Category Archives: Covid

Musings…

We had snow this week. It was pretty. But as usual, it’s just cosmetic. It looks nice falling down but it melts soon enough, as in nearly immediately. It is still quite cold nonetheless.

Interestingly, I’ve got a friend with a nice Agriturismo over in Tuscany, near Montepulciano. She said that not a week goes by that an American client doesn’t ask them if their pool is open in January/February. I found this very amusing. All they have to do is see the above picture to know it is not all “Under the Tuscan Sun” here in wintertime. 😁
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Different subject. Our friend Vera has two daughters, Maja and Desiree. These two girls adore our two cats. But first…a little background. Many Italians think (their father among them) that animals belong outside…not inside. And that they should live their lives in a natural state. Another way to say they do not spay and neuter. Much to my surprise, Vera was persuaded to adopt a kitten (chiefly by Maja), now nearly a cat. A boy cat. For some reason Graziano, Vera’s husband, has allowed this kitten into their house.

Since they are not familiar with the ways of cats I felt I should explain the ways of Tom cats to Vera. And also that they don’t make good indoor pets if not neutered. They spray, and mark their territory. An unpleasant thing to have happen in your house. Graziano is, like many Italian men, against “cutting” males pets. But she managed to get it done. Her mother-in-law took the cat to the vet while the family was away on vacation and had him neutered.

But the odd thing is, Vera is keeping this all secret from her daughters. Maja was asking about the shaved spot on the cats tummy. So Vera made up some story. I asked why not tell them the truth, and she was all, well it’s not natural and they wouldn’t understand. I wish she’d tell them. It will maybe change their attitudes so future pets of theirs will be neutered. I tell you, I just don’t get Italian attitudes sometimes.
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Italy has issued new maps of the different new color coded regions. You will notice Umbria is an island of white in a sea of yellow.

The color coded zones don’t affect people who’ve been vaccinated but they do show where the virus is rising. Italy has mandated all people living in Italy, citizens or not, over 50 years of age, must be vaccinated. I read the Umbertide Notizie Facebook page and they said 429 people are testing positive here, all but two of which are isolating at home. The two are in the hospital.

Life here, if you’re vaccinated, feels pretty open now. But each of us has to follow our own hearts about what to do, what not to do, when to go, and when not, who to see, and where. We are staying home mostly. Discussions are on going about a winter trip. But to be honest, I feel it is prudent to wait.

I am sorry to see the cases elsewhere, to include the UK and the US are soaring. They said there could be 300,000 people in the hospital in the US by next month. We can only hope it will peak quickly without too much death.

Ho hum

Beginning of the year. After Epifania in January 6 all festivities stop. Then we all hunker down for the doldrums of winter. And we have to do some mandatory chores of everyday life.

In January every year we have to renew our Tessera Sanitaria. Our access to the Italian Health care system. We have to visit our ASL – Azienda Sanitaria Locale. We are required to bring copies of our “certified by the American Embassy in Rome”, Social Security statements. Only Umbria requires this, as far as we know. Then we pay 7.5% of that amount at the post and return to the ASL for our new cards. But first, we needed appointments, which we have for next week. An annual ritual.

Now is also the time to pay our auto Bollo, or our tax on the Volkswagen. And also, this year, the inspection which is bi-annual. The Bollo can be paid online but only after you get a SPID which is a secure email address. It took Luther a good deal of time to get that all worked out. The inspection will be week after next.

The poor old Volkswagen gets very little love. She hardly ever gets washed, and gets the minimum of maintenance. She is our workhorse, a really a decent, everyday car. So anyway, we took her to Happy Car for a much needed bath.

It was our first time here. There were maybe six workers? All hustling like their lives depended on it. Maybe they did? First, you park outside and they vacuum the car. Then, they drive into the building for the wash, two guys. High powered spray but wash all by hand. Then outside for drying and interior washing, floor mats are returned, wheels are cleaned, tires blacked. I don’t know how the money is split. The rent on the building and the water etc must be paid. Maybe the rest is split? Or maybe they are just hired by some Fat Cat who runs the show? Don’t know. The workers aren’t Italians, but they hustle like they get a piece of the action. Bottom line. This hand wash, interior vac and cleaning cost €10 or about $11. A bargain.

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Covid cases are up here, like everywhere. I read a tip about the self tests. The instructions say swab inside your nose. But i heard Omacron starts in the throat so it doesn’t show up in just a nasal swab. So, do your throat first, then your nose. Because it doesn’t show up in nasal swabs, a person is contagious for around 3 days even if testing negative (in the nose). Stay safe everyone. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Monday, Monday…

The weather has broken and the cold has abated. Warmer and rain is on the way for Christmas 🙁.
Until the last day, it has been crisp and cold with blue skies. A picture of or Collegiata as I returned home from an errand. I love this church. It is unique.

Sunday, we had, at Luther’s request, hot dogs. We bought them at the market. All beef and larger than my usual frank. To my credit I did roast them over the fire. But what amused me was the package for the buns.

One of the things I’ve noticed here…hot dog buns, hamburger buns are not sliced. You must cut them open yourself. Not a big deal. But also, in Italy they don’t cut pizzas into wedges. People usually get a pie each and then just cut it themselves. I guess Italians are cut averse! Hah!
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Today I made an interesting dish for dinner. I had bought a bunch of chard at the Saturday market. I also had the tops from two turnips. I wanted to use them somehow for our dinner. I decided to sauté it in olive oil and garlic with pepper flakes. Then I added a handful of cooked chickpeas and some crumbled feta. I cooked some tagliatelle and tossed it into the chard mixture with some pasta water. To finish I chopped some toasted almonds. I put them on the pasta with some pecorino Romano cheese. I fried a egg for each plate, which went on the top. It was good.

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Numbers continue to go up here. State of emergency was extended until 31 March. This allows the government to act quickly during the pandemic. I think the government is letting people enjoy the holiday, but afterward there will be big spikes of the disease and things will get more difficult. January and February will probably be peaking (yet again) with the virus.
We are again, sadly, staying home for now. I have to say, it is getting old. I want our world back. I want to travel again. But it looks like I’m going to have to accept the fact that life has changed forever. That all said, we need to live our lives. We just need to decide what are acceptable risks. This is all new to us all. We will figure it out. Andrà tutto bene 🌈.

Booster shot

Today we got our third vaccine shot. We just passed the five month mark since our second shot so we became eligible to get the booster. We made the appointment online which was a smooth process. At 5 PM we went to Trestina a small town north of us as we couldn’t get into the Umbertide clinic. Not an issue, it was only a 15 minute drive.

We arrived and there was no line. We went in and each were processed in. We had downloaded and filled in all the paperwork, which was checked. Then we went to the chairs spaced across the room. The woman called out “avanti” to Luther immediately. Within a minute I went in and the two of us went into the next room to get our jabs. We returned to the big room to wait ten minutes and were on our way. The whole process took no more than twenty minutes. Italy has got this DOWN! Here is the waiting room.

We drove straight home. The full moon hung low and illuminated the hills around us. The Christmas lights are all on in Umbertide. I finally took a picture of our town tree.

Exciting news! The Economist voted Italy the Winner of its “country of the year” award. The award goes not to the biggest, the richest or the happiest, but to the one that in their view improved the most in 2021.

From The Economist: “That honour goes to Italy. Not for the prowess of its footballers, who won Europe’s big trophy, nor its pop stars, who won the Eurovision song contest, but for its politics. The Economist has often criticised Italy for picking leaders, such as Silvio Berlusconi, who could usefully have followed the Eurovision-winning song’s admonition to “shut up and behave”. Because of weak governance, Italians were poorer in 2019 than they had been in 2000. Yet this year, Italy changed.

In Mario Draghi, it acquired a competent, internationally respected prime minister. For once, a broad majority of its politicians buried their differences to back a programme of thoroughgoing reform that should mean Italy gets the funds to which it is entitled under the eu’s post-pandemic recovery plan. Italy’s covid vaccination rate is among the highest in Europe. And after a difficult 2020, its economy is recovering more speedily than those of France or Germany. There is a danger that this unaccustomed burst of sensible governance could be reversed. Mr Draghi wants to be president, a more ceremonial job, and may be succeeded by a less competent prime minister. But it is hard to deny that the Italy of today is a better place than it was in December 2020. For that, it is our country of the year. Auguroni! “
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Finally, a mystery for you all. Here is a photo of a small sticker that has been stuck on the wall on our street for many years. We have googled and have found even more mystery… Who is Ernest Olkowski? And why was he right? 😳

Ciao for now!

Babbo Natale

We had a nice lunch today. They had a beautiful fireplace. Very cosy. It was a brilliant and brisk Sunday. We drove way out into the beautiful countryside. To me, it is a pleasure to drive there, although the road is small and twisty and partially unpaved strada bianca. Along the way were farms and the road went along a ridge top from which we could see the snow covered Apennine Mountains. Beautiful views.

My yummy lamb was a mix of three dishes.

The above was my dessert. Yum.
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Christmas is officially here in Umbertide. Saturday they lit the town tree. Over the years the trees have varied, from magnificent, to sad. This one is sad. Seems to have been badly hit by our dry summer and it looks to be dying. But the decorations somewhat cover that up so we will pretend it is perfect. I will post a picture in another post.

When we returned from lunch we saw they also had created a Christmas village. Here is the, rather chaotic, line of kids waiting to visit Babbo Natale (Father Christmas). There were one or two bambini digging their heels into the gravel to avoid having to visit him! It is the same the world over, it seems!

La Rocca, in the evening sun, below which was the village. This is new this year. Usually this is in the Piazza next to the Christmas tree.

Now we settle into the season. It has to be more festive than last year when no one was allowed to travel, nor visit in groups of more than four. There was no Christmas village last year since crowds weren’t allowed. This year we are really looking forward to ordering a panettone for ourselves. We missed out last year. We want to get it from our local bakery. They are worlds above the store-bought ones.
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Covid news in Italy. Our numbers continue to rise. But we are still doing a lot better than much of the rest of Europe. Austria has closed its borders and strictly locked down the populace. Germany requires a Covid test to enter the country, as does France etc. As of today, here in Italy, unless you are vaccinated or have recovered from Covid you are locked out of pretty much everything. You can no longer get a test to comply. You can’t eat in a restaurant or go to a bar. You can’t ride a bus, train, or plane. You can’t go to any events like sports or concerts. You can shop for groceries but only for things deemed a necessity, like food or medicines. They fined a man this morning for being unvaccinated on a bus. €400. So they will be enforcing it. We are fine as we have our green passes. We also have appointments to get our third dose in two weeks.
Andrà tutto bene 🌈

US and European work

I am enormously interested in what is going on in the US job market. Having lived in Germany in the ‘90s I worked in a German bureau. I learned that the Germans work very hard when they are working. They are the most productive people outside maybe Japan. Yet they work only 37.5 hours a week with 6 weeks vacation a year. I also saw they worked when they worked, and when they didn’t, they had a life outside of work. They started at 9 and they left at 5. They took a 1.5 hour lunch with coffee breaks in the morning and snack breaks in the afternoon. They didn’t work weekends. They took all their vacation time. In other words, they worked to live their lives and enjoy themselves and their families. I thought this was brilliant. And when I returned to the States I refused to work ridiculously long hours. My bosses didn’t like it, and maybe I didn’t get promoted, but I was fine with that.

Now I read that people in the US are reassessing their work lives. After Covid allowed them more freedom to work from home and lose the long commute they have decided maybe there is a better way. Is this the silver lining from Covid? Maybe so.

I had a comment on this blog which prompted this post. She seemed to think people were being incentivized to stay home by the current administration. But those incentives have expired. I truly believe that corporate America is getting a wake-up call. They can’t continue to abuse and underpay their employees. And give them no benefits. Like the restaurants, retail and service industries routinely do. People have realized they have options. And power to them, I say! Corporate America can afford to pay their employees, (without which they cannot operate) fairly.

The restaurant workers are an excellent example. I hope the accepted system in America must be changed now, because restaurants cannot get staff to come back. The restaurants pay super low wages ($1.50 an hour sometimes) because they expect their customers (!) to pay the wages of their employees. How arrogant! And no wonder they can’t hire staff. They need to pay a living wage with benefits like any proper job should have. It works in Europe, it will work in the US. They need to bite the bullet and add a service charge to the menu, and raise prices to pay the wages of their employees. No tipping. People do not tip in Italy. You can round up the tab if you want but that’s about it. It is not expected. Increasing pay, benefits and compensation is what is needed.
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This is not to say the Italian system is better, because it is not. So many problems here. Unemployment among the young and very well educated population is awfully high. The young & educated are leaving Italy for other places where they are valued and hired. They don’t want to go, but they have no choices. The system does not encourage entrepreneurs. They actually penalize those with more than 50 workers. It has become a contract economy. The employees are contract workers. The taxes are very high. I am not an expert. But these are the things I have learned.

And in Covid news…as of yesterday all workers must show the Green Pass as proof of vaccination or they will be laid off. Alternatively, they can pay and have the Covid test every 48 hours but this would take a lot of time and they have to pay for the tests themselves. It has come down to, do you want a normal life?
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So this past week we have been readying for our first guests in a long time. I don’t remember when we had our last guests. It is fun anticipating them and getting ready and planning their time here. It is Luther’s brother and wife who live in Virginia, and their daughter and her husband. Of course, I’ll be taking pictures and doing posts.

Ciao, ciao, ciao.

Whoo hoo!

Yesterday, Italy hit the goal of 80% of people over 12 years old fully vaccinated. It is a BIG DEAL. I will say, life is pretty much normal here now. The latest proclamation has opened sporting events to 100% capacity. Gyms, theaters, swimming pools are all open. Of course, one must show the EU Green Pass (or equivalent proof of vaccination from another country) to enter any of these places, plus restaurants. Also, one must still wear the mask inside. Not a problem for Italians, who are not normally rule followers, but are doing it in this case. They, and us interlopers, all wear masks with no drama. Sad to say, a friend who came over from being in Florence, said he witnessed an American woman tourist in a clothing store there who jumped the line to buy something. She had no mask on. The clerk asked her to put on her mask and she said “no”. The security guards ejected her. Why come over here to visit and be so rude? These are the rules of the country who is your host. I sincerely hope this was an anomaly. She was that one bad apple…

Yes, there have been riots in Rome about the Vaccine mandate here. They are organized by a neo-fascist group and definitely not main stream. I read they may be banned. We don’t need this sort of dissent in the middle of a global pandemic.
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Otherwise it is definitely autumn in Umbria. The tobacco is being harvested, the sunflowers have dried and been harvested, the grapes have been mostly harvested. The fall vegetables are now in the market. If I go to the local Saturday market here in town, no one needs to tell me what month it is. All I need to do is look at the available produce and I know. 🙂

Wednesday mercato today, as usual. My market buy today was these beauties!

Porcini mushrooms only fresh in the fall. Many people go mushroom hunting around here. These are plentiful. I’ll be making tagliatelle con porcini – mmm.

Then I bought this…

Salame al Cinghiale. Wild boar salami. It will be for our Sunday Stuzzicheria to welcome our first guests!

Ciao for now!

The Americans are coming!

I am amazed at the numbers of Americans arriving here in Italy right now. I guess many people waited until fall to come on the much wanted trip after the lockouts and lockdowns. I heard Florence is back to the teeming crowds of tourists, so long gone. I’ve seen pictures of other tourist destinations which are also very crowded. It is all good for the Italian merchants, restaurants and all the tourist oriented industries who have all suffered so much from this pandemic. They are all very happy to hear American voices again.

We have been meeting some of them. For a meal or a drink. Some are virtual-friends through my blog. Some already have places to live here and have returned after a long time of not being able to come. Many are looking for a property here. It looks like the property market is finally heating up somewhat.

We had a nice dinner with a couple who own an apartment in one of the many reconstructed borgos around here. Purpose built from old farms or small abandoned villages into vacation home enclaves. For my foodie friends, this was my Primi course last night. Pasta with a duck ragu, figs and nuts. Unusual and very good!

We just noticed there is a cannon in the Piazza outside! Along with the Italian banner. It is time for Otto Cento! For those who don’t know, Fratta ‘800 or Otto Cento has always been our town’s biggest and most fun festival. It was always held about this time of year and lasted for four days. A quasi recreation of the beginning of the Italian republic in 1861.

People dressed in period costume, re-enactments abounded, the cannons boomed, the horse Calvary were here, the briganti hid in their lair along with the ladies of the night in the brothel until Saturday night when they overtook the town. Garibaldi turned the tables and order was restored on Sunday. Four days of mayhem. 15 or more popup restaurants serving period food. Entertainment in keeping with the 1800s. Alas, since Covid it has been a shadow of its former self. But some people are keeping it going with restrictions. Hopefully in 2022 we can get back to our normal one.

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Today a decree will be signed to mandate vaccination to all workers in Italy.

From TheLocal
“Italy is expected to become the first European country to make its Covid-19 health certificate mandatory for all workers in both the public and private sector from October, as the government tries to speed up vaccinations and keep the infection rate down.”

Hot, hot, hot

Big heat spell here right now. Temps near 100F. No rain for months. I hope Italy doesn’t have any fires. We are pretty much managing the shutters and attempting to keep the heat out in the daytime and letting the cool (if there is any!) into the house at night. We have even been using our AC during parts of the day, and at night. I dream of a cool front coming through, or a nice thunderstorm. No sign of one 👀 Sigh.

We have no trips planned for the rest of this year after our fun trip to Sardinia. It may have been a risk. But we suffered no harm. And good memories. Luther is talking of a trip to Milano in September. We shall see.

Umbria is doing very well. We haven‘t had a death in weeks. Crossing my fingers it stays like this. We have hardly any UK visitors which is very unusual, and not many US visitors either. We seem to have German, Belgian, Holland, and the Scandinavian countries.

We are now in Agosto, August, which is the big vacation month here. Businesses and government agencies shut down. Don’t even think of getting anything done in August in Italy.

Dinners and lunches are cool affairs. No baking, no roasting. If I use heat it will be to make something ahead to use in a salad at night. Or I will quick sear a thin cut of meat. Chicken cutlets are a popular choice. Or a thin steak. Last night we had a Greek salad. Tonight we had left over Greek salad in pasta served cold and chicken cutlets in pesto from my basil. We are out of charcoal but when I get more, grilling will be an option.

Hot time! Summer in the city…

Traveling to Italy – Updates
Italy began its Green Pass mandates this week. People will be required to show the pass for access to museums, galleries, theatres, cinemas, sports stadiums, theme parks, indoor swimming pools, spas, gyms, and indoor seating areas at bars and restaurants. US residents can show their CDC card and it will be accepted in lieu of the Green Pass. A person can also show a negative test within 48 hours of entering one of these venues, or proof you had Covid and have recovered. As of September 1st, the Pass will be required to travel in planes, ferries, busses and long distance trains.
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Since things have gotten so bad in the US, there is talk of the EU closing travel to US travelers. Again. They say within the next two weeks they will make a decision. Today The Local, our “go to” English language online paper, had an article with the latest. I cut and pasted since there is a pay wall. (By the way, it is not at all expensive to subscribe and it is a wealth of information.)
Here is the article:
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At the moment Italy allows arrivals from the US for any reason, including tourism. But as coronavirus infection rates rise in both countries, readers have asked if and when the rules could change.
Question: We are traveling to Italy soon and are hearing rumors concerning Italy or the EU imposing new restrictions on US travelers. Do you know if and when this is likely to happen?

As the coronavirus infection rate in the United States has now risen well above the threshold for removal from Europe’s travel ‘safe list’, there has been media speculation in recent days about whether a change to the rules is imminent.

The European Commission regularly reviews its ‘safe list’ of countries from which non-essential travel is allowed, and news reports from Reuters and Bloomberg this week have cited EU officials saying rules for those arriving from the United States could be reconsidered under the next review.

After initially saying the ‘safe list’ review could come as soon as next week, the same officials have now reportedly stated that it will happen in two weeks, Bloomberg reported on Tuesday.

The rate of new coronavirus cases in the US has risen to 270 per 100,000 inhabitants over the previous 14 days, according to data from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC). The EU’s ‘safe list’ limit is 75 new cases.

The seven-day average of Covid-19 cases in the US now stands at around 100,000 per day, up from under 20,000 in June.
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Stay safe and wear your mask. Andrà tutto bene
🌈

Green Pass

This has been a very productive week so far. The first good thing was we both managed to download our Green Passes onto our IPhones and now we should be able to show them if needed to prove we have both been vaccinated. Here is what it looks like. I blurred the QR code and personal information.

Among other things, we also managed to pick up our new Permessi di Soggiorno. As I posted earlier, it was the fastest we have ever gotten them and mine is actually good for eleven months! Amazing.

The other things I mentioned…We got our Italian taxes filed. We visited the Poste Italiene to pay a bill for a friend. Yesterday we got our hairs cut. Did you ever notice only English uses the word “hair” for plural. The word hair can mean a single hair, or all your hair. Not so in Italian, French and German. Those are the only other languages I know. So I’ve taken to saying, I am going to get my hairs cut. 😁

A special thing you can get only at this time of year is friggatelli (pronounced frig with a soft G like George) Little green peppers. They are prepared by frying in olive oil for a couple of minutes then adding minced garlic for a few seconds. Then you add a bit of water and close the pan to let the peppers steam for about ten minutes. You can eat the whole thing to include the seeds. A nice side dish with steak or chicken. I love them and eat them a lot while they are in season..

I’m not sure anyone wants to know the end of the pigeon story. But quickly I will say it wasn’t a happy ending and actually at this time, a full week and a half after the window got shut, there remain live pigeons inside. They will die eventually. I wish it would be soon. A man did come with the cherry picker truck on Monday and opened the window and retrieved 3 dead pigeons from near the window. The live pigeons, naturally wouldn’t try to fly out while he was in the window. So he closed it back up and left. I am glad that window is nailed shut now and I don’t have to go through this again. And neither do the pigeons. There are plenty pigeons left and they will find other nesting places.
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Tonight I made a seared steak that was marinated in mango purée with habanero pepper and lime juice. I made a salsa of seared tomatoes, jalapeños, garlic and cilantro. I served with corn tortillas and sliced avocado. Most of the more “exotic” ingredients (mango, cilantro, avocado) I got from the “Egyptian” fruttivendolo. Truth be told only the cilantro must be bought there. The regular Coop carries avocado and mango. But almost nobody carries coriandolo…cilantro. I also think his avocado is way better than any other source. Every now and then I must break away from Italian food…I love it..but my taste buds need a boost now and then! 😎

ciao for now!