How does your garden grow…

I know at least a few people would like to see the last garden that I will ever have on Via Grilli. It was a really good year. The two basil plants have kept me busy making pesto. They have been so prolific I had a hard time keeping up! This is the first year I grew sweet peppers. They did very well. So did the habaneros.

Sweet pepper on the right. Basil under it. Habanero center top. Foreground is the tarragon and just behind it the mint.
Lemon tree on left is chock full of lemons. Basil is next to it. Habanero just next to that . Oregano, thyme and parsley center.

I have enjoyed my little terrazza container garden over the years but I am looking forward to an expanded one in our new space next year. I am going to try square foot intensive gardening. I plan to buy some raised containers and see how that works. Two to start, then expand to four. Picture of the one I like. Easy on the back 🙂.

I know you’re all on the edges of your seats to see what’s happening at the Fratta dell’800 festa 😁. I think I should explain than Fratta was the name of Umbertide before it was changed to Umbertide. And even before that it was called Pitulum by the Romans. Since this is the festa ’800 or 1800s best to use the name from that time. Out our window all the preparations are done, including the cannon on the left, which they shoot off at random times to scare our cats and us to death! Events start tonight at six with the Opening Parade. It is a bit rainy so I hope this doesn’t impact the events tonight. [an aside…our new address will be on Via Fratta 🙂]

Buona festa!!

Otto Cento is back!

All small Italian towns have festivals – in the summer and fall primarily. Covid was very hard for everyone because all of these festivals have been canceled for two years. This year however it is Katie bar the door…the festivals are back!

Umbertide has it’s big four day festival in August or September each year. It is the celebration of the creation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861 by the House of Savoy and later, integrating the Veneto and the Papal states in 1871. It was called the Risorgimento. Guiseppe Garibaldi was an Italian patriot and soldier of the Risorgimento. The history is very long and complicated and I am not trying to tell it all here, but basically our Otto Cento festival, which means 1800s, it a distillation of the events over many years in the nineteenth century into our four day festival. In the south the Briganti, or brigands in English, in the absence of police, became a force. They fought against the House of Savoy, which they saw as elite. Things were very different in the Mezzogiorno, or south if Italy, as they still are today, where the Briganti originated. It was very poor and the people with money ruled harshly.

Anyway, our four day festival has events centered around all of the different parts of the creation of the kingdom of Italy. We have our own band of Briganti who come to the fore on the Saturday before the end on Sunday when Garibaldi vanquishes them.

The festival itself has entertainment in keeping with the 1800s. Calliopes, stilt walkers, concerts, dancing. Many citizens dress in costumes from the 1800s. There are 15 or so pop-up restaurants all over town. Archery contests. We have a cannon in the Piazza which they seem to shoot off at random times. There are horses and pitched battles from our city walls.

For the last few days evidence of the preparations are everywhere. You can really feel the excitement in the air. I don’t remember it being quite this exciting in the years pre-Covid. I guess not having it made the citizens realize what it means to this town.

Everyone is working to get ready
At the former gates into town they hang curtains.
Italian flags are everywhere! La Rocca in the background
La Rocca
House of Pleasure. Where the Ladies of the Night hang out.
One of the temporary restaurants
Another pop-up restaurant
Laundry…19th century style 🙂

In typical Italian fashion I have not yet found a schedule of events published on line or anywhere else. You’ll be seeing a few more posts about the festa after it gets started. 🇮🇹

Energy shortages this winter…

As most people know, energy costs have always been high in Italy because it buys most of it’s energy from other countries. Always has. They have promoted sustainable energy and give big supplements for solar and there are a lot of wind farms. This is a drop in the bucket but better than nothing.

Thinking about heating in August seems pretty weird, I know. But there have been a number of articles and posts in the expat websites about the shortages of solid fuel already being reported. Most of us heat with gas. As anyone probably knows, the Russians control the gas that Italy buys so this is also problematic. Costs have always been three or four or more times higher than the rest of Europe. Now it is even worse because of the Ukrainian war. Not to mention the uncertainty of even having gas.

Many here in Umbria supplement their heat using wood or pellets. A lot use those as their primary heat source. There are systems that use pellets in their central heating systems. We also supplement with pellets to warm our living room.

This year pellets have become very expensive. They have nearly doubled in price, from €5.50 a bag to €9.50 a bag. IF you can even find a supplier who actually HAS them. Our pellets came from Austria. Ukraine also produced a lot. Now, it seems, Austria, afraid of shortages itself, is not exporting as usual. So, our future winter has become uncertain. We plan to buy some pellets since we will be here until the first of the year. If we can find a source.

We have not looked into firewood. Since we are nearing our move, we won’t be buying any yet. In our new house, we will have a need for firewood. There is an outdoor BBQ which uses wood, an outdoor wood fired pizza oven, a fireplace in the family room and a wood stove will be in the living room. I guess we will find out about firewood later.

The newspapers are warning of real problems this winter. It is hard for us, since we are moving, to try to make alternative plans to augment gas heating if we don’t have it. We cannot stockpile anything. It looks like we may have to bundle up!

Artisanal products Umbertidese

Today I want to showcase two new products being produced here in Umbertide. We had heard of one of them from friends, but still had not visited. The other we just learned of from our recent dinner guests. I decided to showcase them both here.

First the cheese shop. Caseificio which means dairy is painted on the building. The shop is Fattoria Palazzo Rosa – Famiglia Monni. It is on the small road that crosses the river to Montecorona and the Abbazia di Montecorona which is run by the monks of the Eremo di Montecorona. So it wasn’t surprising to have a monk drop in to buy some cheese while we were there. The Eremo is a hermitage with a number of working monks. They take care of the Abbazia. The Eremo is in top of the 700 meter high mountain behind the Abbazia.

The back room, which you can see through a glass window is chock full of cheeses being aged. We bought a Pecorino peperoncini and some butter. The butter was not made here but I love trying new butter. The cheese was piquante but not too spicy. They had cheeses from other areas as well such as a creamy Gorgonzola. One of my favorites. This was an excellent find.

Then we decided to visit the Pauselli pasta fattoria. Our friends Joseph and Paul brought us three boxes of the pasta last week as a hostess gift. So generous — a box of Gemelli, Penne Rigate, and Linguine Ruvide. It is all made from artisanal grains grown in the area.

We followed the directions they gave us and found the negozio, but it was closed. I checked the hours. They are open 5-7 Wednesday and Saturday.

We tried the Gemelli last night. The name means twins. and each piece of pasta is made up of two pieces. Hence the name. The pasta is slightly darker than usual wheat pasta because of the grain. it has a rough texture and this shape is good for catching sauce in it’s crevices. I served it with a tomato, red and green pepper, onion sausage sauce, with a little sour cream added in. It was delish.

I am happy to live in a place with so many people producing such excellent products. They are just very poor at marketing. I think they could benefit from coming to the Saturday market and maybe even opening a temporary storefront to test the waters. At any rate, we will support them by buying their products. I hope they thrive.

Derecho

Europe had a major weather event last week. On Thursday evening just when I was doing my before-bed chores, I looked out the back door on the terrace and was astounded by a light show of biblical proportions. It was truly like nothing I had ever seen in my lifetime. The lightening was non-stop, cloud to cloud. It looked like it was doing wheelies in the heavens. I called Luther to see. A celestial light show of magnificent proportions. The lightening never touched ground. There were no thunderclaps. There was a low constant rumble. I assume it was from the lightening high above us, like 35,000 to 50,000 feet. I took a bunch of videos since it was such a unique experience. Actually scary. Here is one of them. If you can’t see it in the email subscription of this post go to NancygoestoItaly.com.

Leaving the light show on-going, I hit the sack but was awakened by the horizontal rain and wind about half an hour later. I got soaked just trying to close the shutters and windows on the back of the house. Out the front, the rain was like a monsoon. The wind was strong enough to catch and scoot all the chairs at Bar Mary across the piazza. Comical if it wasn’t so scary!

Then I read about all the even stronger storms across France, Austria, Czech Republic. Tuscany was also hard hit with two killed. Yesterday in the Washington Post I read it was a thousand mile Derecho. It began near Maiorca in the super heated Mediterranean. They had a map of the storms and intensity. I captured it. We, in Umbria, were in the red zone labeled # 2. Just south of the pink zone in Tuscany.

It was a once in a lifetime experience.

Lazy Saturday in the Big City

Yes, Luther calls Umbertide the Big City. It certainly is not a big city and here in Centro, it feels like a village. Today the Vespa club is having a “do”. I don’t know what exactly they are doing. It could be the end of a rally. Luther thinks it’s a concours, where they judge the best looking bike. Anyway, just after I took this picture they all mounted up and roared (heh heh) out of the Piazza.

Since I was snapping, I got a picture of the old dudes who play briscola (a card game), everyday. They are there all afternoon and right about 6:30 or 7:00 they head home to the wife or family. I always imagine the wife kicks them out every morning. As I have mentioned before, they take up table space, they never buy anything, AND they expect Bar Mary to provide the cards! It is tradition. It is repeated at Bars all across Italy every day. It is only at selected bars, maybe the oldest ones…As you can see the tables draw crowds of kibitzers. The games can get heated.

Meanwhile, during all this action at Bar Mary, over at Cafe Centrale, it is the quiet before the storm. One lone table of Spritz drinkers. This, being Saturday night, it is guaranteed to get busy soon. Cafe Centrale is party central.

Never a dull moment in the Big City! Buona domenica!

Ristorante San Giorgio

Just here in our main piazza is a splendid restaurant, Ristorante San Giorgio. Elegant. The food is the best in town. We have been eating there since before we moved to Umbertide. They always begin with a plate of ”gifts” from the chef. When we go the food is always excellent.

But, we have not been since last year. Why? you may ask…since it is so good…do you not go more often? It is because they don’t change their menu — EVER. They do not have seasonal menus. They never have a special. The gifts from the chef never vary. They even got a brand new chef when they reopened after Covid. I was excited to see what changes she would make. Well, exactly none. I suppose the owner must think if you’ve got a good thing then don’t mess with it. It is Michelin rated bib-gourmand.

To me, half the fun of eating out is seeing and trying the new and seasonal things the chef has created. It keeps me coming back. I would become really bored if I cooked there. Since it has been a year, at least, since we went, I think we will go back soon. And if you ever visit Umbertide, do give it a try. It is a special restaurant for sure, if you don’t eat there too often. You must reserve, and it is open for lunch and dinner and it is closed Tuesdays. Here’s San Giorgio at night, across from our apartment. Romantic!

Glorious sabato!

What a beautiful day. We are in a lull in our summer heat. We are totally enjoying it! Last night we had thunderstorms in the wee hours and nice rain. I woke to very cool temperatures — 61 F. And fog hanging in the valley. Refreshing. Here is a picture of the super moon rising over our Piazza.

Yesterday we took a trip down to Etrusco, our favorite butcher. We don’t get there often so we buy a lot when we go. We bought a beautiful Tomahawk steak, two fillet mignons, a flank and a skirt steak (I think? I am never sure), two tomahawk pork chops, sausages and hamburgers. He brought out big tubs of shrink-wrapped meat for us to see. For each piece of meat I bought, the butcher went to great lengths to tell me how to cook it. Mostly it involved holding the fatty edge on a hot griddle or pan and letting the fat sizzle and melt. Then cook one and a half minutes on each side in the rendered fat. He also was super proud of his lamb. I am excited to try it because he explained the lambs were two years old and castrato. This is a lot older than most “Lambs”. Perhaps it is the castrated part…I don’t know. He again told me how to cook it, even to giving me a big piece of fat to use. I know this butcher well. He only sources from local farms and knows that they were raised humanely, and treated well during their life. I prefer to buy meat like this. He wished a buon Ferragosto! Happy feasting.

The Saturday market was abuzz with activity. It’s high summer now and the produce is abundant. I probably got a little carried away. I bought a ton more of the wonderful tomatoes, green beans, baby zucchini, arugula (super bitter to go with the steak tonight), sweet new red onions, a pepper, friggatelli, eggplants and a melon. I visited Angelo to buy prosciutto crudo to go with the melon. A feast for a festa! This picture is only some of the bounty! I love our local market and am really happy I will still be able to walk to it from our new apartment. Not many towns have a market like this. I feel blessed.

I will take a picture of my dinner tonight if I remember. Here is a picture I took of my Rocky-cat helping me out while I am preparing dinner. I am constantly stepping over him or around him. He is very helpful!

Finally, an unbelievably beautiful sunset a couple of days ago.

Buona festa a tutti!!

Ferragosto

To get you in the mood, here are couple of beach scenes from a previous trip to Senigallia, a seaside town in the Marche on the Adriatic. This is what the seaside looks like here. Nearly all of the Adriatic beaches get the ”blue flag” designation because they are so pristine and clean.

Italy is pretty fanatical about the August vacation month which revolves around Ferragosto, August 15th — a one day holiday that somehow justifies the closing down of Italy for the whole month. I know a number of people who plan trips to Italy to look at houses only to find all the realtor offices closed. We learned early on that one should never plan to get anything done in August in Italy.

When we moved here, we arrived at the end of June. We were just beginning our renovations on our apartment. We rushed to get plans in place and pay a visit to the kitchen manufacturer before the end of July so we could place our order. It actually made no difference because, although we ”placed” our order, the factory still shut down August 1 for the month!

Most Italian families will be going on vacations of two to three weeks because their workplaces — both public and private — close. Even hospitals and clinics close or are on skeleton staffing. The whole country takes a break. It is unimaginable to foreign visitors.

Ferragosto is untouchable here. It centers around August 15, but the whole month is considered a holiday. If Italians don’t somehow celebrate Ferragosto, they are bereft. Even if they are broke, and renting an umbrella is expensive, they go. Italians may be having hard economic times. But as I have said before, Italians have extended families. Over the years properties are passed down and inherited. It seems all Italians either own, or they have the use of, multiple houses. Including beach houses. This makes a getaway affordable. Also, if they are short on cash, nonno and nonna are always happy to help out with funds. Families, after all, are everything here.

The actual day designated Ferragosto, August 15, is a time for big meals on the beach under umbrellas and canopies, with family and friends.

For some history — Ferragosto is an old custom. It goes back to the ancient Romans, to Emperor Augustus Octavian who made it a celebration in the first century. It is named after Augustus – Feriae Augusti, meaning ‘Augustus’ rest’. Of course the reasons for the holiday were different back then when they celebrated harvests and pagan gods of fertility and well-being. They decided to stretch the holiday to before and after the day so August is the month of vacation and celebration. Everyone joined in, no matter their class.

Of course, when Christianity came along, Ferragosto couldn’t be the pagan festival it once was, but like Christmas it was incorporated and became Assumption day.

Starting in a day or two, all the cities will empty out. When tourists come they will see the ubiquitous signs on the doors of bakeries, shops and restaurants…‘chiuso per ferie (closed for holiday). Rome will be empty. It will be populated by non-Italians and the few poor souls who keep the hotels open.

Ferragosto is something that will always be celebrated no matter how! Buon Ferragosto a tutti!
~~~~~
Partially adapted from The Local.