Saturday, December 22, 2012

Italian Chimneys

Hello there.  I am in Oakland, receiving email photos from Manuele on the progress of our apartment in Umbertide.  The chimney in the family room is being opened up so it will be big enough to cook bruschetta and be warm while we watch tv.  It is quite a production.

I wonder if Santa could get down this chimney?
It is going to be beautiful one day.  Manuele has had major problems with his back and has gone to the doctor for cortisone shots.  Ugh.  He said it was horrible.  He has 3 slipped disks, and he is only 37.  Not good.

On the good news front, our friend Joseph and Paul finally sold their house in Mill Valley. Yeah! It looks like everything will be coming together for the final move to Umbertide some time this spring.

Yesterday the Stoic One and I went to K-Mart (a discount department store).  We went to the lay away department and randomly paid off 2 people's lay aways.  Our only criteria was that the items in the lay away needed to be children's toys.  We found two great looking accounts, that were steadily paying but had not made their final payment.  They will be very happy to get the call that their account was paid!

We are off to southern California for Christmas.  I hope that all of you have a very Happy Holiday and a very prosperous new year!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


I am back in Oakland beginning to stress myself out.  There are many reasons for this.  First, Christmas always stresses me out even when there is nothing to do.  Next I am stressed out thinking about all of the things in the future we need to do to get ready to move to Italy.  So far all we have done is pack our books up in some boxes, and talk endlessly about what we should do next. Then I am still working which is good stress but stress none the less. 

Mainly I am stressed out about this book I have finished. It is called My Five Stones and it is a spiritual memoir.  I have been writing it for about 7 years and I finally finished it.  Quite an accomplishment you say?  You have no idea.  I'll get to kitchens in a minute but first you are going to have to go down my stress path with me.

Ok, so I finish the book, now what?  The first thing was to write a "query letter" to an agent to see if they would represent my book to a publisher.  The publisher gives you and advance, of say $5000 unless you are Steven King, and any book you sell a percentage goes to the agent, the publisher than you.  You practically never make your advance back.  Still the ego presses forward and I am determined to be published. Let me tell you the things I have riding against me according to the reject letters.   1. Never published before.  2. Never published before 3. A book about women in prison? Yuk!  Sigh.  So I kept torturing myself with rejection letters and eventually I decided to go straight to an Ebook on Kindle.  This has been a long process that I will not bore you with.  Anyway, it is finally edited, proofed, etc.  Ok that is all good.  Now, I have to find someone who has published a book, who will read my manuscript and say something nice about it.  Sigh.  Very stressful.  So far this project has cost me 7 years of my time, and white hair added to my gray hair.  If it is ever ready to go, I will let you know.

Now about kitchens.  Here is a picture of my kitchen in Oakland.

We were discussing the kitchen layout in Italy with Manuele.  As you can partially see this is a basic U Shaped kitchen.  There is a door behind me, the stove and the Stoic One's area are to the left, my lovely sink and dishwasher are to the right, peninsula straight ahead.  Fairly typical.

Ok.  So, we get a U-shape design for Italy and Manuele has a fit.  Where is your privacy, he says.  You are going to have to keep your kitchen neat all the time.  I nod clearly not getting the point.  Ok, he says, clearly trying to impress a point upon me that I am not getting.  Say you have a bottle of red wine and you drop it on the kitchen floor.  Sounds like me, I say.  Ok he says, what are you going to do, just clean it up in front of everyone, ask your guests to help you?  I think this is a legitimate choice, not hyperbole, so I say, ask my guests to help me.  He looks horrified.  No...Susannnnn....You can not have this open space.  I respond it is a very American thing to have an open space kitchen.  As a matter of fact, The Stoic One chimes in, people actually walk right through my kitchen to get to the seating area.  Manuele didn't believe me, so I had to take this picture to show him.  Later on, he said, I have also heard that Americans put their things right on the street to sell them.  This is true Manuele, it is called a garage sale even though we put things out on the curbs.  He answers, why you do this Susan.  I say to sell things.  He gives me the same blank stare I gave him earlier. You think we are having cultural differences?  I'm going to take a picture of a garage sale and send him.
More later. 

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

December in Umbertide

We are back in Italy but for just a few moments.  We stayed in Rome one night, and then pushed on to get here.  I liked it much better than arriving in the middle of the night to a cold and dark place.  We will leave here on Friday and be back in California on Saturday.  A whirlwind trip.  I always wonder why we make these trips so short when we are here.  When I am home in Oakland, I always say we can't stay long because of my work or whatever.  A dilemma. Reminder to self, 14 days in the minimum stay here, 10 days is way too short to even adjust to the time zone changes!

We have had a variety of weather here.  Sunny, raining and foggy.  The market is here today, and unlike California, there are only autumn things for sale: persimmons, leeks, potatoes, pomegranates.  The market is filled with oranges, reds and browns, just like the landscape.

The fog across the valley looks like a large cloud just plopped down between the mountains.  There is something romantic and sad about the fog. Maybe I have seen too many English movies with single women walking through the mists only to meet their untimely demise. Thankfully, the sun is now starting to break through and there are pink streaks on the tops of the hills.  The Tevere is a muddy green from all of the rain, but the sky is blue and the color of the river is starting to change. I wish you all were here to see it with me.

While we were gone the grandmother of Max died.  Now the estate is being contested by the mother and the cousins and the nieces.  Thank god we are not in process of buying that apartment.  I am sure it will sit empty for the next 50 years, and the attorneys will "eat" all of the money in the estate, according to the Italians.

They brought a 30 meter Christmas tree into the piazza yesterday.  I don't know how many feet that is but it is huge.  It was quite the production getting it into the piazza, off the truck and into the stand.  They used a cherry picker to put on the lights, (only blue lights) but it won't be officially turned on until Saturday.

We are making progress with the new apartment.  Here are some "before" pictures.  Can't wait for you and Me to see the after pictures! This is our new front door.

Only 20 steps to get to the apartment, not 65!!!!!

This is our living room.  We will put in new hardwood floors and new windows.  There are 13 windows in the apartment, but we need to replace them with double pane windows if we will be able to afford the heating bill!

THis is the kitchen.  It is lacking a few things....they come to measure for the kitchen today and will make it to fit this space.  It is so much bigger than our current kitchen.  The Stoic One will be very happy.

I am standing in the kitchen area taking this toward what will be the TV room.  The window to the left is where we will have our breakfast table.  There is a little balcony off the french doors to the right.

This is my sister Sarah's bathroom, otherwise known as the guest bath.

View of Lucio's orto (garden) from Sarah's window.

View of master bath and master bedroom.  Lots to be done here.

We just met with a realtor who is going to list our little apartment for sale.  I have so loved this place. It probably will take forever to sell, so I won't worry about it.  I will miss this view but not the stairs!

Update on the Manuele family.  He is such a trip.  We were at Antonietta's (the mamma) for dinner and we were talking about the move over here.  I told him I was thinking about shipping over my MiniCooper and wondered about the process.  He said, there were some things that needed to be modified for Italian standards, but not much.  Should only cost a couple hundred euros according to him.  Then he looks at me suspiciously and says, "What color is the car?"  I happily respond it is purple with white stripes.  He looked as if he were going to faint dead away right in the middle of our lasagna. "Nooooo," he says.
"Yes,"  I say "that is the color."
"Bah, leave it in California," he says. Mamma nods agreement.
"But why." I ask even though I have told myself to NEVER ask why in Italy because the answer never makes sense.
'Everyone will know where you go," Mamma says and they all nod their heads in unison.
  (As if that doesn't happen now.)
When you come to Italy next, see if you see any purple cars.  If you do, undoubtedly, it will be ME!

Off to the market.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Floods, murder and insults

We leave to go back to Italy the week after Thanksgiving, a big holiday here.  Umbertide has suffered high water from all of the floods, but it has not had much damage.

It looks scary, but the water has started to recede and the rains have stopped.

Umbertide has had other horrible things to deal with lately.  A few weeks ago our little town suffered a horrible tragedy.

There was a Moroccan family that lived in Citta di Castello, a nearby town.  The family consisted of a mother, a father, a 12 year old daughter, Jiahane, and an 8 year old son Ahmed.  The father lost his job and had no way to pay the bills.  The mother went to work, but the husband insisted she wear the veil, which she did not want to do at work.  The husband began to drink and be abusive with the wife.  She got a restraining order against him and she moved to Umbertide with the two children about a month ago.  She worked as a waitress at a local restaurant.

When she was at work, she left the children alone telling them not to open the door to anyone, not even their father.  The children agreed.  They locked the door and the mother left for work.  While at work she received a call from her husband who was inchoherent saying he was going to kill himself.  She immediately called the police and they went to their former home in Citta di Castello.  When they got to the apartment, it was empty. They then went to the apartment in Umbertide and found the children in the bathtub. They had been killed by their father.  He tried to kill himself, but was unsuccessful.  On the wall outside of the apartment, he wrote in Arabic, I love you, in the children's blood.  The wife is inconsolable.  The husband is in the hospital, where he has confessed and will be sent to prison.  The children were buried with a traditional Islamic funeral last week.

Today, I was in Oakland doing some work with a client.  I park at the same place every time I visit Kaiser.  It is more expensive but it is easy to get to and I always feel safe there.  I drive a purple MiniCooper.  On the back fender I have a bumper sticker from my church that says, "Many Paths to God."  Most of the other cars in the parking lot don't have religious sticker and are much bigger and more expensive than my little car.  Perhaps it is because of this that that parking lot attendant has taken special notice of me. He is a young man probably in his early twenties.  We talk about the Raiders, our local football team.  He is a big fan, I pretend to be for his sake. Last year at Thanksgiving, I asked hime what he was going to do for the holiday, and he said that he was going to work.  His mother had died that year and he didn't want to think about the holiday.  He calls me Sunshine and he often gets my ticket for me so I don't have to get out of the car. He tells me that I remind him of his mother, even though I am white and he is black.

Today, when I went to the parking lot, he seemed very disturbed.  His face was much darker than usual and I thought perhaps he had been in a fight.  I asked him what was wrong and he said nothing, but I could tell he was barely holding it together.  I said, what happened? Were you in a fight?  And he said no and started to cry. He told me that one of the people there had called him a "nigger".  He was beside himself, saying, "Why did he have to go and to that to me?  Why would he do that?"  He seemed inconsolable.  Then he said, "I'm Puerto Rican, but that doesn't even matter. This isn't even my real job.  I'm going to college to be someone.  Both my parents are dead and so I try to be so nice to everyone.  Why would he call me that?" and he continued to cry.

A young black man came by and saw the two of us and said, "What's up Bro?" and the young man said, "Someone just called me a Nigger" and the African American man said, "Not the first time right? Take a break.  I'll take over." But the young man was still crying.  I had my arm around him trying to console him.  There were some Mexican custodial workers that came by.  They looked at me with suspicion and then asked what had happened.  He told them that someone had just called him a Nigger.  They looked at me with a level of fear and defiance.  They then said, "These guys have called us a lot worse than that. Let it go man." The young black man was now trying to get the cars parked and taking over the direction of the parking lot.  Then the Mexicans looked at the young man and said,' Which car was it? We'll key it for you." and my young man laughed and the moment was over.  The white woman tried to nurture him, to make him feel better, the black man took charge and the Mexicans wanted revenge.  It is our world in a microcosm.

Why do we have the suffering of the innocents? A theological concept for the day.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Italian Citizenship

Today I went into the San Francisco Consulate and got my Italian passport.  It has been a process that has taken me over 3 years.  I now will hold dual citizenship, Italian and American.  I received this citizenship through a process called "Jure Sanguinis".  Basically the Italian government has said that since my grandfather was an Italian citizen and since my father was born while my grandfather was still an Italian citizen and since my father did not renounce his Italian citizenship (I don't think he ever knew he had Italian citizenship) and since I never renounced Italian citizenship, this document only acknowledges what has always been true, that I am an Italian citizen. Whew!  I love the logic.  I can thank my friend Lorraine for telling me about this.  When she first told me I thought well why not try?

Moving to Italy it brings us some modicum of comfort to be an Italian citizen.  It means I don't ever have to worry about visas.  It also means that I can travel throughout the EU as a citizen.  This is particularly important as far as health care is concerned. This is what an Italian passport looks like.

They took my fingerprints, put a microchip into it and I was given this today.  One visit!  I couldn't believe it after all of the paperwork.  If any one wants advice, hand holding, or a shoulder to cry on for this process, contact me.

When we go to Italy this time we will check into the Stoic One' s visa requirements.

We still have done nothing about getting ready to move.  We have packed up some books, but that is all. We just had Halloween here and I realized this would be out last one.  I hate Halloween.  It makes me very anxious to wait for the doorbell to ring, no really, it does. The Stoic One gives out candy and Luca adds in his other two cents.

The other big news is that I finished the book I have been writing for 4 years on the time I worked at a chaplain at a Federal Prison.  It has gone to the editor and publisher and can't wait to see the finished product.  You will hear more about that here I am sure.

We go back to Umbertide Nov 28th. I will post pictures of the new apartment then.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Back in Oakland

Yesterday we had our friend Simone drive us and Joseph and Paul to the train station in Foligno.  It is about an hour from our house.  We got on the rapid train and were in Rome in an hour and a half! This was great, and we think we like the connection better than going to Terontola.  We had no special plans for Rome being there for less than 24 hours.  We were lucky, the weather was good so after we arrived at our hotel, "Inn at the Forum" not the Hotel Forum, we got out and walked around.

Leaving Umbria and going into Rome is a very disturbing experience for my psyche.  Instead of feeling like an American tourist, I feel like and Italian country bumpkin.  It is weird.  Rome was lovely, not too many tourists is packs.  If ever you get the chance to go to Rome, I think October tis the best month.  You do face the possibility of rain, but it just serves to clean the city, as the taxi driver told me.

We shopped on Via Corso.  Many things on sale.  We did some early Christmas shopping which was fun.  Had a light lunch and had ice cream for dinner.  Perfect.

We had an easy flight home.  Going into Chicago we were 1 hour early.  Go into SFO on time, picked up by our driver, Muhammed, the man from Afghanistan, and we were on our way.  I was unsure how Luca would greet us after being gone so long, but for Luca, he was almost speechless.  No high whining, no twirling, just this look of amazement on his face and he hasn't moved 6 inches from my side since.

I woke up with a redesign for the furniture lay out of the apartment.  We will be going back the first of December to choose some things for the remodel. Here is the kitchen we picked out.

You can't really see the material, but it is very cool kind of nubby material.  In Italy, they measure the space and make everything to order, then they come and install it in about 4 hours.  Amazing.  When I explained how US kitchen remodels are done, they just shake their head, mystified.

Anyway, we have measurements and decisions to make for the kitchen, floors to select and bathroom marble to choose.  I am so happy that we have finally made this decision.  I will post pictures once we are in.  There is a renter in the space now, so it was a little awkward to take photos.

I am facing so much preparation work to get this house in Oakland ready to sell.  We aren't going to take that much stuff over so that means we need to sell, give away, throw away a household of STUFF! The Stoic One is taking this on.  I look at each thing, hold it, think of the memories, feel sad and get no where.  Needless to say, he has a different approach.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


People ask me what I am going to do in Italy once we retire here permanently.  Hard to tell, but I think this month might be a good preview.  I am doing final edits on a book I am writing, I work on this blog and then finally we walk 4 to 5 miles a day.

Recently we have started to "walk to lunch." There is a Rosticceria that is about 2 miles from our apartment.  This is a marvelous place.

We would call it a take out place, but that would be such an injustice.  The food is absolutely delicious. They have roast chicken, roasted potatoes, grilled vegetables, mixed greens, faro salads, etc.  Everything delicious.  The signs are telling you that today they have fish.  It was Friday.  So they have mixed fried fish, delicious and a special fish sauce for your pasta.

Here are some of the types of pastas you might chose.
Just cook these until it is al dente, use Antoinetta's sauce add onion, sautéed in olive oil, basil, you have a perfect meal cooked by The Stoic One.

After we walk to lunch, and walk back.  We have put in our 4 miles.  We walk another mile in the evening when everyone comes out about 6:00.  Just in case you were all worried I was turning into a whale, I have been getting on the scale once a week and have not gained any weight.  It is all the walking I am sure.

The other thing we do is explore little towns.  There are so many nooks and crannies in Italy to explore.  Yesterday we were walking in Cortona, a city made famous by Frances Mayes.  Lots of tourists, mainly Americans.

Anyway,  I am very happy here.  I am extremely happy that we finally settled on a place to live.  Keep your fingers crossed for Joseph and Paul today that all goes well for them.  They have been through the wringer with things.

Off for our morning walk!

Monday, October 8, 2012


Yesterday, we went to the notary to complete the purchase of the apartment on the Piazza San Francesco.  It was usual Italian chaos.  At the meeting were the Stoic One and me, the notary, the scribe the witness, the woman from the bank the translator, the two people selling AND their 3 year old daughter.  We were supposed to start at 10:30 and I thought we would finish in an hour and that would give us plenty of time to pick us Joseph and Paul at Terontola train station.  How long have I lived in Italy? How naive am I???

So of course we didn't start on time.  The sellers were late.  Then everyone had to have formal greeting and comments on how much the little girl had grown since they last saw her.  She was not a quiet 3 year old let me tell you.  She had a video she played at maximum volume, ran around like a banchee, and everyone paid attention to her.  Italians love these little ones.  Ok. So we finally start 15 minutes late.  Then here is what happens.  The notary reads all of the documents in Italian, while the scribe shows us the computer and makes changes as the notary speaks.  The notary stops (I love our notary by the way...more on her later) then the translator reads all of what the notary has just said in English.  This takes some time.

So what took the most time, is one of the sellers was certain we needed to pay IVA on our purchase.  Since this would have been 22% of the purchase price, this would have been a deal killer for us.  The notary said no, the seller said yes. (Why the seller would care is complicated...the sellers were basically a company not an individual and there are tax implications for the seller if we didn't pay the tax) Ok. the seller insists, calls her accountant who says, yes the buyers must pay this tax.  Faxes go back and forth. Our notary says no.  Show the person a written copy of the law.  More faxes.  Our notary does not budge.  We don't have to pay.  Seller not happy.  Stoic One very happy.  We exchange checks, pleasantries and it is over.  Only 30 minutes late to pick us Joseph and Paul!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Ostuni, the white city

We sadly left AP and our shopping frenzy, climbed into the beast and headed south.  Along the way our friend, Doug, offered to drive, and he did an excellent job, once he figured out where 6th gear was. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Francavilla al Mare.  A comment about traveling and eating in Italy past and present.  For those of you who never traveled in Italy without a GPS, you have no idea how insane it used to be.  We were always lost, always trying to read 20 vertical signs in 10 seconds and always choosing the wrong road.  We wandered into trattorias having no idea what we would find. Yes it was more adventurous, but it was also very stressful with undue pressure on the driver and navigator.  Switch to present time.  We plug in our destination, check it with the map on our IPhone, check it with the actual map (don't forget to always have a paper map) and we have a sense of security as we start out.

Finding lunch is also much easier.  We pick a town then I check TripAdvisor in Italian and English. I read the worst reviews, decide if the person is a crank or not, read the excellent reviews, and then we decide.  It was in this way that we came upon the restaurant Il Marchese del Grillo.  It had 83 reviews in Italian, none in English.  The owner was very kind in seating us and once he learned that we were Americans, he really wanted us to try all of the dishes...we tried was the first time I have had 2 pasta dishes in one meal.  He is from Rome and the dishes served are typical Roman, but that suited us just fine.  Thanks to a GPS, iPhone, and some luck, we found this great place, ate in an hour, and were back on the road headed toward Ostuni.

Ostuni is referred to as la citta' bianca because it is a white city.  It has that Moroccan, Tunisian look to it, with back alleys, stairways leading into enclosed patios etc.

The area around Ostuni has been inhabited since the Stone Age.  This is hard to comprehend. Anyway Hannibal destroyed the city (what was up with him by the way? the elephants, the ransacking!  I wonder what his mother was like). Anyway, the Greeks rebuilt it and named it "Astu (new)Neon (town) which became Ostuni, in case you wanted to know.  People come here for the beaches, which we never got to, the city architecture which you can see, and the grapes and wine which we tasted, molto buono.

We stayed at a beautiful hotel called La Sommita' Relais.  The hotel was an old building in the middle of town that had been restored by a company in Milan.  The look of it was fantastic.  The biggest shower I have used in Italy.  They came and got us, and parked our car at the bottom of the hill, so we could walk around with the other tourists and not worry about the "Beast" other wise known as a Nissan Pathfinder.

The combination of the old Baroque style and Milanese minimalist style is so luscious for me.  I love the juxtapositions of the two.  This hotel has a one star Michelin restaurant which is as you would expect: beautifully presented food, minimalist, great colors, good tastes, expensive.

The other site to see in town is a museum that has the remains of a 25,000 year old pregnant woman.  She was found in a cave nearby and they carbon 14'd, or whatever they do now, her age to be 25,000 years ago.  We were all most intrigued with her. They said she was 20 years old and the baby was almost full term.  They found sea shells that were used as her burial bracelet and red shells that were used in her hair. You must use your imagination to think what she was like.  They don't know how she died.

The Brents left early the next morning on a 6:00 AM train...we did not see them off.  We drove home in one fell swoop, stopping to eat a sandwhich at an Autogrill.

Getting back to Umbertide was lovely.  Antonietta called to make sure we were ok and that the trip had gone well.  She told us to stay home for a while and save money for the new renovation.  We plan to do just that.

It is great to have company and see Italy through different eyes.  We also see ourselves differently. Gary and I both remarked how food obsessed we have become.  We can't help it, it is the entire country.  We have been eating at home since we got back, waiting for our next set of visitors and our next adventures into the Umbrian life.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Norcia and Ascoli Piceno

We have been on a driving tour of central and southern Italy, accompanied by our friends, the Brents.  Here is a picture of them, aren't they cute?

We had planned to go to Cortina, but the weather did not cooperate with us.  It was cold and rainy and so instead we decided to head toward the sea and then south.

Our first stop was Norcia, for lunch of course.  We ate at one of the best restaurants ever.  I know I keep telling you this, but this one was really spectacular.  First I need to say a few things about Norcia.  It is in Umbria, our province, in the southeastern part.  It is known for the scenery and hiking, but most of all it is known for its pork products.  In fact, the word "norcineria" in Italian is used for products made from pork.  There are huge ham hocks hanging in the stores, sausages arranged in artful pyramids, and salami hanging everywhere.  The people in the town seem happy to have the tourists.  Many Italians go to Norcia for truffles (the mushrooms not chocolate).

We stopped to eat at the Palazzo Seneca.  It is a Relais and Chateux, and the restaurant is called Vespasia.  The building is from the 15th century and has been painstakingly restored. We were greeted by a very sweet young girl, who wanted to show us the hotel and tell us of its history.  Her English was excellent and she was very knowledgeable about the building and the surroundings.

We told her we had just come to eat, not to stay.  We were escorted into a perfectly appointed dining room.  Each table had 4 large leather arm chairs instead of the usual uncomfortable straight back chairs that are usually found in Italy.  One look at the chairs, and I knew we would be here for a while.

This was our first course

So going from left to right, there is a ricotta pie, whose crust was so delicious we were shocked.  At first we were all just eating the inside cheese, then someone had the bright idea it should be eaten together with the crust it came in, delicious.  Just below the ricotta pie is a hard cheese and a type of marmelade made to be eaten together, then prosciutto and different types of salami.  Unfortunately, this is it as far as pictures, just trust me the rest of the meal was equal to the first. We were the only people having lunch and we all wondered how in the world a restaurant like that could stay in business.  If you ever go to Norcia, you must be self indulgent and eat here.

After lunch, we walked around trying to digest all of that pork product.  I was groaning for the rest of the trip and swore to go on a chicken broth and lettuce diet, a promise I soon forgot at the next meal.  How the Italians can eat these meals, stay thin, and not get sick is a true mystery of metabolism.

Anyway, we left Norcia and drove on to Ascoli Piceno.  First a word about the Stoic One's driving.  Any complaints I have ever made about how he drives is hereby rescinded for now and eternity.  He kept us from having head on collisions at least twice on the windy road through the mountains.  The Italians turn into maniacs behind the wheel.  They are impatient and foolhardy when it comes to passing. They seem to have an irrational belief in their driving skills.  The 3 passengers were terrified.  The Stoic One remained calm, hugged the ditch and we were all saved from death by Italian drivers.  It was with great relief that we arrived in Ascoli Piceno safe and sound.

The town, hereby referred to as A.P. is the province of Le Marche!  Donna, take note.  I have been wanting to go to Le Marche for about 10 years, but we have never gotten there til now.  It is the province that is due east of Umbria.  Its history goes back to pre-Roman times.  AP was located on a major road that transferred salt from the sea to the other parts of Italy.  Salt back then was like oil to us now.  A big commodity.  AP became part of the Roman Empire, rebelled against Rome, became part of the Roman Empire again.  After Rome fell, AP was ravvaged by the Ostrogoths, the Lombards, the Franks, and then became a free municipality.  I guess they couldn't stand the peaceful times and so had major internal strife that led to more ravaging.  Finally in 1860 it became part of the United Kingdom of Italy.  Except for ravaging tourists, it has been more or less peaceful since then. Meeting the people today, you wouldn't guess they have had such a warlike history.

The city is beautiful, built of travertine marble that is taken from the nearby hills.  Its central Renaissance Square, the Piazza del Popolo is one of the most beautiful squares in Italy.

This is one of the local girls.  She doesn't look war like but she does look dangerous!

In case you think all we do is eat and look at pretty girls, we do go to a museum now and then.  AP has a ceramics museum, which I thought would be interesting.

Here are a few of the things that were in the museum.

As we walked through town, we saw a woman doing her laundry at the old Roman laundry place.  This laundry spot is all marble, running water, and a place to scrub the clothes.  There is also a place to step up if you are short, so you won't hurt your back.  Did I mention these Romans were clever people? Anyway here is laundry Roman style all made of marble, still holding up 2000 years later.

One final thing to say about Ascoli Piceno, it has the BEST shopping I have found any where in Italy. Why this is, I haven't a clue, but the items in the store are exquisite, priced well and beautifully displayed.  The sales people are also anxious to help and will walk with you to another store if they don't have what you are looking for.

For those people out there who love rural Italy, this town is a must see.  Charming!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Villa San Donino Citta' di Castello

One of the ways we explore our region is we look for a restaurant we want to try and then explore the area around the restaurant.  I know it is a bit backward, but it seems to fit our ass-backward life here.  So, we found the Villa San Donino up in the hills that are between Umbertide and Citta' di Castello.  We found this restaurant, like we do most of them, on Trip Advisor.  I read the reviews in Italian and English, and then decide.  I also read the worst reviews first and see what people complain about and see if I care.  This place had great reviews, it was open on Monday, so we got the GPS and off we went.  We took the windy road that went up the hill and it seemed like it took bout 15 minutes.  Coming down it seemed like it took 3 minutes, which was closer to the truth.  Weird how the sense of time changes when you know where you are going versus when you don't know where you are going.  Is that metaphorically true?

Anyway, we were totally surprised by what we found.  The villa is in the middle of cultivated fields in the middle of nowhere.  It is located between Umbria and Tuscany, probably very close to the actual border.  It was built in the late 1700's by a nobleman from a Roman family.  The remains of Saint Donino are in a chapel on the property.  Donino, along with a St. Florido and St. Amanzio are the patron saints of Citta' di Castello.  Don't ask me why they need 3 saints!

 So this is the outside of the villa that.  Isn't it lovely?  They have turned the place into a restaurant and a 3 star hotel. I could imagine that 300 years ago it was as unlikely a spot as it is today.  The views of the valley surround the property, and there is a beautiful pool and with outside eating, weather permitting.

They have an extremely innovative chef named Antonio.  We had inside out ravioli carbonara, this means the carbonara was on the inside of the ravioli.  It was so delicious.

Here is the chef on the left.
Another time we had a reverse chicken salad.  There was a parmesan crust and the chicken salad was inside the parmesan like a burrito!This is the parmesan salad 'burrito".  Delicious!

If ever you are in the area, I recommend this as a stop.  The waiter, Salvatore was born in Pompeii, and is quite charming.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Festa '800

When I first saw the signs for the Festa I wondered what had happened in 800 that  the Italians were celebrating.  Oh, 1800, that makes sense.  So our town is in the middle of a 4 day celebration of Garibaldi and the unification of Italy.  There is dancing in the streets, food, reenactment of the battles, food, singing, drinking more food and singing.  Did I mention food and singing?

Watching the young men sing and dance last night around the stage I thought of Romeo and Juliet the beginning scene.

The weather is beautiful.  Blue skies, about mid to high 70's.  We are off to try a new restaurant.


First the good news.  We area here safely.  We arrived without incident as far as the travel logistics were concerned. No delays, flights on time, no bad experiences while flying.  Our dear friend Simone picked us up at the airport in Rome, and we made it to Umbertide in record time.  On the way he called Simona, who said there was a problem in the apartment.  We weren't sure exactly what the problem was, but we were too jet lagged to process the concern in Simone's voice.

When we got to the apartment we couldn't believe it.  The inside looked like a halloween house, with blackened cob webs, black walls and black dust everywhere.

So we pieced together the following.  The night before our arrival, (thank god we were not in the apartment, I would have had  a heart attack) there was a lightening storm.  We think somehow that the lightening hit our fuse box, with such force it blew it out and spread black melted plastic particles every where.  The fuse box you see below is the replacement.  Once we began to make sense of what happened, Simone called the electrician who showed up with his father.  Then Manuele came over to check things out.  Everyone was worried about the roof.  They climbed up there in the attic and no problem.  No black dust nothing.  So Manuele says no problem the fuse box did what it was supposed to.  All we need to do is paint.  Then he called the man to check on the hot water who showed up immediately.  We had 10 people in this little place doing this and that.  Electricity was restored, we had hot water, the fuse box was replace and everyone went home.  The apartment is now having a very thorough cleaning.  Painting will happen when we leave here and go to Cortina.

New fuse box.  Thank god the door was not burned.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012


So I get a call this morning from my dear geometra who says that yesterday they found and posted a handwritten will that Max left leaving everything to his grandmother and excluding his mother.

Needless to say, the mother will contest this validity of the will.
We think we can go before a court in Perugia and have a judge sell us the apartment.  What?  That's what I said, and that's what they said.  Sigh.

This is the most complicated purchase ever.
Ever hopeful in Oakland.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Back in the US

Out trip home was without incident, thankfully.  I really hate the process of travel, the security screens, getting your lap top out, your shoes off, trying to keep up in line and not get irritated with others who don't keep up.  Being on the plane itself is another type of torture, small seats, poor service disgusting food.  It has turned into a hectic, stressful experience.  I suppose this is why extremely wealthy people have their own planes so they can avoid all of this.  For me I would rather have my own plane than 7 news houses that is for sure.

It didn't take long to get back into the grove here, but I have been having anxiety dreams about not being prepared.  The last dream I was in a play, and I had forgotten to memorize my lines.  I kept saying can't I just make it ups as I go along, and the answer was what about the other people. Feeling unprepared is not a new sensation for me, and yet I seem to lack the personal will to get prepared.  I did throw out my notebooks from classes I took 10 years ago.  I was exhausted with the effort.

Still no final news from Italy.  Manuele said the date would be by the end of this month, but it would be really nice to have an actual date.

My life in Italy and here are so different in most ways.  What we eat, when we eat is totally different.  I can't imagine starting to eat here at 9:00 at night but I can't imagine eating at 7:00 when I am in Italy.  My two lives are not only different in miles but in time.  Literally it feels like I am a time traveller when I go to Umbria.  Life is simpler, and more complicated to do the little things.  In California we are able to do so many things at one time that we are zooming around all the time, and it does seem like we get a lot done, but I am not so sure.

People ask me if I have doubts about this transfer.  Of course I do.  Only the Stoic One doesn't have doubts.  I have doubts and I really want to get going with that next chapter of my life.  Alas, I have a lot of things here to do.

Will check in when we get the second year and counting....

Sunday, July 8, 2012


As an only in Italy story, yesterday our dear friend Matteo called and said he had finally tracked down the mother of Max.  All of my connections were false.  She wants to sell to us, the grandmother wants to sell, it was the attorney who was just being irresponsible.  What was Shakespeare's quote about lawyers?

So, we leave here knowing that we will buy the apartments.  Luckily everything is in place for a stand in for us to be at the Rogito, and to transfer the money.  I have the feeling no matter how long we would have stayed here, we would have found out about this the day we were leaving.  Viva Italia!

Ambiguity is not my home

This has been a strange trip for me.  The weather here has been so hot (between 90 and 100) that it has impacted our ability to go out, walk, see things.  The best time of day here is 10:00 at night!  We do have air conditioning, which is a blessing, but we are kind of cooped up here during the day, which has caused me to feel at sixes and at sevens as my friend Linda says.  The heat is very difficult for me.  I just wilt and my cognitive functioning seems to go off line (god is that still an expression anyone uses?) So the heat has been the first problem.

The second problem with this visit has been the continuing farce of trying to buy the apartment next door.  The latest on that score is this...we have the notaio, Ms. Cherubini, who is the most assertive, driven Italian woman I have met, trying to contact the lawyer of the mother of Max who has suddenly not answered our calls or emails.  Ms. Cherubini was very incensed that the lawyer has not responded to us.  Matteo's lawyer has also sent an email to their lawyer basically saying WTF.  On Tuesday Manuele is going to Perugia to check the records to make sure that the estate of Max has been closed. If at the end of this coming week (things always happen the week after we leave) we confirm that the estate has been closed, we will demand they show up for the close as required by law.  If we then get no response, we will demand our money back, and double for the penalty.  This is our right by Italian law.  It is all so confusing to me.  We thought the problem would be the grandmother, but she is totally ready to sell, even saying she would sign the papers in the hospital.  The problem is the mother, whose attorney now has suddenly gone MIA.  We don't know if she is on vacation, busy, or stalling. Weird.  In the mean time, we will look at another apartment today, and see if there is a possibility we would buy that.  If we do buy it, we would need to sell our current apartment, which makes both Gary and me sad because the view is so great, we have restored exactly to American tastes.  Oh, well we will see.

So I begin to pack up here with an  overwhelming feeling of incompletion.  We have been in this state for over a year.  I know I should just "be" here now, but it is really hard for me.  The Stoic One is doing much better at playing the wait and see game. I feel discouraged and slightly depressed.  Manuele has picked up on this and has told me that he can tell I am down in the dumps...wonder what the Italian expression is for that? They have such a view of the long term in Italy.  If things don't happen in this generation, then you look to the next generation of your children, and see that it will happen for them. Needless to say, this is not my point of view.

Ambiguity has never been a place where I reside with ease.  Better a bad answer now than a good answer another year from now.  We could of course just keep this little apartment and live here, but it is too small, we have no storage for a full time life here.  This apartment is great as a vacation home, but to think of retiring here permanently, with no additional space, just won't work.  

With this uncertainty hanging over my head, it is difficult to set a routine on how our life will be here.  We are always "on vacation" either with guests coming and going, or with our own sense of impermanence.  It is hard for me to vision my life here without my life in California as a balance. It sometimes seems as if I get right to the brink of a commitment to moving to Italy permanently, and then I get scared, and think what if we move here and I am unhappy here, etc. etc.  The Stoic One of course says if we aren't happy we will change. Ambiguity gives me time to brood and worry.  I suppose this is true of others as well, but I am a worrier by nature, and busyness and action helps overcome some of that anxiety.  So the fact is I am both looking forward to going back to California and not wanting to leave here with the story still not ended.  I look forward to the weather in Oakland, seeing crazy Luca, being on the same time zone as my friends and seeing my sister in August.  In addition Manuele and family will come to California to see us the first of September, which I will write about for sure.

They say most expats go into a depression after a year in the new country.  I wonder if I am going into mine now, and will avert it in the upcoming years.  Now that is a happy thought. If we like the apartment today, I will post pictures.  

More from Gubbio

Couldn't leave Gubbio unless I shared some of our delicious lunch.

This was the house antipasti dish.  Very different than anything we had eaten.  Bean soup in the middle.  Starting at the top of the dial, at 12:00 position is prosciutto cheese, crostini with mushrooms, poletna cubes, egg quiche on bread, potatoes, and fried rosemary and flour which sounds disgusting but was delicious.

Now we are back at the piazza in front of the church. What do you think this crowd is waiting for?

Who would come to an elegant wedding like this in a VW Bug? Remember the guests in the beautiful dresses?

It was the bride!  Did you really think Dorothee and I would have left without seeing the bride?  It was hilarious that she showed up in a VW Bug.  Am not sure the crowd appreciated the irony but we did.

Note the wedding planner tending to the veil.  In Italy when you see the bride for the first time, you applaud.  Very entertaining.

Besides beautiful weddings, Gubbio is also known for its wrought iron and doors.  Here is my favorite.

Ciao Gubbio.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Italian fashion in Gubbio

Gubbio is our favorite hill town in Umbria.  It's a bit of a pain to get to, over a windy, narrow road, but once there, it is magnificent.  When you look up at the town and see it built into the hill, it is hard to imagine the vision, labor, and money that it cost to build the town right into the mountains.  People from Gubbio are independent minded.  They created the largest Christmas tree lights in the world on the mountain behind them, without spending any public money.

We were taking our friends Dorothee and Mike to visit Gubbio when we happened upon a wedding. In Italy it is considered good luck to see the bride, so there were many people gathering around as the wedding guests got out of vans from local hotels.  If you are not interested in fashion or beautiful people just skip to the bottom of the blog.  I must tell you I have seen many beautiful people, but other than on TV watching the red carpet at the Oscars, I have never seen so many beautiful, thin, women in such beautiful clothes in my life.  The Stoic One had a lot of fun pretending to be a paparazzi.
One of my favorite dresses, perfect hair and shoes

Only think about this dress if you are tall and pencil thin. A beautiful silk print. Cost? If you have to ask...:

She looks a little bit like Clare Danes.  Look at the old guys watching them.  The policeman looks bored.

Do you think she is a University of Tennessee fan?  Probably not.

Love the hat, the shawl and the sunglasses.  The little girls were so cute.

This is an Italian pose.  Love the shoes.

Speaking of you think he knows the Elvis Pressley song?

Love the handbag.

Life is soooo boring when you are rich and beautiful and one day dying of lung cancer!!!!

Even the little girls had beautiful shoes and dresses.  Note the wedding planner on the phone. Orange and navy seemed to be the colors of the day.

I told him to focus on the SHOES!
Ok.  Which dress did you like the best?
1.  The chiffon tiered?
2.  The long orange print?
3.  The red dress?
4.  The beige dress with the cell phone talker?
5.  The beige dress with the smoker?
6.  The striped dress above?

Well, that's it.  Oh, the bride?  We gave up.  Off for a meal...
We did wonder what would her dress be like?  How would she arrive?