Category Archives: Italian life

Moon over Umbertide

Summer is in full swing. The town of Umbertide is jumping. Last weekend there was a function called Calci sotto la Rocca. It means Kicks under the fortress. It was nice. You paid 20 Euro and got a glass. There were five booths, each had a locally produced wine and a course from a local restaurant. It started at 8PM but, as we expected, we were practically the first people there. In fact they hadn’t finished setting up yet. Very typical. I took a few pictures.

The booths. The wine awaits.

I’m always amused by the young Italian men. They are peacocks.

The moon rose from behind the Collegiata which is our church built in the 1400s

The Rocca. Our fortress.

Antipasto was a nice, cool seafood salad.

By 9PM the crowds had arrived. They played rock and roll from the 60s.

The other courses included a Porchetta on bread, then a potato gnocci with truffles, and an odd potatoes on bread for the Secondi. The dolce was a tiramisu in a cup from Tortecetera, our local cupcake shop.

Other happenings around town. We have just celebrated the re-opening of Cafe Centrale under new ownership. It is the second bar on our main piazza. Quite posh with furniture and french pastries. It is popular with the young 20 something crowd.

Saturday is a very happy day in the dog days of summer. The kilometer zero market is chock full of local produce and people come to one of the two bars for coffee or drinks. The happy hum of voices is clearly audible up at our house.

Today is Ferragosto. The 15th of August. Everyone goes on picnics, to the beach, or to a restaurant for a long Pranzo. The weather has broken temporarily from a really hot spell. It will be a good day for gli Italiani. Buona Festa!

It was our….ahem…year anniversary celebration

SO. The summer solstice is the day of Luther and my anniversary. This year was a significant one. I won’t say the number but it has to do with Gold.

We decided to invite most of our new friends here to a lunch at Calagrana. I wanted it to be family style and casual. Comfortable. The weather was hot but we were on the side porch in the shade with the occasional breeze. Here are some pictures.

we decided to ride in our Chariot the Angelo Giallo.

Ely’s signature cocktail complements of the house. Thanks Ely! But, even on this special day, she wouldn’t tell me what was in it!

Table all set and waiting.

Luther looking handsome in is Hawaiian shirt.

Me ready for the fun.

Some of the friends who joined us to celebrate.

A tavola

Paul, Susan, Stuart, Jill.

Vera, Jen, Joanne.

Cuzin’ Tom. My maiden name is Gilmer. Tom’s last name is Gilmore. Both from Scotland originally. We have to be cousins!

Table

Joseph

Desiree, Vera’s pretty red-head daughter.

All of us!

Chef Albi hard at work at the grill.

And of course I had to have pictures some of the food. I forgot to get it all.

We had a multi-plate antipasti to start. Chicken wings, Charcouterie, quiche…

Torta alla Nonna for dessert. SO good!

I had Ely and Albi special order lobsters for us. And we had beautiful rib eye steaks too.

I think everyone had fun. It only happens once!

Real Estate in Italy

Real estate in Italy is a totally different animal than in the US. Reasons why:

  1. it is not a good investment. You will be very lucky to recoup your money from purchase and any renovations you do.
  2. you cannot be in a hurry to sell. We are told allow average of 3-5 years to sell here.
  3. Italians and Americans have very different ideas about houses/apartments. What should be in it. How much you should pay for what’s in it.
  4. Italians inherit property over centuries. They all have multiple houses. They do not have mortgages. They do not buy houses because they do not need to. They are house rich and cash poor.
  5. The market is stagnant. Or actually declining.

I tell you this because we have listed our house. Not because we aren’t happy here. It is my dream house. It is just the way I want it. But, being realistic, we are aging and a house on the fourth floor (American), third floor (European) is not optimal for aging in place. There is no possibility of an elevator.

Today we had a nice, young Italian couple look at the apartment. Normally we get English and Americans looking. We have listed at two agencies, one British/international, and one Italian. The couple seemed to like it. It is interesting because all the Italians we know say an Italian would never buy this place. One, because it is too expensive. And two, because it is not to their taste.

I beg to differ on both points. First, we paid €20,000 more than we are asking (!) and we put another €65,000 into its renovation. So, perhaps we paid too much. But getting it with all the bells and whistles for only €230,000 is a deal. Second, we renovated and furnished it with all Italian finishes and products. Our kitchen is manufactured by Pedini — a well known Italian kitchen designer. Our furniture is all purchased here. It is Italian in every way. But maybe a bit more sophisticated Italian than many Umbrians are willing to embrace.

This all said, I am in no hurry to sell. I will be very, very sad to move away from here. And I am not sure where we will go. It all depends on what is available elsewhere when we sell. I have many new friends here in Umbria. A nice support system, and I would miss them. I am loathe to leave it. Except…and it’s a big except…Umbria is not what I call Stranieri (foreigner) friendly. We cannot get a Permesso di Soggiorno (Permit to stay) for more than a year, commonly 2 years elsewhere. We are told we cannot apply for the EU Long Term Residence Permit, supposedly available to all foreigners after 5 years of Residency. Why? It is an arbitrary decision by this region. And no recourse that we know of. So, moving from here could facilitate these things for us. A real conundrum.

Of course, I don’t expect to sell anytime soon. So we aren’t going anywhere in the foreseeable future. Rest assured, I will continue to write on NancyGoes from whatever location we land in, in Bella Italia. In case you’re interested here is our listing.

Anatomy of a market day

I am always fascinated by our weekly market. I like to shop there. I love the slice of life when the people from up in the hills come to shop and socialize. I even like all the Expats who come and fill up Bar Mary, sitting in the sun and having their first drinks. So today I decided to try to take a series of the life of a market set-up. Actually, I’d love to know more about the behind-the-scenes of the markets, but I’ve been unable to do that yet. Once I’m more fluent in Italian I will ask. In the market there are very small individuals who sell one thing. Like the young man in a white van with his Famous onions from Cannara. He does sell dried beans, lentils. Also fresh fava beans in spring and Cranberry beans in summer. There are also four Porchetta trucks selling their famous pork. Everyone has their favorite. There are the very big industrial vendors, and the small ones with their own produce. I have two favorites. One is a local family that I like to support, and across from them a larger, not-quite-industrial one which I go to for their citrus and seasonal things. The Polizia Municipale walk through and check all their permits. There are a few musicians who, when they come liven up the scene. And the inevitable people asking for money from you. So, that description got a little long! I just wanted to try to paint a picture of the scene. And now I will talk about the set up and break down of this market, week in and week out.

I got up at 5AM to take the first picture. The two what I call “industrial” vegetable vendors begin earliest because they have the biggest trucks which need to be unloaded and then get out of the Piazza. The one on the right with four tents is the biggest. But the one over by the building is about the same size. They mostly bring the produce from the south. Sicily, Basilicata, Puglia, Campagna. They are the cheapest stands. AND they yell…at the top of their lungs…to attract customers. Or so I’m told. I also noticed the markets in Sicily operate exactly the same with the same men yelling. So I’d hazard a guess that these big vendors are from there.

Early birds start to shop at the, just set up market. This is the market just before it officially opens at eight. There are smaller trucks who come in later than the big guys and set up last. There is a large blue cheese and cured meats vendor and it is a treat to watch that thing fold itself up.

Starting to break it all down. This is about 1PM. The market closes at noon but they will sell you stuff for an hour or more until they have it all packed. As you can see, the little trucks are mostly gone.

Before cleanup. This is one of the two big trucks. The workers have it all on pallets and roll it in.

They leave behind PILES of trash, but they kindly separate it into plastic, biodegradable and wood.

The first town trucks arrive about 1:30PM. These are the Umbertide trucks. They have small trash trucks, each picks up a different trash. After that the town street cleaner truck shows up. You may wonder why the town has to clean up after these people. Well, not just any town can have a market so it is considered an asset and privilege. It brings in business. So the town does its part.

The last “Industrial” vendor waits for his big truck. These guys have it all on the pallets and ready to go. Where is that damn truck? They do have a long day. I assume they must have a warehouse where they load the truck even earlier than the 5AM when they show up here. Then they are still here until 2:30 or so.

And finally – back to normal. Hard to imagine there even WAS a market today. it is amazing to watch.

Not good news

If you follow my blog you’ll know that I had knee replacement surgery here in Italy in January 2018. I learned a lot about the Italian system before and after the procedure. I learned all about what to expect when you go to the hospital. And what to bring with you, which is very different here.

2018 Knee replacement part 1
2018 Knee replacement Part II
2018 Knee replacement Part III

I learned that the nurses don’t help with many basic things like bringing water. Or ice. They do blood pressure, medications, take blood for tests, basic bed making and body wash. But for your personal self, it’s on you to have a wash cloth, water, soap, a basin and toothbrush, toothpaste etc. for personal clean up. For anything like this you would need a helper. A family member or friend. Odd but true. Different hospitals have different rules. And, of course, very few people speak English. It makes for a lonely time without being able to speak to anyone.

OK so, my operation last year was fine, the PT in hospital was good, if painful. No opiates or pain killers in Italy. I was released but didn’t really understand I was supposed to go into in-patient rehab for 3 weeks. When I found out, this floored me. I couldn’t face it. After being in the hospital for a week I wanted only to be home. So I didn’t go. We arranged a nurse to help with re-dressing the incision. And hired a private therapist for PT in house. And all went ok.

I was told it would take 6 months to a year to recover. So I waited. And did my exercises… and I was in pain. Especially going up and down our 56 stairs. I returned to the doctor 6 months after the operation with concerns about how my knee “looked”. There was a malformation in my opinion. But the Dottore said all was well. Tutti va bene. So. I waited.

Now, more than a year later I am still in pain. Rising from a sitting position and doing stairs are quite painful. And getting more so. I decided to consult another doctor. I knew him from previous consults. I like and trust him. He sent me for X-rays of specific sorts. I returned and he said I need another operation. There are three issues. First the kneecap is skewed to the side because the ligaments and muscles are not holding it in place correctly. Second the top part of the prosthesis is too large for me. Last the bottom part of the prosthesis is slightly twisted off center. He said I could get lucky and they would only have to repair, realign the ligaments and muscles over the kneecap. But if the other two things seem to be an issue I’ll need an entire new implant. He will only decide once he can see it. Sigh. I have to lay this at the feet of the other surgeon. 😡 Not what I wanted to hear but I expected it, I guess.

My doctor asked me when I wanted surgery. I was taken aback. Last year I had no choice. The doctor put me in the queue. It took about 7 months and I had no real choice for the date. This doctor seems to have his schedule in a book he keeps and is able to pick dates. I will never understand this crazy health system here. Since I have multiple trips planned this year. And I don’t want to cancel them. First a week trip to Sicily in April. Then a 10 day trip to the US for my nieces wedding in May. Finally a special anniversary cruise in the Greek islands in July. I decided to choose end of September, after my friend Eunice goes home from a visit.

So I’m scheduled for surgery on 27 September, in Perugia in a small clinic/hospital and I will be in a total of 18 days. To include rehab. This time I will stay in for the entire rehab. It will be easier if hard to be in the hospital that long. I’m sure not looking forward to it! But it is what it is. On the bright side, I’ll lose weight! Food is awful in hospital.

The news for my blogsters is that I will share another exciting hospital stay experience with you. This time to include all that in-patient rehab! 😳 and Hey! I will learn more Italian.

Meanwhile I’ll enjoy spring in Umbria. And hopefully I can enjoy my upcoming trips. Fino a dopo i miei amici!

Olive Oil

I paid a visit to Ely at Calagrana to pick up the oil she was sharing with us after helping with the harvest. Brilliant green.

I visited the new lambs!

And we sat in a sunny spot with coffee and caught up a little.

I got to meet the newest addition to the family…Sparky…she arrived in the engine compartment of a workman’s car. Maybe she’s Sparky because of the spark plugs? Anyway she lives up to her name!

When I got home I put some of “our” oil on bruschetta. It was peppery and grassy…the way I love it, and why Umbrian oil is the BEST!

Olive Harvest 2018!!

In Umbria, olives are a way of life. The oil is amazing with grassy, peppery notes in your mouth. You drizzle it on bruschetta, meats, vegetables, soups and salads. Everyone in Umbria either has an olive grove or knows someone who has an olive grove who needs help with the harvest. It seems everyone gets involved. It is very inclusive and a real way of life here. The olives are all colors.

This is my second olive harvest. It’s been 3 years since my first one so I’m not a total newbie! There are about 70 trees spread out over the property which is beautiful, by the way. It is up above Calagrana, our friends Agriturismo.

The Appenine mountains poking up in the distance. A dreary day unfortunately so no sunshine.

View from the property down the valley.

We did the bottom field first. We started out being 12 people but by the end we were 9. A couple of the trees were definite overachievers. Just loaded with olives! It is a really full day of work. We help them set the nets under the trees, dragging them about and putting supports at the bottoms to keep the olives from rolling off. Then we use little rakes to rake the olives off the branches reaching as high as we can. Meanwhile someone works the “basher” which beats the upper branches to shake the olives down. Then you have to lift the nets and roll all the olives together and put them into plastic crates called cassetti. Physical labor all on hillsides so lots of up and down walking. I am proud to say I did it! For two full days! Not bad for an old broad.

Setting the nets

Working the basher

The cassetti of olives. All colors!

When you participate in an olive harvest, there’s no telling what will happen. Our group started singing Mary Poppins songs. Turns out several of us knew all the words!! Chimchimanee, I Love to Laugh, Feed the Birds… fun!

Lunch!

Lunch break

By the end of the first day we had harvested less than half the trees and had 43 boxes of olives. A bountiful harvest! We had run out of boxes, and it was getting dark so the end of a productive day. Plan is to take the boxes to the Frantoio, or olive mill, and press them and return Monday for a final pass at the trees. There are some totally loaded trees on the upper slopes. Then they will take the rest to the mill for pressing. A real bumper crop this year.

43 cassetti

We had a lovely after harvest dinner. Albi had prepared chili con carne for us all. Excellent and the perfect thing to fill our empty stomachs after a hard days work.

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Monday we worked a second full day in the olive grove. Ely will pick again tomorrow and Wednesday. There are so many trees still to do. She went to the mill this morning with Saturday’s harvest which weighed in at 950 kilos and yielded 132 liters of oil and she says it is really good. Peppery and grassy. Just the way I like it 😋 This day we picked half again as many (with only 5 people) so should get another 60 liters and whatever else she does back to the mill. I took a tumble as did little Olie as the nets were wet and on a very steep slop. My feet would slide downhill. I could get no purchase. SO I decided to take a couple pictures of this amazing property. Autumn colors.

Ely

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I’m going to the mill to take pictures Thursday with Ely for the final press. Second blog to come on that.

Great visit with recent guests!

We had been anticipating our upcoming guests, Chuck and Terry. Chuck is Luther’s cousin and Terry is his wife. They live in Knoxville. I had only met Chuck once or twice and very long ago. We had a superb time with them. It is always a pleasure to have guests who so obviously enjoy everything we show them and are always up for anything.

We went to Montone the evening they arrived for a dinner at Antica Osteria. It was good as always. The next day we had planned to go to Assisi which is always the top site to see in Umbria. Terry bought a pretty purse at Michaelangelo Leather shop right in the main piazza. I also was interested to look at the briefcases they had which were quite plentiful. I have a friend coming soon who will be looking for this item.

The day was amazing. The mornings in Umbertide are always very foggy starting in about September. It is like clockwork every year! It burns off in an hour or so. The sky was brilliant blue. Here are some Assisi pictures.

The Rose Window on the Basilica of San Francesco.

The lower church in the Basilica. It is made up of the upper church, built on top of the older, lower church, which is above the crypt where St. Francis’ remains are interred.

Street. I like the blur in the background on this one.

I was captivated by the dog who looked to be chained beside this window on the first floor.

Fortress above Assisi. See that sky!?

In the main Piazza is this fountain. The water droplets were shining in the sun. I had never noticed the top tier on this is a mushroom.

One of my favorite stories is about St. Francis and the Wolf. The legend took place in Gubbio. St. Francis also is known for preaching to the birds. 

After all that sightseeing we took a break for lunch. We ate at Piazetta dell’Erbe as we almost always do. My favorite restaurant there. I had the octopus and the black gnocci with truffles and parmesan cream.

After lunch we visited Deruta where Chuck and Terry bought a beautiful bowl for her table. I hope they got it home safe and sound.

On Wednesday we were expecting the Stufa serviceman so we had to stick close. But then, it is market day with plenty to do right in town. I introduced Chuck and Terry to the Porchetta Panini. Makes a decent breakfast. We wandered the stalls and afterward we went to Patrick’s Enoteca for lunch.

That evening we had my World Famous Bolognese sauce on Strangozzi. 🙂 Everyone seemed to like it.

Thursday we thought we’d go wine tasting. It was overcast and showered on and off but not too bad. First we visited DeFilippo Winery. They are Bio-dynamic and use natural pest control…geese! and horses to plow.

We had time for one more winery and ended up at Pardi in Montefalco. This winery, where we’ve been once before, is owned by a pair of brothers. They are trying interesting things with wine.

Next was…what else? Lunch! We had a reservation at L’Alchimista in Montefalco. We did sit outside despite the sprinkles which we had to shift a couple of times to avoid under the Umbrella.

The visit passed too fast but we did get in three full days with them and we hope they come back to visit us soon. They are always welcome.

While they were packing up to go I was making a gazpacho with a bunch of itty bitty vegetables that my friend Angela had given me. All kinds of things and only a little of each so I though they would work well for a Gazpacho. It did smell wonderful while cooking and nearly got Chuck and Terry to stay a while longer…

Raw ingredients…

Finished product!

My trip to the Poste Italiane


I’ve begun a walking regime since my knee is still recovering and I figure walking will help both it, and the rest of me! So, sometimes I combine the walk with an errand or two I need to run. Today, I needed to visit the post office. Always a treat 😏. The following is the trip in photos.

Leaving Piazza Mattiotti in front of our house.

Our pretty river walk.

I pass by the main intersection in front of the Collegiata built in the 1400s

Via Garibaldi, one of the main shopping streets.

Train Station. I turn left here.

Viale Unita d’Italia. There is a Moroccan store here where I can find spices and sometimes Cilantro.

Arrived at the Poste Italiane. Ugly building!!

First you pick which thing you want to do and get a number.

Your number and window come up on the board.

020 – that’s me! Finito! Successfully mailed my package.

On towards home. This is Via Carlo Marx. Umbertide was reliably communist until recently.

Pass by the theater. They have English language films on Mondays or Thursdays. Mamma Mia!

Come to the fork between Viale Unita d’Italia and Via Roma. I’m heading down Via Roma on the right to home.

Via Roma.

Back to the Centro Storico!

Umbertide has everything we need. Some of it is not so pretty but it is functional unlike some of those pretty hill towns. They usually are all looks and no substance.

Yellow waves of…

Ah. It’s the season for the Yellow Waves of … Tobacco?! Yes, tobacco.

From about Perugia, northward to the mountains and the source of the Tiber river is fertile ground for tobacco. All along the river plain and up into the valleys to the east and west you will see field after field of tobacco. It is a huge cash crop for the farmers around here.

It is used to make cigarettes and also the Tuscan cigars. Umbria is one of three regions in italy to grow tobacco, the other two are the Veneto and Campagnia.

Farmers practice rotation of their fields. The rotating crops are: sunflowers, corn, winter wheat, tobacco, and one year the field is fallow. Sometimes they plant legumes and plow them under in the fallow year. It enriches the soil.

I figure it’s none of my business who grows what and I don’t mind if they grow tobacco. I won’t be smoking it but many people do. And to tell the truth, it is a beautiful plant. Especially now when it turns from dark, forest green to bright lime, to yellow.

Tobacco facts…
I found out it is in the same family as eggplant, pepper, petunia, potato, and tomato. Tobacco has a small seed, which cannot be sown directly in the field; seedlings are raised in selected and tended seedbeds where protection is given against heavy rain and excess sun; young seedlings are planted out by hand or mechanical transplanter, and spacing between seedlings and rows varies with the kind of tobacco and with the location. Tobacco is picked when leaves are “ripe”. Leaves ripen progressively from the bottom of the plant to the top, so lugs (the bottom leaves) are picked first and tips picked last.

Life cycle in pictures
The plants must be watered throughout the growing season. Most fields are within a short distance of a water source so water can be pumped to irrigate the fields. This field is just beside the Tiber river.

Rich and green before it begins to ripen.

The plants do get flowers and many farmers de-flower them so they don’t go to seed. Some don’t seem to do that. The foreground plants were left to bloom.

The blooms are pretty, ranging from pink to red.

Beginning to ripen. Typically tobacco is picked six times, with three leaves taken per pick and six leaves in the final pick. Gradual picking may continue for 2 months. These have the very bottom picked already.

Half picked

All gone.

There are harvesters that take just the leaves from the bottom off and work their way to the top as they ripen to leave the stalks. The leaves are piled high into green farm wagons pulled by tractors to the ovens found throughout the area. Here is a row of ovens. The tobacco is half dried here and packed and shipped for final processing.

It is a seasonal rite around this area so I look forward to watching. And it is a part of the rhythm of life. The beginning of Autumn.