Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ciao Umbria

We are getting ready this morning to leave. We will stop by Manuele's office to look at new plans for the restoration. These include a third apartment on the same floor. We know we can get apartment two, we are unsure of apartment 3. It is very small but there is a possibility that we could use it to put in an elevator. The problem is the mother and grandmother. The mother wants to sell at any price the grandmother thinks it is worth more than it is. The mother says if the grandmother doesn't sell the mother will give her half to the church! (they are actually mother-in-law and daughter-in-law.) anyway, Manuele ever the optimist wants to show us a plan that includes the entire floor. We'll see. One week here. Not sure what we accomplished. We leave today and Joseph and Paul arrive to stay in our apartment tomorrow. Simone will drive us to the train station. We will train it to Milano and fly out tomorrow.

I am sad to leave.  Such a short trip has allowed me little time to relax into my life here.  There are so many things that I want to do, on the other hand there are so many things that I need to do back in Oakland. Work still calls to me.  I am waiting to get my "manuscript" back from the editor, and we need to really start thinking about our transition from here to Italy.

This is what we leave behind.

The view from the living room into the dining room.

Here is our adopted family we leave behind.

Antonietta on the left, Antonio, Martino, Barbara and Manuele in the back.
We will miss them.

The train from Florence to Milano.  It goes right into Malpensa.  Lovely.
We will return to Italy June 16th.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Lunch at Antonietta's

Antonietta is the mother of Manuele.  She is a fantastic cook, as are all of the Italian women of a certain age. For a Christmas present I unknowingly sent them a gift that ended up costing them 300E!  Antonietta still speaks to me.  So this is what happened.  I sent them a lovely box of cured meats from Peck in Milano.http://www.peck.it/la-salumeria/benvenuto/categoria-PCK.SAL/sid-1787222738/

It was a bunch of different salamis, prosciutto, etc.  It was in a beautiful box and looked oh so lovely.  When it arrived they were quite dazzled with the box and the meats inside...bello....then they of course decided to eat it.  Herein is the problem.  They didn't own a meat slicer.  At first Antonietta would take the meat down to the butcher and as a "piacere" favor ask him to slice it.  Eventually this got a bit tiresome, as you can imagine.  Antonietta decided she needed to buy her own meat slicer.  It cost 300E.  Beware of Americans bearing gifts I told her but I think it got lost in the translation! I told her next year I would try to think of a present that didn't cost her money.  She thought that would be a good idea.

So Antonietta is still speaking to me and invited us to lunch.  Here is a plate of cold cuts that were sliced with the wonderful slicer.  With this she also prepared torta al testo.  This is a classic Umbrian bread.

It is so delicious.  It was warm when we ate it with the cheese and meats.  After that we ate pasta carbonara.  Here are the ingredients... pancetta

And eggs

Undescribably delicious.  Buon appetito!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Citta di Castello

Citta di Castello is a town that is about 10 minutes from here.

We go there fairly often.  It has a large piazza, many restaurants, and museums, which we have't seen.  It is one of the walled cities and I love how I feel against the towering walls and buildings.  The Stoic One thinks that they were designed to intimidate people and keep them in line, reminding us that we are only a speck in the universe. I, on the other hand, think they were built to give us a feeling of reassurance that the walls will keep out the bad guys and that the church will last forever. We have different world views.

The doors and door handles in these old cities have always fasciated me.  The doors are huge so that a man riding a horse could get through the doors and then the doors get slammed shut just in case someone was chasing them. Of course if didn't make sense to open those huge doors if just normal short Italians were going in and out, so they cut a little doorway for exits and entrances.  (BTW, my friend Simone, who is Milanese keeps reminding me that it is not "Italians" but Umbrians that I am talking about. I'll try to remember.)

Here is the Stoic One in front of the door.  Look how huge this door is. Can you imagine the dudes dressed in armor clattering up those stone pavement roads?  It must have been quite a racket. I wonder how far from the ground it is for a man to be on a horse in full armor with a helmet and a fuzzy thing on top.  I'm sure someone has researched this.
Clearly the Umbrians were short.  Gary is about 6'1".  We figure the door is probably about 5 feet tall.  They must have been pretty skinny too. I wonder if any of the women suited up and came in on horse back.....

This graffiti is for my friend Doug...There is something both disturbing, infuriating and thought provoking about it for me.  Kind of like our experience here. Every time I walk past it I think I should take a picture, but then am unsure what to say about it, so make of it what you will.

Of course while visiting we had a lovely lunch.  I had an unusual dish for Umbria, turkey, and couscous with eggplant, peppers and zucchini.  

I ate half of it before I remembered to take the picture.  Umbria is very beautiful this time of year in spite of the on again off again rain.  I would recommend April for those who don't want crowds and want decent prices.  Speaking of good prices, Umbria has now adopted a "Combinazione' lunch dinner.  Here is an example of a menu.

The sign says, Menu for 11 Euros, about $14.50
Taglitelle and ragu,  basically pasta and sauce
roast chicken
1/2 liter of water and 1/4 litre of red or white wine.

The food and wine all excellent.

As we were leaving town, I noticed a shop window with an unusual covering. Remember when they used to have plastic strips over the windows to keep the flies away, well they have gone a bit upscale.

The material looks like a fuzzy chenille.  It covers the door of a plain office building.  This is one of the reasons I love this crazy country.  Who would think of something like this AND have it look good?

Okay now on the continuing saga of buying apartment number 2.  This is a true soap opera.  When you last tuned in:
1.  Susan decided she wanted to buy the apartment next door, combine it with the little apartment that was restored to have a spacious apartment.
2.  Stoic One agrees
3.  Manuele agrees (no small task on my part)
4. Max, a rather large, overweight man who seemed to have an aversion to shampoo, owned the connected apartment with his 82 year old grandmother.  After some negotiations, we settled on a price and we all signed a compromesso, which in Italy is a binding contract.

One week after we had the signing, the following occurred.
Max, riding his motorcycle drives down to another apartment that he had in Rome, had a "crisis of depression" as the Italians say.  He then committed suicide by hanging himself.  This was all very unexpected and very unfortunate.

After much travail, we find out that Max had not only a grandmother but also a mother, but the mother and the grandmother have been arguing and have not had a conversation in 14 years...how they could argue and not have a conversation is very believable if you lived here.

The grandmother and the mother, through the office of a very patient female attorney,  both agree, it would be best to sell the apartment to us, particularly since we have a contract, and no one wants to live in the apartment, which is now and has been for all of this time EMPTY.

So now we have to wait as the Italian go through a laborious process of a finding and listing all of the assets of Max.  It turns out Max had quite a few assets (at least 14 apartments and lord knows how many bank accounts) and so it has taken time to track them all down, and get them properly listed, and stamped.  Remember the importance of the stamp.

So we thought that perhaps we would be able to have the close while we were here, or at least make some progress.  We have made progress, but we can't have the close, because.....
All of the said documents, which were finally found, listed, stamped,  have to be posted in Rome, where the death occurred, for 3 days. As luck would have it even though the documents are complete, the posting has not occurred.  Since we are leaving Saturday, I am sorry to say that we will not have the close in person....but not to worry....Manuele has told me, we can hire someone to sit in for us and sign the paper work.

Sigh....there is a third apartment up here, but I will not get into those Machiavellian details with you until we see if we can buy the second apartment.  The Italians are hopeful.  Susan is annoyed.  It is only days we are talking about they say.  Don't be discouraged Susan.  Patience.   Had I not heard this in October, I would be a tad more optimistic, but I do believe there is movement, which in Italy is worth something.

For those of you who are still with me and not bored out of your mind, I want to go on a small rant one more time about time.  So in English, you know how we say "how much time does it take to get this done?" I want you to focus on the verb "to take"...What do we know about this verb?  It is a transitive verb meaning that it takes an object, meaning time...it implies an action...something is going to actually happen with time.  How much time does it take?  A very simple, beautiful English construction. I now turn your attention to how Italians say how much time does it take
"Quanto tempo ci vuole"
This is an interesting sentence that Americans often get wrong.  We foolishly use the verb "to take" to convey our meaning.  In Italian, this is incorrect.  The verb that is used is intransitive, meaning it can not take an object such as time, and is reflexive which means it comes back on itself. The verb that is used means to want to not to take....In other words, how much time, do we want to?  It is an emotional feeling. I am beginning to understand. 

Think of the frame of reference in just the verb that is used to speak about time..

Do you see why I have not been able to buy the second apartment?

We are leaving Saturday...it will take forever to get to California!

Italian walls

I've never paid that much attention to construction in the United States.  I have seen houses with wooden frames, and then it seems like there are walls and then it is finished.  I am sure all of the construction saavy people out there are chortling over this simplistic summary. But American houses to me seem as if there is a lot of wood and open spaces under the walls. The houses seem square, orderly with enough spaces to put things and a predictable, understandable order to them. 

In Italy things are not the same.  Here the walls are not made of wood and open spaces they are made of brick.  Here is an example of a wall before it has stucco on it.  Note the mortar between the bricks.  The bricks have horizontal stripes but they are stacked vertically.  I am sure there is a reason for this. This is new construction in our friend Joseph's apartment.

Our apartment, being four hundred years old, has a different type of brick.  Here is an example.
Manuele cut this hole into the wall to show me how they are made.  It is now a little niche where I have candles and a lovely Madonna, one of the sweet Greek Orthodox ones.

So you may be wondering, why am I rambling on about wall construction in Italy?  It's all about the closets.  You can not cut into the walls to put in a closet in Italy if they are made the old fashioned way.  I asked Manuele, quite innocently I might add, if he had ever heard of wall board.  First he scowled then he said "Beyh!" or something like that. Never a positive sound if you hear it coming from an Italian. He said of course he had hear of the flimsy material wall board, and he knew that Americans used this in their house, and he knew that we had wood framing and he knew that we had closets in the wall, pero (accent big time on the O) means but, and subtly you idiot, he also knew that Americans houses were blown away in tornadoes. He had seen such things on TV.  He was sure none of these houses would be blown away if they were made the old fashioned Italian way.  Look how our building had lasted 400 years, through wars, and earthquakes, and ....you get the idea.

I answer with pero.....(accent on the O).  Look at my closet space, Manuele.
 Yes, Susan he says.  How bello, look at the form, look at the wood, look at the lovely little feet and the perfectly made doors.  It even has a separate key and lock for each side.  How perfect! Yes, I answer it is beautiful, pero (accent on the O) look what is inside.

This is of course my side of the armadio.  Hardly enough room for 4 blouses, for heavens sakes.  Then he opens the other door.  Guess whose side this is

Right, the Stoic One.  Look Manuele points out, how many clothes Gary has in there. It is a matter of "organizzare"  Right.

Then I show him my box for clothes, that I bought at the CoOp grocery store. A bit flimsy...
At this point he agrees.
Finally, he throws up his hands and says it's true, you need more space.

Ok, now in the new apartment, which is another story, I tell him that I want to change the entire "ingresso" or entrance into a "walk in" closet.  He stares at me and says nothing.  Finally, "What you mean a walk in closet"  I say, like an armadio, but it is a room and you can walk into it and it has a door, and you can close the door, and I will have room for my shoes, and coats and sweaters...basta! he says.  Ok.  You want your entrance way to be a closet?  Yes.

Stay tuned.

PS Oh by the way, where do you think the electrical wiring, the heating etc. go in such a system?  Any ideas out there?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

We're backkkkkk......

Tax day in the U.S., and we have returned to Italy.  For someone who loves to travel, I really hate the process.  We discovered Delta's Economy comfort class of tickets which offers extra leg room, for a price, which is particularly great if you are in an exit row. The 6'1" Stoic One appreciated the space.  Here is the problem with Delta Airlines.  If you are not a Platinum member, you are basically screwed.  Half our plane was this level of frequent flyer membership, so by the time we got to our seats, all the overhead space was taken which meant we had to take some other poor sap's overhead luggage space in the back of the plane and then when the plane landed, swim upstream, locate the luggage and then exit.  Ugh!  We arrived in Atlanta, change planes, go through the horrible process again, and then we sit there for an hour waiting for a "part to arrive" and then are told we need a new plane.  Then we are told we need new pilots because they have passed the time when they can fly even though they have been doing nothing but sitting and then 2 more hours passed. We deplane, sit in the waiting room, and I start watching Italians.  My favorite sport.  First of all the Italian kids are all wild, running around like maniacs, and the Italians are all amused with them and the Americans are frowning. The Italian mothers look worried, are fretting about the planes safety and trying to make sure each family member has something to eat and drink.   Next the Italian men get bored, which seems unusual since they never do much anyway, so they introduce themselves to the other Italians and start playing cards.  They make as much noise as the kids.  The Americans are not amused.  Time passes.

We board again, same process. Eventually we took off.  In 24 hours, I ate the worst food ever.  McDonald's, really, first time in 10 years.  (They gave us a $6 food credit. The Stoic One didn't want to eat, but I reminded him of Sarah's travel rule, "Always eat when given the opportunity" He growled his way through  a dry turkey sandwich.)  Note to self, we should pack a picnic like the Italians used to do on the trains!

We finally arrive in Milano Malpensa which is much calmer than the Rome airport as you can imagine.  We take the train to Milan central and then take La Freccia (the fast one) to Florence. This is Italy's answer to the French TGV.  This was the best part.  Great train, comfortable seats, very clean, very fast, perfect.  We get to Florence and then miss a good train by 6 minutes and then take a milk train to Arezzo that had 13 stops before we got there.  Mercifully, I slept most of the way, but the train pasted through the wilds of Tuscany.  The countryside looked like southern Umbria, green, lush, every yard planted with higgly piggly vegetable gardens, crap around the out buildings, houses build up close to the tracks (what must that be like at night?).  The towns we stopped at were small.  I had never heard of any them before. Only one town had a large church spire...maybe I slept through other churches.  We would never come in this way again.  Good experiment, but it will be back to the train station in Terontola.  There is a reason everyone comes that way.

Simone, our good friend picked us up at the train station in Arezzo, and it was wonderful to see his smiling face and his arms extended in a big hug.  Welcome home, he said, and it does feel like home here.  I don't know if any of you are watching the American TV series "Awake".  The story line is about this detective who is involved in a fatal car accident.  After the accident he has created two worlds as a way of coping.  In one world his wife is alive and his son has died in the accident.  In the other world his son is alive and his wife has died in the accident. He has two therapists each of whom tell him the world that they are in is the real world and the other one is a dream world.  Anyway, being in Italy is a bit like that for me.  I know that both of my worlds are real, even though I don't have a therapist to verify that.  It just seems like I am living in two different movies.  My movie in California is filled with work, and all of the benefits of the 21st century.  It is a stimulating, fast paced, and my life is measured by the clock.  This is partly because I am a consultant and partly because I am in the Bay Area. In the beginning, I try to bring my California life here.  It takes a few encounters with Italians to remind me that "time" in Italy is not the same in any way shape or form.  Even their word for time "orario" seems more like a time schedule, which is generally "in ritardo" late than an actual word for time.  I constantly use the word "tempo" for time because it seems more fitting.  Unfortunately it also means weather, and the weather here is as variable as the time!

Now I am in Umbertide.  When I walked into our apartment building I thought hello four hundred years of people. Our building looks like it has been here 400 years.  It is not one of those tarted up 400 year old buildings that you see in Florence.  This building looks its age.  The stairs are made of slate and the center of the steps have small indentations where all of the little feet have walked up the 65 (!!!!) stairs.  We went out to eat, and had delicious food with our friend Laura at the Locanda in the piazza.  I had bracciola and arugula salad and tagliatelle with porcini mushrooms.  It was divine.  We came back up the stairs, and fell into our bed.

Since I have been gone, the pigeons have returned.  They mainly use the terrace next door as their stalking grounds but sometimes they land on my window sill and make pigeon noises in the middle of the night.  Why aren't they sleeping?  I am going to get some of that metal stuff to put down so they can't land.  God knows the name of, as I don't know the name in English, it will require more acting skills on my part.  The Italians find this hilarious when I act out what I need.  They try not to laugh at me.  They put their hands over their mouths and look down and try to contain themselves,  but by the time I have completed my pantomimes, they are usually guffawing with one another. I usually get what I want.

I am including a photo of the apartment of our dear friends Joseph and Paul.  After visiting here for 15 minutes, they bought the apartment in the building next to us and are going to retire here this year.  Joseph is an interior designer and Paul is a veterinarian.  Their apartment has the town clock in it.  Thankfully it doesn't bong the time. They will need to redo the apartment and are using the same cast of characters as we are.  Another adventure to be sure.
See the little tinny windows under the clock?  That is where their apartment is.  The back of the clock is on their second floor.  They have a terrace with a fantastic view.

We are here for only a week.  We are hoping that we will be able to buy the dead Max (see previous posts) apartment while we are here.  Knowing that I am in Italy, if this happens, it will be 30 seconds before we leave.