Today is Festa della Republica – Italian Independence Day. The day Italy voted the Monarchy out just after WWII. Big doings in town. Antique and cool cars and motorcycles near La Rocca.
I went down to the Piazza to meet my friend Elizabeth for a Caffè. Or rather, I should say i went to ”take a caffè” which is the Italian way to say it. It was pleasant, as it was still morning. Record heat for today through the weekend in Italy. It will be hitting 40C or 104F in the south. I snapped a few pictures. Our comune with flags. Not as spectacular as the fly over but still festive.
And our two Bars in the Piazza. Bar Mary and Café Centrale. Bar Mary has really upped their game this year, adding planter boxes with trellis’ to delineate their space and new black umbrellas. They intend to get two more umbrellas to complete the look. It is quite inviting now, I think.
Since today is the last day of April, I wanted to do a post showcasing a dish from the book “The Tuscan Year”. As you may recall, I have been doing an excerpt from the book each month. The month of April was dedicated to Easter. The traditions are strong. Easter Saturday is the traditional time to plant vegetables. Beans, peas, zucchini, carrots, onions, potatoes, parsley and basil.
When this book was written in the 1980s, the parish priest still visited households to bless the house and family during Holy Week. An ancient tradition. The house was cleaned, top to bottom and the Priest sprinkled holy water into each room. Later the Priest returned for a big lunch after visiting other houses. Blessing is apparently hard work!
The culinary traditions are also strong for the Easter Feast. The Primi, or pasta course is always the celebratory dish, Lasagna. Roasted lamb is always the Secondi. Artichokes, in abundance at this time, were prepared multiple ways as part of the antipasto. I decided to try to make the Carciofi in Umido, stewed artichokes. Lets hope this one has better results than my disastrous frittata in March. 😂 ~~~~~~
Recipe – Carciofi in Umido Four Roman artichokes 50 gr butter 2 cloves of garlic, minced 2 tablespoons minced parsley salt and pepper
Trim the artichokes of the stems and outer leaves. Enlarge the hole at the top, between the leaves. Dice the cold butter, mince garlic and parsley and mix together. Add salt. Place some of this mixture inside each artichoke. Put a very little olive oil and a spoon of water into a pan. Place the artichokes in, leaves facing down. They should fit tightly in the pan so they won’t fall over. cover with greaseproof paper and cover the pan tightly. Steam them gently. They are done when the stem end can easily be pierced with a knife. Serve with a little of the buttery garlic sauce which will have collected in the bottom of the pan.
Today, my lunch is stewed artichokes. They turned out delicious. Just right for a light lunch along with some of the Munster cheese from the French market.
Tomorrow is European Labor day. May Day. A holiday but since it is Sunday not a big thing. Buona domenica, and buona Festa dei Lavoratori!
Today is a beautiful, if cool day. We heard about a little French fest in Città di Castello, this is the next town north of us in the Tiber valley. Luther, myself and our friend Jen decided it would be a fun outing. Off we went in the brilliant sun and blue sky day.
Città di Castello is about twice the size of Umbertide. It has a complete ancient wall enclosing the old Centro Storico. It also has some beautiful towers and buildings.
We park in a free parking lot. It is just outside the walls. There is a crosswalk and a small door through the wall and then escalators up. It is not that far because Città is not a hill town. You come out in a lovely park just next to the Duomo. Then it’s a short walk to the main piazza. All the vendors are French. It was nice to hear French. We first came to a spice and tea vendor. These two are the ones I bought. They smell devine!
We walked. And looked. We were here on the first day of the fair and many stands were not finished setting up. On the good side, there were no crowds. I am sure tomorrow and Sunday will be very crowded. We also bought French soap, mustard from Dijon, and cherry preserves. I bought a new scarf, because a lady can’t have too many scarves!
Suddenly! There were cheeses! Beautiful French cheeses. We used to live in Germany very near France. The Alsace was our favorite place. Lo and behold there was Munster cheese. It must hold the prize for the stinkiest cheese. But it has a lovely mild taste. It has been many years since I had it. I bought half a round of it. and another very pretty cheese. Here’s a picture.
The next stand had a guy behind a plastic partition with multiple ovens and he was producing the most amazing things to eat. I bought a lovely baguette and a seeded bread to go with the cheeses. We bought lunch, I got a baguettino with goat cheese and almonds. Jen got the same. Luther got an individual quiche Lorraine. All very yummy.
It was an excellent outing to enjoy this cool spring day. ~~~~~~~ Today, we also have an apartment viewing at 6 o’clock. We have been working very hard to not open the frig because inside lives the Munster cheese. And honestly, it can permeate the entire house with its pungent aroma in an instant! Could be off putting to potential buyers. 😁
Buono fine di settimana…much easier to say have a good weekend!
Yesterday, we dumped the last bag of pellets we had bought this winter into our stufa. We declared it officially Spring! We went through around 80 sacks this year at €5.50 each. We know the amount because this year we had most of them delivered and hired people to carry them up to our apartment. The pellet stove keeps our living and dining room nice and warm all winter… and it saves on gas.
I bet most people don’t know that the Italian government regulates when you can start and must end using your heat. Umbria is in Zone E. This zone is second to the longest allowed time (meaning we are second to the coldest region). We are allowed to have the heat on 14 hours a day from October 15 to April 15. They also regulate the temperature. The warmest you can set the thermostat is 20C or 68F. This explains why such a large proportion of the population use wood or pellets as a supplemental (or primary) way to heat.
Just this week Italy announced that this year they will also regulate, and limit, the use of air conditioning, but only in businesses and schools. Italy imports 95% of its gas, and 40% of that comes from Russia. Italy says we will stop importing any gas from Russia within 18 months. Applause! We have two air conditioning units but very rarely use them. Perhaps on the hottest days of August we use it for around three or four hours in the living room since it gets the full afternoon and evening sun. Otherwise, it cools off very quickly in the evening so the windows are open to the night breezes.
We took a nice drive over the weekend. Down through the mountains. I got this castle photo in the town where we ate lunch, Capodacqua.
Yesterday was Liberation day, a big holiday here. 25 Aprile 1945, the end of WWII for the Italians. It’s complicated! In Umbertide is is even more complicated because the very same day but one year earlier in 1944, the Allies dropped 2 bombs on Umbertide while trying to destroy the Tiber river bridge. Seventy-eight citizens were killed and an entire block of houses destroyed and never rebuilt. So it is a bittersweet day here. Anyway, all over Italy one hears the Bella Ciao! song. Here is a still of of our marching band and all the citizens entering the Piazza. Photo borrowed from a video my neighbor Christie got.
Bella Ciao! By a local group – Nuova Brigata Pretolana. A rousing rendition!
The month of February is the turning point of winter. The days are noticeably longer. The very early buds and tiny ground flowers are visible. The big fields of winter wheat are fluorescent green. But it is still cold.
February is when the farmers in these Umbrian valleys and in the nearby Tuscan valleys start the seedlings for their most important cash crop – tobacco. [previous post about Tobacco growing] It is labor intensive. The soil is completely removed and the beds are refilled with straw and manure and fertilizer and then rich alluvial earth is added from near the rivers. The seeds are planted according to the phase of the moon. It must be full and beginning to wane. They do things by the old ways here. ~~~~~~~~ At this time of year, beans are a very big part of the daily diet. The one recipe I chose from the book – “The Tuscan Year” – for February is for Minestra di Fagioli. Ingredients: one onion, one rib of celery, two cloves of garlic, small bunch of parsley, 2 oz pancetta, 3 Tablespoons of olive oil, small can of tomatoes chopped, 5 1/2 ounces cooked white beans, 3 1/2 ounces short pasta, salt, and stock. Instructions: chop onions, celery, garlic, parsley and pancetta. Heat olive oil in large pan and add to pan and cook until soft. Add tomatoes, stir and allow to cook for 10 minutes. Meanwhile coarsely purée beans and then add to soup. Simmer 10 minutes. Add stock to thin. Cook 15 minutes. Add pasta 15 minutes before serving, cook and add more stock as needed for your preferred soup consistency. Serve with pecorino or parmesan cheese and a spoon of good olive oil. ~~~~~~~~ February is normally the month when Lent begins (This year, Lent begins March 2 because Easter is late). Most Italians still take Lent seriously. But first! There is Carnivale! This is literally ”farewell to flesh”. In Germany it is called Fasching. We would be familiar with Mardi Gras because of New Orleans. Here in Italy, in the large cities, they have huge parades and feasts. But in the little mountain valley of our friend Silvana (from the book ”The Tuscan Year”) it is a bit more low key but still a festive occasion, looked forward to by all.
First the traditional sweets must be prepared. This one is called Castagnole.
The pre-lenten dance is called veglione, a ballo in maschera — masked dance. It was held in a cleared out barn. The young women don their finest, fluff their hair and make themselves sultry with makeup. The young men slick their hair and wear their new trousers. The middle aged dance in their Sunday suits and flowery dresses. Silvana just watches. She lost her 16 year old son in a tragic accident. The big tractor tipped over and killed him. Silvana will be in mourning for many years.
Excerpt from the book… ”About halfway through the evening, the door is flung open and a group of masked, costumed figures rushes in. The band strikes up a new tune and the masked dancers form lines and perform a strange dance like a fast minuet. Their faces are covered with veiling pulled tight and they have all manner of odd hats and garments on. There are men wearing sunbonnets and cotton frocks and girls in patched trousers hung with tin cans, but the veils make them all anonymous and slightly sinister. The music changes, the formation breaks up, the masqueraders grab at the nearest onlookers and whirl them round in faster and faster circles as the tempo quickens. Suddenly, at an unheard signal, the music stops and the dancers disappear as quickly as they arrived. It is midnight and time to eat!” The party goes until 4.
Carnevale, Fasching, Mardi Gras…whatever you call it…always has a sinister and slightly spooky feeling.
Today was the last market before Christmas. It was quite festive. Many “buona festa” “buona natale” “Auguri” greetings. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t Catholic, or even Christian. Even our Muslim citizens were out and about and festive. Here are some pictures I took. First a bunch of the buskers and people who sit and ask for money. We have our share of them as probably everywhere does.
This fellow below is a regular. I always give him a coin or two. He sits politely, and waits.
The entrance to the main piazza.
~~~~~~~ On a different note. I took some pictures of the Christmas windows around the piazza and adjacent streets in the Centro.
The shopkeepers care and work to make their stores attractive for the holiday. I enjoy seeing their efforts. Ciao for now!
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. ~~~~~~~~ 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. ~~~~~~~ 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 🌈
This isn’t all about Otto Cento. First I need to give you links to previous posts about the festa, so you get an idea about the briganti and what they get up to. First 2014, our first year here. Next 2015, our second Otto Cento. These are just a couple years. If you are interested go to the search function and put in Otto Cento.
The Biganti are a big part of the fun of Otto Cento. They are the bad boys. Always up to mischief. And always during the wee hours of Saturday night. Today, I woke up to see in the middle of the piazza the biggest pile of shit I’ve ever seen. Along with some signs which I cannot decipher.
As you may notice the Briganti have hoisted their flag behind their creation.
To enter the piazza you need to go through a curtain which has large naked butt. You walk between the legs.
It is all in fun and the boys and their molls love it. I love it too. 💕 ~~~~~~~~ We went to lunch at Calagrana with a new friend, Brian, who is contemplating a move to Italy. It was a messy day weather-wise. It rained sporadically, and the sun shone some too. The view of the Niccone valley was, as always mesmerizing. We had a nice conversation and a nice lunch. I wish Brian luck in his quest to move to Italy.
When we got home the skies opened. Much needed rain! Lovely.
Stay safe all. Next up, my road trip to Molise with my friend Jen. Exciting.
I read a post by a friend today. It was about the fact that we stranieri, foreigners, who come to live in foreign lands, come with different viewpoints. We see things differently and notice the differences in our new land, which the residents don’t see, because it’s so familiar to them. It’s because we strangers look on things with “new” eyes. It would be the same if reversed, I’m sure.
One thing they don’t seem to see here, is that they don’t market themselves. Or not well, anyway. I’ve always said, Umbria just doesn’t “get” marketing. It doesn’t have a regional program to market itself to the world, like say, Tuscany does. It’s why many people who asked me where I was moving before we came had no idea where Umbria was when I told them. I, personally, am fine with Umbria as it is. But Umbria could be more if it knew how. It is so much like Tuscany. The landscape is nearly identical, save for the sea. The food and wine are very similar. Wild boar, porcini, and salt-less bread, all shared by the two regions. And yet, Toscana is overrun with tourists. While Umbria is tranquil and undiscovered. The traditions that so many tourists love are all sleeping here.
They just don’t understand marketing. A good, and slightly amusing example is in our town. Or was, I should say. We had a really nice Jazz bar on a nearby street. But you wouldn’t know it was there because it had no sign. When friends from California mentioned they should put up a nice sign, the owner said, “I don’t have enough business for a sign”. True story. The Jazz bar is long gone, for obvious reasons. This the defunct Jazz club. It looked just like this when it was open. No sign, no hours…who would know it was even there?
Don’t get me started on websites, which are, in my opinion, one of the easiest ways to market yourselves. When we first came we always reflexively went to the website looking for info. Take for instance, a town with an annual festival. You want to know the schedule. When you go to the town website, you see the schedule for 2016. It is 2021. They haven’t updated their site in five years 🙄. This is typical. Hotel sites list specials from two years ago. Restaurant sites don’t list their weekly closing day. They don’t say if they are open for lunch. Many don’t even say where they are! An art museum in Citta di Castello we wanted to visit listed their hours. So we paid them a visit, only to find them closed for TWO MONTHS for renovation! Wouldn’t you think they’d tell you this on their website!? It IS an important bit of information. Anyway, they’ve beaten us down. We don’t expect accurate information on a website anymore.
We had a nice monthly magazine for the Upper Tevere Valley before the pandemic. It had articles about businesses and items of interest. It was free, so there were lots of ads in it. Me, being new, I was always interested in knowing what was out there. Half the time, I’d find a business and it would have nice glossy pictures etc, (they do design well) but it wouldn’t say where they were, no address, not even the town sometimes, or when they were open. I guess if you grow up here they’d expect you to know. Marketing 101. Italians are surprised when I point out these “tiny” omissions. They just don’t “see” it. ~~~~~~~~ It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood. The weather is perfect. Warm days, blue skies, cool nights. Suddenly, it’s fall. Photo from my walk today.
Information for those who are traveling to Italy from the US. The EU put the US on the list of countries no longer able to come without restrictions. Each country will make a ruling for themselves. Yesterday, Italy reimposed the requirement for a negative Covid test in addition to proof of vaccine. It says specifically, “presentation to the carrier at the time of embarkation and to anyone in charge of carrying out the checks, of the certification of having undergone, in the seventy-two hours prior to entry into the national territory, to a molecular or antigenic test, carried out by means of a swab and negative result.” This takes effect from today August 31 to October 25 unless amended.