Category Archives: Italian life

Pizza night at Calagrana

Every Sunday is pizza night at Calagrana. Fun and casual. Albi mans the wood burning outdoor pizza oven with his assistant. We ran into many longtime friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time. All were in good spirits and have weathered the pandemic. Also we saw newly returned friends Linda and Evan. They will be here enjoying their apartment and the pretty autumn weather. We brought along our friends Jane and Christie who now own the little apartment overlooking the square where we stayed while renovating our apartment. We all tucked into our pizzas, hot off the fire. So good! Thanks Team Calagrana.

My pizza bianche with ham, funghi, olives and artichokes
Luther’s more traditional with salsiccia.

Madonna del Riga

Today is Umbertide’s patron saint day. Madonna del Riga. It is a holiday in Umbertide. It also coincides with the band/orchestra concerts in the piazza. We have had five nights of lovely music. Bands and orchestras from all over Umbria have come to perform. I generally enjoy the music from our apartment. It is one of my favorite things. Here is the program.

Not all of the bands are super good but it doesn’t matter to me. I just love that normal life has returned to our world. We have been through a lot. We didn’t have this traditional series last year, due to Covid. We went through a three month super strict lockdown last spring. Then a summer of loosening and fun. Only to be slammed in the fall. We didn’t leave our Comune, Umbertide, for FOUR MONTHS from Christmas to after Easter. Finally, things are a bit more normal.

Tonight is Umbertide’s own. Our town band. I have to say it is pretty darn good, for a town our size. As a friend says, from 7 to 70, all ages. Tonight the band was all inclusive with the adolescente band as well. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy this return to normalcy. I think of this as Umbertide’s living room. 🙂 Look at the turnout. I think I’m not the only one craving normalcy!

A curiosity — Monte Ruperto

I tell you there is always something new to learn! A couple of days ago I was looking up a place in Le Marche on Google maps. I noticed, to my surprise, a chunk of Umbria completely surrounded by Le Marche. Like it was a little island stuck in the next region. Of course I was curious and so went looking and found out it is a Frazione, or a part, of Città di Castello, next town north from us. It is called Monte Ruperto. It is an Umbrian enclave surrounded by Pesaro and Urbino. It is 30 kilometers from the center of Città di Castello. So, how did this happen? Enquiring minds.

It is described as a historical curiosity. The mayor of Città di Castello can claim the noble title of Baron of Monte Ruperto while he serves as mayor. The story goes like this…during a time of famine, caused by a heavy snow, the Baron asked for help for his citizens. Only Città di Castello responded, sending a mule train with supplies.

The Baron was grateful and decided to donate his territory to Città di Castello, along with the title which was bestowed on the sitting Mayor. He can wear the period dress and has the dual role of Mayor and the Baron of Monte Ruperto.

The story is an old one. The inhabitants of Monte Ruperto had tax benefits. A document dated 1274 and reaffirmed in 1574 established that they owed the municipality only five soldi, in usual currency, per hearth (per house), to be paid on 27 August.

There is not much left in the little Frazione. It is about 500 hectare and once had four towns. They are gone or they are ruins now. There are only mountains and forests left. Photo borrowed from Città di Castello.

Piazza

Something I have avoided posting about. Since the curfews were lifted, the bar in our main Piazza, called Cafe Centrale, has gotten increasingly popular with the ragazzi. This is the perfect Italian word for young guys (and girls). It is a nice bar. He regularly hosts musicians, and has good cocktails and food. August, as most know, is the party month when people vacation, no work is done and much is closed. In the Piazza, as the month progressed the crowds got worse and worse. They stayed out there until dawn sometimes. And need I say they were loud? OMG. They were loud. And they were drunk. The bar owner, Diego, eager to recoup all the losses of the lockdowns, stayed open until the customers left…so, until around 4am 😳. Needless to say, this encouraged the crowds. Luckily for us we sleep in the bedroom in the back of our house. So we didn’t really hear it that much and if we close the window in our office it pretty much cuts the sound completely. Thanks to good windows.

In the morning the wreckage of the night is evident. Trash, broken bottles, vomit, the smell of pee in the small streets. Things came to a head when an article was published in the newspaper about it and it turns out one of the residents swore out a “denuncia” on Diego. The court said he needed to control the crowds. He appealed, and they said, no go. Fix this. Diego spoke to the Mayor and agreed to close at 1:30 am.

I bet you’re thinking we should have just called the cops. What cops? Our cops are in bed asleep. The Carabiniere are awake, maybe, but they can’t be bothered with a group of noisy kids.

So the saga continued. The first night, a Friday, that he closed early, I was up at 2am. I noted very loud crowds of ragazzi. The bar was closed. I was amazed to see packs of people, five or six strong, coming from all directions to congregate in the Piazza. They stayed even though he was closed. I suppose when other bars closed the people came to Cafe Centrale because they knew he was serving. The following night the crowds were also large. But the next day, a Sunday and the last weekend in August, things were calmer. And so it has continued. There are lively crowds which give our Piazza life. We love this. But now they are normal crowds of people sitting, eating and drinking. Music plays. It’s hard to tell if this is because it is September now or because the word is out that it’s no longer party central. Tomorrow is Friday. We will see what happens then.
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Always an adventure in the Big City!

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! 🌈

Cagli – Le Marche

In case you thought we never did anything…today we did a little day trip to explore a town we drove past last month. Cagli, in the Marche region, our next door neighbor. We are actually very close to both Le Marche and Tuscany here in the Upper Tiber Valley. We went the scenic route. It was a beautiful day. Perfect for the top down. Here are a few pictures I snapped along the way. I was very surprised to see a lot of the trees were changing their colors already. And even more surprised to see mostly orange. It is not a common color here. More yellows. Very few reds.

Heading into the big Apennine mountains – they form the spine of Italy. From north to far south.
Pretty sky
Many rocky cliffs
Trees turning
The long and winding road.

But then…a thunderstorm! Funny. I’m no meteorologist but I’m interested in things like how the big Apennine mountains affect the weather patterns. On the west side of them all was clear and no rain in sight. But once into the mountains I suppose the weather gets disrupted by the mountain ranges? I dunno. And I’m even more interested in the weather on the eastern slopes and the Adriatic. Anyway, we had a bit of a downpour just when we arrived into Cagli. We had to take cover in a coffee shop.

We had reservations in La Gioconda Ristorante. When the rain let up we found it and decided to eat inside since it was still sprinkling and cool. They did not ask for our Green Cards. The place was nice. The food good enough but not special. The service perfect. And they had a few nice touches like gifts from the chef, house made bread, and separate truffle and porcini menus. I went with the porcini, one of my favs.

Interior
My antipasto. Porchini arrosto (roasted) on a bed of potatoes with panko. Yum.

After lunch, we walked around the Centro Storico.

Porta Massara
The Comune
Fountain with four faces and sweet, potable spring water.
The main piazza, Piazza Matteotti, what else?
Torrione Martiniano
Pretty streets.

There is always something to love in an Italian town. No matter how far off of the beaten track. We had a lot of fun, and a lovely day.

Kitten update

Buona domenica everyone! Pretty weather here for the foreseeable future. This is more like the Umbrian summer I know. Although I will say there is always a hot spell or two. Now highs are in the upper 20s or around mid-80s Fahrenheit. No rain in sight and it is REALLY dry. I’d love to see a good steady rain. Maybe the vintners wouldn’t since the harvest has started and too much rain at harvest is not good.

The kitten saga continues. Mostly good news. The tiny first litter that seemed to disappear was rescued. These babies were too small to eat on their own. There were six and all are doing well after talking to the people around here. The kittens I saw in the last post are doing well. There are three. We are calling them Braveheart, Tippy, and Loony. The first name will stick. He is brave and tiny. And he has a heart on is side. They all have infected eyes. There’s no way we can help treat them so we hope they will heal with no ill affects. We alternate feeding with our South African friends here. Mornings and evenings. Today I returned from my walk to see them feeding the kittens and cats. We watched the kittens after they had filled their bellies play with each other. They even came under the gate to investigate our feet. I’ve always noticed cats don’t seem to associate us with our feet. To them, feet are individual entities. Rocky, one of our cats, to this day follows our feet to the kitchen. He stares right at them as he comes along. Anyway, the feeding will continue and I think the babes and mom will do OK. I wish I knew someone who’d adopt the kittens. Their lives won’t be the best in that feral colony.

Buona domenica a tutti! 💕

Abandoned

It seems it’s always something around here. We have neighbors who let me know there is a situation behind our houses on the edge of the woodland and river path. They spotted five tiny kittens in the empty lot. No mother in sight. This is a sad, but all too common scenario. Behind us is a “sanctioned” feral cat colony. I’m not sure why it is sanctioned, but it is. There are volunteers who take turns feeding the cats. It is not only in the woods behind us, but also along the river in two or three spots. They have built shelters for them, conglomerations of bits of metal sheeting and boxes with bedding. And food dishes. Anyway, people often bring, and dump their kittens and cats thinking they will get fed.

I went out for my walk this morning and I spotted the cats. I was happy to see the Momma cat. She is so small she’s not much more than a kitten herself. She was nursing the two remaining kittens. I don’t know what happened to the other three babies. I saw no evidence of them. I had brought a plate of wet food which I feed my own cats, along with a small jar of milk. I wasn’t sure if the babies could eat solid food. Anyway, I mixed the food and the milk and slid the plate under the fence. Then backed away. The kittens ate EVERY MORSEL. They were ravenous. When I came back after my walk the kittens were playing and so cute! So I plan to go out again later with more food and milk to give them a good boost and hopefully they will survive. The mamma has access to the food someone leaves by the fence so she should be fine. Here’s a picture. Mamma is on the left.

I try to walk early, before this awful heat gets worse. I learned a new word, afa. Nice and short. It means muggy. And it describes perfectly this weather. I was even stopped along my walk by a woman complaining about the umidità. You can guess what that means!
Along the river this morning I snapped a pretty picture.

Buon Ferragosto!

Tomorrow is Ferragosto. The August holiday which is dead center of the month. The month of VACATION!! Big parties tomorrow.

This is a mundane post. I got out early since the predicted high today is 38C. That’s 100 degrees in US speak. Hot. So I was up and out before eight. I did my shopping at our local market first thing. The high summer bounty of fruits and vegetables are beautiful. It was hard to stop buying. Here are a few pics of the deliciousness to come.

Zucchini, borlotti beans, eggplant, sweet red onion, greenbeans
Every week we go through quantities of tomatoes. And I’ve not even gotten to making sauce.
What’s better than a Caprese salad when the tomatoes are at peak? This is locally made near Montone

I ran into some friends and we had a chat. Mostly about their recent vacation to Como, and the wonderful food in the market. We shared some recipes.

I didn’t only go out to shop. I wanted to get in my walk early before the heat. And like I often do, I decided to combine my walk with an errand. I had finally gotten some more charcoal and was planning to grill. I’ve got a skirt steak that I aim to make into fajitas. It was calling out for an avocado to go with it so I walked to the so-called “Egyptian” market 😁 It is owned by immigrants and I guess people think they are from Egypt so they call it the Egyptian market. I kinda doubt that. But anyway, they have things available there that cater to the immigrant communities in Umbertide and the surrounding towns. Things like cilantro. They have it reliably. And they have avocados that are perfect, and reliably good. So I make a point to get my avocados from them. So, as part of my walk I got two avocados and while there I even decided to buy four ears of corn. I’m sure it won’t be up to my standards of sweet American corn, but I want it so badly, I’ll try anything. I’m going to grill two, for a salad, and boil two, to test how good they are. I asked where they came from and he said Sicilia. I think most of their stuff comes from there.

Here is the corn. All trimmed up.

Doesn’t look so appetizing but we’ll give it a go.

On my way back, I was amused by this little grill on the sidewalk at our little corner store that sells all sorts of things for the household. The amusing part was that it said it was a barbecue “Professionale”. Right. Looks pretty flimsy for professional use!

That’s about it. I’ll try to remember to post a picture of our dinner tonight. And the corn whichever way I do it.

Ciao for now…buon Ferragosto wherever you are! 🌈

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!