the other men had on tennis shoes,) literally gave one of the old geezers a hip bump and walked off with aging beauty. The two men started hooting at lavender shirt but he smiled pulled her arm though his and walked out of the piazza.  Miss Mouse Hair took a seat against the wall as the other two men left the piazza.  Then at 8:45 all of the men returned from dinner and had one more game of cards.  I guess because it was Friday night they got out of the house again as the women go to Friday mass.

It is Sat. morning and the "biologico" or organic market is going on down below.  I am sitting in my iron bed looking out at a beautiful tall hill out in front of me.  Sally pointed out her house half way up the mountain and said we could do a heliograph test (something with mirrors) to let me know where she is.  

Gary and I slept through the entire night, so we are both much better today.  We still don't have any mirrors in the house, I can't seem to find Emanuele to ask him about that or to get our comforters.  When I mentioned it to Paolo his office person, he said yes the comforters were in storage and since they were for winter wasn't it nice it was May.  I said yes it was nice but I wanted the comforters.  He smiled and said Manuele would be by later, he wasn't.  I hope he hasn't sold them.

The apartment is done!

The apartment is better than we hoped.  It doesn't photograph as beautiful as it is because I can't give you the sense of the high ceilings, the light and the space.  I love it.  When I walked in, it made me cry to see it finally finished.  I told Manuele that and he said he was so sorry that he wasn't here (Simone, the Milanese man brought us up and in.  He did not cry).  Anyway, Manuele  knew it would make me cry because it made him cry too.  I can just imagine the two of us boohooing away while we checked it out.  Luckily Gary and the Milanese seem to have similar Germanic genes and they agreed that  the apartment is better than we expected.   

Having said that, it would not be everybody's cup of tea.  Besides the 65-- not 82-- stairs, it is noisy.  The back of the apartment faces the river, and the country, so one hears birds, tweeting away 24 hours a day. Italian birds clearly have learned from their host country that silence is not rewarded. The front of the apartment faces the piazza so one hears constant Italian chattering.  I love the combined sounds.  They remind me of life and my place in it.  I feel so happy and balanced here.

Italians, like the birds,  never shut up.  It is amazing.  I think that there probably is a ratio of 1 introvert for every 100 extroverts here.  The men play cards every evening from 4= 6:30.  The average age is about 79.  There are 4 tables on one side of the piazza that shrink down to one loud table at the end...who knows what game they are playing.  They yell at each other and it sounds like they are going to kill each other, but it happens every evening and they all seem to return. The cards aren't like our playing cards.  I need to get down there and see if I can figure out the game, but I have to do it judiciously as this is clearly a "boys only club."

The other side of the piazza at the other cafe has tourists and one group of card playing men.  I imagine that they had a big fight and they were exiled across the piazza.  Who knows the real story.  THere are no women or young men in the piazza.  Both sets of people are working!  The women show up at around 6:00 for the "passagiata" but in this town they are all married, so they mainly show up with their little dogs and greet one another and check each other out.  Or they show up with their baby carriages  and young husband in tow.  The fathers look like they wish they could escape until they look at their babies and then they beam. Italian children are wild.  They are spoiled by everyone.  We were in the grocery store and a little girl was crying for candy, the mother tried to be strict with her and tell her no, the child was of course adorable.  Before you knew it there were 3 different people offering to give her the candy which she quickly gobbled down.  In case you wondered how Italian women got their attitude.   

I think everyone in town has been up to see the apartment, the woman who owns the restaurant below us, the people who own the equipment store.  They all mention the stairs and then say Manuele has done a "bel lavoro" a beautiful piece of work.  The antique furniture that we selected fits in beautifully although it requires patience to open and close the doors and drawers, guess who is not so good at that?  Speaking of drawers, we have none.  My clothes are in a box under the bed. Gary's are neatly folded and properly stored in the armoire.

We are slowly acclimating.  We have not slept through one night.  Jet lag, a new place with new sounds and I think just general excitement wakes us up and 1:00 am.  This morning we finally went to sleep at 5:00 am.  WE will try not to nap today but it will be difficult.  

I was at the grocery store yesterday and ran into Sally our English friend.  I was so shocked to see someone I know that I didn't really see her until she waved her arms and me and yelled "Susan".  She is coming to see the apartment in a little bit.  We have wireless internet that is satellite.  Gary says it is slow but it seems fine to me.  We need to make another trip to Ikea, which you can imagine how that is in Italian.  Maybe next week.

THe weather is sublime.  Warm, blue sky, gentle breezes.  We looked at the apartment next door.  It is definitely feasible.