Category Archives: Umbria

What’s next

We continue to struggle here in many ways. But we also are doing well in other ways.

In the newspaper it is intimated that Umbria was doing so well with the new case numbers and hospitalizations that at the end of April, when the re-assessment takes place for May, we may go….drum roll…Bianca!! This means, everything opens up to us. BUT, I will believe this when I see it…I, for one, will be happy with a Yellow zone. Then I can sit in the piazza and have a spritz or a caffe. Or go to an actual lunch in an actual restaurant! Wow. Or we can drive to another part of Umbria to do a wine tasting. Or just to tour around. It is so amazingly freeing and it is also amazing how little it takes, after being locked down for so long, to thrill me.

On the vaccine front, good news. Three of my friends were called by their doctor today to come tomorrow for shots. AstraZenica. They are going by birthday and these are all around 75. Also, our friend and Italian teacher Marilena told us that her Mom got called by her doctor to come in. Her Mom is 79. She got AstraZenica. Her Dad, a bit younger but with asthma, will get Pfizer. But he has to go to the hospital whereas her Mom went to the doctor. Another small piece of information for us. I guess the info we got that our doctor would call us is correct. So we wait.
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I am not bragging when I say I am the queen of bolognese sauce. They say there isn’t really a bolognese sauce as such. It is true, there is no one recipe. And there are many arguments. Even in Bologna, where it is said to have originated. Over the years I’ve chosen my favorite and I make it often. I make a big batch and freeze portions for quick dinners. The recipe is simple. Only a diced carrot, a couple cloves of garlic, ground beef, a 15 ounce can of tomatoes and milk.

Italiano phrase — “inizia una nuova settimana”. In English — “a new week begins”. Pronounced — in-eat-zee-ah une-ah new-oh-va set-tee-mah-nah.
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Stay safe everyone. 🌈

And a river runs through it

I’ve been meaning to get back to posts about Umbertide. I love to try to picture how it used to be in, say the 1700s. Of course, it was very different. For one thing, there was water on all sides. We already have the Tevere or the Tiber river. I’m told it was much bigger in the past. Maybe that was because it wasn’t penned in like it is today. We had mills and the water ran them. We also have the torrente Reggia which is a smaller stream which also runs near the city walls to the south. It is very small now, but again, I am told it was larger. Not only that but, back then, it split into two branches and one ran along the northern side of the wall as well. Both of the smaller streams emptied into the river. Effectively the town was surrounded by water.

I have a book called Umbertide nel Secolo XVIII. This copy of a map from the 1700s was in it. I will do a key under it. I had a lot of fun translating many of the locations. Some don’t exist anymore, like the gates and towers, but Umbertide put up little brass plaques at most of the relevant places. Surprisingly most buildings and the piazze do exist. On the map the top branch of the Torrente Reggia ran just behind our house along the walls. I also noted the town was divided into three parts: A = Terziere superiore, B = Teziere di mezzo, and C = Terziere inferiore. I live in the mezzo.

I’m not going to translate all of the words. But a number of them recur and also alot of them are names of people, names of streets, etc. So, a few recurring ones are: Porta which means door but in this case I am pretty sure it means Gate. Umbertide had gates into if from all sides for safety. Torrione means big tower. Torre means tower. Strada means street as does Via. Vicolo is alley or small street. Chiesa is a church. Piazza is a square, Piazzetta means little square. Palazzo is a big house. Ponte is a bridge.

1. Porta della paiggiola18. Ponte sul torrente Reggia
2. Controporta della Campana Sormontata da una toretta con l’orologio e dalla campana publica che batteva le ore19. Inizio della strada che conduce a Piazza San Francesco
3. Piazzetta inter portas, o della Campana20. Torre di difesa di sud est costruita nel 1480
4. Torrione circolare a lato della Porta della Piaggiola21. Strada di mezzo, gia Via del Pomo, poi Via Mariotti
5. La Via Regale o Via Diritta. Congiungeva la piazzetta della Campana con il baluardo di sud ovest22. Strada di San Giovanni
6. La Chiesa Nuova voluta dalla famiglia Magi Spinetti unita alla loro casa da un soprapassaggio (anno 1710 circa)23. Chiesa di San Giovanni
7. Vicolo della Chiesa Nuova24. Monte Frumentario: si trovava sulla Piazza del Marchese
8. Piazzetta delle Petresche25. Piazza del Marchese o Piazza del Grano
9. Vicolo delle Petresche26. Palazzo del marchese di Sorbello construito all’inizio del secolo.
10. Convento dei Padri Cappuccini di Montone27. Il “Foricchio”, era un passaggio pedonale coperto che metteva in comunicazione la Via Diritta con il cortile interno del Palazzo di Sorbello
11. Piazzetta dello Steccato. Basamento antico torrione28. Piazza del Comune, detta anche Piazza della Rocca
12. Piazzetta di Sotto29. La Rocca
13. Piazzetta inter portas. Sul lato nord sorgeva la casa Vibi30. Palazzo Comunale. Al primo piano c’era la Sala del Consiglio che veniva ceduta anche all’Accademia dei Signori Riuniti per rappresentazioni teatrali
14. Porta del ponte sul Tevere31. La Piaggiola
15. Lo scortico o pubblico macello spora le mura castellane per scaricare nel Tevere i residui della macellaazione.32. Vicolo degli Scodellari o dei Vasellari
16. Torrione decagonale di difesa del baluardo di sud ovest33. Altra strada detta “Via di Mezzo”
17. Ponte sul Tevere

I have another map that takes in the area north of the city, or just behind our house. I’ll post that one another time.
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Italiano phrase — “cosa c’è per cena stasera?” — English “what’s for dinner tonight?” Pronounced, cos-ah chay pear chain-ah stah-sara.

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Stay safe everyone! 🌈

Buona Pasqua!

Umbrian beauty from my friend Jill’s garden. This picture is from our first lockdown a year ago when Jill sent pictures everyday of her spectacular garden. She kept me cheered up!
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Today is Pasqua. Easter. I’m not religious but I enjoy the rituals of the season. I did not buy a Colomba, which is the traditional cake of the season. It is shaped like a dove. Here is a borrowed picture.

Photo courtesy Wikipedia

Pasqua Pranzo is the big meal. Normally huge groups of friends and family gather for the multi-course, Lent-ending meal. Heavy on meat after six weeks of fish! Sadly, because of the Zona Rossa lockdown no big gatherings are allowed. We decided to buy the Calagrana Pasqua lunch. Here’s the menu. Mmm mmm good.

I will post pictures of the food in tomorrow’s post.
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Phrase for today — “cielo azzurro ma freddo per Pasqua” — “blue sky but cold for Easter” — pronunciation…chay-low ahz-zur-row ma frayed-doh pear pahs-quaw. Don’t forget to roll those Rs!
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Stay safe everyone and buona domenica a tutti!

Language classes & i gatti

An Observation
Every Friday we each take an hour of one-on-one Italian. Our teacher, Marilena used to come to our house but now we Skype. Luther also takes a German class once a week. We lived for six years in Germany and he is fluent. He doesn’t want to lose it. I still speak some German but over time I’ve lost much of it.

On Friday at 9 am the computer does it’s Skype ring. I am in the Living room and can hear Luther and Marilena greet each other. A cheery “Ciao Luther” in sing-song Italian rings out. Luther responds in kind. They sound like they are so glad to see each other…happy…ready to chat for an hour. 🙂

On Thursday it is Frau Marien and a German Skype call. Luther answers, and I hear a dejected sounding “Hal-low”… in descending pitch. Luther responds in kind. Both sound distinctly unenthusiastic. She sounds resigned. Maybe she doesn’t like her job? But no, I think it is the vast difference in the two cultures and people. It explains why I chose Italy over a return to Germany. 😁
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I Gatti
As you know, if you’ve been reading this during our year of Covid, we have to find ways to amuse ourselves during our extended lockdowns. We’ve been locked down this time since November. It is getting mighty old. Anyway, we have a big picture window in the living/dining area. Who put it there is not known. It is unlike anything I’ve seen here. I remember when we bought and first brought our Geometra to see the apartment, he said he would take that out for us. We were flabbergasted! To us, it was a huge selling point. The view is fantastic and ever changing.

Just behind us and outside the city walls is a copse of trees. And some houses, and the river. There is a feral colony of cats living there. They are even a “registered” feral colony, I am told. I don’t know what that means. The people nearby keep the cats well fed but of course, they get no health care, nor do they neuter them. The colony grows and then collapses with disease. It’s small right now because someone poisoned all the cats last January. Now we have two batches of adolescents living there again. We have named them all and amuse ourselves watching them. Here are six of them. We are only missing Blacky.

From left to right. Ginger, Domino, and Pinto.
Rusty. He is on a roof just outside the city wall, which is just behind us. You can see the city wall behind him.
Snowball. She is sitting atop a shed on a sunny — and popular with the cats — rooftop.
Domino. On the hunt.

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Phrase — “i gatti sono qui!” — “the cats are here!” — eee gaht-tee so-no qwee.
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All of Italy enters Zona Rossa tomorrow for the three day Easter weekend….Stay safe! 🌈

Holy week

This is Holy Week. They have a special Mass every day of the week. The bells toll more often. I wonder if they will have the venerdì santo or Good Friday procession this year. Last year we were in total lockdown so they didn’t do it. I hope they can do it this year.

On Saturday, the sounds of a crowd drifted up to our windows. I looked out and the piazza was full of people! A little disconcerting after so long with nothing. We went on a errand and I was overwhelmed by the crowds around the Centro. I guess the weather got everyone out of the house. They were all masked and most were distancing. The two Bars are not open now after 6, and then, only for take-away due to us still being in an Orange zone. The days have gotten beautiful. I do miss my spritzes at Bar Mary on a warm evening. The weather will be great for Easter week!

For the three days of the Pasqua weekend, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, all of Italy is a Red Zone. Then after that, Umbria returns to Orange Zone for the rest of April. All will be reassessed on May 1. Maybe we will go Yellow Zone. I fervently hope so!

We hope April will bring much vaccine into Italy, to include the J&J vaccine. We still don’t know how it will work. Latest news is our GP will contact us and administer it. But we are going to try to register starting tomorrow on the website. We will try anything! Wish us luck.
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Here are some pictures of springtime in Umbria near Umbertide. First one is the copse of trees behind our house and near the river.

Along the walk I got pictures of the old and the new… first the old. Last of the winter garden. A sad few cabbages…

New garden. First the freshly tilled ground. Then the new peas. And last the artichokes.

Last we have a picture of a pretty lawn and a fruit grove. None of the pictures are that exciting but they all tell me the winter is past and it’s on to new things and, we hope, a new life after Covid…

Phrase – “domani è la mia lezione di italiano” — “tomorrow is my Italian class” doe-mah-nee eh lah mee-ah let-zee-owe-nee dee ee-tal-ee-ah-no.
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Stay safe everyone. Wear your masks, the virus is trying to make a comeback 🌈

Spring has sprung

Finally we have passed through that dark, damp, cold tunnel that is winter here. The forecasted temperatures are the upper 60s or lower 70s. No cold snaps that I can see. I will be working on the terrace soon to get the soil ready for new plants.

Saturday kilometer zero market was it’s usual self. Happy people in the warm sunshine. I went out and saw a number of friends. I was shopping for soup ingredients. We are nearing the end of the winter produce. I admit I’m tired of the same old things. The greens and winter veggies. I am ready for new spring things. I see the wild asparagus is being foraged. But you’ve got to go get that yourself. It’s not normally sold. It’s too early for strawberries or anything like that locally. The supermarket has a small section of local things and I bought fava beans for the first time although I don’t see them in the market on the piazza yet, which is my bellwether. I’m not sure where they come from. They are soft and super fresh in any event. They were in our pasta last night.

I went over to Piazza San Francesco to leave something for a friend. This is, in my opinion, the prettiest Piazza in Umbertide. There are three churches. All the buildings were built in the very early 1600s. I noticed today that the gates to the cloister were unlocked so I took a couple of pictures. Just look at these stones! Look at all the many colors. Are any of them original? Which ones? Wish I knew…

These next two are the pavement directly in front of the cloister. Look at these stones. They are smooth river rocks of similar proportion. Flat. Probably collected from the river nearby. They embedded them into the earth with the narrow side up. Much work went into these and I figure they’ve been here a long time. They are only in front of the cloister.

Italiano phrase — “In bocca al lupo “ this means good luck in Italy. But it literally means “in the mouth of the wolf” — the correct response is “Crepi il lupo” or “May the wolf die”. Pronounced as it looks.
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Stai al sicuro…🌈

First time out of the Comune in months!

Today, we ventured out of our Comune. First time since January. I was sure to fill out the required autocertificazione. We had all our identification. Our reason for leaving was to go to Città di Castello to the Questura and try to retrieve our Permessi di Soggiorno. You may recall, we had appointments in February so we knew the cards were there. But at that time the Questura was closed for a Covid outbreak. Once you’ve missed your appointment they won’t send another message with a new time. So you go and wait.

When we arrived, there looked to be around three groups of people waiting outside the door and inside two sets of people at the two windows. We waited until our turn and by then there were another five people or families. One of the women tried to push ahead of us when our turn came but we elbowed her out of the way. Latezia, a police woman who has been there since our very first Permessi seven years ago greeted us. I can’t believe it’s our seventh Permesso. There was a problem with her computer so we swapped windows and got our finger prints taken. This is the first time I had no issues with my prints. Normally they have a very hard time. I think maybe their machine is new. At least it worked and we walked out with our new Permessi…which expire in 4 months. Sigh. Next month we apply for new ones. This time we will try for the Long Term Permit. I am waiting for one more document and we should have everything we need.
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On the Covid front the rumors are flying. First they said we would register on-line or in the pharmacy. Now they say our doctor will call us to come in for the dose. There was an article today in Umbria24 that was pretty good. But I won’t hold my breath that it all will happen. I reached out to our doctor and she will be calling us she said. Here is an abbreviated version of the article, translated from the Italian so it’s a little stilted.

“Vaccinations for seventy-year-olds will begin within the first week of April and they will not have to book an appointment to receive the drug, but will be summoned directly. And by the end of the month, about 60,000 doses of the vaccine will arrive in Umbria…”

There are “three categories for the over 70 range: the first is that of non-ambulatory people who will be vaccinated at home and with Moderna; the second is that of the vulnerable who will receive Pfizer; and the third will collect the seventy-year-olds in perfect health for whom AstraZeneca is intended and who will be administered in vaccination centers…. to proceed with the administration to the 80,000 Umbrians aged between 70 and 79…”

“The start of vaccination for seventy-year-olds within a couple of weeks will obviously go hand in hand with the delivery of vaccines, which for Umbria in the space of a week should be worth about 60 thousand doses. In fact, 5,800 doses of Moderna arrived on Monday, while 2,000 doses of AstraZeneca and above all 11,700 of Pfizer are on the way. The Region also explains that by the end of the month, probably around 29 March, another 18,200 doses of AstraZeneca, 8,400 of Moderna, 18,720 of Pfizer will arrive.

So, I guess this is all good news…cautiously optimistic.
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Manuele Martinelli posted this photo of our sweet town as seen from above.

Italiano sentence. “La primavera è arrivata e il clima più caldo sta arrivando.” In English – “Spring has arrived and warmer weather is coming.” Pronounced…lah pree-mah-vara eh are-ree-vah-tah eh eel clee-mah pew call-doh stah are-ree-van-doh.
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Stay safe everyone! 🌈

Cannara onions

At the Wednesday market in town, one of my errands was to buy some more of the “famous Cannara onions”. I keep a string of these sweet onions available all the time in my kitchen. They work used any way, raw or cooked. A young man, maybe 20s or 30s comes in a van with braids of the onions, dried legumes and, in summer, fresh things they grow, like fava beans. I drop by to get these onions often. A little information about the “famous” onions follows.

The onion of Cannara is a protected product of Umbria, earning the title Traditional Product Agribusiness from the Minister of Agriculture. This commemorates not only the goodness and versatility of this onion in the kitchen, but also it’s historical roots in this area. Besides this prestigious award, the Onion of Cannara also won the coveted title of Slow Food.

The traditional cultivation and harvesting of the onion of Cannara is carried out by small producers called “cipollari”, often handed down from father to son for generations. The word cipollo means onion so cipollari means something like ”onioner”. It has been cultivated since the 1600s in and around the small village of Cannara which is situated in a vast, fertile plain that, back in Roman times, was a shallow lake. The entire process of growing and harvesting is closely monitored to guarantee the quality standards and origins.

The onions cultivated around Cannara are of three distinct varieties: red, golden and borrettana (flat disc type), but all three are characterized as sweet, soft and easy to digest. To me, the red type, with its beautiful red-coppery skin is by far the most tasty, delicate and sweet. They are most often sold in the characteristic braids.

The town of Cannara, in normal, non-Covid times, has a famous festival which is held during the first two weeks of September and is called, the “Feast of the Onion.”

Too pretty to eat!

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I took this next snap of a pretty house painted in one of the traditional colors used around here. Almost orange. I was taken with the duvet airing on the balcony which went so well with the house color.

Sentence for today. “ho ricevuto il mio pacco da amazon oggi.” — “I received my package from Amazon today”. Pronounced — oh rey-chay-vu-toe eel me-oh pack-co dah amazon ohg-gee.
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Stay safe – andrà tutto bene!🌈

Unsolved mystery

I have always wondered about the method of closing the packaging for butter here. The wrapping for the butter is paper, which in and of itself, is unusual by the standards I’m used to in the US. There, it’s in a box which is sealed and inside are the individual sticks wrapped in folded paper. Here, firstly, they don’t have sticks of butter. They have one piece of butter in varying sizes. This is wrapped in paper. They use a metal rivet on both ends of the folded paper to seal it. But my question was, why a metal rivet and why only on butter?

I posted my question on a Facebook page called Umbrialiens to which I belong. It is an excellent, friendly and helpful group. I got a number of replies. Most said it was tamper proofing. But I still wondered, why the metal rivet? Turns out they also use a rivet on some types of pasta wrapped in paper. It seems I had forgotten that but my friend Libby refreshed my memory.

So the end of the story is…tamper proofing. I am left unfulfilled. I still want to know why the rivet?
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Next subject! I mentioned I had seen a sign for Sushi at the Carrefour market. Today we investigated during our small shopping trip. Turns out you have to pre-order for pickup. And they offer it on Friday and Saturday. This is reassuring. Only offering it two days tells me the fish will be fresh. Friday is still “fish Friday” in Catholic Italy…especially during Lent. So this could be popular. And I, myself, would feel comfortable buying this.

I think I will have to try it. I am a sashimi fan, not especially sushi. I may try both. If/when I do, I’ll report back.
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Italiano sentence. “Oggi piove e fa freddo” — in English “It is raining and cold today”. Pronounced — Ohg-gee pee-oh-vey eh fah fred-doh. Be sure to pronounce the double consonants like the “gg” in oggi. And the “dd” in freddo.
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Stay safe everyone…andrà tutto bene 🌈💕

Regional meal — Umbria

Tonight is Regional meal night from Calagrana. This time from our very own Umbria. We opted in for the wine since it is a new one to us. I am especially looking forward to the Torta al Testo. Fatta in casa….home-made.

Torta al testo is very old and it originated in the Umbrian area. It began as an unleavened alternative to traditional bread. There are two variants: the original one with wheat flour, and later came one with corn flour, after corn arrived from the Americas. Normal ingredients are only water, flour, salt and baking soda. In the upper Tiber valley, where we live, I read there’s is a similar cake called ciacca (probably dialect), the recipe involves the addition of an egg. This, I have not yet verified.

The cooking surface, a disc about 3 cm thick, is called “testo” from the Latin testum, or the brick tile on which, in ancient Rome, focaccias were baked. Originally it was made at home by making large stones into a smooth surface and placing it into the fire to heat. Now it is possible to buy a special Torta al Testo pan made of cast iron or concrete.

Traditionally the Torta al Testo was split and eaten with any meats or foraged greens. But it is most often seen eaten with the pork products for which Umbria is famous. Our friend Vera invited us to lunch in the Before Times and she asked her mother-in-law (suocera) to make some. She does make the best I’ve ever had. They have a huge outdoor wood oven to make it authentically. It smelled so floury and bready, and it was very soft. I could’ve munched it all day. But this day I learned the traditional way to eat it, with halved sausages and cooked spinach. It was incredible. I had to borrow a picture. Photo credit to Dreavel.com. This is the traditional way. I may have to try my hand at making some myself!

I didn’t actually know Pollo all’arrabbiata (arrabbiata means angry and says it will be spicy) was an Umbrian dish. I must look it up. We finished our meal and it was scrumptious. Here are pictures.

plated and ready to eat
Eating!
Torta al testo
Vino

Italiano phrase…”fare la scarpetta”. This needs some explanation. Literally it means “make the little shoe” but it is a saying. If you have sauce left on your plate you use the bread to sop up the sauce. Or you “make the little shoe”. Pronounced fah-ray lah scar-pet-ta.
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Stay safe everyone, andrà tutto bene 🌈