Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuscan lunch

Those of you who are not interested in food can skip this post. For the rest of you, wish you could have been here to enjoy this.

So the Stoic One and I drove over to Tuscany to explore the area, and we happened upon a most exotic place, called La Corte Dei Papi, http://www.lacortedeipapi.com . It is just down the hill from the house of Ms. Mayes of "Under the Tuscan Sun" repute.

This was our menu:
Carpaccio with local salad...sounds pretty mundane, except it was made with smoked duck breast. Fantastic. The combination of the dressing, the greens and the duck breast were brilliant.

Next we moved to the primi, or first dish. Pici pasta with pachino tomatoes and crunchy breadcrumbs. The pici, a type of noodle common to this area, were made in the kitchen and the tomatoes grown in the garden/green house.

This simple dish was perfection. The pasta and tomatoes were perfectly cooked, al dente, and tihe bread crumbs just crunchy enough to give a bit of bite.

Then we moved on to the secondi, guinea fowl with little corncobs. Cooked, again, perfectly.

Then we had an antipasta dessert...really.... It was home made marshmallows with chocolate. They were small.

 Then dessert, for real...
One of the best desserts I have had in Italy. Home made chocolate ice cream, with coffee cream, and delicious cookies...Price? 60 Euros...

Here is a picture of one of the rooms...

They are all different and over the top opulent.

If you should happen to be in this part of the country, on your way to the Terontola train station, or otherwise, I encourage you to stop in. The host, David Papi, is delightful, charming and humble. He has a very special property and is always adding things. He is currently restoring a wing over the pool. Can't wait to return and see it when it is completed.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

California reflections

When I return to California, I try to imagine how my Italian neighbors would perceive  things, as I re-enter the fast-paced American culture. I can imagine myself as an Italian for about the first four hours, then after that, I lose my Italian perspective, and I am once again an American coming home to California.

I often use film as metaphor for what I am experiencing. Living in this small town in Umbria is like living in a romantic comedy set in a foreign country. There is the nightly life of old men playing cards in the piazza, neighbors hanging out the window greeting one another and little romances that are sparked and then disappear into the night. It is a charming film that is character driven, slow paced, and warm. Landing at LAX and driving through LA at night I was jolted from that movie into a science fiction movie set in the future. This movie is fast paced, plot driven, with a backdrop of fantastic modern sets that are sleek and hard-edged.

There are some wonderful things about American culture that I am reminded of as I land in this new sci-fi movie. People are competent and efficient.  Time is of the essence. Lines move predictably, and systematically. There is little chatting between strangers, as we all have eyes down checking our personal devises and to make sure we are on track.

The United States is a country whose business is business. This single focus affords most Americans a material life style that seems unique in the world. I am also an alumnae of Silicon Valley and thus gadget-crazed. It is good to be in a country that shares one's addiction.

Sitting in the dining room our first night in town, I watched a table of about 12 young women, in their 20's, having a birthday celebration. I looked at them and thought, these women could only be Americans. They laughed and teased each other without self-consciousness. This is LA so the women were all beautiful, perfect skin, perfect shoulder length hair, flipped up at the ends, and perfectly tanned bare legs. They were enjoying each other's company and were oblivious to "la bella figure" or what their dining companions thought about them.  I remember now that Americans really like to have fun. They play like children and laugh with childish abandon. The young women were center stage in the restaurant and they knew it. Self-confident, healthy, young and vivacious. They all drank wine and ordered salads.

Going up to San Francisco, the movie seemed familiar, more like a favorite TV series. The East Bay is the same, although more people are moving over from San Francisco, with the expected change in properties. The grittiness is starting to disappear in some areas, but the focus on health and good food remains. The diversity is extraordinary in the people, ethnicity of foods and selection of produce.

Silicon Valley is place that continues to accelerate in its narrative arc. My friend, who still works in the Valley, said it is a "ruthless" place. People are fired if they can't cut it because there are many in line to take their place. It is the survival of the fittest. An interesting laboratory for people who want to study endless money, ambition and intelligence. Where will it all end? I can't even imagine. I know that at my stage of life, it is exhausting. I think if I were in my 20's or 30's it would be exhilerating, but as I watch it all, I have such a longing for Umbria that I can feel the desire on my skin, in my lips, in my soul.

We arrive back in Umbertide to no hot water, and one suitcase lost, but it was all resolved by people who greeted us, looked at us directly and said, "welcome home." In that moment, I shifted back to my romantic comedy, and I was anxious to go out to the piazza and see which table was winning.
Ciao, California.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

California sunshine

The Stoic One and I have had a great trip to California. We were in southern California for a brief stay and had many laughs remembering our past experiences his, mine and ours. Didn't have time to make it to Pasadena although I was sorely tempted, but we just didn't have enough time. It was  great to see family, and to do some work. All in all a very good trip.

Looks like we will be back again later in the year.
Sitting in SFO waiting for the flight back to Rome.
Ciao amici. Will be blogging about seeing the US from an outsiders' perspective in the next week.

Sunday, March 8, 2015


We are so thankful for the friendship of Nancy and Luther. They have brought great richness of interest to our lives. Luther found an art show in the city of Forli' and so we went off to explore together. The city is in the provice of Emilia-Romagna, a province we haven't really explored. It was about an hour and a half from Umbertide, on a road that took us through snow covered hills and then wound through the plains until we reached our destination.

Forli' has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Like many towns in Italy, it has a complicated history of rulership, by the Lombards, the Papal States, they then sided with Frederic the Second against Pope Gregory IX, and so it continued. The city was bombed in World War II but quickly rebuilt itself and is now a prosperous area.

We went to the Musei San Domenico. It was built in the early 1800's as a hospital and then was later converted to a monastery. It has been restored in the last decade and is a fantastic site for art.

The artist that we saw was Giovanni Boldini, an unknown artist to me. He was born in 1842 and died in 1931. He was part of the Parisian school of portrait painters and was referred to as the Master of Swish because of the flowing style of his painting. He loved the women, and they apparently loved him, or at least loved being painted by him.


The dresses that he painted were mesmerizing. The fabrics and movement and light was almost hypnotic. The women that he painted were all beautiful and gracious, and rich! Such a fantasy world to step into. If you love Edgar Degas, I think you would also enjoy this exhibition. It is superbly presented and it runs through June 14th. For us it was quite worth the trip.

The town of Forli' was an interesting stop, although probably not worth more than an afternoon without a major art exhibit.

This is a picture of the Abbey of San Mercuriale, one of the major sites in town. It is of the Lombard-Romanesque style and was finished in the 13th century.

Forli' also has an Eataly food store. This high end food chain was founded by Oscar Farinetti. It is described by the New York Times as "megastore that combines elements of the open market, a Whole Foods Style supermarket and a high-end food court." It reminded some of us of a large Trader Joe's. The chain is a bit controversial in Italy, as you can imagine. We enjoyed shopping there and agreed with the sign.

Life is too short to eat or drink poorly! We agree.

We were off to lunch at a place that Nancy found in Slow Food..Salume'

The food was interesting and the people were reallly gracious and generous.

The menu was hand written. We had 
Baby squid stuffed with breadcrumbs, garlic, parseley on a pureed pea sauce
A pasta called olive leaves with cauliflower, olives and bacon and a lovely marscapone for dessert.

The young chef, on the right, really wants to go to NYC to cook. We tried to convince him to try San Francisco. I think the owner thought he should stay where he is and learn English!

In other breaking news. Our car is no longer illegal! Unbeknownst to us, we had not received a "libretto" which showed that we had clear ownership of the car. We had only a temporary piece of paper that did not have all of the official stamps. You can imagine this was a problem. So it arrived last night, and now we can be stopped by the police and not worry.

Finally, today is International Women's Day. It is a big holiday here. It was first celebrated on March 8, 1946. Italy had just come out of WWII and although women had gained the right to vote, they were not able to exercise it until June 6, 1946. Teresa Noce, Rita Montagnana and Teresa Mattei selected the mimosa flowers as the symbol for "Internatioanl Womens' Fight and Celebration". They chose the flower because it is readily available in the spring and everyone could afford to wear it.  Antonietta had recieved two bunches of flowers so she insisted I take one of hers.

Happy International Women's Day!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015


The Stoic One and I try to eat at an Enoteca (wine bar) when we are out and about on our travels. The food is generally creative, well priced, and the wine selection and match is terrific.

Today we ate at Enoteca Guidi in Sansepolcro. Sansepolcro is in Tuscany and about a 40 minute drive from us. Joseph found Stefano, the hair dresser, and we both think he is worth the drive. By the time he has finished with my hair, it is time for lunch! What a surprise.

If you are in Sansepolcro, a very interesting town to explore, I might add, we recommend Enoteca Guidi.

Today we had a type of bruschetta we have never had before. Usually it is served on baguette slices, this was served on a whole slice of regular bread. Interesting, crunchy, and delicious. One slice had brie, anchovies and tomatoes and the other was cheese, sausage and broccoli.

The Stoic One ordered spaghetti with polpi or octupus. He said it was very good.

In Rome, we like to eat at the Enoteca Palatium.http://www.enotecapalatium.com

Also recently we ate at another Enoteca in Arezzo called Le Chiavi D'Oro...although this is much more of a full on restaurtan. The restaurant is beautiful and the food delicious.

As you tour through Italy, I highly recommend you to try an enoteca. The food is excellent and the wine is always well priced.