Friday, June 23, 2017

Adventures in eating, Part 3

Last weekend Peter arranged one more experience for us--a visit to a local flour mill to see their production process and get a pasta-making lesson from the owners. "No lunch!" Peter promised us, when he saw the terrified look in our eyes. We'd just get to take home the pasta we made.

Molino Cofelice is in Matrice, the next hamlet over. Dionisio and his daughter, Martina, showed us the workings of the old stone mill wheels and their more modern equipment and explained the different kinds and grades of flour. they produce.





Upstairs, Annarita, the family matriarch, showed us how to make cavatelli, maloreddi, and maltagliati, three local pasta shapes. Where the historically wealthy north of Italy makes pasta with eggs, here in the rural south it's just flour and water, the food of subsistence. Here are Max and Danny with some of our morning's production. The trays in front of Danny look yellow not because of egg, but because they're made with semolina rather than durum flour.



Anarita also showed us how to make another local specialty, cornmeal pizza, which is closer to polenta than to conventional wheat-based pizza. (Note how elegantly she's dressed for the task of making pasta. That strikes me as very Italian.)

The uncooked cornmeal is mixed with olive oil and salt, then patted flat into a pan. It's baked for 20 or 25 minutes--first sprinkled with cheese, if you want to be fancy--then topped with cooked greens, typically a mix of chicory, savoy cabbage, and broccoli rabe. The resulting dish is called pizza e minestre.

We'd had a version of it at Zia Concetta, a wonderful slow-food restaurant in Campobasso, where little chunks of cornbread are mixed into the greens. It was the highlight of the meal. I  couldn't wait to try making it myself.



We left not only with some basic pasta skills and about five pounds of fresh pasta, but also Molino Cofelice aprons and an armful of various flours and pastas that they insisted we take with us. 

Then Annarita and Martina said we couldn't leave Matrice without seeing its most important sight, Santa Maria della Strada, a 12th-century church. As luck would have it, a big wedding was just concluding, but Annarita marched right in to show us the church. We also got to see the locals in all their finery and the bride and groom being pelted with rice as they cut through a long line of white ribbons held up by their friends.
The church is simple and lovely and a bit grim, as befits a medieval pilgrimage stop. Life was tough, and then you died, and then you probably went to hell. 




These little Italian boys were wedding guests. They already look like they belong in a GQ fashion spread.
 On the way home from the mill we stopped by the market to pick up some supplies to cook with our pasta. Then we hurried home to have a late lunch--and ended up making ourselves a pranzo just as gut-bustingly large as anything our various Italian friends had put us through. We staved off starvation with some salumi and cheese while we made cavatelli with tomato sauce and mussels, maltagliatti with truffles and spinach, and the cornmeal pizza with cheese and chicory.

That last was disappointing, because although I boiled up the chicory as Annarita had instructed, then drained it and stewed it in olive oil and garlic, it ended up being too bitter. Later, my friend Maria told me that's because after I boiled the chicory, I'd neglected to soak it in cold water overnight before sauteing it. The thought of leaching out still more vitamins from the greens shocked me. But then Maria made us a gratin of chicory, using greens she'd gathered out in the fields this past spring and stored in her freezer. The flavor was so smooth and satisfying that I decided vitamins aren't really all that important.

Indeed, we seem to be letting a lot of things fall by the wayside. Like any attempt to watch what we eat. Despite our late and large lunch, a few hours later found us at the only sit-down restaurant in town, The Garden of Bacchus, a pizza-and-karaoke place. We indulged in the former (excellent) but not the latter (fairly excruciating).

That's Steven's mum, Janice, with the kids. (I should note that we haven't completely lost our senses--Fanta here is a much nicer, less fluorescent drink than the version they sell in the U.S.)

Lina ordered a Napoli pizza (tomato sauce, mozzarella, anchovies) and was thrilled to discover that for just one euro more she could have it shaped into a heart, with her name spelled out on it in pizza-dough letters. I'm hoping they let her use this photo on her new Italian ID card, when the time comes to get one.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Adventures in eating, Part 2

The next day, Thursday, June 15, Peter sent us off to the clan behind the Sapori Italiani ("Italian flavors") truffle products line. (The name is actually changing to Sapori Molisani--let's hear it for Molise pride!) The plan was to go out with one of their truffle-hunting dogs, then have a home-cooked, truffle-centric lunch.

We ate breakfast and hurried out to the town of Busso for the 10 a.m. start time. Once we arrived, however, we discovered that Teresa, the family matriarch, had prepared a sumptuous breakfast of  coffee, pastries, ham, fruit salad, and a wonderful salame-spiked egg torta sort of thing. It seemed impolite not to indulge.

Then it was off to the truffle hunt. The dog, Jimmy (Gimi?), seemed a little young for the job and rather easily distracted, which obviously disappointed his handler. But even so the dog managed to smell out a bagful of the dark, rough-skinned fungi. Luckily for us, we were not out in the dense woods nearby but in a cultivated truffle field of evenly spaced oak trees surrounded by grass, designed to be an ideal truffle-growing environment. 
It was a beautiful day in a beautiful place, but I'd somehow fantasized that we'd be getting a lot of exercise, when in fact we mostly stood around admiring the dog and the landscape. 


Back at the house, we got a tour of the production facility in the ground floor of the family home. This was the haul from the morning's hunting, plus a few more, since Jimmy's production apparently didn't come up to expectations that day.

My inadequate stock of photos doesn't show Teresa or her son-in-law, Mario, who led the tour in excellent English. He's the sales and marketing end of the business. Molise produces 40 percent of Italy's truffles but doesn't have nearly the name recognition of Alba, which is world-famous for its white truffles. Mario intends to change that.

Here's Pinuccio, Teresa's husband, cleaning one of the truffles. He then grated it into a little pool of olive oil and made us all bruschetta. These summer black truffles are milder than the more pungent winter whites, with a subtle herbaceousness when they're raw. The family ships fresh truffles to clients in Europe and also produces a variety of truffle products in jars--truffle slices, grated truffles, truffle butter, and dozens of other things, all out of the little facility in their house. 










After the tour it was time for lunch. Teresa dished out a gigantic spread--truffle-spiked sausages and other salumi, a truffle frittata, two pastas with heaps of fresh-sliced truffles on top. Pinuccio grilled steaks over the open fire and served them topped with arugula, Parmesan shavings, balsamic vinegar, salt, and, of course, truffle shavings. Next came the truffled cheeses with homemade onion relish, followed by their own sour-cherry liqueur, and then tiramisu and coffee. All of it was sensationally good, and I'm sorry that I was too busy eating to take pictures. Even Steven, whose appetite seems bottomless, started to look like he was going to pass out.

Later Mario told us that Teresa had served us a light lunch. When far-away friends come to visit, he said, she usually offers a lot more dishes.

The next day Peter informed us that if you clean your plate or empty your glass, Southern Italian hospitality dictates that your host give you more. If we're going to survive this trip, we have to stop being members of the Clean Plate Club. But that's hard when the food's so good.

That night Steven's mom, Janice, arrived from Glasgow. This was our first chance to meet her, after all these years (four) of Lina and Steven being a couple. Steven celebrated by cooking up some pasta at our place--a carbonara and a pasta with truffles we;d bought from the truffle family earlier in the day.
The carbonara

The truffle pasta

Steven adds olive oil while Lina and Janice admire his handiwork
And reader, we ate it all.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Adventures in eating, Part 1

Peter, who runs the company that's managing our trip and our citizenship process, is a bit like Figaro in Barber of Seville--he is our factotum and insists he's at our service, but he also ends up pretty much running our lives. Part of the our job during these two weeks is to get to know the area and the people, so Peter arranges all kinds of "experiences" for his clients, from meeting an artisanal knife maker to herding goats.

We told him at the outset that the experiences all five of us (Lina, Max, Danny, me, and Steven, Lina's fiance) were primarily interested in are food-centered. And he has obliged not only with enough festa info and restaurant recommendations to last us for months rather than weeks of dining, but also with several just-for-us events focused on the foods of the region. What we didn't reckon with was the sometimes alarming hospitality of the people here and the sheer athletic challenge of the amount of eating we have let ourselves in for.

On our first two days we did nothing more ambitious than visit a couple of restaurants. But confronted with an Italian menu of antipasti (Italian charcuterie, pickled vegetables, little fried or baked cheesy, meaty morsels, bread), then primi (pastas, often house-made), then secondi (meat dishes, ranging from simple grills to elaborate braises), then contorni (grilled eggplant, cooked string beans, green salad, or other vegetable sides), then dolci (also often house-made), plus wine (usually local), we made the rookie mistake of doing the full five-course catastrophe.

So our stomachs were already well prepared for what came next. On Wednesday, June 14, we had a date with Maurizio Petti, an artisanal gelato-maker and restaurateur in the little Molisan town of Casalciprano. At 10 a.m. the five of us and Michael, another American citizen-wannabe in Montagano, helped Maurizio measure out the ingredients, starting with unpasteurized milk from local cows, for three flavors of gelato. That's me on the right, taking a turn at whisking everything together, while Michael admires my energy, if not my technique.

Each batch was carefully measured (by us, with much anxiety), then put into Maurizio's $50,000 Italian gelato machine, which quickly took the temperature up high enough to pasteurize the mixture, then just as quickly chilled it down below freezing, then moved it into a lower freezing compartment where it was stirred as it froze.

Steven, who worked for years as a chef, so impressed Maurizio that he offered him a job.


On the right, here is Steven flipping the gelato into the container as it comes out of the freezer part of la macchina, as Maurizio explains exactly how it's done. Those voluptuous peaks of ice cream that you see in gelato shops don't happen automatically.

That morning we helped make a headily aromatic mandorla (almond), spiked with amaretto liqueur and crumbled amaretti cookies; a rich nociola (hazelnut); and the "Pope's torrone," celebrating Pope Francis's visit to Molise three years ago, which was gelato flavored with burnt-sugar caramel and pine nuts. At the end we all got just a little taste. We were promised more once the flavors had rested and matured for a few hours.
Lina took this and most of the other good photos on this page.


The reward for our hard work was an aperativo of prosecco on the terrace, where we all admired the sensational view.


Then came a sumptuous lunch upstairs in Maurizio's sumptuous restaurant, the Terrazze Miranda. There were all kinds of antipasti--fried eggplant rolled around prosciutto and cheese, little nuggets of fried greens, fresh-tomato bruschetta, little tarts of some kind of ham--followed by two wonderful pastas, cavatelli in tomato sauce and tagliarini with a kind of zucchini pesto, one of the best primis we've had on this trip.

Knowing that the gelato still lay ahead, we begged off an any secondi. We were already dangerously full.

In hopes of creating some space for the gelato, we took a guided tour around Maurizio's restaurant, once a noble family's villa and now a quite fantastic restaurant and inn, with rooms decorated to a faretheewell. I think they do a big honeymoon business. It would be a sensational place for a wedding.

The whole place is like this. 

The goddess of rosticeria?













Next came a tour of Casalcipriano, which seems to be ahead of other towns in the area in planning for tourism. There are murals all around the old center part of town, depicting the hard life of the locals a century or more ago, and a very engaging little museum with waxwork figures illustrating more of the same. Apparently there was a lot of anxiety about witches, and lots of untimely death. The loss of so many friends and family when they emigrated to America and elsewhere was another hardship to those who remained--an aspect of the immigrant story that we don't usually give much thought to.

Then it was time for gelato, served up in Maurizio's gelateria down on the terrace. It was sensational.


If we had just gone home and had clear soup for dinner, we would have been fine. But that night was also the second night of the festa in Montagano, and we ended up having that big feast with our friends Fernando and Rita and a dozen or more other people. We're not going to let ourselves eat like that again, we told ourselves.

Ha!











Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Feast of Saint Anthony

As luck would have it, a few days after we arrived our little town celebrated the Feast of St. Anthony. The saint's feast day is celebrated on June 13, the date of his death in 1231 (from ergotism, also known as "St. Anthony's fire," a gruesome disease caused by fungus-infested grain). He's popular, since he is not only credited with interceding for the sick and but is also the patron saint of lost things.
Here in Montagano the festivities started with a mass at the church and then a procession through town signaled by the ringing of all the town's church bells.

The bells rang. And rang. And rang. (This seems to happen a lot, and not only on festa days.)





The procession set off through town, led by the local band, a statue of St. Anthony, and the town priest. Everyone marched up the main street to the top of the hill,

Then, although it was still light out, we were treated to about ten minutes of fireworks. I couldn't help thinking that all this racket must have its roots in the ancient idea of using loud noises to scare away evil spirits.

The fireworks completed, the procession turned around and marched back through town to the main church, where the saint's image was returned to its place.






Then it was time for aperitivi. Which turned out to be the calm before the storm.

In the photo at right you can see the lights that were put up for the festa. In the foreground you can also see a little dog with whom our children have become infatuated. He runs around with no collar and always one ear up and one down, which they find immensely charming. They kept asking people whose dog he was, and the answer was always that he is "abbandanato," so now that's the name they greet him by. They have been feeding him prosciutto and trying to get him to feel some special sense of loyalty to them, but it's clear to me that a lot of people feed him and that he is pretty promiscuous with his attentions.




Once everyone had had a drink or two, the festivities continued with a DJ and several hours of Italian disco music, with dancing in the middle of the main street, which was blocked off for all of this.

 It was a bit like a high-school dance, with a lot of people standing around watching and not many people dancing. There was some very spirited line dancing by the ladies, however. I admired their brio but was too shy to join in.



Someone--the church, I think--set out tables where wine, beer, bread-and-ham panini, and packages of home-cured prosciutto and other meats were sold. You can see this part of the festa in this view from our balcony (looking through the clothesline). 
See if you can spot the thirty-somethings in our party whom we refer to as "the kids."  

The music went on till about 12:30 a.m,, right under our window, and then I fell asleep to the sound of much lively conversation.

The next day a "palco"--the kind of bandstand you see in small-town parks in the U.S.--was erected in the same spot where the disco DJ had plied his trade the night before. A non-local band, a group of polished pros said to be from Naples, or Puglia, or somewhere else far away, arrived and gave a concert in the morning and another that evening.

Their stock in trade is long medleys of favorite opera arias and light classics, with "Bolero" blending into the "Toreador Song" from Carmen, segueing into one of Borodin's Polovtsian dances. Charming, but hard to fall asleep to at midnight.

After the music ended, a crew of people remained on the street, talking and singing.

In fact, even on days when there is no festa, someone is outside being loud on the sidewalks below our windows virtually every night, deep into the wee hours.

We have all been fantasizing about buying a house here, because you can reportedly get one for $5,000 or even less, and for people from California passing up that kind of real-estate bargain feels like a crime.

But I don't think any of us is keen to purchase anything here in the middle of the main drag. Or anywhere near those church bells.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Mysterious Molise

We're spending these two weeks in Italy's second smallest and probably least well-known region, Molise (Moh-LEE-za). Unlike Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia-Romagna, the Veneto, Piemonte, and just about every other region in the country, Molise remains a kind of enigma, even to other Italians. In fact, its lack of significance has led some to question (albeit only humorously) whether there really is such a place. "Il Molise non esiste" has become a punchline, with maps of the region labeled "Molisn't" and T-shirts emblazoned with "L'amore e come Molise--non esiste" ("Love is like Molise--it doesn't exist").
There's a Molise version of the Hitler-having-a-meltdown video. The Fuhrer loses it when his generals tell him that he can't vacation in Molise this summer because "the Italians say it doesn't exist," and he furiously lists all the culinary, historic, and other attractions of the place, shrieking "There's landscapes other regions in Italy can only dream of having!" 

I also found an Italian rap video defiantly titled Nato in Molise (Born in Molise). It calls on the Molisani to appreciate what they have and insists that "Molise will survive!" 

One of Montagano's older homes. 
These days Molise has begun trying to capitalize on things that until recently may have seemed like major negatives: the lack of industry, the small, ancient towns that have seen plenty of population loss over the last century and little or no redevelopment, the unpeopled rural landscape.
This is what is looks like around here.
What goes along with that are the traditional wines, cheeses, salumi, and pasta dishes that people are still making just the way their grandparents and great-grandparents did, and the warmth and friendliness of the people of Italy's rural South,


We are certainly enjoying all of the above. Particularly the food and the really astonishing way the townspeople have embraced us. We net Giacomo the other morning when we were strolling around town. What we noticed first was a black cat that turned out to be a black rabbit. Noting our surprise, Giacomo introduced himself and told us all about how he and his wife ended up with a rabbit, unnamed (it was originally given to their daughter by a now former boyfriend), and how the rabbit trims the grass on the steps outside their house, and how they have to watch out for foxes. He speaks excellent English--he lived in Florida for many years.

Then one night we were having a drink in the Circolo, the private bar nearby that's run by Fernando and Rita, from whom we're renting our apartment. Our new friends Claudio and Maria, who also lived in the U.S. for a while and speak English, stopped in and joined us.

Claudio, Rita, Fernando, and their son Francesco at the Circolo
A few moments later we noticed that Rita and Fernando were pulling tables together and laying out food, and then we were summoned to join them for the feast. This was a sort of picnic--bread, Rita's pickled cauliflower, the salame, cured bacon, and other meats the couple had made themselves, along with all kinds of other treats, all of it wonderfully tasty, and plenty of beer and wine. It was a big family meal, and we were part of the family. No one would let us give them anything for any of this.  
I do wonder whether these attitudes will change if and when Molise starts getting a substantial number of foreign visitors, instead of just a few handfuls now and then. The company that arranged this "citizenship vacation" is part of the effort to rebrand Molise as a tourist destination. Their pitch to small towns like Montagano is: if you will help people get dual citizenship, we will guarantee that they are fully qualified and have bulletproof paperwork, and they will spread the word about the wonders of Molise. 

I'm happy to keep up my end of that deal. I keep thinking how much many people I know would love the vacation we're having--the people, the food, the whole experience--even if they have no interest in or qualifications for citizenship. Peter says his company is working on offering something like that, maybe next year. I know he is determined to keep it small-scale and personal. I hope he can manage it. Certainly we are already talking about coming back.  

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

I heart Montagano

The suspense was killing us. We knew the company that is helping us with our citizenship process was going to send us to a town somewhere in the region of Molise, a rural area northwest of Naples. And we thought the town might well be Forli del Sannio, where my grandfather was born. But that wasn't definite, and since we weren't sure exactly where we were going, there was also no way of knowing what our accommodations would be like.

Given that the group includes the four members of our cranky immediate family, as well as our children's rather cheerier significant others, the anxiety level got pretty damn high once we all hit Rome and still didn't know where we'd be staying and what we'd be staying in.

The story has a happy ending, or rather a happy beginning. The company and its jovial capo, Peter, ended up bringing us to Montagano, a paese of 1,200 souls in the mountains about 15 minutes outside of Campobasso. We have an apartment on the town's main drag, with most mod cons and a spectacular view over the hills. Here's the first thing I see when I wake up in the morning. (The screen kind of ruins the picture but keeps the bugs out, so I'm not complaining.)


Here's how things look from the balcony in the living room:

...and from a street a block or so away:
You get the idea. 

Montagano (pronounced Mon-TAH-go-no, which took us a few tries to get right), has more going for it than the view. It is old and pretty, but not too. It was hit hard by a big earthquake in 2002 and many buildings remain empty or are wrapped in scaffolding and netting, awaiting or undergoing reconstruction. But many others are fixed up and look great. I don't know how livable the older parts of town are, with their ancient stone buildings and steep staircases, but they look very romantic. 


The people are amazingly friendly. Everyone wishes us "Buon giorno" or "buona sera" when they pass us on the street, and many of them are eager to chat us up, not with an eye to selling us souvenirs or touting a restaurant but just out of what Peter calls "Southern hospitality." No one represents that more than the folks we are renting the apartment from, Rita and Fernando. They filled the fridge with pork chops, fruit, salad, pasta, their own wine and olive oil, and homemade canned tomatoes, just in case we were hungry, and have jumped through hoops to make sure we have everything we need. 

They own a social-club-cum-private-bar a few doors down, and we were immediately enrolled as members and have begun hanging out there and making friends over a glass of beer or wine. The place is right out of a movie. I should make a film of the hand-gesturing that goes on. 
Just after I took this photo a man named Claudio sat down and began talking to us about when he lived in Queens. Then he brought over his wife, Maria, who was born in America, and we had a long chat about citizenship, immigration, their kids and ours, over drinks. They told us how to find their niece's bakery (it used to be Claudio's, and it's tucked away in the back of a building, completely invisible if you're not in the know) and that one of their son's runs the market. We're now pals and "Ciao, va bene?" each other whenever we meet in the street.

There aren't any restaurants in town except for a take-out pizza place, where we scrounged the last few slices when we got here late Sunday. But the surrounding countryside is crawling with little osteria and trattoria serving traditional pastas, salumi, and local wines. I'm hoping some of the other members of our party, who take much better photos than I do, will do a guest post or two about some of what we've been eating. Here's a plate of homemade tagliatelli with porcini and truffles (Molise produces 40 percent of Italy's truffles, according to Peter) that I had for lunch today. It was as good as it looks. And only ten euros, a little under $12.

It's all pretty damn appealing.

Monday, June 12, 2017

First night in Molise

On Saturday, June 10, we arrived in Molise, the region of Italy where we are seeking to get our citizenship recognized. We stayed one night in a bed-and-breakfast in Campobasso, the regional capital.
New gang in town: the three Montedori
The section of town we were in seemed pretty characterless, and the B&B was downright sinister. There was no number on any of the buildings on the street, and no name on the door to indicate where the place was. When we called our landlady she wouldn't let us in and I think hung up on me. We had to call Peter, our fixer and factotum, and ask him to talk to her, which finally gained us entry into the place. It was odd...four bedrooms (one locked), no mirrors, tons of ethernet, and locks on the outsides of all the doors. The kids speculated that it had formerly been a cam-girl hostel.

Most sinister of all, they did a little internet searching and found that our hostess, an Italian, had posted a photo of herself shaking hands with Donald Trump. We wondered if that was connected to the swastika graffiti and anti-immigrant slogans we saw splashed on the walls around town.

Other parts of Campobasso are considerably more charming, especially the medieval old city, which is a warren of narrow streets, steep stairs, and hivelike buildings. 

The next day, Sunday, we decamped to our "adoptive town," and that has been such a wild ride that I haven't had time to write about it yet. I promise I'll get on that tomorrow.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Reading the classics

Now that I don't have Franca to practice Italian with, I've been trying to do some reading in my new language. I tried to tackle I Promessi Sposi by Manzoni, which I gather is the pinnacle of post-Dante, pre-Ferrante Italian literature. But the prose is just too dense for my shaky comprehension.

I found Collodi's Pinocchio more my speed, no doubt because it was written for children and in Italian I am roughly equivalent to a not very bright child. Nevertheless, there are quite a few colorful phrases that I needed the help of Google Translate to decipher. I wrote a few of them down in hopes I can work them into conversation at some point.

Per esempio, Mangiafuoco (Fire-eater), the scary puppetmaster, is described thusly: “Aveva una barbaccia nera come uno scarabocchia d'inchiostro” and “la sua boca era larga come un forno.” (“He had a beard as black as an ink scribble” and “his mouth was as wide as an oven.”)

And when emotionally moved, the puppetmaster has the peculiar habit of letting loose with “un sonorissimo starnuto,” another term I like. (It means “a very sonorous sneeze.”)

As a side note, this original Pinocchio is—no surprise—far darker than the Disney version. There's the time when Pinocchio falls asleep by the fire and burns his feet off. And when the naughty little puppet meets the talking cricket who tries to appeal to his conscience, Pinocchio kills him with a hammer. Also, the life lesson the story emphasizes again and again is: Don't leave home! Don't ever leave your parents! That seems more Italian than Hollywood.

My other Italian reading is an edition of a popular comic about a Wild West lawman named Tex, who's able to solve just about every problem by threatening to shoot someone or thrashing him to a pulp. I loved seeing cowboy cliches rendered in Italian: “State ferme, o vi riempio di piombo una volta per sempre!” (“Hold on or I'll fill you full of lead once and for all!”). Or “Sergente, ammanettate questi due colombi” (“Sergeant, handcuff these two pigeons”). Or, to a group of thieving cardsharps, “È ora mettete tutti le zampe sul tavolo” (“Now put all your paws on the table”).


On encountering a man who has beaten and humiliated his own son, Tex clenches his fists and says, “Provati a toccare questo ragazzo, e ti faccio digerire tutti i denti” (“Try to touch this boy and I'll make you digest all your teeth”). And it works: after Tex gives the mean dad a sound drubbing, the other man instantly becomes a big Tex fan and mends his ways.
"Can I give you my hand--instead of a punch in the stomach?
Probably the most useful line so far is uttered by the evil mastermind villain, who says of one of his patsies, “Che perfetto imbecille.” Which I think needs no translation.

A night in Rome

We've made it to Rome, and so have Max, Lina, and Steven, traveling on three different routes. We all had dinner at a favorite restaurant of Danny's--a meal that included fettucine with porcini, penne arrabiata, "fisherman's wife" risotto, grilled kid, and tripe Roman-style. All good!

Tomorrow we pick up two rental cars and head to Campobasso, the capital of Molise. And on Sunday we head to our "adoptive town," which is now a place called Montagano. Details when they are available.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

A few days in Orvieto

We have been staying in Orvieto for the past few days, in a lovely little house near the edge of town that our friend Valerie has been living in for the past few months. 

 We were supposed to stay here with her, as her guests, but a sudden illness during a trip back to the States forced her to abandon the rest of her Italian vacation. In an act of terrific generosity, she insisted we come and stay here anyway. I'm so glad we did!

The town rubbed me the wrong way a bit at first. It is definitely a tourist town, and the center, with its famous Duomo, is crowded with stores selling fancy handbags and tourist souvenirs, with restaurants whose menus include English translations, and with people snapping pictures of everything and speaking English and German and Japanese. All my not very latent snobbism rises up...because like most tourists, I hate being reminded that I am just another tourist myself.

But I quickly succumbed to the charm of the house we're staying in and the town itself. Here's the view from our bedroom. Need I say more?
But of course I will. Orvieto is on top of a little plateau and it looks across fields and farms and old tile roofs. Here's another view...can't you hear Kiri Te Kenawa warbling Puccini?
(That's a "Room with a View" reference, youngsters.)
This above was taken at sunset as we strolled up our street. The two photos below were taken during a walk along the road below the town. Those walls do indeed look like a good defense.

Of course the most awesome sight in Orvieto is the Duomo. It was built beginning in the 14th century to house a piece of linen stained with blood that was said to have seeped, miraculously, from a communion wafer a century earlier in a nearby town. The "corporal," as it's called, is locked away inside an elaborate case, but the photos of it on display don't look like much. The building the Orvietans created to house it is spectacular, however. My cheesy little snapshots don't come within a mile of doing it justice. With its all-over pattern of black-and-white, basalt-and-travertine stripes, its brilliantly colorful mosaics, its profusion of sculptures, arches, and towers, it is an astonishing work of art.


The town is full of cobblestoned streets, many of them at a pretty steep incline, and the house we're in--like, I imagine, most of the houses in town--is full of stairs. No wonder the nudes pictured in the Duomo's fresco of the resurrection of the dead shows a crowd of people with very large, very firm buttocks. The people who live here must have thighs and backsides of steel.

Valerie is in the process of buying a house nearby, with equally spectacular views. Her friend Roy walked us over to see it today.
 
We are looking forward to coming back and visiting Orvieto again in the not too distant future, this time with Valerie on hand to show us around.

Adventures in eating, Part 3

Last weekend Peter arranged one more experience for us--a visit to a local flour mill to see their production process and get a pasta-making...