Last night we had a gorgeous sunset. The river was so smooth it was a mirror for the trees along the banks. Here is my picture of it.
Well it’s here…March. Meteorological spring. And it shows. The winter wheat is brilliant green. The forsythia is blooming. And I found some new things in the Wednesday market.
First, a picture from my kitchen door. Still wintery mountains but blue skies and the temperatures are reaching the 60s sometimes.
I’ve seen agretti, or monks beard, always the first spring vegetable we see. Since Luther is not fond I don’t buy it but it’s a real delicacy only found in central Italy. This week I found asparagus! The first of the season. I asked the lady selling it where it came from and she said Spoleto which is here in Umbria. So I bought some!
I also found these small cartons of tomatoes. They were grown in Sicily and reminded me of the Cherokee Purple variety. It also says on the carton I can see who grew my tomatoes on their website!
I bought a new camera so I need to come up to speed on it so I can again post good pictures. We’ve also been doing our beginning of the year chores. Signing up for our health care this year was a royal pain. Normally we just take our social security statements in and pay our money. This year they told us they needed our paper to have a stamp on it from our American embassy in Rome. All of the stranieri were scuttling about trying to figure out how to do this but finally, after a phone call we managed to get it sorted. The Social Security section of our embassy has all our records…a surprise to me…so they were able to stamp it and send it to us via the Poste Italiane. So that’s done.
We also are starting to go through the process of getting our Permessi di Sogiorno renewed for the coming year. The fees have actually dropped this year to about 60 Euro each down from about 130 Euro last year. There also seems to be another thing or two changed so we will have to wait and see.
Next week we again are trying to get our Italian driving licenses. This has been an ongoing saga. Stay tuned!
Today is Epifania or Epiphany in English. I looked this up…”On January 6 the Catholic Church celebrates the solemnity of the Epiphany. This religious feast brings a fulfillment of all the purposes of Advent. Epiphany, therefore, marks the end of the Advent-Christmas season. Three mysteries are encompassed in this solemnity: the adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi, the Baptism of Christ and the wedding feast at Cana. Epiphany is also known as Three Kings’ Day, in other branches of Christianity. A Christian feast day that celebrates the revelation of God in his Son as human in Jesus Christ. In Western Christianity, the feast commemorates principally the visit of the Magi to the Christ child, and thus Jesus’ physical manifestation to the Gentiles.”
Here in Umbertide we also celebrate Befana, the Christmas witch. Amusingly, she arrives in an Ape, a three wheel truck-type vehicle. She distributes candy! I took her photo and she gave me candy! I must have been good this year. Here she is!
In Italian folklore she is thought to have originated in central Italy near where we live. Befana is an old woman who delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5) in a similar way to St Nicholas or Santa Claus. Since before Babbo Natale arrived on the scene, Italian children have been celebrating the annual visit of La Befana.
Befana is said to visit all the children of Italy on the eve of the Feast of the Epiphany to fill their socks with candy and presents if they are good, or a lump of coal or dark candy if they are bad. The child’s family typically leaves a small glass of wine and a plate with a few morsels of food, often regional or local, for the Befana. She is usually portrayed as a hag riding a broomstick through the air wearing a black shawl and is covered in soot because she enters the children’s houses through the chimney.
According to legend Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Christ child was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she said no, that she was too busy with her housework and sweeping up. Later, la Befana had a change of heart, and she tried to search out the location of the baby Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so forever after, la Befana has been flying over the grapevines and olive trees searching for the little baby and leaving children candy in hopes the Christ child is there.
There are many different versions of this legend to this day, some darker than the above. One tells that la Befana was mother to a child that died, and she went mad with grief. When Jesus was born, she sought him out. She thought that he was her child. She eventually met Jesus and presented him with gifts to make him happy. The infant Jesus was delighted, and he gave la Befana a gift in return; she would be the mother of every child in Italy.
Now la Befana is celebrated throughout all of Italy, and she has become a national icon. In the regions of the Marches, Umbria and Latium, her figure is associated with the Papal States, where the Epiphany held the most importance.
You can find images of la Befana all through Italy. She is not romanticized, she is an ugly hag with missing teeth and a torn dress holding a broom with a crazy grin on her face. I guess Italians don’t want to make their hag a prettier, more acceptable figure. They like her just as she is. A very Italian attitude!
And the Italian children love playing the la Befana game. The words of this song vary in different areas, but what I read is that children gather in a seated circle with a shoe behind each of them. The designated witch walks behind them while the children sing:
Viene, viene la Befana
Vien dai monti a notte fonda
Come è stanca! la circonda
Neve e gelo e tramontana!
Viene, viene la Befana
The English translation is:
Here comes, here comes the Befana
She comes from the mountains in the deep of the night
Look how tired she is! All wrapped up
In snow and frost and the north wind!
Here comes, here comes the Befana!
Prettier in Italian!
Once the song is over, all the children open their eyes, and check their shoes. Whoever finds the candy that the “Befana” has hidden there wins!
I hope my friend Michelle Damaini of il Bel Centro won’t mind my quoting her here…she wrote, “Because I love celebrating La Befana. Not just for the very Italian-ness that connects me back to the curling fog and hastening twilight of January in Spello. No, you see La Befana as a reminder. A reminder to stop sweeping, look up, and listen. Magic is all around, we just need to be open to it. We just need to listen.” Nice…
Yesterday it snowed…
Just to document it, we had snow squalls here yesterday. South and east of us they actually got a lot of snow. Here it is very cold and blue skies today. See our snow squalls…
For those of you who have not seen it, we finally got a link to the House Hunters International episode starring Joseph and Paul and, of course, Umbertide! Also linked from main Navigation above.
Addendum [Oh well. Looks like this no longer works. Too bad. Copyright issues.]
Luther took his A2 Italian proficiency test week before last and got notification a week later that he had passed! This is our (we hope) last hurdle to comply with our immigration agreement.
Today, we traveled again to the Perugia immigration office. We had copies of our house papers, our Italian health cards and our two A2 test certificates. The young woman there filled out all our forms and printed them out. Next she rubber stamped and rubber stamped dated them all. We went to the head honcho’s office and he signed all the forms, individually! And we were on our way. The top form said:
RE: Outcome of the Immigration Agreement assessment: Certified fulfillment.
The next page indicates we have achieved 34 points on the point system they use here. We needed 30. I’m letting out a big breath of relief. A 2+ year effort! And we didn’t have to take the dreaded Italian Civics class!
We brought the Christmas tree that we bought the first Christmas we were here inside for the season. It lives out on the terrace throughout the year except for December. This is the 2016 tree. it is sitting on the floor.
Today was an exceptionally foggy day. And, unlike many days, it lasted all day. I braved the cold and went out to see what sort of images I could get. I thought they would look better in black and white. Very atmospheric. Here are a few. Click for a larger version.
I’ve been reflecting on my trip to the US. I must confess, I do not miss living there. The random things that I noticed:
- The restaurant servers all want to not only serve me my food, they want to be my best friend!
- Prices have either really gone up a LOT, or I am too used to Umbria prices. Gasp!
- Sales people are very helpful and friendly.
- There were a TON of rats in DC.
- I knew there were a lot of commercials for pharmaceuticals but it has gotten MUCH worse. I read only two countries allow this, the US and New Zealand. It was relentless.
- There was nothing on the news except for the election.
- There is a building boom like nowhere else in the world going on, at least in the DC area.
- Virginia is The most beautiful state 🙂
- Autumn is as pretty as I remembered it to be.
- I still love Chesapeake Bay oysters better than any others!
- Coffee is still really bad there…compared to Italy that is!
happy to be back in Umbria!
We are just back from our trip to the US to help celebrate our nephew’s wedding. A good time was had by all.
We arrived in DC on a Sunday and crashed. Then we did a couple of days sightseeing and a day of shopping. We visited the newly re-opened Smithsonian Gallery of Art – East Wing. The building is in itself a work of art designed by I.M. Pei.
It’s only flaw was a limited amount of exhibit space. With this redesign it now has much expanded space and they opened two of the three towers. On the roof terrace is a big blue chicken sculpture by German artist Katharina Fritsch.
We also got to see the recently de-scaffolded US Capital building. When we moved away it was completely covered. Now it gleams in the sun. It has never looked this good.
We dined on some ethnic food to include Oyamel, a great Mexican place, and Rappahannock Oyster bar which has world class farmed oysters. We’ve missed them! The big splurge was Komi which many said should have received a Michelin star in the recently published guide. I will say it was mighty fine. There is no menu. They bring about 12 courses, starting small and getting bigger as they go along. So good. And we elected to get the wine pairing. We never do this but we were glad we did. The sommelier is excellent and all the wait staff made us feel very special. Recommend it.
On Thursday we rented a car and drove to The Homestead in Hot Springs, VA – about a 3 1/2 hour drive. We attended the beautiful wedding of our nephew, Dave and his bride Shira. It was a Jewish ceremony although our nephew is Christian. It was lovely. I did not take pictures. It was outside and the weather was fine. We partied into the night. I wish this young couple all the best in life.
While there we strolled the grounds and played a rousing game of mini-golf with Luther’s brothers family who were there from California. Again, the weather was perfect. The trees were beautiful.
We are back home and I am happy to say we have finished our travels for this year. I am glad to be home in tranquil Umbertide. Long trip back. While we were gone there were three (!) earthquakes of 5.6, 6.1 and 6.6 on the Richter scale. No damage in Umbertide but in the mountains just 40 miles away is devastation. So much lost. One of my favorite cathedrals collapsed in the town of Norcia. Here is the picture I took about 2 years ago. Sadly it is almost totally destroyed. My heart goes out to the people. The one good bit of news is, no one was killed.
On our way home we stopped for provisions. I spied, of all things(!) corn on the cob! Now, if you’ve been reading this you know I have searched for decent sweet corn since our first summer here. I found some inedible this past summer. So I slyly put my finger nail into a kernel and lo and behold! it squirted juice. This meant it wasn’t totally gone to starch. I notice they are grown in Umbria so are local. I bought two cobs and cooked them last night. They were decent! Sweet. Not as good a fresh summer corn but, good. The only thing that puzzles me is…it’s November! I mean who heard of corn in November?
Coincidentaly, I had ordered corn to be sent to my sister. I picked it up on our trip so next year I will have corn! I hope to find someone with garden space to lend or rent. But one of these packets has “Container Corn”. It can be grown in pots! So next year my terrace will be farm-like. I am pretty excited about this!
We are just back from a fun quick trip to Montalcino in Toscana. This town/area is famous for the Brunello di Montalcino, a wine from just this small area of the world. And, of course, very famous and it draws many visitors. That said, the town of Montalcino was a nice hill-town. It had its share of tourists (mostly American) but seemed to have it’s own life and locals living their lives within the walls. I read a book called “Vanilla Beans and Brodo” about life in this town. Pretty good for Italy fans.
We visited two wineries on the way. Little did we know almost all the wineries in this area are on White Roads. These are gravel roads that are not meant for a car like ours. We also should have called for appointments. The first one, Innocenti the person was not there until afternoon. But along this White Road I snapped some spectacular pictures. The day was just perfect. Look at that sky!
We visited Sasso di Sole winery on the way back down the white road. Their wine was pretty good. We bought some. The nice woman there recommended a restaurant down the road a bit. It was in a spa, or hot spring town called Bagno Vingnoni. It was lovely. The main part of the little town surrounds the walled in spring which is where the main, hot spring surges up from underground. You can see the bubbles roiling the water. Surrounding this area are restaurants and spa buildings. We visited Il Loggiato and had a very tasty hamburger of Chianina beef, the famous white cattle of Tuscany. Perfect lunch outside under blue skies. Nice. I would never have known to go here! Very below the radar.
We returned to Innocenti and this time we got to try their wines. Nice man. I was amused by the fact that he asked us after the wine tasting if we wanted to taste the olive oil. I said I preferred Umbrian oil so no thank you. Well after we had purchased some wine he brought out a bottle of the oil and gave it to me as a “gift”. Ha. I guess he was miffed at my comment and was going to try to get me to change my mind about my preference. Sweet.
We arrived in Montalcino in late afternoon. We stayed in a hotel on the edge of town which advertised “free parking”. We drove the Porsche and when the proprietor saw it he said maybe we shouldn’t try to drive to his parking. Turns out the road had been badly washed out and a car like ours had a VERY hard time getting down it. We did but it was not pretty. We did drag the undercarriage a few times. The hotel was quite nice called Vecchia Oliviera. The proprietor was nice. Rooms very spacious with really pretty views. Not many people were staying there. We could easily walk to everything in town.
That evening we walked up into town to a restaurant called Drogheria Franci where we had a good meal which was not traditional Tuscan. A little more innovative than one would expect. The town of Montalcino is not very big but on a hill. At the top was the Fortress. We were near this.
Next day we were off on quests for more wine. We were off on yet another White Road! After 3 or 4 kilometers we finally got there. This one was called Fattoi. A nice young girl gave us a tasting (it was 10 am!). We bought some wine and headed out to find more. The countryside in this part of Tuscany is extremely diverse. It ranges from verdant wine areas to barren wasteland. I do not know why this is.
We were unsuccessful in finding our next winery. It seemed to be on a White Road that was impassable without a 4 wheel drive. Resigned, we returned to Montalcino. We visited an enoteca which was also a restaurant. It filled up quickly and I only heard American voices. The lunch was quite good and the views were killer across the valley. Back to our room for a nap.
That evening we had reservations at Osteria di Porta al Cassero. It was up near the Fortress. Food more traditional Tuscan. Very nice place.
All in all a nice getaway. I am a little tired of traveling and am looking forward to staying home for a couple of weeks.
I was so happy Cindy, my sister, and her husband Bill could come to visit for almost 2 weeks! We picked them up in Rome at the airport and they came back with us to Umbria for a few days. The weather was quite nice. Not too hot and sunny all the time.
The first day we visited Spoleto. Cindy and Bill had never been there. It is a lovely old place and is known for it’s jazz festival in the summer. It was nice that the city has a system of escalators that take you to different levels in the city to include the top where the fortress is. We visited the fortress and the aqueduct. Here are a couple of pictures.
The second day we visited Todi. It is a beautiful hill town south of us. Very picturesque. This was good because my sis had gotten a new gigantic camera and lenses. She did a LOT of picture taking. We had a really nice lunch at Ristoranti Umbria, a very traditional Umbrian place. We have been there several times ourselves but not with Cindy and Bill. They have a beautiful outside terrace with major views.
We spent Wednesday enjoying the market and shopping. We had lunch with friends up in Montone.
The next day was a travel day for us all. We took the train from Foligno to Rome Termini and from there took the FrecciaRossa, the fast luxury train to Naples. Here was where it got interesting. We rented a car (!) and drove out of the city. I have to hand it to Luther, he was masterful. You have to be both careful and aggressive. There are no real traffic signals or signs anywhere. It is every man for himself. We exited the garage and immediately entered an enormous stream of cars probably 5 lanes across…not that there are actual lanes mind you. We had to get from the right side to the left across this mess. There were cars, vespas and buses. We clipped a bus with our mirror as it tried to cut us off. Luther swerved and jumped in front. Bravo! Cindy said she totally “got” why we didn’t want to drive our car down there. It took over an hour to get out of town! We finally managed it and headed for Positano, stopping on the way for supplies. Then for the second part of the driving adventure(?) – the Amalfi coastal drive. Downright terrifying. We managed to get to Positano and find the parking lot and meet up with the nice lady letting us in, and showing us around our rented apartment. It was up about 95 steps of varying heights and depths. All carrying our luggage and our groceries. Whew!
Well it was nice to get there and kick back for a bit. We were situated very high up and were across from another hillside. Positano is a town built up the three hills with ravines in between them. We also had a sea view if not as expansive as we had hoped. Here are a couple of pics from the terrace.
See that little restaurant right at the bottom? Every night they played jazz or schlocky Italian music. It wafted up to us. In fact the whole street scene on the other side was like being in Rear Windows. It was cool.
The bad thing was that we took our landlady’s advice to walk to the restaurant on the beach. Since we had just gotten there we had no idea how far down it was. Well let me tell you, it was VERY FAR down!! And once there, neither the food, nor the service was good. One thing I’ll mention here. Every so often we run into a restaurant, mostly in a tourist area, that will tell us the service is not included. Of course they always know we are American so are scamming us since we are used to tipping. That said, the service charge is ALWAYS included. And the wait staff do not work for tips. They are paid a decent wage, unlike servers in the US. So DO NOT fall for this scam. If you really like the service then leave a small tip or round up the check. This restaurant told us this when we were seated. It always leaves a bad taste in my mouth…but the food wasn’t so good either! TripAdvisor heard from me on this one. The next bad thing is we had to get BACK to our apartment. We decided to count the steps. We stopped every 100 steps to catch our breaths. It was 522 steps(!) a LOT of steps. After this miss-adventure we always walked down the road. MUCH easier!
The first day there we went to Pompeii. We drove and it was OK. It was a zoo. So many people and tours. The tour guides talked over each other and you couldn’t hear. It was hot. Last time I was there 20 years ago it was totally empty. We practically had it to ourselves. What a difference. I am finding this to be the case at all tourist places here. It was not the best experience but Cindy an Bill got to see it. Just a couple of pictures of the many I took.
Poignant dog. At Pompeii when they found a hollow area in the solidified dust they pumped in plaster to make casts of the bodies of people who had died and been buried. This was a dog who had been chained up. He died a ghastly death.
We had a surprisingly good lunch at a Pizza place right outside the ruins. The pizza was from a wood fired oven and we sat in a pleasant outside terrace. The best part was they validated our parking!
The following day we had decided to take the boat to Capri. It was a lovely trip. Took 30 minutes. Pretty coastal views.
The cliffs. Click on this picture and look closely…right in the center there is a tour bus parked up on the Amalfi Coast drive. This should give you an idea of the drive and how scary it is…especially when you come face to face with an enormous bus on a curve…yikes!
Capri was, again, a madhouse. Jammed with day trippers (like us). From where the boats let you off you have a choice of taking the Funicular or a taxi. There was a total mob scene at the Funicular so we grabbed a taxi. TOTALLY worth it. And they are all convertibles! Nice! We wandered the streets, taking pictures, stopped at a cafe in the main square for a drink and people watching, and picked out a restaurant.
The next day we decided to treat ourselves with a day spent in our town of Positano. I should mention the weather has been TERRIFIC! We wandered around town. Visited the two art museums. Walked along the beach. Stopped for a drink on the terrace of the Palazzo Murat. I should mention that Luther and I stayed here 20 years ago on our own trip to Positano. It was beautiful with it’s own lemon grove, which is, sadly, gone now. The place is much fancier that when we were here but it is the best location in town!
Next day we were off in the car to Paestum. Only bad thing it was about 2 1/2 hours south and it meant we had to drive the entire Amalfi coast drive. Cindy and Bill got to see it anyway. It was stressful on our driver. Paestum was a Greek settlement from around 600 BC. It is one of the best preserved examples of the temples they built, the town around them, etc.
We left Positano the next day, heading for Rome and the airport. We stopped along the way at Herculaneum or Ercolano. This is another of the four towns destroyed during the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 AD. I had always wanted to see it. Happily it was not as crowded as Pompeii. It was destroyed by pyroclastic flows which preserved it perfectly even down to the carbonized wood. It was buried under 20 meters (60 feet) of ash. The pyroclastic surge formed by ash and hot gases and moving at 100 MPH buried the city. In Pompeii heat was the main cause of death. I took a lot of pictures. Here are a few.
This was a very wealthy seacoast town. Much richer than Pompeii. They lived very well. This is an atrium open to the sky with a rain water basin in the center. The mosaics were deformed by the seismic activity before the eruption.
It was thought until very recently that the town was evacuated because the actual eruption took place the day before and Herculaneum was not destroyed until the massive column of ash collapsed the next day. But now they have found 300 skeletons at what was once the sea shore. They had all fled there only to be buried. I felt a bit voyeuristic taking these photos.
Sadly Cindy and Bill left the next day after we spent the night in Fiumicino and had a nice seafood dinner. Happy trails!