Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Spello Part III

There is more to Spello than the Infiorate. The town itself is lovely and they make an effort to decorate all of the windows and balconies.

There are contests for the best alley way as well.

Some alley ways are more colorful than others.

When you look around at the colors of the infiorate, you are aware of the source of the colors in all of the flowers that you see.

Flowers here are everywhere, even on the clothes.

The unpolluted blue of the Umbrian skies is spectacular.

Away from the areas of the procession there are tranquil spots to sit and take in the scenery.

At the end of the morning people were tired.

It was only 8:30 AM!!!!
We left at 9:00 AM just as multiple busses were circling the round about getting ready to drop more admirerers off to climb the hill.
I was glad we were there early so we could have a few tranquil moments.

Arrivederci Spello.

Infiorata Part II

I was afraid the last post was getting too big for people's computers.  We are continuing on here with more photos of the Infiorata in Spello.

This says "Io sono la vite, Voi Siete i trani"
"I am the vine you are the branches" John 15

It is interesting to me that the bible metaphors are so much more relevant here than they were learning about them in suburban Detroit.  Olive trees, and vineyards are all part of Italian culture.

The archangel Michael slaying the devil...is dramatic.

In front of the childern's elementary school, there was this happy infiorata.

The skill and artistry displayed shows me that the Italian artist is alive and well in our times.

On this day, everyone is a photographer.  I saw more Ipads used as cameras than phones!

It was a day where everyone enjoyed the celebration, and everyone helped.

I of course have saved my favorite untile the end. The bible verse is "blessed are the children"

This infiorata was at the very top of the town.  It is being sprayed before they removed the metal casings and the plastic covering.  This is a very delicate job.  If they drop anything, the infiorata is ruined. They must remove the covering before the jury of judges arrive.

There was tremendous tension in the air as they did this.  Clearly in times past, mistakes have been made.

Not this time.  The crowd spontaneously broke into applause and called for the designer.  He looked like Santa Claus.  He climbed a tall ladder and saluted the people.

It was a happy day...sing "Happy Song" here....
(to be continued)

Spello Infiorata 2014 Part I

On Sunday the Stoic One, Joseph, Paul and I went off to Spello for a festa called the Infiorata. We left Umbertide at 5:45AM and arrived in Spello at 6:30AM.  I had read that it was very important to ge there early because of parking. When we arrived, we easily found a place to park, and in the cool morning mist, we strolled up the hill to the centro storico of Spello.

First a few words about an Infiorata.  The history of the Infiorata is tied to religious symbolism.  First it always occurs on Corpus Domini which is 9 Sundays after Easter. It is a celebration of the Latin rite of the eucharist, which celebrates the belief that the body and blood of Christ is transformed at the Eurcharist. For those intersted in knowing more about the history of this "feast of devotion" read here.     History of Corpus Domini

In times past, people would throw flower petals on the ground before the religious leaders processed through the town. As time passed, this custom evolved into people creating flower carpets laid in front of houses along the streets of the procession.

In Spello there are very strict rules to be followed in creating an infiorata. First, only flowers found in the wild can be used.  No glue can be used in the placement of the flower petals. Each infiorata must be at least 40 feet long! The gathering of the flowers that are used starts early in the year to ensure that all the needed colors will be available. About 1,000 people work at the Infiorata in Spello.  The work starts on Saturday afternoon and continues through the night.  If you visit during the middle of the night, something that our Italian friends recommend, you will find the city is brightly lit as if it were the middle of the day.  On Sunday morning the procession starts at 11:00 am.  After the flowers have been walked on, a machine cleans them up and they are all gone by Sunday afternoon.

The picture above shows how the people know what flowers to put where.  For example, "Sanguinelle,"  the word at the top, is  the word for Dogwood. Buckets of flowers are spread everywhere as people work to complete the infiorata.

The colors of the flowers are fantastic.

When we arrived people were still working. It was really intersting to watch the work in progress.

The box that is in the foreground of the picture is a sample box of all the colors that were used in this infiorata.

 All of the work is done under these large plastic tents. Can  you imagine the chaos if it rained or there was a large wind? Luckily they do most of the work at night so it is not too hot inside.

Some people use the old fashioned chalk method to know where to put the flowers.

Although it seems very organized by Italian standards, there is still a bit of that Italian chaos that I love.

There are two categories, one for carpet "runners" and the other are pictures.  Here is an example of a runner.

Below is a runner they are still working on filling in.

This one above is clearly not a contestant.  There is no number attached to it and the flower placement is not as precise as the others.

One of my favourites.

Another favourite

Now for the Paintings.

Each Infiorata, that is a contestant has a photo of the design they are working toward.

Another example

You can tell by the light and the few people that it is still early!

In Umbria, St. Francis is always a popular choice.

Another favorite of mine.

(To be Continued)

Monday, June 16, 2014

Spoleto and Agriturismo Santa Caterina

To start today's blog, I will begin with a video from the last city we visited, Spello.  The video lasts about four and a half minutes. If you have time, it is very evocative of an Italian summer.  It is called, "Spello, Balconi, (balconies)
Finestre (windows) e vicoli (alleys) fioriti (in bloom)."  I just found it and loved it.  They are having their flower festival this week end. I hope to go, and if I do so, I will have more stories about it later.

The Stoic One and I are continuing our search for the perfect agriturismo.  Before going to the first one on the list, we stopped in the city of Spoleto, thinking that once we arrived at the agriturismo, we would not want to drive back out. It was a wise decision.

We didn't have nearly enough time in Spoleto.  It is a fairly big city by Umbrian standards, about 40,000 people.  It is most known for its beautiful Duomo, The Cattedrale di Sant Maria Assunta. It is of Romanesque architecture, the most striking feature is the mosaic that you can see here in the front of the church. The mosaic is a portrayal of Christ giving the benediction.  The mosaic was signed by Solsternus in 1207.

This photo below is of the back of the Duomo from a hill behind the piazza.

Spoleto is a charming town with many inviting alleys to stroll through on a hot summer day.

The city is also famous for the festival of Two Worlds.  It is an aunnual summer music festival that was begun in 1958 by Gian Carlo Menotti. His intention was to have American and European culture face each other in this event. Its twin sister is Charleston, South Carolina, and that city holds a festival called Spoleto Festival USA.Information about Festival of 2 Worlds

The Stoic One and I had a refreshing lunch in Spoleto at the side walk retaurant pictured above.
I was very hot, so I had a very delicious Farro salad.  Farro is a type of grain that is very popular in Umbria.  It is like barley in appearance and in taste, in my opinion.  Quite delicious! This is farro, cherry tomatoes, arugula, black olives. We dressed it ourselves at the table. Simple and very good.

We bravely traveled on to find the Agriturismo Santa Caterina.  As you know, the mother of all fights start in the car when the GPS, map, directions and the navigator's sense of directions are all in conflict.  Sigh...We successfully got ourselves out of Spoleto and onto the correct road to the agriturismo.  I might add here that this was no small feat, and the navigator directed perfectly.

We then put in the GPS coordinates for the agriturismo, but they were clearly mistaken as they told us our destination was somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. We pressed on with a second set of directions that I had gotten from Google maps before we left Umbertide. We were doing fine until....(does this sound familiar to anyone who has driven in Italy?) any way we were doing fine until we made a wrong turn. Before I knew it we were on a "strada bianca" or gravel road going straight up a mountain. There were no buildings, people, cars, houses, etc anywhere in sight.  We did see one lone bicyclist, but he looked so stressed at biking up the moutain that I didn't have the heart to stop and ask him our whereabouts. At about the top of the hill, the Stoic One said, call the agriturismo and see if they can help give us better directions.  I did.  They said, where are you? I said, I don't know because we are lost. Sigh.  Then I told them I was on a gravel road, they said that was a mistake because they were located off a main road, not a gravel road.  They said that we definitely needed to turn around and back track, but oh by the way, aren't the woods and mountains lovely.  Do take a moment to look around.  Grrrrr.

The Stoic One is generally patient hence the nomenclature. However, even he has limits to his patience and he snapped at me! "You need to get better at doing directions," he proclaimed.  I looked at him as though he had lost his mind.  Did he forget we were in Italy? Did he forget my sense of direction is located in the same part of my brain as my understanding of geometry, hence non existent?  Being married for 27 years, I do have some moddicum of self survival, and I said nothing, at that point!

We came back down the mountain.  He chose the correct turn, and when I instructed him to take another wrong turn, he promptly ignored me, and we were happily back on track.

We arrived at the agriurismo and it was more than worth it. It was a special, mystical place.

When thinking about agriturismos, I think of 4 categories. 1) the accomdations themselves...is the room comfortable, large enough.  Is the bathroom adequate size for Americans? 2) Service..do the owners take the time to talk about their farm, products, food? Are they responsive on email? 3) Products...does the agritursimo have, use and sell its own products that they grow and make on the farm? 4) Last but definitely not least, the food.  Is the food exceptional, not just good, like most food in Italy, but truly exceptional?

I can happily say that this agriturismo is 5 stars in all categories.  The rooms are spacious, the bathroom is fine, even for Americans. The service is absolutely fantastic.  Everyone on the farm shows passion for their work and they have a passion to explain the workings of the farm to you.  They do this in an inclusive way, without appearing arrogant or superior. This actually is not as easy as it sounds.

They are a hard working family that I admire.  Gaetano, the father, works in the fields and with the animals.  Maria, is a wonderful cook and Francesca, one of the daughters, is a back up for both parents.  She is happy, enthusiastic and speaks very good English! A true pleasure.

Here are some photos from the Stoic One.
This is a view looking out toward the garden.  There are purple artichokes in the foreground of the picture. Difficult to see because they are small.

In this picture the artichokes are easier to spot.

Here are some of the birds on the farm; turkeys, guinea hens, chickens. It is very clean and the animals are all well looked after.

The pool is sparkling clean and surrounded by red roses and the green hills.

Many families come to agriturismos because of the price and because the children can experience clean air away from the city and see where their food originates.  Santa Caterina encourages children to come and visit.

Now about the food. First let me show you the charming restaurant.

Now on to the food. Our first dish, after some wonderful bruschetta, was ravioli stuffed with ricotta cheese and borage, an herb that is quite common in central Italy. It has a purple star flower, and I have seen it everywhere in the woods, although this is the first time I have eaten it or seen it in a restaruant.  It is quite delicious, tastes like a very lightly flavored spinach. The ravioli were long rectangular in shape.  There is nothing that compares to just made pasta.  They dish was seasoned very simply with sage, olive oil and grated pecorino cheese.  Delicious.

Unfortunately, we gobbled up the rest of our food without taking any pictures...it was roasted guinea hen.  Also very good.  We finished with a very light mousse type of dessert.  Excellent.

Gaetano, the owner, is as I said very hard working.

The remarkable thing about Gaetano is that he has the mind of a philospher and the soul of a mystic. He is introspective, thoughtful, and interested in other people as well as the world around them.

The agriturismo is about 15 kilometers from Spoleto.  I highly recommend it if you are out that way.
Information about Santa Caterina

One last thing....this agriturismo also has a store where you can buy their products. We bought 2 salami that are now hanging from the wall!

I didn't buy a prosciutto.  Had to leave something for next time.

information about Santa Caterina.
santa caterina