Category Archives: Festivals and Sagras

Otto Cento 2021

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. 💕
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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.

Approach to Calagrana
My antipasto – liver pate with pepper jelly .
Tagliatelle puttanesca
Luther’s lamb shank

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.

Alien eyes

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.
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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.

Buona giornata a tutti! 🌈

Epifania

Today is the last day of the twelve days of Christmas. Epiphany. The story goes that the three wise men arrived at the stable where the baby Jesus was lying in the manger on this day. It is a holiday here. Growing up Protestant we didn’t celebrate this day. Our Christmas season ended on January 1. After tonight our beautiful tree won’t be lit anymore and it will be chopped into pieces and carried away in the next days. Always sad. Especially sad this year because it is such a pretty tree. So I took a short video last night. We can watch it twinkle forever now.

Stay safe everyone…the numbers in the US are terrifying. Here, we slowly get them back under control. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Buon Anno a tutti! 2021!

We are again under lockdown for the weekend ahead. Intentionally to keep people from gathering or traveling. So, everyone being stuck at home, what to do to celebrate the new year? 🤔 …. I know! Fireworks!

But first…we had a nice dinner, partly courtesy of Calagrana. We drove out yesterday morning and picked up our special dinner. We decided to not try to eat it all at once (there were 4 courses plus contorno) so last night we had the delicious Salmon Carpaccio as a starter. We also had a bottle of special Champagne. Vintage 2004…well, here, let me show you!

It was delicious. We watched a movie and then some news and Luther hit the sack. It was not long until midnight so I decided to see the new year in.

I switched over to RAI 1, one of the Italian state stations. It was inane as I knew it would be. They are so hokey! It’s unbelievable.

Meanwhile, outside the firecrackers had begun and as the hands of the clock hit twelve the fireworks exploded!! Everyone was shooting them off. I went outside on the terrace and watched the explosions, bursts and fountains of light. I have NEVER seen so many. All along the horizon and up on the mountains there were flashes of light. I guess everyone is happy to see the back of 2020. And being stuck at home, they let off steam as they could. Quite the celebration. But it scared Rocky and Simba to death! I didn’t make a movie as some of our friends did. Everyone was amazed by the shear numbers…abbondanza!
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I am surprisingly hopeful for this new year…but I think we will all need to have a lot of patience. There’s a vaccine in our future if we want it, but waiting is the name of the game. Here in Europe where all the countries have National Health systems we have an infrastructure to vaccinate our populations already set up. But, even so, here in Italy, we have such an old population we are far down the list to receive the vaccination. First the health care workers (almost 2 million), then the over 80 year olds (8+ million!). So estimates are, for my group, April to June.

Alas, the US does not even have the infrastructure that Europe has. And right now the States are supposed to administer it to the population. So far this is not going well. I hope a Federal mandate will come out to organize things better. I feel it is necessary in this situation…to save lives.
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Happy New Year everyone! Here’s to 2021! Despite the difficulties it will be a far better year I’m sure!! Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Buon Natale!

The end to a very stressful year is in sight. We will spend Christmas and New Year at home of course. And we will eat alone. But we will still have yummy things….just not Italian. Italy it is all about the feast of the seven fishes on Christmas Eve, and then lasagna with ragu on Christmas Day. These are the traditional festive meals. I love these traditions but this year I decided to go against the norm. I think, in honor of the fishes I will have fish tacos on Christmas Eve! 😁 And I was gifted a duck for a Christmas present from my friend Vera, so that will be our Christmas dinner.

I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I have hopes that 2021 will be a much better year. It can’t be a lot worse, that’s for sure!

Parade of Christmas trees

Our first tree here was in 2014. We had not yet moved into our house so we were in the little apartment in the building next to ours owned by our friends Susan and Gary. From this apartment we could see them bringing the tree down a tiny street. They don’t truss trees here — it was bushy and big! They had to be careful not to knock the street lamps off the buildings or the flowers from the balcony!

Coming through! See that lamp on the right? They had to bring a cherry picker to allow them to keep the branches from knocking it off the wall.
2014 – nice tree.

And just for the record, shortly after the tree arrived we moved into our own home. Here is our itty bitty tree in our brand new home in 2014.

Here are the trees from subsequent years. Some from ground level, some from our window. Somehow I don’t have a picture from 2017. 🥺

2015 – this one was smaller than the others but they had the extra lights strung across which made it nice. From underneath it was magic,
2016 – right after they erected the scaffolding on the Comune building to renovate it. Also one of my favorite trees.
2018 – one of my favorites.
2019 – this one wins the contest for ugliest tree! What were they thinking?!

Now in 2020 our tree has arrived and people have been busy with cherry pickers decorating it. I am told it came from a farm in Montecorona which is in the Umbertide Comune just beneath Monte Acuto, our big mountain. It is a nicely shaped and tall tree.

In normal times, the tree is lit on December 8, Immacolata or Immaculate Conception in English. There are big crowds to watch the scheduled lighting of the tree, and Babbo Natale, Father Christmas, or our Santa Claus is there for the kids. But these are not normal times. Susan told me the tree would be lit tonight. Sure enough, once it was dark I went to look and there it was…all lit up and beautiful. No crowds…no fanfare. It was rather sad. Look at some of the older pictures to see the normal crowds. Anyway, here is our 2020 tree…at least one thing is beautiful in this strange year.

Stay Covid safe everyone 😷…andrà tutto bene🌈

Thanksgiving – let’s give thanks 💕

Thanksgiving is tomorrow. In Italy, the holiday doesn’t exist except sometimes in the American and foreign community. In any event, there can be no big celebrations here this year with friends, because gatherings aren’t allowed. Having a non-pod member into your home is also taboo. I say pod — all people in your normal household are your “pod”.

As you know, we are celebrating on our own. A normal Thanksgiving dinner. Turkey and all the trimmings. I’ve even got a small container of frozen cranberry sauce left.

We ordered our turkey last week. From our local EuroSpin supermercato. These are the bargain basements of food stores. They all have the same pattern. The center of the store is canned, boxed, and bottled goods. Cheap, and I don’t buy any because they have off brands and the quality can be iffy. BUT around the middle, along the walls are individual stands owned by independent contractors. They provide produce, cheeses, prepared foods, bakery goods, meat and fish. These people have great stuff. Here, we get our turkey from the butcher. Italians like turkey but never, ever whole! We carefully explain we want — tacchino femmina intera. Turkey female whole. Here they have two sizes…male and female. Male is 15 kilos and up (~35 lbs+) and females 6 kilos and up (~15 lbs+). My oven can barely fit a smaller one. So we asked for it to be as small as possible. We picked it up today and it weighs 7.1 kilos or 15.6 lbs. This should be enough for us and the friends we are sharing with.

We are celebrating it on the Thursday, not that I have to do it on the exact day… yet… I want to. I’m needing that right now. Things in their proper place and time. The normality of the Before Times. I’m going to miss my sister this year. We try to celebrate at least one holiday together. We usually fly to the US. But this particular year we had planned a Windstar cruise from Barcelona to Lisbon. It would have encompassed Thanksgiving and since it’s an American line I assume they would have had a “turkey with all the trimmings” dinner. Sigh. Maybe in a future, unseeable now, it will happen. But meanwhile we celebrate how we can. And we stay safe, and we keep our families safe. We’ll always have Paris…ooops wrong movie! 😁

The fact that we can’t celebrate Thanksgiving like normal, doesn’t mean we still shouldn’t stop and think of what we ourselves have got to be thankful for. And we have a lot. Think on it. We’ve got food. A bed to sleep in at night. Running water. Toilets.  Plus first world extras like WiFi and computer… and wine or booze (probably). There are hundreds of millions of people in this world who do not have the basic things. They are hungry most of the time, they sleep on the ground or floor. They don’t have plumbing or clean water. We are the winners in the lottery of life. So, let’s stop our kvetching and remember WE are some of the lucky ones. Let’s not forget. And let’s be thankful. And hopeful.
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I’m heartened to see more State Governors are mandating masks in the face of enormous numbers of cases. Keep Covid-safe everyone…Andrà tutto bene 🌈 and Happy Thanksgiving. 💕

Ferragosto!

Today is August 15, also known as Ferragosto. It’s the holiday in the center of the month of August, which itself is the big vacation month in Italy. It is also a religious holiday — The assumption of the Virgin Mary into heaven. Assumption day.

Ferragosto originates from Feriae Augusti, the festival of Emperor Augustus, who made the 1st of August a day of rest after the weeks of hard work of the agricultural sector.

The popular tradition of taking a trip during Ferragosto arose under the fascist regime. In the second half of the 1920s, during the mid-August period, the regime organized hundreds of popular trips through the fascist leisure and recreational organizations of various corporations. The initiative gave the opportunity to less well-off social classes to visit Italian cities or to reach seaside and mountain resorts. The offer was limited to 13, 14 and 15 August, and comprised two options: the “One-Day Trip”, within a radius of 50-100 kilometers, and the “Three-Day Trip” within a radius of about 100–200 kilometers.

Today, here in Umbria, everything except for bars and restaurants, are closed today. If the Italians aren’t at the beach they are eating and drinking and having fun. I’m happy for them after all they’ve (we’ve) been through this year.

It still is a mystery to me, though, that people whose businesses were closed for 2-3 months and with the economy in the toilet, can still go on vacation. I still see “closed for vacation” signs everywhere. I noticed Bar Mary is closed for three days from today. Normally they take a week in summer. At least they are at the beach as we speak 🥰. Maybe it is the safety net the Italian government has put into place for its people. And they even have incentives for people to go on vacation. The people get to go on vacation and it’s a boost to the hard hit tourist industry.

It is certainly a lot different from the US right now. No one seems to be helping our hard hit populace. No one can afford a vacation. I worry about them paying the rent or mortgage, or even having enough to eat, for heavens sake. Molto triste. 😢

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Please let’s all work to stop this pandemic. We all can help. Andrà tutto bene 🌈

Tuesday – Day of the Republic

Today is a national Holiday — Festa della Repubblica. June 2nd. In 1946, it was the day Italians voted to abolish the monarchy, and the Republic of Italy was born. So it’s called Republic Day.

After an 85 year monarchy, which had for the most part been very popular with the people, a referendum resulted in the end.  All male members and future heirs of the ruling House of Savoy were deposed and exiled.

The monarchy had ruled since Italy’s Unification in 1861. Its final monarch, Umberto II only got to be king for a month, earning him the nickname ‘Re di Maggio’ or ‘the May King’.

Umberto had actually been acting as head of state since 1944; after Benito Mussolini’s fascist regime – to which the monarchy had been allied – collapsed, King Victor Emmanuel III transferred his powers to his only son in the hope it would give the monarchy a popularity boost. It didn’t work.

The constitution now forbids a monarchy. In 2002, The House of Savoy family formally renounced their claim to the throne so they could return from exile. Umberto refused the right to return to his homeland, dying in Geneva in 1983.

There you go! Your Italian history lesson for today 🙂
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Last night I made a new recipe from “Six Seasons” cookbook. It was a faro salad with salami, cheese, and fave.  I added new peas, arugula and basil to the mint called for. Lots of good Umbrian olive oil. Very yummy. Luther loved it. 

January 6 – Epifania

The Feast of the Epiphany commemorates the arrival of the Three Kings in Bethlehem when the Magi came bearing gifts for the Christ Child. This festival marks the end of the Christmas season.

We were invited to visit friends who live in Florence to see the Cavalcata dei Magi. Riders on horseback, knights, ladies, soldiers, peasants, drummers and flag throwers wind their way through the historical center of Florence. This Cavalcade has been celebrated since the 15th century. The costumes of beautiful silks and velvets are inspired by the famous fresco, “the Procession of the Magi” by Benozzo Gozzoli in the Palazzo Medici Riccardi.

It was a beautiful day. Cold and crisp. We walked to the Pitti Palace where the procession begins. We were there about 20 minutes early and got to stand right in the front but we had to defend our territory against many front row wantabes.

Of course I took a lot of pictures and these costumes are so amazing it was hard to narrow it down. So bear with me and scroll through, peruse as you like and try to picture this same parade happening 600 years ago!

First I will show the many banners that  represent the Contrade, or neighborhoods of Florence.

The bearers of the gifts.

The three kings.

The procession of lords and ladies in beautiful costumes!

This one intrigued me. This proud looking woman walked with her right hand extended and upraised as though being escorted by an invisible person. Why? Was she a proud widow? I don’t know.

Now come many soldiers, flag bearers and probably important men.

These are the Falconers with the amazing raptors!

Now the archers…

Peasants…

And finally a couple of pictures from the beautiful property where our hosts live. it is south of the Arno but easy walking distance to all the sights.  It must be 5 or more acres of lovely gardens. With a view of Florence from the top that is spectacular.